A number of us participated in the first gathering of what we're calling the Book Circle. It's kind of like a book club, but with a twist - that we want to read good and provocative books (fiction, non-fiction, possibly but not necessarily written from a faith perspective) and, after reading and talking about the book, decide to shift or change or practice something new as a result of what we've read.
For our first meetup, we read Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett, a Pulitzer-nominated novel tracing a family navigating the complexities of mental health across two generations. While the book was our starting point, our conversation quickly shifted to our own experiences, stories, and questions around mental health and wellness.
How do we understand mental health? How do we navigate acute crises in mental health? How might our faith interplay with mental wellness? How might Open Door as a family better walk with each other through complex and difficult seasons?
We didn't arrive at any quick or easy answers - that wasn't the point of our time. But our conversation did guide us toward new practices: normalizing conversations about mental health, opening up about our own stories, making intentional shifts in language around mental health, integrating spiritual practice and practices of mental wellness.
A couple of invitations:
Take some time to learn about an aspect of mental health you don't know much about. Share a story of a mental health challenge you've encountered. Pray for and reach out to someone you know navigating the complexity of mental health. (And join us for the next round of the Book Circle!)
Right before Christmas, I went with to the movie Wonder with the Thrive crew from OD and several of their friends. The movie is about a 5th grade boy who was born with a facial deformity who is going to school for the first time. It chronicles his struggles and triumphs as he integrates back into society after a childhood of homeschool and countless surgeries.
I told the Thrive kiddos they could invite friends and bring their parents, so we ended up having TWENTY-THREE people at the theater that afternoon. It was such a joy to watch the kiddos experience that story, then to hear them excitedly tell each other about all the times the movie made them cry as we gathered in a chaotic cluster in the movie theater lobby afterwards, and finally to hear from the parents the meaningful conversations about the importance of kindness and putting themselves in other people’s shoes that happened in the next few days. I am so thankful for that opportunity for us to experience something so stretching and uplifting together. We have some amazing, thoughtful, and courageous young people in our lives, and I am so grateful to learn from them.
Last Saturday I loaded up my two kiddos and headed over to Project Peace. In the past, whenever I have seen that Project Peace fell on a weekend when my husband Matt was working, I immediately would dismiss the idea of taking the kids myself, assuming we would be too much of a hindrance or distraction and not enough of a “help” to make our presence worthwhile for the group we were supposed to be serving. However, after talking with a few friends, they convinced me that not only would it be a great way to include my children in serving others, but that we actually might be helpful as well!
As I drove over to Concord on Saturday morning, I felt a bit nervous. I wondered what other people would think as I unloaded my 4 year old and 17 month old, but I was also excited to explain to Avery and Jack what we were doing. When we arrived, I was shocked to see how many kids were already at the work site! Kids were playing, and working, and playing some more, and Avery and Jack joyfully ran over to join in the fun. We were quickly given the assignment of cleaning the classrooms, and I was so proud as I watched Avery scrub toys and cribs as she happily chatted (and often took “breaks” to play). Jack quickly became my “trash man”, assigned the important task of putting paper towels in the trash. As a lover of trash cans, he was delighted.
As we worked, I was struck at how much joy all the kids who were present brought to the event. It made me think of the way God intended us to be when He created Eden, joyfully working and tending to the world He created.
Towards the end I found myself apologizing to the Director of the school as my kids were getting progressively louder (and less helpful), but she enthusiastically thanked me for coming and expressed such joy at seeing all the children present. She said it would mean even more to the kids at the school to know that not only adults, but other children came over the weekend to help take care of their school. It has also inspired me to include my children even more in serving others, and not to underestimate how God can use each of us, including our littles, to bless others.
Unfinished Projects, Tim Halls
Lois and I moved to Brazil as new missionaries 40 years ago. At that time, Brazilian evangelicals were just beginning to think about sending missionaries to other parts of the world, and we got involved. This reversal in initiative for mission, where new outreach and the people who supported that outreach would now start in what was once “the mission field,” began to shape our commitments.
We didn’t always stick with that vision, though. We exited lots of projects before the purpose of our participation was actually carried out. The logic of us “being” the missionary forced us to keep the focus on what we could do. And the movement was so new that there wasn’t a lot we could actually do except pray. And we did a lot of that!
When we did work on this movement, we focused more on “potential” than on actual productivity. We could only hope that Latin Americans and Brazilians would eventually live up to the potential we all thought we saw and that they would find ways send their missionaries, bless the nations, and extend the invitation to follow Jesus into new cultural contexts. These events got me thinking about "unfinished projects."
Don’t get me wrong. I admire and aspire to emulate people who start projects and carry them to completion. We need a lot more people like that. But this last year gave me perspective regarding things I didn’t finish.
My projects, being unfinished, connected with movements that produced more than I could. Movements produce great outcomes precisely because they aren’t finished yet. Shared prayers and dreams are great ways to align a movement with God’s promises, and participate in their fulfillment. I am involved today in another new project that I will not finish.
