More Than Most

I live inside my brain, don’t you? (Inside yours, not mine that is.) Don’t your thoughts number the millions each day and bounce around inside that wondrous, crowded cranium of yours and run the gamut of opinions, questioned convictions, observations, judgments, and what I like to call “cerebral meanderings” (shout out to my current blog page tagline)? Don’t you believe your thoughts are supremely unique and far different than others’ thoughts (no better, just different), and that is true not merely in content but in execution? Don’t you think you think differently than the humans surrounding you?

One of the reasons I love people is that people are the most fascinating people that exist. I think sociology is an incredibly enticing field of study. Simply because people are people and people are so very beautiful in their complexities, conformities, and contradictions. Every time I see a fellow human I secretly want to know who they are, what they’re up to, where they’re going, and what’s motivating them in that direction.

And you’re no different. I think you’re fascinating. Truly riveting. You think you’re just doing yo’ thang but I disagree. That thang you doin’ is the stuff of myth and miracle. You’re intricately and powerfully impactful.

All that being said, let me ask you to fill in a blank for me. What do you suppose you do more than most? Would you say that you think you worry more than most? Do you think that you dream more than most? Would you suspect that you fantasize more than most? Do you grumble more than most? Are you more joy filled than most? Go ahead, fill it in: “I’m more __________ than most.” or “I tend to __________ more than most.” Or any variation of that. It could be a thought, a habit, a conviction, a compulsion, or anything else at all. Put it in the comments or message me with your thoughts.

Of course none of this is really qualifiable. Because honestly, who knows? And that’s okay, You’re simply surmising what you think you _____ more than most. There’s zero judgment here. Let it fly.

Where does faith intersect with psyche? What bearing does my opinion have on unchanging truth (if you happen to believe in such a thing, as I do)? Is the utter uniqueness you inherently possess cancelled out by the fact that we’re all that unique?

There’s beauty in that mirror of yours. Breathtaking mystery that lives behind those eyes you see. Whether you embrace it or not, you are far more _______ than most.

A Journey Begins;

Yes, I know that putting a semicolon there doesn’t really make sense. But hear me out. A semicolon is used when a thought is continuing but the path is shifting. That’s why I used it. That’s where I am.

I started this blog as a place for me to record and process my own thoughts. If anyone gets any thing–and I mean ANYTHING AT ALL–out of it then that’s great. I’m intent on recording this moment in my life because I want the ability to return to it and remember what I’m thinking and feeling right now.

For years and years and years and years my wife and I have walked the neighborhood, usually after dinner. I love it. Every step, every moment, every word of every conversation with her is “life-giving” as the kids today would say. And I wish I had a $2 bill for every time we talked about me going back to school to get my master’s degree. I can hear your gasps as you receive the news that I am NOT in fact a mastered individual. So I’d say that for easily 15 years, we’ve talked about this topic. And I’ve done nothing about it.

Yesterday, I received my acceptance letter into a very unique (and I’m sure very challenging) DUAL-master’s degree program. I will presumably graduate in 2 years with a Masters of Ministry AND an MBA. Here’s how I’m feeling/thinking about all that:

I feel nervous; my insecurities are locked and loaded because of the self-doubt I and most humans wrestle with continually.

I feel uncertain; despite overthinking this decision for 15 years, I’m not entirely sure that this personal Mount Everest will deliver all that I suspect it might in terms of suffering, surviving, and summitting.

I feel energized; jumping from a cliff will do wonders for your heartrate because you’re leaving what certainly was for what possibly might be.

I feel hopeful; the sheer power of hope is the jet fuel that propels me into a deep peace which confirms my conviction that I’ve made the right move.

I feel ready; there is a confidence that comes in knowing that you’ve chosen the harder, more difficult path on purpose. Not because you’re psychotic, but because you’re alive in a way that won’t settle for coasting.

