“What is the BEST spaghetti sauce?” & other musings about growing in our relationship with God…

Over the next couple of weeks, our church is offering a series of “Marriage Refreshers” with the theme, “GROWING TOGETHER IN…” So far we’ve talked about GROWING TOGETHER IN communication & intimacy. Tonight, (10/13) we’re looking at GROWING TOGETHER IN our relationship with God. This past week at church, I promo-ed the topic; afterwards, someone asked me: “So, what is the best way that my spouse & I can grow together in our relationship with God?” I answered him, tongue-in-cheek: “That’s the wrong question.” And then I explained.


While I was going through my Masters program (the MASL at LIFE Pacific,) I was exposed to TED talks for the 1st time. What an incredible resource – delivered in 20 minutes or less every time. Here’s how it came about: during one of the lectures, our professor asked the question: “What is the BEST way to make a disciple of Jesus Christ?”

And then, he promptly answered himself, saying: “THAT is the wrong question. Find the RIGHT one.” As a part of our homework we were tasked with watching Malcolm Gladwell’s TED talk, with the idea that it would help us, in essence, to do exactly that. (That TED talk can be seen HERE. It’s definitely worth the watch.)

In it, Gladwell tells the story of how a spaghetti sauce manufacturer (it was Prego,)  hired a renowned researcher to answer the question: “What is the BEST spaghetti sauce?” After a couple of weeks, their researcher came back & told them: “You’re asking the wrong question… but I think I know the right one: It’s ‘What ARE the BEST spaghetti sauceS?'” The answers his question had garnered were numerous – & far from definitive in determining which 1 sauce reigned supreme. In fact, he found that the sauce 35% of America craved more than any other sauce wasn’t even on the market… (It was the thick & chunky spaghetti sauce, in case you’re wondering.) So Prego took their research & decided to develop several of the best, most craved spaghetti sauceS they could – & in response, their business boomed. When they stopped trying to find the ONE best sauce & instead brought forth SEVERAL of the best sauces, they found they could reach a much broader & more diverse cross-section of the population. (NOTE: Today, Prego has more than 35 sauces available…)


Which brings us back to the original question, albeit modified: “What ARE the best wayS that my spouse & I can grow together in our relationship with God?” And my answer (which is far from all-encompassing,) is, it depends. And, there are probably several ways you’ll find that are very helpful in growing together, in God. Some of the factors affecting how we (individually & as a couple,) learn, grow, & best experience God are:

  • Our personality type. Are you more introverted or extroverted? Sensing or intuitive? Thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving? And what combinations of the above? (you can take a free, online “type” test HERE)
  • Our learning style. Are we visual (pictures & images)? Aural (sound/music)? Verbal (words/speech/writing)? Physical (hands on/kinesthetic/touch)? Logical (logic/reasoning/systems)? Social (in groups/with others)? Solitary (alone/self-study)? You can find out more about learning styles HERE.)
  • Our primary way(s) of experiencing connection with God. Are we:
    • Naturalists – moved by creation/time outdoors
    • Sensates – experiencers of God with the 5 senses, sights, sounds, smells
    • Traditionalists – find great meaning in ritual, symbols, sacraments, celebration of the ancient practices of our faith (e.g. the Daily Office, Lectio Divina, etc..)
    • Ascetics – don’t need ‘stuff’ – find meaning in solitude, simplicity, & a quiet internal world.
    • Activists – experiencers of God through confrontation of injustice (think Isaiah 58)
    • Caregivers – lovers of God displayed through caring for & loving others.
    • Enthusiasts – experiencers of the mystery & celebration of faith, (think: cheerleaders for Christ & Christ-following.)
    • Contemplatives – experiencers of God through adoration & “being” (think” Mary of Bethany sitting at Jesus’ feet.)
    • Intellectuals – experiencers of God through study, worshiping with the mind through exploring theology, the Bible, & faith concepts.

