Well, I have two big pieces of exciting news to deliver in this
First of all, I'm happy to announce that I have been accepted into
the Academy of the New Church Theological School! For those who are
unfamiliar with that; it is the seminary for our church which is a
Christian church called the General Church of the New Jerusalem.
http://www.newchurch.org. So I will be in school for three years,
and then hopefully entering the role of a minister in our church!
What this means is that we will be moving to Bryn Athyn PA. The
Academy is now offering a stipend for Theological School
students. So I will be getting paid to go to school. Which means
that Tirah will be able to quit her job and become the full-time stay-
at-home mom for our children. The Academy also has housing for us,
which we have seen, and it is very cool. It's a beautiful old 5
bedroom house in Bryn Athyn on Fettersmill road. The old Ken
Synnestvedt house, for those that know where that is.
We will be moving in August, and I will be starting school in
September. We will really miss living in the Lenhartsville/Kempton
area, but we are also really looking forward to living in Bryn Athyn
Let me fill you in a little on the process that led me to making this
decision. Here is an excerpt from the application essay that I wrote:
After I graduated from Bryn Athyn College of the New Church with an
interdisciplinary Bachelor of Arts in Religion and History in 1999,
I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life. I had
interests in many things including Religion, History, Art, Music, and
Writing. I also had an interest in courting a certain young woman
named Tirah, who is now my wife. I considered the ministry as a
calling to pursue, but I decided that at that time in my life I was
lacking in certain traits that I thought to be important in the role
of a minster. These traits included things such as: being able to
speak well in public, being a natural leader, and being comfortable
in large social gatherings. It also mattered to me that Tirah had no
interest in being a minster's wife, and that being the daughter of a
General Church minister she was very familiar with the downsides of
that lifestyle. And so because I had the ability to get a job
working for a contractor in Kempton, I took that job while I
continued to consider other long-term career ideas.
In 2001 Tirah and I were married, and after about a year we started
a family. Meanwhile I spent much of my free time working on music as
a hobby and a side-business. Because of downsizing in the
construction company I worked for, I was laid-off after 5 years. It
was a scary time of life, with now 2 small children to support.
After much soul-searching and praying, we decided to take a leap of
faith and see if I could earn a living for our family from music.
Several months later we determined that it would take years to earn a
living from music, and that we needed a more immediate solution to
support our family. After more praying and soul-searching, and many
discussions about masculine and feminine roles with my Pastor, Lawson
Smith, we decided that it would work for us (for the time being) to
switch traditional roles. So Tirah got a job while I stayed at home
with the kids and tried to pursue a music career in the hopes that it
would eventually make a living for our family. And I must say that
we found surprising benefits for all of us in this less traditional
and somewhat less than ideal situation. I will talk more about those
Just last year, after almost 5 years of being a stay-at-home dad,
Calvin Odhner was telling me about his experience as a theological
school student, and he told me that he thought I would make a good
minister. Calvin and I had worked on music projects over the years
in my studio, and invariably we would find ourselves distracted from
the task at hand, and find ourselves talking about spirituality and
the Church. Throughout the previous 10 years, whenever the idea of
the ministry had come up, I continued to dismiss the idea based on
my original conclusions after graduating from college. And that is
what I initially did with Calvin's suggestion this time. But after
talking with him, something made me stop, go back, and really
consider it. I spent some time looking back at those 10 years. I
began to notice the things that led me to becoming a different person
today. I began to realize that my conclusions of 10 years ago didn't
necessarily apply to today.
Some people talk about experiencing a "call" to the ministry. For
me, I think it was more like "call-waiting." I think that the Lord
may have been dropping little hints to me, sort of like the beeps on
a phone, while I spent 10 years talking on the other line.
As I looked back, I noticed that some of these "call-waiting" beeps
1. Becoming interested in the work of marriage support, learning how
to lead a group, and - along with Tirah - starting our own marriage
2. Leading a workshop for one of the "Caring For Marriage"
conferences, along with Tirah.
3. Working to try to get a contemporary service started in Kempton.
4. Working on the committee for the creation of a new Kempton Worship
5. Leading a discussion group on how the pop-culture book and movie
entitled "The Secret" compares to the doctrines of the New Church.
6. Compiling a series of quotes from the Writings about the Lord's
Prayer for the purpose of helping myself and others to really think
about the Prayer while praying.
7. Becoming interested in comparing various translations of the Bible
and how that helps one to gain a better sense of the underlying truth.
8. Feeling inspired to start work on the eventual (hopeful)
publication of religious books of various kinds including a
children's book, a novel, a Bible workbook, and a New Church
parenting book based on the insights I gained from being a stay-at-
Until recently, I had seen most of the above listed "beeps" as simply
hobbies: These were things that I felt called to spend time on,
despite the busyness of being a stay-at-home dad with a home-based
music business. I began to think with excitement about the
possibility of marriage support being more than just a hobby; of
discussion groups becoming regular classes; of having more time and
ability to help start a new worship service; and of the book ideas
that I've had as being possible material for sermons. I have a love
for the "beeps" I mentioned above. And the idea of having the chance
to spend more time doing the things I love is a part of what I find
attractive about becoming a minister.
