Back from Washington, D.C.

As part of our ordination process, we were required to attend a seminar at the General Board of Church and Society, which took place earlier this week, Monday through Wednesday (more on that in a later post).

Sunday morning, we drove to Harrisburg where we joined the rest of the group and a bus transported us to Washington D.C. We took Ethan and Sarah with us and met Grandma and Grandpa Willis (from Tennessee), who cared for the kids while we were at the seminar. We got to hang out with them when we were not in session.

It was a busy few days, but it was a good experience. We stayed at Hotel Harrington, one block from Pennsylvania Avenue, which joins the White House on one end and Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court on the other end. We were 0.7 miles from the White House and 1.4 miles from Capitol Hill, which is also where the United Methodist Building (the only non-governmental building on Capitol Hill!) is located, where we met each day.

Tuesday (after 3:00 p.m.) afforded us the most free time. We toured the Capitol Building, then walked from Capitol Hill to the monuments at the Washington Mall, before finishing the day with dinner at ESPN Zone, adjacent to our hotel room. All of this led to well over 10,000 steps and took about 3.5 hours, if I remember correctly.

Speaking of steps, the 2010 HealthFlex HealthMiles Challenge is in its second week. When I first learned about this challenge, I was immediately concerned about getting my steps in during the four days of this trip.

But I was able to continue my daily streak of 30,000 steps throughout the four days. Sunday through Tuesday weren’t overly difficult, but Wednesday was a killer. I only had a little over 16,000 steps when we arrived home just before 9:00 p.m. After putting the kids to bed (with around 20,000 steps, at that point), already exhausted, I hit the treadmill where I reached 30,000 with only about 15 minutes left in the day.

Getting steps was a good way to see D.C. I got up each morning around 5:00 a.m. or so and hit the streets of downtown D.C. just before light. I walked about an hour on Monday and Tuesday, then only about a half hour on Wednesday due to a change in schedule for the final day, a change that cost me up to 4,000 steps.

To make up for it, I walked to the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill instead of taking the subway. Funny thing is, the four of us who walked arrived at our destination at the same time as those who took the subway. But, on the way back to the hotel at the end of the session, I missed out on a sighting of former president Bill Clinton, who was seen exiting one of the Senate office buildings.

But we did see a lot of other things, including President Obama heading out on Marine One right as we stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial looking toward the Washington Monument (unfortunately, if we would have been just a few steps ahead, I would’ve have been able to get the Washington Monument in the photo with the two helicopters), on Tuesday afternoon. It was a cool moment, though. People snapped photos and applauded.

Here are some photos from our time in Washington D.C. …

Eat This Book 3.0

One of the books I finished up during Lent, as part of my Lenten Growth Plan, was Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book (which I wrote about a couple times after I started reading it last year: Eat This Book 1.0 and Eat This Book 2.0).

Peterson also wrote The Message, a paraphrase/translation of the Scriptures, but I first discovered Peterson while I was in seminary in the early 1990s when I read The Contemplative Pastor, which had a huge impact on me, at the time.

In part two of Eat This Book, Peterson discusses the importance of right reading.

Reading the Bible, if we do not do it rightly can get us into a lot of trouble (81). … An enormous about of damage is done in the name of Christian living by bad Bible reading (82).

Specifically, Peterson writes about the ancient practice, lectio divina.

Lectio divina cultivates this personal, participatory attentiveness and thus trains us in the discipline of reading Scripture rightly (84). … Lectio divina is a way of life that develops ‘according to the Scriptures’ (89). … Lectio divina comprises four elements: lectio (we read the text), meditatio (we meditate the text), oratio (we pray the text), and contemplatio (we live the text) (91).

And I love this statement …

[I]t is not enough to understand the Bible, or admire it. God has spoken; now it’s our move (109).

In other words, God’s Word is transformational, not just informational.

Part three, “The Company of Translators,” deals with translations leading up to Peterson’s own translation, The Message.

It seemed that in the earliest years of my walk with God (mostly in the 1990s), there were a number of modern translations being published in this days. I think I must have bought a copy of each. My favorites are the New Living Translation (NLT) and the Contemporary English Version (CEV). I also have a copy of the God’s Word translation and I have more recently started referring to the New Century Version (NCV) online. I also like the online translation, the NET Bible, especially for study. And recently, I learned that there’s a new translation in the works, the Common English Bible.

I already liked Peterson’s translation, The Message, but after reading these last to chapters, my admiration/respect for this translation has gone up.

Stating that the “Bible is the most translated book in the world” (121), he discusses the challenge and the necessity of translation…

There is plenty of translation that takes place everyday in getting the American English I speak into the American English that you hear. … We all use words differently. And we misunderstand frequently. Language is ambiguous. We have to repeat often and explain patiently (168).

And finally …

Translation is interpretation. Always. It is interpretation because words always convey far more meaning than the dictionary assigns them. Words have histories, emotional associations, story-influenced connotations. And interpretation requires–to one degree or another–paraphrase (173).

