A New Chapter in College Life

GCD graduation

Three years ago, I never thought I would be writing this post. I ever thought I would be a college graduate. I never thought I would ever achieve higher education. I never thought I would have a degree. I never… Well you get the point. I simply never thought I could be where I am today. Yet here I stand with an Associate degree. I am pretty proud of that. Not the unbiblical kind of proud (not that there is a biblical kind of proud I guess). I just simply mean I am excited to be where I am in life.

Graduate

Nearly four years ago, I was given a great opportunity by being ordained as a pastor at GraceLife Church. I stood before the congregation and Pastor Carlo gave me a challenge and then gave me a huge responsibility and privilege to lead GraceLife as an associate pastor. The church prayed over me and set me forth in my new adventure. One of the responsibilities was ongoing education. He wanted me to continue my learning in the faith and recommended I return to school.

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Me and Pastor (Professor) Carlo and Levi

I could have taken a free bible course but Carlo was working as an adjunct professor at Grace College of Divinity (GCD) in North Carolina so I took a leap of faith and applied for FAFSA and began my student orientation. I was accepted and there I was, a college student.

I worked hard. I studied hard. I applied myself to the point of negating my family causing a lot of strain on my marriage. We worked together to get through the trials but it was a tough road. I learned so much about the bible, church, college life, myself, my marriage and my family and even though there were some major bumps in the road I wouldn’t trade it in because the growth we sustained from it is immeasurable.

GCD Graduation - me and Steve Crowther

Dr. Steven Crowther. President of Grace College of Divinity.

When it was time to graduate, I cried. Hard! I tried to hold back the tears standing there listening to my professors as they challenged us, encouraged us and prayed over us. I tried to hold back the tears as I stood there and heard my name called and those first few steps seemed surreal as I walked to accept my diploma. I shook the hands of each of my professors thanking them for their dedication to see me through it. They will never know (maybe they will because they have been there themselves) the respect and gratitude I have for them as we worked through ever paper and every exam.

Professor Tom Johnson, Dean of Distance Education

Professor Tom Johnson, Dean of Distance Education

There are so many people who stands behind my degree and without them, I would not be who I am today. Because of them and their belief in me, I walked across the stage as Summa Cum Laude (Highest Honors). I will forever be grateful!

With that being said, here we go again. Today, I begin my Bachelors in Christian Leadership. As I examine the courses I will have to hurdle I do believe this is going to be much harder. I am up for the challenge and a challenge it will be. I look forward to the day that I can look back and see what I have gone through as I again walk the stage to receive that piece of paper (that nothing is written on).

Associate degree

So let’s do this.

_______

Images of the blood, sweat and tears.

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An Interview With Levi


If you have a four-year old, I’m sure you are aware of how much they like to talk. I decided to take advantage of his talking and do a quick interview. Parenthesis are my attempts to clarify his point. Here is what he had to say about Jesus.

Who is Jesus: God

What do you think about Jesus: I think about him saving me from thunder. He knows thirteen. Maverick (our dog) will be thirteen. (Actually he’ll be eleven)

What else you think about Jesus: I think he helps me with rain and thunder. (It’s been raining a lot)
What else has he helped you with: He helps me with… When I break my toys he fixes them.
What about when you fell: From the bleachers? He saw me. He has good eyes. He can see down here. See he’s looking at us.
Oh. Do you love him: Yeah
Does he love you: Mm Hmm. Because he likes me. And he likes me to help people.
How do you know Jesus loves you: Hey, that’s like the song, Jesus Loves Me.
Can you sing it: No, no, no. Only in the dark. And only mommy can sing it.
What else do you think about Jesus: I think about how he helps me breathe. Because I couldn’t breathe when I was on the couch at my school.
So where is Jesus: Up there (points up).
Is he only up there: (Shakes his head up and down) with God.
What would you say to someone who doesn’t love Jesus: Everyone should love Jesus.
What would you say if someone said Jesus is not real: He (God) would say Bigfoot ain’t real.
Any last words you want to say about Jesus: No.

