Some thoughts on justice this MLK Day…

Nearly every year in the past on the day marking the celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I have shared a quote of some kind, but if I’m being honest, most of those times, I’ve never taken time to reflect or pray to God about how I should change myself, how I should advocate, how I should learn and value the experiences of others, or how I should amplify the voices of those still calling for the justice that Dr. King preached.

I’ve thought about what I should say today, and throughout the day so far, no words I’ve considered have seemed to be adequate. I’m not sure if these are either. And words that we say should not only be said today but also lived out every other day of the year. Let me start by saying that BLACK LIVES MATTER. Not only do they matter, but they are loved, they are valuable, and they are created in the image of God, a God who loves them, sees them, and hears them. All lives cannot matter until we recognize, work to ensure, and make it a reality that Black lives matter.

I don’t have all the answers on how we make this a reality, and as a white man who has never faced racial discrimination, I will never fully understand the pain and the struggles that so many BIPOC and other marginalized communities face. But what I can do is listen to and learn from those who have endured racism. I must continually pray that I am not a stumbling block to change but an advocate for it.

Trayvon Martin. Botham Jean. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Philando Castille. Ahmaud Arbery. George Floyd. Elijah McClain. Javier Ambler. Their lives among so many others mattered. And we must not forget the names of Black women who have been killed. Sandra Bland. Atatiana Jefferson. Breonna Taylor, and countless others. All of their lives mattered.

As we say their names, we must raise our voices in pursuit of a society that values all people just as Jesus Christ values all people. This doesn’t include just police and criminal justice reform, but also education, housing, healthcare, voting rights, and so much more. And we must have these conversations. We must not belittle and degrade the experiences and frustrations of those who feel as though an entire system is stacked against them. Listen to them. Listen to their voices. And choose to walk alongside them in their journey.

For me this is what it means to follow Christ. To follow Christ entails learning from others and amplifying the voices of those who are often not being listened to. Isaiah 1:17 teaches us this: “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (NRSV).

We must also heed the words of Micah 6:8. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV).

Advocating on behalf of others is an essential part of who I am as a believer in Christ Jesus and as someone in ministry desiring to proclaim the blessed name of Jesus every chance I get. I believe in loving others, because that is what we are called to do. To love others.

In Luke 10, Jesus tells the parable of a Samaritan who cared for a neighbor in need, a neighbor who was different than him. Jesus highlighted the Samaritan as an example for us to emulate. Jesus also showed us in Luke 20-21 that he cared for a widow who was being mistreated. He calls on us to care for widows and orphans, to care for the oppressed.

God calls us to a life of love and justice. While we pray for a revival of our hearts, while we pray for spiritual awakenings, let us also pursue justice. God hears the cries of those hurting, those who are in pain, and those who mourn. I pray that God continually breaks my heart regarding the injustices of this world. I don’t want to become numb to injustice.

God, open my eyes to the sufferings of others. Show me how to love others as you have called me to do. Lead me to help others who are hurting. Lead me to care for others, to listen to the experiences of others, to stand up for others. Lead me to love like Jesus. And as Dr. King loved to quote, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24 NRSV).

This is my prayer. Black lives matter to God. They should matter to us too.

Another birthday without you

Dear Dad,

A full year has just about gone by without seeing your smile light up the room. I still don’t know how I will make it through many more years. They say it gets easier, and in some ways it does, perhaps, but I still miss you like crazy. There are still days when anxiety and depression seem to get the better of me, and I just wish I could hear you give me some words of encouragement. In the darkest of times, you’ve always pushed me to trust in the sovereignty of a God who watches over us. You never passed up an opportunity to remind me how much Jesus loves me.

Yesterday was another birthday without you. My 26th came just 6 days after your passing. Now, I’m 27. This one was a bit better. The shock and complete numbness wasn’t there as it was last year. I can’t even remember if there were any gifts or sweet treats last year, and obviously I wouldn’t have cared either way, but this year, we had apple pie! Yum! And as a gift, which was a complete surprise, and totally not something I found online and watched Nana order it for me, was a book of devotional prayer by Beth Moore, a talented author and proclaimer of the gospel whose words and preaching has provided a source of comfort to me this past year.

