Friday, December 31, 2010

Best of 2010

     Why read about celebrities that died in 2010? That's depressing. Read this instead. I present the Best of the Couch's in 2010:

  • After 16 1/2 years, I resigned from my church as youth pastor. How is this on the best list? It required a genuine walk of faith because I didn't know what was coming next. This was Abraham-style faith walkin'! Had to learn total dependance on God. Scary and reassuring at the same time. Thankful for the process. Very thankful.
  • Julia received the Gold President's Award in her class for the year. She adds this to her Silver from Kindergarten. Because of this and the fact that she gave all her money away to missionaries, she earned an iPod. Very well deserved. So proud of her accomplishments.
  • I walked in the Breast Cancer Awareness Walk in San Francisco which happened to be on my mom's birthday (who lost her battle to breast cancer in 2007). 43 miles in 2 days through the hills of San Francisco. Nobody said anything about hills! And a bonus was being able to do it with a good friend from college who became a better friend on this walk. Thanks, Schmidty.
  • Marty and I started our own ministry, "Missionaries to Ministers," because we are burdened for those who serve in the church that are also struggling. We have brochures and business cards and everything (even a fax machine). Call us for an appointment in office, via telephone or through Skype or iChat. 
  • We created a website. Check us out at 
  • During all this faith walking, I got the best Father's Day present from my 7 year old that I have ever received, a piece of original artwork worth more than any Rembrandt or Van Gogh that simply says "Happy Father's Day. Walking By Faith." 
  • Teaching the kids the 10 Commandments as we walked to school, for the Bible says to talk about these things as you walk along the road. Monday through Friday presented a great opportunity, so we memorized as we walked. Love hearing them recite all 10. 
  • Finding our "Pathway." Our new home church is Pathway Church in Redwood City. They have been just what we needed as we transitioned. Our good friends from college have poured their lives into this ministry and have welcomed us and provided a place for us to serve and enjoy tremendous fellowship. As I said, good friends in college, greater friends now. Thanks, Scott and Sue Aughtmon and Brett and Jenny Moody and all your boys! The Couch's love you all.
  • I went back to seminary through Liberty University Online. Passed my pastoral counseling course with an "A." I was so nervous about doing an online course, but God very obviously helped me through and I finished with a 98% in the class! I truly give all glory to Him because I submitted every assignment with trepidation, doubting I did it correctly. Whew! And that "A" affirms my fresh calling to help people. It's what I want to do.
  • Took Max to Disneyland as it was the year he turned 4 (the age each of my kids have their inaugural visit to the Happiest Place on Earth). He definitely had a friend in Buzz and Woody. 
My best reads of 2010
  • Visioneering, Andy Stanley (1999). This fueled me to help people struggling with addiction issues and gave me the courage to tell my story. What's your passion? Read this book and run with it.
  • A Resilient Life, Gordon MacDonald (2004). Were you born with a quitter's gene? Truly motivational words from someone who was and learned to run in spite of it. Very encouraged by this book.
  • The Will of God as a Way of LIfe, Jerry Sittser, (2000). How can you not listen to a man who lost his wife, his mother, and one of his own children in a car accident as he talks about God's will for our lives? Very, very practical teaching on God's will that will challenge your faith and help you put your trust where it belongs.
  • Telling Yourself the Truth, William Backus and Marie Chapian, (1980). This book helped me realize that when my anxiety is taking over my thoughts, I've stopped believing the Truth of God's Word in that moment. Life changing book.
  • Hurt People Hurt People, Sandra Wilson, (2001). Great insights into why we hurt and thus hurt others. Lots of healing potential in this one.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do It Yourself Book, Jeff Kinny, (2008). Yeah, designed for kids, and kids at heart, I say. More of a draw your own comics, make some life lists, and fill in the journal in the back, but this book was one of my favorites in 2010 and inspired creativity in my kids which I will always promote. 
Best quotes of 2010

     "The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety." - George Mueller

     "Believe in the belief God has in you." - T.S.C

     "Be thankful for the process regardless of the outcome." - T.S.C

     "You can do things nobody else ever has because there has never been another combination of God and you." - T.S.C.

