36 and Counting

Yesterday was my 36 birthday. I’m over halfway to 40 years old and now in a different demographic age segment. Goodbye to being lumped in the 18-35 group. As I grow older and see more white hairs creeping it, birthdays are becoming a time to reflect. This year I am thankful for many things.

Here are some of them:

  • I’m thankful for the stability of our family life. After moving four times in four years, we have found a place in Edgewater to deepen our roots. We took a leap of faith and God has provided.
  • I’m thankful for my marriage to Hillary and the life-giving nature of our relationship.
  • I’m thankful that we have found a church home in Mile High Vineyard and relationships with couples in the area to follow Christ together.
  • I’m thankful for our daughters Anna and Norah. It is exciting to see them grow and develop into caring and compassionate individuals.
  • I’m thankful for a job that allows me to devote my energy to the common good of my city. I love my city of less than one square mile and the relationships that are developing.

As I look to the 36th year of my life, here are some of my hopes:

  • I hope this year brings growth in my trust in the Lord and in his power to change my heart, mind and actions instead of in my own efforts.
  • I hope the Mets win the World Series, the Broncos win the Super Bowl and Jeff Gordon retires with a Sprint Cup trophy.
  • I hope to take a trip to Wales and Scotland with Hillary next summer.
  • I hope to stay out of the political battles in our school district and rally people to work together across political lines to help all kids in our area succeed.
  • I hope for a deepening of relationships with our neighbors on Otis Court. There is nothing better than sitting around a fire pit in our driveway connecting with our neighbors.

I’m excited for this next year even though it means I am over the halfway point to the big 40.

A Decade with Anna

Ten Years of Anna

On March 10, 2005 Anna Mae Newton entered our lives. I can still remember how slowly I drove home from the hospital with tiny, little Anna Beans buckled up in her car seat. Hillary and I had created a little person together and now we were responsible for her.

A decade later so much has changed. Our little Beans who was strapped in that car seat is now ten years old and starting to grow into a woman. Gone are the days when I could pick her up and toss her into the air. Tonight she will get her ears pierced as a sort of rite of passage into womanhood.

As Anna grows into a woman and goes through many different changes over the next decade, this is my prayer for her from the writer Ann Voskamp:

A prayer for a daughter

Father who breathed into this daughter…
I pray for this girl being formed into eternity….

May the wind always be in her hair
May the sky always be wide with hope above her
And may all the hills be an exhilaration
the trials but a trail,
all the stones but stairs to God.

God, clothe this girl in a gown of grace
Grace, the only dress that makes beautiful,
the style of Your spirit.

Nourish her on the comfort food of the Word,
Word, that makes her crave more of Christ,
have hunger pangs for Him.

Enclose her in communion with You
You, Love who makes her love, who folds her heart into a roof
that absorbs storms for souls,
that makes her tongue speak only words that make souls stronger.

May her vocation in this world simply be translation
Translating every enemy into esteemed guest
Translating every countenance into the face of Christ
Translating every burden into blessing

When it’s hard to be patient… make her willing to suffer
When it’s ridiculous to be thankful … make her see all is grace
When it’s radical to forgive … make her live the foundation of our faith
And when it’s time to work… make her a holy wonder.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokenness and knit hearts
May she be dead to all ladders & never go higher , only lower, to the lonely, the least & the longing
Her led of the Spirit to lead many to the Cross
that leads to the tomb wildly empty.

Oh, and raise me, Lord, from the deadness of my own sins to love this beautiful girl like You do…

In the name of Christ who rose

and appeared first

to one of His daughters…

Amen

My Support for the Jefferson Plan

Below are my remarks to the Jeffco School Board tonight in support of the Jefferson Plan to reorganize our local schools:
 
My name is Joel Newton and I am a father of two daughters at Lumberg Elementary School in Edgewater. We live within walking distance of Jefferson High School and I hope our daughters will graduate as Jefferson Saints. 
 
I am speaking tonight in support of the Jefferson Plan to invest in the uniqueness of our neighborhood schools. 
 
