Wednesday, November 21, 2007

100 Things I'm Thankful For

My wife
Digital cameras.
Honey Bunches of Oats cereal with the vanilla clusters.
Our house.
Reruns of The Office.
All things Derek Webb.
XM Radio (so I’m not forced to listen to local yahoos talk about how much they love/hate/don’t understand/are frustrated with Tennessee football.)
The changing of leaves in the fall.
My cat Lucy.
Mom and Dad.
Famous Amos Oatmeal Macaroon cookies.
Friendly neighbors.
People in the media who have the guts to tell the truth (i.e. Glenn Beck and Colin Cowherd.)
Another actor running for president (Fred Thompson).
Summertime sunsets.
Reading poetry.
Writing poetry.
Stephen Dunn’s poetry.
The Atlanta Braves re-signing Tom Glavine.
West Park Baptist Church.
That new Alicia Keys song.
Trash-talking between Tigers and Gamecocks.
Nick Ballenger.
Riding around with Kathryn.
Buttermilk Chicken from Aubrey’s Restaurant.
Yankee Candle Company.
Our small group.
Sunday afternoon naps.
Being from South Carolina.
Collecting baseball cards.
Online poker.
Sports movies.
Travis Phillips.
Getting to travel to places I’ve never been before (though I hate flying with a passion.)
John Mayer’s music.
Shopping for power tools because I actually need them now, where as months ago I had no use for them.
Dana Becker.
Football games in Death Valley (in Clemson, the REAL one, not LSU.)
Continually checking the weather forecast over the next few months for the possibility of snow.
Reading the rumors page on
Girls that can sing (i.e. Carrie Underwood, Mariah Carey, Keyshia Cole,Sara Evans)
My wife’s beautiful smile.
Playing Tecmo Super Bowl STILL on my Nintendo (yep, still have it, from 1986).
Not ever having to comb my hair.
Stu and Arledge. And Lambeau Table.
Hearing new rap songs on the radio, and remembering the original song they stole the beat from.
Watching a game from the seats in Turner Field.
Soldiers who are willing to sacrifice their own lives for our freedom.
Pastors Sam Polson and Jack Underwood.
The Sharp Family (John, Christie, Bailey, Taylor, Nathan).
My in-laws.
Wearing sweaters.
Playing with other people’s children, but not having any of our own yet to have to take care of.
My ridiculous collection of books and cds.
Seinfeld reruns.
Doing yardwork with my wife.
The rare good driver in Knoxville.
Steve Bullington.
Discussing theology with people who show interest.
Handing out candy to our first ever trick-or-treaters this past Halloween.
Granny and Papa.
The fond memory of Justin Cope.
Listening to Mike and Mike in the morning every day during the work week.
Oliver Purnell, Clemson’s basketball coach.
McKay’s Used Book Store.
My job and the guys that work for me.
Annual bonus checks.
Being a Charleston Southern alum.
Getting to hold an English Bulldog puppy several months back.
The ceiling fan in our bedroom (we’ve never had one before).
Smell of fresh-cut grass.
Dr. Guerry and Dr. Martin.
Facebook and Myspace and the chance to connect with old friends.
Grilling chicken, hot dogs, burgers, pork chops, veggies, bananas, just whatever.
Ricky Reyes.
HDTV and a DVR box.
Listening to Metallica in the garage while doing work.
Everything Playstation.
Pigskin Prep Message Boards.
Mom’s macaroni and cheese.
Having dad help me do things around the house.
Fantasy football (even though I suck at it).
Our vacation to Destin in August.
Getting to overeat on Thanksgiving.
Drinkwater, Ledford, and Backstreet (and all other former roommates).
Talking about sports 24/7 with anyone who will listen.
Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”.
Saying the first few lines of “Irreplacable” by Beyonce whenver giving directions to someone. To the left…to the left…everything you own in the box to…well, you get it.
The early season success of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Road-tripping to Chapel Hill with Trav.
Pick-up games of basketball, as rare as they may be.
Getting to ignore stupid Facebook applications people send me.
Jon and Cristin Wetherbee.
Sweet tea.
My wife’s willingness to love me regardless of how much of a jackass I am at times.
Christmas music.
My relationship with Christ, and His unending love for me, despite my failures, deceit, and sin. His desire to be with me regardless of the person I am. His grace, mercy, compassion, and patience.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

About my wife

I know very little about women.

