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

In Loving Memory: A Pilgrim Witness for the Gospel (1966-2019)

PilgrimWitnessDad

I remember the first time I thought about blogging in early 2015. Dad was excited for me and would always share my posts with others. Now, nearly five years later, I said my earthly goodbyes to my wonderful Superman on Christmas Eve 2019. This is the most difficult blog post I have ever written, not because God isn’t giving me words to say as I type, but because I am still trying to process what life will look like without the physical presence of Dad.

He had been living his last month and a half in my grandparents’ living room. I slept in a bed behind a curtain so I could respond when he called for help. So I could also just simply be near him. I remember sleeping in his bed in my much younger years when I had nightmares. Now I was close to him to respond to his nightmares. Last night, when I accidentally moved the curtains, for a split second, I waited for him to call out to me. He didn’t. I am in pain. I am hurting. I am having so many anxiety attacks. I am not okay. Yet the glorious truth is that in Christ Jesus it is okay to not be okay. As I am weeping, our Savior weeps with me.

I also know that my faith sustains me. My faith in God assures me that Dad is no longer in pain. He is spending eternity with our Heavenly Father. He breathed his last breath with us at 6:50 PM in the presence of family and friends. His next breath was in the presence of Christ. It wasn’t labored. He didn’t have to struggle for that breath. It must have been a joyous and peaceful breath. And oh what he must have seen. I can only imagine. I wish I could for a split second see even one-hundredth of a percent of the glorious splendor in front of him. So much more magnificent than the Grand Canyon Dad and I were blessed to enjoy together in 2016. I take joy in knowing that I will one day join him and see all of the sights with my own eyes.

If you ever want to know who inspired me most on this Earth to pursue ministry and a seminary education, I’ll tell you. My Dad. From an early age, he gave me a love of Scripture by reading to me the stories of the Bible. He used hymnals and Gaither VHS tapes to help me fall in love with music that glorifies our Creator. We even had a game where he would whistle a hymn and I would have to guess which song he was whistling. I never could whistle, so when it was my turn, I would hum a song. What wonderful memories this little game gave us.

In my first semester at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, I was grateful for the support of caring professors who showed me kindness and love in this difficult season. In one of my classes, Dr. Mike Stroope discussed how we might look beyond just the traditional language of mission and share the love of Christ intentionally with everyone we meet in every circumstance. He used a term that has stuck with me since. Pilgrim Witness. As we pilgrim throughout life’s journey, and as we meet people along the way, we are, as Christians, to witness to others through our words and actions. How we treat others is our witness. I have thought about this term quite a bit lately and it came to me that Dad is the best example I can think of as a pilgrim witness.

Everything I saw in Dad was someone who loved others and I have seen his heart break far too often on behalf of others. I cannot imagine a more faithful pilgrim witness. Throughout my life, Dad has loved me, comforted me, encouraged me, fought for me, and has guided me more times than I could ever count. When I fell as a little kid, he would pick me up. When I was sick with chickenpox or hospitalized before my fourth-grade year, he took care of me. When I started having symptoms of Crohn’s Disease in high school, he took me to countless appointments and hospital procedures. When an emergency surgery had me worried that I would miss my high school graduation, he was there to tell jokes and cheer me up. During my UMHB years, we went to so many football games and worship events together. When I gave an academic presentation of my research on William Wilberforce, he was there. There are so many other examples, I can’t count them all.

He was a pilgrim witness to me, but also to others. I have heard from several of his friends who were blessed by his presence during his years working at Channel 25 in Waco in the 90s. For the past two decades, he helped my grandparents care for their foster children and eventually their adopted kids (his brothers and sisters) once they became permanent members of our family. They have so many stories of their own that I have been blessed to enjoy hearing over the past few weeks. Since 2005, he worked in Special Education as either a paraprofessional or as a teacher, and he poured his heart into so many kids. I always felt as if I knew so many of them personally even though I had never met most of them. He loved those kids. I will miss his stories of them and the ideas he shared with me on how to make their lives more fun while at school. He was the kind of person who would help supply kids with food, clothes, and shoes if they needed them. His coworkers over the years have shared with me how much he encouraged them as well. And any time he saw injustice in the world while watching the news, I often saw his heart break for either trafficked kids or victims of hate crime. There are so many other reasons that he was the ultimate pilgrim witness that it seems impossible to name them all.

