Friday, January 30, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 17 - Wednesday

Energy abounding

Our confirmation program at Word of Peace is one that is very unique. The reason I say this s because no other confirmation has the brains of Derek and Dain Swanson behind it. We really enjoy what we do and we love to get the energy going as much as possible when we open the evening with worship. Tonight was no different. We were even talking about worship in confirmation this evening so we thought it would be appropriate to have a good time. So we picked all the songs that would help us lead the group into a crazy dancing and jumping time of worship.

What I saw during our worship set was something that wasn't really a surprise when I look back on it but more of a reaffirmation of something I already knew. Let me explain.

The way we had the band set up lent itself to lots of space to dance and sing in the front of the sanctuary and up on stage with the band. At first we had some of the high schoolers go out and grab some people to come up and have a dance competition. We had one person volunteer and come willingly (he was in High School) and two other girls who had to be dragged onto stage and forced to dance. In the end the high schooler won and it was still fun. We then invited everyone to come up and dance in the middle of the sanctuary. What I saw next was very strange but very true.

On the front let side of the sanctuary I saw a huge group of middle school students who had left the comfort of standing in front of their seat and start to come to the front. But as soon as they became visible, or were in front of their peers the posted a hasty retreat. What I saw was bit of a "mosh pit" of "You go first, no you go first, no you go!" No one wanted to be the first person to go out and make a fool of themselves even though there were high schoolers out there already doing it. We were worshiping and do you think they were focused on God? I don't. I think they were so focused on whether or not they looked dumb that God wasn't even in the minds at that moment.

The sad thing is adults are the same way. We get into church and start to focus on God but then we are asked to do something like sing...out others can hear me. (Personally, I don't know how you can sing without opening your mouth, otherwise it's called humming) Yes we want you to sing. And in the service I lead we want you to clap and smile and even move your body, do some actions, get your hand up in the air. (That last one is really hard for Lutherans to understand)

In this very moment I am being convicted of what I am saying. If I am up front and I am leading people to worship God and I am focused on what they are doing, what I see or don't see, then am I focused on God? How can people worship God when the person leading them is not focused on God? It makes it very hard.

Back to middle schoolers. They are at an interesting time in their life. They want to be popular. They want to be liked. And for some reason they believe that the best way to get their is to not care and do as little as possible to get noticed? There is something goofy about this. I can see how that could work inside a school but in a church, it is a place free from judgement right? I guess as long as you are not the first one doing it.

I would hope that in our lives we can break free of the middle school behavior. That our faith is something we take seriously. So seriously that we don't care who sees that we believe in a loving God. I would hope we are willing to be the first to offer love, service and worship to our God. And that we would not judge the first person to steps out in faith.



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 16 - Tuesday

Today seemed like every other Tuesday. Lots of meetings and not much time to sit and think. I suppose a day like today will be lost in my memory banks somewhere because of it's lack of greatness. But that doesn't mean the day was important. A day filled with meetings could be very important. It could lay the foundations of greater days to come. Ones that will blow my mind and then I will wonder how this could happen and it will all come back to this Tuesday where I thought nothing happened.

We did have a stroke of genius come about in the confirmation planning meeting. There have been times in the past when either Derek, Rick or I have a great idea, ok well maybe not Rick and maybe not me, but Derek comes up with a great idea and then we run with it. Crazy confirmation nights in the past have included setting up the sanctuary as a wrestling ring and some of the most bizarre video clips one could think of to get the point across.

Our upcoming confirmation night where we are talking about Stewardship will be something out of the Dickens...literally. There are three types of stewardship we will be talking about: Time, Talents and Treasure....and I think you can maybe guess where we are going with this. It will be a star studded cast with Ron and Carrie involved as well. You may not want to miss this one.

So in all of the thinking and planing we did today, I am most excited for this one. We shall see how we become the surprise for all the people attending confirmation that evening. Get the history books ready.



Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 15 - Monday

Everyone for...please say YEA!

Monday's are odd enough without anything thing strange happening. Today wasn't a normal day. There was not normal evening programming tonight because of the churches annual meeting, and there was no school because of the end of the semester. So, today was not a normal by any means. I actually really liked today, it was semi low stress and everything seemed to go off without a hitch. Even the annual meeting (I always worry about that one).

The highlight of the day for me was sitting down for coffee with Tate. Tate is awesome. Here and I have been on two mission trips together and she is planning on going to New Orleans this next summer as well. She is really involved in DECA at school, not to mention she is the current Miss Rogers, MN. So I am talking bodyguards and everything. (just kidding) But It had been a long time since her and I sat down and talked so this coffee meeting was great.

