Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ashley and Our Big Decision--Four Years Later

Last week I turned 50. Unbelievable, bizarre, mind has been swirling with memories, thoughts, feelings, questions, what-if's, questions and hopes. I'm feeling a stronger sense of urgency to try and do some things.

And I'm feeling even more the pull to write, so for probably the 37th time, I'm going to try to get back into blogging regularly.

I've got 50 years worth of stories now, and I want to write more, especially for my children.

Of everything I have done, and have in the world, nothing compares to my family. Jamie and I have been married for 11 1/2 years now, and we are still working to figure out how to grow and improve our marriage. We've had our struggles, but I love her, and appreciate her, and enjoy the life we are building together.

The biggest blessing in my life is our three children. Because of the age difference, I get to experience very different relationships with them. Ashley is 19, and just finished her first year of college. She was younger than Cash is now (7), when she first came into my life.

I loved being her second dad, and experiencing all the wonders of growing up with her. I am often baffled at how fast the time went--how 4500 days could have come and gone, almost like a blur.

She has turned out to be a wonderful, brilliant, fun, faithful young lady. She is easy to love and enjoy. We have a great, easy, honest relationship. We communicate well and I love being around her.

She doesn't really need (or want) too much parenting anymore. She's a grown-up. In six months she'll be 20. TWENTY. An age without a "teen" at the end.

In August she'll get on a plane, without Jamie or me, and go to the other side of the world. Spain. "It's this whole other country." (name the movie reference?)

That's pretty grown up.

But she's been pretty grown up in some ways for a long time. Four years ago our family was at a crossroads. I had been substitute teaching and umpiring baseball for two years, looking for full-time work. I applied to dozens of places in Virginia, and had flown out to Washington twice on job hunting expeditions.

Finally, in March of 2011, a great opportunity came along. I interviewed and was offered a job to teach English in a private school in Virginia. We were thrilled and relieved. But I had already planned a trip to Washington and had a few interviews lined up, so I went through with it.

We had been talking about moving to Washington for years. I fell in love with it when we came out to visit several times. Jamie didn't really wanted to move back when I first brought it up, but she came around over the years.

By 2011, she had done a complete turnaround and was almost desperate to move back home to Washington. Her best friend died a few years earlier, and she longed to get back to her family and friends here.

I came out in April that year and interviewed at Logos. Things went well, and I went home to Virginia with job offers in Washington and Virginia.

I loved Washington, and felt a pull to be there; but wasn't eager to leave my family and friends. I had left before--spent ten years in Texas--and had been back in Virginia for nine years. I loved life in Virginia with Jamie and our kids, our first house, our neighborhood with a lake, being close to Mom and Jerry, my friends, season tickets to GMU basketball, and umpiring high school baseball.

And I was excited about getting back into teaching full-time. Teaching in Texas was the best job I ever had. I loved being part of a small faculty, investing in the lives of kids, talking about books and writing every day.

So I was torn; not sure which job to take. Jamie and I talked and talked about how moving would affect our family, especially Ashley, who was finishing her freshman year of high school.

Ashley loved her school, and her soccer team, and after three years of home-schooling, had jumped into big high-school life with great success.

After many conversations, prayers, back-and-forth's and what-if's, we finally felt like we had made a decision. We would stay in Virginia, let Ashley finish high school, then look at moving to Washington again in three years.

Jamie and I sat down with Ashley for one more conversation to go over the decision. We told her what we were thinking. We all talked about the decision, then Ashley said what she'd been thinking.

"I love it here, and I'd love to stay here. But I know how much Mom wants to go to Washington, so I think that's what we should do."

I think at that point the back and forth was over for all of us. We were going to Washington.

I'm still amazed at how thoughtful and selfless Ashley was in that decision. She left her friends, her school, her soccer team; and started over as the new kid in a new school on the other side of the country.

I know it wasn't easy, but she did great. She won lots of academic awards, played soccer, jumped into the youth group at our new church, led worship, worked at kids camps, and made the most of her high school years.

