Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who is my neighbor?

Recently Calvin & I watched a documentary on sustainable farming. We've all seen something like this before - eating fresh, organic, naturally produced (albeit more expensive) food, rather than the mass produced, chemically altered, processed food that contains more words that you can't pronounce than actual nutritional content. A "Stick it to the man!" type film. You get the picture? Well naturally, our expertise in 8 months of gardening on our apartment balcony + all 2 farmer's markets we've gone to in the last year + the 10 day cleanse that got us on a health kick = the Sodestrom's completely converted (at least in theory) to eating fresh food from local farms that encourages sustainable farming. (Good thing Berkeley prides itself on organic food & local fresh markets!) Check in with us in 6 months & see how we're doing on our new commitment...see our New Years resolutions on consistent blogging & you can see our trajectory on these things.

The documentary is called Fresh, and it actually had some really great points on the farm industry, like how the land was designed to naturally thrive, how the industrialization of America has compromised quality & created a system that is unsustainable, and how we are to properly care for & steward creation. It's definitely worth a watch. Anyway, the point here is that we are painfully guilty of band-waggoning on ideas & then getting on a soap box about them. We keep joking we just watch documentaries to bring them up in casual conversation in a way that sounds slightly condescending to others, though our lives typically remain unchanged. With this joke is fresh in my mind, I had a convicting realization today on my lunch break -it's not just topics of creation care or green living that can get us on a soapbox unmatched by our actions - it's also the lifestyle that our Lord calls us to.

If you've had in depth conversations about the church with us anytime in the past few years, it's likely that you've heard us talk about making a shift toward "missional communities" rather than program driven churches. Basically this means followers of Jesus that take seriously the calling of loving their neighbor intentionally & consistently rather than just inviting people to some church program. But in a culture of fenced-in homes & closed garage doors, actually knowing your immediate neighbors is more difficult than you'd think. And it takes a lot of time and energy! If you're familiar with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, you'll know that Jesus expands the definition of our neighbor to not just those that live within a short proximity, but all we come in contact, friend & foe alike. We've tried to focus on those immediately surrounding us first. Admittedly, we have not done as well as we'd like in this area - but hey, we know our neighbors names, talk with the kids outside, bring fresh cookies over every once in awhile - it's a step right? We've dreamt about bringing the kingdom life to our neighborhoods through authentic community. Today I realized, though, that sometimes I believe that dreaming or caring about something is enough. But the true freedom & obedience comes not in well articulated visions or soap boxes, but in the daily, faithful work of doing something.

Here's where the Lord kicks my butt. I was sitting outside of Starbucks on my lunch break when I heard a woman trying to start her car, but it wouldn't turn over. I glanced up from my reading my Bible, thought "Hmm, that car is not going anywhere, I wonder if she needs some help" then went right back to reading. The woman's car was directly in my line of vision, so I watched the story unfold. I noticed that a few minutes later two women had popped up her hood to see if they could figure out what was going on. Still no start. Enter my excuses here - "I know nothing about cars...the only thing I can do is provide jumper cables...if those women don't know how to help her, I certainly can't help doesn't sound like it's a battery issue..." On and on. The kicker - I was literally reading Luke 10 when Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. Seriously, Kenzie? Does it get more blatant than that?  Worse even, a few minutes later I look up and there is a man jumping her car, then she drove away. The one thing I could have actually helped with, and my car was parked only 2 spots away from her...

Don't you love those not-so-gentle reminders from the Lord? How easy it is to be caught up in a vision of loving our neighbors & then blatantly not pursue what is so obvious in front of us. In the parable, the Samaritan man pays at least 2 days earnings for this stranger's well being, putting him up in an inn, dressing his wounds, personally caring for & checking on him. True love & care of our neighbor often includes sacrifice of time, of money, of energy, of convenience. My sacrifice today would have been minimal -  walking 50 feet, ask the woman if I could help, and let my car run for a few minutes - but could have changed the woman's day. Instead I chose to get wrapped up in a nice idea rather than its' natural conclusion right in front of me.

I suppose this blog has no real up-lifting message or exhortation toward better living, but an honest confession that I imagine you all can relate to more than you'd like to admit. Moments like today's break away my sugar-coated view of myself and reveal the hypocrisy that so many others see in the church.  Hypocrisy isn't always acts of commission, sometimes it's in acts of omission or in the laziness of my heart. Today I'm reminded that all things, from eating conscientiously to being a good neighbor, are an invitation to live well, not just believe well.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our Next Adventure - Part II

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? ... But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." --Matthew 6:24-34

God is good, and He continues to provide! Throughout our journey of stepping out in faith, He has been abundantly gracious to us. When we initially took our first steps of obedience in resigning from Canyon Hills in preparation for moving back to the Bay Area, we were completely empty handed. Almost immediately after taking our step of faith, door after door began to open at churches. We continued to pray our simple prayers of unity, peace, and provision. We knew we wanted this next church family to be home for us, not just a job, but a place to lay roots.

