Saturday, November 29, 2014

I Couldn't Agree More!

Why I Think Jesus Hates Religion  
by Jefferson Bethke from Jesus > Religion

It was that time of the year when you could feel a mixture of intense emotions in the air — the joy of the semester almost being done, along with the pressure of having to pass through final exams first. People were stressed. The campus was fairly quiet as students were trying to make up for all the studying they didn’t do the previous three and a half months.

I had come to expect a few breaks that included fun treats or programs during finals week that the student life department at my previous self-proclaimed Christian college make  available. Sometimes there were free massages in the student lounge. Sometimes there was free food or candy.

Even though I had just transferred to a secular liberal arts university, I expected the same. While I was in my room studying — most likely Facebooking, but let’s not talk about that — I heard a knock at the door.

I answered it to be greeted by my lovely RA (resident assistant) who was holding a bucket of lollipops in one hand and a bucket of condoms in the other.

She cheerfully said, “Candies and condoms! Be safe and have a stress-free finals week!”

I remember thinking, Just what I needed to help me study for finals — high fructose corn syrup and latex birth control.

I definitely wasn’t at a Christian college anymore! Later that year they did something similar, where they taped “sex facts” and condoms to the walls of the dorm. I think they used to use staples, but as you can imagine, it wasn’t very effective.

Talk about a quick change. It didn’t take me more than a few hours to see the glaring difference between my strict Christian college in San Diego and my new liberal arts university in Portland. Whatever comes to mind when you think of Portland, that is exactly the essence of this school. It was the mecca of gay rights. They banned bottled water because it wasn’t environmentally friendly. Everyone had dreads, and none of the girls shaved their armpit hair. Well, that last one is not completely true. It was the type of university that had used books by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens as textbooks and dripped with a granola-liberal-progressive spirit. But I loved it. Really. I absolutely loved it. If I had to do it all over again, I would have gone there in the first place.

Now, what’s really funny is while I was at the Christian school, I wasn’t a Christian. But while I was at the secular school, I was a Christian.

You’d think I would have wanted to go back to the Christian school, right? It was the opposite.

I found the Christian school to be stuffy, hypocritical, and judgmental. I could no longer stand praying after baseball practice with thirty guys who wore crosses around their necks, knowing a few hours later they’d have a beer in one hand and a girl in the other (myself included). Weirdly, my new university felt accepting and loving. There was no guessing if someone was really a Christian or not. If you said you were a Christian at that school, it wasn’t to gain you any points — in fact, you probably lost some. There was something about that type of atmosphere that drew me in.

My senior year I was an RA — which pretty much means I was the dorm’s “dad.” I was the guy who would let you in if you locked yourself out, wrote you up if you broke the rules — there weren’t many — and would be there if you were having emotional or academic problems.

Dealing with students daily, I got a pulse on the common conceptions they held toward God, Jesus, religion, and Christians.

What constantly surprised me was the ignorance of most college students regarding Jesus. I heard things such as, “I could never follow Jesus; I still want to drink beer.” Or,

“Why would I like Jesus? He hates gays.” I remember thinking, Huh?

I still drink beer, and I don’t hate gays. My favorite was one of my baseball teammate’s responses after I asked him what he thought about Jesus: “Yeah, I love Jesus — and Buddha too. I’m a Christian Buddhist.” It took everything in me not to laugh. Christian Buddhist? That’s like saying you’re a lactose-intolerant cheese lover.

A college campus is an interesting place. Students have little to no responsibility, question everything they believe in, and live within one hundred feet of all their friends. There’s also a huge dark side to most colleges. As an RA I had a front row view of the pain in my generation. Colleges these days are breeding grounds for poor decisions, emotional brokenness, and sharp pain.

This is all behind the scenes, of course, because the girl who was raped freshman year and the guy who hates himself and struggles with depression don’t seem broken when sitting in a lecture hall debate.

People don’t flaunt their brokenness when trying to prove themselves. But in their dorm rooms in the middle of the night after another disaster or one-too-many shots, I got to see people become transparent over and over again. They’d continually admit their lives weren’t working. They were empty. Longing. Desiring. Searching.

