The Ivory Tower

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When I first started Broughton High school in 2012, I was cautiously optimistic. My dad had just died the summer before, so it was an interesting time for me to say the least.

I went to private school for seventh and eighth grade, and I guess I wanted a change from the closed off world of fancy things and materialism.

Little did I know, I’d be swapping one bubble for a new one.

My first class freshman year was Common Core 1 with Mrs. Stewart. I remember this because I think about how nice and warm she was when the whole class was completely dysfunctional and in a constant state of disarray.

Everyday, there would be a new behavioral issue or some non-class related thing she had to deal with.

Still, Mrs. Stewart came in prepared each day to teach and with a seemingly inexplicable dose of enthusiasm.

I, being the quiet one who mostly listens and only speaks when called- remember feeling acutely aware of the weird social dichotomy at Broughton. You had kids driving G-Wagons and new luxury cars, while others showed up to school in their pajamas and waited on the bus to get there. I always had a major issue waking up at 7:25. I just wonder how much tougher it would be waking up at 5:30 to go to a place like I experienced.

To be clear, I don’t hate Broughton. I don’t. I don’t hate anyone or anything except Duke.

Anyways, fast forward to sophomore year and a whole other can of worms was opened for me in the area of girls and gossip. Now, again, I’m not one to say anything or talk behind anyone’s back. I remember feeling acutely aware of how I felt.

For instance, I saw this one girl who I wanted to go out with and who happened to be volunteering at the same elementary school I was with the YMCA. I sent her a text. A few hours later, I go on social media and see one of her friends tweet,” praying for you and your hard decision today.” Instantly, I knew she was referring to me.

Although, to be quite honest, I’m glad she never said yes.

The day after, I was sitting in class and the tweeter and her friend have the audacity to ask me for my vote on the student council.

I simply say I don’t feel like voting and put my head on my desk.

Sorry, but I don’t think you won that election, and I’m glad you didn’t. High school elections are a joke anyways. It’s merely a popularity contest and something someone can put on a transcript to impress colleges.

Anyways, fast forward to junior year and I’ve had enough of it. I’m anxious, depressed, and at my wits end. I tell people I have a headache. I have no headache. I simply don’t want to go back in that toxic environment.

I medically withdraw.

I spent two years in deep depression and hurt after I left Broughton. I even contemplated suicide.

I would later earn a GED and spend three semesters at Wake Tech.

However, I am so thankful I’m still here and have the opportunity to study at the school of my dreams.

Are you going through something or need someone to talk to?

Reach out!

Freshman year me.
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The Prodigal Son (I See the Light).

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“But among you there be no hint of sexual immorality or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. a 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. 7Therefore do not be partners with them.

Below is the continuation of my journey towards Providence and Light.

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:

“Wake up, sleeper,

rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”

15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Ephesians 5 1:15

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As mentioned in the previous installment of “The Prodigal Son,” my journey towards the full blown realization that Christianity wasn’t some great moral thing that good people follow but the truth itself was very slow and methodical. I held out on Christianity not because Christ held out on me, but because I held out on Him. He was always there. I was merely the one who drifted further and further away from Him.

This summer, I had the opportunity to go on The Pacific Coast Highway with one of my best friends. It was beautiful and awe-inspiring and I can only hope to go on that road once again. Maybe in the future with… my wife? Sorry, Mihaly, but I’ve reached the stage where I’d like to get a girlfriend and start thinking about the future. There can be bros only trips though.

Anyways, I was struck by the beauty of the place. I had been there once before, but this time was different. I was seriously inspired.

Fast forward to the fall and move-in date quickly approaching, I knew deep down there were things I wanted to be more intentional about. Last year at Carolina I followed the crowd too-often. I told myself that this was what college was about.

However, when I look outside my window and am surrounded by freshman- mere kids fresh out of high school, I am reminded that I can either contribute to the brokenness or be a light to those who are questioning who they are and what they want to be.

I don’t want to leave a trail of broken hearts and shattered expectations anymore. I was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind, but now I see.

I kicked, screamed, and latched myself onto the things of this world- only to come up sorely disappointed and broken.

I was merely going in circles expecting to somehow find belonging eventually.

But, eventually, one gets sick of searching.

The great thing is that there’s no need to search anymore.

He’s there.

Will you listen to Him?

