More Than Routine

I have a morning routine.  I wake up between 4:30 – 5am and immediately check the weather and get dressed. It sounds weird, but we keep our house cold so I’d rather change into the clothes I am wearing for the day than change twice. And besides, it helps me wake up and gear up for my day. Then, I put on deodorant, put in my contacts, put on my favorite hoodie, and head to the kitchen. Next, I’m all about making a couple of cups of coffee while I write for at least 30 minutes. I want to make sure to read my Bible and pray, but then it is usually back to writing or reading.

Why do I get up so early? It’s me time. It’s the only part of the day I actually get to myself. Mainly, because no one else is crazy enough to get up this early. And when you have two kids, quiet time is hard to find. I only write during this time because I value my kids awake time and at night I want to spend as much time as I can with my beautiful wife, Alissa.

Let’s be honest for a second, this schedule doesn’t happen perfectly every morning. Sometimes I sleep through this time, because one or both of the kids wake me up several times during the night. Or Eliana decides her day should start at 5:45am. Time flies by early in the morning. You look up and the next thing you know Jonas is walking into the living room at 7am.

Like I said, I take advantage of the time alone, but I spend as much time as possible with my kids. When either of them wake up, they want to snuggle. I’m always up for holding them and squeezing them and telling them I love them. I love my kids and just want to spend as much time as I possibly can with them.  “Enjoy these moments because they will be grown before you know it.” is a thought constantly swirling in my head.

There is a switch in my kids’ brain that shuts of daddy and the rest of the world when Alissa gets up, gets dressed, and graces the living room with her beauty. Mommy is the only living, breathing thing they want for the rest of the day. Our kids get disappointed when mommy leaves for work, and only want to sit by her when we have days off together.

My heart aches for my kids to want me like they want their mommy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way they adore her. She deserves it because she is so kind, loving, and gentle with them. She is the master at getting on their level and understanding what’s going on in their world. But, I understand too. I love them just as much, but you’d think I sucked the joy out of the room if I asked one of them to do something with me instead of mommy.

Eliana will turn to daddy to play if Alissa is busy doing something else. But, as long as mommy is in the house, I play second fiddle. She is the one they want to sit by them, play with them, bathe them, and put them to bed. We honestly have a “Mommy night” rotation. “Who gets mommy tonight?” Jonas and Eliana cry when it is daddy’s turn to put them to bed. I’d be lying if I didn’t have the urge to storm out of their rooms and slam the door. I’ve told Jonas a couple of times, “You don’t know how good you have it. Daddy grew up without a daddy. All I want to do is be here for you and spend some time with you.” Not my finest moment.

I find myself creating things for us to do together. Jonas started golf lessons in hopes that he would love it enough to give us something to do together. I enjoy those moments of one on one time with him. I love taking Eliana out for special days. Every year for Valentine’s Day, I take her on a date and buy her a pair of shoes. I mean what girl wouldn’t love dinner, dessert, and new shoes. When I get them away from everything else that can so easily distract them, we always enjoy our time together. Occasionally, they ask about mommy and do their own thing while I am trying to get them involved in what I have planned. But, for the most part, our time together is full of love and memories.

What I have come to realize is my relationship with my kids is a lot like God’s relationship with me. Sure, when I wake up I definitely want to spend time with God. I love cuddling up with Him through reading the Bible, praying, and listening. Sometimes it’s genuine and heartfelt and other times I treat God like just a warm body to snuggle. I get so easily distracted by other wants that He isn’t my priority. It’s comforting to have His presence, but as soon as something else comes along, I jump at the opportunity to enjoy whatever it is.

It doesn’t stop with our mornings with God either. All throughout the day He is talking to us and guiding us. We are just too busy with noble or not so noble tasks. As a pastor the temptation is to exchange our doing ministry for time spent with God. Being rich in good deeds is great as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of spending time with the Father.

God isn’t selfish, not wanting us to only spend time with him and doing nothing else for ourselves. Like any father, He just wants us to know he is there and He has all the time in the world to spend with us.

When the Bible says that God is jealous for us, I think what it means is that He just wants to be the center of our attention. Much like I wish I was the center of my kids attention. I constantly want them to know I love them and they love me. I think God’s like that.

1 Thessalonians 5:17 says, “Never stop praying.” I think it means simply acknowledging God is with us throughout the day. When we make big decisions, we ask for His advice and wisdom. God doesn’t want us to just settle for a quiet time that happens once a day or once a day, once in a while. He is speaking to us all day long. The key to unlocking our best life is to learn to listen to His voice.

