Tuesday, December 31, 2013

7 Things Putting the New in this New Year

It seems like 2013 went by so quickly. Now, here we are, less than 15 hours away from ringing in 2014. Here's a look at 7 things putting the NEW in this new year:

New living arrangement.

Polly and I lived in a one-bedroom apartment for our first year of marriage. Then we moved in with friends (more like family now) and have lived with them in the 5+ years since. While we love that family and will miss them greatly, we are also ready to have our own place...something Genevieve has never known.

New country.

For the first time in our lives, we will be living outside the United States. While the move is not permanent it's still significant as we will be there for 3 years. And while I will be rooting for my home country in the World Cup, I would be lying if I said that I won't be rooting for the Ticos too. In fact, a Costa Rica national soccer jersey is the first purchase I intend to make!

New culture.

With a new country comes a new culture. We have been warned about the realities of culture shock. But no matter how much we hear about it or read about it, we will simply have to experience it for ourselves. Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Being stretched as individuals is critical to growth. We expect to benefit from this new cultural experience.

New language.

Our first 8 months will be spent at language school. We will be doing intense study of the Spanish language. While Polly and I are in class, Genevieve will be in a Spanish-speaking day care. I can't wait to have my language corrected by my 3-year-old daughter.

New family dynamic.

As though we aren't going through enough change, we will be welcoming baby boy Brown into this world in the beginning of March. Going from a 3-person family to a 4-person family will be a challenge in and of itself. Trying to balance caring for a newborn and going to school will make it that much tougher.

New job.

While I served as youth pastor at Calvary AG in Dudley, MA for 7 years prior to transitioning to itineration last summer, I have actually worked my "pay-the-bills" corporate security job longer. I have worked for Securitas for 8 1/2 years and will just see my 8 year anniversary at the Genzyme/Sanofi account. During this time I've had some tremendous opportunities, including:
  • Officiating 2 co-workers/friends' weddings
  • Having a co-worker in my wedding party and being in his
  • Scoring the walk-off run in our softball championship
  • Traveling to cool new places
I'm sure I will have some tears when I hand in my badge this Thursday. I will carry with me great memories and life-long friends.

New normal.

While there is going to be so much craziness and transition, I know that at some point this year, I will settle into a new normal and this stuff will all be "old hat" by the time 2015 rolls around.

Happy New Year! I hope it's your best one yet!

Friday, December 27, 2013

7 Years of Feast and Famine

If you only knew me prior to college or if you have only met me in the past 4 years, there's something you may not know about me: I was heavy for 7 years of my life. I thought I would share what motivated me to finally lose and to keep off the weight after dieting failed me.

7 Years of Feast 

My 7 years of physical feast lasted from 2002-2009. My highest official weight was 218 lbs but I'm pretty sure I crossed 220 on my honeymoon (yes, I was my heaviest around my wedding, unfortunately).

During these 7 years, I was:
  • Mostly inactive
  • Incredibly unhealthy
  • Wearing a new, larger wardrobe
  • Less happy

7 Years of Famine

I felt called into ministry as a teenager and went to Bible college in 2001. Around my sophomore year, I entered into a spiritual funk of sorts. I still loved God and still felt called to serve in ministry, but I wasn't growing a whole lot spiritually. This remained true in my first 4 years of youth ministry as well. I think it might be easiest just to show you what I wasn't consistently doing:
  • Praying
  • Reading the Bible
  • Studying
  • Reading useful books

The Weekend that Changed My Life.

While I talk about this one weekend, I would be naive to think that there weren't a number of other things paving the way for this life change. For example, I had recently read a book called Enemy Access Denied by John Bevere which was instrumental. But this weekend was where everything came to fruition.

I was at a youth pastor retreat. I had been praying for a breakthrough in my spiritual life for some time. I had one particular sin that really had a grip on me and I was fed up. I needed a change. I did the only thing I knew to do...I prayed.

Then it all just kind of happened. I had a life-changing epiphany. For the first time I realized something critical:

My 7 years of physical feast was directly related to my 7 years of spiritual famine.

I realized that I had been struggling with the sin of gluttony (Proverbs 23:19-21). And as long as I was leaving the door open for the enemy to have access in this area, I was going to struggle in other areas as well. More specifically, I realized that all my struggles (the sin, my spiritual walk and my gluttony) were all really the same struggle: I lacked self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

I had attempted dieting and failed miserably. But now for the first time I viewed this as a spiritual issue rather than a physical one.

