June 26, 2017

Legendary Grandparents – Heroes We Always Hope to Be (Poppi, Guy Allison)

The photograph below was taken at Poppi’s last Christmas this past year in 2013 with my sister, Allison. I thought the image depicted the warmth of a unforgettable hug.

10498558_316592091855208_1718562026525327068_o

To honor my grandfather in addition to his previous dedication blog post, I also wanted to add this poem. I think the words for the piece speak for all us who have lost a loved one.

Poppi: The Moments Missed

I stare into open space before me in the Corpus Christi sunset skies.
Oh my, I think to myself, how quickly all time flies.
Then in the moment of unsettledness, I remember the warmth
And the gentleness expressed in your last words spoken by your side.

I think of the moments with you missed.
I think of my wedding day, the girl of mine, you never met
The love expressed through my forever wife kissed.

Two more graduations with degrees I continue to earn
The ceremonies you never made with recognition that
I will never stop to study and never stop to learn.

As a man of mature stature, tall, and farmer tanned with one good eye.
He and my blind Boston Terrier, King David, could play the pirate’s patch.
Poppi portrayed the wisdom of a Mister Miyagi and well-formed bonsai.

He served our country in the navy, raised five spirited girls,
Managed a business, adopted a son, ranched a farm,
And often complimented my great good looks and hansom curls.

Like my grandmother from the Cartee clan,
I continue to admire and wonder if I will ever be compared
To the Jesus example set and legend I met in this man.

Some knew him as a friend in his familiar name, Guy.
I knew the grandfather figure of silent strength called Poppi.
Without his presence in our lives, we still fail to say good bye.

He was the stone in our family foundations
As many continue lost in the journey
With no destination in the renewal of Christ inspirations.

The spark between us continues in my heart to electrify
In the angel around I know sitting still on my knees
As reality reminds me of your loss in the tears I cry.

In your honor, I will continually reach for my higher height.
Some doubt me. Some hate me. Some ridicule me.
Grandparents potentially speak beyond the dark with words of light.

After a long fight with demons and the suppression of cancer,
I asked for a miraculous healing for many nights of prayer,
But God planned differently in the spoken words he chose to answer.

I could not appear at your final burial where my heart aches.
My reality cannot accept the truth before me that you are gone.
The moment’s peace before ocean waves crumbles in the water breaks.

I stare into open space before me in the Corpus Christi sunset skies.
Oh my, I think to myself, how quickly all time flies.
Then in the moment of unsettledness, I remember the warmth
And the gentleness expressed in your last words spoken by your side.

August 24, 2014

When you decide not to settle, you decide to face more adversity. The decision to overcome….

The above video illustrates a creative musical expression that Jennifer Nettles (lead female singer of Sugarland) never plans to settle in terms of life ambitions. If you research the background story of her career and the band, Sugarland, you would know the narrative for any artist to rise almost never comes easy. However if you seek to become more, the decision to become what you seek has a price.

That decision to reach for higher heights brings more challenges, almost guaranteed to create adversity. Those who settle for a day job and survival mode stay in the comfort zone of no risks taken. The individuals who face their fears to overcome them triumph to accomplish wonders that extend beyond imagination. Some historians believe that Thomas Edison tried over 1,000 different configurations (and some hypothesize even more than 2,000 times) to eventually discover the right construction with his invention, the light bulb. His persistence with this experiment and other accomplishments changed scientific history from that point forward.

When we reach beyond ourselves, we will face unforeseen difficulties, but it is those struggles that define the greater character within. It is those trials that teach us to hope when no light remains visible in our future. The talent to hope, no matter the circumstances, develops with experience and some might even say age. When we hope forward to become more, we soon achieve endurance to chase after any dream before us.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer to never settle. The words of specific Biblical Scriptures and music like Sugarland’s song, Settlin’, inspire me to reach beyond myself. I will be discouraged. I will fail more than I succeed. I will pick myself up when I fall flat to the ground, maybe literally and figuratively. I choose the path of greater because I will be a better person for it.

