Think globally. Act locally.
It's been a rough week for refugees. I don't want to discuss politics here - there's enough people already doing that everywhere else you turn. But I certainly have opinions and beliefs, ones that are strongly colored by my faith and understanding of the scriptures.
And I believe its high time I put my money (or in this case, books) where my mouth is. So for the next week (January 30th - February 5th), I'm hosting a flash sale. Head over to my Noisetrade Author Site, where my newest book, I Used to Live Here, will be available for any tip donation you'd like to make.
All the proceeds from this flash sale will be going directly to Kentucky Refugee Ministry, an incredible organization helping assist refugee families from around the globe get settled into life in the Bluegrass State. KRM works to help these families becoming contributing and functioning members of society by assisting in all parts of the resettlement process, from ESL classes, to wellness and nutrition, to employment and job training.
Now is not the time to allow fear to keep us silent and still. But social media diatribes aren't doing any good either. In our current political and social climate, I believe its time to assist the people already doing the good work of the Kingdom of God. And KRM is certainly one of those organizations.
So if you feel so inclined, grab a digital copy of my new book and help support this incredible ministry that has changed the lives of over 15,000 refugees since 1990.
But act fast. On February 5th, at midnight, I'll be removing the book.
You like stories, I like supporting refugees. It's a win-win, really.
Click here to for a link to the ebook, and here to learn about Kentucky Refugee Ministry.
A quick update to start the year!
But the most important thing happening in 2017, by far, is the birth of our third child in February! Writing always takes a back seat to baby-cuddling, so we'll see what happens. No promises on new releases. But it's good to set goals, right?
What I do know is that I'll be blogging less and focusing on books and projects more - just because that's where my passion lies. But that's another blog for another day. Stay tuned, there's always more to come.
The books are in - and it's time to party! You and all your favorite people are most cordially invited to eat some donuts, buy some books, and hang out with us on Thursday, December 1st, at the I Used to Live Here official release party at North Lime Coffee and Donuts!
This is a drop-in, drop-out party - so come whenever suits you, and stay as long as you'd like. Copies of the book will be available for purchase ($10 each), as well as stickers and 11x17 prints. And that's not to mention the best coffee and donuts in town as well.
Mark it on your calendars, friends! And let's celebrate together.
Are you asking yourself, what's this book all about? Check out the book trailer here.
It's been a whirlwind around here lately. The Kickstarter Campaign to raise funds to traditionally print my next book of Lexington-based memoirs - "I Used to Live Here" - ended on September 1st. Our original goal was to raise $400 dollars, but over the course of thirty days we were able to surpass that original goal and in the end raised $715 dollars! I'm still blown away by that number and the response to this new project. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who preordered a copy and joined our Kickstarter family!
Since then, we've been in a bit of a waiting game. After the end of the Kickstarter Campaign, it took two weeks for all the funds to be transferred and become available. But I'm happy to report that the "I Used to Live Here" ball is finally moving down the field!
Yesterday, I sent in a final proof for promotional stickers - and they're being printed as we speak! How awesome will this look on your Nalgene bottle? Or your Macbook cover? Or the back of your car? Or anywhere and everywhere! (More special thanks to my friend Sarah for all the original art work!)
I've also submitted the final text and cover versions for the actual book. I'm choosing to publish the book through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon company specializing in self-published content. So far, they've been incredibly easy and fast to work with! After I receive approval from CreateSpace, the book will move into the production phase. SO CLOSE!
Here's a sneak peak of the back and front cover, as they will appear on the printed copies of "I Used to Live Here." Again, all applause and kuddos to Sarah for being incredible!
Book release parties are being planned and details will be released very soon! Can't wait to share this new work with you all. Exciting stuff still to come!
If you haven't yet, watch this short book trailer.... and check back often for more updates!
Filmmakers use trailers to interest others in their upcoming projects - so why not authors?
Here's your invite to sit back and check out the world premier of the "I Used to Live Here" official book trailer! Special thanks to my buddy Cameron for helping me shoot it, and Rebekah for letting me take over her current (and my old) house for filming.
There are only eight days left to join the Kickstarter family and preorder your copy of "I Used to Live Here." Visit www.tinyurl.com/gavebook2 to jump in - and THANK YOU to everyone helping making this dream a reality!
Without further ado.... a little video preview of "I Used to Live Here:"
You know why I don't mind going to Costco for my wife? The free samples - literally everywhere. So in the spirit of everyone's favorite mega surplus store... how about a little sample from my second book: I Used To Live Here.
This chapter, entitled Broadway and Main, I hope speaks for itself. But if not, I could have subtitled it: an activist looks back at twenty-two. And it also features my dear friend, Emily, which is a plus.
If you like what you read below, would you consider backing our Kickstarter Campaign? Preorders for a physical copy of the book will continue till September 1st. Reserve your copy for only $10, and help us make I Want to Live Here a reality! Click here to visit our Kickstarter page: www.tinyurl.com/gavebook2
Thanks so much to everyone who has already jumped into the Kickstarter family - and remember, all preorders come with an immediate digital copy of the book (Facebooked or emailed your way).
