Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Bucket List

Morning reminds us that darkness never lasts forever.
I don’t really have a bucket list; I’ve never seen the point in one.  I refer to things as if they were on my bucket list but in all actuality, I don’t have a hard copy.  Why?  Well, it’s simple really.  I’ve known people who kicked the bucket with a lot of stuff left on their list; places they wanted to visit, things they wanted to do, life they never had a chance to live.  Instead of wondering at the beauty which lay around them, they spent their time dreaming of the day they could leave and experience life.  And that day never came.  I also know people who have a conservative bucket list: “These are the five things I HAVE to do and see before I die.”  But we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, we’re only given today.  It’s ok to have dreams and work towards making them a reality, but we must learn to truly live in the present and embrace each day as if it were an item on our bucket lists.  I’ve learned to check things off my list daily and this past weekend was definitely no exception.  I ended up flying out to California to help my brother propose to his girlfriend.  He had set up a treasure hunt for her across the Napa Valley and I was given the exciting task of staying ahead of her while buying everything at the different places she would stop.  After that crazy whirlwind of a day (a whole different story in itself), I went to sleep just past midnight with my alarm set for 4:30 in the morning.  I wanted to get up early enough to watch the sunrise over the Golden Gate bridge.  I hadn’t even thought about it until I was in California but then I realized I couldn’t miss the opportunity.  After all, I knew this was an experience most people had on their bucket lists.  When my alarm went off at 4:30 am, I definitely began to evaluate the importance of watching the sunrise in relation to sleep.  That was short lived however and soon I was in my rental car, driving down into the Napa Valley.

One of the many vineyards in the Napa Valley.  This picture
was captured the evening prior.
It was a full moon that night and the entire valley was bathed in a soft radiance.  The vineyards lay still with almost no movement save the occasional flutter of palm trees placed sporadically throughout.  The valley which was so full of life the day before, with bicyclists traversing the streets and romantic couples holding hands along the sidewalks of Calistoga and Napa, now lay still and quiet.  It felt almost reverent.  The radio played quietly in the background while I continued driving into the silence, talking with God and enjoying the beauty.  Suddenly a shooting star streaked past the moon.  It was stunning!  As the light faded into the black sky, I made a wish.  A wish that I would never lose my love for the beauty in simplicity.  A thick fog had crept into the lower portions of the next valley, completely enshrouding me.  As the road began to climb again, the milky fog disappeared and the first rays of light began piercing the Eastern sky.  The vibrant dark blue of the bay mixed with the pale iridescence silhouetting San Francisco was breathtaking.  I rounded the next corner and there it was!  The Golden Gate bridge loomed large ahead of me.  I pulled off the highway and parked in one of the many turnouts hugging the hillside which flanks the bridge on the north shore.  It was still fairly dark since the moon had hidden behind a cloud and the distant light rays were for aesthetic purposes only.  I didn’t like the picture angle from the turnout so looked over the edge.  Although it was steep, I saw a little path so figured I’d take it even though I couldn’t see but 5 feet down the “trail”.  I could hear the waves crashing below and somewhere in the distance a fog horn kept blaring its warning to ships passing through the bay far below.  My first two steps went alright but I soon realized the path was full of shale and slick rocks.  I began to slide and desperately hoped this path didn’t lead directly to the ocean below.  Thankfully I bumped into one of the old gun mounts from when Fort Point was still active.  I quickly set up my camera and waited.  There was absolutely no wind.  The peace was surreal.  It provided a lot of time for contemplation and reflection; reflection on the busyness of life.  The busyness which keeps us so preoccupied with life that we forget to live.  Even good things can distract us, things that seem good from every angle yet silently keep us from what is best.  Maybe that’s why God asks us to give them up sometimes…  I took a few shots and then moved up to a different vantage point.

Life is mainly determined by how you view it.

A couple more photographers joined me up on the lookout.  We shared experiences and discussed angles and apertures.  And then we waited.  The soft pinks and yellows began to deepen.  The dark bridge slowly brightened as more light hit its iron beams.  Suddenly, the gleaming sun appeared over the bay.  Only a sliver at first, but its power scattered light everywhere.  More people had joined us now.  A guy near me was capturing a photo of his girlfriend in front of the bridge.  A couple bikers had pulled up to watch as well.  Another lady was sitting on a rock, gazing almost as if in a trance.  The sun continued to rise steadily until the golden orb was fully airborne and shedding it’s brilliant radiance over all of San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge.  The bridge was named after the Golden Gate strait, the part of water it was built to cross.  That morning I discovered why.

