Trust, Worship, & Care

As a resident of California, things have been changing rapidly over the past week in regards to COVID-19. And as I’ve watched and listened to family members, co-workers and the public, I’ve been pondering how I will live during this unique time.

These kind of thoughts always take me back to Psalm 23. This has been one of the core passages for my faith and spiritual formation the past couple of years. “The Lord is my Shepherd, so I lack absolutely nothing.” Whatever issue is facing me, this first line always confronts me with a choice. Is it mere poetic sentiment or is it ultimate Reality? If it is ultimate Reality, then my circumstance, large or small, is simply a passing shadow, like a storm cloud temporarily eclipsing the ever-shining sun.

The ultimate Reality is that God is good. He created a good world. And his reign and purposes for this world and all who live on it are good. So we are safe in this ultimate Reality.

That means COVID-19 did not catch God by surprise. It didn’t wrestle any control of his world away from him. Nor did it alter any of his good intentions and purposes for his creation at large and for you as his child in any way.

I’m not trying to minimize the incredible stress and uncertainty that comes with COVID-19 and it’s societal impact. Without going into any details, job loss, risk of exposure, dramatic changes at work, and even death are close to my extended family.

But again, Psalm 23 keeps confronting me with the question, is this sentiment or Reality. Is God truly the Shepherd-King of his world and all who live in it? As I’ve been learning during my training with God’s Spirit over the past couple of years, it is Reality and I can trust him.

Our trust must then move toward worship. In his commentary on Revelation 4, NT Wright says the difference between the worship from creation in general and the worship from humans is the word “because.” In Revelation 4, the four creatures around God’s throne, representing creation as a whole, worship God with an amazing declaration of who he is. But the twenty-four elders, representing God’s people, worship by using the word “because.” Their worship states that God deserves all worship because he has created all things. They worship because of his ultimate Reality

Our trust in God and his ultimate Reality must lead us to a worship that is immersed in and reflects upon that ultimate Reality. This is so difficult when our news feeds constantly bombard us with everything but that Reality. They fill us with fear and anxiety so our worship is more a reactive cry of desperation than a reflective declaration of trust and love.

Now there’s nothing wrong with cries of desperation. But they shouldn’t be the core of our worship of God. We need to ask, is my worship driven by my news feeds and fear or by my immersion and reflection on the ultimate Reality he’s revealed to us?

Our trust and worship should then lead us to peaceful care of others. If God is truly the Shepherd-King, then we don’t need to turn to hoarding and armed protection like I’ve some Christians proclaim. We follow the Prince of Peace. And like his followers throughout the ages, we’re called to care for others, even at the risk to ourselves.

Yes, we should prepare and even stock up on supplies, but with the intention of giving them away to those in need. Yes, we should practice social responsibility by staying physically away from people, but only until they need our support and help.

I know this has gone long, but I want to share a recent incident. I normally don’t share these kind of personal moments, but I think it highlights how simple care can make a difference in this current situation.

Debbie and I were in line to enter a grocery store. We had finally moved to the front of a substantial line. An older gentleman walked up to the employee monitoring the entrance and asked if he could go in to just get two items. She said no. He said he had to take the bus to every grocery store, but she insisted. He turned and began to walk away.

Debbie overheard the conversation and asked if we could let him in front of us, but I said that wouldn’t be fair to all the people behind us. She asked what if I grabbed the items for him. I agreed and she ran to catch up to the man while I entered the store. One of the items the man wanted was limited to one per customer. It was something I was going to buy for our family, but I grabbed it for him instead.

When I finished shopping and left the store, I gave the man his two items and Debbie told him they were a gift. He started tearing up.

Simple care. That’s all it takes. My wife is the queen of this kind of love.

Trust in an ultimate Reality that leads to reflective worship and other-centered care. Whether it’s a pandemic or just normal circumstances, this is the way of life as Jesus’ apprentices.

Traveling Alone

Early this morning, our family took Chris to the airport. 

During our July 2018 visit to St Herman’s Monastery, the Abbot told Chris that the next step in exploring his calling to monasticism was a two-week visit to the monastery. Chris decided to wait until he finished his AA degree, which he accomplished this past August. So now, he’s taking a solo trip to the monastery. This is both his first time traveling alone and his first time on a plane.

I am emotionally torn about Chris’ calling. As his dad, I don’t want to lose my youngest. Imagining a life without him is too heart-breaking. Frankly, I’m already struggling with the prospect of two weeks without any contact with him.

But I’m also filled with joy and excitement for him as he learns to follow God into his unique life-calling. As someone who had a similar calling into professional pastoral ministry, I know that joy firsthand. I know what it’s like to wake up each morning with a sense of purpose in this world.

And as one who is no longer pursuing that calling into professional ministry, I also know the inner turmoil, self-doubt, and even depression that accompanies not fulfilling a calling.

I wish I could join Chris on this trip. But this next step, and all the subsequent steps, can only be walked by Chris alone. The monastic life is a solitary life. Chris will not be able to find solace or affirmation from family and friends. He must learn to trust God as his Good Shepherd. Because of this, my role in Chris’ journey has changed since our trip together in 2018.

I’ve done all I can to prepare Chris for this trip. And I will help him with any future trips. And if possible, Debbie and I will one day walk him through the monastery gates and entrust him finally to his abbot.

But now my role is to pray for him continuously and coach from the sidelines when appropriate as my son travels alone.

Visiting St Herman’s

Back in July 2018, Chris, who is my youngest son, and I visited St Herman’s Monastery near Platina, CA. We took this journey together because he feels called to monasticism in the Eastern Orthodox Church. I wrote the following reflection soon after the trip, but never posted it. I’ve decided to post it now because immediately following this upcoming busy holiday season, Chris will leave for an extended stay at the monastery as the next step of pursuing his calling. I assume I will be posting reflections over the next year as he moves forward in the process. So it seemed like the right time to post this initial reflection from our first trip to St Herman’s.

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It was the final moments of a long trip. I was sitting in the dark on the bus with my youngest son. 

The trip to the monastery was fourteen hours. Then three days of physical, emotional and spiritual intensity. Then fourteen hours back home.

Chris and I visited St Herman’s Monastery on a quest, a pilgrimage. For some time, Chris has felt called to monasticism. In many ways I see a bit of my young self in him. I was in my late teens when I became a Christian. Passionate to follow Jesus, who gave me a new life, I sensed a calling to ministry.

Now my youngest senses a call to monasticism in the Eastern Orthodox Church. And where I had no one to help me explore my calling, I have committed to help Chris explore his calling as best as I can.

If monasticism is his vocation, his call is more severe than mine. If he chooses to become a monk, his vows will sever him from our family in order to embrace a lifetime of ascetical hardship and suffering. Chances are I will rarely see him again, maybe never. As his dad, this absolutely crushes me. The thought of him never being present in our family’s life, never seeing his face or seeing him smile or hearing his voice shatters me to the core.

So I don’t want him to make this decision by himself. I will travel this road with him as best and as far as I can to help him determine what God is calling him to do with his life.

My role on this trip was simple — to help him get to the monastery and back, to support him in any way possible, and to pray for him. Most of my trip was spent praying for and talking with him. We discussed various aspects of the monastic calling and what it meant to follow Jesus in any context. I tried to help him understand Scriptures, to answer questions, to process his thoughts and to pray. And pray. And pray.

Chris has such a beautiful heart toward God. He truly wants to give himself fully to God and to be shaped into his fullness. My greatest fear is such a life might be wasted in pursuing the wrong thing. If he’s not called to the monastic life, then he will endure great pain and hardship in isolation when he could have made an impact for God in the marketplace and in our family. But if he is called to the monastic life, I lose my son.

Our trip was a success. It was one step in a journey. Chris met his expectations for the trip and I met mine.

So sitting in the dark on the bus, pulling into our final destination, I listened as Chris spoke with a young woman. She had asked about our trip and Chris tried to explain our journey to the monastery. She responded by saying, “That’s a really long trip to take.” And Chris’ response broke through my fears, my ache, my fatigue….

“I would have been lost without my dad.”

I know his statement was specifically about our trip. But, for me, I hope it speaks prophetically about the journey that lies ahead for him… and for me.

Happy 23rd Birthday, Cathy!

 

Twenty-three years ago, and with dramatic flair, my oldest daughter, Cathy, entered this world and our lives. And she has brought such incredible joy and love to us. She has grown from a fiery baby to an intelligent, thoughtful, courageous, beautiful, strong, humorous, independent, creative and dare I say sassy young woman. She has a heart as big as the sun and loves deeply God, people and his creation. I am very privileged to be her dad and her friend and I am so very proud of her. Happy Birthday, Sweetie! I love you very much!

Farewell To Best Friends

img_6688Around 6pm tonight, Debbie, Chris and I watched our family’s best and dearest friends, Mark and Barbara Feliciano, drive away to begin a new phase in their lives in Idaho Falls. I’ve been dreading this day since October 1, 2015 when Mark and Barb shared with us the potential of moving to Idaho.

Almost a year later, that day has arrived. And our friends are gone.

I am so thankful that God brought our lives together twenty years ago. Who would have known when they first visited the Glendora Vineyard how deep our friendships and how entwined our families would become?

