Tuesday, December 25, 2007

keeping the main thing the main thing at christmas

those of you who've visited in our various homes over the years know that we're not really a christmas tree family. it just isn't our kind of thing. from the beginning of m's and my marriage, we wanted our decorating to point to the true meaning of christmas -- to Jesus and to the people he loves and came to save. for that reason, our tradition is to put up nativity scenes throughout the house and prominently display the christmas photos of friends and families as they come in. m has a nice little collection of creches from around the world, all the more impressive because they've come with us through all of our many moves. the one above is from mexico; the one below is from poland.

to be honest, this has not been the most Christ-centered advent season for most of our family, perhaps especially me. the many unusual emergencies that have come up this month haven't made it any easier to focus on Jesus and to meditate on why he came. i was feeling pangs of regret about that yesterday, apologizing to God during my prayer time, and felt like God's response was, "it's never too late." i was greatly relieved at the reminder, and resolved that this would be my first day of christmas (kind of like the old twelve days of christmas tradition). later that day, i was helping m find some of her christmas decorations and finally discovered my liquid candles -- an aid to my devotional life that i've been missing since we left montreal. i had actually given up on finding them and recently told b that a new liquid candle would be a great christmas gift for me. instead, God gave them back to me at just the right time.

last night, we had our first real family advent gathering; it was a wonderful time to come together to seek God. after all of these years -- now 26 as a christian -- i'm surprised at how easily i can lose my focus, even at a time of year that is set aside to celebrate Jesus. and i am grateful to be part of a family that encourages and exhorts me back to the things that really matter.
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Saturday, December 22, 2007

when it rains...

such an appropriate title, given the reputation of (and recent floods in) our part of the world. of course, as i write this, it's a beautiful, sunny day -- the first one in some time. in this and countless other ways, i remain the unintentional master of irony.

when we have the long 'quiet' spaces on the blog, you can bet that our lives are quite the opposite, and the recent two-week gap is no exception. it's been a hectic and sometimes intense ride, and not for the usual reasons that peoples' lives are crazy at this time of the year. not much of christmas parties and shopping and decorating and writing cards for us -- no, we've been dealing with higher highs and lower lows than that.
  • on december 6, at the end of an upbeat visit at a possible worship site for our new church, i got a call from m who instructed me to get home right away so that i could take her to the emergency room. she was having heart attack-like symptoms which we believe were connected to overexerting herself while having severe anemia. we hurried to the hospital in rush hour traffic (which took about an hour, since the grouphealth hospital is in redmond, some distance away). thankfully, all of her tests turned up negative, and she was sent home with a diagnosis roughly equivalent to what we had surmised. the prescription: rest.
  • on the morning of december 8, m complained of abdominal and chest pain that had awakened her in the middle of the night, and so, after a brief consultation with a friend who is an emergency room nurse and then with the advice nurse, we went back to emergency. they were all guessing that she might need her gall bladder removed, but again, the tests came up negative, and she was sent home. that was the second trip to the hospital in 48 hours, and she ended up seeing the doctor four times in a week -- compared to one time in three years in montreal!
  • on december 11, b received the wonderful news that she had been admitted 'early decision' to columbia university in new york. as you can imagine, that was a real thrill. that evening, we went out to red robin to celebrate her accomplishment with huge burgers and shirley temples.
  • on december 12, the bloom came off the rose, as a much-smaller-than-expected financial aid package came from columbia. suddenly, it became unclear whether we'd be able to send her. even though they promise to meet 100% of a student's demonstrated financial need, their formula for calculating it requires us to pay many times the sample amount on their web site ($35,000+!). since that day, we've been meeting nightly to pray as a family that God will provide what is needed.
  • on december 18, m noticed that my left eye was very red. she wondered aloud if i was having another iritis attack (the last one was in january 2006, and the one before that was january 2004 -- see a pattern here?). the next morning, i awoke with the telltale blurred vision, and after another consultation with the advice nurse, was whisked off to the doctor. she confirmed the self-diagnosis of iritis, noting that we had caught it fairly early, and prescribed the usual medications. so as i type this, the vision in my left eye is cloudy and blurry, and m is carting me everywhere while i refrain (under protest) from driving.
there are multiple ways to understand what's going on here. spiritual warfare as we try to start a new ministry aimed at taking new territory. the predictable results of the many stresses of a major move. a spell of bad luck. but however you slice it, it's been pretty tough sledding, and we'd appreciate your prayers in the midst of these and other challenges we're facing.

of course, ordinary life goes on. on wednesday, n danced in a ballet open house and is currently preparing to play in a violin recital. b finished up her fall quarter at bellevue community college, with straight a's no less. our final church plant event of 2007 was well-attended and full of energy and momentum.

as we head (limping a bit) toward our first christmas in the pnw (and our first christmas ever without grandma p, who's joining m's sister and family in hawaii), there is still much to be grateful for: friends old and new, a house to live in (spacious compared to our apartment in montreal), many successes, and multiple offers of help in the midst of all of our difficulties. most of all, we are thankful for Jesus, who reminds us of the lengths to which God will go in his desire to identify with, reveal himself to, and rescue us.

although he existed in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men.

(philippians 2:5-7)

and in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. and an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. and the angel said to them, "do not be afraid; for behold, i bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a savior, who is christ the Lord. and this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger." and suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." and it came about when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds began saying to one another, "let us go straight to bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us."
(luke 2:8-15)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

just how big of a geek are you?

not to sound defensive, but lots of people get a rubik's cube for christmas. and play with it until the stickers come off. and decide to re-model their cube with nearly indestructible lexan replacement tiles. and lubricate it with silicone-based spray in the hopes of becoming a speed cuber.

so what are you looking at?

