Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let It Snow!


Lifelong beach bums don’t often have the chance at a white Christmas. Since Jana and I had to readjust our weather gauges a bit (50 is cold and 80 is hot) growing up in California beach towns, we look forward to a few payoffs…like snow on Christmas day, without a 3 hour drive.

The past 2 weeks in Seattle were COLD. (Note to Minnesotans: approximately your Spring Break weather.) 17 degrees at 9AM heading for work and mid 30s for the high. My skin has been dry and cracked like one of those Death Valley floor photos. We rooted for a little moisture during this cold snap because it would mean snow. Of course the cloud cover is somewhat of an insulator, bringing the temps into the 40s. So here we were – December in Seattle and 2 weeks without rain. Finally, Sunday night it happened. A couple hours of snowflakes. I was pushing the younger two kids in the baby jogger when it began. Later that evening we got the girls out of bed when the street was covered with snow. But within minutes it began to rain, melting it all away.

Talking about the weather is actually something I love. It’s a good conversation starter and I think in my next life, metaphorically speaking (not trying to compromise theologically), I’d be a weathercaster – I just love watching the Weather Channel. Anyway, it’s funny how people I talked with spoke about the potential snow with such disdain and fear. Yeah, I wasn’t here last year when it shut down the city for a week and helped the mayor lose his bid at reelection I’m told, but come on – snow is cool.

With all apologies to those who live in the snow, own snow shovels, and maybe even a snow blower, I’d love a white Christmas (or just a snowy day). It’s one of life’s simple pleasures. One of God’s miracles. Not only am I awed by snow, but I love watching my kids react too. They talk about it constantly and they can’t wait ‘til we pack up the car, drive 40 miles east and actually go play in it this winter. Knowing how those in colder climates often despise it, I wonder what I swear off as an annoyance or take for granted that someone who lives elsewhere craves: the Phoenix businesswoman in July who yearns for Seattle’s rain; the Kansas college student who’d love to see my Pacific Ocean; the Florida surfer who wonders how people on the West Coast live without humidity; the teacher in Southern California who’d love to exchange a few sunny days for the greenery of the Northwest.

Though I’m jealous of Arizona’s golfing winters (someday I’m gonna be a snowbird), with each passing day I become more appreciative of what I have that I didn’t for a little while. The rain isn’t so bad – it sure beats weekly blizzards. 40 degree weather isn’t so bad – running by the lake at 20 something degrees was a bit tough. “The daily grind” isn’t so bad – that guy I met last week was just laid off just in time for Christmas. Yep, I’m gonna appreciate the little things.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

She Gets It!


It was a day not easy to forget. Hopefully the beginning - not the last. It's partly why we came here - and it worked.
Our church's youth group goes to downtown Seattle once a month to serve the homeless. It's part of the sad reality of city life. Having previously lived in a remote, smaller town, it was much more difficult to find this type of suffering (though it's everywhere). But in the big city, it's in your face: people asking for money on the freeway offramps, men lined up to find work near Home Depot, women with tattered clothing sleeping on park benches.
From very early on I realized my sins of greed and selfishness have been passed on to my kids. Whether it's an "I want" campaign in every shopping aisle at Target or an "I deserve" attitude during the Christmas season. I don't speak as an expert or a holier than thou pastor - I share that very indifference to the poor too often.
So last Sunday came the opportunity to continue chipping away at that gross veneer we share. Meris (1st grade) and I joined the high school students and a few families on their monthly excursion of service. We passed out socks and granola bars to a few grateful men, then we headed to a "soup kitchen" that serves the homeless daily. I stood behind my brave and newly confident 7 year old who offered dinner rolls to about 300 people. They came up one by one while I asked, "How are you doing?" (Duh, stupid question but seemingly the right one) and intensely studied each face. Young, old, weathered, sad, hopeful, vacant - the whole gamut. I could be just one job loss or different childhood from sharing their current plight.
The pinnacle moment for me was to watch the proverbial lightbulb turn on. In the midst of our abundance (she's knowingly getting her first $95 American Girl Doll for Christmas), she grasps poverty in her hometown. As she eagerly awaits opening up her "Kit" doll in a few weeks (Kit is a fictitious girl who lives during the Great Depression and a kids' movie which boldly depicts hunger and poverty in the 30s features Kit as its main character.) She turns to me and says, "I'm serving bread to people who need food - just like Kit." A powerful, emotional moment which jolted me like a current of electricity. As she humbly resumed passing out bread, in a nanosecond I realize: she gets it, our move was worth it, and I'm so proud of her.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Date Night


