A Joyous, Sad Christmas

"I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out in a land filled with darkness than in a land flooded with light"            John Keith Falconer

            Last weekend Jana and I were invited to lunch with an alumnus of ICS. When I started working at ICS in 2006, he was a freshman and the starting point guard for my varsity basketball team. I had the opportunity to teach, coach, and mentor this young man for four years. After graduating from ICS, he went to college and is now opening a medical center in Bangkok. Since his graduation, we have kept in touch and shared what was happening in our lives. But, last week at lunch he shared something new with me. After finishing lunch, he said, “Jack, I have been many places and met many people, but nothing compares to my experience at ICS. The community and support that was shown to me at ICS has never been replicated anywhere else.”

            Christmas is always a difficult time for us because we must choose between staying here for the holidays, or going home. When we go home for Christmas it is always an exciting time of reconnecting with family, and enjoying the festivities. But, when we stay in Bangkok, we have the opportunity to reconnect with alumni that we have not seen in many years. Often spiritual issues that never manifested for these young men and women in high school, become front and center in our conversations with them as adults. I often tell Jana that I believe the relationships we continue with ICS students after graduation is far more significant than anything we do at ICS.

            On January 3rd, we have organized an alumni reunion basketball game at ICS. We are expecting over 25 alumni that played basketball at ICS over the past 15 years to attend. Some of these alumni I have not seen in several years, but we are all coming together for a night of fellowship. It amazes me that so many graduates of ICS come around during the holidays just to say hello to former teachers and friends. I believe it shows the uniqueness of a school that values community first. Please pray for us as we spend time playing a game we love and catching up with each other.

            Christmas is certainly not as festive in Thailand as it is in North Carolina. Just this week I was telling Jana how I felt guilty for not taking Marley to NC for Christmas. But, Jana reminded me of something that is far more important than Marley being home for Christmas. Marley being here as we eat, share stories, and reconnect with students that God gave us an opportunity to teach for several years. We will miss our family this holiday season, but we believe God will use this time for us to continue sharing His love with our former students that are now adults.

Me, Myself, and I

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.” 

I have been doing this teaching thing for 14 years. It has been a very rewarding and humbling job for me over the years. I feel the more I teach, the more God shows me the numerous faults in my own life. Being a teacher has taught me more about my own beliefs than anything I have shared with my students. But, I believe one trait has become worse in my students over the past decade; self-entitlement.

My father was adamantly opposed to the idea of self-entitlement. In fact, I would dare to say he was on the opposite side of that fence. There was a situation early in my life in which I was chosen for an all-star team, and my father coached the team. He told the coaching panel that I was not eligible to be selected for the all-star team, because I did not deserve to be on the team over some other kids. I remember him explaining to me that he did not think I was good enough to be on the team, and he never wanted anyone to question him about favoritism. I often think about my dad keeping me off that all-star team when I have parents complaining to me about their child not getting an award, more playing time, or recognition. I believe we are raising a generation of “me first people” that will greatly shape what our society values the next hundred years.

But, let’s be honest, parents have always been crazy when it comes to their children and athletics. The shift I am starting to notice is not the parent’s belief in self-entitlement, but actual players complaining to me about not getting what they deserve. Growing up it did not matter what I thought of a coach at any level, he or she was in charge and their decision was final. Don’t get me wrong, a coach should not be served as a dictator, but the shift I am seeing in players belief in self-entitlement is discouraging.

Unfortunately, Christians are often the worst when we discuss self-entitlement. There are Christian schools I have competed against and coached for that desperately embrace the idea of self-entitlement. Which, based on my limited knowledge of the scriptures, is the opposite of Christ’s message to us. As followers, we should expect to be treated unfairly. And when we are, we should not throw tantrums and proclaim life is unfair, because in the grand scheme of things, we only deserve death and are saved by Christ’s sacrifice for us.

Looking back, I am proud of my father for keeping me off that all-star team, because it showed me something that I rarely see today. A person that believed accolades for his own son was not as important as personal relationships with players, coaches and our community.

We will continue to team with Ripe for Harvest if you are interested in contributing to Marley’s therapy, education, and medical expense fund. One new thing with Ripe for Harvest is electronic contributions. So, now you can contribute online by following the link below. After choosing a method of payment, scroll through till you find Jack Barr 20212

https://www.ripeforharvest.org/donate/  

Dear Society....

You caught me at a bad time this morning. Normally I don’t engage in conversations concerning my daughter, but when you suggest that the financial burden of my daughter to the health care industry is unbearable, I get a little upset. In fact, you go as far to say that it was my moral obligation to eliminate my daughter’s life prenatally, and since I did not, I should face financial consequences by the government. So, society let me educate you on a few things I have learned over the past six years from raising a Down syndrome girl in your world.