We worshipped and served together at the Glendora Vineyard. Some of my fondest memories were times of worship as the drummer on Mark’s team. Mark and Barb were an encouraging presence when I experienced burnout. Later, we would work together to create an experimental community at the Vineyard where we and dozens of others would explore authentic community and discipleship. Mark and Barb were also a light and comfort during our challenging last years at the Vineyard.

After leaving the Vineyard, our families launched a little faith community in their home and explored simply being God’s people together. We started a business together. And most recently, we joined the Orthodox Church together. But these are just milestone moments in our shared lives. Equally meaningful and cherished are all of the little details of life that filled in the nooks and crannies of our friendship together.

img_6772Mark and Barb’s home was like a second home to our family. My children were always welcome and  enjoyed authentic adult friendships from an early age. Our families have shared more meals, conversations, dreams, laughs and tears than I can count. And our family has benefited in untold ways from Mark and Barb’s wisdom, generosity, compassion, mercy, encouragement, and prayers. They have been such a constant source of love in our lives. Even as the last boxes were being loaded onto the trailer by the moving company, we shared a final meal filled with laughter and joy in their empty living room.

I always assumed we would live close to each other the rest of our lives. I imagined regular meals together, talking about life, looking forward to what God would do next, and slowly growing into our golden years together. But that is not meant to be.

img_6773As we helped Mark and Barb pack their last few belongings into their car, hugged them good-bye and watched them drive away, I was crushed by the reality that they will no longer be a few minutes away. Their home that was once filled with warmth and love is now an empty husk. There will be no more times of sharing stories from the past week, no more talking face-to-face about God’s activity in our lives, no more impromptu dinners, no more Super Bowl parties, no more hanging out and just being together.

Yet as much as my family and I will miss them, we are extremely excited for them. Not only are they beginning a new adventure together in a new home in a new city in a new state, but they will be surrounded by a strong and supportive network of family members. Now others will get to experience the joy, generosity, wisdom, and beauty that Mark and Barb embody. Their new home will become a place of love. Many will be blessed by spending time in their home, sharing meals, celebrating, conversing about God and life, and all the other relational gems our family has enjoyed for years. Mark and Barb embody God’s life in a precious and unique way and I’m glad others will now benefit from what God has created in them.

I am grateful beyond measure for the years we have shared with Mark and Barb. Our friendships are the closest thing to the New Testament idea of “fellowship” that I have ever experienced. And I love them more than I could ever express.

goodbyeA beautiful piece of our lives drove away today. There is a gaping hole in our hearts and I am sad beyond belief. We will miss them dearly.

Father, I cannot fully express my thanksgiving for joining our lives with Mark and Barb’s lives for all these years. Through them you have loved us, encouraged us, challenged us, and comforted us. Our family has experienced your amazing love in countless tangible ways through them. Be their companion, guide and protector during this new phase of their life. Fill their new home with your love and presence. And may many others receive the blessings our family has enjoyed through the years.

Chris Turns Seventeen!

Chris' Seventeenth Birthday

Today, Chris turns seventeen. Being the youngest of our four children, he has carried the moniker “Baby of the Family” all his life. But he’s not the baby and hasn’t been for years.

Chris is a remarkable young man. He’s handsome, intelligent, witty, creative, perceptive, and compassionate. If there’s a Bible verse that summarizes Chris, it would be Micah 6:8, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

From an early age, he’s possessed a strong moral compass as well as compassion for people. He’s a deep thinker and continues to startle me with his thoughts and perspective. He also takes his relationship with God very seriously. And can that kid make me laugh!

Honestly, I wish I had a friend like him when I was growing up. And those who consider him a friend probably don’t know how fortunate they are to have someone like him in their lives.

As with all of my kids, I look through old photos and videos and wonder how they grew so quickly. But because Chris is our youngest, I think the nostalgia is felt more deeply. It seems like only yesterday that I was holding him in my arms. And now he towers over me both in physical and spiritual stature.

As a senior in high school, he will soon cross the threshold of graduation into a more adult world. But I’m confident that he will find his way, walk with God and do very well.

Chris is awesome! I love him and I am very proud of him! I love being his dad and his friend and he brings so much joy to our family.

Father, thank you for Chris. Thank you for creating him to be such a delightful and wonderful man. Please draw him close to you so that he may experience and know your abundant and intimate love. Continue to shape him so that his life is a living Gospel to all around him. Show him your ways so he may walk with you all his life. And thank you for the absolute privilege of being his dad and his friend.

Kids At Play

DizzyThis past weekend, I took a walk in Glendora and passed by Finkbiner Park. This park is filled with great memories of my children playing together. It reminded me of how much I loved watching my kids play when they were younger. I remember them playing tag at local parks or gobbling down their food and rushing to play on the slides, tubes and ball pit at McDonalds.

Walking past Finkbiner Park reminded me again of how blessed I am to have four kids who loved being and playing with each other all their lives.

And it’s something I miss now that they’re adults facing adult responsibilities, schedules and stress. I miss the anticipation in their body language as our car would approach a park, the youthful exuberance as they tumbled out of the car in their rush to the play equipment, the delight in their eyes as they gave themselves completely to whatever game they played.

This is probably one of the reason why I loved Pokemon GO when it was first released. Over the summer, I saw the old spark in their eyes when they would go to Claremont together. They would walk and scooter around the downtown area and explore the Claremont colleges together as they hunted these virtual critters. And they were playing together again.

Chris. Portrait-UCLAI enjoyed joining them on these excursions. Debbie and I would walk with them, watch them scooter ahead to scout for Pokemon and come zipping back with excitement.

And for a little window of time this summer, I got to watch my kids play together again.

Over the next few months, our family faces a crushing schedule, one that will pull all six of us in different directions. It’s my goal to create some space where we can just be together and maybe just play.

(Here’s a video I created in 2004 of my kids playing.)

Fifty Years Of Memories

50th MemoriesLast week for my 50th birthday, I took on a personal project. On my birthday, I took a vacation day and visited several of the important locations from my past. For three hours, I visited my old homes, schools, churches and other important places.

I was flooded with memories at each locale. Most made me smile. Some brought tears. And a few made me cringe. All of these memories formed a mental tapestry that I’m still enjoying.

As I’ve reflected on this experience, I’m aware of three very vibrant threads woven into the tapestry. While my reflections aren’t profound or earth-shaking, they are very dear to me.

The first thread is love. Each location brought strong memories of being loved. Love fills my first memories all the way through to my present experiences. My parents were a source of constant love. Even though they had very little money, they loved my brother and me in generous and sacrificial ways.

I remember my mom spending long hours preparing homemade spaghetti or fried chicken. These meals mean even more to me knowing that as a Korean woman, she learned to prepare these meals in order to give my brother and me an “American” upbringing. I remember the occasional trips to McDonalds or Pompeii Pizza for special meals, even though we couldn’t afford them. I remember my special gifts like my first watch, my model train set, my telescope and my microscope. There are so many tangible memories of my parents’ love, that I risk boring you with too much.

I also remember the love of my small extended family. I have distinct memories as a little boy of my grandma taking me to a little diner for lunch. Even now, I can remember the aroma of burgers and sitting at the counter with her. I remember my grandpa buttering my toast for breakfast when I slept over. And as a new father, I remember him tenderly holding my babies.

My parents, grandparents, and aunt and uncle would gather weekly for game nights while my cousins, my brother and I would play together or watch TV. The adults would have bowls of chips and us kids would get one large bowl to share together. Our small extended family gathered regularly for birthdays, and every Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas to eat, laugh and celebrate each other.

I also remember a couple of special teachers at Temple Elementary School — Mrs. Haraguchi and Mrs. Roeneke — whose care still brings fond memories decades later. I remember various swim coaches— Bob Mount, Kevin Reynolds, Mike Gautreau and Ed Spencer — who believed in me and challenged me to excel. I remember good neighbors throughout my life like the Reyes, the Yamadas, the Hardwicks, and many others. I remember so many members of the various churches I worked at — the Azusa First Baptist, the San Gabriel Valley Japanese Christian Church and the Glendora Vineyard — who generously loved my family in both small and great ways. I remember the members of our small faith community in Mark and Barbara’s home that constantly expressed their love — Mark, Barbara, Gary, Anne, Jennifer, Angela, David, Alan, Maribeth, Carol and others.

And for the last 27 years, I have been loved by the most amazing woman in the world. It takes a very special woman to join her life to a 22-year old boy trying to finish college with the hope of being a pastor and potentially poor the rest of his life. Yet she did and demonstrates her love to me and our kids virtually everyone moment of the day.

I am overwhelmed with the amount of people who have loved me and my family over the years. It’s absolutely amazing that God would surround me with such amazing people.

The second thread is loss. Time, by its very nature, brings change and loss. Each of the places I visited are now just memories because the people and, in some cases, the places are gone. For example, Industry Hills Aquatics Club, where I spent most of my free time training as a swimmer, has been completely razed to the ground. What was once a beautiful swimming facility filled with young dreams and hopes for excellence is nothing but a dirt field.

I felt loss as I visited my parents’ homes in La Puente and West Covina and experienced volumes of memories with my parents and brother. Even after all these years, it still seems weird that strangers are living in my homes.

