8 Months Later…

Hi! Remember me? It has been a little while since I have posted anything here. Almost 9 months in fact. The only reason I didn’t call it “9 Months Later…” is because I didn’t want to accidentally imply that we are about to have a kid – we aren’t (yet!). But anyways, it really has been a long time. I can’t say why exactly – a busy school year for JoBeth and I, lack of inspiration, laziness, a strange self-consciousness about putting my thoughts out there – all of the above. But, 8, almost 9 months later and I am getting back out there.

The reason for deciding to write a new post today is actually simpler than the reason I haven’t written in so long. You see, I recently realized that I had enabled “Auto-Renew” on my domain name, meaning that a couple of weeks ago, a decent amount of money came out of my account to keep this website alive for another year. I didn’t really have a chance to think about whether or not I actually wanted to do that, and I didn’t catch it until it was too late. So, me being the frugal, cheapskate that I am, started thinking about the money I had spent and realized that in order to make it not seem like a total waste, I would need to post something about every other week – if not more. So here we are, a little rusty, and determined to have not wasted money on another year of scottiehill.com.

But this revelation that I need to write more often to make the expense seem reasonable has also reminded me why I started writing on here in the first place. I think it was after my freshman year of college and I had discovered a couple of outdoor blogs that I loved reading and really connected with. And I remember thinking, “I think I could do that!” (I may have also had pipe dreams about turning it into a profitable thing so I wouldn’t have to get a “real job,” but that’s another story) I quickly realized that I actually really enjoyed the practice of sitting down, taking thoughts and observations and stories, and putting them into words for others to enjoy. I loved hearing the way that these thoughts, observations and stories connected with others, and was hopeful that I could somehow be an encouragement to others through my words.

While thinking back to when I first started writing on here, I also remembered how 5 years ago my brother took a chance on me by investing in taking me from one of those scottieshills.wordpress.com websites that looked ugly and was hard to find, and instead creating scottiehill.com, just because he believed in and supported my writing. I also thought back to so many words of encouragement and notes of support from all kinds of people – whether they be old high school friends, friends of my parents on Facebook, or people I have barely met but somehow stumbled across a post shared by a friend. And then I thought about how much clarity I get from putting thoughts into words, and the joy of getting to share them with others.

And at the end of all these thoughts I have this: what started as a desire to write just enough to make me feel better about spending money on a website I haven’t used in over half a year has turned into an earnest desire to use the gifts that God has given me, and to return to a hobby that has been a source of joy and encouragement to me, and hopefully others over the years. So, I can’t tell you exactly what I’ll be writing – I’ve thought about turning old talks that I gave to high school students into short posts, or chopping up my boring thesis from college and turning it into a series of posts, simple reflections on scripture, or just updates on life from JoBeth and I. I’m sure it will be some combination of each of these. But here’s what I do know:

  • I’m committing to writing at least twice a month for the next year
  • I’m fully expecting that my main readers will be JoBeth, my mom, and my dad – and that’s okay with me!
  • If anybody else out there is reading and following along, I’m always grateful for your thoughts and feedback
  • I hope that the things I write will be encouraging, life giving, and bring glory to God.

I’m excited for the journey to come. See ya soon!

ps. if this is still my most recent blog post in a few months, please call me out

Here’s just one picture from one of our adventures (this one to New York) from the last 8 months. More to come soon!

There’s More to Listening Than Hearing

It has been a month since my Grandpa passed away.

I have wanted to write something in memory of my Grandpa since he passed. He was such an amazing man, and I wanted more people to get to hear about him. But at the same time, I haven’t known where to start. How can you do justice to a man who lived such a full, rich, and admirable life. My family knew that he was special, but I think some of us were still caught off guard by the outpouring of love that we saw for him in the days after his death. Facebook became an active and vibrant memorial for a man who had clearly spent his whole life impacting the lives of others. My Uncle posted about his death and there were over 200 comments on it, almost all sharing a memory, a story of a life changed by Grandpa’s kindness and selflessness. And his memorial was full of the same – people from all walks of life, gathered together to honor a man whose life had touched more others than I ever imagined.

So, I write this knowing there is no way to fully capture the amazing man that Paul McIver was. And I write this knowing that for anyone who never had the joy of meeting him, a lot of this, even the sadness that I still feel, might not make sense. But nonetheless, here is my personal reflection of a man who I am so grateful to have been able to call Grandpa.

