Our Big House

            I had a big house – at least there was that. I had a big house with seven bathrooms and a big back yard and a designer kitchen and the first thing you saw when you opened the front door was the T-shaped staircase of stained wood and velvet red trim. In comparison to the small, dim apartment Aubrey and I occupied after we were married, the house was much bigger and much more impressive.

           Things were different then; when we were in that apartment, I mean. We worked jobs that weren’t good enough for either of us and paid a good deal less than we were worth. That situation we were in at the beginning, it wasn’t good enough for us. We glossed over its shortcomings with our laughter and our walks in the park and making little dinners together and all the times we recalled the day we brought home our first puppy, Reggie, but it never would be good enough for us. I wouldn’t allow us to settle; wouldn’t let ourselves be content with breaking even at the end of every month. It was my job to get us out of there. I accepted that responsibility when we met at the altar.

           Driven by the offspring produced through the unity of my own professional ambition to the needs I had to meet for Aubrey, I pressed harder each day than I had the day before in my fight to bring us to where we deserved to be. Aubrey understood when my days got longer and we saw less of each other, because it was all for her and for the future we were building and the family we would make. She understood when our planned vacations were postponed, because it would make our lives better. It would make our foundation stronger and we would be one step closer to the life that we deserved.

           Through my work ethic and my passion, we got out of that dingy place and found a new home elsewhere, not an apartment this time. It was a freestanding honest-to-god house with a yard and a garage and a fence and we both enjoyed the wonderful feeling of letting Reggie run outside without a leash. The sense of accomplishment I felt in my heart the first night we spent there acted as a motivator for me to keep going. I had to keep striving – my wife and my family deserved the best, so I had to be the best, and that’s what I would become. If that meant longer hours and more time away and working from home at night, I would make those sacrifices.

           I learned quickly how to succeed and how to improve and how to capture each goal as part of a stepwise progression. I learned that it was okay that I didn’t make it to the hospital to see my son born, because what I was doing that kept me away would mean a better life for him. I learned that my wife’s father was just as effective in the delivery room during my daughter’s birth as I could have been. And I learned that sacrifices are always worth the rewards they yield.

           I stopped one day and looked around at our home, at the life I had given us, and I smiled. We had come so far. Everything was almost perfect. I only had to add a few fine details – the finishing touches – and we would have the life I had always envisioned for us.

           Some things happened along the way that I didn’t understand. Eventually, Aubrey and the kids didn’t live in our big house anymore. That made me sad. I was alone, but at least I had our house with the big staircase. I had that big house that I had worked so hard to get: with the four empty bedrooms and the office where I worked during my daughter’s art show and the half-finished baseball diamond that ran right up to the high fence surrounding the tennis court. I still had that big house – our dream house with the plot in the background where I buried Reggie three days after I told Aubrey he would be fine and the big desk that hosted my business meetings and the big dusty Bible on the table in the sitting room. At least I still had that, even though I didn’t understand why everything ended up the way that it did.

           I missed my family and I still adored our children and I had worked so hard to give them the life they all deserved – the one they all wanted. I still loved Aubrey. I loved the way she smelled and I loved the sound of her voice and the color of her hair and I loved how delicate she could be. I loved her warmth and the way she looked in every gift I ever gave her. I loved how she would say things like the way she missed our old apartment. She had a wonderful sense of humor.

           I just couldn’t understand what happened.

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New Fellowship Day

Day 6, Month 22, Year 387 – New Fellowship Day

            They officially declared war against the insurgents today. Not that that means anything. The war’s been on since before my first breath – before the first time I yawned in the metal taste of unjustified bloodshed that always hangs on the air. It’s a permanent stain. Other people say they’ve never tasted it. They say the air smells like air and the air tastes like air and that this is just the way things are. I say they got used to it like the way you get used to anything after you’re around it long enough – or maybe it would be more accurate to say after it’s been around you long enough. I don’t mean to imply we have a choice in the whole thing. The point is, everyone else got used to it; accepted it. I never have.

            When I said “they officially declared war against the insurgents,” for clarity’s sake, “they” are the global governing body of the International Republic. We’re the insurgents. They wouldn’t put it that way. They would say that the insurgents are the resistance – those who rebel against order and poison the stream of life-yielding mandates and wear the forbidden colors with no concern for who they might offend in the public square. The truth is that most of us wear the colors we aren’t supposed to wear because the approved clothing available in the shops would cost a month of bread for any family occupying one of the brown colonies.

            I don’t know why they chose today to finally make this war official. I only call it a war because it’s the closest word we have for what it really is. It’s only being fought by one side, really. Along the way, through the years, one universal language has been and is still being developed. Again, I say it’s being developed because I assume the word for what’s actually happening to it was eliminated some years ago. Really, the language of our world has been systematically pruned back over time. It’s obvious to me when I blow the dust off an old book I’m not supposed to read and there’s a handful of terms on each page that I’ve never heard anyone say. Words like ‘power’ and ‘joy’ and ‘hope’ and ‘oppressed.’ Words like ‘harvest’ and words like ‘love.’

            I wonder the most about love.

            If you’re reading this, it means that I did it. I made it. It worked. If I get it right, maybe New Fellowship Day will actually mean something worthwhile. Maybe New Fellowship Day will really be a day for celebration. Maybe it will be more than the day that a decades-old war was finally declared.

            It seems poetic that the day the war was finally made official is the same day that I have planned to go all in with my attempt to change everything. I just pray that I survive the trip. And if I don’t, I pray that these words do.

            Maybe this day will never happen. Maybe there will be no New Fellowship Day at all. Maybe soon, I’ll know about love.

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Forever.

