Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Decorations

All together now..."It's the most wonderful tiiiiiime, of the yeeeeeaaaar..."  If you're reading this, then you've obviously taken a two minute break during the Christmas season.  Good for you!  Not that you've lobbied for the earth's rotation to pause enabling you to read my weekly journal. 

It's so ingrained in our societal DNA to make December the craziest month of our calendar.  There are dozens of holidays, events, and causes vying for our time.  (By the way, if you ever choose to start your own holiday, why not pick May or October?  Do you remember Seinfeld's "Festivus?")

Of course Christmas is the center of my December.  That, too, can hold one of several implications.  Let's narrow it down to Jesus' birth (which of course probably didn't happen on Dec. 25).  There is no greater hope offered to the world than Christ, the Savior, being born.  But we often cloud it with so much other stuff:  presents, parties, aggressive shopping, an increase of junk food, arguing with family members, and moving!

Yes, I said moving.  That has become one of our favorite holiday traditions.  We've done it three times now.  Of course we've moved many other times, but I'm only talking Christmas here.  If you visit our home during December you're likely to find our new holiday decoration of choice - the cardboard box.  And these ain't filled with toys.  Well, last year's toys.  And towels.  And food processors.  And books.  And...well, you get the point.

So a quick tour of our home will reveal a bounty of cardboard boxes stacked in corners, children's closets half empty, and bathrooms with only one bottle of some cleaning-something.  I think I actually washed my hair with shaving cream this morning.  Anyhoo, we are moving again, but this time just a few miles down the road.  We didn't mean for this to happen.  We tried to buy a house months ago.  So it's another Christmas with our kids gawking at the neighbors' lights while we appear unfestive to those who pass by our rental home.  The only "Christmasy" items in the house are the advent calendars.  

So while you attend parties, decorate trees, and sing carols, I'll be painting walls, tearing out carpet, and searching for the box I packed my wallet in (po-tay-to, po-tah-to).  Though you and I will be celebrating in vastly different ways this month, here's to keeping Jesus "the reason for the season!"

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Big Four Oh..Ouch!

Have you seen the Red Robin menu lately? I was taken there today for the b-day lunch of all b-day lunches: a Banzai Burger, bottomless fries, and a diet coke (plus a song from the wait staff thanks to Brenden). I couldn’t help but notice the number “39” at the bottom of the menu. With a closer look it said, “We I.D. under 39 ½.” Wow – I guess I am old now. If I had ordered something other than a Diet Coke I suppose they couldn’t have asked for my ID? All I would have to say was, “I’m 40, therefore you can’t even ASK for my I.D.”

Okay, my brain is hurting thinking about this chicken & egg argument. The point is, I just reached the big 4-0. Ouch! And as we all say, “Life just goes by so fast.” It seems like yesterday I watched my daughters being born, got married, went to college, yada, yada, yada. I don’t feel 40. I don’t think I look 40 – especially with lots of moisturizer and that new Superman t-shirt (thanks, kids). Those of you moaning about gray hair and wrinkles, remember I was the kid you teased in high school for looking like a tall 5th grader.

So we celebrated with an overnight in Portland. Stayed at a nice hotel that had room service. Went for a walk through downtown. Very romantic…except all five of us went. And we didn’t actually order room service. And there was a lot of screaming and crying on the walk by the river. And we were all snoring by 10pm.

But it was very cool anyway. The five of us played, swam, ate, and laughed all weekend. I got lots of good hugs and birthday songs from the kids. I got a few of those, “You’re so special” looks from my wife while wrestling with the children. The middle of the night brought a flood of memories, shoulda-coulda-wouldas, and dreams for the future. I pondered that which I’ve wasted and that which I’ve done well. I prayed for the future and thanked God for the present.

In the sixth book of the Old Testament, Joshua builds a memorial in thanks to God’s work in the lives of Israel. Having just crossed the Jordan River, twelve stones were set down to proclaim that God was and is faithful. This weekend was in some way a monument to God’s work in our life. (And I turned forty, a number that is oft-used in Scripture – okay maybe I’m reaching a bit.) Portland is where I met God in Seminary – a very different God than I had known before. I suppose I should say I learned of a God much more profound than I knew before. For two long years I drank deeply from the well at George Fox. It was special to return on a significant date and reflect on how good God has been to us even in the four years we’ve been gone.

Thank you, God, for 40. Where are your memorials, your altars, your monuments to God’s work in your life?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Birthday Party of Cataclysmic Effects

Another birthday invitation filtered its way to our mailbox. Those things just seem to ruin our Saturdays. So each year we respond in kind by making other parents suffer through two hours of pandemonium at our own parties – haHA!

When the invitation was unveiled, you can imagine our pain at the words “Chuck E. Cheese.” Is there any worse prospect? I’d gladly accept another root canal or eye brow waxing – figuratively I’m speaking. Jana said, “Too bad I’m at work for this one. But at least it’s not on a Saturday!”

So off I went with three children in tow, knowing full well what the end results were going to be. It’s tough to decide what the worst moment of the evening was, so I’ll just spit it out. We arrived in the Vegas casino-like atmosphere: bells, sirens, screaming…at least there wasn’t any second hand smoke to inhale.

The plan was to let my middle child attend the party while the three of us hung out on the fringes, doing our own thing. Well, I ended up watching her much of the time along with Usain Bolt and his big sister. The youngest ran around the place with such speed it was tough to keep track. My head whipped back and forth keeping the three moving objects in site at all times. That kid (my son) must have run 5 miles that night. At least he’d be seated for 15 of the 120 minutes to eat pizza, right?

I put in my order at 4:15. One hour later I inquired about it. “Oh it’s in the oven right now,” responded the semi-interested employee. Hmmm. Why am I making a stink about pizza I don’t even want? Well, the middle child had already downed a piece of cake, soda, and pizza while the other two went without. Tick, tick, tick. At 5:45 I requested my money back from the pizza that never arrived. Their response was slightly apologetic, yet inquisitive as to why I wouldn’t want to wait another 20 minutes for their cheese covered cardboard.

Fortunately the two non-party attenders were given a piece of cake to satiate their appetites temporarily. We left with dozens of skee-bowling tickets yet to be redeemed and headed to McDonalds. Too bad their meal was another 30 minutes away – 6:00pm traffic! We get to the drive thru when #1 son yanks his sister’s brand new book (a fancy party favor) out of her hands, rips out a page, and annihilates it. So, only one child ate McDonalds in the car while the offender screamed at a near dog whistle pitch and the party-goer sobbed over her mangled book.

When the kids were in bed hours later I kept thinking…“What was I thinking?” Who in their right mind takes three kids to Chuck E. Cheese at all, let alone by themselves? And now I wonder, why do we ever put ourselves in that kind of circumstance? Why do we put our kids into situations we know that disaster will occur? There’s a great sermon illustration here somewhere. People ask me from time to time, “Why did God create humanity with free will knowing that they’d sin?” My best theologically-trained answer: “I don’t know.” But this I know: God loves me. He loves me when I’m at Chuck E. Cheese and at church. He loves my kids. Sometimes he lets me run around screaming among further chaos of bells and sirens. Sometimes I get to eat cake, play video games, and wrestle with my kids. Sometimes I wipe tears and dirty rears. Sometimes I get to enter people’s pain with no comforting answers. Sometimes I do that same stupid sin for the 9th time that day. But no matter where I find myself, put myself, follow others, or carry my family, this I know – Jesus loves me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...Go Play in the Snow

We just walked in from the front yard - the high octane snowball fight is now over. Well, maybe high octane is a bit of a fabrication. My wife instigated it. My girls participated. I gladly jumped in. The male child just whined about his cold hands (having refused to wear gloves). I've never played in the snow in my front yard. It's great! Now we're inside getting ready for dinner, sitting by the fire and checking our Facebook statuses (stati?).

Tonight's plans were changed. We were a bit disappointed. You see, today is "Gotcha Day." Two years ago today we met our son. I'll never forget it. Our annual tradition (at least we went last year) is to go out to Ethiopian food for the big day, parade him around the restaurant, and puff up our chests like proud parents. But it snowed. So we're having chicken alfredo. Good stuff, but that Ethiopian cuisine is quite tasty.

The nuttiness of the day brought out increased traffic, thousands of coffee house patrons, and crazy after school parent drivers. On the way back to the office (read: Starbucks) after picking up the eldest from school, my car skidded ever so slightly on the main road. The weather was getting worse and I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to finish my sermon prep this evening (It may not surprise you that uninterrupted study is difficult in a house of three children.).

I turned around and headed home and "made lemonade" - translation: played in the snow with my family. Oops, read carefully. No yellow snow was involved! Though I'm a bit behind on sermon prep, we had a blast and I'll remember tonight for a long time. I'm missing out on "doro wat" and "injera", but chicken alfredo is sounding pretty good too.

