Sin Left A Crimson Stain; He Washed It White As [Diamond Pearl]

My dad always told me not to forget to wash my car or change the oil. One of the very last memories I have of him involved him teaching my brother and I how to change the oil in a car by ourselves. He had stage IV cancer, was on oxygen, and yet, during a cold winter day it was important enough to him to get outside and walk us through it. Ever since, I make sure I get the oil changed every 3-6k miles in my car and my wife’s truck.

Washing my car, though, is another story. No matter how much he told me to keep my car looking nice, I tend to keep it on the back-burner. If you saw my car lately, you probably wouldn’t have described it as Diamond Pearl. You’d think of it as more of a… Tree-Sap-And-Bird-Poo Grey. Embarrassing, really. I went to my first hospital clinical rotation today, and I don’t know if I was more anxious about seeing patients for the first time or the possibility of someone wanting to carpool with me.

So, I made it a priority to wash it today, and I was amazed at how much junk had built up and how harder it was to wash it all off compared to if it had been just washed a week or even a month ago (instead of only-the-LORD-knows-how-long ago).

But, it got me thinking.

Sometimes, I treat my faith the same way I treat my car. I go days or even a week without really sitting down with the Father. Junk builds up – some of it without me even knowing. It gets harder and harder to face Him because I’ve gotten out of the routine of it. I start to realize I’ve slipped a little off the path. When I finally pour my heart out to Him and ask Him to forgive me and guard my heart against the Enemy, I feel so much relief and peace. A burden lifts off my shoulders and Jesus washes my junk away.

Not all routine is legalism. My faith could use some routine. Just like how washing my car regularly prevents me from having to scrub so hard to get the junk off, maybe if I came to Him regularly, my junk wouldn’t build up so much and it wouldn’t get harder to get over myself and face God with my imperfections. We all need Him daily. We have to fill up on the Spirit if we’re to pour His love out to others and guard ourselves against the Enemy.

Praise be to God, though, that even when I fall… even when I fail to seek Him daily, He still is faithful to forgive me. Jesus said on the cross that “it is finished,” and he meant it (see John 19:30). How amazing is that grace? I am so undeserving.

Sin left a crimson stain.
He washed it white.

Thank you Jesus, for Your amazing grace.

Psalm 51:10-12

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:10-12

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See No Beard; Hear No Beard; Speak No Beard (Or, an Ode to My Beard [Or, This Goes Against Everything My Dad Taught Me])

I acquired facial hair at a fairly young age. My first bits of fuzz were bestowed upon me during elementary school. Most people don’t believe me, but it is true. The earliest photo I can find on my computer is from my 5th grade year, but it dates farther back than that:

Sibs

I’m the chubby one on the left. The dark spot on my chin is, in fact, hair. It was definitely irregularly shaped and the subject of much teasing in school, but was a part of me none-the-less. Some said it looked kinda like the shape of Florida, and I absolutely agree.

No matter how weird it may have looked (especially compared to all my baby-faced male peers), my dad always encouraged me to keep it. He said I should be proud of it, because it meant I was becoming a man. What a word for a father to call his son, let me tell you! Ten little redneck boys in school could have told me it was funny-looking, but my dad called me a man for it. That’s all that mattered to me! So I never completely shaved it.

It wasn’t until high school that the rest of the beard caught up with my little soul patch, and the era of the beard truly began. No matter where my life took me, my beard followed.

emo beard

When I went through some awkward emo phase in high school, my beard was there for me.

high school graduation beard

When I graduated high school, so did my goatee.

first picture with Kait

When I snapped my first selfie with Kaitlin (before we were even dating (and before selfies were even cool)), my beard was my perfect wing man.

medical missions beard

In the spring of 2010, while serving in Mexico on my first medical mission trip, my beard and I heard the LORD call me to serve in healthcare.

engagement beard

When I was nervous about meeting with Kaitlin’s parents and pulling off a successful proposal, my beard saw me through it all.

Pi Kappa Phi beard

When some friends and I decided to start a new fraternity on campus, my beard told me to go for it. So I did. Pi Kappa Phi till I die, yo.

college graduation beard

After what seemed like an eternity of studying, all-nighters, and writing papers, I finally became a college graduate. A bearded college graduate.

wedding beard

Not too long after that, my beard and I walked the aisle with this gorgeous woman.

Nicaraguan missionary beard

My beard traveled with me when Kaitlin and I went on our first international mission trip together, where we made many new friends.

middle school teacher beard

On my first day of teaching middle school, my beard helped me make an authoritative first impression on the students.

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As is customary in the Middle East, my beard helped me as I mourned the death of my father. I didn’t trim it for nearly half a year (and only because I got tired of wearing beard-nets at the Great Harvest). It got pretty crazy, to say the least.

