Monday, November 30, 2009

Friday, November 27, 2009

I'm More In Love Today!

I love my wife Raquel more today than I ever have before. It is my wife’s birthday tomorrow. I have been doing a lot of thinking, praying about all the things I am thankful for. Of course yesterday was Thanksgiving. I am truly a blessed man to have my beautiful wife Raquel in my life. She has definitely made me a better man. We have been together for 18 years. I can’t say that all those years were the best of times, but for all that we have been through I would not change a thing. I thank God that He took a marriage on the verge of divorce and is now using us to minister into other couples marriages. How good of a Father do we serve! There was a time when my wife told me that she did not love me anymore. She actually told me that I disgusted her. But when we allow God to work in our circumstances and hand it over to Him, we allow God to create miracles. And a miracle He did in our marriage. When I look back at all that my wife and I have been through, it brings a smile to my face to see how far God has brought the both of us. My love for her grows every day. It’s not that we don’t have our moments when we irritate or get on each others nerves, we do, but it's that God has shown me to look past those areas of our marriage and see the beautiful bride He has blessed me with. My wife is truly a godly woman. She walks it every day of her life. She is an example to our daughters of what a godly woman looks like. Thank you babe for passing on a gift like that to our precious girls. She is more beautiful today than the day I met her. We were not Christians when we first met. When I met her she was smoking hot. Not only is she smoking hot today, but she radiates the beauty of God. I could honestly say, she has got the whole package. She loves the Lord with all her heart, mind, body, and soul. She is a wonderful wife who truly makes me feel like the luckiest guy in the world. God really loves me! She is the sweetest mother to our two girls, our son and our daughter-in-law. And she is going to be the hottest grandma around. So babe, thank you for loving me as I am. I love you too much to not try and become that godly man that God commands me to be. You deserve the best that I have to offer. Even though I am not perfect and will make mistakes, I will continue to allow God to show me where I need to grow. Thank you for all the hard work you do to serve us. I know your job as a mother never ends. You are an amazing woman. I look forward to the years ahead. So, Happy Birthday Babe, I love you more and more every day.

Love Always,
Mark (your hubby)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Choose An Attitude For Gratitude

Where has your attitude been ? Has it been an attitude of thankfulness/gratefulness or of complaining? Ephesians 5:20- “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thanksgiving is just a few days away. How great is it to live in a country that dedicates a day to give thanks to God. It is truly a time when family gathers together and gives thanks and enjoys good food and watches some football. Unfortunately in today’s society we often go through our daily lives without giving thanks to God. We are a society of the me attitude. It’s about what have you done for me lately as to what can I do for you. Our default response to difficulties in life is to complain, whine, grumble, or blame. We complain about our situation, our self, our marriage, our kids, our finances, and everything else that doesn’t go our way. I am talking about Christians and non-Christians alike. I even include myself in this category of complainers. I thank God that He has really been working on me in this area. If we were to be more thankful in all things as Christians, maybe our divorce rate would not equal or surpass the divorce rate of the secular world.
Romans 8:28- “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Can we see the good in bad? Can we look past our circumstances to see God at work on the other end? I work as a firefighter and over the years I have seen some horrendous things. I recently responded on a traffic accident on the freeway one early Sunday morning. An suv with a family of five crashed into the back of a parked big rig truck on the side of the freeway. A mother and father and there 14 year old son were killed in the crash. There 9 year old daughter and 11 year old son were able to escape out a window before the suv caught fire. Thank God the two young children were not injured in the accident. A passerby stopped and put the children into the back of his pickup truck. When I got on scene I was told that we would be treating the two children that survived. A captain explained to me that both there parents and 14 year old brother were killed and that they did not know yet. My partner and I carried the two children from the truck to the back of our ambulance. My heart was torn for them. I’ll be honest, at first I didn’t even know how to act. Knowing they just lost there family. They were beautiful children. When I started talking to them I found out that they were headed to their grandparent’s house in Oregon to celebrate Thanksgiving. The 11 year old boy then asked me if his parents and brother were dead. It really hit me; I told them that I didn’t know, that we were there to take care of them. I knew they had a sense that they might be dead, but they had some hope at that point. We transported them to the hospital. I gave them both a big hug and they both thanked me for being so kind to them. As I walked out of the hospital I began to cry for them. I can honestly say it is the first time I cried as a firefighter. I don’t have a problem with crying; just ask my wife and kids. They actually call me a big sensitive baby. I’m proud that God has softened my heart to that point.