How often are your plans changed? Are you ever forced to postpone your to-do list? Can you survive without your Google calendar? I'm not here as an expert, just someone learning. After all, if you live up here too tomorrow's forecast is for cold, icy weather. We may all be making lemonade...or playing in the snow...or on the ice...or ____________ (fill in probable inclement weather activity).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Worth the Early Wake-up

On the Eastside of Seattle we live the good life: nice houses, nice cars, decent weather (ask a Minnesotan in February), museums, restaurants, cool toys, and coffee houses with attitude. We're all bombarded with ways to spend time together and look for ways to fill our weekends specifically. It's easy to forget about people who suffer when it doesn't happen as much in your backyard.

But some families here are doing things differently. Take this past Saturday for example. In lieu of sleeping in on the one day a week I'm oft-afforded to do so, I brought my two girls to a church in downtown with five other families from my church. We prepared breakfast for about 50 homeless men and women. And for about 90 minutes came face to face with the faceless. I did my best to say hello, look people in the eye, shake hands, and convey their value as fellow humans made in the image of God.

Though I'm only 20 miles from Seattle, the homeless aren't seen in my town. It takes a car ride and a little effort to see this community. I watched my kids and about 8 others serve eggs, wipe tables, and take down chairs. I didn't do much work myself, but did enjoy watching the families at work. In the few days since I've learned of other families that routinely bring their kids to this breakfast. The conversations with my eldest since Saturday have been great. The older she gets, the more accountable she keeps me. It was definitely worth the wake-up. My hat's off to those who've dedicated more than an annual morning of inconvenience to living out their faith. I pray that the trail they blaze will be an example for all of us.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Pink Guitar

Our first baby turned 8 last week. Man, it goes by fast! Because she had begun to show interest in playing the guitar for a few months, I figured it was about time to give the option of developing her own musical skill set. And what better gift for a girl who dreams in pink, than for a Pink Guitar?

Watching her unwrap it was too cool. She was genuinely excited and mezmorized by it. Throw in a few pink picks, a pink amp cable, and a Barbie-sized amp, and you've got a future rock-n-roller. I wonder if 20 years from now whether or not she'll remember her 8th birthday present.

There are a few toys I remember. That Star Wars Christmas comes to mind a few years back. I have come to realize that the gifts Jana and I give our kids won’t meet the standards with many who live near us. I can guarantee that eight years from now she won’t be given a BMW of any kind for her sweet sixteen. After a conversation with a gentleman from church today, I realized that many of my neighbors will think far less of my children because they won’t be driving German imports. I’ll let my children know they should get used to disappointment. For whatever reason, many teenagers here drive cars more expensive than my first house.

Even if I were to discover oil in my backyard or something, I still wouldn’t buy my kid anything like that anyway. Either way I will be able to say, “Remember that pink guitar?”

For whatever reason I find myself always wanting a little bit more than I have: “x” coffees per week, “y” house in “z” neighborhood, etc. It’s easy to quickly forget not having a job just a year ago. Of course there may be some who look at me and say, "Why would somebody buy his kid a guitar of her own? Can't he just share?"

What does God think of my covetous heart? James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect give comes from the Father.” So whether I make $5 million playing for the Mariners or $2 per day scavenging for scraps in Manila, God looks at my heart. Even though I make more money than 95% of the world, I frequently pine for what I don’t have. This is when I realize I’m in the wrong. So while I hope my daughter always treasures her pink guitar, my true hope for her is to be content – something I struggle with daily.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Crazy Story

And I thought I had a crazy route to Seattle. I met a guy recently from Africa. He's been living State-side for about a year. Because of his faith in God, he refused to join his country's civil war. For his stance he landed in prison. Imagine that, refusing to kill your enemy because of your personal conviction and being punished for it.

He was able to escape - quite a crazy story. He slowly moved from country to county in what I can guess took a few months. Along the way he was beaten by a 3rd party - not his countrymen and not our fellow Americans. He arrived in Seattle with no money, fortunately with family to care for him. He has found work and he has found a church. He has enough money to pay rent in a modest apartment - a building in which most in my town would cringe. But he is free.

Sadly his mother is in her home country and will probably die of old age without any of her children anywhere near. His siblings have escaped the war too. And his friends are in the same position he was in. He misses them and his mom.
I miss my family. I miss my friends. But to think that anything I've lived compares to the horrors he's experienced, I'm grossly self-centered.

My new friend praises God daily for his freedom. I marvel at his loneliness and incredible journey. I pray for his safety and life in a new country. Thinking of Luke chapter 4 when Jesus proclaims freedom to the captives, I can only imagine how much more my friend can savor this freedom. The hardest thing I've had to do was wash the dishes. And I thought my life was tough.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Presidential Debate

Last Thursday was a momentous occasion for me – my seven year old and I got to see the President speak. After posting a few photos and my status on Facebook, the feedback was not all positive. Though the majority was thrilled, more than one person must have been stunned – indicated by the following response: “Why would you do that? Did you know that he supports abortion?”

Oh, no! This is the worst blog entry ever. He’s talking religion, politics, and abortion in one entry. The trifecta of no-nos. I’m sure that more than one person was disgusted that I went to see him. I also know that many were thrilled if not downright jealous.

President Obama came to the University of Washington, a mere 25 minutes from our house, to support one of our senators who is seeking reelection. This was my first political rally and in many ways it was a lot like a church service: lots of passionate people, lots of enthusiasm, and a gathering of people with varying degrees of conviction.

The older I get the more confused I get in determining my response to politics. Neither political party represents my convictions A-Z. And so many politicians become corrupted by power. Frankly I don’t know how so many people swallow the inconsistencies of either party. Many loudmouth preachers have equated the Republican Party with God’s will manifest. Really? I thought God wanted to protect the environment and prioritize the poor. But the Democrats are neither the answer. As my FB Friend commented, abortion sickens me to no end and big government is not always the answer.

As I stared at the thousands cheering for the President, I simultaneously thought “how cool to be here” and “it’s too bad most Christians aren’t this enthusiastic about their faith.” I came away from this profound experience proud of my President. He comported himself very humbly and he’s doing some pretty good things. But I equally came away more convinced that Jesus is the answer. There is no one or no thing we can fully trust other than Him. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” A political party, government, a political philosophy, money, movies, rock stars, a good career, true love, 401Ks, a charismatic pastor, Subarus, nor a healthy lifestyle are the answers. As you think about what you truly hope and trust in, join me in praying (if you’re so inclined) for those in political, secular, and ecclesial leadership. May our humility and faith be transparent and measurable.

Monday, October 18, 2010

College Football Saturdays

One of the true consolations to losing summer is college football Saturdays. If you haven't the faintest interest in football, please stay with me here. Though attending baseball games was the sport of choice for the Frasers in the 70s & 80s, football has become the new favorite. As kids we took road trips with the sole purpose of going to state capitals and baseball games. We would also drive through the occasional college campus. Thanks to my folks' teaching profession and love of travel, I've been to 49 states and over 20 baseball stadiums.

But these days, my interest in football has far surpassed any other televised sport. If you so choose, you can wake up Saturday mornings and begin watching games at 9am and still be at the edge of your seat 14 hours later. Then you can watch highlight shows 'til dawn on Sunday.

For me, I love the sport and the geography:

The Sport - Believe it or not the sport surpasses just brutality. There's incredible athleticism and intelligence required. No other sport requires as much homework from its players - though they often elude their biology or French classes. The games rarely exceed 3 hours and if I record the games, I can watch one in 75 minutes.

The Geography - It's rather simple to transport yourself across country in a matter of seconds. On my 55 degree October Saturday I can mock those poor suckers in Minnesota wearing parkas and snow boots...and I can shoot darts at those lucky jerks in Arizona wearing tank tops. I can recall one of numerous road trips with my parents driving from state to state, touring this university or that, meeting farmers, urban dwellers, and residents of mid-size college towns. Dwelling on friendly rivalries between schools, I think of Johnny Carson's old joke from his Nebraska roots, "Why do the football fields in Iowa (or insert rival school/state here) have artificial turf football fields? So the cheerleaders won't graze after the games."

I am thankful to my parents for their gift of travel. (Of course it has come back to haunt them - their son has lived all over the western U.S. and their daughter is rarely even on this continent.) I am reminded of life's simple joys: like travel, like college football Saturdays, and like coffee (which I imbibe while reading the paper and watching the games). And watching those games reminds me of friends connected to those schools. Philippians 1:3 says, "I thank my God every time I remember you." So, I'm thankful to folks like...Jeff (who went to Illinois). My grandpa (who went to USC). My sister (who roots for UCLA and gets loads of grief from this USC fan practically every November). My old neighbor who bleeds Texas orange. My co-worker (who indoctrinates me on everything UW). The mom who teaches one of my Sunday school classes (who went to WSU and has to root for them). And any of you who has season tickets to the University of Hawaii - hint, hint.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fingerpainting, Part II

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. And no, I haven’t had an official entry entitled “Fingerpainting.” This entry actually carries over from last week’s discussion, but it’s a better title than “More Poop Scooping.” Call it the theme of the month, but we had a new event in our house this week.

