thirty four

I am very much out of the habit of writing. Ideas swarm around my head but they rarely escape in any coherent pattern, only making sense within the walls of my own mind. I intended to write more last year, but it didn’t happen. This is my annual birthday post, which guarantees at least one post this year 🙂

This year, my word to chew on is courage. As with each word and each year, only God knows what this will mean for me in 2016, but by the end of each year I am always able to look back and see how fitting it was. Last year was wait which definitely proved to be an exercise in faith. Courage, I foresee, will be as well.

Courage isn’t something I generally think of until I’m aware that I’m lacking it. My heart is weak, my spirit is down, I’ve lost my nerve, I’m losing faith, I’m losing hope. This is my daily life. Am I going down the right path? Am I pursuing the right interests? Or am I just wasting my time? I become overwhelmed by the future—what I can’t see, what I don’t know, what I haven’t received yet. I quickly become discouraged which doesn’t lead to good things. I start to dwell on these things too long. In an effort to get going again—to see progress on my dreams, goals, life—temptations, or ‘quick fixes’ become more appealing. Before long, sin is born and the promises of God become distant and blurry.

Jesus knows. He knows we are prone to losing heart. He knows we do not possess the strength to do what we are called to do on our own. He knows, and he doesn’t condemn us, He encourages us.

He also prays for us.

“‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’”
— Luke 22:31

I’ve got a lot of thoughts swimming around my head, and I hope to write them down soon. Feel free to hold me accountable 🙂

State of Things

I started a new job in July of 2015 moving from Houston back to my home town of Killeen. Essentially I went from being ‘a’ Web Developer at the University of Houston to being ‘the’ Web Developer at Texas A&M–Central Texas. While it is a much smaller university, my responsibilities have grown both in depth and breadth so it has been a great challenge for me, which I am enjoying.

I’ve also had  a few opportunities to preach at my church last year, the audio can be found here if you’re interested.

Wait for the Lord (Psalm 62)

Through the Sea (Psalm 77)

Other than that, I’ve still got a few really, really big things I’m praying and waiting for God on. Big, scary, life-changing hopes and dreams that only He could bring about. Hopefully I will be able to share more this year 🙂

 

Lessons in love

For the past several years, at the beginning of the year I try to ‘listen for’ a word to meditate on throughout the year; sort of like a theme. 2010 was ‘intentional’. 2011 was ‘hope’. 2012 was ‘obey’ (took me a month to accept that one). 2013 was ‘faith’. For 2014 it was ‘love’.

As a not-so-young, single guy, you better believe this caught my attention. ‘Now we’re getting somewhere!’ I thought. Maybe this would be the year?

Doesn’t look like it. Haha.

As 2014 draws to a close I can safely say that I have a whole new understanding of what it means to love; the lessons I learned wasn’t what I was expecting.

Love is Costly

Jesus told a rich, young ruler that he lacked one thing (Jesus; he needed Jesus). His prescription was to sell everything he had, give it to the poor and to follow Him (and he would have treasure in heaven). Everything?

Everything.

I’ve never sold everything I owned. I have sold/given away nearly everything I owned once and it was incredibly freeing. That moment when you realize you don’t have any keys because you have nothing to lock up. You start to see your stuff as just stuff and even your money as just money. I think that makes the early Church’s “and they had everything in common” a lot more possible when we look at it this way. We can focus less on whether to tithe before or after tax and just give to our brothers and sisters who are in need.

Love is Irrational

When it comes to the cost of love, it isn’t about math; it isn’t going to add up. Jesus told a story about a man who found a pearl of great price. This guy went home, sold everything he had so he could buy the land the pearl was on. He found a treasure and did whatever it took to get it. Love is a lot like that. It demands a great price.

I’ve done a lot of foolish things because I was in love. I’m still doing a lot of foolish things because I’m in love. I teeter back and forth on what would be ‘wise’ and I think I’ve got a faulty definition of wisdom. I confuse ‘wise’ and ‘rational’. I am not saying love is irrational, except when it is. There is no reason for the God of the universe to love me, and yet, He does.

