Lessons at 40

IMG_0082It’s been a long time since the last blog post and life has moved more than briskly. We’ve started two companies, traveled to incredible parts of the world and have done (and am doing) things I never imagined I would do. It’s been the most enriching (and challenging) few years of my life. And yet there are things in my life that have not taken root the way I would have liked, goals and desires I thought would have been fulfilled by now. There’s this mix of happiness and heartbreak at this juncture of my life.

When I left college, I had a plan. Job, grad school, job, fortune. But as many others would attest, life didn’t turn out as planned. Things happened that were completely out of my control. And this is for the good and the bad.

My wife and I started a business (company #1) almost 3 years ago designing baby blankets that change the lives of marginalized women in India. That definitely was not in the plan (anything that’s not doctor, lawyer or engineer is not i the plan). We’ve been to some of the most destitute parts of the world and have met some of the most courageous people. Our work is challenging, fun and meaningful. It’s been a privilege and joy to do the work we’re doing.

But as I sit here reflecting on this Mother’s Day, I’m reminded of my mom’s pre-mature passing almost 8 years ago. She had so much more life to live. I’m sad I only had her for 32 years of my life and I miss her deeply. There were many moments where I needed her words of wisdom and unconditional love. It however does make heaven more real, the joy of seeing her again more palpable.

I’m 40 now and I want to write down a few things I’ve learned, reminders to myself as I move into this next season. Here we go:

  1. Seize opportunities – Opportunities come and go. And you have to seize them when they come. I think about the past 15 years (church planting, two companies, speaking opportunities, cable boxes, etc.), and the need to run with opportunities that presented themselves. I have many bruises, but no regrets.
  2. Failure is inevitable, so don’t fear it – My life is not defined by failure (it’s defined by Jesus), but I’ve failed at many things. I remember moments. Awkward, tragic moments where I said or did the wrong thing. There were many and there will be many more to come. Accept it and move on.
  3. No one has it figured out – On first glance, everyone seems like they have it figured out and I have nothing figured out. But that’s not true. No one really has it all figured out and I do know more than I give myself credit for. Have confidence in what I do know and move forward with an attitude to learn fast and learn well. The key is confidence (rooted in the Gospel and how God made me).
  4. Can’t do it alone – I don’t have everything I need to make it work. I need God. But I also need others – they’re talents, encouragement and critique. The sooner I give up on being the savior, the better.
  5. Relationships are important – This is both professionally and personally. As relational and pastoral as I am, I need to work on this more. I’m too focused on reaching goals and I need to spend more time just being friends.
  6. Take care of myself – Sleep, eat and exercise. This is actually faith in God. When I don’t take care of myself I am saying back to God that I’m not worth being taken care of. It’s a reflection of how I see myself and affront to all that God does to take care of me.
  7. Keep following the Father – There’s only one person to please. It’s hard because it will mean displeasing so many others. I wrestle with it constantly. But He knows the way and his way is always best.

Things I need to work on:

  1. Spend more meaningful time with my wife and family
  2. Focus
  3. Read more full length books (and not tweets or FB updates)
  4. Improve my Chinese
  5. Exercise and sleep at 10pm
  6. Work on “new” additions
  7. Develop a hobby

Be back again soon.

success

Sarah and I had dinner with our intern [and friend!] last night and she just came back from a missions trip to Nepal [helping with the initial setup work for a worship/music school]. She told us they were planning on going to an orphanage and she imagined it to be like any other orphanage she’d been to in the past [or seen on TV!]: dormitory style, horrid caretaker to child ratio, desperate children awaiting their fate.

But later that day they arrived at a house with a family of eight. Father, mother, two biological kids and four adopted children. They heard their story – they had two of their own children, but knowing the local orphan issues in Nepal, they felt God leading them to share their home with children who don’t have a home. So they adopted four. It’s not easy. The adopted kids have a hard time adapting to the new environment. Their behavior is erratic. And the parents now have the added expense of putting them all through school.

The father started working for the school to get a break on the tuition. The mother quit her job to take care of all the kids. They can barely make ends meet and they pray daily for God to provide. And he does. They live in a three story house that is way beyond their means, but it was what they needed and it was an answer to prayer. Whenever there are struggles, they pray and God responds.

When our intern was sharing all this, I couldn’t help thinking how pleased God is with them, how proud he is of them. When we meet in heaven, they will be the superstars, the ones that God will say, “Well done my children, well done my faithful servants.” Our definition of success is so skewed. And we measure all the wrong things. It always boils down to how much more we can achieve or acquire. And I find myself to easily swayed by the world’s definition.

