Unseen Potential

Fixer Upper

One of the most amazing things to me on TV these days are shows that remodel houses. I don’t watch them often, but when I do, I am awestruck by the designers ability to see something incredibly beautiful in the shell of the ugliest houses. I know they probably take the plans of the house and figure out what would work and what wouldn’t beforehand, but their ability to create and envision is astounding. The designers have an amazing ability to see the unseen potential of a house.

I’ve Struggled with Unseen Potential

I’ve been in ministry for about 15 years. Most of those years have been at the church in which I am currently on staff, Foundations Church. At FC, I oversee the Children’s Ministry and have the privilege of hanging out with the FC College students. I love what I do because I get to influence and love on whole families. 

Our church started at a high school 10 years ago. Back then, we had to set up and tear down every Sunday. We had few volunteers and even less kids. Sometimes it was hard to see the need for me to be there when we had a week or two without elementary kids. Despite my inept leadership skills and ability to communicate with kids, our church began to grow. After, three and a half years at the high school we bought a building.

A local church contacted our office and asked us if we would be interested in buying their building. The congregation of that church had dwindled to the point of not being able to afford to keep the lights on. They were looking to sell to another church and one of the members just so happened to live in the neighborhood across from the school in which we were currently meeting. The member saw our sign as he passed by everyday and thought we might be interested. So, as a staff, we went to check out this building.

From the moment we walked into the building, Justin Graves, our lead pastor; Shannon Dalrymple; and Greg Fisher were excited. They all said we could make this work. They had visions of what could become of the building and how we could make it our own. I, on the other hand, saw an old church building. I know that is not very visionary-like. When you have your mind set on being more in a warehouse type building and then you are taken to an old church with pipe organ, wooden ceilings, cement altars, red carpet, and a 70’s style kitchen, you may not get as excited as most would expect.

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who didn’t see it the other guys saw it. Jonathan Samuels, our Student Ministries Director at the time, had his reservations too. He and I were in unison when Justin asked us what we thought. “I don’t see it. I don’t see what you guys see. It just looks like an old church to me.”

Justin, Shannon, and Fish all agreed that we would change our minds once we saw what we could do with the building. I wasn’t completely convinced, but I’ve learned that sometimes you have to lean into the unknown to see God do something spectacular. Like the designers that remodel houses on TV, Justin bought the property and continued to believe it could become something more. And it became exactly what Foundations Church needed, a home.

We did the demolition work together as a church. Nothing brings men closer together than destroying a building together. We knocked down just about every interior wall. There are some that remained, but for the most part after months of demo, we were left with the shell of a building. The thing about remodeling is you have to tear down the old to build up the new.

The remodel took months. Looking over design plans, coming up with idea after idea on how we could make this building function and fit our church family, and believing that God was going to us the building to reach more people. We hired professionals to finish the remodel. A few ladies in the church that were steady-handed, came in after the construction and painted the walls. They put on the designs and animals throughout the kids area. The entire operation was a process. But, after approximately nine months from buying the building, our new home was ready for our first service.

Since that day, our church has grown steadily. In the last six years we’ve made some necessary updates and the building has changed with us as we grow. God has faithfully used Foundations Church to love on the community and the world as a whole. We have done so many incredible events with the building that we wouldn’t have been able to do at the school. Thankfully, there were some guys who saw potential in an old church building. I saw the building for what it was, but they saw it for what it could become.

What I’ve come to realize is this is who God is. He sees the potential. Where everyone else sees people for who they are and have been, God sees them as who they can become. We may see a person who has thrown their entire life away on drugs, alcohol, sex or even fame, but God sees someone that has the potential to rescue others from the life they were living.

I’m glad God sees potential and not what we have been. If He didn’t, maybe no one would ever change. The hard part with changing to be more like the person God can see us become is the demolition that has to take place. God has to tear down the old us in order to build us back into the person we were meant to be. The demolition process is painful at times. The walls we’ve built have to come down and all the things that we thought were holding us up have to be removed. It’s hard to trust the Designer.

The transformation in our lives is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. God can change someone in an instant, but generally it is over time. He is careful to knock down only the walls we don’t need. He doesn’t force change on us, but He invites us to a better life. God has a beautiful vision of what we can become, we just have to trust Him every step of the way. We may get discouraged, resist some of the changes, but we have to trust that God’s vision is awe-inspiring and astounding.

We will never reach a point of perfection and then God walks away from us. God stick with us through every phase of our lives and helps us grow and change along the way. He helps us make the necessary updates in our lives to become even more of who He envisions us becoming. Thankfully, God sees potential in us even at our ugliest state. When everyone else sees who we are, He sees who we can become.

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No Pain, No Gain

Sky Fitness

“No pain, no gain” was a popular saying back in the 90’s. My thought was, I’d rather not gain anything if it means I can avoid the pain. I hate pain. We all hate pain, and I’ve been known to try to avoid it as much as possible. The problem is I got hurt a ton as a kid. From bike wrecks to dodgeballs to the face, I just could not avoid pain very well. It always seemed to find me in the most unexpected ways.

Threat of pain aside, I still love sports. I played baseball from kindergarten into high school and football from 7th through 10th grade. For someone who doesn’t like pain, I put myself through a lot of pain to get better at both of these sports. For example, I once got hit in the face by a baseball. I put my glove on the ground to catch a ground ball, it came in so fast that it rolled up, hit my palm, and bounced up into my nose. I know it may not sound bad, but it left a bloody spot that looked like the laces from the baseball. It hurt, however, I learned a valuable lesson in timing the squeezing of the glove that I may not have learned without that pain.

For someone that doesn’t like pain, you’d think I would have avoided playing football – it may have been the most painful experience of my life. One of the worst hits I took was in 9th-grade football. When I say I was small in 9th grade, it may be a huge understatement. I was 5’1” tall and maybe weighed a little over 100 lbs on a good day. Most of the other guys on the team had already hit their growth spurts and were quite a bit bigger than me. I was the smallest guy on the team, but what I lacked in size, I made up for with heart. I was determined to be the best. Whatever the coach wanted me to do, I was there.

