One Day

One of the few books I read from high school that still appeals to me is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. As I began writing this post, One Day… came to mind and I decided to write about the entirety of the day. It’s a slow build till the impetus behind writing the post.

This post is over 5,500 words. It touches on faith, family, work, life and death, ministry, Omaha, the church and LGBT community, hobbies, service, and more. There’s more that could be said, but I’ve kept it to this.

Thursday May 15, 2014

The day starts off innocuous enough. I’m up early which isn’t unusual. I’m more of a morning person than Jana. I head down to the living room to read and pray for a bit. I read Proverbs 15 and Psalms 7 through 9. At some point during my reading, I’m joined by Duncan and Gideon. They sit on either side of me as I read. Gideon wants to draw Emmet (from The LEGO Movie) in my Bible again. I ask them if they have any prayer requests and they share with me. I pray for their requests, and I pray for them as well. From the couch where we sit, we look out the windows to our neighborhood. The sky is changing colors, and we can hear the birds. Duncan asks about playing Minecraft or reading some “Mouse Guard” comics.

I start to get ready for the workday. The boys never want me to go. Almost every day they make the plea for me to stay home. I smile. I never tire of the plea, and the ensuing conversations as to why I go to work. They also know the next day, Friday, is my day off and I’ll be home. “Can we play iPad then?”

Once in the office, I read and check Twitter. I come across a good story, by Dirk Chatelain, about the day’s soccer match between Omaha South and Omaha Creighton Prep. A few minutes later, I post a prayer request update on my social media. On Mondays and Thursdays, I ask people for their prayer requests so I can pray for/with them. I try and do it first thing in the morning so I can respond throughout the day. With the prayer request posted, I head of to staff prayer.

Every Thursday morning we have staff prayer. I’m grateful for the time we have to pray for various things going in the church, community, around the world, and with our own lives. I usually get there a few minutes early to get some tea to drink, and to scope out a table for prayer. Lately, Paul Gedden is there before me so I’ve been sitting with him. I sit down with him again and we start talking work and life. Paul’s prayer team faithfully prays for the Online Campus. I can only imagine the impact those “dear saints” have had in and through the Online Campus via their prayers.

8:30 comes and goes and people slowly fill in the tables. Tim is setting up his iPad with the projector to make a Price of Life presentation. While waiting on people to come in and sit down, he plays a Boggle variation through his iPad for everyone in the room. The people present are shouting out words. I see the letters N-P-R-O together and shout out “porn”. People laugh. The expected teasing comment of, “You would see that” is said soon after. I laugh and respond, “What do you expect from a former addict?” We’re having fun.

Staff prayer goes well. At the end of prayer we take some time to honor two staff members: Lisa Brown and Steve Yost. Lisa is finishing up her time on staff as the Director of Women’s Ministry. My wife Jana has had a number of interactions with her over the years through the MOPS Ministry and Thrive. We share and pray for Lisa. Then, Steve comes forward. Steve is celebrating his 25th work anniversary. When I first started attending in 2004, the church made a big deal in the service about his 15th work anniversary. The average length of stay for a staff at any megachurch is 1.5 years. CCC does better than that with an average stay of 3 years. 25 years? That’s the longest staff tenure since CCC’s founder R.R. Brown. I’ve worked with Steve on quite a few projects. He’s faithful with his work, but more so he is excellent at it.

Before we leave we also share “wins”. People sharing various good things going on in and through their ministries, teams, or lives. One cool thing we hear about is the recent “Heaven is for Real” event. KGBI/The Fish hosted it at CCC, and seventy-five people responded they made a decision to follow Jesus at the event. This is great to hear. CCC caught some flak for hosting the event, so it’s good to hear about lives being transformed because of the event. Over 400 people requested prayer as well at the event. CCC gets to follow-up with all these people, which is cool.

After staff prayer, I head back to the office. Thursdays I facilitate a team that responds to on-call pastoral requests and hospital visitations. I send out an email to the team and let them know about the day’s schedule and the hospital visitations. Once I get that email out, I meet with Jordan Johnson to go over the upcoming Online Campus services and any projects we are working on.

