Saturday, September 26, 2009

Baby Update - 26 September 2009

Yesterday (Friday, Sept. 25) was Elsa Lynne’s one-month birthday, as well as her one-month pediatrician checkup. So before getting to the photos, I thought I’d update everyone on the stats…

August 28th weight – 3.18 kilos a.k.a. 6 pounds, 14 ounces
September 25th weight – 4.41 kilos a.k.a. 9 pounds, 11 ounces (slightly above average)

August 28th height/length – 50 centimeters a.k.a. 1 foot, 7.7 inches
September 25th height/length – 59 centimeters a.k.a. 1 foot, 11.2 inches (way above average)

And by the way, I don’t know if those are Mexican averages, or worldwide, or what – so Elsa’s stats may skew high down here, where people are generally smaller than in the USA. (Interesting aside - while Mexico has long been #2 to the USA's #1 on the list of the world's most obese nations, I recently heard from a friend in the know that Australia may be about to pass them both! I was surprised by this, because when I think of Australia, I think of Crocodile Dundee and other such hardy folk...) But regardless of the relative numbers, based on my calculations, by age three Elsa Lynne will be ten and a half feet tall and weigh a little over 118 pounds. Oh my goodness she will look like Shawn Bradley! Haha! But seriously, the doctor says Elsa is very, very healthy. He, like all doctors, is a big, big fan of breast feeding vs. formula feeding. Turns out that the system God designed is far superior to the pre-processed human substitute! Note: I am aware that some babies won’t take to the breast, some moms’ lives and jobs make breast feeding more of a luxury, etc. – so I’m not dogging on anyone who chooses out of preference or necessity to bottle-feed. But I am saying that, in my opinion, breast-feeding is the way to go if at all possible! And I’m so thankful both that Erin is so strong and that Elsa is such a good eater.

And boy, is she a good eater! The books all say that at this point she should be eating about six times per day. Our little princess is going strong at eight to ten. But our attitude is that as long as she’s actually eating (vs. just hooking on in search of comfort or whatever), we’ll keep feeding her! Basically, her job right now is eat, sleep, grow, rinse, repeat. And her prodigious appetite has earned her a new nickname from her daddy: “Kobayashi”, after the world-famous world-champion competitive eater whose small stature belies his ability to eat incredible amounts of food.

In other baby news, we took Elsa to the campus house for the first time on Thursday, to our weekly devo lunch called “Pozomida” (photos on facebook - just befriend El Pozo). It was really, really fun to have her there and introduce her to 70+ of her newest buddies. We really look forward to the way that our growing, changing family will enhance and multiply our ministry, and we pray not only that Elsa will grow up immersed in and surrounded by the love of her Creator, but also that she will be "salt and light" from an early age, drawing people closer to God just by being who she is.

Also, I’ve been meaning to do this – I finally looked up important events that took place on August 28th, as well as notable people who share Elsa’s birth date. Here are my top ten most interesting of each – and I must say that the “events” list is much, much stronger than the “births” list:

10. 1609 – Henry Hudson discovers Delaware Bay (I can’t think of the hilarious moment involving Delaware in the classic movie “Wayne’s World”.)
9. 1996 – Charles, Prince of Wales, and Diana, Princess of Wales, divorce.
8. 1349 – 6,000 Jews are killed in Mainz, accused of being the cause of the plague. (We have a buddy who lives in Mainz (Germany) and have visited there.)
7. 1862 – American Civil War: Second Battle of Bull Run (a.k.a. Second Battle of Manassas)
6. 1981 – The National Centers for Disease Control announce a high incidence of pneumocystis and Kaposi's sarcoma in gay men. These will soon be recognized as symptoms of an immune disorder, which will be called AIDS.
5. 1991 – Collapse of the Soviet Union: Ukraine declares its independence from the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev resigns as Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party. (We have some friends in the Ukraine.)
4. 1990 – Iraq declares Kuwait to be its newest province.
3. 1937 – Toyota Motors becomes an independent company.
2. 1961 – Motown releases what would be its first #1 hit, “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes.
1. 1963 – March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom; Martin Luther King, Jr. gives his “I Have a Dream” speech.

T10. 1958 – Scott Hamilton, American figure skater (Shout out to my friend Brad Griffies, my only connection to the figure skating world.)
T10. 1965 – Shania Twain, Canadian singer (Can’t say I really listen to her music, but I respect the fact that she’s making it…)
8. 1971 – Janet Evans, American swimmer
7. 1999 – Prince Nikolai of Denmark (Shout out to our Danish buddies Claus and Jannick! If pressed I think I would rank Denmark #1 on my list of “percentage of people I’ve met from that country whom I enjoy being around”. Nice country, Denmark. Home of Vikings, LEGOs, industrial design, a town called “Middelfart”, etc.)
6. 1957 – Daniel Stern, American actor (I think it’s a pretty weak celebrity birth date when the #2 crook from “Home Alone” ranks #6 on the list. But I really love that movie! A Christmastime classic.)
5. 1982 – LeAnn Rimes, American singer (I like her voice better than her music.)
4. 1969 – Jason Priestley, Canadian-born actor (Brandon! Also has appeared on “My Name is Earl”, one of my all-time favorite shows.)
3. 1828 – Leo Tolstoy, Russian author (I admit that I’ve actually never read any of his stuff, but I couldn’t rank TOLSTOY lower than Brandon Walsh.)
2. 1943 – Lou Piniella, American baseball manager (Sweet Lou edges out Tolstoy for the #2 spot!)
1. 1969 – Jack Black (The only one on the list I actually got excited about. If you can’t come visit us in Mexico, I think the next best thing you can do is rent the DVD of “Nacho Libre”.)

