Half a Hundred

IMG_0210I was 10. It was 1977. Star Wars played at the drive in. Atari was born. Elvis died. I played with my brother and sister. I fought with my brother and sister. We all rode bikes, played outside with neighborhood kids, took family vacations, and hiked Fall Creek Falls. We cheered for the Vols. We had Christmas in Tennessee and Thanksgiving in Alabama. I was usually in church, school, or playing basketball. I learned to love Jesus and shoot left-handed lay-ups. I had a great family and a fun childhood. It was 1977. I was 10.

I was 20. It was 1987. Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the wall. Whitney wanted to dance with somebody. Robin Williams said “Good Morning” to Vietnam. Fox became a network. We were still mourning the space shuttle Challenger. I was a high school graduate and making my way through Liberty University. High school basketball ended in disappointment, but college intramural basketball filled the void. I led a small youth ministry at Staunton Baptist Church and would soon take a summer job at The Master’s Inn Christian Camp. On April 9, I met Jill DeWitt. My life was changed forever. It was 1987. I was 20.

I was 30. It was 1997. We watched the Titanic sink again and tried to get MMMBop out of our heads. Peyton Manning should have won the Heisman, and the Vols were a year away from a National Championship. Mike Tyson bit an ear. Harry Potter was born. Princess Diana died. So did Mother Theresa. And I had said good-bye to my grandfathers. I had finished college and my master’s degree. Jill DeWitt had been Jill Brown since 1991. Miranda was 3, Cassidy was born in October. In between them we grieved our child that was never born. My “summer job” at The Master’s Inn grew into a 10-year ministry but was ending. We packed up and moved to Moline, Illinois to serve with Homewood Free Church. We started a new journey in a new state, new friends, and the coldest weather I had ever experienced. It was 1997. I was 30.

I was 40. It was 2007. The world had changed on 9/11/2001, but we were moving forward. We saw the third Pirate movie, the third Spider-Man movie, and the third Shrek movie. America elected our first African American president. The first iPhone was made. We were now a family of five; Logan was our millennial baby in 2000. We had moved to Southern California, leading a college ministry through Trinity Church. These were the days of Halloween Happenin’, Holland Festivals, Legoland, summer trips to Tennessee and Virginia, and keeping up with three active kids. I no longer played basketball; I coached. My oldest was entering high school and would be off to college in a few years. Life was about to change again. It was 2007. I was 40.

Now I’m 50. It’s 2017. I’d rather listen to Whitney and MMMBop than most of the current music, though Logan introduces me to great bands all the time. It hasn’t been a great year for movies, but Dunkirk was good. I’d rather not comment on politics. I’ve said good-bye to all of my grandparents and some of the best mentors in my life. These are the days of 25th wedding anniversaries in Hawaii and driving to San Diego to visit fully-launched Miranda or Santa Barbara to see college-student Cassidy. It’s enjoying the time with Logan as the only child still at home. It’s sometimes being annoyed by the drums in the house, then realizing how much I’ll miss those drums in a few years. It’s going back to Neyland Stadium for the first time since college. It’s experiencing a painful good-bye from one church melting into a passion for God’s work at Venture Church. It’s still being a student at age 50, with the expectation that “Doc Brown” may one day be a reality. These are the days of being more in love with my wife, more proud of my kids, more excited about ministry, and more aware of my need for the grace of God than ever before. It’s 2017. I’m 50.

An Unexpected Guest

IMG_1812-1An unexpected guest showed up in our backyard this morning. The dogs were barking like crazy, and a strange hissing sound was coming from our barbecue. Turns out it wasn’t hissing, it was the screech of a baby owl. The owl was somehow separated from his family and was just trying to get a good day’s sleep behind our grill….the dogs were not cooperating.

So we locked the dogs in the house and left the owl alone for an hour or two, hoping he would just fly away on his own accord. He was scared and nervous though, and wasn’t going anywhere. So eventually, we made the call to Animal Control. I pressed the officer to find out what was going to happen to our new friend. Apparently, our city takes animals like him and cares for them in a foster environment for a couple of weeks, then brings them back to the neighborhood to release them into their natural home.

As they picked him up, this frail baby owl spread his wings. At that moment, he looked powerful. He was majestic. He’s young now. He cowers in fear. But when he spreads his wings, you get a glimpse of the strong predator he will become. In a few weeks, he’ll be back in the neighborhood — bigger, stronger, and hunting down all the rodents we’d rather not have prowling around.

But not yet. He needs to be rescued. He needs people like us to keep the barking dogs away. He needs Animal Control officers to care for him and make sure he’s ready to take on the real world. And then he will fly. He’s not meant to hide in my backyard, he’s meant to soar and hunt. Just a little more training, and he’s ready to take on the world.

