October 22, 2013

Halloween Block Party needs your help!


For the last 8 years The Lake House has hosted a Halloween Block Party for the neighborhood. We live in an area where trick-or-treating is difficult. Many houses are fenced in, many have dogs, many leave to trick-or-treat elsewhere and still kids dress up and take to the streets in search of those treats. Our block party has made for a place where everyone can be together and safe and have an incredible time together. We have even had one neighbor tell us they moved to our street after visiting one of our parties years ago while visiting a family member in the area. 
We grill as many burgers, chicken and hot dogs as we can afford to get. We fill a kiddie pool with ices and bottles of water, sodas and other sealed drinks so nobody gets thirsty while they laugh and dance throughout the night. We will have a DJ to keep the beats bumpin', a few fellas making balloon animals, face painting, caricatures, and as many other games and activities as we can come up with. 
Last year, when we realized that our neighborhood, Ybor Heights, did not have a neighborhood association we formed one. We moved the party from the house to our local park and made it both an outreach for our home church but also an outreach for the newly formed Neighborhood Association. At that party we met the woman who now serves as the President of the Association and we will be partnering with her to host yet another double outreach. 
Please help us gather this small budget so that we can afford to throw a huge party and get all of our neighbors together. We really are trying to love our neighbors and would love and appreciate any help you could offer to that end. Thank you!

May 24, 2013

Bon Voyage


Friday night was amazing for us! Natalia planned a sending off party at the house so we would have a chance to see all of our peoples before shoving off for a summer sabbatical in Philly. It was really cool to see everyone as different circles of friends came together in waves. The night was no exception to the interesting series of events that is the history at the lake house. There were kids swimming in the pond out front, small gatherings on the roof, people running around carrying chickens, and literal fire balls bouncing across the property! It was Ben and Lams first night there and I like to think that it was just as much a welcome party for them as it was a send off for us. As if to say, welcome and this is how it goes around these parts.

Natalia and I were so touched by the words of encouragement and gifts with which our wonderful family of friends loaded us down for the journey. It was nothing short of overwhelming. That climax to a week spent planning, cleaning and packing was seemingly a foolish endeavor to bite off but it was also the perfect place to leave from. Thank you all who were able to be there with us so much and please know how grateful we are for each of you, our amazing friends.

We are now on the road taking our time as we meander toward our summer home in Philly. So far we have stayed with friends near Jacksonville, in a treehouse in Georgia and in a tent set up next to a hostel in South Carolina. We are taking it all in and hope to keep folks updated on where we are and what is going on with us while at the same time keeping a bit of a journal for ourselves. We are setting up another blog at JonAndNatalia.blogspot.com  and invite any who are interested to follow along as we journey and reflect.



January 06, 2013

Urban Homesteading

This year has brought us quite the harvest. We've started getting Guavas, Star Fruit, Cactus fruit, and Passion Fruit. The new girls have started getting their hands dirty in caring for the plants. We've started a new seeding table and fixed the irrigation system. The chickens are laying beautifully.

Best of all, however, was a small Bible Study and garden tour we had in December. We studied John 15:5-8:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."

The final words of the 10-year old girl who participated in the Bible Study:  "The kingdom of God looks like family and friends getting together." 










December 31, 2012

2012 Year End Review

My 2011 year end review began "This has been a year of trials and obstacles." As I sit down to reflect on 2012 I wonder if I shouldn't start this review with a similar assessment  As I reflected on 2011 I remembered how we all anticipated growth but in retrospect realized we had been mistaken about how that might look. We pictured more people, projects and even places but what we found was a growth of something less calculable. I said "We have weathered storms and grown roots..." Then I ended that reflection with a prayer "may these roots draw deeply on the grace and presence of God and may 2012 bear the fruit." Now I can see 2012 in retrospect and from this vantage point wonder how I might assess what has actually happened.

While it's clear from the end of last year's review that I assumed that deeper roots would yield fruit, in hind-sight it seems that deeper roots yielded both fruit and the need for pruning. There was some fruit this year but there was also a lot of prunning. Last year saw Natalia and  I move out of the house while this year we moved back in only to see the guys have to step out. I was there with the guys for the first half of the year as we were all being pruned together. In time the whole branch was removed to make room for Natalia and I to flourish.

