The Intentional Life

Last week I took some middle-school kids to a WyldLife camp. If you’ve never heard of WyldLife, it’s YoungLife for middle-school. If you’ve never heard of YoungLife, you’re missing out. So we were up in Maryland at this camp called NorthBay, and it was an incredible week. One thing camp helped me to see was the beauty in intentionality, or doing all things with purpose. YoungLife is full of intentionality, games and programs almost always have purpose to put peoples’ hearts in the right place and to illustrate different aspects of the gospel. I think these kinds of intentional things are awesome and I always find myself desiring more intentional living. So why do I always feel like I’m just stumbling through my weeks haphazardly, even when they’re full of Christ-centered activities and relationships?

When I asked one of my friends on the last day of school what their plan for Summer was, their simple response was “I’m not doing much. Just sleeping and watching Netflix.” Maybe for some of you reading this, that’s your plan for Summer too. Maybe you’re even still waking up from a nap, or maybe in a tab next to this one you have Netflix open on your computer. If so, that’s okay. But I think my friend’s plan for his Summer is a complete waste of time. If our actions don’t have meaning, then how can our lives? Maybe I feel like I’m stumbling through life because I forget to look to Jesus for strength and purpose, I neglect to have that child-like faith that Jesus talks about. There’s a reason Jesus tells us to love like kids and believe like them.

Remember when we were little, and every day was full of awe and wonder and joy and curiosity? How did we all become so lukewarm towards life? How come we live without joy and wonder, when Jesus can give us that? I want that again. I want a childlike faith again. But we don’t live in that bubble of blissful ignorance that toddlers do. When life feels like it’s falling apart, when the weight of the world is crushing, when death feels brutally close, when nights are full of tears, when sin won’t let go of our thoughts, when bitterness won’t stop eating at our hearts, when God feels lightyears away, what do we do? How can we find the beauty between all of the madness of the world?

Wow, this post just became deeper than I expected. The thing is, I can’t write about trying  to be purposeful in every day life when some days life is already impossible enough. But I really think Jesus has called us to a purpose, a dedication to Him and glorifying Him and making His Name known, that we are obligated to live out as believers. And when our lives feel like Hell, I can’t think of any other way to deal with it than to continue fighting to glorify Christ and continuing our purpose.

In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and again in 7:20, Paul says that we were “bought with a price,” meaning we “are not our own.” I am not my own. You are not your own. Jesus bought us back from sin and we owe Him our lives. This is a heavy heavy verse, and on my hardest days I’ve been turning to it a lot lately. I’m reminded that whatever I’m going through, I’m still called to this intentional service. Living intentionally is a crucial part of furthering our relationships with Jesus and serving Him fully, and Christ is the ultimate example of living intentionally.

In John 13, Jesus intentionally shows his love and humility to his disciples by taking on the role of a servant and washing their feet. In Matthew 8, and again in Luke 17, Jesus purposefully goes and heals lepers, people who were ignored and untouched by the rest of the world, to show that the Kingdom has no bounds or prejudices. Even when Jesus was on the cross, about to die, Jesus intentionally asks God to forgive His killers and then tells the man on the cross next to Him that he would be with Him in Heaven. Jesus did so many other things with purpose too, and He was going through insane pain and struggle. It’s not as if Jesus had a hidden agenda all the time; that’s not what intentionality is about. It’s about loving people where they’re at, and meeting their needs instead of twisting their hearts and desires so you can serve them in a way that’s convenient to you.

Here’s the thing about intentionality though; what you’re actually doing isn’t the main focus, but it’s how you’re doing those things that really matters. Let me explain. My friend works at a coffee shop down at the oceanfront and she tells me that some days, even while she’s just making coffee or cleaning up the shop, she intentionally looks for ways to be an example of Jesus. One time she complimented a girl who looked like she was having a bad day and brightened her whole afternoon because of it. She’ll look for people who aren’t satisfied with their drinks and seek something better for them. Her occupation doesn’t really matter at all, she’d be showing Christ to people in small ways no matter what she did. And I think we should too, no matter our circumstances.