The crickets were out. As far as Harvey knew; as far as he could remember, the crickets were always out – always chirping; always looking for a mate. Years ago, Harvey wondered at their longing for companionship and how it felt so human. He imagined the scientists or the biologists or whatever you call a guy that knows about insects – imagined them telling him it’s not companionship that a cricket wants when it chirps throughout the night, just an opportunity to reproduce; a chance to pass on its genes. He smiled at the thought then.

“Yeah, that’s part of it,” he had said aloud to himself. “Everyone wants to pass on the family name. But there’s more to it than that.” He would know. He spent a good part of his life looking for that companionship, and his stomach still fluttered when he looked to his right at the spot where Brenda would soon sleep next to him. Brenda: the beautiful mate Harvey somehow managed to charm all the way to the altar; he missed her then. He would wait for her.

Harvey didn’t notice the crickets anymore. Over time, he got used to them; stopped noticing their mating call. The sound now was like the smell in a room – you’re aware of it when you walk in, but it becomes familiar after a little while. You forget there was a smell.

Brenda started to stir to his right. Harvey could feel the glint in his own eye – the involuntary expression of his own giddiness. Having been married all the way through old age, Harvey had taken some things for granted along the way. Specifically, he had taken for granted the idea that Brenda would always be there. After being apart from her for so long (it felt like decades), he knew better than to take for granted something so precious. He always awoke first and sat waiting for his bride.

After a moment, Brenda pulled herself up and out. She stretched her arms and legs and looked at her husband with a smile as she reclined back.

“Getting a late start tonight.” Harvey winked.

“I’m still getting used to the schedule,” Brenda replied with a sigh. It was relatively new for her. She still noticed the crickets.

“It’ll come. You’ll get there,” Harvey said. He turned and placed his hand on the flowers to his left, thumbing the petals gently. “The kids came today.” They felt refreshing against his dry skin. “Well, at least one. They never leave a card.”

Brenda smiled at her husband’s hopeful innocence. “Would you expect them to?”

“I guess not,” Harvey sighed. “It would just be nice to put a face to the flowers, just once.”

“I think I like it this way. I can imagine they all came together and we were here as a family again.”

“We’re still a family, Brenda,” Harvey replied, almost hastily. He had that tone that old married couples tend to have once their love has endured a certain number of years and defeated the statistics.

“Oh, I know that, Harvey. Of course I know that.” Brenda looked up at the stars with a kind of sadness that only someone in her shoes could experience. It wasn’t that it was a worse sadness, necessarily, just one that comes with waiting the unknown amount of time she would have to wait before she would see her children again.

Seeing the look in her eyes; recognizing it and understanding it and knowing it well, Harvey extended his right hand and grabbed her left. His fingers ran over the diamond in her wedding ring. The thumb on his left hand rubbed the surface of the band she gave him a long time ago and he never took off. “We’re together, Brenda. We’ll always be together now and we never have to worry about being apart again.”

With a sad smile, Brenda placed her free hand over Harvey’s and gave it a grateful squeeze.

“I’ve been thinking about Rodney for hours,” Harvey said.

Brenda’s sad smile was replaced with the proud, loving smile that only a mother’s face can produce. “Yeah? What about him?”

And that was how it always went. Harvey out first, then Brenda, and minutes later they began an hours-long conversation, taking turns remembering and telling the stories they had already told each other countless times but loving each one like it was brand new. They talked about when they met, their first dance, their wedding, the kids – they talked a lot about the kids.

Sometimes Brenda cried when she talked about her last few days with Harvey before he went away. Those were the hardest days of her life. She could see the pain in his eyes, even though he told her every day was better than the day before. All she wanted was to go with him, and it wasn’t fair that she couldn’t, but she found Harvey again and he was able to comfort her in a way she had no idea could ever be.

Hours later, as their conversation wrapped up, the light began to creep over the horizon. Harvey saw it, then Brenda, and they both knew what it meant.

Harvey looked at Brenda. “Time to go,” he said. Neither of them wanted to, but they both knew that tomorrow would come soon enough.

“Same place tomorrow?” Brenda asked.

Harvey winked at her, the way he always did. “Wouldn’t miss it. I love you.”

“I love you back,” she said.

At the same time, they climbed back down to sleep, and the crickets went quiet as the sun came up over the cemetery.

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God has Healed Her.

I’ve been fighting with myself since last night (November 20th) over whether or not to do this – to type this out for everyone to see, I mean. But this morning, Kelsey Krupa, one of my very closest and most loved friends, came to visit me, and upon hearing the story, she encouraged me to write it down. And the truth is, I’ve been praying for God to be glorified through it, so I am going to do everything I can to make sure that happens.

This isn’t going to have much flowery language. This isn’t going to be beautifully written. Because it isn’t the words that God has given me to express to anyone that will listen to them that are important, but the story that the words tell. It’s the story that matters.

If you’re reading this, then you probably already know, but at the beginning of this year, my mom was diagnosed with colon cancer. That information and all of the emotions and pain that came with it shook my whole world to the foundation. I had no idea what to do with it, but I continued living and, even though her treatments had her worn down and in pain, I found a lot of God in the situation.

I was at work last Tuesday (November 15th) when I received a text message from my grandmother. In it, she told me that my mother had been taken to the hospital in an ambulance because she was having trouble breathing. I dropped what I was doing and called her. When she answered, her voice was clearly full of tears and she told me that the doctors had determined that there was really nothing left that they could do. She just kept saying it was “bad.” She told me they said she was terminal. She told me they were just going to make her comfortable. Without using the word, she told me that my mother was dying and there was nothing anyone could do. I got off the phone with her and tried to go back to work, but, for the first time in my life, I was in some kind of shock. My arms and legs, my hands and feet didn’t feel like they belonged to me. I could not process the information I had just gotten. In less than a minute, Stephanie walked in to visit me.

