Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New Word

Hey everyone!

I know I have largely been missing in action on the blog this year. If you recall, my goal for 2014 was to grow in several aspects of my life. The word "growth" was chosen as the watchword for the last twelve months. Every morning I have been at home this year, the word "GROW" has faced me from its index card on the bathroom mirror. I have intentionally tried to grow in a few different ways this year. Socially, I dated less that ever before and instead concentrated on building strong friendships with a wide variety of people. Whether it's my friend Marlayna introducing me to opera or hanging out with my pal Derrick after worship at Alamo, I feel that I have made some connections that will last long after the majority of 2014 fades into memory. I worked at growing and developing a stronger sense of self. I tried doing things I wanted to do even though they might not immediately bring any type of reward. I attended an adult acting workshop last winter, I became more comfortable with Memphis and with the urban lifestyle several of my friends enjoy, I tried new restaurants, read new books, and did some things just for fun. I am trying to find out what it is to be me, and my growth in 2014 aided in that process. I also became more aware of where I want to take my life spiritually in the future. My prayer life has been a struggle as has my quest to read through the Bible in a year, but I am trying to focus in those areas as I begin 2015.

2014 was a Year of Growth.
2015 will be a Year of Listening.

I can't tell you how often I meet a person and have a great conversation, but then realize later that I wasn't really paying attention to the other person. In 2015, I look to listen more. I want to be an active listener in 2015. I believe making a conscious effort to listen more effectively will improve my personal relationships, my ministry, and my general outlook. I want to listen to the people I love more carefully. I want to listen to strangers more intentionally and truly be present in the conversation. I want to listen to eclectic music, great audiobooks, thought-provoking podcasts.

What will your word be for 2015?
Love? Grace? Thankfulness? Knowledge?

I hope that in my listening I will discover some insights to share here on the blog.

Thanks for hanging around.


Friday, November 7, 2014

"There is no god."

We were standing on the subway platform at the 88th Street station just off Lexington Avenue on Manhattan's Upper East Side. We were vacationing; spending just a few days of the fall enjoying the sights and sounds of the city, but this sound was anything but welcoming.
"Somebody help me!" "I'm blind!" "Somebody help me!"
The voice that rose above the din was that of a large, middle-aged, African-American woman. As people backed away from her in the crowded station, we could make out that she was wearing a black sweatsuit and dark glasses.
"Help me, please!" "I am homeless, and don't have nobody!" "I am a diabetic, and I haven't eaten all day!""I need to get to 59th Street, but I am blind." "Will someone help me get to 59th Street? It's only three stops."
The woman was rapidly becoming hysterical. Mom handed her some Lance-brand peanut butter and crackers, but the woman didn't seem to notice.
"Oh, God!" "Oh, God!" "Oh, God!"
The more upset the woman became the more people began to fear her. No one looked directly at her, and though blind, she seemed to notice our aversion. To be honest, she looked seconds away from violence. She wailed and pushed her way through the crowd now begging for any sort of assistance.
Since this scene had begun to unfold, more and more people were filling the station. 
It seemed as if the train would never come.
"Oh, God!" "Oh, God, help me!" "Oh, God!"
"There is no god."
The voice that spoke up from the back of the crowd was that of a small Pakistani man in a jacket and tie carrying a backpack. He moved forward as people parted to let him pass. He took the woman by the shoulders and said in a voice that was both kind and firm,
"There is no god. God doesn't exist. All you have is yourself."
Strangely, this theological revelation seemed to comfort the woman. She became quieter as the man continued to talk to her in a calming voice.
Obviously, it was not the moment for a religious debate, and, honestly, everyone was just glad she was starting to calm down. This whole episode unfolded in the three or four minutes between the trains. The woman perhaps was comforted more by the man's paying attention to her than by his statement. The woman, of course, wasn't exactly calling on God as much as she was decrying the hopelessness of her situation. In times of great distress, great delight, or great excitement, people often evoke the name of God. What amazed me then, and amazes me still, is the fact that not one person on that platform (myself included) managed to speak to that woman any words of comfort taken from faith. For some reason all those church bulletin slogans seemed hollow.
"Bad things happen to good people."
"Remember Job!"
"Everything will be ok. It's all a part of God's plan."
"You're too blessed to be depressed."
Not one Jew, not one Muslim, not one Catholic, not one Mormon, not one Protestant, not one otherwise religious voice in that crowd provided comfort to that woman. That woman was in a terrible circumstance; a frightening circumstance, but she didn't need a sound byte or a proverb. She needed someone willing to touch her, to speak directly to her, to comfort her - but we were all afraid. We were all more focused on what would happen to us if we dared to intervene than what would happen to the woman if we did not help. Only the voice of unbelief spoke. The only comfort came from the humanist - the secular. Any believer gathered there could have just as easily said, 
"God loves you. He sent me to help you. Let me take you to 59th Street." 
I think the woman would have been just as comforted if not more so by that statement. 
People in the world are looking for interaction, for stability, for comfort. If we as Christians are too timid or out of touch to provide it, there are plenty of other faiths (and non-faiths) that will attempt to. We should never be afraid to speak up for God, but what we actually need is to be willing to act up for Him. Until we couple our faith with action, all those platitudes ring empty.
I don't know what happened to that woman or to the gentleman who helped her or to anyone else gathered in that station that day, but I do know that the atheist denied God with his voice, but served God with his actions while the believers present stood silent and passive. Providence gives each of us countless opportunities to speak up, to act up, and to make a difference. We have good news for the world, but they will never hear it unless our words confess and our actions speak. May God help us to do a better job of being for Him and may we see in every situation an opportunity to proclaim His love.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thank you

