Saturday, November 29, 2014

Discovering Eden: A Mayan Excursion

Backpack strapped on with an indigenous woven blanket tied across the top. Leather mail carrier back slung across my shoulder with 2 guidebooks, a worn out Bible, college textbooks, and my Macbook tucked inside. A canteen for water and a few granola bars. The bus is at the top of the hill… it’s go time.

Kellie and the kids walk with me up the gravel drive towards highway CA1 that slices above our house. The night is humid and rain falls that the locals call chippy-chippy, which is an ever so detectable mist that blankets in a gentle touch. Dogs are barking across the city-edge neighborhood and Spanish language echoes down the pavement from the local tienda. We board the bus. We find our seats. It’s going to be a long night, 10 hours of treacherous mountain driving in a retired school bus. We trust Manuel who sits in the driver seat. I’ve seen him back this bus down impossible trails with no room for error. A mistake equals a 200 foot free-fall. This drive is no different. A two lane highway with no painted lines that will carry cars, buses, and trucks three wide on hairpin curves with no guardrails. The pavement is cradled between sheer rock walls that often collapse, and black abyss that seems to beckon like a black hole. It’s best not to look out.

The trees meet above the road and black out any chance of moonlight. The road can suddenly be blocked with rock, fallen trees, stalled vehicles, random livestock or road-kill, or a times even on oncoming semi-truck, filling your lane. You say a quick prayer, suck in your gut with clenched eyes and listen as the wind whips between the heavy vehicles. Once again… you’ve cleared. Twisted steel and nightmares avoided. You chuckle to yourself. This life is insane.

Sleep comes. Despicable Me Two has been playing on the screen to keep the littles from getting restless, and now it has ended. Most of our crew of around 30 are asleep and the Main Menu sequence is playing over and over and over. I roll the blanket up and place it behind my neck to reduce the back of my head bouncing off the glass. I’ve been sick. I’ve had 4 hours of sleep in the past 3 days. I had to complete my Exegesis paper on Deuteronomy 30:11-20. I’m exhausted. I sleep.

I feel myself falling forward as I instinctively reach out to stop my pack from falling into the floorboard. My head is tucked down so my forehead rests on the standard school bus green seat back. Somehow most everyone is asleep. I look up to see soldiers. We are at a military check-point. Our bus has been stopped for search.

I stand up and here the helmeted man with the gun say that everyone must get out. I turn and begin to address my friends. “You have to get out. We all have to get out. Right now. Get up. Let’s go.” They look worried, I suppose I do as well. But I know that this is standard. They say they are checking for unauthorized transport of fruit, but I think that it is also drug trade and sex trafficking that they are thwarting. They are the good guys. We are in safe hands. Just don’t do anything stupid.

I locate some restrooms at the end of the guard plaza. There is also a shanty of a tienda, wood planks strapped together with twine and covered with sheet metal. You can buy Limonada, Naranjada, Grapetta, Coca, and most any alcohol. We buy no alcohol. We are good church people, after all.

Restroom… no, that word misleads you. A wooden door swings open to reveal a wall of stench that violently rams up both nostrils. A concrete pedestal rests on concrete floors. The light of my mobile phone reveals smeared and streaked walls. I look down and find that my feet are resting in liquid. I have to breathe and I resist the urge to add to the filth with a lurch. Mission accomplished a fumble at the door latch, thinking of what germs are on the surface and I make a desperate retreat. 

The bus restarts and the voyage continues. It’s 3:30 a.m. I fall back asleep.

I blink awake on occasion to catch glimpses of scenery. I see broken down trucks, closed tiendas, small shack houses along the road, and deep wilderness. Lights flash across the narrowing road and I see a parked semi truck with his hood up. A man is laying across the roof. I silently play a frequent game called, “Dead or Drunk?” I determine he is likely drunk as our bus blows by.

