Control, Understanding, and Hope

Control, Understanding, and Hope

I feel like our plane just landed back in Honduras after Christmas, but it’s been over a month and a half… an absurdly busy month and a half.  We have a couple days off school this week Thursday and Friday, and I’m definitely looking forward to it.  I know many of you who aren’t teachers lack sympathy for me, and that’s fine… I’m ok with it.  I also understand people may lack sympathy for me if I chose to complain about the cold 55 degree weather we had to endure in January, so I won’t bring it up.  Because now, it’s more like 75 degrees most of the time, so I just won’t complain or rub it in about how beautiful the weather is here right now.  And I won’t mention how if it gets closer to 80 in town, it can be a little too warm, but our house is up the hill another 1500 feet in elevation, so it’s always just perfect there.  I won’t bring it up.

If it makes you feel any better, there are some trade-offs to life here, though, and that includes occasionally having a lot of air in your water pipes.  It’s not the end of the world, except that the way you get hot water in the shower is based off a little heating element that is wired right into the shower head.  And this heating element only kicks on when it senses sufficient water flow.  And then when there is a lot of water flow, it’s not nearly enough heat to warm the water.  So the last couple days, we’ve taken showers that are marked by periods of slow trickles of warm water, great rushes of cold water, and brief moments of no water, all in rapid succession with no indication of what’s coming next.  It’s one way to get yourself going in the morning.

So since Christmas, we’ve been hard at work at school and at the clinic.  At school, we just finished the second quarter.  I’m beginning to understand Spanish just a little bit, precisely when I don’t want to understand what 15 year olds are talking about… just before Valentine’s Day.  “Tiene novio?”  “Quien es?”  A few feet away, in the midst of giggles, students are asking each other who they’re dating, presumably because they think I don’t know what they’re saying.  This time, I almost wish I didn’t.

At the clinic, five weeks in a row of medical brigades wrapped up a couple weeks ago.  Stephanie was busy, and extremely helpful for the teams.  There were actually some teams that were cancelled over travel concerns, but because she was there, they were able to keep doing surgeries with a smaller crew than expected.  There were even some seniors from the school that got a chance to be translators for some of the medical teams that traveled to some villages around here.  And there is also a likelihood of more brigades coming in May, which is possible partly because of Stephanie being here and being able to facilitate some logistics.

And as for the kids, they are both learning Spanish at an unbelievable rate.  They can speak fluent little-kid Spanish with their friends, and it’s so cool to watch.  I can understand what they’re saying, but I can’t really contribute to the conversation because it’s so fast.  Evie especially is a natural.  I knew she was doing great, but then one day she fell down and hurt herself and was basically crying in Spanish with her little Honduran friends around.  I think she’s using a different part of her brain to learn than I am.  And a few weeks ago, Sam switched from going to school half days to attending for whole days.  I noticed a major change in him for the better, because I think he thrives on structure and predictability.  I’m just not sure where he gets that from.

I think it’s that structure and predictability in our lives that gives us a sense of control, and often a false one.  Just because I know how the work week is going to go doesn’t mean I’m in control of my eternal trajectory.  Coming back to Honduras after Christmas has not been the same as coming to Honduras for the first time.  This time, I thought there were more knowns than unknowns.  There was a greater sense of structure and predictability.  There was a greater temptation to get a false sense of security from thinking that I was in control.

But, I think I was able to recognize that, at least a little bit, and let God teach me what he had for me.  I’m sure like many others, I go through periods of growth and closeness with God and periods of misunderstanding and distraction.  I think God is helping me to level those out.  I’m learning what it’s like to live where feelings and situations don’t alter my view of God, but rather reinforce and enhance it.  I feel that I’m gaining a greater understanding of God… but not by figuring him out in my head… it’s more by letting him speak to my soul.

