Mike Park's Ramblings


sunday afternoon

My routine on Sundays recently has been to come home after second service at New Life, lounge on the couch, and watch NFL football while dozing in and out of consciousness.  It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, and usually a nice break before heading back for the evening worship service.  This was exactly my routine a few days ago, and as I strolled down the street to where I parked my car, it could have easily been an ordinary and almost forgettable Sunday afternoon.

As I got closer to my car, I noticed a guy crouched in front of it, squatting between my Corolla and the SUV parked right in front.  He had long hair, a hat, and really dirty clothes on, and the thought running through my head was, “Great, this ruins the picture-perfect afternoon I was hoping for.”  But then it didn’t take long before I realized two things: First, it wasn’t a guy; it was a woman.  Second, this woman was peeing in front of my car.  Anger quickly turned to confusion and panic because it didn’t look like this woman was going to get up anytime soon.  She just stayed right there, squatting and leaning back against my license plate.  I thought maybe I could get in and start the car so that she would get the hint, but that didn’t feel right at all.  The pseudo-New Yorker in me thought about an indignant remark, asking her what she thought she was doing and barking at her to get out of there.  But I couldn’t do it.  All I could do was mutter a few times, “Ma’am, this is my car.”  Nothing.  So I got in my car and waited. I couldn’t look at her, so I looked across the street and watched as onlookers walked down the sidewalk, paused to look, and then shook their heads at what they saw.  Finally, this woman stood up, sat on the hood of my car, pulled up her pants, and walked away toward the sidewalk.  I caught a glimpse of her face behind the hair and the hat and the dirt, and she was probably in her early thirties, if that.  My heart sank to my stomach and stayed down there as I drove to church.

I’ve thought about this woman a lot the last couple days.  It makes me sad.  Uncomfortable.  Angry.  This woman had lost her dignity.  She had been stripped of her beauty.  I would rather that I didn’t have to see her, huddled in front of my car.  I’ve seen drunken guys peeing all over the place and not cared a bit.  But this was different.  It isn’t right that she had to live this way.  It makes me sad.

Jesus found himself around women who had lost their dignity, who lived in shame privately or publicly.  There is the story of the sinful woman in Luke 7 who kisses Jesus’ feet and washes them with her hair, her tears, and her perfume.  Everyone around her thought about how shameful she was and how Jesus shouldn’t even be around her.  That passage seems a little more real to me now.  The love of God really is amazing.


standing on shoulders

I was reminded again today about how blessed I am by the people God has placed in my life.  I know I’m still very much at the beginning of a journey, but I look back thus far and see how many shoulders I stood on along the way.  Friends who love me and support me when I’m in pain or being a pain.  Pastors who reached out to me and gave me opportunities that I didn’t at all deserve.  Parents who have worked and worked and continue to work so that I can chase dreams and follow callings.  Coaches who pushed me to have confidence in myself.  Youth group kids that allowed me to lead, even when I wasn’t sure where I was going.  Colleagues and friends in ministry who roll with the same kingdom vision and have my back.  Mentors and godly role models who inspire me to follow and serve Christ.

At my height, I’m usually very aware of how tall I am not.  Most of us feel like we’re “not” something.  And so it’s easy for me to forget all the shoulders I’m standing on, both in the past and in the present.  It’s easy to forget how tall I stand because of all the people who have invested and sown into my life.  Many of them will never know the kind of impact they’ve had.  But I wouldn’t be here without them, and where I am is pretty incredible.


the next big thing

I saw The Social Network yesterday and have not been able to stop thinking or talking about it.  For one thing, the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin created one of my favorite shows of all time, The West Wing, in addition to the film The American President and the TV show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (which didn’t really go anywhere but was a smart, well-written show. Find it on Netflix.).  So as I expected, the dialogue was fast-paced and witty, making you feel both smarter and more sophisticated for having heard it (the anti-Jersey Shore).  I had heard that Sorkin and the director had taken a lot of creative liberties in order to make the plot more dramatic and make for a better, yet not altogether accurate, story.  I won’t spoil the movie, but it’s basically about Mark Zuckerberg and the creation myth of Facebook.  Zuckerberg is currently 27, owns half of Facebook which is valued at 25 billion dollars, and is the youngest billionaire in the world.  By all accounts, we would consider Zuckerberg to be a success story by leaps and bounds.

But here is what has gotten me thinking –  is it right to passionately pursue dreams and ambitions that will lead you to incredible success if it means that your life will border on obsession and push at a pace that seems hardly sustainable?  Today that’s what is celebrated in most areas of life and business – the graphic designer that will stare at a screen until she blacks out, the programmer that will code for 30-hour sessions, the pastor that will pick up the phone and run out the door for anyone and everyone at 3am.  I think we’re in awe of those people.  We see in them the path to success.  Be really great at something and pursue it with the passionate zeal of an artist who is never satisfied.  And the earlier you find what makes you great and push yourself to the limit to create and invent and be better than anything that has ever been, the better chance you might be the next Mark Zuckerberg.  The Social Network shows the dark side to this kind of creative, world-changing genius.  It shows how gaining the world can ruin lives.  And you can’t help but think of the words of Jesus – “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:26)

Again, the movie is a dramatic portrayal that stretches the truth.  So I don’t want to vilify Zuckerberg or anyone else for that matter.  But I know that there are so many out there, especially young people, who want to be the next big thing and can’t wait to get there.  Smart people will tell you that the way to do it is to pursue your talents and passions with relentless and ruthless determination.  Stay up all night for as many nights as you need to.  If you love it, it won’t feel like work.  Great things can happen that way and incredible things can get done, but I’m afraid of the cost if the train suddenly goes off the rails.

