Feels Like ’58

Tomorrow at noon, the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga Mocs will take the field at Neyland Stadium. I couldn’t be more excited! If you know me, and if you are reading this, you know me – then you know that I am an extremely proud graduate of UTC. I frequently refer to it as the best university in the south. This isn’t really a thing people say, but one might say that I bleed blue and gold. So I am excited because I get to watch my alma mater play in the town where I now live. But I am most excited because, you might have noticed, but this isn’t exactly the “Year of the Volunteer”. UTK (and yes, it does need the K for specification) isn’t off to a great start, losing two straight home games against less than stellar opposing teams. Tennessee fans are experiencing emotions ranging from heavy depression to flat out mad. It’s all very exciting.

Now, I am aware of some obvious things. UTK is a lot bigger than UTC. UTK plays in a much different division/conference/world of college football than UTC. I get it, UTK plays in the “best conference in college football”. And no, UTC isn’t having a stellar year – they dropped their last game to arch-nemesis Jacksonville State. But, as you may have heard, it feels like ’58 around Knoxville. (If you have somehow missed it, that is the last year that UTC came to Knoxville and beat the Vols.) As a recent UTC video pointed out, that was the same year Eisenhower was president, who famously said “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it is the size of the fight in the dog.” If there is one thing I know about the always scrappy Mocs, it is that they are full of fight. So here’s the deal. Vols are bad. Mocs are okay. Vols are down and out. Mocs are fired up. In the words of Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

With all this in mind, there are some things I need to get off my chest. The past three years living in Knoxville have been full of internal conflict for me. You see, while at UTC, I developed a passion for the Mocs, and some pretty intense negative feelings about the Vols. A lot of it stemmed from the fact that some of my fellow students would skip a home UTC game to watch the mediocre Vols on TV. It frustrated me so much it led me to write this post some years ago, 3 Reasons You Should Cheer For The Mocs (Or Whatever Small to Medium Sized, Non-SEC School Where You Are A Student). A key principle for me is the idea that you should be all in, where you are, where ever you are. Whatever you are doing is the best thing you could be doing. Instead of wishing you were at a different school because “the games aren’t as fun” – go to the games and MAKE them fun! This is a key principle that made me a proud Rossview Hawk in high school, and a proud Moc in college.

That principle has given me trouble after moving to Knoxville. You see, I moved here along with all of my Moc pride, and all of my Vol disdain. And I have to admit, there is something really fun about being the contrarian – going against the grain in a city where everybody bleeds orange, and #VFL is a real thing. Especially in these years where the football program is less than stellar, there is something wickedly fun about taking little jabs at the hometown team. But that also goes against the very principles that turned me into a Moc fan. I should point out, I didn’t come to that realization on my own. My loving, sweet, UTK graduated wife, who just wanted to be able to wholeheartedly give me a high five at a football game when the Vols scored one of their rare touchdowns (I’m sorry, it’s just so easy) – was pretty quick to point out this inconsistency in my ethics.

To further confuse things, this past basketball season, UTK had an amazingly fun program that was really hard not to root for. The team had a great energy. The coach is a stand up guy who spends time giving back to the community, even volunteering at the organization where JoBeth works. They pulled at my heart strings. And I’m here to say, I have tasted the sweet, orange, forbidden fruit. I have sung that annoyingly catchy fight song, not even replacing the words “rocky top” with “mocky top.” I have not one, but two articles of clothing with UTK logos on them, and what’s worse, I wear them. I have cheered enthusiastically at an Admiral Schofield slam dunk, and I have experienced real disappointment as I watched them lose in the NCAA tournament. It hurts a little to write this, but it feels good to get it off of my chest.

A.C. “Scrappy” Moore – Coach of UTC in 1958 on that glorious day. Thanks https://twitter.com/UTChattanooga for sharing this gem.

So where does this leave me? I am still processing what it might look like to live in Knoxville and actually root for the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (it definitely won’t look like me dropping the extremely necessary K or Knoxville on the name as to avoid confusion with the other scrappy but prestigious University of Tennessee down in Chattanooga, I can tell you that). I really do think there is something good and right about rooting where you live. At least to some degree. And if you are a student at a school, the command is simple – root where you live, all in, all the time. As for me, an extremely proud graduate of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, I will always be a Moc. I am coming to grips with the fact that rooting for the Mocs and being a proud UTC grad doesn’t HAVE to be mutually exclusive with supporting the hometown team of the town where I live (which at this point in time happens to be the Vols).