Before the guys left we had many guests and visitors. Some were quite pleasant and then some others were more like intruders sent like a plague from hell. Those unpleasant ones were the BEDBUGS that took up residence for a good chunk of the year. It seemed like our minds themselves were being pruned as the little monsters ate us alive. In contrast to those unwanted guests we had some really great experiences hosting folks like Sekajipo Genes and the Jungle, a few couch surfers making there way across the US on Bicycles and of course our Methodist delegate friends who decided to stay with us and our bedbugs instead of the plush hotels downtown. We were also able to host some events in our yard like the awesome gathering we had with the CIW.

The year bore bruit and we saw friends on the streets with addictions join the Timothy Initiative for recovery, we finally split our House Church and planted one at St. Dennis' place that we are calling 'The Den'. We were able to launch a Neighborhood association for Ybor Heights too. Even as the fruit was growing, other branches were being pruned. Natalia had some substantial medical issues and a few surgeries, I had to make some big ministry and relational changes, 12 step recovery has been a huge pruning process and the guys moving out felt more like a complete uprooting for many of us. We are however still alive and I am praying that God is the vine dresser pruning the ones he loves.

November 07, 2012

The Well

Here is the latest 'We are Underground' video about the work and ministries of The Well. Each of these ministries have sprouted from The Lake House community over the last 4 years or so.
We are very proud parents and partners with each of these ministries and are praying for grand-babies!
 

The Well - We Are Underground from Underground Network on Vimeo.

September 01, 2012

The Changing Seasons

It has been a pretty crazy summer. Natalia and I, with lots of help from her parents, gave the front house a bit of a reset. We cleaned, painted, and installed some new flooring. I wouldn't call it a renovation but it did help freshen things up a bit.

At the beginning of August we decided to rent the front to a group of young girls that were looking for a place to start a community. They are still hoping to find a place of their own but we all thought staying in the Lake House would give them time to find the right place as well as give them a chance to develop a bit as a community. Natalia and I are still doing our best to focus on our marriage and we are glad to be neighbors, occasionally sharing from our experience with this budding community.

Life has brought so many changes lately that sometimes its hard to take it all in. I really miss all the guys and the amazing life they were living here. I still see most of them quite often but it has just been sad to see their time in the house have to end. I am still grieving it.

We always used to say that it was the values that were consistent even when the people change. We had seen our share of individuals come and go and really learned the reality and importance of those stable values which defined our lifestyle. With the transition from those tough and tried dudes to a fairly green group of young ladies it has been hard for me, I feel the loss of the people AND the changes of lifestyle. I have felt the instability at times with the differences but I have also been quite comforted by the familiar and precious efforts at hospitality. Just this week I met a women who had nowhere to go and was really just looking for somewhere to get a few nights reprieve from the streets. In the past I never knew where to turn when I met women in her situation because there are just so few options. When the house was full of men we only hosted men and we always dreamed of and prayed for a sister community that could show hospitality to the women that we met. I have a few female friends that I have called in the past but there was nowhere like our house where a community was postured to receive guests in need. Being that the house is full of women now I jumped at the opportunity to direct this woman to them. I was so glad to see them open the house to her and offer he a place to stay for a few nights. Though the girl's hospitality, prayer, generosity, and even eating from the yard I have found the familiar values which have been so reassuring.

Then of course some things never change! (As in Craziness)

  • Natalia had to break up two girls that were fighting about heroin near the alley this week. She successfully broke it up and took one of them to McDonalds for a snack. 
  • Another day she had to call an ambulance for a friend that took quite a bit too many pills and needed to be monitored. 
  • I ran into and briefly caught up with a dude that broke into the house a couple years ago. 
  • We have had a few friends get arrested. One, barely an adult, is potentially facing life. 
  • Oh and my favorite moment was when a guy, who was living outside, came up to me and handed me a brand new tattoo machine as a gesture of thanks. He said it was an extra and insisted that I take it along with his words of gratitude. I obliged. (Its only the machine and now I need a power supply, needles and ink but I just gotta say I am SO EAGER to start running this thing.)  


We also started our house church meetings again every Wednesday at 7:30. We have only met a few times so far and it has been awesome to all be together again. There are big things in store! We are beginning the semester with the end in mind and setting goals to plant another house church by December. We are praying hard for guidance on where to have it. Suggestions? Anyway, the Fall season is already off and running. We hope you will join us and walk with us as we pursue Jesus in mission this season.

