Day 25: Excerpt from Dead Man Living (Audio Recording)

*Author’s Note- This is an excerpt from a fiction story I’m working on called Dead Man Living. It is a story about the Grim Reaper reconsidering his line of work after meeting a revival preacher who is resurrected from the dead. This moment in the story Death comes to reposess the revival preacher, Ronnie’s soul. If it seems dry, well it’s a comedy about death so…

“Ronnie! There you are! Are you ready to go?” Death asked

“Not quite. I seem to have misplaced something,” Ronnie’s soul said.

Death was almost immediately annoyed. He was hungry for one. And for seconds, Ronnie of all people should know you don’t get to take anything, and I mean anything with you. He also had seen this before: stalling techniques; the souls of the formerly living want to linger. You know all the hubbub with ghosts and such, just stubborn people refusing to let go of honestly who knows what.

Usually it’s trauma, some distorted attachment that they can’t let go of. Sad really. 

“Ronnie, I’d hate to state the obvious but you’re pretty much ethereal, you can’t take things in this state.”

“Oh pish posh. It’s not a thing, it’s hope: a substance of a different kind. Do you know of it?”

Death paused. He couldn’t register whether Ronnie was offering some kind of ironic sarcasm or was getting theological or philosophical. Either way, he hated it and knew if he did not act fast, lunch would hardly be enjoyable, and he would be required to get something quick and likely unhealthy which screws up everything because he had been trying to be more conscious of his figure as of late. Death counted to five and gave a sigh to calm himself.

“Is it possible we can look for it as we move? Certainly it is not confined to this rented tent.” Death said.

“Yes, I believe we can,” Ronnie conceded. “Though this tent belongs to my brother Bobby. He owns the tent, but he does also rent tents so it’s an easy mistake to make.”

“Interesting… Shall we go to my car?”

“Lead the way!” Ronnie had an odd enthusiasm about him.

The short walk to the car was awful for Death. Somehow a gust of wind had carried over the smell of manure from a nearby farm. The view was fine, in fact it was pretty good, hilly, green, and a valley to the left. 

Death opened his trunk and motioned to it with his left palm facing upward, clinging to his scythe with his stronger hand as he glanced back and forth from the trunk to Ronnie.

Ronnie looked displeased. “Really? Why?”

“I don’t particularly feel like I have to explain myself,” Death said.

“Why not the passenger seat?”

“First of all, we’ve just met. We aren’t exactly old chums nor are we colleagues. Plus I get weird looks when people in your state are sitting in the passenger seat. Secondly, the scythe goes in the back seat which makes that off limits. And I have to point the sickle part so it hangs over the passenger seat which adds to the weird looks, and I don’t want to cause an accident. Admittedly, in my line of work you might wonder how that’s a bad thing, but I have morals. Lastly, in this state your propensity for comfort is practically obsolete, and it’s temporary.”

“Fine, I’ll get in the trunk.” Ronnie reached towards a blanket sitting inside.

“Hey! What’s the big idea? I’m not sharing this blanket,” said another voice from the trunk.

Death felt nervous.

“What! There’s someone else in there. You didn’t say that!”

“This isn’t a limo service.” Death nudged Ronnie with his scythe into the trunk and closed it. 

Audible noise echoed from the trunk for a few moments while death carefully placed his scythe in the back seat so as not to scuff up the interior. Ronnie and friend settled down, as usual, because they are souls and don’t need “space.” 

Getting into the driver seat of his all black Ford Fiesta, Death pressed the ignition, took several deep breaths as the classical station prepared him for the road ahead. He almost closed his eyes for a nap until he thought of lunch.

Day 23: 80% (By Kelsey Gamel)

Hey, today we are at the 76% mark of this project and I have been eagerly waiting for a week to share this essay by my friend Kelsey who I am about to introduce to you. She gave me the choice of 3 essays and I felt the one youa re about to read most aligned with this blog, but also left me extremely encouraged. I both had a beaming smile and cried as I read her beautifully written reflection. You are going to love and be amazed by it.

