This was Someday Saturday Today with Pine Needles

Pine Needles in the Garden

I really hate “someday,” because usually, someday is just no-day. That usually ends up being my answer when I don’t want to do something, or can just put it off to some unknown time in the future that may or may not ever come. This is why people create bucket lists, so some day doesn’t turn into never-day. Well today, and just about every Saturday for the last 4-5 weeks, has been someday Saturday. Sometimes around 2008 Deborah and I decided we were finally going to clean out the attic, the garage, and do some of the things around the house we have been wanting to do for years. That was back in 2008.

A few weeks ago we finally got tired of putting it off, and started working on all of the above, a little at a time, each Saturday morning. We have a very small one car garage, (which the car has been been in before) and today ended up being peg-board and organization day as you can see Deborah doing below, then pine-mulch in the garden. The pine straw required picking up 15 bales of pine needles at the local feed store, which was weird since we basically live amongst a pine forest, and spreading them out in the 90 degree high humidity heat of Alabama.

I know these aren’t life changing events here, but they aren’t unimportant either. I think I read somewhere recently that there really are only a few days in everyone’s life that are super important, the rest is life, just living life. That’s what this post is about… this is just what we have been doing on Saturday mornings around here. Life isn’t always about the super high and super low points, but the events this week in Aurora Colorado just reminded me how precious life is, and how quickly it can change.

Hand Made Smocked Clothes and Gowns for Preemie or Premature Babies

Hand Made Smocked Preemie Premature Clothes

This is slightly off-topic for my blog (hence my need and reason for having a Sidenotes Category), but well worth some publicity to lovingly brag on my wife, Deborah. In case you didn’t know, Deborah is about the best seamstress I know (just check out her blog or her custom made items on the Etsy store), and her work is in the category of heirloom clothes, depending on the particular project she’s working on. She has made, and is making, everything from Easter (see Easter Order) and Christmas gowns (see here), to fun football dresses (here) babies and girls can wear to any worthy SEC game, though she doesn’t discriminate against any school. If you are looking for an incredible dress or gown, get in touch with Deborah for details.

All of this is custom made to order per each individual, and all is hand made one individual stitch at a time. The most amazing work I’ve seen come out of her sewing room lately are these preemie clothes I photographed above. While each ministry is different, specifically because God has gifted each one of us in totally unique ways, this work is over the top awesome. Deborah started making these hand-made smocked (the crinkled stuff around the chest area for the guys reading this post) preemie gowns and clothes for parents who would normally never get the honor of having something special for their own child.

You can’t tell from this photo, but these clothes are teeny-tiny. Deborah even included one for a boy, which most of the time parents never have any clothes for at all. It is just amazing to me to think that somewhere, some as of yet unknown parents, are going to be presented with one of these gowns to put on their baby, probably during a very difficult time in their own lives. For parents to be able to receive something like this (for free), of this quality, hopefully says to them, God loves you, and He loves your child as well, no matter what happens.

This set of preemie clothes was just shipped this week to a large hospital in Miami where the need far exceeded the supply. If you are at all interested in helping with this type of ministry work I am sure Deborah would be more than happy to talk to you about it. For today, it is my Photo of the Day, and quite a challenging photo to take at that.

Lent Has Brought Us To This Maundy Thursday Prayer

Maundy Thursday Chalkboard Prayer Vigil

Every year, on this day, Maundy Thursday, we come to the Lord in prayer, as Jesus did with his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. On that night, Jesus asked his disciples to watch and pray… because our spirit is willing, but our flesh is weak (Matthew 26:36-46), and then Jesus was betrayed by one of his own inner circle friends. Every year at our church is slightly different, but each year, this evening is set aside for prayer, the Lord’s supper, and meditation on what our Lord went through on Good Friday. I love that image above from last year (see also Messages from the Heart to God in Chalk Board Prayers :: Photos) where everyone wrote their prayers in chalk as they moved through the night.

I looked back over and read some of my journal entries from that night a few years ago, and it’s amazing what that great spiritual discipline of meditation can do for the soul.  In my entry from 2009 I wrote this sentence after being there for an hour or so.

It is almost impossible to wrap your mind around what everything here tonight represents in history. I understand nothing, but I love what I don’t understand.

