Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Alaska 2011 - pics and slideshow

We are back from our journey up and down the Alaska coastline.  I could go on and on about it but I couldn't possibly do it justice. I highly recommend visiting this beautiful area, although I must warn you - if you go you can't borrow my family, so you'll miss the best part. :)

I loaded a few pictures on this site at the halfway point, but now I have about a hundred. So to see them all at your own pace, use this facebook link.

Finally, here's a little slideshow I put together, to the music of Alaska by Sky Sailing:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Alaska...halfway through

Ok, it's a little more than halfway, but I wish it weren't. I am having the most awesome time seeing Alaska with family. I will be posting a large number of pictures on facebook when I get home, but I thought I'd put a few on here for those of you who are wondering if we're still alive. (Online and cell phone communication has been spotty.)

Before we set sail, we spent the night in Seattle. And how can you go to Seattle without seeing the Space Needle?
Brooke and Hunter atop the Space Needle
We have all had such a good time hanging out. Here are a few pictures from dinner - I hope you can see the joy in everyone's eyes like I have in person.
Macy enjoying a cappuccino

Joe and Kay

Kristy and Joe

Macy, Haley, & Brooke

And, of course, Hunter
And somehow my Dad has avoided the camera. Gotta remedy that!

Of course we have seen some unbelievable demostrations of God's creativity in the glaciers.
A picture of a picture being taken...cool, huh?

The Reid Glacier, in Glacier Bay National Park

And as we were taking it in, here is maybe my favorite picture from the trip so far:

Kristy, Macy, Haley, and Joe taking it all in
And on it goes, as we spent the day in Juneau.

At the state capitol

Macy, Brooke, Haley and me...as close I wanna get to a bear
And we topped the day off with various excursions, including my group that got to do some dog sledding:

All in all, an amazing week so far. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

And with that, I've used enough online minutes, and I also need some sleep. Good night!

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23

Today is a date that will always stand out to me. For a reason that may seem strange. One year ago tonight, we had one amazing party at my house. The show that I consider the best in the history of television brought its story to an end. (Here is the best explanation I've read of why it's the best, from my friend Rob: Why LOST Matters.) LOST concluded with a riveting 2.5 hour finale. It was an awesome night of TV, but even more importantly, it was a night I would never forget as my family and many of my closest friends gathered for the sendoff. We had a great time!

And that's why it's kind of appropriate for the anniversary to fall this week. I'm currently off the coast of Alaska with nine of the most amazing people in the world. Father. Sisters. Brothers-in-Law. Nieces. Nephew. As we sat around the dinner table last night, talking, laughing, and enjoying the night, I was thinking that times with loved ones like this are the closest thing we ever get to a glimpse of heaven.

So May 23. Two years in a row it's been a pretty cool day. What an awesome family!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End

There's almost no way you could have missed it. It's been all over the web...tweeted about, blogged about, and posted on facebook. It's even been all over old fashioned media like TV news. Today - May 21, 2011 - is the end. Really....it says so here, among other places.

Fortunately for me, I'll have a head start. Yep, about the time I believe it's supposed to happen, I'l be on a plane bound for Seattle. So I'll have a 30,000 foot head start on the rest of you being raptured.

But wait a minute...hold the phone. What about this quote from Jesus?
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:32)
So we don't know? It might not be tomorrow? Oh well. (Of course, the weird thing is it could be; I don't think the Father would plan the Day and then change it just to make sure some misguided "prophet" was wrong.) But if it is, this guy did not know it. It's not possible.

I plan to be ready if it is - just like every other day. Because that is what we have been encouraged to do.

So, I'm in the camp who thinks it just may not be the day. In addition to what Jesus said, below is a link to 22 more reasons. My favorite is the guy who tweeted about having concert tickets. Enjoy:

Monday, May 16, 2011

"I never knew you"

Ever had something you have read or seen a hundred times jump out at you in a new way? Or maybe somebody pointed out a new way of looking at it and you wonder, "How did I not see that?" That happened to me last week with a very familiar passage of Scripture. Here it is:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23)
Every time I read this passage before last week, I focused in on the fact that faith is more than believing facts. That many will say they believe all the right things but will learn that their actions showed they didn't really know God. But I missed a really key phrase, and it was pointed out to me as I was reading last week. The phrase is this: "I never knew you."

Not "you never knew me" (the way I had always read it), but "I never knew you." Why not? I now think it's pretty obvious: because of the masks that we wear.

You see, Jesus had just spent a big part of the famous Sermon on the Mount talking about religious leaders who would pray for show, fast for show, and give for show. Nothing about them was real. They put on this big pretense for the benefit of those around them, but they were play-actors, wearing masks to hide their true selves. The word for play-actors was "hypocrite" and it was a word Jesus used often. So when he says at the end, "I never knew you" it will be for a very simple reason: how could he? They were never being themselves.

