.posthidden {display:none} .postshown {display:inline} By His Own Hand. . .


Psalm 77

I don't think it accidental that this Psalm popped up for me this morning.  In many ways, the truth in this Psalm is what I've been trying to convince my heart of, screaming at myself in some ways. . . I had done a sermon on it a little over a year ago, and so I think it appropriate to share today, if only for myself.  I've cleaned up some parts of it (in the sense of trying to make complete thoughts- it was just my notes as I worked my way through the passage in order to present it).  I'm also almost done with my way through The Message paraphrase, which for this Psalm was particularly striking.


Why do we take time to pause and reflect?  To take a break. To evaluate what we have accomplished. To celebrate our victories. To learn from our mistakes. To check our future direction. The Bible is full of times where people took times to remember- the Israelites leaving memorial altars as they journeyed from Egypt and stones after crossing the Jordan, even today we have the concept of sharing in the Lord’s supper to remember Jesus last days and his ultimate sacrifice for us, the Psalms consistently have these remembering journeys.  It is through remembering God’s work in our lives that we can find encouragement and peace in whatever situation we are facing.

1) Remembering can be painful.
Psalm 77: 1-3- I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.  I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
My soul REFUSED to be comforted. Same word in Genesis 37 (Jacob losing Joseph) and Job 6 (why eat things that make me ill)

4-9  You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.  I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;  I remembered my songs in the night.  My heart meditated and my spirit asked:  “Will the Lord reject forever?  Will he never show his favor again?  Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
(every person can relate to at least one of these questions)

my spirit asked= a diligent search (looking for the idol in the camp, looking for the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag) 
Is His promise clean gone?  Has he shut up his tender mercies?

I: Many people keep objects as a memorial of someone.  Wedding ring

A: We must not be afraid to engage in remembering even though it may force us to deal with difficult things.  It is an important part of the process as we seek to put our trust fully in God in all things.

2) Remembering requires focused thinking.
10-12 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”  
the root of that word meditate- to moan, growl, utter, speak, muse.

I: We often think of meditating as those people on a mountain, sitting with their legs crossed and humming.  What we miss in this illustration is what their mind is doing- the concept behind meditation is to clear one’s head, often times thought of in a way to escape from the world.  For the Christian, there is an important element in that we are not trying to clear our head and check out but instead clear out the distraction and fill it instead with God’s word.  What is the Bible but a collection of God’s miracles and works?

A: How we meditate- Phil 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  
The outcome of this "recipe"?
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

3) Remembering changes our perspective.
E: 13-15 Your ways, God, are holy.  What god is as great as our God?  You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.  With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
Holy- in the sanctuary.

I: There’s a point in every hero story where the protagonist has a realization of what they need to do.  Frodo has his resolve in taking the ring to Mordor, Spiderman decides to hide his identity to protect his family, his conversations with Uncle Ben.
This moment is not necessarily the most difficult part though there is difficult, but it is very important, as it defines the rest of the journey.  And this does not come in the heat of a moment but after much thinking.

A: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”  Sometimes we need to change our way of thinking so that God can affect change in our lives.

4) Remembering should bring us to trust in God’s sovereignty. 
16-20 The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.  The clouds poured down water,  the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth.  Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind; your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.  Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.  You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

I: Parting the waters refers not only to the Red Sea but also to the beginning of time

A: Each memorial has a purpose.  We must always look to God as we attempt to make sense of life.

Ephesians 1:3-14
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.  In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Conclusion:  Remembering what God has done fuels much of what we do as the church.  It is the reason we gather together each Sunday.  When we struggle, we need that reminder that God is with us, he hears us, he cares.  When hear of the stories of God’s work in others’ lives, we are reminded of His sovereignty and his grace.  We get to spend the entirety of our lives trying to wrap our heads around everything God is and does. . . and remembering God’s work helps us to continually process this.

"The joy and praise that saturate the Psalms come not from an absence of problems, but from a deep conviction that a great God can overcome them."


I don't remember exactly where that last quote comes from.  It might be from my study Bible.  It's been in my e-mail forever, but without a source.  Anyway. . . a different kind of entry.  But at the very least, it's a memorial stone for me to return to on this journey.


