Do My Weaknesses Make Me Unqualified?

If I am honest, insecurity is my biggest struggle. I feel unqualified to live the life I lead. I am always so concerned about what others think of me that at times it has been absolutely debilitating. For example, my fears of failure and of conflict all stem from this unquenchable desire to be liked and for people to think highly of me. My insecurities are so bad, in fact, that when someone says something kind, I have a hard time accepting it or even believing that is how they truly feel about me.

At times, in the middle of a conversation, I get this fear of what the other person is thinking of me that creeps in. Once I finish my statement and they start to talk, I am not able to pay attention to them. The fear that is screaming in my head is so much louder than they.

At times I feel unqualified to be a dad. Not having my dad around to teach me what fatherhood looks like feels like I’m starting from behind. If I just had a dad around like other men do, I’d be better at caring for, disciplining, and guiding my kids.

Fear is a liar. It will tell you your greatest fears are your reality. The thing about lies is if we tell them to ourselves long enough, we’ll start to believe them as truth.

2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us a spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (NLT) Some translations say “and of self-discipline.” Either way, I think it has to do a lot with how we think of ourselves. No matter how much I quote this scripture to myself or tell myself, “It’s not about what others think, just about what God thinks,” I still struggle to be content with myself.

I struggle with the feelings of inadequacy, like I don’t measure up to everyone around me. Even at 37, I still feel like the “little kid” in the room. You know that feeling you get that no one respects you because you are the youngest one in the room?

I always tell people to trust in God, but I fail to tell them it’s hard even for me to do so. It’s difficult to trust in God when we know all of our weaknesses and our failures. How could God not hold those things against us and demand something greater from us.

This is what happens when we rely on our understanding of who we are and how God operates. When trust is a weakness of ours then it is astronomically harder to trust that God will pull you through.

I believe that is exactly where God wants us and why He gave us 2 Corinthians 12:9, “Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”

Did you catch what Paul is saying here? God’s power works best in our weakness. What Paul is saying is because of our relationship with God, our weakness is not a weakness at all but a strength. Why, because Jesus is made strong in our weakness. So even when we struggle to trust, we can rely on Jesus to help us trust. All of our insecurities and inadequacies are a part of who we are and are no longer weaknesses. Now they can be avenues to which God brings our greatest victories.

What I’ve come to realize is God is strong in our weakness, and God’s weakness is stronger than our strength. Therefore, my weakness, when submitted to God, is no longer a weakness, but a strength. Let that one soak in. If God is strong in my weakness, my weakness then ultimately becomes my strength.

As a father, my strength comes from learning what not to do. I know the things I wish I had and I use those as my guides to make a better life for my kids. It’s a weakness, but with Jesus’ help it’s become a strength.

In the book Unqualified, Steven Furtick points out that it wasn’t until Jacob accepted who he was that he received the blessing God had for him. God wants to bless you. The real you. Not the fake you that you show everyone else or the future you that you hope to be one day.

You are important to God.

Inadequacies and all.

I no longer have to worry about my inadequacies and fears, because I know that even in my lack, Jesus is made strong in my weakness.

Fear is a liar, but Jesus is the Liar-Slayer and Truth Teller.

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I Love New Stuff, I Don’t Like Trying New Things

mouth guard, night guard, mouth piece, love and hate

I love new stuff! However, I don’t like trying new things. The irony of those statements aren’t lost on me. I’m a complicated individual.

To clarify, I love brand new gadgets, technology, cars, houses, and clothes. If I have the option to buy new or used, I lean towards new every time. There is just something comforting about it. Sometimes new brings peace of mind, however that peace of mind isn’t usually worth the price tag, i.e. a new car. And like my friend, Jake Bradshaw, with Do It Big Homes and Do It Big Studios, says, “New wears off.”

As far as trying new things goes, I’m extremely hesitant and have to gather all the facts before I will try it. I love food, but trying new food is incredibly difficult for me. Up until 10 years ago, I could only eat a couple vegetables. Alissa has always encouraged me to eat better and at times guilted me into eating more vegetables. “If you don’t eat them, what makes you think our kids will?” Every bite now is an omen to my kids. Alissa has been my catalyst for eating healthier.

As a kid, trying new rides at an amusement park would nearly make me hyperventilate on the inside. No one could see it, but I was terrified. Actually, maybe they could see it because I am not great at hiding my emotions. Either way, I’ve often allowed my fears to dictate what I do and don’t do.

