Surprise, I’m a Father!

Well, sort of. I’ll admit that title was a bit misleading; I’m just a father for one week. The Bozich parents, the family I live with and get to do ministry with, had to leave Germany and go back to the States for a “church fundraising campaign.” Sure, likely story, Mr. Campus Pastor. Anyway, they left me with their three awesome kiddos: Lili, age 10, Truett, age 8, and Barrett, age 6 and 11/12ths.

So far, so good. We’re on our last day right now and the house is still intact and the kids are still all alive. I count that as a success. It took some adapting on the kids part, but each of them has really done a phenomenal job. They’re mature and strong-willed, and they’ve already proven this in their willingness to tackle moving to a foreign country and learning the language quicker than I learned English. But, the strong-willedness also brings a disadvantage to my end of the table: new rules and my way of leading them is not what they’re quite used to, and not always what they want to do.

It took a few days, and I think they were all a little shocked that I actually gave them chores and took time off of their bedtimes if they talked back or fought. But the past two nights no one’s had any chores or early bedtimes, so I call that a success too. (Edit: an hour after I wrote this sentence, someone got an early bedtime. So. Close.)

Last week I read Don Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, about living a story worth telling, life worth living. On our second day alone, I was thinking about that concept. That’s a wonderfully dangerous thing for anyone to think about, especially a new interim 18-year-old parent. I decided we weren’t gonna sit around and wait for Mom and Dad to get home, but instead do something memorable. So we did.

I pitched the idea of shooting toilet-paper-roll-rockets filed by Diet Coke and Mentos to the kids, and the reception of the idea was of humdrum. No matter, I figured if I was excited about it, they would get there eventually. With a good amount of push on my part, the kids built their rockets, I bought the fuel and other materials, and we headed out to the fields for launch time. The kids’ friends Tease (pronounced Tee-us…probably not spelled ‘Tease’, but it’s plausible) joined us, along with his brother Andrew.

We positioned the rockets and stood far away, preparing for a massive take-off. Barrett’s was the first for flight, and we all counted down: three…two…one…BLASTOFF! The rocket launched, but to our dismay there was only a mediocre six inches of Coke froth. Not the volcano we were anticipating, but I don’t think Barrett really ever understood what was going to happen anyway, so he was impressed. I realized he never understood the process when he exclaimed, “Oh, the rocket is shooting up!” I wasn’t aware that aspect of it was up for dispute.

A few seconds after the first launch I realized our issue. I watched in horror as five kids, apparently starving to death, pushed and shoved each other to take a sweet sip of the brown nectar, now covering the dirt and gravel below the rocket, and to take just one bite of the white minty goodness. Andrew picked up the Coke bottle and tried to chug it, but Teepee, (still, the spelling here is debatable) his brother, snatched it away. I confiscated the bottle and made everyone watch as I poured it into the grass. Sic semper tyrannis, right?

Two rocket launches later, each going higher than the last, the oohs and aahs were growing. It was awesome. Sadly, the awesomeness of it all was quickly overtaken by the sugar-addicted monkeys, who had reverted into screaming and pounding their chests to try to intimidate one another. I think I saw one scratch both his armpits at the same time while jumping ravenously up and down. The coup-de-grass, literally, was when Barrett knelt down, picked up a Mento that was no longer white but stained green and brown, and popped it into his mouth gleefully. I watched as his eyes got big like a cartoon and he spat out the treat in disgust- turns out dirt isn’t good seasoning. Who’d have guessed.

We wrapped up and everyone talked about how awesome the explosions were. The explosions, after all, were quite awesome. Everyone also talked about how awesome those drops of Coke they stole were. That, I thought, was less awesome. We were all wallowing in the overwhelming awesomeness when Tyrannosaurus, (spelling questionable) Andrew’s brother, asked me,

“Do you have any more stuff?”

“No, just three.”

“You didn’t let me take a turn!”

“Yeah….”

“You guys are all poops!”

The last word rang in our ears like a gunshot. How could he? We were all pretty torn up about being “poops,” and told him. He stormed off.

I’m sorry Tiabetes, I really am. I guess that’s kinda what parenting is about, though, right? You work hard to do something, and the kids don’t really notice, or they do something another way instead. But you still love, you persist, because that’s what your parents did for you. And ultimately because that’s what God does for us. The rockets were still fun, still memorable, just not what I was expecting. That’s kinda how life gets a lot of time, I think: we expect God to do one thing, and then when he does something else, we’re disappointed.

This is something Lili, the oldest struggles with me about. She likes to be in control. I can relate; I wrote my last post about relinquishing control. Lili really likes things her way, even if she hasn’t told me what that way is. So then when things don’t happen like that, she’s frustrated. Like when we didn’t have gelato three times in a weekend. Like when I make her share things that I bought for her. Like, as I witnessed as I was writing this, the boys play with “her stick.” (Don’t even get me started on who’s stick is who’s- spoiler: I broke multiple sticks one night after the kids went to bed.) These are all understandable frustrating things, and she is an incredible leader; she is just learning how to go with the flow more and let others be in charge sometimes. That’s something I could work on too.

Patience. It seems like parenting is all about patience. It is exhausting. The kids are very helpful in the kitchen when I’m making dinner and lunch, telling me useful things like, “Mom normally doesn’t do it that way,” and “Wow, never seen it done like that before…” My favorite is after I finish making a meal, and I sit in on the table and hear, “This looks weird.” It’s all very good advice for a new parent like myself. I think about the song lyrics, “I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing,” like 12 times a day. I need patience especially in times like those.

