A Family Update

We like to give periodic updates of our family, especially so that those of you who pray for and support our ministry can know us more as a whole family. We are amazed at how quickly the kids grow and change! We are thankful for how God is at work in their hearts, growing them into young men and women who love Him and love others well. Here is a brief picture of what they are up to.

  • Isaiah is our teenager, and is doing well in school, taking some classes at the local junior high, and some independent study through Davis School of Independent Study (DSIS). He is very responsible to get his work done and to keep track of his complicated schedule. He is enjoying a welding class, participated in Cross Country in the Fall, and is now involved in a community-based ultimate frisbee group. He also continues to develop as a pianist, and has grown more expressive in his music.
  • Bethany is doing her last elementary school year with me at home, through DSIS, before she starts Junior High next year. We are enjoying the time together, and are making more time for art and focusing on topics that interest her. She is highly responsible, but still can be playful and goofy, which is a great combination! She continues to love ballet, volunteers in her little sister’s class at school, and has started a couple little babysitting jobs. She also loves connecting with friends both from school and church.
  • Judah loves sports and reading! He is a deep thinker, and loves to talk about the Bible and share his thoughts about God.  He had a great soccer season this fall, and is looking forward to playing Little League baseball this Spring. He also enjoys playing games, including the Breath of the Wild video game and family card games. He is starting to enjoy piano too, even though he doesn’t love the whole “you have to practice” thing…
  • Laticia has grown up so much in the last year. She loves school and is very curious about why the world works the way it does. She makes friends easily. She enjoyed soccer this Fall with a great team of girls, and is excited to try dance in the Spring (since she hears so much about it from big sister). She also absolutely loves to entertain Shylee, and the two of them run around the house laughing almost every night. This makes us smile, but also wears us out…
  • Shylee is the energizer bunny. She miraculously does not run out of energy until she is strapped into the car or tucked into bed and she succumbs to sleep. She is so much fun, and loves to tell stories, both real and made up, often finishing with the wide-eyed, closed-lipped “you should believe me because I am so cute” look. She relishes making her siblings laugh (and is also quite good at pushing their buttons). She is friendly to EVERYONE; we will have to work on the stranger danger concept some more, but it means she brightens the world and makes many a stranger smile. She is also our little acrobat, unafraid of any physical challenge, and has taught herself to do practically-perfect cartwheels. We can’t believe she is about to turn 4!

Thanks to all who love and pray for our family. God is good to us!

Living in a Complex World

Anyone else tired from trying to say and do ‘the right thing’ in relation to every friend or acquaintance? I am sometimes tired because it feels like it is such a moving target. I am a people pleaser by nature (largely because of my own pride—I don’t like to be disliked…).  Yet I also have strong convictions about things like respect and truth and love, so I seek to have integrity in how I live. I want to live authentically and humbly, listening carefully to others’ perspectives while living out my own convictions with grace and truth wherever I go. The problem is that I can’t control whether someone feels my actions as respectful and loving; I can only determine my intentions and actions.

For example, it is tiring because if I forget to text someone back, it can be read as an intentional “ghosting” and can be a crack in a friendship that results in a feeling of coolness that you can’t figure out where it is from. It is tiring because when I try to be friendly to a stranger’s child, she literally yells at me for overstepping boundaries and critiques me for being too protective of my own 3 year old child (who, incidentally, she doesn’t know anything about, and doesn’t know was just swinging on the monkey bars by herself a few minutes ago…). It is tiring because I want to ask people deep questions about how they are doing because I really care about them and their families, but I don’t know if they will take offense and see me as overstepping. It is tiring because I don’t feel like I have enough energy or emotional capacity to care for people the way I want to, and then am often worried that they don’t know how much I care.  It is tiring because I can’t even give each of my kids the level of individual attention and investment that I wish I could, let alone give the kind of focus I would like to give to each of the amazing and beautiful young women that I am mentoring.  It is tiring because I am deeply afraid of being misinterpreted…

So what do I do with all of this? I feel like there are really only a few choices. 1) I can let it slowly crush me as I continue to try to stand up under it, telling myself that I can do better and to just try harder… 2) I can pretend it is just a season and I ‘just have to get through it,’ 3) I can give up and just try to make myself happy; or 4) I can fix my eyes on Jesus, knowing that he sees me, not my adequacy.