I knew it was coming. Just like the way our girls each cut their own hair. I had just had this conversation two days prior with a friend at work. And I had been warned by my cousin on Facebook just a week or two ago. Our two year old fingerpainted on his crib. Suffice it to say, he provided his own art medium.

I got wind of this event when I went to retrieve him from his afternoon nap. The proverbial cloud penetrated the crack below the bedroom door and I knew…“something stinks” – no intuition needed. The last thing I remember, I yelled out, “Man down.” There was full nudity: a big rear end sticking up in the air, clothes strewn, and only his blue socks remained on his feet. The reinforcements (Jana) sprinted upstairs. We rock-paper-scissored for bath vs. doody cleanup duty. I guess we both lost because…well we were both cleaning poop.

The crib was clean after ten minutes – I used 409 and steel wool…seriously! (Apparently the above offense occurred well before the nap began.) Soon we resumed our afternoon of fun watching football and eating salsa with good friends like nothing had happened. We swept the area faster than a Haz-Mat crew. Shouldn’t we be getting paid for this?

Had last week’s blog entry never occurred perhaps I wouldn’t have been as prepared for this. Had I never had to change a diaper I wouldn’t have been prepped for that. If I continue rewinding I gradually find myself in high school again. A world apart! It’s no wonder high school students roll their eyes when I tell them about the roller coaster of parenthood – they’re light years away in many senses. But this stage of life is irreplaceable. The reminiscent King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that “…there is a time for everything…a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to keep and a time to throw away…a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Well here’s my chance to speak. Though this may have been a time to throw away, it’s a time to keep. These are the moments that put life in perspective. No matter how gross this task, ‘tis a privilege to be where we are.

But, here’s hoping this is only a two part series!

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Super Duper Pooper Scoopers

Recently it has become a big deal in this house…er, yard, for the two younger children to help daddy…uh…scoop poop. Of course I don’t let them actually scoop. They’re actually Pooper Spotters. Here’s how it goes down:

Because it rains constantly and the lawn isn’t freezing like it does in winter, you have to mow the yard every week or you get a nasty little phone call from the HOA (read: people who choose to spend life not attacking global poverty, but driving around complaining about neighbors with too many weeds in their flower bed). So every week I head to the back yard for overgrowth management. But before the lawn mower is revved up, I go searching for land mines so they’re neither stepped in nor projectiled while cutting the grass.

The kids love to play in the back yard and are usually present while I’m landscaping. Within milliseconds of picking up the shovel, the two munchkins quickly stand at attention and volunteer their finding services. They zig zag, they search, they celebrate, they point. Daddy walks to the scene of the crime, scoops, and praises his colleagues’ efforts.

It’s bewildering. It’s comical. It’s a bit disturbing too. Can one really be enthused at discovering dog poop? ’Til now I didn’t think so. The thought had never crossed my mind. But there they are – week in and week out – my doo doo discoverers.

Kids are the best. They just keep you guessing, confused, and laughing. We’re told in the New Testament book of Matthew that Jesus openly welcomed kids and their zest for life. “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” May we all maintain their joy, wonder, innocence, and faith in all we do!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Kid's Perspective

I was struck with a funny thought the other night. My four year old was eating at the table without the booster chair. Aside from being too cute it hit me that because her eyes can barely peer over the table, she can hardly see her own food. I have faint memories of those days so long ago.

You may be privy to this phenomenon also, but anytime we use the mixer for pancakes or brownies (basically the only cooking daddy does) all three little people in my house beg to sit on the counter or to stand on a chair in order to see. How strange a world they must live in! They can’t always see what they’re eating. Meanwhile these towering giants (mom and dad) are relied upon for sustenance and to provide them with nearly everything.

How many times this week have I wished the two year old to change his own diaper or for the seven year old to babysit her siblings so mom and dad can go out to dinner? While I bemoan any of the inconveniences I am reminded that I have great power within the house – that my kids trust me inherently. If all kids knew what normalcy was then there’d be a bunch of ‘em walking out of their abusive homes towards some kind of unemployment line where they could just sign up for more trustworthy parents.

You’ll love this. The four year old was discussing Jana’s job with her. Mom’s a Labor & Delivery nurse. Every time mom goes to work somebody goes home with a new baby. So our little one wanted to know why so many babies were coming out of mommy’s tummy. Perspective. We had never thought that Jana’s job could be interpreted as one in which a nurse were a surrogate mom at the rate of five babies per week. We laughed in utter disbelief and reached out to give her a hug. As we scratched our heads we were also reminded of the responsibility and lifetime of parenting ahead of us.

Proverbs 3:5 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Just as our kids blindly trust us (at least so far), God calls us to trust Him. We don’t have his perspective. Remembering that God is our Father just as we are our kids’ parents can yield great trust, humility, and perspective. Just imagine all the things we say and do that make Him shake his head and laugh. He then responds as parents do, reaching out for a hug and taking great pride in us.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Remembering Where I Put...

I've finally gotten to the point where I unashamedly rely on my phone to replace brain cells. If it doesn't get entered on the digital daytimer, it probably isn't going to happen. My memory isn't fantastic. I don't have one of yeah, photographic memories. Were I to blame my age for this wouldn't be fair. Sometimes I blame it on my kids. ("Hey, who threw my wallet in the trash can again?") I've never had a great memory. But why the heck does it work so well in other categories?

Case in point: This morning I got a phone call reminding me that I had missed an important meeting. I've kicked myself all day for it. I've been looking forward to this meeting. A family at my church wants to dedicate their baby boy. It was even going to be held at one of my favorite coffee houses! So it definitely wasn't a lack of motivation that caused a cerebral malfunction. In fact, I just blamed myself for not entering it on the calendar on my phone because I know from past experience that I'm missing portions of that cranial daytimer.

So it would seem that my memory is poor. But then last night I get a text from my Dad who's driving across country. He and my mom were eating at a diner in Montana across the street from a prison. He asked if I remembered that place. It didn't even take a split second. We sat in a booth next to a window looking across at a prison wall. This occurred on a road trip in the 80s!

Why can I remember that while at the same time spend 45 minutes looking for my sunglasses which are on top of my head? When I combine that with the fact that my children recall events from months and years gone by, I begin to wonder...Hey, look. It's raining outside. Now where was I? Oh yeah. My 2 year old went for a walk with Jana the other day and pointed out the precise location on the trail where she had dropped her keys - 6 months ago!

I am so hungry right now. I've only had coffee and a bagel today and it's already...ok. Focus. Our bodies and our minds are a gift. This morning I read from 1st Corinthians 3 that our bodies are a temple. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. My sometimes-faltering memory is a simple reminder of sin. That everything in this world doesn't operate entirely the way it's supposed to. I guess I could blame the devil that I forgot my appointment this morning, but that wouldn't be entirely theologically correct and it would take away any responsibility on my part.

So what a gift our minds are to us. The God of the universe has made us in His image, which includes the mind. Thank you, God, for those great memories - like eating dinner at that cafe in the middle of Montana with my Dad. And I guess I could also say thanks for painful memories which remind me how good You are and that warn me of potential harm.

Oh shoot! I forgot to pick up my 2nd grader from school. Gotta go...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Football and Church

It was a crazy Sunday. Two kickoffs: NFL & Sunday School 2010-2011. For PLCC - new curriculum, new format, new teachers. For the Seahawks - new coach, new roster. After the first kickoff I was granted the opporutnity to watch the other kickoff. My boy Pete Carroll, USC coach and program savior, decided to join me in Seattle. I got to watch his first game....LIVE!

This was my first Pro game. I've been to USC games. I've been to a UW game. But this was the first Seahawk & NFL experience. Thanks to Jeff's 40th birthday and a flight from So Cal, I was invited to watch the hometown team in person. For those of you unfamiliar with Qwest Field, it's a fairly new football stadium - outdoors, but largely shielded from the rain - designed with incredible acoustics. So incredible that the Seahawks' fans (dubbed "the 12th Man") have considerable influence on the game. It's the loudest outdoor stadium in football. The screams of "defense" cause tremendous difficulty for the opposing team's communication.

It was a wild experience. And as an amateur theologian, it was a thought provoking experience. Aside from the 31-6 pummeling by the Seahawks, I witnessed incredible intensity by people willing to dress up for their team. They paint their faces. They consume great quantities of alcohol. They even cheer in the parking lot 45 minutes after the game.

Aside from the lewd behavior, count me in. (I couldn't believe that guy passed out in the second quarter in his seat.) So to those of us who consider ourselves followers of Christ, how come we aren't as enthusiastic during our worship gatherings? Alright, to my pentecostal friends, this may not be relevant. But to the rest of us, and I am pointing the finger at myself, why does our faith too often become reduced to listen to someone preach, an intellectual nod of agreement once in a while, and a quick escape to a coffee house right after?

