The Language of Redemption & Grace

20 12 2010

I was watching this video over at Andy Cenci’s tumblr:

Something Makoto Fujimura says near the end…

“We have a language to celebrate waywardness…but we do not have a cultural language to bring people back home…”

And it’s haunting me.

As Christians, we need to engage culture.  And I think personally, that often, we need to engage culture where it lives, using its language and its structures as a way to breed familiarity, a feeling of safety, and to let people know that we’re all in the same boat, and that we all need the same forgiveness.

So I find it intriguing that what Fujimura says is that perhaps, at least in the arts, we need to search for the other voice;  that other language that is so shocking, so amazing, and so different than the current culture’s voice-so we may begin a transformation, rather than a simple engagement.

I don’t know what I think about it, but I present it to you so I can sleep. 🙂

P.S. – Andy is the newest staff member at Parkview.  He is one of the Student Ministries Directors.  He’s awesome.  (So is Alison too!)  🙂

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How to REALLY Help in Haiti

14 01 2010

Donated ChangeI’m going to keep this brief, because I know there’s a low signal-to-noise ratio with this terrible disaster.  But I’ve done some research for a friend, and it’s come up with some fairly startling results.  I want to present the facts as best as I can, with organizations that are not only reputable, but forthcoming with their financials.

So, given that preface, the question is:

Where is the best place to donate my funds, if I want the most to come from my donation to help people in Haiti?

Here’s the deal:  Every charitable non-profit organization has operating costs, and costs that are incurred to simply raise money.  So, reputable organizations post this information publicly.  Most organizations do this through the Better Business Bureau, and the IRS.  Some choose to do so privately.  Another factor here is that when funds are given, are they given to a general fund, or something specific to the cause you wish to donate towards?

So, here’s my breakdown:

Samaritan's Purse Logo

My number one choice is Samaritan’s Purse (based out of Boone, NC, USA).

Samaritan’s Purse gives 89% (as of Fiscal Year 2008) towards programs. The other 11% break down as follows: 6% go towards fund-raising, and 5% goes towards general expenses and administrative costs.

There is one higher-profile organization that gives a higher percentage towards aid, which is the Red Cross.  However, the reason I did not choose them, is that unlike Samaritan’s Purse, where you can specify your donation to go only towards efforts to help Haiti, the Red Cross makes you donate towards an “International Relief Fund” which may or may not go towards this effort.

So, 89 cents of every dollar donated to Samaritan’s Purse goes DIRECTLY to work in Haiti.  They are already on the ground, working, helping and assessing how to best organize their efforts in the future.

I still think the Red Cross is doing a great job, and they’ve already pledged to give $1M towards Haitian relief.  That’s wonderful.  And the verbiage of their site seems to say that the “Texting Campaign” (where you send the word HAITI to 90999, and $10 gets donated to the Red Cross, and it shows up on your phone bill), WILL INDEED GO DIRECTLY TO RELIEF IN HAITI.  So, this appears to be the only way to send money to the Red Cross with a specific target for those funds.

Here’s what is most important:

1) PRAY.

There is terrible human tragedy going on, and God can move in amazing ways there.  Pray that God will send the right people, the right aid, with the right timing to help as many people as possible!

2) GIVE.

Give your funds to an organization you trust, and that you know will help folks out.  I suggest Samaritan’s Purse (I have ZERO AFFILIATION with them, by the way, just to be clear), but anywhere you’ve researched and trust with your funds, WILL HELP.

3) SPREAD THE WORD.

Your prayers and financial help WILL make a difference.  But combined with others?  If we’re smart and work together to make sure we’re maximizing our resources in this region, we can really work together to make a difference in these people’s lives, for a positive future.  Let’s educate each other on how charities work.  Let’s make sure people know that not all are alike!  Let’s help more people.  Now.

Thanks for reading.  I hope it was informative.

Note after publishing: The Red Cross gives 90% of its income to aid.  So it’s a 1% difference.  Just forgot to give the percentage for them.  Just wanted to be clear.





