Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Surprise!! - Day 14


Spent some time with some friends yesterday who are going through a tremendously disappointing situation. They are heart-broken, and my heart breaks for them. Although I can't get into the details of their situation, I can say that this is the latest in a long line of disappointments for this precious couple. They've traveled this road before, and that's what makes this latest disappointment so incredibly frustrating.

As I was talking with them I was thinking of a picture in my mind. I recently saw part of the cult classic movie, "The Blair Witch Project." I never had a desire to see this awful film, but it was on, and it was so incredibly hyped that I decided to give it a try. In one particular scene, the three main characters are lost in the woods, convinced they are cursed and being pursued by something terribly evil. They hike all day, never knowing where or when they will be tormented by this evil. Their only hope is to get out of the woods and make it to safety. They so desperately want to get out, and their desperation is fueled by the hope that they are actually making progress.

After hours of hiking, they make a stunning and terrifying realization. Instead of making their way out of the cursed woods, they have actually been walking in a gigantic circle. They round the corner and realize that the downed tree that crosses over the creek in front of them is undeniably the same downed tree and rushing creek that they walked over when they began their hike several hours before. They become angry, terrified, and hopeless.

As I watched this scene, I thought of the people of Israel and how they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. I thought of how many times they must have crossed the same downed tree over and over again. What a terrifying and frustrating journey it must have been.

And then I thought of my friends and their terrible disappointment. Why, instead of tasting the milk and honey, must they continue to walk this same gut wrenching circle? Where in the world do they go from here?

No wonder the Israelites strayed from God, and no wonder God continued to make them wander. The Israelites constant failure to reach their goal must have been maddening. Their tendency to veer from God's direct instructions was, no doubt, due to impatience and mistrust. God had to break them of all inklings to trust in things other than Him. Amazingly, it took him 40 years to do so. So, if we don't get exactly what we've asked for when we've asked for it, it may be that God is trying to work something out in our lives before He leads us to the promised land. It may not mean that at all, though. It may simply mean that God is up to something that we can't understand at the moment. Either way, God's desire is that we surrender to the idea that He can be trusted above all things.

A surprising revelation on a cold Saturday evening.

Surprise!! - Day 13

Make or Break Games in College Football

Not much surprising happened today. The only thing I can think of is that I am always surprised at how boring Saturday's are when college football season is over. I almost don't know what to do with myself. College football is one of my guilty pleasures in life. It doesn't even matter who's playing, I just have to watch it. Amazing how losing access to such a thing can change the way my Saturday's work. Goodbye sweet football.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Surprise!! - Day 12

I got an email today from an old childhood friend. JJ Brown used to be our neighbor when we lived on Lafitte St. in Lake Charles, LA. JJ's Mom and Dad helped raise my brother, sister and me. Her Dad, Jim, is a brilliant man with an Ivy League education. He's the Vice President of McNeese State University, and he specializes in the field of education. More than anything, though, Jim is a gentle, loving man with a warm spirit and a creative and hilarious sense of humor.

We grew up with the Brown's, and I don't have a single childhood memory that doesn't include this family. Perhaps the most striking memory I have of the Brown's is the day that my Father was killed in a car accident. Jim was driving the car that day, and he was the first to realize, after the dust had settled, that Dad - sitting next to him in the passenger seat - was dead. When I say that we are close to the Brown's, I mean that we have been through life and death with this family. I don't know life without them.

So when I recieved an email from JJ Brown, I was elated to hear from my old friend. Unfortunately, JJ shared with me that her Dad has B-Cell Lymphoma, and will begin radiation treatment this week. Jim is 73 years old, and the doctors are concerned about how the radiation will affect his body. Recieving this news was heartbreaking.

My surprise for today is one that causes me to reflect on my entire life, with the realization that I could potentially lose a profound piece of it. It's also a surprise that reminds me of the best things in life, like lifelong relationships with really, really good people. How fortunate I've been to experience such relationships, and how blessed I am to have such memories.

Surprise!! - Day 11

Family Night

Thursday night is Family Night at the Hayes home. Most of the time we have dinner together and do some kind of activity. We've had reading nights, movie nights, game nights and craft nights. Whatever we choose to do together, Family Night is always fun and surprising. Tonight was no different.

