Wednesday, August 12, 2015

This Year's Remodel

There are three significant challenges that invoke fear and trepidation in the souls of human beings.

The first is to scale the heights of Mt. Everest.

The second is crawl through that secret, bug-soaked passage way Indiana Jones had to traverse in The Temple of Doom.

The third is for a married couple to try to build a house together.

Anna and I are not quite ready for the Everest of home building.  So, we're taking smaller and smaller steps towards our dream, inching our way towards it.  We're starting with smaller peaks, something more in line with a 14,000 footer out in Colorado.

One room at a time.  That's been our motto so far, and it's served us okay in this old farmhouse.  We've made some improvements, and haven't died in the process.  Neither have we strangled one another. 

First the kitchen.  That was probably five years ago.  The guy we call Builder Bob helped us do that remodel.  Okay, he pretty much did it all, and I managed to botch the mudding and sanding job.  But, it's better.  And the roof has only leaked twice when it has rained.  But those were really heavy rains!

Sometime last year, we started on the front entryway room to our house, and this time my father-in-law helped me frame up everything.  I even did a pretty good job of putting up the drywall and applying the first coat of mud last fall.  I even sanded the mud a few times, but - as Joe has told me many times - sanding is a fine art.  Too much and you're back to square one.  Too little and you've got the imperfections equivalent to bad teenage acne.  I have yet to learn the finer stroke required of a true craftsman.

Nonetheless, I really did intend to paint the room - imperfections and all.

Well, winter moved into town, and more pressing things took over:  gathering and splitting firewood, swim season,

Undeterred, Anna and I were determined to continue on with our home improvement projects.  This summer, we had one clear goal:  do all that was truly necessary to turn the backroom into a fully functioning bedroom for Wyatt, motivated as we were by the recurring bloody-scratches on my son's arms and wailing pleas of help from my daughter as my son struck back in retaliation.  Apparently, the ages of 9 and 7 are the limit for how long a brother and sister can stand being in the same room together.

Are we going to tackle the backroom? Anna and I would ask each other.

Yes, we have to, right?  Checking each other to see how long we could dance around fully committing.

But, no, we had to.  We just had to.  There's just something wrong about putting your first born child in a room that routinely grows frost on the windows in the winter.  And that's the good season.  I won't tell you what grew in there during the summer.

So I thought we were together ... all up until the point when I was 3/4 of the way into the demolition of the room, and Anna came with her mother to assess the job and to conference about our next steps.  It was clear enough to me.  We were going to do all the walls, tear the whole place apart and gut the ceiling before putting insulation back in.

But, as I started to explain this to Anna's mom, Anna said, "Are we sure?"

I may have looked at Anna with a furrowed brow, which she must have seen because she went on:

"Well, I'm just saying our track record for getting things done isn't all that great.  I mean we still haven't finished the front room."

What was this?!  A chink in our collective marital armor?  A frayed edge in our loving and tight bond?


Thankfully, fools rush in.

We're getting closer.  I won't jinx ourselves by saying that we're done.  But, definitely we're closer.

Tonight we bought carpet for his room that will hopefully be delivered and installed sometime next week.

After Anna's moment of probably justified pessimism, we did go on and tear the whole thing back to studs.  I put in all of the insulation in the walls and the roof.  Drew and Joe helped us hang the drywall from floor to ceiling, and I even managed to at least sure up the outside wall for the time being without making things look too bad.  Okay, the cedar trim boards are definitely a bit askew.  Shoot, though, who honestly looks at the back of our house.

Plus, we've finally figured out that I'm never going to actually finish a drywall job.  I swallowed my ego and called up some other guys to come do it.  Lo and behold, they've even got the first coat on everything, and all while not muttering too much about how it's so hard to do a job once some poor sap like me starts it out wrong.

Maybe we can even say that we've managed to make it up the Pike's Peak of home remodels? 

That's something, right?

