Saturday, April 13, 2019

What A Difference A Degree Makes

This weekend, I'll be submitting my final copy of my capstone. Assuming I receive a passing grade on this and my comprehensive final exam which I turned in last week, I will be approved to receive my masters degree in Christian Ministry from Lipscomb University. This was a 36 hour program that took me four years to complete. I would have been done about a year and a half ago had it not been for some scheduling issues and moving this past fall to a new town and a new church.

I've been talking about being done with my degree with Ashley a little over the last week or so and what has amazed me has been different from what has amazed her. She has been impressed with the progress I have made over this time as I have really stretched and challenged myself over these last four years. I can see things in scripture and in the world in ways that I never would have had I not taken on this endeavor. I'm so glad I took this on because I needed the challenge. In the spring of 2015, I was spiritually bored. I was working in youth ministry with a lot of students who, while being terrific kids, knew a pretty small amount of the story of scripture. (Fun fact: I have found that most of the people who know the Bible fairly well can tell me who Elijah is. This is usually the question I ask people when gaining a grasp of people's biblical literacy). While I loved working with this great group of students, I wasn't really stretching or challenging myself in teaching them because most of what I taught them were things that I had already mostly memorized. I needed a challenge and would soon realize that seminary was my best bet at gaining a better understanding of God and the Bible. I had a lot of respect for the professors at Lipscomb and knew they could help me in a number of ways so I enrolled there. I would begin my first semester in late August of 2015.
Addy playing in the sandbox. Apparently there are some things you're not too old for...

What amazed me in comparison to what amazed Ashley was not what I learned but how much has changed since I started. You see Ashley was pregnant with my 3 year old son, Gatlin, at the time that I enrolled at Lipscomb. He was born about three weeks before my first classes began. We were prepared for this and my schedule changing drastically to accommodate a newborn and extra studying but we'd had about 5 or 6 months to prepare for all of this. What we weren't prepared for was what happened at our church at the same time that my grad school started. Our church had parted ways with the children's minister on staff at the end of July. Our college minister at the time had left at the end of the school year to take on a preaching job in the Corpus Christi area. A few days after my son was born, the preaching minister at Huntsville and my good friend, Matt Springfield, told me that he had accepted the preaching job at the church he had grown up at and he and his family would be moving there within the month. In about four months time, I went from being on a staff of 4 to being the lone minister on staff in Huntsville..... right when my son was born and I started grad school. I wanted a challenge so God clearly gave me one. Since beginning grad school, we have gone from being a family of 4 to a family of 6, my wife and me have both taken on new jobs, our family has moved to a big city and a larger church where we both work on staff together as ministers, we have a new house, the big girls are in new schools, and the two little ones have begin "school" (daycare).
Sweet girl catching a nap during lunch

Even with so much transition over the last couple of years for us mentally and physically, I have personally gone through a ton of transition spiritually. I went through a season where I felt distant from the heart of God. While saying this sounds simply, it was a devastating blow for me and took some time to move past. I owe a ton of gratitude to Kris Miller and John Mark Hicks as they taught me the work and movement of the Spirit and the heart of God. That season was tough for me in a lot of ways that very few people actually know about for a variety of reasons. Dr. Miller introduced me to spiritual direction, something that I am very thankful for. I'm very grateful for Karen Wood, my spiritual director and the mom of one of my old high school buddies, Burton. She helped me to engage the Spirit of God who helped guide me during a really tough season. Dr. Hicks showed me how to question God in healthy ways that led me to a healthy struggle with His heart. I never questioned God's existence, but I did question His purpose and motives during all this time. Dr Hicks showed me how to do this in a way that would lead to blessing, which it did. There are other professors that I am extremely thankful for having learned under such as Rubel Shelly and Earl Lavender. Their classes have changed my approach to ministry forever. However, the timing of when I took the courses from Miller and Hicks were divine. I only told a couple of people this, but I probably would've left church ministry altogether had I not had those courses when I did.
Little man's first swim lesson!

Overall, it's incredible to look at everything that has happened in our family's life. What I have discovered about healthy relationships though is that what is important isn't the events you end up experiencing, it's the people whom you experience these events with. I can't imagine doing everything I have done over the last four years without having the kids and Ashley there with me to experience them together. I think it was a natural thing for Jesus's apostles to continue His work after He left when you look at everything they experienced together. I think this is a major reason the global church continues to grow. It hasn't been incredible preaching or amazing global outreach programs (don't get me wrong, those are important). It is because we find a common bond in Christ and we're willing to share life together with one another because of that bond.

