Friday, April 8, 2011

Fill My Tank...

I will never forget what Wayne Cordeiro said about filling your tank. He said that the more of yourself you give away, the more time you need to spend filling your tank. Without that you will burn out in short order. I would like to say that's what I'm going to write about today, but it's not. I did take a few days this week to fill my tank, and it was great. I haven't done that in a while and I was really starting to feel the effects. The tank I'm about to write about led me to a realization that I had been aware of but hadn't experienced in a long time. Actually, I don't know that I had ever experienced it.

Last week I started watching the 10 day weather forecast because my girls were on spring break this week and were wanting to go camping. I guess I wanted to, also, but just couldn't really get into the spirit. I was going to have to set the camper up (we have a pop-up), check for any damage from this winter, flush the water lines, clean it up, load it up, hook it up, and pull it up. I set it up last Saturday and drained the water system. Then I hooked a hose to it to rinse it out and noticed water coming out in the floor...busted I took the cabinet apart (yes, apart), fixed the coupling, and put everything back together.

For the first time since October of 2008, we gathered our groceries, firewood, extra clothes, my coffee maker (you didn't think I was going camping without it, did you?), and lawn chairs...loaded everything in the camper, hooked it to the Explorer and headed out. I had the foresight to stop at Field's Petro and enquire about filling the propane tank, but knew I had half a tank left from the last time we went, and since it was going to cost the same to top it off as it would to fill it completely, I decided to wait.

When we landed at the Canal Campground on beautiful Lake Barkley, we set everything up, I built a campfire, and we all kicked into tank filling mode. We roasted hot dogs and made smores, the girls were playing with some geese in the campground, Steph and I got to catch up a little. It was great. Then the wind started picking up, the sun went down, and the temps dropped...quick. I told Steph, "It's all good, I've got more than enough propane to run some heat for tonight, and if the furnace empties the tank, I've got bottles of propane to cook with. We'll be fine." Yeah, you already know what's coming next, right?

I reached up under our bunk, grabbed the valve on the tank, and it was already on. I hadn't shut it off the last time we all. That was evidently the one thing I didn't actually check. The girls had brought several blankets and pillows, but Steph and I had one quilt, and an afghan (not the Middle Eastern kind, the kind you crochet.) As the night went on, the temperature bottomed out at 40, and we nearly froze.

I woke up at 3:42 in the AM absolutely freezing. I knew all three of my girls would be really cold when they woke up in a few hours, so I went out and stoked the fire back up. That way they could at least get warm when they got up, and that's when it hit me. The wind was still blowing a little, though not as bad as it had been earlier, the campground was quiet, the woods was still, it was colder than a well digger's ankles, I was sitting there huddled by the fire, and thought, "It only got down to 40 degrees tonight and we were freezing. I can't imagine doing this all winter."

You see, our pop up is a nice pop up. My girls' Daddy James told me years and years ago, "Son, if you're going to buy something, buy something someone else will want." So that's what we did. It's not like the pop-ups of 30 or 40 years ago. We have king size beds with memory foam mattresses, A/C, a dining table that actually slides out, indoor toilet, and twice as much room as I remember pop-ups having as a kid. I'm not saying that to brag, just that it hit me, that even on one of the worst nights we have spent together as a family, we still had it so much better than so many people.

As I sat there by the fire at 4:00 in the morning, I realized that I was, at that moment, as close as I've ever been to spending the night the same way most homeless people spend every night. Only not really. I had a camper, a soft bed, a roof to keep me dry, firewood to build a fire with, hot coffee waiting for me, and clean clothes. I just didn't have any heat. I began thinking about all of the people who sleep in tents all winter long. Wait, the ones who have tents are even better off than the majority of homeless people. I couldn't imagine spending that night curled up behind some trash cans somewhere, much less spending a night behind some trash cans or under a bridge, with it 25 degrees, or less, and snowing.

Yet the homeless are one group of people a lot of church folks are more comfortable ignoring. Maybe saying "a lot" is unfair, let's say, "some" instead. Personally, I think it did me some good to spend one night nearly freezing, and I think it would you too. I also think Jesus would throw a holy fit at the way we ignore the least of those around us.

So, now that I've thawed back out, and we've gotten back home, I'm going to start looking for ways to become more involved in a real missional ministry. I don't know what it's going to look like yet, or who it will be with. I have a couple ideas, and even a few contacts. I'm not going to trade a bible study for a meal (that's the way some folks think it should be done), I just want to make a difference. I can't end homelessness or hunger, but I can't do nothing any longer.


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