Since I’ve been back, I have wondered what direction to take this blog. Last year was easy, it was a record of my thoughts from a year of Sabbatical, keeping my part of a promise I had made with my church while I was away. I was grateful to those who kept up with my musings; surprised at what I learned about myself writing them.
The question becomes bigger than just keeping a blog. It about wondering what I should do with my life…again. After high school, and a few years of college I tried my hand at being a musician, but learned it didn’t hold the intellectual stimulation I needed in a career. I remember how starved my mind got when I used to play clubs, waiting for break to get back to my book, food for a starving brain. It was only years later that Russell Hoelscher, my chief musician at the church, explained to me that largely much of what a musician is paid to do is haul equipment and set it up. Oh, so that’s why I wasn’t stimulating. Anyway, one night at the club, someone leaves a PC World magazine, and I read though it, interesting… I could do this. It was about the same time I was soul searching for a major at UT, where I had gone back to finish my education. Dad urged me, “Just pick something and do it,” and that magazine, along with some timely advice from my sister’s husband at the time, pointed me toward Computer Science. After college I worked as a software engineer, writing games at a software start-up, researching Artificial Intelligence at Lockheed, and finally at The University of Texas working in a naval research lab. While each of these jobs had their share of intellectual stimulation, and financial security, very little of it felt creative. Certainly no music, photography, or exploring the greater meaning to life. I was just a tooth in a cog of the great machine. It was during Suzanne’s sixth year of graduate school, when by chance, we enrolled in a nine month Bible Study called Disciple, and by its end we had had our third child, and I was enrolled in Seminary. After seminary we were appointed to a young church, and found that pastoring used my gifts and graces completely. Too completely some would say, but what I know is that inside the church I could write, speak, play music, practice photography and graphic design, and influence people in their lives and how God might want to use them, and do this all for the sake of the Gospel. Until that last year at Foundation Church, I loved that feeling of being used so completely, of giving myself so completely, of having a life so full of meaning and purpose. Maybe its that feeling of being used, that in the end just used me up, and I should have seen the warning signs, earlier. The feeling that if I just worked hard, things would get better, but something changed, maybe it was me, maybe it was the situation, maybe it was God preparing me for the next great thing, whatever it was, and now I find myself in familiar territory, again wondering what should I do with my life?
In fact while in Japan, I happened upon a book by that same title by Po Bronson. Understand that in Sapporo, where Grace is at boarding school, there is a very limited set of English language books, and so to happen upon one like this seems, well, God directed. Branson’s book is a collection of stories about people he has interview who are dealing with the same question about what they should do with their lives.
Branson talks about the Brilliant Masses, the great many people of our generation who are talented, resourceful, and creative, but “far too many of who are operating at quarter speed, unsure of their place in the world, contributing far too little to the productive engine of modern civilization.” Those words stung as I read them last night, awake because our guard was passed out, and our house guest was honking and banging on the gate loud enough to wake me, but not that guard.
As I think about it, this corresponds to that last year of ministry. Whatever part of me that was supposed to be guarding against imminent burnout, was passed out. It missed the warning signs, even when those around me were trying to wake me. I thought of that this summer when Fox and I were back in Texas and saw the road signs “Obey Warning Signs,” and I didn’t. I now realize that maybe God was there honking, banging on my gate, shouting “Danger Will Robinson” trying to wake up my heart from whatever slumber it had fallen into, to help me get out and move on.
[Photo of “Obey warning Signs,” thanks to Phil from http://photoblog.andiesmithdesigns.com/]
Branson writes, “Being guided by the heart is almost never something an intellectually motivated person chooses to do. Its something that happens to him—usually something painful.” I get that now, but wonder have I now just runaway with the circus of Brilliant Masses operating at quarter speed? For the past six months or so I’ve been asking God that question, “What am I doing here?” or “What am I supposed to be doing?”
So over the summer I signed up with The Mission Society (www.themissionsociety.org) to be a missionary intern for the next year. As such I work with the Youth Group at Elim International Family Church, and see the amazing things God is doing in the lives of these kids. We’ve already built one of the best groups of singers I’ve ever worked with, and so now the work turns toward building a good youth worship band. I love the feeling of just being there, and speak into their lives, and it feeds my creative side. At another church, Asbury Dunwell (www.adchome.org), I serve on the Board of Elders preach occasionally, and offer pastoral care, but am, rightly so, more on the periphery, which is a fine place to study how this strongly lay led church operates. I’ve never seen a church so strongly lay led where the pastors primary responsibility is word and sacrament, not administration and finance.
I plan to accompany short term mission trips while they are in country, as their Ghana tour guide, pastor and worship leader. So what I do mostly is make the household function well, as a place of peace, love, and good food. I wonder is that enough? Am I doing enough? Some days I think so, especially since Suzanne has been named Acting Dean of Ashesi University, and the work for the One Laptop Per Child project (www.laptop.org), has really ramped up, (this week she has had meetings with its United Nations representative, and various ministers from the Government, including the President). Suzanne’s life is full, and its fun to see her excitement. Fox and Anna are doing great, and Grace seems happy in Japan.
So it’s a new season of my life where it isn’t the work outside the home that brings meaning as much as it is the family, the 1-2 hour dinners with everyone telling stories, and joking with each other, of the guests that come and go, spending a week or several months in our guest room, and the rich conversations we have cooking in a hot kitchen, exploring the greater meaning of life, or what brought us to Ghana, or laughing at the latest T.I.A. experience, meaning This Is Africa.
For us to have this life it I know someone must shepherd the household, even if it means joining the brilliant masses. So I see this time as just my part of the equation, and for at least this season of my life, I am doing exactly what I should be.