Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Radical change

It’s possible that I should have written this years ago, or at least sooner than now, but at the very least I can no longer put off writing about it. The truth is that I have been forever changed and I know it, and not just because of a new tattoo or a piercing or because I decided to have a kid or buy a new car or anything like that. All of those things could be considered major changes and yet together they don’t even come close to measuring up to what has taken place in my life over the last several years.

The concept of being born again seems so trite to me, as if I’m hoping that the statement will land me some credibility points with one group or another. But that’s not what I’m after by any means and in fact, I would rather find another way to say it just for the sake of the stigma. Truly, I should not be concerned with the framing of contemporary thought regarding politics, the religious right and fundamentalists, so using the term born again is not so wrong, but the truth is that so many people in the spotlight of the public eye have used and abused the term that unfortunately it carries some negativity, whether I like it or not. So instead I will consider myself radically changed from the inside out and I’m not ashamed to explain myself either, lest there be any confusion.

This change seemed to be more of a slow boil for a long time and while I continued to perpetuate the change, I also seemed to be OK that it was a long, slow and drawn out process. I thought about how glass changes as it is blown or how a piece of pottery is manipulated slowly and surely. The image of pottery is especially apt as it is not uncommon that one might have to start over because of an imperfection. That’s my life in a nutshell; I start to take shape, only to be torn down and forced to start again. I also like to use the imagery of a sword being refined in a fire because again, it’s about removing impurities until the metal is perfect. I imagine I will be in the refining process until the day I die.

When God began this process of changing my heart, my ways, my lifestyle choices, my attitude, my ego, my pride and my opinions of the world, I was cynical, hardened to the world, self centered, prideful and extraordinarily arrogant. To be honest, I was OK with that because it was safe to me, it was what I could count on and it was more real than anything else I had been presented with to that point. When I was younger, I was told that God was vengeful and that he would judge me. I was led to believe that this same God would not look upon me favorably for being a bad kid and that hope was not even an option. I was truly scared of God as he was described and felt my only choice was to run away. Running away was in fact quite easy since God seemed to only exist inside of the four walls of the church I grew up in. The further away I ran, the further away God felt, at least that’s how I would describe it. I was so thankful to get away from that kind of judgment because all it ever did was make me feel guilty.

For nearly 20 years I ran and not once did I have someone make an attempt to fill me in on what God was really like. I existed in complete ignorance of the truth of grace. It wasn’t until about 13 years ago that a co-worker invited me to play volleyball at a gym that was connected to his church, that I had someone reach out and extend a hand. Even after that, it took nearly 2 more years for me to start searching for more than just an exercise opportunity. From 2003 to 2006 I began the process of searching for answers relating to God. Because of the heartfelt sincerity of a pastor and the extended hand of a co-worker, I began to understand a little more about grace. By 2006, when we moved out here to Central Oregon, I wanted to serve in different areas of ministry and was willing to even give regularly to a church, something I had never done before. Slowly, the water just kept getting warmer.

By 2011 I had even been the head of a couple of ministries and was certainly invested in this concept of church, but to be honest, while I certainly understood it all, I’m not sure I had ever really bought into the idea of fully surrendering my life.

Halfway through 2011, something happened. God began to use the Holy Spirit to prompt me and speak into my life. For the first time, I could tangibly grab a hold of the will of God and I began to experience my first call towards something much bigger than what I had been doing. The big push was to commit myself to the town of Redmond completely. We had been going to church in Bend, which was a 30 minute drive every time we went down there. The idea of finding a church in Redmond and even finding work in Redmond seemed impossible to me and yet in the short span of just 3 months, both happened.

By spring of 2012, the commitment was made to pull away from Bend completely and the immediate change was impressive. My heart was fuller than it had ever been and I simply wanted to reach out to this community that I had called home since 2006. My desire to serve this town now had a direction that I had not felt before. Suddenly, my neighborhood became my closest family.

