I have had the privilege to live enough life that I feel like I'm at a point of having perspective. I've slept in all manner of locations throughout the world in various states of safety, emotional state, and nourishment. From comfortable plush hotel rooms, bunks at sea, catching a few minutes of sleep sitting in a corner on foreign smuggler ships taking turns standing guard over each other, tents in Kuwait and Afghanistan, many hot sleepless nights in Haiti, and many different beds generously provided by believers in their homes throughout the United States. I've lived long enough with those that don't know where they're next meal is coming from, and spent enough days with the impending specter of death hanging over my head to have some perspective that only comes from hard experience while seeing the hand of God deliver when there seems to be no other possible explanation.
I've been reminded of the words of our Lord so many times since we have begun this journey as missionaries. I feel Him so close sometimes loving me, leading me, and teaching me through experiential training. There can be no separation from the intellectual understanding of following Christ and the practical. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis must prove each other to be true. 1 John 2:4 The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
This past road trip to reconnect with supporters and build relationships with new ones was full of joy as well as sadness. Louisiana bears so many hard memories for me, and I don't really like to go back there. There are good memories though that come flooding back sometimes unexpectedly bringing warmth and a smile.
I really loved my grandfather on my mom's side. I grew up next door to him. My mom was by far the youngest sibling in her family and my grandfather was in his. This connected me in a very tangible way to a history that was closer than most people get to experience. He was old when I was born, and his family was even older. He was full of stories of a life before industrialization and technology that I would get him to repeat often as I would fall asleep while he would tell them. Stories of growing up as a sharecropper during the depression, and getting expelled from school for putting a firecracker in the principal's coat pocket in the seventh grade never to receive any more education. His own father died when he was two years old and he began working with the Civilian Conservation Corps after getting kicked out of school.
He had a dark, deeply wrinkled, weathered face and smelled like sweat and garlic. He worked hard on his farm and brought me everywhere he went for the first few years of my young life. I spent a lot of time riding the tractor, and watching him try to keep cows alive. Some of my favorite memories are riding in his old green Ford pickup truck to Olive Branch to spend time with his brothers. They seemed larger than life to me as we would pull up to their old, weather beaten farmhouses and my grandfather would sit on the porch to converse with them.
I remember being scared to death of my Uncle Lanier who had fought in the Pacific during the second World War. I still will never understand why he would pull me close, pull out his razor sharp pocket knife, and tell me he was going to cut off my ear. Then he would let me go an laugh like it was a good joke. I remember sitting on the steps of Uncle Taylor's house and hearing stories told with a flavor that was painted with a rich vocabulary of old country cuss words. Probably my favorite times were spent sitting in the yard beneath the porch of Uncle Robert's house. Uncle Robert was very old and became the patriarch and father figure of my grandfather after their father died. Uncle Robert smoked a pipe and wore overalls. I would sit in the yard smelling the calming aroma of pipe smoke and play with all the matches that littered the ground beneath his rocking chair as he rocked back and forth on the old wooden porch above. He would give me a hammer so I could hammer them into the ground and build things out of them. While he and my grandfather would chat.
On the way home he would stop by an old run down convenience store that smelled like mildew and buy me a cup of Borden's ice cream. It came in a paper cup with a flat wooden spoon. The ice cream tasted so good as I would lick it off the rough spoon sitting next to my grandfather on the seat of his pickup truck. The shell of that store still remains in the form of an abandoned building grown thick with weeds and trees, but the memories come flooding back every time I pass by.
It was difficult to see all the family fight so hard for his property after he died. He had included me in his will, but I chose to stay out of the fight. I know that I may have had a different perspective than the others because of my special relationship with him. I don't know what the others had, and I know now that people change with age. Some grow bitter and hard, and some mellow out and soften. I just know that the best things I could have gotten from him are the intangibles that no one can take away.
Living like transients has helped me loosen my grip on stuff. Too much stuff just weighs us down and keeps us from being in a position to go when God calls. Sometimes it can be difficult because the few necessities we keep are hard to maintain and keep up with. We often lose things spending lots of time looking for them which causes us to constantly question what is really necessary. As I am writing this the microwave oven died and it doesn't even seem to phase us knowing that in a week we won't need it anymore. Things take on a more utilitarian value in order to accomplish the mission instead of a sentimental value for security and comfort. The camper we're living in is slowly crumbling around us, but we just need to live in it long enough to make it to our next place.
Living like this incurs lots of opinions from those that don't share our experience or perspective. Some people think it is cool, many others don't agree and make sure that we know how much they don't agree. I am much more cautious on who I share in conversation with. I have casted enough pearls before swine to feel their feet on my neck as they walk over me with their harsh judgment.
