Hello 2017

As the new year begins there are some old and fresh wounds given by 2016 that could do with some mending. A fair amount of celebrities had the spotlight of life turned off on them. No matter what age a light goes out it will always be too soon. Another celebrity found his way into the presidency. Despite how I and a great many feel about his character, my hope is truly that he does well. Because that will mean our country is doing well. Countless other tragedies and hardships befell you reading this right now and those in the world at large. If there is any emotional scar still healing as you read on, I hope you can grow from the pain and sadness that is trying so desperately to make you feel so small. I hope you learn to dance with your demons in the dark and throw firecrackers at their feet. I want to remind you that hope is the reason you woke up this morning and i want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing that. Some of you know others choose to put themselves to sleep forever.

I also want to remind you that hope does not have a schedule it keeps. It does not reset at midnight to start the new year and then run out at some undisclosed moment to be found out later. Hope is alive every second of every day. I believe hope has a name, and that name is Jesus.

Our God’s love for us endures forever. It has no end. This means He is our ever-present help as our Father and friend. In our steepest triumphs and highest peaks He is there, giving us a round of applause to shake the cosmos. And in our deepest pits when we’ve forgotten what it means to know joy, He is still there comforting us and teaching happiness by going back to basics. Our weakest moments are when it is hardest to trust in Him. Of course the bitter irony is that’s when it’s most necessary. So lets talk weakness for a bit.

2016 saw me suffer my second drug induced psychotic break, alienate certain friends because of said break, and get hit by the flu right in time for new years eve. 2016 also saw me get cleared of any diagnosis of mental illness after graduating from therapy, make exciting new friendships and rebuild old ones in ways I couldn’t have done alone, and I wrote a nifty novel of a post from my death bed. Through it all I can say God is so good. And that’s a very refreshing thing. I’m sure your battles looked much different but were no less beautiful. I’m open to discussing war stories and tested strategies any time. This year has taught me every battle we face shows us that alone we’re living in weakness. What a wonderful thing that is precisely when His strength is made perfect. Happy New Year guys.

 

Veterans Day

Most of us will never know of their sacrifice.

Whether their influence in your life be first hand, second hand, or if you don’t think of them at all, there are men and women out there who nevertheless answered the call of duty.

Their duty lies with God, and their duty lies with country. We can never fully justify or understand what their eyes must see. They give and they give of themselves, time and time again.

They are the best of us.

They do what it takes so the rest of us need only go on and live.

For those who are abroad, for those who come back whole, for those who return a bit dismembered.

Today we remember. Today we salute you. Today we give thanks for all that you do.

My Faith Journey

The following is pulled from the application for that job I told y’all about last week. It required a sort of testimony or more specifically a faith journey and I could think of nothing else then the story you’re about to read. I flirted with the idea of writing about it almost immediately after it happened but it didn’t feel right then, but it does now. So here goes, friends. Bare with me.

So I’ve been a Christian my whole life, but I found Jesus only last year on this day July 25, the day I tried to “kill myself.” I’ll explain the quotations in a bit. Two days prior to the “suicide attempt” I ingested a pot brownie of high enough concentration to send me into a drug induced psychosis. For the next two days I was both myself and not myself. I moved from delusional moments to those of clarity. Most of my clearest moments, however, I spent praying vigorously. I prayed for sleep (which did not not come) and for peace of mind (which did not come). As stripped as I was of what seemed essential at the time, I never stopped praying. My delusional thoughts fluctuated between thinking I was Satan himself chained down in hell, to believing my best friend Daniel was Jesus in the flesh causing me to hug and hang onto him for dear life. But there was also a central theme that permeated my mind again and again no matter what other beliefs came and went: that I was in fact dead, my life is a lie, and I had to “die” for my real life to begin. And so as I headed into the bathroom to “kill myself” I harbored thoughts along the lines of Jesus being my only friend, and the way to be with Him was to “die”. However, with the time and healing and growth and wisdom that I could only acquire through studying the Word of God since that day, I’ve realized that the enemy used the Truth to tell me a lie. In the reading I’ve done since I found that Paul says in Philippians that for him “to live is Christ, but to die is gain.” As true as that may be I almost died on my terms and NOT God’s. I almost made a grave mistake.

