Monday, August 24, 2015

Dear Me From Three Years Ago

Hey 2012 Ben! I just thought I'd tell you what the world is like three years down the road. You've just made it to Columbus and started meeting people. Consider this counsel as you start out.

1. As hard as it was with Chaia and the 100 day hospital ordeal and moving to Columbus with all her medical needs and the up every few hours for feeding tube stuff for such a long time, and as hard as it is to put in the hours and sweat and tears and prayers to help in birthing a church, two years after launch will be even harder. You'll see some heartbreaking stuff, you'll wonder if you can lead the way God is asking you to lead, you'll contemplate throwing in the towel. The newness and sexiness will wear off. You'll battle with depression and identity things. And I tell you all that not to scare you but to encourage you to keep going. To remember where you've been. To celebrate the wins fiercely and grieve the losses intentionally. Remember the calling. Don't doubt in the dark, what you were convinced of in the light.

2. There are going to be people who over promise and under deliver. They will pledge courageously to die in the trenches with you and they won't even make it to the first skirmish. It's going to be really easy to feel betrayed and hurt by that. Don't. Just realize how many have under promised and over delivered along the way. There will be so many who will go the extra mile, will do whatever it takes, will give sacrificially beyond what you expected! There will be people that their friends will say "they'll never do the church thing or the God thing...they're too far gone" and you'll watch God wreck their hearts and lives with grace! Don't write people off when it comes to God. Remember when your life was worth writing off. Much can change when God is in the equation.

3. Your mom's going to die the day of your first church service. It's going to be hard but what you do with the immense grief will greatly impact your next couple years. You're going to sense the need to bury the grief to keep going with the church. Just know you can't bury it far enough. And your leadership will go to two very different places based on whether you are transparent about adversity or seemingly unaffected by it. Let them see you bleed. There may be some who will jump ship and find that pastor with the swagger and the charisma to tickle their ears. You don't have much swagger or charisma, so let Jesus be enough to build this church. Stay the course. Revolutionary change. Evolutionary pace.

4. The nature of starting something from scratch is very "bottom-line". You're going to see people as potential investors to get this thing bankrolled. Then you'll see people as giving units and households to get you to launch. Then you'll want to see people as butts in seats, whether in communities or in the Sunday gathering. Be cautious in the number game. It turns people into pawns. They which Christ has emptied himself for at the cross are not mere pawns in a grand scheme, they are souls, resurrected from a mass grave. They are people not pawns! Treat them as such. Marriages will be hurting. Fears will be haunting. Pasts will be crippling. Insecurities will be festering. You have the great and burdensome joy of being their pastor. You won't always like it. You won't ever feel adequate. But it is one of the greatest privileges for you in this story.

5. You're going to suck. I know that wasn't in the five year plan. But its true. Not everything will go according to script. The things you thought were important, may not be. You're going to discover flaws and limitations to your leadership and you're going to lead people straight into failure. Remember to be teachable and humble in the suckage. Remember that we may do things that are failures but we ourselves are NOT failures. We are the people of God, fearfully and wonderfully made and the whole Narrative is letting a Better Author tell a Better Story. And sometimes, the best way to learn that is by realizing how bad we are with the pen in our hands. Remember when it comes to leadership gaffs and snafus and whoopsidaisies, If it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly. (And in case you're wondering, making disciples who make disciples who make disciples is always going to be WORTH IT!) Repent when you need to. Reflect continually. Adjust accordingly.

6. Have fun. There's going to come a day when you're going to feel stuck and disheartened, don't let part of the conversation that day be about how little joy and laughter were shared along the way. Your identity isn't tied to City Campus Church. As much as others may try to convey that, you are a husband to an awesome wife. Put up with her chocolate on the tooth joke even if to you it is the 578th time the poor dead horse has been beaten. Jump out of planes, get ink done, go to the games, dance and discover whiskey. Obviously in moderation...but discover it sooner than later. You're a dad to a little miracle. Dance with her. Tickle her. Cheer embarrassingly loudly when she makes it to the 8th rung of the monkey bars. Pray with her. Let her listen to Uptown Funk and Love Me Like You Do...even if she starts singing some things that you'd be terrified to hear if she knew what she was singing. Have time with your leaders that is agenda-less. Let them be part of your family.