Paul lives incredibly intentionally. In Philippians, Paul is writing to friends while he’s in jail. He probably expects to die in that jail cell, yet chapter 1 verse 13 says that he has made known to the other prisoners and guards who Jesus is. He’s still living with meaning while staring death in the face. We should be this intentional too, and I hardly do this on my good days, when I’m not locked in a jail cell about to die.

This Summer, I challenge you to live an intentional life, even on your worst days. Try to add meaning to your days, and try using your pain and struggles as a tool to glorify God, as a testimony to His grace and power by continuing to trust Him despite the pain. Hear me clearly: some days, the most intentionality you need is to continue pointing to Christ in your pain. I’ve been swimming through a lot of murky waters in life lately, and a lot of uncertainty clouds my view. But I can tell you first hand that glorifying Christ is the best way to get through that murkiness. We need to live in a way that nudges people towards Christ, or sometimes even shove people towards him with all our might. We’re all human though, and we can’t live perfectly intentional lives all the time. That’s okay. Just remember to look to your Creator, and in these next few months, try to make life matter.

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Secretly Awesome

The other day I was scrolling through Facebook aimlessly and stumbled upon an article called “Dear volunteers in Africa: please don’t come help until you ask yourself these questions.” This seemed like it applied to me oddly specifically, so I clicked on it.

The first question the article told the reader to ask themselves was, “Would you still go if you didn’t have a camera?”

Well, I’m going to be a photographer. So, that’s tough.

But, I was thinking about serving in general, and the thought occurred to me that it might actually feel different to go serve if not only we took zero pictures, but if no one else knew we were serving there in the first place. Imagine going across the globe to serve an orphanage or an organization or help out in some other way and not telling anyone and not taking any pictures to brag about what you’re doing on social media.

Would you? Seriously, think about all of the publication and posts about trips before people go on them. Even for my trip to South Africa, I’ve had to post stuff all the time and send out support letters and sell shirts; it’s almost like advertising to raise money so I can help people. I think all of this is super important for me to raise enough money to go and serve, but imagine if no one knew about my caper and I just left. It’s hard to be prideful if you don’t advertise what you’re doing in the first place, right?

So, what if you really did go on a missions trip and took no pictures? Obviously assuming your job is not a photographer; that’s a little different. One of my best friends is from South Africa, his name is Samora, and he lives here in the States. Often when he and I are together, we’ll somehow find a post on social media from someone who’s helping out in another country. The post goes something like this: there’s a picture of an African kid or group of African kids smiling and laughing, or looking very sad and hungry; or a picture of an American teenager posing with a little African kid on her back. The caption reads something like: “(Country name) has my heart,” with a cheesy emoji, or “Meet my new best friend from (Country name.)”

Here’s two disclaimers real fast: 1. Posts like this don’t really have bad motives behind them, and 2. I have posted cheesy stuff like this.

Somewhere along the way, the comfortable Christians like me missed the point. Tell me, honestly, what’s the purpose in posting a picture like that? I’m not attacking anyone here, but we’ve gotta have a heart-check with things like this. What if we did generous things and gracious, caring things without people knowing? Does that take any value away? It shouldn’t, right?

The other thing is, posting a picture of sad kids in poverty doesn’t really serve much of a purpose. This is sort of on a different topic, but if I don’t know a kid’s name or story, then why should I post a picture of him? Here’s another disclaimer: I don’t remember the name of the kid in the cover photo for this blog. I did at one point, and I taught her in an English class when I was in South Africa awhile ago. The point is though, it makes way more of a difference if we get to know people in need and really love them and help them. Sure, take their picture after that; you’re real friends now. I’ll talk about this topic more in-depth some time later, but we’ve gotta remember that those kids aren’t some specimen just to have cute pictures taken of.

When I’m in South Africa as a photographer, I hope to take pictures that tell real, true stories, that are beautiful and honest, and that show people as real humans, with a beating heart and raw emotions; not just a sad face used to get sympathy. Abba’s Pride (the organization I’ll be serving) does a great job at getting to know communities and really serving people selflessly, and I’m so excited to join them.

