Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Best Christmas Gift I ever Received

    One of my closest friends asked me last week about the best Christmas gift I had ever received. I have thought much about this over the last week. I have lived a blessed life and given far more than I deserve and far more than anyone needs. Christmas in my family has always been a giant part of our year. We all tend to decorate early and a lot, we have multiple Christmas gift exchanges with family and friends. This year is no different with us having them on December 23, 24, 25, 26 and the 27! I have been given gifts  on Christmas day that are far better than I would even think to ask for.  So choosing a best gift seemed like it would be impossible. Yet, it is not. One gift given to me by my mother stands out among all I have ever been given. 
    When I was 16 my mom took me downtown to Chicago. As a family we went pretty much every year during the holidays. We looked at the decorated windows at Marshall Fields and Carson's, ate Garrett's popcorn and saw the giant tree in Daily Plaza. But this year was different, mom took me to see relative I had not met before, His name was Carl. I knew of him because my grandma had always referred to him as "the bum" whom she had prayed for regularly. He was my grandmothers cousin, and spent the better part of his life drinking and homeless, even losing his legs due to his problem. Carl had rejected his family, and now at Christmas in 1985, Carl was living in a horrible nursing home, all alone in Chicago. The home Carl lived in was a dirty, old, falling apart building what was was once a city  hotel, turned into a nursing home. As we walked in lobby I will never forget the smell or sights of that place. Carl's room was up several flights of stairs at the very end of a long hallway. When we entered his room he peered up from his wheelchair at us, with confused look. My mom introduced us, and Carl began to cry. We gave him some gifts, and mom made some small talk before we left. Carl wept as we left, something I think of so often. 
    The next Christmas my mom took me to see Carl again and this time my new girlfriend Karol came too. It was hard to go back, as I had then heard Carl's sad story and knew his regrets of life. I had purchased him a gift myself this time, a Chicago Bears sweater, and my mom had brought him some bags of candy. The home where he lived seemed even worse than the year before, almost like something from a movie. As we entered Carl's room, he lit up. We gave him gifts and he told us how the people that worked there would steal the gifts if he left them out so he put them under his bed covers. Again as we left, he cried. That evening as I lay in my own bed I wept. The pitiful condition of Carl's life was heartbreaking. His life's decisions and sickness had destroyed him, causing him to lose any loving relationships he may have had. I remembered the story my grandma told about how Carl's brother Tom had to look for him after their mother had died and  found him passed out, laying in the street. Carl hated for us to leave because he had no other visitors at Christmas or at all during the year. Carl's life was lonely and filled with regret. That night my life was changed forever because of those visits. My selfish, self absorbed 17 year old existence had not counted on being touched in that way. It caused me much pain and even some depression over the next years. While I had no idea at the time, it was the beginning of God implanting a passion for those who exist like Carl. Those who are rejected, lonely, regretful and suffering. I don't know if my mom intended to have a visit with Carl change me or not. I do know that my mom has much the same passion I do, for those like Carl. She is a woman filled with compassion and love, and has always put her faith into action. These few years of visiting Carl are part of the foundation of my life and relationship with God. I know how to serve Him because my my mom showed me, I know how to love the unlovable because my mom did. I know she learned this from her own mother, who always took in people in need. This gift is one I cannot repay, one that I can only pray will help my own children find their path to Gods purpose for them.  It is by far the greatest Christmas gift I have ever received. I have hope that someday I will walk through the gates of heaven and be greeted by Carl, whose life was changed by Gods love, shown in the form of my mother. Thank you Mom for your love for me, and more importantly your love for those people forgotten by the world, who God loves so dearly. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


        I believe with all my heart that God is always communicating with us, and that His desire is to be in constant contact with us. I also firmly believe He does not communicate in one way, but in many, and we need to stay close to Him in order to hear and understand. For me, leading a ministry and doing God's work requires much communication, with others, and with God. 
Over 20 years ago, God communicated to me in a way that struck me deeply, and has never left me. I was at my brother Dan's memorial service. On that difficult day, we were supposed to be celebrating, yet all I could do was focus on the fact that he was gone. I felt like everyone else understood something I did not; like I was denied some understanding of life, that the rest of my family and friends had received. There are still days in ministry that I feel the same way. I wonder out loud to God "why"; why was DJ taken; why is the camp not yet done; why is this transition so hard; why do I have this burning in my heart to change things; why am I part of this or that? I begin to think others in ministry understand something I don't, or that I am being denied some kind of feeling of security others have. Those are hard days, days when others question why it is taking so long to build Camp Daniel, why we don't have a better ministry structure, why we do camp like we do or why we spend time doing what we do at all, why do I push so hard, why am I so discontented? It is in those moments I can get to questioning and worry about the things we are doing and the things we are not. I can feel like I am unqualified, unworthy and unwilling to be doing Gods work at all. It is on those days I have to go back to what God whispered many years before to know what He wants from me.
I go back the 20 years to the middle of the memorial service for Dan. I heard a whisper in my mind, just a whisper. It said "RIP". My mind answers back "ok... RIP, Rest In Peace, that makes sense, I am at my brother's funeral". Then the whisper said to my mind "no, not him... you!" "My mind said what? I am going to die? "The whisper said "no, from now on, RIP, be Relentless".  "Be Relentless In Pursuit of Me."  After the service we went back to Mom and Dad's house. They gave us short letters Dan had written to each of us in his last days. In my letter, Dan told me to read 2 Corinthians 4. He told me to be focused on the unseen as it says in verse 18. Dan explained that it was my personality to only believe what I see, but he was sure God wanted me to focus on the unseen. Up to that day, God was definately unseen, unheard, and unworthy in my life. But since that day, everything has changed. What is unseen drives everything; what is unseen becomes more important every day. I read The Message version of 2 Corinthians 4 every morning. It is my hope and prayer each day to trust the words there, and live according to them, instead of what the world sees or judges by. On days when I am questioned about what we are doing, or I have my own doubts, I can go back to God's call. and the pressure is taken away.  I know He only wants me to focus on being close to Him, talking to Him, growing in Him, and introducing others to Him. I am thankful for that clear message so many years ago, while I fail constantly at sticking to it, I always have the words to go back to be encouraged and remember God's call for me. I am, if nothing else, relentless, I am secure in this calling for my life. When I don't know what to do or how to act or what to say, I just be relentless. I want to be close to God and eventually my death will bring me right to Him; and when I die It is my wish that it gets put on my gravestone; Here lies Little Tony... he loved God and he was relentless in pursuit of Him right into death...RIP