It’s still dark but the horizon is waking with a soft pink glow. We’re crossing a bridge. Welcome to the Isle of Flores. We’ve arrived around 5:30 a.m. We aren’t expected until 7:00. And so we turn off the bus and sit as the island comes to life. The sounds were deafening. I’ve never heard anything like it. Try to  imagine sounds from Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park. In the cacophony I could hear birds, thousands of birds, countless varieties, frogs from the brackish water below, and a roar of insects. Welcome to the jungle.

7:00 comes and the group must abandon the bus. We have the option of riding Tuk-Tuks, which are lawn mower engines mounted on an over sized tricycle. The driver sits along up front and a small bench seat holds passengers. Kellie, Aleksandra, and Sterling mount a Tuk-Tuk while Caleb and I decide to walk it along with our mission partners Justin and Kevin. Of course we walk past the place and have to double back to find it, but we reunite with our clan and enter the lobby.

We’re there on time, but we’ve forgotten the rule on time in Guatemala. Being on time is way too early. Our 7:00 breakfast is ready around 8:30. We’re tired, cranky, and hungry. We devour the scrambled eggs, plantains, refritos, and red sauce. The rooms are available, we toss our bags in our rooms… and head back toward the bus. Peten and Tikal awaits. There’s no time to spare. It’s back on the bus for another hour and a half. We’ll see our beds later tonight.

How do I describe the most otherworldly, epic-movie looking place I have ever seen? Tikal is so much more than you can see in a picture or on a post-card. It is expansive. It is vast. To see everything that has been excavated to date you must hike for over 6 miles. And there is much more that remains unearthed. The heart of an empire. You can still feel the power it wielded. 

Our guide gave us a brief history of a people rising to power. The Mayans worshipped multiple Gods with one as the head. Their beliefs were based on the alignments of the planets and stars, and cyclical to harvesting and planting. Overall they were a peaceful people, but special occasion could result in annual human sacrifice. To be the sacrifice was considered a great honor. You blood would be spilled down the steps of the temple. Your sacrifice would ensure the prosperity of your nation.

And then came Aztec influence. Things became bloody. Sacrifice was no longer an honor, it was a terror. We stood in the shadow of Temple One and listened to the screams of history. I reflected that those cries were not unique to this culture. We all have our demons. The beauty here was absolute and overwhelming.

We climbed two of the temples. The views were simply arresting. We would reach the summit and we would be silently transfixed as we were captivated by the rising temples from the canopy of the wilderness. What must this have been like when it was inhabited? I imagined myself as a Mayan warrior, reflecting the sun with steel in signal to Temple One, over 1.5 miles away. 

While we were at the peak, there were about 30 small, steep stairs that lead to the upper chamber. I grabbed Sterling in my arms (she is my most daring child) and together we climbed to the highest point. It was being balanced against the spire of the top of the world. The wind blew strong and we were at the level of birds. I sat her down on the ledge beside me with a grip on her hand. If we fell, we would fall together… having witnessed something that very few people have ever seen. 

We watched great birds soaring in the distance. They had vibrant red tails and splashes of yellow in their green feathers. I don’t know how long we were there. My legs began to grow weak and we began our descent. It was at this point that my right knee suddenly was swollen and could not be bent. With Sterling in my arms, I hobbled and hopped down the sharp incline. One missed step would send us tumbling towards the six foot unguarded ancient stone platform, and then over the ledge into the treetops below.

Of course this little drama is tempered with the reality that you are reading my words and so the conclusion is foregone. We made it safe. My footsteps were sure. The day was spent exploring carvings, passageways, foot-trails, ridiculously intricate architecture that harnessed sounds from shouted voice, knowledge of the stars and alignments of planets. The intelligence of this ancient race still bears respect. 

The Mayans believed that the square between Temples One and Two was the cradle of creation. For them, it was Eden, the center of the universe and the resting place of the Great God. While their religion is not my own, I could not find criticism for them as I stood in the shadow of their achievements. As to whether an ancient people encountered the one true God in this place, or if they simply constructed a tower of Babel, I cannot say. 