In a nutshell – for a couple to grow together, in God, both parties will be pursuing their own relationship with God, taking faith steps, spending time with Him in a variety of ways & places. And both parties will also be engaging in their lives together with God as the context in which they do so… relationships are built when we share time & space, with a common focus. So going to church together; having ‘spiritual’ conversations about each one’s own interactions, experiences, questions, & wonderings; participating in a “marriage refresher” & then intentionally taking time to talk through personal & “as a couple” applications, goals, & growth points; engaging with one another in our spouse’s preferred context for connecting with God; all of these are ways we can grow together, in Him. And that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of possibilities that await…

When both parties are pursuing God & each other – it’s a beautiful thing. And it never grows old.

Have faith. Have faith.

John Leavy LockeRamblings from my head – from January 22, 2016, the day that would have been John Leavy Locke’s 43rd birthday.

When I was 4, I used to sit on the sidewalk in front of my house & watch the 3 boys across the street play in their front yard. And I thought they were so lucky because they had brothers that were old enough to play with. And all I had was a 1-year old little brother, Johnny, that wasn’t good for much except crying & refusing to eat his peas & carrots. One day, my dad came out & sat next to me on the curb while I watched the neighbors playing, again, & he told me, “Before you know it, Johnny will be big & he’ll be able to play & you guys will have so much fun. And he will grow up to be your best friend.” I can remember thinking in my head, “Maybe. But that time is SO FAR away…”

But it happened. Johnny grew up. And we DID become best friends – we spent our childhood playing baseball & football from dawn til dusk in the backyard. One of my favorite things was to teach Johnny how to do something – we had a baseball tee in the backyard, & he was trying to hit the ball off the tee, without success. He said, “Help me Louie!?” And I did. And I loved it.

Sometimes the games carried into the house, with the predictable destructive results to the house – & also to Johnny – I remember trying to teach him what form tackling was in the living room. I was on my knees to make it fair – & he ran the football towards the end zone (aka the fireplace) & I launched myself at him & sent him sprawling. I was so proud of my form tackle that I didn’t notice him get up & run as fast as he could to the back of the house. I yelled at him, “Come back here you chicken. You have to tackle me now.” He didn’t come back… turns out when he fell he hit his forearm on a screw sticking out of an open door – & his forearm was sliced open, clean as a whistle, no blood at all, from his wrist to his elbow. Good times.

We did everything together – early morning paper routes, collecting baseball cards, cheering for the hapless SF Giants, feeding the dogs & chickens… although somehow he found ways to be missing when it was time to clean the chicken coops. Johnny was a great athlete, probably the best out of the four of us boys, & worked incredibly hard at everything he did. When I was 12, my Little League manager pulled Johnny up from the Farm division & promoted him to Majors. We got to play ½ a season together… & it was obvious that while I still had the upper hand, he was going to be much, much better than I was at baseball. I remember one of my teammates asking me if I was mad that my brother was on our team now… I said, “Nope. He’s good.”

The older we got, the better friends we became…And the more intense our fights got. I’d wake him up in the morning & he’d welcome me with a baseball aimed at my head. We’d wrestle & somehow I’d end up with a bloody nose because Johnny had ‘accidentally” kneed or elbowed me in the face… again. Our conversations shifted towards topics fitting our teen years… Sports. Girls. Music. His interest in “New Wave” fashion – he was a fashion-ista & rocked board shorts, surfer t-shirt & black/white/red Air Jordans as easily as he did cool pegged jeans, top-siders, & pastel button ups. Goodness, he was confident – so sure of himself, much more so than I ever was. I appreciated his strength, his sarcasm, his ability to show compassion, his loyalty, as well as the killer instinct on a football/baseball field. He was my best friend.

The memories whirl around me like I’m in the eye of a hurricane, & they’re flying around me, so vividly faint that I feel overcome… & I don’t want them to stop.


When Johnny was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, everything in our family got turned upside down. My strong, independent brother became fragile & dependent on others for the most basic of tasks. He spent quite a bit of his last months in San Francisco receiving experimental treatments in the hope that his body would rebound. I didn’t know how to deal with the hurt, pain, grief, & other negative emotions I felt, so I did what I knew: I poured myself into work, hoping beyond hope that when I finally lifted my nose off the grindstone, everything would be back to normal. It never happened.