Recently, both Tirah and I have felt a desire to switch roles again.
And when I mentioned the idea of the ministry to Tirah, this time she
didn't hate it. In fact she liked the idea! She too had gone
through a process of looking back to find that the conclusions she
made years ago, didn't necessarily apply today.
Individually, each of these things didn't seem like a call to the
ministry. But looking at them collectively began to seem like a
call. It started to feel like this could be right for me; for me and
Tirah; for me and my family. It felt like it could be the Hand of
Providence. I think the Lord was trying to call me, but I was on the
After 10 years, I no longer have the same reservations about my
leadership, social, and public speaking abilities. Not only have I
now had some life experience with each, and also don't fear them as I
I'm inspired by the story of Moses when he said "O Lord, I'm just not
a good speaker. I never have been, and I'm not now, even after you
have spoken to me. I'm clumsy with words." (Exodus 4:10) And when
Gideon said, "But Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the
weakest in the whole tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least in my
entire family." (Judges 6:15) I too have struggled with a lack of
self-confidence. And yet, the Lord was able to turn Moses and Gideon
into effective leaders. These stories tell me that it's not so much
about what I can bring to the ministry, as it is about what the Lord
can bring out of me.
I will not be giving up my music. I will be putting it on the back-
burner for a while, but I'm not turning off the flame. My music
business may slow down for a bit, but I really hope that I can use my
music in my ministry. I'm inspired by the work of Christian artist
Chris Rice, who used his music as a means to minister to young people.
I'm really excited about the possibilities that lie ahead. I'm
excited by the thought that my unique personality traits, talents and
interests could be a useful addition to the role of the General
Church Ministry in service to the Lord, the Church, and the world.
The other exciting news we have is that we have a new baby girl in
our family! Her name is Zoe Joralyn Keal. She was born at home on
Thursday May 21st, at 4:00 PM. She weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces at
birth. We now have 2 boys and 2 girls. "Isn't this cozy? Girl,
Boy, Boy, Girl." (Name that paraphrased movie quote.) Every one of
our children now has at least one brother and sister.
Zoe was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, torso,
and limbs. Even after she was untangled, she remained very purple
until a few minutes of breathing turned her a nice healthy pink.
She has very dark hair, and a lot of it. No sign of a red-head this
time. She'll probably have Tirah's hair color.
Mama and baby are doing very well. Tirah seems to have bounced back
very quickly after this birth. We took Zoe on her first car trip at
only a week old, and we took her to Bryn Athyn at only a week and a
The kids adore her, especially Jaden. He constantly wants to hug and
kiss her, and do Ugga Mugga with her (rubbing noses).
"Zoe" means "Life" in Greek. We think a lot about life these days:
We are all about to enter new phases of life. Thea begins 1st grade,
Cirdan begins Kindergarten, Tirah begins the challenge of re-entering
the role of stay-at-home mom with 4 kids, and I begin Theological
School. And of course this new life in our family in the form of Zoe
herself. This is the first birth in our family when there has been
something scary about the birth itself. With the umbilical cord being
wrapped around her body, Zoe's heart-rate was low in the womb, and
for the first couple days of her life she struggled with choking on
her own saliva. And so we think about the fragile precious nature of
the life that we are given from the Lord. And then we think about
the Lord Himself, Who is the source of all life, and Who is LIfe Itself.
"Joralyn" is Tirah's sister's name. A name which I believe was made
up by Tirah's mom (Correct me if I'm wrong Echols Family). As the
story goes, Jori was going to be Jorum if she was a boy, but she
ended up being a girl, so they created a feminine version of Jorum.
Tirah and Jori made a "deal" with each other when they were
kids. They both liked each other's names, so they each decided that
they would name one of their children after their sister. So Zoe's
middle name is honoring that childhood deal, as well as honoring Jori
herself, and the whole Echols family; an Echols Family name. And the
name also honors Tirah's mom as the creator of the name.
It wasn't until after we had named Zoe, that we realized that she has
a really cool nickname already built in: "Z.J."
Zoe was baptized by her grandfather, Clark Echols, on Memorial Day,
May 25th. All of my family, and many of the Echols family were able
to be present for that.
Moving up: Jaden will be two-years-old in August! He's not a baby
anymore. He's a little toddler. The other day he came running into
the room screaming for joy at the top of his lungs. We stopped him
and asked him to please stop screaming because Zoe was asleep
upstairs. He looked at us, and said, "O.K.", and he then proceeded
to run out of the room screaming. He says that a lot. He's always
been a very agreeable little kid. But I'm starting to catch on that
when I tell him to do something or to stop doing something and he
says "O.K. Papa!", it really just means, "I don't know what you mean,
but I acknowledge that you're talking to me Papa!"