I remember the first time I learned about serving selflessly in-depth. I went on this crazy church retreat in middle school, and the theme of the weekend was “Secretly Awesome.” I still have the tee shirt from it; it’s all red, with the words “secretly awesome” in a slightly different shade of red written across the back. Over the weekend, we talked about what it looks like to do awesome things without people knowing it was you doing them. We also talked about what it would be like to do awesome things not expecting anything in return.

That’s an upside-down world view to most. But I think our world has twisted what “giving” is really about, and almost without us realizing it. To be secretly awesome, a person doesn’t look for any self-glorification. Sometimes, that person doesn’t even reveal their identity so it’s impossible to credit them.

I have a few people in my life who are secretly awesome. More than a few, actually; let me tell you about some of them. For those of you who don’t know, I work at a frozen yogurt bar. It’s awesome. I keep the store clean and make sure everything is ready for customers, and then ring them up. A few months ago, an old friend kept visiting me at work; actually, he’s the Dad of an old friend of mine. Every night he would visit me, he would leave me a Chik-fil-a sandwich, and he barely accepted my gratitude when I tried to thank him. I never even asked for him to buy me food, he just started doing it, and he normally doesn’t even stick around long enough for me to thank him. He’s not looking for any self-glorification, he’s not looking for anything in return: he’s just being kind.

Another friend who’s been secretly awesome lately is an old family friend of mine. The family now lives in Maryland, and they are really awesome. For the past few months, they’ve been ordering my family large meals from restaurants and they’ve had them delivered to our house, paying for them in full before they reach our door. They don’t even live in the same state as us, they have no interest in gaining something in return; they just love us.

These people don’t care if anyone else sees the good they do. When I go to Africa, would I do things differently if I didn’t try to show anyone the stuff I was doing, but focused on what God was instead? When we go on trips and when we help others at home, I think we’ve got to double-check where our motives are at. Are we helping to point people to God, or are we looking for a cool Instagram opportunity, or for other people to think more highly of us? As you go through your day, think about doing things solely for others and the Lord, and not so you can get praise, but just to help people for the sake of helping.

Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

Take this question to heart: If no one sees you doing something awesome, would you still do it? Together, let’s all work on doing things humbly, out of love, and for the intention of giving God the glory.

Gideon’s Army

Last time I updated my blog, I informed the reader of a hopeful surgery that was set to take place April 18th for my Dad’s cancer. Friends, if you haven’t heard yet: that surgery was canceled shortly after my Dad took to the operating table. Once the doctors had started the surgery and made the first incision across his abdomen, they began to inspect my Dad’s insides and quickly realized that the cancer was worse than they had expected. Tumors were more prevalent than the last scan showed, and the procedure was deemed too risky; if just one large chunk of cancer remained in my Dad’s abdomen, it would grow back at twice the rate of before. So, that news surely took us all by surprise, and we were confused as to what the Lord was, and still is, doing.

In the book of Judges, there’s a story about a man named Gideon who’s confused by what the Lord’s doing, too. Gideon was an Israelite, but in his time, his people’s land had been overtaken by a people called the Midianites. Gideon is called by God to fight for Him and take back his land, but he’s afraid and it takes him awhile to fully trust the Lord. Initially, an angel appears to Gideon and says, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” But Gideon doesn’t understand why God would let another people take his land, so he says, “If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” I get that, Gideon.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my good friend Mrs. Sandwell after my family and I returned from Pittsburgh. We were talking about my Dad and his cancer, and we spoke about the surgery and the confusion around what the Lord’s doing. She said something to me that I hadn’t thought of before; she said that she wasn’t too worried that the surgery hadn’t taken place. If God chooses to heal my Dad at this point, she said, absolutely no doctor could say that the cancer was healed because of  any medicine or procedure or anything of the Earth- but the Lord would get all of the glory. If our prayer throughout all of this is for God to be glorified no matter what, than maybe this is indeed an answer to prayer, as confusing as it might seem in our limited human perspective.

What Mrs. Sandwell said reminded me of something that happened to Gideon later in his life.

