Thanksgiving by Norah Newton

Every Thanksgiving was the same. My grandparents would drive down from New Mexico and stay the night. They slept in my sister’s queen bed so that my sister had to sleep with me on my bunk bed. The next day, we would see a movie and drive to my aunt and uncle’s. I would always throw up on the way, no matter what. When we got there we greeted the rest of the family and watched Netflix while my grandma went to the store. She brought home a fat, juicy turkey. After that, we would make biscuits, in all different shapes. I made a snowman, while my sister made a star. My parents always made us take pictures in the snowy backyard. Afterward, I would play in the snow and peek in the rabbit holes. I knew it was useless, but that was the fun part. My sister would torment the cat while I played ping-pong. We would do this all day until it was dinner. We passed around food and stories, until it was time to play Things. In things we had to answer a question and guess who wrote what. I never was good at it, but it was fun anyway! We stayed the night in one of the empty rooms, but we could never fall asleep. The next day we would go out to breakfast and then back home. I’m always waiting for thanksgiving!

One day in Aurora, “Thank you sooooo much!!!” I shook from the excitement. I had gotten a fluffy cat stuffed animal that looked just my aunt’s cat, Choncho.

“I still think you should of gotten the Barbie closet,” My sister said. She had gotten a Barbie car.

Later, “Choncho, NO!!!” I think Choncho thought my toy was for him. He was staring mischievously at my cat.
“He didn’t do anything,”He tried to snap at my sister, but missed.

Still later, “Hey, hey, Barbie…Life in the Dreeeeeamhouse.”
“Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!” I screamed.

Choncho was climbing up the couch to my cat! I snatched up my toy and put it on the table. Choncho thrashed at the table and walked away, his tail in the air.

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History of Beanie Boo’s by Norah Newton

15 Years Ago

Fifteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, I started my first shift as a Chaplain Intern at Ball Memorial Hospital in Muncie, Indiana. My role was to go room to room, check-in on patients and let them know that as chaplains we were there to listen and pray with them if they would like.

I still remember the first news reports playing on the in-room televisions saying that a small plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. There was not much know about the incident but it seemed strange.

Then, very quickly, the reports changed as the second plane crashed into the other tower and it was clear that it was a commercial airline. Needless to say, it was one day when conversation was inevitable in each room as we all looked on in disbelief at what was unfolding.

By the end of that long shift, we were leading a multi-faith prayer service at the hospital. I just remember a state of fear at what was happening and no one knew if there were going to be more attacks like that in other areas of the country.

The shift ended and I drove back to Upland, Indiana where I was a senior at Taylor University. Fighter jets flew overhead and the line of cars waiting to get gas was over a mile long.

Weeks after that fateful day, I remember researching pathways into the military and ranks for college graduates. I felt like I wanted to do something in response to what had happened.

Then in January 2002, our Christian Education Department took seniors to New York City to visit different ministries in the city. We toured the rubble of the Twin Towers and listened to first hand accounts of those who suffered through that day. We walked by the fences with pictures of loved ones who were in the towers. Hillary was also in New York City that week with majors from her Communication Studies Department and that week sealed our new relationship as we walked through the city.

Though we weren’t personally connected to those who perished that day, September 11, 2011, it changed our outlook on the world. As we were married in the summer of 2002, we started our new life in a very different world than the pre-9/11 world.

 

Dreaming of New Possibilities

It was three years ago that I informed the Mountair Christian Church community that I would be transitioning from the Interim Pastor role into full-time leadership of Edgewater Collective. Since then we have been attending Mile High Vineyard and seeking the common good of our city. As I left leadership in the church, I thought I would never return. Honestly, I have loved serving my city outside the walls of the church and rallying folks to create a thriving city regardless of what they believe.

But throughout this process, God has been tugging at my heart and for a few years I ran from his call. A little over two years ago, I had a pretty vivid of dream of baptizing people in Sloan’s Lake at the beach on the northwest corner. That dream made a strong impression on me but I didn’t think I would play a role in that. I waited for others to create a new type of church in our community that would be welcoming to families and those who had never attended church.