Now that I see how much patience it takes to be a Dad, I realize the insane amount of patience God has for us. It is literally unreal. I think about how so often the Lord wants me to do something, something that probably seems so obviously good to Him, and I don’t do it. But unlike me, He doesn’t get frustrated or go take a nap when He’s annoyed. I have a newfound respect and appreciation for my own parents too; love ya Mom.

Also, even though these kiddos know how to push all my buttons, there’s no real complaining here. Don’t hear me say I don’t love taking care of them, because I really do. Man, it’s just so hard. I bet all parents are reading this and laughing to themselves about my obvious realization. But I see it firsthand. It’s hard, you guys rock. You need to congratulate yourself more often honestly.

John 15:13 says, “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for his brother.”  I’d like to add that there’s also no greater love than to lay down your life for your kids. I know a lot of parents that do this so well, including my own, including the Bozichs, and so many others. I’m thankful to have those influencers in my life, and I’m excited to maybe have some of my own kids some day, some day far in the future, and do the same.

It’s the end of our long day and we’re all sitting together watching Disney’s movie ‘Coco.’ I won’t ruin the ending, but there’s a part in the movie where a character comes really close to dying. Barrett climbed up on the couch next to me and tucked his head under my arm. He covered his eyes and hoped it would end soon, and tears streamed down his cheeks. I held him tight and said, “Bear, it’s alright buddy. It’s okay to cry, and it’s just a movie.” After I said those words, I felt the full weight of parenthood. I realized how I had hundreds, thousands of those moments in my childhood and it shaped who I am today. My Dad telling me to get up and keep trying to ride my bike. Telling me he was proud of me. Telling me he was ready to go to Heaven. I wished I was Bear’s age for a second, wished I could tuck my head into my Dad’s arm one more time. I miss you, man. Shoot,  these dumb Pixar movies always make me cry; Disney, you’re seriously a poop.

So, that’s what I’ve been learning as a temporary Dad. The kids have given me the nickname “The Chore-Giver.” I’ll take it, I told them. I could write a hundred pages full of hysterical things these kids do, but I guess that’s just what it like to be a parent.

This one goes out to all parents, especially my own Mama, and my Dad. Wow. You are all incredible.

Can’t believe you made it more than a week.

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Freedom in Giving Up

When I was younger, I stressed a lot. Life was a game of Operation, and I was always touching the edges of that little man and getting shocked. Going to the movies was the worst for me. I don’t know why, but I was so fearful that we’d miss the beginning of our movie that I would’ve rather stayed home altogether. These days you probably wouldn’t guess that I used to be like that, and I don’t get nervous about much anymore. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve just elaborately covered up my worried side by wearing a veneer of confidence, but I really do think I’ve gotten over those old worries. For the most part.

I’ve been living in Germany for a little over a month. I love everything about it. The Bozichs, the family I live with, are awesome, and the Lord has blessed the youth ministry in incredible ways here. I’m grateful to be a part of it. God’s showing me a lot about ministry and good friendships and taking risks, and it’s all very exciting.

Last week my family flew in from the States and we spent a week together, wreaking havoc across the continent. It was joyful and fun and memorable. But honestly, it was really hard not having my Dad there, and his absence was felt. Interestingly, for the first time in a long time for me, I started to feel those old worries and stresses again like when I was a kid, even though at surface level we were having pure fun together. What I realized is that I was trying to compensate for my Dad’s absence; I was protective of my family and wanted to carry them on my back and make everything perfect. Basically trying to control the trip because I was afraid of what would happen if it wasn’t in my control.

Control is a funny thing. Most of the time I don’t need control, and I can laugh through life and stressful situations because I know Jesus has got it. This past week though, it was as if I forgot all those things I knew about Jesus. I reverted to this child-like state of worry, because, when it comes down to it, I doubted Jesus could take care of us if I wasn’t trying to control things myself.

A few days ago I felt the Lord saying to me, “You don’t know the depth of my grace.” Yes. True. I don’t. Grace is Freedom. Grace is Surrender. Because we can’t do this on our own. It is impossible. I have tried. I have failed every time. I was reading 2 Corinthians the other day, and one part stuck out to me. It said, “You are only looking at the surface of things.” And I knew it was true of me, that I was looking at the surface of things and not at God, not giving in to grace. I had to give up trying on my own.

To understand grace, I think, is also to grasp that we don’t need to be in control anymore. It’s handing over the pen to our script, and saying to God, “Here, take this, because I can’t write anything nearly as beautiful as you can.”

2 Corinthians 5, verses 16-19 says:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.

So there I was, a few days into my family’s trip. I had realized I was holding onto the pen really tightly, but I hadn’t quite figured out why or what to do next. The four of us got in our rental and drove over to the country next-door, the Czech Republic and headed to Prague. We pulled up to this awesome hotel in the heart of the downtown, and right then we realized we had forgotten the most important thing back in Germany. We’d forgotten our Passports. Instead of freaking out, my Mom calmly laid out our options and figured out a game plan. She’s incredible. I was tempted to freak out, but decided God wouldn’t think highly of that. My Mom and my brother decided to drive back to Germany the next day, a six-hour drive, and got the passports successfully. I realized then that I was holding on to an unhealthy amount of stress, and I wish I could say that I gave the pen up then, but I didn’t. I really didn’t until my family’s last night here.

The idea that I’m an unfinished person bothers me some. It shouldn’t, because I am wholly imperfect and incomplete. But I get the idea in my head every once in a while that I’m competent in most areas of life, so as long as I stay where I am, there’s no need to grow or change. That is a lie. Humans are never finished until we die and meet our Maker. There’s a lot of people who become calloused and unwilling to change, and I don’t think that’s ever a good thing. I really don’t want that to be me, either. So when I started feeling this stress, I figured it’d probably go away and I wouldn’t have to actually do anything. But I was wrong.