Even as I feel a greater understanding of God, I find him more difficult to explain in words.  And I think that says less that God is beyond logic and reason and more just that our human language lacks the sophistication with which to properly describe our Lord.  Our powerful, loving, forgiving God who is full of grace, compassion, empathy, and understanding.  Our Lord who invented these concepts to which we haphazardly assign empty words nearly devoid of the eternal meaning intended to be behind them.  Sure, they are useful in conversation, but I’m not sure that they really even scratch the surface when we use them to attempt to describe our God.

We don’t even have the capacity to totally grasp the goodness of God mentally.  And we certainly don’t have the capacity to be in “control” of our lives.  It’s only when we give up that control to God that we can even begin to understand what that means.

We don’t grow in our faith by narrowing our field of vision to things we can control.  We don’t nourish our souls by clenching our fist more tightly around our limited idea of faith.  We don’t do ourselves any favors by pretending like it’s our job to save the universe and everyone in it.  We may want to, or even feel that we should be able to… but we just can’t… and thank goodness that’s a job reserved for our Savior.

And we’re not admitting defeat when we recognize our limitations.  Quite the opposite, actually.  In humility, we must take our rightful seat at the table that was set out for us before the beginning of time.  We must trust God to be who he promises to be, and know that when we commit to him faithfully in the limited roles he has prepared for us, that he intends to use those for both the advancement of his kingdom, and our own great inner peace and joy… purposes for which he felt the need to create us in the first place… to share in his transcendent peace and inexpressible joy.

Although it’s not always easy, I’m glad to let God worry about the big stuff, and I can walk with him in faith and maybe even get something little done once in a while.  We just bought some desperately needed new tires for the car, and I went to Santa Rosa last Saturday to get some more repairs done.  Santa Rosa is a bigger town about an hour’s drive from Gracias, and it’s of special significance because both the clinic and the school just opened operations there.  The clinic has a small office there now, and the school is going to have an elementary school there next year.  Pray that God guides these efforts, and that while his love is spread through healthcare and education, that not only bodies and minds would grow, but that souls and spirits would grow closer to him.

I think our family came to Honduras under the guise of humanitarian efforts, and that’s wonderful… but God has shown us over and over that there’s more that he has for us all.  These earthly lives are important and meaningful, but they’re merely a dim reflection of the eternal glory he intends to share with us.

In Luke 7, John the Baptist sent a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus if indeed he was the one they had been waiting for.  Jesus told the men, with a sort of oddly-ending crescendo, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”  As though the healing of the natural body, even the raising of human life from the dead was somehow less impressive than this idea that hope can be given to the hopeless when we proclaim the peace of Christ to their souls.  The body won’t last.  Hope is forever.  The message of the hope of Christ gives us the peace we can’t possibly wrap our minds around, and the joy we can’t possibly keep to ourselves.  There is indeed much that God would like to bless us with in this lifetime, but there is also an incomparable promise that we’ll just have to wait a bit longer for him to fulfill when we finally see him face to face.

It’s 2018.  Do You Know Where Your Faith Is?

It’s 2018. Do You Know Where Your Faith Is?

I was talking to a fellow teacher here, and I told her that I thought there were two kinds of missionaries in this world.  There’s the kind that is born with the intrinsic nature to follow Christ and spread the good news of his gospel far and wide, wherever they are led.  And then there’s the second kind, which includes me.  This is the kind of person that God looks at and says, “Yikes.  I’m gonna have to ship this one off to a different country if I ever want them to learn anything.”

So whatever the reason, here we are back in Honduras.  And it’s wonderful.  It was so, so good to see friends and family over Christmas, and we’re missing them especially hard right now, but it’s also refreshing to be back at it.  To see the students again, to visit Celaque again, to see our new friends here again (which aren’t so new anymore), to realize that maybe our Spanish is just a notch better than it was a few months ago, and to watch in amazement as our children grow and learn and play in an entirely different culture than we’re used to.