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

the rains came down and the floods came up

they call seattle 'the rainy city.' the truth is that it doesn't get an unusual amount of rain on average, though it is spread over 200 days a year, which might make it seem that way.

but yesterday was different. the rain fell, and it kept on falling. having been here just a little bit less than five months, we have already experienced the 2nd rainiest day in seattle history. falling trees caused power outages. flooding closed roads. schools were closed, and traffic is still a mess. you can see some incredible photos here.

and to think, i've been worried about the snow...

Thursday, November 22, 2007


i've found it helpful  at thanksgiving to literally count my blessings from the past year. as God often reminds me, we have so much to be grateful for -- some really big things and even some trivial ones. in no particular order:
  • Jesus, who gives us eternal life and from whose hand we can never be snatched
  • a front-loading washer

  • grandma p's first visit with us in the pnw

  • facebook

  • our surprisingly international neighbors

  • c, who recently became a christian as part of the ongoing international student ministry in montreal

  • b and n, who continue to excel academically and minister with an emerging maturity

for these and countless other reasons, we give thanks. God is ever faithful!

oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his lovingkindness is everlasting!

psalm 107:1

Monday, November 12, 2007

far too long

as you might guess, we've been a little bit busy of late -- hence the absence of a blog post. but we've enjoyed some big goings-on. here are some of the highlights:

we had our first international student visitor from abroad -- the first of many, we hope. e from singapore came and spent just over two weeks with us. he was a very good sport, helping out around the house and joining us for a variety of ministry activities. in between, he got to see a bit of seattle, sampled the local cuisine, and took some time away from the normal hustle-and-bustle of life to pursue time with God. he also found time to join facebook while he was here and tallied over 60 friends in just a few days -- a very popular guy, that e! we miss having him. we took a million photos while he was here, but for some reason, i don't seem to have any of them! if i locate a few, i'll post them here.

b formally graduated from high school -- fourth in her class -- and took home some impressive awards, including the rotary club's 'service above self' award and the quebec lieutenant governor's award. our family and a number of close friends were able to join b at her ceremony on 28 october, loudly cheering her (and several of her friends) at every opportunity. later that evening, about 15 friends joined us at fu lam buffet to celebrate.

during our brief visit to montreal, we were able to see a number of friends. highlights included a visit with the international student ministry volunteers and student leaders (they've got 3 small groups meeting weekly for Bible study and are gathering monthly for an all-group potluck), staying with good friends l and r (we were stuffed with lots and lots of delicious food), and being surprised by students and volunteers from the international student ministry (about 20 of them, who dropped in for lunch all the way out on the west island)!

the following weekend, m and i celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. as i said in a recent prayer letter, that's really a testimony to the faithfulness of many committed friends -- and to the God who works miracles. those of you who know us well know that such a statement is not false humility. it is a clear-eyed recognition of reality, a cause for joyful gratitude, and a reminder that our hope is not in romantic feelings or even in steady commitment, but in the Powerful One who works on behalf of those who wait for him.

in church plant news, we have begun meeting weekly with our launch team, to pursue God in his Word and begin laying the groundwork for the new congregation. this is a great group of people, and we are excited at the prospect of God forming us into the core of a new church. there are many hurdles to clear, and we've faced our share of spiritual warfare; last night's blackout in the middle of our meeting was only the latest episode, but a humorous one. please pray for us as we seek God together in his Word, and begin setting pen to paper as we begin making plans.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

under the circumstances

the big question that people are asking is how are you doing? i could say that under the circumstances, we're doing pretty well. n is excelling academically and enjoying ballet. b is having fun at bcc, taking a 10-unit (!) english class and working out four days a week. m is beginning to meet with people for prayer and mutual encouragement. we have begun hosting prayer events for the church plant in renton, and people are beginning to commit to being a part of the work.

of course, all of that is happening in the midst of some difficult adjustments and unwelcome surprises. it's not being able to get a van registered or obtain a driver's license after sitting in the waiting room for half a day. it's trying to figure out transportation for the girls in this automobile-dominated area. it's discovering about $1700 of unexpected auto repairs -- in a week. it's having reimbursement checks held at the bank when large bills (mostly related to moving) are coming due. it's running into obstacles in starting the new church, from the expense of possible sites to the lack of key bits of information. this morning, it was taking a hard fall in the shower, and gimping around for the rest of the day with an ice pack on my back. i'll admit that i don't always handle the challenges with grace; for instance, i've been waking up earlier than i intend to, and can't get back to sleep.

that's why i'm tempted to say that we're doing well under the circumstances. but as the old joke says, what are we doing under there? as christians, we are invited to live above the circumstances. God doesn't promise that it will all go easily or comfortably -- only that we will still have victory in him.

we know
that God causes all things to work together for good

to those who love God,
to those who are called according to his purpose
romans 8:28

for your sake we are being put to death all day long;

we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

but in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer
through him who loved us

romans 8:36-37

i pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,
so that you will know what is the hope of his calling,

what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints

and what is the surpassing greatness of his power
toward us who believe.

ephesians 1:18-19

Monday, October 01, 2007

crisis of faith

about a month ago, i had a chance to read the time magazine article on mother teresa (find it here). i found it fascinating -- and not a little disturbing. in brief, a book of mother teresa's letters are being published. these letters reveal that despite her public persona, she did not sense the presence of God for nearly 50 years.

the article was not at all what i was expecting. my first reaction was frustration that mother teresa's enemies couldn't leave the memory of this wonderful woman intact. but that was not the case at all. the letters are being published by some within the church who are hoping that she'll eventually be canonized as a saint. they believe that these letters make her faithfulness even more extraordinary, given the agony she endured as she served in this long absence of the felt presence of God. and the article was relatively sympathetic to her plight, especially for a secular publication.

so why did it trouble me? it's not that i think that spiritual leaders should be perfect. on the contrary, i think it essential that christian leaders be transparent about their struggles and even their sin. people don't need perfect leaders. they need leaders who can demonstrate how broken, sinful human beings can trust in a perfectly faithful, loving God.