     "We would be wise to be attentive and responsive to God along the way, even in matters that appear to have little significance... Perhaps our attention to these little things is the will of God, and our pre-occupation with the future a foolish distraction." - Jerry Sittser

     "Visions make leaders passionate, thorns make them authentic." - taken from the Maxwell Leadership Bible

     "Nobody other than you has the power to make you miserable. That power is yours alone." - from the book, Telling Yourself the Truth, Backus and Chapian

     "One of the worst things you can die with is potential. Die with failures before you die with potential." - Henry Cloud

(and here's one to take us into 2011) "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense." - Winston Churchill, 1941

     No matter what comes your way, make it a joyful New Year. God bless you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

And They Said It Wouldn't Last

     15 years ago I mailed a Christmas Card to a good friend from college and it pretty much changed my life. I had asked Miss Marty McKenzie to accompany me to the Singing Christmas Tree production at Capital Christian Center and as a thank you, I sent said card. Very shortly after, we started dating and because of the distance between us, I started sending cards weekly to stay connected to my new girlfriend since we only saw each other on the weekends. Marty had a co-worker, obviously jaded and scorned, for she had the nerve to say about my weekly card sending, "It won't last."
     Well, 15 years have passed, nearly 14 of those spent in wedded bliss, and my wife still receives a card from me weekly. It has become a part of my regular routine. And I thoroughly enjoy doing it. It still keeps us connected. Marty appreciates the effort and the sentiments written inside and thanks me every time she receives one.
     I've always liked to draw, so each envelope features a little artwork from me.

This one was a follow-up card after Marty threw me a surprise birthday party.

What to do with all those extra pictures? 

Embarking on a walk of faith.

One of my favorites. If anyone remembers the movie or TV show from the late 70's "Logan's Run," you'll get this one.

I'm not an artist if I don't draw superheroes.

Happy Halloween!

In our second year of marriage, Marty went on a trip to Africa and was gone for nearly 3 weeks. This envelope shows how I felt when she got back.

And of course, Schroeder the piano player from the best comic strip ever produced, "Peanuts." 

     I'm glad my kids will inherit these cards someday. They'll get to read all about their parents' relationship and romance and hopefully it will be an example to them, in some small way. And to Marty's former co-worker, wherever she is and whoever she was... it lasted.   

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Three Weeks Early and One Day Late

     Eight December's ago, Marty and I were awaiting the arrival of our first child. The day after Christmas we were lying in bed, just waking up. Our baby girl would be here in 3 weeks! We were so looking forward to meeting her. I began to sing to Marty's tummy as I had many times before, "Be My Baby," and then followed it up with "I'm Coming Out," which I would sing when I wanted her on the outside. Much to our surprise, she obeyed that morning. On December 26, 2002, three weeks early, our baby girl Julia was born, and a love switch I didn't know I had inside me was flipped on!
     The first time I left her in the nursery at the hospital the day she was born, I just cried. I looked at her through the thick glass and felt the separation. She was only hours old, but leaving her already felt like she was going off to college or I was giving her away at her wedding. I didn't want to go. I had only met her that day, but it hurt to walk away from her.
     For her eighth birthday we suggested she have a slumber party. She could invite three guests (all we can handle for an overnighter at this point), and she invited her best friend from pre-school, her best friend from Kindergarten and a girl in her current class that she has grown close to. Julia is a great friend maker and keeper. Marty bought some make-up for them to get a light makeover for the evening, then we'll take them to dinner and the 8 year old girls will sit at their own table, order whatever they want, laugh and giggle over 2nd grade stuff, come back and watch a movie and sleep in the living room.
     I have never seen Julia so excited. She cannot stop talking about her party and planning. She has made lists of things they can do. She's asked if any of the girls get a little nervous about sleeping in the living room, can they transfer to her bedroom. She has graciously included her little sister in her birthday party plans, and she has expressed adequately that she cannot wait for her slumber party.
     I love seeing her so happy. I love her. She is an exceptional kid, as all my children are. I can't believe our baby girl is growing up so quickly. For some reason, this slumber party is making her seem so grown up. And soon, I will be waving to her as she drives away, car packed, college bound, and then waving to her her as she drives away with the man I've entrusted her to. God help me.
     So I'm remembering a December from 8 years ago when our first born child became the best Christmas present we ever received, three weeks early and one day late.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mid-December Ramblings

     I'm supposed to be studying, but the house is too quiet. There's just something about that moment... you put the kids down, you still hear them rustling in their rooms, talking, singing, but eventually... quiet. Peace has settled over the house. The wife is gone for the evening, my text book is calling, but I'm ignoring it. Got the fire log burning, looking at the stockings hanging on the mantle. Four of the five of them were made by my mom. Marty's was made by her grandma. A few years ago she wanted to buy matching stockings for the whole family, but I refused, at least for mine. Those two pieces of felt sewn together have been the makings of the only stocking I've ever known and all I care to know. Mom wrote "God Bless You" at the top in felt tip marker. My siblings have the exact same style. Wonder if their's are hanging...

     Just spent a couple hours downloading free Christmas music from Amazon. Found some pretty cool tunes from Sixpence, Michael McDonald, and some unknowns (Little and Ashley, anyone?), but still cool, and FREE! I have 560 songs in my Christmas playlist on my iPod. Always looking for new, original Christmas music (we don't need another version of "Oh, Holy Night," or "Christmastime is Here," do we now?). Currently listening to Annie Lennox's latest holiday album. The voice of Eurythmics singing sacred carols... what a paradox.

