Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Little Tests of Big Faith

One need not know me for very long to figure out a few basic things about who I am. For starters, I’m an expressive, emotional, intense, often obsessive, people-oriented man of deep Christian faith who believes that God is sovereign and I am not. How’s that for a “large talk” sentence? ;-) For me, “big faith” is a necessity.

Consider this past year: Wendy underwent major heart surgery at Mayo Clinic to repair her mitral valve. My close friend and Jughead dad, Eric Rynders, died of heart failure. And my coaching staff began to downsize, with projections of me being the only after school coach next year while further empowering and training my already-strong student leadership team. In all these things, I’ve trusted God for life & death and the big picture.

However, I’d like to publicly confess that it seems more difficult for me to exercise my self-described big faith in the little tests of life. To be more specific, while I’ve learned to trust God instinctively through many major issues, it’s challenging for me to trust and thank Him through mid-year roster downturns or choreography frustrations or more readily going out of my way for a snack time conversation (e.g., while working on deadlines). I am trying to grow through the little tests of my faith, whether how I handle a child’s contrary behavior or trusting that my efforts in (or on behalf of) a child’s life will count even if he or she is only a short-term Jughead or we never see each other again after graduation.

This winter, I failed a test of childlike faith when I was dealing with a roster setback. By contrast, Job lost all 10 of his kids (to death!), along with his business and wealth (and then his health), and his response was, “The LORD has given and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21b, ESV).

I am working on “blessing the Lord” even during this busy season of ours, praying for the joy that comes after (and while) trusting Him through the little tests rather than “playing God” by presuming to be angry or despairing when my will is thwarted. Behind every high throw, record, and dance move is a company founded on God’s grace, for His glory. Big and little.

Beyond Mud Pies

Human beings are made for discovery. We are designed to explore our surroundings, how things work, and perhaps the most complicated subject of all: ourselves, including our abilities, relationships, shortcomings, and being made in God’s image. 

Regarding our pursuit of passions, consider this C.S. Lewis quote:  “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”  (The Weight of Glory, 1949)

The context of Lewis’s quote is his plea to find our infinite joy in God, but I believe it also applies to more mundane but still life-changing pursuits such as choosing to “discover ourselves” through doing hard things and investing for long-term character-building rather than the ubiquitous temptation for instant (and often destructive) self-gratification. Metaphorically speaking, don’t settle for dirt or even copper when we’re meant to go for the gold.

February is a “mud pie” month in terms of weather and the temptation to eke out an existence rather than thrive. Character is often meted out in the mundane, and discovery through discipline. Here’s to a month of rising above the mud and refining the golden opportunities to live, love and learn through daring discovery and thinking beyond ourselves.


“When we started out together, he was only my brother in name...(then) I made a connection.” That tender line was spoken by Charlie Babbitt describing a breakthrough with his brother Raymond in Rain Man (1988). We all need connections; it’s a precious reality that is part of the mortar of a well-founded life.

Most often, connections with others don’t just happen; they’re cultivated, nurtured, developed. Sure, many people with similar (or complementary) personalities and “chemistries” can hit it off right away (whether in familial, platonic, romantic, or professional relationships), but even then, I can think of no relationships in the universe that continue “connecting” by chance in the long run. Our culture foisted on us the ubiquitous myth of “quality time” in the 90’s. Although I don’t know the source, I love the rebuttal: “Love is spelled “T-I-M-E.” It takes quantity time and intentionality to connect with others.

When my friend and Jughead dad Eric Rynders died last month, my initial devastated reaction yielded to sweetness by my recollection that for about six years, Eric & I saw each other through our mundanely-scheduled event called “HubClub.” Wendy will attest that I didn’t always have the best attitude going into our monthly Sunday evening gatherings, largely because my sphere of extended family, friends, and Jugheads makes for a busy social calendar. However, I sensed that for Eric, HubClub was a peer-based oasis in an often difficult lifestyle of battling his heart condition while managing his household so that Dawn could work, the three Rynders kids could be driven in any number of directions each day, and Bea could even be homeschooled for a year. For the most part, I overcame my short-sightedness while Eric was alive, and now that he’s gone Home, I’m humbled that we were able to connect as friends in a unique way during what proved to be his last years on Earth.

When my 15-year-old nephew, Andre, died 11 years ago, it was my wake-up call to the (underestimated) effectiveness of working with youth. Eric’s death has been a wake-up call in being content with career calling (again). For every single time I struggle with my lack of juggling tricks or passing prowess that limit my ability to coach, I have to remember that there are 100 opportunities to connect with kids here—connections that may appear mundane on the surface but that can be mutually life-changing and ultimately fulfilling of the 2nd greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31)