In February, 2010, I had been waiting, not very patiently I might add, for several months or more for God to give me some direction. I participate in a number of ongoing projects at Christ United Methodist Church: the band, the choir intermittently, the Outreach committee, co-coaching one of the Lego League teams and I have helped with the Friday night movies during the last year. These things are important to me but my participation in them is requiring little spiritual heavy lifting. With some counseling from Ken Bauman, my spiritual director, I tried to stay patient and open to God’s word. My five year stint of spiritual direction sessions with Ken has played a significant role in my faith journey. My faith continues to grow in both depth and breadth under his guidance. Thank you, Ken!
Lent 2010 was approaching.
On reflection, this story is actually a natural progression of a number of activities and looking back I can see that God had been patiently setting the foundation for years. February and March of this year brought dramatic and focused change, with God orchestrating the whole event. One of the foundational underpinnings of these changes was my reading of a book called ‘Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism’ by Martha Grace Reese in August of 2009. This book is obviously centered on evangelism, or ‘sharing your faith’, as the author puts it. The book contains a chapter on prayer, something Ken had been urging me to explore more fully. This chapter helped me to start building a stronger regimen of prayer. After I read the book on my way to Boston on business last year, God sent a flurry of ideas, many of which still need to be pursued. Beginning that night, I started to pray regularly for my church, but more specifically for the individual people who make up the church. Some had requested prayers specifically but most were just on the list of people I know whose names came to mind when I tried to recall everyone I knew at church during my prayer times. I had also been having difficulty sleeping and I started using these usually annoying waking moments as a time to do this prayer. Often, during this conversation with God, I could fall back to sleep after a while. Without a doubt, this greatly improved my sleep habits, my spiritual habits and my temperament.
The catalyst for these God months was a life event that, quite frankly, was difficult to deal with. I found out on Wednesday, Feb 10th, that a dear friend, Carla Behnke, had passed away the day before. I had been praying for her and her family for some time. Carla was a wonderful person who had been battling cancer valiantly for almost 10 years. She was upbeat at all times and was a very positive influence on my family. She issued my son his first library card. The news of her passing was hardly unexpected but still my family took it hard. I got the news that night just before I played the Wednesday night service with the band. Apparently distracted, I made a bad rhythm mistake starting a song where I set the bass beat and we had to restart the song. During and after the service, I intensified my prayers for the Behnke family. Carla’s memorial service was held February 26th and I cried my way through it while listening to the wonderful things she had been able to accomplish in her time on this earth, especially through her characterization of ‘Faith Friendly’ as part of her ministry to children. My son, John, noticed I was crying and seemed amazed. I explained that I had lost a friend and that it hurt. He apparently didn’t picture me as a person who would cry. I knew Carla fairly well, loved her hugs and awesome sense of humor but I learned a great deal about her that day. This was another memorial service where I came away from it thinking ‘I truly wish I had known this amazing person better’. The seed God planted around that thought and the others I will describe below have resulted in my creation of this website. It is dedicated to God and to Carla’s memory and I hope to publish part of her wonderful story and work here soon.
On the day after the service, I left for a conference in Atlanta. I was to stay with my cousin George for a day, catching up with him as I haven’t seen him in a couple of years. George is a Southern Baptist preacher among other things. He has a strong and vibrant faith but it is based on a theological position that doesn’t align very well with my moderately liberal Christian beliefs. I have visited George before and heard him preach. He prepares well and does so prayerfully, but quite frankly, certain areas of his theology rub me the wrong way. We visited an uncle who also lives in that area after I arrived. My parents showed up that night at my uncle’s house on their way back to Indiana after a month or so in Florida. It was good to see them as I hadn’t done so since Christmas. I prayed as I got ready for church that morning. I asked God to help me hear his word in spite of the theological distractions that I knew would be present. In a sentence, he did so. As I sat in Sunday school listening to the lesson on first fruits, God’s message for me that day jumped out at me. My family and I allocate the first fruits of our income to God and his works. However, it occurred to me that I was not doing much at all to truly dedicate the first fruits of my time to God. For instance, my wife, Jan and I have been talking for several years about going on a mission trip to Guatemala. We have been trying to work it into our schedule and it just hasn’t been happening. Then and there, I made the decision that we were going to Guatemala this coming January. Believe me when I tell you that this is not the way such decisions are normally made in our house. While sitting there, I determined that we needed to learn Spanish in support of this goal. George once again preached well and the altar call was done to “Amazing Grace”, one of my all time favorites. It went on for about ten minutes with their pianist, who had also taught the adult Sunday School class that morning, playing and leading the singing wonderfully. While learning Spanish has yet become a priority, Jan and I have signed up for, and are committed to our Guatemalan mission trip in January. Our church is sending around 18 folks on a medical and construction mission to Lemoa, Guatemala. I’m sure you will see and hear much more about this trip in the future. Jan, thanks once again for your love, support and understanding as we travel this journey together. I couldn’t imagine having a better life partner and spouse.
