Relearning Protection

It was one of those weeks where I am left wondering, “What exactly is happening right now?”

Wednesday, I participated in a prayer session receiving healing and recognizing burdens I carried were not mine at all.  It is only through Jesus I was able to let the baggage down, so I could live a healthier life.

Thursday, I watched the Lord heal a man’s lower back and shoulder.  Ligaments and out of socket joints were made whole again.  As a proclamation, he was able to do a pushup with ease.  A beautiful display to see the Kingdom of God come down.

At 1:00am on Friday, I woke up covered in hives from my neck down to my toes and a struggle to get full breathes of air.  My initial thought is, “I cannot believe this is happening again.”  The drive to the emergency room was long as I chatted to a cousin on the west coast receiving reassurance that it will work out.  The doctor could not be sure of the cause and ruled out the poison ivy.  I left the hospital at 7:00am after a dose of Benadryl and a steroid was given through an IV.  With a promise of the liquid steroid should last through the next 72 hours.

I completed three loads of laundry with new detergent hoping to find the root cause.  I laid my head to rest again as the hives seemed to have subsided.  Yet, still I woke up on Saturday at 6:30am to a new breakout of hives with difficulty breathing.  As a result, I made another visit to the emergency room.  I received more Benadryl and an additional steroid pushed into my blood stream through an IV.  I left with two scripts, one for Prednisone and another for an Epipen.  I was also taking Benadryl and using anti-itch creme to soothe the itching.  The hives subsided to almost nothing that evening.

On Sunday, I rolled over to read 3:00am on the alarm clock.  I turned on the light to see my arms and legs were covered with hives once again.  I could only shake my head wondering why this was happening.  My airways were clear, so I laid wide awake reminding myself not to itch until I fell asleep four hours later.

The off and on case of the hives reminded me of June 2009 when I was rushed to the hospital in Costa Rica.  The inability to breath, losing feeling in my extremities, the hives breakout ending a medication overdose somehow.  Why did my mind go back there so quickly?  I cannot be sure.  It could be the similar triggers or the uncertainty of the physical cause.

Yet, in my prayers, I am reminded of who is the protecter in all of this?  Who is the healer in the midst of uncertainty?  Yes, it is Jesus.  In 2009, it was Jesus’ miracle as I flew away from Costa Rica with no internal organ problems.  Today, in 2015, it is Jesus as I continue to breath in each breathe.

Hive FeetThe difference today versus back then is the new application of claiming Jesus as a protector and not a tyrant trying to punish humanity.  A skewed, false view of Jesus can cause more suffering in the long run.  Bitterness and rebellion settle in to displace Jesus as the foundation of my life.  It was not a place I was willing to return to.

And so today, it is the relearning of Jesus as protector.  It isn’t a lesson I necessarily wanted to relearn, yet maybe it was necessary.  A strange confidence in the Lord as the one who breathes life into our lungs in order to sing His Praise.

The Crow’s Harsh Caw

A bird’s cry overtook the rushing wind as I flew down the country highway.  The dew still settled on the grassy meadows.  With light blues peaked over the hilltops as the sun graced her daily appearance.  Softer shades of grey clouds gave hope that the rain would not come out today.

It was difficult to breathe in the beautiful view as the bird’s cry persisted.  A harsh disturbing noise of the crow.  The caw was a war cry against dead flesh left for its predator.  No roadkill could be seen in the rearview mirror nor in front of me.  It was a discordant, mysterious sound from another world.

A quick head shake to get back in the game.  The American hustle to business appointments with phone calls, texts and e-mails in between.  Anything to get a dollar and pay the bills.  The busyness of life wiped away the crow’s morning taunting.  It was simply a strange way to start the day.
If only I had paid attention.  A nightly routine feeding death not life.  A day’s exhaustion leads to punching keyboard letters leading to endless videos sucking a human’s purity from them.  One of the millionth nightly viewer.

It was a little too late as the words of
James began to echo off the bedroom walls.

We are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us.  Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead. 

I shut my eyes to see her claws dig into my eyes.  My eyes had scales taking in the evening’s trash.  Its remnants was a making of a slow and settling death.  Her harsh caw pierced once again into my soul.  She foreshadowed where the battle was headed.  It was her who waited for the ultimate blow as she dashed in at the ending bell.  The claws’ sharpness caused me to gasp for air as the guilt and shame were internalized.