On one particular day at practice, the coach decided to put me in at nose guard. I don’t know if you are familiar with where the nose guard plays, but it isn’t way back off the ball with all the smaller athletes. The nose guard is on defense and plays right in front of the center. That’s right – the coach put me on the defensive line, with all of the biggest guys on the team.

I was hesitant, but jumped at the opportunity to get in and play. When the ball was hiked, I shot up, ready to push my way through to the ball. The only thing was, there was no one there to push out of the way. I ended up stepping into the gap where the fullback was about to come through. As I saw him, I ran toward him to tackle him, but I was so much smaller than him, he just ran over me! As we both fell towards the ground, I tried to catch myself with my right arm. Which would have been okay to do, if it hadn’t been for the fullback landing on top of me. This bent my fingers back to my forearm and caused immediate swelling in my wrist.

I jumped up, wincing in pain and walked to the sideline. The coach looked at it and said the infamous line, “Just go walk it off.” As if by some happenstance the act of walking around the football field would magically heal the swelling in my wrist that had now tripled in size. I walked around for the rest of practice, unable to move my hand without excruciating pain. After I got in the car and told my mom what had happened and that we needed to go to the doctor, I finally cried. It hurt a lot. My wrist ended up having a hairline fracture and I had to wear a cast for a few weeks. But, did that stop me from playing football ever again? Nope. I was back on the field as soon as I got better.

As I sit here writing, my entire body is extremely sore. I can’t so much as twitch without pain. My breaths are shallow, and there is an aura of pain around me. Usually, if I wake up like this, I’d think maybe I slept wrong or maybe something worse is happening. However, knowing the context and what I’ve been doing for the last week helps me understand the way I feel today. I don’t like it, but I know it is going to be worth it.

Last week I started working out at the gym for the first time in almost three years. I went pretty regularly before we had kids, and after kids, it became a little more complicated. Alissa’s work schedule forces me to be the one responsible for dropping off and picking up the kids. The first four years of Jonas’s life, taking him to and from daycare added almost 2 hours to our daily commute. By the time I got the kids home, I didn’t want to drive anywhere else. And so, I stopped going to the gym. 

I’m a morning person, so I’ve always liked working out in the mornings. Waking up in the morning, I have a sense of optimism of what the day will bring. No, I don’t always pop right out of bed. There are many occasions I have to force myself to get up and start the day. Especially, now that we have two kids that are capable of waking me up multiple times throughout the night. Once the evening hits, working out doesn’t sound appealing. When I finish work, I want the remainder of my day to be about my family and exerting my energy into wrestling with Jonas and Eliana. 

One of the hardest parts of working out is the incredible amount of soreness you feel in the first couple of weeks. The only thing you can do to combat the soreness is drink water and stretch. If you can make it through that first couple of weeks, the soreness starts to dissipate. Working out is a constant cycle of breaking down muscles so that your body can heal them back stronger. When it comes to the gym, we will endure incredible amounts of pain because we know it is the only way to get fit and get our bodies to our ideal image. 

Outside of the gym, we spend an awful lot of our time trying to avoid pain. We tip-toe around people because we don’t want to get into an argument. We pray for God to help us avoid heartaches that may come. In the middle of going through difficult times in life, we try to pray the pain away. We want God to move and do miracles to bring us out of our situation. It’s amazing to me how many people start to believe in God or even just pray when they start to go through pain. When God seemingly “fails” to take the pain away, people stop believing or feel validated to condemn God to be nothing more than a crutch to help the weak-minded get through life.

As Jesus followers, we many times blame our pain on “spiritual attacks.” I’m not discrediting the fact that we have an enemy who wants to, as the Bible says, “…steal, kill, and destroy” us and everything we hold dear. I just think we give satan more credit than he is worth. Oftentimes, our pain and struggles are a result of our faith in God being tested. I believe it is what Isaiah was saying when God spoke through him, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.” (Isa 48:10).

To refine a metal such as silver or gold, you have to heat them to a liquid state. Back before their were machines to do this, a blacksmith would heat the metal in a large crucible. As the metal was heated, the blacksmith would skim the impurities off the top. The substance he was left with was 99.99% pure silver or gold or whatever metal he was refining. In order for the metal to be refined and purified, it had to be broken down. In Isaiah, where the Bible says that God has “refined you…tested you in the furnace of affliction.”, God is actually letting us know that sometimes He allows us to experience affliction in order to make us better.

Our tendency is to avoid this pain at all cost. We attempt to pray it away and ask God to remove us from the situation. However, God is wanting to use your situation to refine you. It’s not that He enjoys seeing you go through pain, in fact, He hurts when you hurt.

Sometimes, pain comes out of nowhere. It is unexpected and all we can do is pray and trust God through it. And other times, we bring pain on ourselves. We put ourselves in situations that we know may cause us pain, but we think the reward is better. No pain, no gain. When it becomes difficult and we want to point a finger at God, we must realize that sometimes we are the ones who put ourselves in this situation. I encourage you to lean into God and His strength. When we experience pain, when we are broken down, we come out stronger and more pure on the other side. Everything God does and allows is, ultimately, to draw us back to Him and to refine us to be our true self.

I’ve had a lot of pain in my life. I’m not so naive to think I am the only one. We all have scars from the pain. You can see some of my scars here.

 

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Leap of Faith, But Black Your Eye

Eliana Falls

When I’m exhausted or even when my back is hurting, I love laying in the floor. For some reason, it helps me feel a little better. It helps align my back and just feels good when I’m tired. After a long day, it is one of my first go to’s when I get home from work. It helps me rest for what’s coming that evening.

However, now that I have kids, when I lie in the floor it is inevitably interrupted by both of them wanting to wrestle. I’ve essential become a jungle gym. It never once has bothered me because it is one way I can distract them from mom. My kids want mommy more than daddy, so anytime I can steal them away and spend a little time with them, I’m all for it.