And through it all, I watched my little brother Johnny grow as he experienced the closeness of a God who would never leave or forsake him, even when he was walking through the Valley of the shadow of death. In many ways, my faith in Christ had been theoretical – never before tested; then, right in front of my eyes, I got to see what it looked like to persevere in the face of adversity, to find joy & peace in times of despair & chaos. I got to see & hear the response of a 17 year old who was asked, “So, do you want to die in the hospital or at home?” He said, “I’m going home. And if I die, I will bring God glory. And if I live, I will bring Him glory. Either way, I win.” And he meant it.

In his last days, Johnny received assurances from heaven in the form of dreams. He didn’t go into a whole lot of detail about them, but there was a calm, a peace, a sort of anticipation present in his eyes & his countenance. He was in & out of consciousness quite a bit – one of the last things he said to my parents was, “Have faith. Have faith.” And he meant it.

Saturday night, June 16, 1990, Joni & I visited my parents home & Johnny in the downstairs – he was mostly out of it, but we hung out for a while & talked to him. We got up to leave & I told him I loved him. As I walked up the stairs, I can remember him faintly saying, “Love you Louie.”

We got a call from my mom early the next morning – Johnny had gone to be with Jesus at 4:34 a.m. Sunday, June 17, 1990. Father’s Day. His last words: “Help me Louie!?”

I’m still trying to “help him” everyday…


Within this last year, my two sons have gotten married; myWeez, my little princess, got engaged. So many things like this I wish I could share with my brother. So many things I wish my kids would have gotten to know about him, & having him involved in their lives. I feel like his physcial presence would more readily explain the passion with which my son Johnny attacks life; the fiercely compassionate temperament of my son Joey; the wit, sense of humor, & smile of theWeez. They’re a lot like him & don’t even know it.

I see Johnny in each of them, & I’m so glad that these parts of Johnny living on into the next generation.

So, in his honor, & to the glory of God I say to you today, “Have faith. Have faith.”

Happy birthday Johnny.

Deutschland #8… a Thursday

DAY 7, Part Deux –

I left the house around 12:15 p.m. to head over to the home of Levent & Ines  via the Ubahn. One of the most confusing things about using the transit system isn’t figuring out the trains – instead, its deciding which of the 4 exits leaving the underground to take. Each one leads to a different corner of the block, so choosing wrong can mean that you’re exactly opposite of where you wanted to go, & to make it worse, you can’t just ‘cross the street’ to get where you need to be. Instead, you have to go back down into the underground & guesstimate which exit is the correct one. Today, I ended up going to three (yes. 3) different exits, walking up 2 flights of stairs for each, only to find that I’d chosen…. poorly. There’s just some things you don’t know until you memorize them I guess.


My appointment was for 14:00 (2 p.m. for us ‘mericans) & I was running a little early, so I stopped at a pizza place for a slice. Turns out, ordering was simple – the majority of the staff spoke Spanish; while I’m definitely not fluent, I can have a conversation. And so I did. It was nice, & a little bit surreal to be speaking Spanish in Germany. But at least I got the right pizza. I walked across the street to Levent & Ines beautiful big Green Apartment Building, & within a couple of minutes, I was sitting at their kitchen table, watching 1 year old Samuel crawling around the room, stopping every couple seconds to try to figure out just WHO this person was in his house.

Levent & Ines were some of the first people I met when I came back to Frankfurt in March 2005 – they had just been married a year at that time. Over the years, they’ve added two kids to the family, 3 year old Saraya & the aforementioned 1 year old Samuel. The last 6 months have been very stressful on them, as Samuel has had to be hospitalized with an unknown condition that caused a lot of physical issues, including seizures. I can imagine that the strain of that, plus trying to care for another child, plus trying to work must have been overwhelming. We had great talks, & I was very blessed & honored to be able to be with them today, just a few days short of their 10th wedding anniversary.

IMG_1595After hanging out for a couple of hours, Levent needed to leave to pick up Saraya from her kindergarten, so he offered to drop me at the rendezvous point for my next meeting in Bockenheim, a region of Frankfurt I’m pretty familiar with because it is where the German church we have had relationship with, Treffpunkt Leben (TPLF) is located. (The picture to the left is the Bockenheim Tower, an old military/defensive installation set up on the edge of the city to give warning if any danger approached.) Saraya’s kindergarten is bilingual, using both German & Spanish. It was pretty cool to be able to hear the 3-6 year olds speaking both languages, sometimes in the same sentence. One of the students was a little Korean girl – couldn’t have been more than 3 years old, & she was talking to her mother, a mile a minute, in Spanish, about her music & dance class. It was precious.


