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!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

People #3--My First Mentor

I'm writing a series of posts about people who have impacted my life.

David was my first spiritual mentor. I was a college freshman, and a new Christian; David was the Baptist Student Union campus pastor at GMU.

I went to a BSU meeting with some friends one Friday night--about 20 college students hanging out; we played some games, sang songs, ate, and listened to a short message.

I don't remember much about that night (this was 1986!), but I do remember that a few days later I received a post card from David, telling me that he enjoyed meeting me and thanking me for coming. I still have that postcard.

With David, and in the group he led, I found my place. Over the next three years David and I grew very close. He taught me about Jesus and helped me discover and follow my desire to minister, to care for people.

I became a leader in the group, and David helped me find my first ministry position, a summer internship at a local church.

David was wise. His words always taught me something new. But more than that, David lived out the love of God. David was a beautiful example of the power of humility. He was soft-spoken, but his words and demeanor had a quiet strength to them. He treated everyone kindly, even when it wasn't easy. He told the truth in love.

David was always serving others--in our ministry, in the church, in his family. I often felt encouraged and challenged with him; most of all, I always felt loved by him. I enjoyed spending time with David and Norma and their kids; they made me feel like one of the family.

The three years I spent close to David had a profound impact on me. I have wonderful memories of retreats, mission trips, Bible studies, family dinners, holiday parties.

David and his family moved to Ecuador to serve as missionaries, but we stayed in touch over the years. We got together occasionally, in Texas, and Virginia. Jamie, the kids and I got to have lunch with David when driving through South Carolina about 6 years ago. It was a short time, but very special.

At a crucial time in my life, David lived out God's love for me, and taught me how to love God.  He is an amazing man, (even though he is a Yankees fan), and I'm honored to call him my friend!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

People #2--Old Friend

Dale is my oldest friend. Not the oldest person I'm friends with, but the person I have been friends with the longest. I think we met in 4th grade. That would be 9 years old; so we've been friends for about 40 years. I could write a book about our friendship (maybe someday I will); for now I'll try to summarize.

Hundreds of people have moved in and out of my life. I've lost touch with most, many I keep up with on Facebook. Only a handful remain a close part of my life. We just don't have the time to maintain all the relationships we wish we could.

Dale and I have always been close, even when there was geographical distance. I could spend hours in the memories of our friendship...hours playing football and baseball in our backyards...riding to school in Dale's VW bus...football games...trekking miles in the snow to see a couple girls...all the adventures of high school... We went in different directions after high school, but kept in touch.

Dale is a Cowboys fan, and I'm a Redskin fan. We always called each other after the two teams played, the one whose team one gloating over the other.

I was in Dale's wedding; he was in mine. Our paths crossed every few years, first in Virginia, then in Texas. Our conversations were sometimes infrequent, but even after months, we always jumped in like we had talked yesterday. Our conversations always ended the same way, with us reciting a scene from Rocky II, one of our favorite childhood movies.

I'll call you.
You gonna call me? 
I'm gonna call you.
You got my number?
No, I'll just call you, I'll just go, "Hey You!"

Three years ago, after not seeing each other for about 7 years, Dale came to Washington to visit; we had a great time.

Dale's marriage was nearing an end, and we began talking more and more, sometimes several times a week. I was going through my own struggles, and we were both there for each other. Our friendship, which had settled into a more casual one, quickly became a strong, important relationship again.

Over the last three years we have grown closer than ever. We talk often, encouraging and challenging each other.

I have many stories I could tell about Dale, and what an amazing friend he is. Here's one.

In 2004, four months after my wedding, my father had a heart attack, spent ten days in the hospital fighting, and died. My step-mother asked me to do the funeral. I spent the next several days helping my family deal with all the details, and planning the service, and thinking about what I'd say.

On the day of the funeral, I was at the funeral home, greeting people, preparing myself for the talk I was going to give in the service. Before the service, I went outside to get alone and gather my thoughts.

A car I didn’t recognize pulled into the lot and parked. The door opened, and a man got out. When he turned and walked toward me, I saw that it was Dale.

Dale lived in Texas. He is a doctor, with four kids. When he got the news about Dad, Dale took off work, said goodbye to his family, and got on a plane to Virginia, to be with me as I grieved.

In forty years people have come and gone. I have had successes and failures. I've gone from the east coast, to Texas, to the west coast. There have been times when life was great, and times when life sucked. Through it all, Dale is there. Always there.

I love you, Dale.



People #1

I've done a lousy job of writing for...well, way too long. Nothing I can do but start writing.

Perhaps it's approaching 50 (not quite yet; I turn 49 next month), but I've been thinking a lot about people lately. Facebook has helped me keep in touch, or at least keep an eye on, many people who have been a part of my life.

I realize I have been very fortunate to have had relationships with many, many wonderful people over the years. Sometimes I get a chance to tell them, and I often spend time remembering, reminiscing.

So I'm going to use those people, and the memories, and the stories, to work on writing. I'm not writing for an audience, but for myself. NA maybe if I write about you, or someone you know, you'll be interested.

I'm only going to use first names, and if you recognize yourself and don't want me to identify you, let me know. I don't think any of my friends are in hiding or running from the law, but you never know.

I'm going to try to be spontaneous--pick people randomly.

Mike--I haven't been in touch with him in several years, but saw him on facebook tonight, and immediately smiled. Mike and I were never super close, but we were friends for many years. We went to church together, and participated in our church's singles ministry. We were involved in small group ministry together. We went to baseball games together.

Mike is one of the kindest, most gentle and encouraging people I've known. I never heard him say anything negative about another. He has a good sense of humor, I remember him always smiling. 

And Mike is a servant. He was always there when someone was moving, or had a big job that required help. 

I have one funny memory of Mike. As years pass, stories like this grow. So this may have only happened once or twice, but over time, the legend has grown.

Like many of us who were students or in ministry, Mike didn't have a lot of money, and he was frugal. We would often go out to lunch or dinner in groups of folks from the singles ministry.

Mike would not order any food, or he would just get something small like a salad. Then, after a while, he would lean over, and ask, quietly, smoothly, with a big grin, "Todd--are you going to eat those fries?"
"Kevin--are you finished with your chicken?"
"Steve--how's that pie? Looks good!"

Mike ate better than most of us, getting a little here, a little there, from the rest of the group. But no one saw Mike as a moocher--he was too nice, too funny, and such a great guy. 

I haven't kept in touch with Mike, but I think of him from time to time. His example of loving and giving and serving others has stayed with me. I hope I live out a little of the example Mike set.

Without fail, a conversation with Mike always made me better. You're a good man, Mike; I'm grateful for the time I had with you!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Kenn Kington--One of my favorite people

I met Kenn Kington at a ministry conference in Phoenix ten years ago. Something big happened right before the conference, and I didn't really want to go. But I had registered for the conference and purchased a plane ticket, so I felt I should go. I said goodbye to my wife and daughter and got on a plane to Phoenix.

I was hurting, grieving, but wanted to get the most out of the conference, and figured it would be good to get away and get my mind off things.

Kenn was serving as a host for the conference, as well as leading workshops and doing comedy at night.

I was drawn to him right away—he was very genuine and approachable. On the first day of the conference I went to one of the workshops that Kenn was leading. There was confusion over which workshop was scheduled at that time. Most of the people were there for a workshop on reaching single adults, and four of us were there for a workshop on communication.

Kenn suggested we go with the topic that the majority was there to talk about, and offered to go to dinner with the four of us who were there for the communication workshop.

We went to dinner at Outback that evening, and Kenn shared fantastic wisdom about communication. I felt like I learned more useful information in that hour than my preaching class in seminary.

Kenn shared great stories, and invited us to share some of ours. We laughed and had a great time. At the end of the meal, we tried to pay for Kenn’s dinner, but he refused, and bought dinner for all four of us!

Over the next few days I went to several of Kenn’s workshops and learned a lot about communication, evangelism, and relationships. Kenn and I shared a few meals together, and had some great conversations.

In the evenings, Kenn did stand-up comedy. The laughter and joy he gave me was incredibly healing. In just three days, I felt like Kenn had become a good friend.

We kept in touch after that conference. Over the years I brought Kenn to the ministry where I worked for speaking engagements, retreats, training and comedy events. He was always gracious and giving and a blessing to be with.

One event that stands out—I picked Kenn up from the airport on a Saturday; he wasn’t doing anything until that evening. I was trying to work out the logistics of the day—to make it easier on me, he offered to come with me to my daughter’s soccer game.

Ashley loved Kenn, and was thrilled to have a celebrity cheering at her soccer game! That night at the comedy show, Kenn invited Ashley to come backstage. He made her weekend wonderful.

I was grieving on that weekend when I first met Kenn, because my father had just died, days before the conference. I was hurting, and Kenn was there for me when I really needed a friend. I will always be grateful for that, and for how he has blessed my family and me many times.

When I saw that Kenn’s father died yesterday, my heart went out to him, and my mind went back to our friendship over the last ten years. I pray for healthy grieving and healing, and tears and laughter for Kenn and his family.

I love you, Brother!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

My Take on the Duck Dynasty Firestorm

I love Duck Dynasty. I resisted it for years, and recently got sucked in to the down-home, quirky humor of this family--who all seem like good people. I enjoy watching it with my kids.

But all the social-media brouhaha is crazy, and I am saddened by what I read from many of my evangelical friends, and how this reflects on us Christians.

I do not claim that my opinion is the RIGHT opinion. I've been wrong before. But here is where I am:

This is not a free speech issue. Phil Robertson has the right to say whatever he wants. No one is telling him he can't. But just as he has freedom, A&E has the freedom to run their company the way they choose.

And to say Phil is being persecuted because of his faith? please. Phil has made millions with his business, TV show, and merchandising. He's not hurting. Even without the TV show, he has the means and the freedom to go where he wants, do what he wants, and say what he wants.

To call Phil a martyr is insulting to the millions of people who have lost health, home and life by standing for their beliefs.

Imagine this scenario: There is a network that is created and funded by a Christian ministry. It airs a traditional family TV show with an actor that viewers come to love. It comes out that the actor is gay, and lives with his partner. He begins to talk about LGBT rights publicly.

The network decides that this actor and his beliefs don't fit with their image. They fire him from the TV show. How many evangelicals would stand up and claim that the network trampled the actor's rights?

We're all for free speech when we like the speech; but people often look for ways to stifle that speech when they don't like it or agree with it.

The bigger issue is this: why do many evangelical Christians feel the need to fight the battle against homosexuality publicly? Do they believe their rantings are going to make a positive difference in people's lives? Do you find it helpful or effective when people publicly rebuke you and tell you that you need to change?

I get that they believe it is a sin.

But why do we see so many people in the public arena fighting this fight?

Why not divorce, or greed, or gluttony, or dishonesty?

Why is this one issue elevated so far above others? Many evangelicals will say it is not or should not be addressed more than other "sins." But they still do it. We never see this kind of social media uproar about other issues (except maybe abortion).

Does this follow the example of Jesus? I don't remember reading anything in the Bible about Jesus standing up for free speech, and fighting for individual rights. He seemed more concerned with feeding the hungry and healing the sick and helping the poor and offering forgiveness.

Did Jesus often use public forums condemn particular sins? Most of the time in Scripture when he did address sin, he did so one-on-one, in the context of a relationship; with gentleness and compassion and grace.

When Jesus' rebuked publicly, He was usually addressing the hypocrisy of religious leaders.

Finally, do people think that fighting this fight publicly is going to draw people to Christ? Does anyone think that non-Christians are watching all this and thinking, "wow, these people and their God really love me"?

In my opinion, that should be the bottom line. How do my words and actions help connect others to the God that loves them and gave himself for them? I don't think the current uproar is accomplishing that.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Value of Time

I wrote this for Gracious Goodbyes, a wonderful blog created by my friend Jill.

The older I get, the more I recognize the value of time. Not about how time working equals financial gain, but the relational value of time.

 When we’re young, time seems like an endless commodity. We don’t think much about how we spend our time, or with whom we spend it; we just live, doing what we want, with whom we want, when we want.

 As I grow older, and life brings more choices and stresses, I realize that our time is limited, especially the time we have to spend with people we love.

Continue here