Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year of Blessings

We had a wonderful trip to Iowa and Minnesota for the holidays. We had good times with family and friends – we got together with our old card club group; had supper at the Pizza Ranch with many friends; the kids got to visit their classmates at Sioux Center Christian; and we had many laughs with family opening presents, playing games, and (of course), eating. It was so great to see everyone again…and we were blessed with great travel conditions.

This year has seen a lot of changes for our family. Most of which I’ve chronicled on this blog. Tonight, we had a big New Year’s Eve dinner and shared our best ‘things’ we remember about 2010. Here’s the rundown:

Alex – didn’t contribute much to the conversation, but I think he knows he has a lot to be thankful for!

Bethany – Seeing Alex covered in red frosting from the cupcake he ate at his one year birthday party. (Mom and Dad were both surprised and pleased with this memory.)

Zachary – Going to Craig’s Cruisers two times for birthday parties of friends.

Jessica – The many answers to prayer that God has granted us in the past year. He has been exceedingly faithful.

Michael – That we arrived safely here in Michigan this past July after many months of planning, praying, arranging, and scheduling. In addition, that he adjustment to life here has gone well, especially for the older two kids.

We also talked about the one thing that never changes – even though many things around us do – the loving faithfulness of our heavenly Father. Through all of our changes, he has been the one in whom we’ve placed our trust.

Finally, I cannot make this final post of 2010, without mentioning Jessica. She has been unrelentingly supportive and unconditionally loving to me and the kids during this year of changes. She has kept this ship that I call my family in proper working order. The grace of God is the water on which we sail, and if I am the rudder that steers us where we go, she is without a doubt the captain that keeps it all running smoothly. As I look back in 2010, I am so very thankful for her support, love, and patience.

I could say much more about 2010, but this will have to do. It’s been a great year filled with so many blessings from the Lord and we will continue to trust in him in 2011 as well.

Grace and peace to all of you in this New Year….

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Memories

When I was about Zachary’s age my brothers and I used to build snow tunnels in the wintertime.  One of us would start at each end and meet in the middle.  We would dig toward each other clawing and pushing through the densely packed snow with our hands and feet like moles in eager anticipation of ‘breaking through’ somewhere in the middle.   After awhile we could hear each other clawing from the other side and we would dig all the faster until finally a small hole would appear and we could see daylight from one end to the other – eureka!  We had done it…we finally met.  All our hard work had paid off!

I relived those memories this afternoon with Zachary.  He started at one end and I at the other and we would (hopefully) meet in the middle.  As we were digging further and further all of sudden, Zachary said, “Dad!  I can hear you digging…we’re almost there!”  I found myself digging faster and being as excited as he was that we were almost through!  A little while longer and he said, “We’re through, Dad!  I can see a hole!”   We had done it!  It was just as exciting as when I was 11.

It got me thinking about my faith.  The Christian faith is full of remembering.  There are countless occasions in the Old Testament when God encourages the Israelites to remember him.  They are told not to forget the Lord their God.

The command to remember is just as important for us today as it was for the Israelites of the Old Testament.  We remember Jesus birth, death, resurrection.  We do the Lord’s Supper in ‘remembrance of him’, we have baptism and remember his covenant with the Israelites and with us.  Remember, Remember, Remember -- Christians are always remembering…as we should. 

So this Christmas take some time to build memories with your loved ones.  Reminisce and remember together all while remembering the greatest memory -- the birth of our Lord and Savior.

Oh, and don’t forget to take a picture or two to help you remember…here’s  ours!

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

First Semester Done

As of Friday at 4:00 pm, I’m officially finished with my first semester of studies in the Master of Divinity program at Calvin Theological Seminary.   I think I did well and will receive my final grades in a week or so I think.  It’s been a good experience and I really did enjoy it.  It was challenging and, at times, maddening – but most good things in life are.  I’ve got a two week break right now and my J-term classes will resume on January 5th.

It’s seems hard to believe that it was just a little more than five months ago that we first arrived here in Grand Rapids – there has been so much that has happened in that time.  As I’ve reflected on our time here I continue to be amazed at God’s goodness.  Here are just a few highlights from our first few months here:

1. Making it here safely with all of our worldly possessions

2.  Establishing a home in a neighborhood with playmates for the kids.

3.   Finding a new church home.

4.  Zachary and Bethany both flourishing in their new schools.

5.  Making new friends in the neighborhood, at the seminary, and in church.

6.  Various visits from family throughout the semester,

7. Flexible jobs for both Jessica and myself.

8.  Financial needs being met.

9.  Continual support from family and friends.

When we first started this journey, there we so many questions and as I look at this list, so many of our worries have been laid to rest and so many prayers have been answered.  We are feeling very blessed.

Tomorrow, after our morning worship service, we are leaving for Minnesota and Iowa to spend a week with family and friends for the holidays.  It will be the first time we’ll be back as a family when it isn’t our home.  It will be strange and familiar all at the same time.

I suppose it’s kind of like the Christmas story – it’s familiar – we hear it every year which can cause us to miss the fact that it’s also strange –  God sends his Son, fully human and fully divine, born of a virgin and placed in a manger.   It sounds so impossible;  but so did going to seminary once upon a time.  But, as I’ve learned over these last five months, nothing is impossible with God.  His grace abounds.  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Almost Done

It’s been a while since my last post and lot has happened in that time – hence the lack of blog entries, I guess.

Let’s see…in the last week and half we’ve:

celebrated Jessica’s birthday on December 9th.

Had her parents here for a weekend visit.

Been invited to join a small group church.

Survived our first snowstorm in Michigan.

Attended Zachary’s first orchestra and choir performance (he did great).

Hired a babysitter for the first time since we’ve been here so we could go Christmas shopping.

So we’ve had a lot going on and on top of all that I started exams this week, so I’ve been studying hard for those.  I have four classes this semester all of which had the potential for a final exam. 

I learned early in the week that I ended up doing well enough on the Hebrew quizzes throughout the semester to not have to take the final exam so I got exempted from that one.  That left three, Bible Survey (which I had this afternoon), Formation for Ministry (Thursday afternoon), and Church History (Friday afternoon).  So I’ve got two left.

It’s hard to believe that I’m almost done with my first semester already.  So far, this experience has been great.  I really feel like this is where I need to be right now.  I hope that my experience continues to be positive.  So far, I feel like my hard work is paying off and God has been really blessing us here.  I continue to pray that our time here will be positive and affirming.

So that’s a bit of an update from here.  Zachary and Bethany are finished with school on Friday as well, so we’ve decided to make the trip to the Midwest for the holidays early.  We are leaving Sunday afternoon after church and will plan to be there for about a week.  It will be nice to have a relaxing time with family and friends on our ‘home turf’. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Traditions

Even though our life circumstances have changed over the last several months, we are trying to maintain some of the traditions that we’ve done as a family.  For us, several of those traditions revolve around Christmas.

Usually, we’ve gotten out the Christmas decorations for the house the Friday after Thanksgiving.  This year, we had to do that early since we went to Canada for Thanksgiving.  However, we were still able to decorate the house for the holidays as a family, which we all enjoyed.

A second family tradition revolves around the great annual tradition of many churches in the United States – the children’s Christmas program.  There is just something so innocent and simple about the Christmas story being told by and with children is refreshing.

Anyway, tonight was the children’s Christmas program at Seymour CRC where we are currently attending.  Zachary and Bethany were members of the choir, and neither of them had an individual speaking part.  They both did a superb job.

One of the traditions that we have is to come home after the program and let the kids each open up one stocking gift.  It’s our way of congratulating them for a job well done at the program.  This is a tradition that my family did when I was younger and we’ve enjoyed passing it on to our kids. 

N0rmally my parents have been involved in this annual tradition as well, helping us pass it on, either by providing a gift for them and/or attending the program and then joining us for supper after the big event.  This year, of course, they weren’t here, but I’m sure they’ll be proud to know that we continued the tradition by having them each open a gift tonight.  Bethany rightly noted that is was different not having grandparents or great-grandparents coming over afterwards, but they were excited about their gifts.

Traditions stir up remembrances, histories, and times past and help us carry them forward. They made change or look different in new contexts, but they are always rooted in the past.  The Christian faith is full traditions, some better than others, but always with a view to the past helping us remember who we are and using them to shape us into what we will be – more like Jesus.

Oh, and even though Alex wasn’t in the program, he got to open a gift tonight too.  After all, this was the first time (since he could walk anyway) that he’s sat in church – and he didn’t do half bad!

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Holidays

Well, we had a great time at Jessica’s family for the holidays.  I commented on Facebook last week that I was suffering from a holiday identity crisis since we were in Canada for American Thanksgiving to celebrate Christmas!  Regardless, a good time was had by all.  We all got spoiled…so much so, I could barely fit it all in the car on the way home.  Additionally, we were able to be there for Jessica’s mom’s birthday which was on Friday.  So we celebrated a lot!

