Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Knife (or Tears in the Airport)

My dad died on June 21, 2006. The last time we had a good conversation was on June 18. It was Father’s day. Lena, the kids and I were driving to a church service in western Kentucky. We had our pop-up camper in tow and were planning on camping for a couple of days after the service. I had a great conversation with my dad, on the cell phone while driving to the service. We talked about camping and other things. He had been so sick that it was rare to have a good conversation with him. When it was over, I had tears in my eyes. I remember telling Lena that if it was the last conversation I had with him, that I was very grateful to have had it. One of the things I told him was that I had his Father’s day gift and that I would give it to him when I got back into town. He had asked me to get him a new pocket knife. He had arthritis and couldn’t close his old pocket knife. So, I went to Dick’s Sporting goods in Mason, Ohio, and (with the help of a great sales agent) tried every knife they had. The salesman and I both decided on a very cool Gerber knife. The locking mechanism was the smoothest we tried and very easy to close. I told my dad that we’d be back on Tuesday night and that I would come over on Wednesday morning to celebrate Father’s day. That Wednesday morning, I was awakened by an early phone call. My father had died.

I’ve carried that knife in my pocket nearly every day since. Even though my father never saw it, in my heart it was his knife. Whenever someone saw it, I told them the story. I travel a lot and have lost my share of knives in the airport. A few times I nearly lost “the knife” to airport security. Usually, I remember in time to stick it in my checked luggage. Today was not that day. I walked up to the X-Ray machine, reached into my pocket and felt the knife. My heart sank. I said a quick prayer, stuck it in my book bag and put the bag into the X-Ray machine. As the bag came out, I watched the security guard grab it. I knew he would have a hard time finding what he was looking for, so I opened the bag for him. He pulled out the knife, opened it, and held it over the acrylic disposal box. He looked at me for permission. I said, “OK,” and watched him drop it into the box. I grabbed my bag, walked about 5 steps from the counter and burst into tears.

I was surprised by how difficult it was. My emotions welled up within me—irrational and unholy. I felt like the Lord was stripping me, taking from me all that I have held onto. My father died just before we left for the mission field; so, emotionally, the loss of my father is intertwined with the other relationships and things we left behind. As the security guard dropped the knife into the box, I wanted to yell at him, as though he were the Lord, saying, “What do you want?! Do you want me to arrive at the temple completely naked?” (In my mind, the guard would have responded, “No sir—just the knife.”) It wouldn’t be bad if we did arrive at God’s house with nothing to hold onto but God himself. In one sense, we all walk through the Pearly Gates that way. In my head, I know that the knife was easily replaceable. But, the loss of it brought back all those emotions of loss.

The good news is that I’m probably not the first guy to cry after walking through security.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This from Lena:

Merry Christmas, friends! We have been very busy these last few weeks, bringing Christmas presents to the kids of our Piedad schools. It is our pleasure to purchase a gift for each child in our project schools, regardless of if they are enrolled in our program or have a sponsor. Birthday gifts only arrive for a few, but Christmas brings a little for all! The shot above was taken today in one of our Lima schools. As you can see, they were pretty happy to greet us!

All the children receive the gifts with great joy, but on experience in particular impressed me deeply, on our visit to a partner school in Trujillo. Our school in Trujillo was founded years ago by missionaries who wanted to reach the poorest of that coastal city. A large percentage of these children's parents cannot read. I am always impressed, because the teachers in this school have them writing quite fluently for this age. What a great way to take ground!

Anyway, as we were handing out the gifts, and they were all going back to their classrooms with their gifts, I noticed that many of the children had not opened their gifts yet. I encouraged them to open them, but they showed none of the zealous tearing and ripping that we see in the States. I was curious as I watched one little girl carefully pick the paper apart, looking as if she didn't even want to mess the paper.

I asked one of the teachers to interpret what I was seeing. She said that they don't want to ruin it--that the paper was special, too, and they wanted to keep it nice. Many of these children live in houseing that is something rather makeshift (some of woven leaves, something like a tent), and probably won't recieve anything for Christmas. This was it! Later I watched as a teacher kindly helped one of the girls tease her new bead set back into the paper.

As we needed the kids to know what they were getting so that they could write a note to their sponsor, we settled on a system. One gift would be carefully unwrapped, all the children could see it, and then write their thank-you note.

I am so thankful to be a part of this. I remember growing up, sometimes in hard times,and worrying about how I would feel if I didn't get anything for Christmas. That never happened--we always were blessed with generous family. But I remember that worry, and I really remember the people who made sure I got something! Still do!

For those of you who gave to help make this happen, thank you so much. You made an impression on some kids who could really use a little gift now and then! And thanks for making us part of what you do for the Lord. This is a great way to spend a life!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

To All Our Chi Alpha Friends!

Wright State group, led by a very smiley Steve Brannan with some helping friends from the kids' school.

This from Lena:
Last night, the last of our little midnight visitors (all but one seems to have mostly passed through that 4-7 year-old phase of waking up with a lot of nightmares) popped into our bed for a little late-night comfort, thus making me sleep a little lighter than normal. It is really out of the ordinary for me to remember an actual dream, as I only remember nightmares that wake me up. But I remembered this one!

Now, those of you who are not Chi Alpha folks will have to bear with me on this one, but I promise that it has a wider application. I dreamed that me and my family were waking up in our apartment building, and there was a SALT conference going on downstairs, as the first floor appeared to have transformed into a conference hall. I was talking to Dale Crall, who as always had encouraging words. Colton was still asleep upstairs, and Bevan Haynes, who has been great about following up with Colton, was calling up to our apartment, "Wake up, Colton Shrader!!" There were faces of people we love everywhere, and they had come to us! I felt like I always do at a SALT conference, eager for things to begin, to greet all my dear, dear friends who made it so hard for us to leave, and with great expectation about what the Lord was going to speak to us!

I started thinking about all the support we have recieved from our Chi Alpha friends. I cannot tell you how incredible it has been to know that you all are behind us. We had a really hard time leaving Chi Alpha because we are in love (still!) with all of you. We have recieved teams from Wright State, Ohio State,and Wilmington College this last year. We saw incredible fruit with each group, with a total of about 150 people recieving Christ! But we also received dear friends, who reminded us over and over again that we are loved and wanted, not forgotten. Each goodbye was surprisingly emotional and overwhelming, but we have learned that the harder the goodbye, the more that relationship means to you.

The dream was undoubtedly about all the support we have recieved from all of you. We love you more than words can say. Many of you know that we have passed through some incredibly difficult challenges this past year. We want you to know that we seem to be resolving our situation here, and are incredibly thankful for all your prayers (especially Dale and the SIU group who we know have gone to war on their knees for us!).
Chi Alpha has taught me from the beginning how good it is when brothers live together in harmony. Even through difficult times, we have known an incredible level of trust and love. You mean the world to us! Thanks!