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God and Evil - Handing us Over to our Own Issues

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Man. This has been a year of painful silence from the One who speaks life into all the dead places and spaces in our world and heart. Did God break up with us? Is He ghosting? I've been in one long angry, puffy faced temper tantrum. Been calling Him all sorts of bad names and accusing him of all sorts of bad things. My heart has becoming hardened, and here's my unfinished take on working through his response to my rebellion. 

I've been working through the Old Testament and getting familiar with what can sometimes be understood as the grouchy side of God's character. It occasionally reads as God waking up on the wrong side of the bed. There is the whole flooding the earth situation, burning of Sodom of Gamorrah, genocide of all of Egypt's first born sons, and the straight up demolition of the sons of Eli. Granted, there's are some pretty good reasons why He reacts on a diva level 10 to these particular instances  (the earth was evil, Sodom and Gamorrah were into gang raping, the Egyptian Pharaoh ran a pretty significant slave industry, Eli's sons were straight up thugs), but still - where's is our loving God in all of these screwed up situations? Where is superman who saves the world, redeems the time, and sets things right?

  • I recently worked through the story of the Exodus, and noticed that God hardens Pharaoh's heart. 
  • As I was working through the turn over of Saul's kingship to David, I noticed that God sends an evil spirit to Saul

I have a friend in my life who isn't into accountability. I've petitioned this friend to seek pastoral wisdom, to address their issues, and to live accountable to the faith they claim. It's all been a solid 'no'. A resounding 'get out of my face'. My friend's heart has becoming hardened against the ways of God. My friend initiated the hardening of their own heart, and maybe the only way back to God (on account of their own stubbornness) is to surrender them over to their issues and pray that life in the fast lane knocks them around enough that they come running back into the arms of God. Do I abandon my friend? No! Am I done with my friend? No! To release someone to their own devices is not the same as throwing them away, rather, night comes before dawn and sometimes people, out of their own stubbornness, must experience the fullness of night. 

Sometimes, when little children throw a temper tantrum, you have to let that tantrum happen. It doesn't mean that you don't love them. It doesn't mean that you won't address their anger. It doesn't mean that you won't equip them with the right tools to work through those emotions when the timing is right. It means that that little one has decided to throw a temper tantrum, and you have to wait that nonsense out. The waiting can be costly, painful, and downright sad. The waiting can make you feel like a loser and a failure. But it's just waiting. It's not permanent.

When God hardened Pharaoh's heart, Pharaoh already did the work of having a heard heart. Pharaoh already refused to humble himself and rejected God's way over and over again. So, did God harden his heart or simply give Pharaoh over to his own pride?

When an evil spirit comes on Saul, Saul's already been freaking out and totally threatened by David's prominence. Saul has already been struggling with jealously over David's military victories, over David's popularity, over David's favor from God, and over his daughter's love for David. Does God send an evil spirit to Saul, or does he simply give Saul over to the jealously in his heart?

Sometimes, you have to let that tantrum happen. Pharaoh's heart was set against Israel, and God let it be set. Saul's heart was set against David, and God let it be set. Sometimes the only path out is right through the dark forest of the hardness of our hearts. We are little children, after all. 

So, is God's seeming silence in the face of our frustration equate to God's indifference over us? No, I don't think so. 

Are there any Stranger Things fans in the house? SPOILER ALERT (PS - If I'm spoiling this for you, you haven't lived. Stop what you are doing and go watch the second season). One of my favorite scenes is when Hopper loses his temper with El. I mean - it definitely hits a 'Hopper needs to say sorry' point, but early in the argument, Hopper's responding in a pretty understandable way. Hopper is in straight up Dad mode, and he is so protective over El and has such a strong love for her, that he gets super angry when she disobeys him, putting herself in the path of danger. You can almost see scenes of little El falling into the hands of heartless scientists who mean her great harm run across Hopper's face as it becomes red with anger at El. He can see the bigger picture that she can't see, and knows the boundaries in her life are there for a good reason. Sometimes, a good dad goes in discipline mode, and raises his voice. And sometimes - a good Dad knows the only thing to do is to throw his hands up in the air, let you learn the lesson your way, and wait for you come around. Good Dads get angry, but are are never 'done' with their kids. Good Dads pass judgements, fair judgements, but they aren't final judgements. In time and after El's rebellion, Hopper comes around to El, and they are okay. There is so much more to the story than the isolated moment of heated frustration. That moment is just part of a longer narrative. Don't turn the TV off in the middle of a show - finish the series! Don't turn the Lord off in the middle of the story - keep waiting, pressing in, wrestling, and checking your own hardness of heart against His good boundaries.