I Saw The Light (Mason Ramsey)

What Grief Does

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It’s occurred to me over time that grief is one of the most universal experiences one can endure, yet it is also the most misunderstood. They say grief is the price to pay for having loved someone, but I suppose some days the price seems unbearable. It is on the unbearable days where one has a fundamental choice to make: do I let the grief consume me or do I try my best to move on and lean into Christ and the promises He makes? We often like to refer to grief concerning someone dying, but I don’t think death is the only thing one can grieve over. The loss of something, whether it be a friendship, relationship, or marriage, is all something one can and should grieve over. Now, of course, the intensity of this grief may vary depending on the relationship dynamic and other factors, but I find it ludicrous to believe that we should simply move on and get over it. Now, you do have to move on to an extent- but let’s be clear here, there’s only one of that person for which you are grieving over. There’s only one laugh. There’s only one smile. There’s only one distinct way someone looks at you.

This whole notion that real men can’t cry or show emotion is not only wrong- it’s toxic. It’s when somebody tries to keep it buried inside and deep within them that more significant issues come out. Now, there’s only so much people share with you on a daily basis. There’s only so much someone is willing to say- especially to a stranger. But I think the mere presence someone brings- the mere ability to simply be there- is often a bigger gift than we realize.

This whole week has been emotionally draining on me. To sit here and try and act like everything is perfectly fine would be a blatant lie and disservice. However, nothing is ever going to be completely fine. This world is a broken place. I don’t need to spend a lot of time elaborating on that. It’s when we put ourselves in bubbles to try and lessen the brokenness that we often become more broken. The only answer to anyone’s brokenness is Jesus.

The Christian who comes across as perfect is deeply mistaken as to what He or She believes in. Or, at the very least, he or she is concealing a hurt that hasn’t been fully handed over to the author and maker of our souls.

We can try all we want to be flawless. We can try all we want to be perfect. But in the end, we all come across way short.

It’s funny- I think grief is one of those words that gets used, similar to “love,” that people have absolutely no idea the true meaning of.

Grief is a part of love. It is the price we pay for love. I continually remind myself of this. I also remind myself that as a follower of Christ, I do not grieve, nor should I grieve, as the world does. Grief is tough. It lasts for quite some time. I believe, for a lifetime.

But, I cling to the promises of His word and His plan. Romans 21:4 says this, “For I shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

No more hospitals.

No more chronic illness or disease.

No more sons without fathers or fathers without sons.

Families, reunited.

Lovers, once again in harmony to sing to Love himself.

What a glorious promise.

What a wonderful day.

Until then, we are called to, “Lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the [aauthor and [b]finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2.

I don’t know exactly why God allows pain or suffering in this world.

I do know this, however, that that pain and suffering produces endurance and perseverance.

I don’t know everything, but I do know that He is good, and His mercy and love endure forever.

Today is today.

Tomorrow is tomorrow.

Only today is promised.

So, we must run our race.

I Heard Your Voice Today

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“Grief is a Mouse-

And chooses Wainscot in the Breast

For His shy House

And baffles quest-

Grief is a Thief- quick startled-

Pricks His Ear- report to hear

Of that Vast Dark

That swept His Being – back-

Grief is a juggler – boldest at the Play

Lest if He flinch- the eye that way

Pounce on His Bruises – One – say – or Three

Grief is a Gourmand – spare His luxury-

But Grief is Tongueless- before He’ll tell- Burn Him in the Public square –

His ashes- will

Possibly- if they refuse- How then know –

Since a Rack couldn’t coax a syllable- now

Let us play Yesterday-

I, the Girl at School-

You, the Eternity- the untold Tale-

Easing my famine

At my Lexicon –

Logarithm- had I- for Drink

‘Twas a dry Wine-

Somewhat different- must be-

Dreams ting the Sleep –

Cunning Reds of Morning

Make the Blind – leap-

Still at the Egg Life-

Chafing the Shell

When you troubled the Ellipse

And the Bird fell-

Manacles be dim- they say-

To the new Free-

Liberty- commoner-

Never could-to me-

“‘Twas my last gratitude

When I slept- at night-

“Twas the first Miracle

Let in- with Light-

Can the lark resume the Shell- Easier- for the Sky-

Wouldn’t Bonds hurt more

Than Yesterday?