I felt loss at my parents’ pizza parlor, Marvel Pizza, where they served pizza and Korean food. My parents poured their energy and hope into this small business. It garnered a small following, but not enough to remain a viable business. Now it’s an empty space in a strip mall waiting to be leased by a new generation of hopeful business owners.

I especially felt deep loss when I visited my grandparents’ home. Their home was my first home. My mom immigrated from Korea a week before my birth. She and I lived in my grandparent’s home until my dad returned from his military service and bought their own first home. My grandparents’ home was a part of my life for almost 50 years. I have so many memories of overnighters, holiday dinners, and family game nights. When my grandpa died in 2001, the extended family gatherings began to diminish. By the time my grandma died in 2014, they were virtually nonexistent. My dad and aunt sold my grandparents’ home in 2015. As I stood in front of their home, strange cars in the driveway, I was deeply saddened that this part of my life is forever gone.

And I felt crushing loss standing before my Glendora home, where Debbie and I spent almost 20 years raising our family.

There have been many other losses. At fifty, the wounds seem more tender than before.

The third thread is faith. As I visited my different homes, I was staggered by the memories of faith. I didn’t become a Christian until high school. But even at the home where I lived as a young boy, I remembered moments of faith, even if they were someone else’s. I remembered my great-grandma, who prayed for me and hand-crafted simple gifts of God’s love. I didn’t appreciate this as a child, but cherish it now as an adult.

I remember as a young elementary school boy contemplating the reality of death and weeping at its sheer finality. Even at a young age, that was the catalyst in my personal journey to find that Something or Someone out there.

As a young teenager, I remember attending a Southern Baptist Church because my mom felt a Christian training would be helpful. I remember hearing for the very first time that Jesus was returning and we needed to be ready. While I didn’t fully understand it or the implications to my life, I knew at that moment that Jesus was real and I needed to respond to him. Thus began a several year journey of discovering Jesus and finally giving him my life.

As a young husband and father, I remember Debbie and I trusting God for the most basic things. We learned to trust him for finances to make it through the month or to pay for repairs on our car. I remember a harrowing episode as a parent of two little children without insurance. Catherine was only a couple years old and had been coughing terribly. We went to a local clinic where the doctor informed us that she had bronchitis and was on the verge of pneumonia. We couldn’t afford any medicine, so they gave us a handful of samples to give to her. In that dark vulnerable moment, all we had was faith and the goodwill of strangers.

I remember when our growing family needing a larger car. Debbie, who led our family in faith, kept praying. And someone at church approached us to give us a van.

As I visited each home, I was flooded with memories of trusting God for finances, health, jobs, tuition, relationships and other aspects of daily living.

These memories made me examine my current faith, which seems to be just a shade of its former self. Not that it was that great before. But there’s something… missing. And I’m not quite sure what it is.

Even though this post has gone on longer than necessary, it’s only a sampling of fifty years of memories — memories of love, loss and faith. And woven through this tapestry is another thread — God’s faithfulness throughout my life. I have lived a good life, a blessed life, an undeserved life. I don’t know why I’m fortunate to have this life while others have so much pain and tragedy. But I am grateful beyond words. And these memories stoke my heart to worship God and to become a better person.

Happy 19th Birthday!

Today, my youngest daughter, Danielle, turns nineteen years old. It’s her last full year as a teenager.

Zahariades Family 2001As a young girl, I loved watching her run around the house, her curly hair bouncing with each step. Her young infectious giggle made me laugh. Her tears broke my heart. She loves her sister and brothers. As you can see from an early family portrait, she absolutely bursts with personality.

Dani has grown into an amazing young woman. She is a fiercely loyal friend and cares deeply for those she loves. As a friend, she has your back. I wish I could have had a friend like her when I was a young man. I’m not sure if her friends know what a special person they have in Dani. But I do. And God does.

She is also very creative. I’m astounded by what she can do with needle, thread, and yarn. For the past several years, I would watch her spend hours hand-crafting beautiful and imaginative gifts for her friends during Pascha and Christmas. I don’t think her friends realize how much time and care Dani put into each gift. But I do. And God does.

Dani is extremely committed. When she puts her mind and will to something, she perseveres for the long haul. Years ago, Father Patrick assigned her “hand maiden” duties during Sunday services. And every Sunday since, I watch Dani quietly attend the candle box unnoticed and with no fanfare. She carefully tends the candles as an act of worship. I’m not sure anyone notices. But I do. And God does.

Danielle Wedding PortraitDani is an incredibly strong and courageous person. I don’t know if people ever see how the occasional stress and heartbreak chip away until there are tears. And then the resolve returns. But I do. And God does.

Debbie and I are so proud of our gorgeous, bold, creative, compassionate, strong, capable, faithful and amazing young woman. I don’t think anyone can love her more than us. And then I remember…

God does.

Waxing Nostalgic – My Kids’ Baptism

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 9.01.22 AMThis October marks the ten-year anniversary of one of the most remarkable moments of my life — the day I baptized my kids.

I posted my thoughts about the event HERE a few days after it happened. You can also watch the short video HERE. On that day I offered my children to God and to his family. And while it was a dream come true for me as their dad, it was also a frightening moment.

During the worship that morning, I realized that my children would face a painful world without me. I couldn’t be with them during most of the moments of their daily lives. And as they matured, they would face a harsh and painful world without their daddy’s protection. But God cut through all of this by reminding me that my children were his. And then I heard his voice whispering “I will be there.”

Ten years later, as I reflect on God’s faithfulness to that promise, my heart wells with incredible gratitude. Thank you, God, for being there with them.

God has both protected them and formed, for which I am deeply thankful.

Ten years ago, my children’s ages ranged from 7 to 14. I understood each was making a commitment to Jesus at their personal level and that their commitment to him that would continue to grow and take new expression as they matured.

I don’t come from a Christian family. My parents became Christians after me, so I don’t have the personal experience of a faith handed down through generations. Passing down my faith to my kids has been a learn “by the seat of my pants” endeavor. But one thing I know from watching the Faith passed down in other families, it looks different in each generation. One generation’s values and preferences differ from the prior’s. But at its core, the faith in Jesus, the loyal commitment to him and his cause, is the same.

It’s fascinating to see how each my kids’ personal relationships with God have developed. It’s also a little unsetting. Their faith development doesn’t parallel mine or Debbie’s. So they don’t hold all of the values we hold. I’m learning how to coach and advise them from the resources of my personal faith. But most importantly, I’m learning to be content with that.

The important thing is that they belong to God and to his family that stretches time and space.

From personal experience, I know God will continue to speak to them and work through every part of their lives. Their faith will continue to change and develop, influenced by God’s Spirit, people’s influences and life circumstances.

As I look out upon the unknown of the next ten years and beyond, God’s promise to me for my children still rings true, “I will be there.”

Waxing Nostalgic – Raising Kids

Zahariades Family (1)This the second post that began HERE.

As I prepare to turn fifty, my four kids span from 16 to 24 years old. And I want to say upfront that I absolutely love and adore them. To borrow from someone’s Facebook post, they’re the reason I have gray hairs and the reason I have laugh lines.

I think every loving parent makes incredible sacrifices for their children. Some of those sacrifices are huge, momentous occasions. And most are those daily “putting their needs before ours” kind of decisions.

All of those sacrifices are made with the intention of giving our children a better chance than we ever had — to create wonderful memories, to provide for their needs, to bring them joy and happiness, and to shape them into men and women with good character.

In the Orthodox Church, there’s a daily prayer that has taught me a few lessons:

“O God, our heavenly Father, who loves mankind, and are most merciful and compassionate, have mercy upon our children, your servants, for whom I humbly pray you, and commend them to your gracious protection. O God, be their guide and guardian in all their endeavors; lead them in the path of your truth, and draw them near to you, that they may lead a godly and righteous life in your love and fear, doing your will in all matters.”

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Lesson #1. God loves my kids more than I love them. I don’t think I need to say much more on that one.

Lesson #2. Because he loves them more than I do, I have a constant decision to make in regards to their care. I can either worry about them or actively commend them into God’s care. As a young parent, I used to be plagued with graphic visions of my firstborn’s death. I used to worry for him constantly and lived in a low-level state of panic. He’s now 24 years old. I had to learn that I can’t be with him nor protect him constantly. So I had to choose either to worry about him and my other kids or actively commend them into God’s loving care.

Lesson #3. Just because God loves them and cares for them, doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen to them. Part of learning to commend them into God’s care was praying the aforementioned daily prayer only to learn hours later that something terrible had actually happened to one of my children. But the ultimate “goal” of the prayer is for children who have learned to lead godly and righteous lives. That sometimes requires painful lessons. Fortunately, lesson #1 encompasses lesson #3.

It’s can be heartbreaking being a parent of adult children. Sometimes I hear my kids share memories of their childhood. Some are good memories. But occasionally they will share an incident which I had intended to be a good experience. But because of a word or an action, what I planned to be a positive memory is actually a painful one that they have carried for years.

That’s a difficult thing to bear. It’s easy to become despondent and believe the inner voices that accuse me of being a bad parent. Believe me, there’s plenty of evidence to substantiate such claims.

