October 20, 2017

Grandma still here – Remembered by pictures, Stop all the clocks! (Photos and Poem)

After the poem and video below, please scroll down through the entire entry to view the photos that depict the beauty of a day I will remember for many future months to come. The photography are my own original pieces. As family members and friends read here, you might want to order these images. Click here.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone

W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

This poem is spoken in the movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), as it often depicts how I feel with grief as times moves forward without my grandma.

Family Is All That Matters! The journey more than the destination…#ONE

Yes, Brogan Lyle is asleep in the water raft with his father, Bryan. Is that not hilarious? I think many in today’s crazy busy world could learn from the peace of a baby’s sleep, without a care in the world, naturally trusting in the arms of his father.

In the last week, on a semester’s break with my teaching job, I took some personal time to enjoy my family, and I admit the break came at the most appropriate right time in a season of weariness. In the midst of constant struggles that produce incessant stress, rest comes handy. I literally made it a point to not push myself to the extreme, with any personal projects I constantly balance with several acts.

I took real time to reexamine life and really ask God, “Am I living in your will? Am I doing your will? Am I pursuing the right things?” The short reprieve proved to rejuvenate the perseverant soul I carry.

As I spent more and more personal time with blood family, the apparent importance of family became all the more visible. I take my family for granted every day, as I just assume they will always be around. As two grandparents battle terminal cancer, nothing could be further from the truth.

God reminded me that the destination of a finish line always appears shiny, but those around us in the journey to the finish really matter most, not the destination itself. If no one celebrates with you at the end of you race, then what’s the point? If all your life you pursued materialistic stuff for fulfillment in a life all alone, that sounds pretty lame to me.

Surround yourself with a community of love, family and friends. When life presents unbearable challenges, lean into the love of those who care about you. There in that spot of vulnerability, you will find fulfillment with the eternal relationships that surround you in every corner, with shoulders to lean and cry on.

Psalm 127:3-5 (MSG)

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents,
with your quivers full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep.

I WILL FIND you on my KNEES – First Day! New Transition!

“All I can is that John and I wanted more than anything to follow God’s will for us and our family. We had a holy fear of acting outside God’s will, so we agreed to pray that He would show us what that was.” – Kelly Rosati in her book, Wait No More (John is her husband).

I started my new job at the Southern Territorial Headquarters today, and I find myself refreshed by other like-minded people who tick like I do, focused on Jesus as believers in a collective group for Kingdom-building mindsets. After orientation, I found a card from someone in my office with the mention that she would be praying for me this week as I transition into this new career. I have long dreamed of a job that I do not beat myself up and over to drag out of bed to get by, simply for a paycheck. I feel awakened and encouraged to do this job and rise as I encourage others with a meaningful purpose for something bigger than myself. As many say, knock on wood, I may have found something in that passion area of public relations where I campaign and market for a cause I believe in. I find it mind-boggling (“Am I really here in Mid-Town Atlanta?”), a little nerve-racking (new job, new city, and knowing no one), and exciting (“Wow, this could potentially become something amazing!). All the thoughts combine mutually for a few hours of lost sleep and doubts creeping into my mind.

The decision to be and move to Atlanta is now made, and I am not looking back! I am a new creation with a new opportunity with individuals that obviously believe in my abilities to lead, create, and build the face of a reputable organization to the southern youth of America. In the midst of hardship and economic uncertainty, this generation could use more Jesus in any capacity. And I am glad to bring that message of hope to anyone through creative communications.

I keep thinking, “How did I get here?” I prayed to God, sometimes loudly stuck in the stagnancy of survival and routine with a Thank-God-Its-Friday job rather than Thank-God-Its-Monday job. With this phrase, I mean I want to be so excited to get back into the office I cannot hold or hide my excitement for what I love doing. I admit that I need to spend more time with God in His Presence, praying in thankfulness, reading the Word, and believing in the requests I make like this new position, PRAYERS ANSWERED!

Another analytic wonder is the blessings shown to me in a new full time opportunity of epic proportions and another part time opportunity possibly coming behind it. What further astounds me is the support and belief of my family. My father and mother have done everything, and I mean EVERYTHING to transition, to believe, to push, to inspire, and to encourage me with this move to a new city with a new career direction. While we have sometimes not always seen each other eye to eye on my own mental adversities, I owe my success with this new adventure to them just as much as I do God. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

I believe when you find God on your knees, God explodes blessings and favor into your life. Now please understand I do not just mean the routine legalistic bedside manner prayer. “God, please do this. Please be with this person. Please help me to sleep well. Please help me to be promoted. Please help me to pass this test even thought I never studied.”…..I mean when you really get down on your knees and say, “Okay, I am not sure where you have me or how you will have me, but here I am. Here are my true passions. Please place me appropriately where you will call me to obey you in line with these passions.” When you seek God with sincerity, He will answer your prayers with that same sincerity.

