Posted in Different Learning, Different Thoughts

shortages

As we were living in Hungary, one thing we could not miss when watching international news coverage, was the fascination and humor most of the world watched with as the United States somehow panicked for the last remaining rolls of toilet paper. It was mind-boggling to us, as we’d never seen such a scramble for the white rolls of bathroom tissue. Surely it was just being over-dramatized, we thought. Perhaps this is just happening in the large cities. But as we talked with friends, and checked online, we saw that the strange phenomenon was happening widespread, even as most people confessed to being mystified by it themselves. Even as it was happening, memes popped up and late night talk show hosts made fun of…well….Americans who seemed to find comfort when facing the unknows of a pandemic with the dependable reality of knowing we could at least “take care of business” through it all.

Since returning to the US, it does seem like “Shortages” continue to pop up in the news. It doesn’t even take someone with a conspiratorial eye, to begin to wonder if many of these are simply well-placed advertising campaign strategies. But some legitimate shortages (most recently, Maple Syrup in Canada or Cream Cheese in the US) are still causing people and companies to think strategically, or to alter plans for consumption altogether.

Some might say that the reason Western Culture seems to notice “shortages” in ways that seem newsworthy, is that many of us have grown up or become accustomed to knowing that pretty much every “commonly-used” product we could imagine was readily available somewhere within a drive or an online order. It hasn’t taken long for this to impact our kids as they grow – with Christmas lists that often show no known limitations or boundaries. There are aspects of this we can be proud of – whimsical notions of “anything is possible” that we believe is healthy for our children as they grow. But it can also create a false sense of reality that most of the world still does not experience. Most places in the world continue to live with limitations, (and we do, if we’re honest enough to confess it), and that does not always mean a negative thing.

Now toilet paper is in a very unique category of “things I really hope we don’t have to learn how to do without.” But there is a sense in which limitations, and shortages, should be embraced a bit more readily as a positive path to spiritual growth as they come.

We live in a giant world with changing seasons, shifting climates, varying cultural backgrounds, many geographic features, and challenges as we tend to sowing and harvesting products in ways that justly care and provide for all of those involved. With so many variables, we should have limitations. We should have some foods that are only available in certain seasons. We should be thankful for what we can attain easily, and have a bit of wonder about what they have in other areas.

One of the beautiful aspects of Advent, is that we not only imagine what it was like to anticipate Jesus arriving for the first time, we imagine what it will be like when Jesus arrives fully. When Christ is revealed finally to be Lord over all things, and the Love of God swallows up all the cosmos, bringing together Heaven and Earth like never before – all things are made New. In those days (yet to come), there will be a growing shortage of shortages – as the full provision of God and His Good creation are revealed as enough (and also our hungers and consumption are brought into full alignment with His good and pleasurable ways).

In response to remembering this, we can celebrate in many ways. I would highlight two today:

  1. When possible, we can order/purchase something simple that doesn’t seem like it should be available to us because of season or location. Enjoy it on purpose, and share it with a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or child – imagining with them the coming age when all necessary things will be available and provided by Lord Jesus right on time.
  2. Purposefully choose to limit yourself of something. Sure, it may be at the store – but it’s not technically in season, or you’re not sure of the just working conditions/pay for those who labored. Choose something that you purposefully will “go without” this year. If it impacts the lives of others, don’t get all preachy – but if it involves kids – explain to them why you’re choosing to go without. Talk about being purposeful in our anticipation of the day when all that we need will always be provided – and not only us, but those brothers and sisters all over the globe.

No matter how we respond to Advent in particular, may we Christ-followers be leaders of the Way when it comes to responding to product shortages with peaceful confessions of our limited resources. We should not be surprised, and should be among those who generously seek community-beneficial adaptations when such shortages impact those around us.

May the peace of God who has already begun providing everything we truly need, fill and dwell in our hearts – and arrive through us as we share life together in community…both this Advent, and into the new year…

“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

Posted in Different Books, Different Learning

With All Your Mind…

Long ago, I discovered the spiritual connections and benefits of staying connected to neurological research.  Many of the same things have continued to provide helpful connections in personal devotionyouth ministry, and as we’ve grown in areas of parenting, and especially parenting a child who had experienced trauma before arriving in our home.   It doesn’t make us experts, and these are not magic, but they certainly help give us a better understanding as we seek to be faithful with all God has given us.

So it is no surprise that I loved discovering the “Healthy Mind Platter” developed by David Rock & Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.  It was discussed in Sissy Goff’s newest book “Raising Worry-Free Girls“.  It makes sense, especially as we increase our understanding of how connected our neurological health is to every other aspect of our body & being.  Many of us were raised knowing we needed to pay attention to a healthy diet: a specific amount of grains, meats, fruits/veggies, dairy, etc.  But with a better understanding of our brains, comes an understanding of “diet” we are feeding our minds as well.  The creators don’t suggest a specific amount of time for each category, but the understanding is that each individual may have particular needs for their own health.   Each category comes with its own benefits, and our brains (& neuro-chemistry) respond accordingly in ways that help bring long-term health conditions that impact our entire being.  They’ve broken the categories into (in no particular order):

