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Today is a bright, sunny and potentially warm day, and I have much for which to be thankful. It is probably time to make a list, in no particular order:

  • I am married to the most beautiful, fun, cheerful, kind and interesting woman that I have been able to find on the planet, and she really seems to love me!
  • I have five delightful, godly children, three of whom have already trusted Jesus with their hearts.
  • My oldest son is well on his way to becoming a man of God.
  • My oldest daughter has a passion for truth and righteousness.
  • My middle son is always seeking an opportunity to help.
  • My youngest son patterns kindness to his little sister.
  • My youngest daughter is obedient and loves to laugh.
  • All of my children are healthy, happy, and seem to be developing well.
  • I own a home (well, perhaps 1/4 of a home) in a beautiful, remote mountain valley.
  • I have a new job that provides challenge to my mind.
  • My brain is capable of complex thought and is adept at making sense of a large amount of information.
  • I have a number of good friends.
  • My health is reasonably good.
  • I am able to move and walk and see and hear and taste and feel and (when allergy season is over) smell.
  • I don’t have any significant chronic pain.
  • I have hope — a firm expectation that God will take care of me in this life and that He will raise me up to live with Him forever, after I die.
  • I have the complete Bible, that helps me know how to live in a way that pleases God.
  • I am capable of enjoying beauty, like the Olympic mountains looming over the ferry terminal as I leave Bainbridge.
  • I have good relationships with my parents and my wife’s parents.
  • God loves me. He wants the very best for me.
  • I am being conformed to the personality of Jesus.
  • My wife is willing to stay home and homeschool our children.
  • I have a fresh new haircut.
  • Apart from what I owe on my house, I have hardly any debt.
  • I have the opportunity to begin attending a fun new church.
  • My wife and I have built good communication skills and a strong, healthy marriage.
  • I am able to find much to laugh about in life.
  • I have a car that has not (yet) failed to get me to and from the bus stop.

I could probably go on and on. Strange how easy it is to forget the good things and concentrate on the negative — give me a severe toothache and I’ll tell you that life isn’t worth living.

After I got out of the Army, I foolishly joined the National Guard, under the misguided impression that the State of Virginia would help to pay off some of my student loans. For reasons best known to the State, that financial assistance never materialized — but I was assigned to an artillery unit just outside of Richmond. One weekend in the middle of a Fall semester at William and Mary, I was called out on a field exercise. We spent Friday & Saturday nights out in the woods. Due to poor planning, we were provided with no equipment except our field jackets. It was unseasonably cold that weekend — I spent most of both nights pacing around the forest and shivering. When I got back to the dorms, I wanted nothing but a long, hot shower.

Before I left for the field exercise, I had been deeply worried about several papers and exams I had in the near future. Spending a few nights laying on the cold, damp ground, really brought my life back into perspective. If you have food, clothing, and shelter, you’re well ahead of many and you probably have enough to be happy, if only for a little while.

I think a big part of contentment is thankfulness — I feel much more content just having written this blog entry. :)

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Heavenly Color

Driving along 101 this morning, I was nearly blinded by the glory of the early morning sun, reflected in the waters of the Hood Canal. My soul was touched with wonder in the way the light edges the greens of grass and trees and the mountains with gold. No one else was driving past at that time, and I cast only a fleeting glance toward the mountains — it seems such a shame to let that depth of rich color go unrecorded. And yet God expends such beauty every day in profligate waste. By rights, there should have been bleachers full of people watching that sunrise for an hour or more.

As we pull away from the docks of Bainbridge Island, the hazy bulk of Mount Rainier becomes visible around the end of the coastline, suspended in ghostly majesty at the horizon. How terrible it would be to lose my sight, to no longer enjoy the subtle shadings of greens and blues in the water, sky, and forested shore. Even the works of man, ugly off-white storage tanks and rusty breakwaters cannot mar the stunning beauty of this day.