After a year of poking and prodding by the Lord, I’ve realized that he might want me to step out in faith and lead a new faith community in our area. The beauty of this new possibility is that I continue my fulfilling work with Edgewater Collective during the week and lead a neighborhood church on the weekends with a great team of folks who live locally.

Our church, Mile High Vineyard, believes strongly in neighborhood churches that love a community and take on the Catholic idea of being committed to a parish. So we are starting to gather folks that live in Edgewater, Wheat Ridge and northeast Lakewood that are drawn to following Jesus and loving a community. On Sundays we are gathering at the Mile High Vineyard churches in the Highlands and Arvada until we have the critical mass to gather on our own in the Edgewater area on Sunday mornings. On Thursday nights we will all come together for a meal and connecting with each other through conversation and prayer.

We are excited for this new season because it builds on our rootedness in the Edgewater community. Our dream is to start gathering on Sunday mornings by Easter of next year. And God willing, one day we will baptize new Jesus followers in Sloan’s Lake.

You can keep track of what we are up to with this Edgewater/Wheat Ridge Neighborhood Church here.

Adventures in Loving Our City

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As I was looking back over my blog posts, I realized that it was just over two years ago that we decided to step away from working at Mountair Christian Church and jump into Edgewater Collective full-time. This made me reflect on the last two years of loving my city in a full-time role. Here are some of my realizations from this work:

People are yearning for relationships

As we have taken part in block parties, holiday gatherings in our home and other events, it is amazing how many people are yearning for relationships. Even in a hyper-connected, online world, people are lonely. Last Christmas, we had our neighbors into our home for holiday dessert and fun trivia. An older gentleman on our block sat and told stories about our street from when his kids were young. It is amazing how community can form by just opening up your home or your front yard for people to come together and tell stories.

Community change starts in neighborhoods

When I started connecting in Edgewater, I had grand dreams of community transformation. The more time I spend investing in our city, the more I have realized that true change starts when neighbors begin to connect with each other. Even small things like connecting with an elderly neighbor and receiving their phone number in case on an emergency can make a big difference. Building relationships with a family on the block can play a role in them sending their kindergarten child to the local neighborhood school.

Cities need connectors

Edgewater Collective is an outlier in the nonprofit world. We don’t have any programs, but focus our work on being connectors and catalysts. Much of my work is spent connecting different organizations and community stakeholders to needs and assets in our community. My role is to empower citizen led initiatives in our city through the community newspaper that Edgewater Collective publishes, the Edgewater Echo. As a connector, my role is to make others look great and not to draw attention to the work that we do. This makes fundraising hard, but it is essential to our role and mission.

Leading an initiative like this takes faith

Though Edgewater Collective is not a faith-based organization, I am faith-motivated. Leading a nonprofit takes a lot of faith. Edgewater Collective is a shoestring operation that exists only by the generosity of partners who believe in our work. This role has taught me to have faith that God will provide, but still realizing that I have a role in telling the stories of what is happening in our community as a result of our work.

I love Edgewater

Our family lives, works and plays in an area that is less than a square mile called Edgewater. We love our city. I love the generational and racial diversity that exists in our city. I love the diversity of opinions that exist here. I love the history of Edgewater and hearing the stories of people who have lived here for years. Throughout the month of September I will be connecting with numerous Edgewater residents at block parties through the city. We have partnered with our local brewery to offer Joyride beer to the block parties along with information about community resources. I love connecting with residents in gatherings like this and hearing their stories. I truly believe that Edgewater can be a community where each person can thrive. If we can’t see community change in a small area like Edgewater, we won’t be able to see it at a state or country level.

If you would like to partner with us in this important work, I would love to connect with you. Send me an email at joel@edgewatercollective.org and I’ll treat you to coffee at our local coffee shop or a brew at Joyride. I would love to take you on a tour of our city and tell you some of the stories of Edgewater. It is through the generosity of people like you that we can continue to do this important work.

 

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.