I don't want this to look like everything has been miserable by any stretch of the imagination. While there have been some tough times here or there, we have gotten to experience some wonderful things all together as well. Hopefully the pictures in this post are an example of that. We've been blessed with two more beautiful and incredible children, new jobs and a new home. Everything is so much more local for us now. We live within about two miles of everything that we need (Ashley never wants to leave the house now so there's that...) We now have season passes to SeaWorld and the zoo! There's food truck park about 5 miles from our house (Ashley and I are foodies so it's heaven on earth for us). We are blessed with a home that provides a lot of fun things to do too. While I have enjoyed my seminary experience, I am also glad it is over. I haven't ruled out continuing my education even further down the road, but I have definitely ruled out continuing it anytime soon.
At SeaWorld waiting for Shamu
At the Texas Open with my oldest baby

I am very thankful for the men who have served most of their lives in the church and are now giving of their time to teaching other ministers like me the road that we travel and showing us how to navigate life and ministry. I would be fortunate to one day have anything close to the wisdom and guidance they share with so many other ministers on a regular basis. I am thankful for two parents who have financially and mentally supported over these four years and have always provided a place to stay during my weekend intensive courses. Of course I can't say enough about Ashley during these four years. She was finishing her masters degree during the first year of our marriage and while I pitched in to help with the girls as she finished things up, she has been infinitely more instrumental in watching kids longer and giving me space so that I can read, write, and research. Her support continues to be the second most vital of my motivational factors behind only the last one I want to thank. Most of all, I am thankful to my Creator God who loves each of us beyond imagination and reveals to us His divine plan through the life He has poured out through His Spirit that is moving in is, through us, and with us. May I never lose the wonder of His mercy or the desire to continuing following His heart. Praise God.

Friday, March 1, 2019


Transitions are rarely easy. We're forced to stretch ourselves and push beyond what we thought our limits and comfort zones extend to.

Our transition from Huntsville to San Antonio was anything but easy. While the new position at NorthWest has been fantastic in so many ways, our family struggled for a number of reasons. It took much longer to sell our Huntsville home than we had anticipated. Because of this, we had to drop the price to lower than we would have preferred. We still came out ok financially, but things were extremely tight there for a bit. We stayed at an Airbnb townhome for about a month because thats all we could afford when combining the cost of that and our mortgage. Our savings account was virtually wiped out. God would eventually provide a way for us and we were able to sell our house just in time, but it seemed like there was almost no light at the end of that tunnel for some time.

The thing that made this difficult though was that about two years ago, Ashley and me purchased a week long vacation in Cabo and it was impossible to get a refund. We were supposed to close on our new home here in San Antonio two days after we left for Cabo. Again, if we stayed back to close on our home, then we would forfeit a non-refundable vacation that cost us around $2000. We were able to sign power of attorney over to some close friends of ours and they signed for us while we were gone. 

Here's what was incredible. My mom stayed with our kids while we were in Cabo. She got in touch with several people from our new church home who all elected to spend their Saturday moving all of our things from a storage unit into our new home. What we thought would take several days to do ourselves, they did in one. My new church family reversed robbed us! They took all of our things and put them INTO our new house. Once they got wind of Ashley's illnesses, they also set up a meal train and we did not need to cook dinner at all the first week that we were in our new house. 
The playground at our new house. Given to us by one of the families at our new church home!

A few weeks later, Ashley applied for and was offered the Children and Families Minister position at our church. I now get to go to work every day with my wife! We're blessed to be working with a terrific group of ministers and administrators at NW and some exciting changes are happening that we have both gotten to be a big part of. God continues to do things in our life that we never saw coming.

Audrey is flourishing at her new school despite it being 30 times the size of her old school in Huntsville (literally). She is a student athletic trainer and she loves it. It puts her on a fast track for medicine which is what she has always wanted to go into. She is thriving in her AP classes and really loves her new school. 
Audrey with Santa (who also happens to double as one of our shepherds!)

Addison is doing well too. I've learned that Addy is neutral about literally everything. I ask her how school was or how she enjoyed a particular event or activity and 99% of the time she simply says "it's good" and refuses to elaborate any further. She wears a purple hoodie and black athletic pants to school virtually every day. There was one day when she didn't and I asked her why and her response was "I have no idea. I don't know whats wrong with me today." She also works very hard to continue being a little girl despite being 11 now. This can be witnessed in the picture below where she's playing in her younger siblings' sandbox.

Gatlin and Millie are both in daycare three days a week and they love it. It's a recently opened place but the teachers are very intentional about loving on and caring for the kids who are there. Gatlin thinks it's just the coolest thing that his mommy and daddy both work at Bible class. 

