About Me, California, Family, Meaning, Narrative Theology, Ramblings, Resurrection

I know the future. I ignore the future.

This is not unrelated to what I wrote a few days back.

The last few months have been a bit of a blurry season with a lot of travel, additional projects our family has taken on, and the regular rigamarole of the days between Spring and Summer.

I was in a conversation with some friends the other week about meaning, happiness, fulfillment, and the rhythms of life. We talked about work-life balance, finding joy in everyday moments, and navigating the frustrations of various seasons of life (a lot of them involving the complexity and noise of life with little kids).

It struck me that despite the present feeling fuzzy and complicated, the future is crystal clear.

One day I will wonder why I worked so much.
One day I will wonder why I didn’t spend more time with my family.
One day I will wonder why I spent so much time feeling stress from artificial or actual deadlines.
One day I will look back with both fondness and regret for the season I wake up to every morning.

I know the future, a beacon warning ships away from a dangerous coastline.
I ignore the future, a whisper of what will be but need not be.

Bronnie Ware was a palliative care nurse who spent time caring for those in their last stage of life and chronicled the five most common regrets people had looking back on their life:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

We know the future.
May we not ignore the future.

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California, Family, Meaning

Your Blood or Mine?

The elevation was increasing as the snow continued to fall. The freeway slowed as we approached the chain restriction check point.

We pulled off to the side of the expanded shoulder, a parking lot of slush and semi-trucks. A small army of men in fluorescent-orange and -yellow snowsuits with vests reading “Chain Installer” moved about, diving into the slush and stretching odd assortments and varieties of metal over the wet, slippery tires of sedans and mini-SUVs.

I dread tire chains. I dread putting them on and I dread driving with them on, not so much because of the speed restriction (which is annoying) or the constant hum and vibration (which is annoying) but because they represent the risk of driving in unknown conditions: the roads are terrible; put metal spikes in your tires and maybe you won’t drive off the cliff.

I rolled down my window to ask one of the jumpsuit soldiers where I should pull in to install my chains.

Doin’ it yourself?

Yeah.

Then I don’t care. Over there, out of the way.

Oh. Of course. Jumpsuit guy is there to make some cash, not to help out of the goodness of his heart or some great initiative funded by my tax dollars.

I pull over next to my friend whose white SUV still carries what looks to be a foot of snow packed on the roof of his car.

From the backseat: their car needs a haircut!

The SUV doesn’t need chains, but my friend knows I’m dreading this and he offers to help before we head over the mountain pass back home.

As I step out of my car into the slush, I’m grateful to not be alone amidst the hazard lights, fluorescent jumpsuits, and stench of idling eighteen-wheelers.

When’s the last time you did this?

A long time ago.

Me too.

We each take a side, unrolling my cheap bought-them-on-the-internet-for-twenty-dollars-on-sale-used-once-and-returned tire chains, which are not so much chains as they are small little discs of metal attached to a thin wire that may or may not fit around my tire.

I am not convinced these will actually help in snow and ice, but that is not why I bought them. I bought them to get me past chain restriction checkpoints. I am confident they will do the trick.

A fluorescent jumpsuit: You sure you have the right size?

I am sure of very little at this point, and I perceive the sneer and constant eye of the jumpsuit footmen, ready to take a short stack of cash in exchange for my dignity.

For a moment I consider it. At least it would be finished quickly.

But I remember my three-year old, who is straining in the car seat to get a view of his dada putting chains on the tires so our little silver hatchback (the “adventure car”) can brave the mountain pass.

In his imagination, which is only thinly separated from reality, this is just another part of our hero’s quest. This is a great adventure and, while he is told to stay in the car, I am his proxy, preparing our car to slay the dragon.

I cannot abdicate my duties and, while I am not sure what is at stake here, I sense it involves a curious and potentially volatile mix of honor, pride, ego and self-respect, so I squat down near the tire and try to figure out how to put these damnably-frustrating contraptions on.

I recall the conversation I had in the front seat ten minutes prior, in anticipation of this side-of-the-road ordeal.

I wish I had gloves.

You have some right there. Won’t those keep you warm?

No, I don’t care about being warm. I just need to be able to grip and use my fingers.

Oh. That makes sense.

I unroll the chains by the driver’s-side tire as my fearless friend does the same on the opposite side.

They go on the front tires, right?

Yeah.

For a moment, I slip out of my body and survey the scene from above. I have this odd realization that I am a grown up. A man. A husband. A dad. I am terrified and thrilled at the responsibility and weight of this.

I slip back into reality as both my friend and I fumble around on our respective sides, occasionally peeking over to see how the other is doing. I call him over to my side, to see if together we can tightly fasten this twisted necklace of metal to my tires. My hand slices across a sharp edge on these high-economy-low-functionality tire chains of mine. A patch of red instantly paints across my slushy hand and drips onto the slushy roadside below.

My interior monologue grows increasingly loud and deprecatory.

You look like an idiot.
You have no idea what you’re doing.
Those guys are laughing at you.
Why didn’t you buy decent chains?
Why are you trying to drive your Prius across a mountain during a blizzard?
Don’t you know you’re going to drive your family off a cliff?

