Separate Together

Nothing reveals a longing for community like a call to remain apart.

About two weeks ago, I stood in our church’s prayer garden. A few days earlier our church leaders decided to close down our physical campus, and I was filming a quick message to the congregation. There’s always been heavy foot traffic around Westminster. It’s a great place to walk. Waves and smiles are commonplace, but on this day, everyone stopped to talk (from a distance of course). Only one knew I was the pastor of the church. 

I went on a bike ride with my youngest daughter last week. She sat in her seat on the handle bars waving at cars, as she often does. Typically, when we ride together, she’ll get a response from a handful of cars. I’ve always chalked it up to people being busy or preoccupied, moving too fast to pay attention to their surroundings. Not this time. Every single car waved back. Every. One. 

This morning, Hailey gave our neighbor our phone numbers. Minutes later she sent a text. Grateful for connection. 

On of my favorite books on neighboring is The Art of Neighboring. The basic premise is that our cities and communities would be much safer, healthier, friendly…if folks in the church would prioritize being a good neighbor. 

In the forward to the book, Randy Frazee writes,

“The command to love our neighbors lies at the core of God’s plan for our lives, and when we follow this mandate, it changes everything.” 

So my question, for you, for me…for all of us is — outside of keeping a safe distance from them, what are some creative ways we can love our neighbors in the face of this pandemic?

Start. Stop. Start. Writing again.

Over the last few years, every ounce of creative writing energy I’ve had has gone into sermon prep, church communications and papers for my doctorate of ministry.

I’ve always admired people who are able to juggle multiple roles in life while churning out eloquent post after eloquent post on their personal blogs. Between pastoring and studying, and…oh yeah, being a dad and a husband…I’ve had it stuck in my head that I just didn’t have the time for writing for the sake of writing

And yet, here I am…writing again. 

An elder at my church asked if I’d consider writing devotionals while people are mostly confined to their homes during the COVID-19 crisis (thanks for the nudge, Aubrey!). I had already thought about returning to this space for awhile — to reflect on being a dad and a pastor…to talk about the space where theology and culture collide with parenting and pastoring. So…for the foreseeable future, that’s what I’m going to do…write

These posts will be part devotional, part cultural commentary, and part personal journal. They won’t always be polished or include complete thoughts…but writing has always always helped me to process, find perspective, and have hope. And right now, we all need a bit more hope. 

Categories
family Fatherhood mental illness

Dear Rich

With Rich & Grauntie, 2012.

Dear Rich,

You would have been 40 today.

It’s been almost four years since you decided to take your life, and I still wrestle with your decision often. I haven’t written much, but words and incomplete sentences have been churning in my head for a long long time. I have vacillated between anger and sadness, deep guilt and doses of understanding, and from apathy to compassion. More than anything, I miss you.

The first year, I was a mess. Hailey has said that those twelve months were the most emotionally closed off I’ve ever been. She didn’t know how to help. I wouldn’t let her. To be honest, I didn’t know how. The only thing that helped was long bike rides. I’d cry. I’d yell at God. Then, one day, it hurt to sit on my bike. I went to the doctor and was told I was “carrying anxiety and tension” in my pelvis. Grieving your death sent me to a year’s worth of some of the most painful physical therapy of my life. You’d probably laugh at what I went through. Thanks.

When your mom died later that year, I was still numb. I couldn’t believe it was real. Your mom’s death didn’t haunt me the way yours did and I was angry because you robbed me of the ability to properly grieve. I felt guilty for being a pastor, and not being able to be present when people I loved hurt. Now, with hindsight and hopefully a bit of growth, I can say there was a season where it was really easy to blame my inadequacies on you. I’m sorry.

You didn’t get to meet all my kids. Sometimes, when I think of you and them, I am paralyzed by fear. I want to talk to you about parenthood and mental illness, but can’t. I weep for them and you, all at once.

