May 29, 2010

Blog Header - May 26, 2010

I took the photo of this fun couple at the Front Royal Wine & Craft Festival this year. He didn’t actually have the name of my blog on his head until I played with the photo in Photoshop. But I think he looks quite stunning this way.

May 27, 2010

What’s Your Story?

Mary Fuller

It’s been a busy couple of months, and I’ve been away from the blog for just too long. God has been doing some really interesting things in my heart, and I wanted to share them with our readers.

Most of you have read enough about my younger years to know that it was pretty tough. I had a lot of heartache and trauma for a young girl. Yet God has used those experiences to teach me more about Him and to teach me about people. I’d like to make some general observations:

  1. Everyone has a story. They may not even realize it themselves, but everyone has a story to tell. One very sad thing about our current culture is that we think that stories need to be crafted and told to us through media. We’ve lost the ability to imagine while hearing a good story, and we’ve especially lost the art of storytelling. Each of us needs to craft and hone our own story to tell to the generations that follow us.
  2. Everything has a purpose. We have an incredible God who is not limited by the curse of sin. We feel that limitation every moment of our day. But we serve a sovereign God who created and rules the universe. Even the horribly awful stuff that happened to me as a child had a purpose. God allowed those things in my life to draw me to Him, to help me crave His fellowship, and to shape me into the image of His Son.
  3. God’s story is bigger than us. We are very much like toddlers in our thinking a good deal of the time. We tend to think the universe revolves around us. We forget that we are not the only child God has, and we fail to realize that He is also working in the lives of others. Sometimes what happens in our life isn’t about us, it’s about what God is doing in the lives of the people around us, and we get the awesome privilege of being part of their story. Hopefully, through our obedience we will be part of the good story, not the trauma!
  4. We need to rehearse our story. Rehearsing our story to ourselves reminds us that God is active in our lives and is at this moment writing another chapter in the book of our lives. Rehearsing our story to others encourages them to trust God and follow after Him in the difficult times. Rehearsing our story can also bring others to an understanding of God’s draw on their lives, and bring them to repentance and salvation. As we rehearse, we need to learn the art of storytelling—not embellishment, but instead, learning to tell our story in an interesting and captivating way that holds the attention of the listener.

This is exactly what God has been doing in my life lately. He has been giving me multiple opportunities to share my God story (the story of what God has done in my life to draw me to Him, to teach me more about Him). He has also given me multiple opportunities to listen carefully to the God stories of others. Recent experiences include a young mom whose testimony reminded me of how God lovingly draws His loved ones to Himself, how patient He is in allowing us to suffer without Him, just enough enough to make us crave Him. And yesterday, I had the honor of listening to the God story of a woman who is older than I. Such stories give me courage to trust when I cannot see, to cling to the faithfulness of an all-wise, all-powerful God. And smack dab in the middle is the joy I’ve had lately of watching God write His story on the lives of a handful of young people that He’s placed in my life.

Last Friday, we had a Fuller Fun Fest at our house. We started having these fun fests a couple of years ago, but it’s been over a year since the last one. Basically, the kids’ friends come over just to hang out, jam on their intstruments, and sometimes we play games like Mafia or, Name the Owner of this foot. But this time, 32 kids (if you don’t count me...), ages 12–21, mixed so well that I never had to play a game. Later in the evening, Lance built a fire. The older guys stoked it hot, and one of the college guys started leading us in worship songs. It was an incredible evening. I had planned to wind things down around 10:00, and not long after, most of the kids’ parents had taken them home. But the college guys hung out till nearly 1:00. We sat in our living room and told stories. We laughed, we contemplated, and finally shooed them out the door. But I went to bed totally in awe that God has given us an opportunity to be part of the lives of these incredible young people whose stories He is now writing.

I’d like to encourage you this holiday weekend to take some time to think about your God story. What is it that God has done in your life that shows His love and care for you? Find someone to tell your God story to—one of your kids, your best friend, even a stranger you meet sometime in the next week. Work at your story to make the telling of it interesting so someone cares to listen. And read Psalm 78 to impress on yourself the need to be telling your story all the time, to yourself and to others.


May 25, 2010

Bi-polar Christianity

Richard Gelina

In my blog post The Journey I mentioned that a coworker had given me the Philip Yancey book Soul Survivor. I have been reading it as I find time, which means I’m making very slow progress through the book. But I have found it fascinating.

