Gratitude 2014

Today is Thanksgiving which, naturally enough, helps me remember to show gratitude, to be thankful.

So, what do I want to show gratitude for this year?

Gratitude 2014

I’d like to show gratitude for…

  • …the best spouse I could have ever asked for.  I seriously don’t deserve my wife!  She has literally helped me become a better person.  Literally.
  • …the transformative power of Jesus to change lives, starting with mine.  I’ve had a front-row seat this year as Jesus has flipped my life over and the lives of some people close to me as well.
  • …my families, both my given one and my chosen one.  The level of support that my wife and I have experienced from our parents, siblings, and extended relatives has been indescribable.  And our fictive family, our chosen set of friends, have blessed us beyond belief as well.  It’s been incredibly humbling!
  • …my cousin Wendy, her parents Christy and Wade, and her kids.  As our lives are beginning to dovetail with theirs due to our adoption scenario, we couldn’t be happier at the possibilities for grace and beauty that will flow both ways.  God is good.
  • …how welcoming our neighborhood has been.  We moved to a new neighborhood this March and it’s been great!  We’ve enjoyed sharing Alida’s baking, cooking out, and enjoying hours of enlightening conversation.
  • Lake Avenue Church, our local church home.  We’ve been inspired there, served there, worked there, made and found community there, and have been given opportunities to lead there.  Gratitude doesn’t begin to express our feelings about our spiritual family!
  • …health and comfort.  My wife and I have a great life.  We’re blessed.  But we know that being blessed comes with a responsibility to be a blessing in the lives of others, especially those who don’t have health and comfort.  May we be moved to demonstrated and speak the love of Jesus where Jesus has placed us, where we work, live, and play.
  • …people in my life who are very different than my wife and I.  We’ve been stretched by the diversity and it hasn’t always been fun or easy.  But I know without a shadow of a doubt that we’ve grown.

What in your life causes you to feel gratitude?

Express it in the comments below!


Happy Thanksgiving!

Ultrasound of Our Future


An ultrasound machine like this one granted us our first look at a face that will forever change our lives.


Ultrasound of Our Baby

My wife and I have been having a lot of life-changing days lately.  This is due to the fact that we’re in the process of adopting.  You can read some about it at this link, this link, or this one.

Yesterday was another one of those days — I was blessed with the opportunity of going to our birthmother’s ultrasound appointment.  It was a complete trip!  I was so excited to see the face of our child for the first time, thanks to the ultrasound machine and technicians; all while getting to have a wonderful conversation with the child of Wendy, our birthmother (who is also my cousin and her daughter will be our child’s cousin and biological sister).

While the whole scenario was certainly surreal, like much of this process has been, the reality of the situation began to sink in more and more fully.  I was looking at pictures of our child on the ultrasound monitor after all — his or her feet, hands, legs, heart, organs, brain, eyes, arms, face…

It was beyond belief!

Want to see the star of the show?  Here you go!


1.2.840.113663.1500.1.374244462.3.55.20141117.143326.406.d86ae41b23b.0000000000 1.2.840.113663.1500.1.374244462.3.56.20141117.143330.656.d86ae41b23b.0000000000


You may be able to see that our baby is resting on his or her hand.  I don’t know why but this little detail of the ultrasound photo really stands out to me, but it does.  I guess it humanizes the photo some.  I mean, I do that — I rest on my hand!  And here’s our baby doing the same thing!

I wish I had words to encapsulate how I felt in that moment…but all my words are inadequate.  I’ll try anyway: I was excited, nervous, happy, scared, hopeful, anxious, and joyous.  Ultimately I would say that in that moment I felt blessed: blessed to be there, blessed to have this opportunity to live out the life of Jesus within my own family, and blessed to be entrusted with this little life which is being knit together in Wendy’s womb and in our hearts.

Ultrasound of Our Future

But the other side of the blessing coin is being a blessing.  There’s a biblical principle, found in the covenant with Abraham in Genesis to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, that those who are blessed by God, in whatever capacity, are expected to be a blessing to others.  To hoard the blessing of God is nothing short of utter selfishness and is ultimately sinful.

Thus, when looking into the monitor at the face of our baby, I could not help but begin to imagine all that is going to unfold over the next months and years.

It’s not often that we have the opportunity to see a face that will forever change our lives.  I don’t remember first time seeing the faces of my parents and sister, but those faces certainly count.  And in 1998 I first saw the face of my wife, Alida, and my life’s never been the same.