When I bought my house, I was shaking as I signed on the line, because I felt completely in over my head. The day after buying my first brand new car, I called my friend that sold it to me with buyers remorse. Trying new things isn’t my strong suit because of the negative possibilities. Most of the time, those negative possibilities are built up in my head more than anything I ever have to confront.

Recently, I had to get a night guard for sleeping because I clench my teeth and I also had popping in my jaw that happens every time I open my mouth to take a bite, chew, or yawn. I was not looking forward to it and debated on whether or not to actually go through with getting it. I told myself I will never be able to sleep with it in. But, I went ahead and got it because it may actually help me over time.

What I’ve come to realize is that if we allow our fears to hold us back, we may miss out on new things to love. Fears infiltrate every aspect of our lives and will put down roots and grow if we allow them too.

My food phobias kept me from eating a lot of the foods I enjoy today. I remember my dad making me sit at the table until I finished everything on my plate. Cooked or steamed vegetables taste worse when they are cold. So the memory of those experiences kept me from wanting to even try those foods again as an adult. I was even hesitant to try foods I had never eaten before. But, did you know your palate changes every five to seven years? What you didn’t like may actually be one of your favorites, if you would just try it again. A good salad is one of my favorite, healthy go to meals. I’m thankful Alissa has always pushed me and encouraged me to eat new foods.

As a kid, roller coasters and rides that pushed me to face my fear of heights terrified me. God created gravity for a reason, to keep us on the ground. And that is where I like to keep my feet firmly planted. When I took my first ministry position as a junior high youth pastor, amusement park trips became an annual event for me. I couldn’t let those sixth, seventh, and eighth graders know I was afraid of the rides they loved. So, I rode every ride with them. I pushed myself past the fears that tend to hold me back. I’m glad I did, because now, roller coasters are my favorite rides at amusement parks. I still get a little nervous from time to time, but it’s no longer a fear holding me back.

There have been times when my fear has turned out to be true, but when I stick with it and push through, I find the benefits are on the other side. The night guard was not fun the first couple of nights. And I complained about it to Alissa and anyone that asked me how it was going. It was awful. This morning, a week and a half in, I woke up with less discomfort and slept through the night. The popping in my jaw is less noticeable and my jaw muscles aren’t aching. Sometimes we just have to push through until we get a breakthrough.

I think having faith to try something new is what Jesus was talking about when He and Peter walked on water. Peter had enough faith to step out of the boat, but when he took his eyes off of Jesus and placed them on the waves around him, he began to sink. We need to try new things like Peter did when he stepped out of the boat. No fear. He just did it. Jesus said that God cares about every part of our lives and He wants us to live the best life. The best life is lived without fear.

Trying new things seems to always be facing a fear for me. A lot of times those new things seem like huge, monstrous dogs that eat people for breakfast. However, when you face those fears, the new things turn out to be just like little puppies. Sure they may bite you every once in a while, but they are harmless. And who knows, when we face our fears we may find ourselves walking on waves.

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Why Doesn’t God Answer Me?

Wednesday night I had the privilege of speaking to FC Students. We started a series entitled, “Ask”. The entire series is on the topic of prayer. What an incredibly difficult topic to cover. What is prayer? Why is it important? How do we do pray.

When Michael, our Student Ministries Director, asked me to speak I was more than excited. Telling others about Jesus and how to have a better walk with Him is something I love to do. When I found out that the series was on prayer and Michael asked me which of the topics I would cover, I chose the hardest one I could find.

Why doesn’t God answer me?

A topic I have struggled with a time or two in my life, I was more than excited to tackle this message. As I prepared, I kept coming back to the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. What an incredible story that transpires.

Lazarus is sick and so his sisters send for Jesus to heal him, but Jesus waits. Why did he wait? He could have just said the word and Lazarus would have been healed. But, he waited. Two days in fact. For the Roman centurion, whose daughter was sick and dying, Jesus told him his faith had made her well and that he could go to her and she’d be better.

What I’ve come to realize is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but He doesn’t do things in he same way. Whatever your circumstance, have faith and believe that God is going to work it out. It may not be in the way you intend, but it will be in a way where He receives the most praise. God has to get us out of the way so we don’t get any of the credit.

Here is my message from Wednesday night. I hope you enjoy.

