My Word and Verse for 2019…

I usually don’t pick a single word for a year. I’ve actually never done it. Last year, around July, when I had yet another let-down in my career, I kept seeing the word “bold” over and over. So, to myself, I declared that word for the second half of the year. And in order for me to move forward in the direction I wanted to go, bold was definitely what I had to be.

I had originally decided I wouldn’t pick a word for 2019. I always pick a verse. Last year was Romans 12:1-2. This year is Micah 7:7. Then, for our New Year’s service, our pastor encouraged us to spend time reflecting and pick a word as an anchor to come back to for 2019, and that we would practice this as a church for the upcoming year. So, when Pastor Kev tells you do to something, you do it!

My word for 2019 is: BUILD.

My verse for 2019 is:

“But me, I’m not giving up.
    I’m sticking around to see what God will do.
I’m waiting for God to make things right.
    I’m counting on God to listen to me.

Micah 7:7

I want 2019 to not be about me, but what choices and decisions I am making as I build the things for the future–the future right in front of me, and the future for generations to come. What impact am I making today that will last through my children, my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren, and beyond?

That’s what I want 2019 to be about. Am I planting roots so my family has a place to call home? Am I focusing on my health a little more than last year so that I can be present and active in the lives of my family? Am I saving, working, striving in such a way that will positively impact the success of my family for generations to come? Am I investing in the health of my marriage, building a solid foundation on which we stand?

That’s 2019 for me. We’re building something, God and Ashlynn and I. Our hands will get dirty. It’s going to be messy. It will be bitter and sweet, because we’re waiting, sticking around to see what God will do!

2018:

When I was younger, my dad gave me a piece of advice that I find to be absolutely true. He told me the older I get, the faster time will pass by. Truer words have never been spoken. Time is elusive to me. It’s something that I strive to hold on to. After all, if you’ve read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman, my love language is quality time, so that would make perfect sense. I just don’t want to let it go. I know that seasons shift and when that happens, everything shifts along with it, so I try my hardest to cherish the joys of the season I’m in because I know I could wake up any day now, and it would all be over. I simply can’t believe that it’s 2019! As I’ve gotten older, just like my dad told me, time seems to pass in a flash. In many ways, it feels as though 2018 went by slow, but in others, it feels like a blur. So much happened in 2018. Even though it felt like it went by in a flash, it feels like three years were almost crammed into one.

2018 was quite the year. God changed me this year… In ways I wanted to be changed, and in ways that He had to work deeply within me from the inside out.

When 2018 began, I was coming off of what was, in some ways, the most challenging year I had faced as an adult. In 2017, my marriage had been challenged in ways it never had. I was forced to make a decision in my career that I didn’t want to make. I felt lost and was searching for something. The problem was I didn’t know what what I was looking for.

As 2018 began, I had an interview lined up for a position at Ole Miss, almost 4 hours south of where we had lived in Nashville. It was for a position well-aligned with my professional experience and how I wanted to take my next steps. The interview came and went. It was honestly the best interview that I had ever experienced. I conveyed my work ethic, my leadership goals and experiences, my humor and light-heartedness, and my love for Ole Miss. I was almost sure I had the job. All the while, I was praying, praying probably harder than I’ve ever prayed, and a verse kept appearing in random places over and over. It started in December 2017 soon after I received a call for the interview, and I saw it over and over again through the beginning of January. God knows me. He knows that I’m stubborn and hard-headed and just need things to be drilled in my head. I should really learn to be more receptive. It would probably make my life so much easier. So, there I was, staring at this verse:

“Be alert! Be present! I am about to do something brand new!” -Isaiah 43:19 (MSG)

I was for sure this was God’s sign to me that this was it! I even wrote down a timeline in my journal leading up to this very moment. I was ready for God to lead us to Ole Miss, to do something new within us. Little did I know that my idea of something brand new and God’s idea of something brand new were totally different.

I didn’t get the job. I was devastated. I mean, absolutely devastated. I felt like I was in some alternate universe. Had I missed something here? I felt completely betrayed by God. I felt like I had been teased, led along this path that turned out to be nothing short of a joke. I felt like it was all for nothing. All the hard work. All the time that I invested… it was all for nothing. I felt like everything I thought had been a sign from God was just completely coincidence–that God wasn’t even there. He wasn’t near me and He definitely wasn’t interested in helping me. This was probably the most angry I had ever been at God.

The next few months were brutal. I mean, absolutely brutal. I was angry, depressed, and defeated. I felt hopeless. Over the spring months into summer, I had two more job interviews. One was at Ole Miss and the other was in Nashville. They both didn’t work out. When I heard the news that the job in Nashville had not worked out, I hit what I called rock-bottom, although it honestly could have gotten much worse than that. To me, that was the final straw and I had nothing left to do, nothing left to control, and I was truly at the end of my rope.

