Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bye Bye Blogger

It all started in 2003.

But, alas, you folks haven't held up your end of the bargain, kids. Boring old skins. No real support. Comments and stats are not up to par.

You know those PC vs. Apple commercials?

Blogger is the guy in the suit.

WordPress is the cool guy in casual clothes.

It's nothing personal Blogger, it's not you. It's me.

But if you need me, I'll be moved in soon at my new digs at

Please update your links accordingly, patrons!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mind Vitamins from Alan Hirsch

So, yeah. Um, I read the book The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch and well, let's just say that little Kindle purchase and the highlight feature has caused me plenty of time away from the blog. Anyway, here's a few quotes from the book for your consideration:
"To say this more explicitly, there is no such thing as sacred and secular in biblical worldview. It can conceive of no part of the world that does not come under the claim of Yahweh's lordship. All of life belongs to God, and true holiness means bringing all the spheres of life under God."

"...I have come to believe that the viability of our faith is that of consumerism. This is far more heinous and insidious challenge to the gospel, because in so many ways it infects each and every one of us."

"Dynamic movements always have a transformative vision for society, and that puts them in tension with it."

"Christianity is at its very best when it is on the more chaotic fringes. It is when the church settles down, and moves away from the edge of chaos, that things go awry."

So, yeah. I realize they're out of context, but yo can tell the book is about affecting change in the status quo of the current situation the church "lives" in? Well, yeah. I have MUCH more to say on this subject, but I thought I'd at least throw these out there for your consumption to chew on until I can crystallize my thinking on SO much of what I'm reading about the state of play in the North American Church in 2011.
Just A Cool Quote

So, I read the book One Day by David Nicholls. Not bad. Anyway, I thought this quote was well-written as the life philosophy of one of the characters. Simply wanted to make sure I didn't lose it. Sorry for the interruption.
"Live each day as if it's your last,' that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit gandy? It just wasn't practical. Better by far to simply try and be good adn courageous and bold and to make a difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Go out there with your passion and your electric typewriter and work hard at...something. Change lives through art maybe. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance."
--David Nicholls.

Not bad, eh? But also a few holes, too, right? Your thoughts?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Decompression Edition

So, the plane--carrying the 10 teens & 4 adults who went on our church's mission trip to Ireland--landed at DFW on July 26...a little before 5PM. We were welcomed back by a lot of folks from Crossroads. Parents happy to see their kids for the first time in two weeks; friends happy to see their friends they'd only connected with via social media; boyfriends happy to see their girlfriends & girlfriends happy to see their boyfriends.

I was happy about all this on two levels because I was greeted by my family members, but also greeted by all the above folks: Parents, students, friends & boyfriends/girlfriends of students, all happy. One of the perks of my job.

A couple of thoughts about travel before I get to the "meat" of my thoughts about the trip: First, It's pretty cool to serve a group of students who are airport savvy. My guess is that some who work with youth would have to give tremendous oversight and management to their students when in airports...but I live in an area where the kids have traveled by air so frequently that they know how to find gates, keep up with their boarding passes (the leader of a group of college kids on the mission we were on actually kept the passports for everyone in his are they supposed to learn?), know the drill for boarding, etc. Makes my job a lot less stressful knowing they are going to be able to grab a snack without having to keep tabs on 'em.

Second, my students know that my view of missions is a lot like my view of Christmas decor: When it's over, MAN, IT'S OVER. When Christmas is over, I want the decorations back in the attic. When the "mission" is over, the travel is a necessary evil to get back to the folks I love. I'm not interested in much else. The teens know this and choose to serve me by being where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there with the stuff they're supposed to have with them. Another one of the perks of having been at a place as long as I have: The students know what sets me off and avoid doing those things. The legends have been passed down from kid to kid.

One last thing about travel: The folks at Chicago O'Hare have botched customs & immigration for so long that now they've been cut out of the deal (I've been there three times and it sucked royally each and every time). You clear customs and security in Dublin. The actually welcome you back to the U.S. while you're in Europe...which seemed strange. They still don't take dollars on the other side, though. Nice to be on the 7 hour flight back without having to worry about the possibility of mismanagement and ineptitude keeping you from making your connection, that's for sure.

Now, after a week of "staycation" recovering from 2 mission trips and preparing for student ministry's fall planning (which we're woefully behind on while preparing for two mission trips) what did I glean from the trip to Ireland?

First, there aren't any shortcuts to understanding the context of the people you're ministering to. I have to admit that I wasn't well-versed in the history of the island I was going to minister to and was going to depend on the training sessions to get me up to speed.