I was changed that day. God gave me victory over my gluttony and also the other area I had been struggling with. By that fall, I had run my first marathon. By the next I had run another and was in the best shape of my life. More importantly, however, my walk with God has grown tremendously ever since. My prayer life, Bible reading, studying and even reading have all improved and continue to improve. I became a completely new person...from the inside out!

I know that not everyone who struggles with weight is facing a larger spiritual issue (although they might be), but for me there was no doubt. My physical feast and spiritual famine were intertwined. Dieting couldn't make me lose weight, only a life-change could. That's why I never want to see the heavy-me again. Because I know it could bring some of the other internal struggles back with it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is our favorite time of year. And for good reasons...

The Reason for the Season.

No matter how many people try to turn "Merry Christmas" into "Happy Holidays" we know what we're really celebrating. More importantly we also know why we celebrate!

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which mean, God with us).
Over 2000 years ago, God the Son was born in humility in a stable alongside lowly animals. He came to us because we couldn't get to Him. He was born as a baby, lived a perfect life, died a terrible death on the cross, rose to life again and ascended into heaven. This is why we celebrate Christmas. It's the earthly beginning of this incredible story. (Email us if you would like to hear more about the true reason for the season.)

This is the Good News we bring with us to Costa Rica, which will be refreshing water to thirsty souls (Proverbs 25:25).

Family, Friends & Food.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we find ourselves spending a lot of time with family and friends. And we find ourselves eating a lot of food! These are things that have become synonymous with Christmas celebration. To some, Christmas has become only these things. I argue, however, that the way to best enjoy these elements is to first understand the true reason for Christmas. We act out love in response to God the Father showing His love for us in sending His only Son Christ Jesus to be born as a baby. We love because He loved us first!

We even enjoy exchanging gifts. And as parents, this means that we love to see Genevieve's face when she opens her gifts from us. Among my siblings, we don't even do gifts for each other anymore. We just get presents for the kids. And we love it!

This Christmas season has been extra important for us to visit with family and friends as it will be our last in the States for a few years. Plus, at nearly 3, Genevieve is having a LOT of fun with things.

The Atmosphere.

Christmas time brings with it a lot of things that add to the whole atmosphere of it all, like:
  • Trees
  • Lights
  • Decorations
  • Snowmen
  • Songs
  • Green, Red & White
Christmas has a look to it that cannot be confused. While commercialism has taken away from the true value and meaning of Christmas in some respects, it can only ruin Christmas if we let it. So I embrace the Christmas songs and decorations at stores and malls. I enjoy it while it lasts. Again, we won't be seeing all this for a few years. When Genevieve sees Christmas lights and decorations, she says, "Look, it's Christmas here."

We hope that you keep in sight the real meaning of Christmas this year! And we hope that you enjoy all the other fun aspects as well. Have a safe and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

6 Things I Say to My Daughter Often

As I think back to when Polly and I found out that our first child was going to be a girl, I remember being so excited. I mean, sure, I would have been excited either way. But more than anything, I have always wanted a little girl...a little daddy's girl.

Now nearly 3 years old, Genevieve is everything I could have ever hoped for and so much more. In fact, I am even more excited now than I was back then.

There are things that I feel are very important to do with Genevieve, including:
  • Pray for/with her
  • Read the Bible with he
  • Generally train her in the way she should go (Proverbs 22:6)
  • Play with her
  • Pay attention to her
But there are also things that I feel are very important to say to Genevieve. I wanted to share 6 of them with you:

God loves you.

If you ask Genevieve who loves her the most she will reply, "God." I feel like it is so important for her to understand God's incredible love for her. In all honesty, I could tell her this even more often.

I love you.

A child can ever hear this phrase enough. I tell Genevieve this more than anything else. And I will tell it to her as long as I live. I love her unconditionally! She knows that aside from God, Polly and I love her more than anyone else!

You're beautiful.

I tell Genevieve she is beautiful every day. She will be bombarded with images in magazines, movies and advertisements and see how they define beauty. I will always be right there ensuring she knows that she doesn't need to fit anyone's mold. She is and will always be beautiful, no matter what. I think it's important for a little girl to hear this from her daddy.

You're [insert positive characteristic here].

Genevieve is a beautiful girl but she is also so much more than that. Just as she needs to hear that she's beautiful, she also needs to hear about other positive qualities she has. While I don't have space to list them all, this includes telling her she's...
  • smart
  • funny
  • kind
  • thoughtful
  • sweet
  • silly
  • amazing
  • awesome
  • loving
  • special
Good job.