Gideon goes on to lead an army of 32,000 Israelites to fight against the Midianites in Judges Ch. 7. Before they even went into battle, though, God spoke to Gideon and told him something crazy. He said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into your hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that their own strength has saved them, announce that any man who is afraid should turn around and go home.” After Gideon tells his army that message, 22,000 men leave him. So now Gideon is left with just 10,000 men to fight an army of 135,000. The odds are very much against him and his army, but God wants Israel to know that their own power can’t save them.

After Gideon’s army is reduced to 10,000, God tells him something else wild. God tells Gideon that he still has too many men, and He tells Gideon to cut the army down to just 300 men. Three hundred men. That’s 1/5 the size of my high school, that seems like absolutely nothing compared to what the enemy has. Then, God uses Gideon and those 300 men to defeat the entire enemy army to take back Israel. Because the army was so small and because every odd in the world was stacked against Gideon, the Lord got all of the glory from the victory. No one could say that these men were just ridiculously good fighters or that they got lucky, the glory had to point towards God.

If my Dad is healed at this point, no one can say it was good medicine or luck. No doctor can take credit for his healing, and honestly, it would be hard for any man to find a single logical or scientific reason for his life other than the Lord. This is my prayer, this would really bring Jesus into the spotlight more than any other opportunity for healing yet. It’s hard for me to see an outcome where God would receive as much glory as this possibility and prayer, although I know that even if cancer takes my Dad’s life, God will be glorified, and we try to praise Him regardless.

There’s a really great story in Acts that embodies the attitude I want to hold towards not only this struggle, but every other struggle in life as well. In Acts 5, Peter and some other apostles refuse to stop telling people about Jesus and his resurrection, and so they get flogged by a group called the Sanhedrin. After this, it says:

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

This is so insanely awesome to me; the apostles are beaten because of Jesus’s name, and they can only rejoice. Pain and struggles strengthen our faiths and force us to draw closer to the Lord. As one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, said:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

We are a deaf people, and pain certainly forces us to draw closer to the Lord and each other.

This also isn’t to say that we shouldn’t keep pursuing options in recovery and healing with my Dad; God didn’t defeat the Midianites directly, He used those 300 men to kill them. God works in a lot of different ways, and we’re not giving up. Maybe God intends to use something that may seem small or improbable to heal my Dad- who knows.

Here’s the tough thing though: God might not heal my Dad. I hope He does, but He might not. But God will still be good, and God will still get the most glory; I just don’t understand how yet, and maybe I never will. I’m okay with trusting that the Lord will be glorified no matter the outcome of my Dad’s cancer, and my family can live in the confidence that Jesus reigns supreme and totally knows what He’s doing. I challenge you to live in that same truth no matter what you’re going through as well.

Seasick Sailors

“I have been to the Valley of the Shadow of Death in Israel,” said my friend Ms. Ennels the other night,  “and it is beautiful. There are streams running through it and flowers sprouting everywhere, and it is flowing with life. It is a beautiful place.”`

In a little over a week, my Dad will be having a complicated, daring surgery in Pittsburgh to clear out his abdomen of cancer. The doctor, named Dr. Bartlett, is brilliant and very well-experienced on this type of surgery, called HIPEC surgery. In fact, here’s an article about Dr. Bartlett and this specific surgery for another patient- but let me tell you, it’s a brutal surgery, comparable to ripping open my Dad’s whole stomach and continuing to slice and burn every last visible piece of cancer.

Friends, here’s the thing: Cancer has nothing on our Creator. And that’s super easy to say, but so much harder to put real trust into. In Psalm 139, a passage of scripture that’s very close to my heart, David writes,

“You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.”

That passage is so incredibly, indescribably beautiful and powerful. The God of All Things knows my inmost worries, my doubts, all of my questions and fears. And He loves me and you so much, and He can provide for us in incredible ways because of it.

I think the toughest thing about Cancer is it’s ability to tear the body apart from the inside while leaving very little trace of damage on the exterior. It’s easy some days when stuff is going well to get distracted by negative and dark possibilities, but that’s not what we should be focusing on in life. Even though we might be in the Valley of Death, it’s important to look to the streams and flowers around you, and you can’t live forever in fear of possible failure. Even though we should be prepared for whatever happens, it’s not something worth dwelling on. Still, these moments of distraction are rare, and I think it’s just the devil trying to distract us from living in the here and now- one of his favorite tricks. That guy can go to hell.