I love the next big thing, what’s new and what’s fast.  But I’m starting to be just as concerned about what is of God, and will last, and what won’t kill me in the end.  What will I enjoy and be proud of and feel like God has made happen through the power of the Holy Spirit?  I think that when we find that way that God is really working through us, we’ll want to stay up all night, and it won’t feel like work.  But hopefully we’ll know our limits and get a decent night of sleep.

What’s the next big thing God is doing?  I’m guessing it’s not going to look like Facebook or make young adults into billionaires.  But I know if it’s what God is doing, I’m not going to lose or forfeit my very self.

new way of doing things

I’ve been thinking about why it’s been so hard to stay consistent with blogging, and I realize that a big part of what holds me back is anxiety.  The thought of putting up something public that will be read and possibly scrutinized causes me a great deal of anxiety.  The truth is that not a lot of people will read this, and fewer will really scrutinize or criticize any of it.  But the anxiety remains, and the result is a untouched blog and many, many thoughts and ideas that go unwritten.  This is not good.

So I’m looking for a new way of doing things.  A way that will bring much more life and joy, and hopefully lessen the anxiety to a manageable level.  It may seem strange, but I have a hard time figuring out what it is that really brings me joy and gives me life.  I know what’s good and what’s necessary and what’s needed, but I don’t always know what I enjoy and love and find peace in.  I know I enjoy writing and thinking, and I hope that I’ll get to do more of both.  So here’s to yet another new beginning.

anxiety and excitement

A trusted counselor recently told me (and I hope that I’m conveying this correctly) that anxiety and excitement are the same energy; that is, they come from the same part of the brain.  To me, that made a lot of sense, but also made no sense.  A new adventure, idea, or God moment produces tremendous excitement but also a good amount of anxiety.  How do you distinguish one from the other?  This is my take: I think anxiety comes from a place of fear that something might go wrong or might be too big to take on.  And I think excitement comes from a place of hope in the fulfillment of an amazing vision and the lives that will be touched because of it.  Fear and hope.  The two are in tension with each other with every new opportunity, but they come as a package deal.

This is how I feel with youth ministry right now, but really how I feel about my life.  I got a lot of excitement and a lot of anxiety flying at me, pretty much at the same time.  That used to drive me crazy.  I would question my calling, faith, commitment–pretty much all those things that we question when things aren’t going right.  How could I be so filled with anxiety, I would wonder?  Does that mean that my excitement isn’t worth as much?

These days I realize that it’s ok to live with both.  It shows I’m not perfect.  It shows that I need Jesus now more than ever.  It shows that perfect love casts out fear, but my love isn’t perfect.  Thank God that his is.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Brennan Manning (The Ragamuffin Gospel):
“When I am honest, I admit that I am a bundle of paradoxes.  I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty.  I am trusting and suspicious, I am honest and I still play games.  Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”

At the end of a long, great day, I feel more like a bundle of paradoxes than anything else.  It doesn’t really make sense.  But God loves me as I am.  Jesus died for sinners.  He uses the most unlikely.  We fail but he still chooses us.  And I’m learning to be ok with the tension.

can’t stop, won’t stop

I’m on a blog tear right now.  I think it’s the new batch of premium French press coffee I bought yesterday.

I came across a few articles today that brought me to the same conclusions.

First, it was a CNN op-ed piece by Larry Rosen titled “Generation ‘Text’: FB me.”  It’s definitely worth a read if you work with youth or have a child who’s growing up in the Net Generation or the iGeneration, as Rosen calls them.  Here’s a quote by Rosen:

Read the rest of this page »

unseen heroes

I came across two new heroes today – Charlie Wilks and Matt Steven.  Both are in high school.  Both are athletes.  Both are incredible young men.  And both are blind.  If you click on their names, you can see both their stories on Youtube in separate pieces by ESPN.  I can guarantee that they’ll inspire you and that, afterwards, Charlie and Matt will be your heroes, too.

Charlie plays football for his high school team.  Matt is a player on a youth league basketball team.  Both guys work hard, overcome incredible adversity, and shine like champs in big moments.  Watch their stories, they’ll make you see the possibilities in all young people a little bit differently.

I serve with youth.  Some of them have challenges you and I couldn’t even dream of facing on a daily basis.  Some of them are physical challenges, some of them are difficult life circumstances.  And it’s amazing what potential they have to do great things and impact and shape this world.  I know that God sees great things in them.  Much greater than we can imagine.  I want to see what he sees.

What you’ll notice in the stories of both Charlie and Matt is that there are families, friends, and coaches who gave these young men a chance to shine.  There are probably countless other stories like this of youth who are doing extraordinary things.  And in each story, there are unseen heroes who loved these kids, saw something great in them, and gave them a chance.

I can’t think of a better way to spend my life.

Thanks, Charlie and Matt, for doing what you’re doing.  And thanks to everyone who has your back for reminding me that I have incredibly talent, potential, and passion around me all the time.  I just have to see it.