In a couple of days, my daughter will walk across a stage. We will cheer, and she will be a high school graduate. Today, she is still young. She needs a little guidance. She needs more training. But soon she will take on the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love my “little girl.” She has filled my heart with memories I will treasure forever. It’s going to be hard to drop her off at college. But she was not meant to hide in my backyard, she’s meant to soar.

An owl dropped in and I got a new perspective. They may be wise after all.



A Cassidy Hug

When my daughter was young, I lovedIMG_0139 getting “Cassidy hugs.” She has been full-throttle since birth, so a hug was usually catching her at full-speed for a “pick-up hug.” She was born in northern Illinois, and we had a routine on the bitterly cold days. I would carry her, and she would put her hands over my ears to keep them warm. A warm hug on a cold day.

I always loved singing to Cass, and usually we sang “Could I Have this Dance for the Rest of My Life” or “Return to Pooh Corner.” Of course, I would occasionally throw in “Hey, Baby! I Want to Know if You’ll Be My Girl” or the “Tennessee Waltz.” She would stand on her changing table and we would sing and dance….then hug.

Several years later, our church had a Father/Daughter Dance. We dressed up, went out to dinner, and danced. As the evening ended, I snuck a note to the DJ with a request. He played, “Could I Have this Dance” for us. We danced. And we hugged. It was a great night.

A bit later, I sat in the grass at Forest Home and listened as people shared about their faith in Jesus. Cassidy stood up and boldly told her faith story. We walked in the water together, I baptized her, and we hugged.

There have been many more occasions for Cassidy hugs. Happy times like holidays, winning the spelling bee, making the game-winning shot in basketball, boys, plays, driver’s license, and national writing awards. There have also been hard times like disappointments, losing the spelling bee, boys, that talent show with lousy judges, teenage drama, and saying our final good-bye to people we love.

Last year, I needed a hug. I had just finished preaching my last sermon at our previous church and didn’t know where God would take us next. I went to join Cass and Jill on the front row as the service ended. As we sang, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,” I felt Cass move closer for one more Cassidy Hug. We sang, fought back tears, and hugged.

Cassidy is turning 18. Gone are the days of full speed pick-up hugs. In fact, there’s a young man that hugs her more than I do these days. I have loved watching her grow up. It isn’t easy being a middle child raised by two middle children, but she is strong, intelligent, talented, ambitious, loyal, and she has kept the faith. One of her teachers once said that Cass can do anything she sets her mind to do. I believe her. She is exceptional. She is beautiful. She is Cassidy.

Next year, we will load up the car and drive Cass to a dorm. She will meet friends that she will share life with for many years. She will learn many things as she prepares for her adult life. I have experienced taking a daughter to college, so I know the routine: I make many trips from the car to the dorm room. Jill helps unpack and get her settled in. We all get excited about what the next four years hold for Cass. And then Jill and I will drive away…excited for her, a bit saddened by the necessary transitions of life, and pondering life without a daughter in the house. I’m sure there will be another Cassidy Hug. Then my girl, the one who can do anything she sets her mind to do, will begin her next adventure. And watch out world, an amazing young lady is coming your way!

Happy 18th Birthday from a proud dad who’s crazy about you!

8 Goals of a Young Dad

IMG_0561I’ll be honest, I didn’t see this one coming. There were many things I anticipated as the calendar turned to 2015, but I overlooked a couple of significant milestones. My daughters are turning 21 and 18 in the same year. The rights and responsibilities of adulthood are cascading down in the Brown house!

In one of my more reflective moments, I pulled out a journal I started writing in 21 years ago (full disclosure, there are only 10 entries….journaling is not my forte). When my firstborn was just over two weeks old, I made a list of things I had learned that I hoped would be important to her as well. Here’s my list, composed February 8, 1994:

  • Enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
  • Creativity is a far greater gift than money.
  • Never get too old for cartoons.
  • Make time for beautiful sunsets – they are one of God’s gifts to us.
  • Let your family be your best friends.
  • Enjoy all four seasons.
  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
  • If you laugh until it hurts, it feels good.

Looking back, it seems that contentment, creativity, and following Christ were important values I wanted to pass along to my kids. If I made a list today, I’m sure it would look a bit different (especially since I haven’t enjoyed all four seasons since I moved to CA). I’m not sure how well I would score as a parent if I were graded with this rubric. But contentment, creativity, and following Christ are still high values that I hope my kids catch.

With that said, I think I’ll go catch a cartoon in time watch the sunset!

