God’s Grace Continues to Light the Path

When you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders, open your heart, mind, and soul to hear and see God’s way. He will speak to you, you just have to be willing to hear it.

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As our departure date is fast approaching (33 days from today) I continue to become acutely aware of how real this all is and I have noticed the fear and anxiety start to surface as the reality of our path approaches. Last night was no different; I could feel the fear and anxiety rising up inside me, the barrage of questions swirling in my head, and the complete uncertainty of the path we have decided to walk. What were we thinking…quitting our jobs, leaving our home behind, taking our three children out of school to serve complete strangers around the world for one full year, and to top it off utilizing our savings to make it all happen because “we heard” and “we felt” called. I;m pretty confident that these feelings surfaced because all the things we have put off until the very end are happening (because we are at the very end)–selling our van and downsizing to one car, wrapping up jobs, and saying goodbye to friends and family. We returned home from a wonderful week long trip to see and say goodbye to family in Michigan and then on to spend a long weekend with wonderful friends and, again, say goodbye. We all unpacked the car and the kids went to bed. I took the short drive up to the store for some milk for breakfast and to get Jeff and I some dinner when these feelings and thoughts surfaced again with full force. As I pulled out of the drive-through parking lot and turned the corner to head home a song I had never heard came on the radio called All In by Matthew West. The lyrics of this song made me laugh out loud in my car…

“So, I step to the edge and I take a deep breath; We’re all dying to live but we’re all scared to death. And this is the part where my head tells my heart; You should turn back around but there’s no turning back now.”

“I’m going all in; Headfirst into the deep end. I hear You calling; And this time the fear won’t win. I’m going, I’m going all in.”

I have never been a believer of “signs”, but I have come to be a huge believer in the Holy Spirit and God lighting the path for me and providing me with assurance that this is His plan for me and for my family. The funniest part for me was that the very next song that came up was Thrive by Casting Crowns. This song has been like a theme song for Jeff and I through this process of planning and preparations, the words singing out to our hearts in a way we could not imagine.

“Just to know You and to make You known; We lift Your name on High. Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide. We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. It’s time for us to more than just survive; We were made to thrive.”

It may sound absurd, but at the very moment I could feel the fear and anxiety completely disappear and was instead replaced with peace and comfort. I was so overwhelmed at how peaceful my heart felt when just minutes before I was so heavy with fear. And all of this because of the songs that came on the radio. Now some may say that was just fate or coincidence. You can call it whatever you want. I will call it God’s way to comfort me in my time of fear, telling me that it’s okay to be afraid and then giving me the strength and solace needed to continue on our path.

God’s path for us is not always lit with neon signs flashing above our heads showing us the way, so we have to have our ear, eyes, and hearts open and we have to be willing to allow His way and His light to shine through us. He may ask a lot of us and it may be very difficult and maybe even painful at times, but He is not sending us on this path to harm us but to help us shine His light in this dark world, to help us fulfill His son’s commandment:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your souls, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40.

We are embarking on a journey that is going to be difficult and we are going to face many struggles along the way, but we love our God and we have chosen to follow His path for us to serve our neighbors around the world despite these challenges. We will continue to pray for God to shine His light though us and to help us love Him with all our hears, souls, and minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The “What” Versus the “Why”

Let your “why” be the motivation to change the world with the “what”.

Many people have asked about the connection between our faith and the mission to which we have been called. I think the best way is to decipher between the “what” we are doing and the “why” we are doing it; this distinction is crucial.

What we are doing (volunteer and service work) has nothing to do with our religion or even religion at all. Our goal is to serve others as they need it, to help where we can, to try to make their lives a little better, and to show them they are loved beyond their family, their hometown, etc by someone on the other side of the world. We want people to feel the love that we feel from our Lord.

With that being said, we are not seeking to change anyone’s religion, beliefs, traditions, or culture. All we want to do is show them we love them for the person they are today. We want our global brothers and sisters to feel and experience the love we have for them.

Now the “why” we are doing it is deeply rooted in our Christian faith. We believe that we have been called to show Christ’s love for ALL of His children, not for the purpose or sake of changing them, but just to love them. We believe that Christ has called us to this path because people around the world need to feel they are loved by people of different nations, cultures, and religions because God loves ALL His children, and our family can do this; show love to ALL people.