This past year has taught me that the people in my life that mean the most are the ones in my immediate sphere of influence. They are my co-workers, my neighbors, the people at church, the families of my kids’ friends, the players on my soccer team, the fellow coaches I have befriended and the friends I have made in this community over the past 7 years. These people have become my church, my ecclesia. And in the process, God has shaped me into someone who deeply cares for them all. My heart has forever been changed and I see with clarity, the hand of God in all that has transpired on this journey.

My mask of arrogance is long gone, replaced by one of humility and grace for all of these wonderful people. When I say I have been radically changed it is meant to point first to what God has done and where I am today but also to point to where I came from and how my choices led me there. I do not live with regrets, however, as my past is something that I can and indeed have used to give glory to God and reach a broken generation.

Today, I am blessed and privileged to serve as a worship leader for a small (but growing!) church here in Redmond. Seeing God at work on a daily basis is awe inspiring and at times leaves me with no words. The excitement I experience and the intensity with which I bring that excitement can only be described as pure joy. And that joy is a direct result of the deep love that has filled my heart for the one who gave it all. Jesus has radically changed me from the inside out. My only response is to praise him every moment.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Standing at a crossroads is really no place to stand. Indeed, you might as well consider yourself a fence straddler and concede to being a centrist, because this is who you are. I've never been much of a centrist, I tend to land squarely on a side somewhere, although it might not be the side you think. But at the moment I am wandering from place to place in my head and I am not sure what's next.

This sounds so innocuous and yet at the same time it seems so vague, but the truth is that I am truly unsure what I want to be when I grow up. No really. I should have figured this out long ago and for a while I guess I thought I had. But times changed, economics played a part and today my heart is in a different place than it was 10 years ago when I had the world right where I wanted it. Part of me wants to go back to that place, ten plus years ago where everything seemed to flow so well and finances were good and my chosen profession seemed so natural. But to go back now would be to deny who I have become and pointing to that truth is the most profound thing I have right now.

There are times when my creative mind would love to jump back into what I enjoyed and simply pick up where I left off, but now my creativity has new outlets to venture into and therefore I am torn. And what tears at me most is something that should not even be in question. For instance, to go back to what I enjoyed would most likely require a complete change in my schedule, which would also put a strain on the time I spend with my wife and kids. However, to continue on in the direction I am moving is probably also going to require some major changes, and maybe that’s what gives me pause.

Ultimately, my opportunity for creativity is at the heart of my dilemma. I miss being a designer but I am enjoying my new outlets for creativity, chiefly that of learning to play the guitar and the chance I get to write for the local paper. My love of music has always been enjoyed through singing. For more than 20 years, I have been part of some form of musical group as a singer. It started early and before I knew it I was singing with the church choir and it just took off from there. And while that has always been a real joy for me, this new venture of learning to play the guitar, which started almost a year ago, is really exciting. It took me a while to get the hang of it and for some time I was absolutely horrible about practicing, but now I practice every day and I actually look forward to it.

On the other hand, writing is something I really picked up in junior high. At first it was journaling and then it was writing music, followed by more journaling which lead to blogging. I started writing online about 15 years ago and it has always been my personal place to release the mess that lives in my head. Some things get out there for public consumption, others die in my computer, never to see the light of day. About 18 months ago there was a notice in the local paper that asked for any interested writers to submit a column for consideration for something that would run about every 6 weeks or so. My submission was accepted and I have been writing for the paper ever since and I absolutely love it.

All of this sounds good and yet the crossroads I stand at is not going anywhere, primarily in regards to my music. Specifically speaking, music has led me to a place of service. The opportunities lie in determining which direction I feel called to move. For now, I’m OK with the challenge of leading worship at church every other Sunday, but I know there is so much more to that. Because of my willingness to buckle down and practice, I am slowly getting better at playing. The change I am making in being able to play better is a confidence booster for sure and drives me to play more often. Part of me wishes I had stuck with piano as a kid or maybe picked up guitar much sooner, but here we are. And while it is very difficult to learn and master something new while in your mid 40’s, it is certainly not impossible. So I plunge ahead, all the while wondering if I should be taking this in a different direction or simply allowing myself to be used for the needs at the moment.

