Thursday, May 26, 2016

12 Memorial Days...

Memorial Day #12.

It's a day I never could have imagined becoming a reality. And honestly, it's a day I still struggle to come to terms with each year. Sometimes, it feels like there have been 1,000 Memorial Days since my brother was killed. Other times, it feels like each Memorial Day is the first one.

And sometimes, my mind and heart go back and forth between the two.

So how do you come up with words to explain what this day means? How do you come to terms with a day like Memorial Day when it means something totally different to you than it does to most people? How do you put words to thoughts and feelings you can't even get straight in your head, let alone on paper (or a computer screen, as the case may be)?

How do you tell other people something that you can't even really explain to yourself?
How do you explain what it means to have a specific day set aside to remember your brother--as if you're being told that you shouldn't be remembering him on other days? How do I explain that even now, almost 12 years after my brother was killed, there are still days when I remember all at once that my brother is gone?

How do I explain that almost a dozen years later, sometimes the grief still hits hard enough to take my breath away, and that the tears still fill my eyes unbidden at the most inopportune times?

This weekend is the start of summer. It is a weekend of joy for so many, a time spent with family and friends cooking out and enjoying all the freedoms this country offers. For a group of us, though, Memorial Day is something different. While it is still a weekend of joy, family, and friends, it is also a day of knowing that there is someone missing out on all of that. There is someone that at times it seems like the rest of the world has forgotten--except as a slight background thought once a year.


So this Memorial Day, celebrate with those you love. Enjoy all the freedoms that still come with being a citizen of the United States (freedoms that are being threatened, but that's a post for another time). Cook out, laugh loudly, hug the people you love--and maybe set an extra place at the table in remembrance of all those who aren't enjoying this weekend because they gave their lives to ensure our freedoms.

Remember that they aren't just numbers. They are brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, grandsons, granddaughters, and friends.

They are loved.
And they are remembered every day, not just on Memorial Day.      

Sunday, May 22, 2016

useless religion

"Your mouth exposes your heart,
and your religion is useless."
~James 1:26b

In 2 Samuel, there's a story about a man named Shimei. There was a rebellion, and David was leaving Israel. Shimei was cursing David as he left, calling him worthless and saying that he was getting what he deserved by being driven out. Yet when David came back (just a couple of chapters later, though I'm not sure how much time had passed), Shimei was the first to welcome him back. He was even bowing at David's feet when he crossed the Jordan, asking David to forget everything that had been said.

How often are we that way? Do our convictions change as quickly and easily as Shemei's? When it seems like our King is leaving, do we turn away from him to swear allegiance to whoever comes next, whoever seems to be in control?

The human heart is fickle. We waver between our "convictions" like we're being tossed around by the waves. We get caught up in the circumstances and worldly issues, and our commitment to God falters in light of what's happening around us.

Life hits hard sometimes. It can seem like God isn't in control; the circumstances can make it look like He's been driven out. It's in those moments that your true heart is revealed. Either your outlook depends on what's happening in the world around you, making you someone who has no true foundation. Or you're someone who knows that, no matter what happens, the King is still on the throne, and your faith is built on the Foundation that can never be shaken.

James 1:2-4 & 12 says, "Don't run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line--mature, complete, and wanting nothing. Happy is the person who can hold up under the trials of life. At the right time, he'll know God's sweet approval and will be crowned with life."

Don't let your allegiance depend on who appears to be in control. God is, always has been, and always will be the King, no matter what seems to be happening in the world. Do your best to make your heart and your words match; when hard times come (and they will--that's a promise), make every effort to ensure that your faith is what shines through, so that others can see that, although religion may be useless, faith is precious. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

a letter to the seniors of 2016...

Dear Senior of 2016,

Well, you've made it--"finally" is usually the word that follows that statement, breathed out in a sigh. And now, you face the question that everybody and their brother seems to be asking:

What are you going to do with your life?

You may have something planned. You might be like me, and have a plan all laid out for the next 5 or 10 years.
Or maybe not.

You might not know what you're doing this summer, let alone next fall or 5 years from now.
Either way, I would like to share a few things with you that I wish I had realized 14 years ago when I graduated (wow--that sure seems a lot longer when I see it written down). People may have told me all of the stuff I'm going to tell you, but if they did I was too busy being sure that I was a grown up and knew what I was doing to truly listen to them. Be smarter than I was.

So, here are a few things I would tell you if we were sitting across from each other having a cup of coffee (because that's what grown ups do, right?):

Dream big, but don't get hung up on your dreams.
You should dream, and you should make those dreams big, spectacular things. Dreams are what push us to be more than we think we can be, to do things to change the world. The thing is, though--dreams don't always come true. I know that's something you don't want to hear. You want people to tell you "If you can dream it, you can achieve it" but that's just not true. Not all your dreams will come true, because that's just the truth of life. That doesn't mean you should stop dreaming, though. It just means that your dreams shouldn't begin to define you.
Life doesn't go according to your plan.
I'm a planner, and if you're anything like me this is a hard one to swallow. I've always had my plans, and I would very much prefer things to just fall into line and go the way I have planned. But they don't. And you know what? Sometimes, that's for the best. If my life had gone the way I had planned since I graduated high school, I wouldn't be where I am today.
Invest in people.
So many things are vying for your attention--school, jobs, careers, financial decisions (start paying attention to those now, by the way), and everything else this world shoves at you. Despite what the world tells you, though, those things aren't what's important. What matters are the people around you, the people you are journeying through this life with, the people who will be there for you when everything else falls apart. If you spend all your time and energy on things instead of people, you find one day that you've lost everything that matters--no matter how much stuff you have. Pour yourself into people.
Choose the good.
Bad things are going to happen in life. That's a given, no matter how much you try to protect yourself from anything bad that could happen. You're going to get hurt. Your heart is going to break. Your world is going to seem like it's crashing down around you. In those moments, you're going to have a choice to make. You can choose to focus on everything that's going wrong, to let yourself get pulled down into a spiral of despair--or you can choose to look for the good. You can focus on the people who are there for you in the bad times, on the lessons that you learn (because yes, there are lessons to learn in the hard times), and the God who gives you His strength to face everything that happens.
Take a risk.
Sometimes, the easy choice isn't the best choice. It's hard to choose the hard thing, though. It means being brave, being willing to risk the good to get something better. Don't always play it safe just so that you don't have to face failure. Because you see, sometimes the things you see as your biggest failures set the foundation upon which you will build your greatest masterpiece.
Be strong and courageous.
Joshua 1:9 says, "This is My command: be strong and courageous. Never be afraid or discouraged because I am your God, the Eternal One, and I will remain with you wherever you go." I'll say it again--you're going to face some hard times in life. You're going to want to quit. You're going to think you've been abandoned. You're going to be scared out of your mind. But God--He has told you to have courage. Courage isn't a lack of fear; courage is simply being scared and doing what has to be done despite your fears. And no matter what happens, you have God's promise to stay with you.
Don't let others determine your worth.
God has created you as His masterpiece, and He has plans for your life. They may look drastically different than the plans you have for yourself, but you can rest assured that His plans for you are a perfect fit. God created you with a purpose. He thinks you are worth so much that He gave His own Son in your place. Your worth is not determined by the school you go to, the career you choose, the car you drive, or the house you buy. Your worth has already been determined, and the price has already been paid. You are worth so much more than anything on this earth. Don't let anyone tell you anything else.
You have the entire future ahead of you. Take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself. Work hard, but love more.

Parents, step up

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