Should we be painting our faces each Sunday? Why don't we scream "Defense" when Satan is attacking our friends? Why don't we jump up and down after a great testimony?

Here's hoping that the Seahawks AND the Church have a great 2010 season!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nothing Like the Ocean

For me there's nothing like the ocean. Simplistically it's my happy place. Spiritually it's more impressive than a centuries-old cathedral. And I've seen some oldies!
On a recent vacation (one without cathedrals), we spent four days at the ocean. Because it's summer it was warm enough to swim in with relatively few complaints from the kids. Time seemingly slowed as I watched my three kids really enjoy the ocean. They played in the sand, buried their legs, ran from the waves, and jumped in the whitewash. Though he was shaking visibly, Elias didn't want to go ashore when we bobbed up and down in the waves.
The ocean is free entertainment - apart from the costly road trip to get there. There is endless delight, screaming, and swimsuit sagging. (Note to self - purchase new trunks at Costco with better drawstring.) Each day I had a few moments of alone time and floated on the water just beyond the shorebreak. There's something mystical about the consistency of the swells. Something intoxicating about the salt water smell. Something spiritual about the power of the waves while lonely me is tossed to and fro just beyond the shorebreak.
I have learned to take a snapshot of those moments in my mind. To breathe deeply and hold on to God's simple gifts. With this trip behind me I am currently savoring more than one Double-Double, a lousy round of golf with a good friend, beautiful roadside scenery, watching my kids play in the sand, and floating on the water. As inconsistent as life is, who knows if it'll ever happen again. Or maybe next week?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Excruciating Highs and Lows of...buying a house?

You've been there. You get it. The emotional roller coaster of buying a house. Was it this difficult to choose a college or to find a spouse?

It's very difficult to explain. My kids are healthy and so are we, so why were we so down when we were outbid for 30 year old house on a busy street?

Historically it's rare for a despised Californian (an oxymoron to many) to move out of state and purchase real estate and end up with less of a house. Though billions of people willingly moved to CA for decades, driving up the cost of living, the Californians did it too and received a backlash. The tradeoff in moving from Beverly Hills to Little Rock, let's say, is exchanging year-round 70 degree weather for humidity and cheap real estate. "I can buy how much with my money? WOW! The beach is overrated anyway."

When we moved to Texas last year we salivated at the lower cost of housing. But times have changed and most Americans are just happy to have a job. When we arrived in our beautiful new home, we knew that the price of living in a "National Park" has its downside - housing prices.

So last week we made an offer on a house we thought was perfect: great floorplan, 4 bedrooms, big backyard, and relatively affordable. Sadly we were outbid. With seemingly only a few bucks for a down payment, we grieved the reality of our last five years of money management. Though we may not have changed a thing if time travel were possible, we almost ache at how much life costs. Where did that investment of California real estate go?

As my good friend, Brian, told me yesterday - "People are grieving the loss of their money." It's very true. It's difficult to have perspective - but necessary. My head says "grow up" - my heart says "it's not fair." If I can't overcome it and I obsess about "poor me" - then that's sin. If I can say "oh well" and know that more stuff doesn't make me happy, then I've learned the lesson of Solomon. He was the richest human in history. Early on he cared more about obedience to God. Later, he obsessed about his stuff and became the most miserable human on the planet.

If my disappointment ends up in unending grief, then maybe God needs to take away our cars, t-shirts, and ipods too. God, help me to be joyful with you alone.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

God Loves the Hacker

Do you get jealous watching someone ridiculously talented at work? I had the chance yesterday to watch my cousin’s son, Scott, play a round of golf. He plays for Arizona State University and happened to be playing a tournament near Tacoma. My experience was unbelievable.

I’d much rather play than watch golf, but this was a unique opportunity. Some of the country’s top amateur golfers were in town for this tourney. It wasn’t much advertised and it’s a warmup to the upcoming U.S. Amateur Open in August. So I got to walk with three of the players almost like a caddy. I kept my distance to let them concentrate, but Scott was kind enough to talk with his cousin-uncle watchamacallit.

As a lifetime mediocre, yet passionate golfer I was able to watch these three punks (okay, nice young men – just jealous again) play spectacular golf. Of course it’s all relative. Would you be ticked off shooting a 78? Would you be satisfied with a 70? Heck, if I can just get out to play once a month and keep it to double digits I’d be happy.

Shot after shot I gasped and groaned out loud (not too loud of course – it is golf) at their remarkable skill. 200 yards to the pin? 10 feet away. 125 yards to the pin? 3 feet away. 250-275 yard drives every time. Move the ball left at will? Done. How about to the right? Done. Difficult shots from the bunker? No problem. 30 foot putts? Drained.

There’s a point when you stop castigating yourself and just tip your cap and applaud. Wow! It’s pretty sweet to watch people at the top of their game. Be it golf, singing, preaching, cooking, or whatever. To put a theological spin on it, it’s a darn good thing God doesn’t grade on a curve – only the top X% earning his favor. If God only loved the top golfers – no way in the world I’d make it. Heck, even these guys – as amazing as they are – aren’t even necessarily the world’s top players. There’s a couple of teenagers already playing on the Pro Tour.

We have a God who loves the underdog as much as the professional. And, He doesn’t just tolerate us either. He’s in love with us. We all have the highest value in his eyes. God loves Scott passionately. God loves pro golfers passionately. And even though I’m a danger to the world any time I pull out a 3 iron, God love me and all other hackers passionately.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Goodbye Old House

It's hard to fathom, but we are about to say goodbye to our old house. It sold and now we're beginning the escrow process. I remember when we bought it 11 years ago. The family we bought it from told us we'd bring home our babies into that house - we did. Child #1 and child #3 knew it as their first home. We recall walking through the doors 30 minutes after leaving the hospital thinking, "Now what do we do?" After a five month wait we finally brought our third child home. A place he'd never known before - welcome home, orphaned one.

We went trick-or-treating in that neighborhood. Teenagers tp’d the house and lots of them hung out with us for pizza parties and movie nights. We spent countless hours there with great neighbors. We played basketball with the neighbor kids who too quickly grew up. We celebrated the 4th of July with barbecues and legal fireworks – at least that’s what Geoff said.

We fixed up that house from head to toe: laminate flooring, interior paint, carpet, baby rooms, a “Dora” room, new faucets, and a porch swing. And of course the masterpiece – the back patio: a shade structure and gorgeous slate tile thanks to Dad and Uncle Ed. We even had those misters to cool us down in the hot summers while we ate Jana’s famous tri-tip and ribs.

There were many Christmases we put up lights there and the one when we came home to find lights already up. Finally there were the two times we moved away. The first, never knowing if we were coming back. The second, knowing we wouldn’t.

There are people who live in the same home most of their lives. I envy them somewhat. They won’t have stories of adventure in exotic suburbs like me, but they can trace the height of their kids from birth on the kitchen’s door jamb. Soon we’ll be off, spending a small fortune on an unfamiliar house in our new town to accommodate our growing family. I hope the memories are just as good. Goodbye, old house.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dining Disaster

A Memorial Day to remember - for the wrong reasons. You've probably had one of these. One of my first posts last year relayed a shopping disaster at Costco.
Jana had to work last night so I decided to drive the kids in to Seattle - about 35 minutes away. The website told me, "The best Chicago-style pizza in Seattle." How could I turn that down?
After the long drive, we found a parking space (a miracle in itself) and walked across to pizza perfection. What happened next? You guessed it - CLOSED ON MONDAYS. Of Course it was. So we walked a couple of blocks and found a cool looking Greek restaurant. Mmmmmmmm. The three little people and I were seated at the centrally located table with about 30 other people within food-throwing distance. So we sat and I hoped for the best. You know when a restaurant is deadly silent that you can be in trouble. Even at conversational levels, we're at 50-60 decibels. We ordered quickly and the water arrived in an unbreakable coffee cup. Disaster avoided so far. Soon, though, menus were being thrown to the ground - just because they could be. Seven or eight near drink dropping episodes were thwarted - I felt on top of my defensive game. But then it happened.
Dad got his food first. Soup. Kids hardly even like soup. But the near two year old, expressing his full "two-ness," wanted it. I kindly offered a bite with his own fork. Scream. I put the fork down enabling him to be in control by putting it in his own mouth. Scream. I put a few scoops on his own plate. Scream. Nothing short of handing over my soup cup with my spoon would satisfy. The screming continued. I put my hand over his mouth to muffle the exhaling yells. Lifting at the appropriate time for oxygen intake.
I tried the distraction move: walking to another part of the resaurant. Scream. Hit. Actually snotty, drooling face screams. My hand was moistly filled with said mucus, yet I still covered the screams. We returned to the table. The rest of our food arrived. The two year old got his own plate. Scream. Hit. At this point I had worked up a good sweat. We had walked quite a bit and I was wearing a sweatshirt. The restaurant was not greatly ventilated, but why would you need an infusion of cold air in Seattle?
I admitted least to my idea of dining out without a second adult to help. I asked for our freshly presented food to go. Scream. Our waitress was awesome. She had helped the girls cut their food when I was walking with the toddler. She later rushed from the kitchen with "to go" containers and we were whisked out of the restaurant quickly. End screams. The two older sibling were great as well. They were patient, obedient, and flexible.
As we walked towards the car. He was silent. And I was deflated. I only had 3 sips of my $2.50 diet coke. I hadn't been able to sit and enjoy a cool ethnic hangout in a cool urban neighborhood. My almost two year old seemed momentarily possessed and quickly returned to normal. Within seconds of getting strapped into the car seat he was chirping for joy, laughing at his sisters, enjoying the ride back home. I did the silent parent thing for about 20 minutes. The "what the heck just happened" introspection. I consoled myself with a $1.00 McDonald's drive-thru (of course) diet coke and reminded myself - it's just a phase. And promised myself never to go to a restaurant with my children until 2025!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back in the Saddle Again

It’s hard to believe, but I hadn’t played golf in a year. The dry spell ended last Friday. Finally, there were no more excuses not to play anymore. Income? Check. Free time? Check. Good weather? Check.

