It was late February. It was still cold and there was slushy, dirty, snow everywhere. The wind was blowing and I was standing at a gas pump filling up the tank. As I put the cap back on and turned to go inside to pay, the wind blew a dirty piece of paper up against my leg. I kicked a little and it blew away. A few moments later I returned back across the lot headed for my car. Again the wind blew the same dirty piece of paper against my leg. This time I reached down, wadded it up and put it in my pocket. A couple of days later, I remembered it. Reaching into my coat, I pulled out the wide lined yellow elementary school writing paper we all used as kids.
What was written on the page changed my life and established a trajectory for our ministry that is still true to this day. There is a picture below of the paper which hangs in my office. Here's what it says:
My Christmas wish is for my father to walk in the back door. Please try to accomplish this Christmas wish. If you can't accomplish this wish then that is fine because I know you have T-O-N-S of kids to attend to!
Standing in my office that day in Fithian, Illinois, I promised God I would spend the rest of my life looking for Carrie Annie, her father, and all of the people in the world they represent. Those for whom the only hope feels like Santa Claus. Those children who are growing up wishing their fathers, mothers, or anyone who cares, would walk in the back door. Those adults who have regrets they can't go back and change, who would love to re-enter the lives of the people they've hurt, but have no idea how to get there. Those wounded, hurting, lost people who believe the way things are is the only way they can be. People for whom Christ died and about whom the church should be focused.
There is no price too high to pay, no sacrifice too great to give, no change too difficult to navigate, no board meeting too long to process, no disappointment too tough to face, no budget too costly to raise, no criticism too harsh to endure, no sacred cow too sacred to slaughter, and no burden too heavy to bear in order for us to accomplish our mission. There's no treacherous pathway we should fear to go down. There's no place we should fail to look. There's no new idea we shouldn't prayerfully consider. There's no obstacle or hardened personality we shouldn't confront. Fear cannot be our master. There's no comfort zone we shouldn't blow up, no mediocrity we should tolerate, no pity-party we should accept an invitation to, and no low level thinking we should embrace. There's no time too early to show up, no preparation too much to ask, and no schedule too important not to be adjusted.
May our goals be God-sized goals. May our efforts be bathed in God-sized prayers. May our actions be worthy of those who claim to be followers of the ONE who carried a cross and called for us to do the same.
Standing on the promises of the One who cannot fail, committed to delivering HIS message to the world around us, we must not fail.
In a season when it is so easy to focus on insiders, may God help us to focus where He focuses, lost and hurting people.
So, if you're out there, Carrie Annie, I'm still looking!
Peace and Merry Christmas!