on the eve of your baptism, dear daughter

Junia, my dear daughter, today is the eve of your baptism.

I am taking a moment to write to you and express a few thoughts before that big day, for your sake in the sense that you may someday find this old post and find some meaning in it, and for my sake as well as I process the profound experience I see tomorrow to be. I hope it’s okay with you that I’ve shared this broadly. I asked you about it recently and you didn’t seem to mind too much, and seemed more interested in your magnetic drawing pad at the time.

Your baptism, Junia, will be a beautiful experience. Whether or not it’s something that a person believes in to any degree, the aesthetics are superb: you, Junia, ushered into a particular community of faith, and we your family and church believing God will one day draw you into deep relationship, directing you to live out a fulfilling life with Jesus at the center, love as the functioning principle, all in an economy of grace that is freely given [though it was rather costly on the part of Jesus, who paid a whole lot to distribute that grace].

Perhaps you’ll cry during the baptism. Or maybe you will coo, mildly, at Pastor Karen as she marks you with ordinary water imbued with sacramental meaning as those of us looking on respond with some oos and aahs of our own. Hard to say how it will go, but this talk of water and faith makes think about my own baptism 20 years ago.

Continue reading “on the eve of your baptism, dear daughter”

Quiet Pain & the Hope Ahead

We live in a culture that prizes success and achievement. We are dazzled with powerful athletes who swim, run, climb, or otherwise amaze the watching world. We scroll through social media feeds and like the posts that are positive and inspiring. Maybe we experience pangs of jealousy when it’s a picture of precisely what we ourselves are apparently lacking.

Meanwhile, our quotidian lives unfold: work, class, maybe kids, whatever we have going on. And there is quiet pain, hidden sadness that does not fit the mold social media offers. In the lives of all human beings – and I do not believe this is universalizing – yes, in all our lives, there is pain, loss, hurt, or even the subtle, caustic overwhelm that comes COVID isolation. There’s regret and all the dark wondering that often accompanies it [did I marry the right person? what if I got that job?].

We look to articles and the experience of others for help and advice, and answers flood in faster than we can absorb the breadth of their perspectives. Sometimes it’s to our edification. But often we are left feeling no better than before. Advice and answers seldom do much good for our souls when what we really desire is to be heard, seen, cared for, loved. Sure we want answers and direction for the path forward, but not from a place of abstraction. Rather, we want someone who gets us.

Quiet pain, the kind that doesn’t fit on social media, exists in my life. Today, my son wanted a snack, so I asked him if he wanted Dino gummies or cinnamon buns. He opted for Dino gummies, but as he gobbled up his last gummy he demanded cinnamon rolls too. The answer was a gentle no, repeated a number of times. This spiraled him into a tantrum that took – and yes, I watched the clock – 10 minutes [the record is 50 minutes by the way]. I did the right parenting thing to offer an option, and yeah, I gave him a nice snack that he got to choose. But he’s small, he’s young, he’s learning. I don’t want him to go through the yelling and crying; my heart aches with him. It’s also frustrating, though, since his 10 month old sister is asleep upstairs. It’s quiet, hidden pain that isn’t making any headlines.

Continue reading “Quiet Pain & the Hope Ahead”

an open letter to a beloved church

A little over three years ago we were marooned.

Having moved across the country for a meaningful job [ben] and graduate school [kaile], I was suddenly let go from my job. And it wasn’t just me, it was five of us staffers at City Church in SF. Big changes in the church budget that year meant big changes for us.

Several exhausting interviews later, I was on the phone with two incredible, gifted leaders: first Suzanne Magno, then Susan Van Riesen. Instead of battling me on the complicated theological issues of our day, they listened and asked a few honest, relevant questions to assess the journey I/we were on, and how following Jesus was going.

Early on, I had the sense that God might well be leading us into a new community. Palo Alto Vineyard Church was ostensibly a strong, united, convicted, God-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-led community of faith.

The past three plus years have proven that to indeed be the case.

Today I am taking some much-needed time to reflect on exactly how I/we have been shaped during these delightful, tiring, exhilarating, nerve-wracking several years of growth and formation in the way of Jesus. First I will share a few aspects of our church that have shaped me the past few years. Then I will share some parting comments, observations – even some exhortations – to a few select groups within our community with whom I have been in close touch.