In all things, my beard has been a constant in my life that I can count on.

Until now.

As a part of my clinical attire at Shorter’s nursing program, I am now required to be clean shaven for the first time in ages. It won’t be easy, but I will make it through. Growing and maintaining a beard is arguably one of the most spiritual and masculine experiences a male can embark on, and I look forward to picking up where I leave off.

So, here’s to you, beard. This is not a “goodbye”. It’s a “grow you later”.

see no beard, hear no beard, speak no beard

On the plus side, I got to scratch “monkey tail beard” off my bucket list.

Amazing, Undeserved Grace. [Things My Dad Taught Me: Part 2]

When I was a boy, I had trouble keeping up with things (that hasn’t changed much, but we’ll leave that for another day). A particularly bad habit of mine was leaving my school books and/or homework at home. This usually meant I would have to call my dad and ask him if he could bring it to me. Fast forward a few decades, and I can understand how this could get really old for him, really fast. And it did.

This one particular day in elementary school, I realized that I had left my homework at home with my book. My heart started pounding as I thought about what my dad was going to say. I’m pretty sure the previous time he said something like:

“This better be the LAST time this happens, Allosh1!”

Whatever was coming, I definitely dreaded it (though I deserved it). We didn’t get grounded growing up. I didn’t know what that even meant until some kid in middle school told me. We got punished the old-fashioned way. You know, like with a belt (or whatever my dad could find, or his bare hands). My dad didn’t mess around. He set us straight. The right way.

So I put off making a phone call, thinking “Maybe she will forget to ask for the homework today.” Which actually did happen sometimes. And I loved it. Some kids hated it and would even remind the teacher if it got close to the end of the class. Every class had one of those kids. No offense if you were like that. I understand now. College Zack puts a lot of work into papers and such and feels like he wasted time if its not taken up. I get it now. But elementary Zack was different. To elementary Zack, a teacher forgetting to collect homework that was left at home was amazing grace, for sure.

It wasn’t very long at all into the school day, though, that I was called to the office. Contrary to how I’ve made my past self seem, this was not a common occurrence. Having to tell my dad that I got in trouble and I left my homework at home was just too much. I was about to die. For real.

When I got there, though, this was waiting for me:

IMG_6821 IMG_6822

Amazing, undeserved grace from my father, in the form of a home-made card and the stuff I forgot. I was expecting (and deserving of) him to be upset and to give me consequences, but instead he chose to give me grace. He saw that I had left my books and homework at home, and brought it to school before I could even call him about it.

Nearly twenty years later, coming across this still gives me that feeling of relief and love for my dad.

But it also makes me ask myself: Do I show grace to people when they would least expect it? When people are anticipating that I’ll blow up at them or judge them, do I live up to their expectations or surprise them with grace and understanding?

The grace poured out for me (and you, and you, and you) is so amazing because it is so undeserved. I’m constantly humbled by how even when I knowingly disobey God’s perfect commandments, when I lay it down at God’s feet, Jesus’ response will always be:

“I do not condemn you. Go now and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

Grace that amazing is meant to be shared. How can I say to Jesus that I’m thankful for His grace if I don’t treat others with that same grace, understanding, and love? The sad reality of the American church is that too many groups of people expect to be judged and/or mistreated by Christians. Lately, it’s been my conviction to make sure I don’t contribute to that.

Christ saved me from God’s wrath. No one should be afraid of mine2.

1 Allosh is the nickname often given to kids whose name is Ali. It is what my dad usually called me, even as a young adult.
2 Unless they cut me off.3
3 Jk. I’m working on it. But seriously, don’t.

Hold me, LORD! [Things My Father Taught Me: Part 1]

I have a confession to make.

While there are so many shows that I openly and proudly express my appreciation for (Monk, White Collar, The Andy Griffith Show), there are also those that I hesitate to admit to liking. Guilty pleasures, to put a dramatic label on it. We all have them, right?
When I saw the pilot episode for Once Upon a Time, my first impression went something like:

I think this may be the most ridiculous show I have ever seen; I guess I’ll just have to endure this for the sake of spending some quality time with my incredible wife.

None-the-less, I gave it a shot. A few episodes in, and the unimaginable happened: I became hooked.

I know you’re judging me right now. It’s a great show, I swear. You just don’t even know. And that’s okay.

Anyway. So in one of the episodes, a young boy named Henry is dealing with some pretty strong emotions surrounding his father’s death. The character he is confiding in tells him this:

“The best way to show your love for those who are gone is to tell their stories.”

I shouldn’t need a quote from some show to motivate me to tell stories about my awesome dad, but it sure did the job. I’ll start with one of his last, since it is still so fresh on my mind. Continue reading