Just as He's promised, God has been faithful to provide for our needs. With great joy & excitement, we are humbled to announce we will be joining a great community of believers at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley! Calvin will be joining staff as the Director of Youth & Family Ministry, working with the middle school & high school coordinators to minister to the youth and their families in Berkeley and the surrounding cities. First Pres Berkeley has a long, rich heritage in the city of Berkeley and we are honored to jump on board what God is already doing in and through them. We're packing up & moving August 1st, and our first day there will be August 4th -- we're gonna hit the ground running!

After getting the call, we felt so incredibly loved & known by God. His fingerprints are all over this process - from the initial job posting, conversations & interactions with the search committee, our times of prayer, and affirmation from others. He knows our needs, our passions, our personalities, our giftings and has aligned them well. When we were processing the decision with some close friends, we asked for their prayer as we discerned God's confirmation in the job offer. Our friend responded - "We will absolutely keep praying for you, but I think this offer is the answer, not the question." He summarized our hearts well. We are at peace & excited to stretch new muscles in an urban, diverse environment, exploring this journey one step at a time. 

More recently, Kenzie has accepted a job at William Hezmalhalch Architechs (WHA) as a Receptionist/Project Administrator in their San Ramon office. As has been with the rest of God's provision in our move, the WHA staff has been gracious, welcoming, and flexible with our timeline. Looks like we'll be keeping a close connection to Canyon Hills! (Bill Hezmahlach, the owner of WHA, is an elder at CHFC).

Please pray for this time of transition. Transitions are never easy, but transitioning well is so, so important for everyone involved moving forward. Pray God's blessing over all Canyon Hills' transitions, for all of the logistics of our move, for humility in joining this new church community, and for the First Pres team as they welcome Calvin. Please also pray for God's provision for housing - we are quickly being initiated into the highly priced and competitive housing market of the bay area. We're praying for an affordable, homey place in Berkeley/North Oakland where we can open up our home for others & bring the Kingdom life into our neighborhood...oh, and pet friendly! :) He has been faithful thus far, and we are confident he will continue to provide!

Thanks for your prayers & encouragements through this process.

Calvin & Kenzie

P.S. Here's the sweet announcement letter that First Pres sent out to their youth families this week:
Dear Youth Families,

We are delighted to share the news that Calvin Sodestrom will join the staff of First Pres as our new Director of Youth and Family Ministry. Calvin is currently the High School Director at Canyon Hills Friends Church in Yorba Linda, CA; prior to holding that position, he served as its Junior High Director. Calvin has a BA in Christian Education from Biola University and graduated in May with a Masters of Divinity from Azusa Pacific Graduate School of Theology. Calvin loves God and is excited to share the good news of Jesus with our youth.

We spent a great deal of time in the search process, including meeting with youth families at the very onset and taking that feedback to develop a set of questions and approach for each candidate. Each finalist was carefully reviewed. We conducted multiple interviews, checked numerous references, and we prayed. Calvin was our first choice, and we are very pleased that he has chosen to join us on staff at First Pres.

Calvin grew up in the Bay Area and attended Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church. He has been a counselor at Redwood Camp at Mount Hermon. Calvin is a gifted speaker and storyteller as well as being thoughtful, mature, fun, and energetic. He is married to Kenzie, who is also from the Bay Area. Kenzie has been involved in student ministry as well and has plans to pursue becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist. They are a wonderful couple, each with a great heart and passionate about ministry.

Calvin begins his ministry on Sunday, August 4, and he will be introduced to the congregation on Sunday, August 11, in worship. We hope you will plan to attend a Youth and Family lunch to meet Calvin and Kenzie after the 11:27 service on August 11.  More information will be forthcoming as we get closer to these dates.

Thank you for your prayers for the team and for Calvin and Kenzie as they relocate to the Bay Area. We feel met by God in our search process and are thrilled with the outcome.

