Friday, September 16, 2011

The 9-16 Dance

"He whose head is in heaven need not fear to put his feet into the grave." Mathew Henry

When 9-11 comes, my family is glued to the TV. We watch all the shows about the day, the aftermath, and the stories of the families that have happened since that day. When 9-16 comes we have a sense of what those families feel. You see on 9-16, our family remembers the day Daniel died. While I understand that our loss was not equivalent to those loses on 9-11, because we had prepared, said our goodbyes and thought about what 9-17 may be like, those families did not. Yet what I think we have in common is that there has been a response to the loss. From the rubble and destruction that caused death, life eventually springs forth. From the pain and sadness, hope and vision come forth. From what seemed bad, good has come. First we mourned, now we dance!

Kermit the Frog speaks of the response to death of his son to his gathered family as Bob Crachit, in the Muppets Christmas Carol. "Life is made up of a series of meetings and partings and our family has experienced parting with the death of Tiny Tim. We are reminded to be thankful for our family, each member precious, each unique, and perhaps, appreciating our family becomes easier in the wake of a parting, a loss."  Kermit's family then responds quietly, in acknowledgment of this moment of loss, and in love and appreciation for each other. Every year as I watch that scene from the movie, I am moved, as I so know the scene from my own life. That moment after one has parted, when it is just those gathered who feel the love and appreciation for those who are close and the pain of the loss. I have been blessed to experience it many times since. 

As I spoke to my mom this morning, little was said, but we acknowledged how long it has been since Dans has gone, and spoke of the loss of others in the family since. The series of meetings and partings continue, we know we shall be together again in heaven so the sense of loss is lessened. We feel no fear, there are no unanswered questions, death has no grip on us, it is as it says in Romans 8. Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a time to mourn and a time to dance, so we have mourned and some days we still mourn, but now we mostly dance. I believe the dance is the eventual good response to death, to loss.

Pastor Jim Erickson was known to says regularly that we can get bitter or get better. I hope our response as a family has been to get better, to dance, to create more family. Our immediate family has grown, the camps are built on creating family, the camp staff family continues to grow, the church family has grown. Nothing is more important than building Gods family, it is an easy formula really. Knowing that God's family has grown out of the rubble of Dan's death makes it easier too for me. I know Dan would be pleased if he was here, I know doing Gods work was most important to him in his very short life.

So I close this entry by challenging all who read it to build God's family. Be wary of getting caught up in mourning, in pain, in knowledge, in religion, in thought, in anything that sidetracks you from His family. Nothing is more important, as there is nothing God desires more than growth in His family. In the wake of His sons death, I think it is what makes God dance!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Clinging to God

"When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die" -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Yesterday some called me "Missionary Piantine", Sunday I was called "Pastor Tony", today I was introduced to a group as "Little Tony", and my kids call me "Dad". These are titles, something I have always felt uncomfortable with because they often can be misused by people. Titles do not make you into something you are not, they confirm what you are in Christ and can be used to remind you of what God wants you to be. Ministry is hard, in that if you are doing it correctly, you really are no longer you, you become what God wants.

I have always been drawn to the story of Jacob and when he wrestled with the Angel in Genesis 32. In the end, God changed his name, to be in line with God's plan. Jacob spent much of his time acting like Jacob, a man who was messed up and made problems. God needed him to set his mind on being what He needed him to be, which was Israel. God does the same in us, giving us names to help set our minds on who we are to be in Him. This story starts with Jacob spending a night wrestling with an angel, at some point near the morning Jacob grabbed on and would not let go. He clinged to the angel and asked for blessing.

I get Jacob, I am a fighter, I mess up, I deceive, I can get caught up in earthly problems and with people rather than by getting caught by God. I fight God way to much. I know that when I stop fighting and just cling to Him, that is when He works in me. When Jacob was clinging on, asking for blessing, he could no longer fight. At that point God disabled him, he hurt his hip. Jacob was weakened, and at that point was ready to be strong. God then blessed him.

So often our motives are to feel good, to take what God wants and twist it into something we can use. I think we all would like to have a blessing, but usually to be something that makes us feel good or to be strong. While the blessing my mind wants makes me feel good or strong, it pushes me away from God, not needing Him. If I would just learn to stay clung to Him and allow Him to weaken me so He can bless me, I could be so much more effective. His blessing can feel good or it can hurt, it has little to do with me here and now. It has to do with His eternal plan, a plan that takes me to heaven where I will feel good forever! I know I am like Jacob, I attempt to deceive and I hurt others and myself. I so desire to just cling to God and let Him have His way.

Jacobs name change makes much sense to me, The interpretations as to the meanings of the names are many, yet it seems that Jacob simply was a fleshly man that held onto men and their ways but became Israel who held onto God and His ways. I want to accept the name God has given me, I want to cling to God and experience His blessing to help me be what He wants. Weaken me God, so I can be strong to accept your blessing.

