Mystery

The church we go to is in the middle of a sermon series titled, “Identity Crisis.” We are working our way through the book of Colossians. I have read Colossians, heard sermons on it and likely even preached a sermon from the book. However, I haven’t spent the kind of time in study of the letter like I am right now. One of the epic things our church does (Grace Orlando) is they write and provide these handy dandy sermon guides. They are packed full of tons of great stuff – background info on Colossians like what was happening when Paul wrote it, what are the main themes, where Paul was when he wrote it, etc. This provides a holistic approach to the book we are studying. The guide also provides space to take notes during the sermon and a handful of thought-provoking questions to guide personal reflection time and our community groups for further study/discussion.

Over the last month, I have been following up the sermon and studying Colossians in my personal Bible study time. Today I read from the end of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two. As I read, the word ‘mystery’ stood out to me. Paul talks about the mystery of God. He goes on to say the mystery of God is Christ. This can be kinda confusing, but at the same time simple. The mystery of Christ is how mysterious, wonderful and strange it is that the God who created everything would take on the form of his creation, live among us a sinless life so he may die in our place taking our punishment so we may be presented righteous before a holy God. This is a mystery. How did this happen? I daresay, the details of how exactly the incarnation works can not be known by us mere humans. It is a mystery.

As I read this, it occurred to me in our digital age we have lost some of the mystery that is mystery. Maybe I should clarify, I have lost some of the mystery that is mystery. I suspect you may be the same though. In a time when we can pull a handheld computer out of our back pocket and ask Google anything and in a fraction of a second have a more information at our fingertips than was previously possible after hours of research at a library a decade a half ago, we have lost mystery. Mystery is about not knowing all the information. It is about having missing pieces. It is about having to think through and figure out the missing details and connect the dots. We rarely have to do that anymore as Google will accomplish all the hard work for us. We get consumed with information and details and facts and knowing the whole story.

On one hand, this is very attractive to me. I like to know the details. I like to know what is going on. I like to know as much information as I can. I like to know what is happening. I don’t like surprises and I don’t like to be surprised. I have a need to know. So, for me having a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips is a great resource… but at the same time, it breeds an inability to not have all the facts.

In some ways, it reduces my ability to have joy and satisfaction. It robs me of the pleasure of surprise. It takes away the excitement of not knowing. The exhilaration of the unknown. The unknown brings with it a sense of adventure and wonder and excitement that I often miss out on because I am so consumed with having to know all the details, every little piece, every aspect, all the facts.

But sometimes, the facts and information can’t be known. Won’t be known. Shouldn’t be known.

Mystery brings with it a sense of awe and wonder. No matter how awesome something is, once we figure it out it is difficult for it to carry the same power of awe and wonder. Fire is amazing. But it doesn’t hold the same awe for us who know it is simply a combustion or burning, in which substances combine chemically with oxygen from the air and typically give our bright light, heat and smoke. It is amazing, but it doesn’t hold the same sense of awe and wonder since we have figured it out. Travel over long distances doesn’t hold the same sense of awe it used to. We live in a global reality where we can be anywhere within a matter of hours. Our communities and commutes have grown exponentially over the last 200 hundred years and we now live farther away from our jobs than many people traveled in their whole lives. A 30 mile commute takes an hour in traffic when 100 years ago it would take 10 hours or more to walk there or about 8 hours if you had a horse to ride.

In some ways, the digital age has inhibited our ability to be awed and wondered. Again, maybe I should correct myself and say it has inhibited MY ability to be awed and wondered. Not entirely. There are still things that awe me. Creation never ceases to awe me. Looking at the magnificence of what God has created… it is awesome. As I get older and adjust work/life schedule to better accommodate family, it is harder for me to go run at night, which happens to be my favorite time to run for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons I enjoy running at night, is looking up to the stars and being awed by the vast expanse that is space. I;m not much of an astronomer, but I know enough to know you can tell what time of year it is based on where the Orion constellation is in the night sky. Mountains always awe me. Their hugeness and greatness towering over the landscape is moving. Most of any existence of water on the planet awes me. With the exception of the plethora of retention ponds we have everywhere in Florida (A funny side note, when Ronda and I first started dating and would visit her family in Florida I would ask about why there were so many retention ponds everywhere. She answered me one day, ‘to keep the alligators from coming back.’ I took it as Gospel. I didn’t realize until years later when I said something to her about this that she was joking. They do serve to collect the excess water so as to keep Florida from becoming a swamp again and therefore sorta serve to to keep the gators at bay… but not really.) I Waterfalls amaze me. Springs amaze me. Rivers and creeks amaze me. The beach amazes me. How the moon affects the beach amazes me. Rocks amaze me. Hahaha, I sound like a little kid with that one! But it is true. Trees amaze me. Creation amazes me.

My wife amazes me. She amazes me for more reasons that I could justly articulate. But her commitment and love for me amazes me. Her devotion to God amazes me. Her warm heart and caring soul amaze me. Her never-ending service to me and the boys amazes me. Her strength amazes me. She amazes me.

My boys amaze me… and not always in good ways! They are fantastic, wonderful humans who are amazing. Their caring spirits, good hearts, imaginations and laughter amazes me. Who they are becoming as men amazes me.

I am amazed by the wonder of a God who created me, provides for me as a father and who died for me so I can spend eternity in his presence. The mystery of how he did that is not lost on me. I don’t understand it. I can’t understand it. But I accept it.

Let’s not lose mystery from our lives. I live technology and I love the world I live in, the digital age I wouldn’t want to give it all up… but I equally don’t want to give up being amazed by mystery.

What is mysterious or amazing to you?

Stay Connected

 As he approached the cliff’s edge he was very shaky and nervous. He looked down and slightly tugged on his harness to make sure he was hooked in. He was. He visually inspected the carabiner and figure eight to ensure they were properly attached to his harness. He had gloves on. He bang to slowly inch backwards towards the edge of the cliff.

The closer he got the more nervous he became.

He got to the edge. He froze.

He called back from the edge and begged to be pulled up. He started to go again… stopped and once more begged to be pulled up. It was the point of no return. He was over the edge. He couldn’t go back up.

Back he couldn’t go down either.

He was frozen. Neither able to go up or down. Stuck.

He was going do stay on the cliff face until he died… which fortunately wasn’t going to be long!

Before he knew it he, was rappelling down the cliff. He was still afraid, but at least now he was moving… down.

As he unclipped from the rope, he realized he had conquered his fears. He was still afraid of heights, but they had not won this battle.

In September, I had an opportunity to take two young men from the Independent Living Program at Grace Landing on a camping trip as a culmination of a mentoring program we did with them this spring/summer. The first activity of this trip was a rock climbing trip. This portion of the trip was going to push their limits and challenge their fears. If you have never gone rock climbing or rappelling before, you must pay singular attention and your focus must be on the task at hand. One of the things you learn very quickly, is being connected to the rope is critical… lifesaving.

If you aren’t connected to the rope you will die.

Hands down. There is no way around it. Losing connection to the rope, while on the rock face will end tragically. Over the course of the weekend, one of the conversations I had with the guys was as a man the very real need to stay connected to a community… but more than that, the need to stay connected to God. We are not able to navigate this life on our own. We simply can’t do it. And too many times, we men view asking for help or relying on others as weakness. It isn’t weak to recognize where you need help and then ask for help. Being a part of a community, having a support network allows us to draw on a larger range of experiences and resources to navigate the rough waters of life. Having several other dudes who care deeply about you, allows you a built in accountability network as well as confidants and friends to carry you through the tough times.

But more important than all this, is of course the connection we have to have with God. Having a community of other men is highly beneficial, but we must be connected to the ultimate source. God should be the foundation for all we do and all we are. Relying on him in tough times. Turning to him in good times. Trusting him no matter what is swirling around us in life is essential to being successful. Other people will disappoint us. It’s a matter of when, not if they will. Being connected to God allows us to manage through the times other people let us down.

I encouraged our guys to stay connected to a community, but more importantly to stay connected to God.

Adaptability


White water rapids are created when water in a river flows over an obstruction under the surface of the water. I’m not an expert hydrology, but I understand the dynamics of what takes place in a river when water is forced to flow over a rock or something else… I understand the basic premise of this obstruction underwater changes nature, course, speed, direction and behavior of the water. The more water, the bigger the obstructions, the faster the water flows and the more extreme the rapids are.

In September, I had an opportunity to take two young men from the Independent Living Program at Grace Landing on a camping trip as a culmination of a mentoring program we did with them this spring/summer. The second activity of this trip was a white water rafting trip. On this rafting experience we saw first hand how a rock, or other obstruction, underneath the surface of the water impacts and changes the course of the river. The river must bend its will and purpose to the rocks underneath it. The water will flow over the rocks, altering and impacting the rocks as well… but the rocks will tell the river where and how to flow.
No matter how much water flows over it, around it, under it or how much pressure is put on the rock by the water… it will always be a rock. Its shape may change, how the rock looks might change. The rock will be shaped by the water, but it will not be defined by the water. It is a rock, because it is inherently a rock and not because of the water it interacts with.

After we observed this, and we sat around the campfire later that evening we discussed how we are like the rocks under the surface of the water. Life will come over us and even overwhelm us at times, and we will undoubtedly be shaped by the pressures of life. We are like the rock lurking under the surface of the water in a river.

As life flows over us, we will be shaped by life… by the circumstances, stress, pressure, situations happening to us. But we are not defined by them. Who we are at our core is not affected or changed by life. At our core, we are children of an Almighty God. We are his precious children, whom he loves enough to die for our sins. That will never change no matter what experience, challenge, hardship or difficulty we face in this life. We will certainly be shaped by life, but not defined by it.

A key to surviving life, or making it through ‘successfully’, is to be adaptable… fluid… willing to change. Able to make adjustments. On a personal note, I do NOT change well or easily. I hate change. The only thing I hate more than change is surprise change. I need to know what is what. Adaptability is essential in this life. The landscape of our lives is constantly changing and shifting as various aspects or pieces of our lives change. Jobs, relationships, living arrangements, transportation situations, school… most things in our lives are in a constant state of flux. Being adaptable and able to meet the new challenges, to rise to the occasion are critical.

The rock under the water doesn’t change who he is when more water comes down the river bad. He allows his shape to be molded to meet the water. But, he remains a rock. When we face a difficult scenario in life, we must adapt or be shaped by it and meet its demands… but we can not sacrifice who we are at our core.

Objects

Westfall Family Stone Mtn
I’m sitting here at work, and we are watching a video for our weekly Bible study with our dudes in our Independent Living home. As I think back to this last week and the vacation I was able to take with my family, my mind is drawn to my preoccupation with things.
On Tuesday, we went tubing in Helen, Ga. As we were preparing to go, I went to get a waterproof case for my iPhone. I felt as though I needed the case to protect my iPhone from the water. After all, my iPhone is my camera and I wanted photos of my family as we tubed. Over the course of the day, I dropped my iPhone in the river twice. I can attest and affirm, the Lifeproof case is actually waterproof. Each time I dropped it, I fumbled along the river bottom to locate my iPhone. Each time, I thought to myself ‘how terrible it would be if I couldn’t find it!’
As we neared the end of the experience, I looked down and noticed my wedding ring was gone.
Lost.
Somewhere at the bottom of the river.
Never to be found by me again.
As I floated in my tube, realizing my wedding ring was gone I felt an intense sense of loss. My marriage wasn’t lost, but the outward symbol of it was. It’s just a ring, but it holds a powerful and special emotional connection for me. This was the ring I used to symbolize my commitment to Ronda.
I will never get this object back. I can buy a new ring, but it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same one. As I feel these feelings, I recognize I am a traditional kind of dude. This ring holds a special place in my heart and I can never get it back.
Had I lost my iPhone, I would have had a sense of loss but not like this. My iPhone is just an object, not a sentimental object. This is an occasion for me to reorient my mind and priorities and be reminded I need to keepy mind and heart focused on things that matter and not be consumed with things that don’t.
The ring itself isn’t what matters. The relationship it represents does. I may have lost a wedding ring last week, but I had a fantastic family vacation. I got to spend quality time with my family doing things we enjoy doing and we had fun doing them.
That’s what matters.

The Path Ahead

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This morning as I am praying, meditating and listening to God verse 8 stands out in my mind as something I need to hear today: O Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes;  Make Your way straight before me. The second half fees particularly relevant to me as I am searching the path God is laying before me. My family is embarking on a new chapter in our journey right now. It has become clear to me the pastors at h2o church and I are not on the same page when it comes to leadership and overseeing splash. Through this discussion it has become evident to me, God is asking me to step away from my responsibilities there. This is scary for me. I am not sure what is coming next. In June I began working with a nonprofit in Kissimmee in child welfare. I enjoy this, but I also feel a calling to serve God in a local church. I am not sure what that will look like as we move forward. God is making his path straight before.
This current season of my life feels very transient and changing. I can’t place my finger on what or why, but I feel like a significant change is about to occur in the life of our family. It could just be the shift which is inherent in me stepping away from h2o (because this in and of itself is a big transition). It could be the follow up plans I have to begin working as a registered intern in addition to my work with Grace Landing (that nonprofit) I mentioned. I don’t know for sure what the path ahead looks like, but I am confident that God is laying it straight. I am saddened by the impending departure from h2o, but I am also peaceful about it because I know the timing is right. I know this is the next steps God is leading me to take.
If I look back on my life, there have been other times I have made similar decisions which were also scary at  the time, and also didn’t seem like there was a definite plan forward. Each of those times, God has shown up and proved himself reliable. Each time he has demonstrated he has made his paths before me straight.
My prayer today, and moving forward is that I will seek the wisdom of God daily. I will be patient and wait on him. I am praying I will be his servant and move forward in the ways he is leading. I really believe God is doing something unheard of or unexpected in the life of my family in the coming season. Whatever it is, it feels like it is going to be epic and I want to be a part of whatever it is.

the BEGINNING of it all

3630_3630_5Monday June 2nd, 2014 started out like any other Monday morning. As the day progressed there were a few differences that eventually bubbled to the surface.
Eli is now 37. He is closer to 40 than he ever has been. This is the first day of his life as  37 year old man. Old man.
That wasn’t the only beginning. It marked the beginning of a journey Eli has been preparing for over the last four or five years. Eli began a new job.
It was the first day of Eli being on staff with Grace Landing, a faith-based non-profit located in Kissimmee. Eli is coming on staff in a new position at Grace Landing which will be a part of the expected growth that will propel Grace Landing into the mainstream of the community based care and foster care licensing realm. Eli will be the first person at Grace Landing to recruit, train and support foster parents. Eli will be the first Foster Care Licensing Specialist in the history of Grace Landing.
This is a very exciting time not just for Eli, but for Grace Landing. This is a move they have been planning for the last several years and with Eli coming on staff the journey is just now beginning. Eli has much to bring to the table for an organization such as Grace Landing. But, Grace Landing has much to bring to the table as an organization for someone like Eli.
As the hiring process began in a very humble way and progressed and moved through to its final stages, it became clear to all those involved this indeed was the direction God had been leading them both.
Eli will be build on his experiences as a case worker for the state of Florida as well as his experience in ministry in the local church, but also his education and experience in mental health counseling. Eli has recently completed a master’s degree in mental health counseling and will be putting his hard-earned education to use in this position.
Eli will be able to further expound and clarify his love and passion for families as he identifies, trains and equips families to serve the foster children of central Florida. Eli has been searching for an outlet such as this to share his insights and passion for the family and this position at Grace Landing is precisely what he needs to be able to do that.
This isn’t really the beginning of it all… but it is certainly the beginning of a time tat will see incredible growth in the lives of both Eli and Grace Landing.
While 37 may be three years away from being over the hill… it is a lifetime away from being the end of the journey for Eli. This is just the beginning…

By default

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As I have shared several times in the last week or so, I am wrapping up a masters in counseling. I have been in this program for a long time. When I initially started it I though I might want to be a counselor, then I decided I didn’t want to be. Then I did. Then I didn’t. Many items over the course of this program I have said I ended up in this program by default. I’m not really sure what that means or why I would say it, but I did. I think I was trying to justify why I wasn’t in an MSW (Masters of Social Work) program. As though I needed to justify it. I don’t. But I felt as though I did. Again, not sure why that is.

I don’t think I am in this program by default. I think I am in this program because it is what I needed at the time for my own redemption and salvation. Thanks to what was coming next in my life after I entered this program, I feel I am better equipped to serve people as a counselor than I could have ever imagined myself to be. It is said, the best substance abuse counselor a are addicts. They get it. They understand it. I wouldn’t necessarily hang my hat on that, but I can understand where the thinking comes from. Once you have descended into the depths, you are better equipped to assist others as they are walking there themselves.

I have descended into the depths of the pit of despair.

