What Happened When I Decided to Look Through My Facebook Pictures

Just went through my pictures on Facebook to see if there was anything embarrassing or blackmail worthy that I needed to delete. I found so many things. Embarrassing faces, embarrassing poses, just all around ridiculousness. While I was looking though all the pictures something else happened. Going through over 10 years of my life, digitally documented for all to see, I really started to see the journey I’ve been on and it reminded me of how far I’ve come. For starters, my photo taking/editing skills have improved astronomically. But on a more serious note, I have come so far as a human being. I’ve come so far as a man. I’ve come so far emotionally, spiritually, and personally. 

Looking through the different seasons of my life, and reliving them through pictures proved to be an experience in and of itself. Seeing the community I had at the University of Central Missouri and the experiences I gained through ROTC, I didn’t realize how important that season was. It was my first glimpse into what the possibilities could be when a community of believers comes together to support, encourage, and live and enjoy life together. Late night cooking at friends’ apartments when we should have definitely been studying. My chaotic time of getting out of ROTC and transferring to Southwestern Assemblies of God University to intern at the Oaks Fellowship via the Oaks School of Leadership. The community I built there and the friendships I developed are still some of the ones I cherish the most. My times in Mexico, Guatemala, Uganda, and all over this country. My summers at Camp Barnabas, where my love for the special needs community grew and my relationship with the Lord deepened. Venturing to live on my own for the first time in San Antonio. It all seems so recent, but when I think about where I was mentally, emotionally, spiritually, etc. it seems like an eternity ago. 

I didn’t realize how important it is to not only remember the good times I’ve been through, but it’s also incredibly important to remember the hard times. In remembering the hard times, I began to remember how strong I am and I began to remember how important the people that were in the middle of those seasons were and how important they continue to be. Those people shaped me. They changed me. They taught me that community is as necessary as the air we breathe. 

I know I’m not done growing, and I know I’m not done learning. That’s a process that will never end. I’m grateful for where I’ve been. I’m grateful for the people that have played a part in my journey. I’m grateful for the people that are still in my life that are a part of my journey. 

“And so it turn[s] out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…and this [is] most vexing of all.” –Boris Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago 

“Happiness [is] only real when shared.” –Chris McCandless

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Why I’m Proud to be a Snowflake

I think we’ve all heard the term “snowflake” by now. Most of the time, it’s meant as an insult, and people typically take offense to it. People who are deemed “snowflakes” are said to think they’re special. They’re said to take offense too easily and are too delicate, like a literal snowflake. Here’s the thing. Are we really offended too easily, or are we just bold enough to speak out on what’s been offensive for so long? Speaking out in solidarity with those who have been hurting silently for generations.
“Back in my day, we used to be able to dress up as ‘Indians’ for Halloween, and nobody was offended then!” Think again. There are videos of Native Americans speaking out about how offensive it is that a stereotype of their culture was and is a costume to you.

“Why can’t I use the word ‘retarded’? It’s just an expression.” Wrong. Mental retardation is an actual diagnosis. Well, it used to be anyway. Now it’s Intellectual Disability, but for years “Mental Retardation” was the actual diagnosis for someone with an IQ below 70 and deficits in two or more adaptive behaviors that affect their daily life, and many parents still use it. So to equate an unfortunate situation, or a dumb thing that someone did, with the word “retarded” is to equate someone’s child with that unfortunate event or with something dumb. It hurts. It has always hurt. People are just now speaking out about it.

Here’s a gem. “We’re too politically correct these days!” Want to know what the actual definition is of political correctness is? “The avoidance…of forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.” So to say that you’re against “Political Correctness” is to say that you’re ok with forms of expression that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against. You’re ok with it.

These are just a few examples, but there are hundreds more that we’re “too offended” by. So, maybe us “snowflakes” are too easily offended. Or maybe we’re just more perceptive of what hurts others. Maybe we’re perceptive of what’s culturally insensitive and are actively choosing to not purposely hurt people. Why would we want to do that? Why would anybody? Regardless, snowflakes are here to stay. And one snowflake may not be powerful. But get enough of them together and you get a blizzard. Sometimes, with enough snowflakes, you get an avalanche. An avalanche that completely changes the landscape. Keep on keepin’ on, snowflakes. Let’s change some things.