Stay At Home, Dad

10 01 2010

So, two days ago, my wife, along with her mother, and 7 others (including my boss and his wife) left for a seven-day medical missions trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  I’ve been on many missions trips (well, probably about seven), and usually, since they are with the youth group I work with my wife stays home, to watch the kids while I’m away.  This time though, it is my wife’s first missions trip,  the first time she’s been away from the kids for this long, and the longest I’ve been with the kids all by myself.

Now, before you think this is simply about me whining about being a Dad-on-his-own (or a DOHO, as I like to call it), well, okay.  That’s a small part of it.  I mean, it is tough.  Keeping up the house, making breakfast, lunch, dinner, the numerous snacks that they seem to keep getting away with, starting movies, setting up (and playing practically entire levels of, because they’re just “too hard, Daddy!”) video games, changing diapers, wiping butts after the potty, yadda, yadda, yadda…

It’s tough work.  And before anyone says “well, I’m a mom, and I do that all the time!”  Know this:  I do this all the time too.  I’m a stay-at-home Dad two days during the “workweek” and my wife works on-call at a hospital, so I’m often fending for myself here on the home front.  But, there’s usually relief on the horizon.  The cavalry may take a while to get there, but back-up is always on the way…sometime.

And tonight, when I made a paper “ring-chain” to help the kids (and yeah, myself too) count down the number of days until Mommy returns, it really hit me, how long I still have to go until my wife returns… (Let’s ignore the fact that when she does return, she’s going to be exhausted, and not really going to be in the mood to “get back to the grind” right away either….)

But that’s honestly not the point of my writing here.  No, why I write now, is because I’m realizing the hard way (and the best way, I think that God could have possibly done so) what my wife does for me, for my family, and for service to God every time I’m in Saltillo or Mazatlan in Mexico, or Cedar Rapids in Iowa, or New Orleans, Louisiana, and this summer when I’ll be in Erkrath, Germany.

We need to recognize that in situations like this, staying home is not simply a matter of duty to our family, or to avoid amazingly expensive daycare/babysitting costs.  It’s not a burden, giving us reason to sigh and moan.  Being at home while a loved one is away serving God in a missions field is not a matter of us left behind being idle and feeling useless.

God called one of us to the missions field, and the other?  That one didn’t just stay home.  One of us was called to step up and serve the missions field here at home.  My staying home now, just as the many times my wife has stayed at home then (and I know will, in the future), is service to my creator.  It is service to those people in Honduras.  It is service to my wife.  It is service to my kids (although they’d most definitely say otherwise).

But what God’s revealing to me more and more with really, every hour I’m here doing this terrible job on my own, is that this isn’t just “the luck of the draw” that I’m home and my wife is gone.  God is asking me to serve.  And I can do so one of two ways:  begrudgingly, counting down the minutes (nay, the seconds!) until my wife can come home and relieve me from the stress I’ve gone through (remember, wiping butts, endless nights of kids refusing to go to bed…sitting through tearful bouts of “I miss Mommy”, etc…)

OR

I can take joy in knowing that God is working through my humble little family.  I can be encouraged, knowing that my wife is making a difference on the lower hemisphere of our planet, while I support her efforts back here in the north.  Knowing that God has chosen us to do His work.  And every butt I wipe, and every tear I wipe and every nose I wipe (yeah I do a lot of wiping) is making a difference for His kingdom, which is eternal, amazing, and so awesome compared to the wisp of a wisp of a wisp of mist that this week of trial (for both my wife and myself) is at the moment.

So, while I’m missing my wife like mad, and having trouble sleeping because I worry about her well-being and thinking about her more times a day than I have fingers and toes…I’m choosing the second option.  I’m grateful for the chance to serve God, wife and family.  I’m grateful that I’m getting to build into my kids in a way I don’t when my wife is here.  I’m grateful that my wife is building into God in a way that simply doesn’t happen unless you’re out on a limb for Him.

I’m grateful that God told me:  “Stay at home, Dad.”