Strangely,this degree program was in many ways he therapy I desperately needed during some of the most critical times of my life. I will in fact make (and currently am) a wise and very efficient counselor. I am not here by default or because I couldn’t get in anywhere else. I could and did. I am here because it was what was best for me. For my growth. For my redemption.

I am not ashamed of wanting to be a counselor. It is a good job. Helping people who desperately need help. It is in reality so closely tied to what interested me about bible college too. If I am honest, being a counselor probably lines up the best with what I feel to be my God ordained and called purpose.

I don’t want to let that cat out of the bag tonight, but suffice it to say, I am in the right field. Servings he right kinds of people. I am being used where talents, gifts, abilities, passions, desires, skills and calling are best used.

I have not sold myself short. I have in fact found what may in reality be the real me. The me I was made to be. The me is who more at home here than anywhere else. These are not words I would have said at any time in the history of this program.

I am a counselor. I am not out of place.

Half Marathon Man

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I started 2013 hoping to run a half marathon distance (13.1 miles) run each month. I ran my first half in December of 2012.

I was on track in January.

February saw me run 11.76 miles and then another couple of miles to total a half distance for the day.

March, April, May, June and July all had half distances run in them.

August was a little bit of a disappointment for me. We moved to my in laws for a month. While I was able to pound out 72 miles that month (an impressive feat in and of itself because I hate running out there), there was no half completed.

September was a bigger disappointment when I tried for half and failed to complete it. I fell two miles short. I had to walk two miles to get home. It was an epic fail.

October saw me get the miles back up, but saw no half.

It was in October I realized my hope of 12 halfs this year was slowly slipping away from me. In November I began training for a marathon in January.

November saw me run the most miles I’ve ever run in a month (120!!!) and it saw me find the half distance again. Twice (one 13.1 and one 15). It also saw me run 11.7 & 12 miles as well.

As I’m wrapping up December and the year, I have run four runs of half distance or more this month. I have run a 13.1, 15, 19 & 20. Not only will I finish the year with 12 half distance (or farther), but I will have two extra. Fourteen of them.

I can end the year satisfied.

Epic

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Epic.

What do we mean when we say something is Epic?

It is out of the ordinary. It has blown our minds. It has stood out beyond our other experiences because it was special.

It was unique. It was disastrous. It was unbelievable. It was unreal.

It defies explanation and is therefore EPIC.

But what really makes something epic is whether we decide an ordinary experience has somehow transcended the laws of physics, space & time and has stood out as something special.

We decide.

We determine it to be EPIC.

So, what becomes epic now? Anything.

Yep. The ordinary has transcended the boundaries of the ordinary and broken into the extraordinary and is now EPIC.

This opens up a whole range of possibilities when it comes to epic-ness. The mundane, the ordinary, the normal, the routine can now be epic.

Why not? Must something really be ground breaking, earth shattering to be EPIC?

No.

EPIC-ness comes more from the meaning behind the event than the event itself. Soccer with the boys can be epic. Hiking the local state park is most certainly epic… especially when the hike ends at a spring and we jump in and swim over the hole in the earth that millions of gallons of water are spewing out of forming not just the spring we are in but a river that sustains entire ecosystems. How could not be epic?

The first time your family camps together and listens to the sounds of nature as they drift off to sleep after having huddled around a campfire with s’mores.

Kayaking in the ocean with your wife as you celebrate being married. Watching the sun rise or set with loved ones.

Building stuff and repairing things around the house with ever so helpful little hands making the task t hand take three times as long.

EPIC.

Life is full of epic-ness around us waiting to be discovered. Will you continue to live a life of the normal, or are you ready to break out and live an EPIC life?

History

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There are times when it is almost too difficult to forget where we have come from. Times when our past overwhelms and not just informs our present & future but times when that past consumes the present & future.

Today is one of those days for me. As I think through my past failures and mistakes and realize the depths of brokenness I have come from, it feels as though I haven’t come far enough. Like I haven’t overcome yet.

Truth is I haven’t overcome. I’m done. Or should I say God isn’t done with me. He isn’t done redeeming me.

I am a sinner with a broken past… a past full of hurt and damage down to those I love the most.

But that is not who I am anymore.

Who I am is a son, an heir, a sought after purchased child of God whom he has lavishly poured out his love on.

Does this erase the past? No.

But it does keep it from defining my present and future.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)