Happy Happy

Happy Happy, Happy Happy Hey Hey! (the birthday song in my head)

This last Sunday, which was a particularly beautiful day, marked the beginning of the 27th year of my life! “Aye, I be ownly tawenti sevan” (said in a pirate voice (I’m not sure why it needs to be said like that, but it does)). And like most of the occasions in my life, I typically chalk them up as insignificant, albeit just a good a reason as any to throw a party! Sounds contradictory I know, but the party is to gather with my friends and be with them, not to celebrate me :); however, this year was different!!

Instead of the wildly successful Redneck Party that I threw last year,

my fiancé (I’m saying that more and more so I don’t call her my girlfriend anymore) told me to make sure I didn’t make any plans that day, and that she was going to surprise me with the entire day! She’s amazing, I know I know. So what did my little angel have planned for me? Well I’m glad you asked! Here we go:

  1. Beginning at 8:30am, my dear stopped by to pick me up to take me to breakfast (my favorite meal!). The thought of a big plate of bacon, eggs, hash browns, pancakes and maybe a sausage link or two puts me into a trance like Homer Simpson when he thinks of donuts. So, away we went, but not without my favorite drink from Starbucks made JUST the way I like it. BONUS!
  2. Off to East Plano to Poor Richard’s Café for some of Dallas’ best breakfast. We were greeted by a petite, elderly woman with bright red curly hair from New York City; her accent filling the room with talks of bagels, deli meats, cakes and cawfee as we were shuffled to our booth. Her initial response to Becca’s furry vest thingamajig she was wearing (with the required hand gesture that looks like she was swatting something in the air): “Dawling, that thing is too cauute!” So, off we went to be seated and filled to the brim with yet another cup, or four, of coffee. Good conversations and questions were saved for then and we quickly lost track of time with stuffed bellies and over saturated lips from coffee. We left PR’sC off to the next surprise destination…
  3. During this time, my mother called me on the phone, and I was caught up in the typical over-extended phone conversation about how happy she is, and wanting to know every detail about my thoughts, feelings and the weekend. However, this was abruptly cut short by me when I told her I had to let her go because I saw the next location!!!!: The Bullet Trap! Oh yes, my baby girl took me to a gun range! We walked in ready for action! Me in a pair of shorts and some chucks, and her in a frilly pink dress and big sunglasses; oh yes, they knew we were there for business! So, we rented two handguns (a 9mm and a .45 both by SIG SAUER). We rented some ear muffs, eye protection, bought 100 rounds of ammo, and a target and proceeded to destroy the imaginary intruders from 10 yards away. For those wondering, Becca has incredibly steady hands, and started tracing back her routes to the Italian Mafia. So, after expending the last cartridge from the pistola, we proceeded to walk around the guns for a bit (mostly so I could scope out the one I want in the future), and then left to the next destination.
  4. Confession: I like shoes, and shoe shopping. I know, for a man to say that is something of a rarity, and something usually characterized by stereotypes, but what can I say, I dig ‘em. So when I say I needed a pair of black dress shoes, I mean: I just wanted a new pair. And so for part of my birthday gift, “baby girl” bought me some new shoes. Shiney ones with a buckle on top of it, and fine stitching with a raised toe line. Pretty spiffy if you ask me. Ask me! I also happened to see a pair of brown ones in the right shape and color I wanted on the clearance rack. I’ll take a pair of $70 shoes for $11, thank you! Oh, and a new belt. I guess my girl is rubbing off on me, because I have to say when it comes to shopping, I’m not bi-shopping, I’m bi-winning! (Charlie Sheen fans out there??)
  5. After eating, shooting, driving, shopping, laughing and people watching, I typically like to do something very logical after all that: start it all over again! So, off to lunch we went to one of my favorite little cafes in Plano called Main Street Bakery Café. Great sandwiches, great desserts, great salads, and of course, great drinks! So, a quaint little lunch with salads and tall screwdrivers added to the needed serenity after unleashing a staccato of shells at the would-be intruders, and the ensuing storm of shopping; it was a perfect respite.
  6. We decided that since we were in the area, and the day was feeling reminiscent of times of our early romance, we decided to hop across the street to the place we had our first date (or second depending on which one of us you talk to), for a nice cold bowl of fro-yo! Becca and I’s favorite dessert together. We enjoyed some amazing fro-yo at the table we first shared a small piece of our hearts together, and what an amazing treat with an amazing treat with my amazing treat 🙂
  7. Impromptu jello shots next door. Nothing much to add here other than we thought it would be fun since they were free. And it was fun!
  8. Recoup and rest. We rented a comedy from the neighborhood Blockbuster down the street, and rested on the couch with our laughter (truth be told, I silently laughed since she feel asleep early and drooled all over my shirt 🙂 haha jk). After the movie, we arose and pepped up to go have dinner with our friends like we do every Sunday. Good times and good conversations ensued, but Becca and I soon found ourselves exhausted, and seeking more peace and quite. We left Sunday Night Diner to go have some quiet time and talk. We rested, talked about our relationship and our feelings, and then very slowly, began to call it a night.

