Reflections on Worship: Video Blog 9-14-12

I recorded this while we were at the beach last week. It was the day before I got sick (Monday) and we had to drive all the way back into Vancouver to get treated (we were able to come back to the beach late Monday night and all day Tuesday though!). As I sat there watching my kids and wife play chicken with the oncoming waves I was, for some reason, caught up in remembering the worship songs I sang as a youth. I sat there by myself singing song after song…and then I started noticing a trend in the lyrics to those songs: they’re all remorseful type songs, they’re all about how grateful I am that Jesus loves me or saves me even though I suck. While this is a good message, I think it’s missing a bigger point…ok, ok, now I’m just stepping on my poorly filmed video’s point!

Hope you enjoy yet another videoing attempt by yours truly!


Whose Story is This?

Both my wife and I live an open life. We’ve always done so. Secrets and even good measured privacy have never had much space in our life. As a matter of fact, people who feel a need to have many secrets and to keep everything “close to the vest” often baffle and annoy us (apologies to those of you who find yourself in these boxes. I’m sure the feeling is somewhat mutual!). I just don’t see much of a need to keep something hidden from you.*

This way of life has not only continued on as I’ve battled cancer, but it has come to define it. Some of our greatest challenges over the last year have been trying to find balance amidst the constant demands for our time, energy, and attention. Living an open life and inviting people into our story (again, something that has been true of us for virtually our entire lives) has in many ways brought more difficulty in this journey. On the other hand it is exactly through this openness that we’ve been able to see massive ripple effects from my story. It is through our openness in inviting people into our story that we’ve been able to see more and more people touched by what’s happened.

“It’s one thing to have your husband die young. It’s a whole other thing for him to die publicly.” There is a sense of ownership that the community at large feels they posses over my story. And, in fact, I’d suggest that I in many ways I gave that to you. Or at the very least I opened the door to my hospital room and hung the sign “visitors welcome”. There are some who see that sign and have taken up residence. There are others who have used that as an opportunity to drop off cards, meals, or color sheets from their children. Some have stopped by regularly for visits. Others simply peak their heads in, knowing that there’s something interesting inside.

Part of me wants to be cynical and relate this with the rubbernecking that we all witness, complain about, and yet participate in on the freeway during an accident. But 90% of the time in my context I do not think this is the case. As a matter of fact I do not think rubbernecking is appropriate at all to describe the draw to watch, participate, or attempt to own my families story. No, that’s not a good illustration because I believe so strongly that the story being told (that’s not a reference to me as the storyteller, but to the story that is unfolding with me, by chance and without choice, as one of its primary characters) is one that is developing great meaning and resonates deeply in our world of broken narratives. I truly do not think that people are drawn to this story because it’s a train wreck but because it’s a beautiful story.

We’re drawn to beauty aren’t we? We’re created to be attracted to beautiful things. We’re created to want to be beautiful. And even though the story that is being played out in my life, in my marriage, my family, and my neighborhood is painfully messy–there is something intrinsically beautiful about it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s getting harder and harder to live out. The weight of death–even if it does not become an immediate reality–is getting heavier and heavier within our home and within each one of us in the family. We can feel it. More than ever before. And it’s heavy.

I’m not going to attempt to create a framework or to even give advice on how you can be respectful or better care for our family as outsiders to the story.** That’s not the point of this blog nor is it something that I feel fully capable of writing (I’m not even certain that it is something that really could or should be written). The point of this post, I think, is to invite you even deeper into our story by my (potentially foolish?) attempt to expose myself even more in telling you that dying publicly adds baggage to the death process. Inviting you in brings blessing and it bring challenges.


Please wipe your feet on the matt when you enter. Please don’t pound on the door when we actually choose to lock it. Please take cues from us when we don’t want visitors to stay long. Please don’t make fun of my fat cheeks, and please realize that this whole sentence is building off the earlier hospital room metaphor. We’re all drawn to a beautiful story–and my hope is that this story will continue to play out in a way that captures the beauty of the God who I believe is responsible for taking such a shitty situation and giving it any semblance of attractiveness–

Whose story is this? The correct answer is that it is my families! The pretty spiritual answer is that it’s God’s! The cool community answer is that it’s ours! The practical selfish answer is that it’s mine! The sympathetic and compassionate answer is that it’s my wife and kids! I’m going to go ahead and just give it to this guy instead.