Sure, they tried to get us up to speed with a few jokes about the weather, and some catch phrases that are cute but mostly only used by those of us who attended the training, and some general cultural stuff. But there were some serious realities of the culture that I learned so much about during my two week stay.

Like the politics of Northern Ireland and Ireland. Simply because there isn't an army or immigration booths when you cross they really are two wildly different political systems of belief.

Which hinged largely on the Protestant/Catholic divide. Words can't express how a battle in 1680 affects so much of their worlds even (especially?) today. It even drips into the sports teams they follow...yes, your religion will dictate who you choose to support in athletics.

And the "culture of fighting." It doesn't take long to realize that when you mix...

...and often, alcohol, well it's no surprise that passions run VERY deep. And I'm not sure they can teach you that in ANY training session.

Main lesson learned: You have to take the time to get to know people, their "story," to engage them in life. PROGRAMS BASED ON ATTRACTION MODELS (get them to come to our event) ARE NO LONGER EFFECTIVE FOR MEANINGFUL EVANGELISM.

Second, "professional" ministers are not as effective as the folks who just walk with Christ and express His love. In Northern Ireland, most of the professional clergy were part of a denomination or church that was in decline and/or dying. The folks getting the ministry done were people who were volunteers or part-timers who already lived in the community and worked among the folks there. They had a hearing that the "pros" don't and won't...because the church and Christian culture (especially "fundamental evangelicalism") has lost any type of platform for discussion--and the reasons for that are myriad.

But, at the end of the day, the relationships formed the context to share your view of Christ. The programs we ran didn't really do much.

For example, there were drop-ins at the youth center--which were sparsely attended and a lot of energy & resources were put forth to get the word out about times and events and such. But even the free concert didn't draw as well as hoped. The "success" of all of that was ultimately measured in how those events fostered a relationship. The kid who was trouble hung out with a staffer for a long time. Or the community fun-day was well-attended and helped the volunteers meet and trust some parents. Stuff like that.

On the other hand, the late-night pub ministry ("Safe Haven") where the team walked the area where a lot of bars existed, carrying hot tea for cold folks waiting in taxi lines, or helping bouncers with crowd control, or giving flip-flops to girls wearing high heels who had too much to drink walking to the fast-food place gave Youth for Christ a brilliant platform with the community. The drunks were aware and appreciative of the folks in purple hoodies showing love & compassion as were the bouncers and pub owners who thanked us on our walkabouts. The relationships formed set the stage for future conversations.

Main lesson learned: Every area of your life is your mission field. And it doesn't look like "invite your friends to our 'trunk or treat Halloween alternative' or 'come to the event at our church' anymore. Sometimes it really is as simple as seeing a need and meeting that need with love and compassion, and most of the time that will be with people who don't think and act like us.

Third, the institutional Church is in decline. The sooner we admit our methods aren't working, the sooner we can change.

Granted, their situation is different with all the cathedrals and nearly four times more history playing into the equation there, but there is certainly a mindset that the Church just...IS. Each town seemed to have a church for every denomination that used that very identity to draw folks. In other words, folks should come to us because we are who we are. Hence, they're all in decline.

The ministries that were growing were not married to any methodology or system. They didn't view change as an enemy, but embraced change. They allowed ministries to grow out of need...almost organically. Those ministries used "grass-roots" methods and were almost successful BECAUSE they weren't hinging on a credibility that doesn't really exist anyway.

Sometimes, we need to value the bohemians and revolutionaries and barbarians moreso than those that clean up real nice and look like us and think like us and conform to our mores. We can learn from the outside-the-box thinkers we bump shoulders with...and should seek them out, man.

Main lesson learned: Have an open mind about the forms of ministry, and don't assume that the institutional church is "doing it the right way." Think about it. The churches in Africa and China are growing. Churches in the West are seemingly in decline. There's a reason for that.

Fourth, spiritual formation is a "team" effort.

In many ways, our team showing up was an encouragement to the Christians we came in contact with in Ireland. See, one thing I picked up pretty quickly was that Project 32 was the vision of a few key people. It's only two years old, really (in the current form). And those key people had a trust and knowledge of one another and were in alignment on ministry vision and such.

Then here come the young kids from Texas, and I could sense the "wait-and-see" raised eyebrows of those Project 32 leaders about our team. On paper, we were decidedly much more young than the rest of the internationals coming to serve...and they didn't know me or my church or my ministry philosophy.

They didn't know what I know: That years of serving in various capacities had prepared our team members for a ministry just like this one...building relationships and sharing Christ within that context.