Kelsey is a faith-filled, funny and extremely intelligent adventurer. I think what makes Kelsey so amazing is how she has allowed her adventures to shape her to have a huge heart for others. I’m impressed by how her sense of humor seems void of cynicism. I think in being smart, she also maintains a high value for walking in humility, and in all these things she reflects Christ through her life. Furthermore, she has a knack for storytelling and I’m excited for you to be able to glean from her reflection here:

80%

I love to read and lose myself in a good story. Reading a book is the perfect hobby because I cannot multitask. I have to pay full attention to the book and it quiets my brain in a way few things do. I primarily read on my kindle and there’s something I noticed that I don’t think I would have realized just by reading physical books. Almost every book falls apart at the 80% mark. The story that you were invested in and had watched build towards something gets unraveled around 80% before it’s put back together again. This especially drives me crazy when it’s a rom-com book and the couple breaks up over a little miscommunication. They always get back together in the end, but there needs to be that last tension point in the plot. It still annoys me when I get to it, but at least now I expect it and so don’t feel it as deeply.

I’ve started to notice the same thing happens in real life. Makes sense since common plot structures have to come from somewhere. The story we’ve been building toward falls apart at 80%. But in real life, you don’t know that you’re only 20% from the end. So there isn’t the urgency to keep going and just push through to get to the resolution. It’s easy to think you just got it wrong and were building a storyline that wasn’t tenable. But if we could see the whole story, we’d know to put our heads down and keep moving forward.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we read the Bible from the perspective of knowing how the story ends. We can’t really see how messy the people feel in the middle because we know how it ends. It’s hard to really feel the weight and doubt of that moment. This is especially evident in the story of Joseph. He is thrown in prison and then God enables him to interpret the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker. The latter is killed and the former returns to Pharaoh’s court. The cupbearer completely forgets about Joseph though and Genesis 41 starts with “When two full years had passed…” Those six words are painful if I really think about them. Joseph had no clue how the story was going to shake out. He had dreams from God when he was younger, but he had a million false starts and was quite literally forgotten in a dungeon. And it seemed like there might be some forward movement with interpreting the dreams, but then nothing for two full years. Now that I can resonate with. That is an extremely painful and lonely place to be. The story we’d been building towards seems to fall apart at 80%.

Several years ago, a shelf in my parent’s garage broke and the boxes that were up there fell down and spilled their contents everywhere. My siblings and I were tasked with cleaning it up and repacking the boxes. My mom later regretted that because we found a couple of her letters from college. One was from her guy friend that said he wished Keith (my dad) would stop playing his little games. I don’t know the frat guy version of my dad. Playing little games? Dad, rude. And the other letter was one my mom wrote my dad after he broke up with her seemingly out of the blue. My parents met in high school and went on their first date when they were sixteen. My mom followed my dad to Baylor and then after they’d been together for three years, he broke up with her. My mom was devastated and wrote this letter to my dad with no intent to ever send it. I’ve done the same and written letters to guys that I will never, ever send. It’s helpful to get it all out of your head.

This spring, I was devastated when something didn’t work out the way I thought it was heading. And I remembered that I had taken pictures of the letter my mom wrote my dad after he dumped her. I went back through my photos and found the letter. And I read it and finally fully felt how my mom was feeling. She was blindsided and felt lied to and led on. She was despondent and couldn’t picture her life without my dad and had no clue how the story was going to play out. And as I read the letter, I kept thinking about how if only 19-year-old Laurie could get a glimpse of her life now, she wouldn’t have despaired so much. When I read the letter, this is what my mom’s life looked like: she had been married to my dad for over forty years and raised six kids. The entire family was meeting up in a week in Durham to celebrate their youngest kid graduating from Duke. They were about to pass a major milestone of putting all six kids through college. Their five oldest kids went to Baylor and Trent, our black sheep/blue devil, went to Duke. Half of their kids had graduate degrees. Their first grandchild was on the way and two kids were engaged and planning weddings. Their kids are each other’s best friends and choose to travel the world together. If my mom could see a glimpse of her 2022 when she wrote the letter in 1978, she would not have been so utterly dejected. Obviously, it’s good and right to be present and feel the pain of the moment. But the story is not over. And it will work out. And hope is a beautiful thing to hold onto.