Grace and Peace,

The Search Team for the Director of Youth and Family Ministry

Monday, June 24, 2013

Family History

My Mom's side had a Family Reunion this past week.  Unfortunately, Kenzie and I were unable to make it, but we were able to meet my parents on the I-5 as we returned to So Cal and they returned to the Bay. Truth be told, I was somewhat glad I didn't have to go (as I was required to when I lived under my parent's roof), since I end up being quite introverted in new situations. I was thankful to avoid some of the awkward small talk that comes with being around people you're supposed to know, because you're family, but who you actually know nothing about, because you didn't even know they existed, let alone that they were blood relatives, until you showed up at the reunion. Catch my drift?

But as Kenzie and I sat down at a pristinely clean Quizno's at a truck stop in the middle of nowhere, we listened as my parents recounted the legacy of faith that has characterized the McIntosh clan. My grandfather is the youngest of 10 siblings (maybe 12 - I would know if I went to the reunion), and most all of his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren, second and third cousins twice removed are walking, or walked, with the Lord. The Faithfulness of God (which was the theme for the reunion) was, and is evident in this mish-mash of people with whom I share genes. I didn't ask for them, didn't choose them, at times didn't even want them, but their history is my history.  And it is a history of faithfulness, primarily God's and their subsequent response.

Kenzie and I have both struggled through the books of 1-2 Kings and Chronicles.  We both felt bogged down by the tedious attention to insignificant details, lists and lists of names we couldn't remember or keep track of, exploits of one king or another that, over time, became white noise. We were reading Scripture, God's written word, and we couldn't wait to get it over with. It all seemed so pointless, so unnecessary. Couldn't we just move onto Jesus, onto the stuff that matters, onto the stories that really impact our faith?

And yet, as isolated and distant I feel from these obscure stories, I can't forget that they are part of my history.  The stories of the Old Testament, both good and bad, are stories of my mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters.  I've been grafted into a history that I didn't get to write, that I didn't oversee, that I didn't choose, that was part of the whole package sent to me when I said yes to Jesus. And as much as I don't like it at times, don't want to be a part of it, or try to envision myself as somehow outside the bounds of this grand story, I can't escape it.

Just as the genes that have determined my very being are woven into every part of my body and have placed me within a narrative bigger than myself, so too, the Spirit of God, who vivifies and invigorates my crippled soul, has swept me into a beautiful story of redemption. A story of a tattered, bruised, broken, and downtrodden group of people who have somehow come together through the magnificent love of a very good God. It's a reunion that I would definitely not want to miss.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Tribute to Southern California

Our time in Orange County is quickly coming to a close. We just realized we only have about 5 weeks here, 5 weeks in our first home, 5 weeks with our friends, 5 weeks with our students, only 5 weeks... In any transition, there are a lot of emotions to process, but more often than not those emotions form some strange conglomeration that feels a lot like numbness. My first splash of mourning crept up on me Thursday when I started feeling sad about losing my go-to LA radio stations. I mean, I love me some Ryan Seacrest or Valentine to start my morning commute, but this was certainly a hint of deeper realities of my heart. It's easy to list things I won't miss - like inexplicable traffic on any day at any time, the trains that shake our apartment at all hours, the inability to see stars, having to filter our water, and everything about the 91 freeway - but I also want to record the things I've really come to love here. So, as I process my sadness in leaving this land that had become home over the past 6 years, I've written this tribute.

Dear Southern California, 

The land of unseasonably warm weather and unnatural palm trees, you are a truly beautiful place. I will miss your gorgeous beaches, your pier boardwalks, your Ruby's Diners, the way you make my hair salty and wavy, and the way I feel when I snag a good, free parking spot in Newport Beach. I'll miss the freedom to get a donut at any time of day or night in your many 24 hour donut shops, should I get a craving. I'll miss your cultural diversity and killer hole in the wall restaurants. Ill miss your delicious traveling food trucks. I'll miss Groundlings Improv shows and exploring LA. I'll miss Monday night girls nights with my best friends - who can beat that? I'll miss your morning radio stations. I'll miss your lingo, like how everyone talks about how much time they saved by which freeways and roads they took to get to their location (I'm writing this on the 5 south, not sure if we'll take the 210 to bypass traffic in LA yet). I'll miss prefacing all freeways with "the." I'll miss the phrase 'carmegeddon', honestly, where else is that a real thing? I'll miss living blocks from your cute Old Towne Orange, full of adorable antique shops and eateries. I'll miss the first place Calvin and I have ever called home together.  I'll miss seeing little red Biola parking stickers all over as I drive around. I'll miss hearing Disneyland's fireworks every night like clockwork, or catching the tail end of a show from the freeway. I'll miss recognizing normal places and landmarks as a film location for TV shows and movies. I'll miss hearing the familiar screams as our neighborhood kids play outside or hearing our neighbor greet his cats. I'll miss your warm sunshine that provides shorts weather yearlong. I'll miss the hopefulness of young aspiring somebodies in LA. And your, people, your picture perfect OC people -- once strangers to us, now family.