So, after a few days on the field, I asked the folks traveling to each city (and they'd seen ALL the teams that had CBC folks on them by this time) how our kids were doing. "The Texans have made their mark, that's for sure. They hit the ground and were already ready for this. They didn't really need the training sessions. They 'got it.'" Music to my ears, man.

Much of our ministry was simply encouraging other believers...
...or team leaders...
...or visionaries for Project 32...

...but those are highly valuable, too.

Granted, we'd done our part on our end. I mean, Christian growth isn't rocket science. You need times of contemplation & thinking to figure out the universe and your place in it. You need your "Paul" & you need your "Timothy." You need your "tribe." You need to use/develop your gifts and talents.

So, when we showed up, our "kids" had been prepared simply because we didn't try to get fancy...we just tried to use this as an extension of what we were already doing. And the kids we bring back are different (having had their horizons broadened) in the best of ways.

What was also really cool was having many of the Northern Ireland folks we worked with wanting to come to Texas next summer to do mission work alongside our teens in our environment. You bet we're working on that to make it a reality.

Main lesson learned: Discipleship is a team effort, whether that team is across an ocean or across the hallway in the building. Sometimes you do the discipling, others you're being discipled, but in the end, we all have a role to play. We'd best be playing our role to the full.

So, it was a great trip.

65 degree high temperatures (if you're currently experiencing the record heat of North Texas, well, you get how that alone would make the trip great).
Beautiful views of the Northern Ireland coast where you can see Scotland on a clear day.
Using our gifts and talents in all sorts of environments from church VBS events to Safe Haven and everything in-between.
The connection with other believers in their context as well as creating a curiosity in them to the degree they want to connect with us in our context.

And the lessons learned are best summed up in a quote from a Chinese poem I read in a book about Celtic evangelism after I got back (as did our team to help them process everything from our trip):
Go to the people.
Live among them.
Learn from them.
Love them.
Start with what they know.
Build on what they have.

And, yes...I'd really like to go back to Northern Ireland.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 5

Team Dungannon is starting to settle into the routine: We wake up, have times of prayer and prep for the day of ministry. This is followed by going into neighborhoods, passing out flyers that announce that the YFC here is having a fun day in the park (see my Facebook for photos of the parks that exist in each "subdivision") and we go and wait to see who shows up.

We've done face-painting for the little ones and frisbee/soccer for the older ones, and all of it is to invite the people we meet to one of two things: First, the "drop-in" center at Youth for Christ which is the town square (which, incidentally, is on a street that has tremendous historical & political consequence--historically, during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, it has become the most bombed street in the world, and politically, it serves as almost a dividing line between the Protestants and Catholics). Secondly, we invite them to a much bigger deal that will take place on Saturday with a bunch of bouncy houses for the kids and a climbing wall for the teens.

This morning highlighted the reality here. Several kids showed up to play soccer and the game went well, adding more players once they saw a real game on. They were in a proudly Protestant community and we told them they were welcome to come to the drop-in center this afternoon from 2-4 and play table tennis or shoot pool or play Wii. They asked where it was. We told them on the square above retail store they all know.

"We won't be allowed." The message was clear: You can't come that close to the line of historical and political significance.

Nonetheless, it was a good morning of ministry, and they might come to the Saturday fun day. The game ended in a 7-7 tie as the international team played against Milltown residents.

Last night, several of us left the senior high "drop-in" time (which is after dinner, and the middle schoolers all "drop-in" in the early afternoon) to attend a prayer meeting at the church with the Methodist church that invited us. I have to admit that I wasn't really looking forward to it because it was a decidedly older church community that has a few theological differences...

...but it turned out to be one of the high points of my trip to date.

It was a privilege to pray with people that had a true heart for the Lord...which was evident in their eloquent words. They weren't repetitive phrases they learned by hanging out with other Christians. They were only the kinds of words that people who have studied Scripture for decades and prayed consistently for decades and lived in community with people who took prayer seriously. It was a 45-minute time with other saints who have loved the Lord for a very long time. It was 45-minutes I won't soon forget.

So, the ministry is going well, and our team here is hearing good reports from all the other teams. I'm really trying to stay in the "now" because I can't wait to get all our CBC kids back together in one room to hear how God worked in and through them. Thus far, it's been a great mission trip!

I'll try to be better about blogging, but keep checking the Facebook page for photos. Just don't have time to put them all here. I know it's inconvenient to go back and forth between the two, but I appreciate your taking the time to do that.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 4

We broke into our various teams yesterday...9 teams total, and the best I can tell you is that we're all doing the work of our various ministries in our various locations in the Republic of Ireland as well as in North Ireland. You can scroll way past my anniversary update of yesterday to get the breakdown, but basically, you're looking at about 125 workers on 9 teams.