I love authors who make me think, and Philip Yancey is definitely one of those authors. The issues he deals with in this book are his personal struggles with the seeming incongruity of the Christian faith as viewed against the behavior of those who claim the name of Christ. His context is quite different than mine, but the issue is one I have struggled with for a few years now.

As soon as I started the book I was struck with an interesting parallel between my son’s behavioral issues and the behavior of many of us Christians. My son, as many of you know, is severely bipolar. He has many other neurological issues as well, but bipolar may be the disorder that seems to have the most impact on his ability to get along in the world. My son never takes a middle ground—he is always out on one fringe or the other. This is tremendously uncomfortable for the people around him as extremes are simply not the norm.

Jack Kerouac

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...

There are positive ways of looking at this extreme character, such as the quote by Jack Kerouac in the callout box to the right. But in real-world terms, those extremes make it very hard for my son to communicate with others. They make it hard for him to have friends. In fact, they make it hard for him to get along in the world in any way at all. The wild extremes are simply not acceptable in our society.

So I was reading Philip Yancey and I was struck with the thought that we Christians seems to gravitate toward extremes. In a recent conversation with my brother-in-law, he mentioned that Martin Luther had spotted this tendency in Christians and gave the analogy of a man trying to mount a horse, but each time he tries to jump onto the horse’s back he springs all the way over onto the other side, never actually making it onto the horse’s back. He said that Christians react to a perceived innacuracy or heresy and we jump all the way over the horse’s back to the reactive opposite side. Then other Christians react to our extreme by jumping all the way over the horse’s back to the previous opposite extreme, or perhaps a whole new extreme altogether. I think Martin Luther was pretty close to the truth in that observation. And not much has changed in the 500 years since his life.

The one extreme The other extreme
Liberal/Antinomian    Legalistic works-based salvation
Your reality, your truth,
Popes, pontifical pastors,
paranoid elders

Bipolar religion is not inviting to a watching world. And it is not the way of true Christianity. While we are not to be lukewarm, we are also told to practice moderation. And moderation is not a common characteristic of those of us who claim the name of Christ.

I believe that we should be known by a quiet personal encounter and relationship with Christ leading us to reach out in love to a world in need. This gentle and quiet love for others should typify Christianity. It is the characteristic displayed by Jesus toward the common people around him. Jesus’ vitriol against others was only employed against the religious leaders who were living bipolar religion—out on the extreme fringes, pushed there not by scripture but by man-made tradition.

I do think there is a place for extreme living—we should be extreme in our commitment to balance, reasonableness, and quiet faith.


May 24, 2010

15 years old?


oday is David’s birthday—he’s fifteen years old. It’s hard to believe.

This past weekend was focused on things he would enjoy, so we spent Saturday at the River Fest—a fun gathering of the people from town at the Shenandoah River. The Park Service sets up hammocks all around along the banks of the river and folks bring their picnic baskets and coolers, claim a picnic table and a hammock or two, and then just kick back and enjoy the beauty of the Central Shenandoah Valley. It’s a lot of fun.

They also had some presentations and displays set up for the kids. David enjoyed meeting the llamas and feeding them hay. He also found a bunch of snakes sunning themselves on the rocks along the bank when we went for a walk. Before long, about 30 people had gathered to look at the snakes and watch them swim between the rocks and climb up on the rocks and stare back at us.

David posing with one of the llamas (and his new walking stick)

But David’s actual birthday is today, and Aunt Shawne, Uncle Harold, and David’s cousin, Luke, are visiting this afternoon. And I have taken the day off to enjoy the celebration.


May 19, 2010

Blog Header - May 16, 2010

I took this blog header photo about a year ago at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest. This is my wife Kim standing by the wall of one of the gardens there. Kim is a history buff and we have spent the past 24 years digging up wonderful treasures from the past by visiting fantastic historic places.

We have found that an interest in history can bring almost any town to life and make you appreciate better where you live by thinking of those who have lived there before you.

We're really enjoying getting to know Front Royal. It has some great history, and I think its history is a big part of the reason it’s such a great town to live in now.

Anyway—this picture was taken close to our 23rd anniversary. We have now been married for 24 years—almost a quarter of a century, and half our lives. God has been good.

And since I have not posted anything since this last blogheader post, I will just add the next blog header photo here. I took these pictures of my wife 24 years ago while we were on our honeymoon in St. Thomas, USVI. It was a beautiful place, a beautiful bride, and the start of a long and good marriage.