Of course I had an idea of what a conversation might look like with her since we know each other fairly well, but I was a little surprised to talk about some of the things I did. Like I said she is awesome and easy to talk to. We talked about India, Country Music, DECA, school and a host of other things as well. It was fun. I am glad that I have had a chance to meet Tate.

As i think about it, there are so many youth I have worked with that I am glad to have met. There is hardly a person I have come upon that has made me wonder about their integrity as a person. And that is encouraging.

The day continued with me in the church kitchen helping organize and make the meal before the annual meeting. As a fundraiser, the youth put on a chili supper for everyone who comes to the meeting. It was a grand success and we even ran out of food. I spent most of the night "schmoozing with the locals" and then doing the dishes for the rest of the evening.

Doing the dishes is so much fun for me. Granted it is an industrial kitchen and cleaning is a breeze when it comes right down to it. But it also brings back memories of when I was in high school and would always volunteer to do the dishes for church. My friend Dan and I were unstoppable. There was no task that we could not handle. Dan and I would go to weddings and funerals at our church and rather than be out with the people we would be doing dishes. We were good. Imagine if you will a wedding with a few hundred people and the caterer showing up with all the food. They look at the kitchen (not the greatest but still functional) and would think to themselves "this is going to be a long night". This was mostly because they were in charge of cleaning up their mess as well. But in steps Dain and Dan, the wonder washers and the suds would fly. We had those nay-saying caterers out of the kitchen before the dance was even getting warmed up. Let's just say that we had a few job offers to come and do dishes for them all the time. We thought about it...but decided it was the most fun at our church.

Tonight was a little like that. I think it's because I enjoy being behind the scenes. As much of an extrovert that I am, I love working hard and letting other people, or God have the glory. I don't need any of that stuff. And then when it's all said and done I can go and sit and enjoy all the yea's and nay's of the annual meeting.

Like I said, it was an unusual day, but a good one at that.



Monday, January 26, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 14 - Sunday

The Big Boo Surprise.

Sunday was a day that had few surprises, and I think that was a good thing. Worship was normal and fun, I got a chance to relax in the afternoon, I took a nap and was asleep for longer than expected, and we went out to dinner with a bunch of friends, some of which I haven't seen in a long time. One of these friends is Boo. He is a great guy and someone you can easily talk to and be great friends with. He is a kind hearted man and I enjoy his company greatly. As it turns out Boo is going to be in the twin cities for quite some time. This is good news because it always seems like he is on the move. On top of that he is living with a friend who lives all of 200 yards away from Heather and I up the Mississippi River. It looks like I will get to see more of him that I thought and this is a nice surprise.

The other surprise I had today came in the form of a realization. As I was driving home from church I was thinking about this surprise me God experiment and realized that on Saturday, the day of craziness, I did not pray the surprise me God prayer. I think I willingly resisted the prayer because I did not want any surprises on this day. There were too many factors on Saturday that could warrant a bad surprise and I wanted everything to go smoothly.

Now I am no Doctor of Theology, but I have been known to tinker with thoughts on God and I am fairly certain that I can not turn God's will on an off whenever I please. I can't say to the Man upstairs which day is best to do His work on and which is not. But I found myself doing it any way.

In my youth ministry I have found that this is a common thought among teens today. That God is there, but only when they need Him. What does that say about God? Is He our pet or a slave? I'm guessing there is some sense of independence going on here. "I am old enough to drive, make my own choices and thanks God for the help in the past but I will let you know when I need you next." That really bums me out. I hope and pray that God is not viewed only as a consumer product you can call up on the hotline when it works into your schedule or when a disaster in your life has occurred. That is not God. God's love is not something you can turn on and off. God loves you 24-7, 100% of the time. God rejoices in your success and pulls you closer when you fail. God cares for you and is the most reliable person in your life. God will never fail you.

So where does that put me? The person who chose not to include God in Saturday? Does it put me in the same boat? Realizing later in the day that it would be a good thing to do, I took a few moments and prayed for the rest of the day to be successful, for the youth to stay warm outside, for the tune-up to go well and for a God lead day. Rather than the prayer surprise me, I went with something more specific. Something to the point and more conversation like. It felt good to know that God was there with me. It was reassuring to know God knew what I felt and cared about. It felt good turning it over to God and letting Him take it from there.

