Sideblog Archive – December 2008

What if we could choose to see life as an adventure, and the people around us our co-adventurers? What if, from this day forward, every single moment of our lives was building up to something more exciting and challenging?
What if being a Christian meant something to people outside the doors of our church? What if everyone who claimed the name of Christ actually tried to act like Him?
What if we spent more money on helping people than we did on war? What if we spent less time debating gay rights and more time teaching human rights?
What if we could all figure out that we are not our own purpose in life?

So I Tied an Onion To My Belt… 2008 Edition

It’s been my tradition, for almost as long as jonandnic.com has existed, to annually collect and post a sort of retrospective recap of the year past, and briefly re-visit some of the defining moments and events of the last 12 months for our family. Although having a blog means we can go back and read about these events, there’s a sort of catharsis in summarizing them, with the perspective that a few months of growth tends to give you…
It was actually late in 2007 that we came to understand that our adventure in New York had run its course, but with our second baby on the way, it wasn’t until January of 2008 that the details were in place enough that we could formerly pursue a move back to Canada. But that doesn’t mean we were ready for it. Like the move to New York, there was lots to learn and do and negotiate, so most of the year, necessarily, was sacrificed to that task. And aside from minor surgery for our little guy, and a last minute road trip to Boston, there were plenty of other distractions to keep life interesting.
While we started our good-byes, packed our little apartment and waited for Abi to arrive, we spent some time pondering the things we’d experienced and learned. There was plenty about our time in the U.S. that we’d enjoyed, and God continued to give us a new outlook on the things we’d been blessed with. But we weren’t really sure at all what He had in store for the next chapter.
Meanwhile, we kept waiting for Abi to arrive… and waiting, and waiting, and waiting!
She finally did, of course, and the moment and the day were as incredible as you’d imagine. But her arrival was like the gun shot to start a race, and from then on, things got really challenging. Just a few short weeks after our family had grown by one, we were seperated, as Nicole moved home with the kids, to begin preparing a landing pad for our family — and my career, which supports it!
It wasn’t much fun being separated, but I had a lot to do to keep me busy, so we pushed through it, and got in little visits when we could.
Things wrapped up nicely at work, in preparation for the big change, and with 4.4 shipped, and the boxes all packed up, we said the big — but not permanent — good bye to New York, and the other places we’d managed to visit… and moved in together in a little apartment in our College town.
And I’ll pause to point out here that it was a very nice apartment — but that living there with two kids and almost none of our stuff, made it very uncomfortable for us. House hunting, for our first real home, was obviously a priority, although not really a joy. Not, at least, until we found our perfect little spot, in a little town, conveniently located near nothing, but far away from nothing, either.
And then we waited for our closing date… and waited, and… well, you get the picture.
Fortunately, we had a busy summer to keep us occupied, with a challenging and exciting wedding (or 4) to attend, and some re-discovered “cons” in the pros and cons list for living in Canada vs. the U.S. And although we’ll probably never look back on that particular summer in our lives with fondness, the reward was worth the effort when we finally moved into a house, and for the first time in our adult lives, committed to staying some place for more than 2 years. We’re still adjusting to that reality, but we’re doing our best to make it feel like our own.
And besides, just because its our home base, doesn’t mean we can’t travel. A fact which made itself evident barely two weeks after we moved in, when we packed up the whole clan and headed back to New York, for one more State-side celebration of 2008.
Finally settled in, and still discovering what God has in store for us here, I proceeded to piss a bunch of people off, and then did it some more. But even in that, and in what God taught me in both the writing, and the debate over the writing, we catch glimpses of a plan that’s bigger and more exciting than we could ever imagine. For maybe the first time in our marriage, we have no idea what the coming year holds — we have no plans, or burdens or passionate fervor for a particular goal or task that we have to conquer this year. We just have the experiences God’s given us, the sometimes perplexing tuggings of His will on our hearts… and two beautiful kids, a great home, a good job, and a world-wide playground on which to discover His purpose for our family.