  • Physical Time (exercise):  Aerobic activity helps increase the oxygen levels in the blood, which contributes to brain health in important ways.  “Exercise releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters produced in the brain that reduce pain.  Exercise also increases the serotonin…which is often known as the “happy Chemical” (Goff, 2019)
  • Time In (introspection/silent prayer/mindfulness): Reflect on what has happened, what is happening. This is time without screens on, where there is space to be aware. Time here could also be spent reading and/or writing.
  • Focused Time (learning/purposeful): This is time to grow or nurture a skill or study a subject.   This helps build focus and makes or strengthens new connections in the brain.
  • Connecting Time (in-person/ eye-to-eye contact): Especially in a “virtually connected” world, this can be important for social development, as well as neurological health.  At every age, our “mirror neurons” help contribute to our understanding of others, our ability to be compassionate, and even our self-understanding through the eyes of others.
  • Sleep Time: Healthy and consistent sleep patterns are more valuable than our production/profit-driven world often gives credit for.  This gives our hippocampus time to process memories into long-term storage, restore and organize thoughts/feelings, and reminds us spiritually that we’ve been “set free” from the brick-making patterns of Egypt.
  • Down Time: When’s the last time you let your mind wander in a healthy way?   To gaze into the falling leaves, watch water flow downstream, enjoy watching the kids play nearby, or simply lay back on the couch breathing slow?  When your mind (or the kids) say “I’m bored” – let it be cause for celebration, in our overstimulated world.  It allows time for recharging the brain’s batteries, inspires creativity, and allows contemplation.
  • Play Time: Not practicing an athletic ability, but truly “playing”.  Here we have the opportunity to exist with lowered stress levels, build problem-solving, and remember to exist child-like.  Go mini-golfing, play Chutes & Ladders, bust out the old Atari, forget who wins, and enjoy the game itself.

You can follow the links or read the books to dive deeper into any of this, but I wanted to share it simply here.  We are called by Jesus to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27)  I hope and pray that growing in these areas will help me to be faithful with what God has given me, help me to improve as a father, as a pastor, and as a friend.  May these things be a blessing to you as well…

Posted in Different Learning, Uncategorized

Faith Seeking Understanding…

One thing I never seemed to learn in college, was how much I loved learning.

The hidden nerd within me fell asleep around 5th grade, rolled over restlessly with classic literature around late high school, and remained largely dormant until around 2004.  Full time ministry and life had created a need to grow academically, spiritually, Biblically, and theologically in new ways.  I found mentors who helped me discover books that would stretch me – both by affirming what I believed, and by challenging it.   I took a few classes through the Free Methodist Church, and surprised myself with high grades, before being ordained in 2009.  I considered “continuing education”, but with the beginnings of parenthood, I decided to wait.  I wanted things to “calm down a bit” before I jumped into a Masters program.  (This is where all parents everywhere laugh a bit at my naivete.)

Finally, in January of 2015 I began my MDiv through Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan Seminary.  We had 3 growing children at home, and a 4th daughter trapped in the DR Congo since late 2012, that we weren’t sure when/how we’d bring home.  I’d waited long enough, and life didn’t show any signs of “settling down”.  My senior pastor at the time encouraged me to check it out, and it seemed like here was a program that not only “allowed” you to be in ministry while learning, but actually embraced your place of service as a primary lens through which your learning would be taking place.

I was really glad I waited until life was “calm” before continuing my education. In June 38848820_10155885768936747_2625269017031475200_n2015 during an on-site intensive in Marion, IN we received word that our daughter’s health was failing in the DR Congo.  That launched a trip to Kinshasa to care for her needs, and over the next half a year worked out a move into foster care to make sure she’d survive until we could bring her home.  We were finally given permission to bring her home in early 2016.  We purchased one-way tickets in the middle of the semester and found ourselves trapped without any idea when we would be allowed to leave Africa ourselves.

After a few weeks, we finally made it home on March 31st and I dropped any summer classes in order to soak in these first moments together as a family.  This pushed graduation back, but was well worth the change, and Wesley Seminary professors and advisors encouraged these moments.

I picked classwork back up that fall, just as the new school-year was beginning. (Remember – I’m also a full-time youth pastor here!)  Things started to find a routine, and our youngest daughter was learning both English AND what it meant to live in a family context.  Then 2017 arrived.  Our lead pastor announced he was leaving, and I found my own position precariously perched on the edge of the unknown.  I accepted a slight pay-cut, and increased ministry oversight in order to stay and even fill-in through that summer many ways until a new lead pastor arrived that fall.  We survived all of this because of our amazing church, volunteers, and the Holy Spirit for sure.  Life was busy, to put it mildly.  Through it all, classes continued.  Graduation was coming in late 2018!

In November of 2017, God decided to pull another trick that apparently He’d been working on years before.  He slowly (very slowly!) made it obvious that we were being called to full-time missions work in Hungary!!  It was a difficult but exciting thing to announce, and we’ve been slowly starting to work out the details. (We’d love to come share at your church/group!)

All of that to say – life didn’t slow down.  If anything, it was as if life said “Oh yeah? Gonna start a degree?  Take this!” and began ninja-kicking things.  Still, the crew at Wesley Seminary, our amazing church friends/family, and the Love of God have helped us navigate these days.  As I finished my final “Capstone” class in Marion, IN last week – I’d urge anyone considering taking a step like this – pray, and step forward.  If you’re in ministry already, don’t wait for “things to calm down”.  It has been a great blessing – personally, professionally, and spiritually.