A couple of weeks ago, our family went with all of Ashley's sisters and their family to Disney World and I'm pretty sure that Gatlin was the most fascinated by everything that was going on. We got to see all of the newer attractions like Pandora from Avatar (my personal favorite), Harry Potter world (by far Audrey's favorite), and Toy Story land (by far Gatlin's favorite). We had some experienced Disney guides take us through each of the parks at the right times so that we could avoid lines as much as possible. They were terrific. They would even watch our two little ones so that Ashley and me could go on rides that they were too small for. It also turns out that Gatlin was barely tall enough to ride a couple of roller coasters for the very first time. You can see the video of him riding Slinky Dog Dash below. The entire vacation was exhausting because of everything that we did, but it was a very good kind of exhausting. 

Audrey's Gryffindor acceptance letter

Pure bliss 

Today marks six months that I have officially been on staff here at NorthWest and four months for Ashley. This transition has been difficult on so many levels. However, I have learned so much about myself and my family during this time. I think that we can handle just about anything together. We have learned the value and importance of relying on our church family in times of need. We have learned how much easier it is to work at a place where you feel like family as opposed to simply an employee. Paul's writings are so much clearer to me than they used to be because of the family style relationship that he had with the churches whom he was writing to. Ashley and I have both loved working with Marvin, our lead minister who has been at NW for over 25 years. We are very different from one another but I think that's why we're able to work so well with each another. We also get to work with a young youth minister whom we have both been very impressed with in Brandyn. There are also 14 shepherds at our church who have all loved us in so many ways that we have never experienced before. The more Ashley and I talk about this place, the more that we envision ourselves being here for a very long time. 
Gatlin entertaining himself in my office

Transition is difficult, even the good transitions. The Israelites struggled when they left Egypt. They struggled again when they entered into the promised land forty years later. They struggled the most when they were taken into captivity. The churches in the New Testament struggled during their start times. I think that we have struggled in our own ways as well. This struggle must take place though so that we can learn from God and lean on Him more. One of my professors in seminary once told me that by looking at the story of Jacob wrestling with God and receiving a blessing, we can conclude that when we wrestle with the heart of God, we will be blessed in a variety of ways. I am finally beginning to leave this season of transition and the season of wrestling with the heart of God. It was very difficult on me mentally, physically, and especially spiritually. But I am grateful for this struggle. It has been yet another reminder that God is so much bigger than anything that I ever could have imagined. He continues to open so many doors for people here and it has been a joy and honor to walk alongside them during these times. May God continue to open my eyes in ways that I never thought were possible, and may He open yours in the same way.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

My Next Chapter

I've been waiting for some time to pass to write this post but it's been coming for some time. The last couple of months have been the most hectic since I became a husband, dad, and first time homeowner with a new job all in about 4 months (I could be wrong but I can't see those 4 months ever being topped). It honestly kind of difficult to even figure out where to begin. Maybe just being straightforward will be a good start.

At the end of July, I accepted an offer from the Northwest Church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas to become their new associate minister. My family and I are  officially out of Huntsville and out of youth ministry. This move comes with an array of emotions. Some of those feelings I will be diving into and others I will not. My role will have me primarily working with young adults in this church. I'll be overseeing all those 18-35. There will be more challenges and responsibilities, something that I have desired for some time now. I am now a couple of weeks in on the job and it has been really great so far. This church has never hired for a position like this so we are both learning about each other and ourselves as we go along. A very popular term in church and ministry right now is "organic" which is a reference to the desire that churches have to make ministry and mission happen naturally as opposed to programs. I'm a fan of this.

For some time now, I have felt God calling me to something different from what I have been doing. There have been some very high and low moments throughout this process for me. I am forever grateful to my students and parents who were and are a part of the youth ministry in Huntsville. They will always have a special place in my heart and I could write a completely separate blog about so many individuals having such a huge impact on my life and my family's lives (and I just may at some point!). With this being said, God opened a number of different doors at a number of different times and places that have ultimately led me to where I am now in San Antonio.

We are very excited about this new chapter for our family (also don't worry about the picture at the top if you don't watch the NBA or know who Kevin Durant is). We have always loved getaways to San Antonio and all that it has to offer. The church is about a ten minute drive from both SeaWorld and Six Flags as well as 15-20 minutes from downtown and the riverwalk. We are in the TexMex capitol of the world which happens to be Ashley's favorite kind of food. We are a reasonable drive from virtually every kind of restaurant and shopping store in existence and about 20 minutes from the San Antonio airport. The church has been wonderful to us as well. They have solid youth ministry and children's ministry programs and a terrific lead pastor who has been working alongside this church for 25 years. This church even had several people spend their Saturday morning a few weeks ago helping us move most of our things into a storage unit! They have all been very good to us early on and we're excited to continue this work for years to come.