We decided, for this Family Night, to go to another family's home for dinner. Terry and Tricia Cooper, some new friends of ours from church, invited us over to eat chili and hang out. We gladly took them up on their offer, and it was a great choice. The Cooper's are a lot of fun, and they, like us, have a large family. It's always surprising to find out new things about new friends. There's usually one fact that comes as a complete surprise and is worthy of further exploration. The Cooper's proved to be very surprising folks.

One of the big surprises with them is that they have 4 kids. Well, they actually have one foreign exchange student, one adopted son, and two birth children. They adopted their oldest son because they couldn't have children. Imagine their surprise when they found out, five years after adopting, that Tricia was pregnant! Child #2 came along, and then another surprise! They had their third child 17 months after the second was born. Pretty amazing stuff.

Anyway, I'm convinced God uses relationships to surprise us, and I'm thankful for the surprises I recieve each time I meet folks like the Cooper's. It's always encouraging to know that God uses our stories to surprise and encourage others.

Surprise!! - Day 10


Feeling sick today. Nothing worse than waking up to that horribly scratchy surprise in the back of your throat. You know, the one that says "You're going to be sick!"? I spent the day at home feeling junky, trying to sleep the sickness away. It's not working out so well. Still sick.

I'm surprised that I'm sick because I've been living a more health conscious life these days. I'm eating better, exercising more, and generally practicing greater health habits than I have in a long time. At some point in everyone's health journey, there are big time obstacles. When those obstacles appear, they can either make a great excuse to jump off the health train, or they can become an opportunity to demonstrate great resolve. I'm hoping I can go the resolve route and keep at it!

Surprise!! - Day 9

We're coming to the harsh realization that we are running out of ways to pay for our life as it currently exists. Pierce's costs are exorbitant, and although we've had a fund set aside for him for a long time, that fund is close to being depleted. Kim's job is great, but her paycheck is entirely gone the minute it arrives in our account due to Pierce's costs. I don't know if we've been in denial or what, but we didn't expect to deal with this yet. It's kind of crept up on us.

We're going to have to adjust our lives big time, and that's ok. We began this journey with Pierce without a clue as to how we were going to pay for day 1 of his therapy. More than three years later, Pierce's therapy has been covered every step of the way. If we have to adjust some things to make sure that continues, that's just part of it. I'm not even stressed out by it! It's par for the course since this whole thing began.

I don't know what's more of a surprise - the fact that we are dealing with this new financial reality, or the fact that we're ok with it. Either way, it ought to be pretty interesting to see the way it plays out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Surprise - Days 6-8

Life has been so surprising lately that I haven't had time to post!  Here are a few things that have happened over the last three days:

On Saturday I woke up and decided to run in the Jingle Bell Run at the YMCA.  I didn't even tell Kim I was running.  I just told the kids I was going jogging, and I drove to the "Y" and went jogging with about 150 folks.  It was really fun and rewarding.  The surprise was that I got second place in my age group.  I never expected to place; it was enough for me just to survive!  I later found out that there were only two people in my age group, which means I either finished in 2nd place or last place, depending on how you look at it.  2nd place is surprising... Last place isn't.

Sunday was a great day at church.  We had a good crowd, and the service was Spirit-led.  The people were tuned in to the message God gave me, and it was a pretty special morning.  My surprise, however, didn't come until after the services concluded.

Trent had to be at a school friend's birthday party in Dallas early that afternoon.  Kim had to be at her baby shower as well, so I loaded up all the kids and took them to Dallas with me.  Surprisingly, the birthday party was located at a skating rink within walking distance of our old apartment in the Lake Highlands area of Dallas.

That apartment holds great memories for us.  It was our first humble abode after our marriage.  It was the place our first two children called home.  It was so small that the only available space for Cale to sleep was in our closet.  The lady next door had a crazy dog who jumped through a window to try to bite Kim.  Great memories!

I was very surprised to take that unexpected walk down memory lane.  I think my kids really enjoyed hearing all the stories I shared about the litany of memories we made in that funny little apartment.  

