Family

Day of God & American Independence

Back in 1986, I spent the 4th of July in the Soviet Union. I remember that day like yesterday! And for the last 26 years, I have reflected back on it with fond memories. You see, on that day, a Soviet college student named Alex and I met on the streets of Leningrad and struck up a conversation about America and God. Alex so wanted to be an American. He had heard so much about this land of freedom. And despite the Soviet propaganda of the time, he believed America was a land of hope.

Being that he wanted to be an American, I mentioned to Alex that on every 4th of July, America pauses to give thanks to God for their freedom and independence. We talked about how America’s freedom came with a sacrifice; and we eventually talked about the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on behalf of everyone in the world, in order to know and experience freedom in Christ. It was a long conversation, one that led way into the morning hours. In fact, with the white nights of now St. Petersburg, we were completely unaware of how late it was and almost missed getting back over the bridge, in order to get back to our hotel for the night.

Before meeting Alex, he had never heard of God. But he was so intrigued by our conversation, especially after showing him our American currency, which says, “In God We Trust,” that he was willing to make certain sacrifices in order to engage in a conversation about spiritual things. That night as the taxi dropped us off at the hotel, Alex thanked us for spending the day with him. And as we parted ways, his last words to me where, “Today will always be known to me as the Day of God and American Independence!”

Twenty-six years later, I still remember my day with Alex and pause to pray for him. I don’t know if he ultimately got to America. I don’t know if he remembers our conversation. I don’t know what God is doing in his life. But God does. And I hope that one day in heaven, there will be a man named Alex who taps me on the shoulder and says, “I never forgot the Day of God and American Independence!”

Happy 4th of July!

Common Couples Counseling Mistakes

As a pastor, I do a lot of pastoral counseling. And over the years, I have seen many couples repeatedly make the same mistakes that can hinder their ability to work out their differences. In observing these couples, here’s my list of the three most common mistakes I see couples typically make in counseling:

1. Waiting Too Long to Get Help

According to John Gottman, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Washington and executive director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle, “Couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy with their relationship before getting help.” And my experience would substantiate this claim. Many of the couples who come into my office are usually in a crisis and have such significant pain that it’s difficult to unpack. For the sake of your relationship, take a minute, swallow your pride, and admit to your issues and what you truly want from your marriage. Then seek out the advice of a trusted friend, counselor or pastor. Keeping short accounts in your marriage and getting help when you need it, will save you from a lot of pain and heartache down the road.

2. Wanting to Change the Other Person

You can’t change your spouse. It’s up to them to change their thinking, behavior, and eventually their feelings. A common mistake I see couples make is thinking that they can change the other person instead of working on their own issues. If both partners hold to this thinking, the counseling is bound to fail. Instead of demanding that the other person change, both spouses need to be willing to work on their own stuff; as well as demonstrate a willingness to learn, treat their spouse with respect, and make the behavioral changes that will mutually benefit the relationship.

3. Not Willing To Do the Work

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “we didn’t do the reading” or “didn’t do the exercises.” The bottom line is this…the relational problems in a marriage cannot be solved in the hour session with a counselor. Instead, the most profound change you’ll see in your relationship will come from you and your spouse really working together to implement the skills you’ve learned. By putting into practice what you learn in counseling, you’re taking the steps necessary to rebuild your relationship. If you don’t do the work outside the session, don’t expect things at home to ever change. You and your spouse must learn to relate in new ways, in everyday situations, in order for healing and change to occur.

Marriage counseling isn’t easy. It takes hard work and dedication from both parties, for a couple to really have a chance at rebuilding their marriage. If each spouse is committed to giving the process time, not trying to change the other person, and working together to genuinely improve the relationship, the marriage has a better chance of success.

Question: What might you add to this list?

Peter Pan

Last night was truly remarkable! We got to see Tony Award nominee Cathy Rigby take flight as Peter Pan in an all new production at the La Mirada Performing Arts Theater. Prior to the show, we even got to meet Cathy and snap a few photos with her.

This was Zach’s first Broadway show, and I don’t think we adequately prepared him or ourselves for what we were going to experience. It was truly amazing to see Cathy, who is almost 60 years old, take flight and prance around the stage with her awe-inspiring aerial feats. Cathy was just so much fun to watch and brought such enthusiasm and heart to this show. And it was super fun to watch Zach’s eyes light up, as together we experienced Peter Pan for the first time. We didn’t want the evening to end.

Below is a clip from Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan that has the same staging and costume from last night’s show! There are still some tickets for this weekend’s show and then they are off to the Fox Theater in Riverside and after that they’ll play the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. I highly recommend going to experience the wonder and excitement of Peter Pan!