but a leader who has a very different public face from his or her private experience is problematic. isn't it an issue of integrity? why not just admit that her long hours in prayer and decades of service to God had not kept her from struggling to connect with him? did any of her confessors give her this counsel? i doubt that very many people would have thought less of her or her amazing ministry.

but as i acknowledged in a facebook note, i'm probably not in a great position to critique mother teresa. her courage, perseverance, and radical service to jesus are both an encouragement and a challenge to me. and if my life has a fraction of the impact hers did, i'll consider myself blessed indeed.

then the King will say to those on his right, 'come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. for i was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; i was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; i was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; i was sick, and you visited me; i was in prison, and you came to me.'

then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? 'and when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? 'when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?'

the King will answer and say to them, 'truly i say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.'

matthew 25:31-40

Thursday, September 27, 2007

cross cultures: the outcome

the actual reaction: the new girl replies, "i don't have anything to say to you," then turns and walks away.

at home, the new girl relates the events of the day. her insightful mother gently suggests that perhaps something else was going on in that interaction. maybe they were trying to figure out something about you -- specifically, do you identify yourself as black? together with that, perhaps they were (as some of you commenters suggested) trying to start a conversation, albeit in a clumsy and unpleasant way. if the theory were true, the new girl had inadvertently confirmed their worst fears. might it be worth going back to ask them about their intention?

not surprisingly, the new girl is not so sure. she's been through a lot of transitions lately, and it seems like everything is difficult. why set yourself up for rejection? but the next day, she confronts the other girls and asks: is shoving me your way of trying to get to know me? answer: no. and yet somehow, the conversation is able to flow in a more positive direction, and everyone ends up friendly (not quite friends, yet) towards one another.

what do i learn from all of this?
  • the cw about transitions (especially in high school) is true -- they can be hard and painful, and i'm not sure if there's a way around that.
  • understanding one another across cultures can be a treacherous business. my own interpretation of the first event was that they were trying to see if the new girl was an easy mark, or if, instead, she'd stand up for herself. i probably would've gotten into a fight that day. good thing the new girl's mom is sharper than that!
  • engaging in relationships across cultures takes courage and determination. misunderstandings are a given. can we recover? are we willing to risk rejection (and maybe our physical safety) to build bridges of trust and rapport?
the new girl has had much to deal with in her new surroundings. it makes her sad a lot of the time. hopefully, the joy is on the way.

hear, o Lord, and be gracious to me;
o Lord, be my helper

you have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness
that my soul may sing praise to you and not be silent
psalm 30:10-12

Thursday, September 20, 2007

cross cultures

imagine: you're the new girl, a tenth grader at an unfamiliar high school. it's a difficult first couple of weeks -- a wrong bus assignment, a class schedule mistake, and predictably, no friends. you dread lunch; you're always eating around lots of people, but always alone.

the school is predominantly white, but you're not. in fact, people can't quite figure out what you are ethnically. i guess being chilack (half chinese, half black) isn't a category for a lot of people.

about three weeks into the school year, someone shoves you in the back. you turn around to find two black girls, one of whom says, "sorry i bumped into you -- it was an accident." her friend quickly interjects, "no, it wasn't." after hemming and hawing, the first girl admits that it wasn't an accident, then asks rather crossly, "why don't you ever talk to us?"

how do you react? why? if you're willing, post your response as a comment.

the real life reaction and resolution -- in the next blog entry.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

my girls

i've got sunshine on a cloudy day
when it's cold outside, i've got the month of may
i guess you'd say
what can make me feel this way?
my girls

some of you have been asking how b and n are faring in the pnw. the short answer is that they're doing fine, though the adjustments to life here have not always been pleasant or easy. challenges abound.

early on, they were just happy to be back in the u.s., but they pretty quickly discovered that life here would be different than what they had grown used to in montreal. a key difference they face every day is that public transit here just isn't very good. that means a lot of waiting around to be ferried from place to place by mom and dad -- and sometimes, getting trapped at home. in montreal, that monthly bus/metro pass meant almost unlimited freedom for them; they could get to anywhere on the island without us. the loss of independence has been painful.

they've also found that friendships develop slowly in a new location, especially at their age and stage, and perhaps because of the accumulation of these difficult situations, i sometimes wonder if they are a bit more withdrawn and less willing to take risks in meeting new people.

n's first couple of weeks at kentridge high have been pretty lonely and sad. the experience was not helped by a couple of mistakes that the school made -- assigning her to the wrong bus (resulting in a missed bus and a 2.5 mile walk home on day one) and putting the wrong lunch period on her schedule (which led to her being late to french twice on that same day!). academically, she is in a wait-and-see mode; she ended up in the honors pod, but she doesn't know if she really likes it yet. there are lots of assignments, but i don't know that she finds many of them interesting or challenging. they're just a lot of work. she is still trying to find friends in class, and seems to get along better with the students who are a year or two older. on friday of this past week, she finally met a lunch buddy, which made all of us happy.

b has not yet started classes at bellevue community college, but there has been a lot of anxiety about registering for classes (she had to register last, leaving her with few options and creating the need to 'crash' some classes she wants) and about transportation. bcc is about 30 minutes from our house without traffic (more like 45-60 minutes during most times of the day), and public transit is a cumbersome option (3-4 bus transfers and a 90-120 minute trip each way). the plan is that i will drive her, then head to the office (conveniently in bellevue). between classes, she'll study, complete assignments, and maybe volunteer at jubilee reach, a christian non-profit aimed at empowering the 'underserved' communities in bellevue. i think it'll work, but it's going to make for some long days for both of us. hopefully, she'll be learning to drive soon. in the meantime, she's working on university applications and studying for her sat subject tests.

lest all of the news seem hard and negative, b and n have been finding some new joys here. one of the more surprising and delightful to me is that they've become really wonderful babysitters. they genuinely enjoy small children, and i think that's part of the reason that so many of the little ones love to spend time with them. it's fun to watch them care for and entertain their small friends -- and it's hard not to be proud of them.