After thinking through the whole day and all the things we did, I can’t help but be amazed by this woman. She truly loves me, and cares for me. She honors me, and respects me. She does things for me not so she can receive it back, but just to care for me. For those things, and the events of the day, I have to confess one more thing: it was the best birthday ever. I am so so so blessed by the Lord.

Nature, the birds, the bees, and the elements

Nature, the birds, the bees, and the elements are some of my favorite things (not the birds and the bees that you’re thinking!). I think it has often times said by everyone, “I love nature!” I think I’m infatuated with nature and the elements. Everyone wants to swim with dolphins; I wanted to make that my career. Everyone wants to go on a safari; I wanted to be the guide who knows everything about the animals and tracks them. Everyone loves a sunset; I will detach myself from important conversations and get lost in a sunset. Everyone loves to see tornadoes; I wanted to chase them. I am very sensitive and aware to external stimuli; be it a cool breeze on a hot day, or the movement of something in the bushes; I’ve realized that God has wired me this way. I’m the guy who is filled with useless information about animals. In fact, I really really like trivia questions about animals because I typically know or have a good idea about them…. Nerdy I know haha. The interesting thing that I’ve thought about is that God didn’t have to create nature, flora, fauna, and the elements. What I mean is, we could have played out this life on a planet that had no elevation change, no real color and variety, no diversity in creatures and plants… we could’ve been on a planet that looked more like the moon with only the bare essentials and necessities. BUT GOD (basically my two favorites words in scripture), in His infinite power by His will, wanted this diversity. He created things that were supposed to remind us of Him. Thank you Adam and Eve for jacking that one up for us, but still our hearts remember. One of the strongest arguments against atheism to me is this thought: no one has ever stood on the brink of the Grand Canyon, no one has ever stared up at Mt. Everest, no one has ever seen the sun setting over a tropical paradise and had the thought, “Yup, this is all about me and there is certainly nothing behind all of this.” God is real, He created everything, and He is worthy of our praise.

 

The great thing about that awareness is that certain things now don’t just fade out quickly. I can now appreciate things as they were created, and enjoy them in a way in which I was created to enjoy them; by them terminating on God. The sunsets lately have been so beautiful! The sunrises too! Seeing some of God’s most awesome and power creatures on the planet and getting close them has been a huge joy for my soul. Seeing incredibly powerful storms with lightning, super-cells, tornadoes and hail roll through the plains has brought my soul awe at the One who created it all. Feeling the cool water wash over my body as I dive into a lake during the hot summer month has brought my soul peace and relaxation.

 

I think the thought that I’m left with, and the desire I wish people had more, is this: that we would appreciate what God could easily have done without, yet He created them for His glory, and our joy! It’s here for us! It’s here to remind us! It’s here to help us remember! It surprises me so much when some people are oblivious to a sunset that has such beauty in it, or have never seen or experienced something that is so awe inspiring, that it changes them. But for me, I love that I am so wired to see beauty in the things I see. It makes this world so interesting and fascinating to me, and makes me love the Lord more and more each day. So, in the words of Robbie Seay, “Go outside, and praise the God who mapped the stars out in the sky.”

Tagged

“ABBA, father”

“ABBA, father”

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.””… Romans 8:15

Being a son, and having a loving father: a sore subject to me.

Unfortunately in life, there are painful seasons that are inevitable. Jesus and the apostles talk about “when” suffering comes, not “if.” One of the greatest things about Jesus is that because He was tempted in every way, yet without sin, He is able to sympathize with our weakness, and our needs (Hebrews 2:17-18). So no matter what comes our way, Jesus can say, “I know, I remember, I’m sorry and I’m here for you.” It is an incredible picture of the heart of the Lord

Saturday was the first time in a long time I’ve been “broken.” There have been recent times when I’ve been discouraged, hurt, belittled, stepped on, or just plainly ignored; but there have been few times where I’ve been blind-sided and left shattered and in tears. Saturday was one of those days to me. My dad; the man who I am most similar too, the man who makes me laugh and relax more than any other man, the man who loves me with his whole heart and would do anything to protect and encourage his only son, decided that when my heart was the most full of joy it could be, was the perfect time to stick a knife in it. And therefore, unknowingly prove to me how much he loves me. My father, very clearly and bluntly, told me and showed me that money, time, and convenience are vastly more important to him than me.

