Remedial Christianity

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garage sale

As I inch towards old age, I have had to get busier checking things off my bucket list.  Fortunately I have been lucky enough to knock off a lot of the typical adventures when I was younger…..(I’ll share those some other time)….so I am using my forties to tackle the second tier goals.  Honestly, 2014 has been a slow year.  Sure, I have gotten my first metal body part & caught my first foul ball (Go Clippers!), but it wasn’t until last weekend that things went to another level.  I had my first ever garage sale.

This may seem like a mundane event to you, but I have wanted to have a garage sale for approximately 43 YEARS & have never had the opportunity.

My lovely wife Heather is a big believer in getting rid of things from our house that we aren’t using, but she always wants us to GIVE them away.  Find families that we can bless, or people that would enjoy our hand-me-downs.  The idea of putting all of this junk on our driveway in the hopes that people might come by and pay us for them in increments of 50 cents …well, she has never seen the point.

But this year she finally gave in.

Last Saturday we had a neighborhood garage sale, and since I’m sure most of you missed my live-tweeting of the event….here is what happened…..

8:19am….early birds are driving around. They slow down and stare as they drive by. No one has stopped. I feel judged.

I never knew what to do when I made eye contact with the people in the car.  Wave?  Smile?  Look away?  There is just something inherently menacing about a car driving slowly by your house.  Maybe I watched too many gang movies back in the 80s and 90s

8:25am…1st couple stop and look around. Seem saddened by our lack of quality products. Awkwardly leave. Feel urge to slash all prices

it was so ironic.  The driveway was filled with only things THAT I DIDN’T EVEN WANT, and yet I felt deeply insecure when people showed disdain for them.  I bet a counselor would have a field day with that.

8:34am…Boom!! First sale. Here we go….

first buy

She was very sweet about posing for a picture with us.

8:53am…getting unsolicited advice about our pricing. Apparently I have made some rookie mistakes.

This happened right after I sold our dog crate for $15.  Lady told me that we priced it too low, and could have gotten $25-30.  This hit on all my deep-seated insecurities regarding “getting a deal”.  See, I am half-Indian &  my dad is the best haggler I have ever met.  He knows ALL the strategies.  My childhood is filled with stories of him getting deals in random places through audacity and relentlessness.  Often it was in places where haggling was usually deemed socially unacceptable….department stores, pizza joints, girl scout cookies….but he was a pro.  (ok, i may have made the girl scout cookie one up)  As for me.  Well, I am THE WORST.   He would have priced the dog crate at $100, sold it for $75 and acted like he got robbed.  I got $15.  

9:08am….regretting this whole idea of selling used merchandise from my garage. I am intolerably bored.

For some reason I had in my head that this would be more like an episode of pawn stars.  Which in retrospect seems silly now, because what makes that show vaguely interesting is the cool stuff they haggle over.  A quick glance around my driveway revealed nothing remotely cool.  Maybe if I forged some signatures?…

10:09am….realizing I am the worst negotiator of all time. (Customer): How about half price for this?’ (Me): ‘uh, ok’

For some reason it seems silly to me to argue over 50 cents or $1.  I have a really strong competitive nature but I think there must be some minimum threshold for it to kick in.

10:36am….A philosopher came by: ‘One does not sell things they do not need, without first buying things they do not need’ Thanks buddy.

When he said this I couldn’t tell if he was referring to me or him.  He didn’t buy anything, so I have to assume he meant me.

10:49am….realizing I am not great at making sales, but love mtg all these new people. Maybe garage sales are just social events.

It was actually too social for Meghan. Multiple times she invited people in the house to show them OTHER things they could buy.  Very awkward.

11:05am…..had someone come through and touch almost every item. They left shaking head and looking sour. We clearly failed that person.

I have no idea why this person touched everything.  It was unnerving.

12:06pm…just sold a puzzle by telling the customer, ‘I don’t know about that one, it was too hard for me’. She took it as a challenge.

I’m starting to get the hang of this.

12:17pm….optimism slowly being replaced by growing concern that I am going to continue to own 90% of this junk when this ends at 3:30pm

This was the FIRST time I realized that I needed a backup plan.  