I think God is patient, and his love is strong enough that he sometimes restrains His own leadership in our life so we can learn lessons the hard way. Sometimes God (good Dad) gets angry because we are being denseSometimes little kids throw temper tantrums and God (good Dad) gives us over to own desires. The good news is when the tantrum is over, there is a loving and committed God , who calls himself Dad, who is waiting and willing to pick us up out of our own mess, brush us off, and heal our hardened hearts. Buck up, little one - its just a season.

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Alaska Road Trip | At Last...Alaska

Can you believe that the most wildlife we saw was not in Alaska, but on the Alaska road in Alberta and the Yukon? We saw 41 bears, dozens of wild buffalo and moose, and spent a dark evening avoiding elk on the highway by our headlights lighting up their eyes left and right. 

With that being said, Alaska did not disappoint. The entire state is one big national park. Where we drove hundreds of miles to get to a destination like Glacier National Park in Montana - it seemed that at every turn we hit a site of equal beauty as a Glacier that didn't even have state park status. 

 

Denali National Park & Hatcher's Pass

On the hunt for Mt. McKinley

We visited Denali first. We spotted hundreds of Caribou (our only siting on the trip) and a blonde Grizzly Bear. We watched patiently as a mother with her two cubs meandered toward us. We searched the skyline for Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America, but couldn't find it anywhere and were shocked that no one was talking about it. We were halfway through the tour when the guide was speaking about climbers attempting the dangerous trek up the mountain Denali when we realized...McKinley is Denali. Obama had changed the name not long ago to the original name, Denali, to honor the Native Alaskans. 

After Denali we visited some old friends of Sherei's, Nathan and Marissa Chud. Spending time with them was a fresh breath. Being with friends for the first time in 3 weeks would have been enough, but they spoke life into our hearts as we caught up and shared encouragement with one another of our next seasons coming (they are missionaries in Lebanon). As we spoke of the adoption fundraiser and preparing for the upcoming tour, he pointed to his "We Are Pioneers" shirt Sherei designed and then to the mountain behind us; "they look a lot alike! That's Pioneer Peak." We were thousands of miles from home, but felt like we were exactly where we were supposed to be. 

They asked us where we had been so far. Only Denali. They said that we had seen the least that Alaska has to offer. We still had the Kanai Peninsula with Seward and Homer, and their secret favorite spot: Hatcher's Pass. Hatcher's turned out to be one of the most magical places on our trip; a gold mining pioneer village in a bowl high up in the mountains. 

 

Seward

Sled dogs, Glaciers and Humpbacks

We had been hearing since before we left about this famed drive down the Kenai peninsula - from Anchorage to Seward. It was worth the entire trip. After an hour of coastal Hwy 1, Alaska style, I savored a locally sourced elderberry pie, watching a sea plane soar over me and land in the lake as Sherei slept beside me. I woke her up as we pulled up to the tunnel that was the only road to Whittier - it was Rivendell; dozens of waterfalls rolling down the mossy walls that led to the foggy fjord below. 

Onward toward Seward we found what was most likely Sherei's favorite stop - the Iditarod sled dog training facility. 5 years ago when we were in California Sherei found us jobs with one of these places (which we didn't end up taking)- it could have even been this one. Now we were finally there. We learned the vigorous training schedule of the musher, who took extensive time to tell us his tales from the Iditarod he had completed. There are more people who have been to space than have completed the Iditarod, a 1,150 mile race across the harsh Alaskan landscape. Teams race through blizzards causing whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds which can cause the wind chill to reach −100 °F. We stared in awe at the walking wintery wonder of a man before us and listened to his tales as the future champion husky puppies in our arms melted our hearts. 

We stopped by Exit glacier for our closest look yet at a glacier. We drove past a sign as we approached a mile out with a date from the 1800s, then passed dozens more as we got closer - 1907, 1934, 1971, 2005. We realized this is where the glacier used to reach, having dramatically melted through the years from global warming. The glacier is the architect of this land. They carry nutrients to the waterways that feed the food chain that salmon feed from, which we and the bears feed from. The stark mountains soaring above us and the valleys we road through were shaped by them. And then we arrived in Seward to Kenai Fjords National Park - where we would thank God for the glaciers' work more than anywhere else.

A fjord (think Frozen), we finally learned, is a deep valley carved by glaciers that filled in with water. The unique thing about fjords is that they make the water extremely deep right beside the shore, allowing large cruiseliners to come in (this is where you will land if you take an Alaskan cruise), but more importantly allows for an extremely biodiverse marine life with humpback whales sneaking right up to the town's edge. We took a wildlife cruise and were overwhelmed with the amount of wildlife seen: in one 360 degree turn I saw a bald eagle, and mountain goat with a baby, a humpback whale, puffins, and sea lions. That evening we began a song about our trip around the campfire on the shoreline, and a sea otter scooted by on his back bathing himself. I love writing with Sherei. 

