Friday, May 20, 2011

The (Hopefully Short) Story of My Life

Okay, I've decided I'm going to get a little more serious about writing for this blog on a more regular basis, and using it for a platform for social media experimentation. I'll be conducting a lot of surveys and asking for your opinion on various things, plus sharing my heart about things I care strongly about, such as faith, family and the Bible; growing stronger churches and college groups; compassion ministry; social media and the web; writing and communication; perhaps even cycling and acoustic worship.

Me with the newest member of our family,
precious little Annabelle Ivy!

In the meantime, I thought I should use this particular blog space to give you a little more background on who I am and what makes me tick. (As opposed to what ticks me off!)

Jesus Christ became the most important Person in my life when I was 8 years old. My oldest sister, Sandy, and I were playing in the back yard of our home in Sylmar, California. For a reason I can't remember, I hauled off and popped her a good one, and as she was bawling, I ran from the impending wrath of my mother and hid in a favorite spot, behind a bush on the east side of our house.

As I sat there listening for my mother's inevitable yell, to my surprise I heard another voice. Not literally, I don't think, but sort of a voice inside my head. It went something like this: "This sin problem that you have is only going to get worse and worse unless you let Me do something about it."

I knew what sin was. I had been in Sunday School since I could remember. And I had read the Bible stories about how God was real and entered into human history at various critical points. I also knew exactly what I should do: Confess my inability to save myself, and give my life to the One who sacrificed Himself for me. Pretty heavy stuff for an 8-year-old, huh?

So right then and there, I bowed my head and asked Christ to enter my life and take control. I can still recall the amazing sense of assurance that God was pleased with my request and did exactly what I asked. I was so excited that I got up and ran from that bush to tell my mom what happened, almost colliding with her just as she was running out the back door looking for a behind to paddle. (I'm grateful too for the fact that she was so excited about my news that she even forgot to spank me!)

Learning to Live for Christ

Since that's the most important thing that's ever happened to me, the rest is footnote. Like many young people, I didn't really figure out what it meant to live for Christ until I was a senior in high school. I was fortunate to make friends with a new youth pastor named John Carroll (if you're reading this, John, I'd love to catch up with you!), who took me under his wing and discipled me. I met my future wife-to-be, Darlene, about the same time.

I attended a wonderful Christian college, Biola University, working on the newspaper staff and writing for the PR department, then getting a Bachelor's degree in Communication (journalism/creative writing/Bible). Darlene and I married in 1979, which should also have been the year I graduated, but instead I was on the squeeze-4-years-into-6 academic plan.

After we graduated in 1981, I had a general sense that God wanted me to write. I had entered the annual Guideposts Magazine youth writing contest at my mom's urging, and won it, to my surprise, which provided me with both a newfound interest in writing and also some money for college. I also won a few writing awards in college, including a best personality feature of the year award from the Evangelical Press Association.

So, when I graduated in 1981 I thought I wanted to write for a living, but wasn't sure how to actually make a job of it. Newspapers weren't hiring reporters with six years of education, so after six months of looking my brother and I got a loan and started our own printing business out of our parents' garage.

That evolved into a typesetting-for-the-trade business and eventually into a technology business licensed by the California State University system. At the same time, I worked part-time with the Word Processing Department for a few years at World Vision headquarters in Monrovia, California. Our son Nathan was born in 1983, and our daughter Mandy three years later.

That was about the time I was entering something of a crisis in my life. My business wasn't doing as well as I had hoped, and while I had done some freelance writing and even completed a (still unpublished) novel, I felt like I was in a malaise. We had begun attending a wonderful church in our home town, and were a part of a small group, and I also realized I wasn't seriously committed to the Lord's best direction for my life, but instead was trying to make out of it what I wanted to make.

Holding Fast To God

I remember a night when Darlene, who had a great but very stressful job as a nursing administrator in a hospital, had taken very sick and was hospitalized with pneumonia. I had two children in diapers and no real direction in my life, and I felt at wit's end. I began (once again) reading the Bible, searching for answers. I came across the story of Jacob, wrestling with the Angel of the Lord and saying: "I will not let You go until You bless me!"