12:49pm….spent last 4 minutes staring at this talking Optimus Prime helmet wondering why it hasn’t sold yet.


 My son got this from Kyle & Meghan Winters for being in their wedding.  It has a voice track and a microphone.  Such a great gift.

1:19pm… we seem too desperate?


1:24pm…..I am watching kid plead with mom for Pikachu doll & getting emotionally involved. Come on it’s only 50 cents!

I almost just gave the kid the doll, but I couldn’t decide if that would undermine his mom’s authority/decision.  Maybe I overthought that one.

1:34pm….My neighbor has mowed his lawn, planted flowers and mulched his property during this sale. Better get my kids to do ours later…

This began a 10 minute daydream about the things I could have accomplished in the 5 hours I had invested…

1:55pm….the people can smell my weakness. No longer offering money…’how about I just take this off your hands?’

Someone offered me 25 cents for something that was 50 cents.  She then handed me a dime and two nickels.  I looked her in the eye and and held my hand out.  She paused and then reached into her bag for another nickel.  I think maybe she was banking on me not being able to count.

2:07pm….just met a couple with gorgeous adopted son named Corbin. Swapped adoption stories/joys. Very refreshing.

Loved meeting people in the neighborhood, but realized that I had to pick my spots.  Some people wanted to chat and others thought it was some ploy to squeeze extra quarters out of them.  Can’t ever resist talking to someone about adoption though

2:15pm….couple having a domestic squabble over him wanting to buy our broken aero garden. Resisting the urge to counsel since I am biased

I found this fairly comical.  In fact it happened a number of times….a couple would come and one would be interested in an item that the other thought was useless.  They usually took one of four approaches to dissuade their spouse,

1. Direct Approach: “we don’t need that”

2. Shame-Based Approach:  “you have 7 of those you don’t use already”

3. Sarcastic Approach: “Oh yeah, we HAVE to HAVE that!!  We NEED one of those!”

4. Redirect Approach: “That’s nice, but look at THIS!” (this approach was typically reserved for small children)

*Side note – one mom unsuccessfully tried redirect approach on her daughter who wanted a stuffed tiger.  kid kept responding, “why can’t i have this?”  Eventually mom looked at her and said, “we have no idea where that has been, it might have bedbugs!”  Then she looked up at me and realized I was 2 feet away.  I smiled and then scratched my head like I had lice.  I thought it was funny, but she was not amused.  No sale.*

2:19pm….he buys the aero garden at such a low price he uses change found in his car. His wife is displeased.

It is fascinating to me how in the span of five hours I went from expecting to make large sums of money, to now gladly accepting whatever some guy could find on the floor of his car.  Was I just completely deluded at the start of this thing, or just fed up?

2:40pm….Reflecting on how ambitious it was to try & sell an air mattress with a leak in it. Still flabbergasted Optimus Prime is unsold.

Actually had to explain that the mattress had a leak in it to 3 different people.  Each had the same reaction….a look of disbelief that I would try and sell a leaky mattress.  One person even said, “I was going to buy it for a friend who is without a real bed….but even she would want something that doesn’t leak”  Full disclosure: It wasn’t even my mattress, the Winters gave it to me to sell.  Pretty sure Meghan (Winters) could have talked someone into buying it

3:19pm….Final verdict: junk from my house + 1000 hrs of labor + an ulcer = $185.20. Toss in the character development & I got a great deal

All in all, as far as bucket list goals go, this was less painful than the metal hip, but not by as wide a margin as I would have imagined.  Kind of reminded me of my one attempt at skydiving.  Seemed like a fabulous idea, but in the end it was just me experiencing the worst wedgie of my life.

I suppose that I should have a grand moral to extract from this story, but it really was just the lesson I’ve been learning over and over for the last 18 years,

Heather was right after all.



LT 1995

My last post was all about my wonderful marriage to Heather Shah and I realized after publishing it that although it was nice, it didn’t really hit on the question that I am ASKED MOST about our relationship…..

“How did you know that she was THE ONE?”

So today I will reveal that mystery.

It was the fall of 1994. I was working as an engineer and volunteering with our church on the campus of the University of Michigan.  Heather was a Junior and had just gotten back from Leadership Training that summer.  She was all fired up for Jesus.  She was spiritual, and a servant, and feisty….and super cute.