I think letting go of control is an everyday act. Taking a deep breath, and saying “I accept Your grace.” Exhaling, saying, “This life’s in Your hands.” That’s necessary, because we’re never finished. We’re works in progress, and our Writer is ready to let his pen fly across our pages, creating beauty never before seen until now. But we have to let Him. We have to give up control, we have to be willing to change, we have to be willing to accept grace. And when I realized that, I was able to breathe again. I think this is one of those truths we have to relearn all the time throughout our lives, because we always forget about it and try to take control again. I’m tired of that.

True freedom through Christ is only found when we give up control and when we accept grace. And freedom is a glorious thing.

This is my prayer, and I hope it can be your too: “Lord, help me accept Your grace. Show me where I need to change. Take hold of this messed-up life, and let me give up control of it.”

It’s worth it folks. Go take on the world with this freedom Jesus gives us.

Wrestling With Grief

Here’s a big, terrifying question that I’ve been asking myself lately: What is grief? What is mourning supposed to look like?

I’ve been wrestling with these huge ideas, struggling with colossal theological questions, and fighting to keep my footing in life while I figure out what grieving looks like. Man, this stuff is hard. The Lord’s been super active in this process, but I still feel like there’s part of the process I’m not getting. So, welcome in, let me walk you through what I’ve been dealing with these past few months.

A few months before my Dad passed, a good friend of mine introduced me to this crazy thing called the Enneagram test. As she described it, it was “more than a personality test,” and it “revealed your deepest flaws and darkest pain.” Sounds like a lighthearted conversation-starter to me. The deeper I looked into this thing, though, the more I started to like it. If you don’t know already, the Enneagram is actually a personality typing test with 9 main character types, each one containing specific positive character traits and the deeply-rooted issues that go along with those. With character tests like these, it can sometimes be difficult to not find your identity in what the test says your identity is. Above all, our identity is in Christ, and we’re ever-shifting, ever-learning creatures who gain wisdom and change our ways as we grow older. But with that in mind, the Enneagram’s been teaching me a ton about myself lately.

I’m a Seven on the test, also known as The Enthusiast. Makes sense. There’s some rad good things about Sevens, but I care a lot more about the crappy stuff and how I can get better. A Seven is typically someone who fills up their schedule, who does a lot of different activities to keep themselves busy. The test would say that they do this so they purposefully don’t ever get a chance to slow down and feel hard emotions. This is very true of me. Sevens, even if they talk about deep thoughts and emotions, struggle to feel them deeply when they’re on their own. I had never really realized this before. Armed with this new insight into my character, I set out with a thrilling new goal for myself: take time to be sad! Yes! Everything about that seems counterintuitive to me, but here’s the thing: if I never deal with the hard-hitting emotions of losing my Dad, they’re going to come back up later on. I’ve got to face these head on, but it all just seems so terrifying and messy.

I’ve been going through Job in the past few weeks. Job gets everything torn away from him, and most of the 40-something chapter book is about him complaining to the Lord, and rightfully so. Job has some incredible friends, who walk with him through all of his pain, and I’m grateful to be able to say I have the same types of friends in my life. What I’ve realized about Job, though, is that (no offense buddy,) he’s kind of an idiot. That’s a harsh word, but he is completely blinded by his pain and in the first part of the book, believes that God is infinitely angry with him, and although Job says he’s never sinned, God still crushes him. In Chapter 10, verses 16-18, Job says:

16 If I hold my head high, you stalk me like a lion
    and again display your awesome power against me.
17 You bring new witnesses against me
    and increase your anger toward me;
    your forces come against me wave upon wave.

18 “Why then did you bring me out of the womb?
    I wish I had died before any eye saw me.

Job, understandably, is extremely frustrated with the Lord because Job did nothing to deserve the vast amounts of destruction that have been dealt his way. I relate to Job here in some sense: I find myself frustrated with the Lord, but instead of becoming angry, I normally rationalize my sadness or try to distract myself. Typical behavior of a Seven. I’ve realized some crucial things from Job. Righteous anger is not only okay, but important in the grieving process. I’ve heard some people say that questioning God is wrong, but I don’t really think that’s true. Wrestling with what God’s doing helps us to understand His character more and grow closer to Him. When Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane, He questioned God, He asked if there was another way. Wrestling with the things God does is an okay thing, but it’s not okay when you start to believe He doesn’t know best, or start to believe He enjoys pain, or worse, start to believe God can’t be real at all because of our pain. Those are lies. We can wrestle with the why of God’s actions, but we have to retain the understanding that he is absolutely sovereign.

Job’s friends give him some advice that give him real perspective on the issue, but he struggles a lot to see their point. I think that’s where Job struggles so much, he can’t keep his frustrations in perspective and starts to question whether God is good at all. In Chapter 11, verses 7-9, Job’s friend Zophar says:

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
    Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do?
    They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
    and wider than the sea.

And later, in Chapter 15, another friend says:

11 Are God’s consolations not enough for you,
    words spoken gently to you?
12 Why has your heart carried you away,
    and why do your eyes flash,
13 so that you vent your rage against God
    and pour out such words from your mouth?

These are pieces of deep wisdom that I’ve taken to heart recently. As a Seven, I’ve been trying to spend intentional time going to be by myself, letting myself slow down, playing my guitar, and talking to the Lord. I’ve been dwelling in truths like this, but also wrestling with what the Lord’s doing, and my place and job in that. And that’s been really good time. I’ve learned to enjoy feeling hard emotions, and I’ve become more comfortable just talking with the Lord and trying to figure out His character more and more.

