To Be A Leader

About two years and a half years ago, my employer brought me into her office to discuss a promotion with me. Her biggest concern (and rightly so) was whether or not I would have the confidence and leadership qualities to take charge of a situation and delegate tasks, especially in tough situations. I’m not going to lie – that was a hard thing to hear. But it was the truth. The obvious truth.

I was not a leader.

In fact, I had struggled to be a leader my entire life leading up to that very moment. I rarely ever even wanted to be. If I’m being honest, nothing really significant changed soon afterward. I continued to live my life fairly passively. I didn’t fully own up to God’s calling, I just simply followed my life where it took me.

A teaching job practically fell into my lap after years of pursuing the healthcare field (at the time, I had been applying to medical school), and I jumped on it. It started out as a job to pay the help pay the bills while I decide how to move forward in healthcare, but I got very comfortable. I was offered a career as a teacher making decent pay and began seriously considering it.

((Disclaimer: There is nothing wrong with being a teacher. Teachers are arguably some of our best assets in society and we do not always appreciate them nearly enough. I pray that being honest about the fact that I got a job because I knew someone and had a science degree doesn’t take away the due pride of a teacher reading this who worked hard to be where they are.))

Anyway, my wife recognized that I was settling for comfort when I knew God put healthcare on my heart, and gently reminded me of that. It was my incredible wife and help-meet that encouraged, motivated, and lead me to pursue nursing. She looked into it, did her research, and set me up appointments with counselors so I could meet the deadlines to take pre-requisite courses. I cannot take credit for me being where I am today, not even a little bit. Without my wonderful, Godly wife, I’d probably still be working within my comfort zone, making a decent living, and avoiding His call.

I’m not proud of that. I’m just being honest.

I have recognized more of my weakness and brokenness in the past couple of years than I have ever in my entire life. In falling to my knees before my LORD, broken and weak, I have finally found my strength, purpose, and identity. In praying for God to bring out the gifts in me that He called me to exhibit, I found the peace and joy that is only found in Him, and a true desire to be a better man and servant leader.

And then, strange things started happening.

My school, my church, and workplace began calling me to leadership positions that humbled and terrified me more than they flattered me. People even started asking me to lead prayer before tests at school and during mission trips, and I couldn’t help but think to myself…

“Do these people realize who they are talking to? I must be the worst and least equipped out of everyone here.”

To give you a little insight as to why this is a big deal, let me tell you about the first time ever that I was asked to pray. It was before a meal. I hesitated for so long that the person who asked me eventually just lead the prayer for me. I just couldn’t do it. I was not willing or able to get that vulnerable with people. It was embarrassing! Public prayer has always been (and still kinda remains) such a huge insecurity of mine that I even pray about it. Does that make me crazy? Praying about praying? Maybe a little, but I digress.

I began filling roles that I’d never believe I’d fill if you told me a year ago.

President.
Decision Counselor.
Supervisor.

Trust me, it is never my own doing, but by God’s mercy, grace, and strength alone. In the end, it is always God who supplies the courage, faith, and discernment to carry out the tasks ahead of me.

If I remain in God through Jesus, I can bear fruit, but without Him, I can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Left to my own devices, I would be the guy who procrastinates because he can’t prioritize his time, who chooses comfort and safety over the necessary risks associated with true obedience to Christ, and who avoids leadership roles and even social situations in general because of insecurities.

That is the flesh my spirit has to overcome through Jesus everyday.

Why am I saying any of this?

I want to admit that I have more weakness, brokenness, and insecurity than I let people believe, and its only by admitting that and asking God to use me in spite of me that I am able to be the person that I am today.

Remember when Paul asked God to remove his own weaknesses? Jesus’ response challenges and encourages me at the same time:

But [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9

On the outside I may look like I have it together, but sometimes most of the time I feel like I’m in over my head. I can tell you that I’m a natural-born leader, or that time management comes easy to me, but I would not only be lying but robbing God of the great glory only He is due, and the victory He has provided for me.

In the words of Andy Mineo, I’m just another beggar pointing out where the bread is.

We all have something that we feel like keeps us from being who we are called to be, but the truth remains that God is good, and His power is not hindered by our weakness. He is so much bigger than our brokenness that He uses it for our own good and for His glory.

How great is our God?

