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.

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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Beautiful Adventure

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2019 was a beautiful adventure. It was full of grand adventures and small beautiful moments.  This past year was also as difficult as it was beautiful but through it all I know God was fathering me; teaching me how to be the man he created me to be when he formed me.

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2019 brought an awesome change to my life with April as we bought a house.  Then we traveled through Europe and we were able to spend all month together without having to go to work.  But it was a difficult year too.  A couple of my students decided to harass me online and even though my sleep has improved, I am still not sleeping perfectly.

Through all of the good and the bad God has taught me to look to him and as him, what do you have for me in this?  His answer has been always been to prompt me to open my eyes to the beauty around me.

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Just tonight as I was leaving basketball practice the sun was setting and the colors shown across the sky.  It reminded me that I am loved.  Beauty can be anywhere and I could spend this entire blog listing the times I saw an awesome sunset or went on a glorious hike, but that is not why I am writing.  I want to challenge my readers and myself to look for beauty when it is not expected.  With our eyes open, God will surprise us.  He wants you to know he loves you.

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April and I had been traveling through the United Kingdom this summer.  We had saved for a little over two years to be able to go to Europe.  Each city we visited along the way was a treat all on its own.  But the best, and most fun was when we landed in Amsterdam.  It was 100 degrees out and we had no desire to take the train into the city from the airport and then lug all of our bags to our hotel.  We’d been sticking to our transportation budget since we blew about 100 dollars on a taxi to the wrong Hilton in London (you would think that since we speak the same language it would be easier to travel from the airport to your hotel after a full day of not sleeping), so we had a little bit of money set aside for the small extravagance for a taxi.

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Amsterdam airport is set up so that only a select group of taxis can transport passengers into the city.  So we walked to the stand and figured we would take what we would get and we would pay for it too.  I hailed the taxi, the driver took our luggage, and we hopped inside.  It was the nicest car I had ever been in.  A Tesla SUV.  What a treat.  When we rolled up to our hotel people started taking pictures of us and the car.

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We then had a bellhop take out stuff into the hotel, which capped off the entire experience.  April and I felt like royalty.  Think of it, I am a teacher and she works for the library.  We are normal people.  God just wanted to give us a beautiful gift.  As we got to our room, which had air conditioning (A must in a 100 degree heat wave), I couldn’t stop laughing at how God is lavish with his love.  Riding in a Tesla was a small thing, it’s just a car, but it made my day.

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God is constantly doing things to make our days.  He is opening up beautiful surprises for us we just have to open our eyes to what he has.  And then on our way out of Amsterdam, we figured we didn’t need to be extravagant again so we just had our hotel call us a taxi.  We didn’t need a Tesla, so God sent us a Jaguar.

God has done things like this over and over again throughout my year.  God cares about my heart and helping me feel alive.  He sent two beautiful cars to drive me around in a beautiful city just to remind me that he loves me.

My hope for 2020 is that I can continue to keep my eyes open to the beauty God has for me.

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Needing Grace In November

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What has made your heart come alive in 2019? My heart matters and this year has been an adventure in trying to find what makes it sing, what makes it come alive.  As I have struggled with sleep, I have realized that grace and beauty speak into my heart and I need more.

November is a great month to focus on what this year has brought and set a focus on how the year could end so that the next year can start off right.  To make it through the last of November and into December I need my heart to come alive. But life can’t be all adventures.  Life is lived in the dailies and doesn’t have to always be fantastic.

2019 has had plenty of fantastic things take place in it, but it has also been a daily grind.  If I want my heart to come alive I need to remember to search for beauty when I am stuck at work or when the unexpected comes my way.

I need grace when things don’t go my way.  I need grace for when things do go my way.

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This year plenty has gone my way.  My heart came alive when April and I walked into the home we would buy.  God’s hands were all over us being able to buy our home, but as many of you know, owning a home is not easy.  Owning a home is a beautiful adventure, but a home needs much from its owner.  We’ve already needed to replace all of the windows and gutters.  God has provided April and me with a home and I know I cannot take care of it without him.  When I feel anxious about all my home needs, He reminds me He is in control and gives me the grace to remember that He will provide, He will protect, and His presence will rule in my house even if I have to spend more money on my home.  Right now the oven is hardly working and if April’s baking adventure is ever to take off, we need a better one.

In July we finally went on our honeymoon to Europe.  As we boarded our plane, all of me was ready for a holiday.