One very difficult part of this transition has been the selling of our house. We simply struck out in finding a buyer for a very long time and while there is a contract on our house now, the in-between part has been rough on our family both financially and mentally. We are staying at an Airbnb townhome about 10 miles from our new church and the girls' schools. This has been fine for the time being but we are basically paying double rent on only my salary. Ashley is still in the hunt for a job out here and there are a couple of very nice possibilities but she is mainly staying focused on caring for the two littles while getting our housing stuff situated. We have a contract on a house that is a mile from the church and 3 miles from the girls' schools. One thing I am now pretty sure of. Buying and selling houses is absolutely miserable on so many levels. Our buying and selling realtors have both been fantastic but the process is still awful and don't get me started about moving..... ok now that I've mentioned moving I'll just say that it blows and that's all.

I think that perhaps the most difficult portion of this has been watching Ashley go through everything. Ashley voluntarily walked away from her job as the executive director of the Care Center, a job she openly referred to as her dream job, a job where she daily felt fulfilled, a job that she dearly loved, a job that she was crazy good at. This ministry more than doubled in size and clients in her four years there. She walked away from that job for no other jobs in sight. She walked away because she wanted to follow me with our children to San Antonio. I have held her as she has cried on multiple occasions. She has been supportive despite her giving up what she loved for my calling. She has strong during this time of crazy transition in between houses and moving schools for our girls. She has transformed herself into a temporary stay at home mother in order to care for and love on our kids. She has potty trained our son, which has been quite the task to say the least (he wants to facetime people every time he goes so that they can see his "finished work"). She has also tried to control this little one as she has learned to walk. 
This has been good because we're discovering that there's nothing that she is afraid of.If there is anything that this move has reminded me, it is that, by God's grace and the Spirit's guidance, I am still married to the most incredible woman I have ever met. 

Despite these transition pains, things our wonderful with our family and we have not stopped discussing and imagining all the things that God is doing in our family and in our new church and city. We are always experiencing something new and exciting. Audrey is 16, we all know what that means. Addy is the oldest at her new school (who's to say she doesn't shove all her classmates and the occasional teacher in a cubby?!), my main man is learning to use the potty, and the little sweet girl has a sinister side to her (check out my last fb video. girl is a savage!).

While we will miss so many faces back in Huntsville, we are looking forward to so many things here with Northwest. We look forward to what God has laid out for us working in His Kingdom and He has plans we didn't even know were a possibility. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Amelia Ella Kay

I have a confession to make. I'm in love with another woman besides my wife. As a matter of fact, I'm in love with three. They all have their different quirks about them. I wouldn't trade them for any other girls in this world. They are my daughters. The journey with the two older girls has been fun, frustrating, rewarding, glamorous, disheartening, and incredible. The good has outweighed the bad and it's not even close. 

Being a dad to a high schooler has been interesting to say the least, particularly when she expresses interest in a boy who happens to be in the very class that I teach at her school (so is Audrey!). I try so hard to sound impressed when she tells me about all the different boys whom she found out have a crush on her, the whole time I want to beg her to talk to me about anything else. A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

Addy is the most consistent 10 year old that I have ever met and I mean that in a good way and bad way. We always know exactly what to expect from her. She is most definitely not going to make her room look like a tank drove through it. She will by all means not clean it up until we make her. She will definitely take a good 4 hours to clean up this mess when Ashley or me could accomplish this task in less than 30 minutes. 

Some of these things will change over time. Some I'm not sure ever will (Dear God, bless the man whom Addison marries and shares a room with. May he be wealthy enough to hire a maid. Amen). However, there is a new girl who has overwhelmed me for the past year. She goes by Millie and she calls me "da da" currently. She has blue eyes and somehow reddish hair that sticks up like it's a magnet. She is the happiest baby I have ever seen. Everything is wonderful and she never wants to go to sleep because she doesn't want to miss a thing. While my generation or Millenials are noted for living by the term "YOLO" Generation Z (those ages 7-22) are noted for living by a term that most of them live by but few ever say, "FOMO" or Fear Of Missing Out. This describes Millie to a tee. 

Two weeks from tomorrow, Millie will turn a year old. She is our final and youngest child. She befriends everyone whom she makes eye contact with despite being virtually unable to speak. Perhaps her favorite person to be around (obviously besides her mother) is probably her big brother, Gatlin. This is ironic to us because in his quest to love her and be affectionate towards her, he beats her up. I promise he means well, we've just had to be very diligent about explaining to him repeatedly what the word "gentle" means. She constantly tries to follow him everywhere, play with the toys he plays with, eat the food he eats, and even talk to him even though she doesn't really say words.