* There are obviously needs in life for boundaries–and this is the great challenge for people like ourselves: to create healthy boundaries.

** There are many who read my blog that do, in fact, walk through life with us. In general, however, those that I’m writing to here are those of you who are watching from a distance–many of you from across the world, many of you complete strangers, many of you whom I will never meet. You are all a part of this story because you’ve been invited into the room! But in many real ways you will (and obviously should) find yourselves as outsiders to the unfolding narrative here in the ‘Couve.

New Cars Symbolizing Death

We bought a car yesterday. A nice car. A car that I’d never buy. It’s a 2012 Jetta Sportwagen diesel. Jess and I would never buy this car. But we just did.

We buy junkers. We buy used Hyundai Accents, we buy old Chevy minivans with 100,000 miles on them, we buy cheap older cars. That’s just what we do.

But things have changed. Our old minivan is done. At 200,000+ miles the AC doesn’t work, the windows don’t roll down, one sliding door is permanently shut (because it’ll randomly open on its own while driving on the freeway!), the gas gauge doesn’t work, the brake lights do not work, the cruise control does not work, it needs new brakes and tires, and-oh did I mention-it’s got some engine and transmission work that needs to be done. So we knew we needed something soon. We also knew that when/if I die Jess would cash purchase a new car with her life insurance money. But I’m not dead yet…

So to make a short story shorter, in the end we realized that now was the time for me to be able to care for my wife by purchasing a car together that she was going to have to purchase on her own–to buy her “my husband is gone, I don’t want to worry about cars right now or for the immediate future, I just want to care for my children and recover” car. That “car” has good gas mileage (we hope to keep her monthly overhead costs low if/when I pass), it’s got to have space for children and their bikes/toys/camping trips/etc., it’s got to be a good quality car that’ll last her ’till our kids are in high school, and it’s got to be a newer car that won’t be breaking down often and thus demanding more of her time. She doesn’t care about bells, whistles, shiny things–just those practical things. That’s the car that we realized we must buy now. This week. Today. Ok, as it turns out, yesterday.

There’s just one problem…

I’m not dead!

That life insurance money is not there to fork over in cash for her ‘ideal’ car! How do you buy a car that you can only afford if you die? To be honest we don’t quite have the answer to that question. I won’t go into details regarding the deal we got on the car (though we got a good one thanks to an important connection) and I’ll honestly say that we’re still figuring out what it looks like to be able to afford it–but what I will say is that buying this car is messing me up. It’s messing Jess up. (and this is where I really want this blog to land)

Purchasing this car feels symbolic. It’s the beginning of a new life: a new life for a single mother who has lost her husband and has a new set of needs that demands a new type of car. It’s symbolic of me being gone and of her being alone. I almost feel like by purchasing this car I have given up on living! ‘Cause lets be honest, I’m not sure we can afford this car unless I die! I had better fork over that cash at some point during the life of this loan. Ha. When all was said and done at the dealership and we both had a moment to reflect we found ourselves honestly sad. What had we done? It wasn’t buyers remorse. No, it was the symbolism. We had just taken our first giant and tangible step forward into a post-Ryan world…and…well…it’s weird. I should probably have a better word than “weird” as a descriptor here. I’m sure real writers would use better words but at this moment it feels right. It just feels weird. It doesn’t feel bad because I know that at its core this is a moment where I was able to care for my wife in a very real way: I just freed her of having to do this whole experience on her own (and oh what an experience it was at the dealership!!). No, there was something beautiful about this stepping out together–but it was is very hard and very…weird. It feels weird to drive such a nice car–we don’t drive cars like this. It feels weird not drive a minivan anymore–we love minivans. It feels weird to call it my wife’s car–it’s always been “us”. It feels weird.

