Thursday, March 31, 2016

Best Day with Bruce and Brady

I've written before about what I call best days--experiences filled with joy, adventure, something new; days that make me feel alive and fulfilled.

Last Thursday was one of those days. I took Brady to see Bruce Springsteen in concert. It was my 12th time seeing him; Brady's first. What an event for his first concert ever!

He is still young enough to let me control the music most of the time, and over the years has really enjoyed listening to Bruce. When the tour was first announced, I was bummed that it wasn't coming to the Pacific Northwest.

But a few weeks into the tour, they announced new cities--including Seattle. I was on the phone and computer when tickets went on sale, and got a couple decent seats.

Brady and I listened to a lot of Bruce in the weeks leading up to the show, so he would know the music. He loves to sing along.

Finally, the day came. If I had drawn up how I hoped the concert would go, I couldn't have done any better than the actual event.

We got to Seattle in plenty of time, and while it took a while to find a place to park, we found a spot in a neighborhood, so didn't need to pay. It was a bit of a hike, but downhill all the way.

We went to the food court at Seattle Center for dinner, then walked over to Key Arena. We got to our seats and watched the arena fill up.

At 8:10 the band came out, followed by Bruce, and he began what was an almost four-hour show. It is hard to put into words how amazing it was.

I've seen Bruce 12 times, and I've never seen him better. His energy was unbelievable. At 66, he could easily play for 2 hours and be done, and no one would complain. But he continues to give everything he has. What he does, night after night, is almost superhuman.

Bruce opened with "Meet Me in the City", then played the 20-song River album from 1980. It is an incredible album with many classic Springsteen rockers, including "Hungry Heart," "Cadillac Ranch," "Ramrod" and the title track. After playing the album, Bruce then did another 14 songs, all fan favorites, mostly from the 70's and 80's.

He played all the songs Brady really wanted to hear--"Badlands," "She's the One," "Dancing in the Dark," "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," and, of course, "Born to Run." There was a touching tribute to the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, during "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" (Clemons, Springsteen's sax player for decades, died in 2011).

It was a magical night. I have never felt more energized, more inspired, more fully alive than I have at Springsteen shows; 12 times over the last 32 years. Each one has been amazing--and after that many years and shows, Bruce's music has become the soundtrack of my life.

Each song takes me back to a different time and place in my life (I'm going to write a series of posts on the times I've seen him live).

I've probably seen close to 100 concerts, and nothing compares to a Springsteen show. I think this one was the best of all.

The show started at 8:10; about the time Brady is usually getting ready for bed, and lasted till midnight. For almost four hours, Brady and I sang and danced and laughed. 

I loved watching Brady jump up and clap and yell and dance to his favorite songs. Joy is even better when it is shared, and it was so wonderful sharing that joy with Brady.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Love Through Discipline

Beautiful moment tonight with Brady. Brady's favorite game is Clash of Clans. We don't allow him to play the violent video games that some of his friends do, and he struggles with that. He understands why we don't, but it is hard when his friends talk about games that he is not allowed to play. It's always hard when it feels like you don't quite fit in.

But he loves Clash of Clans, and plays it every day. Today he got into some trouble with the game--not for being deliberately disobedient, but for making some choices without thinking. We've told him not to share ANY personal information with others he plays online with, and today, he did that--nothing specific or revealing, just a little about himself.

Because that's a safety issue, Jamie and I are pretty strict. We decided that Brady was going to lose his game privilege for a few days (and that if he ever shares personal information again, he'll lose it permanently).

I sat down to explain to Brady what we were doing and why. I was prepared for the tears and anger that sometimes come with his consequences, but Brady listened calmly. I could tell he was upset, but he didn't lose composure. He understood. He knew that we were disciplining in love, not out of a desire to make him miserable (of which he sometimes accuses me when he's really upset).

I was so proud of how he accepted his consequence; even though he was upset. He asked me a few questions, and we moved on to reading time. Usually at bedtime I read to the boys, but tonight, I asked if Brady wanted to read to me from his current book, Where the Red Fern Grows.

He read to me--beautifully, with feeling and power and innocence--a story I have read probably 20 times myself.

After Brady read we prayed, and I told him I have never loved him more, or been more proud of him than I am tonight. I could see the joy and pride in his face, and as I type this, I imagine those same words from God to me tonight...."I have never loved you more, or been more proud of you, than I am now."

The beautiful, endless grace of God.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Religious Liberty Fight

I am surprised we are still reading about Christians arguing that not allowing them to discriminate is restricting their "religious liberty." I am disappointed and embarrassed by Christian business owners fighting for the right to refuse service to people they don't agree with. Now we have several states trying to pass laws that allow businesses to discriminate under the guise of "religious liberty."

Saying it violates your religious liberty to serve someone with whom you don't agree with is ridiculous. How is your religious liberty violated by making a cake for someone who is gay? No one is asking you to be gay. No one is saying you have to agree with the gay people you are doing business with. No one is saying when you make this cake you must profess your support for gay people. It's a cake! It's not a religious statement--but it could be, in a very different way.

If you are a follower of Christ, you violate the principles of your faith when you refuse to serve someone. Jesus never said separate from the world and only interact with those who are like-minded. Jesus said over and over to love your enemy, feed the hungry, heal the sick, give your shirt, walk a mile with someone...serve your fellow man.

It is sad that many would rather turn their back on someone, because they don't agree with them, than take the opportunity to bless someone's life.

If the goal is to point people to Jesus (and if you call yourself an evangelical Christian, it should be); than which accomplishes this better:

1. Refusing to serve someone because you think they are wrong, or...

2. Moving into someone's world and providing them exceptional service, or selling them a top-quality product, or serving them with kindness--showing them that Christians love people and do things with excellence and want to love and serve and invest in the lives of all people?

Seems pretty clear to me.

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!