With more than a spousal blessing (“Get out of here and go play!”), I headed for the Links for the first time this side of the Rocky Mountains in a long time. I remember that last round fairly well. I didn’t know a soul, yet met a great guy named Kurt who was very encouraging. It must’ve been about 148 degrees that day, but it was a humid heat. I didn’t play particularly well, but it was a great escape for about four hours.

This time I played for another four hours, but I didn’t go alone. I played with friend and colleague, Amy, and with another “new guy” – George. On a rare 72 degree Washington spring afternoon (read: heat wave), we headed a few miles east to a beautiful course with a spectacular backdrop. The rivers running through the tree-lined course were dwarfed by the beautiful jagged-peaked mountains practically within arm’s reach.

I began my round with a blistering line drive at a 45 degree angle away from the tee box – but still in bounds. A sky-high approach shot landed within feet of the pin – a shot, unfortunately, not to be repeated all day. For 18 long holes, I walked, swung irons, searched for lost balls, and hit trees (once nearly decapitating myself). The best part of the day? Conversation. Walking in nature. The smell of fresh cut grass. The pinging sounds in the sweet spot of the driver every ninth or tenth shot that deceivingly prods you to play 18 again because “you’ve got potential.” The cynics will tell you the sport is named golf because all the other four-letter words have been taken. But even in the hurricane that is my current golf game, there’s a comfort, a familiarity, a joy that I find that for a few hours makes me enjoy the simple things in life.

What are your hobbies or simple pleasures that would be difficult to replace? How do they connect you to what is good in life? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Heavenly lights.” Is golf one of those gifts? It could be eternally debated, but last Friday it was for me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Growing Up Fast

Two big events last week. The first made me realize that I’m getting older at a rapid pace. The second helped me process it. (All those older than me are now saying, “You think YOU’RE old.” And those younger than me are saying, “You ARE old!”) Aside from finding old friends on Facebook and thinking, “They look old” and telling my 20-something friend about bands I used to love and hearing the response, “Who’s that?” last week I began coming to grips with a big birthday coming up later this year.

Event 1 – The Wedding. It was my gigantic privilege to officiate a wedding for a kid – scratch that – woman who was a 6th grader when I first met her and her husband. I was her youth pastor. She married a great guy at a very cool outdoor wedding (next to a river). The groomsmen and bridesmaids all had baby faces and were reminiscing about high school (from which they graduated a couple of years ago). I felt too old to dance and was relieved not to be invited to the groomsman’s brief bachelor party so that I could go to sleep earlier! To top it off, it just so happened that two of the three flower girls from my own wedding were in attendance – and one of them brought her husband.

Event 2 – The Retreat. I took a pastoral excellence class for five days immediately after the wedding – part of my ordination process. It was a week that provided personal and interpersonal growth. I met many new colleagues and made some friends. I heard their stories and the bumpy roads that led them into ministry. Simultaneously I delved into personality tests and explored any potential red flags that would hinder my work – basically, how screwed up am I? It was an opportunity to explore the past and to reevaluate the road I’ve taken to get to mile marker 39 (as in my age).

Everyday I spent over two hours commuting to and fro this class. Much time was allotted for thinking, regretting, and thanking. I met with a therapist and a spiritual director through which I was largely encouraged and given a green light to continue on this path. Whatever bumps and bruises I’ve accumulated over the years are equally considered lessons to learn from. These experiences have yielded a certain authority. Though some of my friends in ministry have been performing weddings since their early 20s, this was the first time I got to do so alone. I felt like I had come of age and that my experience was paying off.

Though returning to my desk this week has resulted into more speed bumps, there is a confidence I carry that I’ve never before owned. The personality tests revealed that I want nothing more than for everybody to “just get along.” And if I sniff conflict I want to duck and cover. But last week helped change all that. I’ve got a resource of colleagues to vent to and inquire of. I’ve got many people depending on my expertise and pastoral care. I’ve got two couples whom were married under my watch and both are still married! I’ve got the power of God on my side. (Heck, Jesus was perfect – and he ended up on a cross!) And I’ve got many years of wisdom – with a birthdate that can back up that claim!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Savoring Pace

If you’ve ever watched a 10K or marathon, you can pick out the runners that look comfortable at the pace they’re running…and those who are about to toss their cookies. The discipline of running has taught me how to pace myself – to run at a strong, consistent pace for long periods of time. There are also moments in races for which energy must be saved – an upcoming hill or for sprinting the final 400 yards. The more you run, the more you know your capabilities and how much energy to exert to maximize your running efficiency.

In his book Rest in the Storm, author Kirk Jones introduces the concept of a “Savoring Pace.” Just like those runners who seem to be enjoying their pace, he urges us to monitor our pace of life. “The violence of overload and hurry…is a socially acceptable form of brutality.” In the name of progress many of us push the limits of what our bodies are designed for. We end up missing out on important conversations, our kids’ landmarks, and people in need. Is that really progress? He himself had to slowdown over 10 years ago. He adjusted his brutal schedule, implementing the art of saying, “No.” Since then he has been able to live at a savoring pace. He works hard; then he rests and plays. In slowing down, his quality of life has improved and he now savors the little things in life.

What is your pace? Are you on a treadmill without an off button? Do you look like the person in the marathon who’s running too fast, about to hit the proverbial wall? Or are you running the race talking with the runners next to you, waving to the fans, and picking up those who fall? The clock on the finish line may not be as low as you’d hoped, but don’t miss the enjoyment of the race itself and the opportunities it provides.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Big Voice, Small Audience

Have you ever heard of John M. Perkins? Probably not. At the least, I’d call him a prophet: announcing God’s desires to the people. He has been on the forefront of racial reconciliation and inner city development among other things. Today I had the last minute opportunity to hear him speak at a small church in Seattle.

He’s almost 80 years old, but a powerful speaker. He preaches the Gospel: God’s desire and plan to reconcile with humanity. And he speaks to the 21st century American. “How can we pray for another expensive car when 30,000 children die everyday across the world? We pray for our ‘cups to overflow’ but we’re carrying around cups larger than we need.”

“We have to civilize our leaders.” The politicians have lost touch. They’re in it for themselves. And we’re too afraid to give up our slice of the pie – even though others hardly have crumbs. How can we object to more taxes when 40 million people don’t have healthcare? Will we have to apologize to God for letting people die and spending our time accumulating? He is so passionate about the poor and marginalized, as evidenced in his tearfully closing.

After his talk I went to my car and took the 40 minute drive home. I couldn’t listen to the radio. I couldn’t fill my mind with anything else. He wants me to give away more of my money, to live less comfortably? He wants me to spend my life for others? No wonder the audience was so small. Anyone who hears that message probably isn’t going to return to his next speaking engagement, let alone bring their friends. Besides, the NFL draft is on tonight. I’ve got other things to think about.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Love the Celtics?

So Meris was watching basketball with me the other night – “Which team do you like, Dad?” It was the National Championship. I didn’t much care, but it was fun to watch the game. For a few years now our kids have tried to jump on the bandwagon of whatever team Dad’s watching. Five years ago I taught Meris to yell, “Touchdown!” while watching USC in the Rose Bowl. Last year it was, “Hook ‘em Horns” in Austin (of course not rooting too hard for the team that beat USC four years ago). This year you could hear my then 3 year old yell, “Go Theahawks!” That’s Seahawks for those of you who don’t have a child with a lisp.

Even this weekend we watched the Masters. “Who’s that?” That’s Phil. “Who’s that?” It’s Ernie (Els). “Who’s that?” It’s Tiger.

Rewinding to last week in the college basketball game. “Which team do you like?” Hmmm. Butler? I’ve never even heard of Butler. Duke? They always win. Oh, I don’t care. I don’t like either team. I just like to watch.

