Posts tagged family
The pursuit of destroying rugged individualism. A farmers confession

The pursuit of destroying rugged individualism:

 A farmers confession

Taken two days before Christmas in 2015.  Late in the cold dark night my kids are waiting for a lamb to be born and assist the ewe if needed.  This is where grit is nurtured. But whose grit is being formed?

Taken two days before Christmas in 2015.  Late in the cold dark night my kids are waiting for a lamb to be born and assist the ewe if needed.  This is where grit is nurtured. But whose grit is being formed?

Becoming a rugged individualist. 

It takes time for me to extract all the juice out of my experiences. I am a fairly slow learner and most of my education comes from hands on screw-ups. Some of you know me only as a farmer. You met me with boots on and cannot imagine me apart from green pastures, white sheep and a big barn. Others of you remember me before the farm even existed and may recall me only in hospital scrubs. Some of you have only just met me on the road of our missionary journey. Your experience of Geoff the Farmer and nurse are only through the pictures and stories I tell. Still there are those that only remember me as an 8-year old boy in a crop top t-shirt riding my new BMX bike down the slide at the playground across the street. Those few people are probably now asking themselves “is that boy still alive?”

Little known facts about me: I’ve had 4 broken arms, one broken leg, a half dozen concussions, amputated most of my index finger with a table saw, and and at one time more than one limb was in a cast. I’ve been fired from more than one job and hold 2 separate undergraduate degrees. I’ve lived in 6 different states and now 2 different countries. When Renee and I were first married I had no idea how I was going to support my young family. So I went back to school to get a marketable skill. When we started the farm, I didn’t have anyone to guide me through the process. I mean seriously, how many people do you know that can do real estate, marketing, legal, animal production, sales, distribution, animal husbandry, mechanical and horticultural mentorship. I mean the list is really pretty small. How in the world did a guy like me manage to pull of a successful farm? If you had asked me not that long ago I most certainly would have attributed it to grit. Quickly conjure up an image of a gritty man in your mind. Maybe he is a hard working fireman with soot on his sweaty, helmet-framed face, sparks flying and the glow of fire backlighting his silhouette. Possibly you see a cowboy leading a horse at sunset with the collar turned up on his duster, with big snow-capped mountains in the distance. Maybe you picture a farmer with his big hat leaning on the wheel of a green tractor, the field behind him stretching for miles. These images are easy to paint in our minds, as they have been used in many Super Bowl advertisements to sell beer or pickup trucks. However, long before that, every young man has them imbedded in his psyche. These are our boyhood heroes, and for good reason. They remind us that pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps and blazing the trail is our birthright and an opportunity to be seized. Rushing out into the big world and grabbing it by the tail is the big-eyed dream of many. There is just one tiny problem with being a rugged individualistic kinda fella: it is a fairy tale for boys and for the poor young women who inherit these dreams. Striving to be a rugged individual is a fools game that brings more hurt than good.  

110 degrees Fahrenheit and three sweaty farmers.   

110 degrees Fahrenheit and three sweaty farmers.   

I can only even begin to have these thoughts, and write them down here, because of the many who have invested, forgiven and loved me way above what I deserve.
— C. Geoffrey Smith

Who is becoming more rugged in individual efforts?

Let me be first to say, I am not a namby-pamby young guy that has never done anything with my life. This is an observation and council from a guy who is growing and reflecting on his youth before it is too late to act differently. And sure, my over-reaching ego still rears it’s ugly head, possibly even writing this, but grace has brought me thus far. Make no mistake here; I can only even begin to have these thoughts, and write them down here, because of the many who have invested, forgiven and loved me way above what I deserve. I have for sure coached both my children how to be rugged individualists. My kids have known the work of people easily twice their age. They have worked outside in 110 degree Fahrenheit heat; they have been up before dawn for chores, and out with flashlights to finish things that couldn’t wait until morning. All under the pretense that they will be better people for it. It really is a simple formula on how to lead your children into their gritty britches, teaching them to put them on one leg at a time with sore backs and calloused hands. I told myself hard work, dedication and the ability to go it alone will make them better spouses, employees, co-workers and teammates. All the while, my stiff necked approach was more self serving.  Teaching my children to be rugged and gritty was more of a reflection of me and my misguided values than teaching them essential moral guidance. I used to work 12-hour shifts at the emergency room, commute an hour each way and spend the time I should be sleeping getting farm improvements done. I did that for 4 years straight with an 80-hour work week, and the harder I worked the more I was convinced that our success was directly proportional to the grinding down of my own body and my mind. The more sacrifice I put in, the better off we would be. I expected personal sacrifice to produce some magical reward for my family and me.