Wouldn’t Dungeons sorer hate

On the Man- free- just long enough to taste- Then- dolmens new- God of the Manacor- As of the Free

Take Not my Liberty

Away from Me-

Alter! When the Hills do-

Falter! When the Sun

Question if His Glory Be the Perfect One-

Surfeit! When the Daffodil Both of the Dew-

Even as Herself- Sir- I will- of You.

– Emily Dickinson.

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If you were coming in the Fall, I’d brush the summer by with half a smile, and half a spurn,

As Housewives do, a Fly.

If I could see you in a year,

I’d wind the months in balls- And put them each in separate Drawers,

For fear the numbers fuse-

If only Centuries, delayed, I’d count them on my Hand,

Subtracting, till my fingers

dropped

Into Van Dieman’s Land.

If certain, when this life was out-

That you’rs and mine should be–

I’d toss it yonder, like a Rind, and take Eternity-

But, now, uncertain of the length

Of this, that is between,

It goads me, like the Goblin bee-

That will not state-

its sting.” Dickinson, “(If you were coming in the fall)”

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I heard your voice today. I waited seven years. It was like I remembered, but there were some notable highlights

“Call me back.” “I miss you. “I love you.” ” I miss you and my boys.

Damn you.

Every fibre of my being aches for me to be able to call you back.

I can’t even listen to all of this without sobbing.

I’m not going to listen to all of it at once.

I’ll take the tape

Rewind it

Digest it

And repeat.

I will soak in your love

Until it becomes a mantra

Oh, how you loved me. How you loved all of us. The longing in your voice rips me to shreds.

It tells me how you felt. This, I always knew. I hate you for leaving me these voicemails. I love you for leaving me these voicemails. I long for you in a place where there’s no space or time.

My bones shatter when I hear your voice

My bones are rebuilt when I hear your voice

The answering machine stops. I didn’t call you back. Why? I was a kid. I guess I always figured there’d be another tomorrow.

I loved you. I still love you. I will always love you.

Thank you for fighting as long as you did.

Thank you for not giving up until I could say goodbye.

I miss the hell out of you.

I miss the way your hand fit in mine

I miss the way you laughed

How your hair felt.

I miss all the little things that I know I can’t get back in this lifetime.

I’ll see you again

This I’m sure

I just wish it was today

But today is today

And tomorrow is tomorrow

And what’s past is past

But to hell with it all

I want you to be here

But you can’t be

But you are

So I sit in my apartment

Look out the window

See the sunrise and sunset

And wonder about your view

I bet it’s pretty great.

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“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,

so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.”

(View from my window).

What Love Does

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1 Corinthians 13;

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging symbol.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith that can move mountains, but do not love, I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is Patient, Love is Kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

For when I was a child, I thought like a child, reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put my childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in the mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

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I’ve been thinking and meditating on this verse recently. It hits home for me. Too often we like to think of love as a series of transactions. “Well, if I get you this, than you can get me this. Then will we be even.”

The thing is, love doesn’t work like that. As a follower of Jesus, I can’t pick and choose who I want to love more or less. Yes, obviously, some people are harder to love than others. However, it is those people who are the hardest to love that are the most in need of the love Jesus provides.

I will be listening to the voicemails my dad left me seven years ago soon. I hate he’s not here. I hate it with a hate that could consume me if I let it. But I don’t let it, because I know and will be able to hear in his voice how much he loves and continues to. He’s not here anymore. There’s nothing I can do to change that fact. I spent a lot of time and nights crying out to God, a mixture of sadness, anger, and pain. However, it is when I started to let His love step-in for my earthly father’s absence that I started to truly be free.

Let’s be honest here, my generation, and yes I’m talking about myself here as well, has twisted the meaning of love and boiled it down to a series of mere transactions. Hookups? Sure. It’s only one night. I’ll move on and she will too. But then you leave and you’re still left wondering why you did that. It doesn’t do anything to fill the deep desire we all have to be fully known and fully loved.

At Carolina, there’s such a twisted notion of love and romance. Ladies, romance and love isn’t some dude in a fraternity house handing you a beer and telling you that he likes you. We use the word love like it’s some sort of magical fairy dust that we can sprinkle on top of everything that will make everything better. Love does make things better. Love transforms lives and people for the better. However, we must go to the source of love: God. I’m not talking about some man in the sky with wings who grants wishes on a whim: I’m talking about Jesus. He lived the life you and I couldn’t so that we could live ours in complete and total freedom.