Love Notes & The Walking Dead

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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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What We Can’t See

About 7 weeks ago, I experienced one of the scariest weekends in my life. I woke up Saturday morning to the whimper of my daughter ready to start her day. It was as normal as a Saturday can get. I made coffee, got Eliana some breakfast and sat down in our oversized recliner with her. Being an amazing parent, I usually allow the kids to watch their iPad first thing in the morning. I do this so I can finish up a post or do something for myself. This particular morning, I watched one of my TV shows.

As I am watching, Blackish, I start to notice if I look directly at the person’s face, I can’t really see them well. At first, I chalk it up to being tired. I did, however, only get a few hours of sleep the night before. After some time of watching, I changed out my contacts. My hope was that my inability to see was nothing more than some dirt or calcium deposit on my contact.

After getting my contacts changed, I am back in the chair with Eliana and now Jonas, who has awoken. Then, I realize my vision hasn’t improved. A bit of concern rushes over me, but I tell myself that I’m probably experiencing a migraine and I just need to lay down. When Alissa gets up, I talk with her about what is going on. Alissa is an ophthalmic technician and knows just about everything that could ever go wrong with our eyes. After I talk with her about what is going on, she is somewhat stumped and agrees it may just be a migraine.

I don’t take naps. If sleep weren’t so necessary to our survival and feel so good after we wake up, I’d skip that too. Think of all the time wasted sleeping. Think of all the things we could accomplish in that time. For me to ever suggest to Alissa that I need to lay down and rest, you better believe I’m sick. And that’s exactly what happened. I took a nap in the hopes that when I awoke, this nightmare that is now getting worse, would be over.

Three hours later, I awake to my sight being worse than before. It feels like I have tunnel vision on the left side of my vision and I can’t shake it. I am now a little panicked, but I keep my composure and talk with Alissa about everything that is going on. She is still baffled by what the problem might be. The rest of the day, I clung to the hope that it would all be better in the morning. But, it wasn’t.

Sunday is the busiest day of my week. Standing in the kids’ ministry hallway, with people whizzing by in both directions, can be dizzying for anyone. It’s especially so for someone who is struggling to see anything directly in front of them. The best way to describe it, it’s like having multiple blurry spots in your vision. In bright hallways and rooms, it wasn’t as bad as it was in darker rooms. Through all of the motion and busyness of Sunday, I survived and made it home.

After talking with Alissa about it more, she texts her boss and gets me on the schedule to see her doctor first thing Monday morning. It took dilation and a series of test, but the doctor finally had an answer for what it might be. However, I’d have to visit a retina specialist on Wednesday to confirm. “Wednesday?!?! Do you know how long I have dealt with this and it’s not getting any better?”

No I didn’t say that to the doctor. It was just how I was feeling, because 5 days is a long time to go with blind spots in your vision.

Wednesday arrives and I see the retina specialist. After one of the most excruciating eye exams I have ever experienced, mainly because he put a lens directly on my eyeball, he confirms what the previous doctor had suspected. MEWDS, or Multiple Evanescent White Dot Syndrome, is a rare inflammatory eye disease, where the retina experiences white lesions that block the field of vision. It’s extremely rare in men, there is no explanation about what causes it, and there is no treatment other than the six to nine weeks to fully recover.

Six to nine weeks was an incredibly long time.

Today, I received an all clear from the retina specialist. He said recurrence is unlikely, but not impossible. I’m healed and should not have anymore problems, in regards to MEWDS.

The entire process of waiting on my vision to come back taught me some pretty valuable lessons on what we can’t see.

We take everyday things, like our sight, for granted.

I don’t think I ever fully imagined what it would be like to lose sight in one or both of my eyes. Without my glasses or contacts I have really bad eye sight, but my go to first thing is to put in my contacts. It’s easy to take the small things that God has blessed us with for granted. Our eyes are one of the smallest parts of our body, but think about how valuable they are. You have two and, as far as I know, they cannot be replaced. I have a friend who had to have an eye removed at a young age due to an eye disease. Now, I have more empathy and respect for him being as successful as he is.

I think one reason God says, “Be still, and know that I am God!”, Psalm 46:10, is to help us see better. When we slow down, we value everything a little more. Slowing down allows us to take in the beauty and wonder that is God and His creation.