I have a rather small handful of folks who read my blog. Other than you, my readers, I’m really not broadcasting this news. There isn’t anything I’m hiding, I’m only choosing to go about this business quietly. Other than you, the people I consider closest to me know I’ve started this journey and without exception I feel each of them behind me, hand on my back, cheering me on.

If you’re a praying person, I certainly won’t turn down any prayer support you might give.

The Day After The Day

We collectively lost our minds yesterday in jubilant celebration over the empty tomb. Remember that? You were probably either willingly or involuntarily immersed in a wave of Jesus-ness that spanned the globe. You maybe were hit with someone saying “He is risen!” and they silently expected you to respond with the traditionally appropriate: “He is risen, indeed!” This has been the greeting for millennia when Christians come in contact with other Christians. Its a reminder that Jesus was put in a borrowed tomb for a reason.

On Friday morning I found myself at a local church (not the one I’m on staff at) with a horde of other men of all ages, singing in worship in the frigid morning hours and culminating in a “raising of the cross” where a bunch of men worked/struggled together to lift a pretty accurately-sized cross in order to drop it into a hole that had been prepared. Oh, that was after we all took turns pounding spikes into it. Good times indeed on a Good Friday morning. Then breakfast and coffee. Yum.

Then on Friday evening, I gathered with another large crowd of Jesus people to observe/celebrate His crucifixion; the act that paid the full debt of humanity’s sin. We celebrated communion together and remembered the broken body and shed blood of the Savior. A somber tone to a solemn occasion.

Oh, let’s not forget the Maundy Thursday experience I led a group of high schoolers through on Thursday night. Trying hard to recreate the upper room experience, complete with “reclining” positions around a low table and a dipping bowl to dip bread into, we together looked at the Judases hiding in the dark corners of our hearts, and how even today we sell Jesus out for far less than 30 pieces of silver. Its a bitter pill, but one that must be swallowed.

Okay, so yesterday it was the “Sunday” in the “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!” sentiment. (Any Carman fans in the house?) Resurrection Day! The day in which lovers of Jesus the world over collectively cheer and its this sweet vindicating party wherein we all point to death and hell and shout: “Loser!” We gather around the empty tomb and both marvel and “I told you so!” all the day long. Yep, its a great day for sure; the highlight of the calendar for anyone who loves and follows Jesus.

But then…Monday. Here we are. What is different except that our voices are a little hoarse from all that singing and shouting and yelling at each other about how “He is risen!”? What does Sunday do to Monday? I suppose for as long as I’ve been a spiritual investor in people, that question has always been the focus. That “So what?” has been where my mind and heart actually gravitate to: What does Sunday do to Monday? Certainly all the time and energy put into that Sunday morning celebration MUST have more of a last impact than an hour long church service. Certainly it must revolutionize our Monday, right?

So, let’s talk about Easter Monday as much as we talk about Easter Sunday, shall we? The hype, the celebration, the shouts of praise, and the focus on the empty tomb as the culmination of the mission of Jesus on earth should certainly ripple through the other 364 days of the year. Wouldn’t you agree?

Here’s one of the things that Paul wrote that I just love. You gotta love Paul. Right to the point:

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”
1 Corinthians 15:14

Read the whole chapter sometime and tell me that Paul pulls any punches in anything he says. The truth here is so very clear and so very critical: If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead–if He isn’t actually alive right now, then we who claim Him are the most pitiful, pathetic, and problem-ridden people on the planet. What the cross did to the power of sin, the empty tomb did to the power of death. Do you see how the tomb completes the salvation equation? A little while later in that same chapter, look at Paul’s words in verses 55-57…

“Where, O death, is your victory?
    Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! 
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So as you walk through your Monday, then your Tuesday, then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then Saturday… walk as if you are walking straight out of the empty tomb following your look inside to see that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Messiah to all has indeed risen just as He said He would!

Walk in confidence, in humility, in authority, in purpose, in hope, in love, in redemption, in restoration, in peace, and in hilarity as you move in and out of conversations and situations He has placed you in for the sole purpose of reflecting the reality of the resurrection.

