I found a poem I wrote over 4 years ago in my journal today that is even more meaningful to me now than it was when I first wrote it.

Like the winter branch of the oak tree
I stand before You naked and exposed
You who created me know my innermost self
The rot and disease that has crept in
My foundational desire to be better--more holy

Even in the winter You protect me
The sun still shines on me
Sometimes my roots cling to the frozen ground
Yet I long to be in Spring Eternal
Continual regrowth, becoming new, being changed

Force my leaves to bud if needed
Help me get beyond the winter
Let me become what You designed me to be
To fulfill my purpose, my destiny
Standing tall, soaking up the sunlight


What It Means to Be A Kingdom Citizen

Pastor Efrem was preaching today from Matthew 25, talking about how Advancing the Kingdom is directly linked with Advancing Justice.

We first looked at the parable of the 10 virgins, looking at Kingdom Readiness--how we need to be prepared for Christ's return. "This is no time to be foolish." We must live our lives wiesely, practically and with good stewardship.

We looked at Kingdom Advancement through the Parable of the Talents, looking at what we're doing with what God has given us. That's an area I've been struggling with lately: I haven't been able to serve much at church or been able to get involved with much. Part of it is that we just have one vehicle, so when Beth's at work, I can't go far (unless we take Beth in, but since Nils hasn't been taking a nap, I don't want to wake him up that early). Part of it is that I have something Monday nights, Beth has something Tuesday evenings, she works Wednesday nights and I have things on occasional Fridays. And church tends to have things mainly on Mondays and Wednesdays. And the almost 2 hours we're at church on Sunday mornings is long enough for the boys. I'm not making excuses, those are just the realities. So I've been trying to see my time with the boys as part of using spiritual gifts and serving as I try to bring them up in the faith strongly. And I know it's just for a time--that eventually I'll be able to do more.

And of course we looked at the story of the goats and the sheep at the end of Matthew 25, which is always a sharp reminder of having a strong peripheral vision for helping those in need of help.


Made in His Image

Nils woke up early this morning. He hasn't been napping in the past week. I fear nap time is becoming a thing of the past. We had a fellowship meal gathering with a group from church tonight. By the time we got home it was well past bedtime for the boys. They were a bit grouchy by then.

But as I left their room for the second time after bringing them in their water bottles, Anders said to me, "I wish I was maked again."

I couldn't translate that one (I'm usually pretty good with 4-year-old talk by now), so I had to as him what he meant.

"You know, like God maked the world."

"But God did make you," I replied.

"I know, but I can't remember. I'd like to be maked again so I can remember."

I probably missed a good opportunity to talk about being "born again," but I'm not too worried. He's been looking at his children's Bibles on his own during rest time.

And we all have opportunities to be "maked again." And in doing so, we can revel in God's delight of us in becoming who He created us to be.


The Oxygen Mask Lesson

This week, as I visited our friends Kennan & Alaina for supper one night while in Chicago, I met a friend of theirs (Lisa) from seminary who was working on her thesis for her Masters. It was on a Trinitarian View of Caring.

The next day on my flight home, I was stirred by the flight attendant's reminder to secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. I've heard various sermons and messages on this before, but this time I was still thinking about the conversation the night before about care.

I had told Lisa that I've been learning a lot about the trinitarian equation in the Jesus Creed (to borrow a phrase from Scot McKnight): to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. I've had a tendency to love God & my neighbors, but neglect myself. I've come to believe that I can't truly love God & neighbor unless I'm loving myself. I talked with Lisa about how I felt that if we don't have self-care, we can't truly care for others (and we'll eventually get burned out). I don't think we can even forgive others or be forgiven by God until we're able to forgive ourselves as well.

I know there are plenty of narcissistic people who love themselves entirely too much, neglecting God and others. So we must have a blance. God-others-me (which, in some ways, reflects Father-Son-Holy Spirit. We were, after all, created in God's image, which is an image of being in relationship).

So, before you help out that person in the seat next to you, make sure you get your own mask on first.