However, we do know that it ended abruptly. A people vanished. By conquest, pestilence, poisoning from building materials, blight, or a religion gone fanatical and violent… the end is not known. Nonetheless, if you stand in that place, you will feel the power of that ancient culture. In it’s time, it cannot be denied that it was indeed the center of their known world.

And so I found myself reflecting on my own view of God. There could be a day when someone stands in the ruin of my own life. I wonder what will be seen? This place is a place mixed with beauty and blood. The best of humanity mingled with the worst. Too often our own lives are no different. We all seem to think the world spins on our own understanding. I think there is a lesson here. 

I reflect back to my completed paper, discussing a remembered covenant between God and His people. Promises kept by a faithful God to a people who would seek His face and place nothing else before Him. I consider the faith of the Mayan. I consider the faith of the Israelites. I consider my own faith. 

I want the remains of my life to be a monument that points to God.

“For this commandment that I command to you today 
is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 

It is not in heaven that you should say,
“Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us,
that we may hear it and do it?”

Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say,
“Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us,
that we may hear it and do it?”

But the word is very near to you.
It is in your mouth and in your heart,
so that you can do it.

See, I have set before you today
life and death, good and evil.

If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God
that I command you today,
by loving the LORD your God
by walking in His ways and 
by keeping His commands, statutes, and His rules,

then you shall live and multiple
and the LORD shall bless you in the land that
you are entering to take possession of it.

But if your heart turns away
and you will not hear,
but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them,
I declare to you today that you will surely perish.
You shall not live long in the land that you posses.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,
that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.

Therefore chose life
that you and your offspring may live,
loving the LORD your God,
obeying His voice and holding fast to Him,
for He is your life and length of days,
that you may dwell in the land that the LORD
swore to your fathers,
to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob
to give them.”

Deuteronomy 30:11-20

Friday, November 28, 2014

An Angry Man & Bird Poo: Exit to El Salvador

The mechanic gave us the all clear. Tires are primed, oil and filters changed, and the diesel engine is tuned. We are off for a new experience. Destination El Salvador and an all-inclusive resort on the Caribbean coast line. The Shep family and our extended family: Gloria, Chelsey, and Chuy. The only thing that stands between us and the beach is 91 miles of driving and a border crossing. Sounds pretty simple I think? Except that it is not.

A 91-mile drive in Ohio would take about an hour and a half. We left our house at 9 a.m. and arrived at 3:30 p.m. There is always adventure when traveling in Central America. Within the first hour of the trip I had already taken two wrong turns and given us an additional 30 minutes or so of sightseeing. Over the last 18 months I have seen a great deal of Guatemala thanks to my tendency to drive the wrong way. It has paid off more than once. We’ll take off to some new destination and I’ll exclaim, “Hey, I’ve been here before!” This trip was no different. 

Once we got headed the correct way the kilometers began to tick by. The scenery was exquisite. As we hummed down the highway at about 90 miles an hour I was transfixed by the slowly approaching horizon. An approaching range of mountains that had been pushed up from the mantle of the earth thousands of years ago was topped with four large trees that were distinct against the blue sky. I considered how much time and change had taken place across the millennium before they could take root there and be seen by us in our travels in this moment.

We came to near the border of Guatemala and El Salvador and pulled into the dusty roadside panel building for the official exit stamps on our Passports. At this point in our lives, officials and borders are a familiar process. Present your documents, smile, and look like you know what you’re doing. The sound of the stamp announced our release.

Two kilometers out from the border crossing, traffic came to an all out stop. We sat eating diesel behind two lanes of semi-trailers, each containing about 150 trucks. One of the two lanes would move forward a truck length about every 5 minutes. The math was against us. And so, at the urging of an unidentified man on a motorcycle, we began froggering into the oncoming lane of traffic to advance past the trucks, attempting to avoid oncoming head-on collision. We were edging forward with caution between the two lanes when the driver of a truck opened his door, leaned into our window, shook his head and muttered, “Americanos.”

