Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas, from the Howertons!

I’m up early, and it’s still dark out. The only light on in the house comes from the Christmas tree. The Howerton house is peaceful and calm. Even the dog is still sleeping (which is how I like him best). I mention the peace only because it’s so rare. Chaos is closer to what everyday looks like, so moments like this one I try to celebrate, and remember, when the volume level goes north of healthy.

In a few minutes I’ll wake my daughter, Alex, so she can get on the bus that will take her to her morning violin practice at school. She loves playing Soccer (a fierce mid-fielder), she’s School Vice President (which she won on the slogan of “I’m organized, kind, and I like puppies”)…I’m very proud of her. She does a great job with friendships, and with being a judicious big sister. She’s got a great sense of humor too, and a growing familiarity with pre-teen “sass,” I believe it’s called.

My son Caleb is an early riser. He’ll probably get up when Alex does, just so he can spend time reading before he has to launch into the day. He destroys books. I mean that literally. I don’t know what he does with the books in addition to reading them, but my guess is rugby. Caleb’s stepped out into Basketball for the first time this year, and dad doesn’t even pretend to know how to coach him. Everything in his life is high adventure, including Lego creation, skateboarding, and his zany third grade friendships. He’s also adjusting slowly to his role as big-brother. He seems to approach it from a love-hate perspective, which might be fairly common among siblings. Fortunately, there is a bit more love than hate, and Caleb has discovered that his younger brother, in addition to being competition, might also be his biggest fan.

This morning, I’m guessing that Duzi will sleep in as long as mommy will let him. He’s our snuggler, who can’t quite snuggle with mommy and daddy without kicking them. Hard. Sometimes in the head. Of course, the big news from our clan this year is his arrival, and the trip over to South Africa in July to pick him up. Adjustment has been good. Hardly pain-free (read: many tears and anxious moments), but honestly, good. One of things he’s noticed is how BIG Americans do things…he knew what Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were before coming here. But each holiday, he was wide-eyed at how MUCH Holiday was enjoyed. Oh buddy, just wait until Christmas morning. Prepare to be amazed.

Jodie is incredible, as always. I’m blown away by how she manages to stay on top of a very active family schedule, work a bit from home, feed her family gourmet meals on a budget, and hit the gym regularly. She’s my hero (which I repeat to myself when we’re at each other’s throats). And she’s hot. I’m just saying. She could be a part-time model.

As for me, life seems to be cranking along, meaning I turned 40 this year. I’m still not the person I want to be, but I’m one more year along on the journey. I love my family, I love my wife, I love my life. Ministry at OCC is a hurtling roller coaster (read: equal parts thrill and terror), with folks breathing deeply the joy, hope, and love that Jesus came to bring. In fact, that’s really the reason for this letter, and for any Christmas cheer it offers…I’m just one more finger pointing to Jesus. One more seeker pursuing the infant king, born in a stable. One more heart shattered and reformed by his arrival, heralded by the wisest men. One more life undone by the grace of our Christ, illuminated in the darkest night by a celestial light. One more voice adding my flat and tremulous melody of praise to join in with the choir of heavenly hosts.

We love you dearly. We’re amazed by Jesus’ love. Merry Christmas,

Mike, and the whole crazy Howerton Clan

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Cost/Low Cost Christmas Celebrations

Gearing up for this week's message, titled "Punching Consumerism in the Throat," we thought we'd start with some amazing and helpful No Cost/Low Cost ideas to celebrate the birth of Jesus!! Thank you Overlake for submitting these ideas!! We received so many suggestions that there was no way to incorporate all the ideas into this weekend’s message…so here are a bucket-load on the front end! We’ll tackle a few more key thoughts during this Sunday’s Service…SEE YOU THERE!! And thanks again, for being as generous and giving a church as you are!! If you have more suggestions, please leave them as comments…THANKS! Merry Christmas!!

Encourage your loved ones to create something: knit, write a letter, paint a picture.
Since Jesus was a carpenter, I would we should give lovely, handmade gifts from the heart.
Make things – create a coupon with gifts of service.
Write notes of encouragement to each other.
Make photo calendars, pens, or mugs.
Make (create) as many gifts as possible. My wife gave homemade jam and scone mix this year, and it was delicious!
Instead of buying gifts make cookies and send them to family.
Make gift baskets for family instead of a gift for each member.
Create fun memories as a group.
Bake & frost cookies together.
Get messy, play in the snow.
Donate food and serve at a Mission this Holiday Season.

Give a gift to Jesus in honor of His Birthday.
Rather than buy gifts for extended family, purchase gifts for those in need through World Vision website.
Give through World Concern.
Giving gifts that help others - World Vision offers such practical gifts as cows, goats, chickens that provide income for families.
Instead of gifts, my husband and I are doing a donation to Toys for Tots.
We host an open house for all our friends/co-workers in the area. In lieu of gift to us we ask they bring a cash donation for World Vision.