Summer 2012 Movie Picks

Today was officially the last day of school for my son Zach. I don’t know if it’s the June gloom or the cast on his leg that has put a glitch in our summer plans, but I’m having a hard time embracing the fact that summer has arrived. But it’s here, whether I’m ready or not and I was reminded of that, as we spent the afternoon at Downtown Disney and saw that a years worth of construction all finished up. Especially on the new entrance to California Adventure, CarsLand as well as at the Lego store.

There’s another industry that always seems to gear up for the summer and release a slew of summer flicks that they hope will become the blockbuster movie of the summer. So in anticipation of the summer movie releases, here are some of the films I’m looking forward to the most, in order of their release dates…

1. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (June 8, 2012) – Just watched Madagascar 1 & 2 with Zach so we’re ready for this new adventure as Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo, and Melman the Giraffe are still fighting to get home to their beloved Big Apple. This time the road takes them through Europe where they find the perfect cover: a traveling circus, which they reinvent Madagascar style!

2. Brave (June 22, 2012) – Always love what Pixar brings to the screen! In this film, Merida is a skilled archer and impetuous daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor. Determined to carve her own path in life, Merida defies an age-old custom sacred to the uproarious lords of the land: massive Lord MacGuffin, surly Lord Macintosh and cantankerous Lord Dingwall. Merida’s actions inadvertently unleash chaos and fury in the kingdom. The ensuing peril forces Merida to discover the meaning of true bravery in order to undo a beastly curse before it’s too late.

3. The Amazing Spider-Man (July 3, 2012) – It’s a super hero summer so it wouldn’t be complete without the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), and together, they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors’ alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XayxMPrUP4

4. The Dark Knight Rises (July 20, 2012) – The last movie was great and this release happens to be the one I’m most looking forward to seeing this summer! In this movie, which is set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Batman faces challenges from the brutal Bane and the stealthy Catwoman.

5. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days (August 3, 2012) – I’ve loved watching this series with Zach, who has really enjoyed reading the books as well. Based on the third and fourth book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, The Last Straw and Dog Days. School is out and Greg is ready for the days of summer, when all his plans go wrong. What on earth is he going to do all summer?

Yea, it’s going to be a super heroes sort of summer! What are you looking forward to seeing most?

Celebrating 19 Years of Marriage

Today is Jennifer and my 19th wedding anniversary! It’s a day, I’ll never forget! Not only did I marry my best friend, but it was an incredible day surrounded by our friends and family. 19 years later, I’m still madly in love with this incredible woman and thankful for the incredible journey we’ve shared.

Over 19 years, we’ve truly had a lot to celebrate. So in celebration of our anniversary, here are 19 wonderful memories that I’m thankful for, in the years that they happened…

’93 – Marrying my best friend and a honeymoon in Hawaii!
’94 – Eliminating our debt!
’95 – Buying our first home in Woodland.
’96 – Bringing home our first puppy, Mickey.
’97 – Adopting our sweet Maggie Mae at Christmas.
’98 – Reliving our nation’s history in Washington DC.
’99 – Getting cultured in theater at Music Circus.
’00 – Moving to El Dorado Hills and our vacation in New York!
’01 – The birth of our son, Zachary Bryan!
’02 – Cheering the SF Giants through the season, onto the playoffs and into the World Series!
’03 – Celebrating 10 years of marriage in Lake Tahoe and sharing in the joy of my graduation from Western Seminary!
04 – Leading our small group through two life transforming studies.
’05 – Vacationing at Walt Disney World in Orlando to celebrate my ordination.
’06 – Hiking Rock Lake with our 4-year-old son Zach, who made the 2.5mile hike up the mountain on his own.
’07 – Enjoying a sabbatical in Hawaii! One of the highlights of our life!
’08 – Our best camping experience in 15 years of our family tradition at Plumas Eureka State Park.
’09 – Moving to Southern California!
’10 – Celebrating our SF Giants World Series victory! What a thrill!
’11 – Being season ticket holders for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
’12 – Being with family at the wedding of our niece Jessica, who was a flower girl at our wedding 19 years ago.

Wonderful memories with my wonderful friend. Here’s to many more incredible years, celebrating life together! I love you Jen!

A Tribute to My Mom This Mother’s Day

For Mother’s Day, I rewrote a popular poem, to say thanks to my mom for all that she’s done for me…

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed and care for all the stray pets I brought home, and I learned that it was good to be kind.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite meal for me, and I learned that it’s the little things in life that matter the most.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you take care of our house and everything in it (perhaps a little obsessively) and I learned how to take care of the things that I’m blessed with in this world.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how you handled your responsibilities, even when you didn’t feel like it and I learned what it meant to be responsible in life.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but that it’s okay to cry.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I felt you kiss me goodnight and I experienced first hand what it was like to be loved.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw how proud you were of me as you talked to your friends and it motivated me to be everything that I could be.