We also had the annual debate about how early is too early to start doing the ‘Christmas thing’.  You know, playing the music, decorating the tree and the house, etc.  In Canada, they don’t have the Thanksgiving holiday to sort of delineate the start of the Christmas season, so they tend to start a little later with all the festivities.   The fact that we did Christmas this early is very unusual for them since there isn’t the ability to combine celebrations like in the U.S.

Jessica will tell you that I’m a stickler for not doing anything Christmas related until AFTER Thanksgiving.  Not because I’m a scrooge – I love Christmas – but because I really love Thanksgiving. 

I love the whole of idea of being thankful for an entire day.  In this age of entitlement thankfulness has become somewhat of a lost art.  We expect too much of ourselves and of those around us and we assume that we deserve things that we don’t.  I wonder what the world would look like if we didn’t expect anything and were therefore surprised and thankful whenever we received anything.  That’s probably swinging the pendulum too far the other way, but maybe thinking that way will cause us to strike a happy medium.

I also love the fact that Thanksgiving is just weeks before the greatest reason for thankfulness any of us could need – the birth of Jesus Christ. 

So enjoy this season of advent and anticipation…and thankfulness.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Travel

Well,  I’m on the plane back to Grand Rapids.  I had a wonderful time in Sioux Center and Worthington catching up with family and friends.  Thanks to my Grandma Douma for letting me stay and her place a few nights and thanks to my mom for the great Sunday dinner!However, so many people asked about Jessica and the kids, so I really wish they could have been with me.  It makes me all the more anxious to go back in December with the whole family.  We miss our family and friends there very much, but as I told so many people this weekend we are really feeling settled and blessed in Grand Rapids.  This is where God wants us to be right now and we praise the Lord for that.

It was surreal to be back.  In some ways it seemed like I never left, but I have to keep reminding myself that we’ve only been away for four months.  It just seems like so much longer, I think, since our family has been through so many changes in that time.  Example, I stepped back into Faith CRC on Sunday morning and also went to go check my church mailbox!! =)

Tomorrow we are headed to Jessica’s family to celebrate Christmas over American Thanksgiving….so we are getting our holidays all mixed up.  But it will be great to see them again too.  It’s good to be so much closer for that trip.

Well, we are beginning our descent and it won’t be long before the stewardess will me to ‘turn off and stow my electronic device.’

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

30,000 foot post

I don’t have much to say this morning, but I just thought I should post something since the flight that I’m on this morning is offering free Wi-Fi.  Now I can say, I posted to this blog from 30,000 feet above Lake Michigan.  It just sounds cool.

I’m actually on my way to Sioux Center for a few days.  As you may recall,  I work on a part-time basis for the seminary Admissions Office and I offered to head to Dordt College this weekend to do some recruiting on behalf of the seminary.  So I left GR this morning at 8:00 and will spend the weekend seeing family and friends, visiting a few churches on Sunday,  and then spend Monday at Dordt visiting with prospective students and hosting a dinner for them before flying back first thing Tuesday morning.  It’ll be a quick, but fun, trip.  I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing about my days in Admissions at Dordt – good times.

Anyway,  maybe I’ll see some of you, my faithful readers, this weekend.  And if not, I’ll be back in the area for the holidays – with the whole family. 

Peace.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Grace Abounds

In seminary (particularly a reformed one like Calvin) we talk a lot about grace – what it is, where it comes from, how it manifests itself, etc.  So it’s something that I’ve done much listening and thinking about.

I had two experiences this week that proves (at least to me) that grace abounds if you’re willing to look for it and appreciate it when it presents itself

First of all, I got to the bus stop this week Monday morning and reached in my bag to get out my bus pass and it wasn’t there.  I had taken my wallet out the night before and forgot to put it back.  No pass and no fare money – now what?  I stepped on the bus and told my driver my dilemma, so which she replied, “Don’t worry about it.”   I smiled and said a hearty thank you and promised that I would swipe my card twice the next morning to which she replied again, “Don’t worry about it.”

The second one happened just this afternoon.  We had a turn signal light go out on our van.  I brought it a local repair shop that I’ve been using for oil changes and a few other minor things (new headlight, wiper blades, etc.) and asked if they could fix it.  He head guy, Fred, said he could he didn’t have the right lamp.  He said I could go down to the auto parts store at the end of the strip mall and buy one and he’d install it for me.  “Great!” I said, “I’ll be right back”.  The store had the correct lamp, so I spent my five bucks and headed back to the repair shop.  He got the front end apart and replaced it – he had to monkey with it a while but he got it – and put my headlamp lens back on.  I thanked him, and asked him, “How much?” to which he replied, “Don’t worry about it”.  “Are you sure?” I asked.  “Yep..have a good night”. 

Neither of these were a big deal and you could make the argument that in both cases, they were just practicing ‘good business’ and you’d be right.  However, the bigger point is that they didn’t have to do it.  The bus driver could have said that I wouldn’t be allowed to ride and she’d have been will within her rights.  Fred at the repair shop could have (and should have) charged me.

In both cases, they acted in kindness when they otherwise wouldn’t have had to.  These interactions with relative strangers have prompted me to not only looks for grace that abounds but also to make sure that I extend that same grace to others. 

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, Praise the Lord for his grace that abounds – and extend it to others – always.  Have a grace-full Thanksgiving brothers and sisters. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spiritual Journeys

One of the things I wrestled with when I was discerning whether or not I should got to seminary was with my own spirituality.  I have never considered myself an overly ‘spiritual’ person – whatever that means (see previous post).  I guess I thought I just wasn’t close enough to God to be able lead others spiritually.  I thought I needed to have some sort ‘super-relationship’ with Jesus in order to be a pastor.

What I’ve been learning in seminary this semester is that I do, in fact, need to work more on my relationship with Jesus – and rather than being ashamed of that fact, I’m learning to be OK with it.

For the first time in my life, I’m learning what the phrase “Spiritual Journey” is all about.  I’m learning that I don’t need to have a higher/deeper/stronger relationship with Jesus than anyone else.  However, like everyone else, I need to have a very clear recognition that I need to be constantly striving toward a better relationship with him.  It is a journey, a process – a process of sanctification.

I’m learning that I don’t need to have all the answers, I just need to have the desire to come along side people and learn with them, discern with them, grieve with them, and grow with them.  In doing these things, I’ll be showing the love of Jesus to them – and that’s what discipleship is all about.  Yes, I do need to be able to provide answers and wisdom.  But it will always be answers and wisdom that come from the Holy Spirit, not from me.  I’m just his agent.

I can’t (and won’t) pretend that I’ve got some sort of magic bullet of spirituality that can make everything better.  What I can do, is understand and appreciate the fact that I am on a spiritual journey too…just like the people that I minister to. 

We’re all on a spiritual journey and we’re all in different places on that journey.  Because that’s true, we all have things to learn, but we also all have things to teach.  We all have a part in the redemption story…be proud of your role and take pride in the roles of those around you.   Someday when I’m a pastor I hope be both a teacher and a learner.

I’m not a spiritual superstar…but on my spiritual journey I’m learning more and more each day about the One who is.  

Monday, November 8, 2010

A good weekend

It was a good weekend for the Ten Hakens. I had a really busy week at school with writing a few papers, work, and studying so when I got home at 5:00 on Friday afternoon I was ready to kick back.

Friday night was family night – Jessica made homemade pizza (a family favorite) and we all watched “Toy Story 3”.  I might have closed my eyes here and there but the kids really enjoyed it and we had a great evening together at home. 

On Saturday Jessica and I had the opportunity to go on a real live date – something we hadn’t done since March.  We sold our house in Sioux Center in April and since then our lives have been a complete whirlwind.  I would dare say that it’s only recently that we gotten into a regular routine and we were very excited about our night out. 

Anyway, back in September Jessica bought a ‘GroupOn’ for River City Improv.  They are a group of Calvin College grads that do improv comedy shows in Grand Rapids on Saturday nights.  So, Mark and Kelli offered to take the kids (overnight even!) and we had an evening to ourselves.  Jessica commented that this was the first night that she’s been away from Alex…21 months!

So we dropped the kids off and spent a few hours just walking around some of the unique shops along Wealthy Street and then went to Mangiamo for dinner.   Mangiamo is an Italian restaurant that is in  a refurbished mansion close to downtown.  We shared a wonderful meal in a great atmosphere and then laughed ourselves silly with the River City Improv group.  They’re hilarious!

Sunday morning we went to Holland to get the kids and went to church with Mark and Kelli and all the kids and had lunch at their house and spent a good portion of the afternoon hanging out with them.  It was fun!

After church at night, we all played a new card game called “Quiddler” that Mark and Kelli gave us.

So it was a great weekend – time as a  family, time as a couple,  time with siblings, niece, and nephew, and time in worship to our great God that makes it all possible. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spiritual Health and the Church

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about spiritual health.  Partly because we’ve recently found a new church home and partly because of a classroom topic from last week.

In my Formation for Ministry class that meets once a week on Tuesday evenings we talked about loosing our ‘sensual spirituality’ and what to do to get it back.  I raised the question that I wasn’t even sure what the term ‘sensual spirituality’ met.  After all, how can one know what they’ve lost if they never knew if they had it in the first place?