Seeing our baby’s face for the first time yesterday was another one of those moments.

All our prayers, all our decisions, and all our conversations for the rest of our lives will be different because of the face looking back at us in these ultrasound pictures.

And we, my wife and I, have been blessed with this opportunity.  It’s our job to steward, or to care for, this blessing well, while always being prepared to share it with others.  It’s our God-given mandate to share the blessing that we are receiving in this moment.

I haven’t the slightest idea of what that will look like.  But I know this for sure: this child isn’t just ours.  He or she belongs to God and God will do with him or her whatever he sees fit.

It’s our job to be a blessing to this child and to be ready to share him or her with the world.


If you’d like to support my wife and I during this process, that would be great!  Please pray that everything continues to go smoothly and that all the little details that need ironing out will get ironed out.  For more ways to support us, click here.  Thanks!

Death Row Lessons


Death Row Lessons

What do you think of this video?

In it David Dow reveals a few lessons he has learned after working for 20 years with death row inmates.  He walks through various statistics and facts to help make his points.  And, along the way, he includes stories of people he has worked with, specifically a young man named Will who came from a low-income family in which he was almost killed by his own mother.

David Dow attempts to avoid controversy by spending his time toward the end of the video talking about something everyone can agree on: preventing the murder of an innocent person.

Let’s not get into a debate about the death penalty.  Instead let’s focus on what the speaker focused on — intervening before the murder is committed in the first place.

In fact, the story of Will that David Dow tells is not that dissimilar to the stories of the young men (and women) in my neighborhood.  Most of them are low income and therefore have limited access to things that other folks take for granted (such as a quality education, healthy food, quiet and safe places to do homework, etc.).  And many of the folks in my neighborhood are also from broken, violent, and dysfunctional families, some of which have long family histories of gang involvement.

What are some ways that we can intervene in the lives of young people, like Will and like those in my neighborhood, to help nudge them off the paths that might lead toward horrific crimes and ultimately death row?

And how should those who follow Jesus be involved in this process?  How can we, with the help of the Spirit of God and our various church communities, help prevent people from ending up on death row?  Do we really believe that Jesus has the ability to transform people and systems?  If so, why do we act like we don’t?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

This blog post is going to be revealing.  I’m going to try my best to be vulnerable and authentic.  My plan is to share 5 ways that relationships can be hurt.

And how can I be sure that these 5 ways to hurt relationships are actually for real?  Well, because I’ve been guilty of them all at one time or another!

Here we go…


Doh! We’re so good at hurting people in relationships!
By: Andrew McCluskey

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

  1. Make Assumptions — Assumptions hurt relationships just about more than anything else.  Part of the reason why is because they are so simple to make.  They take almost no effort whatsoever.  It may just be me (but, dang, I hope not!), but it’s almost as if the human default mode is set to “assume everyone is out to get you.”  When we behave this way within relationships, whether in marriages and friendships or at work and within families, we are guaranteed to hurt people we care about and with whom we need continued contact.  Why?  Because the assumptions we make tend to be really harmful, such as the assumption that someone is lying, trying to hurt us on purpose, ignorant, or stupid.
  2. Jump to Conclusions — A high school football coach of mine once said that the most athletic thing that local sports reporters d0 is to jump to conclusions.  Well, if that’s true, then I should be the Olympic representative for the USA in the category of jumping to conclusions!  The way that it usually works for me (and for others too, I’m hoping) is that I make an assumption. Then I follow the logic of the assumption to the end and get angry about the resulting imaginary conclusion.  Here’s an example: If someone is late to a meeting that we both agreed to attend, I often jump to the conclusion that they are intentionally being disrespectful.  I don’t allow for the fact that I live in LA County, an area know for traffic problems.  And even though I hurt relationships by jumping to conclusions, I certainly don’t like it when people do it to me!
  3. Fail to Apologize — Relationships that were once close but that are now broken for whatever reason, are like a cut powerline.  No longer can the powerline serve its function of delivering electricity where it’s needed and now both of the ends that were once together are dangerous.  Our relationships are not just about the specific people in them.  They are also about all the people connected to the parties within the relationships.  And when we are failing to apologize to one another we are depriving the rest of our relationships our best selves.  Furthermore, when we fail to apologize our emotions are raw and we’re often a danger for other people in our lives too.  It’s time we started apologizing when we’ve wronged someone, owning up to our part in the drama and taking responsibility to move forward in healthy ways.
  4. Fail to Forgive –Not only is apologizing important, but forgiving whomever hurt us is important too.  Relationships in which one person is trying to make things right while the other is trying to stand on the moral high ground by withholding forgiveness are set up for lots and lots of trouble.  In relationships that have lasted for a while, there is no moral high ground.  Since everyone within relationships is a person, then everyone has made mistakes.  No one is perfect, meaning that there’s no room to set on the high throne of judgment.  That a position that is reserved for God alone.  Our job within relationships is to accept apologies and offer forgiveness.  Not only is withholding forgiveness bad for the relationship, it’s bad for us too!  It can create bitterness and bitterness can ruin our lives little by little over time.
  5. Argue While Angry — All human relationships are going to including arguments.  We’re all people and we all have opinions and those opinions do not always line up just so.  And all relationships will also have to cope with anger from time to time.  Anger is a typical human emotion.  We don’t always seem to have control over when it comes or even why it comes.  But anger in and of itself is not bad or inherently sinful.  It’s what we do when we’re angry that matters.  Here’s how the Bible puts it in Ephesians 4.26: “In your anger do not sin.”  And I would probably add to this that arguing while angry is almost never a good idea.  Trust me.  You’ll say and do things that you will regret; things that can’t be forgotten or taken back.  It would be better to attempt to calm down before having a discussion regarding a disagreement.