I sit down with Jordan when I’m paged by our receptionist, Merna Abernathy. An on-call pastoral phone call has come in and she asks if I’m available to take it. I say I am and she sends it through. It’s from someone who attended the recent “Heaven is for Real” event at Christ Community Church.  Someone from the church had called and followed up with them. They had requested prayer for their spouse who had an abortion years earlier. Attending the “Heaven is for Real” event really affected them when they heard Colton’s story of seeing his sister who died when Colton’s mom had a miscarriage. I listened a lot, shared some, and then we prayed for the spouse and the situation.

Jordan and I were then able to meet. We discussed the current Heaven series, which both of us had been pleased with. We looked at the upcoming weeks with the Online Campus, and some potential video projects. Road Trip is a new series starting in June where we may be capturing some different stories. There are also some updates with the ICON building where we may need to do some work. The meeting provides Jordan and I the opportunity to talk through everything and make sure we are on the same page going forward. It’s also the last time (usually) we’ll touch base about the upcoming Sunday service. We feel good about things, so we pray for the services and get to work.

I’m outside my office when I hear my office phone ringing. I’m in the middle of something, so I don’t answer it. I figured if it was a pastoral call I would’ve been paged first. A few minutes later, I see I have a voicemail. I listen to it. “My name is Chaplain Carol and I’m at Lakeside Hospital. We have a family here whose loved one is in the emergency room. They all attend Christ Community. It’s a forty-six year old women who is coded and they are going to be calling her time of death in ten minutes. The family has requested someone from the church to come up here to minister to the family.”

The voicemail keeps going, but I quickly grab pen and paper to get the chaplain’s number. I head to the Atrium to call the chaplain back. She answers right away and tells me the name. Rhonda Sharp. I almost don’t believe it at first. I don’t know Rhonda well, but I know her family’s story. Her 11-year old son Evan had died two and a half years earlier after a long fight with brain cancer. The family had been strong throughout Evan’s fight, and honored his life in the aftermath.

I’m staggered by another tragedy happening to the family, but I have to respond. I tell Carol that I’m on my way and hang up. I check with Paul Gedden to see if he can come with me, but he has to go to a different hospital emergency room where someone needs ministering. Paul and I are trying to think of who on staff might know the family well and we land on Wendell Nelson. Wendell is in a Management Team meeting so I text him the news, still not quite believing it as I text it.

I then head over to the main offices to see if Steve Yost is available to go with me. He’s in his office and I tell him the news. His response is the same as mine. Wendell comes into the main offices asking about the text.  I tell Steve, Wendell, and Sandy Carroll about it. Steve says he’ll come up with me. He has worked with Rhonda since she is a part of the Connections worship team.

I offer to drive, so I get my van and drive around front to pick up Steve. He gets in, and we head out to Lakeside. We’re still processing the news. Steve mentions the last conversation he had with Rhonda was at a Connections Worship Team rehearsal, and in it she mentioned she was going in for some cardiology tests soon. We’re still shaking our heads because of her age and Evan’s death. Steve tells me she went through a divorce recently as well. It’s a lot, and we can only speculate how it all affected her. Not to mention how it affected her sons. As someone whose parents divorced when I was a kid, it’s a point of connection.

I call Steve Walters as we head out to Lakeside. Steve W is a friend, but also a pastoral mentor in many ways. He had a lot of connections with people in the church when he worked there, and I want to see if he knew the Sharps. He answers, and I have him on speaker so Steve Y and I can both hear. It’s good to hear Steve W’s voice. Unfortunately, he didn’t have contact with the Sharp family. We talk through a few things, and he says he’ll be praying for us.

Steve Y and I arrive at Lakeside. Before we head in we pray for the family and friends, we pray for the situation, we pray for wisdom with what and how to speak, listen and act, and we pray for God to work in and through us. Amen. We head into the Emergency Room.

The room is flooded with people, and I don’t recognize anyone. Lots of emotion is apparent. Instantly, I’m thinking, “Where do I start? What do I do?” I go up to the receptionist and say we are pastors from Christ Community Church, and a family member comes over to us. She offers to take one of us back to the room where one of the sons is. Steve recognizes someone in the waiting area, so he stays and I head back into the ER.