The Jefferson Plan presents local solutions instead of district solutions. The ideas within the plan grew out of conversations between local principals in our area. Teachers, staff, parents and community members have been part of a Staff Advisory Committee, Area Accountability Committee meetings as well as School Accountability Committees. Success comes when those on the ground investing in students are part of the decision making process. 
 
Second, the Jefferson Plan recognizes the uniqueness of students in our area. A majority of the students in our area schools are Latino and many of them are learning English. This plan focuses on what is working in the Dual Language program and expands this excellent program beyond just the elementary level.
 
Third, the Jefferson Plan provides an innovative 7-12 model for multiple educational pathways. Too often students trying to overcome the roadblocks of poverty and language acquisition are not expected to excel like students in the suburbs. Our Jefferson Area schools are full of students who can excel if given the right resources and motivations. Our most well-attended parent meeting at Lumberg was a meeting for parents of gifted kids and the room matched the demographics of our school. A 7-12 school gives Jefferson staff six years to invest in the uniqueness of each student in a culture of excellence.
 
As the Jeffco School Board, this is a time when you can come together in a 5-0 vote to lift up the work of the teachers, staff and principals in the Jefferson Area and approve this plan. Together we can see all kids in the Jefferson Area Succeed.
 
My dream is that one day a graduate from Jefferson High School will work on the Orion Project at Lockheed. I truly believe this is possible. A student at Jefferson High School should have an equal chance of working at Lockheed as a D’Evelyn student. 
 
This Jefferson Plan, along with investments from the surrounding community, will make this dream a reality.

 

My Year Outside the Church

Sacred

2014 was my first full year working outside the church since I was 18 years old. It sounds crazy but for the past 16 years I have held some kind of job within a local church or Christian institution. That streak ended in 2014 when I transitioned to lead Edgewater Collective.

I grew up thinking the only way I could truly serve God was to be working in a church or overseas in missions. Working in a local church was a higher calling, or so I thought.

I went to Taylor University and chose the Christian Education major with dreams of becoming a lifetime youth pastor. After college I continued my education at Denver Seminary for a Master’s Degree in youth ministry to cement this decision to invest in the spiritual development of teenagers.

But after serving in four different churches, I felt God calling me away from the church. Though the nonprofit I started is not a faith-based organization, I knew God had prepared me for this role. I sold all my “church” books and jumped into this new career. I soon realized that many of the skills I learned inside the church prepared me to work in education advocacy and community building.

As I dove into learning about public education and building relationships with various community stakeholders, I soon realized that God has uniquely designed me for this role. I came alive in a way that I never experienced working in a church. I also noticed that though this work was outside the four walls of a church, it could still be a “sacred” role.

Our family has also thrived as “normal” church attenders. For the first time in our marriage, Hillary and I were able to pick where to attend church. We could enter relationships and community life without the expectations that come with being the pastor’s family. Hillary has found a role in prayer ministry that would not have come as the pastor’s wife. Our girls have experienced worship in a more charismatic setting and experienced a different kind of relationship with the Lord.

Now my experience is obviously not normative. There are pastors I know who were created to work in a church. But there are also pastors who continue to suffer away in their church leadership role because they can’t see themselves working outside the church. Sadly, they are missing the role that they were created for.

I’ve definitely found that there is no such thing as a sacred or secular job. Every job can be sacred if we view our work as a way of serving God and others. Each job in my journey was very important in helping me learn the skills I use today as I lead Edgewater Collective.

I’m excited for what 2015 has in store for our work and our family!

The Tween Years: Confidence or Fear

 

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I can still vividly remember my preteen and middle school years. I remember going with my mom to buy special clothes for gym class complete with the awkward jock strap. All of us in the middle school gym class had the required white shirts and red shorts. One of the girls in our class developed much quicker than the rest of the girls and bore the brunt of the jokes and laughs from the boys. We were all awkward with our own development, but this girl was the recipient of all our jokes because she developed quickest.

In a few months our oldest daughter Anna will turn 10 and officially venture into the preteen/tween years. We were blindsided by her entrance into puberty and couldn’t figure out why she would break down crying at the most random things and soon after act out in a temper tantrum.