Dad meant the world to me, and even though his physical presence is no longer with me, he is still with me through the Holy Spirit. Oh, that I might be just a small fraction of the pilgrim witness that was my Dad. For now, I will rejoice that he is no longer in pain. He is celebrating eternity with the Father. So, you will never hear me say that he lost his battle to cancer. No. He beat cancer. Cancer has been defeated. He did that. God did that through him. He had victory over death thanks to the gift of Christ’s victory over death.

I want to see what he is seeing. I want to smell, taste, hear, and feel what he is smelling, tasting, hearing, and feeling. Right now, all I can do is imagine. Honestly, I cannot wait. Even if I live for 70 more years without my Dad, those 7 decades will pale in comparison to the eternity we will spend together. What a day that will be!

“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:15-17 NKJV).

Dad, you have fought the good fight. You have finished the race. You have kept the faith (see 2 Timothy 4:7 NKJV). I love you with all my heart, beyond description. Until that glorious day when we shall see each other once again, see you later Superman!


This Is Just What Heaven Means to Me by Vestal Goodman

Oh Happy Day by Walter Hawkins, Leann Faine, and Angela Spivey

When I Cry

SupermanCrusader

It’s been a while since my last post. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts today. This won’t be a long one, but one I feel important to share.

In my last blog post, I shared with everyone that Dad had recently entered home hospice care as he nears the end of his life here on Earth. When his last day comes, I won’t see that as cancer beating him, but rather him, through the grace of God, beating cancer. When this happens, he will be eternally healed in the presence of a Heavenly Father who watches over each of us. As I am typing this, a YouTube string of videos is playing, and I can hear Jim Hill with the Gaithers singing “What a Day that Will Be.” Let me tell you right now that it will be an awesome day. We’re also listening to Lauren Daigle, MercyMe, and more of the Gaithers.

Since my last post, we are now seeing that he is even closer to entering into the Heavenly Kingdom of God. This journey is a difficult one, and it is one that often leaves me at a loss for words. I have cried more times than I can count. I have had a number of anxiety attacks as I try and cope with this stage of life and a future life without Dad’s physical presence. Notice I said physical presence. He will always be with me in spirit. I have relived, in my mind, so many memories gained over the years. If I thought about them long enough, I could probably write a book containing all of our adventures. Road trips to Arizona and Virginia. Shorter road trips where we decided to take whichever road we felt like taking to see where it leads. Football games. Concerts to see the Gaithers, MercyMe, and Casting Crowns. Looking at Christmas lights. Movies upon movies upon movies. Lighter moments in the midst of him taking me to doctor’s visits and hospital procedures, and more recently, me taking him to appointments, scans, and chemo treatments. We have joked, laughed, cried, teased, and celebrated each other’s company and our shared moments with God.

I recently came across my first study bible given to me years ago. It’s an NIV Bible marketed towards kids. That bible served me for years. There are highlights and writings in the margins letting me know the date of when a pastor preached a sermon on a specific passage in 2005 for example. It also has a sticker page of random stickers, because I was a kid who liked stickers of course. Early on in my life, Dad helped me read the bible and understand some of its most important stories. I credit him more than anyone (plus my grandparents) for instilling in me a faith that has guided me through more trials than I can remember. He is in large part why I am now pursuing ministry and education at Truett Seminary.

A few weeks ago, we gathered around his bed as he told us his goodbyes and that he was ready to go. We sang song after song, but the one that was the most moving was “Because He Lives.” When I played it, he raised his hand to the Heavens. We did the same and he led us in a time of worship. After some time, he told us that maybe God wasn’t ready for him yet. God is with us, even in the midst of these difficult trials. If I ever need a reminder of this, Dad reminds me even when that is not what he is trying to do.

Before I conclude this blog post, I’ll leave you with a song that has meant a lot to us recently. It is a song that Dad loves. Sung by the Gaither Vocal Band, it is titled, “When I Cry.” Here are the lyrics to the chorus (see the video for the full song):

When I cry, You cry
When I hurt, You hurt
When I’ve lost someone
It takes a piece of You, too
And when I fall on my face
You fill me with grace
‘Cause nothin’ breaks Your heart
Or tears You apart
Like when I cry

This song serves as a powerful reminder to me that God understands our emotions, struggles, and pain. He knows exactly what we go through. Our God is so powerful that He created the Heavens and the universe and all of creation. Every. Single. Little. Detail. Yet at the same time, he cares for us so much that when we experience agony, he feels the same and comforts us through the hurt.

On last thing from Scripture. In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul provides the following words (2 Corinthians 1 NIV):

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 6 If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. 7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

Know that whatever you may be going through, God is with you. I pray you to know His presence. He is comforting me on this difficult journey. I know that He can bring comfort to you as well.