It was on my way home that morning when I got off my shift that I felt convicted. It really put life into perspective of how we take for granted things in life. I kept thinking of those two children who just lost there family. The pain and suffering they will go through. He convicted me of the things I complain about. When a car drives to slow in front of me when I’m in a hurry. Standing in a checkout line at the market when all the other lines are moving faster. When the last person in the bathroom doesn’t change the toilet paper roll when it only has two little squares left on it. It could be when our phone is ringing all day, or having to go somewhere when all you want to do is stay home and relax. I thought to myself, how pitiful it is to complain about these meaningless things. Once again I thought about those two children and there loss. Someone just lost a son, a daughter, and a grandson.
We all go through trials and sufferings in life. Dr. Jerry Sitzer wrote a book called, “A Grace Disguised” after losing his wife, 4 year old daughter, and mother in a tragic car accident. In the book he states, “It’s not so much what happens to you that matters, it’s how you respond to it.” Is your circumstance going to drive you away from God, or is it going to drive you closer to God. When we respond in faith, we can look beyond our circumstance and see God at work in it. It is then we can give thanks to God in our circumstance no matter how difficult it may seem or be. Paul says in Philippians 4:11- “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstance.” Not only does this bring joy in our lives, but we also model thankfulness, contentment, gratitude, and a faith in God to our children. We teach them how to handle the storms of life that will come. That they must be rooted in Christ Jesus first. Our children learn by our example. 1 Thessalonians 5:16- “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” I don’t know about you, but I want to live this will that God has for us in my life, my marriage, and see it in my children’s life. How can we not be thankful knowing Jesus died on the cross for us? Remember we were bought at a price.

Let’s make a choice today to have an attitude for gratitude. I’m thankful to wake up every morning to another day of life. I’m thankful to be able to walk, talk, hold my wife and children, or even to have teeth to brush and hair to comb. I’m thankful for what God has in store for me and my family. So ask yourself, are you truly thankful for your wife/husband? If so, do you tell them how thankful you are for them? Do you thank your children for who they are? How about thanking janitors, bus boys in restaurants, house keepers in hotels, and the list can go on. As Christians, we should stand out from the rest of the world. So let’s learn to be thankful in all things. Let’s give our worries to the Lord. Let’s do things without complaining and allow the love of Christ to shine through us for the world to see.
Psalm 100:4-5- “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Mark Soto

Monday, November 23, 2009


Life is relationships;
the rest is just details.
Gary Smalley

God has been talking to me about relationship. It's a word that gets thrown around a lot these days and so seemingly has no meaning. I detest when someone says that he or she is "in a relationship." What does that even mean? I'm in lots of relationships- -I'm a wife to my husband, a mother to my children, a daughter to my parents, a sister, a friend, a cell leader, a teacher, a church member, etc. These are all relationships. Usually when people say that they are "in a relationship" they mean they are having emotional or sexual encounters or soul-weaving with someone that is not defined by any covenant, legal agreement, or set of binding obligations. The expectations are very vague. There is no protection. No one says that they are "in a relationship" with their bank teller. No one says they are "in a relationship" with their children. These true relationships are defined by their very names. The obligations of both parties are understood.

Our God is a God of relationship. It's not just something God likes, but WHO GOD IS! God is defined in terms of relationship- -Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And He created us FROM relationship- -"Let us make man in Our image." He created us FOR relationship. And He is always leading us back TO relationship. "If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with one another." When we are walking with God (in relationship) we have fellowship (proper relationship) with one another! (I John 1:7) When God built the Church He used the patterns of a BODY and a FAMILY. Relational terms!

I think this is why Satan is always trying to attack people in the area of relationships. It's not God who prompts people to bail on their marriages (or settle for a second rate one). It's not God who causes people to church hop as if Christian fellowship is a Hometown Buffet. It's not God who causes division among brother and sisters in Christ causing them to exalt issues above relationships.

I Corinthians 1:10, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment."

Over and over again lately God keeps causing the message of godly, covenant relationships to leap out from the Scriptures, from prophecies, from stories. God just keeps saying: RELATIONSHIP, RELATIONSHIP, RELATIONSHIP.

In our busy, busy society one has to make effort and carve out time for relationships. Sometimes projects overshadow brotherhood and calendars overshadow marriages. Lately, I've been striving to be less busy, even saying no to GOOD THINGS so that I can save my time for the BEST THINGS. And the best things are relationships. I've been having more tea with friends, playing more with the kids, having more families over for dinner just because, etc. It's been enriching!