Stephanie

Stephanie is a girl that I met 65 days ago (September 17th). I know that, because she has a countdown widget on her phone that says so. She is the most beautiful, loving, incredible girl I have ever met, and I’ve been blessed with the honor of calling her my girlfriend. I was at the tailgate before the first Texas State home football game this season when a small group of us decided to make our way over to the stadium. While walking through the parking lot, we were stopped a handful of times by a handful of people – the *perfect* number of times by the *perfect* number of people. It was perfect because, at one point, after I finished talking to someone with whom I had crossed paths, I turned around and saw a beautiful stranger talking with a couple of the people I was walking with. “Who is *that*?” That was the thought I had. And *that* was Stephanie. She approached us because she was there alone and we were wearing Loud Crowd shirts. We walked together and we talked together and we stood together during the game. We haven’t spent much time apart from each other since that day, and now, after everything that has happened, I recognize and acknowledge that God knew exactly what He was doing when He determined the moment that He would introduce Stephanie into my life.

Just a few minutes before I received the text message from my grandmother, Stephanie had sent me a message asking if she could come visit me because she was dealing with some negative stuff that has surrounded her for a little while now. Of course I said yes, and, as usual, God’s timing was perfect. She walked in right at the moment that I needed her as much as I have ever needed anyone. She could see it all over my face that something was wrong, and when I told her, I could see in her that she felt my pain right along with me. One of the people I work with, my friend – some might call her my “boss,” I call her my friend – Mindy was standing there with me at the same time.

DC

I have the privilege of working at the DC Shoe Store in San Marcos. I call it a privilege, not because I’m a skater – I never have been – and not because it pays a whole lot of money – it certainly does not – but because the people I work with are amazing. When I’m at work, it’s like I’m hanging out with my friends and I’m folding a t-shirt at the same time. It seems to me that God put me there for a reason, and that He chooses particular windows of time to leave the store empty of customers just long enough for real conversations of the heart to carry themselves out to completion.

If any of you from DC are reading this, I want you to know that you have all been a huge blessing in my life since I met all of you. Truly. Thank you so much.

Mindy told me she had my shifts covered for the rest of the week. She told me to go home and be with my mom and my family. I was and still am so thankful for that.

I left with Stephanie in her car, leaving mine in the parking lot of the outlet malls. I didn’t know what to say to her or how to behave at all, really. Ultimately, I called Joel Lowry.

Joel

I tell people all the time that I don’t really know what to call Joel as far as his relationship with my life. My pastor, my best friend, my brother, the guy that I lead alongside in ministry – a lot of titles come to mind. In the end, whatever he is to me, he was the guy I called at that moment. He’s always the guy I call in hard moments. And he always responds to me just the way God intends for him to.

When I told Joel, the change of tone in his voice was obvious. He asked me if I wanted to go to his house and I did. So Stephanie and I drove over there and went inside to sit with Joel, Lauren – Joel’s wife and my friend – and David Booth, another very close personal friend. I sat with them and talked with them while I tried to process what was going on – something no one could help me figure out. I cried. I just talked as the words came. The whole time, my question was never *if* God was in the situation, but *where* He was in the situation. I just needed something to hold on to. I needed to know where God was. And in the end, every person in the room – Joel, Lauren, David, Stephanie, and I – prayed for my mother and for me. That time was really a blessing.

When Stephanie and I left, we went to my apartment, where we just sat in my bed without talking too much. We didn’t turn the TV on or get on Facebook. We just sat together for a while. I spoke up as words came to me, but really my heart was just seeking after God, still asking where He was. In that time, I kept hearing Him say “I love you. I love you. I love you.” You might say it’s cliche, but that is what God was saying to me right in my ear. And suddenly, all at once, I was hungry and knew what I wanted to eat.

That morning I had woken up to a steady, heavy roll of thunder. It was raining in San Marcos. As anyone that lives here knows, it never rains in San Marcos. Before I went to work that morning, I met with a few guys to talk about relationships and how to love people well. I left that meeting a little early to get to work on time and on my way there I had a debate with myself in the car. I tried to fight off the urge to stop for breakfast, mainly because money has been tight lately – tighter than it ever has been in my life. I kept telling myself I could stand to wait until I got off of work to eat, but, ultimately, I stopped for food.

Standing in line, I fought with myself again, this time over how much food to get. I knew I couldn’t eat more than one kolache – they’re pretty much the size of hamburgers – because I had tried to do it before and failed. I knew there was no logical reason to buy two of them, but, ultimately, I bought two of them. It was silly. It didn’t make sense. And I know this seems trivial, but God found his way into that decision.

I got to work from there, ate one of the kolaches when I arrived and, since I could only finish one, I put the other away for later.

It was about two hours later that I talked to my grandmother, Stephanie showed up, and Mindy told me to go home. When I went to grab my things, I saw the food there next to my keys and thought I would offer it to someone else – that was fully my intention: to give it to someone that was working. In the midst of pain and fear and doubt and shock, what was I going to do with a greasy kolache? But when I was walking out, when I was saying goodbye, in the midst of pain and fear and doubt and shock, I decided to save it so that I could eat it later. Again, it was silly and it didn’t make sense, but God found his way into that decision.

I left my car in the parking lot and rode with Stephanie to Joel’s house, and then from there to my apartment. When she parked, I looked at my food, which I had put in the floor at my feet. With empty hands, I decided that I didn’t want to lean down and pick it up. I decided to just leave it there in the car for no reason of any worldly logic. It was silly. It didn’t make sense. But God found his way into that decision.