Oh and how it did produce a reward. Individualism is a bedfellow to isolation, and the less I acted as if I never needed anyone else the lonelier I grew. The more I practiced not relying on anyone else and relied on my own talent, my own knowledge, my own strong back, and my own emotional strength the further and further I got away from being wholly known by anyone else. Renee suffered the most in this regard. We always have been a pretty good team in terms of being effective at getting stuff done. She is patient and kind with me, her true gift to our marriage. Always willing to permit my stubbornness but rarely without a warning. Before we were blessed with the opportunity to farm I would work so much overtime at the hospital that she and I were living two very separate lives. We’d pass each other at home in the morning while she made coffee and sacked my lunch; a fast peck and I was off for another day of sacrifice for my family. I was winning at the rat race. We owned a house and two cars, we had money for little vacations, and the kids went to the splash pad just down the road. But I was still a rat. The farm began to reveal the chink in my armour, as my capacity to go it alone exceeded both my health and my mind. I would regularly say “hey Renee, could you get the other end of this?” or “honey, will you get for me a supply to finish tomorrow’s job?” while I went to work in the ER.

Just an above average day with new twin lambs.   Ironically I'm wearing a shirt my MIL sent me.

Just an above average day with new twin lambs.   Ironically I'm wearing a shirt my MIL sent me.

My need for immediate return died on that farm. It died over and over in a slow, agonizing death. In much the same way, my “I got this” approach died on that South Central Texas pasture.
— C. Geoffrey Smith - African Missionary

Under the big hat

My desire to sacrifice, be gritty and pull my family up by its bootstraps ended complete in mental, physical and spiritual isolation. I didn’t have the luxury of sinful, rugged individualism anymore. The Smith family bit off way more than it could chew in the form of 18 acres of prime Fort Bend county farm land, a dream of something bigger, and a property in need of a ton of tender loving care. In true Smith family fashion we jumped in with both feet into farming. We couldn’t afford it, didn’t know the first thing about running a commercial farm, didn’t have the time in our already fulltime career, it didn’t exactly match our priorities, and for sure was not a way to build the safety net of savings and wealth. It’s true that for me personally I died a thousand deaths on that farm. Under my big hat things were being chipped off of me in daily and unexpected ways. My instant just add water career slammed into the slow churn of the seasons. The pace that I wanted to sacrifice myself to was melted away by weeks of rain forcing me to wait on projects. Fruit only came in season no matter how quickly I wanted to harvest it and sell it. New vineyards arrive packaged as a 6-inch stick with a palm sized root ball; blackberries come much later. My need for immediate return died on that farm. It died over and over in a slow, agonizing death. In much the same way, my “I got this” approach died on that South Central Texas pasture. 80 cubic yards of mulch spread by hand in June; 18 acres of fence went up in the month of August. The farm flooded over and over again, and when I had no options for how to keep a flock of sheep safe, healthy and out of the water, my individualism was of no help me. When I lost an entire herd of pigs, I didn’t get them back all by myself. When I signed up to feed 50 homeless youth for Easter, it wasn’t me that shouldered the call to treat them like children made just like Jesus. When we were told that the county would never recognize us as a farm it wasn’t my charisma that changed the tax code for small farms. This could go on and on as I tell the actual story of just what happened on that farm.

Just a part of our flock, but a giant piece of my heart.

Just a part of our flock, but a giant piece of my heart.

An individual, no matter how rugged, cannot pull off very much that becomes meaningful. Quite the contrary. There should be so much more honor in the term ‘rugged community’ than there seems to be currently.
— Farmer Geoffrey

A living breathing invitation to see just what God can do

The truth is, the farm was barely mine at all. Sure in title and deed it was, but it gained its stride only as I realized that there is no ‘me’ in this, only we. An individual, no matter how rugged, cannot pull off very much that becomes meaningful. Quite the contrary. There should be so much more honor in the term ‘rugged community’ than there seems to be currently. Every opportunity and issue that was created during the process of crafting a farm found its solution in relationship and collaboration with other people. Flooded pastures and quickly failing sheep were rescued by a dear family of ranchers from Central Texas, not by my ingenuity. A pastor’s wife and a generous chef friend orchestrated entertaining and showing hospitality to our neighbors and at-risk teens. A pig farmer friend, a cross fit gym owner, and my father spread 80 yards of mulch into the blackberry orchard planted by my in-laws on their Christmas visit. The fence went up in the blistering heat with a tractor borrowed from my brother, three volunteer chainsaw operators, and my church family.How in the world do I even begin to take credit for the magic that was cultivated in this place? Bootstraps? How do I ever suggest that I pulled myself up to this place by my own rugged and gritty personality?


