Gryffin’s Beautiful Adventure Through The Aspens

A beautiful adventure can right any wrong and calm any storm.-Gryffin Scott. Okay, maybe I, Gryffin Scott, didn’t say that, but well, it’s true and not just to this puppy. Hi, I am Gryffin and my dad asked me to guest blog while he’s busy teaching. Now why would he ask his little buddy to write about beauty and adventures? Why not? Have you seen me? I know I am cute, why else do my parents call me a cutie-cute and I have the blue eyes to boot.

Okay, maybe he asked me to write his blog on beautiful adventures because he thinks that he needs to see the world through my beautiful blue eyes. I overheard him talking to a friend today and he said, “Our lives gain meaning when we behold beauty” (boy do I know how to behold beauty). Do you think that’s true? Beauty to me is a full bowl of food and toys to toss in the air. That’s how I know I am loved.

So here are some things I know:

1. A full bowl of food tells me I am loved, and that is a beautiful thing-Every morning my parents let me out of bed and take me outside to play near the garden. They laugh and I join in with my excited howl. This is the life. I see their smiles and I know that they love me. My mom, April, and my dad planted a garden before they adopted me and despite my lack of green thumbs or thumbs of any kind (and the fact I keep trying to nibble on things I shouldn’t), things are growing. How beautiful is that! God has granted us a harvest (I get to eat all of the leaves my mom forgets to pick up. That’s how I know she’s beautiful.) When I bound out each morning I see a bright new world and after I pee, my parents give me all I need. If a garden can grow and give food despite the fact I keep trying to eat everything before my parents can pluck it, my parents can know they are loved to and that is a beautiful adventure.

2. Like me, life is a little crazy.-I like to wag my tail and bark when I am exited. This happens every day around the time my mom comes back home. Boy do I let my excitement show when she comes home. I’ve learned a thing our two about our world in my six months of life. Covid has quite a few people down. But maybe if you choose to see the beauty inner world, like me, you’ll see how great face masks taste. Maybe you’ll find healing. Whenever my mom comes home my day turns from eh – exciting. Her shouts of joy when she sees me heals any hurt feelings I’ve had at her for not being home all day. So yes, beauty heals any of the crazy things in our world.

3. Find a toy fun toy and play with it. My dad chose to focus on seeing the beauty in our world. I know this because he talks about it all the time when I am trying to nap at his feet. He is constantly talking to people who aren’t in the room. It’s a little confusing, but sometimes he lets me say hi. They seem to be stuck in a screen and really little. These, “students” as he calls them, take up all his time so I just try to nap. I would rather he play fetch with me, but that is another blog. I’ve heard him complain about how cluttered and crazy our lives have become. Maybe he is talking about that square box that is always in his hands. It makes noises all the time. I can tell those sounds make him anxious sometimes. He just needs to be more like me and bark when he feels excited, run when he’s got the urge, and scratch when he’s got an itch. Maybe put down that square thing and fight to find beauty each day.

Covid has kept him at home and given him time to play with me. At lunch time he takes me out into the yard and we play fetch. It really helps him let go of the stresses that he carries. I am challenging my dad to play more and it is beautiful. He leaves me outside sometimes and so I bark to tell him I am not done with him. He comes back and we run, jump, play fetch and wrestle. I know he needs it.

4. If you don’t stop and smell every flower, blade of grass, you’ll miss something beautiful and you may never find healing.

This past weekend my parents finally hopped off their couch. It was a beautiful adventure. September in Colorado is probably one of the most stunning months anywhere. I should know, this was my first September and I loved it. Yes I am biased, I am a Colorado dog. The air is cooler, yet still warm enough to be outside. But what makes Colorado amazing are the fall colors. As beautiful as September is, it is also a month of painful reflection for my dad. One day I saw him crying about something. I came over and let him pet me. Then I licked his face and ears and face again. He’s five years past nearly dying. I am so glad he made it out of that hospital so he can feed me every day. Over the last five years as September has come around he’s been forced to remember how lonely he was in the hospital. But then, he is also reminded of the beautiful fact God saved him through surgery. He guided the surgeons hands and surrounded him with prayer so he could breathe again. So as we hiked this last weekend I could tell it was special for him to take each breath of cool Colorado air.

