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Telling Secrets

faith, fatherhood, and culture


Monday, December 11, 2006

As I continue to reflect on the events of my life that have led to last week's nexus, I realize that I have some debts of gratitude that are overdue. So, let the acceptance speech begin:

Angela - my wonderful wife who has believed in my writing and creativity from the start. She has always believed in my taking jobs for which I am passionate about - and she has been willing to pay the price the search for such jobs cost us. Her support and willingness to head in the new direction NavPress will take our family makes it all possible. To her I owe everything.

Keven Winder - one of my closest friends and greatest confidante. He has been pushing me and pushing me in this direction for almost as long as Angela has. We were going to write a book together, which I got lost in the idea of, but he went on to write one of his own just to needle me (well, ok, he also had a book concept that he thought needed to be written).

Bill O'Brien and the M.O.S.E.S. Project in Detroit - Bill taught me everything I know about networking, professional relationship building, and organizing. He and the churches of the M.O.S.E.S. Project instilled in me a passion for social justice and for the Biblical mandate to care for the poor and oppressed.

Getabecha Mekonnen and Tracy Smith at Northeast Denver Housing Center - I was given complete freedom to practice everything I learned in Detroit and in graduate school at NDHC. Gete and Tracy supported every hair-brained idea I had and many of those ideas are still being used with the homeless and impoverished people I worked with. I also began my graphic design training here.

Connie Ferguson at Kaiser Permanente - Connie believed in me from the first day we met while I was at the American Heart Association. She also gave me complete freedom to develop my creativity and graphic design skills. She also provided the flexibility I needed to have our twins "at home" in Utah by letting me work long-distance for a month and to develop my personal network of artists and writers in Denver. If it wasn't for her and for the other leaders in the Kaiser Prevention Department, I am certain that I would not have been prepared for this vocational shift - without my current position at Kaiser, I would not have gotten this job at NavPress.

All 20 medical schools I applied to in college - If it hadn't been for their rigorous and well-conceived application and interviewing process, I would have made the biggest mistake of my career at it's very beginning - I would have gone through medical school to become a doctor. Without their foresight, I would not have met my wife, had my wonderful kids, developed my writing and creativity, and I would have withered on the vine in a job I would have hated.

University of Michigan School of Social Work - They accepted my application when I had no prior social work experience or course work, a fact that caused the other 2 schools of social work to which I applied to deny my application. The Michigan school accepted talent and life experience over previous skill, a worthy approach infrequently followed.

D.J. Turner and Jared Mackey - These two have been my biggest fans and supporters, second only to my wife, and have provided never-ending encouragement. My personal and creative development would have been greatly stunted if it weren't for these two. My time at TNL was highly formative and the artisan's gathering Entersection engineered by D.J. and John Miller gave me a shove in the right direction.

Russ McKendry and Mike McGirk at L2 Church - These two have also been highly influential in my recent development, encouraging my spiritual and doctrinal growth and giving me the opportunity to marry both with my creativity. The freedom and latitude they have provided over the last year has been incredible, from allowing me to help reformulate and repackage their church to taking big political risks by letting me hold the State of Our Values party and the Dekalog discussion at the church, and largely funding both! Without these experiences and their solid teaching, I would not have been in a position to even apply for the position at NavPress.

The rest of my family and friends - there are of course more people I haven't mentioned who have made me who I am and to them I also owe a great deal.

I am very excited to see where my family and I are taken next and we covet your prayers and continued support and encouragement.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Three months. Three life-course directing decisions. And no clear direction until it all came down last week. Even then we had to proceed by faith.

Several weeks ago, I called my mentor and Big Brother Jim Kimbriel in anguish. Almost everyone was telling me that we needed to forgo the Philippines because of the ministry work that Angela and I were doing here - that we were needed here more than anywhere else. I had a very difficult time buying that when I knew that people in the Philippines were living in squalor and dying - that the skills that Angela and I both have were greatly needed. Sure, people here live in poverty too, but the difference in my mind was the great gulf between relative poverty and absolute poverty. Jim has known me since my college days and he has known us as a couple from its inception. He instilled in us back then the passion to use our complementary skills where they were needed most - namely in developing countries.

But the choice to go or to stay seemed to be the choice between MY "ministry" in Denver (bridging the sacred/secular chasm) and ANGELA's dream of training to become a midwife, especially a missionary midwife. I so believed that Angela's path was to become a midwife, and in response to my long held belief that I was cut out to do international work, I was willing to do whatever it took to get us there. But Jim was one of the only people in our lives who supported this decision. Our other wise friends said we needed to stay because my influence was just beginning to bud and leaving now would be a drastic mistake; likewise, Xylem was poised to take off as an organization and Angela leaving it now might kill it.

To stay for me would have meant staying at Kaiser Permanente, either in my current job (which was far from stimulating, but provides all the flexibility and buying power I needed) or in a new job for which I had been waiting over a year and was about 95% sure I would get. There was also the outside chance that I would work for NavPress as Developmental Editor of a new line of books they were publishing. This job sounded fantastic, but my performance during the interview was mixed at best and I was far from certain that I was a real contender.

To stay for Angela meant continuing with Xylem, raising the kids, and most likely putting midwifery training off indefinitely. The possibility of her training in Denver was real, but actually pulling it off with Xylem and family responsibilities seemed unreal. And if I was to get the NavPress job, my absence from the family another 2 hours a day made midwifery training seem completely unrealistic.

