Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Defeat is No Longer an Option

We’ve all lost battles. I’ve suffered defeats. Sometimes, it feels like no matter what we do, we never win. I’ve walked (and ran) away from so many things in life. I’ve given up on countless people and turned my back on opportunities without giving them a chance to flourish.

We learn to live with the shame of defeat. Society tells us to submit, so we don’t put up a fight, even when we know in our hearts that we should fight. We compromise our values and our beliefs. We step back and let others rise because we feel that we could never be that artistic, articulate, or knowledgeable.

I learned that it was easier to accept defeat than to face my fears and persevere. It was easier to walk away. To let go. To step aside. To fail. To sin and ask for forgiveness.

There is something humbling about admitting defeat. But there is power in standing up to the fight.

Late at night, I end to blast my music while working on sketches and drawings. And I heard a line in a song that made me pause. In the song Destroy by Worth Dying For, there is a line that states “Defeat is no longer an option.” I heard those words and I thought to myself, if I truly believed that God has already achieved victory through the death of his Son on the cross, why doesn’t my life reflect what I believe?

Victory. It is more than a simple word. It is the belief that God has achieved something we could never accomplish ourselves.

There is a freedom in victory. Freedom from fear. Freedom from mistakes. Freedom from second guessing ourselves. From failure. From defeat.

I feel that so many times we see how many times we have been defeated and broken by the world that we turn to our faith and feel the same way. We question if we could really love our coworkers and neighbors that surround us. We compare ourselves to others and see how ‘blessed’ they are and struggle with accepting who we are in Jesus. We are reminded of how many times we have come up short and question if we could ever overcome the sin in our lives.

And that is where we discover that victory has already been achieved.

Our faith reveals to us the love of our Father, poured out through the sacrifice of His Son of the cross, has already given us victory. God has given us His Spirit who lives in each of us, pouring out His love into our lives so that we may also love unconditionally. This is the love that reminds each of us that we have been accepted by God, not by something that we have done, but because of who He is. This is the love of forgiveness, that has washed us clean of our sins. Not just the sins of our past, but the sins that have yet to come.

This is the victory that brings us freedom. The freedom to love unconditionally. To love those around us, as well as ourselves. The freedom to accept grace that is offered to us. The freedom to forgive. The freedom over temptation. Freedom from sin. From death. From not knowing our identity.

The victory that allowed us to be in a right relationship with our Father.

The beautiful thing about this victory is that there is nothing we are able to do. It is already won. The battle has already been fought. And victory has already been achieved.

The choice we have is not whether or not we will fight. But will we stand in victory or turn our backs to the grace that has been offered to us.

And once we learn to stand in our Faith, the battles we seem to face in our every day lives fade away into the background. And the defeats our world and society throw in our direction wont affect us, because we know who we are in Christ.


Trickle of Water

This past Sunday, we celebrated Pentecost. You know, those events that happened in Acts 2, where tongues of fire came down on the Disciples as they gathered together and they began their journey of changing the world? Fifty days after the death and resurrection of the Son of God, the man we know as Jesus Christ.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language. … we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”
– Acts 2:1-8, 11-13

On Sunday, I joined the Radius community for the weekly gathering and they made some connections that makes this event much more beautiful. You see, this is more than a single act in the larger story, but the start of something so much bigger than we could imagine.

One of the things I’ve realized is that God rarely shows us the larger picture in one go; it’s a story of discovery and a trail of small pieces that lead us to something so much more.

Ten days before Pentecost, just before He ascended into heaven, Jesus dropped another little piece of the story.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
– Acts 1:4-5, 7-8

Jesus tells his followers to wait. Something was coming that would fill them with power and the ability to change the world. He sets them up to be in place for something better. To be filled with the waters of eternal life.

And as his followers were gathered in the Temple and received the Holy Spirit, they become a trickle of water from that spring of life. And our entire relationship with God changes.

