Monday, May 2, 2016

less tv = more laundry

After too many bickerings about who wants to - or gets to - watch some show/movie/episode on Netflix, Amazon, etc... we're cutting out almost all media intake for a while.  We haven't had cable tv since about 2004, but still... we all know that youtube can get consuming.  I wish it wasn't so, but too often I've allowed especially the boys to "veg out" for far too long.  I have to admit that it's easier at times to keep them occupied if I have other things to take care of - but it's grown into an unhealthy dependency.

So, tonight we took off for the park after dinner.  I grabbed my mitt, bat and some balls and we headed toward the schoolyard.  After about a hundred pitches, swings, misses and some hits - I got ambushed, tackled... so we rolled around wrestling and laughing in the wet grass and mud.

we all came back damp and filthy, but it was a great night together.

i don't have any problem doing more laundry for that.

Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.
Prov. 4:23

Friday, June 5, 2015

over the last year...

I just realized it's been a year since writing anything here.
I've started to write a few times over the last several months - just wasn't ready.

To be honest, the last year has been full of joys, pains, questions, doubts, accomplishments, mis-steps, sprints, backsteps, hesitations and some progress...  I'll write some about those things in the weeks and months to come.

But to get some momentum - here are are a handful of things that have influenced and impacted my life - and the lives of our family over the last year.  We have learned a lot through these experiences and it my hope that these experiences will encourage you to strive for God's best for your life as well - despite fears, doubts, obstacles and uncertainties.

May 2014

June 2014

July 2014
Aug 2014

Sept 2014 
  • We celebrated Kenni's 13th birthday -- (How did I become a parent of a teenager?)
  • We cut down *most* of our giant tree.  Now, what to do with the stump?
  • Installed a new heating system in our house with the help of a dear friend - and TK

Oct 2014

Nov 2014

Dec 2014

Jan 2015

Feb 2015

March 2015

April 2015

This month; May 2015: 

I'm sure there will be more struggles, doubts, joys, pains and refinement... and the adventure continues.  

So, keep on in the relentless pursuit... running with those you love, chasing what matters most.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Adventure Continues

Last Novemember we anticipated moving to another community to join the staff of an existing church where I would work in an associate pastor role.  I knew that God had placed a desire in my heart to connect with other families and assist them in their walk with Jesus, but we weren't entirely sure where God would lead us to do His work -- we wanted to stay, but were willing to go where we were called.

To be truthful, we have found a sense of belonging and connection in our Middletown community that we've not experienced at any earlier point in our lives.  We were willing to wait longer for a job opportunity if necessary, but the more we waited the more God seemed to be developing a different path for us.

About six years ago, I met Ves Sheely.  Ves is the New England District Superintendant of the Evangelical Free Church of America.  Over the years, Ves has been an incredible voice of insight and encouragement in helping Amy and I determine where we may fit best in ministry.  Ves made his thoughts clear early on - but I was very reluctant to even entertain his idea of planting a church.  However, during the fall of 2013 that call seemed to be crystalize for Amy and I and we went to our knees to ask God to confirm His call.

Over several weeks of prayer, consideration and planning we met with a few families who shared our convictions about the mission of the church.

Then, after overcoming some logistical obstacles, we finally met as a group made up of about 30 people the first week of January.  As we shared the vision that God had been cultivating in our hearts others resonated with it and the sense of unity grew.  We all had more questions, but the unity we shared compelled us to move forward and we decided that evening to begin meeting together the following week.

Truthfully, I expected it to take more time... I guess I wanted it to take more time... but after that first time of sharing and worship together we knew it was time.

Our Core Values are as follows:

  • Gospel Centered Worship
  • Gospel Centered Discipleship
  • Gospel Centered Family
  • Gospel Centered Community
  • Gospel Centered Generosity
  • Gospel Centered Mission

 You can read about these core values here.  But in short, over the course of the last 15 years of ministry Amy and I have become more and more burdened to help families become the primary discipler of the home  (Dt. 6:4-9; Titus 2:1-5).  Up until the early 20th century that's the way it was.  Unfortunately, over the last 50 years or so, that leadership responsibility has greatly deteriorated.  Today, many church families struggle to grasp Jesus' call to discipleship (Mt. 16:24) - and because Gospel Centered Discipleship is not happening in the home it's failing everywhere else.  Therefore our value of Gospel Centered Family is naturally tied to Discipleship.

Jesus call to discipleship is radical...and since the Church is - unfortunately - more known for what it is against; along with its hypocrisy - the Church has become anemic and irrelevant.  Anemic Christianity is not compelling - so together we surrender to Jesus and continue on the relentless pursuit of The Father and His will for our lives.  We will never be perfect - but as a church we are compelled to run after Jesus with all we've got... and lead and love the next generation to do the same.