White elephant gifts! Bring 1 gift (new or used), especially an oddity, and the entire family always has fun!
Eliminate one thing we can do without.
We chose a friend in need to bless this Christmas instead of buying gifts for each other.
Adapt a family instead of exchanging gifts.
After candlelight service, we get kids in their pajamas, put them in the car and drive all around looking at lights.
Read the Christmas story in Luke.
Have the kids in the family act out the Bible story with nativity set.

Give your kids or someone special the gift of undivided time.
Spend less on things and more giving of your time.
Volunteer time together as a family to serve.
Adopt a family in need to minister too.
What you would spend on yourself "give away" instead.
Reduce the amount of money spent on gifts by some percentage, and give that instead.

Visit nursing homes and spend time caring for those who might be lonely.
Set a budget for Christmas gifts.

For every gift received give an item or possession to charity.

Give the gift of planning, and invite a person over for dinner once a month for the year. Make a radio station especially for them.

Think of what someone else is going without that you have multiples of, and connect the gift to their need.

Give to shelters.
Make a gingerbread house together.
Have fun family nights, watching some holiday classics together.
We go caroling to our neighbors houses with kids from school, then have a coco & cookie potluck after.
Draw names and give gifts to them, instead of buying for everyone in the family.
Use newspaper for wrapping paper.

Save, and pay cash for presents, instead of using credit cards.
Make memories instead of giving stuff
Give gifts from the heart: kind words mean morn then anything.
Stop reading ads - remember I have all I need in Jesus!

We pick names.
I buy used toys, and the kids like them better because of the lack of crazy packaging when they open them!
We set a per person dollar limit on gifts.
My friends and I spend a fun evening together instead of spending the time trying to buy the right gift.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Climbing Towards Financial Freedom

This week at Overlake, I'm tackling the topic of Incinerating your DEBT in our IGNITE series, and I'm curious...

Do you have a story of being in debt? Do you have a story of climbing OUT of debt?
How did you do it?
What sorts of lifestyle changes did it require?

Do you have a story of climbing out of debt, and then going backwards into it again? (This MIGHT be our story...and we've been on this cycle a couple of times...)

How does saving come into it for you? I'll bring the message on Sunday, but for now, I'd like to learn from you...

Together Accomplishing MORE!!

Friends of Overlake Christian Church,
Ever since we launched our OCC 2012 Vision Campaign last fall, I’ve felt prompted by God to shoot for 100% participation by Overlake's MEMBERS (those folks now attending OCC who’ve actually gone through the our membership process). I knew that if our members were empowered to participate through prayer, through serving and through financial investment, we'd be able to accomplish EVERY part of the vision that God wanted to accomplish through OCC 2012.

After we shared the heart behind OCC 2012 with our entire church family last fall, we tallied just over 50% participation among actual, OCC members; and honestly…I battled with Jesus - and with some discouragement. I have never been a part of a church that was going after a more selfless vision than Overlake, and I knew this vision truly reflected the heart of Christ. So I joined our elders in praying for a greater amount of participation from the Overlake family.

Throughout 2010, as stories of how our campaign initiatives were progressing, the number of OCC 2012 participants edged up slowly…but consistently. Then came our September TAKING AIM series (that ended Sunday, Sept. 26). With its focus on education and challenge, each week we added dozens of new families into our OCC 2012 Vision Campaign at various levels of commitment (and not just OCC member families)! All of this has given me great pleasure, but even more importantly, I believe with all my heart that it gives God great pleasure as we pursue a greater vision as a church.

And the bottom line? God has given us 100% participation among OCC's members. In fact, He’s given us MORE THAN 100% participation when you include the nearly 200+ households that have committed, but aren’t yet actual OCC member households! I am so excited! So grateful! So honored to be a part of a church like Overlake!

And God gets ALL of the glory!!!
So, I just wanted to cheer you on, Overlake! Great job! Let’s now fulfill our commitments! Let’s pray! Let’s serve! Let’s give! And let’s continue to bring glory and honor to Jesus! He’s the one whose love started this whole journey, anyway!!

Be blessed today…and we'll see you SUNDAY as we continue our IGNITE series!

News of New Directions...

Early this summer, my good friend and partner in crime, Pastor Jesse brought me in on a journey that God was taking him on…a stirring to expand God’s Kingdom through church planting. He and Marisa had been praying and fasting, and were confident that God was calling them to plant a church specifically designed to reach their brothers and sisters who are far from God. I know how sensitive they are to God’s prompting…it’s HIS call that led them to Overlake seven summers ago.

After prayer and discussion with our Executive Pastoral Team and our Elders, we feel led by God to affirm the stirring of God in the Butterworth's lives and to release them to pursue church planting in the Greater Seattle area. We seek to partner with Jesse and Marisa:
Through blessing.
Through resources (books, training materials, etc.).
Through finances (of a limited nature).
Through gratitude (for the amazing ministry that Jesse and Marisa have brought to OCC these last years).

I AM excited. I do believe that God has been working on my heart towards this regard, and I honestly want to be the kind of leader that releases leaders. I also know that all throughout scripture, God brings people in, builds them up, and sends them out. I’m on board with God. This has the potential to be a HUGE Kingdom win.