It is certainly interesting to hear the different opinions as we share about our life and mission work past, present, and future. I have sat before what felt like the Sanhedrin and been lambasted by the self professed religious elite on fully accepted fine points of theological opinion, and sat in offices of multiple degree holders as they showcased their degrees explaining each one while handing me a large volume of their doctoral thesis with their title gilded on the front in gold. The message coming across clear that formal education is worth more than battle scars.
After one particular disheartening inquisition I read from Amy Carmichael's Things As They Are to help me fall asleep. I knew that she would understand and I was not at all wrong. It is amazing how God can seem to talk to us directly sometimes through voices that were recorded well over a century ago, but still hold eternal value and relevance as if they were replying to an immediate question posed.
Amy put it this way “We need such men in our Native Church. God create them; they are not the product of theological colleges. And may God save His Missions in India from wasting His time, and money, and men, on the cultivation of what may evolve into something of no more use to creation than a new genus of jelly-fish.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about this. Here is a man that knew rejection to the point of death. His conclusion is that rejection is a necessary part of being a disciple. In his Cost of Discipleship he says, “But in the passion Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honour. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus.”
Bonhoeffer continues to reason that if our Savior was rejected, then we must also follow Him in this rejection. It is necessary because it places our dependency solely on Him, just as His was in His Father. About the disciples Bonhoeffer says, “They have only him, and with him they have nothing, literally nothing in the world, but everything with and through God.” He goes on to say about the distinction between others and the disciples, “ Yet there will be enmity between them right to the bitter end. All the wrath of God's people against Him and His Word will fall on His disciples; His rejection will be theirs.”
This rejection only solidifies the bonds of strong relationships with others that experience it. It draws us closer together as His disciples. I have been privileged to find this deep camaraderie among the most unlikely people in some of the most unlikely places. Those relationships are like gold and rise up like a sweet smelling aroma – like my Uncle Robert's comforting pipe.
I was asked to deliver the invocation for my friend Matt's Navy retirement ceremony. Even though it was in Virginia, I was honored and drove up there. After driving all over the United States a couple more days of driving to be able to participate in such a special event seemed like a breeze. Matt and I have a special relationship. We served on the USS Gary together in the late nineties. We would often be paired together to stand watch while in port and passed the time by getting to know each other. He has a depth of thought borne out of lots of salty sea time.
I watched Matt work with one of the most difficult people I've known with a supernatural patience that I don't seem to possess. TM3 Moorehouse “struck” out of deck division and ended up in Matt's division. The first time I met Moorehouse I was cleaning the birthing compartment and kept smelling something that I was sure was the inside of a dumpster. Eventually I realized that the horrid smell was protruding from Moorehouse. Most of us lamented that such a creature could even be allowed to walk the streets unsupervised, let alone begin to gain rank in the US Navy.
Back in the days when sailors still wore dungarees and we stenciled our names on our uniforms, Moorehouse simply wrote his in what ET3 Ehrlich dubbed famously “Moorehouse Font”. It looked as if Frankenstein's monster had attempted to brand the uniforms with the Moorehouse name. However, I saw Matt work tirelessly with unmatched patience vainly trying to help this guy out. I was there during a great time of tragedy for Matt that I do not feel at liberty to share because it is his story. Suffice to say that it was a privilege to be a part of his retirement ceremony and to meet his wife and new baby son.
After living in so many places and doing so many things we often run across people that we seem to know. I've gotten use to this feeling and the immediate reaction of staring at each other for a long time trying to rack our brains and find context to fit the face before you. This happened at Matt's retirement ceremony. The guy in front of me and I kept listing off places we had lived and work we had done until we finally remembered that we had both been in BUDs class 238 together. He quit during Hell Week in 238, I did in 239, and we hadn't seen each other since. It was great to reminisce about the good times of class 238.
The Navy is full of transients and outcasts. It was refreshing to be a part of such a salty retirement ceremony. There was plenty of tradition, sounding of boatswain's pipes, and ringing of bells. Tattooed sailors following the ceremony, but with personality much lacking in political correctness. They didn't have to make up anything or add fluff, and could only hit on the highlights of Matt's career that if he had the time to share in detail could have filled volumes of books with riveting stories.
As we spend our last few days hoping to stretch out the usefulness of our current abode, we look forward to hopefully a little better accommodations where we're heading. Ultimately we look forward to our heavenly home knowing that we are called to follow our Savior wherever He leads. It really doesn't matter where we go as long as He is there.
Hebrews 11:13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.