Before Jesus was crucified for the sins of the world, he tried to explain what would happen to a Samaritan Woman at the well. (See John 4:1-26)

You see, so many of us think exactly like this woman. She came day after day to Jacob’s well, a specific spot on the edge of the Samaritan town of Sychar, to fetch water. This is everything she knew. And sometimes we see our relationship to God in the same way: we must find Him in specific locations, like in the church pews.

When Jesus tells her that he will provide living water, she still doesn’t understand that he is no longer talking about water that we drink, but water that sustains eternal life.

“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
– John 4:19-24

Jesus is telling this woman that the relationship that we had with the Father was about to change. He tells her that the location of our worship will change forever. No longer will worship be centered in the Temple. No longer will the priests be the only ones to enter the Holy of Holies, because the presence of God will be within each of us. Jesus tells her of the Holy Spirit that will come.

There is one more nugget of this story that was hidden from me for so long. It is a prophecy that is still in the works, but started that day in the Temple when tongues of fire carried the Holy Spirit down to the chosen few and began a movement of believers that continues to move us today:

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led e through water that was up to the waste. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in – a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so whee the river flows everything will live.
– Ezekiel 47:1-9

Do you see it yet? That moment in the temple? When tongues of flame came down? This was the trickle that was foretold. And soon this flood of water will flow into the deadest areas of our world and fill it with life.

There is so much more that I could dive into, how sometimes we must wait or go back to the beginning of the story, but for now, I’ll just leave it at this; the story of Pentecost.

A Glimpse of a Bigger God

In my travels around the world, I have seen some amazing things. I have seen thousands of sunsets and hundreds of sunrises, each one a reminder of how beautiful creation is, as God paints the sky in vibrant color. I have experienced the miracle of life and the mystery of death, celebrating in each moment. I have seen the smiles of those our society considers poor and saw the richness of their pure, unending joy. I have felt God move in my heart, drawing me towards the path He has placed at my feet and have heard the gentle whisper calling my name.

I have rejoiced in the blessings that I have witnessed and taken part in. My path has allowed me to live and discover joy in each and every moment. But my path has not always been on the mountain tops.

There have been times in my journey that have dropped down the the lowest of lows and have been shrouded in darkness.

It’s easy to fall into the belief that everything good comes from God and everything bad is the product of the Deceiver. For a long time, I was convinced that this was the truth. But recently, my mind was blown when one of the gentlemen from the body of Christ challenged this belief. He opened up his Bible (actually, he pulled it up on his smart phone) and revealed the following:

I am the LORD, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the LORD, do all these things
– Isaiah 45:5-7

Another translation states “I send good times and bad times.” Another, “I make well-being and create calamity.” “I make peace and create evil.”

Now there is something that should shake the foundation of who you think God is.

I was sharing these words with another brother in Christ, and he shook his head and stated that this changes everything he ever thought about God. It widens the frame.

You see, God is bigger than just being “good.” Yes, He sends prosperity, well-being, peace, and good times our way. We can easily see Him working in those moments. So often these are the things we associate with God. But He is so much bigger than that.

He not only formed light, He created darkness.

This changes everything.

I’ve had so many people ask me how God could allow bad things to happen. I’ve had people ask how God could allow us to suffer and to die terrible deaths if He truly loves us.  I never had an answer because I don’t know the extent of God. He has always been (and will continue to be) bigger and more complex than anything I could wrap my head around.

But I know this: God created both the light and the dark. He gave us, His children made in His image, the option to choose. He allows us to decide between the two. He could have easily made us as robots, and directed our every moment in this life, but He gave us the choice to live because He wants us to experience life and love to its fullest.

We have the choice to follow the light or dive into the darkness. And when we begin to understand that God has created everything, even the moments of intense pain, death, and suffering, we have the opportunity to open our eyes to see Him in those moments as well.

