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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.

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

Sincerely,

A Stubborn One

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Her Journey in the Valley

The words from her mouth matched the exhaustion on her face.  Each word spoke of the desert place she had been and the forward journey she has been struggling to keep pressing through.  It was the first time I have met her as I listened to the pain from her voice’s tone.  She did not speak any specific frustrations.  It isn’t my right to know.  But I could only pray and this is for you.

I could smell the floral amora and see the valley you have entered in on.  The valley is such a mysterious place.  It is situated near the mountains you will soon climb and the focal point Jesus is leading you too.  A beautiful sight only the soldier could understand.  The valley’s climate has a strange harshness.  The sweet, sweet smells of the flowers that lighten the day’s mood can quickly within the time of the deep breathe of fresh air you took.  You watched the clouds sweep in from a distance.  A blackness filling the land as the rain pours as you walk by the flower’s fallen petals.  It is a strange agony… sadness… depression you wrestle in.  How can the morning’s sun turn into an afternoon storm?  How can the gentle skies turn the grass into a swampy mess?  You say “What did I get myself into?  I only wanted the lilies that grew and each new day’s sunrises.”

So to you, the woman whose name I have already forgotten…

Remember the sweet, sweet smells of the morning’s flowers.   The dancing of the grass from the gentle winds before the storms.  It is only a temporary place you are now in.  Push into the night and stay steady into the morning’s light.  The songs you sing will echo through the valley as you walk toward the climb.  The valley’s low is only for a time.

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Unrelenting Prayers

Are the daily prayers said worth the time?

Are the moments hidden away by the bedside, the driver’s seat or kitchen table worth the trouble?

Is He really going to do anything about the words I cry, shout or sing to Him?

These questions are too often the questions that I ask as my prayer time starts.  I long for an immediate answer.  And I only kept hearing the phrase, “Be Faithful.”  And so, as I struggled, I learned to be faithful…. whatever faithfulness means within my humanity – the few words of praise, pleading or petition.

I sat and waited to see if His Spirit would respond to my question again.

Were these prayer moments worth it?

I saw a vision of a long, white candle being burned – like the ones used for a lighting ceremony.  The wax began to drip off slowly and then quicker after.  I watched in agony knowing the candle felt like my ability to be faithful.  Unconfidence grew as if the consistent prayers were not worth it slowing burning downward.  Questions arose of what could happen when the candle was depleted and the light was out.

As the candle burned, I noticed the used wax being collected into a straight, long glass jar.  It was similar to the first candle’s shape.  As the candle was burned, the wax continued to be collected.  Not a single drop was lost.  As the first candle was depleted – a wick poked through the wax of the second candle.  The second candle began to burn.

A relief and comforting feeling surrounded me.  He spoke to me saying “You are faithful.  I see that.  And in return, I am faithful.  Your prayers are not unheard.  Your faithfulness is not unseen.”  I was reminded His faithfulness is beyond my ability to be faithful.  The daily candles I chose to burn were worth the time.  The prayers were heard.  I may not hear from Him in every waking moment.  But He is listening, watching, waiting and moving faithfully into my life.