The common thread each team is supposed to accomplish together involves a prayer ministry, a service aspect, a children's ministry and a youth ministry. Our team in Dungannon arrived yesterday morning, got settled and began work on our service project.

We were serving Youth for Christ's Dungannon office specifically. They recently acquired a new "drop-in" center in the town square and needed help moving their stuff from their storage facility. Now, in the U.S. there are trucks and plenty of room on the streets and the whole deal. However, here, not so much...we had one small car, 10 people, and about a 2-block walk. We managed to get everything over in about 2 hours.

A second project in the office involves making their prayer room an actual prayer room (instead of extra storage). Three team members are part of that.

We then spent some time in the afternoon planning our team's children's ministry. Basically, we're hoping to go into local "estates" (in the U.S., they're usually referred to as "projects.") and put on a VBS-type carnival with games, snacks, skits and a message. We had a fun putting some ideas into our "super-hero" theme.

We ate dinner...which evolved into everyone on the team sharing their testimonies. I was blown away at the work of God in the folks I'm working with on this trip. What was extra cool was that I got to hear parts of the CBC team's story that I didn't know about already. We were there almost two hours and it was certainly a great way to kick off a week of ministry with these folks (just so you know, our team has 4 from Dallas, 4 from Calgary and 4 North Irish members).

Then our first ministry event was last night...they call it Safe Haven. It's a ministry to the folks who have been out drinking on the weekends. See, the YFC office is right on the town square and within walking distance of many of the pubs. YFC works in tandem with the city to help keep some sort of limits once the pubs stop letting people in at midnight. Eventually, they all come out of the bars at 1AM or so and eat or head home or whatever and YFC takes advantage to show love to these people. How? By giving them hot tea if they're waiting outside a restaurant for food, or by giving girls who are having trouble walking in their high heels a pair of flip flops, or getting taxis, and they even have a little first-aid kit in the backpack full of goods for any cuts/scrapes. On colder nights, they might even open their "drop in" center for snacks and such. It is a pretty cool little ministry and I got to take one of the rounds. Nothing eventful on my watch, but other team members had some chances for real ministry (and a few laughs, to be sure).

Then this morning we all attended the Methodist church in Dungallon. It was a strange juxtaposition of the old building (complete with church bells ringing out 15 minutes before service) with LCD projectors inside and the computer-driven sound equipment with the old-time replaceable hymnal numbers in a wooden sign. Gotta admit it was hard to sit through an old-time service on about 4 hours sleep.

Tonight we'll be leading the evening service at the church. Grayson will lead worship and our team will be presenting testimonies & readings and such.

One small side note: We may not be as frequently updating as our Internet is about 3 blocks away from where we're staying.

Anyway, thanks for keeping up with what we're doing!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

23 for the 23rd

23 years, man.

8,401 days, man. (Gotta count 6 leap years, don't forget)

201,624 hours, man.

12,097,440 minutes, man.

725,846,400 seconds, man.

That's how long I've been married to my lovely wife, Tracy. And, yes, this is yet another anniversary we've spent apart...occupational hazard of sorts. When you work with high school students for a church, well, you wind up working a lot of summertime hours. As best I can figure, it's the 17th one we've spent apart. The third one in which there's been an ocean between the two of us.

But, don't worry about us, kids. We're like everyone else in life when it comes to stuff like this. Plenty of folks work jobs that require travel or other kinds of time away. We'll find time to celebrate when I get back!

So, in honor of our 23rd anniversary, I thought I'd find 23 quotes from pop culture that, in some weird way say something about us and our strange life together. In no particular order, here are some snippets from pop culture and some commentary about us/life and why I picked it to describe something I appreciate about my wife. Here goes:

1) "I'd rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not."--Kurt Cobain, singer/songwriter for Nirvana

Tracy has put up with my poor fashion sense which, on most days, resembles Kurt's clothes. My Doc Martens or flip-flops, the jeans, the t-shirt and button-down over it. As I've said many times that you can dress me up but you can't make me care about fashion. And she just rolls her eyes and moves on. She never picks on the minors, man. She accepts me for who I am more than most women I know ever would. She lets me be myself, which, for those of you that know me, is quite an act of grace.

