Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Wrong Shade of Green for Christmas

I've known Eric Michael Bryant for a very long time... since he was a teenager, in fact. He was the one of those "good kids" in the church youth group that my wife grew up in at Shady Oaks Baptist Church. (I was a youth intern there during my seminary days... and it's the church Shari & I were married in.)

When I hosted my first DiscipleNow weekend (that's Southern Baptist for "in-town intensive spiritual retreat for youth"), he was my pick to come & lead my junior high guys. We flew him in from Waco (where he was attending Baylor University - sic 'em, Bears!) into the wilds of Arkansas and I watched him make a big impact on a squirrely bunch of 7th & 8th grade boys. (This is also the time when he informed Shari & I that since he was a college guy, "now, when I kiss a girl, I have to mean it." A veritable pearl of wisdom.)

Thanks to a common home church & the magic of snail mail, we kept up with Eric in dribs & drabs as he got married to Debbie & they headed to Seattle to help plant a church. And then, we lost touch somewhere in the mid-90s.

Fast forward to 2004, when I attended my first Origins Experience - a very cool church conference put on by Mosaic down in Los Angeles. At the end of the first night, they had one of their Navigators (Mosaicspeak for "lead pastor") give a few announcements. I was sitting way in the back so I was a little surprised when they introduced him as "Eric Bryant"... and out walked this young guy with a "Deal or No Deal" Howie Mandel haircut. After the session was over, I pushed my way through the crowd to confirm my suspicions - and gave Eric a monster bear hug.

We got to talk & catch up a bit over those two days - I met his kids and heard a little bit about how he'd got from Seattle to L.A... but it wasn't until I read his book, peppermint filled pinatas (which has since been reprinted as Not Like Me with some additional material) that I found out the whole story. (If you're interested, the book is great - here's my review of it.)

And over the last six years, we've enjoyed seeing each other on various occasions (Mosaic events, conferences, his family's visit to Fresno, etc.) and keeping in touch via text & email. He's been an encourager & a friend... a guy who has grown & matured far beyond the promise of his youth & yet still has the childlike warmth & humor that he had as a teenager.

So now, after 12 years at Mosaic, he's moving to Austin, TX to serve in a new ministry position - and I couldn't be more excited for him & his family. Both he & Debbie will be closer to their folks... and Austin is the perfect blend of old school Texas & vibrant cutting edge culture that fits Eric to a "T." (Read more about the move on Eric's blog: We Are Moving To Austin!)

At the same time, I'm jealous. That's right: I'm turning a distinctly non-Christmas shade of green over the thought of the Bryant clan heading back toward family, toward more familiar territory, toward an exciting new opportunity...

In my most "pity-party-ish" moments, I mix into this pea-colored emotional soup the local Lutheran pastor & his move back to his family in Northern California (after 27 years of community-changing service here in Easton - way to go, Paul!) and my sister-in-law going on staff with Gideons International in, of all places, Nashville, TN - the town where Shari & I spent more than half of our marriage and where many close friends (and now a decent-sized chunk of her family) reside.

It's ugly inside my heart... as if I'd painted it the wrong shade of green for Christmas time. I wallow in self-pity, marinate in bitterness, breathe in envy as if it were oxygen. "Why them, God? Why do they get to 'go home' while Shari & I live in 'the far country'? Why do we get shuttled off to the side - into this small rural/suburban town - while Eric gets to serve at this cutting edge church? You obviously stopped caring about us... well, about me!"

And then... when I'm still before Jesus - the One who loved me so much that He came as a baby & died for my sins - the peace of God overwhelms me. He cared so much about us that He sent us here - to Easton, to NewLife Community Church - in order to be cared for & loved on & ministered to in ways we would have never imagined. When our oldest son (Braeden) was in the hospital, the church rallied around us. When Shari was in the worst of her emotional struggles, our small group kept us fed physically & spiritually. When we chose to homeschool our boys, God provided a network of like-minded folks to walk with us.

Moreover, He loved the folks in Easton so much that He matched us up. As much as I want to throw a spiritual hissy fit over not getting to pastor a "big" church, I hear His voice ringing in my ears: "I called you to this place, these people, in this time... on purpose." My gifts & talents are made "for such a time as this" - and such a place as this.

After that - after hearing so clearly from God - it's much easier to celebrate the good stuff that is happening in the lives of others... and to celebrate the wonderful stuff that is happening in my own.

And my heart feels like Jesus strung up Christmas lights & repainted the walls a deeper, richer color - the color of growth & eternity.

A much better shade of green.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you skipped a good opportunity for a Kermit quote :)

I am happy for your friend, but I sure wish that it were you and your family that were moving to Austin instead!

I hope you and your family have a GREAT Christmas.