IMG_1593Levent, Saraya, & I parked & walked to Leipziger Strasse so IMG_1594that they could buy a pastry, then we said our goodbyes, & I headed up the street & towards Kurfuerstenstrasse 14, where TPLF used to meet. A few years ago, the old church building was torn down, & this was built in its place.

IMG_1592I also went by to see if anyone might be at the TPLF office, but it was too late in the day, so I missed everyone. Ended up walking to the Kurfuerstenstrasse Park & sitting on one of the park benches & people watching until it was time to go meet Steve. Walked back to the Ubahn station just in time to catch him – we decided to head back to the park to talk until it was time to meet his wife, Sarah, for dinner. I had never met her (Steve was only engaged when he was in Reno, & they just celebrated their first anniversary last week.)


We had a great time catching up over the events of the last couple years since Steve visited us in Reno – the time almost got away from us. Fortunately, Sarah called & reminded us that she was on her way, so we walked back to Leipzieger Strasse to get dinner at KISH, a Persian restaurant right off of the main street with a great outdoor eating space. That the owner of the restaurant didn’t want us to sit at. He wanted us inside for some reason – didn’t catch it, but I think it had to do with the fact that it was a ‘prime table’ & we were there a little before ‘prime time’ with no reservations. Not that we needed them at that point, as there were a grand total of 5 other people at the place, & there were at least 40 open tables. He finally agreed to seat us outside, & brought us menus. The food followed quickly.

And then the rain started. It began with rolling thunder & a light sprinkle.

That lasted for about 10 minutes – we were protected from the rain by a large sun shade, so we didn’t think we had to worry about anything. Until the rain began to fall in earnest. Sideways. After a couple minutes of trying to ‘weather’ the weather, we gave up & took our food inside to an open table. And we watched the lightning show. And the rain falling, harder & harder until it seemed like the downpour rivaled the hurricane theBean & I endured in the summer of ’94. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but I had no umbrella & I forgot my rain jacket at home. IMG_1597

We finished dinner & tea, all the while hoping for a brief respite that would allow us to walk the 1/2 mile or so to the Ubahn station. It didn’t happen, so we decided to make a run for it. By the time we hit the station, I was soaked. But it was a warm rain.

Said goodbye to the Greenhills at the main U station, & we went our separate ways. Fortunately,  I had a beautiful walk home from the station near Alex & Linda’s. I tried to be as quiet as possible so I wouldn’t wake them if they were sleeping, yet somehow in my attempt to turn off the light outside their front door, I managed to ring their doorbell, making their giant Rhodesian Ridgeback bark at the sudden noise. Smooth. Very smooth.

Alex was just finishing a workout, & Linda didn’t wake up, so my faux pas wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Took out my contacts & headed towards bed, & took a couple of minutes to catch up on emails that couldn’t wait to be dealt with until later. It was a great day.


As I think about my yesterday (Thursday) on  this fine morning (Friday, about 10:40 a.m.) I’m musing on how much has changed since I was last here almost 4 years ago. In me. In others. And it feels really good to know that in the middle of all of that, we still have something very, very important: Friendship.

Thank you for praying. Blessings to you.

 

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.

A birthday remembered & other musings on a Tuesday…

Johnny 1988Today would be my brother Johnny’s 40th birthday. 40. How time has flown since I last saw him at 17 & death separated us for a breath as long as the rest of my lifetime here on the earth. The picture you see is his sophomore class pic from Carson High, 1988. He took my red-bow tie for the day – my PeeWee Herman costume bow-tie. And he rocked it, as usual, with a sense of style that would have made Elvis Presley jealous.

I’ve been celebrating Johnny’s life in a special way today – through the music he loved. Johnny was one of the first people I knew to create mix-tapes (remember, this was the 80s). He painstakingly would take tracks off of CD’s & other audio tapes, & put them on his own high quality audio tapes for me, then create a custom playlist to serve as the tape/CD liner so I would know what was coming. I took it for granted that this is normal – this is just what one does with ones free time.