What’s Your Favorite Season?

seasons1

Each season—Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring—has its own characteristics. People prefer different seasons for different reasons. But really, it’s a matter of perspective, right? I mean, someone’s favorite (or least favorite) season is based on what he or she chooses to focus on. We can dislike any season if we choose to focus only on the negative aspects of that season. In the same way, we can learn to love any season if we focus on positive aspects of that season.

Example:
The middle of winter. You go outside. Your bones immediately chill. The cold is relentless. Its indifference angers you. Everything is the same color. Gray. Everything is dead. Animals are hiding. No noise, aside from the creaking and cracking of the trees. Ready to snap. Even the sun goes into hiding. Darkness comes too soon. Dark. Dead. Gray. Cold. Winter. You hate winter.

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The middle of winter. You sit by the fireplace. Warm cider in hand. Blankets draped over your shoulders. Your soul is warm. The smell of cinnamon. Of pine. Of cloves. Of sugar. It’s intoxicating. Family surrounds you. Their laughs. Their company. Their familiarity. It brings you joy. It brings you comfort. Comfort. Joy. Food. Warmth. Winter. You love winter.

Perspective.

In life, we go through different seasons. Some are longer than others, but they’re seasons. We can choose to hate the season we’re in, or we can choose to embrace the positive in that season. Choose to see the good.

But what if there’s literally nothing good about the season in which you find yourself? It could be that you should have moved past that season but you’re still living as if you’re in it. Wearing your coat in the summer, to keep the metaphor going. Or it could be that you’re trying so hard to move to the next season that you’re not living in the present one. Wearing shorts and a tank top in the middle of winter, in desperate anticipation of summer. Be present.

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22, NIV).

As wine ages and ferments, it stretches the wineskin in which it’s contained. If you put new wine in old [already stretched] skin, you’ll burst the skin. Likewise, you can’t try to fit new circumstances [a new season] into old ways of thinking. Change your ways of thinking. Change your perspective. Sure, you can put old wine into new wineskin (thinking about past seasons with new perspective), but you can’t stay there. No growth happens there. Only new wine in new wineskin grows and stretches.

Recognize the season you’re in. Stop dwelling on the past, and stop living in the future. Living and dwelling too much in past seasons can lead to depression. Living and dwelling too much in the future can lead to anxiety. Be present. If you don’t like the season you’re in, change your perspective. Choose to embrace the good. Choose to see the good.

Lessons I’ve Learned About Sailing

“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what a ship is made for”

I’ve heard this phrase a few times over the years, but for some reason, when I heard it today in church, it resonated more than it had in the past. This statement, while simple, is something that I think a lot of people struggle with, myself included. It’s much easier to not risk being damaged, not risk failing, not risk falling short of expectations. It’s easier to keep it safe than it is to risk anything. But you’d have to wonder, what if? What if you took a chance? What if you risked the safety and security of the harbor to sail the ocean? Yes, it’s scarier and takes more effort, but it’s what you’re made to do.

For those of you that know me, you know that my life has been a wild ride so far. From giving up my 4-year ROTC scholarship to pursue what I felt God was calling me to at the time, to deciding to go on a 5-week trip to Uganda a couple months before the trip with no idea how I would raise $4,000 and get all the necessary shots with no health insurance; my life has not been short of “faith building” events. However, many opportunities have come up that I felt God has put in my path that I didn’t pursue. I was afraid. I was afraid, despite all that God has provided, and despite how faithful He’s been in my life. I was afraid that I would fail. I was afraid that it wouldn’t come out the way I thought it would. I was afraid of what others might say. The list goes on. I stayed in the harbor instead of sailing. And while I have been secure, and God has proven Himself faithful in other ways, I’ve been asking myself “what if?” a lot more than I’d care to.