Without further ado... Broadway and Main. Enjoy!
Broadway and Main
The worst part of growing up is the apathy.
As a child, I knew I’d change the world. I would accept nothing less. But with every new candle on my birthday cake, the sun sets a bit lower on that notion. It’s more of a hope now – not a goal to be worked at, not a discipline to be embraced, but a fleeting dream, a wish. With the setting sun comes the chill of night, and it always finds the drafty places in my soul. It seeps in and steals the warmth.
Before long, it’s easier not to care. It’s convenient, more digestible, to turn a blind eye. Or maybe it’s more like burying my head in the sand.
This is the way things are going to be. I can’t change it.
Close my eyes. Go to sleep.
I used to care.
But things have changed.
When I saw the letter, I was enraged. I threw my bowl of cereal in the sink and set up shop immediately, the blinking cursor on my word processor daring me to pen a response. And I came up swinging.
A week before I’d spent the night with hundreds of other young people, in the heart of downtown Lexington, a stone’s throw from Rupp Arena. We’d come together to show our solidarity for children in Uganda.
Thousands of miles away from Lexington, the situation was dire. Every night, hundreds of children from rural Uganda were forced to march into cities, sleeping together for protection. For years, a rebel army had been staging a guerilla coup against the government. Running short of soldiers, the rebels began abducting children, forcing them to fight. The brutality was beyond words.
So that night, across our nation, young people chose to stand (and sleep) in support of those neglected, abused, and exploited children. We did what they did. From all over the city, people marched into Triangle Park. We laid our sleeping bags on the wet earth. And we went to sleep.
The Night Commute attracted a bit of media attention. Local news covered the event – which is precisely what we’d hoped for. The biggest impediment to action is ignorance, right? Once people know about atrocities, they’ll rally together to stop them. Right?
A few days later, I was at my grandparents’ house, eating breakfast and mindlessly flipping through the morning newspaper, when an editorial letter caught my eye. Its title: Rich Kid Do-Gooders.
This wasn’t the response I expected. The words cut – and they were intended to. It accused us, the Night Commuters, of being out of touch with reality; of wearing rose-colored glasses; of being ignorant and idealistic; of being rich kids with nothing else to do. The letter claimed our protest would amount to nothing.
A feeling of disbelief came first. I read it again. And again. And again. And each time, I felt the blood in my veins move closer and closer and closer to boiling.
It was venom. And it moved directly to my heart.
This wasn’t right. This event was supposed to change things – to stop the exploitation of children halfway across the globe. It was supposed to educate the general public – and when they heard the news, they’d act. They’d rally around us. We’d convince our leaders, maybe even the President, to stop these heinous war crimes.
Instead, we were pigeonholed. We were stereotyped. We were dismissed.
And I couldn’t have that. So I wrapped up my knuckles and prepared to fight back with my most potent weapon: words.
I wrote in a fury. With passion, intensity, severity.
I would do battle against complacency. I would combat apathy. I would change the world. I emailed my response to the editorial board within hours.
Three days later, it found the light of day, printed in black and white. I had won.
As I write this, the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, are a war zone. The grand jury has spoken, declining to bring charges against a white police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager over the summer.
The already volatile city, which has become a hotbed of protest in the months following the shooting, erupted.
The world is broken.
It’s been ten years since I penned my letter to the editor.
It’s been five years since I took an active role in ending the use of child soldiers.
It’s been three years since I’ve taken to the streets to protest anything.
How long has it been since I used my words for something more important than me?
How long has it been since I’ve been a part of something larger than myself?
How long has it been since I’ve actively sought to right a wrong?
By the time you read this, Ferguson won’t be in the news anymore.
But inequality will still exist.
Brutality will still exist.
Violence will still exist.
Somewhere, a child is being ripped from his parents, forced to carry a gun and fight.
Somewhere, a girl is being sold for a night to the highest bidder.
Somewhere, a family is digging through a trash dump in search of anything to eat.
Somewhere, a child is dying of a disease that wouldn’t slow us down in America.
I used to feel those somewhere – used to carry them around with me in the very depths of my soul.
Remember the last time Lexington rioted?
It was April 2nd, 2012.
The University of Kentucky had just won its 8th national basketball title.
It kind of puts things in perspective.
Last night, a friend came over to visit. She’s a freshman in college, eighteen years old, a bright star ready to change the world with her light.
She told my wife and I that she’d stopped eating fast food. She’d learned that vast tracts of the rainforest were being felled to make space for grazing livestock, a result of America’s need for cheap meat. Without the rainforest, less moisture was being released into the air, causing more intense droughts in Africa, exacerbating starvation in that region of the world.
It didn’t take her long to connect the dots. Her fast food burger was directly linked to hunger across the ocean.
She didn’t justify it.
She didn’t close her eyes.
She didn’t bury her head in the sand.
She did what any young person would do.
She stopped supporting a broken system.
She decided to change.
The choice, for her, was an easy one.
Blessings to the youth. The world desperately needs you.
I desperately need you.
I want to tell my friend to never doubt her convictions.
To never stop believing she can make a difference.
