For JR.’s 32nd Birthday, I present: The 32 (of the many) reasons I love JR. and that he is the best!

This is Amanda, JR.’s wife. JR. turns 32 today, so I’m taking over his blog.

I know that it has been FAR too long since a post has been written about the lives of the Forasteros Family, so I thought since one of JR.’s primary love languages is verbal affirmation, I figured that I would start with a surprise birthday post of the many reasons I think he is the bee’s knees. Fair warning: it might get a little mushy at times, but what can I say?  We are presh.

Without further ado, in no particular order, here are just 32 reasons I love JR.:Continue reading

21-25: Some Things Matter More than You Think

21. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

See the difference? The guy in the front has been using it.  The other guy CLEARLY lost it.In number 20, I suggested that practice makes perfect.  I’ve also learned that even after you’ve gotten pretty good at something, you have to keep practicing it, or it’s gone.  By the time I went to college, I was nearly fluent in German (5 years of secondary schooling and a 3-week trip to Germany ensured that).  Today? I could get by in Germany (meaning, I don’t think I’d die or starve to death), but I’ve forgotten most everything I knew.

Most things in life, unfortunately, are not ‘just like riding a bike’.  If I work hard to be come a loving, kind person, if I cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in my life, I will never reach a point where I’ve ‘made it’, and I can just stop practicing those virtues.  I will be slowly dragged back towards my base, default tendencies.  So use it!  Practice kindness, joy, peacemaking.  Practice giving honor and respect to everyone around you.  Practice seeking the good in other people.  Not only will you get better and better at it, but you’ll be formed as a person for whom these attitudes and behaviors become second nature.

22. Tattoos are really awesome.

TattooI got my first tattoo almost exactly 10 years ago today.  As of last Friday, I now have nine separate pieces that cover a lot of my upper body.  Given that I worked first for a Southern Baptist church and now for a Nazarene church, I’ve encountered plenty of people who think tattoos are evil.  For a long time I couldn’t articulate clearly why I like tattoos, and why I kept covering more and more of my body with them.

But a few years ago, I realized the explanation was much simpler than I was trying to make it.  My tattoos are simply an expression of my faith.  The pieces I get are shaped by foundational convictions I have about the nature of Christianity and a life lived following Jesus and participating in his gospel.

I’m not an evangelist for tattoos – I don’t recommend other people get tattoos unless they want to, and unless they’re confident in what they want.  But that said, tattoos really are awesome.

23. Unity is as important as Truth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor most of my life, I’ve been a Truth Crusader.  Take a look at that picture: that was me.  Ready to slay the infidel if you didn’t agree with my point of view.  My arsenal was fierce – I had marshaled an army of words so that I could cut you down with the sword that came out of my mouth, and I was very good at it.  Few foes could stand against me (and clearly I hadn’t learned lesson 16 yet: God is not on my side).

But I realized that  – while God certainly cares about Truth, God also commands unity among us followers of Jesus.  In fact, according to Jesus, the singular mark of his disciples is not our commitment to Truth.  It’s how we love each other – how unified we are.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
– John 13:35

As I pointed out in #17, Love isn’t always mushy, but it is our highest virtue, the most foundational aspect of who God is.  We ought to pursue the one who is the Truth, confessing that none of us has a perfect picture of Jesus.  That’s why we need each other.

I dare you to include some people who rub you the wrong way in your inner circle.  Learn to love them and watch what happens to your soul.

24. The words “liberal” and “conservative” have become pretty much worthless.

When I graduated from high school, I considered myself very conservative politically, theologically – really in most any way I thought mattered.  I attended a private Christian school that would also be considered very conservative on nearly any scale you choose to use to measure such things.  And yet as I studied there, I developed a reputation as a ‘liberal’.

I wasn’t sure why – I held the same foundational beliefs as my schoolmates, but because I pushed the envelope, questioned (and yes, wrote a few intentionally controversial papers), I was tarred with the most feared of all epitaphs.