Therefore, discipleship must be a primary focus and - as a church - we have an obligtion to help others learn who Jesus has called them to BE... to help them DO what He's called them to DO.  This sense of duty must come from the overflow of The Gospel.  That's what Jesus expected of his first followers too.  From the first conversations Jesus had with his soon-to-be disciples -- He called them to be "fishers of men."  (Mt. 4:19) -- in essence leading them to be not just "lemmings" but disciple-makers.  That sense of mission carried all the way through His ministry!

Unfortunately - especially over the last 100 years or so - Jesus call has deteriorated in the family which has deeply affected the modern church today.

So, discipleship and family will contiue to be deep convictions for Covenant Life Church.

The value of Generosity was also forged through the last several years of ministry experience.  As Amy and I were praying about how to make the greatest impact in our world (Acts 1:8) for The Gospel... we were struck with the fact that the average American church gives less than 10% of their budget to missions and most of that small amount goes into US based minsitry.  Today, the US Church spends an estimated 2% of their budgets on the most needy of the world.

Considering the fact that Americans are less than 5% of the World Population and that about 2 billion pepole, representing over 3000 people groups have not heard The Gospel.... we wanted to think differently about way we structured our budget.

So, we felt God callng us to do something a bit unique - to live on 50% of our Church income,  and to give away the other half.  (inspired in-part by 100x Church in Huntsville, AL)

Now, we don't believe that every church - necessarily - is called to do the same, and we don't really know how long God will have us continue our budget structured in this way.  We will continually analyze and evaluate the best use of ministry dollars.  At this point, however, God has been blessing us abundantly - and providing for us, so we march on.

These ministry dollars are strategically placed with organizations and ministries that build bridges in our community and advance the kingdom of God.  The criteria we have to provide fiancial support is specific enough that we are not spread too thin, but general enough that we are not constricted by perameters that would prevent us from supporting wholesome efforts to build bridges of relationships in our region.

What it looks like on Sunday

On February 6th the New England District Board of Directors voted to officially approve Covenant Life Churchas to be a part of the Evangelical Free Church of America.  This association provides excellent oversight but also the freedom to lead our church in the way that God has convicted us.  We have not been more "terrified" and excited at the same time... Every week is is an adventure.. and I'm sure it will continue to be.  Currrently, we meet in a small community center with about about 10 families.  So there are about 20 adults and about 30 kids. Since family is a core value, we all meet in the same space together.

When we discussed this idea initially, it was a little hard to imagine for some of us - especially since many folks who have any church background are accustomed to separate kids' programs.  However, we have decided to build our entire church experience and worship service around integrated learning and intergenerational interaction.  Now, we have seniors investing into middle aged couples, who are interacting with newly married couples who spend time with collegiates who are investing into teens and children.

This environment provides a platform even to children and young adults to share the wisdom they have gleaned.  So, some of the most profound questions and insights during our discussion time have come from teens and children.   If a comment  is shared that is somewhat off course, we redirect if necessary to correctly understand the text,  but the beauty of the connection is that we all learn better, together.

To facilitate this envioronment, we don't sit in rows, but instead at tables and our teaching is essentially broken into three segments.

  • Introduction (with Children) 
  • Table and Group Discussion 
  • Application

The time allotments to these sections vary somewhat week to week, but essentially we begin the teaching with the kids, introducing the concepts of the text, then we will dig a little deeper into the passage when the children return to their seats with their families.  Then based on the text, we will discuss two questions - which require the families and table groups to look at the text themselves to determine the answer to the discussion questions.

We have a lot to learn, but we are excited about what God is doing in this small community of disciples. Each week brings it's own adventures... and frustrations - It's inevitable that something doeesn't go as according to plan.  That said, we are so thankful for how God has led us so far, and we look forward to what lies ahead!

If you are local to us and don't have a church home, join us on Sunday mornings at 10am.  We'd be glad to see you!  We meet at the St Francis Society Community Center at 79 Freestone Ave, Portland, CT. 06457

The adventure continues...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Rest... then Risk.

The Summer was great for us – we really needed the time together. When the kids finished school we went to Niagara Falls for a few days. We came home and then left several days later to spend the 4th of July weekend to see family and friends in the Hershey area.
 We came home again and then took off again for Plymouth, MA. I enjoyed seeing the history around “Plimouth Plantation”, but the kids seemed to be more excited about the cannon tower and the cow-incident. We got some excitement when Sasha’s chin got a little too close to a cow’s head next to the fence. The little bump just scared her.

