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.

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.”