Given my belief that God wanted Angela to become a midwife, I placed realizing her dream and training as my top priority - even if it meant placing everything else on hold for the next two-and-a-half years. And yet, we both still felt greatly conflicted about leaving and the director of the missionary midwifery school/clinic was being strangely incommunicado.

So, I called Jim and asked him if my priorities were in the right place. I believed my wife comes before everything else, including whatever I thought my "ministry" should be, but I was beginning to doubt. Jim said that I would never regret choosing Angela above everything else and he challenged anyone who loved his wife to say otherwise. After all, our marriage vows specifically state that we would forgo all others for each other. But, the dilemma was clear and he also pointed out that God wants us to walk by faith and not by sight. Right now, he said, you can't see anything. But the great thing is that there is not a bad choice among them - any of the three options would be good. But to choose which was the best path to take requires faith. He encouraged us to make a list of all the blessings God has given us and the good work he's done in and through us and then sit down together for an hour and thank him for it. He also told me to pray for courage.

I looked up the "walk by faith" scripture in 2 Corinthians 5 and here's the passage en toto:

5:1 For we know that if our earthly house, the tent we live in, 1 is dismantled, 2 we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens. 5:2 For in this earthly house 3 we groan, because we desire to put on 4 our heavenly dwelling, 5:3 if indeed, after we have put on 5 our heavenly house, 6 we will not be found naked. 5:4 For we groan while we are in this tent, 7 since we are weighed down, 8 because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5:5 Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose 9 is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment. 10 5:6 Therefore we are always full of courage, and we know that as long as we are alive here on earth 11 we are absent from the Lord – 5:7 for we live 12 by faith, not by sight. 5:8 Thus we are full of courage and would prefer to be away 13 from the body and at home with the Lord. 5:9 So then whether we are alive 14 or away, we make it our ambition to please him. 15 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, 16 so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil. 17

Truly, a wonderful passage. And after fasting and praying for a day, I felt more at ease.

The end of the story is this: I received a call from Kent at NavPress less than a week after my interview and a full week before when he had told me he'd let me know. I thought he was going to put me out of my misery. What he did instead has me reeling still - he not only offered me a job at NavPress, but he wanted me to oversee BOTH new lines of books and so he wanted me to be a Senior Editor. He said that he wanted me to stay in Denver and NOT move to Colorado Springs because of the network I've already built, and so to help out with the commute I could work from home once a week in addition to holding flexible hours. When I told him that I was concerned about losing my "edge" if I came to work for a Christian institution, he agreed that was a concern of his too - and so to make sure I stay sharp, he expects me to not only continue to stay connected with the front lines in the inner city, but also to travel around to other communities to see what they are doing - all on The Navigator's nickel. I would have the title power, budget, and flexilibity to take what I've been doing on the side in Denver and raise it to an entirely new level.

I was astonished. "Are you kidding me?" I asked. "Did any of you actually read my blogs? Do you realize who you're offering this too?" Kent laughed and said that they did and yes they do - in fact, my blogs were a selling point. "Well then," I said, "I guess I'll have to clean up my language a little bit, or at least keep it from getting any worse."

Two days later, I interviewed for the new job at Kaiser and was reminded why I was willing to wait for so long for it. It was a sweet job - unique, complicated, and influential. But, in the end, I'd be in a tougher part of the corporate culture and it would STILL be a stepping stone job. Senior Editor, on the other hand, fits me very very well.

That night, I called Kent back and accepted the job. An hour later, Angela received an email from the director of the Philippine school requesting a second phone interview with us. Two days later, I was informed that I was one of the top two finalists for the Kaiser position and that they wanted a second interview with me that afternoon.

It wasn't difficult to turn down the Kaiser job, but crafting a letter to the Philippines was very difficult indeed. We both still very much wanted to go, especially Angela. She was very excited for me and agreed that she didn't see how I could turn down the NavPress job, but she was also grieving the loss of an amazing opportunity and the potential loss of training at all - something she had been planning to do for around 8 years. I too felt the loss because I had been planning to do a trip like the one to the Philippines for around 7 years.

But wonderful things are beginning to take shape. We have always wanted to share resources with other Christian families, realizing Andy Crouch's wonderful question, "How many T.V's does a church need to have? How many lawn mowers, kitchens, and cars?" In February, we are seriously considering moving with another family, good friends of ours Jeff and Brenda, into a house on West Colfax and Sheridan. Ideally, we will rent our townhouse to another family we are friends with who need a bigger, but affordable place on our side of town. Not only will we be sharing resources all around, but Angela will be strategically located between the birth center and her midwife friend and mentor - both of which are crucial to her training here. She will be able to share babysitting with Brenda who is also in school - combined with my being home an extra day per week, she will have the flexibility and support she needs to do her training. We will pay half what we do in our current mortgage, and the savings will pay for Angela's equipment and tuition. Xylem's continuation will be assured as Angela moves into a more directorial role, which will also free up her time and energy.

Finally, we have kept the doors open for the Philippines and are planning to make a trip over there the summer of 2008. I asked Kent what he thought of this and he said that he already has short term missions built into the NavPress culture and that he encourages his staff to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the international branch of The Navigators. How much time I can take will depend on what is going on then, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Walk by faith indeed. The past three months have been an incredible ride and it is clear that God is orchestrating events in the Seeling family. Last week was a nexus, one of those rare points in life where events that were set in motion at least 12 years ago, if not from birth, came together. For me, if I had not been rejected by 20 medical schools 12 years ago in order to go to, almost on a whim, attend one school of social work, I would not now be here. We'll see what happens from here...God willing, we'll keep walking by faith.