To never dismiss her passions.
To never grow tame.
To never trade the thirst for justice for something as common as stability or money.
To never grow up.
Because when you do,
It’s damn hard to grow young again.
The past week has been incredible. On Tuesday, I launched a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to raise enough funds to publish my second book, I Used To Live Here, a collection of thirteen short stories from a decade of life spent in Lexington. Each story in this works seeks to explore, from different angles, the way the place we choose to call home significantly impacts the person we become. In a very real sense, we not only build a home and community in a specific location, but that place also builds us.
To be honest, I wavered. I had glimpses of doubt and disbelief, and nearly tossed it all – the book, the Kickstarter, the dream of being a writer – aside. But last Tuesday, I closed my eyes and clicked a button: and the Kickstarter went live. And what happened next I couldn’t believe. The $400 needed to publish my second book was raised in only fifteen hours. Fifteen hours? Seriously?!
I am beyond thankful for all the support and words of encouragement I’ve received thus far! Honestly, the money is less important than the fact that twenty-seven people believe that the words I write are worth reading. It’s funny how a mere fifteen hours can change the way you think about your own abilities and giftings. But I never would have discovered that fact if I didn’t take a leap of faith – and risk walking away defeated, depressed, and unfunded. It’s the old maxim, come to life: you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Amen to that.
So it’s been nearly a week, and the project now has twenty-seven backers and raised over $500 dollars! We met our goal. But there are still twenty-three days to go until the campaign closes out.
Do I still need backers? Is there a reason for you to preorder the book now that we’ve met the goal? Yes!! There are three very important reasons I still need you to jump into our Kickstarter family:
Again, thank you all SO, SO MUCH for supporting the Kickstarter and encouraging my dream of writing!
And be sure to stay tuned to the blog this week – I’m going to need your help choosing the back cover “blurb.” More on that soon!
Just in case you need it, a link to the Kickstarter:
The time has come!
My second book, "I Used to Live Here," is complete. It's been approved by a publisher. It's literally just waiting for a few clicks of a button.
This new book, a collection of thirteen short stories from a decade spent living in Lexington, represents some of my most personal work to date. I'm really proud of these stories, and the feedback I've gotten from some carefully chosen readers has been staggering.
But now I've got to push that baby bird out of the nest. And I need your help to do it.
Today, I'm launching a Kickstarter Campaign to help raise the funds to traditionally publish "I Used to Live Here." It's simple. You can preorder the book for a pledge of $10. And if we can track down at least forty people who want to preorder it, we can bring this project to completion.
Click here to check out the Kickstarter page. There, you'll find tons of information on the book, including a short video explaining everything you'd ever need to know.
Keep coming back here throughout the month of August for updates on "I Used to Live Here" - including excerpts, a book trailer (coming soon!), info on a couple of launch parties we have in the works, and the play-by-play on how the Kickstarter campaign is going.
I've got a great book for you. Can you help me make it a reality?
Thanks so much for all your support of my writing. The fact that people want to read my words, even now, is mind-blowing and humbling.
Now.... let's KICKSTART THIS THING!
We all know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover - but let's be honest, that doesn't stop us.
That's why I asked my good friend Sarah - and incredibly creative graphic designer - to help put together a cover for my new book. I gave her a snippet of an idea and some awesome photographs my wife took around town. And well, I'll let her work speak for itself. Me? I'm stinking thrilled.
I Used to Live Here is a collection of thirteen short stories compiled from a decade living in Lexington. Tales full to the brim with love, loss, and life. I can't wait for you to read it.
In the next few weeks, a Kickstarter campaign will be launched to take preorders for the book - if we can reach a goal of 40 preorders, then we can get this thing printed!
But for now, let's just bask in the beauty that is the cover. Did I mention that Sarah is amazing?
It’s been nearly a year since I last posted a blog. For someone with aspirations to be a writer; for a creative who connects to the Father through pecking away at a keyboard; for someone with a passion for words and ideas – that’s a really long time. But I have good reason.
In the past, I’ve managed to wrap far too much of my identity into this virtual corner of the Internet. For nearly a year, I was up every day at 5:00AM to write. I published blogs left and right. I’d work and rework them until the wording was perfect. I’d format and reformat until it looked just right on the page. I’d post them on social media… and then spend the next twelve hours compulsively checking to see if they’d generated any buzz. I was working for that “big break” into the world of words, and I was sure it was just around the corner. But while I was “hustling,” something was slowly starting to shift inside.
You see, I used to write for me. I wrote because it helped me process, learn, and make sense of the world around me. I wrote as an act of worship, because the process ushered me into the presence of God. I wrote because I had to.
And then somewhere along the line, between managing a blog and rechecking my social media stats, I started writing for you instead. I wrote to get likes and retweets. I wrote for validation from my peers. I wrote so that you’d think I was smart, special and gifted.
Building your identity that way is like building a house on sand. The slightest shift will bring the whole thing down.
But on July 3rd, 2015, at 7:21PM, two babies saved me from myself. That moment, my wife gave birth to twins. And in an instant, my perspective changed. My motivation changed. My longings changed.
