Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Ministry of Enthusiasm

In the summers of 2011 and 2012 I was, hilariously, a children's ministry intern at my home church in Gresham.  And one of the most important things I learned as a children's ministry intern (other than how to throw an awesome summer camp and why everyone should have a DEEP, ABIDING RESPECT for children's workers everywhere) was how to properly respond when a child asks whether his dog/cat/hamster/turtle/rodent will go to heaven. Notice that this is a when situation, and not an if situation.

As modeled for me by the incredible Cecelia Alway and Melody Taylor (also the ones who taught me why everyone should have a DEEP, ABIDING RESPECT for children's workers everywhere), the best way to respond when little Geoffrey asks if his rat, Big Mama, is in heaven sounds nothing like my instinctual answer ("Geez, kid, I  don't know").  The best way to respond goes something like this:
Listening!

Eye contact!

Sincerity!

"Geoffrey, I think God knows how much you loved Big Mama. I think He knows exactly how bad it feels when you miss her. And you know what, He has already promised to take care of everybody who follows Him. So I think you can trust Him with the things you love. Now, let's pray together and thank God for Big Mama, and ask Him to help you when you miss her."


And in my experience, this answer has proven satisfactory every single time, even though you and I both know it's not really an answer.


Well, I should rephrase that.  It is not an answer to the question little Geoffrey spoke, but the reason it always proves satisfactory is because it is an answer to the real question that little Geoffrey is asking.  Geoffrey's real question was NOT: "What are the nature and implications of Big Mama's eternal soul [if existent]?"  What Geoffrey wants to know is this:

Does God care about the things that are important to me?

I'm telling you this because I've begun to realize how often we ask this capital Q Question.  Not only "Does God care about me?" (because there's that song and all those books and those bumper stickers and t-shirts that have kind of watered down the answer to that one), but "Does God care about the things that are important to me?" Like, does He, really?  Does He even know?  Is He, are His people, the kind of people I can trust with the things that are precious to me?

I've asked this Question.  I think you've probably asked some version of it.  And since I believe that my one wild, driving purpose in life is to share the message of Jesus with other people, I think part of my job here is to tell the answer:

Yes, baby, He does.


But of course, I could say this every day and write a fabulous blog about it and get thousands of shares on the internet, and it would still be as crappy and meaningless as all those other viral blog posts if it was just words.  If you say you love someone, you ought to love them.  If you say God values someone, you ought to value them, too. And if you say God cares about what someone else cares about, you ought to start caring, too.  What I'm suggesting here is that a good way to show someone that God cares about them is to get excited about the things they get excited about.

Which, I have learned this year in Canada, IS MY FAVORITE THING.


IT IS PERHAPS TOO MUCH MY FAVORITE THING.

When people start talking about things they're excited about, it's SUPER easy to get excited about it with them.  And, if you're me, it's equally easy to immediately go overboard with whatever idea it is.
When Fernanda got married, for example, I volunteered to play music and make paper flowers.  And then, a few weeks later, this happened:

"Hey, are you still making paper flowers for the wedding?"

"AT ANY GIVEN POINT IN TIME, YES."

"Oh...How many are you planning to make?"

"ALL OF THEM."

Because Fernanda was getting married, and I think God cares about that.  And that is the story of why I still have 200 paper flowers in my house and I don't know what to do with them and I'm not throwing them away because they're pretty. So there.




And when, for example, Ladan's middle school graduation got cancelled because of the month-long teacher's strike (even though she had already made plans and gotten a new dress and everything), I got really upset. And then, before I recognized what had happened, I had suddenly bought decorations made a bunch of paper graduation hats and made Fernanda calligraph a diploma, and written an honest-to-goodness commencement speech.  Because Ladan was graduating middle school, and I think God cares about that. 

 
And that is the story of how we had an actual graduation ceremony in Sunday school, with hats.

Looking back on the last year, I see that one of my favorite parts of being here has been getting excited with people. And then getting too excited, and then watching as it all somehow works out.

There's the story of the Persian baby shower at which I had to explain at 3 different points that the baby would not actually be taking a shower. Because Mahsa was having a baby, and God cares about that.  So even though I historically haven't gotten along too well with babies, and even though Persians generally don't have baby showers, we partied with baby Ariel and had a fantastic time.

There's the story of Easter, when Kiana fearlessly played the piano with our little worship band in front of everybody, even though she'd never played a note before.  Because Resurrection Sunday is our most sacred holiday, and even though none of us play piano, I think God cares about that. So I put blue painter's tape on the keys she was supposed to play, and we faked our way through an entirely new set of songs. And it was awesome.  

And then there's the story of Ladan, who came up to me with an initiative I'd never seen from her before, and said, "I made up a dance. Want to learn it?" To which I could only reply:

"Oh girl. We're not just going to learn a dance..."

"We're going to start a dance crew."

And that is the story of this world-premiere Ladan Pourkaveh original choreography music video:

video


Because Ladan loves to dance, and I think God cares about that. [At this time, I would like to thank Fernanda for always coming with me when I go completely overboard with my ideas.  What a gem.]

My real point in all this is that none of these ideas should have actually worked out. They should have been awkward, well-intentioned messes that pop into my memory at inopportune times for decades to come. But they weren't. And I honestly think the only reason for this is that Jesus was there, getting really delightfully excited with us, giving us a gift because He knew what our deep desires were.  He cares about stuff like that. He loves it.  He eats it up.

And, as I have found in each of these projects, people respond powerfully when we show this in our lives. I mean, wouldn't you? Wouldn't it be easier to trust God if you had concrete evidence in your life that He cares about things that are precious to you? Wouldn't it make you want to know Him if His people treated you that way?


And also, isn't it just YOUR FAVORITE THING????

I think I want to answer that Question in the way I live my life.  I want to celebrate with people in a way that tells them the answer.  And if you have any doubts, I want to lay it down for you here, too:

I think God knows how much you love that dream, that project, that person.  I think He knows exactly how it feels to care about something like that. And you know what, He's already promised to take care of the people who follow Him. So I think you can trust Him with the things you love.

And, if you want, me and Fernanda are down to party with you, too.