A Minimal Plan and Less of an Agenda

My wife and I just don’t do things NORMAL, I guess. The expected way… The tried and tested…

When you go on vacation, it’s a pretty good idea to know where you’ll be staying, right? You should probably have a travel plan and reservations and all that. But you could just drop the kids off at Grandma’s house and drive.

Months ago, we decided to mark our 25th Anniversary with a trip to the redwoods of the northern California coast. The normal thing would have been to map out the route, make reservations, and develop some kind of itinerary. We started looking at places to stay and things to do in the area, but stopped short of anything resembling a plan. We would head west, toward the Redwood National Parks and see what happens. That was the extent of the plan.

Walking along the Avenue of the Giants

We’d drive however far we decided and do whatever we saw to do along the way and stay wherever we ended up. We were camping in our van, so theoretically, we could park about anywhere for the night, right? After doing a little research, it turns out there are even a handful of businesses that typically welcome overnight parking lot guests. I will confess, however, that after the first night parked at a Cabela’s in Reno, I limited our camping nights to actual, established campgrounds. That was much better and felt a lot less weird.

I suppose this flexible approach wouldn’t work for most normal people, but it worked great for us. We enjoyed the flexibility of being able to move slowly through the days, not having to reach a certain place just because that’s where a room was reserved. We had a minimal plan and less of an agenda. Our vacation wasn’t built around a plan or agenda, but around the time we’d be spending together. We were literally within a few feet of each other for just about every minute of 14 days. That’s what mattered and that’s what made the experience so great. We genuinely like each other and enjoyed sharing the experience with each other.

As I think about it, we’ve pretty much lived our whole marriage that way, in some respects. We were barely out of high school when we got married. And when I say barely, I mean like… 10 days or so, maybe two weeks. I had no career, no established source of income, or life experience, and I was quitting the part-time job I did have to move 500 miles away to go to Bible college. We’d go together. That was the extent of the plan. That doesn’t work for normal people.

But it’s exactly what’s worked for us, and I think there’s a reason… Our lives are not built around a plan, but around a person. We’ve built our marriage around Jesus and that has made all the difference in the world. We’re able to be responsive to him, while working toward his mission to show people what God’s love looks like. Maybe that sounds a little hokey to you or even pretentious, but the truth is our marriage works not because we’re two good people deeply in love and committed to each other. It works because God is good and has transformed our lives together. (Not incidentally, part of that transformation has been to grow us deeply in love and commitment to each other.)

He has made something new out of us. Something to display His love to the people around us. That’s the only agenda, and it’s been an adventure for these past 25 years. I still can’t say I have what most would call a plan for the next 25, but I do know I have a great partner for the journey and a great God who’s already working to prepare us for the road ahead.

Where will the journey take you?

The Inadequacy of My Words

“I have a lot of words… but none of them are adequate.”

In the face of one of the most impressive and inspiring places I’ve been, this was all I could say – other than such erudite expressions as “Whoah…” “That’s insane/unreal/crazy…” & “Holy Crap!” (Sorry moms.)

This doesn’t even begin to reveal what we saw.

To celebrate our 25th Anniversary, LuAnn and I headed to the coast of Northern California to spend some time in the redwood forests there. With a minimal plan, and even less of an agenda, we packed the van and hit the road. It was awesome, in every sense of the word.

There is no way a post on my blog can capture and explain either the 25 years of marriage, or the experience of the coastal redwoods, but it was a great trip. Inspiration was everywhere, and for me, that means… words. (And even the lack thereof!)

There was so much going on in my heart and mind over the 2 weeks of this trip, not to mention what the miles on the road and on hiking trails and van camping were doing to my body, that I feel at risk of dumping so much information that no one will want to wade through with me. To be honest, I’m still processing some of the experience and I don’t have the nice, tidy finished product to present yet, but this post will serve as a “fair warning” post. Over the next couple weeks if time allows, I’m hoping to post much more frequently than has been normal here lately as I unpack some of the incredible moments and thoughts.