I walk through a lot of brokenness on the way to class each day. I hear the music at night, smell the weed, and look at the girls. They are all beautiful. I just wonder how many nights they go through that without anyone ever telling them their true worth or value. How many are objectified, treated as mere objects to simply gain pleasure out of, and then tossed to the side.

That isn’t love. That’s lust. We grow up watching Cinderella and Snow White and then we get to high school and college and realize that things like that don’t really exist anymore. Well, the thing is, they could, but I struggle to see how any real and lasting relationship can be forged over alcohol, weed, and sex. Those things are all used for placebos to satisfy a desire that only Jesus can. You can hold out on Him and decry Christianity as nonsense and a list of mere rules you have to follow, or, as C.S. Lewis wrote,

“It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, then I first begin to have a real personality of my own…There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given yourself to Him you will not have a real self…But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality…

“The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His)…It will come when you are looking for Him. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes, every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being and you will find eternal life.

Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in that long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else…”

What are you holding back?

To The Suicidal Teen Being Bullied Online

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I’m in the process of reposting some of my old blog posts from The Mighty. This one was written 3 years ago and can be found by following the link under the “About Me” section of the site. I’m reposting this one in particular due to a burden placed on my heart. Where I’m living now, I see a bunch of girls seemingly always in groups and always seemingly striving for perfection. There’s no such thing as perfection. There’s only your character. Part of me knows deep down this culture of perfection and unrealistic expectations only leads to more hurt and depression. As soon as we forget the labels and start realizing that everyone is a human being with a unique and valuable perspective, maybe then we can come to a place of true forgiveness and grace. I know for a long time I thought that if I only dressed, acted, or behaved a certain way maybe then I would finally be accepted. The truth is, your acceptance doesn’t come from anyone or anything.

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I want to preface this note by saying I know exactly where you’re coming from. I understand your pain, all of the nights spent alone wondering if it’s even worth it anymore. On the outside, everything may seem fine, but on the inside?

On the inside, you’re hurting.

On the inside, you feel as if you’re merely going through the motions, and with each day that passes, you wish there was something more. You wish that somehow, the endless array of hallways you navigate through each day could disappear and with them, all of your naysayers and doubters too.

It didn’t all used to be like this though. You remember a day where you could care less what anybody thought about you. You remember a day when you were just you, and all your friends loved you for who you are. Those days are seemingly over now. The playground you used to interact with other kids on is now replaced with Facebook and Twitter.

In this “always on” world, words can be posted in a millisecond. Words that have power, words that mean something. These words get played over and over in your head. Soon enough, you start believing them.

I have a message for you though, friend. Never believe what anybody says about you. I get it. Their words hurt. They feel like stab wounds. Every time you remember them, you start to accept them as truth. The truth is though, their words couldn’t be further away from the truth. Don’t you understand? Their words are meaningless, written from the keyboard of a coward.

Their words could never adequately describe you, your intellect or your true character. You are beautiful and loved. I believe you were created by a God who made you for a specific purpose, and for exactly the time you are in now. You are wanted. You are treasured. You are needed. Anyone or anything that makes you believe otherwise is just plain wrong. The naysayers and doubters will always try their best to define you and to make you believe what they are saying about you is truth.

However, know that none of it is. Know that beneath all of the tweets and mean rhetoric, lies a person too, a person who is hurting, just like you. It is a person trying to mask their own insecurities, by attacking you. One day, when you make it past the hallways and into the real world, you’ll realize just how insecure those people were. Their voices will shrink and become silenced. They will be left to criticize while you’re changing the world.

Until then, realize that no 140-character tweet or mean message could possibly define you. Realize that your best days truly are ahead of you. These days are long and hard, but they will get better. Until then, keep pressing forward. It gets better, I promise.

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The Side Effects of Loss

*This is a piece I wrote originally published on The Mighty.com. I will be reposting some of my pieces that are on The Mighty here.

When I was 15, I watched my dad die and held his hand as his breath became shallower and shallower. He was unconscious and could not utter a word. Sitting beside his bed, I told him I loved him and it was OK to go. I told him I loved him and that I’d see him again one day soon. I told him all the things I could possibly think of at the time and tried to not let anything be unsaid.