This might not be all that shocking to anyone; after all, broken families are as common in the world these days as a rap song with either lil’ wayne, t-pain or jay-z. But the incredible thing is how he has been there for me, and shown me love in the past. He has paid for things, he has supported, he has given sound counsel, and he has protected. And now, out of the blue, my dad has stabbed me through the heart. And then twisted the knife with more comments to make sure his point came across. And then repeated the process… and then again. He has always been stubborn and inconsiderate at times… but I NEVER THOUGHT…

So now, I feel abandoned and orphaned. Not from birth, but in my mid 20’s. Fatherless, discarded, trashed, and prioritized. I will not give up on my father, but his actions leave me in a difficult and conflicted place. The times this has happened in my life, I’ve turned away from the people who have caused that harm. I’ve left them. I’ve said, “Never again will I let myself be hurt by this person. My heart is forever shut off from them.” I can’t tell how much it hurt. It did. And it brought a flood of tears. And my best friend’s words were a comfort I later meditated and dwelt on… “That we have a father who is tireless. Who is full of love and grace. Who will never leave, abandon, or hurt me. Who will be my daddy, and my comforter.” My heart may feel abandoned by my earthly father, but because of it, I am clinging with white knuckles to the Father who will never do that to me. And so, I’ve been camped out in His love. Waiting, longing, and thanking Him for when I can see Him face to face, and praise Him for being my Abba, father.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit. A broken heart, o Lord, you will never despise.”… Psalm 51:17

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir. “… Galatians 4:4-7

“There may pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning”… Psalm 30:5

…he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,…”… Ephesians 1:5

“This wasn’t supposed to happen to me…”

“This wasn’t supposed to happen to me…”

Love, is what she was talking about. She wasn’t supposed to fall in love. She wasn’t supposed to be allowed to fall in love. She didn’t deserve it.

This was the chart in her mind:

Do you think you deserve love?

If we can, let’s be a little honest here. If you’ve ever seriously dated someone, you know how quickly your faults and your failures become evident in a relationship. Not because they intentionally reveal them, but because you’ve been so focused on yourself your entire life that when it comes time to think of someone else, your old habits show how deeply rooted they are. And the inevitable first “debate” becomes a lot like a space shuttle countdown until the first explosion that shoots you somewhere into space. “T-6.6 seconds. Main engine start. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 T-0. Solid rocket booster ignition and liftoff!” And in a few seconds of your well planned speech of how she really doesn’t serve you well enough in your mind, you quickly realize that you are in fact more Uranus, when you simply thought she was from Mars and she was from Venus…. If you catch my solar system drift? In THAT moment, you realize you don’t deserve her. In that moment, you realize how selfish and undeserving of love you are.

In other words, I don’t deserve love either.

A book I’m reading illustrated a make-believe situation about a wedding day and a rather rude interruption. As the pastor says, “Is there anyone who objects to this union?” A man stands up in the back and says, “How do you know??!! How do you know it will work?” The story reads that in that moment, everyone comes up with their own reason why this particular bride and groom will “make it.” Maybe because they have read every book about marriage there is. Maybe because they are committed to Jesus. Maybe because they love each other. Maybe because they complement one another. And in a moment of brilliance, the pastor saves the day with a few short words… “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here today to join in the union of marriage between these two people, and God. He will make it work. Let’s pray…”

The topic of this post; simple: What makes a marriage work?

It is helpful to know how to help your marriage! So, read books on it! It is helpful to know what it is like, so ask older couples! It is helpful to understand who you are marrying, so ask questions to one another! Oh yes, read the books, ask the questions, love each other, and seek the Lord in your marriage; but that is not what makes a marriage work. God makes a marriage work. Seek Him, ask His guidance, seek His Book on marriage, see how He has shown examples of how to love, and listen to how He talks about His bride. The great comfort about the uncertainty of the future of a union, or really anything in life, is that everyone is equally NOT in control of the future and must really rely on the Lord entirely. My eventual marriage to my fiancé will not rest on my shoulders.

Now, I have a commandment by God to one day present her to the Lord as blameless and spotless (a call I do not take lightly coming from a family of failed marriages). I will try. I will serve. I will die to self. I will look to her needs first. I will, with all confidence, protect and honor her with all my might. I WILL MAKE THIS MARRIAGE WORK! But, I only say those words with these little words afterwards… “by God’s grace and will.”

The point of this post; simple: God makes marriages work. He and He alone.