This weekend is different. This weekend is no time for ethics or principles. This weekend is no time to be the middle of the road, peacemaker that I can tend to be. the situation is much too serious for that. The stakes are much too high. The Mocs are storming Rocky Top. They are rolling into Neyland Stadium with one goal, and one goal only – take down the beloved Volunteers. I would say it is a classic David v. Goliath showdown, but calling UTK Goliath gives them way too much credit. I like to think of it as a championship, heavy weight fight between two brothers, much like the movie “Warrior.” And yes, UTC is the little brother. And it is tired of getting knocked down and pushed around by its bigger (but not that successful) older brother. It is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog. And the Mocs are ready to fight.

I live in Knoxville. I’m willing to support the Vols. But I love the Mocs. This weekend it is all about that blue and gold. If you live in Chattanooga, if you graduated from UTC, if you are a student now at UTC, I hope you will join me. It is time to embrace the ethos of our beloved mascot Scrappy, because it’s going to take a lot of heart, and a lot of grit. But I can feel it. It feels like ’58.

Fix Your Eyes

If I have talked to you in person at some point in the last 6-8 months or so, you have probably heard me talk about this thing called the Peloton. If you haven’t heard of it, it is an at-home spin bike famous for commercials with absurdly wealthy/fit people taking a spin class in the comfort of their million dollar apartment. Like this.

Well, I wouldn’t peg myself as someone to be sucked in by commercials and marketing and trends, but, well… they got me. In January I started using a free trial of their app to take some classes on the spin bikes at our YMCA. Then when JoBeth and I went to New York we attended a live class in the Peloton studio where I got to feel and see how much nicer the actual Peloton bikes are. Then JoBeth and I started doing some calculating to see if we could swing it. Then we started scouring Facebook marketplace for a good deal on a used one. Finally, a few weeks ago, we found a deal that was too good to pass up, and we are now sheepishly proud owners of our very own Peloton. I’d be happy to tell you more about it sometime, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

So the thing about Peloton is that while the bike is really nice, the value comes from the instructors. The company would call their instructors the best in the world, and they really might be. They are great. They have challenging classes, pick great music, and if you follow their instructions through a class, 20, 30, or 45 minutes later you will be panting for breath, sweaty, and exhausted. At the same time, they can be a little cheesy. They are part instructor, part motivational speaker. And don’t get me wrong, when Alex Toussaint is telling me that “this ain’t daycare” and “stop cheating yourself of greatness,” or telling me to “breathe in that confidence, exhale that doubt,” I can’t help but to pedal faster. But what I also can’t help but do is notice that when it comes down to it, most of the things they say boil down to self-help, pick yourself up by the bootstraps, try harder, be better, you need to save yourself because nobody else will type of advice.

Hearing the advice, encouragement, and motivation from secular folks in a secular organization really doesn’t bother me. I feel pretty good about my capacity to hear and be motivated by the good stuff while ignoring the nonsense. And it feels like a good opportunity to gain insight into the general worldview of modern, Western, high achieving type of people who tend to flock to the Peloton. All of that to say, amidst all of the self-help, try harder motivation, I hear something that rings true and reminds me of Christian truth. John Calvin once said “All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God.” Now please don’t hear me calling these Peloton instructors wicked. Rather, what this quote reminds me of is the importance of looking for, embracing, and affirming truth where we find it. Instead of picking apart everything that people say, I want to be someone who looks for the things that are good and true and can point us to God.

In a recent class with my boy Matt Wilpers, during an especially difficult stretch of the workout, he gave some advice. He said something along the lines of – when struggling through a workout, a run, a bike ride, etc., it is so important to fix your eyes on something. If your eyes and head are constantly moving around, looking all over the place, you will be wasting energy. Instead, you should fix your eyes on something so that you know where you are going, and so that your energy can instead be focused in moving in the direction of your gaze. I was naturally reminded of Hebrews 12:1-3.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

I don’t know what Matt Wilpers thinks about God. But I do know that through the gift of common grace, I could be reminded of this beautiful, encouraging, challenging truth in the middle of an early morning workout. In fact, Matt’s encouragement even caused me to think about the ways that I might waste energy and time when I do not have my eyes fixed on Jesus, and how that makes it more difficult to follow him. And more than that, I could be reminded that all truth is God’s truth, and that God chooses to use pictures from this world to illustrate and remind us of His truth.