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I am often frustrated by my inability to capture and store up the scenes my eye can see. I remember camping as a child in Kandersteg, Switzerland, and rising early one morning to take snapshots of the alps. I was bitterly disappointed when my pictures came back from the developer — how bland and colorless they seemed in comparison to the glorious blues and golds I remembered. Although my digital camera performs much better than that ancient children’s camera, I frequently feel dissatisfied with the pictures I take, particularly of distant landscapes.

Our ferry had to slow and turn to avoid a small boat that had plotted an intercept course — finally the boat’s captain realized his peril and swerved to avoid us — a jarring note to the morning. As the Coast Guard patrol boat’s hovering presence reminds, we live under the constant threat of terrorist activity. Thoughts of the attack against the USS Cole casts a sobering pall over my enjoyment of the morning light.

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What would it be like to enjoy the glorious goodness and beauty of God without the ugly intrusion of man’s sin? C.S. Lewis has perhaps described it best, in the final paragraph of The Last Battle:

… but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us, this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

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Blustery Day

Yesterday was hot and sunny, but today is cool and rainy — a cold front seems to be sweeping through the area. Of course, yesterday I wore a long-sleeved shirt and was hot — today (foolishly thinking summer had arrived) I wore a short-sleeved shirt.

We’re actually having a sort of a thunderstorm here — quite unusual for this area. It is nothing compared to the kind of storms found in the Midwest or Southeast, but it is startling to hear thunder and to see the flash of lightning. The ferry is rocking from side to side — not very worrisome on such a large flat boat, but a little uncomfortable. Downstairs, a car alarm is going off — it may have been bumped by another unsecured car.

About two years ago I forgot to engage the emergency break on my car — when the ferry got going, it rolled backward into another vehicle. They called me down and filled out an accident report — fortunately it did no damage and the owner of the other card was unconcerned. I was pretty embarrassed and distraught — it was the same day I found out I was laid off from my job at AT&T Wireless.

A nearby passenger just pointed out a bunch of seagulls vying for scraps in circles above a seal — apparently the seal has just caught a fish or two — I keep seeing the head of the seal break above water as it seems to snap at the gulls — I guess it doesn’t want to share its supper.

I think I could become quite a people-watcher, riding the ferry to work every day. It seems remarkable to me that there can be so many people and yet none of them look even remotely alike. As I sit here, I’m trying to come up with a list of types, based on age, sex, apparel, mode of walking, etc.:


Grizzled with pony-tails
Former military
Motorcycle junkies
Career managers (tie optional)
Sales dudes
Granola Cyclists
Merchant Marine
Aging preppies
Sports thugs (travel in groups of 3 or less)
Sweatshirted Tradesmen (backwards hat optional)
Day off Dad (with child)
Sports car tourist (leather jacket & sunglasses optional)


College students
Sports Chicks (travel in groups of 4 or more)
White-collar moms (with child)
Sweatshirt commuters
Pantsuited Thirty-Somethings
Subdued Powerdressers
Almost Retired
Seasoned Wallflowers (thermos optional)

There is no hope for it — every time I think I’ve nailed down the categories, another person walks past who doesn’t fit into my groupings. How strange that people occur in so many varieties!

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A New Job

It is always exhilarating to begin a new job. It is also scary, headache-producing and exhausting, but I still enjoy it. It is fun to pit your wits against a new conceptual structure and wrestle it into a matrix of comprehension. It is also fun to display your intellect, character and skills to a new group of people who have not already formed fixed ideas of who you are. Mistakes and soured relationships from prior employment can be left behind, to be replaced by new errors and embarrassments.

I’ve never been a tester before. The formal term is “Quality Assurance” (QA) — the basic idea is to have a group of people who review new and updated systems to ensure that (a) all the new features work as planned, and (b) nothing else has been broken or disabled by the new code. Most people agree that a developer who creates the new functionality is ill-suited to test his own work — and so have been created Quality Assurance groups in nearly every Information Technology organization.