————————————————————————————————-

Okay, okay. I can’t help it. Here’s to all you Carman fans…

Honest to Goodness

We’re not always honest all the time to everyone. It would take so much longer to get even the most mundane tasks done if we were completely transparent and vulnerable to every person we encountered. The fact remains though that honesty is a bit of a lost relic in our world. It’s not that it’s not there, it’s just that it is often so mucked over with filters, with half-truths, and with hurriedness that we sometimes lose sight of the imperative nature of honesty.

I process things in my own way. So do you. I process things slowly. Maybe you’re a faster processor than I am. I bet you are. When presented with a question, or a truth, or new information my tendency is to take it in and shut the door. Have you ever walked up to the front door of a local business and its the middle of the work day but they’ve got one of those “Will Return” blue and white plastic clock signs hanging on the door? Yep, my brain is kind of like that when it receives new information.

When that information is processed, it’s integrated into what was already there. If it’s information that is more correct/true than what was there, it effectively replaces what was there. This is how our brains work. We learn, we grow, we change, we adapt, we become different thinkers every single day. Your brain is not the exact same organ it was even seconds ago when you started reading this blog post. It has changed itself based on all the input it has received.

This is why honesty is an absolute imperative. It is through honesty that we most effectively handle all this new information. This may seem like the simplest of statements, but I assure you it is not the case in all situations. The concept of truthfulness–perhaps because of the very idea of truth being perpetually on trial–is a slippery one at best. It’s one that many people might find unworthy of arguing over in what has been referred to as our “post-Christian” culture. (I should write sometime and make my case about how I don’t think the term “post-Christian” accurately describes the current state of America.)

I’ve found that honesty also unlocks every jail cell we can construct for ourselves. Honesty is a liberator waiting to be unleashed to its work. Not only that, but nothing else and no one else can do that work; nothing else is qualified or has the power that truth does. This is precisely why Jesus famously said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.(John 8:32)

A blog is no place to prescribe to you what this looks like for your day today. But I’d wager a bet that it does somehow connect very intimately with a situation you are currently in. So, may I offer you a set of questions to answer honestly?

  1. What does full honesty–no matter what–cost me?
  2. What are the predicted outcomes of being totally honest; both positive and negative?
  3. What is it that is my biggest obstacle to honesty right now? Is it fear? Is it past hurt? Is it insecurity?
  4. When and why did I construct the jail cell I feel my emotions are in because I haven’t been fully honest?

As a young person, I spent a season of my life lying almost exclusively. I wanted what I wanted and when I wanted it, no matter who got hurt. So I lied freely. I was numb to the devastation I was creating because I was blinded to see it, at least most of it. And what I did see was merely collateral damage worth the hurt because I was getting the things my selfish, sinful heart wanted.

My mom is an incredibly wise person. In the heyday of the deceptive lifestyle of my youth she likened dishonesty to digging. Each lie is a shovelful of sand. (I grew up at the beach, so this word picture was rich and poignant.) She showed me that each time I decided not to be honest, I was scooping a shovelful of sand, creating a deeper hole that I was living in. You may not know this, but many people have died on beaches in America simply by having fun digging holes in the sand. There’s a point at which the walls of the hole cannot support the weight of the surrounding sand and the hole collapses into itself, burying whatever or whoever is in the hole. My mom chose this imagery to teach me about lying and honesty.

So, what hole are you digging right now? I’m not encouraging us to honesty simply so that we feel better about ourselves or we can take some moral high ground. No, not at all. I want for you what I want for me: I want you to live in the freedom that honesty affords. My mom also taught me that the only way to live freely is to live honestly. Otherwise you have a much heavier load to bear. Each lie is another brick you must carry with you. This is because you have to keep track of lies, but not keep track of truth. You actively change details when you lie, but the details of truth aren’t like that. So on a very practical level, you don’t have to work nearly as hard to live an honest life as you do a dishonest life. Life is hard enough, why add to the load by being less than honest?