I will proudly and gladly take credit for only one bit of success that may have fertilized this gravid ground. When we took the leap, and bit off more than we could chew, Renee and I intentionally, purposefully and anticipatorily set out to create a tribute to Jesus through our efforts. We set out to create a living, breathing invitation to come and see what Jesus can do with a blank slate and open hands:

 a place that didn’t have the barriers that a church with walls has;

a place where the teachings of Jesus were in action and not just given lip service to;

a place that never turned away a neighbor;

a place that always treated all God’s creatures with dignity, both human and not: 

a place that the broken-hearted found rest, and that the beaten back found new inspiration; 

a place where time was precious and rarely wasted alone;

a place that knew both justice and mercy.

Not just a farm, but rather a surrendered tribute to the Living One who taught me to live in rugged community.

soft light, little cowboy boots and dirty hands weeding mommy's garden.  

soft light, little cowboy boots and dirty hands weeding mommy's garden.  


If you have made it all the way through this heartfelt confession of my journey, I owe you a sincere thanks.  I'd love to connect personally.   Internationally we use What'sApp to connect securely (can't be easily monitored) and to make voice calls over Wifi.  Download the App (free) and add my new African number and send me a note.  "hated your blog"  or "You're writing it the worst" or "can't wait to hear this sermon live" or "remember that time....."

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There is a place for me... a journey to discover home
It certainly is not easy to discover just where it is that we fit in in this world. Uncovering our purpose and then putting it into action is a challenge for me, and possibly for you too. Join me in exploring how we got to this place and what it means to be created for such at time like this. Let’s be defined by our destination, not our location


A privilege that I have been granted lately is the opportunity to meet lots of new people.  I’ve earned the stripes that make me fairly comfortable being the new kid, or at least as comfortable as an introvert can appear to be.  It has taken me months to write this down, so thank you for joining with me in this conversation. There is a deep resonant tone in my heart that urges me to be vulnerable and have important conversations rather than brief superficial ones.  Knowing one another still matters, and is the antidote to most of the ills of our community.   I pray that together these words will lift us toward unity, and as I practice vulnerability that you join me in gracious conversation.    Now about my home….



" I’ve earned the stripes that make me fairly comfortable being the new kid, or at least as comfortable as an introvert can appear to be


How long do you think it takes, on average, during conversation for people to ask me “so where do you call home?”   For those of you who know my journey, you know I’ve been a lot of places and seen lots of things.  I was a Texan without a southern drawl, a Vermonter without the long heritage, a product of the mid-west with no union workers in my family, and now I live in the Pacific Northwest.    Prayerfully, this summer we will be in Zimbabwe and will stay as long as they will have us.   So, where is home?  

 I try not to read into the honest inquiry of where I’m from, but that kind of question has a way of evoking from me a sort of elusive response, even if unintentional.  Honestly, I’ve been frustrated with this question and I know that my answer is seldom found to be a satisfactory way to get to know a guy like me.  I’m disappointed that I don’t have a good answer to such an easy question.   When asked “So, where is home?”, know that I hear in my mind, “So, to whom do you belong?” and “So, what group do you fit into?”    That really is the question, isn’t it?  Isn’t this just an attempt to use past experience or associations of our own to fast forward the messy work of relationship and the grind of finding our own common ground with each other? The novelist Chimamanda Adichie teaches us that, we have a unique desire to create a single story about the kinds of people that come from other places.  We create in our mind a single story or version about their preferences, relationships, daily life and world view to make it easier on us and to avoid having to work at getting to know people.  For example, and simplicity, we think all people from New York City are fast talkers and rude, and everyone from Texas wears a cowboy hat and rides a horse. Of course, we know this is nonsense, and in no way, can we reduce millions of people to these common denominators, but this is how stereotypes are built, and walls erected that keep one another at bay. Currently, the single story is being thrown around with danger in our government is that immigrants are bad, and Africa and Haiti are the worst places in the world. The danger in allowing ourselves to have this single-story approach completely undermines our humanity. 

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The Smith Kids circa 1994

Geoffrey, Cameron, Jordan, Douglas, Mery-ly, Emily


  “So, where are you from?”.   “Well, I was born in Ft Wayne, Indiana.”  What invariably comes next is a quick fumbling through the mental archives…. uh…. Ft. Wayne……uhh…. Indiana……uhh…. lot of snow there, right?    True in my experience as well, Ft. Wayne is completely forgettable, and I couldn’t recall anything of my own experience that was important about Ft. Wayne either.  It is just where I was born, and there is no single story about places like Ft. Wayne, Indiana.   My father was in bible college, working in a hospital, and pastoring a small congregation when I was born in the spring of 1978.  My recollection of that place is recreated through pictures that have earned their sepia tint and from stories told me by my parents.  