I praise God that when I cry, He cries with me too. Praise be to our God of comfort!


Gaither Vocal Band. “When I Cry.” Google Play Lyrics. Web. 3 Dec. 2019.


When I Cry by the Gaither Vocal Band

What a Day that Will Be by Jim Hill and the Gaither Homecoming Friends

That’s when God wants to hear you sing

SupermanCrusader

It’s been two months since my last blog post. At the time, I wrote about my amazing Dad (a.k.a. Superman). This post is also about Superman, but it is one I never wanted to write. It’s a post that, honestly, I wish I never had to consider. Allow me to provide some context.

Two weeks ago, I planned for a weekend of fun with Dad to celebrate his 53rd birthday. We were going to spend some time at home watching college football together and with BigDaddy and Nana. Baylor playing Texas Tech, UMHB playing ETBU, and of course, the Red River Rivalry between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners. On Sunday, I was going to take him to the church I work at as a part-time custodian, Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, TX. Then as a birthday present, we were going to have some food at On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina. It was going to be a blast.

I got home Thursday evening, the eve of his birthday on October 11, and we were already talking about the food we were going to eat on Sunday. I couldn’t wait. Friday, his birthday, I took him to Scott & White for his CT scan. By the time we got home, he became quite sick with nausea and a headache, so we decided to take him to the hospital at Scott & White Round Rock. I was hoping that maybe it was just a reaction to all that nasty stuff they make you drink before the scans.

After a night spent in the hospital, he had an MRI. Then, from his hospital room, we watched the Texas game, both becoming irritated at their losing to the Sooners. Not long after, a doctor revealed to us what the MRI found. There is a spot in his brain, and if treated with radiation, could lead to significant brain damage. Then she mentioned the word that pierced my heart. Hospice. She asked if we wanted to consider end of life care. I was at a loss for words. My jaw dropped, my heart raced, and I felt a nauseating sensation in the pit of my stomach.

Hospice? I couldn’t wrap my mind around this. So many thoughts flooded my mind. I want him to see me preach my first sermon. I want him to see me graduate from seminary, to see me become an ordained minister, get my first ministry position, watch me fall in love, and get married. I had even asked if he would officiate the ceremony when the time came. I want him to spoil his future grandkids. And I know that these are all things he wanted to experience with me as well. The thought that he might not get to experience these events with me filled me with grief, sadness, and anxiety. But more than anything, I just don’t want to say goodbye to my Dad, my Superman, my best friend.

At this point, as I am typing this, I am weeping. I still can’t face the reality that all of this is happening. If a complete stranger asks me, “How are you doing?” my answer is “good.” If you know me well enough, I’ve reached the point, where I’m blunt about it. I’m not good. I’m not fine. I am in pain. And yet, I find peace in a Heavenly Father who walks with us in all of our struggles and pain.

Fortunately for me, I am surrounded by wonderful and kind people at Truett and Seventh & James. I have received encouragement and prayers from friends in Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa. Former high school teachers have uplifted my spirits. My church families at Lawler Baptist, FBC Florence, and FBC Belton are praying with my family and me. Pastors have helped bring me peace and comfort during this time. To help me get my mind off things, my former government teacher from high school spent late into the evening one night, conversing with me about other things. I felt we could talk for hours. We would have probably talked longer if I didn’t have homework and an 8AM class the next day. Others cried with me. One of my former teachers simply reminded me that God loves me and that she loves me. Dr. Todd Still, the dean of the seminary, gave me a hug and assured me he would be praying for my family. My new friends at Truett have shown me their kindness each day. Professors in have encouraged me more than I could ever thank them. I am thankful for all of these people. Also for close friends in Cody Earp, Greggory and Amberlee Miller, Katie Stringer, and Michael Baker. Also for so many others not mentioned here. I don’t know how I could handle this without these wonderful people in my life.

Going back to Dad’s hospital stay, I remember him thanking Jesus and telling our Lord and Savior how much he loves Him. I have never kept it a secret that the one human being who has given me this steadfast love for and faith in God more than anyone else has been my Dad. We have faced so many challenges, even before his first cancer diagnosis in 2013. In the midst of these trials, and still today, Dad gives me hope. He reminds me to trust in the goodness and sovereignty of our Heavenly Father. Yes. We declare. With all our hearts. God is still good. Even when everything seems so overwhelming, God is still good.