As I go through the doors, at the end of the hallway I see two people sitting in chairs outside a curtained off room. It’s one of Rhonda’s sons, and her ex-husband. I come up next to the chairs, introduce myself, and kneel down next to her son. As we make eye contact I realize something. It doesn’t matter that I’ve never met or talked to either of these individuals. Because of my title, I am a reflection of Jesus to them in this moment. The light and hope in the midst of darkness, Christ with them as they walk through the “valley of the shadow of death”.

What was shared I will keep private.

Her son and I embrace after talking and praying, and his brother comes in with some other family members. The brothers embrace and I tell the other family members I’ll let them have some space. They thank me, and I begin to walk out of the area.

As I walk out, the chaplain comes up to me and asks if I’m Robert from Christ Community. I say I am, and she thanks me for coming out so quickly. I reply that I’m grateful I could, and that it’s a part of what we do. We talk some more about what happened, and she tells me what has happened behind the scenes. The details help as it makes me more aware of what’s taken place, how it has affected people, and the relational dynamics of the people in attendance. The chaplain is top notch, calm and aware in the midst of the present turmoil. As we talk some more, Rhonda’s fiancee walks over to us. Carol, in an incredibly gracious way, gives respect to the current situation, but also informs him of some of the next steps. I think of how Carol willingly enters into people’s darkest moments to be a guide and hope to them on a daily basis.

I walk back out into the ER waiting room with the fiancee, and look around. More family members and friends have arrived. Steve is there, and we touch base on what has happened so far. Brad Mock and Terry Ebers (High School Pastor and High School Director) enter in the waiting room, and I take them back to Rhonda’s sons. I’m glad they are here, and I’m wondering why I didn’t think to contact them earlier.

The next two hours are a steady stream of conversations and prayers. Again, I don’t want to repeat all that transpired. There were many moments where I looked at it and thought, “Okay, God, that was you working.” One situation was amazing which I’ll share here.

I heard one of Rhonda’s family members asking the receptionist for a directory of church numbers, so I go over to them to see if I can help. I tell the family member I’m with Christ Community Church, but they politely decline my help. “I’m trying to get a hold of my church, but I don’t know the number. I’ve only been going for two weeks.” I tell them I can track down the number if they tell me where they attend. “Lifegate Church.” I ask who they know at Lifegate, and they reply, “Tracy Rice.”

Lifegate, formerly Trinity Interdenominational Church, is another megachurch in Omaha. The church formed in the late 70’s after a split with CCC. In recent years, CCC and Lifegate have reconciled over what took place and become partners in many ventures in the Omaha area. I have never worked with anyone at Lifegate over the years, though. In fact, I’ve only stepped foot inside their building once, and that was for ten minutes when I had to pick something up. I don’t know anyone well who works there, but I have an acquaintance who is on the Lifegate staff. Jordan is getting married in September, and the pastor who is performing the wedding and doing his premarital counseling is Tracy Rice.

I text Jordan, tell him I’m at the ER, and ask for Tracy’s number. He sends it back to me, and I call Tracy. I’ve met Tracy once, but through Jordan I know a bit about him. He doesn’t pick up, so I leave a voicemail saying who I am and explaining the situation. As I’m leaving the voicemail, Rhonda’s family member is there seeing and hearing this take place. Tracy and I play phone tag over the next few minutes, but then we connect. He tells me he is on his way to Lakeside ER. The next thing I know he is walking into the ER, and the family member goes right over to Tracy and starts talking. I’m thanking God.

Some would say it wasn’t that big a deal those dots connected to where Tracy and this family member connected. Two megachurches that partner on projects would know each other well. Perhaps, but I see it as God at work.

The family member leaves Tracy to attend to a meeting, and Tracy comes over to Steve and me. I thank him for coming, and he says it’s no big deal. He’s glad he could, and with his day’s schedule the timing worked perfectly for him to come out. The family member comes over to three of us and starts talking. They are taking things hard. One thing they say is this day isn’t about them. They are concerned about others, but the day’s events weigh heavy on the individual. Tracy says, “You talked to the one guy here who had a connection with me so I could be here with you.” Amen. God is at work in different ways in the midst of the tragedy.