I’m getting to the point here, I promise. Like I said before, after sitting in my room with Stephanie for some unknown amount of time, I was suddenly hungry, and I knew what I wanted to eat – that kolache. That food that I only had because I had ignored the idea of financial responsibility and paid for breakfast. That food that I only had because I knowingly bought more than I would be able to eat at one time. That food that I only had because I decided to keep it for myself in a moment that food should have been the last thing on my mind. That food that was in Stephanie’s car because I had left it there without any reason to do so.

“Can we get my food out of your car?”

That’s what I asked Stephanie. We immediately got up, walked downstairs, and opened my front door. When we opened the door, it was obvious that the sun was shining. It had been raining – *raining* all morning. There had been no sunshine for the several hours I had been awake, but here was sunshine. Stephanie walked out to her car, which was parked just outside the door to my apartment, and I looked around – I looked up at the sky. What I saw there surprised me – it didn’t really make sense. Just above us – just above my apartment, the clouds had separated just enough to create a hole through which the sun could shine. For the 180 degrees that I could see in the sky, there was no blue. There was only gray. It was raining all around us, but in the midst of that storm, in that moment, the sun had come out and was lending its brightness and its warmth.

In that moment, I had a thought – a prayer, really. I told God that I so badly wanted that to be Him. I had been searching for Him, and I wanted that moment to be Him, but I didn’t want to cling to the first little thing that presented itself to me because I was desperate. I didn’t want to cling to a lie.

When she stood up out of her car, Stephanie looked up at the sky and said so simply “That’s weird.” At hearing her say that, my heart felt like it stopped. That was all I needed – the expression from another person that there was something unusual going on. Turning around, I walked back into my apartment and hurried to the back door. I threw the lock off, pulled the door open, and stepped outside. When I looked up… all I could see was gray storm clouds in every direction all the way unto the horizon. But there, right above me, shining down through a hole just wide enough, lending its brightness and its warmth… there was the sun. And I heard the words “I’m right in the middle of it.” I collapsed in the floor of my kitchen at my backdoor and wept. I praised God. I thanked Him. See, because, in finding out that my mom – the one person that has gotten me to where I am, the one person that has made me worth something when it would’ve been so easy for me to be worth nothing – in finding out that my mother might not live much longer, my only question was “Where are you, God?” I kept saying “God, I know you’re here somewhere, but where?” Like I was in the darkness with my hands out in front of me, searching blindly for the only one who could take care of me – the only one with the answers. And in my searching, in my seeking, He grabbed me, He pulled me into his arms, and He told me “I’m right here. I’m right in the middle of this.”

In the time it took me to get up off the floor and explain to Stephanie what had happened – what God had shown me, the sun was covered by the clouds again. From my kitchen, I looked at the windows in my living room, and it was dark outside. I opened the front door and the sun was gone.

Everything had led me there. From my ill-advised decision to buy food to my decision of how much food to buy to my decision to save what was left to my decision to call Joel to my decision to leave the food in Stephanie’s car to the moment that I recognized my own hunger… it all worked together to create the window through which God intended to present Himself to me and to comfort me. He used it all to bring me to Him so that he could tell me He was right in the middle of it.

That night my mom accepted Jesus Christ as her lord and savior.

I’m crying while I type this. But my tears are so happy. My smile is so true. And God’s love is so real in my life.

All the decisions surrounding my breakfast that morning aren’t the only decisions that look strange when they stand alone. See, in learning that my time with my mom had suddenly seemed to become extremely limited, instead of packing some things, filling up my car with gas, and getting on the road right away, I decided to stay in San Marcos long enough to go to a Texas State basketball game that night.

A basketball game.

I love basketball, but sitting next to my relationship with my mother, basketball might as well not exist. Despite that, though, I stayed in San Marcos. I went to that basketball game. And it was in that span of time that my mom accepted Christ, and my aunt was the one who was with her when she did it.

Aunt Cindy

It’s important to point out here that my aunt is not my mom’s sister. She’s my dad’s sister. My mom and my dad were divorced when I was just a baby – only months old. Their relationship, in my recollection – since the time I’ve been old enough to *have* a recollection – has not been a good one. But somehow, as unusual as it is, as odd as it might appear to the rest of the world, my mom and my dad’s sister have remained best friends. For all 22+ years of my life they have been best friends – for lack of a better term, they’ve been *sisters*. And my aunt is one of the sweetest, most incredible, most spiritually grounded people I have met in my whole life. And there was a reason that God put her in my mom’s life. And there was a reason he *kept* her there.

While I was at the basketball game that night, I received a text message from my aunt – a lengthy one. In it, she told me that she sat with my mom, who really could not talk, in the hospital room. She told me she asked my mom if she was scared, and my mom nodded her head “yes.” She told me she asked my mom if she knew Jesus Christ – if she had Him in her heart, and my mom shrugged her shoulders to say she didn’t know; that she wasn’t sure. She told me she prayed with my mom and, at some point along the prayer, she told my mom that, if she wanted to invite Jesus Christ into her life to take care of her heart, to pray along with her. She told me that, when she finished, she asked my mom if she prayed the prayer with her, and my mom nodded her head “yes.” She told me she asked my mom if she was scared, and my mom shook her head “no.”

It took 46 years of her life and 22 years of mine for my mom to *really* say yes to Christ, but He finally took his place in her heart in her waning moments. And indeed they were waning.

The next day, Stephanie and I got in my car and drove to Beaumont to see my mom in the hospital. When we arrived there four hours later and I saw my mom – the single mother who had worked her fingers to the bone daily to provide for me for 22 years; the woman who had gone back to school so late in life and carried a 4.0 grade point average through three years of college before cancer took her away from it; the woman who had fought the *hell* out of that cancer; the woman who continued to *try* to go to work and to school while enduring debilitating chemo therapy; the woman who had survived *so* *much* – when I saw her for the first time lying in that hospital bed hooked up to the machines and wearing an oxygen mask because she couldn’t even breathe on her own, I was not broken. I was not shattered. I was okay, because I didn’t see all of the worldly pain… I saw a woman redeemed and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.