Thank the Lord for Spotify – Johnny would have loved it. All the joy of a mixtape at the click of a keyboard. I recreated several of the playlists he made for me with his favorite artists to serve as a soundtrack for the otherwise mundane activities of my day.

It’s amazing to me how music, a song has the power to stir memory – to vividly recall glimpses, faces, events, & remembrances from long ago. More than once I found myself wishing for windshield wipers on my eyes so I could see my computer screen – only to hit “repeat’ on a song because of the sweetness of the memory attached to it.


Time doesn’t heal all wounds. And at the same time, this wound is not infected. I know my brother is experiencing the presence of God in a way that is my own hope & dream. And at the same time, there is a family here that is like a tree with a missing limb – a tree that has recovered, but that is forever scarred by the loss of a vital branch.

Though he’s been gone for almost 23 years, I see Johnny everywhere. I look at my family of origin – my parents – still loving Jesus & each other, committed for the long term to be people who intentionally look for the dancing after the mourning, to be living life fully in the here & now, with a firm grasp that this Here & Now is but a glimpse of the Real Life that is to come.

Joel (Moe) is married to Jenny – with 2 great little ones (both boys) under the age of 4 – T-Bone & TyBone (my names for them that I only whisper because they have real life grown up man names that will fit them well when they step into adulthood.) So proud of Moe & his fam – & the compassionate excellence with which he/they live their lives. Moe is world class in his work, but even moreso as a man.

Ben (Benny, CTC) is married to Jessica – & has 3 little ones (2 girls & a boy) under the age of 6. The kids reflect their parents’ joie d’vivre, & Ben reminds me of Johnny’s funny side – a side that often manifested with wit & with a discontent for the status quo (if that makes sense.) Proud of Ben & the fam. Happy that their pursuing their dreams.


MytheBean & I dated for about 6 months before Johnny was diagnosed with cancer – so she knew him well, both before & after, something I appreciate more with the passing of time as she holds me in the times when tears overwhelm & laughs with me other times of recalling the LIFE with which he lived. The gentle, humble, fierce strength which which you live each day, mytheBean, is a reminder of how fortunate I am that Jedi mind tricks work & you committed yourself to me so many years ago.

Then there’s my kids. Pasty, (actually his uncle’s namesake,) one of the whitest kids you’ll ever see, with the rosiest cheeks in the world. Sometimes just looking at his resemblance to my brother catches my breath. My Pasty.

iDoey – no longer a kid, now a man. His personality & “Never give up, never surrender” attitude, determination, & fierce loyalty most closely mirrors that of the uncle he never knew. Time & time again, theBean has asked me how I can so accurately predict what iDoey will say/do/respond in a certain situation, & I have to answer – “I grew up with this.” And I smile.

TheWeez – Johnny would have been amazed that I could have such a beautiful daughter & would most definitely (& correctly) have attributed it to her mother. He would have doted on theWeez – & I see him in her eyes when they flash, & when she speaks her mind, standing for truth, justice, mercy & life in her interactions with the world.

Something else that stands out to me is that running through our family is a trait of perseverance, hard work, a “never give up” push in the face of adversity, no matter what. We have what Eugene Peterson refers to as the “ability to engage in a long obedience in the same direction.” I have to believe it goes beyond human genetics & is a part of the spiritual DNA passed down to us from generation to generation of Christ-followers, that we would be people who, in spite of our many failings, human frailty, & other weaknesses, carry a relentless commitment to love Christ & love others. The longer I live on this planet & the more I experience the temporal nature of this life & the fleeting, often unpredictable nature of human relationships, the more I appreciate this & desire to embrace it as a part of my own character & hopefully, what is left in the wake of my life.

Happy birthday Johnny – see you soonish. Save me a spot at the dinner table. I get the corner.

Wind and fire, a return to school-ness, family, & other musings…

Oh LORD. Have mercy.

Fire is one of my favorite things – candles, camp fires, a back yard fire pit. Fire. In moderation, under control, providing ambiance, warmth, cheer… Sigh. I’m sitting at my desk looking out my window at the smoke filled sky… yet another wind-blown rager has descended upon the Reno area, consuming at least 10 houses in the Pleasant Valley-ish area. Oh LORD. Have mercy.


