LA, HOTH, reputations, & other musings…

HOTHSummer of 1986, I participated in an outreach to Mexico City. The City was hosting the World Cup & our team was helping with a church start that launched during the tournament. On our way to Mexico, our team stopped in Los Angeles for a night… my youth pastor had attended LIFE Bible College when it was in Echo Park,  & he was able to get us a hook up so we could stay in the LIFE dorms for one night for free. The girls dorms. (This blog isn’t about that, but it was a pretty cool experience for a 16 year old boy to open a door to a dormitory & find out he is surrounded, literally, by dozens of college aged women. Makes me smile even recalling that memory.)

My youth pastor had regaled us with stories of how dangerous  Echo Park was… stories of muggings, vandalism, drugs, & burglaries. We were told not to leave the dorm & most definitely DON’T walk the streets. The stories stuck with me for the last 30 years, & in my mind, I have always seen downtown LA/Echo Park as a pretty dicey place, a dangerous place, a place I didn’t want to stop & smell the proverbial roses.


Last week, theBean & I went to LA for a 2-day coaching/mentoring intensive…& it was going to be happening in the “House on the Hill,” (a.k.a. HOTH, not the ice-planet. No Taun Tauns were seen,) so named because its a very big 9000+ sq/ft house on a hill. I knew the house was really nice, but it was in downtown LA.. a block from Sunset Blvd. Echo Park. Lots of crime. Gang activity. Bars on the windows & doors.  After we checked in, we talked with our hosts about the usual important stuff: where can we get food? He mentioned several places, noting that they were all in walking distance from the HOTH.

Walking? As in, walking walking?

Yes. Walking distance. And he told us a story. Over the years, the neighborhood changed. It got better. It became a really nice place to live, whether it was due to gentrificationurban renewal, new people/people groups moving into the area, or something else. I almost couldn’t believe it, & had difficulty trying to imagine the neighborhood being as my host described it, contrasted with the memories & ideas about it that were bouncing around my head at a million miles an hour.


And so we decided to walk to dinner. We’d been craving Italian food, specifically pizza, & of course one of the Best Pizza Places In All The Land happened to be a 15 minute walk away. (BTW – if you are in the area, you have to go to Masa of Echo Park We had the Lots of Meat Chicago-style pizza, & in my opinion, it was the best Chicago-style pizza I’ve ever had. And that includes Chicago-style pizza that I had in Chicago at the Pizzeria Uno. But I digress.) 

It was beautiful.

It reminded me of walking in a German city… the air was fresh & clean, & the streets were filled with  neighborhood markets, mom & pop stores, restaurants, & music shops (it is LA). And a COMMUNITY – a real, tangible community of people. It was obvious that it wouldn’t take too long to get to meet & interact with the people who lived there… the people in the neighborhood, living life, raising their families, & enjoying themselves.

My daily walks with our host confirmed it – we walked for about 2 hours each morning on a trail that took us through Elysian Park (We actually only walked for about an hour, but my host stopped & talked to people in their stores & along the trail so often the 1 hour walk lasted 2 hours. But that’s how he rolls. But I digress.) It is a truly incredible neighborhood.


I think one of the favorite memories I will take from this trip comes from walking the streets of the neighborhood, in Echo Park. The sights, sounds, smells, & PEOPLE of the city. I walk here at home, but its definitely not the same experience. No one will ever confuse Reno with downtown LA.

It also made me wonder. Did I do the same thing with people that I’d done with Echo Park? Here’s what I mean:

For years, I had “known” the bad reputation Echo Park had, & I’d rehearsed it often in my head & in conversations as friends talked about visiting LA… I didn’t need anyone to tell me anything new about LA or Echo Park, because I “knew” everything I needed to know about it. It’s a bad, dangerous, place. I had written it off.

Until reality confronted me – it’s changed. It’s transformed. Its the kind of place I want to take my grandkids to walk around & expose them to a different way of life. Its the kind of place I want to go back to. For the people. The restaurants. The feeling of life in the city.