An Invitation: What are you dreaming about? How are you participating with God and others in collaborative movements? What projects are you working toward, even if you may not be there for the project's finish?
Over a year ago Rebecca and I felt a tug that God was inviting us out of Open Door and into a new community closer to where we live, work and play. It was a jarring thought and the fact that Rebecca and I were still at Open Door a year later gives you some insight into how we responded to that invitation.
However, over the past year as we have wrestled with the loss of leaving Open Door and the anticipation of being more connected into our community, we have decided to courageously accept the invitation to be launched from Open Door. Note that we feel this is a launching, not a leaving. Jesus invites us to be His followers wherever we happen to find ourselves and we find ourselves in Albany (not in Walnut Creek) and its time to live more fully into our local community.
So with much emotion we thank you so much for the wonderful 7 year journey that we’ve been on together. Please continue to pray for us as we launch into another crazy adventure of God’s faithfulness. We love you all dearly and wish you the best as you continue to sojourn in the ways of practicing Jesus’ love for the betterment of this world. I am sure we will find ways to partner with you in the coming years!
Love, Darrell, Rebecca, Lillian and Emerson
An Invitation: What might God be calling you into? How might you take steps to listen?
I was a part of the Enneagram Circle that just recently ended. Every week we were all surprised at how quickly the time went because the discussion times were so enjoyable, especially one night where we met on the Kludt's front porch. The conversation would go back and forth and there were many laughs. I remember coming into the Circle one night worn down, feeling like a very unhealthy version of myself, but by the end of our time I felt like our time together had given me grace and encouragement and lightened my mood. . . . We have been coming out of a hard season of change and I have felt very focused on myself and my little family. It can be incredibly hard to look outside myself and focus on what ways who I am can be used to better those around me. This Circle, and Dave leading it, did a great job at pulling us all out of ourselves and challenging our perception of how we can use the way we were made for the good of the world.
Once a month, I teach Art and Music in my sons’ classes at Pleasant Hill Elementary. The school does not have the funding to teach these subjects, but thankfully they have an amazing parent-led group that equips parents to come in and teach the lessons. Last week, I was teaching about Michelangelo in Sawyer’s class, and so we got to practice sculpting. Each student got a specifically designated size of clay to work with. The instructions I was given for the lesson were clear that I couldn’t give any student more than that amount, since there had to be enough clay left for the other classes. I explained that to the class, so that they could plan accordingly. There is a boy in Sawyer’s class who just moved here from Mongolia and doesn’t speak or understand English very proficiently yet. He became upset, because he was building an igloo and ran out of clay. I tried to explain that I couldn’t give him any more clay, but he didn’t understand. I asked the class if anyone happened to have some extra he or she was willing to share. Instantly, almost every student in the class stood up and brought this igloo builder some clay. He ended up having plenty to finish his igloo. The teacher and I got a little teary eyed as we watched. Even though they knew they wouldn’t get anymore clay, they readily gave a portion of what they had away. --- An Invitation: This has stuck with me for the last several days and built a conviction in my heart. I want to readily give away what I have, even when I know it’s all I have. I don’t want to hold my possessions, time, resources so tightly that I’m not seeing Jesus’ invitation to share and help someone beside me build something important. This class showed me how to live out a place of abundance even in scarcity.
I recently had a revelation that I'm really still processing. My son asked about the lavender scent in his shampoo while I was bathing him. I said it's supposed to be calming and help with stress. "What's stress?" he asked. While I contemplated how to explain that, I thought to myself, "Something that you as a child don't need to experience, because mommy and daddy are looking out for you and taking care of things." Then it hit me. It's something that *I* do not need to experience because my Father is looking out for me and taking care of things. I know this in theory, but thinking about it as a parent, it just started to sink in in a whole new way. Invitation: What is your first thought when you get stressed out? Try thinking instead about what God would tell you in that moment -- about who He is, who you are to Him, and what He is doing in your life. Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. (Matthew 6:26-28)
About 3 years ago during Lent we were challenged here at Open Door to give up comfort such as warm showers or comfortable beds for one week. During that week I chose to sleep on the floor of my room instead of my nice warm bed. I tried to find some sort of comfort on the floor, but it was anything but comfortable. After the third night I recalled a few years before, friends of mine had raised money to provide sleeping kits for children in Uganda. I decided to figure out if their organization, Raise the Roof, still donated these kits, which they did. I donated a few kits (mattress, blanket, & mosquito net) helping these children have a more comfortable night sleep, and keeping them safe from mosquitoes. Since then I have become involved in Raise the Roof by sponsoring 2 girls, and going to Uganda to be involved in the children’s lives. Becoming involved with the lives of these children has been the best 3 years of my life. . . . AN INVITATION: I invite you to look at ways you can dive in deeper to organizations you support and get hands on. Also if you are interested I am always looking for additional volunteers to join me in Uganda.