Last but not least, we’re very excited about the upcoming visit of Grandma (my mom) and Grandpa Doug (my stepdad). Can’t wait to see them loving on their granddaughter!

Okay, without further ado, some more photos of la princesa…

Family snuggle time. Lucho has been great with Elsa so far.

Nap time on "el quince" (Sept. 15th, the eve of Mexico's Independence Day). Next year is Mexico's bicentennial, by the way.

Working on that neck strength. She's holding her head up more and more each day. This time she went for almost a minute before the inevitable head butt to my clavicle.

I don't think it's exaggerating to say that the Boppy is among the greatest inventions in the history of mankind. Usually, it is used to spare arms and lower backs a great deal of weariness. Here it's being used to improvise a little rest nest on the sofa.

For better or worse, it looks like she's got her dad's crooked grin. (Also, I'm not sure why this one photo refuses to turn the right way...)

Elsa getting checked out on her one-month birthday. Praise God for a great health report.

All swaddled up and nowhere to go. The nurse wrapped her up for the ear piercing that ended up not happening because the earrings our friends gave us for her have screw clasps, and we need to get pointy ones for the first go-round.

Snuggled up in the car seat. The rumble of the VW diesel puts her right to sleep.

Play time with Mommy. So fun.

Elsa kicks back and joins us for our Saturday LOST marathon.

Thanks for the prayers!

Much love to you all from the McTrio (which, by the way, is what McDonald's value meals are called down here; sandwich, fries, drink - trio)!!!

En Vivo #5 – Stay Connected… – Tuesday, September 22, 2009

[The main event of our week here at El Pozo is what we call El Pozo “En Vivo” (which means El Pozo “Live!”), our Tuesday night all-community Bible study. It typically comes complete with preaching, music, videos, skits, free food, the whole deal. After each En Vivo, I hope to blog briefly about the night – what we taught, how it went, etc. Enjoy.]

En Vivo #5 of the semester was our post-Fall-retreat En Vivo, so, since it was a great retreat with a great group of students, many of them new to the El Pozo community, there was a lot of energy on Tuesday night! In fact, before we go any further, how about a few photos from the retreat (at our go-to Fall retreat site, La Malinche)? In particular, these photos are from one of my favorite El Pozo traditions – the team sled races. I don’t know anyone who has ever not enjoyed this event – so fun!!! It's now the culminating event of a larger event - our "Amazing Race-style rally. Sure to be an annual Fall El Pozo tradition.

This is the car of the team that blew everyone away in terms of time in the rally ... but ended up finishing fourth out of five teams. The fact that they had a German on their team proved not to be the engineering advantage that we expected, as they really stunk it up in the races.

This team, which seemed more concerned with enjoying themselves and eating cheetos during the rally than going for the victory, won lots of creativity points with their attempt at building a VW Beetle - which actually performed surprisingly well in the races, propelling them to a third-place finish. The driver is our buddy Bego.

Carter and Emerson get in on the fun.

Group photo of everyone who went on the retreat (minus Heath, who took the photo). Awesome group, awesome retreat! Praise God!

Back to En Vivo: We’re trying to really get back to basics this semester with regard to our teaching (for example Love Squared in week 1), so this week’s teaching theme was Part 1 of a two-part series, based on a saying I’m borrowing from a pastor author in Austin, TX named John Burke:


Part 1 – “Stay Connected…” First of all, we minister to the most “connected” generation of all time. facebook, Twitter, laptops, wireless networks, iPods, iPhones… These guys and gals are almost literally constantly connected to someone, somewhere. So the concept of staying connected to God is something that I think they “get” intuitively. The Scripture for the night was John 15:1-17 – the vine and the branches; Jesus basically says stay connected to me and you’ll produce fruit, but apart from me you can do nothing… It’s a longer text than we usually use for a Tuesday night talk – intentionally so. Awesome stuff! John uses the word “remain” 11 or 12 times in 7 verses – very obvious what’s the main point here. I based the talk around five questions regarding this whole idea of “staying connected” to God’s Spirit. It went something like this:

1) Why is it so difficult to stay connected to God?
And, of course, IT IS! It’s really hard! And it’s easy to identify with Paul’s words in Romans 7:15. So my “answer” to this question came in two parts:
1. Because, according to the Bible, we have an ENEMY. Satan, the Devil – along with his army of minions. There is a very real and powerful being whose sole passion and purpose is to DISconnect us from God. I showed a slide of a cute little cartoon guy in a red Spandex suit and then contrasted it with the vivid description of our real enemy in 1 Peter 5:8. Read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis if you want an amazing description of how our enemy works. I also mentioned here that, though we often make enemies of each other, our real enemy is never another person – as described in Ephesians 6:11-12.
2. Because, according to the Bible, we are SINNERS. We have a sin nature. All of us (Romans 3:23). I love what John Ortberg says about our nature; he says that, apart from a connection with God, our lives tend and drift toward death, darkness, and evil. We do NOT naturally drift into a relationship with God. We don’t tend toward light, life, and truth. So I talked to the students about the importance of being sufficiently humble before a holy God, admitting our sinfulness in order to even begin to have a connection with Him. And I mentioned how, even though staying connected to God is difficult, it’s so very WORTH IT.

