Category Archives: Personal

In Memory of a Dear Friend

It’s been just over a week since getting the news that a dear friend of mine passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. Danielle (Tschirky) Montiel was my age, with kids roughly the same age as ours. Yesterday, those who knew her gathered together to celebrate her life and mourn their loss. Given that I am on the other side of the world right now, I wanted to share a few words both to honor her and to give some kind of expression to my own journey as I grieve the loss of a friend.

It’s tough to lose anyone in your life, to know that they are gone and the opportunity to connect one more time gone with them. It is even tougher to lose someone who holds a special place in your heart and life.

She was a significant person in my life at a significant time. We were both from Long Beach but did not meet until we both arrived at UCLA in fall of ’93. Through her and a special group of friends during those years, I was shaped in immeasurable ways.

Danielle had a unique role in my development during those years. She was a kindred spirit in some memorable ways. She had big dreams and vision, was passionate, loyal, and long-suffering. She also had qualities that weren’t as natural for me at the time – she was gentle, kind, curious, and full of joy. As I explored my identity and emerging calling with intensity, seriousness, and deep inner reflection, she consistently pulled me outward to see, appreciate, and recognize the beauty and wonder that I so often missed. At the time, there were so many things I was trying to get “right,” but she was a key guiding light that pointed to a place of rest and enjoyment of life.

Beyond our four years together at UCLA, we spent every summer of our college years serving together.  After our freshman year we spent the summer in East Asia together with many from our UCLA tribe. The next summer we served together in the inner-city of Los Angeles, where we experienced our first taste of team and ministry leadership while learning about different contexts and cultures.

But the summer I remember most with her was the summer before our senior year of college when we helped re-launch the college ministry of Arbor Road Church together.  It was through the joy of serving and leading together – experiencing the beauty, possibilities, and power of ministry in people’s lives, that I sensed a call to ministry. Ministry as a responsibility, duty, or burden was replaced by something deeper and so much more meaningful. As a person prone to discouragement, disillusionment, and seriousness, I do not believe I would have entered the ministry without that shift. I know for certain that even if I had, I wouldn’t have lasted. She helped me see that ministry was not something to be achieved, but something to live and enjoy.

As life took us on our separate paths I did not see her frequently after college, but we kept in touch. The topic of our interaction in most recent years was what she was doing helping pioneer a charter middle school with a virtue-based curriculum. As my ministry took an unforeseen shift about 5 years ago into an educational context, I wanted to pick her brain when I could. I saw her passion for education in college, but it was amazing to see it materialize into a concrete vision. And I was amazed that as the topic of virtue-based leadership development has come up in the course of my ministry in Manila, I’ve even had someone mention to me that “there’s this school somewhere in Southern California that is doing some cool things that you should check out.”

It’s hard to reconcile the loss of anyone important in our lives, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of someone that really knew you.  She gave me the gift of being known time and time again during those formative years and it’s a gift that kept on giving in the years since.

Danielle knew me, at times better than I knew myself and better than many in my life. She affirmed things about me that at the time most people including myself maybe weren’t sure were even there. But those things began to emerge over time. She either knew me that well or had the gift of being able to speak some of those things into existence through warm encouragement and confident vision. This would be a gift for everyone, but as a deep-thinking, culture-challenging, justice-seeking, truth-teller like myself who has routinely been misunderstood and at times judged for it, it’s a grace that helped guard my heart against darkness and point me towards a vision of what could be.

In the moments I get to see and celebrate any impact I may be making, she saw it first.  You can’t put a price on friends like that.

This summer she gave me one more gift. I was back in Long Beach just for a few days and we were trying to find a way to see each other, but it it was getting complicated with schedules and commitments. But she spontaneously visited on one of our last afternoons before leaving the country. We spent some time catching up on her journey – the struggles, her hopes, and her fears. She graciously shared with me the details she had to re-count no doubt hundreds of times. But mostly, I think we just enjoyed the moment of presence, which was a gift we have not been able to enjoy as much in recent years.

Danielle was relentlessly positive and hopeful, but as I was leaving the country for at least another year I have wondered if she was giving me one last gift.  While I prayed faithfully for her complete healing and restoration, I was still mindful that I might be saying goodbye. And that brief encounter has meant the world to me since.  It’s one of the moments I get to remember her by – where more was said than words spoken and where the fears of the unknown were briefly alleviated through the presence of the familiar.

I told her that day that the world is so, so much better with her in it. And I was right. I rejoice that hers was a life well lived and mourn for the many, especially her family and children, that must find a way to do life without her physical presence.  Please join me in praying for them in their grief.