And of course, there was football! Texas crushed Colorado the day before, which I know you would have excitedly jumped up and high-fived me repeatedly had you been here to see it. And since we typically cheer for Oklahoma in their bowl games, guess what? They also crushed it! Baylor didn’t make it to a bowl game this year, but we still have the Aggies to cheer on. I wish I could somehow watch these games with you, but I know you are in a much better place. I cannot begin to fathom the sights in Heaven you are seeing. So, I’ll wait, knowing that one day, you and I will be reunited in Glory in the presence of Christ Jesus.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t have to wait. Plenty of times, I’m not quite good at it. Especially when I want to turn in a busy intersection. And yet, I’m slowly learning to wait. In this season of Advent, as we have waited to celebrate the birth of Christ, and as we continue to wait for his second coming, I’m also learning to patiently wait until I can see your smile once again. And if I’ve learned anything from you over the years, I know that as I wait, I must encourage others and be a light in the darkness.

I am reminded of the passage in the Gospel of Matthew that tells us to keep watch and to wait. We are encouraged to “keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 NRSV). As I wait for Christ to come again, as I wait for the day when I will see you again, I am reminded by Matthew’s words to keep a spiritual awareness. For me, this means being there and uplifting others as you taught me to do. It means striving to amplify the voices of those not being listened to or cared for by others. It means shining the light of Jesus Christ so that others may know the love God has for all of us.

Oh, Dad, I miss you more than words can say. This year has been far from easy, and I know that like many, I’m ready for 2020 to be in the rearview mirror. Although I have made it through this roller coaster year without you, I know you are with me in spirit. As I wait for the glorious day when I will see that awesome smile of yours again, I will press on and be encouraged by your example. Oh, and Dad, just to drop a reference to Avengers: Endgame, the last movie we ever watched together, as I did at your funeral nearly a year ago, I will end by saying this. Dad, I still love you 3000!

Your son,

Joshua

A Psalm of God’s Steadfast Love

As the Psalter in Psalm 136 repeats twenty-six times, I will give thanks,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

I will give thanks to the One who gives me another day to breathe,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

I will give thanks to God, my gracious, Heavenly Father,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who gave me two amazing grandparents I love most dearly,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who blessed me with a wonderful family,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who gifted me amazing friends in each stage of life,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who gave me nearly 26 years with the most amazing earthly father,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

I miss my earthly father, my Superman, beyond words, but he is spending eternity with Christ Jesus,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

O God thank you for the memories with Superman, you give great things,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

I thank my God for the love of hymns and Scripture that Superman gave me,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

I thank my God for all the movies, binge-watching, and football games,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

I thank my God for Superman’s love for others, for amplifying the voices of those society seeks to silence,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

I thank my God for giving me a loving earthly Dad, my Superman, who was my strongest supporter,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

In the best of times, in the darkest of times, God is with me,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who encouraged me and sustained me in my battles with depression and anxiety,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who gave my Superman hope, even as the chemo dripped into his body,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who gave my Superman a song to sing, even as he was leaving his earthly home,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who gave me a Superman who sang to me, “Because He Lives” when I was a young child,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who gave me a Superman who led us in the same song just weeks before his death,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who allowed Superman and me to see the mighty Mississippi,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who granted Superman and me the gift of traveling through the mountains of North Carolina,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who gave Superman and me the memory of taking the Sandia Peak Tramway up the mountain in Albuquerque, NM,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who blessed Superman and me in seeing the magnificent hues of a sunrise over the Grand Canyon,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who floods me with amazing memories of Superman and will one day reunite us in Glory,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Who won’t let me be defeated amidst the grief, pain, agony, and tears,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

O give thanks to a magnificent God, a God of hope, for He has done great things,

For his steadfast love endures forever.

Happy Birthday in Heaven, Daddy.

Dear Superman,

Today would be your 54th birthday. It has been more than nine months since I said goodbye to you, my closest friend in life. I miss you more and more each day. For the first time since January, I listened to a recording of your voice. Why I have waited this long, I am not sure. At one point, you told me that there was no one you would rather spend time with than me. Oh, what I would give to spend just a few moments with you, to watch one more episode of the Office or a college football game with you, to hear you laugh and tell jokes, to see you smile at me and tell me that you love me with all your heart.