2) What can I expect on this path of staying connected to God?
Here we looked at the idea of “pruning”. Jesus says in the text that God “prunes” the branches that aren’t bearing fruit so that they eventually will bear fruit. So, as Christians, we should expect to be PRUNED by God. The difficulty, at least for me, is distinguishing between “temptations” and “tests”, between “disconnecting from God” (fatal, deadly) and “being pruned by God” (difficult but life-giving, good in the long term). I shared some relevant quotes/sayings with the students here: “What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger.” Or, even better, there’s a Chinese character (I don’t know what it’s called) that’s used for both “crisis” and “opportunity”. Or, even better, “Sometimes radical change requires radical pain” (from pastor/author Wayne Cordeiro). Or, even better, and something our students hear a lot, “God loves you exactly how you are; and He loves you way too much to let you stay that way.” Too many Christian leaders that I know ignore, or at least undervalue, one half or the other of that last statement. The point here is that we all need to be pruned, that there is always room to grow, more to learn, and some way to become even more truly and profoundly connected to God. And I reminded the students of the great promise in Scripture (1 Corinthians 10:13) that God will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can endure. It comes down to faith, to trusting that God has a plan and it’s better than my plan. The most memorable way I’ve ever heard this taught is like this: Most people, when tough times come (and they WILL come), most people turn to God and ask “WHY?” (“¿POR QUÉ?”). But the Christ-follower, putting his/her trust in God into action (trust in action = faith), instead turns to God and says “WHAT FOR?” (“¿PARA QUÉ?”). What are you trying to teach me? How are you trying to “prune” me? Who are you trying to help through me?

3) What role does the community play in staying connected to God?
I told the students straight-up: It is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, to stay connected to God all by myself. Some Christians intentionally or unintentionally teach a “Jesus and me” theology, but when I study the Bible and the world, I see something much more like “Jesus and us”. “From Genesis to Maps” (as my campus minister, Rick Harper, used to say), the Bible is about COMMUNITY. Heck, God even EXISTS in community, through the mystery of what we call the Trinity. God never asks us to walk alone. And while faith in Christ is obviously an intensely personal matter, the importance of community is so obvious that even all of my non-believing friends understand the necessity of the love and support of other people to get through each day in this world we live in. We looked at the John 15 Scripture again and noticed all of the “second person plurals” – most of the “yous” that Jesus uses are directed at the group, not the individual. Again borrowing from John Burke, I pointed out that, in order to “abide in the vine” and help each other do the same, the most important thing that we can do is to create and maintain good spiritual SOIL. Only God can make a plant – or a soul – grow; the part we can and must play is to pay attention to the soil. My in-laws and my Granny have awesome gardens because they know how to dig, cultivate, water, fertilize, and care for plants (vs. mistreat them). In the same way, we must make El Pozo the kind of place where anyone who walks in the door has every chance to grow and flourish and eventually “produce fruit”. Then we sit back and watch, amazed, as God and God alone makes people grow.

4) How can I stay connected?
Enough theory – give me some practical, applicable stuff on the topic! And so, instead of giving our students stuff from conferences or books, I gave them examples from my friends (including some of them) – real people who struggle with faith every day. In the week leading up to the talk, I emailed a couple of dozen people and asked them one simple question: “How do YOU stay connected to God?” Then I just gave the students the list, which included the following:
* start and end each day talking to God
* “decide every day to ‘crawl up on the altar’ and die to myself, asking God to be the King of my life that day” (Donovan)
* prayer – e.g. start every day with the Lord’s Prayer; “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17);
* journal – write out my prayers and thoughts
* read – the Bible, daily
* read – other good stuff
* music – “Christian” or praise music
* music – other stuff, things with “good” lyrics, songs that make you think
* talk ABOUT God – with other believers; “iron sharpens iron…” (Prov. 27:17)
* talk ABOUT God – with non-believers; How often do we talk to our friends about God?
* talk TO God – prayer
* LISTEN to God – the other half of prayer; importance of silence
* attend church – sermon, prayer, music, communion, baptisms, and UNITY with the rest of the Body
* trust – that God has a plan and it’s better than mine
* “think about God a lot” – be involved in godly things that cause me to prepare, be sharp
* think – about how big and amazing God is
* reflect – about what God is doing in my life
* serve – other people; “Our willingness to serve other people is the clearest sign of our level of commitment to Christ and His kingdom. … Go to bed at night knowing that I did some things today that I didn’t have to do, nobody knows I did, and nobody could have paid me to do – all because of my connection with God.” (Huxford)
* get involved – in the lives of other people, people I can serve and see God working in their lives; go deeper relationally
* regular contact with people who display the “fruit of the Spirit” in their lives and who motivate me to be more like them
* solitude – being alone on purpose; How often are any of us actually alone with God?
* nature/creation – e.g. sunrises, the ocean, mountains
* rest/Sabbath/balance/rhythm – daily, weekly, monthly, annual “Sabbaths”; retreat, escape, hit “reset”
* walk – “There’s something about being in motion while I’m talking to my friends that helps a lot, and it’s the same when I converse with God” (Jeremy); exercise, golf, hike
* children
* suffering – We don’t seek it, but suffering definitely draws us closer to God.
* obedience – e.g. John 15:10; Sweat the small stuff!
* fasting – largely ignored but powerful tool
* accountability – same-sex friends with whom one meets regularly to get real and ask the hard questions, etc.
* be a mentor – invest in younger people, keeps you sharp so that you’ll always have something to give
* talks, sermons, interviews, podcasts, etc. that make me think and learn
* travel/experiment different cultures
I encouraged our students to pick one, two, or max three of these things and try to incorporate them little by little into their lives, with the point being not to CAUSE relationship with God (which is a gift), but instead to create SPACES, RHYTHMS, and AWARENESSES in our lives. The so-called spiritual disciplines (or “connection habits”) don’t change a thing about God’s character or presence or love, but they can do a lot to change US.
I illustrated this point with something my dad taught me long ago: When working on a construction site, it’s easy for people to walk by and accidentally disconnect power cords … unless you first tie a knot between the two cords, then connect them. The spiritual disciplines are like that knot; they make it a lot easier to MAINTAIN THE CONNECTION.