All of the nagging question

Next week I’m going to turn 30. And I’m trying to figure out why it’s bothering me so. It’s not like. . . all consuming, the world is ending, I’m past my prime, etc. It’s more just like a nagging, and continues to nag the closer that I get to it. It’s just a number. But I know that a lot of my problem lies in just knowing that I did not imagine my life would be this at 30.

 I’ve never been one to think concretely in things like five or ten year plans. I think the best example of that is the fact that I only auditioned for one music school for undergrad and basically had no back-up plan if I hadn’t made it in. Really I think it’s one question that haunts me. It was one thing that for whatever reason I made into a concrete “thing” and now it’s sticking out of the grief rock and into my gut.

 “What if I’m a widower before I’m 30?”

 It’s been echoing louder and louder. . . and I am not sure why I put that number on it. It could have easily been 40. Or 50. Or 72 1/2. Why put some kind of specific end gate? I don’t know. What are you supposed to think when your fiancĂ©e gets a diagnosis of the return a 5 year dormant cancer that suddenly presents in a rare and odd way?

It was a conversation we had. . . a conversation that never really completed, because how can that conversation get completed? It’s a dialogue that only one person can really end up carrying out in the end. I know that she gave some specific tasks to specific people, and I know that some of those have been completed. But to go back to the question, I think that in my mind, even in my darkest dreams, I don’t think I really believed that she would die. Not so soon anyway. Not before our first anniversary. By the time I would be 30, we’d have had a few years together. Celebrated some milestones. Continued to fight the invisible assassin.

 Now I’m three and a half years into a new normal that doesn’t look like anything I would have even guessed. And certainly, it is not bad. There is a lot of good things, a lot of amazing people, and continually I am in awe of God’s perfect plan many of the details. But that doesn’t mean I don’t grieve the life that didn’t happen.

 I don’t really have a point, except to say that I miss my wife.


All of the changing dreams

I almost wrote this last night. . . but you know when you get into that comfy position, the lights are already out, and even if you are awake thinking still, you know you're going to settle in to the exact physical position you are in?

So yeah.  Anyway.

It's been a whirlwind of about 10, 12 days for me.  It started with traveling past Disney for the first time in over three years and having a visceral reaction as I made my way towards Tampa. . . a drive I made many times back and forth to Moffitt. . . and from there some strange things happened that I still don't completely have straight in my head.  But I know that that was Friday the 11th, and by the 17th depression was at my door.  I spent most of the 18th in bed, not sleeping or watching Netflix or doing work or listening to music, just. . . existing at the lowest possible state.  A handful of people saw me that Friday, and on Saturday, and they knew something was up, but I couldn't really explain it to them, because I didn't quite understand it myself.  But I know that part of it was just recognizing that there's a lot of stuff still buried deep inside me that I haven't explored and/or don't even know exists.

And so I got it in my mind that it is time to start going through the storage unit, a trove of things that I hastily moved out of our house, a semi-organized mountain of things that are mine, hers, and ours, the outer shell of what I am quickly finding to be a multi-layered process. . . so that has been my life for the past few days.  I've made five trips and I think I've gotten a little over half the stuff.  There are only two more large-ish furniture items left, which is a good thing because our apartment can only hold so much stuff.

Needless to say, it's been an interesting few days.

I don't think I'm at a place to document all of the findings, because what I've discovered is two-fold:
1) There are certain things I want to keep but cannot necessarily handle really dealing with yet
2) There's just a lot of stuff

This first step in the process is quickly becoming about organizing things into keep, sell/donate, and trash.  At first I was moving along steadily, maybe because the first set of stuff was easy to work through, but the thing that caught me off guard and slowed me down was finding cards.  Cards that I wrote to her that she kept (and she kept every one of them).  Cards that she wrote me.  Cards that people wrote us for our engagement, wedding, and just at random as we went through cancer treatment.  Cards people wrote me and the family after her death.  I forgot how many people loved her dearly, and loved me because of her, and vice versa.

Those have absolutely been the hardest artifacts up to now.  And it's been hard not to read every single one of them, and it's been hard to make myself read every single one of them.  I know that this is a thing that I'm going to have to keep and go back through, because they are things that have grounded me in reality for the first time in a while.