Like Kari Job says in the following song, I will find you on my knees! When you truly want something in change for God’s Kingdom, find it on your knees. Ask. And like me currently in shock, God will call you by name! I guarantee it! My life serves as living proof.

DO NOT BE A FLAKE! Abide others’ time as your own!

Now I would like to comment that my family recently has supported me more than perhaps ever before. My sister, brother-in-law, mother, and father continually stand by and behind me no matter what the circumstances; however outside of family, many have disappointed me and let me down. Some are not as fortunate as me with such a supportive and caring family. For that I am extremely grateful. Please also realize that I am not picking on one gender over the other. This blog entry pertains to men just as much as it does women.

My request remains easy: DO NOT BE A FLAKE! There are enough people in today’s society that let others down. Specifically with family and friends, I am agitated with those who no longer take their word seriously. They continually cancel plans or provide lame excuses for why they cannot make it to whatever they said they would.

The solution here is also simple: Do not commit to something if you cannot do it! The following verse from the Bible simplifies this idea even further:

 “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 (NIV)

I remain continually confused and frustrated on how many individuals truly struggle with this Biblical principle. I admit at a time early in college I used to overcommit myself. I was afraid to say, “No,” however I quickly realized that overbooking myself led to a miserable existence. Working towards the commitment of relationship requires hard work especially if you are married or have children. Many hide behind their families as excuses for backing out. I cannot tell you how many times someone tells me they need to spend time with a significant other after already committing to do something with me, a group, or others. I hope when I marry my wife, she allows me to live outside of our house with an occasional night on my own or with close guy friends. I think sometimes you should take a stand in a commitment you make. When someone pleads for you to back out on your plans, stick by your brother or sister you already made original plans with.

I challenge you: DO NOT BE A FLAKE! Decide to be a committed friend, or simply do not take on more meaningful relationships. Your unbalance of time exhausts and wastes the time of those who etched out blocks in their own schedule to spend time with you. When someone plans to spend time with you only for you to back out, does that truly honor God?

It further disheartens me when leaders fail to abide and manage their time with appointments and commitments to their followers. I especially see this with spiritual leaders who feel anointed in their higher status the stage brings each Sunday morning. A leader is no more important in the eyes of God than their followers, and it becomes discouraging when leaders see things differently than this perspective. None of us are higher than another.

I really mean to write a blunt honest entry to challenge you in your spiritual walk. The more you disappoint and back out of your commitments, supposed friends lose faith in you, and you lose credibility. I lost friendships because I put forth much more effort than others to stay in contact or spend time with. I got tired of chasing those friends. Are there things that come up sometimes? Sure life happens. But does this excuse every single time you cancel if this is a disease in your life? Eventually it tires others, and before you know it, no one will take your word for what is because you can never keep it.

DO NOT BE A FLAKE! Because if you are a flake, then without honor, a flake you will be in your own failure to keep your word and commitments you make to both friends and family. Let your No’s be No’s and your Yes’s be Yes’s. That sounds easy enough to me!

This video on commitment adds another level to your faith with deep challenges. Fulfill your commitment to friends, family, and God by keeping your word to those most important in your life, your relationships. Give your heart, and give your commitments the follow-though individuals deserve!

Can we make the wrong decision? Probably not in God’s Plan for our lives…

Today in all our prosperity calls for ministry, preachers talk more about the blessings, fulfillment of dreams, and good fortune cookies in pledges for purpose-driven lives. Please understand in my sarcasm I believe individuals should follow the desires of their hearts, but life happens. Things remain hard for most normal people unless born into luxury or the reputation of a successful mother or father who paves the way for a career. Most of us are not so lucky.

Our crashing economy no longer assists the situation because jobs we actually want remain sparse. Our present day political leaders make excuses and bad decisions that hurt the ability to attain a dream job we want to wake up each morning for. It has taken me almost two years after graduating with a reputable Master’s degree to have a choice of pursuing a career of genuine interest. I honestly underestimated how hard life would be after spending over six years pursuing an advanced education. While I initiate the work ethic, many want those dreams for free, handed to them, without putting forth the work ethic or trying their very best to get whatever it is they really want. Life does not work like that. That is like asking God to win the lottery without buying a lottery ticket. Faith requires action to actually ask and then move forward with each step to accomplish whatever it is you seek. The snowball effect takes time. With each focused step forward, the ball eventually gains momentum to roll downhill with a built reputation.