So we finally had a date night! They’ve been few and far between the past year: three small kids, adoption attachment concerns, and joblessness yielding no spending money. So we found a babysitter – she’s too good to be true (so we won’t share her phone number J). We drove to the fancy mall 20 minutes away and found an open table at the 4th restaurant we walked into. No rice to pick off my clothes, no half-chewed Splenda packets to retrieve from the grips of tiny hands, and the only interruptions to our free-flowing conversations…“Would you like a refill?”

Since dinner didn’t last two hours and since neither of us had gigantic milk stains all over our pants requiring immediate laundering, we were free to go to the movies. Do you go to the movies? Are you like us these days – 2 movies in the theaters per year? So even though there wasn’t a blockbuster out – besides Twilight (which Jana has already seen – but that’s another post), we saw “The Blind Side.” From the moment I first saw that movie previewed months ago, I knew I wanted to avoid it.

Why you ask? Yes it’s a football movie my wife was willing to go to, but the central topic was adoption. Given the circumstances that were evident from the 30 second television preview, I knew it would get ugly. That’s right – crying. Most guys panic around criers, if not downright fear them. How am I supposed to put up with all that blubbering? The movie wasn’t 15 seconds old when the waterworks began. This high school kid is essentially homeless: cry. His mom isn’t capable of loving him: more tears. A “have it all together” family is turned upside down as it changes for the better: boohoo. Skipping to the end, because this blog is only so long, the end credits show the resulting photos (I won’t spoil the movie for you): waaaaaaaaah.

As the credits finish rolling, Jana looks at me and says, “Oh, honey. You’re so cute when you cry.” So I get a bit emotional about adoption, but of course you know that given last week’s entry.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful for Doro Wat


Doro what? Nope Doro Wat. It's this incredible Ethiopian spicy chicken dish. There's a faint similarity to the Mexican dish Mole. Doro Wat is kind of soupy, but really a main course! You eat it not with utensils but with injera - kind of a sour pancake that perfectly harmonizes with the tear producing entree. How clear was that description?

Anyway, it's easy to title any blog "thankful" this week for obvious reasons. It's extra special for us. 365 days ago (and just before first trying Doro Wat) we met our favorite Ethiopian: Elias. He's been with us a whole year. How quickly time has passed. Three short moves ago (Ethiopia to CA to TX to WA) we picked him up for the first time: chubby, googley eyes, bald, and beautiful brown skin. He was heavy then to pick up and even harder to lift now, already eating us out of house and home. His smile is unmatched - except for his sisters' smiles. His laugh and screech unequaled. His temper at times uncontrollable. His hugs unfathomable to a parent not fully his.

"Uh oh" you may say. Don't get me wrong: he's mine, all mine (okay his mom's too). But as an adopted child I know that some day he will have to wrestle with loss. Though his birth-mom couldn't care for him, Elias may someday be saddened at her decision. It breaks my heart already, especially since this is a special child. But he has to know that we're all adopted. He belongs not to us, but to God. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, there is a concept that conveys the fact that He wants to adopt all of us. Adopted - we are chosen. The God of the universe chooses us for relationship. This is love.