The Windy City

On Tuesday after I was done with my time at the place I was at, I drove up from the western suburbs through Chicago to the north side to view some friends who live at North Park. I intentionally drove through the city instead of taking the interstate. It was fun--tiring and taxing to drive in that traffic in the rain, but it provided for a lot of observation:

There is a stark difference between almost all the suburbs and Chicago as a whole. I know it's a huge generalization, but it seems like the Chicago suburbs are all extremely suburban and Chicago itself is very urban. The suburbs are all houses with yards. Chicago has very little grass anywhere--a lot of apartments and bungalows. You can tell immediately when you cross into Chicago.

Non-residential streets are crammed with signs and lights. Everyone wants your attention--even the city, which installed, as best I could infer, blue flashing lights at corners that had cameras for driving violations.

Chicago has to have the highest percentage of storefront churches per capita of anywhere. It's common to see two or more on a single block. The African American Missionary Baptists really got established well there. I don't know how many people attend these churches, but there has to be more M.B. Churches in Chicago than anywhere else. And all the storefront churches have black iron gates on their doors.

Two of the shops I found interesting and humorous were called: 1) I Got 99 Problems 4 Shizzle (I have no idea what that place was) and 2) Hey, Hey, Hey, It's Fat Albert (a restaurant that was home to the $.79 Obama Burger.


Tollways & A Warm Cookie Upon Checkin - Travel Reflections

I'm in the Chicago area for a few days, attending a ministry assessment center. Today was a lot of filling in circles with a #2 pecil. But it's going well. I'm hoping to gain some cood insight into my ministry calling, passions, vision for the future, etc.

I'm not used to traveling alone. It's not my favorite. I like to have my wife to share things with. I don't like eating places by myself. I never like sleeping in a new bed--especially without my wife next to me. It's just kind of lonely. Thankfully, I've had a few phone calls (and made a few more).

I still don't get moving walkways everywhere in airports. When I'm about to spend (or have just spent) a few hours sitting in a small seat with no elbow room and a tray jammed against my knees, I want to get in all the walking I can get. I can understand needing to get from one place to another quickly, but isn't that why God invented speed walking?

I do love the Dyson brand hand dryers in the washrooms in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. They're very effective. I'm sure they're crazy expensive, but they'd be a fun toy to have around.

One of the things I've noticed on my quests to find something to eat is the amount of food that fast food restaurants give. This is kind of a new observation for me, because usually we just order a few things and spilt it amongst our family. But I'm alone. And those are a lot of fries that come with a combo.

I had a meal at Panera tonight (I'm not used to all this eating out--it takes me too long to decide what I'm in the mood for . . . and what I want to pay for). There was a group of "tween-agers" around the 12-year old range. What kind of kids hang out at a Panera? This is quite an up-scale area. I guess that's the answer.

That's all for tonight. I need to go finish some forms, chat with my wife, read a little and get some sleep. Thanks for listening.


A Zoo of a Week

This past week we went to the Como Park Zoo twice. Hey, a free zoo is a good place to meet up with people. On Thursday we met with Petey & Erin & Baby Elliot. They were up visiting during Spring Break. Elliot was awake most of the time. He didn't care too much about the animals, but was more interested in the other kids there.

My brother & his family came up for the kids' Spring Break on Thursday. We took them to the nature center by our house (since Beth was at work with the car) on Friday. On Saturday we all went to the zoo, along with my sister & her family (with whom they were staying). So all the Wenell cousins were together. It was (pardon the terrible pun) a zoo there. The weather was absolutely beautiful and many people were on Spring Break. But the kids had fun together--for the most part. They haven't all been together since Christmas.


Who Do You Hear Speaking to You?