Family Cell Group has been a really important area of relationship building in the past year. Some of us have made the conscious choice to stick together through life's messy challenges. Like iron sharpening iron we've each been changed and challenged and perfected. That's a godly relationship. Godly relationships are not all roses and tea parties (although who doesn't like those! *smile*). But, godly relationships sometimes FORCE us to be more like God created us to be. That's not always easy or comfortable. But the result is BEAUTIFUL!

Thank you all for being a beautifying agent in our lives. Thank you for just being there. Your consistent presence has spoken to me of the consistency of the Lord. You are a beacon of covenant relationship light in a world of relational darkness!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wise Choices?

Are we making wise choices in our homes? I recently asked myself this question. It stemmed from a choice I made at home. We were hanging out as a family on a Saturday night. We all wanted to watch a movie and just relax. Our youngest daughter was already in bed, so it was my wife and I, our 22 year old son and his wife, our 13 year old daughter, and one of our spiritual sons. We were trying to figure out a movie that would be appropriate for us to watch. There was a new release out that no one had seen yet. I had heard that it was a good movie, but there was some mild language in it. We went back and forth on whether to watch it or not. So we decided to rent it on the pay per view. It wasn’t long into the movie when the inappropriate language started. I figured I would give it another chance. I mean I really wanted to see the movie. It was a good action flick from what I was told. Well I chose to watch the movie even though I felt a little uncomfortable. I compromised with myself. I figured it was later in the evening and it was time for our 13 year old to go to bed. So we put her to bed. I told myself that it would be ok to watch the movie now, since it was just us and our adult children. Well I can tell you that the language was horrendous. The movie ended late; in fact my wife fell asleep during it. I went to work the next day. It was at work where I felt God convict me. I compromised with my rules that my wife and I had set regarding movies that are appropriate for us. Not only did I compromise, I felt like I chased our 13 year old daughter off to bed so I wouldn’t feel as guilty. It just came down to the fact, as servant leader I let my guard down. Not was I only upset with myself, but I was also upset with my wife for allowing me to make that decision. I was trying to shift some of the blame. I then thought about Adam’s response to God after they ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 3:12- Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” I was convicted, not only on the decision I made to watch the movie, but for also trying to include my wife along with me. I asked God to forgive me and accepted full responsibility for my actions. This is part of walking as a godly man. It’s not trying to go through life as a perfect person, but taking ownership of our failures and giving them to God. I also new I needed to ask for forgiveness from my family. The next day I got off work and before dinner when we were all together, I apologized to my wife, daughter, son, and daughter-in-law. I asked for forgiveness and explained that I made a bad decision to watch that movie. I want my children to see what a godly man looks like. I know that I have made mistakes, and I will make mistakes as a husband, a father, and a son. But I want to teach my children through my actions how to accept responsibility and deal with the consequences for our choices we make. Good or bad. Proverbs 22:6- “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” I was not proud of the decision I made that night, but I had a choice on how to handle it. I could have just brushed it off and gotten over it. Or I could have just ended it after asking God for forgiveness. But I want to be a godly man. I want to hand down a legacy to my children and the generations to come. I want to show my children what it means and how it looks to take ownership of their mistakes. That it is ok to stumble, but we must get back up and turn to God and lean on him. Psalm 37:24-“Though he stumble, he will not fall. For the Lord upholds him with His hand.” I want my children to know how to ask for forgiveness, even though it is not always easy, but that it takes a humble heart. I thank God for opening up my eyes. I can truly say that God is good to me. So as parents, even when we make poor choices, we need to own up to it. When we wrong our children, we need to ask for forgiveness from them. Not only do we teach our children, but we need to show them what it looks like in our every day life. What does love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, kindness, patience, transparency, peace, joy, and the list goes on. What do these things look like in your home? Are you teaching and showing these to your children every day? Is your home a safe haven for your children? Do their friends want to always be at your house? I know we as parents can always do a better job. It starts with our walk with the Lord. Jesus paid the ultimate price. Not just for our sins, but so we could be more like Him. Ask God today to show you how to be that parent He wants you to be. We can become godly models to our children. So lets step up to the plate and make the right decisions in our home. Let’s get connected with other families who love the Lord. Sometimes we need to just step out of our comfortable little life styles and reach out to others for encouragement. Proverbs 14:26- “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.”

Mark Soto

Friday, November 13, 2009

Ready? Set. Date!!!!

Good Afternoon, Happily Married People! (said in faith for some of you!)

