Friday, December 19, 2014

Celebrating Our Silver - We Got By with a LOT of Help From Our Friends!

Celebrating Our Silver – We Got By With a Lot of Help – and a Little Heat – From Our Friends!

25 years ago, today, I stood in the garden of the YWAM Philippines Balut Missionary Base in Manila without stateside friends or family present and committed to the most important decision of my life.  As one very close friend recounted during our celebration of this momentous decision a few weeks ago, at the time, the decision was controversial and was met with a great deal of skepticism.  Of the many people I approached for blessing, my pastor opposed the decision, several professors in my seminary did, and some family friends were fearful to say the least.  My mentor’s wife and her friends were very vocal in their opposition to my decision and a few acquaintances were convinced I had experienced a break with reality.  On Luz’s side, fear was the most prominent sentiment, with many of her friends voicing concerns and advising caution.  One trusted mentor reasoned that this scenario of the “American Knight in Shining Armor coming to the rescue” was the worst thing that could happen and just not what Luz and the girls needed.  In many ways, it felt like we were astronauts poised for lift off, while the Mission Control specialists ticked off all of the broken systems that pointed to a need to scrub the launch: “Finances – no go.  Time acquainted with each other – no go. Living space – no go.  Definitive plan for the future – no go.  Plan for immigration for Luz and the girls – no go. Broad support of spiritual leaders and advisors – no go.”  With all of these elements in question, why in the world did we take the bold and seemingly crazy step of getting married anyway?
Things were not quite as they appeared.  Both of us were blessed with the support and blessings of our immediate families and our very closest friends.  Those who knew us best and heard all of the facts, understood that our situation was somewhat unusual, but felt that the two of us were rather unusual as well, and that based on knowing us, our histories and our way of thinking and approach to life, the scenario actually made sense.  Our friends had first asked us tough questions, tested our motives, closely scrutinized each of us and confronted us with unpleasant and challenging possibilities of the future.  After subjecting us to a gauntlet of tests, blessings were given.  In addition, Luz and I also scrutinized each other. Luz tested me on all fronts, observing how I dealt with anger, disappointment, difficulties and being out of my comfort zone for extended periods of time.  I had the privilege of observing Luz under pressure, in tough situations and saw in her a woman who was capable of handling any challenge that life could throw at her.  Besides testing each other, we prayed – and fasted- a lot!  We didn’t pray out of desperation but in preparation.
While apart from each other, we spent one day a week for 6 months coordinating a time of fasting and prayer where we replaced our physical nourishment with the spiritual food of prayer, meditation and contemplation.  We searched our own hearts and focused on preparing ourselves for the challenges that awaited us.  We allowed further scrutiny from supportive friends and targeted areas that clearly need work. We then continued to ask each other the toughest questions we could formulate. After being ruthlessly candid about our life views on every subject we could consider, and sparing no effort to discover the real people behind our smiles, we KNEW we were made for each other.  At that point, the opposition mattered very little to us.  We had faith in each other as the team that had to “fly the rocket” and we had absolute faith in the Director of Mission Control – the Lord – believing that He was not only with us but had indeed orchestrated our coming together. 
Why look back on the naysayers and challenges to our coming together as we celebrate our Silver Anniversary?  To stick out tongues out at those individuals time proved to be wrong? It is tempting, but no, that’s not the reason.  I remember those who questioned our coming together and I am as thankful for them as I am those who were supportive from the beginning. Because of the tough questions these dear friends asked, and the skepticism with which they viewed our potential union, Luz and I were forced to look beyond the surface into the depths of the realities of the heart.  Because of friends who were courageous enough to ask us if we really knew what we were doing and if we had seriously counted the costs and the risks, we actually counted the costs and risks and prepared ourselves for the journey that awaited us.  I look back at those individuals because once Luz and I were committed to each other in marriage, these friends committed themselves to walk with us in support and encouragement in spite of their doubts – even my mentor’s wife and her entourage! That commitment to help us and to basically work to see that disaster did not happen, has provided a testimony of love and faithfulness that all involved can now celebrate! 
Our 25th anniversary has provided us with the opportunity to thank God for all of our friends, as we realize that we’ve made it this far because so many cared and so many shared – even when they thought we were wrong!  That’s what makes this Silver Anniversary such a shining moment! Through each step of our journey as a family, we’ve been blessed to have committed friends stand with us.  We appreciate all you have done to make it easier for us to fully experience the love God gave us for each other. Luz and I have committed once again to continue walking together in life and we invite you all to continue to walk with us in encouragement, advisement and love.  With friends like you and God’s love binding us together, we can’t wait to see what will unfold in the years ahead.  Thank you for being our friends – it has made all of the difference!