I can’t say 2008 has been a great year. But its been a good one, and we have every reason to believe that 2009 will be an equally amazing, but totally different adventure. From all of us, to all of you, our dearest readers, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a 2009 that is challenging, revealing and fulfilling…

An Empty Garage

I had a post scheduled for this morning, but I pulled it back another day, because I wanted to finish telling the Christmas story God has been writing over the past couple days.
Last night, we delivered our garage full of blessing to a very grateful family, in a very empty apartment. Our friends Mark and Elisabeth pulled together a crew from the church, complete with a truck and covered trailer, who loaded everything up at our place in a matter of minutes, and helped us deliver it. Between shoveling snow for the past 4 days and moving this stuff around, my back had pretty much had enough, so I was blessed that I barely had to lift a thing. There was enough help to make the work very easy.
The youth group at church had been out a week ago handing out food to the needy in the community, and had a full turkey dinner left-over, so Nicole prepared that and we delivered a hot meal, as well as the stuff we’d collected. The mom of the family cried as we brought it all in, and their little girl was bouncing with excitement.
It was definitely rewarding to be able to love on this family, and at least make a dent in their needs this Christmas. But I get the feeling that I’m not communicating the point very well: God did this — not us.
And if there was ever any doubt about that, it was gone last night when, after we’d finished carrying in the last of the furniture, the dad of the family gathered us around and explained that he was a Pastor from Columbia, and that his family had been praying for days for provision.
People love to blame God for bad stuff. We say stupid things like “how could God allow this to happen?” when its painfully obvious that most of the crap we observe in the world around us is man-made. But when something amazing happens — something bigger than any one person — someone other than God always gets the credit for that. And we miss catching a glimpse of God’s incredible and mysterious work in our lives.
In this case, God pulled together resources and people from 3 different towns, arranging divine appointments and putting pieces into place days in advance, to answer the humble and simple prayer of a family with nothing.
If God cares about a little group of immigrants from Columbia, and what their Christmas will be like, how can we think He doesn’t care about us? How can we not understand that His love and His blessing is more than sufficient for anyone who would ask.
And how could my family not point to Him in the work He did through us over the past couple days? We asked to be used in our community, and for a few brief moments, He made us a focal point in His work for that family…
A huge thank-you to everyone who helped make this happen! It was a great experience. This family is still in need. They have one bedroom filled now, some stuff for their kitchen, and a bit of a living room. But there’s still 3 kids without beds, no where to sit to eat, and… well, pretty much the rest of their apartment is empty. We’d be happy to collect anything anyone might want to donate to help them out!
And if you don’t live around here, that’s OK too, because I guarantee that within a couple miles of your house, there’s someone in need of God’s love expressed in tangible ways this Christmas (and the rest of the year too!) And you wouldn’t believe how rewarding it is to shut up, and just be God’s hands…
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

– Matthew 35:34-40

A Garage Full of Blessing

Some things happen, and you can think you did it yourself.
Other things happen, and you know without a doubt that God did it — and that you had very little to do with that process.
Let me tell you what God did this weekend.
In our continuing quest to find tangible ways to live out Christ in our community — to find a definition for Christianity that resembled, again, the Savior upon whose life we are supposed to pattern our own — we felt challenged by the story I related from my friend on the west coast, and decided we should try it too.
With only a few days left before Christmas, and most of our budget spent on presents already, we weren’t sure we could pull off quite the same success he had, but we figured we’d trust God with what little we had left, and see if He could use it to bless someone. So we got in touch with the local shelter, and asked them if there was a family we could help.
I played phone tag with the lady there, and was near giving up, when we finally connected, and she told us that there was a family moving out of the shelter and into their first home — their only possessions being the clothes on their backs. We determined that, at the very least, we could find them a meal, a used microwave, and some gifts for the kids.
So we put some feelers out online, hooked up a meal for them through the church, and a friend sent us a link to a  $10 microwave on Kijiji. And from then on, God took over…
– The gentleman selling the microwave replied to my query, saying he’d give it to us for free, if we’d pass on the good deed to someone else this Christmas. When we explained that we were buying it for a good deed, he was incredibly excited, and asked how he could help. The family we’re shopping for has a 4 year-old daughter (and a 10 year old and 16 year old boy) who loves Dora the Explorer. The guy selling the microwave has a 7 and 9 year old daughter who were previously into Dora. He said he’d see what else they could come up with before we picked up the microwave…
– When we stopped by their house this morning, a beaming husband and wife had a pile of stuff waiting at the door. They half-filled our car with clothes, toys, and small appliances!
– Then we hit Dollarama and Value Village to pick up some other essentials for the house, jamming stuff in-between and underneath the kids in their car seats. In a little under 3 hours, and for just over $100, we had a car-full of stuff — so much that Nicole had to hold things on her lap on the trip home.
We put the kids down for a nap, and happily cleaned and packed up the stuff, excited to be able to have gotten so much to share with this family! We were amazed by how God had easily doubled our investment, and proudly took a picture of our little pile…
Small Pile
But He wasn’t done yet! A few minutes later, Nicole noticed our neighbour moving in a roommate. Since he’d helped me clear-off the driveway last night with his snow blower, I figured the least I could do was help them unload. So I dressed warm, and stomped over there to lend a hand. Between the two of them, they had a ton of stuff in their little house, and I wondered to myself what they could possibly do with it all. When we were mostly done, I went back home to sit down and rest…
– Moments later the neighbour reached the same conclusion I had about the contents of their house and started loading back up a couch. On a whim, I ran out and asked if I could buy it off them for this family. When I explained the story, they offered it to me for free! I couldn’t turn that down, so we opened the garage, and loaded it, and the matching love-seat in.
– Then he came back, and asked if the family could use a bed! So we loaded in a bed!
– Then he came back, and asked if the family could use a TV… so we loaded in the TV!
Big Pile!
At the start of the day, we set out with a tiny bit of faith, and a little stretch in our budget… by the time God was done, He’d multiplied that easily 10 times over. Tonite we have a garage full of stuff to give to a family with nothing this Christmas.
This is the body of Christ at work. We’re going to deliver this, and as explanation for where it came from, the Christmas story in both their native language, and English. Because this was the message He brought with Him: one of hope, and mercy and grace and love.
And when Christians offer those things, we point to the ultimate offering: His life, for each of ours.
Its OK to give each other gifts, and sing cheesy carols, and hang tacky lights. But let’s not forget that Jesus came to offer something infinitely better than that. And in exchange for faith the size of a mustard seed, He offers a plan that changes lives…

Algae War

For the past week or so, I’ve been in a battle to the death.
With algae.
Despite all our hot tub’s chemical being within normal levels, there was a moldy-gym-sock smell that hit me every time I lifted the lid. The previous week, the water had been a little green, so I zapped it with ‘Algae Kill’ and it cleared up in no time. But now, a week later, its a fight to keep it clear.
It took me a few weeks, in the summer, to learn how to keep everything balanced in the hot tub. Apparently, I need to re-learn those skill for the winter. What I understand had happened, was that although I’d killed the algae in the water, the steam carried a bit of that “infected” water up onto the lid, where the algae started re-growing. When the tub cooled, that water would drip back in, and re-infect the larger body of water all over again.
The other night I spent the better part of an hour (in the cold) gently, but firmly, scrubbing the lid, first with an eco-friendly general cleaner, then with some diluted Algae Kill. Everything smelled great when I closed the lid that night, but by the morning, the sock smell was back.
Finally I called in some help. We, fairly randomly, found the shop that sold the previous home owners the tub almost 5 years ago, and the lady who owns it is very knowledgeable. Apparently, in the winter, pH level is very important. And its better to keep the pH slightly lower than recommended. Although our pH had only just slipped into the “high” range — never a problem in the summer — we needed to have it a lot lower for the cold weather.
In the winter, its significantly harder to dump the water and start again from scratch (which I had to do once over the summer, while I was learning) — especially given that our hose is frozen solid. So I was eager to try the advice. Sure enough, bringing the pH down significantly had an immediate effect on the algae smell. There’s now something of a battle to keep the Alkalinity level in the norms, with the pH lower than usual, but I’m winning my chemical war now.
Between this, and a slight back injury recently, I haven’t been able to enjoy our hot tub much lately. But I’m hoping that within a day or two the water will be back up to its normal, sparkling clean, and I can hop in and relax again…
We’ve found that while some of our friends love hot tubbing, others are not big ‘tubbers. So maybe this information isn’t universally important, but for those that might need to know: keep your pH down in the winter!

Learning Mandarin

Y’know, in case the Chinese take over the world some day soon, I figured it’d be a good second language to have :-p
Actually, this will be my third or fourth second language. I never really did learn French that well, despite 9 years of having it pounded into my head. There was a time when I was relatively proficient at German, but that’s caught back in the cob-webby attic of my brain. And to be fair, I do still remember about 11 words in Bengali…
But this time is for real! We’re trying out this highly recommended software, which is supposed to work really well. Our goal is a half an hour a night, 3 days a week, after the kids go to bed. It gives us something to do together other than watch TV and clean up after the kids, and maybe by the time we get back over to Asia to visit my parents, we’ll have a local language we can use…

A Cool Christmas Story

I’ve been keeping an eye on one of my “cyber-buddies” little projects, and I think the result is worth posting about here. John used my some of my code projects a few years back, for a site he was working on, and we’ve kept in touch over the Internets off-and-on. This Christmas he felt challenged to do something tangibly Christ-like in his community, so he and his wife set out to bless a family in need with a Christmas defined by love and grace.
You can read about the steps along the way on his blog, but the bottom line is, they raised $1000 for a family who only just recently got off the street and into a home. Their Christmas list this year was pretty basic, but it looks like they’re going to get all their needs met — and more!
Its no secret that I’m not a fan of what the Christmas season has become. So this year, instead of the crazed shopping trips, tacky lights and repetitive music, maybe we should all focus on demonstrating Christ in our communities…

Back from Ohio

We’re often teased about all the snow we get in Canada, but Friday when we left there wasn’t a single flake falling. Somewhere between New York and Pennsylvania, however, the highway looked like this:

I’m pretty sure it was the worst weather I’d ever driven in — and I’ve driven through some crazy stuff! The scariest part might have been the SUV directly in front of us that lost control and fish-tailed back and forth across three lanes of highway for a good minute and a half before he managed to wrestle his vehicle back into a straight line…
However, we made it to Ohio safely, and had a wonderfully nice, relaxing, and thought-provoking stay with some old friends. Benjamin met his new hero, Caleb. Here’s a video of them working out on a treadmill together:
http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-4152890094349607583&hl=en&fs=true

Thinking outrageously, I write in cursive

It wasn’t our Thanksgiving, but we took a long weekend anyway, and even ate a turkey — in honour of our American guest. Then we all got sick — except for Nicole. To be more precise, I have a man-cold, which has now been scientifically proven (ok, not really proven, but at least posited!) to be a much more significant illness than that which befalls the fairer sex!
That’s right, ladies, next time your hubby turns into a whining baby when he gets a cold or flu, give him some extra loving — its entirely possible that he really is feeling it worse than you would!
Fortunately, things are winding down for the year. Alpha finished up last Wednesday, but the Table 11 crew are going to continue to get together at our place until Christmas, just to keep our momentum going. Last Wednesday my “suspicions” were proven true and we welcomed our new friend Jim into God’s family. I’m pretty sure that our group was hand picked by God for what we have to teach each other, and we’re praying that in January, when small groups kick off, He picks a few more interesting and challenging people to meet with us.
Nicole started on Christmas decorations yesterday. I make her wait until December 1st, because I’m adamently opposed to the rampant consumerism that comes along with this holiday, but I have to admit, it looks nice in the living room. And I’m looking forward to watching Benjamin open his presents in a few weeks.
I try not to talk about work too much on here, but I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell lately as a recent re-organization is slowly coming together. But last week I got something to sink my teeth into that’s right up my alley. I get to play with web technologies again, which is something I really enjoy. I’m pretty sure that Javascript (aka JScript, ECMAScript, ActionScript) is the perfect little programming language, but its been a long while since I got to code in it. The technology I’m using hearkens back to heady days of working for a determined, agile little start-up, and I find myself not wanting to pause even for lunch. All sorts of ideas are coming back to me, and I can barely code fast enough to express them.
I’m learning a new technology called SilverLight, which may or may not be a silver bullet for Microsoft in finally changing their direction from thick to the thin/web client world. Ramping up on new tech sucks, but once it clicks, and starts flowing, its a good feeling.
For those that have enjoyed pondering Christianity with me, I do intend to finish out my series of thoughts, I’m just not as confident in proposing solutions as I am in identifying problems. But the discussion has been very valuable to me, and although I’m sure not all of you enjoyed reading it, the feedback has been generally positive — a publishing house even contacted me and offered to send me pre-release copies of a couple books on Christian leadership that they’re putting out!
2008 has been a physically ambitious year for us. We moved twice — once from another country, had a baby, bought a house… 2009 doesn’t hold quite so many physical challenges, but that’s good, because it will give us some time to figure out how to apply some the things we’ve been learning. I won’t write again until I have some practical ways to apply those things, because even though I’m well aware that I’m not always right, I try to at least have an informed opinion before I spout my mouth off.
So, I’ll leave you with something our pastor said in church a couple Sundays back, that I found both encouraging and challenging. He said there are three roles available to the individual Christian, and we each are built to do two of them at a time. The roles are:
An evangelist — This is not someone who gets up on the street corner and preaches about judgment and doom. An evangelist is someone who lives out the love of Christ in their world. That means that where ever we are, we’re to act like, look like, talk like, and love like Christ did. (The Onion has a great article about how unusual that kind of Christian is these days)
A missionary — Someone who goes out. They have a passion for getting out of their comfort zone, sometimes into danger, to make His love known to the ends of the earth.
A supplier — Someone who equips the others. As a Christian, its your responsibility to supply evangelism and missions — in real and practical ways. That includes your finances, in tithe, both to the local ministries you’re involved in, and to the missionaries we send out. That includes prayer, and intercession. That includes time and energy.
So if all of us are made to be two of those things, maybe most of us will be Evangelist-Suppliers — which means we demonstrate Christ in our communities, and we ensure those we send out are properly equipped.
Some of us may be Evangelist-Missionaries — which means we are sent to communities that aren’t our own to show Christ’s love to others.
And some of us are Supplier-Missionaries, which means we are sent out to provide the infrastructure, logistics and support for the Evangelist-Missionaries.
Now this isn’t my sermon, so I hope I’m not butchering it in my delivery, but what I’d add to it is that God may have us fulfilling different roles in different seasons in our lives. The majority of people reading this are likely equipped, at the moment, to be Evangelist-Suppliers. But are we being effective at that? And are we ready, should God ask us to change roles? Do we know enough about Evangelism that we could do it in another place? Have we been responsible enough Suppliers that God could trust us with the Supplies given by others if we were sent out?
The bottom line is that none of these things are optional for Christians — or for individual churches. Maybe you aren’t one of those people with the burden to go to Africa and Supply or Evangelize, but if you’re not, then you have been burdened with Supplying those who have, and you are responsible to Evangelize right where you are.
Are we living out Christ in our communities? Are we supplying the missionaries He sends out? And are we willing and ready to be obedient if God wants us to accept the Missionary role for a season of our life — or longer? Are we willing and ready to be obedient if God wants one of our loved ones to accept that role, and Supply them as though we were giving back to a God who loves us and made us for a purpose?
Our challenge, as a family, for 2009 is embracing the role God has tasked us with for this season in our lives, and being as effective as we can at it. I try to avoid the self-righteous-question-to-close-a-blog-entry thing, but this is a collective discussion, so I’ll end with one, just this once:
What role is God asking you to fulfill in 2009, and are you ready to be effective at it?