The Millie experience has been a poetic one for me. God gave me three women in my life when I married the most incredible woman I have ever met. Learning to live with all women was quite the challenge. At times, my seminary degree would have been easier to do. God gave me some backup with Gatlin, but he opened my eyes once more with Millie. Millie has caused me to imagine Audrey and Addy when they were babies, something that has been difficult for me to do simply because I wasn't in the picture when that was happening for either of them. I can imagine their eyes when they experience things for the first time. I can picture them laughing. I can envision them gazing upon their mother. I really think that that look hasn't changed hardly at all since that time when they were Millie's age. 

Millie's role has been to bring joy into our world. I thought that we had plenty of that already. God showed me through Millie that there was more to have. I don't think that I can put limits on these spiritual fruits any longer because every time that I think that I have hit the ceiling. I'm shown more through Ashley, one of the kids, or one of my students. 

She makes her mommy feel like the most important woman in the world, and to Millie, she is and not just because she is her food source (yep, that's exactly what she was for Gatlin). They have a special bond. Ashley will openly admit that she's a girl mom and is still learning the art of raising a boy. I equate it to riding a rollercoaster blindfolded: you really don't know what is going on but you also know that you'll be ok in the end. Millie and Ashley are smitten with one another. The again, I'm not sure if there's anyone who isn't smitten with Millie after spending about 5 minutes with her. 

I wasn't sure how I would feel about having yet another girl in my life. I mean, think about it, that's not only another college to try and pay for, but also another wedding (am I a horrible dad for secretly considering encouraging my kids to elope if it's the right guy and they're ready???). That's another hormonal 13 year old. I'm already in an estrogen ocean. What's one more right? It's another person to gripe about the toilet seat being up, it's another person to fight boys away from. 

But then I think about all the privileges I get to have once again. I get to express to yet another woman how she means more to me than any other man. I get to have her first dance (it was like 6 months and she won't remember it, but I'll never forget it). I was the first man she ever kissed. I mean it was open-mouthed and she slobbered all over me, but it was a kiss nonetheless. I get to share with her the story of God's divine plan for her that runs through the life and cross of Jesus. And with Millie being a girl, that's another sex talk that I don't have to be the primary voice in! (sorry not sorry Ashley). 

God knew exactly what he was doing when he gave our family one final girl. Millie makes each of us whole. She brightens our faces and brings us joy on incomprehensible levels. Thank God for Amelia Ella Kay. Happy first birthday sweet girl.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

An Update On the Crashcourse

It has been far too long since I last updated this thing. This issue has been addressed with me by all of my avid readers (all both of you...). I'll give a quick update since it's been almost a year and a half.

Ashley and I welcomed our first son, Gatlin on August 1st of 2015. He has an insatiable appetite for food and life in general. He constantly moves around and plays with different toys whether they are actual toys or not. Making messes are one of his spiritual gifts. He could talk before he could walk. The picture below is from this past 4th of July when he was told to show his muscles.

Two weeks after G man was born, I began my pursuit of my master's degree in ministry at Lipscomb. It was also during this month that I discovered that I would spend a short period of time being the lone minister on staff at my church as 2 of our ministers took positions elsewhere. I spent most of the rest of 2015 being the lone guy. The members of my church did an incredible job stepping up and filling in gaps where things were missing. The church hired an interim preacher to fill in on Sundays which helped take the pressure off of me and I was extremely grateful for that. 

I have loved my studies as a seminary student. If I am being completely honest, this is really the first time that I have truly applied myself in my education in an attempt to truly learn and better myself (but I promise I had fun at all levels of my education!). I am very grateful to have been able to learn from the men of God at Lipscomb like Dr. Earl Lavender and Dr. Rubel Shelly amongst others. I am currently on track to graduate in May of 2018. I have now gotten a terrific taste for what Ashley was going through when we first got married and she was both a full time teacher and a graduate student and I have gained a lot more respect for her as a result of that. 

My church hired two terrific ministers to fill in the college and preaching roles. The are both in their 40s which allows me to make the joke of being 28 and the "most tenured minister on staff." This year, my life was theoretically going to be smoother..... theoretically.....

Ashley and I are expecting our fourth child to be born in early June. This should be interesting in that June is when things really take off in youth ministry at basically every church in the US simply because you aren't competing with school schedules. Ashley is due to give birth to a girl (to be named Amelia but will be called "Millie") on June 7th. I also must take one of my online graduate courses to begin around that time and run through most of the summer. If that wasn't enough, I will be leading a group of about 30 from my church to Nicaragua on the 16th. Needless to say, June will by no means be a boring month for me. 