i've got so much honey the bees envy me
i've got a sweeter song than the birds in the trees
well, i guess you'd say
what can make me feel this way?
my girls

they've also found plenty of new interests since we got here, including, but not limited to:
there's more, but that's enough to give you the flavor of their lives these days. i pray for them often, and would appreciate if you did the same.

i don't need no money, fortune, or fame
i've got all the riches baby one man can claim
i guess you'd say
what can make me feel this way?
my girls

Thursday, September 13, 2007

reflections on dawson

exactly a year ago today, an angry, alienated young man entered dawson college in downtown montreal and started shooting. before the gunman took his own life, 20 were injured and one student was dead. it was a grim reminder that evil is real, that life is fragile, and that security cannot be guaranteed by human effort.

it was a horrible day. many students escaped and ran from the campus in all directions , spreading terrifying, confusing, and sometimes contradictory accounts of what was happening. some of them ran down to our girls' high school, just blocks away; the school was immediately locked down as a result. the cell phone network was overloaded, so it was impossible to know if loved ones were safe or trapped, dead or alive. downtown was completely shutdown and the area blocked off. students had a hard time getting home, as the chaos wreaked havoc with the public transportation system.

the incident was similar enough to a previous school shooting rampage in montreal to evoke the pain, fear, and anger of that experience all over again. and it raised the same difficult questions for those who believe in God: can God really be good if he doesn't stop evil? or is he not able to stop it?

oh that my head were waters
and my eyes a fountain of tears,
that i might weep day and night
for the slain of the daughter of my people!
jeremiah 9:1

and yet in the midst of the horror and carnage, events here and there revealed the best in humanity. one young man risked his own life to confront the shooter and intercede for the life of a young woman who had been shot and eventually died. a mother physically covered her injured daughter during the shooting, literally offering to take the bullet for her. thousands of students grieved together, comforted one another, and determined to live their lives with purpose and courage. is this not the image of God, if only as a cloud the size of a man's hand?

sin has thoroughly marred the imprint of God on this world; there is no created thing it has not touched and distorted in some way. but the imprint remains. and all around us, even in the most distressing and evil situations, he is yet revealing himself -- and will until that final day.

then i saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. and i saw the holy city, new jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. and i heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he will dwell among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be among them. and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain...."
revelation 21:1-4

Monday, September 10, 2007

a difficult adjustment

a lot of people have asked about the transition from montreal to the seattle area, and i always tell them that it's been slow and bumpy. it's a big change moving from the urban, french-styled, public transit world of montreal to the mountainous, heavily-forested, car-based culture of the seattle area. from n's first day at school (difficult) to keeping up with all of the required paperwork for our house to repainting and furnishing our home, it seems that every task is a challenge.

but the really difficult adjustment for me personally is switching to a windows xp laptop after over a decade as a mac user. i know that the two user interfaces probably have more in common than they ever have and that with all of the cross-platform applications available, it might be easier than in years past to make such a move. but i've found it's still not a simple task. my admiration for my friend and computer genius j, who made this switch several years ago, grows with each passing day. i already knew he was smarter than i am; i'm just being reminded how much smarter he is!

one task that's been particularly annoying has been transferring e-mail, calendar, and contact data. on the mac, i was using microsoft entourage. i've never been terribly partial to microsoft, but a church friend gave me a copy of office (which includes entourage) as a gift, and given the fact that palm desktop is an aging program with little support and that i'd probably be switching to windows for my new job, i figured it would make the transition easier. so even though it was a pain, i converted all of my data from palm desktop to entourage. after all, migrating from one microsoft program to another (outlook on the windows side) should be simple enough. at least, that's what i figured.

that has turned out to be a heinous miscalculation. entourage does export all of my data in one easy command -- but into a format that outlook can't import. i was incredulous. wouldn't microsoft want users to switch from the mac to windows? i'm guessing the answer must be 'yes,' but they sure aren't making it easy! for now, i'm considering alternative personal information managers.

i'm also looking for replacements for other frequently used programs -- a usenet news reader, an rss aggregator, a personal finance application, Bible software. if any of you windows users/advocates have suggestions, i'm all ears. please, please, PLEASE help!

i'm bound and determined to learn windows, but the experience isn't converting my heart or my mind. :-(

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

family news

with the passing of labor day, summer is officially over and we are into the fall. the days are growing shorter -- seattle is at roughly the same latitude as montreal, yielding the same long days in the summer and long nights in the winter -- and the workdays are getting longer, with meetings in the morning with church staff and meetings in the evenings with church volunteers! it'll be nice when our church launches and we're able to have an office closer to our home.

in other news, n has started at kentridge high, and the jury is still out. her first day was a difficult one. her printed schedule was wrong, causing her to be late to the same class twice in one day (!), and her bus assignment was wrong. by the time she made her way through the long line to get it fixed, she had missed her bus and ended up walking 2 1/2 miles home. at least it was a beautiful day weather-wise. subsequent days have been better, though you can continue to pray for her. i don't know if she's really made any friends yet.

because bellevue community college starts in late september, b doesn't even have her schedule yet. in the meantime, she's been working an odd job with friend and real estate agent b, who has her prepping homes for sale by cleaning and staging them. pretty cool.

m has been helping vision and plan for the new church and handling most of the settling in at our house. she recently had some of the carpets cleaned, and she's been coordinating the delivery of the furniture she purchased. hopefully by today, most of the public areas will be furnished. we're still looking for replacement bedroom furniture for ourselves and a desk chair for n. we're also beginning to return a lot of borrowed items and to give away furniture and other things that just don't fit.

other stuff is on-going: resolving issues with the canadian revenue agency and our moving company, getting cars registered, getting licenses changed, figuring out how to get things in our home repaired, and more. but things are getting settled a step at a time. your prayers are appreciated.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

this is the truth

in the introduction to his message on sunday, pastor w played a powerful and provocative video as a part of his message entitled 'how can i overcome self-defeating attitudes?' it's only 3 minutes long and well worth a viewing. take a look at it here.

obviously, it is clever and artfully done — the kind of thing i love. but my experience of seeing it for the first time was illuminating. i found that many of the messages in the video were actually quite familiar, as if i had heard them many times before. in fact, i'm sure that i have.

it's a funny thing. when the video started playing, i knew instantly that it didn't sound right. some of that is context — why would w want us to hear something so negative? — but mostly, i've read and studied and meditated on the word of God long enough to recognize the voice of the enemy (hebrews 5:14).

so why is it that i sometimes allow such thoughts to rattle around in my head unchallenged? they're so familiar that they seem commonplace, even normal. and that's evil.

