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I don’t understand.  Not everything.  Even when I pretend to be OK with the way things are, with circumstances and the way something turned out, with an unexpected ending, or a twist to our life’s story that I didn’t see coming, I don’t understand.

As much as we want for life to take us along the high places and as hard as we yearn for a life of mountaintop experiences, that was never promised to us.  And if you stop for a moment and look back at your own stories, I know you’ll find pages written in your own hand, stained with your tears.  Pages you wish didn’t exist.  Pages filled with pain.

We all hide those pages.

We tell ourselves we’re hiding them from others, but in reality, we’re hiding them from ourselves.

Why?

Because they don’t make sense.  Because in our limited world view, we cannot reconcile a loving God with horrific memories.  We cannot understand how the God of peace allows such things to happen.  The pages written in our own hand don’t line up with the pages penned by the God of the universe.

And when something that big doesn’t make sense, everything we believe begins to tremble.

So we begin to believe something is wrong with us.  If God is perfect, and our world consists of God and us, then we must be the one at fault.  Even though we cannot understand it, even though it doesn’t make sense, even though it feels like we’re denying something deep within us that is in it’s own way truth, we hide those pages.  We pretend the scars don’t exist, we pretend that we don’t see ourselves, daily, as broken individuals.

We pretend.  And we pretend that we pretend for others.  But in reality, we pretend so it’s easier to lie to ourselves.

We’ve forgotten something.  Something important.  Something we knew as children, something that our favorite movies and books tell us.  We’ve forgotten that we are not the only ones in our story.  There is God, there is each of us, and there is an enemy.

John Eldredge said that
Of all the eternal truths we don’t believe, this is the one we doubt most of all….  You are not what you think you are.  There is a glory to your life that your Enemy fears, and he is hell-bent on destroying that glory before you act on it.  

This part of the answer will sound unbelievable at first; perhaps it will sound too good to be true: certainly, you will wonder if it’s true for you.  But once you begin to see with those eyes, once you have begun to know it is true from the bottom of your heart, it will change everything.

The story of your life is the long and brutal assault on your heart by the one who knows what you could be and fears it”

Do not be mistaken.  There is an enemy.  He is real.  And he is desperate to destroy you.

Your days are not accidental.  Those tear-stained pages are not shameful pages.  They shouldn’t be hidden.  They are your glory.  They are proof that you are valuable.  That you are worth something precious.  Those pages hold the stories that carry freedom in them.  You were created by a loving God.  A God who cares intimately about you, about where you are, right now.  About what you’re worrying about.  You were created, specifically, for this time.  And you have a purpose that only you can fulfill.

In those pages lie the words, the stories, that others need to hear.

For it is in those stories that this loving God cared for you.  And if you ask Him, He will show you.

You never walked alone.

And those pages?  Those aren’t just your tears.  He cried to.

Matt Redman – Never Once  

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Tonight was an amazing night of friends and laughter.  But tonight was more than that, it was more than just veggie trays, games and the sounds of fun.  Yes, tonight reminded me of how rich life is, but it also reminded me of how much I chose to miss out on.

I sat surrounded by people whom I love, but I realized, these are also people whom I do not know well enough.

We weren’t just called to be friends, we were called, created for fellowship.  We were called for something more than laughter, we were called to be there through the tears as well.

I realized this evening that although I sat surrounded by friends, I couldn’t tell you what each one dreamed about.  I couldn’t tell you there stories, not the stories that made them who they are.

I realized tonight that as rich as this life is, we shortchange ourselves when we are not who we were created to be.  When we put on a false front, pretend all is well, and are not true to ourselves and our dreams, we are forced to settle for a life of muted color, stripped of its power and devoid of depth.

I realized tonight, again, that it’s in the lifelong relationships forged from the sharing of ones heart that we find true beauty.  It’s in those relationship that life is found in its richest of color, in its most brilliant of light and in its deepest depths.

I want that.  I want to see those I love in the brilliance of who they are, painted in their true colors.

I will start with the friend, companion, person closest to me, my wife.  I want to know everything there is to know about her.  Her dreams, passions, desires, her hurts, fears and longings.  I want her heart to know it is safe with me.  Safe to paint, to dream, to create.  For she is amazing, beautiful and mysterious.

