Letter #656: A Generation is Brewing…

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Dear 18-25 year olds,

I believe in you. I believe something special is brewing in your generation. I listen to older people stress out and worry about you, but as I sit on the upper outskirts of you as a 26 year old, I look on with hope and anticipation.

I get the privilege of working with you regularly. Some would count it a burden, but notice I used the word privilege. I’ve had the chance to watch squirrelly, immature, selfish college kids grow into wise, teachable, passionate adults ready to make a difference. I’d for sure count this a privilege! This is one of many reasons I love my job!

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Tons of reunions with staff girls and friends! 

Last weekend I had the chance to attend an event called Passion in Houston. To sum it up in their words, “Passion exists to see a generation stake their lives on what matters most. More than a conference. More than an event. More than a feeling. Passion is you and me saying yes to the One whose name is above every name.’

I watched this happen. Young people came by the thousands. You came for tons of reasons, but the Lord’s reason for you being there thwarted any selfish motive. I watched you say yes to Who matters most and commit to living for more than yourself.

You are a generation that typically runs from truth. I watched the truth of the Gospel be brought with great fervor as you embraced it. You are a generation that shies away from responsibility. If it’s going to cost you something, you’re skeptical. I saw people give up their entire lives before my eyes to follow and serve Jesus. You are a generation that runs on emotion. I pray you would become one rooted in faith and obedience.

Passion, thanks for holding open doors for young people to see the full hope of the Gospel. Thanks for bringing truth to a generation longing for it whether they would admit it or not. Thanks for believing big for God to do more with a generation than they could believe for themselves.

Young people, don’t let society define you. Believe big for yourselves. Make decisions out of truth rather than off of emotion. Take ownership and responsibility of your lives and live with purpose. For what it’s worth, I believe in you. More importantly, I believe what the Lord is capable of doing through you.

Praying with great expectation,

From the outskirts looking in”…

Check out my Facebook or Instagram for a video of my highlight from the weekend:                                        17,000+ college students confessing and agreeing on basic truths of the Gospel!

Letter #624: Team Emerson

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Dear world,

Ten months ago, a new baby was welcomed into you. He came earlier than expected, thus smaller and underdeveloped. Four months in the NICU and an open-heart surgery later, he finally made it home! And while he may have come different than expected, he has brought more joy than expected as well.

You see, Emerson is my youngest nephew. Doctors informed his parents he would have Down’s syndrome before he was born. After the initial shock, a mindset of rolling with the punches you throw was developed. In Emerson’s first few months of life, it seemed like we were getting repeated blows to the head. Prayer increased. Faith grew. And hope lied in the only place hope can truly come from”…the Lord.

Today, it’s as if all the craziness of those first few months was ages ago. Today, Emerson is a healthy and incredibly happy 10-month-old baby boy. He laughs, rolls over, chews on his feet. He’s really no different than any 10-month-old I’ve ever met. I’m sure there are differences, but we could care less. He’s stolen every single heart he encounters. In the words of my sister, “Emerson was welcomed home and immediately became a source of love, patience, bravery, strength, happiness and joy for our entire family. So when we say our lives were changed forever, we really mean our lives were changed for the better.” I couldn’t agree more.

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Just kickin’ it in the pool…He loves to swim and is enthralled with his feet!

One of the reasons his rocky entrance into you has transitioned into being extremely calm is thanks to the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma (DSACO). Through all this, they’ve provided resources, connected Emerson’s family with families of similar stories which is allowing neat friendships to form, and informed Emerson’s parents about available programs for him. DSACO helped my family a ton, and we want to return the favor.

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The Smith family…yes, we are well aware they are in the wrong colors. We still love them! Also, Emerson has to wear a helmet to reshape his head after being in the NICU for so long. It’s painted Thunder colors!!!