And if we hadn’t decided to risk & trust our hosts & get out & walk the streets, we would have missed it.

People can get reputations too. One’s they’ve earned. Bad ones. Reputations that make you want to steer clear of them, because you “know” them & how they are. Except… what if they’ve changed? Been transformed? Experienced new life?

It’s worth it to try, to risk, to keep an open heart towards others… to NOT write them off as lost causes. Because God is a specialist in lost causes… in people with bad reputations. And He has a way of making them new.

 

 

Deutschland #7+

DAY 7 –
I have to confess, I’m a little discombobulated & am not really sure what day it is… either of the week or the # of days I’ve been in Germany. I do know that this day was my last with Julia’s family. Woke up early & drank coffee & spent the day with Julia talking about everything. And nothing. Made our way to a favorite spot of hers in beautiful downtown Achern, the RatKeller, which literally means, “the advice cellar” as it used to be a place where the local politicians gathered to share information. I ordered “Grandma’s potato soup” & a salad. The soup was inedibly salty – when I told the waitress, she shrugged & said, “The cook must be in love,” which evidently is an acceptable explanation as to why it was ok for me to be served the Great Salt Lake with potatoes… & pay for it.


The family Kern came home just in time for me to depart for the train station. What a special family. Saying “goodbye” is tough – it makes me sad, but thankful to have such wonderful people in my life. Pia (Julia’s mom) told me next time I come to their region, I will have to stay with Julia & her husband, who is not currently in the picture :). Yes, that would be nice. I’m praying for him right NOW. And if I need to export an American who wants to live in Germany & marry a beautiful, smart, & confident woman, I will do it. :)


The train trip from Baden-Baden to Frankfurt was fast & uneventful. Jumped on the U-Bahn & made it to the grocery story meeting place where Alex picked me up so I wouldn’t have to walk in the rain. We made it home just in time for a phenomenal dinner Linda made for us – it was several different types of sweet potatoes baked with peaches, chilis, shallots, & radishes, along with some red-wine vinegar & balsamic, acoompanied by carmelized bacon-wrapped dates. Dessert was a coconut milk-vanilla pudding with rose-water & Johannes berries, a tart berry that added a great kick to the dessert. Fan-TASTIC. Alex & Linda usually eat paleo-style, & Linda is ultra-creative when it comes to making great-tasting & very healthy foods. Alex & Linda remind me a lot of Colby & Claire in so many ways, (interests, gifts, personality, etc…) & I dream of eating a dinner prepared by Claire & Linda one day. It shall happen, I declare.

I was pretty wiped out from staying up so late the previous night celebrating the German victory that I headed to bed fairly early for a night of fitful sleep.


 

DAY 8?

Woke up this morning just in time to wish theBean a good night’s sleep. Sigh. Coffee & good talks, along with another great meal – omelette, proschutto, salad, a corn muffin & banana-crumble. Goodness.

It’s about 11:27 a.m. & I will be heading out in just a few minutes. My appointments today include Levent & Ines this afternoon, then Steve Greenhill this evening. I am looking forward to meeting Levent & Ines’ 2 kids for the first time, & celebrating their anniversary with them. And I haven’t seen Steve since he got married. I’ve got a feeling today is going to be great.

Talk to you soon – many blessings to you, & thank you for praying.

musings on a Valentines Day…

Our first Valentines Day is a little blurry in my memory. I know that I made myself sick with worry (really, I barfed. TMI, I know, TMI.) I wanted to get theBean, my fiancee a gift. A good gift. Something that would perfectly describe my commitment to her, encompass all of my undying love & devotion, & make her absolutely positively sure that she was making the Right Choice by marrying me. I wanted all of this to be communicated in the gift I got her. And I wanted it for under $50 (Which was a lot of money back in the day… But I digress.)