But here’s the good news for all of us united in the faith. We know and understand that God’s loving kindness, His mercy, His forgiveness endures forever. Focusing on forever, for me, started that day. I felt God’s forgiveness the moment His grace moved me to call the paramedics myself since no one was home. He didn’t let me destroy His temple. In the hospital later that afternoon while I was recovering on medication but still a little delusional, my mother was reading a bible with me, and this made me so happy that I actually thought I was in Heaven already. The good news I take from that day is that I found out I could touch Heaven through the Word written in scripture. The good news I take from that day is that I found out I didn’t want to die as much as I desperately want to be with Christ. I found out I wanted to live and He showed me what that means. It means living for Christ. And I aim to do just that. That’s why I use quotations around “suicide attempt”. This is not a sad story about how I almost died. It is a story about how I came to life. I am a small part of the greatest love story in the universe: that of a Father and what He will do for His children to be happy.

Call and Response

For many people, believers or not, it would appear to be a fair assumption that God doesn’t speak anymore- if ever at all. Now while He may not be talking through the flames in a burning bush to anyone, the idea that God is silent in our world is simply not true. I’m not talking about the divine contact of near-death experiences here, although some of those stories deserve serious attention and merit for sources of faith confirmation and conversion. That’s a topic for another day. No. I’m talking about subtle hints and nudges He pushes our way to let us know He’s there. We lead such busy lives these days that we’re not always prepared to seek Him out or listen to Him right away, but that’s not an issue for our God. When we’re too caught up with other things and He calls, He just leaves voice mails for us instead.

But what do those voice mails look and sound like? The short answer is this: you can hear Him in anything that makes you happy. That could be taking care of children, a new fun and uplifting song right when you need it most, or going for a swim. The very things that bring us joy are bread crumbs left behind by a Creator who loves us enough to give us purpose to be lived out on this Earth while we are here. I doubt too many kids wake up in grade school and think their dream is to become a dentist, but some people walk through life and see enough beauty in smiles that they start to think to themselves, “nothing should stop people from expressing their joy to its fullest.” The story is of course different for everyone, but we all have a calling that we are slowly brought to that fulfills us in some way, and it is all the more important to acknowledge and thank the God who fulfills us in every other way.

That being said, sometimes the voice mails can be harsher in nature- almost literally. Once upon a time, while enjoying a quidditch match in the great outdoors (yes, we play that here in Austin, and it’s awesome) and flirting with a girl I knew had a boyfriend, I was stung by two wasps at the same time mid conversation. In the moment there was an intense need to ice the wound and eventually seek out ointment and other necessary remedies. But what was more essential was the reflection on the greater implications of not respecting certain boundaries and what could have happened had the wasps not stepped in and released their wrath.

The moral of the story here is that sometimes divine intervention doesn’t look like the profound gestures one might hope for. It may be easy to ignore God and let what He has to say go to voice mail and fill up the answering machine to do what we feel may be more important things in the moment. There is good news in the fact that His endless mercy and grace allows us to get distracted from time to time and never fall too far behind. But nonetheless, whenever He calls if you can’t answer right away, always make time to call Him back.

An Interesting Turn of Events (Part 3)

After the sermon we were instructed to pray in groups with the people around us. My group consisted of one of my best friends Kali, A couple new to Austin named Luke and Emily, and a lovely woman named Lisa. Together we prayed for the families of those affected by the tragedies in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas. The goal was to pray vigorously and ferociously as if the very ear of God was right beside us listening to our every word. We prayed for peace, we prayed for compassion, and we prayed for togetherness in a time when most’s instinct is to divide.

Then an interesting thing happened. In between the subjects we were given to pray on we filled in the gaps with conversation. We got to know one another. I learned that Luke and Emily had arrived from Seattle maybe a month ago for a fresh start. Unemployment had befallen Luke there and as they prayed on what the next move was God put Austin in their hearts so there they were. The Austin Stone was the third church they had tried and they said they felt at home. Lisa runs marketing and promotions at a local Christian radio station. With me being a UT student currently starved of an internship opportunity to fulfill my life and resume, I inquired about any opportunities for internships within the station. Lisa said they in fact were but then took things a step further since their internships are unpaid. They were hiring people right now to work part time within her department. The funny part is she wasn’t even thinking about that fact until I asked. But I did ask. And I received. We all did. Lisa gave us all her card so we could email her, stay in touch, and apply for the position so she could look out for us.