As I attempt to parent adult children, I find that I don’t always have the words or advice they need. Their lives are taking a completely different trajectory than mine. I’m crushed by their experiences of stress and pain. My heart breaks when they share their doubts, fears and anxiety about relationships, education, career and life purpose. And I feel helpless and impotent, unable to give them what they need.

Michael & Cathy Playing 2 100_0210.JPG

These feelings are easily compounded when look through old photographs of my children smiling and playing. It’s easy to wish that I could have frozen time when they were young, innocent and fairly happy. Life seemed simpler then. But I know it wasn’t.

Then my mind drifts back to the prayer. And I’m learning a fourth lesson:

Lesson #4. God answers prayer. God has been and still is their guide and guardian. He has and still is leading them in the path of his truth. He has and still is drawing them near to him. And they are learning to lead godly and righteous lives.

Debbie and I are ultra-blessed with four great adult kids. They love God, each other, us and other people. They are truly great friends with each other. And they are friends with Debbie and me. And they are good friends with those in their lives.

When Debbie and I brought each child home from the hospital after their births, a huge unknown future loomed before us. We didn’t know what awaited our kids. But we knew we wanted them to grow into men and women of character who loved God, loved each other, loved us and loved people.

And all I can say is, “God, thank you so much for graciously answering our prayers.”

IMG_4568

A Concise Summary

Jesus' LikenessThe other day on Facebook I posted a homily by Fr Barnabas Powell called “This IS Eternal Life.” I mentioned in my post that this homily was probably the most concise summary of why I became an Orthodox Christian. But that wasn’t entirely what I wanted to say.

What I wanted to say was Fr Barnabas’ homily was probably the most concise summary of why I became an Orthodox Christian AND why I’m very tempted to leave the Orthodox Church after almost eight years.

Our family entered the Orthodox Church because we saw the potential of what Fr Barnabas described. We are created in the image of God to be formed into the likeness of Jesus — to become by grace what Christ is by nature. My years as a Christian have brought me to a similar conclusion. And we saw the resources of the Orthodox Church as the “equipment” to aid us in that purpose.

But our experience has not synced with our expectations. I don’t want to unpack my issues here. Suffice it to say, after almost eight years, Debbie and I are still struggling with significant unmet expectations. As Fr Barnabas states in his homily, becoming by grace what Christ is by nature is the purpose of Orthodoxy. “If that ain’t happening in your life, then you’re not doing it right.”

I realize I must take full responsibility for my journey to Christ’s likeness. I am not blaming anyone for any deficit in my own life. My relationship with God is my responsibility. Yet, we expected to join our personal journeys into a community of other like-minded people. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. And trust me, we’ve looked.

We have very good friends in the Orthodox Church. I’m sorry if I offend any of them with what I’ve written. This is something that has been weighing heavily on me for a long time and I wanted to give it expression. And again, I’m not attempting to dodge any personal responsibility.

Back when I was part of the Emergent/Home Church, I held some core values — the inward journey toward Christ’s likeness, the outward journey toward an incarnational and missional life and the corporate journey of a deep life-sharing community that supported and empowered all of this. I still hold those values. I’m looking for fellow Christ-followers who want to become like him, who want to implement God’s New Creation in this world that Jesus started, and who want to do it together.

At this point, I have no desire or plans to leave Orthodoxy. I still see the vision that Fr Barnabas proclaimed. I’m just not experiencing it and can’t find it in any other local parish. So I continue to focus on my personal responsibilities to become like Christ and hope to find others with whom we can join our lives.

Prayers & A Truck

Damaged TruckYesterday, my oldest child, Michael, was in a car accident. At 7:30 am, he was sitting at a stoplight when a car slammed into him from the rear. The force of the collision propelled Michael’s truck across the intersection. Fortunately, Michael kept his wits about him and quickly steered left to avoid a trash truck perpendicular to him in the intersection and then quickly steered right to avoid the cars facing him on the other side of the intersection. Michael walked away from that accident very sore but safe.

The other driver took full responsibility for the accident. He claimed his defroster wasn’t working quickly enough and he never saw the red stoplight or Michael’s truck or brake lights. The entire front of the other driver’s Honda was completely crumpled while only the rear bumper and muffler of Michael’s 1994 Chevy S10 was severely damaged.

Grandpa LeonardMichael’s truck has some history. It belonged to my Grandpa, who bought it new. When my Grandpa passed in 2001, it was handed down to my Dad. And he recently handed it down to Michael earlier this year. Michael loves the truck, even though it’s older and the air conditioner doesn’t work. He loves driving a piece of family history. I don’t blame him. It’s the last tangible piece of my Grandpa that remains.

So here’s where things get a little interesting. And I know there will be those who read what follows with a bit of skepticism. During Divine Liturgy this past Sunday, I felt a very strong compulsion to pray for my Grandpa and Grandma. This has only happened a couple of times in the past several years. Eastern Orthodox Christianity believes in a significant continuity between those who have passed and those who are currently on earth. It makes sense. Those who have passed are as alive, if not more alive than us who are presently on earth. So we pray for those who have passed and we ask them to pray for us.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know how any of this works. But I strongly believe that the compulsion I had to pray for my Grandpa and Grandma was not a mere coincidence, especially when less than 24 hours later, Michael walks away virtually unscathed from an accident in my Grandpa’s truck.

My Grandpa was not a religious man in any way. In fact, he held a disdain for religion and anyone in religious authority. As I’ve gotten older and nurse my own wounds inflicted by Christian leaders, I realize that I have some of the same attitudes as him. But my Grandpa loved his great-grandkids. I have fond memories of him holding them as babies. I know this sounds extremely sentimental and a far-reaching stretch, but somehow through his truck, I imagine my Grandpa somehow holding Michael during that accident.

So, I’m very thankful today. I’m thankful to God for watching over my son. I’m thankful for all of the prayers on Michael’s behalf. And I’m thankful for my Grandpa’s truck that protected him.

Googly Eye

Googly

As I was leaving home for work this morning, I was greeted by a sight that made me pause. On a little shelf near our front door sat one small googly eye. You know the kind. The little white plastic eye with a black disc that you find on stuffed toys.

I have no idea from which toy this eye originated or how long it’s been quietly watching my family’s comings and goings. But for the slightest of moments, with my briefcase and lunchbox in one hand and door keys in the other, I paused… and was bathed with the sensation of thankfulness.

It’s difficult to explain how a simple plastic thing like that would carry such meaning other than to say that it reminded me that my home is filled with abundant LIFE and JOY. Every day I look forward to returning home from work to be greeted by the sights and sounds of my beautiful wife and four awesome kids and two rambunctious puppies. I love walking into our kitchen knowing that our nourishment and refreshment is lovingly prepared by our hands. I love walking into our living room and seeing our icon corner with images of Christ, his Mother, the cross and several saints, reminding me that we are truly surrounded and supported by a cloud of witnesses. I love sitting at our dining room table and sharing a nightly meal filled with talk and laughter with the ones I adore or having conversations over coffee in the morning. I love walking into our backyard and playing with our puppies.

In moments like these you almost expect to hear the social networking cliche, “Life is good!” But life is ALWAYS good, whether one is experiencing chaos or calmness. This isn’t a “Look at how good life is for me” post. Rather, it’s a reminder that I’m being restored as a Eucharistic being. Eucharist is thanksgiving. Christ’s life in me is restoring my core being as a person filled and living with thanksgiving toward God. And this is expressed in the minutest daily moments and in love for those all around me.

Now don’t you go rolling your googly eye at me. 🙂

Why I Love Her

Happy New Year! Wow! It’s 2013.

So, yesterday turned into an interesting day. Debbie and I ended up spending four hours in the emergency room. It wasn’t life-threatening. Urgent care was closed and the ER was our only option.

“What happened?” you ask. Deb and Chris were out walking our puppies around the block. Deb was walking fast and her foot caught a raised part of the sidewalk. She partially slowed her fall with her knee and wrist, but her chin and mouth hit the sidewalk. The impact tore two deep gashes in her bottom lip and chipped one of her front teeth.

Four hours in ER and she left with two stitches on her lip. She vows she will be hiring a stunt double for the remainder of her stunts.

But here’s the reason for this post’s title. While in ER experiencing a lot of pain herself, Deb saw an older lady who was sitting alone and obviously struggling with intense pain. So with a cold and bloody compress applied to her gashed lip, Deb limped over to the lady, put her arm around her and engaged her in conversation to comfort her.

And that, my friends, is why I love this woman who has chosen to share her life with me. I get to see and experience this unique woman everyday. And 23 years of marriage have only deepened my love and respect for her.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about the emergency room unless I have to go to one. Through most of my life, I forget they even exist. By their very nature, they are places of pain, misery, and fear. Yesterday reminded me that on holidays, when most people are with family and friends, emergency rooms are filled with people who are afraid, sometimes alone, and in agony.

During our four hours, I heard an infant screaming in pain for our entire visit. As we were preparing to leave, I watched his young parents hovering over him with worry as he was hooked up to tubes and wires and wheeled away on a gurney to another location in the hospital. I watched an older man who had fallen and was writhing in pain from something broken inside his body. And there were dozens more who were sick and suffering.