I hope you can do the same.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 13 - Saturday

The sympathy vote

Saturday morning was a morning I was dreading and looking forward to. We had a huge fundraiser going on at church that I was going to miss the first part of and a choir "tune-up" down in Bloomington. The reason I was dreading the morning mostly was because I was going to be out of control of what was going on at my job. It's not that I have control issues, but when I know that the two people who are in charge (Mari and I) are not going to be there 100% of the time, then I have to place my trust in the volunteers and youth to get it right. And normally I am a trusting person when it even comes to that, but because of the last minute scrambling I was a little hesitant on this one. Luckily, Heather was going to be there and I know she is awesome and will make sure all is well on this one.

So, I began my morning ritual and thought it necessary to check the weather. Fantastic...12 below with a pretty good windchill. This is not looking good for the fundraiser. How many kids are going to want to go out and sell discount cards in this type of weather? All the work Mari and I put into this and we may have to cancel because of cold? I guess we have to make it a game time decision. Hope it all goes well cause I won't be there to help.

The choir tune-up was good. Not the best of the 6 or so that I have been through. I forgot I was supposed to bring my camera to take pictures (this is a standing order from the choir at any event). And normally it is just a few pictures of people singing and having a good time with each other and the guest conductor. But today, I really should have brought the camera. The National Lutheran Choir was being presented a grant from Thrivent for Lutherans for $100,000! SURPRISE! And a wonderful one at that.

This is an awesome thing to happen because it is really going to help the choir get to the next level of performance capabilities and financial support. A picture worthy moment. The moment was covered by another choir member thankfully.

At the end of the tune-up I dashed to my car, took Kate home and got to Rogers as fast as I could. Everyone was on lunch break so I did the same. Then I played command center. I made calls and kept in touch with everyone on the fundraiser to see how they were doing. I prepared the church for their arrival and waited patiently for the results of the fundraiser. As it turns out John, the fundraiser guy, expected us to sell around $600 worth or $30 cards. In the end we sold, are you ready for this? $4020 worth! We sold 201 cards! That is amazing and a wonderful surprise. The youth went out like gangbusters and knocked this one out of the park. People must have been so amazed that we were out selling on a day like this that they couldn't help but buy from us.

I think the best surprise of the day was with Emily. She has been worrying like crazy about raising enough money to go on this trip. She has to raise it all herself and is freaking out about it. At the end of the day she not only sold the most cards but she also pulled the most money out of the prize bucket. This was a blessing because today she has raised over half of the total amount and we still have 6 months till we leave.

So I guess I learned, again, that we have awesome people working with youth and amazing youth who are willing to work hard. This is always a great surprise. Praise God.


Surprise Me God - Day 12 - Friday

My supposed day off.

Fridays are a great day in my book. I know that fridays are good in most everyone's book because it means the weekend is coming. But for me it means the weekend is already here. My plans for friday consisted of getting a few errands done and spending some time organizing my calender making sure everything is on it. I was also hoping that I would be surprised by tons of people volunteering for the much needed drivers for our fundraiser on Saturday.

I guess my surprise was that friday was not much of a day off at all. Granted, I was not in Rogers, but with cell phones that doesn't seem to matter. Mari and I were on the phone almost constantly yesterday working things out. Between her not being able to be there in the morning and lack of drivers and me not being able to be there in the morning, we had ourselves a pickle. As we were scrambling I could feel my stress level rising. Why was this fundraiser coming up to so much resistance? We didn't make our first date because of lack of kids, now are we going to have to cancel this one because of lack of parents?

In the end Mari and I (mostly Mari) went gang busters on the phone and got the needed drivers. Praise God.

There was one small surprise I received on Friday afternoon however. Heather and i were going to meet with a financial adviser that afternoon to work out our 2008 expenses and ask some questions. But he called in sick so that didn't happen. I was only slightly relieved because I know we need to do this, but it was nice after such a hectic morning to have a relaxing afternoon with no commitments.

For dinner I wanted to try and recreate a frozen meal I love from Trader Joe's. So I kept the package, looked at the ingredients on the back and went from there. It was pretty good. This was my first experiment like this and I might be better at cooking that I thought. This will be fun to try this with something else.

Dear Lord, please be with the youth fundraiser tomorrow. Help it be successful. Amen


Friday, January 23, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 11 - Thursday

Youth and Education Staff Retreat

Today was crazy, nonstop and very intense. The day began with a retreat to a favorite pizza place for a staff retreat with myself and 7 other youth and education staff at out church. This has been a long time coming and with more and more staff we need to communicate more. Also, we have growing numbers and to put it Biblically, we are putting new wine into old wine skins. In other words...we need to change some things.

