Yet I Will Rejoice

Well, it is safe to say that shit hit the fan this year. Schools closed on Friday March 13, all gyms, bars, and restaurants closed on March 17th, and then we found out that Carol Baskin killed her husband. Yet even as our world has crumbled around us, God has given us joy.

Joy seems a little inappropriate of a feeling to our current state. Maybe anger would be more appropriate. April and I wanted to go on a small vacation this summer, maybe a trip to Guatemala, but Covid has canceled that. Some of my favorite people ever, the seniors on this years basketball team, weren’t given a true graduation. Injustice has reared its ugly head when murders go unpunished which has caused Social unrest and has torn apart our nation. And now we are looking at opening schools back up even though it seems like Covid has gotten worse than it was in March. All of these issues stir me to fear and anxious thoughts. Yet, God wants more for us than fear and anger.

He has reminded me that He is working for me, He is working through me, and He will work within me no matter what happens. I will teach in one way or another starting in August because that is what I have been called to do and when I log in online or walk into my classroom I know God will be right by my side. I just ask that I am able to speak kindly and offer a voice of healing, hope, love, joy, and peace so that those I come into contact with know that God is for us and because of that I will rejoice!

But it was easier to rejoice last year when April and I traveled around England, Scotland, Amsterdam, and Ireland. Now I am traveling around my Kitchen, Living room, Bathroom, Bedroom, and with occasional trips to the Backyard. Okay, I have been able to go see my parents, but because they are both in a higher risk category due to their age and a couple health issues, I didn’t see them at all in April. I have also been able to go on decent social distance hikes, but for the most part because I have a small hole in my heart and I nearly died of necrotizing pneumonia five years ago, I have stayed inside. Okay, I did go to the grocery store on March 12, I needed to buy two avocados, and it was chaos. A lady rammed me with her cart because I was in front of her. Since then April has done all of the shopping, well except for the one time I went in to grab two things and noticed that no one was following the grocery store’s guidelines. I digressed a little, so now I’ll get back on point: How have I been able to find joy in my daily life as smelly things have hit the fan.

I am taking each day at a time. This has helped me sleep and let go of the anxious thoughts the world tries to force into my life. I’m alive today. I can breathe today. I can see beauty today. God is in control today and His love for me today remains as strong as it was the day before. How can I not rejoice when I remember how much I am loved. As I have been taking each day at a time I have been using the Pause App to help me refocus my thoughts and give over everything and everyone to God.

I am looking for beauty. April makes this easy as not only is she a knockout, but dang she can decorate a house. Walking from room to room is a decadent delight. I am immensely thankful for the home God as blessed me to shelter in and the fact that God has brought beauty to my life is really where the blessing resides. Also, April and I planted a garden and despite my ineptitude, things are growing. How beautiful is that! When I choose to focus on the beauty in our world, I might be able to add more beauty than chaos.

I am giving up control of my my life and because of that I can take a huge breath and relax. When I give God my desire to control my life, I can be saturated in him and live wholeheartedly. Each morning in prayer I ask God to father me in how to surrender so I may live in his freedom. This has been a true adventure because each day I tend to hop out of bed and sit down at my metaphorical command center and say engage, only for God to remind me that he is the captain of my life. Like the other morning when I woke up as the sun started poking its way in through my window. Everyone, including my dog, was still asleep, but I couldn’t force myself to fall back to sleep. Why God didn’t give us a secret turn off switch that lets us sleep, I am not sure. Or maybe he did. It’s called giving everyone and everything to him at all times. So I had to let go, be gracious to myself and about an hour later Gryffin, my dog, yelped and I was pulled from a deep sleep. That’s what it looks like to let go and when I let go I am able to live wholeheartedly. Living wholeheartedly means I choose to live in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Fruit of the spirit). Life in these is a life full of freedom and joy.