One friend’s sister had just admitted she was gay to the family, and it was tearing them apart because their dad refused to “have a gay daughter.” Another friend admitted she hated herself for losing her virginity to her ex-boyfriend,  whom she didn’t even speak to anymore. Another felt the immense pressure of balancing school and child care because she was caring for her little sister now that her dad had left and her mom had to work.

I saw some of my peers nearly drink themselves to death or try to kill themselves — and without the ambulances showing up so fast, they just might have.

I wondered, How am I any different? Just two years before, I had struggled with depression. I had struggled with suicidal thoughts. I had struggled with the guilt and shame that so often come with recreational dating. I had spent the first year of college shotgunning beers, messing around with girls, acting like the world existed to cater to my needs, and never taking a second to pull out the emotional, spiritual, and mental shrapnel that had been lodged in my soul by the “me” lifestyle. Inside I was just a scared little boy who had been deeply insecure his whole life and lived in hopes that others would tell me I was good enough.

Of course, none of us would admit it so plainly, and for nineteen years of my life, I wouldn’t have either, but isn’t it true? Why else do we do most of the things we do?

My generation is the most fatherless and insecure generation that’s ever lived, and we are willing to sacrifice everything if we just can be told we are loved.

If only we knew just how loved we really are.

So being a follower of Jesus now, and knowing just how gracious He had been to restore me, heal me, and pursue me,  I longed so deeply to share His love with these students. Over and over again, though, I’d get the same response whenever I’d bring up Jesus. Literally, the overall essence of Jesus to these students had been boiled down to whether or not someone could say the F-word. Immediately, they’d bring up periphery issues that Jesus barely mentions as their biggest opposition to him. Ironically, the reasons they opposed Jesus were sometimes the reasons Jesus opposed the religious people of his day.

Half the time, they weren’t even rejecting Jesus; they were rejecting what He rejected!

I sat in bed one night and wondered, When on earth did “hates gays, can’t drink beer, and no tattoos” become the essence of Christianity?

It hit me that my friends weren’t the ones to blame for their confusion. They had gotten this idea from people they grew up with, churches they went to as kids, or preachers they saw on TV. It was the church’s fault that they thought this was what real Christianity was all about. As I’ve heard said, “Of 100 unsaved men, one might read the Bible, but the other 99 will read the Christian.”


I’m sure we’d have a very different Bible if it were written simply by observing modern-day Christians.

My peers couldn’t separate Jesus from religion because they weren’t reading the Bible to learn about Jesus; they were looking to the Christian religion to understand him. What they were rebelling against was religion.

People lamented that they had tried Christianity, and it didn’t work. But last time I checked, you don’t try Christianity; either your heart has been transformed by Jesus or it hasn’t.

But you can try religion.

You can try to follow the rules.

You can try to climb up to heaven.

But all you’ll do is white-knuckle your way to religious despair. It won’t work. It never does.

That’s when I started to notice an interesting trend: When I juxtaposed religion and Jesus in my conversations, they took a different turn. It allowed people to pull back a little and see him in a different light. They no longer were just brushing him off, but were actually pursuing, thinking, and investigating the man named Jesus. And that’s when I started to write the poem “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus.”
Watch Jefferson Bethke's Video: "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus" on our blog

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Another Alternative Thanksgiving

What will I remember about Thanksgiving 2014?  Well, I will remember it with fondness, even if it was an "Alternative Thanksgiving" (meaning the every other year that the Schillings celebrate the holiday with Michael's side of the family).  

I will remember that it started early, as I just a little giddy and felt like waking up before 5.  I'll remember that Mikayla awoke soon after and couldn't wait to see the HUMONGOUS paper on our doorstop full of all of the ads.  I'll remember, that despite putting her off from getting it for a while in order to clean up and "set the stage" for a tranquil morning, the newspaper didn't even arrive for another hour later.  I'll remember we waited for out boys to awake watching "Mrs. Miracle" on the Hallmark Channel.  I'll remember that the Dutch Babies were especially delicious - especially after months of eating light before seeing my doctor for my annual appointment.  =) 

I'll remember that it was dreary and POURING down rain, but that didn't dampen any holiday spirits, that were really quite amicable on this special day.   And, that dinner (more like early lunch) did not include turkey for me (despite being available in an outstanding buffet), but rather, pulled pork instead.  (Because nothing screams Thanksgiving dinner like pulled pork!)