OtakuMom’s missions trip in Tegucigalpa, Honduras is blogged about here. It is a multi-church effort that aims to bring badly needed medicines, dental help, and hope to some very hurting, very needy, and very-loved-by-God people.





Of Christmastime, Stress and Marriage

12 12 2009

Christmas, Stress & Marriage

So how’s everybody been?  Wow, you’ve gotten bigger!  Oh and look at you!  Wow, when I last saw you, you had such long hair!  But now…Wow.

Okay, enough jokes about how long it’s been.  I’m a dork.  (I say so all the time) so don’t allow it to phase you when I go days or months not writing, especially when I’ve recently gotten a new game (which frankly, is a lot more fun than sitting down and trying to write something interesting or entertaining).  Also, it’s the Christmas season (which, before that came the Thanksgiving season, and the Halloween season before that).  So, suffice it to say, like every other day as a father of two young children, it’s been a little busy.

But that’s not why you’re here!  That’s not why you came to read this!  You’re interested in why I linked Christmas, Stress and Marriage in one title!  Well, here’s how it is:

At Christmas, we always long for that family time.  That time around the fireplace where there are stockings hung neatly, ready to be filled with goodies…a glowing, beautiful tree, trimmed with fragile and precious ornaments and below the tree, gifts beyond reckoning.  We want a little train going around the tree, and the puppy frolicking and playfully scared of the train, while our kids sit by us and sip cocoa whilst we read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and all that crap that will absolutely never happen in anyone’s lifetime.   (And that includes the family who made the Hallmark cards or anyone else in this century.)

More likely, you’ve just come home from work, you’ve got kids who are dirty and hungry (but not for quality food: only chicken nuggets and mac and cheese), you’ve got two stores to hit, and three people to buy for and your checkbook says “nuh-uh, you ain’t going anywhere.  You can’t even buy gas!”

Your husband or wife is working late and you know they’re coming home stressed.  The kids will go to the stores with you, but they’re going to be hell, kicking, screaming, pouting, dropping to the floor, not being able to decide if they want to cry about being in the cart, or crying about having to walk.  They want JUST ONE TOY!!!  JUST ONNNNNNEEEEE!!!  and they have to pee.

Now.

But, you pack the diaper bag (or, if you’re like me, you prepare one, and leave it by the front door – where it stays until you remember it between the first and second store when you have that unmistakable fecal smell emanating somewhere behind you in your youngest’s car seat…) and you boldly go out, trying to make something out of the little money you have, feeling guilty that your own spouse seems to get less than the secret santa you have at the office.  And little did you know?  Everything goes exactly as you expected it!

Meaning, that the kids were terrible, people looked at you like you were Satan himself, raising hellspawn that wouldn’t listen if there was a gun at their heads.  You couldn’t find anything on your list, yet still spent crazy money on food for the kids (that ended up getting thrown away mostly anyway), and you come home, even more broke, tired, depressed and angry than you were before you left.  But now, your spouse is home, wondering why you won’t just relax!  And making everything sound much simpler than it ever could possibly be.

Maybe you don’t have all of that going for you.  Maybe it’s just a couple things.  But I think all of us can empathize with a little of that scenario.  Christmas, instead of being about Christ, giving from our hearts, and loving people in His name, has become about trying to “show” how much we care by giving the best gift we cannot afford or trying to make sure we “repay” the gift we got from the person last year.

Or, on the flip side, we’re so stressed that everyone gets gift cards and no soul at all.

What happened?  Where did all of this stress come in?  Where did our relationships go, and where does love have a chance to enter?

Now, let me start off by saying that I have no stake or claim in the full answer, nor do I in any way, shape or form embody some perfect balance here.  Far from it!  But I, like you, seek something more authentic.  I seek something that means something, and makes my running around worth something more than simply trying to catch up.

And beyond that, when we’re doing all this crazy running and losing ourselves in these petty missions of rampant, unchecked consumerism, we’re losing our families, and typically, our marriages suffer as a result.