Then I went to grad school at the University of Missouri, to study Religious Studies.  My schoolmates and professors at Mizzou seemed to be a little bit shocked by my beliefs at first – I believed the Bible was inspired by God and that Jesus literally came back from the dead.  In the four month gap between undergrad and grad school, I went from being known as the crazy liberal to a crazy conservative.

What this taught me was that these words are empty.  They’ve become weapons that we hurl at our opponents to label them, to mark their ideas as dangerous (or stupid or unworthy of our attention).  We use these words to block other people and their ideas out of our lives.  To protect ourselves from Others who are not like us.  If you tell me someone’s a ‘liberal’, all that tells me (given the larger context of your statement), is whether that person agrees with you or not.  As words that help move a discussion forward, they’ve lost all utility.  I move that we abandon them starting yesterday!

25. The Earth really is important.

I was always taught that we don’t have to care about the physical world because eventually God is going to come back and destroy it.  For me, this translated into an apathy towards the Earth.  I didn’t recycle, littered freely and didn’t try to conserve anything.  I didn’t take care of my body – after all, it’s just a prison of flesh that we’ll eventually escape from!

But as I learned more and more of who God is, I learned that the physical world is not a pile of resources we can consume at our leisure.  Everything physical, all matter, is a gift from God to us, and we are called to be good stewards of it.  Our bodies matter to God, and how we treat our bodies (and the Earth!) says something about the state of our souls.

So what about you?  Got any tattoos?  Are you liberal or conservative?  And do you take care of your body or the Earth?

11-15: Why Batman is the Best

batman_inc_111. Batman really is the best literary character.

I know I’m going to get crucified for this, but it’s true.  Batman is all about what it means to be human.  He lives in a world that is broken at a fundamental level, and he himself is a victim of that world – he watched his parents murdered in front of him.  And in a world where evil seems overwhelming, in a world full of beings with supernatural powers, the Batman is only human.  He has no special abilities.  He has only his will (and a giant pile of money).  As silly as it sounds, I think the Batman speaks to that deep part of us that rages against injustice, that refuses to believe the world is just a random joke.  That part of us that knows something’s broken and wants to fix it.  That part of us that believes we can do more than everyone else thinks we can.  That part of us that knows there’s more to being human than what most people settle for.

12. Violence doesn’t solve anything.

The thing about Batman is that he’s fictional.  There’s a reason superheroes don’t really exist: they can’t.  The world really is broken, but it was broken by people.  We broke (and continue to break) the world by trying to impose our own kind of order on it.  Something like 7 billion wills all trying to get the world to march to the beat of our own drums and we wonder that chaos seems to be the order of the day?  And somehow we’ve gotten it in our heads that the answer is to try harder than everyone else.  That if we are louder or stronger or more powerful than everyone else, our way will reign supreme.  But that’s not true.  Violence only begets more violence.  Violence can be effective in the short term, but it doesn’t fix the fundamental problem, the break at the core of who we are.  It only makes it worse.

13. The worst kinds of violence aren’t physical.

In fact, physical violence might be the preferable.  Its effects are more immediate, more visible, but they fade more quickly as well.  The more insidious kinds of violence are those that leave scars on our souls – emotional abuse, degrading another person’s spirit.  Crushing other cultures not by the sword but the commercial.  Teaching someone that difference is dangerous, that conformity is humanity.  Making someone else feel less human because s/he doesn’t fit into your idea of a perfect world.  That’s much worse.

14. Power is dangerous.

And that’s scary, because as soon as you have influence over another person, it’s possible (even likely) that you’re going to hurt him or her.  None of us is perfect; we all try to remake the world in our own images.  And that means we’re always at risk – always toeing the line between really engaging another person and colonizing him, remaking her to fit into our world.

15. The best place to be is uncomfortable.

Safe is easy.  And easy is dangerous, because easy is comfortable.  When we’re comfortable, we get complacent and we quit paying attention.  We stop asking hard questions.  We start to think we’re the king of our castles.  Being in an uncomfortable space reminds us that we’re not in control.  That the world is stranger than we like to remember.  That other people really aren’t the way we want them to be.  The uncomfortable spaces are a very good place to meet God.

