I had just graduated from high school and was trying to figure out what to do with my life.
Dad already had plans. Not long range exactly. But, oh, he had plans. Most of it involved church. Maybe being a pastor had something to do with such an obsession. I remember him dangling car keys front of me about 45 minutes before church was to start.
“I want you and your brother to pick up you-know-who for church,” he would say as if we were being commissioned to spend a fun-crazed day at Six Flags over Texas in Houston. In reality it was more like Mission Impossible – without the cute guy and the cool cars.
You see, we knew what he meant when he said you-know-who. And, we knew exactly what to do.
Our task was to
- jump in an aging Kermit-green Toyota,
- pick up three of the most annoying kids in Southeast Texas
- and bring them back to church
- so they could spend the remaining pre-service time
- running through the sanctuary
- pulling each other’s hair
- and yelling nasty things
as loudly as possible.
Think that was a long sentence? Not long enough. Not for these kids.
Fact is, they were more than annoying. According to my fresh-out-of-high-school perspective, Dad was making a big mistake to let these kids hang around. They were not exactly an advertisement that yelled “Come join us on Sunday morning. Bring your precious little darlings with you so that they can go to Sunday school.” And what? Sit by these scrawny brats?
Imagine dingy hair and runny noses. Crooked teeth and dirty fingernails. Just a couple of ignorant kids from the sandy back roads that ran through the swamps outside of town. Who wanted the likes of them around?
He loved those kids just about as much as he loved his own. I didn’t understand it. They had their own parents, I figured, people who obviously needed to get their kids under control. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if said parents had their chromosomes checked out before further procreation.
I know what you’re thinking. For eighteen, I was kind of a brat myself. Shortsighted and self absorbed. Judgmental and intolerant.
Then, Dad explained the story behind his concern for these children.
“When these children were just toddlers,” he told me one day, “they were abandoned beside a tree on a country road. How those babies managed to survive until the sheriff found them a few days later, I’ll never know.”
That sure stopped my whining. For a while. But, those kids still drove me crazy.
The neediness in their voices. The hungry look in their eyes. The outbursts of anger and inappropriate behavior.
I didn’t have the spiritual maturity to see what my Dad saw -three hurting human beings who needed a place to belong. A community to call their own. An anchor in a world that had already been defined by far too much uncertainty.
Dad made sure that these kids always had a ride to church and a hug when they arrived.
Maybe that’s not so huge compared to the work of some mega ministries with T.V. shows, vibrant children’s programs and achingly beautiful facilities.
But, I think we underestimate the power of opening our lives to other people on a daily basis, of living our faith up close and personal.
That’s what my dad taught me- to look past the runny noses and the rude behavior and open up my heart. It’s irritating at times and humbling. But, it’s profound in a way that mass ministry will never be.
Loving other people’s children -day after day after day.