15 minutes later, my smug daughter comes downstairs with a 3 by 3 inch post it. I read the words she has written: “Jesus says like one another.” I glare at her. She thinks she’s a comedian. She can’t stop laughing. Do as I say, not as I do is a common parental excuse. I guess I have to like Butler and Duke. I guess as a Dodger fan (and a bandwagon Mariner fan) I have to like the Yankees. I guess I have to like…the (gulp) Celtics. Really? I don’t think so. I’ll take my chances here.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Road Trip

Easter road trip
Weekly blog hiatus
Three days long
Three word entry
Texas' Sonic reunion
Tator tot madness
Large cherry limeade
Kids in frenzy
Tacoma Narrows Bridge
incredible Crescent Lake
Forks - Twilight home
Teenage girl hysteria
My wife too
Where is Edward?
Where is Bella?
Filmed in Oregon?
Stop crying, dear
Resume trip, please?
Miniature log cabin
Ocean side trip
LaPush sans vampires
No werewolves either
Breathtaking rugged coast
45 degrees max
No suntan possible
Swimming? Death wish!
MTV parties absent
Impromptu sand castle
Olympic National Park
Beautiful nature hike
Trees with moss
Crystal clear streams
Actual direct sunlight
Week sans naps
Lots of lattes
Pizza dining disaster
Ticked off Ethiopian
Publicly humiliated parents
Back to motel
Insult to injury
Eldest child vomits
Youngest's diaper explosion
Cabin needs Febreze
Hot springs swim
Stinky sulfur water
Time to return
DVD player rescues
Loudest child sleeps
Sarcastic entry birthed
Home sweet home
Need a vacation
Where are grandparents?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Making A Difference

I quickly changed the channel last Sunday. 60 Minutes was doing a report from Haiti. The suffering is unimaginable. Not for long though. I quickly changed the channel and found a game or a House Hunters episode or something like that. I’ve really been struggling with my purpose and if I’m really making a contribution to our world. I concurrently look at half million dollar homes while 29,000 children die of starvation each day.

My newly adopted city that I call home is not much different than other places I’ve lived: nice suburb, a Starbucks on each corner (which is where I currently am blogging), 2.6 kids per house, and everyone walks their dogs on clean, trouble-free sidewalks. I justify my moderate greed by pointing to corrupt third world leaders and a high cost of living in the U.S.

Am I really making a difference? After a new friend bought my coffee the other day (a cool story in itself), I had a meeting with a woman who has dedicated her life to the Lost Boys of Sudan. She’s looking for U.S. Americans to join with her to invest in these young men, using one of our greatest resources – money!

Five hours later I had coffee with a man who has become so concerned with social justice that he hopes to begin his own company with the intention of giving as much of his profits as possible to the needy.

The difference between the two? One is a follower of Jesus, the other is not. This is not surprising. You could say that both are “good” people who understand that life is not all about having as much fun as possible. Though one pursues God and the other one’s church is perhaps NPR and the EPA, I would say both have been living out the convictions of the Holy Spirit to varying degrees. Hear me out.

The mark of God is on every human being – some more than others, though you’d have to question that statement upon watching many people in action. The Bible tells us “God is love” and that Jesus is the “creator and sustainer of life.” Romans 2 says that we all have God’s imprint: our hearts and our consciences. So whether it be merely someone’s breath, showing an act of love, or making sacrifices for the poor – all humans reveal God’s fingerprint.

In Luke 4 Jesus announces that He is God’s anointed one who will temporarily and eternally free the oppressed and poor. His Jewish audience is amazed. Then he relates that his Father is seeking faith from all people, not just Jews. Then he gives two examples of extreme faith displayed by two Gentiles (non-Jews) from the Old Testament. The congregation becomes furious at his suggestion and proceeds to try to kill him.

For any Christians reading this entry, I submit that I haven’t lost my conviction that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the narrow gate we must walk to and through for reconciliation with God. But it’s time to see God’s hand at work not only in our lives, but also in the lives of those who haven’t fully understood or embraced him – especially if they’re surpassing our own selflessness.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Northwest Barbecue

It don’t mean compared to “Texas Barbecue” or “St. Louis Barbecue.” And this isn’t a debate over Brisket (ho-hum), Tri-Tip (oh how I love thee), or Ribeyes (mmhmm).

We Frasers love our Barbecue. But truth be told, we haven’t barbecued in over 6 months. The obvious reason: the elements. You know the drill: a bit cold, a bit wet, and we don’t have a covered patio. But last night when Jana announced that she’d be barbecuing, I became giddy. I picked up all the good stuff at the store: ground beef, avocado, Swiss Cheese (for me), and potato buns. We lit matches in the wind and flipped burgers in the rain. The reward was great. That woman can cook!

Adaptability. In what ways have you adjusted to your surroundings? Maybe you too have moved across the country. There’s a deep mourning involved in the loss of friends and all that’s familiar. Or perhaps you’ve experienced a deeper mourning; divorce and the death of a family member come to mind.

Because change is constant, we’d all be better to take one day at a time (preaching to myself as well here). Tomorrow isn’t promised and suffering is part of life. Think about what you were doing five years ago. Did you ever think you’d be in this situation? Maybe unemployed, maybe married, maybe driving a minivan instead of a Jeep (insert sigh here)? But somehow most of us can roll with the changes. Sure, the changes can be uncomfortable (like fewer trips to Nordstrom’s) or possibly shocking (like a 70% disappearance of your retirement).

I’ve learned much through my jolt of 2009 and I’m sure many of you have wild stories as well. It has become easier to enjoy the simple things and to relish each day. I’ve also been humbled and forced to acknowledge my reliance upon God. As much as we try to prep for change, there’s only so much we can do. Only God remains unchanged. Only God never gets distracted from pursuing us, while we often forget to pursue him. We worry too much and become selfish. We hold on to the insignificant while the important things are often neglected.

So whether the Mariners win the World Series in 2010 or another shocking event occurs more personal to you, remember to flip those burgers in the rain and to place your hope in Him who is without change.

“Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows.” – James 1:17

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fear the Sweaty Hug!

What will my kids remember when they grow up? Is it the life lessons we teach them? What will the faith we pass on translate to? Will they remember the road trips? The multiple times we repeated "put your shoes on"? Will counseling be needed?

One tradition they’ll remember for sure: sweaty hugs. When mom or dad prepares to go on a run there are usually two questions from the kids. 1) Why? (which is often a question many people ask) 2) Are you going to give me a sweaty hug? A confident “Yes” is the promise.

I can’t remember exactly when my eldest stopped loving me unconditionally. As a toddler, she would hug me no matter what. At some point she put two and two together, deciding that sweat is gross and that exercising makes one sweaty. When daddy comes home from a run, he can get as much attention as he wants by asking, “Who wants a sweaty hug?” At that point, she would run and hide, giggling and screaming.

Now with 3 kids, two of them run and hide with true fear. Only one family loves me unconditionally: Junior! What about my wife you ask? The one I’ve been faithfully married to for 14 years? The one who was an ER nurse contacting blood, guts, and any number of grotesque fluids? Apparently sweat is the worst of all! She does NOT love me unconditionally. In fact she’ll scream and run with the girls after a run of mine. But she inflicts bodily harm. She can dislocate fingers and quickly find the knife drawer.

So avoiding pain, I go on the hunt for the girls. When I find them – it’s parenthood at its finest – one of a few opportunities to get even. For all those sleepless nights and whining, here’s your payback. With a diabolical laugh, I give a quick hug. Or if the mood strikes, I give a hug and methodically wipe my arms and hair all over their arms and faces which are paralyzed with disbelief. At that point, it’s just me and my son. He sits in my lap and gives me a hug. He’s blissfully unaware of the transferring perspiration and stink. He is the only human in the world who truly loves me…that is until he catches on.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

It Takes A Village

It takes a raise our children! How does your weekly schedule flow? I had a conversation this week with a friend whose kids are grown, thereby allowing mom and dad to travel at a moment's notice.

Right now that's not my reality. "Spontaneous" requires pre-potty breaks, sippy cups, and a "pack-n-play". As I pine for my seven year old to get her driver's license, I simultaneously hope she never grows up. My kids are not inconvenient, but performing life's basics sure can get hectic. Take this week, for example.

Jana has required training classes which are offered during the day. We are currently only prepared to balance our schedules when she works the evening shift. So weeks like this throw us the proverbial curve ball. We try to find as much babysitting we can, then fill in the gaps. An 8 hour work day is broken into three segments over a 16 hour span. The average day looks like this:

Daddy goes to Bible study at 6 for an hour. Mommy leaves at 7:15am. Dad wakes up girls, cooks pancakes (okay only once this week), waits on the table, races to get Junior, changes Junior's diaper (worthy of a medal of honor in its own right), feeds Junior, brushes girls' hair (maybe even adding a barrett - but no pony tails), loads girls in car, cleans Junior, dresses Junior, throws Junior in the car, drops child 1 at school, drops child 2 at school, takes Junior for a run, showers, writes blog, feeds Junior, picks up child 2 at school, takes two youngest to babysitter's house, goes to work, picks up youngest 2, picks up eldest, awaits babysitter #2's arrival, returns for work. Meanwhile, Momma returns home, she cleans, takes youngest to doctor for unplanned weekly visit (yes another trip this week!), cooks dinner, bathes kids, does laundry, waves to hubby at 8pm when he finally returns home.