     I'm staring at the tree, looking at the ornaments and reliving the memories attached to some of them. Got that one when I lived with Vito in an apartment in Cupertino, '94: My first "on my own" ornament. Mickey and Minnie ice skating was acquired on Pier 39, engaged to an incredible woman, couldn't wait to get married. And I'm not gonna lie, I have a crush on our tree topper. She's the most beautiful angel I've ever seen and she has perched there for the last 13 years. The kids decorated the lower half of the tree. Construction paper, baby's first Christmas, baked dough crafts, it's a mess down there, but it's endearing.

     I told Ella we may not have many presents this year. She said, "It doesn't matter if we have a lot or none at all." Good answer. Great attitude. We'll make a lot of memories this December. We're going to hit a pageant, stroll through Bethlehem A.D., there's always Christmas in the Park downtown. I realized a long tome ago that the best gift I can give my kids is fond memories.  I'm always trying to wrap those things up in bows and leave them for them. December 2010 won't be any different.

Merry Christmas.



Sunday, December 5, 2010

Don't Make Me Minister

There's a video going around of a group of people who are in a food court, and one by one, they start singing Handel's Hallelujah chorus until they are all in full harmony and counterpoint. It brought tears to my eyes for the name of my Lord was being sung in great chorus in a public setting, and so beautifully. And the effort was appreciated by those who were lucky enough to be shopping in the mall that day. It reminded me of an opportunity I had but my attitude had me in danger of missing out on something.
     When I was in college, I travelled with a singing group. In May we would go on a three week tour hitting churches up and down the western side of our Untied States. In the middle of touring, we found ourselves on a country highway in the middle of nowhere. We found a tiny diner on the side of the road and pulled over for lunch. It was customary for us to ask the manager of whatever eating establishment we were patronizing if we could sing our a cappella number for them. But this day, I just flat out did not want to do it. It was Saturday, our day off. We sang Sunday through Friday. My voice was tired. I was tired. Don't make me go in there and do what we did all week. I need a break!
     I walked in the diner, bad attitude and all, and noticed the owner of the place. She was asked if we could sing for the "crowd" and her expression said, "Why?" But she relented even though it was obvious she wasn't into it (just like me). We sang our number. We harmonized, we crescendoed and de-crescendoed, we did what we did every night and received a nice round of applause from the 6 customers who were there. As the applause came to a stop, there was one person still clapping, the owner. I'm not sure she was aware that everybody else had stopped, but she kept on. Then I noticed tears running down her careworn face. It was quite the contrast to her "what's the point" attitude she had when we asked her if we could sing. Immediately my attitude changed because this soul was touched, moved to tears. Something happened inside of her and she was blessed, ministered to, and received several hugs from our troupe as we walked out the door.
      I realized you never take a break from ministering.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Big, Cherished Mistake

     Regardless of the holiday, I still had homework to do. So after the kitchen was cleaned and kids were tucked in, I settled in to do some serious reading. Up to this point, my text books for my Pastoral Counseling class had been very timely, not only equipping me, but speaking to me and challenging me on a personal level. My assigned reading for last week was no different, even more so than the others because it was speaking to me specifically about what I was wrestling with on that very day. How could an assignment be so divine? The book is called 9 Things You Simply Must Do to Succeed in Love and Life by Dr. Henry Cloud. Listen to a few tidbits: "Your heart is an organ designed to have life flowing through it. Your mind is like that as well, as is your soul," (p. 39). And how 'bout this... "One of the worst things you can die with is potential. Die with failures before you die with potential. Potential is something to be realized, not guarded and protected," (41).
     But here is where it was really jumping off the page for me. "Principle 2: Pull the Tooth... Level two is facing things that truly are negative and either fixing them or figuring out that they can't be fixed and letting them go... pull the tooth," (49). The author writes about a business deal with a friend that turned typical: He was owed money, the friend didn't think he owed him money, phone calls were made, phone calls weren't returned, and a good part of a year was spent trying to have this debt repaid, a sizable amount. A wise friend told him, "Write it off and get on down the road. Take the loss and move on. You are expending too much negative energy," (p. 57).
     I do that. I spend way too much negative energy on things that don't deserve my time thinking about them. I was doing that on Thanksgiving Day, but fighting it because my kids didn't need me distracted on such a family oriented day. So I put up a good front, but as soon as they went to bed, more negative energy was being spent.
     I felt God had me read that to remind me that I am not supposed to be anxious about anything! So I was very thankful for my text book that night.
     On Saturday morning, I discovered I had been reading the wrong text book all week. I wasn't supposed to be reading 9 Things, I was supposed to be reading Boundaries in Marriage! So I sat in my study chair, a whole book behind in my reading, but I knew God would see me through my weekend and help me meet my deadline on Sunday in spite of my goof.  God redeemed my mix up and knew what I needed to hear. Talk about learning from your mistakes!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Melancholy Thanksgiving

