Elana and I…how’d we get here?

This really started with Aiden.  I met Elana the second week I ever attended Southwest Central, but we didn’t hit it off immediately by any stretch of the imagination.  Instead, it was her son whose cute smile and shyness really caught my attention (especially when she didn’t even seem to notice me!).  Anyway, we went on seeing each other at church once in a while, and every time I noticed her and knew where she was in the auditorium, though I couldn’t get her to say hi nor could I really make anything of the group conversations we were in.  I honestly thought nothing would be possible, and in my eyes, I thought there was no chance I had at catching this beautiful extroverted spirited girl that everyone in the church loved.

Anyway, it was Aiden that kept it going.  For a couple years it seemed like nothing was happening but when I interacted with Aiden, good things happened.  I remember the first time he trusted me, and the feeling of excitement that I had.  We became friends because of a Houston Astros conversation- I saw he had an Astros shirt on and I just asked him about it and said I love the Astros too.  He was a special kid, and I remember thinking about how special his mom must be too as he was a reflection of her.  But even that moment that he trusted me took a couple years since I didn’t see him a whole lot.  But others noticed that growing relationship and noticed something else too.

Others at church noticed how well I might fit with Elana.  She thought they were crazy- from other girls who mentioned me at church to her mother to many others, she seemed to respond as though I was too clean cut for her.  For me, when Michael Bell, my best man, first told me I should think about Elana Guerra, I thought him crazy first because beautiful girls like her never choose nice guys like me.  But I also thought him crazy because nothing had happened yet.  But the moments came and went where Michael or Caleb, or someone else at church would mention how I should date this Elana girl, how she had the spunk I needed, or just that we fit so well together.  Eventually, the idea kind of caught on enough with me that I was seriously considering just asking her out of the blue.  But one friend, using his foresight or whatever other reasons, did not think it wise.  In fact, one of my good friends Steve took me to a July baseball game and in the sixth inning asked me very directly whether I was seriously considering that option of Elana, and gave me his advice to stay clear of that.  For her decision making. For where she was in her faith.  But while his advice seemed judgmental, he was very well meaning and actually persuaded me.  It might have been the wisest advice for me and Elana and actually the advice that allowed this to happen later.  From both of our accounts, we were very different people in that summer of 2011 and we were both going different directions, and we would not have worked out or even made it to the first date.  But I listened to Steve, and I am grateful I did now.  So I followed that up with moving back to California in 2011 and was there till March of 2012 when my dream job came up back in Houston.  The crazy thing was that our church had been praying for that move because, 1) they felt that God had called me to be amongst their church and to use my gifts as a chaplain in the Medical Center, and 2) they had been praying that Elana and I would get together.

Well, even when I moved back, it was as though I didn’t exist but for a few random conversations we had at our 242 (young adult) bible study on Sunday nights.  Then there was July 4 at church in 2012, last year.  Yes, that time last year when I ended up sitting with Elana, Aiden and her best friend Mikey at that Wednesday night cookout.  It was normal conversation, nothing special.  At least not for her- I certainly couldn’t impress by any stretch of the imagination.  But I knew then that I liked her.  I flew home for Jonny’s wedding shortly after that night.  And I told my brother Joe in pretty clear terms that I wanted to ask her out and that I would.  I wanted to, but in so many ways I wanted to make sure that I was ready for the commitment it would take to be a father figure- I knew dating Elana was also being significant in her sons life, and I didn’t want to do that without being ready- and knowing she was interested!!!!!!  So it went for a couple months after that July 4 event, but there was one night where things seemed to shift my way in our 242 Sunday bible study.  We were sitting at a table together, and many at our table were having conversations about the medical world as physicians, and neither of knew anything about it.  So we talked about other stuff, and made fun of those who were in the medical field.  We talked about Aiden and her pregnancy with him- I know it is super awkward conversation normally, but I work in a children’s and women’s hospital- these are normal topics of conversation.  And then we prayed that night and I got to hold her hand.  As the guy who thought he had no shot, that hand holding was about the best thing that ever happened.  And then that night we talked at the Fuller house with Dave and Amy for a long while after the group left.  It was as though there was good possibility.  But in my estimation of her thoughts on me, she still saw me as a nice guy.  And that was a maybe.