I know I shouldn’t have this letter my mom wrote my dad, but I do. It’s gutsy and honest and raw. It’s painful to read, but I can only read it through the lens of being their daughter and knowing how the story worked out. I’m smack dab in the messy middle of my own life. I have no clue how it’s all going to work out. It’s painful and raw and I’m upset. But I see all those same emotions in my mom’s letter and I also see how the story was redeemed and resolved. I’m at the 80% mark where it feels like it’s all fallen apart. But the only option is to trust and keep going. The messy middle implies an ending and a resolution. And I fully believe that God writes the best stories. And in my life, I have found over and over that redemption is so much better than perfection.

Day 22: Memory is Mythology

Writing about this phrase can be caught up with a lot of psychological and philsophical concepts that I am at present time ill equipped to write about. I was introduced to this phrase as a hospital chaplain through my friend and fellow chaplain Tyler. It became an important point of reflection when listening to people’s stories. To listen and hold someone’s stories as a chaplain requires 2 things, suspension of judgment and unconditional positive regard so that we do not demonize or intrude on the person in front of us.

In some ways it is easier to do this with a stranger you are serving, than someone who you have a deep connection with. Another way of thinking about this is, it sometimes is easier to believe the stories or perspectivce of someone you don’t know than someone you are deeply enmeshed with. It is also easier to hear these stories without feeling like you are slighted or deeply affected by this persons perspective.

It would do me well, all of us well, to also treat the ones we love with unconditional positive regard and tenderness and patience. I am often in need of adapting this posture, that came easily for me as chaplain and employ it in my current work and relationships because of how valuable these relationships are.

What does this exactly have to do with memory?

I think it has to do with what we choose to focus on that ends up being stored in the bank of our memory. I was recently listening to my favorite podcast, Heavyweight. The episode was about someone who received a letter from someone claiming to be her childhood best friend having the almost exact same name, and she had no recollection of this person at all as an adult.

Richard Van De Water’s grilled cheese he made me. I remember it as extremely delicious

The story briefly explored this idea of how one person could vividly remember aspects of a childhood with a best friend and how another person could remember nothing of the relationship. And where they arrived was, that we remember what is most important to us in a moment or season of life and choose to forget the less urgent matters as a means to cope or survive.

Sometimes trauma effects our memory.

Sometimes things are going so well that we have the emotional capital to log good memories with relative ease.

There is also one more fascinating phenomeon. I think we can actively choose to remember certain things. I think when we choose to access our memory, reflect on our pasts, we actually will remember more. But do we remember rightly? Or is everything we remember slightly exagerrated? Do we remember things how we want them to be or how they are?

Or as the phrase “memory is mythology” suggests, do we simply remember in such a way that help us to write a collective story and tradition that help us live meaningfully? I think I’ve left you with more questions than answers and I think that is okay. Until next time.

Day 21: Song of Solomon Chapter 4 Did You Marry Your Sister?

The great irony of this entire experiment is the first day I had an official day off from work is the day that I did not remember or was too busy to post, so now I have to post twice today. Perhaps even more annoying is I have plenty of drafts in the cue to post, even a guest post that is entirely complete. I think I got caught up in what I actually wanted my final 10 entries to be about and felt I needed a few really profound ones. But sometimes you can’t force things. So for yesterday’s post I missed, I’m going to do the easy work of continuing to make comments on Song of Solomon. So here we go with chapter 4

V. 1 The bridgegroom beholds his brides beauty and he sees her singularly devoted eyes behind her veil. He compares her hair to goats which if I’m honest would be one of the last things I’d compare hair to. But I guess in an agrarian society where you get amusement from goats leaping down slopes perhaps it conjures up a similar feeling. All that to say, it would seem like Solomon is beholding his bride for the first time on their wedding day.

V. 2 comparing her white teeth to sheep is perhaps a little less of a stretch and he emphasizes that she has them all. It is a non-hillbilly bride in a society without dentists.