I’m working with a student who is trying to start an after school program for special needs kids. She keeps asking me how we can make it bigger so more people will notice [and thus carry more weight on the college app]. And I said to her, “What if all you do with the program is help just one special needs child forget his struggles, forget his disability and enjoy a day to paint, to laugh and to just be a kid? Is it worth it?” It was reminder to myself too… that it’s not about the bigger or necessarily the better, but purely in the obedience. God’s heart might be for us to bless a million. Or it might be to bless just one. But that’s up to him and not us. Our role is to obey. My role is to obey. And I gotta stick to just that.

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.” – Mark 8:34-36 [MES]

we are the church

One of the first books I read when we started planting Haven was Erwin McManus’ An Unstoppable Force. I think it was a good season in Erwin McManus’ writing life. It’s still a really relevant book today.

One quote that I’ve referenced often in the last 10 years is:

“We somehow think that the Church is here for us; we forget that we are the Church, and we’re here for the world.”

I’ve been running into more people recently who are still fixated on the fact that church is the “destination,” or the “ultimate goal.” I was talking to someone who said, “If anything competes with your church attendance, then you need to cut it out.” I’m not encouraging church avoidance. Hebrews 10:25 is still true – “Don’t stop meeting together!” But I’m still frustrated that we [borrowing Keller phraseology] have turned a good thing into an ultimate thing, when the ultimate thing should always be Jesus. I would hate for us as Christians to free someone from one bondage and then lead them to another.

We were NOT created for the church. The measurement of our followership of Jesus is not church attendance. Church is needed, but is not the goal. We were created to love God and the world… we were created to be on mission [Matthew 22:37-40; Acts 1:8]. Without this fundamental change, we’ll always be building monuments and not movements.

heroes

Every so often you meet someone who’s life both astounds and inspires you. We’re in the throws of preparing for our next trip to India. This one is big; we’ll begin the process of training our first class of women. It’s huge and if it’s not successful, our original vision is in jeopardy.

We recently came across a women named Melanie. We found a training manual she wrote to help train the poor to sew. After some relentless Googling, we found her in Hyderabad and was able to schedule a Skype session with her. For a women who’s been in India for seven years, working among the poor, she has so much life in her!

She told us her story… went on a missions trip with her church to India… thought she’d only stay a month… ended up staying seven years… was a costume designer for over 20 years… didn’t think her skills could even be useful… began training women to sew helping them work their way out of poverty. And here’s the kicker. She’s able to function comfortably for less than $500 a month.

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new season

God has taught me a lot this season. But most of it revolves around the theme of surrender. I hear him whispering to me:

Do you believe that my way is better than yours?
Do you trust where I’m taking you?
Do you love me more than fame, security or wealth?

It’s been a season of extremes. Exhilarating. Revealing. Distilling. But He’s been good to me. I might be whiny and gripey at times, but I know and feel like I am His son. And it’s my subtle reminder that I’m headed in the right direction, that I’m OK.

Snippets of life:

2 weeks… and then India
50 college-prep students
1st big EFD expenditure coming soon
see less of my dad
hand-pulled noodles
i really love my wife
understanding the world outside of the church

larger and sweeter

My wife and I finally decided to rehab these planters in our back patio. For about three years, they were holding lifelessly dry, granular soil littered with the remnants of vegetative corpses. I don’t even remember what we planted – it definitely didn’t resemble anything we’d want to eat or admire.

So we refreshed it with new soil, planted tomatoes, basil and chives. We threw in a cosmos for pure pleasure. Amazingly, it started to grow again. I’ve never gardened much, but there’s something very cathartic about it. Maybe it’s just the fact that in the midst of life’s frustrations, there are things we do that actually work.

We were reading up on how to nurture the fruit; get bigger tomatoes, leafier basil, chivier chives. And everyone talks about the need to prune – cutting down the fruitless branches and the pretty flowers. But they also mention the need to cut away some of the fruit. Though overall you might get less fruit, the fruit in the end will be larger and sweeter. Essentially pruning is cutting away the good so as to strive for the better.

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midsummer reststop

Sarah and I just returned from 12 days in DC. The original impetus was to speak at Open Door Presbyterian Church’s youth retreat. But we extended it a bit and celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary in our nations capital. The retreat turned out really well. And I got to reconnect with some old seminary buds and catch up on what God has been doing in our families. It was much needed. Both the retreat and the time away. Here’s a random sampling of things I learned/observed during both the retreat and in random conversations over the 2 weeks:

It’s All God – The theme of the retreat was “Freedom” – how the Gospel enables us to live free. On the second night, I taught a session on the lies that we perpetually buy into, lies that the Devil uses to keep us oppressed and afraid. It was a watershed moment for many. They knew they weren’t free, but they didn’t know why. On the third night, there was a movement of God, students were dancing and running laps around the auditorium, their joy uncontainable. It was a little out of control, but hey, who cares. It was like they tasted freedom for the first time and didn’t know what else to do. Continue reading