Casting Away 2019

A few nights ago, while channel surfing, I stumbled across the Golden Globes broadcast. Tom Hanks was being honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award for his lasting impact on the movie industry.

During the monologue outlining Mr. Hanks’ long and illustrious career, there were short clips of the many noteworthy films he has starred in, including Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13 and Cast Away.

The short clip of Cast Away showed a scene where Hanks is talking to a face-painted Volleyball he has named Wilson.

Tom Hanks, paints “Wilson” the volleyball, in the movie Cast Away

If you’re not familiar with the movie, the following may be considered a spoiler alert. In the movie, Hanks is the lone survivor of a FedEx plane crash where he finds himself stranded on a deserted island with only a few salvageable packages, one of which is a volleyball.

Hanks paints a face on the volleyball and since it is a Wilson branded ball, he begins calling it Wilson. Throughout the movie, Hanks talks to the ball as if it’s a real person, even responding to the ball as if it has talked back to him.

Jen and Jacob share an embrace in August at the beginning of Plebe Parent Weekend at the U.S. Naval Academy.

This strange dialogue might lead the viewer to conclude that Hanks, being alone on a small deserted island with no human contact, is going mad. But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Hanks’ dialogue with Wilson doesn’t indicate a step into insanity, but instead it’s a step to prevent insanity.

Hanks becomes so connected to Wilson that the movie-viewer can feel the anguish as Wilson begins to drift away beyond reach during Hanks’ attempted island escape.

As weird as this may seem, I can relate a bit to that feeling of anguish as the ball floats away. Numerous times this past year, we’ve had to say goodbye to our boys, and they have had to say goodbye to each other. Each time, there is a profound sense of sadness as we go our separate ways.

Jacob (left) and Joshua are all smiles after seeing each other right before Thanksgiving for the first time in months.

Even with amazing technological advancements such as texting and video chat, there still exists a deep longing and profound desire to to be with the people you love.

It appears that as humans we’ve been created with a deep need for human connection; our souls long for the physical presence of others.

In our ministry to Young Professionals, we know that this need and longing for connection IS the biggest need and challenge that they face. All of the most recent research and our own experience affirms that this is the case. Young Adults are desperately seeking meaningful connections with people who are in their life-stage.

Pray for Jacob (left) and Joshua as they enter the 2nd semester of their frosh year apart from each other.

In the past few years, we’ve positioned ourselves well to minister to Young Professionals by providing Leadership Development, Vocational Discipleship and professional level coaching. Yet a primary need and problem is helping Young Professionals develop significant connections with others.

As we reflect back on the lessons of 2019 and look forward to 2020, we would appreciate your prayers in these areas:

  1. Pray for Jen and me to pursue and maintain significant relationships that would feed our souls and encourage us to press on as we face new challenges.
  2. Pray for our boys to develop deep relational connections with others at their respective academies. 
  3. Pray for us to help the Young Professionals we encounter forge solid friendships with others that will spur them to continue to walk with Jesus and serve Him wherever they are.

We are grateful for you and your ministry to us. May you be richly blessed in 2020!

Feeling Disconnected in an Interconnected World

(10:00 p.m. on a School Night)

“Is the internet down? I can’t get online!”

“I’m not sure. Try refreshing  your browser.”

“I did that. I still can’t get online.”

“Have you tried rebooting your computer? Let me know if that fixes the problem.”

The internet has put endless amounts of information at our fingertips, but for most people, has complicated the process of developing deep, meaningful relationships.

(Minutes later)

“I rebooted my computer and I still can’t get online. I think there’s something wrong with the network.”

“Alright (sigh), let me check. Why do you need to get online anyway? It’s late!”

“I’m working on a class assignment and need to access my document in the cloud.”

“Is it urgent? Is it due tomorrow? Does it have to be done tonight?”

“No. But I have 3 tests and another major assignment due this week and if I don’t work ahead now, I’m going to get slammed later in the week. That’s why I need to get online.”

(Yelling from another room): “I just rebooted the modem. Did that work?”

“No. I still can’t connect to the network.”

“Arrrggghhhhhh!!!!!” (shaking fist in the air)

Perhaps you can relate to this scenario (which happened in our home a few weeks ago). We’ve become so integrated with the internet via our computers, tablets and phones that when the network goes down, we’re not sure how to function. Panic can set in when we try easy troubleshooting tactics and still can’t fix the issue.

AT&T had a whole ad campaign a few years ago connected to this theme. Their ads showed humorous responses a family had after being disconnected from the internet at home for 4 minutes, 6 minutes, 9 minutes and so forth. The ads always concluded by saying, “Keep Calm, your internet is on.” AT&T then touted their 99% reliability rating in providing consistent and uninterrupted internet service to their customers. (See YouTube video at: https://youtu.be/zYys_Jg9xz4 )

The internet is an amazing tool that has allowed people to be instantly connected to information. Whatever you want or need, it’s all there at the click of a button.

As helpful as this information may be, it can make meaningful relational connection more difficult.