Grandpa was kind. He had a way of making people who barely knew him feel like they were his best friend. He was always excited to see, meet, and talk to people. Especially if they were people who the people in his family cared about. He knew my friends, my friends parents, my friends’ parents’ friends. And he was interested in each one of their lives. He would ask how Tanner was doing in baseball, or how Nate was doing at his church. He would see my in-laws around town and treat them like family, long before they were even my in-laws. He loved JoBeth, and he and Grandma would even go watch her high school soccer games when I was away at college. When he wasn’t in town to keep up with everyone, he loved to use Facebook to stay involved in the lives of his friends. I think he just really believed that each person he met was made in God’s image, and it showed in the way he treated everyone he met.

Grandpa was patient. I think I have one memory of my Grandpa raising his voice at me, when I was very young, and I was refusing to get out of a pool. It stuck with me because it was so rare (and by “raise his voice at me”, I mean he probably was a tad more serious in his tone than normal, I’m just sensitive like that). He was always giving us and others the benefit of the doubt. It felt like there was nothing I could do to change the way that he saw me, loved me, and cared about me. Perhaps it is just that after so many years of serving as a principal and teacher there was just nothing we could do that would surprise him. But as I learned from so many Facebook comments from former students, his patience has been a constant, and countless people recalled his patient and loving discipline as a monumental part of their education. He was never in a hurry – there was always time to help, to have a conversation, to just be with people.

Grandpa was selfless. Getting his way was never a chief concern for Grandpa. He was much more concerned with the needs of others than he was his own. He was always looking to see how he could help, serve, give. Moving? He was there, with boxes. Working on a project? He probably had a tool or supplies that he would love for you to have and he would be there to show you how. Need a ride? If he couldn’t drive you he would find a way for you to take his car. Not only was he generous and selfless, but he was also full of many skills. So while he was a great carpenter, a picture of strength, he was also a gifted florist, his gentleness on display. At a few homecoming dances I think I both borrowed a tie from him and gifted my date with a corsage, specially crafted by Grandpa himself. It was never about him. He loved Panera Bread, but I think even that is really just because Grandma loved it and knew it and he loved her.

I love this picture from my wedding – especially the Hawaiian print tie.

Grandpa was fun. He loved to play a game, crack a joke, or tell a funny story. He is lovingly remembered for witty Facebook comments that took some thought to understand at first, but almost always had a humor that was subtle and mischievous. One of my favorites was while JoBeth and I were broken up, he commented on a picture of her (wearing a hat) and a guy who wasn’t me, saying “I can only click like on the one with the hat.” I can almost imagine the smirk he must have made as he typed that one up. He was great at Balderdash and checkers, and terrible at Farkel. He told the best stories from his younger days. I wish I could remember  some of the specific stories, but what I will always remember is him sitting across the table, leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head, twinkle in his eye as he told me about his college friends, his army days, or absurd youth group adventures that he led. His playful spirit was on full display as the attire for his memorial service was not stuffy, somber suits and black dresses – but Hawaiian shirts.

Grandpa was wise. I imagine a lot of people feel this when someone dear to them passes away, but I have constantly wished for just a few more conversations, a few more opportunities to learn from him. Or I wish I had written down some of the things he taught me over the years. One thing that I am incredibly grateful for is that when I was getting married, my brother reached out to some men in my life to ask them for marriage advice to pass down to me. He compiled their advice and put it together in a book. My Grandpa was one of the men he asked, and listen to this beautiful insight:

“There will be times when you can almost know what the other is going to say. Yet, taking an extra moment to let each other speak may well be one of those golden moments. There is more to listening than hearing.”

This isn’t just a beautiful thought – it is something that I had watched him practice for so many years. JoBeth and I are only a year into marriage and this already feels so insightful – I can only imagine how much more true this was in his 57 years of marriage. I pray that his wisdom would continue to shape me.

Words will never fully describe the man that he was, and the legacy that he leaves. But maybe they can be a start. And I think that these words – kind, patient, selfless, fun, wise – might help paint a pretty good picture. While I do hope that this meager attempt at honoring my Grandpa would be encouraging to some, especially my family –  I hope to best honor my Grandpa by continuing his legacy of kindness, patience, selflessness, fun, and wisdom. I’m eager to follow his example, in the same way that he was following Christ.

Pro Tips for an Alaskan Adventure

We are on our way back to good ole Tennessee today! We opted for the cheapest airline tickets we could find, which means we are taking the long way home – 5 hour overnight layover in Seattle, just to get on a short flight to San Francisco, to wait through a 3 hour layover, to finally fly to Nashville about 20 hours after our first flight!