I suppose though that my main motivation in pushing us to full honesty is so that our hearts have nothing–absolutely nothing–between ourselves and God. The smallest grain of sand between my heart and the heart of God is still something. All spiritual progress and growth is interrupted and short-circuited by dishonesty. We cannot and will not grow in grace or draw close in worship while still holding dishonesty in our hearts. These two things cannot be reconciled. You are either dishonest and further from God than you need to be by your own choosing, or you are fully honest and are continually growing in grace and intimacy with God. This seems overly simplistic, but this is the truth.

If you don’t know where to start and if all this talk of honesty and holes and jail cells seems overwhelming to your mind and heart, then simply start with Jesus. He IS the Truth. (John 14:6) There is no truth apart from Him. Our relativistic and pluralist society would say that each of us have truths that are wildly different and yet somehow compatible. This is the height of nonsense. An atheist says there is no God. A theist says there is. Our culture says, “You’re both right.” The very nature of truth won’t allow this however. And the person of Jesus not merely embodies truth; He IS Truth. So if you don’t know where to go with these thoughts, start with Jesus. Approach Him. Ask Him. Embrace Him. Let He who IS Truth set you free from the crushing bondage of dishonesty.

My Theology

When you’re around someone who loves theology, you know it. It drips and seeps into every thought they have and every conversation you have with them. They’ll tell you about what scripture verse(s) constitute the truth they’re expressing, or what well-known (even if just to them) theologian of days-gone-by thought/wrote/said about that particular subject. It’s exhilarating and exhausting all at once.

Years ago, I recall a great theologian (and friend/former pastor of mine) named Jerome Hancock said something to this effect:

The word theology is the most absurd word there is. To think that we can ‘study God’ is at the height of human absurdity.”

You can cringe at that, or bristle against it, or you can choose to see his point–and rather easily. We’re studying the One who is so far beyond our comprehension that His great charity is to allow us to near Him, let alone know Him. We call it theology, the study of God (“theos” in the Greek) but what it actually is is our finite minds straining at embracing the incomprehensible reality of the infinite Divine.

The greatest theological minds in all of history have but sipped at the ladle of all their minds could grasp, while standing on the shoreline of the boundless ocean depths of all that God is and all there can be known of Him.

As I was driving from here to there today, I passed a church with a marquee out front that said:

“Theology is God’s Holy Spirit making it’s way through your brain.”

Hmm. Okay. That’s an interesting thought, I suppose. Still, no matter how you understand it, the word theology is an adequate description of what we’re endeavoring to do here. So I thought I’d share with you in rapid-fire fashion, my own personal theology. I’ll state the topic/issue/thing and then share the nutshell version of my belief on that. As you read, keep track of what you agree with, disagree with, and/or want to challenge. Use the comment section to share all that. You ready? Here we go…

God

Yes, I believe there is a God. I believe He is eternal, all powerful, all present, and all knowing. I believe He exists in 3 persons, yet is one God. I believe these three persons to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While the word “Trinity” is not found in scripture, the concept is clearly seen in scripture. From the creation story, through the Torah, through the prophets, most obviously at Jesus’ baptism, and even in the apocalyptic literature known as Revelation. I believe God is supremely holy, just, gracious, and patient–to name a very few of His attributes.

Life Purpose

I believe that my life’s purpose is to so completely embrace the grace God offers humanity through Jesus (more on Him in a minute) that my life is literally transformed from the inside out. A man by the name of D.T. Niles once said “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” and while I love the poetic nature of that and while I think it scratches the surface of what I have found in this gracious God, I believe it goes far beyond and deeper than that. I am so captivated by grace that–God helping me–it oozes out of every pore of every thought, word, conversation, and decision I have. My life’s purpose is summarized in Galatians 1:24: “And they praised God because of me.” I ask no wealth, no notoriety, no ego-based platform, no fame but to know that my life has in some way, somehow caused someone…ANYONE to praise God because of me.

