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?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

10 Thoughts as 2016 Comes to a Close

Been reflecting a bit as the year winds down. Here are 10 thoughts with no apparent connections between them.

1. I've grown increasingly convinced that Mental Health is the number one issue that the Church is going to have to take a strong stance on advocacy for in the 21st century. 1 in 5 are lonely. Anxiety is at an all time high. Depression continues to steal and destroy. The more I work with 20-somethings, the more I'm convinced a theology on mental health is needed. The church has to be a place where it is ok to not be ok.

2. The Cavs ended a drought in Cleveland that lasted my entire lifetime (plus an additional few decades!) I remember saying when we went down 3-1 that we would either come back in the most epic way to end the Cleveland sports curse, or we would get blown out by 30 points in game 5. Glad it was the former. I had a spot lined up for me to go to Cleveland to watch game 7. But I backed out. It was Father's Day and I took Chaia to studio 35 and we watched the game together. Made me miss my dad a ton. Looked like the Indians might do it too. But they were without a couple of key players. Hoping Encarnacion fits in and hits the ground swinging.

3. I discovered part of my calling is to awaken people to the desperate need for foster parents/adoptive parents. If I can influence 5, 10, 20, 100 households to extend offers for forever family to at risk kids,it will be worth it. It is hard. But most things that are right, usually are. If not us, who? If not now, when? I had a couple who I'd met one time in my life come up to me at a partner church and let me know they have jumped into the foster/adoption story because of a sermon I preached on adoption. Amazing! And to have 12 households at a next steps gathering and to have a number of those households submit applications for foster/adopt is one of the proudest moments for me as a pastor.

4. I may or may not have watched the entire series of The Walking Dead this year. I went from thinking it was lame, to thinking through my every move in new environments, just in case I had to defend myself against zombies. I know its a goofy show, with an unrealistic plot, but it really has a theme of Family on Mission.

5. Speaking of Family on Mission, that was the one rallying cry I prayed over C3 in 2016. We can only go forward as family. The problem I sense with this metaphor is that we have distorted the idea of family to be a nuclear family in a 3 bedroom home. Our allegiance to the nuclear family has sabotaged the kind of family Jesus gave his life for. He redefines family as those who are joining him on mission. But if we're honest, we don't like that redefinition.

6. Two kids are more than one kid. In every way. Time. Attention. Frustration. Sweat. Cussing. Laughter. Fun. Joy.

7. A thought I'm wrestling with. I lead a predominantly white church. We don't look like the city we live in. I now have a black son and I am struggling with the fact that we live in a pretty densely populated white community. I think pastors who advocate for racial reconciliation but live in segregated areas of the city with people who look and talk like them are hypocrites. If racial unity matters, then live like it matters. Shaina and I are wrestling with if God is calling us to move to a more diverse neighborhood.

8. A lot of amazing people died this year. Celebrities yes. But also my grandparents. My grandpa. The guy who baptized me, officiated part of my wedding and then stood as a groomsmen for the other part of my wedding. He ran the race and held on so that others could grab on. I want to do the same for others. Still feels surreal that my parents and grandparents are now all deceased. Not sure what emotions I have toward that. So thankful that the message of adoption is central to the Gospel and to my life or I may succumb to loneliness and isolation.

9. Best movie I saw this year? Collateral Beauty. I'm a sucker for Will Smith, the existential, and mental health...so bam. Trifecta.

10. The leadership lesson I'm taking away from 2016. GRACE and PACE. My identity is not tied to my ministry. And I will not work in such a way that I impede His work in and through me. My productivity must not hinder His. Simply find where God is at work in the world and join Him. And do it in rhythms that don't kill you, your family or your soul.

Have a happy New Year! May 2017 be the best one yet.