So, while we are just killing time we thought we might go ahead and share some photos and memories from our time in Alaska! Instead of just sharing random photos, I wanted to give you some “pro” tips for your own Alaskan adventure, with pictures to accompany them!

Disclaimer: Almost all of these “pro” tips are actually entirely circumstantial and we had almost nothing to do with them. We really just had a lot of fortunate connections and opportunities that may not easily be replicated. So, these “pro” tips are actually totally useless and are really just a look at what we did in Alaska. 

Pro Tip Number 1: Get some great friends to come and visit you! 

Tim and Laura spent their July living in Seattle, so they were able to come spend a weekend with us when we first landed in Alaska! We went hiking, traveled from Anchorage to Talkeetna to Girdwood, and we even had a chance to go up in a bush plane for a glacier landing with JoBeth’s sister Kristen’s boyfriend Matt (more on the two of them later)! It was a blast getting to catch up with old friends while experiencing new adventures together.

Pro Tip Number 2: Have an amazing set of locals to show you around! 

These people here are Kristen and Matt. Kristen is one of JoBeth’s older sisters (number 2 of the 4 Collins girls) and Matt is her boyfriend. They both live in Alaska and were amazing hosts. Aside from knowing where to go for food and hikes and all of that good stuff, they were so kind to invite us into their life for the weeks that we were there. They each took us on countless adventures, provided us with food and

       

places to stay, and were just overall incredible hosts and guides for us, and JoBeth’s whole family. It doesn’t hurt that Matt is a bush pilot who was able to take us up on some of his work trips, sightseeing around Mt. Denali, and even went out of his way to take JoBeth, Jessie, and I up in his personal plane, Spunky (pictured to the right). If you ever plan to go to Alaska, make sure you find a Kristen and Matt. 

Pro Tip Number 3Find a golden retriever who is a very good boy.

This came as a package deal with Pro Tip Number 2 – Kristen has an amazing golden retriever named Noli (short for Nolichucky, like the river). I know that everyone thinks that they have the best dog, but Noli is actually the best boy. He loves to run incredibly fast while you bike next to him, can keep up with even the longest of adventures, is always up for a game of fetch, finds the best sticks, plops down in any snow/water he can find and is usually too busy sending it to be bothered with other people or dogs on the trail. He is the perfect companion for any adventure – even flying in Matt’s plane. We took a disproportionate amount of pictures of Noli, so here are just some of our favorites. For more, which, you definitely will want more, go follow him on Instagram at @alaskanbeautysalmondog!

Pro Tip Number 4: Bring some family along!

After JoBeth and I had spent about a week in Alaska, hanging out with our friends the first weekend and then on our own after that, we were able to hang out with her family for the second part of the trip! They have fallen in love with Alaska since Kristen moved here and especially since their last family trip out here a couple of years ago. It was a blast being able to share in some of their favorite memories of the place, while JoBeth and I also got to show them some of the favorite spots we had discovered in our short time there. They fished, got to go on some plane rides, and celebrated some birthdays. I was glad to be able to be part of the family! It is also just such a joy to see the way that JoBeth lights up whenever she gets to spend time with her sisters – Kristen and Jessie each bring her so much joy and it is fun to watch – or listen to as I drive and they bicker about jelly beans in the back seat.

Pro Tip Number 5: JoBeth! 

If I wasn’t married to JoBeth, I’m not sure I ever would have ventured out to Alaska. But even if I had, it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun without her. It is a blast to see the sparkle in her eye as she takes in the mountains, as she plays with Noli, as she dreams about more and more adventures to be had. Alaska has a huge part of her heart, and she has a huge part of mine, so I think it is safe to say this wasn’t our last time in Alaska! We had some incredible moments in the great state, and we even got to celebrate our 1 year anniversary! (Okay so technically we spent the night of our anniversary sleeping in an airport but we celebrated plenty throughout our time there!) She is the perfect travel companion, and I am so glad that she’ll be my lifelong adventure buddy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s all I got! As we get ready to board to head back to Tennessee, while we will miss the fun and adventure of Alaska, I am extremely grateful that we are returning to a life that we are excited about, and I can’t wait to see what an adventure everyday life will be. Oh, and if you really ever have or would consider visiting Alaska – do it!

The Kite and the String

In the last four days, JoBeth and I have spent more time in an airport/airplane than not. In fact, of the last four days, only one of them did not involve any air travel whatsoever. My body has absolutely no idea what time it is, and since we are headed to Alaska, where it is daylight for almost 20 hours each day, I don’t think it will be figuring it out anytime soon. Right now we are in an airport terminal, finishing out an 8 hour layover. JoBeth has a miraculous gift for sleeping anywhere, anytime so she is currently dozing off in the seat next to me.

