March 22, 2012

I am still a man in need of a Savior

(I hear the hot new thing is titling blog posts after lyrics from overplayed DC Talk songs. I can still hear Michael Tait singing it...)

Last night, I read an essay by C.S. Lewis called "A Slip of the Tongue," and it resonated deeply with me. He tells how he once said the wrong thing while praying. I do that all the time, and I thank God that He understands my heart over how much I bumble through the words coming out of my mental mouth. But as Lewis says, what he actually said in his prayer may have been a sort of Freudian slip, like he accidentally said the thing he really meant. He meant to ask God - in far more sophisticated words than I'll use here - to help him get past the temporal, earthly stuff and finally focus on the eternal. At least I think that's what he was trying to say, the words were pretty sophisticated. But what he accidentally asked was that God get him through the eternal stuff so he could finally focus on the temporal. He suspects he might be a little more attached to the temporal kingdom than the eternal one.

Lewis, even as the apparent spiritual giant I think he is, admits to always having this sense of caution in his prayer and his devotions, almost to the point of cutting them short, for fear of committing to something that might be tough to carry out in his "ordinary" life. Once he's done praying, is he really gonna follow through on what He promised God in the moment?

He compares it to going down to the sea (Metaphor time: God is the sea) and not diving in, floating, splashing, and fully enjoying it, but instead staying at the edge to dip his toe in. We're afraid to get too far out there and lose our lifeline to everyday life.

Okay, enough C.S. Lewis paraphrasing.

Even that guy, the great theologian, that smart dude who figured a lot of stuff out, who wrote brilliant books and used sophisticated words... he struggled at times to fully grab onto the eternal kingdom.

It gives me some relief. Because as a missionary, as someone who lives in ministry, you're supposed to have a handful of stuff figured out. You are, aren't you? Surely, if you're going to leave life behind and move somewhere else to help people learn about Jesus, you must at least be following Christ. And yet, I'm pretty sure I'm the one learning about Jesus in all of this.

I know I'm not done with growth and epiphanies. I've had enough of them, sometimes over and over again, and I've seen enough people well beyond my years, older heroes of the faith, confess to discovering things about God, that I know this takes some time.

I'm still working out what it means to truly follow Christ. I see C.S. Lewis talking about lifelines to the shore, to normal everyday life, and I'm convicted because I know that I have them, even when I thought I'd left them. I read him talking about approaching prayer, devotions, time in God's presence with caution, and I'm convicted because I know I'm afraid of where he might ask me to go, or what he might ask me to do or give up or sell, or what higher standard he might have me pursue, if I were fully submissive to him.

I think all of these things, and I'm out here serving him. Not that it makes me feel inadequate but... it kind of does.

After all, we're all inadequate. We all fall short. We're never complete, no matter how old we get, no matter how wise we get... no matter how far we move away to serve Him.

I think the thing is this: Pursuing Christ, following him, is not a one-and-done decision, it is a continual one. Your salvation experience is not the end of your testimony, it's the beginning. We do not make one decision to follow him, we make them all the time. We embrace the nature of following him. We don't abandon our lives once, we do it everyday.

Obligatory link to song with lyrics from title of post, harkening back to 1996: 

March 17, 2012

No Comprendo, Part Tres, in which I accidentally curse at a child.

(Learning a new language is hard. I've written about it before, a while ago, here and here.)

Wednesday night is Club Alas night at John and Kerry's house. For those of you who know about Cubbies, Sparkies, Pals and Pioneers, and all that, it's a lot like AWANA. Kids show up, run amok, we calm them down, they say verses, they hear a Bible lesson, they play games, we give them sugar and send them on their way. The games are always relays of some kind. You wouldn't believe the thousands of variations on relay races.

The other night I was there, listening to verses like always. Adalis was her usual energetic, sarcastic, kind of obnoxious 6th-grade self. I forget exactly what led to this, but she was cackling maniacally about something, tapping her fingers together like Mr Burns, ("Excellent.") like an evil plan was coming together. She looked kind of sinister, in the kiddish "I'm being funny" way.

Now's as good a time as any to give you a basic Spanish/Latin root session. The Spanish word for bad is mal. Bueno is good. Malo is bad. Very bad = muy mal. You can see that English and Spanish have a common ancestor when you think of the word "Malevolent," like evil, bad, sinister.

So I know that mal- is a prefix for bad stuff. Sometimes, when you're not sure about which word to use in Spanish, you just have to guess. So I wanted to say, "So evil!" And I know full well "Que mal!" would have done the trick. But for whatever reason, I said "Que maldicion!" I've probably heard/seen that word in movies, subtitles. Like much of the world, I'm learning how to swear from movies.