There are only a few more days of Lent for 2012, today being Day 44 (if you count Sunday’s), and our reading today came from the Book of Common Prayer (only $2.99 on Kindle by the way). Something I don’t get a chance to read all that often, but love its wisdom.

Almighty God, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

May that be the prayer for today.

Trying to Remember the Why in the Go in the Middle of Life

The last few days has really kicked me in the back side, and I know it’s just because I’m just trying to get too much done before I leave. That time is gone now since there is no time left, but packing all this stuff reminded me of the why in the go. I get frustrating with packing all this stuff, because it’s stuff, and stuff just seems to get in the way, it takes up time, money, and in the larger scheme of things, probably isn’t necessary. But, on this side of eternity, we all need a certain amount of stuff I guess. A good friend of mine put it to me like this today when I said that I hate cars, “you do until you need to go somewhere”, which pretty much makes the point.

At some point tonight I did manage to get all that stuff, stuffed into a suit case, and then I looked at the photo above and remembered why all the effort to actually go is worth everything is takes to get there. I can’t wait to get under way tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to seeing Joanita again (the girl in the photo above), there’s just only so much packing and preparation one can do before it about drives you in sane.

Cultural Priorities and the Breakneck Speed of the West

I love this shot of Jason, Eddie (our driver in Uganda), and myself. If you are holding a machete in the middle of the woods-jungle I think it’s a rule, you have to stop to have a photo taken. Jason and I were attempting to clear a few branches away for a lady who lived on the property and to say thanks she gave Eddie these awesome avocados (you can just see her in the photo in the upper right background). Actually, we both thought it would be really cool to get to use a machete to do some actual real work, and I ended up with the machete and Jason the axe pipe thing (sorry Jason).

I know I have said it before but it still amazes me. The speed and priorities of life in Bulboa where this lady lives is so extremely different from the west, even different from just up the road in Kampala. Life down in Buloba isn’t really run by a clock on a wall like we know it, and no one seems to be in a hurry to do anything, it’s just TIA (this is Africa). I didn’t really hear that said too much while I was over there, but I did hear it a few times, which generally refers to “whenever”. I personally loved that and enjoyed the down time, especially since that pretty much doesn’t exist at all on this side of the world. I fight for it every week but it’s certainly not the norm no matter how hard you try to slow things down. The little wood we chopped up was supposed to last her about a month, although I’m not sure how, the same bit of wood wouldn’t have been enough to start a fire to me. We did spend about an hour or two walking around this neighborhood while others in our group worked on some painting. It was very low key, very laid back, very TIA.

Over here this week life moved along at our normal breakneck speed. Nothing inherently wrong with that but every minute of every day is packed full and it didn’t take me any time at all to fall back into life at hyper-speed where you have to fight for margin. Margin is where life happens, where we meet with God and remember why we do what we do.

Are Counterfeit Gods Giving Me the Most Self Worth?

Last Sunday we started a series at Cornerstone called Counterfeit Gods, somewhat based on the book by Tim Keller called Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, in a way of examining our lives to see exactly what we put in front of God, to look at the idols we worship, other than or in addition to, God Himself. Often when we think of idols today we think about bowing down to the golden calf of the old testament, not something we do today, but our idols abound everywhere in 2011. When I started taking a closer look at this it becomes obvious that one man’s idol is another man’s gift, so to speak. Anything can be an idol. Even if it’s something inherently good, if it takes priority over the Lord, it’s out of it’s proper place.

What Makes Me Feel the Most Self Worth?

This question was on a list of ten questions we were asked to look at over the week, and this one, number six in line, was the one that poked a hole through my heart. To go along with the “self-worth” question, a series of questions was posed, like; “What am I the most proud of in my life?” and “Early on in a relationship, what do I want to make sure that people know about me?”

I have spent many years of my life trying to eliminate things within my own house that preside all over our culture, but this “self-worth” question is different than looking at something like materialism. For me, it seems like it would be easier to see if Apple has a stranglehold on your life than if your wife is more important to me than God, or if my work in ministry or photography is more important than God. The “who we are” questions that make us individuals and not clones is a fine line between obsession, knowledge, and proper place.

It’s those things in life, which drive our personality, it’s part of who we are as individuals, it’s what makes us unique among each other. Other people have skills and talents I can’t even imagine having, but I also have unique abilities, gifts from God, that I can use for His glory or my own selfishness. Reading Ephesians 2:8-10 yesterday reminded me that those gifts were not something self-made, but given to me. Apart from God there is nothing I posses, no ability I have, that is or was my own doing.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

On a more personal note, the answer I gave to these questions in my own journal is this entry below.

