Thursday, February 22, 2007

One Frustrating Night

So I've been slack again in much is happenned, but too much to write about. This is going to be a pretty random post.

So let me reflect about one of the most frustrating nights I've had in a long time.

We had just finished a great week in Oklahoma, doing some marketing for Sky Ranch's camp site in Quapaw called Cave Springs. You could hardly call it marketing though. We were able to meet with some amazing youth pastors and deacons and just talk to them about their ministry and ask how we could help them out. By far the most gratifying and God glorifying marketing I think I could get involved in.

Craziness starts:

We started our 5 hour drive back to Texas at 8pm on a Thursday, because we all had stuff to do that weekend and wanted to get some sleep on Friday. I offered to take the first leg of driving since I hadn't done a lot that week, and was actually looking forward to getting some miles in with the van. Probably should have opted to sleep....

We started out by going to the world's largest McDonalds. Don't ask me why it is in the middle of OK on a turnpike....but it intruiged us so we went. We got friendly with the servers there and got into a bit of a conversation with them. They found out I was Australian, and like many, made several jokes about our humble little know, the usual: kangaroos, crocodiles, Steve Irwin. I never get upset or angry at these. They come so regularly, its now become kind of a challenge to anticipate which joke will come next after they get started.

For some reason that night, however, I was a little disturbed by it. Maybe its because they just started on the jokes before they even introduced themselves. Once again, this never really bothers me, but for some reason it stuck with me a little long, so I made a little effort to stall at the counter and get to know them better. I came to find out that the man that was serving me was gay, which again was no problem to me. But again, it started to really disturb me once he made a couple of borderline comments about Priscilla Queen of the Desert (an Aussie movie), and didgeridoos that made me feel like he was flirting. When we left a lady that worked at McDonald's chased us down and asked me for my phone number, which at first I laughed at (for many reasons), but it later just fuelled the distrubance that was going on in me.

As we started driving off, I just kept reflecting upon what happenned at our "little" stay at the world's largest McDonalds. This only turned my little disturbance into a lot of hatred. I can honestly say that my hatred wasn't directed in any one area; my whole emotional state just felt exactly what it feels like when you hate something. And I couldn't pin-point it at all. It got so frustrating that in a brief moment, I felt the sudden urge to have someone to pray for me. But because everyone in the van was having a fun time and joking with each other and because my heart was stirring so far in the opposite direction....i let the prayer request pass.

What happenned next can be summed up in 4 succinct statements

  • Got a speeding ticket - 73 in a 55

  • Had the headlights automatically turn off while going 65mph on a pitch black highway

  • Ran out of gas (At 12:30 am. Had to wait an hour for a wrecker to come. He wasn't happy)

  • Got home at 4am and smashed a glass candle warmer on the floor. Woke 4 people up.

Was I getting punished by God? Of course not........but it definately felt like it, at least for a brief moment. It was one of those nights where I felt incredibly like Bruce Almighty just after he drove his car into the light post at the beginning of the movie. Maybe God was trying to tell me something, but I have no idea what it was. Maybe it was just a spiritual attack, and I was caught off guard. Maybe it will just make a good story one day. Who knows. Im still baffled by that night.

But one really cool thing happenned today that God must be given ALL the glory for. I called the police department in Oklahoma to inquire about paying for the speeding ticket to get it taken off my record. I'd had a pretty hectic/stressful day up to that point and the last thing I wanted to do was get depressed about how much this ticket was going to cost to get taken off my record. I talked to an older lady whom after I inquired about the ticket asked me in a pretty gruff voice:

"How fast were you going?"

Reluctantly I told her. I asked her what my options were for taking a defensive driving course on the off chance that her gruff voice was just a mask for a heart of gold. How right I was!

"Well normally you would have to see a judge, but you've caught me in a good mood. Just sign the ticket, send in the check, and I'll ammend it for you."

PRAISE GOD!!!! I didn't know such ladies existed in a police department. I kind of feel like driving up to Oklahoma just to give her a hug! She totally made my day and made me forget about the intense morning....

Isn't it great how God works? I've been reading in Philippians how Paul, when in jail, would say stuff like: "but I know that through your prayers and help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happenned to me will turn out for my deliverance" (1:19). I wonder how a guy could remain that positive in jail. Then I realize after experiences like this, he probably wasn't. He was probably mad and frustrated just like me; but he knew, above all those emotional arrows, that God was soveriegn. That He had a plan. Even for a guy in a cell. Even for a guy who had a bad night. That's why He's my Savior.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

God Bless America

Yes....Mike is wearing postcards of Native Aussie animals taped to his shirt, to celebrate Australia Day

One thing I forgot to mention in my last blog was one of the coolest things I experienced since being here in the U.S. As many of my fellow compatriots know, January 26th is Australia Day. It is a day where many Aussies come together to celebrate the discovery of our country by our English forefathers. For Americans, it is a day that closely resembles the celebrations of 4th of July. However, on January 26th, 2007 it was definitely Australia Day at Sky Ranch.

In my 5 year stay here in the US I have done several different things on Australia Day. One year at college I made some sausage rolls and put some vegemite on toast and held an Australia Day party in the lobby of our dorm building. I hired out “Gallipoli” from blockbuster and taught some of the students how to handball a footy. It was great for me to re-live a lot of the Australian culture I had missed over the years. But this didn’t even compare to the experience I had this year, last week.

Brooke Fellows........good on ya!

I had sent out an all staff email a couple of days before informing everyone at work about the day, to which I received some really nice replies with funny jokes about kangaroos and vegemite that I had NEVER heard before! (hehehe just kidding). But I did have many questions about the day and what it was about, and most people seemed fairly interested.

