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.

IMG_6889

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.

Advertisements

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

5 Things God Taught Me in Nicaragua

As many of you probably know, Kaitlin and I returned to Nicaragua this past July to minister to and serve the people of El Bongo and Los Cedros. It was only our second time visiting, but it already felt so familiar and home-y upon arrival. God showed up in brilliant ways, and I cannot wait to share some pieces of that with you all. One thing I have discovered about blogs on the Internets in the last few years is an intense fascination with lists. I’m not sure if it is a good idea or not to contribute, but here goes: five things I learned from God in Nicaragua.

Continue reading

10 Things in 2013 to Thank God For

Last year proved to be full of trials for Kaitlin and I; but too often we dwell on what went wrong and not on what went right. The list of reasons to praise God in 2013 goes far beyond ten items, but it’s a good start (though it is not in any particular order, as always):

10. We have an amazing, loving church to lean on and grow with.
West Rome Baptist Church has become for us the family that every church needs to be, especially within our Growth Group (our fancy word for Sunday School Class). All we feel from the moment we enter the doors is love, and the friendships we have gained are true blessings. Whether we need to be sharpened and reminded of God’s truth or simply need to let it all out in the open and be completely transparent and honest, God has used our church and church family to strengthen our faith and help us feel His love. When I broke my leg in the accident and was out of work for over two months, our Growth Group all pitched in to help us, cooking us meals and even raising money to help pay hospital bills (they didn’t hold back any love either, they raised over $2000).
9. Monk (Also, Netflix (until they stopped streaming Monk (which was too soon, so not Netflix, actually))), Ducks, Reba, and George Lopez.

These guys kept me company for months while I was bedridden and bored out of my mind. I probably would have lost that mind I was bored out of, if not for their help. I’m thankful for clean, funny shows. Why is it so hard these days to find them?
8. Our God, the Provider
I cannot tell you how many times I looked at our bank account in shock because the numbers just didn’t add up. In our favor. The only explanation was that God was providing as He promised. He was not letting us go down like that. There is no other way I could have been without work for 3 months, up to our knees in debt to hospitals, and still be able to afford to care for ourselves. God was in control and provided all our needs, putting money in the account that literally could not have been there, helping our Sunday School class raise over $2000 to help pay costs, etc. Our God was true to His promises to us, though we were undeserving. To say I am thankful is an extreme understatement, for sure.
7. Toyota (because nothing beats Toyota (besides maybe BMW)
We came into 2013 without a car in our name. Both of our vehicles were totaled during the previous month, so we were either using rentals or borrowing from family. In February, we found a Toyota Avalon XLS at an unbelievably great price from the original owners, who took great care of it. In the fall we found a Toyota Tundra Limited (Access Cab), which is also in great shape and an incredible deal. It sounds weird and I hesitate to say that material things can be associated with God’s glory, but I do know this: God knew a need we had and was faithful to provide that need for us through these two awesome Toyota’s.
6. Creation (and our dear park ranger friends who make enjoying State Parks a reality)
 

 

Most of our bestest dates happen while camping. Being totally immersed in God’s creation never fails to bring us a sense of tranquility and awe. God created this Earth and the life upon it and called it good! Why do we spend so much of our life inside buildings and in cities, completely shut off from the beauty in nature? As soon as my leg was healed from my wreck, we took as many opportunities as we could afford to go camping. Black Rock Mountain has been our favorite so far. If you’ve never been, go!
5. Weekends (and jobs that don’t require us to work on the weekends)
I may have to set my alarm for 3:50am every morning, and it isn’t always easy being responsible for teaching Spanish to every child at school, but it only makes the weekends more glorious and special to us. Being able to leave work Friday and know we will have a few days to rest is a blessing that not everyone is able to enjoy, and I am very grateful for that.
4. The love of our families
I thank God for families we can depend on and lean on in times of need. I also thank God that we both have parents who love each other and everyone around them. It’s hard to find marriages that last as long as our parents’ have, and it is a great blessing to have such loving examples to follow. 
3. Owl City
Who can listen to Owl City and not feel good inside? If you find them, tell them to call me. I don’t believe them.
2. The Mustard Seed Mission and our many missionary friends in Nicaragua

 

Not only did Kaitlin and I have the amazing opportunity to serve Christ in Nicaragua, but we did so in the company of a God-centered host family that housed us, cared for us, and prayed for us. I am so thankful for that experience and for the opportunity to return! Visit SendZackandKaitlin.com for more information on our next missionary journey and how you can help us get there!
1. Jesus
Jesus dies for my sins and saves me every single day. Being saved isn’t a one time event, it’s a sanctification process and I’m thankful for every moment of it. I’m thankful for being able to constantly walk in His grace, covered by His blood. I’m thankful He calls me friend and that God calls me son. I’m thankful that no matter what, I have His Spirit in me so that I can do great things through Him and never be far from His guidance or comfort. 2013 (and every year before and every after) was made possible by Jesus.