What is Family?

Fam3Christmas is traditionally a time to be with family. April and I have great memories of times with our parents when we were children, and times with our own children when they were small. This year, we will all be having a bit of a reunion in Oklahoma, with all of our children, the in-laws and extended family.

As many of you know, the word “family” has been an elastic term in our household. First there were our biological blessings, Isaiah, Josiah and Alaina. And then God led us on an amazing journey to adopt Ruben and Abby. And then came LJ and Josh, our godsons who grew up across the street, and who we add to as many family gatherings as possible. This year has stretched our idea of “children” one more time, as we have become guardians for Anthony, Agustin and Gabriel.

“Guardianship” we have found is particularly difficult to navigate. It is this in-between stage that our society has never been able to clearly define. What do you do in a situation when children have biological parents, but those parents are not able to care for their children? Its difficult to have them call us “mom and dad”, yet these children have expressed the longing to have a “mom and dad”. We all don’t quite know what to call the current situation. Some of our other children struggle with thinking of them as “brothers”.  And what about the grandparents and extended family? We haven’t made it particularly easy on them.

As I look for answers, I have discovered that the scriptures are full of God redefining the word “family”. A few examples:

  • In Matthew 12:50, Jesus tells us that his own “brothers, sisters and mother” are not the biological ones, but rather “those who do the will of my Father in heaven.”
  • In Matthew 19 and Mark 10, the parable of the rich young ruler ends not with a statement so much about money, but a statement about family. “No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions)”.
  • Paul starts off his first letter to Timothy with “To Timothy, my true son in the faith.”

God Himself appears to be on a mission to continually add to His own family. John 1:12 and Ephesians 1:5 tell us that those who have received Jesus through faith become the adopted children of God. (Unfortunately, not everyone wants to be adopted.)

Christmas is not really about Jesus. It’s about God the Father starting a family, a family that he wants to include YOU in and many others in. Romans 8:29, “That [Jesus] might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”  So, as you celebrate this Christmas, celebrate the birthday of Jesus, your older brother (or if he isn’t YOUR older brother, seriously consider changing that!), but also be like your Father, and open your arms bigger than you thought you could, and accept some new “family” into your home, into your goofy traditions, your Christmas meal time, your football game watching, etc., etc.  Look particularly to those whose families are broken (James 1:27).  I challenge you to search through the Bible and look for all the ways God calls us out on our sometimes selfish idea of what “family” is and post some of those on our blog or Facebook page. Our experience has been that children, all children, are a blessing from the Lord, however they get into the family.

Merry Christmas

Coach Maria

PA030624A distinctive aspect of RYAA is the young age of its coaches and referees. Youth and young adults are given a unique opportunity to engage with kids through soccer.

This year, Maria, an eighth-grade student, was one of our youngest coaches. Maria remembers how, as a preschooler, she asked an older friend what game he was playing. He told her it was called soccer and then took her under his wing and taught her what he knew about the game. As a fifth-grader, Maria heard about RYAA from friends and was longing to play, but unfortunately missed the deadline. Next year, since she had kept her grades up, her Mom agreed to enroll her and Maria played on a real team for the first time. Since then, soccer has been a major part of Maria’s life, and she has dreams of playing in college, either at UC Davis or somewhere in Florida.

This year, Maria decided to try her hand and coaching. Although she could have played soccer without working, Maria was excited about the opportunity. She remembers some initial nervousness at the prospect of coaching, but she related to us mid-season how much it was teaching her.

When asked what she has learned from coaching thus far, without hesitation, Maria answered, “coaching isn’t easy. Kids don’t always pay attention and respect you.” She has been learning to find a balance, being respectful of her players while simultaneously teaching them to respect her authority. She is furthermore learning that “little kids are small but have LOTS of energy!” Even so, she had to constantly figure out how to work them hard without overdoing it.

Coaching soccer has not only taught valuable leadership skills, but has also been a tool through which Maria was able to become more involved in her community. She sees members from her team at school every day, and is now able to greet them by name and ask how they are doing. Not only that, but throughout the season, Maria invited peers to help her coach. Those who helped out at practices and games could receive up to six hours of the community service hours needed to graduate. Many of her friends agreed to help, and a few became consistently involved.