Am I from Ft. Wayne?

Or maybe I should claim the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio as the place I’m from.  The first friends I can remember having are from a little town near Sandusky, Ohio called Vermillion.  Honestly, it has now become so romanticized in my memory that I laugh at myself about how much I conflate that time.  I remember Vermillion as if it were Mayberry from the Andy Griffith show.  Eight years old riding a BMX big with tall sock and mesh crop top shirt that had the word RAD in big white letters. It was warm in the summer, but not hot, and in the winter, all bundled up like Ralphie from A Christmas Story (which was set in Cleveland), we had enough snow to build snow forts. To an eight-year-old the summers felt like freedom and all winter the magic of the Christmas season seemed to linger.   We lived in a parsonage that was directly across from the elementary school I attended.   After school, I would ride my BMX bike over the railroad tracks to Lawson’s for pop and when I had spare change in my pocket, a real treat of soda scented erasers and stickers from the check-out counter.  The local weather man visited each summer during the Wooly Bear Festival, and threw candy from a float in the parade.  It was on the concrete steps of that parsonage that my mother lead me to the Lord and I accepted Jesus as my savior.  I was in the third grade and my parents were in their late twenties when we moved from Vermillion. They broke the news to us kids over roast beef sandwiches and all – you- can- eat salad bar.   

Am I from Vermillion?



"After school, I would ride my BMX bike over the railroad tracks to Lawson’s for pop and when I had spare change in my pocket, a real treat of soda scented erasers and stickers from the check-out counter."


In Willoughby Hills Ohio, my brother and I had our first taste of what it really meant to be the sons of a pastor. I remember fondly my mom and dad volunteering at the City Mission that fed and housed homeless men.  Before meals the men were required to hear a volunteer preacher, and my dad would offer his services and sometimes Doug’s and mine as well.  We used to set up a puppet stage with PVC pipes and a curtain, mom pushed play on the cassette player and with puppets on each hand my brother and I would mouth the words to Christian music with puppets.  The rest of my childhood kept a similar trajectory.   So much of it seems so funny to me, but almost always it involved my family caring for and living life with others.   Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners were always in the fellowship hall of the church with roasters full of ham and mashed potatoes.   My parents always invited those who were alone, or who simply just wanted to be with others during the holidays, to the church to share holiday meals.  My mother did most of the cooking for those that would gather during these times. Our holidays were spent with the elderly, the recently divorced or separated, the widowed, lonely, or disconnected.   At the time, I didn’t know how special that was.  Most of my young teen years I’m sure I didn’t like it at all, and preferred to act like a smug and busy teen instead.  Doug and I would be instructed to haul out and set up the long tables and metal folding chairs, set individual places around the tables, and then relent to having our cheeks pinched by old ladies.   It felt like work to a young teenager, but now, to a thirty nine year old it feels a lot like the origin of my love of community. I learned to drive stick in the parking lot of that church in an $800 1988 Mercury Lynx, which had originally been red, but had beautifully morphed to a color I can only describe as Formerly Red. I played AAU basketball in high school, washed dishes at the hospital after school, and went to the YMCA before school to lift weights.  I didn’t feel exceptional, but I also didn’t feel “normal” either.  Not just because of puppet show and old cars, but also because my family was different.  The Smith family has been a foster and adoptive family since I was seven or eight years old.  I don’t remember just how many children we actually fostered in the parsonage there, but the number isn’t really the point.   My parents were unique in that they specialized in respite and special needs children.   What that means is that my parents welcomed children that had medical issues requiring extensive care. Children who had suffered severe physical, emotional or sexual abuse were welcomed and loved in our home.   Mom and Dad would get calls in the middle of the night from social workers who had kids sleeping on the floor of their office, and Mom and Dad would take them in and make them a member of the family.  To accommodate our family, my mother drove a 15 passenger white van, and we put car seats as far back as we needed.  Every foster kid, displaced kid, and homeless kid carries the same luggage.  It is one of the triggers that still makes me cry.   Just a few months ago I was at Parks Youth Ranch in Needville, Texas and saw them again and needed to step away from the conversation to compose myself.    Kids in distress always arrive with black garbage bags. Contained in those black garbage bags is their whole world.  It is what you pack in when you are in a hurry, poor, and don’t want to attract unwanted attention.  It’s imagery that I cannot shake, and some of the people I love the most owned that luggage.  Now imagine this 15 passenger van dropping of fifteen year old Geoff outside of a predominantly anglo- suburban middle school.   The van looked like the United Nations shuttle.  There were black, bi- racial, white, Jewish, Arab, and Hispanic kids in there at any given time.  I never noticed or felt any different about their races because we didn’t feel any different from them economically, and certainly not spiritually.  My mom shopped at the dented- can store, and cooked for an army every day.  I wore hand- me- downs all the way through junior high, and was on reduced cost lunch program at school.   My family didn’t hide behind our station on the socio-economic scale when it came to loving children.  I felt close to them, and frankly, saw myself as simply one of the tribe that extended way beyond our home. 