The hard part for me is that I am not the guy that is satisfied with filling the needs at the moment. I like to see the big picture and then work towards that. I like vision and I like to chase after it. If there is a long range plan for playing the guitar, then sign me up; I can only stand at this intersection for so long before someone runs me over.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bring on the new year, I dare you!

Happy new year everyone! I love the newness that is ushered each January and the sudden desire to make serious changes in our lives, as if January has some sort of magical power to help you succeed better than December ever did. And if January is so special, why is it that by the end of June, nearly 80% of people nationwide have already given up on their goals for change?

It’s time to admit that your new years resolution was a bust from the word go. Just man up (or woman up, either way) and be done with it, you never follow through on resolutions anyway. Remember that one year you swore up and down you were going to go back to college and learn a foreign language? You never even enrolled. Remember that other time when you told everyone you were done with fast food and committed to eating healthier? You got caught in the drive through the very next day. Or how about your epic couch to 5K plan, remember that one? You did make it around the couch twice, I’ll give you that.

I think resolutions would be a lot more fun if we turned them into dares. For example, I would love to hear someone say that they planned to lose 50 pounds and then I could say something like, ‘that sounds great, but if you don’t, you have to shave your head leaving only a Mohawk and then we’re dyeing it pink’. Another good example would be an individual who resolves to stop swearing and instead use more intelligible words. I would help hold them accountable by using neon orange spray paint on their tongue after every inappropriate word. That would be fun.

If you don’t make that 5K by the end of November, I’m taking away your car and giving you a tricycle and a red clown afro wig. No more junk food? Slip up and it’ll be rice cakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 3 months. You get to live like a monk! (I don’t know if this is true or not, but I like to believe that monks exist on a diet of rice cakes alone). Trying to quit smoking? This is seriously not going to end well for your car.

I say we simply stop calling them resolutions and instead refer to them as double dog dares with inventive consequences. It would certainly make people think twice before making one and there would actually be some skin in the game instead of too many hollow threats. I’m also thinking this would make for excellent funny video material, which I love by the way. You know, people making complete fools of themselves as they epically fail. Good stuff.

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not that I don’t believe in you. I would love to see you succeed in your goals for this coming year and if you let me, I might even help if I can (I’ll be the guy with the video camera). The truth is, there is something very gratifying about reaching a goal and then maintaining whatever that goal is; it is indeed a massive confidence builder.

However, if you fail, your name is going on the water tower…you’ve been warned.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Tonight, I got lost in a blog post from a writer I admire and it occurred to me that I still have boat loads of crap to shovel onto paper. It has not escaped my reasoning that perhaps therapy might be the best answer, but that always seems so desperate sounding. I’m not sure if I want to be better or just have someone repeat back what I already know, which is I am terribly messed up.

Recently, I took my family on a fun hike at a local park that we all enjoy. The place has special meaning to me and my prayer is that one day, my ashes will be scattered up there somewhere, anywhere. On this particular day, I offered to show them a new spot that none of them had seen before. It’s not a secret by any means, but the destination is not one that most people set out for.

Namely, I wanted to show them an irrigation tunnel that was dug under a mountain, that runs for better than a mile. There’s a bit of water on one end because of the pitch so you can’t quite make it all the way through without getting wet, so I only took them in about ¾ of the way. My wife and son both loved it but my daughter was not into dark tunnels that took 10 minutes to walk briskly out of. To her credit though, she was a trooper and we made it in as far as we could go without a splash and then made it back out without any tears or someone tripping in the dark.

The overall effect of a tunnel like this is that when you first walk up to one end, the other end appears to be much closer than it actually is. Only after you get in a couple hundred yards and your eyes begin to adjust, do you realize how far you still have to go. And once you get in about half way and turn around, you realize just how crazy you were for walking in there in the first place!

Mostly, I love the experience of walking into that tunnel and then emerging on the other side, then turning and looking back. I realize that I am fully capable of returning the same way but when I have made that hike before, I then prefer to go another way and continue my hike. I really don’t want to go back to where I started because now my view has changed and frankly, I’ve already experienced what’s at one end of the tunnel, so now I want to discover the other side.