Why do we strive to be perfect and beautiful?  Simply
reflect the Son and you will be beautiful.
The bay reaches the ocean through a narrow stretch of water which points straight towards the morning sun.  As the sun gently rises over the bay, it bathes the entire strait in a golden hue making it literally the golden gate to the ocean.  The bridge spans this beautiful phenomenon and stands as a watch guard over the bay.  I glanced at my watch; only 40 minutes till my rental car was due to be returned.  I sighed as I bid farewell to the timelessness of the experience and gave heed to the demands of a society run by hours and minutes.  “Time is money” can be heard everywhere.  The aim is to be more efficient, to get things done, to make it to the next appointment, get everything on our to-do list checked off.  And the days pass.  And life passes.  And suddenly we realize we have used up all the time we were given and enjoyed hardly any of it.  Do you have a bucket list?  Don’t throw it away, simply re-label the items as goals with a practical plan to make those goals reality.  And then start living.  Here.  Now.  Go watch a sunrise from your rooftop.  Talk with a complete stranger – for more than an hour.  Make new friends and new memories.  And travel!  If not around the world, around your city.  I heard it said once that travel is the only thing in life you can spend money on which will actually make you richer.  I value life not by dollars or minutes but by memories and experiences.  So today.  Right now.  Go fill your bucket list!

Pictures are incapable of truly capturing the beauty of a moment...

Part of Fort Point from the Civil War era, a piece of history which often
gets overlooked in the popularity of the bridge.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

You Are Loved


God has a way of wrapping His arms tightly around me just when I need it most.  Sometimes through a friend, a phone call, a letter, a post I see online, a song, or just that deep peace of knowing I’m loved and a child of His forever, no matter what.  The past few days have been difficult for me with a lot going on.  Needless to say, it’s been stressful and hectic.  Time with God has slipped to a minimum and my spiritual journey has hit a low point.  Mondays are my clinical days in which I have to be at the hospital by 6:15 in the morning to do ICU rounds with a preceptor nurse.  Driving along the dark roads at 5:30 in the morning by myself and headed to a stressful day in the hospital can be mentally depressing some days.  Sometimes I have to roll down the windows, embrace the freezing wind, and blast Thomas Bergersen from my car speakers just to boost my mood.  But this past Monday was different.  I didn’t mind the solemnity of the morning ride.  In fact, I welcomed it!  I spent most of the time talking to God and telling Him all the things that were going wrong in my life and recounting all the mistakes I’ve made.  I felt unworthy of His love.  I’ve let down so many people and I questioned whether I’m actually being a blessing to those around me or not.  I drove quietly for a few minutes, letting the reality of the words I’d just been speaking sink in.  I was in autopilot; no cars around me, no road signs, no billboards.  Slowly everything was fading into the background as my mind processed the prayer of my heart.  A prayer which I felt but didn’t quite have the words to describe.  Unworthiness.  Emptiness.  Brokenness.  Multiple Bible stories flashed through my mind.  There was a vague picture of that oppressive Garden, black as midnight, with a broken man sobbing tears of betrayal.  Denial.  “How many times have I adamantly proclaimed I would stand up for You and yet then deny Your saving power?” I asked.  Suddenly I realized that the radio had been playing quietly in the background the entire time.  “I want you as you are, not as you ought to be.  Won't you lay down your guard and come to me?”  I reached down and turned the music up.  “The shame that grips you now is crippling; it breaks My heart to see you suffering.”  In that moment I wasn’t listening to Hawk Nelson at all, I could hear God speaking directly to my heart.  “If you want to know how far my love can go, just how deep, just how wide; if you want to see how much you mean to me, look at my hands, look at my side.  If you could count the times I say you are forgiven, it's more than the drops in the ocean.”  My mind raced back several years.  A little boy headed for Japan, nose pressed against the window, staring out at the ocean below which stretched into infinity.  So blue.  Dazzling.  Nothing broke the vastness.  It was breathtaking, huge, dynamic.  In that instant my childlike wonder came back.  God’s forgiveness, more than the drops in the ocean.  “Don't think you need to settle for a substitute when I'm the only love that changes you.  Open your heart, it's time that we start again.”  I’m not even slightly ashamed to say that I began to cry.  The tears ran freely down my face as I felt God’s love wrapping me gently in His warm embrace.  That’s what love is, forgiveness.  He doesn’t care whether I’ve wandered, gotten too busy, done or said things I shouldn’t have.  Nothing matters.  He loves me unconditionally.  Once I reached the parking lot, I was still wiping the tears from my eyes and since I was early, I just sat quietly in my car.  The next song that played was by Jeremy Camp.  “Seated above, enthroned in the Father's love, destined to die, poured out for all mankind.  God's only Son, perfect and spotless One, He never sinned but suffered as if He did.”  “Wow!” I thought.  The thought of leaving perfection, knowing you were coming to die.  Intense!  He was wrapped in his Father’s love yet chose to become wrapped in human sinfulness.  The song continued, “Savior, worthy of honor and glory, worthy of all our praise, You overcame!  Jesus, awesome in power forever, awesome and great is Your name, You overcame!”  Because that’s how love works.  It changes you.  It changes me.  Christ overcame and He has called us to do no less.  He gives us the strength through His never ending love.  I don’t know where you’re at with God right now.  You may be warmly enfolded in His arms or out in the cold night, searching for Him in all the wrong places.  But it really doesn’t matter.  Either way, He is right beside you, lavishing His never-ending love into your life.  Maybe you’re depressed, annoyed, scared, sad, angry.  It’s ok.  Christ came and experienced it all with you.  That feeling of emptiness and sorrow?  Let it go.  Open your heart; you’re already loved more than you know.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Never Settle