Why didn’t I shield myself upon hearing the harsh caw?

Shame infests the soul making me weaker.  Its hope to show I am stronger as shame’s planted seed becomes a disease.  A known secret disease kept by millions with no chance to help another.  Surprising deaths as hundreds fall in seconds feeling that we are all losing this battle.

But secrets are never meant to be kept.  An accountable confession of a lonely battle result in whispers for others to come a new.  Soft murmurs of life spread across warning another soldier of the morning’s caws.  And soon accountable words become small draggers into the crow’s chest resulting its death.  A final caw dismantling its lie of our foreseen death.

Red River Gorge

Not at the Trailhead Anymore

There was an initial struggle before starting the journey.  A short tampering of my spirit.  A reluctancy of whether I was where I should be.  Wasn’t it enough to say I trust the ground I never walked on?  It became a false declaration of the sorts.

Some have pronounced of walking down the gravel to its infinite glory – yet I could see the fires created on their self-made paths.  A subpar duplication of the original only to make a mass destruction for the millions.  A poor counterfeit too many have been tricked to follow.

Ten years ago – I chose to leave and trust the slim, unloved road.  And within a short distance I stood at the mountain’s foot.  A tightening of the chest with a large release of carbon dioxide ready to change altitudes.

It wasn’t always with such clarity.  Storms rushed in with unclarity of where my foot would land next.  The dimmest fireflies lit the way through what I believed to be into the darkness.  A dance too similar to the one at the trailhead.  A restart – a restart is what I declared.  It was what I thought I needed.  A short panic – a self-disappointment – a belief all progress was suspended.  The journey needs to be redone.

The journey’s sweat seemed worthless until I was led onto the edge to see the distance we’ve made together.  He sang a gentle reminder:

You’re not at the trailhead anymore.
Not at the trailhead anymore.
You’re not at the trailhead anymore.

It was strangely true.  The view over the treetops made me believe it was so.  He never erased the footsteps we walked together.  He didn’t pick me up to place me at the starting line again.  He trusted the steps we’ve made.  Out of free will, I chose to walk in His direction and out of His mercy He chose to walk with me.

In complete abandonment of everything I once knew – I continued to walk upwards to the mountaintop – knowing there’s a even greater adventure.  The footsteps of generations past have not been washed away.  Their encouraging words etched into boulders giving me a slight push forward.

A reminder that yes, I am not at the trailhead anymore.


Walking in the Ordinary

The first job I had was at a retail pharmacy in the front end. I stocked the shelves, rang out customers and did inventory off and on for a full decade. Oh, of course, I helped in the one hour photo lab, which has come to be almost obsolete today.

When I worked in the front end and there weren’t any customers around I would read through the latest tabloids. And of course, sarcasm inserted here, like in any good-in-the-know teenager I knew the name of every celebrity along with what album was dropping when or the latest movie coming out. It was crazy how important their lives looked. But now, where are they? And to be honest, does it matter?

The reality is…

No one wants forgotten about.

I see it with the students I work with. A foster child is in the mercy of where they are being placed in the moment. Several of students have been in 3 different schools within six months and often without notice. They have to make new friends, often times without closure from the old relationships, if they even had the chance to make a friend.

I see it in friends pushing through the motions. It may not seem like it, but how often do we walk through everyday – same job, same gas station, same house – and feel so isolated? With the common question of “If I leave would anyone care?”

None of us want to be forgotten.

And so, as an alternative, we fight to become over-eccentric, life of the party & the talk of the town. Maybe, if we become this, we won’t be forgotten.

We’ve forgotten that an impact in the ordinary. The cashier who looks in your eye and says “Have a great day!” so genuinely. Or the little child, who you don’t even know, running up to you and to excitedly say, “I like your shirt.” Or a stranger putting a hand on your shoulder to tell you what a beautiful person you are.

The simple, ordinary interactions are often overlooked. Yet, at least for me, these interactions are the most edifying. I sense the love spreading in its simplest form – a phrase, an interaction, a small physical touch. The world doesn’t seem so big and I don’t feel so small. It’s a new day where no one gets forgotten.

Be an ordinary, everyday hero.


Red River Gorge Winter Hike

Everyone has been upset about the snow.  But a snow day is the perfect chance to go into the wild with a close friend.  The scenery was unreal.  We did not see another soul from beginning to end.  The crisp snow made for photography perfection in the midday sun.  The snow may have gotten into my boots.  But I have told people repeatedly that this hike has already gone down as my favorite one ever.


Uncaging Jesus

There is a particular phrase, which will used to describe each of us as we get older.

They are just set in their ways.

I hear it often from the adolescents, who are describing their parents.  I also work with the parents, who also describe their parents in the same light.  The defensive remark from both the parents and the grandparents is this, “They don’t get it yet.”  Fair enough!  I understand this remark too.

Behavior and/or thought patterns are set up by continued outcomes from the experiences we each have in our lives.  I look for this as a mental health therapist.  I am actively searching for “the trigger” or “the cause” of negative, repetitious behaviors and/or thoughts.  If “the cause” is found then the individual can work on changing their thoughts on the triggers to avoid their typical reactions to a situation.

Case example:  I ask for my boss for help.  My boss responds, “Come back later.  I’m busy.”  I return and I receive the same response.  If this happens, a few more times.  I start to believe they will never help me due to the continuous unwanted response.  The boss’ behavior engrained my thought process of not receiving the help I need and therefore I stop going to her.

Simple, right?  Thoughts affects our feelings affects our behaviors.

Friends, we do this to Jesus – consciously or unconsciously.

For myself, there have been many times, where I press into Jesus more and get hit pretty hard spiritually and emotionally.  A new thought process was formed of “If I press in, Jesus won’t be able to defend me.”

Is this statement true?

Of course not.  He doesn’t leave us nor forsake us.  But based upon my experience and skewed thoughts, I believed the first thought.  If I press in, Jesus won’t be able to defend me or save me.

A friend and I were praying through this.  This is what I saw.  Jesus is in a cage while a bunch of little black creatures lined up to freely attack me.  Why was Jesus in a locked cage?  Through discussion and my friend confronting me, I realized I was the one who placed Jesus there.  I have free will.  I have free will to form thoughts on who God is.  It doesn’t mean that it is true, but I have the ability to place Jesus where I want Him.  If I don’t want Him involved, He doesn’t have to be.  It’s my personal choice.

I began to believe Jesus could not protect me, so I placed him where He could not “hurt me.”  He was locked up.  I was trying to protect myself from skewed disappointment.  In the end, I was only hurting myself.  Those little black creatures were just free to do what they wished!

What did I do?  I took a gold key I had in the vision and unlocked Jesus from the cage He was placed in.

Yes, I unlocked Jesus from the cage.  

I told the little black creatures to go to the foot of Jesus and He will take care of the rest.

Guess what?

He did!  A small realization of who I was in Jesus and what He does on His part.  A beautiful team.

Is this an area I will have to keep working on?  Probably.  We all try to categorize what God can and cannot do.  Another friend named Steve would tell me, “Nate Smith loves boxes.”  We all have developed thought patterns and need to remind ourselves to get out of.  We place Jesus in our little boxes or cages to stay.  Am I right?

The larger question is:  Are you willing to uncage Jesus and let Him guide you through this?  If so, are you ready to turn the key to let Him go?

Photograph by Diego Vogel

Cave Run Lake

This is my new favorite place in Kentucky — Cave Run Lake.  It is situated near Morehead in Daniel Boone National Forest a little over an hour from Lexington.  The man made lake is not talked about often because the majority head straight to Red River Gorge.

For some reason, this just felt like we were outside of Kentucky for the day.  A small adventure in the Bluegrass State.  Serenity was marked by what sounded like chimes fighting against the wind, but were actually lapping waves against broken ice.  The cawing of the seagulls and muddy footsteps added to the adventure of trying to find a sandy beach.

A perfect February Saturday.

(The “Featured Image” was taken by Diego, the rest on captured by an iPhone)


Breaking Rituals

Too often, we find ourselves within systemic rules that give very little life to us.  These rules have been given to us at a young age and continue to follow us throughout our lives.
Basic, conditional rule:  If I do an action, then an outcome will happen.

It begins on the playground.  A small game of tag with particular rules like:  If I tag her, then I won’t be “it” anymore.   If I move my body forward and backward, then I will be able to swing higher.