After touching base with some of the family members one more time, Steve and I head out. I have an afternoon commitment at Franklin Elementary which I need to get to. Driving back, Steve and I talk through what just transpired, and guess about the ripple effects with them. We know there will be a big memorial service at the church early next week.

I also realize I’m hungry. I’m craving some Raisin’ Cane’s, but I don’t have time to get anything.

We get back to the church and update numerous staff about the situation and how the family is doing. Some other staff will be following up with the family throughout the day. I pop into my office and realize a few people have requested prayer in response to my social media update earlier in the morning. “Life” is happening for more than one family. I take a few minutes to pray for those requests, and then respond to them on Facebook. After making the rounds, I get back into my van and head to Franklin Elementary. No time for lunch.

I’m still thinking about the morning’s events when I reach Franklin. I meet up with Eric Carpenter outside the school, and we head in. It’s hard to believe it’s now been three school years I’ve been volunteering at Franklin with Partnership 4 Kids. When I first started out, I told Eric about the opportunity since he works with our CCC partnerships in the area. He joined up, and we’ve been doing it ever since.

Today’s event is a celebration of the Franklin students reaching their math, reading, and life skills goals. Coming to these events always encourages me. All the students are excited about achieving their goals and being acknowledged for it. Each time I come here I’m also inspired by the Franklin staff. This team does an amazing job leading and serving students that come from poverty and difficult environments. The passion they exude, and teaching/leading/serving dexterity they display with the students, is something I wish all could see. A tremendous blessing. Principal J.B. and Ms. Yo (OPS Board District 1) are awesome, and the energy they infuse the room with is cool to see. The monotony of some school assemblies from my youth has me envious of the students.

Having been involved at Franklin for three years now, I know a number of the students. Smiles flashed, waving of hands, and hugs. The hope is the little bit we do as volunteers helps the teachers in their daily grind, and encourages the students to do their best.

The celebration ends, and I talk with one of the teachers for almost an hour. I have worked with Mr. David Cumming all three years, but this is his last year teaching at Franklin. He’s getting ready to launch a multi-site campus in North Platte, NE in conjunction with a church in Kearney, NE. We talk life, work, family, students, the future, and more. I’ll miss David, but I’m also excited to see what God does in and through him and his family.

It can be a tough part of the job when in ministry. You work alongside people in various capacities while pursuing a common mission. A bond begins to form. Then they or you move on, and it’s hard to keep those friendships going. You know the call to go elsewhere will be a huge blessing to that community, and you know Heaven awaits to renew friendships, but there is still a loss at times. Part of the fun of going to Franklin was seeing David (as well as the other teachers I helped)!

Off to Aromas Benson now. The Omaha Chamber is having an event there in the evening I’m attending. I had planned to arrive early so I could do some reading and writing, but with the day’s highs and lows I just want to get there and unplug. I pity anyone who asks, “How are you doing?”

Iced latte in hand, I sit down at a table. My brain is all over the place. I go to text Jana and see she has texted me. Never noticed the texts. I text her with what has happened, and she calls me back. She knew Rhonda, having sung with her in the choir and participated in a women’s Bible study with her at the church. I tell her about everything that transpired earlier, and ask how the day is going with her. As she talks I can hear the boys in the background doing their thing. I smile, and I’m grateful. Jana is a loving and faithful parent. She is my best friend.

People are coming into Aroma’s for another event before the Omaha Chamber event. I know a number of the people, and it’d be good to be conversational. That’s probably what I should do as a friend and pastor. I don’t want to though. I’d rather sit at my table and stare at my iPad, but I also don’t want to be a jerk. They don’t know of the day I’ve had, but I also don’t know of what’s going on their lives.

I see an old friend come in, and we embrace. It’s good to see him. A former coworker at CCC, back when I first started working at the church in 2005. We got along well at the time. Some time after he left his role at CCC, he went public that he was gay.

