Another Gibbs-Slap

I’ve written before about how sometimes the Spirit has to flick me behind the ear, or Gibbs-slap me, or use a two-by-four, or otherwise get my attention, because hey, I’m not always the quickest on the up-take. Had another one of those experiences recently.

I think it was a couple of Fridays ago; I walked into Michelle’s office to visit, and plopped down in a chair. She started telling me that since one of our offices will be involved in managing any early-retirement process for our whole Division, they have a list of all those who are or could be eligible. List One is all those who are of sufficient age and years worked that they could retire immediately, but haven’t. List Two is all those who are over 50 and who have at least 25 years in, and who therefore can be offered an immediate early-retirement package. List Three is all those who will move onto List Two in the next three years.

She told me I’m on List Two. At that, the Spirit started pinging me: “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Wow. I’d been in some discussions about the possibility of early retirements being offered, but I hadn’t really, really considered that I could be eligible. As you know, since mid-2017 I’ve been pondering what “next” will look like, and meeting with financial planners and finding out that, basically, if I can keep my benefits into retirement, I can pretty much do whatever I want from that point. Or, to be more accurate, whatever I’m called to do, without worrying about money and insurance and etc. So there’s something appealing in the idea.

Still, very quickly I went to, “There’s no way I’ll be offered this. They’ll get enough people in List One, or in other positions on List Two, that they won’t offer it to me.” But all I kept hearing was, “You listening to this? You paying attention?”

Obviously, I have no idea what may, or may not, be on offer for early-retirement this year. But there’s times when, wow, wouldn’t it be wonderful?

For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT)

All right then, Jesus. You got my attention. Your move.

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The Lord Will Provide

This coming weekend is a Chrysalis weekend, C-97. Just a year ago, my daughter and godson were getting ready for an amazing experience of Christ on their own weekend. Now they’re both part of the team putting on another weekend so 16 more teens can get an intimate view of God’s love in their lives up on the Mountain.

Last Friday, I get a text from her. Um, I may have forgotten to tell you, but Michael from church is going, and I agreed to sponsor him. Wait: Michael, from church, is YOUR sponsee? So now I’ve got a week to arrange everything for him to go? Uff! Yeah, that definitely hadn’t been communicated to me.

We go by a pay-it-forward rule, so the pilgrims walking don’t pay for the weekend, the sponsors do. Now, I readily admit, that isn’t a show-stopper for me. I confess to being blessed to where having to scramble to find $200 to pay to sponsor someone for the weekend won’t break the bank. But still, yeah, I was mildly annoyed that she had made the commitment and hadn’t asked me about it…right as we’re paying off Christmas. Uff! Mind you, that’s on top of her own teaming fee, which I also think was $200 that I had to pay recently.

One day later, I’m bringing in the mail, and there’s a letter from our mortgage company. Didn’t look like the usual mail from them, or even a sales brochure for taking on even more debt, so I opened it. They had done the annual recalculation of our escrow account, and for the first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r, we were actually over in our account this year. So here’s a check for $363 in overpaid escrows.

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Here I am mere hours away from harrumphing about having to pay for ANOTHER fee, and now I have an absolutely unexpected windfall that not only allows us to sponsor Michael, but almost entirely covers my little teamer’s fee as well.

The Lord really does provide.

In fact, he promised it back in the very beginning: Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14).

On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided. And even BEFORE we get to the Mountain, it will be provided! And in such abundance as to pay for TWO people to make the trip!

O me of little faith. I’ve heard it said, you can’t out-give God. He’s bound and determined to prove it to me, it seems. This is another holy moment, another holy lesson for me, in a life that keeps needing reminders of God’s absolutely, completely, unending grace.mountain

2017 in the Rear View Mirror

It’s typical, I think, that as each year closes, we spend time reflecting on the year gone by: what worked, what didn’t, where we grew, where we fell. With that in mind, let me offer a few thoughts on my own 2017. I will completely set aside politics, and instead focus more on what the year meant to me and how I grew. In no particular order:

