"I love you more than all my Hot Wheel cars!"
This was Jude’s declaration in the car one day as we were headed to our next destination during the tail end of our Home Assignment. He had just asked me for one of my chips and I had said, “Sure, I love you more than eating all of my own chips.” He just had to “one up” me, so he made the previous declaration. The moment he finished his declaration there was a dramatic gasp from the back of the car. It was Kaitlyn. She followed this gasp by exclaiming, “Jude you would give away all your Hot Wheel cars for Daddio?!” The backpedal was immediate: “Kate, I am just saying how much I love Daddio, but I am not giving away any of my Hot Wheel cars, I am just saying Kate, I am just SAYING how much I love Daddio!”
To this Kate replied, “But Daddio loves you so he gave away his chips, so you have to give away your Hot Wheels. That’s what it means!” Jude was fairly distraught with this line of thought. After a few moments of contemplation, he asked me, “Daddio, if I love you more than Hot Wheels does that really mean I have to give them away?” What a conversation this was that had unfolded before us between a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old on I-75! I said, “Well, Jude, if you had to choose to be with me forever, or your Hot Wheel Cars forever, which would you choose? He did not hesitate long, but with a grimace he said, “I would choose you Daddio… but I would miss my cars.”
It has been a really incredible summer. We have been able to meet wonderful people and share the story of what God is doing with people in East Tennessee, Midsouth, Indiana, Upstate New York, and Canada West, not to mention the incredible experience of serving, worshipping, and sharing stories with so many other Nazarenes in Indianapolis at our General Assembly and Conventions. It has been amazing to experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We have been able to tell people who have supported us so well for years now just how God has used and continues to use their support for the Mission of God in Sofia.
We have been able to meet new people and invite them to be a part of what God is doing in Sofia. We have seen places we had never seen, done things we had never done, and had many moments when we just stopped and looked at each other in amazement that this is the life God has given us. We drove more than 10,000 miles in 13 days, we spoke 5 times in a single week, and we shared God’s work and worship in almost a dozen languages, including ASL. At one point somebody asked, “What is the craziest, I mean just the wildest thing you have done as a missionary?!” My immediate answer was, “Well this summer is certainly one of them!” What can I say? Christ and the body of Christ are incredible, powerful, and wild and we continue to experience and discover the depth of one in the other.
One of the amazing things about travelling so much in one summer is the ability to call many places home. We are, after all, one family in Christ where no member of the family is a stranger, foreigner, or outcast. Whether it was in New York, Indiana, Tennessee, or Manitoba or Alberta, we were met in every place by the family of Christ and the even more intimate family of the Church of the Nazarene. Each Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, or Saturday, weekend, or week began with an introduction to family and was punctuated by saying farewell to that same family.
Finally, after the incredible summer it came time to say goodbye to moms and dads, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, extended families, and best friends. Our last Sunday we attended Estill Springs Church of the Nazarene. This is where Katie grew up and it is a church very close to our hearts. I sat in worship considering all the difficult farewells that lay ahead that week. It would be five very difficult days and, no matter how you try to prepare yourself, it is never easy to say goodbye again. In fact, Katie and I agreed that we will have to learn how to re-surrender our families to God every time we say goodbye after a deputation assignment. I sat pondering this as Pastor Tim Parsons shared an incredible message about what lies at the center of a Christian life.
Pastor Tim explained it using a jaw-breaker. This is a rock-hard candy that takes a great deal of time and energy to create. It is layer upon layer of rock-hard candy. Here is the big shock. If you go to the center to find what is at the heart of that rock-solid thing here is what you find: more of the same. Pastor Tim explained that this is like our lives. Our lives, rhythms, and choices are the layers that reflect what is at the center. If it is self, then all of our decisions will revolve around the service of self. If Christ is at the center, then all of our choices reflect that center. I began to weep. I want Christ at the center of my life. I want my radical love of Jesus to be at the center of my life. This means loving Christ more than anything, anyone, else.
I love Jesus more than my family. I love Jesus more than the place of my birth. I love Jesus more than my home culture. I love Jesus more than my mother language. I love Jesus more. In the words of my sweet daughter, “I would give away all my family, my place of birth, my home culture, my mother language for Jesus!” I love him so much I will give it away. Like my son, I will miss them. It hurts to give them up. When is the last time you loved Jesus so much you gave up something that means so much to you it hurt you to surrender it? Sometimes, it hurts to love so much. The only way for us to love Jesus and not give up the most meaningful things we have is to not listen at all to Jesus’ teachings and expectations about what it means to follow him:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:37-39)
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.” (Matt. 16:24-27)
So, we said goodbye to one family, we got on several planes for 30 hours of travel, and we landed to be embraced by another family. This family speaks another language, comes from another culture, and another place. But this is also our family. Two years ago we landed with no connections in Sofia, no friends in Sofia, and no family in Sofia. Now, we are surrounded by members of beautiful family that God has gifted us with. It has been a wonderful first couple of weeks connecting with them all.
We will not be saying any tearful farewells anytime soon. (We hope!) But now it is time to love Christ, to love our neighbors, our friends, our strangers, our community more than our convenience, our plans, our sense of pride, our own self-centered desires. It is time for a daily love in the name of the one we love most. His name is Jesus! Join us! It has become a common practice in our family now to tell each other that we love each other more than…. Something great! (For the record I am loved more than chocolate, Hot Wheels, flowers, rocks, swimming, candy, and many other things besides). Do you love Jesus more? Really? Do you love him more than something you will miss to give up? Do you love him more than something it will hurt to surrender? I am determined to love him more than the next greatest gift. I am determined to love him more than….