I can’t wait to begin this beautiful journey of marriage. And I hope that one day I will be old, wrinkly, grey (probably a solid bald patch), and sitting on the porch drinking strong coffee with my wife Becca, talking about God and how He truly did make our marriage work. And how both of us eagerly look forward to the full picture of marriage: when we arrive in heaven hearing the wedding bells ring, and seeing our Lord and Savior welcome us home. What a day!

Hurricane Change

Hurricane Change*…. Ever heard of it???

Seriously, you haven’t???

Hmmm, well maybe you just know it by a different name…

Hurricane Change* is an Event and season in your life that comes about when a lot of things change from what they were, to something new. Ring a bell now? Yeah it does! And these changes can be good, or bad, but they are change; and in my experience, most of the human population is very averse to change. It seems like January was one entire hurricane for me, and this is the account of the positive, and influential effects of Hurricane Change 2012.

H.C.* struck early in the month of January leaving an altered life in its wake. The first area that it struck was in the territory of my Relationships. I found myself going from being “in it” to “in it to win it.” H.C.* affected my heart. My heart and mind found that it was…. *drum roll please. brbrbrbrbbrbrbbrrrbrbrrr*… in love! And crazy in love at that too! Now, this is a very extravagant, and beautiful story; but also very common. The only unique characteristic in this story from many others’s stories is that I fell in love after 4-5 months of dating. (H.C.* strikes without warning, and can be very powerful!!)

The next area H.C.* struck was in the region of Financials. As it turns out, being in love and wanting marriage can come with some very understandable and very shiny expenses when it comes about. For the last six and a half years, Starbucks Coffee Corporation has been providing me with a very steady, very simple paycheck. Not the type of paycheck though that would’ve allowed me to buy the things I wanted, or in my opinions, needed to buy. And this was a strange feeling for me. I’ve never been a materialistic or lavished guy (my flip phone and general clothing and accessories would tell you that), but when it came to an engagement ring, I all of a sudden felt my limits and my inability to provide what I wanted…….. and it weighed heavily on me. Then all of a sudden, H.C.* hit with force! You see, despite my BRILLIANT and INCREDIBLE wisdom and knowledge (you must know I’m being sarcastic), I couldn’t see this need and desire for capital to invest in an engagement ring or engagement; nor could I adequately plan for it. Enter: THE LORD! The great thing is that the Lord had secretly been saving for an engagement ring for me (Thank you stock options from my tenure at Starbucks that I had completely forgotten about!). H.C.* brought another blessing through the winds of provision!

H.C.*’s final trajectory was aimed directly at my Career. Ah yes, long-term, sustainable income and investment. Well, the amazing aspect of this trajectory is that it took my plans and goals of becoming a teacher in the field of education, and altered them completely! As of today, I’m a Product Manager III at Fidelity. My life has moved into the financial world, and so has my thought process. H.C.* has brought about a change that I could never have predicted.

So, this Hurricane Change* that changed everything; well, something caused it right? A certain combination of force, temperature, currents, humidity, wind, and luck perhaps? Well, yes, and no. Everything is correct except the “luck” part. You see, there is something that controls all those (seemingly) uncontrollable factors; something that predetermines how those come into play, and the degree and depth as to how it will change and affect a person’s life in every single detailed facet. And that something is the God of the Bible. My Father in heaven loves me, and cares for me; and although I don’t deserve it or warrant it, sometimes He just blesses us through the winds of change because He delights in us! He loves me, and I am overwhelmed…

*Hurricane Change can also be called, Jesus Christ.

Closing time…

“Closing time, open all the doors and let you out into the world…”

For years now I’ve sang this beginning to the Semisonic song. To be honest, I have no idea what the rest of the song says, but as the time came at Starbucks to close and shut the store down, I always sang this line under my breath as closing time came. Knowing most of my friends were already in bed and that the only people on the roads were the night owls and cops was a comfort to me since I felt a peace and stillness that only comes at that time of night. Still, this song was a routine, and soothing as the daily grind came to an end.

“I see your face, in every sunrise. The colors of the morning are inside your eyes…”

For years now I’ve sang this Phil Wickham song as I opened at Starbucks in the early morning before the sun rose. To be honest, I sing the entire song the whole way through because it is one of my favorite songs to sing. Thinking and praying while I watch the sky change from a black, to a dark blue, to hints of lighter blues; then a hint of orange, red and yellow; and then gazing as the sun crests over the horizon bringing it’s warmth to the momentarily forgotten side of the Earth that is now seen in its light. It was a soothing habit that prepared me for the morning havoc and fury of customers.