As is was explained to me, sensual spirituality is having a strong sense of the presence of the Lord around now.  Not just a sense that he’s there watching over you in some sort of abstract way, rather it’s a sensibility that he is right there in the room with you, sitting next to you.  You feel as though you could reach out and touch him. 

OK, so now that I understood, at least partially, what he was talking about, I raised the concern that there were many people who didn’t have an experience like that and if they did it was usually during a specific circumstance, like during the death of a loved or some other difficult time in their life.  However, I raised some doubt about the fact that this ‘sensual spirituality’ is something that the ‘average’ person has on a regular basis.  I seemed to get some nods of approval from some of my classmates when I raised this concern and this seemed to surprise our professor a little.  This begs the question what does a healthy spiritual life look like? 

At church we’ve been trying to see about getting involved in a small group.  This is proving to be a little challenging partly because established groups are comfortable with each other and a bond of trust and acceptance has been achieved.  Also, size is always an issue – if a group gets too big, it gets too intimidating. 

This, of course, begs the question what to do when a new family joins the church.  How does a church enfold a new family in a way that doesn’t disrupt what’s already there?  How can we be open to the new without disrupting the old?  Where is that balance?

These questions tie in, I think, with that concept of spiritual health.  Part of being spiritually healthy is internal, your personal sense of who God is and what he is doing in your life.  That’s important but if you’re a spiritually healthy individual, you need to be able to translate that into being a spiritually healthy group (church).  A church community is only as spiritually healthy as the individuals that make it up. 

Part of being spiritually healthy is enfolding and embracing others.  This is both necessary and challenging because it requires the group (the church) and the individual (the members that make up that church) to work together in such a way that stretches them both which in turn helps everyone to find their ‘sensual spirituality’. 

This is really a dissertation topic, not a blog entry, so I haven’t done the topic justice here by any stretch.  I guess my challenge to you (and myself) is being the hands and feet of Jesus requires having our own sense of  who God is and being willing to share it – especially when it stretches us.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Church Home

Some time ago, I wrote a blog about choosing a church home.  That process is a daunting one in Grand Rapids as there are no less than a dozen CRC churches within about a three mile radius of our home.  What’s a family to do?

Well, we felt like it was important for the kids that we find a church home before all of the educational activities got under way.  This goal put us on a bit of a time crunch, but we were OK with that.  Sometimes to many choices can be paralyzing causing the inevitable to be delayed.

Anyway, we settled on Seymour CRC.  The congregation has a good range of age groups, a wonderful pastor, and good programs for the kids. Both the older two are in Sunday School, Cadets, and GEMS. Jessica is singing in the choir, and I’m still determining what I’m going to get involved in.

The congregation has around 400 members or so and they’ve been very friendly and welcoming.  We are hoping to get involved in some sort of small group Bible study soon.  We’ve really missed our group that we had in Sioux Center and are looking forward to getting involved with one here.

The pastor at Seymour, Phil De Jonge, has agreed to be my vocational mentor which I’m very pleased about.  He has a great demeanor and will be a great role model for me.  I’m really looking forward to learning from and with him.

So slowly but surely we are feeling more and more at home here.  We hope we continue to build relationships in our new church home.  We will continue to pray that those relationships will be fostered and developed during our time at Seymour.  We want to be blessed and be a blessing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I’m not crazy

One of things that you have to do at seminary (at least at Calvin), if you want to go into full-time parish ministry, is to take a psychological assessment.  It’s designed to see what kind of a person you are – socially, emotionally, psycho-socially, etc.  It’s a three step process that I’ll talk about in a minute, but I have to say that I was kinda nervous about the whole thing.  I’ve never been evaluated like that before but now that it’s over – it wasn’t too bad.

OK, so back in the beginning of September, I took a written psychological test, and it was killer.  It consisted of forty complete the sentence type questions, followed by a series of questions (maybe 30 or so) about how you handle yourself in certain social situations, followed 750 (that is not a typo) true and false questions.  These questions ranged from questions about my health to my views about homeless people.  It took about three hours to complete the whole thing and it was exhausting.

This is followed by an interview with a psychologist which I also had in September.  Spouses were encouraged to come too, so Jessica and I went to the appointment together and met with Bill to discuss my life up to this point.  They call it a background interview and they ask questions about my past, what I think my tendencies are, how I feel about and conduct myself, if I like my parents (I said yes, mom and dad) --  that sort of stuff.

The psychologist takes both of the interview info and the written test data and puts them together in a final report that I met with him about yesterday – the third and final step.  It was a good meeting and he basically confirmed the fact that I’m a relatively normal, well-adjusted, angst free person. No red flags.  I know, I know, the relatively normal part surprises many of you, but now it’s been established via a third-party professional! 

Anyway, all in all, it was a good process.  It affirmed some things about myself that I already knew – for example, I’m an administrative type person – I like responsibility and I handle it well.  It also told me I need to do a better job of listening and not be too quick to jump to conclusions – I knew that already too.  So it was an affirming exercise and, I think, another way of God confirming that this is where I need to be right now. 

So, I’m fit for ministry – at least, mentally.  We’ll see what the rest of the semester brings!  I repeat…I’m not crazy, contrary to popular belief.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reading Week

It was “reading week” this week – we didn’t have regular classes this week, giving us the opportunity to catch up.  They also offer some ‘skill development courses’ which are one-week intensives on a variety of topics. I participated in the Hebrew Review Class this week to provide me some additional help and make sure I didn’t get too far behind.  It met for three hours a day Monday thru Thursday.  In addition, I worked a few hours in the Admissions Office and did some other studying.

This week also allowed me to spend just a little time reflecting on what has all happened to our family in the last several months.  Saturday, October 9th marked exactly three months since we arrived in Grand Rapids.  I was astounded this week at what has changed for us in that time – new home, new schools,  new church, new  friends, new routines, new jobs.  It’s been a whirlwind and through it all God has been so good.  We’ve had relatively few difficulties during this time of transition and the challenges that have presented themselves have been relatively minor.  We are blessed.

Yesterday afternoon was a beautiful fall day here in Grand Rapids.  Jessica had to sub in the afternoon, the older two kids were at school, and I didn’t have class, so I had the rare opportunity to spend several hours alone with Alex.  After we had lunch, we put on our jackets and went for a walk around the neighborhood.  He’ll be twenty months old soon and he’s learning so much.  We looked at the white clouds against the blue sky, we looked at the leaves both on the trees and on the ground, talked about being careful while crossing the street, pointed to an airplane in the sky, and waved to everyone that rode by in their ca-ca’s (cars). 

During that forty five minutes or so it occurred to me that I’m a lot like him.  There are so many things that I’ve learned in just a few months here and there are so many more things that I need to learn and will learn during my time at Calvin Seminary.  I’ve been in school about six weeks and I’m astounded at what I’ve already learned.  I also know how much I have to learn.

Alex has much to learn too, including how much both Jesus and I love him.  I too, still have a lot to learn about how much Jesus loves me.  I’m here to learn from others and I hope Alex (and all my kids) can learn from me.  That means I need to be a good example to them and continue to rely on appreciate God’s goodness and faithfulness and make sure I tell them who they are and whose they are. 

On that short walk Alex also taught me that, in the craziness of life, I need to stop and be amazed at clouds and leaves.  It’s right and good and necessary. 

It’s amazing what you can learn in 45 days at a seminary.  It’s even more amazing what you can learn in 45 minutes on a walk with a toddler. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Family Reunion

We were privileged to have my family here for the weekend.  It was Grandfriends Day at the kids’ schools on Friday so my mom and dad decided to make the trip out to attend, which the kids were very excited about.  In the process of planning for that trip my brother Paul and his family decided to join them.  In addition, my grandmother was able to ride with my parents too.  They all stayed in Holland/Zeeland with Mark and Kelli and for a few days we were all within just a few miles for each other.

It was a great few days…we ate, laughed, swam, caught-up and just enjoyed each others company.  The support of family (both mine and Jessica’s) has been so critical to this process for us.

  Earlier in the week, the stress of school, work, and family got the best of me and I was in a bit of a ‘funk’ and I couldn’t figure out why.   Well, we had just been to Jessica’s family and after getting back from that I realized I was maybe a little homesick.  It took me a while to come to that realization because I’ve never been homesick before!  So their trip here was just what the doctor ordered.

I was particularly glad that my grandmother was still healthy enough to make a trip like that.  I’ve missed seeing her every Sunday in church – even if all we did was say hello. It was great to see her again!

I continue to appreciate more and more the support of loved ones in this endeavor.  I know the Lord provides, and one of the ways he provides is through using others.  Thanks to all of you (both family and friends) for your providential provision for me and my family.  You are truly a gift to us.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Crazy Week

It’s been a crazy week at the Ten Haken’s.  We received a call on Monday from Jessica’s family that her (paternal) grandmother was failing rapidly and would likely pass away before the end of the week.  Well, we got the call early Wednesday morning that she died peacefully early Tuesday morning and she went home to meet her heavenly father after 88 years here on earth.  This was not an unexpected event as she had been in the hospital for several weeks prior to this. 

So all day Wednesday we made plans to travel to St. Catharines for the visitation and funeral.  That meant contacting the kids’ schools to get homework for Thursday and Friday, it meant Jessica cancelling some planned subbing at Dutton Christian School on both those days and it meant me arranging things with both work and school.  Oh, and it also meant finding a hermit crab sitter!  Thanks to our great neighbors, the Yondo’s, for helping us out with that.

The plan was for me go to class yet on Thursday morning (I’ve got church history from 8:00 until 9:15) while Jessica got the kids and the car ready.  She’d pick me up from the seminary and we’d hit the road.  She could drive, while I studied.  Great….

Well, during the night Wednesday night, Jessica got the flu.  She was up a lot in the night and by the time Thursday morning came around she was in no condition to be driving a vehicle, much less finish packing the kids and the car for the trip.  So, I got up early and went to campus, made arrangements to miss my AM class and came back home to pack the car. We hit the road about 9 and Jessica (tried to) sleep while I drove.

We arrived safe and sound at her parents in the late afternoon and got ready for the visitation.   Jessica and the kids stayed home from that and I went with the rest of her family.  I must admit it was strange to be there as an in-law and without my better half, but everyone was very gracious and I was glad to be able to be there.

Jessica woke up today feeling much better and was able to attend the funeral which was a true celebration of a full life lived before the face of God.  Jessica’s grandmother left a wonderful legacy of faith for all those that knew her and we’ve enjoyed our time here with family.  Pretty much  everyone was here so it was good opportunity for the aunts, uncles, and cousins to see each other and reconnect.

So, I’ve been trying to keep up with studying by doing a little this afternoon and hopefully tomorrow.  We are planning to head back home on Sunday sometime.  I missed both Hebrew and Bible Survey on Friday, so I’ll do my best to stay on top of those while we’re here.  I did miss a Hebrew quiz on Friday that I’ll be able to make up on Monday. 

It was good that we now live close enough to be able to make this rather quick trip to be with the family and attend the funeral.  Please pray for a safe trip back on Sunday and for no one else to get sick.  And give thanks to God for the legacy of faith that families pass down from one generation to the next. 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Depending on Grace

This week has been a challenging one for me in a couple of different ways.  For starters, I’m not picking up Hebrew as well as I’d like.  I took my second Hebrew quiz on Friday and I felt going into it that I had a pretty good handle on the material.  However,  methinks I was proven over-confident.  So, I decided to solicit the help of a T.A. – someone to tutor me through some of my rough spots.

Big deal, you say…there’s nothing wrong with getting a little extra help when you need it (maybe especially with something like Hebrew).  However, I’m having a hard admitting to myself that I need help.  I’ve always been the type of person who thinks he can do it all – sometime to a fault.  I hated the fact that I needed to ask for help.  It seems like everyone else has got it figured out, why can’t I?  What I discovered later, that what I really needed was grace.

Shortly after that request for help went out via e-mail to a TA, I sat down to read my assignment for my Formation for Ministry (FFM) class.  For this week, I had to read a good portion of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together and I found it to be challenging in a wholly different way than Hebrew.

While Hebrew is challenging because it’s hard, the Bonhoeffer reading was challenging because it was convicting.  You see, Bonhoeffer talks about the life a Christian being one that is completely and totally characterized by the grace of God found in Jesus Christ.  We cannot understand Christ without understanding grace and we can’t experience that grace outside the fellowship of believers.

The only reason we can do anything is because of God’s grace, I get that.  However, it’s hard for me, and I think many Christians, to fully embrace the wonderful gift of grace found in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In order for us to truly understand the extreme grace when been given in Jesus Christ, we need to admit that we need it – alot of it.

For me having to get some help in Hebrew was admitting that I needed grace.  I can’t do it myself, and I came to realize that I shouldn’t expect to be able to do it all on my own.  After all, we don’t do anything on our own, do we.  So being humbled by Hebrew and admitting that I need the help and support of those around me was a perfect way for me to better understand the importance of Bonhoeffer’s words in Life  Together when he says that Christian fellowship is, “found solely in Jesus Christ …the community of Christians spring solely from the Biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone…”

I am a member of that community of Christians – and I am a recipient of that profound grace and that means that I must be able to humbly accept it from the members of that community knowing full well that they’ve received it too.  Then maybe, just maybe, admitting we need help, removing the facade of perfection, and asking our brothers and sisters in Christ for wisdom and guidance and prayer becomes a sign of strength rather than weakness.

I’m learning, too, that I need to give as much grace (if not more) than I’ve received.  How can I receive it without also giving it?  Doing anything less would make me a hypocrite, which I’m already pretty good at.  Grace isn’t grace until it’s been given.

So the Lord continues to work in mysterious ways using the challenges of Hebrew alongside a challenging reading assignment from a different class to help me see more clearly the grace that I need to give and, more importantly, that grace I need to receive from others and have received because of what Christ has done for all of us.  Praise be to God for his indescribable gift on which I am, at all times and in all situations, wholly dependent.

P.S.  I feel a sermon coming on…watch out world!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

School as work

One of my biggest concerns about going back to school was dealing with the fact that I wouldn’t be getting up and going to work everyday, as I’ve done almost every weekday for the last twelve years or so.  However, once again, God has proven to take care of that as well.

Since this past week was my first full week of classes I was able to establish a routine that I think will work pretty well.  For the most part, I’ve tried to treat my school as my job which, in essence, it is.  In God’s good providence I’ve got an 8:00 class everyday, which forces me to get up and get going in the morning.  So being at school everyday by 7:45 or 7:50 was just like my work schedule. 

Since most of my classes are in the morning (I have one night class on Tuesday nights) I have class no later than 12:30 on any given day.  However, rather than just going home, I’ve been staying at the seminary to study until around 5:00 or so.  This has allowed me to really focus on my studies for several hours in an uninterrupted fashion.  While I do have a basement study at home, I’m afraid that if I tried to do more studying at home, there’d be too many distractions.

So I get home around 5:00 or so and am able to dedicate the evening to the family until the kids go to bed.  Then if necessary, (and it usually is) I can put in another hour or two of studying downstairs.

This has also worked well for my job in the Admissions office.  I usually put in about 3 hours in the morning on Tuesday and Thursday since on those days I’m done with class at 9:30 already.  Then I still have the afternoons to study before heading home at five.

So even in this we’ve found the Lord to be faithful.  So far, I’ve been able to keep everything balanced.

Oh, and guess what else Michael is learning?  The ability to say No.  As some of you may know, I’ve had a rough time with that in the past, but I’m learning.  I was nominated to serve as a class rep on the Seminary Student Senate, which would have added about four hours of work a month to my schedule.  However, even though it would have been something that I would have enjoyed, I respectfully declined.  Jessica was quite pleased!   =)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Communication

One thing I’ve learned during my life is that communication is critical in just about any and all circumstances.  I’ve decided that, in most situations, it is almost impossible to over-communicate.  Sure, you can run on about a subject and repeat yourself repeatedly over and over again (see!) but overall, clear, effective communication is absolutely essential in order to accomplish just about anything.

Communication is also important in this age of ‘no-news-is-good-news’.  I really dislike that mentality.  I try, as much as possible, to let people know when I appreciate them.  And, apparently, there are some of you that try to do the same.  I’ve been uplifted this week by several communications that I received from readers of this blog and others.

Just last week the whole family, for no special reason at all, got a “thinking of you” care package.  It had a little something for everyone and it arrived on our doorstep to much excitement. Thanks, Mom!

This week already, we’ve received three e-mails from friends and relatives just letting us know that they’ve been thinking of us, praying for us, and missing us.  It’s so great to be remembered and to think about and be grateful for, the network of people that are holding us up in prayer.  We love all of you.

Speaking of prayer, we had one more communication this week that was truly an answer to prayer.  Zachary’s teacher called just to let us know that he is doing very well in school.  She said he is participating well in class, making friends, and doesn’t seem to be having any trouble fitting in.  Transitioning to new schools was one of our biggest concerns and by all accounts both kids seem to be doing extremely well.  We are praising the Lord for that.

So thank you for all your prayers, for staying in contact with us, for thinking of us, and for remembering us.  We are so grateful to be a part of the family of God along with all of you.  So keep the communication coming and we’ll do our best to be faithful respondents! 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Routines

This week will be the first full week of school for everyone.  We had last week (a short one) to get our schedules sorted out and we think we’ve got a routine that will work for the whole crew.

Zachary has to be at school at 7:45, I’ve got to be at school by 7:55, and Bethany doesn’t have to be at school until 8:30, so what do we do about bedtimes and wake-up times?  We decided to have them go to bed and get up at the same time (well, Zach gets to stay up a little later since he doesn’t seem to need as much sleep as Bethany).  So at 6:50am their alarms go off.  Mine goes off at 6:00 and I’m generally showered, dressed, and had my coffee and devotions by the time they come down around 7:00 dressed for school. 

After breakfast and our goodbyes, Zachary and I hop on our bikes at around 7:30 and head to school.  He has about a seven minute ride to school and I got about a 20 minute, 3-mile ride.  After we leave, Bethany sits down and practices her piano and violin before school and then about 8:20 or so Jessica put her and Alex in the car and brings her to school.

Zachary gets home about 3:00 and does his piano and bass practicing right away and is done with that by the time Jessica has picked up Bethany for school (she gets out at 3:35).  After a snack,  they usually play outside with their friends or watch some TV. 

I get home around 5:00 and we do the usual…play with Alex, supper, relax, play, and/or homework with the kids, packing lunches and bags, and then baths/showers and bed from 8:00 to 8:30.  After bedtime, I usually head downstairs for some studying and come up about 10:00 for some TV, time with Jessica, and much needed sleep.

Jessica’s day is filled with keeping track of Alex, making sure everyone is where they need to be, errands,  grocery shopping, and general household engineering.  She’s the greatest.

So  that’s a day in the life….stay tuned for more gripping tales from the Family Ten Haken.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Regular Classes Begin

Regular classes started for three of the five of us this week.  Zachary and Bethany had their first day on Tuesday and by all accounts it went very well.  Their were things to get used to, of course, but they both seemed to enjoy their teachers and said they’ve been making friends.  Of course, mom and dad always want to know more than what they tell us, but from what we can get out of them they’re doing fine.  Both of them are taking Spanish which is great, but new.  Zachary really likes his science teacher, Mr. DeBoer.  He has also decided to play the string bass in the orchestra so he goes to practice a few days a week for that as well.  Bethany is practically begging to ride her bike to school like Zach gets to, but so far, we haven’t let her.  It’s still quite a hike, but to her it’s mom and dad being to protective. 

My first day of regular classes was today.  I started out at 8AM with Hebrew.  This first class wasn’t hard, but I think overall, Hebrew will be a very challenging course for me.  It’s something that I’m going have to be very diligent and consistent with, committing time to it every day.  After convocation I had Bible Survey which will be a very interesting course exploring each book of the Bible for its major themes and ideas.  I’m looking forward to that class.    I also meet with my mentor group on Wednesday afternoons which we did today.  Tomorrow I have Church History I and will spend a few hours in the Admissions Office. 

It will be a different kind of schedule for me again, keeping all of my assignments and coursework straight.  I’ll just have to be really organized, I guess.

Oh, and Jessica went back to school today too – sort of.  She got called to substitute teach this morning in the 4th grade at Dutton Christian School for a sick teacher.  That went well for her and she has already been put on the schedule for later in the month.

   Those last minute calls require some creative maneuvers to coordinate schedules but we found a way today – even if it meant strapping Bethany’s bike to Alex’s burley behind my bike to get her from school so she had something to ride home, since Jessica had the car for work!  Yep, it was quite the sight, I’m sure.

So that’s a day in the life of the Ten Haken family and a microcosm of what the school year will look like for us all.  Stay tuned for more details.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Labor Day Weekend

Friday was my last day of “Gateway Orientation” and it went very well.  It consisted of hearing 5 sermons in 5 days followed by a time of Q&A and analysis of the passage with each preacher.  It was a good exercise and we heard some really great sermons.  All of them were good preachers and each message was very different, which was great to see and hear.

I also found out that I passed my Reformed Confessions placement test.  That means that I tested out of that class so I’ll get the credit for it without having to take the class.  That is great for several reasons – first, taking the test only cost me $50 whereas taking the class would have cost me $1150; second, it means one less class I have to take this semester so I can ease into this a little more and will be able to balance work and home and (last but not least) Hebrew; third, it gave me a little confidence that maybe I can do this school thing after all!

Anyway, this weekend will be just a time to relax before we start school in earnest.  Zachary and Bethany start school on Tuesday and I’ll begin regular classes on Wednesday.  Each of the kids’ schools had open houses this week where the got to see their rooms and meet their teachers.  I think they’re ready for school to start and we feel good about their schools and teachers.

The biggest thing to get used to is that Zachary’s school day starts and ends 45 minutes before Bethany’s.  This affects how we do bedtime and morning routines and after school routines,  but I think we’ve got it all worked out.  We’ll know soon enough….

We don’t have any weekend plans really, we will get some things organized for school and run a few errands.   On Labor Day there is a little celebration downtown that we’ll most likely go to.  They’ve got activities for the kids and the Gerald R. Ford museum is free that day so we’ll check that out too.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Church Shopping

Yesterday was another Sunday, another day ‘trying on’ a church.  We worshipped, both morning and evening, at LaGrave Ave. CRC in downtown Grand Rapids.  That is something like our seventh church since we’ve been here.  One the one side, it’s nice to have all these options, but on the other it sure does make it a challenge.

I must say, that the term  ‘church shopping’ rubs me the wrong way. It sounds so consumeristic (is that a word?).  It sounds like I’m at the mall trying on pants and I keep going from store to store until I find that just right fit.  Is that really how church should be?  I’d like to think that most of would agree that church is more about God than it is about us.

That being said, one needs to be in a church that they are least comfortable in, don’t they?  That pair of pants at least needs to be close to the correct size, doesn’t it?  Again, I think we’d all say yes.

So where is that happy medium, between finding a good fit and looking too hard for something just right?  I think for our family it’s come down to the following:

 

1.  Does the church itself know who it is and where’s it’s going?  We’ve been to some churches that have a very clear understanding of who they are and what they’re all about.  We’ve also been to some that are going through a time of transition and actively seeking and learning about where they are headed next.  After being at one of those churches, Jessica made the astute observation that our family, during this time of transition, needs be a part of a church that is sure about it’s identity and direction.  I think she’s right.

2.  Size does matter.  We’ve visited congregations that have less than 200 members and we’ve visited congregations that have well over a thousand.  While all the congregations have been inviting and welcoming, I think the smaller congregations appeal to us more.  We want to be a part of church where we can be used for the edification of God’s people at that place.  We want to be known and we want to know others that we are worshipping with.  At one of the larger congregations we visited the information packet even stated that ‘we are large enough for you to maintain your anonymity if you so choose’.  I don’t think anyone, in any congregation should be allowed to be anonymous whether they want to or not.

3.  The church’s philosophy of and style of worship is important.  We’ve seen as many different types of worship styles as we have churches.  Some have a high or traditional view – only the organ, liturgical robes, etc.  Others have a very loose and free worship style with little or no organization to it. While still others seem to have kind of a forced combination of the two. This view and style of worship seems to affect more than just the service and the music they choose.  It’s not just whether they use screens or don’t.  It also manifests itself in the way people dress, how they interact with each other, and even where they worship.  We were at one church that worships outdoors in a tent in the summertime.   I think we fall somewhere in the middle.

4.  The make-up of the congregants is something not to be taken lightly.   As we make church decisions it’s important to keep the kids in mind too.  We need a place where the kids are comfortable as well.   Do they have established youth programs (GEMS, Cadets, Sunday School, etc.)?  I’m not suggesting that the church needs to be all young families, but I think a good mix of ages is important and vital to the health of any congregation.  The decision of which church to attend is a family one.  The temptation is to choose one that’s best for me and what might be most helpful for my seminary training, but that is too small a view.  We attend church and will join a church, as a family.  

There’s more that could be said…how important is location? What about women in office?  Is the fact that they don’t have an evening service something to consider?    Those are important questions, but I think keeping these earlier four points in mind will lead us in the right direction.

So the search continues and we continue to seek the Spirit’s leading.   We’re hoping and praying that we find a church home soon.  In the meantime, I’m searching for a better term than ‘church shopping’….suggestions are welcome.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Week #1 Done

Well, I finished my first week of class today.  We took our test on hermeneutics this morning and I think I did OK.  It wasn’t too hard, but as soon as I say that…

Anyway,  while I could bore you with all the details about what I did, learned and studied this week, I’ve been more amazed by something else…so I’d like to tell you about some of the people I met this week.

I have been amazed and humbled by my classmates that I’ve met who’ve come from all walks of life and have sacrificed much to be here.  Here’s just a few: Brent is married with two kids and drives to the seminary everyday from Battle Creek - one hour one way; Henry is here from Canada with his wife and three kids and used to be an auto mechanic; Dirk who is married with an infant daughter quit his job working with is Dad in plumbing and heating to enroll here; Jane is here from Nova Scotia with her husband and high school aged son; Ezra is here from Korea with his wife and three kids working nights as nurse and going to school during the day; Brent (another one) gave up his job with the City of Wyoming to enroll full-time at seminary; an Tess is here from Nigeria and does not plan to see his family for three years until he’s done with school.

Hearing their stories and so many more like them has been very humbling for me.  It’s amazing who (and when) the Lord calls.  It’s going to be wonderful to learn from and study with them all.  I feel privileged to be here and continue to see more and more that God really doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.  And that’s why all of us here together – to become equipped – for such a time as this.

So, yes, it was a good week in the classroom. But it was an even better one getting to meet and learn about my fellow seminarians. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Quick Update

Well, I’m done with Day Two of my classes here at Calvin Seminary and have enjoyed them both.  Today was the first day of actually coursework (yesterday was mostly intro stuff) and I really enjoyed it. 