There’s a crippling truth that I’ve been trying to come to grips with throughout this process. Here’s the dilemma: I believe that God is capable of doing anything and everything that is possible, and that He alone is in charge of the Universe. I also believe that God is good, and that He delights in pure good and never in evil. Furthermore, I believe God uses everything for His and our good. So, I’m forced to come to this conclusion: God could have let my Dad live, and he could have been glorified an equal amount a different way. That’s the fact of the matter: God could’ve done things differently. And I don’t know why He didn’t, and I wish I did. Thinking about God in this sense and questioning Him in these ways sometimes makes me feel like He’s more abstract than He really is, and that doesn’t help anything either.

I relate to Job in another way: Job just wants to be frustrated with the Lord sometimes, and when his friends try to point him to God, he’s super annoyed. In Chapter 16, Job says to a friend:

“I have heard many things like these;
    you are miserable comforters, all of you!
Will your long-winded speeches never end?

When I talk to someone who’s going through a difficult situation, and they are talking about how lost they feel, confused, etc, I want to instantly help them by just saying something easy and cliche, like “Yeah, but God is good.” True. God is good, for sure. But, the person who I’m talking to surely knows this fact the whole time, and I haven’t healed their hearts by telling them some platitude about our Creator. Job’s friends sat with him in pain and anguish for 7 days straight before saying a word. I always love talking about the Lord, but maybe sometimes it’s just as effective to sit with one another in pain, and just soak in each other’s difficulties.

So, grief. I think grief is a messy, muddy process. Grief, I think, is something that you need to feel alone, but that you also need to involve close friends in. This process includes solitude and reflection, and lots of time wrestling with the Lord. Sometimes, that means asking big questions, and a lot of times that means being purely frustrated with God. That’s okay, but it doesn’t mean losing sight of who we’re worshipping day in and day out. I’m absolutely certain God is willing to sit with us in silence and feel our pain in unison with us. After all, we have a Creator who wept when a friend of his died. Jesus went through everything we go through in this wild human experience, and that is eternally comforting.

In other news in my life, I leave for Stuttgart, Germany in 18 days. That is wild, and I’m so excited to be joining my friends in planting a new campus of Trinity Church out there! Also, this Summer I’ve committed to work at a surf camp in the Outer Banks, Surf Hatters, as a film/video guy. Plenty of rad, joyful things coming up fast in life, but right now I’m taking time to just rest. I am terrible at rest; most Sevens are. Figures.

More updates will come as I head to Germany, so keep an eye out for that! Hope this post encourages you. To the King!

Light After Darkness

I’ve never understood Heaven very well. I don’t think any of us will really understand it until we’re Home, because all this broken Earth offers us are reflections of light through a dim and cracked mirror. A few days ago, though, my Dad finally got to witness the full picture. He got to see his Creator completely. It’s hard to picture exactly what that glorious reunion looked like, but I keep thinking about the story of the prodigal son, how the Father runs out to the son and wraps his arms around him and throws a huge feast for him. I imagine that’s how Jesus greeted my Dad when he finally got there, he ran up, he wrapped his arms around him, and with tears of joy in his eyes, whispered “Well done, my son. Well done.”

The past few days have been a hurricane of emotions. Honestly, we feel a lot of relief that my Dad’s not in pain any more, relief that he’s home. There’s joy in that fact too, a lot of joy. But, because we’re human, there’s also a lot of sadness and sorrow. There’s weariness, confusion, and pain. I stumbled across some powerful scripture later on in the day when he passed. Psalm 116 says:

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
    he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me,
    I will call on him as long as I live.

The cords of death entangled me,
    the anguish of the grave came over me;
    I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    Lord, save me!”

The Lord is gracious and righteous;
    our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the unwary;
    when I was brought low, he saved me.

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.

 

And, man, the Lord certainly has been good to us. We’ve seen so many remarkable stories of people encouraged and touched by my Dad. One of my Dad’s best friends and colleagues prayed with my Dad and started a relationship with Jesus while my Dad was on his deathbed. That is wild. Jesus is freakin wild. In the past few days, we’ve been sharing a lot of stories like that. My family and I have been recounting a lot of funny old stories about my Dad, laughing together, remembering him together. There’s so many things I’m thankful for with my time with my Dad, and those eighteen years of influence he had on me will never wear off. I’ll be telling my kids and my grandkids stories about this goofy, humble, incredible man.

So here we are, right at the intersection of sorrow and joy, loss and growth, fear and hope. I’m not sure what mourning and grief will look like exactly, but I know it’ll take time. Take time to figure out how to get back to normal life, take time to not be sad about it anymore, take time to see the full effects of it. And that time is critical, there’s no rushing grief. If there’s one thing I learned in the past 50 days my Dad’s been in the hospital, it’s that the Lord uses waiting. He uses waiting, because as agonizing and distressing as it can be, it builds faith and trust like nothing else. The Lord knows that if we can trust Him in times of silence, pain, in long, drawn-out times of sorrow, then we’ll trust Him anywhere. He made the Israelites wait in the desert, Noah wait for the flood. Heck, we’re still waiting for Jesus to come back to Earth. In all of these situations of waiting though, God has promised us greater things on the other side. He’s told us that good will come, that it’s worth waiting for, and that He always keeps his promises. And that’s why we can wait in the first place, because of that hope for greater things. Hope, after all, is much stronger than fear. Romans 5:3-4 says,

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…

Hope is the pearl in the oyster, hope is the diamond in the rough, hope is starlight on the black canvas of night. People ask us often how we can get through loss like this, and the answer is simply hope. Jesus is our hope, Heaven is our hope. Without hope in those things, life feels meaningless and mediocre. There’s a song by Kings Kaleidoscope called Light After Darkness, and it talks about metaphors for Jesus and for hope. The lyrics go like this:

You’re light after darkness, gain after loss,
Strength after weakness, crown after cross,
Sweet after bitter, hope after fear,
Home after wandering, praise after tears.
Seeds after sowing, sun after rain,
Sight after mystery, peace after pain,
Joy after sorrow, calm after blast,
Rest after weariness, sweet rest at last.

