Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Band of Gypsies

We were due for a re-acquaintence with Highway 122. We loaded up our sweet ride and we hit the open road. The bright morning sunshine gave way to a thick misty fog that hung over the pavement.

I pointed the vehicle north and became one with the highway... man, metal, and asphalt blending into a beautiful road grit symphony.

Alison Krauss & Union Station played from the CD player as the kids fussed and Sterling sucked her thumb. We were on the first leg of a three church Sunday.

I floated along the familiar curves and bends that I know as well as I know my name. Our family and all of our dysfunction rounded a ridge and we looked into the face of Bambi.

Bambi was a bit more started than I was, but not as started as Kellie. As Kellie grabbed the Oh Crap Bar above her head, Bambi ran from the left, to the right, back to the left, turned and faced us, and then began to run straight down the middle of the highway away from us. 

Our tight jawed faces surrendered to laughter as I began toot-toot-tooting the horn to quicken his pace. Bambi survived our encounter and we all seemed a bit more awake.

About 5 minutes down the road I drove into a bird. THUMP!

Two small birds... sitting in the middle of the road, seeming to be at some sort of game of nerve. One flew left, the other flew into the bumper of the Shepmobile. I'd say the winner is the breather.

Our safari was made complete with the sighting of not one, but two large hawks, a fast running squirrel, and what was either a piece of tire or a dead black snake. I'm pretty sure I saw the splatter of the squished out insides, and so I'm calling it a snake.

A mandatory country detour and nearly two hours later we pulled up to our destination, The First Church of God in Ansonia, Ohio.

What an incredible morning! They are sending 4 people to serve with us next week and they had the mission table set up and donations were being collected! We joined them for introductions and Q&A, and then jumped into the service. It was VBS celebration Sunday!

Sterling fit in well... the theme was Weird Animals. She seemed most content in the center of the stage. She had to wait her turn until after the multitude of kids completed their songs! The students knew their daily Bible verses and sang all the songs from the week. It was beautiful moment that ended with our family up front and prayer.

The best part about joining churches on Sunday is that church people like to eat! We dove in to foods that we just can't find in Guatemala: fresh sliced turkey breast, smoked ham, swiss cheese, honest to God homemade salads, mac 'n cheese, and little old lady made desserts! Heaven.

We made many new friends, and soon will welcome them at the airport in Guatemala. We look forward to an incredible week! Soon it was time to pack up.

A beautiful day, a beautiful drive, a beautiful church, and a beautiful lady at my side. This was a good day.

And so back down 122 we rode, with no more animal encounters and me the sole conscious human. I smiled as I dropped into cruising speed, avoided cops, and we made our way to the next two churches: Poasttown Church of God that blessed us with a donation, prayer, and even let me preach (brave souls) and then on to Breiel Boulevard where I peeked into their production of Weird Animals.

I ended the night kidnapped by my uncle and zooming back down some of those same country roads in his bright yellow Boxter, hands in the air...

...thinking that we'll be on a plane heading back to the mountains of Guatemala...

On the road again
Goin' places that I've never been
Seein' things that I may never see again
And I can't wait to get on the road again

On the road again
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends...

(Thanks Mr. Willie Nelson. BTW, you look really different now. It kind of freaks me out.)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Walking through the Valley

Anderson University | the valley

She runs through the valley like time on fast approach. Arms flailing and staccato laughs as she pink-shoes across the grass.

I consider my own four year sprint through these grounds as I desperately pursued direction in the shadow of the theology school. I was sure I was aimless, but those years prepared me for such a time...

Eternal Flame | outside of Decker Hall
I am drawn deeply to this place. I hope to contribute to it some day. I feel powerfully drawn to the legacy that founded it and a degree of accountability to see that the horizon remains level with the foundation. 

Helios |  in front of Hartung Hall

I smile, realizing the distance we've covered since Kellie and I were undergrads on this campus. We laugh as we recount the unveiling of this fountain. It is surreal to see Sterling reach across the sunlight and ripple the surface.
Adam W. Miller Chapel  |  Stained Glass

A distant touch on the veil of our souls still creates concentric rings in our own lives. This place shaped us. Truth imbedded within seems to resonate stronger with the proximity of our origins and the convergence of our path.

There is a peace here where Russia, China, and Guatemala all run home. This day is just a simple handshake and soul refuge. 

Garden  |  outside of Byrum Hall

Friday, July 11, 2014

An Unexpected Journey - Incarceration!

We ran in different circles. Well, that may not be entirely accurate. He ran in a circle. He was a football player. He was smooth and he knew what to say. His clothes had the right shade, color, crease, and label. He could smile at girls at make them laugh. He knew how to fight. He ran with the kids who ruled the halls and ran the world.