A week after we got back from camping in MA, we left again for Soulfest. It was great to be with thousands of other families praising God while having a lot of fun together. We wrapped up our summer with a few trips to our beloved Camp Spofford. Kenni went to her week first, then Sasha and then Ash and I went together on a father/son retreat in Mid-August.

When the kids started their new year of School, so did I.. and Amy. Amy had been planning to start back one class at a time in pursuit of her Master’s of Science in Nursing. She loves nursing and loves being on her floor. It’s strenuous, but she loves her coworkers and the working environment. However, considering the rigors of the nursing floor – Amy’s got her sights set on either a management position or a teaching position in the years ahead. We’ll see.

As for me, I’ve decided to continue on to complete my Master’s of Divinity. The classes are all extremely practical and they line up one right after the other. At this point, it looks like I'll finish in May 2015. I’ve been doing a lot of praying and soul searching about where God may lead us to serve next. Honestly, I’m having a hard time with that because we’d love to stay right here in Middletown where we’ve invested the last 7 years of our lives.  That said, we know God may have other plans for us. Now, we’re praying for the right fit to use the best of what we have to honor God in the most effective way.

We would appreciate your prayer for guidance for us as well. The last year has been a whirlwind for us , so ‘the waiting posture’ is nice in some ways, but neither Amy nor I like not knowing what the plan is.

I’m wrestling with the whole idea because I know none of us want to leave our community, yet there doesn’t seem to be an existing opportunity that fits us. I’ve begun to talk to an organization about planting a church, but I’m unsure if that’s the best thing for us.

Some of my hesitation is not wanting to move. Some of my hesitation is insecurity…and some of it is the weight of the responsibility we’re headed toward. However, I know God has called us to obedience and to risk it all for His Glory. So, with God’s help, that is where I’m committed to lead my family.

What’s your journey like? Is there anything you’d love to do, but are hesitating for some reason? Feel free to comment and share so we can be an encouragement to each other.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Progress with Ash

A few months ago, we met a wonderful therapist who has a practice not far from us. I’ll call her, Jan. Jan specializes in kids with traumatic backgrounds and attachment disorders. You may recall a post some time ago explaining our struggles with Ashebir.

When Ash came home with us he was almost four. We were his fourth ‘home’ and that took a toll on his heart. For maybe the last year, Amy and I couldn't decide I Ash was making emotionally and cognitively… After a few very difficult days with him, we agreed to pursue professional help (well, actually I finally came to grips with the fact that I couldn't “fix him” on my own)… Anyway, our Jan has been extremely helpful. It seems that Ash is making progress, but Amy and I agree that what’s been most helpful for us, is that we’ve learned how to respond to him in a more appropriate way.

I used to think that if I just love him and provided proper discipline - in the same way as we have done with our other three - he would just “get better”. For a long time, I was reluctant to get outside help I thought that somehow that was admitting defeat. I didn’t ever want to have to depend on a “professional” to help me parent my kids. That thought was arrogant.

After a few sessions without Ash, Jan helped Amy and I walk through a few “attachment sequences” with Ash. With Jan’s coaching, we are learning to help him process and respond appropriately to life.

The insight from Jan and the book by Dan Hughes that she’s had us read has been incredibly helpful. Now, when we’re home and some interaction causes him to “flip out” and become totally “dis-regulated” we've learned to help calm him and most importantly increase his sense of safety and security.

During these outbursts, he can be a danger to himself or to one of his siblings. I sit with him in my lap and just hold him so he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else. I have to admit, I was skeptical… however, now when Ash calms down he almost always, turns around in my lap and gives me a hug. The other day, he flew off the handle so I sat with him, talked to him in a quiet and soothing way while he tried to resist… but several minutes later he was calm. The hard thing about this right now, is that he’s not as receptive to Amy’s pursuit of him. She’s making progress with him but, it’s hard at times.

Until recently, I just didn’t understand the critical nature of attachment to a child’s emotional and spiritual well being. Now I do, and I’m so thankful for the help that we’re getting. It might be slow, but it’s progress.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ready for Soul Fest... and for soul-rest.

Amy's working tonight so I'm just finishing some final packing for our trek to Soul Fest tomorrow!  All of us are so excited to spend four days with thousands of 'friends'- spending time with their own families and and worshiping God together.

Last night I completed my next assignment for my online class so I wouldn't have to worry about trying to submit any assignments while at the festival this weekend.  -- Which reminds me...

I remember last year trying to carve out time during the kids mid-day naps - I had to get a term paper done and submitted...what a project... what was worse, I came down with strep throat that week too.  That was ridiculous.