As I write this, I’m sitting on the balcony of a Dominican Institute in Cairo listening to the Muslim call to prayer echo across the city.  I’m pretty far outside my comfort zone.

Who’s your favorite character?  Where have you been the victim of violence?  What about the perpetrator?  And how comfortable are you where you are?

6-10: Good Stories Matter

6. Reading is a necessary life-skill.

Leaders are readers.  Read lots of stuff.  Blogs, books, magazines.  Read the best stuff in your area.  Read fiction.  Read bestsellers.  Read classics.  Read books you’re pretty sure you’re going to disagree with.  Just read.  Seriously.  It’s a skill you can develop.

It just occurred to me that, if you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir.

7. There is such a thing as good literature.  Dan Brown, Stephanie Meyer and Tim LeHaye are not it.

If you’re reading, I’m so glad.  But please read good books.  Not the trash that gets pawned off as literature.  Yes, I’m a snob about good books and I will never apologize for it.  The world is packed full of good books, so you don’t ever need to waste your time with crap.  I’m sure I just offended tons of people, but see above: on this issue, I will not apologize.

Do. Not. Read. Bad. Books.  It’s actually okay to get into a book and quit because it’s not a good book.  I had to learn this lesson the hard way.  Do yourself a favor and do the work of finding and reading good books.

8. Good stories are hard to find.

Good StoryNot because there are so few, but because there’s so much clutter out there (see #7).  Good stories transport us outside our small worlds and to a place that’s bigger than we can imagine on our own.  They show us ourselves at our best and worst.  They’re mirrors that show us our true selves (because let’s face it: we all need help with that).

Here are some of my favorite stories: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Anansi Boys, The Dark Knight, The Shawshank Redemption and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

9. Good story-tellers can make anything interesting and worthwhile.

Seriously.  Good story-tellers make even the most mundane activities or scenes burst with life and energy.  They use words to unveil a reality that you see has been there all along, you just couldn’t see it.  They show you the magic that imbues even the very mundane and ordinary.  And they make it look easy, but it’s not.  It’s not a gift… it’s a carefully cultivated skill.

Some of my favorite storytellers: Stephen R. Donaldson, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Johnny Cash,

10. You can learn to be a good story-teller.

Just to be clear, this is a bad story-teller.

It’s true.  What looks like magic is actually blood, sweat and lots of tears.  We are hard-wired for stories, so there are some basic skills anyone can develop to become a better story-teller (and –hearer for that matter).  Donald Miller has been working quite a bit on this lately, and has tons of great suggestions about how to become a better story-teller.  Here’re some books I also highly recommend if you want to work on this!

Resonate – Nancy Duarte
Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath
Communicating for a ChangeAndy Stanley

Whew – that’s 6-10.  Next week I’ll start off with my all-time favorite story character (no big surprise there).  But for now – how important are stories to you?  What are some of your favorite?  Who are some of your favorite story-tellers?

1-5: Other People Matter!

I don’t usually get weird about birthdays, but a couple weeks before I turned 30 (on October 23), it hit me that – arbitrary or not, 30 is a pretty big milestone.  Since then, I’ve been wondering what I’ve learned in my first 30 years of life.  Here’s what I’ve come up with, 5 at a time!

1. The person who knows 1, knows none.

This would probably be hilarious if we knew Arabic...This is true of languages, religions, culture and pretty much everything.  If you don’t take time to get to know someone else in a real and deeply significant way, you won’t know yourself.  We have less in common with God than we do with any person on the planet.  If we don’t learn how to live in true community with Others, we won’t connect with God as fully as we could.  We were designed to need each other.

2. You’ll get further this week developing a genuine interest in 2 other people than trying to get 2 other people interested in you.

palsThis is a quote from Tim Sanders. It’s true.  Dale Carnegie also talks a lot about this in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People.  My dad made me read that book when I was 16 and it’s still one of the best books I’ve ever read, one that has shaped me more than most.  Learn the art of caring about others… it’s a skill you can develop.  And it will change who you are.  For the better.  Because at the end of the day…

3. It really is more blessed to give than to receive.

I have one of these waiting for you... you know, if you drop by for a visit.