Then, along came VBS that year and Aiden and I connected so well.  It went so well that I thought to myself, you know, I wouldn’t mind being someone special in this guys life.  And so that’s how the interest really got started.  I felt like I had an in to Elana now and I had gotten hooked with her special kid, so I was really in it.

But the circumstances didn’t quite work out until late September.  I went out on a trip to Chicago, and knew this was a strong possibility.  In fact, I decided on that trip that I had to ask Elana out to the couple of events I had coming up- the Lifeline Chaplaincy benefit Gala and then to a golf tournament banquet.  So I texted her, because I thought a text would be a safe way to ask her out, and the events were not just us, so it was a safe place to make for a fun date without lots of pressure.  But, and Elana knows this, I asked out a second girl just in case because I really thought Elana would say no.  But, she said yes, and that she might only be able to go to one Thursday night event- the lifeline gala.  But the situation was ready.  We went to the Lifeline Gala and our conversation was so normal, so easy, and the night was so relaxing, that it was quite amazing.  I knew she was a special one when  on the finale for the gala evening, a trip to a wine bar with another couple, we went into theological conversation and she seemed not just okay with it, but interested. The following Sunday, it was movie night at church and after that event, as we were walking out, the moment came where it officially started.  I asked her what she was doing on the next Friday night, after the Thursday night banquet (that she suddenly could come to after our first date!).  She asked what she should be doing next Friday, and I said she should be letting me take her out to dinner and a date.  And she said yes with a reluctant but beautiful smile.  That following week we spent the better part of three days together, and they were super wonderful.  It was special.  Although I have to say, she did initiate the first kiss on our second date to a movie, Taken 2, after the golf banquet!  So our first date was October 11, our second date and first kiss on October 18, and our true solo date came on October 19.

That night of October 19 sealed the fate for me and her.  That night was special because the conversation was normal- I didn’t feel like either of us was trying to impress but we just made a connection- I liked her flair and inappropriateness- her desire to think through issues and that nothing seemed off the table for her.  And she had confidence.  She had lots and lots of confidence.  That night I fell in love because I saw someone whose life had taken very interesting turns, and she too had had her lows albeit different ones, but she was confidently independent, and wanted more in her life.  She was content but still wanted more for her, for her child, for her life.  And boy was she beautiful.  After that night, and over the next two months, I fell in love with her because had a similar zest in life and extroversion that I have, and because I saw as a good mother, and because I saw in her what she often didn’t think she had: compassion, faith, and a genuinely good and beautiful person.  Truly I had been taken aback by her passion for life, whether it was being with people or taking care of her son- whatever she was involved in she gave herself over to.  Really, in all of this, I fell in love with her because I saw God in her in ways that I could not find elsewhere.  The God I found in her was unique, and the way God showed love through her was unique and beautiful.  And to take it a step further, I fell in love with her because it was through her that God was doing something so special in my life, changing me for the better, making me more faithful through her faith and perspective, making me more transparent and compassionate and considerate.  She was the one who brought the best out of me and brought me true joy in my faith and my life.  Truly, those who knew me saw in me a different life, a joy that I did not have before and it was her that brought it to me (though it was truly God’s work).  With her, I didn’t have to be straightedge, I didn’t have to pretend to be perfect (she already knew that anyway!), didn’t have to try to be something I wasn’t.  She freed me in some ways that made me helpless to loving her.  Her encouragement and support of me as a chaplain, as a preacher, as a participant and leader in the children’s ministry team- her support and encouragement were exactly what I needed. And her son Aiden made it ever easier to fall in love with both of them.  It was all too easy, even after just two months, to want more than just a girlfriend out of Elana.