First and foremost, my wife and I have never received a dime from the government because our daughter has Down syndrome. In fact, we have often paid for numerous things out of our own pocket because the government did not see the need for those services or medical procedures. Early on our daughter was labeled as high functioning, so instead of supporting her with valuable services, we were told she was doing “too well” for additional services. So, instead of robbing our daughter of necessary support, we dug deep into our own savings and got her private services. At the same time, we tried taking her to numerous clubs and schools to be told, “Yes, she is doing great, but since she has Down syndrome, she cannot be here.” Maybe I should have been more like you society, and sued everyone that said, “Not welcome here”, for discriminating against my daughter.

It is disheartening to think that leaders of any country would state people that act, look, or behave differently are too much of a financial burden to deserve life. I don’t protest when my tax dollars go toward numerous things that I disagree with because I know people in society need support. I don’t argue that we should eliminate groups of people because of government costs, but that is you new stance on future generations of Down syndrome children. Why stop at Down syndrome? Why not eliminate any fetus that will “live a life not worthy of living”? Why not carry it on to children and adults? Let’s have a financial cost threshold mandate for everyone, and when that is crossed, it signals their life is unworthy to continue.

So, society let me put you at ease about the future of my daughter. My wife and I both have life insurance policies that should cover expenses if one of us should perish. My brother and his wife, which are both financially secure, have agreed to care for our daughter in case something happens to us. We have also delayed having additional children to make sure we can provide for our daughter. I believe my wife and I are doing everything we can to help our daughter not be a burden to society. So, why don’t you move on to some other things that are probably draining government funds? I am sure that a quick search would reveal some other families, people groups, and illnesses that are a substantial drain to your health care system. I could take the time to list numerous things here, but let’s be honest, Down syndrome health care cost is not really the foundation of your argument. The real issue is Down syndrome people and how you see them as undesirable people in society. If we can eliminate people with Down syndrome, then we don’t have to see, talk, or interact with them in society. You know, there was once another society that viewed certain people as undesirable, and this was their slogan - "Lebensunwertes Leben," or "Life Unworthy of Life." But this was different right, because modern society is only focused on eliminating unborn children with Down syndrome and who cares about them?

Why are you back???

This morning I was sitting at the coffee stand talking to the barista. Jana and I developed a good relationship with her last time we lived in Thailand. In fact, she even read my book! J About halfway through our conversation she said, “Jack, can I ask you a question? Why did you move back? When I looked at your Facebook pictures last year, everything was so beautiful and you guys looked so happy.” I laughed uncomfortably and said, “Actually, we missed your coffee so much that we had to come back.” We both laughed and I moved on to another conversation topic.

We have experienced the, “Why are you back?”, question several times since moving back. It has come in various forms from various people, but it always has the same quizzical undertone. And honestly, when we attempt to answer that question, it’s difficult. Living stateside last year allowed us to speak our own language, enjoy majestic scenery, regularly visit our family, and easily find support for Marley. There were numerous things we enjoyed about living in the States and still miss today. But, like many difficult questions that we encounter in life we must go back to our creator. Because without acknowledging a calling from God, there is no reasonable explanation for us moving back. Simply, we believe God called us back to serve at ICS Bangkok. Funny how that’s a simple answer to type, but not a simple answer to share with our coffee lady.

Since moving back, we have read a Bible story every night with Marley. But last night it was late, so I just told her an abbreviated story of Jonah and the Big Fish. Of course, Marley’s favorite part was Jonah being spit back out, but telling her that story made me think about us moving back. When we found out about the job opening at ICS last Jan, we felt torn. I think friends and family thought we just gleefully decided, but we spent many weeks arguing about what to do. We discussed all the comfortable things we would be giving up if we moved back to Bangkok. We even went through a period of resistance that was similar to Jonah, but God nudge us toward returning. And now after being back for three weeks, God is revealing the new plan he has for us at ICS Bangkok. Leaving was not easy for us this time, but God has shown us the great things that can be done at ICS.

15 Years (Oct 13 2016)

I remember how nervous I was fifteen years ago while waiting for Jana to walk down the aisle at our wedding.  As I stood there anxiously, the thought of fleeing the scene crossed my mind.  As I wrestled with running or staying, the ceremonial music started and Jana walked toward me through the falling autumn leaves.  It was a surreal moment that I will never forget.  Any doubt that had creeped into my mind quickly vanished as I admired the beautiful woman that would soon be my wife.