We just got back from an incredible trip to Asia, and now we are headed off to Alaska for a few weeks before JoBeth and I get ready to start “real” jobs in August. At our wedding, my good friend Stephen sang a song with the lyrics “To the ends of the earth would you follow me?” as we walked back down the aisle. I knew that marrying JoBeth would be an adventure, but I’m not sure if I realized that about a year later those words would become a reality. 

We, along with lots of others, have started to look at aspects of life through the lens of the Enneagram. I’m restraining myself from spending the rest of these words explaining the Enneagram and telling you why it is more than just a personality test (but not the Gospel). What you do need to know is that JoBeth is a 7, known as the Enthusiast or Adventurer. She seeks new experience, is full of energy, and is always on the go. I am a 9, known as the Peacemaker. As the name implies, I like to make or keep peace, have a little less energy than a 7 like JoBeth, and I tend to think pretty practically.

During part of our travels we listened to an interview with Bob and Maria Goff – Bob is a 7, and Maria is a 9. They gave a beautiful illustration about him being a kite and her being the string making sure he doesn’t fly away. Together, it makes for a really awesome, cool thing! In our relationship, JoBeth is definitely the kite, and I am definitely the string. While our travels and adventures may sometimes put a little wear on the string (I’m not as good of an airplane sleeper as JoBeth!), I am so, so grateful to be married to a woman with such an amazingly adventurous spirit. It pulls and stretches me and takes me to places I may have never gone on my own. It causes me to meet new people, to try new things, to see new places. and to look for adventure. In each of these experiences, I am shown more of God’s creation, more of His character, more of His image in the people He has created.

I can’t wait to see where the rest of this life will take us, and I am so thankful to have this wonderful partner to walk through it with.

Here’s to Alaska!

 

So What’s Next?

About two years ago I wrote a blog titled “Now What?” It was after I graduated college, almost exactly two years ago. It was a brief update on what I was doing next, where I was headed, and generally what was going on in my life. A lot has happened in those two years. Since graduation, I have spent a summer in Seattle, moved to Knoxville, got engaged, got married, watched JoBeth graduate, and now I’m almost finished with the two year internship I started when I moved up here. So, we have found ourselves in another “Now What?” stage of life.

“So what’s next?” is an extremely common question when people are in periods of transition. It is a question that hits from all angles – parents, friends, coworkers, etc. It is natural for people to be curious. JoBeth finished school less than a month ago, and my two year internship at the church will wrap up this summer. So of course we are subject to the “Now what?” or “What’s next?” questions. These are usually pretty innocent questions .

They can, of course, also be an anxiety inducing question. What are we going to do next? Should we move apartments? Cities? States? What jobs will we do? Should we go back to school? What do we do if the things we want to do don’t seem to line up?  Whose dream job do we pursue? All of these questions are wrapped up in those two simple words, “Now what?”

Doing some tough soul searching in Colorado.

It has been a unique challenge attempting to answer those questions during our first year of marriage. We are still adjusting to life as roommates, and before we can even decide if we should re-sign the lease on our first apartment we are trying to make some pretty significant life decisions. It has been a good, hard, surprising, and worthy endeavor. I think we have learned a lot about each other, about God, and about the life we have been given. We are still figuring some things out, and to be honest, I think we are still coming to a full peace about these decisions. Not so much because we doubt the decisions we have made, but because we are both people who see the whole world as being full of opportunities, so choosing a specific job in a specific place at a specific time means saying no to an infinite amount of other options. All of that to say, here is what we know so far, in bullet points:

  • We are staying in Knoxville! I have accepted a job as the Associate Director of High School ministry at Cedar Springs, the church where I am currently serving as an intern. We are really excited to continue to deepen the relationships we have made, both with students, families, and friends. It is a unique opportunity to stay with a group of 8th grade students as they move into high school, and I can’t wait to see what God has ahead in this position. I’ll start in August!
  • We are returning back to Asia this summer for two weeks in July! It is very similar to the trip we took last year, except this year we’ll be visiting a different city and JoBeth and I have the opportunity to lead the trip! We are, once again, raising money for the trip, and would of course be grateful for any support that you can offer!
  • Between now and our trip to Asia in July, there are 4 weddings (one of which JoBeth will have to miss because of the Asia trip – I’ll stay an extra day in the states and meet up with her after the wedding, so please be praying for her as she leads during a hectic travel day!), a week of VBS, a week of high school beach camp, and a bachelor’s weekend for one of my best friends. June is going to be crazy!
  • After we come back from Asia, we’ll spend a day almost catching up from jet-lag before we head off to Alaska to spend time with JoBeth’s family! The church has been so gracious to give me some time to rest, play, and explore before I transition into my new role in August, so we’ll get to spend almost three weeks up there. We are so excited!
  • JoBeth is still in the midst of the job securing process for the fall. There are some pretty exciting possibilities in the works, and in the meantime, she works at a ropes course at a local outdoor center, which is pretty rad! While I know she is eager to be able to fully answer that pesky “Now what?” question, I personally am just so excited to see how God uses the incredible gifts, talents, and passions that she has been given. Whoever is fortunate enough to have her on their team will get to see their lives and organization change for the better, because she is a rockstar.