I was interested.  I will spare you the boring details of us hanging out & eventually dating.  {This is primarily because I was so random and wishy-washy, and I violated every principle that I so passionately teach guys about today}  Let’s just jump to the summer of 1995.  We had decided to date a few weeks before and now I was in Myrtle Beach SC taking a bible class being taught to our collegiate staff.  (we had professors from Moody Bible Institute come down to teach us week-long intensives….so much fun)

Well, one day when I was in bible class, I was bored and daydreaming.  I know that sounds terrible & i REALLY do love the bible, but I’m also pretty sure I have some undiagnosed attention issues.  Anyway, I was crying out to the Lord and asking for insight while doodling Heather’s name over and over on my notes.

At one point I had a flash of insight.  I spelled out her name.  HEATHER TANS. Then I decided to assign a number to each letter based on where it was in the alphabet (A=1, B=2, C=3…)  Then I added it up.  Her name added up to 119.

Inspired, I then did the same with JONATHAN SHAH.



The Lord had spoken.  I had found my soulmate!  A month after I arrived back from LT, I proposed, and we have lived happily ever after.

(I will pause here while you all go and compute your numbers & the numbers of your spouse, boy/girlfriend, or crush)

I know what you are thinking right now….“Jon, now what??  OUR NUMBERS AREN”T THE SAME!”

Well, don’t be discouraged.  It doesn’t mean you can’t have a decent relationship.  You can still love God, have a mediocre marriage and probably even reproduce.  You just won’t be SOULMATES like Heather and I.

Ha! Just kidding.

Well, I’m not kidding about our names adding up to 119.  That was true.  But I would definitely NOT encourage you to use this method to determine who to marry.  That would be stupid.

God has made moral decisions very clear in scripture.  But what about the “non-moral” ones?  Like who to marry… what job to take…where to live?

Does God have specific decisions He is just sitting back and waiting for us to discover?  Where if we choose correctly we experience the life of blessing God desires for us, but if we miss, then we have failed and live out our days wandering in a life of mediocrity?

That’s a lot of pressure.

And for many of us, we can get so DESPERATE to make the “RIGHT” decision that we will cling to anything that sounds convincing….

  • Examining Circumstances.  (“we’re in 4 classes together, this is clearly God at work!”)
  • Setting up Criteria.  (“she meets 74 of the 81 ‘essentials’ that I read about in this book”)
  • Building a consensus of people who agree that it sounds like a fine idea.  (“most of my friends & my dog all really like him”)
  • Random numerology created in a classroom stupor (ok, I’m probably the only one to ever do that)

The problem is, when our emotions get involved, most of us are EXPERTS at justifying anything.  And we KNOW this.  So then we get even more stressed and anxious.  And paralyzed.  What if we choke?!?

That ever happen to you?

What if there was another way to think about these questions?

Listen to what Kevin DeYoung says in his book, “Just Do Something”:

“Does God have a secret will of direction that He expects us to figure out before we do anything? The answer is no. Yes, God has a specific plan for our lives. And yes, we can be assured that He works things for our good in Christ Jesus. And yes, looking back we will often be able to trace God’s hand in bringing us to where we are.  But while we are free to ask God for wisdom, He does not burden us with the task of divining His will of direction for our lives ahead of time….I’m not saying God won’t help you make decision…I’m not saying God doesn’t care about your future.  I’m not saying God isn’t directing your path and in control amidst the chaos of your life.  I believe in providence with all my heart.  What I am saying is that we should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tightrope, or a bull’s-eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel.”

Isn’t that a freeing idea?  Let me confess something…

I never did figure out if Heather was “The One” before I married her.

No one had ever told me that I needed to do that.  In fact, in other news, I’m still not sure I even know what ‘soulmate’ means.

DeYoung continues…

“God is not a Magic 8-ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make.  He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for Him.  We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think He’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds.  We feel like we can know – and need to know – what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than freedom.

The better way is the biblical way: Seek first the Kingdom of God, and then trust that He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we are going. “

Ironically, years before this book was written, my mentors had modeled for me similar ideas.  Serve the Lord. Occupy yourself with what you DO know.  Ask for wisdom.  And trust that He will lead you in the way you should go.

