Thankful for the big picture

Public praise, private critique.

Perhaps that’s a New Year’s resolution. Oops, wrong holiday.

But maybe not. Thanksgiving is a good time for public praise.

(Private critique will remain that. Social media aficionados, take note. Chill out and be more positive. End of rant.)

In my first full year of retirement from paid work, I jumped into three significant volunteer projects. All three are worth a little public praise.

After-school basketball

First – and no doubt, the toughest – is an after-school basketball ministry organized by the youth director at our church’s new Lorain, Ohio, campus (which hasn’t even opened yet).

boys pray

In the spring, Joe sought volunteers to help him reach neighborhood youth through basketball. I’ve played pickup ball – never in a league – and our three sons all played recreation basketball as children, so I’ve been around the game for a long time. I try to keep myself in somewhat decent shape, so I decided to give it a shot.

The church building is an old YMCA that is still being transformed into a church, but we’ve been using the big gym all along. We enter through a side door now while the rest of the building is under renovation.

Sometimes, I wonder why I’m there. How does a retired white guy from the suburbs connect with inner-city kids of multiple races and ethnicities?

The answer: Slowly.

As the weather turns cold, I’ve been taking one or several of them home after the hoops is done. That might be where “ministry” is beginning to form. I’m seeing a window into their lives outside of the formal basketball program.

Some of them are hungry. Some of them have broken families. Some have values that I’m not comfortable with.

I don’t judge. I’m just listening at this point. Not probing too much – I’m not aggressive that way.

But I’m thankful to connect with these young men (and the occasional woman who comes with them).

This is a long-term ministry. Hearts don’t change overnight. First, we have to connect. That’s not in my comfort zone. But this is the kind of thing that the living God is doing.

I don’t have to do this. Yet here I am. Thank you, Lord, for this opportunity to serve You.

Food pantry

wcws 2

Also this spring, I began volunteering at a food pantry in South Lorain. I’ve always had a soft heart for hunger issues – I’ve never been hungry in my life, literally. I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from. Many people can’t say that.

crop walk logo

In Saginaw, Mich., I was treasurer and off-and-on coordinator for the Saginaw CROP Hunger Walk, an annual walk that raises funds and awareness of hunger issues, for more than 20 years. We lived in Rockford, Ill., for a little over a year and I connected with the CROP Walk folks there too. Here in Elyria, the CROP Walk leaders have no passion for the ministry and I wasn’t up to the effort of trying to fire them up, so I looked for other opportunities.

Enter We Care We Share, a 12-year-old food pantry on a shoestring budget that serves thousands of needy residents every year.

The pantry’s volunteer coordinator attends the same church I do. He invited me (and others) to participate, since more volunteers were (and still are) needed.

He didn’t tell me he was going on vacation, so one Tuesday I just showed up. Didn’t know anyone there. Told them who I was and why I was there. They invited me to stay, so I did – for four hours that afternoon. Then, they invited me back.

So I came back. And I’ve been coming back, two afternoons a week, ever since.

We’re family. We laugh, pray together, rib each other, volunteer together, serve together, pitch in wherever needed. We’re on the front lines of fighting hunger. We hand out dozens of food boxes each day – non-perishable goods, meat, bread, fruits and vegetables – whatever Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Ohio delivers to us on Monday afternoons.

Young families just getting started. Senior citizens in poor health who can’t even carry their food box to their vehicle. Many adults with kids and grandkids in their household. Some say, “I wish they’d leave” – not to be mean, but to get out on their own and learn to support themselves, and to give the older adult a little peace. We are there during the transition.

Residents get evicted, and frequently change addresses. A few are homeless.

We serve them all, face to face.

As with the basketball kids, I can’t relate. I don’t have to do this.

I never want to take the material things of life for granted. God has given me a heart to serve folks down on life, struggling to make it.

There’s no quick fixes here, either.

All we can do is serve. And pray.

So that’s what we do.

I’m grateful for this opportunity.

Bible study group leader

Third, I was asked to be a group leader this fall for Bible Study Fellowship, an international in-depth Bible study that this year is studying Acts in the New Testament. I attended the 30-week class for the previous two years, and the leadership there thought enough of me to invite me to step up my involvement.

bsf photo

As with basketball and We Care We Share, BSF is a major time commitment. There is “homework” for each class member to do before we meet on Tuesday evenings.

