Thursday, July 24, 2014

this ordinary adventure

I'm not the only one who has struggled with feeling ordinary. I suspect it's a common ailment of those of us in our late 20's and 30's who set out to change the world -- full of ideas and loaded with energy -- and woke up one morning 2 or 3 children later only to discover that we had, somewhere along the line, slipped into the very lifestyle we were determined to avoid -- an ordinary one.

I've been encouraged by fellow blogger and friend-of-a-friend Chrissy Jeske, who often reflects on this very phenomenon. In fact, she and her husband have written a whole book about it. After an action-packed decade post-college living in rural Nicaragua, China, and South Africa (chronicled in their first book), they did the unthinkable. They bought a house on 2 1/2 acres in Southern Wisconsin, put both of their kids in public school, and started in on the inevitable homeowners' to-do list. Meanwhile Chrissy began a PhD in cultural anthropology and her husband, Adam, got a desk job. Since their timing coincided nicely with ours, I enjoy reading Chrissy's blog posts. She and I often wrestle with similar questions, and she has managed to find adventure in ordinary life.

Adam writes, "When I despair at the long, slow ordinary adventure, I stop and remember . . . God has graciously built into us habits of noticing small amazing things every day, responding wholeheartedly and taking small steps for long-term effect, and that makes a difference." (This Ordinary Adventure, 192, emphasis mine) 
"Today, I can notice the little amazing things around me and I can respond. I can take steps and make plans that will grow almost imperceptibly. I can make some small decisions that will have big effects, like sticking tiny acorns in the earth. When I'm gray and wrinkly, if God grants me that grace, I'll enjoy watching the sun rise behind oaks rather than across an open field. I'll look back on my life and see how small decisions and tiny steps began some very big adventures. I hope to see the results of a life well-lived: my gray, wrinkly and smiling bride; two kids living well in the world; a church filled with people I've known for decades and people who've just come in; projects and ministries that we supported with our money and time; and friends who I got to see start on this ordinary adventure with Jesus. It's doubtful I'll see all of these slow-growing fruits from seeds planted now, but surely I'll see some of them.
"This is a terribly big deal, and it makes me tremble again. Am I really willing to consider everything -- my dreams, my plans, my education, my job, my free time, my money, my friendships, my marriage, my parenting, my house -- in light of God's amazing calling on my life that should still be affecting the world ten, twenty-five, even a hundred years from now? Will I do what is necessary to prepare the ground for a field of oaks that will drop their own acorns, seeding and reseeding in generations of resurrections? Do I have the foresight and the patience -- the faith -- to find the best acorns and stick them in the dirt?" (This Ordinary Adventure, 191-192, emphasis mine)

Planting acorns is neither glamorous nor exotic. It's terribly ordinary. But it's the first and most important step in a process that ensures the world is a different place 50 years from now. In our new house I've been harvesting cups of blueberries every day for weeks, thanks to the foresight of the previous owner, who was not here long enough to enjoy the fruit of her labor. I'd like to think that writing a dissertation (or parenting small children, or serving faithfully at church) is a lot like planting an acorn. Patient study is not a quick fix for the world's problems, but it cultivates long-term growth that will offer tangible benefits for future generations.

What are you planting today that your grandchildren can enjoy? Godly parents? Stronger churches? Shady forests? Great literature? It may feel ordinary, but your wise choices day after day can eventually change some small corner of the world.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

embracing the ordinary

In the two months that have passed since my most recent post, a lot of life has happened:

  • 2 weeks in Israel on a study tour with my Dad, my doktorvater, and my pastor
  • 10 days to pack for a cross-country move and say our goodbyes
  • a garage sale in Wheaton
  • a drive across 7 states to our new home with a 3-day stop in Colorado to be with family
  • Easton's 6th birthday
  • the death of my grandmother, age 93, in Washington state and her memorial service the day after we arrived in Oregon
  • getting settled in our new home and integrating all of my grandma's things into it
  • reconnecting with friends and family
  • a garage sale in Oregon
  • finding a new church in our neighborhood
  • figuring out grocery stores, libraries, parks, museums, etc.
  • a 5-day camping trip with Danny's mom and all of his brothers and their families
  • helping with a week of Vacation Bible School at our home church in Oregon
  • getting the kids registered for school
  • organizing and re-organizing the garage to make room for Danny's office
  • buying a washer and dryer
  • beginning dissertation research again after a 4-month hiatus
With the exception of my trip to Israel, this list is not glamorous. It represents a lot of sweat and a lot of stress, and even a good deal of fun, but it does not appear to be a recipe for changing the world (or making a splash in academia, for that matter). This was brought home to me when I encountered a (very blunt) young adult from our home church this week who has watched the adventure of our life unfold over the past dozen years. He remembers when we set out for the Philippines in 2002, ready to reach the lost for Christ. Our early letters, he says, were exciting and inspiring. But then life got ordinary. We moved to North Carolina to work at headquarters, and our "biggest" news then was playing soccer [sic: kickball] with the neighbor kids. He didn't need to even mention our next move -- a journey into academic obscurity in Wheaton -- for me to get his point: we've become rather ordinary, nothing to write home about.

Fair enough, I told him, and moved on with the task of eating my dinner and getting ready to be mobbed by more than a dozen precious kids, well over half of them hispanic, for a loud and crazy night of VBS. All through the crafts, games, snacks, and Bible stories, I pondered our brief conversation. Was he right?

In my younger years, when we started our adventure in missions, I would have agreed with him. Life was too short to waste it on ordinary suburban life -- a house with a cute front yard, a minivan, 2.5 kids, plenty of time with family, and occasional trips to Disneyland. I still agree that if that's all there is to it, something is amiss. But a dozen years in ministry has taught me that the recipe for a transformed life calls for large quantities of patient, ordinary, faithful investment and only an occasional headline-making event. Going to Israel was great, for example, but the true fruit will come from years of Bible teaching injected with personal passion and on-the-ground experience. 

View of Ancient Shechem from Mt. Gerazim - Photo C. Imes
A Samaritan Village on Mt. Gerazim - Photo C. Imes
 On Tuesday night of VBS, we heard the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, which I've blogged about before. I was excited for two reasons. First, the story was being told in first-person by my teenage daughter, who did a fabulous job!  But I was also excited because I have been there. While we couldn't get to the well itself because we lacked a bullet-proof bus, we drove to the top of Mt. Gerazim and looked down into the valley where the ancient city of Shechem (and Jacob's well) has now been swallowed up by modern-day Nablus. 

We drove right through a Samaritan village and climbed off the bus at the site of their annual sacrifice (commemorating the sacrifice of Isaac on -- they say -- Mt. Gerazim). We saw their distinctive dress and saw first-hand how the 600 Samaritans alive today maintain a distinct identity from their Jewish neighbors. 
A Samaritan Priest - photo C. Imes

It was my first opportunity to spice up a Bible lesson with a story from our trip, and I hope there are many more opportunities in the days ahead. Our lives may look ordinary on the outside, but it's never been about us anyway. We carry inside this ordinary vessel the extraordinary power of the gospel:

"For what we preach is not ourselves [good thing!], but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay [that is, ordinary jars for everyday use] to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. . . . So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:5-7, 18
We have new neighbors who need to meet Jesus, and we'll be far more likely to earn an opportunity to share Christ if we take the time to play kickball with them than if we decide that the effort is not worth our time. So here's hoping for lots of ordinary days . . .