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The Next Thing… (And There is Always A Next Thing)

October.3.2014

In the past week through numerous conversations I have discovered that there is no real quality way to deliver bad news, so here goes:

I have cancer.

We got the first call early Thursday morning last week. I had been through multiple biopsies, so many blood tests, CT scans and ultrasounds and finally they were able to tell me what all the nurses and doctors had been hinting around at: the tumor that had shown up on my neck was malignant. Then yesterday we found out more details – It had spread through my body and is fairly aggressive.

Allison and I had discussed this as a possibility but we had also held out hope that God would heal and that it would just be a weird lump and we would all shrug and laugh and be all, “that was crazy, right? Oh well, enjoy your completely healthy life” and we would go on our merry way. But alas, it’s cancer and it’s aggressive. And there are few things that can prepare you for what’s next. I barely remember that first phone call over a week ago other than the words “malignant” and “chemo” and I don’t remember a lot about yesterday’s appointment but “aggressive” and “chemo starts Monday.”

Here is a quick run down of how this all happened (complete with pictures!):

Day one: get home from church and unbutton my shirt and have Allison ask “what’s wrong with your neck” to which I scoffed at because nothing is wrong with my neck, but then I touched my neck and was thought “hmmm. Something is definitely wrong with my neck.” Literally out of nowhere, this had appeared:

Is it noticeable?

Is it noticeable?

So we called the doctor and he was out of town. So I got to see a different guy on Tuesday. From there we went through the aforementioned blood tests, ultrasounds, and multiple biopsies. The first biopsy they let me stay awake for when they shoved a big needle in my neck and took some tissue out. That was a great day and no cuss words were said at all. The second biopsy they put me under and gave me a badass scar.

cool scar (4)

Told you it was badass.

That brings us to where we are today. Scared. Anxious. Ready to beat this. This place is going to be an important part of lives going forward.

sc center light flare

I start chemo on Monday. And we go from there. We know very little and we still have a lot of questions. But here is what I do know:

Allison is strong and loving and there aren’t enough words to express how incredible she has been through this. She has juggled her dynamic career and huge opportunities at work with being with me for appointments and hospital visits and she has thrived at loving me so very well. I’m so very grateful for her. There aren’t enough words for her. She and I process differently and we both will do our best to keep you updated on our blogs. You can find her’s here

We know that we have some incredible people in our lives both near and far who surround us and have loved us well. Whether it’s been wine showing up on our porch or a care package for surgery or people who let us come over and not make us talk about anything deep, or drop everything because we need a distraction so we aren’t stuck at home in our own thoughts, random texts or a self-appointed chair of our fun committee – we have amazing people who love us well. And chances are you are a part of that. So thank you.

We know that God is faithful. We know that His Word is true and it’s deep and it resonates and we believe fully in the words of Isaiah that God is my healer. And he will heal. He may use chemo and some surgery but healing is healing.

We know we are going to need your encouragement as we go forward. We need stories of hope and healing. We need verses to cling to in dark moments. We need game nights and and funny movies when we don’t even mention cancer. We need distractions and we need people to engage in the hard times as well – people who sit with us when we are grieving or in pain. We need people to help mow the lawn and sit with me in the hospital or who take my wife out for a girls night. We need books and netflix recommendations and things to keep our minds distracted and going.

We know that you can treat us like we are still Adam & Allison. We still have personalities and the world didn’t shift it’s rotation to swirl around us during this time. Please tell us what’s going on with you – what are you finding joy in right now, what you are frustrated with at work, what you find funny, what you are reading, listening to, all that stuff. This isn’t our defining story, it’s merely a part of our story so please let us know how we can be praying for you, how we can be encouraging and serving and loving on you. We need our own outlets in the midst of this. We are still the same people and we don’t need pity, we need community. And Sour Patch Kids. 

I know that I don’t want you to shave your head. Several people have already offered to join me, but the truth is, that’s silly. We will all discover just how lumpy and ugly my head is, so if you have hair, flaunt the hell out of your glorious mane and we will compare conditioners when mine returns.

We know this is a season. We know we are praying a lot and we are finding so much to be thankful for so please please please let us know what we can be praying for you for as well.

We know we don’t want you making assumptions. If you have ideas or want to ask, go ahead. But be graceful with us in how fast we respond. We don’t want people to think “oh, someone already thought of that for them” or “I don’t know what to even do so I’ll just let someone else.” We want this to be like every other aspect of our lives – full of the people and community who mean so much to us so please engage with us. Some friends have asked us to create lists – amazon wish lists and other ways to help out and if you are interested in seeing those lists, be sure to ask and we will get them to you.