This journey of discovering how to live life without your physical presence has been far from easy. I know it’s not supposed to be easy when you love someone so much, but my goodness, it’s been rough. There have been so many days that have been quite emotionally painful. I miss being able to call you and tell you how my day is going. I am thankful beyond measure to be able to call my Nana and BigDaddy, but I wish I could call you too. Last night, as I cleaned the church while listening to my iPod, I broke down in tears as I listened to Richard Smallwood sing, “The Center of My Joy,” and I couldn’t help but sing at the top of my lungs and fall to my knees when listening to “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe. I am eternally grateful to you for impressing upon me to have such a strong faith in our Heavenly Father who watches over us. He is the center of my joy and I can only imagine what it will be like when I can see you again, but more importantly, when I can see the face of Christ Jesus. I cannot wait for the day.

We made so many memories together, memories that I have thought about a lot lately. I remember fondly our road trips to the Grand Canyon in 2016 and to Virginia for the Division III Football National Championship in 2017, travelling through the Deep South while listening to the iPod that Mr. Barber kindly loaned us. My favorite was the album by Huey Lewis and the News. I wish I had a time machine so I could travel back in time and visit you, even if just for a moment. I wish we could drive through the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia again or take the Sandia Peak Tramway in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Or perhaps just simply watch a football game together as we cheer every touchdown and yell about every fumble or interception.

We loved binge-watching shows together such as Star Trek: Voyager, Speechless, and the Office. During quarantine, I introduced myself to Parks and Rec and the West Wing, two shows I know you would have liked too. So many things we used to do together just doesn’t seem the same without you. I miss you more than words can say.

These past 365 days have been challenging. Just a few days before your birthday last year, I had so much planned for an awesome weekend of just the two of us guys hanging out together. I was going to come home Thursday night, we would spend Friday, your birthday, at the doctor’s office (meh), but then treat ourselves to perhaps some Bush’s Chicken. Saturday, we were going to watch the Red River Showdown between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners before watching the Baylor Bears take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Then, on Sunday, I was going to take you with me to Seventh and James so that you could visit the church I had fallen in love with in Waco and meet some amazing people I worshipped with each Sunday. We would top the day off with lunch at On the Border, our favorite place to eat in Waco. It was going to be a blast!

But as you know, it didn’t work out that way. Your birthday ended with us in a hospital room. We still watched some football together, cheering on the Longhorns even though they couldn’t pull it off (Shucks! And they didn’t this year either. Double shucks!) as you laid in your hospital bed. That Saturday, October 12, 2019 would become one of the most difficult days of my life as the doctor sat next to me and suggested that we consider end-of-life care. That’s not the weekend I had planned. I was shocked. I was heartbroken that the strongest, most fearless, hardest working, most Godly man I knew was nearing the end of his life. The following two and a half months was a roller coaster of emotions. Then, joined by our amazing friends, Karen and Adolph, our family told you farewell as you departed your earthly home for an eternal heavenly one on Christmas Eve.

In the days, weeks, and months after, so many friends and family have encouraged me and have taken care of me. Nana checks up on me every day and I have so many friends in Waco and elsewhere who bring me so much joy even in moments of deep pain and sadness. There is so much I wanted to experience with you. I wanted you to see me graduate from seminary, preach from a pulpit, fall in love and get married (you were supposed to officiate the ceremony), and spoil your future grandkids. I still take comfort in words you spoke to me nearly a year ago. You told me that in one form or another, you would be at my wedding. I know that in spirit, you will be there just as you are with me now as I type this blog post.

Grief is challenging, daunting, nerve-racking, and depressing. Quite frankly, it sucks. I don’t like it one bit. But I take joy in knowing that you are in Heaven with Christ Jesus, free from the pain and sickness of cancer. Death did not have the final say, eternal life did. You beat cancer. So, while I continue to grieve, I will also celebrate and wish you a wonderful birthday, your first in Heaven. Happy Birthday, Daddy. I love you, with all my heart, beyond description. Until we meet again, see you later, Superman!

