Monday, September 25, 2017

Samantha...aka the day a what became a who

Sundays are nuts right now. Between normal church responsibilities, having a new baby added to the mix with our other two children and having our house listed for sale and having open houses the last few Sundays, it seems like a pretty hectic/insane day.

Today was no exception. Baby dedication Sunday. Many additional moving parts. Interviewing a couple courageous ladies who are making a difference in our city. Preaching on an important topic that is literally killing a generation. There isn't a shortage to do.

But as great and important as all those things seemed at the outset of the day, they don't matter much at all to me after what happened.

Typical Sunday morning. I go in to the middle school around 5:30 and get the air conditioners set up and spend time in prayer and preaching my sermon to an empty room to hear what it sounds like out loud. This is holy ground...sacred space for me. I'm typically alone until 8:30 when some of the C3 team comes and hears the sermon and we give constructive feedback to seek to make it better.

That went fine.

After that around 9:15 I go to get my older two kids and bring them back to C3 so that Shaina can have about an hour to go through the house and make sure it is ready to go for the open house.

I get the kids, all the stuff we needed for the day and I go out to take our other car, the one with car seats in it back to church to continue to get ready for the service. My hands are full and I walk the kids to the door and they open it and begin climbing in. As they are heading to their seats in the third row of the flex, I see her. Sitting in the drivers seat...hunched...pale. I can tell by the look on her face that this is more than a homeless person finding a warm spot for the night. She was an addict. And she was not in good shape. (Yes we leave our doors unlocked. We keep nothing of value in the car and would rather them take a few pennies than break out a window.)

I calmly told the kids to get out of the car and go back to the porch and let mommy know we weren't going to be leaving quite yet. Chaia, the oldest, ever the compliant one, listened. Marquis got out of the car, walked around to the other side and got back in the car and was horsing around in the back seat. I looked for needles and didn't see any. The girl started to stir a little.

Hi, I'm Ben. You're in my car. Have you been using heroin?


Did you overdose?


Do you need help?


Ok I'm going to call for help.

She phased back out of it.

911 What's the location of your emergency. (I share my address.) What's the nature of the emergency?

I have a female potential heroin overdose. She is semi-responsive and admitted to using.

How old is she? (By now the girl is semi-coherent again. Moving around, appearing like everything she was doing was both painful and haphazard.) I ask her her age.


I tell the dispatcher. They assure me help is on the way. Meanwhile, the girl tries to stand up. I've got Chaia now back with me and her and Marquis are both watching. I ask them to go to the porch. They aren't budging. The girl starts walking around. She has a pathetic, already been smoked cigarette butt that she is frantically trying to find a way to relight. She can't find her lighter. I tell her I can help her. I have no lighter, so I come out with one of those big torch things that you light candles with. I light it for her and ask her her name.


She is 80, maybe 90 pounds. She has layers of clothing on including full fledged winter gloves that she'd left in the car. That seemed an odd choice since its to be a high of 93 today. She is emaciated. Not well.

I tell her help is on the way and it is as if she suddenly is able to piece together all that this help meant. She panicked and started walking down the alley away from our house and away from our street.

I can hear the sirens in the near distance. So can she.

I have a warrant out on me right now. I can't go to jail for this.

She begins an awkward but urgent jog. She is still not in good shape. So I keep up with her. But I feel tension because I don't want her to end up in worse shape physically than she already was trying to run from me and I had no way of letting the police know where I'd gone. So I watched her go behind a house and then I ran back to my street as the first police cruisers arrived. I gave a quick description and gave the address two streets up of the house she had gone behind.

I have no idea how the story unfolds after that. I don't know if the police found her. I don't know if she will find the help she needs.

All I know is that an opioid crisis that I've seen on the news and even watched a documentary on this past weekend, and have even brought up in sermons as I share about the foster care crisis that is a direct result of the opioid crisis...all of that went from a thing I heard about to a person I knew.


Hanging out in a place between euphoric bliss and cardiac arrest in my Ford Flex when I'm supposed to be heading to church to preach about...get this...what it means to really be the church.