Wild river, run wild

Water falls if you let if flow

From the glacier to the coast

And I

When I wandered lost

Is when I finally found

That I

When I wanderlust

Is when I finally feel I'm found

 

Homer

"A quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem"

We stayed longer in Seward than anywhere up to that point. And it began to feel refreshingly familiar. But there was more to see. We decided our final city for the trip was Homer - a drive to what felt like the edge of the earth. Once there we drove a mile down the fishing spit and found our spot on the beach to camp for a few days. The next morning we rented bikes in town and rode to the end of the spit, stopping to rescue our tent that we discovered bent over on itself held down with a few rocks, moments from blowing away into the bay. To Sherei's delight, we went on a date at the most talked about restaurant in town: the Little Mermaid - which booked up days in advance. We walked up to chance if we could get a last minute table, and realized it only had 4 tables...no wonder it was booked up! They gave us a spot at a small bar and my Ariel loved it. 

That night a little boy with wild red hair wandered over to our spot, introduced himself, and after a pause began proudly with "I already know one story." He shared the scary campfire story of a 6 year old and we were inspired by his courage - the ignorant bravery of children who make friends on any playground. We made a fire and invited our neighbor, a lone biker from Canada, to come join us. We ended up hanging out the following night as well and were more entranced than the best Netflix binge as we learned of another's life so different than ours. We laughed and listened and he invited the other biker by him to join. How had we traveled across the world and these were our first new friends? 

The final day we took a horseback trip in the mountains with a jolly Ron Swanson...named Ron. He moved to Alaska to do whatever he wanted. It was 50 degrees and he was in a t-shirt. He said when it is 20 he puts on a jacket. He knew more about economics and history than my college professors, and gave us a lesson on the past, present and future of American currency - from the Gold Reserve Act to the 2008 financial crisis. Shockingly, it was riveting coming from Ron. He uses his 3 giant draft horses to hunt moose with when he isn't giving guided tours. He took us 2 hours longer than we paid for and let us gallup with the horses. We exchanged information and plan to keep up in the winters when things get slow with his business; the time when he reads his history textbooks. 

Matanuska Glacier

Where the road ends,

and the woods become wild again,

is where we begin

Where the road ends, and the woods become wild again, is where we begin. That is what it means to me to be a pioneer. And much of this trip was not me being brave enough to do it, but forcing myself to in fear - and hoping my spirit catches up. I faked bravery until I found it again. When you lose people you love, and death begins to feel so close, you can clam up and clasp tightly to all you hold dear for the sake of safety - above all else. I felt this creeping cancer of worry overtaking me, and Alaska was the chemo to kill it. 

As we came to our last adventure in Alaska I was faced with a final task. We drove down to the toe of the 26 mile Matanuska glacier and got out to face it on foot...in our chacos. Let me just take an aside here to say that if you ever decide to go to Alaska in the summer - you still need to bring a heavy jacket, insulated underwear, gloves, and hiking boots. It was scary and slippery. Was I going to play to the caution rising and whipping around in me - slapping the pioneering child within that was now awake again but still timid?  We saw the guided teams crunching onward through the ice ahead in their clamp-ons and helmets, and we sneaked smeagol-like around the blue ice chunks behind them - treading our own safe yet so-not-safe path toward the glacier face. We arrived in giddy bliss to what we had been dreaming of since we saw our first glacier from a far in Montana - a white and blue kingdom of Alaskan ice enveloping us on every side. We got some judgmental looks from the packs of people who paid $150 to take the tour, but I couldn't help notice a few of the kids - and even a few older gentlemen look at the freedom of our journey with childlike yearning and jealousy. 

 

Learning How to Die

Reflections from the road

Many have asked what I learned while on the road. What I walked away with. This next part may be hard for some to read - so if this past year has been hard for you I recommend having someone else read this first and advise you accordingly. 

Here in Nashville, 13,000 miles later I feel one step closer to freedom; a freedom from fear as perfect love slowly powers down on and envelops me like Matanuska. I had 7 funerals in the past year, which birthed in me a slowly billowing, crippling anxiety of death. I had a fairly constant headache for 2 months in one spot and went to get an MRI. I had chest pain that had me waking in the night in irrational panic that I was having a heart attack, which increased my heart rate which increased my panic. My mind slipped slowly toward recognizing these moments as irrational. One night developed into a full-fledged breakdown. If you know me, you know how abnormal this behavior, or any anxious behavior, is for me. I am the guy that everyone thought was a pothead in high school because I was so chill - despite having never touched drugs. I couldn't help thinking if so many bad things can happen to good people, how can Jesus say "do not be anxious about anything"? I am slowly landing with an answer there, but I do know why he said it: anxiety is bred in the absence of trust. You can't trust Jesus 100% and have anxiety plague you. For me, the foundational trust of my faith had been hammered hard 7 times and I, the structure above, was visibly shaken. 