Just yesterday she broke down crying in gym class and her gym teacher tried to console her. He asked her why she was crying and Anna exclaimed, “I don’t know why I’m crying!”

Anna has entered puberty.

I have a Master’s Degree in Youth and Family and years of experience working with teenagers, yet none of this can really prepare me for our own daughters becoming teenagers.

I entered puberty early and benefited from being six feet tall in middle school. It’s different for girls. Just like the girl in my gym class who was made fun of by the boys, it’s harder for girls who develop early.

Once again I am presented with the ultimate test of parenting.

Confidence or fear.

I can be fearful of what could happen to my daughter or have confidence in her ability to have perseverance and courage with whatever comes her way.

Whether I choose confidence or fear, Anna will be able to see my emotions and will probably respond the same way I do.

As a father, I must continue to make my relationship with my daughters a priority especially during the awkward and sometimes traumatic years of puberty.

I must choose confidence.

Looking Back with Gratitude

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A year ago today, I was packing up my office at Mountair Christian Church and stepping out in faith into the unknown. I felt God calling me out of pastoral ministry and into leading Edgewater Collective full-time. We left behind a regular paycheck to jump into fundraising for my salary and we jumped without a lot of committed pledges.

Now one year later, I am filled with gratitude for what this last year has brought our family and Edgewater Collective.

I am thankful for my various work experiences which prepared me to lead Edgewater Collective. I often wondered what God was up to over the last twelve years but it all makes sense now. All these varied experiences prepared me to lead a nonprofit organization.

I am thankful for the over 70 donors who have contributed to Edgewater Collective’s success this year. Without you I would not be able to devote my full-time energy to help kids succeed from cradle to career. Your generosity is making a big difference in our community.

I’m thankful to CityUnite for taking a chance on a guy with a dream for city transformation and investing in our success. Your grant has really sustained us this year and your support for me personally is amazing.

I am thankful for my amazing board members who help lead our organization and whose advice and feedback is priceless. You each bring important knowledge and expertise to our work and I am thankful for your investment in our work.

I am thankful for our Community Partners who have joined this collective impact work and continue to do great work in our community.

I am thankful for the teachers and staff who work in our local schools. The roadblocks to success that they help children overcome are huge yet they keep on pouring their hearts into students.

I am thankful for area leaders like Dave Runyon, Dan Thoemke, Jay Pathak and Jeff Johnson who have freely given me wisdom and insight on how to invest deeply in a community. And much more than that, they invested in me personally. I stand on your shoulders.

I am thankful for my wife Hillary who trusted me enough to let us jump into the unknown of leading a nonprofit. In her role as a paraprofessional at our local elementary school, Hillary offers great insight into the classroom and the needs of our schools. She is my perfect partner in this work.

And most of all, I am thankful to the Lord for walking alongside of us through this season. The Lord only knows how my faith has gone through peaks and valleys even on a hour by hour basis. But he has provided  for us in ways that I know he is there and he wants this work to succeed. I can tell you multiple stories of how checks came in at the perfect time so we could pay our bills and provide for the family.

As we transition into November and the Thanksgiving season, I am filled with gratitude when I think back over the last year and how so many of you have come alongside us in our work. And I’m filled with excitement for what will happen in our work in the greater Edgewater area and how children and families will transition from surviving to thriving.

THANK YOU!

What I Learned From Steve Jobs

From Apple.com

From Apple.com

Three years Steve Jobs and his imaginative leadership left this earth.

I never met Steve Jobs but I was privileged enough to work in an Apple Retail store for two and a half years while he was leading Apple. I started just after the launch of the first iPhone and left after the launch of the iPad. These were exciting years for Apple and for us as employees.

Those years at Apple Retail were more transformative for my life and leadership than my years at seminary.

Here are just a few of the lessons I learned from my time at Apple Retail:

  • Focus on a few things and do them well
  • Give fearless feedback often
  • Enrich lives, don’t just sell products
  • Infuse values into everything that is done and refer to them often
  • Hire for fit on the team, not for qualifications or knowledge

I still remember that day three years ago when I heard that Steve had passed away. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wanted to go to the Apple Store where I used to work and mourn with my co-workers.