And I think there are many reasons, obvious reasons, that those cards have triggered a lot of feelings. . . but I think the thing that sticks out for me is the lost dreams.  Remembering where we were and the plans we were making when we were engaged, and even before when we were coming as our own persons and recognizing that we were going to do life together. . . watching the monkey wrench of leukemia change our wedding date, our honeymoon, our employment, our relationships. . . and ultimately knowing that we had to give up some dreams, but we never gave up on each other.

When people ask "how can I know God is in the midst of all of this?" my answer usually includes something like "there is literally no part of my life right now that I planned on being this way."  My call within the Church, where I'm living, what I'm doing currently as a job, the circle of God's family that I'm doing life with, being widowed. . . none of these things were my dreams.  If we want to go all the way back, Cam was going to finish her degree and then land a full-time university gig.  We'd probably have to adopt, but I'd be the part-time gigging stay at home father.  Gig for pleasure, gig for planning ahead, gig for extra Disney cash.  We'd be sure to find opportunities to play together, maybe even do some of our own arranging and publish some music.  And although some of those dreams had to be given up early on. . . I still miss the thought of them.  And we formed new dreams, but they were much shorter term, and we lived some of them.  Cam got the wedding she wanted, we bought a house, we shared life between two churches. . .

I have to be careful when I say "nothing I'm doing is what I planned"  because it is easy for that to be negative and bitter.  And I know sometimes I feel that way.  But I am also amazed at how God's hand has been in literally everything, so that I can confidently say "I didn't do any of this, it can only be God."  I'm going to be 30 in a month (literally from today), and my plans for where I would be at 30 are not God's plans.  I have to trust that His are better.  I know that they are, as I've been in Psalm 68 the past couple days, and a few verses stick out to me:

v. 4- 5 Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him!  Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

v. 9-10 Rain in abundance, O God, you shed abroad; you restored your inheritance as it languished; your flock found a dwelling in it; in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

v. 19 Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. (Some translations say "who daily bears our burdens")

v. 34-35 Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies.  Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!

May I continue to be able to say "blessed be God!" as I continue to sort through all of the things.


All of the unexpected things

So I was gearing up to write something about running, and I probably will sometime after the race, but as I travelled across the state, something unexpected happened.  First, I stopped at Disney, which surprisingly enough was not in my original plans.  I hadn't thought past "hey, you're going to be driving on Friday!" and when I put the address in my phone, I saw I was taking I-95 S to I-4 W to I-75 S.  Sooooooo yay for random Disney trip!  I didn't stay too long, because I didn't want to tax my legs too much.  It was after leaving Disney that it happened.

I forgot.

I haven't driven past Disney in over three years, and I discovered that I forgot.

I forgot how many times I had driven down the corridor between DeLand and Tampa.

I forgot what a significant portion of my and Cam's life together was spent traveling that stretch of road.

I forgot about the countless trips, many alone, sometimes silent, sometimes screaming, sometimes praying, always crying out.

I forgot about knowing the way without looking at a map.

I forgot about Dinosaur World.

I forgot about the times where my arms went numb from holding so tight to the steering wheel, as if somehow that was what would give me control.

I forgot. . . I forgot. . .

And isn't that the ultimate fear?  That someday you'll just. . . forget everything?  It doesn't make any sense, but it's a real thought.  But also. . . it made me realize that there's a lot inside me that I am totally unaware of.  Being stable and being healed are not the same thing.

But while I was having this realization/meltdown, this is the song that was in the background:

And I wept.  Which. . . never bothers me. Actually it bothers me when it's been a while, and actually I was recently thinking that I haven't cried in a while.  Like, at all this 2018.  It's not necessarily odd, because I've never been much for that, but. . . anyway, I was crying for two reasons.  One part was just living in the reminiscing, the realization of how much life happened in such a short time and how much that I don't seem to currently have access to without some kind of trigger.  The other part though was in remembering that I'm not alone on this journey and I never was.  It was good, overwhelmingly good, to remember that God really is sovereign, that He has been orchestrating this journey from the beginning, not just three years ago or five years ago or even 29 years ago. . . but always.  And He is bringing glory to Himself through it.