This stopped her immediately, and her eyes widened. Like, "Oooohh, You said something naughty!"

Oops. Swing and a miss on guessing at Spanish. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

She went to another leader who told her, yeah, in that context, that's a curse.

As it turns out, instead of saying, "So evil!" I said "Damnit!"

I had a good laugh about it. Then I realized I had cursed at a child. And that's the sort of thing you're supposed to apologize for, so I told her I was sorry.

Lesson learned.

March 12, 2012

Somethings, and retreats from start to finish.

By now I oughta have this whole "retreat" thing down.

We did a pair of them last February, a few months after I got here. We did another set of them in the fall, and just finished up another set of them over the last couple weekends. So I've handled six of these things, three for older kids and three for younger kids. They're full of excitement and anticipation and stress and sunburn and gratitude. And each one has its own lifespan:

First, the planning stage where we dream big and everything's perfect, and we want to get the giant inflatable moonbounce thing for the kids and have this absolutely mind-blowing life-changing heart-impacting weekend, fully saturated with opportunities to minister. The planning is really fun, and it always looks really great on paper.

Then you get the marketing all finished and mailed, and book a speaker. You get someone (Suleika or Bubu) to make some phone calls, and the list starts to fill up. You write devotions, make sure the speaker has everything he needs, start filling out the schedule. Then the reality of limited resources sets in. No giant inflatable moonbounce thing.

For the week leading up to the retreat, it's slightly less fun. In my experience, no matter how many checklists of tasks I make, there's always this hovering blob of undefined, undone stuff that probably has to get defined and done but I probably won't realize it until kids start to arrive. I'm always forgetting something, and realizing I'm forgetting something, without knowing what that something is.

That last week, the list really starts to fill up. For my first retreat, we ended up with some 60 kids signed up, and around 50 attended. The next retreat, we crept up over sixty on the signup sheet, and had 54 show. This time, we had 79 kids sign up, and 62 actually came.

And by the time they arrive, you realize that regardless of the perfect little details you never thought of until too late, camp is here, kids are here, and to some extent things begin to run themselves. Doesn't stop me from running around like a mad man, but 60 often screaming/mostly enthusiastic teenagers have a way of pumping you up. It's something, it's Holy-Spirit-infused enthusiasm.

From Friday night, until long into Saturday, that enthusiasm and a dose of adrenaline run the show. I take note of the stuff we have to do better, like: no more registration in our tiny office if 62 kids are gonna have to check in individually. Getting kids towels. Band-Aids. Maaaaybe some behavior management, but the older kids usually stay in line for the 42ish hours we have them with us.

It's fun until the sunburn kicks in sometime late Saturday afternoon. They have free time. I stop. Enter my nothing box. Maybe have a couple of long blinks in there. Saturday night, after a decent meal, we go go go until the sun is down. Some of them want Capture the Flag more than anything else. Some of them refuse to play it. Can't please everyone. Later, they go to bed. Lots of yelling, pillow fighting, stuff that might not fly at Summer camp. I should enforce lights out. I probably don't.

Sunday - it ends too quickly. Up and at 'em. Ejercisio. Desayuno. Tiempo a solas. Tema en la capilla. Empacar y limpiar. Almuerzo. Adios.

They leave. Then: More kids are on the way for the next weekend.

I guess maybe you never get these retreats "down." You try to improve them every time, making improvements and changes that may or may not work, or make things better, or keep kids happier, or help them go deeper. Something.

This Spring, they were successful. Of course they were. Glory to God, I'm supposed to say, I think. But that's a given. I'm the last guy to try to take credit for a camp going well. I always forget things, fail to write them down, something. Most program directors probably feel the same way. The older kids retreat was a blast, and kids were parroting back to me stuff that Nick, the speaker, talked about in Chapel. They loved it. Raved about it on Facebook.

The younger kids retreat - it's been a bit of a struggle to get kids to show up. It's a little deflating when only 14 kids are on site, but it's still a success. They have fun, they love it, they learn, they can't wait to come back. But there's gotta be some way to reach more of 'em.

I say they're successful. But I really don't know how you could deem anything a failure in ministry. And I'm not saying that in a hopelessly optimistic way, but I really mean it. Maybe I haven't been around long enough. Regardless of how I feel about a retreat's attendance, or if I bumble through a talk, or a game goes south or gets boring really fast, or I fail at navigating a behavior issue, I know that something probably happened, something good. God gave some kid a lesson he'll recall one day. A counselor, a cook, a staff member learned how to do something better. I learned something. God did something, regardless.