As my mom and my dad drove up into the mountains to celebrate the changing of the colors and the fact that God has given us new life, my dad breathed in deeply. I squealed in the back seat because, ROAD TRIP! WOOP WOOP! My dad started to laugh. Was it because of me? They laugh at me quite a bit. But it is out of love? Yes, I, Gryffin do silly things! I am such a joy (I know this because my parents are always telling me)! Maybe if you lived each day more like me, the puppy, finding beauty would be second nature. I pause at every bush to sniff it as if there is an aroma that reminds me of meat. I bolt down the path in excitement, knowing that I will see something new just around the corner. My tail wags, moving me along the path in a joyous shake. My tongue flops out of his mouth and my smile is contagious (Both my parents are smiling now). I jump on each rock that I can mount. I pose for pictures so I can show other people what it looks like to be alive and beautiful. I can tell my dad was just trying to go fast, so I slowed him down by pretending to be scared of crossing a small log over there river. I made him carry me. It was hilarious. That slowed him down. He should slow down more often, so he can take more pictures and look more closely at all the beauty God has for him. Unless he wants to go fast for the joy of it all. I do that quite a bit. But then I look back to check on my parents and I can tell that their walk under the aspens is healing them. They are walking freer, like me. They are not as distracted by al the chaos in the world. Their hearts are calmer. It’s a beautiful adventure I live. How can anyone not see beauty when I am around.

I am super thankful for the home God brought me into and that I can help my mom and dad see the beauty all around them. My parents are amazing and its true that God has brought beauty to my life through how they love me and beauty is really where blessings reside.

Thank you for reading, you beautiful people!

Love, Gryffin!

I really can cross bridges on my own, just in case you thought I was scared.

See if he wouldn’t have slowed down, he wouldn’t have taken the time to capture the next two pictures. I hope you’v enjoyed the beautiful Aspens.

Beauty In Chaos: A Wholehearted Photo Adventure

Sitting inside on my couch has not felt like a great adventure. I’m sure some of you have been feeling the same way, a little uninspired and in need of a trek out into the wild. We all tell ourselves that by staying home we are doing are part to keep people healthy, but dang how many movies can I watch where other people travel the world and not long to see what God has in store for me?

Back in June, after a couple months in seclusion and no real end in sight having withstood a couple more months of it, my heart started to yearn for an adventure. I long to go back to Europe and travel by train, but Covid. Instead I am finding new ways to sooth my wanderlust. As I sit on the couch it is becoming more and more difficult to feed my hunger for adventure and especially those “beautiful adventures” that speak truth to me. If I see can see beauty in each day, I have an easier time being content and connected to God. Beauty helps my worry go away. Earlier this year I wrote about finding beauty in the dustbin. Well, this year seems to have been a bit more of a dumpster fire than a beautiful adventure.

But beauty can be found in the chaos. I might not be able to take my wife back to Europe or even be able to trek down to Guatemala, but I can open up my pictures from all of my trips and soak in the beauty. As I soak in the beauty I am reminded that God provided beauty for me. This is not about the glory days. I’m not sitting here saying dang high school was the best! No, this is more about the future than the past.

Lately I’ve been looking through all my pictures from our trip to amazing trip to Europe. It helps me forget that I can’t travel right now. But it wasn’t a perfect trip. 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, as I first wrote this, 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 ever 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.

Yet, sometimes when I look at pictures from the past I do not see beauty and I need to know that living in is an awfully big adventure in itself. Right now we are stuck in a pandemic, civil unrest, and a nasty political season. Every September, as I look at my Facebook Memoirs, I am reminded how I nearly died of necrotizing pneumonia. Five years ago today, I had tubes coming out of my side. I have a couple of pictures from this time and when I look at them it breaks me. One is of tubes coming out of my side, one is of me in the hospital trying to walk around my hallway, and another is of my scar. This wasn’t a time I wanted to remember. Now as I look back at this difficult time, I am reminded that God brought me through the fire. Even more so as I look back at that horrible time in my life I can see how he was standing next to me through it all. Typically this brings me to tears. I see my scars and I know how he was there for me.