But I have to be honest (as I have been with Jesse) about my personal sadness which is due almost totally to the friendship that Jesse and I share. If you’ve been around OCC for a while, you have probably sensed that Jesse and I are the best of friends. I’ve never had a ministry partner so connected as we charge the hill for God together. We craft OCC services together. I preview his songs and give feedback, he previews my messages and makes them better (although he is responsible for a FEW of the lame jokes you’ve heard through the years). We touch base several times a day. We share several meals a week. The Butterworths do Christmas at the Howerton’s house. We’re in a Life Group together. So what I’m feeling is based upon the reality of separation.
YES, I get it…Jesse’s not dying, cell phones still work, and we’ll still sushi together every once in a while. Also, you’ll continue to see Jesse around, leading us at OCC when schedules allow. But I’m still wrestling with some grief - and I just wanted to be honest about that, because I’m betting that more than a few of you who love Jesse’s talent and leadership will feel grief as well. It’s OK. Give it back to God. It’s God’s fault, anyway. It’s His call that started this whole thing. HE can handle it.

In order to make this the greatest investment in God’s Kingdom possible, the elders have asked Jesse to explore communities west of Lake Washington, or areas roughly twenty miles from Overlake’s campus in Redmond. Jesse and Marisa are in that prayer process now and they request your prayers as they seek to land in just the right location.

Jesse isn’t looking for hundreds of Overlakers who love his music to attend this new church plant. His vision is to target people far from God. He IS literally looking for a dozen rough and ready missionaries to plant with; men and women who are willing to immediately give sacrificially, serve sacrificially, and invite shamelessly. If Jesse speaks with you personally about his vision (which he has the elders’ blessing to do), count it a compliment…it means he has identified you as that kind of servant leader.

Finally, there will be some who read the news of this move and will wonder about Overlake. You know that we are poised (after an incredible summer of growth) to move into a HUGE fall season of harvest, firing on all cylinders. Some might be tempted to see Jesse’s move as a distraction at best, or as a competition to attract committed, giving church members at worst.
Don’t do it.
Don’t go there.

God is in control. God is on high. God is sovereign. God’s Spirit is prompting Jesse and giving wisdom to OCC. God’s Spirit comforts and carries. Jesus himself promises to build HIS church, and He will continue building His church called Overlake as He is choosing to expand His church. He has not given us a spirit of fear…He has given us a spirit of LOVE, and it is with that spirit that I choose to celebrate the years I’ve served with Jesse as a gift, and to bless him and release him to the fullness of God’s call on his life.

As for a timeline, Jesse will continue to lead Overlake in worship through most of the fall. We’ll have a special service of commissioning the Butterworths, and we'll celebrate November's release of the new LIVE worship recording with especial poignancy. We'll also be praying for Jesse and Marisa on this new adventure – new both for the Butterworths and for Overlake!
But "new" has never been a stretch for God. Remember, He’s the one who says this:
Behold I am doing a new thing!

We’re thankful that God loves us, that God has a unique plan He is unfolding, and we’re thankful that HE is doing a new thing in all of us!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Yesterday, my buddy Jesse and I were doing some honest, theological and personal wrestling regarding how we might contribute to God's Kingdom. Jesse was telling me that his dad had encouraged him with an Oswald Chamber's quote. Here it is, and it is INCREDIBLY encouraging to goofs like me...

"Then He took unto Him the twelve." Luke 18:31

"The bravery of God in trusting us! You say - "But He has been unwise to choose me, because there is nothing in me; I am not of any value." That is why He chose you. As long as you think there is something in you, He cannot choose you because you have ends of your own to serve; but if you have let Him bring you to the end of your self-sufficiency then He can choose you to go with Him to Jerusalem, and that will mean the fulfillment of purposes which He does not discuss with you. We are apt to say that because a man has natural ability, therefore he will make a good Christian. It is not a question of our equipment but of our poverty, not of what we bring with us, but of what God puts into us; not a question of natural virtues of strength of character, knowledge, and experience - all that is of no avail in this matter. The only thing that avails is that we are taken up into the big compelling of God and made His comrades (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-30). The comradeship of God is made up out of men who know their poverty. He can do nothing with the man who thinks that he is of use to God. As Christians we are not out for our own cause at all, we are out for the cause of God, which can never be our cause. We do not know what God is after, but we have to maintain our relationship with Him whatever happens. We must never allow anything to injure our relationship with God; if it does get injured we must take time and get it put right. The main thing about Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the atmosphere produced by that relationship. That is all God asks us to look after, and it is the one thing that is being continually assailed."

-Oswald Chambers

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Politics-Free Zone

Every time an election comes around, candidate yard signs pop up like mushrooms, and I’m almost entirely delighted. I’ve spent enough time outside of America, and I’ve spent enough time with my father (a career Marine who fought in two wars to preserve the freedoms we enjoy in America) that I know I’m a bit of a patriot. When we first landed in the states with my adopted son, and he looked out the window and yelled “Look Mom! The American Flag!” Jodie and I both started to cry. I love this land that God has given us to live in. I cherish the things that make America great. I truly try to be mindful of our blessings, and honor God for the freedom to worship, the freedom to express ourselves, and the freedom to choose our leaders through the electoral process. As a pastor, I want to encourage all citizens to be informed, to vote their conscience, and to serve/volunteer in your community to make your nation stronger.