Life is meant to be engaged!  Never settle.  The greatest enemy we face is complacency.  No hero accomplished anything great while being complacent.  The most memorable events of history never just happened; they took blood, sweat and tears.  Sometimes before, sometimes after.  We lull ourselves into a general apathy, a desire to follow the norm because we’re too tired to stand up for anything and eventually fall for nothing.  We have turned our society into a large machine of idolized novel ideas which are simply remakes of old clich├ęs.  Most of us think we know what works and would rather fail doing it than try something different.

I am saddened with the inability of our generation to communicate with one another.  Truly communicate.  We focus so much on external distractions like words and pictures that we have lost the art of connecting heart to heart.  We feel it’s too intimate to speak honestly with a stranger and cringe at the required vulnerability.  To an ungrateful soul we can offer a kind word and sometimes a kind deed, but hardly a kind attitude.  And why this lack of ability to connect with those around us?  It’s simple really.  How can we truly connect with another human being if we have not fully connected with who God has created us to be?

We vacillate between what we want and what we know.  We struggle to define ourselves, to live up to the standards and goals we deem important.  We look around us and see people who have their lives put together.  Clean-pressed robots all programmed to act as society should dictate.  Yet we never take the time to end the charade and get to know the individual beneath.  Life is full of pressure.  To achieve.  To excel.  To become the hero everyone wants to follow.  There are hundreds of motivational speakers inspiring us to stand out as a winner.  Yet few of them highlight the beauty of living without recognition, fame, or fortune.  They fail to recognize the success in a life lived in simple perfection.  A man who knows his place in the world is far more powerful than any election or recognition or talent improperly used.  Are you a mechanic?  Know your place.  Are you a pop star?  Know your place.  Be confident in who you are and comfortable in the life you have been given.  Change that life if need be.  But never, ever settle for what is, because the moment life stops changing, it stops.  Lights go out and cold creeps in.  Take a look at the people around you.  The ones you see every day.  Not simply your friends, your family, or the close buddies you see at the gym every other day.  I mean everyone.  The young girl waiting in line behind you.  The older gentleman with the disheveled hair reading a book across from you.  The young mom with a van full of crying children who stopped beside you at a red light.  Quit dwelling on your own life long enough to focus on what’s important.  Individual lives.

You may say money is the most valuable possession here on earth.  Or assets.  Or any financial upperhand which you can use to gain most anything in life.  But you would be wrong, oh so very wrong!  Time is the most valuable possession you have.  You can obtain money with time, but you can never obtain time with money.  Each year you are allotted 31,536,000 seconds and while you may think 31 million is a lot, they begin to bunch together into minutes and hours and all too soon slip into that irretrievable place called the past.  So focus.  Focus on bettering yourself – by bettering those around you.  Speak to each person individually and use words if necessary.  Words are empty if they are not spoken with time.  “I love you!” can sound sweet one day yet burn the next unless it is backed with committed time.  Promises are empty unless time has spoken them.  Some things we’d rather not say simply because we don’t want to use the needed time.  And while we hesitate, time slips by, people vanish, life spins on.