Yes, it was just two months, but we clicked.  Aiden and I clicked.  It all felt so natural, so much easier and so much better than life alone and life with anyone else I had ever dated.  I didn’t care that it was fast and I felt like I had the blessing of God to move forward.  So I set up a grand proposal.  I worked with two of her best friends and almost our entire 242 young adult group at church to get a sweet proposal.  The plan was to use her best friend who was a photographer to do couples photos at a place called the Japanese Garden in Hermann Park in Houston, a great place for sunset photos.  So I worked with Elana’s boss, a friend at church, by asking him to give her a half day for some reason because I wanted to propose to her.  He obliged by giving her a half day off on the designated day, December 7, because of all her extra work on the work Christmas party.  Well, setting up the plan was going really well.  Well, almost too well.  Elana called immediately after getting the half day and told m she wanted to do couples photos with her best friend on that half day.  Elana set up the groundwork for her own proposal, as her friend was already going to ask that afternoon if she could do couples photos.  So, it went forward, couple’s photos at the park at sunset.  Just to make sure that Elana knew nothing about it, even though we had talked about a wedding date and getting married, I used some couples at church to come up with other activities that she thought we would need to be at right after the couples photos.  I asked the Bells to ask her about babysitting, and the Parkers (both in our wedding party) asked a card/game night that night a little late.  I then went to work planning all the photos with the photographer and chose all the locations for photos, what photos I would like, and basically told Mikey (maid of honor) and Tiffany (photographer) what to say when Elana asked about the event or suggested something.

So we went to the park, and I met her there after I worked that day.  On Facebook I wrote “Game time” to which she thought was nothing but excitement about photos.  But when we got there, she was exactly as I expected- she looked beautiful, but she was stressed, didn’t think she looked good, looked uncomfortable taking pictures (she doesn’t like to)- she clearly did not think something special was happening, and from the outset I knew that she wanted a private place for a proposal and a really big surprise- so I knew I nailed it.  So we went through a bunch of photos, sitting down, cuddling, talking from afar, laying down, on bridges…many pictures all to set up for the final two pictures as the park emptied just for us and sunset arrived.  The second to last picture was the one wherein the ring got delivered to me.  Elana stood far off, maybe 15 paces, while I stood in a military pose and according to the photographer, she would be taking a picture through my arm hole of Elana.  Obviously Elana was perplexed but played along anyway.  While the photographer closed in on my arm she gave me the ring box (by the way, I came with it in a jacket on a 90 degree day- Elana wondered why I brought a jacket!).  Then, the finale- Elana and I were to a closed eyes kiss picture, and then a closed eyes almost kissing picture.  The first picture went well.  Elana and I leaned towards one another while we both had our arms behind each other (so I could keep the ringbox hidden).  Elana thought it was strange but she went along and it was a cute picture.  Then, the photographer asked us to step just a couple inches away so that there was a tiny space between our faces.  Elana stepped back and wanted to open her eyes, she asked a couple of times of course.  As soon as we knew her eyes were closed, I got down on my knee on the Japanese bridge, pulled the ringbox open, looked up and asked her to open her eyes.  She looked out at first wondering where I had gone, but then looked down and saw me with my ring- she immediately seemed to go silent, tear up, and put her hand over her mouth.  I then told her, “Elana, you are the joy of my life.  I love you and I always will.  Will you marry me?!”  Though it took a while for her to speak, she said yes and we hugged and it was a remarkable night.  But the surprise wasn’t over.

After a wonderful walk back to the car, I told Elana that I actually had reservations for the two of us at a nice Italian restaurant in the Rice Village, called Prego.  I told her that the Bells and Parkers were not actually planning on us coming, which made her smile as I had used so many to pull this off.  When we got to the Rice Village, I stalled for a while and at one point got a little too nervous because I had something else planned.  When we finally arrived, we walked in to Prego where I had actually made reservations for 16, where Elana’s mother, father, stepmom, brothers, two best friends, and of course the Bells (who were supposed to need babysitting that night) and a couple from church that had been very close to her.  When we walked in, the table stood and shouted and cheered and Elana was super surprised.  We got to celebrate our night with her closest people, the people whom she would have chosen to have this special night with.  It was incredible!

So there is most of it.  It obviously is a lot, but in this story I see something of why I am marrying this girl, and I said it when I proposed.  She is the joy of my life.  Whatever I do with her, there is more joy in it because of her.  My life is full of happiness I could not get in other ways.  Her smile, her laugh, her humor, her inappropriateness (like mine), her care for others, her practicality, her life, her son- it all brings me such incredible joy that I often feel closer to God and closer to true life to the fullest.  God indeed has given me a great gift in this wonderful woman!