On October 19th, the DSACO Buddy Walk is happening in Oklahoma City. Team Emerson will be present with thankfulness for the role this organization has played in our lives. But just like every other great organization, the success of DSACO is dependent on funds. The walk will aid in bringing awareness, but it is also a key fundraising piece. So yes, my family will be present to say thanks, but we will also make a donation on behalf of my sweet nephew, Emerson.

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Some of E’s friends made through the DSACO!

(If you would like to come alongside Team Emerson and assist this little organization that’s made a big impact on my family, there are multiple ways to do so. A direct donation can be made here. Raffle tickets for a giveaway basket including 2 Thunder vs. Suns 3rd row tickets for Nov. 3rd, 2 Thunder shirts, 2 team Emerson shirts, 2 dinners to Bricktown Brewery, $25 to Upper Crust, $20 to Alfredo’s and $20 to the Meat House can be bought here (just denote it’s for the raffle when you give). Tickets are $10 and you could win a basket valuing more than $650. Finally, if you live in the Oklahoma City area, you can eat at S&B Burgers on Memorial & North May from 11am-10pm on September 17th. They are giving Team Emerson 10% of their sales. Thanks for your contributions in advance.)

World and really God, we didn’t know we were getting such a special gift when you decided to send Emerson our way. He’s opened my eyes to God’s goodness more than I deserve in his 10 months of life. I’m thankful Emerson was welcomed into you, and God, thanks for blessing us with this little guy!

Thankful for organizations like DSACO to provide practical help in families’ times of need,

Proud Aunt

Click through these posts to see Emerson’s full journey”…they’re in order:

Letter #620: I See the Up and Coming…

Dear America,

If you haven’t heard everyone griping about Miley Cyrus’ Build a Bear gone bad twerkfest, then you officially live under a rock. Rather than analyzing the VMAs, Miley’s issues and how you’re absolutely hopeless based on the types of things that were acceptable on MTV Sunday night, I want to tell you about something full of hope. You see, Miley is 20 and this has everyone freaking out about the up and coming generation. But let me tell you what I see up and coming in young adults.

I see the giving up of summer vacations, laziness and lake days to be part of something bigger than self.

I see turning down worldly internships and material gain to spend time doing things that will matter in 50 years.

I see excitement and energy like nothing you’ve ever experienced.

I see the most fun group of people you’ve ever been around.

I see encouragement that can help others gain the confidence they need to believe in themselves.

I see a selflessness contradictory to culture with a desire to navigate how to be different.

I see a willingness to wake up earlier than necessary to spend time in the Bible and prayer before a day begins.

I see teachable hearts longing to have strong work ethic but rarely seeing it demonstrated.

I see passion to create and be part of change.

I see initiative to be the change they want to see.

I see a desire for truth and wisdom to be invested and poured into their lives.

You see, I see things from a different vantage point than the majority of our country. I work at a summer camp where we hire about 1,700 college students a summer to come work with and invest in kids. At camp, 18, 19, 20, 21-year-olds become mom, dad, coach, teacher, counselor, pastor, friend, nurse and so much more to kids that parents have entrusted us with.

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I’m telling you, these people are FUN!

Three weeks ago I walked out of the gates after another summer and upon SEEing the teachability, performance and investment of my staff, I walked away more encouraged than ever. The best part is I wasn’t just encouraged after one summer. Instead, I’m going on my eighth summer of watching hundreds of young adults make their summers about investing in others. And every year, the encouragement’s the same.

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The 4th of July…America at its finest with these ladies!

These are the difference makers. These are the people I see up and coming. This is why I get excited and passionate about what lies ahead for us.

While public outcry occurred over the performance of a 20-year-old, rather than joining in the outcry I wanted to tell you about some 20-year-olds I know. These are the 20-year-olds who thousands of kids look to as their role models. These are the 20-year-olds who will prayerfully lead our country one day. These are the 20-year-olds I am proud to call my friends.

Rather than being upset about our future after the VMAs, join me in praying for the future. Join me in praying for the faithfulness and steadfastness of the students I told you about. Choose to come alongside this age group and invest in them rather than write them off. They, heck we (I’m not too old yet!), need to see people of faithfulness, work ethic, integrity, faith and aligned priorities. We need you. Be encouraged by this, but be challenged to get out there and invest. Don’t just sit around ranting about how inappropriate and immoral things are. Do something.

Praying for people of all ages to do something and to live out their beliefs actively,

Believer in the up and coming

Letter #611: ‘Helpers’ in the Tragedy

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Dear tragedy,

You strike again. This time in the form of bombs exploding at the 2013 Boston Marathon.

A little after 2pm central time, social media and news outlets reported the newest one of you.

Two bombs went off near the finish line of the marathon taking the lives of at least three and injuring at least 150 that we know as of now. (updated numbers at 9am on April 16th)

My timeline was instantly filled with outcries of why, a call to prayer for victims and a slew of facts, videos and pictures of what happened.

Unexpected. Yes. Sad. Yes. Horrific. Absolutely.

But the thing I found the most interesting was the reaction of service from the people present. Runners kept running to donate blood as tweeted by NBC.

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If you watch the explosion video here, you see some knocked to their feet, some running away out of instinct and others running to the scene to help.

In the face of you, I can’t help but agree with Mister Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” 

Scary things happen. They will continue to happen. We are sinful and Satan has power in this world. One day Christ will defeat him forever, but for now bad things will continue. I yearn for this day, but until then may we fight to be the helpers. May we fight to be the hands and feet of Jesus. May we allow beauty to be revealed in the ashes. May we be light because where there is light darkness cannot remain. Most importantly may we share Christ, THE Light of the world, in the process.

Grieve. Mourn. Ask tough questions. Pray. Donate blood. Tell someone you love them. Cry. Don’t take life for granted. Be bold. But rest in the fact that in Christ there is eternal hope in the midst of earthly tragedy.

Praying for Boston,

Tragedy reflector

Photo cred: Business Insider

Letter #605: Live & Die

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Dear Easter,

Where do I even begin? Without what you symbolize, my life is completely meaningless.

Good Friday: A) I work for a ministry, so today is a holiday! B) I ran nine miles this morning. In the rain. Nine. I was an athlete my whole life, but I’ve never done something like this.

In my 26 years of life, this is probably the closest I’ve ever been to experiencing “grueling pain’ on Good Friday. And running nine miles is a joke compared to what Jesus went through. Whipped. Flogged. Beaten. Mocked. Carried a cross. Crucified. Nine miles is an afternoon stroll in the park.

As I was going to sleep last night I prayed for sweet time with the Lord today. That my mind would be able to pray and reflect and listen to the Lord rather than be consumed with how miserable and hard the task at hand was. I prayed to learn perseverance like never before.

For an hour and a half I went headphone’less.’ I come from a generation where silence and solitude are tough. Time to simply think and be without constant noise and information was such a blessing.

Did I mention it was raining the whole time?! A little annoying but mostly awesome. I kept thinking about the rain and how it could symbolize the great mourning today represents. Today’s the day we recognize as Jesus’ death”…an event worthy of sadness, grieving and hopelessness. This is Friday.

But friends, don’t ever forget Sunday is coming. If Jesus’ story had ended at death, grief and mourning would be appropriate. But friends, His story doesn’t end there. Easter is coming because crucifixion and death couldn’t contain the Son of God. He was buried, but on the third day He rose again. We can rejoice because Jesus’ resurrection brings hope. Peace. Joy. Salvation. Forgiveness for my sin.

Friends, we live and die. He died and LIVES. Don’t miss this. What we celebrate this weekend isn’t merely a historical event we acknowledge or a family gathering. It is the only reason we can ever hope to have eternal life. Jesus, in His fullness of being sinless, being crucified and raising from the dead, is “the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through [Him].” (John 14:6)

We live and die. He died and lives. He died so I can live. For this, I am grateful.

Not only did I get to reflect on the goodness of God during my rainy run, but I was also reminded that God always has a Sunday on the horizon in my life. Whether it’s Easter Sunday coming to redeem the brutal crucifixion on Friday or the end result of a random trial I happen to be walking through, Sunday is coming. Hope lies ahead. God isn’t going to leave us in our Friday forever. He will redeem our sufferings. Praise God.

Praying we understand the depth of Good Friday so we can understand even more the hope that lies in Christ through Easter Sunday,

Running reflector

***Photo Attribution: Heidi Sonnenschein, you can go to here site here and download it for yourself!

Letter #575: Why Newtown?

Dear why,

Life’s major questions. We all ask them, and honestly as we grow up the questions don’t change much. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why are babies born with Down’s syndrome or to parents who don’t want them? Why can a 15 year old have sex once and get pregnant and a couple married for years not? Why? Why? Why?

Life keeps happening, and we keep asking. We’ll continue to ask our entire lives because we’ll never fully understand. “Bad things’ are going to continue to happen.

Last week an angry gunman killed 26 women and children in a school. Since then, I have heard media coverage on nothing but Newtown, CT. Gun control immediately became the most prominent political issue. Our economy is horrendous, jobs are difficult to find, we’re still in a war, healthcare, taxes, fiscal cliff”…all of these things immediately took a back seat. Why? Because we, Americans or at least Capital Hill, believe legislation fixes the hearts of man.

I’m not saying the tragedy in Newtown shouldn’t be covered. I’m not saying gun control shouldn’t be addressed. I’m not even saying politicians are handling the situation wrong. What I am saying is tragedies like Newtown have happened for thousands of years. They will continue to happen. We should be proactive, but no matter how proactive we are man is still sinful.

The sinfulness of man cannot be banned because of a law, policy or agenda. We will continue to deal with sin and evil as long as man remains unredeemed eternally. One day Jesus will come back and restore us completely. Until then, people are going to die far too young, people are going to do horrific things and we will continue to ask the questions of why.

Sin. It’s wretched and goes completely against the character of God. Yet every single one of us has it. The only way to combat the major ‘why’ questions we ask is to understand the goodness of God in giving His Son to save us from our sinfulness. That’s what Christmas is truly about. The Savior of a wretched world was born. He is the only true and long-term hope.

Legislation is fine. Stricter laws may help a little. Famous people speaking out on behalf of various issues may build some momentum. None of these things are bad, but if we truly want to honor the 26 lost in Newtown, the nearly 3,000 lost in 9/11, the 12 lost and nearly 60 injured in the Batman shooting, the 13 killed at Columbine, and every other tragedy that’s ever happened, we will address the hearts of man. We desperately need a Savior, a reason for living, hope. Jesus is the only eternal hope.

My heart goes out to all those experiencing great loss through tragedy and asking major “why’ questions concerning any personal struggle. I pray the Newtown tragedy would bring our nation to its knees, to a point where we acknowledge our sinfulness and need for a Savior.

Continue to look for the good in the midst of the storms,

Why asker who finds hope in Christ

Letter #481: Incarcerated Perspective

***A bit longer than usual, but trust me, it’s worth it.***

Dear perspective,

Skype. A phenomenal invention for long distance relationships, but what if the only interaction you could ever have with loved ones was via Skype? The only way you could see them was through a video screen? No hug, no high five, no pat on the back. What if the only way you could hear them was by holding an old school telephone to your ear?

Skype. A pretty sweet invention for long distance relationships. What if the person on the other end of the call was really only a cement wall or two away? This is reality for 793 out of every 100,000 Americans…and that’s if they get visitation.

You are not what I expected to write to today. Sure, I’ve always known normal is relative and people are incarcerated, but to really stop to think about jail being normal for people brings a great deal of you to my life.

A friend of mine ended up at my APT a few nights ago and two hours later I gained more of you than I bargained for one evening of my life. Through a crazy series of events, a God-ordained series in my opinion, she ended up at the county jail visiting an inmate she’d never met. Being a first time visitor and never being incarcerated, she was an amateur in all respects. Jail can be scary. I’ll never forget my 4th grade field trip where we toured the Lawton jail as the inmates stood behind their cell bars staring at us, sometimes hissing, sometimes hollering profanities. If I planned to do anything arrest worthy pre-4th grade, my mind quickly changed that day.

My friend arrived confidently, trusting the Lord had orchestrated her visit. No part of the story should be left out. This can’t do it justice. Every moment is unbelievably eye-opening from 17-year-olds with their newborns to visit their baby’s daddies, to the 15 minute maximums of actual conversation, to Skyping rather than truly seeing, to the fact that visiting people in jail is people in our society’s normal. Maybe I’m simply naive, but my eyes have been opened to a whole new stage of reality.

After waiting nearly two hours, having multiple confused conversations of why she would be visiting someone she’s never even met and building trust with her fellow visitors, the most ironic thing possible happened. The sister and niece of the girl she was visiting, a pregnant 21-year-old with three kids at home who had been arrested on meth charges, were also visiting. Imagine the confusion if you were going to see your sister or aunt, and some random, beautiful, 22-year-old girl was there too. Strange. A really neat conversation ensued between my friend and these two, and they ended up loving she had come and even asked her to pray for their family. They prayed in the jail’s waiting room. It was now meeting time.

What would you be thinking if you were in jail, saw the same people daily, had no control over your schedule and some random visitor showed up to see you? I’d be a little weirded out. I’d also be ecstatic to have someone to change the monotony of my life. She accepted seeing my friend, and it began. Some awkward initial conversation with a silent moment or two, but overall conversation flowed well. My friend had been praying for the ability to be real throughout the conversation. She succeeded and was able to meet this girl, an inmate, where she was.

Seeing my friend, you’d never guess it in a million years, but a big reason she ended up at the jail visiting this girl was because it could’ve easily been her. She had been through a season that could easily have landed her pregnant and in jail for meth charges just like the girl she was visiting. She’s not. She’s thriving and has passion, fervor and purpose to make a difference in this world. She will make a difference.

My friend was able to explain her story. Why she showed up. She shot her straight and played all her cards, even the ones she isn’t most proud of. She shared with her the truth that allowed her break away from the path that could have led her to prison. “Your past has the ability to define you, but it doesn’t have the right to.’ You get to actively choose to overcome the past, stupid decisions on your own accord or crap you had no control over because others took advantage of you. It’s a daily choice to fight or to succumb.

Not in an over the top fashion, but just in a this is my reality and what saved me from a dark path conversation, my friend got to share about Christ with the girl in jail. The Forgiver of Pasts. The Prince of Peace that surpasses all understanding. She was able to offer her hope. Hope in overcoming the cycle of jail, release, drugs, jail. Hope in going to rehab. Hope in the most important thing: eternal freedom.

15 minutes. In my head, I think I over-glamorize how the conversation actually shook out. In actuality, I think it probably wasn’t much different than a 15 minute conversation I would have with someone I just met on a plane. Normal…minus the video screens and phones.

The inmate asked my friend to come back. She wanted to hear more about the option of rehab. Heck, she probably just wanted someone to talk to next week…I doubt her schedule’s super busy. However, a situation that could have ended unbelievably bad, one that would likely have most of us in a state of anxiety, ended with hope. Ended in a potential friendship. Ended with Christ being glorified through His redemption in one girl’s life who is using it to provide hope in another’s.

This story written as a blog post doesn’t do it full justice. However, this story warms my heart and brings life to my soul. This story challenges me to get out of my comfort zone. This story reminds me that although I live in a bubble of believers, there is a world out there needing light. This story reminds me of my need to be bold, to obey the Lord’s leading. This story brings great you to me.

May my heart be stirred and my mind obey,

Beyond challenged

Letter #437: Passion 2012

Dear Passion,

Two years ago I had the opportunity to attend my first and only Passion Conference. Now I’m almost too old to attend anymore! You have been held in Atlanta, GA since 1998 for college students (18-25 year olds) and are happening right now.

You began small but have exploded. You moved to the Georgia Dome after 2011 and some thought you’d never fill. You sold out. Currently nearly 45,000 college students have converged upon the ATL to worship together, hear challenging messages and make a difference in this world. 45,000. Are you kidding me?? This country often dogs this generation and labels them as lazy, uncommitted, addicted to technology, heathens. I get to see that this is not true every day as I interview college students, but never have I seen 45,000 tell us this at once.

I see 45,000 college students who put people before self. Who long to put God before self. Who are seeking justice in this depraved world. I see hope. 45,000.

45,000 isn’t it though. A generous donation from someone has allowed you in your entirety to be streamed online. So not only are 45,000 experiencing you first hand, thousands more are getting to watch and be challenged around the world. Myself being one of them. Maybe technology isn’t such a negative thing?!

The neatest part of you is that you aren’t just a convergence of Christians singing Kumbaya. You connect worship with justice and are committed to doing something to make a difference in this world. This year you’ve partnered with six anti-slavery organizations to begin putting an end to the 27 million people who are currently enslaved in our world. 27 million in 2012. You set a goal of raising one million dollars. Lofty. What’s crazy is a bunch of broke college students have mustered $550,000 in just the first day. The Lord is moving. (****Update: as of today at 3 PM, $1,002,000. The goal has been broken.****)

You do things right. You are focused on Jesus first and foremost and lots of really neat things are overflowing from this root. Lord, rock the hearts of those present and those who are watching via technology. May this generation rise up and bring You glory. Let this be far more than an event. Let hearts be wholly captivated by You.

Praying for God’s movement at Passion 2012,

Technology appreciator

 

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Letter #206: He is Risen!

Dear Easter,

Ahhh, you’re the greatest day of the year. You have to be. Without you, we would have no Savior. Without you, we would still be making sacrifices at the altar to atone our sins like they did in the Old Testament. There’s a ton of prophecy left to be fulfilled, but without you, there would be far more. You symbolize everything the Christian faith stands for and puts hope in.

Yesterday, I wrote about the opportunity I had to visit the garden tomb, the likely place of Jesus’ grave. There are tons of reasons pointing to it actually being His tomb, but do we know for sure? No way. We couldn’t know for sure. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if the garden tomb and Golgatha are where people think they are. What matters is that Jesus died on a cross, was buried in a tomb and rose from the dead on the third day, and it really doesn’t matter where it happened to me. However, it was pretty neat to stand back and observe the swarms of people waiting to witness their Savior’s empty tomb. People from all over the world speaking various languages. Oh, you’re a good day!

Tons of people waiting to step in the tomb...all speaking different languages.

After Jesus was laid in the tomb wrapped only in a linen cloth, a large stone was rolled in front of the entrance. The chief priests and Pharisees got to thinking about Jesus’ claim to rise from the dead after three days. They ordered the grave to be made secure until after the third day to ensure Jesus’ followers didn’t steal His body. So, they set a seal on the stone and posted a guard (Matt. 27:62-66). This ensured any deception wouldn’t happen.

Now, after the Sabbath (in Jewish culture the Sabbath is on Saturday), on the first day of the week (Sunday), people came to the tomb, only to realize the stone had been rolled away by an angel. The angels told them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” They looked in, saw only linen wrappings and marveled at what had happened. Luke 24:1-12

Inside Jesus' EMPTY tomb! (I accidentally posted the wrong picture on Friday about Caiaphas' house) This is Jesus' thought to be tomb.
The sign on Jesus' tomb door...surreal.

Today, we celebrate the fact the tomb was empty and Jesus has risen!! He’s alive. He fulfilled what He said He would do. He became sin and defeated it. It is finished, and Christ is risen!

Grateful for this day,

Sinner saved by grace and given purpose through our Savior