I’m meeting lots of great people here.  I’ve made several connections with classmates, both young and old.  So far I’m not related to anyone but just wait, it will happen. 

Life is getting busier everyday as my studies get going and as I also recently accepted a job offer.  The admissions office here at the seminary is currently experiencing a high degree of turnover.  They have 3 employees (2 part time assistants and 1 full-time director) all three of which are leaving or have already left.  Giving my experience in admissions work at Dordt, I offered to help them out if they saw fit.  As it turns out, they were quite pleased about my past experience and my offer so I will be working for the seminary admissions office for about 10 hours a week contacting prospective students, answering questions, giving tours, and just generally helping to keep things running for them.

I’m very excited to be able to use my gifts in this way and also have some income.  I’m hoping to be able to keep it up along with my studies, but we’ll see.

On the work front Jessica, she received word this week that she will be on the substitute teaching list at Dutton Christian School in South Grand Rapids.  This will be good because they are honoring her Iowa license so she doesn’t have to try and get Michigan one.  This too, is an answer to prayer.

Oh, and just to show you how excited I was for school…here’s a picture of me on my first day!  Thanks to my former colleagues in the Advancement Office for the great mug.  The only thing that’s missing is the big yellow bus.

 

first day of school

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Classes

Six weeks of getting settled, seeing family, and learning 0ur way around Grand Rapids will end tomorrow.  Tomorrow is my first official day of classes.  I start off with a two-week course called “Gateway to Seminary” which combines some classroom instruction with orientation type activities.  Most mornings are spent in class learning about hermeneutics, analyzing sermons, and learning some basics about sermon preparation.  The afternoons are filled with orientation type things (tours, ID cards, meeting with mentor groups, placement testing, etc.).

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little nervous about it all.  It’s kind of scary going back to school -- studying, reading, writing, papers, tests – at the same time, I have a real peace about it all as well.  One the one hand I’m scared that I’ll come home tomorrow night and have hated it and on the other hand I just really don’t think I will (hate it, that is).  So I’ll let you all know tomorrow how that goes. Wow…that makes me sound just a wee bit crazy.  If I don’t think I’ll hate it, why do I worry that I might?  As my kids remind me often, “You’re weird, Dad.”

We’ve been extremely blessed to have this time here to be able to get settled and established before we jump in to this next phase.  But now it’s time to get started and we’re excited for this next step too.   The Lord has been faithful and we’re confident that he will continue to be. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What makes us reformed?

So I just got done reading all three forms of unity of the CRC – the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort – in their entireties for a class on reformed confessions and worldview.  In actuality, it’s a class that I’m trying to test out of, because I thought I knew it all.   It’s an exercise I’ve never done before.

I am surprised by how much I didn’t know about these three confessions that I should have known after spending all of my life as a member of the CRC, attending CSI grade and high schools, and graduating from a reformed institution of higher learning.  In all honesty, I felt bad.

Guido de Bres, the author of the Belgic Confession in 1561, told Philip II that he would rather die than renounce the teachings of that confession, and he died a martyr for that cause in 1563.  Leaning largely on the writings of John Calvin before him he sought to defend the Protestant movement against the false of attacks of the Roman Catholic church in Europe, and we still use it today as a way to show how we differ not only from Roman Catholics, but also from many other protestant denominations since the hanging of the 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg.

The Heidelberg Catechism was written in 1563 (yep, the same year de Bres was martyred) at the request of German Elector, Frederick III by two men.  This Q & A document was to be used as a teaching device and training tool for the protestant clergy and church members that further defined and explained the reasons for and the biblical rationale behind what would come to be known as the reformed faith.  It is, even today, widely regarded as one the greatest reformational documents of all time.

The Canons of Dort, by contrast, were used to combat a specific movement with the the early 17th century church headed by Jacob Arminius.  This document has provided the CRC with the oft-maligned TULIP acronym which is used in reaction to the false teachings that Arminianism purported. 

Enough with the history lesson, the point is these documents are the result of much sacrifice and struggle on the part of many people who lived nearly 500 years before us.  I think that the CRC in general in recent years has tended to shy away from – or at least take for granted -- these documents, considering them antiquated and irrelevant, rather than embracing them as the great works of faith they really are. 

I learned alot about myself, my faith, and the denomination that I love by reading them.  I am ashamed that I don’t know them better and I dare wager that there are many more like myself that lament their demise and feel at least a twinge of guilt at their lack of knowledge about them. 

Someday, when I’m serving a church somewhere, I hope I’ll be able to effectively communicate the teachings of these confessions of the faith in a contemporary and relevant way.  In the meantime, I’m grateful for the opportunity to study them further and learn more about what it means, from a historical perspective and in a contemporary context, to be reformed. 

We really do, in 2010, stand on the shoulders of giants.  Part of my job will be to make sure we don’t forget about them.

Now you know where I stand, what do you think?  Have these documents gotten ‘lost’?  Is that OK?  Is it time to move on or do they still have relevance for us today?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Backyard Fire

We arrived back at home safe and sound after a great week with Jessica’s family in Ontario.  The only snafu was a LONG wait at the border – nearly two hours to go two miles.  It’s good to be home and settled back in here.

Tonight we had a bonfire in the backyard.  Several of the neighborhood kids joined us as well and Jessica and I took the opportunity to talk with them a little more in depth.

   In fact, all of them are invited to a birthday party this week and they are all very excited.

Since our kids became friends with all of them, they now all play together which has been great.Since we live on the corner in between several houses with children our kids can run in just about any direction and play.  Also, since we are centrally located, the kids all usually end up playing in our yard, which we really like.  It turns out that they rarely, if ever, all played together prior to our arrival here.  It seems, as one little boy put it, “you moving into this house has brought us all together.”

So it’s really our children that have been the catalyst for developing relationships here in the neighborhood and we are glad about that. I hope that we can continue to develop and deepen those friendships with the kids and with their parents. 

Ministry can happen alot of ways…even around the campfire with 5 pre-teen kids!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Work for Jessica

This week we are spending some time at Jessica's family in Ontario, Canada. We arrived here on Friday and joined in some festivities on Saturday afternoon and evening to celebrate her parents' 35th wedding anniversary. Many family members were able to be here and I had the opportunity to meet several of Jessica's cousins many of whom I'd never met. The weather was beautiful, the food was great, and a good time was had by all. We wish them many more happy years together and we are thankful for their love and support.

We are spending the rest of the week here hanging out by the pool (my in-laws have one in their backyard) and doing family things -- picnics, trips to the beach, a round of golf, and eating alot! The kids are also enjoying spending time with their cousins. Jessica is the oldest of four and is the only one who lives away for the area so it's good to come back and spend time altogether.

Speaking of Jessica she's applied for work at a couple of different places -- one position at Calvin Seminary in the Admissions Office and one paraprofessional position at Dutton Christian School in Caledonia, a southern suburb of Grand Rapids -- neither of which, we found out yesterday, is going to work out. She was not chosen to move on with the Calvin admissions position and, at the last minute, Dutton Christian decided not to fill the open para position until later in the year dependent on need.

So, we are back to square one in the job search for her, which is disappointing, but probably not unexpected. The job market here is very challenging -- openings are scarce and the applicants are numerous. So, we are continuing to seek and pray and hope, knowing that the Lord will provide in His good time and trusting that our needs will be met. We will begin the search in earnest again next week after we return home on Saturday.

In the meantime, we will enjoy our time here with family. The weather continues to be gorgeous and the kids having a great time with their cousins. All of which are blessings from the Lord.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Anniversary Bats

Monday (the 2nd) was our 13th anniversary. I spent the morning golfing with my dad and brother -- I'm such a romantic -- and then in the afternoon we went to the zoo with my parents, Mark and Kelli, and all the kids.

We got home from there about six and after we got the kids fed and in bed Jessica and I settled in for a late dinner and a movie. However, our movie was rudely interrupted by a bat flying through the living room and scaring both of us half to death. After trying to chase it out the door with a blanket it found its way onto the top of the frame of the door leading upstairs.

After much debate about the best way to get him out, including tennis rackets and pillow cases, I settled on my winter boots. So I grabbed one out of the closet, turned on the lights to blind him, hit him over the head as hard as I could, and killed him...dead.

Now, one would think the my wife would label me the hero of the evening. But no, not Jessica...instead I was chastised for killing one of God's creatures. I reminded her that we needed to go to sleep later that night and asked her if she would do so knowing there was a bat flying around the living room. After admitting that she would not, I apologized for having to kill him and firmly decided that if it was between her getting a good nights sleep and the bat staying alive, sleep wins.

So that's our lucky 13th anniversary story. I hope it's the last bat I have to deal with on our anniversary day or any other day for that matter!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Michael's Parents

My parents arrived on Friday morning. They brought us the rest of our stuff from Grandma's garage, which still filled a conversion cargo van! We got the van unloaded and the stuff put away in the house on Friday afternoon and we've spent the rest of the weekend hanging out.