Death is the great equalizer. It is the one guaranteed thing to all humanity. Every human and therefore every religion has an opinion about death. Most say either:

a). Accept death. Make peace with it, and welcome it like an old friend. The naturalists (read the poem Thanatopsis) and the Buddhists line up with this. 

or

b). Conquer death. Their belief systems give ways to defeat and deny death his victory. We find this with the Hindus and Voldermort (along with most other power-hungry leaders).

Yet both of these systems rely on your efforts; a self-reliance that you must muster up to either accept or defeat death. The problem is that both of these approaches leave you rife with anxiety.

But the truth is different. God doesn't like death. He doesn't want us to just accept it, nor does he want us to fight and overcome it. Both of these are shadows of the real divine perspective and strategy. The truth is that Jesus enables us to both accept death and defeat death. Yet the outcome is not reliant on our efforts - he has done it himself. He conquered death for us, and we are commanded to rest in the peace of knowing that, so that whether we live or die - it is well. What is required of us is faith, or you could say, trust. Trust happens within relationship, not religion. And our intimacy deepens as we realize that he weeps for the deaths of this age, and that one of the main reasons he came was to put death in his grave (2 Timothy 1:10, 1 Corinthians 15:24-26). 

And now, with that lens, everything changes. Our now changes. Our anxiety of our own deaths or the deaths of our loved ones fades with trust in Jesus and his work in resurrection. And the ones that have passed we grieve for - but not as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). 

Much of the life I have been living this summer has been learning how to die. If that is a journey you are currently walking or have walked as well, I hope the words above are a comfort to you. I encourage you to go to professional counseling - as it has helped Sherei and I so much, lean in with vulnerability to the community of Christ that can be vessels of God's grace and hope that act as salve to your wounds, and never give up pioneering - for your family, your friends and countless unseen others behind you who are waiting on your path through what feels like a cold-as-Alaska wilderness. Warmth and light are waiting on the other side. 

With love,

Daniel 

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Alaska Road Trip | Yellowstone, Glacier, & Alaska Hwy

I am now closer to Tokyo than I am to Charlotte. This distance (6,000 miles on our trip odometer so far) from the normal humdrum of my daily rhythms, familiar faces, and usual scenery has given me perspective, space to breath, rest, trust, begin to process the past two years and prepare for the ones to come: grad school + adopting our first child.

I will get to some of that later. For the most part, though, this trip has been taking in so much beauty in nature one day after the other, from Amarillo to Anchorage, that I have run out of words to use for being utterly overwhelmed. Here are some shots of us being dumbstruck, followed by some insights and pictures from the road:

Bears

Yesterday we pulled up to the campsite for the night and there was a sign telling us a bear had injured 4 hikers the day before so the campground was shut down for the next week. There was a news anchor outside the shut gate reporting on the incident. Sherei turned to me and said "I miss being afraid of snakes." Truly, bears have become both the delight and the doom of our trip. If we had seen that momma bear (that was most likely just startled and protecting the two cubs that were with her) that would have made bear NUMBER 16 for us on this trip. I was hoping to see a bear here, maybe even a few, but I was not expecting to begin to lose count of how many. Nor was I expecting to have so many face-to-face near misses.

We were hiking for the first time in Glacier National Park, and we set up our Eno overlooking this beautiful lake and mountain view you will see in the pictures below. A girl walked past us, then came back 5 minutes later and said "hey guys, I don't mean to startle you, but there are two Grizzlies about 200 yards down on the path so I wouldn't keep going if I were you." Nope. We packed up and walked out. And to think - we laughed when we first heard about bear spray! "We won't need that!" we thought...now we have a bear canister for food, a bear horn, two bear bells and I wear the bear spray in its holster on my hip like Clint Eastwood and we practice for bear moments regularly when we hike. Yep. Bears, man.

P.O.V.

In the midst of our wildlife journey, I discovered a delight that has been slowly teaching me to die to myself and learn to love better: seeing things from Sherei's POV (Point Of View). While I am driving, we will pull up on some wildlife or a landscape, and I get to see Sherei capture a moment and review it on her camera. It is often zoomed in so it captures details that I never would have seen. Her shot will have perspective and lighting that I would have missed if I didn't take a moment to see things from her POV.