By the way, OCC is one of several churches on the Eastside participating in a Community Serve Day on August 21, 2010, (mostly in public elementary schools) and I’d LOVE to encourage you to join us!

But here is what my pulpit is not for…it is not for this pastor to tell you how to vote. Overlake is a politics- free zone. I’m not called to use my pulpit to back a specific candidate, nor am I called to back a specific political philosophy. Jesus calls us to something higher and holier. We, who are followers of Jesus, have a dual-citizenship.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. Philippians 3:20

I love America, but I love Jesus more. And Heaven will not be a capitalistic democracy. It will be a benevolent dictatorship. And we will rejoice under the unrivaled reign of our perfect, glorious King. In the meantime, since we, the people, are invited to construct our own government, I’m all FOR it! I want passionate, intelligent Christians to engage the issues while honoring God. Please go hard after Jesus first, and bring that passion to whatever political philosophy you embrace.

Remember, nobody loves the poor like Jesus. Nobody loves the rich like Jesus. Nobody loves the immigrant like Jesus. Nobody loves the citizen like Jesus. Nobody loves the unborn like Jesus. Nobody loves the elderly like Jesus.

Jesus loves both environment AND humanity in a perfect balance, the way I’ve yet to see modeled by a political philosophy. Jesus loves righteousness and unrighteous humans in a way I’ve yet to see modeled by a political philosophy. When it comes to foreign policy, nobody knows the history of injustice like Jesus, and nobody understands forgiveness like Jesus.

Since all political stripes fall short, my encouragement to those who are interested is this: get involved in your brand of choice, and revise it to be more like Jesus. Use your voice to make things better, kinder…in short, to be a blessing. Honor Jesus with your specific political voice.

FINALLY: If you see any yard signs on Overlake Christian Church property, you can safely assume two things: 1. They were placed there without permission from the church, and 2. I haven’t seen them yet. When I see them, I will take them down. Because I want you to know, no matter what your personal political leanings, that you are welcome in God’s House. You don’t have to vote a certain way or have certain political bumper stickers on your car to be welcome at my church. Everyone is invited, and everyone is loved. It’s a politics-free zone, remember?

Inspiration for ONE DAY

Last week, Pastor Gary challenged us to live ONE DAY with Jesus. The entire day. I've had that goal in the back of my mind since then, and it pops up from time to time, mostly when I realize that I'm failing to do exactly that. I read the following today, and it both blessed and challenged me...Praying it does the same for you:

Each Day…

It’s quiet. It’s early. My coffee is hot. The sky is still black. The world is still asleep. The day is coming.

In a few moments the day will arrive. It will roar down the track with the rising of the sun. The stillness of the dawn will be exchanged for the noise of the day. The calm of solitude will be replaced by the pounding pace of the human race. The refuge of the early morning will be invaded by decisions to be made and deadlines to be met.

For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose.

No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.

I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical…the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.

I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.

I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.

I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.

I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.

Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.

Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.

I am a spiritual being…After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek his grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.
- Max Lucado

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Kisumu, Part 2

I wanted to add a follow up to yesterday's post, as I just received this email from Pastor Dan, who is working with our Kenyan partners (ie. Pastor Joseph) to open/run the Drop-In Center in Kisumu, Kenya.

Dan writes:
"I am officially a Kenyan now as I contracted Malaria. I cannot imagine having this and getting no medication and being forced to go sleep out on the streets somewhere so I am trying not to be too big of a wusey.
The trip has been unbelievable. I hope OCC is not suffering in our absence because I am convinced that I have 17 of OCC's finest with me. They have reflected Jesus at every level. Pastor Joseph's church is totally engaged and sharing in the street boys' lives. They are loved and welcomed at this church the way Jesus would love and welcome them. It is such a blessing to see the hope rise up in these boys. I heard the phrase this week that "we are giving them back their future" and that is exactly what is happening. Boys who through no fault of their own have had their futures stolen from them now have hope for a better future. Joseph has them refer to themselves as "Overcomers" and not "Street Boys" as he says they are no longer street boys. It has been hard not to just walk around crying as you see God so obviously at work. I can't wait to tell you all the stories. Pray that the vomiting will stop and the medicine will kick in so I will be able to enjoy everything that is left on the trip, Tomorrow we go to the rural area to work on our program of street children prevention. Praying for all of you."

And this morning, Lord Jesus, we lift up Dan, his team, our Kenyan partners, and the Overcomers to you. We ask that you move through these efforts, and that you restore hope and a future to those who have had theirs stolen. Thank you for choosing to include us in your good work. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


Today in Kisumu, Kenya, Overlake’s first Drop-In center was launched. It is a ministry designed to serve the street children of that community. It will serve as a safe place for kids who have no place, in Jesus’ name. It will serve food, for kids who have no nourishment, in Jesus’ name. It will be a safe harbor for kids who live in the storm, in Jesus’ name. It will a clear, loving, sober-minded refuge for kids who live under the tyranny of glue-induced haze, of lostness, of depression, in Jesus’ name. But most of all it will serve as a half-way house, preparing those street kids who desire it for adoption into a loving, caring HOME.