I sat alone. I slipped in with the echo of the bell and walked out the side entrance at the end of the day. My table for lunch was at the far left corner. I sat there alone each day, contemplating everything and nothing.

This day is different. He and I, we both sit alone... on opposite sides of a glass in a room secured from both sides. Our divergent paths collide. There is no looking away.

I had sat in the folding steel chair while he was brought into the space on the other side. He wasn't the person I remembered, but then again... as he sized me up I realized he didn't recognize me either.

As most things in life, simplicity did not provide me passage to this place. I was met at the main dispatch wall of Middletown City Police, and turned away. The friendly but overly assertive lady told me a line I'm sure she repeats over and over to folks who just won't listen. "Visitation is gained by appointment. You must call at 7 a.m. and request a time. Next visitation block is Saturday at 6 p.m. 

I took the slip and walked away disappointed. He was so close. I am usually so far away. I was sure that it was right for me to see him today. Too many chance encounters had aligned for me to meet his mother sitting behind me at church on Sunday... to learn we were both from Preble County, that I had graduated with her son, and that he was incarcerated.

I walked away feeling dejected. I had been sure this was a God thing. Why do I have so much trouble discerning the voice of God? 

Suddenly an obvious realization stopped me. I stood still and smiled as I remembered the card in my wallet. I am a licensed clergy member... I am Rev. Chad P. Shepherd. I've never had cause to use it. I've never claimed the credential. I wondered if it would work? I wasn't sure, but I thought it was worth a try. 

I walked back up to the window with purpose. I picked up the phone and buzzed Ms. Power back to the window. Or so I thought. Without glancing up she answered the line using her headset and answered with her normal official greeting. I said, "Do you make different visitation allowances for members of clergy?" She looked up at me... with a doubtful look.

I stood in torn blue jeans, a v-neck white t-shirt, tattoos visible on each arm, and silver hoops in each ear. 

"Are you here as his friend or as clergy?" This was a critical question that I knew I needed to get right. I needed to be honest and also advocate my right to see him. "I was his friend 20 years ago in high school. Today I am here as his pastor. I am requesting that you grant his right to see clergy." Is that even a right? I'm really not sure!

She said, "do you have your credentials?" I said "yes" as I pressed it up against the glass. She looked at it, and looked back skeptically at me. "Do you have a secondary photo id?" I showed my freshly renewed Ohio Driver License.

With a half smile she handed me a form. "Fill this out and wait while we call him to the visitation room."

I gave what I hoped was a confident nod of approval and a "thank-you" while inwardly I was shocked that it worked. I stood to the side and waited while the door buzzed and I entered in. I walked about 20 feet into the corridor where I was intercepted by a guard. I was told that I had "no authorization to be here" and I had to immediately leave.

I turned and walked back through the secure door. The official who had granted me access seemed surprised. She asked, "have you already seen him?" I told her about being denied access. She picked up the phone and I heard her assuring someone on the other end that indeed, "he is a credentialed clergy member." I laughed as I realized their confusion... I simply don't look the part!

All this played through my head as my friend sat down across from me. He hadn't been given my name, he was only asked if he would meet with a clergy... and he got me. Without giving him my name I told him that we graduated together. He looked at me intensely, but still there was no recognition. While fearing that he wouldn't remember me at all, I told him my name, "this is Chad."

"CHAD SHEPHERD?" His face broke with a smile and a laugh..."but you look nothing like you used to!" He accused me of dying my hair. I told him he sounded like my mother. 

And so our conversation began. We talked about our children, he has one on the way! I shared our story of Sterling and how it is to be a 40 year old father of a toddler. We talked about relationships, hilarious shared classroom memories, and even good local places to eat. 

I smiled and told him, "don't worry, I'm not here to preach at you." He said, "no worries man." 

I don't like telling people that Jesus loves them. I don't like telling people that they're living wrong. I think I'm pretty messed up too sometimes. I have no stones to throw. 

What I love to do is just to press my life into someone else for a few minutes and to share stories. He asked about me and I told him our story. I listened to his questions and I just told our story. I shared my faith. I shared my struggles. 

I listened to his story. I remember a time not so long ago that he and I sat together in history class. I thought of the convergence that brought us together in this small space. Somehow I know that time will not stretch to 22 years before I encounter him again.

I can't even begin to grasp the purpose of our meeting, but I have no doubt that it was a meeting that came from God. There was purpose in our encounter. I don't know if it was for him, but I do know that it was for me. I am thankful to have had this moment with him. I am thankful for the entire experience. I am thankful to just exchange stories with an unlikely friend from my past.

Wherever you are. Whatever you are doing. Listen and watch for moments. I am a believer in God. I have no doubt that the lives we brush against... are moments of design. Don't miss out. Keep your eyes open, your feet willing, and guard your heart.