And now she's flourishing in college at UP. She's home for the summer before going to Spain for a semester in August, so I'm going to enjoy as much time with her as I can.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Courage or Cowardice

I've read Facebook comments and blog posts (Matt Walsh comes to mind) that say that Christians who stand up for Gay rights, or marriage equality, or other "liberal" causes are not courageous, but cowardly.

They say that people move toward more open/liberal perspectives because they don't want to go against culture, they want to be accepted, and they don't have the guts to stand up for what is right. They say people are afraid of the persecution that comes with "standing firm for God against culture."

Crap. Total crap.

Over the last 12 years my theology and politics have moved from very far right to pretty far left. Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian had a huge impact on me. It wasn't that his book, and others like it (works by Doug Pagitt, Rob Bell, Pete Rollins) changed my mind--they helped give words and language to the thoughts and questions that were already swirling in my head.

The rigid religion and selectively literal view of the Bible I had grown up with didn't feel right, or authentic, or honest. Brian McLaren (in his books and a few conversations) helped me see my questions and doubts weren't a sign of unfaithfulness, but honest wrestling with God.

Pete Rollins helped me expand my view of God far beyond the tiny, easily manipulated God of the religious right...

Sidebar--Every once in a while you see stuff like this on facebook:

Child: "Dear God, why didn't you save the children at (insert any school shooting)?"

God: "I'm not allowed in schools."

Really? The God of the universe is unable to act because people have removed him from schools? We have that kind of power over God?
Not the God I seek.

OK, back to my topic...

I'm now at a point where some of my beliefs are at odds with conservative evangelical Christianity (marriage equality, homosexuality, hell, war, immigration, death penalty...)

To those who think I (and others) give in to culture on issues like these--realize this: I did not change because it was easier to agree with culture. Just the opposite, it has been incredibly hard to be open and honest about these changes, because this has created differences with people in the culture that I have always been a part of, and where most of my most precious relationships are--the Church.

I don't care what people in the culture at large think of me. I do care what my former pastors, and mentors, and partners in ministry think of me. I hate that some of them are disappointed in me because they think I have "left the faith," or fallen into "false theology."

I have lost opportunities, and at least one job, because I was honest about my open/liberal/progressive beliefs.

I'm not saying I'm courageous--I wish I had the courage to speak out more, and take action for the things I believe (like people such as Jill McCrory, my graduation partner at Leland).

But I certainly don't support my gay friends, and immigrants, and argue against war and the death penalty, and question eternal hell, because that's the easy way. It's not.  I do it because my relationship with God tells me I must be honest about the beliefs and stances that make sense to my understanding of God and His character.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Christmas 2014

It's been a great Christmas season and new year; some highlights...

Spent a fun and tiring Saturday with my father-in-law putting up Christmas lights. I've always been kind of lazy with this; never had a big desire to put up a lot of lights, just to take them down a few weeks later.

But the boys are always asking for us to do more. I realized it was a pretty big deal for them, and Jamie did a great job finding some good deals and adding to the few lights we already had (from Uncle Chad!)

So a few weeks before Christmas Lyle came over and helped me put lights up at our house; then we went to his house and put up lights there.

It was a great day spent with him and decorating our house. The boys were really excited, and it made me feel great to see how proud they were of how our home looked.

Ashley came home after her first semester at the University of Portland, but was only here for a few days before going to Virginia to spend Christmas with her dad and her family there. We're happy for her, but we miss her!

Ashley had a fantastic first semester of college. She took some hard classes--Biology, Chemistry, Philosophy, Theology, Spanish...and still made all As and Bs. We're so proud of her!

The week before Christmas we went to Chad and Linde's, where Jamie's sisters, all our families, and the grandparents all gathered for a big dinner and gift exchange. It was a fun evening, especially watching the kids open their gifts.