"the safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
(c.s. lewis,
the screwtape letters)

though we walk in the flesh,
we do not war according to the flesh,
for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh,
but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
we are destroying speculations
and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God,
and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

(2 corinthians 10:3-5)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

settling in

after a huge road trip like the one we took, ordinary life can seem a little mundane. but we are settling into our new home and learning to find our way around.

b and n got registered for school yesterday. it now appears that b will be a part of a program called running start, which will enable her to take at least some (maybe all) of her classes at a local community college. with school offices (both the one locally and the one in montreal) open only intermittently during the summer, this was a long time coming, and we're grateful to have it done.

all of us have been doing a bit of unpacking, though we are only partially done due to the late arrival of our shipment (delayed ten days from what we had been told). we're also hoping to do a bit of painting, which makes it hard to be very motivated to unpack.

m has been shopping for furniture, an important thing to do since we left about half of our furniture back in montreal and regardless, were moving from a smallish apartment to an actual house. she has also put the finishing touches on our final inter-varsity prayer letter — a milestone.

in addition to getting settled into my office and preaching my first sermon at lighthouse, i've been settling various financial concerns — past, present, and future. the exit from canada has not been entirely smooth, and i am still embroiled in a conflict with the canadian revenue agency over a form that i filed late. even though they agree that i didn't owe any money, they have fined me $3000. i'm trying to appeal, but our accounting firm on that end said it didn't look good. i know that one of the costs of being a missionary is running into these kinds of problems, where you don't understand all of the rules in another country, but i have to say that those guys aren't very… hospitable. otherwise, i am opening bank accounts, setting up payments, filling out tax forms, and the like. on a lighter note, i've also been working on setting up the computer network, a/v, and such in our home.

we are facing a busy week. early this morning, b left for campus by the sea on catalina island, where she'll be a camp counselor at intervarsity's alumni week. later today, we have stanford friends visiting. on monday, we'll host s and d, our first visitors from montreal, and tuesday, cousin t will come up from southern california for a couple of weeks. at the end of the week, m and i will participate in the willow creek leadership summit.

more news as it's available. in the meantime, we would appreciate your prayers during our busy transition.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

the view from here

these were taken from our front doorstep, roughly the same view as from our dining room window. i'm partial to sunsets, but as you can see, the view is beautiful, even at night. it's a panoramic worship aid!

o, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence…

that the nations may tremble at your presence!

isaiah 64:1-2

Thursday, July 19, 2007

a dream that must come true

[as i finished up this blog entry, i was painfully aware of how personal it is and of how offensive or divisive it could be. not everyone — not even all christians — will agree with me. i'm willing to dialogue about that and consider the thoughtful objections of others, and i hope you are. let's talk.]

as chronicled in an earlier post, our recent road trip took us through atlanta in late june, where we made a visit to the martin luther king jr. historic site. i had been once before and thought that it would be an important, thought-provoking place for our family to explore together. i was not disappointed.

it was a day of mixed emotions and deep reflection for me. i was inspired by the courage of those who had risked their jobs, their reputations, their lives and those of their families, in the pursuit of justice (though admittedly a bit uneasy with the family part). i was challenged by their commitment to non-violence in the face of savage opposition, which reminded me of Jesus who when reviled did not revile in return, nor did he exercise his considerable power to destroy his enemies but instead, laid down his life for them. could i do what they did? i had my doubts — my first inclination is to make as few waves as possible and to look after what's best for me and my family — and felt ashamed of my selfishness and fear. where is the valor that comes from faith in a God who loves the world and does the impossible? i grieved at the recollection of the awful things that one group of people inflicted on another because of race and the desire to preserve their own privileged position; if anyone has reservations about the reality of sin and evil, do an internet search of 'lynching' and get back to me. i wondered about my family's experience of those times; i was born in the early 60s and my family is from the american south. how did we respond when churches were being bombed and children were being murdered, when race riots were exploding and cities were spontaneously combusting?

i found myself in tears at many of the exhibits. the site has a variety of displays with photos, newspaper articles, and video running on television screens — images and audio of the angry, hateful words of white bigots, of the memories of blacks who endured those years, of race riots and calls (both black and white) to racial warfare, of dr. king himself, his resonant voice making impassioned pleas for equality, racial justice, and non-violence on one monitor, and denouncing the u.s. government and calling for a massive redistribution of wealth on another. the one made my soul soar; the other made me squirm uncomfortably. my brain and heart were overloading; race relations, economics, military power, national security, and foreign policy — all one giant web of interconnected issues. i'm not sure i even view that constellation in a coherent way, much less a christian one.

i realized how conflicted i felt when i went to the display where they invite visitors to leave a note of reflection. i read the words of others — sobered, thankful, questioning — and i was full of thoughts. but i just couldn't write anything down. i was all over the emotional map, and my words seemed feeble and inadequate. i was appalled and revulsed by the history of the country that i love. i was grateful for the fortitude and sacrifice of those people, from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, who put their lives on the line in the hope of change. i was embarrassed by my ignorance and self-centeredness. i was amazed by how far we've come as a nation — america is certainly a different place than it was even fifty years ago — but disheartened by the on-going power of racialization and prejudice (both personal and systemic), the wide disparities they produce in opportunities and outcomes, and the reluctance of majority culture americans to recognize them. that discouragement is exacerbated by the fact that some on the underside seem unwilling to step up, resigned to their plight, while others revel in cultural elements that perpetuate many of these problems. to quote aunt ruby from tyler perry's regrettable movie version of madea's family reunion — "is this what we paid for?"