     When I was a kid, Thanksgiving meant cousins, lots of cousins. We made many trips to Oroville, CA, and Burson, CA, and some years we hosted the dinner at our house in Antioch (did I ever mention the time we actually transported 2 live turkeys tied up in 50 lb Purina Dog Chow bags with their heads sticking out on a 2 hour car ride in our station wagon and one of them busted out and started flapping around all over the back of the car? A traumatizing story for another time). Growing up, there was always lots of family around on the holiday.
     When I got married, Marty and I would rotate going to her family's one year,  and then mine, but driving back from Sacramento, we always managed to swing by my folks' place because it was on the way home. It just wasn't Thanksgiving unless I saw my mom with a dish towel draped over her shoulder as she cooked the turkey or was heating up leftovers, depending on the day.
     Three years ago, one week before Thanksgiving Day, Mom passed away. I knew as I stood by her hospital bed, talking with her for the last time, that I would not be seeing a towel over a shoulder that year. Anticipating that fact was difficult.
     Tomorrow it will be a table set for 5. Just us, the Couch's, no one else. Our house won't be crawling with cousins and aunts and uncles, or even my own siblings, for that matter. They have their own families to tend to. Its not what I was raised on, so, for me, it makes me a little sad because we usually want our kids to have the good experiences we had when we were young. And with that, of course, Mom won't be in the kitchen, but maybe I can get Marty to work a towel on the shoulder for me. It will be me, Marty, the best wife in the world I could have ever hoped for, Julia, who's excelling in her school work (once again) and is a great friend to schoolmates, Ella, who is also at the top of her class and walked 20 laps in her school walk-a-thon (incredible little kindergartner), and Max, who continues to be a source of laughter for us.
     So our house may not be brimming with people tomorrow, but it will be and is rife with thankfulness. After all, it's not aunts and uncles and cousins or even turkey or a towel over the shoulder that make a Thanksgiving complete. All that's needed is 5 Couch's.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Don't Look and It Doesn't Exist

     I've tricked myself into thinking I'm not out of shape. Want to know my secret? I don't look at my gut. I examine my physical appearance  about once a day after getting out of the shower when I look in the mirror with a towel that wraps around and conceals the stomach that I do not care to acknowledge. What only adds to my denial is my stance as I look at my reflection: I'm leaning forward and my chin is slightly extended which obstructs any evidence of a double (or cubed or to the 4th power) chin. That particular mirror tells me I look pretty good.
     I was walking with Max today in a strip mall. I wasn't feeling very good about my appearance and I decided to confirm that feeling by looking at myself in the store window that we were passing. I didn't like what I saw. This glass didn't edit my reflection as nicely as the mirror in my bathroom. I hate that store window. But if I hate that store window, I hate it for telling me the truth. How healthy is that?
     I was brought up in a family that didn't discuss uncomfortable or painful issues. We did not draw attention to that which was on everybody's minds. If we didn't look at it, acknowledge it, or talk about it, maybe it would go away. And if we did that long enough, maybe "it" would never have existed in the first place. So, whatever "it" was, we would just work around it because dealing with the reality of "it" was too unpleasant, hurtful, or shameful.
     Denial is something we develop in childhood. It's a faulty protective mechanism that attempts to keep us safe from a painful truth. It's easier to deny something because the alternative is just too loathsome to think about. Looking at ourselves for who we really are can seem unimaginable. Acknowledging the not so attractive can be  humiliating and bring on the assumed displeasing thoughts of others. But can I just say as someone with my family of origin, acknowledging whatever "it" is is definitely the way to go. Yes, it's hard. Yes, it's humbling. Yes, it may mean tedious work for God knows how long, but health and freedom are so worth it. Plus, wouldn't it be nice to have all that extra living and breathing space in your front room?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Top Shelf Blues