I don’t remember what I bought her. Neither does she. Funny. And I’d gotten so worked up, anxious, stressed, and worried. What I do remember is that she kissed me good after I gave her the present, & that I never wanted it to stop. The kiss that is. But it had to because theBean couldn’t (still can’t) breathe so good through her nose.

I knew I loved her, & for some reason, she loved me back. I didn’t (don’t) understand it, but I am not one to argue with a stunningly beautiful woman who wanted to pledge her undying love & a lifetime of devotion to me. Go figure.

Something that I’m thankful about is that theBean doesn’t need presents to make her happy; they’re not her main “love language.” (Go to that link. Learn about love languages. Talk to your loved one. Listen to what makes them feel loved. Do it.)

Granted, she likes bling, appreciates kind gestures like flowers & cool looking cooking pots, but what she wants is me.

Me. That’s a tough one. Because I know the depths of my heart, the levels of junk I’m capable of. The things I’ve put her through out of my immaturity, selfishness, and brokenness.

And still, what she wants is me. My attention. Approval. Support. Encouragement. Ears. Commitment. Good words. Touch. Eye contact. Heart. Acts of service. Cleaning up around the house. Pretending I know what I’m doing in the kitchen/bbq.


Today, she asked me to be her Valentine. Again. Still. I said, “Yes. Will you be mine too? Forever and ever and ever…?” She agreed.

I watched her drive off to work, & as she started to pull away, she rolled down the window & said, “You’re all mine, baby!”

Like I’m a prize worth having. Like she still means it. Goodness.

My heart is full, & I am so thankful for the favor of God on my life that He would give me such a woman.

musings on a Friday day off, waiting for theBean to get home from work…

She volunteered to do my makeup. I was at a High School camp at Old Oak Ranch; I was too old to be there, but on a medical leave of absence from my work due to a shoulder dislocation. I was helping out with a variety show for the camp, & had the good fortune of being able to do a pretty good impersonation of the classic Paul Reuben’s character “Pee-Wee Herman.” Oh, the red bow tie, grey suit, & big white shoes. How I miss thee.

When I met her, she wanted to be an osteopathic physician. Even though I’d spent more than my share of time under the care of an orthopedist who so graciously made sure my shoulders & knees got patched up, good as new, I had no idea what that was; I just knew that talking with her as she applied her wares to my face was fun. I’d never been this close to a girl for this long… She wasn’t interested in a relationship (not that I was fishing; it just came up in conversation. Really. Innocently. But I digress.) She just wanted to grow as a Christian, focus on school, & help people. I was fascinated by my new friend, & couldn’t wait for makeup time to talk with her. So I didn’t. Wait to talk. I searched her out. Looked for opportunities to sit where she sat. Managed to learn her oh-so-spontaneous-but-still routine routine & maneuver myself to be in the right place at the right time.

Camp was only a week long, & when I got home, I knew something was different. I missed my new friend. There wasn’t really anything romantic in my thoughts, just a desire to connect in conversations that almost always were filled with laughter. So I called her on the camp pay phone. Talked as much as she was able with her work schedule. Shared hopes & dreams. Way too soon probably, but it happened nonetheless. She was many things I was not: fun, carefree, graceful, joyful, in touch with her emotions, able to identify what she wanted in life…

I felt myself slipping into something I’d never known before, something I couldn’t identify, something deep & strong; something I wanted to grow.

Weeks later, her grandparents were returning from the mission field of Brazil, & she & her mom were off for a week-long visit to Los Angeles to welcome them back to the States. They invited me. Still on work-leave, I went, not really knowing what to expect, but looking forward to time with my friend.

One night in LA, we were watching TV & I happened to look at her… she turned to look at me & at that moment, I knew that I wanted to marry her, that I would marry her if she would only have me. & somehow I knew that she knew too. She kissed me. Goodness, she kissed me.