Give me the hope of tomorrow, give me the strength for today,
You are the promise of peace on my pathway to faith.

Near after distant , gleam after gloom,
Love after loneliness, life after tomb,
After the agony, rapture of bliss,
Glory awaits beyond the abyss.

All of those statements are so true about Jesus and about our hope. No matter what we go through, we have hope waiting on the other side. There’s nothing more comforting than that fact.

Here’s the thing though: because we’re human, our emotions run strong and heavy. All we know is Earth, and so when someone leaves this place, we can’t help but feel great loss and sorrow. This grieving won’t be easy, our walk will be peppered with doubt and confusion, and life will be really, really hard without my Dad here. Our mourning and recovery won’t be wrapped up and packaged neatly, it won’t be clean, it won’t be fun. But then I think about this guy Jesus who we spend our whole lives trying to figure out, spend our whole lives trying to follow and honor, and I think about how my Dad is with him now, finally. There’s nothing left to figure out, the light is shining directly onto him. And that gives us hope, that image, and the image of us joining them some day soon. More than anything else in the world, Jesus is our hope.

We’ve also been blessed with some purely incredible friends throughout this whole thing. All of you guys have been encouraging and selfless in loving us. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I think it takes two villages to lose one. I’m thankful for each and every one of you.

I’ll leave you with this incredible, constantly true verse from 2 Corinthians 4:

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Daily we’re made new, daily we have hope. Don’t lose heart, my friends, because this world isn’t the end, and someday we’ll stand face-to-face with the Creator of the Universe too, just like my Dad is. At long last, Home.

 

Rivers in the Wasteland

The thing with having a terminal sickness is that you pretty much know when you’re close to death. The pain’s still there, but you start to see the glorious light spilling through the cracks from the other side a little more clearly. This place where you start to catch glimpses of Heaven is a place of hope for what’s next, but also a place of sadness because it’s come time to leave family and friends behind, along with the rest of the world. It’s right here in this place that my Dad is now in. 2 Timothy 4:6-7 was shared by our good friends the Coates today, and I think my Dad can look back on his life and say that this verse rings true through it all:

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

I want to be clear here, and tell you that my Dad probably only has a few days to live, maybe a week or two. He’s pretty much ready to go. And honestly, we’re ready for him to go too, because we know he’ll be meeting his Maker. His intestines have stopped working, he can’t have any nutrients, and so very soon the rest of his body will start to shut down. It’s possible that there will be a miracle, and God could definitely still do that, but God’s also made it pretty clear that this is my Dad’s time to go. It’s also really clear where he’s going after earth, though. And that’s a comforting fact. It’s this weird collision of emotions and truth, the truth being that he’s about to be free from pain and totally free from sin, and so that should be a really happy and joyful thing. Of course, death isn’t really all that, because we’re human. And so our emotions kick in and we realize that we’re not gonna see him for awhile, and he’s not gonna be around when we need him. And that’s super hard. The mind seems to disagree with the heart when death is close, like they’re at odds with each other. And the trouble is, the heart and it’s emotions usually find their way to the surface a lot more often.

There’s a lot of things we’ll miss about my Dad. There’s a few things I would’ve loved for him to be a part of, like my years at James Madison, or for him to have been at my wedding. I would’ve loved to go on a few more adventures with him, but you know what? That’s not what the Lord has in mind, and He’s in charge here. So who am I to stand in His way? Of course it’s okay to be sad, and grief and mourning will come, and that’s okay, that’s really important. It’ll get harder, too, once it really starts to sink in. Through it all, though, we can cry out, like 1 Corinthians 15:55, and say,

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”

Because Jesus is victorious over death. This is not the end.

I don’t really think we could’ve asked for better time with my Dad. His heart rubbed off on all of the family, and man, he taught me a lot. How to ride a bike, how to drive stick-shift, how to shave. He’s taught me how to be faithful, how to treat women respectfully. How to work diligently, how to love people, even when they don’t love back. How to use every opportunity to share the gospel. Really, how to live completely like Jesus. There’s no doubt that my Dad will be leaving a remarkable legacy, one that will have a ripple effect for generations and generations. It’s been incredible to hear different powerful stories of how my Dad touched people’s lives, starting with how he was really one of the first to guide my Mom in deepening her faith with the Lord and helping her craft it into what it is today. He’s done that with me too, and all of our family.

Here’s the good news: God’s gonna use his death for good here on earth. We’ve been talking about a lot of scripture lately, but my buddy William sent me some verses that have been particularly meaningful. Isaiah 43:16-19 (MSG) says;

This is what God says,
    the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
    who carves a path through pounding waves,
The God who summons horses and chariots and armies…
“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.