One of the new ways Sam loves to play is to take old food containers of various kinds (ketchup bottles, juice cartons) and fill them up with water from the hose… unfiltered water.  Sometimes he likes to add some soap to the mixture and leave them sitting around.  Yes, this is foreshadowing.

The other day, there was a juice carton sitting out on the kitchen counter.  I lifted it up and felt something in it.  Wondering how long it had been sitting out, I decided it would probably be fine to put it back in the fridge.  Later that night, I had some chips and spicy salsa for a snack, but I had neglected to pour myself a drink.  Needing something fast, I grabbed the juice carton out of the fridge and dumped a bunch of it into my mouth.  I swallowed half of it immediately before noticing that something was amiss.  This tasted less like juice than it did like soapy water.  What to do?  In another brilliant decision, I swallowed the other half.  So far, no adverse effects, but I guess we’ll see.

Our expectations often let us down.  When our expectations of relatively superficial things in the world get confused, we drink soapy bacteria water.  When our expectations of other-worldly, eternal things get confused, the consequences can be devastating.  It is absolutely critical in this life that we are aware of exactly where we put our faith and what expectations that sets for both this life and the next.

If you’ve been let down by your government or your leaders, it’s because you have some level of hope, trust, expectation, or faith in them.  If you’ve been let down by a parent or a sibling or a child or a boss or a coworker or a mentor, the same is true.  But if you feel as though you’ve been let down by God, that’s ok, but it’s different in this case… it’s just that he has something more to teach you.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this past week has shown that God has more to teach us all, regardless of what country we find ourselves in.  The thoughtless words of the American president are disappointing and deplorable, to say the least, and the political situation in Honduras remains tense, with indications of continued unrest.  If I were God, this certainly isn’t the way I would do things.  But I drink soapy bacteria water, so I guess it’s a good thing I’m not God.  Something tells me his plans are far better than any that I could put together myself.

And I’ve seen signs already that this is true.  The initial political unrest in Honduras gave us an excellent setting in the classroom in which to discuss our need NOT to put our ultimate hope and faith in worldly leaders.  The American president’s comments have again highlighted that and given me opportunities to have very transparent conversations with students… mutually beneficial conversations we may not have had otherwise.  Do the benefits outweigh the costs?  Certainly not right now, but we are in the middle of an eternal story which is long from over.  God is doing something we do not understand.  He is using the negative of the world to build a path to redemption.  We just have to acknowledge it and give in… in faith.

God doesn’t work like us.  This isn’t just a way to try to explain the things of God that we don’t understand.  It’s a real and defining characteristic of his divine nature.  If we had to believe in him, there would be no room for faith.  If he worked exactly the way we expected him to, there would be no room for awe.  If he didn’t have to go on a long and arduous journey to seek us out, there would be no room for joy when we find each other.

Furthermore, the Christian life is a proactive one, not a reactive one.  Constantly responding to all the negative inputs of the world is no way to live.  It’s like only making decisions when a salesman comes to your door.  When they present to you a problem you didn’t know you had so you’ll buy their product you didn’t know you needed, you’re being reactive.  You’re missing all the beautiful and real moments in life when some outside force isn’t telling us about some new imaginary problem.  There’s a better way.  It’s allowing yourself to be informed by the goodness of the Holy Spirit every moment of every day.  Then, when disappointing news comes along, it can’t gain a foothold in your life, because there’s no room for sadness to take over when your soul is filled with the peace and joy of Jesus.

So where do you put your ultimate faith?  Do you put it in the words of your political leaders?  Don’t.  Do you put it in the actions of your fellow countrymen?  Sooner or later, they will let you down.  Do you put it in a guy who drinks soapy bacteria water?  I sure hope not.