And all of us can be mere moments from being in the same place. Our day was spent fulfilling our busy plans. Walking the puppies is a normal activity we do a couple times a day. It was a simple way to spend five minutes before we moved onto our next activity. But a misplaced step on a crack less than an inch high suddenly causes life to spiral in a completely different direction.

Yet despite our day’s new trajectory and through her own pain, Deb showed compassion to a lonely and suffering lady, connecting a bit of heaven to a broken earth in the ER. And that’s why I love her.

Cathy’s Graduation

Today is a significant milestone for my family. My second child, Catherine, graduates from high school.

I cannot say enough how much I enjoy being her dad. She is such a creative, energetic, joyful, intelligent, gorgeous young woman. A little over 18 years ago, Debbie and I brought her home as a tiny little baby. Watching her grow from an infant into a young adult has been a wondrous experience filled with laughter, tears, prayers, delight and regrets. I love the person she has become and look forward to watching God use her in his world. She easily fills any room with her abundant exuberance. I cannot imagine a day without her smile and presence in our lives.

But Catherine’s graduation, as with Michael’s graduation two years ago, forces me to reflect on the ongoing changes occurring in my family. In five short years, all four of my children will have graduated high school.

I remember when my children were very young. Their adulthood seemed so far in the future that I rarely thought about it. And now in what seems like a flash, that future is here. My cherished babies are gone, replaced by equally cherished emerging adults.

I’m amazed at how fast this part of our family’s life has gone. Yet, more startling than the quickness of time’s passage is the permanence. It’s gone. My babies turned into toddlers, went to school, grew up and are sprinting toward their adult lives. Each day brings Debbie and me closer to when we have to say “Good-bye” to each one as their hearts transition from our family and home to begin their own.

Over the past few years, if I could have been granted one wish, I would have asked for time to stop so that my family could be suspended as is. I would have given virtually anything to spend the rest of my life with my family. But then after having such a thought, I would immediately realize how selfish such a wish is. My children need to grow and become who God created them to be, even if that means I had to let them go. In fact, it requires that I do let them go. And I absolutely hate it.

In several hours, my daughter will step over this threshold into adulthood. And I will sit in the stands and cheer for her. Afterwards, I will hug and kiss her and celebrate her entrance into this new phase of life with unspeakable pride and joy.

But right now, in the shadow of this looming moment, I miss my little girl. In my heart and memories, I hold my little baby in my arms. I feel her tiny hand wrap around my finger. I feel her curl on my lap to watch TV with me. I watch her play with her dolls and dress up as a princess. I see her twirl and dance and sing. I hear her say, “I love you, Daddy.”

I love you too, Sweetie. I love you too. I don’t want to let you go. But I will.

Dad, When I Grow Up…

“Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a pastor and a hockey player.” That’s what my oldest son told me when he was in elementary school years ago. I’m not sure where the hockey player reference came from. But telling me that he wanted to be a pastor was his small expression of love for me and desire to be like me.

That moment fills my mind when I read Ephesians 5:1-2:

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

I’ve been reflecting on this passage for the last couple of weeks. But every time I try to write something, it feels like I’m pinning this Scripture to a laboratory table. This is one of those portions of Scripture in which we must fully immerse ourselves rather than dissect with an expositor’s words.

So perhaps the only thing worth saying is, “Father, when I grow up, I want to love just like you.”

Happy Golden Birthday, Chris!

ChrisToday, my youngest turns ten! He is the last of our children to cross the invisible barrier from single-digit to double-digit age. And, boy is he ready. Being the youngest of four children, Chris seems to have grown up much faster than the others. Chris is a bundle of joyous energy. He loves making people laugh. But there is a deeper, more serious side to Chris as well. I’m startled at times by how perceptive he can be in complex situations. Chris also loves his brother and sisters. While he does take time to be by himself, he seems to find his true identity in the communion of his siblings. He loves playing with them, talking with them and joking with them. Chris is awesome and I am so proud of who he is.

Happy Birthday, Chris! I hope God grants you a long, happy and holy life.

Speak to God about Your Children

I saw this quote on Orrologion’s blog, who found it on Adventures of an Orthodox Mom’s blog:

“Pray and then speak. That’s what to do with your children. If you are constantly lecturing them, you’ll become tiresome and when they grow up they’ll feel a kind of oppression. Prefer prayer and speak to them through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts. That is, you shouldn’t give guidance to your children with a voice that they hear with their ears. You may do this too, but above all you should speak to God about your children. Say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, give Your light to my children. I entrust them to You. You gave them to me, but I am weak and unable to guide them, so, please, illuminate them.’ And God will speak to them and they will say to themselves, ‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t have upset Mummy by doing that!’ And with the grace of God this will come from their heart.”

“It is not sufficient for the parents to be devout. They mustn’t oppress the children to make them good by force. We may repel our children from Christ when we pursue the things of our religion with egotism.” – Elder Porphyrios in Wounded by Love

Happy 12th Birthday, Danielle!

Dani1Today, my youngest daughter, Danielle, turns twelve! My baby girl is almost a teenager. Dani is turning into a beautiful young woman. She has a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh that can sweep anyone into the giggles. Dani loves to decorate the house, cook and bake, and design clothes. She’s also a cuddle-bug and loves to hug. But don’t let that fool you. She’s a tough gal and will stand up for you or stand up to you as needed. Dani, I’m very proud of you and love you very much. I hope you have a wonderful 12th birthday today.

Good-bye MissionalStew.com

Missional Stew smallToday, I decided to close our family’s website, MissionalStew.com. I began the site a couple of years ago with the hopes of highlighting our family’s continual journey in Christ. However, Debbie and I became more cautious about posting photos and videos of our children on the web. Plus, I’ve concentrated my small amount of time on this blog and my photoblog. Throw in Twitter and Facebook and I think there is plenty of opportunity for friends and family to stay updated with our family.

Debbie came up with the name for the website and I still love it. It communicates the messiness and the robustness of walking with Jesus and how it should impact the world in an authentic and hearty way. So, while the website ends, I hope our family continues to follow Jesus in a way that nourishes the world with God’s goodness and beauty.

Steve Robinson is Disappearing… and Reappearing

SteveI’m always saddened when I learn that someone who has been a great influence in my life decides to stop their ministry. Even though I may have never met that person, I still feel like a small, but important part of me is disappearing. I guess it’s the finality of it that ultimately saddens me.

I’m feeling these emotions this morning as I read Steve Robinson latest post. Steve is the cohost of the “Our Life in Christ” podcast, which is perhaps one of the most influential Orthodox Christian podcasts on the web. For years, he and Bill Gould have shared the richness of Orthodox Christianity through their microphones. On top of that, Steve’s internet contributions also include his own podcast on Ancient Faith Radio and his personal blog.

While I’m sad that Steve is ending his podcasts, I’m thrilled about his reasons. Having given himself so much to public ministry in the past, he is now choosing to refocus his time to be with his family. He plans to spend more time with his aging parents, wife, kids and dog. That is so cool. I am very glad for him and respect his decision.

Steve, your voice on the Internet will be missed. But your decision honors the God we love and serve. May God grant you many, many years of fruitful ministry to your family and those he brings into your life.

Happy Golden Birthday, Cathy!

CatherineToday, my oldest daughter, Catherine, turns 15 years old. It’s her Golden Birthday in that she turns the age of her birth date (15 on the 15th). I looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered that the Golden or Grand Birthday is more commonly called the Star Birthday. This is a once in a lifetime event!

My baby girl has grown into such a lovely young woman. She is so creative and friendly. She can make friends wherever she goes and helps everyone feel welcomed and accepted.

One of my favorite moments of the day is with Catherine. She has to be up early every morning for zero period at school, so she’s getting ready for school when I leave for work. As I leave, she always hugs me, kisses my cheek, and says, “I hope you have a good day!”

Happy Golden Birthday, Catherine! May God grant you many, many, many years. I love you very much.

Happy 17th Birthday, Michael!

michaelToday, my oldest son, Michael, turns 17! Yesterday, I was browsing through some pictures of him, remembering him as a baby and young boy. He’s grown into such a handsome young man. He’s only about an inch shorter than me right now.

I remember when my relationship with my dad shifted from a father/son relationship into more of a mutual friendship. I was only a couple years older than Michael. That day is quickly approaching with my son and I look forward to developing a deeper adult friendship with him. Michael, I’m proud of you. You’re an intelligent, creative and all-around amazing person.

Sealed!!

This morning, ten of us, including my family, were received into the Holy Orthodox Church. It was such an amazing moment. Here are several reasons:

  • Knowing our family and friends were there to support us. Thank you Mom and Dad H, Mom & Dad Z, Linda, Steve, Maribeth, Caleb, Jennifer, Fr Michael & Kh Kyra, Mic & Ginny, and David. And thank you David H. for filming the entire service.
  • Seeing the excitement on our friends’ faces from St Peters. Thank you to each person at St Peters who has prayed for us, encouraged us and supported us this past year. And a special thanks to our family’s sponsors — Dn Rico, Kh Christina, Aaron, Elly, Lisa & Robert.
  • Watching my best friend, Mark, be baptized.
  • Hearing the beautiful and spiritually rich prayers.
  • Holding my candle as a symbol of my heart becoming illuminated.
  • Being signed with the chrism (Holy Oil) as Fr Patrick made a sign of the cross on my forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, chest, hands and feet, while each time saying, “The Seal and Gift of the Holy Spirit” to which the entire congregation responded by saying “Sealed!”
  • Receiving the real Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist for the very first time. Absolutely awesome!!
  • Receiving the cross on a chain around my neck as a constant sign of my life in Christ.
  • Being encouraged to invoke the prayers of our patron saints.
  • Knowing that from this day forward my family and friends will live and grow in the fullness of Christ’s life through the nurturing care of the Church.