Love, Joshua


Center of My Joy by Richard Smallwood

I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me

If you walked out of the grave, I’m walking too!

Emptytomb1

It has now been 110 days since I said my earthly goodbyes to my Superman. With each passing day, I miss him more and more, and I am increasingly thankful for the impact he has had on my life, for reminding me, even up to his final weeks, that as Bill and Gloria Gaither’s song goes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know who holds my future. Life is worth the living just because HE LIVES!”

Today, I celebrate with so many Christians around the world in rejoicing that Christ lives. Resurrection Sunday provides us with the reminder that Christ lives, the healing power of restoration, the assurance that we can face uncertain days, and the promise of eternal life to all those who follow Jesus Christ. While I still grieve, and while the future seems so uncertain in the midst of a global pandemic, I know that because my Savior lives, I can face tomorrow.

This past year has been challenging to say the least. This time last year, Dad was undergoing treatment for the cancer that had spread to his brain. I was ending my time as a public-school teacher and getting ready to begin seminary. As excitement grew of my future plans, Dad’s cancer had been shrinking and he was slowly regaining his strength. We had even planned on going to the UT-Baylor game, with him in his UT orange and white and me in my Baylor green and gold, and of course with both of us wearing purple UMHB caps to honor our alma mater.

Then, in October, the day after his 53rd birthday, we received the news that he would have to begin home hospice care. Slowly his health declined, and surrounded by friends and family, he breathed his last earthly breath on Christmas Eve at 6:50PM. I had taken off from seminary in November, and my professors kindly allowed me to make up the work the following semester. I finished the work in January while starting a new slate of classes. Only a month and half later, would the pandemic hit us and cause us to feel as if our world was crumbling around us. As an extrovert who has battled depression for much of my life, I will say that I’m not liking this shelter-in-place business. While we must stay home to keep everyone safe and healthy and flatten the curve of this outbreak, this is still all too difficult.

So, you might ask me, in the midst of all of this, why are you hopeful? Why are you at peace? Why do you have joy? I’ll tell you why with two simple words: Jesus lives! The power of this day is that I am reminded of Christ’s defeat over death. This was not a metaphorical death. Let me say this unequivocally, without hesitation, Jesus died. Jesus was buried. Jesus rose again. I have heard the argument time and again that Jesus’ body didn’t really die or that his body didn’t really rise from the grave. Some say that it is just a symbol of love and hope.

My reaction to that argument is “Where is the hope? Where is the love?” If Jesus didn’t physically die, then what is the point? Where is his love? Where is the restoration? If Jesus didn’t physically rise from the grave, then what hope could I possibly have in a powerless God that couldn’t overcome death? How could I hope in healing, in restoration, in being able to face these uncertain days, if God did not physically defeat death?

The truth is this: Jesus was dead, but in body and spirit, left that tomb, and this is the reason why we can even celebrate this day or any other day of the year. Death could not and did not win. Death was defeated. And just as Jesus defeated death some 2000 years ago to give me this hope, I have hope that in Christ Jesus, Dad also defeated death. Because of the resurrection, I know Dad has been resurrected into new eternal life in the presence of God almighty. The moment he breathed his last breath at 6:50 PM on December 24, 2019 was the moment that he got to see Jesus. That was the moment when Dad was able to embrace the Lord of Lords and touch His nail-scarred hands.

And this is why I have hope. Dad taught me to have this hope. Jesus’ bodily resurrection gives me this hope. This past year, one of the songs I have been listening to repeatedly has been “Ain’t No Grave” by Bethel Music featuring Molly Skaggs. Towards the end of the song, Molly Skaggs, repeats about a dozen times, “If you walked out of the grave, I’m walking too.”

If you walked out of the grave, I’m walking too. It is because of Christ’s defeat over death, that we can face whatever it is we are going through. We can face these trying, scary, daunting, uncertain days because Christ lives. This is why I have hope. While I know the struggle of facing these challenges is great, while the pain of loss is great, while depression is great, while the added anxiety of a global pandemic is great, the God I serve is so so much greater! If He can defeat death, if His body can walk up out of that grave, then I know that He is powerful enough to see me through, to see us through the difficult days ahead.