How amazed we were last night to celebrate Gotcha Day - his one year anniversary with us, the ones who chose him. We went to an Ethiopian restaurant in Seattle called Lalibela. The smells of injera, doro wat, and beef tibs was intoxicating. A flood of memories of that wonderful day resurfaced. In conversing with an Ethiopian man, Jana found out the full meaning of his given name, Abinet, which means "example" as in "a Godly example to others." Wow! Is that incredible? To me it is. I do truly hope and pray daily that his name will be prophetic. That his imperfect, doting father will do just enough to translate God's love for Elias in my words and actions. That though he was adopted, he is just as loved as my parents love me.
But "an example" he has already been. Though we hear the occasional "good for you" approval for our politically correct 2009 international adoption (though not covered in People Magazine), we realize more and more each day that it's never been about that. We have been blessed more than we have given. "An Example" of God's love for us he is. "An Example" of the simplicity of life he is. "An Example" of unconditional love he is. My hope is to return the example to him.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rebooting


What technological change have you witnessed in your lifetime? I remember telephones when they were big and clumsy and the only answering machines were mom or dad. Or that computer my friend Andrew got in 7th grade – a Commodore 64. Now that was cool!

The past 2 days at PLCC, we’ve been without email or internet. We can’t even access our email from off-site locations. It has caused a medley of groans and the need to rethink how we work. It’s incredible how I rely so much on technology – specifically the computer. I had to take my truck to get repaired, didn’t have a phone book and couldn’t find the directions online – what to do? I’ve got multiple messages to send to Sunday school teachers about Sunday’s events – communication is impossible! What am I supposed to do, call people on the phone? That’s so 3 years ago. Without email I’m forced to rethink how I operate.

Have you ever been forced to reboot: your computer crashes; your cell phone gets dropped in the toilet? What about a serious event like a serious car accident? How about cancer? Though we depend on technology, health, safety, none are guarantees. Working at a church you are exposed to people who need rebooting all the time. People suffer from disease, broken relationships, addictions, and loneliness. It is at these moments when people are forced to reboot. Life has crashed though this wasn’t the plan. It is a reminder that as much as I try, I am not in control.

There are benefits to crashing computers and suffering – perspective. Life becomes simple: some things I thought I needed, I really don’t. The extraneous is weeded out. As a person of faith I believe the only real hope is Jesus. Though I’m ignorant in saving my computer from viruses or my cell phone from dangerous bodies of water, as a pastor I am fortunate enough to walk with people who are rebooting their lives. I don’t have all the answers and I never make false promises. Like tech support I get to talk with people about their losses and frustrations. It helps me empathize and reminds me of what’s really important in life. What rebooting stories do you have?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Beauty within the Busyness


Beauty within the Busyness

What is your definition of busy? I think we all see it differently. Remember college? You held a job at the local pizza joint, took 19 credits, were dating someone special, and still had time for the intra-mural water polo team. That was busy…until you got a job where you couldn’t wear flip flops anymore, then got married, then bought a house, and then had a family.

Earlier this year, I was a stay at home dad who could barely dress out of his pajamas by noon. How could this be? Make coffee, clean up coffee, get junior out of bed, change the world’s most offensive diaper, give hugs (had to wait until after diaper change to ensure not transferring the leaky diaper to my own outfit), make breakfast, throw in a load of laundry, clean up breakfast, drive the 1st grader to school, pick up kids’ rooms, mop beautiful dark hardwood floor (that exposed every granule of dirt), get kids dressed, throw laundry into dryer, start second load, supervise kids playing in the backyard, remove kids’ clothing soiled with mud, redress children, pay bills online while kids watch Word Girl (very funny cartoon), get lunch ready, fold first load, put second load into dryer (which will be forgotten and sour by this time tomorrow), then clean up the remnants of lunch: peanut butter, jelly, banana, and milk all over the table and chairs, then rinse kids’ hair adorned with peanut butter, jelly, banana, and milk.

Fast forward a few months. I have a fulltime job (like that wasn’t a job) and when I come home at the end of a day of meetings, prayer, coffee, data entry, and conversations I get great big hugs. Then we eat, give the kids a bath, and when the last bedtime story is read, Jana appears to have been swallowed by the couch. I inquire, “Why are you so tired, dear?” Just as the words are coming out of my mouth, I get a deserved “are you an idiot” stare and in a nanosecond I remember my summer. A quick “just kidding honey” does the trick. Boy, can I think on my feet!

