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When Wonder Isn’t Where It’s Supposed to Be!

When I served the youth of an east Texas church there was always one interesting statistic that truly stood out to me.  Even though we were in a buckle of what many like to call the Bible belt; in this small university town existed a surprising number.  In fact a recent newspaper article addressing sexual education in that county indicated that the teen birth rate there was at 21 percent.

Now before we go any further, you need to know that this is not a blog about teens and Godly sexuality.  Instead this is a story of wonder.  A story that I was inspired to write upon hearing that Youth Specialties was looking for stories of Wonder for their 2012 National Youth Workers Convention.

Dating, relationships, and sex were discussed on a yearly basis and throughout the year it was not a topic that we shied away from.  I was not so naive to think that none of the teens that I served hadn’t been sexually active.  I also knew that a teen pregnancy in a group of young people I was called to serve was probably a matter of “when “and not “if”.

I remember when a young girl in the middle of her junior year came to me with fear and tears and told me that she was close to 2 months along.  She was a fairly active youth that had some deep seeded relationships in our community.

The baby had been conceived in a situation where there hadn’t been much of a long term romantic relationship going on.  The father was planning on going away to school soon and the young girl was feeling some pressure from him to terminate the pregnancy.  There was talking and praying with the teen to let her know that: 1. she was far enough along that an abortion was no simple procedure and 2.  That she was not alone in this; and lastly 3. There was grace in this and we had to trust that Christ would reveal it.

I also promised that I would not go run tell her parents right away, but that within a short number of 2 days, she would need to tell them.  I also promised her that I would come along at that time to be there for her and her family during this scary crazy experience.

The next day I consulted with a local pregnancy crisis center.  The ladies were beautiful souls and were eager and ready to help.  I set up an appointment and encouraged the teen to go to them where they would first do the checkups needed to assess the mother’s and the baby’s health.  The next thing they would do is talk to her about what to expect and then go over every option from birth to adoption to abortion, heavily encouraging the first two.   All of this was free of charge.  Prayer was answered when she decided to show up for the appointment.

After the appointment she called to let me know with relief and a smile that she and the baby were both healthy and that she had decided to tell her parents that evening.  I assured her I would be ready and to just give me a heads up when to be there.

I prepared for lots of things and lots of scenarios from the best to the worst.  However I was not prepared to see the wonder that God let me witness in that family’s breakfast area.

The teen, her close friend that her family had taken in (yes that should have been a foreshadowing of how well this family gets it) and I walked through the door.

The father saw me and immediately had the “hmm, what’s going on?” look as we shook hands.

“Dad, we need to talk” she barely whispered.

The friend and I took up posts to the side and I was praying nonstop.  The young mother to be didn’t say anything but tentatively handed him an envelope and then stepped away about 8 feet with fear in her eyes.  Looking confused, the father glanced at her and the opened the envelope.  With his big strong, all business, blue collar hands he pulled out an ultrasound picture of what would be his granddaughter.  After a few seconds of the puzzle pieces coming together he looked at his daughter, “this is yours?” he asked.  As a tear rolled down her cheek and with a whimper she gave the smallest of nods.  The nod led to more tears and a cry that was not going to be held back.

This is when it happened.  That’s when I saw a moment of the wonder of our God that I will never forget.

The father could have done any number of things…but in one of the most beautiful gestures that could be seen, all he did was hold out his arms wide. With a twitch of his fingers he motioned for her to come to him.  The space was crossed and she was wrapped in his arms.  As she cried into his shoulders he just did what a good loving father, like the God who created us, does. With whispers and strokes he held her and soothed her and let her know that he loved her.

How long? It seemed like forever… It could have been just a minute.  But isn’t that the way it happens when God shows us wonder?  We stand in awe and realize that we will never be able to understand how amazing and unending and how powerful his love is.  We lose track of time, perhaps because well, God’s love is truly timeless…

Not once during that time or during the time that she told her mom (who arrived later) was the word disappointed ever used.  Practical decisions were made and plans were discussed.  But never was the phrase “I’m disappointed in you” used.