At this point something triggered in my head and I knew that we just had to get to the front of this line. Clearly I was just clogging up the works as I held to my western ideas of forming a line and waiting my turn. And so… I shifted into 4-wheel drive low, drove across three lanes of traffic, dropped off the edge to the dirt, and floored it as we left a wake of dust in our trail bouncing and crashing through the ditchline. And so, nearly 2 hours later we came to the migration office where we would obtain our second stamp.

As soon as I parked the car (in a clearly marked no-parking zone even though the man on the motorcycle insisted that it was the place to park), I exited the vehicle and found a very large man shouting in my face in rapid Spanish. It seems he belived that at some point during the journey I had either cut him off or blown my horn at him. While I do not recall having an encounter with him, he was convinced that I had slighted him. 

While he yelled in my left ear, the man on the motorcycle was demanding that I buy him a Coke for his assistance in my right.  For some reason I can’t explain, I shook the hand of the screaming man, apologized and made my exit. Our Guatemalan friend Jonathon had arrived on the scene (he had came in behind us) and an unidentified gentleman had stepped in as well. I have no idea who he was, but the diversion gave me opportunity to remove myself from the situation.

Once we were away I was able to pilfer 20 Quetzales off of Kellie to pay the still lingering motorcycle man who was very pleased with the equivalent of about $2.50 for his service. Meanwhile the large angry man stood at a distance and gave me the stink eye for the following hour. Of course… once we all got in line for the final migration stamp… he stood immediately in front of me. That was a fabulous time. Oh… A bird also pooped me on although I did not notice the white splash on my shirt for several hours.

And so, while the fast highway, off-road excursions, playing chicken with semis, and being threatened by a large man did not harm me, score a point for the bird. He met his target and I bear the badge. Of course one additional obstacle remained: we had to get our vehicle through. After all the previous officials and stamping, if the cop at the end of the road didn’t like the looks of my vehicle, or if any paperwork was amiss, he could turn us all around. I approached with my title and passport in hand, and it was not the correct documents. 

Through his language and more so through his gestures I understood that he wanted to see my License to Operate a Motor Vehicle. I reached (slowly) into my wallet and produced the Driver License. He gave it a quick but thorough scan, comparing it to the title and waved us through. Welcome to El Salvador, the Sheps have successfully been admitted to yet another country! 

I give thanks to God for a few days to rest my body and reset my mind. I feel like life is pouring into us these few days after a long period of pouring it out. Even now, my soul is aware of the continued task that lays before us. I am so thankful to be spending the days of my life in this advancing Kingdom.

Rest When You’re Dead

Thanksgiving Celebration at Christian American School
Eighteen months. The last three months, a 90-day sprint. Sunday morning preach, I think I’m developing as a speaker? Lunch at Taco Bell, work on seminary studies for a 6 p.m. class on line where I defend my work. 7:00 is a small group Bible study out our house. At 9:30 I return to my studies until around midnight.

Monday through Friday follows a rhythm: up at 6:30, at Christian American School where I serve as the Principal around 7:10 where I remain until about 4:00. The variants: Monday at 9:00 is a Skype call with my accountability pastor, Tuesdays are a Google Plus call as part of my ongoing ordination, Wednesday I preach in three chapel services and attend Big Student Ministries at night, Thursday I have a Skype call with my mentor, and Friday evenings are reserved for family time. I like to grill on Friday’s, usually hotdogs or local sausages. 

Each evening except Friday I can be found in my office, working from about 8 p.m. to midnight, either preparing for Sunday’s preach, Wednesday’s chapels, and the bulk of the time spent on my theology degree, 18 hours per week at minimum.

Saturdays I sleep in until around 10:30. I’m exhausted. I prepare an omelet to calm my mind while catching up on U.S. news. I begin working on my studies by noon and continue until 6:00 when we have a family dinner. At 7:00 I resume my work and then set it aside around 9:00 when I prepare my slides for projection for Sunday morning.