And my mind goes a mile a minute. I wonder if she has kids. If so, do they know where their mom is? Have they already been taken from her? Does she have a family? Does she remember what hope feels like? How do you get to a place where you end up alone and overdosed in a total stranger's car?

I'm not angry. I wasn't scared. I wasn't even bothered by my kids witnessing it. (Can you say "teachable moment"?) What I was is incredibly sad. I don't want her to die. I feel the tension of imprisonment being a deterrent for people seeking help and maybe the only way she might get clean.

But for the first time, I didn't have a line of statistics to highlight the crisis of the overdose culture. Instead I had a face and a name.

It makes me desperate for people to feel feel safe...and to feel satisfied. I think we as a church could do a much better job of doing those three things to a world who needs good news.

I don't know where to begin with solving this crisis or even helping it a little bit, but what I do know is that this matters more to me now than it did yesterday.

Over 4000 died of overdoses in Ohio in 2016 and signs point to outpacing that number in 2017. Something must change.

What can we do?

Where do we begin?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Tonight I laid on the couch and did nothing. Nearly 4 hours. Just laid there. No TV. I had the Indians radio broadcast on, but was barely hearing it. I just laid there.

This came on the heels of the Labor Day Monday from hell. I had just wrapped up the paternity leave time and I am chomping at the bit to dig back in with C3. And I have a freaking holiday. Don't get me wrong. Days off are nice. Days off with three kids, one of whom is in the completely dependent for everything phase, while also being in contract for a new place and trying to sell our current place? They are less nice.

I put the labor into Labor day. Packing boxes, sorting stuff, getting a yard sale ready for the weekend. Hustle and bustle. Meanwhile the kids were losing their ever-loving minds. Chaia is obsessed with screens. We have very limited TV and tablet times, but she thirsts for it like water. "Go play outside." "I don't want to. I want screens." She eventually gets some screen time and her go to right now? Pulling up youtube clips. Of what you might ask? Kids. Playing. Outside. Naturally. Why go enjoy a beautiful September Ohio day, when you can let someone else enjoy it for you?

Marquis is in the "I-understand-the-difference-between-right-and-wrong-and-know-the-expectations-of-me-to-do-right-but-still-choose-to-jack-the-whole-thing-up-and-purposefully-and-defiantly-choose-wrong" phase. It's one of my favorites. It is on full display with potty training. The dude is potty trained. He gets it. But he won't tell you if he has to go. "You need to go potty?" "No." "Why don't we try going potty?" "No." "Bud, there is urine coming out your eyes and ears, lets go potty." "No." Take him to the potty? Pees for days. He's still up there peeing from when I took him up there yesterday afternoon. Like a fountain.

Then there is Sloane. She's great. Two weeks old. Sleeps most of the day and and is awake most the night. That's fine if you don't have the aforementioned Watch Kids Play kid and Urine Fountain kid sleeping at night and up all day.

And then my wife. Seriously the best human in the world. Underslept. Over-depended on. Every couple of hours, basically putting a rabid dog to her boob to feast...consistently wondering if any part of her body is ever going to work again the way it did before the pregnancy.

And there I am...packing up a house...virtually by myself. I'm not pitying myself. I'm in uber-nesting-hero mode. There are tasks to be accomplished. I shall accomplish them. And after I walked past the couch where Shaina and the nocturnal spawn are sitting for about the 15th time, with boxes or tape or labels or whatever it was, my wife said the words that I needed to hear.

"Why don't you just hold your daughter?"


Confession time. Productivity is like a drug to me. I operate off of a Get Stuff Done grid. And sitting with Sloane, taking in her little features, learning her cries and expressions and likes and dislikes? Especially during moving month? And back to work month? And big stretch for C3 month? That is the opposite of productivity. That is inactivity. It doesn't move the needle. It doesn't take the ball down the field. These are the 'virtues' I'm known for. These are the traits that people celebrate in my profession.

But the words Shaina said, the timing of which she said them, and the way she said them, not manipulatively but innocently, cut straight to the heart.

