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There is something to be said about the trials we go through in our lives.

They paint with colors and shades all their own.  There is a beauty in those who chose to embrace the trial, the false accusations, the pain, and instead of shying away from the cup they are handed, chose to trust the hands that bled for them, and walk forward.

There is a love for the dawn enjoyed only by the few that have seen the darkest of the night.  There is a love, an appreciation, a hunger and thirst for those first rays of sunrise that only those who’ve fought through the night know.

Trials make us, they change us, they alter our lives and force our lives to become altars.

We were never promised a road free from trials.  Actually, the exact opposite was promised.  We would have trouble in this world.  We would see pain, we would see heartache.  We would know tears.  But we would also know in the very core of who we are, that our tears are not the end.

Yes, pain is real.  And yes, horrible things happen to people who do not deserve it.  And no, I do not understand it.  But I know it’s not the end.  I know that it’s not the final chapter of our stories.  And if you’re reading this, it’s not the end of your story.

Because we know the One who is has given us then pen, and who holds the blank pages of our lives in His hands.  And we know that He has seen the last chapters, He knows the end.  And because of that, through the trials, through the pain, through the ache of losing a loved one or the heartbreak of a relationship shattered, we know it’s not the end.

And if it is not the end, then something better is.

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
-C.S. Lewis

You are at war.

How we got here, why it happened, none of it matters. And trying to understand each circumstance, trying to make sense of the insanity that at times swirls at our feet will only frustrate and disappoint.

You may never know the answers to why or how.

I know, I’ve tried. And the only truth I have found is that we are at war.

And to live this life, to truly live this life like it is meant to be lived, like you were created to live it, you must fight.

Lives of passivity are colorless, bland, full of grays. Never seeing black and white much less the rainbow of life lying just outside of our picket fences.

You are a promise. You are a song. You have something in you that only you can bring to the world. You have a shade of blue, a note of music, a particular stroke of the painters brush that no one else has.

You bring life to others, if you fight to bring that life first to your heart.

Above all, guard your heart, for from it, life springs forth.
(Prov. 4:23)

You will never understand what love does, you will never see the depth of color in a rainbow or the rays of golden honey pouring from a sunset in their purest forms until the life of the One who paints the heavens is alight in your heart.

Protect your heart, love passionately.Chase hard after your dreams because the world needs you.

This past weekend ended with my wife and I attending the wedding of a friend.  It was a beautiful wedding, simple, elegant, pure.  There were tears of joy, of laughter, and the very beginning of a brand new story.  The wedding was what all weddings should be, wonderful.

During the reception we were blessed to sit with a husband and wife in their 50’s.  A couple, old enough to be our parents.  And they have an absolute lifetime full of stories to tell.  The evening was quickly filled with stories of redemption, of second marriages and second chances for them both, and freedom from more than a decade of drug use.

But what stood out the most was that they were still in love.  Madly in love.  Sharing whispers and quiet looks, holding hands and laughing.  You could just tell.  They were just as in love now, as they were when they tied the not.  And as they approach their retirement years, it was very obvious that there is more life and energy in them now than at any other time they’ve been alive.

The love they have for each other was beautiful.

I was humbled, and almost brought to tears.

Because I want that.  For me, for my beautiful bride.  For us.

I want to be the type of man who will be more in love with his bride in 20 years than he is now.  I want to be the type of man who steals a glance and looks longingly at her from across the room when I’m 52.  I want to be the type of man whose wife never doubts his love for her.

And part of me is afraid that I cannot be that type of man.  Afraid because I never had that man as a father.

But I cannot hide there, in my circumstances.  Yes, the fact is, my father was never the man he should have been. But I will not be defined by the path my father forged.  I am fully capable of forging my own.

Beyond the fact that my earthly father may not have been there for me lies a truth I cannot ignore, my Heavenly Father was.

I know, it sounds like some pat answer, like I’m hiding behind my religion.  I’m not.  Because when I say those words, I don’t say them lightly.  Those words carry weight because I can testify to the love I’ve seen from my Heavenly Father.

And it is that love, it is because of that love that I will forge my own path.

And I will be the man I want to be, the man my wife deserves.

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  

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


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