Friday, April 1, 2011


"Don't be pushed by your problems be led by your dreams" -Ancient saying

Have you ever dreamed dreams so big that their fruition seem so far away that you may never see them? I do, but I am a dreamer and am used to seeing many things from the sky of unlimited thought and possibilities that a dream frees our creative minds to think from. So I have many dreams, some small, but many that are big. My simple mind can sometimes question whether it is sane to dream like I do, yet God has given me a creative brain for a reason, I believe. Anyway, I say all of that to share that a dream came true tonight for me. It was an incredible, confirming night. One that helps me realize I am on the right path and that I translated what God put into my heart some years ago in a way honoring to God. Tonight we had the funeral for our friend, camper and Able Church member Phil. You might say well that sounds completly crazy... you dreamed of having a funeral??? Well not exactly, let me explain... We started Camp Daniel 15 years ago with a basic concept of seeing campers get saved. So many did in those first few years that the problem of where they would go to church came about. Most did not end up getting connected to a church after they left camp. So became the opportunity to dream a new dream. We started a monthly program called PowerHouse Fellowship in Crivitz. My friend, brother, and fellow dreamer, Pastor John Koch, was instrumental in getting this rolling. Together, we are a dream machine; in fact, people would laugh at many, many of the conversations we have had over the last 10 or so years. We have dreamed up ministry after ministry, one idea leading to another and then on to the next. We have had the opportunity to act on some of these and see them lived out, and that is exciting; and others well, are better left being dreams! So we started PowerHouse Fellowship and eventually dreamed of starting a church for people with disabilities where everyone's gift would be valued and used to grow a family or community of people serving and growing together. During that time we also started Firehouse Fellowship in Green Bay with the help of Nancy List and then started The Able Fellowship in Green Bay. 4 or 5 years ago I really felt that God was pushing us to begin to live out this dream of a church as I described above and we consolodated our fellowships into a church called The Able Church. The concept burned strongly in me, enough so that the push towards it, even though incredibly hard, was worth pursuing. It took its toll; two good friends and board members left as they saw it as something that would only serve to sidetrack me from getting Camp Daniel finished. That was a very painful time of great questioning. Why would God put this dream in my heart and the opportunity to see it through? Why would he take the people closest to me away as I began to pusue this dream? We have pushed ahead with the dream and God has blessed it, and brought along many, many people into my life to be part of it. I began as it's Pastor and God brought Pastor John on full time so I could hand it off to him. From there, John handed its leadership over to Pastor Tim Mandich, whom God has annoited as His servant to lead the church. We have Jen and Marceaux, Molly, the Weidner family, the Woods Family, Wendy, and so many others who work hard in service with their Able Church Family. So even with all God has provided in this pursuit of this dream, I still at times would feel lingering doubts, as the words of my friends who left at the front of this dream would ring in my mind. So all that brings us to tonight's funeral. A historic day in the life of our church family; one where we became a full fledged church, experiencing God in way only a church family can. This is the fulfilment of a part of this big dream of having a church that was recognized as being whole, as being filled with the worlds definition of weak people, and as being a community that would celebrate life and death together. So tonight well over a hundred people joined togther to celebrate Phil's life, His faith, and his chruch. People with disabilities greeted Phil's family and prayed for his friends, worshipped God together, preached about heaven and led us in saying goodbye to one of our own. It was a night I will never forget, one that confirmed the first part of a dream so big only God will be able to see it through. I look foward to how it will all unfold. I stand with my heart full of confidence that God's purpose will prevail, yet I know my doubting mind will question if it was just a dream. Father God, I am thankful for the dreams you have given, and for the patience to help me grow into what you want me to be. Thank you for The Able Church and all that you have done to bring it to where it is today. Amen

Sunday, March 6, 2011


This blog entry is reprint from an article from LIFT Magazine. I have been writing the sibling sideline article for some years for LIFT. You can see this magazine online through this link:
It is for families that experience disability with articles written from each persons perspective in the family. This article was written previous to my last blog post here. I would encourage you to read the entire magazine, which my friends Jim and Rhonette Hukill write for and edit.

“The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner is the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemy’s.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

