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


February Statistics

Performances: 7 (+9 class/lab)
Pieces performed: 41
Cities worked in: 4
Miles driven: 3,442
Miles ran: 3.1
Pounds lost: ~19
Nights of sleep before midnight: 22
Sweet potatoes consumed: 5

God is good!!

.... and so are sweet potatoes.



A disclaimer- this entry is going to be a little different, in that rather than being a theoretical/application entry, it's going to be a more personal one.  I'm not entirely sure I'll really develop any points or come to any strong conclusion.  I don't talk much in depth about my experiences surrounding losing my wife to cancer, partially because it's inevitably awkward for me and awkward for them and really, who knows what to do with a 28 year old widower anyway?

. . . seriously, if you know, pass that along, because I definitely don't have a great idea.  I could tell you lots of things not to do, but that is not the purpose for today.

So anyway, with that prelude. . .

Matt preached this past week on being made in the image of God as well as related that to gender/sexuality/marriage/identity.  His sermon is here if you want to go take a listen.  I think he did a great job handling it.  There was one part that stuck out to me, and I know that if I don't think through it, even if I don't come to a conclusion, that it will eat away at me, and that's not healthy.  It is the idea that, when God brings a husband and wife together, his purpose is in using them to complete each other.  The weaknesses of one are bolstered by the strengths of the other, there's a fit, a match, that makes each person irrevocably tied together.

So what I wrote in my notes in the heat of the moment was: "Cam completed me- and then He took her?  So am I complete still?"

Now, I could easily write up a page about how really I will never be complete until I'm made perfect in Christ, whether in death or on His return.  And that's where we as Christians place hope boils down to.  But that really only addresses the second half of the statement, so. . . I'm gonna break this down.

Cam completed me. . . I don't know that I've ever really thought about it in those terms, but it's definitely something I can get behind.  Although I wasn't looking for that at the time, once the two of us had the first "serious talk" and started sharing our past experiences and our future hopes and dreams, it was clear we were meant to be together.  I mean, we went on a 6 mile walk-and-talk in mid-February, and by the end of March I was looking for engagement rings, and I popped the question May 4.  Granted, we had "not" been dating for a couple of years leading up to that. . . but really I don't know that either of us had thought seriously about us being together.

Well. . .  maybe she had.  Apparently when we went on our Disney non-dates she was concerned over her appearance, and also she got real mad at me when I dressed in my own special ways.

(I mean, just look at those faces: thinly veiled anger and sheepish grin.  America's finest) 
(but seriously I got in big trouble once for wearing elf shorts with bells on them)

And then He took her- this is something I still wrestle with (I mean, clearly- the language is aggressive).  I had some clarity a few weeks ago, conceptually that she was never "mine" to begin with.  She was always God's child, this was His plan and intent, and I was given the great opportunity to know her, love her, and see her through to the end of her life here.  That's still not an easy pill to swallow, but that's where trusting in God's goodness comes into contact with everyday life.  Do I trust His promises, do I trust His character, do I truly believe that what He says is completely true?  I can choose not to, but I have peace in knowing that I can trust Him, I have joy in that He shaped me through Cam's life and death, and I have hope for the future because He's still walking alongside me and leading me.

So. . . am I complete still?  I mean, there's a part missing.  I don't think that gap will be bridged on this side of heaven.  But the cool part in thinking through this is recognizing the pieces of Cameron that live on in me: some that I cultivate, others that surprise me.  I find myself trying to find alternate/positive-spin perspectives in hard circumstances (which is so completely a Cam thing and in no way a me thing).  I'm a bit more in tune to the movement of the wind and fascinated by the moon.  I take a whole lot more pictures than I used to.  Sometimes I just sit and soak in the surroundings.  I really, really want to go to Jurassic Quest (but of course I'm busy the weekend it's in Jacksonville).  I'm more aware of other people as people, with backgrounds and histories and struggles, and am still learning to be patient even when they frustrate me.  So I am certainly changed.

Today is Valentine's Day.  Tomorrow would be our second anniversary.  How do I glorify God in the midst of pain?

By recognizing that there is purpose in the pain.

By choosing to rejoice anyway.