It’s ok to hope and expect and pray for your government, your countrymen, and your brothers and sisters, but it’s critical that we don’t put our ultimate faith in them.  That must be reserved for Christ.  That must be reserved for the one who laid down his life for us and would do it again, but doesn’t need to!  It must be reserved for the one who loves us with his entire eternal being, who created us in this world just so we could share in his joy.  Our faith must be poured out to the one who cradled us in his arms before we were even a thought in our mothers’ minds.  Our heavenly father is there to give us his peace and joy in the face of anything and everything going on in our lives.  He not only walked in our flesh and promises to be with us always, but he also experiences our difficulties with us, through the loving and powerful presence of his Holy Spirit.

There is no other God like him.  Praise his holy name.  May your ultimate faith rest in him alone.

A Man’s Reach

A Man’s Reach

So 2017 turned out to be the most difficult year of my life… BY FAR.  If you had told me exactly what I was going to need to do to get through the year, I really may have chosen a different path.  However, that does not mean I regret it; rather, the opposite is true.  I’m so glad it was exactly as it was.  I’m filled with joy at the opportunities for growth that were put in front of myself and my family.  I’m overwhelmed by peace as I look back on how God sought to use this year to bring me and my family closer to him.  More and more, I think that this life is less about what we accomplish, and more truly about our journeys of progress toward the heart of our creator.

You’ve probably heard Robert Brown’s quote that “… a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”  The Bible has its own, albeit differently faceted, version of this sentiment in 1 Corinthians 15:19: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

I really like talking about our God in a way that indicates his desire to bring heaven to us on earth… right here and now.  But the fact is that that isn’t the whole story.  As long as we remain on this earth, there will always be unimaginable and inaccessible glory that can only be revealed to us in heaven.  It’s too much for this earth.  It’s too much for our mortal minds to comprehend.

What we do have now is the journey toward that glory.  And the journey toward a goal isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always look like we want it to.  It’s hard, and messy, and we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.  But then, doesn’t that make the goal so much more precious when it is reached?  God’s glory is our ultimate goal, and we can only do our best to work toward it in this lifetime.

But we have an all-powerful advantage in that work… his Spirit is here to help us.  However messy the journey, he is there to help us, even to carry us, along on the journey.  We just need to ask for his help.  When God’s heavenly aspirations for our lives exceed our grasp, his Spirit is there to guide them back into reach.  If only we humble ourselves and admit our need for help, it will be there in abundance.

So for as difficult as this year has been, it’s taught me to be ok asking for help.  That’s such a big part of the plan for our lives, that it’s absolutely essential.

And as we look toward the future, we’re gonna need to ask for more help.  We are now making plans to return to Honduras for the 2018-2019 school year.  From what we can discern, that’s where God wants us… so that’s where we’re gonna be.

So guess what… it’s time to ask for more help… first from God, and then from you.  This is where we say, “We could not do this without the financial support of our donors,” which is true, but really means we want to ask you to prayerfully consider giving us your money.  But for what?  It’s really for flights, insurance, rent, groceries, utilities, and snickers bars, among other things.  There are many good reasons why that we could explain, but let me just give you a couple quick stories about some real students.

One day, I was teaching 11th grade chemistry, and it was going particularly well.  Students were engaged and asking relevant questions about the new material we were covering.  At the end of class, one young lady honestly admitted, “Mister… I actually wasn’t going to pay attention today, but then it was just so interesting.”  Awesome… I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment.  So that’s just to say, that there are really moments in the classroom when the subject matter comes alive and gets people excited about learning.  If we can do that with Chemistry, then I trust that God has big things to communicate to these students through me, and I plan to keep at it.

Another day at lunch, I was talking to a couple young men from 10th grade biology, and we had what I thought was kind of a fun conversation about some new technology in the field of biology, and the underlying implications as technology advances and brings up new ethical questions for mankind to consider.  I finished my lunch and went on my way.  Then the next day, one of them asked me, “Mister, can we talk again at lunch another day?”  Yes, yes we can.  I took that as a huge compliment.  Starting with the class material, now we’re forming a relationship and just looking to spend time together, without an agenda.