It is difficult to admit at times, but I’m sure thankful for the near bedlam that is raising three small children. Though each day can resemble the previous day, I try to remember the blessings within the monotony: I have kids (because some can’t), my kids are healthy (because some aren’t), I have a job (because many don’t), my kids took baths (because some kids don’t have a home), Jana does endless laundry (because we can afford clothes). In our infrequent dates (because we are busy and visiting Grandma doesn’t charge for babysitting) we can’t but help reminisce over the blessings we have. Despite the peanut butter in the hair, snot on our newly washed shirts, and incessant screaming in the car…God is good and our kids are priceless. There is beauty within the busyness.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Only 87 Today


OK, so we're no longer assimilating to Austin. We're assimilating to Seattle. It's 87 degrees today - a scorcher for our new neighbors, but a piece a cake for us. Where are the jackets?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Plan B


Plan B. What the heck are these vagabonds doing now? Read the post, then decide for yourself.
Well, OUR plans certainly didn't work out as we had them designed. The idea was to slowly acclimate to a community. Jana would work full time for a little while, then she'd go back to part time once I found a teaching job. While teaching we'd find a good church where I'd eventually become a staff member.
Here's what went well. We found some good churches and began attaching to one in particular...that met in a school - of course. That's what we do. I found a great mentor, Pastor Jody Mayes, who came alongside me in my search for employment and significance. We found great friends in a short time: Matt and Maya next door; Meagan and Chase who've also adopted a great "Elias"; plus others I won't have time to mention who quickly embraced us. Our house is big and beautiful. My beloved running trail, mountain biking parks, and the gym we joined provided great opportunities to relieve stress. Places like Caffe Medici, Mozart's, Chavelo's, and Sonic became family favorites.
But one month after arriving, it was announced that a hiring freeze in local school districts were being instituted - even for substitute teachers! The economy in TX wasn't immune to the rest of the country's woes. It just came a year later. Teachers who had lost their retirement on Wall Street decided to work an extra year or two.
So I handed out tons of resumes - sometimes to jobs that I'd never have considered...and nothing came. Meanwhile Jana's job proved to be extremely difficult - for more details you can ask her to blog. You know when your spouse is filled with anxiety before a 12 hour shift that it's time to do something. So I did. I began applying for jobs out of state simultaneously with Austin jobs. We realized we loved Austin, but something had to change.
So I applied to jobs in a few places - big PNW cities, a few big CA cities, and Denver. I had a couple of interviews here and there, but along came an interview in a beautiful Seattle suburb - read "National Park" called Sammamish. After 2 phone interviews, one being in a non-air conditioned 100+ degree car - we were invited for an "in person" 3rd interview...which led to an all family 4th interview weekend.
If you remember the movie, The Firm, we became suspicious of this church's motives. We were given airline tickets, two beautiful hotels - the second with a 3 room suite, great meals, babysitters to watch the kids, and super friendly people. Hold on a minute - I couldn't get the time of day for other jobs that I was qualified for. Now, I find myself with a great job prospect in a beautiful location with generous people. Something's wrong, right?
It seems that four months wandering in the desert (Austin is pretty darn hot in the summer) enabled us to refresh, refocus, and submit to God's will. He placed neat people in our path - whom we could be friends with for life - and reminded us that no matter how hard we try (multiple applications, testing fees, drivers' licenses, etc.), it's always best to enjoy the crazy path we're on and to seek him first.
So in a few weeks, I'll be the Children's Pastor (get to hang out with my own kids!) with an emphasis on families and parenting at Pine Lake Covenant Church. It's 20 minutes from downtown Seattle. There are many Ethiopians in Seattle - one I met at the airport yesterday - and with Microsoft just around the corner, there's quite an international community. They're doing some great things at Pine Lake and with a huge population of kids in the area (the highest density in the state) there is tremendous opportunity. Thanks for your thoughts, prayers, well-wishes, and patience as we slowly found our spot...and come on up for a visit!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

As Sure as the Sun Rises


Well, it's a rite of passage - is it not? As sure as the sun rises (which I rarely see) and as sure as amusement park food is overpriced and inedible, Kiera cut her own hair.