Love is Demanding

You can’t ‘sometimes’ love someone; you either do or you don’t. How many times do I have to confess to God that I don’t love Him? I fail at love everyday. Every time I doubt Him my unbelief says “I don’t love you”. Love is demanding—it demands perfection.

Impossible?

Quite impossible. But anything less isn’t love. It’s an imitation intended to fool us into thinking we’re doing alright. Our standard for love is the love God has for his children. While we were still stuck in our sinful nature, His perfect love was shown to us by sending his Son to die on a cross to pay for our sins. The ‘reason for the season’ isn’t a cute, little baby born in a manger—His entrance into this world was the solution. The cause for this season we celebrate is our sin. Our ‘helpless estate’ as the hymnist so aptly put it:

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul!

God’s love for us is so deep, so wide; words fail to describe it. His love is unending. As another hymnist put it:

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man, a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above,
would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
though stretched from sky to sky.”

Love Endures

When the excitement is gone. When the newness wears off. When your affections aren’t reciprocated. When any reasonable person would give up; walk out. When you just have to wait (and wait). Love endures.

No safer place

I was going through some old emails and found this letter that I sent to my family and friends while I was in Afghanistan. I’ve never had any real ‘near death’ experiences in my life that I can recall, but this was one of those ‘close calls’ that gave me a chance to really consider what it was that I believed. Looking back, I see this season of my life as an opportunity to grow in my faith and deepen my dependency on Christ to provide for my needs. He is my strength and shield.


May, 2011

Hello friends and family,

This update has been a work in progress. I started jotting things down on paper and on my laptop as they came to me and slowly I’ve been piecing them together into this update. I’ll try to be as detailed yet as brief as possible (for me).

Life here is, well, difficult but I’m starting to have a better attitude about it all. While the thought “what am I doing here?” was a frequent one my first several weeks here, the question has all but gone from my thoughts. Not to say that I have found some “purpose” for being here that is of any significance, I just have more of an assurance that God has not let me wander into anything He hasn’t already prepared for me; that I am here intentionally, for whatever reason that may be. Maybe simply to endure a little hardship. Regardless, I’m not leaving any time soon.

We had two close (close is a relative term; to some people on base it was more than just ‘close’) rocket attacks last week; my first experience. I tried to recall what was going on and what was going through my head as best I could.

Tuesday, May 3, around 8:30pm

As I’m leaving the testing center and heading to the main education center office (just a few feet away) we hear (and feel) a very loud BOOM! Now there are a lot of loud noises around here that we don’t even flinch at any more, unless they are accompanied by the percussive “thud” that you feel in your chest. At first I thought that they had set off another controlled explosion and forgot to give us the warning (or I had missed it). Then I heard a second one, followed by the air raid siren and “Incoming!, Incoming!, Incoming!” As I rushed out the Ed Center, more explosions and I saw a stream of soldiers and airmen running for the bunker. More like sprinting. Then we wait. 30 minutes before we get the “All Clear”.

Friday, May 6, around 8:30pm (again)

Since the last rocket attack I’ve been a bit more jumpy. On Wednesday or Thursday there were a few ground attacks during the day; these I don’t worry to much about because we’re not close to any of the gates or the fence. As I was getting ready to head over to the Ed Center (maybe there’s a pattern here?), I hear the air raid siren go off. I pause, waiting for the instructions that always follow. “Shelter in place” is what I’m expecting to hear, since I hadn’t heard any explosions. “Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!” My heart begins to race as I pick up my body armor, putting it on and locking up the office on my way out the door. The bunker scene is a bit more relaxed, probably because this one wasn’t as close (I didn’t even hear it). We can hear helicopters taking off as we wait. Then planes. Ground attack siren goes off. I still don’t have a clue what was going on, but after about 10 minutes at the bunker they gave the “Shelter in place”, meaning less of an immediate threat. Since we weren’t even IN the bunker (it was full) anyway, we decide to wait it out in the Ed Center (still wearing IBA). Over the next 20 minutes we heard 3 ambulances rush by. More planes. Heavy vehicles. Then, eventually, “All Clear”. We found out later that two people were injured in that attack, just “up the road” from the Education Center.