So there it is. That is a brief look at our lives as of right now, May 30th, 2018. We don’t have everything figured out, but we are slowly starting to answer that question of “What’s next?” more confidently, and we are excited to see what is ahead. I am so grateful for how God has worked in our lives so far.

 

Life in Color, Screens in Black and White

I haven’t written on here in awhile. I’d like to say that it is because I just absolutely haven’t had any time, but that isn’t really it. I have just been lacking in motivation, inspiration, possibly confidence. I’m not really sure. But I’m almost always glad when I sit down to write something, so today I’m setting aside the time and going for it. I’m not exactly sure how, but I think it is good for me.

Cell phones are a big deal today. I don’t think that is a secret. Where we might have used to describe the amount of people who have smartphones by saying a really high percentage, like, “77% of Americans own smartphones” or something like that, try this – how many teenagers or adults do you know personally who don’t own a smartphone? I can think of one off the top of my head and that is it. That is crazy! They are a huge part of our modern world.

People give this generation of kids and teenagers a really hard time about their cell phone use. Some have called it the “iGeneration.” It is almost a broken record to talk about how much time kids spend on their phone and how they don’t know how to have a normal conversation anymore. I work with middle school students, and a lot of those stereotypes are true! I am deeply concerned about cell phone addiction for students.

But, I am also deeply concerned about cell phone addiction for people! Us adults aren’t always that great at having normal conversations and looking away from our phones either. If you are a person with a smart phone, you have the potential to have a problematic relationship with it. It isn’t necessarily your fault, in a lot of ways they were designed to be addictive!

Cell phone addiction is something a lot of people talk about today. Websites like Huffington Post have a whole section of articles simply titled “cell phone addiction.” There are plenty of tips out there on how to break cell phone addiction, or at least limit our time on our devices. A really common tip is to turn your phone to black and white. There is a lot of science that I won’t try to explain that shows us how the red notifications, the lights, the color, all causes us to be addicted to our phones. But by turning the screens to black and white, the phone becomes a lot more boring and a lot less alluring.

I, like many other people, am trying to at least be conscious of how much time I spend on my phone. So I tried out the black and white screen thing. (Here’s a quick little explanation of this theory and how to do it on your phone.)

The results were eye opening. To begin with, it really does make the phone a lot more boring. There is not much exciting about a black and white screen. Notifications are harder to see. Instagram and Facebook feel pretty lifeless. Gifs aren’t nearly as funny. The phone genuinely did become less alluring.

My boring old phone.
My boring old phone.

But here’s what I found to be the most significant realization. Any time that I did look down at my black and white phone, and then looked back up at the real world, something wonderful happened. While the phone was dull and boring, the world around me was full of life and color. Everything was vibrant and full. Everything from our faded white apartment walls to the spectacular green trees outside the window somehow appeared brighter after looking at the lifeless, black and white screen.

It was a great reminder to me of the way things should be, and how far away we have gotten from that. I see it in the students I’m with all the time. When life starts to feel dull, lifeless, or boring, their phone is a quick and easy way to see color, excitement, and what seems like “life.” And it seems to work, so it keeps drawing them back again, and again, and again.

We have it backwards. If we aren’t careful, we can start to see the world around us as black and white, and the screens in our pockets as bright and full of life. That is a scary place to be, but I think it is reality for a lot of people. I think that is part of why it is so easy for us to bury our head in our phones. And the more that we do, the more we will think that that is where true “color” is found.

Now, of course I’m a hypocrite. I don’t do this perfectly or even that well. I made the setting on my phone so that I could easily switch between color and black and white (I mean, how else am I supposed to look at apartments on Craigslist if I can’t see them in color?). But even doing it for a day is a great reminder to me of this simple truth – these phones are not real life. They are just a screen, showing us a limited perspective, and that perspective is black and white – boring, dull, lacking. But the world (and the people) around us is bright, vibrant, and full of life.