I believe in miracles. So, I am constantly praying for one. I’m praying for a miraculous healing for Dad so he can be here for many years to come. But even if that miracle doesn’t happen the way we want it, I still have hope in Christ. It hasn’t been easy. There has been lamenting. I have also said words I so desperately wanted to take back. I’m not perfect. I don’t claim to be. But I still have hope in Christ Jesus. Dad has instilled in me that hope. Speaking of miracles, I believe meeting Christ in Heaven, no longer suffering on Earth, is a miracle too. I just hope for one that allows me to spend so much more time with my Superman here on Earth. Call me selfish if you want, but I want him to be at my wedding. Recently, he reminded me that he will certainly be there in one form or another.

Last week, Dad reminded me of his favorite verse in scripture: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 NKJV). Why am I still hopeful, given all of our challenges, especially this one? The answer is faith. My faith is in Christ Jesus. I am confident that Christ is with me. I trust in His amazing grace and sovereignty.

Every night, no matter how busy I get, and right now we’re in the middle of midterms, so I’m talking busy, I take time to video chat Dad. This is something I look forward to daily, and that is ending my day seeing his smile and us telling each other about our day and how much we love each other. Sometimes, there are WiFi issues, so occasionally, we must settle with a simple phone call, but the point is that I end each day spending time with Dad even when I’m at Baylor.

I’ve been singing numerous songs lately. This includes hymns such as “In the Garden,” “It is Well,” “Amazing Grace,” and my all-time favorite, “Because He Lives.” I’ve also listened to some newer songs on repeat. “Holy Ground” by Passion, “All My Hope” by David Crowder and Tauren Wells, “Way Maker” by Leeland, and “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons & Daughters.

I love music. It’s uplifting. It reminds me of the faith I have in Christ, the same faith Dad has shown me my entire life. Growing up, a wonderful couple of evangelists, Paul and Vanessa Cherry, would lead revival at Lawler Baptist each year. A song they sang by Greater Vision that I have listened to and have sung to myself for years is “God Wants to Hear You Sing.” The chorus goes like this:

God wants to hear you sing
When the waves are crashing round you
When the firey darts surround you
When despair is all you see
God wants to hear your voice
When the wisest man has spoken
And says your circumstance is as hopeless as can be
That’s when God wants to hear you sing

Now I find myself singing even more often. In crowds at worship events and sometimes with a hymnal in my apartment. In the midst of everything around me, with the weight and burdens I’m carrying, when everything seems so overwhelming, I am singing. I am using these songs to cry out to God. I am using them as a source of encouragement. I am using them to remind me of God’s goodness. I am using them in prayer and in my lament. God has granted me with so many wonderful songs of his love, grace, and the blessed assurance that He is there.

To my Superman, I love you. Thank you for this level of faith I have in our good, good, Heavenly Father. You have been and continue to be the strongest person I know. I love you beyond description. Though this challenge is great, God is greater. When sadness overwhelms us, I will continue singing, “That’s when God wants to hear you sing!”


Griffin, Rodney. “God Wants to Hear You Sing.” Google Play Lyrics. Web. 25 Oct. 2019.


God Wants to Hear You Sing by Greater Vision

All My Hope by David Crowder and Tauren Wells

God Moves Strong!

2018BlogPhoto1

In just three days, I will begin studying at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary. If you were to ask me to name one person, here on earth, who has made the most impact in my life and my desire to pursue ministry, you would get a quick answer. My Dad.

Throughout my 25 years of existence on earth so far, Dad has been my source of strength, compassion, and wisdom. I simply could not fathom how my life would have been without this Godly man to serve me as my father. Even before I was born, he chose the name of Joshua for me. The Hebrew origin of the name means, “The Lord (YAHWEH) is my salvation.” Dad chose this name for me to serve as a reminder that the Lord is always with us.

Growing up, Dad taught me how to pray. I still remember keeping a prayer journal and we would use it to pray for those on our prayer list each night. When I was young, he helped me fall in love with God’s Word by reading me the stories of the Bible. When I had questions, it seemed to me that he had all the answers. One of my other favorite things I would do with Dad was a little guessing game we used to play. One of us would hum (I couldn’t whistle and am still unable to do so) the melodies of our favorite hymns while the other would have to guess which hymn was being hummed.

These are just some of the many memories I have of Dad guiding me along my spiritual journey. He has and continues to be the Godliest man I know. In some of the darkest valleys, he has reminded me to always trust in God’s plan for our lives. In moments of great joy, we have given God the glory for those good things.

When he went back to college while I was in elementary school, he chose the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Occasionally, he took me with him to the campus, allowed me to sit in on a couple classes of his, and over time I too fell in love with what would become an alma mater to us both.