And also, Isaiah 41:17-20,

“The poor and homeless are desperate for water,
    their tongues parched and no water to be found.
But I’m there to be found, I’m there for them,
    and I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
I’ll open up rivers for them on the barren hills,
    spout fountains in the valleys.
I’ll turn the baked-clay badlands into a cool pond,
    the waterless waste into splashing creeks.
I’ll plant the red cedar in that treeless wasteland,
    also acacia, myrtle, and olive.
I’ll place the cypress in the desert,
    with plenty of oaks and pines.
Everyone will see this. No one can miss it—
    unavoidable, indisputable evidence
That I, God, personally did this.
    It’s created and signed by The Holy of Israel.

There’s gonna be streams running through the badlands. Or, as NeedToBreathe puts it, rivers in the wasteland. Here, where there’s death and sadness, God is putting in a flowing river; good things in the midst of this turmoil. We have life-giving water, and beautiful trees and flowers are going to spring up from those rivers and streams. And the Lord says that no one will be able to deny that His hands were in it from the start, that he is working to see this thing through so that all the glory will be His.

I’ve been able to have some really meaningful conversations with my Dad the past few days. We’ve been talking about what Heaven will be like, who he’ll be able to see, how he’ll finally be Home. He is gonna be home. Home, at last, after all this complete crap here on earth, he’ll finally have pure joy and peace. He’s gonna be sitting next to the King at His table, like Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. Mephib is Saul’s grandson, and when David becomes King and takes over the throne from Saul, Saul’s son had been a great friend of David’s. That son was Mephib’s father, and so David wants to repay him. Mephibosheth is crippled, and is looked down upon like scum on the bottom of a shoe. King David finds him anyway, and tells him that for the rest of Mephib’s life, he will eat with David and all of his royal family at the King’s table. And that’s exactly how it is with us and our King, Jesus. We’re crippled by sin and disease, and he calls us to eat with Him forevermore anyway. The best part is, when you’re sitting down at a table, you’re at the same level with the King, and your crippled feet are out of sight. Jesus heals those crippled legs and lets us sit with Him and feast, and that’s where my Dad will be very soon.

You know, it’s not exactly a tragedy, this whole thing. What if our time here on earth is like our time in our mother’s womb, and we don’t want to come out because we haven’t experienced what’s next yet? Life will certainly be hard without Dad. But how freakin great is it to know he’s gonna be home free? That thought alone will be a stream flowing in the middle of our desert, bringing comfort on the hardest days.

My family and I are so very thankful for every friend who’s been supporting us along this journey. We appreciate all of you guys so so much. Thanks for everything. I’m thankful for my closest friends who would answer a call at any time of day and have been praying for us relentlessly, who constantly offer love, wisdom, and joy.

One of my favorite things about my Dad has always been his laugh. We used to watch The Office together, all of our family together, and he would laugh so big and so loud. He has a booming, contagious laugh, and I haven’t heard it in a while because he’s had so little energy. I’m gonna miss that laugh. Every time I hear it, though, I can’t help but grin ear-to-ear and laugh along. I think when he reaches Heaven, he and Jesus are gonna be sharing some great big belly laughs, and they’ll both be grinning ear-to-ear, finally in perfect relationship with each other.

I’m thankful for these last few days I’ll have with my Dad. I’m thankful I know where my Dad’s going after he leaves earth. I’m thankful that our God will bring good things up from this painful time, like rivers flowing through the wastelands. I’m thankful for a Creator that will take care of us when my Dad is long gone, and when the earth is nothing but rubble. And I’m thankful that one day, I’m sure I’ll get to see my Dad again.

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The Birds and the Steves

When relationships are centered around Christ, it’s easy for those relationships to grow real deep, real fast. All of my closest friends have one thing in common: a shared passion for the Lord. I really think the love of Christ in us helps us to bond with each other in wild ways, and these past two weeks were no exception. The kind, gracious folks of Winterveld showed me the type of love it takes to have those deep friendships, and it was incredible.

Winterveld is a quieter village than the last place I stayed, and the community was closely-knit and welcomed me warmly. There’s a whole cast of characters who helped make my stay awesome, so let me lay them out for you. Firstly, there’s Pastor George, the head Pastor of Born Again (also called Faith Restoration.) Next, there’s Mdu, who I stayed with. Mdu lives with his family: Mama, Tshepo, and Mpumi. When Mdu wasn’t around, I spent the days with Pastor Steve #1. Now, there’s two Steves at Born Again Church; Steve #1 is who I spent the most time with, he’s a junior pastor and has 5 daughters and is on his 30th year of marriage, to a kind woman named Mildred. Steve #2 is also a junior pastor at the church, and he teaches at a local high school. Both Steves are incredible men who I grew close with, but I spent more time with Steve #1.

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We went on some wild adventures during my time in Winterveld. On the very first day, we went out and finished demolishing an altar to the enemy on Pastor George’s family farm. I knew I was in for a powerful two weeks when that was the first thing we did!

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A few nights, we pitched a huge tent in an empty field and threw a “revival” where the community came together to worship, and pastors came to share the gospel. I witnessed both Steves give powerful messages on the Good News, and over 20 people start relationships with Christ in just a few days.

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I realized something just before I came out to Winterveld. I realized that sometimes I’m afraid of deep relationships with people from different cultures. I worry that I’ll offend them, or that we won’t be able to grow closer because our lives are just so different. But those fears are lies, Jesus has given us the ability to love one another regardless of where we come from or what language we speak. And once I started to grasp that, I started to dig in and buckle-up, I knew that the Lord would help me have deep relationships without holding back. Mdu was the first person I grew close with in Winterveld.