Jesus

I believe that Jesus is the one and only Son of God. Jesus is eternal by virtue of being God Himself. Jesus is the bodily manifestation of God who came to earth, created the BC/AD split, was born miraculously of a virgin named Mary, grew, served, taught, loved, listened, healed, and ultimately died on a Roman cross of crucifixion, fulfilling prophecies spoken hundreds of years before His birth. But I believe that because Jesus is God, the grave had no hope of holding Him and because of His resurrection, I have the full assurance of resurrection as well. I believe that Jesus will return for His bride, the Church, of which I am a part, along with all others who claim Him as Savior and love Him as Lord. I believe I will spend eternity in His presence because of His promises, not because of my performance.

The Bible

Ugh. The Bible. I have to admit to you that while I love this book with my whole heart, I am often both confounded by it and distracted from it. Still, I believe the bible to be the written revelation of God’s will for humanity. In it you’ll find testifying history, narrative, stories, instructions, eye-witness accounts, and blueprints on how to live a life that is fully God’s. Though this collection of 66 books may vex me at points, I cling to it as the beautiful, accurate, inerrant, revealed story of God’s redemption of humanity. I don’t believe it is all there is, because the bible itself says that it doesn’t hold all there is (John 21:25). But I do believe, as it says of itself in 2 Peter 1:3 and 2 Timothy 3:16, we have within it all we need to know salvation and holiness, as well as how we are to live in light of who God is, and by His power.

The World

By “world” I mean earth, its inhabitants, and also the culture that surrounds us. I believe the world we’re on is unraveling. I believe that we are living on a disintegrating dust ball. Yet I also believe we are called to care well for the physical earth and to be good stewards of the majesty God has handcrafted. In regards to the people of earth, I believe every one of them is fully deserving of dignity, love, family, community, support, and an opportunity to personally encounter the good news of salvation so each one can make their own choice about it. I believe that humans are the pinnacle of creation, even if you define creation as accidentally evolutionary. I believe our (American) culture is potentially beautifully but tragically corrupt. We are naturally self-centered and that has caused nearly every discord and ill we as a culture live in each day. I am not fatalistic, however. I believe in the power of love to turn any person, regardless of their past into a person that reflects the character of God, our Creator.

Hell

Yes, I believe in a literal hell. I believe it is the full absence of God’s presence. There is more to know about it than this, but other than that I believe that it is reserved for the unrepentant who repeatedly reject God.

What other areas of “theology” should be included here? What are the big pieces of YOUR theology? I welcome any comments/thoughts/respectful disagreements below.

Practically Pastoring in 2022

I spend most Mondays at 11 a.m. in a very similar fashion. I open up Facebook and watch “The Morning After Ministry Show” with Andrew Larsen and Timothy Miller. I’ve been watching their web show for quite a while now and always enjoy the way in which they communicate authentically with each other as friends and as fellow pastors who live in the Tampa, FL area. They’ve got a great chemistry together and their show always delivers laughs, insights, and thought-provoking material. It doesn’t hurt that both of them have their own unique sense of humor, so they play off each other really well. Whenever I can watch, I always enjoy the show and their hour always seems to fly by. Its not uncommon to hear my wife ask on Monday evenings, “Hey did you see the show today?” and then we talk/laugh about whatever was shared.

These two friends are also part of a group of 5 pastors who host the “Practically Pastoring Podcast”. Jeff, Delmar, and Frank the other pastors in the group who share their real-life situations, cultural commentary, and theological conversations in a way that’s always relatable and enjoyable. So, when this group of 5 pastors announced in 2021 that they would be hosting the first ever “Practically Pastoring Conference” in February of 2022, it didn’t take long at all for me to register, book my flight, and wait until the day arrived.

That day was 2 days ago, February 21. I’m sitting in the Tampa International Airport waiting for my flight and while the whole experience is fresh in my mind, I thought I’d put down some details; really for my own benefit (thanks a lot, zero memory power), but also in hopes that perhaps these reflections might spark something in you, whether you’re a pastor, an atheist, a student, or anyone else with a pulse.

