The Earth is my Treadmill


The day before my first half marathon, and my nerves were really setting in last night and this morning. More excitement than anything I think. I drove the course this morning, plotting out water stations and scoping out the elevation. I gotta say it’s a beautiful course…starts on Market Street with an amazing view of the Arch, passes by Busch Stadium and the old courthouse building, City Museum, the Fox Theatre and the campus of SLU before heading south past the Botanical Garden and through Tower Grove Park, circling Lafayette Park and finishing back near the start line with another great view of the Arch in the background…not to mention all the beautiful neighborhoods with gorgeous architecture! The elevation is pretty level, with at least one awesome stretch of moderate downhill for about a half mile near mile six. All uphill runs are short, a block or two at most. The pavement is uneven…potholes and sewer covers abound. For the last six miles of the course, I had two cars following me, doing the same thing. Haha.

Afterward, I went through the expo, registered and picked up my bib, swag bag and freebies. Got checked into the hotel, ate a sub sandwich for lunch, picked your mom up from work and finished up some last minute errands before settling into the room for a few hours for some stretching and a short nap. We walked up Market Street to scope out the start/finish area for your mom, and one carb-filled meal and a snack later, I’m laying down for the night, what I pray is a restful night.

God has eased my anxiety, removed the nervousness and replaced it with a confidence in knowing I’ve done all I can to prepare. All my pre-race preparations are done. I’m physically prepared. I’m mentally ready. Over 160 miles ran in 4 months. Running in the heat. Running in the humidity. Running in the rain. Running in the cold. Running in the cold rain. Waking up to run in the wee hours of the morning before the birds are even awake. Staying up to run late at night. Running through the pain. Repeatedly pushing my body past the point of exhaustion and failure. Countless hours of training my mind to accept a new comfort zone. And baby, it all comes down to this!!! One race and only 13.1 miles stand between me and the finish line. “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Donald Walsch

No matter where I place or how well I do, I’m already a winner. I’m walking alongside Christ in this life, secure in my eternal destination. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”Phil 3:12-14.

I am not yet the man God has called me to be…but I try every day to be him. With each day, I struggle to let more of me out and let more of Christ in. That is big part of what motivates me to keep running…with each pounding of my foot against the pavement, I envision my weakness and imperfections leaving my body and Christ’s love and strength replacing them. When I’ve fulfilled God’s purpose for my life here on Earth, He will call me home and I pray, reward me with seven words…”Well done my good and faithful servant.” Until then, “The Earth Is My Treadmill.”




A Change of Plans

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Summer. When you hear the word summer, the mind takes you down memory lane, and there are several activities that quickly come to mind that are forever associated with summer. For me, I remember spending almost every day at the pool. It was only 3 blocks from the house, well within walking distance, and we were there almost every day. As I became a dad, I found myself longing to be able to provide awesome summer memories for you…spending the hot days in a pool. It’s a little more difficult here, though. The nearest pool is 2 miles away, so it’s not like we could easily just walk back and forth throughout the day. We tried the inflatable popup pool here at the house for several years, but it seems we kept popping holes in it, so it never really worked out for us. I’d given up that dream until about three weeks ago. Some dear friends from church offered to give us their pool, because it seems they hadn’t used it in a while and knew that our family would get some enjoyment out of it. The fire in my eyes and the dream of providing a pool for you was once again alive and well.

I enthusiastically went and helped take it down, disassembling it piece by piece and bringing it home in two trips. I borrowed a hand tiller from a friend and got to work tearing up the grass and top layer of dirt. With your mom’s help, we hauled out all the loose dirt and grass, placing it in varying spots throughout the yard to build up the grade of the yard for better rainwater drainage. That process alone took two days. You all even helped in your own ways, using your snow shovels or my little hand garden trowel to move dirt from the circle into the wheel barrow. And then, the plan was put on hold.

It started out with a day of rain. And then it rained again…and again…and again. For the last three weeks, when I’ve been at work for two days straight, it’s been beautiful and sunny…great weather to be installing a pool. And then I come home…and it rains It’s rained so much that the circle of mud is taking 2 days or more to dry out after each rain. I even went out last night and spent 45 minutes bailing water out by hand with a scoop shovel. My hope was that by getting the bulk of the water out, the rest would evaporate and/or run off quicker, allowing me time the following afternoon and evening to get out to finish leveling the stones and moving dirt. Well, I’m typing this note now instead of working on the pool, so you can guess how well that worked. I woke up this morning to find as much water as the day before…before I bailed water for 45 minutes. It didn’t rain overnight, so the ground is so saturated that runoff from the neighbor’s yard and other parts of our yard is all collecting in the circle. I work the next two days, and it’s supposed to be nice and warm…no rain in the forecast. So it will have had a good 3-4 days to dry out by this weekend. My first day home is supposed to be no rain, followed by rain in the forecast the following day. I have a short window of opportunity it appears.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not completely the fault of rain that has kept me from working on it. Last Saturday was a perfect day to finish the project. Problem there was that I worked Thursday and Friday, had only 6 hours of sleep in those 48 hours, and came home to run in a 5K. After the race, my body felt like I’d just finished a half marathon. I was spent. So I laid down for a nap in the mid-morning and crashed for 5 hours. When I woke up…it started raining. I blew my opportunity to get some work done.

Last night as I was bailing water out by hand with a scoop shovel, I had bailed for about 10 minutes in one area, and I had that little low spot almost clear of all water when I stopped to revel in my accomplishment. As I sat there resting, proud of clearing the water from that hole, I noticed it. Water was slowly running back into the area. I thought the area I had chosen to toss the water would direct the water out of the yard, but it didn’t. It slowly trickled its way right back into the hole. That was it for last night. I’d bailed as much water as I could. At least the other 35 minutes of bailing water would help. Nope. By morning, water from around the yard and the neighbor’s yard had worked its way in, negating all my hard work.