Eliana is our fearless one. No counter is to high, no shelf is out of reach for this little one. She sees them not as limitations, but as obstacles in her way to what she wants and she will stop at nothing to get it. She loves chips and will go to any lengths to climb into the cupboard and get her favorite snack.

Eliana also loves to play a game where she stands on my chest, while I’m laying in the floor. She, then, plank falls over my head so that I catch her in my outstretched arms. I keep my arms above my head to catch her because I’m afraid she would leap even if I didn’t. She trusts me to catch her every time.

I love playing this game with her because she giggles the entire time. Whenever you are feeling overwhelmed, spend time with a child and make them laugh, I promise the cares will melt away, even if it’s just for a moment. It becomes an addiction to make them laugh again.

I’m not proud to say this, but there have been a couple of times where I couldn’t keep her from hitting the ground. Sure, I broke her fall and kept her from serious injury. However, she fell in the wrong direction once. I got my arm under her before she hit the ground, but she rolled off and smacked her face on the rug. Another time, we were playing and she was just jumping up and down on me practicing her balance. All of the sudden, she leaped without warning and my arms weren’t there. I broke her fall, but she hit her head on the tile floor. It wasn’t enough to bruise or give her a bump on her forehead, but just enough to garner tears and daddy feeling horrible.

What I’ve come to realize is God’s arms are always there to catch us when we leap in the direction he is calling us too. It may even seem like we’ve fallen flat on our face or sometimes we leap in the wrong direction. Neither  instances mean that God isn’t present and He can’t be trusted in the future.

The first, oftentimes, means we either leapt too early or God did let us fall so that He could mend us and build trust. As Jesus followers, we sometimes get in a rush to go where we feel like God is leading us that we miss out on the development that He wants to do in our lives in our current situation. I think it’s why God only gives us a step or two at a time. He wants to develop character and trust in us. If we saw the whole picture, it would most likely scare us. It’s ok to go slow and develop into who God wants you to be. In the meantime, worship God. Worship is how we build trust and it’s how we show trust in God.

The second, leaping in the wrong direction, happens when we trust our ability more than we trust the hand of God. If we don’t take time to see God, to worship Him, and we blindly leap in a direction, How can we expect the Father to catch us? Yes, God loves us enough to soften the blow, but in those instances we are the ones at fault. Yet, every time we fall and we fail, we blame God. Sometimes it is our fault and other times it’s God testing us.

In ancient times, a blacksmith would sit next to a fire with molten gold or silver in a crucible. They would stir it to bring up any impurities and then skim the impurities off the top. Once this was finished, they would be left with almost pure gold (99.99%).

God tests us so that he can refine us. Will we ever be 100% perfect? Not here on Earth, but once we get to heaven we will be made perfect.

“For the sake of my name I delay my wrath, and for my praise I restrain it for you, in order not to cut you off. ‘Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.’” Isaiah 48:9-11

Think about when you wash your clothes. It isn’t the simple act of adding water and laundry detergent that cleans the clothes. It’s the tumbling or the agitator in the middle of the wash basin that beats against the clothes to help them release the dirt. Did you catch that? The agitator. The clothes have to be agitated enough to become clean.

The tough moments in life are a way for us to be agitated enough to change who we are and our dependence on God. There are times God always us to be test because it is the only way He can get our attention. The plans are never to harm us. This process is just an opportunity for God to help us get out some of the impurities in our lives so we can draw even closer to Him.

Eliana still loves to fall and have daddy catch her. I am now more alert when she is standing on me that she could leap at any moment and in any direction. And every time, I am there to catch her and to laugh with her. God is near and ready any moment you leap. Just stay close so you know what direction His arms are leading you. And then wait and listen for Him to say when it’s safe to leap. And if you fall, don’t be angry with God. See it for what it is, an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and brush off some of the impurities. Then, one day you’ll be able to stand before the Father 100% you.

If you liked this post, check out my post on The Greatest Catch where I talk about overcoming our fears and knowing that God is on the other side.

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How We Live Happily Ever After

Celebrating 16 years

August 10th, Alissa and I celebrated 16 years of marriage. Where does the time go? The truth is it doesn’t seem like it has been that long, but at the same time it feels like we’ve spent our entire lives together. I love my wife. She helps me see a perspective I never would have known had I not married her. Our anniversary has gotten me thinking about love. Big surprise there, right? You’d hope it would get me thinking about love and not dread.

Love is a word we associate with so many feelings. Any time something puts the warm fuzzies in our heart, we say that we love it. Or at the very least, we press and hold the like button and then slide right to the heart. Love is associated with so many things that it has desensitized us to the word love. We love our cars, our houses, and even our best friend’s hair. We love the food we eat, we love our beds and air conditioning (It’s ok to love air conditioning. It is a gift from God).

For 14 years, I had a white 1997 Honda Civic. Over the years it became affectionately known as “The Civic”. It wasn’t fancy and didn’t have any of the bells and whistles. It didn’t even have power steering, for that matter. What it lacked in frills, it made up for with faithfulness and loyalty. I made so many memories driving that car around, coast to coast and back. I put 200K miles on “The Civic” before I sold it. The only reason I sold it was to replace it for our growing family.

I’d say I loved that car because it became part of my family. It was something I could constantly depend on and I had a tough time selling it. But, you know what? I sold it and bought a larger vehicle that would hold two carseats and have room for our stuff. Why? Because I love my wife and kids more than an object that is easily replaced.

What I’ve come to realize is that love is something you do more than something you feel. I think it is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” We can’t see someone’s feelings, but we can see their expression of love by what they do.

Emotions Are a Gauge, Not a Guide

There are moments in life when your feelings will lead you astray. You can’t always trust your feelings. If we lead our lives allowing our feelings to dictate our decisions, then we aren’t worth following. If you are like me and have insecurities, your feelings will always lie to you. I’ve learned that if I tell Alissa how I am feeling, she will help me see the validity of the right emotions and the lies that my insecurities tell me.

