29 December 2007

Christmas Letter


December 2007

We hope you’ve had a good year. It’s been a great one for us, although very busy. Levi and Avery are growing up faster than we can believe. Levi will be three in April. He loves our kitties, riding his trike, and pushing the limits with his little sister. He has brought so much joy to our family. Avery is one. She just started walking and has an infectious laugh. She can get all of us going. Denise and I are doing well. I finish school in May with my Masters in Professional Counseling; and Denise has been working double-time to get us there – taking care of the kids during the day and tutoring in the evenings. Our biggest news though is that we are expecting our third child in June! We are so excited! Levi said he is hoping for a baby brother and Avery will just be happy to be bigger than someone else. We hope this next year brings blessings to each of you.

Jeffrey, Denise, Levi, Avery, & (baby)

The Lord bless you and keep you

07 December 2007


I've never really liked santa. The kids in this slideshow don't either.

20 November 2007

Going Back to Our Roots...Way Back

Some guys from church recently asked the age-old question: if a bunch of dudes go to the woods, but there are no ladies there, do those guys make strange noises? (yes)

Dave makes pancakes.

We spent the morning almost making fire.

Yes, I was there...and Justy is strange.

The God's aren't Angry

On Monday I was part of a group that went to see Rob Bell at the Tabernacle. Rob is a pastor from Michigan--I've been to two training conferences at the church he is part of. He is in the middle of a month-long speaking tour called "The God's aren't Angry-Why people invented religion to make themselves feel better." The general idea of the talk was how religion has developed and evolved over time and that God has always been calling people to a new level of understanding and enlightenment. He spoke about sacrifices (animal, crops, human) and how the sacrifice system always fails. We can't really know where we stand with the gods.

Then he talked about how Abraham entered this historical perspective and how God called him to something that no one had done before: leaving his father and his father's way of dealing with the gods.

The lecture was 1.5 hours so obviously I'm not going to go on and on, but here are a few things that are lingering in me a day after the talk:

I tend to look down my nose at historically "primitive" people for the way they worshiped their "gods," but I have at times been willing to sacrifice my health, family, spirituality, friendships, and on and on to the gods of ambition, greed, money, and success. I'm beginning to realize (and last night was an great reminder) that these gods will never be satisfied. Checking out of the system may be the best bet.

Another thing that's working me over is that there is only one sacrifice left worth giving. The writer of Hebrews calls it, ironically, the living sacrifice. With all I've been blessed with and given, what will my response be?

Finally, there's no way to really know the heart of someone without actually knowing them, but you get the sense that Rob is doing his best to live what he is teaching. He could make major bank off this tour, but he is donating the money to an African microfinance project. He and his family have made a commitment to living simply (he is married w/ 2 kids and lives in a 2 bedroom home in a rough area of Grand Rapids). He talked honestly about the real challenges in life like suicide, depression, financial hardship, and without attempting to turn frowns upside down, looked for the redemption in hard stories. How do we find the resurrected Christ in our stories...even our most painful stories?

For those who went, I wonder what your experience was. For those who didn't, but are interested by some of these topics and ideas, let's get together to continue the discussion.

24 September 2007

Jesus Camp

I've been wanting to watch the documentary, Jesus Camp, for a while and Denise and I finally saw it last weekend. The movie is about a right-wing fundamentalist summer camp for kids. The kids worship, pray, ride go-carts, chant about supreme court justice nominees, and do other fun kids' stuff like that.

It was a riveting picture of a distinct subculture. Kids were speaking in tongues. They prayed in ways I don't. One kid had a sweet rat tail (I'm thinking of growing one now). I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist subculture, so it was really interesting to see another version of fundamentalism. By the way, I define fundamentalism as living in the absolute certainty that I am right and everyone else is wrong--and having a harsh attitude about that fact.

Part of the camp's time was spent teaching (or perhaps indoctrinating) the kids about right-wing American politics--abortion, supreme court justice nominations, etc. At one point in the film, some of the kids were at a large church in Colorado. The pastor of this church was Ted Haggard. You may remember him from such things as doing meth with a gay prostitute. The movie was filmed before he was found out. To me, his appearance in which he railed on homosexuals and was moderatley mean to a ten-year-old, was where I found God in this movie. That scene and the thoughts it brought up caused me to look long and hard at the way I judge other people. I believe judgement and conviction of sin are key parts of my faith, but this movie caused me to look at myself and the ways I go about judging and convicting.

If you haven't seen the movie, watch it and pay particular attention to the moments that are uncomfortable for you.

04 August 2007

Kill Creativity

I just finished Love's Executioner by Irvin Yalom. It is a therapy-related book that goes along with some of the stuff I've been studying. Actually, it came along at a perfect time--a time when I'm feeling really tired. I'm tired of forcing things, I'm tired of pulling things along (a little vague, i know), and I'm tired of school. I entered the counseling program because I want to help people live better. What I'm feeling right now is that the program of study I chose wants to turn me into a little scientist. After a year of classwork I was finally able to do a project that involved creativity-I wrote a song for my traumatology class. It was the first project I was really proud of and it was the first project I got great feedback for. I am not a research-type writer, I'm not a great memorizer of facts, so the projects I've done to this point have received average (and one time below average) marks.