If you read through this, thank you. It’s a needed part of my own process as I grieve in geographic isolation. I’m grateful for some friends who have kept me updated on the events of the past couple weeks and have passed on some old pictures. The majority of my days spent with Danielle were before cell phones and digital cameras so the majority of my photos and memories are in a storage unit in California.

I’m thankful to have had such a person in my life and to have had so many memories and moments that resulted in life change and impact. I am thankful her suffering is at an end and she has received the object of her faith. Her example of faith, love, and vulnerability all the way to the very end inspires me to keep aspiring to the picture of graciousness and care that so many experienced from her.

 

Quick Review: The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting

I have recently done several reviews on Brene Brown’s books  – you can search this blog for reviews on The Gift of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wildnerness.  Before the end of the year here I’ll add one more since I just finished her short audio book called The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.

This is short, but from a life and value standpoint, it might even by my favorite of her books because we’re deep into the parenting life stage of life, on the verge of having teenagers. Ten years ago I made a commitment to reading a marriage and parenting book each year.  Now, I’m ramping that up to 3-4 books each year on marriage and parenting because there’s no point in saving that learning until after our kids are out of the house.

This book provides short summaries of Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, but there are just tons of nuggets that are awesome and life-giving for parenting and they often are directly backed up by research as well.  More importantly for me, most insights I believe reflect Biblical truths about leadership and parenting based on grace and truth.  The book is full of insights and principles that parents just need constant reminders so this is a book probably worth doing an annual review of because it’s that practical and helpful. It helps illuminate poor thinking patterns based on the surrounding culture and re-set for the sake of healthy and empowering relationships.

Some of the key sections relate to perfectionism and shame in parenting, over-functioning and control in parenting, struggle and hope, creativity and play, gratitude and joy, boundaries, and a variety of other things.

Beyond just being a general parenting book, the powerful piece still is the connection between shame and parenting which I believe also extends to leadership. Shame can be a factor in hindering play, increasing perfectionism and image management, and levels of control and comparison among others. This is important and reinforces one of her initial principles – who we are is more important than what we do.  That idea is really tough for a lot of folks, but it’s critical!

We have to deal with our own hearts. This is another reason why the question of where we get our worthiness from is crucial. People seek worthiness in all sorts of things – but I believe worthiness is ultimately only found unconditionally through a God who offers unconditional forgiveness in grace and truth. We need to be transformed first before we can be agents of transformation for others. If we have unresolved shame, that will translate to our efforts in shaping and molding those entrusted to us.

Here is a great specific summary of the audiobook that outlines principle by principle what Brown covers. This gives a real concrete picture of what is in the recording and the content.

 

Quick Review: Shame Interrupted

Over the past few months I read Edward T. Welch’s Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness & RejectionIt was one of those books that lent itself to casual reading over time to maximize the experience of reading it. There are about 30 chapters that all take about 15 minutes to read and they are thematically organized so taking it in short doses while I read other things as well was a quite refreshing way to go through it.

Welch is a counselor so he tackles the issue of shame from that perspective, but he also offers some solid theology to ground his writing. What I appreciate was that in addition to the theological and psychological insights, Welch shows himself aware of many of the cultural and social dimensions to shame and identity. He draws on helpful insights from both the Ancient Near East as well as cultures today. He also addresses power and majority-minority dynamics intentionally at various places, which I appreciated.

There’s a poetic and lyrical nature to how this book is written so it is very easy to read in some ways, but it’s an easy read more so because the style targets the human heart and reality so authentically that there’s not much in the book that you don’t feel like you relate to.

In Asia, shame is a more recognized and understood dynamic. People just get it – and as such, this is a great resource here in Asia. In the west, shame is not something most know their way around. Many either are not aware of what it is and its impact on identity and relationships or they don’t know what to do with it or how to find freedom.  This book helps develop awareness of how shame may be at work in one’s life and it offers a grounded and hopeful perspective from Scripture to help one understand how to see their story re-written as they place their story within the God’s story.

It’s actually a really creative and insightful book that offers an immense depth of wisdom and insight. I would recommend it to just about everyone because I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t benefit from going through this book whether for personal growth or leadership development.

 

1 Day 3 Kids 3 Ways of Affection

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Our family is in a bit of transition, and we have been it seems for about 2 1/2 years now!  But recently we made a move to a different part of the city so our kids could make the move to a new school as part of our continued journey here in Manila.  This past week was a rude awakening as we were all up about 5am every day and because of traffic here there were days I didn’t even get to see my kids at night.