I believe the difference between successful marriages that last a lifetime and marriages that end in divorce (I understand there are many instances where there is infidelity or abuse of some type to which this does not apply) is choosing daily to forgive and not trust your feelings. Our anger and insecurities can carry us to a place we never thought we would go. They cause us to read into what our spouse is thinking and feeling as well. When we fail to communicate with our spouse in a healthy way, we will always read negativity into things they say and do. It’s our natural tendency. We tend to think in worst case scenarios. Why do we do this when our spouse is suppose to be our biggest supporter?

I’ve heard it said that “blood will always heal.” This expression means that no matter what happens in your biological family, the family can heal. “Water”, or relationships outside the biological family, don’t have the same properties and ability to mend itself. Jesus talked about this, “’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Our marriage has to transfuse us together from the very beginning. When this happens, “blood will always heal” is an expression on which our marriages can build trust.

My feelings are fleeting and so are yours. They cause us to assume and set up defenses that wall out everyone that is important to us, including our spouse. Love breaks through when we serve one another. Our job is to no longer serve our own needs, but meet our spouse’s needs. I am not saying be everything to your spouse, because you can’t. If you try, you will fail and you’ll both be beaten and bruised by the rubble left. Jesus is the only person that can be our everything.

As a spouse, we are to serve one another and lead one another closer to Jesus. I think it’s what Paul meant in when he said, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Marriage is not a relationship of one person being in charge of the other, but a symbiotic relationship in which both show each other love by meeting each others needs. Problems start to arise when there is an imbalance in whose needs are and are not being met.

Open Wounds Need Blood to Heal

A couple months back, I was repairing the deck in our back yard. Now before you are impressed that I can actually wield a circular saw, tape measure, and drill, let me finish the story. I took all of the old boards off and took out the rotted parts of the framing. While adding in new framing boards and fixing the decks structure, I put a screw through two boards and down my middle finger. It split my finger about an inch in length.

The only thing that would keep in from bleeding is if I squeezed it together and wrapped it tightly with a cloth. Every time I let go to rinse it, it would gush and be extremely painful. Alissa wrapped it in a towel and I drove myself to the urgent care. Well, actually I had to drive myself to two urgent cares. The first one said they had too many people in front of me. Apparently, if you are bleeding out and you go to an “urgent” care, you better hope you are the first person in line. The pain of rinsing out the wound was only dwarfed by the shot they place in it so they can do the stitches.

However, you know what the doctor didn’t say? “Well, I think each side of your finger needs a break from one another to decide how they feel. It’s not you, it’s each of the sides. They just aren’t feeling the love they once felt. They feel like it would be best to just stay apart for a while to see if they can heal on their own and come back together later.” He stitched it up because he knows that the quickest way to heal an open wound is to bring both sides as close to one another as possible. He forced them to stay together until my body could work it’s magic. Blood will always heal wounds.

I think our marriages work the same way. When there is a deep wound, the quickest way to heal is to bring both sides together as close as possible. Isolating ourselves from our spouse is one of the most damaging things we can do. It becomes about self care rather than serving one another and healing each others wounds. Isolation of both sides leads to infection in the marriage. Sometimes our bodies and our marriages can ward off infection, but more times than not the infection takes over and death happens.

Open wounds in our relationships need us to come together and it be covered by the blood of Jesus. As Jesus followers, we believe that Jesus lived a perfect life and died on a cross, shedding His blood. His blood was shed to heal our relationship with God, but also with one another. The cleansing of any wound hurts. It’s not easy to go through and will cause pain. However, it’s in this moment that we have to choose to love.

Love isn’t something you always feel. Sure it gives you the warm fuzzies and feels good at times. I still get the butterflies in my stomach when I take Alissa on dates. Those are all great feelings, but the way she knows I love her is by how I show her. For us, it’s me finding childcare and taking her on a date where we can spend quality time together. I can only speak her love language if I am willing to do rather than just feel. And the paradox is, I feel more love for her every time I get to serve her.

Alissa at Shuffles
Alissa at Shuffles

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Vacations Are Overrated

foggy day at the beach

It’s been a few weeks of no writing. I apologize for my absence, but I tried to take full advantage of our vacation in Oregon. The biggest goal I had while there was to rest and recover from the busyness and the day to day work. Though I love what I do, it can be taxing over time. It can especially be so, if you are like me and you fail to rest any other time. I’m not talking about just getting sleep and not working your job, but even the tasks you have to do at home. Amidst all of those things, you have to make rest a priority.

The time difference between Oklahoma and Oregon is two hours. Now you might not think that is a lot, but when you get use to everything being two hours earlier, it can mess with your internal schedule. We spent a week going to bed at 11pm – 12am PST, which in Oklahoma is 1am – 2am. During our work week, we generally go to be at 10pm here in Oklahoma. You can see now why over the first three or four days of being back I struggled to fall asleep. Jonas seems to have adjusted well, but Eliana is still awake until almost 10pm most nights. Last night was the first night she went down around 9:30. We are slowly working our way back.

What helped me re-acclimate back to CST? After having a night of not being able to fall asleep until 11:30pm, I had to be at a friend’s house by 4:30am to drive him and his family to the airport. I woke up feeling so unrested, but felt like I could manage the drive. After dropping them off at the airport, I took their car back to their house and picked up my own. It was 5:30am by this time and I knew it’d be 10 minutes home plus another 15 minutes to fall asleep. This would then be followed up by my two-year-old waking me up 30 minutes later. So I did what any sensible person would do, went for gas and coffee.

After I got home, spent time reading the Bible and praying, my normal routine began. By the time I got to work at 9am, I was already tired from the day. I couldn’t focus or stay on task. It was a struggle to stay present.

That afternoon, I walked into Greg Fisher’s office so that we could talk about some security measures we have put in place at our church. I sat in his office trying so hard to be fully present and fully engaged. However, my eyes began to glaze over and I began to feel catatonic. I could hear what he was saying, but didn’t know if I was thinking or speaking. The rest of the day was a blur, literally. I couldn’t tell if I was awake or asleep. There was no struggle to go to sleep that night. And the next day, I felt so refreshed after eight hours of sleep.