Our marriage has not been what we envisioned on that October day many years ago.  There have been dark moments in which it was difficult to be in the same room together and joyous times in which our hearts were overflowing with love.  It has been fascinating to see our marriage evolve from newlyweds, to moving overseas, to having Marley, to now being back in the States. 

Last week I had a friend, who is in love, ask me what was the most important thing I had learned in fifteen years of marriage.  I thought for a minute and said that the most important thing in marriage was embracing difficulties and celebrating blessings.  I explained to him that it reminded me of when I first started coaching after college.  Early on as a coach I never celebrated victories as much as I suffered from defeat.  Basically, when I lost as a coach, it impacted me more than enjoying a victory with my players. Unfortunately, I took the same approach when I first married Jana.  The difficulties in our marriage would drastically impact our relationship, but the joyous blessings from God we would skim over without genuinely rejoicing.  Since Marley’s birth we have taken the time to truly celebrate the blessings and accomplishments God bestows on us.  Why wouldn’t we?  God desires for us to enjoy life as a loving married couple, so we should recognize and embrace His goodness.  We still have difficulties in our marriage, but when we have occasions of joy, we take the time to be present.  I finished my mini sermon by encouraging my friend to grieve when your marriage hurts, and celebrate when your marriage is blessed.

Remember you can also find us @ https://twitter.com/jackjanamarley  http://www.mybigjesus.com/  http://www.iftheyhadavoice.org/

When God Does......He Does!

           Over the past six months God has taught me that few things in life are more humbling than change. When we were at ICS, I thought I was something.  In fact, reflecting back now, my title as Athletic Director became an idol that I worshiped.  Over a 10 period I built a program that was successful and the Bangkok athletic community knew who I was.  Even when we came to the States in the summer, we would walk around with an arrogance of, “Um, yes, we are missionaries.”  Little did I know that God would not only provide the speech therapy Marley needed in the States, but He would also humble me.

            Several things have happened these past six months that has caused us to embrace the despair of humility.  First I worked at a school in which no one cared about my “great accomplishments” in Bangkok, Thailand.  I also coached baseball at a local high school and we only won six games all season.  I had not coached a team with a losing record in over ten years.  Then this summer I started delivering pizzas to help us financially as we figured out our next move.  It was always an experience when I would deliver a pizza to our previous friends in Knoxville.  In fact, one night I had to deliver pizza to a group of friends from college, which included an ex-girlfriend, and they gave me a sympathetic large tip.  But the main thing God used to humble me the past six months was an MRI. 

             Within a few weeks of moving back, I started having dizziness and vision problems.  I went to the doctor after a few months and she ordered an MRI because she was afraid I might have a growth in my inner ear.  Of course I immediately assumed I was dying and the only thing I could think about was my father dying of a brain tumor.  During the MRI, the technicians would not tell me anything and they had to take additional images for the doctor.  After the test I had to wait a week for the results.  Of course that week I was a total wreck and I had already planned out my funeral.  You know, few things seem important when you believe you might be dying.  When the doctor gave me the tumor free results, I cried and hugged her.  Immediately I apologized, but explained that I was just thankful to God for the results, a serious sinus infection.

           So, here I am now, a humbled man.  After losing my athletic director title, becoming a rookie teacher again, delivering pizzas, and enduring the questions of my health, God has taught me humility.  No matter what I think I am, I am not. God is the driving force behind everything I do and I should be content with serving Him.  My father used to tell me, “You are getting too big for your britches” and that is precisely what had manifested in my life the past ten years in Thailand.  Even though we moved back for Marley, God used this opportunity to strip away the idols that encouraged me to believe in myself instead of Him.  I am sure I will become prideful again, but for today, I thank God for humbling me.

Update

Where are we now? I have accepted a position at The King’s Academy in Knoxville, TN as a boy’s dorm director.  We will live in an apartment on campus and parent 18 international boys in a dorm.  We will basically be their parental guidance while they attend school at TKA.  Jana will also work part time in the girl’s dorm and sub occasionally at TKA.  Marley will be attending a transitional kindergarten class three days a week and continue her therapy appointments two days a week.  I will also be the Varsity Girls’ Soccer coach at TKA and Jana will be teaching Holy Yoga in Knoxville.  We are excited to be working with international students again and investing in their lives. 

·      We will keep our Ripe for Harvest account open and use those funds to assist in Marley’s therapy and development. 

·      We will also continue to send newsletters periodically about our experiences in TN and TKA.

Remember you can also find us @ https://twitter.com/jackjanamarley  http://www.mybigjesus.com/  http://www.iftheyhadavoice.org/

 

It's OK to be Sad!