Looking back, I understand that God was there every step of the way, even in those darkest moments where part of me thought He had abandoned us. He allowed me to be resent when He chose to bring home a child as she slipped from this life before my eyes. He revealed to my heart the value of life and the gentle blessing of death. He allowed me to hear a mothers cry of anguish and sorrow so that I would be reminded of the lessons He gave me.

After Job looses his oxen and donkeys in the fields, after flames fell from the sky and devoured his sheep, after his camels and servants are put to the sword, after every son and daughter were buried beneath the ruins, he fell to the ground and worshiped God (Job 1:13-20).

Naked I came form my mother’s womb,
and naked I will return.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.
– Job 1:21

And after all this, after he is afflicted with painful sores over his entire body, when his wife tells him “Curse God and die!” He replies:

You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?
– Job 2:10

You see, God creates good and evil. Light and darkness. He provides good times and bad. And He is always present in it.

This is something that was revealed to me, and I continue to process it. I am still yet to comprehend what it all means, but it is part of the larger picture of faith.

Until next time…

Silence Is Violence

I have served with many people from around the world. Through my time with AmeriCorps, I served with friends who came from big cities and small towns across the nation, from Alaska and Hawaii to Florida and Maine (even a dual-citizen from Germany); these individuals became my family for four of the past five years. They are black and white, Hispanic and Native American. They are Jews, Atheists, Agnostics, Christians, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccans, and self-proclaimed confused. I have friends and family that follow the tenants of Buddhism, the teachings of Mohammad and Jesus, and the new age beliefs of the free spirits.

My family comes from across the seas, stretching across the world, and from my own back yard. I have served beside them. Sat with them in conversation. Ate meals together. Cried with them. Danced together. Fought with one another. And listened to both their words and their silence. From them, I have learned to love and to live to the fullest.

A little over a week ago, I logged onto social media and noticed that one of my friends made the statement: “Silence is Violence.” His point was that when we remain silent, we are fueling and empowering those who seek to spread fear, lies, and hatred. Good men are those who take a stand for what they believe, especially when staying quiet is the safer option.

We have been too silent for too long. I have been too silent and it is time to stand with my brothers and sisters.

I started writing a post about a week ago that I had titled “American Terrorism” but I never finished it. I started writing it after I saw a video shared online where a man stood before his community and proposed the construction of a Mosque and community center. He was interrupted by a member of the crowd who proceeded to accuse him and all Muslims as terrorists. My heart sunk as the community members in the crowd clapped and cheered this man on, as he spread hatred and fear.

I never finished that post because later that evening, the mass shooting and act of terrorism made front page news as live coverage followed the tragedy in San Bernardino. We watched as a mother and father chose hatred and fear over love.

We have seen many tragic acts of terrorism over these past couple weeks. From Paris to Mali, Europe to the Middle East. Across Africa and onto our own shores here in the United States. By remaining voiceless, we allow the fear and hatred to spread farther than the reaches of their violence.

I put no stock in religion. By the word religion, I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires in in your thoughts and in your heart. And what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.
– the Hospitaler, from The Kingdom of God

Actions define us. When we choose love and forgiveness over hatred and fear, we receive it in turn.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is filled with hate and fear. We have political figures who are instigating hatred because they are afraid of something that they do not agree with. We have members of the media who turn a blind eye to terrorism committed by individuals who claim to be Christians because it doesn’t fit the narrative of the radicalized jihad. We have individuals who feel that the only way they will be heard is if they kill, maim, and shed blood through violence.

It doesn’t matter what their beliefs are or what faith they have chosen to follow. Anyone who uses violence and fear as a tool in the attempts to force their beliefs, opinions, or way of life onto those around them is a terrorist. Anyone who claims that their religion and/or beliefs have called them to take action and kill indiscriminately is a terrorist. Even if they have absolutely no connections to ‘organized’ terrorist organizations.

The simple fact is that there are people willing to kill here in our country. Individuals who threaten violence on others. There are men and women who have taken it upon themselves to stand out in front of mosques with guns and terrorize the families who wish to worship freely. There are individuals I know who have spoken of taking up arms against members of their own communities. This is the reality of ‘Christian’ terrorism.