Overlake Christian Church is partnering with the local church community in Kisumu, and those dear people are also preparing themselves to open their homes for the adoption of the street kids who are sick of the street. This is an amazing thing. It’s a miracle of God’s love in action.

And here’s one more piece of the miracle: the funds to build, prepare, and launch this Drop-In center were all raised (are you ready for this?) by the Students of Overlake Christian Church. By Junior High and High School students. American students used their spring break to babysit, to mow lawns, to walk dogs, to create and sell jewelry, to host garage sales…they worked diligently…so that they might donate the funds necessary to launch this center. And today that hard work has come to fruition. This is an amazing thing. This is another miracle of God’s love in action.

All of this is under the umbrella of the vision God gave Overlake one year ago. OCC 2012 is a vision that has gripped this local body of followers of Jesus, and it is bringing great joy, even as we labor to fulfill it. God has given us initiatives that fall in with each of our three purposes: Love God, Love People, and Serve the World. The Kisumu Drop-In center is a Serve the World Initiative that focuses on Orphan Care.

Of course, now that the first Drop-In center has launched, we’re already in strategic conversation regarding the next one. And of course, our students are already dreaming about how they will be able to raise the funds for it, too. They’ve seen the miracle of the loaves and fishes firsthand, and they’re hungry for more. I love our students. I love the leaders who are right now on the ground in Kenya, enfleshing a miracle. And I love Jesus, our Lord, who places the lonely into families. I’m thankful to HIM, for the chance to be a part of a church like Overlake!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The MAGIC of Bing (and pure imagination)

So many of you have been following the story of our adoption, and the journey of the Howerton clan embracing, and being embraced, by Duzi. I thought I’d share another moment of PURE MAGIC (giggle).

After traveling for 26 hours, we were delayed on the tarmac in Atlanta, waiting for the final leg to Seattle to begin. Duzi had a window seat, I was in the middle, and sitting next to me was a really friendly Microsoft Employee named Brian. He asked me some questions about our adoption process, and was insightful, articulate, and kind. When I mentioned that our faith was a major motivator for us, he was respectful and affirming, even though he indicated that faith normally wasn’t his thing (I forget how he phrased this exactly, but he was cool.) He asked me if I had shown Duzi anything on Bing Maps.

Uh, no. I hadn’t. In the whirlwind challenges of adoption, Bing Maps didn't make it to any sort of priority.

So he pulled up Seattle on his computer. It was in a 3d, Birdseye view, which I thought was pretty cool. We tried to find Duzi’s hometown, but it was slow to load, and when it did, it was 2d Arial view. Just like Google Maps. Then we looked at my home…2d Arial view. By this time, Duzi was bored, so I put on Clone Wars on my computer for him. Brian looked up the Washington Monument, but Duzi was glassy-eyed with travel by then. I was a bit glassy-eyed myself, and as I fell asleep, with my son’s sleeping head on my lap, I noticed Brian looking up additional locations on Bing Maps, and I was honestly glad that he was excited about where he worked.

As we were descending, Duzi and I woke, and prepared to deplane. Brian and I shared a few more pleasantries…I believe we both wished one another well, which was sincere on both sides. All in all, a great plane buddy. NOW, check out the story from HIS perspective…I had no idea the pure MAGIC that was unfolding. The following I have left in Brian’s own words…apparently it was a pretty powerful flight for him. He put this on a Microsoft Work Distribution list. My comments are in parenthesis. PLEASE enjoy:

“Hi everyone,

“After telling this story to a few people in the office, it was suggested I write it up and send it out to the group. On my flight home from MGX last Saturday, a little boy and his father came to sit next to me and I overheard the father talk about the boy’s “new home in Seattle.” I quickly found out that this little boy was a South African orphan being adopted by a family from Redmond. The husband and wife already had an 11 year old girl and 8 year old boy but found it in their hearts to have a 5-year old orphan of a different race and background join their family. (Brian really WAS a nice guy).

“Halfway into the flight, the father and I got into a discussion about job and then about how the boy really didn’t know where he was going, how far he was moving from his old home, and what opportunities he now has. At the risk of being too forward, I asked the father if I could switch to the middle seat and provide the boy his first experience with a computer, first experience with the internet, first experience with maps, and his first opportunity to see his new country and new home. Providing all these firsts is an extremely rare opportunity these days and I was lucky enough to be on a flight with WiFi, and get a “yes” to my question! (NO chance in HELL that I would give an eager techie unrestrained access to my NEW, adopted son who was ALREADY in culture shock. This guy obviously doesn’t have kids.)