Last night I knelt to pray and began to repent of sins of the past, I'm talking years ago which I'm sure I had already asked forgiveness for but just to make sure... As I prayed, I began to relive those mistakes I made, and then self-condemnation began to set in. In my soul, I began to panic a little. I was supposed to be spending time in God's presence but it seemed my mind jumped in a time machine that hurled me back to those uncomfortable scenarios. I called out to God, asking Him to assure me of His company and His love for me. Then He brought to mind what had happened just that afternoon with my son.
     In the past, Max has climbed up on his toy box and then on to his dresser to get an item off the shelf that is not necessarily meant to be played with. I've caught him doing this and he was punished for it. I don't want those shelves to come falling down on him, so he needed to understand this is not acceptable. I told him if I ever caught him again, he would be (severely punished).
     Yesterday I heard a crash in his room, but it sounded like toys falling out of his closet so I didn't investigate immediately. A couple minutes went by and there had been this consistent scraping against the wall sound. Fearing the paint being scratched, I called out, "Max, what are you doing?" His answer was a cry of desperation. I walked in to find him standing on his toy box trying with all his might not to drop one of the shelves he had been forbidden to touch that was teetering in his failing grip. When he saw me,  a look of sheer terror came over him and he began to cry, still trying to hold up the shelf. I stood there looking at him not knowing what course of action to take because I remembered what I told him would happen if I caught him up there again, and his reaction told me he remembered it too. As I wondered what I should do, my anguished son looked at me desperately wanting some help but realizing he was also staring at his rightful disciplinarian. Marty walked in and immediately went to his aid. Then he had a time out while Marty and I discussed his consequence. The girls were going to a costume party, but Max would not be going for disobeying and knocking the shelf off the wall. It wasn't what I originally guaranteed him, but it would have to do.
     Marty left with the girls and Max and I stayed home. I asked him if he was ever going to do that again and he convincingly shook his head no. I asked him if he was sorry and he said yes. I couldn't get the look on his face when I walked in on him out of my head. He knew he blew it big time and he expected me to react a lot more strongly than I did, because I said I would. But I love him. I felt bad for him.
     We watched some videos together while we had "just the boys" time and the night ended pretty normally, except for the last several nights, Max has wanted Marty to put him to bed. Not last night. For some reason, he wanted me to tuck him in, which I was happy to do, complete with a story, some tickling, a little rough housing and pillow fighting before lights out.
     This whole scenario came to mind as I knelt before God that night in fear of being scorned for my way past sins. I know a good father disciplines his kids, but did God see the terror on my face as I prayed? He's a Father, my Father, just as I am to Max. I'm sure He looked at His boy in that moment and His heart strings were pulled because He loves me.
     After God showed me His heart for me through what happened with my son, I immediately got up and went in to Max's room to adjust his covers and stroke his head. I may be 42 years old, but I have to admit, I wouldn't mind at all, whether I was aware of it or not, if my Father came in to my room to check on me and give me some late-night love especially in light of how imperfectly I may have behaved that day.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Shock

     I grew up in what seemed like a typical family. Mom was a "homemaker," Dad drove big rig trucks to bring home the bacon and I had three older siblings, 2 sisters and a brother. This was life as I knew it, until one day around the age of 10 my dad called me and my brother into my parents' bedroom. I racked my brain trying to recall if I had done anything worthy of being punished, but drew a blank so I had no idea why were having this private and ominous meeting. My dad began to explain to us that he and Mom thought it was time that my brother and I knew something. Prior to marrying each other, he and Mom had both been married before and my sisters were not his biological daughters, instantly making them my half sisters in theory. We were shocked. One of us started crying (I think it was my brother. He was always more sensitive than I was). This news could not be grasped. It was disillusioning, painful, and... well, shocking. Things were not as they seemed and I walked out of their bedroom in a fog.
     I remember walking across the street to a friend's house trying to wrap my mind around this bombshell and realizing there was nothing I could do to change this newly revealed truth about our family. And as life went on, things didn't really change among the Couch members. The fact that my sisters were technically my half sisters remained just that, a fact, and never had any bearing on our relationship even to this day.
     A couple posts ago, I guess I dropped a bombshell. "I Was a Two-Faced Pastor" has become my most visited posting on my blog, greatly surpassing all others. And even though I wrote it so it might possibly help others who are struggling, I didn't anticipate the shock value it would have on those who thought things were one way but are now different in their eyes. To those who may be disillusioned or hurt by it, I can understand.
     The book of Nehemiah tells the account of Nehemiah hearing the news that Jerusalem's walls have been burned down and the city is in ruins making it a mockery in the land. Nehemiah was compelled to do something about it so he returned to the city, organized a working crew and watchmen on the walls to protect them as they built, and even endured threats and plots against his life if he continued with his mission. My soul was like that city. I was broken down. The enemy was laughing at me as I lived in shame and embarrassment over my shambles of sin. But the Lord graciously sent people my way to help me rebuild. He blessed me with a wife who chose to forgive me and work with me through the laborious process and is now willing to stand beside me and minister to others who may be suffering just as we were.
     I know there are people sitting in the pews at church silently struggling in similar ways as I did, I know marriages have dried up because of addiction issues, I know there are pastors who are in the same kinds of chains that I was in, and because I know this to be true, I want to help rebuild. That's why I was so candid 2 posts ago. If I hadn't been so honest, I never would have talked to yet another soul this week battered by the effects of pornography addiction. I have to hold out hope. And when people see that I was struggling just as they are because I shared out of my brokenness, they finally see that there is hope.
     So, sorry for "The Shock." In time, I hope these newly revealed facts about my life can be just that, facts, and I hope it won't have any bearing on our relationship... because we are still brothers and sisters.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Keeping Your Closet Happy