I was a little worried about how people would take a bomb shell like changing the ages of confirmation or requiring more of them, or changing the requirements. You see confirmation is a strange thing. I am not sure where it lands in the grand scheme of things. We have education staff and they deal with the little ones and there is youth staff that deal with the big ones. And then we have the medium ones who are the middle schoolers. Kids who are going through the biggest changes in their lives both physically and mentally and we are teaching them everything they should know about the Bible, Faith and God in three years and hope and pray that they stick around.

So my worry was that education would balk against the ideas I had, or they would throw out their own and we who hit the breaks. Neither happened. We discussed, talked, thought, questioned, and figured out a little more about where we need to go with the youth programming of this church. It was an encouraging day. When we all left at 3pm I realized that one day was not going to be enough for all of this to flush itself out. This is good, more talking and then doing comes after that.

I left encouraged and a little behind schedule. I was meeting with some of the junior guys for coffee and showed up a tad late. Not a lot but a tad. I had a great conversation with them about life and what is going on in their lives right now. No agenda other that getting to know them better. I met with three abut two others showed up in passing and one was working at the coffee shop. 6 birds, one stone. I need to do this more often. Get out of my office and just sit and talk with the youth. It brings me joy and I think they might get something out of it too.

I have another appointment with a youth for coffee on monday, I could get used to this.



Surprise Me God - Day 10 - Wednesday

Winter sports, what a blast.

Today was a wonderful day. One that only can come once in January and February. It was about 30 degrees today and that made it prefect for the first of two tubing outings with the confirmation group.

My surprise came in the form of a conversation I had over multiple rides up the magic carpet to the top of the tubing hill. One of our confirmation students is actually a senior in high school. He wanted to be confirmed because he never got the chance when he was in middle school. So, he has gone through the three years, learning and mentoring along side the middle schoolers. He has always been a bit of a puzzle to me because he is so tall. When I first met him I couldn't believe he was in 6th grade, turns out he wasn't (whew) and since that time I have been very impressed at his excitement on Wednesday Nights.

We had a great couple of runs down the hill at Elm Creek Park and then on the way back up again he started to ask me questions. Not simple questions, but heavy very theological questions. And they were the type of questions that were meant to start a conversation. He had something to tell me. And in increments of 5 minutes we talked about everything from how shameful he was for his past and the things he has done to what the future looks like for him. And I must say the future looks bright. My surprise was what his choice for school was going to be and to hear that eventually he wants to go to seminary. This is a great thing to hear. I can hardly think of any youth who are so certain about going into the ministry at the end of high school. But over the years I have been blessed to know a couple of great people who will be great workers for Christ in their lives.

My hope is never that all the youth go into the ministry, but that everyone realizes that ministry is already a part of their daily lives and everywhere God leads us is our mission field.



Thursday, January 22, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 9 - Tuesday

Toady I witnessed history. On this day, for the 44th time, the United States has elected a new person to be the President. But for the the first time that person is not white. Barack Obama was sworn in this morning and I was there to watch it all. Well, I wasn't actually in Washington, but I did take the time to watch it online. We actually watched it as a staff at Word of Peace. FOr our staff meeting we gathered in the youth room and sat in silence as we watched the events unfold.

I think the biggest surprise of the event itself was how much it centered around God. Now I know that there is this whole separation of church and state, but on a day like this there is no evidence of that. The inauguration is even built like a church service with an invocation, song, message, poetry, special music, and benediction. The swearing in takes place on a Bible and it is tradition for the new first family to go to church before the day kicks off.

Is this just tradition? I don't think so. Deep down it seems like everyone knows that there is a higher power out there. That we would not be capable of doing this on our own. That our inspiration and abilities come from an al-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God above that is watching over us. The sad part is how many people then turn around and have a problem with manger scenes and the 10 commandments posted near government buildings and schools.

Another small surprise was how no matter the age we were old or young, all of us couldn't remember the last time so many people were so excited about the new president of the United States. That there was a great rallying point for the country and hope was something so thick we could hold on to it. Now the goal is to not let that hope slip through our fingers, or let go of it at the first sign of trouble. Because there will no doubt be ups and downs in this administration.