Home Day 2

Today has been a pretty good day.  After a full night’s rest (which in and of itself is tongue in cheek), I was able to be quite productive and enjoy myself:

  • I joined my mother for church at New Day Christian Fellowship.  A very unique experience I must say.  The church did not have any bible class, meets in an elementary school, has a worship band, let women lead worship and sing solos, and even had a fun interpretive dance.  Oh, and they had a part of the service where they had the church members leave the service to prayer walk through the elementary school.  By far, they were an enthusiastic church and that mattered.  And I can’t say I have ever seen my family more interested and engaged in a worship service.
  • I got to watch football.  Seriously, I have watched all of 30 minutes max of football this year and so watching Denver beat up on Baltimore was like getting IV’s of caffeine or some kind of weird calming drug.  So fun!!!!!!
  • My mother celebrated her birthday on December 4 and my brother’s mother-in-law’s birthday is December 18.  So we celebrated both of them today at my brother Josh’s house.  Josh and Jacqui made great beer can chicken, mashed potatoes, beans, and some ridiculously good chocolate creme pie and banana creme pie.  Of course, I can’t help but mention the play time with my 4 year old nephew Will, whose first request hen he saw me this evening was “spin me!!!” (I  must say here that this play time with Will could only pluck my heart strings in wanting to play with my to-be step son and one of the great loves of my life at this point.  I miss A quite a bit and even though I will have an awfully wonderful time this Christmas with family, I am genuinely missing having his presence around and letting him continue to see that I intend to love him in every way I possibly can and more.  Watching my brother try to be and also be a good father to his 4yr old genuinely makes me want to learn to be a good father, if only just to try (and not be good at it sometimes) and become a lifelong presence of love and care and support for him. Okay, enough tear jerking for now.)
  • As a finale for the day, I got to see my Uncle Mike, Aunt Linda, cousins Christopher, Amanda and from a different family Ryan.  These are fun people and I love spending time with them (even though I talked with someone else special half of their stay!).  We got to laugh at some TV show that I don’t know about and I got to hear cousins talking about their lives- new boyfriend, getting much taller…oh all the fun!!!!
  • P.S. Got to finish the night a second time watching a trippy new Three Musketeers  with lots of crazy effects like airships and ladies named “Milady”.  Seriously!

It’s good to be home.  And it will get even better I believe.

Chicago: Day 1

Chicago is cool.  You knew this though.  Chicago has the feel of a very nice city, with lots of great architecture and good people and wonderfully distinct neighborhoods and lots of good sports.  It is a really great city, and while it does lack true oceanside beach, it is has beach from a great lake.  So I can’t argue.  But it is just an awesome place period.

So I came to Chicago because I have a really awesome friend and his wife who are really important to my life and who I want to be.  So I came to spend time with them and catch one of the cities on my bucket list.

I got to listen to a Gospel of Matthew colloquium at Loyola University, which offered me a chance to hear three people talk about their academic work with the book of Matthew.  And for me, it was a really good experience.  While I am not a through and through academic, I have an MDiv and therefore I have some academic in my background.  But it was thought provoking.  How does oral tradition change the way I think about the gospels being shared?  How does Matthew’s metaphor of debts for sin change the way I think about sin?  Are debts a metaphor for sin or is sin the metaphor for debts, and gosh, that would really get me thinking about the importance of the sociological status of our church communities…anyway, I digress.  I enjoyed hearing their thoughts because while I don’t feel like we ought to trivialize the Word of God with endless breaths of speculation, it is provocative to hear that the way I read Scripture may be different, may not be the only way.  Again, it was great to get started with a thought provoking seminar.  And it also provided an awesome opportunity to see the university architecture at Loyola, including some of their buildings right by the great Lake Michigan.

And then it was a Cubs game.  Now, it is on my bucket list, so I was incredibly blessed to be able to see the excitement of a Cubs fans with all their dress and gear and passion, and hang out in the “Friendly Confines.”  And it was great to attend a game outside of Texas, where the 7th inning stretch is just “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” and where they serve a different regional beer (I love Ziegenbock and Shiner, don’t get me wrong) like Old Style (probably even cheaper than anything I know).  It was also cool because I got to sit around for 4 hours and talk life with Cambry, things like church, children’s ministry, the hospital life, Matthew and Mark, dating, and all sorts of storytelling.  And the Cubs won in beautiful fashion, from a 9th inning, down to the last strike Darwin Barney of all people 2 run game tying home run that just got over the fence in left…and then a last strike in the 11th single to score a run.  Crazy exciting way to win a game.  While at the game, Cambry gave me a little bit of a distant tour of the city, explaining the city skyline and preparing me for the fun of Downtown Chicago on Day 2.  Cool, cool, cool.