I went to her bedside. I said “hey mom.” She looked up at me with her struggling gaze and I knew that, through all that was going on, she recognized me. Of course she recognized me. She told me my entire life that I was and am the only thing that mattered to her. I was able to talk to her and I was able to introduce her to Stephanie, this new love of my life.

The medication that was running into her body made it difficult if not impossible for her to control her own body. She lay there in the bed while her legs moved abruptly and involuntarily, but she was still awake. She had no strength. She had no control over herself. But in a moment, for just one moment, her love for her son – her only son, overcame that medication. She was able to fight her elbows onto the bed so they could prop her up a bit. Her boyfriend and my grandmother – my mom’s mother – grabbed my mom’s hands and helped her sit up in that bed. She looked at me and I knew what she wanted. Leaning in, I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a hug. She was able to lift her arms around me and hug me back. There was no squeeze and no strength, but she hugged me and I hugged her.

For the rest of my life, I’ll know that God led me to that hospital room exactly when He intended for me to be there. Because after she leaned back into bed again, she didn’t move or open her eyes very much; after Stephanie and I spent about 10 hours a day in the hospital for the next five days; after we spent a night there at my mom’s bedside; after I watched the Cowboys win with her one more time – she’s the reason I’m a Cowboys fan – after Stephanie and I left the hospital and got on the road back to San Marcos, my mom slipped away from us, and that hug she gave me was the last meaningful movement of her life.

The last meaningful movement of her life here was to hug me… and the first meaningful movement of her life where she is now was to hug the lord of her life who she had come to know just six days before.

In the days and what have become weeks following my mom’s passing, the outpouring of love has been unbelievable. To all of you who have been so incredible, I say thank you. The list is too long to remember each by name, but you all know who you are. From those who said the tiniest prayer to those who drove 4 hours just to attend my mom’s funeral service even though you never got the honor of meeting her, thank you. Thank you. From the deepest part of my heart, thank you.

And to those who question God. To those who know Him and those who don’t, I promise you that He loves you. To the ends of the earth and with everything in Heaven, He loves you. In the most painful situations, even when you don’t know where He is, I promise you that He is right in the middle of it.

See, during this whole thing, the whole time it was all going on, I was praying two separate prayers. I was praying one prayer begging God for healing. I was begging Him to heal my mother. To take her pain and her cancer all away from her and make her all better. And at the same time, I was praying for His will to be done. And, knowing that she had accepted Christ, knowing that she was saved, my prayer for God’s will to be done in the situation was real – it was genuine, even though I knew it might be His will for Him to take her away from me. So, to me, I felt like I was praying what might’ve been two completely different prayers. Here was my heart in one place, praying for the healing of my mom’s body. And here it was in another place, praying for God to do what He intended to do and to be glorified through it. How could I pray for both? And then she was gone. In the moment that I found out, I felt so lost and so hurt, but I found the strength to calm myself and call my aunt on the phone – the same aunt who was with my mom when she accepted Christ. My mind and my heart were all over the place – all over the world, it seemed like, so I don’t remember much of that conversation. But there is one thing that I do remember – there is one thing that she said that I do remember and I will always remember. It was the only thing anyone could have said to make me realize that my prayers – what I thought were two completely different, completely conflicting prayers… were really the same prayer all along. It was the only thing she could’ve said.

“We asked for God to heal her, and He did.”

He did.

I love you, mom. Thank you.

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God’s Timing.

It’s the third day of the sixth week of camp, and people keep asking me how my summer’s going. I can’t fault my friends or family for their interest in what I’ve done and where I’ve been, but I can say that it’s hard to pour a sufficient answer to that question into the 160-character text message mold that I’ve been allotted by Verizon Wireless (I’m aware that the length doesn’t matter when talking to other Verizon users, but typing with just my thumbs gets a little old anyway). See, because – here’s the deal – in the last six week, there have been ups and downs and good and bad; there’s been catharsis and nostalgia; there’s been pain and frustration and anger; there have been blessings falling all around me. In the last six weeks…

… I’ve seen God move right in front of me in some way every single day.

… I’ve been moved to tears in God’s presence.

… I’ve felt as lost as I ever have.

… I’ve questioned my own decisions.

… I’ve felt unwanted and unappreciated.

… I’ve been humbled and broken down for my own good.

… I’ve had one person break my heart.

… I’ve had another person take on a new role in my life and make me wonder why she hasn’t been playing it all along.

… I’ve found new meaningful relationships.

… I’ve seen the people around me – people I love to the ends of the earth – fall apart.

… I’ve seen the people around me – people I love to the ends of the earth – put back together better than they were.

… I’ve seen the people around me – people I love to the ends of the earth – pick up their crosses every morning and carry them through the day with smiles on their faces, completely unconcerned with who’s paying attention.

… I’ve seen God’s perfectly timed plan unfold right in front of my face, and I’ve been able to look at it in hindsight – I’ve been able to see it occur step by step and realize what all of it was meant for.

God absolutely has perfect timing.

Perfect. Timing.

Here’s a story I’ve seen in the last few days:

We’re in Galveston this week, and two of the ten churches that are here for our mission camp are from Illinois – yeah, a bunch of high school kids from Illinois to Galveston, Texas because their hearts are for doing God’s work. This is good already.

But here’s what happened: the people in the group from one of those two churches, they packed themselves into two vans and started the trip South the day before camp was scheduled to start. That day, we received word that one of their two vans was having some issues. Perfect. I don’t know how they reacted, but I have a pretty good idea how I would’ve reacted. Anyway, I’m not exactly sure how that panned out, but the important thing is to know that, the first day, their van broke down, and by the second day, they were all fixed and on the road again.