I grew up on a battlefield, where life could change in a minute. My brother Dan had a physical disability that took his life at the age of 21, just 16 years ago. He battled to breath, to be heard, for equality, and for life. My parents battled to keep Dan alive, to hold together a marriage and family despite the odds, and to make life consistent for themselves and their family no matter the circumstance. My younger sister and I battled to to be seen and heard, and to cope with chaos and change. Our family had stretches of peace and consistent life, where Dan’s disability went unnoticed to us because it was just a part of life. Those regular stretches would get disrupted by the chaos of extreme health issues, hospital stays, battles with the school, and thoughts of death. Life as usual could at any moment suddenly come to a complete halt, changing what was important one minute to became secondary to Dan and his battle for life in the next. Our family marched forward together no matter what the circumstance, and made it through life and death. I have carried the aftershock of the war for the 20 some years of my adult life. The post combat trauma I experienced is real, and the pain has been important to deal with.
I am now 42 years old, I have a wife and children of my own. Disability is still just as important in my life as it was growing up but in a totally different way. My life has been impacted in everyway by growing up with disability. Most of what I am and do can be traced to it. Many of the positive qualities in me are because of the blessing of disability. I have written in past articles here about the many positive characters that are exhibited in siblings of people with disabilities. But it is only recently that I have been able to deal with the negative issues that have affected me because of the fallout of living in the battle of disability. I have been through counseling and have learned to recognize I have been fighting a battle with ghosts and an enemy that only exists in my the scars of my mind. Growing up living in the battlefield made life so often feel totally out of control. I grasped for control in many ways; acting out for attention, eating to sooth pain, showing anger to keep people distant, manipulating to get my way, and taking charge of relationships whenever possible. I have thought that life on the battlefield, one filled with chaos in me and in others, just had to be controlled to be safe. The above quote by Napoleon, describes how I have perceived living for most of my life, but it is wrong thinking. Only in Gods hands is the chaos under control. The battle has purpose if we live it out trusting Him, and the battlefield is not where we have to live forever. The war ended yet my survival instincts, fighting skills, emotional state, and focus have continued in battle mode. While a few of those things have helped me as a leader in my adult life as a ministry director, they have hurt me severely in relationships, self perception, physical health, and my trust of God, myself and others. I have finally come to a place where I have walked off the battlefield in my mind, where I can feel the peace that God has given me for the first time.
In my ministry now comes opportunities to help families that are in the midst of the same battle I grew up in. Offering parents a view from post-battle can help them see better how to help their kids in the midst of what they are encountering. Jim and Rhonette are directing a camp this summer that will be so important in the lives of families that encounter disability. It is a long needed furlough for many on the front lines. A time for parents to stop surviving for a few days and just live and connect. A place where kids with disabilities can grow and learn that they are created by God for a purpose. An opportunity for those kids’ siblings to to realize that although life feels out of control, God has it all under control. I think back to my childhood and wonder if our family had this opportunity, how it would have impacted us. So, lets make sure no one is left behind to continue fighting this war without help, by committing our prayers, funds, and time to help them get this new venture off the ground.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Opposing Forces in a war at 3:07 AM

"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility... there really are so few of us left."
—Oscar Levan

Thursday, 2:14 AM; I lay awake tonight in turmoil... another night of wrestling with my mind. My heart aches with my desires to be like Jesus, my mind counters with the reality of my choices that seam so counter to the desires of my heart. I know what my heart desires but my mind is weak and usually gives in. I try to pray, for help, for others, in thanks, in confession... but my mind wanders faster than I can type those words. So the bell rings and thus begin the wrestling match...
-My heart aches because it wants to feel presence of God so badly. My mind says it wants a sandwich so I can stop feeling anything.
-My heart wants to set aside all the distractions from hearing, seeing, feeling and loving God. My mind wanders as I pray this, thinking about projects, football, how to raise money to finish the camp.
-My heart wants to destroy my ego so I am so humble I can live in thanks to my God who loves me no matter what I do for Him or others, so I try to pray in thanksgiving. My mind discusses with me how I am so talented that I could come up with new and innovative ways to get people to come to church, but it is not worth how hard it is to get others on board.
-My heart proposes to depend on God to the point I would live with nothing in order to be able to rely on Him. My mind is congratulating itself for having so much common sense to never do something so stupid.
-My heart wants others to know God's love so badly that I would sacrifice anything to show them that love. But my mind is excited that deadliest catch will be starting soon and so do football playoffs and it thinks that having a new tv would make it even more fun to watch it all.
-My heart wants to be willing to die for my God because I so strongly believe that being in heaven with Him outweighs anything this life has offer. My mind counters with how stupid those thoughts are because if I was dead it would just drag many others down and little could get accomplished without me.
-My heart strives to believe in heaven and hell so strongly that I lay awake in worry about lost souls. Instead I lay awake worrying I am losing my mind.
-My heart desires to be in community with other Christians so badly that I want to forsake my messed up American values that blind me to what is truly important in this life. My mind wants to demand to be paid for all the work I do for others.
-My heart demands truth so strongly that I would take its consequence before my ego, my power, my self love and my status among other men. My mind likes to speak truth in doses that I can control and prove how good I am.
-My heart wants to be used so badly by God that I stop doing anything on my own to promote myself or my agenda. My mind reminds my heart it sets agenda and that agenda is all about me.
-My heart want to so reflect His love that I strip myself of anything that stands in the way of others seeing His reflection. My mind says that if I am not commended for all I do that I will stop doing it and then everyone will know just how valuable I am.
-My heart wants to be so obedient to Gods words that I would pick up my cross and follow Him even to death. My mind reminds my heart and my body that I am to fat to pick up anything, and that is so depressing I should get out of bed and make a sandwich. I get a drink, go to the bathroom and pick up my computer to blog instead.
- My mind says it is now 3:07 and I am tired so stop blogging and go to sleep.

So now you know the creative process that occurs in me. My mind wins these fights more often than not.

-My heart says to post this so others might recognize the war between the heart and mind is real, and that they are not alone in the battle. My mind says exposing this kind of thing can make me seem unspiritual and I can lose peoples confidence in my leadership, so delete it.

-Tonight my heart wins one, my mind says good job heart... you are really are great, lets make a sandwich to celebrate!