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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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.”

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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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!

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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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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