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M.I.A.

May 6, 2020

Back in October, Debbie and I moved into our new home (well, new to us) here in Edmond, OK. We hired an independent company to move the huge truckload of stuff we had moved from NE Iowa to a storage unit in Edmond back in August, and unload it under the supervision of Debbie and our daughter Becky in our new place. The generosity of dear friends made this possible. It would have been almost more than I could have born if we would have had to do it all ourselves. God bless you, my unnamed friends.

We had intentionally downsized when we loaded the truck in Iowa. If we hadn’t, we would never have been able to get everything on the truck. In fact, we ended up leaving a lot of things behind for friends to have and use.

The biggest truck I could rent was packed to the gills. If there was a square foot of unused space in it, I couldn’t see it. And all of that was unloaded into the storage unit we rented here in Edmond, where it could wait a couple of months until we could find and get into our house.

A strange thing happened after we waved goodbye to the movers and started unpacking and getting our things arranged in our new digs, though. Some pretty important things weren’t waiting for us to find their new place. A coffee maker. A subwoofer. Some other things we knew we had put on the truck in Iowa, but weren’t in any of the boxes in the garage (our staging area for unpacking) when it was time for them to find a place in the new house. I have no idea how they would have not made it from Iowa to the storage unit to our new house. Our friends in Iowa who packed the truck were so conscientious, they wouldn’t have let anything stay behind that we didn’t intend to stay behind. Our friends and family who helped us unload into the storage unit here in Edmond wouldn’t have left anything on the truck. The guys who did the last move were honest guys and worked hard. I’ve got no explanation. Our things are simply…

MISSING IN ACTION.

None of these things missing in action were deal-breakers or show-stoppers. I’d be a happy boy if they somehow showed up and could be accounted for, but none of them were irreplaceable. We replaced them, and until we did, our quality of life hasn’t suffered too much.

That’s the way it goes with missing physical items. Usually they can be replaced. You can buy coffee makers and subwoofers and a whole lot of other things. But, as you already know, there are other things that can’t be replaced. At the top of the list is YOUR PRESENCE.

Once a moment is past, it’s gone and won’t come back around. If you weren’t present for it, it’s gone. There might be a similar moment sometime later, but that particular moment won’t be coming back. When it’s gone, it’s gone. And if you string enough of these moments together, you’ll end up being M.I.A.

I’m telling this from my personal experience. I’ve confessed to you before that for the first 17 years of my ministry career, I was consumed with being a star in the youth ministry constellation. If possible, the brightest one. I loved my work and I loved kids, but what I loved even more than the work with kids was being recognized for my work with kids. That desire to be recognized as a “fabulous youth minister” drove me to spend my time and energy doing lots of youth ministry things.

Most of these things were good things. Most of them were part of my attempt to introduce kids to Jesus and help them grow up in Him. It’s hard to take exception with that. The problem isn’t that what I was doing wasn’t good. The problem is that nobody can actually do two things at once.

When I got to year 17, as I was preparing to make the transition from youth ministry to family ministry, I looked in the rear view mirror to do some thinking about my youth ministry career. One of the several things I realized was that I had spent most of my waking hours chasing down and trying to raise every kid in the country except MY kids. It was not a happy realization, but probably one of the most important realizations of my adult life.

I’d love to write that from that day onward I never ever cheated my family. That they were always number one in every way from that time forward. But, if you know me, you know that’s not true. I’ve missed the mark many times, even though one of the boldface bullet points on my personal mission statement is to be a world-class husband, dad and papa.

The balancing act on this is dynamic, not static, and never ending. The need for balance won’t go away. I doubt that I’ll ever not be juggling my ministry commitments with family. My commitment has been to spend more time with my family, and actually be present when I’m there.

In this season of forced isolation, the odds favor that you’ve had more time with your family than you would otherwise have had, and probably more continuous time than you’ve ever had. Enough more that you’re probably ready for the isolation to end and some normal activities to start. If you’ve got kids at home (especially young kids), you passed that point about 6 weeks ago. No judgment here. If our kids were young and we’d have been doing the homeschool gig, it would have taken me about a day to cross the line. I’m stir-crazy and it’s just Debbie, me and the cat. And we’ve had relative freedom to come and go. My hat’s off to moms and dads with little kids at home through this.

Against the backdrop of that, I want to challenge you with the idea – the reality, actually – that even though you’re cooped up in the same house for this extended time, it’s possible for you to be M.I.A. It’s possible that you can be there but not actually be present. I’m not casting judgment here. This is another thing I know from personal experience. Been there; done that.

The challenge is to make every effort to BE PRESENT.

Almost nothing will be as physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually taxing as making this effort. Showing up and being present is hard work. It will leave you tired at the end of the day. For lots of us, it will leave us more tired than if we had been doing physical labor all day. For moms of preschoolers, you’ll have been doing physical labor all day, in addition to the emotional, mental and spiritual work of being present. So when you’re worn smooth out by the end of the day, you’re not a wienie. You’re a normal human being.

I’m not writing this to shame you or to make you want to punish yourself for the times you didn’t show up. Punishing yourself about that won’t motivate you to be present. It, in fact, will do the opposite. So don’t punish yourself. Just do the dance of life. Draw a line and say, “OK, from here it will be different.” And when (not if) you slide back into your old M.I.A. ways, draw another line and start over. Rinse, repeat.

I’ll make a suggestion for this and then shut it down. It’s already too long.

Take a post-it-note and write, “SHOW UP.” On it. Then stick it on your bathroom mirror, where you’ll see it shortly after you get up in the morning. Then, in partnership with the One Who is never M.I.A., show up.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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