2) "Ed McDonnough: I'm not gonna live this way, Hi! It just ain't family life!
H.I. McDonnough: Well... it ain't "Ozzie and Harriet." (from the movie Raising Arizona)

Tracy has accepted the role of minister's wife and all the idiosyncrasies that come along with it. Her home has been invaded, her dinners interrupted, her husband's emotions given to others at her expense, her life more public than she'd like, given up more creature comforts, done without more, and put up with more than most women ever do or will have to. And she's done it with an understanding smile, or a timely hug, or closed mouth far beyond what we ever thought or planned.

3) (all the following are from famed photographer Annie Leibovitz)
"You don't have to sort of enhance reality. There is nothing stranger than truth."
"A very subtle difference can make the picture or not."
"A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people."

Others have said it so often that I don't really have to, but the facts of the matter are I'm married to an incredibly gifted and talented photographer. I had no idea when we were in college that this would be something that she'd discover almost a decade later...but discover it she did, man. And she's so lassaiz-faire about her talent, too. She gets more out of the same opportunities that others can't. Sure, some people think they're good photographers and tell others all about how good they are a lot and act like they know a lot...but Tracy just quietly takes amazing photos. A blind guy with one eye can see it. I'm so proud of her and her work...not to mention how cool it is to be inspired by her.

4) (The Old 97's, from their song "I'm A Trainwreck")
"I’m a train wreck, And so are you.
And if you don’t know where your going do you mind if I come too?...
I’ll say I love you what the heck
I’m a train wreck."

I constantly feel like I'm getting the better end of this marriage deal. I guess I always feel the ways in which she's a train wreck are endearing. The ways I'm a train wreck seem so alienating to others, I guess. I love her. What the heck? I mean, what have I got to lose? She, on the other hand, is amazing.

5) "Now, here in the desert, Auburn's journey is complete. Fifty-three years of waiting, of hoping, of dreaming, of coming so close, it's all over. The Auburn Tigers are on top of the college football world. And the view from here is sheer perfection." (Auburn University radio announcer Rod Bramblett's radio call of January 10, 2011)

She puts up with my undying AUbsession with our college football team. She, on the other hand, keeps it all in a proper perspective. I, on the other hand, live and die with them. But I can tell you this: When that field goal went through the uprights and AU won it all, I'm glad her hug and kiss let me know that SHE knew exactly how much it meant to me. She was happy, sure. She likes them, too. But she knew that for me, I could now die happier with this little item crossed off my bucket list.

6) "One ball, two strikes, two outs. Six to one the Rangers lead in the top of the 9th. Feliz the high-set. Here comes the pitch. Breaking ball...STRIKE THREE CALL! THE RANGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!" (Texas Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel's radio call on October 22, 2010)

She also tolerates my love of the Great Game. She also knows that one of the absolute best times I've ever had thus far in life was sitting next to her at the first ever World Series game in Arlington. I was so happy to be with the girl of my dreams at the game of my dreams. And we won that night, too. Another bucket list thing and I got to see this one in person with her. Very cool.

7) (George Harrison, from his song "Got My Mind Set On You")
"It's gonna take time
A whole lot of precious time
It's gonna take patience and time, ummm
To do it, to do it, to do it, to do it, to do it,
To do it right child
I got my mind set on you
I got my mind set on you"

Can you believe that I proposed and MTV was on in the background and this song was playing? This woman has learned that if romance is about flowers and creative dates and poems and big plans, well I don't know a thing about romance. But if love is about devotion and faithfulness and all those things, well, I'm all in. She does without a lot of the romantic stuff because she knows every time I try it somehow goes awry.

8) (from Disney's movie Aladdin)
"One jump ahead of the lawman.
One jump, and that's no joke.
These guys don't appreciate I'm broke."

The reality is that she's an incredible mother. And when we were super-poor instead of Flower Mound poor, the hours we spent just playing with our kids were some of the best times of our lives. Kid1 playing with her guys and singing these words in such a way that they were unintelligible to any outsider but perfectly understood by us reminds me of those times when I first saw her be who God created her to be. Manalive was that beautiful.

9) (Pearl Jam, in their song "Go")
"Oh, please don't go out on me,
don't go on me now
Never acted up before, don't go on me now
I swear I never took it for granted, just thought of it now
Suppose I abused you, just passing it on

She put up with all sorts of my goofy parenting, understanding that was one way she could be a great parent. For some reason, when Kid2 would point at the stereo and want to dance around with Dad to Pearl Jam and I'd crank it up and we'd thrash around, well, she just laughed and joined in after the obligatory eye-rolls. We still have that CD Kid2 loved to hear so much and laugh about those times when the song comes on satellite radio.

