Thursday, September 27, 2007


About eight months after Anna and I left California we got some really troubling news about a dear friend, Manish Desai (left). Manish was told he had cancer in his hand. The short story is cruel: Manish sacrificed his hand in order to stave off the risk of the cancer spreading. Even worse, the hand that he lost severely restricted his professional skills as an architect. Almost two weeks ago, Manish began chemotherapy to further eliminate the risk of the cancer returning. Thanks be to God, right now there are no visible signs of cancer.

Still, the road is steep and hard for him and for his wife, Emily. Together, they are daily trying to relearn old rhythms and navigate life as parents to their beautiful son, Dillan.

The good news: Manish and Emily have an incredible amount of faith and perseverance of hope, and they have been a gift to Anna and I even as they've struggled through this battle.

And, yet, they are in need of more than prayers and encouragement. Manish is seeking the assistance of a prosthetic hand that would allow him to return more aptly to his work - not to mention his duties as father and husband. However, Manish's (and Emily's) hope of obtaining this prosthetic is severely limited by cost and the fact that his insurance company currently doesn't recognize the prosthetic that would best assist him.

This is why I am writing and posting this. Below is a letter written by a mutual friend of Manish, Marshall Allen (center of picture above). Marshall is a journalist for the Las Vegas Sun, and has also written a story about Manish for that paper, which you can read here. Also, here is a good website elaborating Manish's and Emily's journey:

I hope you will consider Manish in your prayers. And if you can provide more, God bless whatever you give.


Dear Loved Ones,

It's a great honor for me to make a sincere appeal to you on behalf of my
dear friends, Manish, Emily and Dillan Desai. This family, as you may know,
have been stretched to capacity in the past six months during Manish's
battle with cancer. In this time of crisis they've been buoyed most by their
faith in Almighty God and the community of loved ones who has surrounded
them with companionship, support and encouragement. So, I greet you all as
Manish and Emily's "loved ones" because we may not know one another, but
this wonderful couple is the hub that joins us all.

It's been six months since Manish was diagnosed with cancer. I remember when Manish called me and told me about the cancer. He's a follower of Jesus, and given the depth of
his faith he said he's not afraid to die. But he said he does not want to
die. Manish is 31 and an architect - a gifted one with a passion for design.
He and Emily have been married about six years and have a beautiful
21-month-old boy, Dillan. The Desais have a lot of life to look forward to.
How we cried when we heard that news. And we prayed.

God was at work even before Manish found out he had cancer. First, he was
protected. The doctors are surprised that Manish is even alive because the
form of cancer he has is known to spread rapidly. Then, he and Emily were
sustained. Their attitudes have been a remarkable testimony through this
ordeal. And finally, they were looking to the future. The cancer doctors
were always clear that amputating Manish's left hand -- his dominant hand --
would be the best approach to dealing with this grave disease. Manish
mourned the loss, but Emily says the day he was given the news he also
started practicing writing and sketching with his right hand.

The cancer is gone (though it could come back, so keep praying) and we're
continuing with this push forward. I'm happy to say that the latest step
involves all of us. We have a God-given opportunity to give a remarkable
gift to Manish, Emily and Dillan -- a new hand. Manish is in the process of
getting an i-Limb, by a company called Touch Bionics.

This hand provides precision and fine motor skills that are unmatched among
other prosthetic devices, which are more hook- or claw-like. The i-Limb
boasts four fingers and a moveable thumb, each powered by its own motor and
directed by a central processing unit in the palm. It's an amazing piece of
technology and Manish's best bet to keep his career cruising in the fast
lane. (He has more work than ever, incidentally.)

There's one drawback, but this is our chance to shine. The i-Limb was just
introduced in the United States about two months ago and there are only 30
in the country. Insurance companies are not paying for this yet, and the
costs could be as high as $50,000 to get Manish set up for the first few
years (the hand itself is about $17,000, the cosmetic cover about $4,000,
the extended warranties are $4,000, the forearm fitting, labor and physical
therapy could be another $20,000, and there will be thousands in maintenance
annually and a new hand needed every five years or so).

