Here is a little something I am hoping to do now and then at the farm:
Here is a little something I am hoping to do now and then at the farm:
If you know me, then you know my life has been a little different for a while now. After leaving corporate business and later corporate religion the direction for my life had a big fat question mark on it. I started my own business and ministered as an amateur instead of a professional. By the time India and the farm became consistent in my life another change was needed.
It was with prayer and seeking that my wife and I decided she would work and I would stay at home with our kids. This is pretty much the opposite of a traditional American family. But it allows me to minister in India a couple times a year and it gives me the summer to work at the farm, since Rachel is a teacher. It just works.
It’s not to say it isn’t without its difficulties. I still have chores to do at the farm year round and planting season is while Rachel is in school, so it’s hard to get it all done. There are many times where I simply feel trapped in my own house. I barely see my wife. As soon as she gets home I run out to the farm to try and do whatever I can in the few hours I have in the evening. It’s been hard on us. I have also been struggling with my temper, I problem I used to have really have trouble with. It has been surprising to see this issue pop back up. It stems from an unending feeling that I have a lot to get done and no way to do it.
Even With all the “hardships” of doing life this way, I wouldn’t trade it. The personal reward to me of getting to live a truly unique life outweighs the temporary problems. And they are temporary. By the time lacy is 3 or 4 I will have my freedom, wife, and time to work back, but the time with them as little kids will be gone forever. I treasure this time even in the hard times. Even when I lose my cool, deep down I know I have been given a gift to spend so much time with them in this part of their life. It’s a gift not many men get to experience.
Having said all that, I came to a realization today. My life at home tends to be about questions. I don’t have adult interactions most days of the week. I talk to my girls all day. I talk to Rachel for 5 minutes before I head out and she is often asleep by the time I get home. Then I repeat it the next day. Instead of good adult conversations, most of the things I say out loud are questions I ask to my 4 and 1 year old daughters. I thought I would give you a top ten list of the questions I ask every day. For your enjoyment:
10. Where did this wet spot on the carpet come from?
9. Why are you using a bath towel to wipe?
8. Why is the refrigerator open?
7. What is in your hair?
6. What is that smell?
5. Where did the dog food go?
4. Who pooped on the carpet?
3. Where are your panties?
2. What is in your mouth?
1. Did you poop?
I have noted that people come and go in the trailer park. There are really two groups of people who live here. One group is made up of people who have made this place their home and are here for the long haul. The other group is more transient. They are here for six months or a year and then they move on. One is not better than the other, but they are different.
As I have thought through this series, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the people around me now, but also I have spent some time thinking about the people who have left. People who we were around, then one day they were gone.
I think about our neighbors Wayne and Edna. They were raising their grandson, who would often come over for Rachel to help him with his math homework. I think about a man we knew name Jon. He decorated everything he could find with the rebel flag and I gave him the nickname Rebel Jon. Jon was raising his kids as a single dad and times were often tough for them. We once delivered a couch we got for free to Jon so his kids would have someplace to sleep. We would bring them food from time to time. In the end he was just gone.
I think about an atheist we talked with named Mike. We talked a lot about his life. He had been a drug addict and alcoholic. He had been sober for several years. He was convinced there was no God. One day he looked terrible. He told us his body was shutting down from the years of abuse it had taken. The doctors had given him a few months to live and he was shaken. He asked us to pray with him. A few months later he was gone.
I think about the woman who had bi-polar paranoid schizophrenia who was convinced the Mafia was out to kill her. Her family tried to help her but she was always going off of her meds and spinning out of control. We invested in her life. We visited her house. We prayed with her. We hoped to help her by listening to her paranoia and working through her fears logically. One day she was gone.
All of these people were only in our lives for a short time. They moved on. Some to better things, some to worse things, and some we have no idea what happened to. This is a real part of life in the trailer park. People leave. It’s true in life too. Life moves people around. Those we are close to move away.
Writing this series has also made me think more about those around me right now. I don’t know if it’s clear on this blog, but I am actually a pretty big introvert. I don’t like meeting new people. I am not a fan of talking to people I don’t know. It’s not easy for me to make new friends, or engage new neighbors. Taking the time to reflect on our time here in the trailer park has been good for me. It has given me some needed perspective. My neighborhood is constantly changing. The thing about people leaving is that new people take their place. Every week my neighborhood has new opportunities to see Christ in people. New chances for me to be Christ to people.
A few days ago I backed my truck under my carport like any other day. Across the street in Bill’s old trailer my new neighbor is raking up the first leaves to fall in his yard. My inner introvert I telling me to simply wave and walk inside. I think about all the people around us who I’ve written about. Against my nature I go over and talk to my new neighbor. We talk about the leaves. I let him know he is starting on a job that will last all fall. I tell him it seems like all the leaves of the entire trailer park end up in our corner of the park. We talk for a while and I enjoy our conversation. His name is Bill.
My neighborhood is always new. Someone is moving out. Someone is moving in. There is opportunity in every trailer. Not a superficial “reach people” opportunity. It’s an opportunity for real relationship. Jesus is working in every life and he is using me as part of his plan here by simply being here. It’s a new neighborhood. It’s my neighborhood and I’m lucky to live in it.
When we first started in the trailer park the goal was simple. We wanted to help lead people into a real relationship with Christ. We met in the clubhouse for a few years. We would meet and pray God would lead us to the right people, then go out to try and find those people. We prayed he would work in the hearts of people there. In that time we met a few residents of the park.