So what do we do?  How do we start to turn things around?  It’s not like Macy’s is all of a sudden going to start giving away massages and babysitting, without buying something, just so Mom and Dad can grab a coffee (also gratis, of course, in my dream scenario), and talk and rekindle love while at the mall!

But here’s what I’m learning (and it’s modest and meager, but I think it’s a start):

Love is the key.  I need to realize that all the money in the world would not represent the love I feel for my kids, my wife, my family, and the friends in my life that I care about so deeply.  If I could buy every present I could ever want to give, it would NEVER represent my love for those people.

And more importantly than that idyllic situation, I won’t even come close to that kind of money, ever.  Ever.  And I need to own up to that.  My credit cards are NOT going to prove my love to people.  Not even close.  All that will do is make me feel like I should “do better” next year, and I’ll be deeper in the hole when I get there.

So it’s not gifts that will show my love.  What will?

Me, I think it’s two things:  Time, and acts of service.

For my friends, instead of buying little 5-buck trinkets that mean nothing, and will likely do nothing for my friends other than require storage, I’m trying to find ways to serve in meaningful ways.  Even if it’s just a matter of seeing what I can pray for them.  It’s amazing how much light comes into people’s lives (especially in this season) when you ask them if you can pray for them, and what would THEY want you to pray for?  It’s like someone threw a rope down a well to a person stranded there for years.  It’s truly amazing, and I’d recommend it to everyone.

But, here’s the deal:  YOU NEED TO ACTUALLY PRAY.  I know that sounds dumb, but I’ve done it lots: I ask people if they need prayer, and sometimes I even write it down, and then it goes in the laundry and I forget I even asked.

So, my advice: Pray right then and there.  When you get that request, you pray.  Stop anything else.  Pull over to the side of the road if you’re driving.  If you’re checking your email and someone writes it to you, pray THEN.  Whenever, whatever.  Drop it and pray.  You will NEVER regret that.  And I tend to remember things when I make a moment of it like that.  So the odds are, when you’re praying by yourself later, you’ll remember that you need to pray for that person again.

Prayer is a wonderful giving of time and service.  But sometimes we need to actually physically do things for people.  And I’ll admit that while I should be doing this more, I fail terribly here.  I’m more of the gift-card guy myself.

But, for my friends, when they’re moving or just need a babysitter, I need to reach out and say “you know what?  I can do that.”  Or when my kids have been screaming and running around all day?  I can sit down and do an art project with them.  Or I can shovel (or snowblow) the snow at my neighbors’ house, or even do the sidewalk down the entire block for strangers to be able to walk without sinking in the snow.

But you know what stinks?  Even when you start to do these things, you get tired.  It’s hard work ACTUALLY loving people, instead of throwing cheap tokens around in lieu of actual quality time.  So when you get home, you just want to drop down, thank God for letting you get through it, and eat, sleep and be merry.

Except, you’ve forgotten someone (or at least, I do this all too often) and that is your spouse.  Your wife or your husband.  Maybe they’ve been on this kick too, to turn a new leaf and give something substantial instead of superficial.  Or maybe they’re just chasing the next big sale.  Who knows?  But they’re likely just as stressed and burned out as any friend you’ve helped.  But they’re familiar.  They’d understand.  They want you to feel good and rested, right?

Absolutely.  But that’s exactly why we need to give 110% percent to them too.

Because girls, let me tell you:  If Daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

And boys:  If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

And if Momma or Daddy ain’t happy?  Marriages suffer.  Fights occur with increasing frequency.  Resentment grows.  Feelings of remorse, regret or whatever creep in, and we start to get angry at that lazy good-for-nothing of a husband, or that wife who only has to watch the kids, while the provider goes and works and stresses over how we’ll pay the bills the mortgage, as well as get gifts this year…

But it’s gotta stop.  We’ve gotta give even more to our wives and husbands than we do to anyone else.  I mean that.  I need to do this.  You need to do this.