For six and a half years this has been my routine: rise early and go to bed late. I would either be rising early because of work and staying out late for my own extroverted social requirements, or staying out late because I would be closing at work and then waking up early because that is what I’ve been used to. Although I’ve wanted more out of my life in terms of a career, I was for some reason always comfortable with Starbucks and my schedule. Sure it was frustrating at times dealing with the customers with a MASSIVE sense of entitlement (perhaps my biggest pet peeve), sometimes demanding in a few ways, tiring, and most commonly financially restricting; I always seemed to make ends meet and enjoy my life. Now, as the Lord would have it, I find that all changing. It seems everything in my life is changing actually; which I’m fine with since most of the changes I’ve wanted for a long time, and the other things are just part of life.

The strange, surreal, and intriguing thing to me is what all those years have taught me, and conditioned me to. Thinking over how many lattes and caramel macchiatos I’ve made… or how many spills I’ve cleaned up… or how many tills I’ve counted… or how many paper cups I’ve dropped on the ground… or how many “have a good day” comments I’ve said… or maybe, how many lives I’ve touched. If I’m honest, I’m nervous about the next page in my book of life. This next stage is a world I don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eager to get after it, but I’m leaving MY WORLD, and it’s just interesting to reminisce and look back at where you’ve come from. It’s one of those rare moments in life where you look back on a consistent streak in your life that has come to an end. Of the top of my head, some of those are: the end of high school, the end of college, the end of a relationship, the end of singleness, or maybe the end of a life.

So what has my time at Starbucks helped me with? Well, it is certainly a job that kept me more humble than I wanted to be. Catering to customers constantly, cleaning up things that were pretty disgusting all over the board, submitting to managers, taking out trash every day, and finally knowing that you’re NOT irreplaceable; these were not easy things to do or become accustomed to but in the end kept me more humble. Also, my years taught me that hard work is something you must condition yourself to do. No one just shows up to work, clocks in, and lackadaisically does things and ends up being employee of the year. Hard work is something you have to choose to strive for. Sometimes, you don’t get rewarded for what you do (at least this side of heaven). My only solace in this is that my rewards are in heaven, and in this world, I try not to do things for man’s recognition of me and how great I am, but to rather try to show Christ in me. I’ve learned that there will always be more to learn, and that you’ll never be fully satisfied with your career. And finally, and perhaps for me most importantly, that your job/career/life plan is not about what you are doing, it is about the people you’ll encounter. Think of it this way: do you think our Father in heaven is interested in the temporal lattes I made, or the human souls that are ETERNAL that I encountered? Sure, He cares about both to a degree, but in this case, what is ETERNAL is what is important. I’ve learned to talk with people, and I’ve learned to pick up cues from their behavior, appearance, look and how they carry themselves to find ways to learn about their souls.

That last quality that I’ve learned has been the most encouraging to me to think over. I’m thankful that although I could’ve been doing “more with my life,” my Father in heaven decided there was more work for me to do at Starbucks before He moved me on to something different; despite my pleas to speed that process up. What can I say, He is mysterious and his ways are confusing sometimes, but they are ALWAYS best. I’m thankful for the last six and a half years of Starbucks and the next years of my life as I enter into a different career. I’m thankful He’ll sustain me through that one too, just as much as He did in the last one. I’m thankful that this time I have a helper 🙂 I’m thankful that He is faithful and gracious, even when I am not. I’m thankful that He does not waste time and talents. Most importantly, God is good, all the time. Amen!

The ART of Conflict

The ART of Conflict is a more apt description of how to handle conflict. I could write novels on my thoughts of conflict, but I wanted to focus on some specific things to see if I can paint a picture of the types of people you might come across. If you talk to a person who is a blunt straight-shooter, they’ll tell you how they’ve hurt people that they care for because of their approach. If you talk to a people-pleaser who is caring and delicate with their words, they’ll tell you how they’ve ruined relationships or friendships because of their inability to point out what’s wrong. Neither type is better than the other. Conflict can be one of two things: It can be something that becomes the point and focus, or it can be something that gets you to the point or focus. Allow me to explain.

The first is the easiest type of conflict. Not because it doesn’t hurt or doesn’t ruin relationships, but because it is the final, defining, over-arching end of things. When this conflict comes up, there is no “working through it” and “gritting your teeth.” It is the end, and whatever the conflict was about is NO MORE. Whether you were just riding the wave to see how long you could before you hit the wall, or you have your own tendencies to end things; the result is the same. NEXT! This type of conflict is something that WILL NOT HELP YOU IN RELATIONSHIPS; mainly, because you never work through anything and learn how to fight fair.