But actually he really does understand a lot about what goes on
around him. Recently he has started telling "knock-knock"
jokes. Mostly they are his own version of the "knock-knock" jokes
that he hears Cirdan and Thea making up. Jaden's usually go
something like this:
Jaden: "Knock Knock!"
Me: "Who's there?"
Me: "Bananna who?"
Jaden: "Janen!" Or somebody else's name.
Jaden has also really started developing his imagination when
creating little games for himself. Very often I will hear him
creating little dialogue when he's talking on a toy phone or when
he's making two of his toys talk to each other. Very often the
dialogue goes starts with something like this:
His vocabulary increases every day, but there are a few words that he
still doesn't quite get. For example he hears me refer to my musical
instrument of choice as either a "piano," or a "keyboard." In his
little brain there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason as to what
the difference between those words is, so he's decided to mush them
together to create one word that describes that instrument, and that
word is: "Keener."
Another funny thing that he got confused on for a while was, when he
saw someone mowing the lawn, he would say that they were doing the
laundry, or rather in his brain: doing the "lawn-dry."
Cirdan will be turning 5 in about a week. As I'm sure I've said
before, age 4 in our household seems to be the hardest, and it's been
really fun to see Cirdan maturing out of that phase into his soon-to-
be 5-year-old state. Sure, he still gets mad, and screams, and
throws tantrums, and hits and takes toys, but Thea still does that
too occasionally. But there's definitely been a shift. He seems to
be more aware of himself and his surroundings. He, like Thea, seems
more interested in learning things now. Here's an example from just
the other day:
Cirdan comes up to me and says, "Papa, is 'Twinkle Twinkle' a song
And I say, "No."
And he says, "Good." and then walks off singing, "Pinkle Pinkle
Not only was he aware of the rule we have about not singing songs
about the Lord in a goofy way, but he was aware of it enough to catch
himself at it, and check with me about it. I was blown away by that.
Thea just graduated from Kindergarten. She is a bright, creative,
sensitive, young girl. She's is constantly drawing, or playing the
piano, or making up songs, or creating elaborate games. She also
thinks a lot about things. Recently, after talking about Adam and
Eve, she asked me:
"Papa, how did the Lord make the first people? Because people start
as babies, but who was there to take care of the babies? Were the
first people babies or grown-ups?" Not an easy question to
answer. It's the chicken and the egg question. I had to begin my
response with, "That's a REALLY good question!" I love the fact
that my kids are getting old enough that I can have real substantive
conversations with them.
Now, as I said before, even Thea still throws tantrums. One night
as I was putting the kids to bed, and Thea was throwing a tantrum, I
was struck by this analogy: Thea was demanding that I get her
blanket from downstairs, and I was asking her to ask nicely, but she
was refusing. Thea was being rude to me, and therefore she was not
getting what she wanted. Her own actions were preventing her from
getting what she wanted from me. She was angry at me, because I
wasn't doing what she wanted. Even when I reminded her that if she
spoke politely, I would love to help her, she remained stubbornly
rude and angry.
Isn't that just like how we sometimes treat the Lord? We may not
get what we want in life, and we get frustrated or mad, and we think
it's because the Lord hasn't given us happiness, when really it's
because we're refusing the let the Lord give it to us, because of our
own actions and attitudes. It's amazing to me how often the truths
of the Lord's reality are played out for us on this little stage
About a week before Tirah's scheduled maternity leave began in May,
Tirah realized that she wasn't going to make it mentally. She was
thinking so much about the pregnancy, the baby, our life, parenting,
etc., there was no room left for work. So she decided to use some of
her paid vacation, and she went on maternity leave a week early. So
Tirah was home for most of the month of May. I was able to take her
to the Kempton Ladies Banquet on the 9th. At the time, we thought
that Zoe might come at any minute. Our midwife was hoping Tirah
would have the baby then because she was about leave on a week long
vacation. Well as it turned out, she went on vacation, and got back,
long before Zoe was born, so it all worked out well in the end.
As I said before, this birth was a little scary, because of the Zoe's
heart rate being low in the womb, and then seeing her all tangled up
in the umbilical cord, and all purple. With the intensity of child
birth, it didn't really hit us until later how things could have been
so much worse. This was the first time our midwife told us that we
might have to consider going to the hospital. Fortunately, we didn't
have to go, and Zoe was born at home, and is alive and well, thank
the Lord! Tirah is very much in love with her new little daughter.
After Tirah's mom died last year, Tirah has had a renewed
determination to tackle the challenge of parenthood. So, while it
will be really hard for her to jump back into full-time parenthood as
I begin Theological School (especially now with 4 kids!) she is
looking forward to the challenge and the learning process that
parenting is. We are all beginning new adventures this year.
It's really nice that Tirah and I have now walked several miles
(about 4 years) in each other's shoes, which I think will be
extremely valuable experience for maintaining a healthy marriage as
we make these huge life changes. I will get home from work every
day and have a pretty good sense of how she's feeling, and vice versa.
So that's the news in our family.
We hope that you are all doing well!
Cirdan (almost 5)
Jaden (almost 2)
Zoe (2 weeks)