Christmas day was fun--we skyped with my parents so they could watch the boys open presents. We had a great day.

Grandma Vicki took the boys New Years' Eve; Jamie and I had a date in--got takeout from the Train Wreck and watched a couple movies; fun evening.

Work is going well, Ashley and the boys are doing great, Seahawks keep winning. The only down side is Ashley goes back to school tomorrow (but we'll see her soon.)

Life is good!

Monday, December 29, 2014

John Hawkins--Humble Leadership

Earlier in the year I began writing about people who have influenced my life.

John Hawkins was a big one. John is the President and CEO of Leadership Edge, Inc. His book Leadership as a Lifestyle is fantastic.

I met John when I moved to Fort Worth in 1992. I was starting seminary, and sought men who could mentor and teach me. John was on staff at Hope Church, doing campus ministry at TCU.

John and I hit it off right away--he was incredibly kind and friendly, always interested in what was going on with me. We often met for lunch or coffee, and he and his wife Janet invited me to wonderful dinners with their family. John is one of the most humble people I've ever known.

We talked about God and ministry and being a man. John would ask thought-provoking questions, and give me nuggets of wisdom to think about it.

The best of his statements always started with, "you see, Todd, the thing about it is..."

The "thing" was always something important for me to think about or work on in my life.

When John started Leadership Edge in 1993, he asked me to do some part-time administrative work for him. Now that I think about it, I was probably LEI's first employee--what an honor!

John had an office set up in a small building in his backyard, and I would go over there two or three days a week to put together mailings, organize John's messages and writings, file, etc.

On our first day, John gave me a little talk before we started:

"Todd, when we get together, we always have great talks, and I enjoy those times. But when we're here, working, we need to focus on the job, not our friendship."

The next time I came over to work, John came into the office. It was pretty early.
John asked if I had had a quiet time yet that morning. I hadn't.

"Let's spend a little time with God before we start working," he said.

We spent the next hour praying, reading Scripture and talking. The administrative work took a back seat.

That's who John is, putting people first--loving, teaching, encouraging, challenging.

Hard to believe that was over twenty years ago. John and I still talk on the phone every couple years, and the wisdom and guidance he gave me in our short time together made a big impact on me as a man, a husband, a father and a friend.

I love you, Brother!

John and his wonderful wife Janet

New Name for Blog

I started blogging about 8 years ago. At the time, I was 41, and chose the name 40-Something Teenager; reflecting the fact that even though I was in my 40s, I still felt like a teenager in many ways.

In five months, however, I will turn 50. I won't be a 40-something anymore. I spent way too much time brainstorming and searching for a new name, and finally gave up trying to be creative. Hence the new name.

2014 has been a great year--fun, adventurous, exhausting, challenging. I am doing some thinking and praying about how to keep going with what is good, and what changes I need to make to deal with challenges and struggles.

Hopefully a new name and some changes in my schedule and priorities will lead to more writing in the coming year.

If you are reading this, it means you are one of the few who stick around, probably hoping I'll say something worth reading again. I'll try!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

End of Fall Sports Season

Last Saturday was the last day of Brady's football season and Cash's soccer season. Both boys had great seasons.

Cash led his soccer team in scoring and was a real leader on the field. I was really proud of how he tried to include teammates. There were many times where he could have scored goals, but instead looked for opportunities to pass the ball and give his teammates a chance to score.

Cash always worked hard in practice, and gave 100%. He is a natural athlete and makes it look easy, but he always did his very best. He has fun playing, which makes it fun to watch him.

Brady finished his second year of football and was also a leader on his team. He was one of the smaller players, but played like a big man. He led his team with 9 touchdowns in 9 games, including 3 in the final game, a playoff game they lost 26-18. Yep, Brady did all their scoring in that game.

He played running back, defensive back, kicker, and kick returner. The only time he ever came off the field was when a game was out of reach and he came out to give younger players time on the field.