On a surface level I would have to say my job, my photography, or my blog gives me my most earthly self worth but that isn’t it, it is the praise of man that goes along with those things that shames me in being proud. Lord I ask that you help me succeed in glorifying your kingdom in the gifts you have given me while not boasting in my own abilities. I can take a great image of a dogwood flower but I can’t make the flower bloom. I can use the tools given me but I can’t create the life that appears in my images.

What I am known for and what I want to be known for are two totally different things still. This is exactly what Michael Hyatt goes over in his free eBook, Creating a Life Plan. What do I want to be known for is for being an honest, upright, and faithful man of God who turned to God in every aspect of life, more and more as I mature in life and age until the day the Lord calls me home. I want to be the best husband I can possibly be, and then the earthly things that come along with being a successful photographer or having a significant impact on people with my career in ministry, however long the Lord chooses that to be.

What am I actually known for? I don’t even want to ask, but it’s the gap between what I am today and the above paragraph where the work resides.

Best Cloud Apps to Keep Your Life Organized in a Digital World

Just like the screen shot above says, I just love this snapshot. I was looking for a good example of a cluttered and unorganized desktop but knowing who’s screenshot this is I actually know, unlike how it seems to the eye, this is a very organized desktop. This is usually not the case though, she is the exception to the rule. I have never quite understood why some of the most organized individuals in real life are the most digitally unorganized on the planet? There is obviously a digital gap or digital divide between the two, and actually having an organized life has no correlation what-so-ever with being organized in the digital world.

I know several people who would never even leave a single tiny scrap of paper on the floor or anything out of place in their house, yet their computer desktop is strewn with random files all over the place, and if you were to venture inside the main halls of the computer, you’ve got boxes thrown here and there, furniture in the wrong places, and pieces of data everywhere… and they never ever clean house. It just keeps piling up and piling up like digitized version of Hoarders on A&E TV. Being digitally organized really is a beautiful thing to a techie geek, but it actually does serve some function and purpose as well, just like keeping your house clean serves a purpose. I realize some people just don’t care and don’t have the time to mess with it, but just because you can close the lid to your laptop and not have to look at it like a bunch of papers on your living room floor doesn’t mean it’s beneficial?

When those two organizational sides of life come together it’s pretty cool to see, but for those of us who need a little help from the digital side of organization practices, here are two of the very best apps that might help keep both sides organized and looking nice. There are some alternatives to these below, like pen and paper or other digital note-taking apps, but in terms of keeping it simple and very organized, these two are the best.

The best part about both of these apps is they function in the cloud. Things that don’t function in the cloud today are more than just slightly annoying, they are becoming obsolete (great current example would be the difference between Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle App), especially when you need to access the information somewhere other than a computer locked to an actual desk. I know for those techies that read my blog these two apps are old news but there are still some people I run into each day that don’t know the value of these two apps. There are many more, if you have a favorite just let us know in the comments.

Evernote :: Remember Everything

Evernote is the very best note-keeping, paper-storage, sticky note, program out there. I have tried to not like Evernote but it has almost no rival in functionality, price, and features. Evernote will allow you to capture just about anything on the Internet you want and store it away in a folder (or notebook) to be accessed late via website app, desktop app, iPhone, iPad, just about any mobile device, from just about anywhere. It’s main use for me has been for scanning papers into pdf then uploading them to a notebook called receipts or something of the sort. They have a great free desktop version, perfect for just drag and dropping files, and you can share notebooks with coworkers or friends. There is a paid version but it’s cheap and offers a higher sync volume per month. Well worth the money if you use Evernote a lot.

DropBox :: Simple Online Cloud File Management

For extremely simple file management away from your desktop Dropbox is the only cloud based file solution that works seamlessly with your existing file management system. They also have a free and paid version and the paid is also well worth the money if you use more than their allotted free 2GB of space. Dropbox works just like another file folder on your computer but resides in the cloud, allowing you to access the files from anywhere, anytime. The only drawback I have found to Dropbox is it’s limited storage (2GB use to be a lot of data storage but today is almost nothing). Because they allow you to share folders with other people this 2GB’s of space can be used up almost immediately unless your shared folder peeps police their files well. Dropbox is the perfect solution for moving large files to other people without really getting into the world of Bit Torrents.