The surprises kept coming that day as we enjoyed a little play time at White Rock Lake.   We went to a park that I used to go to all the time.  The kids loved it!  I followed them around with the camera and got some great shots.  Here are a few:


Every Monday night we have an elder's meeting.  Elder's are the "wise men" of our church who act as shepherds and spiritual leaders.  Our meetings have been so good lately.  Last night we looked at the difference between being an equipper and being a user.  An equipper invests in the lives of the people they lead, and their ultimate goal is to help bring about God's will in the lives of those under their leadership.  Equippers often invest in others by offering those under them the opportunity to take part in activities that utilize their gifts and passions. 
Users are only focused on ministry programs and results.  They use people to accomplish tasks instead of using tasks to help people become more faithful followers of Christ.  This is a subtle difference, but it is a profound one.  Users are more concerned with numbers than they are with truly equipping people to find their place in God's family.  

As we studied this idea, we each felt a sense of excitement and guilt.  Each of us knew that we had been, at times, users.  We were encouraged, though, at the thought of how this idea could completely change the way we approach leading our people.  It is exciting to think about a church full of people who are using their gifts and passions in such a way that they are becoming more fulfilled in their walk with Christ instead of drained by the tasks at hand. 

Elder's meetings  have become solid times of spiritual growth and progress.  God is doing something surprising in each of us, and we are experiencing more fulfillment and encouragement than ever before.  It never ceases to surprise and amaze me that God would use a group of guys like us to help accomplish His purposes at Grace Community Church.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Surprise! - Day 4

I went with the youth group to the Dallas Stars hockey game tonight. There were about 30 of us, and we caravaned to the game in four seperate vehicles. The plan was to get to arena, park in the $10 lot, and walk to the game. Once there, I would go to the ticket counter and get the tickets that we reserved for $10 a pop.

I have known the Vice President of the Stars for a few years now, and I knew he would take good care of us. When we spoke three weeks ago, he said he could get us 30 upper deck tickets for $10 a piece, so I approached the ticket counter with a pretty clear expectation of what we were getting. I told the lady at will call that my name was Steve Hayes, and I had 30 tickets reserved. She handed me an envelope and said, "Thanks for coming, Mr. Hayes. Have fun at the game." I thanked her, began to walk off, and then realized that we hadn't paid for the tickets. I turned back and said, "I don't think we've paid for these yet." She looked at her computer screen, smiled, and said, "It's been taken care of. Have a nice night Mr. Hayes."

Stunned, I opened the envelope to see that my friend, the VP, had sprung for 30 $70 tickets in the lower deck of the arena. Talk about a nice surprise!! I don't have anything deep or illuminating to share about this surprise, but given the fact that we had only recieved about 2/3 of the money for the tickets, this was extremely helpful to our youth budget. All I can say is "Praise the Lord!" Thanks, God, for friends in high places. What a nice surprise.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Surprise - Day 3


David Kistler, Chris Marchbanks and I have been working out every day for about two weeks. I say every day, but usually there are a few days when one or the other of us can't make it. Either way, we are doing a pretty good job of showing up each afternoon for a good sweat-a-thon. David had been, by far, the most consistent of the three, and he is always inspiring and encouraging as he saddles up on the elliptical machine for about 30 minutes of calorie burning.

Today, however, it was just me. I had the run of the place, and it was actually kind of nice. I turned on my itunes playlist and began to elevate my heart rate. Nothing really surprising here except for the fact that, given my terrible physical condition, I can even exercise at all.

I am always surprised, though, at how good exercising makes me feel. Imagine that! You do what is good for you and it actually makes you feel better! Makes me think of the last series we did at church on the book of Proverbs. That book is full of spiritual work outs that, if put into practice, almost always result in good living. Funny how surprising it is that good actions result in good consequences. Why in the world that surprises me is a mystery, but it does.

In a world full of grey areas, it's nice to know that doing good will likely lead to feeling good. As one medical journal recently put it, "you are more likely to act yourself into feeling good than you are to feel yourself into acting good." So true, and so counterintuitively surprising.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Surprise - Day 2


Let me begin by noting that I've heard from several folks at our church who are really wrestling with this whole "Surprise!" thing. Many express trepidation over the idea of asking God to surprise them. I keep hearing the same thing from just about every one I talk to: "I don't want God to surprise me. I've got enough surprises to deal with."

