Our First Christmas on Dumbarton

Christmas can be one of the few opportunities for people to get to know their neighbors, especially in the Silicon Valley. So many people live in condos and apartment buildings here, and I regularly hear about people who have lived in the same place for years and never even met their neighbors.

While growing up, both April and I had parents that had us making home-made cookies and passing them out to the neighbors some time around Christmas. In April’s neighborhood in Tulsa, the love is passed around, and there is often more plates of various brownies, caramels, peanut brittle and the like received from the neighbors than passed out. It’s a sign of a great neighborhood.

Two years ago, we moved to Dumbarton Ave. in East Palo Alto, near the center of the city and close to the school where RYAA does most of its work. As Christmas Eve approached, we thought that doing the Christmas cookie thing would be a great way to meet our new neighbors. As we started making the cookies, I could sense that my children were a little nervous. It seemed to be a mix of not knowing what to expect, and having teenagers who simply didn’t want to look stupid. Were we going to look like a crazy white family trying to show off and just make things worse? Were we going to make people feel bad if they didn’t have anything to give back? Legitimate questions.

The first house went OK, and we received some smiles. But the second house was the beginning of things to come. With a big smile, this neighbor said, “Wow, thanks! You want to come in? We have tamales!” Well, there is a special place in my heart for good tamales. We had a great time, and left 30 minutes later with full bellies, and ready to go to our third house.

We went a few houses down to the home of one of our soccer families, and noticed they had a fire going out in the front yard and some family standing around. We were welcomed to the fire with smiles and passed the cookies around. And then I noticed a big pot on the fire. We were beckoned to the pot, and as the mom lifted the lid, she said, “Carnitas”. I was staring into about 40 pounds of stewed pork meet, simmering in beer and spices. 30 minutes later, I had enough. We stumbled back towards home, about 4 houses away.

As we got past 2 houses, I recognized another neighbor, one of our soccer dads, in front of his house. We dropped off some cookies, and he said to come back in a few hours, their party was going to get going. 2 hours later, as I approached their house, I saw a big crowd in the front yard, surrounding a huge blow up pillow, similar to one of those bounce houses, but without the top. In the middle of the pillow, was a mechanical bull.  A child was riding the bull, and the bored looking Mexican operator was giving the child a nice, fun, slow ride.

Wow, I always wanted to ride one of those. My neighbor, with a big smile, invited me to get in line behind the kids. Cool, this will be fun. As I got on the bull, my neighbor’s smile got bigger. In fact the whole crowd was smiling, including the bull operator. As we got going, my belly started reminding me of the two large meals I had a few hours earlier. After about 60 seconds, I wondered when the ride ends. The operator’s smile got bigger, and the ride got faster. The ride ends when you fall off. Somehow, my bottom found a seam between two pillows, and I found a spot that wasn’t quite so soft. An experience I will never forget.

I was taught a few lessons that Christmas (like, never ride a mechanical bull on a full stomach and always ask how the ride ends). Anyway, I encourage you to reach out to your neighbors this Christmas, and don’t let those little voices make you feel stupid. You never know what will happen.

Merry Christmas!

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Putting youth in the driver’s seat

Some of you have had the experience of teaching your children to drive, but most haven’t. Its almost as scary as watching your wife give birth, or deciding to adopt for that matter. As each of our children became a part of our family, my future passed before my eyes. That was definitely scarier than watching my past.

Anyway, sitting in the car next to each child in the driver’s seat for the first time is an experience like none other. Each time, my life passed before my eyes, not just out of fear, but reminiscing on how life brought us both to this point. You know, you can teach and train them, admonish and encourage, but some day, you have to put them in the driver’s seat. Sometimes, it works out. Sometimes not.

One day a few years ago, our family went to the grocery store. Most of the family went inside to shop, leaving Josiah, my second son, and I in the car. The parking lot was pretty empty, so I told him to get behind the wheel, we were going for a drive. He said, “Are you sure, Dad?” The light in his eyes was a mix of fear and hope. “Let’s do it”, I said. We went for a nice cruise, a couple of laps around the lot, and parked the car, a look of satisfaction in his eyes. When April and the rest of the family heard about it, their jaws just dropped.

