There is a person I know who likes to offer me kind words of wisdom, but doesn’t realize they often repeat themselves. I don’t see this as a problem; it’s been said we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught. It’s been said we need to be reminded more than we need to be taught. Ha. I made a funny.
This person keeps asking me how things are going. Which I appreciate. Not one to fake an answer, I usually smile and mumble something tragic about being ‘tired, but good.’ This always leads to a ‘why so tired?’ kind of reply. Which, in turn, leads to discussions about three boys, one a newborn, and full nights of sleep long-since fleeting. Fleeting for me, but more so for my wife. “Ah,” says this person kindly, gently, patting my arm with a knowing smile— “you’re in the fullness of life.” Yes indeed, the fullness of life. That’s certainly one name for it.
This has become something of a family joke. “How are you feeling today, honey?” I might ask, walking through the door on my lunch break and into a house sodden with noise, diapers and piles of unsorted laundry. “Well, let me tell you,” she might reply, with a look that could wither an oak tree—“I’m in the fullness of life.” And although it’s terribly funny, I’ve learned it’s sometimes better not to laugh out loud.
It’s been a ‘fullness of life’ kind of week for me. But when I say that I don’t think I mean it in just the ‘dark humor’ sense. Certainly, I’ve seen my share of stress this week, but the person who repeatedly reminds me of how ‘full’ my life is, seems also to mean it in other ways too. It’s not just a fullness of crazy they mean, but of richness and diversity and memory-making that comes from the pace and idealism of young dreams, coupled with the blunt reality of life with young children. As overwhelming as life has been in the past few weeks, it's also been "full" in ways that I treasure.
I took a trip to Sacramento for some meetings and met a man there whom I had known for some time, but who I met for real the first time that day. He’s one of those people everyone seems to know but you. He’s on a leadership team I’m part of, but is soon departing for missionary work in Cambodia. I always sensed something special about the man, but it was as though he walked in a veil of silence. People clearly loved him. But nobody talked about him. He clearly loved people. But he didn’t talk about himself. I don’t know if there’s some special kind of humility that’s contagious, but if there is, he’s got it. You feel humble around him. That day we held a send-off party for him, and people finally talked. And that’s when my suspicions were confirmed: this man was a man anointed. Lives were changed around him. People were mentored by him. Strategies were formed because of him. Churches planted. Leaders raised up. Continents traveled. Languages learned. Hearts transformed. And through it all, through all the stories, he laughed, graciously laughed, eyes twinkling with joy and the quiet ‘thank you’s’ of a man full of God and empty of self. It was a beautiful thing to watch. I felt very small, and very full, all at the same time.
The next day I was given the opportunity to speak at a church-planting class at Simpson University, my alma mater. I sat there in a classroom facing students sitting in the very same cushioned green chairs I had sat in only… what, eleven years ago? The ironies were legion. I graduated intent on being an overseas missionary. I’d never wanted to be a pastor. Three and a half years later I had completed my M.Div. in cross-cultural communication and was… working construction (which is honorable work that I thoroughly enjoyed). Burned out after seven straight years of schooling, I needed a break. My first ‘break’ ended up being eight months of framing on a massive three-story structure, located… at Simpson University. There, from the top of my rickety scaffolding, I watched each day as my former profs swept by below, surrounded by the newest and brightest class of impassioned world changers. Where had my passion gone? Why wasn’t I changing the world? I was almost as afraid of the answers as I was of being recognized. I was thankful then, that hardhats had wide brims.
But God changed my heart— renewed me! I was a man reborn, given an adventure and a quest and territory to conquer for my King, and that territory, oddly enough, was a town barely an hour from these very classroom seats! As I looked back at their faces that day, I thanked God the hiding was over and the passion was back. I felt very small, and very full, all at the same time.
Traveling a lot when your wife is home alone with three small boys is kind of a bad idea. I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of law that says the fullness of life needs to be equally shared for sanity to prevail. When I got home from all my ministry gallivanting, I felt immediately the familiar burden of getting through a “routine” day with family. Dress the boys. Feed the boys. Sign their book reports. Get them to school on time. ‘Breakfast? What’s that?’ I ask. ‘Devotions? What’s that?’ my wife asks. ‘Rest? What’s that?’ we both ask. Busy busy busy. Where are my keys? Where is my wallet? Where is my mind? And then… it’s time for work. It’s time for ministry. God help me. God help them!
Sunday was communion Sunday. Afterwards, around the dinner table and wanting to gauge my 6year-old’s grasp of the symbolism, I asked what he thought it all meant. “Well,” he said, putting his spoon down, “The broken bread means the broken body of Jesus on the cross for our sins. And the grape juice is to remind us of his blood from the nails that went through him so we could be forgiven. 1 Corinthians 15:3 says that ‘Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.’ That’s what it means.” He picked his spoon back up and dipped it in his soup. Then, almost as an afterthought, he paused, looked back up at me and asked—“Was there anything else you wanted to know?” And at that moment, I felt very small, and very full, all at the same time.