Cancer- and anything else that throws life off track like this- comes with inherent beauty. Like my good friend Ms. Ennels said, sometimes in the midst of death and darkness, there is incredible growth and goodness. My family has grown much closer because of Cancer, and we’ve become more real with one another. When you trust Jesus with everything, that’s when real joy comes- and we’ve definitely been experiencing awesome joy in the midst of this craziness. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all grown closer to Jesus and learned to lean into Him not just on our tough days, but every day. A few years ago I thought being a Christian was just a part-time job, but over and over again God’s shown me that it’s absolutely full-time to live for Him.

In that same Psalm as I mentioned earlier (139), David writes in verses 11-12:

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Nothing is too much for our Creator, even darkness is like day to Him. Our darkest days, when we think that peace and safety is impossible, God is not intimidated or deterred in the slightest. Let the phrase “Darkness is like light to You” comfort you when you’re awake in the middle of the night questioning God, or when you feel like you’ve lost control of life, or when you feel like you’re not good enough. God is good enough, He’s in control, and He turns darkness into light.

While this surgery is indeed brutal for my Dad and the recovery will certainly be long, the outcome looks very hopeful. It seems like to reach safety sometimes, you’ve got to bravely endure a tough, unknown path. I  think God does that on purpose, and that’s exactly what my Dad’s doing. I have full faith that we’re all going to come out the other side loving harder and clinging to God more because of the road we endure.

Here’s an awesome image of God that He’s been pressing on my mind a lot lately: imagine us, humans, all out at sea. Each of us is like a sailor, but we’re seasick sailors because we’re sick with sin. We’re seasick in the middle of the beautiful blue, stretching out forever in every direction. Except it doesn’t quite seem to stretch out forever, because it;s stopped abruptly by the horizon. Seasick sailors, if you didn’t know, always look to the horizon to clear their sickness; it’s a steady, unchanging object they can set their eyes on and steady their swaying hearts with. If we’re seasick sailors, then God is our Horizon. We fix our eyes on Him, and He settles or stumbling, broken selves.

Living with Passion

What do you think about risks? I’m not talking about wearing shorts on a cold day or eating a different cereal than your daily Corn Flakes – I’m talking about completely stepping outside of your comfort zone, throwing yourself out there with no idea what’s going to happen, absolutely none.

I think we should all be willing to take these kinds of risks for things we’re passionate about, specifically, for God.

A lot of people in the Bible take a reckless risk by following Jesus. Most of His closest followers just dropped everything to follow this guy they barely knew, but I’m sure they felt God telling them to do so. If you think about King David in the Old Testament, he took a risk when he was a kid by taking on the biggest warrior of his time, Goliath. David was really passionate for God and for his country, and David beat Goliath, because God was on his side.

People say you’re defined by your wealth or your friendships or your material goods or your accomplishments at the end of your life, but I don’t think any of that really defines a person at all. I think what defines you is your passion. If you’re not passionate about something or someone, then what are you?

A lot of my friends are defined by their passion for Jesus. This is awesome, and I hope people would think the same about me. I want to be known not by some funny thing I said one time or not by how much money I earned or not by my friendship with so-and-so, but how passionate I am for Jesus and for life.

I have this buddy who lives in a different city, and we share a huge characteristic; we’re both super passionate for life, for living. Actually, most of my friends have a crazy passion for living, and it’s contagious. In the case of my friend from a different city, we’ve met in person maybe three or four times. But I told him about this crazy thing called the World Race, and he decided not to go to college next year and pursue this thing he feels like God is calling him to. He decided he wasn’t going to stick to the average life manual that the world gives us, he wasn’t going to give in to the schedule handed to us by society: go to school, go to college for four or more years, get a well-paying job, have a family.

Let me get something straight: this formula is not inherently bad. I have tons of older friends who’ve lived out this way of life, but they all have something very characteristic about the way they do it: they do it with passion.