The second is the hardest type of conflict. Not because it hurts more or ruins hearts quicker, but because it is not an easy, quick, or simple process. It is arduous, painstaking, and patience-testing. There is a silver lining to this type of conflict though. The conflict is NEVER the focus. What you focus on is the outcome that you want. So, if you are having conflict in a relationship, the conflict is not something you focus on. You focus on the end goal or seeing things through so that the relationship endures. You decide in the conflict what you want to work towards. Acknowledging that you are “debating” and knowing that everyone has these moments, and it is a helpful tool for growth, will allow you to have that rare outside perspective on your conflict. I think everyone can relate when I say that tunnel vision sets in quickly when you’re heated. There is difficulty taking things with a grain of salt and looking at things from another’s perspective. Feelings get involved, nerves get hit, harsh words are said… and tears come. However, I think that the most important thing about “working through things” is the WAY you work through them, and how quickly you can overcome.

This is different for everyone. Some have the quietest, calmest, most verbally vicious tiffs that you could imagine. No raising their voices, no threats…. Just well worded words (I’m this type). They don’t get very physically angry, or too red in the face, but tunnel vision sets in nonetheless. Others have all out fits! “You ** **** *** * **!!!!!” “Well, maybe **** ** ****** * ** *!!!!” These are your neighbors next door who you hear through the walls, but one hour later see them walking hand-in-hand through the hallway. For them, their “debates” are heated, personal, loud, and chaotic. Then there are all the types in between. BUT, no matter what type of conflict style you are prone to, no matter what your proclivities and inclinations are, no matter how your iniquities and draws pull you, what makes a relationship work is your mindset IN CONFLICT that’ll shape you. If you can (insert your preferred fighting style with conflict) and still look towards the end goal, then you’re on a good path! You’ll find that there is something more important than being right. All my married people, can I get a nod of approval that if relationships have a focus of who is right and who is wrong, they are doomed in the first month!

And finally, with this in mind, I end with the men! It is the man’s role to initiate decisions, thoughts, apologies, and forgiveness. WE LEAD, and leading isn’t easy or always in a valorous, noble, mighty way. Sometimes it is in submission or humility. Sometimes you lead by backing down. Sometimes you lead in seeking a solution and reconciliation. This is a frustrating responsibility sometimes because of the fear that you are catering and not being healthy with your conflict. BUT GOD, who loves her more than you ever could, is the one who changes her heart and makes a relationship work. Not man. Not wisdom. Not practice. Not effort. Trusting God with her heart, your heart, and your relationship is the true ART of conflict. So, although having practice in conflict is helpful and growing, I now reveal the true ART of conflict as I see it: Submission. To the Lord. Always. As often as you can. With her. The ART is not putting the dependence of your relationship on each other, but on God. AND HE IS FAITHFUL.

Strawberry Swinging, Fixing You, Scientific Love

Strawberry Swinging, Fixing You, Scientific Love… I want to know you!

“Come up to meet you, tell you I’m sorry. You don’t know how lovely you are. I had to find you, tell you I need you; tell you I set you apart. Tell me your secrets, and ask me your questions. Oh, let’s go back to the start.”

I don’t know why God created us with a heart to love certain things. I don’t know why God gave us the ability to love other things. I don’t know why He would allow my heart to love things that are not what this life is about. Now before my Hebrew friends and Greek friends jump all over this topic and how we’ve lost the correct meaning of the word, and how “In Greek, the word LOVE could mean…” or “The Greek word for LOVE comes from three words in Hebrew…” Yeah yeah, I get that so chill! What I’m talking about are things that stir your heart that are NOT the Lord, but certainly stir your heart. Scandalous and sinful-sounding you say??? Let’s proceed!

“They were sitting, they were sitting in the strawberry swing. And every moment was so precious. They were sitting, they were talking in the strawberry swing…”

It might just be because of the season of my life that I’m in, or maybe just the music I’m listening to, but I can’t help but ponder, meditate, and dwell on it. There are these moments that we can all recollect from time to time that soften our hearts, and cause this tingley feeling in our stomachs that pitter-patter all the way up our spines. Sometimes they are a place, or sight, that stir these affections (standing on the edge of the grand canyon being IN awe),

or seeing someone who has a such history and meaning for you (seeing my father get off a plane after not seeing him for years and years),

or maybe a sunset or piece of nature,

but most commonly, it is that special someone who consistently takes your breath away, and makes your chest tighten up. Oh yes, I remember now! Heart beating fast and slow at the same time, the pupils of their eyes getting larger and larger as they stare and gaze back into yours, that little smirk and grin when you see each other, warmth and tenderness…. Ahhh, yes, I remember!

“I was just guessing, numbers and figures, pulling the puzzles apart. Questions of science, science and progress. Do not speak as loud as my heart. But tell me you love me, come back and haunt me. Oh and I rush to the start.”