You can see: no room for spontaneity and it takes a village to raise our kids. Babysitter #1's name is Alison - she is great. She even does our dishes! Because she doesn't mind adding more kids, her name is being advertised here. Babysitter #2's name - Not So Fast. No she's not a slow runner, but she only has room on her schedule for one family. And despite our Christian focus - WE AIN'T TELLING YOU WHO IT IS.

Anyway, we've been blessed with these two great babysitters, but so many others have helped us: moms, dad, Diane, Michele, Laura, and others. How blessed we are! How unspontaneous we've become! That trip to Hawaii was a lifetime ago, but I'm listening to friends and mentors who've been here. "Enjoy it," they say. And I am. We are. Plus we're picking up valuable skill development. How else could you learn to type with one hand, drink a latte, and feed your son in your lap?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pay It Forward

Did you see the movie? The basic theme of the movie is “treat others the way you want to be treated.” You’ll find this in the Bible in the book of Matthew – part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Last weekend, we were undeserving recipients of a small gift.

It had been over two years since we last visited the PNW when we arrived in September. So we looked forward to visiting our old stomping grounds and hanging out with old friends. We figured taking a week or two to settle into our house would still get us down to “The Couv” (Vancouver, WA) within the month. Well now it’s February and our excuses were becoming more pathetic – so last Saturday we took a drive.

Six hours (round trip) in a van with three kids is a bit daunting. But with a DVD player and a bucket of guilt, we were better equipped to make this happen. We made as many stops as possible and missed a few as well. It was great to reminisce and catch up with our friends…and to begin guilting them into driving to see us. In addition to “friend stops” we had a few “food stops” to make. #1: Sheridan’s Frozen Custard. #2 Hula Boy (Hawaiian BBQ). It was during this second visit upon which my story centers. After shoveling down barbecue chicken and gallons of sauce (jerk, teriyaki, and sweet & sour) our waitress walked to the table letting us know that our meal had been paid for.

Apparently one of the restaurant’s patrons had been dining and noticed the five of us. There was something about us he noticed, signaling him that we could use a helping hand. Sarcastically I wonder if it was our ragamuffin appearances after a three hour car ride. Uncomfortably I know that though we don’t own a private jet, we’re doing just fine. Was it the fact that our son was clearly adopted? Did God speak to him?

I wanted answers, but I resolved to just accept it. Somebody just did a really nice thing for us, so shut up and enjoy it. And I did. We’ve done nice things for others at times and I’m sure it gave us more pleasure than the recipients.

It’s in moments like that, that I am invigorated. Life seems more real. It slows down. It gets really simple. I become the world’s greatest philanthropist. I make plans to give away millions and to bless thousands of people with gifts. But I’m limited. I can only give away so much. We’ve only adopted one child while millions need it. Tens of thousands of children starve to death every day and I’m drinking a $4 cup of coffee. I’m reminded of crime, disease, homelessness, and human trafficking. Pretty soon I’m crippled with a helpless state of mind.

If you watch the news, life is hopeless. Everything sucks. Even your team just lost in the playoffs. But for me, in some small way I get to pay it forward with a message I get to share each week. While trying to save the earth one recycled bottle and one Haiti-donation at a time, I get to convey real hope:

“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – the Lord, remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. He sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts those who are bowed down, loves the righteous, watches over the alien, sustains the fatherless and the widow.” – Psalm 146

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Attack of the Mothers-In-Law!

Because she had to escape the harsh Minnesota winter, my mother-in-law came to Washington this week. What? Not Phoenix? L.A.? Cabo San Lucas? Well compared to the brutal Midwest winter, a “mild” Seattle winter is nothing! Plus, today it’s perfectly clear and a balmy 57.

When Carol comes to visit, life is good. We enjoy great conversation. Dishes are done. Grandchildren are giddier. Our kids’ parents rest a bit more. It’s all good. This week we had the double whammy. My parents arrived last week and stayed ‘til Tuesday morning. Three hours later, the other mother-in-law came to town. No rest for the weary (just kidding moms). My parents helped us celebrate middle child’s birthday. Again, great conversations. Dishes/laundry are done. And free babysitting! Wahoo, dinner & a movie!

Though I hear horror stories from some of my peers, Jana’s and my mothers-in-law and her father-in-law are perfect. Now if you want to talk about my parents and her parents, that’s a different story (ha, ha, just kidding again parentals). Oma, Opa, and Gami have been a huge blessing to us this past year, having visited us in three states in the past 12 months – and more than once in each location. It doesn’t matter where we move (no, we’re not going anywhere), they’ll follow us. They come to spoil the grandchildren, hug us, and tell us they’re proud of us: whether we deserve it or not. Aren’t parents great?

Ten months ago, Oma and Opa drove from CA to TX to help us move. Eight months ago, Gami came to visit us in Texas after a particularly difficult week. She just hopped on the plane to comfort us. Five months ago, Oma and Opa traveled from CA to TX to WA to CA to move our stuff (about 4-5,000 miles total). Gami is here on her second WA trip. Oma and Opa have also visited twice.

These unexpected (though expected because of their character) trips have been particularly sweet. The hard reality of the loss of CA and TX friends has hit me this week. With the onset of spring I begin thinking about golf. When I think about golf I think about my golf partner. Then I think about other friends we chose to leave. It’s bittersweet. In so many ways we’re in the right place, but it came at a price. On the encouraging side, we’ve found a community and begun friendships that are significant.

So as time passes, we are no longer completely lonely. Week by week, month by month we feel more at home. We eat dinner with new friends, we make lots of long distance phone calls, and we greatly anticipate the attacks of the mothers-in-law.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Go to your room! Don’t make me pull this thing over! Are you getting smart with me?

As a kid I remember hearing a Bill Cosby record: yes I’m that old. It was a stand up routine where he talks about parenthood: he serves his kids chocolate cake for breakfast, his kids have Dain Bramage, and on and on. Funny stuff then, really funny now! Parenthood is multi-dimensional because we get to vicariously relive our childhood. It humbles us and it makes us more appreciate our parents (“because I said so” sometimes is the best answer).

Do you remember peek-a-boo? Perhaps you’re well versed right now. Kids have this belief that if their eyes are covered, you can’t see them. So you cover their faces with a sweatshirt or something and say, “Oh, no. Where’s Elias?” When he pulls the sweatshirt off his face and giggles uncontrollably you know he hasn’t grasped object permanence.

This concept transfers to misbehavior too. You may remember when Kiera found the advent calendar chocolates, hid, and rifled through multiple morsels before we found her hiding place. (This happened in 08 and 09, by the way.) Unlike Kiera’s hiding place (which really was out of sight), Elias has found his new “den of iniquity”. Okay, a little harsh, but it’s the same idea.

Because the word he hears more than any other these days is “No” (don’t open that drawer, don’t harass the cat, don’t climb those stairs, don’t take mommy’s lipstick, don’t play with scissors, don’t throw food, etc.), he is beginning to understand that certain behaviors are not acceptable. And what are we supposed to do when faced with a moral decision? Either don’t do it or do it in a hidden location.

So at the intersection of these two concepts (object permanence and morality), we find Elias’ hideout: under the dining room table. Yes, I said under the dining room table – about as porous and effective as a patio shade structure in Seattle. In a small corner of the house and behind dining room chairs with spindly legs, hides number one son. What is he doing? What does he have? Just fill in the blank. On ______ (name a day of the week), _______ (name parent A or parent B) found Elias under the table with _______ (pick your poison). It could be a marker, a bag of rice, a dog toy, food, whatever.

We’ve become so adept at our sleuthing skills, we know that if there are 30 seconds of silence in the house, something’s going down under the table. Honestly, it’s quite entertaining. We shake our heads, call out his name, and slowly approach the crime scene. We’re either met with grunts and shrieks (translation: don’t bother me) or with an immediate protruding hand with said object (translation: I’m sorry; please don’t put me in jail).

So, where do you go when you hope to avoid getting busted? It would be foolish to say our indiscretions end in childhood. Perhaps we’re just better at concealing it. It sure makes me think a lot. Am I living in the open or am I too often hiding under the dining room table?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

When Daddy Does the Shopping

Why don’t most married men do the grocery shopping in the relationship: Laziness? Sexism? Boredom? Cluelessness? In our marriage, I go once in a while. Why? Well…exhibit A:

Last Saturday, I went running. Because I’m logging as many miles as coffee I’m drinking these days, I decided to begin my “Out and Back” run next to one of our favorite local coffee houses. Except it’s actually in a grocery store. Though I most frequently patronize Starbucks, there is even better coffee and espresso! (If you haven’t understood this, please talk with me for directions on your next step.) So I run my 3 or 4 miles and walk right into the store – the one we commonly refer to as “Whole Paycheck.” (Despite said name, their espresso is ironically less expensive than Sbux.)