This is how it worked itself out in my life…

1.  I prayed a lot.  

First and foremost about MY OWN walk with the Lord.  Am I following Him? Am I committed to His mission?  Do I have the right view of marriage?

Then I prayed about Heather.

2. I got a TON of input.

From people who knew me, who would speak candidly into my life & are spiritually mature.  (this is NOT the time to surround yourself with simpletons and “yes” men)

3.  I scoured the Bible for wisdom and principles to apply. 

(Yes, there ARE biblical principles to apply here, and a TON of good books with thought provoking questions to consider)

My recommendation to anyone who is considering marriage now or in the future is to pick up the book, The Meaning of Marriage – by Tim Keller.

4.  I took a risk and committed myself to loving this woman for the rest of my life.

In my mind, it has always been a choice.  And a risk.  God has invited me to love this woman, and I gladly accepted.

And now she IS “The ONE”.

Maybe that is why for the vast majority of our marriage I have felt that it’s a privilege to be married to Heather & not a burden.

18 years.  So far, so good.


PS {By the way….I would encourage anyone wrestling with God’s Will and direction to get ahold of this little book by DeYoung. He provides interesting thoughts on why this preoccupation with making the “right” decisions can breed fear and passivity in our lives}


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photo (27)

Today I celebrate 18 years married to the one and only Heather Shah.  I will refrain from gushing about her, because I did that recently in my post, “A SHOUT-OUT TO HEATHER SHAH”  Check it out, she is pretty awesome.  We have had an amazing 18 years, and I can honestly say that I have a deeper stronger love for her than I ever have.  It definitely looks different than it did those first days….maybe a little less giggling & a little more sleep…..maybe fewer life-threatening adventures & more life-giving service…..maybe a little less athletic & a little more wisdom. And noisier.  Definitely noisier.

And after 18 years our bonds that started weak and wavering are becoming tested, refined and strong.   Sometimes it feels like we have become completely different people.

Let me say first that us celebrating 18 years together is nothing short of the grace of God.   We are not naturally good at this.  Some of you that just know me as a pastor from afar might be thinking….”No no Jon, you seem like a great husband and father!”  Key word there is SEEM.  Trust me…we are exceedingly mediocre.

{Meghan Winters, Melanie Wilson, Emily Koenig or Randi Zumbro can all provide references if needed,  over the past few years all of these women have lived in our house long enough to see us in all our averageness}

That being said.  I have been thinking about our marriage and wondering if there is anything in particular that I would pass along to a younger couple.  And I can sum it up in two words….

Fierce Loyalty


To Jesus – The quality of our marriage has always been determined by our loyalty to Jesus.  I love how Heather is a follower of Christ FIRST and FOREMOST….I will always be SECOND PLACE.   Our marriage has had a purpose and mission that lies OUTSIDE of ITSELF that serves as a constant reminder of why we exist…. to bring glory to Christ.

To Truth – With one another, with our kids.  We don’t really do ‘unresolved’ conflict.  Partially because we aren’t self-controlled enough to go through life faking things, but mostly because we know the health that comes from a life of openness and honesty.  Harder? Yes.  More challenges to face together?  Sure.  But totally worth it for the peace and security that comes from walking in truth.

To the Church – We have never been deceived into thinking that we can walk this path alone.   Living our mission with our church community…..going deeper with a few fellow sojourners……inviting input and help into our family.  SO KEY!

To One Another – “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for each other.” –  I John 3:16

{I know, I know, you were expecting something more brilliant.  Sorry to disappoint, but you should know better by now}

Often in these moments I am tempted to pray for 18 more great years!  For life to get even better!

And I DO want those things, but today we are going to have a date and at some point we are just going to reflect and give thanks…

…Thank you Lord for 18 wonderful years.

…Thank you for using our marriage to show us YOU.

…Thank you Lord for these 4 wonderful children who reflect some strange combination of us in our frailty and You in your glory.

In a world of filled with loneliness we have had 18 years of friendship.  If it all ends tomorrow I can do nothing but call myself lucky.