Tonight is the Conscious Party and we are excited to be together again and share with one another. I am expecting a pretty great turn out tonight and hope you can make it too! Please bring food if you can and as always, bring a friend. Our hope is to create a night out and a platform of expression for our neighbors that are on the streets and everyone else is welcome too!


Lets see....What else?....Oh I have really tried to start writing consistently this summer and have been posting regularly on my blog called Ultimate Concerns. Check it out and follow it if your interested in my ramblings.

Please pray:

  • Pray for Natalia and I as we continue to work at our own recovery and marriage
  • Pray for 'The Guys' that sacrificed so much for Natalia and I to have the space we needed. Pray that they would be comforted in the loss, convicted in their values, affirmed in their capabilities and strengthened for the work that is ahead of them. 
  • Pray for these girls that are renting the house and striving to live an intentional life together as Christian sisters. 
  • Pray for the Lake House home churches leadership development, future location and the coming church plant. 
  • Pray for our family of ministries: The Well, the Good Sam, The Banquet, The Conscious Party, The Eden Project, Sacred Studios, Underground Counseling, and Chyna's efforts to establish 'Firm Believers'
  • Pray for me as I begin trying to fund raise to further support and grow our work among the poor in Tampa. 
  • Pray for the recently established Ybor Heights Neighborhood Association. We started it and are working to rally community involvement. There is a lot of potential here!
  • Pray for grace & mercy for a young friend who may be facing life. 
  • Pray that I can get a vehicle working soon!
  • Pray for our Conscious Party tonight to have a great turn out and a ton of fun
  • Pray above all else that His kingdom would come and His will be done here, on earth, in Tampa, in our hearts, as it is in heaven. 

June 17, 2012

Life and Death is a Choice: Birthday Reflection

Lately I have been thinking a lot about life and death. Today being my 32nd birthday seems like an ideal time to sit and write some of these thoughts down. My birthday didn't really prompt any of these ideas in my mind but it has stirred up, or allowed space for the stirring of all the questions that have been swimming around my head recently.

Neither birth nor death are often the result of one's choice and volition. Life is hurled upon us at birth as either a gift or a burden, though we almost always meet birth with joy and celebration. It is very rare to find any expression of sentiments akin to those words penned by the author of Ecclesiastes, "The day of death is better than the day of birth." Death is mostly feared, avoided and mourned in contrast with the smiles that surround the beginning of life. We are dealt life and then cling to it desperately in our avoidance of death. While death, unlike birth, does stand before us as an option to be freely chosen. Very few, however, embrace death as an act of the will. We either despise or praise those who do. The suicide, we despise and the martyr we honor. Both make the decision to cast their life off though, as G. K. Chesterton pointed out, the suicide insults everything in existence as not worth living for. The martyr on the other hand so values one thing that it is worth all. It is for this reason that he places these two categories of the willfully dead as opposites. I agree with Chesterton's assessment and still think that a wise man would not take suicide off the table as a very real option. One, because it always is actually an option but also because of the value of choosing.

It has been said by the philosopher Albert Camus that the only serious philosophical question is whether or not to commit suicide. Shakespeare's Hamlet opens with the question "To be or not to be?" While this may seem at first to be a dark and disturbing question, it presents a very real and human dilemma. I wonder if our interpretation or uneasiness about such questions can stand as a correction to us about the deeper issues of our lives. We did not choose to be born. Thirty two years ago I was born a free man, though I was not free to choose life yet. It is in the 32 years that I have lived that I reflect on now and wonder why I have chosen to stay alive. Have I? Have you? It seems to me that it is only by facing the very real option of death that it is possible to actually choose life. I remember Ivan in The Brothers Karamozov saying that he has decided to live until thirty and then "dash my cup to the ground." What is one to make of such comments? I am forced by these comments and questions to acknowledge that not dashing ones cup to the ground is also a choice. It is a choice that takes courage if one is to actually live rather than merely avoiding death as so many unconsciously do. I am excited by the prospect of a real choice about existence. To be or not to be really is the question. It seems to me that one who daily faces these questions in a deep and real way might be the most sober and alive, for each day they live they have made a conscious decision for life! I am reminded of the opening monologue in No Country For Old Men which ended, and so began the movie, with the statement that a man would have to decide and say "OK, I'll be part of this world." It is the question itself that forces one to decide that the flower is worth living to smell. Chesterton criticizes the suicide for not valuing anything in this world enough to choose life and I might also extend that criticism to those who do not choose life, but continue to exist.

