November 21, 2017

ACTION after THANKSGIVING – What do you do after this holiday of thanks that matters?

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Every year I hear hundreds, if not thousands, of people proclaim their most precious blessings to be grateful for at the Thanksgiving holidays. While I do not often doubt the given word of those who mention their personal thanks, the vocalization of these words become so much more powerful when followed by actions. In other words, it might be like meeting a person of quiet confidence and character. That specific individual does not need to speak of his confidence; rather, humbly, others notice it in his actions without his own urgency to remind everyone through spoken words. While professing thanks, words become magnified by action. It is often not just what we say that impacts people. It is what we do.

Naturally we give thanks to God for all we undeservedly have. Then after spoken those announcements of given thanks, we also remember to act with those convictions in our commitments. We recollect when our lives were not so easy and that, with our privileges, we serve empowered to assist those now is the shoes of a valley-depressed-like experience. We change lives through action now that our own perspective is changed. We show what a grateful and joyful attitude realistically means.

Like our personal beliefs and statements to vocally affirm our beliefs, it is not just enough to give thanks in an everyday prayer and conversational small talk. After Thanksgiving, as many influential leaders do, we must take action to sincerely illustrate how appreciative we truly are. That vivid representation of gratefulness then creates a compelling story to tell. Indebtedness is not just confessed by word of mouth. It is lived in our everyday routines and responsibilities.

Colossians 3:17, The Message (MSG)

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

The Marvel of a Risen Child – We remember Easter through the eyes of little ones!

Children Quote

A few years back I was asked to speak at a southern church on resurrection life experiences, with the message that we all fall, in adverse times, and eventually resurrect again as better people.

As I remember and look back on the last six months on my own Texas adventures, this message of my own resurrection story stung true with me today, in remembrance. I spoke with my father over the phone for our usual brief Easter talk, and he constantly reminded me of the blessings before me in this new chapter of my life. Yes, with gentle reminders, I can witness that the fortunes, evident in my life, are expansive.

Today I constantly seemed to be reminded of my nephew, Ayden. He holds a special place in my heart as an Easter miracle. Family members and close friends celebrated his fourth birthday this weekend (inevitably and ironically also the Easter holiday). Just three years ago, we constantly remained steadfast in prayer because my family and I never knew just how long Ayden would reside here on Earth.

Ayden was born with a rare condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome where “the left side of the heart can’t effectively pump blood to the body, so the right side of the heart must pump blood both to the lungs and to the rest of the body” (Mayo Clinic Website). You can read more about Ayden’s story on my sister’s blog.

Ayden’s constantly smiles, giggles, and laughs to remind us that resurrection occurs to all of us, children and adults. We wake up, and we rise each new morning. Two years ago when learning to further his developing speech skills, Ayden practiced his nightly routine with one of my favorite videos here, to tuck his friend into bed. “Night, Night.”

While I possess my own revival story to tell, something about children and their own survival stories fascinate and inspire most individuals of any culture and lifestyle. We sometimes only mention resurrection on the morning of Easter with church services all over the country, each usually with a brunch and Easter egg hunt to follow.

Your resurrection experience need not wait until Easter of next year. Find peace on your knees today. Ask a loved one to remind you of all that is good in your life.

A dear friend of my family says this continued thought best on her own personal Facebook post today –

“All of my life Easter has been a purely celebratory day- always feeling happiness that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection I’m reconciled to God. Yet today as I worshiped with my church family I couldn’t quite summon the pure joy I was used to experiencing on this day. My heart is no longer innocent to the reality of grief, and the seeming finality of death. But Death is NOT final and I have a new reason to celebrate- and this new reason both humbles me and causes my knees to bend at the enormity of His mercies. I’m a new kind of grateful today. Grateful that He hears our hearts cry and JUBILANT that our Savior became the Lamb slain for all of us. HE IS RISEN!”

Even when Jesus wanted all to conclude on his walk to the cross, I believe Christ persisted up to the hill of his death.  He believed in a greater risen purpose.