As your cell leaders, we cannot stress enough how strongly we feel about married people dating! Life gets so busy with work, school, yard work, ministry commitments, extended family, and just LIFE! Dating your mate takes a conscious decision, careful planning, and sometimes throwing caution to the wind and being spontaneous!

To encourage you in your dating, we have decided to hold a monthly contest! Here's how it'll work:

1. You must have a date, just the two of you--NO CHILDREN, (with the exception of a nursing baby, of course)!

2. This date can be anything you want from traditional dinner and a movie to skydiving! We don't care as long as it's the two of you getting some one-on-one time! Even if all you have time for is a walk or a cup of coffee at the Corner Bakery, do it!

3. Enter on or before the first Friday of the month (which is when we have cell group). To enter, tell us the date of your date and what you did! It's that simple! You may enter in person at cell group, by email to Daja ( or Raquel, or by leaving a comment on the blog with the information and your name.

4. A winner will be drawn at cell group. (Next drawing December 4)

Who is the winner of this little game? Why every one of us is a winner! Strong marriages benefit individuals, children, the Church, society, etc!

However, we do also have some cool prizes in our prize vault! :-) You'll be competing for all sorts of wonderful things--art, gift certificates, books, movies, music! Each month we'll offer a different prize.

This month's prize is a calendar called EDEN! (Isn't that a wonderful name?!) HRC member and artist, Jaqueline Kyoda has donated her one-of-a-kind calendar to our prize vault! Every month, looking at EDEN, you'll be reminded of the way marriage is supposed to be! (Below are a few images so you can see how beautiful this calendar is!) By the way, you can see more of Jaqueline's work on her website:

Ready? Set? DATE!!!

The Sotos
The Gombojavs

Brave Affairs

I referenced this blog post at the last cell group. It's so beautiful, please read it and be inspired!

He lies stretched out in the dark and I lay long beside him, listen to him breathe, only sound there is. This is our love story, the one we’ve written with years and skin and the rings.

In his sleep, he finds my hand.

It’s the only one I’ve known. His only, hands larger than the rest. Hand in mine, that wraps around a waist, draws in close, slumbering strength always holding on.

I don’t know how another man’s skin feels.

My grandmother lived that kind of courage. The kind that made a vow and had the bravery to let it age. Wrinkled faithfulness of monogamy, pedestrian, the kind that finishes well, parades up through the Arc de Triomphe, battle scarred, and the tourists blithely shuffle by and the pigeons take to oblivious wing. She told me about this.

I remember it, nights like these.....

Warm it falls on nape of my neck, his sleep breath, close. I press closer. The drama's in the long faithfulness, and aged love is the heroic. God knows the passion of a covenant.

Read the rest (it's sooooo good) here: Holy Experience.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Stuff We Recommend #4

“I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a

Job 31:1

  • Surveys show at least 70% of men and 21% of women struggle with online pornography.

Covenant Eyes is unlike any internet filtering software you've ever seen! The downfall of internet filtering and parental controls is that they can be easily circumvented. While Covenant Eyes does have a filtering software, what sets it apart from all the rest is the Accountability Software.

At intervals you set, Covenant Eyes will email a report of all your online activity to the accountability partner you choose! In other words your spouse, your mentor or a friend can be privy to all your online activity!

"A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages
against all wise judgment."

Proverbs 18:1

Isolation and secrecy are two of Satan's biggest weapons to keep people in bondage and addiction. Accountability strips away the isolation. Covenant Eyes is a first line of defense against secrecy.

Visit Lady Dorothy's blog (Daja's mom!) to receive a coupon code for a 30-Day Free Trial of the accountability software!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Happily Incompatible

(Originally posted September 17, 2007 on In Other Words.)

A sweet new friend from church asked recently how Gana and I met. After hearing the short version, she asked, “And you guys just match? You fit each other so well?”

At the time I answered, “Well, it’s not without its challenges, especially in a cross-cultural relationship. But, yes, we match.”

Then I got to thinking about it later. I don’t think I told the truth. We don’t match.

I like healthy vegetarian fare. He likes meat and if it ain’t fried, it ain’t food.

I love to try new and different foods. “Look, I found a new recipe for seaweed!” Gana would eat the same three meals on steady rotation….buuz, fried chicken, fried cabbage and sausage.

I like girly, warm fuzzy romantic comedies—basic chick-flick. He likes a movie with a healthy dose of violence, death and car chases.

I’d like to spend a vacation at a bed and breakfast by the beach. Two years ago on our anniversary he took me to a water-theme park.