On Saturday we spent several hours at Holland State Park on Lake Michigan with my parents, and Mark and Kelli. For those of you who may not be aware, my brother Mark and his wife, Kelli, live in Zeeland which is about a 35 minute drive West from where we are. They have two lovely children, an adopted daughter, Ruby, who is two and a son, Charlie, who is eighteen months. Anyway, we had a great time at the beach and so did the kids. Afterwards, we went back to their place and had dinner and spent the evening together. I would post some pictures, but true to form, we forgot the camera.

Today, we all got together at our place and had Sunday dinner and after church tonight I took mom and dad around and showed them the kids' schools, the seminary, and a few of the other things around our home.

It's been great having them here. Moving further away from them was hard on them (and all of us), but they now have the opportunity to visit both Mark and I in the same trip which is great.

Both Jessica and my families have been so supportive during the process which we've been very thankful and grateful for. We couldn't have done any of this without their love and support and we feel very blessed to have it.

We'll have one more day together tomorrow and it sounds like golf with the guys and a trip to the John Ball Zoo are one the schedule. I haven't been out golfing yet this year, so I'm just hoping I don't embarass myself!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dutch Bingo (kinda)

We continue to meet a lot of wonderful people here in Grand Rapids. Today we visited Sherman Street CRC and while dropping Alex off at their nursery ran into Mark and Rachel Vanderwerf and their son, Owen. I was tipped off to the fact that Mark and Rachel were coming to GR for Mark to attend seminary at Calvin by a mutual friend. So I was on the lookout for them and while we were signing our kids in to nursery they said their names and we said ours, she mentioned she was reading this blog, and voila, instant friends. So they came over for blueberry pie this afternoon (which Jessica had artfully prepared the day before with fresh blueberries from our Fulton St. Farmer's Market visit on Saturday -- providential?) and we got acquainted. It was a wonderful visit and I think we'll get along just fine! I hope they agree. =)

As if that weren't enough, on our way out the door from church this morning, and literally as we were walking out the door, I here someone call my name -- "Michael?" I turned around and there was Matt Jeltema. Matt and I got to know each other during my Admissions days at Dordt when we were doing a big database conversion. Matt (a top-notch IT guy at Calvin) had been involved with the software we were implementing and he and I met at a conference and forged a relationship and he was great help to me during Dordt's conversion process.

Anyway, I hadn't seen (or even talked to him, really) in several years and he still remembered me and I him. He and his family live in the neighborhood and have been going to Sherman Street CRC for several years, so he invited us to stay for a church potluck and we got the chance to catch up. It was great.

And the icing on the Sunday cake, this afternoon some neighbors invited us to a church cook-out at their church, Boston Square CRC, which is about six blocks from our house. So we took them up on their offer and joined them for supper after the Vanderwerfs left. Again, we met some great people there including a man who was raised in Sibley, Iowa -- just a mere 20 miles from my hometown of Worthington, MN and just 40 miles from Sioux Center. Not to mention the fact that when I was in admissions at Dordt I recruited his niece.

So not quite Dutch Bingo in the classic sense -- I'm not related to any of these people that I know 0f -- but still, it's pretty hard to go anywhere and not find a connection to someone. Sometimes I feel like the Kevin Bacon of the CRC (http://www.thekevinbacongame.com/).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Getting Organized

While we spent last week getting the house organized, getting boxes unpacked, and figuring out where everything is or should go, this week is being spent on all the other stuff that comes along with moving a family of five 700 miles.

First things first, getting renters insurance. I found a pretty good agent in town (my brother, Mark). He probably over-charged me, but I can call him at 3:00 in the morning with a claim, so it's all good.

We are also busily navigating the complicated world of health insurance. We were able to register the kids for a program that is administered through the local YMCA that provides coverage to children. It's good coverage and we're happy to have been able to qualify for that -- it's a load off of Dad's mind.

That leaves Jessica and I and we are looking at options with an agent that my brother put me in contact with as well as some government programs. It's very complicated and I can see why people get frustrated and confused by the process and with all the options.

Today we had a meeting at Zachary's new school with the principal, Ashanti Bryant. He is a super guy and the meeting went very well. The Grand Rapids Christian School system is going through a number of changes right now so the school building itself is a mess. We learned that his teacher will be Mrs. Boerma and there will be 26 students in his section. We also found out that for the first time the school will be offering a hot lunch program for all five school days. Previously, they offered it just on a few days of the week. So, that was good to find out -- we aren't used to packing lunches everyday!

We've also had the opportunity to catch up with friends and family in the area. On Tuesday night, we had supper at my cousin's house with his wife and three kids along with my brother and his family, and last night we spent a few hours and the home of Stephen and Khara DeWit. I talked about Stephen in an earlier post as someone that was in our youth group when we lived in Sioux Center.

I've also been able to find a few hours this week to start some of my studying. I've been reading a book on hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) for my intro to seminary class in August that I've been thoroughly enjoying.

Oh, and on a much lighter note...a word about the water here. Grand Rapids has naturally soft water so no water softeners here. It also means that I can wash my car with the hose in the driveway (which I did earlier this week) and it hardly leaves any spots! Any of you who know me well, know how big a deal that is to me...I like a clean car! Chalk one up for GR water.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The weekend

This past weekend was really our first one here. Last weekend, of course, we were still getting moved in. On Saturday, we got a call from our old pastor at Hope CRC in Hull, Michael Koetje. We were good friends with them when we lived there and he is now a pastor in Grand Haven about 45 minutes from here. So we went to see them and their three kids to get reacquauinted.

They took us to the beach at the CRC Conference Grounds (yes, that's a real place) complete with it's own campground, cottages, mess hall, conference center, and beach front access. It was a beautiful day on the lake and the kids had a great time playing together. We had supper with them and came home. Oh, we stopped at Meijer on the way home and bought Zach his second new bike (identical to the first) and locks for both him and Bethany!

On Sunday, we went to church at Alger Park CRC and got to hear Stephen DeWit preach a wonderful sermon on Adam and Eve. He was in our youth group when we were youth leaders at Faith CRC in Sioux Center. So we got to catch up with him and his wife, Khara, as well, which was great. In the evening we went to Seymour CRC, which has been in the community a long, long, time. It was a wonderful old building.

There are just so many options here, picking a church home will be challenging. I'll dedicate another entry to that at a later date, but suffice it to say that in four Sunday worship opportunities we've been to three different churches and have yet to travel more than 1.5 miles from our house -- it's crazy!

As promised, here are some pictures of the new house and some of the neighbor kids.


The back deck:


The main floor looking for the front window:



The front of the house:

Zachary's Room:



Bethany's Room:


Bethany playing with the neighbor girls, Trinese and Kalise, on their Slip-n-Slide:

Alex in his swing hanging from the apple tree in the backyard:


Friday, July 16, 2010

Settling In

Well, we've got most of the boxes unpacked and have got things set up pretty well, if I do say so myself. Jessica has done a great job telling me where to hang things and I spent some time yesterday getting the basement and garage organized. One thing we can't do anything about is the heat...it's been hot here this week and we no central air in the house is going to take some getting used to.

Jessica and the kids got invited to a pool party earlier this week which was really nice. We were able to get some 'insider' information about schools, churches, and activities for the kids which was nice.

In my last post, I talked about the neighborhood being great, and it is, but we were also introduced to the realities of living in the city when Zachary's bike was stolen out of our driveway on Tuesday afternoon. We has just gotten it the day before with birthday money from Grandpa and Grandma. The place where we bought it didn't have locks, so we said we'd get locks later -- big mistake. Less than 24 hours later, it was gone. Both his and Bethany's were in the driveway but only his got taken. After talking with some moms at the pool party, Jessica learned it's been a common occurrence in the area lately and we'll just need to be vigilant. So now, we keep the bikes locked in the garage unless we are outside or riding them.

On a more positive neighborhood note, I also talked about finding a boy for Zachary. Two days ago, a little boy named, Cope (he's 10), who lives across the street invited Zach to come over and play. I think he and Zach will be fast friends. So we are thanking the Lord for that.

Today was Zachary's 11th birthday, so we took in the GR Museum (he's a big fan of museums) and discovered Yesterdog. Yesterdog has 6 things on the menu and they are all hotdogs with different toppings. It's a dive and the hotdogs aren't that great, but it's an iconic place so we can say we did that too. Not to mention, the price is right...the most expensive thing on the menu is $2.10!

One thing to to be in prayer about right now is Jessica's back. She bent over funny today when picking up Alex and pulled something pretty good. We're hoping it's nothing serious and will heal up quickly.

Tomorrow I'll try and get some pictures of the house posted.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We Made It!

I'm happy to report that the Lord blessed our journey and we arrived in Grand Rapids safe and sound last week Friday afternoon at around 4:00. The trip was long but uneventful. The kids traveled great, both the van and truck ran well, we had great travel condidtions, and I didn't hit anything. Oh, and as an added bonus all of our stuff made it with nary (sp?) at scratch.

When we arrived my brother, Mark, his father-in-law, Kevin, Jessica's parents, and a seminary student came to help us unload and clean. Kelli, Mark's wife, also has a bunch of groceries for us when we arrived which was so wonderful. On Saturday, Mark and Kelli came to help us again and she brought even more food. It's going to be fun living closer to them.