By continuing to stay faithful to God.

By knowing my completion lies in Christ, and my task is to strive for that every day.

I know I won't do those things perfectly, and I can't do them on my own, but God's grace, power, and love is far greater than anything I face on this earth.


Service vs. Serving

A question was posed that has dug into my mind and heart and I can't let it go:

As ministry leaders, what are we teaching people?

I don't mean the skills necessary to do whatever task- skills like reading music or changing a diaper or creating a document.  I'm talking about spiritual growth.  So maybe the question would be better stated: As ministry leaders, what are we teaching people as we disciple them?  And maybe the question before that is are we taking time to disciple the people serving in our ministries?

This should be the difference between the church and every other gathering of people, whether it relate to work or hobby or whatever.  We ought to be using ministry moments to encourage, correct, and sometimes even rebuke.  But it is very easy to get caught up in the tasks that we forget about the people.  The disciples did it constantly, and we certainly fare no better sometimes.

Although this isn't some official delineation, this is the best way I can think of to describe what happens.  It's the idea of service vs. serving.  Service, as a noun, focuses on the act, the end result of the ministry.  Serving, as both gerund and participle, require thought about the person doing the act.  And so, a comparison of the thought process (these are extremes; certainly there are areas we do better in and ones we can work on):

My value is found in the work I do.
I am loved when I serve, and I am encouraged only once my service begins to drop.
The church desires for me to serve, and so they provide opportunities to "work for the Lord."

My value is found in Christ, and so I serve Him.
I am loved.  I am encouraged continually, regardless of my current service.
The church desires to see me grow closer to God, and so they provide an opportunity for me to serve.

Do we praise our workers only on the week they do well, or do we continually thank and praise them, even when they mess up? Do we take the time to teach them from difficult experiences, or just get annoyed and begin to write them off both emotionally and from our scheduling? Do we chide the children's worker who loves kids and teaches them about Jesus but forgot to clean up the mess of animal crackers- or do we see their love of Christ poured into lives and thank God sincerely that they're a part of our team? Do we desire zeal for good works more than zeal for God? Are we cultivating an environment where people can do a lot, or can we craft an experience where they will grow and stretch in their faith?

Not easy questions, but if we want to see people grow in Christ, we must examine the way we are leading.  And that also requires us to check ourselves, to recognize as leaders that we don't have it all together and need God's grace just as much as those who are on our team.


How is the Bible transforming you?

This was a question posed last week at Lifegroup, and I had an answer but I didn't have the words for it.  I kind of do now?  I haven't quite collected my thoughts on this completely but I know if I don't set some of it down then none of it will ever come to light.

For me, lately, I have been rediscovering the comfort that is in Scripture.  I posted about it with Psalm 119 a couple weeks ago, but it goes further than that.  My brain is just too tired to form coherent sentences, so I'll leave you with some scripture that has comforted me recently (for now and someday soon I will expand on this thought!!).

Lamentations 3:22-24
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Psalm 119:176
I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

Job 19:25
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

Romans 6:4
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.


O Love That Will Not Let Me Go

I was going to post about this last night when it was fresh, but I fell asleep mid-texting conversation, so there's that.  One of the things we're doing this year with the Praise Team at Grace Life is breaking down some hymns of the faith.  It's a neat process, because it becomes a collaborative effort, and even though I've done a lot of prep work before coming to this meeting, there are things that were pointed out that I didn't notice (all of which will be discussed below).  The hymn for this month is not one I grew up with, but I discovered the version linked sometime during all of the cancer stuff, and it has stuck with me.  Part of what we did last night was to look into the history of the hymn and pull apart the lyrics to figure out where the truths from Scripture were and how it still relates to us.  The text (in all its old English glory) is:

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

I love how Ascend the Hill has treated it (the video in the link above, a modernized version with an added chorus related to each verse, really good stuff if you didn't go listen to it), but the original hymn tune is also nice.  But most importantly, the lyrics are so rich.  So this is what we came up with.
First of all, the hymn writer, though not born blind, lost his sight by the age of 18, so all of the delicate imagery is fascinating.  Second, he said that he wrote this after some extreme but unnamed trial that he faced, and that it was written as a hasty response.  Bearing all that in mind, it is interesting how each verse begins with a descriptor that is clearly meant to be replaced with Jesus.  He begins the song focusing on God's love, something that we can rest in, something that will anchor us no matter where the oceans may take us.