Our spiritual life is like that too, I think. At least mine is. I work for days…weeks…months to develop a stronger relationship with God. I read the Bible, do a daily devotion, attend church 1-2 times a week, take part in a small group, am actively involved in several ministries, fellowship with other believers…live the life. And then wham! All that hard work is ruined by my weakness. I fall into sin again. Sometimes the fall is brief. Other times, it’s for longer periods. Either way, all my effort is negated by a momentary act of weakness. I work tirelessly and with passion to seek after God and to be more like Christ each day…and then I make a choice to let my flesh win out over Him. The water I’m bailing from the yard, comes right back. And so does the temptation to sin. In the yard, there are times I can see the water coming in, either flowing in on the surface or falling from the sky as rain. Conversely, there are times I can’t see it coming in, as it seeps up from the ground underneath the surface.

In my spiritual life, it’s really not much different. Sometimes, the temptations are right there in front of me as they flow back into my life. Other times, they seep up from the under the surface and catch me off guard. Like I have no control of the rain, there are times that temptations are placed before me outside of my will. Other times, like the water that flowed back into the hole because of where I chose to toss it, the temptations are in my life because of my own actions. Either way, how I choose to react to them is my choice alone to make.

As I write this note, it’s been almost three weeks into the pool project with very little progress. I had hoped it would take a week, maybe two at most. I’ve found myself becoming more and more frustrated in the lack of progress. Then this morning, I read Proverbs 19:21Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” And just like that, I’m humbled at my frustration and now see that in my frustration, I’m sinning against God. To think that I have the right to be frustrated because something is not going according to my plans. I’m learning…again…that the plans I have made are not mine to make. It’s not that I’m not supposed to make plans, because going into any project without a plan would also go against God’s will. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,” – Mark 14:28-29 It’s just that I need to be flexible enough…and willing…to adjust my plans, acknowledging all throughout, that God’s plans are bigger than our own, and that my plans are secondary to His. I know He has a plan for this pool, and I know it will get done…in His timing, not mine. I’m sure He is trying to teach me something through this, and I will try better to work my plan around His.

And so goes it with life for you. As you grow into adulthood, you’ll be faced with more and more decisions. As you face those decisions and choices, tackle them with God by your side. Set your own goals aside in lieu of God’s plans for your life. When you’re in the middle of something and it’s not going as you’d planned or hoped, make sure you’re respectful of what God is doing through you…and for you. Take time to reevaluate what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Make sure your plans are aligned with God’s plans. And be prepared to embrace a change of plans now and again.



At War with the Weeds

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There was a time when I had a gorgeous yard.  Not that I put a lot of time, work or effort into keeping it well groomed, mind you.  When we bought the house, the previous owners had apparently done a great job of investing time, sweat and effort into meticulously keeping it well groomed.  The grass was lush and full…not a single bare patch to be found.  There were no dandelions…no crabgrass…no weeds…it was golf course quality grass, that’s for sure.

When I took over as the primary groundskeeper, I put in a valiant effort at keeping it groomed to that standard.  Within a year, as SD made friends with all the neighborhood kids, it became painfully obvious that I was in for a battle of epic proportions.  We bought the playground, and almost instantly our yard became *the* yard to hang out in.  The following year, the trampoline followed, and so did the circle of dead grass under it…and all the socks and shoes left behind from your friends in the neighborhood!  Then came the pool…two years with an 18′ pop-up pool gave us another “crop circle” in the back.  The pool didn’t survive past the second season, and the grass around it has never been the same.  I’m not sure at what point I gave up, but certainly by the time NE and SI came along, I had resigned myself to the notion that I could either raise a yard or raise kids…but not both.

So for several years, I neglected it…only mowing it.  No watering…no over-seeding…no aerating…no weeding…no fertilizing…nothing but the weekly mow.   Within about three summers, my yard had gone from a beautiful landscape of plush, vibrant green to a hodgepodge of barren spots, crabgrass and dandelions…with some good grass mixed in every so often.  My neglect had tarnished what was once a sight to behold.

Fatherhood is like that isn’t it.  I can spend (and certainly will) years, even decades of time, sweat and tears pouring love into you, showing you the love of Christ.  I will devote all my efforts in the next 18 years to bringing you to Christ and helping you strengthen your relationship with Him.  I’ll do so because I have no greater commandment from God but to love Him and love others.  It’s my love for Him…and for you…that drives my passion to live with you on the over side of eternity.  However, once you’re out of my care, I have no control over the person you will become…the choices you will make…the life you will live.  Like the homeowner before me who dutifully tended to my yard when it was in his care, leaving it to me to carry on its care…or neglect…I too must face the day that you are responsible for your own walk of faith.  I will soon face the day that I have to sit back and watch as you continue to flourish in your faith…or allow weeds to grow along your path.

Weeds.  I’ve let the weeds in the yard take over in the past few years, so this year I’ve struck out anew…on a mission to reclaim my little plush plot of land.   Like any good warrior, I spent time learning about my enemy…its tactics…its survival instincts…its strengths…its weaknesses.  I learned all that I could because it’s not until we know our enemy that we can overcome him.  Did you know that the root of the dandelion can grow 10″ deep?  I didn’t…until now.  Had I not known that important piece of information, my methods would not have worked, because I would have simply pulled the visible part of the weed out of the ground…fruitless!  Turns out they also thrive better when there are patches of dead grass.  They seek out and thrive in those areas because there is less competition for sunlight, water and nutrients in the soil.  Makes sense really, but not something I’d given much thought to before now.  Which is how I came to one of the lessons I’ve learned in all of this…that it’s okay for a guy to read the instruction manual from time to time.  Yeah, I know.  I’ll catch all kinds of grief for admitting that.  Guys are notorious for not reading directions.  I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve read the instructions when assembling a new project…or read the owner’s manual on a new electronics purchase.  It’s our thing…guys just know how to fix things…without being told or shown, we know.  However, I’ll openly admit that it’s okay to read the owner’s manual every now and then.