That’s what made Friday night such a relief – to make it through our first big week with our new schedule and everyone having their own world’s after a couple years of being together a lot.  But we missed each other and I couldn’t wait to be with my kids this weekend.  And I was encouraged that the three of them missed me too and the ways they expressed it enhanced my appreciation for their uniqueness.  So let me share the 3 different and unique ways my kids expressed affection for me that reflects their own unique personalities.

First, my oldest daughter Morgan (10) wanted to share everything she did at school. She wanted me to know what she did and what she has to do. She wanted me to know the types of things she enjoyed doing and the things she didn’t enjoy doing. (Probable ISTJ on the MBTI!) She connects a lot through talking and interacting about what she does, though I’m glad I got a “Dad, I really missed you this week” from her too!

Next up is our middle child, our 7 year old son Colin. He is a probable ENFP on the MBTI if that means anything to you, but if not – here’s how he expressed himself to me while we were hanging out on the couch Friday night. He said, “Dad, if I were a squirrel I would just crawl up right on your shoulder and get super cozy and let my big fluffy tail hang down your arm and I would be so warm and comfy.”  He communicates a little different than our oldest daughter 🙂

And finally our 4 year old Kaelyn who just started pre-school. She doesn’t quite have the same vocabulary, but I got a deep and hearty “Daddy, I love you.” I say deep and hearty because she has a deep and hearty voice!  But she also offered, “Daddy, will you sit next to me at dinner?” I don’t quite  have a beat on my youngest’s personality type, but I know that getting invited to sit next to her at dinner is a big deal so I was excited to sit in the place of honor!

I love my kids. I am grateful that they love me and I love the unique ways they show it. It reminded me that we all show care and affection in different ways and it’s important to recognize what is meaningful to others even when on the surface it doesn’t connect right away with our preferences.

 

The Fork in the Road

When was the last time you had a huge decision you needed to make where you felt like a lot was at stake either way?

That’s kind of where our family has been the last many months – trying to discern God’s will for us in this next season of our lives, leadership, and ministry. Do we continue to live, serve, and work in a different part of the world or do we return home to much that is familiar?

Last month my oldest daughter, in a moment of honest inquiry, asked me, “Dad – how do you know what the right decision is?”  She elaborated by asking, “What if we stay and I end up wishing we went home?  And what if we go home and I wished we had stayed?”

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I loved the moment as a parent to connect with my daughter over what feels like a massive fork in the road with a lot at stake.  There was some anxiety, but really it was an honest wrestling over potential grieving and of the fear of making the wrong decision – of enduring feared consequences and facing loss.

But the reality is our daughter mirrored the question both my wife and I have been wrestling with for some time – how do we know? And what happens if end up wishing we had made a different decision?

We have plenty of perspective and training as it relates to making decisions or discovering God’s will, but when there’s a lot at stake there’s still the lingering pressure to “get it right.”

But the reality is we’ll never know the alternative universe in which we live a life as if we made a different decision.  Part of walking by faith is not just trusting in God for the best decision moving forward, but it’s trusting in God’s sovereignty and goodness in every step of the journey after the decision. There’s a freedom in that despite the gravity of the decision making and in this decision process of ours it’s that freedom and confidence we want our kids to experience and know.

We don’t yet know definitively what the Lord has for us, but as a family it’s been a formational journey together developing trust and confidence in a good and sovereign God.

Pre-School Theology: Snow White Jesus

This entry is part 10 of 14 in the series Pre-School Theology

I’m taking a break from posting my Multi Ethnic Ministry Learnings to post a few things of a different variety that I don’t want to sit on any longer.

I started a series several years ago called “Pre-School Theology” that was derived mostly from experiences with our son. He’s not in pre-school anymore, but now our youngest has entered that range and is providing some great moments for us as far as her growing theology goes.

So you know how for many that grow up in the church and Sunday School it isn’t that hard for them to develop a Christology that essentially equates to a male version of snow white.  Jesus is a gentle figure who lives at peace with nature and converses with animals, possibly even understanding somehow their animal dialects.  The picture of bluebirds gently resting on an outstretched finger conveys somehow the inner beauty and His identity as Creator of the universe. You know what I’m talking about. And if you don’t, this beauty of a painting is out there and you should get what I’m referring to here.

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But apparently my 4 year old daughter did not get the Snow White Jesus treatment and somehow picked up something entirely different in her church experience.   One night about when she turned 4 years old, when talking about animals and where they came from, we had this conversation:

K:  “Dad! Don’t you know that Jesus hates all the animals and eats them all up!”

Me:  “What?! Where did you learn that? Why do you think Jesus hates animals?”

K:  “My teacher said so. Jesus wants to eat all the animals.”