  • Brought four people I love to an even closer experience of Christ. I sponsored my wife, daughter, godson, and a brother from church for their own Emmaus or Chrysalis walks, and they have each become involved in the community and experienced a deepening commitment as a result. I really celebrate that!
  • Began earnestly praying and listening for God’s guidance about what “next” looks like. In just under seven years I can be retiring with full benefits…then what?
  • Began responding more to God’s call in my life. Applied to team (and will team on E-185!) in Emmaus, and met with a giant in Christ to learn more about getting involved in Kairos prison ministry in 2018.
  • Celebrated my daughter’s start to senior year in high school, with a strong start much better than last year. While she’s struggling now, I remain faithful that God has a story in mind for her, and I put it all in his hands!
  • Celebrated my son’s excellent terms at college…finished fall semester with a 3.94 (*ahem*)! He’s really blossoming–see again, the fact that God has a story in mind for him and all I need to do is get out of his way.
  • Turned fifty, without much fanfare or fuss–and without health concerns, and in fact, lost about 20 pounds this year. (Thanks, sweetie, for the inspiration!)
  • Redid the kids’/guest bathroom and the powder room…looking sharp, on to the kitchen next!
  • Survived an insane year at work, with the administration transition throwing all the usual schedules out the door and requiring a new level of energy. Will be happy if 2018 features a more typical schedule…
  • Began downsizing and simplifying life: admitted to myself (OK, got my ego out of the way) that I’ll never get Uncle Albert’s trains running; also got rid of bags and bags of clothes and household stuff that we just won’t need. Someone else can make use of it!
  • Published my first book, Waiting For Life, in April, and since then have sold literally dozens of copies (!). Never figured anyone would actually read it…thank you!

Oh, sure, if I think about it I can come up with lots of challenges in 2018 ahead: caring for Mom as she fades, applying for Medicaid for her, getting my daughter off to college, adapting to the empty nest, dealing with work, etc., etc… But I’ve heard so many people whinging about how horrible their 2017 was…let me tell you, mine wasn’t half bad, and certainly a lot better then 2016!

Was 2017 perfect? Aw heck no. But there is beauty in the promise:

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Farewell 2017…and Happy New Year 2018!

Go Astros!

Ever since I spent a year living in Texas (in third grade!), I have been a lifelong Houston Astros fan. I came to love their history of amazing pitching–J.R. Richard, Joe Niekro, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Roy Oswalt. And as only a true Astros fan can do, I came to know their penchant for the late-season fold, the never-fulfilled promise, the hundred-loss seasons as well. Not for nothing is the traditional Opening Day greeting of the Astros fan, “Wait ’til next year!”

I remember watching the deciding sixth game of the 2005 NLCS against the despised Cardinals, with my heart in my throat, scarcely able to watch for the final out. And then it came, joyous release, the win-and-in, and the ability for the first time in 44 years of baseball in Houston to say, “We have a World Series team!”

Of course, we all know what happened next: the sweep by the White Sox; the dismantlement of the team by trades, retirement, and yes, scandal; and the three hundred-loss seasons in the early part of this decade. It was a dark time for the Astros fan.

Last night’s victory over the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS was a sweet, sweet vindication of the wait and the loyalty. Once again, a young exciting team has the right to host a World Series. Once again, we will play the Dodgers, after years of torment at their hands in the 1980s. And once again, hope and joy reign.

And I’ll get to experience it firsthand. Next Saturday, Mary and I will be in the stands as the Astros host Game 4. Minute Maid will be on. Fire. And we’ll have the chance to be caught up in the joy, for as long as it lasts.

But it required faith, and perseverence, to get through the tough years. Just as it requires faith and perseverence to get through the tough years in a job, or a marriage, or anything else this world has to throw at us. Which is why I’ve said, being an Astros fan is a great introduction to Christianity: requiring y-e-a-r-s of love in the face of bitter disappointment.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Astros’ journey…and Christ’s. So let’s go Stros!

Getting Fearless!

This past weekend was amazing, as I (finally!) got to welcome my bride into the Emmaus community!

I’ve previously written about my own walk, nearly 18 months ago, and the joy of sponsoring others like my daughter and another brother in Christ. But with all due respect to them both, this was far more meaningful because it was Mary.

Mary has been coming to a deeper connection with Christ over the past year, and it’s been tremendous to watch. She had been really reticent about Emmaus, and was finally persuaded to go…but even up to the last, she still was cautious.

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I knew it had great potential to be a God-driven weekend when I woke up Thursday morning, when I was to take her to the mountain 10 hours later: my Bible app’s scripture of the day was the exact same scripture that my own Emmaus weekend was based on:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Right, right…you got this, Lord! I had a good feeling when at the social hour beforehand, Mary and her roommate started chatting immediately and looked like they were hitting it off. All weekend long, I kept them in prayer, that they would seek his will and follow his path.

