Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The "Here I Am Lord" Story

A couple of years into my time as a Director of Music Ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Galesburg, Illinois, I began to feel restless. I loved what I was doing with all of my heart and had a deep commitment to the people of that congregation, but I sensed an unknown nudging.

I know now that the nudging was God’s call into ordained ministry. In my experience, I did not encounter a burning bush, that solitary moment of call. Hindsight has revealed more like a series of mini-calls over the course of two years, little whispers here and there. One of those whispers was “Here I Am, Lord.” So here is the “Here I Am, Lord” story…

(By the way, I mentioned this story way back when, when I wrote a two-part post about being called to ministry. Click this and then this to read it.)

For some, “Here I Am, Lord” is an overdone, trite, and rather cheesy hymn. I agree with that in part, on the surface level, but honestly it is a song with a deeper resonance in my life. It truly stirs my spirit when a congregation joins together in robust voice and belts out the refrain with a full organ and piano accompaniment. Often, people who would never ever otherwise do so close their eyes, tilt their heads back, and lift up their hands in the moment. It’s great!

To tell you the truth, I cannot remember if the “Here I Am, Lord” story took place before or after I had announced to the Galesburg congregation my intention to go to seminary and become an ordained pastor. My memory is telling me that it was after I had made the announcement. Either way, it was another nudge in the direction God wanted me to go with my life.

We had a great kids’ choir program at First Presby, from the preschoolers on up. In the upper elementary choir were two Melissas, who also happened to have last names that started with “B.” So we called them “Bucky” and “Missy B” in order to distinguish them from one another. They were wonderful girls from wonderful families, fourth graders probably, very active and involved in the church.

One afternoon, at the end of rehearsal, the two girls lingered for a little while in the choir room as the other kids went down to their next activity. They wanted to ask me a question, they said.

“What’s your favorite hymn?” Missy B asked.

It is a hard question for me to answer, since I love so many. But the one that came to mind most readily was “Here I Am, Lord.” When I told them, they just sort of nodded and smiled and said they were just wondering. We went downstairs, and I really didn’t think very much more of it at the time.

Well, the next week after rehearsal, they hung back again as the rest of the kids left the room. They held hymnals in their hands. They caught me in the hallway just outside the choir area. “Wait,” said Missy B., “We have something we want to do.” She glanced over at Bucky, who kind of nodded and grinned at her.

They opened the hymnals to the page they had marked with their fingers. Bucky nodded and said, “One, two, three, four,” and they began to sing to me. You guessed it - “Here I Am, Lord.” All of the verses.

We just stood there in that hallway as I listened to them sing. They had worked all week, practicing the song so they could sing it their very best. No congregation, no huge pipe organ, no elaborate praise band. It was just two ten-year-old girls singing with the most sincerity and sweetness that I had ever experienced. I was indescribably moved.

The moment they were done was a holy moment. I didn’t want to say anything that might interrupt it. They closed the books and looked at me with shy but satisfied smiles. Missy B’s face was turning as red as her hair, and Bucky breathed out a small giggle.

I was eventually able to say, “Thank you. That was really great.” I smiled at them and bent down for a big hug.


I have wept for love of them…
…I will hold your people in my heart.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Malice toward none - Charity for all

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
- Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address

The first time I read these words was on a family vacation to Washington D.C. when I was a kid. I was standing in the Lincoln Memorial reading them from the wall on which they are inscribed. The most striking part for me was the idea that both armies invovled with the Civil War "read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."

But now, years later, what strikes me most is how timely Lincoln's conluding paragraph is. To be sure, there is no open warfare within our nation at the moment. But couldn't we do with a bit less malice and a bit more charity? Not that anyone would actually SAY they held malice toward another, but the the things so many of our duly elected officials do and say seem to indicate as such.

And rather than quibble about how this is a "Christian nation" or not, as if that phrase has any meaning at all, how good would it be to hear someone include the phrase, "...as God gives us to see the right" in the political discourse of our day? As convinced as Lincoln was that his perspective was right, the strength of his conviction was tempered with the knowledge that those with whom he disagreed were similarly convinced that their convictions were of God. No political party speaks exclusively for God, nor has there ever been one that did.

How would we go about doing "all which may acheive and cherish a just and lasting peace" in the present day global community? Have we sufficiently defined what a "just and lasting peace" looks like? Are we really doing all we can to acheive this end, much less "cherish" it? How different would our international relationships be if we simply used the word "cherish" a little more frequently?

Malice toward none - Charity for all. In a time when the one with the most money gets to talk loudest and longest, and it seems like the top priorities of any politician on any given day is their own electability, it would be so refreshing to reclaim the ideas Lincoln spoke of is his second inaugural address.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Veil / Curtain

Today I found that the Greek word for "veil" in 2 Corinthians 3:13 is


the same word for "curtain" in Matthew 27:51

But wouldn't it be so cool if it was?

Monday, February 08, 2010

A Foster Family's Big Week: Wrap-Up

Last week couldn’t have gone much better in terms of our foster care transition. On Friday our boys met their forever family and had a great time having lunch, playing Legos, goofing around, and reading books in the afternoon.

I think it got started out on a good foot when our 4-year-old was calling out “Hi!” to his new brother, calling him by name, leaning out the front door as their car pulled up.

My favorite moment was when all four parents said “No” at the same time to our three year old when he was putting a small Lego in his mouth! The parent ratio doubled, and needless to say he got the message. (Actually, he’s a kid who might benefit from having four parents on him at once!)