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My spring semester at school was stressful and then because I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to teach summer school.  So, I needed to be refilled, but I was nervous about how my sleeping problems would mess with our trip.  On the first night in London I was exhausted (I hadn’t slept on the flight over and then it took us five hours to travel from Heathrow Airport to our hotel over in the Docklands).  This was an adventure, but even though my eyelids were weighed down I struggled to fall asleep.

I was terrified I would be too tired to do anything and ruin our honeymoon. Before we left for Europe, I didn’t take the time to work on my sleep problems. Now I was sure it was going to ruin the trip.  And then in a quiet whispered moment, April reminded me to be gracious to myself.  “Jet-lag is a very real,” she said and that I should just give my body grace when I couldn’t fall to sleep because it was just trying to figure out its new rhythm.  This saved me and helped make for an incredible month in England, Scotland, Amsterdam, and Ireland.  The sunset that night was God reminding me that he would take care of us.

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And then we returned to Colorado, I started back up at work, and now we are at the end of November, and I’m thinking about how I need grace for my life.  I’ve had quite a few beautiful moments this semester, but some hard ones too.

As November came I didn’t think we would need a new car, but her completely paid off Ford Focus died and we could no longer rely on it to transport her to work and back.  We really needed a new car, but buying cars doesn’t make my heart come alive.  We bought a Honda C-RV and I love it, but I had not planned on making another big purchase this year (The house, the trip to Europe, and a couple things for the house were all I wanted to buy, but not the car).  Buying the car could have stressed me out, its drastically changing our budget, but I am remembering to give myself grace and I am choosing to remember that providing for my wife is truly an awesome adventure.  God is in control and even in the daily grind he will provide fantastic elements to my day.

God providing for me is what makes my heart come alive and that is what I need.  He knows my heart matters and he will take care of my finances, my house, and my job.  With our new car I have the ability to go up into the mountains.  With my house I can invite friends over for a movie.  And with my job I can share my love of stories.  These are all things that make my heart come alive and that is what I really need.

My goal for December 2019 and into 2020 is that I slow down and meet the needs of my heart so that I am able to live a life fully alive, but I know I will mess up and there will be bumps along the way.  That’s why I am thankful for grace!

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Anxiety, Adventures, and Aspens

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Do not be anxious about anything, but pray and be thankful.- Philippians 4:6 Yeah, but what about my life?  Last week after I posted about needing to open up about my sleep problems I was attacked by two straight nights of anxiety filled sleep.

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Yay, time to practice all the advice I gave out (I am not sure you can sense my sarcasm).  After midnight, my mind doesn’t want to think logically.  It just wants to sleep so when my heart feels the flames of fear and my brain begins to bounce back and fourth from one thought to another, it has taken practice to slow myself down.  But I took a breath and remembered all of the times God has provided for me in times of turmoil.

I am learning to breathe in and think of beautiful things.  Breathe out and release my fear.  Beauty beats anxiety.

The world we live in is beautiful.  No I am not naive, I know of pain and suffering, but even in the darkest of times God’s beauty abounds.

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Two weeks ago April and I traveled up to Breckenridge to go aspen leaf peeping.   The beauty of Breckenridge in the fall is astounding.  As we drove up Boreas Pass I was reflecting on the last year and all my sleep struggles.  The previous year when we came up to Breckenridge my sleep was an absolute mess and I had hoped that a little time away would fix it.  It didn’t.  But the beauty of the aspens left needing to catch my breath. When aspen leaves rustle in the wind, I am not sure there is a more calming sound.

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Aspens are amazing in how they are all one organism so that each tree supports the collective whole.  Every year aspens cycle through life.  In the spring they start to bud new leaves that turn deep great through the next couple months of summer.  In the fall they made their most drastic change when the leaves change from green to gold, red, and yellow only to fall off by winter time.  All winter aspens are bare, but then they are reborn in the spring.  This happens every year.  God takes care of his creation.

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Driving over Boreas Pass God took me up into his beauty and reminded me that if he cares that much to create a beautiful tree he also cares for me.  On our way down to Como, on the other side of the pass, April and I parked our car and walked down into a grove of aspens.  Standing under the rustling leaves I felt Jesus was next to me saying, “look out over the aspens and don’t be anxious.  Don’t worry about if you sleep well or if work goes well.  Aspens don’t work, they are fed by me.  If I cloth the aspens in such beauty, don’t you think I will take care of you too?”

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He cares about beauty and goodness.  So I whatever is good and beautiful, think on those things. When I am struggling to sleep, I’ve started to think about the beautiful aspens up in the mountains. Remembering that God has provided for me in the past and he will provide for me in the future.