The Holy Spirit was teaching me something in these moments about empathy. Jesus came to the earth to get our POV: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."(Hebrews 4:15). God loved the world so much that he came here. Loving someone from a distance is not real love. Like Atticus said, "you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them." Practicing empathy practically, by seeing things through Sherei's camera lens, has been teaching me to see life through her lens, unlocking a love for her that is deeper and that flows naturally from the heart, not from a striving mind.

My pictures of her perspective:

With all that being said, here are Sherei's photos from our trip so far! 

Glacier and Banff National Parks

Grand Tetons & Yellowstone National Parks

Alaska Highway

To close: a few landscape mode shots from my phone. They don't do it justice, but if you imagine what seems here to be so tidy and tangible to be immeasurably more massive so that it is intimidating to stand in front of - you are getting close.

Thanks for reading :) To keep up with more of our mischief to come, subscribe below:

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Alaska Road Trip | Rocky Mountains

Over the past three days we've seen desert, great rolling plains, enormous canyons, rushing rivers, and snowcapped mountains. The earth keeps us entertained as the hours roll by behind the wheel, and though I was incredibly thankful for a shower today - I do not feel the least bit road weary. 

On Monday night we drove in late on a terrifying, winding road and camped inside of the second largest canyon in the US, Palo Duro. We hammocked that night and a cool perfect breeze kept time with the rhythms of night noises, including the distant early morning howling of some neighborhood coyotes. 

We hit the road quickly to try and make it to the Rocky Mountain National Park with time to explore. The landscape changed so quickly it was hard to do anything else than take in our surroundings. Big grass prairie lands turned into green fields with little happy bushes and the straight road ahead could be seen touching the horizon. We made it to the Rocky Mountains with plenty of daylight but a slight storm rolling in. We decided to risk it and drive the Trail Ridge Road, which takes you directly into the Alpine ecosystem on the crest of the mountains. With every half mile the temperature dropped another few degrees, and before we knew it it was no longer 75 and sunny, but 40 and snowy. Enormous snowcapped mountains surrounded us on every side and at times the snow piled twice as high as our vehicle. We crossed rugged terrain and canyons with misty fog caught in the valley. Once we finally reached the summit it felt as if we were on a new, foreign planet. Endless white everywhere and angry clouds kept me totally awestruck. 

We camped at the base of the Rockies to our first rough night of sleep. The temperature dropped and my thin pair of long johns left me regretting not packing more winter gear. 

The next morning we headed onward through Wyoming in hopes of reaching the Grand Tetons before night fall. This was the strangest and most enchanting part of our trip. Exiting the Rocky Mountains we saw a moose and several Elk, along with some wild turkey, rabbits, and antelope around every turn. Once we passed the great plains the earth was very suddenly covered in a strange assortment of spring and winter - snow laiden prairies turned into a hilly, winding road with melting bodies of water and rushing new rivers all around. It was Narnia, in spring after a long, endless winter. Then suddenly, the horizon broke and in the very shadowing great far off we saw them - the Grand Tetons. 

I started to cry. How beautiful and how perfect. They ripped into the skyline and seemed to touch heaven with their sharp peaks. The clouds around the Tetons were so angry while everything else looked like pleasant spring. The closer we got the more majestic they became, and I decided that it was the most terrifying and lovely thing my eyes had ever seen. 

We took a dinner break at Jackson Hole, where some outlaws put on a show in the town square. We decided to press onward to Yellowstone, and on our way there was a massive pile up of cars and policemen. We wondered what the commotion was and got out of our car to see what everyone had spotted. There, in a big, lovely meadow was a beautiful black mama bear and her two baby cubs. They were rolling, playing, and running just 200 yards off. It made me endlessly happy. 

We camped under the Tetons about an hour outside of Yellowstone, woke up and spent the morning doing very boring and grown up things, like catching up on my Etsy work, doing laundry, and drinking real coffee. I am full of wonder at what the day holds, and feeling so overwhelmingly thankful for this beautiful planet. 

Daniel is writing a song that I love and dreamed about while I was sleeping. I am reading, doodling, and writing. All is right with the world. 

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Alaska Road Trip | Waco, TX

I have a little cousin who feels more like a sister and friend for endless reasons from silly to profound. She's a halfsy like me and we have always bonded over our uniquely blended heritage - we can be as spicy as the loudest Puerto Rican but still freakout over Starbucks' seasonal drinks like the best white girl. Christina is one of the brightest, most talented girls I have ever known - she's book smart, insanely beautiful, and a triple threat actress, dancer, and singer. I think the thing that is the shiniest about Christina is her faith in Jesus. Innocence and purity of heart comes easy for her, and she's quick to serve others. She's one of those rare birds that gives a helping hand with a smile the size of Texas, and I feel endlessly thankful for her friendship. I adore her. 