10) "The most difficult lie I ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me." (Donald Miller, in his book Blue Like Jazz)
I'd heard that marriage would give you character. I've come to believe that statement is nonsense on stilts. The reality is that marriage exposes the character that is already existent in you. She's allowed me to grow and change at my own rate, and her patience with this selfish oaf of a husband is incredible when you think about it.

11) "Ladies and gentlemen, the City of Orlando and the Executive Committee of the Citrus Bowl proudly present, for your halftime entertainment, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers!" (Public address announcer for the 1987 Citrus Bowl game between Auburn and the University of Southern California)

The day after our first kiss at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando we were at the coldest New Year's Day bowl game ever in Orlando, and the Gatlin's played for half an hour. We were freezing but still had the best time laughing at the Gatlins and the USC band's stupid war chant. It seems like all my best times are with her...and Auburn won that day, 16-7..

12) (From the Song "Birmingham Tonight" as performed by Telluride)
"And I can't help but feel
That everything would be alright
If I could be in Birmingham Tonight."

I love Tracy's get-up-and-go mindset. I'm a homebody. She's always up for a 3-day trip to Paris with Kid1 when she won airline tickets, or staying out late with friends or a late movie or some sense of adventure that I simply don't have. This song is from our college days and a college band she loved (that I wasn't much for, but what else is new?) where she'd say things like, "The floor of the Supper Club is orange and blue, didn't you know that?" When I asked how she knew, she talked about how many times she'd been out with friends and was there so late they turned the lights on so the clean up would go more smoothly. I don't think I've ever been in a club when they turned the lights on. Granted, now that we're older, I'd be surprised if she knew the color of floor tiles, but she's probably heard a few more "last calls" with her friends than most. My wife is a fun girl, man. Still.

13) "I noticed you have braces. I have braces, too...come to Butt-head." (from the Mike Judge movie Beavis & Butt-head Do America)

Yep. She puts up with my love of incredibly juvenile movies. And even supports it with thoughtful gifts on Father's Day. Sure, other dads get ties and soap-on-a-rope, but I get complete box sets of Beavis and Butt-head DVD's. Not even kidding.

14) "Oh yeah this is happening. Oh, and by the way, it's your day on dishes." (Jack Fuller from the movie What Happens in Vegas)

She puts up with my ability to obsess over all sorts of strange the time a silly romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz was on HBO every hour for like a month. For some reason, the more I watched that movie, the funnier it got, and the more I thought it was funny, the more she laughed at me. She constantly reminds me not to take myself too seriously, because, let's be honest: In my job, sometimes you can believe your own PR and she's been just the girl to keep my balanced with a proper perspective of who I am, what I do and Who I serve. I'm glad she reminds me of those things, because without that accountability I be dead in the water.

15) (From the University of Texas fight song)
"The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
All the livelong day.
The Eyes of Texas are upon you,
You cannot get away.
Texas Fight, Texas Fight"

Watching my wife grow into the role of parenting our kids who are growing up is cool to watch. Kid1 went off to college and she was incredibly thoughtful and encouraging with stuff like care packages of holiday goodies and making sure our first-born still felt that family connection even though she was growing up and truly becoming independent. I'm amazed at how good a mom she is, equally as good at letting them go as she was when they required full-time attention. A rare balance.

16) "You make mistakes, but I don't have any regrets. I'm the kind of person who takes responsibility for it and deals with it. I learn from everything I do. I work very hard, I have so many things going on in my life. Get to know me and see who I am."--Kim Kardashian

Watching Tracy be able to pick out the subtle differences in our kids is beautiful, too. We've been blessed with two kids with very different personalities/interests/talents/passions, etc., and Tracy's been able to navigate those and adapt her parenting style to the needs of each kid. If Kid2 would rather read Kardashian than Hemingway, so be it. She's taught me to be flexible and roll with the punches of parenting, but moreso how to truly appreciate and love those differences and to be students of both. And I do...because Tracy teaches me that stuff.

17) "Having a child is surely the most beautifully irrational act that two people in love can commit."--Bill Cosby

Again, parenting exposes your character, and watching her parent with such grace and patience has been encouraging to me. The days of parenting are indeed long, and the years of parenting are indeed short. As we come to the end of the day-in and day-out oversight of children, she continues to teach me how to let go and still be there at the same time. A delicate balance she has the natural feel for that I don't.

18) (from the song Private Idaho by the B-52's)
"Get out of that state,
get out of that state you're in.
You better beware.
You're living in your own Private Idaho.
You're living in your own Private Idaho.
Keep off the patio..."