One of the more eye-opening experiences since my last post would have to be having my own child in my youth ministry as well as simply having a teenager in general. I'm saving this for a separate post. The age gaps we have in our family including Ashley and myself is dynamic to say the least: 1, 9, 14, 28, and over 28 (love you babe;)). The girls have been an incredible help with keeping on eye on Gatlin to allow Ashley and me to get different things done or go to meetings or even occasionally date nights together. Despite what they may say, it is very evident that they love their little brother so much and he loves them too.

With all of this being said, I have to admit that, as the saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Audrey is still becoming drop dead gorgeous and it blows (we experienced a guy "taking her out" since then. I'm so not ready for this). Addison is still and always will be herself and is never changing (she told me that felt like a rebel this week when she ordered a burger instead of chicken nuggets at a restaurant...). Ashley still convinces me on a daily basis that I won the lottery when she said "I do" almost three and a half years ago and that she is the most amazing woman that I have ever met. Gatlin is finding his role in our family in that he is constantly providing us with entertainment on a variety of levels. He'll display what new word he learned or show off his ability to smear food all over the entire top half of his body during dinner. I'm still a sports nut surrounded by women who care nothing about sports. Gatlin can now say football and loves throwing his balls back and forth with me so I can say that there is some light at the end of that tunnel. I have become captivated by creativity in all things that I do since beginning the pursuit of my master's degree and particularly in thanks to Dr. Lavender. I live with four creatures of habit who want to know what is going to be happening at every waking hour of the day. I am happy to make life up as I go and if you have read any of my other posts, you might have noticed that that is what this blog is all about. I have been relieved to hear from several people older than me that they too made up much of their own life as they went, particularly in reference to parenting, which I am openly admitted to making up as I go. It has been nice to know that I am not alone in this mindset even when it is wrong sometimes.

My life is still a crash course and will most likely stay that way for some time. I believe God put me in the place He has put me in for a reason. I will be continuing to earnestly learn on the fly and I could use all the help I can get. 
Audrey, Addison, and Gatlin. Christmas 2015

Monday, August 3, 2015

My Lunch Date with Another Woman

Now that my summer craziness is finally dying down, I can write a couple of things that I have experienced over the summer that I have wanted to write about. This one started up a couple of weeks ago when Audrey had to join Ashley at work one day.

During this time, the girls had to go to work with either me or Ashley and since Ashley had limited mobility, Audrey went to work with her to help with things around her office. Addison went to a friend's house to play for the day. I decided to take Audrey out for a lunch date. I don't always get one on one time with the girls as I'll usually get them both together.

I picked up Audrey and we went to Chilis. It's really important to me that I treat her in special ways when we have this one on one time because I want her to expect those types of things when she starts going on dates with guys. Even though it's gonna be at least another 3+ years before that happens, I want her to be able to notice the differences between the guys who are worthy of dating her and the ones who are not.

I opened the door for her to get into the car. I told her that I liked her outfit and how it was nice, but also appropriate at the same time. I tell her how I love that she is not like other girls and that her uniqueness is what makes her special.

I love that Audrey has standards for the guys she dates. Only time will tell if those standards change or not, but the fact that they are already there give me some peace. Audrey will set the bar for the type of guys that Addison dates. The guys that the girls date will set the bar for how their little brother, Gatlin sees how dating should be and how he should treat girls.

At Chilis I asked her about how she felt about dating. She told me that she has no intentions of going out with a guy until she is 16. The best part about that is she said that because when she goes on dates at 16, she will meet the guy at the place they go to instead of ride with him because that way if the date goes poorly then she can drive herself home (I swear I didn't give her that idea). She said that she wouldn't walk through any doors unless he opened them for her. She said that she won't pay for a thing on any of the dates she goes on.

My favorite comment she made about dating was that she told me that she would not let a guy kiss her until the 7th date, but that isn't the best part. I asked her why the 7th date and she said that 7 is a holy number and it's not too long or too short. I have no way of arguing this because it was both moral and biblical, so I moved on after laughing for about 5 minutes straight.

We talked about her being in the youth group. This is something that I think is hilarious because the only guys who ever have their own kids in their youth ministry stay in youth ministry for at least 10-15 years. I'm going on year 5. The guys who I interned under, Kody Speer and Robbie Forrester, have both yet to have any of their own kids in their youth ministry. We talked about what her expectations are and will be. We talked about how she fits into the group and what she likes and doesn't like about the ministry. I think her being in my ministry will present some challenges, but it will also present some advantages for me as a youth minister. This will also mean more time with her, which is good because of the phase of life that she is about to go through. This is a highly influential phase and because of that, it presents some things to be aware of.

