I am the last person who wants this written. Many of you know some of this. A few of you know most of this. I am certain that no one knows all of this. My sons would know the most of this material, and that’s why I am writing this.
I am Pastor Doug.
I am not perfect.
I am kind of a mess.
And that’s okay.
We will come back to that, I promise. Let me start by stating the one and only reason I do not want this written – pride. The brokenness of my nature allows me to want to make more of me. That leads to the one and only reason I will write this – to make more of God.
It has been just over four years since someone has called me, “Pastor Doug.” It was not an official title, and it was not one that I initially wanted. I interviewed for a position as a Spiritual Care Specialist because, selfishly, I wanted to stop working in direct care at a residential treatment facility. In my first interview for the position, I was asked how how I would answer someone’s question about divorce. For those of you who do not know, I am divorced and there have been several reconciliation attempts. I can tell you that at that time the question hit me square between the eyes. The answer that I wanted to give was, “I believe that it hurts God’s heart.” The answer that I ended up giving was, “I believe that it hurts…sniffle sniffle sob… God’s…okay, I need a Kleenex…or two…this is awkward…heart…” One of the interviewers assured me that she, too, had cried in an interview before. “But did you get the job?” I asked. She said that she did. And they moved me on to the second round. At the end of the second interview, I was asked how I would handle someone calling me, “Pastor Doug.” I put off that possibility like young David shedding armor that did not fit him. I was not qualified, I had not been trained, and that’s really not what I expected from life. Good grief, Charlie Brown, I studied Criminal Justice. Pastor? Ha!
They hired me anyway.
I am not perfect.
If you don’t have a strong-willed person in your life, you should find one. They’re pretty awesome. You just need to know how to work with them. A strong-willed person might take an older brother’s bet for two dollars that they cannot go one month without eating ice cream. I was eight years old. My brother was 18. I took the bet, collected my two dollars, and went another seventeen years before I had ice cream. I was a father by the time I decided that I had proven my ability to be right. You see, strong-willed people don’t break. They bend. If they do, in fact, break, it can be pretty horrific and hard to put back together. Truthfully, part of the reason that I am writing is so that I do not break. The last apple on my limb is heavy, and I have carried it for quite some time.
We will come back to that a little later also.
My supervisor had been right, people did start calling me, “Pastor Doug.” It was awkward. I had worked in social work for ten years and I had been many things, but never that. I did not handle it well. When I would meet someone new, or if we had a guest at our worship services, I would introduce myself as, “Doug.” Oh, those strong wills. In time I became more accepting of the title, but it wasn’t easy. I remember driving to our Sunday worship service one January afternoon and thinking, “I am a pastor. I’m a pastor without a building.” I had no idea how that would play out, but I did tell my supervisor that I could at least accept the title with that qualifier.
God was working through my supervisor, the position, and the youth I was working with to shape me and bend me in ways that I had never imagined. One of the things that I began to consider was the flaws of the system we have developed for youth. Moreover, I began to realize the reality of what it meant to not look beyond the system in place. What happened to them once they were no longer on the oasis (remember that) where I worked?
Many young people whom I had encountered helped me to form the questions that I had, and then one simple, dangerous prayer, made my whole ground shake. There was a young lady, strong-willed like me, who was fighting the system in place. I couldn’t appease her with the simple, social work answers that I had learned on the job. There were things that really did not make sense, and she was right. (I hate when they’re right; I don’t do dissonance well, either). One Friday afternoon, in the role of pastor, I talked to her and listened a lot. She had tested positive for the use of recreational drugs on her last visit, and she knew that it would mean she would not be going on a visit that weekend. I did the best that I could, and as I drove back home (what a nice luxury to have), I simply prayed, “Lord, help me to love more deeply.” Little did I know at that time that before the night was over, I would be chasing after her and another young lady running through the streets, hoping that I could talk them into returning to the oasis. Little did I know, that a few months later I would be following her as she ran away from a court hearing, crossing four-lane highways, and standing with my back three feet away from passing traffic so that I could keep her from running into it. Little did I know that two years after that she would be asking to sleep on our couch rather than to be homeless. Little did I know that my supervisor’s blessing of, “I believe God will honor your trust in Him,” would cover and protect me even when the agency did not.
I became a liability, and I was fired.
I am kind of a mess.
When you’re a single man and you help out a teenage girl who has no blood connection, that’s a problem. Apparently. I understand, and I can in no way advocate that my actions are duplicated, save for one. If you want God to work in you to bear good fruit, pray those dangerous prayers. When you ask to bear better fruit, God will help you grow better roots. One goes with the other. I cannot tell you what God will do, and I am not sure that you would want to know ahead of time. If I had known how these past four years would go, I think I would have bitten my tongue before that prayer left my lips. And yet, four years later, I think that I am ready for God to help me grow deeper. It’s not that I want to duplicate being fired. It’s not that I want to be out of town and have a voicemail from a detective because my former employer is accusing me of misconduct. It’s not that I want to have my attorney friend tell me that the summons I received in the mail is serious business. Nor do I want to go to a court room and not be sure if I am walking out the side door or the back door. But this adventure with God? I would absolutely do it all over again.
The place where I worked was an oasis. It served a purpose for those who landed there. But to be on an oasis is temporary. And, just within the past few days, I began to realize that God knew I was no longer needed where I was. I had come to accept that I was a pastor, because a pastor is something that you do. After the last message that I gave at that agency, my supervisor told me that my voice had changed. I was speaking with authority. She was right, and I want to find that voice back.