I’m at a satellite class in Avon, Ohio – one of three satellites around the main program in Parma Heights, just past Cleveland International Airport from where I live.

The leaders of all four areas – about 40 of us total – gather at 6:30 a.m. Saturdays to go over the upcoming week’s lesson, and to receive leadership training. I set my alarm at 5 a.m. to ensure I get there on time.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world. We begin our time literally on our knees in prayer.

I’m shepherding a dozen guys in my class every week. I keep in touch when they miss. Some have health issues of their own or of family members, and some travel for work. We pray for each other.

This week, three guys attended who had missed two to four weeks each for various reasons, and all three said they missed our discussions. They want to come every week. Circumstances sometimes prevent that. Life happens.

Again, relationships take time. As a leader, I have to be pro-active. I’m learning as I go.

The big picture

2019 has been a year of beginnings for me, changes and challenges. The honeymoon periods soon will be over, if they aren’t already.

That’s when ministry will begin.

Time to take the next step. Next steps, actually.

Hope you’re as thankful for the big picture of your life as I am of mine.

Disappearing colors: What if?

Imagine discovering that a color has vanished! How would it change a life, a town or a world?

Youthful Destination Imagination participants in the Fine Arts challenge this spring had to answer that question and create an eight-minute skit about it. DI, as it’s called, requires other elements in the skit as well.

It’s awesome to see what elementary, middle school and high school students do with a question like that. As the Region 16 (Cleveland area) challenge master in Ohio for that challenge, I saw some creative solutions. I saw more creativity at the statewide event several weeks later.

Without pilfering any ideas from teams of young people that I saw, I decided to come up with my own answers. What do colors represent? What would life be like if a certain color disappeared?

As with all Destination Imagination challenges, there is no one correct answer. Red, for example, has many “meanings” – danger, anger, blood, courage, sacrifice, a sunset, autumn, lips, heart, passion and energy, to name a few. What does “red” conjure up in your mind and soul?

What might happen if a color vanished, and could we get it back? Here’s a few ideas to stoke the creativity in all of us:

Black

black

Black represents justice, as portrayed in the robes of a judge or clergy.

With no justice, it’s every man and woman for themselves. No laws or morality exist to reign in abusive behavior. There are no such things as right and wrong, because there’s no one to define them, and no respect for anyone who would try to determine them.

To find black, we’d have to discover – before we killed ourselves off – that setting standards higher than ourselves is essential to our survival. There has to be a higher purpose than self-centered idealism. A judge somewhere will have to enforce laws that all of us must follow, whether we agree with them or not, or we will perish as a human race.

Blue

blue

Blue means cold. No cold means no snow. No ice, outside or inside. No cold drinks, only lukewarm sodas or milk.

No refrigerators, since cold doesn’t exist. Meat and dairy have to be eaten as soon as they are processed. They won’t last long enough to buy at the grocery store.

Antarctica disappears. We have one less continent on Earth. And all of the oceans and seas are warm enough to swim in, year-round (even Lake Superior, for my up-north Michigan friends).

No coats needed, or long pants. Every day is warm or hot. Sunburn proliferates, since we can’t put ice on it. No icing a muscle cramp either.

How do we find blue? We discover that the ocean is deep, and it’s cold down there. We’ll draw up that deep water and spread it around Earth, re-creating cold.

Brown

brown

Brown is soil. With no soil, nothing in nature grows. No grass. No flowers. (No weeds.) No trees.

With no plants, we’d have no strawberries, no blueberries, no other colorful fruits and vegetables. Animals would have to eat other animals almost exclusively. They couldn’t hide in the shade of those non-existent trees.

As with blue, we’d have to dig deep to find brown. A deep layer inside Earth would harbor soil, which is dirt down there. When exposed to sunlight and water, dirt would gain the nutrients it needs to become life-giving soil.

Gray

gray

Gray signifies old age. With perpetual youthfulness, we lose everything old age represents – wisdom, experience, long life, discernment, silence at times, patience, perseverance, deep knowledge about any subject.