Peterson is always challenging and inspiring, and this book has given me an even greater appreciation for God’s Word.

Ethan and Sarah’s Signs of Growth

IMG_0314Last fall, about two weeks after we brought Sarah home from Korea, went went to Parker Dam for an afternoon. While there we snapped this photo.

Back then, Sarah, at 8 months old, wasn’t very mobile. But she, as well as Ethan, has grown a lot in the five months since then. It was especially noticeable when we returned there yesterday afternoon for the first time since last November.

They are also growing as brother and sister, perhaps a bigger challenge for Ethan than Sarah. But similar to what I wrote a couple weeks ago (Ethan’s Signs of Caring), yesterday, as we drew closer to home and Sarah started getting hungry/tired/fussy, Ethan said (an repeated a couple times), “We’re almost home, baby.” 🙂

Six Months with Sarah

Six months ago today in Seoul, Korea, one day after meeting Sarah for the first time in her foster family’s home, we welcomed Sarah into our lives.

The six-month mark is a milestone because it’s only after this point that we can legally file our petition to finalize the adoption (although, for legal purposes, the official date is two days from now; as with Ethan, the agency made the date we departed from Korea as the official starting date).

Sarah’s doing well. Ethan’s adjusting. We’re growing together as a family of four.

Here are a few photos from the past six months to show some of her growth …

Incentives for Healthy Living

One of the main benefits of the Virgin HealthMiles activity rewards program is that it provides a nice incentive for healthy living.

Part of the program encourages the use of “challenges” where participants can challenge one or more others in the program to a friendly competition. In addition to the participant-initiated challenges, the plan sponsor (in our case, HealthFlex, our health insurance plan in the United Methodist Church) can offer a organization-wide challenge once a year. This is our second annual such challenge.

My goals and interest in 2010 HealthFlex HealthMiles Challenge that beings Monday isn’t just about being among the leaders of the pack of more than 3,000 participants or even helping my team/conference do well (although I hope to do both :-)), it’s also about taking advantage of this incentive for healthy living.

While I tend to be fairly active in terms of getting my steps, I don’t think I do a good enough job of getting my heart rate up enough days of the week, which is important for heart health. And heart health is important to me because I’ve battled the “bad” cholesterol (i.e., LDL) all of my adult life. And even though my diet is probably average or better, there’s room for improvement (I’ve always said, whether it’s true or not, I just don’t think my body knows what to do with whatever saturated fat I do get in my diet).

So, I’m looking forward to the upcoming 29-day challenge, not just for the competition and the self-testing, but also for the extra incentive that it will be to live healthy!

As I gear up for the challenge, I racked up 20,000+ steps Wednesday and 31,500+ steps Thursday (in what I thought was a mediocre day, actually). I took it easy Friday, getting 12,000+ steps. Today, I wasn’t planning to do more than 20,000 steps, and would’ve been play with 12,000, but will probably go over 23,000. Tomorrow, the final day before the 29-day marathon, I’ll try to limit myself to 7,000 steps (but hopefully not much more than 12,000, at the most). Then, it’ll be full-on for 29 days!

Everyone needs incentives. What are your incentives for active, healthy living?

Temporary Workstation

If you read my post about the 2010 HealthFlex HealthMiles Challenge, you may know why I’m looking for creative ways to get my steps in each day.

IMG_1193My newest experiment is a temporary workstation on our treadmill (pictured below). I tried it out for about an hour this afternoon and it worked pretty well, although my typing at 3.5 miles per hour is a little erratic! 🙂

I’m not sure how much I’ll use it (I’ll use most of my treadmill time, especially early mornings, praying, reading Scripture, thinking about my sermon, and listening to worship/inspirational music), but I also may use this temporary workstation to watch the DVDs from Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit as well as online video resources like The Nines and Aha!. Or, I could read books, such as Secrets from the Treadmill and When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box!

2010 HealthFlex HealthMiles Challenge

I wrote several posts last year about the Virgin HealthMiles activity rewards program, including last year’s first ever HealthFlex HealthMiles challenge (see my preview and recap posts). HealthFlex is our UMC health insurance program.

Last year’s challenge started in July so I was caught a little off guard with this year’s challenge which begins Monday (4/19). It’ll be another 29-day challenge, involving at least as many people (around 3,000, at the moment) from all across the U.S.

There are fairly significant changes this year, mainly a much greater focus on the team competition with little mention of individual rewards (other than some healthmiles/rewards points). Last year, the money went to individuals (the top 50). This year, $500 goes to the team (i.e., conferences/organizations) with the highest average number of steps per person and another $500 goes to the team with the highest percentage of eligible participants who sign up.

I like the new emphasis on the team competition. Last year, our conference placed somewhere around 7 out of 30-something teams (if I remember correctly). I’m hoping we can do better this year!

Since last year’s challenge, I haven’t really known what my goal would be for this year’s challenge. In some ways, I’m still recovering from last year’s challenge (or more likely the things that have taken place since then, like going to Korea and returning with a second baby!).