What’s your favorite organization app?

Your Blog's Uniqueness Rests With Your Story

What makes your blog (or Facebook page for those who don’t blog) unique, and therefore something someone else might want to read, learn from, or connect with on a personal level?

I’m always looking for ways to make my blog more “authentic” more “unique” for lack of a better phrase. If you blog for any length of time at all you will start to develop your own style and patterns, but you also start to put up barriers to your own writing without even knowing it. Those barriers for me end up being mechanical and personal.

Barriers To Writing, Blogging, or Social Networking

Mechanically, it has to look perfect, be grammatically correct, have a photo sized properly, with a searchable title, tags, and links. This just comes from blogging for almost 10 years, I do this almost without thinking, but it takes time, and it limits what I end up posting. If I just posted whatever I wanted without worrying about the mechanical functionality of the site I would probably post twice as much. Maybe that is a good thing after all.

Personally, I struggle with how much I say or don’t say with each post. It’s strange because Deborah who is far less personal in real life is sometimes more personal on her own blog and its vice-versa for me. I split up my own blog into basically four sections, one of those sections, called the Journal Category where I try to put my ongoing story or walk. Sometimes this works sometimes it doesn’t.

You are What’s Unique About Your Story

All that to say what makes blog articles or even posts to Facebook and Twitter unique is you, your story. It’s like no other. There is only one you and your experiences are different from everyone else. When I write an article about a new piece of technology or a review about a book I read, someone has inevitably already done that. It’s unique in my own way because my experience with that computer or book is different from someone else, but there is something different about posts from the heart about important issues that go on in their life. I love that. It’s authentic, it’s genuine, and it’s somewhat less filtered than anything I write.

I hope those bloggers below take this as a compliment and not a cut down but I have a very short, small list of blogs on my rss feed reader in a group that that I call my “a-list” (which purposely doesn’t include anyone I work with). These bloggers write straight from their hearts to the page. No fancy photos much of the time, no special SEO keywords for titles or content, traffic or stats to them seem basically unimportant, and for the most part design and platform are secondary concerns (although I will say the guys for some reason are far more concerned about design than the woman). I haven’t asked any of them this of course, it’s just a guess.

Somehow they have each individually captured my attention with the genuine manner in which they talk about their life. Funny most of them are woman. Seems that most men don’t want to talk about their personal life too much. The majority of my rss feeds are from the guys, but when it comes to being genuine and personal, the ladies do a far better job than we do.

So each time they do a blog post, I get to learn from them how to be a better blogger and writer, and hopefully how to better connect with other people. A great example of this is a post today that looks at the struggles of deep we get involved in the social networking of today instead of getting involved in people face to face. It’s a great look at why we blog, post on Facebook, and everything else that goes with being alive today, but it’s real.

So I say thanks to them here for helping me to continue to develop my blog and writing in a way that is real, genuine, and hopefully in a way that will connect with other people in a real way. I hope you might take a few minutes to scan through their blogs as well. The list below is their main blog address and their latest post.

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt

After months of looking at “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream” by David Platt, i finally decided i had to go ahead and read this book. Having read and studied several books and/or articles that discuss the concepts and failings of what we call the “American Dream”, I already had my own opinion about the topic, but still think it’s a worthy topic today. Radical ended up not really being focused so much on the American Dream as it was to focus away from the concept.

Whether we acknowledge it or not we are probably influenced by this concept in one way or another, and much of the time it tends to be a self-focused concept, how do I maximize my 401k, get that house, car, computer, whatever. Radical attempted to remove that self-focused concept and replace it with a global evangelistic focus that Jesus calls for in Matthew 28.

The book is a compilation of a sermon series given by the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, Dr. David Platt, after he returned from several international missional type trips a few years ago. i have read a few other reviews that have also suggested listening to the complete sermon series in addition to reading the book. Many have said it takes the book even deeper, so eventually I hope to listen to those as well. After a longer introduction period of a few chapters, Platt goes through seven truths, which are the premise for the text and lead to Platt’s conclusion, and eventually to his call to action. The truth statements come from this evaluating proclamation…

If people are dying and going to hell without ever even knowing there is a gospel, then we clearly have no time to waste our lives on an American dream.

