Thursday, January 29, 2009

In the Dark defines culture shock as “a state of bewilderment and distress experienced by an individual who is suddenly exposed to a new, strange, or foreign social and cultural environment.” During our time in Romania, Kacee and I both had our share of bewilderment and distress! As I’ve said before, “if we had a dollar for every time we asked ‘why,’ then we would have been able to stay a second year for free.” Probably the greatest advice we received prior to our departure was from our friend and mentor Teri McCarthy; “When something seems odd or different than you are accustomed to, just remember, it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different.”

I’m sure I could blog on a weekly basis for at least a year on our culture shock. Where to begin? I guess the logical place would be the first case we (Kacee) came down with. She has been begging me for weeks to blog on her first case of culture shock anyhow. For those of you that know me, you know that I would never attempt to get a laugh at someone else’s expense, especially my wife! However, she has just begged and begged. So to make her happy I will share it with you guys.

After living in Romania for about three weeks the wheels came off a bit. To set the stage let me tell you a bit about our first apartment. It was a one bedroom, one bath apartment with a small kitchen and living area. It was furnished with aged furniture (putting it nicely). I still remember watching the Olympics on our 15 inch black and white T.V. with rabbit ears. Now Kacee and I are not needy, needy people, but the floors were not quiet up to our standard to say the least. They were wood and you could almost grow vegetables in the cracks. We were on the first floor so we really didn’t want to open our windows because they were eye level to those on the sidewalk. Did I mention we did not have AC? We also did not have a washing machine, so we washed clothes in the bathtub. Got the picture yet?

To make things worse, we were beginning to discover the true cost of living in Romania. We had based our budget on general assumptions from other professors living in Romania. However, Timisoara is further west and apparently the cost of living was a bit more that our colleagues. Out of a complete lack of judgment and sensitivity I shared my concerns with Kacee. So really I’m to blame for this culture shock. Mater of fact, I’m pretty sure I felt to blame for everything, including the relocation.

Looking back I’m not quiet sure why I was shocked to return home to a completely dark apartment. As mentioned above, we lived on the bottom floor so we usually kept our windows shut. Since we lived on the bottom floor our windows also had security shades that blocked out 100% of the light. It was no surprise the windows were closed, but I was a bit caught off guard that all the lights were off. “Why are you sitting in the dark?” I asked. “Because we don’t have any money to use the electricity,” Kacee said! (Ask a stupid question…) To know me and Kacee is to know that I sometimes (okay always) exaggerate things and Kacee sometimes (okay always) reacts accordingly. She calls this “adding spice to the story.” I obviously “added spice” to the fact that we had no money, and that things were going to be tight going forward. I can admit that today!

Looking back, we can have a big laugh (unfortunately at her expense). Funny thing is Kacee has always feared Teri would use her as an example when training new professors! Let me just say (covering my tale now) that I have the sweetest, most supportive wife in the world. Had I chose to move to some African village and live in a grass hut, Kacee would be by my side. We’ve been to Romania, Houston, and back and forth to Lubbock a number of times. She’s always been by my side as my biggest fan and supporter.

The truth of the matter is that Kacee and I both believe God never calls one member of a family without calling the entire family. When He called me to Romania, He called Kacee as well. That’s why we made such a good team. Thanks honey for your support (and the laugh)!

Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Interest of Others

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:1-8

Wilkepedia defines humility as “the defining characteristic of an unpretentious and modest person, someone who does not think that he or she is better or more important than others.” In this day and age (dog eat dog world) it has become human nature to be the best (at all cost). Every day we see someone climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder via the knife in someone else’s back. This goes against the very nature of humility and the advice Paul gave the Church in Philippi; “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

According to the Roman Catholic theologian, poet, and writer, François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, (François Fénelon), “Humility is good in every situation, because it produces that teachable spirit which makes everything easy.” To be honest, if I had a name like him I would be humble as well! But he does make a good point. How much more likely are we to learn from an experience if we are humble? Experience has taught me that if I’m not humble God is good to humble me. There is such a fine line between arrogance, confidence, and humility; as there should be (at least the later two). We probably need a healthy, Christian mix of confidence and humility. Arrogance; however, we can probably do without. Seth Godin put it this way, “Confidence is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, particularly in marketing or investing. Arrogance, on the other hand, is hard to reward. My favorite combination is the quiet confidence of knowledge, combined with the humility that comes from realizing that you're pretty lucky and that you have no idea at all what's guaranteed to work tomorrow.”