The Bible is full of people who got a call from God to do something beyond their capabilities, but they said Yes anyway. People that come to mind off the top of my head are Joseph (Old Testament), Moses, Rahab, and Paul. All unlikely leaders, but they took a risk and trusted God. It wasn’t easy, and they all faced tons of difficulty, but God remained faithful. And not only that, but a lot of people were affected by their obedience. Our obedience—and our disobedience—affects more people than you would imagine.

Our lives have significance. They are meant for more than just working, making money, and dying. We have a role to play in the grand scheme of humanity. We have passions and desires that are not there by accident. What are we doing with them? How are we bettering the lives of those around us?

Yes, the harbor is safe, secure, predictable. But it’s not what we’re made for. The ocean can be a scary place. But one thing I’ve learned is that oftentimes the things worth pursuing are also the scariest.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Happy Sailing.

Cancer Doesn’t Have to Kill You

Cancer is something I think everyone has dealt with on one level or another. Either we know someone who has battled cancer and overcome, love someone whose life was cut short by cancer, or have even battled cancer ourselves. It’s something we know all too well.

The thing about cancer is it’s really sneaky. Granted, sometimes you can see it via an external tumor. Sometimes you can feel it, you can feel that lump. But more often than not, it’s beneath the surface. It’s hidden. And it’s not until you get an examination that it’s revealed to you. Only when you become aware of that cancer can you begin to seek restoration and healing. The thing is, if you’re not looking for it, you won’t find it. So many people are walking around with cancer and they don’t even know it.

Just because you don’t look for it—or ignore it— doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent.

Cancer is like sin.

The Bible says in Romans 3:23-24, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (ESV, italics added for emphasis). All of us have sinned. All of us have cancer. All of us are dead men. Sometimes we can see the results of that sin externally. Sometimes we can feel it, in our soul, in our spirit, that something is amiss. But more often than not, it’s beneath the surface. Hidden. But if we ignore it, or don’t acknowledge it, it doesn’t mean it’s nonexistent. It may start out small, but if we ignore it, it only grows. It grows until it takes over and eventually kills us, spiritually, or even physically.

But there’s good news. Jesus died for us, so that we didn’t have to. That’s grace. We received life when we didn’t deserve it. It was our cancer to deal with, and He dealt with it for us. In Romans 10:9, it says, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (ESV, italics added for emphasis). But here’s the thing. As with any gift, we have to accept it in order to enjoy it. We have to agree to be treated by the Doctor. If we don’t accept it, it’s not ours. Healing can’t happen without treatment. And treatment can’t happen without acceptance of that treatment. And even after we’ve healed, cancer has a way of sneaking back into our lives. However, with regular Doctor visits and examinations, we can catch it, acknowledge it, and deal with it at the onset. But again, if we ignore it, it’ll grow. It always grows.

My prayer for anyone who happens to read this is that you would acknowledge the cancer in your life. Acknowledge it and accept the free gift of life and grace that is found in Jesus. He loves you. He always has and He always will, and He wants nothing more than for you to be set free. Cancer doesn’t have to kill you.

When a Student Teaches Me a Lesson in Humility

Today was one of those days that “frustrating” doesn’t even begin to capture what it actually was. I have a student that was being extremely stubborn. She has made it a habit to do something that will potentially harm her. Since we have noticed this behavior, we have tried to redirect her, tell her why we don’t want her to do it, we give her consequences, etc. We have told her that we’re telling her this because we don’t want her to get hurt. Her response is to show us everything but gratitude and understanding. Instead, she either laughs at us and continues to do the behavior, or she just gets mad and starts to rebel. Leaving work today, my frustration level was as high as it’s ever been.

Then God spoke.

That’s you. You can be stubborn but I love you still. You rebel, but I love you still. You make light of my warnings and continue to disobey, but I love you still. I know what’s best for you, even if you don’t see it in the moment. I love you.

To say I was humbled is an understatement. I’m human and I frustrate so easily. However, I serve a God that loves me regardless of how I act. It doesn’t mean He approves of what I do, but He loves me unconditionally. There is literally nothing I could do to make Him love me more or less than He already does.

Because of this, I want to love Him through my actions and words even more.