Tell me that's something.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pressing & Receiving

What a gift vacation was!  It's hard for me to receive such obvious gifts of grace, which in large part was exactly what this vacation was.  By my mom and Denny's generosity, my family was able to go on a trip that we wouldn't have otherwise taken:  seven full days down in a wonderfully spacious and beautiful home overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on St. George Island.  The word "bestowed" seems appropriate for the time we had.  Denny and my mom's generosity bestowed on me opportunities to rest and play in God's incredible creation.  Denny and my mom's generosity bestowed on me opportunities to be fully attentive to my children.  Denny and my mom's generosity bestowed on me quiet mornings on third level decks sitting in beach chairs drinking coffee and reading the Gospel of John.

For one week, in other words, I lived as if grace truly mattered and in the awareness of love and benevolence.

So ... I return to work yesterday ... and once again I am pressing.  Actually, it started even before that.  I figured this would happen, and it did.  By early evening on Sunday, I was beginning to stress.  For one entire week, my mind would casually drift into the evening, laughing and playing card games with family.  Sleep came easily.  Then Sunday night came.  At 2:00 am in the morning, sleep was no longer a gift.  It was a necessity that was relentlessly outdistancing me. 

My mind was astir.  Now that I was to return to work, I was falling into an old trap I've fallen into so often as a young pastor:  the trap of what Parker Palmer calls functional atheism.  For one full week, I had lived in the awareness of grace and blessing.  But, now it was time to return and prove to others that I am capable of doing my job.  More than capable.  I want to prove that I'm successful.  I want others to see that I'm worth their investment.  I need to demonstrate to others that I'm not just some sorry sack of a pastor.  Gosh dang it, I'm a Management Fellow from DePauw University.  I've been trained to justify my worth.

In other words, it only took a mere six hours for this sin-sick soul to completely forsake the reality of grace and to step full-heartedly and foolishly right back into the strictures of the Law. 


Almost ten years into ministry now, and you would think I'd have figured this out.  But like the old Caedmon's Call song, I'm right back at the first day of school.  The very thing that so fully won me over to Christ - the incredible freedom that is ours in his name - is the very first thing I leave as I step out the door to do ministry in Christ's name.  Foolish man that I am!  Who will save me from this endless backsliding into the need to perform and justify?


There's a little book Jonathan Carroll once gave me when I first started in ministry down in Owensboro, Kentucky.  It's called The Art of Pastoring by William C. Martin, and it - like the vacation from my mom and Denny - is a gift.  I consider it a gift "bestowed."  At the end of this gem of wisdom, Martin writes this about pastoral work:

"Yours is a difficult, impossible, frustrating, and spirit-killing profession if practiced without simplicity and freedom.

"Practiced with simplicity and freedom it is a noble, rewarding, delightful dance with the Spirit of God and with the souls of people.  I pray for all pastors, everywhere.  You are so deeply needed in our world. 

"Be yourself.  Be gentle.  Be happy." 

How true those words are!  And how strong those two currents rush within me as I enter back into pastoral work! 

No sooner do I set foot back on the land of our home than I find a river trying to pull me away from simplicity and freedom.  And so I step into my work with a stiff back and depressed vision of the world before me.  Perceived slights and spirit-killing attitudes of judgment seep into my heart and thereby poison my attitude.  So, I miss the joy of a community right around me that is alive and God-blessed and unique and holy.  I feel drawn to go down the road called blame, and to linger in back-alleys named resentment and envy.

But, by God's grace, I do feel that other stream.  Perhaps not as strong at first.  Maybe not a rushing river.  Maybe it's more like a gentle stream leading on into the overgrowth and the shadows of the woods.  "Come to the water," the voice of this stream calls.  "Let mercy and gentleness lead.  Don't worry about performing or controlling or protecting.  Dance.  Listen.  Love the world around you as if it were God's holy place.  For it is.  The Word has become flesh and dwells among you.  So be yourself.  Be fully yourself even when doing so feels woefully inadequate in worldly terms.  Be yourself even if in your simplicity you look the fool.  Be yourself even when that noisy rush of competition and performance threaten to drown out love and peace.

Life is not something to be mastered.

It is a gift.

It is bestowed.

It is, therefore, to be received.