Grace for God

A couple of months ago I got to go see my Atlanta Braves take on the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. On my way back I received a phone call from a good friend of mine who was on holiday with his family visiting friends in the cool crevices of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I asked him how he was enjoying himself and he replied with a chuckle and said “really well. Amanda (his wife) is out with some friends and I spent the whole day playing with Cole (his 2 year old son). We went to the toy store and I bought him a bunch of different toys to play with.” I asked him if he bought them for Cole because he had been good on the trip so far and he replied, “nope, I just wanted to buy him some toys.”

The theme of my life right now, the stuff motivating me at least, is not an uncommon factor among my generation. I want my life to matter. Sure as a child of God I can cliché my way through life saying, “Patrick, you do matter to God. He cares about you and loves you.” But the truth is, I don’t believe it sometimes. I struggle with reconciling a relationship with someone I can’t hug, can’t look at and can’t communicate with in a ‘regular’ way. How can I matter to someone who I don’t even know that well? Or do I?

I thought about my friend’s story, how as a dad he wanted to lavish his love upon his son, not because Cole did anything to earn those gifts, but because his dad wanted to make him smile, to make him happy.
And then I thought about my amazing girlfriend, who comes into my mind at least 14 times a day. I love her for a number of reasons, but somehow just knowing that isn’t enough. I want to tell her using the most expensive words I can find how beautiful she is and how she fulfills my life in ways no one else can. And I want every opportunity I can get to give her presents whether it’s a special occasion or not. I want to make her happy.

What if our relationship with God was like that? What if we didn’t try to please Him because we had to but rather because pleasing Him pleased us? Yes, his son’s sacrifice was the most ultimate gift He could give us and He should be worth it for that alone. But there was a time when God existed and He hadn’t made that sacrifice. When Jesus was doing his Son of God, Son of Man stuff for 33 years, his endgame was what we long for, to please His father, to make Him proud. And his satisfaction came from this.

I wonder how different our relationship with Him would be if we didn’t base it on how good or bad or long our quiet times were or because we struggle with knowing God’s will for our lives, but rather on how much we wanted to know more of the mysteries of who He is? Our relationship with Him shouldn’t be that different than the ones we have with each other. That mystery exists in every significant relationship we have. It’s what motivated me to pursue Krecia beyond a friendship, taking a risk and making myself vulnerable to whatever she may have said. Risk is part of the mystery. It’s what makes it adventurous. We are constantly learning more about each other and as a result enjoy the intimacy that comes with it. To hear her say I’m her best friend and that she trusts me is incredible. It makes me want to be more of those things for her.

Why does our relationship with God have to be so different? Maybe it’s because we can’t see/touch Him like a regular person. Maybe it’s because He’s God and His supernatural prowess is intimidating. I confess that these factors get in my way.

But maybe it’s because we don’t believe that we can have the kind of intimate, valuable and enjoyable relationship with Him that we do with others (perhaps because we haven’t experienced that with those close to us, but that’s a rabbit worth chasing another day). In my journey through life, I’m discovering that this is a lie from the Enemy.

If we believe that we were created by God, that we have a bit of His fingerprint embedded in each of us, it makes sense to pursue Him with nothing less than who we are. And we can do that in the ways in which we pursue each other. We can talk to Him, interact with Him and approach Him with the same value and confidence that we do with each other. We didn’t do anything to deserve God’s love. Why should our love for Him be any different?

Loving God because we want to? What a concept. Almost sounds like Grace 🙂

Canton, College Football, and Concert Obligations

Last weekend I spent Labor Day with my beautiful girlfriend in Sulpher Springs, Texas visiting some of the potential extended family. While most of it was spent doing your typical Labor Day weekend stuff (eating, swimming, eating some more), on one particular day I experienced the awe and wonder that was Canton, Texas, also called “first Mondays.” I had no idea what it was all about until I drove up to it. Call it a gigantic garage sale, the 10 mile Wal-Mart or the world’s only walk-in junk drawer. All I know is it’s the only place where you can get T-shirts, Playing Cards, Sunglasses and Samurai Swords and a ton of other stuff, all in one place. I was in materialistic awe. You need something? Canton’s got it. And I bought it more than likely (yes I did buy a samurai sword). Anyway, it should be considered one of the seven man-made wonders of the world and everyone should visit it at least once. Oh, and if you do go, don’t worry about eating before hand, as there are a ton of tastebud tingling samples of jellies, salsas and dips for your nutritional pleasure. That alone is worth going again.

