Is The Easy Way The Best Way?

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As you may know I recently made a big change in my life.  I left my position as pastor of a rural church in southern Missouri and relocated to Oahu to plant a church.  The change is difficult, but it is most difficult on my 9 year old son, Caleb.  Caleb was only three when I began my ministry at First Baptist Church of Birch Tree, MO.  His first friends are there.  He was quite comfortable there.  He was a top student at the school and was surrounded by familiarity.  Then, everything changed for him.  We moved here.

Here, they do not know him as a top student.  His school is just over 7 times larger than his old one.  He is just one more student until he can prove otherwise.  The way they do things is different and he is trying to learn a lot of new methods and rules.  He does not know anyone.  Nobody knows him.  And according to one of his complaints, “they don’t even play kickball here.”

The first week of school was marked in our home with tears, imaginary stomach aches, anger, and defiance.  This was not the way for me to start a day.  Seeing my son struggle was enough for me to wonder if I had made the right decision to come here.  I am resolved to face the struggles of church planting in a different culture, but I begged God to make this easy on my son.  My biggest fear is that his difficulties would lead to resentment and there would be one more angry preacher’s kid in the world.  Then something happened.

Our prayer partners came through in droves to pray for Caleb.  We shared the emails with him and he really liked that so many people thought his struggle was worth praying for.  We also began to pray with Caleb before going to school.  Suddenly, things began to look up for Caleb.  He made a few friends, he figured out the rigid homework system, and his class did in fact play kickball.  One tearless morning we mounted our bicycles for the ride to the school.  “Wait,” he shouted.  “Aren’t we going to pray?”  Right there in the middle of our street, my son wanted us to stop and pray before he went to school.  I thought about that all day.

What I have realized is this.  The answer to my prayers is not that things got better for Caleb.  They did, but that does not make life easy for him.  The answer turned out to be that Caleb learned a little about relying on God.  The difficulty that I feared so much that he would face has actually strengthened him.  I have to learn something.  I have to understand that God loves my son even more than his mother and I do.  God knows what my son needs and He knows what is best.  He will give what is best even if that looks like struggle here on Earth.  God will give him that because of what it can make him.

Knowing this, why would I pray that God would make it easy on him?  Why would I pray for it to be easy on me.  Easy is not always best, and I want what is best.


Thoughts Toward a Father’s Day Message

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The other day, we went for a walk. My wife and I were walking (and trying to teach the new puppy to walk on a leash) while my son road his bike. We were headed to the post-office. That’s about half a mile from our house. My son asked how far ahead he could go and I said, “just go on.” He knows that route. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. He probably doesn’t need me for it.

When we mistake the Gospel for something ordinary, fathers forget how much they are needed. And we do mistake the gospel for something ordinary all the time. For many, the Gospel is just a way to live a better life, be a better person, or somehow earn a little extra help in the world. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. Thus, when we send our children down that path, we are inclined to say “Just go on” and assume we aren’t needed.

But the Gospel is no ordinary road. It’s a radical road that few tread. As Simeon prophesied in Luke 2, Christ is the rise and fall of many. He is a sign against many. He reveals (and pierces) many hearts. Fathers, that is not a road to travel down lightly. That is not a road to carelessly send our children down as we flirt with the wider paths. That is a road where men must lead.

Gotcha Day!

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I think this story begins in the shower. Really, it begins earlier, but we’ll pick it up in the shower. I was taking a shower. In the middle of my shower, Sam yelled that I had a phone call, and came in and handed me the phone. Must be important. She later said, she had a strange feeling about that call. So I turn off the shower and took the phone to speak to this person who tells me that they have just mailed us a check for $20,000 to help us in our desire to adopt a baby.

I almost dropped the phone.

The journey began. That was in June of 2002, and it would be another year and a half of paperwork and red tape. And waiting. Always waiting. Waiting so difficult, it’s impossible to know unless you’ve been there. It was June 2003 when we saw the picture. A swaddled, chubby-cheeked, 1 month old Kazakh, described as being very healthy and very happy. We could meet him, they said, in September, no October, no, November.

It didn’t seem that possible in November. One thing after another seemed to cause a delay. Everything seemed so uncertain. I said over and over again, that I won’t believe we’re going until I step on a plane. Even there in Memphis, when we got on the plane, we knew weather was closing Airport after airport, and when our plane stopped on the taxiway to wait for clearance to take-off, I was holding my breath.