God, please bless this country and all who work for the common good. Amen


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 8 - Monday

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. day. Some people had this day off...I did not. But that's ok. I woke up this morning thinking I would take it easy and go into work a little later than usual. I would sit and blog about surprise me in the morning, take a shower and maybe stop by the Circuit City that was closing in Maple Grove to see if there were any good deals. Heather went down to Fairbault to get her car fixed and see her uncle Herb so I had the apartment to myself. I started to blog and look up somethings on the internet. But I wasn't getting anywhere fast. My wireless connection was strong, my computer is newer so there shouldn't be anything wrong there. But the connection was slower that ever. I did everything I could think of to make it work but to no avail. So, I thought to myself, "Self, maybe I should take a shower." So I turned on the water and waited for it to warm up. I waited and waited and waited and waited. I have never experienced a time in my apartment where there was no hot water. What was going on here? This was a surprise.

What happened next was also a surprise. My thought process took me directly to this surprise me experiment and I thought "maybe God is trying to tell me something, maybe I need to get to work because something is going to happen there." I quickly dressed, went out to my car and drove down the interstate towards Rogers at a less leisurely clip than usual. "What does God have in store for me today? What am I going to miss?" The possibilities were limitless.

I arrived at work thinking someone was going to show up that I hadn't seen in a while or something was going to come in the mail, and I would like to tell you that something amazing happened...but it didn't. The day was as normal as normal could be. It was even a little less than normal. Only 3 youth showed up to _tag worship, that was a disappointment. So I really don't know why God got me out of bed and the apartment in the morning? Why did I feel the tug to get to work? Was there something I avoided at home? Did I miss being in an accident on the road? The best I can think of, is that God is telling me that even the ordinary is a blessing. I am healthy and have a wonderful life. I don't need surprises to have a complete life because it already is. God has made my life complete and that is enough.

I ended the day with a nice conversation with my father-in-law John about TVs. I learned a lot and it was good to talk to him. All in all it was a day and that's about all I can say about it.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 7 - Sunday

Worship leading is something I love to do. I learned to play the guitar and rather than wanting to figure out the amazing guitar solos, I wanted to play amazing grace. Eventually I got good enough to so I could join the praise band at my church. I was the third guitarist, Steve and Pete were much better than I was, but that was the best way to learn. I sat in the back with out any volume or microphones until I was comfortable. Now I am the one that is up front.

It seems like I am always in awe at the power of music. There is something deep down inside every person that connects to some kind of music. I always hope that the music people listen to is positive and uplifting, so when the opportunity came at Word of Peace to help out the contemporary worship service I jumped at the chance.

I invited two of my friends to come and help me form a band at church so we could continue the contemporary service. Heather and Kate are still playing with me, and I married Heather so I would say it has been somewhat of a success. We even recorded a CD.

Sometimes I wonder if what I do is ever really noticed. Do people take what they have for granted? I have to believe that most of us don't really know how good we have it until what we have is gone. While I was going around and sharing the peace with as many people as I could during the service, a family told me it was good to have me back. It caught me off guard and I smiled and took their complement. I have to say that I missed being around last week. Worship is something that feeds my soul like othing else. It is something that is so powerful and wonderful it is hard to describe sometimes. Worship is the time that I get to say thanks with all my friends for all the surprises in my life.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 6

Today was a surprisingly relaxing day. Heather and I are extroverts, and what that means is we will most likely accept invitations to anything. Our our days are usually packed with seeing people and going places that we hardly have time do do what needs to be done around the apartment. Today was not that day, entirely.

For once we got to sleep in. Thank God for that. I woke up and blogged about the previous day and spent some good quiet time with myself. I like the time in the morning when Heather is still sleeping. There is a quiet innocence to the day, like a new born baby. It's that time when you haven't started thinking about the day ahead of you yet because you are still halfway asleep and in dream land. I have to think that heaven might feel a little like that. No cares of worries, just the infinite possibility of a wonderful day ahed of you.

The great thing about this saturday was there was nothing pressing or urgent about the day. Our plan was to clean, go outside and have some fun because we could be out for more than 10 minutes and not freeze to death (let's here it for 17 degrees above zero), and then rehearse with Kate and Steve for Sunday morning. Everything went to plan and it was a wonderful day.

Heather and I love to snowshoe and try to get out whenever possible. That usually means whenever we head to northern Minnesota. There is always somewhere to snowshoe when there are woods around you. The city is a different animal all together. There just doesn't seem to be the freedom of walking out your door and just going in the city. I started looking up different places we could go, parks, golf courses and other recreation areas. All I found were snowshoeing programs and guided nature walks. Not what I wanted. I was getting a little frustrated when Heather suggested that we just walk along the river. What a wonderful idea. I didn't even realize that by living where we do, on the Mississippi, we CAN walk out our door and be in the "wilderness". We walked about a mile up the edge of the river, on the solid ice part. I wasn't about to fall through the ice, that was not a surprise I wanted. The wind was in our face and it was snowing. It was beautiful. One of my favorite things about winter is how quiet it gets when it snows. The sound is absorbed and the constant roar of the nearby interstate is lessened to a hum.