But by Sunday? Wow. The “R,” Glenda, said, “These are not the same women you brought up here Thursday night,” and she was right. I have a glimpse of what the Transfiguration must have been like, because Mary’s face shone in a way I haven’t seen before. (And wearing a flower in her hair? Talk about a change!) She really, really had a chance to immerse in God’s love and it showed. She met new friends, and heard a lot that she’s still processing. But already I can see, this was all God’s work, and I know from personal experience, the best news is, it’s only just begun.

Thank you, dear Lord, for your grace. It moves in all of us, and sometimes, it moves with a mighty rush that leaves us blown away. I am so grateful for being able to share in this experience with Mary now, and for the wonderful worlds of possibilities it opens for us together. May we always walk in your steps, hearing that voice calling “Follow me.”

Breadcrumbs, Part II

So what are some of the other signals I’m getting that perhaps I’m being called into a deeper relationship with Christ? It’s more than just how often I find myself thinking of church and Christ while wandering the halls at work:

  • I’m someone who is always trying to improve. At work, at home, wherever. And so when I learned of a free (free!) executive coaching opportunity through work, I made the time to explore it. I met with the coaching coordinator, I reviewed resumes of potential coaches, and I picked out one to try to connect with. I called her, and we had a great first conversation about perhaps establishing a coaching relationship. She then sent me her getting-to-know-you questionnaire, in which I was encouraged–in complete confidence–to write down what I wanted to get out of coaching, what problems I wanted to work on. But one question brought me up short: “What do you truly yearn to do?” And before I knew it, Bing! went off in my head, and I heard the answer. It wasn’t the next promotion, like I always assumed it would be. It wasn’t becoming Somebody in some new executive role. No, what went off in my head instead, as what I truly yearn to do, was the Great Commission:

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

  • We’ve been in the midst of putting together the next year’s budget at work, a process which has been both intense and filled with long days and late nights at the office. One day, in the midst of preparing for a senior leadership meeting, my boss was meeting with a group of us. She became animated in trying to understand one particular number, one which didn’t strike me as worth the amount of time we were spending on it. Very clearly I heard, “This just isn’t important” in my mind. The implication was, the important thing was Christ.
  • I’ve finished reading Kyle Idleman’s Not A Fan, and I had a sense of conviction there as well.  Idleman uses Luke 9:57-62 to show us that when we choose to follow Christ, we’re expected to make that the priority: follow him wherever, whenever, immediately. And here I am struggling with that! I really felt the Spirit nudging me: “OK, you want to follow? Get going then!”

I wish I had better clarity on what I’m being led into.

 

A Path of Discernment

I’ve been sharing with you a little of my life and walk. I want to start a conversation that I think will run a lot longer, over the course of several weeks or months or who knows, even years, so up front I ask your forbearance, since I don’t know where this will go.

I have taught, and written, on the idea that into every life, God will issue a call. Through his grace, he will call each of us. All are given the most elementary call: come home, turn back to me, come back. And those who heed that call, find Jesus and find even more grace as they grow. Some of those, he will call into service–and I absolutely love the stories of people helping Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey. Some he will call into teaching, some he will call into counseling.

And some, yes, he will call into ordained ministry.

I find myself over the past weeks and months sensing a different kind of call for me: that Jesus has something else in mind than I’ve been doing for the past 25 years–heck, for the past nearly 50. But I am still very, very, very unsure as to what that new call is. I’ve talked a little with my wife, and she’s been gracious enough to say that if it’s a call into ministry, then she’s in, and I need to heed it. It’s very possible it’s a call to just “go deeper,” to turn more and more of myself and my world over to Christ, to become more like those giants in Christ that I see around me. And that would be fine. But I also cannot shake entirely the sense that it could be “the” call. My own pastor says he senses me being called into something, but he doesn’t know what it is.

I’m very uncomfortable not knowing. I’m the kind of guy who likes certainty, and so if there were a burning bush, I could handle that. Listening for the faint whispers…that’s hard, and I’m probably not very good at it. At least I fear I’m not.

With your indulgence, I will try periodically–maybe not every post–to explore where I am and what I am able to discern is happening. I have absolutely no idea where this will end up. But come along…this could be a fascinating ride.