Just a few days ago I heard the rumblings of a heated conversation about to begin between said child and her mother. I raced upstairs to witness the carnage - long strands of blonde hair strewn out across the bathroom floor. It took 3/10 second to realize what had occurred. I arrived just prior to the confrontation:

Mom: "What happened to your hair?"

Kiera: "Umm, Meris...umm, Elias pulled out my hair."

Background - Elias loves to pull his sisters' hair. It is common to find a significant tuft of blonde hair in his clutches - but this much hair, cut so cleanly?

At this point I turned around covering my mouth, trying to muffle my laughter. It was astonishing - not the lie, but her dangerously clever and quick response. She may have a future in politics. Of course her sister completed this act a few years ago and to this day will not fess up. Meris' hair-cutting was a group conspiracy. All three girls pointed to the other claiming, "SHE did it." Even when I asked her this week about it she replied, "I don't remember who cut it." Hmmmm. Two politicians.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

You Know It's Humid When...


Yeah, we've lived in heat before - but I've never sweatted (is that a word?) so much in my life! Summers for us in CA routinely hit the 100s. But...all together now...it was a DRY heat. Okay, so what's the difference?

If you're sitting downstairs and there's a book you want to read upstairs...and you KNOW you'll break a sweat fetching it...then you know it's humid.

If you go to the gym to run indoors even in the early morning...it's humid.

If the AC in the gym is cranked up and in 20 minutes you still sweat enough to spatter the person running next to you and you have to wring out your shirt...it's humid.

If you're not obsessive compulsive yet you find yourself showering 3x a day because you stink...it's humid.

If you avoid hugging your three beautiful children after they jumped on the trampoline for only five minutes because they're sweating like pigs...it's humid.

Finally, we took the kids to JCPenney on Monday to get Elias' one year old photos - give or take 2 months. Like most JCPenney stores, this one too was indoors and had AC. For 20 minutes three grown adults (Jana, myself, and the photographer) surrounded, played defense, cheered, peek-a-booed, encouraged, chased, puppeteered, and danced with the hope of one or two smiles and camera eye contact, resulting in the perfect photo. The masterful and patient photographer caught some great images. Afterward, I had to sit down, stretch, drink Gatorade, take in oxygen, and take an I.V. just to recover - that's when you know it's humid...and you have an energetic son.

Monday, July 13, 2009

105 Degree Survival Skills


So it's been the hottest Austin summer in years apparently. We wouldn't know the difference because this is summer #1. We're used to 100+ at this time of year, but not with humidity...and not with 3 active kids. How do you get through a warm Texas summer? This isn't textbook; we're just kind of making it up as we go.

1. Swim:
We religiously attended the neighborhood pool our first few months. Taking a dip for 30 minutes is just what the Dr. ordered. Now that that pool's water temperature is 90 plus, we head to the pool at the gym (hereafter called the “Jum” acc. to the 3 year old).

2. Cold Beverages:
8am – Huge glass of water
9am – Coffee (OK, not cold but so tasty!)
11am – More water at the gym (Don't forget to wring out that sopping t-shirt from your 10 minute workout or it'll mold in your gym bag by tomorrow.)
2pm-4pm Cherry Limeade at Sonic – (for half price - they actually call it happy hour and my 6 year old now knows the term!)
9pm – Diet Coke to wash down the popcorn. Or substitute with any flavor of Bluebell Ice cream
3. Love the Great Indoors:
We head to the backyard at 8:30 for trampoline, sidewalk-chalk, and bike riding. Wear the kids out so they PLEAD for naps. Dad sees the dog lying on the cold kitchen tile and contemplates taking off his shirt to cool off the same way.

4. Appreciate the little things:
Even with summer cabin fever, the 3 munchkins provide much perspective and humor.

The one year old learning to walk, who looks like Frankenstein with a bobble head. Between shrieks saying, “Dah, dah.”

Holding hands with your six year old while walking to Starbucks for an apple cider.

Quotes from the three year old - “Girls don't like bbq; girls like candy.” Every bug you see is a “Red Ant!” Every time we drive up to the Jum we hear, “Mom, there's two jums.” Then we hear, “We've been to this Jum before!” Once in a while you'll hear, “Check this out!” and “What's goin' on guys?” And the best - After returning from errands, she'll greet me with a hug and yells, “Dad! You're my dad!”