I am looking through all my pictures from our trip to amazing trip God blessed us with to Europe. When April and I landed in London I was so anxious about if I would be able to sleep or not, I was nearly sure that insomnia would ruin my trip. Yet, God stepped in and told me to let go. After recovering from jet lag, I slept well all month long. Memories from that trip have been keeping me going. Yet, a year ago this week April and I were in Edinburgh and Amsterdam. It rained the entire time we were in Scotland and the temperatures were over 100 degrees in Amsterdam. We hiked up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and it was so crowded it nearly stole my joy. But now, as I checked my Facebook memories from the trip, I saw the picture of us from Arthur’s seat and my caption said, “It’s good to remember that not every day needs to be epic or even 100% enjoyable.” With that mindset I can remember that God took me to castles, dungeons, awesome houses, shire-like country sides, amazing churches, insane cliffs, and beautiful canals and he will take me on an adventure again. As I look back over those pictures, I am reminded of how God provided for me and I know I will be able to travel again, but for now, I will rest in the beauty he has set right in front of me.

Lastly, I have decided that my heart matters. I am in full control over what goes into my heart. So I have been spending less time on social media. In February at the start of Lent, I gave up social media, and it was freeing, but since the month of April I have been back on, and well, we seem to be a society that loves to stir up hate and anger. If you disagree with me about this statement you might as well unfollow me (just kidding, but how many times have you seen that statement on Facebook?). Because my heart matters, and it helps control how I act and react to all that is going on in the world, I want to feed my heart beauty because that brings me joy so I am not interacting with people after a certain hour. If I jump onto any of my social media platforms later than usual, I typically just go to look at my picture history so God can remind me of the beauty he has for me. Instead of spending time on social media, I have been walking my dog, reading with my nephew Linc through FaceTime, having a weekly book club with my friend Holland Webb, and April and I have been watching all the Hitchock and James Bond movies we can come across.

These five things are life savers because our world is crazy, but they are only a start. And the best starting place is to knowing I am a man who can choose to rejoice in all times because I have a God who saves!

Down In The Valley of Gravestones

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done . . . The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the incarcerated, accused, and the condemned”-Bryan Stevenson. We are masterpieces, broken, cut up Like Rembrant’s The Night Watch, but worth restoring.

Last year I was shook when April and I read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. His memoir is a call for justice and mercy for all people, but especially black men, women, and children as they face prosecution under the law for simply being caught poor and black. Stevenson called me to start praying about how I treat people. I must treat people with justice and mercy because as Bryan Stevenson also says, “We all need mercy, we all need justice.” And I know I am more than the worst things I have done or the worst things that have been done to me. As a man, I look at my failings and I cry out for mercy.

I hunger to be a man who is empowered to empower others. Yet I know I struggle to be who I long to be because of societies pressures around me. In different situations I put on different masks. This last semester as I taught through Anne Frank’s Diary I was struck by her last passage where she wrote about wishing she didn’t have to wear a metaphorical mask while she was around people. That she could be who she wanted to be, but that she always felt so judged so she could never truly be herself, unless, as she says, “she was the only person in the world.” Anne understood the difficulties of our world and it saddens me that the hate she faced has not lessened and still makes so many people wish that they could wear a metaphorical mask or be the only person in the world.

My desire is to be a man who is the same in the valley as I am up on the mountain top, but I am just becoming. I am under construction so please excuse the mess I make. I am a man who sees the world around me through the eyes I was born with so my understanding is limited. I experience my world in a way that is different than you experience your world. Yet, I know my experiences do not negate yours. As I have grown up in a wold full of books, I have learned how to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Over the last couple of months I feel like I’ve been putting on shoes that are too heavy for me and it is weighing down my soul. We have been stuck in a pandemic and now our cities are in chaos as our neighbors cry out for justice. I would rather be on an adventure that takes me to the top of a mountain, but we are in the valley. It might not feel like it, but God is here. He is down in the valley. Our God is the same down in the valley as He is up on the Mountain top.

In 1984 I was born several weeks premature with underdeveloped lungs. Unable to breathe I spent the first 13 days of my life stuck in an incubator. It was a terrifying fight for all involved and ever since then, I have been fighting to cherish each breath, especially when I nearly died of pneumonia almost five years ago. But this blog is more about the first time I really felt broken and struggled to breathe.

We moved from the beautiful mountains to Illinois and the country when I was six. Everyone burned their trash in our little town and my lungs didn’t like it. It sucked. Illinois sucked too. Fortunately our time in that valley didn’t last long as my dad was fired from his pastorate for reporting the affair his boss was having. But before we could leave, the people of the church took their anger out on me, shunning me because of who my dad was.