So first, some observation on how I have seen how God has uniquely called our church.

Palo Alto Vineyard Church, in my experience, has been:

1. A spiritually optimistic community

By spiritually optimistic, I mean our basic prayer ethic is simple and unapologetic:

boldly ask God what is needed.

A lot of Christians, and I count myself in this group, are a teensy bit hesitant to boldly ask  the Holy Spirit to direct a decision, to heal a wound, to change a heart. Why? There is a fear that we might not get an answer, that we might not see the healing we want to see, that we might not experience the transformation we desire. Continue reading “an open letter to a beloved church”

Destination: Grand Rapids, Michigan

Over the past couple months, I’ve been slowly sharing with friends here in Silicon Valley about the decision Kaile and I have made about moving back to Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Here is a bit more about that decision-making process.

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the Willard avenue home. Kaile is holding Silas

Taking a look back at our 2016 move to the Bay Area, it was probably the best decision we have ever made. It was so clear we were supposed to be here, a God-directed step. A meaningful job was available for me, a graduate program in therapy for Kaile. On top of that, we put our house [pictured here] on the market during a February, 2016 apartment hunting trip to San Francisco. It sold within 24 hours after a brief bidding war, and we downsized to a 450sq foot apartment in downtown San Francisco.

Once we arrived, it was joyfully challenging. Culture shock was one aspect, sticker shock another. Urban energy, pacific breezes, and incredible views of the city and bay from our 15th story window inspired us. Meaningful interactions with folks at the church I served confirmed how we could make San Francisco home. Bike rides and walks I’d take with Silas and Kaile made me feel like at least a portion of every day was vacation. We made more, spent more, felt like imposters some of the time, and gradually adjusted to our new setting.

The grit and grind of city life felt right. No longer living in the shadow of Detroit or Chicago, we now lived in one of the country’s best-known cities, with all its opportunities and pain, all its beauty and all its brokenness. We were so palpably aware of our newness yet so ready for whatever awaited us. Continue reading “Destination: Grand Rapids, Michigan”

restraining my judgments: pandemic version

A few days ago I found myself at a new park, Calabazas, a city park in Cupertino just south of Apple’s famed headquarters.

I had been up since just after 6am with our two rowdy preschool boys. Having already coached them through a short hike at a nature preserve, this was my second stop of the day. My face held the emotional and physical exhaustion from the full day with the littles; my forehead was a knot.

As we explored the park, a small remote controlled vehicle approached, followed by a man. From behind his mask, he appeared to be within a few years of my age. Soon, another man appeared, manning the controls of another dust-spewing vehicle.

Naturally, the boys were fascinated. What 3 or 5 year old kid wouldn’t be?

I had to make sure the boys didn’t get hit; the vehicles were fairly large. As I coached the boys on avoiding them, I also had to explain that they needed to stay in a certain area – an island made up of a large tree and its roots. There was some struggle for them to listen, but for the most part we seemed to be getting along ok, the boys happily watching the small trucks as they sped around, tumbling over rocks, hopping over berms.

There was some mumbling, a sense of discontent that I began to pick up from the two men. As another joined, I could hear a few of the complaints. They were unsure whether to speak directly to me or confront my kids, but internally I realized they felt some claim over this place and that we had unknowingly impinged on a remote controlled ritual.

“Buddy, come on, that’s the only jump in the neighborhood!” one of the drivers said brusquely through his face mask, barely looking my direction. This was the first comment that clearly marked out their position.

“I understand” was my terse response.

Walking down to where the boys were, I let them know it might be a good idea to find a new place to play. It was dusty, loud, and I was feeling the awkwardness of getting in the way of their fun, their afternoon activity – driving little remote controlled cars.

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As I walked out with Silas and Maelin, part of me was still perturbed at the man’s comment. The one jump in the neighborhood? Really? Glancing around, I noticed countless places to drive the little vehicles – and we were there first! For heaven’s sake, it’s virus season and I have three kids to raise, a marriage to maintain, and a full time job.