While I certainly understand this concern, I look at surprise in a completely different light. This experiment, to me, is not an attempt to ask God to do something new. Instead, it's an attempt to make us more aware of what God is already doing. God is already surpassingly surprising. He doesn't need our permission to surprise us. What He wants is people who actually take the time to train their eyes and ears to see His surprising activity in all things.

With that clarification in mind, I must report that today was one of those negatively surprising days that none of us enjoy. I woke up at 5:45 and got the kids ready for school. Everyone dressed, everyone fed, everyone's lunch made, and everyone out the door at 6:30. I'm pretty sure I was sleep walking through the entire Hayes morning routine. After Kim and the kids left, I was pretty certain that I was going to struggle through the day. I could just feel the signs.

About 4 years ago I had a really bad incident with what I later found out was an anxiety related episode. Some folks call it a panic attack, but at the time it just felt like I was going to die. Since that horrible occasion, I've consistently struggled with the effects of anxiety. Today was a pretty severe and surprising anxiety struggle.

Even though I've been dealing with this for 4 years, I'm still surprised every time I start to feel the room spinning, numbness in my fingertips, and intense light-headedness. It still surprises me that I don't have any better control over myself. More than anything, it's miserably perplexing for an optimist like myself to be overcome by a tidal wave of panic. It just seems so out of place.

At the end of the day, when the panic has finally given way to peace, I always feel like the I've been trapped in a burning building, and just before I pass out from all the smoke, I finally hear the distant sound of sirens. When I'm calm again, I feel rescued by God. I don't find it at all surprising that God would rescue me, but I am surprised that I spend so much time needing to be rescued. After knowing Him as long I as I have, you'd think I'd quit running into burning buildings!

So, surprise!! I'm a weak, anxiety-riddled sinner! I guess God thinks that every now and then I should be reminded of the fact that I still need to be rescued.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Surprise! - Day 1

Eno's Pizza Tavern by Tilton Lane.
So, I did it. I woke up this morning and asked God to surprise me. It felt risky and a bit scary. It also felt good to just say it. Most of the time when I pray I'm pretty much saying a lot of the same things that I always say. It was good, for once, to pray something different and unusual. Can't wait to see what happens!

My first surprise hit at about Noon when I spoke to Kim on the phone and she reminded me that we had to go to the First Baptist Academy Christmas party that night. Ughhhh. A Christmas party with a bunch of people whom I hardly know. Sounds dreadful. Add to it the fact that attending this Christmas party would be infinitely inconvenient. I was ready to pull the plug on this whole deal. Kim also informed me that there would be a $20 fee to attend. That was all it took to set me off.
"$20! So, let me get this straight. You have to drive home from Dallas, drop the kids off, freshen up, and then you and I have to get in the van and drive all the way back to Dallas to go to a party that we have to pay to attend? It isn't enough that we have to pay for gas and a babysitter? We need to back out of this thing! I'll go, but I'm not going to be happy about it."
We climbed into the van at about 5:30pm. By 6:35, we were lost in Oak Cliff. The directions Kim had been given were a little off, and we were aimlessly touring South Dallas at night. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper.

Somehow, by sheer dumb luck, we managed to navigate our way to the party. It was at a little restaurant called Eno's, and it was nestled in a quaint and beautiful part of South Dallas (the Bishop Arts District). Apparently one of the graduates of Kim's school owns and operates this wonderful Italian tavern. If you have the chance, check this place out. The atmosphere is amazing.

We entered the party and enjoyed some really good pizza, pasta, and - get this - they had root beer on tap! After our meal, everyone got a root beer float, and it was heavenly. We sat with the head basketball coach at Kim's school, and he was a delightful person. We talked for at least an hour and a half, and he told me all about his hometown of Roswell, New Mexico. Yep, Roswell is where all those supposed alien sightings occurred. Supposedly the governement has some secret alien laboratory hidden in the Roswell area. Urban legend? Depends on if you like The X-files or not!

Anyway, God managed to surprise me in spite of my horrible attitude. He showed me that long, irritating, inconvenient journeys sometimes lead you to the best, most enjoyable surprises. Isn't that the whole lesson of the Israelites journey to the promised land? I guess sometimes you have to wait to judge the journey until you've reached the destination.

Can't wait to see what happens tomorrow!!