One of the best vacations we ever took was to a lake house in Idaho and what it made it so great was that we were together with people we love and just spent time together. It can be in Idaho, a beach in Alabama, or at our church's family camp in Colorado, or Disney World or just in our den renting a movie and buying pizza, but I just like being with her. She makes me happy wherever she happens to be.

19) "I'll tell you where. Someplace warm. A place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano. I'm talking about a little place called Aspen."--Lloyd Christmas, in the movie Dumb & Dumber.

Again, with the stupid movies (it's right there in the title, right?). But in this case we named our dog after Jim Carrey's character in the movie...and the fact that we have a dog is testament to her willing to be flexible. I detest & loathe cats and she grew up with cats. Yet, when we got married, she let me get a dog (even though allegedly it was for HER birthday) a big old mixed black lab that shed big time but raised our kids after being our first kid. Then we get Lloyd, the Shih-Tzu that has his own Facebook page. But Tracy was a cat person, but chose to be a dog person because she knows how much I'm NOT a cat person. She's a giver. As much as I joke that I'm a giver, she's REALLY a giver.

20) (from the song Outsider by the Ramones)
"I am an outsider
Outside of everything
I am an outsider
Outside of everything
I am an outsider
Outside of everything
Everything you know
Everything you know
It disturbs me so"

Tracy has to deal with a husband who really feels like an outsider in any arena he finds himself in...doesn't matter, really. At dinner parties. In church circles. At the parent's nights or PTA meetings. At the little league softball games. At the ballet studio. I'm outside of everything you know. And everything you know, well, disturbs me so. See why the Ramones were my band of choice as a teen? But it's hard on a wife to be married to someone who lives this way most of the time. She loves me anyway, even if she doesn't understand my feelings...which I appreciate more than I tell her.

21) "And lord, we're especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest safest energy source there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipe dream. Anyway, we'd like to thank you for the occasional moments of peace and love our family's experienced. Well, not today, you saw what happened! Oh lord, be honest! Are we the most pathetic family in the universe or what?"--Homer Simpson, praying on the Thanksgiving episode in Season 2.

Tracy has had to change her view of what spiritual leadership in the home actually is. Or at least how it plays out. I feel confident that she had a different view of it before we were married, and she allowed God to work in me rather than trying to change me. Now, don't get me wrong, she was just as much against the lavender-colored devotional over a cup of coffee view of the way married couples do the spiritual life together, but even as flexible as she is, I'm not sure that long hair and tattoos and finding spiritual lessons in the Simpson's was in her original way of thinking. But she's given me the grace to do it the way I have to do it before God, that's for sure.

22) "There's no exquisite beauty without some strangeness in the proportion." (Author Edgar Allen Poe, quoting Francis Bacon in the short story Ligeia.)

I won't get all sappy here. But my wife is exquisitely beautiful, and the strangeness that makes it so are things I truly love about her. But exquisitely beautiful does her justice. So, I'll leave it at that. Not many women could take my breath away in flannel pants and a t-shirt while carrying a laundry basket through my living room, but she still can. She's getting more beautiful to me each year. No joke. And I'm not just saying that to be nice.

23) "And in the end, I realized that I took more than I gave, I was trusted more than I trusted, and I was loved more than I loved." (Jefferson Edward Briggs--a.k.a. "Jake"--in the movie She's Having A Baby)

If there's a statement more true that describes where I fit in our marriage from a John Hughes movie or anywhere else, I haven't seen or heard it.

So, Tracy...

...thank you for the 725,846,400 seconds, man.

...thank you for the 12,097,440 minutes, man.

...thank you for the 201,624 hours, man.

...thank you for the 8,395 days, man.

(and thank you for the extra six leap year days. I didn't forget)

...thank you for 23 great years.

I love you very much.

And I'll see you on the 26th.

Happy Anniversary!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 3

I love my job.

One more time, for emphasis: I...

...LOVE... job.

Okay, sure. Today started off with a child protection seminar. It was all good & necessary information. But, no matter how you slice it, a seminar is a seminar.

Then we broke for coffee and some more cage soccer (see Facebook) in which Charlie led Team USA to a victory against Italy, 3-2. The soccer world may never be the same.

Followed by a few hours roaming around which most of you reading this will likely be getting some souvenirs from so I won't spoil the surprise. What I will tell you is that one of you WILL NOT be getting a Guinness Beer glass, which was dropped on the bus apparently. My guess is you'll be getting something else. Shame. It was a REALLY good glass, too.