Maybe go and look at some of your pictures. See the beauty in the trips you have been able to take and the beauty in the difficult times too, it will help you take a deep breath and know God is in control. I do not look at my pictures so that I am stuck in the past, but to remind myself that God has saved me, he is saving me, and he will save me with the beauty of this world and the ability to travel through it. If God is with me during the hard times, I know he will bring a beautiful adventure into my life in the future. Honestly, there is probably plenty of beauty taking place right now, I just need to open my eyes, my ears, and my heart to it. Here’s too more beautiful adventures!

Control During the Chaos: Wholehearted Living

In my journey to find out how to live wholeheartedly I have come to realize that I cannot be the one in control of my life. If you read my last blog, you know I like a day that goes as planned. As a classroom teacher I like control over chaos. Yet, can I even call myself a classroom teacher if my classroom has been shut down since March and now I am teaching remotely until further notice?

Schools are a hub of communities and the health of a school dictates the health of the community. Jefferson Jr. Sr. High School, the school I work for, serves a population of amazing students who typically fall into these categories: hispanic, poor, black, homeless, and traumatized. Educationally it seems like when we place a grading standard next to their work it seems like they come in far behind their district counterparts, but they are more than that, they are fighters, dreamers, and creative young men and women who inspire me to do more. As a teacher I know that it is not where a student is today (What he or she knows), but where I can take that student tomorrow. My goal is for all my students to become life long learners so when I hear out in the community how far behind our students all are because of the Covid chaos closing the traditional school model, I cry. I have had great successes and great failures in teacher and last school year was no exception. I only hope that this school year is more than the chaos building toward the restart. Lately I have been having dreams about all my students because I miss them. But even though I want to have lunches with them and catch up on their lives, I want them to remain safe so their families too remain safe.

But with all of the restart talk axious thoughts keep creeping in. I want to be the one who makes the call over what goes on in my life. I do not want schools to reopen because I do not want to see my students or coworkers endangered.  Last spring was a hard semester for me as a teacher (and I know for my coworkers as well) as I missed seeing my students and then academically many just stopped doing their work.  I understand that it was difficult for the parents at home with their children and some of my students were forced to stay home in abusive situations or in homes without any food or where abuse takes place.  Schools offer a safe place for many people, but to open up, we will endanger the lives of our student’s communities, and us teachers.  Typing this stirs my anger so often I try not to take part in any of the conversations on the various restart times. 

However, chaos can be the best place to learn. Back when I was in the classroom the entire day I would have beautiful lessons with perfectly planned out steps. I am sure my students learned as they answered my questions, listened to my explanations of the lesson, and then read or write as they processed what I was guiding them through. But I know that they learned best when the class felt a little chaotic. Now, I don’t mean kids standing on desks or anything like that, but when we would have conversations. As much as I would try to plan in collaborative conversations, they worked best when they were organic and organic is messy. An organic classroom looks like one where the students are given a task, they interact with their peers, maybe they do get up on their desks, maybe they walk around and find out the answers that they are looking for. Sadly, I missed out on an entire semester of messy conversations with my students as Covid-19 took over and if we are back in school, I am not going to be able to have a literally or metaphorically messy classroom at all. My students will have to sit in their desks, not talk, and definitely not interact with each other. But worrying does nothing. God is in control, so much so that as I typed this blog up, my school district announced that we are no longer starting in person, but will be online. All my worry has done is steal from me. So why try to control, it doesn’t lead to wholehearted living.

Therefore, 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.

When I give up control and practice the Fruit of the Spirit, I respond to the decisions my school district makes differently. I am patient and know that God will work through each action. I am not perfect at practicing these nine ideas, but that’s what this journey is meant for. When I start to feel anxious I want to remember to be more of a loving, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled person because that is what it looks like to be wholehearted.