Many of you have asked, as I did, how we can help pay for this hand. We've
set up a website that will provide that information, as well as tell Manish
and Emily's story for other people who may be going through similar
circumstances. Check out to see the site, read
their story and check out the blog. You can also see a story I wrote about
Manish's search for a new hand. I'm a journalist at the Las Vegas Sun
newspaper, and by God's providence Manish and Emily came out here to a
prosthetics convention last week to check out the i-Limb.

Be sure to click on "Donate" to give via Paypal or see where to send a
check. We're sorry that there's no way to make this tax deductible, but you
can get points on your credit card by donating online, at least.

Some people may think that $50,000 sounds like a lot of money for people
surrounding Manish and Emily to raise. That's not the way I see it. First,
I'm asking that those of you who know Manish and Emily personally please
consider a sacrificial gift for this fund. That means a different amount for
all of us, obviously. Some people could give $5,000, some $1,000, some $100.
For some that might be $20. I just ask that you be generous and joyful about
this opportunity.

Second, I'm asking those of us who know Manish and Emily personally to
liberally forward this fundraising request to everyone on our email lists.
If the people who know each of us give only $10, or even $5, and if they
forward this request to their friends, we will have $50,000 in no time. I've
already had people at my office say they want to donate, and giving online
makes that really easy. Let's get this thing viral and send it around the

You can keep up to date on Manish's progress via the website and his blog.
I'll be sure to write regular updates so you're informed, and am happy to
answer any questions you might have about the Desais or this fund-raising
effort. We are so excited to see God move in this next chapter of Manish and
Emily's life!

Grace and peace,

Marshall Allen


The year before Anna and I were to marry, a good friend - Ryan Lessmann - had the wisdom and care enough to recommend one book to me - a book to "prepare us" for the venture of covenant. "You should read Walter Wangerin's book," Ryan said to me. And then he went on to suggest that me - as a writer - somehow reminded Ryan of Walter Wanger, Jr. It was a compliment I didn't know was ludicrous and too gracious until well down the road.

Well, I'll let you see for yourself how ridiculous this claim was ... briefly.

Walter Wangerin, Jr. has been battling cancer for the last couple of years, and during this storming season, he's been plowing through it in the best way he knows how: writing. Occasionally, he offers up some of his thoughts and letters to a wider community. The following is the most recent of those letters.


August 10, 2007

Gentle souls and merciful spirits all:

Time used to tumble for me. Like the mountain stream that breaks at the big rocks, spouts and plunges at speed from crags to canyons. Time was narrow and very fast.

Now Time has slowed to a stately progression. I measure it in day/feet--feet per day. For there are fewer days left to me and heavier feet for the passage. Slowth: it requires enormous patience. Slowth: a damming of anxiety. The consequence of a body restrained, slower than an infant's crawl. My motion by disease reduced to the child's eternal wait for good things far away.

On the other hand, slowth's no trouble at all. Where once Time tumbled, now Time has widened. Like the river that covers a broad plain. And the patience I thought was severity has become my benefaction.

I don't look forward so much any more, dashing to grasp the future. I look left and right. I've the Time, you see, to scrutinize all that is. And what is companions me. The trees can't move. Well, then: let me abide by them a while. My toes, my roots. A good rain can linger almost forever.

The shorter my "Time," the vaster my scope.

Oh, my beautiful granddaughter! What you are right now doesn't need a future to give it purpose or to make the present girl a better one. You are! You are, you are--and for me it is enough. Sure, you may marry. Will be there to kiss you? Right now I don't know. But now I don't beg for that particular piece of future, nor do I bargain for it. Child, you are! And I am. And I have the Time to let the whole of you fill the whole of my knowing.

This, girl: just this. Tip of my finger to the tip of yours. It is altogether enough.