One of the great things about September is that it not only marks the end of “the dog days of summer” as someone so eloquently penned, but as of last weekend, college football is officially underway, and with it comes the obligatory trash talk, Heisman hype, biased and unbiased team predictions and of course the potential for a great upset. This last weekend was no exception. My boys from the Bayou (LSU) put away their week one opponent in sound fashion and the Mountaineers of Division I-AA Appalachian State defeated the once 5th ranked Division 1-A Michigan Wolverines in one of the most amazing upsets in college football history. I am now officially hyped about the next five months, so much so that I have two scheduled appearances in Fayetteville (Kentucky vs Arkansas) and Oxford (LSU vs Ole Miss) this fall. Should be a great time. Geaux Tigers.

Recently I went to a concert in Conway where a guy named Dave Barnes was performing. If you don’t know who he is, you are a loser. Not really, but seriously if you don’t, you need to get on board. He’s got a jazzy pop feel to him, kind of like Jack Johnson and David Gray in a musical head on collision. Anyway, he’s a great artist as well as a hysterically funny entertainer (my friend Robyn said he did his first stand up routine in Nashville a couple of weeks ago). ANYWAY, after the concert it began to dawn on me that apparently artists must have an obligation to say three specific things anytime they perform, as I have noticed from the many concerts in my travelogue.

First, they must always check to see how everyone is doing. I don’t know why. I would think that anyone at the concert would by default be doing well. Why would they be out at a concert with loud music and screaming fans if they had a case of pneumonia or something? Secondly, if there are other artists performing at that particular venue, they have to give props to each one of them. Whether they are the scrub opener or the headliner, apparently there has to be some extra ego boosting that takes place whether they need it or not. And finally, recognition of the city/college has to be made known. I would imagine this is for no one elses benefit other than the artist performing, but there IS something cool when a celebrity says “it’s so great to be here in with you guys.” Makes ya feel like you are on their level. Maybe not.

Starting, Finishing, and Everything In Between

So it’s been quite a while since the last great ‘real’ blog entry. There’s the unwritten pressure of having to come up with something either funny, significant or both and I don’t want to be that guy.

So I got back from Africa almost 3 weeks ago and am just now getting to my ‘reentry’ letter. I apologize to those who will be getting it just now. Seems when I write something I consider significant, I’m like a crock-pot of sorts, wanting all of my ideas to sort of begin to bubble and curdle until I feel secure enough in my writing style to begin to scoop them out of my brain and put them on paper. Alas, it tends to take longer to do this, but I would rather sacrifice a bit more time to write something worth reading than to send you guys a, “Hey it was neat. We ate this. We didn’t see any Tigers and no, I did not see Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt.” So be prepared for the post to deliver something in a few days. I’ll also post it in my ‘updates’ section at http://shoelesspatch.visualofferings.com

I’ve started reading the Harry Potter books. Yes I know, it’s a bit late for that, but after watching the latest film and talking with my sis-in-law who is kind of a nut about ‘the boy who lived,’ I’ve decided to give it a go. Finished up the first one last night and have the rest on order from Barnes so I should begin my second HP fix in the next week or so. Incidentally, is there not something really gratifying when you turn that last page of a book knowing that a) you have finished it and b) there’s more to the story to look forward to?

Spent this last weekend in Ft. Worth with some friends and came up with a few great observations:

1). Road trips are excellent, but I am a firm believer that they are even better with both a nice rental car and a good road trip mix. I had both of these. There’s something about having good music and a car that you can have a little fun with that feels REALLY good.

2). I’m 28 years old, and I really believe that no matter how old I get, the excitement from walking up to a major theme park like Six Flags anticipating the rides, the food and the general experience from being there always makes me as excited as a 10 year old boy. I totally experienced that this weekend, if for only a few hours.

3). There are times when I think about the small things in life that make me happy. One is a bookstore in a downtown area. A few years ago it was the Borders in downtown Chicago. This weekend it was the Barnes and Noble in downtown Ft. Worth. I love being able to walk into a building where I can find out on paper virtually anything I want to know about anyone or anything, and plop down on the floor to do so without any weird looks from anyone. The other is my love for specific places to look forward to when I visit certain cities. Again, Chicago has the Art Institute, Michigan has Noodles and Company (a really fun pasta dive near the UofM campus) and in Ft. Worth it’s the Marble Slab Creamery in downtown. Of course my tastebuds race when I anticipate eating the cold soft goodness, but it’s the idea of knowing that this is the place where I get it. Sure I could get Marble Slab from anywhere almost, but that’s where I first had it, and its sort of a flashbulb memory for me, one that I look forward to revisiting any chance I am down there.