When I pick my eyes up from my phone, I see bright green trees, some of the handiwork of God’s spectacular creation. I see a grandfather playing rock, paper, scissors with his granddaughter in a coffee shop. I see my sweet wife, made in God’s image.  I see the world as it really is, fallen though it may be.

What if you decided to just go a day, maybe even a week with your phone in black and white? How might it change your perspective? Would it cause us to look up and at each other more often? Would it cause us to see new beauty in our day to day life?

Would you be willing to give it a try?

We Are Terrible at Waiting

We (my fellow interns and I at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church) put together an advent guide for our students. If you are interested in using it for yourself this Christmas season, you can easily download the PDF version here! Below is a little explanation of the heart behind advent. Hope you enjoy! 

Have you ever just stood in line at the grocery store? I mean JUST stood in line. Not checking your phone, not reading the magazine covers along the aisle. Just  waiting, just being? I try to do it every now and then. As in, when I realize I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting for my order to be called at a coffee shop, my first instinct is to pull out my phone and do the usual round of email, social media, email, etc. So I’ve tried to develop a habit of leaving my phone in my pocket and just waiting. Just taking in the moment before me, practicing patience and mindfulness. I’m not very good at it, but I’m trying.

Honestly, it usually feels uncomfortable. It kind of makes me feel like a weirdo. It almost feels like I NEED to be doing something while I wait, and that I’m somehow doing something wrong by just standing or sitting there, doing nothing. Because that’s just not how we function anymore. We are terrible at waiting! In fact, we just don’t wait. We fill every single moment of time with something, whether that is texting, phone calls, taking in news or looking at social media. And while we are doing that we just so happen to also be standing in line. But we aren’t actually standing in line; we are doing something else entirely. We’re avoiding just waiting at all costs.

I don’t say this to shame you for looking at your phone while you are standing in line. I still do it probably 75% of the time! But as we get ready to enter into the season of advent, starting on Sunday, I think it is really important for us to think about this idea of waiting. That is, after all, the goal of advent. It is a time for us to practice waiting. To remember what it must have been like for God’s people who, for so many years, awaited a promised savior. To try to look at the Christmas story with a fresh perspective. Not as an old story that we know by heart, but as incredibly good news that meets an extraordinary need of our hearts, which is the need for a savior, for life, for healing.

But during this advent season, instead of just waiting, we do something else entirely. We fill our time with shopping and parties and traveling and everything else that, while not bad things, can occupy all of our time. And so we stumble into the Christmas Eve service with a busy, crowded heart and mind. As a result, we hear the Christmas story and remember the facts, but we don’t really hear it. We don’t receive it as incredibly good news. Because instead of waiting for Christ in December, we make ourselves busy. Instead of choosing to celebrate the holiday because of and in light of what Christ has done, we are busying ourselves for a holiday that just so happens to be about Christ.

In those rare moments when I remember to keep my phone tucked away at the grocery store, I am almost always rewarded by a richer experience. I find a peace that I don’t find on my phone. I find time and opportunity to talk to the cashier. I remember to breathe deeply and appreciate the things and the people around me. Just waiting creates a deeper experience and satisfaction that I have never found looking down at my phone.

I believe that the same could be true of Christmas. If we can figure out a way to not fill all of our time with busyness, if we can learn not to rush through the season, we just might find that we experience in a deeper way. That is why we celebrate advent. Not to add another thing to the holiday season, but to create space so that we can see and hear the story as the incredibly good news that it is.

 

IMG_6151As I said above, the interns and I put together an advent devotional guide for our middle school, high school, and college students. It has scripture readings for each day, a theme for each week, and some practices and questions for reflection. While we did try to make it age specific, my hope is that it would be helpful to people in all stages of life. So, I’ve included a link to download the guide here. Whether you use this guide, pick a book to walk through, use a plan on the Bible app, or just designate some special time for reflection, I hope that the season of advent will create a rich, full, and fruitful celebration of Christmas for you and your family.

Advent Devotional Guide

Letting Puppies Be Puppies

I’m dog sitting this week. Today I took the dog for a walk. He’s a sweet dog. I don’t know a whole lot about dog breeds, but I know he is black and white and still growing into his puppy legs. I don’t know when the last time you hung out with puppy was, but I’ve definitely learned some things. For example they aren’t very good at letting you know when they need to go to the bathroom. They like to chew on anything and everything. Sometimes they are a little clumsy and accidentally fall into the pool (the super shallow end don’t worry). And as I learned today, they aren’t very good at walking. I mean they are great at running. Like really great at running. They run really fast and with tons of joy and energy that is utterly contagious. But walking, on a leash, on a trail, next to a human? Not so much.