It took off. On a Sunday afternoon, just before Thanksgiving in 2003, we took off to Detroit, then to Amsterdam, and finally, in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesday, we arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Just stepping off the plane, we knew we’d left it all behind. Nothing was the same. It all seemed like something out of a 1960’s spy movie. I remember the surreal feeling we had as an early 90’s model Vulga sped us through the streets of Almaty and to the hotel.

The next day was spent sightseeing, and the day after it was time for another flight. This time it was on Air Kazakhstan to the frozen north. Pavlodar. We landed on a sheet of ice, and getting off of that plane, I learned what cold is. The winds of Siberia cut right through me. We could hardly breathe. Then came another crazy ride to a hotel, but on the way, our lawyer (Svetlana…she met us at the airport), pointed to a building and said, “your baby is there.” What?!? After a year and a half. After all the prayers and tears and all the “I won’t believe it until…” After this surreal journey around the world, you’re telling me that we just casually drove by the building where he lives?

The next day was Thanksgiving, but there were more important things. There were interviews with government officials. We had to be approved by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Orphan Care and Guardianship. The next day would be one to remember forever.

On the day after Thanksgiving, we met Danat Kalievavich Rhakhmatov. They took us to the music room of the orphanage, and brought this nine month old, baby boy to us. He smiled at Sam immediately. My low voice (he had probably never heard a man speak before) startled him, but he just looked at me in his curious way and opened his eyes really wide…and poked me in the nose with his finger. I think we got to see him for five minutes. I don’t mind admitting that we both cried. Once back to the hotel, I made my way down the street to the internet cafe where I crashed the server trying to email pictures. I didn’t care. There were waiting family and friends who HAD to see these pictures. Yes, its true, we wanted to say, see, we’re actually holding him!

This began the two weeks of orphanage visits. Sometimes 20 minutes, sometimes 2 hours. Always interesting. He was usually in good spirits, except for the one day when he was a little sick, but I’ll spare you the details of how we learned that. We even got to see him pull himself up to stand for the first time during one of those visits. We lived for those visits. We spent the rest of the day talking about them, or trying to pass the time by exploring.

And exploring was fun. With two wonderful couples, the Zimmermans from Iowa and the Stewarts from North Carolina, we found cafes, shops, parks, the ice village, etc. We tried out the American food place. We tried Horse Milk. We learned that it was more than ok to eat the chicken sold on the street corner…it was great! We learned that Kazakh police do not give directions. We learned that people were always making fun of us, but what did we care? We bought leather coats at ridiculously low prices…and we talked non-stop about the children we’d be taking home

On December 12, 2003, we had our day in court. We were ushered into a small room. The cast of characters was Sam and I, Svetlana, Lena (her interpreter), a representative from the orphanage, the prosecutor, and the judge. We each had to stand and be questioned by our lawyer and the prosecutor. He was a little tougher on Sam, but it all turned out to be a cultural misunderstanding. Then we sat down and listened as people spoke Russian all around the room. If you’ve ever listened to people speaking Russian, you know it sounds angry. Lena could hardly keep up to tell us everything, so we waited nervously, then the judge looked at us and said something in Russian which Lena translated, “Congratulations, you are parents.” At that moment, little Danat’s name changed to Caleb Ray Davis, and all legal documents were changed to list us as his parents. It was official. As we tell Caleb, its gotcha day because that’s when we got-cha!

Yes, there was more waiting. Another week to actually take him out of the orphanage, and due to a mix up with the good ‘ol US of A, it would be another month before we returned home.

And it’s all remembered as the best trip we ever took. Probably the happiest time of our lives. Among the vivid memories, I remember walking down the concourse of the Memphis airport on January 13. We were tired, but beside ourselves. My wife, who although she had been traveling for 24 hours and had just spent 3 hours in immigration, looked radiant as she proudly carried Caleb. Way down at the end, I could see our families anxiously waiting. I choked back tears and jumped up and down to wave at them. We were home…and we are a family.

So today is our own little holiday…Gotcha Day. We’ll tell this story to Caleb (again). We’ll get out the pictures…which we would show you if you want. We’ll watch the videos…again, we’d love to show you too! We’ll share our favorite memories of Kazakhstan. We’ll make it a day to tell Caleb how happy we were to adopt him.

People always say that he must be so fortunate to come from such a bleak world of the Kazakhstan orphanage into our family. I always think, are you kidding? Sam and I are the fortunate ones!

So, celebrate with us….Happy Gotcha Day!!!

Peace, Love, and Christ,