Monday, January 23, 2012

On Comfort Zones.

My family and I walked in the front door, after a long conversation in the car with the kids about being on their best behavior. We walked down a long hallway to a central counter. Off to the right, a TV was on, with a couple of people in wheelchairs watching it. I looked around, and EVERYONE was in a wheelchair. The only people walking were in white scrubs…and us. Someone noticed us standing at the counter and said, “Can we help you?” I looked around and almost said no, almost left right then. I was in over my head. What was I thinking bringing my family here? But I replied, “Yeah, we’re here from FBC Muskogee. We’re here to help with the church service. Where is that?” The nurse told us and pointed down another long hallway, where more people in wheelchairs were busily rolling along. I took a deep breath, filled with doubt, but I took that first step, my family followed, and we walked into the room…
This whole thing started several months ago when my brother Brad and I were at lunch with a friend of ours who used to be our Youth Minister and who is now the head pastor at a church in Muskogee. His name is Donnie, and to this day he is one of the people I look to when I need spiritual help.
(Real quick, as an aside, for those of you who don’t want to stick around to read a “Church Post,” I would consider at least reading the italicized parts. This won’t be as churchy as you might think, it’s really more about stepping outside of your comfort zones).
So we were eating with Donnie, and he asks, “How are you guys liking your new church?” Of course, Brad and I had all kinds of answers for that, ranging from “We love it,” to “It’s so great, our Sunday School class is the best!” Donnie takes all that in stride, then cuts to the heart with a simple question. “How are you serving?”
“God, you can’t have meant for us to do this. There isn’t a single person in the room who looks under ninety. They all look so close to death. My children won’t understand this place. These aren’t the friendly elderly people who pinch cheeks and give out candy. These people are dying. They aren’t enjoying these years, this place, their lives. I’m going to call Clint and tell him I can’t do this. If you want me to do this, I need a sign. Tell me I’m supposed to be doing this.” Those were the words in my head as we walked over to the folks that were leading the service this morning and introduced ourselves. They were much older than us, probably by twenty years. It was their first Sunday too, and unlike us, they weren’t given the benefit of seeing someone do a trial run. They were in head first…but they hadn’t brought their kids…
Brad and I both kind of stammered and hem-hawed around with a reply to Donnie’s question, so we moved on to another topic and had a wonderful time avoiding the piercing question. It wasn’t too long after that when the opportunity came for me. I was informed of a “Nursing Home Ministry” that needed people to do a Bible lesson once a month for folks that couldn’t make it to church. I thought about it for a while, prayed about it a bit longer, and finally decided this was going to be the perfect area for me and my family to serve our church. I get along GREAT with older people. Always have. I have this sort of relationship with them that brings out the old school polite and respectful Travis that old people love.
But I had forgotten about those folks in nursing homes.
The gentleman leading the service started out kind of shaky. He introduced themselves, and turns out he’s an ex-Army guy. Meanwhile, when The Missus had taken a seat with the kids, she’d neglected to take my Bible with her. So it’s clear on the other side of the room, and there are at least ten wheelchairs that I have to walk through to get to it. With a very self-conscious attitude, I start that journey. I get back to my seat, which is wicker by the way (the old comedy bit about people who utilize wicker furniture also hate fat people is running through my head) and sit down to listen to the rest of the introduction. About halfway through, a man sitting next to Aven starts to wheel out the door. As he’s leaving, he looks at an orderly and says, “I CAN’T HEAR A WORD HE’S SAYING!” I have never been more embarrassed for a human being than I was at that moment…
So we got it all set up, and I decided that it would be a great idea to take the kids with us on this trip. We’d only be going once a month on the second Sunday of each month, and the service was just forty-five minutes long, so why couldn’t they come? They can sit still that long. Also, don’t old people love kids? Don’t they want them to sit on their laps and tell them stories about how lucky they are because when they were six they had to sign up for the draft and plant gardens for the war effort? This is the attitude I have going into it. That’s my brilliant scientific mind in action. The kids are coming. That is my executive decision. To her credit, if The Missus thought better of it, she didn’t say a word, she just allowed things to happen.
Before we even started the first song, I had made up my mind that we weren’t going to do this. I couldn’t handle the pressure. I was nervous, and I wasn’t even the one up talking this week. All these things weren’t signs for me to do it…all these things were signs that I shouldn’t. 
Last Sunday night, a very good friend of mine was ordained as a deacon in our church. We went to the service that night to support him in his ordination. The kids and I got there a little early, and so Akeeli spent a good portion of her time going through the Baptist Hymnal, which is almost as outdated as the BlackBerry. These days they have the PowerPoint displays and all the songs are choruses, and rarely does an old-school hymn make the cut. But as she was looking through it, I told her, “Turn to number 426. The name of the song should be ‘Victory in Jesus.’ That’s my absolute favorite hymn in the whole world, and when I was kid your age, I used to request it all the time.” She turned to 426, and boom, there it was.
The gentleman finally wrapped up his introduction, and told us we were opening in song. “If you have a hymnal, turn to page 426. We’re going to sing ‘Victory in Jesus.’” What? Could this be? Is this my sign? “But God, I don’t WANT to do this. This is too far outside of my comfort zone. These people are not what I thought of when I agreed to try this. I want out.” But there was no ignoring it. This was what I needed to do. I NEEDED to be out of my comfort zone. I spend too long in my comfort zones, and I learned a long time ago that you can get awful stagnant sitting in a nice house on Comfort Zone Avenue. The Missus was out of her comfort zone, I could tell. The kids were WAY outside of it. But this was right. Somehow…this was where we needed to be. 
About halfway through the service, someone started snoring, and then someone told a story about how she heard the voice of God one day while she was hanging laundry, and she thought it was the Chinese coming to cut her head off. At one point I looked over at The Missus, and she was crying. Later, when Aven asked her why, she explained that those folks “sang like her grandma.” In the end, we wound up helping wheel some of the folks into the lunchroom. My kids met an older lady who tried to talk Aven into staying with her, then proceeded to tell my wife that her dog had gotten stolen last night. She doesn’t have a dog. There were missteps, miscues, and misdirections. But we’ll be back. On the second Sunday of each month for at least the next year, we’ll be back. I can do anything twelve times. It might be outside our comfort zone, but I’m absolutely sure God will show us something through this. 
In my dad’s Bible, and now in the front of mine, there is a quote that simply says, “God does not call the qualified, God qualifies them he calls. A-MEN” I don’t think my dad had the best of grammar, or the best spelling, but when he heard that quote he copied it down in his words, and to me it proves the point. I’m not qualified to be teaching a Sunday School lesson to senior adults in a nursing home. But I have been called. That’s all the assurance I need.
How are you going to step outside your comfort zone this week, this month, or this year? You don’t have to be a baptist, or even a Christian. All you have to be is human. Step outside your zone. Do something new. Don’t stagnate.