Rules can become more complicated as seen within the classroom.  A teacher is teaching a class, so I must pay attention.  However, I had too much to drink at lunch and need to leave to use the restroom.  If I need to use the restroom, then I must raise my hand to ask, she will say “Yes” because I asked and then I am allowed to go and relieve myself.

The basic, conditional rules stay with us into upper academics like the undergraduate and graduate studies.  If I turn in X number of assignments, then I can expect the correlating grade.  Or if I study along with subject track, then I can apply to obtain a particular job after graduation.

And it continues into our career environments and adulthood.  If I work this many hours, then I am to afford what I would like.

But… If any of these of rules are broken, even in the slightest bit.

I am placing myself at risk.

…. No one will play tag with me.

…. I will get sent to the principal’s office.

…. my GPA will be too low.

…. I won’t get the job I wanted.

…. I won’t be able to meet my needs.

The list can go on and on in regards to the “should have” and “should not have.”  It is ultimately creating a cycle of pressure, which so few of us have the ability to keep up.  Sadly, those societal rules are placed in every other part of our lives….

… In regards to love.  If I share this part of my life, then the other person will love me more.  Or if I give this, then the other person will love me more.  … Maybe even selfishly, if I do this, then I will receive this.

Our relationships become conditional.

It drains the system until at some point – someone has nothing left to give.  It is just too much pressure and a small fault in the system will make everything fall apart.

…. In regards to our faith.  It feels like the pressure is on more because so much is unseen.  Maybe you are similar to me in this thinking…. If I prayed this so much, then maybe God will love me more.  Or If I prayed a little longer, then the agony of a particular sin will be gone.

And if nothing happens, then everything is in question.

A few weeks ago, I sat on the couch and was not even sure what to pray.  One simple word came to mind, “Rest.”

Do you know what happened?

A cat-nap occurred for close to an hour.  The only amount of downtime I had during this particular evening.  Not a single word was spoken from my lips nor any dreams or anything.  I simply napped an hour of my time away.  

As far as I know, there are no books about the sleeping benefits during prayer times.  In fact, it’s probably frowned upon.  But I do know, the conditional rules I set up for myself and God were shattered that evening.

Rules and regulations are set in place for order.  And yes, there needs to be order — In a game of tag, within our studies and our job lives.  God Himself lives in a kind of order.  The sun goes up and down, the earth revolves around the sun, the ocean tides comes and goes.  There is order.  He created it.

But sometimes, He allows rules, especially ours, to be broken.  It is a small reminder to say, “You don’t have to live under this pressure.  Just rest in what I’m doing.”

Or even a reminder, just to take a nap.


An Apology to the Church

To the Christian Church:

I am one of the most critical members of your Body.  It is with laziness that I sometimes sit to criticize the strides others try to make.  A deep chuckle is asserted as the new ones try to stretch their gifts and fall in defeat.  With crossed arms, I have mocked with the bitter others watching outsiders throw stones at you so freely.  I argued with myself that we deserved it anyways.  I somehow forgotten that my need for complete worldly relevance made me almost obsolete in sharing or showing Christ’s love and peace.  Maybe, just maybe someone heard His name to ask who He was later.

In stubbornness, I often complained of the lack of hospitality when I am the one pushing any type of warmth away.  A martial status or not does not constitute a reasoning to hide away despite the American self-sufficient homes even I have come to create.

The expectation I placed on you to be perfect was in return an expectation I placed on myself too.  A perfection never to be fully achieved in this lifetime.  As a result, we keep failing each other and I was the one to let a wall to be placed in between us.  To that, I am sorry.

I could hear on the other side of the great things you have been doing.  The physical, emotional and, more importantly, the spiritual healings taking place.  It is jealousy I wallowed in questioning whether or not I could be a part of the Kingdom Come actions the true Church is doing.  You never asked me to be perfect because you yourself are not.  You asked me because Jesus asks of me to just come and be a part.  As a Church, we are to learn together and take great strides to be like our King Jesus – the perfect one.

I apologize for being a part of the problem.  A person who slowed you down because of my hidden self-doubt and insecurities.  I would like to become a Barnabas the encourager, the first century Church who knew how to heal the sick, blind and deaf, and like Paul or Peter, who ran across the regions to share about the King.

This is my proclamation.


A Stubborn One