Tonight reminded me of the things in this life that matter the most.  As I sat, surrounded by friends and family, and as we gathered to celebrate a brief homecoming of a solider and friend, it clicked. I realized that I have an amazing life. And that the people in that room, eating from veggie trays and laughing at inside jokes, these are the people that make life beautiful. My wife and our friends are the richest of gifts I’ve ever been given. Tonight, I am humbled and thankful because tonight, I know I am wealthy in ways money will never buy.

I may not change overnight, but I will start now.

I don’t own a wallet. Long ago I traded it in for the smaller size of a money clip. But there are certain things about a wallet that I miss. It’s hard to carry receipts, or much of anything really, in a money clip.  You cannot fit that picture of the old gang at the county fair, the stub from the big game, or the fortune from that Chinese food restaurant with the hilarious waiter.

Why do we carry such items? Do I really need to know when I saw Castaway? Or when I had second row seats to Future of Forestry? Do those little pieces of paper, stubs, receipts, pictures, mean anything?

In and of themselves, no, they do not. But they represent memories. And memories, more than anything, are what make up life.

Memories are stories to tell.

Stories of the time you stayed up until 4am at Waffle House, simply because the person you were with made it hard to say goodnight. Or that time you and your family laughed so hysterically at absolutely nothing while driving through Chicken Express that the wait staff seemed almost certain you were on illegal substances.

Our wallets, our pursues hold not only paper and plastic, but stories to tell, stories that bring depth to life and color to our worlds.

I don’t carry a wallet, but if I did, there are certain stories it would tell you about the last 6 months. Stories of love, of hard work, of doubt and uncertainty.  And stories of doubt and uncertainty swallowed up in love and grace. Stories with impossible odds and stories of the God of the impossible coming through when we saw no way.

My wallet would have pictures of 4am at waffle house, of beautiful thunderstorms and views of the city from high atop its quiet parking garages. And it would have pictures of this amazing woman who has chosen to love me, and whom I love.

I may not carry a wallet, but in its place, my heart carries memories. Memories and reminders of a God who is faithful, even when I am not. Of the love of a woman I do not deserve, but am so thankful for and memories of a life I am only beginning to live.

The thing I love the most, isn’t just the memory, but what that memory ultimately stands for.

Hope.

I have hope, faith, in a God who has come through when we needed Him. I have hope, knowing He loves us. I have hope knowing that He wants the best for us and that He is good. I have hope knowing that His heart for us is good.

I have hope, a knowing, that the God I serve is good beyond all other good. I have this hope, because He has shown it to me.

The God I serve loves me unconditionally, beyond all I could imagine.

I have hope, because He has given me hope.

Matt Redman – Holy

If, at the beginning of this year, you would have told me all that would happen before it would draw to a close I would have thought you were crazy. There is no way I would have believed you.

Had you told me that on December 24, I’d be vanquished to the guest bedroom of my future in-laws house as my fiancé tried on her wedding dress just on the other side of the door, I would have questioned our friendship. And I probably would have quietly wondered if you should be committed.

The moral of this story, of this year? To be honest, I’m not sure. But I think the lesson I am supposed to learn is that we never know. We never know what our stories will bring. We never know what lies over the next hill, or around that next corner.

I sat in church this evening, and something finally clicked. I think I finally began to understand why. Why we define our very timeline, our history, our years by the birth of One. Why it had to happen.

You see, over the past few months, my life, my heart, my soul have all changed. I’ve discovered a love I didn’t know existed. And it’s because of this love, this amazing gift I’ve been given, that I believe I’m finally beginning to get Christmas.

I am only tasting the type of love that God has for us. But through this gift, through the love that has planted itself in my heart for my fiancé, I’m beginning to taste it. And I’m beginning to understand why a perfect God would love an imperfect people as much as He does.

Why Christmas? What was it all about?

You.

You are the reason for Christmas. You are the reason that a perfect God sent His only Son to live a perfect life. You are the reason that His son died a gruesome death. You are the reason He came.

He loves you. More that you could possibly understand. And this season, more than anything, He wants you to know that you are worth it. You are worth what His son went through. His love for you was so strong that He sent His Son 2000 years ago to die in your place. This Son paid the price for your imperfect life, so you could spend eternity with a perfect Father.

You. You are worth it. And He? He can be trusted.