While on our walk we found some ice heaves on the shore. They were about 5 inches thick and very clear. It was pretty amazing. No doubt the river is mostly frozen because of the cold lately. Still not enough to venture away from the shore. After we turned around we had the wind at our back and followed our tracks home. We could see the bridge over the river in the distance and I wondered if anyone could see us walking? If anyone noticed bright orange and green specks on the snowy river. It didn't matter, we had found solitude in the middle of the city and it was wonderful. A fantastic surprise.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 5

I love Fridays. Not only are they a day off for me, but I get to do pretty much whatever I want. Today what I wanted to do was help my brother with a new TV stand. Ok so he asked and I said ok, but I still was willing to help. It's a good thing too because the thing weighed a ton or 125 lbs. Derek's car didn't start so I was in charge of getting the Explorer from Derek's in-laws. The transportation and assembly went pretty well, and with a few adjustments we had a Swanson project completed without any injuries or swear words said.

I received my surprise for the day later that evening when I was making dinner. I had these big plans for making something from scratch but then got tired and decided on letting my friend Joe the Trader help me out. It was really good. But my surprise...I was making the salad and cutting up lettuce when I decided to make my thumb a part of the salad. What ensued was lots of blood and rushing water from the faucet as I tried to stop the bleeding. Luckily, I didn't need to go to the hospital for stitches but the tip of my thumb is just a little sore!

The evening did continue and Heather and I had a wonderful evening with dinner and a movie. It has been a long time since we have been able to do this. If you haven't done it in a while, I recommend it. Now, hopefully I can get to sleep with this throbbing thumb.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 4

I'm not sure how to describe it, this feeling today had. I guess the best way is to say the day felt exactly like what it was...the day after a funeral.

I woke up this morning to bitterly cold temperatures outside. It was so cold that last night Heather and I boiled water, threw it up in the air outside and it never touched the ground. All that was left was plume of steam hanging in the air. The morning was no different, cold and a day that you would rather just stay in bed. School was even closed because it was too cold. But I got up knowing I had lots to do. I got in my car, turned it on and began to scrape the frost off the windshield. Now, in the past I have had some trouble with my tires. When it gets cold the seals don't hold and air leaks out and I noticed that this was the case in my front right tire (it's always my front right tire). It didn't look too bad and I thought I would make it to the gas station, fill it up and be on my way. I did make it to the gas station, however, I tried to fill it up but the tire was not taking air. This was not good. Here I was on the coldest day of the year, no, the past 5 years and I had a flat at the gas station. Great! I called my brother, Mari, and Heather but no one answered. So there I sat, worrying about what I was going to do.

It's times like these I really hate being an adult. I find myself crawling back to my adolescent self and wishing my Dad was there to take care of everything. He always had a level head. But not this time, I was on my own. Now, as a side note I have changed my tire before and am quite handy with car repairs, but you throw in -35 degree temps where bare skin can freeze in less than 10 minutes, and I start to worry and to put it mildly...freak out.

Well I had waited long enough and I thought I would at least try and fill the tire again. To my great surprise and relief the tire took the air! Praise God! I filled it up and checked the pressure. It was holding. I decided to head down the road to the next gas station and recheck the pressure. Still holding. It looked as though I was in the clear.

When I arrived at church I soon realized that the stress I had just put myself through completely drained any energy I had stored up during sleep last night. When Mari arrived she looked like she was also down in the dumps as well. I asked her what was up and she told me that the brother of a good friend of hers passed away last night. I'm pretty sure the last news you want after going through a tough emotionally draining day is finding out that someone closer to you has died. So Mari and I decided that this day would have been better if we had skipped it.

My last surprise came Wednesday Night. I didn't really realize that it was such a surprise until I thought about it a little more. My friend and youth volunteer Jackie, who is also a school teacher, told me that she received a call saying that she would, in spite of the cold, be having school tomorrow. I was bummed that she wasn't going to get a "cold" day (as opposed to a snow day) and it was her response that caught me off guard. She said that it was important for the school to remain open because it was warm and had food, which was more than most of the homes the kids come from can offer.