I'm already starting to pay more attention to the friends she surrounds herself with because they are playing a huge role in shaping her into the woman she becomes. Family plays a big role in that but many times, friends play an even bigger role. Last week, Ashley and I finally caved in a bought her a cell phone. We figured that we might as well skip the "why don't I have an iPhone when every one else does" argument and got her an iPhone 5s. We have set about a billion restrictions on it already because I am convinced that cell phones and social media play a huge role in a girl's negative self image. She now has a private instagram account and became addicted to texting about 1.25 seconds after the phone was put into her hands. I have been ok with that because the people she has sent most of her texts to have been family. She is in full blown junior high girl mode in that she lives to blow up people's phones with meaningless texts. My dad was the most recent victim (take that dad!).

Ashley also told Audrey that this is the year that she is allowed to wear eye liner. She has worn it to church for the last couple of weeks and Ashley is already regretting it and so am I because she looks like she is at least 15 years old and she still isn't a teenager yet. Ashley handles all of the dressing and makeup rules because I'm an idiot when it comes to that stuff. That's not to say that I would let her dress up like a prostitute when she goes out. It's more to say that I'm comfortable with her going out wearing a trash bag because clothes just aren't really a big deal to me (I made a good decision marrying Ashley).

After saying these things I am realizing something. The little 10 year old that I met almost 3 years ago is starting to become a woman. Audrey will always be the leader of mine and Ashley's children regardless of the point in life that they might be at. I am so proud of the woman she is becoming and continues to grow in to. I love her little quirks like her love for following rules, her need to be overprepared for everything she does, her love for John Wayne movies, her ability to be so gentle and patient with Addison, and most of all, I love her desire to please God in all the things that she does.

I am blessed with an incredible family and Audrey Bonine is a big part of that.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Living in the Village

I have had this on my mind for some time now and with me speaking in church this coming Sunday, maybe I will be able to refer to some of this while talking about this topic.

People say that it takes a village to raise a child, not just parents. I couldn't find this to be more true. However, the one thing that brings me concern is who that village is.

I lived in a neighborhood for 7 or 8 years where I actually hung out with my neighbors. They would walk over to my house or I walk go to theirs. It was heading into the 5th grade that my family moved to a house about a mile away where we were no longer in a neighborhood of any kind. We were literally a house on a hill all by ourselves with the nearest neighbor literally being a good 500 yards away. I still had friends from my new school and of course there was family, but the neighborhood friends faded from my life pretty quickly after the move.

I believe that kids conform to the village that they spend the most time with. When this expression was originally formed, it was a long time ago when kids had this one thing in common: their village was the place that they lived. There were very few exceptions to this. The kids in the village went to school together, played on sports teams together, went to each others houses together, and went to church together. Many of them would date and end up marrying each other. Villages were tight knit, they looked out for each other because they knew that they could trust each other (they had no other choice). Everyone knew everyone and everything going on in the lives of the people in the village.

The same village scenario is exactly the same today...... except that it is the polar opposite. For a few years in my life, I had friends separated into categories like colors in a crayon box. I had school friends, basketball friends, baseball friends, soccer friends, church friends, family friends, college friends, and sometimes just good ol friends friends. Most of the time, those friend groups never really overlapped. I never really realized this until the rise of Facebook when I thought about how many different ways I knew people and how many of my friends only fit in one category.

We have become a culture of options. There are options for literally everything. We have options on the food we eat, the tv shows we watch, the cars we drive, the technology we use, the schools our kids attend, the teams they play on, the churches we attend and the houses we live in amongst thousands of other things. Options vary from likeability to affordability to competition to potential and eventually all the way back to likeability.

Thanks to social media, smartphones, and the internet, we have every option laid out in front of us at all times. Any kid with a smartphone gets pretty much the same options and because of this, they get to choose which village they spend the most time with. They don't have to hang out in their neighborhood unless they want to and I'll say it again: We all eventually become a product of our village.

I say these things to go back to the village that raised me. The people who affected me the most from my village were people whom I still look forward to going back to Nashville and seeing every chance that I get. They are people who played a major role in forming me into the person I am today (so if you don't like me, it's definitely their fault...). To name a few:

Mike Hayes
Mike Dorris
Tucker Anderson
Molly Hayes
Mark Agee
Jeff Shouse
Alex Sylvis
James Anderson
Todd Lawson
Mac Hughes
Chad Hedgepath
Will Baxter
Henrietta "Metta" Vaughn and miss Julie
Jenny Hayes
Cindy Anderson
Pat Hughes
Keith Welch
Van Barendht
Mark and Nancy Barrett
Roger Chester
Mama Bear Hestle
Real Peloquin
James Lynn
Mark and Sonya Dupay
Tom and Debbie Willett

To almost everyone who reads this, these names mean absolutely nothing to you. I'm leaving a ton of people off but the people listed above have two things in common:
1. I am not related to any of them (My mom would disagree with that statement, but according to her, we are also related to Elvis. I would prefer to be "related" to a hall of fame athlete but I guess I'll settle).
2. They were/are all members of Berry's Chapel Church of Christ where I grew up.