I pray loudly and dramatically, castin’ out stuff, dancing like an undignified nut. He’s very contemplative and when he speaks it’s profound and carries authority without artificially asserting it.

To relax, I write in my journal or on this blog. Gana writes when it is assigned by a professor and carries a deadline.

I detest shopping. I go into the store, find what I need and get out as quickly as possible. Gana spends hours and days micro-comparing details, price and quality of every purchase.

Neither of us ever suffer buyer's remorse. Gana because he chose so perfectly. Me because I really don’t care.

I get where I’m going early, sometimes so early it’s awkward. Gana is getting in the shower at 10:40 and church starts at 11.

As for art, Gana likes Ansel Adams. I like Monet.

You can always tell who drove the van last by what comes through the stereo when you turn the car on. Bee Gees = Gana. AM Talk Radio = Daja.

I'm an unschooler, heavy on learning through experiences. He's more of a classic educator, heavy on learning through academics.

I’ve been the goodie-goodie most of my life. He’s been the wild child.

I think that Gana and I are what Billy and Ruth Graham called “happily incompatible.” Can such opposites co-exist and even enjoy life together? YES! And sometimes such opposites can irritate the living daylights out of each other and they start quarrelling over the variety of apples purchased at the Farmer’s Market.

Billy Graham said:
Ruth and I don’t have a perfect marriage, but we have a great one. In a perfect marriage, everything is always the finest and best imaginable; like a Greek statue, the proportions are exact and the finish is unblemished. Who knows any human beings like that? For a married couple to expect perfection in each other is unrealistic. We learned that even before we married. The unblemished ideal exists only in “happily ever after” fairy tales. I think that there is some merit to a description I once read of a married couple as “happily incompatible.” Ruth likes to say, “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary.” The sooner we accept that as a fact of life, the better we will be able to adjust to each other and enjoy togetherness.

And I think I’m finally--finally--after 7 years of matrimony learning that this is OK. I’m an emotional one and when we have a spat the enemy of marriage--the devil--tries to lie to me: “He doesn’t love you anymore!” I know it’s a lie. He does love me. He just wanted Red Delicious and not Fuji. Message received.

I’m finally learning to not try to remake the man I married and to let him be who he is. I’m learning that marriage isn’t really a fifties sitcom (although, wouldn’t it be great to vacuum in heels and pearls?). Marriage is vastly more interesting than that, especially when married to someone who is different from me. It’s challenging and exciting and crazy and romantic and surprising....and so....DAILY.

Marriage means having someone to run to when I need a good cry. It means having someone to run my hair-brained ideas by before I expose them to the world. It means someone who makes fun of me and someone I can make fun of. Marriage means I have a man whose vision I have pledged to support. I am a help-meet to someone who needs my help—just maybe not in the way I thought he did. Marriage means someone who begins and ends each day with me—someone who is a living witness to my life and my journey with God.

Gana is my secret keeper. And I am his.

Sometimes two opposites are perfect for each other. They are counter-balances. Gana and I are two extremes. Together we make a happy moderate.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Father's Love Letter

You may not know me, but I know everything about you.
I know when you sit down and when you rise up.
I am familiar with all your ways.
Even the very hairs on your head are numbered.
I knew you even before you were conceived.
I chose you when I planned creation.
For all your days are written in my book.
I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made.
I knit you together in your mother’s womb.
And brought you forth on the day you were born.
I have been misrepresented by those who don’t know me.
I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of
And it is my desire to lavish my LOVE on you.
Simply because you are my child and I AM YOUR FATHER.
I offer you more than your earthly father ever could.
Every good gift that you receive comes from my hand.
For I am your provider and I meet all your needs.
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope.
Because I LOVE you with an EVERLASTING LOVE.
For you are my treasured possession.
I desire to establish you with all My heart and all My soul.
And I want to show you great and marvelous things.
Delight in Me and I will give you the desires of you heart.

For I am your greatest encourager.
I am also the FATHER who comforts you in all your troubles.
When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you.

And I’ll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth.

I love My son, Jesus.
He is the exact representation of My being.
He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you.
And to tell you that I am not counting your sins.
Jesus died so that we could be reconciled.
His death was the ultimate expression of

I gave up everything
If you receive the gift of My son Jesus, you receive me.
And nothing will ever separate you from MY LOVE again.
Come home and I’ll throw the biggest party

heaven has ever seen.
I have always been FATHER and will always be FATHER.
I Love You Always,
Your Daddy