I can go on: Anti-abortion activists who threaten medical personnel who provide care to those in need. These are the same people who shout and scream at innocent women who seek medical care, without knowing their personal stories and struggles. And this acceptance of verbal abuse shows people that it is okay to hate. And okay to use fear to push their agenda. And this leads to physical violence.

And those of us who do not speak up against these actions, we are part of the problem.

Someone once told me that bad men triumph when the good men do nothing. This is the time for us to take a stand. Not just against the members of ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Taliban, but against the hate speech of American citizens, the fear spread by the media, and the attempts to alienate a religion by Islamophobics around the world.

As a follower of Christ, I detest violence. Those who kill by the sword will die by the sword. Better to love unconditionally and learn to accept forgiveness into our hearts.

But we still must learn to fight the good fight. And the first step is to stop being silent.

Note: There is a difference (that I might get to in a later post) between using force to defend yourself and violence.

Taking a Stand

Over the past couple days I’ve seen several comments on various social media sites about Planned Parenthood, the Pro-Life movement, and snide remarks about how Christians should respond to the outrage. I usually try to stay out of politics and the general [edit]-storm that surrounds controversial topics like these, but there are times when you must take a stand and let others know where you stand on the issue.

This post is designed to start (or continue) discussions about sensitive topics. This is not an argument where there is a right or wrong side, nor just two sides. If you are interested in continuing this conversation, please do so, but please be respectful. Now that that is over with, let us continue.
:::END NOTE:::

When I was in High School, I took part in the Pro-Life rally in Washington, D.C. On multiple occasions, I wore shirts that stated “Pray to end Abortion” and “Some choices are wrong.”  As a Catholic, I was raised to respect and cherish all life, especially those still in the womb.

My faith tells me that every creation, every individual, is a blessing. I believe that life begins in the womb. I believe that all life must be cherished. I believe that the act abortion is the death of a life, a child.

But here’s the thing: I also believe that it is not my right to force my beliefs onto someone else. I know there are people who believe differently than I do. I have friends who see the world in a way that I never could. And they have shown me that this is not my choice. It is theirs.

You see, I, as a male, will never be pregnant. I will never have that opportunity to bring life into the world (please, don’t argue this. I know science may say otherwise in a couple of years). That being said, I will never have to face the choice of bringing a child into this world or letting it go. My only opportunity will be to love and support those beautiful women in whatever choice they make.

As a follower of Christ, I am called to love and fight for those around me. I am called to support, not to judge.

My place is beside them. I do not have to agree with them. I do not have to understand. But I am to love to my fullest.

Sometimes loving someone means accepting their decision and holding their hand anyways.  Sometimes love is walking them past the shouting crowds. Sometimes love is sitting and listening, not trying to talk them out of a choice, but giving them the safe space to process the choice. Sometimes love is putting aside your own opinions and supporting them. And sometimes it is keeping your mouth shut.

Lately I’ve been asked by a number of individuals what I thought about Planned Parenthood and the current protests against it (aka: do I support defunding the organization). Well, it’s not a hard choice for me.

If it were not for Planned Parenthood, several of my friends would not have the necessary care and support to have given birth to beautiful children.  If it were not for their screenings, a good friend would not have known that she had breast cancer that was caught early enough before it became hazardous to her health. If it were not for their services, many of my friends would not be able to afford preventative medicine.

You see, I support Planned Parenthood. I support them because they have shown love where many people have not.

We say that we are pro-life or pro-choice, but I think it goes much farther than that. The usual argument has nothing to do with being pro-life, it is about being anti-abortion. Or anti-choice. We want people to see the world the same way we do. We want them to act like us, believe the same things as we do, and make the same choices we would. This is not being pro-life.

Pro-life is more than being pro-birth, but making sure everyone around us has the chance to live to their fullest. It is more than a stance against abortion and the death penalty, but a conscience effort to live and give others the chance to do the same.