I’m still trying to process all of that. It’s all certainly put me a bit more on edge, and I sleep with my IBA next to my cot. All in all, I still feel safe here. It’s a big space, and while they have to land somewhere, it’s probably not going to be where I’m at.

“Though Satan should buffet*, though trials should come,
let this blest assurance control;
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate
and hath shed His own blood for my soul.”

*buffet is a military term meaning ‘to strike repeatedly and violently’.

Life isn’t just a random game of chance. God hasn’t just left us to fend for ourselves as if to say “See you on the other side. Good luck.” As Horatio Spafford wrote in the hymn above, Christ knows and has considered, the helpless state we’re in; His blood wasn’t spilled in vain, nor was it done in a way that was out of His control (as if to say it was the consequence of man’s actions); it was done deliberately, and specifically to save (let every believer say with me) MY soul. If my life was bought with such a high price, I can say with confidence that I won’t be an unexpected visitor when I finally reach Home. That doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed tomorrow, but it does mean I’m guaranteed every day God has set before me, however many that may be.

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:15-16

I could not be in a safer place than right here with God.

Thank you again for your prayers and your e-mails.

Grace and Peace,
Paul

On becoming a fighter

“Are you a fighter?”

“Well, not really…”

“If you want anything around here, you’ve got to be a fighter.”

This advice came to me within my first twenty-four hours in Afghanistan. Understanding and heeding this advice would have made the next five months much more tolerable.

Fatmir was in his early 50s and had worked for our company for quite a long time. He was from Kosovo and learned to speak English ‘on the job’, which by that point was very good. At Bagram he worked in the education center computer lab.

I became a second-hand smoker in Afghanistan. I’d hang out with Fatmir and some of the others during their morning, afternoon, evening, and ‘whenever’ smoke breaks and just shoot the breeze. I joked that this was the best way to smoke because it didn’t cost me anything and I could truly quit at any time.

Fatmir’s advice wasn’t about being aggressive or greedy; it was just about fighting for what was right. In this case, a bed. Before I naively walked down to the housing office he shared that pearl of wisdom with me. I didn’t really understand it so I didn’t go in fighting, I went in optimistic. I walked out on a waiting list. Number 387 or something like that. I would later find out that the list was arbitrary, that it would never really move, and that I was wasting my time checking in every week; there would never be a room for me in Bagram.

Five months later, after the supervisor for all the education centers in country (a fighter, apparently) threatened to shut down all educational testing at Bagram, I was finally given a room. I use the term ‘room’ because you’re likely familiar with the basic concept: walls, door, roof, floor. ‘Plywood box’ is closer to the reality. Far from the shipping container apartment I was hoping for, but beggars can’t be choosy.

My plywood home away from home
My plywood home away from home
I lived in my office for most of my time at Bagram
My live-work space: I lived in my office (the testing center) for most of my time at Bagram

When I left Afghanistan, I can’t really say that I had become a fighter, but I did learn that some things in life will require a fight. Not out of greed or pride; not even out of entitlement. Some things require you to fight to prove how much you want it. To you, to others. That you’re not just like all the others that could take it or leave it. That you’re not just all talk. That your words lead to action, like that guy selling everything to buy the pearl of great price.

The real wisdom is in knowing what is worth fighting for.

My parents had been married less than a year before the Army began putting their marriage to the test. My dad was being transferred to Italy but my mom hadn’t yet received her visa. The Army told my dad to go on without her and they’d fly her out once she had her visa. No deal. Despite potentially being a bad career move, he told the Army no. So they waited in Korea until she had her visa, and they both traveled to Italy together. I keep this story close at hand when I think about what kind of husband I want to be; that I’m called to be. It reminds me that career, status, duty all are nothing when compared to loving my wife:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word
Ephesians 5:25-26

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3

There will be little reward in heaven for the man who wins the souls of the lost, or gives up the comforts of home to serve the poor if he neglects to love his wife as Christ loves the church.