Friday, December 25, 2009

The choice

Because I want to wake up tomorrow.
Because I want to laugh.
Because I want to make a difference in the world around me.
Because I want to care for others.
Because I want to cry.
And because I want to honor life rather than succumb to the misery of death...
I choose.

I choose to celebrate Christmas and worship the God who gave it to us.
I choose to play catch with my son.
I choose to squeeze my beautiful daughter.
I choose to kiss my amazing wife.

I even choose to laugh at juvenile jokes--I did tonight.
I will choose to cry--I'm not far from it now.
I will choose to share my grief and I will choose to speak of the strength that I find within to make choices that move me forward rather than backward.

At Christmas we remember the birth of Jesus.  I choose to remember and be thankful.

It was in October, in Kentucky, where I received the Sacrament of Communion for the first time after saying good-bye to our Annie.  I recall holding the bread and the cup which symbolizes the message of Jesus' sacrifice for my sins.  The thought occurred to me that in this world I will never hold and touch my Annie again but that each time I receive communion I will hold and touch the grace of God.

I choose grace.  I choose the message contained in Jesus the Christ.
I choose.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Intersecting Stories

So I met a guy in 1997 named Ben.
Ben was married to a nice girl who had a nice sister dating a friend of mine.  That sister, who I knew mostly through my friend, has gone on with her life--and so has he.  They are both married to other people now.  But that is not the point.

Ben posted on his facebook account tonight a link to an upcoming episode on the Dr. Phil show.  The story of his wife's sister is going to be aired this Wednesday.  I was intrigued and checked it out.  
He also posted this site:

Now I'm heavy.

Their story is familiar...
Beautiful girl.
Healthy and Vibrant.
Concerned parents because something physically was not right.
Brain Tumor.

I know there will always be stories that intersect ours.  I know it.  I know it.
But it it stunning.

As God provides space in your prayer life, would you join me in praying for Kate and her family?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Through words...

Through my own spoken words on Sunday mornings I'm working out (strike that), working ON my questions and grief and faith. At this point there are many lingering questions but when I enter the pages of Scripture I can't help but see how God takes the pain and loss and impossibilities of life and does something...something that makes sense to him.

I've preached about God's narrative before. In fact, it was the focus of Advent at our church last year. NT Wright has some great insight on that here.

But Annie's death is forcing me to take God's story more serious than I believe I ever have.

Rewind a bit.

It was just a handful of days after Annie was born that we went with some friends to hear Rob Bell on his Drops Like Stars Tour. We thought it was be "so good" for our friends. The theme he would be delving into was How does Suffering impact Creativity--how does God use Suffering/Loss for something remarkable? We thought it would be good for our friends who have a great boy that lives with cerebral palsy. (Just a little fact: he's my greatest fan on Sunday mornings because I play a guitar!)

I know it was good for our friends--they've told me so. But never did I envision how I'd be reflecting back on that evening. As the sculptor, God must now take the bar of soap which is my life and create something beautiful out of it. That's what sculptors do. In fact that's what story writers do--create where creation seems uncreate-able.

(*pictures from Drops Likes Stars book)

I believe God is setting the stage for something remarkable through the setbacks of my life.
I believe the same for you.

If you are reading this and wondering if God is able to do this for you, check out a few incredible people from the Scriptures:
  • Joseph (betrayal, slavery, power, imprisoned, power, choice to forgive)
  • David (Goliath, Saul, adultery, forgiveness, Psalm writer)
  • Daniel (exile, brilliance, pressure to worship another god, lion's den, miracle, prophecy & visions)
  • Joshua (particularly the 10th chapter of Joshua)
  • Legion (Mark 5)
  • Jesus' disciples following his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection (went from fear to world changers)
  • Paul (2 Corinthians 11:21-12:10)
The iconic photographer Ansel Adams said, "A good photograph is knowing where to stand."
Ephesians 6 exhorts, "Stand...and after you have done everything, to stand."

God is calling us to Stand. From that position the view will be remarkable.