And I get to play a part in presenting that glory to a broken world who desperately needs salvation.

So I'm asking myself questions. . . or rather. . . I'm taking time to answer questions that have already been asked.  I'm trying too hard and waiting too long.  It's time to really start jumping back in.

And there's nothing to be afraid of, because I know Who leads me.


ALL OF THE THINGS (but mostly I'm graduating)

Not really. . . but in some ways it feels like it.  I have been putting off writing this not because I don't want to work through it, but there were still some tiny pieces that were shifting around in my brain, and now I think I mostly have everything sorted out enough to work through sorting it out, if that makes sense.  Also, I know there's a lot more in my head than what I'm about to write, but I'm trying to keep everything in a comprehensive narrative.  (Basically, I'm hoping to write a few entries over the next couple of weeks that really cover all of the things).

So, I recently completed all the requirements of my Master's degree and will officially graduate on May 5 (which, if you are in the Jacksonville area and have nothing better to do at 9:30 AM on a Saturday, come out to Trinity, I'm pretty sure it's free and there's no assigned seating)!  It took three years, as I began the journey in May of 2015.

But really, this journey began February 8th, 2015.

Cam's funeral was 2/7/15, and even going back to read some of my private writings. . . there are pieces I can relive quite clearly and other pieces that are still blurry.  But that Sunday, the day after, there was a clear call from God- love Me the way you loved your wife.  I can't remember the exact place I was in when I felt this, I am glad I documented it though, even if at the time I didn't recognize how deep that search was going to go (and still continues to go).  Because I was at an empty place in life.  My identity, wrapped up in roles, was gone, and I had to completely follow God.  I don't have definite proof, but I am 90% sure it was around the 27th that I began looking into pursuing a degree.  I know by mid-March I had told my in-laws that I was going to Trinity and move to Jacksonville, so it was a quick turn around.  I had gotten into the program and began taking online classes in May, just before my last month of teaching (ever?) ended.

I'm skipping ahead a little bit because I'm already feeling long-winded, but it was early July that I got both an audition scheduled at JU and met Matt and led music at Grace Life for the first time.  At that time, I figured I was only around for a little while at Grace Life, helping out in a tough situation but hoping to land somewhere more established and bigger so that I could heal hide.  For a little while I tried to get away by looking for churches that would pay me (as I was working at Wal-Mart until the university job kicked in), but none of it ever worked out.  And I was still actively taking classes.

And. . . again, fast forward a lot but here I am, completing the degree and still a part of Grace Life.  And it is here in this moment that I need to clear up a few misconceptions/inadvertent lies.  First, even though I have completed my degree, I have no intention of moving back to central Florida.  I mean, I sold our house about a year ago.  But more importantly, I have finally began to really see all of those things I was seeking from God, my identity and role and purpose and calling.  Second, I have no specific "use" for my degree from a career standpoint.  The pursuit of this Master's degree was never really to launch me into a specific place but at it's core initiation just a crazy man jumping into the arms of God and not knowing where it would lead me.  Third, there may be more schooling in the future. . . but not the immediate future.  Right now I'm trying to get my heart and mind focused on what is truly important.

Romans 8:28- And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

I am not perfect.  I have not handled every step of the last 3+ years well.  I still have plenty to learn, and even more to apply.  But I know that God is good and does good.  I also have never believed in coincidences.  I believe rather in the sovereign working of a God who cares about all the details and actively engages in our lives.  Why am I saying this now?

Grace Life Church had her launch Sunday on February 8th, 2015.

You can't ask for anything cooler than that.


Rhythm Pyramids

This post has been long in coming, but between my crazy Jan/Feb and needing to keep open mental space for all of the music I've had to learn as of late, it has just been simmering in the background.  Also, the couple of times I've tried to sit down and write I'm just completely empty in figuring out how to describe things, and the other problem is that I needed to find an analogy that would help me be able to tell multiple stories. So today something finally clicked and now I have specific imagery that at least makes sense to me.