I want to choose to fix my eyes on my Savior. Yes my savior; he is the savior of the world, but it is also personal. I needed and need saving. And he knows it. He knows my inadequacy.  Jesus is the one who loves me even as he expects me to fail; he is the one who invites me and enables me to participate in meaningful work in my life; he is the one who experienced rejection and pain and suffering well beyond what I could ever bear. Psalm 103:13-14 reminds me, “As a father shows compassion to his children, So the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.”

I also want to fix my eyes on him because he offers freedom from fear. I want to be free from my fear of people, especially my fear of being misinterpreted. Some of the deepest emotional wounds for me happen when someone assumes I had negative desires or intentions, when what I actually intended to communicate was nothing like that. I have tried to reason my way out of the scars that such interactions leave on me. I remind myself that I am responsible for me, not them; I try to remember that they may have extra credit behind the reaction that goes beyond what I did; I try to tell myself what is true of me as a child of God, and to just not care what the other person thinks… But it doesn’t always seem to work.

As I look to God’s Word to understand true “freedom,” I am reminded that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36. I am free from measuring up because He has paid my debt and has adopted me as his own beloved child. I am free from guilt because he has forgiven me “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us…” Ephesians 1:7-8. I am free to confidently walk in relationship with God because “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.

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BeCause

Going in, we were told that Cru19 (our every-other year US Staff conference) had the theme BeCause. It was intended “to celebrate together both the cause that God has called us to and the fact that God also wants us to be…be in His presence and be in love with Him.” I was excited about this theme.  I have to admit, although I love to “just be” fully with God—and I often counsel others to make sure they take time to rest in God’s love and reflect on his amazing grace and mercy in our daily lives—I often find it challenging to do so for myself…

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Cru staff worshiping together!

Yet that “Being” is so critical. I have been reflecting on this reality lately, as I have observed so many friends struggling in a wide range of circumstances in their lives: mid-life crises, challenging relationships, tensions due to finances or broken relationships, ambiguity in what is next, mental illness, cancer journeys, parenting challenges… How do we still remember who God is and how he is both the creator and sustainer of all things and the personal loving father who knows the number of hairs on my head and is acquainted with grief? How do we not just think about that intellectually, but also believe it, letting it impact our hearts and minds? How do we authentically worship Him with thanksgiving (Col 3:16-17)?

It is remembering who God is and just how life-transforming it is to have his grace and love at work in our lives that helps. I need to “fix my eyes on Jesus” as it says in Hebrews 12:2, remembering his love that took him all the way to the cross, despite all the pain and loss, so that I can worship him and “not grow weary and lose heart.”

I was just teaching my Sunday School kids the beginning of Revelation, and it was honestly a great reminder to me of just how unspeakably amazing and worthy of our devotion and worship God truly is. Both because he is the conquering king AND the suffering lamb. I want to worship him and cast my crowns and my self-focus aside!

The “Cause” element is also so important, and proved to be very encouraging and challenging at the Cru19 Conference.

One key focus was how we need to be united as we pursue the cause God has called us to as a ministry. Our call is to continue in evangelism and discipleship, but we must acknowledge that, in order to do so, we must be willing to identify and address the brokenness and divisions that unnecessarily divide us. We must humbly seek to understand one another in order to learn from and better serve one another, first within the body of Christ, and also with those outside of the body.