I was bidding on Ebay and the description of the item  explained that it was unused and from an estate sale. I could tell that the seller wasn't even a relative of the deceased which provided quite the revelation. The former owner never used the item I was bidding on and didn't have anyone to pass it on to for their enjoyment. This was very sad to me. It was purchased, then put away, then sold by someone who had no use for it or emotional attachment to it, to a complete stranger. I then realized I had such things in my closet and in boxes in the garage that I had been holding on to for years, even decades, but what for? To keep my closet happy? I was an Archie Comic Book fan as a kid. In college, someone had some old Betty and Veronica stationary that they had from childhood and they gave it to me. The nostalgia factor was off the charts. The box was stylin' with 70's designs and the word "groovy" was even printed on it. Though I wasn't about to send any of my close buddies a letter on Betty and Veronica paper, I kept it. The stationary moved with me to addresses in Cupertino, Sunnyvale, back to Cupertino, and finally to my current residence in Santa Clara. After the Ebay bid, I came across the groovy stationary and decided it's days in my closet were numbered. My girls started getting into Archie Comics so I sent each one of them a letter on the stationary so they can keep them and have them when they're older (I'm holding on to them to make sure of that). I happened across an old greeting card I bought in the 80's just because it has a bunch of Motown lyrics printed on it.  I sent it to Marty as her "card of the week" (for those of you who know that about me, yes, I still send my wife a card a week and have since we were dating). I was holding on to these Burger King Disney Collector cups from the mid 90's, still in their boxes, which also moved from address to address until I finally realized these would make perfect drinking glasses for our family. Even today, I was going through a box from my office filled with pez dispensers and superhero toys and Peanuts paraphernalia that I had collected over the years, and I gave it all to my kids. It was like Christmas to them. They were so happy, and I thought, Why would I keep this stuff hidden away in a box when it brought such joy to my children?
     I don't want to die and have a bunch of unused stuff in boxes. I want to see these items enjoyed today while I'm still here. So I say, use 'em or lose 'em.

Friday, October 8, 2010

I Was a Two-Faced Pastor

I'm going to be bold. I'm going to be real. I'm going to be honest. I've learned that as I share out of my brokenness, it connects with other people's pain and they can relate and hopefully start to heal. But I want to start with a positive and don't forget this: I am a better husband, father, and minister now more than I've ever been with still lots of room to grow, but the road to today was not easy for me or my wife. Pastors aren't perfect. They're actually human, FALLIBLE beings that sometimes screw up. They struggle with sin issues and temptation, and sometimes they even give in, perhaps a lot. I was in that boat and I didn't know how to get out. From adolescence my fantasy world was an escape from the pain I experienced as an awkward teenager and from the dysfunction of my family. The problem was, my fantasy world came with me into adulthood and even into my marriage. Though I was a virgin when I got married, the guest stars in my mind didn't think I was. Oh, I tried to live a pure life. I had an accountability partner and everything. That's all you need, right? It wasn't enough because I kept returning to the sexual scenarios I came up with in my brain. And when a computer entered our home, pornography eventually did too.
     So there I was, a pastor who would preach about sexual purity but struggled remaining pure himself. I tried. I made promises, I made vows to God, I would have streaks of success whether they were weeks or months, but eventually I always seemed to return to my vomit continuing the cycle of pre-ocupation to temptation, to acting on it to repentance and shame.  And it was in that time of repentance that I would feel I could go on with my ministry because everybody sins, right? And God forgives, right? Finally I couldn't take it any longer...
     Several years ago, circumstances in my ministry and personal life made me come to grips with my hypocrisy. I could not live like this any longer. I confessed everything to my wife that I had been in denial about for years and we began, together, the long hard road of recovery. Coincidentally, Marty had just got a new position at a counseling center in San Jose and started seeing clients dealing with sexual addiction. She soon asked me if I thought I was an addict. Of course I wasn't! Addicts do this and act like that and need this and look like that. Then why couldn't I stop a behavior that was killing my spirit and drying up my marriage? Why was I living in direct contrast to my own morals and ethics?
     After seeing a therapist, joining an SA group and working the 12 steps, I realized I was an addict. That's what my brokenness looks like. We're all broken, and this is my area. As mentioned, its been a long, hard road, one that I'm still on with my wife by my side. We've had to work separately, but most importantly, together on finding healing and restoring our marriage. And we are burdened for those who are still silently struggling with similar issues. Thus, this new chapter of our ministry, "Missionaries to Ministers."
     So I end as I began: Today, I am a better husband, father and minister than I've ever been. Don't think of me as the pastor who's a sex addict, think of me as the guy who's finally walking in freedom.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Recovering Wimpy Kid