I will remember that we didn't lollygag at dinner, as we had a movie to book it to in less than an hour.  But, that's okay, our family eats fast (including Mom and Dad).  And, I will remember that that was the first time (of undoubtedly numerous times to come) that we saw "Big Hero 6" - and all of us enjoyed it very much.

I'll remember how thankful I was for these amazing parents and all of our family that couldn't be with us on this day - and what a great picture they took before we all "partook" of pumpkin and apple pie back at our house.  

And, of course, I'll remember the anticipation of the fun yet to begin, as Mikayla and I changed our attire to do our post Thanksgiving shopping - and John and Brayden departed for the Woodburn Outlets with Travis, his sister Kristen, and his brother-in-law, Brian.  

Indeed, I'll remember it was a day I was VERY, VERY THANKFUL.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

This Last Week...

It was really a very fun stretch from Friday through Tuesday for me.  The holiday of Veterans' Day, combined with some conferencing, and Michael and Traig hunting offered up same days off for kids, and Michele and her girls spending the long weekend with us.

We did have to put a little "work" in, though - at least Mikayla did.  This was taken at her Kidsports Volleyball game.  The gal on the right is named Kate.  She was a student in the class I considered my all-time favorite to sub for, four years ago.  She was probably my favorite from that favorite class - a super achiever in every way....destined to be president of the country some day.  She's also an exceptional volleyball player, and played against Mikayla's team - they each won a game, so I guess that's fair.  It was a sweet time to catch up with her life and reconnect!

On Sunday, I begged Michele to go see "Interstellar" with me.  It was a movie I thought would be well worth it to see on the big screen and we took it up a notch to actually see it on IMAX - my first experience.  It did not disappoint!!!

On Monday, Michele had to return to Dallas to participate in some teacher trainings (only to return that afternoon to us), so I took advantage of the day without Whitley to SHOP!  I took Mikayla with me to this place in the morning (while Nati and Ellie remained sleeping!) - such beautiful stuff here!

Based on her due date being Christmas Day, Mikayla's middle name is NOEL.  =)

Oh so pretty!

Meanwhile...on the eastern side of the state, Michele was getting updates of her hubby and his hunting group's success.  On the first full day, Michael was given the priority to get the first elk...and he did.  A five by five.  Over the next two days, of the 6 remaining tags to be filled, five of them were taken care of.  That left Traig to be the only one still without an elk as he had been busy helping his dad pack out his.  When his day came, he indeed was successful - harvesting the largest elk of the whole group - a six by six.   This kid, at 16, has been off-the-charts blessed in every hunting adventure he's been on, good thing he's pretty humble.  ;)

For sure, this whole group's elk hunting accomplishments is almost legendary, as it's unheard of for a group to be this successful.  Michael had spent so many hours planning and preparing - he was giddy for months ahead of time in anticipation and came home equally giddy.  So happy for them and pleased to report that all of that meat will be used amongst the families as it fills their freezers.  I'm also happy to report that they are all home safe - another accomplishment given the onset of crazy winter weather this last week.

On Wednesday, life resumed normalcy - Whitley got to come over and we got to even get a little time watching Elsie as Christi had an appointment to go to.  I like Whitley's expression when Elsie commandeered the remote control.

But, she was eager to help as needed... =)

Over the weekend, John did the unthinkable.  He put up our Christmas lights super early.  (He's my hero!).  Given he couldn't do the job last year with his eye, and he was looking at a weekend with help available from the kids and good weather, he just wanted to get it done.  And yes, we have gotten comments from our neighbors!  Oh well... you really can't help but smile even if you are of the reasoning that it should wait.  Whitley sure smiles....she LOVES the reindeer and how they move.  She knows what button to push to "wake them up" and has had to be gently reminded that the reindeer need to go "Night Night" during the day.  =)

This week has kind of been a progression for her conversation skills and downright humor.  She cracks me up constantly and her reasoning and personality are just off the charts.