Hope you’re up for the trip. I’ll try not to overshare (haha!), but you’re probably going to want to buckle up…

Foreground: 6 foot wide fallen tree that was cut to clear the path.
Center: My best friend, who was crazy enough to marry some little boy with “a minimal plan and even less of an agenda” 25 years ago!
Background: Not a cliff. That is another FALLEN TREE, people. Seriously… these things were amazing!

“This is insane!”

Identify the Real Problem

Recently, a student at our local HS got hit by a car on the street in front of the school. In the quickest knee jerk reaction I’ve seen a municipality muster, the city dropped the speed limit to 20 mph (like a typical school zone but not restricted to school hours) on the street where the accident occurred. The street is 4 lanes wide with the HS on one side and residences on the other for this 3 block stretch, with parks on either side for the next 2 blocks. The road is straight with extra wide sidewalks. Visibility is great (except at sunset) and there are 4 crosswalks on the 3 block stretch between the school and neighborhood.

There are a lot of factors involved anytime there’s an accident like this and lots of conclusions to jump to, as well. I want to avoid that oversimplifying pitfall, but I’m wondering… does the difference between 30 mph and 20 mph actually make this stretch of the street any safer for pedestrians? Or is that just the most easily controlled variable?

The reaction makes perfect sense, but as I drive this street several times every day (a little more slowly now), I’m not sure anyone is more safe today than they were a few weeks ago. In fact, I’m guessing we’ll have a few more fender benders as there is a larger difference between the speeds of the speed-limit obeying drivers and the I’ll drive as fast as I want anyway drivers. Drivers are more agitated because the extra 23 seconds it will now take really messes up their well planned commute.

In this case, I suspect the enacted plan won’t do a lot to help because it doesn’t address the real problem. The real problem is not that extra 10 mph. The problem is people not paying attention to the world around them. Most of the accidents I’ve seen here have been because someone didn’t notice something that was right in front of them the whole time. It’s easy to do. Sometimes it only takes a split second of distraction.

It seems that every time there is an accident, we are quick to place blame and call for more restrictions of some kind or another. But does adding more “rules of the road” make anyone more safe from people who already don’t pay attention to the existing rules? Probably not.

But we can always add more rules.

So we do.

Even though painting cross walks and putting up flashing lights and lowering speed limits and parking police cruisers in the area doesn’t actually focus a driver’s attention on the road. We, as a society, feel like we have to do something to mitigate the risks caused by irresponsible people, so we do… something. Because it makes us feel like we’ve done… something.

But what do we do when “something” doesn’t really help?

I’ve Got Some Bad News…

Most people don’t like to be the one to bring bad news. That’s because no one likes to hear bad news! As I’ve been reading through the book of Jeremiah lately, I can’t help but hurt for the guy.

In a culture where the prevailing message was basically “Peace, peace. Give God His token dues and do whatever else you want…” Jeremiah was called to warn of impending conquerors. After generations of their treachery and neglect, God was about to work a painful move (for Him and His people) to re-engage His people in the relationship He intended. The end would be incredible, but it would be a painful process.

Has anything really changed?

I know, I know… Everything has changed… Jesus changed it… We are not Israel…

But I wonder if we’ve replaced the faithless-ness of ancient Israel with our own? Have we replayed the same games that they did? We may not carve our statues and bow before them, but we make our own idols, don’t we? And we chase after them with the same wanton abandon that Israel did. (Jeremiah said they were like a bunch of camels in heat!)

Check your screen time and see if I’m wrong. Count the hours you’ve given in pursuit of paychecks… or trophies… or anything else we think is what will satisfy our thirst for “just a little bit more.” Are we pursuing God with the same passion as we’re following NASCAR or Tiger (what an incredible comeback, right!?) or our favorite team? Are we as adamantly pro-Jesus as we are our favorite political issue of the day?

I bet there were days when Jeremiah felt like it sucked to be Jeremiah. And yet… the counter cultural message that he was called to carry and deliver was no more offensive than the one we are called to bring. Offensive to God’s own people! We are supposed to be sounding a message that will invite people to surrender and to walk in relationship with Jesus. Our culture is going to hate that. Our church culture will buck at the suggestion that the American dream is NOT the same things as living in right relationship with our Father. It won’t be an easy message to carry.

