Category Archives: faith

unedited week

Tuesday – You invited me to community. I hesitantly laid aside my “wants” and enjoyed a few hours without stress. A few hours with brothers, coffee and a board game.  Uncharacteristically, I asked if we could talk on the way home. We had a brief chat about my stresses, and you prayed for me. I felt normal.

Thursday – More community. I got to share my passion for cooking for others. We all shared an evening of laughter, good food and conversations. I felt included.

Friday – Reminded of my passion for other cultures. Tougher reminder that though uncertainty makes me anxious, it is better than certainly unhealthy options.

Saturday – Got a view of the growth that has happened in me over the past year.  Started evaluating what future could be possible. Cried through some prayers.  And, I felt some amount of peace.

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Sunday – Somehow none of the past week seemed to be tangible. At some point, the Lies crept back in. And once the Lies have started speaking, it is hard for me to get them to stop. Their words tangle up my feet and put walls over my ears to anything more logical. I felt alone and confused once again.

There are no answers yet.

Just a vulnerable mess. Still searching.

I felt like a sojourner.

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Right in front of me

[I apologize in advance for any mistakes. I’m realizing how terrible I am at putting off writing, so this is just going to happen without corrections]

Yesterday evening I’m starting to get tired because of the work day, and it’s getting late (for me, this means after 10).  X, Y & Z get my mind wandering down dangerous paths, and I go to search for less-than-beneficial uses of my time.

And WHAM.

Thankfully, over the last months (years) I have realized some of my triggers, moments in the slippery slope of temptation. By God’s grace I turn off the computer.  But, going to bed I still feel heavy. The weight of how quickly my mind, my heart, turn to idols is left resting on me as I doze into a not-so-restful sleep.

Wake up this morning to the following email devotional:

Take advantage of every review of the past to remind yourself of the unbounded, limitless, and life-saving effects of the blood of Christ that was shed on Calvary for you.  It would be a colossal waste to spend this opportunity on regret and self-denigration.  This is a time when you can draw near to Me in genuine worship from the depth of your heart, says the Lord.  Be thankful.

2 Corinthians 4:15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.

Well, that was timely.

Fast forward to my bus ride home from work.  Another long day at a job I don’t fully enjoy.  During my long rides I find my mind wandering again. I land on my to-do list for awhile, and start feeling pressure. Wander down a different trail and start feeling anxious about the future and new jobs. Get off the bus and feel overall down about myself.

WHAM.

Well, not wham, but maybe a block from my stop, a guy comes running up behind me.

Hey, you don’t know me, but my name is M_____. And this may sound weird, but I really felt like I needed to catch up to you and let you know that God loves you. Like, you specifically are loved by God.

We talk for awhile, but again, how timely.

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So often I worry. So often I get lost in my own thoughts. I wonder how I will get things done. I dream about how God will be part of my future X, Y and Z.  But here and now God IS. God is present and moving and GETS ME. This still blow my mind when I stop and think about it.

So, what’s God have right in front of you?

progress

The past month and a half have been stressful.  February into March seems to be a time (almost yearly) where I question what I’m doing, why I’m doing.  And for somebody who likes to plan, this is stressful and disorienting. Every time.  At almost 30 years, one would think I would understand this process of looking at my life without it shaking me so much. Nope.

My most recent session with my counselor was almost a month ago, but the words he left me with still ring in my ears. A saying from many 12 Steps programs – progress over perfection.

And unfortunately – or maybe fortunately – I see this in many areas of my life.  I long for routine, yet desire new experiences.

In my faith, my quest for the “ideal church for me” finally concluded. Not that I found a perfect church, but in considering the idea of progress, I realized my need to be at one place. To press into a community that is imperfect (just as I am) and learn from each other, trusting God with the longer, unseen path.

Work makes me want to scream and breaks heart and brings me joy I may not find elsewhere.  This job may not be ideal – but how can I continue to learn while I’m there? What can I offer to my coworkers, the students? Like many of my experiences, I don’t think I’ll understand what I’m learning until later…

And in my personal life…. I want to move from apathetic to creative & active. Instantly. Ha.  Logically, I get that this isn’t possible, but my mind still wants it to happen this way. These past weeks are beginning to show me that habits take time to form, to change. There will be days that, as I lay down to sleep, I wonder why I didn’t make different decisions.  And there will be days I go to sleep with a smile at the new rhythms I pressed into that day.  Both are part of life. And, just maybe, both are necessary and good.