Lately I have been feeling lots of emotions...angry, frustrated, and nervous. I am trying to learn to pray as soon as I start to feel any of those. I feel better right away. . . . INVITATION: I want to encourage you to pray as soon as you start to feel overwhelmed with emotion. It helps!
This season of life, staying home with Helen, is such a mixed blessing. I LOVE sharing full-out laughter and spotting airplanes together in the everyday moments, but it has been an upheaval of myself...how I serve, how I rest, and how I connect with God. I am trying, trying, and trying again every morning to see with His eyes, not only the world and His movements, but myself too....as full, true, and enough. AN INVITATION: If anyone has struggled with the intersection of motherhood and identity, I would love to hear your thoughts! Open Door is passionate about storytelling. We will be sharing an Everyday Story weekly, both in on social media and our email newsletter, the Pulse.
What is one thing you'd like to tell people about God? I want everyone to know that God created everything!
I have five tattoos. If you have any yourself, you know that they are a little bit addictive. I have been planning my sixth tattoo for a year or so now and each week, I stand in the pews of Open Door and make bets with myself. I say, “If Jon plays ‘Burn Like A Fire In Me’ today, I’ll get the tattoo” or “If Dave says flourishing three times today, I’ll get the tattoo.” My next tattoo (next time the song plays in church) will be the words a variation of ‘for the sake of the world, burn like a fire in me.’ . . . This week, along with the incredible team at Born This Way Foundation, I launched Channel Kindness (www.channelkindness.org). I have the rare and incredible opportunity to professionally do each day what I would tattoo on my body for the rest of my life – to channel kindness, for the sake of the world. We created Channel Kindness as a platform to capture and share the everyday acts of kindness that fill our daily lives; the acts that many of us don’t focus on or even notice in today’s frenetic and often negative world.
I have been asked at least a dozen times on press calls what my favorite act of kindness has been. I happily recounted the smiling faces of the strangers from our church that rang my doorbell in the weeks after Hunter was born. I hadn’t met anyone other than Jaci and Faye, but they started a spreadsheet (as they tend to do) and suddenly, my living room was filled with new friends, eager to give me the chance to take a nap, feed me delicious meals (Hi, Brooke and Heidi), listen to me as I cried, bounce Hunter and reassure a weary and tired new family that brighter days were ahead and if they weren’t, that with their help, we’d still get through it. The definition of kindness is to act in service to someone else without the expectation of anything in return. From the first time I stepped into Open Door to today, more than four and a half years later, I have never seen a group of people more committed to that definition. Thank you for always acting kindly, for the sake of the world, friends. Next Sunday, please play “Burn Like A Fire In Me” and if anyone wants to come get a tattoo with me, let me know
An Invitation: I look forward to your thoughts on Channel Kindness, your recommendations for stories to cover and I hope you can take a minute to prove our hypothesis that kindness is urgent and important by connecting with us on social media (@ChnlKindness on Twitter and Instagram and Channel Kindness on Facebook).
In the gathering a few weeks ago we shared what we are grateful for in our neighborhood. I mentioned the exuberant crossing guard who monitors the intersections around our block and ensures the safety of lots of little ones headed to school each day. He tweets his whistle with cheerful gusto, waves to familiar friends and mans his post diligently. I've recently realized that one of my favorite activities is sharing appreciations with people I notice and enjoy, so I parked at the intersection last week and walked over to meet my favorite crossing guard. He introduced himself as Jimmy Joe (seriously). He's about 65 years old and has the kindest eyes. I thanked him for his care of our kiddos and he proudly told me that there used to be regular accidents at the intersection he manages but ever since he started working this corner three years ago, there haven't been any. The city just renewed his contract and sent engineers out to study what he does that makes him so successful but between Jimmy Joe and I we agreed that the difference is love. An Invitation: Pay attention to the people you appreciate in your neighborhood and then share your gratitude with them!
My favorite comedian, Brian Regan, in one of his routines talks about the absurdity of the directions for heating up a Pop Tart toaster pastry that are given on the side of the box. He goes on to say (and this is true!) that they even have microwave directions which state to "Heat on high for three seconds."! His comment is that if you only have three seconds to cook and eat your breakfast before you blow out the door, you have probably packed your schedule a little too tight. To this I will add that we also most likely have not provided God the space and grace to enter into and share our day. So He will have to find another time to get our attention. This is what He shared with me at 2:23am this morning.
PRAYER REQUEST: That our agendas not always supersede what God might what to awaken and stir within us.
Last Saturday was the last volunteer day at the AIDS Grove. It struck me as we planted a new memorial together that our family has been serving alongside this group of people since Everett was Asher's age—three years. I am so grateful for the way I've seen this physical labor we do regularly together form Everett as a hardworking helper. When we visited my grandfather's farm in rural Missouri, Everett helped my dad and grandpa load and unload a full pickup bed full of firewood, among other things. Everett told my dad that he learned to work hard like that at the AIDS Grove.