When a young rich guy came to Jesus and asked Him what He needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus mentioned the Ten Commandments. The rich guy was mentally checking off in his head every rule that Jesus mentioned. When Jesus finished the list, the rich guy was so proud to say that he had kept all these rules for a long time. Then, Jesus told him to go and sell all his possession and give the money to the poor and then he would store up treasures in Heaven. The rich guy walked away dejected. I think what Jesus was saying is that following Him isn’t about a list of do’s and don’ts. Jesus wanted the rich guy to see that following Jesus is about a dependence on God. It’s not about what we can do in our strength, but constantly relying on His.

When God is doing something for me, I am really good at giving Him my attention. However, I sometimes get distracted and I turn my attention elsewhere. The God of the universe just wants to spend as much time with us as possible. He realizes our time on earth is short and He wants to take full advantage of every moment we have together.

God wants us to have fun and enjoy ourselves. He doesn’t want us to live a boring life where we never play, laugh, and get excited about things. I think He delights in the things we delight in.

Following Jesus and having a relationship with God isn’t about a list of do’s and don’ts, but just acknowledging God in the everyday details of our lives. We can’t stay on our knees all day, but we can realize His presence is with us and He is there if we ever need anything. God is a Father who wants to be wanted.

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How to Live Dangerously Without Dying

Why do people like to skydive?

Mountain Climb?

Base jumping?

Racing?

Extreme Sports?

Thrill seekers?

Why do people want to push themselves to the edge of death? It’s seems their goal is to look death in the face and scream, I’m not afraid of you.

Alissa came home from work recently and told me about a patient who is recovering from cataract surgery. This patient is 76 years young and her biggest burning question for Alissa, “When can I skydive again? I’m getting bored.”

She’s 76 and living life on the edge. I think we can all admire this lady for living her life dangerously. She isn’t allowing anything to hold her back from accomplishing her bucket list.

A few years ago, our staff went to an amusement park in Dallas called a Thrill Park. It is 5 different ways you can face the fear of heights.

I always knew I liked having my feet firmly on the ground. However, I didn’t know how severe my fear of heights was until this one particular night. I found myself agreeing to go up on this lift and free fall with the rest of the staff. You heard me right, free fall. I caved to the peer pressure and it nearly scared me to death.

A lift took us 180 feet in the air and 100 feet below us was a net. We put on a padded harness which protected all of our back from the impact of the net. When the lift had risen as high as it was going to go, one by one we would each get to experience the thrill of falling backwards. Thrill may be the wrong word, terror is probably more appropriate.

As we ascended for the first time, I started to get woozy. All of the blood drained from my face and I became white as a ghost. I felt like I was going to vomit. My knees were weak and I could hardly stand. As we reached the top, I started to make my way to the back of the line. I didn’t want any part of this craziness. There is a reason why God invented gravity. It’s so we could keep our feet on the ground.

Unfortunately, the operator saw my face and chose me to go first. All of my friends cheered me on and patted me on the back. It is difficult to not walk to your death while you have people cheering you on. The operator grabbed the front of my harness, clipped me in, and hoisted me over the opening in the platform. Dangling 200 feet in the air isn’t my definition of thrill, but there I was. The clip for the harness was in the front, which meant you couldn’t see the net coming. It was a free fall, backwards.

“On the count of three. Ready…one…two,” and he pulled the ripcord. I’d like to say I was angry with him for not getting to three before he hurled me to my death, but how could I? All I could think about was the fall. I screamed until I ran out of breath. Fortunately, for everyone with me, my breath only lasted about half of the descent.

It felt like an eternity and a few seconds, simultaneously. This is the climactic part of the story where you are wondering if I survived. Surprise! I crashed into the net, and was lowered to the ground. Still weak in the knees, I managed to meander my way off of the net so the lift could go back up and let the next person defy death.

The experience was incredible, and I’d like to think I could do it again. Maybe with a little less high pitch screaming and not being white as a ghost.

Why is there such a thing as a thrill park? Why do people pay top dollar to take these risks?

God created us to live dangerously. Not necessarily in the sense of jumping out of planes, climbing mountains, pushing the limits of our existence, but in the very real sense of living differently from those that don’t follow Jesus.

The problem with living differently from those that don’t follow Jesus is you may be made fun of, you may be mocked. People may question why you do what you do and why you believe what you believe. Living differently means not giving into the pressures to keep up with the Jones’s, comparing what we have, and being envious of what we don’t.