Wow, surprise. I drive by this school everyday. It is not far from where I live. To me it seems like the school is in a decent neighborhood. But Jackie knows, as do the people who go to school there, that the outside appearance doesn't always reflect what is going on at home. The school was serving a double purpose: education and learning and also shelter and life saver. The sad part is the kids can't stay there all day, they have to go home and possibly suffer through a very cold night.

It made me realize again what I learned on our mission trips this past summer. There are so many places that we think need help: the big city, the rural dying town. But there is also your home town that needs help. There are people everywhere that need help. Whether it is someone that is homeless on the street or someone who has a flat tire on the side of the road. If only were weren't farsighted when it comes to charity. I hope in the days to come I can look for places I can help.



Thursday, January 15, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 3

I think it is safe to say that the temperature outside would be some of the coldest weather I have ever experienced. If I am not mistaken, the temp right now is somewhere between -21 actual and -41 windchill. Yikes! So, because I was cold and tired I decided to make this morning a lazy morning and do my surprise blog before I go to work. Maybe that will give the sun a little time to prime my car for startup.

Yesterday was a day filled with craziness. The first being the funeral of Mark Frain at Word of Peace. Mari, my wonderful assistant, is also the volunteer funeral coordinator. She is insanely busy on these days. So knowing how much she helps me out, I try and do the same for her. I was in charge of video and media for the service. I have a little knack for it, so when it comes to in house questions about the sound board, media, or anything contained in the wooden roll-top desks in the sanctuary, I am the man to come to. This is a blessing and a burden at the same time.

Anyway, the funeral was very nice. It is really hard seeing someone you know in such a broken state. Mike and Terri Frain both are wonderful people and very active in the congregation, so the whole community felt their pain this day. As it turns our, what I learned yesterday about some strange connection between me and the Frain family was not entirely true. As it turns out, it is more connected than I thought. After the funeral was done, I talked to Kathy, the wife of Mark who died. (Here comes my surprise for the day) Kathy and Mark attend St. Andrew's Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Derek, my brother, worked for St. Andrew's for a summer at a place called Lifespot. Mark volunteered at Lifespot while Derek was there. It gets stranger. Kathy is a preschool teacher and a few years back interviewed for a job at St. Luke's Methodist Church. The director of that preschool is my mom. So Kathy knows my mom, Derek knew Mark and I found out how small of a world this world can really be.

Now I know I was not the main source of comfort during the funeral, I was only a lowly camera and media person in the back. But I still have to believe that the connectedness that I have with this family is not a coincidence. That somewhere along the way our families crossed for a reason. Maybe this reason was because this funeral was coming up. Maybe the reason the family felt so comfortable at Word of Peace was because of a deep down feeling inside of knowing someone there? I truly find God to be amazing in these situations. I never knew I would be a comfort to someone I didn't know.

Has that ever happened to you? Do you ever seem to find yourself in a place you didn't intend, only to realize that it was a good thing you were there? I think this happens more often than not. God is constantly placing us in the right place at the right time. Preparing us for the moment where we can spread his love and grace to people we may not know. But because of our experiences in life and remembering the times someone was there for us, we can't help but want to do the same for others. What a wonderful surprise.

I hope today and always we can be willing to reach out to others that need what we have to give.



Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 2

Day 2, could it really be I only have 28 days left in the crazy experiment? How time flies. No worry, I think God has lots of time to work through me. Speaking of which, my friend Kate and I were driving to choir practice tonight (I sing in the National Lutheran Choir and it turns out her and I had a similar reaction to beginning the Surprise Me God prayer. She said she decided to write it on the white board in her office so she would remember to pray the prayer when one of her co-workers came and asked her what it was all about. She told her and her reaction came in the form of her saying "That sounds like you are asking for trouble."

"That's exactly what I thought" I told Kate. Soon after she confessed that she too had thought about how this is opening doors and windows for God to work in our lives. But Kate and I know better than that. We both realized at that comment that God doesn't need our permission to work in our lives. God is all powerful, you think something as little as permission will keep his plan from coming true?

I think that God is always working in our lives, however whether we know or realize that God is the cause for things happening is another question. It seems like we walk a thin line between not giving God any credit and giving him all the credit. It's easy enough to ignore God and take all the credit for yourself. "Yeah, I'm awesome! Wasn't that the greatest idea ever? I'm glad I thought of it" Or the other side of the coin is the football player that is always pointing up to the sky after he does anything. "I just ordered a number 3 at McDonald's...thank you God (point to the sky)" Ok so maybe I am exaggerating a little, but the question "when do we give God the credit?" falls in the same line as "How do I know this surprise is from God?"