Yeah, just this month I broke down and resorted to reading the owner’s manual.  I bought a new trimmer last season.  It came with a spool of line that ran out earlier this month.  It also came with some shorter 10″ lengths of line that are supposed to fit into the head of the trimmer differently, so that once they’re loaded they lock in place…and are used in place of the longer spool of line.  I struggled for days trying to figure out how to lock those little suckers into the head.  I’d work on it for awhile one day and get frustrated to the point that all I wanted to do was throw the whole stupid trimmer away!  Aagghh!!  So I’d set it down and forget it.  The following day, I’d pick it up again and work diligently to figure it out on my own.  I reasoned that “it can’t be that hard…I don’t need to read the book.”  After days of frustration, I finally broke down and pulled out the book, and within only 10 minutes of reading, I was able to figure out how to accomplish what I wanted.  Ten minutes!  Really?  Had I just read the stupid book two days ago, how much time and frustration would I have saved?  By the way…it wasn’t that hard to figure out.  In fact, the solution was right before my eyes the whole time, but I was too blinded by pride and frustration to see it.  Ssshhh.  Don’t tell your mom that, okay?

So, back to the weeds.  Once I’d done my research, and my recon was complete, I launched my offensive.  I meticulously sprayed every one of those pesky little dandelions.  I kept them mowed down before they could sprout and spread their seed to propagate their species.  I over-seeded, laying down new seed, and have kept it watered.  I’ve spread fertilizer at just the right time, and I’ll continue fertilizing every 2-3 months as scheduled.  I’ve kept vigil throughout the last month, not letting down my guard and quickly jumping on any of those little suckers that have sprouted up…yep, I’ve waged an all-out war to turn the tide in favor of healthy grass.  So far, it’s looking good for Team Dad, but only time will tell if my efforts will prove successful.  Certainly as next season approaches, some will return, but hopefully not in such large mass.  Hopefully, what I’ve done this year has laid some good groundwork to reducing their numbers as the years pass.

Weeds.  There are some eery similarities to the weeds in our yard and the weeds in our lives.  The weeds that grow in our yard lurk just below the surface, out of sight…until just the right conditions are present to strike.  When they attack, they spring up with little warning.  Left untreated, they spread their seed so that even more come up the following year.  Even one weed left untreated can quickly spread out of control before you know it.  They can very quickly drown out the good grass, suffocating it as they compete for nutrients, water and sunlight.  The root of these weeds can grow deep down into the soil, making it difficult to uproot.  Simply attacking what is above the surface is not sufficient to kill it, because the root remains and will certainly re-sprout the following year.  Yep.  Unattended, these weeds will quickly take control of a yard so that no sign of the good healthy grass even exists.

The weeds in our spiritual lives are exactly the same!  So many things compete for our attention and affection that when left unattended, our relationship with God can quickly be suffocated by the world.  The weeds in our spiritual life come in many forms.  Work.  Money.  Pride.  Greed.  Selfishness.  Anger.  Resentment.  Family.  Friends.  Ministry.  Yes, even family and ministry can be weeds if we allow.  Anything that competes with our attention and affection for God has the potential to be a weed.  God is to be our number one love…above family and above ministry.  One of the things I’ve learned through three seasons of leading the Upward Sports ministry at our church is that even service to the Lord can distract us from the Lord.  You wouldn’t think that would be possible, but trust me…it is!  We can get so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we forget to take time to connect and grow with God.

So what is the plan of attack for the weeds in our spiritual life?  First, and foremost, we need the intel.  Just like the time I put into learning about the weeds in the yard, we need to read up on the enemy…his tactics…his methods…his strengths…his weaknesses.  Who is the enemy?  Satan.  The devil will use anything possible to win his war for our soul.  He will even use our relationships with family to pull our attention and focus away from God.  In Upward, he has used my love for children, my attention to detail and my commitment to serve in a way that exceeds expectations… to pull me further from God.   So, take time to read the Owner’s Manual.  Where can we find such a manual?  Not on Google, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Britannica, or any other worldly source that may come about between now and the time you’re old enough to read this.  Nope, the Owner’s Manual for life is God’s Word.  It’s the best-selling book of all time, the beginning and the end:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.John 1:1

The Bible is the Owner’s Manual for life.  It has all the answers for everything you’ll ever need to know.  It’s in reading the Word of God that we learn more about Him and learn about how He wants us to live.  It’s not simply enough to read it though.  To truly know God, we have to be able to hide His Word in our hearts so that we can draw upon Him in our time of temptations and suffering:

  • “Then he taught me, and he said to me, “Take hold of my words with all your heart; keep my commands, and you will live.” – Proverbs 4:4
  • “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” – Pslam 119:11
  • “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” – Deuteronomy 11:18

I find that I struggle most when I fail to read God’s Word consistently.  When I roll out of bed and get my day on…without taking time to read what God has prepared for me in His Word for that day, I find that I’m more susceptible to temptation, and I wander from the path that points toward Him.  I have also found that in reading the Word in the morning, my mind and heart are better equipped and prepared to deal with the specific problems I will face that day.  I can’t count how many times I’ve done my morning devotion, and at some point in my day have faced a spiritual, emotional or physical battle that God prepared me for through that morning’s devotion.  That’s not a coincidence…that’s God knowing all…and working it all through His plan…for His glory!

One of the other major components in our battle against the weeds in our life goes hand-in-hand with Bible study.  Prayer is our direct pipeline to God.  It is our opportunity to praise God for all He is and all He’s done, to ask Him to meet our needs, to ask Him to meet the needs of others, to tell him the desires of our heart.  He knows the desires of our hearts already, but He wants to hear us…He wants to communicate with us…not just to listen to us, but for us to hear Him.  Praying is as much about talking as it is about listening.  In your prayers, take time to simply sit and listen for Him.  His voice comes as the soft, gentle whispers on the heart. ..as the breeze blows through the trees, His voice comes to our heart.  If we don’t stop to listen, we won’t hear Him.  Prayer comes in many shapes and sizes.  It can be aloud with family.  It can be alone in our fear.  It can be silent as we face an obstacle.  It can be a short sentence…even one word.  Or a lengthy conversation.  It should be an opportunity to praise Him for being God and acknowledging that we’re not.  However you pray, pray often.