Activity is not synonymous with Productivity. In fact in the things that matter most, (Jesus said these things were "Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself.") activity is at times the antithesis and adversary of productivity.

We just finished a series at church called WAIT. It is one of the Bible's most important words and I was absolutely broadsided by it.

I can't love God and I can't love and be loved by others if my pace is frantic, helter skelter. I have to have margin to be. To spend time with God. To richly connect with others. Yesterday, I got the older two kids to go out and play basketball with me. We laughed and giggled and chased and tickled. There was no defiance or disobedience...just enjoyment and thrill. There was no youtube clips or video games. Nothing virtual...All reality.

And today I had my monthly haircut. I just recently made the move from the 7 minute slightly better than a bowl cut hair cut at a $10 haircut chain place to a traditional barber shop. For haircut, beard trim and neck shave (with a hot towel, please and thank you!) it is an hour experience. The dude Dave who was my barber today? As we talked and were just occupying the same space, he opened up about 3 miscarriages in the last year, about the last one nearly killing his wife, and how he is on the fence about the whole faith thing because it feels like God has abandoned him. I was able to share a bit about how I have experienced God's presence in the midst of intense suffering. It was a sweet time. I was his last cut of the day and he let it go for an hour and a half because it was good conversation.

My inactivity sometimes puts HIS productivity on full display.

He can do more in my waiting than in my doing I can do.

And the same is true for you. What would happen if one hour a day a week, you replaced hustle and hurry with intentional delay and delight? What if you chose to linger in a conversation/relationship knowing full well you were sacrificing your to-do list? Don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying neglect responsibility. I'm not saying be lazy and disengaged. I'm not saying netflix binge some waste of space series (you may as well watch kids playing on youtube). I'm saying rest. Rest in the liberating truth that apart from Him I can do nothing. Rest in the grace and productivity that inactivity affords us. It doesn't need done. It already has been. Pace. Space. Cadence. Rhythm.

I laid on the couch tonight with a little two week old snuggled securely into my chest. We listened to the Indians (14 in a row!) and gave mommy some space to rest and part body mind and soul...the other part food processing factory. Sloane's breathing was in sync with mine, we both phased in and out of snoozing. Nearly 4 hours.

It's the most productive thing I've done in weeks.

Where do you need to wait?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Letter to My New Daughter

Little Lady,

I wanted you to know I am thrilled that you are here.

Your mom and I want you to know that names are really, really important to us. Just ask your sister, Chaia or your brother, Marquis.

So we named you Sloane Promise Thompson.

One of the first times your mama preached, she helped me to reclaim the Hebrew word Ezer that is often translated as helper or helpmate and is used to describe what Eve was for Adam. Your mama pointed out that most every other time that Ezer is used in the Old Testament, it is referring to God and it is in the context of battle. It doesn't refer to the one who ties up loose ends for the husband or exists solely to serve, support and sustain her husband. Eve was designed and crafted to be a warrior alongside Adam. To fight alongside and go after this life with purpose and focus and grit and fierceness.

That sermon changed my life in a really good way and it helped me see what your mama has always been with me. Not someone who is along for the ride, but is meant to go with me in tenacity and resolve, in good times and in bad. When I lost my mom and dad and really lost my drive and passion to live, your mama fought for me. When your sister was fighting for her life, your mama fought with me to see her become a life of joy.

Sloane, your name means warrior. We pray that you embody this name and that there is a relentlessness in you that is this great mixture of resilience, conviction and beauty.

But we do not want you to fight for just anything. Your middle name is Promise. There are so many promises that God has spoken to His people. He will not leave us or forsake us. He is making all things new. He has reconciled us to him and wants us to be reconciled one to each other. He wants to revive all things, redeem all things and restore all things. We want you to fight for that. We want you to fight for justice and peace and grace and hope. These are the promises that Jesus points us to.

Sloane you are a gift sweet girl. Our family is better with you in it. And when we look at you and recall your name, I pray that we recall our own invitation to fight for hope to join God in restoring this world and bringing love and joy back to the song we sing as a world.

That, my love, is worth fighting for.