Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In honor of my dad, a great man

I know, I don't write very often anymore and I just wrote a blog over the weekend. But this one is too long overdue. My dad had (is still in) surgery today. The doctors found a tumor on his neck. What was supposed to be a rather short, minor, out patient surgery has been going on for the last 12 hours and will still be several hours more. They discovered that the tumor was much larger and more aggressive than they had thought. Good news is that they got it all out. Bad news is that there is a longer recovery time than they thought. For some reason (do I really need one?) I felt a strong desire to write this and brag about him for a minute.

This photo was taken on September 11, 1992, the day my adoption was finalized; I was 8 years old. I still remember that day. I remember the gift I was given was a shirt embroidered with my new initials: RDS - Raymond David Smith. Up until this day, my name was Raymond B Keisser, jr.

The man in the suit is my dad, Luther Smith. I remember the first time that I spent time at his house. This family picked me up from a foster home near Kutztown and drove me to their home outside of Allentown. My dad had an old school Apple IIE computer he taught me to use that day. I played this game called Load Runner. Funny what we remember, huh? After several visits and home studies and court dates, I moved in with this family and on the day this photo was taken, I was officially part of their family.

It wasn't always easy. I told both of my new parents, especially my dad, nearly every day that I hated them. I was jerk. A hurt and wounded, frightened jerk. I always pushed my dad. I wanted to know how long until he would kick me out. I never lived in one home more than a few months at a time and I had trouble understanding that this was now permanent. He never stopped loving me though. He never kicked me out. Instead, he did what I always wanted from my birth dad. He took me outside and taught me to throw a ball. I remember when he brought home a bike and taught me to ride. He taught me to swim. He took me camping. We watched Star Wars together. Actually, since they were re-released in theaters, I have seen every one of them, as well as all of the Star Trek movies in theater with my dad. I was even home form Kenya on a short visit when the last Star Trek came out and we saw the movie together just before I got back on a flight. The new Star Wars is out this summer and I recently asked him if we were going. He said yes as if there was even a question about it - there wasn't in my mind!

I remember my biological uncle (on my dad's side, my Uncle Joe on my mom's side is amazing! - another post for another day) taking me to fly a kite one day. I had no idea what to I was doing. It got caught in a tree. I got a huge beating for that. And no more kite. My father (Luther) took me to fly a kite. We went to a big open field and he showed me how to do it. We took a giant foam airplane too. One year he made me a bow and arrow set. He even taught me to sneak around the house (with the bow) like an Indian. The same uncle as the one with the kite tripped over what he said was one f my toys and ended up on crutches. Same result as the kite. Throwing a ball (okay, it was a golf ball, but still an accident!) in the yard one day I broke a window in the house. I was scared half to death at what my new dad would do. He never even raised his voice about it. Just told me that it was okay. It was just a window and could be replaced.

This one time I remember asking him to pick a favorite son, me or my brother. He wouldn't. I asked him what he would do if someone put a gun to him and told him to pick. His answer was that he would rather die than have a favorite. I was maybe 9 years old when I asked him this and I've never forgotten that serious look on his face. I knew then that he really loved me.

My new parents divorced when I was 10. But dad never stopped showing up. He was always there for me. We took trips together. Went to DC many times. Went camping in Canada a few years in a row. He showed up to most of my band recitals (yeah, I was bando guy!). When my grades were slipping early in high school he sat me down and taught me to be responsible. He taught me a work ethic. I was 16 and wanted this beautiful 23 karat gold Atlanta Braves watch. Mom's answer was to ask dad to buy it for me. His answer was to get in the car with him. We were going for job applications. I got my first job to buy that watch. I learned the value of a dollar because of him. He took me on college visits and helped me fill out applications. Moved me into college many semesters over.

When I left school the first time and worked full time as a camp program director he would come to my house and visit. Or I would go to his house for weekly dinners (and to watch Lost!). He remarried while I was in college. My brother and I were best men at his wedding. And when my step mom passed away a few years ago my dad and I sat in a hospital room and cried together.