You can be a doctor or a lawyer and have just as much passion for Jesus and for life as someone who runs around the world trying to share the gospel, risking their lives daily. You can also take risks for God every day if you do something normal, like a doctor telling a patient about hope in Christ, or a lawyer stepping out on behalf of his beliefs in ending modern slavery. Every one of us is called to different things, but sometimes, we’re forced into the same routine, and forced into it without passion.

I’m really passionate about, well, passion. When I was in middle school, I was pretty content with living without meaning, and living without any real passions. It’s really comfortable to fall into this feeling of halfheartedness, because you never really have to do much, you just sort of exist. I think a lot of my friends in my high school struggle with this, feeling like they’re okay to just survive and not thrive. But is anyone really, deep in their hearts, okay with living halfheartedly?

So I was a middle school kid just trying to fit in, telling fake stories about parties so people would think I was cool, and then I started going to this Christian school. I liked God a lot and thought He was pretty rad, but I didn’t know a ton about Him and didn’t really think I should stand out because of Him. Then at this Christian school, I started learning more and more about the Lord, but I still wasn’t super into it; I was still trying to fit in mostly. Then I hit the big leagues: high school. I was at the same Christian school,  and eventually I found myself signed up for a trip to South Africa that only high-schoolers could partake in. Yes, there were going to be lions involved, and elephants. That’s really all I heard at the initial interest meeting, and decided it was worth it just for the lions and elephants. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into.

Somehow at the end of the year I found myself on a huge plane headed 8000 miles across the Atlantic. I was confident I knew what to expect and I was looking forward to more than just lions and elephants at that point. That’s something else I found about life though: sometimes, we think we’re doing something for one reason, but God has a totally different reason in mind. He knew that trip would be about way more than just lions and elephants. I saw poverty like never before, and I met kids who were completely joyful in the midst of insane tragedies and hardships. Long story short, God totally wrecked my heart on that trip. I knew I couldn’t keep living my very comfortable, passionless, haphazard American life.

Passion for living involves more than caring about just staying alive. Actually, sometimes it looks like quite the opposite of just trying to stay alive. Like this one time, my buddy and I decided to climb across a huge bridge that was in the middle of construction just because we were passionate for the photos we could take inside. (Note: I don’t entirely recommend passion that breaks laws.) The pictures turned out really awesome, and my buddy and I grew closer after that adventure. The point, though, is that crazy stuff happens when you start to live with passion, and even crazier when that passion is for Jesus.

Revelation 3:15-16 says I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” God doesn’t like when people don’t pick a side and live halfheartedly. 

I wanted to tell you guys about a crazy risk that I’m taking: I’m headed back to South Africa for a few months next year instead of going straight to college. I’ll be a photographer for an awesome organization that I volunteered with before called Abba’s Pride, and I’ll be doing some other cool missions stuff for them too. I’d love for your support through prayer, and I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this wild adventure soon.

I’ll leave you with this: God calls us to be passionate for Him, and sometimes that involves taking reckless risks to serve the Lord. And to my non-Christian friends, passion is still important; pick something you care about and pursue it recklessly. No matter what you do, live passionately, friends.

When Life Runs You Over

When I was a kid, I liked taking risks. Well, sometimes I liked taking risks. Other times, I was the furthest thing from a risk-taker there could be. I really liked following rules and having things go the way they were planned to, but I guess that admiration for order faded away when I got older. Still, I always enjoyed a few risks from time to time.