Invitation: Sometimes I'm better at modeling a life of formation for my kids than I am at inviting them into one (or even following their lead). Where can we invite kids--our own and our friends'--into practices that will shape them, and us, to be more like Jesus? (If you'd like to help out at the formal event put on by the AIDS Grove on November 30, email Krissy at firstname.lastname@example.org!)
Several years ago while talking with a therapist, I discovered that my gestures and the way I carry my body are very closely tied to the way that I'm feeling. She commented that she almost didn't need to hear what I was saying to get a sense of what was going on...she simply had to watch my hands as I talked. Since then, I've been much more in tune to what my body is telling me, but I've never tried to actually change the way that I'm feeling by changing my gestures. Last week Dave led us through our Beatitudes prayer, which had corresponding hand gestures for each line. I'm always a little skeptical of choreographed movements, but as we went line by line, I realized that the gestures I was doing were actually creating change in the way that I was feeling! As I prayed, "Lead us in the way of trust" with open hands, I could feel my breath slow, my tension ease, and my sense of God unfold. As I prayed "Lead us in the way of humility" with my palm flat on my heart, I was suddenly aware of how I can position myself into a posture of kindness. And how often I don't. But I'm going to practice. For me, I'm trying to pray that prayer - along with the gestures - every morning this week, and see what happens. Invitation: Try integrating this prayer and gestures into your routine. Whether you are a feeler like me, or not, simply declaring and hoping and trusting can help the truth sink into your soul.
During Goodbye Hello (the new years eve retrospect pop up), we listened and brainstormed around what we felt that God might be leading and calling us into in 2018. This past year was a year of incredible change for me and my family. Moves, vocational changes, rounds of guests in our new home, grief, and hope were intermingled and arrived in waves almost so quick that there was no space in between. It was glorious and exhausting. As I sat at the pop up station and pondered what 2018 might hold, I heard "quiet rest." I felt God whispering, "Settle, my darling. Settle, root, rest, and be where you are." And two days later Henry Michael Chambers arrived! And I thought, well, there goes the Rest part of the equation! haha But, while I am sleep deprived, I feel like God has blown winds of quiet and rest and small moments of just being. No one expects me to do a lot of things. I am being loved on incredibly in the form of meals and gifts and people holding my kids. I am rooting and settling, just Being. And so far 2018 is revealing over and over the beautiful promise God made to me on New Years Eve. . An Invitation: What did God whisper into your heart on New Years Eve? How is He making that promise real to you?
We recently had the pleasure of connecting with an Afghan Refugee family through Maya Smith and JFCS (Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay). A few weeks ago we went to visit the family and drop by some donations, thinking we would show them “hospitality” as we welcomed them to our country. Instead, they opened their doors to us, served up tea and snacks, and warmly shared their story. Their kids immediately embraced Avery, and they spent the entire visit giggling and playing together. It was such a sweet reminder that while we don’t speak the same language, kindness and play are things that can always be communicated, even without words. We left feeling like the ones who were blessed by them. . . . AN INVITATION Please keep this family and other refugee families in your prayers as they adjust to a new and unfamiliar life. If you would like to learn more on how to support refugee families in our area, email Maya at email@example.com
At the end of November, a few of us from Open Door had the opportunity to serve at the Light in the Grove event at the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Our role was to assist the paid wait staff to serve hors d'oeuvres. We showed up early and watched as the event planners and professional servers did their thing. And then we were briefed on how we would help - we'd pass hors d'oeuvres, try not to drop napkins, and make sure we didn't go to a group of ten people with only one remaining hors d'oeuvre. Pretty basic. The evening was beautiful and none of us dropped our plates or spilled anyone's drinks. However, I was struck by how uncomfortable I was to be on the serving side at an event I would normally love to attend. I think of myself as someone who (tries) to serve often - we have three kids who take constant service, we love helping out at church when we can, and we get so much joy out of hosting friends, family and even strangers. But put me in a room full of people I want to be friends with, in a subservient position, and suddenly I felt very out of my skin. Everyone was ridiculously kind and friendly but I was uncomfortable being seen as less. Not being the one to invite people in to my space. This tells me I need to do this more. That despite all my "service," I still don't really quite get the spirit of humbly serving and I rest on my position/privilege more than I care to admit. --- Invitation: In what way(s) can you serve outside your comfort zone? How might God be calling you to grow in the way(s) you serve?