I have to back up the car a few inches so we can attach the chains, and I hop into the car.

From the backseat: Dada! Are our chains ready to go?

Not yet son.

From the frontseat: Oh, I see why gloves would be nice.

Yeah.

We finish up my tire and move across the front of the car to the other side.

My friend kneels down, pulling the chain taught so we can fasten it and finish the job.

I notice the blood on his hand.

You too? I’m glad it wasn’t just me. I’m sorry about this.

It’s okay. I’m actually not sure if it’s my blood or yours.

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California, Family, Future, Meaning, Ramblings, Urban

Gratitude #1 – Los Angeles

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Angeles Skyline, 5:23AM

Los Angeles, you’ve won my heart.

Despite the frequency you get bagged on by those who live outside your borders (and even more so by those who reside within your borders!), you are a class act.

You’ve exposed me to new tastes and flavors. Bibimbap, boereks, pad kee mao, burrito mojado and boba. Some of the best and worst coffee I’ve ever tasted.

You’ve given me an appreciation for cultures, languages, and people groups from across the world. Where I previously heard unfamiliar noises and sounds, now I hear Armenian, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Tagalog. Beautiful languages spoken by our beautiful neighbors – distinct and unique in the everydayness of Angeleno life.

You’ve shown me the beauty of well-constructed buildings and the redemption possible with the crumbling walls of poorly-constructed buildings. From city centers and pop-up shops to subversively-scrawled poetic prophecies. You’ve shown me that graffiti can be art, that abandoned pallets cry out to be repurposed, and that place-making is a necessary and holy calling.

You are iconic, full of images and symbols. We’ve lived in the shadows of your fame, seeing both the beauty and the brokenness and learning to live and love in the midst of it all.

You are a city of lost boys and a city of dreamers, but you are also a city in which dreams become reality. You are the city where many of our dreams – for community, for family, for a neighborhood – took root and blossomed.

Los Angeles, you’ve been home and, for that, I’m grateful.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Family, Future, Global, Meaning, Ramblings, Urban

There Are Stars in Los Angeles

When we first moved to Los Angeles, we never saw any stars. We saw some celebrities, but I’m not talking about that kind of star.

Los Angeles is one of the world’s great cities, and great cities have great lights. The lights of Los Angeles are beautiful; I love flying back here in the evening because as the plane descends, I descend with it into the endlessness of light.

We live in the shadow of the iconic Griffith Observatory. Sitting atop the Hollywood Hills, the concrete structure is brightly lit at night and, from it, you can see our giant of a city and her magnificent lights sprawling as far as the ocean to the west and as far as you can see to the east and south.

But lights cause luminous pollution – the fancy word used to described the effect of non-natural light on our ability to see natural light. Bright city lights do not diminish the natural light of a Red Giant or the flash of a meteor; bright city lights diminish our ability to correctly perceive that natural light. The lights of a city, in a sense, distract us from the lights of the universe.

Human eyes are amazing. As an environment darkens or brightens and our eyes’ rods and cones adjust, what our eyes see as “black” changes, recalibrating to the ‘new normal’ of our ambient surroundings.

It takes between twenty and thirty minutes for eyes to fully adjust to darkness. Each minute we wait, we can see exponentially more as we give our eyes more time to calibrate to the lights shining amidst the darkness. In darkness as opposed to sunlit conditions, the human eye is up to one million times more sensitive to light.

When we first moved to Los Angeles, the city lights were too bright, and we never saw any stars. 

We are approaching the eight-year anniversary of our move to Los Angeles. Last week, I was outside in the evening with Everett. He pointed up and, in sleepy-eyed wonder, exclaimed “Dada…stars!

Sure enough, I looked up and two bright stars twinkled overhead. He and I spent more time gazing into the luminously-polluted skies high above our home in northeast Los Angeles and, gradually, our eyes adjusted to the reality of the universe blanketing us in light-amidst-darkness.

There are stars in Los Angeles.

To see many of them it’s taken eight years of slow adjustment. But they have been there the whole time, and they will continue to shine once we are gone.

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Equipping, Family, Meaning, Ministry, Pedagogy, Ramblings, Two Many Things

The Six Lessons I’ve Learned in Life

As part of my doctoral work at Fuller, I’m part of a mentoring cohort designed to help integrate all of my ‘input’ (both informational and experiential) into my ‘output’ (ministry, life direction, etc.). It’s a pretty cool process of learning alongside a group of others from around the world led by Terry Walling – a wonderfully insightful and wise guide.

Part of our early work in the cohort involved putting together a life map timeline designed to give perspective and insight on our life from “10,000 feet above ground.” It was a really helpful process helping me look back on the significant events, people, and places I’ve encountered and see how these factors have shaped not only my past and present but also the unfolding future.

Here’s what my timeline ended up looking like.

leader timeline small

The pic is blurry to protect both the innocent and the guilty :).

The different color post-its represent different facets of life.