We know we don’t need to hear stories of those you have lost to cancer. We are emotionally on edge and no matter how well-meaning the stories, we are looking to be surrounded by stories of hope and joy. We are not blinding ourselves to the reality of cancer and to the toll it has effected on almost every one of us. We refuse to bury our heads ostrich style to the realities of this world, but we also know what we need during this time. Cancer has won a lot of battles, but this will not be one of them.

We know this is a hard way to find out for a lot of you. We are sorry we couldn’t have conversations with each of you, but we found out the details yesterday and while I wish we could all sit on our back deck under the lights with a glass of wine, we aren’t afforded the time. Monday is coming quick. But I know I am grateful for whatever role you have played in our story so far.

We know that we have no idea what we are getting ready to engage in, but we know that we have a faithful God and a dynamic community so we will walk faithfully forward. This has been an incredibly hard month and a half and it feels like we are facing a steep, uphill climb. But we know that a lot of you love us and love us well. So thank you.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for being our friends. Thank you.

4 Resolutions for All of Us in 2014

December.31.2013
Sparkler photo by Kerry Sutton

Sparkler photo by Kerry Sutton

It’s that time of year where everyone begins to reevaluate and consider what would make this new year so much better, and being the generous person that I am, I took the liberty of writing some group resolutions we should all strive for in 2014.  Without further ado, my 4 community resolutions for everyone in 2014:

1) We resolve to no longer use the phrase “Killing It”

2013 was the year when everyone was killing it. I can’t think of a single concert, friend, entrepreneur, album, artist, creative group, chef, restaurant, event, barista who wasn’t “killing it”. So and So killed it tonight at this. Place of business is killing the coffee game right now. They are killing it on stage. A couple thoughts on this: A) if everyone is killing it, then by default, no one is actually killing it. We are like the boy who cried wolf, only the people who cried “killing it”. Because we said everyone was killing it, we have no idea who truly seized and transcended the moment.  B) To say something/one “killed it” isn’t quite the compliment it was intended to be. It’s lazy – grammatically, emotionally, and personally.

The Point: We (as a culture) struggle to say anything significant about each other and because of doing this, our compliments mean less. It’s okay that not every thing we do (or our friends do) “kills it’. It’s okay that sometimes it’s a process and that we are learning but because we feel some social obligation to lump everything into the premise of amazing, we actually miss out on those rare moments that transcend the experience, that connect us to something bigger. And those moments are important, so in 2014, let’s be very intentional about complimenting each other. Don’t summarize an SNL performance the same way you would seeing your friend achieve their dream. Give true, actual, meaningful compliments rather than using the same phrase we do for a well made burrito. Words matter, especially in a world saturated by social media, and our words to our friends carry more weight than we can know. So provide real, genuine compliments in 2014 and use your words to give power and meaning to your friends who are realizing their dreams.

2) We resolve to stop classifying anything and everything as “Hipster”

Maybe this is more of a Nashville problem, but there tends to be the inclination to call everything new or cool or something that you don’t understand as hipster. It’s a lame categorization and really doesn’t mean anything, especially to actual hipsters (who hate that label more than anything). Because “hipster” means different things to different people, it is now devoid of any true meaning. Some people, the moment they hear that word, think it provides immediate street creed while others think that it’s the label of doom.

The Point: A lot like resolution number 1, it’s lazy and these kind of labels contribute nothing to the greater good. So let’s all agree to stop calling anyone or anything “hipster”. Like the original hipsters, I’m over it.

3) This is probably the biggest one for 2014: WE RESOLVE TO STOP STEALING CONTENT

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have gone on the big 3 of social media (Twitter, Instagram and Facebook) and seen people passing off jokes/images/quotes/comments as if they are the original creator. Look, there is NO HARM in sharing something you find funny, interesting, profound, etc, but there is a huge deep, underlying issue when you claim it as your own. It’s completely okay to post something on instagram that you saw on Reddit/Imgur/Tumblr, but GIVE CREDIT.

You know what happens when you don’t? You lie, and the world takes notice. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you the story of Sammy Rhodes, who started on twitter under the name @ProdigalSam.