In this life, my brothers and sister are at one end of that tunnel and I’m at the other end. They refuse to have anything to do with my end of the tunnel and in fact appear to question whether or not I even went into the tunnel in the first place. I’ve called out to them repeatedly, asking them to please come and check out what I’ve found but it’s as if they cannot hear me. There have been moments I have caved over the years and run back down to see them, only to find them standing in the same spot, unable to move, unable to see anything beyond a few feet. I feel for them, honestly I do but I am finding that my patience is running out and as I stare back at them now I realize there is nothing I can do or say that will make them change.

I never could have realized how my relationships with my siblings would turn out, especially given how we grew up. It’s not that we were best buds or anything but we weren’t distant either. Yet today, we are worlds apart and while there have been sporadic attempts to connect, it almost seems as if the tunnel is getting longer and darker as the days go by. My belief is that before long, I will no longer even see them or hear them, they will forever be lost at some distant starting point that I refuse to go back to. Call me stubborn, call me irresponsible, but I have made more trips back to that end of things that any one person should have to and it has amounted to nothing but complete disrespect for my wife and kids and even me at times. It’s as if I’m not even there when I do make the effort to see them.

The harsh part is this only makes me feel even more guilt, as if I consider myself too good for them now and therefore they should roll out the red carpet when I show up, but this is the furthest from the truth. I would only love it if we could all sit down and just talk, but anymore, even that is wrought with difficulties and distractions. Everyone has their own busy lives and to expect everyone to just stop is absurd but a guy can certainly dream, right?

The tunnel is long and dark but there are other ways to reach them and I have been working on an end-a-round that might work. I’m certainly not one to give up too easily so I will forge ahead, hopeful for a day when we might walk through that tunnel together, or possibly find another way around.

My sibs are as messed up as I am, I know they are. We have all been rattled at this point but we are a resilient bunch and eventually things will work themselves out…or at least I’d like to think so.

Monday, January 6, 2014


For years I have battled the same inside voices, as well as a few outside my head. This tired rhetoric that all Christians must be conservative Republican fundamentalist right-wing ditto heads. The thought is so absurd to me that for years I have found myself saying yes to nearly any liberal agenda just for the sake of spite. That is truly sad.

I grew up in a home dominated by conservative thought and pervaded by Republican agenda. Ronald Reagan was a hero and we were all blessed (insert sarcasm font) to be living in this country where we could enjoy freedoms unlike any other country on earth. I also grew up with this notion that if not for the military we would not be free at all and everything we enjoyed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was due to a soldier’s blood in battle. Ultimately, I was to bow down to the cross of the Republican Army.

Naturally, like nearly any teenager who feels claustrophobic, I felt the need to escape my homogenized culture and find something with a different view. After high school I sought to discover my options to life and found that a good chunk of the world did not prescribe to the GOP way of thinking and it was incredibly enlightening to me. I bought every alternative viewpoint, every overtly different platform, every liberal statement and every opinion that was not Republican. It made crystal clear sense to me, and as I gained the right to vote at that tender age, I made sure every vote was blue. This was partly because I agreed with their viewpoint but it also was my defiant cry to the way I was raised. I wasn’t going back there, to that narrow minded, cold hearted way of thinking. Yea, I was angry back then and this was how I showed it. Haha!

Moving from Seattle to Portland made it even easier to maintain my liberal views and when I got there in ’96 I loved it. At that point, I had also been away from any semblance of church for over 13 years. As I was maturing into someone with diverging views from what I was raised with, Portland offered me not only a window into similar ideals but introduced me to even grander thoughts. At the age of 26, I was still willing to join the military, still in agreement with the death penalty and still thought guns were kind of cool. All of that changed in that first year in P-town.

By 1998 I had met an amazing woman and had jettisoned any thoughts that I might ever move back to Washington State. Oregon was my home now and it represented much of who I was at that point, and who I wanted to be. I became interested in the political landscape and knowing past governors and state leaders, while understanding certain state laws that were different from what I had known. I loved the history and enjoyed learning about how fierce certain past leaders had been regarding outsiders with differing views. One of my favorites was this idea that a past governor had arranged for a billboard to be put up just inside the state line on I-5 that read, “Welcome to Oregon, now go home”. There never was a sign but there were bumper stickers. Discovering tidbits like this made me want to get to know politicians in this state because maybe they were different from everywhere else.