Numerous thoughts come to mind in this moment. I always think of my own interactions with him and wonder if I ever said or did anything that would’ve hurt him. I’ve come a long way since then. That’s not for accolades, but to my shame. I should’ve known better. While blaming the influence of a conservative Christian culture is easy to do, that passes the buck and is an excuse.

Back in 2007-’08 I was going through recovery for my own porn addiction issues, and I was forced to confront the hypocrisy of my own past actions and thoughts as it related to sin and Christianity. I was made aware of my own ignorance, hypocrisy, and prejudice. I was a Pharisee when it came to loving those who were LGBT…putting the law over love. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” was always a nice cover, but it was just empty words. I needed to truly love my neighbor. I needed to be fulfilling Jesus’ hope for his followers to engage the world around us with His grace. Not just His truth. It’s grace and truth together that will truly reflect Jesus to the world around us. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Powerful and humbling. I wish I could go back in time, sit down with myself, and try and talk sense into me about loving our neighbor (and not just the neighbors that believe what I do) in a way that reflects Jesus to the world.

All these thoughts and more flash through my brain. What a day. And it’s only early evening.

Another friend comes up and says hello. He asks how I’m doing, and I say it’s been a crazy day. I could’ve said “fine”, but I normally call people on it when they give me that response. If he wanted to know more, he would follow up and then I’d share more details. “How’s the day been crazy?” “Wow” is all they can say in the aftermath.

This first event is a panel discussion about conferences. Kind of interesting. The previous week was Big Omaha, and it was the first time in the conference’s six-year history that I did not attend. A number of factors went into that choice. As I sat and listened to the panel, I am affirmed with my decision not to attend Big Omaha. I think about my interactions with people in the local entrepreneurial community over the past few years, and wonder what might be next.

The event ends, and then it’s the Omaha Chamber event. The Chamber is holding an Event Draft. People from the community can host a entrepreneurial event in the area, and receive up to $400 from the Chamber for their event. I’m there to put in a plug for the Dream Year Pitch Night event Felicity White and I are hosting at The 402 in August. Ben Arment (Story Conference founder, development strategist) has written “Dream Year”, and will be promoting it throughout August. When he comes to Omaha, Felicity and I will be hosting him.

I briefly met Ben when attending Story last October. I appreciated his humility as we chatted. His quick talks while hosting were more insightful than some of the keynote presentations. Since then, I’ve subscribed to his mailing list and connected with a few others in the Omaha area who have buy-in with Ben’s mission. When Ben first talked about the idea of doing a book promotional tour and seeing if friends could help with coordinating it, I thought it might be cool to have him come through Omaha. I think his message and mission would resonate with a lot of people in the area. So, Felicity and I are working together to coordinate the event, in spite of everything else going on in our lives and respective families! It’ll come together…somehow. I know I need to help Felicity out more with the event, but I can’t right now. I’m disappointed, but I do what I can. Being here at the Chamber event to make the pitch for Dream Year Pitch Night, so we could get upwards of $400 to offset costs, helps out. Doing what I can.

Things go well with sharing about Dream Year Pitch Night. Afterwards, I talk with more people about life, community, and the local startup scene. I’m tired, but it’s good to interact with some of these people since I don’t see them as often as I used to.

As I head out, I see Dusty Reynolds and stop to chat with him. I’m grateful for Dusty’s friendship. We both have seemingly random trajectories that led us to our current positions, but the randomness is an asset with our roles. (Dusty is the Director of Entrepreneurship for the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, and the CEO of Racenote.)

Dusty, and his wife Julia, spent two years in the African nation of Mali. When they returned, I messaged him about getting together. I didn’t know Dusty all that well, but I knew the feeling of trying to integrate in an affluent Western culture after being immersed in an impoverished non-Western culture. I guessed he might be dealing with that transition. He responded right away that he wanted to meet, and a few days later we talked over a HuHot lunch. We clicked. It’s been wonderful having him as a friend, and I’m grateful our work allows our paths to cross more.