"It’s imagery that I cannot shake, and some of the people I love the most owned that luggage."


Shattering my naiveté, it became harder to feel close to my parents and to the foster and adopted brothers and sisters when I became aware, or better yet woke, to the sting of our difference.   I remember the glare my mom would get from other women in the grocery store as we would pass with a black baby in the cart and bi - racial children holding my hands as we toddled behind.  Their assumptions about my family were written all over their faces.  There were a few times we ate out as a family, and when we did we’d have to ask for a table for seven with two high chairs.  It didn’t take long to hear the loud stare of the people around us who, up to this point had been eating in silence.   To process the weight of all the love and good there is in showing compassion to others, even from a position of humility, juxtaposed against just how much attention and scrutiny it invites, was impossible to sort through as a teenager.  I discovered that I was uncomfortable with the racial biases that swam around me.  I was angry that people were suspicious of the poor, which included me.  I was resentful that people were so quick to judge and make assumptions about others.   I was woke.

Is my home Willoughby Hills, Ohio?

love sewn in the rain will flourish in the sunshine - cgs

love sewn in the rain will flourish in the sunshine - cgs


I met Renee at Church in Rutland, Vermont one cold New England day.  She wore Mary Jane’s, a pencil skirt, and a red cardigan.   Her hair was just off her shoulders and curly.   She sang like an angel, was reserved, proper, and all smiles.   She seemed beyond my reach from the day I met her.   I thought a girl like that would never be interested in a guy like me, and I built a wall as fast as I could to keep her out of my mind.   Soon, her dad and I became natural and easy friends.  We had breakfast together from time to time at the Midway Diner, and hunted together on their property.   It was his idea that Renee and I begin dating, which we did very briefly. I was so envious of Renee’s family.   Renee is the 14th generation from that area of Vermont.  Most of her family on her father’s side live nearby and was lucky enough to grow up with her grandmother and grandfather in the same town.  To me this was an upbringing even more romantic than Vermillion.  Even the family disagreements seemed kitschy to me and frankly I was foreign to it.  Eight months later we were married in the meadow next to her parents’ home.  Layla and Seamus were both born in Vermont and partly anchor our hearts there.   Under my dad’s leadership the church flourished, and Renee and I were proud to help in any way needed.  We felt honored to have played a role in the community that became that church, and honestly, Rutland deepened my commitment to community, and to the noble effort to know people with a deepness that requires vulnerability.  I went to nursing school in Vermont, and had a generous education as a baby ER nurse in that small community hospital.   Vermont was a blessing, and set my sights higher than ever before.  I desired to cultivate the traits I admired about my father- in- law.  I wanted a legacy, a big faith, and the ability to see past myself.  He lifted my head up and made me a part of his family’s future and legacy.  Vermont makes my heart sing and feels like my spiritual home.  However, I left Vermont still very much an immature young man with very little experience in leading a family, and no knowledge of how to inspire others.       

Is Vermont my home?



Precious time was spent in the woods with our family. 

It was beyond my wildest dreams that the Houston Chronicle would help tell our story. 

It was beyond my wildest dreams that the Houston Chronicle would help tell our story. 


