Saturday, October 4, 2014

high five for five highs at five guys

Over the past year, our family has made friends with a young woman named Hanna. We have come to call her our “adopted daughter” because in many ways she is like Heather and in many ways she is like me.  Last night, we went to Five Guys and she ordered a burger like me: plain. After years of ribbing by my family for living a “sauceless existence” all my life, it makes me happy knowing there are other people like me in this world!

Our family has grown accustomed to talking about our day’s “highs and lows” over dinner and, because it was my birthday yesterday, Hanna asked me what my top five “highs” were from the last year. I had to think about it a little bit. To be honest, I had been working in the garage almost the whole day so my brain was a bit numb.

When I collected my thoughts, I came to realize just how good God has been to us this past year. I thought I'd share it here, in case you find it encouraging. Here are my five highs for the past year, in the order I gave them to Hanna last night.

1. PlayFull:  This is the new non-profit I’m starting, whose mission is to “help people and organizations play from the inside-out.” I'm not going to post a link to it in this article because I don't want this to seem like a commercial but I cannot say nothing about it, so bear with me as I mention a few things I love about what we do and what is on the horizon.

I am joined by a board of directors that I simply love and we offer many services such as coaching, team building, marriage counseling and training for those in ministry to both young and old.

We are also developing original resources that currently includes a prayer book (in the works) and a series of Scripture stories that feature hand-crafted art objects. This way of presenting the stories enables us to help people take a closer look at God and God’s work…past, present and future. We offer one-time events for large and small groups called PlayDates and this month we will launch our very first PlayGroup, in which groups of people gather together regularly for the purpose of learning and growing through play.

Since this time last year, we’ve developed three of our Scripture stories. Our creation story has been told several times now to various groups ranging in size from four to about 90. In fact, last October I presented the creation story to a youth group and just weeks ago one of the youth in that group cited that story as a highlight of the year for them! Teenagers are not an easy audience for me, so that made me smile. Last spring, I also had the opportunity to tell the story to a new church in Indianapolis and it was encouraging to see the leader of that church take its message to heart.

Over the course of the year, I’ve also had the privilege of coaching and training leaders in ministry. This, too, has been a joy. I’ve been able to help a leader who wrestles with anxiety begin practicing a spiritual discipline called “practicing the presence of God.” It’s something that comes from Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 17th century. I’ve found it invaluable for my own growth so I invited the young man I coach to begin practicing it. He did, and about six months ago, he made a big decision that is helping him lead a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle.

In one of our coaching sessions, I asked him, “Why the change?”

He said, “Well, I’ve been practicing the presence of God and this is where it lead. Thank you, Troy.”

In addition to that, recently I’ve been honored to help a couple face some hard things in marriage. It has been encouraging to see their willingness to engage with some difficult issues, to recommit to building a strong marriage that will stand the test of time.

There’s much more to share but suffice to say it has been a true privilege to get PlayFull up and running and off to the races. I’m grateful.

2. Hanna: I suppose our initial bond with our new “adopted daughter” was…the Chicago Blackhawks. J But, over this past year, we have grown to love and cherish our friendship with her in ways I cannot fully express. She brings beer, bakes goodies, does her laundry at our house, shares meals with us, prays with us and laughs at my jokes. What more could an adopted dad want? J

Last night I did not know that Hanna was coming over so when she stopped by my heart leapt for joy. I felt so loved and special that she would take her Friday night to spend time with an old fart like me at Five it’s even more amazing that lately we’ve been doing a lot of Friday-night visiting with each other. We have pizza together and last weekend she helped me cut out some felt pieces for a kids craft we did at church that weekend. It has been a privilege to be there for her in ways I can: helping her dig her car out of snow, assembling an island in her kitchen and planning to help her with a cork board project she has in mind.

One of the things I admire about Hanna is her commitment to help the poor. Last night, she spent the better part of an hour talking with a young man who has recently become homeless. She took him some food and just offered simple conversation with him as a path to friendship. She helps run a food pantry at our church and she tirelessly gets up early on Saturday mornings to volunteer there. I wish there were more people like Hanna in this world. It would be a truly better place!

Hanna, I’m glad we live in the same neighborhood and I am so glad we’ve become family together.

3. Grace Church: There are many things I love about this church. We started attending in the spring of 2011. Our first Sunday there they sang a song that was a favorite of ours when we lived in Spain. Since our move back from Spain in 2010 we had never heard it played properly, but that Sunday at Grace…the worship band just nailed it. Heather and I looked at each other like, “What?!” Folks at the church were clearly a creative bunch. The pastor seemed like “the real deal.” We learned she liked to simply be called by her name, Mandy. This made me smile; no gimmicks—just an honest love for imperfect people and a passion for God. We felt like it was coming home. So, we kept attending and…this December will mark two years on staff at the church.

This past summer, Mandy was on sabbatical for three months but she returned to work on Wednesday. So…on Thursday we had a staff meeting to reconnect. Betzy prepared a special breakfast to mark the occasion: baked French toast, fresh fruit and a quiche with ingredients in it I’ve never heard of and certainly cannot spell correctly. Technically, Betzy is the office manager at the church but she is so much more than the title indicates. She is truly a pastor, always serving sacrificially and willingly.