We are created in the image of the God who is fundamentally a giver.  We are hard-wired to be most fully ourselves when we’re giving.  This is the direct opposite of what our culture teaches (and you’ll hear in any Economics class that there’s no such thing as a self-less gift).  Giving makes us more human, more truly ourselves.  You can learn this art (and if you want a good place to start, do yourself a favor and pick up Miroslav Volf’s Free of Charge).

4. If you can help it, don’t open your mouth unless you’re giving something to someone.

I’m not here yet, but this is where I want to get.  I tend to be a very sarcastic person by nature, and I’m tired of making people feel like trash.  I want to be a person who’s a constant source of encouragement and life to other people.  I don’t want to feel good at someone else’s expense.  It’s something I’m still working on.

5. You have to fight for good relationships.

Quite a comeback they're making! I hope they win!

Somehow, I think we all got the impression that if a relationship is right and good, it just comes naturally.  Well, bad news… that’s a dirty lie.  True life-giving relationships take a lot of work.  We have to learn that Others are never going to be like us, no matter how much we try to change them.  God revels in diversity, so we have to figure out how to live with Others.

And that takes work.  In marriage, in friendship, in family, at work and church and even international politics (I suspect).

We’ve been fed the lie that we should surround ourselves with like-minded people and we’ve happily gobbled it up.  Time to switch tables and find some new cuisine!

If you want a good place to start, try reading a book by a person you don’t like (or think you won’t) and forcing yourself to write down something positive for every negative thing you say.

That’s it for this week… next week’s all about Story.  But for now, what do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?

For My Birthday, I Want You to Change the World

I’m giving my 30th Birthday to HOPE International.  My goal is to raise $3,000 for HOPE’s war on poverty.  This post is my story: who HOPE is, what they do and why they deserve your money.  Please give to HOPE.  They’re changing the world.  And they need your help!

What’s the poorest you’ve ever been?  I think for me it was college – I lived paycheck-to-paycheck and definitely paid a few bills late.  But I never missed a meal (even if it was Ramen or an oven-pizza)  And I never feared I was going to be evicted.

I felt poor, but I didn’t know how much I really had. That changed when I visited the Dominican Republic with HOPE International.

Standing on the roof of our hotel looking out across Santo DomingoHOPE International is a microfinance organization, and one of their bases of operation is the DR.  They took a small group of us (about 10) down to show us exactly what they do, exactly how microfinance works.  Which was good because I had no idea what microfinance was.

Right on the Caribbean, Santo Domingo is simply beautiful - some of the best scenery the DR has to offer!The DR is quite a paradox; on one hand it hosts some of the world’s most beautiful resorts.  Even the hotel in which we stayed in the capitol of Santo Domingo was relatively nice.  The city was typical of large cities in the developing world – somewhat dirty and crowded, but you can find anything you need, even if you don’t speak Spanish.  On the other hand…

Scenes like this were pracitally luxurious the further from Santo Domingo we got.The second day of our (very short) trip found us climbing into a van early in the morning and heading out of Santo Domingo, towards the surrounding villages.  The change was nearly instantaneous – the buildings got more decrepit, the crowds thicker, the smells stronger.  The roads got worse and worse.

I was entering into poverty.  Real poverty.  For the first time in my life.

By the time we stopped, we were driving on dirt roads.  Through the middle of town.  Following our HOPE contact, we began weaving our way through the homes, following some indiscernible path only he knew.  Every step we took was over rubble and trash.  Representative of the typical yard in the villages wher we were.Dogs and chickens ran through our legs and children chased each other in and out of shacks made of brick and trash.  I saw no running water.  I saw no electricity.  The floors of the ‘houses’ were made of dirt.  This was an entire city of people living in pre-modern conditions, a way of life more primitive than an Amish community, far less quality and clearly not by choice.