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Probably more on this as I continue to press into this season of learning how to see, experience and understand the small steps as good progress rather than getting dismayed that I’m not where I’d like to be (yet).

February 2012

Share your story.  Be a witness. Tell me about yourself.

It seems people want to know about other people.  We want to hear stories – adventures, tragedies, romances.  And maybe, we even want to know people and be known by them through the sharing of our stories, our experiences, our lives. So here we go.

February 2012, I am traveling in Tanzania with my CrossFire team.  We’ve been in the country for about a month, and some other missionaries have offered to help pay for us to take a day off and go on a safari.  Pretty sweet deal, so the five us head off one day to Arusha National Park.

It’s a beautiful day – sun out, but not too hot. Rather than try to explain the safari itself, I’ll let some photographs from the day tell the story.

Yes, it was a bit tourist-y of us, but after a month of cross-cultural ministry it was nice to have a day to just enjoy.

Less than 30 minutes after that last picture was taken, our team and safari driver were headed out of the park. As we come up and around a corner, there is a large bus coming quickly at us. The roads are dirt, and wide enough for 1 1/2 vehicles… maybe. So, our driver does his best to pull over to the side to get out of the way. Everything is fine.

For about five seconds.

 

Then we feel the jeep tilt.

 

 

The next thing I really remember is being upside down in the vehicle. At least two of my teammates are crying/screaming… and there is clearly commotion outside of the vehicle. The other male on my team is already out of the vehicle, I convince the girl who was in the back with him and I to get out, and make it out myself. We are way down the hill (later we decided that we rolled 4 1/2 times). I look at my teammate with the “what the hell do we do?” look. Maybe I used words… I don’t remember. He says he’ll get the other two girls, because the third is having a panic attack, so I coerce her up this hill…

Many Tanzanians are up there (more than the 5-10 who had come down to our jeep) and they try to get water for us. Eventually the rest of the team makes it up. One girl looks beat up and the other has been carried up by several men.

[there is no way to share how many thoughts and questions were racing through my brain at this point. and possibly no way for anybody to understand unless they also have been in a severe accident in a foreign country]

Through much miscommunication and several cultural barriers we make our way from the park to the police station (because the accident had to be reported….) to the hospital. The girls insist that the guys get checked out too, but we both politely refuse to make sure we know what’s happening with the ladies of our team. The hospital decides that the girl who was carried up the hill needs to go to a larger facility, so I travel with her in an ambulance. She gets x-rays. I talk with one of the pastors we’ve been working alongside. He convinces me to go back and sleep… the adrenaline was finally wearing off at midnight during the x-rays.

I crawl into bed, finally aware of some of my own pain but too exhausted to care. When I wake up in the morning, I’m so stiff and sore. It’s Sunday. I’m alone and beat up. But one of the teens asks me to go to church. I have nothing better to do (because I can’t get to either hospital until after church anyway), so I go. We walk very slowly. Myself with a noticeable limp in my left leg.

The church service was nothing spectacular. In fact, it was kind of terrible.  There was a guest pastor from the US… and he used a football analogy. American football analogy in Tanzania. [facepalm]. But during one of the songs – Great is Thy Faithfulness – though I was busy being annoyed at the choice given the circumstances of my team, I felt some brush past my left side. I looked over, but nobody was near. Whatever, maybe I was going crazy.

The three teammates from the other hospital joined me later that day. The next morning as we’re going to the larger hospital, I realize that I’m not limping anymore. With no specific prayer on my part… and no way of anybody else knowing to pray that specifically, I could walk without (much) pain.

Fast forward through hospital (teammate with compression fractures in her back, another with a broken rib and arm) and physical therapy and time spent not as a team of five all in one place. We had a lot of pain to process. Coming back together as a team of five wasn’t easy. But we talked. And we prayed. And we continued to do life together.

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We ended our year together. We ended our year healthier than most would expect after an accident like we experienced – both physically and emotionally.