Gosh, He’s so good at humbling me. It’s frustrating. Ha.

When God Lets Us Walk Away

walking away

A few days ago, I was reminded of a story from Uganda. A lesson I learned. A lesson I’ve had to learn often. Two years ago, summer of 2013, I and 9 other people were in the middle of Uganda. We were working with an organization called A Perfect Injustice. While we were there, we worked between Kampala, Uganda’s capital, and a village called Bombo for 5 weeks. In Kampala, we worked in the streets. In the slums. We fed kids, did devotions with them, taught them, and played with them. The boys in the slums were given the opportunity to move to the orphanage in Bombo when they were able to demonstrate an ability to abstain from drugs, violence, etc. for an extended period of time. They were counseled and before long, they were given a ride to the orphanage.

While we were in Kampala, we got word that one of our favorite kids from the streets, Abdul, would be going to Bombo. We were thrilled. We knew that he would no longer have to fear for his safety every night, as danger lurked around every corner. We knew he would no longer have to beg for food, beg for money. He would no longer have to hide. We could hardly wait to go back to the orphanage to welcome him and celebrate with him. A couple days later, we started the drive back to Bombo. While we were still about 20 minutes away or so, we saw a kid with a backpack walking toward us on the street. It was Abdul.

David, one of the missionaries we were working with, stopped to talk to him. He talked to Abdul for maybe 10 minutes and walked back in the van. We drove off, and Abdul continued his walk. We asked David what was going on, and he told us that Abdul was running away back to the streets in Kampala.

Why didn’t we just pick him up?
Why did David just let him keep walking?

Before anyone asked out loud what we were all thinking internally, David answered. He said that he didn’t pick up Abdul because the boys have to make the decision to stay at the orphanage. He’s brought kids back who have run away before, and they just keep running away. It has to be their choice. The kids have been homeless, living on the streets for so long, that they often don’t know how to handle security. They don’t know how to deal with safety. It’s unknown to them. The unknown is oftentimes scarier than what they know, even if what they know is terrible. At least they know what to expect. It isn’t until they choose to come back and choose to stay that they really start to make progress.

We were crushed. We knew that Abdul was making the wrong choice. If we could, we would just pick him up and bring him with us because we know better than he does. We know what he needs more than he does. And in that moment, in that moment of pain and hurt, I got a glimpse of God’s heart for His people.

God has brought so many people out of some terrible stuff. He has rescued us from our own demise. He offers us security. He offers us unconditional love that so many of us have sought to find in other things and other people. He has given us everything we need. Yet, so often, we run away from it. We go back to what we know. We leave the safety and security of all that He has given us, all that He offers, to go back to what we know, even if what we know is terrible for us. At least we know what to expect. And though He longs for us to return, He doesn’t force us to do so. He has given us free will to choose. It’s the most loving thing He could do for us. When we choose to love, that love is more authentic than if we were to be forced into it. Like the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, He longs for the day that we choose to return. And whenever we do, He runs to us with open arms, ready and willing to accept us unconditionally.

Weeds

Weed: “An herbaceous plant not valued for use or beauty, growing wild and rank, and regarded as cumbering the ground or hindering the growth of superior vegetation”

Most of you, if you’ve ever had a yard in your life, know what weeds are. And chances are, you hate them. They’re cumbersome. They grow like crazy, quicker than everything else around them. They’re ugly. They take up space, use up water, and absorb sunlight that other, more beneficial, more useful, more beautiful plants could be using. If you’ve ever tried to ignore them, what happens? Do they just go away? Obviously not. What about if you just mow them down? Does that make them go away? Temporarily, yes. Permanently, of course not. If anything, it makes them seem to grow quicker and we end up working harder, wearing ourselves out, just to keep them down. Weeds are nothing more than the results of the roots from which they stem. So how do you get rid of weeds?

Get to the root.

