An open letter to my niece, upon entering college
Tuesday September 12th 2006, 8:29 am
Filed under: youth ministry, personal, family, youth work

[i wrote this a few weeks ago, but was waiting to post it until i had my niece’s permission]

I was in grand rapids today (for a few hours), and thought you were probably already there, beginning your big honkin’ adventure at grand valley. Now I’m sitting in plane somewhere over the middle of the country, and I’m thinking about you. And I’m praying for you. And I’m going to speak bluntly, because I love you and I know you can handle it.

High school had its rough spots, huh? It’s no secret you had your bumps along the way – your great moments, and your bumps. But, possibly more than any time in your life, you’ve got a fresh page. You get to define who you are, what you’ll stand for (and not stand for), who you’ll listen to and who you’ll ignore. You’re still you. And you bring all your history with you (good and bad), as we all do. But this is a new day like you’ve never had: a whole new chapter of blank pages, waiting for you to put ink to paper and write your story.

Since you’re a big time college student now, humor me for a couple minutes and let me play professor for a bit of “Intro to Adolescent Neurobiology, 101”. Here’s the deal: you know and I know that your high school years contained a lot of impulsivity, a good deal of “I don’t even know how to make the right choices”, and a heaping portion of super-charged emotions (geez, you shoulda seen your mom when she was in high school – why do you think my room was in the basement!?). forever, people (even scientists) have thought that kind of stuff in teenagers was just immaturity. But scientists who are studying the adolescent brain are finding out truly amazing things, just in the last few years. The biggest finding is that the teenage brain isn’t finished developing (everyone used to think it was done developing, and just needed to be filled up with more information and experiences). They’ve found that the front part of the brain (called the prefrontal cortex – it’s the part behind your forehead) is massively underdeveloped in teenagers. Here’s the kicker: that’s the part of the brain that processes decision-making. There’s a reason teenagers often suck at making good decisions (I’m not sure what my excuse is, however). They’ve also found that there’s this stuff that grows around the “wiring” (the connectors in the brain) that acts like a protective cover. Once that protective cover is on the “wiring”, things like understanding emotions and implications get hugely faster and more accurate. The protective covering doubles during the second-half of the teenage years.

Why am I telling you all this stuff? Because, just like your life is entering a whole new phase (college! A new roommate! New friends! A whole new level of freedom! A whole new level of responsibility for personal choices and actions!), your brain is now at a point where it’s ready to serve you. Of course, this is all part of how God invented your amazing brain, which is so freakin’ cool.

I see so much good in you. I see so much potential for noticing other peoples’ needs, loving people (like God loves), and living as a peace-bringer. You have a deep river of gentleness in you: you might not always see that. but I can see it. You have a well of compassion. You have a genuine inquisitiveness about people that can be used to bring healing, safety, encouragement, and joy.

I think “hope” is probably my favorite word and concept. It’s such a powerful idea, especially when it’s not defined as ‘wishful thinking’, but has the more biblical sense of confidence in the future. Hope is sustaining, life-giving. Of course, as followers of Jesus, we have both a source of hope, and a person in whom to place our hope. I have a strong sense of hope about you, my sweet niece. And I hope you have hope; I hope you know hope.

I love you. I’m praying for you. Save a lunch date for your old uncle sometime when I’m in GR this fall.

season turn
Wednesday September 06th 2006, 10:26 am
Filed under: Uncategorized, youth specialties, personal, family

we closed down our office at ys yesterday for our 5th annual staff sabbath day. we all head up the coast to mission san luis rey, where beth slevcove (our director of spiritual formation), and this year, karla yaconelli, lead us in a day of rest, prayer and reflection. it’s become a wonderful tradition, with a culmination, at the end of the day, of celebrating communion together.

then, my family met at the beach for ‘last day before school’ picnic and play. we stayed until the perfect sunset dropped below the water line.

today, the kids both start school. our public schools here have been in session for 2 1/2 weeks already, but max and liesl are at a waldorf school (a private school). liesl attended there for a month at the end of last year, but this is new for max. she’s pumped, he’s nervous. i asked him how he felt about it, and he said, “well, i don’t want to go, but i know i have to, so there’s no reason to say anything about it.” wise kid.

and, today i fly to argentina. we’ll have our 5th or 6th convention there, in mendoza, at the foothills of the andes, on the western edge of argentina. i’m doing a couple seminars and a general session, with translation.

for everything else…
Thursday August 24th 2006, 1:21 am
Filed under: family

baseball.jpgtickets: $17.50 each

parking: $10

two slices of pizza, a diet coke, and an anchor steam: $23

snacks to come (cotton candy was promised): unknown

an evening at a padres game with my boy, after being out of the country for ten days: priceless.

final london post
Monday August 21st 2006, 3:20 pm
Filed under: personal, family

we fly home tomorrow. it’s been a great trip, although traveling with a 12 year-old isn’t quite how i had idealized it in my pre-trip imagination. today was a long one, but good: breakfast at starbucks, tube to westminster abbey (seeing this kind of thing is amazing to liesl for about 3 minutes, so i just have to adjust my expectations and be willing to move on — we spent three times as long in the abbey gift shop as we did in the actual cathedral)…


then, tubed over to saint paul’s (see pics in other posts below). beautiful, but too crowded today. a quick stop at a pub for lunch — finally, a bit of english food (i had ‘minted lamb’), then across the footbridge between st. paul’s and the tate modern, and into one of the best modern art museums in the world (moma in new york is the best, imho, and the modern annex in dc is pretty good too). here’s a weird bit: after we’d spent a good deal of time in the section that has the dada and neo-dada and other truly modern stuff (the kind of stuff many people see and say, “how is that art?”), we stopped in “the loo”. the urinals in the men’s toilet had a retractable barrier in front of them, and a sign taped to the wall that said, “these 3 toilets are out of order, please use the cubicles instead”. i’m tellin’ ya, i looked around, thinking it was actually some sort of art installation piece. i wondered if there was a camera, but realized they couldn’t get away with that. in the end, i decided it was what it was. but, to be honest, the line between this and some of the stuff in the galleries was pretty thin!


after all that, we capped off our time with a long stroll through harrod’s, including traditional afternoon tea (yes, more british food!) in the georgian restaurant on the 5th floor (a great place for tourists to have tea, because it’s fancy and all, but there’s no dress code).


one thing i’ve re-learned on this trip (which i’ve learned many times in the past): always look at the weather reports prior to packing. i did that, but only for rain. i didn’t really look at the temperatures. it’s been completely freezing during this entire trip, and i’m the idiot american tourist walking around in shorts, flip-flops and a t-shirt.

stiff-arming yorkshire pudding
Sunday August 20th 2006, 4:13 pm
Filed under: personal, family

we continued our noodle binge today, eating at noodle time in greenwich. and this evening, with liesl extremely ‘done’ for the day, i left her watching cartoon network in our room and walked down the street for a curry (as they say here, or, “for indian food”, as we say in the states): chicken khorma and peshwari nan, my favorites. yum. yes, we did more than eat today — shut up!


oh, i found these extremely cool t-shirts today in the craft market in greenwich that were handlettered with japanese caligraphy. the word choices in XXL shirts were a bit limited, and when i told jeannie that i bought one that says “calmness” (at least it does in theory), she laughed so hard, liesl could hear the laugh from my cell phone in the next room. i thought that maybe it would be nice to get something that’s not exactly me, so to speak — a gentle suggestion. yeah. we’ll see.

bonus pic: liesl and the tower bridge:


tomorrow we go here…


my new favorite restaurant
Saturday August 19th 2006, 5:19 pm
Filed under: personal, family

i was hoping to take liesl, tonite, to one of my favorite restaurants in the world — belgo, a few blocks from covent garden. but we weren’t going to be in that area after all. instead, we got off the tube at westminster, and walked across the thames to the london eye. we had reservations for an 8pm “flight”. so we got our tix, and walked north a bit, knowing there were restaurants along the south bank in that area. what we stumbled into was wagamama. and it will be one of the highights of my trip here. everything about this place blows me away — from the decor, to the style of the servers, to the hi-tech way orders are placed, to the speed of the food, to the website and values. and… especially the food. it’s a hip noodle bar, really. a thai-influenced, hip noodle bar.