Then we went to our 2nd dinner at The Seasons restaurant. Again, the owner and his wife closed their restaurant to the public and fed the entire Project 32 team...tonight it was a choice of lasagna or Chicken Tikki, but you didn't have to go either/or on the deal. You could go both/and, and followed it up with a parfait. Last night it was Pavlova. Google that and make the recipe. You won't regret that.

Afterward the team went to a very special event at City Church Belfast where we were commissioned. The worship was honest, and prayers were offered for the leaders/teams/cities we're going to. Parents and friends of all the local people who are involved in Project 32 were there to support the mission. I even got to greet the congregation on behalf of Crossroads--it was a pleasure to represent a congregation that wants us to be here.

And, yes, that is one of the parts I love.

But here we are.

Some 9 months after this idea came about to send a team of students on an 8.5 hour plane ride to tell people about Jesus in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland... has been raised. member applications have been screened and members chosen.
...prayers have transpired on both sides of the ocean.
...and the team arrived and has been trained.
...and the team has now been commissioned.

Vanessa, Cheri & Nicole are off to Nenagh Baptist Church in Tipperary, Republic of Ireland.

Charlie, Macy and Kathleen are off to Gorey Methodist Church in Wexford.

Parker & Lauren are off to Enniskillen YFC.

Ryan & Elli are off to serve the churches in Garvagh in County Londonderry (truth be told, this is going to be one in a city I'd really love to spend a week in in North Ireland).

Me, Sue, Justin & Grayson are off to Dungannon YFC.

Each team has different ministries involving everything from children's vacation Bible schools to nursing homes to teen clubs to serving churches and prayer ministries.

(as an aside, now that all the team members are scattered for the next 8 days, they're on their own for Facebook updates and tune in. I'll have access to the Internet for my team, but not all will, and so all my entries will be from my own perspective. So make sure to check their pages and such--they were told to update as often as possible!)


I feel confident that God will be at work through the teams as they work with international teams from France, Italy, Canada, Ireland & Northern Ireland. And yes, that's another of the reasons I love my job.

But I just had a conversation with one of our teens.

She told me she felt like God has erased the whiteboard of plans she had drawn up for her life.

She told me that she felt like, for the first time, she was going to hand God the marker and let him draw what He wants on it.

She told me that it might look like the one she drew up. It might not. But she was sure she wanted Him to do the writing, and she wasn't going to put a lot of pressure on herself to figure it all out right now.

She told me that she was going to enjoy simply knowing that God was up to something in her life and that she has time to see what that looks like...but she didn't want to miss what He has for her today.

What she didn't know is that she was reminding me of why--


--that I truly love my job.

It's what He does IN my kids, moreso that through them, that reminds me He's at work and all I have to do is water and plant.

He'll grow them.

And manalive is it beautifully terrifying to watch.
Team Ireland Expansion Pack, Entry 2

As I'm sure most of you gleaned, the tone of this trip has changed a wee bit. (Everyone has started interjecting wee into conversation, and I'm telling all of you to be prepared for phrases such as "Shut your bake" when we get back) The Irish students joined us yesterday for training sessions all day.

We learned about the importance of culture and how it shapes worldviews. We got a short lesson in Irish culture, including politics, religion, history, traditions, etc.

And we learned how to engage the culture (anyone back home paying attention?) to get to a point of conversation with young people to eventually get to an age-appropriate way to get them thinking about 3 questions:

1) Does God exist?
2) Does Jesus love me?
3) Is Jesus' offer of an abundant life "work" better than my life now?

We've also been hearing a lot about how to tell our "story" (again, anyone back home paying attention?) and more importantly, how to listen to *their* stories.

We enjoyed a dinner as guests of a local restauranteur who is highly involved in supporting Youth for Christ here in Northern Ireland. Apparently, they'll be serving us dinner again tonight as well.

The evening closed with a discussion of the way St. Patrick, and all of Ireland, took the Gospel to the world: A practical walk with Christ that engaged the whole of life...starting with an authentic walk with Christ in yourself and then loving others.

Now, if you have about 10 minutes, check out this video of the story of St. Patrick brought to you by our friends at Veggie Tales. It's surprisingly historical and a great way to learn a bit about his influence. They showed it at our meeting.

Anyway, the night closed with worship and prayer...suffice to say it was an incredibly meaningful time. Trying to describe it wouldn't do it justice, but based on discussions with our teens, adults and other Project 32 team members afterward, God is really provoking our minds and hearts about this whole mission.

He is certainly working in us.

And we're looking forward to seeing how he works through us...

(Again, don't get too used to all this Internet access. We simply don't know about availability once we leave for our individual cities on Saturday morning)