Dusty asks about my day, and I tell him it’s been a crazy day. He asks why, and I unpack the day to him. He stands there almost stunned by everything I say. I apologize to him. “No, don’t apologize. I asked how your day went and you told me.” He is trying to process it as well. He knew the story with Rhonda Sharp’s son, Evan, and is shaking his head that Rhonda has now passed away.

We want to talk more, but Dusty has to be available with the event happening. So we make plans to get together soon.

I head out of Aroma’s. It’s after 8 PM. I feel I can start to unwind from the day. I’m not sure if I want to go straight home with the way I feel. Not that I am looking for a coping mechanism, but I want to just have a few minutes to relax. I’m still incredibly hungry. I debate getting some Raisin’ Canes again, but decide against it. I know Jana, and probably Liam and Duncan, are waiting up for me. Bringing food home may not help things as Liam and Duncan get ready for bed.

The drive home from Aroma’s will take me near Dragon’s Lair Comics, so I head there. Wednesday evening they have a number of people there playing role-playing games in the back room. I can meander around the shop and just look at comics and boardgames without being noticed or bothered.

People love comic book movies, but don’t necessarily like the cultural stigma with reading comic books. Some think they’ll be associated as Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons”. I don’t care anymore, but I use to be aware of it. I gave up trying to appease the Conservative Christian/Gospel Police with my hobbies and interests. Sure, liking hunting, golfing, American football, reading obscure books on Reformed theology, quoting political pundits ad nauseam, or something else, might get me accepted more by this crowd, but I don’t like those things. And, if my allegiance to a hobby or interest needs to be on equal footing with Jesus, that’s a joke. There are various factions within the church, and I hope being more open about my interests, or lack of interests, counters the belief you have to behave a certain way to belong.

I pick up some Captain America and G.I. Joe comics, and head home. I listen to Hillsong United as I drive. “Rhythms of Grace“.

Once home, I come upstairs into the living room, and Jana is reading to Liam and Duncan. They are engrossed with the story, but smile and wave as I enter. I go back to the bedroom, put my stuff down, and come back out to the living room to lay down. Once they are done with their story, the boys ask if I can read them some “Mouse Guard”. Of course. They sit on either side of me, and I read them an issue I had just picked up the day before. They are drawn into the story instantly. They ask if I can pick up some more “Mouse Guard”, but I tell them it might be tough since I had to go to three different stores just to find this issue. “I’ll see what I can do, though.” They smile knowingly.

I put the boys to bed. As they lay in bed, and we get ready to do our prayers, they ask me about Rhonda’s family. I tell them a bit about what happened. They ask me a few more questions, and I do my best to answer them. It’s hard enough for adults to grasp what has taken place. The boys seem to understand as best they can. They are sad for her boys, but glad she is in Heaven. They say prayers for her family, and then we pray together.

I come upstairs and it’s finally a chance to completely bare my soul. I fall into bed, and Jana and I just start talking. I unpack everything from the day. It’s not just the tragic, but also the good. It was a day I experienced a little bit of everything. I’m glad Jana is there.

She asks how I felt in the midst of everything that took place in the ER, and I open up about a weird feeling that came over me. “You know, I felt God’s grace. I felt…on. I felt in the moment. I didn’t know anyone, and had no idea what to expect, but I felt I could respond to the situation.” It sounds strange to say, but I felt a rush throughout my time at the ER. Maybe it was just an adrenaline rush, or maybe it was something else. I felt empowered the moment I stepped into the ER. I had no preparation for the situation. I was thrown into the moment. Even then, I had a choice with how I’d respond. Would I embrace it, or not? I embraced it, and I think God helped me throughout it. I would not want a tragic situation to descend on anyone, but that feeling I experienced in the midst of it? It was comforting and made me feel alive. I’ve felt those moments before when fulfilling God’s call. “This is what it’s about.” It’s hard to explain, but I keep saying some variation of it to Jana. The job. The work. The mission. This morning, that’s what it’s about. It’s a reason why I do what I do. Being the proverbial hands and feet of Jesus to a world in need.

As I drift off to sleep I reflect on the entirety of the day. I think of my interaction with Rhonda’s son, and his words reverberate in my brain. I say a prayer for him, and I say a prayer for my family.

I never did eat.

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