Friday, June 26, 2009

Potty Humor


Life is funny sometimes. It's also funny to think back at the different stages of life. For those of you in the 30 something stage, isn't it funny to think about how we used to worry so much about things like what to wear to the dance? Now I could almost care less when my son sneezes scrambled eggs in my face and hair, then wipes maple syrup on my shirt (which happened this morning in public).

I think about the stuff that fills my schedule these days. Well, schedule isn't really the right word. Some days everything goes pretty smoothly. Other days are exhausting, unpredictable, and poopy. With three young children, a dog, and a cat there are times when I swear the only thing I've done all day is smell, wipe, and clean up poop.

The other day was a classic example. Elias was teething so you may know what that does to poop. Runny! Kiera has highs and lows. Though potty trained, there are still struggles with her independence. If there's ever silence for over three minutes, run to each of the bathrooms and find out which one she's in. When she decides to take care of business by herself, you never know what damage has occurred. It's on the toilet, it's on the stepping stool (no pun intended), it's on the floor, it's on her hands, and it's on her clothes. Then the dog, who wasn't let out for a while, just couldn't hold it any longer. Finally, save Meris, the cat was the only being not pooping. He was, however, acclimating to his new cat food. He promptly vomited on the stairs – five times.

My hands were practically cracking from the dryness produced by fifteen hand-washings that day. At the end of the day, the Bible verse for the day in the kids' devotional read (Philippians 4:4) – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!” O.K. Point taken!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yonder River, How I Love Thee


There's something about water, don't you agree? Whether it's the ocean, a roaring river, or a scenic lake, there's an exhale or a sense of peace that comes over me.
We've realized that we love to swim. The kids will play in the sprinklers. When we used to vacation (pre 3 kids), we preferred places with available swimming. We go to the neighborhood pool 3-4x/week. Even if it weren't 90 degrees everyday (it's 99 today...but it's a humid heat), we'd be there just as much. We walk the three blocks to the pool (read: sprint) and Kiera screeches the moment she sees it. It's as if she had no idea why she had put on her swimsuit. After an hour of lounging, screaming, and "Motor Boat, Motor Boat, Go So Fast-ing", we head home at a crawl. Swimming time is over.
Ah, but there's always tomorrow. We might head over to one of the natural spring pools in town to cool off. But my favorite place so far here is hands down the river, er lake. The Colorado River (a different one) flows through town. It's dammed up a few places so certain sections of it are deemed lakes. So there's LadyBird Lake (aka Town Lake), Lake Austin, and then farther away Lake Travis. The centerpiece (for me) of Town Lake is the 10 mile, Texas red-dirt trail that snugly wraps around it. Everyone and their grandmother comes out to run. Short, fat, tall, thin. Old, young, collegiate, soccer mom, double-jogger pushing dad (right here, baby). They walk, they run, they sweat, they chat, they ipod. Then they all congregate under the MoPac bridge (freeway) to drink cold water provided by our local big running store (RunTex). This has become a 3x/week ritual. Running in the shade next to the cool river is almost spiritual. It has been a constant friend. There is hope there. There is community there. There is health there. There is beautiful nature there.
When we finally leave, packing our sweat-drenched bodies into the minivan I'm sad leaving this new "friend" for the next 48 hours. But I am consoled by the prospect of swimming in our pool. Or there are two other ways to cool down: "Oh Bluebell Ice Cream, how I love thee" and "Oh Diet Coke, how I love thee."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hola Sra. Jimenez's Class

videoMeris misses you very much and wants to say, "Hola" from her new hometown. Have a great summer!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Search for Significance


Call it a mid-life crisis, introspection, or reevaluation; call it what you may. I’m somewhere in there. You may be too.

In many conversations about significance, I believe there a fundamental difference between men and women (generally, not necessarily across the board). When men meet one another about the first thing we ask each other is, “What do you do?” I do it all the time. It’s just a curiosity thing – when you’re not with friends and family, how do you spend the 40-50ish hours a week making a living? Do you enjoy it? Is it unique? Are you solving world hunger? Are you living your dream? Or are you just looking for the next paycheck.