A preface here would be good, I think. It’s notable to mention that I have never been interested in a career in politics, which is true, but I will say I have given some thought to being involved in city civics. I find no redeeming qualities in serving in politics beyond a city level, but that might be good fodder for another blog.

For the next fifteen years I voted almost exclusively Democrat and felt strongly that any other view was simply ignorant. It’s not that I could not have an open mind towards any other opinion but at the time, the evidence against any other view seemed rather obvious, at least to me. After spending 10 years in the Portland Metro area, I was given an opportunity to move to Central Oregon for work. My wife and I began looking into it and before too long we both fell in love with the idea to move. Plans were made and in the summer of 2006 we made our way to Redmond.

About two years after moving out here, my heart began to change dramatically. As my faith grew, my desires and interests towards politics shrank. By 2009 I had reasoned with myself that I wanted very little to do with any party but maybe I could be a Progressive. But even by the end of that year I had begun to refer to myself as apolitical and questioned whether or not I could ever vote again.

As the fall of 2012 approached, I ended up voting for a no name, independent candidate for president, who garnered less than 2% of the vote. I laughed it off and realized I had truly turned a corner by my actions, but my thoughts still weighed heavily toward social justice. At my heart I was, and still am, a bleeding heart liberal, full of compassion for my fellow man, but the political arena had become one of the most despicable examples of pure human greed that I had ever witnessed. My decision to stop voting for one of the 2 major parties was an easy one. Choosing to pull myself away from politics altogether was more difficult.

By the spring of 2013 I had come to the conclusion that any political discussion was purely toxic in nature and made it clear that I would have no part in conversations where it was the topic. There had become no doubt that anyone who willfully participated in these types of conversations wanted nothing more than a verbal fight. Talking politics became an opportunity to throw verbal grenades with no fear of consequence. If you happened to be surrounded by like minded individuals, you could espouse your opinion without fear of retribution. However, in my case I found I was constantly surrounded by people who did not think like me and I became very good at diffusing a conversation before it exploded.

Today, I have most certainly realized that it is possible to have a political conversation without it turning into a fight, but the caveat is that one must have this conversation with someone who actually wants to have civil discourse. Given this maxim, I rarely have conversations that involve politics and find I am much happier this way. Having made the choice to be apolitical has given me much clarity, especially regarding what is most important in this life, at least from my perspective.

I know that politics will always pervade our thoughts, motivate certain decisions and steer some conversations, but being ruled by these things is not necessary. Too often in this society, we allow politics to be all consuming, turning it into something it was never intended to be. In my opinion, it’s disgusting. Political discourse should create bridges from island to island in our span of humanity. Instead, we remain on our island and toss bombs at each other with no other intention than to eliminate those who do not think like we do. Politics has indeed become divisive in nature and instead of building each other up, people are tearing down and doing so with fervor.

That truism makes my decision to pull away that much easier. I can be considerably more effective in this place and in this life if I commit to living out what I used to hope for in political candidates. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “be the change you want to see in the world”. That ideal is in no way unattainable and we sell ourselves very short when we choose to believe we cannot be that very change. It’s true that politics will indeed change the world, but will it do so in a way that is meaningful? Will the impact be one of positivity or will it continue to only bring us divisiveness?

I am fully convinced that there is no room in politics for a person of deep, passionate faith. To me it presents a conundrum that cannot be solved and to attempt to do so will only leave an individual wrecked for the experience and that is no place to be if your faith is even the least bit important to you. For me, my faith is integral to who I am and I no longer separate myself from it, to do so would be an injustice to God. A God  who made me, loves me and designed me for far better things than arguing about the voices in my head.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Resolving to do something

At the very least we can all admit that 2014 is here, whether we like it or not. And as we stare down another new year, some of us will be so bold as to attempt a resolution or two (or more if you're really nuts). Most people I know tend to make resolutions, only to fail miserably two weeks later. I find that most people simply do not make resolutions for that very reason, as they are hard to maintain and instead find it easier to make changes while not calling those changes a resolution. To me, that sounds an awful lot like reverse psychology on yourself...good move.