If nothing else, this conference–albeit brief–was definitely true to its name and DNA: it certainly passed the “practical” test. Every conversation, presentation, and piece of content was practically helpful in some way. It was either directly related to my life and ministry or it was something at least worth tucking away to stew on later. I was honestly concerned that my backpack (my lone piece of luggage) would never fit all the books we were given. Not to mention the transparent, helpful, thoughtful words that were shared during each session. So that’s my first kudos to these 5 pastors: they created a practical experience that I trust will prove helpful in the lives and ministries of those who attended.

I’m the type of person that has thoughts triggered by listening to others but sometimes those thoughts have precious little to do with what I’m hearing while I’m listening. Anyone else? Just me? Is that weird?

Let me give you an example.

(By the way, I doodle when I listen. So here’s a doodle I doodled while listening…) We were discussing ministry in context and I began to think of ministry OUT of context. That is, what does the ministry of fostering spiritual community look like regardless of the “who” and the “where”?

As a pastor who’s lived through and survived the last 2 years of the madness and mass exodus of countless Christians trying to navigate spiritual community in the context of a global pandemic, I have definitely and repeatedly revisited the “why” behind everything we do.

In this instance, its a questioning of why we do things and what we do and when we do them.

When we as a people (the Church) gather together, there are two primary objectives. The first is to lean. That is, to find strength, comfort, welcoming, acceptance, inclusion, and fellowship. Certainly it can happen virtually. And it does. But the better method is physically and in person. Is it inconvenient? Mundate at times? Perhaps even predictable which for some equates to boring? Sure. But that makes it no less imperative. I am fully convinced that you cannot grow spiritually in the way God designed and desires apart from spiritual community. And authentic spiritual community is best delivered through the discipline of leaning. When we lean, we find that those around us are also leaning and lean-worthy. None of us are perfect, but all of us are perfect candidates for the beautiful community God invites us all into.

The next objective when we gather is to learn. Please understand that I do NOT mean that this is the only time when you learn and grow spiritually as if there is a day and time to your spiritual nourishment. None of us would feed our physical selves once a week or even twice a week, so why would we think that a weekly meal of whatever the pastor is serving will be sufficient to sustain our spiritual health and vitality? The idea of learning when we gather is that we maintain a hunger for God’s Word, for clear instruction, for holiness, and the interweaving of our journey with that of others who are also following Jesus. These are all ways in which we learn.

The right outcome of all this leaning and learning is that we are launched into the rest of our week ready to love and to lead. So, let’s flesh out in simple terms what that might look like.

You likely have certain responses to the word “love”. You might think a wide variety of things in regards to what love looks like. For our purposes here, we will embrace God’s definition of love that was penned through the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

“Love is patient, love is kind, Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Since you’re not perfect and neither am I, we can always, always look at this standard of love and see where we stand. With God’s help (and you don’t need much help here), we can see clearly and instantly where we fall short in terms of this standard. Ask yourself practical questions like…

When and with whom have I been impatient?

Where has kindness been visible in me?

Who am I jealous of right now and why?

How has pride manifested in my thoughts and words?

Have I thought or done anything in an effort to place someone below me?

Where is selfishness showing up in my daily life?

When have I too easily gotten angry this week and why?

Against who am I holding a grudge right now?

Is my heart currently embracing and living in truth?

Who in my life needs protection?

Who am I trusting fully?

What am I hoping and who needs me to share hope with them?

What we’ve done with these few lines of scripture is we have translated them into practical, more measurable goals. Not as a legalistic checklist for our own egos, but for reaping the benefits of seeking to love others as we are loved by God.