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you playing Santa Claus one Christmas Eve night and I saw in your face the reality of Jesus’ words,”It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked at you and wanted to say “Thanks for all the things I saw you do, even though you thought I wasn’t looking.”

Yes, when you thought I wasn’t looking, I learned a lot of life’s lessons that I needed to know, in order to become the man I am today. So thanks mom for being you, even when you thought I wasn’t looking!

I love you mom!

Happy Mother’s Day to you and to all the wonderful moms who make this world a better place!

Man Party

Today is Friday! It’s the night that my son and I set aside each week to do some male bonding, enjoy life and have some fun together. We’ve been doing this for almost a year now. It’s a night that my son gets to stay up until midnight. It’s the night we get to eat all sorts of junk food that’s bad for you. It’s the night that we cut loose and celebrate authentic manhood.

My son Zach is the master planner of Man Party. I am just the financier. Zach gets to pick what we do, where we eat and who we include. But the financier has to approve it according to the budget. The night usually begins with dinner at home, Portillo’s or Chick fil A, then we usually watch a movie at home or head to the 4 Star Cinema, where a ticket for a first run movie is only $7. We’ve also spent many a night at Disneyland, and this summer have plans to take in an Angels game or two as well. But lately, we’ve been doing the movie thing, followed by some video games. Over the course of the last few months, we’ve watched the prequel and trilogy of Star Wars, the Back to the Future series, as well as the complete set of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

As you can probably imagine Zach looks forward to this night all week! We talk about our options in the morning as I drive him to school and we confirm our plans on Friday morning. Tonight we’re heading to Portillo’s for dinner and then off to see the Avengers! And Jennifer, my wife, is totally supportive and wouldn’t have it any other way.

So why do I do this? Because I love my son. Because I want him to have special memories with his dad. But primarily because I believe that my relationship with my son will greatly shape the man he will become in the future. Additionally I’ve learned that men don’t like to sit face to face and talk about their feelings and that it’s much easier to open up when we’re doing something side by side, and we can just let the talk flow naturally as we stand in line for a roller coaster or talk on the ride home about how cool the special effects were in Real Steel and about the life lessons we learned from the story.

Yes, it’s in these shared experiences that I get the opportunity to speak into my son’s life. And for my son, it’s all in the context of having fun. I don’t know how much longer Zach will want to continue prioritizing Man Party with dad, but I am clearing my calendar as much as I can, to make sure I’m there until Man Party is replaced with dates with girls.

The Millennial Teenager

A few months ago, I posted an image from the people at MBAOnline showing what literally happens in a 24 hour life cycle on the internet. It was one of my most popular posts and generated some fun comments. Well the folks of OnlineSchools.com have taken the idea a step further and narrowed down the field to show us what life looks like technologically for the Millennial Teenager, who literally has no awareness of what life was like before cell phones and the internet.

What’s interesting to me are the stats at the end of this image that show the significant differences between heavy and light media users in their overall satisfaction and performance in life. What’s your take? And as a parent how do you monitor the numbers of hours your teen is connected to technology?

Be a Tourist

This past week, I had the opportunity to travel with my son Zach to Sacramento as a chaperone for his school’s 4th grade field trip. Since Zach was born in Sacramento, and my wife and I lived in Sacramento for 20 years, we went into the experience thinking, we knew and saw everything there was to know and see. Boy were we wrong! While we had pretty much been everywhere the tour took us, having the experience of an educational tour guide opened our eyes to the events and experiences that brought Sacramento’s rich history to life in a whole new way.

As I have reflected on the trip over the last couple of days, I got to thinking…how often do we play tourist in our own city? As a kid, I grew up only 20 minutes from San Francisco, but would rarely go into the city as a sightseer or really take time to learn about its diversity and history. Even my wife Jennifer, who was born in San Francisco and raised just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, has never been to Alcatraz, which is one of the city’s hottest tourist attractions.

Almost every city or county has certain facets that make it unique: the natural environment, historical sites, tourist attractions, walking trails, hometown diners, architecture, or quirky local treasures. And when you decide to play tourist in your own town, you set out to discover some of the things that you might otherwise take for granted. Such was our experience in Sacramento this past week. While we lived there for many years, there was so much history we failed to integrate into our day-to-day experience, which if we would have taken the time to understand, would have helped us connect the dots of mills, forts, street names and schools. Things we often took for granted while we lived in Sacramento, because we never really spent the time to really learn and play tourist in our own city.

My history teacher Mr. Ladendorff would often say, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.” There is such rich history in our city, in our state and in our country. By learning from the men and women who have gone before us and taking the time to be a tourist in our own surroundings, we might just discover something we’ve been missing. So try setting aside a day every once in a while to learn more about the lesser known facets, or experience familiar ones in a new way. You’ll not only gain a greater appreciation for the place that you live, you might just enjoy yourself as well!

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