God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.

            The night before we left Thailand we were all three lying in our bed.  Basically the only thing left in our house was a bed, so we all cuddled up together that last night.  As Marley was sleeping I looked over at Jana and started sobbing.  Jana looked at me and said, “I know.”   Through sobs I told her, “I don’t want to leave Thailand; is there anyway we can stay?”  She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “We have tried everything, and God is making it clear that we need to go back to the States.”  I rolled over and said, “ I know.”

            The next day, somewhere over the Pacific, Marley handed me her Inside Out book and asked me to read.  I was doing fine until the end of the book when the character Joy realizes that it is ok for someone to be sad.  The character Joy accepts that sadness is essential for a person to recover and heal.  I started to cry and instantly Marley gave me a hug.  Jana looked over at me and said, “What is wrong?”  I smiled and said,  “It’s ok to be sad.”

            Moving to the States has been a difficult transition for us.  Numerous times this past month we have talked about the desperate loneliness we have felt living in TN.  It is not because of the absence of friends or family in Knoxville, but instead the reality of leaving everything behind.  While living in Thailand we learned how to love one another, lost a child, had Marley, and celebrated many milestones together.  We did not leave a home that we can visit on holidays, but instead we left a life that we might never revisit.  It hurts, and the only remedy we have found is embracing our sadness and seeking God together.

            So now what?  We are living in Knoxville, TN.  Jana is working to put together our apartment, connect with therapists, and find Marley medical services.  I am teaching Elementary PE, an age I have never taught, coaching baseball at a local high school, and trying to figure out how to adjust to American life.  We ask that you lift us up in prayers when possible, because we are learning that transition, is a long difficult process.

Everything Else is Second

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

            This summer while traveling, we had the opportunity to share at Poplar Spring Church in King, NC.  Poplar Springs was the church that I grew up in, and was the place that had ordained me into ministry.  It is always a pleasure to go back and share about the things that God has been teaching us while living in Bangkok.  This year, my message firstly focused on building a relationship with God, and then secondly, building relationships with others.  While I was preparing the message, Jana hit me with a question that I had not considered while looking at this passage.  Jana said, “I have never noticed that at the end of this passage that Jesus states, ‘the entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these commandments.”  As we continued discussing her insight, we quickly realized that Jesus was telling us that everything that we deem important is second to this great commandment.

            The idea that everything came second opened my mind to the fact that no matter how passionate I might be about a particular issue or ritual, if I am not loving God and loving other people, nothing matters.  This problem was considerably noticeable to us as we traveled and watched the news media while visiting family and friends.  It appears as if we have become so passionate about certain issues we deem as “sin”, that we forget that God commanded us to “love your neighbor as yourself”.  Jesus did not say to love your friends, or love people that think like you, or love people that act like you, or even love people that live like you; He simply said to, “Love our neighbor.” 

            As I was speaking at Poplar Springs, I was reminded that I am more receptive to input from people whom I have a relationship with.  If certain people who I cherish as personal friends speak truth into my life, then I listen.  No matter what that truth might be, I am open to receiving it.  But, we are not using the same practice with our neighbors because we are not building relationships with them.  Instead of building a relationship first, we want to state our agenda, hammer a person with our Christian truth while exposing their sin, and then start building a relationship with that person.  Why are we shocked when people state that their impression of Christianity is judgmental?  I do not believe that is the prominent example Jesus gave us throughout the New Testament.

            Let me close by saying that I believe in truth and the Bible as the Word of God.  I am also quick to judge others instead of focusing on relationships.  But, this approach is not the one we are shown in John 8.  Too often we want to ask who the sinner was, and what their consequence came to be. Maybe instead, we should start focusing on Jesus’s answer to not be so concerned with pointing fingers at other people’s sin and instead let Jesus work in that person’s life:

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said.” Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Thankfully, my mom slapped me

This week I chose to share a section of my book.  We have a growing problem of non-existent childhood discipline in our society.  Are we so concerned with being our child’s friend that we sacrifice the one thing they need most in life?  Someone telling him or her “No!”

(Excerpt From Failing At Fatherhood)

“Jack Jr., please turn the radio station back to where I had it,” was the only thing my mother said as she calmly kept her eyes on the road. I ignored her and looked out the window. I knew she was caught in a difficult position because she valued car safety, and would not risk taking her hands off the steering wheel to change the station. This was my day and this outdated woman needed to understand my newfound independence as an eighth grader. Then it happened quickly and suddenly while I was looking out the window. That terrible country music came blaring back across the speakers. I was shocked. Did something happen to “my” rap radio station? As I turned back to look at the radio, I caught a glimpse of my mother’s hand going back to the steering wheel. She had actually done it. She had reached over and turned the station. I was furious. She had ruined my perfect plan and stolen the story I would share with my crew about how I had opposed my mother. I felt defeated and humiliated. I was in middle school and she needed to respect what I wanted to listen to and when I wanted to listen to it. Then it happened. I am not sure why it happened because I had been taught to never use profanity, but it transpired anyway. I looked at my mother with defiance and stated, “I don’t want to listen to this ****** ****** station!”