Lastly, an outcome of our spiritual community is that we lead. I believe the concept of leadership is quite tainted in our time. We have defined it quite narrowly and therefore have inadvertently exempted those who do not view (or value) themselves as what pop culture considers “leaders”. What if anyone who claimed Jesus as Savior and Lord were to also accept their place of servant leadership in their own everyday world? What if we embraced the opportunities for initiative and influence that surround us continually? We may be inclined to dismiss this thought because the opportunities seem too small or insignificant, but I would say that there is no such thing in the Kingdom of God. In fact, from a biblical standpoint the case could be made that the places, and tasks, and people that culture might consider “small” or “insignificant” are exactly where Jesus loved to hang out. How can we so simply decide for Him that our obedience won’t matter simply because we deem the opportunity too small?

In what ways do you need to reframe and redefine your understanding of what it means to lead? You there–you mother of those toddlers, do you think you’re not leading right now? Seriously? You there–the high schooler who’s still floundering to find a sure faith footing. Do you think you’re not making an impact on your school community as you simply love Jesus honestly and carelessly? Of course you are. And what about you–the one who has found themselves working a job you didn’t count on and perhaps don’t even want right now; do you really think you’re not a force of leadership among other employees? Indeed you are. And what about you, the widow(er)–are you resigned to coast the rest of the way simply because things aren’t as they were before your spouse passed on? Have you reckoned yourself without influence and ability to lead because of the grief you bear? With all due respect, this is hogwash. Or perhaps I should look at you–the one who feels broken, used, hurt, damaged, or disqualified because of past decisions and shame. Do you really think there’s no room at the Table of God’s Grace and therefore God’s gloriousness usefulness for you? You couldn’t be more wrong.

There are scads of other doodles and thoughts I’ll be taking away from these last 36 hours in Tarpon Springs, FL. But I’ll need to do some more processing before I can share those. I hope that you’ve read something here to make you smile, make you think, make you mad, or make you change. If I’ve triggered anything in your mind, I’d love to know that. I always leave the comment section open and I love to hear from those who read my blog.

As I close, here’s a photo I took this morning with Andrew and Tim. I’m honored to now call them more than just those 2 guys who are on that show that I watch. I’m proud to call them friends.

A Love Story

I wasn’t a stellar student in high school. I liked my classes and teachers for the most part, but only as long as they didn’t interfere with all the other parts of my life; namely my friends and spending time with them. I was a slightly above average student–hold on–you know what? Let’s just say I was average. In a graduating class of 225 students, I was ranked #101. So when I say slightly above average, that’s really quite literal, if perhaps a little generous.

So you can imagine my utter shock (and my parents’ utter delight) when 2 admissions counselors from a teeny tiny school called Pinebrook Junior College in Coopersburg, PA sat in my living room and were apparently wanting me to attend, starting that coming fall. That I was wanted by any school at all was a mind-bender, if I’m being honest. Like I said I wasn’t anything special, especially not academically.

That conversation in my childhood living room was a game changer though. When those two folks walked out, I was all but a signed and committed Pinebrook Panther. And the outlook of my life would never ever be the same.

I seem to recall my parents walking a few inches above the ground when we stepped foot on the Pinebrook Junior College campus. The thought that their youngest and only son, in all his averageness was actually heading off to college, was clearly filling them with glee.

The campus was miniscule but at the time I had no recognition of that. I had no point of reference, so the size of the school was inconsequential. What I remember most about that move-in day was when from across a parking lot I saw a group of students who I would later learn had been there for a summer term so were already connected and settled in. And in that small group of faces I saw the one that would have my heart entranced from that moment forward.

When I use the expression “love at first sight”, I sometimes get eye-rolls and general disbelief. But the best way I can describe seeing this young woman (I was just shy of 18 years old at this point), was the good gift of God in the form of neon arrows that only I could see hovering all around her, pointing to this absolutely stunning woman. Scoff if you’d like but my eyes, my heart, my spirit, my soul, and all my attention were completely fixated on this one I had yet to meet. In a word, it was “over”. And remember, this was my very first day of college.

I soon got to know who that young woman was. Her name was Merritt Medlock and even now as I type her name my heart quickens. So you can imagine that as a young man, just barely out of boyhood in many ways, I simply could not stop thinking about her. I still can’t.