It's been a good run, So Cal. We hope to bring some if your sunshine and warmth to the city by the bay.

Sincerely yours,


Friday, May 17, 2013

The Gift of Powerlessness

I love those "A-HA" moments, when something familiar suddenly surprises you with something you had never noticed, reminding you to always be alert.  I recall this distinctly happening while at an art museum, gazing at a well known painting.  I was familiar with the picture, but it wasn't until I saw the frenzied brush strokes, the delicately mixed paint, the drops of white that make the colors around burst to life.  That was an A-HA moment, a reminder to never grow comfortable with the world at large.

I had another A-HA moment this morning when reading Scripture. I've been reading about the life of David and its been a bit unsettling at times.  David is first introduced as a man who will seek after God's heart, who will be a faithful king as opposed to Saul.  With this initial description, its easy to fantasize and romanticize David, holding him up as the perfect example of faithfulness and devotion.  And yet this is a guy who eventually abuses his kingly power by impregnating another man's wife and then murdering him to cover his tracks.  The guy whose son rapes his daughter and all he does is slap him on the wrist and send him on his way.  This is the man after God's heart.

I was opened to the dynamic nature of David's character again today.  1 Samuel 24-26 contains three stories about David. David first spares Saul's life when he enters into a cave to relieve himself, not knowing that David is hiding in the back of the cave.  David chooses to let Saul go free rather than kill him, stating that it is the Lord's role to avenge, not him.  Following this, David and his men ask for Nabal to feed them for watching over his shepherds and sheep.  Nabal foolishly refuses and David is about ready to decimate his entire household had not Abigail rushed to David and asked for forgiveness.  David acquiesces and Nabal dies not too long after by the Lord's hand.  Finally, David sneaks into Saul's camp and has the opportunity to kill him once again.  And again, David refuses to kill Saul, leaving vengeance and retribution in the Lord's hand.

In these three stories, we get a simultaneous glimpse of David's devotion to God and his utter rashness.  David is twice willing to spare the life of the man who seeks to take David's life and yet he also is ready and willing to slaughter an entire family over a failure to provide provisions. It is the actions of Abigail that keep David from taking innocent blood, reminding him to leave things in God's hands.

I find it interesting that when David is in a position of powerlessness, with his four hundred men compared to Saul's thousands, he trusts in the Lord, acknowledging that Saul was still anointed by God.  Yet, when David is in a position of power, with four hundred fighting men compared to a single household, he is willing to kill when he doesn't get his way.

Our culture views powerlessness as a form of weakness, something to be avoided at all costs.  But maybe powerlessness and weakness are gifts from God which invite us to greater dependency and trust in the one who orders the sun and the stars. Even more, maybe powerlessness and weakness are not just gifts, but insights into the life and character of God, the God who enters this world as a baby, the God who shows his character not in displays of power, but in an act of powerlessness, helplessness, and absolute weakness.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Motley Crew

My constant failure is a mark of being Christian, for the beginning point for anyone on the journey towards Christlikeness is a recognition that we fail.  A lot.  And even when we submit ourselves to God's present reign and rule, we still make mistakes and fail.  Thus the beauty of grace.

I was reading 1 Samuel 22 and was struck my something I had never noticed before.  David is fleeing from Saul and hides in the cave of Adullam.  His family hears he is hiding there and they come to join him.  And then the text describes the other people who came to join David in the cave:

"And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who is in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men."
1 Samuel 22:2

Here we have the anointed David, the true King of Israel, fleeing from the egotistical attempts of a rejected king trying in vain to secure his position and status.  And David, rather than attracting the best of the best, those nurtured and trained from a young age with a sword in their hand, finds himself surrounded by a motley crew. Those in distress.  Those in debt. Those embittered and discontent. We don't know why they were distressed, in debt, or discontent.  Some scholars think they were social outcasts, those looking for a chance to overthrow Saul, hoping for a chance to see Saul crushed under David's feet.

When I read this short description of David's loyal band, I was reminded of those whom Jesus called to himself.  Fishermen.  Tax collectors.  Zealous revolutionaries hoping to overthrow Rome by violent means.  One who would eventually betray him.  Jesus may have eaten at the homes of the rich, but when he called them to give all they had and live by the ways and rhythms of the Kingdom, they walked away.  And yet, it was this very same motley crew of misfits that Jesus chose to launch his Kingdom movement to the corners of the world.

