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 . . .


  1. Welcome back to Oregon! I hear you have met my cousin Doug Hepler and his wife Vicki at OCEC. Have you two decided to make that your home church? I also think you do not live too far from my sister Deanna. Her family lives off of Warner Parrot. Would love to see you two some time. You were/or never ordinary to me, thats not a bad thing:) Take Care. Bev Pressel

  2. Hi, Bev! We look forward to seeing you sometime soon!