A lot more can and must to be said about today. It was momentous in ways that I’m still trying to fathom. All day, I have been sensing something deep, and to this point beyond words, simmering inside of me. It’s similar to what I remember experiencing after other life-changing events, like my wedding day or my children’s birth. Each of those events marked the end of a specific journey and the beginning of a new journey that would prove far greater and life-impacting than I could have anticipated. I have been sensing the same thing since this morning’s service. We’re Orthodox and I suspect it will change everything. And I love it.

You can view photos from the event on the St Peter’s website by clicking HERE.

chrismation

Coming Home

st_petersBack in April, I posted my reflections about my friends’ reception into the Holy Orthodox Church. One of the most moving moments was when Fr Patrick whispered into the ear of one of my friends and said “Welcome home.” Even as I write this eight months later, I still remember the ache in my heart at hearing those words. It seems my entire Christian journey, which began back about 25 years ago, has been one of searching for “home.” As much as I have encountered the Living Christ throughout the various stages of my journey, I’ve always known that he has been leading me somewhere.

My family’s experiences during the Paschal season at St Peters convinced me that Holy Orthodoxy was the “home” I’ve been searching for, even though I never would have envisioned it as such through most of my journey.

And now this coming weekend, a new phase of my journey begins as our family and our best friends, Mark and Barbara, are received into the Holy Orthodox Church. My entire family is very excited and a bit nervous. In some ways, I feel like the prodigal son finally coming home. And the warmth and love from our friends at St Peters and St Lukes, as they anticipate our reception this weekend, has embodied the Father running to meet me and my family and to usher us into his home.

But coming home isn’t the end of the story. It never is. Life, even New Life, goes on. The story will continue as we learn to live in the Father’s home with our brothers and sisters, fully communing with the Living Christ. Knowing the depths of my own heart, I know I will make mistakes and offend. And I know I will be offended. I learned long ago that when two or more Christians gather… someone’s going to get hurt. But everything we will experience — the joys, the sorrows, the forgiveness, the thrills, the pains — is for our salvation if experienced and processed properly. Fortunately, our family is part of a larger family with the same desire to commune with Christ and to grow into his likeness. Now in our new larger family we will worship together, commune together, fast together, pray together, serve together, and love together, as we are guided by a wise and caring priest who embodies Christ, aids in our confession, gives us spiritual direction, teaches us, and extends God’s grace through His holy Mysteries and as we are joined by the entire Body of Christ as they are made known through the icons, hymns and stories.

And the ones of whom I am the proudest and most moved are my family. Debbie’s courage at the unknown and her embracing of the various disciplines of prayer and fasting have continually inspired me. My children’s quick receptivity of Orthodox theology and practice, such as venerating the icons, led me into a fuller practice and experience of Christ’s life. And although I was the one that initiated our one-year commitment to attend St Peters, it has been my family that has quietly encouraged me to stay connected when all of my wounds and fears from the past screamed for me to remain disconnected at best or to pull me away at worst. I really believe I have been the “weakest link” in my family’s journey to Orthodoxy. And I am very thankful for their living example of strength and courage, especially in my weakness.

I cannot express how thrilled I am as I anticipate standing with my wife and children and friends in our “Chrismation whites” with our sponsors to be received into the Father’s home and to fully eat at his table. And while I am painfully aware of my unworthiness, I am even more grateful for the overabundance of my Savior’s and God’s grace.

I’m finally home. Glory to God!

Happy Birthday, Debbie!

IMG_4866.JPGToday is Debbie’s birthday. I really believe that my wife is the greatest thing I have going for me in life. Everyday I’m filled with amazement that she chose to take my name and give me her life. She is truly God’s gift to me and I cherish her with everything I have. She’s my best friend and there isn’t another person on this planet with whom I would rather spend time. I love her humor, her intelligence, her compassion, and her wit. And, boy, is she a Looker! We have shared the greatest moments of our lives together. We’ve cried, laughed, yelled and whispered as husband and wife, now going on twenty years. And God willing, we will journey together and grow more deeply in love for decades to come.

There’s a commercial on TV that shows a young couple strolling past an elderly couple, who are slowly walking and holding hands. That’s my vision of a life well-lived. I want to be holding hands with my best friend and lover when we’re old and wrinkly. I want to see her look at me and smile with that twinkle that is for me alone.

I love you, Debbie. Happy Birthday!

Visit to Oak Glen

This past weekend, Debbie attended a Women’s Retreat in Santa Barbara. David called me up and asked if I wanted to take the kids out to Oak Glen with him. We agreed and am I’m glad we did! The weather was beautiful and we had a fun time. Click HERE to view pictures in my MobileMe Gallery.

And if you want to see the kids making Apple Cider, click HERE.

The Last Single-Digit Birthday!

Today, my youngest child, Christopher, turned NINE YEARS OLD! Happy Birthday, Chris!

Chris is such a charming, witty and observant young man. He has always had an incredible comedic timing and I love laughing at his humor. And there are times when we’re talking that I forget he’s only nine. I have enjoyed watching him grow up and I’m proud to be his dad.

Below is a video I took of him about five years ago. He had such a cute lisp when he was four.

And in a flash, he’s nine!

To help celebrate his birthday, Debbie worked late into the night baking cupcakes. Then she and the kids worked hard this morning transforming them into “hamburger” cupcakes to take to Chris’ class. They turned out great.

  

Next year, all of my kids will be in the double-digits. I miss my babies. But I love my kids and I’m so thrilled by the kind of wonderful men and women they are growing into.

Monrovia Canyon Park

We just got home from hiking at Monrovia Canyon Park. It was a very nice time despite the muggy weather. The trail was only about 3/4 mile, ending at a small waterfall. Below are a few photos.

  

We had to be careful because there was a lot of poison oak and poison ivy on the edges of the trail.

After our hike, we had lunch at the picnic area. There were a few families doing the same. When we had finished eating, we heard Dani yell, “There’s a bear.” Sure enough, down by the flimsy fence acting as a perimeter for the picnic area was a young brown bear. The family nearest the bear got up in shock. And then Christopher, our youngest, runs at full speed towards the bear. We started yelling, “Chris, get back here!” And he yells back, “It’s okay, there’s a fence.”

What he didn’t know was that there was a hole in the fence about six feet from where the bear was. I was able to get a video clip of the bear coming through the fence. That’s when Chris panicked and started running away. So in the clip you can hear people telling him to stop running.

The bear was only interested in rummaging through the trash and eventually made its way across the parking lot and into another area of the woods.

What a fun and exciting day!

Happy Birthday, Danielle!

Today, my youngest daughter, Danielle, turned eleven years old! She is such a wonderful young girl. She loves to design clothes and cooking. And she has an infectious giggle.

We celebrated her birthday with a Pizza & Pool Party for her and a few of her friends. And her birthday cake was a yummy Black Forest Cake topped with relighting candles. We’re so mean. 😉

 

We love you, Danielle! We’re so proud of you!

Happy Anniversary!

Today, Debbie and I celebrate nineteen years of marriage! She is not only my wife and mother of our children, but my best friend. There isn’t a person in this world I’d rather be with than Debbie. I miss her every morning when I leave for work and look forward each day to reuniting with her in the afternoon. Because of Debbie, I’m a better man. And I’m daily amazed at how she can bear the wounds of my insensitivity, selfishness and sin and still give herself wholly to me for the rest of her life. She is truly God’s gift to me. She incarnates beauty, compassion, wisdom, courage and so many other tremendous qualities. I love you, Deb!

The following picture was taken when we were dating about twenty years ago. (Yeah, I know I had big hair back then.)

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Changing Our Lifestyle

Our family is gradually learning that living a Christ-following life in the Orthodox Church requires a significant change in lifestyle. There are daily rhythms, weekly rhythms as well as extended spiritual seasons that we observe.

For example, our family’s daily rhythm is being restructured around times of prayer, especially morning and evening prayers. When school was in session, Debbie was leading the kids in the morning prayers and usually every night I try to lead the kids in the evening prayers. These include crossing ourselves as well as performing the metania, a bow with the right hand grazing the floor followed by crossing oneself.

Also each week our family is learning to observe fasting with the Church every Wednesday and Friday. During these days, we refrain from any meat (including eggs), any dairy products, wine and olive oil. I didn’t realize how especially tough fasting on Fridays would be. Also, Orthodox Christians observe a total fast from all food and drink and practice silence and contemplation from Saturday night to Sunday morning in preparation to receive the Holy Eucharist. (Since we’re not Orthodox Christians yet and cannot receive the Eucharist, we’re not observing this total fast.)