“I first showed him how far he was traveling and where his old and new homes were located. The boy, Doozier, originates from Durban which is on the East Coast of South Africa and the Southeast Corner of Africa. The fluid Silverlight navigation into his old orphanage and then out to South Africa, Africa, and then the World lit up Doozier’s eyes, and I got some amazement from the father too. (Only amazement that it didn't happen this way.)

“Then we explored his journey, which took him from Durban to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta which is a city in the Peach State. After a six hour layover, he was now on the last leg of his journey to Redmond, Washington. His new home is a really beautiful house in Overlake. The father was floored and Doozier reached over me to give his father a huge hug when he saw his house. Father and son already had super big smiles but we weren’t done yet. (Does this read like emotional porn to anybody else?)

“I let Doozier take control for a few minutes and watched as he scrolled in and out to random places all over the world. I had to teach him typing and mouse movement a little bit, but kids pick up technology so fast and once he seemed comfortable I gave him a directed tour around the US and the world. (Now we have loosed all semblance of reality and have embraced the flight into pure imagination).

“First, he searched for Washington, DC – the capital of his new country, and my home! The left-panel gave him a brief history of the city and we opened up the Wikipedia page to have him learn more. Then I had him search for the Washington Monument, learn about that, and then go Streetside so he could take a virtual fieldtrip to one of my favorite places to visit. At this point, I wished a camera magically appeared and took a snapshot of Doozier’s face. It was pure amazement, excitement, and happiness. (Or maybe just a hint of drool on his sleeping chin. Aren't ALL 5 year olds crazy to read more Wikipedia pages on our nations capital?)

“The father patted me on the back and I could see he was on the verge of tears as it hit him just how big of an impact he is making on this boy’s life. We say it and we hear it – but this…this was proof of the Magic of Software. (PUKE.)

“We spent around 30 more minutes doing tours like this - the Empire State Building, Ayer's Rock in Australia, the Taj Mahal, Mount Everest, and a few others. It was one of the most special experiences I’ve had and proves that anyone can make an impact, anytime, with just a little bit of technology. I’m thrilled to be a part of this team and hope this story was inspiring. Thanks for reading!

“Sincerely, Brian”

This is Mike again, and I’ve got a few thoughts:

Seriously? I’ve seen God move mountains, I’ve seen Jesus save, I know that the Lord puts the lonely in families, I’ve traveled around the world and invested blood, sweat, tears, and resources into adoption, Jodie and I have been to the brink of despair stuck in bureaucracy and we’ve felt the deliverance of God’s Spirit…we live in joy because we trust Jesus for everything, including our amazing son…and a 3d image on a Bing Map search is supposed to have some kind of emotional impact?

I like Brian a lot. I'm glad the ride with us was a special experience for you. But please. You need to set your sights a little higher.

Adoption is a bit larger than looking at pictures. The real world is full of amazing stories and wonderful people and all sorts of significant needs that you can be involved in filling. There's really not much else to say. There is a LOT of life to be experienced when you lift your eyes up from the computer screen. LIVE it.

Now a word to my friends in ministry: I know we’re all tempted to stretch the truth just a bit when we tell stories, analogies, illustrations…we want to make the biggest impact possible to move people to Jesus. We don’t just want people to get fired up about software (pardon me…the MAGIC of software), we want people to know peace through God’s love, we want them to know hope through Jesus…our desire for folks impacts eternity. But still. Whenever we take flights of fancy in telling people's stories (like Brian did with ours), we render illegitimate the very truth we are so passionate about.

The truth has nothing to hide.

It’s the truth that sets us free.

The Father is looking for worshippers who will worship in spirit and in truth.

So Brian, if you read this…I love you. I’m not mad at you. It’s a forgivable lie. I’ve been known to use a kernel of truth to create a whole meal of emotional fluff too…and I thank you for the reminder to keep it clean.

And if you Microsoft guys ever make a commercial about this story that is loosely based on actual events, then just remember to get the royalties to Duzi. Spelled D-U-Z-I. Thanks.

Monday, June 28, 2010


It has been a while.

I have been so overwhelmed that I’ve been unable to write much of anything.

For the entire last year, we have been on pins and needles about this adoption, not knowing how open the process really is, not sure how much we’re allowed to know about the boy named Duzi, not sure how much we’re allowed to share about the journey that we’re on…it’s a weird year of complete self-editing that I’ve lived under, simply because I’m never sure what might get me slapped as off limits to share…and the penalty for playing this one wrong happens to be the life of a boy and the wholeness of my family.

So suffice to say that I’m a little constipated verbally.

NOW imagine my surprise, when we arrive in South Africa, and find just about every step of the road is covered with FAVOR. There is no other way to say it. The Favor of God Almighty has simply gone ahead of us, and greased every grease-able wheel. The process that we feared would take several weeks now appears, possibly, to be accomplished in several days. I’m not even sure yet if I’m going to post this, and yet even as I write this, even to myself, I’m afraid of jinxing it, of negative repercussions, of somehow blowing this thing that God is making incredibly awesome. I’ll post it. I’m trusting to FAVOR.