Our fellowships are different than most “church” settings. We believe the same Jesus lives in all of us and can lead through any of us. This means we rarely have a meeting where only one person talks. In fact, this means most weeks everyone has something to share. It may be a scripture, a way they saw God work during the week, or a prayer request. This has led to a very full understanding of scripture and an intimacy in the members that is sometimes missing in traditional church.
It also opens the door for people with strange ideas. This has been a complaint from some of my pastor friends. By allowing “untrained” Christians to speak I “open the door for false teaching.” This is true, however the door is open even wider for correction. My argument is that in a group of believers with mixed maturity, where everyone is free, invited, and expected to speak, any wrong theology will be immediately corrected. This has consistently proven true.
At one of our early meetings, before we moved into the trailer park, there was a lady who was coming to our meetings. She had some mental problems mixed with strange ideas. One time she claimed she had a special revelation from the Lord about how to get closer to Jesus. It went something like this: When Adam sinned God threw him and Eve out of the garden. Then God put an angel at the door who had a flaming sword to keep man away from the presence of God. We jump forward to Isaiah and the angels in Isaiah’s vision are also seraphs. So, in order for man to get to God after the fall they had to go through the angel guarding the gate to the garden or the seraphs in the Holy of Holies, like in Isaiah’s vision. An angel was always guarding man from the presence of God. The seraph allowed Isiah to enter the presence of God, however. The Hebrew word for seraph is also the word for serpent. Therefore in order to properly worship Jesus and be in his presence, we must first worship Satan, the serpent.
I’ll let that sink in a second.
As I said, in the beginning we often met folks who weren’t quite all there. Her theory was of course immediately corrected in love.
Our goal was to share real relationship in Christ with people from the trailer park and yet for a very long time it was only the outsiders who met together and shared. In part, the way we meet and our openness to people often leads people who have been rejected by most people of faith to feel at home. I love these rejected people, but it is challenging at times. For a long time these were the only people who would be a part of our fellowship.
That changed with my neighbor Lena. Lena is one of my favorite people. She lives down the street from us. She also works at Nixa Hardware. With the work I do at the farm I am in the hardware store almost daily. Everyone in there knows me by name and I know them. So I get to see Lena on almost every supply run I make.
I met Lena through a string of friends. Her story is a rather incredible one. Lena and her brother were orphans in Russia for years. When they were teens they were sent to the US to an adoption agency in New Orleans. She and her brother were then adopted by a Mormon family in this area. This family had adopted them as a mission. (This is my interpretation.) After years, Lena refused to convert. This, at least in part, led to her adopted family kicking her out and basically choosing to have nothing to do with her. After a few years of bouncing around she moved in with some people from Nixa. Her brother has shifted back and forth between mental institutes and prisons. He has several issues we are constantly praying for. A few years ago she moved into the trailer park. We met her shortly after we moved in.
We weren’t close to her at first, but had the chance to pray with her about different things going on in her life, and she was always interested in trying to learn something more about Jesus. Eventually she started going to a large church in Springfield. She seemed to really enjoy it and after a few months she accepted Christ as her savior.
But the church refused to baptize her. They said that because she still had a certain sin in her life they wouldn’t perform the baptism. She asked if I would be able to do it. She was convinced that as long as she wasn’t baptized she was being disobedient. We had a long conversation about what it meant to be a follower of Christ, what baptism was all about, and about sin in the life of a believer. After our conversation I was convinced she was a true follower of Christ and we set up a time for the baptism in the trailer park’s pool.
Lena is the first neighbor from our neighborhood to be actively involved in our fellowship. She shows me a part of Christ too. In the year since Lena’s baptism, life has not been easy. She is someone who always expects Christ to be working and she is quick to give him credit for what he is doing. She is full of prayer requests because she believes Jesus will hear and answer. No matter the thing going on in her life, and trust me, there is plenty, she always worships God because she believes he is up to something. I have seen incredible faith in Lena. She sees God working everywhere in everything.
Every time I see her in our neighborhood, at the hardware store, or at our fellowship I know she is going to tell me about something God is doing. It humbles me and it blows my mind how real her faith in God is. Some people in her life have tried to talk her out of the things she gives credit to God for, but she is unwavering.
For a lot of us faith is a title. We are people of faith. We have faith in God. Our actions often betray the facts of where our faith really is. This is a struggle for me. I want God to move mountains, or to shift molehills. I ask him to, then I immediately make my own plan and try out of my own strength. I don’t wait on him to move. I don’t look for what he is doing in every part of my life. I don’t have faith he will do things the way I think he should.
Lena is a huge encouragement to me. It’s not just that she is the first person in the park to join us in this ministry. It’s not the she brings other people to fellowship. It’s not that her life has magically gotten easier. It’s not that trials aren’t around every corner. It’s her faith. She has real faith in a real God. When I see her faith it builds up my faith too.
Ms. Lena’s neighborhood is a place where God is working if you have the faith to see it. It’s a place where when times are tough and everything seems to be against you, you believe God is up to something. It’s a place where sometimes you are hungry and there isn’t enough food, but you believe God has not forgotten you. It’s a neighborhood where faith is the nourishment of daily living. It’s my neighborhood and I’m lucky to live in it.