May 16, 2010

Happy anniversary, Kim

Kim, on our honeymoon

Twenty-four years ago tomorrow, May 17, 1985, I married the prettiest girl I knew. Kim and I had known each other essentially all our lives, and she married me anyway. And she has been the best wife anyone could ever imagine for almost a quarter of a century now.

We had no idea, twenty-four years ago, where God would be taking us. And had we known at the time, we may have reconsidered. But after having walked these roads with my wife for half my life now, I can honestly say I would do it all again. In fact, I could never have done it without her.

Kim, yesterday

For twenty-four years we have tried to move out of the Washington, DC, area. For twenty-four years we have looked for a good church. For nine years we tried to have a child. Then we adopted a crack baby and have spent the ensuing 15 years loving this child while at the same time wondering if we can possible make it as his parents. We have made many geographic moves, joined with many churches, and been accused of poor parenting by more people than you can possibly imagine. But at this twenty-four year milestone in our marriage God has led us to the most wonderful town either of us have ever lived in. He has put us in a home that is essentially our dream home. He has provided education for our son that has succeeded better than any previous education. And he has led us to a wonderful church with a delightful pastor’s family and great people.

It has been a twisty road with some serious rough patches over these past twenty-four years. But through it all I have had the love of the most wonderful wife imaginable. And God has brought us to this point with blessings too many to count.

Thank you, God. And Happy anniversary, Kim. I love you.


May 15, 2010

Blog Header - May 12, 2010

The bridge in this picture is the Francis Scott Key Bridge the connects Rosslyn, Virginia, with Washington, D.C. It spans the Potomac just about 100 yards from my office building. I took this photo about two years ago, long before I knew I would be working from this location. In fact, when I took this photo our firm did not even have this office. My how times change.

The porch


ith its numerous associations, the porch awakens something deep in American consciousness. It is a reminder of America’s past. Its appearance conincided with the founding of the nation.

Our porch

The porch is a populist symbol par excellence. Time has made of it a symbol for the individual’s ties to the family and by extension, to the nation as an enlargement of the family. The porch is where friends meet to share a few quiet words, a place of reflection where old folk sit and watch the world go by, where teenagers take their first hesitant steps in romantic love, where grief spends itself, and hope blossoms. The American porch is a bridge to the universe.

—Philip Drew, Veranda: Embracing Place


May 12, 2010

Blog Header - May 9, 2010

I took this photo when we lived in Lynchburg, Virginia, at a Lynchburg Hillcats Minor League baseball game. These games were tremendous fun at a great price. So it made family outings affordable and enjoyable. The two girls in this picture are sitting with the Hillcat’s mascot Southpaw—a delightfully offbeat mascot who regularly led the crowd in cheers and dancing. He did a great worm, believe it or not.

I processed the photo in Photoshop using a technique described by Deke McLelland for faking HDR photography with one exposure. I love the contrast, detail, and overly saturated colors common to HDR photography, so I have been experimenting with this relatively simple technique for the past few days. For the most part, I have chosen photographs that were low in contrast and had poor lighting. It’s amazing how much improvement results from applying this fake HDR technique.

Here are a few examples:

Kim and David in Disney’s Rainforest Café

From Disney’s Animal Kingdom, this photo was so underexposed that it was essentially unusable. I had tried to take a picture without using flash so I could capture the unique lighting of the aquariums, but it was just too dark. I finally managed to capture this picture with no blur by raising the ISO level to 1800, but to keep the shutter speed high enough to eliminate motion blur I had to tremendously underexpose the picture.

The face HDR technique allowed me to pull detail out of the photo and show the beautiful lighting and the beautiful fish in the aquarium (along with my beautiful wife and my son back in the shadows behind her).

Kim on the train at Disney’s Magic Kingdom

I love how this one turned out. This is Kim riding the train that encircles Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We rode the train quite a few times—both to get a break from walking and because our son loves trains.

Model A at Natural Bridge, VA – Sepia toning

I wanted to try the fake HDR technique on a black & white photograph, so I pulled up this photo of an old car that I took when we visited Natural Bridge, Virginia, about four years ago. It was a very foggy morning, which I think contributes nicely to the old-time photograph effect. But with the post-processing of the photograph a giveaway showed up in the reflection on the side door. I don’t think they had minivans when this Model A was brand new.