You ask people to talk about God’s wonder and they may talk about sunrises, sunsets, mountains and oceans.  And yes, even for me those places bring about great wonder.  However, when asked about the wonder that God lets us witness… Well, the wonder of pure unconditional Godlike love that I saw that day will always be near the top of that list for me… I pray that you will recall moments or witness times where you get to witness the wonder of God’s powerful love.

God’s Peace

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Is That Hard Dried Up ol French Fry Good For Your Car?

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So if you have ridden with me anywhere at anytime, there is a chance you saw me clearing out a spot in my car and heard me apologize to you about the clutter inside it. There is no doubt that I seem to be really good at accumulating things in my car. At this very moment you will probably find a jacket, a half filled water bottle, a pull-up of Schylor’s (used? Surely not!), an empty McDonald’s bag.. It’s never as bad as the picture up there, but it’s gotten pretty rough!

Now I know that I am not the only one who ends up finding their vehicle cluttered with usable things and trash that needs to get thrown away. I have always truly appreciated the people that keep their car spotless, even while spending a large amount of time in it. Then there are those of us that find it a never ending battle to get all of that stuff out of our car and keep it nice clean and a welcoming place to ride.

But even those that do such a good job with not having that extra clutter in the car, sometimes don’t do a good job of not bringing that stuff with us into our relationships. If your soul is the vehicle in this journey, how much clutter have you accumulated over the years?

Baggage, drama, resentment, anger… These are all things that we pick up in our life’s travels and in turn let it become clutter that is weighing us down or that just plain stinks. While it can be easy to set aside just a few minutes to clean out our car; for some of us it is nearly unthinkable to get rid of the things that can make a ride along in a relationship such an unpleasant experience. In fact most of the times it has become such a part of our lives that we don’t even realize that we are bringing it with us into the relationships we form on our journey.

I know that I do have struggles sometimes with letting anger and resentment clutter stay around too long. Truly it is by God’s grace alone that I am able to get rid of it, but it is something that I do realize is worth keeping a look out for. Unlike some people that can easily take things like anger or resentment and just throw it away or get it out of their system, I have to be a bit careful with my angry clutter.

A very close friend of mine helped me make sense of the way I deal with those emotions one time. He looked at me and said its like there is a circle in my chest, think Ironman if you will. He said most of the time that circle is glowing with a light happy-go-lucky glow. However, when there is anger, depending on the intensity, that circle turns red, to a hot glowing fire of red. Now that is fine and all, but as he says, “Jud, you never let that heat, that fire, that anger, get out of that small circle right there. And it’s only the ones that truly know you that ever even see that much.”

Now that is somewhat of a blessing in being able to control that anger in our relationships but if it isn’t dealt with properly it will rot, corrupt, and find its way into our relationships with others and with our Creator. If we don’t surrender and ask for help, that clutter will never get cleaned out.

Surrendering all of that baggage isn’t always fun. And don’t doubt that well, a true authentic moment of surrender isn’t always a flattering place to be (by the world’s standards at least). I think of the passage in Luke when the woman is bathing Christ’s feet with her tears and rinsing them with her perfume. That is authentic surrender. It is not pretty, there are tears, and you do end up on your knees. But in the end, we saw that Christ, full of love and grace, let her know that there was no more clutter, no more baggage, that her soul once more was ready for a glorious ride following Him.

How cool is that?

I pray that you ask for help, that you surrender and find that the clutter is gone so that your soul is clean, welcoming, and a comfortable place for all of your relationships that ride along with you in this journey.

Godspeed and God’s Peace!

Playoffs Defeats + Japanese Magnolias = Beautiful Redemption

At this time of the year in a place called Nacogdoches, Texas, if you drive around you will see the pink blossoms of the Japanese Magnolia. You start to see them pop out as if they hear the sounds of softballs or baseballs hitting bats at the start of season. It’s as if they feel the buzz of the local high school basketball teams in the county during playoffs. They seem to come out to take part in the excited chatter of the local university students making spring break and summer plans…

The Japanese Magnolias, along with the busting of redbuds and new grass signal the transition of seasons. Nature’s proof of something big. Nothing less than the beginning of the world’s redemption after passing through the long winter months.