Let me illustrate the pragmatic benefits of patience.


For years before cancer broke the speed of my Time and spread its silver motion as far as the horizons, I never took my socks off. Well, not my right sock. Under the nail of the great toe concealed was a fungus that blackened the length and breadth of it. I'd heard somewhere that rubbing petroleum jelly into the nail could kill the fungus and return the toe to its former health--and me to my former purity.

I tried the trick. Fairly often at first, sitting on the side of my bed, my right ankles upon my left knee. But then Time caught me up and rushed me straightway into my days. Narrow spout, hurtling stream, my paper boat breathless upon the waters, now! I had no Time or leisure to attend to the toe. Years, I said: black as compost.

But cancer cut the speed, enforced a more casual floating, and opened an eternity between my shower and my breakfast. If I could take interest in the motion of the sunrise, well, I could in my person mimic that solar motion--just as interesting--and rub the petroleum jelly slowly, deeply into the nail.

And I know you know how slowly the nail on your great toe grows. In a few weeks I noticed that the fungus, like a black window shade, was rising. The long morning of the black sun!

And it has arisen. And every Time I trim the nail, I razor away another slice of black.

Cancer has cured me.

Soon I'll remove that sock too.

Surely it's high Time--isn't it?--that we pay as much attention to the blessings of a long affliction as we do to the pain for which we curse it. Please: it's not a man's peculiar interpretation or a woman's particular gift for longsuffering patience which enables each to live the sickness better than another does. It's a faith available to everyone. (Though there always is a learning curve.)

Pay attention!

In Lakota: wachin ksapa yo!--whose meaning is closer to "Be attentive" than to something we do sporadically. It's a continual manner of being.

For the footfall of an ant may be as thunderous as a maverick at full gallop, and as meaningful as the sky.

Rather than drowning awareness, or drugging it, or shrouding ourselves in pity or persistent sorrow, consider companionship: the tree that waits upon our slowth in order to befriend us. The wren who, quick as she is, follows ever her singular path and by her repetitions sticks in the same places in Time. The child whose entire life it caught up in a minute as long as a lifetime.

The toenail healed in Slow Time. The fullness of experience between the shower and a cup of coffee.


The Good Web

Here is a wonderful resource and website: Practicing Our Faith. It includes some good thoughts on various spiritual activities that lead to greater depth and strength of faith. I am also intrigued by the Valparaiso Practice Grant, which seeks to gift groups or organizations that would like to enhance or develop some of these activities.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Yoga with Dad

Some photos from our recent day trip to Newburgh, Indiana. It was a very cool little town on the northern bank of the Ohio River (the Indiana side). We picked up two cool items from a consignment shop there as well: very styling bowls (like robin's eggs) and a parcheesi game from like 1960. Anna thinks parcheesi looks stupid. But, come on. It's an Indian version of backgammon. And as John Locke says, backgammon is the oldest game in the world. What can be stupid about that?

There were also two cool home decor and clothing stores there. Both of them had some good original art and even little niceties like letter-press cards.

I also saw some paintings from an artist named H. John Smith (local Evansville artist) that I really liked (oil on canvas). He had some scenes from a coffee shop in Santa Monica, and a cool painting of a sailboat. Here's a piece by him just to give you a feel:

Anna says that H. John Smith's work reminds her of Ken Auster - a pleinair artist from Laguna Beach that Anna had the fortune of taking a class from. What gifts these people have.

We've been mildly swamped with work, church, and Wyatt. Anna is now working part-time from home - doing clinical research work. And, she's seriously considering not running the marathon in October ... after preparing five months for it and running 20 miles last Friday.

Wyatt learned how to say "bum" today. No, we didn't teach him how to say that on purpose. You see, Wyatt seems to enjoy tearing off a few squares of toilet paper, sticking them in his mouth and walking around the house. We have tried and tried to tell him that is not good. Actually, we say, "Wyatt, that's icky." But, that never works. So today Anna said, "Wyatt that's not for your mouth; it's for your bum." It was then that Wyatt said "bum," heard us laugh and said it again, "bum."