Being the analytical person that I am; and how I tend to over-scrutinize and plan out too much, Love is a very confusing, sometimes frustrating, and complex subject that is almost impossible to figure out. Which makes it so interesting to me; in a good and bad way. The mystery that is love! I want to understand it, I want to master it, I want to know how it works, and how to create it. I want to not feel like a teenager when I see it, experience it, and live in it. I want to help my girl work things out in her life, and see her grow. I want to know how love can be used in that. The mystery that is love!

“And high up above, or down below. When you’re too in love to let it go. But if you never try, you’ll never know. Just watch and learn. Lights will guide you home, and ignite your bones. I will try to fix you”

But, in my life I’ve learned a few invaluable truths that I now am just… comfortable… with, that normally I wouldn’t be. One of these truths is this: sometimes you’ll never figure out something, or master it. Not too radically shocking or ground-breaking I know J But, the life changing and amazing trick is to know this AND live in it with comfort. So, for this topic of Love, here is what I know: I love someone. I love certain things that are incredible. People for thousands of years are still trying to grasp this topic. I will not figure all of it out. I’m OK with that. The point of everything is to give glory to God, and find our joy in it (my Christian hedonists, can I get an “amen”?!).

And so, I LOVE.

“Ah, now the sky could be blue, I don’t mind. Without you it’s a waste of time. Could be blue. I don’t mind. Without you it’s a waste of time. The sky could be blue, could be gray. Without you I just slide away. The sky could be blue, I don’t mind. Without you it’s a waste of time.”

Building up the Saints in Love

Building up the Saints in Love

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Romans 15:2

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5-6

It seems to be the topic to talk about because it is so hard to do. It’s my personal belief that the Holy Spirit is desiring to show us a greater depth in which to walk in with our brothers and sisters; whilst at the same time, revealing how community can absolutely and destructively be an idol in our lives (my own recent conviction). Our goal in community is not to have a good time, our goal is more of Christ. Our goal is not depth in community, our goal is more of Christ. Our goal is not fellowship in community, our goal is MORE OF CHRIST. Now, I believe that God frequently uses fun, fellowship, and community as a tool to bring us more of Christ; but how quickly do we turn to those things for our joy rather than the Creator, whose idea it was to create those things?

There are two “camps” of thought here, and I don’t want to begin to say I HAVE THE ANSWER, but I do want to share what the last few years have shown me about pursuing community in a Mixed-Gender Group.

Camp One: Building community is a priority, but depth between guys and girls in one group is difficult, frustrating sometimes, confusing, misleading (sometimes very unintentionally), provoking, AND at the end of the day, basically impossible or not worth attempting because it can cause pain. Rather, build depth with your own gender, and when it comes to the opposite gender, enjoy each other’s company, serve in a way that keeps your heart guarded, and keeps the environment safe.

Camp Two: Building community is a priority, but depth between guys and girls in one group is difficult, frustrating sometimes, confusing, misleading (sometimes very unintentionally), provoking, BUT at the end of the day, completely and beautifully possible and incredibly rewarding. Rather than building just depth with your own gender, being a brother or sister who walks in-depth with the other gender in a way that is loving and mutually respectful. Easier said, than done.

I believe that there is so much here that affects our choice than just personal beliefs about which camp is “better.” I believe that one’s personal history (especially if dark or painful) will automatically choose the camp you prefer. I believe that pride will choose one camp over the other. I believe obnoxious, loose living without regard or consideration for others will choose one camp over the other. Some find one camp is too careless. Others find one camp is too conservative and legalistic. In short, all these things are part of your, and my, calling to the body. What we ARE CALLED to do is to “…consider how we may spur one another on toward Love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)  What we are called to do is to NOT put a hindrance or stumbling block in front of your brother or sister. If even by your eating of certain foods it grieves your sister/brother, you are no longer walking in love! (Romans 14:15) We know from Romans 13:10 that where you love your neighbor (regardless of social status or benefit to you) out of LOVE, you fulfill the Law. Paul’s desire is that the community would have this goal: “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” (Romans 14:19). Paul at the end of Romans 15 talks so highly and so deeply of the church there that he LONGS to see them and “….  be refreshed in your company” (Romans 15:32). Or how the apostles were “Affectionately desirous of you….. very dear to us.” (1 Thess. 2:8) Do we feel about our community like this? Is your community bringing you the same joy, refreshment, strength and encouragement? Are you willing to work day and night for their benefit like they did in 1 Thess. 2:8-12 to keep them from any burden, despite the holy purpose of their potential burden? We are all aware of our iniquity: Psalms 32:5, 36:2, 38:18, 51:2 to name a few. We also know that “There is a way that seems right to man, but its end is the way to death.” Proverbs 14:12. We must seek the Lord and His will. And He will answer because He loves us! Without the love of the community; and sometimes that may be a reproach, rebuke or correction out of love; like in Acts 18:26 where Priscilla and Aquila loved Apollos enough to pull him aside and inform him despite not being teachers, we will surely walk around in ignorance and shallow relationships. I ask, for those who have been strong in their faith for a while and have matured into some depth, do we welcome the weak ones? Are we aware there is a higher calling there in the beginning of Romans 14 to protect your brother? Again for the strong, do you know that you have “… an obligation to bear WITH the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” Romans 15:1… And keep in mind, Paul was not talking about non-believers when he said the weak.

