Saturday, January 28, 2017

Aaaahhhh!

It was one of the more important affirmations I've had in my ministry. It was 2011 and Shaina and I were going through a Church Planters Assessment to see if we had the character, competency and wiring to get something started. Shaina was 36 weeks pregnant. I was a dreamer who didn't know what I didn't know but I had some grit.

By the grace of God, we got the green light and during the exit interviews the assessors were adamant that we do this together. The dynamics of us leading this thing out together would be very effective. In one sense this wasn't surprising. Twice in our past, I had gotten Shaina jobs at the places I was working and she was eventually promoted to become my boss. She's a leader. But in another sense I had seen Shaina as the complement to what I was doing rather than the co-laborer or co-pastor. She was the music to my message. If I preached a dud, I'd just make sure Shaina sang the song after the message and people would forget...or at least partially forget the dud they'd heard.

But the affirmation in the exit interview was that she was not to be "along for the ride" but very much connected to the unfolding story of City Campus Church.

It was one of those moments of thrill I will never forget. We were going to give it a go...together.

A few days later, the little bean was born. Chaia's birth (36 hours, induced, nothing seemed to go the way we planned) taught us that things are not in our hands.

Her heart attack 10 weeks later taught us that this road we were heading down would be the hardest thing we'd ever done.

100 days in the ICU.

So many unknowns coming out of the hospital. Still pretty sure it would end with a funeral.

But one thing was certain: the amount of ongoing care Chaia needed meant Shaina was going to have to be more nurse and mom than co-laborer and co-pastor.

Shaina was still very much the backbone of C3. We hosted everything. Had meals around our table with people other than family over 100 times a year the first couple years in Columbus.

And here we are 4 years later and Chaia is a beautiful, miraculous young lady and Shaina finally has the space to look beyond the doctors appointments (cardio, neuro, endocrine, genetics, nutrition, pediatrics, etc. etc.) and the meds (we have gone from 10-15 meds a day, multiple times a day, to 5 meds a day, multiple times a day) and the insurance companies and the pharmacies...And I am completely thrilled.

She took the last 7 months and really took everything off her plate. Because you will never successfully pick something up without faithfully putting something else down. And so she has begun the journey of discovering her voice. She isn't along for the ride. We have always been meant to do this together.

And tomorrow is her birthday. And it is the first time she will preach in her life.

She's nervous. I'm not.

She has written, rewritten and rewritten again to try and use some ministry muscles she hasn't used before. And I am just thrilled to watch her pray and discern and labor on how to share her heart and lead the people of C3. She will be great. Not necessarily because she has mastered public speaking or how to unpack a biblical text, because that takes practice and repetition. She will be great because she is secure in whose she is, which helps her know who she is. A daughter of the king.

She's nervous. I'm not.

Well, except perhaps that she might end up being my boss again!

You should come.
Sunday January 29
11 a.m.
Graham Expeditionary Middle School
140 East 16th Avenue
Columbus, OH

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Thrill.

Thrill v. (with object)
1. to affect with a sudden wave of keen emotion or excitement, as to produce a tremor or tingling sensation through the body.

She told me on my birthday. December 20. Sent me a text. "Hey Love. For your birthday, I got you bourbon and a baby."
I was sitting next to her on the couch. Looked at the text. Then looked at it again. Then looked at her with wide eyes of thrill.

A baby!


Amazing. Not been preventing pregnancy for 4 years, we just assumed it wasn't in the cards. We were fine with that. Chaia has been amazing, but the hospital took it's toll. Plus we have a huge heart for foster and adoption.

But a baby!

Thrill. Immediate excitement. A wave of keen emotion. Anticipation. Boy or Girl? Name? Due date? How will Chaia and Marquis feel? Dear God, we will have gone from one to three in less than a year. Dear God, we will be outnumbered. Dear God, help us. Sleepless nights, more time with the illogical and unreasonable spawn under the age of 5. Dear God, please let the baby look more like their mom than me. Dear God, the hospital. The genetics. The calcifications. The heart attack. The risk. The pain. The heartache. The agony. Dear God, the tears.

Fear n.
1. a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.

The distance between thrill and fear is not far. I went from one to the other in a matter of seconds.

Both come in sudden waves that physiologically impact the body. But those waves could not be more distinct.

Thrill leads to anticipation.

Fear to dread.

Thrill is defined by adventure.

Fear is defined by scarcity.

Thrill sees opportunity.

Fear sees risk.

Thrill says enjoy the ride.

Fear says endure the ride.

And I have been searching my heart to figure out how and why I'm teetering between the two sometimes day by day, other times minute by minute.

Today we sat in an OB patient room and I held my breath as an ultrasound began. Thrill. A baby. Fear. Is that baby ok?

Then there is a heartbeat. And for the moment thrill wins out. But I can't shake the cloud of fear...the what ifs...the unknowns.

Thrill and fear.

Then it hit me. The fear I feel. The nerves. The apprehension. All of that is linked to control. Fear is tied to the feeling that my life is out of my control.