I want to thank everyone for your continued support of my ministry and of me personally. I have not written much in this space over the last few months, but I hope the few things I have posted have been meaningful.
After the busyness of the holidays, I hope to update the look and feel of this blog and get back to posting on a much more regular basis.
Again, thanks for all your care and concern and for letting me know that you still want to hear from me.
See you soon.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Everyone struggles

Everyone you know is struggling with something.
The young barista who serves your coffee is working two jobs to support her handicapped toddler.
The guy who acts like a jerk at the company party is filled with guilt about how his prescription drug habit is costing him his home, his family, and maybe eventually his life.
The older woman who sits on the bench at the mall is still besotted by grief 10 years after her husband's  death.
The strong and confident politician is fighting a private battle against the pornography addiction that has taken over his life.
The nurse at your clinic is contemplating whether or not to commit Medicare fraud in order to send her three kids to college.
Your preacher or pastor is fighting against burnout and frustration because the congregation may not be doing enough to spiritually support he and his family.
Your newly-minted adult children are grappling with trying to understand all the pressures that come with being an adult.

And what about you?
What are you struggling with today?
Greed. Hatred. Divorce. Lust. Anger. Apathy. Depression. Doubt. Addiction. Health problems.

Remember as you go out into the world this week:
Everyone is struggling with something.

With that realization, may we live with grace towards the people we meet. Whether they are our closest family members or strangers in line at the grocery store, let's resolve to smile, to speak kindness, to truly care about the concerns and needs of others.

I struggle so much everyday, and many of you who read this blog have been a great source of encouragement to me. I appreciate that, and I want to pay that kindness forward to the people in my life that need an extra blessing this week.

Let's keep being positive and looking forward and we will make it - together.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11

This ad ran in the weeks after September 11, 2001 celebrating the undying spirit of New York City.

Our enemies can destroy our buildings, but they only win if they cause us to compromise our values and turn our backs on the principles that have made our country great.
They can take our very lives, but our culture, our strength, our belief in freedom and justice still stand.
May we always be a society that strives to value diversity, celebrates tolerance, and seeks peace and goodwill among all people. We realize that we have not yet fully reached our ideals, but we reach for them nonetheless.
We must never forget that we live in a dangerous world, but we must also remember that there are good and decent people in every nation, race, and faith.
One of the lessons of 9/11 is that we are strongest when we are united. It should not take tragedy to bring us together but rather the simple realization of our common humanity. Let's resolve to love and serve freely, and in doing so, we will play some small part in overcoming the darkness in the world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Robin Williams's Death Tells Us about Life