God has promised us time and time again that He will be with us, that He will never leave nor forsake us (see Deuteronomy 31:6 and 8, Joshua 1:9). Isaiah 41:10 tells us, “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (NRSV). When God promises something, He keeps those promises. And of course, my favorite passage of Scripture, from Romans 8, reminds us that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NIV).

So, what shall I fear? Yes, these days have been difficult, and yes, more difficult days are yet to come. And yet, because of Christ’s victory over death, I have hope, and I have a reassurance that nothing can separate me from the love of Christ Jesus, a love so great that he died and rose for me so that I can have eternal life, and so that I can see Dad’s smile again someday.

So, if you walked out of the grave, I’m walking too. Praise be to God!


Gaither, William J. and Gloria Gaither, 1971. “Because He Lives.” Google Play Lyrics. Web. 12 Apr. 2020.

Bethel Music and Molly Skaggs. “Ain’t No Grave.” AZLyrics. Web. 12 Apr. 2020.


Because He Lives by Bill Gaither, Ben Speer, and Guy Penrod

Ain’t No Grave by Bethel Music and Molly Skaggs

We Shall See Jesus by the Cathedrals

Are There Bluebonnets in Heaven?

Bluebonnets

As I walked through the garden,

I felt the cool breeze sweep over me.

The many flowers were in full bloom;

The Indian blankets and white poppies dotted the hillside.

I strolled alongside a steady stream and listened.

I listened as the wood thrushes and mockingbirds

Performed their sweet melodious sonnets.

 

As I gazed across the bright blue sky,

And fixed my eyes on the distant trees,

I felt as if I were in a painting;

A magnificent work of art, inspired by God,

And placed on a canvas by a master painter.

I was in complete awe of the immense beauty.

Life sprang forth all around me.

 

As I continued my journey throughout this vast garden,

I heard someone singing a song with words I had heard before.

As I drew closer to the singer’s voice,

There sat my Granny, on a bench, singing “Precious Memories.”

A smile spread across my face,

As I remembered all those times spent with my Granny.

The crafts, the dominoes, and the stories filled these memories.

 

While she continued singing, another voice joined her.

She called for him and he came to sit right beside her with an arrowhead in his hands.

“Look what I found Granny Olene; it’s just for you.”

He turned and looked at me with a bright smile on his face.

It was my Dad, and he continued happily singing with my Granny.

The words to “Precious Memories” became even more significant to me.

Oh, how I will miss the laughs, football games, and late night movies with Dad.

 

Then I saw a gardener, hunched over,

planting bluebonnets;

All the while, singing along with Dad and Granny.

I knelt beside the gardener and asked him, in wonder,

“Are there bluebonnets in heaven?”

He turned to me, with soil on his fingertips and scars in his hands.

He smiled at me and asked, “Do you know the name of this garden?”

“I call it Paradise, and someday, the four of us will sing together.”

 

After the gardener spoke these words,

I awoke that morning,

Joyful at what I just dreamed,

Waiting for the day when I could sing with Dad, Granny, and the gardener.

Until then, I will keep these images and my Precious Memories in my heart,

As I tell the world of this gardener who assured me

That there are bluebonnets in heaven!

 

Originally written on June 21, 2017, the fourth stanza and mentions of Dad were added on February 17, 2020. Dad and Granny Olene, I love you both, with all my heart, beyond description!

Olene Shepherd Stewart: October 13, 1921 ~ June 13, 2017

Ronnie Dean Stewart: October 11, 1966 ~ December 24, 2019

DadandGranny

Dad and his Granny Olene

One Month Without You

PilgrimWitnessDad

Dear Superman,

Well. It’s been one month since you went home to see Jesus. I cannot believe that it’s been an entire month. So much has happened, and yet, it seems like it has been so much shorter than a month. This is all so so difficult as I realize that this is just the first of many and many more months without you. I know you are with me in spirit, but oh what I would give to just have one conversation with you face-to-face. Nevertheless, I still rejoice in knowing that you are celebrating eternity with Christ Jesus. The sights must be amazing. I must admit that I’m a little bit jealous.