The internet has enabled us to have access to seemingly endless information about our friends. We see what they’re doing on Facebook. We see their photos on Instagram. We know what they’re thinking by the tweets they post. And yet ironically, we feel even more disconnected!

Almost universally, as we meet with Millennials, they tell us of their desire to have deeper relational connections and the challenges they face in experiencing those kinds of relationships in today’s digital culture. Sadly, for many Young Professionals, the struggle to find meaningful community extends to their church.

I sat across a table recently with a Young Professional who told me very directly of his frustration to find real community within his church. He’d been in several Bible Studies that didn’t last and after attending church regularly for several years, he found that his closest friends were all outside of the church. He’s been struggling lately to understand the purpose and relevance of church in his life, which has given birth to a seed of disillusionment.

Unfortunately, we’ve found that this is not an isolated occurrence with this generation of Young Professionals.

Our challenge is to help Young Professionals connect with Jesus, who is the only legitimate source of life, and to learn to form deep, meaningful relationships with others in our current cultural environment. We’re trying a number of things to help foster meaningful connections.

Jen’s lunch-time book club has created meaningful conversations related to the topic of faith and work.

Jen has incorporated a work-lunch book study to bring Young Professional women together around a certain topic that helps create meaningful conversations and deepen relationships.

We’ve also created Leadership Development groups to bring Young Professionals together in a cohort-like environment to process life with other Young Adults and talk about core faith issues that are relevant in today’s cultural and professional environment.

We’re seeing signs of success but we’ve learned that building effective community always takes work and it always takes time. That’s a challenge because in today’s internet environment, it’s often easier to entertain ourselves with digital alternatives than to invest the time and work necessary to create the kind of real connections that our souls really crave and need.

Please pray with us as we seek to find effective ways of helping Young Professionals connect with others. And please pray for us as well, as we need those same kinds of life-giving relationships in our own lives.

Thanks for journeying with us!

Gaining Insights on Endurance

Last week, Jen and I attended a parent mixer for our boys’ Cross Country team. Because I’ve somehow become the team photo/video guy, I was asked to bring Cross Country videos that could be shown on a big screen TV, creating some background ambience for the event.

As I scoured my hard drives to look for videos I could show, I found a few videos that were shown at the last two Cross Country banquets. These were almost entirely photos of runners who ran during the course of the season with pictures zooming and and out to popular music.

I was particularly interested in the video from 2 years ago (see video below), when Jacob and Joshua were freshmen. I was surprised at how many kids in the video I didn’t recognize at all. I wondered who these kids were.

There must have been 50 freshman boys who were on the Cross Country team that year and most of them are no longer around.

Even this summer, it was almost a daily occurrence for Jacob and Joshua to come home from running and announce another kid from their class who had decided to quit the team.

This year’s team has a total of 6 seniors and only about 16 juniors.

Several of the kids who have recently hung up their running shoes were quite good as freshmen, and yet, for some reason, they did not have the desire or the determination to stick with it.

Cross Country runners must be disciplined, determined and mentally tough.

It’s hard to blame them, really. It’s a grueling sport that requires discipline, determination and mental toughness. There is no academic benefit to continuing beyond your second year as the graduation requirements only demand that students fulfill 2 years of Physical Education.

I realized how similar the Christian life is to distance running. Paul likens the Christian life to a race. He says in 1 Corinthians 9:24, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.”

The author of Hebrews also compares the Christian life to a race, but he qualifies it as a race of endurance, rather than a sprint. The author encourages us to, “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”

When I think about my twins’ Cross Country team, I wondered why some kids decide to stick with the sport while others quit.

Jen (middle) is helping Audrey and Hilary get connected to a larger community of Young Professional Christ-followers

You may have heard the statistic that Millennials make up the largest segment of our culture and yet they are the least churched. What is fascinating to me is to see the number of Millennials who were once really active in church and yet are now not involved.

Part of our task as we reach out to Young Professionals is to figure out why so many who once were quite active are now totally uninvolved.

I think the reasons Young Professionals give up on church may be similar to the reasons kids give up on sports like Cross Country. Some kids give up because of discouragement. Others are dealing with injuries and get weary of dealing with setbacks. Others don’t see themselves as really contributing. Still others leave because they don’t have close friends on the team. Finally, I think some kids quit because their interests and focus is somewhere else, whether on academics, another sport, or something else entirely different.

I think the reasons Millennials are leaving the church are likely the same. Our focus is on trying to create some systems and structures that will make it easier for Millennials to stay engaged in the race without giving up.

Athletes who feel they are directly contributing to the team’s goals and accomplishments may be more likely to persevere through hardship and barriers

We want to help create community so they feel like they belong. We also want to help them figure out their unique contribution to God’s Kingdom purposes. We don’t want to see anyone exiting the race because they don’t see themselves as being essential to the team.

Finally, we want to help Millennials develop a game plan that will help them stay engaged and make an impact. When you lose focus on what’s important, it’s very hard to stay in the race for a lifetime.

Thanks for your role in helping us stay engaged in the race and helping Millennials do the same!