My family and I lived in Brussels, Belgium, for a while in my Elementary school years, and one time, my buddy and I decided it’d be a good idea to play a game called Chicken. For those of you who don’t know, Chicken is a game usually played by someone jumping into the street in front of a speeding car and seeing who would get out of the way first: the car or the person. My buddy and I were clearly not dumb enough to play that version of the game, but the concept was enticing to us. So, we came up with our own version, consisting of one of us on a bike peddling full speed at the other. Helmets, of course, were optional; so we opted out of those to increase the risk factor. Every time, one of us would move out of the way at the last second and avoid collision. To us, it was absolutely brilliant. We played a few rounds and our hypothesis was confirmed: best game ever. After a while, I was standing in the street and my buddy was coming straight at me. Every time we’d played, one of us would jump or turn in the other direction at the very last second, but it was never determined beforehand who it would be; one of us just moved. This time, I was certain he was going to move at the last second- and he was also certain that I was going to move at the last second. Before I knew it, I was flat on my back with tire marks straight down my body, no kidding. I had been slammed into the ground and run completely over by my buddy. I don’t know how I reacted as a kid, but nowadays I probably would’ve just laughed about it and gotten back up. My guess, however, is that I probably cried a ton when it happened.

Sometimes, this is exactly how life hits us. One day we’re doing fine, and the next day Jesus knocks us down with something crazy. Like when my family and I took a vacation to Orlando, and my Dad unexpectedly ended up in the hospital with three blood clots. Or, when my Dad was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in the first place. I mean, no one could’ve seen that coming. Except God, right?

There’s something a friend told me once that I think about when life hits me like a crazy biker. My buddy said, “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever suddenly occurred to God?” That’s a pretty comforting thought, right? On our worst days, when life throws the worst trainwrecks at us, God isn’t surprised or caught off guard. The thing about serving the Creator of the Universe is that He’s always one step ahead of us. In theory, that should be super comforting. That thought alone should be able to put all our worries to rest for good. But honestly, a lot of times it just doesn’t. And more often than I like to admit, I doubt God, and I doubt His plan.

Have you ever put together an elaborate puzzle only to find that you’re missing a few pieces at the very end? I feel like life experiences and lessons sometimes look like puzzle pieces, and God is piecing together something beautiful and intricate with them. And He is, for sure. But some days I wake up, and it’s like that kid ran me over on his bike again, and I can’t help but ask God where in the world stage 4 cancer fits into my puzzle-piece World. To me, it looks like there must be pieces missing, something I can’t see yet. I mean, that picture seemed like it was looking pretty good already. I like writing encouraging stuff about God and how much His love rocks, but I don’t feel like I’m super loved all the time, and some days I’m just confused about life. I think we all feel that way from time to time. But it’s important to continue trusting in the Lord; that’s what faith is all about.

There is something slightly futile in questioning the Creator of the Universe. He knows exactly what He’s doing. In the book of Romans, Paul asks his friends to remind themselves that we are all mere humans, and we have no right to question God. Paul says that humans are like unfinished pieces of clay, and we are asking the Potter, our Creator, what he’s doing to us.

Honestly, the best thing about getting hit by a bike though was that it sucked, so I learned my lesson. And it hurt a lot, and I learned to fear speeding objects and standing in the middle of the road on a whim. It seems like a normal guy wouldn’t need to be taught that first to understand the concept. I do that kind of thing all the time. I am not joking when I tell you that a few years after being run over by a bike, I decided to play Chicken again, and I got run over by a bike in the exact same way. Seriously; I am an idiot.

God knows that we’re really stubborn and don’t learn well. But how often do we realize our own stubbornness? How often, when we’re in the midst of a storm, can we look around and see what God’s teaching us? How often can we engrave a lesson on our hearts before making the same mistake twice?

Here’s a question I can’t take lightly: what am I learning from my Dad’s cancer that I can engrave into my heart long-term? Maybe it’s that life has to be lived to the fullest while we have the chance, or maybe I’m learning that looking to God in the hard times makes it way easier in the good times. Or possibly I’m just learning to lean hard into God, and not on my own understanding. Are there storms in your life you can learn from permanently, so you don’t have to be run over by a crazy bike again? In case you were wondering, after the second time I lost to a bike, I declared the game of Chicken my permanent enemy, and I won’t try it anytime soon.

I’ll leave you with this: everything in life happens for a reason. God has a perfect plan for us, and each broken way and every beautiful moment has a purpose. I don’t know most of the reasons for stuff happening, but neither you nor I are in a place to question our great Potter. So, try to learn what God’s teaching you in the moment. Try to trust in the One who knows you inside and out, and have confidence that He is in control.