Sunday evening marks my return to my Master’s program & with it a 6 month deluge of reading & writing before my next break. I find myself wanting to drag out the days until I go “back to school” as long as possible. Its not the work – its the stress that keeping my school schedule in the context of an already full life – puts on my attempts to live “in rhythm,” balanced; to not only have a good day off, but to Sabbath. To cease. Rest. Celebrate. Reflect. Deadlines, assignments, pressures have taken me & my resolve to Sabbath to the bending point… bending to the point of recognizing a great need for an iron backbone and a forehead made of flint that, for the good of me & mine, will enable me to navigate the next phase of life & school. Oh LORD. Have mercy.

It has been exactly 5 months & 7 days since #1 son, the Pasty Gangster, moved to Knoxville, TN. He is doing well, has a great job, is prepping for a return to school in the fall, & his relationship with Alexandrea is going gangbusters… (He inherited from his Papi the uncanny ability of having a beautiful, talented, compassionate, caring woman fall in love with him. 3 words: Jedi mind tricks.)

I miss him something terribly. There’s a part of me that is so happy for him – the prayerful choices he made to get where he is, the hard work he’s put in to excel at his job, & set himself up for the next phase of life… And there’s a part of me, that is still grieving, missing him; it is so close to the surface that merely thinking on it moves me to weepyness, & I find myself “dad-gumming” the dust in the room that has gotten in my eyes. Oh, the joy of feeling one’s emotions… Don’t have a date to see the boy yet, but I’m hopeful. And praying for him. And us. And asking the LORD for mercy on our lives, and favor upon his.


Joey, aka iDoey came into our room last night, and laid across the foot of the bed. The whole thing. He was even hanging off the edge of it. What HAPPENED to that kid? When did the little man turn into the tallest member of the family? His drivers license tells me he is 17. I don’t believe it. I still see the 2 year old boy that used to try to sneak into my room in the morning (if 4 a.m. is the morning), dodging pillows that I’d toss at him, trying to make it to his mom’s side of the bed so he could alert her to his need for food & drink: “I’m hungry, and thirsty, and hungry!” Always the same words. The same intensity and desperation.

iDoey is passionate. His personality is reminiscent of my brother Johnny’s – super strong, articulate & well-expressed. I have oft been tempted to counter his strength with my own tidal wave of forcefulness, strength, & power… but that’s been shown, long ago, to be ineffective. Meekness, controlled strength, patience and perseverance is what was required. Oh, so many times I blew it in a blow up, only to repent later, asking forgiveness of my God & my boy. There’s not much time left before the world we live in calls my son an adult, challenging him to move out on his own to pursue life, dreams, & God’s plans for His life. I resist the temptation to control, and find myself praying for this boy/man. Oh LORD. Have mercy.


Alyse, theWeez, Princess Weezer-brooks just had birthday #15. She takes great joy in tormenting her father with stories of her dreams of getting married in just a couple more years… Oh theWeez, you can wait a little while, can’t you? I will spoil you something terrible, & you will get to have your mom & I all to yourself…

We, she & I, picked out a ring for her birthday – its special, with her birthstone – we call it a “getting a vision for sexy-time with her husband and only her husband” purity ring. To save the specialness of intimacy for marriage. Because my girl is special, & worth waiting for. Oh LORD. Have mercy.


Thankful for the peace of God that transcends understanding & circumstance, filling my heart & mind with the comfort of KNOWING that I KNOW that He is with me. Is sufficient for me. For my life situations. And my kids.

So say we all.

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.

musings on being thankful in the wee hours… morning or night, I forget which…

I’m up late again. Or really, really early, depending on how you look at it. Either way, bed is something that I find myself anticipating falling into. When I’m sleepy. Now, not so much.

Its not insomnia, its that my brain is in the “on” position; perhaps it got stuck there because I’ve been in research & analysis mode for the last few days. Then after I got home from work & everyone else went to bed, I stayed up to ponder. Think. Plot. Write. I’m on my last paper for class #4 of my masters program (4 classes out of 12, for the souls that are keeping track. Bless thee. But I digress…)

I don’t trust my midnight writing, but I can live with my midnight data analysis… because there’s always an editing & re-editing that happens to clear up any of the dust bunnies left in the papers by my late-night activities.