One month. So much has taken place in such a short amount of time. We began a new year, celebrated your life with friends too numerous to count, and I started a new semester of seminary. I love this place called Truett. I love this wonderful community. I know you would love them too. I am beyond blessed to have friends to play games and go to the movies with, enjoy Baylor basketball games with, and most importantly, friends whom I can fellowship with as we learn and grow together in Christ.

I am enjoying my new classes so much. I wish I could tell you about all that I am learning and see your smile as I share with you about the Gospels, early church fathers, spiritual disciplines, and the art of preaching. I wish I could read to you the sermons I am preparing. I miss you so much. One of my first assignments for Preaching I is to write a short devotional. I remember discovering one that you gave back in 1994 over Psalm 107:2. I thought I would share what the Lord has taught me through that verse in my devotional as a way of honoring you. You are a major reason I am here at seminary preparing for a life of ministry. I can never thank you enough.

Today may have been one of the most difficult days so far. Has it really been a month? Does this get easier? Everything I do now is done without sharing it with you. Occasionally, I watch those comedians, Rhett and Link, on Good Mythical Morning. I miss laughing at those videos with you. I miss binge-watching The Office with you. I miss our late-night movie nights. Remember when we used to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning to watch a good movie? You have given me so many wonderful memories. I will cherish them forever.

Dad, as always, thank you for being my best friend and my superhero. Thank you for your life’s example of how to follow and honor Christ by loving others. Until we see each other again, see you later, Superman!

Love,

Joshua


Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy.

Psalm 107:2 (NKJV)


God On the Mountain by Lynda Randle

Holy Ground by Tim Pettigo

“BE THERE!” by Ronnie Stewart

SupermanCrusader

When I started my blog several years ago, I asked Dad if he ever wanted to be a guest blogger on my website. On December 24, 2019, Dad breathed his last breath on Earth. At that moment, he defeated cancer and celebrated in the presence of God Almighty. This has been certainly been a difficult journey that my family and I have been through, but it is one we are enduring with Christ walking alongside as. In spirit, Dad also continues to walk with us and inspire us daily. Earlier, I found this blog that he had written and emailed to me on December 14, 2016. At that point, he had gone through two rounds of cancer and defeated them both. Here are some reflections he shared that we never got around to publishing. I hope that his words will inspire you as they have done so for me. He simply titled the post, “BE THERE!” His words are in a roman font (not italicized).

Seeing ourselves and others like GOD does, I believe, is the greatest gift we can give to each other. You truly never know what someone else’s journey holds and the hardships they have endured in their daily walk. Finishing our race and running it well should be more like a marathon race where we help each other complete the race before us.

December is a difficult month for me because of the various tests that I have to go through and the memories that it brings back to me. The second chemo “trial” that I went through made my hair fall out and sores pop up all over my body. I could only see the ugliness and wanted to hide from everyone and myself. God impressed upon me that the reflection that I was hung up on wasn’t the same reflection He saw and loved unconditionally. He didn’t care that I was bald because He numbered every hair that fell out and had already numbered every hair that would replace the lost ones.

During our trials and tribulations, I believe we become closer to our loved ones than we ever could imagine. When I couldn’t raise my head, I could focus on mom’s “sparkle” shoes and realize she was with me. Joshua would pat my forehead with a cool cloth, and I knew he was with me. Dad would make me scrambled eggs, and I knew he was with me. My brothers and sisters cheered me on, and I knew they were with me. My friends at work let me be lazy and fed me well, and I knew they were with me. Facebook friends encouraged me and built me up on a daily basis, and I knew they were with me. Most importantly, GOD was with me and I talked to Him a lot, and He listened to me ramble on and on. GOD’s always with me.

By no means am I sharing my experiences because I want sympathy or someone to feel bad for me. I encourage Joshua not to dwell in the valley, but to marvel at the mountaintop experiences. I hope I encourage someone to be there for someone. There’s always someone worse off and needs to be lifted up, and sometimes even carried. We can lift others up by encouraging words and sometimes just a smile. Please continue to pray for those that fight or have lost someone.