I have learned that sometimes when God wants to get my attention - when He wants me to do something - He will flash a random thought through my head. I know it is from Him because there is a pattern to my response: I am first taken by surprise at the thought, then usually excited by the idea and lastly I am flooded with fear and doubt. Though I am confident this is a way God speaks to me, if I must admit that I listen to the fear and doubt more than I should. During our Steward Team update recently, I had one of these God-breathed thoughts and I am excited to share that I took the initiative to follow through! The nudge was to reach out to the pastor at a church just one block from our house. The church is doing some great things in our neighborhood and I have wanted to be more involved in serving my community, so I thought...why not reach out to see if I can either join in or be inspired by what Jesus is doing through them? I'm not sure what will come of our little meeting, but I know that is not for me to figure out. My job was to set a meeting and show up, so I have and I will...the rest is up to Him. . . . Invitation: Don't let these God-breathed nudges pass you by. God is actively pursuing you; showing you where to get involved and what He desires from you. Don't worry about the outcome, simply take the first step and let Him do the rest.
With many of you, I was struck by the sudden devastation caused by the wine country fires last week and overwhelmed by the magnitude: dozens of lives lost, hundreds of homes destroyed, tens of thousands of people evacuated. Too often I live mostly in my mind, and because of our proximity to this crisis, I wanted to show up and use my hands to help. My friend Matt is the pastor of BayMarin Community Church in San Rafael and this community quickly responded to the needs of their neighbors by opening up their facility to be used however necessary. Last week, countless truckloads of supplies were received, sorted, and distributed from BayMarin to local evacuation sites. I was able to spend two afternoon serving alongside others, including a couple who themselves were evacuated and had lost their own home yet felt called to help and serve others in the midst of crisis. As I continue to pray and consider ways that I can step toward the pain of these devastating fires, I'm grateful for this gift of joining the living, moving, breathing church stepping into Faithful Presence, responding to the acute and long-term needs of their neighbors and sacrificially giving time, resources, and energy to meet those needs. Invitation: Consider how you might step into faithful presence responding to the wildfires, praying and trusting that God's abundance is made real through our hands and feet showing up.
My wife, Maya - who is the daughter of political refugees and first generation American - and I have both been dismayed by how divisive our country has become – especially when it comes to welcoming immigrants and refugees. We have praying and searching for a way to do something meaningful, local and based in relationship – with a goal of better understanding how best to serve immigrants and refugees joining our nation at a time when they may not feel welcome. We were led to opportunity with the Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay. We had the privilege of meeting a family of Afghan refugees who arrived in the East Bay just one day before the recent Executive Order took place. The father was a translator for the US Army in Kabul and went through 18 months of background checks before he was cleared to come to the country that he had served alongside. His wife is 25 years old, and her father lost both of his legs in the Soviet-Afghan War. They have two beautiful children, a 3 year old and a 2 year old, who greeted us with smiles and glimmers of hope in their eyes. They are living in Antioch and have a long list of things they'll need to do to get settled here. We plan to accompany them on this journey, be supportive and generous as we can, and welcome them to this land of opportunity.
INVITATION: JFCS East Bay supports this family and many others with essentials including transitional housing costs as they get settled, finding jobs, helping with necessary paperwork, and building a community of allies. We will happily match donations in support of this family and many others like them. Please join us in becoming part of this community and donate today (make sure to designate it for the **Refugees Welcome Fund**): https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1422012
If you are unable to support financially and want to learn about other ways to walk alongside local immigrants and refugees, please check out http://jfcs-eastbay.org/ or send Maya or I an email. firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Everett + Dave
Everett recently picked out a book on rainwater and natural resources from the library and we've been reading it at night. One page has a picture of a man collecting water from a muddy stream, representing the 10% of the world's population that doesn't have access to clean water. For the last four nights, he's chosen to read this book and always wants to talk about the lack of access to clean water and how we can help. Everett gets a small allowance every week that he divides into three jars - saving, spending, and giving. He has told us before that he wants to use all his giving money to help cats, but the other day he divided his quarters and decided that eight of them would go to help cats and twelve would go to help people get access to clean water. . . . Invitation: Would you pray with us that we would be moved into action for the broken things in our world? Everett would also invite anyone interested to join him in investing in the work of Blood:Water Mission to help everyone have access to clean water.
Life this past year has been very up and down. To be honest, I haven't made any money this year. Not because I haven't wanted to or haven't tried, I just haven't been able to land a contract. We knew this was a possibility when I decided to live the life of a contract worker so that we could have a better family rhythm, but this has put our family in a state of intense trust in God (more so then we expected). We have to trust that He will take care of our needs and so to remember, reflect and meditate on all the little ways He has been our provider, we keep a running list in the kitchen and write on it whenever something happens that prompts us to say, "Thanks God for that provision!". Every time I look at the list, it prompts me to say a word of thanks.
Invitation: I invite you for the next week to keep a running list of the ways God has provided for you. Post it someplace prominent and remember that He is your ultimate Provider.
In his January 1 Retrospect message, Dave mentioned how helpful it is during tough times, to occasionally do something he really enjoys. I decided to give his idea a try. I love Chocolate Tuxedo Cream Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. But the slices are huge, I don’t want to eat that much sugar (even split across 2 days) and Stan, who is gluten-intolerant, can’t help me out. So I had the God-nudge idea to post my “need” to have someone split a slice of cheesecake with me on Open Door Abundance. I so enjoyed having extended conversations at last year’s OD Women’s Retreat, I figured this would be a way to have more. To my surprise and delight, many found my FB post “awesome” and several people volunteered to share a slice with me. I rarely feel like I “belong” in any group, so the outpouring of love and affirmation warmed my heart. And guess what? My time with Darcy Yount was way better than the cheesecake!