It is weird to continually try to figure out what it looks like to live in the tension of reality as it is and reality as we hope it to be. I hope that we end up having to restructure our loan because I miraculously don’t die. I hope that reality as it appears is not reality as it turns out. I hope to live and I know that God can bring this about. but. But. BUT I feel invited to step out in faith, to let go of any semblance of control by being ok with death. By being ok with preparing my wife for my death. By being ok with purchasing a car in preparation of my death. I don’t like it. It’s weird. It makes me sad. It worries me. I hate death. Death sucks. Death is the ultimate enemy. Buying new cars sucks. Car dealerships are enemies sidekicks. But (and there have been a lot of “buts” in this post haven’t there?!) my faith is in Jesus–not in healing, not in an easy life, not in a life that I expect but instead in the story he chooses to tell in and through me. If a new Jetta Sportwagen tdi is a part of that story…cool. Weird, but cool.

So…all that is to say…my wife got a new car yesterday.

Happy Mother’s Day Jessica

How in the world am I to write this blog? Yesterday I slogged through telling my mom how much I loved her. That was hard (and rewarding). But to attempt to capture today my love for my wife–for the mother of my children–kill me now. There are not enough words, I don’t have enough words, there aren’t enough tissues to catch my tears as I sit beside her in bed attempting to write.

The problem, and at some point this might be considered unhealthy, is that there’s no me without her. Our lives, our identities, our stories are completely enmeshed. We literally only have a few stories that are not shared. Our lives have and will continue to be done together in every sense of the word until we’re forced apart. What’s clearly so hard is that we genuinely never thought that we’d be forced apart. Not like this. Not this early.

Anyway, I realize that I wrote this blog (the blog that I’m fighting against writing all over again right now, the blog that attempts yet again to tell her how amazing and wonderful and loved she is…) a little over a week ago too, so today instead of re-writing that blog I will focus on why my wife is quite possibly the most amazing parent you’ll ever run into. No joke. No hyperbole. She really is that amazing.

Jess truly, above all else, values people. She values children. She values them as human beings, as people with dignity, with inherent worth, and as creatures filled with life and significance. This alone sets her far above the rest of us. To Jess children are not things to be controlled, they are beautiful short people needing to be empowered and listened to. Jess spends much of her time cultivating an environment in our home where our kids feel safe and loved, where they know that their feelings are valid, and where they are confident in exploring new ideas. Rather than seeking control Jessica invites our children to look for answers and to explore ideas that they’re intrigued by. She’s always encouraging and inviting them into new experiences…and it’s a beautiful thing.

One defining thing about my wife, something that not only defines her as a mom but as a human being is that she makes every moment special and unique. If she makes pancakes they’re going to be in shape of dinosaurs. If the sets the table there will be little notes to say why our kids are special. If she’s showering while the kids eat she’ll place all their food on special trays and setup a mini-picnic upstairs. If we go on road trips she works tirelessly to think of games, activities, and little gifts that’ll make the time go by. If she does something she’s going to transform it into something special and specifically tailored to the person(s) she’s caring for. ‘Cause the thing is: Jess notices everything. With her nothing is wasted. No moment is left behind because she’s always attentive to what is happening, to how this moment can be a blessing to her children, to her husband, or to another. She remembers what you love, she remembers what you said about this that or the other, she remembers how special something made you feel and she’ll remember it next time so as to bless you with it. She’s always remembering her children and how to love them more fully. Jones and India’s feelings, thoughts, opinions, reactions, etc. are never wasted or forgotten. They are stored up and dwelt on, they are remembered and built on, and they are used to care for them in whatever ways are available as time moves on. As a person who does not pay good attention to much, I view this as a nearly miraculous gift!

Jess fills Christmas stockings better than any person i’ve ever seen. Enough said.

Jess knows and loves children’s books. Our kids have hundreds and hundreds thanks to her…which I should say is directly correlated to our children having a love of books…thanks to her.