I have realized on several different occasions that BC is the village that helped raise me the most. There have been plenty of other people who have played huge roles earlier in my life, but whenever I came to church, I knew that way more than just my own two parents were looking after me. Some of the people on that list were parents of friends my age in the church, some of them simply decided to take a vested interest in me, most of them were both of those things. The village that raised me was the church. Looking back, I think they played an enormous role in my decision to go into ministry. I got to see why God gave us the church and what the church does for so many of us and after seeing those things, I don't know why I wouldn't want to play a full time role in the church.

I could not have asked for better parents. They worked so hard to raise me and give me the very best life that they could offer, but now that I am a parent myself, I have learned something that I hope every current and future parent understands. Every parent has weaknesses. I know for a fact that I do. I think my parents had some and I think any parent has things that just aren't strongpoints. This doesn't make any of us bad parents. It simply means that we have to rely on the village to fill in the gaps, particularly the village that God has given us.

I learned more about taking action for the things you believe in from Mike Hayes than I did anyone else. I learned what it means to be family to people you aren't actually related to from Henrietta "Metta" Vaughn. I learned that there's no limit to creativity from Cindy Anderson. I learned that church camp never gets old from James Lynn. I think I am surviving being a crash course adult largely in part because of them.

These people truly are family to me. I spent more time with church friends than I did anyone else growing up. They really genuinely care for me. That's why when I come home, after reuniting with my family, I look forward to seeing them more than anyone else. I rarely track friends from high school, I have no idea whats going on with the guys I played basketball with, I only keep up with a small few of the people I went to college with. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy my time with them or that I don't care about them anymore. I wish them all the best. There's just something that cannot be fully explained with words when it comes to my relationship with my church family at BC.

Looking forward, I have two beautiful daughters that I am in co-charge of. I think they have the best mother this world has to offer, which is good cause you can't expect much out of me. However, as hard as we both try, we have areas where we are incomplete as parents. What has been wonderful is the village that has surrounded my new family since moving out to Huntsville when we were still learning how to be a family. We have already started to get Audrey involved with different women in the church that she looks up to. I know that so many people in our village are already playing a huge role in her life as well as Addison's. It's people like Dorothy Houchin, Karen Altom, Eugene Kelly, Matt and Danielle Springfield, Foy and Mitzi Mills, Toni Sikes, Sydney Andrus, Larry and LeeAnn Wells, and all of the Correas, to name a few, that will be a people whom our girls view as family during their time here and that one or both of them look up to and/or enjoy spending time with.

As a full time youth minister, I get to see the cause-and-effect of the village on a weekly basis. Whether it is something in worship, before or after worship, in a class or activity, or even out in the community during the day, I get to see the church in action. God gave us the church, not so that we have a place to show up to on Sunday, punch our Jesus card, and go home on a weekly basis, but so that we can be the church.

I love the youth ministry that I get to be a part of. One of the group's defining characteristics is that almost half of them are in families that do not go to our church and some don't go to church at all. A couple of weeks ago, the rest of our church family got to see how special this is. We honored our graduating senior class a couple of weeks ago on a Sunday night. Seven different seniors were honored and thanked for being a part of our youth ministry. Of those seven seniors, only two of them have families who are members of our church family. The other five seniors began coming to our ministry's activities because of the two who have been raised at the Huntsville church.

It's because of this village in Huntsville that I am confident in the rearing of my soon-to-be-born son, Gatlin, when he makes his grand appearance into this world, which we're expecting to witness in early August. It's because of guys like Nathan Spencer, Gonzalo Correa, Scooter Langley, Kelvin Riddler, Chris Kern, Jacob Chandler, Spencer Ehlert, and Brent Slott that I am confident in his rearing because I know that they are men who can help me be the dad that Gatlin and every other boy in this world need. I pray that maybe people can turn around and view me in that way to some degree one day.

I know that villages like the one I grew up in at Berry's Chapel and the one my family is a part of in Huntsville are by no means set apart from so many other church families. They don't exclusively exist in Huntsville, TX or Franklin, TN. They are all over this country and even this world. These villages raise some of the most amazing people currently living in our world today and my prayer is that this is a cycle that God continues to bless our world with.