The following is a beautiful, heartfelt letter written by Eric Marsh- a pastor at Grace Long Beach working with Hope for Long Beach and Vision 360- to his children, sharing his heart on what it means to follow Christ and be his children in the city. Thank you Eric. Enjoy, everyone!
Dear Caleb, Noah, Hannah, and Levi,
I was asked to write a piece for a local organization about living Christianly in Long Beach. Rather than defend my thoughts or criticize others, I chose to pen you one more in the series of letters that I began to you a number of years ago. This time, I want to write about the ways your mother and I have tried to be intentional in our living and our raising of you. When you are grown, hopefully this letter will be a helpful tool for you in understanding the ‘why’ behind the way we spent our time and money. Just the writing of it was a much-needed reminder for me.
It is hard work to put down in just a few words who you are and what you believe. Going further to state how you will then live out these convictions is a vital third step that many overlook. As you well know by now, it is not enough to believe only; you also must consider what kind of life you are going to live out of those values. You cannot love, forgive, or mop a floor with beliefs. The following is a brief description of our family (who we are, what we believe, and how we intend to live). I want to share it with you and explain why we chose the words we did.
We are a large, young family that enjoys being together, especially in playful and deliberate ways. We are deeply bound to Jesus and his church, influenced by our extended family, and committed to living faithfully in our city.
You know by now that you are a part of a big family, both immediate and extended. Your mother and I receive great joy in watching you play with and learn to love one another. Being in a large family reinforces that you are not the center of the universe. You are important, but not supremely. Social theorists are speculating that our culture is allowing for narcissism to become the norm rather than the exception. Having to show love, kindness, and honor to your siblings on a daily basis will provide some antidote to this dreaded disease. As you leave our home, we hope and pray that you will continue to try to prefer others above yourselves.
Laughter and play have not been hard for us to practice as a family. My life is rich with the joy you bring every day. The informal kitchen table poll continues to affirm that I am still the silliest person in our family (though, Hannah, you come in a close second). Play has been easy; it has been much more difficult to be deliberate in other ways. The intentional rhythms of rest and quiet that we have chosen have slowed me down and brought structure to our busy life. I am especially grateful for your mother’s push to have us truly rest 2-3 Saturdays a month. These sabbaths restore my sanity, and have become a reminder that I am loved by God regardless of my productivity. I deeply desire that you, too, will know that same grace throughout your lives, especially as you live in the dual temptations of urban busyness and noise.
One of the things I pray for you regularly is that you will love Christ, the Word, and his Church. And that I wouldn’t be an obstacle in you seeing (and experiencing) the beauty and life of the gospel. Know these things, my dear children: any misgivings you have about your Creator due to my attitude, addictions, or apathy are my fault, not God’s. I have been slow to understand the beauty of commitment, preferring to pretend that I am autonomous. The fact of the matter is that you will serve something and/or someone. This is indisputable. The beauty of the gospel is that we can be bound to a person (to Jesus Christ) who not only created us, but sustains us. Love Jesus, and love him persistently. Love Jesus, yes, but don’t forget his church. His church is meant to reflect his beauty and love, but it is made of humans who will fail in both areas. We regularly pray that you will not grow weary or disillusioned with the God-given human institution of the church corporate and local. Remember that the church is a vital force to impact your lives and our world.
The last thing I want to comment on is our city and neighborhood. Your mom and dad have come to believe that physical place matters. This is a strange idea for many westerners, especially Christians; we have the opposite tendency to look at everything--including where we live/shop/play/worship--as transactional (that is, ‘what have you done for me lately?’) rather than covenantal (that is, ‘my commitment to you extends beyond what I get’). There is great wisdom in settling into a place, saying ‘this is going to my home, not merely for the benefits.’ As an outworking of this idea, we opted to plant our life into a neighborhood in a vibrant city. We chose to place you in the public school system, and you attend one of the most diverse elementary schools in LA County. We hope that this experience will shape the way you look at our increasingly flat world, to see with less selfish eyes. You will care in a different way, and you will seek to bless those around you more and more, as you find yourself rooted in a place for its good, not your own.
I see now that I’ve come full circle, from the forced selfless-ness of being one of four kids, to the idea that you don’t live in Long Beach for your own personal gain alone. Although I’ve been writing somewhat stream-of-consciousness, I don’t think that return is coincidental. In all things, at all times, we want to be a family that seeks to have the gospel transform both our interpersonal interactions and the community and world around us.
I love you all so much.