Whatever happened this year, I urge you to let it go. Because you do not know, and I do not know what lies beyond that next hill, or around that next corner. I do not know what 2012 will write onto our hearts. All I know is that this year, my heart grew to include an amazing woman. A woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. And all I know is that He brought us through this year. And He can be trusted.

I do not know what 2012 will bring.

But I know the Author. I know He loves us. And that, is Christmas. And that is everything

A few weeks ago while on my way home in the car with my girlfriend, I confessed something that I do my best to hide.

I confessed one of my greatest fears.

Ten years ago this past week, my life changed. While September 11 had the nation in shock and riveted to their TV sets, our family was disintegrating.  And less than three days after our nation was attacked, my family began a journey that would come to define the next decade.

I don’t think we completely understood then what the next ten years would bring.  But down deep, I think we knew things would never be the same.  I can still remember the day they left.  I remember saying goodbye in the parking lot near my job.  I remember the tears, the uncertainty, and the determination to make light of a situation that was anything but.

I remember the pain and loneliness that followed.  I remember the fear.  I remember feeling more alone and abandoned than I knew was possible.  And I remember finding places inside I didn’t know could hurt.

I remember waking up knowing I was still alive because the ache was so strong.

The Decade

It’s been a long ten years. I’m not the same person I was then.

None of us are.

And although this past week is a hard reminder of pages written, although this week brings memories of moments that changed our lives forever, there is something new.

There is hope.

There is a grace I now sense, guiding me through the coming days.

On that short car ride, I opened up and shared just a shadow of the pain that began 10 years ago.  And I told of my greatest fear, of being left behind again.

I wasn’t laughed at.  I wasn’t scolded or corrected.  I was accepted.  I was prayed for.  I was offered something I’ve been praying for, for a long time.

I was offered love.

Promises

Later that evening, I was thinking about this week, and what it would mean.

I don’t profess to hear God audibly, but as I stood in the shower, I broke down.  Because I heard Him, clearly, in my heart.

This time will not be like the last.

I was His son.  And this was His promise.  This was my rainbow.

This was my promise that my family would never have to go through this again.  There wouldn’t be any more Thanksgivings at Denny’s, or days spent volunteering at a food pantry just so there would be something on the table that night.

I am His son.  And this is His promise.

This time, this decade will not be like the last.

Passion – Healing is in Your Hands

It’s 9:02pm as I write and it’s 96 outside.

A few weeks ago, the family and I were discussing our desire to cut expenses.  We talked about replacing our single pane windows and adding insulation in the attic.  We dreamed about lower utility bills and a more comfortable house, and we resigned ourselves to the simple fact that we rent.

We talked, we wished, we moved on.

Learning

I’m learning that some of the most powerful words we will ever read, hear or speak will be questions or requests.

Do you know how much you mean to me?   Are you OK?  Do you need help?  Will you marry me?  I really need….

Petitions, questions, entreaties.  They convey value.  They let us show how much we care for and how we value those around us.  They force us to be open and vulnerable.

If we never asked, we’d never receive.  If we never risked the honesty and vulnerability that questions bring, we’d never know the depth of love or see the full palette of color that life can offer.

Phone Calls

I never asked the God of the universe if He could take care of our windows.

Why?  Was it because I thought it too trivial?  Or was it because I thought I wasn’t important enough?

I received a phone call this afternoon from our property manager.  She wanted make sure we weren’t concerned if we saw some of the maintenance guys on the property.  They were simply taking measurements for our new windows.  Oh, and by the way, they want to increase the insulation in the attic early this fall.

Ask

If I profess to serve the God of the heavens, and if His promise to me is to care for my family and I, then I shouldn’t be surprised.  Because this is the action of a Father who knows the needs and desires of His kids, and works to fulfill them.  I shouldn’t have been surprised, not in the way I was.

A Father caring for His children shouldn’t have shocked me.  Does a Father love to surprise His kids with gifts?  Yes, absolutely.  Does He enjoy blessing them with more than enough?  Yes.  But should it be a surprise when He meets their needs?  No.

I have a long way to go before I begin to understand what being a son really means.  I’m hard-headed, determined to be self sufficient, and hate feeling week or in need.  But if I’m honest with myself, I’m stupid to think I can walk this path alone.  Because I cannot.  I need friends who will ask the hard questions, who will convey beauty and grace.  I need brothers who will force me to face my own fears.