  • “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” – Romans 12:12
  • “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” – Matthew 6:4-6
  • “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24
  • “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” – Ephesians 6:18
  • “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6

I’ve also learned that in our time of hurting, we rely on our relationships.  While God’s grace carries us, it’s our relationships within the body of Christ that He uses to strengthen us.  It’s the accountability I have within my circle of believers that helps to keep me from veering into sin.  It’s fellowship with like-minded people…people that are strong in their faith… that encourages me to continue the fight.  I can call upon them for help in finding scripture to address the specific weed I’m dealing with at the time.  Even with all the Bible study I can do, I have encountered times I can’t find the answers I need right away.  It’s fellow believers who can point me in the right direction.  It is in “over-seeding” my relationships with the good seed that the lush, green grass of my faith grows and drowns out the weeds.

  • For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20
  • ” Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down,  one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
  • “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25

Obedience is also important in fighting off the weeds.  That word can sound scary, but it’s not if you look at it in the right context.  Practice makes perfect.   In my job in the fire service we practice like we intend to work, or in other words, we play like we work.  The theory is that if you practice how you intend to perform in the heat of the moment, it becomes habit so much so that you don’t have to think about it when you’re in the moment…instinct.  When we’re obedient in small things, it becomes instinct to be obedient in bigger things…not because we have to be, but because we want to be…instinct.  God gives us free will, so it’s up to us…because it’s His desire that we’re obedient because we want to be. Mind you, it’s not that I particularly enjoy going out and being obedient to the work it takes to stay ahead of the weeds in the yard.  I am obedient to the work, though, because I want to be.  If I don’t want to go out and do the work, I don’t have to…no one is going to make me do it.  I want to though…because I know the reward will be worth it in the end.  And once I’ve turned the tide in my favor in the yard, I know that if I spend a little time each day and week to stay ahead and deal with each weed that sprouts up immediately, the work is easier than it is when I’m starting off with a yard full of weeds.  It’s not much different spiritually really.

And, lest we forget that even Christ himself was obedient.  Mark 14 tells us that as the time was drawing near that Jesus was to be arrested and crucified, He prayed to the Father that He might “Take this cup from me.” and continued on, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Obedience at its finest hour…

  • “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” – Philippians 2:7-9
  • “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” – 1 Peter 1:13-15

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower.  There are similarities to what He is saying there and what I’m trying to say here.  Rather than try to bring the two together, I encourage you to do as I pointed out above.  Do your own research.  Gather your own intel.  Go read it for yourself and allow God to talk to you through it.  Gather from it what He would have you to know.

And so, it is my prayer that as you grow, your relationship with Christ is solid and set deep in the soil of your heart and soul.  Because the weeds will come for you.  We each have our own weeds to face…and yours will come.  It might be a day…a week…a year after you’ve left my care, but they will come, and you will be faced with your own war.  It’s my intent and goal in the coming years to help you foster a lush, green yard of faith and to equip you with the tools to battle the weeds in your spiritual life.  Because, just like the homeowner before me cared for our yard, it was up to me to continue to care for it…or to neglect it.  The same is true for you.  Your walk is not mine to make.  It is for you to decide who you will become.  I’ll struggle with that when the time comes to let you go, and I’ll continue to pray that when that day comes God will strengthen me to face it.  But for now, you’re mine to groom.  I’ll start by waging an all out war with the weeds in my own spiritual life so that they are not an obstacle for you in yours.



Through the Eyes of Jesus

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You inspire your mom and me in more ways than you know.  I remember thinking when He brought you to us all those years ago that He was giving us an guardian angel in you.  An angel to soften our hearts and turn us back toward Him…to teach us how to love God and love people.  You’ve done that in so many ways over the years.

Most days, I think it’s harder on us to watch how others treat you than it is for you.  As parents, it’s our instinct to want to shelter you from hurt and pain…to protect you from harm…to seclude you from those who mock and make fun of you…the ones who just don’t get you.  There are days I think that keeping you in a plastic bubble would be best.  Then there are the days I know that God has a plan for you, and that you are who you are for a reason.  I believe with all my heart that God will use (is using) you to change the world.  The plans He has in store for you are bigger than you or I can see.

It’s your innocence that makes you special.  Your soft heart…your caring for others…your passion for relationships…your attention to detail.  All these things are gifts from God.  You have a way about you that I envy…how you can walk up to a stranger and strike up a conversation, and within minutes know more about that person than most.  Within minutes, someone you’ve just met has become a friend to you…someone you will remember long afterward, regardless of whether or not you’ll ever see them again.  It’s this innocence and willingness to invest time in people that strengthens your relationships…it’s what will draw people to you.  Combined with your beautiful smile and genuine compassion for others’ feelings, it’s a magnetic pull that draws people toward you.

It also pushes people away.  It’s not you that pushes them away.  It’s their own unwillingness to accept someone so different from themselves that hardens their heart toward your innocence.  They see someone different from them, and it scares them…so they use mean, ugly words…they exclude you…they shun you out and push you away. Your mom and I see the pain and hurt it causes you, and it hurts us too.  Sometimes you don’t see it…more often you do.  Sometimes we don’t see it.  Often, we do.  Tonight, we did…and I think what hurts your mom and me most is that it comes from within our church family as much as from the outside world…sometimes more.  Pastor Ralph would remind me that the church is full of people who sin…which is exactly why we’re there – to help keep us from sinning.  And I agree with that…it’s just that we’d hoped by now to have fostered a stronger attitude of acceptance within the sanctity and safety of the church walls.  Mean words always hurt more when they come from those we love.

