I’m already on record with thoroughly researched and documented evidence that my wife, Rachel, is ridiculously amazing. She has a fully stocked art, craft and science experiment center parked in our kitchen...and bedroom...and closet...and in corners of the bathroom...and in the storage unit... She’s way to hard on herself, often feeling like she’s missed opportunities or hasn’t done enough with one of the kids. But the truth is, and I know I’m biased (which doesn’t mean that I’m wrong), she is both naturally and intentionally awesome. Hardly a day goes by that she doesn’t come up with some creative way to teach something. A couple years ago while at the park, Rachel and the boys saw a family catching something in the creek (its VERY shallow and perfect for stomping around in). Rachel asked what they were doing - “We’re catching tadpoles!” That was all it took. Rachel got some tupperware from the house and off they went to catch these little metamorphosis science lessons. Well, that first round was fun...but most of the tadpoles morphed into...dead tadpoles. Not to worry. She did some research and last spring they tried it again with much better success. We actually raised several little frogs in a fish bowl and then turned them loose in our creek behind the house. The boys learned a lot about biology, ecosystems, caring for animals...but I think Rachel and I were at least as mesmerized as the boys.
Today was the third annual Tadpole Extravaganza.
We currently have about 30 little creatures living in a fish tank by the kitchen window.
We’d only been at the creek a few minutes when other kids, and then their parents started coming by wanting to know what was going on. So we shared our sophisticated amphibian collection devices (dixie cups) and invited them to join us. Several kids jumped in and added their catches to our bucket. But one family, after a brief conversation with Rachel and I, got a large bottle from their car and started their own collection for home.
There was only one little girl who didn’t catch a single tadpole - the one who didn’t want to get her feet wet. It’s difficult to catch tadpoles without getting in the water. (And yes, that statement has multiple levels of meaning...more on that momentarily.) However, there were a few times the “new kids” got frustrated that their “slap-the-water-with a cup” technique didn’t yield many catches. So I’d say, “Hey, wanna see how I do it?” I’d model my craft, then watch them try it once or twice and then I’d wander off. Sure enough a few minutes later: “Hey! I got one!” The best part was that after a few catches, most of them tweaked the process to suit their own latent skills and they began catching even more. We didn’t set out to teach anybody about our home science experiments...but tonight a couple kids and their parents are looking at their own tadpole farm, simply because we shared our experience. And really, that pretty much sums up the missional-incarnational life. We simply live our faith out in the open, trusting that God is willing and able to bring us into contact with others. Of course, we have to be willing to share what we’ve learned and also be ready to learn from others. You don’t have to walk up to strangers and begin grilling them about their sinfulness - or even tell them they need to catch tadpoles. People are often so genuinely shocked and excited to see someone doing it, they're naturally attracted to what they see.
When we commit to actually living where we already live,
we begin to see things that we missed before.
At one point today I began walking up the creek looking for actual frogs. I came to a section that had not been disturbed by the pitter-patter of dirty little feet. As I looked at the water I could tell it was moving more swiftly - actually, because it was more shallow, I could just see the current better. I noticed some plant life and the rocks along the bottom. But at first I didn’t notice anything else. I stopped for a moment and looked more closely, then I saw one tadpole - just one. That was when the curtain pulled back. The moment my vision adjusted to that one little critter, I suddenly realized they were everywhere. There were WAY more tadpoles in this part of the creek. The weird thing was that I’d been looking at these things all day and I still needed a moment to readjust when I moved to a new area. And yet, once I saw them it was impossible NOT to - seriously, they were everywhere. At first we may have no idea what engaging God’s mission in our neighborhood looks like. And in all honesty, I think too many of us never stick with it long enough to allow our vision to adjust. Sometimes we need another person to model this way of life for us (and then get out of our way so we can give it a shot) - think about the Ethiopian eunuch's response to Phillip's question of whether or not he understood what he was reading: "How can I unless someone explains it to me?"
But other times, all we really need is to slow down long enough to see what we didn't see when we first saw what we thought we saw.
Of course, those of you who know me well are aware that I love metaphors...I will play with them until I’ve completely destroyed them. At the risk of over-extending this one, the presence of tadpoles themselves seems very significant. This summer was the hottest on record - with so many days over 100 degrees that it actually got too hot to swim. Along with the heat came a terrible drought. Our little creek was bone-dry for months. And then in the past couple months we’ve gotten a lot of rain - several times flooding the creeks. Neither of these scenarios seem all that conducive to producing fragile critterlings. And yet, even in the midst of hardship, life finds a way (didn’t they say something like that in Jurassic Park?) I agree with Dan Bouchelle’s recent blog post where he challenged us to reconsider what constitutes a “receptive” location where the gospel is concerned. His claim, based on Jesus’ instructions to the disciples in Luke 10, is that a context is considered receptive if there is one family that shows hospitality and openness. Don’t assume that the place where you already live, whether due to drought or flood, is not ready to support life. It may take a few moments to adjust, but I’m guessing that if you look deeply, you’ll find a perfect context for engaging God’s mission right below the surface.