Done writing, my brain kept going. That’s ok. I will roll through some thankfulness.


I’m thankful for me & my brain. The way I think. How everything somehow ends up looking like a teaching/learning opportunity. That I don’t make snap decisions. Or say everything that is on my mind. Or turn the direction of my life over to the unstable groundhog that wants to drive my life by the seat of my emotions (obscure “Groundhog Day” reference. Just remember, “Don’t drive angry.”)

I’m thankful for the Word that dwells in me richly. For the stabilizing & transforming influence it has upon my tempestuous, out-there thought processes. For the Living Hope that is resident in Christ, the One I can (& do!) put my hopes & dreams in, knowing for sure that I won’t be disappointed.

I’m thankful for my parents – they still love each other, & they live what they believe… loving people in practical ways. Investing their lives in a manner that I hope to emulate, long term.

I’m thankful for my wife, theBean, a woman that I thought I understood, but have only recently realized that I may never fully “get” her… & being 100% comfortable with that. (make that 93%… I’m working on it.)

I’m thankful for my kids. All 3 of them. Pasty, iDoey, & theWeez: a greater 3 have never been found. So different, yet with similarities that evoke memories of those dearest to me. Sometimes I even see myself there.

I’m thankful for friends – without whom the joys of this life wouldn’t be nearly as high, nor the lows so bearable. For listening ears, kind hearts, compassion, & desperate prayers, offered both for & with me.

I’m thankful for a church family that I would love to be a part of, even if I wasn’t the person charged with leading & pastoring the incredible people that have grown from strangers to family.

I could go on; the more I write down ‘thankful thoughts’ the more they rush into my head like a strong, cool, refreshing dip in Tahoe.

But I won’t. Continue that is. It’s late, & I will sleep.

Thank you God for Your provisions for me – I can truly say that what I have, where I am, who I’m with… Your lot for my life… has fallen to me in pleasant places.

Life is beautiful.

Saturday morning musings, over coffee & spoonfuls of skippy crunchy peanut butter

Sitting in the quiet of the morning enjoying my hot foff (coffee for those of you that don’t speak Isaiah Scofield,) & my occasional breakfast of spoonfuls of Skippy Crunchy Peanut Butter. Peanut butter tastes best solo & from a spoon, though I would not mind it on toasted bread. Right. Now. Thinking deep thoughts this morning, and random ones as well.

It would be possible to never add to the collection of what I call “my” music – which usually means the stuff I listened to when I discovered the radio in middle school (Huey Lewis & the News, Journey, & the Talking Heads,) & the oh-so-sophisticated “New Wave” sounds that I gravitated towards in high school (New Order, Tears For Fears, U2, INXS, the Hooters, & several other now-too-obscure-to-drop-as-a-reference groups.) They even occasionally play ‘my’ music on BOB 97.3, & on 103.7 (OLDIES? My music is on OLDIES?!) & Pandora, the “Music Genome Project” (which sounds so hi-tech its funny) makes it so that I can get what I want musically, when I want it.

Music provides cultural insight, so years ago I determined that I’d at least try to stay up on what my kids preferred, & anything else that might serendipitously drop into my ears. On that note, a couple of bands I’ve come across that have held my ear: Mumford and Sons and Burlap to Cashmere . Both have hints of Simon & Garfunkle & the Hooters – thought provoking lyrics, simple (& yet intricate) musical arrangements. Good stuff.


Haven’t had a Bible study in our home for 2 years now – after close to 20 years of just about every Sunday night, theBean & I decided to take a hiatus that got extended longer than I thought it would. I’ve missed it, especially the people in the living room, over food, good coffee, & lively conversations about the just-read-aloud-Scriptures.

Missed it, did I, so I decided to tag-team with Katy for a study through Revelation, & to have it in the main office of the church. Revelation came & went, but the desire for study didn’t, so we invited the group that had come to Revelation to keep coming Wednesdays as we decided to go through a collection of other Bible books… Finished Esther a couple weeks back; now we’re in Daniel.