Me:  “Wow. But the Bible says that the world and the animals in it were created by Jesus.”

K:  “Yes, so he could eat them.”

And the debate continued for a while because she’s a strong and passionate gal.

So we have Snow White Jesus and Carnivore Jesus.

I’m sure volunteers who teach pre-school or other grades at Sunday School have some measure of paranoia about what these little ones say after hearing various lessons and stories.  Maybe a reminder to pray for those pre-school teachers out there who have the challenging task to help little ones understand basic ideas 🙂

Family Hug!

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Had a fun moment last week.  As our family was leaving my parent’s place and our kids were saying good-bye to their cousins (close in age to our youngest – in the 2 year old range), they were starting to give each other hugs.  That is cute in and of itself – watching 2 year olds hug each other.  But then my little one (2 yrs 3 months) was clearly feeling the moment and yelled “Family Hug!” and initiated a big family hug with all family members who were in sight.

It was amazing to me that at her age, our little one already has a paradigm, a construct of what “Family” is.  It’s been nurtured for sure by her context – the environment she has lived in and who her world consists of.  Even though recently turning two, she associates family with closeness, togetherness, hugs, and touch.  It’s part of how she understands the world, it’s even part of how she sees herself. She sees herself as part of something – even at a young two.

We’re thankful that she has had such an experience where she has such a view of what Family is.  But it’s sobering too that as Kaelyn is internalizing certain truths about what Family is or should be, many her age are forming very different constructs about family that do not include closeness, connection, or healthy loving touch – like hugs.

Family is part of our identity. It informs so much about how we see the world and ourselves.  We are forever marked by our origins. Yet if those origins are painful or dark, we need not be enslaved by them.  I’m thankful that in God’s grace he aims to provide children tangible expressions of his love and grace through the family.  I’m also thankful that through his Spirit and through His people, His body that our incomplete or broken constructs of love and family can be redeemed and built up.

As I watch my little girl, one thing is crystal clear – she was created for family, just as we all are.  God wants all His human creations to know and experience family. It’s the language of the New Testament. He’s constantly inviting people to a promise of family where all of our limited and earthly notions of what family is or is not can be transformed and re-ordered so that holy love is the foundation of how we come to see and relate to one another.

Gatherings of the body ought to be in many ways, “Family Hugs.” That’s very touchy feely language I’m not typically associated with, but gatherings of the body ought to be expressions and celebrations of our common identity as the family of God as well as our uniquenesses as individuals within that family.

So maybe “Family Hugs” need to become part of your tradition!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personal Reflections on the LA Riots Part 1

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Reflections on the LA Riots

It’s crazy to believe that the LA Riots or “civil unrest” was 20 years ago.  As the media has been starting to take people back to what happened 20 years ago, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my experience that week.  I’d love to share with you some of my reflections and invite you to share yours of what you may remember. This will likely be a 3 part series over the next few days.

It’s a fascinating exercise because looking back I see more and see differently than I did then.  I was 17 years old, a junior in high school.  I went to Long Beach Poly High School, an urban high school not too far from the downtown part of Long Beach, California.  Long Beach Poly is known for a couple things nationally – having sent more pro football players to the NFL than any other high school and also having produced no shortage of rap icons.  Snoop Dogg was there for a couple of my years in high school among others.  It was an extremely ethnically diverse school at the time, and even more so now.

Long Beach, part of LA county, is about 25-30 minutes southwest from South Central LA where the riots broke out.  But the riots didn’t stay contained to South Central Los Angeles and spread to a couple parts of Long Beach including the surrounding area of my high school.  An indicator of the strangeness and perhaps surreal nature of what was taking place is reflected in the fact that I had friends who spend much of that time helping their families protect their stores and I had other friends who did some looting. It was crazy.

I remember Rodney King, the video footage of his beating by white cops, the trial, the acquittal, and the great rage which had been brewing.  As a white person watching, the clearest and most vivid memory was seeing the coverage of the beating of Reginald Denny, a white truck driver who was pulled out of his cab and beaten unconscious.  As a white person, the truth of the matter was pretty evident and powerful – that could have been me.  That wasn’t the first time I had experienced racism directed at me as a white person, but it was the first time where I realized that if I were in the wrong place at the wrong time I could end up like Denny – that I could be harmed because of the color of my skin.