Living differently means not living the way people, who don’t follow Jesus, live. It’s taking the road less traveled and putting others before yourself. Living differently is counter-intuitive. It goes against what our culture has taught us, to look out for number one.

Jesus told us to love others, but it won’t be easy.

John 16:33 “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

And Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, told Timothy

2 Timothy 3:12 “Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Paul also tells the Corinthians of the persecution that he faced.

This life as a Jesus follower wasn’t meant to be a safe one. You and I have been called to live life to the fullest and to live out our life dangerously in opposition to what society and those who don’t follow Jesus tell us.

A few weeks back my Pastor and friend, Justin Graves, spoke a message entitled “Tailgates and Sharpies.” The first part of his message, he talked about following someone in your car to a destination, you have to stay right on their tailgate. Otherwise, you may get left behind. He mentioned how doing so may feel uncomfortable because you do things you wouldn’t normally do, i.e. speed, go through red lights, etc.

I talked to Justin afterwards about his message and he said there was a part he had in his notes, but couldn’t get to it. He said, “Following Jesus isn’t meant to be comfortable. As a follower of Jesus, you may do things you wouldn’t normally do. We have a tendency to only do what we feel comfortable doing, but God may be leading you to an uncomfortable season.”

When we live this life as a Jesus follower, we are either all in or not at all. There is no middle ground. You’ve got to be willing to live dangerously. We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zone so we can truly follow.

What does living dangerously look like?

It’s not jumping out of a plane at 76 or free falling 100 feet, but it is making the most of every moment we have to share the love of Jesus with those around us. God may be leading us to start something new, to do something we never thought we’d ever do. Living dangerously is following those leadings and believing that God is with us even when we can’t see Him.

The dangerous life is the life that always takes the path less traveled. It’s putting others needs and comfort before our own.

When our thoughts become more about what we can do for others, than what they can do for us…that’s living dangerously.

 

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Want to See My Scars?

Scars are like tattoos. They tell a story of a life lived and denote pain endured by the bearer.

Do you have any scars? Do you have any great stories from the experience you had when you got those scars? Is the story a more devastating one than a victorious one?

I have a couple of scars, but they are merely from surgeries or procedures I’ve had done. So nothing really in which to brag. There’s one on my left abdomen from my appendectomy and there is one on my left shoulder.

The one on my left shoulder is from my time overseas fighting the war in Iraq. It’s a stab wound I received while a member of Seal Team Six. Osama Bin Laden’s son got me…I’m just kidding. I never went overseas. It’s from a procedure I had to remove a pre-cancerous spot on my skin. It is prominently visible on my shoulder. So, I have come up with a war story to make it more interesting for the many times I have been asked.

My brother, Ray, has a couple of scars that have some pretty crazy stories. One scar wraps around his right hand from where he almost lost it completely in an auger at work. The auger’s job was to separate metal, but this one separated his skin and muscle from his bone. The pictures were gruesome.

Ray has a few other scars and I was present when he got them. Two are from a bike riding accident that was pretty gruesome. We were riding bikes down a large hill not long after he had learned to ride. He lost control, flipped the bike, and gashed open his forehand and chin.

The other scar is over his left eyebrow and is kind of a funny story. Ray and I were pretty young when MC Hammer came on the scene. However, we really liked his music. Whenever the music video for “You Can’t Touch This” came on, another side of Ray came out.

One night the song came on the TV, Ray started dancing, spun around, lost his balance, and fell, hitting his head on the coffee table. It split his eyebrow wide open. My uncle was watching us and he felt horrible that he hadn’t prevented the accident. He cleaned up the wound and we looked inside the wound. Waiting for our parents to get back (we couldn’t call them on a cellphone because there was no such thing at the time) seemed like an eternity. Ray finished his night with a trip to the doctor and got a butterfly bandage. The doctor chose to use the butterfly bandage to limit the scarring.

Sometimes we have funny stories that go along with our scars, however, sometimes the stories are more tragic. Cancer, falls no one should survive, car accidents, and surgeries gone wrong to name a few. Some of us have scars we hope no one will notice, or at the very least, will be noticed after they get to know us. Our story is somewhat sacred and telling how we received the scar is letting someone into our humanity. Many of us want to be invincible but our scars remind us of our frailty.