GOD is good all the time!

Dad wanted some verses added, so here are a few that come to mind:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24 NIV)

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31 NIV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:1-7 ESV)


You’ll Never Walk Alone by David Phelps

Flawless by MercyMe

A life well-celebrated!

Dadhasmynose2

Dear Superman,

Well. It’s been 12 days since you breathed your last breath here on Earth. It doesn’t seem like that much time has passed. It feels like it was only a day or two ago. Each day, I miss you more and more. I’ve heard it gets easier over time. I’m waiting. It’s not getting easier yet. It’s starting to sink in, I think. I would give anything to hear one more joke or watch one more Good Mythical Morning YouTube clip with you. I am filled with joy in that you are living in Heaven for an eternity free of pain. At the same time, I find myself trying to balance that joy with the grief I have in not seeing your smile anymore.

Okay. Now I’m crying. I still have occasional anxiety attacks. I miss you so much. Does time really make this any easier? I have my doubts.

We celebrated your life the last two days. There were so many people at your visitation. We were sharing so many memories. Some of your high school friends were sharing with me about your goofy antics. After every story, I realize more and more that I am your son. Maybe I’ll carry on some of that goofiness in your honor. I also learned that you had a detective agency when you were little. That’s cool!

Some of my closest friends from high school and college came to pay their respects. The Earps and Daniells were there. So were the Montgomerys. Michael, Jamie, and Kenzie stopped by. Karen Standridge did too. Bryson, our sweet cousin, entertained as always. You had high school friends, college buddies, coworkers from Channel 25, Florence and Georgetown ISD, and plenty of others. The Segrests visited from Waco. I go to church with them now. They hugged Nana and told her they would help take care of me in Waco. You’d like them. There were so many hugs. Not sure who gave the best one. Perhaps our friend Serena from GISD. She gives good hugs.

Yesterday was the graveside service. There were so many people there. Dad, you were loved by so many. From each chapter of your life and mine, people came to celebrate just how awesome you were and how much you meant to us. I kinda goofed on the registry book. I forgot to make it accessible for everyone to sign. Nana counted 50 something who did sign. I would say there were close to 30-40 additional people who were there. They wore their superhero and college shirts.

Many of your classmates from high school and college were there. Some of your Channel 25 buddies were too. Quite a few of your former coworkers from Florence and Georgetown were there. Mrs. Petty gave me a sweet hug. Erin Conaway, the pastor of Seventh & James, was there. So were some of my Truett friends. Sarah Kuczek and I talked about football. Kirsten Parker and her mom sent me a photo of themselves afterward. They were wearing a Longhorn and a Superman shirt just for you. So many people that I can’t name them all. They were there to celebrate YOU!

The service was amazing. And with perfect weather! Mark Fitzwater filmed it for our family. Your friend Scott Zajicek sang Amazing Grace just as you asked him to. Wes Willie shared some details of your life and sang 10,000 Reasons. Roy Smith prayed a sweet prayer as he often does. Sally Russell read Psalm 23. Greggory and Amberlee sang your favorite song, “When I Cry.” They could not have done so more beautifully. Michael Baker sang the song you sang to me when I was little. It’s our favorite. You know? Because He Lives. I love that song. Then he sang “Sanctuary,” and Shawn Shannon closed with a wonderful benediction.

You asked me months ago to preach at the service. Well. I did my best. I preached. I also sang a little. Not exactly my comfort zone, but I wanted to sing for you. Remember when we would sing at Lawler Baptist for 3rd Sunday Singings each month. I loved singing specials with you. Oh, what I would give for just one more 3rd Sunday Singing with you. The last time we sang in front of people together was when I was in middle school I think. Also, I think that was the last time I sang in front of a crowd until yesterday. So many wonderful memories. I miss you so much. I also dropped a Marvel reference just for you, and I’ll say it again. Dad, I love you 3000!

