Monday, November 29, 2010

Life's Transitions on my 47th year...

Well, it's official. My family is moving to Montana, where I've been called to pastor and teach. An exciting new era begins for the Smith family. My oldest daughter is a college student and will remain in Brownwood at Howard Payne University, where I have
taught for almost 5 years. Indeed,
the end of the Spring semester will make five full years. They have been good, enriching years at a good school. My coll
eagues are exceptional and my students have been a treasure... for the most part! I feel as though I am leaving my 18, almost 19 year old in good hands.

My youngest daughter will attend a junior high where Italian, German, Spanish and French is taught, as well as choir, band, orchestra and world percussion. She will also have the opportunity to perform with one of three ballet companies, including the Montana Ballet. At the local high school, many of the students are National Merit Scholars and go on to Ivy League schools. She will have the opportunity to learn to ride horses and learn to snow ski.

My wife will be able to pursue whatever vocation she would like. The world is her oyster in Montana. She can teach school, work at a university or for a myriad of other companies in a growing community. I know she is ready to settle in and contribute and I am as excited for her as I am for me!

We will live in a growing community of 40,000, located in the beautiful Rocky mountains. There is a major university, an arts community and an incredible outdoor recreation community. The church is promise itself - exactly the kind of church that suits my gifts and talents. The people in the congregation are hardy, lovely and committed. They are ready to reach out to their community.

I will hit the road running. This Spring, I will spend every other week in Montana, while commuting back to Brownwood to finish teaching my classes. Both my church and HPU have been very generous to allow this opportunity. I don't like loose ends, and though requiring lots of travel, it will allow me to bring closure to my full time teaching at this dear institution. On the weeks that I am in Brownwood, I will be teaching a Monday night New Testament Introduction and on Tuesdays and Thursdays I will be teaching my Christian Doctrines classes... Wednesdays will be office hours and thesis work. I will be staying in the guest house of a good friend in Brownwood, so I will have some private space to relax and collect my thoughts. Saturdays I will be returning to Montana.

As I get older, transitions become harder - and indeed, I find myself becoming more and more resistant to change - but I am committed to following God's call on my life and this is the move I need to make.

Brownwood has definitely been a time of sojourn for me. It has taken its toll in several areas of my life, but I've learned so much about 'me' and ministry that it has been worth it. I must thank my friends, Scott, Carol and Rob, for helping me through this time. These three friends have been privy to all of the difficulties I've encountered during my time here. I must thank my colleagues in the School of Christian Studies, as well as the Provost and President for understanding my burdens and making this transition easier than I would have thought. My friend Sam McCutchen and the Lady Jacket Soccer Team as well as Corey Ash and the HPU Yellow Jacket Band have become special as well. Some of you who read this blog are former students - you need to know that spending time with you was one of the great privileges of my life, especially you Caty.

I will miss all of you, but I am eager to move on now to what God has next for me after this May. It is time. Maybe this will be my last move; I hope so, but I will trust that God will do what He needs to do with me.

Rob, you're my best friend. Visit me this time.

Carol, I've missed you for two years now, but know that you are always my friend. You and your delightful family remains in my prayers.

Scott, I know I will see you soon. Might even convince you to move your practice up north!

Sam, I look forward to hosting you in the near future!

HPU faculty and students: you will always be welcome in my home and I hope to see you when you can make it up north! I hope to mentor some students in ministry from HPU and even possibly minister with some of you.

Well, time to close this entry. Today is my 47th birthday. I've got to pack and reflect some more. My mind is a whirl as I prepare for classes and this move.

I love you all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Watching your life be sold...

We're having a garage sale today.


It's the American way of preparing to relocate. However, this is not my 'thing' if you will; it's my wife's thing. Now, don't get me wrong, I help. I collect stuff, set up and assist in whatever needs to be done; but I don't 'haggle' or 'sell'... It's just too difficult. I feel as though I am selling my life.

Bit by bit, piece by piece, clothing, furniture, kitchen ware, tools, knick-knacks and other memorabilia that have marked portions of your life are sold to others for next to nothing. We sold a rocking chair for $7, a cabinet for $20 and who-knows-what-else at 4 for a $1 or less... In the heat of the sale, it is strange to see strangers pawing over your life, grabbing some things with lustful possessiveness and simply dismissing other things as if it was junk. Maybe it was, but it meant something to me once.

