I think everyone has significant moments in their life. Moments that have shaped us and made us who we are, and often, these are not too happy of memories. It’s such a tragedy that our lives encounter terrible heartache, yet it’s how we grow and mature. It’s almost Thanksgiving, and while most of the time we are focused on family and delicious foods, I think it’s important during this time to look back at the moments that have shaped us. What you’ll find, and it’s something that I myself have found, is that these key moments, good and bad, have shaped us into a stronger person than we once were. I titled this post the way I did because I think living a life full of thanks, allows us to have deep joy and love well.
I saw a really cool shirt at Target. My wife and I love to walk around Target, it’s a pretty simple date night (You just have to make a pact not to buy anything before walking in), and now that we have a nephew, we like to check out the kids’ section. Kids today have awesome style options to choose from, but in the girl area there was a shirt that simply said, “Kindness is cool.” What an awesome shirt! It’s kinda crazy to see shirts like that when we live in a culture in America that isn’t very kind. We get angry, often at things that aren’t that big of a deal, and we turn on each other. Normal people who go completely crazy, kind of like the stories that will inevitably come out of this coming Black Friday, or from being a secret werewolf. Okay, yes, that last comment makes no sense, but if you’ve ever played the card game, “One Night Werewolf,” you know just how not kind people can become. The game is played in complicated rules, but it boils down to two werewolves have to convince everyone else they aren’t and get some poor innocent players killed. I love this game, because immediately everyone tries to prove they aren’t the bad guy and throw everyone else under the bus. I highly recommend it for your next game night. What I’m trying to say in all of this, is we have gone far away from being kind, because we are all trying to appear better, and that often means putting someone else down to do it. We gotta change that; it’s what Jesus called us to.
November is here! I always love this season. The leaves have changed, the weather is perfect for jackets, and the thanksgiving season is all around. I love what thanksgiving represents, not the whole pilgrims being murderer’s thing, but the mindset of being thankful for the things in our lives. Family, friends, passions, dreams; all of it have been given to us by a God that loves us. Sometimes, life pushes against this mindset. The enemy attacks, we enter hardship, and find it hard to have joy in our lives. We have blessings, but choose to have bitterness of what we don’t have. We have a choice to make. Do we let what we perceive as failures and setbacks as an excuse to live bitter? Or do we let these propel us into our future? This is something I have been wrestling through; walking through these rough moments that make me question what God’s plan in all of it is. The truth is, and this is a truth for all of us, God has a plan, we just have to trust him with a grateful heart.
It’s finally that time! Thanksgiving week is upon us (unless you read this early here!). Hopefully this means that you are enjoying the time and not stressing out, but let’s be real you probably are. Distant relatives might be coming over and that stresses you out. Maybe you have been stuck making the food (get some of the lazy ones to help out, yo!). You may be super anxious about the political debates that may happen. You might be killing yourself trying to have the Norman Rockwell image of thanksgiving dinner. Hold up. This doesn’t really sound like a “holiday,” it seems kinda like a nightmare. I want to pull the plug on the idea of having a picture-perfect Thanksgiving. Even though you may see tons of Instagram pictures of a feast, you don’t see the picture of the dishes to make the meal, the family arguments before and after the picture was taken. You don’t see the bathroom struggle later, the baby throw up on a tired mom, or the awkward comment that uncle four times removed made about you name it. I want to cut through the fake-ness, I want to look at what thanksgiving should be all about, and I want to look at the power of family.
Confession time, I absolutely love the band Paramore. In middle school the album, “Riot!” and “All We Know Is Falling,” were on repeat often for me during school. Now, I do listen to music that isn’t targeted for angsty teens, but I always have fun listening to Paramore. In 2013, there was a song they put out on their self-titled album, called “Ain’t it Fun.” (I promise this is going somewhere) it basically starts by saying “Isn’t it fun how crazy and scary life is?” It then goes on with the idea that there are a million people in the world, so you can do it. I think that’s what fun does, it gives us a chance to get out of our own heads and worries and enjoy what God has around us. In this month of November, you are probably seeing many posts about what people are thankful for, and one of the things I’m thankful for is fun. I think it’s vital for not only our mental health, but spiritual health. You see fun is a blessing, one that God has given us to live in freedom.