"I believe that the voices of fear, both from without and within, can only be dispelled by trusting the voice that comes from the heart. Be still and listen to it. If it speaks of love and compassion for others, for the world itself, it just might be the voice of God--or a reasonable facsimile. If, however, it snarls with fear of the unknown, fear of losing what you have or of not getting what you want, then it might just be the voice of Rupert Murdoch--or a reasonable facsimile." - Chuck Lorre Productions, #212; The Big Bang Theory


St. Patrick's Lorica

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth and His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In preachings of the apostles,
In faiths of confessors,
In innocence of virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From every one who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a mulitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,
Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that reward may come to me in abundance.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation

attributed to St. Patrick (ca. 377)

For a good read on the life of St. Patrick, read Stephen Lawhead's book aptly titled Patrick. It's a fictional story, but based on the historical accounts of Patrick (who, was born naemed Maewyn Succot in England & taked by pirates to be a slave in Ireland. Eventually he would escape, go back to England, then went to learn in a monastery, eventually becoming a bishop and returned to Ireland to share God to the country he came to love during his enslavement).


Spring is in The Air

It's been in the 50s the last couple days. Yesterday, the boys and I went for a walk around the lake. The melting snow was creating all sorts of "rivers" along the way that the boys liked to splash in (thankfully, I planned ahead with boots on the boys). We went out again today for more sun and more splashing. In the past 24 hours, most of the snow had melted and the water dried up, but we found a good "river" at the south end of the lake. It took us 4 times as long to walk around the lake (also because the boys walked most of the way themselves), but we enjoyed the time outside. I think it's a good sign of things to come: Spring!

Gain By Giving: God's Economy

We’ve missed the last couple weeks of church because we’ve been gone, so we’ve missed the first couple installments of the sermon series at church: The Road to Financial Freedom.

I need to go back and listen to the last 2 sermons to see what else we need to be doing. Actually, I feel we’re fairly good about handling our finances: we don’t have a lot of unnecessary spending, we give as best we can, we do need to save more. We just need more income. At least it would be more helpful.

Pastor Efrem read from Proverbs 11 today. He reminded us what God’s economy is. Righteousness trumps riches (not that it’s wrong to be rich, but it’s more important to be righteous; a lot of our economic problems now have come about because those with the money have been without much righteousness). It’s not wrong to buy Prada or Air Jordans, but you must make sure your consumerism is balanced with your giving. When people see you, do they just see the new items you’re sporting or do they see your generous nature?

The main economic mantra that we hear at Sanctuary is: Give, Save, Live. When you receive your paycheck, first set aside the part you’re going to give away. The Old Testament talks about a tithe to God (10%); Jesus uses the tithe as a springboard into giving more (“Give away all you have to the poor, then follow me”). Next, set aside a part for your savings. Then live on the rest. And really live. It’s okay for me to order a good root beer with my pizza once in a while (honestly, I haven’t done that for a while).

It all comes down to, are you a slave to your money or are you in charge of it?


Happy Purim

Purim began last night at sundown. Purim celebrates the success of Esther, Mordecai and many other Jews in captivity who overthrew the plot of Haman to kill them all. Esther, after rising to the position of Queen of Persia from being a lowly Jewish exile, found herself in the midst of a genocide plot. But she wasn't sure she should risk revealing her ethnicity to the king. Her uncle Mordecai told her that perhaps God placed her in this situation for "just a time as this."

God tends to place us in all sorts of situations for "just a time as this." It may be at work, or on the bus, or in the grocery check-out line or where ever. We often miss those moments because we're not anticipating God to use us in our everyday situations. But He wants to use us. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open.


I Guess It's All About Love

Last Friday after Beth got off work we headed down to Iowa for a wedding. My maternal grandmother rode with us. I got some good family stories out of her. She had been up in the Twin Cities staying with a friend the past week. The boys have been sick all week. They finally got some rest in the car.

Saturday morning we went into the nursing home to see my paternal grandmother. She had a stroke last year. It was good to see a big smile on her face when we showed up, but it's very hard to see her unable to respond to much the rest of the time. We sat in the lounge for a while. Another lady came and played the piano for a while. Nils danced to it for a while. A few other people stopped to watch. Grandma did kiss my cheek when I hugged her goodbye.