INVITATION: I know that many people feel like they don't belong. Please pray about how we can help people, particularly new people, feel welcome at Open Door.
The very first piece of furniture Shahram and I bought when we moved into our home was the biggest table we could fit into the dining space. We envisioned our family gathering around the table over noisy, happy meals that nourish body and soul. I wanted an everyday table; one that could stand up to our family of grandchildren, our son’s Labrador (at the time a puppy who loved to chew on everything), and our messy meals without requiring fussy maintenance. Those dreams of family meals have been realized many, many times in the 3 years we have been here, and we have been incredibly blessed by the gatherings and conversations that have taken place around our table. This past couple of weeks, our table has been a place of presence. As we gathered around our table for our Circle of Contemplative Practice, the presence of the Word became heavy in the way that the tropical air in Hawaii is heavy—warming, soothing, bringing peace to the depths of body and spirit. As Jon invited us to slow down with Scripture, taking the time to literally breathe it in and breathe it out, the presence of God poured out over us and I felt my heart open to the possibilities that hope brings. Last week, Jon invited us to explore the idea of God’s mercies being renewed every morning. Tears sprung to my eyes as he pointed out where that Scripture verse is found—the book of Lamentations: in our sorrows and our laments we are reminded of God’s mercy. Our small circle of 4 shared what that meant to us, and then Jon led us into a time of listening prayer in which the 4 of us listened to what God might be speaking to us about each other. We shared words of encouragement and words of direction and affirmation for our lives. Our conversation led us to considering the presence of God’s spirit at the baptism of Jesus, and also at the beginning of creation, where the Spirit of God hovered over the chaos. God is present in the chaos, hovers over it, moves into it with us, and in His way and His time, He creates order and even beauty.
opendooreastbayThen, in the way of everyday friends, we just sat around our table in silence. We sat and could not move or speak because the presence of God’s Spirit was so very weighty and so astoundingly real. This is my everyday story---the presence and power of God when friends gather around an everyday table with hearts open to whatever God may bring. The world can be so hard and heart-breaking; my social media is full of cynical comments about the futility of prayer in the face of horrific violence. I understand that the careless tossing out of promises to pray is empty and frustrating for those aching for hope and real change. I also understand that our only hope for anything real in this world begins with or eventually comes around to breathing in the presence of God. How beautiful are His mercies, to come to our everyday existence, bringing light for us to see and hope for us to move forward, trusting that He is with us in the beauty and He is with us in the chaos.
Fire, whiskey, and guys sharing their feelings. #mensconnect Many thanks to Steve for hosting and creating such a great space! . . . Invitation: Join us at the next men's monthly connection point, June 15th, 8pm at the Arnett's
Every three weeks I go for treatment to keep my cancer at bay. I’ve been getting this treatment for five years now, and I will continue to receive it for the rest of my life…unless they figure out a new way to take care of me! Before I go, I pray for eyes to see everyone around me the way Jesus sees them. Sometimes this means I just smile at people and pray for them, but it often means conversations with nurses or the people getting treatment beside me. Last time, I ended up next to two people who were getting their very first chemo treatments. I listened as the nurses reassured the scared man and woman, explained what was going to happen and answered their questions. The man was trying to remain stoic, but his hands were shaking. The woman listened intently and asked lots of questions, but tears fell freely down her cheeks the entire time. My heart felt so heavy. I remember vividly how that felt. What is now familiar and rarely scary to me was terrifying five years ago. I prayed for them silently as I finished my treatment. I wrote my name and number down and prayed that I would be able to give it to them. I introduced myself. Told them I was doing really well, and that I had been diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer five years ago. They gratefully took my information. I told them I would pray for them, that I remembered how it felt to start this scary journey, promised them this would all feel strangely routine soon, and I walked away. As I left, the woman said, “That was so encouraging. She looks so healthy!” It’s been several weeks since I had that exchange with those sweet people, and I keep marveling at how just being alive can give other people so much hope. Recently at Open Door we sang Here’s My Heart, Lord, and one of the lines says, I have life, I can breath, I am healed, I am free. I was struck with the idea that living life to the full can give people hope. I don’t have to be in the cancer center to give the people beside me hope. When I live with a gratitude for my life, my health and even my breath, I am more fully living into the hope Jesus gives me, sometimes in the midst of really tough circumstances.