We are fools and don't live close, so whenever we get the chance to get together we do so like water bursting forth from a fire hydrate - we squeeze in laughs, cuddles, catchups and adventures. Christina's mom and dad, Mark and Blanca, have been some of my biggest advocates over the years. I turned to Mark and Blanca for advice when I was first tinkering with the idea of seminary years ago and they are a big part of the reason why I moved forward with the lofty dream. The Austin's bought a house show during our fundraiser, and we gleefully schemed a time to come out and do one in their new home in Lucas, Texas, just outside of Dallas. We decided to tack it on to the front end of our Alaska Trip, and got to spend the last few days here in land of longhorns and Texas pride. 

We got to go to church with the Austin's and enjoyed a wonderful Sunday School. It was so refreshing to worship in a new space and we had the best BBQ afterward. Our house show proved to be an unbelievably good time. Mark set up a volleyball court for us in the backyard, and we played a round of 3 against the tallest family I think I've ever met. They were from Chicago - do they grow them tall in Chicago? - and well...they dominated. It was comical. We lost and everyone had the silliest and best time. Afterward Daniel and I shared our story around the poolside and Daniel performed all of the songs on the EP. It was the loveliest day. 

Today Blanca, Christina, Daniel and I woke up miraculously early and headed to Waco, Texas. Christina is an incoming senior at Baylor, and like every red blooded 28-year-old American - I am deeply obsessed with the one and only Joanna Gaines. We explored Christina's world at Baylor and headed to the Silos for lunch. Johnnyswim was playing over the crowded and sunny lawn outside of Magnolia Market - and I CRIED. Then I went into the market and cried again. My heart just gushed it was so lovely. 

Already, I feel the tendrils of grieve start to loosen, and am blown away by the rest that I'm quickly experiencing on this trip. I sense hope rising, and for that I feel very grateful. 

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Jacksons are going to Duke

DUKE DIVINITY SCHOOL

DURHAM, NC

My heart swells with good news. Daniel and I have been awarded partial merit scholarships and will be transferring to Duke Divinity School, a part of Duke University, in the fall of 2017 to finish our Masters of Divinity. We will be moving to the heart of Durham, North Carolina and plan on being full time students. 

That's the short. The long is that we love and cherish our community in Charlotte. We've had the most beautiful two years here, and we move forward with very full hearts. I got to pastor a bright group of teens at Warehouse242 that challenged me in all the right and best ways and Daniel played music every week for the first time as a full time director of modern worship at Assurance UMC. We cut our teeth with theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and are so sad to transfer out from such an incredible school that has given us a phenomenal education. The choice to transfer schools was tough, but right. As we look to the future and our dream to serve the local church, Duke was - after much debate and prayer- a better fit for our family. At Duke, we will get to learn the maverick church planting strategies under the leadership of new Dean Elaine Heath, and for the first time in our academic career we will be able to solely devote ourselves to our education. We have the opportunity to be a part of the incredible field placement program at Duke, where every summer we will get hands on experience of pastoring and building the local church. 

Not to mention - Durham is cool! We will be living in the heart of Bull City, biking through the majestic Duke Forest every day to class, and spending our weekends at Eno state park. From startups to the best coffee/foodie/stationary shop this side of the Mississippi - we are pretty pumped about the next leg of our journey taking place in the New South type of city that we want to be a part of. We are dreaming and scheming, and with fear and joy - saying yes to the great and wild call of God on our lives. 

Last day of the semester at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. 

Last day of the semester at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. 

WHAT'S NEXT WITH THE ADOPTION

Over the summer, along with some traveling and visiting family, Daniel and I will be completing a 17 house show tour as we continue to raise funds for our adoption. Our adoption is on track and we are 3-5 years out from starting our family. We will start our home study this summer with our amazing and supportive agency, Lifeline Children's Services

If you placed an order with us for a shirt, mug, vinyl, CD, or coloring book from the online campaign, we'll be delivering all of these goods at house shows as we travel throughout the southeast over June and July. At the end of the tour, we will mail off the purchases of anyone we didn't get to visit with at the house shows. Please let us know if you need your purchase sooner, and we're happy to pop it in the mail. 

Here's the lineup:

June 4 - Lucas, TX

July 17 - Nashville, TN

July 18 - Nashville, TN

July 19 - Birmingham, AL

July 20 - Dothan, AL

July 22 - Marianna, FL

July 23 - Orlando, FL

July 25 - Huntsville, AL

July 27  - Charlotte, NC TBD

July 29 - Washington DC TBD

Aug 2/3 - Brevard, NC TBD

We'll be traveling with a group of musical friends for the Hidden Nation House Show Tour.