Casting Off Globally, the non-profit that Jeff and I started, has the hope and mission to help families find the opportunities to serve and volunteer together. Casting Off Globally (COG) is the bridge to the “what” but does not impact the “why”. Every family will have a different “why” for their desire to volunteer/serve others and COG wants to embrace that. We want to engage all families in volunteer service and welcome their “why” as a part of their specific story, not ours. Every “why” will be different, as it should be. Our differences are what makes this such a great opportunity for families across the spectrum to serve together and COG can be the key to opening their door to the “what”. We all have different reasons for wanting to serve and COG strives to embrace all of them to help families find their path to volunteer and service so they can make a difference in this world.

Our family’s “why” shaped the formation of COG, which is why we operate it with a Christian foundation, but that foundation cannot and will not get in the way of the “why” or the “what”. The primary goal of COG is to engage families in service and volunteer work together so we can make this world a little better, and whatever the “why” may be, we will work together as a global family to care for all our brothers and sisters.

God’s Gifts and Calls (post from 2/1/18)

We are all unique pieces of God and we fit perfectly together to make up the masterpiece of God himself.

No two people are the same. We all have been gifted with different talents, attributes, passions, and paths to follow. I have recently started reading In God’s Hands by Desmond Tutu and right away he addresses this very topic and I love his insight. He explains that is not just our unique gifts that make us so special but that we are all meant to complement one another. My weakness is your strength and visa versa. This is what really connects us together and it makes me wonder if this is another one of God’s grand ideas…we are all imperfect beings, but together with each of us using our own given talents or “God’s gifts”, we could actually become perfect beings (I know, very utopian). Maybe, humanity as a collective whole can be perfect amongst our individual imperfections; Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM). This feeds into why He made us all so diverse, alone we are sinful and flawed though made in His image, but as a whole we all make up God. We all are individual pieces or reflections of God as a whole and this is why we are so unique; we alone can’t make up all of what God is. We are like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, each one of us is a little piece of God, but when we are all connected together, we make up the beautiful masterpiece that is God himself.

God created all of humanity and I believe He made us so different so we could supplement the individual flaws of others, and others for us. This uniqueness is also transferred to the calls He relays to us, no call is ever the same and no path laid before a person is ever the same. God needs missionaries, volunteers, He needs teachers, fire fighters, soldiers, lawyers, doctors, janitors, and everyone in between. He needs all of us doing what we do best for Him in order for His plans to work; everyone’s individual path is important to the whole. No calling is more important, better, or less than another, especially if it came from God. The path that God has led me and my family down is no more important than yours. Our paths are different, just as we are different. I believe that He wants us to embrace our differences and our unique paths so we can serve His world collectively, as a TEAM. We can’t make a difference alone, we need each other. We need our uniqueness to serve each other, our world, and most importantly, God. Let us all use our individual gifts and talents from God to follow our unique path, and let us do this together as a TEAM to complete the puzzle and make our world a better place; the place God envisioned for us.

A Positive Spin on Negative News

How do we create positives in a world of negative news?

Steven Pinker opined in the Guardian on February 17th that there is an overwhelming trend towards negative reporting in news outlets.  For a child growing up with cable and satellite television and the myriad channels dedicated solely to the dissemination of news and having seen first hand how the lead topics of every nightly report are murder, rape, war, and graft, this trend is no surprise.  I have only ever known the news to report first and foremost on the worst of the worst.  As Mr. Pinker pointedly remarks, the adage of the day is if it bleeds, it leads.  Having also lived in a small town, then a big city, and then to a small city, I have seen a wide spectrum of how this plays out.  On the local channels there is typically a nod to a trending national headline (almost always negative)  followed by local headlines.  In the larger towns this usually starts with who was murdered that day or if no one was, the next most egregious list of crimes that occurred.

In our current situation we are fortunate that the list of crimes is usually fairly short and mercifully aligned with drug overdoses or bank robberies, not mass murders or worse.  It has gotten to the point where I no longer watch the news because frankly, I am not interested in hearing about all the bad things that have happened that day.  I have no doubt they occur and I am not supposing that ignorance will yield bliss or make the problems go away.  But simply put, there really is nothing I can do to stop a drug dealer from dealing his drugs.  I cannot stop a group of gang members from shooting each other, and I cannot intervene when a parent abuses his children.  The Federal and state authorities are tasked with this effort.  Instead, I try to focus on the areas that I can impact.  I look for the politicians who will support tough crime laws that will directly empower those authorities tasked with preventing or at least cleaning up the mess left behind by evil.  I look for opportunities to create positive outcomes for our community so that there will be fewer people who feel helpless and turn to crime as what they perceive to be the only solution to their predicaments in life.  I try to find ways to bring good to the world when it seems all we hear is bad.