It’s been five years since that day.  And there are days, weeks that I don’t think about what happened. But this is a reminder, to myself if nobody else, that God has and does still work. That each day has value. That life is better lived together.

quick weekend thoughts 2/6/17

Often times the answer is within reach. The path right in front of me.

Yet, many times I still wonder what I’m supposed to do. I’m prone to avoiding what I know needs to be said or done.

Last week was rough… for so many reasons.

Did I reach out to my friends or family? Nope.

Independence. I can do this.

A friend finally pushed me into talking yesterday afternoon. And, not surprisingly, it helped. Then I spent some time listening to piano music and journaling and drawing. And I went and got some medicine for the sinus/cold thing going on.

This morning? I feel much better.  Not restored to full health – physically, emotionally or spiritually – but at a much steadier place.

So, why do I wait?  Why don’t I make good, healthy choices right away?

There’s part of me that likes to sit in the bleh of life. I’ve grown accustomed to the gloomy shadow place, and need to visit it every so often it seems. And, as a man I’m supposed to be independent, right?

[that’s over-rated]

Holy One, may I continue to push into more timely responses.  May I reach out rather than isolate. May I seek You and seek to be changed by You.

 

2016 – a year

What a year it has been.  There is much to be said…and maybe much that shouldn’t be said. But this post shares some of the ups, downs, in betweens and lessons of my year.

January – A lot was packed into one day that stands out for this month.  It was Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service, which meant I wasn’t at school. It also happened to be my birthday. It also was the day I cried in front of my housemates – and realized (for many reasons) that love isn’t easy, but it is good.

February – The month that brought closure to Youth Encounter and me. They announced their closing and I went to one of my last events to lead breakout sessions in San Antonio. Family and friends visited during the first Come and See weekend. With a couple of my housemates, I enjoyed my first Shabbat service and meal.

March – Mission Year ran a 5K in Houston to raise funds…and actually had fun! Spent my spring break with friends in the Northwest and back in the Twin Cities. Spent a late evening with Tommy, Josh and McKenzie that made us feel like real friends, outside the Mission Year world.

April –  Our neighborhood mourned the loss of Ms. Helen – a grandmother of sorts to all.  We experienced our first “flood” which kept some of us home from work for two days.  I was introduced to the Your Other Brothers blog.  The Mission Year Houston teams took a day trip out to Galveston – and we had cupcakes by the ocean.

May – We participated in Green My Hood and got to care for one of our most dear neighbors. At school, the students (and staff) turned into robots for state testing. And in Mission Year world, Caz came for a training that shook me and made me question… lots.

June – Our family and friends joined us in Houston for another weekend. Also, we helped our neighborhood put on an art exhibit on what emancipation looked like/meant to them. Their were several shootings around the country… which meant more after living in Houston. And one of our neighbors had us all over for dinner to express his gratitude for our presence.

July – Independence Day was spent with Tommy and the Holy Family church plant, which was a nice break from 3rd Ward living. We had the Luu’s over to our house and then they treated us to a creative, community evening at their place later in the month. My school offered me a job at their primary academy?!?  Also, we finished our Mission Year with a retreat in New Braunfels – full of food, tears and laughter.

August – Lived with the Carpenters for a month while Tommy and I tried to figure out our own living situation. Spent time relaxing and then getting to know the staff during RYSS training weeks before school started.

September – My older brother got married! Which meant I got to see family that I hadn’t seen in awhile as well. Tommy. Moe and I took a spontaneous day-trip to Galveston. And the new Mission Year Houston volunteers arrived.

October -Decided to go to Life Group with a friend made through Mission year.  Although it was primarily college students, I got good vibes from them.  Talked about connecting with another group and then met Chad & Maddy, who have helped the transition to “real” life after Mission Year.  Also, the presidential debates happened…. Tommy and watched these together…. emotionally.

November – In order to get some real fall weather, I visited a friend in Delaware – which was a great escape for many reasons. I visited & volunteered at a couple art and cultural festivals. And my Life group took care of my Thanksgiving plans!

December – At school we had at least one full week of Christmas related activities – pictures with Santa, Jingle Jam dance, class parties, staff secret santa. Advent party with Tommy and the Holy Family group. And then a Dallas-delayed flight back home to spend almost two weeks with family in Kansas.