It sounds like an understatement, because really, what man really knows women well? I have a feeling that many men are like me: completely dumbfounded and ignorant in regards to understanding women.

For years before I met Kathryn, I tried my hardest. I questioned certain things that I saw women doing and saying, whether it be in movies, TV shows, or real life. As men, we don’t get it. We’re not sure why women constantly think they’re fat. We don’t understand the need for 5 different handbags. And we really don’t see the emotional downward-spiral over a woman’s frustration at “not having anything to wear.”

With all this consternation over knowing just the right words to say and right things to do, we get tired. Frustrated. To the point we sometimes just give up.

That’s what I did a little over 6 years ago. I had it with women. Too confusing, too indecisive. I figured being a bachelor the rest of my life wasn’t so bad. Remind you, I was all of 19 years old making such declarations.

And it seems at times in our lives when we quit striving so hard and just let God take control that certain blessings fall into place. Not all the time. I’m still waiting on my six-figure income and my two story brick house. But God blessed me with something far greater than any salary or house or car could give me. He blessed me with Kathryn.

It was the most unlikely of circumstances, but one night in December of 2001, over cheap Waffle House coffee, I got to know the most incredible woman in the world.

We went on our first official date Jan. 12, 2002. We went bowling with friends, then went to the beach where we stayed up and watched the sunrise. How many first dates are that awesome? Few. And it wasn’t a week later when I realized that Kathryn would be my wife. In a journal excerpt from Jan. 19, 2002, this is what I wrote…

“I know who you are. You’re amazing. You’re beautiful. You’re breathtaking. I love every moment I spend with you. I can’t wait to see you the next day. We’ve only known each other for a little over a month, but somehow, I know. It’s your eyes. Your smile. Your fingernails. The way you speak so softly and the way you hold me so tightly. The way your hand fits into mine. The sweetness of your lips. You’re the one. I know this to be true. You’re perfect to me.”

Alas, we got engaged on our 6 month anniversary (July 12, 2002) and exactly a year later, we were married. Last week, we got to celebrate our 4th anniversary together. Of course, we look forward to many, many more.

The best thing is that while I cannot admit to knowing much more about women than I did 6 years ago, I know Kathryn. I know surprise flowers make her smile. I know she loves cheap cappuccinos and Tootsie Rolls. I know it takes her forever to get ready. I know she looks incredible when she’s done. I know her fears, hopes, insecurities, and passions. I know her love for animals. I know for her, cleanliness IS the next thing to godliness. I know she loves vegetables, hates to cook, and exercises more patience with me than anyone ever should have to.

I treasure in knowing her. I love the fact that no one in this world will ever know my wife like I do. That’s God’s design for marriage. That’s how it’s supposed to work. We share secrets. We share embarrassments. We laugh over stupid fights, and cry over hurtful ones. We kiss, hug, flirt, and wrestle. We’re in love. I don’t have to read any books or watch any TV shows to understand that.

I don’t know much about all women, but I know a lot about one. My woman. And that’s all that matters to me.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

My Christian Life: Confessions of Who I Am

Somewhere along the line, we as Christians screwed up. I don't just mean in terms of sin, thought that would certainly align with the ideals opposite of what Christians are called to be. Somehow, we got the idea that we are to be perfect. Perfection is the standard set for us by God, exemplified through Christ, but that's not quite what I'm talking about here. I mean perfect in the way that the outside world, be it secular or those beside us in the pew on Sunday morning perceive us. Perfect in the sense not that my shirt is ironed and my shoes shined, but in the sense that we live our lives flawlessly, or more so that we should give the appearance that we do.

