I want to share a few personal things at the end of 2010. Today I want to look back over 2010 and then tomorrow take a glance forward, by faith, toward the year 2011 ahead.
“Human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward” (Job 5:7). Each year has its troubles and as we age these become more directly related to our decaying bodies. My health, at least in terms of the challenges that threaten one’s life, has been very good. I never take this for granted, especially since I know good health is here today and gone tomorrow. I see it as a stewardship, an investment from God that allows me to serve him with the gifts that I have as long as I have the strength to use them. When the time comes, and it may come at any moment, that I lose this then I will accept that as his purpose. Until then I do what I can to protect my health so that I can love my family, write, teach/preach, serve my friends and lead the mission of ACT 3.
Though I do not presently face a life-threatening health issue I have dealt with a chronic illness for nearly thirteen years. I do not talk about this for several reasons. One, my illness is badly misunderstood by most people and easily misdiagnosed. Following an episode of flu, about thirteen years ago, I never fully recovered. Flu-like symptoms remained for months until I got a diagnosis almost a year later that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I did what I always do. I read books, did a lot of research and sought for a physician who could help me. After all these years I am aware that there has been little done to actually cure my illness. I have taken a host of products (still do take a few), some prescribed pharmaceuticals, been to several specialists, listened to more friends with earnest advice than I care to repeat and in general been open to try just about anything. I even called for elders to anoint me and pray over me according to James 5:14. I wrote about a great deal of this more than a decade ago. Now, more than a decade later, I still deal with CFS every single day. On a good day I am just very tired, feeling as if I need a lot more sleep. On a bad day I feel like I have the flu (with the symptoms that are flu-like) and my body just “shuts down.” Rest helps me but even rest does not cure the problem, it only makes things a little more tolerable
Living with chronic illness is an affliction that I do not wish on anyone. But having a chronic illness has made me more aware of the suffering of countless others over this last decade. I have been through so many waves of emotion. There have been great highs, profound lows and many, many days of simple, honest resignation. In the end I have embraced my illness as a huge weakness that God gave to me for good. I will not see why or begin to comprehend the reason for this until I see Jesus face-to-face. I believe we should resist all illness by faith (and God delights in healing many) but James 5:13 says, “Are there any among you suffering? They should pray.” I have a long way to go here but my prayer has been enriched through this long ordeal. While there is no definitive cure for CFS some people do get better, even (seemingly) well. Most, however, who exceed a decade or more with CFS, and who are my age, never get completely better. (I often think of how I will be strong and well in the resurrection!) Now I begin to wonder how much of my tiredness is CFS-related and how much is simply my age. I tell friends that if I did not have this illness I would be dangerous since I would be able to multitask like I did until my late 40s. I do not recommend the pace I lived at until this illness struck me.
All of this being said Anita and I are enjoying our adult children and their mates, our grandchildren, and a little slower pace of life. We truly enjoy our life together as a couple more than ever. Neo, our nine-year old mini-dachshund, remains the “at home child” (along with her cousin Latte, Stacy and Jason’s mini-dachshund who comes to visit her cousin a great deal). Our quiet home, so long as the dogs are not engaging in a non-stop bark-off, is embraced with deep enjoyment.
At the beginning of 2010 I had no idea what would happen to ACT 3 in the year ahead. I expected that I would keep writing and teaching. I knew, God willing, that I would keep meeting with friends regularly and mentoring young leaders as much as possible. But I thought the mission of ACT 3 (“to equip leaders in unity for Christ’s mission”) would be slowly cutting back as I aged and adjusted my life to my health issues. Then God showed me a different plan. In April he put Tom Burns in my life, a man I had never met prior to my speaking at a pastors’ fellowship in Chicago. Tom had just read my book, Your Church Is Too Small. He embraced the vision of the book with a deep passion for missional-ecumenism. After thirty years in business Tom had sold out his part of his company and gone to seminary in his 50s. He completed an M.Div. degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School a few years ago. Not believing that he was to become a pastor Tom waited on God. After several attempts to find his niche in ministry he went back to what he had done in business: coaching and helping leaders implement vision. When we met I asked, “Tom, why not come work with me and do what you have already been doing for a lifetime?” ACT 3 did not have a dime to pay him but he had enough to say that he would come and we would walk together as partners. By far, this became the biggest development for ACT 3 in 2010. Instead of finding ways to slow down God gave me a way to work with better focus and to expend less energy on things that were not directly germane to my gifts and calling. Tom became executive director of ACT 3 on September 1. In our first four months we have asked one question: “How can we listen to what God is saying to us and then serve where he guides us as a team?” We have the image of a sailboat always before us. Where will the winds of the Spirit take us? To determine where God was leading our little boat we “listened” to a lot of people and ministry partners. We now have a pretty good idea of where we are headed. I will tell you more about this tomorrow.
One of the items in my ministry that I am clearly impressed to do going forward in 2011 is my blog writing. I wrote my first blog on April 9, 2005. Many times since then I have thought about quitting. I do not write blogs for the fun of it. I spend upwards of 5-10 hours a week on blog-related work. This is draining, especially given my health issues. I have wondered if this is truly worth so much of my time and energy. I have concluded that it is worth this effort because of what I have seen and heard from so many of you. The number one response I get is along these lines: “Your blogs are so encouraging. They make me think. I sometimes disagree with you but I always think more by reading them. And I always feel the writer is an honest human being with struggles and questions who is trying to grow in Christ just like me.” I have heard this on the comments on the blog, by letters and even Christmas cards, in person as I travel about and from phone calls and phone messages. The issue of how much the readership has grown in number is not my primary concern, though it is growing. My concern remains rather simple: “Is this writing worth the investment I am making for the lives of those people who read it?” So far, it seems to me that it is so I will press on in 2011.
Tomorrow: 2011: The Year Ahead