I started formulating ideas in my head about what I should do to celebrate the day. I had worked out that I had enough Aussie apparel that I could get away with being a fair dinkum Aussie without owning an Australian flag. (Lucky my room mate Mike had loaned me a Boxing Kangaroo flag that his Dad had got from Perth many years ago!). With my new iPod, I figured I could walk around all day playing some Men at Work, Australian Crawl and Cold Chisel on my little speaker setup. But I was not prepared for what was to come.

Our leadership director, Dave Schlener had sent me an email saying:
“If you have any guts at all……..I mean AT ALL!!......and have any….repeat ANY…..patriotism…....and the slightest…………repeat SLIGHTEST………leadership potential……… will somehow get Mike and Todd to sing something outrageously Australian over the Sky Ranch pager”

So in fear my credibility….and employment, I went and talked to Todd about the idea. It was him that came up with the CRAZY idea that I should lead the All Staff meeting in a rousing version of the Australian National Anthem….

……to a bunch of Americans that probably don’t know ‘Land Down Under’?? Are you FOR REAL?? Still, it was a great challenge.

Notice Dave with the Aussie lingo tea-towel taped to his chest.

It really didn’t hit me until about 2 minutes before the Legacy Fellows were introduced to the staff that what I was about to do could probably be considered unpatriotic on the part of my unknowing American buddies. As I got them to stand, I tried to console them in the fact that if they just stood there awkwardly and pretended to sing that they would be like any other Aussie singing our anthem.

I had a music track that I was going to play in the background to help the process along, but due to technical difficulties, it failed to play. So now I was leading a group of Americans in a foreign anthem to which they had no music, nor any idea of a melody line.

Thoughts running through my head at this moment:
Wow Brenton, you might have a career in communist brainwashing.
What are these people ever going to think of Australians after this?
Maybe you should just stop and put on that great ‘fake’ American accent you’ve been working on, and reveal that you were born in South Dakota and have just been fooling people for 5 years!
What happened next I will probably never forget…..
Around 50 Americans from many different backgrounds, some Hispanic, all doing their best to belt out an anthem they had never heard, from a country they had probably never visited, just to make an Aussie feel welcome and proud of his country on it’s special day.

It was quite an amazing site

I can’t speak enough to how this is the heart of the people I work with. Ever since I have been here they have done nothing but make me feel a part of the Sky Ranch family. But it speaks to so much more than that…

Yeah....I'm not much of a conductor, but they sure did Australia proud

I’ve just come back to Texas from a road trip to Oklahoma, and had some time to reflect on my experience in the US up to this point. I’ve been an exchange student, a college athlete and graduate, a youth pastor, substitute teacher, Legacy Fellow among many other jobs and positions. I have been given opportunities to travel and interact with some of the most recognized, and impoverished people in the world. Yet being in America has provided me so much more than that…

At every point in my journey I have been met with heart-filled, hospitable and loving people. People, I have been blessed to consider a part of my family. The relationships I have made, and continue to make, are ones that I will not only hold in my heart forever, but will also change and mold me for the rest of my life. Yet there is still something greater at work here…

Everyone knows that the United States of America has copped a lot of flack (criticism) over the years for being many things…….(you fill the blank with the negative). But I think what a lot of the world doesn’t realize, is that the real America is not governmental structure, nor the capitalistic giant, nor the military superpower… is the people.

For so long, so many have stereotyped “Yanks” (as we would call them in Australia), as being arrogant, over-confident, know-it-alls; such a label however cannot be fitting to any corporate body. Many outsiders fail to experience the compassion of the American individual, and the culture which fosters such loyalty and respect.

Just as an example, this week I got to travel with a guy named Jim Franks. Jim is a HUGE Oklahoma University fan (physical size is irrelevant here J). He’s had to deal with a lot of jokes and puns from me the last couple of days because of his OBSESSION with Norman, OK…..home of the Sooners (their mascot, which I’ve been told I’m not allowed to say what that means because it’s somewhat offensive to the fans!?! Work that one out!). We’ve had to stop at 3 different stores at 3 different times to pick up Oklahoma Sooner apparel….once at a Sonic restaurant so he could order a “Sooner Slammer”.

Jimbo in front of his beloved Owen Field

But even after all the jokes, you have to admire a guy like Jim, and people like my roommate Mike, who is a DIE HARD “Farting” Texas Aggie Fan (If you say ‘farting’ with an Aussie accent in East Texas, they totally think you’re saying ‘fighting’!!!). Not just for their loyalty and dedication to their school, but what they stand for. They represent a deep tradition, not one rooted in conformist old-fashioned rules and rituals, but a tradition that grows and changes with each generation: The American Tradition.

Mike and I at ground level (Owen field)

Many will say that the culture and progeny of the American tradition is on a downward spiral with huge corporate companies like MTV holding the reigns. I disagree. Too many times I have seen God’s hand work through incredible individuals. I have seen the face of Christ in many American friends, colleagues and total strangers. It is so evident that God has had His hand in the tradition and culture of this country, molding it and shaping it as time progresses. Everyday, through the people I work with and the people I meet, I am confirmed and assured of this.

Yes this is a Toby Keith Resturant......yes, I had to put up with country music.......yes this could only happen in Oklahoma!

America is a great country; full of opportunity, diversity and experience. You can’t read it in a magazine or periodical, you can’t witness it from a second hand experience or foreign country. You have to get amongst the people and know them. Build a relationship with them, or in many cases, be willing to receive the instant compassion and loyalty that comes from a long standing and active tradition of Godly men and women.

I am proud to be an Australian. But I am just as proud and blessed to have experienced the American culture. To stand in a room and hear an awkward group of folks sing out your anthem on your country’s day not only shows respect on their part, but shows confidence in what they stand for.
God Bless America