But if we’re going to be the church He’s called us to be, we’ve got to wade into the calming waters in which we collectively drown to help people understand that “we are not ok.” before it’s too late. The comforts we enjoy in our sliver of time and place cannot rescue us from the storm that sin has brought with it. That’s the bad news.

Thank God we are not without an update to the bad news. The tomb is empty! The “Word made flesh” has poured out His Spirit to teach us and enable us to bear the weight of the work He wants to do through us! So “Stand by the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16) He is what satisfies. Chase after nothing less. Give your self to nothing else.

Review for Wise Guy

Several years ago, I heard Guy Kawasaki speak at a conference. He was engaging and told great stories, so I bought one of his books. Later, I had some interaction with his AllTop team and was invited into a pre-release review of another couple of his books. Guy is entertaining and enlightening – enchanting even? This past month I received a copy of Wise Guy, his current release (as of today) and was not surprised to find more of the same.

This book has less of an overarching topic than his others, but is more like a series of stories you might overhear your dad and an out of town uncle talking about at a Christmas visit. “Hey do you remember when…” After each episode, Guy puts down the eggnog and pulls you aside to tell you what he learned in each set of circumstances.

The stories reveal a bit of Guy’s character and quirks, but the valuable lessons apply widely. He talks about growing up in Hawaii with Japanese parents, attending college in southern CA, working at Apple, quitting at Apple, learning to play hockey and surf when most of his peers would have been hanging up their blades and boards for good, and a whole lot more. He’s had a life full of unique opportunities and challenges and talks about how he’s tried to make the best of them all. He tells his stories (even the difficult ones) with a jovial outlook and does a great job distilling the lessons he’s learned along the way.

Wise Guy is an enjoyable read due to the light-hearted and conversational tone. Guy shares some good life lessons without being too heavy handed. Some of the best moments were his descriptions of lessons learned as a loving father. (All except the “Live off your parents as long as you can lesson” – What’s up with that!?)

I’ll end where the preface begins, with a quote from Terry Pratchett: “People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”

How are your stories shaping you?

Offended, Outraged, and Ignored…

It’s time to take responsibility for the content you are spewing on social media.

I know, I know… you don’t really spew anything. You’re just sharing what you found interesting… passing along that hair raising headline or the outrageous video clip… making sure your “friends” all know what’s going on in the world because without your sharing…

  • The liberals (whoever they are) would have successfully conspired to turn our nation into the worst socialist anarchy the world has ever seen… (or)
  • Trump would have single-handedly turned our nation into the worst dictatorship the world has ever seen…
  • And probably nuked us all into oblivion…
  • Those red hat wearing kids would’ve ruined everything your generation worked so hard to give them…
  • The rich would have everything hoarded away…
  • The Muslims (or the Chinese, or maybe it’s North Koreans this week) would have infiltrated every level of government and taken over the world…
  • The Christians would have repressed and regressed our society back into the dark ages… but none of it would really matter because,
  • Everyone would be abducted from the Wal Mart parking lot by now anyway.

We would all stand and thank you for averting disaster, but we’re too busy scrolling through the deluge of people’s first pet’s names and grandmother’s maiden names and favorite vacation spots and… wait, weren’t those the security verification questions for your online stock portfolio? Uh-oh. Perhaps we’ve said too much.

Turning the corner, may I offer some suggestions?

