Wednesday, January 7, 2015

No More Resolutions, Just Small Steps

The new year came in as a blur, because our second child was born the day after Thanksgiving; so, needless to say, the past 6 weeks has been a sleep-deprived haze for my wife and I (okay, mostly my wife).

I've barely had time to reflect on the past year, let alone assess where things are headed for the next, so I'm going to sort of "verbally process" here.

Of all my goals from 2014, I really only got parts done:
  • Read 1 book a week (52 book challenge). 
    • Not even close.
  • Read 5 Psalms and 1 Proverb everyday.
    •  I got a month or two in.
  • Blog every week.
    •  This one is a little deceiving, because while I did not blog here, I began writing for here. I had 51 of my 52 post goal, when you add it all together, though most were not as in depth as I first envisioned.
  • Confront critical attitudes (of myself and others), attempting to make a positive difference.
    • This is the only one I feel I've succeeded in, but I give most of that credit to God's grace, my son, and wife.
  • Start making everyday memories.
    • See note on the last bullet point...
I was prepared for failure in some areas and, while I found it in nearly every goal, I still see this year as a success: for me, for my life, for my family... I've been more well read over the past two years, I've become a blogger in my own geeky right, and I've "live deliberately" (for the most part)--which was my goal in the first place.

Reflecting on my past year also makes me focus on the reasons I didn't reach my end goals. These are not excuses, I only blame myself: Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, and Netflix are some of my biggest weaknesses... go ahead and judge. I'm unashamed of my online presence; however, I spend way too many countless hours just trolling on my favorite websites. BUT, the combined efforts of Pinterest and a friends blog gave me a brain child for 2015.

Similarly to last year, I plan to have new goals for the year. Unlike last year, I will not do this alone. My wife, along with all of the other amazing things she does in my life, has been my partner in crime in all of this and I couldn't have done this without her; she has done most of the ground work of making this possible.

Ditching the individual goals, we sat down and set goals as a family in seven different areas: faith, marriage, intake, outtake, simplification, health, and finances. You think it's a lot, but you have no idea. Each of these is broken down into tangible things that we can do to accomplish these goals each month, which is broken down into tangible things for every week. Allow me to dive deeper into each topic.

Being a family of four, with "Kitty" (our youngest child) barely able to stay awake and "Happy" (our oldest child) just starting to communicate his needs, this was a tough goal to figure out. We want to set a foundation for the years to come, when our children are older and talking and showing the world who they are, and so this year we're starting small with only two goals as a part of this: 1.) Serve as a family and 2.) read the Bible/pray together. The second is an easier goal, I'll admit; we wind down every night doing this. The first, however, is a little more difficult with a 2 year-old and a 2 month-old. We started by getting our kids The Jesus Storybook Bible: collector's edition for Christmas. Secondly, we started reading through Common Prayer together daily. Small steps everyday we can take to grow in our faith. The following months will involve easy things we can do together, such as making cookies for students, giving away toys, making cards for people, etc. In following years, we hope this is something that can grow into bigger expressions of our faith, but for now we just wanted to start.

I'm devastated to admit it, but since the bug was born, we haven't gone on many dates. That was over two years ago. So, while we can't afford to go out every week (we'll talk about finances a little bit later), we can take small steps into bettering our relationship together (even with kids). Starting with dates: dates out, dates in, game dates, dancing dates, eating dates. You get the picture. Two a month for the year. 24 dates shouldn't be as hard as it is, so that's why these small steps are in the goals for this year. Apart from the bi weekly date, we want to set aside time to be together throughout the week (talking, laughing, dreaming, etc.) and, as a self-imposed rule, no computer after dinner. That may be the hardest part of all of this...

Intake (read more/less technology)
Lots of these goals are going to start integrating into each other. This is why we made the no-computer-after-dinner rule. In years past, we've each tried to read a book a week (52 in a year) and have come short. When the bug was born in 2012, we had no internet or smartphones, so we did quite well in the first half of the year. We got internet when Jenn started her new job, so that I could get some work done when I was home with the bug. At least that's what we told ourselves, but the reading came to a halt. Now screen time is something we want to cut down to make more room for reading, particularly since we have a toddler. So this one is fairly self-explanatory; read more, less tech.

