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.

 

 

One Big Thank You Note

It is Monday afternoon as I’m writing this. JoBeth and I will be married and on our way to Oregon this time next week. That is unbelievable. The summer has absolutely flown by. It is astounding to think that the day and event that I have been looking forward to for so long (like, a long time before I proposed or even convinced JoBeth to date me) is right around the corner. It felt so far away, and now, it is here. We are so, so excited.

As time seems to move both incredibly slow and incredibly fast and each day simultaneously slips by and drags on, I wanted to write this word of thanks before the week got away from me. JoBeth and I are so thankful for the lives that we have been given and the opportunity that we have to build a wonderful life together. But if anything has been made especially clear to me through this season of life, it is the fact that we did not get here on our own. We would not be the people that we are and in the situations that we are in if it were not for a large, diverse, faithful, and generous group of people around us. A unique collection of friends, peers, teammates, mentors, coaches, pastors, bosses, parents, siblings, relatives have, through the course of our lives, have been critical to our existence, growth, and maturation.

Here are just a few of the goofballs who have helped me become who I am today - kind of a scary thought.
Here are just a few of the goofballs who have helped me become who I am today – kind of a scary thought.

Something that I know is part of wedding etiquette but that I can tend to procrastinate on is “Thank You Notes.” I’m not sure if it is the act of picking out cards and envelopes that makes it so tough or if I am just forgetful, but while my heart is in a posture of gratefulness, I can sometime struggle to say it enough to the people who deserve to hear it: thank you. Maybe it is because any amount of words seems to fail in comparison to how immensely we have been blessed by people. Either way, there are a lot of you out there who deserve an emphatic, heart felt, enthusiastic, loving THANK YOU, and I wish that I could look each of you in the eyes, give you a hug, and shake your hand while uttering that simple phrase over and over.

To the friends and family that have supported me and been there for me through every step of my life, thank you.

To the mentors who have gently and graciously guided me towards truth and wisdom, thank you.

To the people who have believed in us enough to give us a chance with a job, camp, or experience we don’t deserve, thank you. To the people who were kind and generous enough to help JoBeth and I fund our trip to Asia, thank you. (It is also worth noting that the trip was absolutely incredible! Due to the nature of what we were doing and out of respect to people we had the privilege of working with, we aren’t able to give much details about our trip over the internet. If you would like to hear more about the trip, just post a comment here, message us on Facebook, or give us a call and we would absolutely love to talk about it. Alternatively, if you give us your address we can send you a picture or two from our trip along with a note about the experience.)

To the people who have come alongside us to offer encouragement, counsel, and celebration for our marriage, thank you.  

To anyone who has played a role in our lives, big or small, for a short time or throughout our whole life, thank you.

This is still not a comprehensive list, and these words still don’t do it justice. And we definitely aren’t off the hook for writing thank you notes. In fact we hope to personally thank a bunch of you in the near future. But as I get ready for an exciting, crazy, fun, terrifying, wonderful week ahead, I would be remiss not to take a moment to just say, thank you.

Tired, But Excited

June has been a crazy month. At the beginning of the month I moved into the apartment where JoBeth and I will be living after marriage, and I have yet to spend a full weekend there. We have either been at a wedding or having a wedding type celebration every single weekend. This weekend is no different. Well, except for the fact that after one of my best friends’ weddings, JoBeth and I will be heading back to Knoxville to catch an early morning flight to Asia, where we will spend two weeks. We are so grateful for all of the opportunities we have been given. We are grateful to have a schedule full of celebrations for and with people that we love. And we are so grateful that we have a chance to spend two weeks serving together in a totally new environment, to take a breather from wedding planning and to dive into a new experience. That being said, it feels a little more like we are stumbling into this weekend and this trip instead of anxiously anticipating its arrival. There hasn’t been a lot of time for contemplation and reflection, and instead there has been a lot of rushing from one thing to the next.

Tired but excited in the Detroit airport.
Tired but excited in the Detroit airport.

So as we sit in the airport between flights, the fear is that we would go through these next two weeks groggy and passive, not being fully aware of or experiencing all that God has in store for us. It feels like we have been tossed around by a whirlwind of the summer and are just now settling into this trip. It feels a little like whiplash, and we are working now to find our balance again, like walking on one of those big runways in the airport and trying to step onto solid ground. It’s a little disorienting at first, but then you settle in. We are settling in. So in the next two weeks we would love your prayer for strength, energy, rest, and health. That we would be fully present and fully embrace our time here. We are tired, but excited. Weary, but joyful. Also, pray for JoBeth to kick butt on her Spanish homework!