I started writing haiku a little over a year ago just to see if I could do it. My son Steven and hubby Stan had already written quite a few. I often thought, that’s fine for them, I’m just not into poetry. Never understood it and certainly couldn’t write it. But, one day, I thought, why not try? It was much easier than I thought. I’ve always loved words and writing, just not poetry. It turns out that haiku fits me perfectly, because I can either write/say just a little or a whole lot—Haiku fits the “just say a little” part of me. Plus I discovered, that God often speaks to me by filling in the last line. During my quiet time with Him, I think of some complaint, some struggle, something I’m working towards or away from. Then I start counting syllables and if I have less than 17, I wonder what or how God thinks of it. He whispers the end. Recently, daughter-in-law Rebecca asked me about what I meant by “all is right” in one of my haiku. It’s my definition of joy—a fruit of the Spirit that I’ve tried desperately for years to get a-hold of. I don’t often experience joy, but one day when I did, I worked to define how it felt. And instead of anything euphoric, amazing or ecstatic, it seemed like everything was right with me and my world. No complaints, nothing amiss, no anxiety, no guilt, no shame, nothing to strive for. Just at that particular moment in time. And then it occurred to me that God is always right—perfect and the embodiment of Truth, even in the midst of the world’s un-rightness. Thinking that my haiku on joy would demonstrate my journey, I pulled together all the haiku that mentions joy or is related to joy and sent it to Rebecca. Read them all on the blog at opendooreastbay.com! (link in bio) --- Invitation: As many have said before me, art can be a way to connect with God. I challenge and invite you to look for an art medium that is your unique way to connect to God. The medium may not be unique in itself, but your use of it will be. If nothing comes to mind, try something, anything. You can’t fail, because this isn’t about performance or achievement; this is about you doing something together with God.
I’ve been thinking about a couple words lately: “versus” and “with.” I grew up in a Christian home very much so in a “versus” mindset. Us vs. the world. Me vs. you (competition). Christian vs. secular. --- Recently my team was on set for a video production and as I was walking onto set I heard one of the contractors that I had hired use an industry phrase that basically pit him against us, the people who had hired him and would write his check. Throughout the night his versus language intensified. Everybody was in HIS way. Nobody was ever doing the right thing in his opinion. And eventually I made the decision that he wouldn’t get to play on our sets in the future because he was so against the team. The next day I was pondering it after my team had discussed it for a bit, and that’s when I realized his mindset was “versus,” “against,” and antagonistic. It’s the same mindset I grew up with and I couldn’t get these interactions out of my head. Soon enough it came to me: I want to be the type of person who is WITH others. Not against. God with us. Me with you. Us with them. --- What if we were all in this together? What if I was with you and you were with me? What if Jesus followers weren’t the antagonistic group VERSUS the world, but with the world. For it. What if we were so full of love, grace, and compassion that the invitation to “join us” was a privilege to anybody we came in contact with? The interactions with this contractor shined a spotlight on a mindset from my past that I don’t like, and it was a helpful contrast to show that there’s a time to be versus and against, but mostly I want to be for and with, just like God is with us. Invitation: Consider how you can bring more “withness” to your community.
I so desperately need this series on Sabbath right now! My life, job, and family feels very chaotic, and I find myself less and less able to distinguish what’s important in any particular moment. Recognizing sabbath and rest as a STARTING point - instead of something I do only when I am at the collapsing point - is a complete shift. I don’t yet know which moves I’m going to make towards rest, and am a little nervous about how I’m going to get there, but I’m hungering for a different rhythm than the one I currently have. . Invitation: How do I interact with sabbath and rest in the middle of transitional or really tough (but hopefully short) seasons? I'd love to hear some ideas!
A few weeks ago at our gathering, Dave had displayed on the screen " When you wake up in the morning, Jesus is ___________." --- He asked us to sit in silence a moment and see what came to mind. For me, The word that came to mind was "beckoning". The image that followed was Jesus standing next to a different door than the one I normally use to go out and begin my day. So this week, I will intentionally leave the house using the back slider as a daily reminder to hear His beckoning to begin my day differently by realigning my agenda to better fit His will rather than my own. Do you have a back door you can use? --- Invitation: Try to pay a little extra attention to the new or different doors Jesus might be beckoning you towards.
I LOVED this past Sunday. It felt so joyful, so sacred, so Right to gather together and walk through a pattern of communal liturgy, listening, reading scripture, and song together. Hearing the words of Revelation through the voices of different members of our community made me think, YES. Scripture was made to be read like this! A letter, read out loud to others...like a verbal Eucharist that we offer to one another saying, "this is the word of Christ, given to you." Hearing their voices, the readers, along with Jon and Jayne and Joe as they lifted theirs in harmony, and Dave's as he led us....humbled me with the freely-offeredness of that gift.