Fast forward to today, and I’m slowly beginning to realize how his loss seemingly effects everything I do in my life. I go to the park, where I see kids and their dads walking, and I think of him. I drive by one of his favorite places to eat, and I think of him. I watch the Super Bowl and wish he was there to watch it with me, and that we could play football together. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think of my dad, where I don’t find myself wishing he was still around. This was a man I barely knew, yet he left such a gaping hole in my life, it feels as if I might as well have known him for an eternity. My dad was a flawed human being, just like everyone else, but he always knew how to brighten my day and make me feel better. I find myself wishing now that I could call him to talk about girls and school. I wish he were here this past election season, as politics was one of the passions we both shared intensely.

Most of all, though? I wish he’d be here when I walk down the aisle to marry the one I love. I wish he’d be here to welcome his grandkids into the world and be a part of their lives.

Life without my dad will never be the same, but it must go on. I look forward to the day my dad and I are finally reunited.

Until then, the quest continues of living a life my dad would be proud of.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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It’s always been interesting to me the depths at which people will go to rationalize seemingly inane or deprived behavior. Some of the excuses people tell themselves for acting the way they do are often tied to their particular season in life. “Well, I’m in college. It’s what everybody else does. I only get to go through college once so I have to enjoy it.” It seems for every questionable action one commits, there is always a twisted self-justification of said action.

At UNC, I am witness to a lot of brokenness. I think deep down this brokenness comes from the chief pursuit of other things that aren’t God. The idea is- we’ve all been engaged in this pursuit at one point or the other. It is when we come to terms with the fact that the full search of anything but Jesus leads us astray and causes insurmountable pain, suffering, and hurt that we can truly be set free.

We are only given one life to live. It would be a tragedy to reach the end and realize that in the pursuit of all this is worldly and fleeting- we end up gaining nothing. My prayer over the past couple of weeks has been for myself and others to fully come to the realization that Jesus is everything. Friendships often fade. Money is volatile and can be lost or gained in an instant, but the LORD stands forever and will always be there to never leave us or forsake us. What a beautiful promise. What a glorious assurance. C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”

I may not understand every hurt or pain in this world, but I do know that the God of the universe holds everything together in the palm of his hand. I may not understand the pain, suffering, or tragedies of this world, but I know that one day, I won’t have to anymore. In Christ, suffering is not for vain. In Christ, pain is not merely something designed to make us hurt. To fully immerse oneself in Christ’s love is to be fully free. And to be fully free in a loving creator’s arms is everything.

 

What I Know (The Hurt and The Healer).

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As we grow up, we start to lose a sense of wonder. For me, at least, I think losing my dad at fifteen was one of those things that shattered my already fading notion that the world is some perfect place made up of fairy tales, and unicorns. The thing about growing up is that you never really feel any older. You remember going to things when you were six or seven and now you’re 22 and wonder where the time went. I grew up going to church. In fact, some of my fondest memories as a kid, besides going to Disney World religiously and the love I felt from my grandpa- were those Sunday services. Now, my mom would have to drag me to church on Sunday since I was and probably never will be a morning person, but I love her for it now more than ever. I think it’s interesting how Jesus describes the process of rebirth in the Bible. It’s interesting how Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night so he doesn’t have to feel ashamed. Christianity doesn’t tell one that one has to be perfect or without blemish. It simply requires one to make a recognition out of humility and love that we were never as perfect or as holy as we thought we were, to “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10).

C.S. Lewis once wrote- “No man knows how bad he is until he has tried really hard to be good.https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/99392-no-man-knows-how-bad-he-is-till-he-has

This whole notion that’s really popular today in a lot of circles that “we’re all very good people” so there is no hell and God must love us is simply a feel-good theology designed for maximum clicks and leverage.

It is also quite a shame that some think their salvation can be bought or paid for, as Jesus has already paid that price and made this very clear: ” I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes through the father except through me.” (John 14:6).https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=John+14%3A6&version=NIV

Trying to buy your salvation via money or other goods is like trying to buy someone’s affection or true love. You can’t.

The good news is Jesus laid down His life so we could live ours in freedom and humility.

That’s perhaps why a prideful Christian is not only an oxymoron- it’s something that cannot exist in the Kingdom of God. Pride destroys relationships and builds a false sense of security. Combine this with money? Well, that’s a lethal and potent combination.