The Seven Truth’s of Radical:

  • TRUTH 1 : All People Have Knowledge of God
  • TRUTH 2 : All People Reject God
  • TRUTH 3 : All People are Guilty Before God
  • TRUTH 4 : All People are Condemned for Rejecting God
  • TRUTH 5 : God Has Made a Way of Salvation For the Lost
  • TRUTH 6 : People Cannot Come to God Apart From Faith in Christ
  • TRUTH 7 : Christ Commands the Church to Make the Gospel Known to All Peoples

With each explained in detail, Radical proceeds into the final call to action with, what I read as the ultimate conclusion of the text.

…that means there is only one potential breakdown in this progression [of truths] —when servants of God do not preach the gospel to all peoples

This leads into Platt’s call to action. A one year plan, in five steps (or points), that intend to bring the believer into closer alignment to the truths in the Gospel message instead of continuing on a path towards the elusive American Dream.

Concluding Critique About Radical

For those with an evangelical background Radical will be a hard but familiar call to constantly evaluate our lives against the truths of the Gospel. Not only does it cause us to examine our lives more closely but it gives specific, tangible examples (or points) which are easy to evaluate, like reading the bible completely in one year (either you did or you didn’t).

Some may see this as works, or a process or program, but I don’t believe that is Platt’s message to believers at all. The Gospel is a call to live a radical life unlike that of the world, and Radical confirms this. It isn’t about a program to do this or that, it is about a life changed, and living a lifestyle for God not for self.

For those with a more liberal theology, or those who view some sermons as annoying guilt trips, Radical will probably be seen more as another radical pastor calling on people to give up all their worldly possessions, give them to the “poor” and go somewhere overseas to spread Christianity (which actually is in the bible too, but no doubt some will find it annoying to say the least). While they will appreciate the social consciousness aspect to Radical’s call, some will see it as an “evils of riches” guilt trip.

It is not a book that is going to answer all the questions, but it will stretch the believer into thinking beyond ourselves and the small boxes we tent to live in, especially here in the United States. Some questions that came to mind were:

  • How much is enough?
  • What can we live without for the sake of the Gospel?
  • Where do we spend our time and is it worth our time?
  • What do we see in ourselves when examining our life against scripture?
  • What will we do with the five action items in Radical?

It is always interesting to see if a book stands the test of time. One way I look at the effectiveness of a book is how well does the author make their arguments, and will the book survive the initial pop culture publication. In other words, does the author make convincing enough arguments to make the book either (1) entertaining, (2) does it make you change or examine the way you think, or (3) does it even change your actions and how you live. In short, does the book shape you in some way or form.

Since I rarely read books for their entertainment value, I hope for one of the latter points, and that is where Radical lands. It made me think, it changed the way I do a few things, and it caused me to take a hard look at my long term calling. I would highly recommend Radical to anyone who has a teachable spirit and is willing to take a new look at old ways of doing Christianity beyond Sunday morning.

I AM Lenten Reader, Bread of Life :: Lent Day 5

Today our reading comes from the common book of prayer. In case you are wondering why I am on day 5 and the reader is on day 6, I am just going by the traditional “40 days” of Lent, which does not include the Sunday’s of Lent. I did it this way because there is no reading for the day on that day, it’s in the service and I’m also not posting a blog post.

Day 5 :: Friday, March 14, 2011, Bread of Life

Gracious Father, Whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world:
Evermore give us this bread, that He may live in us, and we in Him;
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
(Book of Common Prayer)

Read John 6:1-15. In this passage, Jesus is providing for a physical necessity of the people who are following Him. Begin this week by worshiping God for His provision in your life.

Contemplation Over Day 5

It’s amazing how we look to Jesus for our physical needs when ultimately he was there for our spiritual eternity. Just a little bit farther down in John’s gospel, in John 6:26, Jesus says “I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves”, and often that is what we need from Jesus, to be fed and have our physical needs met. But once those physical needs are met, Jesus offers us so much more.

Living in the United States has given us what many in other countries do not have, a security in our daily physical needs, but it isn’t the government or an employer that provides us with those physical needs, even if we are trained by our culture today to think so. While it’s wonderful our physical needs for the most part are met, it doesn’t leave much room for God, nor do I think it gives us much of a reason to give God thanks for our daily needs.

Today I try to recognize that all of our physical and spiritual needs are fulfilled by God alone.