So how do we find this healthy mix that will allow us to “look out for our own interests, while looking out for the interests of others?” Wilkepedia explained that legitimate Christian humility is comprised of the following behaviors and attitudes:

  1. Submission to God and legitimate authority;
  2. Recognition of the virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those which surpass one's own, and giving due honor and, when required, obeisance;
  3. Recognition of the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority; and, not reaching for that which is beyond one's grasp.

So, as I continue my journey into 2009 in pursuit of the perfect word for the year, I cannot help but think (know) I have a long ways to go to become the humble person God designed me to be. Loosing all my hair was a good start! Living in a country where I didn’t speak the language was a big help as well. Having two kids is just icing on the cake! Just last night I got to paint my three year old daughter’s toe nails. God obviously has a sense of humor! Glad He is patient with me.

Aspire to new heights. Humbly yours, JH.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Just ANOTHER Word!

As I said in my blog entitled Flyin’ High (January 11, 2009), my wife inspired me with her blog on selecting one word to describe yourself for the year. Unfortunately I’m very indecisive and have had a hard time narrowing down my selection. I started with a list of several hundred. I think I’m down to 20 or so. To help me pick I’ve decided to blog on those that seem relevant (what else would I blog on). Maybe that will help me narrow my selection.


Have you ever heard the old saying, “I’m just getting my ducks in a row”? What exactly does that mean? The best explanation I could find online is the process of preparing for something; like lining up ducks for target practice. Personally I prefer to look at this statement to mean: 1) I can’t make up my mind, 2) I’m stalling, or 3) I’m very particular! This is obviously a very famous phrase. I Googled the phrase and found 20 plus blogs on the topic and several blog sites by this title.

For some reason I just can’t get beyond the notion that it is indicative of a lack of action. Man I just wish people would get off the couch already! Knowing that I’m a man of little patience helps explain why I have very little tolerance for lazy people. I’m a man of action and I like to see things happen and I like to make things happen. One of my all time favorite quotes is by author Seth Godin. He says, “Getting your ducks in a row is not nearly as powerful as actually doing something with your duck.”

All too often we spend so much time trying to make things exactly perfect that we miss out on the opportunity. Sure the temptation is to make sure that whatever we do is done the best way possible (and rightfully so). But what if this “strive for perfection” results in no action at all? John F. Kennedy observed, “There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

This year I want to be much better at seizing the moment when there is a window of opportunity. Nike was right on the money when they coined the phrase “Just Do It.” That phrase has remained at the forefront of their marketing strategy for years. Last year Buckner came up with “Go.Be.Do.” in an effort to encourage people to “Go Somewhere, Be a Voice, and Do Something.” God has blessed each one of us with the ability to do something. The question is “are we willing to do it?”

With the recent economical crisis the theme for most companies and families is “Do more with less.” Doing more is a good start. Doing anything is an even better start. That’s my goal for 2009. Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My “Own” Office

Last week I told you my struggle to get prep time for the first day of class. I had hoped to be settled in my new office and working on lesson plans weeks before class started. Unfortunately, that was not reality. Fortunately, I did get an office the first day of class. Man was I excited to have a new office. So what if it was on the fifth floor of a five story building. And who cares if you don’t have an elevator. I need my exercise anyhow. And do you really need electricity or the internet? Not in this day and age. I will just charge my laptop at home during lunch (and climb the stairs again)! And I love those smoke filled internet cafés. What was important was the fact that I had my own desk.

That first morning, my friend Cosmin took me to my office. He made sure my key worked before wishing me well. I remember his final words as he left, “Looks like someone decorated for you! Enjoy.” At that point it did not register with me that I might be sharing an office. Guess I overlooked the fact that there were two desks in my office. Immediately I began to make myself at home. After all, I had lesson plans to prepare! In less than an hour I was able to clean out the “big desk” that for some strange reason was full of paper, pens, pencils, etc. I wonder why? By this time it was approaching lunch. Though we had been in Romania a month I was unable to muster up the courage to find the university cafeteria. Baby steps!