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“I am a flower quickly fading, // here today, and gone tomorrow, // a wave tossed in the ocean // a vapour in the wind. // Still you hear me when I’m calling // LORD, you catch me when I’m falling // And you’ve told me who I am. // I am Yours.”

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Tetelestai – It is Finished!

In my pursuit of trying to simultaneously play catch-up and get a little ahead in my school work, I almost let Easter weekend slip by without even reflecting on what it means for my life and the world.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are days we set aside to remember what happened on the cross thousands of years ago. In His indescribable goodness and grace, God the Father chose to accept the crucifixion of His only son as punishment enough for all the sins you could ever commit, and because of that, you can be forgiven and clean no matter what your past looks like. Jesus fulfilled the Law and paved the way for everyone to share the glory of God’s goodness forever and ever, without having to feel condemned or guilty or judged.

What amazing grace! To be able to know that I am an adopted son into God’s growing family, and that he is actively making me holy through the sanctification process, forgiving me no matter how many times I fall short… that is some amazing grace. For him to look at me and call me righteous because of the sacrifice Jesus made.

That is freedom from legality and rules, and an invitation to build a true relationship with the Creator of the Universe. It is the Gospel! It is Good News, indeed. Thanks be to God and to our Savior, and to the Holy Spirit that draws us to them.

It is so easy, though, to judge others based on what sin I believe they are committing, and make that my focus in interacting and/or praying for them. I find myself falling into that more than I’d like to, and I’m not proud of it.

But doesn’t that mean I’m not fully trusting Jesus when, in John 19:30, he exclaims on the cross “tetelestai” (which we translate to “It is finished.”)?  There, Jesus is telling us that his task of defeating sin is finished. The debt caused by our disobedience is paid in full. It’s over. Done. Period. The end.

A question I need to ask myself, then, especially this weekend, is whether or not I truly trust Jesus with the task of dealing with the world’s sin. It seems like a simple question, but the implications are more significant than you may think.

In John 3:17, Jesus says:

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus was not about bringing judgement on people because of their sin. His ministry sought to save the world from their sin. How often do we find ourselves judging others, though? If we’re being honest, its a lot. The truth is, we all sin and no sin is greater than another. The same grace that we cling to is offered freely to all.

Even that one person who you think is just the worst.

In complete disregard and defiance to the other religious Jewish leaders, Jesus forgave an adulterous woman who the Pharisees wanted to stone to death, drove away those who were accusing her, and told her:

“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” – John 8:11

Later, while he was dying on the cross, Jesus spent time praying for those crucifying him and forgave the sinner being crucified with him:

And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34

And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:43

Jesus had mercy on even those who were killing him, and grace for someone who was rightfully being punished as a criminal. We don’t know what the charge of that criminal was, all we really know is that it didn’t matter to Jesus what the man did as long as he was truly sorry and seeking Jesus.

This is what I should model my witness and life after. This is the Gospel we should preach! Let us learn from Jesus instead of the Pharisees!

If I am truly to live a life worthy of my calling (see Ephesians 4:1), I should be loving people unconditionally, encouraging them towards a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Other people’s sin should affect my relationship with them little, if any, especially if they don’t have a relationship with God. How can I expect someone who doesn’t know God to know why not to sin against Him? Once they know Him and form a relationship with Him, the Holy Spirit will be the one to convict them if they have areas in their life in need of change, not me.

I should be praying, more than anything else, for people to experience the amazing love and grace and forgiveness that I am reflecting on today.

Jesus didn’t die on the cross so that I could live a life judging and pointing out the sin in others’ lives. Jesus died on the cross so that sin could be defeated and so that I could point others to the love and grace of God. We all need grace. We all need love. Will I trust God and the Holy Spirit enough to convict His own people as He sees fit and stop wrongly placing that responsibility on myself? Do I believe Jesus when He said “it is finished”?

Just a thought.

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“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” – John 19:28-30 (ESV)

Dating My Best Friend

Eight years ago, during our freshman year at Shorter College, Kaitlin and I spent Easter weekend at her family’s house. Originally, more of our friends were supposed to be able to make it, but couldn’t. So, it ended up being just the two of us. We saw “Water Horse” at one of the local theaters that Good Friday, March 21st, and to a park the day after, where we had a picnic and tried to blow all the seeds off of some dandelions.

I loved all my friends (and still do), but secretly I wasn’t disappointed when I found out no one else could make it. I just really wanted to get to know Kaitlin more. Something about her captivated me (and still does today, of course).