We moved to Houston, Texas when Seamus was six months old.  My father- in- law and I packed up a Ryder Truck and together we drove our belongings to a small apartment Renee and I had rented online, sight unseen.  Of course, it was a less than desirable location, but we made it work, and settled into the process of learning to be from Houston.  My young family and I moved to Houston to pursue many big dreams, and gratefully all came to fruition.  We had a desire to help plant churches with my parents, wanted to be a one- income family, which was possible in Houston, and we liked the adventure.  Renee and I bought a small home in the suburbs, and tried our best to live the American Dream.  It didn’t take too long for me to feel itchy there.   My family and I were going rapidly and steadily in two very different directions.   I was working 60-72 hours a week and passing by my family only at odd hours of the day.   I missed Renee, and my kids were growing so fast.   Is this what life is all about?   Is this what I was created to do?   I was learning and perfecting the art of being a consumer, and it made me feel trapped.  I felt such frustration, and was going round and round on a hamster wheel of which I wasn’t sure how to get off.    Then BAM! Providence arrived in the form of the biggest scare of our lives.  Seamus was diagnosed with a life threatening peanut allergy after breaking out in hives from eating a jelly sandwich tainted with peanut butter.   Our world turned upside down, and eventually led to the creation of The Barry Farm, which would be anyone’s logical conclusion, right?   Son has a peanut allergy so obviously one needs to start a farm.   The Barry Farm is where I first had a chance to see myself for who I am, and who I was created to be.  I pulled the pieces of a new me together that had been divinely shaped by my past, and I had crafted an important idea. I took the empathy of the fellowship hall holiday dinners, mashed it with the freedom of a rad crop - top mesh shirt, slammed it into a strong back to stand up to prejudice, and married it to an unquenchable pride in family, and called it a farm.  And all of these lessons I learned and earned from the church.  As best-selling author and University of Houston professor Brene Brown writes in Braving the Wilderness “true belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to BE who you are.” While in Houston, I discovered the me that was not yet formed, and that I was created in the image of the Living God.   Six months after I realized this, we sold everything we owned, including the farm.


Am I from Houston?



Renee, the kids and I are very proud of all that the farm had become.  The amount of effort and sacrifice it took to make The Barry Farm the success that it was, is truly indescribable.   We know without a doubt that our work was beautiful, meaningful, and had gravitas. During our time as the farmers of The Barry Farm, our family became tightly woven. Our lives are forever changed because we have come to embrace the need in us to only do work that is important and meaningful, and to stop spending so much energy and effort on things that simply just do not matter.  Every day we were involved in the smallness and immersed in the bigness of our mission.   But as we came to realize, our farm at its peak transitioned from being an authentic representation of our values to becoming a tribute to the Author and Creator of us.  I realize now I was called and lead to create a living breathing tribute of just what He is creating in me.   We began to purposefully and willfully strive to hone our lives and farm choices to be more like Jesus, and less and less like Renee and Geoffrey. And when that lesson was learned he called us to let it go.   So, we began in earnest our journey to take that life lesson and go with Him to Africa.   Currently our journey means we live in Renton, Washington near Seattle.  We live with family again as we save and prepare for launch to Zimbabwe.  Renton has embraced us like long- lost family, and it feels both safe and familiar.  It feels like the kind of place where roasters with ham and potatoes are welcomed and generations remember what it means to discover themselves. I am eternally grateful for the compassion and perseverance of Valley Church, and we are elated to be joined together with them on this journey.  

Will Renton be my home? 

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Seattle Skyline

taken on the ferry on a cold winter night. 


 Author and speaker Taiye Selasi gave a TED talk entitled Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m a local.   She eloquently teaches us to see others as a culmination of their experiences, relationships, and boundaries, and to let go of the useless language of location.  Well of course she is correct.   Where am I from?  Where is my identity?   Renee and I have broken the barrier of being confined by location, and have instead chosen to be defined by destination.   I refuse to accept the baggage of where I’m from but have chosen to embrace the calling to where we are headed.   In the process, know me first of all as child of Jesus Christ. Then and only then, see me as a lover of justice, a father to those that need one, a lover of Renee, an advocate for women, a student of elder men and women, and a friend to the next generation.   See me as a man that sees us as having a whole lot in common and worth sharing our lives with one another.   See me as a man that is obedient even when I can’t see the plan unfolded.  See me as willing to dream way beyond what I am capable of in my own strength. The famous missionary Elizabeth Elliot knows where I belong.   She said it this way, “is the distinction between living for Christ and dying for him all that different?”  You see, all the talk about where I’m from has been a wonderful trip down the first thirty nine years of me.  But just like the farm was a tribute, the rest of my days will be a tribute to the One who created me with love to be this way.  My hopes, dreams, disappointments, failures, successes, broken heartedness, and joys have been crafted for this.   To say I was made to be a missionary is an understatement.   I crave a life both formed and informed by divine love, to paraphrase the author Alan Hirsch. The missionaries of the previous generations were so uniquely focused on Heaven that they earned the term “one way missionaries”.  They would board ships with all their belongings packed in wooden coffins, and had no intention of returning.  They weren’t one way as in a ticket to their new country; they were one way to their final destination.  Never would they consider living a life that was less than all-in to tell those who have never heard that there is a God that loves them so much that He was willing to die for them, and that same God desires a living and active relationship with them.  One way in obedience.  One way in example. One way in and on purpose. One way in tribute.  Missionaries get this burning call from the One who first lived this way, Jesus himself.  Starting with the Christmas story, He came one way to teach us, then suffer and die for us, rose from the grave, and ascended into Heaven.  He did all that to make that one way.  How could I do anything other than obey His instruction to tell His story and be His example? 