In addition, loving your neighbor and your community is a reflection of your heart with the LORD much like humility with your neighbor is a reflection on how you humble yourself before the LORD; mainly because these things are from the Lord: 1 Thess 4: 9-12. The way you build each other up is snapshot into your heart! Girls, do you build up your brother in Love? Or is that too risky and frustrating for you? Guys, do we build up our sisters? Or is that too misleading and difficult? I know it is hard sometimes, but all I can see in the scriptures is that WE ARE CALLED TO! No matter the gender. I realize that a spiritual connection is the strongest one that there is…. Which means it is also dangerous and powerful. But, just because it is those things, does NOT mean we are not meant to stay aware from it! In fact, it may just be our pride that keeps us from this, which is sin. Also, using a powerful and dangerous tool like this becomes just that: a dangerous and powerful weapon with which to fight the enemy! We need each other. There is such benefit from the care and love from the saints in one’s life. Keep pressing on. Remember, we are to walk with one another with “humility, gentleness and patience, bearing WITH one another in Love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace… We are ONE body… ONE church.” (Ephesians 4)

I want to encourage you to ask yourself some tough questions:

Are you building up each other (regardless of gender)?

Are you walking in Love with your community, or does your community serve you alone?

Where do you find your thoughts and affections for community?

How well-known are you in your community (I’m not talking popularity here)?

How encouraging are you? Do you even encourage? Are you appreciative? Do you say “Thank you”?

Where are you falling short?

In closing, You HAVE TO be in the bible, reading, praying and seeking the Lord to make community work. Short of you being grounded in Christ, it will surely fail. I think this is why we are so hesitant to keep fighting for it; because we’ve been burned before. But a burn doesn’t mean “never try it again”, it just means you’ve been hurt and you’ve learned. But harnessing fire and playing with fire are two different things. Are you playing, or trying to harness? If you are harnessing, are you in scripture daily? Are you capable of pouring into people? Are you passionate and eager to Love and allow others to Love you? Can you be the one who serves first? Will your pride even let you? Please, my dear saints of whom I am truly insignificant to when standing next to, fight for this! We will all be changed into the image of our Maker. Please don’t settle for comfortable, safe, and guarded lives. Deep community with the opposite gender is sticky, tricky, and painful sometimes. But with the right mindset, pure and open honesty, and grace from our Lord; we can all experience much more of heaven here on earth, now. Finally, I love you, and trying hard to show it.

These are my friends/family/fellowship/fun:

80’s Party

Some of the “Dudes”

Chefs too 🙂

Some of the “Ladies”

Half of the “Crew”

This is how we Golf

…. and my girl.

I wish you a new year!

I wish you a new year! Tonight is one of those nights where the entire nation (for the most part) gathers together to celebrate something that almost all can celebrate with freedom. There are no political agendas. No religious motif or significance. No commonwealth or national human interest to contribute to. It is an opportunity to celebrate another year of life with one another, or maybe that special someone, and to hope for more and better things in the next year to come for you, for us, and for our most cherished ones. We look back on where we’ve come from and the tests and challenges that have oh-so-ensnared-us all through the year. It’s one of those rare moments where we all look back on our lives over the past year and reminisce about it, and maybe what’s behind it all.

Which brings me to what I’ve been thinking about: death.

HAHA, I know, strange addition to this post, but to be honest, sometimes I think new year’s resolutions and thoughts about what your next year will look like, and what you will accomplish is a bit… well, foolish if there isn’t any meaning and depth to it. It is wise to have goals. It is wise to have plans. But I think in order for those things to have their full meaning and their full weight, I think they need to be grounded in something. And that something is the VERY real reality that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We probably all know someone we’ve lost this year. My pastor always says, “Everyone knows death is coming for them, but no one thinks it’s coming for THEM!” Death, the rather morbid topic of my post, is the very possibility that makes TODAY so sweet and rich! Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, not next year….. TODAY! So, although today is the day we think most about “the next year” and what it may look like, please don’t forget to live TODAY! Be a dear friend today! Be a family member and contributor today! Be an example today! Be a joy today! And be safe today!

I do hope this next year will be all the things you hope for.