  1. Slow down. Before you post your latest and greatest thoughts (or repost someone else’s), do a quick check to see if you’re saying what you want to say. Check the grammar and spelling, too – maybe no one else cares anymore, but Mrs. Washenfelder and I do, and I’m your friend, and if you really cared about my feelings at all, you’d outsmart your autocorrect.
  2. Make sure it’s true. Don’t share someone else’s post without actually checking to see if it’s accurate. Headlines don’t count. They grab attention and pique curiosity, but they don’t give the details. Read the article – where the information lives. Does it say what you want to say? We all want to give our friends the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re correct, but maybe (just maybe) they haven’t taken the time to verify either. Please do.
  3. Make sure it’s current. I’ve lost count of the missing children posts in my feed that get recycled without anyone noticing that the post is OLD. The kid was found 5 years ago. I’m not making light of what can be incredibly important posts or saying they shouldn’t be shared – but it will only help if you do a little research to make sure the moment of panic hasn’t already passed.
  4. Don’t just blame the media. If you feel obligated to share something because “the mainstream media won’t tell you this” and link me to a Fox News article, you just proved yourself wrong. The sensational claim that I have to “watch this now before Facebook bans it again” is usually a lie wrapped in an urgency meant to overcome my skeptical walls. Using a false sense of urgency is a quick way to become an ignorable yammer droning on and on in the clatter of 24 hours “news.” Just ask Chicken Little and the Boy Who Cried Wolf.
  5. Remember what matters. Take some time to decide what’s really important to you. Write out a list of what you’re passionate about, then shape your posting around those things. There’s room for the occasion foodie update and the “oops, I wore mismatched socks” selfie once in a while. (And if you’re passionate about it like my friend Kayla at Breakfast at Findleys… post away with all the food you want!) But if you clutter up your stream with every post about what we’re supposed to be outraged by today, pretty soon we’ll all stop listening. We just don’t have the energy to be offended all the time.

You have a lot to offer. Your thoughts are important and they should be shared. Some of them should be shared widely, and social media is a great way to do that. Make sure you don’t bury what is important to you in a flood of other people’s outrage. We don’t need the outrage. We need you.

When You Tell A Kid He’s A Leader…

When you tell a kid he’s a leader, he just might keep leading, but chances are, he won’t believe you right away. And even if he does, he may back away from the perceived weight of leadership. I mean, what 14 year old boy really wants to assume responsibility for someone else? He may just not believe you at all.

“Yeah, right.” [insert eyeroll]

-young leader in denial

I recently sat down with a young man who is a leader to make sure he understands that he is, indeed, a leader. Every time I see this guy, several others are hanging on to his agenda and following everything he does. He doesn’t see it yet, but he’s leading his peers. This is great when he’s gathering his friends to get something accomplished; it’s less than stellar when he’s cruising in neutral not thinking at all about where he’s going. I’m hoping that he will see what I see and begin to think about where and how he’s leading. That’s a great place to start.

“Not me.”

-young leader in opposition

But not every kid is oblivious to the leadership potential they have. They can feel it, they just don’t want it. I once spoke with a leadership type kid who was the son of a prominent community leader. He felt overburdened by the weight of expectations and blurted out “I don’t want to be a leader.” He was simply unwilling to accept the weight of responsibility of leadership – which ironically (and unfortunately) had zero effect on whether or not he was leading. It just caused him to lead in destructive and distracting ways with no vision for something more meaningful.

“Who would follow me?”

-young leader in fear

Other kids will shy away from being a leader due to some fear or insecurity. I remember being embarrassed when someone first named the leadership they saw in me. “Why would they want to follow me? I’m not cool enough to be the leader…” Our fear often blinds us to the leadership that others see in us.

“I’m not so sure, but I’ll give it a shot… What’s next?

-young leader in humility

Sometimes, a student will let you point her to what you see in her what she didn’t see in herself. She’ll listen. She’ll notice glimpses of the leadership you’ve pointed out and desire to be faithful to fan that gift into flame. It’s incredible. One of the greatest joys I’ve had working with students has been watching this begin a process that helped them discover lives of purposeful leadership. Even as students, they began to think and act with intent and with an awareness of those who were following their lead, and that has made all the difference in the world. All over the world!

When you tell a kid she’s a leader, be ready.

She just might lead.

43 Things I Think

Several years, on my birthday, I’ve posted a series of quick, slightly filtered thoughts. Not a lot of explanation, not the usual amount of backstory, just quick jabs at some of the random thoughts that have been cramming my skull lately. So… here are 43.