Truth is essential to this journey. We must be willing to acknowledge the truth of our own weakness, our selfishness, our blindness, our prejudices, our inadequacy (both individually and as communities). Yet not stop there… We must take that and cling to hope by trusting God for strength, giving grace to one another as God has given it to us, relying on one another with all our different gifts, and being willing to patiently walk through lament, sorrow, and pain with our fellow humans. We do not need to compare, but to come alongside; We do not need to defend ourselves, but rather die to ourselves; We do not need to equivocate the truth, but embrace the truth.

God is good, and I am thankful to be his child and to participate in what He is doing in the world, including among “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

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Our girls and their friends doing the Aruna Run at Cru19, a fundraiser for an amazing organization that helps enslaved women be freed and learn a trade.

Safety or Fear?

It has been a long time since I posted. It is funny how I am always thinking of things I could blog about, but then often don’t get past the initial outline. Partly because I don’t take the time to sit down and work on it (since my sit-down-and-work time is pretty jam packed with tasks already), but partly because I am afraid…

That is weird, right? Why should I be afraid to share my thoughts? Why do I worry that people won’t assume the best of me if I try to share? I mean, I see myself as a learner who always has more to learn; I consider myself a moderate politically—yet I am afraid that if someone finds out one piece of my perspective or views, they will construct a whole image of me that is more based on their concept of “what people who hold that view” are like, than on who I actually am.

Well, our culture today…(Stay with me a minute, now, don’t roll your eyes – I am going to consider culture, not blame it). As I was saying, our culture today is fascinating. As has become very clear, we are in a time of extreme polarization in our country right now. We all know that social media is not helping with that either. We often live in little echo chambers, drawing in articles that will affirm how we already think, “yelling” at people we don’t know and assuming/assigning them bad motives so that we can keep our concept that we are “right” and they are “wrong”; we are “smart” and they are “stupid”; we care about people and they only care about themselves and their own interests. It doesn’t seem to matter which perspective you are coming from; this is how both sides are training themselves to feel.

It can feel like we are stuck with a choice: either (1) stop engaging and isolate or (2) keep engaging and risk constant judgment and critique. I personally am not a fan of either option, and I believe there has to be a third way. Part of the reason I think the choice is a false one is that, while on the surface it looks like a choice between “safety” and “fear,” both choices (with this framing) tend to lead to unhealthy fear.

img_3499.jpgChoosing isolation might feel safe at first, but by rejecting deep relationships, we reject both relational joys and relational skills. That inevitably leads to fear. I want my children to know how to engage in healthy disagreements, not seek to avoid them.

Yet, if in my relationships I avoid topics that feel touchy, I model a lack of depth that leads to isolation. Isolation means we neither feel known nor let people deeply know us. As a result, a narrative of fear plays in our heads: “what if my surfacy friend finds out something about me he doesn’t like and then rejects me? Then I will be even more isolated…” In addition, if we are a parent or mentor who has chosen the path of isolation from culture, we have a second current of fear: Will my children follow my example and fight culture’s influence too, or will they get sucked in by culture and therefore pull away from me?

On the other side, choosing engagement can also be dominated by fear. We might be afraid of misunderstandings – of people not assuming the best or really trying to understand us. We might be afraid to express our thoughts or to ask questions—even in a wondering kind of way—because people might label us backwards or stupid or uneducated or even bigoted.  Sometimes we try to make up for this by choosing a false form of “safety” based on displays of “power.” It may manifest in defensiveness, biting back with words, or just pulling into a deeper echo chamber, which is another form of going into isolation after all…

I think the better choice—a “third way” so to speak—is to choose engagement, most deeply in more personal contexts. It is to expect that we can have a real human connection across difference. It is to believe that, even if someone else is pre-disposed to make assumptions about me, I can choose to still assume the best about them and seek to build connection.  Quite frankly, this usually involves not focusing on social media so much, but intentionally engaging in my neighborhood, at my kids’ schools and activities, with students on campus—places where I can actually be vulnerable, be a listener, humbly serve, and share my heart and passions. Focusing on what I have in common with people is what draws me into this choice. We are all unique and creative human beings, made in the image of God; we all long for connection and affection; we all want to be part of something meaningful and impactful. Even if we think the solutions to our longings are different, we can connect over the longings themselves, and then go from there.