A spectator at a Lynchburg Hillcats game

I took this photo at a Lynchburg Hillcats game. The color was dull; the photo had very low contrast. It was an altogether lifeless and unpleasing photograph. So I applied the fake HDR technique and ended up with this arresting photograph. I love the captivating quality of the young lady’s eyes in this photo.

One of my friends from work

After displaying some of the photos I had processed, one of my friends at work asked if I could apply the same technique to her Facebook profile picture. This is the result of that request. I blurred the background to make her stand out more from the brick wall.

May 10, 2010

Thankful for each day


oday is a cool day—the temperature is hovering barely above 70 degrees. The gentle breezes would likely cause me to shiver were it not for the supple warming rays of the spring sun caressing my skin as I sit and write these thoughts.

Soft, fluffy white clouds slowly meander across the sky, past the trees and across the mountain tops behind our house. I’m sitting on our side porch, cooking a roast in our wood smoker grill. The beauty of this day brings our great and glorious God praise. And so I write this tribute.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

As I ponder—and write—my son is playing soccer in the back yard. His sporting cries are happy sounds. These sounds fill my heart with joy. Not every day is like today, but every day has its own troubles, its own lessons, its own beauty. Perhaps it is our perspective on these things that organizes their priority in our minds.

Today is a day to be savored.

It is quiet here on the porch. The gentle spring breezes rise and swell and then fall off to rise again a moment later. The repetitive ebb and flow of the breeze reminds me of waves lapping the shore of a peaceful beach. The now fully-mature leaves on the trees rustle with each swell. The white noise of those leaves interacting with the wind covers the sound of the distant highway. Birds sing in the trees and from time to time they swoop lazily across the back yard sky.

Philippians 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

No cars are traveling the local streets. All sounds reaching my ears are part of the immense orchestration God wrote for this day. This orchestral piece will never be played again—and it has never been played before. But it is being played to perfection under the hand of the loving and gracious Conductor. The orchestra has not missed a note, and I am witness to this once-in-a-lifetime performance.

Thank you, God, for this glorious day. You are amazing!


May 09, 2010

Raw nutrition


love to cook! I love to eat, too. But I think I love to cook even more than I love to eat. There’s just something about putting together a bunch of different ingredients that interact in a pleasing way with each other when they hit your taste buds that drives me to explore new methods and techniques. Once I have figured out a better recipe and learned a new culinary technique, we invite some friends over and try it out on them. If it goes over well I know I have hit on something that is a keeper, and I file that away for future use.

Of course, if the people run from the house screaming or call us the next day to tell us that they have been hospitalized for food poisoning, I toss that new recipe or technique in the Do Not Use bin and never try it again unless we are being visited by folks we’d prefer not to see.

So when we were in the book store a few weeks ago and my wife saw the sushi making kit on sale at the register, she picked it up for me. To understand what a great wife I have you have to realize that my wife would not eat raw fish (or cooked fish, for that matter) if she were dying of starvation and her choices were the fish or a piece of recycled paper. So she showed great love to me and to our son when she bought me this sushi making kit—because we love eating raw fish wrapped in sticky rice and seaweed.

Hmmm—now that I just typed that in, it really doesn’t sound too appetizing.

The kit included a book on sushi preparation, a DVD containing video demonstrations of various stages of the process and quite a few different sushi/sushimi techniques, a bamboo mat for assembling and rolling the sushi, two sets of fancy chopsticks, two sushi plates, and two wasabi dipping bowls. And the whole thing was on the discount table for only $9.95. Not bad.

When we got home from the book store I set about devouring the book and the DVD lessons immediately.

One week later I tried my hand at making my very own homemade sushi. We went to the store and bought a nice tuna filet, some scallions, wasabi powder, Nori seaweed, and short-grain rice. I cooked the rice, chopped the scallions and tuna, and then set about assembling and rolling the sushi. And then cutting it, which is not as simple a matter as it might seem to be. The sticky rice sticks to the knife blade if you’re not careful and you end up ripping the seaweed wrapper rather than cutting it. But I managed to get through quite a few rolls of sushi and my son and I had quite a repast while my wife sat eating her steak and looking queasy at our food. She turned a particularly interesting shade of green when one long piece of raw tuna slipped out of our son’s chopsticks and he slurped it into his mouth like a long string of spaghetti.