We can’t stop the clock.  It’s simply a visible marker for that quiet, steady march of something no one fully comprehends.  The future isn’t here, the past is gone.  Focus on the now.  Embrace your loved ones.  Give compliments freely and mean them.  Be the change you want to see in the world by becoming a person you can admire.  Discover the plan God has for your life by spending time with Him each day.  Life is meant to be engaged!  Never settle.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Taking a PRG

The Okaloosa Island pier at night.

I lie on the beach, quietly listening to the waves lapping endlessly on the shore.  The seagulls have all bedded down for the night yet somewhere out in the surf, a loud splash can be heard.  A fish jumping?  A shark?  It’s hard to be certain.  Above me, the stars shimmer brightly while a meteorite arches across the sky leaving a flaming trail in its path.  More and more shooting stars begin to shower down around me as if I had a front row seat to an enormous fireworks display.  Almost as soon as it began, it ended with just a few pinpoints of light streaking across the night sky.  I turn over on my blanket and soon fall fast asleep while the ocean breeze blows across the sand.

Each year, I like to take what I term a PRG: Personal Retreat with God.  Sometimes it’s only a few days, sometimes it’s a week or more.  I usually take it in the Fall, just before I start school again.  This year, I decided to take a week PRG down in Florida to connect deeper with God and spend quality time with Him.  It was a phenomenal experience, as always!  As a college student, I don’t have that much money so decided to camp out on the beach at night and buy food as cheaply as possible from the grocery store.  I spent most of the week on Okaloosa Island, spending time in both Destin and Ft. Walton.  By the end of the week, some of the workers at the beachside shops knew me by name as I’d stop in every once in awhile and chat for a couple hours at a time.  I found out about the best places to visit in the local area, the highschool rivalry between Ft. Walton High and Choctaw High which is rated among America’s top ten highschool rivalries, what Destin’s like during the off season, how many shark attacks there have been recently, and other random local and not-so-local facts.  It was always fun to connect with different people, listening to their stories and sharing experiences.  Every time, the conversation would steer towards God and how He’s been working in our lives.  Some of my new friends were Christians, some weren’t, some didn’t know what they thought of God or His dealings with people.

I especially remember one girl that I met on the beach.  I was intently skimboarding (or attempting to, at least) near the pier when she came walking down the shoreline.  We exchanged greetings and then spent the next nine hours together sharing our faith, our mission experiences, and what the Lord has been teaching us over the past few months.  As she shared some spiritual insights she had learned during the past year, I was amazed to hear answers to questions I’d been specifically wrestling with and asking God about.  Looking back, I can see how God perfectly arranged for us to meet up and encourage one another in such a powerful way.

A week is a long time.  There are so many stories, so many experiences, so many God moments.  I can’t share them all hear nor do I want to since it was my personal retreat with God.  I could see Him everywhere, wrapping His loving arms around my life and drawing me closer to Him.  The people I met, the ocean, the sunsets, the wildlife.  It was all so beautiful.  And the dolphins…  I love watching dolphins play and I got to see lots of them this past week.  I climbed out on the jetty near Destin one day and jumped into the surf past the end of the rocks.  A couple curious sea turtles swam near and then dropped into the shadows of the ocean.  A school of fish was swimming frantically past while a couple lazy dolphins swam nonchalantly behind them.  With my snorkel mask I could see them, lost in the deep grayness of the ocean, as they glided past not ten feet away from me.  They were huge, the ocean was huge, the rocks were huge, and I felt so small in the vast power of it all.  Suddenly, the words from Where Feet May Fail came to mind: “Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your sovereign hand will be my guide.  Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You've never failed and You won't start now.”  Even when I’m tossed in the depths of life’s turmoil, God’s grace will never fail me.

The waves are still lapping on the sand as breaker after breaker race toward the shore.  Storms come and go.  The tide rushes in and then quietly recedes.  Never ending, never failing, always changing yet always the same.  Our relationship with God is similar.  We spend our lives trying to discover God, understanding who He is, pursuing Him with intense desire.  To us, God is powerful, mysterious, always new, ever deeper, and mightier than anything we can create.  Yet we’re good at creating boxes.  Boxes for people, boxes for God, boxes for ourselves.  We label them.  We cling to them.  We fear any deviation from our reality.  God is calling us to let go of our ideas, to throw away our boxes, to experience Him for who He really is.  How you relate to God may be completely opposite from how I experience God.  But that’s the beauty of it.  He wants to meet you where you’re at, whether lost at sea, enjoying His blessings near the shore, diving into the depths of His love and mercy, or questioning His very existence.  He’s waiting for you.  Perhaps a PRG may be just the thing you need to connect deeper with God.
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