I was just recently in Washington DC on a trip for work. DC is certainly a very polarized place right now, to put it mildly. But it was fun to get into real conversations with people from different sides of the political divide. IMG_20190507_193842283_HDR

In one particular conversation, my new acquaintance and I had a rare opportunity to delve beyond the normal assumptions about the views of the other. In this case, it was a conversation about “religious freedom.” In fact, we simply named the labels, addressed them head on, and then went beyond them. We talked about how real people are so much more complex and don’t fit those labels. It turned our conversation into a dialogue about what it could look like to assume the best and not just push people into our boxes for them, but rather invite them to paint a picture of their passions and their complexities. Even though it didn’t change the fact that the labels have and will continue to dominate the landscape, I left encouraged. My heart was hopeful because I had made a real connection.

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A quote at the MLK monument in DC

 

I am confident that God calls us to pursue this path of gracious, respectful, yet vulnerable engagement; not hiding what we believe or think, but speaking it with grace and respect.  The Apostle Paul says that for those who follow Jesus, it was “the goodness and loving kindness of God” that saved and changed us (Titus 3:4), so we likewise should “be gentle and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2) and our speech should “always be gracious.”  In addition, the Apostle Peter says that, even when we engage directly about religion, sharing why we have such a deep hope in Jesus, we should do so “with gentleness and respect,” and combine it with “doing good” (1 Peter 3:15-17).

I like to listen. Yet I still have much to learn.  Do you want to engage too?

Light in Darkness

I have been thinking a lot about light and darkness lately. It is certainly relevant this time of year as we think about Jesus, as the light of the world, who came into a dark world to bring light and life and hope.

Our pastor recently described hope as a “pinhole of light.” It is not being imaginative and grasping at wishful thinking, but rather is seeing that there is reason for hope because certain things are true. For example, if we know God as compassionate and just and good, we can place our hope in Him and his promises.

When things are hard, what is good and life-giving shines all the more brightly. We appreciate what we have more when we know what it is not to have it—when we can recognize that certain things are not what we are entitled to, but blessings. This principle applies both to things and to relationships. The deepest relationships I have are not formed through perpetually positive interactions, such as watching movies, saying nice things, or even going on “epic vacations” together. If connections are kept at the safe “surface-level,” I find that there is still a fear in the back of my mind – “what if they find out about the real me, warts and all? What if they see that my life isn’t as perfect as it looks from the outside? Will they still want to be around me?”

In contrast, the moments of connection, understanding and love after sharing hard, deep thoughts or experiences together are what help me to feel known and loved. When my close friend sees that I am struggling with wisdom in parenting a certain child, and that I am broken over how my pride and failings can get in the way of parenting the way I want to, she can affirm that she understands and cares for me in the midst of that struggle. She can also rejoice with me as I take positive steps in improving my patience-level, she can pray with me as I take the long term view and keep pressing on, and she can help me feel safe and accepted even with my imperfections. A relationship like that brings rest and peace.

This kind of peace is exactly what the Gospel of Jesus Christ demonstrates.  It is the message that God sees us in all our messy imperfections and with our selfish desires, and loves us. He knows us fully and deeply, and yet does not run away or say we are not good enough or reject us as inadequate. Instead, he does so much more than even a great friend can. He sacrifices himself for us, takes on the record of our inadequacy, and pays for it. Out of love for us, he gives us his perfect record, saying we are forgiven and accepted, not because of what we have done or will do, but because of what he has done. He takes our shame and grants to us honor, calling us his very own children.  He communicates to us: “now live well, loving and serving people whether they deserve it or not, not so that you are accepted, but because you have and do experience that kind of love and acceptance from me.” We do not deserve it, but this love and acceptance of us “while we were still sinners,” brings a kind of peace that permeates us, inside and out.  It is a peace that cannot be found anywhere else.