V. 3 scarlet threaded lips and cheeks like halves of pomegranates are entirely reasonable descriptors. But I like the simplicity of him saying your mouth is lovely to sum up the lips and teeth piece.

V. 4 a neck like a tower holding a thousand shields is a delightful detail, really in an effort to slowly see her from her head to her toes. Now I’ve consulted some commentaries here because I think he actually is using metaphors to symbolize chracteristics as much as appearance.

V. 5 we circle back to breasts like twin fawns grazing among lillies and the commentaries on this verse are less than PG, so I’m going to bypass it for the sake of all the children that come in droves to read this blog. (That is a joke)

V. 6 I find it interesting that after we get to the breasts we get a break from the descriptor of her features and now move on to the cover of night and him going away to the mountain which I’m sure is a metaphor for something sensual/sexual.

V. 7 He returns to complementing her beauty, he can’t get enough and why should he. I’m sure the complements are welcome and he appeals to her having no flaw. And I think this is an accurate depiction of love. Even if there are flaws, we are optimistic that they can be refined to create a person that we find flawless as they are being sanctified.

V. 8 Now if I did my due diligence I would go back and check, but it seems in this invitation it is the first time he refers to her as his bride. Prior to this a lot of talk of the beloved, but now he is calling her to come with him to where he is. It is an invitation to leave home.

V. 9 Now we have even more references to the bride yet also his sister and he being captivated by her. He loves having all his attention on her.

V. 10 Now he moves from features to celebrating her love, the reciprocated love she willingly gives. This is the beauty of love, the consistent giving like the taste of a good wine or the smell of fragrant oils.

V. 11 Now he is complementing her words, that she too is sweet and kind with her words, yet also contains elements of acknowledging a make out session or something more. Who knows?

V. 12 we return to the garden metaphors, most commentators assume this is talking about virginity and it might be but it would also seem confusing when pointing back to the idea in chapter 1 referencing her tending to her mother’s sons garden but neglecting her own. Perhaps more than virginity it is a reference still to sexaulity being reserved for her spouse which has less to say about virginity and more to say about faithful sexuality in the context of marrriage. In other words she was becoming more concerned about her own marriage than that of her siblings from chapter 1.

V. 13 With the above in mind (it is less funny to talk about sexuality than I thought), he now describes the fruit of sexual intercourse or sexuality in general as being fruitful and fragrant.

V. 14 literally a list of fragrances

V. 15 compared to living water, in other words life in many forms has great potential to flow out of sexual relations.

V. 16 And finally it concludes with an invitation that one can draw their own conclusions about. Is it metaphor for lifegiving nourishment or something more explicit. There is a reason this poetry came with an age limit and wasn’t used in a traditional worship context.

It is after all love poetry. It is intimate and vulnerable and naked. It would very much seem to indicate at this stage that the couple is married and enjoying the fruit of marriage. What is interesting in the remaining chapters of the Song is, if they are have already reached the consummation of marriage, what else is there to say? I guess we will see

Day 20: Excerpt from Love Doesn’t: Kind Regards

*Author’s Note: This is the second to last excerpt I will be sharing from something longer I have written. This is from chapter 2 of a book I began to write on a commentary of 1 Corinthians 13 about all the things that love does not do, the withholding aspects of love. I hope it helps you reflect on the kindess of love. As always, thanks for reading.

The second descriptor of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is “Love is kind.” By its strictest Greek definition this is perhaps the closest thing we typically think of when we consider love. Kindness is being full of service to others while maintaining gentleness. In other words, love is gently doing good for others.

It’s interesting to place this second instead of first, but position is important. It is easy to be kind to people you have great affection for. It is hard to be kind to people who try your patience, who you have very little affection for. Yet, for love to be love it must be of the same substance for lover and enemy. (notice I said substance not measure). Love qualitatively is different than love quantatively.