However, it's been a digression in terms of getting into things she shouldn't.  We had a scary encounter with a household item this week that I'm so thankful turned out okay.  But, then there's the encounters with "safe" items that aren't necessarily scary, but maybe the results are. 

Like this...I left her on the couch with sliced apples, peanut butter and some cartoons for just a few moments while I quickly put on some make up.  When I came in, her exact words were:  "See that?!!  Pictures!!!!"  She was so proud of her peanut butter finger painting on my door.  How thoughtful to pitch in with the decorating around here...

Sydney was also super thoughtful in her attempts to step in and help me clean...

And, it was a win-win for Whitley to not only paint, but get to use the spray bottle to help clean it.  (She likes to clean...).  

This girl - radiating joy everyday!

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Riley Family State of Affairs

Keeping up with blogging over the last year has been harder than it's ever been in the last nine years I've been at it.  I can't even remember the last time I did a blog post that had more to do with my feelings and processing than it did the actual event and recording pictures.  But, that too, is worth recording, and it will be remembered that this was a crazy time of my life.

So, I figured it would be a good time to do a general overview of how we are navigating this fall season of 2014.  Let me just sum it up in one massive statement, MUCH BETTER THAN LAST YEAR!

This first descriptions is why-


This collage was put together a couple of weeks ago, when Mikayla and I decided at the last minute to join John up at OHSU for his eye appointment.  Unlike last year, this visit didn't happen because of a catastrophe - it was to fit him for a contact that could radically help his vision.

We ended up having to take the tram down from the main campus of OHSU which was its own adventure and worthy of picture taking.

John's appointment did turn out amazing.  They sampled a contact on him and he was able to read out of that eye and when directed to look out the window in the office hallway was able to see the shingles on rooftops a great distance away and even see them in more vibrant color than his "normal eye".   When he came in to tell us about it, he was fighting back tears of joy.

What we found out after this appointment is that the shape of his "altered eye" is just a mess.  It's flat instead of curve-shaped, and even more than that, the surface is ruddy - which is why when he sees it looks like he's viewing life through that eye out of stained glass.  With this new ocular technology (only available in the last 5 years), they are able to put liquid behind the surface of the contact - press it to the eye...and Bingo -you now have a curved smooth surface in which to focus perfectly!  AMAZING!!!!!

Sadly,  he didn't get to come home with the sample contact- and had to give up that vision for a short time.  December 5th is when we'll return with, undoubtedly, the best early Christmas present he's ever received.  It's quite possible he'll get to 20/20 vision again....what a miracle.

As for the rest of life for him - life is very good.  He's loving the Bible Studies he's in, guys he's meeting with, and the new challenges of marketing development at work.


Oh, this guy.  I don't even know what to say.  I spent Thursday morning angry and even in a bit of tears at him because of his "only mediocre" grades and the lack of effort he made in the final stretch before quarter reports to achieve what could have easily been "very respectable" grades.  He knew it.  He didn't have school that morning, so I was texting him from the trampoline (playing with Whitley) while he was still in bed.  (And, let's just say I wasn't very accommodating to allow him to sleep in on his day off).

But, here's the thing about Brayden, it's easy to be angry with him when you aren't around him, but once in contact with him (when he's trying to earn your favor), it's virtually impossible to hold on to that.  He stood outside of the French Doors leading to the patio (trampoline area) with his hands in a heart shape pressed against the glass staring at me with big puppy dog eyes.  What do you do with that?  I did give him the cold shoulder for perhaps another hour - he really needs to grasp that his academic efforts are important right now and we need to figure all of this out if he wants to get in to the UO - but, somehow, that doesn't seem as all-encompassing of an issue after a while.

Instead, the focus for Brayden has been all about what this picture shows - taken from last night's football play-off game where the theme was "America".  He'd gone with Andrew (on the right) to Goodwill on Thursday to outfit themselves - and it was like a Halloween costume redo all over again.

He's in a "happy place" right now in life - I think he's found a spot in the social set-up of high school that he feels like he really fits - and gladly embraces the role of making people smile with his antics.  With the holidays on the way and no current sport to rob a lot of time (Indoor lacrosse kicks in at the beginning of 2015), he's a pretty happy camper.