The wedding for was one of the camp staff kids (I guess he's not a kid anymore). He was marrying a girl from Albert City. It was good to see so many friends we hadn't seen in a while (including other camp staff who are in Texas now).

We were planning on going down to Des Moines for some family birthdays, but found out the party wasn't until later in the afternoon on Sunday which wasn't going to work as well for getting home at a reasonable hour. So, we ended up going to P-Cov for church and joining the 20-40 somethings group for lunch at Pizza Ranch. I know we've only been gone for 2 years now, but it still feels like "home" in many ways. Some churches have that feel, others don't. It's a good feel.

Pastor Karl preached on love (there, Jane, you can let him know he made the blog). Sorry, Karl, I'm not remembering most of it. Anders didn't want to go to children's church so he was on my lap for most of the sermon. He noticed the lenten cross up front. And we're called to love like Jesus loved. But we can't love others unless we love ourselves ("love your neighbor as yourself"). I don't think we can even forgive others unless we can fogive ourselves as well ( forgiveness is a part of love in God's example). And, I do remember Karl saying, that we can only love others because God first loves us. If we're not doing things out of love, then we might as well forget doing them because they don't matter (to sum up 1 Corinthians 13). And one final quick reminder: this kind of love isn't a feeling (no kind of love actually is). "Love is a verb" (DC Talk). So do it.



Happy Square Root Day.

I wish I was on top of my game enough to notice the mathematical significance of today's date without being told about it on the evening news. In my defense, though, I hadn't really looked at the calendar.

There are days though where I feel that my intellectual prowess isn't what it used to be. Or maybe what I thought it used to be was mostly a delusion. But I fit in a Sudoku or a crossword puzzle here or there. And I try to intermingle my readings of Star Wars and Stephen Lawhead novels with classics, as well as nonfiction pursuits (I'm awaiting the next installment of Thomas Cahill's Hinges of History series). Not to mention that I am learning new things. But sometimes I just feel a little dumber than I used to (or that I'm not remembering things as well). Maybe I should be watching that Dr. Daniel Amen special on TPT instead of The Big Bang Theory on DVD. But, as the writer of Ecclessiastes said, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body" (Ecc. 12:12). (The irony is that I'd love to write some books myself.)

Anyway, I know it's important to keep the brain sharp. It's also pointless to make that your main pursuit in life. So, I'll keep on learning--and continue to have a fair amount of fun along the way. After all, Charlie Chaplin was a genuis, wasn't he? I think my point has been made.


Into the Hinterlands

This past weekend, some friends from church invited us with them up to their family's cabin in the Wisconsin north woods. It's one of those wonderful instances where we all get along with everyone else in the family. We got to know the parents because Anders started in Sunday school with one of their kids. And we've been good friends ever since.

We had a good snow storm (I think it was officially our biggest of the season), but got up there just fine. They had made it clear to us that it wasn't a cabin ahead of time. And it wasn't. We had all the amenities needed. Really, all we needed was some good food, board games and a fireplace (all of which we had). Some video diversions were nice for the kids once in a while.

Luci & Nils with their moose; Anders & Nathaniel watching a video

It was Beth's birthday on Saturday. I had made a pumpkin cheesecake for my wonderful wife and brought it with to enjoy. We didn't do much else special--the weekend itself was a treat. She did get in a snowmobile ride, which I think was enjoyable for her.

On our way home, we had a few minutes with my family (Mom, Dad, Amy, Bella & Grandma Trumper were up at April & Wilder's house because Riley was dedicated on Sunday--we had the trip planned before that was on the calendar) before they had to depart for Iowa. The boys sure love them all--it's fun to see them play with FarFar and Uncle Wilder.

So, now we're back from the peacefulness of the woods to the hustle and bustle of the city. And a few of us are trying to get over colds or something. And there's plenty of laundry and other things to do. Why did we come home? I guess life wouldn't be as enjoyable if every day was a getaway retreat. But every day wouldn't be enjoyable if we didn't do those getaway retreats once in a while, too. (Kind of like how we need Sabbath days to get us ready for the rest of the week.)