How much can we learn from the redemption so visibly seen in creation. We end up slogging through our personal winters and forgetting to take notice that God truly is in the redemption business. And even though we have all had moments where we don’t want to believe it, but when it comes to grace and redemption, business is always good, on more than just the “economic” levels

Now that does not mean at all that the business of grace and redemption is a fun business. As humans we forget sometimes to differentiate between the business of redemption and the shiny happy joy that is the result of redemption. Have no doubt, when we are in the middle of hard core redemption, there is real growth going on. Once again, have no doubt that when real growth is going on, it is very, very rarely pain free.

The Japanese Magnolias that I saw blooming were much needed reminders of redemption. Especially after watching a couple of seniors play their last basketball game in a playoff loss. The looks on their faces spoke the questions of the search for redemption. They may not understand it for a while (they are high school boys after all!), but the growth they experienced with their team as they left it all on the court will not be seen until they reflect on the sweat and effort and tears spent building a community. When they look back one day, they will understand that they have not been redeemed in a victory on a court, but by authentic relationships. They have not been redeemed by numbers on a scoreboard, but by the selfless giving of themselves to one another for something bigger than they can attain by themselves.

We are constantly on cycles of growth and redemption. Going through the pain of the business of it and then basking in the joys of the end product.

I have often found myself hanging out in my own personal Ninevah’s. Those dark places that I do not want to be but have been called to go because God needs me to pass through there. I have found myself focusing on the mud and the ruts I’m stuck in while there too. Losing sight of the blossom to come bloom because I’m too concerned with my self and my hatred of the Ninevah that I am in.

In you are in that place, please know that I am pulling for you. Don’t take this as just cheap encouragement or a glad handing “you can do it”. I know it may seem that you have given all you can, but give some more to God. Because redemption is also one of those things that is often bigger than our ability to attain ourselves.

Trust that as the Japanese Magnolia endures a cold winter before it gets redeemed in bloom, you too will experience the joyfulness that is the product of redemption.

Godspeed and God’s Peace

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I dare you to jump into some Courage!

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Doing what I do, I am blessed to see and hear things from young people that inspire me. And after having a conversation with my good friend, Lauren, about skydiving this evening, I had a lot on my mind about Courage. Also, since the Celtic/punk band Flatfoot 56 band has been rocking my face the last few days, just know you’ll be seeing some quotes from their lyrics in here too

Courage, as defined by Dictionary.com is the state of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain. Sometimes we do get caught up in teaching that courage is a byproduct of things like faith and hope. Not that it’s entirely untrue, that if you are in a good place with your faith and hope that you are usually a little more courageous. But it has to be important that we recognize the moments to grow in courage and then take the chances to affirm others when they show courage themselves.

Now when I was younger (and still now some too) I used the excuse that I was too stupid to be scared of the things I should! This could have involved an encounter with a horse, or someone bigger and stronger than me… There were also several times that I would be the “if he does it then I’ll do it guy”. Everyone knows when you’re a young boy that those moments come.

I remember a moment when I was fingered to show courage first. 4 guys, in our skivvies on a ledge over looking an ice cold lake outside of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The biggest words a boy can hear when he’s growing up.. “if you do it we’ll all do it!”. The next thing I know a few tentative steps turn into a run. My heart shoots to my throat as I’m in the air, that temporary feeling of flight. Gravity takes over and with gangly awkward grace I plunge into what I swore was water freshly shipped from Antartica! Pure cold invades the nerves of all of my senses telling with icy truth that I am fully alive! I come up with a chilling (not just metaphorically) yell. Looking up I see the “aww crap he actually did it” looks on faces that said “yes, they would soon be feeling the cold too!”

If only every time the moments that call for courage were as easy to deal with….So often our moments of courage deal with something much bigger. In the song “City on a Hill” Flatfoot 56 says, “Will you make your decision, are you chaff or are you wheat?”

