The Prodigal Son (To Walk With Him)

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I’m releasing a series in several parts that I hope will be useful to everyone who reads it.

Below is a part of my story from darkness to light. I will be continuing this series for quite some time.

If you ask me how I know the Gospel’s real, it’s because I’ve experienced it and felt it in a personal and real way. And when I say personal and real way, I’m not talking about the way you know someone on a first name basis. I’m talking about the intimate kind of way two lovers or friends know each other. This sort of intimacy takes time, of course, but with that time it brings deep attachment and trust. This is the sort of relationship God desires with you. We are all sinners trapped on a dessert of sorts. We may come across a slight puddle every now or then, but in the end we recognize it does nothing to quench the undeniable thirst that is within each of us. We all want to feel completely vulnerable. We all want to feel completely loved. That is a basic human desire. Now, what tends to happen is that we look at the the Bible or church and we simply see all of these rules. “Well, that’s no fun.” Would be a natural response to going to a lot of churches nowadays. Too often, churches are focused on the bad instead of the good. They think that by highlighting the darkness somehow humans will come into the light. However, doing this tends to have the opposite effect. As Martin Luther King Jr once wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” And yes, part of true love is pointing out someone’s obvious flaws. Wait, what? This is completely different from the kind of “love” we see today. Not only does Paul acknowledge his weakness, he invites it in and makes a home for it in a sense. God told Paul essentially that his power would be even more perfected through his weaknesses. Not because of them. With this in mind, here’s a snippet of the first entry.

There was always the truth. I knew it deep down. I just never grabbed ahold of it and ran with it. I spent my time as a believer, but as a believer in the mere name of Jesus. I knew the man- or so I thought. But as one might expect, there’s a real difference between knowing someone in name and truly knowing them. Sure, I was at the point where I knew Jesus truly existed and was most likely God, but every excruciating inch of flesh resisted. Think of it. How many churches exist and preach the same Bible that most every American is now accustomed with? In the south, where I’m from, their are too many to count. However, look at the fruit of this. The South ranks nearly bottom in every quality of living poll. Just because a place has plenty of Churches doesn’t mean God is an everyday part of people’s lives. In fact, churches without the Gospel are some of the worst establishments to exist. At its core, the church should be a place of community and of busking

It’s like having an Oreo without the cream. It simply cannot happen. Who is this God, then? Because there are plenty of God’s out there- and they don’t even have to be of the deity type. At its core, a God can simply be thought of as something that aims to offer fulfillment and longing without any negative side effects. However, there is something very different about this religion we call Christianity. It doesn’t promise a life of pleasure, comfort, or any real sense of permanent safety. What does it offers? It offers, as a promise- that Jesus, the son of God and God himself, will never leave us or forsake us.

Uber Adventures: Recapping My Short, Brief, All-Too Crazy Time as an Uber Driver

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I remember my first ride like it was yesterday. It was a 2-minute pick-up from my house, and as I left the house in a dizzying rush of excitement and nervousness I haphazardly called out to my mom, “See you later!” The very prospect of sitting around and driving people for decent money was alluring to say the least. I would be my own boss and pick up my own hours. I wouldn’t be another cog in the system. I could stick it to the man. Little did I know, the man was about to stick it to me.

Don’t get me wrong; it started out fine enough. It was late July, and I enjoyed driving in my air-conditioned Corolla. The first few rides were nerve-racking and scary, but soon enough, I had let my guard down enough to allow any stranger into my car. All I had to rely on was a face and a name. My next passenger could have very well been a serial killer or rapist, but they paid for me to drive them from point A to point B, so I didn’t really let that slightly troubling potential prospect bother me. I’m in college. I don’t have an extravagant amount of money. I need to be able to eat Chick-fil-A on a somewhat regular basis. If I can get paid to drive and I can get the occasional tip? Perfect. Where my passengers are going to or what their purposes are for going there should be irrelevant to me. Three-hundred rides in and this mindset worked well enough for me.