Last night my wife and I had dinner with my former youth pastor and a friend I've known since before I can remember.  She is, in her words, "doing what Jesus leads her to do."  She's also living in her parent's basement.  He, an engineer, is living in Long Beach, working for oil companies and attending his local church in the meantime.  My wife and I, in a move that defies reason and logic, are leaving a stable environment and venturing into the unknown.  And as we were saying goodbye last night, I thought to myself, "We are a bit of a motley crew. We may be broken and bruised, but we are still chosen."

There's a church in Colorado named The Scum of the Earth taken from 1 Corinthians 4:13. I think that's an apt description of the church. We are not the pride of the world, but the scum of the earth.  We truly are a motley crew of people to whom God has entrusted his Spirit and Kingdom movement. But should we really be surprised? A quick survey of Scripture reveals its what God has been doing from the very beginning!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Our Next Adventure

The past few months have been full of prayer, questions, decisions to be made, and lots of uncertainty. Weeks of prayer and discernment recently culminated in our final decision for our next steps  - we have decided to move back up to the bay area in August. Kenzie will be beginning her MA in Marriage & Family Counseling with Western Seminary in San Jose and Calvin will be finding a pastoral position.

Now let me rewind and explain our process of how we got here. Over the past year Calvin finished his final year of his Masters of Divinity at APU (with honors!), and Kenzie has applied and been accepted to APU, Vanguard, and Western Seminary for their MFT programs. Regardless of our location, we knew this next adventure would involve transition for us - in schedule, swapping roles, etc. As we thought about and prayed through where the Lord may be leading us, we have had a a few major requests for the Lord:
  1. Unity of our hearts
  2. An open door
  3. Lord, increase our faith (*Admittedly, we did not think prayer requests 1 & 2 were connected with 3, but God has this funny sense of humor...see my blog post titled Doubting Thomas)
Once Kenzie was accepted into schools, the deadlines and weight of our decisions began to set in - do we stay in Orange County with our best friends, jobs, ministries, and church we pack up and move back home to the bay area and be closer to family, with or without a job, trusting that God will provide?

After weeks of prayer and discussions, we agreed to set apart one week to "try on" both decisions. Monday and Tuesday we lived as though we had decided to stay in SoCal, noting our reactions, excitements, disappointments, fears, etc. Wednesday we took a day to pray, fast, and transition our hearts. Thursday and Friday were spent wearing the decision to move up north, again noting our reactions, fears, excitements, disappointments. Throughout this week we sought wise counsel of many people in our lives, those who were invested in us staying, those invested in us moving, and those invested in us being faithful to God's whispers.
As a bookend to our week of discernment, we took a one night campout, settling in the slow pace of camping to reflect on our week.

One of the discernment projects we practiced was writing what makes us feel alive and defeated about both decisions. We each wrote our lists separately before comparing - only to find that our lists were almost identical, even sometimes written in the same order! The week was filled with great insights, emotional highs & lows, and great dependence on God.

Though our open door is at Canyon Hills, our hearts are united, at peace, and excited about our new faith journey in moving to be closer to family. We have no idea what the next step will look like, but we know that God is good, and He will provide. Needless to say, this decision is a bitter-sweet one for us. We are excited to feel "home" again, knowing our hearts can settle and lay roots, but we are leaving a loving church family, many friends, and our cozy home in the ridiculously cute Orange circle.

The Sunday after we made our final decision, we sang  Hillsong United's Oceans at church. God's timing is good, and this song may be his first provision for us - an anthem as we continue to rely on Him.

We will be in Orange County through early August, then moving up to our next adventure, whether that be our new home, or my old bedroom at my mom's house :) Please pray with us as we look for job opportunities, housing,  financial provision for school, and increased faith. Thank you all for your support - through this blog and through every day life.
We covet your prayers!

To our Canyon Hills Family- We will be here through August 1st and we would love to process this transition together. We understand that losing youth leaders can feel confusing, hurtful, and sad. Know that we are grieving this as well. In our own high school years we each experienced multiple transitions of small group leaders, high school directors, and youth pastors. It's not easy to start over in relationships and it takes time to build trust. In light of that, we are humbled by the opportunities we've had over the past years to be entrusted with each of your lives, and we deeply thank you for walking alongside us. Canyon Hills will remain a special place in our hearts and we promise we won't be strangers, we'll come visit whenever we're in the area and we will gladly offer up our couch to anyone visiting San Francisco! Let's commit to finishing this last leg of our journey together well. We love you all.