About an hour later (maybe two, it is Romania) I returned to “my office.” Now what happened next probably would have captured the attention of a normal person. However, I was so consumed with my new office and the hours of work I had ahead of me that I totally overlooked the fact that all of my stuff had been moved to the small desk. “Strange. Who would have done that? Oh well, might as well move it back!” Looking back I’m dumbfounded that it took meeting my office partner a few hours later for it to dawn on me that I was sharing this office! You know, that small desk wasn’t that bad after all.

Now the story would be funny if it ended here. However, it gets better! For weeks I went about my business working from the small desk. I would work in the morning, return home to charge my computer, teach class in the evening, and then return to my office to do more work. Now the office was a bit small so I didn’t leave a lot of things overnight. After all, I had to charge my computer at night! Now I’ve already labeled myself as a “less than observant person.” So it probably doesn’t strike you as strange that I didn’t realize things being moved around on my small desk. Sure I noticed a pencil moved occasionally; sometimes my books would be moved as well. However, I did have an office partner. Maybe he moved them. Wrong again!

Weeks into the semester I opened “our” office door only to find a small Romanian man sitting at “my desk.” How dare he? Maybe he was just waiting on my office partner. Wrong again. After several minutes of pointing, grunting, and broken English, and horrific Romanian, I discovered he was a part time professor. So it wasn’t that crazy that I didn’t notice his subtle changes to “our desk.” He only worked two days a week. I wonder what he thought about my stuff being there. Assuming he was more observant than me.

The great thing was he and I developed a neat relationship over time. It was great to learn about Romania, Timisoara, and the university from someone that had been there long before Communism fell. I’m glad I shared an office with both of my office partners. Think how boring and lonely it would have been otherwise! Life’s too short to spend it alone. Aspire to new heights. Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What's in a word?

As I said in my blog entitled Flyin’ High (January 11, 2009), my wife inspired me with her blog on selecting one word to describe yourself for the year. Unfortunately I’m a terrible picker. Sure I can pick my nose but I’ve never been able to pick a winning team (evident by my Ags), a career (evident by my resume), or my clothes (evident by my wife’s control of my wardrobe). Really the only thing I ever got right was picking a wife (I hope she agrees). From that point on she has done all the picking for me! Since she is not picking my “word of the year,” I’ve decided to pick several. I started with a list of several hundred. I think I’m down to 20 or so. To help me pick I’ve decided to blog on those that seem relevant for the day. Forgive me if I ramble. Maybe you can help me narrow them down.


WAIT! Another four letter word for Christians. In a world where time is consumed like a prairie wildfire, waiting on the Lord can be excruciating. King David tells us, “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes wait for the Lord.”

I have always struggled with patience. I was ready to pack my bags and move to Romania after my first visit in 1999. However, God made me patiently wait until fulfilling this calling in 2004. When I asked Kacee to marry me I was ready that day. I couldn’t believe it could take a year to plan a wedding. Guess I should have asked a year earlier. And when Brynlee was born I was ready to get down on the floor and play with her. It took me weeks to resolve that she was just going to take a bottle, sleep, and go to the bathroom for months.

We’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t pray for patience. God might grow you into a patient person.” I’ll be honest, I never prayed for patience, but my mother or wife or someone must have. Kacee would be the first to admit that the year we lived in Romania made me into the semi-patient man I am today.

If you were to ask me the greatest lesson I learned while living in Romania I would tell you that patience would be in my top three (remember I can’t pick). One would think this might be a jab in the face of my adopted Romanian family. On the contrary; I consider this one of the best things Romania has to offer and often long for the pace of life we lived in Romania.

When I think about waiting, as it relates to my life today, I think about God and his power. As I have said several times the last few weeks, I truly feel God stirring in my gut to do something awesome. The hard part is waiting to see what that is. Sure we all hope and long for God to do something great in our lives and there is no greater time to anticipate this than at the beginning of another year. So maybe I’m just one of “those people” waiting on God to do something amazing. Or even better; maybe I should always anticipate God doing something amazing. After all, He’s yet to disappoint.

So until He reveals His plans, or He comes back first, I will be waitin’ on the Lord. And, aspiring to new heights! Peace out.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

To Change a Nation…

Think of the three most influential people in your life. More than likely one of those three was an educator. Henry Adams once said “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” If this is true then how can we truly measure the value an educator has on a student? After all, lessons learned from an educational institution will determine who a person becomes. It is estimated that over 90 percent of world leaders and heads of state attended a university or an institution of higher learning. Imagine the difference in our world if these leaders had been taught by Christians presenting their disciplines from a biblical worldview. It was for this very reason that I chose to teach college in Romania. And it is why I continue to serve with the International Institute for Christian Studies as a member of the board.