I wish I could carry you through life on my shoulders, riding piggy-back as you love to do…taking the brunt of each blow for you.  Unfortunately, that’s just not possible.  What I can do is offer you some words of encouragement.  God has a plan for you, my child.  He is creating a work in you that will surpass all we can understand.  What most people don’t get about you is that you’re more like Christ than any of us.  Your mom said it best tonight when she penned these words:

“Little do they know, she is the true example of who we each should be.  A friend that does not judge others by any criteria, she’s friends with all.  A friend who will sit by and talk to anyone with no expectation of what she will get out of it.  A friend who loves others and not because they look like her, dress in the finest clothes, have lots of money, know people in powerful places, or are in the popular crowd.  That is who my baby girl is and I hope she never loses that.  SD, I pledge to do my best to protect who you are and how you see the world.  I love my girl!”

Your love for other people and willingness to invest time in getting to know them is exactly what Jesus was talking about when He answered the Pharisees’ question: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All he Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

Loving God and loving people.  It’s the foundation of all that we should do.  You’re closer to achieving those two commandments in all that you do and all that you are than I am in half of who I am.  Keep your head up and don’t change who you are because others use mean, ugly and hateful words toward you.  Continue to embrace all the people you encounter daily with the love of Christ that has been given to you through Him.  You will draw people toward you…and in the process bring them closer to Jesus.  And those who turn from you and mock you also turn their back on Christ.

Like your mom, I also pledge to do my best to protect who you are and how you see the world.  It’s my prayer that you always see the world as you see it now…through the eyes of Jesus.



Feeding the Right Nature

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Originally written December 7, 2010

Within every believer dwells two natures: the flesh and the spirit. they share the same environment, same body, same eyes, ears and other senses. Each of these natures wants to rule our heart and mind. The one that eats best is the one that thrives. As I write this, God has started a new work in me within the last few years. Even within the last month or so, He has started to bring me closer to Him. I used to watch some of the goriest movies and TV shows, and they actually really interested me. I was never appalled at the graphic images I was placing in front of my eyes. And I called myself a Christian, a follower, a believer in the One and only God the Father of Jesus Christ…the man who stepped down from His rightful place at the side of God to stand in my place at the cross…to take my punishment and offer me a way to eternity with God in heaven.

As I write this, you are now 10, 3 and 1 respectively. God has convicted my heart of what I’ve been doing…of the sin in my life. How can I abhor the thought of Christ’s crucifixion and yet subject my flesh…my mind…my heart…to all that He stood to denounce? The very nature of sin is that it corrupts the heart and mind. All sin is equal in the eyes of the Father. He views murder as equally as He does hatred…adultery as equally as lustful thoughts. All sin is equal in His eyes, and His eyes are so divine and perfect that He can’t look upon sin, so much so that He turned His eyes away from His own Son, Jesus Christ, as He died on the cross for the very sin that put Him there in the first place.

Each nature is fueled by very different “foods”. The spirit is fed by Bible study, prayer, fellowship with other Christians and service to others. The flesh craves things like violent video games, TV shows filled with casual sex, movies of a graphic nature and songs celebrating recreational drug use, laziness, greed, and pride. Both natures are in constant battle with each other within Christians, fighting for control of our heart and mind. As one flourishes, the other is deprived of its fuel and eventually decays. It is the constant struggle of Christians, and of me, to see to it that the Spirit prevails. Our goal is to become more like Christ. We will never be perfect while on this earth, but it is our hope to one day be perfect as we join Him in heaven. For as long as we are on this earth, we should be working to be more like Christ. It is not until God has deemed us ready to enter into His kingdom that He calls us home.

I have been guilty of segmenting my life…separating my church life from my TV and movie life, and even my work life. And for a long time, I carried on as though this wasn’t a problem…as though this wasn’t a conflict of interest. I would go to church on Sunday morning and by Sunday night be watching TV that I would never even consider watching in church, having conversations I would never have with Jesus. By Monday, God would be on the back burner as I carried on with work and my relationships outside of church. I wonder if there are other Christians brave enough to admit the same?

I am working to bring these compartmentalized parts of our life back together and let God be the God of everything I consume. Americans are so obsessed with what we eat, but in many cases completely ignorant of what we consume in media. I have been…until now. At this young age in your lives, I am taking great effort to control what nature we are feeding within you. The time will come when I have less and less ability to help shape your lives…you will have matured into young adults who seek to discover yourselves without my support or input. It is my prayer and hope that between now and that day, I have instilled in you a deeply-rooted foundation that is fed through the Spirit, and not the flesh. You will surely have strong desire to feed the flesh, and it is my goal to have the Spirit so deeply rooted in your lives that the flesh is drowned out by the Spirit.

As you mature into adults and seek to discover yourself, feast your eyes, ears, minds and hearts upon what is lasting. The trends and fads of this world are ever-changing. They come and go as quickly as the seasons change…as quickly as you have grown from infants to the young children you are now as I type this. Not one to just tell you what to do, I want to provide you with HOW to feed your spirit. Learn from my mistakes and feed your Spirit with the following four things:

1. God’s Word – How can we know the things of God but to read His word. He’s given us His inerrant, infallible, perfectly written word.  Psalm 1: 1-3 says: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

What an encouragement this passage is to us…to know that by reading and meditating on God’s word, we prosper and bear fruit.  We can find His will for our lives throughout the Bible. Every aspect of our lives is covered in the Bible. Everything from finances to sex…from peer pressure to death. It’s all covered in there. It is a guide for how we should live…HOW we seek to be more Christlike. He doesn’t expect you to be perfect…because He knows you can’t be…only Christ was sinless. The Bible is your handbook for life. To know how to respond in any situation…when faced with temptations, you have to know the Bible. When you hide Scripture in your heart, you don’t always need to have it in your mind where to find it exactly. When it’s in your heart, you know right from wrong. When it’s in your heart, you can rely on what He has given you to be able to discern right from wrong…your conscience. It is your conscience that will help to guide you along the path He has laid out for you. When something doesn’t “feel quite right”…when you get a “funny feeling” in the pit of your stomach, THAT is God talking to you through your conscience. Listen to it…it is seldom wrong. You don’t always have to know exactly where in the Bible to find it, but if you hide it in your heart, it will come to you when you need it. That’s the Holy Spirit working in your life. You hide scripture in your heart by reading it regularly and by studying it. Studying requires more effort than simply reading it. To study it means you need to research it…to find supporting and correlating scripture. To read the context of whatever favorite verse you’re quoting, so that you know in what context it was used and given to us. While it’s nice to take just a verse out and apply it to our life, to be responsible to God’s word, we need to understand why it was written and what was occurring beforehand and afterward. Read the verses before and after each of your favorite verses. I can’t remember the location of half of the verses I know by heart. But I know them, and I rely upon them when I need them, even though I can’t always find them in the Bible easily.

2. Prayer – Prayer comes in many shapes and sizes. It comes in the daily kneeling at bedtime. It comes in the moments lying in bed as you fall asleep. It comes in the quick “shout up” as you hear a friend’s prayer request. It comes as the desperate plea in your times of suffering. It comes at the table as you say grace for your meal. It comes in the car as you’re driving and think of a need. It comes in the deliberate time of fervent pleading with God for the protection of your family when they’re hurting. God has been convicting me recently that my prayer life is not as healthy as it should be, as indicated in another note, FIRST FOUR MINUTES. Make time in you life for active conversation with God, a time when you not only pray TO Him, but a time when you sit quietly and LISTEN to Him. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with God have come when I simply sit with closed eyes and allow Him to open my heart. It’s all good to ask Him to meet your needs. But do you take time to listen for the answer? My father, your Papa, once (several times) told me “you’ve got one mouth and two ears for a reason. Shut your mouth and listen up.” Over the years, I’ve discovered for myself how true that really is. We should spend twice as much time listening as we do talking (not just in our prayer life, but in our relationships too). It’s in those listening moments that we HEAR God. Take time to listen.

3. Fellowship with Fellow Christians – Earlier when I was talking about how when you hide God’s word in your heart, you don’t always have to know exactly where to find it. Fellowship with other believers helps you with this. Just the other day, I was looking to provide encouragement to a fellow Christian and dear friend. I had scripture in mind that I wanted to provide him. I was able to quote it almost word for word. But I couldn’t remember where it is found in the Bible, and I really wanted to provide the location so that brother could go find it for himself. Thank God for modern technology, because in the day of instant communication across country, I was able to find a Christian friend online. When I asked him if he knew where to find the verse I was thinking of, he not only gave me the one I was looking for, he found me another that complimented it. Wow! That is what fellowship with fellow believers is for…to help us bounce our problems and concerns off one another…to lean on each other in our times of need.

NE, when you were about 18 months old you found your way into some prescription medicine and swallowed several pills intended for adult treatment. Without knowing the circumstances of how many you took, and as you were becoming very lethargic, we rushed you to the hospital via ambulance. I had the horror of taking that call from your mother while actually working the 911 dispatch center. It was all I could do to keep from breaking down and crying as I dispatched the ambulance to our home for you. That in itself is something I hope to never experience again. When I met you and your mother at the hospital, you came off that ambulance, and I knew right away that something wasn’t right…you were not yourself. As the medical staff worked to determine how serious the situation was, the doctors told us we were in for a long night as they monitored your condition…that the medicine you took could cause you to go into cardiac arrest. It was then that I knew what we were dealing with was far beyond what we could face alone as your mother and father. We needed help…not only from God, but in support from friends. I made one phone call to a dear friend and simply asked for his prayer. Within 30 minutes the hospital room was filled with friends coming to our side…in prayer for you and in support for us. Even people I did not personally know felt called to come to our side at the hospital. I am so deeply touched by that moment that I am moved to tears even as I write this out. This occurred on a Wednesday night, and I learned later that over 50 members of our church were actively praying for you at the same time. Fellowship with fellow Christians…this is what you get when you have Christian fellowship in your life…a support system like no other.

4. Service to Others – I have been blessed with the calling to serve as League Director for the Upward Sports ministry for three years as of this writing. In addition, I help with several ministries within the church. It is through these opportunities to serve others that I have found true joy. God calls us to serve others. Jesus Christ himself washed the feet of His disciples. Can you picture that for a moment? Jesus Christ, the Most Holy Son of God left his throne…left Heaven…to come down to a sin-filled world to wash feet…to serve others. It is my hope that over the years I have instilled in you a passion and desire to help those who need it…to serve others. Not out of a sense of obedience or because you know you should. But because you want to. I enjoy serving others…more so now as I’ve matured. It is in the moments I’m serving others, that I fell closest to God. God blesses us with the earthly treasures we have so that me might share them with Him…with those less fortunate…to bring glory to Him. Use what God has given you for others. Your Time. Your Talents. Your Treasures. All were given to you by God. He gives and He takes away. Honor God by giving of your 3 T’s sacrificially. I saw a short movie clip in church once. A man brings a gift of a dozen donuts to a friend. After giving him the donuts, he asks for one back. The recipient of the donuts doesn’t want to give one back. He pleads his case, “I need all ten of these.” While we all know he doesn’t need them, in fact he didn’t even know he had them coming to him until he was presented with the gift. Yet he is too selfish to share one back to the person who so kindly and generously gave them to him in the first place. How often do we do that with our Time, Talent and Treasures? All that we have is God’s, on loan to us to use for His glory…to bring honor and glory to Him. It’s not mine to share. I am just the broker for his “stuff”, charged with the responsibility for its care while I’m here. I know I’ve been guilty of hoarding onto what God has given me for myself, and it’s my prayer and hope that I continue to let go of all that I have so that you can grow up with an example of what true giving and service is.

“For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” – Galatians 5:17

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” – Colossians 2:8

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

Remember that I love you no matter the situation. You can never do anything to take that love away. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. It’s yours freely.

Father God, please continue your work in me and convict my heart when I am presented with opportunities to feed the flesh. Convict me, oh Lord, and help me to turn away from it so that I may feed my Spirit. Continue your work in me that I may be who you’ve called me to be, so that my children may learn from my mistakes and fellowship in the Spirit with you.



Death – Part 1

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Originally written July 29, 2010

I heard a saying once, that the only guarantee we have in our life is that we’ll always have taxes. Another person told me once that we can always count on the government to tax us to death…they’ve even created a “death tax.” I can see where they’re both coming from, but I’ll add one more guarantee in life to those…death. Death is a natural part of every life, human or otherwise. Every living creature on this Earth has been moving toward death since the very instant God first breathed life into it. You and I are no different. We will all die when God calls upon us in that final moment.

In the course of my career as a Firefighter and 911 dispatcher, I have seen and experienced death far more than I care to recount. Everything from the old and infirmed to the young and vibrantly healthy. Expected deaths from long-term illness, sudden deaths due to unforseen medical issues, sudden loss due to accidental trauma, and even violence. Death awaits us all in one form or another, and we NEVER know when it calls our name.

Within the last week, two people whom I knew passed away. The first was a man of God…served in the church and no doubt helped to plant countless seeds for Christ. I had an opportunity to visit with him in the hospital before he died…one final time. He had been ill for over a year, and we hadn’t seen him for several years. I knew he was ill, but quite honestly we weren’t close enough friends that he was on my mind much. I’m very saddened to admit that he was “out of sight and out of mind.” My heart aches and weeps knowing that, and it hurts me to admit it openly.

I do so, though, in the hope that you learn from my mistake. You see, I had the opportunity to visit with him one last time in his final days…when I got the call that he was dying, I was told that he wasn’t expected to make it through the week. I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. I was so wrapped up in what I had going on in my life that week, that I put it off, saying to myself, “I’ll go tomorrow.” Four “tomorrows” came and went. He died without me ever paying him that visit. I wasn’t able to comfort him as a brother in Christ…to reassure him and his family that his life on Earth made an eternal impact for God’s glory. He knows that now, because he’s sitting with God right now, but I will regret that decision, and my soul will cry out for forgiveness every day for the rest of my days.

The second guy was someone with whom my only interaction was minimal at best. He was an employee of a local grocery store…the guy who brings the shopping carts in off the lot. I only shop at that particular store when I’m on duty at one particular fire station close to that store…maybe two or three times a month. I never knew him except to know that he ALWAYS had a smile on his face…was always very friendly to us…struck up conversations with us, going out of his way to just talk with us. He struck me as a man who was never afraid to work to support himself…he seemed to take pride in his work, and to take pride in developing relationships. He told me once that he used to be a college professor, I think. Very educated and well spoken…up to date on current events. He was a pleasure to be around, and brought a smile to my face many times. I will truly miss him.

He died alone in his home. In the heat of summer, with no air conditioning. His absence went largely unnoticed for four days. He was found by police responding to a request by his employer to check on him after he failed to report for work and phone calls went unanswered. Alone. No family to comfort him, he was hot, uncomfortable, suffering, in distress. Alone.

I don’t know if he had a relationship with Christ or not. Why not? As a child of God, my command from Him is to spread the Gospel of Christ to EVERYONE I come in contact with. I failed this man. I will regret that, and my soul will ache every day for the rest of my days. It’s too late to impact his life for eternity, but I pray that I will be a better child of God from here forward, never missing an opportunity to share Christ. I pray that you will learn from my failures. I pray that you will be strengthened from my weakness.

The lessons I want you take from this message are these:

1. Your time on this Earth is limited. Nurture the friendships and relationships you have. Grow them and stay close to those you love. Never miss an opportunity to share the love of Christ with others. Never miss an opportunity to be with a friend, no matter how close you are, during his final days. You only get one chance to get it right. Family and friends are the most important things, second only to your relationship with Christ. Don’t ever forget that.

2. Always treat others with respect. No matter how different from you they are. Everyone has a story, and every person on this planet is created in God’s image…worthy of your love. Your time. Your respect. If God can love every person equally, we can certainly try. So many times I blew off that shopping cart guy. Wrapped up in my own selfish needs, I brushed him off so many times. Oh, how I could have shown him so much more love. So much more respect. So much more time. He probably would have still died alone in his home…my talking with him may not have changed that. But it may have. I won’t know until I stand before God to answer for my time here in this life.

You’re not always going to get it right, but my prayer for you is that you learn from my mistakes. I pray that my time here impacts your lives for eternity…for Christ. I love you.



Tossing Rocks


I’ve been putting a lot of thought into what my first post would be, and with the recent passing of my grandmother, I think it would be fitting to start here:

My grandmother, Lela Gertrude (Trudy) Stanley, 85, passed from this life to meet her Lord and Savior at 11:48 a.m. on Monday, February 7, 2011. I received the call on Sunday night that she was near the end of her life and would most likely not survive through the end of the week. I was on duty, and throughout the night and into Monday morning I felt an increasing need to be with her. She was my last surviving grandparent, and the regret I now face with not having spent more time getting to know each of my grandparents will be with me forever. On Monday morning, NE and I packed up and left home to drive down to Texas to be with her and my mother. Shortly after we left, we received the phone call that she had already passed away…I would not make it in time.