ProdigalSam was hilarious (he still is, he didn’t die or anything), and always putting out new and funnier jokes, all within 140 characters or less. He wasn’t a writer for a comedy show, he wasn’t a stand up, he was just a college pastor who had a great sense of humor. And his fame blew up (well, in the twitter world anyway) and more and more people (even genuinely famous people) began to take notice of his jokes and the amount of content he created took everyone by surprise. And then the accusations started pouring in – he was stealing jokes. In his words he wasn’t stealing them, he was reworking jokes (which to a comedian is stealing). It got so bad, and the response so visceral that he had to take a hiatus from twitter. The accusations were personal, violent, mean, crude, and some of them true. And the reality behind the “scandal” wasn’t that his comedy took a hit, but his faith took a hit. Whether intentional or not, people think less of Jesus because of him. That’s tough to deal with, and honestly, the worst possible outcome for other Christians, funny or not. After his twitter hiatus, he recently returned with this summation and apology. It’s long but worth the read.  Read it here.

But it wasn’t just a twitter comedian who was accused this year. Pastor Mark Driscoll keeps coming under extreme pressure due to plagiarism (stealing this tweet yesterday). He was stealing content and not giving credit and again the world noticed, and it ended up costing people their jobs in very shady and very controversial circumstances , but it brought up a bigger issue that resulted in this amazing article being written on the issue of Idolatry. Take a few minutes and read this, it is far more articulate than I am, but when we claim credit for work that we don’t actually create, we worship the alter of fame and recognition of self.

The Point: Not only are you being dishonest, you are hurting the credibility and the name of our Holy God, whether that’s what you mean to do or not. So in 2014, let’s give credit where credit is due. No one is going to think less of you because you become a champion of sharing great work. No one is going to think of less of you because every great insight didn’t start with you, but they will think significantly less of you and significantly less of our God when they find out you aren’t who you pretend to be. This year, let’s all find our identity in the Resurrected and Grace-filled God who loves us unconditionally and who calls us to do the same.

4) We resolve to do a better job flossing. 

This one makes my list every year, so I thought I might as well include it once again (surely I can’t be the only one) so you are invited to show your dentist that we actually hear them.

Cheers to 2014. It’s going to be a great year.

Why the Church Needs Kanye West

May.28.2013

kanye-west

I am one of the biggest Kanye apologists that exists. I love his music and could list track after track of why I love Kanye and how he creates. If you don’t like him, I generally know why you don’t, from his general personality to those media moments that are constantly brought up (justifiably so) when Kanye is mentioned, so let’s just get those reasons out of the way:

The “George Bush hates black people” statement.

The whole Taylor Swift incident.

The rumor that he was going to name his child North (which I really wanted). Or that he was going to name his kid God. Or the fact that he is dating Kim K, and they are copywriting their soon-to-be-born child’s name.

The way he clings to Jay-Z like a little brother desperately needing approval. “Look Hov, I copywrited (copywrote?) my kid’s name too! Look! Look!”

That his new album is apparently going to be called Yeezus.

The arrogant cocky swagger that he takes everywhere.

I’m not saying we should all be best friends with Kanye West. But I am saying we need him. We need his creativity, the kind of creativity that was put on display with a flourish at this season’s SNL finale.

Watch his performances here & here.

Are you kidding me? On New Slaves he just stands there, doing his best to be emotionless while his shirtless silhouetted DJ jumps around, losing his mind. Kanye doesn’t move, letting the music and words just hang in the air almost uncomfortably ensuring that everyone has to deal with the lyrics. The screen behind him is a uncomfortable close up of his eyes and nose, making me relieved he trimmed his nose hairs. On Black Skinhead he uses the same one spotlight and adds black hooded imagery in the background. I asked one friend about it and she said “I didn’t get it. It made me feel uncomfortable.” And I think this is exactly the idea.

Kanye’s SNL performances are always the best. Do you remember Power and Runaway? Holy crap, they were perfect. Seriously watch them now. I remember talking about those performances for weeks. I still talk about them. And the reason? Kanye is the master of juxtaposition. He is cripplingly self-aware, from recognizing his own arrogance and the tension that it causes within him, to race issues being the heart of everything he thinks he deals with, Kanye always looks like he is uncomfortable, and that’s why music is his outlet, because it allows him to express this pressure. Kanye keeps pushing his craft forward. He is gritty and misunderstood and arrogant and talented. He lives in a culture that celebrates safe and comfortable songs like Thrift Shop. And if Kanye is anything, he is not safe or predictable.

Image

This screenshot is juxtaposition at it’s finest. The hip hop community is offended. The ballet community is offended. And that is the tension that Kanye creates, the tension that I choose to believe that he lives in everyday. From making beats and no one caring to a 15 year career that has made him more money than he even dreamed of. I honestly think he doesn’t know how to handle it, so he talks about a new form of slavery while driving a maybach. He talks about being worried about buying conflict diamonds but also that even if they are, he still has to wear them.

And this is why the Church needs Kanye.