Monday, October 26, 2009

8 minutes of beauty

A good friend created this collection of pictures of our girl.  As you view, it is OK to have thoughts like, "Wow, she's beautiful."  Or, "Look how much she was loved."  Even, "It just doesn't seem right."  It's also OK to enjoy her...we do.  

As you grieve with us we appreciate your prayers: please continue in them for us.  We also appreciate you loving well those who are in your relationship circles.  Take care of each other.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Tonight I miss her.

A friend shared this song with us by Steven Curtis Chapman.
He knows the words to sing as he too lost a little girl.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Home with 2 Hanks

We have been out of town for a couple weeks.  
Some friends loaned us their RV and we've been on the road. 

A stop in DC to visit Uncle A...

A few days at a great RV campground in Virginia (hot tub included on our site)...

A stop in Kentucky to revisit our Asbury College & Seminary days and to reconnect with some great friends...

And a stop in Indiana to see Nanna and Granddad (oops, no pictures).

This is the kind of trip we've always wanted to take and yet it's the trip we never wanted to take.  RVing and exploring has always been on the list of things to do in life.  But each mile was marked with the reminder that the reason for the trip was the tragedy of losing Annie.  

We live in real paradox right now.  Joy & Sorrow, Happiness & Sadness, Plenty & Emptiness...

As we returned home we were reminded of the paradox.  Although we were glad to be heading back to our own beds and our own home, there was part of us that never wanted to return.  But a humorous distraction helped ease our entrance back into life.

While we were away on our "Big Rig" Adventure we kenneled our dog, Hank. It was strange that on one day while we were gone one of our neighbors facebooked us saying something to the effect, "It'll be good to have you guys back. I could hear Hank up early this morning." We didn't think too much of it, kinda just thought it was a little joke or something. Little did we know what lay ahead. As we arrived back in Michigan we picked up Hank at the "Doggy Hotel", giving him a chance to ride in the "big rig". It was weird when we walked into our porch and discovered a new dog bed and a note that said, "I'm out on a walk. Love, Hank". I checked his dog food and it was obvious that it was much less than when we had left.  I called a couple neighbors to find out what was going on--evidently a yellow dog had been at our house for about a week and our friend across the road, Annette, had been taking care of him.  

A few minutes later, she came strolling into our yard with a yellow dog yelling, "Welcome home!". You should have seen her face when I told her that the dog she was walking, and had been walking for a week, was not our Hank.

Here's what we've deduced... A stray dog showed up in our yard last Sunday and someone put him in our porch--assuming he was our dog. Word then travelled to our neighbor Annette that they were supposed to take care of Hank the second week of our absence. She's been walking and feeding "Hank" for a week.  

So we stood in the yard with Annette and these 2 yellow dogs and wondered what we should do. Brainstorm...let's check his collar. We quickly found a phone number on dog #2 and his rightful owners (1/2 a mile away) came, quite relieved that their dog had been found. Annette explained that he had been such a great dog and had come when called so obediently. It made sense when we asked Dog #2's name . . . yep, you guessed it, Hank.  

We're home and life moves on in all its humor and pain, with all its certainty and questions.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


166 hours ago I was holding our Annie.  She was just two hours from departing this world. 
I can't believe it's been just 166 hours...almost 7 days...barely 1 week.

In that time we've arranged for her beautiful funeral; funeral director, burial clothes, burial plot, outdoor tent procurement, minister, friends, music, memorial fund, family travel & housing...  

Sometimes I just cry.  
Sometimes I have to play my guitar.
Sometime I'm sure I'm going to walk past her bed and see her smiling back at me.

Our Kate has said numerous times, "I'm so happy that Annie is with Jesus.  But when he's finished being with her she can come home."  
Someday she'll realize the truth of the matter and that makes me sad.

Our William has tried to stand stoicly through these days.  He doesn't like the tears associated with Annie's absence.  And yet, thankfully, he's cried too and spoken of his love for his sister.  

Nearly 7 days in this "club"--it's membership dues are too high if you ask me.
Only 7 days...and another 7 starts right away.

*A friend just called...divinely prompted to call us.  Thanks.  We're reminded that we are not alone in this 166th hour.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Every once in a while

When I talk about my kids.
When I share about the support of my wife.
When I talk about the meaning of my friendship with my buddy Troy.
I cry.