From the start, of course, the US Embassy greeted us with smiles and our files when we arrived in JoBurg. That was FAVOR. And Sue, our South African Child Welfare worker, was on the ball. The places we’ve stayed were completely comfortable, and the people we’ve met have been more than accommodating and over the top friendly. Its as if, all of South Africa is riding the high of hosting the World Cup, and watching Ghana rock the US has only friended them towards us!

I even left the lights on and ran the car out of juice tonight, and three incredibly kind security guards jumped my battery. It was FAVOR. Our court date is on Thursday, and we’re praying for more FAVOR.

Lastly, most importantly, there is Mduduzi Ezekiel Howerton. No picture will do justice to the joy that is felt (although my wife has already posted a bunch of photos on Facebook). No video captures the awe of meeting a family member. My kids have already welcomed him in as a true brother, and he’s instantly wrestling with Caleb as his new best frenemy, with Alex being the one Duzi wants to hold hands with as they cross busy roads. He’s handsome. Solemn. Goofy. Intelligent. He speaks with a crazy cool South African accent that I pray he never looses. He’s been calling me “DAD” since the first moment we arrived. It kind of makes my heart flutter. Favor.

Jodie has been a miracle worker. She’s constantly on the ball, always one step ahead. She’s always on it with what we need to do, and she’s always been right. Because of her diligence, I believe that it’s easy for God to place his favor on this journey.

My role has been that of even keel, luggage carrier (along with Caleb, who has decided to step up as a true stud, now that he’s in THIRD GRADE), and official driver of stick shift Hyundi on wrong side of road. This has been an adventure, and I’m certain that the lack of traffic accident is another sign of God’s Favor. And I’ve been navigating the spagettit string roads of the Greater Durban communities, for which I might be taking a bit of pride in. Alex is mostly sweet, responsible, and gracious. Caleb has played with all of the babies at IthembaLetu, and wants us to bring home a little Stella, too. Let’s just say, with the emotional state of his parents right now, he wouldn’t have to push too hard to get his way.

All in all, I don’t know how to wrap up the thoughts and dreams of another life being added to our family through the miracle of adoption. It is VERY similar to the over the top emotions of childbirth. Except the child in this case can also make us laugh by crossing his eyes and yelling that his head is on fire, which has done, quite loudly, in an Italian restaurant at the mall.

Welcome to the craziness of Howerton living, young Mduduzi. May the Lord’s FAVOR shine down upon the pathways you’ve yet to travel…

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Really Matters

As we approach EASTER, which always brings a view of things Most Significant, I thought I'd pass on a little quiz from my man Chuck Swindoll. I hope as you take it you'll realize not only who has blessed your life and how, but you'll also be inspired to invest a bit into others this week...

No pen or paper required. You can do this one in your head:

Here’s the first set of questions:

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world today.

2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners. Too tough? Then name the ten gold-medal winners from the recent Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

3. Name the winners of the Miss America pageant for the past five years.

4. Name ten people who have won either the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize (Okay, just name five! How about three?)

5. Name the last decade’s World Series winners. Or if that’s too tough, name the most valuable players for the last five World Series games.

My guess is you didn’t too well. Despite their renown, fame, and achievements, well-known award lose their luster, and the memories of who won them quickly fade.

Now let’s try a second part of the quiz:

1. Name two teachers who made a difference in your life.

2. Name three friends who were there for you during a difficult time.

3. Name a mentor or two who believed in you and thought of you as someone worthwhile.

4. Name five people you enjoy spending and evening with just because they’re fun to be with and you admire them greatly.

5. Name three or four heroes, living or dead, whose lives have inspired and encouraged you.

How did you do that time? You probably got an “A.” The real difference makers in life are those significant others who have pulled up close.[1]

[1] Charles Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit, 301-302.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Churchy? There's more...

Doing some reading on Vacation, and found this gem:

“I love churches that aren’t about helping people become churchy.

Churches should be about helping people experience a transformed life in Christ that challenges folks to live out their faith daily in today’s culture. That’s a lot harder than just being churchy, quite frankly. Churchiness is easy. You just follow the prescribed rules.

Real faith is dynamic. It’s controversial. It’s dangerous. It’s constantly growing. It asks challenging questions. It involves mystery. You can’t put it in a box. You can’t keep it quiet. You can’t outgrow it. You can’t out-dream it. It’s more focused on others than it is on itself. Real faith gives me peace but makes me discontent to let things stay the same.

It’s amazing to see what God chooses to do through a church that embraces this kind of vision for life together. It’s revolutionary.” –Tony Morgan, Killing Cockroaches

Tony, my man…I could not have said this better myself. And if you haven’t checked out Overlake, then I’d love to invite you…not to churchy, but to revolutionary…

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Book of Eli Makes the Cut

Last week, I took my wife away for an afternoon date. We watched the Book of Eli. After the movie, I spent the drive home trying to gather my thoughts about the whirlwind that is Denzel Washington, as Eli, on the big screen, a man of violence who longs for peace, a man who doesn’t “want any trouble,” but who brings trouble on all sorts of violent men, a man of simple faith in a world where nothing is simple, and faith isn’t even a memory. I spent some time processing why I was moved by this film.