We finally reached our destination (which I only knew because we stopped).  Our host greeted the resident of a house made of corrugated tin, and they began setting up plastic chairs in a circle.  Our host (the very awesome Clay Dudley) began to explain to us what was about to happen, and I began to grasp the miracle of microfinance:

Just before the community meeting began, as members were showing up

HOPE (and their local partner Esperanza) go into an impoverished community and invite a group of persons to participate in their microlending program.  The group is then assigned a leader (our guide), who works with them throughout the whole process.  He or she teaches them the basics of personal finance and helps them to choose a business to start.  Then, based on the type of business, the group leader arranges their loans, which range anywhere from $50-$200.

We met a man who builds wheelbarrows, a woman who walks to the larger, neighboring city and buys towels in bulk to sell to her town, and a man who does the same with used clothes.

My good friend Matt and I both bought some towels. Support local economy!Once they’ve started their business, the group meets weekly to track their finances, put some of their earnings into a savings account and make payments on the loans.  Each member of the group cosigns on every other member’s loans, so they have a high degree of accountability.  The loans are paid back in 4-6 months, and at that point each entrepreneur may decide to take out a larger loan to expand his or her business.  Nearly every person does this – for instance, the man who built wheelbarrows now supplies three of the largest construction companies in the DR and has several employees.

HOPE’s system works.  Microfinance builds community and teaches people in the developing world to lift themselves out of poverty.

So much charitable giving simply creates dependence.  It teaches those who receive only to do that… receive.  But HOPE’s system teaches its participants to become wage-earners.  And it’s no surprise that nearly every person who starts a business through HOPE chooses to give back to HOPE.  And whereas many microfinance organizations actually pay you back when you loan a person money, HOPE keeps it and gives it again and again and again.  So if you give $50, it gets loaned out.  6 months from now, it’s paid back and loaned out again.  6 months later, it happens again.  And again… and again.

That’s why I’m giving them my birthday, and why they deserve your money.  I’m already 10% of the way there… if you want to help, please click here to give to HOPE and help me get to $3,000.  Think about it… $3,000 is 30 loans (on average).  That means that this year you and I can help 60 people climb out of poverty.  And another 60 next year.  And another 60 the year after that.

By the time I’m 40, you and I will have helped 600 people change their lives forever in a way we can’t even begin to understand.

You can give right here.  HOPE is an amazing organization, and their system works.  Thanks to HOPE, poverty is actually being eliminated, not just managed.

Please give and please spread the word!

Will you help me?

And help them…

One of the kids we met. I can't imagine what his business will be one day... A hand up, not a hand out. – HOPE International’s motto


25 Reasons I Love My Wife

Manda Head Shot So if you didn’t know, today is my wife, Amanda’s 25th birthday.  It’s her ‘Golden Birthday’, which is when you turn the age that is the same number as the day of your birthday (so, 25 on the 25th).  In honor of this special occasion, I present to you 25 reasons I love my wife (in no particular order).

1. She’s a reader.  I love that both of us read a lot.  She is always reading something – usually that I haven’t read.  It makes for some great discussions, and we can kill hours in a bookstore together.

2. She has great style.  One of our first conversations revolved around our mutual love for Chuck Taylors.  She has a unique fashion sense that means she always looks great and probably different from anyone else in the room.  In the best way.

3. She is a people person.  We’re both super-extroverted, so she loves having a housefull of guests as much as I do.  She’s wonderful with people and has never met a person she couldn’t make into a friend.

4. She’s smoking hot.  But I don’t have to tell you that.  Clearly she is the hottest woman on the planet.  Sorry, fellas!

Triceratops 5. She listens to great music.  We have the same taste in music, more or less, and she’s always up for heading to a show with me, or picking up a new CD from one of our favorite bands.  She only sings along when I do too, because I sing way louder.  But it’s still fun.

6. She loves coffee.  This is good because we work at a coffee shop, but also because we can drink it together in the mornings.

7. People like her better than me.  No exaggeration, and no lie.  I have a tendency to be too blunt and not very compassionate.  She balances me very well in that regard.  And I think it’s pretty awesome how much everyone loves her.