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I write this to you knowing that my vulnerability, and yours as well, makes the world a more honest place to live.  The reason I write this is that you might know me better, and that through me you may see the One who created me this way.   He loves us with persistence, and is working on and for us daily, and my life is worth the living for it. I anticipate His grace, and we are praying for a Summer time departure to Zimbabwe.  As we adopt a new layer into our evolving identity, please don’t give up praying for The Smith family.  Just as you’ve read, life unfolds in lots of unforeseen ways.  I have the perspective of a thirty-nine-year-old, but Layla and Seamus don’t have that blessing yet.   They have pressures they are not used to just yet.  Please prop them up with prayer.  We have been given the green light to submit our visa application, which is a giant step forward.  There is no guarantee we will get approval from the government of Zimbabwe, but we are optimistic, as there have been so many positive changes in the preceding months.  Our most pressing issue still remains funding. We have steadily gained support, and nearing the 40% mark, but our time is short.  Our family needs to be at 60% by May, and 100% by July.  If you have been considering supporting us monthly, but have been holding off, now is the time.  Renee and I really cannot do this without you being in our corner rooting for us, praying for the kids and us, and yes, giving to our mission.  We have been praying for each of you that you will one day visit us in Zimbabwe, and see for yourself the joy of learning “where I am local”. 



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Sacrifice is good but obedience is better : or so I thought.

Sacrifice is good but obedience is better.


When I first wrote that line I believed it.  As I dwell on it I must confess there is developing in me a blatant, lip curling, one eye brow raised gut reaction.   That funny face is because as God works on my heart the good/ better comparison to the two is melting like butter in the hot Texas sun.   Here’s two quick personal stories I’d love to share with you about the subject. For those of you that have seen pieces of these stories on Facebook and Instagram please keep reading as I unpack my thoughts.  He’s really been working on me in this area.  Maybe you too have been here.  Lets walk this path together.   Sacrifice is good but obedience is better.  

I thought this is what a Dad's sacrifice looks like

I thought this is what a Dad's sacrifice looks like


I’ve owned this car for 8 years now, and it was cheap when I bought it. I’ve driven it back and forth to work and, much to the chagrin of my middle school aged children, even gone through the school pick up line in it. The paint is faded and there is a crack in the windshield. The dome light flickers sometimes and none of the outlets work to re-charge my cell phone anymore. However, it has been paid off for years and been very reliable. I drive this and resist financing a newer vehicle, even if it would make my kids less embarrassed when I beep the horn to get their attention after school. Don’t I deserve a new car? Even though this little car turns their faces a cute pinkish hue (which I’m mostly cool with by the way), it is my lack of vanity that has provided for them. I am willing to sacrifice this status symbol of a successful 39 year old man so that my family can have a few extras. I tell myself that my need to drive a sporty mid size SUV can be put on the back burner, and feel all the prouder for my perceived counter cultural sacrifice.  After all isn’t this what dads do? Sacrifice is good but obedience is better.


25 years ago, I was a freshman in high school.  In September when school started I picked these shoes to wear for the school year.

Early 90's Fila's

Early 90's Fila's


My parents weren’t wealthy but we served an upper middle class neighborhood as their pastor family. My dad, despite having a masters degree, didn’t make much money.  My siblings and I were on free or reduced lunch all through high school but new school shoes were a huge thing.  Possibly some other time I can unpack what that means to a young kid like me.  I waited till the other children had gone through the line so that I didn’t have to tell the lunch lady in front of all my friends.  She would pull out a little plastic box that had index cards on it with a list of kids names that were in the same predicament,  and then bark “40 cents”.  I couldn’t shrink fast enough.  Our school and neighborhood were 98% white but my family was mixed with many races represented. I am the oldest of 6 and we fostered many young children when I was school aged.  We’d off load from a 15 passenger van and 8 or so children would get out - black, bi-racial, hispanic, Israeli, and some white.  Truly a sight to behold I’m sure for the community we lived in.  I showed up the first day of soccer practice proudly wearing my new Fila’s. I was laughed at for months and was given the guessed it Fila. It stuck for years with the older kids and was never meant as a term of endearment. It was a reminder that I didn’t fit in with them.  I was completely outside all the marketing and hadn’t picked them because I had seen a celebrity endorsement, or a TV commercial or even other kids sporting them.  I simply liked them on the shelf and they were in my families limited budget.  I never gave a thought that it would leave such an impression on the other kids.  I never even thought that they would care at all what I wore.  