“Again, I tell you- it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” -Matthew 19:24

The Weight of Brokenness

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I moved this past year from an on-campus dorm to an apartment. It’s nice. Nice amenities. Nice location, but somehow I look at the niceness of this place in comparison to the brokenness that is surrounding me and start to wonder a simple, yet seemingly profound question: How would this environment change if people knew the true source of love? Now, I see parties with girls going into houses and I wonder- what will they encounter there? Would I feel 100% at ease if it was my daughter going into those houses? Probably not. Paradoxically, in a search for more belonging and meaning they encounter more hurt. This, of course, is because true meaning and love can only come from knowing the source of that meaning and love. The world is full of placebos and false-promises. Just do this and you’ll be satisfied! Just try this and you’ll belong.

Friend, there is only one person in which you can achieve your full-identity and self-worth in.

His name is Jesus. The Jesus who knew you before you were born. The Jesus who still knows you inside and out. He knows you’re not perfect. He knows you’ll never be perfect. You don’t have to be. He lived the life that you and I could never had lived- all so that we could be set free from our sins and past vices.

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“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.””
‭‭John‬ ‭4:13-26‬ ‭ESV‬‬
https://www.bible.com/59/jhn.4.13-26.esv

Come to The River- Housefires

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?

A Night In “Rehabilitation”

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I would like to preface this piece with several things. First, this is something that really occurred in my life and is in no way fictionalized or exaggerated. It’s taken me a long time to process what occurred in my life five years ago, but I have come to a point of forgiveness and grace for how I was treated. I am in no way trying to make others feel sorry or take pity on me. I am merely publishing my treatment and my account as it exactly happened. Sometimes, or well, all the time- the truth is the simplest explanation.

In many ways, this night helped to steer the course of my life in a radically different, yet radically beautiful direction.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quite waters, he refreshes my soul. Even though I walk through The darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the LORD forever.” – Psalm 23

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I was acutely and ravingly psychotic. My blood sugar was rising, I feel my eyes blurring, and my head starts to pound. I am here for help, but I am not receiving it. I was without sleep for a week, a stressed-out high school student worried about exams and girls. I thought I’d be fine, but everyone needs sleep. My mind blurring reality and fiction together, I start pacing frantically around the halls of this “mental health facility” in my hometown of Raleigh. I was taken back to where the patients were, and I saw a group of people in a room with hospital gowns on and looks of complete and utter despair. I had never seen this before, and my mind, already sleep-deprived and in a precarious state, starts to tell me that these people are actors. I repeat this several times out loud, and some thought it to be amusing. Two security guards each laughing at me. They take my phone and place it in a baggy. They tell me to untie my shoelaces and give it to them. They jokingly give me their ID’s when I ask who they are. They let me see them and continue to joke around.I need insulin. I repeatedly beg for my insulin kit. I heard someone say to get my insulin kit from my mom in the next room, but I assume this was either unheard or ignored. I am livid. Both acutely aware that my blood sugar is soaring and my grip on reality is fading- I grow angrier. The two security guards keep laughing, telling the nurse jokingly that I think there are listening devices in everyone’s ears. I did say this, and my mind did believe it at the time. I suppose that I expected wouldn’t be laughed at and mocked for saying it. In my darkest and most trepid time of need, I was failed by a mental health facility that should’ve known better. It’s 2019 now. I’m working towards two degrees at the school of my dreams. It turned out to be OK, but I wish I didn’t have to experience what I did. Too often, we compartmentalize emotional and mental health They are interdependent. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in getting treatment. What is shameful though, is the current state of mental healthcare in our country. For a time in 2014, I experienced the brokenness of the system. I pray that no one has to experience anything remotely similar.

The Prodigal Son (Searching, But Not Quite There).

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This is the second part in a series I’m starting on my blog. I hope this insight into my walk with the LORD will prove valuable and insightful. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

I remember when I first stepped foot on campus at Carolina as a student. It was last year, and as a transfer student in particular, I was thrilled to get my first taste of real college life. No more community college. Not that I hated Wake Tech at all, but I just found the social scene to be lacking. I had only been through the 10th grade in high school before medically withdrawing and earning a GED, so the very fact that I even got into Carolina was nothing short of a miracle.