My last ride, however; was one I will never forget and one that will be charred into the depths of my imagination forever. It all started on New Year’s Eve. It was in downtown Raleigh. The pedestrian foot traffic was through the roof. Sensing a prime money-making opportunity, I excitedly entered my mobile office with dreams of a big payday, and all of the potential things that money could buy me. Little did I know my dreams would turn into heartbreak and that night would be one of the scariest of my life. This is a true story and is a small glimmer of what a lot of Uber drivers have to deal with on a daily basis! So unless you’re driver smells or is rude to you, please do tip your driver!

The notification popped up on my phone screen. “Mike” was in need of pickup and I was only five minutes away. I was excited. This was going to be the first ride in a long-line of rides to come. I quickly navigated downtown Raleigh’s streets and ended up at a bar. I parked outside and indicated in the app that I arrived. Soon, I see a man come stumbling out of the bar and towards my car. I internally start to panic inside. He comes up and opens the passenger side door. He states his name in the unmistakable manner of intoxication. I smell the alcohol coming from his breath. I confirm his destination. It’s in Durham. Shi*, I think to myself. I have twenty minutes at least with this guy merely a couple of inches away from me. It starts out fine enough. I make my way towards the interstate with this man in a drunken stupor. He is somewhat asleep, somewhat babbling incoherently. I’m speeding to try to get there. The sooner I can get him out of my car, the better. Then, chaos erupts.

He starts to unbuckle his seatbelt. “What the fu** are you doing?” I exclaim. I don’t normally curse, especially at passengers, but my insides were panicking. I was in full fight or flight mode. “Unbuckle your seatbelt; we are going to get craaazy!” He retorts. “No the hell we’re not!” I desperately replied. I’ve watched Dateline NBC. I know how this could end. Thankfully, he puts his seatbelt back on, and I try to use the pseudo-psychology skills that I’ve learned from Dr. Phil to the test. I start to ask him questions and try to keep him talking and focused on himself. Keep in mind this is happening on the interstate, so I have no margin for error. I am going 60+mph. If I screw up or lose control of the car, we both die. I didn’t want to be on the local news forever to be known as the Uber driver who crashed into a guardrail. Calm and steady, I think to myself. We are almost there. I arrive at the drop-off location, and he doesn’t know where the house is. He tells me to stop the car so he can search for his phone. He’s having trouble finding it. He gets out of the car and starts to go towards the back of the vehicle. I put the pedal to the metal and book it out of there. The door is still fully ajar. It closes itself thanks to me putting my full foot on the accelerator. But wait, there’s more. I look over at his seat, and it’s damp. It has the faint but unmistakable scent of human urine. I call Uber and inform them of the pissy events that just transpired. I was awarded a $150 cleaning fee. Thank you, Uber support, for that very generous gift.

I nearly lost my life that night and had my seat urinated in, but hey, I was $150 richer.

$150 can buy a lot of chicken nuggets.

A Day at the Lake

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“How are you? She asked in that typical drawn- out southern way that I have grown to love over the years.

“Just fine, ma’am,” I replied. I was trying my best to feign a southern accent, but I’m pretty sure she could tell I was a city slicker at heart. We had stopped at a convenience store on our way up to the lake, and as I walked in I was greeted by her. Navigating around the store and basking in the cold air, I look around to see all of the various snacks and items. Oatmeal cookies, crackers, and even live fishing bait. He was done filling up the car, so I hurriedly walked back out to the parking lot and hopped in.

In many ways, rural North Carolina is like its own little world. Being from the city, it’d be easy to dismiss this place as backward or redneck, but truth be told there is something uniquely raw and real about the rural parts of NC. There are generations of farmers, tobacco, and the like. Driving down those country roads to the lake, I start to see all sorts of fields and little white houses. There are kids and their families sitting out by the porch, and I wonder what stories they would tell if given the chance to.

After arriving at the lake, we quickly launch the boat in and head out on the lake. The breeze in your hair, being surrounded by still water, and the smell of freshwater somehow tames yet reinvigorates your soul at the same time. It is dinner time now. We won’t be eating catfish today, but those turkey sandwiches that we have a love-hate relationship with.