That was my turning point. I always hear that you will find God at the end of your rope, and I really believe that. But, you see, I had never lost God. I always knew He was there, whether I was mad about the events unfolding or not. One thing I can honestly say is that through it all, I always felt God’s love. Even though I felt betrayed and was angry, underneath it all, I felt a nudge that I wasn’t alone. The issue was that I chose to ignore it for a while. During this time, I think I finally just gave everything to Him. I started living my life in such a way that it was His and I was going to do what He asked of me. I’ve always strived for that, but this time, it got to the point where I didn’t have a choice. I felt like God had broken down so many barriers to where all I had left inside of me was Him. I had given up on everything else. That day, it was like God removed the blindfold from my eyes. I could see God working over the course of 2017 and 2018. I didn’t fully understand everything and I still don’t, but I saw that where I thought God had abandoned me, he was actually showing me that He was working and moving in my life. I just didn’t realize it because I thought He should be doing a certain thing. And I was wrong.

That’s the beautiful thing. God loves us regardless of our shortcomings and what I’m learning is that when we feel the most hopeless, when it seems like God is sitting down on the job the most, that’s usually when He’s working in us the most. Shortly after I didn’t get the job in Nashville, I had two opportunities come up, completely unexpected. One was something that I had been suppressing for years, and the other was completely out of the blue. It was something I never expected. More on these things later though! If I could sum up 2018 into one statement, it would be this–

God is who He says He is whether He does what I want Him to or not.

It was a matter of pealing back layers to help me realize some tough things about myself. My pride. My selfishness. My ambition over His will. All I really want is to live an incredible life with the people I love serving a God that has never left me. And this year showed me so much in relation to that goal.

The picture above has become somewhat of a special place to me. It sits on top of a hill. This is where Ashlynn and I made the choice to stay, to weather the storm, and see what brand-new thing God was going through us. I’m so glad we did.

Life and Death.

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I had a thought yesterday.  I’m still unpacking this mentally, so just go with me on this.  Have you ever noticed that, as believers, even though something dies, it always breathes new life again in some way?  The thing itself may not breathe new life, but it always leads to new life.

Lately, I’m seeing it everywhere.

I see it in nature.  The leaves are about to change here in Nashville.  They will wilt and dry away and die.  But, in the spring, they’re coming back to life again.  Every single year this happens.  What a reminder that, in life, there are seasons of growth and seasons of death, but life always follows death.

I see it in my career.  God has given me a new list of hopes and dreams that frankly, scare me to death.  But, they’re all coming to life and it’s absolutely beautiful.

I see it in my church.  For those of you who don’t know, our pastor resigned a little over two years ago, and for the past year, God has brought new life to our church in ways I didn’t think were possible.

This reminds me of Natalie Grant’s song, “Clean”.  It says–

What was dead now lives again
My heart’s beating, beating inside my chest
Oh I’m coming alive with joy and destiny
‘Cause You’re restoring me piece by piece

It happens all around us.  It happened to Jesus and it happens to us, but I hope that these examples show evidence that even though we can’t see it, and even though we can’t feel it, God will breathe new life into us again.  Why?  Because He promised.

This is what God says,
    the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
    who carves a path through pounding waves,
The God who summons horses and chariots and armies—
    they lie down and then can’t get up;
    they’re snuffed out like so many candles:
“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.
Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’
    —the coyotes and the buzzards—
Because I provided water in the desert,
    rivers through the sun-baked earth,
Drinking water for the people I chose,
    the people I made especially for myself,
    a people custom-made to praise me.

Isaiah 43:18-21 (The Message)

TWO THINGS.

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Does anyone remember the old days of blogging?  Back when this whole blogging thing was somewhat new and we didn’t really know what to do with it?  You know… before analytics, hits, branding, and marketing became the primary focus?  I’ve been a fan of blogs for years, but I really miss the old days (or so I call it) of blogging where we weren’t simply given content, but we were given something more authentic, and many times, a fresh look into their lives.  Many of us have learned the hard way of what to share and what not to share on the internet, and I support that motion 100%, but there was something raw and real about the old days.  I don’t know.  I woke up reminiscent this morning, so I want this blog post to be more like that.

This weekend, we hiked to Stillhouse Hollow Falls just out of Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee.  Ashlynn and I both had the craziest of weeks.  I can’t speak for Ashlynn, but for me, it was one for the record books.  I headed home Friday afternoon simply dumbfounded by the events that had unfolded over the week.  If I’m honest, it’s like this every year around this time, but this week got to me on a different level.  For me, (in true enneagram 7 style) escaping is my coping mechanism.  So, Saturday morning, we got up, had breakfast, headed just south of Nashville to enjoy the day.  This hike was incredible, very short, just around a mile and a half.  Coming back is completely uphill, and it reminded that I was in much better shape when we hiked Mt. Leconte a few years ago.  After that, we drove to Mt. Pleasant and walked around Main Street before heading back to Nashville.  It was refreshing getting outdoors, even if only a few miles south of where we live.