He also loves rocks, the Swiffer-thing, and playing peakaboo with the cat. Oh, and this morning he got a kick out of doing Yoga with dad. When Anna told him that I was coming home soon from work, he went over to the Yoga mat, laid down and began to roll around. The truly funny part: if I was only half as flexible or calm as that kid, I'd have no need for Yoga!


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Electric Buga-Who?

Wes, do you like break-dancing? Oh, yeah.

I stumbled onto this randomly. Anna found a foosball table of my dreams: the Opus Foosball Table. Anna says ... "wouldn't this be a great foosball table for our house?" Yes, it would be ... if we had $50,000 laying around!!!

Geesh! $50,000!

But, it is an awesome foosball table.

The site that the video and the table were on is also pretty cool: Cool Hunting.


Spiritual Direction

Through a number of different means, I have been reminded recently of the value and importance of having an outside, seasoned voice to listen to and speak into my life. The short term for such a person could be many: pastor, counselor, director. I, however, am looking for a specific person: a spiritual director.

Recent nudges (and shoves) have reminded me of the importance to "get on this." So today I began asking some friends who know better than I where to look.

Spiritual direction is an avenue Catholic brothers and sisters have been pursuing much longer and much deeper than most other Christian traditions, so more than likely I'll end up in conversation with a local priest or nun.

But, what I found to be very cool in my initial search was the news that there is a website whereby you can track down a spiritual director anywhere in the world: Spiritual Directors International.

As the website just listed ... inviting someone to listen and speak to your journey is something you shouldn't do blithely. Still, this is a good resource.


Monday, September 17, 2007

Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

Today, I listened to blues, which included one of my all-time favorite songs ... a beautiful prayer and lament.


Top ten things I love to get at Trader Joe's ... in no particular order ...

1. Salty and sweet trail mix
2. Red curry sauce
3. Chili verde chicken burritos
4. Pizza dough
5. Salsa especial
6. Tuscan marinara
7. Fettucini alfredo
8. Vanana yogurt (as of today)
9. TJ's orange juice
10. Corn tortilla chowder

1. Vanana yogurt
2. chocolate
3. breaded cod
4. cheese
5. tuscan marinara
6. dried figs
7. California complete protein bread
8. Morning Lite cereal
9. edamame
10. spinach and tofu eggrolls

And one of every kind of bottle of wine available


Sunday, September 16, 2007


Jesus said today that unless I am willing to sell all of my possessions - to sever the bonds of mother and father - that I am not yet ready to be his disciple.

So, I wonder what it is that I am holding onto that keeps me from bankrupting my life to witness greater things than these ...

the fear of not keeping pace with the Jones'

the security of a life that doesn't require much faith

the insecurity of moving beyond professional religion to do God's work

the fear that I will offend or confuse people if I try to live by God's will first and foremost


Yeah, that's pretty much about it.


Then, later in the day, someone besides Jesus said this:

"worship is meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

God cuts both ways - taking us down to lift us up, and lifting us up that we might be bowed down low.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mother Teresa

A compilation of Mother Teresa's letters and journals was recently compiled and published by a Catholic man hoping to bulster Mother Teresa's odds of becoming a saint. This book, Mother Teresa: Come By My Light, has been in the news much since its publication because it opens a new avenue into people's understanding of who this woman was. Or, more succinctly, people are in a stir because Mother Teresa doubted very much God's presence and pleasure in and for her life.

Here is an article from Time magazine about this book and Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul experience.

I hope to write more about her struggles and this article in the coming days. Briefly, though, what left the biggest impression upon me was the different ways other people analyze and critique her faith - from the religious leader to the psychoanalyst to the atheist. I have my own leanings, but I'd be interested to hear your own. What do you make of Mother Teresa's faith and struggles, her consistent humility (some would say groveling), and her inability to access any certainty of God's presence through her feelings?