This dispositionally is also a lot harder to fake than patience. Patience requires mostly restraint while kind love requires movement and action, yet with a tenderness of restraint. It requires one to do something not hurriedly or out of frustration because they can do it more efficiently or better. It requires a helping hand and willingness to pick up after the gallon of milk tumbles onto the floor or after a glass is broken or coloring on the walls or out of the lines. Kindness is willing to compensate and cover over the mistakes even if it involves more work and whats more kind love somehow delights in being able to help.

In some ways this love feels impossible. And in all ways it is impossible without the merciful tender love of God the Father residing and experienced in the heart of His children. People who demonstrate this love are marked, separated by their kindness. Their gentleness is evident to all.

And more often than not, they are the ones people want to be around. They are the ones who you can watch in their labor and stand in awe at their treatment and ease of navigating the soul of another human being.

Why Kindness Exists

Kindness exists as a complement to justice which prevents us not only from receiving our judgment but also bestows on us gifts we often do not expect. It exists as evidence that God is indeed good. God is good because none of us reading this are dead and those of us reading who believe in Jesus live forever with God. It exists to change our mind. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Roman church writes “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant you to repentance?” Paul says kindness exists to turn us or change us, but he also warns us of becoming presumptuous of kindness. We cannot take kindness for granted or treat it as something that we are entitled to. When we do that we nullify its existence. The action may be kind, but when one presumes it or feels like they are owed it they have resisted the change they were meant to experience. Kindness received rightly changes things for the better.

Day 19: Top 10 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels I’ve Read

Ok so this list expanded from top 5’s to top 10 and perhaps the great irony of this list is I thought I had read a lot more Sci-Fi and Fantasy Novels than I have. Truth be told I actually have not read that much which kind of makes this list in a way silly. Because I am just ranking the books I’ve read out of a relatively small sample size. Nonetheless I will simply explain why I think you should read them

10. Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien)- If I were you and I saw Lord of the Rings at #10 on a list I’d be skeptical. It is epic and I don’t need to say much about it. I think it is an amazing story and maybe had I read it before I saw the movies it would rank higher. I think it deserves to be in my Top 10 but I think I’ve read a lot of books I’ve enjoyed more. And I’ve never read any of the Harry Potter books yet. And maybe will never.

9. Dune (Frank Herbert)- I’m sure you are thinking that I have taken many people’s favorite Fantasy and favorite Sci-Fi books and ranked them towards the end on purpose. I appreciated the world building of Dune. I didn’t love the main character, but the book is epic and kept me very engaged.

8. The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell)- For someone who can be prone toward the melancholic, I do not love sad books. I can admit when they are well written and gripping but it is hard for me to rank them on a list that I would like to read them again. This book is painful at times to read and requires a lot of work because of the getting a grasp on the religious world order of things. I have wanted to read the sequel Children of God but it feels imposing still after reading this book.

7. A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M Miller Jr.) A story of cycles after a nuclear fallout near a monastery. The book is fascinating in that it relies less on main characters and more on how things progress after a nuclear fallout. The book is sad but also a little silly. It also does reference Scripture. It is philosophical and enjoyable and I would read it again which is the marker of what got this book the 7 spot.

6. The Screwtape Letters (CS Lewis)- I saw the play, I read the book, it’s an easy book to read twice. I think it is extremely unique which is why I love the book. I also think it is funny in its own right. I think I rank this book so high because of it’s easy and it’s concept. It felt like it was written with relative easy and the content still holds up as relevant.

5. Project Hail Mary (Andy Weir)- My goodness this book is great. I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s funny, it will make you cry, and it is very entertaining and original. The surprise character you meet is super endearing through the way it is written and the ending is wonderfully unique. It is probably the best popular science fiction gets honestly, though I haven’t read The Martian. There is a lot of Sci-Fi I still haven’t read which is why I needed to change what this list was originally. The book club I am in is entirely women and me and many of them also seem to love the book even though some of them have not read much from the genre.

4. The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)- I read The Hobbit after I read the Lord of the Rings and I honestly think doing it that way made me enjoy The Hobbit more than if I would have read it first. I loved my experience reading The Lord of the Rings because I watched the movies after I finished them. But there was something about reading The Hobbit that felt like a new fresh experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. I also like the light heartedness of Bilbo Baggins. It’s also shorter so no excuse not to read it if you are going to pick something of Tolkien’s (I’m starting The Silmarillion which I feel like is the last thing of Tolkien’s I desire to read).

