Love, Hope and Faith

5 years ago, God sent us to New York, where He had provided a job and a church home where we would learn lots of new things about life and ministry and friendship, how to serve Him and how not to serve Him. While we were there, a friend and pastor challenged us to build a discipleship group around the technology our church used for ministry. VPT was God’s hand-picked 10-12 young people with whom He created an amazing little community of growth and mentorship, friendship and adventure, around Nicole and I as we started our own family in the U.S. Along the way, He provided some other friends, who we served with us and did life us with while we were there.

That little group of students are all at the beginning of building their own lives, most of them in college, or about to be, and thinking about what comes next. Our group of friends have mostly all scattered to different parts of the continent – even the pastor who kicked off our adventure is moving on. That little microcosm of life and family and ministry is now mostly a mostly wonderful memory.

This past weekend, though, we got the opportunity to meet back up in New York with many of the folks that made our time there so special. Jon, who served with me and taught me lots about technology, and his wife Virginia, Jason and Brooke who led the small group that welcomed us to New York when we knew no one there, then had babies at roughly the same time as us and commiserated during that crazy stage of life, and many of our “kids” from VPT were all there.

Life is full of challenges, and all of us have had our share, but to see everyone mostly stronger and healthier out the other side of the 2+ years since we last saw them all, was encouraging and exciting and fun. We ate heartily in warm homes with good friends. We had rousing discussions with earnest young truth-seekers about relationships, religion and life. We geeked out watching Tron while Ben and Abi soaked up lots of extra love and attention… and Nicole did a fair bit of shopping!

As vacations go, it wasn’t the sunniest, most tropical locale we could have picked, but it was a wonderful one, nonetheless. And yet again, I can’t help but think that God’s concept of “home” is a very global one…

Pictures with lots of big smiles are up in the sidebar!

Tell me again what’s so great about winter?

This morning I woke up at 7 AM PST, handled an e-mail emergency, packed my bags and headed toward the airport, planning to grab breakfast at IHOP before turning in the rental car and catching my noon flight home. As I was about to dive into my pancakes, my phone rang and an automated voice informed that my flight had been canceled. This is not good news to receive over pancakes, but at least I still had the rental car. After finding a Starbucks for the free WiFi, Nic and I put together a couple contingency plans. The mid-West U.S. is getting dumped on with snow, so flights connecting through Minneapolis (like mine) were canceled. I was assigned a midnight flight via Detroit.

Having checked out of my hotel, with plans to get to the airport early and do some more e-mail, I suddenly found myself with 13 hours to kill in Seattle… alone, with nothing to my name but my bags and a (rather nice) rental car. Fortunately, even without the comforts of a hotel, I managed to spend a pretty nice day, thanks to my employers’ sprawling campups:

– In my team’s building, I found a conference room with a TV. I borrowed a co-worker’s space heater to warm the room up, procured a vending machine lunch, and hooked up my laptop to the TV so I could catch up on some TV via Hulu.

– I caught a matinee – Unstoppable, with Denzel Washington, which was very good – and then went to a bookstore/Starbucks in the mall and read for an hour.

– Back to campus to another building that I’d recently learned had showers (and towels!) where I had a short nap on a couch I found, took a shower and did my stretches while watching a little more TV in another conference room.

I had intended to eat dinner at one of the airport’s nicer restaurants, but they were all closed, so I had a hot dog and after another few hours of waiting, shuffled onto an over-crowded plane full of other grumpy, re-directed passengers. I was number 3 on the upgrade list, but didn’t make the cut and instead ended up squeezed between a giant body-builder type, and a drunk business man (although I didn’t fault him for it – he slept the whole flight and I was jealous.)

We made it to Detroit where I have a 3 hour lay-over before flying into Toronto – where the storm is expected to catch up with me. I have a hotel near the airport as its not likely it’ll be safe for Nicole to come pick me up. I splurged and bought a day pass to the Delta SkyLounge here in Detroit. My status affords me a discount, and I figured I deserved a comfortable chair to sit in.