We are finding Grand Rapids a wonderful place to live so far. It's quite convenient to have Target, Wal-Mart, Meijer, and just about everything else all available in town. The neighbors have been very friendly. We've received some muffins, a garden zuchinni, and even a post for my broken yard fence since we've arrived here. I've even had my first visit with a Jehovah's Witness already!! =)

The kids are making fast friends with the neighbor kids as well. In fact, as I type this, they are playing at the park down the street with a few of them. Lots of girls again (just like our Sioux Center neighborhood) but we're hoping Zachary finds some friends soon too. I've got some pictures already, which I'll have to post later.

We visited Plymouth Heights CRC on Sunday and found that very welcoming as well. They are very community/neighborhood focused which is cool. It's less than a mile from our house and it seems to be a very friendly. Their current pastor is on a sabbatical right now and won't be back until the fall. So we'll see where we end up, but that was a good start. There are lots of choices here!

The house is working out well. We've got the kids' rooms set up as well as the kitchen and the living room. The office is still a mess and we are just starting to put a few things up on the walls. The basement and the garage are next on the list too. When we are arrived the house was not very clean, so we had to spend a fair amount of time wiping down cupboards and bathrooms which we were disappionted about. But now we know that is passes the Jessica inspection too, which is (in my opinion) the gold standard.

It's been hot here this week, so we had to invest in several fans since the house doesn't have air, but they are doing a good job of keeping us cool.

All in all, we are off to a very good start here. Thanks for the well-wishes, prayers, help and support along this journey. Continue to keep them coming and I'll do my best to keep you all posted.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Last Night

It's late here (almost midnight) and Jessica just asked me if I really needed to do this now. I said, "Yes". If I don't write about all this now, there'll be a hole in the story. So I'm blogging when I should be sleeping.

We've had a busy but good last few days. We had a great time with the extended family in Missouri. The weather was gorgeous and it was a lot of fun to catch up with some of those family members who I hadn't seen in ten years. We all enjoyed each others company and the kids got along great which was such a blessing.

I could (and maybe will) say alot more about that trip, but today was a big day for us. Today was our last full day in Sioux Center. It was a day filled with errands, last second arrangements, LOTS of laundry (says Jessica) and packing. I also had my first experience driving a 26 foot truck. All I can say is, stay off I-80 tomorrow and Friday!

Actually, they make it pretty easy these days. The truck has air, automatic transmission, a CD player and cruise control, but it is a beast of a vehicle to drive. And man, did we pack that thing to the gills! People asked me if I thought I would have room for everything in there and I replied, "I don't know, I've never seen all of my earthly belongings stacked in one place before."

As it turns out, we didn't have quite enough roon. Thanks to some fantastic help from my Dad, brother Paul, and good friends Dave Heynen and Chad Van Ginkel, we came close though. We had to leave a few things behind that my parents will take with them when they come out to see us in August.

So tomorrow morning, after breakfast with my parents and my grandmother (who still won't get her garage back) we'll say our goodbyes and hit the road. Pleae pray for safety and good weather. It's quite disconcerting to know that all of your earthly possessions are traveling down the road at 70 mph and any number of things could go wrong. So we are, as always, trusting in the Lord and doing our best to be careful.

We also had to say a few tough goodbyes tonight. Several of our friends stopped by to say see ya and wish us well. We hugged, we cried, we laughed, and then we waved saying that we'd see each other again and promising to keep in touch. I sure hope we do.

I said goodbye to my brother, Paul as well. It's been such a blessing to have been able to live near him and his family all these years. We are sad to be moving further away from them and from my parents and we wish it didn't have to be that way.

At the same time, we're looking forward to being closer to Mark and Kelli and to Jessica's family as well. It's hard to know how to feel about all of these changes. i guess, I'm still clinging to the fact that I'm very convicted that this is what I need to be doing right now. This is what God is asking of us, and even though it means some challenges, we are heeding his call. Let's hope it still feel that way when school starts in about six weeks!

Sorry this one got so long, but a lot has happened that I wanted to share with you. This will be my last entry from Northwest Iowa. So I'll post again once we arrive in Grand Rapids and get internet connectivity established.

Until then, thanks to everyone who has prayed for us or helped in any number of ways with this transition (meals, packing, watching kids, rides to Sioux City)-- the list is endless. You've all been an important and meaningful part of our lives. The day has come and we couldn't have done it without you.

See you in Grand Rapids!

P.S. I'm not proofing this, because it's long and it's almost 12:30 in the morning. So forgive the errors...I'm sure there are many! Thanks for suffering through them. =)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Unemployed

As of today, I am officially (voluntarily) unemployed. I said goodbye to my co-workers, cleaned out my desk, and turned off the lights on this phase of my life. When people asked me if it felt strange to leave, I have to say that, although saying goodbye is always hard, the strangest part is that I won't be going back to a regular job for at least three years. After going to work nearly every weekday for the last twelve years, not having a new one to go to on Monday will feel strange. I know that soon enough, school will be my work, but it still isn't the same.

To 'celebrate' my new-found freedom, we are making a long weekend trip to Branson, MO. My dad's family is having a sort of family reunion at a campground on Table Rock Lake near Kimberling City (http://www.watersedgetr.com/) which is about 30 miles or so from Branson, I think. My parents were supposed to join us, but my mom is having some issues with her gall bladder right now and isn't able to make the trip. But we had it planned to go and the kids are excited so we are still going. I'm excited too...I'm going to be seeing a bunch of cousins that I haven't seen in many, many years and it will be good to catch up with them. Plus, the weather looks promising and we'll get to break in our new tent that we bought for Christmas last year. No to mention the fact that it's a great way to spend the 4th of July weekend.

We're leaving early tomorrow morning and we'll be back Tuesday night. Then Wednesday afternoon I'm going to Sioux City to get the 26-foot Penske. We'll load that up Wednesday night and hit the road for Grand Rapids on Thursday. It's getting close.

Talk to you after the camping trip...have a great 4th of July holiday.

Oh, and for all you World Cup soccer fans...way to go Holland!!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Last Sunday

I know I've been writing a lot about lasts lately, but that is where we are at in the journey right now, so it's been something that we've been a lot of them. On the one hand, it's sad to say all these goodbyes, but on the ohter hand it means that we've established many strong relationships and therefore have several people and places to say goodbye to and that is a good thing.

Bethany turned 9 last Friday, so we had a birthday party for her at the pool. We combined that wit a farewell party for both the older two kids and invited their classmates to come and swim, have some goodies and ice cream, and share one last afternoon together. It was a windy but otherwise gorgeous day to be at the pool.

Today was also our last Sunday at our home church here in Sioux Center. It's been a great church home for us and we've enjoyed our years there immensely. Jessica and I have been quite involved there in a variety of ways over the years and we hope we've been a blessing to it at least as much as it has blessed us. We will miss you all!

Here are a few pictures from the party with the kids on Friday:




Wednesday, June 23, 2010

As I type, I am in the midst of a good ol' fashioned midwest thunderstorm. The midnight sky is lit up like a Christmas tree, the contrast low rumble of thunder broken up by the occassional window-shaking boom, and rain falling in sheets. It's great! Unless, of course, you are my eight year old daugther, who is currently trying to sleep on the couch.

She's shook up, not just about the weather, but about leaving too. She came downstairs crying tonight and when I asked her if she was alright, she said, in between sobs, "I just want to go home." I guess reality is setting in for all of us -- this really isn't home -- for her or us. I asked her if home could be anywhere where Mom and Dad were and she wasn't sure. Sometimes, there's just no place like your own bed.

So, we'll all miss things. I'll miss the phenomonal power and awe-inspiring beauty that only a thunderstorm rolling across the prairie can provide. Bethany will miss the comfort of her bed. At least for awhile we'll miss these things and then we'll learn to appreciate new things.

Our new house will become our new home with her old bed and a new beauty will captivate my attention. Right now, though, I need to take a peek outside and watch this spectacular God-given light show. It could be the last one I see for a while on these windswept plains of Iowa.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hello's and Goodbye's

We've had a few goodbyes this week -- on Sunday, our bible study group at church threw a party for us and another couple in our group that is also leaving this summer. When we first started that group it was 1997 and all of the couples that we started with were there on Sunday except for one. When we first started we have six couples and no kids. On Sunday there were more than a dozen families represented with nearly 30 children. The Lord has blessed us all!

Tonight we had a 'goodbye grill-out' with some of our neighbors. It was great to get together with them as well. We are going to miss them. We've been blessed to have a great community to live in these last several years.

I've also had the opportunity to say some hellos this week. I received my first syallbus via e-mail from one my professors. I had a question about it, so I e-mailed him, introduced myself and asked my question. In the process my question got passed on to a few folks within the seminary so I got to send an e-mail hello to a few of them as well. I'm looking forward to introcuing myself to them and others in person.

So we have our feet firmly planted in both places right now and it all a little unsettling. We are looking forward to getting planted more permanently in a few weeks.