Far too long I've given in to the lie that Christians are to hide in their corners with their sin, not letting anyone know it, and put on a face like they know exactly what they are doing, why they are doing it, and where they should be doing it. We are taught to bundle up troubles, frustrations, questions, and sins into a ball and stuff it deep down, so no one knows about it.

The cold reality is this: we are sinners. Christians are not now and never will be perfect. I've all too often led a life contrary to scripture by my need to be perfect, so that you won't see the scars, the bruises, the flaws, the ugly parts of my life.

So there are certainly times in our life we need to confess. We need to clear air on some issues we've struggled with. I have a few that my life has regurgitated that sicken me to this day...

  1. I don't really like church. I know that sounds odd, seeing as how I've spent 26 years of Sundays basically inside the walls of some church. It would be easy to chalk it up to my childhood, basically spending 2-3 evenings a week in church. I think it's more so a lacking sense of community. I don't know if I've ever been a part of a church where I personally felt really connected. Sure, there are those where socially it was great. All my friends were there, so my comfort wasn't tested. It was a simple need met: companionship. But eventually that fades, and isn't the real purpose of a church body anyway. I long for a church with true community: the type where sins can be confessed without fear of judgement, questions can be asked without fear of being undermined, and debates can be held without arrogance or fear. A church that truly meets the needs of everyone else, while still maintaining a missional sense for the hurting outside world. But on top of my desire for that, I also must confess that I don't play a big part in making the church that way. Perhaps I'm not using my gifts properly, or I'm not in tune with God. Either way, my 3 feet of comfort space is still existing on Sunday mornings, and until I (willingly) tear that down, I'll maintain a lackluster view of church, to no one's fault but my own.
  2. I've been judgement-oriented rather than grace-oriented. Looking back now, I hate my high school self. I hate the fact that I concerned myself more with figuring out the sins of others than I did repenting of my own sins. I hate the fact that I couldn't look at my peers with love because I was too busy condemning their every move. I hate the crusades I went on of breaking CDs, trashing pop culture, and lingering around with an imaginary picket sign warning off all sinners. I was the same as everyone around me. Just because I wasn't having sex gave me no right to point fingers and condemn those who were. How I wish I could take those days back, and replace my condemning thoughts with deep prayer. How I wish I had preached grace instead of fundamental theology.
  3. I know more sports facts, music lyrics, and movie quotes than I do scripture. I'm sure many of us do. We can sing a song we last heard 5 years ago as if we had written it ourselves, but we can't quote anything beyond John 3:16 from the Bible. This is a poor confession of mine. I certainly have failed to practice not only meditation of scripture, but memorization of scripture. I feel as if I know so little about the words I claim to love so much. It's certainly something that requires more immediate attention from myself.
  4. I'm not really serving God like I should. It's hard. It's as if I use my job as a crutch, when really it doesn't necessarily hold me back anymore than anything else does. I want to get my hands dirty. I want to serve others. I feel like I just don't know how anymore. It came so easy in college, being surrounded by so many energetic on-fire students who wanted to serve. We went door-to-door taking out people's trash for them, and cleaning their bathrooms! Now, it's almost a chore to throw my own garbage away. Oh Lord, that you would enstill in me the fire again to serve you!
  5. I don't pray. Not nearly enough. I write down prayer requests, then lose them the next day. I've got a card in my wallet with names to pray for, yet seldom pull it out. I've got more time in my day than I need, yet I don't spend it talking to God. No wonder sometimes He feels like a stranger to me.

These are some of my issues. I say MY issues, because I'm not here to confess anyone else's downfalls. These are mine. I take full ownership. And part of maturing as a Christian is recognizing the things keeping you from God and repenting of those things.

Oh, that I would truly seek Him in a way that man hungers for food and thirsts for water! That I would love Him like a man does his beautiful bride! That I would trust Him like the morning sun and the April rains! That I would bless Him, for He has blessed me abundantly, in spite of who I am.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Death That Doesn't Make Sense

I've never been opposed to God's will. I know it certainly must occur at times where it is most difficult to swallow. It frustrates the human mind to no end when, say a person gets sick right before their first day at a new job. When you forget to get fresh milk, and the next morning, you have sour Cheerios. When you stay up late writing a paper, only to have your computer crash and lose it all. These things are, in their own way, clouds that rain on any one person's parade.