Knives & Grace

You and I are both broken, worn and beat-up from sin, torn and tattered from heartbreak and rejection and hurt. We’re all pretty broken people, stumbling around looking for love in all the wrong places. Jesus knows this and loves us even more because of our brokenness; that’s why he came to save us in the first place.

The crazy thing is, God knows us fully, and knows all of our sin, and loves us the exact same. Psalm 139 says “Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely,” and “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” God knows us deeply, completely, and loves us recklessly. He sees all our pain and sin and takes us anyway.

One time, I found myself in Dubai, in the line to get through security at the airport. After a 10-hour flight from Johannesburg, I was beat up and ready to be home. Back in Johannesburg, just before we left for the airport, the house I was staying in had a controlled power-outage, something critical to save energy in South Africa. So, we had to hastily throw our stuff together while the lights were still on and hit the road before our house lost power, giving us 20 minutes to pick two weeks worth of gear. I packed my suitcase to it’s limits and stuffed my backpack with whatever didn’t fit in the suitcase and jumped in the car. Little did I know that among the things crammed in my backpack were two very large knives. Little did I know, that is, until my bag set off an alarm in security in Dubai. Having gotten past security in Johannesburg without any issues, I figured the alarm meant nothing. I stepped aside, and an Arabic woman calmly searched through my backpack, and one-by-one, slowly pulled out these two huge pocket knives. I was shocked that I had gotten all the way to Dubai with those things, but I tried to play it cool anyway. “Oh oops, just throw those away. I don’t really need them I guess,” was all I said. The woman searching my bag stared at me solemnly, and then shouted something in a foreign language across the room. It sounded harsh and scary, and I guessed that she had probably shouted something like “Get the taser, we’ve got a knife-terrorist on our hands!” Within a minute, I was swarmed by a dozen middle-eastern safety personnel. I tried to stay calm, but incoherent harsh Arabic was being flung back and forth, and I was caught in the middle of it all, trying to act like everything was okay. Pictures of my passport were taken, and I was strictly told not to return to Dubai anytime soon. And, worst of all, they kept the knives. But, nevertheless, they let me into their country. I walked through those airport gates as a free, kniveless man, and I eventually made it safely back to the States.

Like those the hidden knives in my bags, we’ve all got hidden brokenness and sin in our stories. And just like those security guards, God takes us in anyway. Like me in Dubai, we try to act like it’s all okay, maybe we cover the brokenness and tuck it away, so it can’t see the light of day. Unlike those security guards though, Jesus looks at our brokenness and turns it into something awesome. He doesn’t want us to hide it, He wants us to grow from it and learn from mistakes. It’s like if those security guards had taken my knives and carved a sweet statue with them, and then given it to me as a free gift, except way better. It doesn’t really make sense sometimes either- God’s grace is pretty incomprehensible. To me, it seems wild that the Creator of the Universe takes our imperfections and makes us whole again, it seems insane that He accepts us no matter what.

That’s the awesome thing about Jesus. His death on the cross and resurrection wasn’t limited to just people who hadn’t done that much wrong, or to people who weren’t that broken. His gift of new life is for everyone, and those of us who are broken- which is all of us- need it even more. In Mark 2:17, Jesus says “I didn’t come to help the righteous, but the sinners. For it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” You and I are both broken sinners, and Jesus came for us.

2 Corinthians 5:16 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Jesus gives us new life, He gives us freedom from sin that we desperately need. For those of us who have accepted his gift; live like it. Begin each day knowing that you’re a new creation, that Jesus has given you new life and you don’t need to worry about the weight of the world. You’ve got nothing to prove and nothing to lose. For those of you who haven’t yet, you can accept it anytime. It’s never too late, you’re never too far gone for God’s grace.

Think about the knives in your life, the stuff you tuck away and try to ignore. For me, sometimes that’s my selfishness or mistakes from my past. The God of the Universe sees that stuff and loves you regardless. He wants to use you and me despite our brokenness, He wants to fix stuff like our selfishness and teach us through mistakes, and it’s awesome and unbelievable. He’ll take every hidden knife, and we’ll never be the same.