While I Wait…

I deeply appreciate the many people who have been praying and encouraging my family during this transition season of our lives. I recently had lunch with a friend I’ve shared ministry with for many years. Somewhere in between my Sun Chips and favorite sub (Jersey Mike’s #9, no onions, add Jersey Mikespickles), we were able to encourage each other for the unique seasons we find ourselves in. I was able to update him on how God has been at work in my life. He shared Isaiah 30 with me, a passage that has become meaningful to me. The context is Judah being warned to trust God instead of Egypt for victory in battle:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.” (Is. 30:15)

Searching for the next ministry door to open can be a daunting process. There are always emails to answer, interviews to attend, and doors that will open and close. I needed the reminder to rest and trust. Here are some updates on how my time is being spent, and how I seek to rest and trust during this stage of life:

Reconnect: One of the gifts of a severance period is the opportunity to spend more time with my family. I have tried to be present in ways that weren’t always possible under the demands of ministry. I’m not the perfect model of this, but we’ve built some great memories of hanging out on the beach, discovering Smashburgers, hiking the Narrows, and risking my life on an inner tube behind a boat.

Retool: This is a great opportunity for further education. My first step is to take a few more Masters level courses. By Christmas, I should have enough hours to gain admission into a doctoral program. So yes, within a few years “Doc Brown”Doc Brown could be a reality. Outside of formal education, I’ve enjoyed reading some good books, including a biography of Andrew Jackson. He’s one of my favorite presidents, and a good example of the type of leader I desire to be. (Could be a future blog related to this)

Remember: I am in a transition period. That means I transition out of one ministry and into the next. By definition, this is the time I “move on” from my ministry at Trinity Church. But my affection for the church is still strong. I rejoice when they rejoice and mourn when they mourn. I have spent significant time in prayer for Trinity. My desire is to see a unified, thriving body of believers gather to worship, make disciples, and share life together.

Waiting on God’s plan and timing can be trying. Isaiah 30 includes a tremendous promise of God’s grace as Judah waited on him:

“Therefore LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.” (Is. 30:18)

There will always be emails to answers and interviews to attend. But I don’t want to miss out on God’s invitation to “return and rest”, for it is here that we find strength and direction. So until God clearly opens the door he desires us to walk through, I will continue to reconnect with those I love, retool by studying and learning, and remember from where God has brought me. And if you’d like to hear more, I’d love to share a Jersey Mike’s #9 with you sometime (no onions, add pickles).

I Look Down to Look Up to Her

Mee Maw making her famous chicken and dumplin's.

Mee Maw making her famous chicken and dumplin’s.

“The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” (Proverbs 20:29)

I increasingly find myself somewhere between the young men and old men in this proverb. And as I grow progressively more “gray”, people are often surprised to hear me refer to my grandmother. “Really? Your grandmother is still alive?” is a typical first response.

My grandmother, Louise Schmitt, or better, “Mee-Maw” turned 95 last summer. She lived most of her life around Montgomery, Alabama and moved to Tennessee to live near my parents in her later years. Recently, she has had some health struggles. When you’re 95, all health struggles are a big deal. I reflected a bit on Mee-Maw and decided I’d preserve some of these thoughts to a blog.

If you were to meet Mee-Maw, your first thought would probably be, “that’s one short lady!” Though she is small in stature, she is tall in strength and character. I have always looked up to her. So in an unusual way, I look down to look up to her. Here are a few of the qualities I have observed in Mee-Maw, and some of the reasons I look up to her:

  • Family. Family is important to her. I have many memories of visiting her house in Montgomery. We spent many a Thanksgiving with extended family filling up every square inch of their home (and sharing one bathroom). She visited us often, and I always looked forward to her visits – and I’ll be honest – I knew she would bring a toy for us every time she came. Just a simple, fun way of saying that we are important to her. And just before she turned 95 last summer, she cooked a batch of her amazing chicken and dumplings for us – she definitely has not lost her touch!
  • Strength. Never underestimate my grandmother! She was the one climbing onto roller coasters with us at 6 Flags. She was the one driving a car into her 90’s. She lives with an inner strength and resolve that has sustained her through many challenges throughout her life.
  • Love what you do. I have always known Mee-Maw to have hobbies that she has enjoyed. She loved to make crafts, and there is plenty of her handiwork in my home. She loves dolls. She had a bedroom in her home committed to them, and in her later years they have become very significant gifts to her great-granddaughters. Reading and writing have also been passions of hers.
  • Faith. Mee-Maw has passed along a simple, but profound faith that is affecting the world with the gospel. Her son, Frank has been a seminary professor since the early 1970’s. He has trained thousands of students to lead effective church ministries. These students serve in churches around the world. I am one of those students, preaching the Word of God each week in Southern California.