During the reception, there were so many jokes and so much laughter. I know that’s what you would want and that is to enjoy each other’s company as we remembered all of the fun times we had with you. There was plenty of food thanks to your friends, Karen, Monica, and others from GHS, your high school friends, and cookies from Lawler and FBC Florence. Also, Bryson entertained there as well. Man, I love that little guy!

Some of your high school classmates asked me to take a photo with them. In honor of the goofball you were, they wanted me to lie across their laps. Apparently, there is a photo of you doing that when you were in high school. Of course, there is! I will miss your goofiness. You were always the life of any party or get-together.

FlorenceFriends

Dad, now is the difficult part. Now I must find a new normal. But I don’t want a new normal. A new normal, if there is such a thing, means that you’re not here physically. Not here to laugh, tell jokes, yell at the television set with me when our football teams aren’t doing well (or when the officials make a bad call). Not here to give an encouraging word. I want your advice. Dad, how am I supposed to do this? I miss you so much. I’m waiting for your prankster self to tell me that I’ve been epically punk’d, but I know better.

As I feel these feelings, as I experience this hurt, I know you’re in a better place. I am rejoicing in that fact. I look forward to the day when I will see you again. WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE! Until then, see you later Superman. Again, I love you 3000!

(Yes, I just called you Superman and made a Marvel reference. Would you have it any other way?)

Love,

Joshua


Psalm 23 (NKJV)

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

My first birthday without you

Dadhasmynose2

Dear Superman,

I turned 26 today. Part of me wishes you were here to celebrate with me, but I take comfort and am joyful that you are spending my birthday in the presence of our Savior. You are free of pain and I cannot begin to fathom what you must be seeing right now. I wish I could see some of those sights.

Today has been the hardest since your passing just 6 days ago. Every so often, I wait for you to peek around the corner and wish me a Happy Birthday, but somehow, I know better. I know you are in a much better place and will always be with me in spirit. So why am I so saddened? Why does my heart hurt so much?

I spent most of the day looking at old photos of you. An entire lifetime of your joyful smiles. I also know where I get my goofiness. If didn’t know already, I would surely have figured out by looking at photos of your younger years.

There was mostly laughter and smiles as I was looking at photos of you. Then I came across one of us. I was a toddler and you, I think, were trying to get my nose. You didn’t succeed since I clearly still have one. As I stared at that photo, I saw the love you had for me. I know I brought you joy. You did the same for me.

Oh, Dad. This is all too difficult. Shayla told me the time you told everyone else to gang up on me in our silly string wars. I would give anything to have one more silly string war with you. To laugh with you again. To joke with you again.

My precious cousin, Jasmine visited. You would be so proud of her and the amazing mom she is to Bryson. I know you loved that sweet boy. He loved you too. I wish I could see your face again light up with joy at Bryson’s cute playfulness.

Dad, I’ll be honest. If it wasn’t for everyone wishing me a Happy Birthday, I might not have remembered today was the day. It’s so different without you. My heart aches without you. And yet, I have hope and peace and joy. You are the reason I have these things. Hope. Peace. Joy.

Among the many photographs, I also came across a letter you wrote to your Grandma Cozy around your first Father’s Day as my Dad. You shared with her a devotional you gave. It’s in your handwriting. Do you mind if I share some of it?

“I had my mother ask my grandmother what I should give my devotional on because I wanted my first devotional to be for her.

Ma Ma quickly replied ‘Let the redeemed of the Lord say so! By their living! By their loving… She also told Mom that I had to find it myself… Psalm 107 verse 2. I found it.

This verse means to me that I need to live a good Christian life so others will see me glorifying Jesus. It also tells me to have a love that is patient and forgiving of others.”

It continues, but I’ll save the rest for me for now. You weren’t with me physically to give me a birthday gift, yet you still gave me one. I will cherish this letter and your words for years to come.

You have inspired me so much in life. Even though you are no longer physically with me, you continue to inspire me. Thank you for this faith you taught me to have in Christ Jesus. I miss you more than words can say. I cannot wait to be reunited with you. It will happen before you know it. As Jessy Dixon would sing, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!” See you later, Superman!

Love,

Joshua


Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,

Whom He has redeemed from the hand

of the enemy.

Psalm 107:2 NKJV