Jesus is the light of the world. Amazing, profound, life-altering light.

Amazing stories of God moving at UC Davis

The goal of our ministry is to turn lost students into Christ-Centered laborers. We take someone wherever they are and help them find and follow Jesus, to love Him, learn from Him and lead others to Him. We have observed over the past few years that the vast majority of incoming freshmen students do not yet follow Jesus, and increasing numbers have little to no Christian background. These masses are unchurched, dechurched, or come from another religious background. So we resolve not simply to seek Christians looking for a Christian fellowship, but to seek out any student who is willing to meet with us to talk about Jesus. This shows us that God is working in their lives, and we believe with Jesus that, ““My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:27, ESV). I want to simply share a few quick stories (names changed) of what it looks like to work among the unchurched and the little churched, and the joy of helping them find and follow Jesus.

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Our new staff team for the 2018-2019 school year.

The night of the first day of school we had a new student information night. One of our students relayed this story. They got to know one another, shared a bit about what they are hoping for in their Community Group in their dorm area, and had a prayer time. Megan asked the students what prayer requests they had and when it came to Ashley, Ashley asked, “What’s a prayer request?” This warms my heart, that Ashley must have very little background to ask that question. Perhaps she simply went to a church without a culture of praying for one another, perhaps she has never been in a small group. Perhaps she hasn’t been to church much at all, and this excites me.

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Welcome Week Tabling: getting into spiritual conversations

The first weekend of school our different community groups had social times together. In a social time for Latinx students (men and women), one of them shared part of their story about how they drew near to God. Her father was deported when she was in Jr. High and she had to take an increasing role of responsibility in her family. She knew she needed a power bigger than herself, so she drew upon God. One of our leaders, in relating the story, said that she believed this was the first time this girl shared that story with other people. They were able to cry together and minister to this young woman. It makes me so grateful for our students who are able to care for one another in their needs.

Another amazing thing that has happened is in meeting several young men who have come to Christ from a surprising background.In our men’s freshmen Community Group, people were sharing their spiritual stories.  One of them shared that he is from China, but had come to the USA in high school and lived with a host family. He said as he studied religion he found that Christianity was the most believable, and he is interested in becoming a Christian, so he is not ready yet, but wants to study more. The next man to share said that this was also his story, having come to the USA from China in high school. He had already decided to follow Jesus, and he began to share with his new friend some of the reasons why. I have NEVER met anyone with this story, and now we are connected with these 2 (and a few more), in whom it is obvious that God is moving.

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Worship Night on the Quad

I was able to talk to a young woman after our 2nd weekly meeting last Thursday. I am from Merced, CA, and she is from a town nearby. She comes from a Sikh religious background, but started attending a youth group when in high school. She has come to believe in Jesus and is very excited about growing. Then she told me that she was so excited because Cru gave her a bible during move in day, and that was the first bible she has ever owned! I’m so excited for her to start reading and learning the very foundations of the Christian life.

Sunday, I had a student call me in excitement because she had just seen a girl accept Christ! This girl had come with her roommate who is involved in Cru. She had been to a church a few times with her family, but hadn’t really cared or understood much. In our student leaders words: “Her Christian first yr friend ***** invited her out to Cru. She could tell from Interfellowship Worship Night and spending time with believers that we had true joy and her life wasnt “whole” and didnt have “meaning.” She came to church with me today and on the way I found out she didnt know the gospel and she asked if we could tell her how to have relationship with God. After church, *****, herself, and I had lunch but she didnt touch her food because she was so eager to understand. She got the gospel, explained it back, understood what it means to make Jesus Lord of her life and was amazed God sent Jesus to die for her. She prayed to receive Christ and praised God for her new life. She wants to get baptized and now I’m going to model for **** how to do follow up with her! Shes excited to share with our community group tomorrow night what God did!!”

It’s amazing to see students minister to students. These are only a few stories of what God is doing at UC Davis. Pray we are able to help these young believers to know Jesus better and to help connect with their non-believing friends and help them come to find and follow Jesus as well.