3. Fall of Hyperion (Dan Simmons)- I will be honest, I’m making this list from greatest to least so it might seem unfair to group all of The Chronicles of Narnia together but not all of Hyperion and its two other sequels Endymion and the Rise of Endymion together. Fall of Hyperion is a sequel that picks up where Hyperion left off and it is just as good, some could argue better. It satisfies in its ending and built up enough good will to get two more sequels out of it which in their own right were very enjoyable and honestly could have made this list.

2- The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis) I know this is a children’s series, but I did not read it until I was an adult. I read it during a stretch of being almost 2 months between jobs and I can honestly say the series sustained me. Now I would rank the books but I don’t know if it would be helpful. I think it is worth reading as a whole in its entirety. It’s beautiful allegory, but also it is just a good story of the human condition.

1- Hyperion (Dan Simmons) Truth be told, I don’t know if it was the time or season in which I read it but I don’t know if I have ever read a book I was so immersed in and captivated me so much with tales converging of all the main characters. The book feels like 6 different stories in one, but they are all written so well and build towards something amazing and inconclusive. It requires that you read the sequel Fall of Hyperion. For a 496 page books, it builds you up to read an even longer book to find its conclusion. And I can honestly say it’s worth it. The book kept me immersed and without a doubt had me wanting to read the sequel.

Day 18: Excerpt from “Holy Spirit and Chill”

Today I share another excerpt from a comedy devotional I was working on called Holy Spirit and Chill. It’s about half way done, but I stopped writing it because the content was 1) perhaps too silly to be helpful and 2) I think I have to be in a groove to knock out the remaining chapters. This one is the third chapter of the section involving music.

Come Together

Well let’s not waste time in this chapter and get right to it. There are artistic displays meant for everyone. Most artists are balancing the accessible with the expressible which is why lyric, music, and song are so particular in their ability to reach masses of people. 

Some artists/creators ask, how many people can we bring together in listening to music and singing our songs to experience chills, communitas, spiritual equilibrium? How do we lure the Spirit into our midst? Is it through our song, our unity, or does it only matter that we have chosen to be there?

I believe most things are meant to be experienced together, but music in particular seems to increase in power and reach when it is shared. Which is why I’d like to point us to the end of all things found in the poetry and apocalyptic nature of Revelation.

Trying to figure out what is a song and what’s not in Revelation can be difficult,  but I know for a fact that Revelation 15:2-4 is a song. I know this because it says God gave some saintly folks some harps to play and because it says “they sang a song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb.”

The lyrics in the song itself state:

“For you alone are holy.

All nations will come

    and worship before you,

for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

Rather than emphasizing the song itself, the lyrics emphasize posture and people. It emphasizes coming together before God because of their shared vision of God. And that shared vision of God’s presence is what fills the people.

This is helpful in that it shows us the difference between a shared communal gathering like a concert that might give us chills, from the presence of the Spirit. The emphasis of why you’re gathering, in particular who you are gathering or singing for is what is important. The Psalms tell us, “God inhabits (dwells in) the praises of His people.” (Psalm 22:3). Elsewhere there is evidence that God’s presence is manifest where His people gather in His name. 

God inhabiting the praises of His people and the collective joining in unison of people at a concert have something in common that give us chills. It is the freeing feeling that a particular event or time is not about us. We become lost in or a part of something bigger, a body or a chorus. And that can make us feel weightless and forgetful of the things that are particular to us as individuals. It alleviates the weight albeit temporarily of the things we feel like we have to carry ourselves. 

It’s why we appreciate loudness because we can express the fullness of our voice without the added worry of how we sound on our own. We allow the sound of other voices to compensate or hide our own. 