I just returned from a wonderful weekend spent with my fellow IICS Board Members. It is always so refreshing to spend a few days with my friends and fellow servants. As always my favorite part of our time is reflecting upon the stories of lives changed the previous semester. Currently, more than 41 IICS professors from a broad range of disciplines teach in 18 nations around the world. As Dr. Charles Malik said, “The university is a clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. Change the university and you change the world.” To my knowledge IICS is the only organization in the world dedicated to using Christian professors in secular universities to shape these future leaders of the world.

The Vision of IICS
The IICS vision is that someday every university student in the world will have at least one instructor who will articulate and demonstrate the love and lordship of Jesus Christ for them.

The Mission of IICS - Develop Godly Leaders
The Mission of International Institute for Christian Studies is to bring glory to God and impact the world by developing godly leaders for every sector of society - government, business, home, church, the arts, law, the sciences, education - as we provide key universities and academic institutions with educational services and Christian faculty who teach and live in such a way as to draw others to faith and transformation in Christ.

The Method - Thinking Outside the Box
In a nutshell, IICS places college professors in secular universities (outside the U.S. and Canada) to teach in their discipline with the hopes that they will impact the future leaders of that country by leading them to Christ. In this world of “post denominational missions,” IICS is a mixture of “outside the box” missions that empowers future leaders of the world to have an impact on their own country via professors serving as career missionaries. To my knowledge there are no other agencies doing missions this way. According to Os Guinness, “The IICS work is one of the most extraordinary mission movements in the world today. It is costly, and often it will not see huge immediate returns, but it is a rare, farsighted and remarkable work that is sowing seeds of unimaginable significance.”

No doubt the harvest of the future is contingent upon the seeds we plant today. Thank you IICS and my 41 plus friends for doing your part. Is God calling you to be a seed planter?

To Change a Nation, Teach the Leaders.
To Teach the Leaders, Go to the Universities.

Aspire to new heights.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Think Backwards

“Think Backwards!” At first glance it probably makes you think of someone that “beats to a different drum” or has a strange way of thinking. Though that may be true and I may have a “backwards” way of thinking, I’m speaking more in literal terms, more like the saying “hindsight is 20/20.”

As I continue to travel down memory lane and reflect upon our time in Romania I find myself discovering something about this experience, and life in general. Life is comprised of multiple parts (experiences); taken individually they may be meaningless; taken as a whole (our life) and they have a completely different meaning. For example, if you were to read my journal you would probably think our year in Romania had a lot of ups and downs. However, as I reflect upon individual experiences with the knowledge of our entire experience I realize how fulfilling that year was. I would not change a thing about that year and in many ways miss our time in Romania (I have my days where I want to be there)! I guess hindsight is 20/20!

One experience that jumped out at me today was our first day of class on October 1. Kacee and I took a giant leap of faith moving to Romania. We didn’t have a place to live, I didn’t know exactly what classes I would teach, and we didn’t even have a ticket home! Being the “western thinker” that I am, on top of my teaching experience, I had hoped to know my classes, know my students names, and know where I would teach the class weeks in advance. Unfortunately, October 1 arrived and I new nothing. I didn’t even have an office. So much for being prepared! My translator and contact at the university told me not to worry because the students usually did not arrive for the first few weeks of the semester anyhow!

Finally, after several days I discovered what classes I would teach and where they would be held. I even received my own office (a great story for another day). I spent several days working on my material, mostly at the internet café down the road. When the first day of class arrived I was prepared; somewhat.

What I had lost sight of was my true reason for being in Romania. Yes it was to teach agriculture. That was a huge priority. However, job number one was to build relationships with my students. I guess God figured the best way to do this was to take all of my plans and “file 13” (trash) them.

Looking back now I realize that the students that did attend (not mandatory) my class attended much for the same reason I moved to Romania; to get to know me. Consequently our classes took an entirely different approach. We spent as much time talking about America and Romania as we did agriculture. Now I know all of you have had that teacher or professor that you can just push one or two buttons and they will go off chasing rabbits for the entire allotted class time. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, that was me. Granted I had a responsibility to the university to teach my agriculture class, and I did teach. My hope is that all of my students would admit that they learned a lot about agriculture, education, and leadership. However, I hope many of them will admit they learned a lot about life, me, and for a handful, Jesus.