My favorite parts of being in a Bible study, long-term, are the relationships that develop with the other people that participate. Looking over the last 6 months, a perspective of life & growth emerges, & I can see where each person has not only grown closer to the others in the group, but also has grown in their understanding & love for Scripture, & in their relationship with God. And then there’s the power of the Scriptures, inhabited by the Holy Spirit, to transform lives – inevitably our discussions begin on something we’ve just read out loud, & somehow end up on an area from the depths of our hearts that is being plumbed, challenged, & healed. Its water for my soul.


Somehow, it doesn’t matter how many cups of coffee I make in the morning; if I sit here long enough, the whole pot manages to disappear. Like clockwork.

Heading into our first weekend as a family of 4 since theWeez was born. Pasty is in Knoxville, hitting job interviews & preparing to move into his quad on Monday. I’m noticing that I miss his routines; he definitely isn’t a loud person (especially in the morning – because being loud in the morning is wrong. The Bible’s against it. See Proverbs 27:14 if you don’t believe me.) No, Pasty’s routine meant that no matter how caught up he was in school, work, MissAlexandrea, or ESPN, he always managed to be in the same places, doing the same things, at about the same times each day. And when his alarm didn’t go off 24 times this morning, alerting him it was time to call his girl, I noticed. And missed it. Sigh.

It’s Eddy Dueck’s birthday today – he’s the pastor of our sister church, TPLF, in Frankfurt, Germany. Please join me in praying blessing & favor for Eddy & Laura today – he’s a good man, husband, father, friend, and pastor. My life is richer because he’s in it.

Time to take on the day.

Hope is my choice…

I’ve been down in a hole.

Emotional. A little depressed. Weary. Grumpy. Frustrated. Grieving.

It all came to a head last week as I realized what was happening, & forced myself to take a look at what I was dealing with rather than avoid &/or run & hide.

Change. Pasty Gangster is 99.9% moving to Tennessee in 6 weeks. I’m happy for him, but I’m also grieving the change that his move will bring to our family. I’ve wrestled regret at time lost that can’t ever be recovered. Wished for a do-over; an opportunity to go back in time & make up for the areas I totally biffed it as a dad.

Pasty, being the firstborn, was the child that got to experience, firsthand, my parental mistakes. Overzealousness. Immaturity. Inconsistency.

He got to live with the dad that didn’t know how to balance life. Who had wacky priorities. Who was confused about how it does no good to work hard to provide for a family if there is no time taken to BE with the family & enjoy it.

And now as he prepares to pursue his dream, I realize he is exactly the age I was when I married theBean. When I knew that I knew what I wanted from life, more than anything, was to be with the girl of my dreams for the rest of my life. The rest of the details of work, college, living life, etc. were mostly irrelevant details that I just knew would be resolved in my future by my Father in heaven.

I flash back to being 19 years old, & think of when I proposed to theBean. I didn’t have a job; I was filling in as a delivery driver for my uncle’s pharmacy, & I was desperate. I wanted to get married, to grow up, to be able to provide for my wife (& in the future, a family) but I had nothing. So, I listened to Christian radio. Every teaching I could find on faith. And I prayed.

One day, I ‘heard’ from God – not a voice, but an impression. The impression was of a page in the Bible, one from which I could clearly see the chapter & verse. Matthew 6:25-34… the verses before & after it were blurry, but those particular verses were crystal clear:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Nothing about my circumstances had changed; but something began to break inside me that day – worry. Anxiety. Fear of not having enough.

Faith grew. God would provide. He’d have my back. I just need to keep taking steps of faith.

So I did.

And now, I look at my son & the knowledge that in the very near future he’s moving. And I’m faced with the option to worry. Be anxious. Fear. Live in regret. Be depressed. Stay down in a hole.

And instead, against my feelings, I’m choosing hope. A hope that doesn’t disappoint. A hope that isn’t based in me or my abilities, but rather in Jesus Christ, the beginning & completion of my faith.

I can trust Pasty to Jesus. I can trust my family to Him too. And I can trust my present & future to Him as well, because He hasn’t changed His commitment to me.