I recently decided to believe again with a few sudden unexpected setbacks. Sometimes you must just do. With no explanations and no excuses, choose to move forward, and once deciding to do so, never look back on the past and what previously hindered those dreams.

Some lecture that you must fulfill God’s specific calling for your life; however our journey brings forth options to pursue many. I do not believe that there is absolutely only one thing God meant for you to do with your life. God provided believers with the freedom of choice to choose our fate. Many of us are destined to change lives on an international frontier, but again most in life walk through without an absolute positive direction in God’s plan for their lives. Sometimes the best decision made involves stepping forward in faith to follow the flow of life. If God provides you with an epiphany, listen and obediently follow your heart, but it is okay if like many normal people you rarely have such divine moments. And I also believe it is okay if you choose to live an ordinary normal life, if content with the quiet choice to provide for a family and glorify God. There is nothing wrong with a decision to enjoy the simple things in life. Some aspire to rise to lead the multitudes for God’s Kingdom. And some choose to follow through with the basics of life with a contentious routine. On many occasions the simple choices and things in life brings about that most fulfillment. And perhaps the realization to enjoy the present moment makes everything else in life worthwhile, deciding to make the most of the cards God dealt.

A Great Night with Great Friends – A Night of Gratefulness. Do you have the blessings of relationship?

Sunset in Redondo Beach, California, May 2012

My personal reflection in the horse eye, another shot also taken in California. May 2012

On Thursday night, the Samford after Sundown program displayed completed photos and assignments of both me and the other students in the program, rewarding those who received the program certificate this semester and past year. You could consider it the graduation of the program. The photographs above were shown on display at the review in representation of my work.   

I found the experience joyful because my father and two very close friends, Taylor Brandum and Jude Ross, showed up to support me. Yes, I enjoyed the creativity expressed in many excellent works shown by all the beginner, intermediate, and expert photographers, but my visible support system uplifted me with feelings of thankfulness. Jude attended The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. He experiences and expresses gifts of the Holy Spirit unlike any person I have ever met. His wisdom, friendship, and general humorous personality brings joy to all those around him. Taylor is another character in his own world. He reminds me of Tigger from the popular cartoon, Winnie the Pooh. His energy never diminishes, and he smiles without hesitation. I am surprised his smiles have not stuck in a permanent position like The Joker the Batman cartoons, comic books, and movies. Jude and Taylor are just those types of guys that everyone wants to surround themselves with. Their presence spreads good feelings to those they are around because of their positive, fun outlooks on life.

When I experienced some down times in life about two years ago, I will never forget when Taylor took me on our ride through the Miracle Mile, cruising the Summit Shopping Mall Boulevard to check out girls, something teenagers do, not thirty year old men. If unfamiliar with Birmingham, you may not realize the specific store locations here, but you will soon laugh from the imagery of the adventure depicted. When you make a round trip from the Barnes and Noble and then back to the Toys-R-Us along the side walk of the outdoor shopping mall, essentially one lap, it equals approximately one mile. We drove at about three-five miles per hour, driving people crazy behind us because of the slow speed, sometimes causing them to yell, cuss, and beat on their steering wheel. Of course, it was hilarious to both of us! Girls sitting at the ZOE’s restaurant laughed each time we drove by in our admiration for their physical beauty, eventually causing us to stop the car, park, and meet them with their inquiry: “What exactly are you doing?” On another instance, Taylor even stepped out of the car to speak with one girl about her choice of jeans from his favorite store on the Miracle Mile. Apparently, they bought, liked, and wore the same jeans. We stepped into the Coconut’s Music Store where Taylor proceeded to blow through a plastic horn like a large trumpet in a parade. The sound rang through the store louder than the music on the speakers in this actual music store. Of course, I almost feel over onto the ground in laughter. This is just the kind of guy Taylor is without an outgoing personality and tall, blonde-haired physique. For reasons that still baffle me, girls flock to his attention, and I mean beautiful girls! Maybe it is just his love for the Lord and genuine ability to smile all the time no matter what the circumstances.