Sunday I went to the church service of the friends I had stayed with and the pastor talked about three questions God asks of us (not to be confused with the 10 questions that God won’t ask when we die as many of you probably have flooding across your email inbox in the past 10 years). He took his sermon from Mark 10:46-52 where Bartimaeus, a blind beggar wants to have his sight restored as Jesus says “What do you want me to do for you?” The pastor also mentioned two other questions that were crucial in this text, one being “What are you willing to do to get it?” and “What will you do after you receive it.” I got several things from this text, but one thing that stood out actually came near the end when he mentioned the story of a guy named William Borden, the heir to the Borden Milk company, who felt God’s calling to become a missionary to Muslin China. He is most famous for these words:

No reservations, No Retreats, No Regrets

Powerful words from a guy who could have played it safe and lived off of mom and dad’s wealth for the rest of his life. Instead he chose to follow Christ and, while dying of a fatal disease in his mid 20’s, Borden could boldly answer the questions that Christ asked of him. I wonder sometimes if I can live that way, with no reservations for Christ, no retreats into my old life, and no regrets in looking at my past. Would I be more than who I am right now? I don’t know. But I think it begins with these kinds of questions, the ones that Jesus asked Bartimaeus. What do I want Christ to do for me? What am I willing to do to get it? And what will I do once I do have it? Tough questions. I tend to get stuck on the first one, the direct one from scripture. I’m glad that I have a body of believers who struggle with these same things. It’s nice to have a ‘me too’ reaction when asking these questions. I guess we all do.

Rituals, Ramblings and Road Trips

Today is “hump” day. What a dumb name for Wednesday. I wonder who came up with that, if they thought they were cool when they thought of it and if they regret calling it that now that I have said what I did (doubtful). Why not use fun literary terms like “climax,” that way the rest of the days can get involved in the nickname game (Tuesday being rising action, Monday being exposition, etc).

I am distracted with life at the moment. The things I took from my ‘retreat’ to Michigan have been stirring in my mind and heart since I’ve gotten back, and I want to explore them more. Right now I think I’d just like to take a walk, read a book, anything to keep away from the dailies of Heritage life. I have a copy of 1984 (the book, not the year) in front of me, tempted to open it and sneak a read of a page or two in between PDF conversions and paginations of sorts.

I’ve decided that I really like strawberry Jell-o. I think i got a bad taste for it when I associated it with Chinese Buffets, but outside of that environment, my romance for it has budded once again.

Tonight will be my second trip to a softball game this week (not a lot compared to those that go every night like parents and really dedicated girlfriends) and I’m looking forward to it, not just for the enjoyment of supporting my friends/family, but to embrace the ritualistic acts of yelling various ballgame-esque remarks at the players as they make great catches, defensive plays and killer hits. I’m also looking forward to the obligatory Nachos, Coke and Sunflower Seeds that will fill my stomach in the hour or so that I will be there.

I love this time of year, and I think more than anything I love specific things that take place during certain times of the year. This weekend, I played catch with a friend of mine probably a good three or four times. I enjoy that anyway, but doing that during the time of year when its somewhat appropriate just heightens the enjoyment for me. The same applies to the fall when I toss around the football. So good.

My small vending machine business via my refrigerator and desk continues to go well (see previous posts for full explanation). One lady gets the same stuff out of it every day: Jello at 10am, yogurt at noon, and popcorn in the afternoon. Thank goodness for ritualistic folks :).

As of yesterday morning, I have planned three weekend road trips for the summer. I’m calling it “Park It!!! 2007” and in those three road trips I plan on visiting a Ballpark (Cardinals and Braves at Busch Stadium in St. Louis), a Theme Park (Six Flags over Texas in Arlington) and a Water Park (Nashville Shores in Nashville). Good times indeed.

Made for Nothing More, Nothing Less than His Amazing Grace

Recently i got the chance to visit with a guy who fronts an up and coming band from San Antonio called “Nothing More” and he talked about the fact that as much as he is enjoying what he’s doing, he didn’t want to be in this same place when he was thirty (doing local shows making small amounts of money). He said he’d love to do this for a living, but he also wants to be a family man eventually. He said, ‘that’s what I was made for.’

I think, like so many people, I wonder what my ‘purpose’ is. This guy had it figured out at 27. I was envious. But what I’m seeing in my life, especially as I am learning more about how to be like Jesus, is that I was made for something more. I admit that I am ‘homesick,’ longing for a place I’ve never seen, realizing that, as Caedmon’s Call once put it, “this world has nothing for me and this world has everything.”

I struggle (especially as of late) with materialism, with needing to have the latest and greatest. It’s what drives the world I live in and it frustrates me so much. But recently I’ve found comfort in the one place I should go to first, but usually make it my last resort: God’s Word. It says in Psalm 73:28 “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, That I may tell of all Your works.” I’ve been sitting on that verse the past couple of weeks. The whole chapter encapsulates my thoughts as of late, but that verse says two things: There is nothing more satisfying than the nearness of God, and there is nothing less that I desire to do with my life as a result than to tell of how amazing He is. Nothing more. Nothing Less.

I am so overwhelmed with the constant amount of Grace He gives me. In spite of my disobedience, my laziness and the hundreds of other things that make up the jacked up life I call my own, God chooses to continue to use me, for His sake and, in the process, brings me satisfaction, peace and so many other things I don’t deserve. I guess that’s the essence of what Grace is. Amazing.