Sleep can be hard to find. My mind has more for me to do than the day has hours. I stop my work at midnight and then read for two hours, typically a fictional novel where I disengage from my endeavors and find a needed diversion. I sleep about 4 hours each night. It is the sleep of the dead. I don’t move. I usually wake up about 10 minutes before my alarm goes off. I find that very annoying. Nonetheless, each morning I lay there listening to the theme of the Shire from Lord of the Rings. I remember that this day is a new adventure. Like Frodo was the ring-bearer, I am an image-bearer. I am to be about the mission of God.

In order to make ourselves more sustainable here, we’ve found ways to supplement income. We rent space to three teachers. The school grants me a weekly donation for my time, and Journey Church gives me a $125 per week stipend. We’re collecting funds to convert unused space to another apartment so that we can generate more local funds. We’re working harder than we’ve ever worked, for far less compensation… and it is the best it has ever been. God is shining favor on us.

This last month has been ridiculous. I have met the mayor of the city, who happens to be the son of the President of Guatemala, I’ve had a meeting with the Director of the Ministry of Education where I presented not only our school, but also Journey Church and Big Student Ministries, we’ve been featured on the Youtube channel of the Mayor, and I filmed a ad for our new school campus opening on the other side of the city… I even spoke Spanish. 

Here’s the deal: as soon as we began walking in obedience to God, He began expanding His Kingdom through our efforts. This is all Him. My family and I are simply part of His novel, and our life is greater than any diversion. If you pray for us, you are a part of this. If you send us money, you are a part. If you come and visit us, or tell our story to others, then you are also a vital part of what we do. There are a lot of problems in the world, and even in the U.S., but we find meaning in serving where God has called us. Wherever you are, you are there for a reason. Find it. Serve. Be obedient. Fill your days with meaning and give yourself fully. God will advance His kingdom. We know this pace can’t be maintained forever, but we rejoice that we run this race while we can. I want to cross the finish line completely spent, exhausted, and empty. Leave it all on the field.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To Those That Stand in the Trenches

This time of year is quite difficult. Social media is filled with calls to help the needy and commentary on what big business should be doing about the holidays and what government should be doing about the homeless. Meanwhile church folks will double park cars in sealed garages and fall into a cushy couch watching a flat screen t.v. while bedrooms go unused and leftovers hit the garbage.

We value our security and comfort over the call of Jesus to show mercy to the poor, orphans, and widows, and even to make disciples. We somehow believe that the gospel doesn't really apply to us if would mean that we would have to be at risk, or if our children were at risk. We proclaim how things should be, of how people should act, of what someone else should do, because we are no longer personally seeking first the face of God.
Volcano Pacaya
How many among us could endure the life of Paul and proclaim, "to live is Christ and to die is gain?" How many of us could say that everything we have, everyone we know, all that we've accomplished... is simply garbage when compared to the knowledge of God? Do we love Him more than our father, mother, sister, and brother... or do we silently whisper that we only have to love Him when we're safe? 

The condition of the world is a direct result of the conviction of those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Do we live with mission as our existence? Do we walk the earth daily with a willingness to lose everything for Him?

My first time as Baptizer
I am convinced that the evil one uses the good things in our lives to regulate our potential with our creator. It may be difficult to tempt you to commit an egregious sin... but oh how easy it is to keep you from loving the outcast if I remind you that it might harm your children.
My youngest daughter. I'd die for her.
My children are not worth more than my relationship with God. Neither is my wife. Neither are my parents. If I seek to guard those relationships above my relationship with Christ... I lose sight of my identity, my salvation, and the purpose of my creation. I cease being who I am created to be... and I lose everything including my eternal relationship with my creator. Nothing can separate.
Me and Pop Mathis - He was a preacher
I long for the day we as followers of Jesus stop praying for safety, and exchange it for a prayer of boldness. Losing my children in service of the King is acceptable. This world is not our home. There is nothing here that I want to cling to. I long to be reconciled to the God who pursues me. No matter what our earthly relation, we all remain children of God. We are formed by the hand and breath of God. We are either on His mission, or everything is vanity. It is time for self-proclaimed Christians to be willing to suffer. The mission of God is worth some pain. And so what then is a missionary?