Back to Loves Executioner. Yalom is one of the premier therapists of our day and a great writer. In the first chapter he talks about the orthodox schools of psychotherapy. He wishes he could find his place in those schools. He wishes he could, just once, "know exactly what I'm doing in my psychotherapeutic work." He goes on to say...

But, of course, it is an illusion. If they are helpful to patients at all, ideological schools with their complex metaphysical edifices succeed because the assuage the therapist's, not the patients' anxiety (and thus permit the therapist to face the anxiety of the therapeutic process). The more the therapist is able to tolerate the anxiety of not knowing, the less need is there for the therapist to embrace orthodoxy. The creative members of an orthodoxy, any orthodoxy, ultimately outgrow their disciplines.

Since reading this passage I've been thinking a lot about religion and the way that most versions of religious orthodoxy I have been part of seem to kill creativity. So I'm left wondering how I can hold onto a faith grounded in history and (for me) a fairly orthodox understanding of the Bible, and still embrace the creativity within myself and in the people around me. And more deeply, I'm also wondering why orthodoxy does tend to kill creativity.

21 July 2007

Husband Hypothesis

Cameraphone shot of my daughter at 5 days...wicked cry, stylish hair.

I've heard a few people say that the first year of the first baby is the hardest in a marriage. I would probably agree. I recently did a review on an article called Contribution of Infants' Sleep and Crying to Marital Relationship of First-Time Parent Couples in the 1st Year After Childbirth. They found two key things in the study. One, the worse the mother's insomnia, or insomnia-like sleep, the worse the marital satisfaction rating (which supports the theory: happy wife, happy life). They also found that the one thing that has a dramatic impact on marital satisfaction is the husband hypothesis, which states that the higher the self-efficacy and willingness to help in the child-care, the higher the marital satisfaction score...UH OH.

After reading the article a few times and writing my review, I felt both good and bad. Overall, I would say that I've done pretty well with fatherhood. I'm attentive, I have fun with my kids, and I think I carry my own weight, but there are mornings that sometimes arrive brutally early when I pretend to stay asleep a moment longer than I really am. I do it because I know what a great mom Denise is. She is so devoted to our kids.

So...I felt pretty challenged after reading the article and reflecting on the past few years. I need to step it up and let my wife get some sleep.

Meijer, A. M., & Wittenboer, L. H. (2007). Contribution of Infants' Sleep and Crying to Marital Relationship of First-Time Parent Couples in the 1st Year After Childbirth. Journal of Family Psychology, 21(1), 49-57.

11 July 2007

Bottled Water is not a Sin, but it is a Choice

This month's issue of fast company has a fascinating article on bottled water. I've been thinking a lot about mindfulness and being aware of the impact I have on the world and this article really brought it home.

Here are a few highlights from the article:
  • Fiji water produces 1million bottles of water per day...half of the people in fiji do not have access to adequate drinking water
  • "24% of the bottled water we buy is tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi."
  • "If the water we use at home cost what even cheap bottled water costs, our monthly water bills would run $9,000."
I am prone to feel guilty about what I have the ability to consume. I live a very privileged life. I'm trying to figure out how to live mindfully without being wrapped up in guilt.

Once you understand the resources mustered to deliver the bottle of water, it's reasonable to ask as you reach for the next bottle, not just "Does the value to me equal the 99 cents I'm about to spend?" but "Does the value equal the impact I'm about to leave behind?"

04 March 2007

Fatherhood v. Cool

I recently read a book called Alternadad. A memoir of sorts by Neal Pollack. The primary question addressed by the book was how does a guy hold on to some semblance of individuality and personality when a kid enters the picture. A lot of the book was silly, but I found myself resonating with a lot of it and laughing quite a bit. The foreword is worth the read--he talks about his 18 month old son ripping off his diaper and throwing poo all over his crib--something that could only be funny to a parent.

So is this obsession with holding onto cool new? Somehow I can't see my dad sitting down at 30 thinking that he should start a band because he's only got a few more young years left. I can't see him thinking for even a second about fashion or any of the cultural stuff I spend time thinking about.

But I can't let it go. Something in me rebels against getting older. I want youth. I love it. But the simple truth is that there's tons that's just not cool about parenting. I ran around a slide today for about 20 minutes screaming like a crazy person with my son. There's no way it looked cool at all, but it was perfect. I often have the choice of doing cool things, or staying home with my kids reading books about caterpillars and playing peek-a-boo, and i have yet to choose cool.

I guess this is my way of saying that I'm making a decision: fatherhood will beat cool.