God did not shun me. However, as a kindergartener I figured God left each day because he had important things to do, just like my dad had to leave for work, he left my heart. So each night I prayed that he would come back. I din’t know it at the time, but he was always with me, even when I felt harmed and shunned. I had no friends at church and my one friend in my neighborhood wasn’t always a friend. Not wanting to be isolated, I let myself be caught up in odd activities I wasn’t comfortable with. When my friend asked me to practice sex and I didn’t know how to say no, I felt strangled with fear at being caught doing things I had no desire to do.

Did you know that many young boys experience some sort of sexual violation for the first time between the ages of two and four? I was in kindergarten when another neighbor showed me pornography in a movie. All of this was exciting, but I felt ashamed. And then many have come to expect masculinity to mean aggressive in every aspect of life, especially sexually. I did not want to be that man, so I shunned intimacy and yet I longed for it.

I was abused and felt broken. Distressed, anxious, and short of breath, as a seven year old boy back in Illinois I came to my dad and told him of my shame. He told me I was loved. He met me in my brokenness. Through that time, asking God to come back into my heart was a nightly activity. Each night he was telling me that he loved me and would restore me out of my brokenness. In that valley, he was there. I wanted relief from my insecurities, but God was planning my restoration.

He was in my dad’s words. When my dad showed me love, it was God saying, I love you despite your brokenness. In my weakness, He is strong. Our valleys are places of trauma but they are not places where God has abandoned us. We are all broken and I know, that in my brokenness I have struggled not to shun other people, knowing I was once shunned. Struggling with being abused grew in me a strong desire to remain pure and never mess up again. I have never abused anyone sexually or physically, but I grew misguided about being pure and so I shunned all love thinking I would mess up again. God broke in though, and well, April too, but that is another blog. Hurt people hurt people, but God intervened and answered my cry for a breath of fresh air. He told me that he loves me and that he wants to heal me.

As a people we abuse, oppress, shun, and shame, but God looks down at us and loves us where we are. In the midst of our brokenness he breathes life. He loves us despite the masks we wear and when we embrace him he takes off our masks and makes us the people he created us to be.

I was created in the image of God. I am God’s image bearer and so are you. When God created us he breathed into us and said we are very good. I am his son and we are all his children. So my allegiance does not lie in the color of my skin, but in the call to love all of my neighbors. Because of that, black lives matter, unborn lives matter, imprisioned lives matter, death row lives matter, dreamers lives matter, free lives matter, children’s lives matter, girls lives matter, boys lives matter, my life matters, and your life matters for God died for me and you.

Yet, I struggle to put you first and serve you as I am called to do. When life feels difficult I choose myself over others, but I know God is calling me to do better. I am selfish, but I am under construction and I hope the version of me that God is building is a better servant. I hope I love better and in that love I do not hold records of wrongs, but I act in peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and courage. Because when I place you ahead of me, and I live in an upside-down world, our world begins to heal. To quote one of my favorite Elevation Worship songs right now, He turns graves into gardens.

Right now as a society it feels like we are living in the graveyard waiting for the gardens to sprout. Many black men and women are being shunned and literally having their breath stolen from them. If anyone in society is being made to feel like they are worth less than what they are, a child of the King, then they are being abused. All it takes to change this is to be vulnerable and admit brokenness. Then reach out a hand and ask God for help. Serve your neighbor knowing he or she is a child of the king and as Jesus says, when you serve the lease of these, you are severing me. That is how we let God turn these gravestones into gardens. That is how God comes down into our valley, takes off our masks and gives us the opportunity to be who he created us to be.

In Galatians the Apostle Paul, a man who once stood by as he okayed the murder of his neighbors because he felt they didn’t deserve life but then was broken by the love of Christ, writes, “For you, brothers, were called to freedom; but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather, serve one another in love. 14The entire law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”a 15But if you keep on biting and devouring one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.

Walking by the Spirit
(Ezekiel 36:16-38Romans 8:9-11)

16So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the flesh craves what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are opposed to each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; 20idolatry and sorcery; hatred, discord, jealousy, and rage; rivalries, divisions, factions, 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another.”