The second day of their trip, the day we’re scheduled to start camp here in Galveston and the day these guys are planning to arrive, their second van breaks down. Two days in a row, two different vans. You think what you want to think about that – to me and to a lot of us here, it was pretty obvious what was happening. The word we got here about it said that they were looking at 2 to 3 hours of work on the van before they could get back on the road, and the rest of the drive would be about 5 hours. This was at 2:30 in the afternoon – well, it was when I heard about it, anyway. Churches were scheduled to arrive at camp between 4:00 and 5:00 that evening, and service was supposed to start at 8:00. Math says these guys weren’t going to make it until after 10:00. Oh, and the tail lights on their trailer weren’t functional, so they couldn’t legally be on the road after dark. That’s a pickle.

They found a place to stay where they were that night. I didn’t know where or how they’d pulled that off, but we were all informed they’d just be getting to camp a day late.

Ultimately, they made it to the island the following afternoon – yesterday, as of now – and, somehow, their spirits were high. Throughout the rest of the day, I heard little pieces of the story – this story I’m telling you now – and, by the end of the night, I could see God so vividly and so perfectly that I really wondered why I ever had a doubt about the situation. I wondered why I ever have a doubt or fear about any situation.

There’s a girl in this youth group that had all the van trouble – a girl named Megan (Meghan? Meagan? I don’t know. Maybe someone that knows will see this and correct me). Megan makes these pretty weird bracelets out of elastic bands and the tabs from soda cans and sells them for 5 dollars. The money that comes from people buying those bracelets goes toward an effort to help a particular homeless family find a home (maybe that’s not exactly or completely accurate – something else someone might be able to correct me on – but the important thing is that the effort is something that would absolutely be pleasing to God). So that’s pretty cool.

Our camp pastor, Kacy Benson, recently visited this group’s church to preach a message. While he was there, he bought one of Megan’s bracelets and he’s been wearing it at camp since then. While we were in Oklahoma last week at Camp WOW, one of the girls on the WOW staff – Brianne – asked Kacy about the bracelet. He told her about it, she thought it was cool – which it is – and asked how she and some of her fellow staff members could get some of them. Kacy gave Brianne the contact information of one of the leaders from the group so that she could get in touch and ask for some bracelets.

I know this is tedious and long and a little monotonous, but we’re almost there.

Brianne made the phone call to Joanie, the leader Kacy had told her to call, and talked to her for a bit about the bracelets, where Brianne goes to school, and probably some other casual conversation. This is just a few days before this group hit the road for Galveston.

When the second van broke down it was in Marshall, Texas. While it was being worked on, the youth and the leaders from the group were sitting anywhere from Wendy’s to Subway trying to kill time, not exactly sure how to handle the situation they found themselves in. Ultimately they ended up, as we all do when we’re not sure where to go, at Wal-Mart. Apparently, while in Wal-Mart, Joanie saw something that let her know that Marshall, Texas was the home of ETBU. East Texas Baptist University… where Brianne goes to school.

Odds? Slim, I would think.

Having received a call from her not long before, Joanie had Brianne’s phone number and, on a whim, she called her. Joanie told Brianne the situation and asked if there was anything she could do to help them out. Brianne got off the phone with Joanie and called a guy she goes to school with, and not only was he absolutely willing to help them… he was at Wal-Mart, too.

Odds? Ha.

He found Joanie and started making some other phone calls to pastors at his church in Marshall and other people. Eventually, they rounded up some bedding, and this group from Illinois stayed the night at a church in Marshall, Texas.

Now, let’s back up a little more. Kacy Benson, the camp pastor I mentioned earlier, evidently had a conversation with a woman on a plane a couple of weeks ago. During that conversation, she asked him about his bracelet – the bracelet he was wearing made of elastic bands and tabs from soda cans. He told her about it. He told her who made it and about the effort it was for, and then he took it off his wrist and gave it to her.

When the plane landed and everyone was leaving, this woman – she stopped short. She hesitated. She took off the bracelet Kacy had given her – the bracelet made of elastic bands and tabs from soda cans – and she turned back to him. She handed him the bracelet and said something along these lines: “You aren’t supposed to give this to me. I don’t know why, but you’re supposed to have it.”

Just so you know, I’m crying while I type this.

Now let’s put this all back together. If this woman – this random woman on an airplane hadn’t given Kacy that bracelet back…

… Brianne wouldn’t have seen it in Oklahoma and asked him about it…

… Brianne wouldn’t have called Joanie and told her she goes to school at ETBU…

… Joanie wouldn’t have called Brianne from Wal-Mart…

… and this group from Illinois on its way to Galveston, Texas to do mission work for God wouldn’t have had anywhere to stay for the night.

And none of it would’ve happened if Megan hadn’t followed what God put on her heart – none of it would’ve happened if Megan hadn’t obeyed God’s will and started up something to help someone in need.

God absolutely has perfect timing.

Perfect. Timing.

The last several months, I’ve seen more and more how much I’m supposed to trust God. I’ve seen more and more that I’m supposed to trust Him with *everything*, and I’ve seen more and more how terrible I am at that. With everything going on in my life – a mom with cancer, graduating college, the real world waiting for me to become part of it seven days from now – with all that and in all that, I know I’m supposed to trust God and his perfect timing, and I think I’m finally reaching a point where I do – where I really do. My mom is fighting off her illness, I’m okay with being through with college, the real world still looks daunting, but so small sitting next to God.

See, because God absolutely has perfect timing.

Perfect. Timing.

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Worldly Approval.