  • Yellow is the initial brainstorm of ideas/people/places/events that have shaped me.
  • The orange post-its represent those pieces of my ife that have been painful and hurtful.
  • Blue represents a new chapter in the story.
  • An X marks a turning point or life-changing event.
  • Green represents the lessons I’ve gleaned from all my life thus far.

While I won’t share (here) all the details and specifics that led me to them, here are the six lessons I’ve learned from life thus far.

  1. The world is so much bigger than you think.

  2. What you’ve been given is not all God has for you.

  3. There is a love deeper than you know.

  4. There is a place for you to learn, think, and grow.

  5. There is a place for you to serve, lead, and live.

  6. This is just the beginning.

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Brokenhearted Theology, Church, Family, Food, Meaning, Narrative, Prayer, Quotes, Ramblings, Resurrection

Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist (book review)

There are too many books written and marked as “Christian – General” or “Christian Inspiration.” I have read a good number of these books, and I used to like many of them. But eventually you realize that many of them are rather boring, unoriginal, and poorly written. My co-pastor Greg and I like to quote Tolkien when we talk about preaching: “Sermons – they are bad, aren’t they?”

And I feel the same about Christian books. Most of them are bad, aren’t they?

But every once in a while I’m gratefully surprised to encounter a truly good book that’s both Christian and inspiring (though I still cringe at the thought of calling it “Christian Inspiration”).

Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine arrived at my house on a Tuesday and I write this on a Wednesday after setting aside my other pile of reading to finish Bread and Wine.

It’s really good.

The book piqued my interested after seeing the trailer (how silly is it, that books have trailers? Maybe not so silly, I guess, since I watched it and was interested in reading the book.). I’m in the midst of a writing project focused on the Eucharist along with some church discussions about the role of food, hospitality, and sharing meals together so I figured a book focused on food with eucharistic undertones in the title might be interesting on multiple fronts

Niequist writes about the importance of meals in developing and maintaining relationships, celebrating life’s joys and processing tragedies, loss, and sadness. Her writing is honest and beautiful. I marked up more pages than I anticipated and shared several parts with my wife and friends.

Parts of my own life feel fragile and delicate right now, and sharing several sections of the book with my wife, we both found ourselves a bit choked up and teary-eyed at the way Niequist links food, family, and the roller coaster of life’s emotions. She’s right that food is not just about food – it is a window into the way we go about loving and living and celebrating and grieving. Food is obviously physical but undeniably spiritual.

A few snippets to share with you:

I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn’t bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see thesemlves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful plan, not as the main characters in the drama of our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bite of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious. (98)

Food matters because it’s one of the things that forces us to live in this world – this tactile, physical, messy, and beautiful world – no matter how hard we try to escape into our minds and our ideals. Food is a reminder of our humanity, our fragility, our createdness. (250)

I want all of the holiness of the Eucharist to spill out beyond the church walls, out of the hands of priests and into the regular streets and sidewalks, into the hands of regular, grubby people like you and me, onto our tables, in our kitchens and dining rooms and backyards. (252)

One final thought: this book is marketed for a female audience, maybe more than I wish it had been. You’ll see it and feel it looking at the cover, flipping through the recipes woven through the book, and in some of the language used (you probably won’t catch me reading this in the bathtub, despite the back cover’s invitation!). That said, food and hospitality and the messiness of life are hugely important for people of faith and I think this book does a terrific job engaging and challenging readers on those topics. I hope the book is read by men and women alike!

Note: An early copy of the book was sent to me by the publisher and I have done my best not to let that impact my review.

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California, Family, Green

You Too Can Take Your Baby Camping

Some of our best adventures as a family over the last 6 years have been camping and backpacking and we decided that we wanted to continue these adventures as soon as possible with The Boy. After hitting the two-month mark, he was consistently sleeping through the night (with one or two short wake-ups every few nights) and we felt like it was time to give camping a try!

One of our go-to car camping spots is Oak Flat in the Angeles National Forest – just 30 miles north of Los Angeles in the Tehachapi mountains. It’s an easy drive from Hollywood. We’ve always been able to drive up and find a site (no reservations). There are no extra fees for camping (which is nice since we knew there was a chance we’d be packing up and heading home in the middle of the night if it turned out to be a total disaster). And it’s a pretty spot – nestled into the hills in a large grove of beautiful California Live Oaks.

Since it was going to be dark and cold starting at 5PM, we waited until 8PM to leave the house. As we pulled into the campground, found our site, and started to set up the tent, it started to drizzle. Thankfully, we were able to setup and get settled in the tent before it started to pour down rain.

Rainy, 40 degree weather is never ideal for camping, especially not with a 10 week old baby!

But we made it through the night and The Boy stayed warm and cozy. We had his basket set up between our sleeping bags and bundled him up in his warmest PJs and his thick fleece “polar bear” suit with a down jacket covering the lower half of his basket. He woke up once or twice (once because he was hungry, and once because he was too warm!) but otherwise slept great throughout the night (better than we did!).

Thankfully by morning the rain had let up and the sun was out. We walked a bit around the campground, ate a quick breakfast, and headed back to Los Angeles.

The Boy’s first camping trip was a success!

Next on the list, a backpacking trip!

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