It came like a flash of lightening. Looking back now, I am not sure how she moved so quickly. My mother always seemed to be passive and methodical in everything she did, but not this time. She slapped me across the face with such vigor that the blow would have honored Muhammad Ali. My head went crashing into the window and I felt the sting of a thousand little bees attacking my face. The surprise of this woman striking me, who always passed on the punishment to my father, made it hurt even more. The tears and snot were gushing full stream, and the awkwardness of the radio station battle was insignificant compared to the waterfall of embarrassment I now felt. Slowly I looked back at her, and I could see the anger in her face as she was also crying. Quietly, like a silent whisper, she instructed me to never use the Lord’s name in vain around her again. The remainder of the trip consisted of me crying with my head against the window and my mother gripping the steering wheel like it was a wild animal.

 

Nothing else was ever said about the incident for the remainder of my childhood because the message had been delivered. Even now some twenty years later, when I ask my mother about it, she smiles and states she has no recollection of the incident. Maybe she does not remember the slap, or maybe she has chosen to forget it. Regardless, it has been etched in my memory as one of those events I will never forget. That morning I was ashamed of being whacked by my forty-year-old mother, but something else happened that I never admitted to anyone else. I gained a respect for my mother that I had never before experienced. My mother, the quiet, non-combative person in my life, did what needed to be done at that moment to correct my behavior. I deserved to be slapped for what I had said to her and she obliged me by slapping my face.

Sometimes as parents we have to do the one thing we hate for our children, correct their behavior.

Tobacco, Dad, & God

“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”  - Martin Luther

     There are very few things in my life that I hate more than priming1 tobacco. My father introduced me to this dreadful scene of exhausting labor at the age of ten, and I was finally able to escape from it only eight years later when I left for college.  Getting up every morning at 5:00am during tobacco season was not due to my household’s urgency for extra income, but instead, for the appeasement of my father’s belief that manual labor was a necessity for a young boy’s life.  My father primed tobacco when he was my age, so that meant that I was going to prime tobacco.  In fact, the little money that I did make every Saturday was subjected to taxes since my father worked for the Internal Revenue Service. How lucky was I to get to pick sappy leaves in the hot sun for six hours most Saturdays, and have my minimum wage further reduced by taxes! What more could a fifteen year-old boy want out of his life?

     Tobacco farmers want fast workers because the faster you pick, the faster they can cover other fields that need priming.  The way the system works is that while farmers drive a tractor down the middle of the field, several eager pickers would work to pick leaves from the bottom of each tobacco plant (leaves at the bottom have ripened).  After many weeks, I had learned that if I picked fewer leaves off of each tobacco plant, then I would be able to move just as fast as the other veteran pickers.  Before long, I started being praised for keeping up with the best-of-the-best primers even though I was skipping leaves as I went along. Throughout my entire tobacco-priming career, I was more concerned about the outcome than the actual practice of doing the job to the best of my ability.

     Looking back, I often find myself living my faith in the same way. I constantly look for shortcuts, quick fixes, and advantages to produce a product for Christ.  The quote I used to open this post adequately describes my approach to ministry.  Do as much as I can and stamp it with a Christian label to please God.  But does it really please God when I proudly proclaim for Him to, “See everything that I have done for the Kingdom of God?” It is not about us or how much we can do, but how much we are willing to mold to God’s desire and truly give our everything to any calling He sets before us.

     As I close and think about the temptation to do things half-heartedly in my life, I am reminded of the quality versus quantity debate. Why do we desire a handmade piece of furniture over a factory-made piece?  Because we know someone has intentionally invested his or her time to make that piece of furniture pleasing and personal to us. They have given it their all. In the same way, that is how we should approach our ministry -- with the desire to pour out everything we have to the best of our ability.  This does not mean to juggle numerous activities in order to boast about our accomplishments later on, but instead, to centralize our focus on the quality of our service and humbly sacrificing that “everything” we have when God calls upon us.

Jack Barr

Author of Failing at Fatherhood

 

Footnotes:

1(Priming tobacco is the process of walking down rows of tobacco and picking the ripe leaves off the bottom).