Talking about God…

You know how so many people think that topics you should avoid in conversation include religion, politics and sports? And this is not confined to the US. When I lived in Mexico long ago during a semester of college, I had a Mexican friend that I hung out with quite a bit remind me of this social norm (there, you especially avoid arguing about your favorite soccer team). He was surprised that I didn’t follow the norm very well. Well, I am not well-versed on sports teams (I think I am more like the Lego Movie citizens who just say “gooooo sports team” because it is what you are supposed to say). I have to admit that I don’t care enough about professional sports to work on that deficiency (sorry sports fans).  As for politics, I’m not going to go there…but I do care about what people think and why. IMG_1561

But I really do enjoy conversations about faith.  I love to hear different perspectives; I love to hear why people believe what they do, and what their questions are—whether related to their own faith or different faiths. I love to learn about how culture can affect religion and religion affect culture. I also love to share why my faith is so important to me, and how it causes me to value people and want to be a learner for life. I love to talk about Jesus – an amazing person and a polarizing figure throughout history. Real talk. Spiritual conversations don’t have to lead to tension and taking offense—it can just be sharing life. And sharing life is a huge step towards feeling known, connected, and cared for.

This summer, on our Portlandia summer mission, we had the joy of taking public transportation around Portland to a variety of college campuses to talk with students about their spiritual backgrounds and perspectives. We also had the opportunity to engage with the houseless of Portland and a wide range of other Portlanders by serving with different nonprofits—coming alongside them to learn how they care for and serve the poor in a big city. In addition, the staff ran training times covering topics ranging from how to study the Bible, how to use certain evangelism tools, being a learner in cross-cultural contexts, and even learning about the racism in Portland’s history.  I did a training on the importance of both Grace AND Truth in relationships – something I care a ton about. In addition, we had some great connection time in smaller discipleship groups with just a few students, and some one-on-one mentorship times.  Jeremiah and I traded off and on watching the kids, so we could both participate in the summer mission as much as possible.

I really enjoyed some of the spiritual conversations I had around Portland. So many of the people I talked to—albeit from incredibly wide-ranging experiences and backgrounds—were not phased at all by the topic of religion. In fact, they seemed to enjoy sharing their perspectives. I’ve decided that, overall, people like talking about what they think. They are thankful to have someone take an interest in them and their thoughts (in a deeper way than a facebook “like” or a rant), and to have a respectful conversation, even if it involves a difference of opinion.

There were, however, many days that I just stayed with the kids because Jeremiah was on campus and helping to lead trainings. We sometimes went to parks or checked out Buttes to hike around, or walked to Safeway for groceries. Or we did crafts, played games and read books at the house we were staying at. In that way, it wasn’t that different than a summer at home. Whether at home or in Portland, I also like to talk to my kids about life and faith. It is just part of our family’s mode—we talk to our kids about deep life issues, and think about how our faith affects how we view the world. It just feels normal—processing life with them, asking questions, considering why things are the way they are and what the Bible and Jesus have to do with our day to day lives. I certainly don’t have all the answers.  But conversations don’t have to have beginnings and endings all the time… I take seriously the concept in Deuteronomy 11:19, where God says to his people that they should speak of Him and His teachings in the midst of life (“Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”).

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It is fun and right to make spiritual conversation normal and applicable to our lives, not confined to a certain “Bible study time” or church on Sunday. When it is in the midst of life, it means it is also in the context of my mess-ups as well as theirs, and we are able to truly talk about why I believe Christianity holds such a hope-filled message that is for imperfect people NOT trying to posture their way into religious superiority, but accepting God’s amazing grace.

In the same way, why should it be weird to talk about spiritual things with friends? I want to know more about how my friends process life. I don’t want to stick to conversations about weather, career, and kids’ activities. I want to feel real connection. So lets choose respect and seek to listen and understand one another; lets avoid ambivalence and judgmentalism.