You’re a grown man driving a remote controlled car, and you can’t let a tired dad soak in the afternoon with his kids without verbally staving him away from your precious racetrack? 

Amidst those thoughts, I tried to imagine their situation. What are their lives like? And what is their experience amidst the pandemic?

Maybe, even though this clearly isn’t the only jump in the neighborhood, it’s the best one. 

Maybe rc cars is the primary – or only way – these guys connect as friends. 

Maybe they have no idea what it’s like to raise kids. 

Maybe they’re fighting depression, anxiety. 

Maybe they’re single.

Maybe.  

I could be totally off. Maybe they’re just jerks. But whatever made that guy want to come take over my spot at the park, they had a high value for driving their little cars.

COVID-19 related challenges also fit squarely into this interaction at Calabazas Park. If those gentlemen do indeed lead single lives, the pressures [and joys] of parenting are simply unknown to them. If my experience is, in fact, entirely outside theirs, no wonder there is confusion.

My faith tells me I’m supposed to bear with other people’s burdens. It’s right there in Galatians chapter six, go look it up. In this case, I found myself the one who needed to assess the needs of the car guys and parent accordingly.

One chapter earlier in Galatians, Paul speaks to how we can sum up God’s call on us with one simple concept: loving others as we love ourselves. Jesus takes it a step further and calls us to love even our enemies. 

Enemy love was the tipping point for me, but my spiritual guides leave me with no excuse, so I yield [even if I’m a bit resistant as I do!].

Drive on, remote controlled car guys.

***

 

 

 

5 Lessons the Pandemic is Teaching Me

Not many of us were planning on waiting out a pandemic, but here we are. And here’s what I am learning.

1. No person is an island [even in quarantine]

The illustrious English poet John Donne penned these words several hundred years ago. The exact phraseology fit with the time but is no less striking all these centuries later: “no man is an island entire of itself.”

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, …none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Ultimately, we belong to God. And God has entrusted us to one another, each of us with different roles to play.

It’s impossible not to witness the myriad ways we depend on one another for virtually everything. Several weeks ago I discovered, to my delight, that Jester D, a garbageman who has taken to Twitter, was honestly and defiantly letting the world know how he was sticking to his post, continuing his job, serving his city.

Everyone supports this kind of dedication. In the same way, we are all noticing how much we depend on the stockers, managers, and cashiers at our local grocery stores; our nurses and doctors; our mail delivery people; our church communities; our pastors; our families and dear friends.

My prayer and hope is that the pandemic we are experiencing allows us to humble ourselves, practice gratitude for all people and all things, and establish new patterns of interdependence that we needed all along – though we mightn’t have known.

2. Being a good neighbor really counts [and not just when things are rough!]

It’s hard to list the support my family and I have received over the past six weeks. Of course some of the care was because of Junia’s entrance into our family, but much of it was strictly virus-related.

Suddenly the topography of human relationships matters just a little more. 

I have imagined what it might be like months or years from now if a pandemic were to hit the planet but with a higher casualty rate. What if human lives on the planet were taken not in the tens of thousands but in the tens of millions? What if economies were not only challenged or shaken, but leveled entirely?

On a podcast I listened to a few days ago, the guest – a survivalist – shared how his fellow survivalists maintain a saying that seems to promote zeal for their cause: “America is 9 meals away from anarchy.” That’s about what we have in the fridge right now, to be honest, and beyond that we depend on farmers, grocers, truck drivers, and everyone else in the supply chain. If things got desperate, the scenario could be really frightening.

These awful thoughts occasionally haunt me.

At the same time, there is much to celebrate. Supply chains are holding steady [though on a personal note, I still haven’t found toilet paper], people are getting creative, and there are some good signs of resiliency coming into view.

However the pandemic is playing out for us, the place we live has become all the more important. Neighbors have become vital – much more so than before. I pray and hope this becomes a new normal, especially for those of us with a stubborn sense of independence [read: me].

3. Being informed is good [binging on news is not]

That pretty much says it all. It’s easy to scroll away through articles and social media feeds. We are all looking for answers, for hope, for an end to this strange quarantined existence.