Thrill is embracing the truth that my life IS out of my control. And I have sensed the still small voice of the Divine reminding me of where we have been. A little girl with a raw deal. Expected to die in 5 days. And yet she has been healed. And this overwhelming reminder of a dead heart coming alive again. Of people seeing God written in her story. And feeling absolutely out of control while all that healing and redemption happened and delighting in God all the while. Chaia...Life...made fearfully and wonderfully. Knitted together. Beautifully hand crafted.

What you fear the most controls you the most. Be it death or safety or loneliness or loveliness. It's why we don't take chances, we avoid cost, chase the likes and compromise our values.

Proverbs 9:10 says that "The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Why is it wise? Because what you fear the most controls you the most.

And when we yield to God, new possibilities and opportunities present themselves and we no longer walk in concern or dread or scarcity.

We walk with exuberant hopefulness. Because the distance between fear and thrill is determined by Who is driving.

May whatever controls you today, be replaced by the intoxicating thrill of a life resolved to the surrender to the Divine.

Baby #3.

For a heartbeat more or 100 years of heartbeats...may we be captivated by the grace of God and enamored with the presence of God every chance we get.

Choose thrill.
It's a better way.
Bring it on.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Nuggets of Wisdom

I'm another year older. My hair is graying (particularly my eyebrow hair) at an alarming rate. This clearly means I'm one step closer to maturity and wise sage status. So as my credentials strengthen, here's my attempt at some advice/reminders/encouragement for 2017 Ben (and maybe 2017 you?). I'm not big resolution guy. But I think some subtle changes will help.

1. Self Care is not selfish.
The only way my family can be well...The only way my church can be well...is if I'm well. I'm an introvert. I used to look down at people who went to movies on their own. Now I am a person who goes to movies on my own. I need to get lost in stories. I'm going to use every vacation day I've got. I'm going to be present for bedtime with the kids as much as possible. I'm not taking my phone in the bedroom (I shall splurge and buy an $8 alarm clock). I'm going to continue to read a good deal. I'm hitting the gym because losing your dad when he is 53 sucks and I don't want my kids to have that be their story. I'm getting away with some pastor buddies twice in 2017 and there will be deep transparency in those times. I don't have time for spin management or putting a good foot forward. I will share what sucks and celebrate what doesn't.

2. My Productivity Often Impedes His
I move the needle. It's my personality. My leadership style. This isn't arrogant. Actually far from it. Though there is great virtue in how I'm wired, there is even far greater vice. The skills and characteristics that made me plant a church are the same skills that could cause me to sabotage the thriving of that church. If I sense that I'm too busy to pray, dig into God's word, or spend time cultivating/pastoring/developing leaders, then I will repent and cancel things that are more about my effort than His. He brought order out of chaos and the 24 hour day, 7 day week, with one day of sabbath rest is exactly as He intended. If I don't believe there are enough hours in the day, I need to repent of doing more than I'm called to or believing I'm something more than what I am.

3. Give more than I Take
Generosity is the way to freedom. Every year, Shaina and I attempt to give away an additional percent of our income. This year will be 14. It's getting harder, especially with a fourth Thompson in the mix, but the less feasible it is, the more we trust God to pull it off. Maybe it's giving financially. Maybe it's saying yes to additional foster placements. Maybe it is spending time with leaders or potential leaders to help strengthen their muscles. Whatever God puts before me, as long as I can honor 1 and 2, I will give. There's always room for one more in the family...one more at the table...one more to be discipled...one more dollar to be given.

4. Thank and Encourage Rather Than Complain and Belittle
I'm generally a pretty lousy encourager. Something about having a driven, task oriented personality that causes me to overlook or devalue people in ways that do not honor Jesus. So I'm going to thank and encourage. Encouragement is oxygen to the soul. I don't want to be suffocating any more. So hand written notes, personalized thank yous, timely texts. More of that. Because people who have caught their breath are way more inclined to breathe life into others. Sure there will be setbacks, disappointments and things that feel like betrayals. I won't lose sight of the miraculous.

5. Take the Calling Seriously, Myself less so
Life has had a way of sucking the fun and joy out of it for me in recent years. Shaina has been the spontaneity to my planning, the light heartedness to my intensity, the practical joker of borderline inappropriateness to my no nonsense, business as usual. Lately because life has been hard, I've seen some of that joy and rambunctiousness fizzle in Shaina. She used to laugh so hard the entire 7 a.m. breakfast crowd in Mount Union's cafeteria would silently stare at the multi-octave combustible laughter. The silver lining through a lot of crisis is we have been able to chuckle along the way. I want to provide space for that in the coming year.

2017 feels like a hugely important year in the life of C3 and in the Thompson Family. I feel both a sense of anticipation and vulnerability. The best thing I can do is align my life to the values God has called me to so I can be ready to Build and Fight.

The verse I sense God has me circling for 2017 is Exodus 14:14...The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.

What about you? What's your sense for 2017?