This video, at the bottom of the blog entry, illustrates the impact of Christ since his arrival on Earth. If you live today in this present moment, reading this very blog entry, resurrect into your given vision of life. You live for a reason, because you wake up each morning, breathing. Pursue something greater than what you could accomplish on your own.

Embrace Easter. Embrace the challenge before you. If you forget the good in front of you, then remember the miracle of a child, perhaps with a survival of the fittest mentality. For me, this Easter, it appears that Ayden has been my constant reminder….

That often the best things in life come after the greatest tribulations, one resurrection at a time.

My Best Christmas Gift This Year – A New Home in Grace Midtown, Atlanta, Georgia – Video Imagery!

12 It is not an enemy who taunts me—
I could bear that.
It is not my foes who so arrogantly insult me—
I could have hidden from them.
13 Instead, it is you—my equal,
my companion and close friend.
14 What good fellowship we once enjoyed
as we walked together to the house of God.
Psalm 55:12-14 (NLT)

You know – coming to a new place and town can always be somewhat daunting for those taking the pilgrimage for new opportunities. I have backpacked around the world through Europe, South America, and the continental United States. However the move to Atlanta felt like a move to China for me. I stressed about it in both unusual and unique ways as I was about to experience a test unlike ever faced before; however that is not the subject of this blog and journal entry, even though adversity has been withstood.

In the last two months, I radically experienced two different spectrums of faith: religious churches versus real churches. When I mention a religious church, I mean a legalistic body that follows protocol, rank of title, and certain constitutional procedures and policies. We live Christ in the confines of these guiding principles, placing Jesus in the realm of a box or church structure.

On the flip side, I experienced a real church with real people in the relationships evident at Grace Midtown Church, the home I will inevitably join if I am granted my wish and blessing to make Atlanta my permanent residence for a few many years. Grace is not solely defined by a box of rules. This body of God is defined by the teaching of a real and live Jesus Christ.

Probably more than ever before, through the internet, face-to-face interaction, and phone calls, I have felt more called (literally and spiritually) to this church for growth in addition to security and comfort in an unfamiliar place with recent troublesome and turbulent circumstances. The following video gives a slight feel for how this church rises up to higher heights, much like Birmingham Church of the Highlands, another purpose-driven real community.

I took my home church, Church of the Highlands, extremely for granted when I firsthand experienced a really bad religious institution here in Atlanta upon first moving here. While some might think it wrong to blog about any such church, it became increasingly apparent between stagnant structure of so-called faith versus a life-breathing organization that brings fresh air to our lungs in relationship, small fellowship, and Big Time plays for heaven size purposes. When I escaped the perils of that lost freedom of boredom and routine, I found Grace Midtown House Churches through the referrals of friends in Auburn, Birmingham, and an unusual phone conversation with a rather special college junior obsessed with Arabic culture and building the firm foundation of house churches within Grace Midtown.

And so as you can see in the previous video, I found a home of real people with real worship and real intentions to ask me about me and invite me to activities without my lead, a very unusual social approach. In other words, I am used to introducing myself and meeting others. It was nice to have others do that in my direction, in my favor, and in pursuit of joint relationship with Christ. More people prayed over me at Grace Midtown in six weeks than a year anywhere else I have ever been. Now that is a Christmas present of fellowship worth blogging about! Have your way with me here, Lord! Have your way with me!

Grace Midtown, I owe you an extreme multitude of many thanks and appreciation. While I am not sure where God will place me in 2013, I am so firmly glad and grateful for the meaning you restored into new life relationships, strengthening my faith for a firm presence of mind to rise next year as a new creation. I am ready and willing to be a part of your family once my destination is set, delivered, and whispered into existence. Thank you for the best Christmas present I received this year – your body of believers!

If you, as a reader of my blog, find a faith community like this, you will truly never be the same as these videos illustrate including this past Christmas service at the Gwinnett County Civic Center and Arena. I challenge you this Christmas and this New Year in 2013 to find something that will never make you feel the same again as you live and pursue Christ in the present in real community. Find a body of believers to celebrate holidays like this!