Yet we tie it all back to a saying that sounds all too cliche: "It's all in God's plan". Or, better yet, "There's a reason for it!" Ok, I can accept that. Not everyone can have a good day 7 days a week. But no one has yet been able to explain this to me: Justin Cope is dead.

And I don't mean any disrespect to Justin or to God when I type that. In fact, it feels too surreal. My dear friend from college, who just celebrated his first year of marriage and was rapidly approaching his 26th birthday, died in his sleep this past Monday night.

The obvious sentiment is to feel grief, send condolences, and move on. I feel I've done that to a certain degree. But I can't help but to sit in the silence of the deep evening and wonder: why him?

What was it that would even make this all even remotely make sense? Was it someone's wrong-doing? A mis-diagnosis from a doctor? Had Justin really already accomplished all that God had for him to do on this earth?

I really wanted to be there for the funeral today. Looking back, maybe it's better I wasn't. I'm not sure if I could've handled it. I've still yet to allow myself a full all-out grieving session. And surely it would've happened there, watching my friends for CSU grieving. Watching a young bride see her husband's casket adorned with flowers. Watching people I went to school with serve as pallbearers.

My God! He was only 25! He had a smile that would light up any room! He dedicated himself to his wife, to his classroom, and most importantly, to his God! So why? Why take him now?

Had I been in Charleston, I wouldn't know of a better tribute that I could give him but to gather the guys together and play one more game of basketball. That's the thing I'll remember most about Justin: the competitive spirit on the basketball court. And if there was any way for me to rewind it all, I would, just to play one more one-on-one game with him.

I guess I'll just have to wait to meet again in Heaven to play. And when you think of it that way, it's really not so bad after all.

Justin, we love you dearly, and miss you dearly. Thank God for the life He let you live on this earth and the impact you had. You blessed us all. Now we rejoice not in your passing, but in the fact that you're dwelling in the presence of the Holy Father. We love you, brother.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Our Need for an American Idol

Wednesday night is the big night. Millions upon millions of Americans will gather around their TVs to see first-hand who will be the next American Idol. Many of those watching dialed in on their cellphones the night before to vote for their chosen idol. The water cooler talk for months has been AI, and who should win, who should leave, what was Simon grumbling about, etc.

And while it's certainly a harmless singing competition, I think American Idol reveals something about us as a nation that isn't evident just on the surface. We're a people that loves to be a part of something. A people that needs something to look forward to, something to "idolize."

I'm certainly not suggesting anyone (in their right mind) will look at Blake Lewis or Jordin Sparks as a savior figure, or someone who will restore hope for all mankind. It's the mere title of the show that can be a tad disturbing to the naked eye. "American Idol". In other words, the person who is most important. The best. No one is better. Someone to look up to, to honor. Someone to, perhaps, fill the void in our lives.

This doesn't pertain to you? Let's step back for a minute, and look at our nation as a whole. Who or what is famous? President Bush? How many conversations have you had where someone would bend over backwards to support the president no matter what, simply because he's a Republican? How about Oprah? Because she's wealthy and is very charitable, does she get a little more acknowledgement from us? What about our things? Our car? Our bank account? Where is our trust? I think it sometimes is most evident by the scores of lottery tickets purchased. People will spend almost as much money as they make trying to win more than they'll ever earn in a lifetime, because the assumption is there that money is what helps us survive. Money makes us happy.

Too often we find ourselves scrambling for something to fill a void. Rich Mullins wrote in one of his many songs "Everyone says they want just one thing. What they really mean is they want just one thing more." Thought-provoking. Is he really suggesting we may already have what we need?

There's an incredible nugget of truth tucked away in 2 Corinthians. Chapter 12, verse 9 God tells Paul this: "My grace is sufficient for you." Sufficient? Grace? That's quite the implication there. Is He really saying grace is all we need? If so, then what are we chasing after?