A child in a village. What is her worth?

I tell you that this simply can not be simplified into a single set of "to do" instructions, and yet I also say to you that it is profoundly simple. I cringe when someone identifies him or herself as a missionary. I have no idea what that means. I've seen variance from one extreme to the other. Personally, missionary always brought to my mind figures like Mother Theresa and cannibalized victims in the Congo.

I don't see too many folks living like that.

Roasting marshmallows over a hurting city
Too often those who call themselves missionaries are living in safe compounds and living on the sacrifices of friends and family while they make little impact with timid living in a foreign land. 

I want to be a person who says yes to the voice of God. If He says talk to the lady in the check-out at the grocery, then do it. At that point, you are participating in the missionary task. Before coming to a foreign nation to be obedient to God, I had to become obedient to God in Middletown, Ohio. 

This was my path. Some others are different. Was Jonah obedient to God before he ran from the Ninevah command? Did Daniel wake up and decide to stare down some lions? No, I just don't think that anyone in their right mind wakes up and decides to be a missionary. It is more about a deep desire and a desperate passion to seek the face of God and to follow in obedience. An understanding that their is nothing else that compares. There simply is no other path.

I'm not a missionary. Maybe I'm an apostle? Maybe I'm just a wretched beggar desperate to be filled. Maybe I'm the leper calling out for mercy from a distance. Most days I'm just a thief on a cross... sometimes the bitter one, sometimes the grateful one. Each day is a refocusing on this following.

I was talking with students today about Christ followers who are commanded to renounce their faith at the end of a gun. We watched video of christ followers proclaiming faith in God and Jesus even though they were executed and the enemy then danced over their bleeding bodies. The students expressed deep sadness. I challenged them to rejoice in the great faith of sons and daughters of God going home into the open arms of a God that promises to us that nothing can separate us from His love.

Those who fell in that video answered the call, "Here am I, send me." There was nothing that was greater than their love of God. Nothing.
Me & Sterling at Labor de Falla School

When we reach that point... I believe we understand the missionary task. To follow Jesus is to abandon all else. Follow Him first and the rest will be in alignment. 

To those who stand in the trenches:

I know I am just a pea-brain on the sidelines, and I can't understand the full weight of what you are bearing... however I recognize that it is suffocating and unescapable. I can't give you advice. You are the pro because you are on the battlefield. 

But, if I can offer some perspective from a person who isn't under constant fire... the only thing I can point to is Paul. Somehow he was able to take his suffering and shift the focus to considering that his suffering was for the good of others (that it was worthwhile for what he valued) and that his refusal to take vengeance brought glory to God. Paul saw this as bearing out the behavior of Jesus Christ. 

I know you probably want me to shut up. I really don't claim to know any better. I think in many ways your wisdom and knowledge surpasses my own. But I also acknowledge that you are in the thick of battle and it can be hard to see. Each blow that you take is a powerful statement. You are standing. So many are not willing to stand. Because you are standing, it enrages the enemy. Somehow... if you can, turn it over to God? Don't let the bitterness swallow you. 

Know that you are standing for good and that every hit you take is worth it. I swear... the more we walk in the will of God, the more difficulty we face. I am praying for you twofold: for boldness in the face of your trials, & for the favor of God to find you in your obedience. If I'm off base, forgive me. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

How to Hate your Mother and Father

Looking at this picture, I remember that day. It seemed so full of hope. Everything seemed... at least in the moment of that shutter snap... to just feel beautifully in place. Right now, my soul bleeds the spilled promise of that memory.