and when i look at american society and government in 2007, i wonder if our generation has the courage and determination to tackle such problems. to be honest, it looks doubtful. substantive debate on real issues is hard to come by. politicians are reduced to sound bites and talking points derived from focus groups; do any of these people have real principles or convictions of their own anymore? and i think we have to accept some of the responsibility for their shallowness; do we have the patience to think critically about intractable social problems, the willingness to face hard choices, and the courage to make great sacrifices anymore?

inspiration. vision. fear. doubt. grief. disgust. hope. discouragement. impossibly complicated problems. heroic sacrifices.

to me, an american with southern roots, a man of chinese descent with a black wife and biracial children, these are not abstract issues. they are personal and real. and as a follower of Jesus, i know that he intends a better world than this one. the word of God says he's planning on it — a world where people are not confined by race or gender, where they have the freedom and resources to exercise their God-given gifts to his glory and to bear his image in the world without the debilitating effects of sin. what will it mean for me — for all of us who have committed ourselves to him— to follow him there?

doesn't God have anything to say about the great problems of our day? surely he does! shouldn't the church be leading the way — in repentance, in love and service, in public policy, in moral vision, in personal sacrifice?

there is neither
jew nor greek,
slave nor free,
male nor female.
we are all one in Christ Jesus.
galatians 3:28

if my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then i will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 chronicles 7:14

then i saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. and i saw the holy city, new jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. and i heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and he will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and he will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.
revelation 21:1-4

Monday, July 16, 2007

a new home

the good news is that we are living in our new house. after three years in a tiny apartment in montreal, having our own place is a treat. m and i often sit at the dining room window, which features views of the valley that are beautiful any time of the day or night. and the extra space feels very luxurious!

of course, that feeling is accentuated by the fact that there is very little furniture here (just a few items the seller left). the shipment of our things from montreal has been delayed by 10 days, and given our experience with this moving company (described by b as 'sleazy'), i can imagine it taking a lot longer than that. for the time being, we're camping out on air mattresses, eating on paper plates, and starting to furnish the place with loaner items from generous friends at the lighthouse. the process of getting phone, internet, and garbage service has been frustratingly slow, but hopefully we'll have all of that nailed down this week.

there is still a bit of work to finish up with inter-varsity, but we've spent much of the last week getting acclimated to the new ministry environment. last week, i attended a leadership meeting (with the elders and the ministry area directors) on tuesday, had a breakfast meeting with pastor w on thursday, and introduced the family at the ministry community meeting on saturday. yesterday, we attended both worship services, then went up the hill to a delicious korean bbq at the home of d and k, who were hosting their small group for lunch.

i feel like there is a word about 'home' that will come out of this, but it's still percolating. for now, we're glad to be here, even if it's one of those already-but-not-yet kind of things.

Monday, July 09, 2007

the end and the beginning

we left medford early on july 8, and drove out to the gorgeous oregon coast. we arrived around 1pm at the tillamook cheese factory, where we waded through a sea of humanity, people from all over the country, who were there eating and learning about cheese! after unloading at a hotel in nearby garibaldi (and taking a much needed nap), we actually returned to the factory for a bit of ice cream, before heading up the coast to watch the sunset at rockaway beach (specifically, at the access by st. mary's by the sea). it was beautiful — and cold. in spite of the fact that temperatures in central oregon were peaking into the 90sF/33C, it was cool (65F/18C) and very windy. we enjoyed the sunset, then hiked back to the car to defrost!

today, i was awakened early by a phone call from montreal. apparently, they were missing (lost?) the paperwork that would allow our possessions to cross the border. since we were out at the coast, there just wasn't much in terms of office equipment, but after about two hours of various attempts, we were able to get the needed forms to them. nothing is ever easy in a transition.
later, we drove up the coast to cannon beach. it is a beautiful spot, but on this day, it was also cold, windy, and foggy. we took a walk on the beach there, but rapidly retired to mo's for lunch, then continued our journey, eventually turning eastward along the columbia river.

we arrived in issaquah, wa around 7pm, in time for a delicious korean meal with b and n who are hosting us here. actually, n has moved out to create space for us — a generous act that made me feel pangs of regret; we hadn't intended for that to happen (it didn't the last time we visited). tomorrow, we hope to sign on the house, and to close by the end of this week. tomorrow evening, i'll attend my first elders meeting at the lighthouse.

here are some of the statistics from our road trip:
  • distance traveled — 5427 miles/8734 kilometres
  • days total — 20
  • number of hotels/motels — 3 (a total of four nights)
  • van breakdowns — 3 (two in new mexico, one along the arizona/california border)
  • hottest spot — mojave desert, 112F/44C
  • coldest spot — oregon coast, 65F (but seemingly much colder with the tremendous wind
and so we come to the end of one journey, and the beginning of another. i will be completing many 'lasts' for inter-varsity this month — my last prayer letter, my last expense reports, and the like. to do so is a sorrowful thing, the end of something wonderful. even so, it's hard not to be excited about the road that God has laid out in front of us. like our recent road trip, i do not expect it to be the straightest or most efficient route; it is likely to include some surprises and even brushes with danger. but i am confident that God is with us, leading the way into (what for us is) uncharted territory: this new frontier of church planting. pray for us when you remember — the adventure is just beginning!

at first, i saw God as my observer,
my judge,
keeping track of the things i did wrong,
so as to know whether i merited heaven
or hell when i die.
he was out there sort of like a president.
i recognized his picture when i saw it,
but i really didn't know him.

but later on
when i met Christ,
it seemed as though life was rather like a bike ride,
but it was a tandem bike,
and i noticed that Christ
was in the back helping me pedal.

i don't know just when it was
that he suggested we change places,
but life has not been the same since.