My job is two-fold — to ensure the quality of new systems produced by the groups that I support, and to increase the level of testing automation so that future QA efforts will be more exhaustive and less dependent on manual oversight. Long-term, I hope to build a set of automated testing tools that can be used for regression testing or daily validation.

I was hired as a contractor, for a 90-day term. Implicit in this arrangement is the suggestion that, after the 90 days has elapsed, I may be eligible for conversion to full-time employee. This depends, of course, on my performance and the needs of the company at that time. Ninety days is a good length of time for evaluating someone in my line of work — few people can (or will) conceal or misrepresent their work habits, ability and character for such a sustained period.

The worst part about this job is the commute. It takes me about two hours and 45 minutes to get to work in the morning, and right around three hours to get home — not much time left to enjoy my family, at least on weekdays. I only have to drive for about an hour of each way; I spend the rest of the time riding the bus, ferry, and shuttle van. On the ferry I have about 35 minutes to write on my laptop, as I am doing now.

I’ve been very much blessed over the past four years, working from home and enjoying my family. It was a tremendous gift from God to be allowed that daily, casual presence with my wife and children, even during my working hours. Last night when I got home, my little David and Sarah clung to me and sat on my lap for the first hour or so — even Joshua gave me a long (more than 30 seconds) hug. Kathy says that Joshua misses me the most, which surprises me — I keep expecting him to pull away from us, as he enters pre-adolescence.

It is hard to enjoy a gift for a long time and not feel as though it is an entitlement. I’m sure that many friends and family envied and even resented the privilege that I enjoyed, working from home for so long. Kathy tells me that most of the people, with whom she discusses my new commute, are singularly lacking in sympathy. Perhaps there is a sense in their minds that I had more than my fair share of privilege and it is proper and appropriate for me to experience the way the rest of the working world lives. It is unfortunate, because it cuts Kathy off from being able to receive support in this new (and rather unpleasant) lifestyle.

It must be very hard for Kathy to suddenly bear the full weight of parenting in addition to home-schooling — some nights the kids are already in bed by the time I get home. She is a very strong, cheerful and resilient person, but I’m sure that she feels the strain of suddenly being a “single mom” of five children.

I’m thinking seriously of moving to the city (maybe renting, at first) and making our home in the Duckabush available for lodging use by the Refuge. It would be sad to leave the beauty and comfort of our home in the valley, but I think it is more important for my children to have a Daddy underfoot, than for them to live in the country — cutting my commute down to an hour each way would free up almost four hours a day to be a family. Spending time together as a family is one of the highest values that I have — it seems foolish to allow this commuting situation to continue indefinitely.

It is a strange feeling, to depend on God for my future plans. I am more accustomed to a worldly perspective in which I make plans and try to include God where possible. I feel that at this point in my life, I want God to make the plans and to show me how I am involved. Now I just need to discover what God’s plan is for our family …

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It seems a little anticlimactic for me to write this now, when so much has happened in my life since I thought these thoughts. But I think it is important to reflect on where I was a month ago, to better understand where I am now and where I will be heading in the future.

Our family traveled to Michigan to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church, pastored by my father-in-law. We stayed there for 18 days, and I encountered between 30 and 40 old friends who had been praying for me regarding my search for a job. As I related the same story to each successive person, I found myself becoming strangely prone to tears, as the frustration and pain of 17 months of unemployment was thus verbally exposed.

I am a sentimental person; I regularly tear-up during annual viewings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or any movie that displays deep loyalty or selflessness. But I am not given (my parents’ memories/opinion to the contrary) to excessive self-pity. It was very strange for me to lack control over my emotional equilibrium. I felt baffled and frustrated by God’s handling of my life. It seemed to me that I was being broken by God.

Intellectually, I know that God’s love for me burns so brightly, extends so deeply, that He wants me to enjoy an intimate relationship with Him, exclusive of other loves. I began to consider the other ‘loves’ of my life, the things that I hold to tightly, that God might be asking (or even requiring) me to relinquish.