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I spent a lot of my time with Mdu, who’s 28 and a strong leader with a firm faith. The second day I was in Winterveld, Mdu took me on a 5-hour walking tour of the town, with pit stops at multiple friends’ houses, a phone-battery store, a raging river, and a police station. You see, Mdu is the head of the community’s volunteer police force, so he’s well-respected by the employed policemen of the area. Mdu also holds a job at a Pick-n-Pay grocery store, a South African chain, but unfortunately the taxi ride is two hours long and pretty expensive. Mdu is a pretty serious guy, but as we grew closer I got to see some humor peek through. Almost every morning we had a devotion together, we prayed for each other, we shared impactful scripture. That’s when we grew closest, when we were vulnerable with each other about our fears and weaknesses and talked about our God who was greater than those things. I think it always takes vulnerability to have a deep relationship, vulnerability and a shared faith.

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Mdu and I had a conversation that went like this after I’d been there a few days. Mdu turned, stared me down, and said to me, “Sam, you know what I don’t like about you?” “No, Mdu, please tell me what you don’t like about me,” I said. “Whenever I offer you something, you say you’re fine,” he replied. And he was right. As an American, I feel like my first instinct whenever someone offers me something is to say, “No thanks, I’m fine!” If someone offers me a drink and I’m completely parched, I might still say I’m just fine. I think we do this to be “polite.” It’s “polite” not to accept something readily in the States. But also, it’s a pride thing. Because when I admit I need something, I’m admitting that I cannot do life on my own, and that hurts my fragile pride. So I said to Mdu, “Yeah, you’re right man, let’s talk about that,” and we talked for awhile.

The next day, I went over to Steve #1’s place. Pastor George met us over there, and those two guys are full of wisdom and stories of faith. So I told them about my conversation with Mdu, and they helped me realize the problem. I was conditioned to respond in this American “politeness,” but in African culture, I was being straight-up rude. I mean, seriously, this American refusal of stuff to be polite is so backwards, and I was frustrated with myself over it. When someone sincerely offers you something kind, even when it costs them something greatly, why shouldn’t I accept it? And then it hit me. I do this with the Lord all the time. Jesus is offering this free gift of grace, and whenever I sin and mess up, usually my first reaction is to feel guilty and think, “Well, next time I’ll try harder.” No! It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I’ll always fail without the Lord. Just like I think I don’t need other peoples gifts to make it in life, I tell God I don’t need his grace to make it. We can’t let our pride be too big to accept God’s help, and for that matter, we all need to stop refusing stuff to be “polite.”

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I’m thankful for the wisdom and grace of Steve #1 for wrestling over this issue with me. Steve and his wife were so caring and generous towards me, and one of the most impactful things that happened over my trip was when he told me the Spirit had really put it on his heart to spend time in prayer for my Dad and his cancer. So he and I sat down together in his living room and poured our hearts out to our sweet Creator, knowing that He’s got everything in control. When we looked up, all of Steve’s incredible family had also gathered into the room and were praying with us. I looked over and gave Mildred a big smile, and I got a little choked up at how sincerely caring she is.

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I can’t emphasize enough how incredible the people of Winterveld are. They are all so full of faith and strength. Mildred and Steve have been married for over 30 years, and they have five daughters. Their middle child has sever epilepsy and is now on medication, but they told me stories of the hardships they faced in raising her. They understood the difficulties of dealing with sickness in someone they loved, and were constantly willing to surrender everything to the Lord. We talked about James 5:15-16, which says,

And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well, the Lord will raise him up…the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

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If you guys aren’t aware, the past few week have been tough for my Dad, and my family’s been hurting some. He’s had some hard news and his pain is increasing, things are not looking so good. Recently, he wrote in a post that:

Many times we have thought: “I think we’ve learned enough through this trial, God. We are ready for you to take it away.” Maybe we have and maybe we haven’t learned enough, but the perspective needs to be: if our great God and Creator be glorified through this, then let Him continue to be lifted up! Oh, what a very hard concept to commit to!

It is definitely a tough concept, and being out in Winterveld these past few weeks I wrestled with this even more. But I think that we’ve just gotta surrender everything to God, we’ve gotta admit that we can’t do any of this on our own. We have to accept the free gifts and grace God is giving us, and know that God’s gonna take care of us no matter what.

There’s many more stories and lessons from these past few weeks that still need to be told, but I think this is enough for one blog post. I hope you’ll be encouraged by these people who are willing to lay their lives down for each other regardless of their circumstances, and I hope you take to heart the idea of accepting God’s grace without letting our pride get in the way. Thanks for reading this update!

I’ll leave you with a few last photos from this awesome village.

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There’s definitely a common theme of pastors napping in these villages…

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We basically each had a 2 liter of Coke every day. Thumbs down for health.

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Every day, meals get passed out to about 50 kids at the church after school, whether they regularly attend or not. Just another way of showing tangible love to the community.

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Mildred almost never misses a day at the feeding program.

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Here’s Steve #2, preaching at his high school before he teaches class.Winterveld-185.jpg

 

Pastor George preaching.

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Steve #1 and I.

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Goofiness at the creche.

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Mdu and I on the last day, in my favorite last-day outfit. Love this guy.

Ps. there are no outstanding birds to be mentioned in this post. I just thought the name was really funny.

Life with Pastor Silas

Life’s different in the townships here. Because fully-developed and under-resourced areas are so close together, you can drive twenty minutes down any highway and you’re in a different world. The atmosphere shifts when you’re out in the villages of South Africa; the pace of life slows down, and a sense of community becomes stronger. Everyone knows each other in the townships, and everyone is looking out for one another. It may be that electricity isn’t standard, running water is a rarity, and violence is more of an issue; but still community thrives, and churches play a major role in bringing that community together and pointing them in the right direction.