Yesterday, many of us walked in and sat down to watch or scroll through the news of the day. In the midst of the chaos in Iraq and the shooting death of Michael Brown, the press revealed the fact that beloved comedic actor Robin Williams had taken his own life at his Northern California home at the age 63. Commentators were quick to laud Williams's professional achievements and also to mention his issues with substance abuse and depression. Robin Williams possessed a unique blend of physical humor and biting wit - always quick to laugh at you, but also at ease enough to laugh at himself. We remember Williams as a funny man, but some of his best performances occurred in films such as Good Will Hunting (for which he won an Academy Award), Dead Poets Society, and What Dreams May Come in all of which he played serious characters. Williams's canon is diverse and deep just as Williams the man was. There is more to most people than what meets the eye, and Robin Williams was no exception.
So what, if anything, can we learn from the untimely death of this talented man?
I believe that anytime a person, regardless of his/her level of fame or notoriety, takes his/her own life, it should cause the rest of us to stop and reflect on our own existence. This is perhaps even more the case when a person that appears to have boundless success and incredible talent dies by suicide. If we are honest, we must admit that no one else can know the depths of pain and hardship that another human being experiences. For a person battling life-threatening depression, all the praise and honor bestowed on him/her by others rings hollow. A person who seems buoyant and positive on the outside may still grappling with demons and darkness beyond description. The voice of a loved one or professional saying, "I understand" or "I care" can still fail to penetrate the layers of self-hatred and sadness that have entombed the sufferer's mind. I don't pretend to understand the series of events and emotions that led Robin Williams to take his own life, but can say that having experienced a similar darkness, I empathize with him deeply.
1 in 4 Americans is living with a diagnosable mental illness at any given time. Millions of our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow church members, our children, and strangers we encounter every day are suffering in silence. It is not a question of if you know someone living with mental illness; it is a question of who you know that is living with mental illness. Mental illness knows no race, no class, no creed, no level of celebrity. It damages and sometimes destroys lives indiscriminately. All the money or fame or power in the world cannot protect a person from its reach. While access to better care can make a lifesaving difference, sometimes even the best care is not enough.
If I had spent a few minutes with Robin Williams in recent days, I would have done what any fan would have. I would have talked about how he inspired me to pursue a degree in English from his performance in Dead Poets Society, how he made me laugh in Mrs. Doubtfire, how he made me think about love in a different way with his performance in What Dreams May Come. And perhaps Williams would have smiled or laughed or told an off-color joke, but I don't think he would have said much. His thoughts were elsewhere. No doubt his wife and the other people close to him reached out to him, but in the end, it was not enough to prevent his death. We should not blame Williams or criticize what we do not understand. Everyone is battling something, and sometimes, sadly, the shadows win. As fans, we grieve. His family and friends will have an emptiness and sorrow that will never be completely filled, but I pray today that Williams's turbulent life has now found some measure of peace. Williams left us with a lifetime of memories and hours and hours of laughs. We did not know him away from the screen, but in every performance he gave us a part of himself and for that I am grateful.
Every single solitary life is precious. Let's love each person in our lives a little more, let's reach out a little further, let's embrace a little tighter. Sometimes seizing the day is about seizing the moment. Take a moment today to tell those you love that you care and that you are open to hearing their challenges without judgment and without giving advice. Be truly present in the lives you touch and, as I am sure Robin would remind us, be sure to laugh a little too.

Monday, July 28, 2014


"The sadness of the past is with me always."
~F. Scott Fitzgerald in a letter to his wife, Zelda, who was chronically hospitalized for mental illness

One of the many blessings/curses of living with a mood disorder is the ability to experience intense emotional states. Sometimes those states are the roller coaster heights of pleasure, desire, anger, agitation, sensuality, and joy. Even for those that experience these highs, the fall always comes and the sufferer endures loneliness, emptiness, sadness, regret, and an overwhelming desire to isolate.
As many as 1 in 4 Americans lives with a diagnosable mental illness at any given time. The people that you meet everyday in line at the grocery store, at your office, in your classroom, that wait on you in restaurants, and even the people sitting across the dinner table may be dealing with a burden far beyond what shows on the surface. 
It doesn't take much effort to be kind.
To say, "Thank you."
To hold open the door.
To call or text that friend who may be struggling.
To pray for those around you who are hurting.
To offer a hand, a hug, a listening ear.
We can never truly know what another person is experiencing, but we can all resolve to make an effort to be present in the lives of other people. Helping others, rather than burdening us, actually serves to help lift our own load.
May we be a blessing in the lives of other people and may we also allow them into our lives so that they might bless us.