Emotional scars are some of the hardest to see, but there is a story behind each one of them as well. Sometimes I think we are hoping people will ask us about these scars. Telling the story would make us feel better. We really want to let out all the pain and emotion we have bottled up for so long. We just don’t know how to do so without coming across as complaining about our lives.

You’ve heard people quote 1 Peter 5:7,

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares for you.”

But, scars feel so much bigger than just worries or cares. They are deep wounds, which may have healed with time, but they keep us up at night, awaken us from sleep, and bring back the memories all to real. Someone or something has hurt you so deeply that you will never forget a single detail of the experience.

These scars can make it hard to get up in the morning or to even function normally in society. Many of us develop scar tissue, that will, in the blink of an eye, painfully remind us it is there.

When I was 10, I stepped on a nail which was poking up through a board my dad had just pulled off of my grandma’s back porch. He told me to be careful and not walk around or I might step on a nail. He was right. It went through my foot and scratched the bone. Over time, though there is not an outward scar, I developed scar tissue. From time to time, it hurts so bad I have to sit down. It reminds me of the accident that happened more than 25 years ago.

We all have scars, however, we put on our mask, hide what is really going on, longing for someone to care, but hoping no one notice that we are hurting. It’s crazy because we want people to know us deeply and to know the hurts and struggles we’ve had, but we also don’t want to let people that close to us. Maybe, it’s because vulnerability leaves us open to experience more hurt and pain. We’d rather wall ourselves off, than be completely vulnerable with others.

As someone who has hidden behind a mask for a long time, trying to hide what was really going on in my life, the best way to overcome those wounds is to let someone in. It takes us letting a friend in that can speak life into our situation. We have to understand that we are not the only ones with scars. Everyone has them. They all look different, feel different, but have a story. We are not alone. There are people who genuinely care and want to help us heal as we help them heal.

Time can heal wounds, however, scars remind us of a past that really happened. If your physical body has a deep enough wound, you go to a doctor who will stitch, staple, or even butterfly bandage it up to limit scarring. But, that is where their ability stops, healing the broken body. They cannot heal our broken hearts, our broken spirits which the scar leaves in its wake.

Jesus is the only one whom can heal our emotional wounds. The scar will never go away, but the story from the scar can be transformed from a tragedy into a love story.

Jesus loves us and He wants to heal our hearts. We may have to re-open those wounds through vulnerability. When scars don’t heal right the first time, the scarring can be awful and infection can wreak havoc. Re-opening those wounds will allow Jesus to heal them in a way we never thought possible, and to limit the scarring.

Jesus knows what we have gone through. He knows the pain and the heartache we have had to endure. None of it is a surprise to Him. He doesn’t look down on us because of how we have responded in the past. Jesus is the only one who can heal us. Isaiah 53:5 says,

“But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”

Jesus isn’t ashamed of you or what you have gone through. He loves you and wants to heal your wounds, limit the scarring and the effect that it has on your life. You’ve just got to let Him in to do His work. The scar will always be there as a reminder of the story, the tragedy that once was. But, if you allow Jesus in, it will also be a reminder of a love so great.

Going to Jesus is like going to the doctor, for the real you.

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Pick Up My Bike and Walk Home

I grew up like everyone else; riding bikes, playing in the yard, and committing hours to videos games. First, there was Strikeout for the Atari and then The Legend of Zelda for Nintendo. My interest in video games only grew as I did and some of the most fond memories I have with my father are when we played video games together.

Playing video games was one thing we both enjoyed doing. If I ever got stuck on a part, I could count on my dad to bail me out. We would rent video games from the local movie rental store, play it over the course of a weekend and then return it, to not incur a late fee. Such was life growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Looking back, I now realize, we didn’t have a lot of money. My parents did the best they could to provide for my older sister, two younger brothers, and me. My dad went to school in the evenings to get his heating and air conditioning certification, to give us a better life.

We bounced around a lot. Every 18 months or so we moved houses and weren’t able to gain much stability in one place. We never owned a home, so we were forced to rent and when that would go south, we’d have to move again.

Luckily, we never moved too far away from the previous place so I was able to make some pretty close friends. These friends were my life. We did everything together. We played baseball, played at the park, stayed the night at each others houses and rode bikes together, attempting to make the greatest ramps ever.

One particular night we were out riding bikes and set up a ramp in a rocky alley a couple of house down from mine. My friends and I had found a couple of cinderblocks and an old sheet of plywood. We spent the next hour seeing who could jump their bikes the highest and furthest. It was a ton of fun.