My children have always eaten healthy thanks to her.

My kids have feeling journals thanks to her. How cool is that?

Jess makes my kids awesome treats: gluten free chocolate chip cookies that are to die for are at the top of the list.

While Jess’ forte is in creating special moments, the last year especially has been filled with monotony. Care-taking is not a job that leaves much space for uniqueness and creativity. And, again, while I am attempting to not make this blog about how amazing Jess is towards me, it is hard not to pause here to say that the way she has stepped up to care for me in my sickness has been nothing short of perfect. She has carried our family. She has stepped into the boring and not-so-exciting duties of taking care of a sick dad and showing compassion for emotionally exhausted children. Because the reality is that our children are not the same today that they were a year and a half ago (understatement of the year right?). Behaviorally they have regressed, emotionally they’re more volatile, India is back in pull ups, Jones is no longer able to regulate (there are some special needs here I’m referring to), and Jess is the one who tirelessly works to love us all through this. In the midst of my sickness Jess has worked countless hours figuring out Jones’ health care (he’s on separate insurance than the rest of us), she was the one who made sure our kids were in play therapy, she’s the one who takes Jones to his occupational therapy, she’s the one who makes sure they’re still seeing a dentist, she’s the one who has had to maneuver through our kids’ newly discovered fruit allergy (not sure I can communicate how big of a ‘maneuver’ this is/was), she’s the one who is making sure that ALL of us are having our practical needs met. It is too much for one mom to carry…and yet she does it gracefully and without ever (ever!) complaining about it.

I’ve got to stop. Again, like I said yesterday about my own mother, I could write on and on. I have been blessed to have two (three if you count my daughter) beautiful women in my life who far exceed a persons normal expectation for love and care. And I could literally write paragraph after paragraph ’till my tears (yes, the ones that are still flowing) dried up.

Above all Jess makes people feel loved…and it’s because she’s truly a person filled with love. Jess is one of the most capable people I know. She can do anything she puts her mind to (I really mean that). It terrifies me to think of leaving her behind, to think of her being a single mom, to think of her without me–but it’s not in any way, shape, or form because I think she can’t handle it. No, I’ve got no question that like everything else she touches, she will invite God’s love, grace, and imagination into her parenting as a single mom of our two amazing children. The reason it terrifies me is just because I know how hard it is going to be…and I know how hard she is already working…and I just want her to receive some rest. She deserves a rest. In every way Jess is capable, in every way Jess is built to succeed and to be a conduit of love and compassion for children who are in crisis and suffering. But does it have to be so?! Like I said in the beginning: Jess is my partner. There is no me without her, there is no her without me, our children only know an us…and until the us is just her I will continue to celebrate the gift God has given me of doing life and parenthood with the most beautiful, gracious, loving, compassionate, creative, memory-making, generous, hard-working mother I’ve ever seen. One day she’ll have to do it without me–and when she does she’ll do it beautifully (as she does in every avenue of life)–but until then she’s stuck with me!

I love you Jess and I feel guilty for being blessed beyond all others to walk this path with you. Jones and India are the luckiest children to have such an amazing mom. Please don’t ever ever forget it. You are incredibly special.

Love you Mom…

I don’t care if it’s cliche, I love my mama. This morning my sister and I will take her out for breakfast in North Portland to my new favorite place (it’ll be her favorite too i’m sure). Normally Mother’s Day is a whirlwind of activity, church gatherings to plan, the mother of my children to care for, my mother to care for, my grandma to care for, my wife’s mother to care for, etc. Lots of planning and figuring out and all that jazz. This year we’ve just returned from being with most of those moms in Disneyland and we’re choosing simplicity above all else. So in a few hours I’ll go on a quiet date, just the three of us–dad was uninvited. Tomorrow I’ll be at home where there will be a quiet meal around the table with my wife, me, and our kids (don’t worry, my wife won’t be cooking). Quiet. Simple. But together.

But don’t let the simplicity of all this fool you. My wife is the most amazing mom I’ve ever seen in action and my mom is the most perfect mom I could have ever wanted or needed. Today is my mom’s day, so let me share a bit about her with you.

