by Tim Pauls
On Dec. 1, 2015, Travis Yenor — one of the tallest acolytes our parish has ever known — signed his letter of commitment to play college basketball. It was a first at his small school—a big deal to a close-knit community, and the ceremony in the library was crowded with family, friends, teachers and students. Past coaches were invited to speak, as was his future college coach who had flown in for the occasion. Travis himself said a few words, many of which were thanks to all sorts of people for their help and support through the years—coaches, teachers, friends, teammates and others. He somehow neglected to include his pastor and the brilliant confirmation instruction he had received, but I charitably attribute this to the adrenaline of the moment.
He did remember to thank his parents, and it was the way he did it that caught my attention. He thanked his mom for the hundreds of peanut butter sandwiches made in haste before and after practices, and he thanked his dad for the thousands of rebounds, morning and evening, as he relentlessly practiced his outside jumper.
Eighteen years of parenting, reduced to peanut butter sandwiches and rebounds.
I thought it was awesome. Hopefully you do too.
I sometimes say that parenting is 1% Disneyland, 1% tragedy (inevitably) and 98% ordinary days. It’s almost entirely family meals and doing chores, packing lunches, brushing teeth, homework, laughing at the dog, devotions, prayers and story time. In other words, children aren’t formed into mature adults by the occasional special vacation, nor hopefully by intermittent heartbreak. They’re best shaped by the normal days of families doing what families ordinarily do. Having been a dad for a while now, I’m comforted that life in our household is one of blessed predictability and stability. Some might categorize life around the Pauls house as, well, boring, but constantly changing households make for unstable childhoods.
In other words, while Travis is a talented power forward, the reason he’s off to play college ball has a ton to do with peanut butter sandwiches and rebounds.
In the course of small talk as a pastor, I often get the question, “So, what’s new around church?” The question can baffle me. Sometimes, it’s just an inquiry about who’s doing what in the congregation. Sometimes, it’s asked with the expectation that we should always be changing, always doing something new. But a congregation is the family of God in a certain place; and as God ordered families to run in ordinary ways, so also He orders congregations. Born into the family by Holy Baptism, Christians mature in faith by a diet of Word and Supper. We have our share of celebrations and times of mourning too; but it’s not big events, once-in-a-lifetime experiences or constant innovations that make a congregation alive. Jesus does, present in His means of grace — those same blessed, predictable means of grace, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.
What’s new at church? Thankfully, very little; the crucified and risen Lord keeps gathering His people to forgive them and strengthen their faith. He never describes Himself as exciting in Scripture, but He does declare Himself faithful. To the innovating Corinthians, He advised through Paul that “all things should be done decently and in good order” (1 Cor. 14:40). His fidelity and the ordinary serve His people well, as the most extraordinary gifts are given in the most ordinary of ways and means.