The greater in my future guarantees I will encounter more hardship than most. However that is the choice I choose to make. I cannot be subpar. I cannot only be average. I strive to change lives and do great things. In the chase to struggle well, that is where I must find my satisfaction in the midst of the storm.

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Sugarland – Settlin’ Lyrics

Fifteen minutes left to throw me together
For Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Forever
Don’t know why I even try when I know how it ends
Lookin’ like another, “Maybe we can be friends.”
I’ve been leaving it up to fate
It’s my life so it’s mine to make
Chorus:
I ain’t settlin’
For just getting by
I’ve had enough so-so
For the rest of my life
Tired of shooting too low
So raise the bar high
“Just enough,” ain’t enough this time
I ain’t settlin’ for anything less than everything

With some good red wine
And my brand new shoes
Gonna dance a blue streak around my living room
Take a chance on love, and try how it feels
With my heart wide open
Yeah, you know I will
Find what it means to be the girl
Who changed her mind
And changed the world

Repeat chorus

I ain’t settlin’
For just getting by
I’ve had enough so-so
For the rest of my life
Tired of shooting too low
So raise the bar high
“Just enough,” ain’t enough this time

I ain’t settlin’
For just getting by
I’ve had enough so-so
For the rest of my life
Tired of shooting too low
So raise the bar high

I ain’t settlin’
No, no, no, no, no, no
So raise the bar high, high

REACHING HIGHER HEIGHTS – What do you want to be? How will others define you? Most importantly, how will you define yourself in 2014?

In my personal life, I stay connected by keeping in touch with many friends and family, especially since I moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. Relationships, both new and old, become all the more paramount in my life as I lean into new challenges and environments unfamiliar to me. Moving across the country for a new job takes its toll on just about anyone, unless accustomed to these types of locational changes, like an “army brat” would (a popular idiom used to describe someone who grew up moving all the time due to a parents’ occupation in the military).

For those who know me well, they know that I juggle many interests and talents with a strong-willed personality to grow up to “higher heights,” as I mention in many of my previous blog entries. We attain “higher heights” by reaching for goals that we ourselves, sometimes think, looking in the mirror, we cannot achieve alone….hence a need for the dependence on a Savior through Christ.

I do not want to be average. I want to be incredible on many levels. And I would hope that any believer of Jesus desires the same.

For 2014, some of my major responsibilities include but certainly are not limited to: maintaining a strong relationship with God that begins and ends each day with Him as a first thought, building a new faith-based community, meeting performance standards with my new development job, teaching online classes as an adjunct faculty, managing a small business, pursuing part time a second Master’s degree, and Lord blessed and willing, dating a significant other I actually have things in common with.

I encountered a telephone conversation with someone who questioned my ability to balance priorities with so “many irons in the fire” (another idiom that means that one might be too busy to maintain a healthy lifestyle consumed with so many commitments). Maybe I will first struggle to find my balancing act in my ambitions to reach for higher heights; however I will find satisfaction in knowing that I no longer settled for anything mediocre. I pushed myself to levels I never thought possible. I challenged myself in new ways, where all I could do was lean into God’s strength to achieve more than I ever imagined.

Just because others cannot reach for higher heights in their own self doubts does not mean that you are not capable. It is not what others think that determines your own abilities and success. It only matters what you think of yourself, and in addition to your own self-image, it most ultimately only matters what God thinks. Let the naysayers and discouragers drop by your side in their own disbelief of God’s gifts instilled in you. And reach for the greatness God planned for your journey all along. I am not sure about you. But 2014 is not just another year’s resolution for me. It is a year to build myself up and truly discover my innermost calling.

I challenge you to dig deep and discover yours as well.

A New Day Begins – Inspiration into the Unknown, given by my own Auburn Tigers!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)

Before you read this entry, please watch the miraculous win above with the recent Iron Bowl, the yearly, historical American football rival game with The University of Alabama and Auburn University. For better or worse, this sports rivalry sometimes splits households over the game of football, especially near Thanksgiving when this game occurs.