What concerns me the most is the attitude Christians have about the world. We're chasing the same things non-believers are. We're trusting in that next paycheck, the job promotion, a new president, a well-known author's newest bestseller, a preacher's prophecy, a future husband or wife, a nicer house or wardrobe, a more attractive body. But God suggests we don't need any of that. His grace is sufficient. His grace, proved by the cross, covers everything. The other things are nice, and God does bless us with some of those things, but if we have grace, we have enough. Our cup is full.

I could write for hours about grace; about its incomprehensibility and beauty, its sufficiency and invincibility, its loving nature born from its Creator. How God gives it so graciously to those who least deserve it. How its often overlooked even by its owners. And how its been given the backseat to our fleshly desires and priorities.

No writing could really do it justice. Just know this, that it is enough. No question. There is nothing more that you'll need, for the grace of God has saved you from the very things that were killing you. And that's something no American Idol will ever be able to do.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Pacman Jones, Mike Vick, and Barry Bonds: Examples that Reputation Counts

Listening to sports radio talk shows these days, I've come to a realizations. Many pro athletes are morons. Perhaps in reference to the athletes themseleves, the term "moron" may be too rough. I just feel that saying "poor decision maker" doesn't quite justify some of these guys and their actions. So where do we start?

Well, let's begin with Pacman Jones. A gifted athlete that is dangerous whether it's playing defense or returning kickoffs. A player that can turn a game around with one play. But Pacman just can't seem to stay out of trouble. Jones has been questioned by police regarding 9 different incidents since he became a Tennessee Titan in 2004. That's nine DIFFERENT incidents. And this isn't just that the guy has a lead foot, and has been clocked running 90 on I-40 on several occasions. These are issues involving guns, assaults, and traffic violations.

A few weeks back, Jones met with NFL commissioner Roger Goddell to determine what, if any actions should be taken as a punishment for Jones' off the field conduct. Basically, Goddell handed down a year long suspension, guaranteeing at least 10 games that Jones won't play this year, and there's a good chance that he won't play any at all. Heck, many NFL analysts think Jones will never see the field again, not in an NFL uniform anyway.

Now, to the Pacman's credit, he hasn't been convicted in any of those 9 incidents. It could be a mere coincidence that he was near, in, or around 9 separate criminal incidents since 2004. I doubt it. His latest incident involves claims of him assaulting a stripper at a nightclub in Las Vegas. While he has yet to be charged in that, just the fact that accusations are being brought against him is suspect enough. And just a week before his meeting with Goddell, Jones took out a full page ad in the Nashville paper saying how he learned his lesson and he was a changed man and all that other cliche stuff you say when you know you're about to get in trouble. And just where could you find Pacman the night before his big interrogation with the Commish? That's right. A New York strip club.

Sound like a case of "some people never learn"?

Michael Vick is another case where issues just keep popping up. Never mind the flipping off of the fans in Atlanta after a Falcons game, or the airport "incidents". Vick is now accused of playing a part in a dog-fighting ring.

Can anyone please tell me why a man making 9 figures feels the need to play part in a dog-fighting business that's probably not paying much more than a few thousand bucks a fight? And I'm not trying to insinuate it's all about the money here. Dog fighting is egregious and despicable. And if Vick isn't directly involved with it himself, why is he even associated with people who are? Vick has yet to have a sit down with Goddell, but my bet is that the Commish won't be happy, especially if more comes out of this dog-fighting incident.

Then we come to Barry Bonds. A man many would describe as the best player of this generation. The problem is, we'll never know how much he would've done were it not for the help of steroids (don't act like he didn't take them). Bonds is 10 homers away from tying Hank Aaron's record, but even Hammerin' Hank doesn't think Bonds is legit. And who does? He's never failed a test or admitted to "knowingly" taking steroids. But because of the person he is, and the demons from his past, the accusatory finger atuomatically points to Barry.

Is that fair? Is it fair for any of these athletes to be judged without even being convicted of wrongdoing?

I'll say with resounding confidence...yes. It's called reuptation.