Getting a job offer wouldn’t be so remarkable if it weren’t for the way it came about. If I hadn’t slept in and gone to the 11 am service… If Kali hadn’t have brought up the Flight of the Conchords concert and we went to the 7 pm service… If I hadn’t thought to ask about internships in the first place, then we wouldn’t have all been staring at a new and glorious opportunity to serve God within the radio industry. So this is where I leave you. Matthew 7:7-8.

 

 

An Interesting Turn of Events (Part 2)

The second turn of events  came from the decision to go to church with a friend to a night service. As I said in Part 1, I made the necessary choice to sleep in yesterday, missing my chance to attend my regular morning service. I’d never been to a night service before, but as you’ll see from later words that you will read in this post, sometimes change, however temporary, can have terrific results.

The original plan was to go at 7, but the discovery of a Flight of the Conchords concert by my friend to be here on campus at 8 rendered that plan moot. I was conflicted, wondering just how Jesus may feel about the idea of skipping church for sleep on one account and then skipping for the pursuit of musical hilarity on another all in the same day. A simpler solution than my guilt came to fruition. My friend offered we go to the 5, o’clock service instead so we could do both awesome things, effectively proving that sometimes and only sometimes it is okay to have your cake and eat it too… As long as one of those cakes involves the Lord it would appear.

We arrive at the Austin Stone and low and behold the pastor reveals we are in for a special sermon in light of the events of last week. I’m sure at this point you aren’t a stranger to the tragedy that has struck recently. Race relations in this country are a sticky subject, but the root of the problem runs deeper than the color of anyone’s skin. The fear and the hatred that drives black men to be shot dead in the street or police officers of the law to be gunned down in cold blood while defending citizens are great foes to be overcome, but greater still than fear and hatred is the apathy felt by far too many. So our pastor strove to dive into how we tackle and defeat apathy as a church. It is hard work, but it is work that needs to be done in order to save this country from itself. The job only gets completed from us working together. The message of the sermon can be summed up in three words: Love, Forgiveness, and Unity.

Let’s start with love. It has been and always will be the great commandment. First, to love God with “all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and second to “love thy neighbor as yourself.”  Matthew 22:36-40. We know that God first loved us and so the natural progression of things is that we love Him back and then love each other as fellow bearers of His image. When an image is erased, no matter the color of the skin on that face, is a terrible loss for the entirety of mankind. It should be felt as grievously as if you lost a loved one in your own family, because they are a loved one a part of your family. When you love your neighbor as yourself, you do not belittle their plight when they feel disadvantaged. You come to their aid, because if the situation were reversed you would want to receive their help. When you love your neighbor as yourself, you don’t dismiss others’ opinions on a matter as stupid without hearing them out, because if the situations were reversed you would want to be listened to attentively and know your voice is being heard. When you love your neighbor as yourself, you do not hold a grudge when someone has wronged you. You forgive them immediately, because if the situations were reversed and you knew you had made a mistake, however serious, you would want the chance for redemption.

Forgiveness is something everyone stumbles with, but it is something everyone is capable of. Something to remember is how beautiful a gift it is in the first place: that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8. From the off, there was nothing we had to do to earn God’s love. He just loved us anyway. And He established the marker that there was nothing we had to do in order to earn His forgiveness. When His only begotten Son died on the cross all those years ago, God was saying to us clearly that He forgives us anyway. Every murderer, every prostitute, every occasional jaywalker. Despite the weight of the wrong we are forgiven through Christ. What does that mean for us? We must forgive others because Christ rests in all. He died for all. He lives for all. He forgives all, and so it is our God given duty to do the same. Forgiveness does not come with a prerequisite for the offender to feel guilty. It begins with the offended. Because the forgiveness teaches a lesson that goes far beyond guilt, remorse, or shame. Forgiveness is at its core an extension of love- unconditional love that is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not self seeking, is not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrong. 