My mom said it this way: “I haven’t kept up with the news as much recently. I mean, I can’t change anything!” 

True, mom. At the same time, she is making a difference!

She and my dad are doing all the same things any other responsible person is doing: hand washing, masks, distancing practices, limited trips, only the essentials. That’s what most of us are doing.

And the sum of our efforts, we pray and hope, is making a difference.

Watching the news is helpful to the extent that we gain information about how to care for our neighbors. Beyond that, it can become an obsession, and it can lead to anxiety and unhelpful fears. It can even be, simply, an unhelpful distraction.

Get the facts, and get on with your best life possible right now.

4. Good parenting seems about 1000% as important as before [and every minute is an opportunity to grow]

I have had several bad moments recently, moments of impatience with my sons. There are some big ways I can improve my parenting, before the pandemic – but more so in the present, since there is even more time with the littles.

My wife has really impressed me with her skills. She has all three kids on her own several days every week, allowing me to quarantine in my office and crush the work I have to do.

What I am doing isn’t terribly complicated. I’m listening to Kaile’s insights, breathing deeply, getting down at their level, putting a hand on their arm as I speak to them, using some Love and Logic ideas, and making sure they know my rules are for their good.

There are lots of moments when I hear myself wonder – almost out loud – whether things will suddenly click, fall into place, work out. It’s when they’re both crying, when they run out of the gate against my order, when things are rough. Other moments are quite the opposite – an unexpected kiss on the cheek from Silas, a special toy or drawing that Maelin makes for me. There is a lot of good to celebrate.

I am doing my best to follow through and be consistent, and trying to have fun. I love my littles a lot, and parenting strategies are all the more useful during this unprecedented time we are experiencing.

The parenting strategies help me love them more.

5. Grace is more important than ever [for myself as much as for others]

God’s grace seems exceptionally generous right now.

Whatever failures, foibles, sins large or small, God forgives. Jesus showed up on planet earth and took grace so seriously that he was willing to die to ransom us from evil [see the New Testament!].

Of course this doesn’t mean we abuse the grace – by no means! Grace leads us to gratitude, and gratitude leads us to action. It’s a response.

But back to grace.

As many of us come up against the limits of our own resiliency, it is family and friends and God who often grant us grace.

Yet there is also the need for we ourselves to accept the grace.

Too often we know, cerebrally, that there’s grace. But we don’t always grant ourselves the grace we cognitively know is available.

I wrote more extensively on this grace thing recently. Grace a gift God is giving us that we need to receive, unwrap, and begin to use

about every day, by my estimate.

***

speaking to our soul amidst chaos

For several thousand years, the Jewish community and, was time has gone on, people from all faith backgrounds have resonated with the Hebrew Psalms.

It’s hard not to connect when we hear how ancient people interacted with a living God. Every emotion, from love and longing to pain and loss, finds its expression somewhere in the corpus.

The beginning of Psalm 42 has really connected for me recently:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.

2My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?

Growing up in West Michigan, I saw my fair share of these creatures; the local species is the whitetail variety. On many occasions I have witnessed deer licking up fresh water from a stream or still pond. The text here recognizes the subtle difference between these creatures and myself, at least as far as I could comprehend, for I had and still have more than enough water and food; but I long for a larger sense of connection to my maker, not just the next meal. Maybe that’s true too for the creature too; but I suppose for now, at least, I cannot know.

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Also, seemingly unlike the woodland creature, I am sometimes crushed with sadness and acquainted with loss. Virtual church, for all our efforts, isn’t the same as the sustaining gift of person-to-person connection. Virtual hugs are not real hugs, as nice of a gesture as they are. FaceTime is nice, it’s just not quite face time. For all our talk of health, I do think we should consider our mental and spiritual health alongside our hand washing habits; it’s not an either-or but a both-and. No apology for that digression!

Returning to both our physical, spiritual, and mental health, it is impossible not to wonder where God is in all aspects of our wellness.  Continue reading “speaking to our soul amidst chaos”

the meaning of home

Every weekend since we moved to Silicon Valley, we notice moving trucks in our neighborhood.

