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.)