I emphasize the last two aspects of love because they are a bit more pertinent with regards to the unrest and tension surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Although not everyone on the outside of it feels this way, there are those who view the movement as an excuse for black people to play the victim card. They see the police brutality against black people dilemma as a problem that isn’t as big as the media make it out to be, and a problem certainly not as big as black on black crime. And although not everyone on the inside of it feels this way, there are those who view the movement as an excuse to distrust the very people who are set up by the government to protect us. They see police brutality against black people and feel that they aren’t safe anymore and all cops are bad. I’ll address both sides of the aisle and say that while that may be true for some, that is not true for all. Over-generalizations and stereotypes get us nowhere as a people. And more than anything else, bury the impulse to respond with hate. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that. And darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. I personally feel that the love and light of Jesus is the power through which all else will come to reconciliation. For officers who kill innocents, no matter the circumstances, either they’ll meet the justice of Man or of God. Where they escape one they cannot escape the other, but remember that even they are worthy of forgiveness. The real Spider-man once said “with great power comes great responsibility,” and so we have a responsibility to fight for the three prongs of the sermon from yesterday: Love, Forgiveness, and Unity.

The unity bit I didn’t really touch on because I feel it is kind of self explanatory. We share this earth together. The only way to save it is to look after one another and defend each other with the only weapon worth fighting: Love. Cheers.

For Anton Sterling, Philando Castile, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa

 

An Interesting Turn of Events (Part 1)

When I woke up yesterday to wipe the crust out of my eyes, I had no idea the day I was in for. It started out, bleak enough. I slept in due to a long Saturday night out. I woke up in time to watch the first interesting turn of events unfold in the magical realm of sports. I love a good home field advantage. A crowd of adoring fans getting the chance to cheer for a home grown player or team is wonderful thing. And while I could be referring to Andy Murray lifting his second Wimbledon trophy against Milos Raonic, as beautiful a story as Murray’s resilient battle to emerge from out of the looming shadows of Djokovic and Federer’s greatness, I’m talking about the UEFA European Championship Final between France and Portugal. France were favorites far and away heading into the match. With more talent and more effective football played across the tournament, it seemed a foregone conclusion that they would end up lifting the trophy on their home soil in the Stade de France. Although France had several stars on the team and several players I admire in Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, Portugal had Cristiano Ronaldo, and the dramatic question of the final beckoned: Would one of the best players to ever play the game be able to shine on the biggest stage and cover his country in glory to win as underdogs? The short answer was no. 25 minutes in and a challenge to Ronaldo would batter his knee and render him useless. Now I have to state a couple things here before continuing. 1. I had every intention going in to root for France, becuase as I said I love me a good home field advantage. 2. In the ever raging Messi/Ronaldo debate as the best playing the game right now, I’ve been a staunch advocate for Lionel Messi, being that he is more humble in nature and has a more natural tendency to play for the team over himself. However, while I and many others lay into Ronaldo as an incredibly vain and selfish creature, his skill cannot be questioned. What else remains unquestionable is the utter pain in his eyes when he realized he would be unable to continue playing in the game. As tears fell down his face I noticed similar tears on my own. I noticed that this man, however he chooses to play the beautiful game of football, however he carries himself off the field, is a fully formulated person, capable of real thoughts and emotions and pain. I felt that pain alongside him. He cried the whole way as he was stretchered off and as he was carried away many fans in the stadium and watching on television may have thought Portugal’s hopes of winning the game were being carried off with him. With a Cristiano-less Portugal, France seemingly had nothing substantial stopping them from running away with the title. But that’s not the story that was written. France started the game playing with a beautifully free flowing style that brought them thus far, but as the game went on they found themselves frustrated time and again by a Portugal side who defended and defended well. The first ever goalless draw through normal time in a European Championship final was the result. In extra time the pendulum slowly but surely shifted in Portugal’s favor, and eventually it was the Cristiano-less Portugal that made the breakthrough and held out for a 1-0 victory. The kicker is that I was happy it happened. Happy that the home team and fans were left devastated. Happy that the “uglier” football was rewarded because the team had worked tirelessly to defend against the odds. Happy that the sports world added another chapter to the David and Goliath narrative because of what that means for the rest of us. It means that the unlikely hero can come from anywhere. It means that there is no reason we shouldn’t stop fighting when achievements look to be too far out of reach. It means just when you think the world is against you and there is no way you can win, things can shift even for a moment entirely in your favor. And that, is a truly remarkable thing.