This is the great thing about God. All the planning in the world is worthless if it is not His plan. I guess I can see that now. At the time, Kacee would tell you I was a bit frustrated. Thank you God for always knowing the right plans.

Trust Him with your plans. Looking back you will be glad you did. Aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rate of Return: A new year, a new beginning.

Have you ever found that God will use any and all means to speak to us when He wants to get his message across? Sometimes He even uses a preacher! I have to give props to my pastor Bruce Venable for drawing my attention to a story in the Seattle Times about Leon McLaughlin. McLaughlin’s story is amazing.

After a trip to Mexico, and an unlikely incident with a bathtub full of water, McLaughlin committed his life to providing fresh water to every person in the world. Surprisingly, he has had great success. Now partnering with World Vision he is on task to install his water filtration system in all 59 countries where World Vision works.

This is no doubt a feat that anyone would be proud to accomplish, especially while holding down a nine-to-five job. But even more amazing is that McLaughlin’s nine-to-five job is shining shoes! His downtown Seattle shoe shine stand serves as the corporate headquarters for his ministry; evident by the pictures from around the world above his stand.

The beginning of the year is no doubt a time to refocus our lives on that which is important to us and some things not so important that we feel necessary. Close to 50% of all Americans will make some sort of New Year’s resolution. Many will quit smoking on January 1. Even more will commit to exercising and loosing weight. Others recommit to reading their Bible or following a tight budget.

My New Year’s resolution is to increase the rate of return on one investment. The investment – me. The investor – God. The return – what I do with that investment. God has blessed all of us (or invested in us) with the ability to make a difference. For me personally I yearn, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “to leave the world a bit better.” I’m sure I’ve used this quote before so you will have to forgive me. However, I feel it is still relevant. In his book The Call, Os Guinness says, “Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves…For each of us the real purpose is personal and passionate: to know what we are here to do, and why. But, nothing short of God’s call can ground and fulfill the truest human desire for purpose…Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.

I’m inspired by our shoe shining friend (I may even try to get a shine from him one day and pick his brain). Here is a guy that could be content shining shoes for $5 and boots for $8. Instead he shines shoes so that he can change the souls of others (I know, cheesy!). He has obviously found his true calling and in doing so he lives it out with a “special devotion and dynamism” evident by his “summons and service.”

Thank you Bruce and Leon for showing me what it means to follow His call. Now if I can just do the same. I know it will be a challenge. Only 60% of Americans keep their resolution past the first month. Close to 45% keep them six months. However, as my wife has tried to impress upon me, “this is not a ‘diet’ but rather a ‘lifestyle’ change!”

Blessings to you as you seek to make a lifestyle change. Aspire to new heights.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Flyin' High

I’m so proud of my wife. Though she never gives herself enough credit, she is actually a pretty good writer, as evident by her most recent blog on her "word for the year." Apparently you select one word to describe yourself for the upcoming year. You can go to her blog to read the entire post and learn more about this process. But is was her word and reasoning that truly inspired me. Kacee picked FLY as her word for 2009. To you and me this is just another word. Maybe it is the act of levitating or maybe it is that pesky little thing that won’t get off your food. But to Kacee it means much more.

She explains, “Where I grew up will always be home. It will always be where my heart is. It is where I find comfort. Where I find family. And friends. And security. I had never moved away, not even for college, but in 2004, Jon and I made a huge leap and moved to Romania…I learned more about myself than I had ever learned before. Now please don't get me wrong, you do not have to move anywhere to open your eyes and have a world view, but for me that is what it took. I want to be home,” she goes on to clarify. “This is where my roots are. I want to live here. But no matter where I live I have such a deep desire to also have wings and FLY…I do not want to be close minded about things. I want to learn. I want adventure. I want to be positive. I want to take chances and explore. I want to try new things and do the things I have said I would do for years.”

Kacee’s blog truly made me begin my search for 2009, not only for my word of the year (still have 10 plus to narrow down from), but even more, how I would make this my best year ever. To me, flying means much more than just leaving the comforts of “home” and traveling the world. Flying means leaving the comforts of our life and taking risks. This is something I’m not always that good at doing. Even when we moved to Romania I had a T.V., Playstation, car, computer, cell phone, and so much more. I’m not sure I left my comfort zone or if I just took my comfort zone with me!