Inversely, have you ever been in a setting where one person is singing in a manner that is seemingly louder than everyone else. Like one step offbeat or just out of harmony. The type of scenario where one is trying to stand out from the crowd rather than join in. Isn’t it strange how an individual is even capable of doing that? I won’t even try to unpack the psyche of why someone may want to. Hopefully, in most cases it is an accident. But surely someone with classical training (unlike myself) would know they are doing it. Are they auditioning? 

I mean look, I’ve already admitted in the last chapter that I’ve listened to myself singing while working out at the gym so clearly I like the sound of my own voice. And there have been times when I have been singing with the slightest hope that perhaps someone might hear and complement me or invite me to join their band, and we’d go on tour, and I could switch off between playing the tambourine and sing and play a few chords on the guitar and help the roadies and together we’d have a short but lucrative career. 

But then bam! Reality kicks in and I realize who I am standing next to and remember they have absolutely no sway or musical ability and might think I sound good but will not in any way help that dream take off, so I move around the room standing next to people who I hope will hear me and make all of our wildest dreams come true. And then, I take the advice of the one person who says I should try out for a reality music show even though that one person who recommended I do it, is completely tone deaf. And then I go to the audition, but I manage to pull off the performance of my life and I get the golden ticket to the Chocolate factory and perform regularly for all the Oompa Loompas and in my rider, I have all sorts of cool amenities including grilled chicken to make sure I eat healthy between shows. And I just narrowly avoid a conservatorship and am finally responsible for my own life and decisions. And then I go back to those people that I once stood next to and tried to impress but was overlooked by and ask them if they want my autograph.

And then I ask myself, “was it all worth it?” And I admit to all of us that the last two paragraphs so threw us off the topic of coming together in the Spirit of unity, and it was not worth it, and I apologize again, and you keep reading because you are gracious hosts and are still hopeful that something in this book will help us all along the way. And I encourage you all to pray for that to happen. The end.

Day 17: The Yoke is Easy; The Way is Hard (Unpublished from March 2020)

First, when I confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord, I imagined life’s circumstances would immediately get better, broken things, sick people. I imagined that my salvation came with 3 wishes. It did not.

When I was filled with the Holy Spirit I imagined I would have no desire to sin again. I imagined the ugly and dark parts of me would die and stay dead, and my new life would be exemplary and temptation wouldn’t feel like war. I imagined frustration and disappointment and anger would just wash away forever. It did not.

When I was called to ministry I heard that if I sought the kingdom, everything else would be added. I took this to mean everything I wanted, stability, a home, a wife, a family, opportunity to display my talents. I imagined the trajectory of life would just be multiplication; ministry would grow, family would grow, finances would grow. I cannot say for sure that this did not happen, but if I looked at it through the lens of what I wanted in the way I wanted, then it too did not.

Matthew 11:28-30

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“Take this yoke upon you and I will give you rest for your souls. My yoke is easy, my burden is light.”

Jesus was not wrong. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. Jesus has asked for our relationship, our friendship, for us to accept his Lordship because His partnership is easy compared to the way the systems of the world and religion without love operate. I find this to be true and right. I would be lost without Him. I would not move without Him. I would not breathe without Him. I would not be without Him. And according to the promise of His Word and Spirit, I am not without Him.

And that should be enough.

But the way is hard. This staggered path with the shortcuts I’ve tried to take. The seasons of soaking in sin and sadness rather than embracing my sanctification. There have been some good seasons too, distributed among the hard. The radical steps of faith, the opportunity to preach and teach, to have fun and do ministry with friends. There have been gifts given; there have been good things taken away, there have been bad things I hoped were good taken away. And with it has come pain, hardship, suffering, perhaps self-inflicted, but pain nonetheless.

Had we been given a clearer map we would have avoided it. Perhaps we have been given a map. Had it not been so long and hard to read. Had there not been so many distractions and so much opportunity to do damage. Had this wound not stayed so tender.

Had I not been a feeler, an empath, had the little things not felt difficult, had I not felt like I have to be my loudest supporter and felt like I must work up the courage and energy to give myself encouragement. Others seem to self-motivate so easily, to self-start without question. What if I or we have not been wired that way? Then what? We must rest in our failure?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

I’m thankful that Jesus’ invitation is unchanging. When the way becomes hard and quite frankly even when it is not, His desire is for our rest. It need not be hard to have a relationship with one who is Love.

