September 8th, 1979 - It's a hot day, but there'll be a wedding that evening and since it's my wedding, we spend some time together as a wedding party playing softball. Hitting, throwing, catching, running - all done in the heat of the central valley - was a big part of my youth.
That night, prior to the wedding, our guests will gather for a massive buffet. Donna (my wife of 44 years as of yesterday) had a vision for creating enough space for she and I to enjoy true presence with our guests. They ate. We wandered and said hello to the friends and family of our respective worlds. Then there was candlelight, and entry of the bride to a song I'd written, some words, prayers, songs, a kiss, and just like that... we were married.
Someone once said that, as stressful and tiring as pulling off a wedding is, making a wedding is the easy part. Making life? That's a different, more challenging undertaking. Every year we look back on our anniversary and marvel at the miracle of building a life a together. In years past I've shared long lists of truths learned about life as our days turned into decades on the marriage road. Today, though, I'm not thinking of long lists. I'm thinking of two categories, and the compounding interest that accrues to a life together when two people just keep showing up, in spite of obstacles, doubts, weariness, and disappointments.
They show up because love shows up. They ease the tensions with moments of laughter and companionship. They learn what love means to one another and, in their best moments, try to offer gifts of love to the other in the language they understand. All true. All important.
These skills, it seems to me, aren't the poetry of a life lived together. They're the punctuation, not the words, the sentences, the paragraphs. Those come from a deeper place. Those come when we give expression to what is deepest within us. When we're able to express that which we're made to do, and find enough affirmation to keep doing it - well, that's the stuff of magic. And when the two parties find that what the other is doing complements what they themselves are doing? That's the stuff of sustainable romance and joy. It's not perfection but it's very good. Here's what I mean:
November 1979 - Because I have a job at at a church that involves serving youth, Donna decides to put on a Thanksgiving meal for the college group. It will be the first of easily over a few thousand meals she'll create for a group larger than our family. This meal is the seed of hospitality, an offering, not just of food, but of ourselves, in a setting we love, as a means of service and blessing others.
It won't be long before my investment in those same young people as a Bible teacher fills me with a deep curiosity to know, not just the Bible, but the God of the Bible, better. After all, I'd changed majors, changed colleges, moved to a different state, all because the challenges of a single Bible verse changed my priorities from "being successful" to "knowing God," whatever that meant. My first stumbling attempts at teaching Bible in a youth group became my own seeds of my calling as a teacher.
There you have it. Hospitality and teaching. They just kept showing up.
1984 - Los Angeles. I've become the Youth Pastor of a church, which meant regular Bible teaching, and even a chance or two to preach. Though our apartment was small, Donna still provided the fuel for fellowship and learning by feeding these precious young lives, at church, in the Sierra Nevada mountains on backpacking trips, and even providing all the infrastructure support for a rafting trip on the Kings Canyon river, because I'd been suddenly called north to preach and interview for the role of interim pastor of Islands Community Church in Friday Harbor. Hospitality and teaching.
1987 - We've been in Friday Harbor for a few years now, and have begun a Thursday night Bible study for high school students because, behind the veil of going to church and already knowing all the Jesus answers, they have doubts, questions. Cable TV is just ramping up and it doesn't take long for financial, sexual, and power abuse ministry scandals to become front page news. Young people are becoming skeptical of institutional Christianity. Imagine that! We wanted to give these students access to more than just doctrine, so we opened our home (a 3 bedroom mobile home for much of our time there) offering food, a little study, and lots of discussion about ethics and how the teachings of Jesus could/should inform economics, politics, sexuality, art, and everything else. It worked really well, and teaching and hospitality began to mature as a means of serving our world.
1990 - We're now a family of five, with three young children. The vision that led to our engagement with high school students in Friday Harbor had given birth to a desire to open our home much wider, offering more teaching, more food, more conversation, and more wilderness encounters (a third value, which I'll write about in a different post). Through a series of what I can only describe as interventions and direction from God, we ended up starting a non-profit, purchasing property just outside North Cascades National Park with another couple, and moving to the mountains to provide teaching and fellowship on a full time basis.