A friend of mine made a comment that was a bit facetious about Christians protesting Planned Parenthood and it made me start thinking; is that how people view Christians these days? What happened to the love we are called to share?

I believe that love can conquer all.

Do I believe that abortion is wrong? Sure. But that will not stop me from loving to the fullest. Nothing will.

This is my stance on the issue. Yes, I believe it to be wrong, but why should my beliefs be forced upon those around me.

Just some thoughts…

Lessons from Kingdom of Heaven

Last night I watched the movie Kingdom of Heaven with my dad. You know, the movie where Orlando Bloom is a blacksmith who becomes a knight during the Crusades and ends up as the defender of Jerusalem. It’s one of my favorite movies. Not because Liam Neeson plays Godfrey de Ibelin, the baron who once fought for two days with an arrow in his [edit in case of sensitive eyes]. Or because the love story between Sibylla (played by the beautiful Eva Green) and Balian de Ibelin (Orlando Bloom). Though those are some of the interesting parts of the movie.

The reason I love this movie so much is the fact that it shows us the struggle of faith, the doubt in religion, and the quest to bring good into the world, to be ones best at all times, even when that means personal sacrifice.

If you have not seen the movie, go watch it. There may be some spoilers and I do not want to be held responsible for ruining anything for anybody. I know the movie has been out for 10 years, but you never know if people have seen it or not.

The movie takes place in the Holy Land during a time of uncertainty, as Saladin and the Saracen army threaten the Kingdom of Jerusalem. On top of this, the Templar Knights, led by Guy de Lusignan, are trying to provoke a war by slaughtering Muslims left and right.

A king may move a man, a father may claim a son, but that man can also move for himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at that time. This will not suffice. Remember that.
– King Baldwin IV

King Baldwin, the leper king of Jerusalem, reminds Balian on their first meeting that a man’s actions are his and his alone. It is a reminder that every man is responsible for making the choice to follow the demands of those who claim to rule us or the commands of our Father above, Abba.

Each one of us bears this same responsibility. Do we follow the path that society tries to force us down, or do we seek out the stepping stones that God has put before our feet to find the journey stretching out before us? This is a choice that we must answer.

God has called each of us to be His hands and feet. To take up the weapons of love and become warriors in His name.

Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always, even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.
– Godfrey de Ibelin

That is the oath Balian took to become a knight. A slap to the face was so that he would remember it.

This is an oath that we should all live by. To love through our actions. To show our faith through protecting those around us. Even those that do not believe the same things we do. To stand when everyone else runs to hide behind the walls of protection. To ride out against a foe that outnumbers us to give others the chance to escape to safety.

Balian takes this oath to heart and tries to bring good wherever he goes. And though he struggles with his faith, he succeeds in building a better world for those under his protection.

At one point, after spending the night listening for God on the hill where Christ was crucified, he admits to his fathers friend, a Hospitaler who remains unnamed throughout the move, that he has lost Religion, that God has abandoned him.

I put no stock in religion. By the word religion, I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and of goodness. What God desires is here (pointing at his head) and here (placing a hand over his heart) and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.
– Hospitaler

Every time I hear this quote, I smile. These words were something that I struggled to discover for some time. They echo in my heart, telling us that if we do not live out our faith every single day, we do not truly know the desires of God. Religion has brought some of the greatest love to the world, but through the actions of men and women who have warped it into an abomination, it has also been used to pour out hatred, violence, and death.

Religion has been warped to spread war, but if we truly want to live the lives that God calls us to live, we will find ourselves fighting for love. And peace.

The movie ends with the siege and fall of Jerusalem, an epic battle of wills and strategy. After Balian threatens to tear down every religious building, temple, and holy place, Saladin responds stating that this might be for the best. He then goes to remind Balian that the city is filled with innocent women and children, granting them safe passage back to Christian lands in exchange for the city. With the safety of those under his protection secured, Balian surrenders the city.