Considering everything, its been an OK day. The hardest part is that I haven’t had a conversation with another human being for about 36 hours now, which even as an introvert is hard to handle. I’m hoping to be home by tomorrow at the latest, assuming the storm lets up. And then I fly out again Wednesday.

Its of some interest to me that the concept of “home” as a fixed geographical location is losing all meaning. I’m pretty sure I could be content floating around the continent (or better yet, the globe) – if I could just have my family with me.

Financial Crossroads

So the way it goes, from what we’ve understood, is that you go to college so you can get a good job. But you can’t go to college without debt, so you spend the first decade of your “good job” paying for college. Somewhere in there you get married, buy a house and have kids. The order of which seems to be flexible these days. The debt, though, that’s unavoidable.

All that makes for a fun and challenging decade. Weddings are fun. Kids are fun. Debt is inevitable, and a house will eventually become a necessity – and besides, everyone knows it’s a “good investment.”

What happens when you get rid of the debt seems to be a course not so clearly charted though. Maybe its because you’re not supposed to. Maybe you’re supposed to spend that first decade of adulthood buying things that, combined with the things you’re supposed to keep re-buying for the rest of your life, you’ll spend the whole of your existence paying for. Cars don’t last longer than the loan or lease. TVs are always available in larger, higher resolution sizes. Computers become obsolete the day after you buy them. Houses… well, don’t get me started on cabin fever.

So the fact that there’s no clear pattern for what you do when you’re debt free, making a decent income, and have no clear call (or release) to the missions field… well, maybe you can understand how that might be a source of consternation for a Christian family seeking to do what’s right in a day and age where the middle class seems to be an endangered species.

Of course a bigger house might make some sense, given what’s going on in our lives, and in the lives of those we might wish to share our home with from time-to-time. Of course we can continue to push our faith in giving to ministry. Of course we could consider buying more things we might like or temporarily enjoy, or going on the occasional family vacation. But these options range from stupid to seemingly impact-less. What if we’re plainly aware that we don’t need more things? What if we’re really bad at taking vacations? What if we’re increasingly conscious that just writing a cheque isn’t satisfying our desire to give back to God?

I don’t say any of this to brag, but if that’s how it comes across, so be it. I’m more than a little frustrated that there’s no clear instruction on what we’re supposed to do with surplus income. This is the first time in our lives we’ve legitimately had more than we need – and more than we can, in good conscience, give away. And if God doesn’t have a plan for it, and we don’t need it or even particularly want it, what is it we’re supposed to do next?

Christmas Across the Continent

December used to be a fairly quiet month for us, with the normal Christmas shopping, then family get-togethers the week of Christmas. Since I started this new job, December has started to mean something a little different: travel!
Every year my team at work has a Christmas party, or two, usually in pretty swanky locations. This is our chance to use all the Delta SkyMiles I’ve accrued and travel together to Seattle, dress up in fancy clothes and pretend we’re a hip, up-and-coming young couple, carefree and well-off — instead of parents of two, who spend most of our time at home dealing with toddler-messes and don’t really like spending money!
Our celebrations this year will take us first to Toronto for the Canada “Christmas Gala” and straight from there to Seattle, for a week of year-end reviews, training and multiple Christmas parties. Nic will be there for half the week with me, and we’re looking forward to connecting with some new friends together.
We’ll be home from that for a few days, then I’ll likely head to Milwaukee, while Nicole rents a minivan and makes her way down I-90 back to Albany, NY. We’ll meet up there to catch-up with some old friends. It’s a bit of a reunion, actually, with one family coming from Virginia Beach, and another from Washington State. We can’t wait to see some of our VPT crew, many home from their college pursuits.
Finally, we’ll get some nice, restful time doing the usual Christmas stuff with the kids and Nicole’s family.
From Seattle to New York and back home is pretty nice, but one day we hope to have an excuse (and the money!) to celebrate Christmas is some slightly warmer locations…
It’s a little early (I haven’t even let Nic play Christmas music yet!) but in case I don’t get back on here before then, we wish you all a safe, wonderful, family-filled season of rejoicing at the birth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.