Every Saturday Night Live musical performance is exactly the same. There are good performances to be sure, but they are few and far between. SNL is a ridiculously tough venue. “Hey, everyone is here to laugh, so go play with no momentum and if you suck, at least it’s live and there are millions watching, and you only get one shot.” So bands play it safe. Some are memorable. Most are stale. Just another band playing on the same stage as everyone else. Kanye comes in and makes it his own. He brings new and creative set designs. He takes what everyone expects and creates tension in it.

At this point in Church culture, we know what to expect on Sunday mornings. Walk in, a high energy song, 2-3 other songs, some sort of welcome/greeting/video combo, teaching, a special song, and then leaving. Sundays are the same. The content is different each week, sure, and you can plug in new songs and new videos but just like the SNL music stage, everyone knows what’s coming.

We need to take notes from Kanye. We need to be willing to not only live within the tension, but be willing to create tension. We need to be willing to call people away from “safe” and “comfortable” and into this life of following Jesus. Jesus wasn’t predictable. Jesus wasn’t safe. Jesus constantly created tension, and he created more questions than he did answers.

A lot of us walking through church doors today are being modeled safety, being modeled predictable, being modeled comfortable, being modeled stale. There is a time for protection, for safety, and the church should be a safe place for people to engage, but we can also wisely create these moments of tension, of giving people an opportunity to wrestle and struggle. We can create moments of unanswered questions.

The Church shouldn’t need Kanye West to remind us of the tension we all live in on a daily basis, that living within grey areas can define who we are and what we believe, but we can be reminded that in these moments of uncertainty, we serve a God who is true and faithful and loving and graceful and present even in the tension.

Let’s create. Let’s call each other deeper. Let’s engage culture and tension. Let’s call each other away from stale and comfortable and toward a Savior who is calling us to follow, regardless of the cost.

Why I Stopped Saying “Sunday Is Coming”

March.29.2013

I remember the darkest week of my life. I remember how much it sucked. I remember the pain, the failure, the emptiness, the mountain that was in front of me. I remember a pastor/coworker sitting across from me at a coffee shop. I remember when he told me that essentially, that it would get better.

I know what he was trying to do. I know what he meant. And it made me mad. I didn’t need to be told it would eventually get better, that at some point, I would look back and it wouldn’t be like this. Any logical person who has been around any level of pain and loss knows that eventually you move on, that you learn to heal, learn to cope, learn how to move forward.

In the moment, we don’t need to hear that. We need hope yes, but as Christians for far too long we have tried to move people to the solution, to the future, to the point where the story makes sense. We want to point people to the part of the story where we can look back and see God’s hand through it all, almost like he was carrying us on some beach all along.

The honest truth is that if we were to skip to the solution, we would miss the journey. We need to be better at living in the tension of the in between, in between the Cross and the Empty Tomb, in between the pain and the resolution, that it is natural to just not know.

Good Friday and the Saturday between Easter always make me think of the disciples. Always about their thoughts and fears. What it was like to walk away from Golgotha, having watched their best friend and leader, everything they had actually lived for, beaten and brutally murdered. I wonder if the thunder and the ground shaking shook their dreams that night, if they even slept at all. I wonder if the sky darkening haunted their vision. I wonder what they said to each other, if they were able to eat anything. I wonder if they said anything, sitting in the upper room. I wonder if they just wept until they fell asleep or if they sat stoically.

What I do know is that not one of them pointed out that it would get better. None of them rushed to remember that Jesus said this would happen. None of them eased the tension. Sometimes life feels like the Saturday. And that’s okay. Because we do have hope. We do know that there is a moment that will change everything, that the tomb will be found empty, that Jesus would conquer death.

Yes, Sunday is coming, but if we rush to Sunday we miss Friday. We miss Saturday. And when we push people past the pain and tension of life, it is possible to miss the miracle and hope and joy found in the Sundays of our lives.

It’s okay to live in tension, and as Christians, we should be doing this better than anyone. This Good Friday, this silent Saturday, live in the tension, and when we are able to truly navigate this tension, we can help move each other to healing, to hope, and to the truth that it has all been conquered. Because Sunday is coming, and it is okay to wait in the knowledge that right now, it is not here yet.

What Have You Heard?

February.6.2013

I haven’t been blogging lately for a myriad of reasons, but this time around lack of content (the usual suspect) or time (constantly second place in the contest of why not blog) have nothing to do with it. In fact, I have numerous drafts just waiting to be published that will probably just stay drafts. The issue I am having with blogging, coupled with social media, and really, a lot of conversations lately, is I keep wondering what have you heard from me.