Our sight is not the only thing we take for granted. Small moments with important people in our lives; our spouse, kids, family, and friends; tend to get washed over with seemingly more important tasks. Our kids need us to be present. We have to be present with our kids when they are young so they will allow us to be present when they are teenagers/adults. Being present is made up of small moments we get to share and recognizing them as such. There is always something to do and you’ll have time to get to it, but you won’t always have time with the people you love most. Cherish your tribe.

If we become more focused on others, we tend to worry about our problems less.

As days turned into weeks, I focused less and less on what was going on with my vision and more on my tribe and I began to forget about the spots. Alissa would periodically ask me how my sight was and I’d have to stop and think about it, “Still the same!” The difference? I wasn’t fixated on my problem and so I began to worry less and less. I know, it easy for me to say because I knew that it would eventually go away, but so will everything…eventually.

Whatever you are going through, fight with all your might, but don’t worry about the outcome. God’s got it. It’s not a surprise to Him that you are dealing with this situation. He isn’t twiddling His thumbs and wondering how this got past Him. He knows and Jesus has given us victory, either in this life or the next. As you are fighting, if you will fixate on others more than your situation, you will have to be reminded that your situation is still there. Depression sets in when we focus inwardly.

Vision is extremely important to function in today’s society, but not 100% necessary.

I can’t imagine not being able to drive and having to rely on someone else to transport me around. Life without vision would be extremely difficult, but not impossible. Overcoming difficulties in life take a remarkable amount of grit and will power. You have to decide everyday that this situation won’t define you. You have to set in your mind that you will not be a victim. But, it is hard work. Living in a society that tells us in no uncertain terms that the easy life is the best life, makes it unbelievably hard to want to fight for what we want. (Check out my post Limitless where I talk about getting what we desire.)

A saying that I use to hear as a kid is, “It’s time to put your big boy pants on and get to work.” It’s not easy, especially when we are sick or have something else plaguing us. I believe that’s why being a part of a community, like the local church, allows us to press on and when we can’t do it any longer the church holds us up.

Our ability to see is one thing we take for granted. Slow down, be still, and see the blessings that are all around you. When we focus on others, or problems become less visible. However, sometimes it is impossible not to see our situation. In those moments we have to lean into our tribe. Our sight is important, but not as necessary as vision for our lives. The words Winston Churchill proclaimed at the height of WWII, “We must never give up. Never, never, never.”, must become our mantra no matter our circumstances.

It’s time to open our eyes and see the beauty that is before us. Slow down, be still, and take it all in.

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Limitless

American IdolAmerica’s Got Talent, and the list goes on of shows allowing young people to showcase their talents, or lack there of. I’ll admit, when these shows first came out in the early 2000’s, I was an avid fan. I saw young people’s lives changed forever because they believed in the gift they had. Ruben Studdard, David Cook, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood, and Kelly Clarkson each with an incredible voice in their own right, lit up the stage and went on to win their respective seasons on American Idol.

The biggest reason we love these types of shows is that we love rooting for the little guy. Those caught up in the obscurity of small town life. They have yet to be seen for the talent they have. We love seeing people make it big. Maybe because part of us wishes, or hopes that one day it will be our turn.

What sets each of these winners apart, is their incredible, God-given talent. Sure, some of them have worked hard for years to refine their gift, but it seems to come more naturally to them.

We all have God-given talents and abilities. Some are more polished than others and some are more noticeable than others. Every person on the planet has a talent that is as unique as they. You can call it what you want: talent, gift, ability; but generally we mean what we are good at. It’s what just easy for us. Sometimes it is incredibly hard to find out what exactly it is, but other times it’s obvious.

At times we get jealous or envious of the talents of other, because we wish we had it. Especially, the talents that stand out.

What’s my talent? The one talent I am the most proud of is my ability to remember faces and names. It’s not 100%, as I found out, when a guy I hadn’t seen since high school recognized me. However, I love remembering people’s names. Why? Because I believe it shows people they have value. Every person has a name and every name has a story.

There are some talents that we are born with and they come incredibly natural to us. But, I don’t believe we are limited to those talents. It all depends on how much we want to invest to become really good at another talent.

I didn’t play instruments growing up. It always seemed like it would be cool and that the girls really liked guys that could play guitar. But, I never worked to buy a guitar, and because of this, failed to put in the hours it would take to play well. When I graduated college, my in-laws gave me my first guitar. I was set on learning how to play. Today, I can play the guitar, but nowhere near as well as if I’d consistently put in the time to become great.