Later that week, we talked about our hopes & dreams, our plans for the future. I will never forget her looking deep into my eyes & telling me, “I want to go with you, wherever you go, whatever you do… to be a team.” Somehow it didn’t seem too much to hear, but I couldn’t believe my ears… I asked her about her dream of becoming a doctor, an osteopathic physician… & she said, “That was my dream. Now I want to be with you.” & that was that.


More than 23 years have passed since that conversation, & I have watched this capable, gifted, talented, called, driven, unbelievably positive, “so beautiful it makes you think you’re dreaming,” woman make choices to choose me. Us. Often at the expense of herself. A career. Becoming something, somebody, someone. She stayed home with the kids. Worked jobs that others may have seen as menial or beneath them. Supported me. Believed in me. Stood by me, even when I acted like a fool & a tool. Even when I forgot that a team was what we were supposed to be, she didn’t. & she has contended for & believed in the very best version of me & us, with the greatest hope in her heart (& on her lips) being growing old, together, with me.

With me.


She started working at Starbucks last December – & her gifts, talents, optimism, & people loving have all contributed to her being recognized & elevated in her role with the company. She’s a shift-supervisor now, & has lots of potential opportunities for advancement; the sky is the limit, & I see the favor of God all over her life.

She has chosen me, time & time again. Her unwavering love has given me the support, the strength, & the courage to change, to grow, to contend for more; to not settle for a stunted, diseased version of myself, but to hope & grow, through pain, into the person God would have me be, the person that I think that she must see in order to love me as good as she does.

I am so proud of & thankful for this girl. My friend. My theBean. MyJoni. MyOne.

home for Christmas & other musings…

My Pasty Gangster will not be home for Christmas this year. It will be the 1st Christmas in 19 years without him… as he is headed to Cookeville, Tennessee to spend the holidays (& then some,) with his girl Alex & her family. For me, it isn’t hard to deal with him being gone; it’s just… different. I am very happy for him being able to have special time, & even happier that he gets to be with the one person in the whole world he’d want to be with.

What I’m pondering is the most visible acknowledgment of the very real transition that he is in… really, for me, this is much more of a transition than his high-school graduation ceremony was. He’s making many (most? All?) of his own choices. TheBean & I have & continue to trust our #1 son to Christ. Believing that as he makes his own choices, & lives his life, he will live in a manner honoring to Christ. It reminds me of when we dedicated him as a baby. And in retrospect, I see that we didn’t just have a fun ceremony, but instead we were making a lifelong declaration of faith, trust, & purpose: He is Yours, LORD. Now we’re getting to see him live it.

So, it’s new & its different. Most notably, theWeez is already missing her brother, the protector; as is iDoey missing the one that he’s consciously or unconsciously measured himself against.

In 20 minutes we’re heading to get “Christmas Picture 2010” taken – quite possibly the last Christmas picture of us with our nuclear family all living at home, all looking this way.

Sigh.


Pondering 1Timothy 4:

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life & also for the life to come. This saying is trustworthy & deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil & strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Training up in godliness – what’s does this mean? What’s it look like, lived out?

I’m confronted by areas where I’ve shied away from a ‘strict spiritual regimen’ – maybe because it seemed that the focus was on the ‘performing’ of the regimen or workout, & not on the desired results of the workout.

Hmm. I’m confronted & convicted… there’s a bad heart attitude lurking in there… in the name of not falling into a rut, or a stale routine, instead I fell into something worse: a hit & miss haphazardness.

There’s a picture in my head – me & my kettlebells. The focus & goal of the workout isn’t to be able to brag that I did 25 minutes & 7 different exercises – its to increase strength, flexibility, stamina, cardio, & overall physical condition; that’s only going to happen if I regularly exercise, & simply do the workout faithfully – whether anyone knows about it or notices.

Read. Study. Pray. Repeat.


Hard to believe theBean & I are celebrating our 22nd Christmas season together – when I look at her, I can’t believe that she isn’t 22. And I’m blown away that after 21.5 years of marriage, 3 kids, & living with me, she is even more beautiful than she was when we met.

And those legs. Oh goodness.