Walking, along with doing their business outside, is not their specialty. Even though the paved path of a greenway feels like an obvious path for you and I, to a puppy, a greenway is an amazing playground just begging to be explored. The asphalt path is really just a suggestion for where to walk – after all there’s grass on either side, trees all around, leaves and sticks everywhere, strange and exciting sounds from cars and fellow dogs and humans.There is way too much going on and too much to be explored to just walk straight and next to your human. 

Today as I walked with my new friend Steeler it almost seemed as if he was intentionally trying to trip me. Not actually of course, he just loved walking from each side of the trail back and forth, back and forth. He looked like an Olympic slalom skier, gracefully (sometimes) jetting back and forth across the course. He could never walk for too long on one side for fear of missing all the grass and leaves and sticks and smells on the other side. It was sensory overload, and it practically had him walking in circles.

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Steeler doing his puppy thing.

Us humans tend to like walking in straight lines. We like to go from Point A to Point B in the most direct route possible. We are creatures of efficiency, and walking with a puppy is extremely inefficient. If I’m honest, my natural reaction was to be frustrated at Steeler. Why can’t he just walk straight? Why does he constantly step right in front of me? Doesn’t he realize what he is doing? These thoughts are silly, I know. Because Steeler is just a puppy, acting like a puppy. He is being curious, adventurous, joyous, and all of these other things that are part of why everyone loves puppies! So truthfully I have no right to be frustrated at Steeler – Steeler is just doing exactly what he was made to do. With that new mindset, our slow, inefficient, jagged walk through the park becomes a beautiful thing. It causes me to see the park with a new perspective, to slow down and see what Steeler sees. I learn from him, I enjoy his company, and I even enjoy this painfully slow walk with him.

It makes me think about the middle school guys that I hang out with. They are often unruly, wild, sometimes smelly, and frequently have trouble walking in a straight line. And so often, when they do or say dumb things, when they act out to get attention, when they question authority for no good reason other than for the sake of being rebellious, I can find myself getting angry. Why can’t they just get it together? Why can’t they sit still? Why can’t they pay attention to the things I am telling them? Don’t they know that I care about them? It is frustrating, watching them grow, seeing them trip over themselves and clumsily walk through life. 

It is in those moments that I so desperately need to be reminded – these are middle school boys. They are acting like middle school boys. And yet I am somehow disappointed that they don’t act more like a healthy, developed adult. That’s ludicrous. I can’t be angry at students for being students. That is the stage of life they are in, and it is the stage of life that I am fortunate enough to walk through with them. And just as every new dog owner knows that getting a puppy comes with its challenges – cleaning up accidents, chewed up shoes, etc. – I should know that walking through middle school with middle school students will present its own challenges –  awkwardness, rebellion, inappropriate jokes and just flat out dumb decisions. 

Now, the point is not for us to just let puppies and middle schoolers do whatever they want – we should teach them and guide them, we should and hope and expect more from them! We should not simply become content with this season of frequent accidents and an inability to walk in a straight line (for both puppies and students!). But instead, we should have grace for them when they act like the very things that they are. We should love them when they make mistakes, and we should offer them hope and guidance for a better future. When we can remind ourselves that it is only right that puppies will act like puppies and middle school boys will act like middle school boys, we just might start to enjoy the slow, inefficient, and frustrating walk with them. And besides, sometimes its fun to walk like a slalom skier. 

 

That Stupid Little Check Engine Light

The check engine light came on in my car a couple of days ago. I hate the check engine light. Every time I get in my car I hope and pray that this time that annoying, orange image in the corner of the dash would be nonexistent. Each time, I am a little bit disappointed. If you own a car that is more than a year old you probably share this sentiment. I think most people hate the check engine light. In fact, I have seen some people who hate it so much that they have put tape over the light so they wouldn’t have to look at when they drive.

The funny thing about the check engine light is that its really not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very good thing. It is a part of our car that was created to warn us of potential problems so that we can fix them before they become bigger problems. Its not like the absence of the light would automatically mean that the car is miraculously healed. In fact, it is not the check engine light that we need to fix. The check engine light is just there to tell us about something else in the car that we need to fix. But when the check engine light comes on I don’t find myself cursing the engine, the radiator, the brakes, the fuel pump or whatever else it might be that is causing the problem. No, instead I curse the check engine light. Because if it weren’t for that stupid light, I could just keep going on like everything was okay.