As they depart, they share the following words:

And peace be with you

The entire move reminds me that we (Christians) are not so much different than those who are of differing faiths. As Balian and his father approach Messina, we hear a priest shouting “To Kill an Infidel is not murder! It is the path to heaven!” As my dad heard this, he turned to me and stated that his was the same rallying cry we still hear in the Holy Land. And when Balian spots a number of Muslims praying, he asks what their prayers mean:

“Subhana Rabbi’l Adhim.” Praise be to God. It is proper to praise him.

To which, Balian states: Sounds like our prayers.

I don’t believe we are all that different. That we are capable of living together in peace. That the lines drawn by religion can be erased through the love of faith. And that our actions prove stronger than our words.

One of my favorite characters in the movie is Nasir, a man we assume is a servant, but is revealed to be a leader of the Saracens with Saladin. After Balian spares his life, he returns the favor. After seeing the righteous actions of Balian as he fought to protect innocent citizens caught out in the open before the Saracen army and the defense of Jerusalem, Nasir returns a horse to Balian and then asks him a final question before the movie comes to a close:

… and if God does not love you, how could you have done the things you have done?

And I’ll leave it there.

God Bless and PEACE

The Challenge

I am sitting here on family vacation looking out over the Atlantic Ocean and I wanted to share a thought or two while it is still quiet. It’s been a long year. It’s been rough and, to be honest, there have been times where I loose focus on things that really matter in life.

Several weeks ago, I finished my last and final year as a Corps Member with AmeriCorps, having served the past two years with the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT). Before that, FEMA Corps. And before that, NCCC. I’ve had the adventure of a lifetime, something I wouldn’t trade because these experiences have shaped me. In that time, I have struggled with Faith, with people, challenges, and with discovering who I am and who I want to be.

Recently, I reconnected with my old roommate from college and a beautiful young lady and good friend who recently returned from a year in the missions field. I hadn’t seen my roommate in almost 5 years, so there was a lot to catch up about over dinner. This included side comments about how I was the only one who was eating flesh (Vegan-speak for eating meat).

The conversation went back and forth as we caught up with one another and shared our experiences and journeys with one another. We talked about faith and missions and churches and jobs. We shared our hearts with one another as we relearned about who was sitting across and beside one another. Five years changes people, but somehow we are still the same person as before.

As we embraced one another as brothers and sisters in faith, a friendship that goes beyond blood-bonds and distance, I smiled.

Since finishing my time with AmeriCorps, I have spent time holding my new nephew and watching him be baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve sat in quiet looking out over the beach here at Edisto. Sang and played music with my mother and her sister. Read for hours. And compiled a video montage of this past year with the ERT.

I’ve also woken up each morning with the reminder that God has granted each of us another day here on this Earth.

Something my friend said has stuck with me: God has a plan. This doesn’t always mean we are going to be happy, or safe, or feel like this is part of the plan, but we have to trust that God knows what He is doing. If we accept what is before us, the challenges and difficulties that come with our jobs, the people we work with, and the stress of living, if we take all that with a smile, knowing that it is an opportunity to grow, then maybe we can start to see that it is all good.

Someone once told me that you must wake up every morning and remember that each day, each breath, is a gift from God. So what are we going to fill it with?

It is easy to sit down and give up. To complain to no end about the injustices of the world and the terrible things that go on before our eyes. But what good does that do? Does it reveal God’s love through our actions?

When I dedicated my life to following the teachings of Jesus Christ and accepted a relationship with God, I made the choice to be His hands and feet. To be an example of His love. Every single person who calls themselves a Christian, a follower of Christ, made the same choice. And that begins with accepting the gift of love from our Father, Abba.

Each morning that we wake up, each breath that we take in, should be a reminder that God loves us. And once we fill our hearts with this love, it will begin to pour out unconditionally onto all those around us.

