June 19, 2013

A (very) Belated Thank You

A letter from a former Vox musician, Travis Jeffords.  Travis is now a worship pastor at First United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Indiana.

Part 1
“were just a million little God’s causing rainstorms
turning every good thing to rust”

I’ve always been a little bit of a brat.

Growing up I had (and still have) two amazing parents. They fed me nutritious meals, clothed me, helped me with homework, wiped my butt, cleaned up vomit, took me to the doctor, and were basically my chauffeurs until I was 16 and could drive myself around. I was very involved in sports growing up. I remember many Saturdays where I would have two games, for two different sports, in two different locations. They would wake me up, put me in my soccer uniform, drive me to the game, watch the game, put me in the car, feed me, bring my basketball uniform with them so could change into it in the car, drive me to the basketball court, watch that game, drive me home, feed me, wash my clothes, and do it all again the next weekend. And the weekend after that. And the weekend after that.

And I was a total brat about it! I don’t know if I ever thanked them for all they did (I should probably call them and tell them thank you…or at least send them a link to this article). In my mind, they did all of this because I AM AWESOME. Of course they want to drive me around, of course they want to feed me. It’s what I deserve! It’s what I’m entitled to! And basically they’d be crappy parents if they weren’t running themselves ragged so I can go 1-for-10 from the field in rec. basketball.

Like I said…pretty bratty.

Years later, when I was older (but not necessarily any more grown up), I stumbled upon an amazing faith community called Liquid (which would later be transfigured into Vox Veniae). They gave me an opportunity to be a part of their worship team…to experience the deep sense of purpose and joy that only comes from serving others. But there were many times when I carried that same self-centered brattiness with me. Yes – I was helping to lead worship. Yes – I was giving my time and talent to God. Yes – I was getting up on Sunday mornings at 6am when most college students wouldn’t wake up for another six or seven hours. But, I’ll be honest, it was still all about me. I would groan and roll my eyes to Angell when we were playing a song I didn’t think was cool enough. I’d call Harmon and cancel at the last minute because I hadn’t bothered to check my schedule. I relished every compliment that came my way, and ignored any comment by Angell or Harmon that could have instilled that wonderful virtue known as Humility. I was helping in the church, there was the illusion that I was serving…and well, I guess I was, but it was me that I was serving.

Fast-forward several years again and I found myself in Bloomington, IN with my wife Ashlee (a beautiful selfless woman who has taught me so much about what it means to serve out of compassion and love for others)…and suddenly I’m a worship leader for a church. I’m the new Harmon! The new Angell! It’s something I had often dreamed about:

Wouldn’t it be cool if I was in charge?
Wouldn’t it be great if I got to pick all the songs and we only sang the ones I liked most?
Things would be so much better then, right?!

And it was great! And it was fun! And then the phone calls started coming in on Saturday night: “Oh wait, sorry, I can’t make it anymore, something came up”. And then the grumbling started about what songs we were playing. And then people were refusing to play if someone else they didn’t like was going to be on the platform. I was so frustrated! The nerve of these people! Life would be so much easier if they would just check their schedule, if they would just learn their parts before practice! If they would just stop complaining!

I’m comforted (and also saddened) by the fact that I’m not the only brat around. Apparently there have been enough of us that Jesus felt the need to bring it up. He tells a story (in Matthew 18) about a man who owed a king a huge debt. Like, the largest debt you can easily describe – lets say a billion trillion dollars. And then, the king forgives his debt. Completely. So what does that man do? He goes out and finds someone who owes him a couple hundred bucks and demands he get paid back what he’s owed! The king finds out what’s going on and is NOT happy. Would you be?

Part 2
“with my lightning bolts a glowing
I can see where I am going”

Three years ago I was busy waiting tables when I got a text message on my phone. It was short. I think it just said, ‘It’s happening!’. I’d been waiting for this text for weeks. I finished out my shift – which dragged on for hours, jumped into the car, and headed straight to Chicago – stopping only long enough to buy a nice bottle of bourbon as a gift. I finally got to the hospital and Ashlee was already there, having gone on ahead of me. She met me at the sliding glass doors with tears in her eyes and guided me through a maze of hallways and elevators until we came to a small room, no different from any other room in the hospital. We tapped quietly on the door, tip-toed in, and there he was. A tiny boy wrapped tightly in a white blanket, and wearing a light blue ski cap. He was so small.

My brother-in-law looked up. “Hey Uncle Travis.”

And then there were tears in my eyes too.

And I knew in that moment, I would do anything for my nephew. It didn’t matter who he would turn out to be…what he would be like, how difficult he might become later in life, what president he would vote for, what job he would have, what mistakes he would make…I knew that I loved him…not because he did anything he did, but just because he Was. Because he Is. And there was nothing he could say or do to stop me from feeling that way. I would have given my life for him in that moment. I still would.

And maybe this was the lesson that my parents, and Angell, and Harmon have been trying to teach me all those years…a message that somehow went over my head only to be buried and planted deep in my heart. A message that is just now beginning to grow and to blossom…
Maybe people didn’t put up with me for years because I was so awesome (because it turns out, I was definitely not always awesome), but just because…

God loves the Church. It’s referred to again and again as the Bride of Christ. Somehow He loves this imperfect gathering of messed-up people with such commitment and intimacy that He uses language of two lovers giving their lives to one another to illustrate it. Despite all our collective brattiness, despite our continued insistence on confusing worshipping God with worshipping ourselves…God still loves the church. Just because He does. And He invites us to love it too.

He invites us to put up with the occasional crap, and the phone calls, and the complacency, and the self-serving because we love God, and the Church so much that it’s worth it…and because we’ve been forgiven for our brattiness so many times that it is a joy to begin to breathe forgiveness and grace into the another’s life instead of making them pay up on their perceived debts. It becomes a joy to give a small glimpse of what Love looks like in the flesh – when it’s lived out – when it’s messy and complicated. It becomes a joy to love in a way that humbly points towards the Lover of all things. And I have God, and the Vox community to thank for patiently pointing me towards that Lover.

[You can read more by Travis on his blog, TravisJeffords.com]

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