These are the kind of friends that make life worth the walk of fellowship with others in Christ’s name. We went out to eat at Okinawa Sushi and Japanese Grill on Lakeshore Parkway near Samford University (where the photography review occurred). While eating, Jude could not stop sneezing. A cute blonde girl (named Nicole) drinking wine and eating dinner with her mother kept asking Jude if he was okay. I believe she flirted with all of us dressed up in our white shirts, black pants, and dress shoes. I mean how often do you come across three eligible bachelors and studs. While not intending to, we looked like three white men in black with a new movie that would leap over the Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones saga. Men in Black 4 (MIB4)….I kind of rather like the sound of that! We talked about our latest crushes and the frustrations that often come with such pursuits of the female gender and college football…..you know the usual guy talk over dinner.

These are two of the most positive guys I know in their relationships and walks with the Lord. I open up and get real with these guys. While I tend to be overly serious at times, they goof off the entire time, realizing the true joy God brings into our lives. These are the type of friends worth pursuing in life, those who guide and advise with future colossal decisions, those who uplift you when you are down, and those who you just want to be around because of the joy in their hearts. I could not and will not meet better friends than this. I am grateful to know these two guys and so glad they came out to support me on the night of my photography review at Samford University.

At the end of dinner, we briefly prayed out in the parking lot over some of the challenges and hopes we talked about over dinner. To pray with such believers illustrates the connection we have through Christ. I hope as the reader you are able to connect with such men of faith. I am glad, fortunate, and blessed to know both Taylor and Jude who both believed in me at times when I did not even believe in myself.

Intentional Living through Christ with Intentional Decisions and Communication

“Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” Psalm 37:4-5 (KJV)

I mentioned on this previous blog entry my new family member through future marriage, Joe Friday. I guess in reality I will call him my cousin-in-law. In truth I always felt like he was family. Joe represents honor in its formidable truest fruit of the Spirit. Psalm 37:4-5 depicts his walk with the Lord almost perfectly. In pursuit of what he believed to be true, he never wavered and thus eventually received the desires of his heart.

He persistently through challenges and in some ways against the odds accomplished a feat that I might have given up on at this point in my life. I perhaps have fallen more than most when it comes to my own love life. I have epic saga stories of one written dramatic performance after the other. The love life narratives provide for an interesting text in my first major book expected to release some time in the next two years. While the stories will make you laugh, they make me cry.

I do not doubt the drive in my life to accomplish; however I do doubt society where Christianity lives in the shadow of selfishness and often corrupt politics to “serve the masses,” through the sacrifice of a few. For two years, I have written, edited, and polished a strong three hundred page manuscript with a full time job while also trying to start a business, not to mention an online presence and constant content generation for this blog. And yet I still have not given up on the dream to become a well-known, published author. I probably will never stop writing. I have come to enjoy the creation of words just that much. I am also dedicated to losing weight as I train for two half-marathons and two full marathons. I consider myself driven in many ways and push myself about hard as I am able in so many ways. The pursuit becomes exhausting. Is the pursuit of a significant other supposed to be so hard?

A while I ago I spoke late into the night with a friend where I feel that I failed to communicate on every level, and I have a Master’s Degree in Communication. I am not sure I will ever claim to understand the complexities of gender communication. I wish I could have had Deborah Tanner’s book, That Is Not What I Meant, in my lap whiling talking to this particular female. It was and is clear in my mind this just may not work out with my most recent attempt to pursue and woo.

Ideally I hope that the pair of two people should just click. Joe Friday and Matteye Monday just clicked even when others tried to separate these star crossed lovers. They stayed the course and prevailed to the dream of a marriage union through engagement.

I believe and even witnessed that Joe made an intentional decision to follow his faith for six years. In my finite mind, that sounds like a really long time. No one else knew his course but him. In fact, many probably encouraged and even perhaps tried to persuade him to give up. Now following your heart when everything else around you suggests to do otherwise (including supposed wise counsel), that is intentional living with an intentional decision. “This is what I am going to do because I know this is what I am supposed to do.” Now that is unwavering faith with an intentional decision! While I pursue such ideals with my own personal direction and ambitions, I struggle to do so with a girl. In fact, nice guys often get stuck in the “give-me-a-chance” syndrome. Since when did good Christian guys need to use consent or permission to spend time with a female? Are men given the ability to lead anymore? Or do girls sit back choosing and selecting the cream of the crop while guys pursue and put it all out there? These questions boggle my mind as Southern Culture perverts the fun of dating and getting to know someone. As mentioned before in Twitter feeds and blog entries, it all has to be so serious all the time. All I want to do is watch lions on a field, or in a better case Auburn Tigers at a football game with someone to experience the absolute most imaginable fun possible.