It’s not always easy. There are people in our lives who are difficult, who are combative, who would rather see us fail. But we are still called to love them. There will be people who don’t share the same beliefs as us, who don’t want to believe in God, who actively try to turn us away from Him. It is not our place to convert them, to argue in circles. We are called to love them. And God will reveal Himself through this love.

It is a challenge. But I look out over the waters, and remember the mountains of Montana, the open fields of the grasslands, and even the shattered landscapes scarred by wildfires, floods, and tornadoes, and I can see God working through it all. And I smile because I know I have seen another glimpse of His love in my life.

The Love and the Fury

A couple days ago, as I was leaving Shreveport, Louisiana, the skies around me unleashed a fury like none I have ever seen or felt. I’m talking about lightning strikes that shook my car and rain that prevented me from seeing the car in front of me at the stoplight. It was amazing. But at the same time, it was terrifying.

Storms are powerful things. I’ve seen them rip apart buildings, splinter trees, and toss vehicles like they were my nephews toys. Storms have caused me to cower in fear and run like my life depended on it.

But every storm reveals something to me: the awesome power of God and His creation.

Back up a minute: Death, destruction, and doom remind me of God?!

Um, yes. Absolutely.

You see, the God I believe in is the same God that flooded the world. The same God that rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah. That set the plagues upon the Egyptians. That commanded the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites. Who split the ground and swallowed up those that rebelled from His way. Who flipped over tables and whipped those who made a market out of His temple.

Yes, the God I love and follow is full of righteous fury. He is powerful beyond words. Terrifying at times.

I often find myself speaking about God in a purely safe way; He is the shelter in the storm. The safe harbor. He is the love and gentle. And kind. And if we just believe in Him we will live happily ever after.

Oh, how we are so wrong. You see, sometimes, God is the storm. Sometimes, God sends down fire and rains destruction on the world. Tornadoes are referred to as ‘the Finger of God” (thanks to the great movie Twister). Sometimes, the path that God calls us to follow is NOT the safe path that will get us out unharmed.

I know all this, and still believe in Him. Still follow His teachings. Still accept His love. Because I know that these things all happen for a reason.

Several years ago, I went through a stormy patch of life. I was convinced that God had abandoned me and left me to fend for myself upon those waves. I look back and I realize that God was always there for me; He never let me drown, but gave me the strength to keep my head above the waters. I am sure that He sent the storms to force me to let go of the things I was holding onto that would have dragged me under; relationships, preconceived notions, opinions, and the shadow of the past.

Over the past couple years, God has set my world on fire, literally and figuratively.  Many things from my past perished in those figurative flames, giving me the space to grow and the opportunity to rebuild who I am meant to be.

In Joplin, despite the destruction and the devastation, the deaths and the wounds, I saw a community of people come together to care for one another. Neighbor took care of neighbor. Strangers became valued friends. And many people turned to God in praise and thanksgiving for the blessings that they had received after the world they knew had been torn apart.

You see, God’s fury is part of His love. Yes, I have been scarred and burned, faced the darkness and survived, but I have learned that every time, God is there with me. Leading me. I didn’t become a Christian to be safe. I didn’t choose to follow God because I thought it would be easy. I follow Jesus Christ because, no matter how many times I fail, I am loved.

I’ve always said that the most dangerous (and most glorious) place to be is in the palm of God’s hand. It’s also very beautiful. And scary. And satisfying.

Thin Places (an excerpt from Journeys; the adventures of a Nomad)

The following is a short excerpt from the second draft of Journeys; the adventures of a Nomad.  Hope y’all enjoy!

The summer following my sophomore year of high school, I received the opportunity to journey alongside forty of my classmates and friends to a weeklong summer camp at Young Life’s Saranac Village in upper state New York.  …

In the early morning hours, we boarded the bus and I began to open my eyes to those that surrounded me; we were an eccentric group of high school kids.  We had the jocks and the preps, members of the marching band and drum line, shy kids who kept to themselves, drug dealers and users, skaters, punks, and everything in between.  And as we began our journey towards the hills of the Adirondack Mountains of New York, we began to form a bond that crossed all the lines of our high school society.

