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.

The Cabin.

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When I was younger, an abandoned house stood at the back of my family’s 265 acre property in Mississippi.  Nestled around a wooded area, this cabin had stood for over a century.  If I’m honest, I really didn’t know much about the history of the home.  I know a family lived there.  I know it was built in the late 1800’s with no plumbing or running water.  And I know my grandparents had a dream.  They had a dream of turning it into something that would bring our family together, a place where we could find rest.  A little over a decade ago, my grandfather had the house moved from the back of the property up on a hill overlooking a pond.  Day after day, week after week, my grandfather and his crew worked on the house, building what we would affectionately call “the cabin”.  You see, my grandmother had always wanted to renovate the cabin as far back as I can remember, to turn it into a place where we could gather for holidays, weekend sleep-overs, weddings, and summer cookouts as a retreat from our busy lives.  My grandmother’s dream was finally coming true.

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The cabin was stocked with a wood stove, beloved antiques, heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, and more love than you could ever imagine.  My grandfather rebuilt the cabin from the ground up as an act of love for our family.  My grandmother planted a garden in the back with the most delicious vegetables and beautiful flowers you could find.  We roasted hotdogs on the back patio, told stories, watched the stars come out at night.  We swam and we fished.  We rode ATV’s, or as we called them, 4-wheelers.  We curled up and watched movies at night.  It was one of the most magical places in the world.

Then, we lost it.

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We don’t know how the fire started.  We don’t even know when it started.  We simply pulled into the drive and the remains of the heartbeat of our family were revealed to us.  Devastated.  Upset.  Angry.  These are just some of the emotions we felt.  You can still hear the emotion building up inside of my grandmother’s heart every time we talk about it.  Things are just things, but the cabin was our thing.  And we lost it.

But here’s what I know about loss–

Loss can either bring a family together or tear it apart.  The choice is ours.  Loss makes us realize that we are not immortal.  That our every day lives are just that–here one day and gone the next.  Nothing is guaranteed for tomorrow.  Loss can paralyze you if you let it.  Not knowing where to turn or what to do next are two powerful character traits of loss.

But, loss also has the power to move us forward.  Remembering the heart behind the things we have and do, loss gives us the ability to see the world differently.  Sure, the building is gone, but the feeling of the cabin, what happened there will stay with us forever.

I don’t know about your own loss and what you’re going through, but I want you to know that God loves you and He’s walking with you every step you take.  And when fear creeps in, when you’re afraid to take the smallest of steps, remember where you’ve been isn’t the end of the story.  Focus your attention on who you’re becoming.  Don’t let this stop you in your tracks.  Recently, I read Love Lives Here by Maria Goff.  She and her family lost a family lodge to a fire a few years ago.  In her book, she writes, “It won’t be the fires that destroy our lives and our faith, it will be obsessing over not getting burned again that will”.  So, please, take that step.  It’s worth it, I promise.

My Verse for 2018.

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“So, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you–take your everyday life–your sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life, and place it before God as an offering.  Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.  Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without thinking.  Instead, fix your attention on God.  You’ll be changed from the inside out.  Readily recognize what he wants from you and quickly respond to it.  Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to it’s level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.  [Romans 12:1-2 MSG]

As I approached the end of 2017, I prayed for a verse that would be a reminder for me in 2018, a symbol of hope.  2017 was a crazy year for my wife and I.  There were definitely more lows than highs, and I was desperately seeking a breakthrough.  Little did I know that 2017 was only the beginning of what God is doing.  I found this verse in the Message version.  Previously, I was never a fan of the message version, but as I’ve gotten older, something about it just speaks to ways I can’t describe, directly into my heart.  My goals this year have been fairly simple:  to grow professionally and spiritually, to not get dragged down by this world, and to come closer to God.

In the beginning of 2018, I had an interview for a promotion at a school that I’ve dreamed of working.  It came down to myself and one other person.  The other person was chosen.  Then, in May, I had an opportunity again for two different positions.  I didn’t receive an offer for those positions either.  Many people would wonder, “Trey… why are you telling us this?  Your resume must be horrible!”  Maybe?  Maybe not.

I’m telling you this because we all go through seasons in our life where nothing (and I mean NOTHING) works out the way we expect.  True, I think I go through these seasons more times than not, but there’s something magical that is happening here that I’ll talk more about in the weeks and months to come.  I feel like my eyes are opening wide and my breathes are deep.  I’m seeing things in a completely new perspective, something I’ve prayed for so long.

I wonder…  What if our most desperate prayers are being answered… just not in the way we expect?  What if all of these set backs are preparing us for a move into something different and new that we didn’t think to be possible before?  These are the questions I’m wondering because throughout this entire year, God has been doing something that I can’t seem to put my finger on.  And I’m in the midst of it.  I’m not sure what it is.  Dreams that I didn’t think possible have been given new life.  New desires to grow and learn are emerging.  A journey is beginning, and to be honest, I’m here for it.  I’m ready.  I hope you’ll join me.