I’m grateful you met our oldest. She’s not quite as stubborn as you were, but definitely carries that oldest child trait. She loves building legos. Every Christmas I tell her about when we were kids, and how excited I’d be to show you my new set. Thanks for bringing moments of joy to the annoying little cousin that I’m sure I was at times.

I tell my son about you often. It’s silly, but when you first died, I was angry that you “left me” with Sarah and Liz. I was “the only male of this generation” left in our family (yes, I know. Sarah and Liz are plenty capable. And, had you lived, we’d be taking care of you at some point anyway…). “T-Man” knows what it’s like to be the only male in a generation (so far). He’s goofy, and I’m sure you’d crack up at his antics with the rest of us.

Our youngest will hear the stories just like her older siblings. She’ll hear about surfing till dusk in PB while our family gathered on the beach around the bonfire, about our trip to Costa Rica, and about working together at the wholesale tropical fish store. When she gets old enough she’ll also hear of your struggle (as will her siblings), and will know from an early age that there is always a place to turn for help.

I’m sorry you fought the demons you did for so long, and I’m sorry for not really understanding. I’m also grateful to have had a cousin to look up to and to learn from for so long. Thanks for the adventures, and thanks for the lessons you continue to teach. Happy Birthday, Rich.

Categories
birth family Fatherhood

My Son, We’re Waiting.

20150410 ROHDE Family IMG_0048editBW-ZF-10586-03350-1-001-058

My son. We are anxiously waiting your arrival. Any day now, you are supposed to leave the comforts of your mother’s womb and join us. If I’m honest with you, which I’ll try to always be, I’m terrified. I love your sister, I’m deeply in love with your mother and I’m excited to be your father, but raising a son terrifies me. Here are my promises to you:

  1. I will love you, no matter what. My mistakes will be many and I will lose my patience. My flaws are not a result of anything you have or haven’t done, but of my own shortcomings and insecurities. There is NOTHING you can do or say that will keep me from loving you.
  2. You can bring anything to me. I remember being embarrassed or ashamed of certain things I did as a boy and being nervous about talking with my dad. Your grandfather is an amazing man. He taught me much, but there were times I didn’t feel I could approach him. You’ll probably have those times too. Remember son, I love you.
  3. You will always be more important than my work. One of my greatest fears of being a pastor is raising pastor’s kids. This worried me when your mom was pregnant with your sister and it still worries me today. I will miss dinners to be at meetings, will sometimes be gone mornings for Bible studies and will spend plenty of time tucked away in an office studying. Our house will be open, we’ll have visitors and your space will feel invaded. People will call at odd hours and have equally odd expectations of me. I will do my best to set boundaries, but there are times I will fail. First I am your dad, secondly I am their pastor.
  4. I will teach you to love your sister (and your mom, but that will be much easier…). 20150410 ROHDE Family IMG_0116editBW-ZF-10586-03350-1-001-055Your sister is awesome, she will be weird (especially when she’s in middle school), and you won’t always get along. I too am a little brother. I love my sister, your aunt, but I’d be lying if I said it was always easy. There will be times where it seems that your mom and I treat her differently (which we will, the two of you are different people) and it won’t seem fair. She won’t always understand you and will be annoyed by your very existence. But I know your sister pretty well and, much like my sister, I’m guessing she’ll be protective and want nothing but the best for you. Outside of your mom (and eventually your spouse), she will be the most important woman in your life. Love her well.
  5. I will recognize that someone loves you more than I do. My mom told me that the most humbling thing about being a parent is recognizing that God loves your child more than you do. One of your sister’s first lessons to me was proving her grandmother was right. I know God loves you, that he thought of you before you were conceived and that he has plans for you. But I have trust issues (one of my many insecurities and part of the rationale behind your name) so it’s not always easy for me. I will be possessive and, at times, overly protective. I promise that I will do my best to acknowledge that you are God’s first and that my primary duty as your dad is to show you that you are loved by the Creator.
Categories
Books Leadership teaching Writing

Why I Read [actual] Books

I didn’t grow up a reader. Surfer magazine was the only written word worth while (I promise, it wasn’t just the pictures…). I didn’t pick up a book for fun until I was nineteen. You’d think I’d be thrilled to be alive in a time where most people communicate with encrypted text messages, emoticons, 140 character tweets and youtube clips.