We slept throughout the night as the miles flew beneath us. After a quick stop midmorning, we continued on our way, somehow ending up heading in the wrong direction for several hours. By lunchtime, when we were supposed to be arriving at camp, we were completely lost and still several hours from our destination.  After receiving directions from one of the locals in the area, we headed back onto the road hoping to catch the first night’s activities.

I don’t know if our bus driver missed the turn or forgot where we were going, but we were forced to make a quick turn around when we spotted a sign that simply stated “Canadian Border 5 Miles, Have Passport Ready.”  As night fell around us, we entered the wilderness and back roads that surrounded the Upper, Middle, and Lower Saranac Lakes.  For several hours we continued to wind our way up and down roads that we were sure contained our destination, even as someone shared that this was exactly like a scene out of Jeepers Creepers.

Unbeknownst to us, the light that stood at the entrance of the camp had burned out, leaving the driveway shrouded in darkness.  Although we had found the correct road, we continued to pass by the entrance, unaware that our destination was within reach. After stopping to ask for directions from a cop standing in the rain under a lamp post, we arrived at Young Life’s Saranac Village.

We piled out of the bus, unloaded our things into our cabins, and fell asleep after an exhausting twenty three and a half hours of traveling, to wake several hours later to see the beauty that surrounded us.

As I stood outside the cabins the next morning, looking out over the path that led down to the shores of Upper Saranac Lake and the Adirondack Mountains beyond, I felt a physical presence that I had never felt before. Within the golden rays of the sunrise reflecting off the waters, throwing a golden hue over the camp, I felt something looking over the islands and mountains that rose out of the waters before me; it was a physical presence up on the hill beside me. Everything seemed small as the air moved in peaceful breaths around me. It felt as if a friend was standing at my side, welcoming me back with open arms.

It wasn’t until I returned to this place, three years later, that I discovered the words to describe what I felt as I stood there.  There are places where the beauty of nature and the untamed wilderness allow us to feel a spiritual connection to something bigger than ourselves. These places where it feels as if the physical and spiritual worlds intertwine together were described to me as “thin places.”

And in that first morning at Young Life’s Saranac Village, I stumbled into one of these thin places and knew that there was something more.

I write this because it was just over 11 years ago that this adventure with Young Life changed my life. There is so much more to this story that is yet to be written out in words, but it has remained in my heart and has shaped my life.

I share it today because this morning, I was frustrated.  I was upset and angry. And yet, I have been surrounded by the beauty of nature each and every day for the past six weeks up here in Montana. When times our rough, we each need a reminder that God is and will always be present. Especially in the Thin Places.

This also goes out to an amazing man who showed me what it meant to give your life for something bigger. He has continued to be a positive influence in the lives of the youth and a pillar of faith in my life, even though our paths parted years ago. He was and is more than a Young Life Leader, but a mentor, friend, and brother in Christ.

The Deafening Silence

As you can tell, I have not written in a short while.  It’s not that I haven’t had the time, it’s just that the words have not come.  Several times over the past couple weeks I have sat here in front of the screen and words just seem to slip through my fingers. Or sat before the canvas, unable to paint.  Or draw.

I’ve been distracted.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future.  Where do I go from here?  When my time with AmeriCorps is over, where will I turn?  Where will I work?  What will I do?  Where will I live?

I’ve been absorbed on the past.  Where I’ve been.  What I have done.  Reflecting on lost moments.  Lost words left unsaid.  Actions and their consequences.

I sit in the silence, listening for a clue to that next step, and all I hear are my thoughts.  The hundreds and thousands of questions racing through my head.  And it is deafening.  It’s like a screaming that wont stop.  That can’t stop.

And yet I smile.  I still press on.  For the silence tells us just as much as words.

The silence is God’s way of telling me to wait.  To be still.  And embrace the moments we have, here and now.

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