At the beginning of this football season, no one actually predicted or even believed that the Auburn University Tigers might actually play for a national championship under first year coach, Gus Malzaln, well at least, not until now.

Just the year before, the previous football coach, Gene Chizik, won three games and lost nine. By the end of the season, the football student-athletes felt demoralized, and their performance on the field felt even more tragic as their lack of motivation was evident by the last game of the season.

Coach Gus continued to preach a new theme in the locker room, “This is a new day. Forget about last year.” I feel this motto to be true in many ways within my own life and even the lives of my own readers, with stories written in the comments section or emailed to me.

Tomorrow I move to Corpus Christi, Texas to begin a new job with a health conscious, nonprofit organization whose cause I deeply believe in. I was also recently accepted into a very select Masters program through The University of South Florida in Digital Journalism, Media, and Design….my second Masters attempted and eventually graduated from. These are just two new glimmers of the many hopes recently experienced with the new chapter about to begin in my own life.

I begin the New Year with a new job, new studies, and a new location to restart and reboot. My beginnings are not just resolutions. They are actual life happenings.

Last year was kind of like Auburn’s season for me, a rebuilding year as they might say in the world of college athletics. This job is a new day for me. The new soon-to-be home is a new day for me. These new studies are further more a new day for me. It is truly a new day to pick up and begin anew. Through a worthy cause, I will attain higher heights, with intentional chosen joy, in the celebration of what is to come.

We cannot control what happened in the past, but like Auburn and my own life, we can control what happens tomorrow with a new day ahead. Like a losing football season, this past year was character-building for me, on many levels. And now it is time to utilize the character now molded to become better on a personal level but also closer to God on a spiritual level, thankful for all the good He has done.

I owe my new found success to the many friends and family who supported me, specifically with my faith community in Atlanta, Georgia, Grace Midtown Church, and most importantly, my parents. Our most valiant successes often come from those who most believe in us, even when we fail to believe in ourselves.

Our successes often come from those we surround ourselves with. Tomorrow is a new day. Make the most of the opportunities before you! Our valleys often next lead to our greatest mountain successes.

Here are a few more Auburn football videos to get Tiger fans everywhere motivated for a new day!

The Significance of Community – My Thanksgiving Blessings, Make It Be Yours As Well!

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV)

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

As many of you know or may not know, I am moving to Corpus Christi, Texas, for a new job in development with one of the United States’ largest nonprofit organizations. I am both nervous and excited about the move and growth opportunity. While everything typically works out for our betterment, I must admit I am stressed with packing and numerous wondering thoughts.

What I have come to realize and remain extremely grateful includes my faith communities, many mostly through Grace Midtown Church, located off Northside Drive, near a neighborhood known as English Avenue. I truly never experienced a relational congregation like this one. This Thanksgiving I realize the vital importance of friendship and the blessings I received from those friendships this past year.

I will miss Grace and my fellowship base of believers here in Atlanta! However I remain thankful for each of those I encountered there in the past year.

While I underestimate the power of living, socializing, and experiencing true life with others, Grace Midtown Church serves as a reminder of this breathing source of fresh air in people’s lives, especially in the midst of active adversity in life. To feel the Holy Spirit in communion with others still invigorates me to higher heights.

The following video illustrates the doldrums of a life journey alone. If missing out on the faith community experienced by others, I challenge you to rise out of your rut and come home to a faith family unlike anything you will ever witness before. As we simply say in the south, it will change your life!

Again, watch this video, and let it serve as a test to see where you lie in the spectrum of really living or just existing.

Can I Get a Break, God? A inspired reminder through a friend’s story of heartache….

I met Fredric Gray at The Florida Christian Writers Conference in March of this year at 2:15 am EST in the morning when he woke me up in the criminal offense of breaking down my conference center hotel room door. Mark Hancock, director of the conference, forgot to instruct me that my con roommate would wonderfully disrupt my dream of meeting Tinker Bell in a fantasized REM slumber that I, James Cartee, would soon change the world. While surrounded in the Floridian swamp lands, I thought a serial killer banged on my door. After an unexpected wake up call so early in the morning, I thought I might soon kill Mr. Fredric Gray that early morning.