I walk out to give Melissa a break an hour into the sale and I saw a table cloth, a blue patterned table cloth that I had owned before we were married. I don't remember where I got it; I think from my father in Oklahoma. I couldn't part with it though. So I brought it back inside the house. It was too large a part of my history to let go. Maybe my daughters will want it some day; or maybe they will bury it with me, I don't know. It marked a part of my life though that is worth remembering.

I let go of a lot of other things though - a brief case, some tools, clothes, posters, furniture - and with those things, I saw the memories of each go as well. I don't think I will forget immediately, but over time, without those items, the memories will fade. Obviously, if the memories were that important, I would still have those things.

But alas, life moves onward - new memories and new 'memorabilia' to accompany them. There will be new furniture, new kitchen bowls and more clothes.

It's tough though watching your life be sold to whomever will pay the price your asking; but its actually a very good thing to do.

Aren't you glad that your life is more than the material things you wear and use? Aren't you glad that those things don't own you? Fetishism is what occurs when we imbue common objects with a 'magical' power. When we don't let go of those things because they have a hold on us, we can become crippled by the power we give them... But God takes care of us and stuff is just, well, stuff.

I guess garage sales aren't so tough after all.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Ladies That Changed Me.

It is every professor's privilege to help his or her students not only amass knowledge in a specific discipline, but also help them to grow into better human beings. Part of the commission - the 'call' if you will - to teach is that you not only share a knowledge base, but that you enable those students to wisely apply the knowledge that has been bequeathed to him or her. I realize that this might be an idea unique to the Christian educational perspective, but I hope not. Being a teacher is a weighty call.

This past fall however, I was involved with a group of young women that changed me. They are the Lady Jacket Soccer Team - specifically four young ladies, their coach, a university photographer and a student groupie. All six of the young women (four players, a university photographer and the soccer 'groupie') had been or are in my Old Testament Introduction class. The coach is a valued friend of mine. Together, they did something that I try to do in all my classes - they showed me that I was valuable.

It is one of my deepest concerns that all of my students not only take away information from my classes and be able to wisely apply that information in their lives, but they walk away from my classes experiencing "value" - when they leave they know that each of them is valued as a person. Sometimes I am successful at that, sometimes I am not so successful - nevertheless it is something for which I aim. This fall, as I have had a "full plate" on my table, so to speak, I have wondered as to whether I have fallen short or not in my aim. Hopefully, I have succeeded, but I have had my doubts. Indeed, this fall has been a very trying time for me personally. Many prayerful decisions have been made and changes are in the works. But in the midst of all of these issues - these seven plus people - six young women, a coach and a soccer team - have shown me that I have value. They have shown me that the time I have spent in the classroom and as a participant in greater university life has made a difference. I needed to know that as much as they needed to know that they are valued too.

So my hat is off to the 2010 Lady Jacket Soccer Team, and especially, Sam, Kerrie, Bri, Mallory, Shannon, Megan and Kayla. Thank you for reaching out to me (though you didn't even know it!) when I was at a crossroads. It has made a difference. Thank you for your character - it is such a rarity in our time and culture. Thank you for your studious pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. But most of all thank you for the care and time you have shared with me. I am a better person because of who you are.

For those of you who are wondering - I am the guy right in the middle of the 'swarm' on the back row. STING 'EM Ladies!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Viva (vie • vuh)

The word, "viva" literally means, "to live." I think it is an interesting term, especially in how it is being used in my current context, "Upgrade Viva". An upgrade viva in the English context means "an interview where two outside examiners (PhDs in your field of enquiry) question you about your thesis and all of its attendant details. The enquiry last for as long as it takes for the examiners to ascertain your knowledge base and your potential for further scholarship. If you "pass" the examination, you are allowed to finish your thesis and submit it as a doctoral thesis, for which you can earn the doctor of philosophy degree. If the examiners find you deficient, then you are relegated to completing the M. Litt degree or Master of Letters - to be quite honest, it is a second class degree in this instance. It says your research is not good enough, complete enough or does not merit continuation towards the doctor of philosophy degree. So now the term "viva" is understood a bit better: it is the academic colloquy that determines the life or death of a scholar.