And did I mention that I got to ride on elevated trains, the L line as some might call it here in Chicago.  I love elevated trains because there is a nostalgia and a Northeastern stigma I associate with them.   It was great!

And to finish it all off, I got to try a Chicago deep dish pizza, which Cambry and Heather ordered as a deep dish with sausage, diced tomatoes, spinach and butter crust.  Pizza you have to eat with a fork and knife.  That’s awesome!  The sausage was like a cake, not just simple fine slices.  The cheese thick and bubbling.  The crust so sweet and yummy.  Amazing pizza.  Like a casserole of pizza, not a “slice” of a pizza.

Pretty cool.  But I don’t write this all to double up on what I posted on Facebook.  Rather, I write this all because it is a way for me to claim how fortunate I am to travel like this.  The world is a great place, and I love having the opportunity to see it and discover it and find all the joy it brings to life.  The crazy thing is that I got these tickets on Southwest for just 199 dollars.  Easy tickets for a small amount of money that I am fortunate enough to have.  And it is by far a small cost to finding great joy in life by exploring the tastes, the beauty, the people, and the world around us.  I appreciate it, and the cool thing is, it was only day 1!

A Hot Mess

Well, it has been a while since I wrote any kind of blog post whatsoever, and that was two lawn mows ago.  (get it? two lawn mows…the last post was about…lawn…mowing…(silence)…)

Anyway, it is hard trying to blog at this point in time.  Honestly, my job makes reflecting on life like trying to drink from a firehose.  Life, and death, and everything in between, come fast and furious and the reflections on what it all means about life and my life and who I am, well, all of that comes even quicker.  And because of that I also come away quite exhausted and often a hot mess.  But that is alright friends. The job is wonderful and a blessing.  It is awesome to walk alongside of other families, to walk with other kids, to try to bring joy to some and comfort to others, light to a few who are in the midst of darkness…and that includes both my families and my staff.  But it has emotional consequences.

Emotional consequences I tell you.  Like I am way more crazy “sensitive” than ever.  It’s like I can cry on command, it just comes.  So…to make a long intro to a story a short intro, I got to see a movie tonight.  (Actually, I saw a premiere tonight of a movie coming out next week, albeit without Jennifer Garner coming out in a red carpet of sorts and all sorts of movie makers entering to flash bulbs of cameras.  But, this at least means that I will not share the story much at all.)  The movie is “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”  So, without giving much away, the movie begins with a scene you can see on the trailer, with a couple being incapable of having a child and or including having some sort of miscarriages.  And later in the story, there is a clear movement towards the loss of a child.  That’s all I will share by the way since it hasn’t come out yet.  So, yes, if you would have told the chaplain at a children’s hospital that I would be walking into a movie after work that included inability to have a child, miscarriage, broken families, and loss of a child, you would have not even got me close to watching that movie.  But a friend had the ticket, and I had a rear end to plop down and an ignorant blank slated mind.

Immediately, within 5 minutes of the movie starting, I hear the pain of not having a child, and while others are saddened in the theatre, I am already weeping.  A hot mess I told you.  And then as the loss of a child comes into play, my heart is just torn and sad, even if the story doesn’t leave me there.  A hot mess indeed.