In college, I got an A.A. in Music. Why? I really have a heart for worship and thought I really wanted to be a worship leader. I had sung in choir in high school, but really lacked the confidence to step out and lead. Part of my graduation requirements was to take four semesters of piano. It was so hard to learn, but I learned enough to make it through with a degree. I can’t play the piano very well because I haven’t been willing to put in the hours it would take to become proficient.

We all have the ability inside of us. We just have to be willing to put in the hard work it would require to develop the talent we want most. But, that is the problem isn’t it? We all want the ability and the glory that comes with it, but we don’t want to sacrifice, work hard, and put in the effort to get what we want.

Our abilities are limitless. The only limit to what we can do is the one we place on ourselves.

There are two ways which we can live limitless with our talents.

  • Our Limitless God

In the Bible, Jesus tells a parable (a story to prove a point) of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30 ESV). Now it’s not the talents we have talked about, but a monetary unit. One talent was actually worth about twenty years’ wages. The parable goes,

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away.”

The parable continues to tell what each of the three servants did with the talents they were given. Two of the servants, worked hard and invested what they had been given. But, the third servant hid what was given to him so that he didn’t lose it. The owner comes back and has each servant give an account for what he did with what was given to him.

The owner is proud of the two servants that worked hard to double their talents. He, however, became extremely angry with the one that hid it his talent and did nothing with it. The servant made excuses as to why he didn’t do anything with what he was given. But, those excuses did not distill the fury of the owner.

“So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.”

God gives us each talents and abilities, but He also takes them away from those whom are unwilling to use them. We have to be willing to use what we have to bring glory to God.

When we are willing to use the talents that God has given us, in time, He will give us more. I think it’s because we are then instilled with a better work ethic. We, then, can work towards other talents.

  • Limitless Talents Come From Hard Work

I know it’s a novel concept, but if we want a certain talent we have to put in the work for it. Our society is always pushing to make life easier. We want all the spoils of life without putting in the work. As my friend and Pastor, Justin Graves, puts it, “We want to live like Mom and Dad, but without putting in the lifetime of work to get there.”

We feel entitled and even life owes us something. The reason we don’t have the gifts, talents, and abilities we so wish is, in fact, we don’t want to put in the work required to have them.

A study published by the BBC, states that most “tone-deaf” people aren’t really tone-deaf. They could actually learn to sing if they would be willing to work at it. The majority of us could sing better if we would practice, take lessons, and work hard.

Sure, some of us have talents and abilities that come easier to us than it does to others. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t work hard to get to their level of skill. But, even those that can sing, play the piano, or do stand up comedy, put in a lot of work to get better.

When I was asked to be the Children’s Pastor at Foundations Church, my first thought was that I can’t do it because I am not good with kids. I had limited experience in Children’s Ministry and what I did have was a nightmare. But, I accepted the position believing that if I was willing, God could teach me, and I’d learn to be great at Children’s Ministry.

A part of being great at Children’s Ministry is being organized. I am not naturally organized. But, I haven’t allowed that to stop me from learning how to become so.

Our abilities are limitless. We are only limited by our willingness to put in the hard work. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

I can’t (no pun intended) tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, “I can’t!” “I can’t do children’s ministry. I’m not good with kids.” “I wish I could do that, but I just can’t.” We limit ourselves because of how uncomfortable or how much work it would take to achieve what we want.

So the next time you are tempted to say I can’t, really what you are saying is, “I don’t want to put forth the time, effort, or energy it would take to learn that talent.”

We have a Limitless God who is able to do more than we could ever imagine, and if we are willing to put in the work, nothing is impossible for us to achieve. Our talents are limitless.

How have you found this to be true in your life?

What talent do you have now, that without working hard would just be a wish?

As my reader, do you appreciate these types of posts as well as the ones about my life?

If you haven’t had a chance to get to know me, check out My Story, or any of my other posts.

 

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Strength of the Fatherless

I have a ton of insecurities. I may be the most insecure person you will ever meet. There, I said it. I feel a lot better…kind of, unless you think less of me, which then I take it all back. But, I can’t take it back. I hope I don’t disappoint you. What are you thinking of me? Does one conversation change how you feel about me? And so, my mind plays tricks on me and these questions are just the tip of the iceberg.

There are seasons that I feel like I am on top of the world. Everything I am striving for, every conversation I have, and every relationship I am in is catapulting towards bliss. In those moments, I feel so strong, so secure. I feel like I have finally overcome the insecurities that weigh me down. It feels like I’ve gone ten rounds, and come out on top against my biggest opponent, my inner voice.