And when I speak these things in front of my church, well I cry then too.

I cried Sunday as I watched a guy named Marty stand at the altar and worship God with his hands raised.  I cried Sunday as I shared with the church the heaviness I feel in ministry and the inadequacy that exists in me.
I cried Sunday when my wife stood next to me and squeezed my hand in support and love.

I am not the "weeping pastor" but when I cry, you know it.  It's not just some misty eyed moment.  It's drippy. 

I value my wife, my kids, my friend and my church.  They are to me the Aaron and Hur as I feel, on a small scale, the weight and role of Moses.  I believe God is leading our church in ways like I've not noticed in the past 5 years.  There is a good land (even a promised one) ahead of us.  But man, it's a struggle.

We go together.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Early Edition

In college I knew a guy who received free shoes from Nike. He'd get them well in advance of the public and get to simply wear them around to see how they felt, held up and, I guess, see how other people responded to them. As a shoe loving college student who was living on a shoestring, pun intended, I wanted in on that action! But

But this all changed when I (and several thousand others) we able to buy an advance copy of a book by Chip & Dan Heath. Willow Creek was able to secure advance copies of their latest book, Switch, for those who attended the Leadership Summit. The book will be released in the spring of 2010 but I have already read it. They've asked that we not blog, teach, or quote from the book until January. I'm being careful to honor that request. Although last Sunday I wanted to use some of it in my sermon. It's cool to have read a pre-release book but even more is the timing. It's helping me visualize how we might be able to make a Switch in some areas at our church.

It's on my heart to lead in a particular direction in our church. Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger categorize pastors in 2 ways in their book Simple Church; a programmer or a designer. I am living the prior but aiming toward the latter. It's going to take a Switch. Church can program for discipleship or can move people in a discipleship process. We currently practice the former but will be moving toward the latter.

I believe my passions started pointing this way about 6 years ago. In my small office at Faith Community Church, Osceola, Indiana, I wrote down a one word description of making disciples. I didn't do anything with it except type it and stick it in a desk drawer. (Sounds about right for a pastor.) I moved that piece of paper and it's lived in my desk over the past 5 years in Michigan. The book 7 Practices of Effective Ministry fired me up about what church could be and look like. Follow that with 3 Big Questions for the Franctic Family, some podcasts, prayer and journaling and baboom...there's a flame inside. That piece of paper is part of a collage of stuff I'm compiling in this process of understanding change and how to shape the environment around people so that they will be apt to change.

The board of our church has already heard my heart.
It's coming soon to other leaders and the full congregation.
I'm excited about our church.
There are some crazy events happening in our area that we have to engage--some people know what I'm talking about already--but we will still get there.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Food for the Masses

Every time we've hosted our Free Food Giveaway there's a gnawing feeling in my gut where I think, "Are people going to show up? If they don't what do we do with all this food? Will there be enough volunteers?..."

I'm grateful to the 40+ volunteers who gave their time and energy to set up, distribute and clean up. It's humbling to have helped serve 191 families (representing 793 individuals) free groceries and a New Testament.

Thanks to the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan and to my friends who volunteered.

May God's kingdom come in North Branch as it is in heaven.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Food Warm Up

In just hours a truck will arrive @ NBWC and leave us with 12 pallets of food (10,000 lbs.). We'll have two hours to sort it, count it and set it up. At 6 we'll (hopefully) give it all away--free. We expect to have about 175 family units show up, which represents around 600 individuals. It has been incredible for our church and for individuals to experience this event.

The calls have been coming into the office in large numbers inquiring about the event. We are expecting it to be a busy afternoon.

I can't say enough about the volunteers who take part in this. 40+ people will give of their time (and take personal time off work) in order to be at the church early and stay late cleaning up. Remarkable. Thanks everyone, in advance.

I'm getting warmed up...I'll let you know how things go after we've served.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


My past few sermons have surprised me. The process of writing a sermon, although laborious, is typically pretty cool for me. But lately what I've found it that I've planned to give some lighthearted sermons with somewhat predictable endings but have instead ended up going way deeper than I though I would. (Now I know I should always be willing to go deeper but I wasn't going to, ok.)