When I give God control in my classroom, like I did on March 13th, miracles happen. Our entire staff found out on Thursday that we would be moving to remote teaching after our normal two day weekend. Jeffco, my school district, trusted that we would do our best, even though Denver Public Schools gave their teachers three weeks to figure out how to best reach their student population. I felt a little panicked, but decided to listen for a minute. Calmly as my students came into the classroom for what would be the last time that Friday, I handed them a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary and an empty journal for them to keep track of their thoughts. Over the Spring semester at home, my 8th grade students read about Anne Frank’s struggles with isolation and about her hope for a better future. Each day they also wrote about their own struggles and hopes. At the end of the semester I had them type up their journals and publish them as their own accounts of what life has been like for them while stuck at home. Their writing was vulnerable and beautiful. I am so proud of the work that they did. Last semester might not have been ideal, but my students learned about the writing process, they were challenged to read (and even without me by their side, I know they did because I read their thoughts on her life which were deep), and they had fun. My hope is my students become more loving, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled people because of what we went through together last semester. I know that this can happen again if we decide to do the right thing and keep our students home.

14 days might sound drastic, but New Zeeland has gone over 100 days, so why can’t we set our goals high in order to protect our students and our community?

School starts tomorrow. I am teaching from home for the time being, but no matter what comes my way I hope I offer hope, love, peace, joy, and healing to those who I come into contact with because I know there are people who have been filled with fear through this time of chaos and there are people who completely disagree with my beliefs on schools not opening up. I want to be a part of the healing instead of the hurt. I have emailed all of my students and so many of my kids have responded about how excited they are to be in my virtual class. I hope I can make this year a meaningful one for them.

Whole Heartedness: One Day At A Time

At the start of the year 2020 God gave me a series of words: Saturate, Wholehearted, and Beautiful Adventure. I knew this year April and I wouldn’t be adventuring through Europe, standing at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, but I knew God wouldn’t stop bringing true joy and wonder into our lives. And then the world seemed to fall apart. Yet, I will rejoice because in all of the chaos God has reminded me that he is good.

These words were inspired by a conference I went to in November lead by John Eldredge and the Wild At Heart Team. He said if you want to get your life back you must live differently, he goes deep into this topic in his book Get Your Life Back (I strongly suggest it). I have taken up the challenge and so here is more of what I am doing. I touched on taking one day at a time in my last blog, but now I want to dive deeper into the idea. This is my first step to living Wholeheartedly and finding the Beautiful Adventure God has for me.

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 One Minute Pause App to help me refocus my thoughts and give over everything and everyone to God. How ground breaking is that idea. I open up an app and instead of scrolling through a newsfeed that feeds my fears I am reminded to give over everyone and everything to God, who wants to help us. In his goodness he is allowing us to let go of it all and reminding us that he will take care of it all. This simple app is helping me get my life back.

Honestly, this is easier to claim that I do, than to actually do. I love routine and so when my day goes a little unplanned I feel anxious. My typical schedule, before April and I got our dog, looked like this: Wake up by 8 so I can spend an hour in prayer. I have written out my prayers and read my bible everyday for nearly 20 years. Next I drink water mixed with spark. If it is a weekend day (or a Covid day) I go for a walk. If it is cold or the weather forces me to stay inside, I try to read for an hour or more. Lunch comes next and after that I try to workout. If I can keep this schedule going, dinner and a little TV in the evening, followed by plenty of scrolling on Facebook. Then to bed and a little journaling before April and I pray and turn off the lights. If school is in session add in plenty of teaching chaos followed by coaching basketball, cross country, or tennis, but since Covid has stopped all of that, add in checking emails from students and setting up video chats to help answer questions.

But that’s hardly how my days ever went over the spring and now they never go like that. Gryffin, my awesome little Australian Shepherd, has disrupted all of that. He wakes up at 6:45 so even as I am on summer break I am making sure I go to bed at a decent hour. He loves to strut around the house in the morning with a toy in his mouth. Next I take him outside so he can dash around the yard. April and I have been sitting on our Adirondack chairs in the cool of the morning enjoying Gryffin’s antics and doing our devotionals. Gryffin loves taking walks and so with a gentle “Let’s Go!” and a tug on the leash we adventure out into our neighborhood. He recently has found out how awesome rabbits are or at least he thinks that they are awesome because he tugs on my arm asking if he can be their friend (or eat them). When we return from our walk I let Gryffin nap while I spend time in prayer. Days like these can be as redundant or as adventurous as I let them. However stress and chaos always seem to sneak their way in.