The entire weekly rhythm in Orthodoxy centers around the Eucharist. At that moment in the Divine Liturgy, the bread and wine actually transfigure into the Body and Blood of Jesus. It’s a moment when heaven and earth absolutely and truly intersect. I like how Frederica Mathewes-Green describes it in her book, “On the Corner of East and Now”:

“In a few hours, heaven will strike earth like lightning on this spot. The worshippers in this little building will be swept into a divine worship that proceeds eternally, grand with seraphim and incense and God enthroned, ‘high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple’ (Isaiah 6:1). The foundations of that temple shake with the voice of angels calling ‘Holy’ to each other, and we will be there, lifting fallible voices in the refrain, an outpost of eternity. If this is true, it is the most astonishing thing that will happen in our city today.”

By receiving the very Body and Blood of Jesus, the Church, Christ’s Body, communes with Christ and takes his presence into itself and then into the world. So this moment is the climax of the Orthodox Christian’s week and therefore, the weekly rhythm of individual and corporate fasting, prayers and other spiritual disciplines sweep the Church up like a wave catches a surfer to the shore.

And there are seasonal rhythms in the Orthodox Church. We were amazed at the journey through Lent and Pascha. And beginning August 1, we enter another season of fasting in anticipation of the Dormition of the Theotokos. This fast lasts two weeks and will be our family’s first extended fast together. We’ve been gradually including our kids in the various fasts so far. We think they’re ready. So beginning on Friday, we will fast together — no meat and eggs, no dairy, no olive oil and no wine.

In many ways, these rhythms are like athletic training. They tone us and strengthen us by teaching us to die to ourselves through small things like food and by teaching us to commune with God through small things like morning and evening prayers. I love this about Orthodoxy. It’s in the small things that we actually grow into Christ. Spiritual formation into Christ’s likeness or theosis is accomplished not by staggering spiritual moments, but by faithfulness and obedience to Christ in daily life. And having daily, weekly and seasonal rhythms provide the framework for this work.

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Happy Independence Day!

It’s about 11 pm and we just arrived home from a full day. We spent the morning relaxing. Then we drove out to my parents’ home to pick up Michael, who has spent the last few days with them. Then we drove home and went swimming at Debbie’s sister’s home. Then we cleaned up, bought food and headed over to Debbie’s parents’ home for a BBQ with them and Deb’s sister’s family. We followed up the BBQ with fireworks!

I’ve posted several photos of the pyrotechnic action below.

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Aaahhh… Summer!

Debbie’s already posted a couple of times about how summer is progressing for our family. (You can read them HERE and HERE.) I am so glad that she gets a few weeks off this summer. She’s worked so hard non-stop for the last few years. I know she has missed spending leisurely time with our kids. And I know they have missed it with her as well.

I am also enjoying the slower pace. I feel that as I age, my body quickly acclimates to a more relaxing schedule than when I was younger. Yesterday was a good example. I got home from work about 4:30 pm. Debbie and the kids were swimming at their cousins’ home, so I exercised and went for a nice walk. Later, I took Debbie out for Garden Burgers at one of the family-owned restaurants in Glendora. We’ve gotten to know the owner’s wife, who is Greek Orthodox. So while waiting for our burgers, we had a nice conversation with her about fasting (we’re currently in the Apostle’s Fast) and how to help our kids learn the spiritual importance about fasting. During dinner, Debbie and I had a nice relaxing conversation. After we arrived home from dinner, I went out to water the grass in front of our apartment complex. For some reason, the sprinklers haven’t been turning on, so the grass and bushes are like crispy bacon without the cool bacon aroma. So I spent a nice time in the cool evening, watering the lawn and listening to John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza. Then later, Debbie, Michael and I watched a good cowboy movie called Crossfire Trail, which is based off of a Louis L’amour novel.

No stress. No rush. No scurrying to finish homework or scrambling to get to a meeting.

And as I thought about the slower rhythm of summer, it reminded me that we’re also experiencing a slower rhythm at Church. The Paschal season ended on Pentecost a couple of weeks ago. And as wonderful as Lent, Holy Week and Pascha were, I am enjoying the slower rhythm of the Church. It’s as if the Church is making room for all of us to take the victory and beauty of Pascha and to live it out in the world personally — in our normal rhythms of prayer, fasting, family, friends, work, and play. For me, this is what being a Christ-follower is all about — learning to grow into and embody Jesus’ fullness in real life, to become by grace what Christ is by nature. That’s salvation. That’s mission. That’s life. It really is that simple because Jesus is my salvation, my mission and my life. And being in a Church where this is just normal life for everyone is absolutely awesome!

So, I feel like I’m walking through life more thoughtful and contemplative right now. And while there are things I’d like to write about, even feel compelled to write about at times, to do so without restraint would risk engaging in a flurry that is alien to what is best for this moment and season.

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A Little Color and Life to My Workspace


Debbie and the kids bought me a very thoughtful Father’s Day gift. About a month ago, our technology department moved into a new location. I like my area to be sparse. However, it was a bit too sparse. So Debbie and the kids bought a bamboo plant in a cool vase for me. It’s brought a nice sense of balance, color and life to my cubicle.

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Full & Satisfying Weeks

The kids’ last day of school was this past Thursday. So, the last couple of weeks have been very full. On top of our “normal” weekly routine, we had a band performance, a choir performance, a birthday party, finals, end-of-year trips and parties, and an eighth grade promotion.

Yup. Cathy is moving up to high school. She’s done such a great job in Jr. High and, as you can tell from the pictures, we are all very proud of her.

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Oh, I Forgot to Mention…

  …Michael caught a duck.

I was going through the photos on my cell phone and came across these photos. Here’s the back story:

Every Saturday, we have brunch with Debbie’s parents and her youngest brother. Just down the street from one of the restaurants we frequent is a mortuary with a small gated fountain/pond with ducks. The kids walked to the mortuary while we finished brunch. As we were leaving the restaurant to pick them up, we received a call on the cell phone. “Mom! Michael caught a duck! Can we keep it?” One of the ducks somehow got on the other side of the fence and Michael was able to catch it.

I love what his t-shirt says, “This is what cool looks like.” Yup. It certainly is.

We didn’t keep the duck. We released it back into “the wild” of the mortuary.

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Icon of St. Nectarios

Debbie took three of our kids to Matins this morning at St. Peter’s. When they returned home, my oldest son gifted me with a small icon of St. Nectarios that he bought for me. St. Nectarios was a very humble and pious man who, among other things, loved God’s Word, prayer, and graciously endured false slander. He is such a beautiful example of a Christ-filled life, one that I hope I may emulate.

I’m hoping to address the issue of saints and icons in a future post, but I want to say now that one of the ways I feel the Orthodox Church offers the fullness of the Gospel is through the commemoration of the saints. God is alive and truly wonderful through his saints.

Below is a synopsis of his life from AbbaMoses.com:

“Saint Nectarius was born in Selyvria of Thrace on October 11, 1846. After putting himself through school in Constantinople with much hard labour, he became a monk on Chios in 1876, receiving the monastic name of Lazarus; because of his virtue, a year later he was ordained deacon, receiving the new name of Nectarius. Under the patronage of Patriarch Sophronius of Alexandria, Nectarius went to Athens to study in 1882; completing his theological studies in 1885, he went to Alexandria, where Patriarch Sophronius ordained him priest on March 23, 1886 in the Cathedral of Saint Sabbas, and in August of the same year, in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo, made him Archimandrite. Archimandrite Nectarius showed much zeal both for preaching the word of God, and for the beauty of God’s house. He greatly beautified the Church of Saint Nicholas in Cairo, and years later, when Nectarius was in Athens, Saint Nicholas appeared to him in a dream, embracing him and telling him he was going to exalt him very high.

“On January 15, 1889, in the same Church of Saint Nicholas, Nectarius was consecrated Metropolitan of Pentapolis in eastern Libya, which was under the jurisdiction of Alexandria. Although Nectarius’ swift ascent through the degrees of ecclesiastical office did not affect his modesty and childlike innocence, it aroused the envy of lesser men, who convinced the elderly Sophronius that Nectarius had it in his heart to become Patriarch. Since the people loved Nectarius, the Patriarch was troubled by the slanders. On May 3, 1890, Sophronius relieved Metropolitan Nectarius of his duties; in July of the same year, he commanded Nectarius to leave Egypt.

“Without seeking to avenge or even to defend himself, the innocent Metropolitan left for Athens, where he found that accusations of immorality had arrived before him. Because his good name had been soiled, he was unable to find a position worthy of a bishop, and in February of 1891 accepted the position of provincial preacher in Euboia; then, in 1894, he was appointed dean of the Rizarios Ecclesiastical School in Athens. Through his eloquent sermons, his unwearying labours to educate fitting men for the priesthood, his generous almsdeeds despite his own poverty, and the holiness, meekness, and fatherly love that were manifest in him, he became a shining light and a spiritual guide to many. At the request of certain pious women, in 1904 he began the building of his convent of the Holy Trinity on the island of Aegina while yet dean of the Rizarios School; finding later that his presence there was needed, he took up his residence on Aegina in 1908, where he spent the last years of his life, devoting himself to the direction of his convent and to very intense prayer; he was sometimes seen lifted above the ground while rapt in prayer. He became the protector of all Aegina, through his prayers delivering the island from drought, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Here also he endured wicked slanders with singular patience, forgiving his false accusers and not seeking to avenge himself. Although he had already worked wonders in life, an innumerable multitude of miracles have been wrought after his repose in 1920 through his holy relics, which for many years remained incorrupt. There is hardly a malady that has not been cured through his prayers; but Saint Nectarius is especially renowned for his healings of cancer for sufferers in all parts of the world.”