We'll be traveling with a group of musical friends for the Hidden Nation House Show Tour.

TRAVEL PLANS FOR THE SUMMER

Over the summer, Daniel and I will be on a walk-about. We are traveling to Texas to visit with some beloved family and do a house show, then we will be camping out for June in a few national parks, the Yukon, and Alaska. While we Sabbath this summer we're going to take a break from social media (with the exception of tour updates) and will be keeping you guys updated thru this blog and our newsletter. If you'd like to receive our newsletter, you can sign up here: 

 

 

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Daniel's EP, Hidden Nation, released to raise funds for adoption

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Daniel's EP, Hidden Nation, released to raise funds for adoption

THE DAY IS HERE! After years of hard work, song writing, studio time, and dreaming - Daniel's 4 song EP is FINALLY OUT! Huzzah! I AM SO EXCITED!

This has been our dream baby for years, and the songs on this EP are the sounds of our home. We we first starting talking about recording, Daniel had a stroke of brilliance and began to dream about the project raising money for our first adoption. Can you believe I married him? He's the greatest.

We launched our fundraising platform 7 short days ago thru Generosity, and all proceeds from the album go towards our first adoption. You can hear our adoption story, and purchase all of the beautiful goodies from the album below: 

Check out our adoption story here:

Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing more about the song writing process, the journey behind 'Pioneers', 'One Day', 'You Are', and 'Strongest Man Alive', and where we are in our adoption journey. I'm going to go cry now! Thanks for dreaming with us. 

- Sherei

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UPDATE: We've hit 30% of our goal! In celebration, check out the Pioneers & You Are music videos below:

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A New Song About the Prodigal Son

“Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.” - Tim Keller, Prodigal God

I am reading Prodigal God with my LifeGroup at Assurance, which has got me thinking a lot on the life of the younger brother in the story. I wrote this simple song from his perspective, with a twist at the end changing to the Father's. I hope meditating on it along with the scripture might inspire new appreciation for this old story, providing some holy imagination, and breath some new life into what may be an old, dry narrative for you. If the Bible, or even Christianity, feel a bit dry and crusty to you - I wholeheartedly recommend Prodigal God for fresh life. It has certainly done so for me. The song is called Thinking of You. I have put the story first, then the song and lyrics underneath. 


"And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate." - Luke 15:11-32

Field and house
Lamb and calf
All my rings
All my staff

Give me mine
Father now
Sell my rig
Seal my right

Cause I've got things to do
And none of them involve thinking of you

Leave this land
Shake these hands
Lay with pigs
Laid with lambs

Cold wet ground
Ash dry mouth
Craving dregs
Caving crown

But I've got things to do
And none of them involve thinking of you

Heading home
Head hang low
Slaves still sing
Slaves belong

Rising sun
Father runs
Robe and ring
Arose my son

Dance and song
Seem so wrong
Years waiting
Father longs

Yes I had things to do
But all of my time was thinking of you

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How To Pray for President Elect Donald Trump

Want the List: Skip to the bottom.


Today is not my best day. I feel asleep in grief and woke up in grief.  This has been a week of deep pain and the days ahead are uncertain at best. My heart aches, my body moves slowly, and as I inch on my body is full of sickness because of the heaviness of my soul. A good friend of mine passed away unexpectedly last Thursday. On Sunday we celebrated her life. Yesterday I voted for the next president of the Nation that I love and at 3 am today President Elect Donald Trump gave his speech.

I am from Republican land - Alabama - and so as I write, I realize I have many, many friends who do not share the grief in my heart. I am writing in hopes of helping those evangelical Christians who do share my vantage point. I am writing to those who are heavy hearted today, feeling overwhelmed and at a loss with how to pray for a leader you do not stand with.

I said something scary to my husband as we were snailing through our morning routine. I muttered, "Today, my identity as a woman and as a Latina feels louder than my identity as a daughter of God." Yikes. I was all anger and no prayer. I didn't even want to turn to God. I've had many fellow believers write words of consolation, peace, grace, and dependence on God while I have spent the day in grief, in tears, and in fear. I fear for women. I fear for Latinos. I fear for the marginalized. I hate bullies. No, let me correct that: I murder them in my heart. This is not noble. This is against God's law:

Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
— 1 John 3:15

My response to breaking God's law is one of pride. I think, "He is not a brother." Then I hear God's voice say:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers,what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
— Matthew 5:44-48

So, I am writing this list of prayers to correct my own heart. I write this in hopes that the brokenhearted find words to lean into, and leaves the day remembering their lot is with God - not with the way of this world that is passing away.