I always say, "if it has a place it won't get lost." For those of you into MBTI, that's my J coming out. Then there is the pile of stuff on my side of the bed (there's my P). Living in apartments our whole marriage has had its perks; living small means we can only have so much. That being said, we have too much stuff... we've moved from a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment to a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment over the summer, which helped us out a bit. But, now having two kids and having lived here for six months, we still have too much stuff. So, we're taking my own advice and finding a place for everything. If it doesn't have a place, we're getting rid of it. When we get a new mug (for example), we get rid of an old one. New toy in, old toy out... We have six rooms (if we count Jenn's office, which has sort of become storage area for us), so we're also taking one a month for six months (and then revisiting them the second half of the year) in hopes of being minimalists by 2016.

I turned 28 on Christmas and my metabolism is reminding me that I'm getting older. I can't keep doing nothing about my health, so we're aiming for lots here, trying for an overall clean up: eat less sugar, workout three times a week, be awake by 8am (easy right now with an infant), eat less processed foods, make our own bread, mental health (this will tie into outtake later). We also have some friends that just started the 100 days of real food challenge, which has us thinking about what we eat and how it affects us. There may be more on that later in the year.

Being in college ministry, we have never had a lot of money, so not being wise with it was never an option. In fact, I raise support for my own salary and ministry expenses with students, so this is always something we pay attention to. Most of this will be connected to the food we buy, but as always, we set goals for finances.

Outtake (inspiration/creativity)
This one is a little more abstract, but still connected (particularly to the mental health part). With weekly times set aside on top of this, much will also happen organically as we reach for our other goals: reading with the kids, crafts, cooking, sketching, journaling, reading, writing songs (in a former life, my wife and I had a band, but I also write songs for the church I'm on staff at), etc. I may even start grad school, so I'm sure this will be a part of it at some point.

So there it is! Our family goals for 2015. May it be a year that we can all achieve our goals together through small steps.

Share in the comments what goals or resolutions you made this year.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Enduring the Opening Statements

Do you like sports? I'm asked as a sort of ice breaker to fuller conversation. I find myself in this quandary all the time and I don't know how to answer. Today has been a day full of overexposure for the sake of community (i.e. meeting people that I really do want to meet, but I'm also an introvert and this is the third gathering I've done within 12 hours, so sorry about my vacant stare and overtly contemplated answers). This is the second time today that I've stood smiling nodding my head, unsure of what to say. At dinner I said, "No. I've never really been into sports. I think it started when..." I mean, this is, in real life, my answer to someone I just met--someone that I hope to become friends with--a long drawn out story as to the social and psychological reasons as to why I am not a fan of sports. What a buzz kill.

I smile and nod some more, given a second chance to redeem myself, "Yeah! I like the social aspects of sports. I mean, I'm not a fan of any one particular team, but it's always fun to watch a game..." Even I don't buy it, and I mean it. I'm an introspective, non-competitive over-analyzer that enjoys being indoors reading, playing board games, watching movies, eating, and enjoying time in conversation with small groups of people; an introvert that loves people is unheard of, I know, yet here I am. Even my line of work in campus ministry makes me an enigma.

What do you like to read? Another question I dread. "Well, mostly non-fiction." I don't even want to go on."The latest books I've read were on college ministry, theology, and personality types." Sounds like a blast, right (*sarcasm*)? Lost in my own head again, I come to. Did I see you with a soccer ball the other day? Yes. One of the many toys I didn't buy, but have for my son. One day
 he'll want to learn how to throw a baseball (and his mother won't be around) and he'll come to me, ball in hand, and my answer will be something along the lines of, "I'm sure there's a great tutorial on youtube," or, "wouldn't you rather listen to the new Sigur Rós album together?"

Each question inevitably leads to the same reaction. I, the buzz kill, smile and the poor sucker that tried to find commonality slinks away to save what's left of their dignity. So, what is the correct answer? Either find myself a team to half-heatedly cheer for or deal with how hilariously awkward I can make everyone feel as they attempt to get to know me, staying true to myself in the process. Much to the chagrin of those I have yet to meet, I think I can deal with the latter.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Commencement Thoughts on an Early-Summer Day

I highly doubt I would ever be considered to speak at anyone's commencement ceremony, nor would I necessarily want to; however, after completing our (my wife and I) fourth year of ministry at Kenyon and seeing our first class of four years graduate, I thought I would reflect on the past four years and the upcoming adventures that our graduates will have. In fact, after thinking more on it, this would mark the college graduation of some of my very first ministry students as well. So, I thought I'd offer up my very own commencement speech, if you will, before the time has passed; here's a top 5 list of advice and insights that I've gleaned from the past decade, or so, of my life in ministry for the class of 2014 which holds the record for many of my "first's" in ministry.

1. As life continues beyond graduation, you'll find many things that you weren't expecting and that your time in higher education has probably not prepared you for. The first being that there aren't nearly as many people your own age around as college has led you to believe. Or more rightly stated perhaps, there are many more people, both older and wiser, in the world then your past four years have suggested. One of the biggest complaints I find from recent graduates, or particularly people in their first 2 years post-graduation, is that they are lonely and find it difficult to connect with people their own age. This is partially because college has set you up with an unrealistic life setting: surrounded by people of similar age, thoughts, and agendas. You'll need to quickly shake that mentality from your heads and get connected to a community of people. This may be a group that is tied to your interests, profession, faith, or anything else; but, you have to get connected, especially to those just slightly older than yourself. These people will teach you what the real world is like and what it definitely is not, as well as what to expect in your next phase of life. I've found that after my 5 year stint as a student in higher education, being young and married was not the norm for many of my peers and I needed the insight of those that have gone before me. Be it parents and grandparents (my own or not), married and single friends; you need what a real, multi-generational community brings to your life (just as they need you). Get connected.

2. Which brings me to my next point: it's not about you. Not even in the slightest. Even going to a small, Christian college as I did, where the gospel was communicated regularly, the focus of a college education is primarily on yourself. And, yes, our culture loves to try and reinforce this mentality, but the truth is you are more than yourself. You're the relationships that you build and the things that you do. Keep in touch with those closest to you: parents, mentors, professors, and friends-one and all. But remember to continue getting to know others around you. You can't be in college forever, so don't act like it's all about you.

3. When you're in school, whether primary or beyond, there is an easy way to keep track of your learning and growing. Another year, another grade, another set of report cards, another person measuring your achievements. But after graduation it becomes a little more ambiguous as to what those things are. You're never done learning, so don't count yourself out just yet. Whether it's grad school, a new job, marriage, parenthood, or all of the above, there is always something to be learned. Learn from others, but more importantly decide who it is you want to be and figure out what you need to continue learning to get there. Read, write, bake, dance, cook a 5-course meal; you have one life, so don't waste it when there are no longer assignments being given to you. Challenge yourself and be your own assignment.

4. Stay rooted in the one that made you. This will look different for all of you, be it daily Bible reading or walks in the woods, but I'm not trying to be intangible when I say this: connect to God in ways that are both natural to you, but also in new and unexpected ways. This goes back to my second and third pieces of advice, in that if you aren't reminded that life is not (just) about you and your plan but about God and his plan, you will find yourself saying things like, "don't I deserve to be happy," or "this is who God has made me." You are never a finished product and are always being made new, struggling with sins and dependencies, but through it all we should be asking ourselves, "where do I see God in all of this?" and looking for his hand in the daily, mundane things, as well as the grandiose. I wouldn't be doing what I am if I didn't believe wholeheartedly that finding your identity in Christ and living out of that is the most important thing you can do for yourself and the community you find yourself in. Plug in to Jesus.

5. You are responsible for your own actions and behaviors. As much as the people in your life care and try to direct you with words of advice, you're the only one that can make the differences you want to see. This isn't a YOLO speech, please don't misread me--this is a phrase attributed to Gandhi, I believe: be the change you want to see. Stop complaining and do something to make a difference. If you don't like the path you've put yourself on, it's not too late to make a change. Don't ever lie yourself and think "this is the hand I've been dealt." You have a college education, so you're in the minority of people that are educated and wealthy enough to make a difference, whether it be large or small, just do it. It will mean a better life for others, which in turn makes a better life for you. Don't let life pass you by, aggressively and intentionally play your many roles in this world (notice I didn't say role, singular). "Suck out all the marrow of life," as Henry David Thoreau would say.

Comment below, add your own advice to this year's graduates, and share with a recent graduate you know.

And Click here to watch Denzel Washington give his own short, commencement speech of sorts. Worth the few minutes.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mr. Mom and Other Derogatory Remarks

It's been nearly a month since my last post. Which means, for those of you that are keeping track, I'm many posts behind on my blog-a-week goal. Part of the reasoning in laziness; it takes time to sit down and write my thoughts. It would be so much easier if I could just think about it and have it posted... alas, here I am, typing what flows so quickly in between my ears. Another is that we had experienced a mold problem in our apartment, so for the past few weeks I have been busy moving things from Apt. 1 to Apt. 2, during the few hours I have alone in the afternoon and the few hours I have with my wife during the evening. But, despite my excuses, I am what I do. Or in the words of the late Jonathan Larson's Tick, Tick... BOOM!, "actions speak louder than words." I can't let the past define me any more then I can allow other peoples' opinions to give me meaning...

I know that being home with my son during the day is not the norm, particularly in the area I currently find myself in, but being outside of the norm doesn't bother me. I've never had to "fit in," I usually find my own way. I also know that what I'm doing is saving money, as well as giving my son the opportunity to be at home with Dad, which not many kids have and something my wife and I found important (being that we each had our parents working from home most of our lives). The only thing that bothers me (here comes the rant) are the snide comments, "How's being Mr. Mom?" or "How long are you on babysitting duty today?" You'd be shocked, but I find it inconceivably ignorant putting these labels on what it is I do. I have a full-time job in ministry, working at both a church and on a college campus, so insinuating that I have nothing else to do is wrong. And assuming that because Mom isn't at home, I have taken the role of her is also fundamentally naive. More than that, it's rude and the reason so many other problems are caused: constrained expectations. We force things into a mold of "how it's always been" or "just how it works" and kill the joy of what is actually at work in this improvisational sort of a life.

I'm not "babysitting," I'm being a father. When I am home during the day with my son I don't turn into a mother or whatever else is insinuated by calling me "Mr. Mom." I am a man living life with my son in a way that most others don't get the opportunity to and I plan on enjoying every moment I have, because it may not be forever, it may not even be for the rest of the year; I don't know how long I have to enjoy life with my son, as I've learned from a near-death experience and a sibling gone too soon, so I will savor every day and every moment I have with him. I will continue, with all my strength, to raise my son "in a manner worthy of the gospel" and to keep to my convictions, no matter how much I fail at them. Using a line from Batman Begins, "It's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me." I pray that my actions may always speak louder than my words, and when I fail that others may give me the grace I need to continue striving towards the goal (just as God does) and vice versa.

Friday, February 28, 2014

A Letter to a Young Brother,

We rarely see eye to eye. In fact, we never do. Nonetheless, we've struggled together for years, attempting to learn from one another and respect who God continues to make us into. And it's for this reason that I write, in hopes that you'll hear me in the only way I know I can communicate clearly. I'm ignorant sometimes and I'm sorry for any hurt I've caused because of that. Among the many things that have turned you against the Church, I pray that if I have done anything it's showing you the love of a God that wants nothing more then to be with you. I know that He aches at the idea of you giving up on Him. I know, because I do. And if I do, after all the bashing of heads and miscommunications that have happened between us, there's not a doubt in mind that he does. I wrestled with God one Saturday night, while you were tucked away from all the bells and whistles, frustrated both with Him and you for not doing anything else. Then I realized in doing that I found myself in the same rut that you are in. I expected God to do something specific and that didn't happen, but that doesn't mean He didn't answer. Sometimes the answer is no, because only a good God knows when that is the right response. Sometimes the answer is silence, because He wants us to listen that much harder. Since then, I find myself whispering the Lord's Prayer when I think of you, because they are the only words that seem to make sense through all of this. "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done..." If it were up to me, God would reveal Himself to you in some huge, magnificent way that could only be explained by Him. "...Your will be done..." It's harder to say when you don't know what it all entails.

With very little time left together, I know my influence grows weaker and weaker in your life. Please know that I pray for you and that you have not been given up on. I hope that one day God will make himself known to you, but I also challenge you to listen for Him in ways you're not expecting. Not all disagreement is bad; not all conflict equates to being personally attacked. God will never be done with you, just as He continually works on me. When all else keeps us apart, I know that this truth keeps us united as brothers. I encourage you to read about Mother Teresa's own struggles of faith. I thought you'd like her story because of how important marginalized people are to you. I wish I had that same sympathy. It's easy for me to push people off when I don't know what to do with them, but you've taught me more about Christ's love then even you understand. Henri Nouwen is another person's story you may connect to better than my own. If nothing else, I pray that you don't give up; please, keep searching, because there is a love that makes all things new and rights all wrongs, even the wrongs that have happened to you.

Forever hopeful,

Thursday, February 20, 2014


After completing my 8th Jubilee conference, this year I left feeling differently about the whole thing. Not because it was going in a different direction or I was disappointed, because that wasn't the case at all; this was the first year that Jenn and I took Gavin. He had a blast, actually taking his first consecutive steps in Byron Borger's bookstore, though it messed up his sleeping schedule quite a bit. Due to that, Jenn and I would have to switch out with him, neither of us getting to experience the whole conference.

Nevertheless, the conference itself was still amazing (per usual), with speakers such as Andy Crouch, Bethany Hoang, Margot Starbuck, and Dan Allender (to name a few), the story of the Biblical narrative was told in ways that connected with students and allowed the truth of the gospel to break across boundaries. The music this year was the best it's ever been, featuring the talents of Josh Moyer, Joy Ike, Kenyon Adams, and more, it combined cultures and styles in a way that is rarely seen in churches. With the largest selections of breakout sessions I've ever seen, assuming the students took advantage of all that was offered, I can't imagine that God didn't touch everyone there.

As I look back at all the words I heard, though some repetitive for me personally (and trust me when I say it's a story that I, we all, need to keep being reminded of), here are a few of the things that truly stood out to me:
  • Everything matters. I know this was the theme of the conference, so it could be considered a cheap answer, but this theme stood out in every single story shared and word spoken. Everything we do has significance in the coming kingdom. Or, to use the line from Gladiator, "What we do echoes in eternity." I hope that all of my actions will be used by God for the betterment of His kingdom, but beyond "hoping" I am encouraged to "do" and be" the change I want to see.
  • In a breakout session with Justin McRoberts (If you haven't read his new book, CMYK, do it. In fact, go back and read my review to see how exciting this whole project it. And then read the book.), he shared these words: "Maturity is not an arrival point; it is a commitment to the process." While these words were specifically being applied to songwriting, I know he would say that it can and should be true of so much more. In the days following the conference, I find myself viewing faith in this way and it challenges me to continue on the journey, particularly on the difficult days, or the times when it's hard to hear God's voice...
  • Friendships take work, but are worth it. I always get to see familiar faces at this conference, faces I don't see as often as I'd like. But there were a few surprises this year, having friends actually show up with the soul purpose of seeing my little family. As I age, finding myself further from those I care about, these small, seemingly insignificant acts are the moments I live for. I need more of this in my life. Thanks to those of you who make that effort; I pray that I can do the same in your life.
  • Many times God allows us to choose the path we take. It's not always a black-and-white, left-or-right path. With many good choices, God wants to partner with us in applying His words to our decision making as well as our lives. I find this more and more true as life goes on.
  • Lastly, as a campus minister, I am encouraged even more "to challenge students to begin to explore [their faith]... such that it begins to shape who they are and how they live." (Guy Chmieleski, Shaping Their Future)
So, Jubilee 2014 was a success in many eyes, including my own. I hope that the many people in attendance take to heart these lessons and apply them to their day-to-day. May the peace of the everlasting God grab a hold of you and never let go as you seek after a life in Him.