I wait in line, accidentally cut in front of a gracious man (because I’m so focused on the roasted beans), then sip my reward for exercising in sub 50 degree weather (very noble for Californians). Exhale. Aaaaahhhh, carefree Saturday mornings: kids at home, sipping a latte, thawing out in the bakery…oh hey, what is that smell? Oh wow. Fresh baked bread! Crunchy on the outside, chewy and warm on the inside. We definitely need a baguette!

I wonder if we need anything else? Hmmm. Let’s see. I know Jana is headed to Trader Joes later today, but I never go with her and there are a few “must have” items I want. I think I’ll wander through the aisles. Oh here’s the refrigerator section. I wonder if they have any…oh there it is! One quart of fresh squeezed orange juice. There’s nothing like it. And 6 bucks is SO worth it. Oh and there’s the milk. $5 for organic? No way.

Alright let’s see here. What’s in this aisle? Pancake syrup, chocolate bars. That reminds me – I have SO been craving one of those Santa Barbara Blazing Blenders peanut butter, chocolate, and banana smoothies. Perfect! The girls will love it. Mama’s at work tonight and we can go crazy. Let’s see, chocolate syrup – $4.50. A bit pricey, but by the time I drive to the store down the street it’ll cost me that much in gas. Oh, what the heck! Now, Ice cream. I’ll just buy the cheap stuff. Plain vanilla, store brand. Yikes, still $5. Oh well, there’s nothing like PB, chocolate, banana smoothies.

Okay, I better get home before I do too much damage. I’ll just walk this way to the regis…Hold the phone! Are those LOCAL microbrews? It is so not fair that it’s so cloudy and cold here in the winter. If it were warmer, I'd be playing golf every weekend. And that’s like $50 a round. This high quality Red Hook Copper Ale is gonna be so tasty. Perfect for our friends who are discriminating beer drinkers. Look at all the money I saved by not golfing today! On to the register. Look at those flowers! I haven’t bought flowers for my bride in a long time. And she’s watching the kids while I get some quality alone time this morning. She is so great!

“Good morning,” says the cashier. “Ice cream, beer, flowers. Someone’s having a party!” I search for a comeback. Yeah, my life is a non-stop party…that’s how I roll… “Uh, sure,” was my lame reply. At that moment I realized the obvious. My stop for coffee had turned into a shopping extravaganza of biblical proportions. Confirmed upon my arrival home, when Jana witnessed the carnage – “Look what happens when daddy does the shopping!” Well, at least I didn’t go golfing!

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I’m in control. Or so I think. I take great pride in being in self-sufficient. Or should I? Admitting I’m not in control can be self-denigrating if not downright dangerous.

How often have you watched television or heard people around you say, “I did it all by myself?” Really? Did you? When you were born, how much control did you have in that? Did you feed yourself as an infant? Did you have your own apartment at 18 months? Who taught you to read? Who gave you life’s very breath? Did you not attend school where teachers invested in you?

I think what is meant is that you did a lot by yourself and that more adults and peers should have cared for you or done a better job. That is a tragedy and a subject for another day. I want to talk control.

The sooner we admit we aren’t fully self-sufficient the better. That way we can more often look out for others and concurrently accept more help. We found that out this week.

At a conference in Denver I got a call from Jana stating that she wasn’t feeling well. Without me, how could we ensure the safety of our kids? After summing up the situation I realized I had to come home. But it couldn’t be done quickly. And we couldn’t do it very quietly. We needed help. We have multiple college degrees and serve people in our respective professions. We can drive cars, cook for five, preach to hundreds, save patients’ lives, and balance checkbooks (ok, not really). So we consider ourselves pretty self-sufficient. But this moment revealed again that nobody is. We all depend on the help of others, maybe even government intervention sometimes. And for those who share my view – God’s grace.

Because I could not do it on my own, I asked for help. Fortunately a taxi was available (because I didn’t have a car), an airplane was leaving at the right time (because I’m not a pilot), Diane and Brian sacrificed 10-12 hours of their Tuesday (because I wasn’t in town), and a few dozen people prayed (because they consider us worthy to be prayed for).

Within seven hours of deciding to return I arrived, indebted to many and glad to be at the best place on earth – home. Though now again the protector of my castle, I sat in silence as my four people slept. It is with every breath that I must be grateful and acknowledge I don’t control my existence any more than a sailboat captain controls the weather. My response is to ask for God’s grace and to continually respond in kind to those who aid me in my storms. It’s humbling, but it’s pretty cool too.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Third Person Kiera

Do you know anyone who speaks in the third person? I’ve talked with a few people recently that have wondered at the self-confidence and joy of little children. “Why don’t we stay like that?” we all bemoaned. What if a young mom was caught jumping on her kids’ trampoline yelling “yahoo” when her kids were inside eating a snack? What do you think when you walk by somebody who’s having a conversation by himself…to himself? Have you ever found yourself singing at the top of your lungs like an opera singer, not in the shower but at Old Navy? Could you imagine an adult who thinks that a burp is the funniest thing ever (okay, besides most men)?

Where does this zest for life go? Why do we coach our children not to sing in public by the time they’re ___ years old? I think it’s so they’ll fit in to their peer group. We don’t want them to be ostracized or made fun of. Yet isn’t it funny how it can simultaneously crush their spirits? Not to mention how many of our successful icons are quirky and march to the beat of their own drum.

Last year I was talking with Jana when I heard Meris try to interrupt our conversation. She sternly rebuked me, “I was talking to myself!” Yep – a one on none conversation. Too funny. And our most recent chuckle at childhood: Kiera is exclusively using the third person.

Dad: “What would you like for breakfast?”
Kiera: “Kiera wants raisin bran!”

Why correct her? It’s too cute. She is so confident and care free. She sobs deeply when she needs a band-aid for a mystery laceration (on pre-school days when she’s extra tired) and she rejoices exuberantly when she gets a cookie. As I watch her 1st grade sister occasionally bring up self-conscious comments revealing the inception of peer pressure, I am saddened. I know that she’s beginning to experience the sin of cruelty. I feel partially responsible for my part – unnecessary criticism and setting the example of doing things just to fit in. I pray that I will have an unequaled enthusiasm for life and that I can pass THAT on to my kids.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Conflict is a Good Thing?

Conflict. Confrontation. Disagreement.

How to you respond to these words? Have you already hid behind the couch or are you standing on the chair ready to fight? I’m a recovering conflict-avoider, toting a bag of newfound courage over my shoulder.

Through time, thousands of mistakes, a few leadership classes, and several books I have learned that being a natural peacemaker isn’t always a healthy personality type. There are benefits to ignoring the elephant in the room (such as less arguing around the holidays), but I’ve learned that acknowledging differences and asserting myself is healthier in the long run.

Take a recent example. After my first 100 days on the job, the honeymoon is over. I’ve been at work long enough to learn that my peers aren’t without faults…and that I (long pause) am not perfect (audience gasps). I know, I know. My mother will probably disagree, but I do fall short of perfection (Thanks, Mom, for believing otherwise.). This past weekend it became obviously clear to me that my program goals, my methods to arrive there, and my competence to lead people are being questioned by a few people.

Whenever you are the new kid on the block you’re given instant respect in some ways and asked to prove yourself in other ways. I have also learned through various jobs that it takes time to create a new culture for your workplace. Despite knowing the inevitability of such hurdles, I never looked forward to the impending conflict.

Despite a meeting months ago, I realized I hadn’t communicated clearly enough. A group of people wanted to reach point “A” via point “B”. I wanted to get to point “A” through point “C”. An email interaction didn’t work (as it often doesn’t) so I arranged a meeting between the groups. I looked the group in the eyes (inhale, exhale), expressed my point (inhale, exhale), listened to my friends (nod, mmhmm), asked for clarification (yes, ok), pointed to the goal (breaaaathe), celebrated our shared excitement and convictions (exhale), and concluded with a new plan of action – getting to point “A” via point “D” (EXHALE). Nobody left in tears. Everyone affirmed each other’s value. And the next time I speak with my friends/colleagues I can look at them in the eyes and enjoy easy conversation (SLEEP!).

I had lost sleep over it, but don’t have to anymore. Having studied leadership and watched a few great leaders in action, I know that many more disagreements await me. As a seminary professor said, “If there isn’t disagreement/conflict, you’re probably doing something wrong.” So assuming I continue making baby steps in leadership and refuse to roll in a ball when conflict arises, I’ll be able to maintain some semblance of respect. Since the peacemaker inside me “just wants to be loved”, I have to work at the more important task of leading. My current favorite quote regarding leadership comes from ESPN radio host Colin Cowherd: “Tell the truth. You’d be surprised how much trouble it gets you in.” I hope to get in more “trouble”, but through respectful confrontation.