I have the privilege of talking (or listening!) to Kacee each day so I have an even greater understanding of what her intentions were in her blog. Therefore, I must give her credit for inspiring me, both from her blog and from our conversations. A wise man once told me that you will never be any better than your wife inspires you to be. I’m so blessed to have a wife that inspires me to be a better father, husband, and all around person.

I do not know what 2009 holds for me or my family. I can honestly say I feel God stirring deep in my gut. Because of that I truly believe great things are yet to come for me, my career, and my family. I cannot wait to see what He has in store for us this year. I’m sure I could put Him in a “box” and put parameters on what He can do this year. That’s the temptation. However, until I know His exact will I’m going to make every effort to “fly” a little bit more in everything I do. Anything less and I would be selling myself short, and God.

Aspire to new “flying” heights! Blessings.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Fork

As I was thinking about my Romanian adventure blog for this week it dawned on me that I probably never shared our story as to why we even moved to Romania. Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” My life has been full of forks. There have been so many forks in our life we almost have an entire place setting. Maybe I should start by taking a few steps pack, to set the stage.

After graduating with my master’s degree I decided to try my hand at the family business. So I moved home, bought a trailer house (no jokes) and prepared for my future in banking. It didn’t take long for me to realize that a small town was not the place for a recent college graduate with a girlfriend miles away. After one year I decided to return to school and work on my doctorate. But before I could leave, God planted a seed in my life that continues to grow to fruition. My father and a group of men invited me to travel with them to Romania and Russia on a fact finding mission. This trip changed my life forever. I knew God was calling me to live in Romania; I just didn’t know when or how. Each semester break I would return to Romania to do mission work.

However, after finishing my doctorate I had a momentary lapse of sanity and decided to try my hand at banking again. Things went much better for three years but I knew something was missing. Finally, after months of deliberation we sold the family business. I was completely at a loss. What was I going to do with a degree in animal science and two degrees in agricultural education, plus four years of banking experience and a love for Romania? Enter the International Institute for Christian Studies. One day I received a call from an acquaintance asking for the contact information of a mutual friend that lived in Romania. It seems the acquaintance had a family friend that was moving to Romania to teach college. Come again? By the end of the conversation I learned of IICS that sends college professors to third world countries to teach in their discipline in an effort to reach the future leaders of said country.

It was at this point that God was so in control of every minor detail that Kacee and I could not question His call. We stormed through the application process. We even flew through the fundraising process in less than six months. Even more amazing was the fact that our house sold “for sale by owner” in two days, for a profit! After a week long check out trip to Romania I signed a contract with the University of Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences Banat Timisoara in Timisoara, Romania. A few months later we put everything we owned into storage and boarded a plane with way too much luggage and moved to Romania.

What did I learn from this adventure? Guess you will have to tune in next Friday to fin out! Until then, aspire to new heights.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Was the Grinch onto something?

As I said in my last blog; “I can be a bit of a Grinch when it comes to Christmas.” Fortunately the addition of kids has made me much better, but I have a ways to go! This year, as I paused to reflect upon what Christmas meant to me, I discovered my heart had become somewhat cold and callous. My obsession with the commercialism of Christmas had caused me to overlook the joy that can still come from giving a gift from the heart. This was never more apparent than this year as my daughter Brynlee celebrated her third Christmas.

More than ever before I anticipated Christmas morning, not for the gifts I would receive, but rather the look on Brynlee’s face when she saw her new kitchen delivered straight from the North Pole. But, much to my dismay, the harder we tried to impress her with presents the more impressed she became with the wrapped presents under the tree, or “my present” as she so affectionately refereed to them! She stormed right through her gifts and moved right on to her little brothers! Kind of makes you wonder whether the emphasis should truly be on the physical gift itself or just the act of giving (or receiving for Brynlee). After all, the central theme to Christmas is both receiving and giving. How often do we lose sight of this?

Perfecting the art of giving should be a top priority in our lives. However, developing a giving heart seems to be secondary to greed and the lust for more. In this world of excess, today’s role models like Britney Spears, Adam “Pacman” Jones, Lindsey Lohan, and Michael Vick give more to the Department of Justice than they do to UNICEF. Just once you would like to find a positive role model that gives out of the kindness of their heart rather than obligation. But if we truly value what has been given to us one would believe we would want to give something in return. Jesus did say, “To whom much is given, much will be expected.”