I soon realized that Fredric was no felony offender with a belly laugh that would do God proud. He profusely apologized, and when I finally awoke, I came back to my senses that his encouragement would further boost my writing career forward for higher heights.

Fredric’s example in Christ would further illustrate the peacemaker resemblance of Christ to rejoice in tragedy. His natural inclination keeps me motivated in down times when I seem to hourly ask God, “Can you please give me a break already?” People like Fredric remind me that in times of good and bad we bring Glory to God, even if we do not want to. That should innately become the response of any believer. His message posted on Facebook below still resonates with me even 10 days later.

So, our fifth child went to be with God. Heather called me on Wednesday night on my way to our church Bible study and told me she was bleeding a little bit, kind of like the spotting that so many pregnant women experience, but a little worse. She convinced me not to come home, and things got better. When it continued Thursday, we called our midwife and she came over Thursday night with concerns of her own. She scheduled us for an ultrasound for Friday. At this point the bleeding really wasn’t that bad.

But Heather woke me up at 4am telling me she felt like she was giving birth. It all was so surreal. I was part in empathy mode, and part denial. She kept telling me, “this is it. we are losing our baby.” I just didn’t want to believe it, even though I knew it could happen.

About 5am, she labored the baby, along with a whole lot of blood out. It was very hard for us. Well, it was hard for me. I think she was having a harder time before, and I had a much harder time afterward.

She continued to bleed for short time, and we prayed and went to bed. She said the most encouraging thing to me. She casually, and warmly, said “this is our first baby that is with God.” I never thought of it until she said it, but I found it SUPER-ENCOURAGING!

As that thought guided me while going to sleep, all I could think about were people that lost their children, either through miscarriage or after they were born.

While working, Heather called me on my cell phone around 9am telling me that she was bleeding badly. I came home and helped her, and almost ended up taking her to the ER.

Noelani and Maleia just kept bawling their eyes out, in ways I have never seem them do so. Malachi and Amairah were oblivious. In the midst of crying, Maleia, cute as can be, held up both of her hands and said, “we don’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl!”

Because of that, Heather and I had already named our baby a gender neutral name. When Maleia said that, we were happy to tell her the baby’s name–Noah Christian.

Noah means rest, or repose (often with God), and Christian is a reminder of how we get to be with our baby again one day.

So, I have tons of work to do, and many messages to respond to, and we have kind of let discipline go out the window for now. But we have been praying a lot, and having unforgettable conversations with our children. Heather has needed to be on bedrest, just like a woman who gave birth and is at risk of losing more blood.

So, I just wanted to share this. If you read this far, thanks for reading.

Noah Christian Gray.

Yeah, a gift from God.

Fredric Gray, 4/6/13

I wrote the following poem in response to Fredric’s testimony in the midst of tragic events. This poem will more than likely become published in my next poetry book with thirty-three poems and photographs.

Noah Christian, The Journey Home

Our loved one
Our lost son
That nothing remains undone
For Noah Christian
Traveled the journey home
Solace knowing
He passed not alone
Settled into the arms
With our Loving Sheppard
He sleeps well
As our gift from God
Surreal in the state
Felt as a prevailing reality
We live to worship
In the tragedy of loss
To know better yet to come
Children cry
To never forget
Always miss
The sibling never known
But always remembered
Noah at the meaning of rest
Another challenge
Another test to faith
Grace present in a bled state
Loss pours into grief
Perhaps with some relief
In the heart of the matter
To know our loved one
Our lost son
That nothing remains undone
For Noah Christian
Traveled the journey home

JLC iii, 4/9/13

While inspired with words of my own from the life of Noah Christian, through Fredric Gray, this song by Jason Mraz further motivates believers in Christ why we cannot give up on the dreams before us. Like Fredric’s example to glorify God no matter the circumstances, we press forward to inspire those around us in our examples.

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!