“So encourage each other and build each other up.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11
Ahh yes, the November weather has finally come! At least sort of here in North Carolina. I love this month, I love October, but I really like the themes that surround November. Thanksgiving time is here, which means many blogs about things we are thankful for, but one of the things I want to do is talk about ways to treat those in our lives. Family is big to me, not just biological, but my friends; brothers and sisters in Christ. One of my favorite memories about November and thanksgiving is that each year, my family would open up our home to people who couldn’t make it home or may have not had family. It was always awesome to me, but I’ll save my thoughts on that for later (no spoilers). I think so often we talk about what we’re thankful for, but sometimes don’t always show it. Talk is great, but God gives us actions to live out faith. Today I want to talk about something that many of us don’t do nearly as much as we need to, because we all need it desperately. We need to be an encourager.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
- Philippians 4:4
Well, Thanksgiving is almost here. In a few short days, the kids will be out of school, family will get together, and a feast will be had. It’s always a great time, but before you take that nap and then head out for your black Friday hunt (May the odds be in your favor, dear soul), take a step back and look at your life. One thing that this time of the year allows me to do is to think back on my past. Sure there are parts that I’d rather not dwell on, and I believe it is not good to dwell on the past for too long, but what I am saying is look at the blessings you have been given. The good, the bad, and ugly; all of these are in our past, but there’s something about it. Our past is a picture of how God has moved. Every choice made, every bad day, every question has all lead you to where you are in the here and now. I think that’s beautiful. We have been blessed so much, so we should rejoice in all things.
I love this time of the year. November has always been a time when one can reflect back on all the blessings and gifts we have each been given. I love the day of Thanksgiving especially for this time, it gives me a chance to remember all those that have helped me make it to the place I am in now. Family. Often when I think about family I think of my immediate family, my mom and dad, my sister and her husband; my family. Recently I have realized that my family is so much more than just my relation by blood. As believers, we are all family. As I continue to read through the works of Paul, I’ve noticed that every letter to the churches he writes, he always addresses the people as brothers and sisters. He goes a step beyond just knowing these people and takes it to another level. To me family is a special bond, one that is strong and can’t be broken. People that you would fight for, people that you trust when you struggle, the people that stand by you in the darkest of moments. Family is one that will pick you back up when you fall, and you all have family. No matter what may have happened in your biological family, maybe someone left you alone when you needed them, maybe you were abused verbally of physically, maybe your family treats you like an outcast; no matter what has happened, you have a family. God places people in our lives and surrounds us with people that are our family, God designed you to be in relationship with others, and he has given you a spiritual family; whether by blood or not.
This past year this concept has been more real to me than ever. My biological family has dealt with some tough hardships, and it was hard to make it through all of it, but there was hope. God used people in each of our lives to speak life into us and keep us above water. I know that we all struggle, and it’s easy in those moments to believe the lie that we are alone or that no one wants us. This is a great lie, one that can keep secrets in the dark, and cause us to suffer alone. We need family. I want to share a few reasons why family is so important, and to show that no matter what your biological family may be, you have a stronger spiritual family that God has placed in your life for the reason of encouraging you and equipping you to do your mission. As you read, think about the people in your life that do these simple things. Thank them, use the thanksgiving time to contact some of these people while you eat copious amounts of food. God made you for a reason, and he uses family to empower you to do it.
Family is diverse.
Traditionally when I think about family, a Norman Rockwell painting comes to mind, I’m sure you’ve seen it. The one with the Thanksgiving meal, it’s a classic image, but I believe family is so much more than the classic 50’s white middle class family. Family is diverse, meaning that we are not cookie cutter, but that we come from all walks of life. We come from different ancestors, different times, and different styles of life; and this is so good! Diversity allows each of us to look at the world differently, and the kingdom of heaven is so incredibly diverse. Your community and even the family you were born into are all different, and God uses this to open our eyes. So many times I look at a problem one way and my dad sees it in a totally different view. I meet with my dad for breakfast each week, and each week I learn so much from his experiences to problems that I face, and I am able to help him look at his questions through different lenses as well. We need to have diversity in our life, because without it, we will never grow. When we are in a family, our picture changes from Norman Rockwell to a Jackson Pollock, an explosion of color and emotion (I’m a bit of an art nerd). When you are in the family of believers, you are able to grow and look at the world in a new beautiful way.
Family is life giving.
When we are in a family of believers, we are encouraged and able to encourage others. This is such an amazing thing that all of us need. I think back on my life and reflect about the way different people spoke life over me when the world around me was telling me I would fail. When I was in ninth grade, I was first starting to attend my current Church home of Daystar. My family was attending and I slowly started to go and attend the youth group. I connected with a small group, and grew close to them so much that they truly were like brothers to me. We have grown and changed and some have passed away, but they are all still my brothers that I will hold onto. I love them so much. Another memory I have is of that ninth grade summer, where my youth pastor, whom I consider a close friend and brother, Seth Tanner, invited to me to with him to a camp he was speaking at. I was unsure at first, but decided to go; it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. That week filled me with a desire for the next generation and gave me a calling I could not ignore. God used Seth to empower me when the world told me I wasn’t good enough. I will always remember these people, people who were my family, not by blood, but a true family that God used to speak life over me. If you take anything away from this, it should be to get into a community of believers that fills you with life, it will be the best decision you will ever make.
Family is motivating.
The final part of the importance of family, is the fact that family causes us to take the extra step. My family was always great at this. In school, I did not do very well, but my family always motivated me to do my best even when I felt like quitting. There’s nothing like the feeling of getting a c in your math class after you have failed over and over, and my family would always push me to keep going no matter what. As I’ve grown older, they continue to push me into taking the next steps of chasing my dreams that God has placed on my life. God used them to push me further in my faith, and now I can do the same for others. As a high school small group leader, I am so encouraged to see my students press into their passions and pursue all that God has for them. Last week as I was travelling for funerals, two of my students Ross and Chris, were given the opportunity to lead students in worship and teaching to their peers. Moments like this are so encouraging to know that God is using them in such a mighty way, and that they will one day change the world and be future leaders. They are a part of my family, and I want to motivate them to step into God’s plan for their lives just as I was motivated to do the same. Find your family so you can not only be motivated, but so you can motivate others.
Family is incredible. It is diverse, it brings life, and it motivate us. I am so incredible thankful for the people I hold dear, the ones I can laugh and cry with. The people who I want to spend countless hours with. Through the good and bad, I love my family, by blood or by my spiritual family. I love each and everyone one of them. This week as you may be meeting with your own families or spending time with your friends over the holiday, remember how much they have truly shaped your life. Enjoy your time with them, hold them close to you. God has put these people in your life for a reason, one that will bring out the best in you and lead you towards the greater vision for your life. Use Thanksgiving not to celebrate the pilgrims (who, let’s be honest, were really terrible to Native Americans), but instead use this time to be grateful of the people that have walked with you through the fire. The people that will stand with you through it all, these people who fight with you, these people are your true family.
Be thankful for your family.
Well, October is now over, the year is quickly coming to an end, and the Christmas creep is in full effect. November has come, it’s a great season to reflect on what we have been given, I’m sure you’ve already begun to see the Facebook countdowns of what people are thankful for (not knocking on that, just think it’s funny how we all know what I’m talking about). We reflect on the year that has happened and what is to come, but what happens when we’ve had a tough year, or even a tough life? For me the past year has been absolutely crazy, yet all throughout the hard times God has never given up on me, and I haven’t given up on him. I have watched the hardship of addiction, seen two people I called brothers pass away, and watched my family experience loss. I wish this post was about how life gets easier or how things don’t hurt, but that simply how it works. One thing through all of this past year, and even throughout all that I have been through in life, there is hope because Christ never fails us.
It’s true that I, and you, have experienced hardship. That’s the dark side of life, but be careful not to focus on that. Focus on what God has done. Look at what Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” Or in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That’s pretty serious, in everything, good and bad, give thanks. This isn’t easy, but that isn’t what God is saying, he is saying that when we rejoice in the hardship, we grow in wisdom and find peace. I say this because over the past year I have experienced hardship, but this has been one of the greatest years for me. As I typed that sentence it wasn’t easy, if I could change time I would, but I would never have experienced all the good. Today I want to share with you the way I have grown so that in whatever situation you are in, you can learn to give thanks and find true joy.
Perseverance produces character.
When I look at the lives of the great leaders in the bible, it astonishes me how many of them were just like us. They weren’t gods among men, they were human, each with their own struggles and heartaches. Noah was given a mission and berated every day for what he knew was right. Elijah struggled with depression, even when he had a strong gift of prophecy. Jesus suffered rejection and people spitting on him as he faced his death. There are hundreds in the bible, story after story of men and women who struggled, but God blessed them. Each of them made an impact on the world, they each had character. They were wise and they used this to help others. When we stand in Christ through our struggles, we can make the same impact. The reason I want to be a next generation pastor is to help kids like me to know that they are special, and that no matter what has happened, they can impact the world. So often I think we, meaning everyone, are told that we aren’t good enough or that we will never do something important. I don’t believe that. I never have. Call me crazy but I believe that God wants to use each and every person, whether you’re thirteen or eighty-three, God has a purpose for you. All we need to do is persevere through the storms, and focus on Christ.
You have a story.
Each one of us is unique, no two people are alike. No matter if you have a twin or are from quintuplets, you are an individual. If you want to understand this concept, at some point right now or later on, look around in a crowded place and think about each person. Each face, every little detail, every person you see has a story. It really puts you into perspective, and the cool thing is, our stories can encourage others. One of my favorite things about leading a small group is seeing each person share and help each other, and I don’t even have to say a word! Not because I’m lazy, but I don’t have to say anything because we all can build each other up. This is the whole point of the church, to stand together and grow together, laugh together, and even cry together. I say all this to encourage you that you are not alone in your struggle, and God doesn’t want you to go it alone (I wrote a post about this a few weeks ago that explains more of this idea), and the second is that your story will help others around you. Use your story to encourage someone.
Hardship gives vision.
All throughout history, great leaders see a problem or experience persecution and decide to make a change. There is nothing stopping you from doing the same. While this year has been hard, I have chosen to look at the good from it, because I know good comes from all things. Instead of thinking about what could have been, I try to make an impact today. I have grown with my family, and my spiritual family has grown even bigger. I have learned to value the small things. I chose to start a blog and developed a passion and a vision to become a writer. I have seen so much good, and I wouldn’t give any of it up, the godly friends, the incredible dreams, the beautiful girl, and the powerful relationship with Christ. It may seem bleak for you in this moment, and I know it’s hard when you can’t sleep, but choose to be thankful. God will use your hardship to give you a vision, a vision is simply anticipating something that is to come. So anticipate the power that will come from a passionate love and pursuit of God, then you will leave a legacy unlike anything else.
I hope this helps you. I know what you’re going through, and I know it hurts. Trust me when I tell you that there is so much more for you, you have dreams and aspirations, and these were given to you by an all-powerful creator. You are human, but more importantly you are a child of God. There is a quote from Doctor Who that I always think of when dealing with people who are struggling and it helps me. The Doctor says, “nine hundred years of time and space, and I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.” You are important. We may not be world famous or be rich, but we all make wide ripples to everyone around us. So this month, think about all the things you have been given, cherish the memories of the people you have lost, and go forward to make even more. When we begin to change our perspective on the hard times, we find joy in the darkest of times. God made you, he made all the miniscule details about you, and he wants to do something in you and through you. You are a child of God, you are important, and you can change the world. Choose to be thankful in all things, and you will find true joy.
Change the world.