The San Francisco Bay Area is transient. There is so much here! It’s incredible! There are few places in the world where one can make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, yet drive a half hour or less to surf. Or hike. Or check out an amazing museum. Ir have a world class meal. Drive a couple hours and you’re in the Sierra Nevada mountains – Lake Tahoe has limitless fun [though it typically comes with a hefty price tag].

The Bay Area has its challenges, to be sure, but one look at the topography is enough; it’s drop dead gorgeous.

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one of Lake Tahoe’s beaches [credit: benedek/Getty Images]
There is a reason people stream from across the country to live here. It’s an amazing place to live, pure and simple.

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Pearl 6101 [credit: Patricia Chang]
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San Francisco skyline from the west looking east [credit: Unsplash/Hardik Pandya]
Once they get here, however, the difficulties can be intimidating for people from any station in life. A couple years ago, 46% of Bay Area residents were planning on leaving within a few years. But why leave?  Continue reading “the meaning of home”

baby #3: Junia’s dramatic birth story

For about as long as Kaile was pregnant with our third child, we have fielded the question, “where will you guys go for delivery?”

Our answer would begin with our hopes to be at the Nightingale Birth Center in San Mateo, the most relaxing setting for Kaile. She has given birth naturally without any medications twice already, and apart from low iron and uncomfortable feelings in abundance, she hasn’t experienced significant pre-natal problems.

The truth was, we didn’t know how it would all work out. We put together our plan, made backup plans, and waited. In the modern world, this is certainly not always the case, but birth, in our limited experience, involves a lot of unknowing.

When Kaile began to feel strong contractions on Tuesday of this week, we dutifully headed to the birth center, knowing her body was preparing for delivery. We were aware that there could be a journey ahead. After about seven hours of labor, things slowed down and we headed home.

Those hours spent pacing the room, breathing deeply through each surge of her uterus, leaning on balance balls, and relaxing in the birth pool were meaningful for me; I was able to genuinely support Kaile during this taxing time.

I realize the pictures aren’t great, but they at least offer a taste of the experience! 

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pacing during act I of labor

She was so joyful throughout, surprising our doula, Dasha, and all the midwives with her overwhelmingly positive attitude.

Heading home Tuesday evening was the right move. After a quiet night’s rest, we got up feeling refreshed. I took the boys to preschool and headed home to help Kaile relax.

By this point, anyone reading is probably falling on one side or the other of a spectrum; on the one side, it’s the natural birth crowd, the granola people – maybe the term hippie even applies! On the other side, it’s folks who rely heavily on the standard medical system.

No judgment here regarding what feels comfortable for any other individual or family, but we are definitely on the natural side of the spectrum, not militantly, but with conviction. We recognize the gift it is for Kaile not to have experienced any of the myriad pre-natal challenges common to pregnancy, and we do not take that lightly. Continue reading “baby #3: Junia’s dramatic birth story”

my new [tech] rule of life:

Life in 2019 is complicated, and I bet 2020 will be too.

Maybe you’ve felt it? A barrage of information floods us constantly, even if we’re trying to be intentional about how we live. A notification from my news app will inform me about political protests in Hong Kong. Friends ping me on Snapchat or iMessage as I peruse a Twitter feed.

I recently had to turn off the sound on my work computer because the email notifications were coming in so alarmingly fast. Sometimes I close Apple mail for that same reason.

Sometimes I literally lose my train of thought because of some kind of notification, and I need to re-center by shutting down all devices and entering into prayer. This is not a good sign! Our devices should serve us – not we them!

Alas, our psychology often cripples us. Facebook did not always have the *like* button. Of course now we can slide our finger for a love, laugh, or cry emoji, and even an anger option. These little digital affirmations from others get at the parts of our neurology that seek social approval. The effects are staggering. Some of us do almost anything to get noticed, to gain approval, to earn *likes*.

A few months ago I read Andy Crouch’s Tech Wise Family. I recommend that little book, and it inspired to begin a few new practices:

1. Putting my phone to bed. Literally, my phone sleeps in the kitchen now next to the family iPad and Kaile’s phone.

2. No screens in our main living space. My iMac, which used to camp out in our living room, is now my work computer.  Continue reading “my new [tech] rule of life:”