This weekend reminded me of two things I’d like to share:

  1.  Take time to rest.  One of my favorite things is to hit the open road with Ashlynn to places we’ve never been.  It feeds my soul, and friends, we must invest the time to feed our souls and allow ourselves the rest we need to do the work God lays in front of us.  The quote, “You can’t pour from an empty cup” is so cliche’, yet so true.  God has given us all a task, and we have to remember to take care of ourselves so that we can do the work!  And don’t believe the lie that it’s a selfish thing to do.  I’ve learned as I’m turning into an old man that I do my best work when I allow myself to rest.  It may look like something completely different for you.  For me, it’s traveling near and far, spending time with the people that know me best, being outdoors, reading, writing, and cooking.  Find what feeds your soul and allow yourself permission to spend time doing those things.
  2. Keep doing the work.  This week, I’ve been cussed out, chewed out, and lied about to my leadership team.  This world will bring you down, but please remember that we’re not of this world.  We are set apart.  Remember that.  And when the world has torn you to pieces, take time to rest, get back up, and keep fighting.  If you are at all compassionate, caring, generous, you will get hurt.  It’s inevitable, but please keep doing the work, making a difference where we work and live.  We need people like you to show us glimpses of God’s love.  Without the work you’re doing, what kind of world would we live in?  We need people that show love to others.  We need people that want to help others.  We need people that get up everyday and do the work despite the toxic environment they’re in so that others can find their way.

SUMMER 2018: A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE.

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Although summer is far from over, for Ashlynn and I, the start of August starts the transition into fall.  I’m wrapping up teaching my summer classes and helping students get enrolled for the fall semester.  Ashlynn has returned to her school where she will begin a new year teaching fourth grade.  We always like this time of year.  We love getting into a routine, getting things done.  This has been a wild summer for us and we can’t believe it’s coming to a close.

So much has happened this summer.

We moved into a new neighborhood.  Family visited.  One of our very good friends stayed with us while he transitioned to a new professional role here in Nashville.

We traveled to Mississippi and Chicago.

I took a step towards a career in writing.

Old wounds that have been haunting me for the past 15 years resurfaced.

I didn’t get the job that I had prayed for.

By default, I’m the type of person that is always living in constant expectation.  It’s just how I’m wired.  I’m always looking for God in everything, looking for signs and ways he reveals himself.  This year, one thing I have struggled with has been believing that I see God in certain places and areas, but then I turn out to be wrong.  I hear a voice in my head saying, “That wasn’t God.  That was your imagination” or “You really think that was God?”  First, that voice is a liar and I know this, but I’m learning something from the events that have unfolded.  What if it really was God.  What if he’s always been showing up and responding to every prayer I have, even though I can’t see it?  My perspective for the first half of this year has been a constant let down by God if I’m being honest.  Places I’ve seen him, songs I’ve felt him, nudges that have moved me, all seemed to be going in a direction I didn’t understand–I still don’t understand.  But, what if all of these nudges and feelings and glimpses were him preparing me for what he has for me… not what I have for myself?

In late spring, I got a call for an interview.  It was everything I thought I wanted.  It was working with high school students preparing them for college level courses.  It was a remote position, working from home, and traveling to various schools within a 4-county region.  It sounded like a dream.

My interview came and went.  It went great!  Then, I prayed.

I prayed in my sleep.  I prayed on my way to and from work.  I prayed at church.  I prayed at dinner.  I prayed at… you get the point.  I even drove to where I had my interview twice and prayed for God to provide.  My prayer was something like this:  God, we just want your best for our lives, and if this is your will, please open this door.  You know the desires of my heart and if this is what you have for me, please let it happen.

Well, it didn’t.  A month passed by with no word.  Finally, I received an email saying they had filled the position.

That email was the third rejection of 2018.  But that rejection got me thinking… What does God really want for my life?  Am I missing something?  And if I’m honest, I don’t have the answer.  I don’t know the extent of what God is up to, but do we really EVER know the extent of what God is up to?  Isn’t that where faith comes in?  All I know is this:  I’m passionate about lifting others.  I want others to know the God I know and how much he loves me.  Writing has been on my heart my entire life, but it’s always taken a backseat.  This rejection has made me take a look at myself, what I want, and what God wants.

All year, I have been praying for a breakthrough and felt like God either didn’t hear or was ignoring me.  But, what if the rejection letter WAS my breakthrough.  What if that was a catalyst to something greater?  It comes down to trust, something that I struggle with daily.  I’ve lived long enough to know that God reveals himself when it is his perfect timing.  Still, I’m impatient and I want things when I want it.  How comforting it is to know that we have a God that knows us better than we know ourselves.

So, please keep praying.  Please keep seeking.  And even though you don’t understand, one day soon, God will shift your perspective and open your eyes into what he is doing in your life.  That I can promise you.