I still love words. I still hope that something I’ve written will encourage, influence, or inspire others. And I still dream of being able to make a living from the words I write.
But some things are more important. Some things take precedence. Some things you only get to do once.
So I quietly stepped away. For the past 365 days, I’ve tried to give myself fully to my God, to my family, and especially to the two little babies that call me Da-Da. When you quit something cold turkey, its power suddenly steps into the limelight. You learn to see it for what it really is. You gain the right perspective.
There’s nothing wrong with writing. In fact, I’ve still been doing it. But for the past year, instead of taking my words straight to the public, I’ve sat on them. And in the midst of that forced silence, I remembered how to write again. How to let words flow unhindered; how to create from the overflow of my own heart; and most importantly, that what remains unsaid is just as important as the words that make it to the page.
As this blog is slowly resurrected (and stay tuned, because my close friend Stephen is about to give it an amazing make over), its heart is also changing.
But in order for resurrection to take place, death must first occur. So this writer is dying to your expectations. He’s dying to perfectionism. He’s dying to his need for your validation. He’s dying to the pressure to write for you.
He’s got two little babies to think about… and to thank. Because their snaggle tooth smiles, their tears, their wobbly legs are what finally got through to him.
Some things are more important. Some things take precedence. Some things you only get to do once. So slow down. Enjoy them. There will be time for words. And when the words come, you can bet you’ll find them here.
The sun is rising, peeking through closed black window shades. The room’s not giving up, holding onto a prominent shadow that still covers most of the tile floor. Normally, I’d be up in a flash. But not today. Today, it’s a good thing. She needs the dark. She needs to sleep.
Last night, only hours ago, our babies were born. Two beautiful, healthy, kicking and screaming, already-got-a-head-of-hair, twins. A boy and a girl. Ezra Timothy and Eleanor Grace. They made their grand entrance on the 3rd of July – just a couple hours shy of fireworks and sprinklers. Later, the streets of every town in America will be filled with revelers, eyes turned skyward. But I don’t care where you live, or how big your city’s budget may be, the fireworks you’ll celebrate with will be no match for the ones filling up the space in my heart.
This morning, in the shadows covering a cold hospital floor, all I see is light. And I remember.
God is a God of creation. Of promises kept. Of double portions of blessing. A Father who draws perfect circles.
In a few short days, the students we get to do life with from the Georgetown campus of Crossroads will head down to Wilmore for five of the best days of the year – filled with incredible worship, teaching, and time together. It’s Wayfarer Camp week. And this year, it’s especially important to my growing family. But to tell that story, we’ll have go back a little bit.
At the start of 2014, after being married for about a year, Janie and I decided it was time to start thinking about adding to our family. But what started out as a time of joy and anticipation quickly dissolved into a runaway rollercoaster. Month after month, our hopes would rise as we anticipated a positive pregnancy test – and each time, only negative test results. Near the end of March, however, we were more confident than ever. We left for a little spring vacation on a high. All indications showed the pregnancy had finally occurred – all we lacked was an official blood test. But a week later, we returned from the beach lower than we’d ever been, as it become painfully apparent that we were not going to be welcoming a baby into the world. Up and down, up and down, month after month – and the longer we went, the more crushing and lasting the downs became.
Failed pregnancy after failed pregnancy trained my eye outward – I wanted something to blame for our heartache. With my wife and I nearing the age of thirty, we began to worry that we’d waited too long. For years I was a part-time youth pastor, doing a job I loved, but earning a salary that couldn’t support an entire family. In those moments of despair, the darkness began to whisper that I’d wasted our time – the prime of my life – and all I had to show for it was a house I didn’t own and a part-time paycheck. Doubts about my effectiveness in ministry, my ability to hear from God, even His love for us, began to come at me from every side. My greatest fear began to become my reality: I’d missed the call of God, and now I was stuck.
When our yearly trek to Wayfarer Camp came around the second week of July, Janie and I put on our happy faces – but inside we were tired, burned-out, and carrying heavy weights of doubt on our shoulders. What we didn’t realize, though, was that God had this week hand-picked as a time of refreshment for us. From the get-go, everything at Wayfarer Camp seemed to drip with the love and promises of God. The teaching and worship; the time with our students; even the fun and games were all like medicine for our weary souls.
Near the end of the week, during one of the extended worship sets, I felt God prompting me to sit and listen. So while students and adults on all sides were standing and singing, I took a seat. And as I listened, I felt God leading me to the book of Joel. I grabbed my Bible and began to read. As my eyes fell on chapter two, and God’s promise to restore the wasted years – the years that locusts had ravaged the crops of the Israelites – I began to weep. In that moment, God’s love became tangible, because I finally believed that He understood my pain. But His promises in Joel didn’t stop there. In the next verse, He declares that He will not only return what has been taken, but will gift it back with interest. More will be returned than was originally taken away. For the Israelites, that meant not only enough food to satisfying their hunger, it meant enough food to completely fill them. I wasn’t sure how God would do that for my family, but I believed that He would – and perhaps more importantly, that He wanted to. My broken trust was being renewed, and I took those scriptures as a promise.