I grew up in a very safe home. I don’t mean safe from guns and violence (though those are both completely true) but I always felt loved. Always. There was never ever a doubt that my mom cared for me, wanted the best for me, and would do anything to meet my needs along the way (which I should clarify means not meeting every want of course). I remember her as a mom who was willing to do what it took to engage her children, to invite us into learning and to free play. The simple fact alone that she was involved enough in our schooling to know that it was best for us to be pulled out and to be home-schooled at a time when it was literally on the edge of being illegal (am I right?). My mom was a pioneer in many senses of the word–not only did she occasionally dress up like a pioneer (Tara do you have those pictures?) and have us do the same but I’m realizing that I think it’s her fault that as I’ve grown older I’ve been drawn to the life of a guinea pig in many ways. Exploring new ideas and questioning the status quo is something that I’m realizing I learned from her–what a gift!

My mom was always attentive–to the point that she stressed and worried constantly about being inattentive. As the youngest child of a youth minister’s kid I got dragged around to every youth group event for all of my life…and yet I was never ever forgotten or ignored. I had a special and unique birthday party during literally every Summer youth group mission trip. I remember a season when my mom chose not to go to youth group activities and instead the two of us would go to McDonalds together on dates, spending time together away from the crowds. She worked hard to make sure her children felt special and cared for, unique, and above all loved. What more can a child ask for?

My mom is a learner. She’s always learning. I have vivid memories of her Bibles over the years–as a matter of fact I could sit here and tell you about each one, about their color, their type, and even the type of binding that they had. They were always tattered and well used. With any book (especially the Bible) she’s a terrible highlighter. If something isn’t starred, underlined, or highlighted it must be pretty boring–’cause everything else is covered! For most of my memory my mom would be awake before us, reading the story of God, highlighting, and journaling through it. She doesn’t just take in information but she’s constantly seeking integration–what does this have to do with my life, how can I be a better lover of people, etc.? She’s always been a learner and it is something that I’ve not only carried with me into adulthood but crave to pass onto my children. I love that about her.

I could write so much more! I could write about waking up each morning to the sound of oatmeal bowls hitting the table. I could write about memorizing scripture together in the mornings. I could write about defining family road trips to Yellowstone, Canada, and Californian. I could write about her stranding me in the Yosemite river. I could write about the sacrifice and gift of homeschooling and what that meant for our family. I could write about her love of snow and the fun we’d all have anticipating its coming. I could write about her bravery in entering into counseling and paving the way for her family to do the same. I could write about how she’s cared for my wife as a daughter and what that has meant for me as a son. I could write about partnering with my mom in church planting and what it’s like to become friends with your parents. I could write…so so much more! But at this point it’s gotten to that awkward moment where my wife is beginning to wake next to me and the tears that are streaming down my face will make for a strange waking!

Mom I hope you know beyond everything else that I love you and I’m so grateful that you were the person who raised me, Jen, and Tara. What more could we ask for than to know beyond everything else that we are and were loved children, and that we are and were cared for, that you will and would do anything for us? Time and time again you’ve proved all this to be true. Thank you. I love you.

Life has not been what we expected or anticipated in more ways than just the ridiculousness of the last year. “Surprising” and “ridiculous” might just be the words to define our lives in general, let alone this last year. The journey we’ve all been on has sucked in many ways and I’m tempted to end this note of appreciation and gratitude with an expletive or two…and I think that you’d agree and get it…I think that of all people you’d see that as a fitting end to this post! You’d get it ’cause it’d be absolutely ridiculous for this to be my last Mother’s Day to tell you that I love you. It’s just not right. So…just in case…just in case I get another year or seventeen, I’ll leave this blog post polished up and decent! I love you so much mom and I want to tell you thank you for your gift of taking care of me, my sisters, my wife, and my kids. Thank you for your example as a woman of God, as a learner, as a pioneer, and as a lover of people.

See you in a few hours for breakfast.