5) What’s the point of all this? Why does God want me to stay connected to Him anyway?
The point of staying connected is told to us in verse 11 of the text: That we might have Christ’s joy and that our joy might be complete.
The point of staying connected is that we might be “salt and light” in the world (which was the teaching topic of En Vivo #3). That Christians be people who serve, preserve, help, give flavor, and bring light.
The point of staying connected – and the ulterior motive behind everything God does – is LOVE. God IS love. I told the students about how hard it was to come back after two weeks of paternity leave; how, even thought I really love my job, every minute away from Elsa Lynne right now is really difficult because I just want to be with her all the time; how, as I experience this, I think I’m experiencing a liiiiiitle tiny bit of God’s love for each or us. He wants to spend eternity with YOU and with me and with every one of his beloved creations.

Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” Bible paraphrase translates “remain in me” in John 15 as “make your home in me”. I ended with a few words about how my true home is not a house, a city, a state, etc. – my true home is with Jesus, “in Christ” ... and that’s true for each of us.

After the talk, we had some of the best worship time we've had in years. Thank you so much Courtney (organizer) and Hugo, Moi, and Chuky (musicians)!!!!

Next week we’re going to look at Part 2 “…Fruit happens” – Galatians 5, the “fruit of the Spirit”, the characteristics of a Christ-follower. Stay tuned for a much different format but hopefully equally successful teaching/learning/CONNECTING experience!

Until then, please keep the ministry of El Pozo in your prayers and love God and love each other!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baby Stuff – 9/13/09

This morning we said “nos vemos” to the Edwardses. It was tough for them to leave the little one. I read the other day that 50% of American grandparents live over 200 miles away from their grandchildren. It’s just a part of life, I guess. But I imagine that Kim and Lynne would tell us that that statistic doesn’t make it any easier to get on that bus. So after dropping them off, I just prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the time that they were able to spend here – the first two weeks of Elsa’s life! And I prayed for God to comfort them and help them to focus on the blessings and not on the distance. THANK YOU, Kim and Lynne, for the time you spent here. Every dish washed, meal cooked, and hug given communicated your love to us. It’s the foundation of love and faith that you guys have laid upon which Elsa will be brought up. I have no doubt that she will always be surrounded by love. We love y’all and we’ll see you again soon!

Elsa has been doing great. She’s eating like crazy, sleeping well, and generally just doing what babies are supposed to do. That includes putting on weight, or, as my Grandma Addie always called it, “fleshening up” – as opposed to “falling off”, which Erin is doing. And I’m somewhere in between, basically maintaining my pre-baby physical condition in spite of virtually no exercise in the past two weeks. I can’t wait to get started on the Craig Topple Father Daughter Workout. Anyway, I digress. I know you came here for the photos. Enjoy!

Oh and – I have to say this on the day of the first game of the season – Go Falcons!!! If we can time the feedings right, Elsa's going to "watch" the second half of the game with my buddy Yuyo and me.

A good eyes-open shot.

If you are wondering what that thing is on sleeping Erin's face, it's a stuffed animal. A Scottish highland cow, to be specific. Years ago I shared with Erin my patented T-shirt on the face technique for sleeping in spite of bright light (a skill I learned and honed out of necessity during many backpacking trips, ministry retreats, sleepovers, etc.). Erin took this and ran with it. She does it often, usually not simply placing the T-shirt on top of her head, but wrapping it around multiple times. It's hilarious. And I laughed when I saw her using the highland cow during this nap time. But the funniest part was when I showed her the photos later and she had no idea that she'd done it! My wife is hilarious. And exhausted. And my hero.

Elsa loves nap time with Grandpa Kim...

...and story time with Grandma Lynne.

Which one is more beautiful? It's like that chicken/egg thing. We may never know.

This one really shows how Elsa is fleshening up, especially around the jowls and lips.

One of the greatest feelings in the world. Hard to describe.

Our friend Anna gave Elsa this cute little bonnet. When untied, it makes her look very Amish. So cute. But when tied, she totally looks like an astronaut. Also cute. It was a little chilly outside when we left for dinner, so we went with bonnet, socks, and long sleeves. In general, Mexicans bundle up their babies as if they were in the Arctic Circle. We have already started to deal with the constant, well-intentioned "Don't you think she's cold?" comments that Amanda gets about her kids all the time. Usually, it's not even worth it to explain to people that the weather here is BEAUTIFUL and they don't really know what "cold" is and the kids will be fine, thanks.

Houston, we are "go" for launch!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

9/11 Thoughts

I meant to get this posted yesterday (9/11), but was delayed by a long and enjoyable dinner with my in-laws and teammates. It was our little way of saying THANK YOU to Kim, Lynne, Heath, Karen, Courtney, Clay, and Amanda for all they’ve done to make these first two weeks of Elsa’s life so wonderful. We enjoyed the tasty bagels and salads at one of our favorite local eateries. The agua del dia was even maracuya (passion fruit), which is just about everyone's favorite. Elsa did great on her first official non-doctor-visit excursion into the world beyond our little house. At one point Carter was asleep on Courtney’s lap (drooling on the table), Amanda was holding Elsa (who was staring up at her with those big eyes), and Emerson was on my lap (drawing pictures of sunshines and satellites on a napkin) and I just smiled a huge smile because THIS is what it means to be a family to each other down here on the mission field; this is why they say that it takes a village to raise a child. A beautiful moment. Okay, on to my 9/11 thoughts…


It’s hard to believe that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, possibly THE defining social/cultural/religious event of my lifetime, happened EIGHT years ago. Wow. Like many people, I have vivid memories of that day, which make it seem, in a way, like much less time has passed since that fateful day.

My 9/11 story is worth sharing because it was a pivotal moment in my life, career, and calling from God. I will never forget that day – for the obvious reasons as well as for some reasons unique to my own experience.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I got up early and did something that I rarely do – I put on a suit. I can’t remember if it was my navy blue suit or my black suit, but either way the wearing of it was designed to impress corporate recruiters as I headed from my apartment over to Georgia Tech’s campus to the career fair being held at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. It was the beginning of my fourth and final year studying Industrial Engineering (in the top-rated IE program in the nation), and I was excited about both the present and the future.

The other big time-consumer in my life, beside classes, was my involvement at CCF – the Christian Campus Fellowship. Since my first week on campus as a freshman – well, actually, since even before that – CCF had been a big part of my life. And now, at the outset of my senior year, I was more excited than ever because I had been asked to be a part of the senior leadership group known as the “Big Saps”. (It’s a plant theme…) To be a Big Sap is a great honor, a serious commitment, and an intense experience. And it was just beginning. And I was embarking on this last part of my CCF student journey alongside 17 of my best friends. Little did I know that the bonds between us, already deep, would be so much more profound a few months later. These are my brothers, sisters, and friends for life, people whom, though many of us are now scattered across the world and don’t get to see each other very often, I know I could call if I needed anything and they would be there for me, no questions asked. (I can still name them all from memory – Mathew, Jana, Laura, Betsy, Rob, Chris B., Jeremy, Marc, Chris P., Tito, Tiff, Nancy, Terence, Taylor, Ivy, Lindsey, Matty B. – I love you all so much and treasure that year!)

So anyway, on the morning of 9/11, several of us were at the career fair, putting our résumés and mojo out there along with the horde of other hopefuls. Personally, I hate events like this. I despise the idea of “selling yourself”. And so I went less than half-heartedly to the career fair, reasonably sure that my job and career would result not from an attempt to capture the essence of me on a one-page document, nor from some five-minute conversation with a stranger, but instead from a random interaction, a family or church connection, a “God thing” moment in which doors just mysteriously opened. That’s kind of the way real life had always tended to unfold for me, and I had no reason to expect differently. But, in spite of that, I dutifully went to the career fair with my Dad’s words echoing in my head that there’s no reason to go around shutting doors prematurely, either.

I can’t remember how long I had been there – couldn’t have been more than an hour, maybe much less – when I noticed a handful people gathered around a TV monitor. As I walked by, I saw a building with smoke coming out of it. But for whatever reason it didn’t register. Maybe because I have been so desensitized to violence by movies and TV that it was slow to sink in that it didn’t fit the context for a bunch of career-seekers to pull off to the side and watch “Die Hard”, standing up, at 9 AM; or maybe because I was really, really focused on some corporate propaganda pamphlet in my hand – who knows?. But whatever the reasons, I kept walking.

Now remember, this is in the early days of cell phones. Few had them, and those who did used them sparingly because the minutes were expensive. But thankfully, moments after walking obliviously by the TV monitor, I ran into some of my fellow Big Saps and they gave me the news. It was Jeremy and Tito (David Jackson – but in my heart and mind he will always be Tito), and they said something like “A plane flew into a building in New York. It looks bad. Come on we’re going to the CCF house.”

And that was the moment.

It’s funny, looking back. The symbolism is rich. There we were, in the cutthroat environment of a career fair at a top school, seizing the day to compete for our piece of the pie … but when the proverbial poop hit the fan; when there was tragedy and uncertainty; when something much bigger than a career fair happened … there was no question in our minds what needed to be done. We hopped in Tito’s Jeep and headed to the CCF house. We high-tailed it to what was really our “church” during those college years – to the community of faith, to the place where we might together find comfort, seek answers, and prepare to respond in a Christ-like way, whatever that might end up looking like. I remember this vividly: It was like a two-second decision when I ran into Jeremy and Tito. “Something’s wrong. Let’s go.” And we went.

I know you all remember that day. It was filled with fear, anger, sadness, and so many other emotions, but overwhelmingly – at least that first day – the dominant feelings were confusion, bewilderment, and a type of shell-shock that just left us all spinning and questioning and waiting to learn more. Mostly, we just all stared at the TV. I remember that day at CCF. The staff and Big Saps met and made plans. We literally and figuratively opened the doors wide, put the news on the big screen, and just made ourselves available to the students. We prayed with people, helped people try to track down relatives on the phone, and mostly just listened and talked and prayed some more. It was so great, particularly on that day, to be a part of the community of God. So many people came to CCF that day because they just didn’t know where else to go. Because it felt like the right place to go. And this is one reason that I have faith. When the tough stuff goes down, people seek God. And as the Body of Christ, we must be there to help point the way to Him, even in, ESPECIALLY in, times like the morning of 9/11/01.

So like I said, that morning was a pivotal one in my life. Though I didn’t realize it at the time – even at the end of that year I was on the fence about working at CCF as an intern to further explore the call to full-time ministry vs. going out into the business world – it was a moment that clearly demonstrated the direction in which I was moving. A tragic event happened, and I had a choice – stay at the career fair or head to the ministry house – and it was a no-brainer.

Now I realize that everyone, even the most career-minded future engineers, the most dedicated recruiters, and even the most atheistic or agnostic among us, probably left the coliseum that morning and went off to contact their families and whatnot. What I’m NOT saying is that because I responded the way I did, I’m special or more qualified or called to occupational ministry. Tito, for example, like many of the others in my Big Sap group, went on into the business world, where he is being “salt and light”, following and representing Christ on a daily basis in his context. What I am saying, though, is that looking back, that moment on 9/11 reveals so clearly to me the direction in which God was leading me. Little did I know it at the time – and it continues to be revealed to me little by little over time; that’s how God’s calling usually works, after all – that He was saying to me “Nathan, I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I want you to be a pastor. I want you to be a missionary. Your particular role in the Body will not be, as you’ve always thought, to be the one staying around Atlanta and financially supporting a bunch of ministries and missionaries. Instead, I’m calling you to GO, and to trust me with things like ‘career’ and ‘finances’ and ‘family’ and ‘future’.” And, to the best of my ability, that’s what I’ve tried to do during these last eight years.

So that’s my 9/11 story. What’s yours?

I’ll end with a prayer for peace from the Book of Common Prayer:

“Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever. Amen.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009


They say that a large part of comedy is timing, and I witnessed a great example of this last night. David Letterman, in a bit that took up a total of maybe 10 seconds, made me (and my father-in-law, who was watching with me) laugh out loud and showed why he's such a comedic genius. Before heading to a commercial break, Letterman said, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, with today's date ... Hitler". Then he cut to a clip that lasted a maximum of two seconds of a scene from some movie in which the actor playing Hitler, at his full-throttle angry Hitler loudest, screamed "NEIN! NEIN! NEIN!!!" (NO! NO! NO!) while slamming his hand violently on a table. With each "NEIN!", another nine was added to the screen - 9 ... /9 ... /09. And then back to Dave who said "We'll be right back with Jay-Z" or something like that, and on to the commercial break.

This is a joke that can be made ONCE EVERY HUNDRED YEARS. And if you blinked, you missed it. I sat there wondering if Dave and/or his writers thought that up the day before, or if they had been waiting patiently for months or years (like, maybe they thought it up last year on August 8th?) to spring it on us. Either way, it was just awesome. It's the subtle but brilliant stuff like this that makes me love Letterman and Conan.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"You are the first one of your kind..." - 8 Sept. 2009

First of all, today was a big day – Erin got her stitches out and Elsa’s umbilical cord finally fell off. Belly button, woohoo! Big day. We celebrated with some Krispy Kremes. It’s also the day of our first-ever off-site “En Vivo” Bible study. As I type this, the rest of our staff and who knows how many students are headed downtown to join with a local church group in serving some needy folks at one of Puebla’s DIF facilities. Though we’re at home with the baby, our thoughts and prayers are with our El Pozo family big-time as they try something new and exciting, as always with the goal of further teaching these young people what it means to fully follow Christ, to put flesh and bone to the words we read in the Bible. Can’t wait to hear stories. Okay, on to my latest baby-related thoughts…

If you know me at all, you know that I love music and that my favorite band is U2. They are, of course, a lot of people’s favorite band, and with good reason! I spend a lot of time listening to their music not only because it’s great music, but also because it inspires me. I mean, yes, they rock, but a lot of bands can do that. What I love about U2 is that they sing honestly about life and love and joy and pain, and they don’t pull any punches – kind of like the Psalmists. They are unabashedly Christian, downright evangelistic even, and at the same time they are the biggest and most popular rock band on Earth. That’s so cool! For example, for years and years they have ended their concerts with a song called “40”, which is basically a repackaging of … Psalm 40. So for decades, hundreds of thousands of people have walked out of U2 concerts humming the words of Scripture. Again – so cool!!! It could be argued that they are the most influential Christians on the planet. Nearly every song they sing has a clear biblical theme or message. When I think of the Scripture that says “Whatever is not of faith is sin” (my paraphrase of Hebrews 11:6), I think of these guys, because their art and activism and everything else about their lives seem to flow directly and unashamedly from their faith. Again – it is inspiring. So I’m sorry if it’s annoying that I write about U2 so much, and I’ll try to do a better job of working in other artists who inspire and inform my faith – but I don’t apologize for my love of U2. In fact, I wish all of you would really, really listen to their lyrics! And read “Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2” by Steve Stockman and “U2 by U2” … by U2. I think you’d be amazed and inspired as well.

So, that being said, if you were to ask me to name my two favorite U2 songs of all time … I don’t think I could possibly narrow it down to two. But if you were to then put a gun to my head and ask me the same question, it’s poooossible that I would name two songs that appear back-to-back at the end of the “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” album.

Track #11 is called “Yahweh” – the Hebrew name for God. Every time you read “LORD” in the Old Testament, you are reading a translation of YHWH, which is Hebrew shorthand for the answer God gave to Moses when Moses asked God for his name – “I Am Who I Am”. (The word Jehovah is another way of translating YHWH.) The Great I Am – that’s Yahweh. And this song, well, I just love it. It’s basically a prayer of surrender. It makes for a great daily/morning prayer, asking God to take my hands, feet, heart, city, etc. and use them for His will and glory. If you have an alarm clock with a CD player on it, you can do no better for a wake-up song than “Yahweh” by U2.

But the song I am thinking more about these days is track #10, “Original of the Species”. This is a song that Bono wrote about, and the band dedicated to, their own daughters. Bono called it “probably the best song on the album”, and it is a great song in its own right; but to a brand-new dad of a beautiful little girl, well, it goes straight to the heart. Gets me every time. (And yes, I’m well aware that now that I have a daughter, my Kleenex expenses will double or triple from here on out, and that’s just the way it is.) Check out the first several lines of the lyrics and maybe you’ll see what I mean:

Baby slow down
The end is not as fun as the start
Please stay a child somewhere in your heart

I’ll give you everything you want
Except the thing that you want
You are the first one of your kind

And you feel like no-one before
You steal right under my door
And I kneel ‘cos I want you some more
I want the lot of what you got
And I want nothing that you’re not…

Let me tell you people – and I know that many of you have experienced this yourselves with your own little ones – when I am staring at little Elsa Lynne, I am just overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed with her perfection, her innocence, her fragility. I’m overwhelmed with her beauty. I’m overcome by waves of the most pure and noble love I’ve ever experienced, by waves of a divine sense of responsibility, by wave upon wave of gratitude and joy and, in a weird way, the unique pain of knowing that every moment that passes is gone forever and that she’s already growing up at light speed before our eyes. My heart screams “Baby slow down!”, and I identify deeply with wanting “the lot of what she’s got and nothing that she’s not”. So pure, so sweet, so … one of a kind. She truly does “feel like no one before”. And it’s amazing. I want nothing more than to protect her from all of the evil out there, shower her with love – but without smothering her or keeping her from developing the right way, guide her away from repeating the many errors of her father, and steer her toward as much love and truth and beauty as possible during these days and, God willing, years that I have with her. And God has entrusted US with taking care of her!!! I can’t get over it. Sometimes, truth be told, I can’t even handle it. It’s too BIG. And all the while I’m looking at Erin, and my love for her is growing and deepening, too. We get to do this together, and the greatest gift we’ll ever give Elsa is a rock-solid marriage, built on THE Rock of Ages. And all of that mixes together and I’m left with the words of the great Marty McFly, “Whoa, this is heavy.” And that’s how I’m feeling today, Tuesday 8 Sept. 2009, day 11 of Elsa’s life.

So anyway, laugh at me for being so goo-goo for U2 if you want, I can take it – but man oh man, they sure know how to write ’em. At least from my perspective they do. And to think that EVERYONE is an “original of the species”, that of the billions and billions of people who have lived, are living, and ever will live, NO TWO ARE ALIKE. Each person a unique work of art, a masterpiece made by the true Master. It leaves me in awe.

“For [each and every one of us is] God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:10

Here are a few more photos of our little one-of-a-kind treasure for your viewing pleasure.

We call this one "the thinker". Oh wait they're telling me that one's taken already...

Right cross! "Now give me some milk, woman!" Elsa, punching mommy in the face - not cool, not cool at all.

Sleeping beauty.

Sleeping beauty squared.

Los abuelos a.k.a. master gardeners turning our massive back yard (roughly six by ten feet) into a little tropical paradise.

So cute in the car seat! Although it's a little big on her, even with the soft and snuggly kidopotomus insert.

This was hilarious - as she was waking up she kept sticking her little butt out as far as possible.

Belly button!

Until next time, love God and love each other.

Monday, September 7, 2009

More Baby Stuff - 7 Sept. 2009

Before we get to the latest photos, here are my most recent baby-related ponderings…

Consider these two words – “straitjacket” and “swaddle”…

1. a garment made of strong material and designed to bind the arms, as of a violently disoriented person
2. anything that severely confines, or hinders: Conventional thinking can be a straitjacket, preventing original thinking.
verb (used with an object)
3. to put in or as in a straitjacket: Her ambition was straitjacketed by her family.

verb (used with an object)
1. to bind (an infant, esp. a newborn infant) with long, narrow strips of cloth to prevent free movement; wrap tightly with clothes
2. to wrap (anything) round with bandages
3. a long, narrow strip of cloth used for swaddling or bandaging

One (straitjacket) has an extremely negative connotation. It is associated with crazy, violent, out-of-control adults in mental hospitals. We put them in straitjackets against their will to keep the people around them safe. We do this because it’s what’s best for that individual and for everyone around them.

The other (swaddle) has an extremely positive connotation. We think of little baby Jesus in his "swaddling clothes". We swaddle cute little innocent, precious newborns until they look like the Homewrecker burrito from Moe’s with a tiny human head sticking out of one end. We do this because it’s what’s best for the baby and for anyone else within earshot.

After a little more than a week as a dad, I have an insight for you all: *** STRAITJACKETING AND SWADDLING ARE EXACTLY THE SAME THING. *** The major difference is that babies, though they fight you during the swaddling process, love it – even need it – once they’re all wrapped up. It makes them feel safe and comfortable, almost like being back in the womb. They calm right down. Mental patients, on the other hand (at least based on what I’ve seen in the movies and TV) tend to hate being put into a straitjacket and continue to hate being in the jacket once the straps are tightened. They fight it and loathe every minute of the experience.

So what gives? I’m not sure what changes, or when, that causes human beings to do a total 180 with regard to our response to being wrapped up tightly, so as unable to use our arms. You guys feel free to let me know if you have the answer, and I’ll keep you posted as I observe Elsa’s tendencies. Even now, at the 10-day-old mark, I feel like the tight swaddling might be a thing of the past. She’s really into moving her arms and legs around right now, and I imagine that trend will only continue.

Oh and one more thing on the swaddling – a little advice for future moms and dads of newborns: The nurses at the hospital are professionals at this. It will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to swaddle as well as they do. We tried. Sometimes we came close to their level of excellence; most of the time we failed. Until we made a great breakthrough: athletic tape. After we got home from the hospital, we started putting a couple of strips of athletic tape on the blanket to keep the swaddling intact, and badabing badaboom, a tight swaddle that held strong. It worked like a charm. Some may call this cheating. I call it ingenuity. So if you, like we, have trouble getting that nice, tight swaddle to tuck and hold itself in place, just get yourself a roll of athletic tape and don’t be afraid to use it. I guess you could call this my first-ever fathering tip.

Oh – real quick – the latest stats: At the one-week checkup, all was well. Very healthy – both mom and baby. Umbilical cord still hanging on, should fall off any day now. Many babies lose weight during the first week, but Elsa is up 180 grams. She also grew four centimeters (from 50 at birth to 54 at one week). That seems like a lot to me, but what do I know? And today (day 10) she’s officially outgrown her “newborn” clothes and is moving into the “0 to 3 months” size. Thanks again to all of you who gave clothes and other gifts! We’re putting them to good use. Also, at her two-week appointment, we're going to be very Mexican and have her ears pierced. It's very typical for newborn girls to have their ears pierced down here, so we're going with the "When in Rome" strategy on this one. Should be super-cute!

Okay, then – on to the photos!


Synchronized napping with Lucho.

This is how I have spent the 10 PM to 1 AM time slot the past several nights while Erin caught up on her sleep. TV with the little one totally zonked out on my chest.

Finger puppet time with la abuela.

Elsa looking up to her role model.

Big eyes.

Making faces again.

Thanks for all of the prayers and encouragement. Keep 'em coming. And here's a challenge for those of you reading this from far away: If you're feeling up to it, go find a young couple or single mom in your local community and cook them a meal or buy them some diapers and generally help them out. Show them the love of Jesus the way so many have done for us these last few days. It'll mean the world to them, I promise.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Baby Blessings ... and More Photos - 1 Sept. 2009

So before we get to the latest photos, I wanted to thank you all for the incredible outpouring of love, support, and encouragement that we have received during this time. It means so much to us to know that our little one is and will continued be surrounded by love and carried along on a river of prayer. I also would like to share some of the things that are running through my head over and over during these first few days of Elsa's life.

A couple of months back, my pastor/mentor/friend back home, Dr. Jim Donovan, told me to get ready because I was "about to become more and more like a potted plant". And it's true - when people call or drop by now, I have no illusions that they are interested in talking to me. And you know what? I'm totally fine with that. This little girl deserves all of the attention she's getting and more. If I didn't have a couple of other things to do, and people to share her with - and if she didn't have to eat - I would totally just sit and stare at her for hours on end. No joke. I've experienced this feeling to a small degree with the babies of loved ones, but now that we have one of our own, it's taken to an entirely different level. "Smitten" doesn't do it justice.

Something else I keep thinking is something my uncle Bert told me in an email (and I'm not sure if this is a Bert original, or if he's quoting someone). He said, "The days are long but the years are short with little ones. Treasure every minute." And that's what I'm trying to do. Every time I hold her, every time she does something new, I'm just trying to be like Mary and treasure all of these things in my heart.

Another thing that has been really helpful to hear was something my teammate Heath said to me the other day. He said, "We [the rest of the El Pozo staff] have everything under control. You just enjoy your daughter." I'm SO thankful for our awesome teammates and for the paternity leave that CMF allows me to have. I know not every dad gets to spend this much time with his babies during the very first days. So I'm trying to do just what Heath said - enjoy this precious time with Erin and Elsa.

And last but not least, today I heard some song lyrics that make a wonderful blessing for a newborn. And I know you'll all be shocked to hear this, but the lyrics are from a U2 song. For the first time in a year or more, I popped in the "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" disc, and in the song "Love and Peace or Else" I heard, really for the first time, these awesome words:

As you enter this life
I pray you depart
With a wrinkled face
And a brand new heart

I'm not going to lie - those words just made me cry a little bit. Because I don't know how to better sum up my desires and prayers for this precious little girl. It has become my theme prayer for little Elsa Lynne. A long and full life that goes on far beyond mine, complete with the abundance and newness of life that comes only through a deep, daily relationship with her Creator and Savior and Lord.

She's Yours, Lord. Please help me to play my role in a way that pleases and honors You!

Okay, more pics. (My mom requested some in which her eyes are actually open.) I hope you guys enjoy looking at these pics 1/1,000th as much as we are enjoying living the moments that they attempt to capture.

Lucho reaches out in relationship. Although his deep love of wrestling means that we have to keep a close eye on him around the baby, we have high hopes that Lucho and Elsa will develop a beautiful friendship as time goes on.

So for those of you who saw the tree we painted on the wall of the baby room and wondered about the one leaf that was different than all of the rest, now you know. It's an ELM leaf... I know, we are such dorks.

We thought this was super-cute, the way she folded her hands while sleeping.

Another sweet one.

Eyes open - here you go, mom.

Another fun one.

My new favorite hobby - staring at the little one.

Sweet one.

Holding hands and looking like a Jedi.