That’s legit… that is the beginning of the kind of relationship Jesus wants with us.  No agenda, just more of him.  This is the kind of thing that was happening in John 1 when a couple disciples are following Jesus around for no real reason, and he’s like “Hey, what do you want?”  They say, “Um, well, I mean… where are you staying?”  Good one, guys.  Way to play it cool.  At this point (probably truly before this point), Jesus recognizes that they just want to be around him, and he says, “Great, come with me and you’ll see.”

So I want to hang out with Jesus more.  And I think he wants me to hang out with my students some more.  I think he wants me to show them his love some more.  And I even think that in doing so, Jesus is gonna spend some more time with all of us, and that sounds pretty cool to me.

And Stephanie has continued to be an absolute blessing to the people around her.  Her work at the clinic has been extremely helpful to the Honduran staff every day, as well as to the brigades that come into town, and there’s five weeks of them coming up in January and February.  It’s busy, but it’s really pretty awesome to see from this side.  And there have been at least three major medical needs among the American staff just during the time we’ve been there already, where her experience has brought not only the right answer to the problem, but also comfort and security to those involved.  My own bedside manner is somehow not as much of a blessing to people.

So… here’s the scoop.  We have approximately the same budget for next year as this current year, although it’s a little less because we got some house set-up stuff out of the way.  I’m not gonna put our budget on here, just because I think it can be misinterpreted without context, but I would gladly have a conversation with anyone about it.  If you feel uncomfortable giving for any reason, don’t… that’s ok.  We still want you to be involved with our lives through these updates and in other ways, and we ask for your prayer.  Through you, God provided basically the exact amount we have needed for this year, and if he’s in this (which I do believe he is), I’d faithfully and graciously expect the same thing for the next school year.

To give, you can follow the links on this site or go right to https://www.modernday.org/field-workers/lukepatrick2/, and follow the instructions to give there.  You can sign up for a small recurring donation, which would be awesome, or you can give a one-time donation, which would also be awesome.  You can also mail a check made out to “Modern Day” to PO Box 535578, Grand Prairie, TX 75053, including a note indicating it’s for us.  And remember, the GOP wants you to give today so you can take the deduction in 2017 instead of missing it in 2018.  Don’t look at me like that… I didn’t pass the law.  I’m just the messenger.  If you want to talk to a real messenger, though, maybe consult your tax professional, because, for better or worse, that whole thing is kinda crazy.

Whatever you end up doing, thank you so much for reading this and for being there for us.  We love you because God first loved us, and we continue to strive to follow him on this wonderful journey toward his glory.

Powerless

Powerless

You’re powerless.  I’m powerless.  The Honduran government is powerless.  The US government is powerless.  The sooner we accept that, the better off we’ll be.

We made it to Michigan for Christmas, but not without difficulty.  And while all seems to be ok in our town in Honduras, the overall situation in the country remains dire and unpredictable.

We hit the road at 3 AM Saturday morning with the intention to arrive at a hotel in Chicago that night.  Instead, we didn’t make it back until Tuesday.

I knew it was going to be a great trip when the first thing Evie did upon getting in the van was shove her hand down in between the seats, look at me with big eyes, and say, “whatever I’m feeling, it’s sticky.”  Gross.  Get your hand out of there.

On Saturday, our van was getting close to the airport in San Pedro Sula when we ran into a road block.  Protesters have been setting up road blocks there in response to the events of the recent presidential election.  Those protesting believe that the incumbent stole the election, and there are bitter divides among the Honduran people.  Many believe their only recourse is to disrupt the infrastructure in Honduras by blocking the roads, which is extremely effective in accomplishing its goal because there are often few or no good alternative routes for traffic to take.  The mountainous terrain and underdeveloped road systems become quickly debilitated when the main arteries are blocked.