But this is the rub isn’t it?  A good life is not a life lived apart from others, feeling only what is personal to me.  A good life is a life lived aware of the life of others, and sharing that with them, both joys and sadnesses, light and darkness, cheer or jeer, relief or pain, gray and grayer.  A good life is a life where those other people are so connected that I yearn for them, I desire for them, I want life to grow in them, even when they aren’t like me at all.  It’s why I do my job.  It’s why I care for the children and the child abuser all the same.  It is because I share life with them, and see and feel their joys and hurts, and yearn for life to be created anew at every moment.  A good life is one where I can share jubilantly in the joy of a dinner with friends, a new diagnosis of cancer free, the news of a healthy child on the way, a 12th or 75th birthday.  A good life is also one where I can share in the sadness of a funeral with family, a new diagnosis of a brain tumor, the news of a healthy child abused, and the birth of a child who will not make it to their 12th or 75th birthday.  Why?  Because both of those are where the God who created life and who has power over death lives.  In both ends of the spectrum and all in between.  And because that God feels both much more vibrantly and purely than the hot mess I can be.  Because in both the joy and the pain, there is a God who will not, can not, would not run from this life, but etches resurrected life throughout it all in the Son.  And even if that doesn’t satisfy the non-Christian, I can promise that the life shared in both ends, is a beautiful life.  It’s a breathtakingly beautiful and good life when you are truly walk with others.

The Lady Named Nugget

On Day 5, I bring to you someone who actually helped changed the trajectory of my life.  Nugget Skates, a former youth minister no less at Arlington Church of Christ in Riverside California.

I met her on a whim in the midst of a chaotic and dark time.  My grandfather had just died, perhaps a week before and it was my grandmother who invited me out to morun with her- at the time I was worshipping as a Mormon.  I arrived to worship and mourn with my grandmother, and I was introduced to the five boy youth group, Cyndi Pardee (mentioned in blog #1), and Nugget Skates.  At the time, my life was fairly simple: I was thinking about finishing my high school career (I was 15), thinking about a career as an architecture major and architect, going to school at USC, going on a mission trip as a Mormon and having some number of kids with a beautiful Mormon girl (some things are just dreams right!).  But when I showed up to church that day, I was invited out to all sorts of activities at that church, and I found a home to be a kid and teen again, truly welcomed.  And this lady seemed to be at the head of it all.  She was a fairly extroverted yet older woman who loved kids, used words like “lovie”, was sweet as all get out, and was serious about faith.  I was invited to a devotional at her house, a place that soon became a safe place for me through the years, where she led the boys and I in a devotional with the lights dim and encouragements that “what was said here stays here.”  And those boys opened up, and she opened up, and even visitors opened up about their lives- the sinful, the dirty, the helpless, the dark places of our lives.  I was struck by the honesty, the genuineness of this lady whose heart and passion overflowed to these kids and truly developed life in these kids.

She led service events with the youth, led us into mission trips to Mexico to build houses, brought us closer to study in Bible Bowl with 2 Kings and Revelation, encouraged me to read Scripture with precision and passion at LTC, affirmed me as a child of God, and even led me and my dad on a study about Mormonism.  Yes, she thought Mormonism was very bad, even a cult, which I disagree with to this day.  Yet it was her love, her genuine character and passion for an honest faith, open to both doubt and confession and acknowledging of sin.  I learned there that I loved confession, that I loved a community that opened themselves to one another whether they knew each other for a week or 10 years.  That culture, that genuineness, began with her, and her own confession and acknowledgment of fault and failure.  It was her encouragement that led me to become a youth ministry intern one summer at the church under her, and I truly felt a call from her to work with youth.

At the end of my time there as a student in the youth group, I received powerful words during a graduation ceremony from her (and one of her speakers) that sealed my fate- words about my ability to glue to others and hold things together, words about my character of developing friendships, and words about my call to do great things for the Lord- all these words set my heart ablaze for ministry, and entering Pepperdine University.

She has been my mentor all this time.  She has been a light reminding me that I have been called for a great work.  Her presence was genuine, a presence that now reverberates in me as I walk into hospital rooms with strangers who need a genuine and honest presence.  Her presence reverberates in me because I am here because one day I met her, and she sparked the fire burning within me to be a helper, a healer, a presence, a caregiver and compassionate friend of youth.  How this person would be a female youth minister named Nugget in a church of christ I cannot say, but I cannot but say thank you Nugget, and that I owe you a great debt of love and gratitude.