We continued our trip, and settled into a new “routine” for NE and I for what was the next two weeks in Texas. On the Friday following my grandmother’s death, I took NE and his cousin to a local park to play and burn off the combined energy of two 3-year old boys. There’s a small crick running through the park with a walking bridge over it to a field on the other side. It was nearing sunset, and as I was enjoying the view of the sunset on the water, the boys began tossing rocks off the bridge into the water. I’m always amazed at how much enjoyment a child can get out of what we adults see as the “mundane”. These two boys were giggling, screaming, laughing and running back and forth to toss little rocks off the bridge, and it soon began to remind me of the times I spent with grandmother collecting rocks. While my memories of her are few, I do remember several times walking through a park, along a river, through a field, in the yard with her and searching for rocks…just seeing what we could find. As the sunset cast sparkles on the water beneath us and the boys enjoyed themselves, I was filled with emotion and awe at how much pleasure can be found in such a simple act. I had a brief, passing thought as I watched, so I took out my phone and jotted down a quick thought. Over the course of the next several hours, God helped me turn that one thought into the following. I was privileged to have been given the opportunity to read it at my grandmother’s graveside service, and I pray that as you read it you find an application for the message within for your own lives.

NE and his cousin NW throwing rocks into a crick today reminds me of times spent searching for rocks with grandmother Stanley and that with each rock tossed in the water, no matter its size, the water’s flow is forever altered.

Some are very tiny in comparison to the river, and at first glance you don’t think they have much affect. They’re easier to find…one glance along the creek bed and you’ll see hundreds of them scattered about. When tossed in, they disappear quickly from view, sinking lazily to the bottom and skirting along the river bed before coming to rest somewhere downstream. While their impact alone is minimal, there is still an impact. Though not often seen by the human eye, and combined with many more of the same size, these small pebbles can alter a river’s course, even if only by inches.

The mid-sized pebbles are a bit bigger. While relatively easy to find, there are fewer of them. They fit perfectly into the hands of these two toddlers, and the right one can be perfect for skipping. When dropped in the water, they make a bigger splash, a little more noise, and a slightly larger wave. They sink quickly from view and may roll along the bottom of the riverbed for quite a distance before coming to a stop. Their impact on the water is a little easier to envision, and it takes fewer of them to change the river’s path. Many of them together can even dam the river if placed properly.

Larger, heavier rocks – boulders to these two toddlers – are harder to find. There are fewer of them, and you have to seek them out. Finding one that a toddler can actually carry down to the water’s edge is more difficult. However, once he drops that sucker in, you immediately know you’ve got something. It hits with a big “ka-thunk”, and the splash is huge! The waves ripple farther out and last longer. It sinks quickly and embeds itself in the muddy bottom. It stays right there, and the water immediately begins to curve around it. The flow of the river has immediately been changed. It will stay there until some act of God or man moves it, and even after it’s gone, it leaves a hole in the riverbed that may take years to fill. The water will continue to flow, but as it passes over the hole that’s left in the absence of the boulder, its course is still affected, albeit differently than when it was there.

The passing of my Grandmother this week reminds me that the people in our life are just like the rocks being tossed by these two toddlers. The tiny pebbles are like the hundreds and thousands of people we pass every day. The single mom with three kids in line at the grocery store. The inattentive driver who cuts us off in traffic. The couple walking hand-in-hand in the park. The countless people we pass every day, most of whom we never give a second glance, can often impact our attitude, our actions and our behaviors, even if for only one hour. Like tiny pebbles that disappear quickly from view, skipping along the riverbed, these are the people that skip through our day and our lives. Gone just as fast as they came, we don’t give them much thought once they’re gone.

The mid-sized pebbles are like our friends and acquaintances, the people that come into our life with a little more splash. They bring us fellowship and inspire us to be better people. They stay with us longer, and the impact they have on us is longer lasting. Like the perfect skipping rock, the good ones come by once in a lifetime.

The larger rocks – what are boulders to these toddlers – are like our family and closest friends. Like the rock that sinks in the river bottom, our parents, our children, our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents and best friends influence us the most. They lift us up when we’re down, they inspire and encourage us to follow our dreams, and the imprint they leave on our lives is permanent. As our lives pass, we are forever changed by the “boulders” placed in our life. They’re harder to remove too. When they’re gone, there’s a hole that remains that will take years to fill, and yet we could go a lifetime without ever filling the void they leave.

Whether a tiny pebble or a large boulder, every toss of a new rock into the water forever changes the future of the river. Likewise, whether placed in our lives by God or through someone else’s actions, every person we encounter will forever change our lives. The life of every person we encounter, whether for a moment or a lifetime, adds meaning and character to our own. From our “boulders” we pick up some of their behaviors, their attitudes, beliefs, habits, likes and even dislikes along the way. Our “boulders” help to shape who we are and who we become. Taking a boulder out of the river of our life, be it by act of man or God, has an everlasting effect on who we are and who we become. Our life path is forever altered.

Grandmother Stanley was one of our family’s boulders. To each of us she represents something special. Each of us has our own special memories with her and with her and grandfather. They each taught us to love and respect family, because when it comes right down to the end, family is all we have. The family they raised spread their wings and grew bigger, forever altering our family tree. Trudy Stanley, though you’ve been taken from our river, the imprint you’ve left in each of us will carry on forever. The hole that has been left in your absence will never be completely filled, and we will carry and treasure our memories of you forever. We will miss you dearly. May your river now and forever flow strong in the presence of our Lord and may you and grandfather walk peacefully hand-in-hand through eternity.

As you read that, you’ll most likely begin to see who the “boulders” are in your own lives. That’s good. Knowing who they are helps you to appreciate them even more while you have them. Your mother, and each of you are “boulders” for me. You each represent a huge portion of who I am and who I’ve become after God placed you in my life. My challenge to you comes from Proverbs 18:24 “A man of too many friends comes to ruin,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” There are people out there in your world who are lonely, who need a friend…who need a “boulder” of their own. Instead of seeking to find a “boulder” for yourself, seek to become one for someone else. Ask God to show you the people around you in need of a “boulder” and then find a way to become their friend. It is then you will discover that in doing so, you’ve placed “boulders” in your own life.

More on how much I enjoyed my two weeks alone with NE to come…

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