Children need words of affirmation. Kids generally know it if parents think they're doing something wrong; parents better make sure their children know it when they're doing something right. I want Genevieve to know when she does something well.

I'm proud of you.

While I say, "Good job" in response to something she has accomplished, I am proud of Genevieve just because she's Genevieve. It's not just about what she's done but also who she is. And I'm one proud Dada!

Encourage your kid(s)

"Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." - Colossians 3:21 (ESV). While we should discipline and correct our children when the situation warrants it, we must be careful never to provoke and thus discourage our children. My encouragement to you is simple: Make a conscious effort to encourage your kid(s) today!

Monday, December 16, 2013

What to Do if You Have a Bad Name

Today's word: Reputation. Merriam-Webster defines it as:
: the common opinion that people have about someone or something : the way in which people think of someone or something
What is your reputation? Does it matter? I think the Bible says that it does. Proverbs 22:1 (ESV) says:
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
"A good name" is synonymous with "a good reputation." When people hear your name, it should lead them to think well of you. I know that's what I want. I hope that when people hear my name, they think of qualities like:
  • integrity
  • trust
  • genuineness
Of course, this begs an important question:

How do we build a good reputation?

Let me answer this question by sharing some life lessons from a fortune cookie and Henry Ford.

Fortune Cookie.

I don't typically find fortune cookie sayings all that insightful so the one I got yesterday pleasantly surprised me:

"You can't build a reputation on things you were going to do."

A lot of people have good intentions. But our reputation is built on things we have actually done, not the things we intended to do.

Henry Ford.

As I was researching the above saying, I came across a similar quote from Henry Ford:

"You can't build a reputation on what you are going to do."

In the same way that reputations are not built on things we intended to do in the past, they are not build on things we are intending to do in the future. We may have some great goals and ambitions. We may even follow through on them and be successful in them. But as long as they are still in the future, they will not impact our reputation.

The bottom line.

Reputation is not built on intention, past or future. Instead, it's built on what we have actually done in the past and is maintained by what we are doing in the present. At some point, we have to stop intending to do something and actually do it.

A good reputation takes hard work to build, rebuild or maintain. But being someone willing to work hard for a good reputation is not a bad reputation to have.

The challenge.

Do you have a reputation of making New Year's Resolutions but not sticking with them? Do you have another reputation you would like to change? Do you have a quality you would like built into your reputation? Whichever describes you, here's the challenge: just do it! Don't wait for New Year's. Don't even wait for tomorrow. Put in some work and start changing today

Friday, December 13, 2013

2 MacBooks for the Price of None

It started to become overwhelming when we thought about it. We had too many items to buy with a small sum of money. It seemed like we kept earmarking the same money for numerous items. The math simply wasn't adding up. Have you ever been there? That's exactly where we found ourselves as we began looking at the things we needed to buy for our transition to Costa Rica, including:
  • Stroller that could accommodate a baby and a toddler
  • Baby crib, baby carrier and various other baby items
  • Clothes/shoes for all of us
  • Luggage
  • Laptops
It began to seem impossible when we looked at the situation. Thankfully we serve a God who can make possible what we think is impossible. We did the only thing we knew to do...we prayed.

We have already seen God provide in a number of these areas. We have received unexpected cash and have been blessed with some necessities themselves. I want to share about one of these areas God provided for us.

The break-up.

It was a good computer for a few years. Polly had gotten her Toshiba laptop as a graduation gift. It's the only computer we have used since that she got it in 2007. Six years later, the thing takes forever to start up or do anything. It's just old and less efficient than it used to be. (I hope no one ever says that about me.) We decided last year that we needed a new laptop (preferably two).

The crush.

Many of our friends love their MacBooks, so that's what we've been wanting. It's like we've been seeing this image in our sleep...

But this image also seems to accompany it...
That's the problem with MacBooks. They are not cheap. As I already stated money is an issue. We decided to move on from pursuing a MacBook. I posted on Facebook asking for input on the best laptop not a Mac. We figured we'd get something pretty cheap and save up to get a MacBook. Little did I know what would actually result from that post.

The matchmakers.

I received a message from a friend asking if we would like their used MacBook - Late 2009. They wanted to give it to us at no cost. The computer was given to the wife when she was a missionary so she liked the idea of it going back on the mission field.

Then I received a text from a friend asking if we would like their used MacBook Pro - Mid 2009. They were gifted it when they planted their church a few years ago but now barely use it. As a partnering church, they thought it would be great to bless us with it at no cost rather than just having it sit around.