I don’t have the answers or know how that will always play out for you.  I can tell you for me, it is going to involve doing a little more picking up of the house late at night.  It’s going to involve sleeping on the couch on Friday nights, because I know that Saturday morning, it’s the only way that I’ll ever hear the kids wake up before my wife does.  (I’d sleep through a nuclear holocaust, I swear…) It’s going to involve me simply praying for her, and asking God to reveal where I can love her better.

I know I’ll screw up sometimes.  But, you know what?  God forgives me.  And I know I married a wonderful woman who will forgive me too.  And definitely, above all else this Christmas, I want to give myself more.  I want to give my wife less stress.  And I want Christ to be at the center of it all.





Going Nowhere, Going Somewhere…*

12 10 2009

Between the craziness of life and the hectic schedule of a modern-day family, there comes a time when you need to get away.  To do something abnormal.  To break the cycle.  But in the economy of today, and with no ability to leave, what does one do?  Well, I will avoid the one word.  The word everyone uses now, when you’re going on vacation by staying?  😉

So that’s what my family is doing for the next couple days.  We’ve been planning a trip to Disney World for this week.  It was going to be awesome.  Due to the generosity and fortune of a friend, we were going to have a round-trip airfare, hotel, and Disney park vacation for this week, all for free.  The only thing we’d be paying for was food, souvenirs, and transportation in-town.  But then that fell through.  Just a couple weeks ago, to be exact.

So the wife and I were off work, we had taken the kids out of daycare/school…  We were still going out of our minds with stress and demands from life.  We needed to get away; to still vacate our lives for a bit.

“Why did God do this to us?”  I thought at first.  I mean, sure we couldn’t have asked for a better possibility (before it crumbled) but then again, we DIDN’T ask for it.  It was dropped in our laps.  It was an opportunity that simply doesn’t seem to happen to a guy like me.  We’re the ones left holding the check a lot.  And we’re okay with that most of the time.  We’re the ones that watch the other people’s kids while they do things that are fun and refreshing.  We’re the ones that work the extra shift to cover the vacationer.  We use our vacation time to go on missions trips and other service-oriented, non-restful things.  It was FINALLY going to be our turn!  And we were very excited.

And then it fell apart.  So yeah, I was a little bitter.  Not necessarily towards God, but with no direct person, who else was I mad at?  Just because I hadn’t named Him, doesn’t mean that I didn’t mean him.

I realized in a couple days (I’m not a saint) that God allowed us an opportunity.  An opportunity to not only overcome, but to unite as a family.  So no, we’re not going to Disney.  Frankly, the kids are too young to appreciate it much anyway.  It would be another vacation to them, not the special thing that my wife and I recognized it for…  So in that way it’s good.  We still have that ONE VACATION that will someday happen (or not) that can be held aloft as a family-owned dream.

Secondly, it gave my wife and I the opportunity to work together towards figuring out what to do with the week.  It gave us the chance to mourn our lost opportunity together, and to gain happiness as a couple, in finding the joy in this new opportunity.

So altogether, we’re not really going anywhere.  Sure, we’re getting a hotel for a couple nights, because we want to swim with our kids.  But we’re not going far.  In fact, we’re only about 20 minutes from home.  And we’ll still be taking our oldest to school tomorrow, and trying to get back in time for her school pictures on Thursday.  It’s not the grand journey we planned.  But sometimes, it’s not about where you go, but how you get there.   And for not going very far, we’ve come a long way.  I know for certain that I have.  And I’m looking forward to going nowhere, yet going somewhere.