My dad and I have a far from perfect relationship. We have times where we argue just like anyone else. But my dad means the world to me. I didn't have a father for the first 8 years of my life. And I wasn't sure that I could trust having one after that. But my father never stopped loving me and caring for me. He's the best damned father I could ask for and I love him.

Thank you dad for all that you've sacrificed and done for me.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Year of Rest

"And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."
Genesis 2:2-3

"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

A little while ago I wrote a post called A year of hell. You can read it here. But I cannot leave it there. This past year has, at the same time, been a year filled with rest. 

Years ago, a few weeks before I left my last job for Kenya, a friend pulled me aside and said some words that have never left me. He said, "Ray, you look like peace". It is one of the nicest compliments that anyone has ever given me. And I felt it too. Every part of me felt peaceful. 7 months before I had made the decision to quit my job of almost 10 years to pursue a life in Kitale, Kenya. While leaving friends and family was difficult the decision itself was one of the easiest I've ever made because of how much peace I had.

Shortly after that comment, I was in Kenya. It started as a 3 month trip that turned into 4 by the time I bought a flight. By month one or two, it turned into a 6 month trip. All the while, I felt that same peace. I don't mean to say that there were no difficult times. There were. I experienced many things that greatly challenged me.  There was extreme poverty. There were death threats. There were times I saw some of the worst in humanity - watching a mother punch her baby in the face several times. Seeing parents put their kids to work on the streets. Yet, through it all there was peace. 

I came home from that 6 months and began raising full time support to go back for a few years. I allowed myself 5 or 6 days a week to have a part time job and hold meetings or plan fundraisers. And I was very protective of that seventh day - my sabbath. I didn't hold meetings. I didn't fundraise. I rested. I read books. I walked. I sat for hours sipping coffee and just being. Through it all, I knew who I was and I took joy in that. 

Eventually, towards the end of my time in Kenya something changed. I stopped taking a sabbath every week. I stopped having my personal quiet time. I took on the identity of "missionary" and yet I wasn't finding joy in the work. I felt only the pressure. I was so busy working for God that I forgot how to live for him. In simple words, I was burned out. That' when the most amazing gift was given to me: I was kicked out of the country. It took me a while to see that as the gift that it was. I came back home and started the journey through one of the hardest years in a long time. In January of last year, I made that painful decision to stop pursuing reentry to Kenya. I sat down with some of the pastors at church and told them I wanted a year of being home. No, I needed a year of being home. I don't know where the wisdom in that came from because it sure wasn't mine! I said that I needed a year to find myself again. A year to not have any big decisions to make. A year of blending into the crowd again. I wanted a year out of the spotlight. To not sit down at a coffee shop and be recognized by anyone as "the Kenya guy". I wanted a year to myself. Not up front anymore. Not leading anything. 

It felt so selfish at first. I mean, I had some good mentors over the years and such an incredible experience and I'm taking a year to basically be alone. Now that that year is down to just a month and a half left, let me tell you something. It was the best decision i made in a long time! And it was far from selfish. I tried to be involved in a ministry this past spring and quickly realized I wasn't ready. I had nothing to offer. I was so broken that I couldn't possibly help others. 

This past year of rest has been hard. Very hard. I've doubted. I've been angry. I've been hurt. And I have allowed all of those feelings, and many others. I haven't ignored them. And in them, I have found that rest again. I am beginning to have that itch to be involved again. I don't plan on moving away, but I plan on being actively involved again. I gave myself until January before fully committing to anything. And I know that when I do, I'll be ready and able to commit myself. This year of rest has been so beautiful. 

Last weekend I was exchanging a phone case at Best Buy when this older man got in line behind me. Right away he started to complain that "the line was too long". I found myself not even caring. I was in no rush. And to be honest, I hadn't even noticed that the line was long. I ended up walking aimlessly around the store for about an hour after. Then, I ended up in another store doing the same thing. That's when it hit me: I've found that peace again. I am far from living it out perfectly. But I can taste it again. And it's oh so sweet a taste.