It was such a unique moment for me. For one of the few times in my life, I truly felt like a part of the physical body of Christ, united in grace and hope and longing, in the midst of the chaos.
pondering our #realignjourney It takes about 3-4 minutes to travel the 6 miles of the transbay Bart tube at 140 feet below the San Francisco Bay. Add this to the subsequent travel underground to the Montgomery Station, and it seems to require an adjustment for your eyes as either the escalator or stairs bring you back into daylight on the streets of the financial district. I contend that there is another kind of sight recalibrating that needs to take place if one is serious about locating some of the forgotten. We can argue as to where the blame should land for our habitual looking beyond and past those that lack the resources for the very basics of everyday needs. The conditioned eye can weave in and out of sidewalk congestion without the slightest loss of focus committed to our device screens. And there are those with the innate ability to remain locked on a horizon line that always stays two blocks ahead. But it is the trained eye that lowers its field of vision with a more panoramic and compassionate scope to a capture a glimpses of Jesus among those that others choose not to see.
A few weeks ago in Open Door Kids, we talked about what it means to be meek. The kiddos thought of ways to practice meekness in everyday life, like letting someone else be the line leader and putting their siblings first at home. I told them that one of the most inspiring examples of Jesus being meek in the way he was asking us to be was when he washed his friends’ feet. This was a job for the lowest servants in the house, and Jesus did it even though he was the guest of honor at the party. Julie, Will and I had the kiddos sit in a circle, and we washed their feet with wipes. I loved their responses! They giggled as they eagerly put their feet out for us to wash them. They did not have qualms or embarrassment about the process. It was such a delight to wash their feet. I pray that I have the same response when others’ serve me. I pray I can let go of anything that holds me back from being eager to receive what others do for me. Invitation: How might you, in meekness, serve someone around you? How can you posture yourself to receive gifts with grace?
This past spring I was took part in the Enneagram Circle, which focused on discovering how God has uniquely wired us and how we can step into Jesus-imaged formation. The most impactful takeaway for me was centered on how the Enneagram, fully integrated, is like the face of God, and we are therefore called to recognize the goodness in the way others are made. One practice that I would like to integrate into my daily life would be to find at least one affirmation to send my team's way at work on a monthly basis. (I almost typed weekly, but in a business environment that may become trite). Also, this would be a fantastic practice for me to do with my wife as well, in memorable ways (ie., not just a few words here or there...) Invitation: What practice could you introduce in your own life?
(What is something God has done, or is doing, in your life?) When my family moved to Walnut Creek, I didn't have any friends. But God has now given me lots of friends! . . . INVITATION: Speak up and talk to people around you. They may need a friend.
What has God been doing in your life lately? He is helping me with hard things. Like with friends, when we disagree He helps me know how to handle it and what to do and say. Because that's how He treated people. His actions signal how I should act to my friends. . . . What is one thing you'd tell someone about God? I'd tell everyone that God loves me and He loves them. He helps me through rough times and I know He'd help them too!
Sometimes life seems to constantly be in transition. Changes come one after another, good or bad, and it's easy for me to think "I'll find a rhythm again as soon as _____ is over." As soon as the book is released. As soon as our guests leave town. As soon as everyone is healthy. The last month and a half has been full, and it would have been easy for me to let go of my routines of meeting with God. Some days I do. But more days--the better ones--I take my journal, Bible, and art supplies to the front porch and I sit for a few minutes in quiet. Those moments ground me in the rest of my day. . . . INVITATION: What practices ground you? Writing? Being outside? Creativity? Exercise? Choose one thing to practice every day and invite God to meet you in that moment.
As we left a favorite neighborhood restaurant lately, the couple at the table next to us commented "this is like your Cheers!" It was true, it is one of the several nearby spots where "everyone knows [our] names." One of our great joys over the last few years has been settling into our neighborhood and developing deep relationships with both neighbors and local businesses. What made me pause about this couple's comments was two things: 1. That restaurant is not the only one where we know the names of the staff and get hugs when we arrive and leave, and 2. Actually knowing the names of the business owners and staff was a crucial piece of developing these relationships.
About 8 months ago, Chris asked the servers at another restaurant, Sushi Park, what their names were - and quite suddenly, it unlocked such a special relationship. We went from becoming customers and servers to friends. Before that, we were friendly, but the relationships did not feel personal. The same thing has happened at many of our local spots - partially because we prioritize shopping and eating out as locally as possible... but mostly due to Chris' consistent practice of introducing us and asking for the names of the people we meet. The act of knowing and using someone's name is incredibly powerful. We know this from the Bible, of course - God consistently uses the act of naming to cement his relationships with his people. And while we aren't giving anyone their names, the act of inquiring about the names of others, remembering their names and sharing our own has become a important practice for us. We now know and use the names of most of our neighbors and the staff of several restaurants, the grocery store, the dry cleaners, the nail salon and my favorite crossing guard. Moving through our neighborhood has become a true joy - filled with interactions with people who know us and who we know. We feel deeply connected to this place - and it all started with asking "What's your name?"
Invitation: Take the first step this week and introduce yourself to someone in your local context - could be the janitor of your building, the barista at the coffee shop or neighbor down the street. I can't promise it won't feel awkward (actually, I bet it probably will!) but I do promise that over time, it will be totally worth it!