Lenten Commitments

So Lent is here, with all its joys and struggles and callings from God to come closer to him through fasts.  It is a time that is dear to my heart because it is a time to focus on some things that either don’t get a whole lot of attention the rest of the year or I avoid the rest of the year.  It is a chance to remember the power of confession, of restoring some parts of my life, and of connecting with others through sacrifice or shared commitments and self denial.  It is an opportunity to grow in my faith by letting go of some things that may not be necessary for a time, letting go of sins and bad desires possibly, and adding practices to my faith journey- all of the three possibilities are opportunities to breathe new life into my faith and life.  So it is when I was reading the Lectionary today:

Amos 5:14 “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you.”

Psalm 147:11 “but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.”

I look forward to this time of repentance, of confession, of commitment because of the chance to seek the life found in God.  But, I must say this: I share these not for glory or for the pride or to boast before others.  Rather I share these Lenten commitments because I want to journey with you, I want to be prayed for, I want to be asked how my Lent is going, I want to be encouraged, and I want to be challenged.  Sometimes, that doesn’t happen when it is “just between me and God.”  And if you feel like I am boasting or getting prideful, please let me know, and it too will be a growth point.  But, sharing these for me is an honor and a risk in having others encourage me and keep me accountable.  That all being said, here are my three Lenten commitments and why I have chosen them:

  1. Spend 10 minutes in prayer and/or contemplation every day.  I have noticed that my prayer life has been sagging of late, and I know that when I am not prayerful my job as a chaplain when I pray for others can seem hard.  It is as though I am a stranger to prayer when I join with those patients at the hospital.  But more importantly, I want to commit to the prayer time because it helps me be others focused, to pray for others whom I have told I would be praying for, and to genuinely have compassion for others rather than become self consumed.  I have been rather convicted that my prayer life is not strong and hate that while I may (try) to read scripture every day and be a good minister every day, there are many days I don’t even try to pray.  It is actually quite shameful to write that, and I hope I receive not only God’s forgiveness for that but the forgiveness of those who have asked for my prayers.
  2. The Water Project: 40 days of water (mostly tap water), but for a good purpose. The poor across the world suffer in many ways, but one in particular is the lack of good drinking water.  One such country is Uganda.   There is a website (Called the Blood: Water Mission- http://40days.bloodwatermission.com/how-to-take-part/) that lets me track the drinks I would have given up and then donate that money at the end of the fast to help bring wells and clean water projects to Uganda.   I love this project because I love having a beer when I come home from a long day, I love joining with others for a night of wine, and I absolutely love sodas.  In the past I would give this stuff up because of health, which is always a good thing.  But the motivation changes this time- to recognize how I live in the world with other people, and to in some very small way stand with them.  It is a chance to look at my behavior with an eye on the rest of the world, lest I fulfill the words of the prophets by selling for the poor for a pair of sandals (or in this case, a soda).  I get to donate to a really good cause and not only make a small difference in my life for 40 days, but maybe a make a small but lasting difference elsewhere.
  3. Read the book of Amos, 1 chapter at a time.  This is actually a scary proposition  because Amos is no nice read.  In fact, it can be quite harsh to those who are at the top of the food chain, and really challenging to all those who “possess” and are well off, which I think might be many of us, including me, in the United States.  Amos calls for confession and repentance and a pure heart and compassion for others.  I want to read, and be challenged to look at my own life  and interactions with others.  That may mean looking at my footprints of desires and “needs” and wanting more possessions (I am very bad at this).  It may mean hearing Amos’ call to confess and repent and to do that with others more.  It may mean simply being convicted to help that apartment complex across the street from church.  But reading Amos and reflecting on it ought to challenge the way that I live to be more considerate of my time and relationships with the poor and needy and marginalized, but also more aware of my own worldly desires for stuff- money, possessions, respect, food (like nice food and nice wines…).  At least that is my hope and goal.

I ask you now to be in prayer for me and to encourage and challenge me to share my reflections from my Lenten “fasts”.  And vice versa, how can I pray for you during this season?  How can I help you or encourage you during the Lenten season so that we can grow towards life in Christ together?

Blessings on this your Lenten season!

Taste and See that the Lord Is Good! Amen!

What a good day.  I got to go Glendale Church of Christ, listen to Bryan S preach, get prayers for the job search, attend Philippe’s Original in Chinatown in LA, play full court intense basketball for 2 hours, walk Mt. Rubidoux at night, and sit with some relatives at El Pollo Loco (also a very good fast food Mexican- very healthy and tasty!).  Good day altogether.  Lots of picture opportunities for sure, and I certainly did my share of taking photos.