As Mr. Pinker points out, the statistics reflect that there is a propensity for apathy or inactivity when the situation seems hopeless.  Why do anything if everything you do has no effect?  Pinker also published a study which reflects statistically that the world is currently in the most peaceful era it has ever seen (as measured by violent deaths per 100,000 people).  There are fewer wars occuring now then any other time in known, recorded history.  Would you have believed that from watching your news feed today?  I know from my personal experience that if I had to answer whether I thought the world was safer or more unstable and dangerous I would have to default to the latter.  Why?  Because despite the evidence to the contrary (evidence which goes underreported or not reported at all) the multitude of news stories is focused on the negative.  I don’t know if this is a function of the human condition or not.  Are we so guilt ridden from original sin that we cannot fathom to be deserving of peace and prosperity?  Maybe we just need violence and disruption in order to feel important.

I cannot begin to speak for anyone other than myself but I will say that there was a time when I intensely obeserved the news, formulated my strong opinion about the need for a crackdown in all phases of life to stop the bad guys, and vowed to be vigilant in the efforts of justice in the face of lawlessness.  And then I had children.  I watched them play unassumingly and unaware of the evils and dangers that were, according to eyewitness news accounts, around every fathomable corner.  My children weren’t, fortunately, in danger of imminent abduction or murder.  Now, I count my blessings that I have been fortunate to live in neighborhoods where gang violence and drug abuse are not prevalent but crime doesn’t just happen in these places and the news is all too happy to report this.

So after careful observation I started focusing more on the positives.  Laughter, empathy, friendship.  And while I am aware that danger still exists, I am also focused more on how my children have given me the hope and courage to focus on the positives in the world.  You see, it’s easy to gravitate to the negative.  It makes you feel good to not be the bad guy.  It’s easy to say you did the right thing by condemning the man who raped his neighbor or the “sicko” who shot up a country music concert.  But it’s hard to do something about it beyond the words.  It’s hard to give up a Friday evening to go serve dinner to 100 strangers who have no home and are in desperate need of a hot meal to fill their stomachs.   It’s hard to volunteer your time at the county jail to bring comfort to a man who may have committed unforgivable crimes and to remind him that he is still a man, flawed like us all, but deserving of love nonetheless.  It is hard to forego that next latte or round of golf so you can donate to a charity that serves those in need, or those who are sick, or those who may not look, believe, or think like you.  Fortunately, there are a lot of people out there that make those sacrifices.  I only wish the news spent more time lauding their efforts, mundane as they might seem for the ratings gurus.

Perhaps the ratings for good deeds are low because those good deeds remind us of how we all could do more.  And the reminder that we aren’t as profundly good as we think ourselves to be is a turnoff.  It certainly is a lot easier to feel good about myself when I see all the bad things others are doing that I am not.  I can boast of my goodness relative to those who are stealing, murdering, and waging a war of unjustice.  But looking at the great deeds of others puts into stark relief that which I am not doing.  Am I living the life of Christ, a life for others or am I living a life of me, focused on my happiness, my personal gains, my status in society?  If the answer is the latter then it is no wonder that I am drawn to negative news as a buffer to my own falibility.

The great news is that we can all break this habit if we deep down desire to do so.  It is not easy, no habit is easy to break.  But in doing so we will live a life far more fulfilling and far more impactful than the one we live by just not being that guy on the news whose mugshot is the lead story.  We need those good news stories to challenge us to be better.  It’s okay for us to look at others and feel bad for not doing more.  In fact it might be really healthy for us.  A reminder that we can be better and should try.  Seeing someone just like us who is capable of making a difference should inspire us and give us the confidence that we too can do the same thing.  It doesn’t take someone special to do something good.  Quite the opposite.  If you really look at it, it takes someone special to commit an act of evil, if not, then there would be a lot more people committing crimes in this world right?  The fact is that we don’t need to be, and probably outght not be, special.  We just need to be us and we need to make a committment to do good for others.  The ratings might not be there but the path to salvation, to a happier life, and a safer planet surely is.

From the Mouths of Babes (post from 07/06/2017)

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.” (Psalm 143:8) “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your good spirit, lead me on level ground.” (Psalms 143:10)

Anjali and David recently spent a week at an overnight camp (their first overnight camp ever). They attended Lake Waubesa Bible Camp and had a wonderful time. When Jeff and I picked them up we were privelaged to be in the audience while the kids recited Psalm 143 Verses 8 and 10 . After listenting to the kids recite this Psalm by memory, I wanted to explore this further with them, as it fits right into our year of service (even though they don’t know it yet). I asked the kids to write down what this Psalm means to them and how they can live out this Psalm. Here’s what they wrote…

David:
What Psalm 143 means to me:
God loves me because when I am scared he protects me.
God loves me because when I don’t feel love He loves me.
I serve God when I serve at the men’s shelter downtown and when I make new friends.

Anjali:
To me, this verse means to give up your life to God. I think it also means to ask God to help you live your life. This psalm means a lot to me. It’s a great verse and it can be a prayer. This psalm makes me want to go and serve others in need. The ways I can serve and spread God’s word is by serving at the men’s homeless shelter, serving at Pres House (at the University of Wisconsin), inviting people over and giving homes for our pets. We also show love. It’s a very powerful and motivating psalm.

It was wonderful to have the kids take this psalm and write down what it means to them. I am always amazed with their insight and their interpretations of these passages. It is very refreshing and encouraging to see how well they internalize the passages.

Temperament (post from 6/23/2017)

Where to begin? Shower thoughts that try to become reality often hit the wall of where to begin. It’s easy to solve the world’s problems, and sometimes even your own, while feeling the gentle cascade of clean, warm water washing away your cares, and maybe reality itself. This is where I found myself a year or so ago. A shower thought about how great it could be to travel the country and help people. A fairly simple concept but in practice altogether complicated. You have a wife, three kids, a lot of bills, a good job, and no idea how or where to even start. Sure, let’s go travel the country. The funny thing is that when you have a shower thought that wasn’t from your own voice, it has an uncanny ability to manifest itself into more than a flight of fancy. This is really where I was a year or so ago. Meandering through life doing my best to be a good father, husband, and dutiful employee. But in reality my life was going unfulfilled. Amazing to think that I was blessed in so many ways with such a wonderful family and career but at the same time I was yearning for more. More but less. Less stuff, more experience. Less material wealth, more spiritual wealth. And so when Sara came to me while I showered and told me of a former teacher who planned a year long RV trip around the country my thoughts turned to how we could adopt this concept. At first it was a far off pipe dream, a fanciful wish. Maybe in a few years we could get the money together, make the plans, someday. But then a shower or two later it festered and grew, it ate away at the chains of reality and become a nagging call, a reminder that opportunities seldom come twice and sometimes you just have to be awake and aware to hear that quiet call to throw turmoil into your life and do something so crazy that you know it has to be right. Only God can make a tree the poem goes, and I guess only God can turn a shower thought into reality.

And so as I felt the warm shower caress my body and protect me from the craziness that I was certain was entering my brain I simply said it. Sara, what if we traveled the country for a year with the kids, and did it soon. Like in a year, and not in twenty. To my surprise the question was not met with laughter, anger, or even reservation. Perhaps even to my chagrin, it was met with acceptance and excitement. Far from being uncertain I think Sara was all on board because maybe she had been thinking the same thing, during one of her own fanciful shower times. At the very least she felt that there was more for us in store than what we had been doing to this point in life. Now I said out loud what she had been feeling which meant we both felt it too, and now we had a purpose. And with purpose you can accomplish great things. I can’t say that I am supremely confident in my decision because every day I have an ebb and flow of strength and weakness. But I know this much, whenever I start feeling the need to rekindle that flame, all I need to do is hit the showers.

Jesus In Disguise (Post from 1/9/2017)

Mother Theresa said “each one of them is Jesus in disguise”. She was speaking about the people she served while in Calcutta, India. This woman gave every breath she took to Jesus and allowed him to work through her; she is truly an inspiration. This quote has resonated with me and has given me a different perspective on those we continue to serve here in Madison, as well as those we plan to serve during our year of service starting in 19 months (wow, this is coming up fast!). If we all saw people for what they are, a child of God, we would start to see Jesus in everyone. We may start to realize that if we care and treat everyone how we would Jesus, our world’s problems would be eliminated. Yes, I understand, this is very Utopian, even heaven-like, and yes naive. But truthfully, 1 act of kindness is like a ripple in a pond, it continues and grows and spread. So if I can continue to make ripples in the pond, maybe I can have an impact on our world. I have a new hope for change and faith that I can make a difference; my children and my family can make a difference. I have new faith that our small ripples can spill out to others around us and these ripples have the potential to grow into larger and more impactful changes in our world.