Sunday, September 09, 2007


Over the last couple of weeks, we've been trying to work on a few spaces of our house: the guest bedroom, the kitchen and the breeze-way. Here are some pics to give you a clue of what we've had to work with and what has been done ...

The third bedroom is completely made up of knotty pine (as is the kitchen and the breeze-way). All of it will eventually be white, which is totally plain jane. But, we can't think of a better color right now, and we like it; perhaps only because we've been living in darkness with that pine paneling for the last year. Here is the initial painting ... and how we learned that primer is really a good idea ...

Anna rolling the walls with the "wet cat" as we like to call it: a floppy, fluffy roller that weighs about as much as a good-sized cat when it is full of paint and about as awkward looking ...

Ah, the stripping of the floor. Demolition: I've got it. I can rip things up and tear things away with the best of them (notice the knotty pine here in the breeze-way...gag) ...

Here it is: the old linoleum floor underneath the nappy carpet that got ripped up. You can also see the original carpet that covered the floor ... whoa ...

The new floor ... as laid down by professionals and screwed up by me. As Anna said, "it's a whole lot of green. " Indeed! It feels rather cold and professional right now ... but it is also so much easier to clean ...

A long view of the floor leading into the kitchen ...

It's the details that make the difference. Anna found a drafty door stopper on one of the cool websites she checks every now and then ( -- thanks, Emily!) and made her own version...we're hoping for a cheaper heating bill this winter as a result of that one inch gap being stuffed efficiently!

Still to do: one more coat on the third bedroom, some major reorganization and a wall hanging
for that room; painting the breezeway; putting down quarter-round in the kitchen and breezeway; a fun, small, modern couch for the corner of the breezeway and a few other touches to make it warmer and more welcoming. That's just what's on the immediate radar...sheesh.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Whirlwind

I returned from a leaders' retreat for our church today ... only to be staring an unfinished sermon, another long day tomorrow, a fridge that needed to be moved, two rooms that needed to be painted, a family that I have been remiss to connect with, and the usual things I would love to be doing if I had a normal life (like seeing my wife and child).

But, instead of being reasonable, I tried to do the first thing that came to my mind: moving the fridge ... by myself ... with it full. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I didn't realize how stupid it was until I had moved the fridge only about four feet AND punctured the brand new flooring that we just spent a pretty penny on to have installed. [Oh Snap!] Actually, Anna and I both had worse to say.

"What in the hell was I thinking," I thought. Anna told me I wasn't. She was right.

Thank God I am married to a woman who looks past my profoundly bull-headed, short-sighted attempts at doing good work (which only makes for bad work, in case you're wondering).

I swear the only reason to buy nice things is to have them get marred or broken (usually by me), which only makes me realize how fragile and dumb I am (and we are), and how much I depend upon God's mercy just to keep things in some sort of order.

Not to be too narcissistic or Calvinistic, but sometimes I think the greatest proof of God is that I live to see any beauty or clarity at all in my life. Left to my own devices ...

Anyhow, we did get the fridge moved. And the floor isn't as bad as we first dreaded and cursed. And I did finish the sermon ... thanks to God's grace again in the eleventh hour.

Preaching on Philemon tomorrow, which is a great story ...

Philemon and Onesimus were estranged. Paul had a welcome mat for each. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Good Samaritan

I have just returned from a two day stay in Nashville where I attended the National Presbyterian Evangelism Conference. This was the first Presbyterian conference focusing on evangelism in 10 years - a fact caused by multiple reasons. Well, actually, it is probably pretty simple: as a denomination we have not had a clear voice about what is "good news" lately.

Jim Wallis - editor and author - was invited to address the 400 or so Presbyterians gathered in the Opryland Hotel. Anna had the chance to hear Jim Wallis at Fuller, but for some reason that I cannot recall I missed it. And, to be honest, I did not read his popular book God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Just Doesn't Get It. So, I was excited to hear his stance and pitch.