I’m sitting in a hotel room in O’Fallon, Missouri (or maybe it’s O’Fallon, Illinois… no one’s really sure) and I have so much going on in my head and I have so much going on in my heart and it’s been a long time since I’ve published a blog entry and I don’t even have a title in mind for this and I’m not even really sure what moved me to start typing, but I am. Maybe it’s just because music like Manchester Orchestra makes me want to express myself, or maybe it’s because, in 3 years of being on Wild Week staff, I’m pretty positive this is the first time I’ve ever been in a room by myself for more than 10 minutes at a time (that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one). Regardless of the inspiration or the motive, here I am, and this might get a little long… so strap in or head back to your newsfeed.

For anyone reading that doesn’t know – and, to be real, I can’t imagine anyone who would have been interested enough in my ramblings to click on this without knowing – I’ve been on the road with Wild Week for the last three weeks. I’ll be on the road with Wild Week for the next four weeks. In the last three weeks, I’ve seen God move in ways I never could’ve imagined, even having done this whole thing so many times already. In the last three weeks, I’ve encountered God in some pretty real ways – ways I’ve never experienced before. I guess there are some parallels between the life of a summer staff member and the way I’m talking about all this right now, and it really wasn’t my intention, but it can get a little repetitive sometimes. One week ends and the next week begins the same way the last one did – wash, rinse, repeat. That whole thing can wear a person down a little bit – having done something so many times that you think you should be able to do it in your sleep, but still somehow managing to hit snags and having to work out bugs every time. And sometimes I can get hung up on all that: the predictable events of the first and last days of the week. But it’s what happens in the time between all that that really has me here – really has us here and keeps a few of us coming back, even beyond the bounds of practicality in some cases. Here at camp, along the roads we ride and amongst all the thousands of faces with whom we’ll cross paths in one summer, we’re met with opportunity the likes of which I’ve never really been able to find anywhere else. Opportunities to minister and speak truth and love into the lives of people that really don’t get it anywhere else; opportunities to find God in places and in situations we might tend to look right passed in our lives at home; opportunities to grow and overcome adversity – spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional – and let God work through us. See, at camp, for whatever reason, it’s like we’re extra sensitive to God’s voice and the works of His hands. That’s probably the way it should be all the time, but, to me, it’s like the real world turns the volume down on me most of the time. And really, through whatever channel might be available, it’s like the real world is trying to turn the volume on me now, even while I’m here.

The first week of camp, I had a pretty incredible encounter with God – there were tears when it happened, there were tears when I told someone about it later that night on the phone, and I still get kind of emotional when I think about it throughout the day. Less than a day after that, my heart really started getting attacked. It seemed like – it seems like every morning when I wake up, there’s something new going on in my head or in my heart. Sometimes I know exactly what it is, most of the time I can’t figure it out at all, but it seems I’m hurting over something all the time. The sources have been many, really – from certain important people in my life deciding they’re through caring about me to the everyday worry and concern for a mother struggling and fighting against a sickness and its treatment to the real world bearing down on me and threatening everything I know about life to common frustration that comes with the position I’m in to a whole bunch of undesirable garbage I can’t even see – wherever the hurt and the distractions might come from, the result is the same. It all leads to me not doing my job at the level that I’m really capable of doing it. It leads to the potential for me to miss God-sent opportunities to have a positive impact on some person, young or old.

Now, I’m aware that this isn’t the most well-written thing I’ve ever put together, and I’m aware that there isn’t much continuity or flow, but, like I said, I felt like expressing myself, and this is the mode I’ve selected. Deal with it, jerks.

Anyway, there are a few things that have been really thrust into the scope of my attention in the last few weeks. One of those things is the fact that I think I put too much weight on and hope in the approval of others. That is to say, a lot of times, when something happens, I have someone in mind that I want to hear the story – someone I want to impress and woo with the intuitiveness of my heart or the snap of my wit or something as simple as how long and hard my day’s been; how much of myself I’ve poured out. Honestly, looking back at particular moments in my life, recent or not, I can see that the feelings of some people toward the things I do can completely make or break my state of mind. If I gain that person’s approval, I’m motivated to keep going – to create another story for that person to hear. If I don’t, I might wonder why I’m even doing anything at all, and that’s not the way that it should be. See, something that’s been shown to me – something that’s still being shown to me is that it isn’t the approval of other people or the approval of this world that I should be leaning on. If you’re reading this, at this point you’re predicting that I’m going to say that it’s the approval of God that I should be concerned with, and you’re right – in fact, it should be obvious. But that’s where the bugs are. It’s obvious what I’m going to say here, but as obvious as it might be, it’s not the way that I live. The fact is, I don’t think there’s anything that hurts me more than the feeling that a person I care about doesn’t care about me – the feeling that someone I hold in high regard does not approve of or want to know about the things I’m doing. And that’s no exaggeration.

But I think that’s what God’s showing me right now. I think He’s led me to a point where I’m realizing that it shouldn’t make any difference what the people around me think about what I’m doing, as long as I’m doing what He calls me to do and is pleasing to Him. And as hard as it is for me to say – as hard as it is for me to acknowledge the thought that the pain I’ve been feeling might actually be worth something, I don’t think I would be coming into this the way that I am if it weren’t for all the crap I’ve had to struggle through in the last few weeks, even in the midst of everything that God has been doing around me and letting me take part in.

For the sake of keeping this a little shorter than it could be, I’ll just say this: I think this process I’m in the middle of right now – this season that God is taking me through is one meant to take the weight of worldly opinions off my shoulders and the vulnerability to the judgment of people away from my heart. I’ll still care what you think about me… but it isn’t going to ruin me anymore.

Also, you are fantastic.

Camp Week #4, coming up. Leggo.

PS
I really had no idea what I was going to talk about in this whole thing when I started it. Ha.