I wrestle daily with the knowledge that my relationship with my parents is shattered. I walk with the absent weight on my shoulders and my knees are weak. I miss them. It feels like they are dead. I gasp for air when I realize they are living... and I am missing their days. I am cognizant that they will not live forever. How will I feel at their passing? The hollow echoes of empty days when they are nothing but memory and I reflect on the days of potential I gave away.

I want to fish with my father. I want to sing with my mother. These things are gone from me. And it is my fault. I had a choice... and I walked away. Guilt is an adversary. I walked away. And yet... I have no time to bury my dead.

There are real sacrifices to this walk. To follow is to die. My father's words from July 1st, the last time I spoke with them, are engraved into the wall of my soul, "son, you've made it clear that your mother and I are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to your priorities." Oh... those words cut to the quick to read. I nearly threw up. The weight of those words from the man I respect more than any other, was simply revolting and unbearable. 

It is because they are true. Those who I love the most... can not be my priority. There is only one priority. The man who reached out His hand and invited me, "Chad, come and follow me," that man... He takes precedence. There simply is no time to live in the past. The man and woman who gave me life, who sacrificed to raise me... I simply can not live for them. My dear mother and my revered father... they no longer hold influence and sway over my life.

I know this to be true and to be just. I am keenly aware of the gaping whole in in my heart. And I have deep knowledge that it is correct for me to feel this pain, and it is equally correct for me to walk this path of obedience to the One who calls my name. I have come to learn that my walk is meant to carry a degree of pain. 

I think of what could be. I see other missionaries whose parents walk beside them in sacrifice. I see deep into their eyes and I know they'd rather have their children and grandchildren safe within arms reach... and yet I see recognition in their eyes that God's story eclipses our own.

We seek our own storyline sometimes as humans, and we miss the fact that we were created to worship God. That is our purpose. Creation is broken and God seeks to restore us. That is His mission. We are His children. It is our job to (1) worship Him, and (2) restore others to Him. This means that God is my priority. I am called to abandon my life. I answered in a way that overflows my soul with emotion every time I remember it... 

...a total and limitless yield to God... it's me. I'm here. Take me. Use me. All of me. I am nothing. I need you. I don't want to live unless you are real. Take me. There is room for nothing else. I want to follow you. I am willing to abandon everything. I'll give my house to the bank. I'll give away my dog. I'll throw out the toys of my childhood. I'll walk away from my career. Anything. Take it. Take it all. Just please let me follow you. Nothing else compares. 

Take my family. Take my kids. Take my wife. Take my parents. Take it. Take it all. I am nothing without you. Take my future. Take my ambition. Oh my God please take me. Make me. Take me and use me or please just end me.

I want to be shattered for you. I want to see your face when I am threatened by giants, by lions, by oceans, by rulers, by temptation... I just want to bleed for you. 

Yes. You are more than all of that my God. Take me. Take it all. Everything else is simply bottom of the barrel. God help me. I miss them. 

And yet... you are using me in this place. The days I seek to run back to them. The days I want to shake and cry and yield it all back to them, I know deep in my being that my allegiance is yours. It can be no other way. My mother and father are not the priority. Neither is my wife or my kids. The mission does not play second fiddle to any of it. 

My allegiance is yours. My heart belongs to God. Nothing else compares. All is vanity when compared to Him. I will not seek to save my life and neglect my God. I give it all to the One who has made me. The One who has saved me. And I wrestle in the night with the weight of the loss.

I give thanks to God and I rejoice that my soul feels the significance of this path. I am the Lord's I know.

I Love my mother and my father. They are deeper in my heart than any other. And yet... they can not be my priority. They are at the bottom of my barrel. They are the firm boards that hold up the entire shape and content. My character is from them.

After all... where else does our foundation lie? May God have mercy on my soul. This path is difficult. This path is beautiful. This path is my desperate attempt to follow my God.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple." -Luke 14:26

"Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." -Matthew 10:27