The thing was–that “love at first sight” thing? It was only a one-way street at that point. This woman I was gob smacked over didn’t really seem to reciprocate. But that minor detail would not deter or derail what I was convinced was the script of heaven when it came to my future and who I’d walk through life with. So needless to say, I had some work to do but I did it with utter confidence of impending victory.

Over the coming weeks I did my dead level best to woo her. Or at least wear her down. I think it was a combination of both. A little over a month later, a month filled with daily walks after class and hours spent talking and getting to know one another, we found ourselves at a concert with some friends when I “officially” asked her to be my “girlfriend”. It’s a term I still apply to her today.

We dated all four years of college. That cute little junior college where we met is no longer on the map because within a couple weeks of us arriving it was announced to us that that would be their last year in existence. Financial woes, apparently. But a wonderful college in New York by the name of Nyack College showed up as if out of nowhere and a small army of Panthers would agree to transfer to Nyack College at the end of that academic year. Thankfully, Merritt Medlock and I BOTH planned to transfer to Nyack College. And that next fall, we moved to Nyack, New York right on the bank of the Hudson River just north of New York City.

Most if not all love stories have a bit of turbulence. Ours did, but I alone am fully responsible for all of it. After 4 years of dating and at the beginning of our senior year of college, I broke up with her. I will never forgive myself for the pain that caused her. I don’t even have a good reason for that decision. I think I was seeing the oncoming train of real life after college and just freaked. I know I will never be able to sufficiently explain my thought process there because I don’t fully understand it either. But I know that I hurt deeply the one I loved most. On the night I should have proposed, I ended it.

We spent some time apart and from the moment that time started, I was in agony. My heart hurt and I had no one to blame but myself. I had wrecked the one person that meant everything to me. Over a period of time we began to speak again. It was the first week or so in October now and I was headed to Ohio for a quick trip to be in my cousin’s wedding. While I stood there in that ceremony, all tuxedoed up and watching them exchange their vows, I again felt the full weight of the colossal mistake I had made in hurting the woman I love.

The next day I returned to Nyack College and asked Merritt to take a hike with me up nearby Hook Mountain. It was one of my favorite spots, overlooking the beautiful Hudson River. We hiked to the top and sat on the cliff’s edge talking. I was so glad we had reconnected but I was so much more than ready to show her how deeply in love with her I was (am) and only one question would do that.

We sat, ate some snacks, and were getting ready to head back down. We were sitting on the ground, so I suggested we stand up for a hug before heading back down the mountain. When she stood, I dug into my pocket to where I had tucked the tiny box with the tiny diamond ring. In my recollection, I was stunningly awkward, nervous, and even though I was on one knee and thus low to the ground, I felt like I was shaking so much I would likely fall over. I looked up at her, this beautiful woman I loved, and asked the question:

Merritt….. Will you marry me?”

Her response in that moment was the most glorious, beautiful, slowest of slow motions. And I was glad for that because I wanted to savor every single moment of this question/answer exchange. So sweetly, so carefully, she bent down to be eye to eye with me, kissed me softly and said:

“Yes.”

The time it takes a human to stand from kneeling isn’t in my mind because before I knew it I was standing upright again embracing my fiancée. We walked down the mountain, hand in hand, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I still can’t.

That day was over 28 years ago and while my memory won’t let me recall every moment of those 28 years, I can tell you unequivocally that I am the happiest man there is. I was given by God the greatest gift of a woman that I couldn’t even have ever dreamed of. But then when I completely screwed that up and had no one to blame but myself, that woman still stayed. I’ve said on many occasions and to many people that to me, Merritt Medlock IS the greatest reminder and representation of God’s grace in my life. Everyday I wake up is another day to love her in a way that seeks to show that I know I don’t deserve her.

I’m so in love with this woman. I’m convinced that I have indeed been given as my bride the most incredible woman I could’ve ever dreamed of. She is so loving, so wise, so giving, so gracious, so strong, so hilarious, so caring, and so beautiful. And I love her with all I am. And that’s our story…so far.