 

 

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So, What About Your Kids?

As I’ve mentioned before, our entire family is exploring Eastern Orthodoxy together through 2008. So you may be interested in how my children are processing their experiences.

First, St. Peters has several families with children. Our kids began making friends fairly quickly. As much as their spiritual development is a priority for Debbie and me, we knew it had to happen in the context of good friendships. I believe most, if not all, of the kids have grown up Orthodox in that church since it converted en masse from being a Four Square church to Orthodoxy about twelve years ago. So we’ve been thrilled that our kids have been embraced by the youth. It was a blast watching our kids playing and hanging out together with new friends at the Pascha Party at the park on Sunday.

Also, if you’re not familiar with Orthodoxy, all of the children join the adults for all of the services. That’s because Orthodox children, even young babies, are part of the parish and receive the Eucharist every Sunday. If there is a Sunday school program at an Orthodox Church, it is supplementary and usually held after Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning. In fact, all of the children participate in the full life of the Church. (It was very moving to watch over 20 children bowing before and venerating the cross simultaneously during many of the Holy Week services.)

Debbie and I were concerned about how our kids would fit in as we joined St. Peters. While our kids have made friends fairly easily at past Protestant churches, they had attended their own “age-appropriate” programs during the adult worship service. So, how would our kids deal with the lengthy Orthodox services? How would they process things that were different from the Protestant experiences like venerating the icons, chanting, crossing themselves, kissing the priest’s hand and other differences? Would these differences hinder them from making friends with the Orthodox children?

Well, after four months at St. Peters, it seems like we had nothing to be concerned about. As I mentioned above, our kids began making friends very quickly. And each, in his or her own time, has taken to Orthodox practice and theology (at their level of understanding) like a duck to water. Practices and points of theology that have been serious issues of internal wrestling for Debbie and me were virtually nothing for the kids.

For example, our older kids immediately understood the logic and theology behind venerating the icons. They understand that Jesus conquered death and so those who have passed on are still alive and desire to intercede for the salvation of God’s people on earth. My kids love the story of the saints. And it thrills me that they find the lives of those who have lived for Christ hundreds of years ago as interesting and relevant to their own salvation and relationship with Christ.

Also, all four of my kids loved Holy Week and Pascha. We took them out of school on Friday so that they could experience everything during their first Pascha. It seemed like we virtually lived at the Church for three days, a lot of that time spent standing in services. And all four of them kept telling us how great the experience was.

After we got some sleep following the Pascha service, I asked my kids to write down a few things that they like and dislike about Orthodoxy. Here’s what they said:

Christopher (8 yrs old) said he likes the Orthodox Church because, “They share stuff. They are very nice. They tell the truth. They are very holy. We give respect (he’s speaking of the various acts of veneration to the icons, cross, Gospel and priest). And it’s fun to hang out with them.” The only thing he didn’t like was the fact that it’s hard to understand the chanting.

Danielle (10 yrs old) said she likes the Orthodox Church “Because the people are nice and the priest is sometimes funny in his sermon. I also like the chanting and incense.” Her only dislike, “The only bad thing is sometimes the service goes too late.”

Catherine (13 yrs old) said she like the Orthodox Church for these reasons, “I love how they study the saints and not just read them out of the Bible. I also love how they reenact Palm Sunday and the hanging and taking down of Christ [from the cross]. And I like how they all fast the same thing.” Her only dislike was “I don’t like how long we have to stand. But if we keep going there [to St Peters], it will become easier.”

Michael (16 yrs old) said “I like the Orthodox Church because the people are all nice. I enjoy Fr. Patrick and how he is able to be funny while preaching. I also enjoy the fact that there is more respect. Today, most Christian churches have loud ‘rock bands’ playing worship songs while at the Orthodox Church, they do chanting that is calmer and more respectful.”

Michael is very much like me. He observes and processes things quietly and internally. On Sunday after all the Pascha events, he said, “Dad, this weekend was amazing.” That simple statement spoke volumes.

All four of my kids are eager to become Orthodox. However, Debbie and I want to wait at least another couple of months before we seriously consider the idea of our family becoming catechumens. This probably will be one of the most important decisions of our family’s life, so we don’t want to make an emotional decision. It will be the first time that our family will choose a church home together and not joining one because it was dad’s next pastoral job.

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A Pascha Surprise

We arrived home last night after the Agape Service and Pascha Party to discover a nice surprise. Catherine had captured a few caterpillars a couple of weeks ago. Two of them had emerged from the cocoons over the Pascha weekend, so we released them back into the wild. It was a nice symbolic way to end our Pascha experience.

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Holy Pascha

It’s about 4 am. We got home from our first Pascha service about 3:30 am. It was absolutely stunning! The candles, the songs, the priest banging on the church door with the cross, the choir, the flowers. Amazing!

We sang this great song over and over throughout the service as we held our candles above our heads:

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,

And upon those in the tomb, bestowing life!”

Now we’re exhausted and will try to sleep for several hours and re-energize before the Agape Service at 2 pm and the Pascha party at 4 pm.

Below are a few pictures I snapped with my cell phone during the Pascha service.

    

And now I’m off to bed.

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Great & Holy Saturday

This morning’s service was the Vesperal Liturgy of the Harrowing of Hell. During this service, we watched one of our new friends receive Baptism and several more of our new friends receive Chrismation. I’ve posted a few pictures I took on my cell phone. I apologize for the poor quality.

      

It was at this service that everything we’ve been experiencing through Lent, and especially Holy Week, finally caught up with me. The services on Thursday night and through Friday were absolutely intense. I have nothing in my personal history as a Protestant to compare with the depth, richness and beauty of these past few days. We have read so much Scripture, sang so many hymns, said so many prayers, and bowed and crossed ourselves so many times that we have virtually lived in a continual atmosphere of worship, prayer and Scripture the past few days. In addition, there are the layers upon layers of symbols, details and meaning that everything holds in the Orthodox Church. Everything is done for a reason, often many reasons, that ties every gesture, word and act back into the Gospel and the life of God.

So this morning, as service began, I happened to be standing near the large cross that had been placed in the center of sanctuary. I stood looking at the cross, simply bathing in all that has come before and in preparation for what was to come. As I gazed at the cross, my eyes lowered to the small image at the foot of the cross. It is a small image of a skull and bones, symbolizing death. And like a massive wave, the magnitude of Jesus’ life, crucifixion and resurrection washed over me. He has defeated death through death! Death is vanquished. He didn’t just forgive my sins. He completely and absolutely destroyed death and its power!

During one of the previous services, the entire congregation participated in a procession with candles outside the Church. As we re-entered the sanctuary, everyone walked through the sanctuary doors under the icon of Christ’s burial. This symbolized both our participating in Christ’s death and the fact that as we go through that death with him, we then enter his life, which is in his Church.

So my friends’ Baptism, Chrismations and first Communion as new members of Christ’s Holy Church pulsed with such meaning this morning.

As the service was drawing to an end, our priest was gifting each new member with a cross that is to be worn at all times. As he put the chain around the neck of one of my friends and hugged him, I heard him whisper, “Welcome home.”

At those words, tears welled in my eyes and I felt such an ache in my heart. I have been searching, for what I now know as “home,” for as long as I can remember. I was searching for it as a young teenager before I had ever heard of Jesus. I was searching for it after accepting Jesus into my life over twenty years ago. I have searched for it as God has lead me on my journey into Calvary Chapel, the Baptist Church, Youth with a Mission, the OMS Holiness Church, the Vineyard and the Emerging Church. And each step has brought me a little bit closer.

I yearn to hear those words, “Welcome home,” whispered into my ear one day. I long to find the place where the yearnings of my heart to be like Jesus are truly and fully met. Debbie and I hope to find a non-consumerist church community, where all of us — men, women, and children — train to follow Jesus together into his world. Will that be the Orthodox Church? A huge part of me hopes so. And if the last four months are any indication, it looks like it will be so. I feel everything has been preparing me to embrace such a spiritually and theologically deep, rich and full-life form of Christianity. Perhaps I have found home.

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Great & Holy Friday

This morning we participated in the Service of Royal Hours. The following is a hymn we sang as we knelt before Jesus on the cross:

 

“Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree.

Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree.

Today he who hung the earth upon the waters is hung upon the tree.


“The King of the Angels is decked with a crown of thorns.

He who wraps the heavens with clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery.

He who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face.

The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the cross with nails.

The son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.


“We worship Thy passion, O Christ.

We worship Thy passion, O Christ.

We worship Thy passion, O Christ.

“Show us also Thy glorious resurrection!”

 

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