What an amazing week it was. Seven days ago we had no idea who these strangers were, and now we count them as practically family. I know that our boys are going to really flourish in their new home. It creates a sense of peace for us, knowing that.

Court on Thursday was kind of intense for me, as I sat and observed the proceedings. The judge in the case was so kind and said at one point that “these kinds of cases are the hardest cases I deal with.” We have come to know the boys birth mother this year, and have strong empathy with her. It is not ethical for me to write about the particulars of this case, of course. Suffice it to say that we feel a lot of strong emotion for her.

On a more clinical level, watching the process happen has been an incredible learning opportunity for me. The judge, case worker, juvenile officer, guardian ad litem, and attorneys involved with the case seemed to all be working together as a team to achieve the best outcome for the boys. I always had the idea that the boys’ well-being was first and foremost in everyone’s minds, and that was good to see.

So that’s where we are now. This weekend, the plan is for the boys to go for a two-night visit. The next weekend, a three-nighter! Then we’ll see how everything is working out, and take it from there. Thank you so much for keeping us in your prayers, and please continue to do so. The loving support of friends and family is so important, and deeply appreciated.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Foster Family's Big Week, Part 2

Our foster boys are one step closer to their forever family, and we're feeling pretty happy! The grief we will inevitably feel as they leave our home will be so much easier to bear knowing that the family they are going to is so wonderful.

We spoke with three families Tuesday afternoon, and the family the boys are going to seems like such a great match for them. We are still kind of reflecting on the process we experienced (for the first time) on Tuesday. It was quite fascinating, on one level. We were truly an important part of a team consisting of case worker, juvenile officer, and guardian ad litem, all of whom sort of put our heads together to make this decision – which was unanimous, by the way.

In the whole interview / decision process, we really felt like our input was valued and respected. The magnitude of the decision we were making really didn’t hit me until later – the incredible responsibility of deciding where, how, and with whom these two little boys are going to grow up, live their lives, celebrate their victories and cry over their defeats, make their holiday traditions, and basically be shaped into the people they will become in life. Huge.

Because of the status of the case, a lot is still confidential. But I can say that we have already begun a transition process; last night Erin shared the new family’s “life book” with our 4 year old. We practiced saying his new brother’s name, and saw some pictures of his new pets, which are going to be very exciting! Our 2 year old is kind of just along for the ride at this point. We’re not sure exactly how much of what is happening is making an impression on him. We’ll see.

On Friday, we will take the boys to meet their new family for the very first time. We’ll probably get to spend several hours and have lunch together. It’s going to be quite a day! There’s no telling what might happen, and we are kind of nervous about it, to tell you the truth. But I’m sure that everything is going to be fine, and if we’re nervous, imagine how their new mom and dad feel right about now.

In upcoming weeks, a lot is going to change for our two little guys. Please keep them in your prayers, as well as us. As excited as we are for them and for their new family, this is a time of grief for us – Cori and Wes especially. We have given a year of our selves to these two boys, and it will hurt to see them go.

However, having said that, one of the most exciting things is that it seems like their new family is okay with wanting to stay in touch, and we want to, too. So we’ll get to see them grow up, albeit from a distance. The most important thing is for them to bond with their new family and figure out who Mommy and Daddy are now, so we don’t want to get in the way of that happening.

So that’s pretty good! It is very heavy still, very emotional. But there is a peace that we feel in the midst of it all, and that’s good. We still have court tomorrow, with the emotion that goes along with that. But with this foster-focused week halfway over, we’re feeling pretty happy.

Monday, February 01, 2010

A Foster Family's Big Week

This is going to be a foster-care-focused week for the Bryan family. Tomorrow we have a “Staffing” and Thursday we go to court for a hearing on our boys’ case. We don’t really know what is going to happen nor how fast, but we know that there is a change coming soon.

Being a foster family is the hardest thing we have ever done. Being a foster family is the most rewarding thing we have ever done. Paradox, schmaradox – it’s called discipleship. If it was easier, would it be as rewarding? If it was less rewarding, would we still do it? Neither question is worth much.

When you can, you try to make a difference, even if it is hard to do.

We’re not doing it for laughs.

We have said goodbye to a lot of kids in the past four years, and every single one of them was like tearing off a piece of our selves. We have said hello to a lot of kids in the past four years, and every single one of them has called us “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

Will any of them remember us?

The thing that keeps getting me is the poopy diapers. I have changed more kids’ poopy diapers, more often, than any reasonable person should. (Full disclosure: Erin has changed exponentially more than I.) Kneeling on the bathroom floor, changing a foster kid’s poopy diaper while he screams and kicks my hands away … let’s just say that sometimes when I think “I don’t have to take this shit,” I mean it literally.

Wouldn’t it be awful if we fell in love with every single child that came through our home on their way to somewhere else? Wouldn’t it be awful if we didn’t? Oh, yes, we love them all, even still. We love them as we knew them; they never age for us. They are snapshots in our wallets, slices of our life. They are wispy memories of long car rides and playground afternoons and bedtime lullabies.

I see the moon, the moon sees me, the moon sees the one I want to see.

Some people say, “I would just love them too much to let them go.” As if us letting them go somehow demonstrates how much we do not love them. No, we let them go BECAUSE we love them; foster care isn’t about us, it’s about the kids. What’s best for the kids – only and all for the kids.

There will be something significant happening this week. Not many people in the world will notice. We will. If it’s best that they are with us, they will be. If it’s best that they go somewhere else, they will go. We know going in, every time, that they will not be with us forever. Their forever family is somebody else.

We’re just the foster family. And this is going to be a big week.