Though she may only be in eighth grade, Maria has been an example of 1 Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Coaching at RYAA is not about knowing all about the game or the art of coaching; it’s not about your record or experience. It is about taking an interest in a group of kids and creating a fun environment for them to play ball. Thank you for your time and energy, Maria!

Following God – What an Adventure

P8240019Clara Wong hails from Michigan and recently volunteered for 3 months with RYAA as part of a gap year between high school and college. Below is her final reflection on her time with us as she goes back to Michigan, and likely to Honduras for her next adventure. We miss her already! Follow her blog at http://clarasviajescondios.blogspot.com

Following God—what an adventure. Sometimes there is so much to say, so much that He’s taught, so much to be thankful for, that finding words is overwhelming. But I will try anyway! These past three months in East Palo Alto have been such an amazing time of growth and joy.

It probably seems foolish in the eyes of the world to coach soccer without an ounce of experience with playing soccer, let alone coaching it. And it probably is foolish. Soccer is not my strength.  But in this time, God has taught me more fully what it means that in our weakness, He can be stronger. I remember one time in particular, when my assistant coach, who has been a huge help, was last-minute unable to make it to practice. He usually lead the first half of practice, and I the second half, and I had prepared ahead of time expecting it to be that way. When I found out twenty minutes before practice that he wasn’t coming, I scrambled to figure out more activities to do, but came up rather dry. But the time came, and I had to go without much plan. I walked to the field, praying, “God, I really need you to come through tonight! I don’t know how I am going to lead this team well! I honestly feel like I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know a lot about soccer and I feel like I can’t improvise. Please, provide!” and He did. I asked one of the players dads, a former soccer player, if he would be willing to help out with some drills that night. He was more than happy to help and led the boys through drills until the sun was gone. I saw for one of the first times in my life what it means to rely on God. Honestly, in my life, most of the places I’ve been, I can handle everything. How many times have I said, “God, help me,” and then proceeded to do everything on my own power? But this time, God took me to a place that was actually beyond myself. I cried out to God and He provided. He didn’t magically give me knowledge about soccer or how to coach. Because He has something different in store. This is not ABOUT me knowing everything there is to know about soccer. It’s not about doing everything I can to keep from looking stupid! When I came to the end of myself, I saw a parent involved in his child’s life, and in the life of the community. I saw him engaging, I saw him living vicariously through the boys. And if I knew what I was doing, that wouldn’t be the case. God really moved that night, and it was in a great moment of weakness.

I believe that God has also begun to make me a more honest person. In my time here, I played with kids during recess at Cesar Chavez school. I quickly saw much brokenness and many kids in difficult situations. The sense of hopelessness was strong. At first, I tried to fend off this hopelessness through optimism; I would use one positive interaction or one “good day” to assume that everything was going to turn around and be alright. But God broke through those walls of over-optimism and made me more honest with myself and with Him. When I let the hurt and the heartache get to me, it really did. It was hard to believe that a few minutes of playing could do ANYTHING for the amount of brokenness in that place. It was even more hard to believe that God was actually PRESENT there. I began to doubt if He was moving at all. Turns out that place of doubt was the first step in God teaching me what it means to live in a world that is “still trembling in the wake of the fall” and yet to never forget that we serve a God who is ultimately going to wipe away every tear. We are living between the already and the not yet. Christ already did what it takes for us to live with God; but He hasn’t come back yet. He is going to bring foretastes of redemption, yes; but final redemption has not come yet, and until it does, there will still be tears for all those hurting. And our job is to keep letting our hearts be broken for the brokenness, so that we hunger more for Christ to come. Through time and many wise, encouraging people, God brought me to a place of peace, where I realized that He hears the cries of His afflicted ones and will surely finish whatever work He started. This is perhaps one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned since being here.

I am so grateful for the three months I’ve had in East Palo Alto, to get a bigger glimpse of life and of the God we serve. It has been an immense privilege and I hope I never stop thanking God for it.