Reflections of a Traumatic Experience and Miraculous Outcome

LeviAs I type this, my wife and I are recouping from a traumatic experience. Yesterday, we had just finished wrapping up a T-Ball win over Sun-Drop, a very good team. We played hard and squeezed out the win in the last inning. We play for Sonic and traditionally we go to Sonic after the game to celebrate with free burgers and cokes. This day, Levi decided he wanted to stay at the ballpark and watch the “big boys” play. We grabbed some popcorn, burgers and drinks and made our way to the top of the bleacher stands.

Just as I had finished my burger and took a swallow of my drink to wash down the last bite, out of the corner of my eye I saw Levi go over the back-end of the bleachers. I shouted his name and ran as fast as I could down the bleachers to the backside where I found him laying on his stomach with a bloody nose crying. I immediately picked him up. I was frightened. I felt I had heard my son cry daddy for the last time as he slipped off the bleacher plummeting eight feet to a concrete pad.

My wife was immediately behind me and began talking to him while I prayed like I had never before. I didn’t know what to do but hold my son and call out for someone to call 911. Behind her was a friend who is also a nurse with pediatric experience. She insisted we lay him down. A gentleman gave up his coat for a pillow while she calmly talked to him keeping his attention and trying to calm him as well. My wife held his hand and I sat on the ground watching everything as if it were a movie and I had been cast as the father who stupidly took his family to the dangerous top bleacher.

I had a lady comforting me and trying to calm me down as well. Another friend came over who is an EMT to make sure there was nothing else that could be done. The crowd gathered and all the games stopped while we struggled to make sure my four-year old son was going to be ok. I could hear the sirens from the ambulance as it was making its way to the ball field.

When the paramedics arrived, I stood back while others made sure that I understood by his crying and moving that he would be ok. The paramedics put a neck brace around his tiny neck to stabilize him and I immediately lost all sense of togetherness. I didn’t realize it at the moment but a form of PTS (Post Traumatic Stress) consumed me.

When I was thirteen, I was practicing baseball with my team while a friend, Jonathan D. Hollingsworth was practicing with his team on another field. We heard sirens and saw the ambulance headed towards his team’s practice field. We all dropped what we were doing and ran over to the other practice field where we found Jonathan unconscious laying in a bloody pool. They were practicing turning a double-play when Jonathan missed the throw to him at second and the ball hit his neck bursting an aneurysm in his neck. They put a neck brace around his neck, put him in the ambulance and a few days later we were burying our thirteen year old friend.

I saw Jonathan when I looked at my son and wondered how his parents felt when they had to bury their own son while wondering if my son would be ok. I was scared. I didn’t know what to think. My little Levi fell eight feet and landed hard. They rolled him away while others were consoling me telling me he would be ok. My brother-in-law drove me to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville while my wife rode in the back of the ambulance with Levi.

For the next five hours, he would be tested, checked out, joked with and treated like a king by the Vanderbilt staff. I kept everyone updated on Facebook while the Little League’s Facebook page kept their followers updated. Everyone (so it seemed) was praying. No one wants to see such a young life hurt.

By the time the testing was finished, X-rays and CT scan, everything was coming back reporting no injury. By 1:00 am, we were being told the only thing he received was a scare, a bloody nose, and a scratch on his elbow.  They wanted to observe him over night so I drove back home to gather some clothes and refreshments to take back the next morning. Neither of us slept. We may have gotten two hours max. Every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was Levi falling and hearing him scream daddy as he went down. It was haunting to the point I began to feel dizzy and light-headed as I lay there.

The next morning I drove back to Vanderbilt and we waited till just after lunch for them to tell us he was going to be fine and we could go home. He entertained the nurses with his intelligence and amazed the doctors with his resilience. They said he should have never walked away from that fall without a major injury.

He did!

I have been reflecting on this whole situation and asking God to show me his glory through it all. But the most important reflection I can share is the goodness of God regardless of the tragedy. I could question where was God when Levi fell and why did he let him fall. If Levi had not survived, I’m sure those questions would be even more presentable in my heart but I just believe that not only God has a plan for Levi’s life, something I’ve prayed for since his birth, but also that this was a learning experience not only for him but us as parents.

I can’t say what Levi has learned from such an experience because he’s four years old and only he will truly know what he learned but I can say that I have learned to hold him a little tighter which might cause suffocation because I already hold him pretty tight as it is. I may be a softy but I constantly tell him how much I love him and hug him all the time. I’m not sure I can exemplify my love any more than I do. Plus there is a little more sensitivity to watching him walk, speak, and laugh. Little things like those are most important.

I have learned that the top bleacher is not the safest place but we can not always be safe because life is and should be an adventure but we can be a little more aware of it. We can always look back and say I made a stupid mistake but mistakes are necessary for growth. So I’m not sorry for sitting that high. I just wished it wouldn’t have happened but it did and God gave us a heightened awareness of second chances.

So many sacrifices from people who made Levi’s experience a little better. From having a nurse and EMT immediately there to wonderful ambulatory service and the amazing Vanderbilt staff (all professionals) made us a little more calmer. I am amazed at all those who helped. If they weren’t there, I would still be holding him wondering what I should do. Probably running through the neighborhood with him in my arms looking like a complete fool of a dad who has no idea.

The community can and does come together. The collective prayers of the faithful lifted to God still does move God’s heart to acting in miracle fashion for those who love Him. I believe our faithfulness in him along with the faithfulness of those who were lifting up prayers on our behalf, which were many, potentially had the power to move God and he did by making sure Levi walked away with a scratch on his elbow.

God in all his goodness sustained us and protected our son. I will shout His praises from the rooftops and if I look like a fool before others, I don’t care because

  • “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) and
  • the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18).

More reflections, I’m sure, will come out of this but the most important one is God’s goodness is incomparable. There is none that compares to Him and His faithfulness to us.

Lamentations 3:21-26 (NIV)

21 Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
Levi at Vanderbilt

 

 

Building A New Life, Rhythms, and Ministry

There has been an extremely warm welcome from just about everyone we have met here in Lewisburg. “It’s nice to have you back,” “We are glad you are back,” and much more pleasantries. We have definitely learned that we have been missed here in Lewisburg.

I have had the opportunity to meet with a few local pastors and share our vision of church with many more in the narrow time we have been back. I have been encouraged by everyone with the belief that we are supported and the local pastors I have met with are tremendously excited about our vision.

Two days ago, I applied for a male counselor position at the In His Image Pregnancy Resource Center. I decided to swing in to see Mrs. Shirley and hear her heart and vision for the pregnancy center. Thankful for her spending two hours with me without an appointment. By the time we were done, I had a tour of the building, knowledge of the work they do plus some information on its financial backing and board support. She is very excited to have another male counselor helping. I would make a third one. I personally know one of the other male counselors so I am looking forward to training with him and helping men who are unsure what fatherhood may look like.

Yesterday, I went through substitute teacher training. A part-time job substituting will work great while I spend the next few years working on my Bachelors in Divinity (B.Div.). To tell you the truth, it freaks me out to go back to the schools I attended and be a target for disrespectful kids and paper wads. But, in order to make a difference, you have to go where a difference is needed. I should begin work by next week.

It is still weird waking up to a rooster crowing. Carrie and I have spent the last six years living in the middle of a bustling town. Sirens were heard each day, sometimes twice a day. Neighbors no more than six feet away and the back yard neighbor able to see right in to your house. Sitting by the fire on cool nights with the neighbors took literally twenty steps. Speaking over the fence to your neighbor or watching practically every move they made with their children in the yard was an everyday occurrence.

Living in the country will take some getting used to again. We’re not strangers to it but we have been removed from it for some time. I absolutely love hearing the rooster and looking out my window to see the hillside of trees. I walk out my door and I hear the bumbling creek just on the other side of the road. If it had rained recently, it sounds like a gushing water fall. Just yesterday, I had to help my brother-in-law with the cows for a split second. It is a life that not only love but respect.

I’m beginning to create rhythms. These rhythms help me meet people so that I can see where God is moving, find people who accept our mission, and are looking for God’s tangible presence. Most of these rhythms have stemmed from me trying to find wi-fi in this town which is almost an impossibility. McDonald’s and the library have given me the best opportunity.

I had a talk with a local pastor who reminded and encouraged me that building His church is a slow process. It is too easy to want to see progress immediately however we understand that lives are not like microwaved food. Ministry takes time. I’m thankful for those who understand our vision and do not want to discourage us. I have already found a few pastors who are willing to work with us. That is encouraging.

Continue to pray for us as well as the many “small” churches around. Cumulatively, small churches can make a large difference!

Moving Day: Closing the Chapter on Clarksville Tennessee

On November 7th, 2008, Carrie and I signed the papers on our house, went to the house and packed everything we owned in a large uHaul and drove off to start a new chapter of our life in Clarksville, Tn. We weren’t prepared for what we would experience; biggER town, new jobs, friends from all over the world, near church shutdown, a newborn kid, a tattoo, becoming a pastor and a full-time college student. So many “new” things we experienced in the six years being here.

I must admit, I’m not a big fan of Clarksville. I’m a small town boy. Ok, for those who think Clarksville is small, think smaller. No smaller than that. Clarksville was definitely a culture shock for me. However, I do not think I would change a thing if I could. I do believe my wife and I came out on the other side better than we went in. I know this because folks back home have told us we have changed and for the better so it seemed. Folks here have seen huge growth in us since we moved as well. So Clarksville, in all its intricacies, have changed us for the better.

Today we are moving back. We are taking on a new adventure with a renewed vigor. As I type this the boxes are packed, the walls are empty and I am about to go pick up the moving truck. A few friends will be joining us in the parade of boxes. I think back to the night when men from the church were standing at our door waiting on us to arrive so they could usher our belongings into our rental house.

I can’t possibly sum up my emotions or feelings as we prepare to close this chapter and begin a new one. We leave with so many good memories and a few I’d rather not remember, so many new friends I hope to keep in contact with and occasionally see. I can only hope that when Carrie and I drive off there will be some, who years from now, will say they were good people, they made a difference, their legacy has lived on long after they have left this town. 

I know that we will take the love, experiences, memories, and lessons we have learned here back so that we can do some serious damage to the kingdom of Hell. Moving is not a form of leaving but more a form of continuing our work in the Kingdom of God. Everything we have learned and experienced will be utilized to make disciples wherever we go. I’m sure some of our experiences have fell on stony or thorny ground but for the most part, our hearts have been fertile and accepting of the seed that has been planted so that we can continue making an eternal difference in other’s lives.

So this is not a goodbye. This is a celebration to keep it going. The beauty of one day being face to face with God is we will meet again “in the sweet by and by on that beautiful shore.” Remembers that we are not only co-laborers with Jesus but with one another. As we continue eternal work back home, I encourage you (especially if you’re in Clarksville) to continue steadfast preaching and teaching the gospel. Share your faith with others, don’t back down to the spiritual bullies and live a life that is worthy of the gospel.

It’s been real and at times it’s been fun. But now it’s time to move on. If only I can find my keys. I think they got packed up!

How Helping Others Be Successful Makes You Successful: A Quick Memoir of Being A Job Coach

Yesterday I quit my job as a job coach with the state of Tennessee through the Division of Rehabilitation. My job was to help folks with mental or physical disabilities search, interview for and sustain themselves in gainful employment. This has by far been the greatest job I have ever had. It was very rewarding. I thoroughly enjoyed my coworkers. I had little to complain about. I was able to apply my talents and abilities. In other words, I was able to be a professional in my vocation.

In November 2011, I was fired from being a pest technician four days after Thanksgiving. I immediately went to the Career Center and inquired in a few jobs that sounded interesting. I had never heard of being a job coach but when the job counselor told me what I would be doing, I saw it as pastoring people outside of the church. I applied for the job and waited. January of 2012, I received a call to come for an interview. An hour and a half later, I was hired.

I learned a few things working with people with disabilities.

  1. People with disabilities are just a capable to succeed as those without.
  2. However, everyone has a disability of sorts, some are just more severe.
  3. People with disabilities are people too
  4. There are more rewarding things in life than money.
  5. Making a difference in someone else’s life makes a difference in your own.
  6. Finding a career utilizing your God given gifts means no longer going to a J.O.B.
  7. Don’t be afraid to try something new. You might actually like it.
  8. Coaching (teaching) people opens doors for your own learning.
  9. Everyone needs help. Don’t be afraid to assist and don’t be afraid to ask.
  10. It truly is more rewarding to give than to receive.

I could think of more but that is enough. I worked with so many different type of disabilities, from homeless to addictions, anger management to TBI, depression to overzealousness, physical limitations to mental limitations, down syndrome to manic depression. It’s amazing what so many people go through. There are so many people hurting and most times are not able to find the help they need to be successful.

I watched a homeless man literally having only the clothes on his back go from the street to having his own home, receiving disability and working twenty hours a week after fifteen years in jail and five on the street.

I watched an alcoholic go from losing everything he had including his wife and house to getting back on his feet and being stable in a job with a new home.

I watch a man with down syndrome find work in a local pizzeria.

I watched a man with no hands learn to drive a fork lift.

I watched a young woman strung out on drugs because she watched her husband get murdered in her front yard living off her son’s disability check find work at a local restaurant.

I watched a young man who had a learning disability pass his test to become a firefighter.

I watched a blind man become a journalist for a local online news source.

I watched a young woman leave jail as a felon and get her drivers license, a house, her G.E.D. and find work all within thirty days.

Sure there are some failures along the way, some clients who I couldn’t help or was non-compliant. But the highlights of this job brings me so much joy. Where I thought I could bring hope to others actually gave myself hope. I learned, more than anything, that in order to be successful, I had to help others be successful. That’s what serving truly is all about.

Presence Always Trumps Purpose

As the weeks and days make their way closer to us moving to Lewisburg and starting a church in the living room of our house, I find myself getting antsy and nervous along with a little fear and anxiety peppered in. This past weekend, we continued working on the house we are moving in to by sanding the floors. We didn’t have time to stay so my wife’s parents finished the floors with a polyurethane. We have very little preparation left before we can move; install counters, fix a leak in the bathroom, touch up painting, tear out and insulate back porch, sheet rock and paint the concrete floor in the back porch and hook up hot water heater. In three weeks, we will be moving in.

During our very brief stay this past weekend, we were more than blessed to have a friend from church, Jonathan, join us in this process of working on the floors. We had never sanded floors and he volunteered his time and effort to drive near two hours away to supervise and teach us on the delicate matters of sanding hardwood floors.

But we really didn’t need him. Honestly. It wasn’t as hard as we thought but having someone there who had just enough experience to provide comfort to our anxiety was more than worth it. As a matter of fact, having him there was exactly what we needed. Not in the sense of his experience of sanding floors but more so in the sense of friendship. In other words, I was more glad to have him there as a friend than as a supervisor.

What I learned more than anything from this experience is there are times when your presence matters to someone not because of your knowledge but because of your friendship. Having Jonathan there was a form of support and camaraderie. And I believe that was what my wife and I needed more than anything.  Simply giving your time to someone for the mere purpose of presence far outweighs purpose. When a person is sick in the hospital they just need someone to be there. When a relationship is broken, sometimes a friend is needed just for presence. When a death in the family happens, sometimes a person just needs your presence. When times are hard sometimes the presence of a friend is most important.

I do believe presence always trumps purpose.