In the past months I’ve had so much to be thankful for. In fact, there have been mornings where I’ve woken up, and upon offering prayers of thanks to God, I’ve been reduced to tears of profound gratitude.
Here’s just a random sampling:
I thank God for the stage of life that my family is in right now. It’s simply so much fun: the twins are tweens; Winston is a fabulous 4, and Julianne is an endearing 22 months.
Julianne has the best smile on the planet–it’s slightly crooked and full of contentment. After my exercise time each morning, I walk into my house (around 7:15), and Julianne shouts from within her room, “Hiiii, Daaaaaddy!” Most importantly, Julianne laughs at all my jokes.
I thank God for Winston, an unassuming yet precocious kid, whose imagination is firing on all six (or is it twelve?) cylinders. When recently asked, “Winston, who is stronger–you or Dad?”, without blinking, he fired back matter-of-factly, “God.” (Deconstructing binary frameworks at age 4 shows legitimate intellectual promise.)
I simply can’t believe how healthy we’ve been as a family. Daily I give thanks for our health–it won’t, of course, last forever. I give thanks for a body that can hear, see, taste, and go for a jog, lift weights, etc. (As a pastor, whenever I fail to exercise regularly, it is, at least for me, an indicator of prideful self-importance rearing its ugly head. Jesus says, “You’re just not that important; go to the gym. I’m saving the world; I welcome your help, but, well, I don’t really need it.”) So this day–today–we are healthy. So what will we do with this amazing gift?
That being said, I give thanks to God for my (occasional) lower back pain. This tiny hindrance sobers me to my mortality, to the fact that, as a child of Adam, my days here are few, that this world is not my home (and its sirens of youth sing only lies), and that this present order (of sin and death) is inescapably in decay and giving way to a glorious new order of resurrection, peace and justice. Thank you, God, for occasional lower back pain. Thank you also for stretching, exercises, and Ibuprofen.
I’m so thankful that I get to learn Spanish. It’s been occasionally frustrating but, on the whole, so much fun! It’s a beautiful language. I’ve been able to navigate the gas station, grocery store, the post office, the utility company, call electricians, talk to nurses, the DMV, etc., all in Spanish. And Puerto Ricans (understandably) love it when I (attempt to) speak in their own tongue; it is, for them considerate and definitely comical.
I’m incredibly thankful for Sarah. Wow–has our marriage had its challenges, and moving has often been the occasion for significant marital strife. But this time around, though we’ve had one or two major arguments, the move has made us closer: we’ve laughed so much in the past six weeks; God has given us the humility to not take ourselves so seriously and to believe that He is present in the chaos and Lord over it.
But, in truth, there’s been so little chaos. I still can’t believe how well our transition to Puerto Rico has been. About a billion things could have gone wrong but didn’t.
I’m incredibly grateful for the past three years in ministry: serving adults in their 20s and early 30s in Durham was such an incredible gift, one we dearly miss. My family has been immeasurably blessed by amazing people like Elizabeth, Carolyn, Sam, John and Kerry Anne, Kristin, Chad, Mike and Olivia, Shirley, Matt, Emily (whose important email from like two months ago I still haven’t answered–but will, probably via a blog post), Nathan, Jenny, Jon, Michael and Rachel, David, Stephen, Christina, Nick and Beth, another Stephen, Zach, Josh, Brittany and Kyle, Ian and Christina, David and Natalie, Henry, Jason, Jacqueline, Andrew and Sydney, Sarah, Julia, Jason and Holly, Stanton and Jessie, Jon and Meghan, Molly, Rob and Natalie, Eugenie and Nathaniel, another Sarah, Patrick, Alex and RiLee, and about…125 others. Learning from you, listening to you, weeping with you, disagreeing with you, laughing with you, serving with you, worshipping with you–what an undeserved privilege!
(That being said, some 20-somethings here on the island are giving their Durham-based counterparts a run for their money–yes, I’m looking at you, Eduardo, Marly, Inés and Franco, Joel and Sheila.)
And to do this with four great lay leaders (we call them “elders”)–Andrew, Ben, David and Josh, who prayed their hearts out with me and opened their homes and hearts with Christ-incarnating welcome–it was an immense joy. Were it not for all of these, we wouldn’t have stayed as long as we did. Undeniably, we have seen the fingerprints of the Creator shape all of you, and as a result our faith is stronger than ever. Thank you.
But, alas, I’m also profoundly grateful that God gave me, a 38-year-old pastor with four little ones, the courage and faith to trust him by quitting my job–without having another job lined up, believing that He would provide. My ministry to 20-somethings was amazing; other things at the church weren’t. At all. As a student body president, varsity basketball player, valedictorian, Air Force Academy distinguished graduate, with a PhD (from a university recently ranked the fourth highest in the world)–blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I’m just not used to quitting (nor is Sarah–little Miss Loyalty herself). In fact, sadly, I don’t think I’ve ever quit–often, I’m sure, out of fear and pride (those two always go together, don’t they?). And so I’m so thankful he gave me the humility and hope to quit (and teaching through Revelation, esp. chs 2-3, was instrumental). AND I’m also hugely grateful for a wife who totally trusted and supported me in that decision (her counsel and prayer here were pivotal). Sarah, you’re amazing. We’ve come so far together. We together believed that God would provide.
And, wow, has He ever. Thank you, God! He provided for me and my family, so that I could (nearly!) complete a major academic book (they’re called monographs, I guess) on faith in Paul’s letters. (Holy cow, rigorous, judicious scholarship takes a LOT of time–at least for me.)
And a brief eight weeks after “signing on the dotted line” to come here to Puerto Rico, he provided us with moving expenses and about 90% funding. That’s insane. (For those who wouldn’t have reason to know, pastors and missionaries often spend 6-18 months fundraising.) Thank you, God.
I give thanks to God for the deep friendships in my life. These are real friendships where real intimacy and real growth really happen, because both parties are so for the other that they can share failures and fears but especially point out each other’s blind spots. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain more favor than the one who has a flattering tongue”–so say the Proverbs. “Let a righteous man strike me–it is an act of steadfast love. Let him rebuke me–it is oil on my head; my head will not refuse it,” pleads an earnest (and already adulterous?) King David. Without the likes of Ronnie, Jed, James, Caroline or Bryan, my knowledge of God and (especially) of myself would be far less.
Sarah and I are grateful for all the new friendships that are so quickly forming here and for the couples, families, and singles who are excited for this new church.
I’m hugely grateful to God for the team that will be serving with me in Puerto Rico–Cecilia and Jeff and Peggy and Christopher, along with Ronnie and Amanda, Gisela, Marly, Ana and Jules, and José Elías. Our weekly times of prayer (by phone) have been so intimate, enriching, and invigorating; our weekend visits have been ever so enjoyable; our (endless) group texts have made me laugh until I cry, not least the jokes that I know I shouldn’t laugh at but do. I thank God for this team’s commitment to prayer and peace-making.
I’m grateful to God for power outages, because they mean unexpected time together with family and friends. And I’m also thankful to God for generators and air conditioning.
And while I’ve been truly grieving all that is in the news–in fact, it has weighed ever so deeply upon me (and it brings me to my knees in repentance and intercession), I’m also truly grateful for the U.S. presidential election and even for the racial tension in America today.
They are truly signs of God’s loving and mercifully severe disruption (also powerfully and metaphorically described in Revelation), designed to awaken and sober “those who dwell on the earth”, that we might heed, for example, the psalmist’s exhortation:
“Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground.
On that very day their plans come to nothing.”
Anyone remotely familiar with the key agents and thinkers of the black movement of MLK’s day know how deeply pessimistic they were about all human institutions (and, for that matter, individuals). As one of the foremost scholars on the movement writes, “The world to them would never know automatic or natural ‘progress.’ It would use education only to rationalize its iniquity.” For these heroines and heroes (following Niebuhr, who follows Luther and Augustine before him), science offered no hope for revolution.
The racial tension in America–whatever one’s estimation or explanation of it–is not a turn for the worse but an exposé of who we have been all along–not only (nor even primarily) racially but socially, emotionally, intellectually, and, most of all, spiritually. America can’t solve this problem on its own, not least because it has never solved any problem on its own. Following Fannie Lou Hamer (whose own skepticism of human institutions was evident in her wry declaration that the NAACP stood for the National Association of Certain People!), I pray daily that all will not cower to aim for the low, demeaning and ever-evasive bar of an ill-defined “equality” but will rise up to aim for the ennobling, empowering and embracing bar of Christ-like love, a love defined not by professors or politicians or pundits but by the Prince of Peace, who alone can make the lion lie down with the lamb (more on this in another post soon to come).
Finally, I give thanks to God for freedom. I simply cannot get over how freeing Christianity is at so many levels. Jesus Christ has set me free in every way possible; he has, perhaps foremost, rescued me from me. He is the Redeemer, the Deliverer, the Liberator. Purchased by him, enslaved to him, I am truly free.