Uncle Mike, Aunt Linda, Chris and Amanda and I enjoying a hike of Mt Rubidoux at night.

But I was thinking, as I had my roast beef sandwich with swiss dipped in au jus with a heavenly lemonade as the original home of a french dip, Philippe’s, I thought about how food is so fantastic.  There is something about good food that brings so much joy and so much contentment.  It can be homemade, or just simply a famous eatery that makes downright great food.  But seriously, food, like laughter, lifts the heart and is a path for me to treasure the creation and gifts in the world that surrounds me.

For me, it really does come down to taste and see that the Lord is good.  Of course part of it is the fellowship, but a real part of it for me is having purely good food, and treasuring that moment of eating is for me exactly similar to moments of pure joy in other ways.  Each unique taste or spice is another time for joy and grace.  And joy, wherever it originates, and in my case it can easily be food, is like a chance to experience the goodness of God, the creativity of God, the grace of God…all those things.  I can’t forget of course that it is simply fun to have good food too.  Jesus knew all these things as the table clearly played a large part in his ministry, as tasting that the Lord was good was akin to receiving the grace of hospitality and the blessing of forgiveness and fellowship.  Jesus was surely aware of the grace present in food- acceptance, welcome, community, and joy.

But on the flip side, the days we have potlucks at church, or when I bring a meal to a senior or to a family that has had a child (I’m looking at you Sargents!- congrats, congrats, congrats- in your case it is give birth and see that the Lord is good!), we actually participate in letting people taste the goodness of God.  Those beans or couscous or meat is not simply an aside to the event, but a blessed part of the continuing revelation of grace and joy.  I participate in it, share it with others, bless other people with those wondrous tastes and smells.  In other words, we get to taste and see that the Lord is good all the time, whether it is ourselves enjoying beautiful and tasty food, but we also get to do it when we share with others as gift or kindness.  God bless food as a vehicle of his goodness!

A roast beef french dip and a tasty lemonade!

Picture of the Day: Gingerbread House!

So I have been doing jury duty for the last two days and will continue to do so for the next week.  The courthouse is in downtown Riverside where there are lots of good places to eat.  Over the last two days I have walked past this place on the way to Upper Crust Bakery and also Simple Simon’s Bakery and Bistro, and just had to take a picture.

The Gingerbread House

The Gingerbread House is actually the pink building underneath the large tree shadow.  This place is bright pink, serves apple fritters, nuts and other things baked with sugar and cinnamon and chocolate, and of course, just about anything gingerbread.  It is not open in the afternoon when I walk by, but the smell of gingerbread and Christmas-y baked goods are still wafting in the air, and it is fantastic.  I don’t necessarily have any memories of this in childhood, but it is a place that brings me great joy and smiles- it is a smell of beauty!  So while it’s not a place connected with childhood memories, it is a place that connects me with beautiful smells and odors and tastes at the core of many good memories- a dessert haven of food memories and gingerbread fellowship!  One particular memory is when my roommate in college made about 6 homemade gingerbread houses for a Graduate School Christmas party, and the smell and rich taste of those gingerbread houses when I arrived home from a day of study made my Christmas.   This Gingerbread House shares that smell, and I am quite grateful!

Hummingbirds

A wind chime and hummingbird feeder

Today I was sitting in the backyard and noticed hummingbirds, humming like drones over my head.  My parents have a bird feeder and right next to it a beautiful butterfly mimicking wind chime pictured above and I was thrilled about watching them hum and flit and fly all over with incredible control.  It was beautiful.

But one thing I got to see today was something I had only heard of- hummingbird mating.  Hummingbird males fly real high into the sky and essentially dive bomb near the tree with their female.  At the last minute they pull up and by pulling up so fast they actually make unique sharp sounds with their wings to impress their female counterparts.  It was awesome to watch the male hummingbird do this about 12 times before stopping.  The whirling, high pitched turned deep pitch of the vertical swerve was quite impressive.

It is amazing to consider all the wonderful creation of God, and how sometimes, their is a strangeness or absurdity within that creation that only reminds deeper of the grace of God.  Thank you God for the opportunity.