She’s a great sport and was pleased that we didn’t offer her any of our delicious treats. And they really were delicious.


May 08, 2010

Blog Header - May 5, 2010

I took this photo as part of a senior portrait photo shoot. The young lady in this photo is our pastor’s daughter, well, he was our pastor at the time—this photo is from about 15 years ago.

Suzanna wanted some photos taken in the studio and others around the house or outdoors. So after doing a few studio shots and a few portraits around our house, Suzanna and I headed to Prince William Park. We got some great pictures there in the park and this one was one of my favorites.

May 06, 2010

The journey


ometimes encouragement flows from unexpected fountains. And sometimes God puts just the right person in the right place at the right time ... with the right book.

God has led me (with my family in tow) through many strange waters. I guess those waters should be called the Evangelical River, because the strange waters I’m speaking of are a steady stream of different churches that my family has attended as God has moved us around from location to location. My adventures in rafting the turbulent white-capped waters of the Evangelical River have shown me two very important truths: 1) You can always trust God; and 2) You cannot always trust the church.

It’s the Climb

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose

Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb

After a recent particularly disastrous church relationship while we were living in Lynchburg, God has led us to a very small, but seemingly very good church. The pastor cares about the people in the church. The people care about each other and their pastor. They live in community in a way that produces active evidence of love for one another. It is refreshing. And yet I struggle with the abuse and active evil perpetrated on the people of churches we have previously attended. Eight months later I still struggle with trying to understand how Christians can act the way so many church leaders act.

God seems to be working on answering my questions about these things.

I have earned the reputation over the years of not being the brightest bulb in the lamp—or at least not the quickest. I often notice that God has been attempting to communicate things to me for quite some time before I realize that that communication has been ongoing for some time. I have often said that God has to smack me upside the head with a two-by-four to get my attention. I’m not proud of that; it is a simple statement of fact.

But I’m beginning to recognize that God is communicating to me regarding this issue of severe problems in local churches. One of these forms of communication happened just yesterday when a coworker handed me a book by Philip Yancey and said, “I want you to keep this book. I just finished reading it and I thought of you on practically every page of the book. This is yours.”

I’ll get to the book, but first I have to mention the other recent communication from God. I was listening to a series of lectures on church history from Denton Bible Church. When Pastor Tom Nelson got to the lecture that covered the 18th century in America he mentioned a sermon titled, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry,” by Rev. Gilbert Tennent. I looked it up and read it. And what an outstanding read it was! Without a doubt it helped me figure out a possible answer to the questions I had from our last church experience. If you’re interested in reading this outstanding sermon from the 1700s you may read it here.

Then this coworker unexpectedly gave me the Philip Yancey book, Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church—an interesting title, to be sure. I began reading this book on my bus ride into work this morning. The preface is well-written and outstanding. I’m expecting that this will be a very interesting and refreshing book to read. But when I got to the first chapter of the book and read the first paragraph I realized that I would be posting this paragraph to this blog.

Sometimes in a waiting room or on an airplane I strike up conversations with strangers, during the course of which they learn that I write books on spiritual themes. Eyebrows arch, barriers spring up, and often I hear yet another horror story about church. My seatmates must expect me to defend the church, because they always act surprised when I respond, “Oh, it’s even worse than that. Let me tell you my story.” I have spent most of my life in recovery from the church.

This may prove to be a very interesting read. I promise to update you when I have finished the book. And now, on to the reading...


May 05, 2010

Blog Header - May 2, 2010

The gorgeous house in this header photo is Thomas Jefferson’s retreat and retirement home, Poplar Forest. It is a small-scale version of Monticello, complete with the octagonal main living area and single side wing. This almost unknown home is situated in Forest, Virginia, the town next to Lynchburg and it is a wonderful place to visit—especially on July 4th when they have a ton of events and demonstrations for all ages.

Poplar Forest is one of the things we really miss about the Lynchburg, Virginia, area.

May 04, 2010

Misplaced trust

Trusting men who demonstrate a proclivity to lie proves you a fool, and such fools are nothing more to the liar than the dust beneath their boots—there to be trod upon.

Prelate Ann, Soul of the Fire
by Terry Goodkind, p. 493


May 02, 2010

Blog Header - April 28, 2010

I took this photo of a beautiful little girl with amazing eyes when we were at the Natural Bridge Hotel for a seminar on adoptive families and their unique issues. This was the adopted daughter of one of the other attending families.