Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Experiencing Abundance: Unexpected Gifts Along the Way

Many of you who read this blog know that its primary focus is the inner life of an adoptive parent of ten children. Some of you also know that I am by vocation a United Methodist pastor. (I have another blog, albeit very sparsely blogged to date, where I write from that vantage point). But there are times (often, actually) when these worlds merge together, and it's hard to know where is the most appropriate place to blog this colascence. This time it appears here.

As part of my Sunday message two days ago, I preached a bit about two foundational ways of viewing life: through the eyes of scarcity or of abundance. The Scripture text in question was the account of Jesus on the seashore, beckoning his fallen disciples from their fishing activity, to find restoration. The account is one of my favorite passages because of the strong redemptive theme. But an underlying nuance is whether to trust God for abundance or to live a shrunken life of scarcity. (In the text Jesus observes that they have caught nothing, and then asks them to throw their net on the other side of the boat ... in that interchange the disciples can choose whether faith leading to abundance or cynicism resulting in scarcity will be their theme. They choose faith ... and are blessed for their trust with a huge catch of fish, 153 to be exact).

I waver in my life between an attitude of abundance and scarcity. I grew up in an environment of scarcity where each day was questionable and fraught with anxiety, so my predilection is to be what I call realistic (it's not what my wife calls it, however), but which often slides into cynicism. With the strains and disappointments of parenthood (both in myself and in those whom I seek to father), much of the last ten years has caused me to wonder if I have wasted my time and the time of my children. Sadly I am also a perfectionist, and perfectionism and parenting are not a good mix, so suffice it to say that my parenting journey has not always made me feel very positive.

The last few days, however, are threatening to quell my anxious bent toward scarcity thinking. On Monday evening I met with those people in our congregation who make staffing decisions, along with an individual whom I consider an exceptional missional match, to interview for a 3/4-time Youth Director position. I have been in my current congregation since July 1, and God has blessed us with wonderful momentum. Statistics (attendance, giving and such) are up and it could be described as an "era of good feelings." The process of inviting the individual in question to interview with us has been a plodding, though intentional, one. I offered to the hiring group my thoughts regarding salary and other compensation, wondering whether they would be willing to agree to it. I was surprised by their generous, abundant response (it exceeded my expectations), which allowed me to offer the Youth Director candidate an appealing compensation package. There's something about abundance that makes the heart sing, and I found myself grateful to God to be witness to the interaction of the past nine months that has made this possible.

This morning, on my way to the airport to depart for Nashville, where I will be engaged in church-related business, I obsessed with what I anticipated to be a cramped, irritating flight. My flight was on a commuter flight -- you know, the smaller planes that have two seats on either side of the aisle and non-existent head room and leg room -- and I dreaded the prospect of sitting for two hours with my arm and leg constantly bumping against my unsuspecting seatmate. I was to be the recipient of an unexpected gift along the way. Of the entire flight, I was the only person who did not have someone sitting next to me. So instead of a physically gruelling and emotionally frazzling flight, I had the opportunity to experience some limited freedom without having to worry about the comfort of the person next to me.

You would think by this point that my mindset would have been prepared for another unexplained gift of abundance, but I must confess I have been caught in the trap of scarcity for many years. After retrieving my luggage, I got into the Budget Rental Car line, number ten in a meandering line of consternated-looking people. As ten minutes turned into twenty and twenty into forty-five, I joined the misery of the others waiting in front and behind me. As I glanced at the Avis area and the Dollar line and then the National line, all of which had no more than one or two people waiting at a time, I could feel my soul knotting upon itself. Because I wanted the best price, I made my reservation through Budget and I chose a compact car, and the waiting process only made me more irritated as I anticipated my 6'2" frame crunched into a Ford Focus navigating between Mapquest and travel in an unfamiliar city. "Not only do I have to wait forever, but while waiting I have to anticipate the discomfort coming my way ... and all that while paying $35 a day" were my thoughts. Finally I reached the counter, where the pleasant person retrieved my reservation information and told me there were no compacts available, but that she could offer me something larger for the same price. You can imagine my surprise when I got to the stall and discovered not a Ford Focus, but a Chevrolet Uplander (a van larger than our Chrysler minivan at home). I could only smile and shake my head at another evidence of abundance in my world.

It's a strange thing, really. Am I experiencing abundance because I am simply more aware of it than I have been in the past? Or could it be that these are a series of gifts from a loving God who is trying to get my attention? I'm not sure how all that works, so for now I am simply going to accept the unexpected gifts along the way and thank God for another opportunity to have my personal foundations rattled a bit more.

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