Without seeking to be a spoiler, I want to mention two scenes that I think might be on my all-time favorite list:

  1. There is a scene where Eli prays over a meal. In normal circumstances, this sounds completely mundane, and unworthy of screen time. But in the ultra-barren landscape of a post-apocalyptic desert, both spiritually and verdantly, this scene almost brought me to tears. There was something so completely holy about a man, a man of violence and faith, teach a young girl, entirely post-christian, completely post-faith, how to pray to God. The prayer is one of astounding simplicity and gratitude. My own mealtime prayer carried greater weight that evening.

  1. There is one scene when Eli recites Scripture. He quotes Psalm 23 in it’s entirety. You know it, probably by heart. But you’ve not heard it in the dusty, desperate, Mad-Maxian world Eli inhabits. The hope it provides is palpable.

There were additional scenes that touched my heart…times when Eli stood honorably and un-tempted by his appetites, times when he listened to the Spirit of God leading him. He’s different, and everyone knows it.

Rarely does Hollywood produce a film that honors the Bible, rarely does it portray a man of simple faith and profound conviction. The whole movie was an incredible reminder of the POWER of the Words of God…an incredible valuing of the memorization of the Word, and reading the Word, and living the Word. In the movie Eil poured over the words of God. “I read it everyday.” Eli says simply.

I actually don’t think The Book of Eli will do well in the box-office, because it’s a paradox. While it doesn’t go completely over the Tarantino/Kill Bill line, my guess is that it’s too violent for the typical Christian movie-goer. (I anticipate some negative feedback from this post.) I want to warn you, if you thought Braveheart was too graphic, you need to skip this one. However, it’s also far too Christian for the typical agnostic, sci-fi, movie buff who went to see some standard negative-utopia film.

Friends, in all fairness, I must tell you that my wife hated this movie (not a good date choice). But I am smitten.

And here is why: I’ve got eight Bibles on my shelf in my church office. I’ve got three that I work from at my home office. I’m a guy who values the Word, who reads it daily, and who memorizes it periodically. But, the sheer value of Scripture that Eli carries. Is. Emotionally. Stirring.

And I want to value God’s Word that much.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


I saw an angel this morning.

Maybe it was our conversation last night at dinner. My daughter Alex was convinced that as she watched the trees swaying in the wind, she also saw an angel, waving at her, bringing her peace.

There has been a lot of un-rest and non-peace in the world lately. I’m like many, I’m sure…watching the news from Haiti, emotionally wrapped up in it. My brother’s family is adopting from Haiti, and his wife Kristen was over there visiting with her eight month-old baby, Karis, when the quake struck. She was evacuated safely with Karis, but the little boy they’re trying to adopt remains there…and it’s breaking my heart.

It’s more than just hearing of the numbering of the dead. It’s the story of a mom, lifting a blanket and discovering that the still form is indeed her son. It’s the story of a young girl being rescued from the rubble, only to die from wounds too serious to be treated at a makeshift hospital. It’s the plea for help on the computer or television screen. I was running my dog this morning, and processing it all with God. He was patient with me.

Then, on my run, I passed Little Bit, a Therapeutic Riding Center in Woodinville. It’s a place where tiny kiddos who wrestle with physical or mental challenges get to ride gentle horses as a form of therapy. I saw up ahead on the trail, a little girl dressed in pink, with a riding helmet covering her blond hair. She was riding a brown horse, and hi-fiving her caregivers…six adults who walked next to the horse, for safety, support, and encouragement. As I jogged close to her, she turned towards me and took in Scout and I.

It was like the sunshine came out. Her smile was heavenly. Her face shone with delight, and she raised both her itty-bitty arms above her head, squealing, “Oh…wow!” She beamed like Christmas morning. I’ve never been celebrated so richly in my life.

I smiled big at her, at her caregivers. I passed her on the trail. And as I ran past, I burst into tears, making some weird, half-laugh, half-sob, I’m-out-of-breath-from-this-run kind of heaving noise.

My heart was pierced with joy and beauty and ache, with the sun-breaks of holiness in the midst of a broken, fallen world. All is not well, not now…but even surrounded by heartache, there is much to celebrate. And she WAS celebrating! A man running with his dog! Oh…WOW! A chance to ride this beautiful horse! Oh…Wow! Being surrounded by people who love me! OH…WOW! She was an angel. I’m convinced of it.

There are wonders all around us. I truly pray for the eyes to see them.

I didn’t look back, mostly because I was convinced she was an angel, and I didn’t want to be proved wrong. But then I was thinking, maybe there ARE angels all around. The Bible tells us to be kind to strangers, because by doing so we might entertain angels unaware.

Angels bring messages of peace. Messages of hope. Messages of joy. Messages of healing. Messages of help.

Maybe that’s what the relief workers are in Haiti. Maybe that’s what peacekeepers are. Maybe that’s what her caregivers are. Maybe that’s what you and I are called to be today.

Be an angel to someone. Go on. Celebrate!