Later that night, as part of the teaching, every camp attendee was given a card. And on that card, they were instructed to write down their biggest fears, the things lurking deep in their hearts – the thoughts and feelings that they try to hide from the Father. Janie and I both confessed our fear that God wouldn’t provide us with the family that we longed for – that we had wasted that opportunity.
After a time of prayer, we turned our prayer cards in, only to receive a sealed envelope in return. Inside that envelope was a short statement of encouragement – a description of the love of God, a Bible verse, or even a prayer. The Wayfarer staff had previously spent time listening to God and writing down on these index cards what they felt like God laid on their heart. Their act of faith was handing out the cards, and trusting that God would connect His children to the words of encouragement they needed to hear.
Janie silently received her card and quietly opened it up. Inside, the card read, “Our God is a God of creation.” That truth ran straight to heart, and the tear ducts opened wide. Just like I had found comfort in the promise of God to return the wasted years, the Father had revealed His love (and ability to bring forth life) to a wanna-be mom feeling long overdue. Later that night, I opened my envelope, and although I’d received my card from a different station, found that it read exactly the same as Janie’s. God still creates – and He was asking us to trust Him on the timing.
Fast forward, nearly twelve months to the day, and you’d find that wanna-be mom and her husband cradling not one, but two, precious newborn babies. A perfect creation. A promise kept. A double portion of blessing. A perfect circle.
Tomorrow, our students will head back to Wayfarer Camp. The theme this year: Celebration. Sounds about right. And while we won’t be with them this year, our hearts will continue to dwell on the source of every good and precious gift.
Our Good, good Father… He’s done it again.
Long time, no blog.
But I haven’t just been sleeping in – although, to be honest, I did sneak a few days in there. Instead, I’ve been focusing my efforts on another book. And I’m excited to announce, it’s getting close to completion.
This weekend, I emailed a preliminary copy to my go-to reader, editor, and all around make-me-look-better type of friend, Jarrod. Everybody needs a friend like him. Jarrod’s amazing at giving my words and ideas a good spit-shining. It’ll look (and read) much better when he’s through with it.
This week, I’ll also be passing out some preliminary copies to other readers to gather their thoughts, feedback, and ideas on the book. Wanna be an early reader? Lemme know.
There are a handful of places I can pinpoint as inspiration for this book, and maybe I’ll get into all that down the road. But the whole process started a few months ago when I stumbled upon the realization that I’d spent a decade of my life in Lexington, Kentucky. Images, memories, sights and sounds of the past ten years poured in. So, naturally, I wrote them down.
I Used To Live Here is a collection of short stories, living squarely in the intersection of life and location. My hope for the work, subtitled, “A Life and City in Thirteen Parts,” is that it’s just as much about place and time as it is about my experiences. To that end, eleven of the thirteen stories are named for the Lexington road on which the story takes place. Over the past ten years, my city’s given me enough experiences for three lifetimes – and the stories collected here cover the whole gamut: love and heartbreak, civil (and not so civil) disobedience; death, birth, and donuts.
I borrowed the book’s title from one of my favorite songs (more on that in a later blog). Over the past month, however, it’s taken on new meaning as my wife and I wade through the process of moving away (but don’t worry, we’re just going down the road to Georgetown.) Lexington has been home for a long time – and in a very real way, no matter where life takes us, it just may always remain that way.
As we get closer to the release date, I’ll drop more goodies here on the blog – so stay tuned. But for now, how about a look at the title page and the table of contents.
I hear the voice of God. He speaks to me, audibly. It just so happens that He uses other people’s voices to do it. And, interestingly enough, He has a penchant for a thumping bass line.
I hear God in music. I listen to it too loud, and maybe even, too often. But for me, it’s a lifeline. A connecting point between my soul and the Father of Lights.
And yet, most of my musical prophets are blissfully ignorant to the fact that God has used their creativity, poetry, and vocal chords to communicate with me.
But isn’t that just like our Father? To give everything meaning; to use everyone to communicate His love to the world?
Some of my prophets are rock star royalty. Some are hip-hop intellectuals. Others are folk heroes, independent songsmiths, or wanna-bes that never made it “big.” They come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and genres.
In the Old Testament, the prophet Samuel learned to hear the voice of God at a place called Shiloh – and would return there, time after time, for fresh encounters with God.
My Shilohs are albums. And this week, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Sam’s Town, the sophomore record by Las Vegas rock band, The Killers. And through the constant spins in the car and the repeat tracks on the iPod, one song has risen to the top – the album’s penultimate track, “Why Do I Keep Counting.”
The great thing about art is its subjectivity. It can take on new meaning through the eyes (or, I guess ears in this case) of each subsequent beholder. You and me can both listen to the same song, view the same painting, or watch the same movie, and come away with drastically different interpretations. Which is maybe why I feel like God communicates so effectively through music – it’s such a malleable medium. And to those who want to hear from God, I believe He is ready to speak.
So take a listen to “Why Do I Keep Counting,” and see if God stirs up anything in you. And then come back and let’s compare notes.
Seriously, go. Missed the first hyperlink - amateur move. Here's your second chance: click here.