  1. College is really crazy expensive these days!
  2. We do too many things culturally that pile on a lot of unnecessary stress and fear onto our kids. We should stop doing those things.
  3. We also do a lot of things to stop our kids from failing before they have a chance to learn from their failures. We should do better at building environments where they know it’s safe to fail.
  4. Cost of health insurance is even more insanely out of control than college. So much for the whole “if you like your policy, you can keep it” thing.
  5. My family has been forced to change policies every year since ACA was rolled out – usually because the policy we had was no longer offered by the company (once because the previous company failed entirely).
  6. I don’t understand how people can advocate for more government control of more areas of our daily lives. They must live in very different lives than I do.
  7. There are problems in our country and in the rest of the world for which there are no political solutions.
  8. Anyone who believes the Republican party or the Democrat party have their best interests at heart is ignoring a LOT of data suggesting otherwise. When every season is campaigning season, you know the train has been off the rails for a while now.
  9. Jesus is the hope of the world. There is no border problem, drug problem, war problem, poverty problem, or crime problem that cannot be solved by power of the resurrected King to remove our sin and restore us to the relationship we’re all made for.
  10. Too many people who consider themselves “His people” live lives that only dimly reflect His values.
  11. Too many days in my own life have been spent without fully illuminating those values, too.
  12. Selling a book I wrote has been more of a problem for me than writing it was. People that have bought it have loved it, though.
  13. I have ideas for follow up journals, excitement at potential impact, and doubts and discouragement about actually getting the books into the hands of people who need them. I’m conflicted like that often.
  14. One of my favorite reads of this year was The Last Arrow from Erwin McManus (so much that I’ve read it twice). You should read it, too!
  15. If you buy a book from the links I provide in my posts (like those last couple or the few at the end of this post), I get a small percentage from Amazon for referring you to them. Thanks!
  16. If you’re in any kind of church leadership, I highly recommend An Unstoppable Force (also from Erwin McManus).
  17. I like hypothetical situations. A LOT.
  18. “Why?” and “What if…” are usually attached somewhere to my favorite questions and discussions.
  19. My grandparents celebrated their 68th Anniversary yesterday! That’s awesome and I’m so glad I’ve been surrounded by older family members throughout my life who show me how to value my marriage enough to never give up.
  20. I’ve only been married 24 years, but feel like it’s been a pretty good start!
  21. If I live to be 86 (twice my current age) we’ll still be 1 year short of where my grandparents are at now.
  22. I will not be writing an “86 Things I Think” post on that day! 43 is already longer than most people will read anyway, right?
  23. One of my sons has memorized pi to almost 300 digits.
  24. I am not making that up.
  25. When he declared that he was at 288 last week, I wondered out loud, “How?” His big sister blurted out, “WHY?” Both questions are equally valid.
  26. He challenged me, and I could accurately recall 5 digits right away. “I have no valid reason to store that information anymore.”
  27. He just might.
  28. The last few Broncos games have been fun to watch. I don’t understand people that talk about them tanking the season for a better draft pick. I suspect those people just don’t understand the concept of competition.
  29. I replaced a hard drive for the first time this year. It’s not that difficult (when the old one is still semi-functional at least).
  30. Word count for this post just crossed 700. I should probably not do these posts anymore.
  31. I am very proud of my 4 kids. Each of them resonates to their own unique frequency that make quite a song out of our family.
  32. Despite the recent failure of the USMNT to qualify for the World Cup, I see a lot to look forward to in American soccer. Excited to see who they hire to coach – and a little bewildered at why it’s take SO LONG…
  33. Why do we fans think we can play better than the players, coach better than the coaches, and manage better than the managers? We’re not really that delusional are we?
  34. Are we?
  35. I love the church. Not just the church where I serve, but the church in general. There is nothing like it in all the world, existing throughout the world, extending over borders and beyond race and breaking down walls that keep us separated from each other and from God.
  36. It’s no use pretending that the church (or that I) always get everything right. But dang is it beautiful when we try!
  37. I’ve read a lot more fiction this year than I usually do. 7 out of 31 books so far (with #8 in progress). It’s been good to join someone else’s imagination and not just be stuck in my own!
  38. 3 biographies (Theodore Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and Red Cloud if you’re asking) have made their way into my reading recently as well.
  39. Hitchens’ Mortality is pretty biographical as well, so maybe count that as 4.
  40. I don’t recommend every book that I read.
  41. I have a college student, 2 high schoolers, and a middle schooler… If I seem a little stretched and crazy from time to time, let’s chalk it up to that!
  42. In Acts 4, Luke quoted Peter (who was talking about Jesus) saying, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” He was talking to people who thought they already had all the answers, but were so very wrong. They were amazed at how the apostles spoke in their own defense – they thought these guys were a bunch of idiots.
  43. The world is still in need of such idiots – unschooled, ordinary people who are fully given to the cause of Christ, to rescue and redeem what has been taken from Him by the sin that has caused so much damage in our world. I won’t say this often, but… let’s go be idiots like that.