Are you going to be something of worth? Are you going to be something that gives nourishment? Are you going to be something that can be used for good or are you going to get blown away with the refuse? Have no doubt that those are big moments.. And there is something very beautiful about those moments in that the roles that were discussed earlier get rearranged. In those moments, instead of hope and faith leading to courage. Greater hope and faith are the results of a moment for courage getting recognized and then acted upon.

The cool thing about courage is that it holds no prejudices to size, strength, or age. Whether it be a 5 foot tall petite girl who I have seen enormous amounts of courage from.. Or an 8th grade boy that I witnessed tonight take courageous steps to make the decision to not hide his God-given light, but understand that he must grasp courage to be the man God is calling him to be!

You may be in a moment or season that is calling for courage now. If not, be ready to recognize when it comes upon you. Or be ready with encouraging words for those that are in a moment themselves..

“passion’s not found in roses, but it’s in the thorns” Flatfoot 56 on “Born for This”
“Not because of a movie or a magazine
But because of your example you inspired me
Sacrifice in the midst of pain
You bring a tear to my eye when I hear your name” Flatfoot in the song “Courage”

Godspeed and God’s Peace

Are you missing moments that give you momentum?

Sometimes I can’t help but wonder about this question….

“How long can someone live off the power of a really good kiss, or a really good hug?

This question (along with a cheesy smile) comes to mind every time I get a big hug or a kiss from my little boy. (There is a pic of one of those moments below, but don’t scroll down to the adorableness yet!) I mean I truly feel like when that happens for me, that it gives me an energy, a power not just to live forever, but to do or be anything! It is just something about that love that is a pure, authentic kind of love.. And you think Red Bull gives you wings?

I truly believe that God, wether we believe in Him or know him or not, is in the business of trying to show us moments like this on a regular basis. However, if we are honest with ourselves, there are many times that we either miss them or fail to recognize them. I think that this speaks to a powerful love by a powerful creator that He loves us and that He knows us well enough to know that we need be reminded of things like the power of love in our lives.

It’s sad to know that we find ourselves caught in a world that can move so fast that we don’t see those moments. Or we get so caught up in our selves or the hectic pace that we lose sight of those times or we forget about the need of those moments until its too late. Then we look in the mirror and see a person that we don’t like. That is missing something important about this life.. A person with a hole, that isn’t getting filled with money, materialism, fame, or anything that would qualify as less than authentic love.

But here’s the thing, Gods love always wins.

Understanding that can be so hard, sometimes even when we look in the mirror it is hard to imagine that God loves us even when we find it soooo hard to love ourselves, to love, others, to love the world and our journey through it..But love wins, and when we open our eyes it is there cheering us on, refueling us, giving meaning and purpose..

Authentic Love gives hope, and hope gives power. If it didn’t there would be no songs trying to describe it. No poetry or arts using beautiful things to help us understand it’s power. There wouldn’t be the story of WW 2 soldiers that gained hope and power from perfumed scented letters.. Little signs of love that gave them power to live, to make it home. There wouldn’t be the stories of people that gained strength and belief in themselves from a moment, a hug or a kiss or a look in the eye, from someone they loved. Strength that would assure them of purpose that would help them make a difference in this world..

The moments are out there.. Look for them, recognize them, cherish them, and let them fuel you.. And when the time is right don’t miss the chance to create one of those moments for someone that your love gives power and strength to…

Godspeed and God’s Peace

“it’s times like these we learn to love again” – The Foo Fighters

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That Dream Just Slapped Me In The Face!

More than once I have heard someone mention something like this.. “Well that was a dream that just went away” or “I lost that dream as I got older”. We all have said those words and I know that similar statements have slipped past my lips as I thought that a dream may be slipping away.

But when we say we lose dreams.. Do we ever really pay any attention to where they go?