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Intentional.

Last night I published an entry on here about everything going on in my life as far as my mom’s health, feelings of instability as each day brings me closer to graduation, and how it’s all influencing my faith – how the whole situation has refreshed my constant longing to press into God and his embrace. With my fingers typing before my mind could tell them what to do, it all brought me to a place that really confirmed the trust that I have that God will never leave me and that his plans for me are far greater than anything I’ll ever be able to conceive.

The night before that – Sunday night – I published the first blog entry of my life, and, there, I said that I wasn’t really sure if anyone would ever take the time to read any of this. I pretty much said that my ego isn’t big enough for me to assume that people would take time out of their lives to sit and read the possibly pretentious ramblings of a college senior with no secure plan for the future, either near or distant, but that the thought of someone reading silently would keep me motivated to remain active in recording my thoughts and my hopes and my struggles, which would ultimately, I hoped, take my relationship with God to a deeper level. That’s what I expected this to be for me – a tool to help me remain consistent in my quiet time with the Lord.

Two nights ago, I claimed I wasn’t sure if anyone would ever read anything I’d post on this site, last night I went in-depth with my feeling that God is as present in the potentially intimidating situation I’m in right now as He’s ever been in my life, and, in the last 24 hours, the response has been overwhelming. Words of encouragement, promises of prayer, notes of comfort, statements to relate – the list goes on, but, the fact is, people have expressed concern and interest in the things that I’ve said here in a way that I will never be capable of adequately describing.

Some people started with “I know we’re not close,” or “I know we haven’t really talked in a while,” or “I don’t know if this means anything coming from me,” and, to all of that, I say phooey. If you’re reading this, and you doubted for a second that your positive words in response to my vulnerability would be received with anything but love, well… shame on you. Not really, but I hope you know how much your words really did and continue to mean to me.

Some people told me that it brought out of them some visible emotion, and that’s not to say anything about me – I say that because the knowledge that someone, somewhere cares enough about me to shed a tear over the trials that my family is enduring… I don’t have the words to respond to that, either. I never will. All I can say is that you guys are incredible, and I’ll never be able to thank you enough for the love you’ve expressed.

The point of this is, to all of you that I’ve mentioned, directly or indirectly, to all of you that responded to my words with so much love and so much grace, and to anyone who’s read any of this and said a quiet prayer without making it known, I say thank you. A thousand times, thank you, and I hope you know that I love you – to the ends of the earth, I love you. Your effort is not lost on me and it is not lost on my mother or anyone else in my family – I tell her every day that more and more people are praying for her. From Texas to Oklahoma to Alabama to New York to Missouri, people are praying for her, and I never would’ve let myself believe that that many people would truly care if they hadn’t told me themselves. I’ll never know what I did to deserve all the love I’ve been given in the last 24 hours, and certainly not the sum of all the words spoken to me and the prayers said on my family’s behalf in the last three weeks, but I do know that I am and will never cease to be grateful for it.

Again, thank you. And I love you.

=========

Tonight I had dinner with one of my closest, most beloved friends – it was the first time we’ve hung out together in months. Our conversation took us a lot of places, but, most notably, it took us to a discussion of the people in our lives. We talked about some things that are going on in her life, where people have said and done some things that have hurt her and worked as sources of discouragement in her life. We talked about how much of an inspiration she is to the people that know her, and how she doesn’t deserve to have negative things like those in her life. But here’s the deal: as far as I’m concerned, anyone that knows this girl should look up to her – should admire her. You can look at her and see God without knowing her name, and I don’t even think she knows it. She lives her life as a light in what can be a pretty dark, dangerous place – a place filled with rocks for her to strike her foot on, and, with her steady hand, she navigates those waters with God’s help, rarely stumbling along the way. That being the case, I really believe that she is where she is for a specific reason. I believe she’s there to positively influence all of those lives that have acted as negative influences in hers.

I believe God puts people in my life – in all of our lives intentionally, just like He does everything else, to speak truth into our lives, for us to speak truth into their lives, and for us to be fulfilled through meaningful relationship. That was something I didn’t have to an adequate degree last semester, and people recognized it. People recognized it, because I couldn’t hide it. I wasn’t allowing myself to be surrounded by enough people that would walk alongside me in a fulfilling relationship, and it tore me apart. Loneliness took over and some degree of depression set in – not depression in the sense of clinical diagnosis, but more depression in the for-lack-of-a-less-medical-term sense. I wasn’t finding fulfillment in my life, and I didn’t know why – didn’t know at the time, anyway. Now I recognize that, during that time, meaningful, life-giving conversation was absent, I was separated from my relationship with God, I was indulging in the kind of talk that would never grace or benefit anyone listening – I wasn’t living a life that I believe God means for me to live, and I believe that the source of all of it was a lack of enough people physically present in my life expressing a desire to know my heart.

In the last 24 hours, an unbelievable number of people have spoken truth and love into my life; an unbelievable number of people have gone out of their ways to lift me up with their words; an unbelievable number of people have expressed the kind of love that, as I’ve already said, I’ll never do enough to deserve. And I know that God has put every one of those people in my life for a reason, and the love they’ve all expressed to me has only confirmed the beliefs I mentioned last night – that God is going to take care of me, no matter how dark the situation may appear.

So to all of you reading, I say thank you for loving me and for allowing God to put you in my life to speak the confirming, affirming truth that He meant for me to experience all day today – literally every minute of the day (well, almost literally).

And, in response, I will keep my eyes open for doors to step through in order to speak the same truth, the same life, and the same love into the lives of those who have been placed in my life with the intention for me to do so. I can only hope that someday I’ll have the opportunity to reciprocate the kind of love I’ve been shown to all of you that have shown it.

Thank you. I love you.

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