Yesterday was Remarkable

The wrap to the weekend started pretty nicely. I missed church but it was fine because I was with family. My mom and her brother came up to visit me and the wonderful city I’ve come to call home (Austin). While we had fun on Saturday eating Chuy’s and staying in a hotel together, the story worth telling picks up once they dropped me off back at my apartment. I ate a giant bowl of cereal. Nothing remarkable there. I played a little bit of poker online and listened to music. Not a very remarkable string of events here either. I had a three hour long conversation about Jesus with a friend I hadn’t really spoken to in years. Remarkable. There were other topics thrown into the mix of course but the more dazzling thing was the openness my friend spoke of their faith and how it moved them. It’s the kind of conversation I don’t typically get to have every day and so I appreciate it so dearly when the opportunity arises. She’s the kind of person who speaks with intent and ferocious honesty, and her laugh promotes good will in me every time I hear it. I pride myself in seeking out God moments to keep me honest, and the thing about my friend is she’s the type to live in those God moments almost constantly. It’s truly inspirational. She’s an inspiration. The moral of this story is last night I had a really great conversation. I’m glad He let me have it.

Hipsters Reportedly Stoked for Deaf, Mute Rapper’s Debut Album

PORTLAND, OR – The music scene has been afire as of late with the announcement of local rapper Mute Point’s debut album “Can You Hear Me Now?” The buzz comes as no real surprise to many underground music aficionados and man bun enthusiasts, especially following the regional success of Mute’s EP titled “Speech Therapy”. The Portland hero is well renowned for minimalistic vocals and earthy, sweeping room tones attached to beats that heighten the other senses. His fans are thrilled at what will surely be a step in the right direction for his music. “In an industry that produces so much dull noise, it’s refreshing to have artists that can stick to such crisp, clean sound,” said self-proclaimed #1 fan Atticus Beavers while taking the seeds out of the bun of a veggie burger. Atticus plans on waiting in line outside the record store for the album’s release two weeks in advance. When asked about the possibility of loitering charges Atticus had the response, “passion isn’t against the law.”  At press time Mute Point could be seen but not heard.

Tiny Beautiful Things

We’ve all been there. Those aching moments that stretch into an eternity after finishing a an amazing book, or tv show, or box of pizza. It’s over and done. The time you put into manifesting something created by someone else has come to an end and what is there to do next? It’s a feeling eerily similar to not knowing what to do with your hands in a photograph. That’s where I am now having finished Cheryl Strayed’s book Tiny Beautiful Things. I’m stuck in an awkward photograph. What do I do with my fucking hands??? This is what I’m doing with my hands. I’m using them to write to you. To essentially gush about how beautiful this book is. It has well and truly touched my soul. From the very first page I knew I was reading my new favorite, something I’ll come back to time and again with fresh eyes. This is my glaring recommendation to the eyes reading the words I use here. To say Cheryl Strayed has inspired me would be a desperate understatement. There may be a particular bias for writers to take away more from her advice column responses than others, but assuming that would be unfair to anyone capable of experiencing human emotions. She challenges all who reach out to her as Sugar to feel “radical empathy” in coming to grips with their problems. This is important because so many of us as people love to assume when trouble arises that we’re the only ones in the universe experiencing that pain. But the pain is universal. More than that though, love is universal. Along with trust, betrayal, forgiveness, doubt, appreciation, selfishness, joy, and suffering. No man is an island. We are all connected and threaded together in this quilt of life by the simple fact that we are alive. Good things will happen to us. Bad things will happen to us. Our jobs as humans is to appreciate the good when it arrives, endure the bad until it ends, show compassion and understanding to those who can’t see the light at the end of tunnel just yet, and when you can’t see the light yourself, fight with everything you have until that beam seeps through. Because your survival- OUR survival depends on it. No one can determine the status of your future but yourself. All of life is one great unfolding from the time you’re born until you become who you choose to be. Will I write a best selling novel one day like Mrs. Strayed? Maybe. Will I win an Emmy or an Oscar for a film script of tv show I write? Maybe. Will I write a detailed manifesto explaining how idiotic it would be for Texas to try seceding from the US. Maybe not- although that might be necessary at some point, so who knows. What I do know is that this is my becoming, and you should check out Tiny Beautiful Things if you get the chance.