So instead of thinking about if I will be able to go on a hike tomorrow, meet with a friend tomorrow, or do the same old same old tomorrow, I am taking it a day at a time. Maybe I’ll sit by the garden and throw the frisbee for my dog. I have started to pause during my day and invite God into my time. I am giving over to him everyone and everything I have picked up (both the good and the bad). Often times I can stress about if I am going to be able to spend time in prayer, like I need to check a box off some list in order to please God. Who knew that praying everyday for nearly 20 years could cause stress. Who knew that my desire for a good walk or a short run could wake me up in the early morning and not let me fall back to sleep. It is in those moments that God reminds me to take each day as it comes. He feeds the birds and he causes fields to bloom with beautiful flowers so why worry about what I might want to schedule?

Elevation Worship sings in their song, My Testimony, “If I’m not dead, You’re not done, Greater things are still to come, Oh I believe!” I want that mindset. Even if my day doesn’t go as planned, I know I am alive, God is not done with me, and greater things are to come. Their song Won’t Stop, is a banner for my. life. They sing, “I know a breakthrough is coming, by faith, I see a miracle, Yes, my God made me a promise and He won’t stop now!” Each day I fill myself with worship music because their promises ring true which keep me going each day. God will bring a breakthrough and the best is yet to come.

I have not been able to go for a run since Gryffin growled his way into our lives and some days I am not even able to go for a walk (and if you have read any of my blog posts you know how I feel about walking and how healing it can be for stress) but if I am taking each day at a time I am able to remember that God is providing enough for me each day (this rings true for when I am stressing about sleep too).

A couple of Saturdays ago I missed my early morning walk. Things seemed off, but then Gryffin and I were able to go for a hike. The day had been busy and then all of a sudden my schedule was clear as if God said, go. We followed and instead of sauntering around our neighborhood, we were taken out into the wild. It was quiet and in the quiet God reminded me that his beauty is enough treasure for each day. Then he surprised me with an amazing sunset. I would never have seen that if I had worried about what my day needed or fretted over not going on my morning walk.

Remember God is in control. None of us know what will happen next. No one knew a pandemic would shut down our country and that we would be spending so much time at home this year. So why worry about what happens next? I would rather remember that He is leading me and fathering me. Each day he is giving me a gentle tug on my heart and saying, “let’s go!” Each night when I lay down to sleep, I can either choose to fret about tomorrow, or remember that he is in control and has a beautiful adventure for me.

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.”

Where’s The Wonder

A couple of weeks ago I couldn’t find my wedding ring.  I thought I was going to have to search through the trash, like I had to for April’s ring.  I was excited about having another adventure that came from a messy situation, but not necessarily excited about digging in the trash. When I wrote about finding April’s wedding ring in the trash, I challenged myself, and those of you who gave that blog a read, to look for beauty in all situations. I felt inspired to write a blog about how we need to expect beauty from this time sheltering at home.  Fortunately my ring was on my nightstand.  You all missed out on another adventure in the trash.  Just imagine a second blog about dumpster diving.  But maybe we all feel like we are dumpster diving right now and all the blogs I was going to write from February until now, weren’t needed (or I am just giving myself an excuse for not writing while I stepped away from social media for Lent which ended up feeling weird because once all the social distancing hit, I tried to tell God that I hadn’t planned on giving up that much) If only fixing our current state of social distancing was as easy as looking for my ring right where I left it.

Yet, I think choosing to live in an adventure right now is more important than ever. We are stuck at home, even though some, like my wife who just went back to work at the library, have been able to go back to work. We still live in a world where hate can rear it’s ugly face. I have no clue how to respond to the murders that have taken place over the last couple months. When Ahmad Abrey was murdered by two white men I felt overwhelmed and now we are in the middle of the unrest caused by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of four police officers. I am sad and it all feels like too much for me. I cling to the hope that God gives me and the knowledge that he is in control. He has asked me to love my neighbor, and so even though I can’t go over and hug them, I can let my neighbors know I love them, by being there for them if they need food or a person to listen to. And with a six year old boy as a neighbor, who loves to throw toys into our yard and will talk our ears off if we let him, that sure is an adventure.