And I need a Father who cares for me even when I forget to simply ask.

Don’t bargain with God.  Be direct.  Ask for what you need.  This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in.  If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust?  If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate?  As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing.  You’re at least decent to your own children.  So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?
Matthew 7
(the Message) 

Future of Forestry – Sanctitatis:

I’m learning that there is little on this earth more rare or precious than the offering of a glimpse of ones heart to another.  In that moment of surrendering a portion of who you are to the care of someone else, there is magnificent beauty, there is tremendous purity, there is trust.

Honesty

Part of this surrender means honesty even when it hurts.  It means facing my fears.  It means having to admit that I’m terrified of becoming my father, that I have self esteem issues, that I am broken and imperfect, blemished and scarred.

It’s exhausting.

But nothing worthwhile comes without cost.  And if it’s pain I must face to find the freedom my heart yearns for, then so be it.

In these moments

Moments like this, moments of trust, filled with dreams, moments written with the pen of expectancy on the stationery of hope are the moments that make ordinary lives extraordinary.  They’re the moments when unspoken hopes find breath, whispered prayers find their voice and broken dreams find their wings.

These are the moments that make life beautiful, that rewrite our stories and bring clarity to what has already been written.

In these moments when eternity pierces our reality, there is life, hope is birthed, and if we let it, a beauty we’ve never known plants a seed inside of our hearts.  And that seed, if nurtured will grow into new stories, stories of lives intertwining together.  Stories of new hope, new life, new chapters.

If we let it, that seed writes the story we always wanted but hardly dared to dream about.

Wither/Ascend – Stavesacre:  

Watch me fly
Freedom like wings and I will use them
Freedom like wings and I will spread them wide

Watch me fly
Freedom my wings and I will use them
Freedom my wings and I will spread them wide
And rise up

One day my ashes will return to earthly slumber
Spread far and wide across the desert and the sea
Until then I will leave each day in awe and wonder
And look forward to each sunrise


I think we fear that word.

If you’ve lived long enough and loved hard enough, then your story will undoubtedly reflect most.  Then there will be a moment when you said goodbye to someone and never thought it would be the last words you’d speak.

My family is still dealing with the shock of an unexpected goodbye.

Donald Miller in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years says, “My uncle told a good story with his life, but I think there was such a sadness at his funeral because his story wasn’t finished.  If you aren’t telling a good story, nobody thinks you died too soon; they just think you died.  But my uncle died too soon.”

Unexpected goodbyes, losing a loved one whose story wasn’t finished rearranges your life, it change your perspective.  If the pain is deep enough our view of the world can be so impacted that we begin to fear saying goodbye.  We become so aware of the fact that loving caused the pain that we try to minimize that risk.  We close our hearts. We stop loving.  We decide that the pain was so intense we’d rather live our lives slowly dying inside because we no longer allow anyone in, than open ourselves up to feeling that loss again.  And a beautiful life full of color begins to fade.

We protect ourselves, we guard our hearts from all pain.  We shut out the risk and because of that, we shut out life, we stop our story.

Hello

Goodbyes aren’t easy because they remind us that life can change unexpectedly, painfully, achingly.  We forget that goodbye must follow hello, and it almost always precedes the next hello.  If mankind never said goodbye Lewis and Clark would never have pushed west, America would never have been discovered, man would never have set foot on the moon, and I would never have met the lifelong friends I have here in Texas.

Goodbyes may never be easy, but they can be beautiful.  When that goodbye is said to someone you love immensely, there is beauty if you know that this person is following her dreams, if you know she is passionately pursuing the next chapter in her story and is stepping out in faith in spite of the questions and the doubt.  It will be beautiful because you know that this goodbye will be followed by new hello’s, new stories and new beauty.  This goodbye will be followed by pages and pages of a life’s story being written, pages that would never be written otherwise.

When the person you’re saying goodbye to has a beautiful heart and you realize that this goodbye is a necessary part of the creativity that will result in a beautiful life; when you can see the hands of the Master sculptor forming her into a Proverbs 31 woman, goodbye may not be easier, but you see the beauty.