One of more memorable elements of that time was the decision to go to school the next day after the riots broke out in South Central LA.  For background, from fifth grade to twelfth grade I attended public school about 30 minutes across town from where I lived.  Part of the strategy for ethnic diversity and integration was the establishment of various academic programs in the more urban and predominantly ethnic minority communities.  At the time of the riots, while I was in high school, my youngest sister was at the Junior High I went to that was even farther away.  Watching the news, which showed where the rioting was breaking out with little mini fire icons over city maps, generated a lot of anxiety for some. It was a strange feeling for a while to see the fire icons “getting closer” wondering how bad things were going to get.

Many of the white parents chose not to send their kids to school the next day or day after, especially when they were sending their kids across town.  Looking back I find it interesting that my sister and I both didn’t blink and we wanted to go school, never really considering not going. I remember being asked if I thought I should take the day off because of the potential racial conflicts that were breaking out and as a white person I might be an object of racist hate or violence.  I blew that notion off without much thought, but I could tell at the time that there were a lot of nervous parents that day.

I remember vividly driving to school during that time with a couple friends and seeing buildings near the school that had been burnt down and signs of unrest that had spilled over into that part of the city.  Usually I felt very secure at the school and I don’t remember it being that different that day.  There was in fact a significant conflict or “fight” on campus that first day as I remember, but ironically it didn’t involve Caucasians. Life continued to happen while there was still a lot of chaos in the city at large.

When my sister and I got home, I remember my mom asking us how it was and if there ever was any moment where we felt fearful or threatened.  My sister, who was 14 at the time and in 8th grade, had the best response which we’ve laughed about ever since.  She said, “It was fine, no problems. The only thing really that wasn’t normal was a bunch of students yelling ‘We hate white people!’”  We get a kick out of my sister’s nonchalance at the time now, but I’m sure my mom loved hearing that at the time.

Looking back I remember two distinct emotional realities.  First, the great rage felt especially by the black community.  I understand the dynamics much more now than I did then.  Back then it was hard to understand the systemic realities and injustice and even hopelessness for many that true justice could be served.  The rally cry, “No Justice, No Peace” is about a clear a call for those in power to wake up and pay attention to a community as there can be.  Racism and systemic oppression were on display throughout the whole process, maybe most notoriously through the dispatching of many from the police force to “protect” Beverly Hills while there was great need to restore order where the riots had broken out in the inner city.  Power at work preserving itself again.

The second strong emotional reality was that of anxiety and fear among the white community.  I don’t know if I felt it as much because I was young, had grown up amidst great diversity, or what, but I clearly saw it around me.  White people aren’t used to being targeted in such ways and it was unnerving for most.  Part of the anxiety was because I don’t think most white folk then (and even now) were able to understand the underlying dynamics of why such hostility and anger finally boiled over.  So what was in many ways an angry response to real and perceived injustice, many whites interpreted as only racist lashing out by the uneducated poor and criminal.  White people were very fearful and anxious in general during that time from what I remember. They experienced the events primarily through the lens of “Are we safe?” as opposed to trying to understand what had driven people to such action and what this all meant.

The riots brought to the surface much of what had been there all along – and it’s with great confidence I can say that many white men and women missed what was truly at work in that time under the surface, even if much of the expression of anger in the civil unrest was in fact criminal and illegal. The criminal element should not have negated the pain of the community which was being expressed in many ways. This pain had been a ticking time bomb that the acquittals of the police officers set off.

When I look back, it seems surreal.  For a season it was extremely intense, then life went back to normal.  But the experience stuck with me, even though I didn’t have the experience or frame of reference that I do now.

I walked through that experience with an extremely diverse group of friends and the next post will focus on my reflections and memories of how the events and experience of the Riots was processed in that context.

Where were you? How old were you? 

What do you remember and how do you see it differently now than you did then?

Not a White Christmas for Everyone

This is one of my favorite posts to put up every Christmas – straight from my neighbor’s porch…Merry Christmas!!

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I took this picture last week on my neighbors front porch because it’s awesome. It’s a life-sized, African-American Santa statue.

I love this season, but as part of the majority culture (from an ethnic standpoint) it’s not always easy knowing how others, those part of the ethnic minority, experience these holiday seasons when some of their expression is so rooted in the majority culture.

There are those that might see this and want to make the point that Saint Nicholas was in fact from one of those northern European countries and was probably white. That’s really besides the point. The point is that sometimes it’s good to remember how others experience things that those of us in the dominant culture take for granted and don’t even think twice about. That’s what this statue is a reminder of to me. I loved it when I saw it for the first time and had to take a picture. It can be a little sobering at times to realize that traditions we hold dear can actually serve to alienate others.

My Jewish friends have always joked about always going out to Chinese food every year on Christmas because everywhere else is closed.  That’s another reminder that while we have some very enjoyable holiday seasons, not everybody experiences them the same way.