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To My Four Kids, From Dad

IMG_1571After five days in the hospital filled with overwhelming joy, paralyzing fear and complete exhaustion in the wake of the birth of our twins, I finally found a moment to walk outside the florescent lights and sit under the bright moon. Sitting on a small patch of grass outside the hospital doors, the reality of being a father to four kids finally hit me. 

I was both overwhelmed and overjoyed by the gift and responsibility of raising four kids in a world so desperately in need of mustard seeds of hope that one day blossom into healing and beauty.

As I sit in relative comfort and begin to dream big dreams for my kids, I was struck by the reality that most father’s around the globe are forced to welcome their kids into a world where there is no “ladder” to climb because it has been knocked out from under them by broken systems that are breaking people. 

A world where many kids are born into families fleeing violent persecution and being nursed on the trauma of war in battered refugee camps; places where the thought of hope is a distant second to simply fighting to survive.

A world where one’s value is more closely associated with gender (male) than with the beautiful uniqueness inherent in every new life.  

But it is also a world pregnant with possibilities. A world where former enemies move beyond their past, share tables and begin to imagine a future together. 

A world where the blossoms of new life begin to sprout in the shadowy corners of forgotten neighborhoods.  

A world where the diversity of God’s kingdom begins to awaken our eyes and hearts to the new world God is making. 

It is in this world -- a world that is both beautiful and broken -- that I offer this prayer over my four kids. 

May you see the humanity, dignity and image of God in everyone. Regardless of documentation, orientation or association, may you choose to see the face of Jesus in all those put in your path. May you see those who are different than you not through the lens of judgment, but with a spirit of curiosity and posture of invitation. 

May you immerse into the the muck and messiness of everyday life seeking to understand rather than be understood. May you move toward broken people and places catalyzed by hope rather than paralyzed by fear. And, finally, as you move deeper into relationship with these people and places, may you stick around for the long haul offering radical presence in a world of hurry.  

My dear ones, may your relative comfort and inherited privilege not lead to complacency, but instead be used to contend for the flourishing of others. May you be willing to sacrifice your reputation, finances and time in order to stand in front of any bulldozer that is flattening people. Like the Jesus we follow, may you return evil with good and choose not to get even, but get creative in love.  

May you lead out of your identity as ones first and foremost loved by God, so you can give yourselves fully to God and others. If you get anything, please get this: your identity is not based on what you do, but who you are. All is grace dear ones and you are God’s beloved. As such, your mother and me will always love you, contend for you, pray for you and stand with you no matter what choices you make or what you “do” or don’t do.  

Whether you join God’s mission of reconciliation in the halls of power or the back allys of forgotten neighborhoods, may you see and participate in the restoration made real in Jesus death and resurrection. May you taste, feel, see and experience a Kingdom where the last will be first and the first will be last. For it is there that love lives. 

And, day in and day out, may we be parents who live and model the kind of lives we are inviting you to live. 

Much love to each of you; Ruby, Rosie, Hank & Lou. 

Dad

 

A Celebrated (Yet Toxic) Addiction & the Gift of Today

IMG_0833I’m a doer.

Not only do I feel pretty darn good about myself when things get checked off my “to do” list, it actually gives me a weird high and offers a really tangible grid for success. 

Interestingly, once I get stuff done, I almost immediately turn to the next thing to get done. 

Family admin. 

Household chores. 

Finances. 

Meetings. 

Neighborhood initiatives.

Work Projects.

The list could go on and on. 

I’ve been studying the Enneagram a lot lately, which is a unique (and ancient) tool for understanding how you’re hardwired to function in the world. I’m a “3” on the Enneagram which is known as the “achiever” or “performer.” In short, I’m designed to do stuff. 

This can be really good and really bad.

While I can make things happen, contribute to long term movement and rally folks around a vision, I can also overwork, form my identity around the things I do rather than who I am and, in the end, miss out on the sacredness of being present in the beautiful mundane of everyday. 

This is an important realization (and a hard one!) and I’m having to do a little extra evaluation of it in my current season of life with nearly four kids, a non-profit and a household that requires the attention of a Fortune 500 CEO.

I was recently on a walk to the park with my girls Ruby (4) and Rosie (2). While I was distractedly responding to an email on my “smart” phone, I looked over and noticed that Rosie had fallen behind and was bent over starring at the ground. As I circled back around to speed her up, I noticed that she was looking at a crack in the sidewalk admiring the little twig that was sprouting between the concrete slabs. 

For her, she wasn’t at all concerned about arriving at a destination, but about being fully present along the way. In this tiny twig, Rosie found beauty and she wasn’t about to miss it. 

I was at a conference this past weekend and one of the speakers (Rob Bell) shared a rich insight that completely ruined me (in all the best kind of ways). He said, “Success means you wake up and ask what you can get. Wonder means you wake up and say, I can’t believe I get to do this.” 

Head and heart explosion. 

In the midst of the seemingly endless “to do’s” of life, it’s easy to miss the beauty and wonder. There are insurance calls, diapers to change, mortgage/rent payments, dentist appointments, deadlines, dirty dishes and emails to respond to. 