You know that this goodbye may increase the distance between you, and it may be hard.  But you know it will deepen your roots and strengthen the bonds between you.  You know that for this eagle to soar, she must leave the nest.  And because you want her to soar, to become all she can be, because you want the world to see in her what you already do, you say goodbye.

It isn’t easy.  It may never be.  But it will be worth it.

Choosing love will open spaces of immense beauty and joy for you, but you will be hurt. You already know this. You have retreated from love countless times in your life because of it. We all have. We have been and will be hurt by the loss of loved ones, by what they have done to us and we to them. Even in the bliss of love there is a certain exquisite pain: the pain of too much beauty, of overwhelming magnificence.  Further, no matter how perfect a love may be, it is never really satisfied . . . In both joy and pain, love is boundless.

-Gerald May, The Awakened Heart

Goodbye

Sarah – your story is beautiful.  Your heart is beautiful.  You are beautiful.  Go!  Step out into your future.  Embrace your life.  Fill it with love, passion, and creativity.  Change the world and be changed in the process.  Live a life worthy of the dreams in your heart!  Benjamin Franklin said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”  Go, do just that!

I love you!

Future of Forestry – Set Your Sails:

Through the ache this week has brought, in the swirling eddies of pain at the loss my family is feeling, there is a current flowing.  Ripples of something much deeper, a truth that I believe my uncle knew or sensed even if he couldn’t put words to it.

He knew how to love.  You never questioned your worth in his eyes.  Yes, if you were one of his kids or a friend of his kids or anyone under 25 and you did something dangerous or stupid, you would know.  But you wouldn’t doubt the heart behind his words or actions. 

Yes, he could be impulsive at times.  He was a tattooed, beer drinking, Harley riding mans man.  And yes he liked pretty waitresses and working on old cars.  But you knew where his heart lay.  He absolutely loved his kids and his girlfriend.

My uncle may not have been a wordsmith, you wouldn’t catch him throwing clay or putting brush to canvas.  But in his own way you never doubted that he loved you, was for you and wanted you to know you mattered.

Lessons Learned

The world needs people whose hearts are fully alive, who chase after their passions and dreams.  The world needs people who love what they do and do what they love.  And the world needs those who are unashamed and unafraid to tell those they love how much they mean to them.

If there is one lesson I’ve learned this week its this: don’t wait.  If you love someone, if they mean something to you, tell them.  

Tomorrow, we will remember, we will tell stories.  Tomorrow my family gives a final send off to a man who lived life like it was meant to be lived.  Tomorrow, in a storm of fireworks and sparklers, surrounded by friends and loved ones we say goodbye.

Thank You

Thank you, Uncle Chuck for modeling who a man was supposed to be.  For being a father to your three great kids and the others who considered you a dad.  

Thank you for the fireworks, the reminders of how important family is, and for living life fully.

I, we all will miss you.  But we are better for knowing you.

Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I will not just say goodbye to a man who meant the world to many.  I will also say hello to many who mean the world to me.

And tomorrow, I will make sure they know.

We shortchange ourselves and the lives we could live if we chose to wait for the perfect, when the good enough is staring us in the face.

We won’t dance as often as we should or tell that girl how pretty she looks, we won’t risk as much but we will also see less reward.  Our relationships won’t be as deep, friendships won’t be as sincere and love won’t be as strong.

When we chose to wait for the perfect moment instead of capitalizing on the moments given to us, we miss out on drops of beauty that life rains only on those who chose to risk.

This past weekend I witnessed the interweaving of two stories, two lives, into one.  Two people who learned the joys of risk, who’ve felt the pain of loss but who didn’t wait for the elusiveness of perfect when love knocked on the door to their hearts.

And now a new story is now being written, one full of hope, of life, and I’ve no doubt that in time, a new family as well.

A new story, not a perfect story, not one without risk, without pain.  Not a story that wasn’t at one time bathed in tears, but a new story all the same.  One bathed in beauty, wrapped in grace, and filled with dreams coming true and new dreams being birthed in the hearts of those brave enough to not wait for perfect.

This weekend reminded me that finding courage to dream requires action, it requires a guy be aggressive and chase after what he wants, what he dreams of.  But most importantly, this weekend reminded me that life comes to those who step out in risk, who share their heart, who are open and who chase after the dreams written on their hearts.

Future of Forestry – Slow Your Breath Down: 

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