My grandmother has lived through a lot in 95 years. In some ways our nation has experienced many improvements during her lifetime. In other ways, it would be nice to return to the wholesome simplicity of rural Alabama of a few decades ago. She has a deep reservoir of memories and experiences. She has been surrounded by people who love her.  She has wept by the graveside of too many people, both family and friends. She has kept the faith.

Our culture makes a mistake in elevating youth over age. Her gray hair is her splendor. Her wisdom is a priceless treasure. I love watching my parents honor her in their care for her. I often wish I was around Tennessee a bit more to hear her stories, eat even more of her dumplings, and give her a grateful hug for her role in my life. I look up to her, even if I have to look down to do so.

100 Years of Marriage

Marriage-RIngsWho gets to celebrate 100 years of marriage?

Doesn’t happen often, but that was our experience in 2013. This year, our family had two major celebrations. In June we traveled to Tennessee to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of my parents. In September we gathered with all of our California family to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of my in-laws. Unfortunately, not many people get to celebrate two sets of Golden Anniversaries – and few get to celebrate both in the same year.

As I reflect on these celebrations, I’m thankful that my kids are the recipients of 100 years of grandparents demonstrating faithfulness to each other and the Lord. It’s a legacy I hope they will never forget and never take for granted.

And I look at my beautiful wife and marvel at God’s good hand in our lives. Our parents both married in 1963. We were both born in 1967. We were both second born. We grew up on opposite sides of the country. I was enjoying barefoot summers in East Tennessee while she was enjoying the beach in sunny Southern California. In high school I began sensing a call to follow God in ministry, while one of her hopes was to be the wife of a youth pastor. We both found our way to Liberty University, and our parents “happened” to visit the same weekend. We all got together one evening for ice cream (remember Swensen’s, anyone?), and even though we weren’t dating at the time, I think we all knew the two of us would end up together.

So two couples, married on opposite sides of the country in 1963, would become forever joined together. They share three grandkids, they share our journey, and they have passed along more than they will ever realize. Through the crazy twists and turns of life, I’m grateful that neither of us had to wonder if our parents loved each other. They have both modeled a stability and love that is a foundation for our lives.

So as we close in on our 22nd Anniversary, I want to pause and say thank you to two amazing sets of parents who have passed along a story of godliness and faithfulness to us and our children. You have both supported and encouraged us in many ways; but the greatest gift you have given us is dad loving mom, mom loving dad, and both loving Jesus.

Thanks for the legacy of 100 years of marriage.

Roots and Wings

2013-07-02 17.29.18Disclaimer: I wrote this a year ago when we dropped off my oldest daughter for her freshmen year at college. It’s now a year later and time to move her into the dorm the second time. It’s great to see God at work in her life and mine.

My dad always told me the role of parents is to give “roots and wings”. My in-laws say that parents do not raise kids, they raise adults. Both are great pieces of advice, and both are absolutely true. So why does it feel so weird to drop off my daughter at college? Why does it feel like we brought her home from the hospital, changed her diapers, and then set up her dorm room? People always warned me the time flies. You only ride this train once.

OK. A little reality check. It didn’t fly by. It was 18 years of investing the best I can offer into an amazing young woman of God. It was late night conversations about God and church. It was praying with her to ask Jesus into her heart. It was baptizing her as she chose to follow Jesus. It was waving good-bye at summer camp and mission trips. And being there to welcome her home. It was being nervous and scared in the passenger seat as she learned to drive – and even more nervous and scared as I stood in the driveway while she drove off without me.

It was watching her excel as a student. It was joy in seeing national writing awards hanging on her wall. It was cheering her on as she pushed herself in cross country meets. It was being amazed by her beauty as prom rolled around. It was swelling with pride as her high school graduation felt like a community-wide celebration of her accomplishments.

It was watching her sing and laugh with her sister. It was seeing her funny high five thing she did with her brother. It was “passing” rolls across the table to each other at meal time. It was hearing piano and trombone practice evolving into strumming the guitar and ukulele. It was seeing her become such a gifted writer and editor that I know she would groan at the passive verbs, incomplete sentences, and Oxford commas in these rambling thoughts.  It was an 18-year journey from a country hospital in Bedford, Virginia to a university in San Diego, California.

So we dropped her off at a great place — a nurturing school, great roommates, and even an ocean view from her dorm room. I can’t help but question if I gave her roots that are deep enough. But I’m excited about watching her wings spread and helping her fly into adulthood (cue the Beatles “Blackbird” here). Ultimately, she’s in God’s hands and under His care – a good place to be. And this train ride is not over. I’ll be riding with her the rest of our lives. It will just be different from now on.