But I make it difficult.

I have been reflecting again (when do I stop?) on this season. Last year, at this time I was working in the hospital and received news that my grandma was in the hospital with congestive heart failure, scheduled to return to her assisted living on hospice care.

This year, I don’t work in the hospital. I don’t have a break from work. We are still asked to show up to a project that is very slow. I’m grateful to show up to work because otherwise I would be feeling awful sitting at home alone day in and day out.

Should I have left Charleston? Should I have continued on in interviewing as a night shift chaplain at a children’s hospital? Maybe there was a reason that the campus ministry job at Princeton didn’t work out after all. I should accept these things and be okay with the way they have turned out for now. I keep looking for certainty of the purpose and for some semblance of control.

Yet, there is uncertainty where I will be a few weeks from now, where any of us could be a few weeks from now. I had been looking forward to the end of this season of long hours and isolation that I felt I chose back in October, but collectively we are asked to be separate for an extended time. I am nervous for my dad who has a weak immune system and whom I cannot see.  I don’t love it.

The yoke is easy; the way is hard. This is the way. Jesus is the Way, walk in Him with Him for Him through Him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

*Author’s Note: I only want to offer commentary on the photo I have included. In 2012 I purchased this art piece called Shine inspired by the Collective Soul song. The photo of this piece of art was on a blog of my favorite blogger Heather Kopp. I took this picture and can’t remember if I still own the piece or got rid of it.

Day 16: 5 Favorite Jesus Moments

These top 5’s are really something. Not sure how they are hitting, but this one should be delightful for the purpose of reflection on the preeminent relationship in my life and the reason for existence. It also will serve as an interesting exercise in what I consider to be moments in markers in my relationship with Christ, God Himself.

5. When I was in high school I was at Taco Bell with my friend Andy Hoehn. We were on the wrestling team together and we were having a conversation about God. I wish I could describe the details but suffice it to say it was a conversation about why I believed that Jesus was my Savior. I remember being so delighted to share my faith that I immediately prayed that the conversation would be fruitful. It wasn’t long after pulling onto Quakerbridge Road that I was overcome by the presence of the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. I remember feeling chills and not really knowing what happened at the time and later learned to appreciate my experience and the value of speaking in tongues.

4. My freshman year of college I went to a two night concert featuring a worship artist named Jason Upton. It was particularly powerful because he ministered through the Scripture from Malachi about turning hearts of the father to their children and hearts of children to their fathers. I remember this being a moment of healing in my own heart where I felt like I could begin to see and heal aspects of my relationship with my own dad. I remember those worship services softening my heart in ways I did not imagine possible.

3. My last semester of grad school I had this crisis of what to do and where to go after I finished. I remember being parked on a hill on Mulberry Street in Scranton, PA with a milkshake or ice cream cone in my hand. I said to myself, “I have no idea what I’m doing and I have no idea what I’m becoming.” And in what felt like an instantaneous response to my spirit, I felt I heard the voice of God whisper to my mind, “I love who you are becoming.” I remember feeling both broken and encouraged to keep going which I believe sustained me in my next season of life on the farm and obtaining ministerial credentials.

2. My entire season of chaplaincy residency was an intense season of God stretching my faith and understanding new dimensions how God is faithful and sustaining even in death. I don’t think I fully understood how much death is connected to life and how important grief is in our ability to keep going. I also learned how delaying grief can keep one stuck. As a whole I don’t know if I daily felt tangible grace to do difficult things as much as I experienced as a hospital chaplain.

1. Valentine’s Day of my freshman year of college, my best friend Ben and I had a conversation until 2 am where at the end of it we had prayed for him to accept the Jesus as Lord and Savior. I have had a few other experiences in which I have been with people as they professed belief or confessed for the first time. I also connect this experience to baptism, the public declaration of faith. I believe there is a tangible joy to be experienced when I see people meet and choose to follow Jesus.