Yes, that stuff has to get done, but friends, it will get done.

Maybe there is a way to get all this stuff done and not miss out on opportunities to wonder. Opportunities to be fully alive to ourselves, the world and those around us. Opportunities to be reminded that we aren’t what we do, but who we are.  

Maybe when we release our addiction to doing, we can begin being the types of people the world needs most.

When I slow down long enough to look at my life, I can honestly say, “I can’t believe I get to do this.” 

May we wonder. 

 

 

Owning My Dysfunction and the Freedom of Dependence

unnamedIt was nearly five years ago that Janny and I moved to Golden Hill, a neighborhood in San Diego, to be part of a little faith community committed to love God and neighbor in some of the most tangible ways we had ever encountered. As you can imagine, we were curious as to what all this would mean for us as individuals, as a young family and for our role within the Church as a whole. It was a great unknown, but we were willing to “role the dice” and did so with much conviction. 

We could have never foreseen the beauty and richness that would birth forth out of a community of people committed to share life together as we stumble towards Jesus on the same streets, parks, homes, pubs and coffee shops. There was nothing flashy about it and I can remember thinking early on, “So this is it? Life just keeps happening day after day after day after day?”

I would soon realize that’s the beauty of it. Church wasn’t something we attended on our own time and at our own convenience, it was something we participated in every moment of everyday.

In fact, that was our path toward discipleship. It’s not an event, it’s nothing flashy and it certainly doesn’t lift our names/titles/roles above our neighbors. We can’t pat ourselves on the back after a successful event that brought in the masses; we can only love in such a way that we stand in each other’s pain and joy on Monday…and Tuesday…and Wednesday…There is no day off from discipleship or our commitment to a place and a people who inhabit it. And rather than grab for power or prestige, the road to discipleship requires we give it away for the flourishing of others. 

When the preverbal sh*%t hits the fan in one of our lives or our neighbors lives, we sit in the middle of it. We certainly don’t always do this well, and we have a ton to learn, but we do our best to contend for one another in costly and creative ways.

Why? Well, because that is what we think Jesus meant when he said to love God and neighbor (Jesus went as far as calling us to love our “enemy”). In Jesus, we see that contending for others might even look like giving up your life.

In the end, embracing the Jesus’ way of the cross is really freeing. When I realize life isn’t about “me” (which I still struggle with EVERYDAY…ask Janny) and my flourishing, but about advancing the good of those around me, I am free to truly love and be loved. Because faithful discipleship doesn’t require that I am comfortable, that I will “succeed,” or even that I will survive. 

It. Just. Doesn’t. 

And when I spend so much of my time and energy seeking my personal advance, it highjacks my ability to follow Jesus and it does harm to those around me. 

After three years of learning and being mentored by trusted guides, our little faith community was no longer little and had grown to the point where we needed to multiply (rather than get bigger, we multiply and start new faith communities). It was then that Janny and I were entrusted to lead one of the new communities.

We’ve now been leading and walking with this community of Jesus’ followers for over two years and this past Sunday night, we created some space to reflect and celebrate. Sitting around a bonfire, we shared what we have learned about God, ourselves and our neighborhood over the past couple years. It was beautiful and reminded me of the value of simply acknowledging and celebrating the good gifts of this life. 

We shared about the times we helped pay each others rent when one of us was struggling financially. 

We shared about the gift of new friendships with neighbors where we learned about Jesus in the most unexpected and beautiful ways. 

We shared about the gift of vulnerability and transparency. 

We laughed at the many days where we took care of each other’s kids because we were all sleep deprived.  

I confessed that I simply can’t follow Jesus alone and that this community has helped me own that. We all know the point isn’t community in and of itself, but that community is a means and context for us to all more faithfully follow Jesus. 

Bottom line: I need a community of practice that requires me to live the stuff I spend so much time talking about. If I don’t have a community and neighborhood that invites me to give myself away in the way Jesus gave himself away, I miss out on living into who I was created to be. And, those around me miss out on the gift I have been created to give to the world. 

We concluded the evening by offering prayers of blessing and sending over our community as we move towards the start of another year. Mine was simple and I think it was meant more for me than anyone else: 

“May we receive the gift of community we have been given with deep gratitude. And may we not see this way of life as a list of obligations to fulfill, but as an opportunity for each of us to be fully human.” 

———--

NOTE: Paul’s words in Philippians 2:1-11 offer a beautiful picture of the above based on the life of Jesus and the activity of the early Church. 

My Dad, Grief and Groans of New Creation

10485921_10203840097473557_4389962877608429835_nI’m sitting in my dad’s hospital room as a write this. Having just endured open-heart surgery, I have never seen or experienced him in this current state. Last night, as my sisters and I stood with him in the ICU singing, praying and telling him stories of his grandchildren, the only form of communication he could muster was a pained groan. He could hear us and was mentally strong, but to those with whom he loves most in the world, he could only offer a groan. Albeit, even a groan was a heroic effort on his part.  

Anyone that knows my pop, knows a man who is physically strong and extremely healthy. When he got out of surgery, one of my best buddies joked, “He’ll be hunting elk by morning. I’ll bet he’d bag one and carry it six miles in a blinding snow storm too.” 

As I watched him struggle for each breathe and squirm in pain from the torment his body had just endured, I thought to myself, “Surely, this is not the way creation was intended to function.” My dad, the one who is always the strong (yet compassionate) rock for his family, friends and coworkers is reduced to a groan? Really? If ever I thought there was something wrong with the world in its current iteration, it is this moment.  

And then I was reminded of something the Apostle Paul said some 2000 years ago. After Jesus had come to bring about a whole new reality (kingdom) as was embodied in his life, death and resurrection, Paul describes this reality as New Creation (II Corinthians 5). While the rightly ordered Creation was undone in Eden (and the following cast of characters in the Genesis story), it was re-ordered in Jesus. Jesus is the first born of this New Creation (rightly ordered world) and we not only anticipate what is to come, but begin to catch glimpses of it in the here and now (see note at bottom of post). 

Back to the Apostle Paul. He described this anticipation as a “groan” (II Cor 5). Not only are individuals “groaning” to be healed and restored, but the whole of creation is “groaning” to be rightly ordered back to its original design. 

Indeed, creation is not fully functioning in the way it was originally created to function. We don’t have to look far for this reality to be made real. 

Broken families.

War.  

Natural disasters. 

Economic inequality.

Individual and systemic racism. 

…my dad lying on an operation table. 

But, the story isn’t over. In fact, it is just beginning. 

And in the meantime, we groan. We groan for families to be reconciled. We groan for wars to end around conference tables rather than battlefields. We groan for the earth and its systems to be restored. We groan for all children to have an equal opportunity for employment. We groan for the day when diversity is seen as an asset rather than a liability.  

For us, we listen to my dad groan and imagine a day where his grandchildren cover him like a blanket. We groan for his physical strength to once again match his emotional, mental and spiritual strength. We groan for the making of many more memories that remind us of who we are and who we are becoming as we join God in healing a broken world. 

In our groaning, no niceties or clichés will do. Groaning is painful. It is deep. It is real. It is not about creating false assurances. It is about pouring out our guts in the hope of what is to come. It is about looking for signposts of a new reality. A reality where tears are wiped away and hope is found. 

Until then, we groan and trust that the New Creation brought about in Jesus will be the New Creation we begin to see, taste and experience today. 

——

NOTE: A better interpretation of “New Creation” in the New Testament is “Renewed Creation.” In the same way that Jesus body was not destroyed and resurrected as some other worldly creature, Creation will not be destroyed and replaced with something different. What we see now is what heaven/New Creation will look like. But in this reality, all the busted and broken realties will be renewed to their original form. 

Transition, Sending and the Eucharist

NCSendingIt was a bit of an emotional day for Janny and I yesterday as our dear friends, community mates and fellow NieuCommunities staff put together a “sending/blessing” time for us. If you haven’t yet heard, we are NOT moving out of our neighborhood and we are STILL leading our missional community (gathering regularly in our home), but with the increasing momentum of The Global Immersion Project and the invitation to come on staff with mentors and dear friends, Rob and Laurie Yackley (who now lead Thresholds), to coach missional leaders in our city and across the country, there is a necessary organizational transition under way. To learn more, go here

We sat with this handful of friends, mentors and colleagues who have given themselves fully to the work God has set before them in our neighborhood and in coaching developing leaders who have gone through our Apprenticeship. They have been our tribe. When we are with these people, we know they “get” us as they not only share the same deep commitments to King and Kingdom, but inspire us to go even deeper. 
 
We will continue to share a neighborhood, raise our children together, creatively navigate the material simplicity of the life we have all chosen and move together on mission. While we are so thankful for all of that, we will still mourn the days we aren’t sitting around the table with them as colleagues. Things won’t be bad, but they will be a bit different. 
 
Janny and I are moving forward with as much confidence and conviction as ever before in our lives and we are thrilled at the road that has been put before us, but we must allow the grieving to run its course. It is necessary, healthy and leaves us much to celebrate. 
 
As we shared a big breakfast together, each person shared silly stories and offered affirmations of what they have seen in us over the past 4(ish) years. Listening intently, it became clear that these have been the most formative years of our lives. It has been in this context and environment that we have most clearly discovered who we are and what we will contribute long term. It has challenged us, shaped us and refined us, but we have come alive and been given the gift of moving confidently into God’s call on our lives. 
 
Our organizational ethos doesn’t see an organizational move like ours as us “leaving,” but as us being faithful to be sent into what God has for us. While there is mourning, there is far more celebration. 
 
Having already been choked up numerous times, each of our colleagues read blessings over us they had written down. We then circled up, they laid hands on us and we shared Eucharist together rightly placing the crucified and risen Jesus at the center of the season that is to come. 
 
What a gift it has been. One of the blessings ended with these words from a liturgy we often use as a community:
 
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: Wherever he may send you;
 
May he guide you through the wilderness: Protect you through the storm:
 
May he bring you home rejoicing: At the wonders he has shown you:
 
May he bring home rejoicing: Once again into our doors.
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