Apart from God Himself, the greatest love of my life is my wife, closely followed by the love I have for my five children. Jesus said that we must ‘hate’ our earthly family in comparison to our relationship with Him. At this point, I don’t sense a requirement from God that I relinquish my grip on those loves. More perhaps on that later.

Imagine a bunch of helium balloons, each one labeled, for example:

Right to experience justice
Right to withhold forgiveness
Right to work, to earn, to provide for my family
Right to enjoy my work
Right for vengeance
Right to be vindicated when I am right
Right to comfort, luxury, to enjoy the fruits of my labor
Right to use my gifts and talents according to my direction
Right to feel secure
Right to spend time with my family
Right to count on God’s faithfulness, justice, goodness, truth
Right to spend time in relaxation

These are some of the values that I hold most dearly. Some of them are ‘good’ things, some of them are not; still, these are a few of my favorite things. Note the absence of raindrops that fall on my nose and eyelashes, and warm, wooly mittens. I use the word ‘Right’ to deliberately convey the sense of entitlement and personal ownership, as distinguished from things received as a gift.

I felt that God was calling on me to let go of these balloons. Some of them (like the right to withhold forgiveness) are unlikely to be returned to me — the scriptures speak pretty clearly and harshly about those who fail to forgive their fellow men. Others, like the right to count on God’s faithfulness, justice, goodness and truth, are guaranteed by God Himself (albeit as a gift, not as a ‘right’, although this may be symantic hair-splitting). Most of the others are counterfeit values; that is, they can only truly be enjoyed as a gift from God; they become worthless or even harmful when selfishly taken.

I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ story The Magician’s Nephew, in which Digory is sent by Aslan to pick an apple from a magical tree in the center of a magical garden. The apple has the power to grant immortality, as demonstrated by the evil witch who climbs over the garden wall and steals an apple for herself. Digory is strongly tempted to take an apple for himself, especially when he considers the effect it might have on his terminally-ill mother. Conscious of his responsibility to obey Aslan, he completes the mission and (reluctantly) hands over the apple. As a consequence, the entire country of Narnia is protected for hundreds of years, and Digory receives (as a gift from Aslan) a second, lesser apple which ultimately results in the healing of his mother.

Digory questions Aslan about possible outcomes, should he have succumbed to the temptation of taking the apple for his own uses, to give to his mother. Aslan tells him:

“Understand, then, that it would have healed her, but not to your joy or hers. The day would have come when both you and she would have looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.”

There seems to be a dramatic difference between something that is selfishly grasped and something God-given, even when it is the same object.

Am I willing to let go of those “rights”? Some of them may not be returned to me; indeed, I am not permitted to ‘own’ them in any case, if I propose to make God my one true love.

What are my other alternatives? Many Christians live their days by apparently relegating God to the level of a side interest, or a hobby. God seems to permit this — the Church does not lack for marginal Christians. Do I really have to die to myself?

Is it even possible? Even if God persuades me at this time to relinquish my grip on these balloons, what will stop me from grabbing them back, or finding new balloons to hold on to in the future? Does exclusive love for God require a daily ‘taking up of my cross’ that includes frequent self-examination and repeated efforts to relinquish these shadow values?

How do I go about letting go of even one of these balloons? What would it look like, if I (even temporarily) relinquished one of these?

Holding on to a right includes:
Feeling resentment when someone infringes on it
Taking protective measures to avoid encroachment against it
Worrying about it
Requiring compensation or reparation when it is violated

I have come to the conclusion that for me, at this time, it is necessary that I seek God for Himself; that I not lay claim to anything beyond an intimate relationship with my Lord and Master. Everything else I should lay at His feet, for His good pleasure, to do as He sees best. I ought to make no demands, retain no rights, but simply make myself available for His work in accordance with His will.

How does this translate to day-to-day living? It would seem this is not a time to be making a lot of long-term plans. I have no idea where God will take me, so I’ll just put one foot in front of the next, continuing on in my current situation, waiting on God to direct my path.

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