7. Encouragement is oxygen to the soul. Grab onto the positive things, the meaningful gestures, and the encouraging words. Don't go seeking for them, or orbiting your leadership around things that will get you praise, but when people say thanks or tell you about life change they've experienced because of C3 or tell you your sermon wasn't as bad as your other ones, receive the compliments with grace and gratitude. Don't brush them off with humor. Encouragement disregarded leads to a well that runs dry.

I know with stars in your eyes, you're convinced that it's a better way to create a culture that isn't all about you but is about the people of God becoming the Church she was meant to be. A culture where leaders lead. Baptized people baptize people who turn around and baptize people. A culture where the church is actually investing in real issues within her city and seeking justice and mercy and love and second chances...creating a place where anyone despite their alleged level of 'lostness' can find hope. A culture that isn't about hype and polish that will draw a bunch of Christians from other churches to come to your thing because its the trendy thing. I know that's what you're sold out to three years ago Ben.

And you're exactly right.

The way is costly. Not going costs even more.

Keep going.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Life and Joy

Little One,

I remember the night you were born. You fought stubbornly with your mom for 36 hours and then finally made an entrance. I was so proud of your mom that the middle name we'd been searching for became obvious. Joy. Just like your momma's. Our prayer over you was that you would be a life (Chaia means life in Hebrew) of joy.

I remember getting home with you and you being stubborn (recurring theme?) with nursing and you and your mom screaming and crying together in frustration as the precarious dance of a tiny peanut and a new nursing mother began.

I remember Squeaky McGee...your first nickname as you made these tiny little squeak noises all the time.

I remember you snuggling on me while we both snoozed and it being one of the best feelings in the world.

I remember the moment everything fell apart. 10 weeks old, gasping for breath.

I remember them trying to get an IV as you were having a heart attack. They tried both arms, both feet and then your head. And you screamed in a way I'd never heard.

I remember you getting a helicopter ride to Akron Childrens. I drove. And I beat you there by 20 minutes. I remember seeing the last plays of the Browns game as I waited for you to arrive. They won. I knew then something was wrong with the world that day.

I remember the doctors imaging you and then the team of pediatric cardiologists looking baffled at the imaging and saying that your arteries just disappeared.

I remember the nurses who took the time amidst all the tubes and IVs and monitors to put a hair bow in your hair.

I remember them saying it wasn't good and that we had to go to Cleveland Clinic because ECMO which often served as a bridge to heart transplant was waiting for us there. I knew then that you were dying.

I remember the white walls...the sterile, lifeless, white was like an asylum.

I remember the teams of doctors, the barrage of questions, the repetition of our story, being asked if your mom and I were related.

I remember 5.

5 Days to live.

That's what they told us.

I remember the geneticist who happened to specialize in rare genetic diseases and happened to read an article about a rare disease and who happened to order an ultrasound of your belly and happened to find calcifications and who happened to come up with a diagnosis.

I remember them handing us an article about the disease and telling us once we had read that article, we would know as much as them.

I remember the doctor who said he understood we had faith but that we had to understand that your heart could not get better.

I remember your momma weeping because she couldn't hold you or snuggle you.

I remember us pleading for Ezekiel 36:26 to take place in you.

I remember the Church. Oh Chaia, if you only knew the beauty of the Church. The meals. The visits. The prayers. The way they saved us financially. The prayers. All around the globe...The prayers...The were single handedly violating the Clinic's sterile lifeless wall policy with the cards and decorations in your room.

I remember 100 days...the bird mask...Stanley the Sock Monkey...Finger Puppets...Fleas...Meeting Joe Haden...Meeting the Cavs players...Santa...Gungor...The nurses...Your mom and dad are still alive and still together because of the nurses. They may have woken you up to play with them in the middle of the night, but they saved our little mom buying a GPS so she could brave coming up to Cleveland on her own...The Seahawks...meeting the sweetest photographer and her little family that captured your story through her lens...I remember 100 days feeling like 3 lifetimes.