Wallis essentially told all of us that what is needed is nothing less than a revival of 19th Evangelical Christianity ... or, in other words, a type of Christianity which is adamantly spiritual but that is also purposefully concerned with social justice. He said we need a "prairie fire" effect. And, to demonstrate his point, he lifted up the example of Charles Finney - the great preacher and prophet who was part of the Second Great Awakening in America.

Now, here's the crazy thing: Finney can not be classified by today's Christian labels. He fits both and neither. For he was ardent in his theology and justice-oriented in his worldview. As Wallis pointed out, it was Finney who began the practice of "altar calls" - that oft used and embarrassing technique we've all experienced at some point. But, here's the kicker: Finney used altar calls so he could sign up and register new believers for his abolition campaigns!

A consuming passion for God and a deep love and interest to create justice: Finney wanted them both.


Fabio Saccoriaz - a Cuban immigrant and former acquaintance from my Zionsville days- was also at this conference. He has been doing immigrant ministry in the Indianapolis area for the past six years. His language skills, his interest in immigrants and his experience with day-labor workers and tenant farmers makes him especially gifted for this work. You would think this conference - which was also about multiculturalism and ministering to immigrants - would be perfect for a person like Fabio. And, he was deeply thankful for it ... but not enough to cover his discouragement and exhaustion incurred from doing his work in Indianapolis.

I sat over lunch on Sunday listening to Fabio's struggles these past six years ... about how the Latino population of Indianapolis continues to grow as well as the need for assisting them ... legal help, dentistry, child care, ESL classes, job training. But, those are struggles he wants - needs he can meet. What is truly vexing for him is the lack of support from other Presbyterian churches in the area and from the regional governing board, which blesses his ministry superficially and is quick to claim it has a Latino ministry in Indianapolis but is absent in equipping Fabio's church with pastoral support.

By this point, I am getting worked up, because one of the major churches in the area - Zionsville Presbyterian Church - was my home church. So, I ask Fabio, "What about ZPC? Why aren't they helping?"

Fabio was clearly trying to be diplomatic. He said that yes, without ZPC's funding and assistance, he could never have begun this ministry. But ... I could tell there was a "but." He went on to say that he can't get the people of northern Indianapolis - including the congregation and leadership of ZPC - to engage in the ministry with him. Or, in Fabio's words, "I can get 300 people together for a mission trip down to Mexico, but I can't get more than a dozen people to volunteer for a bilingual VBS week in Indianapolis." Nor can he get more than a handful of dentists to do charitable work or more than one lawyer to do pro bono work. "And I know there's more than one lawyer in Zionsville," Fabio joked. I was not laughing.

Now, I love ZPC, and the pastoral staff at that church have been integral to my own faith journey. I know if they were to hear Fabio speak, they would be crushed and likely penitent. But, the fact of the matter is this: ZPC - and many other evangelical congregations - is too busy trying to be a church unto itself. A church that is doing great ministry, yes, but a church that is becoming more and more isolated. Think of Saddleback or Willow Creek. These type of churches are becoming bastions of Christianity, becoming regional poles but also losing a grip upon local realities. By and large mega-churches are suburban churches, so they inevitably lose contact with the ministry needs and injustices of the city's poor and rural poverty.

I kept thinking of what Fabio said ... about how suburban Christians were eager to travel thousands of miles once a year for the sake of Christ but couldn't engage the poor and overlooked in their own city. "That's the parable of the Good Samaritan," I said - that convicting and ironical tale about the religious leaders who go out of their way to do ministry while ignoring the injured in their path.

Unfortunately, Fabio and a few others are the only good Samaritans in this story. The rest of the church is walking to the other side of the street to do ministry somewhere else.


Yeah, it is time for a revival: to see our own streets and local communities with the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.