Now on this blog I tend to write about missional stuff.  So how is any of this missional?  Well, since seeking the mission of God in our world is best undertaken with others and not alone, then we’re going to have to figure out how to hurt one another less.  And since the only real way to share Jesus with others is through relationships, we’re going to have to figure out paths toward healthy connections with other people.

Avoiding these five things is a good start.


What else should be on this list?  Let me know in the comments below!

Getting the Flock out of the Pen

Here’s the best thing I’ve read all week:

If the church consists of all those who have believed in Jesus, then church leaders must be less concerned with attracting a bigger flock and more concerned with getting the flock out of the pen.

This awesome nugget comes from Neil Cole and Phil Helfer in their timely and amazing book entitled Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically–From the Inside Out.

Perception Is Reality

Perception is everything.


Sometimes it is said that a messenger is the message. I want to spend some time in this post unpacking what this idea means.

I want to do so by telling a story:

Perception on the Block

My wife and I were on a walk in our neighborhood recently. The intention behind this walk was to get to know some of our neighbors in an effort to share the love of Jesus with them in some capacity. So we prayed before we went on our walk and we asked God to bring people across our path that we could positively impact.

There was a group of young men that were hanging out across the street. So we went up to them and introduced ourselves. While we were doing this I noticed that there were two young men behind them who appeared to be in the middle of some kind of business transaction, which meant I wanted nothing to do with that conversation.

As we were about to continue our walk, one of the young men who was doing business said, “There go the police.”

This interaction reminded my wife and I of how we are perceived in our neighborhood. And that perception is generally that we are affiliated with the police or at least that we don’t really belong in the neighborhood. My perception of this perception of us is that it’s because we are white and we live in a predominantly African-American and Latino community.

Whatever the case, this perception is reality to those who perceive us. And this is a perception that we must overcome over time.

So as we think about how to be a tangible blessing in our neighborhood, how do we deal with this perception and others like it?

Here’s what I did in the story above: I simply turned around and approached the two young men who said that we were the police. I told them that we weren’t the police and that we lived across the street.

I’m not sure what they thought of this interaction but I felt it necessary to confront this issue head-on. The main reason why is because I understand that this perception of us being the police could really get in the way of us interacting with the people on our block in meaningful ways moving forward.

But some of the perceptions of followers of Jesus are not as obvious as the ones in our neighborhood.

Sometimes perceptions of followers of Jesus are more subtle or or more general, such as that Christians are judgmental, too political, sticks in the mud, etc. (as revealed in the book unChristian by David Kinnnaman).  And the reality is that it’s only through time and trust that perceptions such as these can be countered in healthy ways.

And while sometimes we may feel that the perception of us by those who do not yet follow Jesus is unfair, the responsibility is not on the perceiver but on the one being perceived. In other words, it’s our job as the messengers to be sure that the message is coming across clearly despite potential perception issues.