When women meet each other, on the other hand, they usually don’t go to the profession card immediately. Perhaps they’re more grounded and secure than men seeing that caring for those closest to them is the most significant way to define oneself. My sister says that having lived on the East Coast, especially in Washington, D.C., people too often judge one another by one’s profession.

So as we start over in a new city and I meet the casual jogger, the Target checker, and the busy neighbor I ponder my significance. Who am I? What am I? Do I matter? (Please don’t read this is not an “I need a hug” moment.) I know I’m significant because I’m a child of God, that He knows me, and that three gals and one little man think I’m the coolest thing since sliced bread. There’s something inside me (and probably many of you) that really want to do something in life: cure cancer, win a Superbowl, cut a record, or find homes for thousands of abandoned children. What steps should I take today? What phone calls should I make? What parks should I take my kids to? Which church should I attend?

I want to be used by God to do something significant. I don’t know what. The selfish side of me wants it broadcast on CNN and Facebook. The humble side of me only wants God’s peace and approval. Am I a pastor? I was never ordained; I have a ways to go on the Scripture memory thing. But I love many parts of it. Am I a teacher? I haven’t been in the classroom full time since ‘99. But I love kids so much. Am I a coach? Training kids to run may have been my professional highlight the past five years.

Now my 2 Spiritual Cents to solve this problem – I’ve been reading the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament and I hit an “aha” moment last week. In this story, God is preparing to banish the Hebrews for 70 years to Babylon because of ongoing disobedience. God tells Jeremiah that He’s going to use His servant Nebuchadnezzar (and his son and grandson) to lead Judah during those 70 years. But Neb was Babylonian! The enemy! God can use anyone he wants to do anything – now there’s some hope for our less confident sides. Then Jeremiah, about the only Israelite in Judah obeying God, is threatened with death by his own people. Both Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah are used by God to accomplish His purposes.

Jeremiah was significant. He was God’s messenger who put his life on the line. In spite of Nebuchadnezzar’s evil ways, he too was used by God. I guess you could say he too was significant. Where do I want to be? Jeremiah without the pain; Nebuchadnezzar without the evil. Essentially, the easy road. How much should we try to pre-write our own lives to set them up for God to use us? (“Okay, God, now that I’ve graduated and have the perfect family and job, NOW you can use me.”) So the easy road and the desire for outward praise/significance probably aren’t the way to go.

God, make me significant for your benefit, not mine.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Costco Experience


Don’t be fooled by the title. I’m not going with this where you think I’m going. This isn’t some kind of rant about 5 gallon tubs of mayo. Just bear with me.

After a morning of laundry and housecleaning, I took my two younger kids for a morning adventure: running and shopping. Okay not super exciting, but for me these days (pre-employment) it’s about as exciting as it gets. So the three of us headed for Austin’s beautiful 10 mile running trail around Town Lake or Lady Bird Lake or Colorado River (I still haven’t figured this one out). After a great, exhausting 3 mile run (about 60 pounds of kid to push around), we headed for the great American buy-everything-in-the-world store – Costco.

Despite a less than respectable appearance (basketball shorts, sweaty t-shirt, and a faint stink), I shopped for a few last-minute supplies for our Memorial Day Weekend visit from our only friends in the entire state of Texas. (I’ll not mention their names here on the off chance they’re too embarrassed to know us. I’ll just call them Jis and Chrennifer). With only a few things to buy I figured it’d be an easy trip. Plus we’d get to eat a ton of junk food at the food court for less than seven bucks!

It was hot outside – humid and headed for the low 90s. I loaded the two angels in the jumbo Costco cart and headed for the door. Now Elias has recently reached the stage where he must be able to call the shots. And we too have finally noticed that he is different from our girls. No not skin color or country of birth. He is a boy. Did you know that boys are different from girls? We’ve done the girl thing and we know what to expect. But Elias is not a girl. He makes more noise, is three times as active, throws things, must always have an object to play with, and is almost as strong as me. So immediately he begins screeching (think Pterodactyl) because I have my morning cup of coffee and a shopping list and I’m unwilling to allow him to put either in his mouth. After giving him my sunglasses to play with I make it through the front door with blessed Texas air conditioning.