What have you heard from me? Was it what I thought was a hilarious joke – or more likely a joke I thought was funny but in reality was more just empty words? Maybe you heard a sarcastic remark that I meant to be endearing, but came across as harsh. Maybe you heard me share something a little more lasting, a little true, but no matter what I’ve wanted to communicate, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what you hear from me.

We live in a time where you can say anything. You don’t have to apologize, you don’t have to provide context, you can merely just say whatever you want, and allow the court of public opinion to be the judge. And really, if you refuse to acknowledge the court of public opinion, it seems as if there are fewer and fewer consequences. This “lack of consequences” seems to allow people to share whatever they want, say whatever harmful, inflammatory, or at best, thoughtless thing they want to say. And it’s getting old. Its weary to watch people saying whatever merely in an attempt to build a platform, or use their platform recklessly.

So I have been thinking of what I sound like.

And I am afraid that far too often it’s a clanging symbol. An obnoxious crash in the midst of an attempt at a harmony. And I wonder if I have forgotten what I am fighting for, what I sound like.

“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 Cor:13:1-3

The passage reminds us that when we put ourselves and our selfish motives to be heard or to express our opinions over others, we completely miss the point. And I don’t want to miss the point. I don’t want to be a crash when I can be a fill. I don’t want to make noise for the sake of myself. If my role is to play a cymbal, then I want it to be a the right moment, for the perfect accompaniment, a layer in the midst of a bigger song.

What do you sound like? It’s probably a good question for all of us to ask.

The Love of Advent: Immanuel!

December.25.2012

“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people, for unto you a Savior is born, who is Christ the Lord!”

Immanuel, God with us, is here. The waiting, the preparing, the longing, the pain, the struggle, the journey, the stable, all of it fades away as we encounter a holy God in the form of a small, vulnerable baby, wrapped in a swaddling clothes, placed in a manger by a virgin mother and a protective father.

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

– John 1:14-17

The beauty of it all is that God came here for the rescue of all. He made himself known in the form of a baby, who became a child, who became a carpenter, who became a rabbi, who became our sin, who conquered death. And it all started in this cry of a baby entering the world, changing everything, and we can never be the same having experienced the grace and truth that is Jesus Christ.

As I think through Advent, and the hope, peace, joy, and love of the birth of Jesus Christ, there is no better description than “grace upon grace.” Christmas is heaps of grace poured over the gift of grace we have already received, and will receive. And the beauty of Christmas is that it is not the end of the story. We know how it will play out, how it will lead to the cross, where once again, we will experience Christ pouring out grace upon grace out of perfect love.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

– John 15:13

Today and each day, may you encounter the love that has been shown to you, may it fill you with hope to go into a world longing for peace and experience joy that can only come from the love of Jesus Christ. This Christmas, may you experience grace upon grace.

The Love of Advent: Day Two

December.24.2012

Last night, 6 adults and two small children piled into my sister-in-law’s car and we set out on an adventure to see the Christmas lights. There is this place in Nashville where you drive through this display set to music, which you turn your radio dial to during the drive. It was pretty awesome as an adult, but it was even more fun to watch the kid’s faces as they experienced it. Our oldest niece was just locked in, staring out the window, not talking too much. The one-year old on her mom’s lap was bouncing to the music and giggling, her face reflected in the light.

Image

As we drove through the lights in the massive line of cars, the adults ooh-ing and aww-ing just as much as the kids, I was reminded about how pervasive light is, how compelling it is. People are willing to give money, sit through awkward music, and wait in traffic, but when all is said and done, the only thing talked about was the lights.

The night of Jesus birth, the three wise men were driven by the light of the star. When the angels appeared to the shepherds, the sky was filled with light. Light had come to the world in the form of a baby born in a dark stable, as the ultimate demonstration of love.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

– Matthew 5:14-16

Christmas is a reminder that we have a part to play in the story. That while Jesus came to earth to restore our relationship with the Father, that he left us with the opportunity to love like he did, letting our light shine and point back to the source of that light. Jesus was born human parents, in the dark of night, and lived out how love looks, a love that is willing to sacrifice it’s own life for the sake of others, for my sake. And that changes everything. He lived as a light that was so compelling, that it still draws people from miles, to put up with inconveniences, all for just a blurry glimpse of this Jesus, and when we experience it, it’s all we can talk about.

The love that we experience through Jesus compels us to love patiently, kindly, without boasting or envy, without arrogance or rudeness, not insisting on our own way, not rejoicing in wrongs, but in the truth. Love bears all things, just as Jesus did as he moved toward the cross. As we worship, as we surround ourselves with friends and family, may we love well, bearing all things, just as that perfect baby would do for us.