Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hazell Frow and the joy of being interruptible

My dear Gran, Hazell Frow, went home to be with Jesus last night. She was 94, had lived a full and active life, but had struggled physically after a fall earlier this year. When I saw her for the last time in June she said she was ready to go and was looking forward to heaven.

One of the things I loved about Gran was her honesty. She was nothing if not candid. She told it like she saw it. When I was about 20, and experimenting with long hair, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she was not impressed with the experiment. "What's the long term plan for your hair, Alan?" She was completely right. It didn't look good at all. I think Gran began the Frow tradition of 'clearing the air' which has made for the telling of some inconvenient truth over the years, but I'm grateful to her for that legacy.

I also admired Gran's buoyant, matter-of-fact approach to life. She was thoughtful and generous, but completely unsentimental. She knew how to move on from dissapointment and pain in practical ways. One of her favorite sayings was, "at any rate.." It was a philosophical kind of "oh well, let's not dwell on that," sort of saying that set us all up to look ahead and keep walking. She was not one to indulge in self-pity or regretful melancholy. Her faith in Jesus fortified and propelled her in visible ways.

Knowing it was the last time that I would see her in June this year, I prepared a few 'big life questions' for Gran. I asked them at the dinner table in front of the whole family. Essentially, her secret to a happy life was true to form, given with candid brevity. "Your Grandad and I loved eachother so much but he insisted that I enjoy life after he died. So I listened. I travelled a lot, I got involved in serving my church and had an active social life." Her only regret was not visiting Alaska.
When talking about how to build a happy marriage, she had only two pieces of advice. "We had breakfast together every morning," and then with a twinkle in her eye, "I know it's not meant to be said, but we had a really good sex life." Unforgettable wisdom.

My favorite thing of all about Gran was her Skype calls. They were always brief. In fact Rynelle and I would have a secret competition to see how long we could keep her on the line, because she tended to end them so abruptly after hearing how our family was. So we'd keep firing questions at her so as not to give her space to say, "At any rate, I should go now..." The calls were often at the strangest of times, because Gran didn't really understand time zones, or otherwise just didn't feel the need to adhere to them. For some reason she often skyped me during staff meetings. It was a running joke amongst my staff. "It's Gran!" I would exclaim, and they would always respond with a joyful, "Hi Gran!" We would pass the laptop around so she could say hello to the staff, and we would all have a quick chat. It was a joyful interruption, and I suspect, a powerful application of a strongly held team value. "Have a clear mission but be interruptible."

After all, the mission is about people. Be interruptible like the Good Samaritan. Be interruptible like Jesus and the woman with the issue of blood. Like Paul and the prophetic drama by Agabus. After all, the interruptions of people are often the interruptions of God.

The last Skype conversation I had with Gran was not during staff meeting. It was 11pm at home. I was tired, about to head for bed, and I almost didn't accept the call. I am glad I did. Gran was in an uncommonly chatty mood. I cannot repeat what she said, but in her own unsentimental way, she pronounced a sort of 'Gran's blessing' on me. For once it was me who had no words and wanted to end the conversation abruptly in awkward gratitude. But I treasure those words.

Gran, I am so glad that you are home with Jesus. But I will miss your uncomplicated honesty, your straight forward bouyancy, and your staff meeting interruptions. At any rate.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Carol Wimber and a Century of faith

Most of us suffer from attention deficit syndrome when it comes to God's voice and presence. We're so overstimulated, that even the most profound moment is stifled and forgotten under the layers of our helter-skelter lives, leaving a foggy numbness in our souls. Every now and then though, there are those defining moments when God arrests our attention with compelling clarity. I had one of those moments last week and I've not been able to shake it. I've not known how to write about it either, because it's a sensitive story, which can do more harm than good if clumsily told. Careful wisdom is needed.

I had the privilege of having coffee with Carol Wong, who was married to John Wimber and founded the Fellowship of Vineyard churches towards the end of the 1970's. John died towards the end of the 90's but by then, God's work in the Vineyard had left an indelible mark on the church worldwide - in worship, in healing and the prophetic.

Carol re-married a close family friend who had also been widowed, a number of years after John died. She and her husband Ken live in Yorba Linda. They had recently been invited to Yorba Linda Friends Church's 100th year anniversary. It's a remarkable thing to be able to celebrate a century of Gospel impact. YL Friends has an amazing record of faithfulness, extending as far as India, where they are the largest builder of schools among the Dalit caste in that nation. Like any church though, their tapestry has a few dark strands woven into the stunning pattern of their story. One of those strands was their request at the end of the 70's, that the 12 families holding a bible study in Carl Tuttle's mom's lounge best leave the church. It was a group led by John and Carol Wimber who'd begun to explore intimate worship, saturated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. (more details in Carol's book, "The way it was") It was an intoxicating time for these folks, and uncomfortable for a church more cautious about the charismatic. And so the Vineyard was planted out in fertile soil, but rather messy circumstances.

Sitting in their lounge, Ken and Carol told me how delighted they were, more than 30 years later, to be invited to YL Friends' centenary celebrations,and to be publicly honored as a movement that God had birthed and multiplied. I believe this kingdom gesture will have immense redemptive ripple effects in time to come.

But here's the comment that arrested me. Carol pauses and says,"You know, we had all the miracles but they must have done something right. They've raised amazing sons and daughters, who love and serve God."

It was a statement of honor towards YL Friends, and a humble admission that as people hungry for the power of the Spirit, we've often been guilty of valuing anointing over character. Of suddenlies over slowlies. Of converts over disciples. Of revival now over heritage next.

I don't believe we are called to ignore one at the expense of the other. An expectation of the power of God breaking in now is vital to capture the imagination of the next generation. But I wonder how differently we would live and lead if we thought, "What would this mean in a century's time?" And I wonder how differently our churches would look if we placed as much value on a lifetime of faithful plodding as we did upon one moment of power?