He then moves into a description of Light, and it's interesting that in this context the Light is following, not leading.  At least, not until the writer yields his torch, his heart, to be able to shine brighter.  It's also worth noting that it is the heart which stores the rays, borrowed rays, implying that there's something there that wasn't there before.  

Now, to the crux of the matter- the Joy coming in pain, the writer who cannot help but open himself back up.  The writer is pursued by God!  Sometimes we forget that it is a two-way street.  And, given the context of the writing, it is likely that Matheson felt lost, felt like he could not be forgiven.  BUT- he holds onto the promise of God, points specifically to the promise that God would not flood the earth because of man's sinfulness.  Perhaps he himself is feeling so vile that he thinks God cannot forgive him.  But he knows that the next morning is filled with new mercy.

And finally, really bringing everything full circle, the Cross.  This final verse is a word picture in the same way that baptism is a physical representation of everything that culminates in salvation.  But let's not lose the beginning of this verse- I dare not ask to fly (or some versions say "hide") from Jesus!  Why hide from God?  And even more amazing, that he starts by saying that Jesus is lifting his head!

If that doesn't get you pumped, I don't know what to do for you.

We all screw up.  This hymn is written for the Christian who thinks that what they have done is so abominable to God that they choose to avoid him, to fight against Him, to go their own way, to hold onto the hurt, to hide. . . but God is there, waiting for you to return.  His forgiveness that you have received already covered everything you've done and are going to do. And if you haven't experienced that forgiveness. . . if this song doesn't make any sense. . . then let's talk.


Peace that passes understanding

(No focus in this entry, just want to get back into the habit of writing.)

Sometime between 12:30 and 1 AM this morning, a rock hit my windshield at that one perfect angle where there is now a crack about halfway through the whole thing.

This morning on my way to go set-up sound for church, I got pulled over for doing 60 in a 45.  Yay mindless driving. . .

Which then led me into signing up for an online driving school so that I can keep the points off my license. . . so there's 4 hours of my life spent doing something I'd rather not be doing.

I found out this afternoon that somehow I failed to send an e-mail to one of my team members (but thankfully she was gracious and flexible).

Any one of those things could have easily sent me into an angry place. . . the combination of all of them in a span of a short few hours??

And yet. . . peace.  Zen Ben, if you will.

Strange, and yet maybe not.

I've been swimming in Psalm 119 recently.  I know that I've read it before, and actually I was not expecting to find what I was looking for in there (which is always the best when you go searching in the Bible and get surprised).  But there are some great gems in there:

v. 28- My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to Your word!

v. 49-50- Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.  This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.

v. 68, 71- You are good and do good; teach me your statutes.  It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

v. 140- Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it.

v. 176- I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.

I know the next few weeks are going to be tough. . . and this may be a calm before the storm. . . but there is also clarity that I haven't had in a while.


"It's been a while" or "I wonder while I run-der"

Can't go wrong with Rocky and Bullwinkle references.  So timely.

So yeah. . . it has been over a year since I have written anything personal, not just on this blog but in any capacity.  I do plenty of writing during classes, and while this past class had a lot of personal application (which was fantastic), still, it makes me a little sad.

Explaining how the marathon's I've run are representative of the year leading up to each race will shed more light, and that is my intention this morning before I return (slowly walking) to work today.

2012 (Marathon 2013)- 5:47:44.  I've always enjoyed running but have never taken it seriously.  So, when I started losing weight and getting healthier in 2012, I decided on a whim that I should set up a long term goal so I would have something to achieve.  I tend to be task oriented rather than goal oriented, but in this case it made sense to me.  I had heard about the Disney race weekend, and when I looked up the information, I found that the cost for the different races were about the same.  So me, in my hyper-intelligence about getting the most out of my money, signed up for the marathon.  I mean, if I'm going to pay close to $200 to run through Disney, I might as well run through the whole thing, right?