The sun is going down. It is cooler now. The sky starts to turn a brilliant hue of red and pink. It’s a shame we have to leave, I think to myself. Life must go on, though. It sure does seem like life goes on a little slower up here. We walk back to the car and make our way back to the city and its hustle and bustle.

For a few hours, it sure was nice to escape the trappings of city life.

Until next time.

I’m an Immigrant (And You are Too).

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It was a beautiful California day. The sun was shining through the clouds, making the cool, crisp, weather at the sign declaring the entrance to Redwoods National Forest almost dreamlike. As we pulled into the pit stop to take a picture at the sign, an elderly woman walking up with her phone came into view. Seizing an opportunity for someone to take our photo, we eagerly inquired if she’d be willing to take our photo. She obliged, as she wanted someone to take her photo as well. While exchanging the usual pleasantries, there was something she said that has grown increasingly troubling in my heart. We told her we started at San Diego and ended up at the Redwoods- planning to go another several hundred miles up the coast before we reached Oregon.

“Did you leave San Diego to escape the immigrants? She jokingly asked. I let out a nervous chuckle before tersely replying, “We’re all immigrants.”

We ended up getting our picture taken and saying our farewells, but I want to touch on a few things that made this statement so troubling to me.

First off, the statement implies that their is something inherently wrong with immigrants that would cause someone to want to pack up their belongings and flee from them.

Secondly, when one uses such a broad brush by asking if we are fleeing “the immigrants” it begs the question, which immigrants were she referring to? I’m assuming that since we said we departed from San Diego, she was referencing those of a Hispanic culture and background. However, unless this woman was native American, which she clearly wasn’t, she’d have to be an immigrant as well.

I’m starting to realize that this is how xenophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry fester. Someone says something racist or xenophobic as a “joke” and then no one calls them out on it. Left alone and unencumbered, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry will only fester. To see or hear racism or bigotry in any of its forms and not condone it is simply a silent endorsement of it. We’ve seen throughout history the impact that ignorance, scapegoating, racism, and bigotry have had.

The question now becomes- will we learn from our collective history to avoid repeating it, or will America have to endure tougher scars in the future?

So my full answer now to the woman who asked me if I left San Diego to escape the immigrants is simply this: We are all immigrants. To simply ignore or chose to forget about this fact is simply ignorance. At its best, America is a place of unmatched opportunity and promise for those who are willing to work hard, follow the rules, and incorporate themselves into our society. I don’t ever want to escape from immigrants. I want to welcome them. I want to invite them in and show them what makes America so special. I hope one day you feel the same way too. After all, you wouldn’t be here today if someone hadn’t given your ancestors a chance at America.

E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One.

To The One Searching

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To the one who’s searching,

I see you. I know you. I empathize with your pain and the deep inner longing that you have for something more. I’m telling you this because I was you. I see the Instagram posts and Snapchat stories filled with alcohol, loud music, and the rooms filled with other like-minded people looking to have a good time. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with having a good time, but if I had to bet, I’d bet that the alcohol, partying, and sex that almost always follows are all placebos in your search for true meaning and belonging. We all want fulfillment and go through different ways of trying to find that fulfillment. I was you. I remember the feeling of desperately wanting love, attention, and a sense of fulfillment that nothing from this earth could quench.

You wake up from your hangover and possibly in a stranger’s bed with the stark realization that nothing you did the night prior propelled you forward in your quest for fulfillment in belonging. If anything, you’re still stuck at square one.

The answer to your search and your brokenness is Jesus.

You may have heard about him through church or your Christian friends, but I want to challenge you to personally make the first move and ask Him to reveal himself to you.

When Jesus does reveal himself to you, I promise you that you’ll be blown away at what you discover. He was here for you all along. He didn’t judge you for your past mistakes, but instead waited while you tried every other thing besides Him. He doesn’t love you less because of your sins, he loves you in spite of them.

He doesn’t want to be a Sunday thing, he wants to be your everything.

The thing about Christians are that we are just as broken as anyone else. The difference is that we have the answer to our brokenness.