This time period also contained a number of other incidents where I have seen God working in my life and the lives of those around me. Some of the changes are too personal for even me to mention here but listed below are some of the other ways God touched me during this time:
My friend, Ron, and his family had been going through rough times. His 90 year old father had some health problems in February. Difficult decisions needed to be made so that Ron could better assist them as they adjust to the changes that life is bringing them. I had the good fortune of being trusted to listen to his story. God helped me to be a better listener in that situation, something I’m admittedly not always good at.
I also reached a spiritually related goal by donating blood for the 100th time at Mayo during Lent. I utilized the time that morning thinking about how God was indeed working in and around me. I’ll tell you more about the spiritual ties that I have developed around blood donation in another portion of my story.
Our associate pastor, Amanda Larson, was unable to attend and lead her Lenten book study class one week. I was a part of the study group and she asked me to lead the class in her absence. It went extremely well as the discussion closely followed her outline while I only occasionally had to dip a paddle in the water to guide us to the next talking point. The book we were reading was the one I mentioned above, Martha Grace Reese’s ‘Unbinding the Gospel: Real Life Evangelism’. I would certainly recommend reading the book; I personally found even more new inspiration as I read it a second time. It starts a little slow in my opinion but it has been a blessing to me, giving me insight and encouragement, especially as I contemplated making this website a reality. The whole group had some doubts about whether this book is right for our congregation as a whole. Having said that, I will state here and now that seven very different people who have very diverse theological positions and backgrounds had indeed gotten together and started to discuss their interactions with God. One complaint about the book study is that we didn’t have enough time to tell each other about our journeys. Participation in this group also led me to think about leading ‘Prayer and Share’ sessions where people will be asked to come and pray together and to share their faith stories. I have opened discussions with our pastors on the topic. One of my concerns about sharing my story with others also came to light in that meeting. The group discussed ‘God moments’ and it became apparent that those who say they haven’t had God moments are at times almost resentful of those who will say they have had them. In my opinion, all those who lead active lives in Christ have these moments if they will only recognize them for what they are. How do we make that happen? And how do people such as me, who have indeed had God moments, make sure others understand that our only purpose in sharing these moments with them is to glorify and praise God?
I also took a step forward and asked the band to let me present one of my original songs, “All I Am” to them for consideration as a performance piece. I had been hesitant to do so but the message I have been receiving from God is very clear: I have a story that God wants me to tell. The song hasn’t been performed yet but only God knows what the future holds.
The music, the telling of faith stories and the blood donations all seem to be bound up together in these posibilities that God is making me aware of. I am being nudged insistently to let the world know what God has done for me. I feel I am clearly being called to tell others about what God has done for me so that they will know that God can and will do the same for them. On a Monday and Tuesday late in Lent, I woke up with the word “Testify” hammering in my brain. Truthfully, it clearly was being stated as an imperitive, a command. I heard no great and distinctive voice and had no vision or dream. This was clearly a waking moment but was also clearly a ‘God moment’. It filled me with wonder and a certainty about what God was asking me to do. On that Tuesday, while this was happening, I told Jan to be prepared because God was clearly moving in and around my life…now. On the following Monday, I had received a message from Ken, my spiritual director, stating that he had some things to talk about in our session on Tuesday. I sent him back a note saying I also had a number of items to discuss. I wondered as I replied how we were going to get through all of this in an hour. We met that morning and I told Ken that I thought I should go through my list first, thinking that I needed to “testify”! I did so, relating the story above. As you can imagine, it took most of the hour to do so. I then asked Ken to go through his list shown below.
- Prayer – need further exploration, listening.
- God’s call – how do we hear it?
- Spiritual Direction – will it be a “God” experience?
- Where have you noticed/felt God? (God’s presence)
- Life – rated it a C+ in April of 2005.
Unbeknownst to me, Ken had gone back through our interactions in spiritual direction, reviewing his notes from 2005 until now. These were his thoughts, topics and questions for me. It felt as if God had already helped me to live out the answers to Ken’s questions before he even had a chance to ask them. He and I shared our wonder at this demonstration of God’s power and amazing ability to move in our lives.
Later that day I asked him to send me this list and he closed his message with the following words:
“I am still overcome with the connections that were made this morning. God is pretty amazing, as you know. Have a safe journey and look and listen for the Holy One.
February and March 2010 were indeed God months for me, a spiritual rating of A+. In the space of forty days, my faith deepened and my spiritual journey took me in directions I could never have imagined. God’s hand, working in and through these events, is directly responsible for the development of this site. The mission I have been given is to tell my story and to encourage, assist and enable others to tell their stories. Please help me as I do so. Submit your stories of God’s wonder and greatness, of his daily care and healing touch…Testify!