Yep.  There was seriously no other motivation.  I didn't have a lifelong desire to run a marathon.  In fact, I never really thought of myself as an endurance runner.  I played tennis in high school, so I got decent at doing quick sprints, but at this point I had never even participated in a 5k.  So you know, normal thought process.

I found a training plan that made sense to me and started training in July.  I was running about a 12 minute mile, and I stayed the course with training, all the way to the final long run before tapering off.  I finished that marathon just a little past my goal (5:30), but still I felt good about it.  I had set my mind to something, I went through the process to make the things happen, and it did!

And for some crazy reason I signed up for the next year's marathon.

2013 (Marathon 2014)- This was my best marathon time.  4:35:22.  I was the smallest I had been, possibly ever as an adult, and running felt so great.  The year leading up was filled with great things- it was the year Cam and I got engaged, I had fallen into a teaching job that I loved, I was doing well socially, spiritually, everything was fluid.

Until November.  Cam's chest pains.  X-rays.  CT scans.  Cancer.  Chemo.

Running was always an escape, and during the last couple months of training, it was helpful to have a place alone to zone out, to pray, to process.  I'm an internal processor anyway, and doing some task that doesn't require lots of thinking (like running) creates the optimum processing power.

2014 (Marathon 2015)- 6:42:28.  We got married, which is one of the great moments of my life, but even that was bittersweet as we had rescheduled it to fit into the treatment plan, finding an empty spot between radiation and chemo.  And then the bone marrow transplant. . . we lived in Tampa for a while because of that.  I forced myself to run around the tiny lake that was there at the apartment complex, and sometimes on USF's campus, but now the running was more fueled by anger than by anything else.  After we moved back home, I stuck with running until sometime in November, where life just started to get to be too much (between work, shows, and figuring out married life).  So, I was still in decent shape, but having given up the training program, the finishing time was less than impressive when compared to the years previous.  If you had been inside my mind, I probably would have said the same thing about where I thought life was headed.  We had began to give up dreams in this year, made compromises and changes that didn't seem fair, and while it certainly wasn't all bad, it was absolutely overwhelming and all happening way too fast.

2015 (Marathon 2016)- 7:13:19.  The big bomb.  Cam's death.  The year I moved away from all of that.  Ran away from it.  As far as training I was actually still running (angrily), but once I took the job at Wal-Mart overnight, any hope of a normal life schedule was shattered, and I gave up training in October.  I just needed to survive the year, I just needed to survive the race. . . and I did both.  Not without set-backs.  Not without pain and chaos and anger and questioning God.  But still. . . I stayed the course.

2016 (Marathon 2017)- 7:14:04.  When I looked up the time from last year, I was surprised because I thought that I did much worse this year than I did last year.  I don't know if I'm happy or not that they are comparable.  I can tell you the race, even though it was only a couple days ago, is a blur.  I know that I had enjoyable moments, I know I faced times of runner's doubt and feared the sweepers, and I tried not to look behind me and keep my eyes forward, but I would be lying to say that I didn't.  I even asked a couple cast members near the end if I was safe yet.

So, in a word: woof.

I look back at 2016, and while plenty of people have made statements about "worst year ever" and whatnot, for me, it's less that and more "non-existent year."  "Blurry previous 18 months."  Not in its entirety, but I know especially in the first few months of 2016, I checked out on a lot of levels.  Dealing with first year anniversaries and trying to comprehend a new work life, a new social life, a new church. . . less about being overwhelmed and more about just not understanding how I got here from there.  A lot of blur.  But there was a mental shift happening underneath that.  An important shift, a recognition that none of this is out of the sovereignty of God's hand.  A wave of truth that I can either let continue to cycle while I stay put and tread water (because that's working out so well for me. . .), or that I can move with so that I can begin to head back to the shore (which means more than just movement- though it may start with outside processes, it requires commitment to an attitude change).

Because it's not all about me.

And further, I am where I am supposed to be.

There is so much to be done.  So many opportunities that have been missed.

So I must engage.  I must engage God.  I must engage myself.

I'm not going to post a list of resolutions, but for the moment, for my own sake, I will post a thematic word: