Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Summer Of Survival

Any of you stumbling upon this blog can plainly see that my last posting was some time ago. It isn't because I haven't had any ideas since late June, but after then I entered into a very intense time of plain old survival. After almost a year of not making the income I had in previous years, and spending much of June dealing with local flood issues in Cedar Rapids rather than keeping my finances in shape, my bank account was looking like Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard --- quite bare! With bills and a rather demanding mortgage facing me, my wife and I had to turn all of our attention to finding ways to survive not only financially, but emotionally as well.

So, since late June I have been spending a lot of my time working a temporary job at the local General Mills cereal plant, doing preaching for vacationing pastors, and negotiating pay schedules with various creditors who have this crazy desire to get paid promptly. It has been a real eye opener as I have experienced first-hand what many people deal with on a regular basis as they scrape each month just to get by as best they can. This normal day-to-day survival that is normal living for millions of people has proven for me to be very intense and, in many ways, debilitating. I've discovered that when one struggles financially a gulf is created between those who are doing well and those who are not. It seems that financial struggle is considered by some to be a sign of laziness, incompetency, lack of intelligence, or even in some cases, a sign of spiritual weakness. At the same time, my wife and I have found that there is a special bond of mutual encouragement and support with others who are facing hard and difficult times of whatever kind - financial or otherwise.

While this summer has had a hard edge for me, it has given me a greater depth of understanding when I talk with someone who has lost a job, is overwhelmed by medical bills, or is facing a mortgage crisis, or is just laboring to keep from going under. I know now the fear and stress that for so many has become just a part of ordinary living. However, I also have come to know in deeper and more visceral way the amazing grace of God that is just as real in the most difficult points of life as it is in the more stable times. I've learned how to pray with a real connection for people in all kinds of crises, and to empathize more truly with those who dealing with serious and emotionally-draining issues. As my friend Dick Speight of Come Rest Ministries says and writes about, I've become much better at "resting in God's love."

Yes, it may have been a tough summer of surviving, but it has been a wonderful summer of becoming more trusting of God, of really believing in God's goodness, and of experiencing the realities of God's grace in the midst of sending my zillionth box of Cheerios down the packing line at work. I've also been privileged to see the great respect I enjoy from my ministerial colleagues in Cedar Rapids as they have expressed care and concern through out this last year, with some pastors and churches even extending their generosity to helping out financially. (Sadly, my fellow pastors in the Presbytery of East Iowa have not exhibited such an uplifting Spirit.) I've met some very noble people who do menial work to scratch out a living, and they do it with incredible grace and a sense of purpose that puts me to shame (and repentance) for my condescending attitude and unthankful heart.

If God so chooses to lead me back into a ministry as a pastor in a church (and believe me, it will definitely have to be God's leading), my sense of compassion and empathy as a pastor for what people go through will be a thousand fold what it was before this year began. So, I have to say that for me the major emphasis of the church I presently attend has happened --- that is, I have become more Christ-like. And after all, isn't that the mark of a truly successful life!

In Christ's Peace,