As Jon Shirley so eloquently put it, “You search the whole Earth just to tell me what I’m worth, to tell me what I’m worth to You. You say that I am a diamond in Your hand, a diamond in Your hand for You. Lord I am blown away, you would even speak my name, to tell me I’m the treasure of Your Heart. After all the things I’ve done to You, coming close and then pulling away from You, You’ve proved just what a faithful God You are. So thank You Jesus, for Your faithfulness. Thank You Jesus for Your Love.”

Thank You Jesus, for your faithfulness. Thank You Jesus for Your love……..Amazing Grace

Nothing More, baseball and a need to be recognized

Last night I challenged my circadian rhythms and went down to Sticky Fingers (a restaurant slash hotspot for up and coming bands) at around 11pm to hear a band from San Antonio called “Nothing More.” Their sound was one that I could appreciate (sort of a cross between Coldplay vocally and maybe some Creed-like guitar). But what really impressed me was the performance these guys put on. They not only had high energy, but made the whole set fun to watch, dropping into medleys of “Rapper’s Delight” and “Baby Got Back,” covering the popular Seal song “Kiss From a Rose” and even putting on a miniature STOMP routine, banging drums and cowbells, even going so far as to ‘play’ pots and pans strapped to one of their members. Needless to say, the sleep I lost was well worth the entertainment I gained for the 2 hours I was there. Check em out when you get the chance.

http://www.nothingmore.net

April 1 marked, not only one of the most feared ‘days’ in history (April Fools) but also one of the days I look forward to each Spring: Opening Day. Major League Baseball is upon us my friends and, though i know its not as popular as other sports, it brings with it a desire for Sunflower seeds, playing catch and road trips to ballgames (Atlanta @ St. Louis in August….GO BRAVES!!!!)

Reasons I love my job:
#37 – I can get $1000 worth of memory upgrades without hesitation approved from my boss (Her exact words: Money is no object if this is something you really need.) Awesome.
#38 – Each morning 5 of us (including my boss) have a free throw shootout with the nerf basketball goal set up in my area
#39 – The small refrigerator I own (called the Naughty Fridge) sits close by and houses soft drinks, Snack Paks and other various daytime hunger relief items that I sell for a small profit to combat the overpriced vending machines down the hallway (hows that for sticking it to “the man?”)

Being a guy who struggles with a need to be recognized, I was encouraged to see that there are others out there who seem to need it more than I do. YouTube featured something I hadn’t ever heard of and thought was a joke before i did some research on it. (YouTube in itself, while hilarious to watch and great for cheap advertising, seems to epitmize the need for folks to make themselves known). There is a competition in the called The Air Guitar World Championships. Thats right. Those of us who rocked it out as young kids in front of our bedroom mirrors when we were 12 can now take that talent and make money, become famous and even travel to Finland to take on the rest of the 13 years olds that never wanted to grow up. Too funny.

Here’s last years winner
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r10UbGC6RI

Everybody Loves Blogging

Being without the Internet for two days last week has shown me three things that I reluctantly admit about my life at work: 1) I’m REALLY good at Tetris, 2) I spend way too much time on YouTube and 3) Even at my job I love so much, I can get bored pretty easily.

Television is the last place I would expect to find life lessons, especially from the clever sitcom known as “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Like “Alias” I am enjoying the show post-broadcast through syndication and DVD and the last couple of episodes have caused me to do some introspection regarding my self-centered nature, the need for others approval as well as other things that I find relating very closely to the main character, Ray Barone. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Good that I’m learning tough lessons about my human nature, bad that they are coming from the same network that brings me David Caruso from CSI: Miami.

Questions that have been plaguing me for the past few days.
1) Why does every hip-hop video HAVE to be “feature” someone in addition to the actual artist performing. I mean come on, do we really need Diddy making those strange grunts and running to and from the camera in Jay-Z’s latest video?
2) Why is it so much easier to fall asleep on the couch than it is in our beds? I asked this question last night and the only logical explanation seems to be that because we intend on going to sleep in our beds we subconsciously fight it, as opposed to the couch which is a source of couch plopping and sunday napping while watching various programming such as NASCAR.

One of the popular slogans at the OG (Olive Garden) has been “When you’re here, you’re family.” I’d have to give that same slogan to the house church I go to on Tuesday nights. Rarely during my week do i get the chance to be with a group of people whose common element is the love of Jesus Christ and in such an intimate setting where He just comes in and lets us soak Him up through His Word, worship and the taking of the Eucharist. Its a place I feel unified in my thinking, in my passions as well as my desire to grow spiritually. So much love to anyone reading this who is a part of the body known as DCC. You guys encourage me big time.