We received one on Wednesday night and the other one last night. In 24 hours, we suddenly had 2 good working Macs like we had wanted and prayed for...at no cost.

We are grateful for...
  • our friends' generosity
  • God's answer to our prayers (this blessing was ultimately from Him!)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

3 Thoughts from an Empty Tank

I went out to warm up and scrape the ice off my car this morning with only 5 minutes to spare if I wanted to make it to work on time. As soon as I turned the key in the ignition, a dashboard light came on that I didn't want to see

My gas tank was empty.

I usually fill up my tank on my way home for work to avoid this situation. But thanks to a busy schedule, I was in a rush after work yesterday and thought I would have longer before the gas light came on. Fortunately I stopped just to put a gallon in and made it to work on time. It did get me thinking though.

We have a full calendar over the last 4 weeks before we leave. Are we running the risk of expending our energy and running on empty too. We need to ensure that we watch our "gauge" and make time to refuel. But what does that really mean? The following 3 thoughts came to mind.

Different people refuel differently.

Polly and I were at a dinner the other day with a group of friends. I overheard a conversation two friends were having about introverts and extroverts. One was saying that introvert/extrovert isn't about one's talkativeness or quietness but rather is more about how people refuel.

  • Draw energy (refuel) when they are around other people
  • Expend energy when they are alone
  • Refuel when they are alone
  • Expend energy when they are around other people
Polly enjoys spending time with family/friends and I enjoy time alone. But Polly really needs personal, quiet time while I really need to be around other people. I would say that by this definition (thought possibly not by a definition involving more criteria), Polly is more of an introvert while I am more of an extrovert.

It's a balancing act.

We need to find balance. While seeing family and friends is important, especially considering the time of year and the closeness of our departure, it cannot be all we do. We must include times of rest as well. For me it will be a chance to expend built up energy and for Polly it will be a chance to refuel. They are both important.

If it's not scheduled, it doesn't exist.

We are schedulers. While this is a good general practice, the potential problem is that if something's not on the schedule, it doesn't exist. Unfortunately I have been the one controlling the schedule and have been filling every free day we have, leaving no free time. Now I realize that we need to schedule free days in the calendar too. I will be sure to do that!

Have you ever thought about this? Are you more of an introvert or extrovert?

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Experiencing the Calm through the Storm

There's an old saying about the "calm before the storm" but I want to share about the Calm through the storm.


We're in a boat, heading toward our destination, calm and relaxed when suddenly a big wave crashes down on us and we realize that we have taken on a significant amount of water. When we look at the amount of water and the pace at which it's coming, we're overwhelmed. We are unsure if we'll make it.

We are incredibly busy as we prepare for Costa Rica and enjoy time with family and friends. How can we possibly fit everything into our schedule?

We've been praying about this transition for a while, knowing how hectic it would be. Now that it's here, we're reaping the answers to those prayers. And God has been so faithful! When look at the big picture, it can be overwhelming. But God has been our Calm during this time, helping us keep our priorities straight and to stay focused. He is the anchor we hold onto.

Faith of a child.

Genevieve has a toddler book of Bible accounts. She has brought the book to me a lot lately, turning it to the same page each time and asking me to read about "the rain." It is an account of a storm, found in Mark 4:35-41. Here is Mark 4:37-39 (ESV):
37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
And here is Genevieve's paraphrase of her book's version:
Once there was a big storm on a lake. They were very afraid. Jesus was sleeping on the boat. When He woke up, He told the waves to stop splashing and the wind to stop blowing. The sea was calm again.
I asked her why she likes to this account so much. To summarize, she says it's because they were afraid but God made it calm again. You have to understand that she's afraid of storms. This account comforts her. And every time she quotes it she reminds us of an important truth: Jesus is the Calm through the storm. Regardless if He chooses to stop the storm or give us the strength and faith to get through it, we trust Him to be our Calm.

Analogy completed.

We suddenly look over and see Jesus. We realize that He is with us and we feel an incredible calm come over us. We stop focusing on the big picture and start looking at the task before us. We grab buckets and begin to empty the boat, one bucket at a time. The entire time, we feel calm as we remember that Jesus is with us. With each bucket removed, the boat buoys higher in the water. Before long, we realize that the water is all gone. We made it!

While we are caught up in this whirlwind, we are anchored to God. We know that though there might be uneasiness during this transition, we will find calmness in Him!

Thank you God for using a 2 year old child to remind us of this truth!