The further and further we landed the more we wanted to attempt longer, faster runs. The adrenaline was intoxicating. On what would be my last approach for the evening, I got as far down the alley as I possibly could and I geared up for what promised to be the farthest jump of the night. As I started to pedal my bike, I began to pump my legs as fast as I could. I began to stand up so that I could propel myself faster and faster down the alley.

As I made contact with the plywood something started to give. All of the sudden, I hear wood cracking and the board began to buckle in the middle. As I jumped, my front tire hit the top cinderblock, followed by my back tire. As I careened through the air, my bike began to tilt forward more than normal and I couldn’t avoid hitting a large rock with my front tire which slammed me into my handlebars and quickly to the ground. I was in excruciating pain. My friends rushed over to pick me up and helped me hobble home. I knew my dad would most definitely be waiting to tell me that I should have been more careful.

Dad wasn’t always the most sympathetic person in the world, but I knew he loved me. I wanted to be like him. I strived in every way to make him proud of me. It was almost as if the only way he could love me is if I earned it. I made good grades in school, because I didn’t want to disappoint my dad.

I spent many hours working on projects around our houses with my dad. We spent time working on Betsy, his blue Chevy pickup I mentioned in an earlier post. I loved being around him. And from what I can remember, he loved being around me, except when it came to my baseball games.

Sports didn’t interest my dad. I think he felt like they were a waste of time. But, I was actually one of the best players on my team. I was a utility player that could play every position on the field. My favorite position though, was shortstop. I loved to dive for the ball, corral it, and throw the ball to first to beat the runner. I remember constantly looking in the stands, hoping to find my dad next to my mom. Baseball just wasn’t his thing. But, I didn’t hold it against him because we always had video games.

That was my life for the first 11 years. It’s all I knew. It seemed normal enough. Nothing out of the ordinary. And then, one day when I got home from school, it all changed. My dad was arrested, taken to jail, and I had no idea when he might be back. It was as if life were being pedaled as fast as I could make it go and then, without warning, the security and everything I knew began to crumble. Life sent me careening through the air, leaving me in a pile of rocks in the middle of the alley. Only this time, my friends were not around to help me home. My dad wasn’t waiting there to be sympathetic, empathetic, or even just to tell me to walk it off. No, life had left me beaten, broken, and alone.

I became angry, pointing blame, and unable to accept the fact that life without my dad in my life was my new normal. No, our life wasn’t perfect before, however, at least it was stable. Now life was, in a sense, suspended in the air looking like it was heading towards a disastrous end.

I looked for support and stability in many people. As I said in My Story, I looked for acceptance and influence in any relationships with guys that were older, to be a part of what seemed to be a family. Gang members, men my mom dated, and even my uncles were men from whom to gain acceptance. I just wanted to be accepted into manhood and know how to navigate it. God kept me from a lot of roads I could have taken because of the influences in my life.

I had to get up off the alley, dust myself off, pick up my life, and trudge home. This journey home took 4 or 5 years. That’s how long it took me to find myself, engulfed in a relationship with Jesus.

It wasn’t easy to accept God as my Heavenly Father. The things I had to look forward to with my dad were just the things that interested him. If this Heavenly Father is anything like my earthly father then I’d rather just do my thing and catch Him when we find a common interest.

Learning that God wasn’t self-centered and that He genuinely wanted to be in my life took a long time to learn. I learned He cares about what I care about and I don’t have to meet some sort of standard to be accepted by Him. God accepts me as I am. Yes, God wants to mold me and shape me to be a better version of myself, however I don’t have to be “good” to be forgiven.

God does lead, correct, and discipline. It is not out of a self-centeredness, but out of a genuine love for us. He desires to draw us near. When we come home, He is sympathetic. He takes us in His arms and bandages our wounds. God tells us it’s going to be ok and that we are not alone. If we need to walk it off, God is right there with us.

When I came to the Heavenly Father, I learned He saw the whole thing; my life careening out of control, the crash, the loneliness, the tears, the brokenness. He wrapped me in His arms and let me know that He was everything I needed and everything I had looked for. Jesus accepted me and gave me confidence in who God created me to be. God is constantly there to build us up and to encourage us along the way.

I have learned to trust that my Heavenly Father loves me no matter what I have done or will do. He loved me before I even existed and nothing I do can change how He feels about me. I will always find acceptance, forgiveness, and identity in God. Because of God, I know what I great Father is.

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