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How far would you go to rescue and recover something of great value to you?  Would you be willing to get your hands dirty?  Would it be worth coming into contact with things that are generally considered to be unpleasant, if not downright nasty, in order to reclaim a prized possession?

Yesterday, I sat for an unexpected exam in which those were the three short-answer questions, and I didn’t have a lot of time to ponder my responses.

I had driven to a local hospital to check in on a couple of friends and fellow church members who were dealing with serious illnesses.  Before I left the house, I had generously lathered my hands with some of Kim’s medicated hand lotion.  Don’t judge me!  For some reason, this winter’s arctic air and nearly constant wind have been particularly rough on my hands, causing some serious dryness and chapping.  The hand lotion sadly plays into the rest of the story.

When I arrived at the hospital, I decided to make a stop in the restroom by the elevators.  Having washed my hands with soap and hot water, I held on to the paper towels so that I could open the restroom door without physically touching it.  I’m generally not overly conscientious about this, and am not what I would consider a germaphobe, but this was a hospital during cold and flu season and it just seemed like the prudent thing to do.

I opened the door, propped it open with my foot, and flung the paper towels downward into the tall, lid-less, nearly full trash can by the door.  Instantly, I realized that the ring on my right hand had accompanied the paper towels into the dismal abyss of waste.  It was a cruel conspiracy between the hand lotion and some remaining soapy moisture on my hand.

The ring which had plummeted into the trash can was a gift from Kim, a silver James Avery “Song of Solomon” ring, inscribed with “My beloved is mine, and I am hers” in Hebrew script.

There was no debate or hesitancy.  I didn’t stop to consider the range of germs or level of nastiness that might inhabit the contents of the garbage can.  I just instinctively went after the ring because of its value to me.  Obviously, I hoped that it might have come to rest on something near the top.  Such was not the case.

I will spare you the gory details of everything that I encountered while emptying the trash can, but my search took me all the way to the bottom.  The weight of the ring, combined with the movement of the contents as I emptied them, had caused it to keep descending until it could go no further.  Great!

However, the joy of recovering the ring was worth all of the effort, unpleasantness, and discomfort!  And yes, I was a good boy and completely reloaded the trash can.  Then I spent several minutes washing and rewashing my hands and just about emptied a dispenser of hand sanitizer out in the hall.

Jesus loved us so much that He came after us.  He pursued us all the way to the bottom of the barrel and found us right at the gates of hell.  He left heavenly glory to dumpster dive through the spiritual cesspool of this world in order to rescue and ransom our souls.  That’s how much He loved and valued us.

Are we willing to do the same for others whom Jesus loves just as much?

In my last post, I wrote about my recent sabbatical/silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky.  It was my second retreat there in as many years.  Among other blessings, the week provided me with an opportunity to work through some inner conflict, turmoil, and anxiety that I didn’t even realize were affecting me so significantly until I was in a context where I could be still and focused long enough to reflect on it and face it.  I spent a lot of time in reading, prayer, reflection, and introspection.

Among the issues that I wrestled with that week was the concern that I feel for Kim and Coleman while I am away from home.  While Kim has been nothing but encouraging and accommodating over the last nearly 21 years of Coleman’s life in regard to my traveling great distances for mission trips, revivals, seminars, and now sabbaticals, I always experience a sense that I have left her with a significant weight of responsibility to bear alone.  We are so blessed with dear friends and church family members who would be there (and have been) at the drop of a hat to assist in whatever ways may be needed, but that does not alleviate the sense of responsibility and angst that I feel.

My resolution of the conflict was to determine that, for the foreseeable and indefinite future, I will not make foreign mission trips.  Foreign trips, of necessity, require a greater amount of time away from home  than do domestic destinations.  Also, the time and logistics of returning home in the event of an emergency are just too great.

I have been greatly blessed over the last 30 years to share in the work of Christ and His church in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, England, Scotland, Mexico, Honduras, Nigeria, South Africa, Estonia, and Ukraine.  Seven years ago, I had the joyful and enriching experience of traveling to Israel with my daughter Hannah.  Even if I never travel abroad again, I will be extremely grateful for the opportunities that I have had up to this point in my life.  Our son’s special needs and unique circumstances just necessitate a change of itinerary.

There are so many other people who can go (and will gladly go) to minister to others in the name of Jesus and share His love and message of salvation.  Not only can they accomplish exactly what I would hope to accomplish, they can likely do so far more effectively, creatively, and fruitfully than I would be able to do.  I will focus more in the months and years ahead on supporting others to go and encouraging those who have been sent.

Kim has already tried to get me to reconsider this decision.  That is noble of her, but her efforts will be unfruitful.  There is so much that I can do here and from here.  I currently teach via Skype each week with a small group of Christians in Guyana, with plans to add a second congregation later this week; no airfare, no ground expenses, and no travel time required!  Domestic mission destinations, seminars, sabbaticals, etc., will remain on the books, but only to places from which I could be home in a matter of hours versus days.

Is there any disappointment in this decision?  Only that I may not have another opportunity in this life to personally see the smiling faces and enjoy the sweet fellowship of people that I have come to know and love in other places, most recently in Estonia and Ukraine.  I had also hoped to return to Nigeria this year or next and to include a stop in Liberia where I lived for a while when I was a boy.

So, yes, a bit of disappointment, but no sense of defeat.  This is just another lesson in learning to live joyfully and gratefully within my limitations.  It’s simply a situational adjustment, just like the multitude of adjustments and accommodations that all of us have to make in response to circumstances in our lives.

Just keeping it real (for me) and close to home (for now)!

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January 2014