It's not only true of sports, but the business world in general. If your reputation precedes you as negative, if it labels you with misgivings of your past, then you must deal with it. You put it on yourself.

If you're the head of a big corporation looking to hire a new sales guy, and that guy has been accused of cheating on his wife and maybe fudging numbers at a previous job, do you think he'll get the job, or the guy who comes in with a squeaky clean character? Seems obvious. You want the guy without baggage. You want to hire someone who won't let you down, and if they do, they'll be blindsiding you. it won't be something you thought could happen going in.

This goes for athletes as well. If you've earned a specific reputation as a partier, low work ethic, and problems with relationships say, in a college environment, it will no doubt affect you at the next level. Sorry, but I don't want the quarterback fresh out of college who has a DUI and will likely show up to training camp 15 pounds over the weight limit. I don't care if he won the Heisman or not.

We all have reputations. Some of us try to uphold them, some try to recover from them. But we've got to expect that even if the things we did were in the past, they're still there. And if those actions, those few moments of poor judgement come back to haunt us in the future, we can only blame ourselves.

So it's time for these (and others) athletes to take responsibility for who they are and what they've done. It's not the media's fault, it's not your dad's fault, and it's not your friend's or your girlfriend's or your teammate's fault. You built your life, and it's your decision to destroy it or succeed. It's something we all have to do. It's called growing up.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

26 Years of Birthdays

It's a funny thing about birthdays. When you're younger, it's a big party. You make lists of things you want, the type of party you want, the food you want, etc. That day truly does revolve around you. But as you get older, it's just another day, perhaps with a little slice of cake mixed in. The glitz and glamour is gone, and won't return likely until a rounded-number birthday, like a 30 or a 50.

But ya know what? That's okay to me.

26 isn't a big deal, and it shouldn't be. I'm years past legally purchasing alcohol, but not quite legit to run for president. I can rent a car or hotel room, but won't be eligible for AARP or senior citizen discounts for a while. 26: just another number.

But that's not to say that my past birthdays have been dull. I've had some great memories created on May 12...

at age 7, I remember my sister playing a clown and me hiding under my bed when I realized the girl I had a crush on just showed up at my party.

at 11, it was me with a dozen or so friends at the baseball park. A whole diamond to ourselves to be the baseball superstars we all knew we would be.

at 14, my dad took me to the Chesnee High baseball game. To this day I think back to that, and can't help but feel badly for young boys today who don't have a father around to take them to a game. I love my dad.

at 19, 20, and 21, it was friends from college surprising me. 19 was Sydney, Aubrey, Ricky, and others at the volleyball courts. 20 was Kimmie, Ledford, Alethea, Charlene, and others at the gazebo in downtown Charleston. 21 was at Miami Sub and Grill with Nick, Chris, Craig, Elspeth, all my family, and, most importantly, my future wife.

And here, at 26, it was Atlanta. A trip with my wife to see the Braves play. More fond memories I'll cherish.

The crazy thing about all these birthdays is that I can hardly remember any of the gifts I got. Oh, I'm sure there were some great ones. I know I got the cards with money, probably some baseball cards, and maybe a Nintendo game or two, but I don't really recall specifically what I got. Heck, half of those gifts are probably trash now. But I do remember the people that were there, the laughs shared, the smiles worn. And I remember how much I appreciated friendship. How much I appreciated family. How blessed I am by God, to celebrate number 26 today.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Job 38:1-3

"Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said: 'Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.'"

It was a time where Job, already plagued with illness, loss of family and posessions, and deepening down into depression, was on the fence with his God. He questioned as to why things were happening this way. Much like we do when things don't go our way, which is more often than not the case. And just who are we to think we know what's best for ourselves? Who are we to question the ultimate plans of God? We're human. We falter. We yearn to know more than we must, to question more than we should.

Eventually, we face a crossroads of faith. Are we to travel down one path, leaning on our own inferior intuition, or will we truly place our trust in the all-knowing God, whose face we cannot see, whose skin we cannot touch, and whose voice we cannot hear?

That's a leap of faith. That's truly bracing yourself like a man.

Are you ready?