I had no idea at the time, but she felt the same way.

We didn’t start “dating” officially until exactly one month later on April 21st, but I still consider the time we spent that weekend as our “first dates”. We may have not been spending time as boyfriend & girlfriend, but were excited about getting to know each other as best friends.

I think sometimes, it’s easy to forget that your spouse or significant other is also your best friend. It’s a vital part of a relationship, though. Everyone knows what Paul says about marriage in his letter to the church in Corinth and Ephesus (see 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 5), but what about Solomon’s words in the Song of Songs?

“His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, this is my friend, daughters of Jerusalem.” – Song of Songs 5:16

You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride…” – Song of Songs 4:9

In Song of Songs, perhaps the best illustration of intimacy and romance in a marriage that can be found in the Bible, the couple refer to one another not only as lover, but as friend. We also see this in Genesis, though it’s not as obvious.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain…” – Genesis 4:1

The word “knew” is translated from the Semitic word jadac. You could just read past that word and assume it’s a family-safe way of translating sexual intercourse (like I thought for a while), but in doing so, you rob the text of its true meaning. The language the writers used at the time actually defined the union of marriage the same way they defined “knowledge”. How profound is that?

If I am to truly love Kaitlin, I have to know her, and truly invest myself in getting to know her more every day. The more I know her, the more I am equipped to make her feel the most loved she’s ever felt. In the adventure of learning about each other lies the friendship of marriage. One of the coolest activities we’ve shared as a couple is figuring out our love languages through Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages. By learning Kaitlin’s top love languages, I know how to communicate love to her in ways that give her the most joy.

The friendship of marriage motivates us to work through conflict in ways that strengthen our relationship instead of harm it. We support each other, as best friends do, when one of us may be going through tough times. We have in each other a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, and an ever-available warm embrace.

We joke, we laugh, we celebrate, together.

Being best friends is just the best.

Dating and romance doesn’t always look exactly the same before and after “I do”, but it’s still about growing in our friendship and learning about each other. When I ask her out on dates now that we’ve been married for five whole years, it is out of that same desire that began eight years ago. She captivates me in a way that makes me want to get to know her more an more.

Through the good times and the bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer.

In all things.

She’s my very best friend.

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(taken March 21st, 2008)

Bringing the Art of Nursing to La Carpio, Costa Rica

As you may know, I had the opportunity and privilege this past spring break to serve the people of La Carpio through International Service Learning, as a part of Shorter University School of Nursing‘s Global & Community Health Practicum. Even having been on several international mission trips before, this experience changed the way I perceive poverty, healthcare, and my role as a nurse.

During the first day of clinics, we went door-to-door, surveying the population and giving appointment cards to those with acute illnesses that needed our care. This served multiple purposes. Primarily, it ensured that the patients that came to our clinics were in need of treatment and could be served by the resources we had on hand. We didn’t have the means to treat every condition, so by seeking out people that we could help the most, we avoided making promises of care that we couldn’t keep. Secondly, it served as a venue to provide therapeutic communication to even those who we could not treat. We spent the same amount of time with families that we could treat as we did with those that were beyond our scope of care.

That is not to say that choosing which patients to give appointments to came without a challenge. At first, that responsibility brought some intense anxiety. We were split into small teams and given complete independence in deciding who to give appointments to. I started to ask myself how I could be sure that I made the right decisions. I had to reconcile with my faith leaving a family’s house without having given an appointment to anyone. It became good practice in faith and trust. First, we had to trust in God’s guidance and sovereignty. Relying on the Holy Spirit took a lot of weight off of our shoulders and helped us realize that all we had to do was be obedient in His direction and trust Him to care for those that we were unable to. It also provided a great opportunity to trust the nursing judgement of ourselves and each other, which we will carry with us into our practice as future nurses.

We soon felt confident in the interviewing process, but the poverty we faced that day was impossible to ignore. Even though we prepared ourselves, what we saw changed us.

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(Photo credit: Travis Lugo, BSN Student)

Poverty plagues La Carpio unlike any city I’ve visited before, domestic or abroad. Two out of three residents ended up being Nicaraguan refugees. Some were there legally, but many didn’t have documentation, and therefor had little to no access to health care. The people who did have access to running water said that it was unreliable and sometimes unclean. Many of the adults had little to no education and therefor limited employment opportunities, if that. Their homes were built with whatever materials they could find, on steep, hilly terrain, and in the flood zone of a nearby river.