So you’ve given it a listen? Here’s what God’s taught me. Did the Father give you something different? Comment below – I’d love to know!
Turn on the radio. Put on a favorite CD. If you’re a hipster, get out the vinyl. And turn it up. Listen intently, with your heart, and you just might hear the voice of God. I know it works for me.
We’re officially a week into 2015 and I still haven’t done my annual “ridiculous-resolution-I’m-undertaking-for-the-year” blog. Never fear – this is it.
But first, some wisdom.
The best advice I’ve ever gotten on writing was this: read.
When you’re facing writing’s block – read.
When you’ve found your stride and the words come easy – read.
When you’ve hit the wall and are sure you never want to write again – read.
When you’re swimming in an ocean of creativity – read.
And that’s precisely what I did last year. I read. A lot.
In 2014, I took part in the Empty Shelf Challenge. The premise was easy: clear off a shelf in your home, and then resolve to fill it over the course of the year with the books you’ve read. I took dang near all twelve months to achieve, but I finished the challenge, clocking in at twenty-nine books.
I’m filled up with words. With ideas. With thoughts.
Last year, I read.
This year, I write.
And that, in a nutshell, is my resolution for 2015. I want to write. But not just anything – and not necessarily more blogs.
I have three pieces in the works, three completely different manuscripts that I want to see through to the end this year: one for traditional publishing, one intended for eBook publishing, and one a collaborative comic book / graphic novel.
Here’s a snippet into each one:
I love words. Books, especially. I even read my favorite TV shows, watching them with the closed-captioning turned on so I can understand every piece of dialogue. And my favorite musicians? They’re wordsmiths and poets. Let’s be honest, no one grows to love Dylan because of his harmonica playing.
And yet despite the power that words hold, language oftentimes feels like a stool missing a leg. It’s wobbly. It teeters. It’s uncomfortable. Words, for all the good they do, oftentimes fail us.
For example, if tonight, a street preacher asked me if I knew God, I’d answer yes. I have an ongoing relationship with the Lord that, like any relationship, has ups and downs – and yet remains a constant foundation in my life. And if that same fictional preacher followed his initial question with another, asking if the Lord knew me, I would again answer in the affirmative. But I don’t quite mean the same thing, do I?
The prophet Jeremiah said that man should not boast in “wisdom… might… or riches.” But instead, “Let him who boats, boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord.”
How do I know God? I know Him through an intimate, personal connection. I know Him by the works I have seen Him perform in my life, and in the lives of others. I know Him by the words of the prophets and followers who have gone before us. I know Him by the wise council of others. I know Him because He has spoken, and continues to speak, to me.
And yet, it doesn’t quite seem fair to the English language, or to the Lord for that matter, that we use the same word, “know,” for the way that the Father interacts with us.
Back to the prophet Jeremiah, and some of the first words God spoke to him: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart for my holy purpose.”
And it certainly doesn’t stop there. The Psalmist says that God had all our days ordained before one of them came to be; He keeps track of all our sorrows, collecting our tears in bottles; He knows our words before we speak them, our destinations before we leave, our thoughts before they materialize. He is before us and behind us, with a steady hand to guide us. Jesus even took it a step farther, calling Himself a “good shepherd,” one who knows His sheep by name – and His sheep recognize His voice.
So yes, I know God. But not quite – actually, not even close – to the way that God knows me. There is quite a distinction between “knowing” God, and being “known” by Him. And I think at least part of that distinction is anticipation.
If we know someone, or something, we can anticipate its actions.
That’s why sports teams watch film of their upcoming opponents – the more they know, the more they can anticipate and exploit the opposing team’s strategies.
That’s why we say special adults – mostly moms and teachers – have eyes in the back of their heads. They know kids, and can anticipate the (mostly stupid) things they’ll do.
The Father knows us like that – through and through.
We may use the same word, but danger comes when we think we know God the way He knows us – when we start to anticipate His actions. It is then that we tread into the dangerous territory of remaking God in our own image.
We think we know God enough to assume He’d never call us to leave our comfort behind; He’d never ask us to blindly follow Him without knowing our destination; He wouldn’t be so bold as to ask us to do things counterintuitive to our best laid plans for our lives.
And yet, that’s precisely what God did with Abraham; Moses; Joseph… the list goes on and on.
God knows us. I mean, really knows us. Which means He can be trusted. He can be followed. But it doesn’t mean we can anticipate His next move. Which, while being scary, somehow also manages to be quite comforting at the same time. Who wants to follow a God we can anticipate? Where’s the adventure in that?
Here’s to a New Year of knowing God, one that’s full of unanticipated blessings.
Behind Magdalen College, at the University of Oxford, is a beautiful, well-worn footpath – Addison’s Walk. The path weaves around a small island in the River Cherwell. Late one September night, 1931, J.R.R. Tolkien, Hugo Dyson, and C.S. Lewis took to the walk to continue an earlier conversation.
Tolkien desired Lewis to consider an idea: that Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection were a myth (a story which explains a widely-held belief) that was also historically accurate and true.