I will have a couple extra challenges this year

  1. We have two kids, both under 3. With two kids, whose nap/sleeping schedules aren’t always in sync, it’ll be a little harder this time around.
  2. My biggest time concern is a 4-day trip to Washington, D.C. to visit the General Board of Church and Society as part of conference requirements for ordination, one week into the challenge. And the (old/historic) place we’re staying does not appear to have a fitness center/treadmill. That’s gonna be tough!

But I know two things: (1) I will view it as a personal test (physical and mental) to see what I can do, and (2) I am a competitor. 🙂

And having reached the daily limit (30,000 steps) every day last year, I’ll probably at least start out shooting for the max again. Funny thing is, if it weren’t for the daily limit, I probably wouldn’t do as many steps because I’d never be able to keep up with the marathon runners in the group (there were 2-3 guys last year who uploaded their 30,000 steps between 10:00 am and noon most days, as I recall; it took me all day every day to get mine!).

To reach my goal, I’ll need to get up extra early every morning and walk for 1.0-1.5 hours (while praying, reading Scripture, and/or listening to worship/inspirational music) and probably finish the day with another walk, with a fairly normal/active day in between!

I’ll try to take it one day at a time. It should be fun! 🙂

Methodist Mondays

Ilearned (via various United Methodist sources) about an 8-week series of blog posts that Mark Beeson, senior pastor of Granger Community Church (Granger, IN) is writing, called “Methodist Mondays.”

In Beeson’s first post, he explains the rationale for the series as well as the process (i.e., a new post each Mondays for eight weeks). In the end, he plans to write “a book to help The United Methodist Church.”

Last Monday (4/5), Beeson posted the first question (from the perspective of a future ministry leader) …

So, can you give me a few good reasons to be ordained in the United Methodist Church?

The second question was posted yesterday, which asks about using online social media tools to create “virtual churches” as part of a church’s “multi-site” strategy.

As of this post, there are 62 comments on the first post and 20 already on the second one. The questions are generating mostly positive/constructive comments.

I think it’s an important conversation. I’ve commented on both posts/questions, so far, and I look forward to seeing how it continues over the next six weeks … and beyond!

Stuck at the Surface

One of the biggest problems that I’ve tried to confront throughout my ministry is complacency. From the beginning of my journey as a Christ-follower, I have said that complacency is one of the biggest problems we face!

Complacency is a temptation for all of us and perhaps the temptation only gets stronger as we grow older and the longer we’re on this journey of following Jesus.

My sermon today focused on the conversation Jesus had with two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus a few hours after Jesus rose from the dead (see Luke 24.13-34).

Upon nearing their destination, the two disciples could have simply gone home and let Jesus continue on his journey, but the Scriptures report, “They begged him, ‘Stay with us!'”

As followers of Jesus, we all reach a point where we decide if this is far enough!

And frankly, we reach many points in life, not just one point. For these two disciples, it was only after they were persistent that they discovered that it was Jesus whom they had been walking and talking with. They could easily have said, “This is far enough. We’ve had an enlightening conversation, we’ve learned a lot, our hearts burned within us, but this is far enough. We’re ready to move on now.”

They decided that it wasn’t far enough, that they wanted to go deeper. We, too, must decide that we want to go further in our walk with Christ. We must go deeper. Many times, it’s a matter of being persistent!

In fact, we should never reach a point in our lives where we say, “You know, this is far enough. I don’t need to go any further!”

As long as we live, there’s room to grow.

So, don’t get stuck at the surface. Be persistent. Next time, let’s hang around God a little longer and see how he will reveal himself to us in a special way!

Jeremiah 29.13 (NLT) …

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

Ethan’s Signs of Caring

If you’ve been following our journey (i.e., most recently, welcoming Sarah into our family), you may recall that Ethan has struggled in this process, especially in the early days and weeks. Now that Sarah has been with us nearly six months, we’ve noticed recently that, while Ethan still has his moments, he is starting to show some greater signs of caring for Sarah.

For example, when she use to cry/scream (perhaps while traveling a longer distance in the car seat), Ethan would tell her, rather emphatically, to “Stop screaming!” Now, he’s much more likely to try to soothe her. And while he’s not yet completely ready to share his toys with Sarah, he is more open to playing with her (though there’s still a lot of room for improvement!).

On a couple of occasions, Ethan has tried to help Sarah learn to walk by holding her hand. The challenge, though, is in getting him to slow down to Sarah’s speed!

We noticed another area of growth during the two nights we spent in Lancaster, PA this week. Both nights, Sarah woke up in her crib, crying, and then spent the last few hours of the night in our bed. A few weeks/months ago, Ethan, who slept in the other queen bed in the room, would not have been happy about that arrangement! But it didn’t seem to phase him this week.

Edited to say that during dinner, following the kids’ naps when I wrote this post, I noticed another first: Ethan and Sarah spent several moments making each other laugh. One would look at the other and laugh, making the other one laugh. Another sign that they are interacting more and more — due both to Sarah’s development AND Ethan’s adjustment!

As our transition continues to move along, it’s good to see some signs of growth along he way!