Some of the top books I read this year – The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen, and  Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer

A few lessons that I think I’ve been learning:

  • Practice gratitude – So many times this year, when I found myself frustrated or confused or apathetic, something or somebody would remind me about the importance of thankfulness. And, when I’m attentively do daily gratitude, it’s easier to keep perspective.
  • Being present – This was literally the story of ALL of third trimester of Mission Year for me.  And most of second trimester.  It’s very easy for me to start thinking about the future and wanting to make plans on my own time.  But God is faithful. And there have been so many good moments that happened in the “here and now” that I may have missed out on if I had let myself get stuck in planning and worrying.
  • Messy is okay – So much of me wants organization. My education taught me to strive for the best and only show my good side – even weaknesses can be turned around in a “good” interview. But through the 7 people I lived with for most of the year, and some long distance friends, I am continually reminded that life is messy, I am messy… and it’s okay to not have everything make sense.

Conjunctions 12/21

Earlier this semester, one of the fourth grade teachers at my school was explaining conjunctions to her class. When talking about “but,” she shared that it was a twist in the sentence. If the sentence starts positive, it ends negative. If the sentence starts with a sad face, it ends with a happy face.  This may be simplistic, but it works for getting the concept.

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After some conversations, I’m brought to the conjunctions that are going on in my life.  Or have been going on this semester.

My church is spirit-filled and engaged with the community and takes time to celebrate and pray on Sunday mornings, BUT I still don’t feel connected or known.

The last two weeks of school was spent primarily on testing, yes the fill-in-the-correct-bubble testing, BUT I still want kids to learn and enjoy learning…not just become robots who can take a test.

Houston has amazing cultural, food, art, music diversity, BUT it’s also super huge and easy for me to feel lost or insignificant, BUT there are tons of festivals and the arts are celebrated all the time in this city.

I know the importance of community, but I’m struggling to reach out, but people both in Houston and further away have reached out to me, but sometimes I respond with half-truths because I don’t feel like being vulnerable in the moment, but I know the vulnerability is a good thing…..

The idea of a hometown sounds great, BUT so does continuing to wander and explore.

 

And as I’ve been reading in Genesis, I’m reminded of my place as a wanderer. A sojourner. A person from the wilderness, called to a life of following. (more on that some other time).

 

For now, I’m trying to understand conjunctions. Understand that dualities may, probably ARE, a reality to life.  There may not be many times that I can feel 100% sure.  At least my own tendency is to see possibilities in people, places – to assume the best and expect an adventure with any forward motion – which is both terrifying and exciting.

practices

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One of my friends is currently doing his yearly campaign leading up to Thanksgiving – #warongrumbling.  For forty days he (and others who choose to join him & his family) posts something specific he is thankful for that day.

I am trying to join this year – but don’t always get onto social media – or remember some days.  But there is something about this practice. Verbalizing our thankfulness or writing our gratitude down can solidify it – making more of a practice of finding the good in each day, in each moment.

This is a practice that was suggested to me during Mission Year by my city director.  And I would do it for awhile, notice my attitude shift, and slowly stop doing it. As I lost my perspective, eventually I would find myself frustrated, more likely to grumble, until I remembered (or somebody reminded me) the practice of daily thankfulness.

[Just last week my roommate noted that during the year he could tell if I had been writing my thankfulness list or not]

How easy it is to lose focus.  To get so distracted by some person or situation that is drawing energy that we miss out on the good.  There are moments of growth and beauty happening every day.  I know that when I slow down and focus and listen, it isn’t that difficult to see God. But taking the step to stop, to slow down, to be mindful is not always easy.

What would my life look like if I consistently practiced gratitude? How would it impact my attitude?  How might it impact the people around me?

 

[photo credit – Kelly Hudgins]

Ready, Set, Go!

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Ready. Set. Go!

This is coming to you a day late, but, in my defense there was a dinner that I needed to go to on Friday and I ended up taking some people home from it so I didn’t get to my computer until almost 10pm – and that’s too late for me to consider (remember) a blog post.

And ready, set, go may be accurate for this photo as well.  It’s from the end of a weekend conference that I was facilitating.  One of my co-workers had done the planning, but there were too many events that weekend and they needed me to be the face/voice of our organization for the weekend.  Ah!!!