It was hard work, a huge leap of faith, and a grand adventure. God provided for us and over the course of six years we hosted people at our table while I taught people from every continent except Antarctica. A common sight would be 20 people around our dinner table, followed by long discussions after the meal. Most of the guests were between 18-30. Our children grew up on the banks of the Skagit river and their love of both the wilderness and hospitality have their roots there. Teaching and hospitality meant hosting a surfer from Austra
lia, a nurse from Sweden, a farmer from Manitoba. It meant rappelling and rock climbing, hiking and s'mores, singing around the piano, and sharing life around the campfire. Still, when you boil it all down, it's hospitality and teaching.
December 1995 - We move to Seattle, sensing the call of God to lead Bethany Community Church. After years of radical hospitality, we buy a smaller house with a dining room that is crowded when there are eight people at the table. Still, the hospitality/teaching bug is in us, by which we mean: Bible teaching in isolation from the example of the life lived by the teacher is risky business. It's too easy to hide behind the veil of a public persona and then when the flaws of the real person are exposed, the hurt runs deep and fuels the fires of cynicism. No, teaching and living need to go together.
So Donna and I started a Sunday evening study time for college students I'd met at the climbing gym I'd joined. It was a meal and Dostoyevsky. A meal and CS Lewis. A meal and the Seattle Sonics. A meal and Genesis on sex. A half dozen students became twenty, became sixty. Dear friends joined in as volunteers to help shepherd. We ate with these students; hiked with these students; listened to these students; taught these students. I'd stay in the senior leader role at this church until near the end of 2021.
2023 Now we live in the mountains, and yesterday we celebrated our 44th anniversary by driving 30 miles toward the city in order to shop for food because we'll be hosting three groups here at our home in the next three weeks. There'll be high school students on one day, young leaders from Seattle for a few days, followed by individuals from Idaho and Holland eager to begin Ancient Paths ministries in their own churches.
Our children are all grown with families and pursuits of their own. My senior leader role is in the rear view mirror. And yet, this summer has seen a steady stream of visitors through our home with good conversations around good food. I've been on the road teaching on both coasts and in Canada, with more teaching to come, both here at our home and in Austria, Oregon, and the church I led in Seattle for so long. The non-profit we started in the mountains 30 years ago has been resurrected under different leadership, a young man I've had the privilege of mentoring. I'll be serving on the board of a nonprofit with a man who was part of the high school group that gathered at our house in Friday Harbor all those years ago. All the while, people will be passing through our mountain home for a cup of tea or glass of wine after a ski, for a meal, for a long conversation. Hospitality and teaching: They've been our constants in our constantly changing world.
So what? In Ecclesiastes we're given a couple of gems to consider:
"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it will all your might..." I was fortunate to learn, early on, that I'm made to teach and write so I jumped into the deep end of the pool and have been swimming there ever since. Donna was raised in a home that was a steady gathering place of hospitality. She learned how to expand menus and portions from watching her mother bless everyone who walked through the doors of her own home or the fellowship hall at church. We've each lived into the gifts we've been given and have been fortunate to pair them together like a fine wine complimenting a tasty meal.
"Sow your seeds in the morning and in the evening, for you don't know which seeds will sprout." This is the preacher/king's way of saying that the best lives are lived by doing, not just by thinking, or introspecting. I've often taught that freedom from my most self destructive tendencies hasn't come by saying "no" to my lusts and appetites as much as saying "yes" to the opportunities, on any given day, to use my gifts and be a blessing.
Choosing "yes" has made all the difference. Now we're able to look back on tens of thousands of "yes" choices and see that each one was a thread, weaving the tapestry of a life, a love, a calling. I'd do it all again in a heartbeat, but I won't. Instead I'll seek to choose "yes" again tomorrow, and the day after that, because the tapestry's still being woven, working now on the 45th chapter.