She is cheerful and creative. She loves to laugh and throws unforgettable parties. She has a background in Christian education, so I value the wisdom she shares as one pastor to another. She has keen insight on Scripture: last month she taught on the story in Acts 6 where the apostles formed a group of deacons to care for the needs of widows and Betzy highlighted aspects of that story I’d never seen before.

Chris is another person I love working with here. Time and time again we will be talking about different ideas regarding how the church can align itself more and more with God’s good heart for the world and her people. And…time and time again I find myself looking at him like I’ve just discovered my long lost brother. We laugh together and I love how easy it is to relate to him.

And, then there’s Josh: I am not kidding, I think this guy is probably the best youth pastor I’ve ever seen. He is passionate and fun. He is committed to truly “making disciples of Jesus” and I admire how he is handing on what he’s received to others.

As we ate breakfast, Mandy asked us what we are thankful for. “This team, this church,” I said—and I meant it. “I’ve worked with a lot of teams over the years and I think this is the healthiest team I’ve ever worked with.”

“Why?” they asked.

I think a large part of that is a direct result of Mandy’s leadership. She strikes a good balance between structure and flexibility and she grants us the gift of trust. She trusts the decisions of her team and solicits input. I never have to worry about double-speak with Mandy. What she says to you is the same as what she says about you when you’re not there. She is hard-working (she deserved her sabbatical, believe me) and she does not get anxious when things don’t go as desired. It is a joy to work for such a gifted, humble leader and with such a gifted group of servants.

4. Meaghan and Nicolas: What can I say about my wonderful children? It is hard to put into words just how proud I am to be their dad.

Last spring as Nicolas finished 8th grade we were surprised he won an award: most improved student during middle school. Those who know Nic know that school has not always been easy for him. As a dad my heart goes out to him because he works with all his heart at whatever is set before him. If he wants to be someone’s friend, he gives it his whole heart. When I ask him to help around the house, he gives it his whole heart. As he engages with school work, he gives it his whole heart.

He has a dog-walking job now and he is reliable and trustworthy with it. On Thursday he was delayed because our car was in the shop for a repair. When we finally got home he called the woman he works for to let her know he was sorry because he would be five minutes late. I admired the way he honored his employer by being conscientious and thoughtful like that.

Both of our kids are trustworthy. Some time ago Heather and I were out and Meaghan and Nic called us to ask if they could watch a movie that was rated PG-13. I suppose that most teenagers would not even bother asking Mom and Dad about something like this. What’s more, I imagine if there was anything in the movie that was questionable, most teenagers would likely hide it. Heather and I just laughed at how open and honest they are. When they do anything that they know is not good for them, they always tell us about it and we talk it through. We never have to wonder about them hiding or sneaking around, trying to get away with stuff behind our backs. That is a gift.

And, Meaghan…she has a persevering spirit and a keen mind. She is friendly, sacrificial and servant-hearted. Since we’ve been at Grace church she has served as a helper in Sunday School and this year she is a teacher for the lower elementary children. She is a leader at school and has been involved with a number of clubs. She loves God with her whole heart and…is a responsible driver! I’m happy about that.

Last night I told her how hopeful I am and how eager I am to see where she ends up going to college. I am sure good things are in store for her.

5. Heather: This part is an example of why we use expressions like “last, but certainly not least” and, yes:  “I’ve saved the best for last.” If there was ever anything in my life that I ever did right it was this: marrying this wonderful, wonderful woman. We were made for each other.

In times when I’ve been doubtful, worried or fearful about life, I never have to worry if Heather will be there, standing with me, ready to understand, extending patience. She is hard-working and intelligent. Her mind is quick and sharp; her heart is soft and loving. She likes to laugh and has a gift for sarcasm. She carries herself with dignity and is an incredible mom. The other day Meaghan asked to talk especially with Heather about something that was troubling her. What a special bond Heather has nurtured with her kids!

She goes the extra mile and opens her home to welcome all kinds of people. It is amazing to me how open she is with our home. We have had all kinds of people living with us over the years and we still do!

I love her cooking, I am amazed at what a voracious reader she is and I love sitting on our front porch together. Her love for dogs makes me smile and I even enjoy hearing her tell certain stories and use expressions that are unique to her…for the umpteenth time.

She is quick to encourage others and she is a woman who loves God with her whole heart. I admire her commitment to worship God by being good to her body.

She has a light, a spark in her eye, that makes my heart beat faster each time I see her.  

She is my best friend.

These are the five highlights from my year. I’m thankful and I hope that there is some sliver in here that you find encouraging. My belief is that God has been good to us not because we’re good but simply because God is a good God. As God has been good to us, I’m sure you know of ways God has been good to you. I invite you to take some time to thank him today.



1 comment:

Tony said...

Beautifully said, Troy. So very proud of you and so glad to have you as my baby brother. I love you, your amazing family and and the phenomenal man you have become. Tony