For instance, I was going to preach on the beauty of having a break--and the plan was to talk about the beauty and responsibility of a summer break. Instead the sermon was a totall indepth look at Sabbath, the old covenant, the new covenant and how it relates to us today.

Last week I preached on God is Fortress (using the OnePrayer focus) and found myself going in directions I hadn't planned.

Tomorrow I'm preaching on the Providence of God. What?! Yes, the providence of God--his ability to economize our world based on his design, story and purposed. Totally didn't plan to preach this. The "plan" was to preach on God is Provider (again a OnePrayer theme). I was going to try to encourage our Michigan congregation to trust in God and be encouraged in tough economic times (blah, blah, blah). And now I am so glad to go deeper and lead people deeper.

Another beauty in all this is how cool it's been to read large chunks of scripture, theology and church history. I'm re-learning and learning for the first time perhaps some great stuff about God.

So there you go.
If my church podcasted you could listen online.
If you go to my church...see you soon.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sometimes they are difficult

This morning's church experience was difficult. 
I'm processing why and what and who and everything.

Our Sunday School class is tacking difficult topics.  It challenges our values and beliefs.  It's tough. Our Worship Team and Tech Team do an amazing job week after week but there were a couple glitches today that were noticed---at least by me.
Summers in, two words, "Up North".  Attendance and Momentum are drastically impacted by the desire by people to have a summer break.
My sermon.  Hmm, definitely not one of my top ten.  (I am grateful God speaks through his Word and by his Spirit and not only through the voice of mere mortals.)

I know some Sundays are flat, I get that.  But that doesn't negate the funk I feel when they occur.  

Lord willing and the creek don't rise I'll give my all again next Sunday.

And so now, an Ale-8-One

Friday, May 15, 2009

2 x 10,000

Last night our church participated in our second free food giveaway. For a fraction of what it would cost in a grocery store we purchase approximately 10,000 lbs. of food and give it The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan ( is the agency supplying the goods. We purchase a truck of food through them, they deliver the food and from then on we manage the outreach event.

It is an overwhelming experience. As the leader of our church I'm overwhelmed to see the number of people who have responded to serve. The volunteers are just awesome.

It is overwhelming to come in contact with the 120+ people (representing 500+ family members) who arrived to receive food. Everyone left with a pile of food, loads of smiles and a free Bible.

I told several recipients, following their words of thanks, that we are glad to help in any way we can and that "we are in this together". I hope they know that we mean it.

Our next free food giveaway is scheduled for Thursday, July 16 @ 6 PM.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gay in the News

There's been quite a bit of banter over the issue of person beliefs in the news lately. Miss California expressed a personal belief in a national setting and those who view things from the right-wing are calling foul. I've not been too wrapped up in it but applaud the gal for saying what she said in the tone in which it was said.

I keep an casual eye on how denominations are handling this pressing issue. I especially watch what the Presbyterian Church (USA) does with this issue because of a personal connection we have there.

Sarah and I spent two great years at Pisgah Presbyterian Church, Versailles, KY, and loved the people there. It was a wide mix of beliefs--liberal t0 conservative. In that setting I really got my feet wet and really had to defend my understanding of the Scriptures as they address/don't address homosexuality and other topics. I was glad to read that the PCUSA has defeated a move to allow for the ordination ofopenly homosexual clergy. Here's a link to one report of it. The local Presbyteries (Districts to all you Wesleyans) turned down a proposed ammendment to the Book of Order. For now, the PCUSA is standing in a Biblical position. Another report, here, details a little more of how the vote shaped up. It's a bit disconcerting though as it reports more and more presbyteries are moving toward approving this measure.

"Maranatha!", meaning either Our Lord has come or Come, O Lord has significant meaning in times like these. Yes, we desire for our Lord to return. But let's not forget our Lord has come and as a result we must, as his representative body, live like we represent Him.