we both ordered side-dishes (thinking of them as appetizers): i had duck dumplings (they looked like little empenadas), and liesl had an amazing bowl of edamame with garlic salt. omg, so amazing. i brought the extras with us back to the hotel and am just about to break them open and suck the little soy-life out of ‘em. we also both ordered fresh juices (clearly made when we ordered them) — liesl got a fruit combo, and i got one that was apple, celery, mint and lime. so good. our main dishes were both noodle bowls — liesl’s the most beautiful (and freakin’ huge!) bowl of chicken ramen i’ve ever seen, and mine, a coconut-broth mildly spicy chicken thing that tasted somewhat like ‘tom ka soup’ at thai restaurants, but with way more veggies and noodles. it was about four times as much food as we needed.

i see from the website that wagamama is all over britain, and quite a few other countries. someone would make a killing with these in the u.s. someone — please open one in san diego, preferably in east county. here’s liesl with her big-ol’ bowl o’ noodles:


and, as a little bonus, since a few of you have been nice enough to tell me you’re enjoying my cheesy little travelogue, here’s me in the london eye (which i’d never been on, always thought it was too “touristy” - but really enjoyed!) hovering over big ben and parliament (as in “house of…”, not as in the funk band from the 70s, in case there was any confusion).


finally, london
Friday August 18th 2006, 7:13 pm
Filed under: family


getting to london today was a pain in the butt. our driver said it was the worst traffic he’d seen. so we got to our hotel just in time to change and grab a cab to the theater for the lion king (the pic is us during intermission). then we stopped at a little italian place for a late dinner, walked through covent garden (probably my favorite place in london — certainly one of my favorites), and liesl had her first tube ride back to our hotel. tomorrow morning, portobello road market in notting hill.

my long-lost brothers
Thursday August 17th 2006, 1:33 pm
Filed under: personal, family

i was in the admin tent at soul survivor today, working out some details for our trip into london tomorrow, when i spotted a guy working there who looked quite like he could have been my brother. i mentioned this to him, and he grabbed another guy from behind a screen who could have been our third (hairier) brother. oddly enough, we were all wearing black shirts, and all sporting reasonably unkempt beards. here we are. mom, how come you never told me?


take a bath
Thursday August 17th 2006, 10:32 am
Filed under: personal, family

liesl and i got the chance to run over to bath, england, today. (it’s called ‘bath’, btw, because the city was built around ancient roman baths, which are still in the city center.) what a stunning city. we had a great and quick 2 1/2 hours checking out the city center, walking through the main abbey church (built in the late 10th century!), ate a very british baguette lunch, and strolled the walking streets. here are a few pics:



and, my personal submission for the “i want to stand out as a dorky american tourist” award…


the spiritual formation of “being there”
Tuesday August 15th 2006, 8:28 am
Filed under: faith, thinking..., family

i was reading scot mcknight’s the jesus creed last night in my cozy bed in our 15th century home, and the section was talking about spiritual formation. so it’s on my mind a bit today. this morning, liesl and i were sitting amidst about 11,000 british teenagers in the largest tent i have ever seen in my life. this event, these 11,000 teenagers (even even moreso, the organizers of the event), are a slightly different tribe than liesl and i come from. they’re charismatics — but, good charismatics (the we’ve got the spirit, but we still engage the world kind, not the we’ve got the spirit, and we’re withdrawing from the world kind). in fact, i never hear american charismatics talk about justice like this. but i digress.

we were sitting there in singing time, and there was a time when the band stopped playing, and the 11,000 teenagers kept singing. and liesl was singing along with all the voice she had, and the whole thing sounded so beautiful. and it struck me, liesl was being spiritual formed by this experience.

so often, as a curriculum guy, i tend to think of formation as something one does, or maybe pursues. i don’t tend to think of formation as something that happens. not that singing a christian song is necessarily formative for liesl. but something about singing a worship song with 11,000 other teenagers, all of whom are british and very “other” than her (which she clearly feels), but sensing that she is connected to these british charismatic teenagers in some way, that she is one of them. and this experience — being here — will form her (spiritually). i expect she will remember that moment last night when all the power in that massive tent went out, but everyone kept singing, even notching it up a bit. and this will all become part of her journey, part of her story.

sure, she’s stoked about going to london this weekend. but i’m pretty excited about seeing her in this parallel universe (british, charismatic).

oh, and did i mention it’s freezing cold, and i only have shorts and t-shirts? doh.

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