In many ways I love the tools at our finger tips. Other times I find myself wishing I lived during grandma and grandpa’s day when you needed pen and paper to record your thoughts and a bookstore to get a book.

No one ever walks into an Apple Store, picks up an iPad and says, “I love the way this thing smells.” And you don’t sit in front of your computer screen thinking, “It just feels so great in my hands.” I don’t have the best sense of smell, but I love the smell of old books. And my posture would be much better if I didn’t sit in front of a computer most of the day.

Contrary to what many in my parent’s generation think, the developed world isn’t digressing into an illiterate age. Instead, the definition of literate has changed. My good friend Jondou suggests that proper English has changed as well…Language evolves, but that’s a post for another day, possibly a discussion for our new blog). To quote Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message. We can’t ignore today’s media or the way in which it has changed our language.

But books, those things made out of paper and comprised of complete sentences, bring us back to the basics of language. If we never learn the basics, today’s valuable tools will lead us down a path of frustration into a world of dull dreams and incomplete thought.

The last year I’ve read a lot of what Michael Hyatt has been writing. I’d recommend his stuff to anyone. As a the former CEO of Thomas Nelson, he get’s the whole book thing. He writes,

Contrary to what is often reported in the mainstream media, books are not dead. They are still valuable today. But we must contend for their existence against all other forms of media. Books do for people what movies, television, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and social media will never do—fundamentally alter their worldview and inspire them to greatness.

We need to allow books to inspire us and alter our worldview. Sometimes I read for an escape. Others,  I read to be challenged. Simply put, I can’t afford to stop. None of us can. But too many of us have. This year I’ve been doing something I haven’t done since high school; I’m keeping a reading log/journal.

Why do you read? And what are you reading?

Categories
Huntington Beach Ministry St. Peter's Theology Uncategorized

Waiting for Lent in the Shadow of Christmas

Easter comes crazy early in 2013; March 31. And with an early Easter comes an even earlier lenten season (Ash Wednesday is February 13). Ten days ago I picked up and began reading N.T. Wright’s Lent for Everybody, Luke. Our church is thinking of using it this year as a study. After a few pages I looked up and saw Christmas decorations scattered all over the floor. The Christmas tree was still lit.

I was waiting for Lent in the shadow of Christmas.

Wright’s writing has always challenged me. His ability to draw out deep theological questions while not shying away from a firm conviction is fantastic. I only read bits and pieces of Rob Bell’s Love Wins and only glanced over Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell, but both those guys, while being phenomenal (and sometimes divisive) communicators, seem to be N.T. Wright light (read Surprised by Hope to see what I mean).

This little book is a great. He gets to the point of Lent on the first day.

..come with your hopes and longings, your awareness of the ways in which the world is still out of joint. You might begin, today, by thinking about some situations, whether in your own life or far away, where the world is not yet right. Hold them before God in prayer and patience. And then look for the signs of hope around you, the first stirrings of God’s new life. And give thanks to God for the way in which he is at work in the world today.

  • The world is out of whack – We’re reminded of this daily. We’re all hurt and we all, intentionally or unintentionally, hurt others. (read Romans 3:9-20 for a morning dose of total depravity).
  • But God is still at work – All too often we forget this. Our sinfulness keeps us from seeing what God is up to in the middle of our broken world. God remains perfectly good. And we’re in need of his perfect grace.
  • Prayer and Patience – Ultimately, this is what the season of lent is about. We wait. We pray. We give thanks. How are you doing these things?

I love the season the Church will be entering into in a month. It’s rare that we get to celebrate Jesus’ birth, mourn his death and return to celebrating in the resurrection in such a short amount of time (just over three months). Lent always teaches me something. I’m looking forward to what this year will bring.

Categories
Church Malawi Ministry Theology

Unfiltered Ministry: Give Me Jesus

It’s always refreshing to talk without a filter.

Vasco & Davidson in Dana Point.

Last week two of my friends were in town visiting from Malawi. These two guys, Vasco and Davidson, were instrumental in getting Hailey and me to spend a year in their country. They also both went out of their way to help us to feel comfortable while away from family and all that was familiar. Having them in our home was both an honor and inspiring. In more ways in one, they reminded me to get back to what is important.

Vasco has always challenged me to think about ministry, culture and the church in a new way. While he and Davidson were here, we spent plenty of time talking about how things were in Malawi and how the church is doing here in the U.S. They were on a whirlwind of a tour that started in Michigan, stopped at a conference in Colorado and ended in California. While in Orange County I introduced them to some folks at St. Peter’s, had a few meetings with others who had gone on trips to Malawi and took them to see Saddleback and Mariners. They laughed at the monster church campuses. There isn’t a building in the entire country of Malawi that would fit as many people as the sanctuaries (auditoriums/arenas?) of those two places. They saw plenty of the American Church.

As we visited and shared stories I was reminded of why I enjoyed ministry so much in Malawi… Jesus. I was able to focus on Jesus for an entire year.

Here, I find myself getting caught in all the other parts of the church. There’s programs, politics, finances, denominational stuff, congregational expectations, buildings, growth plans, etc. All filters that all too often sift out what (or who) is important. I am not saying those things are entirely unimportant, but they can’t be the thing. And we, or I, often allow them to be.

Ella meets her Malawian uncles.

As we talked, Vasco and Davidson laughed. All that stuff exists in the Malawian church. And, really, I knew it to be true (I once moderated a 7 hour session meeting on a Saturday morning while only understanding half of what was said…makes meetings here seem like a breeze). But, because of my position and the cultural barrier, it was impossible to be immersed in what, all too often, become gigantic distractions. I could focus on loving God and loving people. Christ was essential and it felt like the rest sat in a blurry background.

One of my favorite hymns is Give Me Jesus. It was made popular by Jeremy Camp and a few other contemporary musicians but it has been around for a long long time. At the end of each verse is this line, “you can have all this world, but give me Jesus.” My personal prayer is that I’d learn to live this song.

Categories
family Fatherhood Malawi

The New Normal

NOTE: I wrote this blog two days before Ella was born and never posted it. Still catching up. 

Hailey and I know our lives are about to change forever. We planned for it.

Crib, clothes and more. Friends & family are the best!

Our friends who are parents have told us to go to the movies (we’ve been to the theater more in the last 6 weeks than we had the entire previous year), go out to dinner, get plenty of sleep and spend time talking—do whatever we can to get time alone, just the two of us.

The advice has been wonderful. But, at the same time, we’ve been married for seven years and  were also gifted with 10 months together where almost every night was spent alone with one another-without a tv, consistently working Internet and the other distractions most of us consider necessities. It’s odd to be at this stage and feel…well, ready (even if there is some uneasiness at the same time).

We’ve spent the better part of the past few months acquiring furniture, clothing and all the modern amenities people have told us we just have to have. And we’re extremely grateful for what we have received. Most of what we have is hand-me-downs or gifts. We wouldn’t be able to have this kid without the generous support of our friends and family.

In Malawi I learned that it really does take a village to raise a kid. Most children have multiple fathers and mothers (here we’d call them uncles and aunts) and each is equally important in the upbringing of a child. Our village has come through.

No carseats, only chitenjes…

As our home fills with baby stuff, I can’t help but think about the children we grew to know a year ago. When my daughter is born, she won’t be the first child I’ve named (in Malawi the parents do not name the child, the uncle does). Mothers rode in the car I drove and I didn’t worry once about whether or not the chitenje  around their chest carrying their newborn would pass Child Safety Seat Laws. I saw women unabashedly breastfeed without a hooter hider and (eventually) thought nothing of it. And I saw children thrive without Baby Einstein, pacifiers or diapers that always fit.