I soon forgot about this miracle, however. I joined a Christian organization on campus and loved going to Bible study and the people I met there. I loved the genuine conversations I’d have with the new connections I made on campus late at night. I loved all of it. But, there was still a large part of me that hadn’t given into Jesus. I had plenty of head knowledge of God’s word from growing up in church. However, it never really sank into the depths of my heart. I would go out, meet girls, and feel a rush of excitement and optimism. I felt I belonged here. I do belong here. But, you see, the problem lies in the fact that I used other people and emotions to try and find a sense of belonging. The girls would come and go. It’d be an exhilarating rush of emotions- only to end up at the end heartbroken and wondering what I did wrong.

This was millennial life, I would sheepishly tell myself. No real commitments. Just one night stands. Swipe right. Swipe left. They’re just faces. It was all a game. She’s hot, she’s not. Slowly, I’d use this logic to devalue and place women in a bubble. It’s OK. I’m a guy. I mean, this is what everyone else is doing, right? Emotions and the other person be damned- as long as it was “fun” and consensual. It’s just sex. It’s not like it’s cocaine or heroine. After all, sex is natural, right? Sure it is. In fact, God made sex. To try and shame sex and to describe it in a way that makes it taboo does a disservice to God. The problem is this- sex was designed specifically for those in marriage. Now, this isn’t a popular opinion.

The argument against this goes something like this, “Well, if two people love each other and are in a consensual relationship, what’s wrong with expressing that love sexually?”

I won’t go into the Christian viewpoint in-depth regarding this yet, but I will say I think each one of us knows in the depths of our souls that sex isn’t merely some cavalier thing that a lot of people, particularly in my generation, treat it as.

Needless to say, I was enjoying myself at UNC, but I always felt like there had to be something more. I mean, seriously? This is it? This is what everybody raves about in college? Drinking and girls? Maybe I’m just doing it wrong. Nope. I was sick of myself. I was tired of the letdowns. The confusion. The mixed emotions. This isn’t as fun as it was all made out to be. I once heard a pastor say, “Sin gets an A for marketing and an F for results.” Yep, I had fallen for the marketing trick. The beauty, however, is there’s a key to your heart that is no gimmick or letdown. He doesn’t promise a life full of leisure or pleasure, but He does promise an unconditional and unwavering love. A love that only He can provide. He is, after all, the maker of you and me. Who would know us better than the one who created us?

Continue reading “The Prodigal Son (Searching, But Not Quite There).”

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 desert 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, growth, and fellowship.

A Church without God is not a church. 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 offer? 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.

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.

Holidays and Memories Past.

Yesterday, we celebrated Easter and Christ’s resurrection from the grave.

I love Easter and cannot put into words how grateful I am for my Savior’s sacrifice and His conquering of death.

However, Easter and other holidays often represent a silent challenge for me.

Having experienced the loss of my dad at fifteen, it is often times difficult for me around the holidays.

Yesterday, as I heard laughter  coming from the multitude of joyous kids and their Easter egg hunt, I smiled.

I also struggled to hold my composure.

When I was in Kindergarten, my dad had a massive stroke.

The stroke left my dad paralyzed on his whole left side, and with significant brain injury.

My dad would never be the same person after the stroke.

He ended up moving to Tennessee to be with my grandparent’s and to get the care he needed.

I have the vaguest of memories of the person my dad was before his stroke.

Afterwards, my only contact with him would be through the short visits and brief phone calls I had with him.

Growing up without a dad has been difficult, and losing him at 15 was the toughest thing I ever had to endure.

I often wonder, what would my life look like with him still in the picture?

There isn’t a day that goes by where I am not reminded of my dad’s absence.

There is a dangerous misconception in our society that real men don’t cry or show emotion.

I can tell you firsthand however, crying and grieving are not signs of weakness.

They are signs of strength and healing.

There are days where if I could not cry over my dad, I would not know what to do.

I take comfort in knowing that my dad now has a new body.

I take comfort in knowing that my dad suffers no more pain.

I take comfort in knowing that one day, I will see him again.

And on that day, we will finally be able to make our long awaited embrace.

On that day, there will be no more tears or sorrow.

There will be hugs.

There will be laughter.

There will be long conversations.

And as Easter and other holidays come along, we will joyously celebrate.

Together.

Reunited.

As father and son.

Until that day, I press on.

Until that day, I endure.

Waiting for that one day, where I won’t have to anymore.