I was amazed at his audacity, but more amazed at how God responded. After becoming sufficiently convinced of Jacob's sincerity, He relented and blessed him. Jacob's life was immediately and dramatically changed ... mostly from the inside-out. He exchanged his ambitious, his sneakiness, and self-centeredness for true, God-centered humility. That's when God really began to use him.

So I decided to do the same thing. As exhausted as I was late that difficult evening, I got down on my knees and told God I wouldn't "let him go" until something changed. I proceeded to continue there on my knees, crying out to God, all night long.

It was sometime early in the wee hours of the morning when something happened. I still can't describe exactly what it was. Something changed. Suddenly, I had a sense of God saying, "Okay, if you're serious about this ... if you're willing to be changed from the inside out ... buckle your seatbelt, here we go."

Shortly after that night, I began to seek the places in life where I felt God was present and leading. I got more involved in our church, and developed a close relationship with our brilliant young pastor. He wanted to write books about what God was doing in his life, but needed a writer. I was a writer in search of a message. So we teamed up and wrote two books and a number of other training materials. One of the two did very well, going into multiple printings and even being translated into several foreign languages.

I began to participate in worship leadership and small groups leadership. I became an elder at a church that was the fastest-growing in our denomination, which also planted multiple daughter churches. My wife and I were a part of a church-planting team for one of those efforts. I also sold my business, at the perfect time, and became involved in local compassion ministry, creating a ministry organization whose model was emulated in numerous other states.

A Tangled Web

All this was exciting and fun ... but it didn't pay the bills very well, and my wife grew weary of carrying the financial burden of our family. So, in 1994 I began looking for a full-time assignment utilizing my writing and editing skills. I rejoined World Vision in July 1994 as a creative editor and staff writer.

A year later World Vision put me on a committee of people looking at this newfangled thing called "the Web." That team was asking questions like, "What is the internet? And could we raise any funds on it?" I had learned a few things about the Web during my days with the technology and consulting business, so I wrote a glowing 40-page paper extolling the potential benefits of the internet as a fundraising and communication channel. The committee was so excited that in 1996 they decided to give me a budget and the challenge of creating World Vision's first Web presence. We launched a week before our deadline — April 25, 1997, in order to attempt to communicate the urgency of the North Korea Famine and seek to raise some funds to help people who were starving to death in World Vision's birthplace, the Korean peninsula.

You won't be surprised to hear that the internet quickly exceeded everyone's wildest dreams, and even the optimistic projections of my 40-page paper. For several years I was a one-man internet shop, but after extracting from me a promise to begin World Vision's first corporate intranet, I was granted a few staff and we continued to grow.

Today World Vision's internet presence is one of the top online nonprofit fundraising businesses in the world, and employs many more people than that once-small staff contingent. I have served many different roles with the internet program, related mostly to the intersection of communications and technology. My current assignment is as the New Media Strategist for World Vision's Media Relations Department.

In this assignment I am learning a great deal about social media ... the world of blogging, and of how various tools such as Twitter and Facebook can be effectively leveraged to provide great resources to our friends in the media as they seek to tell the story of how World Vision is serving the world's poor.

The other thing I should mention the Lord has done in our lives relates to our current church, a small but wonderful community of believers in Puyallup, Washington. We have worshiped there ever since we first arrived in the Seattle area in 1995, thanks to World Vision's corporate relocation to this area. After our children were grown and fled the coup, we realized our church didn't offer much by way of inducement for young adults to stick around, so Darlene and I started a college/career young adults ministry. Today we are thankful that this ministry has grown and is very healthy. Hanging around these young people has also been a huge benefit to me personally, as they generally have a much more intuitive grasp of the power of social media than I do as a semi-centarian.

Let's Talk

I can't share everything I am learning here, for obvious reasons, but I would like to use this space to create ways that we can learn and grow together. So please join in the conversation and let me know how the Web and social media have made an impact in your life, and where you think things are going from here!

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