Well, April thought that she could do the same thing for some of her teenage girls in her Bible study. They found a nice, empty, church parking lot. April did everything she could do to make it as safe as possible. The first girl took the driver’s seat. April told her to just lift her foot off the brake gently, then put it back down. Well, as the car began to move forward, panic set in. She stepped down, but on the gas instead of the brake. The car shot out towards the street. If it weren’t for the small tree they uprooted, and the church’s 4-foot high sign that almost turned our mini-van into a convertible…well, God is good. The car was fixed, but the roof now leaks when it rains, reminding us of that day.

The girl behind the wheel was of course pretty upset. When I drove up, she was convinced I was going to chew her out (why not, that’s how her own father would respond). When I simply said I was glad she was OK and gave her a hug, I could see a huge weight fall off her shoulders. For a while, she didn’t want to spend time with us any more because of the embarrassment. But with encouragement, she came back to the Bible club, and despite the experience, this meek girl has learned to face her fears, her family problems, and continues to grow in her faith. She joined our summer leadership program and quickly became a leader of the leaders. We are looking forward to seeing her become a major force for God in our community in the future.

As I look back on this year at RYAA, I would say the overwhelming theme has been leadership development. We had 16 youth in our summer leadership development program, and in our fall soccer program, over 50 youth leaders as coaches or referees. Many of these youth had never coached or refereed. Some were not really even soccer players. But the eagerness and enthusiasm they showed gives me so much hope for our community. We gave them training of course, but then, we had to put them in the driver’s seat.

As one 13 year old coach of 6 and 7 year old boys put it, “I learned to be responsible. If I didn’t show up, no one else was going to be there. If I didn’t bring the balls, we were not going to have balls to practice with. When they wouldn’t listen, I had to be tough. It was hard, but I am glad I did it.”

Think about the youth in your own life. Look for an opportunity to put them in the driver’s seat. Even young children can be given responsibility for a family task, like deciding how to set the table or preparing food for a special meal, owning a small piece of the garden for flowers or vegetables, or picking out the clothes for mom and dad to wear on a special night out. Our youngest daughter enjoys putting on April’s makeup before we go out on an (infrequent) date night. If you have a good example of how you put youth in the driver’s seat, let me know. We have a new blog at …, and we will post it for others to learn from your example.

Remember to be there with them, though. Just like you would not just let your child get in a real driver’s seat and send them off alone, you need to support your youth in the process. But try your best to be quiet, and just be there to prevent complete disaster. If they fail, don’t admonish, but give them a hug and encourage them to try again.

And, thank you for all of your prayers, work and contributions towards caring for our community. Some of you have been faithful in your prayers, some have been incredible generous with your time and finances. And some of you even let us borrow your bicycles and helmets during our bicycle camp, when we had one day to find 30 bicycles because we just had an overwhelming response to our bicycle camp. Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

Shannon

Getting Up the Hill

Windy Hill
Windy Hill

I like to mountain bike to stay in some semblance of physical condition. There is a dirt road at the end of Portola Rd. in Portola Valley that is killer, and winds its way up through the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve. 1.6 miles, 1300 ft. up. In the middle of this climb are three brutal hills, one after the other. They are what I hate about this ride, and they are why I come.

These hills are just steep enough that I am in my lowest gear, but have to pump my legs hard to keep the bike going and keep from falling off the bike. Each hill ends with about 5 feet that is extra steep, where I need to lean forward as far as possible to keep from lifting the front tire and either falling sideways or flipping backwards. Each hill is just long enough that I can barely make it up with my legs screaming and chest pounding. I then get a brief rest while I slowly approach the next hill, and do it again. Yes, I am nuts.

As I approach each hill, the fear begins. I know this is going to hurt. As the climb begins, I start asking myself why am I doing this? Why not just walk the bike up the hill? Better yet, why don’t I just walk the bike down the hill and go get a latte!  And then I hear another voice, that says “You have done this before, you can do this again.” And I latch on to that voice to get me up the hill.

I have found my faith in Christ to be a lot like that hill. There are times where my faith is really challenged. Contemplating issues that challenge the authenticity of the Bible are tough. Also, when I have to confront someone, or apologize for something, I go in to freak out mode. I hate that.

And then I remember what my college pastor Jerry Lambert used to say, “Trust in the dark what you know to be true in the light.” He got that from his mentor Bob Munger, who I understand got that from his mentor before him. It helps me to remember the miracles around me, my wonderful family and seeing Christ change lives in the RYAA youth. And in particular, I remember the amazing work God has done in my life, and contemplate with awe and trembling what I might have been without Christ. And then I get a latte.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. – Romans 8:16