So, let’s be people with eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. And let’s be people who affirm truth where it can be affirmed, who look for the ways that God is revealing himself in the hearts of men and women in so many different ways. And let’s participate in His work of revealing himself to the world around us.

2 Years of J-O-B-E-T-H

A couple of days ago, JoBeth and I celebrated two years of marriage! We got to enjoy some time together in Boston last week (including seeing the Red Sox obliterate the Yankees at Fenway Park) and we treated ourselves to a way-fancier-than-normal dinner here in Knoxville on Tuesday evening. But, I wanted to have something written to commemorate the occasion. As I was thinking, I was reminded of some specific memories of my Grandpa.

He was an extremely clever guy, intellectual, with an always-on, sometimes over peoples heads sense of humor. And for many special occasions, he would send us a card, email, even a text, written in the form of a riddle, a poem, or an acrostic. One year at Easter for instance, he set out some candy with a card that was meant to communicate – we didn’t have time to hide eggs, but here is some candy anyways. But instead of saying that, he wrote a poem that started something like “Imagine pastel parcels placed purposefully in the yard…” You get the point. It was one of my favorite quirks of his.

So, in honor of Grandpa, and in celebration of two years with JoBeth, here is an acrostic to help summarize these two years with my sweet wife.

J – Jovial. I bet you thought I was going to say joy – but that is too easy. She is every bit of the definition of the word – cheerful and friendly. She makes friends quickly, brings light everywhere she goes, and we can’t go anywhere without her excitedly hugging and being hugged by someone she may have met just once. #JoBethforMayor2020

O – Overwhelming. In every sense of the word. These past two years we have had times of overwhelming joy. At the same time, we have had times of sadness and melancholy. Beyond that we have been overwhelmed by God’s grace in our lives, and for the unique callings he has given us in Knoxville. Sometimes that leaves us feeling a bit overwhelmed, but still grateful.

B – Beautiful. She was when I met her, she was on her wedding day, and she is today. Inside and out.

E– Extraordinary. This might not be that creative of a word, but I mean it very literally. JoBeth is way more than ordinary. One of my favorite parts of living with her, and of getting to stay in this city together, has been getting to see her be affirmed in her extraordinariness, and for more and more people to have the chance to see what I have always seen in her.

T – Transition. We have lived our whole married two years in one apartment, but outside of that there has been a whole lot of change. JoBeth graduated college and got a job at Thrive Lonsdale, where she is now the volunteer coordinator! I finished an internship at Cedar Springs and started a new position there. So the city and apartment have stayed the same, but these past two years have been full of new seasons.

H – Home. One of my favorite parts of marriage is that we get to create a home together. It is worth noting, JoBeth is way better at it than me. When I lived in the apartment by myself I had a twin bed on the floor, and a camp chair in the living room. Now it is a place that is warm, hospitable, and really does feel like home. We are looking forward to moving into Lonsdale in October, where we will get to create a whole new kind of home. But the best part of it all is knowing that home will always be where we are together. (cue the “awww” sound effect).

A Megaphone Preacher Guy and a Coffee Shop

As I sat down at Old City Java in Knoxville, TN, at 10:30 AM on Friday morning, I had planned to give some brief life updates, and some commentary on the fact that this was our first 4th of July spent in America in a couple of years. But as soon as I sat down with my cranberry-oat scone and americano, I started to hear the booming, distorted, crackling sound of a voice coming through a megaphone. For a few seconds I hoped it was just a strange, artistic touch to the song being played through the speakers of the coffee shop. But as one song ended and another began, it became clear this sound was coming from out on the street. I got up from my seat and popped my head out the door to investigate, and my fears were confirmed.

It was one of those preachers. You know what I’m talking about. Big, moderately offensive sign. A bright colored safety vest, perhaps to give them the appearance of authority. And a megaphone. This one was one of those fancy ones with a separate headpiece and the speaker attached to him like a backpack – that way his hands were free to hold the offensive sign in one hand and the (closed) Bible in the other. You’ve probably seen them outside of big football games, or on busy sidewalks in cities. There was a two week span at UTC where a main courtyard was taken over by an especially angry preacher lady. This man is pacing up and down the street – his words that are a mumble from afar simply become a louder, more angry mumble as he passes by the windows of the coffee shop.