But right now, I am kind of a mess. I have slept in my own bed once in the past two months. Why? The young lady, now almost 22, and her boyfriend, are expecting a child in December. Without the use of my home at this point, they would be homeless or stuck in a cycle of paying too much for a hotel room, as they were before they came to me. She has my room, and he has a couch. Even that was a process. He kept insisting on sleeping in their vehicle because he didn’t want to be a bother. I kept assuring him that my life had already been flipped upside-down and there wasn’t anything that he could do to change that. I am terrible at saying, “No,” and God has this funny habit of always allowing me to have the provision that someone else needs when they ask for it. If it was only this young couple, I could probably play it off and hide my mess from the world. But it’s more than that. In the past twelve months, this home has been temporary shelter for six different adults, three babies, and a dog. If I counted up all of the teenagers who have spent the night or the weekend here in that same time, I would run out of toes. I have paid for meals for people in three different cities. I have helped people Uber countless times. Moneygram might be my middle name. If your tire blows out several states away, I am probably the one to ask because God has this tendency to set me up to answer that. If, at 7am you realize that you need a ride to work, apparently that’s for me also.
This is the part where it would be very easy to make much of me. But I cannot, and it would be foolish to even try. Ten days ago I ended the day with 57 cents in my account. This is the part I don’t want to talk about. I am behind on every single bill – a lot. The holiday weekend was a nice reprieve from the possibility that the gas, electricity, or water could be turned off. We will deal with that possibility tomorrow. I am absurdly behind on my mortgage, to the point where I have to talk to God about His plans because I am honestly not sure what they are. I have enough gas in the car to get the boys to school and me back home tomorrow. And, in spite of the need for brake work, air bag repair, new shocks and struts, and a cracked windshield, I believe that God will get us back and forth tomorrow.
And that’s okay.
I never wanted a different family, but there was part of me that always wanted a bigger family. I didn’t know that’s what I wanted, but I knew I wanted to find more people. And, in some ways, I am asking God to make my family bigger. I dream big. I know so many gifted people who can be such a valuable asset to this family. And my last apple is about to drop with this piece. It’s the last thing that I have to give in this season.
My spiritual seasons have always run ahead of the natural seasons. When people are in the dry heat of summer, I am handing out my harvest. When people are enjoying their own harvest, I am going dormant and preparing for the next season. When people are in the cold of a spiritual winter, I begin to sow seeds of hope. And when people begin to grow anew, I am growing in the fullness of summer in order to bear fruit.
There’s an apple tree in front of my childhood home. It makes no sense that it still bears fruit. It is bent at a ridiculous angle. It is exposed to nearly every storm. It has a hole in it that should have taken it out a long time ago. My parents have tried to prop it and brace it over the years. When the support that was supposed to hold it up falls away, the tree stays standing. Roots and the invisible hand of God are working out mysteries.
I feel a lot like that tree. My mom keeps saying, “There’s a sermon in that tree.” She’s absolutely right. I just wish it didn’t feel like I was the sermon. When people stumble upon an oasis, they have exhausted all other options before they ask for the fruit. And when we bear spiritual fruit, I cannot imagine a scenario where we, as believers, are meant to either withhold the fruit or determine who should have it. If God put them in that place, and there is fruit, they should eat.
Do you know how an oasis can form? An oasis can form when water collects on an impermeable rock. Okay, church. God doesn’t waste words. If He is a rock, and a vine, and we are the branches, y’all don’t hear me. This’ll preach. 😉
God took my tears, collected them on an impermeable Rock, and from that an oasis grew. Do you know what kind of tree is very good for an oasis? A date palm tree. I wish I could make this up, but the night of my dangerous prayer, I went out on a date. When the date was over, I checked my phone and saw that two different people had told me the young lady had run away. “God, help me to love more deeply.” I know a date is not a date, but come on.
And check this out – do you know how date palms can spring up into an oasis? Sometimes the seeds are transported to a suitable location by bird droppings. If there was ever a case to cuss in a sermon (of sorts), this is it. Do you see this? So, God can take someone’s
, drop it off in a new location, and grow new life? Come on, church. I’m gonna bring this to a close because I have a son to pick up from football practice, but let me say this. I wanted the easy way out of this season, I did. I wanted to bite the bullet and ask my natural family for a check to make some of this go away. But this isn’t about me. It never was. Some of you reading this need to know what God can do. Some of you reading this should try praying dangerous prayers. It’s a wild adventure. This is my last apple. I’m letting it drop, and I’m expecting nothing short of a miracle – that God will move in mysterious ways to bring about incredible and unexpected, unexplained results. I’m going to feel lighter when I drop this, but I’m also going to feel naked and exposed and crooked and without a support under me. So, if God moves within you to bring some of your harvest over here, I will gladly accept it. It has taken years of being available to people before they have asked if they could have what I have.
One last thing because I am already going to be late. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. I recently wondered why Jesus didn’t command us to love our neighbors as our family. The answer is pretty clear. There are far too many people who would feel that they are off the hook if he had said it that way. We know how to self-preserve, so Jesus spoke to that part of our nature.
But I think that there is more. Once we can start to wrap our minds around that, I believe that we are to love our neighbors as our family. When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we want them to have the same types of things that we have. But when we go deeper and love our neighbor as our family, we want them to have the same things that we have.
Spiritual family, I’m all out of apples. If you would be willing to share, God will bless you, I promise. He has mouths to feed.
I’m Pastor Doug. I’m not perfect. I’m definitely a mess – and that’s okay.
To God be the glory.