Revelation 3:20 says this,

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

What’s stopping you from answering the door?

Imperfectly Perfect

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I think there’s a certain beauty that comes from brokenness, an ascertainment of what’s important and what’s not that very often comes from a place of pain and brokenness. To a certain extent, we’re all broken to varying degrees. It’s to be expected, after all. I mean we are merely humans. However, that doesn’t stop some people from trying their best to tell themselves otherwise. I’m convinced that one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is: that person has it all together. No, nobody has it all together. What you’re seeing is somebody who’s frantically trying their best to act like they have it all together. We’ve become masters at this balancing act. We tell ourselves that something must be wrong with us if we have an off day. We love to compare achievements and accomplishments, seemingly neglecting to realize that we are all individuals who were each made with our own unique gifts, talents, and purposes. We’re not going to succeed at everything we put our mind to, but it still helps to give a decent effort and to at least try before resorting to giving up. I refuse to subscribe to the idea that there are accidents in life, that some things are just the result of some random process completely and entirely out of our control. Yes, sometimes terrible things happen to good people, and it is useless to try and derive some meaning or explanation as to why it happened. However, by and large, life operates by individual choices and decisions. There may be some things that are out of our control, but it doesn’t mean that we should just give up and go wherever the wind blows. This life was made with no do-overs or second chance opportunities. The tragedy of life lies in not being intentional in one’s time and interactions with other people. The nature of this life leads to no guarantee of a tomorrow, no assurance that we will be able to tell the people we care about how we honestly feel about them. Instead of resolutions for 2019, I’ve been meditating on a few words that I want to define the year. Intentional is definitely a leader on that list.

How would your life look different if you were intentional about every interaction/moment in your life?

—- B

This Christmas Season: Lessons in Retail and Uber

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I was at the Target I used to work at the other day returning various items, and I could not help but notice some familiar faces in the check-out lanes. The recognizable faces were few and far between, as the nature of the retail business often lends itself to high turnover rates. However, I couldn’t help but think of the completely obvious yet often forgotten thought that these people are human beings too. I forget that sometimes. Maybe it’s consumerism and a culture that pushes products and material goods over intrinsic value and connection. Or perhaps it’s just the fact that we’re all too busy doing whatever it is that we deem important to take time out of our day and recognize that the retail worker, just like everyone else, is a human being too. On similar lines, I’ve been driving Uber for the past couple of months as a way to bring in some income while on a hiatus away from Chapel Hill. I enjoy the people, for the most part, however, there are some who clearly just see me as there Uber driver and not as Brooks- a human being with likes and interest just like everyone else. I guess what I’m saying is that small gestures matter. The simple, “Hey, how are you?” Or just not being impatient and showing kindness truly does go a long way. The longer I drive for Uber the more I realize just how much the small things really matter. The trip could be five minutes or forty, but regardless gestures of gratitude and kindness are always appreciated, perhaps even more so than the cash tip. This Christmas, let us remember that most everyone is fighting an unknown battle and has their own set of struggles and worries.

The Danger of Substitution

Lately, I’ve been confronted with the fact that I have often used other things and people for a true sense of meaning, joy, and purpose that can only be found in Christ. I’ve been confronted with the fact that without Him I am nothing and any attempt at substituting Christ for some worldly pleasure will result in pain and a never-ending cycle of nothingness.

This may sound extreme, but any attempt to find true lasting happiness and a sense of purpose and belonging in some worldly concoction will lead one to discover that there is nothing that is of this world that can bring a lasting sense of fulfillment and hope. In order to find the love and sense of purpose you’ve been waiting for, it is important to first acknowledge that the things of this world are merely temporary distractions designed to be a temporary relief for our permanent problems and struggles. How many times have we bought something or did something due to the belief that it would relieve a gaping desire only to discover that the core desire for love, purpose, and meaning remains the same?

I’ve come to the realization that everyone who does not personally know the Jesus of the Bible is merely searching for a substitution that cannot and will not satisfy our hardwired desires.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

What desire are you trying to fulfill that only Jesus can?

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