We mourn the passing of those whose life and actions impact our lives the most.

Thank you Steve for inspiring and challenging me to think different.

Combating Racism: Starting at Home

Anna has experienced multiple different cultures and races since she started school. She started preschool in southwest Littleton and most of her class was white. Then we moved to Champaign, Illinois where at least half of her class was black. Now we are in Edgewater and at least 80% of the children at her school are Latino.

Our hope is to expose our girls to the way the world will be, not the way the world is. Part of this is experiencing and building relationships with children who are different from them. 

But today I realized that this battle of combating racism is a hard one. 

As we were driving out of the school parking lot and experiencing lots of traffic, Anna yelled from the back seat, “It’s those darn Mexicans!”

Where did that come from? What led my daughter to say something like that? 

I immediately scolded her and told her that we don’t talk that way in our family and explained why. But I was genuinely surprised that she would say something like that.

Just because our daughters are around children who are from different cultures and races, we still need to be more diligent in combating racism that so quickly creeps in. We have to be purposeful and intentional is breaking down stereotypes, helping our girls look beyond societal racism and build relationships outside their own comfort zone. I have to work on it myself.

This is the only way we can cross race boundary lines and create a world where situations like Ferguson, Missouri become more rare. But it begins in the home and talking honestly about racism.

Inspiring Confidence in Our Daughters – #LikeAGirl

image.axd

You run like a girl. You fight like a girl.

Why do we make statements like this?

How does puberty change a girl’s confidence?

For more on Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, click here.

The Relevance of the Resurrection

The Garden Tomb - from Wikipedia

The Garden Tomb – from Wikipedia

As a pastor’s kid, I was immersed in Christianity from an early age. But only recently, I realized I was missing a very important part of the story.

I was missing the importance and relevance of the Resurrection.

Growing up in a religious culture, we each pick up narratives about who God is and how he interacts with the world. For better or for worse, some of these narratives are false or show just one side of the story.

Around Easter, I have tended to focus on Jesus’ death as an atonement for my sin, which it is. He took the punishment that I deserved. Too often though, if I focus on this true narrative, I view God as a judge who loves me when I obey and punishes me when I disobey.

But there is another part to the story that must be viewed in tandem with Jesus’s death. Today we celebrate it, yet for many years, I didn’t see the power in it.

In the context of Martha’s brother Lazarus dying, Jesus tells her,I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Then Jesus demonstrates his power over death by raising Lazarus from the dead.

Soon after Jesus himself dies and rises again to new life.

For too long I focused on Jesus’ death and missed the power and relevance of Jesus’ resurrection.

The narrative I missed was that Jesus’ resurrection and sending of the Holy Spirit enables me to begin living life the way I was designed to live. This has amazing ramifications. It is no longer I that lives but Christ living in me. When God the Father sees me, he doesn’t see me with my sin, but he sees His Son Jesus in me. God the Father smiles when he sees me. I am his creation. We are all his creation. He takes pride in his design.

Our new church community at Mile High Vineyard puts a lot of weight on this piece of the narrative that Jesus is alive and living in us today. The Spirit that Jesus gives us speaks through believers in prayer. Prayer is no longer a one way conversation but a two way conversation where the Spirit engages with us and speaks truth.

And the Spirit enables us to join Jesus in rolling out his Kingdom that is breaking back into our current reality. We don’t just sit back and pray for Jesus to come quickly, we engage in Kingdom work through the Spirit’s power. This Kingdom fights injustice, brings equality, humbles pride, lifts the poor and restores our world’s original design.

Too often I’ve sat in church and wondered, “Is this all there is? Is this what Jesus died and rose again to create?” There seemed to be something missing, and I am beginning to realize that what I was missing was the Resurrection.

Jesus rose again to give us Life.

The Life we were created to live.

The Life that we can’t live on our own but only through the indwelling and filling of the Spirit.

Easter is about a death AND a resurrection AND a kingdom that is unfolding that we can participate in.