I am intrigued by our culture's love for the living dead and the zombie apocalypse. It may not be as fantastic and absurd as we think of it, for many among us are dead men walking. We, like zombies, roam from scene to scene driven by unquenchable desire. We hunger and consume without regard for the cost and compulsive addiction to escaping death or pain or any reminder of that great fate/decision that hangs over our heads. Though we can relate to the zombies we also relate to the uninfected fighting to stay alive. We, like those survivors, are not a lost cause without a hope for recovery, as are the undead. We still have a choice to make. In the zombie movies we sometimes see people choose death and commit suicide when faced with the world in front of them. It is in the context of such vignettes that we most sympathize and understand the suicide. Isn't Chesterton's criticism still relevant? Shouldn't we still condemn this decision? Why are we more understanding of these fictional suicides? Is it because the world that they are facing is dangerous, scary, filled with pain and loss or is it because death seemed so imminent anyway?  Isn't that always true? Isn't real life dangerous, scary, filled with pain and loss? Isn't death always the only thing in our future that we can count on? These things are a central part of life, as are joy, love and forgiveness. We get it all whether we choose life or just keep on being alive. It is in the honest look at life that acknowledges pain, suffering and death along with play, family and hope that one can fully choose it. If we understand the suicide in the middle of a zombie apocalypse then we should be able to similarly understand the suicide of a friend that wakes up, looks at our world, sees the droves of zombies, looses hope and dashed their cup to the ground. If we are to choose life it seems that our deepest reasons should transcend the conditions in which we find ourselves. We still might criticize the suicide with Chesterton, whether it is our friend or the character within the apocalypse and we might praise the hero that lays his life down for another. The man who chooses life may 'drink death like wine' and the man that only avoids death doesn't actually ever live. The choice is ours.

Rather than just being living organisms that will naturally do anything it takes to survive we must decide what life is worth and how we shall spend it. So today, on my birthday, I am choosing life. I am choosing the pains, struggles, joys and love once again. I am deciding that the Kingdom of God and our prayer for it to come to earth is worth my life, dead or alive. Today it seems best to choose life but at my core the real choice is Jesus and I will dash my cup to the ground with joy the second that's what choosing Jesus will mean for me.
I must add here that I deeply believe that choosing Jesus is the truest way to choose life for it is only in Him that life is abundant & lasting....everlasting.

June 12, 2012

Empty Nest


Well it's been about a week and a half since all the guys have vacated the Lake House property and their absence has been deeply felt. Our house, which has been so alive and active for years, seems so quiet and empty. There are remnants of the residents who were recently here like food in the fridge and odds and ends that they left in the move but none of the activity and noise which became so regular for me.
Natalia is now in the back unit with me and we have been keeping ourselves busy by cleaning and unpacking from the move. We are doing well and hopeful about starting our life together once again. It is 'good and hard', which has almost become a cliche for describing what its like to follow Jesus.
We have been overwhelmed by the work in front of us and also excited as we have jumped into little projects around the house.
One thing that has become very clear to me in the last few weeks is that evenings will be the toughest. Natalia tends to go to bed several hours before me and it is in those alone hours at night that I find myself wandering the property as though I will soon bump into one of the guys which used to be a guarantee. I don't even realize I am doing it until its been going on long enough that I find myself back in the same area for the second or third time. I keep thinking of the empty nest syndrome parents are said to experience when their kids move away. It is a strange encounter with oneself. Your habits and your avoidance's are laid bare before you. I have always sucked alone and knew that I wouldn't show up to morning prayer if it wasn't for the others expecting me and I probably wouldn't get much done in the yard so long as I was left to work alone. We are created for community and I am remembering now the words of Deitrich Bonhoeffer who said that the one who is afraid to be alone should beware of community. I am not necessarily afraid to be alone but I am also finding all the little ways that I (even subconsciously) avoid it. This next season will be both a formation of my secret and private life with God as well as the development of real and intimate community with my wife, who has been the one given to me for all the reasons we look to others. I am not alone. I am reminded of all the times that I have looked in my parents fridge growing up saying that there is nothing to eat while the thing was practically full of edible food! I have everything I need right in front of me and yet because of habits, preferences and straight up blindness I find myself complaining like that little spoiled child gazing into the fridge.
I really do miss the guys and daily remember something more to miss.
Also I have embarked on a new adventure and season for the Lake House.
I pray that this house will be for Natalia and I, as it has been for so many others, a place of healing and restoration.
I pray that my memories of the guys would bear the fruit of gratefulness in my heart.
I pray that I would deeply understand why our language has words for 'lonliness' as well as 'solitude' and may I learn to gratefully embrace the later.
I pray that the guys would go on to bear fruit that is consistent with what God invested in them through our time together.