My parents are talented , educated , dedicated and hard working. But they sacrificed themselves and their material desires for not only their children but for 60 some odd foster children along the way. And here is the crusher...THEY DID IT WITH JOY! We didn’t do without and my parents instilled in me the privilege of sacrifice and the joy of giving. I’m still in part that 14 year old boy that is now heading to Africa.  Sacrifice is good but obedience is better…or so I thought. 


Sacrifice is not even in the same category as obedience as far as I’m concerned.   When I wrote that line I was reading I Samuel and King Saul’s story of losing the kingship.  

Then Samuel said,
Do you think all God wants are sacrifices—
    empty rituals just for show?
He wants you to listen to him!
Plain listening is the thing,
    not staging a lavish religious production.
Not doing what God tells you
    is far worse than fooling around in the occult.
Getting self-important around God
    is far worse than making deals with your dead ancestors.
Because you said No to God’s command,
    he says No to your kingship.
       1 Samuel 15 (msg)


When Jesus show up on the scene He said this to a large crowd of people in Mark 8

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?




When I make a sandwich out of these thoughts, with my heart being the gooey concord grape and peanut butter mixture, sacrifice falls so fast down the ladder I’m almost ashamed of myself.   In the stories I told you about myself ask yourself what are they about.   I asked myself the same question.   You know what answer first comes to mind?  The are about ME!   Even when I write to you about my childhood and enormous examples of sacrifice, which make no mistake are good, I make sacrifice about me.  I can’t get out of my way in making sacrifice honor me.   Even as I write this now, I’m reminded of dozens of stories of tragedy overcome through sacrifice.   Stories of grit, determination, pulling ourselves up by the boot straps all weave tales of sacrifice that end with victory.  And we call these “feel good “ movies because that is exactly how them make us feel.  When I see others sacrifice I think to myself “ they are such great people”, and I’m sure we all do that sort of thing to some extent.  Sacrifice is a process that uniquely honors me on the way to a goal, even if it is not my intent.  We are wired to feel good about our level of sacrifice and the secondary gains that come from it.  It is what keeps us benevolent. If I am being honest and speaking with vulnerability here, my sacrifice honors me because I will never let my self go to the depths of sacrifice that actually hurt me more than I am willing despite the nobility of the prize I am reaching for.  There I said it!  I won’t give until it actually hurts me or costs me dearly.   At the bottom of my sacrifice I still expect self preservation to prevail.  Sacrifice is good obedience is better.  

The Reverand Charles L Smith at his instilation service at Valley Church Renton, WA

The Reverand Charles L Smith at his instilation service at Valley Church Renton, WA


But when I contemplate obedience I remember Jesus’s words in Mark “You’re not in the drivers seat ‘ I am.”.   Jesus has taught me that obedience isn’t greater than sacrifice but rather obedience always looks like sacrifice.  Obedience is my “Jesus take the wheel” spirit that calls me to sacrifice greater than I could ever expect of myself.  Obedience accomplishes His priorities and reminds me how petty I am to think that the things I possess were ever mine in the first place.  Obedience is the kryptonite to self preservation because it require us “to take up our cross” and to do it daily.   Obedience reminds me that when I complain about kids making fun of my shoes and eating reduced lunch, to ask myself ‘what kind of shoes did my Dad wear?’.   He told me once.  They were appropriate mid 80’s wing tips that he had for a long time.  They had been through many soles and hundreds of official duties.  He never thought each year to buy himself shoes and my selfish freshman self never asked why not.  When my heart turns there and remembers softly what I think was his sacrifice…..He reminds me… my son, that was obedience.   


   Obedience calls me to sell the Barry Farm.  Obedience drives me to let go of my safe career.  Obedience beckons me deeper in to the Bible and His word.  Obedience calls us to move to the 3rd ward in the third largest city in the country.  Obedience calls me to trust Him with our kids as we move around the world.  Obedience calls me to share our story to everyone that will listen.  Obedience provided the sacrifice that saves my soul.  Obedience made a way where there wasn’t one.  Obedience asks you now to join us in the fight.  Obedience now invites you to join the body of Christ around the globe.  Are you with me?  



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