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ ” Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)

Joe certainly lived this verse in its essence in the promise God makes. I would like to think I am listening to hear “the way” wherever that might be with the Lord’s lead.

I do not think Matteye ever needed convincing of Joe’s character. She just knew. I again hope and believe that is how it will work with whoever you or I belong to in a relationship or a marriage. And hopefully even further no one will need convincing. Love or like (loving or liking someone) should NOT be a sought-after bargaining chip where once you do a certain something (buying flowers, writing sincere apology letters, or speaking over the phone for extended periods of time) everything in the world is well again. If someone needs further convincing on why they should date you or whoever, perhaps they miss the God-given chance to something special with someone who loves the Lord with all their heart. There is certainly a getting-to-know you stage, but there is also a chance-to-dance stage. While a good fight for a good gal can bring forth great fruit, make sure your heart remains intact if you make the same decision Joe made for the duration of six years. He knew in his heart this was right. And apparently Matteye did too. If the other person lacks that foresight, then perhaps like me in the past, you are both talking with and pursuing the wrong person. Find another potential significant other who is just as intrigued for and by you as you are for them. God’s promises are evident and clear in His Holy Word:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” 1 John 5:14-15 (NIV)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 (NIV)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

If you have thoughts on this on this entry, I am open to feedback and criticism. There is room for comments on what you think, and I am eager to see just who is reading this entry and why.

The following questions remain unanswered on the readers’ part. What do you think about the following?

1.) Is the pursuit of a significant other supposed to be so hard?

2.) Since when did good Christian guys need to use consent or permission to spend time with a female?

3.) Are men given the ability to lead anymore?

4.) Or do girls sit back choosing and selecting the cream of the crop while guys pursue and put it all out there?

30 – Glad to Be Alive!

I am interrupting our growth track series simply to highlight my some thoughts on turning thirty years old which I believe warrants the comment of wise remarks and thoughts.

Someone of obvious intelligence asked me what it felt like to be thirty years of age while out with some friends on my birthday – I simply mentioned that it felt like turning twenty-nine years old. Tinker Bell did not appear to me with fairy dust to lift my spirits to the level of crowing with Peter Pan in Never, Never Land.

I went to a funeral this morning for a friend’s father who expectedly passed after fighting a long battle with cancer. After some poor decisions with smoking among other indulgences, I believe life caught up with him. Death reminds me to simply remain glad to live each extra day we plant our feet on the floor each morning. There is no guarantee that each day will pass with another day after it.

Thirty for me simply represents a day to remember true priorities. More meaningful than any New Year’s celebration the age of 30 represents a day to reflect where God will have me in the next decade. Of course, if you know me, I must trump the last decade of fun and lessons with perhaps another Master’s degree, learning a fourth language, practicing martial arts, attaining a book contract, starting a photography business, and meeting that special someone, just to name a few of what I plan to make a decade full of growth. I am a goals-oriented type of individual and recently struggled with the idea of stagnancy where I sit still most of the day really not pushing to learn new skills – it really drives me crazy! But then with simply reminders like a thirtieth birthday, I am reminded to remember the benefits of a decent paycheck over simply not having.

A recent mentor boosted my confidence to the level where I will make this decade a foundation unshakeable for the future to shape, shift, and change lives with a focus on development to overcome and not give up. Recently I sought more opportunities than I care to remember day in and day out often only left with the bewilderment of why not chosen as the top choice, thus staring into the sky with the question of “Why?” Sometimes I wonder why organizations ask individuals to interview if only to turn them down in the end. The routine quickly becomes an agonizing and annoying one.

While my twenties brought many good and joyful memories, I also experienced many dark times as well. It is really not hard to believe that the next ten years if given the time to live will be much better than the last decade. The foundation set in the early years of my thirties no longer only concerns me. It is about setting a start with pillars for the future of a family.

To remark on the person’s question at the beginning of this entry, thirty is just another day and another number. I am extremely grateful for all who sent me cards, happy wishes over Facebook, and visited with five days of memorable festivities to simply acknowledge the birthday. Sometimes just a simple thought means more to me than receiving a Benjamin dollar bill.

I am geared for the next ten years. It is time to refocus. It is time to stay the course. It is time to achieve dreams. And in some ways, it is time to grow up as man in Christ to embrace adversity, push forward, overcome the word of naysayers, and accomplish what many said I never could. Rise, James Cartee, Rise! Thirty and beyond, I am the man when I call on the Name that whispers my own. With a God who loves and embraces his chosen Sons, I cannot and will not fail with whatever lies ahead.