*If you caught it, it was a Jesus Jones reference, from the song “Blissed”, off of the 1990 album “Doubt”.  The entire lyric of the song is appropriate, beautiful, and as follows:

if the sun shines today

i think i’ll stay here anyway
and if the world makes demands of me
then i’ll wait and see

it’s at times like these
i do what i please (do what i please)
and i’m pleased to say
it’s like i’ve always wanted to feel this way

blissed, blissed
when i’m going somewhere, going nowhere
blissed, blissed
when i’m going nowhere, going somewhere

no-one ever else could feel like this
i couldn’t settle for less than this

let the feel of the air wash over me
let the ground sink beneath my feet
and I expect so much more from today
than just a time between tomorrow and yesterday

blissed, blissed
when i’m going nowhere, going somewhere
blissed, blissed
when i’m going somewhere, going nowhere

there’ll be a time when all my dreams come to and end
when i’ll run out of postcards for you all to send
but i’ll keep with me
all the things i feel and see

blissed, blissed
when i’m going somewhere, going nowhere
blissed, blissed
when i’m going nowhere, going somewhere

(Get Jesus Jones’ “Doubt” on Amazon here for under $3.00, shipped!)





Book Review: "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan

10 06 2009

So, I’ve been reading Francis Chan’s book, “Crazy Love” for quite some time now.  I’ll be honest, I read the first 80% of it within a week or so, and then the last 20% took me forever to finish.  Part of that was life getting hectic, and I don’t know what the rest was.

But, it is now finished, and I have much to say about it.  However, I will first remind everyone what I mean when I say the word “review”.  It’s not meant to be objective in any way.  This is entirely subjective (which, I believe, is the point of reviews…you find someone you tend to agree with, and then trust their opinions on various media suggestions) and moreso, is definitely very much about where my head and heart are right now.  So, as with everything I say, take this with a grain of salt, a swig of your favorite beverage, and hopefully a munch of something tasty.  That said, here we go:

“Crazy Love” is definitely the most interesting book I’ve read in the last five years.  No, it’s not the most “gripping”.  It’s not very exciting at all, actually.  Mostly, I have a hard time reading non-fiction.  So, if it doesn’t have a story and characters and twists, and whatever…it doesn’t get read (all the way, at least).  But, Crazy Love called to me in the bookstore.  No joke, I believe God placed this book in my hands.

Francis Chan has a simple premise here-that we’re not living as we should.  That we’re not living the lives we profess.  That we are sapping our own vitality here, and potentially endangering our very souls by doing so.

See, Pastor Chan (of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California) believes that we need to be sold out for Jesus.  And we, as Christians nod in agreement, and say “Of course, man!  Amen!”  But Francis doesn’t let us off the hook there.  He says, “Well?  How about it then?  Where is your faith?  Where are you walking where only God can catch you if you fall?” Read the rest of this entry »





Book Review: “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan

10 06 2009

So, I’ve been reading Francis Chan’s book, “Crazy Love” for quite some time now.  I’ll be honest, I read the first 80% of it within a week or so, and then the last 20% took me forever to finish.  Part of that was life getting hectic, and I don’t know what the rest was.

But, it is now finished, and I have much to say about it.  However, I will first remind everyone what I mean when I say the word “review”.  It’s not meant to be objective in any way.  This is entirely subjective (which, I believe, is the point of reviews…you find someone you tend to agree with, and then trust their opinions on various media suggestions) and moreso, is definitely very much about where my head and heart are right now.  So, as with everything I say, take this with a grain of salt, a swig of your favorite beverage, and hopefully a munch of something tasty.  That said, here we go:

“Crazy Love” is definitely the most interesting book I’ve read in the last five years.  No, it’s not the most “gripping”.  It’s not very exciting at all, actually.  Mostly, I have a hard time reading non-fiction.  So, if it doesn’t have a story and characters and twists, and whatever…it doesn’t get read (all the way, at least).  But, Crazy Love called to me in the bookstore.  No joke, I believe God placed this book in my hands.

Francis Chan has a simple premise here-that we’re not living as we should.  That we’re not living the lives we profess.  That we are sapping our own vitality here, and potentially endangering our very souls by doing so.

See, Pastor Chan (of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, California) believes that we need to be sold out for Jesus.  And we, as Christians nod in agreement, and say “Of course, man!  Amen!”  But Francis doesn’t let us off the hook there.  He says, “Well?  How about it then?  Where is your faith?  Where are you walking where only God can catch you if you fall?” Read the rest of this entry »