So, I felt thrown into the weekend. And there were hiccups, for sure – like a kid drawing on  the carpet of one room… or the elevators being down for most of the weekend…… But it was still such a great time.  Parents were gracious with me and the hotel, the bands, speaker and volunteers were wonderful, the youth all seemed to have a good time and not be too loud.

At the end of the weekend, the volunteers were cleaning out our hospitality room…and for some reason there were hot dog buns leftover…but no hot-dogs.  They graciously gave me the buns as my “trophy” for a successful weekend.

But honestly, the weekend filled me more than I felt like I did anything for anybody that weekend.

#fiveminutefriday

 

Photo sent in by – Sarah Kearney   (feel free to comment, email a photo for a future post)

P.S.

Writing the title of this made me think of the following song…. if you care to listen:

 

Community – tbt

[This is a guest post from my teammate, Joshua, back from our first Come and See weekend in February]

I have been given the topic of ‘Community’ to speak about. If that sounds incredibly broad, it’s because it is. ‘Community’ essentially encompasses every experience I share with any or all of the 7 other people I live with; every conversation, every joke, every wish goodnight. And because even at work I am constantly accompanied by the members of my community, the reach of experiences shared with the people I live with stretches to practically every waking, and non-waking, moment of my life from September to this moment. Distilling the transformatism of such a wide array of experiences into a three-minute segment is even harder than it sounds, and I believe that, in the end, the best that I can do is try to communicate what my community means to me. I’ll try not to get too sappy. I’ll probably fail.
I lived, from the time I was 11 to the time I was 17, with a central individualistic philosophy: people were unreliable. People lied, people broke promises, people only really cared about themselves. And so, if no one was reliable, I would rely on no one. In October 2014, around the time of my 19th birthday, I discovered that although my philosophies had since changed, the scars left by living in this way for so long remained; there was not a single person in my life who actually knew who I was. I felt lonely for the first time in my life, and I could not even express how I felt to anyone effectively because they did not know me, and I did not trust them.
I realized with some irony a few weeks ago that it was at this time in which I felt so completely alone that I also felt unsure of my decision to jump headfirst into college, and was encouraged to consider taking some time off to pursue missions. It was at this time that I remembered the blind commitment I had made in the summer of the previous year to serve with some organization called Mission Year.
Prior to this year I had never heard of an intentional community. When I say I made a blind commitment to serve with Mission Year, I mean blind. Actually, prior to National Orientation in Chicago, I didn’t really know what the handbook was talking about when they said ‘intentional christian community’. It sounds so vague and overgeneral when you think about it; ‘intentional community’, literally, ‘living together on purpose’. And yet, amusingly, ‘living together on purpose’ is basically what it is. It’s very simple in theory, and almost revolutionary in practice.
When you live together on purpose, your personal barriers start to disintegrate. There is nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. Intentional Christian community blocks all other routes except forward, and everyone moves forward together. When you walk in a group, and someone falls, or stops, or starts walking in a different direction, everyone else notices. They pick them up, pull them along, call them back, and keep moving forward. This is how intentional community works.

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Under these conditions, one almost can not be alone. Under these conditions, one is shown time and time again that trust is both a necessity and an expectation. Even if you do not rely on others, they will call upon you to be reliable. Trust breeds trust; it is difficult to remain doubtful of people who are themselves putting their faith in you.
Slowly, day by day, week by week, I found myself learning to trust, learning to open up to these other people as they began to open up to me. Watching a group of people steadily grow in trust and closeness with one another has been a singular joy, matched only by the joy of discovering true community after almost a decade of solitude. Now, Rome wasn’t built in a day; these developments take time, but they are facilitated by simple, day to day interactions.
Wild laughter, walks in the neighborhood, sharing and expressing our passions, late night conversations, family meals, quiet evenings spent just being near one another. Moments like these are how a community is built, and that progress is maintained by a commitment to making these moments not the exception but the rule.
We aren’t even halfway through our year together. That means our community should be, at best, about half as good as it’s going to get, but I stand convinced that our community is going to get there. The ultimate strength of christian community is that regardless of the flaws of the individuals involved, as long as there is love and the will to move forward, a community can succeed. We aren’t perfect. Our community isn’t perfect. But our love for one another pushes us to do better and to aim higher, and as long as we hold on to that love,  I think we’re going to be alright.

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