I assume that as I grow older this day will take on some significance. At this point in my life, it simply reminds me of what theologians call the tension between the “already and the not yet.” In a way, this day marks a day in which my daughter, Amanda, has really grown up. Of course, this growing up was begun and completed some time ago in her life of faith, but today marks one of those milestones upon which I will look fondly in the years to come.
To take a step back, Amanda came to me some months ago. She had returned from an academic reward that cost us (and her Grandpa George and Grandma Elaine) some significant funds. She had received an e-mail about an unplanned mission trip to Tanzania. Naturally, she came and asked dad if she could try and go. Being a priest with seven kids paid the minimum for the diocese of Iowa, I responded in typical fashion. Bills and tuition needed to be paid, other kids needed shoes and clothes—there simply was not enough money. If she had been a few weeks earlier, I could have given her the choice of the conference or the Mission Trip, but the money was all spent. I did not notice her dejection as she walked away.
The next day, Amanda returned with a question: could she try and act like a “real” missionary and raise the funds herself? She wanted to write a letter, do some fundraisers, the “works.” Now, I serve an amazing congregation. By and large we are a very healthy parish. We might seem a bit intrusive for those that are new, but it is only because most care a lot about those to whom God has called them to minister. This is probably best expressed in their giving. Few in the parish do not give sacrificially. Of the few that do not give sacrificially, some of them “just tithe.” Knowing this, I had to be honest with Amanda. There was no way that would happen. There simply were not enough resources available in the parish. Not to be deterred, Amanda asked if she could send the letter out to the parents of her friends from school? I responded in the typical, making economic sense manner. “Have you not heard about this recession? Besides, why would non-Christians ever give you money to help evangelize?” She had no answer, but she was not going to give up.
A couple days later, she brought me the letter. She had crafted a missionary letter asking for financial support. The letter described how the previous trip to Tanzania had made her feel, what she wanted to do, and, most importantly, how she felt that God was calling her to this ministry. It is not very often as a parent that I like having my own words thrown back into my face, but, thankfully, I am also a priest. When people preach my own sermons at me, I am often doubly-blessed. Not only does the mini-sermon often get me out of my particular funk, but it reminds me that people sometimes do listen to my sermons on Sundays. Amanda, of course, hears and sees a sermon all the time. Talk about inwardly digesting it.
Naturally, I apologized to Amanda for failing her both as her priest and as her father. Clearly, something important had happened to her in her prior trip to Tanzania. Because I was not there, I had missed the subtle signs. But, when she needed to break out the metaphorical hammer and knock some sense in me, she did! One of the two people in the world that should have been supportive of her no matter what, her father, had failed her terribly. Worse, her priest had failed her. Clearly, she was experiencing some sort of call. As we talked further, I was not sure that this was it. I actually pondered whether she had glimpsed a vision of her future life’s work and was simply confused as to the time. I spelled out the obvious challenges, but I told her to put out the letter and share her story. Amanda replied that she knew it was going to happen. This was something God was calling her to do, and He makes all things possible.
As I reflected on the events of those few days with my wife later, I learned that I had not only been unsupportive but gruff in my dealings with my daughter. Thankfully, Karen had been a far better parent than I. She had encouraged Amanda to keep nagging and to write the letter. Karen had been nearly ready to kill me for crushing a spark in our daughter, but her support had served to fan the flames in Amanda’s call. But rather than step in, she had let Amanda fight her own battle and assert her own thoughts about the trip.
Some $2500 later, some countless prayers later, we received the call that she was in Dulles waiting for her trip to Dar. She wanted to say goodbye to everyone before she left. Unspoken, of course, were the fears. Before this all started, Osama bin Laden was alive. Now, threat levels around the world have changed. And Americans in Dar Es Salaam have been targeted before. Not a few parishioners have journeyed into my office since his death wondering if we had thought this all through. The parishioners whom I serve often amaze me. Imagine the difficulty some had in coming to ask me if I had considered that she might be the victim of a terrorist attack while abroad. What if had not? What if I had? And though some fumbled, all spoke from the heart. Their concern for Amanda and for me and for Karen was amazing. What if . . . ?
Truthfully, I cannot say that I am too worried by the what if’s. Though Karen and I gave, for us, some significant funds to make this happen, we can rest in that peace that passes all understanding that His sovereign hand was at work in all of this. Had He not lit the spark, had He not fanned the flame, had He not given her the words – this would not have happened for Amanda. So if she journeys there and meets her death as a martyr, I will trust in His grace to carry us through. This is not the end He has in mind, but He will overcome all efforts to thwart His will. No one and no thing will separate her from His love nor, in the end, separate us in His love. The same God who provided for this will provide for our eternal needs as well, of that I am certain. I can only hope, as I have reflected on that possibility with some of the more determined of my flock, that I can testify to that kind of provision and that kind of promise in the anthem of a burial in a way that honors Scott & Sarah, Bryan & Lisa, and so many of our friends and colleagues who have been asked to walk that terrible path before. . .
But that, of course, is to dwell on the negative possibility. My expectations are far more joyous. I keep asking myself “what were the odds this would happen?” How many $20, $25, and $50 checks did it take? How many hearts were moved to make this trip possible? How many non-Christians, like the Egyptians during the Exodus, gave for some reason even they do not understand to help further God’s plan? And so I look to her trip with expectant eyes. What in the world does He have planned that would require her presence half a world away?! What divine appointment, what word has she been called to speak that glorifies Him or brings the dead back to life? Will she be causing rejoicing in heaven? The possibilities are as endless as His love and His provision.
During each Celebration of New Ministry, the newly appointed minister kneels in front of the new congregation and says aloud the words “I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; yet You have called Your servant to stand in Your house, and to serve at Your altar. To You and to Your service I devote myself, body, soul, and spirit. . . Make me an instrument of Your salvation for the people entrusted to my care . . .” Every now and then He grants us the opportunity to see how we are being used. Whoever first wrote that prayer certainly understood their need for His grace in their life. As we laid hands on Amanda and prepared to send her off last week, those words appeared blazoned before my eyes. Though I am often moved by such sending services (I know the worries and fears of the loved ones left behind whether the one sent is going to war, going to college, or simply transferring with a job), I was reminded of how truly blessed I am. Truth was, I could barely say a prayer. He has kept His covenant with my next generation and has begun already to use them for His glory. Would that all of us who are mothers and fathers, grandparents and great grandparents live to see such hope and such promise! Would that we would all remember that our chief responsibility when children are placed by Him in our care is to teach them to love and follow Him wherever He leads—even when He leads them to do things we think are impossible!