when i had control,
i knew the way.
it was rather boring,
but predictable…
it was the shortest distance between two points.

but when he took the lead,
he knew delightful long cuts,
up mountains,
and through rocky places
at breakneck speeds,
it was all i could do to hang on!
even though it looked like madness,
he said, "pedal!"

i worried and was anxious
and asked,
"where are you taking me?"
he laughed and didn't answer,
and i started to learn to trust.

i forgot my boring life
and entered into the adventure.
and when i'd say, "i'm scared,"
he'd lean back and touch my hand.

he took me to people with gifts that i needed,
gifts of healing,
and joy.
they gave me gifts to take on my journey,
my Lord's and mine.

and we were off again.
he said, "give the gifts away;
they're extra baggage, too much weight."
so i did,
to the people we met,
and i found that in giving i received,
and still our burden was light.

i did not trust him,
at first,
in control of my life.
i thought he'd wreck it;
but he knows bike secrets,
knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners,
knows how to jump to clear high rocks,
knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.

and i am learning to shut up
and pedal
in the strangest places,
and i'm beginning to enjoy the view
and the cool breeze on my face
with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.

and when i'm sure i just can't do anymore,
he just smiles and says… "pedal."

"the road of life" (author unknown)
from holy sweat by tim hansel

Saturday, July 07, 2007

a hundred times as much

on july 5, we arrived in san jose in the mid-afternoon, with nothing special to report (thankfully). we stayed in my parents’ home, even though they were out of town (in arkansas for a wedding). it was an unfortunate quirk of the schedule that they were away during the two nights we were in town, but we were thankful to have such a luxurious home base in the bay area.

after a quick lunch and nap, m and i continued on to san bruno, where we gathered with some of my old stanford classmates to celebrate 80 years of marriage — that’s 4 couples x 20 years, as all four couples got married in 1987. because we’ve lived far apart (h and a in places like france, hong kong, and belgium, we in canada), it was the first time we'd been together in years. c and n hosted us all in their newly remodeled home — a stylish two-story with a view of the bay and the airport. absolutely beautiful. it was a joy to see each other, exchange stories, and discover how much everyone's kids have grown! afterward, i found myself thoughtful about how our lives have turned out some 20+ years after graduation — the purposes to which we’ve given ourselves, what we’ve accomplished and what we’re still seeking, possible roads that were not taken.

the next day, we had a leisurely morning before heading over to j and j's in los gatos for an informal get together with family and friends. it was an all day affair — eating, swimming in the pool, and a whole lot of getting caught up with one another. among the highlights were getting in some time with family (especially my nephews and nieces) and visits from friends c and r from crossroads bible church (my home and sending church of 23 years), m (an intervarsity staff friend who brought his four children), and former ssu intervarsity student r, who (along with her 3 boys) surprised us in the driveway as we drove up! later that evening, we spent some quieter time catching up with j and j, who hosted and arranged the day; what a blessing they have been (and continue to be) to us.

early on the morning of july 7 (b's 17th birthday!), we continued our northward trek. we had made plans to stay with the n family (good friends and supporters) in medford, or. little did we know that it would mean staying in one of the most amazing homes we’ve ever seen — a 5,000 square foot wonder designed and built by c, who did the remodel on our home in berkeley nearly a decade ago. it was lovely, wonderfully functional, and nicely appointed; once again, God had arranged unusually pleasant accommodations. we had hoped to catch a play at the shakespeare festival in nearby ashland, but we arrived later than we intended, and after doing a bit of research on ticket availability, decided to spend the evening with our friends — a divine appointment, i think. after a delicious home cooked meal, we went for a walk in the oregon countryside, played football, soccer, and frisbee on the lawn, and enjoyed warm fellowship together. their kids were much more grown up than the last time we saw them, and every bit as delightful.

as we near the conclusion of our trip, we have marveled at the hospitality of the many people who have hosted us along the way. they have opened their homes (some large, some more modest) to welcome us. they made space in their schedules to spend unhurried time with us and have generally gone out of their way for us. we have played and prayed together; they have have given themselves. i’ve never been what some would call 'wealthy,' but all of these folks make me feel rich — and blessed of God. we belong to such a big, diverse, generous family! i know i shouldn’t be surprised, given that all of this is the fulfillment of Jesus’ own words. his promise is true.

Jesus said,
"truly i say to you,
there is no one who has left
house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms,
for my sake and for the gospel’s sake,
but that he will receive a hundred times as much
now in the present age,
houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms,
along with persecutions;
and in the age to come, eternal life."

mark 10:29-30

Thursday, July 05, 2007

a quiet return to california

after the excitement in the desert, we arrived in culver city, home to m’s aunt r and her family. on the way in, we picked up delicious food at the locally-renowned tito’s tacos, one of our favorite take out spots. after a much-needed lunch (we tried not to stop in the mojave desert, which was under an ‘excessive heat watch’), the girls splashed around in pool with cousin t, while the adults spent some time catching up.

yesterday, we celebrated our first fourth of july in a few years. it was a low-key day, with family and lots of good food, but nothing like fireworks or the previously planned soccer game (to which we were unable to obtain tickets). combined with the realization that our schedule wouldn’t allow n to go outlet shopping today, i think that was a bit of a bummer for both girls. but it was nice to catch up with family we haven’t seen for a while, including m’s cousins k and m, her uncle m, and her grandmother (‘mumma’).

we also said goodbye to michele’s mom p, who joined us on the trip across the south, from herndon, va to culver city. as you can imagine, she's a pretty good sport to put up with all of us for over 3,000 miles in a minivan! it was a treat to have her along.

today, we got out early and had breakfast in westlake village with the s family; it was a treat to see their new home and partake of a delicious breakfast cooked up expertly by w. we were also treated to a brief piano recital (chopin!) by a. wish we’d had longer to catch up.