He has sent me on beautiful adventures, both big and small so when my brain boiled with fear this week I decided to remember the beauty of Boreas Pass and how God loves me more than aspen trees.  Because of that I know that the best is yet to come.

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Stress, Sleep, and Surrender: September 2019

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Maybe you are reading this because you haven’t mastered the tick to falling asleep.  Maybe you are like me and sleep has started to evade you.  Surrendering to sleep seems like a weird thing that we do every day.  Sleep is vulnerable, we lie there, prone and oblivious to all that is going on in the world, and yet without it we will waste away.  Worrying about what will happen to me while I sleep is not why I’ve had trouble slipping off into sleep.  What I get anxious about is plain old sleep and work.  My brain just won’t turn off sometimes because I am stuck in a cycle of anxiety and stress.  As I have struggled to sleep God kept reminding me He wanted my heart no matter the situation. I couldn’t control my life.  He was taking back the things that were his anyway.  God wanted me to surrender and open up about my struggles.

Finally, a little over a year ago, I told my older sister that I was struggling with sleep.  She said, “me too.”  That moment of connection was what I needed.  It was as if I had been heard.  I started to sleep soundly again.  Yet here we are deep into 2019 and I am taking a small amount of sleeping pills during the work week and I still occasionally wake up sweaty.

I am not sure why my sleep patterns haven’t fixed themselves and I am doing my best not to stress over the answer.  The best thing to do while going through a difficult or painful situation is not to ask why or try to interpret what is going on.  Struggling to figure out the meaning of my sleepless nights only led to more sleepless nights.  Maybe part of why sleep has not come easy could be my silence; my refusal to surrender to God’s will and share what He has been doing in my life.

But this September I felt challenged to open up about my sleep problems.  Every September I celebrate how God showed up when I was in the hospital due to Necrotizing Pneumonia.  I realized if I can share about how God used that pain, I needed to open up about what God was doing in my life now.  I was being selfish by holding back on talking about my sleep pain.  I would rather have God use my pain than waste it.  So I am opening up.  Millions of Americans suffer from sleep deprivation and maybe I can help.

I have learned that instead of asking God why I am awake in the middle of the night or unable to fall asleep, I want to ask God what are you doing in me?  He wants my heart no matter the situation.  So each night I am practicing letting go of my own desires.  God has taken care of my finances, my wife, my health, and everything else I have surrendered to him.  If I do not sleep well, he gives me what I need to make it through the next day.

I do not want to keep silent about my sleep or lack thereof because God has been too good to me and I want to praise him for that.  At night when I can’t sleep, I have decided to sit with Him and pray.  Some nights I leave my bed and go to the couch where I sit with my hands palm up on my knees.  I breathe deeply and listen for God.  I think of the beauty I have seen in His world and know that He is in control.  I surrender to him and trust that if He can make a world where Aspens exist, He can love me even in my stress. He might never heal me of this sleep problem, but all the while He is making me into the man he created me to be.  And isn’t that the ultimate adventure?

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Stress and Sleeplessness

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Teachers live for summer, right? Freedom for adventure right at your feet, or just to use the bathroom whenever. Oh and all the extra sleep, but sleep started to stress me out during the summer of 2018.

Yes, that was over a year ago, but for the longest time I felt like if I talked about how much I was struggling to sleep, my sleep patterns would worsen.  But I don’t believe that anymore and here is how God helped me change my mindset.

In 2018 my adventures seemed limited to waking up in the middle of the night, taking care of my landlords house, and worrying about being able to provide for my wife.  I was attempting to control my little world but God wanted me to surrender.

When I would wake up worrying about our finances.  He would tell me he was in control anyway.  I would wake up worried about healthy eating and my physical health.  God would remind me that he has always taken care of me and that no matter what he wants the best for me. I started worrying about taking care of the house we were living in.  I didn’t want to be thinking about these things so early in the morning. Time and time again God would remind me that the best life is a life surrendered to him.

Yet, I stressed on.  I wanted to be able to provide for April, buy us a house, and make us successful.  Surrender is difficult, so I didn’t sleep.

Without sleep, my rhythm has been off. I cannot blame it on where I live, bad air conditioning, poor heating, or the fact that my wife is a furnace.  Figuratively and literally! When we are next to one another in bed my body temp starts to rise, which doesn’t let me sleep.  Like I said, last summer I started stressing about many different things, but most of all I stressed about how hot I was when I was hoping to be asleep or I would stress about sleep.

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A little history on my sleep patterns.  When I was in the seventh and eighth grade I started struggling to fall asleep because I was too busy thinking up the statistics for Terrill Davis and the other Denver Broncos. During 1998, when TD would run for 2008 yards on the season, I started calculating what he needed to do to reach that feat each night as I lay in bed.  Soon sleep outweighed my desire to not worry about stats.  My solution was a fan to drown out my thoughts.  Over the years the fan has morphed into prayer time at night, a thankfulness journal, and a rain noise app on my phone.

On nights when none of these solutions worked, I used I would envision a peaceful field or hike and I would take myself into that situation and fall into a dream so over the last year when I just couldn’t fall back to sleep I was unsure what to do when my mind would not shut off.

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I felt like I was lost in a sleep deprived haze.  My brain buzzed.  I was waking up with my heart pounding and in a puddle of sweat. I was stressed, but I didn’t want to talk about it and this made me feel alone. Why was this happening? Over the last year I feel like I would turn a corner and recapture that mythic ability to sleep through the night and then I would go and talk about it.  Someone would ask me, “how are you sleeping” and I would crash.  I was convinced that if I talked about my sleep, I would start stressing about it, and therefore, I wouldn’t sleep well.  So I kept silent. I refused to surrender and my adventure seemed to stall out.  But that would change in September.  More on that next week.

 

40 Years of Love

DSC_1004June came and went in a flash.  But in-between, God moved.  In the lead up to June I’d been excited about the upcoming celebration of my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.  When they met they were kids, literally.  My dad was in the 8th grade and my mom was in the 6th.  When they married they were hardly adults.  And yet, 40 years later, they have a beautiful legacy of love.

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Love is what highlights our lives.  Love is what stops one day from rolling into the next without direction or meaning.  Choosing love slows me down and helps me remember to live in the moment.  Maybe I learned that from my parents.

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Because of their choices I am part of a family who is founded in Christ’s firm love.  And so we, meaning my entire family (Katie, Michael, and their crazy five kid crew made the trek as did my younger sister Emmy), celebrated them in the best way possible, up in the mountains.  The mountains are love.  They slow life down and help us know how much we are loved.

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Being in the mountains gave us time to gather around a fire and laugh as we burned our marshmallows.  It gave us time to have deep conversations about our struggles and triumphs as we built a 400 piece Peanuts puzzle only to realize at the end that the box only contained 397 pieces.  The weekend was rainy but we made it outside for the hot tub and zip line.  Spending Uncle time with my nieces and nephews was amazing!

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I captured Emerson, the youngest, crawling for the first time.  I told stories with Breck, in the story he was born a T-Rex but actually a Velociraptor.  I played games and built puzzles with Addi and Linc.  I even started a tickle fight with Treagan.   Because my parents chose to love Christ and love each other day in and day out, I am blessed to be an uncle.  But even more amazing is how my nieces and nephews choosing a life of love and freedom in Christ.

 

As June was rushing by, Linc, my oldest nephew, asked to be baptized.   The morning of the big day he joined me in the living room as I spent time in prayer.  He woke up early, came and sat on the couch, and asked me to help him start a Bible reading plan.  I love that at eight he is making choices to live a life founded on love.  His baptism was beautiful.  I love Lincoln.

 

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My parents’ love has given me the ability to love my wife.  April and I are set to celebrate our second wedding anniversary on the 7th of July.  We are off on an adventure to England, Ireland, Scotland, and Amsterdam. What an adventure!  My prayer has been that this next month doesn’t flash by, but that God stops us, opens our eyes and our hearts so we can experience His love.

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Love is not scientific and so I have no clear idea how my parents did it, but, I would bet it all came down to their choices.  Years ago when my parents were younger my dad took Katie and me on a hike.  I was a baby and my older sister was old enough to complain about how difficult the hike was. My parents hadn’t packed any food, nor brought any water.  We were miserable.  My dad, in all his wisdom, created this beautiful simile, ” Life is like a mountain.  You just have to choose to get over it.”  Katie stated the obvious, “I hate life.”  Yet in love, there are times when it is difficult and you just have to choose to move through it.  My parents’ love is not a difficult mountain, it is warm, open, and consistent, and it, like my favorite mountains, has stood the test of time.  I am so proud that each day they choose to love even when it feels hard.  What an adventure!

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I am sure if you asked either of them, the 40 years came and went in a flash.  But in-between, God moved.