Two completely different worlds with different definitions of need. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in the middle–but maybe that’s a good thing.

Hailey and I are cherishing our last few nights as a family of two, but we’re also dreaming about the sleepless ones ahead. I’m positive we’ll miss the times we had alone, the feeling of being rested, and the ability to go out whenever we want. But I also know the “new normal” will provide all kinds of new experiences, stories and life lessons. And I can’t wait.

Categories
birth family Fatherhood

Ella’s Birth Story

NOTE: I have 3-4 posts that I’ve started in the last 2 months and haven’t had time to finish. A newborn daughter will do that. Over the next week or two, I will be posting them. I wrote most of this post on July 18, 2012. 

Today was supposed to be our daughter’s due date. Instead it was Ella Marie’s two-week birthday (and check up with the doc).

Last night Hailey and I sat up talking about how different her birth could have been. Instead of a cooing and growling baby, anticipation and anxiety could have been the culprits keeping us awake. The timing couldn’t     have been better.

On July 3rd, I got home from a long day at work. Around 7:00 Hailey sent a text asking if I would be coming home anytime soon. I thought nothing of it and called her to ask about dinner and if it was okay if I stopped to get gas. She said sure.

I got home and she was making dinner. It was a normal night…or so I thought. Hailey paused every few minutes while cutting vegetables and said she was feeling a little pain and tightness. Then she’d turn back to the veggies.

My wife is a rock star.

She didn’t tell me over the phone because she didn’t want me to worry and she assumed it was just Braxton Hicks contractions. We sat down on the couch, started dinner and within the hour she was arching her back in pain and had set her food down. She called a friend and then the doctor (who told her that she had probably just pushed herself too hard for the day and that she should drink some water and relax). Doctors know best, so I went back to my spaghetti.

While she was on the phone I went upstairs for less than five minutes. I came down and, through tears, she blurted, “DON’T YOU LEAVE ME!” All sorts of craziness ran through my head.

I knew she wanted to have the baby naturally and that our birth plan included the phrase “drug free.” Early in her pregnancy I would try to talk her down off her hippy pedestal. I’d recite my defense, there’s a reason for birth interventions and I wanted to be realistic about what might happen.

She’d always argue and I’d eventually concede (at some point I learned that arguing with a pregnant woman was a bad idea, but it took me entirely too long to get there…sorry dear). And now her practice contractions were causing her to scream at me and cry? Drug free my booty. There was no way she was having our kid without any medication.

By 9:00 she was hanging on my shoulders and wincing in pain. It was never consistent, so we weren’t too sure what to think. I was annoyed. I wanted to go to sleep. I had been up since 5:00 AM and these fake labor pains were keeping us awake. I said, “we’re either going to the hospital or I’m going to bed.” (Yes, I realize this whole interaction makes me look and sound like a complete jerk…). She wanted to go to the hospital.

I went upstairs and got ready to leave, came back down and then instead of getting in the car we decided we’d stay awhile longer. We couldn’t make up our mind. I had read somewhere that a bath helped with Braxton Hicks, so we agreed it would be a good next step. I went upstairs, started the water and then Hailey came up, but she didn’t get in the bath at all. She was already wet. Her water broke when she set foot in the bathroom.

The water breaking was a huge relief. Hailey’s pain supposedly worsened but I never knew. She was uncomfortable, but at least she knew that the baby was really coming right then, that night.

She sat on an exercise ball and I ran all over the house while tears flew down my face. We called the hospital and the doc had already called them saying we would be in later that night. Our parents were on their way. This was really it. The baby was coming.

I figured we’d be in for a long night. All our birth classes had told us to prepare for a marathon. Many of our friends have had kids; we had heard the stories. But none of them prepared me for what happened.

We got to the hospital just before 11:00 PM. Ella was born at 12:48 AM. All my thoughts and our disagreements about birth plans didn’t matter. There wasn’t time for them to. Nor was there time for drugs.

Hailey originally wanted me to be in the delivery room alone with her. She knew I was terrified so she asked our friend Amy, who is a nurse, to join me. Amy was in Indiana and wouldn’t have made it up from San Diego anyway, it was that fast.

Early in her pregnancy I told Hailey that I didn’t want to actually watch our daughter being born. I’d focus on her, coach her through the pain and keep my eyes above the imaginary curtain (the one that hides all the blood and other birth goo…). But I had to watch. Birth is unlike anything else I’d seen.

I cut the umbilical chord (twice), watched the doc clean up my beautiful and crazy tough wife and, after the initial skin to skin time with mom, stood in awe as my daughter squirmed and screamed under the lights of the warmer.

Ella was less than an hour old. I wandered over to Hailey and, as usual, the filter that is supposed to work between my brain and mouth didn’t. I brushed back her hair and said, “You were made for this. That was easy, when do we try for number two?”

To read Hailey’s perspective on Ella’s birth, click here.

Categories
family Fatherhood Theology

Countdown to Fatherhood: One Month

Thanks for the photos Mikey. www.prinephotography.com

Fatherhood. Over the last 8 months I’ve debated how much or how little I should write about becoming a dad. Hailey and I have read books, attended classes and spent a lot of time talking about the whats, hows and whys of our impending (and exciting) life change. We can’t wait to have this little girl.

BUT, I haven’t spent much time processing on paper. And I figured now—a month away from Kid Rohde’s due date—and the day after Father’s Day, was as good of a time as any to write down a few thoughts:

 

  1. Birthing Class—When I was in middle school, during sex ed, my teacher made me stand on top of the table and scream “penis” and “vagina” at the top of my lungs until I could do it without laughing. I was that kid. I’d like to think I’ve grown up, but I also felt like that dad in birthing class. I found myself laughing when no one else was, shaking my head at questions common sense should have answered and making faces when the videos got a little too graphic for post meal education. I look forward to being a dad, but I’m terrified of the whole birthing process—and I’m not even the one pushing the child through my body.
  2. Doctor’s Appointments—I wish my 8th grade teacher could see me now, walking into an OBGYN office like it’s normal. This has been one of my favorite parts of our pregnancy (which is weird to say, our pregnancy…I know I had something to do with it and I may even have a belly like I’m with child, but let’s be honest, men don’t get pregnant). Going to the doc’s office to ask questions, see how much Hailey’s stomach has grown and hear our daughter’s heartbeat has been unreal. I wouldn’t miss an appointment for anything. This is happening. That thing moving around, throwing off my wife’s hormones and stomping around on her bladder isn’t an alien or a thing at all, its not even an IT—she’s a little girl—our little girl.
  3. Fear—Every 5-6 hours I have a freak out moment. They wake me up in the middle of the night. “Can I really do this?” “Am I ready to be a dad?” I’ve always loved kids—I spent much of my career in family ministry because of it—but I could always send those kids back home after a few hours. What happens when home is your own house?  I’ve been told that the greatest test of trusting God is knowing that He loves your child more than you can or ever will. Conceptually and theologically, I get it. Practically, I say bull. I want to control every aspect of this kid’s life—from her actual birth to when she eats, sleeps, poops or begins to date (thirty sounds about right…). But I don’t get to. And that is frightening.
  4. “That’s Just Your Theory”—I’m convinced there are more theories about birthing practices and infant care than there are actual babies alive in the world today. With every birth, comes a new method—maybe we will paten the Rohde Method, it will pay for our daughter’s college tuition. Everywhere we turn someone mentions new approaches to feeding, ways of avoiding sicknesses and how we should create the perfect atmosphere for healthy development. At first we were like sponges soaking up as much as we could. Now we’re like the old grimy thing that has sat by your sink for 8 months. We can’t soak up anymore. We’ll try our best, but I can’t guarantee bits of old food won’t be spread all over the counter while we listen.

Thirty-One Days…