As we waited, some members of the Honduran military marched passed our van to go try to break up the road block, far enough ahead that we couldn’t see what the actual block was, but had to rely on word of mouth from passersby.  We waited quite a while, but when some national police came back the other way and told us to turn around, we decided to take their advice.  But then, we ran into another road block attempting to go back the way we came.  We pulled over in a gas station, and I forgot the promise God made to me to keep me and my family safe in Honduras.  There was no guarantee that we weren’t spending the night there.

But soon we got through, back the way we came, and took a very long way around to get to a hotel near the airport, as we had missed our flight.  We bumped our flights to the next day, Sunday.

We had to get up at 3:45 AM Sunday to catch the airport shuttle at 4:15 AM, so we could reduce the risk of running into a blockade later in the day.  Sam sat up on his knees and alertly said, “I’ll pack my animals!”  Then his eyelids slipped shut and he fell face forward back on his bed.

After a long day waiting at the airport, we boarded the plane around 1:30 PM.  Then we found out that we couldn’t take off to Atlanta because the power was down at the world’s busiest airport.  Of course it was.

We waited about 4 hours on the tarmac, and they were even nice enough to let us walk into the airport, where the kids could play for a little bit… there’s a little toy area right in the gate, which is amazing.  As the sun set out the window of the airplane, Sam exclaimed, “It’s been the whole day?!”  Yes, buddy.  The sun rose and set on our day at the airport.

Eventually, they said we were taking off to Atlanta, but we had been following along with the nightmare happening there, and we were really hoping to end up somewhere else.  I think Delta just recognized that they had to get their crew out of Honduras that night.  Several flights in and out have been cancelled since.  You see, on Sunday, while we were on the plane, the country’s electoral officials declared the incumbent the winner of the election that occurred 3 weeks prior.  This has led to dramatically increased protest activity in the days since.

As we took off out of San Pedro Sula, I was glad to be getting my family out of a difficult situation, but I felt so bad for what I knew some people were going to go through there over the next days and weeks.  I felt guilty.  I felt powerless.

I mean, sure I’m a great guy, but I knew the love I was feeling for the Honduran people was not an inherent manifestation of my carnal self.  I knew it had been implanted there by God to convict, motivate, and bless me.  To give me guilt enough only to drive positive action in the future, not to make me feel bad for being powerless.

As I felt this evidence of the prior change in my heart, Ezekiel 36:26-27 came to mind.  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”  Of course when I looked it up later, I found that this chapter discusses the hope for the mountains of Israel and the assurance of its restoration.  I don’t pretend to know exactly what God is doing in Honduras, only that he will fulfill his promises there, and I want to be a part of it.

So our flight ended up in Miami.  And we were there for 2 nights.  Because everybody and their brother was trying to recover from the disaster in Atlanta.  But we got a direct flight to Detroit on Tuesday, and our buddy Nate Koster gave us a ride from there.  I’m not sure anyone has ever been so glad to see Nate in their life as we were.  I also don’t know whether that says more about our trip or Nate as a person.  I love you, buddy.

The most difficult moments of our travel experience were those in which there were a lot of unknowns.  Traveling isn’t so bad if you have a plan.  But when you don’t know how things are going to go, fear of the unknown takes over and makes things miserable.

But isn’t that what life is?  A great adventure in which we desperately try to overcome our fears of the unknown?  Well guess what… we can’t do it on our own.  We need the one who can.  We need the one who tells us it’s ok not to know everything, because he does.  We need the one who will guide us along the perfect path, even when we don’t know where we’re going or why we’re going there.  We need to stop relying on our own powerlessness and recognize the one who is all-powerful.  We need faith.

God grant faith to the Honduran people.  God grant faith to the Honduran leadership.  God grant faith to the US leadership to help in a transparent and selfless way during this crisis.  May God use this to align the hearts and minds of all people with himself.  May God grant you faith.  Even – and especially – if your life seems as out of control as anything going on in Honduras.  I promise you, God is working through it all to align your heart and your mind with his.  His promises are true, even when we lack the faith to trust him in difficult times.  He just loves us so much.