I spent the past week and a half with Pastor Silas of Rock of Ages Living Church in Mmotla, a township located about 30 minutes outside of Pretoria. I stayed with his family; Maria, the Pastor’s wife, who spends her days taking care of children at their daycare, and their two kids, Botlhale, who’s 17 and working his way through high school, and Bontle, who’s 21. They graciously let me stay in their house, and they continuously showed me kindness in the form of delicious home-cooked meals and lots of laughter together.

Pastor Silas and I embarked on a wide range of adventures during my stay; we went on a handful of taxi rides, we ventured through a wild blackmarket, we took half of the engine out of his car for repairs, we went to see a family for a memorial service, and Silas let me share at his church service and their Bible study. We also got into a good bit of trouble together, like forgetting to bring money to buy a coldrink (soda) and getting partially lost in a taxi in a different village. Silas and I grew close, and I was able to experience a totally different side of South Africa because I didn’t have a team of Americans with me at all times. At first I was a little scared and uncomfortable to be on my own, but it proved a joyful experience that taught me a few things about this country, about the Lord, about Silas, and about myself.

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Here’s a picture of Pastor Silas after we spent a while working on his car engine the first time with friend and secret-mechanic, Louis. Shortly after I took this picture, we all ate ice cream together and told stories, laughing a lot.

I found a really meaningful routine every day through watering a huge garden behind Silas’s church. Each morning we’d walk across the street together around 7:00, and I’d get the hose out and spend the next hour or two watering the plants and listening to worship music. Normally Pastor Silas waters the garden in the mornings, but I helped him out with the task while I was there.

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I think God starting teaching me things through that garden. It was really satisfying to see the plants grow more and more throughout the week, and I started to realize how similar that garden is to community as a whole. In order to build a strong and fruitful community, you have to pour into it daily, like watering thirsty plants. A few days out of the week, I would go around and pick up the trash that had blown into the garden over night. Like community, and like our own souls, we can’t leave our trash and sin lying around haphazardly. We have to learn to get better and to clean up.

After I finished watering the greenery, I found a cool, shady spot against the church and spent time reading the Word and writing. Then most days I’d help Silas and Maria at their daycare, which is called a creche here. The creche meets at their church, and usually they have about 75 kids between the ages of 2 and 6 years old. Silas and Maria both strive to teach kids thoroughly in different areas of learning while keeping the activities fun. Pastor Silas taught the children about the seasons one day (it’s Spring here) and they colored pictures of birds. Silas had them practice English and Tswana (the local language) while they showed each other their pictures, working on skills like speaking and social interactions, as well as basic art skills and knowledge of colors.

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When the kids weren’t learning from Silas and Maria, they would play, eat, or just make strange loud noises. They were all very interested in me also, and it took me a few days to get them to stop calling me lekgoa, which is a derogatory term for white person. They’re all so sweet though, and it’s great for them to be in a loving and warm environment like the creche, because the same can’t always be said about their home environments. I spent a good amount of time playing with kids, but they mostly were interested in feeling my leg hair, which is totally foreign to them.

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Here’s Maria, teaching kids about Spring and the flowers that are starting to bloom around the area.

We spent a few hot afternoons working on Pastor Silas’s car. Well, I didn’t really work on it, it was mostly Louis. But I was always there when we’d take breaks and eat ice cream- for moral support, of course.

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At the end of the day, Silas and I would usually sit outside his house and enjoy the temperature dropping and the wind picking up. It’s here that we would have deep, heart-felt conversations about life and the Lord, and our struggles. We’d talk while we looked out over a tree that stood alone in his yard, and we would watch the powerful red African sun disappear in the distance. Then, the sky would change in hue from blues to oranges to pinks and violets and then finally fade into darkness. The stars would start to peek into view, like someone was poking holes through a sprawling colorful blanket. Eventually darkness would fall completely, and there’d be no more holes to poke in the night. In these special moments, Pastor Silas shared his heart with me, and we talked about things like his preaching and his family, and spiritual warfare that he’s fighting in his community. I would tell him about struggling to be away from home and keeping my heart present in South Africa, and he’d share wisdom. Those evenings sitting under the sky were some of my favorite times of out of the whole week.

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My experiences with Silas offered me a glimpse of life that I had never seen before. I was able to see how dedicated he is to his church and his community and the children at the creche, and hear stories of intense spiritual warfare, the likes of which I had never heard firsthand before. Pastor Silas and I spent a lot of time speaking about the Spirit, and Silas talked about how the Spirit is a “He” and not an “It,” and how the Spirit looks in daily life. Silas also has an incredible amount of joy, even when he’s in the face of hardship, like someone smashing all of the windows in his church. He showed me that joy is not circumstantial, but it’s a state of the heart that relies solely on the Lord’s goodness.

This just being my first week spent in a township, I’m stoked to get to spend more time with Silas and other pastors, and learn more about the Lord and life in these villages. At this point, I’ve also spent more time in the townships than I have in the first-world city, which is a cool accomplishment. In the next few weeks, I’ll be working on a few photography and graphic design projects, visiting a few different townships on day trips. Then, hopefully in early October, I’ll spend another two weeks or so with a different pastor and his family. More updates will follow soon, and thanks for keeping up with the ministry going on here!

Here’s a few more pictures from the past week.

RockOfAges(resized)-7.jpgPastor Silas’s house.

RockOfAges(resized)-15.jpgPure mischief at the creche.

RockOfAges(resized)-22.jpgThe Pastor after preaching, dressed in his Sunday best.

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RockOfAges(resized)-29.jpgSilas getting the fire ready for a Braai, or Barbecue.

RockOfAges(resized)-33.jpgSilas and I on my last day with him.