Nine days later, after a motorcycle ride to a local zoo, Lewis assented to the idea, writing that he must have been “the most reluctant, dejected convert in all of England.” And from there, you probably know the rest of the story.
Later, Lewis would pen a poem about that night: What the Bird Said Early in the Year. It seems an appropriate place to start a new year.
If only we could understand the good things God has in store for us this – and then choose to trust and follow Him?
It’s January 1st. The gates of adventure are thrown apart. May we, every day this year, hasten through them.
What the Bird Said Early in the Year - C.S. Lewis
I heard in Addison's Walk a bird sing clear:
This year the summer will come true. This year. This year
Winds will not strip the blossom from the apples trees
This year, nor want of rain destroy the peas
This year, time's nature will no more defeat you.
Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.
This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn, one year older, by the well worn track.
This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.
Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Quick, quick, quick, quick! - the gates are drawn apart.
This time last year – 364 days ago, to be exact – I was under a bit of stress. 2013 was quickly drawing to a close, and I still didn’t know what my New Year's resolution would be. In the past, I’d tackled goals like publishing my first book (check), running my first marathon (not a check), and reading the entire Bible (check). Time was running out, and my back was against the wall.
It was in those final days of the year that I ran across a blog by one of my favorite writers (and perpetual challengers) Jon Acuff. In 2014, he was initiating the Empty Shelf Challenge. The idea was simple: empty a bookshelf in your house, and then resolve to fill it with the books you’d read in the coming year. A little brain stimulation sounded like just what I needed. I’d found my challenge.
I was so confident that I actually cleared off two bookshelves. But life as a full-time husband, writer, and children’s & youth pastor wasn’t always conducive to loads of quiet reading time. In fact, this challenge came down to wire – like-the-last-two-days-of-the-year-wire.
I began the challenge, back in January, by documenting my progress with a separate blog for each book I’d conquered. And honestly, it was exhausting. I was reading books much faster than I could write about them. The pile was growing larger and larger by the day.
Then, over Thanksgiving break, just when I thought I might not make it, I found freedom in some honest feedback.
“Caleb, you write too much about books. It’s boring. Go back to what you used to do.”
Just what I needed to hear, Mary. Thank you! I promise, this will be my last book blog, at least for a while.
So here it is. All tied up with a pretty bow on top: the end of the Empty Shelf Challenge; a check mark by 2014’s resolution. It took twenty-nine books for the shelf to be filled. And while writing the blogs may have been a chore, the reading never was. LeVar Burton knew what he was talking about – take a look, it’s in a book... you know the rest, right?
The reading is sure to continue into 2015. But don’t worry Mary, I won’t write about it... too much.
Cue the drum roll. Without further ado, the last eleven books to make it onto the shelf. Want to check out the other books that made it onto the shelf? Click here to work your way, backward, through my year of reading.
Take that 2014...
One day, I’d love to coach cross-country.
I caught the running bug in sixth grade, and did so competitively through high school graduation. But I still haven’t stopped. Next time you’re driving on Todds Road, Deer Haven, or Polo Club, keep an eye out. You just might spot me.
Varsity cross-country races are 5Ks – 3.1 miles. And while you run hard, leaving it all out on the course, the races always end the same: with a dead sprint to the end. I’m not exactly sure where it comes from – somewhere deep inside – but when the finish line comes into view, inexplicably, there’s just enough gas left in the tank for one last, strong push.
After working so hard, running your heart out for nearly three miles, the last thing you want is to get beaten in the final steps of the race. And conversely, there’s nothing more satisfying than zooming past a competitor just as they think their position is secure. Cross-country is about a three-mile slow burn, and a bafflingly strong finish.
On Saturday morning, I got a text message from a dear friend; a mentor who is endlessly encouraging and yet always challenging my faith to bloom and grow.
This is how it read:
“Make sure you are completing the tasks this month that The Lord called you to this year. Leave nothing undone in 2014.”
This year has been a slow burn.
So far, we’ve had 348 days. But we’re getting down to the wire. The finish line is coming into view.
You’ve got sixteen days left. Two weeks and two days to achieve all that you wanted to achieve; finish all that you wanted to finish; begin the big project you’ve never dared to begin.
So my question is the same as my mentor's.
Have you completed everything the Lord called you to this year? And if not, its time to hope on that horse and ride hard.
The last thing you want is to get passed at the finish line.
I’ve been a children’s minister for a little over a year now. And I must confess, until last month, I really slacked in the worship department.
In my K – 5th grade classroom, we spend lots of time on games; on learning how to use the Bible; on reading scripture and acting it out in funny voices; on crafts. But worship? Not so much.
And then, a few weeks ago, I felt God persistently nudging me. It was time. If scripture is any indication, the King loves praise from the young and innocent, from the unfiltered and unashamed. So two weeks ago, I grabbed my guitar and taught the kids a song that I love: Good, Good Father. It was brand-new to every single one of them; and since some of the children can’t even read yet, it wasn’t exactly a Hillsong experience.
After some insight from more experienced and incredible children’s pastors, I realized that to pigeonhole “worship” into to just “music and song” was pretty shortsighted. Fast-forward to yesterday.