My name is Shane and I'm a recovering wimpy kid. "Hi, Shane." Okay, so I wasn't the most athletic or the most popular in junior high, but my smokin' hot wife and adorable kids don't care, and I don't care, either (excuse me for a moment while I speed dial my therapist). So when I first saw a book entitled "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" as I wandered through Target, I was compelled to peruse. And after reading the first few books, I thought, "This guy has captured my adolescent days!" and, "Dang, why didn't I write this first. This guy's a millionaire now." Then along came the best book in the series, the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself-Book." Yeah, so what? I'm 40 something and I bought it. And I not only bought it, I did it myself, and I finished it, including the journal portion in the back! I filled out the "Practice Your Signature" and "List Your Injuries" pages.  I attached my photo wherever it said "Attach your photo here." I got signatures from my friends and family on the "Autographs" pages. So what, who cares? I even named one of my "Make Your Own Comics" strips, "So What, Who Cares?" Some of my other comic strips were named "The Couch Kids," ""Life with Catwoman," "Butch, the Bible Boy," (based on a real-life kid from Junior High who brought his Bible to school every day), and "My Funny Dad," a charming strip where a young girl asks her dad for a bedtime story and he responds with, "Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was so tired she didn't need a story. The End," (Based on real events in our home). I have been questioned if this was the best use of my time. When my kids pick up my wimpy book and ask if I've done anything new and ask for their own and already have ideas and plans to fill it out, then I think it's been very productive. Sometimes it pays to be a wimpy kid... FORMER wimpy kid.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

We'll Have Nun of That

A few weeks ago I made a hasty retreat to the Carmelite Monastery on Benton Street here in Santa Clara. I just needed to go and be with God and this is a beautiful, tucked away place that is so quiet and picturesque (so I also brought my camera). I was open to hearing from God. I could use some divine direction. Not opposed at all to God writing on the wall or splitting the skies open to communicate with me. I kind of prefer the obvious. So I headed for the chapel, a beautiful sanctuary that is very ornate, much like the churches I've seen in Italy, only smaller. I brought my friend iPod along to add to my prayer and worship experience. I turned the volume up just enough so it was almost background music because I wanted to sing along and utilize the incredible acoustics in that room. I joined in with the first song rather quietly, yet worshipping, but realized this place was made to be filled with the praises of our God, or so I thought. I put on an old worship classic, "I Stand in Awe," and I decided I was going to let it rip! I sang my brains out and listened to the mix of the music in my ears and my voice reverberating off the walls and ceiling. It was quite the audio experience. I was putting on my own private concert for God and I was digging the sound effects. Who knows how long I would have stayed there singing, but in walks a little old nun, sweet as can be, approaching me with just a little trepidation, and informs me that the sisters were going to be starting their prayers soon, so could I pray quietly to myself. "... but you have a beautiful voice!" she added as she clasped her hands to her chest. Uh, thanks. So I sat down and wondered if I should be embarrassed just a little. Nah. It isn't everyday you get complimented and shut down by a nun in the same conversation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't Forget the Wisdom

Some have said the TV show "Don't Forget the Lyrics" was created for me. I would agree. So when I saw there was a chance to audition, I got really excited. I have a friend who is a casting director and she was looking for people to audition for this very show. I contacted her and she guaranteed me a spot to try out. I just had to drive down to L.A. The thought of it, singing random songs on national TV and a chance to win some moolah, and hanging with Wayne Brady!...  I was getting pumped. Couple hurdles to jump through, the trek to the Burbank area, finding a place to stay for the night, getting my wife's blessing! When I pitched it to her, she said I could go. Once in a lifetime thing, right? Just crazy enough, gotta try, you never know, what if...?
    For family church, the girls wanted to learn about King Solomon so I taught them about his request of God for wisdom instead of riches. I added that God promises to give us wisdom when we ask for it (James 1). That night, as I prayed with Marty before bedtime, wisdom came walking into our room right in the middle of my prayer and interrupted. I had one of those "checks" people tend to get. As I anticipated the audition, I started thinking of the bigger picture. I'd be leaving my wife to take care of all three kids by herself, which is a lot to ask of her in this season of life. And what if I made it on the show and I had to sing "Pour Some Sugar On Me"? I'm a pastor, and though some may say "Lighten up! It's just for fun," I realized I did not want to contradict what I teach and believe by singing some song lyric. As wisdom sat on our bed listening in on our prayers, I said to Marty I decided not to go to the audition. And I have not one iota of regret about it.
     Even when all lights are green and every door is open, don't forget the wisdom.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waiting for Dad