So what about me? Do I give Christ a chance to see the real me? Or do I go to church pretending to have it all together? Churches are full of broken, hurting people who desperately need the healing message of God's love and grace. But how can we receive it if we don't ever let on that we need it? No wonder Jesus will say to many religious people, "I never knew you."

Here is one of my favorite songs by Casting Crowns with the lyrics embedded on the screen, and it is right on point:

The invitation is open to every heart that's been broken. That's why he came. I don't want to be a fake, putting up walls around my weakness and saying, "Lord, Lord." I want to be real so he can offfer me his grace.

"Well done, good and faithful servant" sounds a heck of alot better than "I never knew you."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

YoungLife: A changing of the seasons

Everything on earth has its own time and its own season. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

This past Thursday night was my last YoungLife club as a volunteer leader. It was a very strange thing to think about and definitely emotional, and yet it seemed very right. Because Solomon was right in the Scripture above. It was a great season, and a long one (I became a leader as a college freshman - if you know me, you do the math). But as I have prayed about this, it has become evident that God has other roles for me in his kingdom, both outside and inside YL.

I don't know of a ministry that portrays God's pursuit of us any better than YoungLife. Jesus came into our world and lived on our terms, showing us unconditional love and hanging out with all types. He then gave his life for the very people who rejected him. A YL leader is called to take the same approach - to sacrifice his/her comfort and enter the world of the teenager, loving them in all their imperfect glory. I still can't believe God chose me to be a part of his work through YL, but I am so glad that he did.

How big has it been in my life? Well, the picture at the top of my blog page was taken with friends at Windy Gap, a YoungLife camp. (As I look back, memories rush upon me like a flood. In no particular order:
  • Countless crazy skits and songs both meaningful and silly.
  • The fear that takes over when I would walk into a school cafeteria with no idea where any kids I knew were. And going anyway.
  • So many 30+ hour bus rides to ski camp in Colorado (and rides nearly as long to camp in Michigan) that I literally don't know the number. Not comfortable, but there's no better way to really get to know people.
  • Scores of friends, many of whom I've lost touch with but so many that I'm still very close to. Both former YL kids and fellow leaders.I don't know what I'd do with out them.
  • The fear I was felt when embarking on the ropes course at camp. I'm not much for heights, but it was always fun to conquer with the kids we brought.
  • The simplicity and power of the basic message that Younglife proclaims: God created us and loves us, all of us have turned our backs but he loved us so much he sent Jesus to bring us back to him by his death and resurrection.
  • Countless weeks at camp. (Again, literally countless - I don't know how many.) Nobody does summer camp better than YL. It is crazy fun, and I have seen so many lives changed there.
  • Musicians like Allen Levi and Drew Holcomb, whom I would have never known about apart from YoungLife.
  • I could go on and on. But I can't end the list without mentioning the one that means the most to me personally. I have seen YL play a major role in the spiritual growth of my nieces and nephew. I got to be a leader at camp with some of them, got to lead a Bible study group that included my niece Macy, and watched as College YoungLife in Tuscaloosa was a major part of Macy and Haley's growth. At the top of my list for life goals is being an influence for them to grow in Christ, and I am forever indebted to YL for how it has been a part of that.
So what now? Well, I want to always be a part of the ministry, it's just time to move on from volunteer leader. Maybe as a part of the Committee (the support structure for local YL), maybe as a mentor for any leader who wants advice, definitely through prayer. And as a reader of this blog you know the passion I've developed for international ministries and orphan care. I am very excited about the future and what the Lord has in store for me.

But now, as Ecclesiastes 3:1 becomes a reality for me, is the time to pause and look back. Thank you, Jim Rayburn for founding such an awesome ministry. Thank you, God, for letting me be a leader for so long. Thank you, friends, for, well, being my friends. And thank you to everyone in YoungLife for shaping my life and the lives of people I love.

My work is not over, just changing. I'm ready - bring it on.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Whatever it takes

Charlie Sheen visited Tuscaloosa last week. That was about the last thing I expected as the city was trying to recover from the tornado's devastation. But there he was, announcing that he wanted to do what he could for the city. For those who haven't seen it, here's a video clip from the visit:

Well, apparently Mr. Sheen fell in love with our awesome campus town, because a few days later he was spotted at a charity gala for a diabetes research group wearing a Bama cap:

And he even took a picture with someone my fellow Bama fans might recognize:

Now, Charlie Sheen's recent problems are well documented. He has been the picture of crazy, and far from a model citizen. He is not exactly the person most of us would have thought of as a 2011 spokesperson for a worthy cause.

Furthermore, one can't help but wonder about his motives. Did his agent encourage him to jump on the next worthy cause to rehabilitate his image? Or did the reports grab his heart to the point that he really wants to help?

Here is my two cents worth on that question: IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER! That's right - I don't care what his motives are. The important thing is that he is calling attention nationally to a crisis that desperately needs to be shared. And the work he is planning to do to raise money and awareness will help keep it on the national radar in our age of incredibly short attention spans.

Paul expressed a similar view about the spread of the Good News in his letter to the Philippians:
 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18)
Paul didn't care why people were preaching the gospel of Jesus, he was just excited that the word was getting out. I think he would feel the same way about Mr. Sheen. Whatever the motives, if it gets more help for the people who desperately need it, bring it on!

So, Charlie, if by some chance you happen to read this, I hope your motives are pure. For your sake, though, not because it matters to the good people of our state. We're just thankful for anything you can do to help.

And, oh...love the cap. Hope to see you this fall in T-town. Roll Tide!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day 2011

Today we pause to honor mothers and how important they are to us all.  I had the greatest mom in the world. I still miss her terribly and look forward to seeing her in heaven. Words can't even express it.

To honor her today, here is a link to the blog post I did for her birthday last year: Mom. The writing isn't especially good, but the audio clip of my cousin's eulogy for her is the best tribute ever. She was awesome, and Chip captured it beautifully in his remarks. Listen to it if you have a few.

So here's to her. And to my sisters who have turned out to be amazing mothers. Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Differential equations: the uncle cries uncle

Differential equations. They form the foundation of a class of mathematics that often separates the men from the boys. Or in this case, the uncles from the nieces.

I was a pretty good math student in my high school and college days - so much so that I became an actuary, sort of a math geek for insurance. But I did not do well in differential equations. There are alot of possible reasons, probably more excuses. I think I had a bad instructor (doesn't everybody blame bad grades on that?). But for whatever reason I broke my pattern of A's in math with a C in Diff Eq. And worse, it was one of those courses where I was lost by the end and barely hanging on to the C with points I earned early in the semester.

And that is why I'm so proud of my niece Macy. She just finished Diff Eq at Alabama, and she totally kicked my butt. And make no mistake, I am convinced she set out to do just that. I made a C; she made an A. From what I could tell, she was getting stronger at it toward the end. And at no time during the semester did she ask me to help her with one single problem! Now that is how you ace a course.

So, Macy, I give. This uncle is crying "uncle!" You win. You are now the champion mathematician in the family.

And I couldn't be happier.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thoughts from Tuscaloosa

Right across the street from Bryant-Denny Stadium there is a church where I like to worship when I am in Tuscaloosa for the weekend. Of course, that happens alot in the fall. But today I drove to T-town specifically to worship with that community - to worship in prayer, song, and then service. During the prayer and worship time we sang three songs. Here are two of them, and what they meant to me as I stood in the midst of the tornado's devastation:


"Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me."

This great hymn is one that I probably should wake up and sing every morning. This morning it took on new meaning. I don't believe I've ever been in a service where the people sang it with the energy and enthusiasm that I heard this morning. It was SO evident that it was coming from the heart. In the midst of seeing lives and property being destroyed all around them, they sensed that God was there, taking care of them.

This song made me think of what is happening in the short term, the hours and days following the storm. God has provided hundreds, probably thousands of people who are wanting to help. Donating money, clothes, water, food, possessions, and their time. After the service, Calvary sent people out to work in the community. I was in a group that cleared debris in a neighborhood that was unrecognizable as such. God is providing morning by morning. It was amazing to watch:
Those are some heavy tree trunks

Chainsaws and haulers

After the chainsaw did its work, Joe did his.

But the people of Tuscaloosa could well ask the rest of us, in the words of Carole King, "Will you still love me tomorrow?"


"For greater things have yet to come
 And greater things are still to be done in this city."

9/11. Katrina. Haiti. Japan. All tragedies of unbelievable scope. And all evidence that we as humans have an incredibly short attention span. It's so easy to jump on the "cause du jour" and then move on to the next one. That's why the lyrics quoted above are so important. And why the words of Calvary's pastor Tim Lovett this morning were so important. He said his church is in it for the long run, and laid out a plan to restore 25 families in the Rosedale community. That's the real work - restoring this city and bringing it greater heights than ever, as it sees the love of Christ in action.

What can I do?

After spending the day with this great community of faith, I know that a day in the trenches is not enough.  For those of you who can't make it right now - great! You can be a part of letting these people know they are not forgotten when late May, June, July, and even next May come along. Please do not forget them as time passes! When the music has faded, volunteer then.

And finally, I can give. I think this church (which is not my home church, just one I love to visit when I'm there) is a great vehicle. Why? First, they are totally debt free so they can commit that every penny designated "Tornado Relief" will go into the community. Second, because they are committed to long-term solutions. If you agree, go to http://calvarytuscaloosa.org and click on the "Give:Tornado Relief" link.

Greater things are still do be done in this city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I want to be part of it.