I think that no matter what happens in these 30 days God is willing to work through it all, even the small things. Which means we better keep our eyes open.

One update I have from yesterday is I found out that the funeral that is happening tomorrow will in fact have some relationship to my home church Our Father Lutheran in Littleton, Colorado. From what I have figured out, one of the kids of the person who died goes to preschool at the church. It is an amazingly small world and I hope that God will use me as a comfort in this time of need.

May God continue to bless you with surprises.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Surprise Me God - Day 1

Believe it or not, the first thing I did this morning (even before getting out of bed) was pray surprise me God. I am proud of myself. The crazy part of it is, after I was done I almost had second thoughts, almost. I was a little scared of what I had just done. What was I doing letting God have permission to do what ever he wants in my life. I like things just the way they are. Does this mean I am going to have to *gulp* change....I'm Lutheran...I can't change! Can I?

Of course I can. So, rather than going back to sleep and pretending nothing happened I got up and began my day.

So what did Day 1 have in store for me? The morning was amazing. We had a fantastic storm start up around 8 this morning and the snow was big, fluffy and most of all reminded me of Colorado snow. As I left my apartment I looked out across the Mississippi River and took a moment with God to thank him for this moment.

My day went on very much like normal. I had to catch up on what happened in worship on Sunday because Heather, my wife, and I were up north in Two Harbors to celebrate Christmas with her side of the family. Over the course of this holiday season (which lasted almost a month and a half for me) I experienced Christmas with 7 different families. And all of them were vastly different. But what a wonderful way to form your own traditions, by stealing from the best of them. (due to the Christian nature of Dain's profession Dain wishes you to know stealing is wrong, but stealing traditions is ok, don't forget to make up ome of your own. ;) )

I did have a few other surprises today. Some good and some not so good. I learned that a brother of a member of our congregation died this past weekend in a snowmobiling accident and the funeral will be on Wednesday. The tragic thing about this is how we, as a church, have had at least one death like this each year for the past 3 years. I pray for their healing and understanding from this tragedy. Another side of this is the person who died is from the same town I grew up in, Littleton, Colorado and it is very possible they went to the same church as me growing up. This is unconfirmed, but would prove to be a big surprise if true.

As the day wore on I slowly began to lower my expectations as to how many youth were going to show up for tag, our monday night high school worship. The snow was not getting any better and reports were that the roads were not improving. But, I was pleasantly surprised to see an average size crew show up with a few people I haven't seen in quite some time. We talked about this experiment and I think it went well.

To close my night I went to the new part of our building that is still under construction and took some pictures of how people signed the concrete floor. We are getting ready to lay the carpet and as a way of blessing the building people wrote prayers, Bible verses and signed their name. My surprise was what was written on the floor. I was literally floored (yikes) by what most of the people wrote. I know that we have a spiritual bunch, but when we did a study of common church attributes we found out that Passionate Spirituality was an area we lacked. Consequently, this experiment is one way we are trying to boost our passion for Christ. But like I said, I was amazed at the wonderful prayers and Bible verses that were written on the floor. I spent 15 minutes taking pictures in all the different rooms while Derek (my brother) and Pastor Ron chatted in the background.

Seeing these prayers gave me a great sense of hope for this congregation. I have faith that God is doing great things in the community. But sometimes it is hard to see. People tend to store things like "God Stuff" deep down inside and never let them out. Why is that? What you have inside of you is beautiful and wonderful. You should not be afraid to praise God and tell the truth that God is awesome. I am excited to see how I can use these pictures.

I didn't expect so much to happen on the first day, but wow. This is fun and interesting. Let's hope that tomorrow is as well.



Friday, January 9, 2009

Surprise Me God

This Sunday marks the beginning of a 30 day experiment in faith for me and the rest of Word of Peace, my church. We are following the book "Surprise Me God" written by a local author Terry Esau. I am about a third of the way through the book already and am very excited to see what happens in my life as I pray the prayer "Surprise me God"

I really don't know what to expect. I guess its going to be a surprise. Imagine that. My hope and prayer is that people will take this seriously and no longer think that God is some distant being that only shows up on Sunday or Monday or whenever you go to church. God is around us all the time and working in our lives in ways that we never realize because we are so busy all the time.

I will be keeping this blog daily with the hopes of giving people an idea about what God is doing and has done in my life. Just like the book, I am not expecting something amazing to happen every day, but I am expecting God to be there. That I can count on.

Well here we go....