Tough questions abound for the church--not just this area. Pray for the church universal as we engage our culture and as the culture engages the church.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Because I'm up

Because I'm up I decided I would write a few lines.
The biggest event of my day was chatting with my friend Troy. He and his wife just returned from an incredible adventure. They recently were able to adopt a 2 year old girl from Swaziland (I believe). They have some crazy stories of their time in Africa to bring her home and are all recuperating in the home in British Columbia. We wish were were closer to them in location...a coffee and some stories would be great.

Troy and I have been connected since our seminary days at Asbury. I was a lonely single guy and and he and Teresa invited me over for coffee once. I accepted their offer and really only left their apartment to go to class. (Not really, but I certainly hung out there a bunch.)
From those chats in their living room he and I began meeting weekly, with Ale-8's in hand, to pray with and encourage one another. He's been my accountability partner for a long time.
As he says, he a brother from another mother.

I'm excited for the commitment they've made to raise their sweet girl. They already have a great boy and from the conversation today their kids are treating each other like siblings already.

Many blessings to them!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Good Friday ... Great Sunday

There was a great crew assembled at our church last night for an "experiential worship service". Josh--our Discipleship Pastor--planned and coordinated a great night. 8 Stations were experienced by everyone present as we traveled from room to room in small groups. It was very tactile and was even a good thing for our young kids. (It was cool too because there were tons of kids there.)

The evening closed with communion and it was incredible to share that meal with our community of believers. Someday we'll share it with our Savior!
It was also incredible to serve William communion for his first time. It's cool to see his love for Jesus and was an honor see him experience this means of grace.

Sunday's service will be great. 2 friends are getting baptized. Great music will be played/sung. Let's just hope the preacher pulls his weight and has worthwhile to say.

Today we'll hit our community Easter egg hunt. The volunteer firemen host it and we enjoy the opportunity to connect with our North Branch neighbors in this type of setting. And, the day is forecasted to be the warmest (and least windy) of all the years we've done this.

Christ HAS died.
Christ IS risen.
Christ WILL come again.

Monday, April 6, 2009


I've been wanting to blog recently but haven't done so. I even began the process of opening up a new blog because there's an itch in me to write openly and candidly. I was going to start the new blog, keep it anonymous and use it a means (almost a spiritual discipline) of speaking/writing more courageously. But I didn't do that.

You see over the past few months I've been on an enjoyable/unenjoyable journey. It's enjoyable in its outcome but has been fairly unenjoyable throughout. It's a journey I shared with my church last Sunday and a journey I fully intended to avoid. But I believe God had a different design.

There have been some rough edges in me, some dark days & weeks, and some spiritual issues I've not addressed. I believe it has taken its toll on my family, my ministry and me. It's been tough.

The real problem I have with it is I could have sidestepped much of it if I had been willing to listen to God. In early January I read from Psalm 15 these verses,
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart?

There they are in bold letters. The words intended for me and the words which I tried to crowd out of my existence. Ironic, isn't it? Yes, and somewhat sad.

So I stalled. I figured "God would let me off the hook" and those things I didn't want to face and those words I didn't want to speak...well, he'd understand. But if you've ever done this kind of dance with God you know (just like I already knew but chose to believe otherwise) that God doesn't let people off the hook--at least not without consequences and not after an immense season of grace and conviction. He poured on the latter two in massive quantity.

At the root: trust.
And why? I have no stinkin' idea. Well that's not totally true, I have some thoughts.
And now, how will I become more trusting? By trusting others and giving myself more fully.

That is hard for me.

I am able to position myself well. I can give the appearance of committed and connected all the while keeping my cards very close to my chest.
So I'm learning to play the game with joy again. I know I can't simply flash my cards to everyone at the table (to keep my euchre thought process going) but I do know that I there has to be a certain level of trust on my part as I sit at the table and engage with those in the other seats.

The freedom to speak again, to cry again, to begin trusting deeper came through the love, grace and mercy shown to me by my wife. She truly is remarkable. In her I felt the hands of my Savior receiving me and forgiving me. In her I see the marks of grace. In her there is a supernatural ability to love. I am a blessed man.

So I told my church some straight up stuff 2 Sundays ago.
We are in the midst of a retooling endeavor called, ReVision. As part of it we are digging into stuff like Mission and Core Values, etc. As part of the process we are sharing our work with the church--in small groups and in corporate worship.