How do we give thanks in the midst of trials? We do The Jesus-Inspired Gratitude Dance!

Isn’t this dance hysterical? It represents all cultures dancing joyously for gratitude because one traveler visited the world to make a statement with this movement of thanks to all nations through a dance. Dancing makes me happy. If down, give it a try. Whether in a group or alone, dance until a smile comes across your face. Play this video, and give it a go!

I recently moved to a new city where a new full time job and another part time job awaited me. The two jobs line up perfectly so that one employment does not conflict with the other. Moving, picking up my life, and leaving my family was a big deal to me. Now while my relocation to Atlanta, Georgia seems trivial to what some experience in the Gratitude Dance video, some of those women, men, and children stricken by poverty that most Americans can and never will be able to conceive in their own minds….possibly with no food, no shelter, minimal clothing, and maybe even without the ability to choose their own elected leaders. Yet they dance with joy. They dance maybe just for the sake of dancing. These individuals strive to be on a camera dancing for joy with all the excitement to make this YouTube video a very special one for me and maybe others who watch it.

When you follow God in His Calling for your life obediently, it becomes inevitable that you will experience trials in the wake of your steps for faith-driven decisions, but the rewards become numerous in the obedience of moving forward once through the tunnel. I struggled about the first month I was in Atlanta, nervous and losing sleep with wonderment on whether I genuinely made the right decision to leave everything I grew comfortable with in the last two years, located in Birmingham, Alabama. One night at a Georgia Tech Bible study, students from Grace Midtown Church prayed over me with fervent passion, and since then, the ice, stress, and pressure melted off my shoulders onto the floor. The blessings of prayers even in the slightest of tribulations bring God’s reality to relax with felt peace to reality. I am still bewildered how obedience in showing up to a Bible study where I knew no one led to peace unlike anything I experienced in a long time.

So in the midst of very minor doubts and trials, I claimed in faith two jobs I wanted. I met some very special friends recently, including but certainly not limited to a wedding I photographed. I found an amazing place to live in the middle of midtown Atlanta that is surrounded by everything a young person wants to do. I am only a ten minute drive to work in good traffic and at the most twenty-five minutes in bad traffic. I work with great people. I got a cheap membership to a gym and then have access to two others randomly free to me. I continue to meet really cool people who love Jesus through Grace Midtown Church. These are only a few of the blessings that come to mind with what at first felt like a trial but appears to be launching a career of growth and stepping stones to bigger and better things for now and in the future.

It has always been difficult for me as an individual to praise and thank God in the midst of trials or what I consider negative circumstances. My natural inclination is to complain and seek better opportunities elsewhere rather than counting my blessings in the present. My family and friend support system often extend themselves beyond the call of duty for my happiness, and I take those efforts for granted almost every day. But today, this Thanksgiving and this coming year in 2013, I am stepping up to bring change in my life where it is necessary to better benefit those around me and myself in relationship to Christ.

Thanksgiving in trials becomes especially hard when obeying the Lord in His call to move forward in specific areas of our lives, but if we can get through that initial testing period, then the rewards will come. Look at my life as an example of God’s Grace and Testimony! Stay the course!

In reading the Bible verses related to this subject, we shall rejoice in trials because we still have Jesus. No matter what we live through or experience, Jesus is still ours in relationship, and that ultimately reminds us to give thanks in the midst of trials of adversity. I especially love the following verse with regards to this truth:

Psalm 62:6 (AMP)
“He only is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be moved.”

As creatures of God, we are unmovable by every imaginable force in this world. It is time for each of to rise, step up, and live under the shoulders of God’s Grace! Happy Thanksgiving to my readers!

I encourage you to take part in the Gratitude Dance at the beginning of this blog entry and to watch these other videos that bring happy thoughts to mind when we realize just how blessed we are.

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.

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.