Well, my upgrade viva is tomorrow with two scholars I respect greatly. They have been reading my material for the past month and will make a decision tomorrow on its merit. If I were younger, I might be disturbed or even nervous. I find myself in a different place altogether. I am at peace; serene. (Well, a bit chilled at the moment - it's cold and wet here!!) Nevertheless, my demeanor is unaffected. I know my subject. I do.

My world is falling into place. God truly puts you in the right place at the right time. He gives you the confidence you need when you need it. He makes your paths straight. If you seek God's world, God's vision, He gives you glimpses of it and of His glory. Then he opens it up bit, by bit as we are faithful.

I thank you O Father for this beautiful day.
Help me to live it moment by moment
Seeing your glory
and sharing your love
in all that I do.
Let Jesus live in me
and your Spirit speak through my life…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What happens when you hurt your friends.

I know it has been a while since my last post, but I want to share briefly some thoughts with you all the way from England. It's one of those times where I just need to share.

I have a friend who really makes me think.

We should all friends like that. Maybe my blog makes you think, and if so, that's good. Well, this friend - the one who really makes me think - is a person I have hurt very deeply. I'm still trying to wrap my head around all the stupid things I did to hurt this person - the older you get the more complicated it gets! - but I really know just one thing: I hurt someone I care about deeply. So much so that they really don't want to have anything to do with me. Now I have never really been in that position. The position where someone was so upset with you that they don't want to have anything to do with you, except maybe an ex-girlfriend, but this is not an ex-girlfriend.

So I've apologized, I've tried to reconcile and its just not happening. I think any sane person would just let it go; but I'm having a hard time with that because this person is someone I care about. You could even say love. I love my friends: Scott, Dave, Mel, Fran, Chris, Jo, Carol, Ken, Chuck... I hope I love them like Christ loves me; you know, the whole, "No man has greater love than this, than he lay his life down for his friends" kind of love. That's who I am. At least, that's who I hope I am and who I want to be...

Nevertheless, I hurt them and I know I hurt them. I had no desire to hurt them, but I did. I also know that they don't want to hurt and the best way not to hurt is to simply avoid me. I can't help that, can I? Its just the way it is. So I should move on. I know. But why is this pain still so deep, if I know that I've done all I can do?

My guess is that to "hurt" a friend is to break a trust, to betray the love that I say I have for my friends. You know, that selfless love Jesus proclaims. My love had become self-ish, not selfless. I needed my friend to be there for me and I wasn't there for them, listening like I should have. And so I said and did thoughtless things and now I am paying the price. But again, why the deep pain?

I can only guess. To have cared so deeply for someone and then to have that relationship destroyed is tantamount to having a piece of yourself destroyed too. I have lost something of me in them and I can never get it back. I can only learn from it...So that love, that friendship and now that pain is a part of me. Will it be a burden I always bear? I don't know. Maybe after a while the pain will dull, but it will never be forgotten. Love leaves a scar. Just ask Jesus.

So my friends, as someone on the journey let me say this: love your friends; listen to them, listen to their hearts; give them the space they need and forgive them generously when they err. Do all you can to be the love Jesus wants you to be for them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vertiginous Change

The past 3 months of my life have been a veritable roller coaster. I know that all of us have had segments of our lives that could be defined in that manner. Events, decisions and unplanned happenings come at us so quickly and with such force that they can overwhelm us. So 'rollercoaster' like is how I describe these past few months: towering peaks followed by massive valleys, more peaks with twists and turns in between and all navigated at lightning like speed. When you finally get off the coaster, you suffer from a form of vertigo that leaves you out of balance and without a firm sense of direction. Well, that's where I am - a little dizzy and ready to sit down for a moment (although this Saturday I leave for a week in England!).

I realize that life is never easy, but wouldn't you like it to be a little less vertiginous some times? I know I would. I would like to deal with one issue at a time, rather than seven issues, with each issue complicating the over all situation!

Its at times like these, when your faith in God centers you. It is our unwavering faith in Christ that anchors us during the storms of life. Christ gives us center and focus. He gives us peace of mind and energy for the journey. He sustains us. I am reminded of the old revivalist hymn Solid Rock: "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus’ Name."

Well, enough for now. The cares of the day call. Tomorrow I will tell you about "my soccer girls!"