Yet, their joy and gratitude for what they had was often written all over their faces. They didn’t need us to feel sorry for them or give them “a better life.” They genuinely loved their life, and just needed our time and our genuine, loving care. Charity is something they could use, for sure, especially with regards to cleaner water, but that wasn’t the role God gave us there. We were there to give them holistic, patient-centered nursing care. We had to set aside our desires to provide them with every little thing we thought they needed, and accept the work God laid out for us. Through Him, we were making a difference despite their living situations remaining the same. The healthcare system only lets local doctors spend up to 10 minutes at a time with patients, and many doctors work without nurses. Taking the time to interview them and spending an hour evaluating them brought them more joy than we can know.

I had to continuously remind myself that I was making an impact on both their physical and spiritual health, despite not being part of my idea of a typical medical mission trip. At first it was a major struggle, because I didn’t get to spend hardly any time at all praying with patients or guiding their spiritual growth. During my service in Mexico, we prayed with every single patient, but in Costa Rica the focus was more on their concerns and well-being. While in Mexico, I saw up to a hundred patients a day, ISL’s program makes appointments with about 50 people, spread across three days and two clinic sites.

It was a contrast, for sure, with what I was secretly expecting, but perhaps not a bad contrast. I think both approaches could maybe learn from the other, but I grew an appreciation for ISL as the week progressed, because of the vast amount of time I was able to spend with each patient. I discovered issues my patients were dealing with that I would not have had time for in a fast-paced, high-volume clinic. Our thorough conversations were able to identify a patient whose history of sexual child abuse accounted for most of the presenting physical symptoms and a patient whose chief complaint turned out to be less serious than an existing condition that he had no idea about.

Even when the patient’s history had little to do with their presenting symptoms, the fact that we were interested in knowing about them brought them joy. They were excited to share their life and health with us. Their spirits were lifted by the amount of time being invested in them. We assured them with smiling faces that they were going to be taken care of today, and that is spiritual care. Even if I didn’t break open a Bible.

A healthcare role unique to the nurse is the opportunity (and responsibility, really) to strengthen a patient’s spirit. False hope does no good for a person, and I would never advocate that, but instilling genuine joy and a healthy hope for their future well-being works miracles. A nurse can make a patient feel like someone really cares about them and is willing to go beyond treating physical symptoms.

Although my father’s cancer diagnosis was absolutely terminal the day he found out (and deep down, we all knew it), his nurses kept his spirit up the whole time. When the doctors told us he wouldn’t make it past the weekend, he made it another month. And another month. Not because the nurses gave him the false hope that he would pull through, but they treated him like a real person. One asked him about his family and watched as his face lit up while he talked about us and showed pictures. Another used appropriate humor to get laughs out him. He not only got the best treatment available, but he was confident in the care he was receiving. The combined efforts of the doctors and nurses at Northside helped him believe he was in good hands. His body was actively destroying itself, but his spirit endured.

Solomon, one of the few men to ever be gifted by God with complete wisdom, said this about the importance of joy and spiritual care:

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
– Proverbs 17:22

We call this the art of nursing, and it can’t be taught by reading a book or listening to a lecture.

I chose Shorter University’s School of Nursing because of the commitment to integrating faith and profession. Our trip to Costa Rica confirmed I made the right decision. Seeing and caring for the people of La Carpio gave us a new compassion for our patients and a greater passion for our field of work.  We practiced nursing care through assessment and administering medication, but also the art of nursing through therapeutic communication and counseling. The local doctors working with ISL showed genuine interest and even eagerness in teaching us about what we encountered, and encouraged us in our own careers. Our translators, many of which were med students, proved to be a tremendous and irreplaceable aid to our work. All-in-all, it was incredible.

If I’m being honest, I went into this trip unsure of the impact I would make, but I have come out unable to ask for a better or more fruitful experience. If I ever came across another chance to work with ISL, I would definitely take it in a heartbeat!

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“Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you'” – Luke 10:9

Good Mourning

Few people know this about me, but I love to listen to rap while I’m on the road. Andy Mineo, Lecrae, and Trip Lee take turns riding shotgun during my short daily commutes to school, work, and home. The other day, Andy Mineo’s “You Will” started playing on my Spotify, and tears started rolling down my face. Immediately, my thoughts went something like “What is wrong with me? This is rap. This is upbeat. Why can’t I hold it together? I’m crying over nothing.”