We would have to learn by our mistakes, over and over, with no wisdom to teach or guide us.

If we survived long enough to see this, we’d discover, for example, that two vehicles colliding head-on frequently causes a fatal crash. So, we’re not going to drive like that, which increases our life span – and our experience and wisdom.

Gold

gold.png

Gold reveals wealth. If no one had wealth, then everyone would have the same standard of living. Wealth is a relative term, which needs poverty to define it. No wealth means no poverty. We all have the same bank accounts.

Which can’t last long, because a creative mind or two will find a way to increase wealth and productivity. Is money a finite resource that can’t expand when someone gains wealth? If so, wealth comes at the expense of people who then become poor.

Green

green

Green represents new growth, especially in springtime, or youth. With no green, we lose all that youth represents: inquisitiveness, energy, enthusiasm, willingness and ability to learn, a body and mind that are still developing.

We would be born “old,” like Adam, which means our values are set and difficult to change, also like Adam. We are already developed, never growing. We can’t handle a second career or move to a new town, because youth teaches us to be pliable, and that ability is gone.

We become experts in our field but can’t learn a new skill, since that requires growth. And we can’t handle change.

To find green, we discover we have ears. We can listen to what others say. By listening, we hear ideas we hadn’t heard before. That’s how we learn a new skill.

And that’s how we become young.

Orange

orange

Orange exudes warmth and happiness. Take those away, and we’re left with indifference and sorrow.

With no happiness, what is there to live for? Life expectancy will plummet. We find no pleasure in anything, only drudgery. Pleasurable things don’t even cross our mind.

To find happiness, we’d have to do something unintentionally that sparks enjoyment in us. A hug, perhaps. A high bowling score. A beautiful painting. A delicious meal.

Pink

pink

Pink reveals femininity. Imagine if there were nothing or no one feminine among us. We’d lose sensitivity to anything, deep feelings, romance, attention to detail, family life, beauty, knowledge of upcoming trials and possible trouble, inner strength, calm in the storm … love. So many things.

Please, God, bring back pink. Help us to see the beautiful strong soft side of life all around us.

Purple

purple

Purple shows off royalty – power, inheritance, lineage, wealth and status. With no royalty, there’s no inherited leadership. Our leaders would have to fight for prominence, since there’s no line of succession. We don’t elect power and status; we forcibly take them. At least, we think we do.

Those of us who are subjects can take them away. Perhaps we just won’t give power and status to a leader we don’t want to follow, and instead follow someone else.

Would we be better off without purple?

Red

red

Red means anger. Wouldn’t a life without anger be wonderful? No screaming at politicians, no teachers’ strikes, no sibling rivalries, no boss-employee charades … we would all get along with each other just fine.

For example, Democrats and Republicans would actually respect each other. They’d listen to each other and, surprise, solve problems.

We could treat each other honestly and respect the outcome, whatever it was.

A world without red, in this scenario, is a good thing.

White

white

White reveals honesty. With no honesty, we wouldn’t trust each other in our families, as drivers on the highway, in the classroom, in our politics or in our friendships. We’d break rules, then lie about it. Why not? Everyone is doing it.

To discover honesty, we’d have to realize that when we lie, we’re hurting ourselves as much as we are others. If I’m not honest with my wife, I can assume she’s not honest with me, if honesty doesn’t exist. What kind of a marriage is that? Either we trust each other or the marriage dies.

Honesty must win.

Yellow

yellow

Yellow represents brightness, sunshine. With no sun, only night remains. All is dark. We can’t see anything, as though we lived in a coal mine; our eyes are useless.

We depend on electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When the electricity goes out – as it surely will on occasion – we can’t see our fingers in front of our faces. We must remain in place until someone fixes the electricity. Hopefully someone has a flashlight that works.

We’d better develop batteries that last a long time.

With no daytime, we’d be tempted to sleep in a lot later than we do now. Our productivity would fall. Our energy level would drop.

To find yellow, we’d have to find a way to let the sunshine penetrate the darkness enveloping Earth. We could invent a huge light that connects the ground with the atmosphere and beyond, providing a way for the sun’s light to connect with our light and make it permanent.