I watch as each of the baristas and customers react to the sight of a man with a sign and a megaphone shouting up and down the street. One customer tells another “its one of those preacher guys” to which she responded “Oh, great” – sarcasm implied. Numerous customers simply shook their head in disgust and quietly grumbled to themselves. Some looked around the shop for someone else to affirm their head shaking and disgusted looks. One of the baristas walked outside for a second to observe, then walked back in and loudly exclaimed “Good God!” Now I can’t be sure… but I am 99.9% that he was not actually responding in amazement at how good the God of the Bible is.

While the guy is most certainly annoying, and it seems even the loudest setting on my headphones won’t drown him out, it mostly just makes me sad. Because as I look around at the small, but what I would say is a fairly representative sample size of people in the Old City on Friday morning, it is pretty safe to say he is not winning anybody with the Gospel of Christ. For somebody who is not following Christ, there are probably 1 of 2 things that can happen from encountering this preacher guy.

  1. If they already had a preconceived idea about how “Christians” act – hateful, bigoted, hypocritical, judgmental, or even just socially unaware – then this preacher guy was simply proving this to be true.
  2. If they don’t know much about the Christian faith, this is a terrible introduction. Any future encounters with church or the Christian faith will have this memory playing in the background.

(Now, before anyone fights me on this, it is worth mentioning that it is possible that a seed could be planted by the preaching of God’s word [though he is rarely actually reading or teaching God’s word faithfully] and that the Holy Spirit could choose to work through this guy. That is possible.)

Knowing how the preacher guy is being received even just within this coffee shop makes me frustrated that he is choosing to spend his morning this way. And it would be easy to continue to poke holes in his method and logic and theology. There are a lot of reasons why I think what he is doing is a BAD idea. But simply sitting in a place of judgment from my safe little seat in the coffee shop doesn’t really put me much closer to the heart of the Gospel than he is. So instead, I want to consider two challenges for myself, and for Christians as a whole, in response.

First, it makes me wonder how often I am actually a lot like him – proclaiming truth to people without actually engaging them as image bearers made to reflect the Glory of God. I think of 1 Corinthians 13:1 which says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.” For the people in this coffee shop, the man’s words sound exactly like a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. They don’t know him, and he doesn’t know them. Furthermore, there is nothing to imply that he loves or even cares about the people he is preaching to. Again, it is easy to pick on the guy, but I have to ask myself, how often do I do the same? I can stand in front of high school students and share the Gospel, but if I am not moving towards them with love, spending just as much time actually sitting with them and talking with them as I do preparing for a talk, then what is to say my words don’t sound like a clanging cymbal – or a muffled, crackling noise from a megaphone.

As Christians, especially in light of knowing that the general perception of the faith is often simply confirmed by people like the preacher guy, we have to be persistent in getting to know people, in moving towards them. It is ironic for me to be writing this in a blog post, because that is one of the ways we can so often fail at this. I see so many articles and Facebook posts that are basically the equivalent of yelling through a megaphone at our neighbor, rather than loving them. Now even people posting articles that proclaim a Gospel of outrage would say that the megaphone preacher guy is totally off base – but at least he has the nerve to say the things out loud that so many others are thinking or writing from behind a screen.

The second challenge for me personally is this: I feel so frustrated that for many, this angry preacher guy is their first impression of Christianity, and yet, I am not doing anything to counteract that. I am not actively going out of my way to make sure that the people who fill a coffee shop on a Friday morning would know the love and grace of Christ. I’m not sure that I know the best method to do so, but we as Christians should not be content with just sitting in judgment of the megaphone guy while doing nothing ourselves. I come to this coffee shop enough, I could be engaging in conversation with the baristas that I see week after week. Heck, I could use this opportunity to engage with the folks around me about the fact that the baristas sarcastic “Good God!” is true, even if the preacher guy is doing nothing to show it. So I can feel good about myself for not being the angry preacher guy, but I am a long way off from being Paul, who in the book of Acts, by being in the city and among the people, found ways to lovingly and boldly proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

For Christians today, it is so important that we not be content with simply not being those obnoxious kind of Christian. We should not settle for our witness being the fact that we aren’t as annoying as other people who claim Christianity. Don’t get me wrong, that is a great start, and PLEASE don’t go out and invest in a megaphone. But we are called to go out and be active ambassadors of Christ. We are called to love one another, because He first loved us. This goes beyond just NOT being annoying. We have been given the Gospel of Christ, something that we have the joy and privilege of offering to others. Through conversation, through love, through care for our neighbor. Just not through a megaphone.

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?