I remember being discharged. The immense care...the round the clock tube feeds and round the clock meds...the constant vomiting...the loss of teeth...the brittle bones from the experimental treatment...the day you stopped wanting to be in your bouncer and us later finding out it was because you had fractures all over your tiny body. The constant medical/insurance stresses...the set backs...the progress...the pseudo tumor...the move to Columbus in the midst of a ton of uncertainty.

I remember birthday one at the Zoo. We finally made it to the zoo. I'd promised you daily in the Hospital.

I remember your scoot. I remember your gremlin voice when you said "Bible"...and only when you said Bible...and how inconvenient that was as a pastor, to have my kid do that.

I remember 2 years old at Grandma Thompson's house. Great Grandma and Great Grandpa Thompson wearing elmo party hats.

I remember you regaining strength and crawling again and pulling yourself up and taking your first steps.

I remember the word of the week.

I remember watching Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 743 times. I remember birthday 3 and the most epic minion cakes of all time.

I remember the day you raised your hands in worship and sang the words to the song mommy was singing in church.

I remember you hurling in church and it making an awful sound all over the gym floor.

I remember C3 loving you and raising you.

I remember the day you sat on your little potty as Papa and Nana came into the house and greeting them by saying "Hi Papa, I'm taking a freaking poop."

I remember you calling me Ben instead of Dad.

I remember you having the lightbulb turn on after Mr. Carl had been staying with us for a week or so and you asking "Mr. Carl, are you living here?"

I remember asking you if you wanted to get married some day and you telling me "No, I want to be a restaurant guy."

I remember that 25 percent of your heart doesn't work and they still expect you to decline at some point.

But I remember Who is authoring this story. And I trust the better author to tell a better story.

And now little one, my bean, my Princess Plop-a-lot, my warrior princess---I want you to know that your mom and dad are so incredibly proud to be your parents. And your name is exactly who you are:

Life--pulse...heartbeat....breath...movement...not dead.

Joy--satisfaction in God...despite circumstances...contentment...laughter.

And on your fourth birthday our prayer remains the same: Whether it's one more breath or one more century of breaths, may your life be leveraged to the glory of God and your heart captivated by the grace of God all the days of your life. And may we get out of your way.

Love ya kid. Let's go change the world.

Happy Birthday! Ben (feel free to start calling me dad again!)

Monday, May 4, 2015

Be Careful Little Eyes

I remember the first time we had communion as a church. There were about 20 of us in our living room, which at that time was our entire church. And as people came to the center of the room to take the bread and dip it into the cup and remember what Jesus had done for us, they had to side step a little girl who had found her way to the foot of the table. She had a tube in her nose, couldn't walk or crawl because she had fractures all over her tiny body. But she could scoot. And she scooted right next to the table and literally watched every person come take communion.

I remember Shaina and I reflecting on that and saying "That is what we want our kid to experience about church." Not the meetings that stole her dad from her too many nights of the week...not the frustrating conversations of a disheartened/burnt out pastor and his annoyed and lonely wife...But of a bunch of people trying to figure out the Jesus way together. Less drama. Less committees. More community. More service to the people of our city.

And in many ways, C3 has raised that little girl into a sweet young lady.

And she is still watching.

She sees C3 support a group of first graders where we meet by helping them with their First Grade Factory pencil company (over 600 pencils bought last Sunday!)
She sees (and sort've helped!) our community move in a family and welcome them to Columbus last Thursday.
She sees our community partner last Friday with Graham Primary School to pull off a Food Truck Event for a fundraiser to help the school continue to invest in kids.
She sees Mr. Carl, a student at Otterbein move in to our house this past weekend for the summer to do a pastoral intern with C3 to see if church planting is in his future.

She's watching. As are many other kids.

Our job is to make sure they love what they see.

This past week, City Campus Church was recognized at the Stadia Church Planting banquet at Exponential Conference for their work in investing in kids in our community and in Ecuador and Mexico. Shaina and I accepted the Wess Stafford award on behalf of C3. We received money to continue investing in children at C3 and Shaina and I got a crazy gift to travel back to Ecuador to visit our Compassion sponsor kiddo, Yelixa!

What are the kids around you seeing when they observe your life?

I pray it is really really Good News.

150409 Thompson Video from Stadia Church Planting on Vimeo.

Thanks for all of you who are investing in our story through prayer or financial support. It is changing the world quite literally.