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!

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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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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