Psalm 22:3 says that God is enthroned on the praises of Israel. To withhold our praise, our thankfulness, our gratitude, is to rob the King of His throne. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, the children were each given a piece of paper and tasked with filling it up with all the good things God has given them as blessings. What are they thankful for? What should they have gratitude for? What praise can they give back to their Father?
And as a way to continue to teach them the song Good, Good Father, it played in the background as they worshipped through art and creativity.
I’ve led scores of worship experiences, and been part of many more, but there was something so very pure about seeing children express their love through thankfulness. They were focused. Authentic. Honest. They thanked God for things like their family and friends; UK basketball and video games; Halloween and butterflies.
And more than once, I caught kids focused on their papers, but mouthing the lyrics to the song I thought none of them would remember. “You’re a good, good Father / it’s who You are / it’s who You are / it’s who You are.”
A good God, worthy of praise, who’s given us warm homes, food, football, scooters, and pet food.
There’s so much goodness to be soaked up. And that’s really what gratitude is all about. Even though I can’t afford to buy a house, or a new car, or even all the Christmas presents I want to get my wife, I have a good, good Father who has given me so much – and I pass nearly every day without acknowledging any of it. I get buried under workloads, assignments, bills, and never pause to say “thank you.”
Gratitude is a wall – each time we choose to embrace it, to name the things that have been handed down to us direct from the hand of God, we add another brick. We’re building a stronghold in our heart; a castle that the forces of darkness will never be able to conquer. Just as salt water and fresh water can’t spring from the same source, joy and an ungrateful heart cannot both beat within the same chest.
Nothing will build that fortress, that safe place where we experience God, as effectively as simple, child-like gratitude. It will chase away the darkness as quickly as a sermon, a song, or a prayer.
Today, I read the words of King David in a new light. And though he penned them thousands of year ago, they ring so true, they could have been written yesterday morning, while thirty kids worked diligently to express their love to a good, good Father.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.”
_ Psalm 8:2
A sample of the children's praise - click an image to enlarge it.
The 18th book of year is The Dude... but you can use "His Dudeness, or Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing."
Does art imitate life?
Or does life imitate art?
We could talk ourselves in circles about that, but the answer is simple, really.
Yes – to both questions.
I’m a creative. I love books and music; art and movies; photography and wood crafting. But it’s much more than just for consumptions sake. Art isn’t a sugary sweet treat that makes life a little brighter, a pick-me-up on a rainy day. It is essential. It is a lens through which to see. It is a salve that heals; food that empowers. It is a teacher, opening doors in our minds we never realized were closed.
As a Christian, art, for me, is a reflection of the original Creator. Humans can’t help but create, because we were made in the image of One who does the same. The creative process, then, becomes a holy process – a tangible way of connecting with the Heavenly Father.
Samuel when to Shiloh to meet with God. I sit in my yellow chair and write.
In each medium, I have artists whose work ushers me right into the throne room of God. In painting, it’s Van Gogh. In literature, C.S. Lewis. In music, everything from the Mountain Goats to Sigur Ros to Beautiful Eulogy. And in film, it comes down to three people: Wes Anderson, and the duo known as the Coen Brothers.
That’s an interesting pairing, I know. Wes Anderson creates quirky, colorful, indie romps. The Coes paint their films with brooding, murder, and shadow. And yet in both of their works, I find myself being taught lessons about the Father, His love, and the true meaning of grace and redemption.
The first Coen film I loved was The Big Lebowski. But it certainly doesn’t stop there. Fargo is a masterpiece examining the nature of evil; O Brother Where Art Thou? asks questions about motives and redemption; No Country for Old Man preaches a sermon on the importance of time; and True Grit paints a picture of faith like a child. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of the sixteen feature-length films Joel and Ethan have directed.
Knowing my love for all things Coen, my good friend Jarrod passed on this little treasure he picked up for seventy-five cents at McKay Used Books in Knoxville. The premise is simple. Chicago Sun-Times religion columnist, Cathleen Falsani, viewed each of the Coen’s films in order of their release. Each chapter corresponds to a different film, starting with an overview of the storyline, before being intercut with the author’s thoughts on how the film ties to faith. As is the case with great art, most of the films ask more questions than they provide answers, but each one does leave the audience a nugget of truth, something to continue to mine out long after the lights have come up.
I flew through The Dude Abides, finishing it in only three days. Which is a good thing, because I’ve got a lot more books to read if I’m going to fill up this shelf by the end of the year.
The problem now? There’s so much reading to complete, and all I really want to do is go watch more Coen Brothers films.
Worth a Second Read? Recommend to Others?
The content of the book was pretty light, which made it a very easy read. I’d certainly recommend it to other fans of film, especially those with a bent toward the Coen Brothers. Personally, I’d probably not read the book from cover-to-cover again, but I would certainly reference different chapters as I continue to march my way through the Coen’s filmography. Although the author and I didn’t often agree on the messages or themes of the films, it was interesting to hear another’s thoughts. But its all good, cause “that’s, uh, just like her opinion, man.”
Gave is a: