The Land Between

Somewhere in Northern Zambia there is a one-lane bridge that spans the Zambezi, one of the largest rivers on the planet. Halfway out this connection between Zimbabwe and Zambia is a scraggly metal scaffold. A few years ago, I stood on that scaffolding. Wearing pink Banana Republic shorts and a striped button-down, wondering what the heck I’m thinking; halfway out on a bridge, in a third world country, thousands of miles from the closest decent hospital, preparing to jump. I’m ashamed to say, as I was pushed from the platform, for the next three hundred feet a mixture of profanity-laced prayers were all I could manage.

Little did I know the next few years would be eerily similar to that very free-fall. I thought when I turned 18, when the acne died down and my voice stopped cracking, the roller-coaster ride of puberty was finally over. But at 22 I’m just as “happy, confused and lonely” as I was when I used ProActiv every night and sprayed myself with Axe before I went to school (for the record, I’m an Old Spice man now).

Filled with emotion, uncertainty, anxiety, and yes, the occasional expletive, the season of the early twenties is aptly named “quarter-life crisis.” On one side sits adolescence and dependence, while on the other rests this nebulous term “adulthood” (what does it even mean??) and independence.

As I sit in this space now and reflect on this past season, I think back on one of my favorite memories. It was a fall afternoon and I was going on a drive with a friend when we spotted this old cell phone tower high on the top of a mountain outside of town. Naturally, we decided to skip class and figure out how to get up there. Waiting for us at the summit was a rocky outcropping covered in colorful graffiti with stunning views of the entire Lynchburg valley.

In the years that followed, many of my favorite nights were spent there. Sometimes my friends and I would pile in the car at 1 AM and drive up just to lie out under the stars. There was something about that spot. Thinking. Dreaming.  Wishing. Staying up all night, bundled up, sharing our passions, talking about who we wanted to be and where we wanted to go.

Up until now, I got to experience the best of both worlds; the excitement and joy of the things ahead, and the comfort and security of those I love most. Now, with commencement only days away and bags packed, I’m getting closer to leaving behind the people I’ve come to know for ones I haven’t met.

I sing lyrics in worship like, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders”, which sound great sung from the safety of a sanctuary filled with close friends. Now that it’s time to go though, I’ve realized I’m quite fond of living life within the borders of Virginia and Georgia.

If I had things my way, I would move back to Atlanta, date the girl I really like, work for a Fortune 500 company in Buckhead, shop at Billy Reid in the West End and get a sweet loft (with a husky puppy) off Howell Mill next to the Italian restaurant I love. Seriously, I’ve already pinned the furniture on Pinterest.   

I say to Jesus “Be thou my vision” but in all actuality, I’m quite fond of the vision I already have for my life.

Instead, I’m exploring the opportunity of joining the team of a nonprofit in Colorado.

Whether I move to the Wild West or not, this next phase of life is, frankly, terrifying. I think it’s terrifying not so much because of what’s next, but because of what has been.

You see, I’ve discovered it’s not the fear of the unknown that holds people back from dreams, risks and calling but rather the pain of leaving the known; especially when what you’ve “known” has been so good.

“It’s not that the future is hard to face, it’s that I’ll no longer be facing the blessings of my present… “

And it’s because I walked out.

Is it harder to be left, or harder to leave?

Caught somewhere between who I am and who I’m going to be, I'm taking what I know about Jesus and what He says about me and leaning into… the land between.

Peeing my Pants (and Other Life Stories)

seatbelt sign.jpg

I love coffee. Like, if I could be in a relationship with an inanimate object it would be a black cup of Sumatra. No relationship is perfect, but when I’m in love, I have a tendency to overlook the other's flaws. In this case, I glance over the fact caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes you to go to the restroom. Recently I was in the Detroit airport on my way to Los Angeles, drinking in the sight of planes taking off to destinations unknown as I sipped on my giant, $5 pick-me-up from the airport Caribou. I finished my latte as my flight number boomed over the loudspeaker and I boarded the 767 bound for the city of angels. Within minutes of settling into 31G, the unthinkable happened. I had to pee. Bad. This wasn’t your normal, afternoon visit to the loo either; this felt like a little man was jumping rope on top of my bladder. As I crossed my legs and tried to distract myself with SkyMall, we taxied to the runway and soon were soaring high above the clouds. If you’ve flown before, you’ve certainly noticed the lighted seatbelt sign above your head; you know, the one that usually goes dark a few minutes after takeoff. Well half-an-hour into our flight and the little luminescent permission slip to move about the cabin was still very much illuminated. As someone who flies a lot, I often bend the rules; take things into my own hands. I’m the guy who keeps listening to music as the plane is landing, and I’m not above flirting with the flight attendant to get a whole can of Sprite. Anyway, as my renal system swelled to what felt like the size of a small watermelon, I made the executive decision to rush to the toilet in spite of the lit symbol. I figured the captain got too busy playing Sudoku he forgot to turn off the fasten seatbelt sign. When I climbed over my seatmate the flight attendant gave me a look of disapproval, but didn’t say anything as I slipped into the vacant lavatory. Right when I started to breathe a sigh of relief, the plane suddenly began to shake like Miley Cyrus at the VMA Awards. We had hit turbulence. It was like riding a rollercoaster at Cedar Point except 400 times faster and I wasn’t wearing pants. The shuddering was over as quickly as it began but it was already too late. Pulling up my soiled jeans and walking past a now smirking flight attendant I made it back to my seat just in time to hear the captain say, “It’s now safe to move around the aircraft.”

Next time you fly, look in the cockpit, it’s like the Starship Enterprise in there. Big buttons, bright lights, screens and radars dot the nose of a Boeing jet from wall to wall. That afternoon the captain had seen something I couldn’t. Anticipated something I had no way of knowing. He didn’t forget to turn off the sign because he was sitting in his leather chair playing ‘Candy Crush’; he was looking out for the wellbeing of myself and the 300 other people onboard the plane. In the four hours and thirty-nine minutes following my confrontation with the vacuum toilet, it hit me… I have a trust problem, an issue with allowing someone else to have control.

If you’ve been reading my other posts, a prevailing theme has been my wanderlust, my search for meaning and purpose in the “next great adventure.” I have a tendency to be impatient, wanting to rush into my future. Refusing to accept where I’m at right now is where God wants me to be; believing my plans somehow trump His. All too quickly I forget He operates with the long-view in mind and sometimes I wonder if He’s forgotten to turn the overhead light off. Yet I’ve come to realize when I chase after instant gratification instead of His delayed reward, I end up making a fool of myself and needing a change of clothes.

Jesus certainly took the long view. If you look at the life of Christ, little is known about his first thirty-three years walking the earth. He lived the majority of his life in relative anonymity, faithfully swinging a hammer; waiting patiently to rip off the proverbial seatbelt and take the world by storm. He placed his trust and relinquished control of his life to his Father and waited.

There’s the root of it all. The waiting. We’ve bought into the cultural myth that waiting is synonymous with doing nothing. Yet, in God’s economy, waiting is just the opposite. It’s everything. Waiting is taking the long-view and understanding He sees things we can’t. Waiting is trusting God is who He says He is, a faithful, loving, intimately personal King. Waiting is relinquishing control, faithfully abdicating our plans because we serve a God who has a better one in store. It’s in moving from a state of striving to a place of abiding we find the most freedom.

Personally, I’ve found too often I kneel before God and plead for Him to reveal what’s next. To give me even just a quick glance at the map. As each month seemingly passes more quickly than the last and graduation suddenly looms in the distance, I want to take off my seatbelt and charge the cockpit. But in the same way I wouldn’t know how to make sense of the gizmos and gadgets in a jumbo jet, I’d be lost in my attempt to interpret the Lord's plan for my life. I can't see what lies ahead but I serve a God who does. I’m beginning understand my Father is good all the time, like the captain of the jet, He operates with my best interest in mind. Yet I’ve fallen into the trap of loving Jesus for what He does instead of loving Him for who He is. I’m starting to seek Christ for Christ, waiting at the foot of the cross instead of seeking Him for His blessing or "the plan." Prayerfully listening for the vision to be unveiled in due time from my humble seat in coach. Learning not to focus so much on when I’ll get the signal to “go” but rather resting in the arms of my Creator and enjoying the ride of life. I used to think God was distant, up in the sky playing games but now I know I can trust in Immanuel, God with me, even in the midst of my waiting. 

Trapped in an Empire State of Mind


I love New York City. This isn’t the “I bought the $5 “I Love NY” T-Shirt in Time’s Square” type of love either; this is the “I’ve tried to transfer to the Big Apple every semester of my college career” type of love. Yet, God’s divine sense of humor has kept me in the rolling hills of southern Virginia. More “city forever asleep” than “city that never sleeps” I’ve spent the last three years in a town that can’t even count as a suburb because the closest major city is four hours away.

I have a lot of friends in Manhattan, so often, I’ll see a status update about how they’re eating a falafel at midnight while I’m munching a McDouble or how they went for a run and met Joseph Gordon-Levitt; while I’m feeling lucky if I run into Jerry Falwell at Starbucks. Some of my closest friends go to churches like Hillsong NYC or Redeemer with Tim Keller. They have titles with cool names and work in skyscrapers for fashion designers, think tanks and Broadway producers. I’m not naïve and I know them well enough to realize their lives are not all glitz and glamour but nonetheless I see what they have and I want it too.  I get anxious. My stomach gets all agitated and I think to myself “what could have been.” How could my life have been different had I transferred to King’s or NYU? Was attending Liberty really the right choice? I end up following this destructive trail of comparative thinking until I’m mentally and emotionally exhausted.

Those thoughts vex my very soul. The lies that sing softly, “the grass is greener on the other side” steal my joy and rob me of my peace. I get so worked up worrying about what could have been, or becoming destructively enamored with what lies ahead I become oblivious to what Christ is doing now in my midst. I compare myself to others, and my obsessive look at them ultimately wastes my present and compromises my future.

When I allow regretful comparison to become a defining piece of my life, it leads to depression, anxiety, spiritual paralysis and despair. Because, you see, in comparing myself to other people, I’m not believing what God says about me. Truth like, I am His and He is mine! A unique, beloved, talented son created individually by the God of the universe! It’s a trust issue; in the words of a friend, “my life is supposed to be a living sacrifice but I keep walking off the altar!” Comparison takes me from the throne room of His peaceful presence and into an anxious downward spiral of attempted self-sufficiency. If I’m the paper and He’s the pen, by juxtaposing my life with someone else’s, I’m yanking the ballpoint right out of His hands!

In order to get envy out, I’ve got to let more of Him back in. When my heart starts racing and I begin to think about all I wish I had, He reminds me of what He’s already given me. Bringing to mind Psalm 139, that I’m completely and utterly unique. There hasn't ever been a story like mine and there won’t ever be one the same! The highs and lows of my life are as special as fingerprints. I’m realizing it’s time to start concentrating on who God made me to be, instead of, in the words of Steven Furtick, constantly comparing my “behind the scenes” to everyone else’s “highlight reel.” 

If the little green monster within has taught me anything it's that comparison is the thief of joy and the most surefire way to ensure a miserable existence is to measure your own life against those around you. So as I climb back up on the altar for another go around and hand back the pen to its rightful owner, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to cross the Hudson River and call the Empire City my home and for the first time in my entire life… I’m okay with that.  

All I Learned About Life I Learned from Green Eggs & Ham


The older I get, the more I’m convinced everything you ever need to know about life they teach you in first grade. Things like, your day will be a whole lot better if you take a twenty minute nap, you should probably eat animal crackers and Oreos at least twice a day, and one of the best investments you’ll ever make in life is a 64 pack of Crayola crayons. My favorite things though, as a child, were stories. I was a voracious reader growing up, and one night, out of melancholic nostalgia for those days, I began to re-read some of my most beloved childhood tales. As I went along, I was struck by a profundity from the one-and-only Dr. Seuss:

“All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot. And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some, down the road between hither and yon, that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.”

Whoa. I think I was too focused on protecting my share of the goldfish from my classmates than actually listening to Mrs. Jones during story time to grasp the sagacity of that statement.

I believe Dr. Seuss was onto something in Oh, the Places You’ll Go. I’ve never enjoyed being alone very much, or sitting still in one place very long for that matter. I would spend my holiday’s deep-sea fishing in Alaska, hunting big game in South Africa or hiking the Great Wall to avoid spending several months in suburbia. Yet, God, in His infinite wisdom (or divine sense-of-humor), called me to spend the summer months in sleepy southern Virginia. I don’t know if you have ever been to southern Virginia, but there’s not a lot here, unless you’re a coal-mining aficionado or like watching trains go by. Far from the city lights of Atlanta, away from the stimulation found in exotic places, removed from most of my collegiate community, I’ve been terribly lonely.

Nobody likes to be alone. Even introverts have their limits. Why is it, of all the verses in the Bible, one of the hardest for me to live out is Psalm 46:10, “be still and know that I am God?” I’ve concluded it’s because in solitude and silence we’re forced to face who we really are, it’s in those moments of stillness where we begin to realize the depth of our own depravity. I think the author of How The Grinch Stole Christmas would agree one’s own degeneracy falls into the category of something that “scares you right out of your pants.”

Yet, one of the things I love most about God is his uncanny ability to make order out of chaos; to transform ugliness into beauty. He demonstrated this ability most vividly on the cross where He took something that killed and transposed it into something that saved! In the same way, loneliness doesn’t have to stop at the realization of my own inequity, but can become an opportunity to enter into the throne room of the Almighty. Loneliness is, in a way, a call from God to draw close to Him. It’s a chance to remind us what happened with a handful of nails and two wooden beams over two thousand years ago on a hill called Calvary. Loneliness is an invitation to look into the eyes of Jesus, the “luminous Nazarene”; to proclaim the truth of who He is, who you are and Whose you are, and declare those things until they ring true in the deepest parts of your soul.

The great irony is we can’t do it alone, on our own we will never push through loneliness; to quote The Cat in the Hat, “this mess is so big and so deep and so tall, we cannot pick it up. There is no way at all!” Yet Christ, defying all human logic, comes in and plucks us from the muck and the mire and walks beside us into the radiant gates of eternity. Meeting us in the mess, He takes the abhorrent cacophony of our human existence and replaces it with a majestic symphony of unconditional love and grace. He is more than capable of transforming our depression-filled loneliness into an intimate companionship. So, embrace the gift of isolation! Remind yourself of truth. Realize that feelings don’t dictate fact. Finally, never, ever, get to old to “be still” and sit like a child at the feet of the Jesus, rapt and enamored with the lavish story of redemption He’s written.