I stood 2 weeks ago with a bulletin insert of ReVision info in my hand. I stood there knowing that the information and the process we are in is stuff some people in the church have been through before. Perhaps they've been through it at NBWC, perhaps somewhere else. Perhaps they've been through a process like we are in and at the end all of it all it just gets filed and begins collecting dust. Perhaps they've been through such a process only to have the Pastor leave during or shortly after its completion.

As I stood to share from the document my heart was at peace. I believe God freed me to speak in a way I haven't done in some time--if ever. I spoke a bit about my journey the past few months. I spoke of how I spent time online looking for open ministry positions. I spoke of how I spent time dreaming and praying that God would "get us out of North Branch". Then, oh then I spoke of how God has placed me here. Sarah and I cannot shake the calling we know we have to this place and to these people. I got to tell my congregation that I am not leaving. As I held that piece of paper in my hand I told them my plans are to stay. I told them that although I shouldn't be in North Branch, Michigan (from a human standpoint) I belong here. I wanted them to know that I believe in the future of our church. I believe in the change possible in our community. I believe the process of ReVision is good. I believe when ReVision is over I will still be here.

It's been a week + 1 day since I spoke.
People have been incredible. It's fun to receive their love...and to give it in return!
Old habits and thought patterns still invade. Ben Witherington, a fave ATS professor, always used to say, "God has to rewind the mind and retread the head."
I'm up for that journey, honestly.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Where I am More

More times than not I am on Facebook rather than Blogger.
Check out my happenings here

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Learning & Leading

I've been enjoying some great reading lately.

Bill Hybels' book, Axiom, is one I've been thumbing through in bits and pieces.  It's short chapters make for quick reading followed by good reflection.  Today I stumbled across this blog where each of the chapters was summarized.  Nice.  

I've also just finished Seth Godin's book, Tribes.  Loved it.  I don't know much about Godin but I also enjoyed his book, The Dip.

Sarah's brother put a great read in my hands recently, Jayber Crow, by the Kentuckian Wendell Berry.  It was a great novel...especially for those who love Kentucky.  Which, fortunately, I do.

Another book for this list is one I've been plugging along in before nodding off to sleep at night.  It's certainly interesting and is providing me some insights on how I write.  We picked it up on Amazon not long ago because we were intrigued by the title, Writing to Learn.  

Now, to the final book.  I'm enjoying and encouraging others to enjoy/pursue reading through the Bible this year.  I picked up a One Year Bible to keep me on track.  So far so good--although I admit some days I have to read 2-3 days of readings in order to get caught up.  (And wow, that's a big picture isn't it?  I couldn't get it resized.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Will we look like Obama?

Today we will witness an incredible shift in our nation. Shifting from what has been to what might be. Sarah and I plan to watch the inauguration with our kids at lunch. We will explain what's happening and pray together for our new president as well as our former president.

Speaking of Obama. Have you noticed how look-a-like logos are floating around all over the place?

Here's Pepsi's latest:

Here's Chrysler's latest:

Here's the latest look for Pirates (found this on a t-shirt)

What if Jesus had a logo?

Maybe I should have one too?!

We will have new leadership in less than 90 minutes from the time I'm writing these words.
We don't all have to look like Obama but we all have been called to pray for our leaders.
Jesus said, Love God, Love your Neighbors, Pray for your Enemies, and Forgive each other. That's the way I want to look.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Happy New "You"

I shared at our Christmas Eve service last month the joys of raising our kids and the excitement that filled our house leading up to Christmas.  Along the journey to Christmas our girl, Kate, learned some Christmas carols; Away in the Manger and We Wish you a Merry Christmas.  The latter provided great substance for my Christmas Eve message.

In her 2 year old vocabulary she doesn't always get words out of her mouth just as they ought to be.  With great gusto she would sing We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy new YOU.

I love the opportunity of a new YOU we have--not just at the beginning of 2009--but always as we live under the saturation of God's grace through Jesus Christ.  

Merry Christmas (belated) and a Happy New YOU!