We all have junk in our lives. We all have things in our lives that we wished we didn’t do or things that we wish weren’t a part of who we are. However, we have to come to an understanding that not only do those things have roots in our own lives, but that those things have very real roots in the lives of others also. We have done things, or others have done things to us that cause us to do what we do, think what we think, etc. When we are able to come to grips with that, we can begin to have more grace for other people (and ourselves), and be slower to make hasty judgements and generalizations. I wrote more on that here so I won’t keep going into that.

Ignoring the habits, hurts, and hang-ups in our lives does not make them non-existent. Sure, out of sight out of mind, but when you finally decide to open the front door, you know very well that you’ll be faced with a yard seemingly impossible to weed. Too often we just try to mow the weeds in hopes that others won’t see them. We put on a smile, brush our hair, wash our hands, and act like we don’t have serious hurts in our lives. All the while, behind the scenes, we’re working overtime to keep the weeds down to save face and not be found out. But deep down, we know it’s temporary. Before we know it, those weeds will come creeping back into our lives. When the lights are out. When no one is around.

Jesus doesn’t play games when it came to root issues. In Mark 9:42-48, he talks about gauging out eyes, cutting off hands, and other crazy things if they cause you to sin. He says it’s better to enter heaven with one eye/hand/whatever-else-you-cut-off than to enter hell with both. Now, he doesn’t mean to literally cut those things off/out; he is just really serious about getting to the root issues.

If you’ve ever done any weeding, you know it’s tough work. Getting to the root and getting the weeds out of our lives is equally as tough. It takes some serious work. It’ll be messy. It’ll be draining. It won’t be a quick process. People in your life will likely see you struggle. You may end up smelling terrible. And when you’re too tired to keep going, allow the Gardener to take over. But when it’s all said and done, when the weeds are out, when the soreness wears off, something really incredible will happen. The weeds will leave bare soil. Soil where real beauty can begin to take root. Rich, fertile soil that can begin to feed the good that now has the freedom to grow. Lingering weeds may still want to grow, but when they do, now they’ll be much easier to deal with since the other weeds have been uprooted. You’d have been there, done that.

Like I said, this won’t be an easy process, but it’s a process that HAS to take place. You’ll never know the good your life could be used for until you uproot the weeds in your life. Make room for the flowers.

These thoughts were inspired by a sermon I heard this past Sunday when Pastor Brent spoke on this topic, more or less, at Pearl Street Church.

Starbucks Snippet

Wednesday 12/17
4:55pm

Sitting at Starbucks after work.

My computer and my phone are both dead. I tried to charge them both to no avail.

Two girls sit by me and talk smack about what seems like everyone they know. My headphones are in, so they don’t think I heard them talking about their period.

On the surface, my initial response to my technological difficulties was a little frantic. Anxious, even.
I can’t get my work done. What if someone tries to contact me? Should I leave?

But deep down, my soul likes this. I’m disconnected. I’m OK with that. Solitude.

What if I had my phone charged? What if someone tries to contact me?

The anxiousness returns.

Affected.

12.2.2014

11:45a.m. Starbucks. It’s cold outside. Training day. A nice reprieve from work.

I sit and eat my overpriced sandwich and fruit. Black coffee. I read. Another Bullsh*t Night in Suck City. A Memoir. A man walks in. A drifter. Clearly homeless. Greased hair. Untrimmed beard. Beanie. Long underwear. A coat. Weathered face. Bright eyes.

He sits on a comfy chair. Mumbles indistinguishable words. They could have been more distinguishable if my headphones were not in my ears. My attempt at tuning out the world.

He sits. I notice. I do nothing. I could buy him something to eat. A warm drink. Talk to him. Make him feel human. Value his humanity despite his appearance. We are the same.

He gets up. Bends over—squats—in front of the sandwiches. He fills his coat pockets. Stuffs them. People stare. He shuffles out. People murmur. Flag down an employee.

Minutes pass.

I feel regret.
I didn’t help him.
I prayed this morning. Prayed that I would honor God today.
I remembered too late.

He walks back in. Cops are called. He goes to the restroom. Santa Claus suit. Maybe his mind isn’t right.

He leaves in costume. Cops come. They chase him. People murmur. People stare. Some laugh. I regret. I’m affected. Never again. It won’t happen again.