So here’s the question: how do we combat perceptions that might prevent us from being the tangible blessings that we are to be where we work, live, and play? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Halloween Massacre in Pasadena

On Halloween of 1993, Pasadena, CA had to face the reality of street gangs head on.  There was no more room to pretend like the organized crime of America’s gang capital, Los Angeles, wasn’t here too.

That night, three gang-affiliated men gunned down six teenagers who were trick-or-treating.  None of the victims were gang-affiliated; they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time that Halloween.  Three of the young men died that night.


This tragic crime happened near the intersection of Emerson and Wilson in the Bungalow Heaven section of Pasadena, CA.

More than two years later, the three gunmen were found guilty of first degree murder, among other charges.  And nearly three and a half years after the Halloween Massacre occurred the perpetrators were sentenced to death.  And though 21 years have passed, the three men who were convicted of this horror on Halloween have yet to receive their ultimate punishment.

The tragedy of this situation isn’t just found in the deaths of innocent young men or the ever-present delays of the justice system; it can also be seen in the fact that a community had ignored the warning signs that this type of gang-related violence was possible.  All the necessary components were present.  And yet no one seemed to notice and, thus, nothing was done.


Halloween Massacre Lessons

There’s no need to look unnecessarily back into the past to pick at proverbial scabs.  But when there’s an opportunity for learning to happen and growth to occur, it would be a grand mistake not to look back so that we can move forward.

So, it’s with this philosophy of learning from the past that I offer a few humble suggestions of possible lessons to be learned from the Halloween Massacre of 1993 in Pasadena.

  1. We must get our heads out of the sand.  Gangs and the things that help create them (such as poverty, broken families, joblessness, poor schools, etc.) are nation-wide problems, if not global problems.  In cities such as Los Angeles this is not surprising.  But in Pasadena, a city known for a parade of flowers, a football game, and a song about a little ol’ lady, they are surprising.  And they’re surprising in my hometown of Midland, TX too.  And perhaps they’re even more surprising in suburban and rural areas.  Here’s the truth: Gangs and the factors that lead to them are present almost everywhere.  It’s time we, as community members, as the church, and as families, did something about this.
  2. We must get past historic and systemic racism and classism.  One of the easiest ways to ignore gang violence is to blame it on the “stupidity” of poor people or ethnic minorities.  It’s easy for someone in a comfortable home among their still-together family to bemoan how “those people” don’t make any sense and how “they” make poor choices.  The truth is that the “they” are “us” and “we” are “them.”  There’s no divide.  Everyone is looking for a place to belong.  Everyone is looking for ways to make money.  And anyone can get wrapped up in the gang life.  A perfect example of this is murder or a gang-affiliated young man in my neighborhood last week.  He grew up in an intact family, in good schools, and with a bright future.  Gang affiliation isn’t just an issue among poor people and people of color.  This is a human issue.  This is our issue.
  3. We must cross barriers and enter into the communities most affected by gangs.  Friends, if every human life matters, then we must set our fears aside and enter into real, human relationships with people in every sort of neighborhood, including (and especially!) those most impacted by gangs.  Children need mentors.  Young people need to see and experience hope.  Gang members need to be reminded that they are seen and cared for by people other than their homies in their click.  We have to get over our fears and issues and cross whatever barriers may exist for us.  Will it be easy?  Of course not.  If you look like me you’ll face an uphill battle, trust me.  I’ve been mistaken for a police officer.  One of my friends, who just so happens to be have male-pattern baldness, gets confused for a skinhead all the time.  And you may have to fight against the accusation that you have the “save a brother syndrome.”  Relationships that cross cultural divides take time.  But they’re worth it.  For a ton of reasons.  You’ll grow and be stretched and learn how to love like never before.
  4. We must trust in the power of Jesus to transform lives, neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and ultimately the whole world.  We can’t do this.  We can’t do this as individuals or as groups of people.  We need divine help.  We need to power of Jesus.  We all do, not just the gang members or potential gang members.  And when we trust Jesus to do the transformation, it can help us to steer clear of the idea that we can change the world.  We can’t.  Only Jesus can bring true transformation.  And Jesus wants to use people who know and daily experience that transformation in their own lives to be agents of that same transformation in the world.  God wants to use us.  He wants to express his love and compassion for everyone and he has chosen to do that through us!


So, what will you do?  How will you help lead others to address issues like the ones that led to the Halloween Massacre in Pasadena?  And How will you and your community give the responsibility of transformation over to Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!