Have a great week!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Growth Chart

In the very first post I made this year, I revealed that my focus for 2014 was going to be growth.
I realize I haven't been posting as often as I have in the last four years, but I think the silence has been helpful for me in achieving my goal of growth. I have come to realize that there are some things that are very special to me, and, for the most part, I want to keep these new interests and experiences to myself. In the interest of updating you at the halfway point of the year, I wanted to share a few ways in which I have embraced growth this year in the hope that it will encourage you to do the same.
  • Starting in December 2013, I began scheduling my sermon topics several months in advance. I was skeptical of this practice at first, but I have found that it has been extremely helpful in allowing me to have more variety in my lessons and in helping me have a seed to start with each week.
  • In January, I stepped out of my comfort zone and took an acting class in Memphis. The class was taught by a professional director and was very challenging in multiple ways. I was glad that I had the courage to take the class, and also that I had the courage to admit it wasn't something I wanted to pursue any further.
  • Beginning on my birthday, I started a scheduled plan to read through the Bible in one year. I hope to complete this project by May 25, 2015.
  • I have worked to expand my social interactions both in person and online. I am developing some new friendships and renewing several others.

All and all, the year of growth has been mixed. Some areas of life have improved while others have stayed the same or regressed. Still, on the whole, it has been a good first half to the year.  I am looking forward to what's to come and to growing even more in the months and years ahead.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Old and New

Today is the first day of something new.
I spent the last decade concentrating on the things I thought were missing from my life. My 20s were a long string of unmet expectations.  Always wanting something more, something bigger, something real. I realize now that I had those things all along I just didn't realize it.  
It is something more to be able to spend time with your aging grandparents and to be able to be a help to them. 
 It is something big to find light and stability in the midst of darkness and madness.  
It is something real to serve one church for a whole decade and to grow along with them in grace. To learn to love them for who they are and not for who you want them to be. To realize that you are in this together and that you grow stronger by leaning on one another.
I don't know what my 30s will hold, but I am looking forward to finding out. I honestly thought for a long time that I would never make it to 30.  Well now here it is, brimming with possibility. I am still not satisfied with where I am and I know my life still has room to improve, but for today I am content to celebrate the good and work to remedy the bad. I still battle unruly passions, and I think I always will, but I am not overwhelmed by the struggle. I have experience I want to take with me into this new decade, but I also have parts of me I want to leave behind. I want to carry my passion and my knowledge forward, and I want to leave my fear and cynicism in the past.

Three decades down and an eternity to go. 
Here I come.

"There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, everyone of them sufficient."

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Stuff of Life

This past weekend was one of great celebration in our family. My younger sister, Sarah Beth, got married in a small, family ceremony at a little venue near her home in Memphis. Saturday was the culmination of months of planning and prayer and thankfully everything went smoothly. 
What amazed me most about the whole event was the amount of planning that went into every detail. I performed the service and worked on the ceremony for months in advance. My mom took charge of the decorating and had a boxes of decorations for each room and then further divided boxes for each table in each room. Flowers had to be arranged. Food was ordered weeks in advance. The wedding party's suits and dresses were all custom ordered for each individual person. Invitations had to be sent - not only for the wedding but for all the showers, dinners, and parties that celebrated their engagement. Nothing was left to chance. The only variable was the weather, and thankfully we were blessed with a warm, sun-filled spring day. Everything rehearsed, everything planned. My family and my sister's new husband's family spent months making sure everything would be just right.
What kind of planning are you doing in your life? Are you planning tonight's meal? Are you planning to take a vacation? Are you planning to get married? Are you planning to have a baby? Are you planning to retire? Are you planning for what comes next?
The great thing about the wedding is we knew when it was coming. I knew I had to have the ceremony ready by April 26. The caterers knew what time to arrive at the venue. The family knew what time photographs were going to be taken. We knew it was coming, so we prepared.
We all have an appointment to keep with death, but we don't know when it will come. Many of us will live for many more years and grow old and grey, but some of us will be taken sooner by disease or accident. No matter when death comes, we need to be prepared. We need to make the most of our relationships with family and friends. We need to say the things that need saying, and we need to do those things which need doing. We need to stop being afraid to live so that we can embrace all that life has to offer. Make that call. Send that card. Meet that person for dinner. Ask her out. Tell him, "I love you."
Ultimately, the best way to prepare for death is by committing to a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is only when we are prepared to die that we can fully begin to live. Explore the pages of Scripture. Look for God in nature's beauty, in the laughter of a child, in the embrace of a friend. 
Soak up all the glory that is in the world which is made all the more wonderful because it is fleeting. You will never have this moment again. Don't live looking back with regret. Live looking forward with hope. Life is beautiful, but we need to take the time to appreciate its splendor. Resolve to look for the good in every situation and then watch as love and life and light are manifested before your eyes. 
Embrace wonder. 
Dare to hope. 
Dare to dream. 
Dare to fall in love.