That one newsletter I never sent out

I wonder what was in that one newsletter I never sent out.

I was in my second year serving as a missionary with InterVarsity. Amy and I had just recently gotten engaged. I found myself ministering at a great school - Washington and Lee University - in a chapter threatening to collapse.

I don't know what I wrote about, but I wrote a letter to my ministry partners. They supported the work financially and I know some of them prayed for me. They would want to know what was happening on campus and with me.

I wrote the letter, printed it, stuffed it into envelopes, addressed the envelopes, put stamps on the envelopes, put the letters in a bag and, seven months later, found the bag-letters-envelopes-stamps sitting on my desk.*

I'm not sure why I didn't send out that letter. It wasn't disorganization. I didn't lose the letters. I think it was because I just didn't feel like I had my life and ministry put together enough to justify asking people to support me.

Engagement was hard. Amy and I did not enjoy that season of our relationship. Marriage has been much better. And that first year at Washington and Lee, it was kind of a disaster. I didn't fit with the students and the chapter wobbled and started to shrink. Why would anyone want to support that?

"Losing" my newsletter didn't change anything about my situation. It just made me deal with it all by myself.

Over the years, I learned to let my ministry partners into my ups and my downs. And they have been just as faithful through the downs - when I needed them the most - as they were in the ups.

For people working in missions or parachurch ministry, don't hide your downs. You don't have to share all your junk. But your partners can handle some of it. They probably will be honored that you trust them to share it with them. Let them be there for you when things are hard and it will make it all the sweeter when things go well and the sun breaks through the clouds.

For people who support missionaries, you know that ministry isn't going to be all sunshine and daisies. Life just isn't like that. Reward someone who's honest about going through a rough patch with empathy and prayer. Walk with them through those seasons. They may not make it without you. 

And this world needs more people like them.

*Don't worry, I never filled out an expense report for this disaster, so the financial bonk was on me.

Two principles I use to decide if I'll let my kids watch a TV show

How do you decide if you're going to let kids watch a particular TV show?

Here are my two principles:

#1 - Don't be a bad influence

Don't teach my kids to whine or lie or complain or settle their problems with violence. Don't show them that parents are stupid or adults are lame. Don't teach them racism is okay. And, whatever you do, don't convince them to run off with a giant, hat-wearing cat.

#2 - Don't make me a bad influence

Don't drive me crazy. Don't get on my nerves. Don't make me roll my eyes (at least not much). Don't make me fast-forward when my kids aren't looking. And don't sing songs that will get stuck in my head. Because if you do, you'll influence my emotional state and put me in a position to where I might hurt my kids hearts with my sarcasm and ears with my singing.

Help me out. What other principles do you use?

When the revolution meets reality

As a part of my sabbatical, I picked up Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier. Carpentier is a super-influential Cuban writer and the book is about the 19th century revolutions in the Caribbean. At least, that's what it is about at a surface level. Written in 1962, the books themes of revolution and disappointment serve as a coded commentary on the chaos in Castro's Cuba.

One line jumped out to me from the book last night:

"I dreamed of such a different revolution"

Strange things happen when dreamed-of-revolutions meet reality. Our dreams lack details. In the real world, revolutions rarely run smoothly. Disappointment, confusion and bitterness can set in. Character becomes more important than vision.

What you do when your revolution meets reality says something about you. Do you press through? Do you move on to another cause? It may not be an easy decision.

I've been a part of several small revolutions over my years in InterVarsity: diversification of an InterVarsity chapter, a missional shift in another chapter, a change in focus for an InterVarsity Area, a regional restructuring, things like these. None of these revolutions made the news and few will be remembered in a decade. But in each one, I learned something about myself when the revolution met reality. I learned about the darkness in my heart, about the power of my personal stories. I learned about my own limits and about my own priorities. I'm grateful that God gave me learning moments in the midst of these minor revolutions.

Have you ever been part of a revolution? What happened when your revolution met reality? What did you learn?

Reflections on a blog rest

So, I took a month or so off from blog-writing. I wanted to slow down, work on my book project and make some major vocational decisions. I'm not sure whether or not I accomplished what I was hoping to accomplish, but I did succeed in taking a break from blogging.

Here are a few things I noticed from my "blog rest" …

I found myself journaling a lot more. I enjoy writing for an audience, even if it's just an audience of my mom, but there are some things that swirl around in my head that I just haven't processed enough to put out there for general consumption.

I felt an unhealthy pull toward my blog in moments when I wanted to vent. I try pretty hard to keep my temper in check, but that check leads to significant passive-aggressive angst. Blogging presents a private-public opportunity to get my thoughts out there. It reflects that tension between wanting to speak up and not wanting to get in trouble for speaking.

My well of ideas started to dry up. I'm 100 times more creative when I'm writing than when I'm not. There's something about writing regularly and on deadlines that sparks the fires of my inner content-generator. That doesn't mean that all the ideas turn out to be worth publishing. But when I'm not publishing, I don't have as many ideas.

I realized that my interests are pretty varied. In the blogosphere, they tell you not to do that. "Focus your writing," they tell you. "Write for a particular audience," they counsel. And they're probably right. Some of you might be interested in the 25 part series I sketched out on community college ministry. Others of you may wonder "why is this happening to my inbox/rss feed?" In reality, I probably have 4 or 5 different blog streams bouncing and fluttering in my head. And, at this point in my life, I guess that's going to have to be okay.

From the outset, this blog has been a tool for me: space for me to process and share things that just don't seem to fit anywhere else, scraps and clipping, bonus material for my life of the mind and in the family and in the ministry.

I'm excited to be writing again. Thanks for your patience with my "blog rest."