This got me thinking about what the Bible says about rest. Rest isn’t just sleeping at night, but fully disengaging from the things that cause us the most stress. In the Old Testament, God tells the Israelites to work for six days and on the seventh to observe a sabbath. This means a full day of rest from all work. It’s not just talking about work that the Israelites did to earn money, but also the tasks that one had to do around the house.

In our culture, this is an area in which we struggle. We may have every intention to take a sabbath day, to not do work, but then there are always things to do around the house. “When will everything that I ‘need’ to do get done.” “If I take a day off, I will get behind and then be completely stressed that nothing got done in my absence.” “I’ll rest next weekend. I’ve got to get this done today.” And so, we put off one of the things we need most…rest.

We look forward to vacation because it is a break from all of the work. We get away, leave it all behind, and grab hold of every moment we can. As Jesus followers, we may reconnect with God and declare that from this moment on things will be different. We promise to spend more time reading and praying. Some may even promise to go to church more regularly and even make sure to observe a sabbath. We have a great encounter with God, things change when we get home…at first.

God created a rhythm for our lives of work…rest…work…rest, but we have pushed rest to the side and relegated it to the two weeks of vacation we get each year. So our rhythm looks more like work, work, work, work, r…work, e…work, s…work, t…work. We try to fit rest in when we can, but it’s not a priority.

What I have come to realize is if we don’t plan for it, it’s just wishful thinking. This is true with rest or anything else we want to do in our lives. When we plan for it, we prioritize it and so it becomes something we work towards.

A twenty minute nap isn’t enough. We have to be willing to establish a 24-hour period where we don’t work. When we take an entire day to rest, it causes us to trust God to help us accomplish all of the tasks we see as important. Rest causes us to realize our dependency on God and to trust Him more. When we fail to rest, it’s because we don’t trust that God has everything under control.

Kids and teenagers every year get away for a week of camp to unplug from their daily routines, put aside things that distract to focus in on God. They come back with a new passion to follow God more and change the world. Within two weeks, that passion has subsided and the students are distracted. It happened to me more than once as a teenager. I believe what we need is that camp experience once a week.

We need an experience with God that helps us to unplug and refocus our hearts and lives back on Him. Rest. Breathe. Sabbath. All of our stress would be lifted if we practiced resting in Him by creating a Sabbath. Is it going to be easy? Heck no! You will more than likely fail at it multiple times. Just get back up and try again. God established these rhythms for a reason and its hard to march to the beat of a different drum. There will be many other beats to distract you from God’s, but just keep focusing on Him. It’s the rhythm for which our souls long.

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When Everything Changed

When everything changed

Hello! This is Esther again! (If you don’t remember me, that’s okay! You can read my last post on Sammy’s blog here or check out my blog here.) I’m so happy I have the chance to sit down with you again. So grab a mug full of coffee or tea and let me tell you a story…

Six years ago, I got a Master’s degree in piano performance, I was a music professor at a college, and I was performing. I felt like my career as a pianist was beginning to take off. On top of that, my husband and I have felt a call to move to Japan to be church planters, and everything was happening right on schedule.

But then everything changed.

I first realized something was wrong when I was preparing for a recital and noticed my hands were stiff. “Maybe I’m practicing too much. Maybe I’m stressed,” I thought.

The stiffness turned into pain and spread all over my body to the point that I couldn’t move on my own. My husband, Daniel, had to lift my body out of bed and walk me one step at a time through my morning routine. I couldn’t even squeeze my toothpaste onto my toothbrush.

It took every ounce of my strength to make it through each day.

I went to numerous doctors, and they did test after test and had no answers. Weeks of waiting turned into months, and the pain was too much for me. My hair started falling out until half of it was gone. And I began to wonder, “Am I dying?”

There was one time when I was laying in bed, and I asked Daniel to come to my side so I could tell him my dying wish: “Promise me that if something happens to me, you’ll still go to Japan.”

This was a scary time. I was scared of what the doctors would say. I was scared for my future. I was scared that I might be dying. The beautiful thing is that when you’re not able to move, you have a lot of time to pray. So I spent a lot of time lying in bed and praying to God.

On October 3, 2012, I wrote these words in my journal:

“I have lost almost 20 pounds since the end of July. I am exhausted. I saw 2 doctors today. They are close to having a diagnosis. Right now I’m waiting for test results…I don’t like some of the words the doctors are saying. But I’m too tired to be stubborn. GOD IS BIGGER THAN ANY DIAGNOSIS.”

I wasn’t afraid anymore of death or bad news. I had hope because I had God.

Several days later, on October 8, I wrote:

“Still in pain. But God has given me a tremendous peace. I feel His presence and the support of His people. When I look around, I can still see God’s goodness in my life. In the midst of extraordinary pain, He has given me extraordinary strength.”

The very next day, the doctor called to tell me that I have lupus. That phone call changed my life. The months of waiting were so hard, but I’m so grateful that instead of allowing me to have the diagnosis the very moment I wanted it, God waited until the very moment I was ready to hear it. And as soon as I got off the phone with the doctor, I cried happy tears and said, “Thank You, God!” I was so relieved that I finally had answers, and I could finally move forward.

In my journal that day, I wrote down a verse from Scripture:

“Because the Lord is at my right hand,

I will not be shaken.”

(Psalm 16:8)

That same day, my husband came home with a couple of trays of food from a friend with a card. On the card was written the same verse.

The past 6 years have been hard. Too often, if something is hard, we equate that with it being bad. Hard doesn’t always mean bad. Sometimes hard is bad, but sometimes hard is just hard.

The reality is my life is hard, but my life isn’t bad. Even with lupus, my life is good and God continues to be good. And with all of the struggles and obstacles I’ve faced the past six years, I can confidently say, “Because the Lord is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

More Than A Friend, A Brother

Sammy and Brycen

We have a tendency to take relationships for granted. Sometimes, God places someone in our life that unbeknownst to us, will leave an indelible mark on our lives. Such is the case with my good friend, Brycen Adams.