I must have played that song on repeat a dozen times during the eight months my father received cancer treatment, and I owned every line of the lyrics. I believed my father could be healed, and I believed that my Father in Heaven would if His will allowed it and my faith was strong enough. The song hit home, and it hit home hard.

It became evident to me at that moment how much I have been neglecting my journey through grieving my father’s death.

I have a difficult time allowing myself to grieve. Not only do I not allow myself to grieve, but if I’m being honest with myself, most days I just don’t want to. I don’t want to face the fact that he’s gone and I’ll never share another memory with him. I don’t want to face the fact that he spent his life believing that I would be great and make a difference, but won’t be able to see me live that out. I don’t want to face the fact that my children won’t know him.

It’ll be two years next Thursday, March 3rd. In the nearly two years that my father has been dead, I have filled nearly every moment of my time with stuff so I wouldn’t have to think about him.

I think I’m protecting myself from hurt, but I’m really not. I’m hurting whether I like to admit it or not. If I don’t confront my hurt, it’ll eventually come out whether I like it or not.

Like while I’m jamming to Andy Mineo in the car.

Or while I’m pulling shots of espresso and it’s so evidently written on my face that my co-worker and dear friend pulls me aside and asks if I’m okay. Or when I zone out during a lecture at school and the professor assumes he’s said something that really worried me. Or in the hospital room when I obsessively check a patient’s oxygen saturation because I spent the last 48 hours of my father’s life looking at his fluctuate until he passed away.

It’s the elephant in the room. The spirit always remembers, even if the mind tries to forget.

I’m kidding myself by thinking I can just fake it until I make it. I can’t. None of us can. It’s a lie. When we’re not okay, we’re just not okay, and that’s okay.

Because what am I really doing to myself when I refuse to grieve? I’m robbing myself of joy and I’m robbing God of His glory.

When I’m so caught up in not wanting to face never creating new memories with my dad, I rob myself of the joy I shared with him while he was alive. I should be intentionally remembering him and enjoying all those moments. There is healing in that.

When I’m so caught up in thinking about how my dad isn’t around to see me get through nursing school and become the healthcare professional he believed I could be, I rob myself of feeling good and proud about myself. It should be enough to me that my wife is proud and God is proud. It should be enough that my dad would be proud. I can’t be afraid of graduation just because he won’t be there. I can’t just refuse to walk that day. I have to confront this head-on before I let it rob me of all the good that God intended for me to enjoy.

God intended for us to lean on him while we mourn. He promises to be there. Neglecting my journey through grief is robbing myself of His comfort, and robbing Him of the glory that will come through my faith. Jesus says it plainly:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
– Jesus Christ, from His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:3,4)

By avoiding the issue, I’m not giving God an opportunity to comfort me. I’m not claiming my inheritance – the Kingdom of Heaven. Who am I to turn away the Creator? Especially when He intends to do good to me? I’m undermining the healing power of the Gospel. I’m denying others around me and the kingdom of God the testimony of a Christian mourner. I’m like Rachel, who turned away her comforters because she felt as though her loss was inconsolable (Jeremiah 31:15).

But it is not. No loss is inconsolable.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
– John (Revelation 21:4)

In His revelation to John, Jesus offers us complete healing, comfort, and joy in the life to come, despite all the sin we may have let ourselves fall into. He not only forgives, but offers us the most precious gift – Himself for eternity in paradise.

How can I appreciate this amazing grace and gift to come if I don’t acknowledge it when I’m going through something that – for lack of a better word – just plain sucks? I can’t claim a promise if I don’t realize that I need it.

I mentioned in my post entitled 2015 that though I failed to last year, I want to be more intentional about confronting my journey through grief and share my experience with those around me.

This isn’t me asking for attention or sympathy at all.

This is me, laying it all on the table.

Maybe you’ve been through a loss, too. This is me saying to you that you’re not alone. It’s okay not to be okay. We’ll get through this together, and it will be good.

As in all things, there is good in mourning.

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“Lord, there’s nothing you can’t do, / [There’s] nothing in this world too big for you. / So when they say you can’t, / I know you will. / I know you will.” – Andy Mineo