8. She is a great leader.  She quickly earns the right to speak truth into other people’s lives, and she does so with grace and gentleness.  It’s quite a thing to watch, and she inspires fierce loyalty in those she calls friends.

Creation Museum 2 9. She thinks about stuff from a theological perspective.  Even though she’s not formally trained in theology like me and a lot of my friends are, she doesn’t hold back from jumping into a conversation and offering her thoughtful opinion.  She does a great job of considering all aspects of an issue, and she offers really practical advice.  Speaking of which…

10. She is always very practically minded.  At the end of the day, I’ve typically been content to contemplate abstract and detached theological ideas.  Amanda is always concerned with how this changes our lives in the here and now, how we can put something into practice.  She has taught me a lot about how to make the Scriptures and my faith more real.

11. She listens to my sermons at least 4 times.  By the time I preach a sermon, I’ve usually talked it through at least 4 times.  And usually Amanda has heard most of those practices, offering me critiques and feedback to make my talk more focused and practical.

12. She gives great feedback.  Yup… like I just said, her feedback is really good.  It’s thoughtful and helpful.  My talks are always better after I’ve given them for her, and she does a great job of helping me come up with solid, concrete content that relates better.

13. She’s fluent in Spanish.  Like for real fluent.  Remember how I said people love her?  You should see her in a Spanish-speaking country.  At least 3 different people told her her Spanish was better than theirs.  She’s truly a marvel to watch in action.

El Sal Group 1 14. She loves to travel.  You know how she got fluent in Spanish?  By living in Spain.  Oh yeah, and Mexico.  And El Salvador.  And she’s going to Honduras twice this year.  I love that she loves to travel so much.

15. She plays Guitar Hero.  She doesn’t play a lot of video games, but she does play Guitar Hero like a fiend.  And she’s just bumped up to Hard for a couple of songs, so watch out world.  The only thing better than rocking out at a concert together is rocking out in our TV room together.

16. She enjoys Sci-Fi.  She has a soft spot for Star Trek and we watched (and loved) Battlestar Galactica together, and discussed it much.  That is way hot.

17. She’s adventurous.  If you haven’t picked up on this by now, she’s the first one out the door when it’s time to explore Dayton or drive across the country to visit a friend.  We’re rarely ever home.

Brandon and Manda 18. She loves her family.  She has a huge extended family, and most of them live in the immediate vicinity of St. Louis, so they’re all very close.  It’s a lot of fun to hang out with all of them, and – no shocker here – they all love her quite a lot.

19. She has tattoos.  Not just a couple, but lots.  And she’s working on her 3/4 sleeve right now, which is blowing my mind.

20. She loves going to concerts.  And she loves getting in the Pit.  This is important.

21. She does hair for fun.  If you’ve never had Manda work on your hair, you don’t know what you’re missing.  For real.  This is one of her many forms of artistic expression.

22. She disciples really well.  If you haven’t figured it out by now, people are drawn to Manda, and she is always on the lookout for younger persons to mentor.  She does a great job of helping them to discover how to live in the story of the Gospel.

23. She serves better than anyone I know.  She is up and serving before most other people have even figured out there’s a need.  I love doing things like Target: Dayton with her, but she has an eye for the little, everyday needs that escape me.  She’s incredible!

24. She uses technology without being addicted to it (blogs, TomTom, etc.).  While I have a gadget addiction, Amanda is a lot more balanced.  She can use pieces of tech for what they do well without becoming obsessed with them (read: unlike me).  She is a great check for me in my gadget obsessions.

25. She has the Sermon on the Mount memorized.  Before she started on her 3/4 sleeve (which is Sermon on the Mount-themed), she decided to memorize the whole thing (Matthew 5-7) and spent a couple of months diligently doing so.  I’m blown away.  Impressed and in awe.  She’s so awesome!

There you have it… 25 of the 100s of reasons I love my wife.  And what about you?  What do you love about Amanda?

Engagement Session 6