Unlike Brayden, Mikayla has had a lot to contend with in regards to sports - and that has been the source of a great deal of stress from her lately.  She just completed her try-outs for Webfoot this week, and spent from Tuesday through Friday agonizing over whether or not she wanted to accept her team placement based on how many tournaments we'll miss between Kaela's wedding/shower and Disneyworld, and her own disappointments of where she was placed.

Ultimately, after a lot of prayer, and a rewarding exchange of emails with the volleyball club director, we said "Yes" to another year of Webfoot.  Basically, if she chose not to play this year, it would be that much harder to continue to play amongst her friends in the future, especially in high school.

On the bright side, she'll be joined on her team with Savannah and Emily, part of the "Four Amigos" that played last year together.  However, Grace and Noah, pictured above, dazzled in try-outs and made a higher team so we won't get to sit on the sidelines with Ann (Brennans) and Kristen (Natts) anymore which is a big bummer.  But, those two really earned it and I'm very proud of them.

In the meantime, she's playing for the community Kidsports program through December, and I'll have to get my act together in a few hours to get her to the first of the average four games a weekend.  In this program, she did make the team with Grace - and will also play with Kenady again.  Given Kenady's soccer and running focus, volleyball is definitely a back-burner sport - but, she was able to (barely) squeak this in her schedule, so they are delighting that, as best friends, they get to finally participate in a sport together on the same team.  (And, I'll get to sit on the sidelines for a while with Jonna -which is priceless too!)

Unlike Brayden, Mikayla aces out in her classes.  They are so different (she's a mini-me academically and Brayden is a mini-John).  She works hard and I let her go at it without a glance at all at her grades online.   While that may sound like the perfect scenario, it comes with its own problems, as everything is 10x more stressful for her when it comes to drama or concerns.  The free-spirit vs. the worrier.  The otter vs. the beaver.  The slacker vs. the responsible one.  Not always, nor an exact stereotype - but, its close.

Which lends itself to the final member of our family....


I thought this was a great pic to put up.  Whitley is literally sitting on my lap watching "Baby Einstein" on the computer while I attempt to get my Bible Study done at the last possible moment.

I feel like my time these days is broken up to these segments of contrasts-

- Time with Whitley, where, if it's just us, and there's not a lot of stimulation, it can seem like time is at a standstill - and I'm sometimes bored (hence all the activities and hanging with Christi/Elsie).

- Time in the evenings where I'm kind of burned out when I should be doing all that I need to to stay caught up - and instead I just zone out with Pinterest on my phone and a tv program John and I will watch together.

- Time in the margins - the mornings especially, where there is "no time", but so much to do, clean up, prepare for, organize... and I can't ever seem to fully get my act together.

- Time that is lost - maybe 3 or 4 days a month, to stupid headache pain.  Either literally in bed - or emotionally as I fight it and try to function simultaneously, but spend the time bitter at life.

- And finally, Time that I want to "Screen Shot" because this is what "life is all about" - and I need to just pause, be thankful, and savor every precious moment.

Fortunately, I feel like I've been better at getting to that last segment - sometimes finding it even in the midst of the other scenarios.  I feel like this fall season has been embraced more than any other in life to its fullest - I'm sure all of the farm visits and brilliant weather has contributed.

Participating in a Beth Moore Bible Study with other mature believers, including Christi, and my dear friend, Dawn, has also been a wonderful "grounding" for me.  As have the opportunities (rarer these days) to hang with collegians and post-collegians - and even the opportunity to speak at the Trinity House the week of Halloween as their "Devotional Presenter".  I spoke on our own expectations and how dangerous they can be to our contentment in life.  In many ways, I've realized, that just as WORRYING can be us repeatedly telling God, "whatever it takes, don't let this happen", OVER-PLANNING can be us repeatedly telling God, "whatever it takes, do make this happen".   Both, I've come to accept, can be equally limiting in experiencing fully all of what God wants to do in us that can exceed our wildest imaginations.