How To Pray for President Elect Donald Trump

  • WISDOM

I pray that God's spirit of Wisdom resides on President Elect Donald Trump. I pray that President Elect Donald Trump uses godly wisdom when working to unify our country, identify and protect the marginalized, and interact with our friends and foes abroad. I pray that President Elect Donald Trump would not be wise in his own eyes, but would fear the Lord (Proverbs 3:7). 

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." - James 3:17

  • COMPASSION

I pray that President Elect Donald trump operates with compassion in all of his dealings. 

"To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." - James 3:17

  • SALVATION

I know there are many that believe President Elect Donald Trump is a follower of our Christ. Even so, I pray that he encounters the love of God in a miraculous way that would cleanse, renew, and rebirth him from the inside out. 

"I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." - Ephesians 3:17-19

  • FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT/ FRUITS OF SALVATION

As we become followers of Christ, we become more and more like Christ. I pray that President Elect Donald Trump manifest the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." - Romans 12:2

  • VISION THAT HONORS GOD

I pray that as President Elect Donald Trump builds a vision for our country's future, he would do so with the will of God in mind and seek to honor God in all that he does.

"In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps." - Proverbs 16:9

  • INTEGRITY

I pray that President Elect Donald Trump would become a man of integrity. That he would treat all people, of all creeds, with human dignity and respect. I pray that President Elect Donald Trump would guard his words, and become more mindful and aware that the tongue has the power of life and death. 

"For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man." - 2 Corinthians 8:21

"The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy." - Proverbs 12:22

  • HUMILITY

I pray that President Elect Donald Trump would become a servant of the American people, valuing their lives above his own. I pray that President Elect Donald Trump recognizes his shortcomings and his sinful nature. 

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves." - Phillipians 2:3

  • UNITY

I pray that President Elect Donald Trump works hard to unite the American people, and that we live in peace. 

 "They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it." - 1 Peter 3:11

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UAB Framily ReUnion 2016 and a Little Worship Video To Boot

A wordsmith is very rarely found without words. Word's are my kind of my thing. Written, spoken and calligraphi-fied, I love them. Words and I go way back. Yet, this weekend leaves me fumbling, searching for the right words as I try to communicate the lesson learned.  

The tendrils of Hurricane Matthew are casting a gloomy day over Charlotte. My pumpkin spice latte, duck boots, and flannel are keeping me cozy as I sit in the Gordon Conwell library and watch the rain engulf the forest behind my school. Feelings of sleepy days and home sing a sweet melody around my person as I type. It's here that I find myself waking from the dream that was this past weekend to a hopeful future. 

Last weekend nine of my dear ones gathered in Panama City Beach, FL, after five long years of being apart. I basically cried and laughed for four straight days. We were all college friends, alumni of UAB (yes, we gave Janell an honorary degree), who spent our college years in absolute friendship bliss. From 2009-12, give or take, our little crew did life together. In our ranks we were black, white, asian and hispanic. We came from the poorest homes and the wealthiest homes. Our common bond really was Christ alone, but that bond melted away our differences and we became one family, one people. We lived together. We had worship and bible study nights that happened nearly every night of the week. We celebrated life and death together. Everyone was in a band together and played around town as the Prayer Furnace moved from place to place. We led the Alabama Campus Prayer Network together. We sought the lost, sharing our food, our home, and our very lives with one another. Baking bread, caroling during Christmas, and Erica saying, "dude, we've got to study" during overnight sessions at the library. There are so many stand out moments that resound from that era of my life. When my cousin went missing, it was this group of friends that tracked all over Montevallo's campus, hours away from our own, in the woods and in the rain, to look for him. When we never found him, it was this group of friends who held me while I cried in anger, pain, and loss. A few years later, when Daniel and I got married, it was this group of friends that camped out at my parents house for a week, making wedding decor and suiting up as our bridal party. When Janell left to travel the world, it was this group of friends that packed her bag and dropped her off at the airport. These people showed me what life in God's family look like, and since moving on from their ranks, I have been left wanting, lost in the thoughts and memories of yesteryear. 

But the wind did change. Some moved, some married, some took jobs, some started businesses. We looked up and years had past. Wanting so badly to revisit those wonderful days, we set aside a four day trip to be together once again. It was time travel. For four, perfect days we shared our hearts, cried, prayed, sung, played, and were together once again. God's beautiful family.

To my student readership: What do I want you to learn? Make good friends. Friends that love Jesus. It's through friendships like these that I have most experienced 'the kingdom at hand' in my own life. 

Here's a glimpse at our weekend together:

 

 

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