No I am not schizophrenic, at least that’s what the voice tells me. I’m kidding. My inner voice, thanks to cartoons back in the 80’s I picture an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the opposite, is that part of my conscience that speaks one of two things, life or death. In those seasons, I feel on top of the world, my inner voice is whispering life into my heart and spirit and it is so sustaining. One feels invincible in this season, like he has armor on that nothing can penetrate.

On the flip-side of all of this life-giving strength, there are seasons where it seems as though, because I am not at war, I take my armor off and every little thing that could crush me, does. In these moments, I can’t reign in my thoughts. It seems as though my thoughts are going a million miles a minute and I am repeating every conversation I have had with people over in my head to find out if there is any encouragement that our relationship isn’t on the brink of disaster.

My insecurities push me into a perpetual need to feel others approval. As these seasons get darker and darker, my inner voice, or as Steven Furtick calls it, the Chatterbox, screams darkness as well.

The darkness even over shadows the rays of light to which Alissa, or anyone else, is trying to shine into my heart and spirit. Insecurity is selfish because it takes even the encouraging words and twists them to make you feel less and less human. It is hard to let someone in because it doesn’t feel like they will understand. And if I do let them in, what will they think of me? Will there thoughts be, “Just get over it Sammy. Everybody has these thoughts. Stop wallowing in self-pity and doubt. You are just being too weak.”

Studies show that fatherless people are more apt to be plagued with insecurities than those whom have a father, or father figure in their life. For far too long, fathers have failed to realize the impact they have on the lives of their children. You can also be fatherless and have spent your entire life raised with your dad in the home. If your dad was at home, but not present with you, it’s as if you grew up without him.

I am in no way saying that fatherless people have life any worse than those that grow up with both parents, or that people whom grew up with a father can’t have insecurities. I’m just saying, as a fatherless person, I am more apt to have insecurities. Fathers provide security for their family. This security also leads to him being able to give his kids identity and approval. The confidence in who we are comes from the security, identity, and approval our fathers give us.

Does that give me an excuse to allow my seasons of darkness to control me? Do these studies give me leverage to not overcome and to wallow in self-pity and doubt? What do I do? How do I find strength again?

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, when praying about his weakness and asking God to take it away,

“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works

best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about

my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work though me.

That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults,

hardships, persecutions, and trouble that I suffer for Christ.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

What a paradox! When I am weak, then I am strong. Our weakness brings meekness. It keeps us humble and in a state of desperation for God to do something better in our lives. Our weakness causes us to depend on God more, because when we feel strong, we tend to lack that need for Him to intervene.

Where this paradox gets me is if God is strong in our weakness, and God’s weakness is stronger than our strength, then my weakness, when submitted to God, is no longer a weakness, but a strength. Let that one soak in. If God is strong in my weakness, my weakness then ultimately becomes my strength.

My weakness isn’t solely found in my insecurities, but stems from my lack of a father in my life. This realization that my weakness is now made strong in Jesus helps me overcome my need for approval, my insecurities. But, I also see how it has made me strong in a couple of other areas of my life.

First, I am more present with my children. My father missed out on the best moments of my life; my wedding, the birth of my children, and graduating college, to name a few. Even when he was still living with us, my dad gave up opportunities to go to my baseball games just because he didn’t want to go. All of these missed opportunities of my father, drive me to want to be there for my kids. I am constantly reassuring them of my love and building on the security, identity, and approval they deserve.

Second, growing up with my mom as the leader of my house, I am sensitive towards other people’s felt needs. I care deeply for those around me and am more nurturing than I would have been had I grown up with my dad. Nurturing wasn’t his strong suit.

As Papa Roach so eloquently put it in their song, “Scars”, from 2004, “My weakness is that I care too much.” HA! Everything reminds me of a song.

I still struggle with insecurities. Most of the time it comes in waves. And the hardest times is when those waves crash into me so rapid, I can’t catch my breath. But, when the waves slow up and I’m able to stand, I have to remind myself of where my security lies (God is my Heavenly Father), where my true identity is found (I’m a child of God), and that God approves of me (He made me). And when I do this, He is made strong.

What about you? What weakness do you have, when submitted to God, you can see how it has become a strength? Leave your story in the comments below or sign up for my email list and let’s chat.

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