But adventuring into the wild seems like a whimsical desire, especially in our current social climate. Everyone is at arms. We are trying to mask ourselves for protection, but masked we feel free to fight on line and in line. So I am hesitant to write and publish a blog that seems simple in such a complex world, but hear me out. I love being out in the mountains, but wouldn’t it be fantastic to go back to work and to feel some sort of normal?  Week by week we’re all experiencing an adventure not even the most introverted person finds enjoyable. How many times can I walk around my block, Zoom with my church, or FaceTime with my family and friends without any outside human contact? Although, I’ve been reading with my nephew Linc and I think that I could read with him all day. He’s reading me a story about how to be a warrior. Sometimes there are blessings for us even in the times we feel out of whack.

As April and I have been sheltering at home, we have been watching The Office on Netflix. As all media outlets inundated us with bad news, we needed something to make us laugh. Maybe a true adventurer knows how to find joy even in the darkest of times.  Well, last night we watched the last episode and April and I were both sobbing. I guess that’s what we deserve for streaming a show so we could laugh and escape for a while.  The Office is more than a show for laughs, it tells the tale of an American workplace and as the nine seasons unfold it is impossible not to love each character.  It struck me as I rewatched the series finale that the show is about connecting with the people you work with through love.  I think I long to work in a place where I feel loved and can love back in return.  The characters on The Office feel like family (All the good and the bad).  Isn’t that what we all long for, a family (the good and the bad) and yet right now we can’t even go to work and many of us are separated from our families.

Yet, here we are at home and so how do we adventure?  Where is the wonder in a life so detached? Maybe it is in being whole hearted. My nephew Breck is the most whole hearted kid I know.  I was able to join a FaceTime call with him the other day during breakfast.  He wanted to show me the turtles that he and his brothers have found while they’ve been exploring.  Breck is well on his way to becoming a turtle expert.  Earlier in the day he was feeling left out because his little brother had received a letter from Nana, but now his smile was wide.  His wonder is contagious.  He is five-and-a-half and he knows that something weird is going on with the world. But he is living each day in the little moments.  I forgot to mention that he was in a tree while we FaceTimed.  I wonder if we can live like my five-and-a-half-year-old nephew through this pandemic and remember to live in each moment, choosing to love those around us.

One of my favorite bible verses is a quote from Jesus about being like a child. “Truly I tell you,” he says, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (MATT 18: 3).  Our world is flipped upside down right now, but maybe we should go climb a tree and look for a little wonder.  Maybe we should live movement by moment instead of worrying about if and when this pandemic will end.

Living moment by moment is why I am trying to write again.  During Lent I sat in silence and then I felt like I didn’t have anything to say as the world seemed to crash around us all.  But I don’t want to live in worry.  I want to live in a world where I am working and living in a community filled with love, but maybe that will only happen if I choose to live in wonder each moment of the day.

Beautiful adventures can come in many different forms, so take joy in what you are streaming, who you are zooming with, and in your wonderful family members you FaceTime with or might feel stuck with as you shelter in place. Beautiful adventures might even look like loving on someone you disagree with or responding in love even if you do not feel the love in return.

The front of the Anne Frank House where Anne and her family hid for two years during World War Two.

We can find beauty in the darkest of times and when we do, we find hope. I had my eighth grade students read Anne Frank’s Diary while they were learning from home. Every time I read her diary it hits me that she knew how horrible people could be, but that she choose to respond in love. She said, “I’ve found that there is always some beauty left — in nature, sunshine, freedom, in yourself; these can all help you . . . I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” Like the world Anne lived in, our world is broken and in need of the help that is found in beauty.

And when your adventure feels difficult, thank me because I have been praying for adventures to happen for everyone I know, and remember, the best is yet to come.

Cuts To Grace

Cuts To Grace

This has been a season of Lament. I wrote what follows as a lament. It is not perfect, but it is what I have been processing through over the last couple of months. I see hope and beauty in the dark times even as I mourn for the losses we have all suffered. I am angry at the choas in our world, yet I know my God is a God who redeems. He will win and in his victory all that has been lost will be made new. All that has gone wrong will be made right. I know this is true, because I know what he has done for me. I look at my scars and I see the how deep the beauty cuts.

“For if he causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.” -Lamentations 3:32-33 (I do not believe God has caused Covid-19 nor the death of George Floyd, but I do know he will have compassion on us.)

I reap what I sow

So I plant seeds of love and kindness

But the seeds could not grow as expected

Instead in my four walls I’ve sheltered  

My classroom is empty

Zoom calls are ignored

I’m still teaching, but is anyone listening 

Who is to blame? My students cry out for their loss

Gone is time with friends

Gone are my sports season

Gone are the Graduations 

Gone are the vacations

Gone are the high fives

Gone are the warm hugs

Gone are meals out

Gone our the jobs

Gone are Goodbyes

Gone are new hellos 

Gone is our breath

Gone, gone, gone

Our world is masked for protection

But masked we fight on line and in line

Disconnected and discontent.

Full of grief we weep.

Yet, I know I’m not forgotten

God has remained by my side

My God turns gravestones to gardens

My scars declare beauty

Ashes to beauty, cuts to grace

His love is in the laughter

Beauty behind the blue sky

Beauty is always left, in nature, sunshine,

Freedom, in yourself; and in God’s love for you.

I can think of all the beauty around me 

It makes me happy

And I know the best is yet to come.

Hope in beauty, not that of the sunrise or sunset

But of the love God grants me when all good seems gone.

Because grace is not gone

I cannot do enough good to sow a perfect world

Brokenness remains, but there is beauty in the healed scars.

I can still love kindness and walk with my God.

Social Media Shakeup: Living A Beautiful Adventure For Lent

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Fifteen years ago this February, I opened up an account on Facebook.  It was probably a Friday night and one of my friends felt like I would fix all of my problems by finding friends on what was then called The Facebook.

Flash forward to 2011 and I decided to give up Facebook for Lent.  I was living in Guatemala and I used the heck out of Facebook to stay connected to all of my friends and family back in Colorado.  Forty some odd days off  of Facebook was freeing.  I stopped feeling the need to post my every thought.  But I also felt like I lost contact with certain people and to a certain extent I don’t feel like I have ever reconnected with everyone.  But I had wanted to give God my time that I typically gave Facebook.

I also wanted to make funny videos of my time away from Facebook (they used to be posted to this blog, but have since vanished).  I think I wanted my time off Facebook to make me a popular blogger.  Maybe my dream was for people to finally see all the awesome things I was writing about in Guatemala.  Nine years later and I am still not sure if anyone is reading.

But I don’t blog so that I get found.  At least not anymore.  My goal for my blog and for everything I post is to help spread joy.  In the past fifteen years, along with Facebook, I have joined Twitter and Instagram.  Typically these networks are very positive elements in my life (I tend to stay away from harmful interactions).  If I post a picture on Instagram, as I have for nearly every day over the past six years, it is meant to help people see something fun, beautiful, and joyful.  When I blog I’m hoping to tell a story about God’s goodness in my life so that my readers (you amazing few) might see God in their own stories.

Yet tomorrow Lent starts and I want to shake up my life on social media.  Lent, for me, is all about surrendering something to God so maybe when I crave what I surrendered I seek His comfort.  I want to be hungry for Christ this Easter.  I want all of me to long for him to be resurrected.  So I am going to step away from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Posting a daily photo is a challenge for me because it forces me to look for joy and beauty so now I am going to have to find a way to see beauty without needing to take a picture and share it.  I will have to trust that people will find joy and beauty without me.

As I write this I know it feels a little odd to be talking about how I am letting go of social media for Lent on a social media platform, but I want everyone to have an adventure and so I blog.  Maybe by surrendering things I love I can find the freedom God has for me and inspire those around me to take a risk and trust God too.

So no story about how I saw God’s beauty in the trash or how I experienced Him in the wild, maybe those will come in my next blog.  Tonight I want to leave you with a beautiful image of a door.  I am going to open that door and seek out more of the beauty God has for me and I hope you do too.

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(well I won’t be opening this particular one in the picture because I would have to travel back to England and go to the Cotswolds where this door sits at the North End of a Church and many years ago inspired J.R.R. Tolkien)

 

 

Dustbin Diamonds

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Beauty.  I want to learn how to find beauty in my daily life.  At a retreat I went to last fall New York Times best selling author John Elderedge challenged me to let beauty heal me.  He said,  “Like oxygen and water we need beauty daily to restore us from a word assaulting our souls.”

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Beauty in the unexpected, like just over three years ago when I bought the most beautiful diamond so that I could propose to the most beautiful woman. On February 17th, we will celebrate my birthday and three years since I surprised her with a ring during a tropical storm at Universal Studios.  It was beautiful. Yet, those magnificent days have become normal and I need beauty to heal me.

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This year I am pursing life with the theme of a beautiful adventure.  Beauty is not just aesthetic; it is the small moments of kindness.  But sometimes fighting for beauty can be a little dirty.  That’s where grace pops in.

Like last year when April bought me tickets to see Elevation Worship.  Well, she had meant to buy me tickets.  Something came up and all of a sudden it was the day of the concert and it was sold out.  We decided to go and see if we could pick up a ticket in the parking lot.  April was in tears.  She knew how much Elevation Worship’s music meant to me.  As I struggled with insomnia, their music helped remind me that even when things seemed bad, God promised me that the best is yet to come.  So as we walked up to the doors to the venue for the concert, I said a small prayer.  “Are there any tickets for sale,” I asked.  The guy in the ticket booth smiled.  “There are two at will call just for you.”  God knew what I needed.  The night was beautiful, it helped in my healing, and I wouldn’t have experienced it if I had decided to give up when we read that the tickets were sold out.

That is the spirt I want to live with this year. Step out into the unknown and let God surprise me with a beautiful adventure.  But this year started out with a horrible cold and sometimes beautiful adventures end up in the trash can.

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January started off with a monster of a cold.  The only thing we could do was work on our puzzles.  As I mentioned in my last blog, we have become puzzlers.  And as Christmas and New Year’s season should go, we worked on multiple Star Wars puzzles.  The best, and hardest, was a puzzle of The Mandalorian and The Child.  As cute as Baby Yoda (check out his top ten moments in the link) is, the puzzle was super difficult.  All of the pieces were monochromatic so it was difficult to piece them together.  Yet, we persisted one piece at a time, or actually as we reached the end, two pieces wouldn’t fit and we realized several pieces were in the wrong place.  Carefully we searched through the puzzle, taking pieces out and finding their right place.  At last it was finished!

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Building puzzles has taught me that if you want the beautiful picture at the end of the puzzle, you need to look at each piece from as many angles as possible.  You have to move around, turn pieces over in your hand, and look at things from every perspective. And every single time, you need to check under the couch for that one missing piece. This is how to live in a beautiful adventure.

But, I hated being sick at the same time together.  I couldn’t take care of April and she couldn’t breathe.  Our first adventure of the new decade was to Walgreens to buy Dayquil cold and sinus.  It was a cold clear morning, but all I wanted to do was hop back in bed.  The next couple of days blurred together.  At some point we decided to clean up a bit.  Maybe we thought that would make us feel better.

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That is when April told me she could not find her wedding ring.  I struggled to think of when I had seen it last.  It had to have been on the night stand next to her side of the bed.  I could see the diamond sparkle next to the wood top, but now it was gone.  We cleaned the entire house.  We flipped things around.  Looked at it from all different angles.  We changed our perspectives.  It was like the parable Jesus told about the woman who tears apart her home to find a lost coin.  But we didn’t find anything.  We changed our sheets.  Searched under our mattress.  Moved the rug under our bed, but It was gone.  The only places we had not checked were the insides of the laundry machines and the trash.

April and I pulled out the trash bag from the trash can and started sifting through the snotty tissues.  I treated this search like my search for any missing puzzle piece and so halfway through the trash I realized I probably needed to start opening up the tissues to check if the ring was inside. I opened one.  Just snot.  Another.  Snot.  On the third, I felt something hard inside.  I prayed that it would be her ring.  I unfolded the snotty tissue and her ring dropped into my hand.

God has a beautiful adventure for April and me.  I want to search for it daily and even go through the trash to find it if I have to.  Beauty isn’t always a grand proposal or a free entry into a concert, but sometimes its found looking for diamonds in the dustbin.

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