With great love and appreciation,

Sam and Luz

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Honoring Your Parents As the Lights Grow Dim

Today as I spent time with my father, this familiar passage marinated in my soul: "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you." This is the Deuteronomy repeat of the Exodus commandment. As I watched my dad falling asleep this evening, it came to mind that many of you are also caring for ailing parents. It is a bittersweet duty, possessing the sweetness of being able to direct tenderness towards one so close yet also presenting the bitterness that comes with seeing a person once so strong, suffering agonizing indignities that only people of great depth and substance could endure. Today I fed the man who taught me how to eat and groomed the man who taught me how to dress, tie a tie, shine my shoes and blouse my boots. All of the intangibles of manhood were taught to me by this man I now serve in some ways as if I were the daddy. Yet the total surrender and trust displayed by my father towards me for spoonful after spoonful is an honor that cannot be matched by titles or awards save this one: son. To all of you who find yourselves in a position similar to mine, please stay the course. Serve your loved ones well. Introduce them to their professional care givers. Advocate for them as their voices grow quieter knowing that years in the past as they cared and stood for others, they wondered if anyone would ever stand for and care for them. Be encouraged that in their current vulnerable state which they knew would come someday, you are their "Yes and Amen!" A salute to all those who care for others. May the honor you are giving be multiplied 100 times over for you and for all those you love! God bless us all!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

To Protect and Serve

Social media has emerged as one of the premier means of expressing opinions in contemporary society. The ability to sit behind a keyboard as reach out to countless others, out of sight and out of reach has emboldened people as never before to make their deepest thoughts known on numerous aspects of the human experience – some light and entertaining, others heavy and thought provoking. The combination of social media and the discussion of racial tensions in the United States has become a raw and uncomfortable dialogue that is testing our collective character and what we believe about ourselves as a nation in new and uncertain ways. I have witnessed an exchange of ideas, experiences and information charged with emotions that is reaching a point of testing decades long friendships and challenging long held perceptions of the broader American experience. I believe this exchange of ideas is a good thing. I also believe that taking the dialogue on race in America beyond the superficial is not only desirous, it is necessary if ultimate meaningful and sustainable progress is to be made. Nevertheless, I believe that as we plunge forward into a level of candor we’ve not experienced on such a wide scale, we must understand the dangers of this collective journey and take steps to guard our hearts as we share and to protect our relationships as we uncover truths that cannot be allowed to remain obscured behind fears of hurts the truth may expose and press on in serving each other in community in the bond of love and peace. We must protect and serve.
In our desire to better understand the racial dynamics within the United States, we each must share the truth. I have seen two sources of information used to communicate truth in most discussions on race: experience and statistics. Both sources offer tools which can assist in defining and understanding what’s going on in society. These sources represent the dynamic combinations of head and heart, intellect and passion, light and heat. Both are necessary in any discussion that seeks to discern and understand what truth is. As the facts and the feelings are experienced together, one responsibility must guide our attempts to have a dialogue, especially with friends – the responsibility to protect friendships. As we share information and receive it, we must protect ourselves by steeling our will to remain committed to one another as friends as we hear hard things. One of the truths I am attempting to lash to the walls of my heart as I discuss race is this: No matter how raw the information that I hear from another perspective and no matter how painful what I hear may be, or how unreasonable I may perceive it to be, I will not allow the personal hurt to kill my friendships. In this spirit, as I express a differing opinion, I will not intentionally engage in targeted, attacking responses but seek to communicate the “truth in love” seasoning my words “with grace”. If race is going to be discussed in a meaningful way, each of us must prepare to hear things that hurt. We all have to be prepared to discuss the hard things. We also must be prepared to do the hard work of presenting the truth in a manner that maximizes its likelihood to be heard, steering away from inflammatory language, course characterizations and incendiary language. We present facts as we see them heavily seasoned in gracious language and loving tone – The Truth in Love.
As we share, we must also continue to live among one another and to serve each other in the broader context of life. As we discuss race, the common challenges of life continue. Sicknesses, tragedies, setbacks, disappointments and deaths rage on as we dialogue on the critical issue of our national existence. Even when the sharing becomes heated to the point of disgust and anger, we must take a few steps back to pray for one another, bear one another’s burdens, encourage each other and help one another as we press on through the challenging and mountainous journey of life in which we all exist as fellow travelers. We must talk about the hard things – no more pretense or surface interactions – but our hard conversations must keep the broader scope of our friendships in mind at all times, and the goal or our dialogues must not be the winning of an argument, but the pursuit of understanding and the building of community.
“Come, let us reason together.” Let us protect ourselves from the poisons that would divide us; surface interactions – vitriol-laced discussions – and let us pursue the truth in love as we honestly dialogue and lovingly sharing our hearts as we continue to serve one another, aware that we’re all literally in this together and that the value we have individually and collectively is worth the work we must exert in achieving the unity that we all so desperately desire. Let’s protect and let’s serve.
With Respect and Love,