I work with teens and I love how when they feel the need to “lose” some trash they can easily find a couch with cushions that will help them with that project. They will raise up from the couch knowing that they have let something slip away. But as we all know.. When the cushions are raised, seasons later, that which we thought was lost in fact was as right under our butts the whole time.

Just a short time back I was watching “Field of Dreams” with, Schylor, my little boy, (coincidentally?) after playing baseball in our backyard. Right there with an esoteric, gentle and loving slap in the face, a dream that I had completely forgotten about said “hey! Whats up?”. I suddenly remembered the first time I ever watched the film, as a teenager. I remember that I lifted a wish. I remembered that I lifted a hope and a dream.. truthfully one might could say that it was, unbeknownst to me, a prayer. To one day have a son to “have a catch” with….

I’ve had many dreams that have come and that I have dismissed as gone. Dreams that i have forgotten about when it was felt that it was time to move on. But there it was this dream, this hope, this prayer. It began dawning on me that I was about to miss one of my oldest dreams coming true right in front of my face. But there it was..I have a son that loves sports.. That loves baseball..not even three years old and he would rather I pitch to him instead of hit off a tee.. And the proud dad in me lights up when he hits more than he misses when I pitch to him.. Not long.. And hopefully for many years he will enjoy having a catch with his dad..to have those moments like in the picture. Icing on the cake was when Schylor yells cheerfully at an Aqua Velva (of all things) commercial “look! He’s playing baseball with his daddy!”

So there it was, a dream that I had forgotten about but never went away.

I know that not everyone looks at things the way that I do, nor should they. But who are we to think that something as powerful as a hope…Something as powerful as a dream…something as powerful as a prayer.. Will just go away because we forget about it, give up on it.. Or try to shove it under the couch cushions with all of our other trash (yeah, I mean trash metaphorically and literally!)

I hope that you as friends will realize that you have many dreams that have been forgotten or given up on that may be coming true. That our eyes are opened and our memories jogged and we don’t miss out on those dreams when they slap us in the face..

And also, why not dare to hope… That a dream that hasn’t come true, a hope that has been given to us, or a prayer that has been lifted is truly too powerful to ever just go away or ever be lost

Godspeed and God’s Peace

20120224-231857.jpg a dad and his son about to “have a catch”

Are your relationships messy enough?

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When I was 19 I entered into my first memorable messy relationship.

That pic isn’t him but it was with a black and white paint stud horse. He came to Mr. Jack’s as a spoiled, mean horse that was into biting people, scaring people, and getting his own way. I didn’t really want to, but let’s just say that I was challenged to engage in this relationship by my mentor. I was green, the beast was the definition of ornery and well.. we were going to find a way to get along.

It was a relationship that included blood, his and mine. It was a relationship that included sweat, his and mine. And to just to add a little seasoning to the mixture was some fresh Oklahoma dirt..this was all then placed to bake in the Oklahoma sun.

It was a messy relationship.

There was vulnerability, there was fear…There were fights, there were arguments, there were numerous butting of heads and ideals..

But in the end there was learning, there was peace made, there were goals reached… And did I mention that there was learning?

There is no doubt that I learned so much from that first very messy relationship. I learned valuable lessons that, as I reflect, have helped shape my life.

It’s not like it’s always hard to enter into relationships with people. Our paths are going to cross with others and we are either going to be hermits or we are going to engage. If we engage, then have no doubt that the chances are high that at some point, the relationship is going to get messy. This is where the tough decision has to be made.. And regretfully.. Many take this chance to disengage.

Many people feel that by disengaging in the relationship they will keep from losing… But if you are losing the chance to learn valuable lessons about yourself, and the other person…If you are losing a chance to see grace work…if you are losing a chance to shed some sweat and tears (hopefully no blood!)… Then I have to ask this question, are you losing more than what you may gain from a lack of hurt feelings?

Please understand that as I write this.. There are messes that I am afraid of too.. Messy relationships that need to be engaged in and messy relationships that need to be re-engaged in…

We all do.. So why not..we might just see a miracle happen.. At the very least we are going to learn something ..

Godspeed and God’s Peace