So I've been making some intentional changes in life again, as people often do when a new year starts.  Something happened in the fall, and my life started falling apart behind the scenes.  I did finally figure out what it was about a month ago (because I am a firm believer that every emotional discharge has a root cause. . . more on what happened later), but what was happening and what I'm doing now is best described as thus:

Imagine that your life is a big flat room full of pyramids.  Each of the different parts of life is represented by a different pyramid (relationships, work, hobbies, family, church, entertainment, whatever).  These pyramids aren't on a flat face though- they are each balancing on a point.  I originally came up with this idea when I was in college, that life is basically you running around and trying to keep these pyramids from falling over.  When you have a balanced life, all the pyramids are more or less standing on their own, and you just go and fix the ones that start to topple.  However, when you start to let one lean too far, and you have to put the effort to fix that thing, other pyramids start falling.  While it is not the end of the world to let a pyramid fall down completely, trying to get it back up from zero is very difficult and ultimately will just continue to spiral out of control.

But there's more to just you trying to balance the pyramids.  You also fill the pyramids (this is the new idea that hit me today).  And when you fill the pyramids with the right things, they stay balanced better because the inside of it has the arrangement of priorities and tasks correct.  But when you load it incorrectly, it topples out of control much faster.

A lot of what I've been doing since Cam died was just getting all those pyramids back up.  It would take a great deal of personal reflection for me to analyze where I'm at in that process. . . but I think I can safely say that 90-95% of the pyramids are up.  Maybe they all are, I'm not sure.  But a lot of those pyramids I have filled with the wrong things, or in the wrong way, and I know that's the case because of what happened this fall.  The hurricane hit in September, and while it messed me up a little financially (a week and a half off of work when you are self-employed as a performer is huge) it physically messed up my room when it flooded.  Being forced to move all my stuff out of the room, once the carpet was replaced and the water was gone, I went ahead and did some cleaning/purging/reorganizing (because, why not?).  And that is where the trouble began, because I found so much regalia and mementos of things that I have kept with me but had not really looked at in two years.  And while reminiscing and remembering is an important thing, I found myself just grieving in isolation.  And I started carrying that un-dealt with grief and leaving pieces of it in all the pyramids.

And so the pyramids all got way out of balance.

So what I've been trying to do the past couple months is to put healthy rhythms back into the pyramids.  Replacing self-pity with outward focus.  Replacing angry questions with thanksgiving.  Replacing bitterness with joy.  And I'm still figuring these things out.  Some things are easier to change or give up or replace than others, and I'm still struggling with a few things that look helpful but really just keep making the pyramid tumble back and forth.  But the big factor is going back to doing things God's way.  Because doing it my way doesn't work.  Simple things like reading the Bible daily becomes less of a chore and more of a joy when you stop accusing God of being hands off when the truth is that you've just been doing things on your own and not allowing Him to speak into your life.

I'm not sure if I've said it here before but I've been reading through The Message and it's been really good- so things like Psalm 56:8 get a whole new flavor:

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book.

God cares so deeply for me, for everyone. . . and it doesn't make sense.  But because of His love we can hope to say,

"God, you did everything you promised, and I’m thanking you with all my heart.  You pulled me from the brink of death, my feet from the cliff-edge of doom.  Now I stroll at leisure with God in the sunlit fields of life." (Psalm 56:12-13 MSG)


Spring has sprung

It may be LESS THAN 40 DEGREES OUTSIDE (!!!! actually I don't hate it, it's just odd), but for me, spring has definitely began.  That special time of year where I work basically every day.  Part of it is because I like to stay busy.  Part of it is choice/figuring out life, because I know while I will make lots of money in the spring, I will not make very much money in the summer, and so, like the coke-induced nut gathering of the squirrels, I'm preparing my stock.

So mostly I am writing this to remind myself to keep margin, to make time for important things and not give up habits that I've been developing for the past few weeks, to breathe, to look for God opportunities, but mostly, to not complain.  I literally get to go around and make music for a living (LIVE!!!!), and while it's not always the most amazing thing, it certainly isn't a bad thing.

I just have to remember that, when I look at my calendar and see that I don't have a day off for several weeks in a row. . . I did it to myself.  And this has been the norm for the past couple of years.  I'm just not mentally ready for it. . . or rather, I am almost ready for it, but it kind of snuck up on me.

I'm just rambling. . . mostly because I need to go to bed, but I also am getting off the show high so I'm not going to be able to sleep for a little bit.