Brycen is a rare breed for sure. Born in late 1999, he loves 80’s music and all the power ballads. When I first met Brycen, he was an inconspicuous 5th grader. He wasn’t the type of person who’s presence had to be known. But, he did attach to our kids area pretty quickly. He wanted to know how everything worked. At the time, we were meeting in a cafeteria at a school and he would stick around to help teardown as long as he could after service. That following summer our church moved to it’s permanent place. We started a kids camp that summer, but Brycen wasn’t able to go. His best friend, Ethan, went and helped me put on our first kids camp.

Ethan served as an actor in our production in the elementary room. As soon as I would let him, Brycen wanted to serve too. He may have tried out as an actor and then I put him on the role that only made sense, AV team. It’s not that he was terrible, he just couldn’t act…at all. He did, however, pick up the understanding of how to run the computer and the switch light board pretty quickly. I may have thrown in some fluff about how he gets to create the environment to entice him to stick with this role. I quickly learned that when Brycen commits to something, he is all in.

The previous six years are a blur. But, one of my constants has been Brycen. For summer break, Brycen would come up on Wednesday’s just to serve with me and learn about ministry and all that goes into making Sundays happen. He also give up his time to help me plan and execute five kids camps, three VBS’s, two FC Kids discipleship programs, and one lock-in (It only took one to realize, I’m not cut out for lock-ins). Brycen is not a usual type of person, giving up his free time just to come hangout at the church. We had so much fun, sometimes at his expense. If I had a dollar for every time I blamed Brycen for something going wrong, I’d be one of the wealthiest men in the world. It was always in good fun, but Brycen always took it as a serious allegation.

There are people in your life that you start helping them navigate the waters of family life and growing up, only to look back and see how they have made a greater impact on your life than you could have ever imagined. For me that person is Brycen. I feel like he is my little brother that I got to help raise. Sure we’ve had disagreements, but we can almost fix anything together.

Sometimes you have the privilege of getting so close to someone in ministry that they know what you are thinking before you even say anything. It took a while, because confidence had to be built, but Brycen has gotten to that point with me. It’s one of the reasons it is so hard to say goodbye.

The thought never crossed my mind that eventually this 5th grader would grow up, and become a close friend. Mostly, I thought he’d leave because I had no idea what I was doing and no one wants to follow someone aimlessly. Brycen is loyal.

What I’ve learned is that our lives will be forever changed if we will open ourselves up to the possibilities. I’ve learned we can impact a life while having our lives changed all the more. Teenagers aren’t miss understood and misguided people that have no hope. They are just like you and me wanting to be noticed and cared about to the point of validating what they are going through. You don’t have to have all the answers to their questions. You just have to have their back and be willing to help them see all the perspectives, including their parents’.

Over the past seven years, Brycen has become as close to me as a brother and that is why the tearing away of him going into the army is so difficult. I’m proud of him, because he is keeping his servant’s heart by serving our country. I just don’t want him to go because he is family and has been a constant in my life. I began to look forward to our hangouts over coffee or lunch or the light board in our AV room. Summers were something to look forward to because I knew we’d get to plan camp and talk about what’s going on in life.

Brycen, if you are reading this, know that I cherish deeply the time we have had. I’ve told you so many times I am proud of you and the man you have become. I didn’t realize how hard this was going to be for me, but know that I am with you wherever you go. Bro, I am a phone call away and I’m there in a heartbeat if you need me. You are already a hero, so you don’t need to prove to anyone that you are. Please, in the words of Chris Bergeron, “Keep your head down and don’t be a hero. Watch your six and be the very best at everything you are taught (you’ve been working on that for six years now. If I’ve (Sammy) taught you anything, I hope that’s one thing), it might very well save your love or someone else’s.”

Thank you for the memories, the laughs, and the brotherhood. I love you, man. Hooah!!!

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A Letter to My Dad

Dad,

It’s been a while since we last talked, but I think about you nearly everyday. When I do think of you, my heart aches. There are so many things I wish we could change about our past and about our current relationship. Or, I should say, lack of relationship.

I try not to hold anything against you and the trajectory our relationship has been on since I was eleven, but the day you left our lives, it crushed me like a ton of bricks. I do, however, have to say thank you. Thank you for teaching me what forgiveness is and how I have to choose everyday to walk in forgiveness. It doesn’t come naturally. I have to choose it. I also can’t condemn myself for those moments where I am just angry at where we are and how my life has had to be lived without you.

It feels like I have been half a person for the last 25 years. Not fully knowing who I am and being ashamed that I don’t have my dad around. Did you know that I didn’t have many close friends in high school because I was ashamed that they may find out about my family dynamic and would never want to be around me again? Did you know that because you left, mom had to get multiple jobs to support our family and I got left taking care of my brothers?

I was eleven and I immediately had to step into adulthood. I didn’t have the choice of being an adolescent and making mistakes. There were two boys to help raise.

Did you know I taught Ray and Wes all the things a dad is suppose to teach their sons? But, guess what? I didn’t cover everything because I was still trying to figure it out myself. Sure we had a step-dad around, but I couldn’t let him in. Once your the alpha of a house, it is incredibly difficult to turn over those reins while you still live there.

Guess who became the mediator? Who problem solved and disciplined and fixed relationships? Guess who mom leaned on to make our family work and to keep going? It definitely wasn’t the person it should have been, you.

Your actions stole away my childhood from me and I will never get that back. I just want you to say that you are sorry. But, I don’t think you can, because that would be taking responsibility for our relationship being non-existent. From the texts that I have received from you, I get the sense that you don’t feel responsible.

I look at other men and their dad’s a feel a sense of jealousy when their dad is their best friend. Their dad isn’t trying to control them or manipulate their relationship. He is a friend and a close advisor. Their dad helps them navigate fatherhood and is there to ask questions and give advise. Who do I have to turn to? So many aspects of life have been taken away.

What I’ve come to realize is that my relationship with you affects how I view my relationship with God. Father’s give their sons identity, confidence, and security. All of which, I have been lacking, but am now finding more and more of in my Heavenly Father.