There are about 15 different sampling tables today so I had to stop at them, right? At the first table, I gave Kiera a sample of bread. Because I distributed the bread "ladies first," Number 1 son began to scream. After the second disastrous sampler attempt, I gave Elias a bottle of formula and rushed to pick up my five or six items. Kiera was displeased that I didn’t stop at each sampler table and began crying (she’s given up her naps, but mostly still needs them). Elias finishes his bottle like he’d been in a drinking contest so he’s able to screech again. With every passing screech, I receive more glares. In the checkout line I notice his shirt, my sunglasses, and his face are covered in regurgitated formula. At some point he had partly rejected his bottle. Apparently he knew he had a hot dog coming and wanted to save some space.

We arrive at the food court. I’m pushing a cart, attending to two small, needy children and holding two hot dogs, a slice of pizza, two empty cups, and an ice cream bar (you’ve got to try them, they’re amazing!). I rudely avoid offering ketchup for Kiera’s hot dog and head straight for the drinks. After we’re seated (Kiera across from me, Elias on my lap), we proceed to pig out. In between bites of pizza, I tear off small bites of hot dog for Elias. Suddenly, Kiera notices that ice cream bar in front of her. Simultaneously, Elias realizes he can grab my Diet Coke, pizza, and ice cream bar instead of patiently waiting for me to allocate his hot dog. Like the world’s fastest chess player, I continuously shuffle said food items out of the reach of four quick, little hands. My hand attempts to mute the dinosaur throughout the incessant wails. His 5 sharp teeth don't like this one bit. It’s a losing battle. Once Kiera has completely ditched her hot dog (which has been strangled like an old tube of toothpaste) and Elias has commenced beating his hot dog like a drum set, I surrender. As they say here, I “up and went.” The floor was a “yard sale” – stuff everywhere. Our clothes were canvasses displaying food art. My resolve was weakened. My pride was shattered. Any attempt at being the cool dad with his cute kids in tow was lost. As I glanced at those staring at me, I knew what they were thinking. “Where is their mother?”

We headed for the exit where I’d soon see the minivan, the chariot that would soon deliver us to the cave of solace (home). I put Kiera in the cart and held Elias on my sweat, slobber, spit-up, hot dog covered arm. Once in my arms I remembered how blessed I am to care for these children. He too was thankful. Once he was held, he gave me the gift of silence…and then I smelled that faint, foul smell emanating from his diaper - another token of his appreciation.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Starting Over...Again


Well, for those who know us, it’s no shocker. We’ve moved…again. We just can’t seem to settle. Perhaps a military life would have been a better choice for us. Every two years, you up and go. We do love new adventures.

So here we are in our new home – Austin, Texas. To think that after only four weeks that we’ve fully assimilated to the Republic would be absurd. I was checked on that just today. It wasn’t quite, “You aren’t from here are ya…” but my mispronunciation of a local town, Manchaca (pronounced ManShack), was a clear indicator that – I’m not from here. Course lots of people here are transplants too. So where is home? Spiritually speaking, heaven. Relationally? Anywhere with my wife and children. Geographically? California – You know, you can take the boy out of California…Just ask our Pacific Northwest friends who watched me wear shorts for two cold years. Speaking of the PNW, I’d consider that home too. The rain was tough, but it’s a spectacular place and it’s the place where I embraced God and the people. I don’t think I developed such invaluable relationships so quickly anywhere else in my life.

Why start a blog? Well, at the moment there are few adult conversations for me these days as I assume the role of Mr. Mom. Though only three people may only ever read this (Jana and Mom included), I relish the opportunity of reflecting on this attempt to assimilate to Austin. Many people have told us it’s a West Coast city and simultaneously uniquely the capital of Texas. So how will five So Cal/SLO/No Cal/PNW/Ethiopia alums adapt to their new adopted city? We’ll find out!