     I'm not working right now, as in getting a paycheck for services rendered. There's laundry to do and a house to clean and kids to care for, so there is work, but the rewards that accompany that kind of labor aren't reported on my tax returns. And since I'm unemployed (there, I said it), my kids see me a lot. They're not used to not seeing me. The other night I was out practicing for a gig I had coming up. I got home at an hour when my children are usually sound asleep. Marty said Julia, my 7 year old, was waiting up for me. I entered the girls' room and looked upon my kindergartner, Ella, zonked out, and Julia, semi-upright in her bed anticipating my arrival.
     "Hi, Daddy."
     "Hi, Babe. What are you doing?"
     "Were you waiting for me?"
     "Okay. Good night."
     "Good night."
     After a bedtime smooch, she turned over and fell fast asleep.
     That morning I had read Psalm 101. "I am finding my way down the road of right living, but how long before you show up?" (The Message). After tucking my daughter in, I discovered in this season of unemployment, I am just a kid trying to do the right things and now I am  semi-upright in my bed, patiently waiting for Dad. I'm reading, I'm praying, I'm talking to people who can give me insight into my future career, I'm finding my way, but how long before my Father shows up? And I don't really need Him to walk in the room and answer all my questions and hand me a job on a silver platter. I just need HIM, His presence, His assurance. I just need my Father to come home and tuck me in so I can turn over and sleep peacefully. Yet, as soon as I am aware of His presence, He is home...  and I can rest.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lessons Before the Bell Rings

I've trumpeted the fact before, I love walking my girls to school. It is invaluable, cherished time which just got a whole lot sweeter. Deuteronomy 6 says the 10 commandments are to be impressed upon our children and encourages us to talk about them as we sit at home and as we "walk along the road." So, yesterday, I decided to to live this passage out with my daughters. I told them we were going to learn the 10 commandments as we walked to school, brilliantly beginning with number one, "you shall have no other gods before me." We repeated it as we walked and then we discussed it's meaning. Ella, my 5 year old, contributed that God is powerful. Julia, 7, brought up other Bible stories, and we chanted the commandment again. Then we prayed before I kissed my girls goodbye.
Last night I pondered our walk to school and felt such joy that I was able to literally live out the Scriptures with my kids. I want that memory to live with them forever. More importantly, I want the Word of God impressed upon their hearts and all the benefits that brings. I want them to know God and His love for them and to live out their faith in front of their friends. I want so much for them, so I walk them to school and watch them grow in so many ways right before my eyes.
As we headed out the door today, both girls immediately started in, "We have to talk about the 10 commandments!" And the best theological discussion I have ever had began...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

4 in the Morning, a Sick kid, and Questioning God

My 5 year old got laid out pretty bad last week. A severe case of strep throat had her lethargic, lying on the couch and not eating... for 6 days. She was coughing, couldn't breathe easily and couldn't be understood when she spoke because her throat was so swollen. The worst part of it was noticing her weight loss as the days went on. My sweet girl was already so thin. It was worrisome. She's had strep throat before, but usually by day 2 she would be up and active with the help of her antibiotics.
On what would have been her 7th day of sickness, I woke up at 4 in the morning. Felt compelled to get up and search the scriptures for general life direction. Not two minutes later, I heard a bedroom door open and my sickly child came around the corner, sights set on my lap. As I held her, I was troubled by her very labored breathing. I began to pray for healing and read scriptures over her about sick people becoming well and Psalms that claim the Lord heals all our diseases.
Then I just flat out asked God, "Why aren't you healing my daughter? You're a dad. You know how difficult this is for me to see her suffer like this. I don't get it." I was aware that there were other more pressing prayer requests that had been offered to Him, but my concern in that moment was solely for my own child as I held her and listened to struggle to get air in and out of her lungs.
Then God stopped me in my questioning tracks and took me back a few weeks after I had experienced an uncomfortable situation, one that had drawn me to Him. As a result, I declared I needed to thank God for anything that pushes me into His presence. And my interrogation of God stopped. I changed my tune and began to thank Him for that time with my kid and I resolved to hold her as long as she needed me to, even if it meant watching the sun come up. I could sleep later. I thanked Him for the time both Ella and I were spending together in His presence. And then He took it to another level.
He allowed me to anticipate the future. My girl was going to grow up and experience other times of sickness, bad days, trials, and hardships. It comes with the territory as we age, as we live. Yet, she could always find her Father's lap in the midst of it and cuddle up to Him and He would hold her as long as she needed Him to. It doesn't mean the trying circumstance is going to just disappear, but His presence would be available for the duration. I wrote it all in a card that will be saved and given to her when she's old enough to understand.
I was so focused on my daughter's healing that I was in danger of missing Jesus in the journey. I wasn't going to stop praying for her healing, but I was reminded to focus on Christ and not just my desired outcome.
Ella got off the couch later that day, ate, played, and even laughed a couple times. Thank God He stopped me from contradicting myself and reminded me that I said with my own mouth that I needed to be thankful for anything that pushes me into His presence. If He hadn't, I would have missed out on a lot.