Anyway, the #teamzipf camper is ready to roll and we're ready for some R n R together.

I'm also looking forward for the time away to pray and reflect with Amy too...  I'll be looking to make some connections for ministry opportunities in the region as well.  At this point, I'm grateful for the connections and encouragement that God has provided so far.  I"m sure God has just the right fit for us... but He's not yet made clear where that will be.  We'll keep pushing on doors and praying for guidance, none the less.

We know that God has our best interest in mind and we know that he has led us through the experiences that he has for a reason... The refining process isn't easy, but what we do know is that God is leading.   want to use the best of what we have to minister here in New England.

We don't know yet where God will place us, but we will continue to trust that He's leading in that direction even now.

Meanwhile, we will continue to " in the Lord with all our heart and lean not on our own understanding, but in all our ways acknowledge HIM... and trust that He will make our path straight.  (from Prov. 3:5-6)

Friday, July 19, 2013

HELP NEEDED for hurting 7yr old male. bn. in Ethiopia. Gotcha Date: 02.23.10

I've noticed his anger and inappropriate reactions off and on the last couple years.  Even still, whenever Ashebir has reacted disrespectfully or in a spiteful way, we've tried hard to be consistent with addressing each incident with appropriate consequences.  However, I've honestly felt like the issues he's exhibited he'd either learn from or grow out of.  But I've come to grips with the fact that we need outside help to lead and love Ashebir well.  We would appreciate your prayer for us on this journey.  

We have been referred to some good counselors, and are in the process of determining which will be the best fit for our family.

At this point we think some of his issues are related to Reactive Attachment Disorder  but some of his struggles could be related to developmental difficulties as well.  Some may understand how difficult this is to write because I can't stand labels.  I dislike putting "labels" on anyone especially kids - which often just excuses inappropriate behavior that should be dealt with through appropriate love, conflict resolution, affection and consequences.

That said, Ashebir did not have a healthy beginning... he's got a lot of baggage.  All I want to do is love my son and help him through the struggles he's unable to navigate in a way that other children are able to.

I wish I would have been more intentional before, so I've got some catching up to do.  That said, I am determined to find the help we need.  Amy feels the fact she has wanted to seek professional help for Ash for some time now but the magnitude of especially the last several months has contributed to putting this off - no more excuses.

A couple years ago, I wrote a letter from Ashebir to me... all the things that I wished he could say.  I believe that someday that we will be able to have those interactions I wrote about, but I want to walk with him one day at a time, one step at a time.  Wherever we get, it will be together.

At this point, Amy and I are trying not to feel so discouraged... We just feel like we've not made the kind of progress with him we would like. In fact we feel like we've plateaued and are not sure how to help him get through whatever anger and trust issues he has.

This past year in Kindergarten Ash had his moments, but did make a lot of progress.  For that we are incredibly grateful, but there are still some things we can't seem to over come.

Our troubles with Ashebir are related to almost any direction that Amy or I give him. Whether it's the options of cereal for breakfast, a choice of a toy or game to play with, what shoes to wear, what crayon to use, which entree to select or what seat to sit in at dinner time... It doesn't seem to matter... he's wants something completely different.  Also, he seems to have a difficult time with any change or transition - regardles of what or where it is.  I realize that some kids have issues with healthy perameters or acceptable choices, but this is different and we feel at a loss.  

He is often belligerent and seems to go the opposite direction from various instruction he's given. Also, he doesn't seem to understand or exhibit remorse for his wrongdoing (hurting his siblings during play time which may result in an altercation) Further, we've tried a few different forms of discipline and nothing seems to be very effective.

On a more encouraging note, Ash has developed very well physically.  He's a strong and coordinated athlete and dancer.  We know God has great things in store for him... and He we are confident that God will use Ashebir in some incredible ways as he matures.  

As I've been pondering these things especially over the last several days, two verses have come to mind.  I trust that they'll be equally encouraging to you as you may be dealing with your own heartaches...

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth he did so to admonish, challenge and love them..  The Corinthians were being disobedient and Paul refused to allow it to go on unaddressed.  So he gave them a lot of firm and loving counsel, but in 1 Cor 2, he quotes from the ancient prophet Isaiah (64:4) and says, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." (1Cor. 2:9)

A few years later, Paul wrote an encouraging letter to the Christian brothers and sisters in Philippi, and in chapter one he said, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6)

This is my prayer for all my kids... and especially for Ashebir as we walk through this with him. I know God has big plans for Ash because of God's promises - not because Ash (or anyone one of us) deserve God's Grace, but because of how Great and Awesome God is, even through the trials we encounter along the way.