Love That I Just Can't Earn

When I talk to middle school students about the idea of grace, love, and the Gospel, something that was told to me once and that I have continued to share with them is this: There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more, or any less. This means that no matter how much I try, no matter how hard I work, I can’t earn love. And on the other hand, no matter how much I fail, no matter how badly I fail, I can’t lose that same love. The love is there regardless of my performance, regardless of my track record, regardless of my refusal to accept it. It has literally nothing to do with anything that I have done or will do. It is one of my favorite things to tell people about! And, I have discovered in the last week or so, it is also apparently one of the hardest truths for me to accept. 

 

 

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This season of engagement for JoBeth and I has been filled with a lot of grace – that is, it has been filled with us being given things that we don’t deserve. Love, support, encouragement, financial backing for a trip to Asia, lots of gifts,  some beautiful wedding showers, and of course, a wedding (49 days but who is counting?). We knew that getting married young would be a challenge, and I think we were both expecting a tough season of engagement. Certainly it has had its ups and downs, but over and over we have been shown grace and love that we absolutely do not deserve.

JoBeth’s parents have been so kind and generous to provide us with a beautiful wedding at a venue that we are absolutely thrilled about. My parents are working hard on a rehearsal dinner where we will get to gather some of our closest friends and family for a night of celebration and preparation. People have gone above and beyond to throw us wedding showers (which I didn’t even know were a thing until the last year) where we were able to congregate with people we love and who love us as we look ahead at a new season of life. And not only have people thrown showers, but other people have shown up to them and brough us gifts for our future home and life together. We are slowly accumulating furniture for our new house as people have so graciously supplied us with things that would be tough for us to buy at this time of our lives. And the most significant thing about it all is that we don’t deserve any of it.

Beyond planning a wedding which seems to take up the time and resources of an endless amount of people, and about which we are so grateful, we also decided to embark on a mission trip to Asia just a few weeks before our wedding. We were so hesitant to put the need of financial support out there during a time where people were already giving us so much. Well after one Facebook post and just a couple of weeks, we are humbly able to announce that all of the money for the trip has been covered. We cautiously put the need out there and people responded boldly. We were blown away to see the way that people were willing to give. Some were people who had already given us so much in so many other ways and absolutely did not owe us anything. Others were people we hadn’t heard from in years and yet for some reason felt compelled to support us. And all of it, once again, is something that we simply do not deserve.

It is one thing for me to talk to students about what a great thing it is that there’s nothing we can do to earn God’s love and acceptance. It is another thing for me to really believe it, and I have seen that manifest itself in these last few months. We have been given more than we could possibly repay, and I find myself wanting desparately to find a way to earn it. I feel like I need to write a 10 page Thank You note to every single person around us so that it will feel like I am worthy. I want to find ways to make it up to people, to do something for them, to make it even. I keep wanting to believe that I am somehow good or righteous enough to be receiving all of this, and yet I know my heart and I know how untrue that is. And as I come to this realization that there is nothing I could ever do to deserve any of this, I see so clearly the ways that people have been kind and generous and loving just for the sake of being kind and generous and loving. Not because JoBeth and I have done anything to deserve it, but because they want to show us love, a love that we don’t deserve.

Our sweet engagement spot - another gift I don't deserve.
Our sweet engagement spot – another gift I don’t deserve.

 

The last 6 months have been such a beautiful picture of God’s love, manifested through friends, family members, and even new acquaintances. It is a love that, no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to earn. And no matter how badly I mess up, I’ll never be able to lose. But in my pride I spin my wheels fruitlessly trying to earn it, trying to be good enough, to be kind enough, to be impressive enough, to be worthy enough for this kind of love. And the harder I try, the more I see how unworthy I truly am. There’s nothing I can ever do to cause God to love me any more, or any less. All that I can do is respond with gratitude, humility, and love.    

So, to everyone that has walked alongside us in this journey in some form or another, from dating to engagement to wedding planning to apartment hunting to mission trip sending to gift giving to words of encouragement and support and everything in between, thank you. We won’t be able to express our gratitude enough, and I’m only now learning that that is okay. Thank you for showing us a picture of God’s love in the way that you have loved us. We love you all.

 

Asia, a Wedding, and One Crazy Summer

I met JoBeth Collins about 7 years ago. This summer, on July 30th, I get to marry her. There are a lot of emotions that come with this: sadness for both of us about leaving behind a stage of life, nervousness about making ends meet, curiosity about what the next couple of years will look like, and most prominently, such joy at the thought of getting to spend the rest of my life with the girl that I love so dearly.

standingarminarmI am a full time student ministry intern, and JoBeth is a full time student. She will have another year of school after we get married. The timing of our marriage might have some people scratching their heads. We are young. We are relatively poor (at least as far as people in our circles of life think of being poor). We don’t have a very detailed five year plan (aside from some places we would like to visit and things we would like to do). As far as most people are concerned, we are just another couple of kids that are young, dumb, and in love.

To add to the mix, we are going on a mission trip to Asia this summer, Lord willing. We will get back just a couple weeks before our wedding. It feels a little crazy, almost a little irresponsible. Is it really wise to be way, way out of the country so close to our wedding day? Not only that, but we will need to raise about 2,000 dollars for the trip. During an engagement season where family has blessed us so tremendously and we have been blown away by people’s generosity, it almost feels selfish to ask for anything more. Young, dumb, irresponsible, selfish, and in love.

At least, that is one narrative of our story. But I really believe there is more to it than that. Yes, our path thus far and our future trajectory are a little unorthodox. We have come to embrace that. But at the heart of that unorthodox trajectory is a desire to hold our own plans with an open hand while walking obediently along the path that God has set before us. We aren’t always sure where God is directing us but we want to do our best to follow Him, even when it seems dumb, irresponsible, or selfish.

I’m reminded of a story in Luke Chapter 5. Jesus encountered some experienced fishermen who had been out on the water all night without catching anything. After they had spent hours cleaning up their equipment and right before they called it a night, Jesus told them to go out into deep water and let down their nets. Jesus, the carpenter, was telling these fishermen how to do their job. Not only that, but he was giving them advice that was inconvenient, costly, and unorthodox. But Peter responded to this strange command by saying “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” They did just that, and they brought in a load of fish that was so heavy it started to sink their boat. This thing that Jesus was telling them to do didn’t make much sense by the world’s standards. The guys would have been exhausted and ready to head home for the day. But instead of rolling their eyes and going on with their business, Peter so faithfully responded and said, “Because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

engagementday2For Peter and his disciples, following Jesus meant taking their boat into deeper waters and letting down their nets after a long day of unsuccessful fishing. For JoBeth and I, I think it means getting married earlier than some people might think is wise and going on a mission trip across the globe a few weeks before our wedding. There are a ton of unknowns and things that we have yet to figure out. But to the best of our ability, we are attempting to move forward in this life with open hands, looking for God’s leading, and just like Peter, responding “Because you say so.. we will go.”

One of the hardest parts of our decision to go on this trip is that it requires us to ask our friends and family for help. The church has been so gracious to cover my expenses, so JoBeth and I just need to raise 2,000 dollars between the two of us. If you would be up for helping JoBeth and I get there, we would love and appreciate your support. The simplest way for us to think about it is that if 100 of our friends gave 20 dollars, it would be covered. We won’t be setting up a GoFundMe or anything because we want to make sure that any money that you give will go directly towards the trip. So, if you feel comfortable, you can send money directly to us through Facebook, Venmo, PayPal, etc. Alternatively, you can send in a check to Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church at 9132 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 3923, and write “Asia Team-JoBeth Collins” in the memo.

We don’t expect anything from anybody. But we are trusting, and we are eager to see how God provides in this exciting season of life. If you are able to come alongside us financially, we would be so grateful. If you are not able to give but want to pray for us, we would be so grateful. If you think this seems like a crazy idea and you are shaking your head at this whole post, well, we are still so grateful that you care enough to think it is crazy.

We will keep updating all of our friends and family through this blog, and in the next week we’ll hear from JoBeth, the main character of this crazy narrative, about her heart for this trip. Thanks so much for reading, we look forward to hearing from you.

Learning a Better History

While studying history in college, I learned a new word called “historiography.” The basic definition of it is “the study of historical writing.” Basically, it is the history of history. Historiography is the study of how something from history is recorded. It is important because, believe it or not, many aspects of history are not entirely clear. History is written by flawed human beings, with inherent biases and limitations. Beyond that, history is almost always written from the perspective of the powerful. The various biases, limitations, and uncertainties involved in history mean that the way an American historian and the way that a German historian write about World War II might be drastically different. Historiography is a way of investigating the way that these stories have changed over time and, if done properly, can help us better understand the truth.

One particularly important example of historiography has to do with Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. From elementary school through high school, my education about MLK and the Civil Rights Movement went something like this: Before the 1960s, white people (especially white people in the south) were incredibly racist and oppressive. Then a guy named Martin Luther King Jr. came along and through his iconic speeches, widespread influence, and commitment to nonviolence, united America, helped end desegregation, and eradicated racism in America once and for all. The end.

There are a lot of things wrong with this “history” of racism in America. In 2017, after an especially divisive year, it is easy to see how wrong this history is. Yet so many American citizens, especially white, suburban American citizens who have never had to think much about racism aside from when they scroll past that one friend on Facebook who actively talks about the #BlackLivesMatter movement, are stuck in the mindset that racism is a thing of the past and that we celebrate MLK day to commemorate the man who solved everything. These are the same American citizens trying to figure out “why is everything about race these days” when so many things are very obviously about race.

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We have to learn a better history about Martin Luther King Jr., the Civil Rights Movement, and racism in America. We can not go on pretending that MLK Day is simply a day of celebrating his victories and commemorating that time in history when America finally got past racism. As a 22 year old white male, I can’t pretend to know or understand everything about race in America. What I do know is that as we celebrate MLK’s legacy, we must be aware of the fact that it is an active and living legacy. That the problems he addressed and the challenges he faced are still present, and that this nation is still working towards equality, towards achieving the dreams that he spelled out so beautifully in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

 

My hope is that as we celebrate Martin Luther King day, it would go beyond a thought of gratitude to the many ways that he served, molded, and changed this nation. My hope is that we would honor his legacy not just by celebrating the incredible man that he was, but by actively working towards the dreams of hope and equality and reconciliation that he so fervently fought for. My hope is that we would learn a better history, and that this better history would inspire us to look with love towards our neighbor.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?'” – MLK

The Day After Christmas Blues

Let’s be honest, the day after Christmas can be a real bummer. We anxiously wait weeks, maybe even months for Christmas to arrive, and then it comes and goes just as fast as April 3rd, or July 7th, or any other day. We spend the Advent season counting down the days until Christmas, and perhaps our excitement peaks at the Christmas Eve service or while opening presents on Christmas day. And just as quickly as the day comes and goes, we are overcome with a sense of melancholy.

I think you know what I’m talking about. Maybe the melancholy hits when you wake up on December 26th and the Christmas tree is still there but it no longer holds the excitement that it did just a few short nights ago. Or maybe its the sound of non-Christmas music drifting past the nativity scene and leftover cookies. Sometimes the melancholy is found in empty boxes and torn up wrapping paper. Perhaps you start to feel some of this melancholy when you realize that another Christmas has come and gone and here you sit with an ever growing list of unfulfilled. We think of gifts not given, relationships not mended, dreams not realized, forgiveness not received, healing not found, and expectations not met.

Our unmet expectations are probably the chief cause of the post-Christmas blues. This will be the year that I finally get everything on my Christmas list! Or This will be the year that the whole family  finally comes together and loves each other and never fights! Or This will be the year where everything comes together perfectly! Or, This will be the year when everything changes! These are, of course, outlandish and impossible expectations for any single holiday. Yet every year, these are the expectations that we enter into the Christmas season with. And every year, we can’t help but to walk away with a hint of disappointment.

The prevalence of the post-Christmas blues reveals something very important about our hearts. It reveals something very important about where we are placing our hope. If you are a follower of Christ, than the days following Christmas should be filled with anything but melancholy. These should be days of rejoicing! During the season of Advent we look forward not to the holiday of Christmas, but to the arrival of Christ. The purpose of Advent is to set our hopes and expectations on the coming King. If our hopes are set on anything less, than we are moving steadily towards disappointment. But with our hope set on Christ, the days after Christmas become some of our most cherished days. Because yesterday, today, and in days to come we have the joy of celebrating the fact that the King has come, and everything has changed!

In some parts of the Christian church, there is a tradition of fasting during Advent, and feasting on Christmas. What a beautiful idea. Fasting to be reminded of the emptiness that we face without Christ, and feasting in celebration of the fact that He has come, and is coming again. For centuries Christians celebrated Christmas in this way; with December 25th not as the culmination of the season but instead just the start of it! In many traditions, the next 12 days were dedicated to feasting and celebration, ending on the day of epiphany (January 6th).

There is something to be said for this pattern. It makes sense that the feasting should occur in the days AFTER Christ’s birth! If we mean what we say about Advent, that we are waiting on the birth of Christ, then the days following the celebration of his birth should be filled with joy, excitement, and thanksgiving.

I don’t expect anyone to read this and decide that they will totally change the way they celebrate Advent and Christmas. I do however pray that this might cause you to take just a moment to think about what your hope is in this holiday season. I pray that this might cause you to realign your heart with the truth of Christmas and the reality that we are celebrating. I pray that this would enrich your holiday experience. I pray that as the holidays wind down, the Christmas trees disappear, and life goes on as usual, you would continue to set your hope on Christ and what he represents: an expectation met, a promise fulfilled.