Here is a highlight video from Jubilee 2014

What did you take from Jubilee this year? What, specifically, did God say to you during your time there?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Creativity, Marriage, and How to Keep the Flame Alive. Pt. 2.

So, you've seen my opinion on creativity, marriage, and how I believe they are connected (and why it's important), but now we're going to take a deeper look into what the Bible says. The Old Testament is filled with marriage (particularly since polygamy was practiced in the cultural context of OT times), God blesses it (via Genesis), the Proverbs lift up marriage as good, and Deuteronomy even gives rules as to how newly married Jews were to go about wartime (24:5). Jesus affirms marriage (in both Matthew and Mark) and Paul talks both positively and negatively about it on different occasions (and for different situations). Many have their differing opinions within the church, even making marriage an idol at times, but none of these answers our initial topic on being a bride. More specifically, being the bride of Christ, or the Church (notice the capital 'C'). Isaiah 54:5 says, "your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called,"and nowhere is this described more beautifully then Revelation 19-21.

So, where does this put us?  We have polygamy among many of the Biblical big names, marriage as an analogy for the Church's role in God's Kingdom, and outright discouragement from one of the early church leaders. As a campus minister, I teach our students the Biblical narrative in four parts: creation, fall, redemption, and reconciliation (or consummation, since we're sticking to the marriage analogy). In many circles, the whole story isn't communicated as well as it could be, leaving both creation and consummation on the sidelines, essentially turning our faith into a proverbial ticket to heaven and not a regained completion of relationships with God, self, others', and the earth (yeah, I said that right, the earth...). Without getting too much into that (since this blog is about being the bride of Christ), we need to look at both how we were created to be and what it is that we are going to be to understand our collective role as the bride of Christ. In Genesis, humans were created as image bearers of God. We are literally icons of the one that created us; we were made to care for the earth, create culture, and worship God. That's where it starts... you know how we failed at listening to God, wanting to put ourselves in his place, God spends many years trying to bring people back into relationship with him, sends Jesus to come and fix it, etc. (I am not downplaying the importance of these parts of the story at all, because I believe that everything points to Jesus, just trying to stay on task).

It was cheating, when I was in school, to skip to the end of the book missing all the other important details, but in order to grasp the whole story we're going to do just that. Revelation 19 begins the marriage supper of the lamb. Before you get lost in all of the obscure details of the book of Revelation, let me try to sum up the picture being painted. A bunch of people are waiting to celebrate the most glorious wedding; in fact, they're barely waiting, praising the "groomsman" before he even presents himself to the people. Jesus shows up on a white horse (cue wedding music), Satan is defeated, and the new heaven and new earth are presented (this is the consummation, for those still following this analogy). "...the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'" Heaven and earth meet (on earth) where the groom (Jesus) makes everything new for his wife (the Church). This celebration is the celebration of all celebrations. Heaven and earth become one, God is finally with the people he's been fighting for since day one, and we feast as we bask in the glory of once again being whole, connected to the one we were made for.

This is why marriage is such a good analogy for God's plan of reconciliation. We hear this kind of language many times when talking about the one we love: "you complete me," "I couldn't make it without you," "I swear to be yours forever." This is the dedication that Jesus is asking of us. And not because it's what he deserves (though he absolutely does), but because it's exactly what he gives to us: complete and utter dedication, day in and day out. And this is where we are always brought back to the cross. The life God is calling us to brings us, time and time again, to the foot of the cross. We must understand what has been given up, who has taken our punishment, and live out of that love. I know I haven't hit on everything, but I hope this shows a more biblical approach of what being a bride looks like for each of us.