BONUS: Links to some books mentioned above:

See To It Yourself

“See to it yourself.”

What a liberating, empowering phrase! Except when it’s not…

This phrase jumped out at me the other day from two different places as I was reading through Matthew’s account of Jesus’ final hours. From the mouths of the chief priests and elders and then later from Pilate, these words were not used to empower some young follower who was unsure of himself. They weren’t used to bolster someone’s confidence that they had what it takes to accomplish some task. They were used to shirk responsibility and pass the blame.

“Hey we don’t care if you’re feeling guilty now, Judas. That’s your problem…”

“I’m washing my hands of this whole thing. He’s your problem, now…”

“See to it yourself… that’s not our problem.”

This sentiment strikes me as way too common today. See if you’ve noticed any of these, lately:

Car stuck in the ditch? Glad it’s not mine…

Neighbors grass out of hand? They really should take care of that…

A family with too many mouths to feed? Should’ve thought of that before they had kids…

Problems at the border? Not my problem, I live far away…

There are a thousands of problem in the world today that we did not create. They’re really not our obligations, and maybe no one would fault us if we shrug our shoulders and leave it to someone else.

But what if we “see to it yourself”? What if we take responsibility to help, even though the problem is not our fault to begin with?  What if we stop washing our hands of the sticky situations our neighbors find themselves in and reach out to help them?

Maybe what Jesus meant when he said to love our neighbors was “Do what I did when I left my Father’s side to enter into (and get you out of) this mess that you created. The world needs a church that will do this – that will continue to incarnate the Word of God so that they can see the Heart of God. Let’s be that church.

Imminent Crash Update

When I first started blogging, it was a little awkward to even say I had this thing called a BLOG. Like I was trying to get internet famous or jumping on to some cool new bandwagon or something. But I had hopes of sharing some thoughts, helping people in their journey to find God and grow close to Him, and encouraging people to chase after Him in every way they could. While my blog hasn’t ever hung out with the other cool blogs in the top 10 worlds of words, it’s been an interesting way to launch some conversations with people I’d never have had contact with otherwise.

Over time, I wanted to focus on how the church could fully engage all of its potential in the mission of Christ, so I changed platforms, bought this address, and relaunched what I hoped would be a little more focused and effective site working to “unleash the potential of the church…” I love the name for a group of rhinos and the picture that paints for me of what the church could be, so I incorporated that thought into the blog. A CRASH. Rhinos are very large, deceptively fast, and their eyesight is pretty shabby. So when they move forward together, whatever is in the way better be on the move or it will get trampled.

We are called to overcome the gates of hell. We don’t always see how that’s going to happen very well, but we are called to chase after Jesus faithfully and let Him sort it out. Kind of like a bunch of charging rhinos. Just go where He says and watch Him move the gates of hell that threaten to keep people from Him.

There have been times when I was posting pretty much every day, and others (like recently) when posts were very infrequent. I’ve noticed recently that I can get into this introspective mode where I crawl into a shell and keep my pre-sorted thoughts to myself. It seems like a wise approach, keeping people safe from the rough edges (and keeping me from embarrassing myself?)… but I’m realizing that keeping all the thoughts inside my head until they’re tame enough to be safe is a great way to neuter them of their capacity to inspire and nudge your potential (and mine).

That has to change.

I’m not promising a post per day, but I’m attempting to ratchet down the filters and curb the buffers a little bit. It won’t really be safe… but who said it’s supposed to be?

The original banner at my first blog.

NOTE: After a recent discouraging hack that made a huge mess of this whole place, I still have some rebuilding to do. Some content has been corrupted or lost and I’m still digging through the rubble to see what else is salvageable. I’ll be re-packaging some older posts as well as new ones, so let me know which posts from the past have been your favorites in the comments section of this post, the form below, or via the contact page and they may be the first to get retrofitted! Also, please let me know if you see anything out of order, like missing pictures, broken links, etc. Thanks!