At the beginning of the season I told Brady he wouldn't be one of the biggest guys, but he could be the guy who works hardest. That's who Brady became. When the team ran laps, and some players would slack or cut their laps short, Brady always went all out, and tried to finish first.

It was obvious how his coaches appreciated and respected Brady's work ethic and leadership.

Thinking about the boys playing their sports, I can't help but remember how much I love to watch Ashley play soccer. That was a big part of our lives for many years. She was so fun to watch and cheer for. As she recovers from her ACL surgery earlier this year, I hope she'll get back into soccer at some level, and that we get to watch her again soon.

I love that all three of our kids are terrific athletes--but even more, I love that they play hard and work hard and give it their best. I'm a proud papa.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

People #5--Big Sis

I'm writing a series of posts about some of the incredible people who have touched my life...

Elise and I have been friends since college. We met in 1986 at the GMU/NOVA Community College Baptist Student Union. Of all my friends, Elise has probably shown me more patience and grace than anyone.

The truth is, Elise is more like a sister than a friend You can’t dump family; they are yours for life. That’s how it is with Elise and me (not that I would want to dump her!)

We developed a great friendship in college—she really was like a big sister to me. I was a brand new Christian and she taught me about loving God, ministry, serving people. She was my mentor when I was confused, and a shoulder to cry on when I was heartbroken.

She was ALWAYS there, incredibly dependable and supportive.

We both moved to Texas to attend Southwestern Baptist Seminary in the early 90s. I was a pretty self-centered person in those days, and wasn’t a very good friend to Elise, but she was always good to me. I made some pretty bone-headed decisions, and let her down several times, but she never gave up on me and never turned her back on me.

In the late 90s Elise moved back to Virginia. A few years later, I was contemplating moving back to Virginia when Elise asked me to join her in leading the campus ministry we had been a part of in college. As He had done many times, God used Elise in a big way in my life.

I moved back to Virginia, and after several years in different places, our friendship continued. Elise was still a big sister, and a mentor, and the truest of friends.

She guided me in the new ministry, then moved on to other opportunities, as I took over the campus ministry that she had led for several years. We continued to interact in ministry over the years; some of my favorite times were preaching at her church.

Elise is, and has been since I've known her, completely sold out for God and children. She loves all people, but has an incredible heart for children, especially those in need--both in the US, and overseas. Through big projects, mission trips, teaching and training, and in everyday life, she does everything she can to make life better for children.

Elise dreams big, and makes big things happen. I wish I had paid more attention to her dreams and accomplishments over the years, and been more a part of the work she has done with and for children.

Since I’ve moved to Washington, I’ve done a poor job of keeping in touch with Elise. I am able to keep up with her on Facebook frequently. Even though we don’t often talk, I still feel close to her, like you do with family, whether you last talked yesterday or last year.

Monday, April 28, 2014

People #4--Roomie

It's funny how we identify people. Kenny and I lived together for only about about a year and a half, but he will always be my college roommate. We lived together at an instrumental time in our lives, and unlike many college relationships, ours continued long beyond our college years.

You can read about how we met here. I'm not sure what else to say about Kenny, other than he is without a doubt the easiest-going person I have ever met. In all the time we lived together, and throughout the decades of our friendship, we've never had an argument. I've never even been mad at Kenny. I'm sure he's been irritated with me at times (like that year I played the Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack over and over), but he's never said anything or showed it.

We have that comfortable kind of friendship where we can say anything--things that might be embarrassing in other contexts, but not between us. Those are the strongest friendships, when you know you are accepted no matter what.

Some of our best times in recent years were going to GMU basketball games, and going to Richmond for GMU's conference tournament each March. Those have been some of the best times of my life.

Kenny would be embarrassed if I went into detail, but he has cared for me and my family in many ways over the years. He is one of those guys who would do anything for you.

We still talk, not as often as I'd like, but our conversations always make me smile. There is so much I could say...maybe one day I'll write a book about Kenny. I love you, Pal!