May 08, 2012

A Surrendered Community

There is an image of community and friendship that has always stuck with me since reading  C.S. Lewis's book The Four Loves. He says that friendship and community are built when people stand shoulder-to-shoulder rather than face-to-face. A romantic relationship might be the picture of two who stand face-to-face and become wrapped up in one another, but in community we stand side-by-side. We stand at one another's side and face the same direction. We are together gazing upon the same vision and walking in the same direction. We carry each other's burdens and motivate each other onward toward our calling and destiny, rather than looking at one another as a destiny in ourselves. This has always rung true and served as a sobering image when we are tempted to take our eyes off of the Kingdom for which we long and for which we exist.

When our community was in its formation, we all read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together. I remember reading the words below, but it is only recently that I have come to understand their truth and authority.

"Human love makes itself an end in itself. It creates of itself an end, an idol which it worships, to which it must subject everything. It nurses and cultivates an ideal, it loves itself, and nothing else in the world. Spiritual love, however, comes from Jesus Christ, it serves Him alone; it knows that it has no immediate access to other persons. 
Jesus Christ stands between the lover and the others he loves. I do not know in advance what love means on the basis of the general idea of love that grows out of my human desires- all this may rather be hatred and an insidious kind of selfishness in the eyes of Christ. What love is, only Christ tells in His Word. Contrary to all my own opinion and convictions, Jesus Christ will tell me what love toward the brethren really is. Therefore spiritual love is bound solely to the Word of Jesus Christ. Where Christ bids me to maintain fellowship for the sake of love, I will maintain it. Where His truth enjoins me to dissolve a fellowship for love's sake, there I will dissolve it, despite all the protests of my human love." 
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together 

For the past few years Natalia and I have struggled in our marriage. We have sought council, tried separation, retreat, recovery and whatever else we could think of to do to heal our wounds and relationship. We have recently been separated, which has been good for a time, but as that time is coming to an end we are forced to ask some hard questions about our future. We know that our relationship is in a fragile place and we are committed to making every change necessary to give us our greatest shot at reconciliation, recovery and renewal. 

The Lake House guys have been my community and support through thick and thin, and I have realized that there may also be a call away from them for the sake of focusing on my marriage.  Sunday night I came to them for the sake of guidance and support and they unanimously affirmed my intuition and have offered their full support for a transition. They have even agreed, in a tremendous act of love and grace, to move out of our house so that Natalia and I may have the freedom and space to work on our life together. With no clue of where they might go or what might be next, they each agreed to trust God and make a sacrifice that I don't think I can possibly describe in words. We all wept as we realized where God was leading the discussion and that our community as we have known it seemed to be coming to an end. 

Will they band together and find another place? Will people disperse and start new ministries? What does all of this mean? There are an overwhelming amount of questions and fears that are swimming though everyone's mind. Though it may cost everything we know, we are dissolving it "despite all the protests of...human love."

In my sadness, I have understood Jesus' prayers from Gethsemane like never before. We cried out together "Father, if there is any other way, please take this cup away. Yet not our will, but yours be done." We all feel as though we have just received news of the death of an immediate family member and are in mourning. We face death and yet our hope is in His Resurrection. 

It is a powerful thing for us all to lose something central to who we are, something that seems more dear to us than anything else we have known in this world and yet, release it freely because there is something greater, something more powerful and transcendent. Jesus is Lord and it is in our submission to him that we are brothers, family and a community. In some profound way we have never been more of a community than in our releasing of it for the sake of love. 

For all of you who are reading this and are as shocked as any of us where, please know that we love you and are sorry for any way that this news will trouble or affect you. Remember that your community with us is also defined by Jesus. We may not have many answers to your questions just yet and we do ask that you are patient with us as we process this loss. We will also update you here as we figure out what is next. Please keep us in your prayers.