I think that talk was probably more orchestrated for myself to hear more than anyone in the room - as I've had to continually remind myself of that day after day.  Expectations of parenting, use of my time, losing weight, what this holiday season should look like - all of it needs to be continually handed over to God for me to ever feel any sense of lasting peace and contentment - and ultimately overlap all of those different time segments I experience each and every day. 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Happy Halloween!

I have to admit, sometimes after throwing the Pumpkin Carving Party, the actual night of Halloween can be a little bit of a "lesser night" as I've just run out of steam.  As our kids had gotten older, the festivities had seemed to be a little more forced and construed to get the "parental gang" together for our traditional Chili Feed and Trick or Treating.

However, this year, with Halloween landing on a Friday, with the introduction of two "little ones" in to the mix, the presence of the Schilling Family, and the purpose of the bigger kids to serve out at Camp Harlow's "Harvest Fest" - Halloween 2014 emerged with new life and was one of the best I've had in many, many years.

Once we saw "Frozen" this last year, I immediately thought, "Mikayla could pull off 'Elsa'".  So, I got the chance to play the role of "Toddler and Tiara" momma and doll my girl up - complete with glitter body spray.  

Posed with her was "Sheriff Callie" - Whitley dressed as her favorite cartoon heroine.  Pink cowboy boots and all - so CUTE!!!

Brayden, after much deliberation as to what dress up as, donned the "Nerd" costume he wore at a football game a few weeks ago.  It's kind of alarming how well he can pull it off.  And Elsie, who is affectionately called "Ellie Cakes" by her family, wore a cupcake costume.  Sweetest thing ever!  (Pun intended...) =)

I love Whitley's expression - as in, "Seriously, I have to sit her and pose with this dweeb?"

Does this spread look familiar?  Yup, the only thing I had to purchase was some more apple cider - everything else was left over to fully feed the nine families represented last night. 

I love this little girl so much!

Somebody wasn't in the most willing mood to sit still and pose...she had a town to protect as sheriff afterall! 

So proud...

Love this!

Elsie really enjoyed the apple slices.  Later, I introduced her to a chocolate covered gummy bear.  Based on her "lit up" expression and smile, her world will never be the same....=)

Ellie looked SO CUTE in her 50's Poodle of my favorites of her yet!

We took several pics to get the full view of all the efforts we made to pull off "Elsa".

Part of the Trick or Treating walk crew...

Carter and Christy joined the mix - Sheldon stayed back at the house...

One of our first stops was to our new neighbors, Michael and Emily Rand - of our CCF involvement.  Perfect!

Whitley was ALL ABOUT her Aunt Chele on this evening.  As Michele said, "It made my whole month". 

Nati changed into some of my clothes, hat and boots to be a Cowgirl upon arrival.  Traig opted to bypass the earlier Trick or Treating and head straight to Harlow to work both shifts - where he dressed up as "Hiccup" from "How to Train Your Dragon".   (Picture inserted of Brayden, Zach Hammond ("Dumbledore"), and Traig from Camp Harlow's festivities):

Awesome pic of my mom and dad!

It was so fun having Tyler, Christi, and Elsie involved this year.  Tyler grew up with many fond memories of Trick or Treating with his family, so I hope we helped him start new memories that are sweet with his own daughter.

Poor kid - wish he could make some friends...

Love the lighting on these pics...

Some of us got tired of the full duo block loop and beat feet it home for dinner.  (This girl doesn't like waiting until 7pm to eat - especially when all the food was laid out before we left!)  After eating, we got cozy and Elsie dumped the cupcake suit....

Love this pic too!

Leona is so faithful to come in, pitch in and do whatever's necessary with last minute prep and man the door for our Trick or Treaters. 

The one pic we have representing the Quigley family.  Lisa and Adam came over, but Dennis and Erica weren't able to make it.

A little hunting dialogue...

Ellie opted to wait one more year before assisting at Harlow and instead assisted with Whitley and Elsie.   She is so perfect with the little ones!

It took me forever to fall asleep last night, as I just kept ruminating over the fun of the evening - and the new delights in the eyes of Whitley and Elsie as a new generation steps in to keep these festivities and traditions alive.