It seems a popular question to ask around the first of January, is whether or not you have made a resolution yourself. While I do not normally make one, nor have I ever really made one, ever, I find that looking back on the past year and making some astute observations is key to looking forward with plans for a better year. And in fact, as I look back I discover that much has taken place in my life since last January and with that I am left to consider a few things.

Twenty days into 2013 I was amidst training for my very first ultra running race of sorts. A 31 plus mile affair (or 50K for you cool running kids) that was to take place at the end of the month. As I returned home from a nine mile run, I felt some fairly intense pain in my shin. The next morning I could barely walk. Two weeks later, after a few x-rays and tests, it was confirmed that I had multiple stress fractures to my tibia. While that sounds horrifying, it was considerably better news than discovering it might be tendonitis. Obviously, my running was sidelined and in fact I would not set foot on pavement or dirt with the intent to run for nearly 3 months. Yes, that was brutal. The pain was in fact fairly minimal, for those wondering. The torment of not being able to run was nearly more than I could stand.

Interestingly, during the time I was injured I made it to all of my son's baseball games, made it to most of my daughter's track meets, began to appreciate my guitar a little more (that I had just started to play a few months earlier) and managed to land a soccer coaching job. By the time May rolled around and I was cleared to run again, I didn't immediately jump back in. Instead I waded in slowly and enjoyed what was going on around me. This did wonders for my injury and would later benefit me but it did more for my home life than I could have ever dreamed.

Fall came and brought with it my return to coaching. The season itself was tough in terms of wins and losses but it was rich in terms of experiences and new relationships. I quickly remembered why I love coaching so much and it is the opportunity to pour into the lives of my players, to be a mentor, a teacher, a leader and indeed a coach. It was a lot of work and by the end of the season, my dear wife was ready for a little time alone.

My wife and I had a few times this past year where we got to get away. With the kids now getting a little older and therefore a little more self-reliant, we were able to sneak away for date nights and even a whole weekend to the coast in November when some dear friends were willing to watch the rug rats. As each year passes, I find myself more and more enamored with my relationship with my wife and this year brought us closer, especially as we reached the holidays.

Thanksgiving was probably the epic holiday for us. For the first time in my life, I chose to not spend it with my mother and brothers and sister and their immediate families. It was an odd feeling, to be sure, but what ensued at our house was certainly one of the highlights of the entire year. We opened our house to friends and had an amazing time, filled with laughter, joy and good food. Looking back, it was surely one of the best Thanksgiving dinners I have ever been a part of.

Christmas then proceeded to sneak up on us and before we knew it, we were knee deep in wrapping paper and decorations. Our annual trip to Portland was a whirlwind. We were there for less than 24 hours because both of us had to work the following 2 days. But the icing on the cake was that we both took the 2nd and 3rd of January off which gave us a 5 day weekend to end one year and start the next. Those five days were exactly what our family needed and much fun and relaxation was had by all. By the end of it, we were all prepared to face the coming year, regardless of what it throws at us.

So, as for resolutions, I continue my belief of not making any, but I will contend a few points. First, my guitar playing has taken on its own personality. I play every day now and love to just sit and work on songs. That joy of playing is coming out on Sundays and has my wife and others taking notice. I am hopeful that this coming year has me playing it even more. Second, my family time means more to me than ever before. For the first time in many, many years, I will have my spring free from soccer. With that freedom comes the opportunity to get out of town a few times to see a baseball game or maybe a soccer match. My family has endured many a weekend of me being on a soccer pitch somewhere and they deserve some attention.

Lastly, but certainly not least, I vow to continue my reach into my community. I have several new neighbors since a new builder started erecting new houses on my street. New neighbors mean a chance to form new relationships and new opportunities to reach out and be the neighbor that Jesus has asked me to be. God wants me to love Him and He wants me to love my neighbor. Simple commands and yet we fight it all the time. I can honestly say that I resolve, every day, to love my neighbors and help them in any way possible.

2014 is already off to a great start. I hope and pray yours is too.