we took us-101 north, a drive that b described as her favorite. it’s slower, but cooler and more beautiful than the oft-traveled interstate 5. the van was rock solid, thank God. the weather in this part of the world is gorgeous, and we’ve enjoyed being surrounded by the mountains again.

as the mountains surround jerusalem
so the Lord surrounds his people…

surround us, Lord
surround us, Lord
we need to be in your presence
surround us, Lord

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Lord, we are completely dependent on you…"

it was a simple statement of fact — not the kind of bargaining that people sometimes try when they want God to answer a prayer and somehow imagine that if they kowtow enough, he’ll be pleased. when that happens, one can discern something in the way that it gets said, something that is hoping that God will be favorably impressed by a show of deference.

but this was different. we were stuck on the side of the road just outside of kingman, az, in 110F/43C heat. the van had given out, just after we’d finished cresting a hill. there were no prior indicators of trouble on today’s drive, though it was obviously similar to what we experienced in new mexico. and we began to pray.

i think for some of us, there was something disheartening about encountering the same problem again, after God had seemingly already miraculously won that victory. but it was also familiar ground, territory that had been ‘taken’ before. and as we prayed, b very matter-of-factly acknowledged, “Lord, we are completely dependent on you.” it wasn’t an attempt to manipulate God, still less false humility (the kind of thing that gets said because it sounds right); we all agreed as soon as we heard it. being broken down in the middle of the mojave desert has a way of clarifying these things, if they weren’t sufficiently clear already.

since you’re reading this, you have probably already inferred that the prayer was answered positively. within about 15 minutes, we were back on the road to los angeles and a visit with m’s mother’s side of the family. we are expecting to arrive in the mid-afternoon, after a relatively early 6:30am start. when we get there, i do hope to have the van looked at, not an automatic with the independence day holiday coming tomorrow.

but the thing that’s really on my mind is what God has for us in all of this. m has been a prayer warrior for a long time, the kind of person who lives through prayer and wins victories there. i pray and on occasion, have received amazing answers from God; but i have to confess that i don’t think that i’ve done the heavy lifting in prayer in many areas of life (preaching and worship leading being notable exceptions). and i believe that, among other things, God wants me to learn to take and hold territory in prayer. i have been the long-term beneficiary of an intercessor wife and dozens of other prayer warriors who have upheld me, our family, and the various ministries in which we’ve been involved. but i have had the sense for a couple of months (at minimum) that God is opening the door for me to take this next step in learning to live by faith.

i’m not so self-centered as to think that all of this is for my benefit only. i know that there is something that God is giving to my daughters in this — in m’s modeling, in my taking hold of what he is offering, in their own concrete dependence on him, and in the experience of his powerful, miraculous response. you think that there might be something he has in this for my mother-in-law as well? ☺

a special ‘shout out’ to those of you who are interceding for us: thank you for keeping us in prayer. day by day, i am reminded that this is about more than getting to the seattle area safely (though that is a concern!). as always, it’s also about how God is shaping and meeting us, calling us into a deeper dependence on him and into a more profound confidence that he will always come through for us. we really do seek and find our life in him.

now it came about after this that the sons of moab and the sons of ammon, together with some of the meunites, came to make war against jehoshaphat. then some came and reported to jehoshaphat, saying, “a great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, out of aram and behold, they are in hazazon-tamar (that is engedi).”

jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all judah. so judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD; they even came from all the cities of judah to seek the LORD. then jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of judah and jerusalem, in the house of the LORD before the new court, and he said, “o LORD, the God of our fathers, are you not God in the heavens? and are you not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? power and might are in your hand so that no one can stand against you. did you not, o our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people israel and give it to the descendants of abraham your friend forever? they have lived in it, and have built you a sanctuary there for your name, saying, ‘should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you (for your name is in this house) and cry to you in our distress, and you will hear and deliver us.’ now behold, the sons of ammon and moab and mount seir, whom you did not let israel invade when they came out of the land of egypt (they turned aside from them and did not destroy them), see how they are rewarding us by coming to drive us out from your possession which you have given us as an inheritance. o our God, will you not judge them? for we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

2 chronicles 20:1-12

then sings my soul

our trip to the grand canyon was wonderful, but far too brief. we surveyed the canyon from the south rim, getting probably 10 different vantage points. what’s hard to imagine is its sheer size — 277 river miles long, roughly a mile deep (from rim to river), 10-18 miles across. we had the privilege of being there from mid-afternoon until nightfall, allowing us to watch the lengthening and shifting shadows that ‘remake’ the canyon throughout the afternoon, highlighting different textures and features of the topography, and even altering the color composition of the landscape. we were at grandview and moran point as the sun finally sank into the horizon — a beautiful sight that i tried to capture with a game but woefully overmatched digital pocket camera; this was the kind of setting that cried out for an industrial-strength camera, a tripod, and someone with the expertise to use them!

one thing that caught me by surprise was the diversity of the crowd, gathered from all four corners of the earth to see one of the true wonders of the natural world. from lunch time until we left, i know that i heard people speaking spanish, french, german, portuguese, and several languages i couldn’t identify. we saw buses full of tourists from asia; we encountered many folks from latin america. and we ended up in longer conversations with a family from reston, va (near where m’s sister and her family have been living for the last year and expect to return to in a few years), a college philosophy professor (an expert in existentialism) from baltimore, and a family from bothell (in the seattle area, not far from where we’ll be church planting). all of them were enjoying a taste of the awesome wonder that our souls crave, a hint of the beauty for which we were intended.

if there was a downside to our visit, it was not having enough time to hear the ranger talks, hike or ride into the canyon, or go on one of the many interesting tours (including a visit to exposed fossil beds, explorations of the animal and plant life in the canyon, and an examination of the formation of the canyon). we hadn’t even left the rim of the canyon before different ones of us were already saying that we need to come back to see more!

o lord my God
when i in awesome wonder
consider all the worlds thy hands hath made…

then sings my soul
my savior, God, to thee
how great thou art!

(translated from "how great thou art" by carl boberg)