The problem is me getting past seeing God in the same light in which I see you. Aloof and selfish are not characteristics of God. It’s hard for me to see how God actually cares about my life and wants to know the intimate details. It’s hard to see how God values me and wants a relationship with me. He watches over me and cares about who I am becoming. He speaks to me all day long and wants the best for me. It’s incredibly hard to see these things in God, because I don’t see them in you.

I know I can’t hold you to God’s standards, but I wish you were more like him. I wish things were different and that you had never left. Another wish is that we were best friends and that I could lean into our relationship.

One of my biggest joys would be to do life with you. But, for true reconciliation to happen, I need you to take responsibility and the first step. I want this more than you will ever know. When I think of you, I want to see God through that same lens. I know it’s possible. You just have to be willing to walk the lonely street of humility. I know you can do it because, for 25 years, the street of humility is all I’ve known.

I guess the last thing for me to say is, “I forgive you, dad.”

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My Fathers Day Parent Fail

Parent Fail

Another Father’s Day has come and gone. My relationship with my own dad hasn’t changed. It’s not that I haven’t reached out. In fact, I texted him early in the morning to let him know I was thinking of him and that I love him. But, no response. I’m not surprised. Hurt, whether justified or not, does that to people. It closes them off to all possibilities.

I’m not holding anything against my dad, but years of hurt and separation have built up a seemingly insurmountable wall. Just as difficult as it is to be a dad, it is challenging to know how to be a son. Couple these difficulties with the stubborn, hard-headed, selfish people we are and you’ll see a glimpse of why making our relationship work will take a ton of work. Relationships don’t just happen because of genetics or DNA matches. They take time and energy from two people giving selflessly to one another.

Father’s Day weekend was full of excitement for me. I got to spend the day with my wife and kids on Friday as we celebrated. We went to dinner, opened cards, and went shopping for new golf shirts. I went golfing with a friend on Saturday, followed by a trip to the Hot Air Balloon Festival. It was the first time I’d ever seen hot air balloons in person. I didn’t realize how massive one balloon is. (I’ve never desired to go up in one. It’s just something about a wicker basket being the only thing between me and death that has given me no desire to ride in a balloon.) Sunday, we went to church and I saw my family, but I didn’t really get their attention until after I got home.

For me, Sunday is like being the maestro of an orchestra. There are so many moving parts and I direct them all. The difference between me and a maestro is sometimes I have to sit in one of the orchestra chairs and play while still directing. At home, it was back to the pool, in our backyard, for the whole family. I was attempting to rest but was plagued by thoughts and emotions towards my dad. Why hadn’t he responded to my text?

So where is my parent fail in all of this?

I got Jonas, my five-year-old, into golf over the past few years. I’ve taken him to a miniature golf course a few times and last summer I took him to his first ever public course. He absolutely loved his experience. This spring when other kids were signing up for T-Ball and soccer, Jonas signed up for golf lessons. Before you go thinking that I forced him into this, it was his choice. We gave him options and were fine with him not doing anything if he didn’t want. I mean he’s five and only a kid for so long, why force him to grow up, play a particular sport, and be miserable for the next 15 years.

I’m not going to lie, there are selfish reasons I wanted Jonas to choose golf. I wanted there to be something he and I could love doing together. The reason Father’s Day is such a huge day for me is because with my two and five-year-olds, I am a not factor in their day when mommy’s around…except on Father’s Day.

I went to all of his lessons with him. I’m the crazy parent helping his kid learn golf while the instructors were “teaching”. (I may have felt it could have been done a lot better for the cost.) I also know Jonas’s attention span is infinitesimal and he would need a guiding hand to keep him on task. Every time he plays, he gets better and better. The biggest lesson he has to learn at this age is to stay focused and keep his feet planted.

Surprisingly, Jonas loves golf. He was excited about going to his lessons and would even count down the days until his next lesson. Which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised about his reaction when he found out that daddy was going golfing on Father’s Day weekend without him.

My friend Michael and I were planning on going golfing the Wednesday after Father’s Day, but some things came up so we moved it to the weekend. I got my clubs out Friday night, cleaned them, and sat them by the door so they would be ready to go when Michael arrived the next morning. Our tee time wasn’t until almost 9 am, so my morning routine was the same as every morning. I had two cups of coffee and passed the time reading. Jonas woke up, came into the living room about 7:45 am, saw my golf clubs, and his eyes got as big as saucers. If he were a cartoon, his eyes would have come out of his head and grown bigger than his face. He was so excited as he asked, “Am I going golfing today?”

There are times every parent lets their kids down. Most of the time they are not higher than a hot-air balloon can travel, but Jonas escalated to these heights quickly. And like any mischievous cartoon character would, I pricked his bubble with a large needle. “No buddy, daddy is going golfing with a friend. But, Jonas and daddy will go soon.” And with those words, he was crushed and began to wail. It wasn’t just a small cry. It was as if, in a split second, I had taken out his heart and crushed it on the ground. Father’s Day weekend and I had crushed his spirit. Way to go dad.

I should have planned to take him at some point before this, because up to this point we hadn’t gone just the two of us. As he sat on the couch, next to his mom sobbing and saying, “I just want to go golf.” I searched for words of comfort and relief. The only thing I could think of was to promise we’d go golfing on the following Monday. The crying subsided until Michael arrived and we loaded up the clubs. As I kissed Alissa good-bye, it was amid the wailing of a five-year-old that just wanted to go golfing with his daddy. On Father’s Day weekend, no less.

I left feeling awful and a little guilty for not including Jonas. But, the weekend wasn’t a loss. After golf, I came home and my nephew came and stayed the night with Jonas. We went to the hot air balloon festival, they rode rides and played games.

What I’ve come to realize is that if we truly want to show the people we love how much we love them, we need to meet them on their terms. Truly loving someone isn’t coercing them into doing what we want, and when we want them to do it with us. Loving someone is selfless. It’s doing what they want even if it isn’t that fun for us. And here’s the catch: choose to have fun in the moment. It’s not about what you are doing, but about the moments shared with the individual.