For several decades now, Dad’s passion has been working with kids who have special needs. Part of this stems from taking care of some of the kids my grandparents cared for in foster care and later through adoption into our amazing family. As he worked on his education degree while at UMHB, Dad also worked with many kids in the public-school system who have had various special needs. I have seen the love he has for ministering to kids in this way firsthand. That, in addition to the many stories of how great of an impact these students have had on him, have given me a passion for loving and serving others. His humor (sometimes filled with sarcasm and practical jokes), compassion, and hard work ethic have helped shape me into who I am today. His love for others has inspired me to love others, which has now led me to begin the exciting journey that is a seminary education.

Going into my sophomore year at UMHB, I was thrilled about new classes, new opportunities, and the new friends I would make while being involved in student-led ministries. Roughly a month before the start of the 2013-2014 academic year, I received news that no one wants to hear. “Your dad has cancer.” I was in shock and absolute disbelief. I could not understand how the strongest man I knew had cancer. It was beyond my comprehension that the same person who cared for me my entire life— waited on me when I was hospitalized both as a 4th grader and as a senior in high school, took me to all of my doctor’s appointments, and prayed with me when I couldn’t understand what was wrong with my health— had cancer.

Yet even after his first surgery that summer, he pointed to the heavens repeatedly and said, “Thank you, Jesus.” In the years that followed, he continued to praise a living, amazing, good, good, Heavenly Father who watches over us. In his moments of most difficult pain, he would listen to Kari Jobe and the Gaither Vocal Band on repeat, still praising God with his every breath.

After he defeated cancer the first time and finished chemo, I said, “Hey Dad. Wear your Superman shirt and let’s take a picture.” Since then, I have often called him my Superman, and plenty of people will ask me on occasion, “How’s Superman doing?” One of my closest friendships at UMHB started when a young woman came up to my Dad during Spring Revival (we only knew each other through Facebook at that point) and said, “Is this your Superman?” After I said yes, she shook Dad’s hand, and said, “Sir, I love you so much. You are such an inspiration.” When my Dad beat cancer the first time, we praised God together.

SuperDadandMe

Then I reached Junior year at UMHB and Dad developed a brief infection from chemo that made him feel far worse than the chemotherapy ever did. I couldn’t wrap my brain around how much pain he went through. As I was also struggling with Crohn’s Disease, not understanding why I was feeling extra sick one day, Dad texted me something that I will never forget to this day, something that had me in tears. His text read, verbatim:

It came to me in my weakness that God moves strong. He is shaping me into something awesome for His glory alone. Show me this text in a month and we’ll praise Him together. Love you boy.

God moves strong. God Moves Strong. GOD MOVES STRONG.

Those three words echoed in the back of my mind for some time. Any time I feel discouraged about any circumstance, I remember those words: God Moves Strong.

It reminded me of what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

What Paul reminds me here, and what Dad reminded me in that text, and still reminds me today, is that while I may not understand why difficult circumstances happen, God can use those weaknesses, those pains, those sufferings, for His glory. While at any point, we may be weak physically, emotionally, spiritually, or in any other way, God can use us and our weaknesses to show how awesome and mighty He is. It’s this simple truth that has given me so much joy, even in the midst of so many hardships. It is why my favorite hymn is a song written by Bill and Gloria Gaither, two of my favorite hymn-writers, titled, Because He Lives. Dad told me recently that he would sing this over me even before I was born. So, naturally, this song is even more meaningful to me.

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know he holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives

It is only because of the precious blood of Jesus Christ that I can face anything. Bill and Gloria Gaither remind me of this in their song. Paul reminds me of this in scripture. Dad reminds me of this constantly each day. Even in our weaknesses, our pain, and our hurt, we can have hope in Christ Jesus. Life is worth the living because He lives. God can use every part of us for His glory, and to me that is worth celebrating every single day.

In every dark moment I have faced in life, Dad reminded me that God is always with us. In every happy occasion, Dad has taught me that we serve a magnificent God, and when we follow Him obediently, He celebrates with us in those good moments in life. In a few days, I will begin the exciting journey that is seminary. I have so many people to thank for helping me get this far in my spiritual journey. Dad is at the top of this list.

My Superman is still fighting this fight with the good news recently that most spots are either stable or shrinking. He has faced more battles than I can count, and yet he still reminds me of those three simple words he texted to me 5 years ago, words I proclaim every day.

God Moves Strong!


Gaither, William J. and Gloria Gaither, 1971. “Because He Lives.” Google Play Lyrics. Web. 21 Aug. 2019.

New International Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 21 Aug. 2019.


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

Because He Lives by the David Crowder Band