We all do it. We know that something is not right with our car, and instead of investigating that strange sound, we just turn the music up louder. If we can’t hear it, can’t see it, then we don’t have to do anything about it. And then that stupid little light comes on and we can’t ignore it anymore. Now there is a bright, visible reminder that things are not as they should be. The light is not broken, something beneath the hood is. But it is the light that I hate. So we put some tape over it, turn the key, and drive on like everything is okay. After all, getting rid of that stupid light is easier than actually fixing the problem that the light is telling us about.

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The problem with the check engine light is it exposes something in our cars that we don’t want to be true. It keeps us from being able to pretend like everything is okay. Don’t we hate when the same thing happens in our own lives? We all know, on some level, that we aren’t perfect. In fact, many of us are aware that there is a fundamental flaw in our beings, that we are broken in a number of ways, that we have a great need. But boy do we hate it when someone or something reveals that truth to us. We hate it when the problems in our lives and in our hearts are exposed. We hate the proverbial check engine light of our souls that reminds us that we are not as we should be.

So instead of dealing with the problems beneath the surface, we look for temporary fixes that are nothing more than a bandage on a broken bone, or a piece of duct tape over a check engine light. We are afraid of doing the often difficult, usually grimy, and frustrating work of lifting the hood, shining a light on the engine and dealing with the problem.

This analogy is a work in progress, but I think there is something here. At the end of the day, we all struggle with this fact: We hate the check engine light instead of using it for what it is: an indicator that there is work to be done, that we are in need of healing. What are the check engine lights in your life? What matters of the soul might they be pointing to? What would it look like to open up the hood?

I have some ideas about this that I hope to discuss in another post, but first I would love to hear your thoughts!

Meet Mrs. JoBeth Hill

This is JoBeth.

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She has a lot of nicknames. Jojo,Jobaby, Jobillygoat, Jobarf (sorry), Jobeezy, Joclutch (that one might have been self given), Jo, Jobeff (thanks to my 3 year old nephew Everett), and many others. But my favorite nickname for her is Mrs. Hill. (Okay so it’s not technically a nickname, more of a formal/legal name, but you get the point.)

JoBeth is my wife. I know what you’re thinking. Why did she, the beautiful babe up there, decide to marry me, the twerp behind the keyboard. It’s a valid question, and it is one that I have asked myself many times. There was a time when I didn’t think this would happen. Well, those of you who know us and know our story actually know that there were several times when this didn’t seem like it would happen. Paul, in scriptures, says that marriage is a “great mystery.” In our case, I think the great mystery he is referring to is why someone like JoBeth would choose to say “I do” to someone like me.

We met on a church trip when JoBeth wasn’t even old enough to drive (we were 16 and 14). If you have ever met JoBeth, you know that after one conversation with her you somehow feel as if she is your best friend. So I, along with many others who have met her, quickly gained a new best friend. But I knew that I wasn’t content with another best friend.

You see, there’s something different about JoBeth. People are automatically drawn to her. In high school, if you walked through the halls with JoBeth it was a pretty slow process. Not because she’s a slow walker, which is probably the furthest thing from the truth. It was a slow process because JoBeth seemed to have a unique handshake with almost every person she saw in the hall. People from the track team, soccer team, friends from class, somebody she used to ride the bus with in 2nd grade, the kid who just happened to have a locker next to hers. It was unbelievable, and so much fun to watch.

Fast forward five years and it is not uncommon to be walking around Knoxville with JoBeth and hear her heartily greet somebody who, as far as I know, is a complete stranger. There’s laughter and hugs and smiling and “Oh my gosh how are you?”s. It’s like two old friends reconnecting after years apart. “Hey JoBeth, how did you know them?” “Uh I’m not sure, I think maybe I stood next to her in line at the cafeteria  once.” It is barely an exaggeration. I told you, she makes everyone feel like she is their best friend.

JoBeth is joyful, passionate, and indeed, full of life. She brings an excitement and energy into every new day. She is thoughtful and kind. She is fiery and competitive, but she is even more loving and gracious. She is the kind of person that I hope to become.

During one of the toasts at our rehearsal dinner, a good friend of ours said that JoBeth personifies John 10:10 when Christ said “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” He couldn’t have been more correct. She is such a beautiful picture of the full, abundant life that Christ came to offer.  May we all seek to live life with the kind of contagious love and joy that JoBeth is teaching me to have each and every day. May we each strive to love people with a secret handshakes up and down the hall, hugging and laughing with strangers kind of love that JoBeth has shown me and so many others.