I want my dad to meet me on my terms, but love doesn’t require that. Love goes to them and even gets dirty in the process. Jesus was incredible at meeting people where they were and getting dirty in the process. He met a blind man, spit on the ground, made some mud and rubbed it on the guy’s eyes. Jesus tells the guy to go wash and he will receive sight. But, Jesus’s hands got dirty in the process.

Love is hopping in the pool with your son for the fifth day in a row, not because you are excited to do so, and in spite of the millions of tasks you could be doing, but because it’s an activity he loves. Love is planning an event with the people you love, doing whatever it is they love. It’s taking your five-year-old to the golf course and spending that time loving on them and teaching them how to play. Most of all, love is enjoying the moments just because you are with someone doing something they love.

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Do Scary Things

Hi! My name is Esther, and if we were sitting down at a coffee shop together, I would be drinking a tea latte while asking you a thousand questions about your life. (I’m an introvert who loves to listen to people tell their stories.) But after a while of telling me your life story, you’d probably stop and say, “So now tell me about you!” And this is when you get to take a sip of the coffee you ordered thirty minutes ago that’s starting to get cold.

In a nutshell, I’m a university professor, writer, speaker, pianist, and wife to a ridiculously brilliant guy who’s on staff at a church. Me and my husband’s long-term dream is to one day move to Japan to start a church. Oh, and I’m writing my first book! But I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ll come back to that later…

A number of years ago, I participated in an international piano festival in D.C. and auditioned to perform on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Exciting, right? It should have been, but I was more scared than excited—the I’m-so-nervous-I-want-to-throw-up kind of scared. This was months after I earned a master’s degree in piano performance, and as big as that accomplishment was, I didn’t feel very accomplished. I felt like an imposter.

Let me back up a bit and explain. The university where I did my grad studies had a competition where students auditioned for a chance to perform a concerto with the university symphony. I worked on my piece for a year while doing occupational therapy for hand problems—drilling rough passages, icing my hands, memorizing every detail of my score, heating my hands…Honestly, it was the kind of piece that I should not have been able to play with all the hand issues I was dealing with, but I learned it! And when audition day came, I poured out my soul on the stage. Being able to compete and perform the way I did was a big deal and should have been affirmation enough for me, but it wasn’t. I wanted to win.

The following day, as soon as I arrived on campus, I rushed to the bulletin board where the results of the competition were posted. I read the words on the white paper. I panicked and read it again. There were four names on the list; my name wasn’t one of them. That loss felt like a failure. What am I doing here? Why am I pursuing this degree? Is this a sign that I should quit?

I didn’t quit. I graduated, and two years later I finally had the opportunity to perform that concerto with an orchestra, and it was an amazing experience. But between finishing grad school and that amazing concerto experience, I had the Kennedy Center audition. Painful memories of my previous audition haunted me. I’m going to be found out. They’re going to see I’m an imposter. I’m going to make a fool of myself. It was scary. And I did it anyway. And you know what? I didn’t make a fool of myself. I played at the Kennedy Center. And four years later, I went back and did it again.

I’m the kind of person who feels deeply. I embrace every emotion I feel, including fear. In fact, when I’m embarking on something big, I’ve found that fear exhilarates me! I know this sounds crazy, but stay with me.

There’s a common phrase that I believe sabotages the dreams and potential of so many people: “No fear.” Big dreams require bravery. That doesn’t mean we have to have no fear, but we face the things that scare us and do them anyway. And when a God-sized, Kingdom dream is scary, then we can get excited because we know that it’s too big for us to do in our ability. And that’s when we know it’s big enough for God to show off and display what only He can do.

So what do we do when we have a God-sized dream and we’re scared? The answer, though not easy, is quite simple:

Pray + take the step in front of you.

Don’t use prayer as a crutch that keeps you from moving forward, and don’t take any steps without praying. Do both. That’s it. Really? Yup! But don’t we need to research and seek advice? If that’s the step in front of you, then yes! But if you’re trying to stall, then tell your trusted friends and advisors to give you a light push (or shove) and take the step that’s right in front of you.

So let’s get back to that book I’m writing. Writing your first book is scary! And when I first felt God whispering this idea into my heart, I was terrified! I know that people write books every day, but this is way out of my element. I write a blog, but writing a book is so much…bigger! It’s way more research, a way more intense commitment, and a way bigger risk. What if no publisher wants to take a risk on a “nobody” in the publishing world? What if it gets published and nobody buys it? What if 99% of the reviews of my book on Amazon are 1 star and the other 1% is 5 stars because that’s the review my husband wrote? What if, what if, what if.

What if this book is what will make the difference between hope and despair for someone? What if this book is the answer to hundreds of desperate people’s prayers? What if this book is just the tip of the iceberg of something amazing God wants to do?

I pray about this book every moment I think about it. I pray about it when I’m starting my day and looking over my to-do lists. I pray about it in bookstores when I’m standing in the aisle in front of the bookshelf that could one day hold it. I pray about it as my head rests on my pillow and I drift out of consciousness.

And I also take each step in front of me. No leaps. Just steps, one at a time. The first step was to start writing in my journal. The next was to buy a notebook devoted to writing this book. Then after that, I told a few people so they could cheer me on and make sure I didn’t quit.

Each step leads to another. And the more steps I take, the less scary this dream appears. I’m still scared, but I’m also growing in the confidence that God is in this, carrying me, guiding me, doing what only He can do.

There was one Monday morning when I felt like I was drowning in the bigness of this dream and I exclaimed, “God, I don’t know what I’m doing! I need a writing coach!” Later that morning, I was scrolling through social media and one of my favorite authors had a bunch of videos on Instagram about how she was going to open her schedule to do some coaching calls. Talk about God’s timing! He totally delivered! Oh, and that coaching call ended up being a life changing experience that transformed insurmountable, blind leaps into clear, doable steps. If you pray and take each step in front of you, God will show off in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine!

I bet God has asked you to do something scary, too—something significant, something way bigger than you can handle on your own. And if He hasn’t, don’t worry…He will! So let’s harness ourselves to a big God who holds all things together and let’s go do some scary things!