Giving to others as a result of the fullness we feel from receipt of a gift is true generosity, not obligation giving. It's the natural process of recognizing what we have been given and then sharing it. The Christian knows to serve the weak not because they deserve it but because God extended his love to us when we deserved the opposite. In his second book to the Church in Corinth Paul explained, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7). He goes on to say “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (v. 12).

For me one of the greatest gifts I ever received was from someone that I did not even know. After speaking at a local church during one of my visits to Romania a generous couple invited me to their home for lunch. Knowing that Romanians are notorious for their hospitality and that they will sacrifice a month’s wages just to make sure you have a quality meal while visiting their home I kindly accepted their invitation. For almost two hours this Romanian family treated me like a king, feeding me more than I would normally eat in an entire day. With each bite my heart would break a little more knowing the sacrifices that were made. Though this gift of hospitality was far less valuable financially than many gifts I have received, the true value was worth more than a month’s salary to me.

In honor of this sweet Romanian couple I’m going to resolve to give more from the heart in 2009. This year I want to prove that I do believe that it is better to give than to receive. And why not? Even the Grinch realized this, right before his heart grew three sizes: “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”

Here’s to a productive 2009. Blessings to you and your family. Aspire to new heights!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Holiday Hangover

Consider this good news or bad news, depending on how you look at it; it’s only 355 days until Christmas! We are almost two weeks removed from the most anticipated and lived for holiday of the year and many are already making plans for next year (Yes Kacee I’m talking about you!). For me, however, I cannot begin to think about next Christmas. How could I? I still have a severe pain in my lower back from taking down lights, storing the tree, and making 20 plus trips to storage. Monday is my first official day of work in 2009 and we still have Christmas presents stacked in every corner of the house. With so much to play with Brynlee still insists on pushing the same button over and over on her toy computer (which causes the monkey to make the same sound over and over!). Pardon me for not thinking about Christmas 2009; I’m having a hard time getting over this year!

You will have to forgive my negative attitude. Kacee has accused me of being the Grinch himself on more than one occasion. There’s just something about the commercialism of Christmas that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it’s one too many “black Fridays.” Or maybe it’s the overemphasis of the “Holiday Season” and a lack of emphasis on the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever the reason I occasionally have to check the mirror to make sure I’m not turning green and growing long hair all over my body.

I’m reminded of a story I once heard about two ladies who were walking through the mall a few weeks before Christmas. As they peered into the window of a store garnered with nativity scenes, one friend said to the other, “I’m so sick of religion trying to horn in on my Christmas!” As funny as this story may sound, it may be closer to the truth than we want to admit. Consider this, since 1997, Holiday retail sales have increased an average of 15 million dollars a year. In 2007 record sales neared 470 billion dollars. That means on average, most consumers spent 816 dollars on holiday-related shopping this season. Compare these numbers to the estimated 275 billion dollars Americans gave to charity last year. That’s almost half as much as we spent on Christmas alone.

Regardless of my “poor” Christmas spirit, I have to be honest; I love presents (Don’t tell Kacee, I have a reputation to protect). But who doesn’t like getting presents? Not a single one of us, not even the Grinch himself, would want to get rid of presents. This year marked my 33rd Christmas and I still receive the same warmth in my heart when my mom passes out presents that I did 20 years ago.

But what about giving presents? At what point in our life do we feel this same warmth in our heart from giving a present that we have when we receive a present? Jesus, after all, did say "It is more blessed to give than to receive." However, faced with a holiday season that's too often fraught with chaos, stress, waste, and debt, it's easy to lose track of the pleasure and meaning of giving. At its core, the exchange of gifts should be a joyous ritual. Those neck ties, iPods, and tennis bracelets we bestow upon loved ones should serve as an acknowledgment of admiration and appreciation. Unfortunately, to many, gift giving has grown to represent the headache accompanied with the chore of finding something for someone that already has everything.

Most people would agree that when they feel gratitude for what they have received, they have an experience of fullness. From that fullness, you naturally want to give back. Based upon the one “true gift” God gave us, do we not have a responsibility to give to others? Or, to put it boldly, if we do not honor our Giver by giving to others, then maybe we never truly accepted His gift. As a believer, if we truly comprehend what Christ has done for us, then surely out of gratitude we will strive to show that same love to others.

More on this in a few days. Until then, welcome to 2009. Aspire to new heights!