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

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.

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

I’m going to seminary!

As I am typing this, I hear the sounds of crickets chirping and birds singing their sweet sonnets, and I see the sun setting in the distant trees. Something about sitting outside reminds me of the wonder of God and the beauty of His creation. I realize that I am immeasurably blessed by this magnificent creator.

If you were to ask me what gives you joy in life, I wouldn’t be able to narrow it down to just one thing. When I am teaching, the smile of a student, the laughter of another when he has a joke to tell, the delight another has when giving me a work of art she drew just for me gives me so much joy. In the past two years, I have gained joy in engaging wonderful students as they have also taught me a thing or two about the joys of life.

I have also been blessed with amazing church families over the years. These church families have mentored me, prayed with me in my darkest moments, sent me cards when my young self struggled with depression, sang with me in rejoicing in the goodness of God, placed their hands over me when I first announced my desire to pursue ministry, and when I chose to place my trust in Christ Jesus and follow Him for the rest of my life, it was a fellow church member who first mentored a young christian. My church families have meant so much to me, and I will always be grateful.

My friends have also given me immense joy. Each of them have meant so much to me over the years. We have lived life together. With trips to the movies, football games, church camp, the State Fair, dances, escape rooms, Bible studies, and lip singing in the parking lot of the UMHB Baptist Student Ministries, and so much more, the Lord has blessed me with countless memories with friends. Seeing two of them get married from the perspective of getting to be the best man last year was a great highlight of my journey with these friendships. I am absolutely blessed beyond measure.

Of course, it goes without saying, but my family has given me so much joy. Visits from relatives who live in San Antonio, Goshen, IN, and elsewhere always brings a smile to my face. My grandparents have guided me in both the mountains and valleys of life, and their love for others has rubbed off on me and I am so thankful for that. Their adopted kids have blessed me beyond measure, and my Dad, who has faced some of the toughest battles, reminds me daily what a true servant of Christ Jesus looks like. He will always be my Superman.

In all of these categories of those who give me joy, one thing is constant, and that is God. Lord Jesus has given me joy at home, at church, as a student at Florence ISD, a student at Mary Hardin-Baylor, a teacher at both Georgetown High and Academy Middle schools, and in every encounter with those who meet me along life’s journey.

In every one of these encounters, in everything I do, I place my hope in Christ, and my ultimate desire is to please and serve Him. So I’m sure it does not come to a surprise to some, especially those closest to me, that I am excited to share the news that I will be attending Truett Seminary at Baylor University in my pursuit of honoring God through full-time ministry. I have loved serving in various capacities in church. I have gained immense joy in doing ministry at UMHB. And the most rewarding aspect of teaching these past two years have been the personal connections with my students, and the smiles their faces bring when they realize how much teachers care for them. God placed me at various points throughout my life, including Georgetown and Academy, so that I might show His love to others, and young people certainly need to encounter the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In case you are wondering where I see myself in ministry, the honest answer is that I’m not entirely sure. I love engaging youth, college students, and young adults with the Gospel. Maybe someday, I will work on a college campus or maybe even pastor a church. I’m not entirely sure just yet. I just know that I want to serve Christ in whatever I do. One of my favorite verses is 1 Thessalonians 2:8. It says this: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” I love sharing life with others, and in so doing, sharing with others the love of Christ.

I am excited for new adventures yet to come, and thankful for experiences which have shaped me into who I am today. If you want to pray for me, I welcome it. Pray that whatever I do, I only do it for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. This is my prayer each and every day!


New International Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 26 April. 2019.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

It has now been almost two months since two of my closest friends dedicated the rest of their lives together in marriage. It was a wonderful ceremony centered around two Christ-like people and their love for each other. I am thankful to have witnessed this remarkable occasion, and I am blessed to have been able to stand next to Greggory as his best man.

I have known Greggory for roughly 5 1/2 years now. I don’t remember the exact date we met, but I remember meeting him at Worship in the Quad, a ministry I was so thankful to be involved with during most of my time at UMHB (Note, that it was actually in the BSM given the inclement weather that evening). I remember meeting him in the BSM’s sanctuary. He was smiling, full of energy, and I could tell that he had a passion for serving the Lord. Never in my wildest imaginations did I think that he would become one of my closest friends in life, someone I realized I could turn to in any circumstance.

Later in the Spring of 2013, I was looking for a roommate for the following year. I had known one of our mutual friends, Will, and asked him if he had a roommate. He told me that it would be him and Gregg, but I could join them as the 3rd roommate. Because of the housing process at the time, it didn’t work out with Will, so now it was just Gregg and me. When we applied for housing, I saw a glimpse of Gregg’s unique energy and cheerfulness. We signed up for the only apartment complex left, Huckins, which has since been replaced by the new Performing Arts Center. Those apartments were the smallest on campus, so we were constantly in close proximity with one another, and this was the perfect setting to develop a close friendship.

Going into Sophomore year, I faced something more challenging than that I had ever faced. Only weeks before returning to UMHB for my 2nd year, I learned that my Dad, the strongest, most God-fearing man in my life, had colon cancer and required surgery followed by months of chemotherapy. I wasn’t always sure who I could turn to when I was away from home, and there were nights in which I would cry myself to sleep. I even had a few panic attacks during my Sophomore year. While there were countless men and women on the UMHB campus to constantly uplift, pray for, and inspire me, the most encouraging person outside of family quickly became Greggory. God always seemed to give Gregg the right words at just the right times I needed it. I’m not entirely sure if I ever told him this, but all of the jokes, laughs, puns (yes, lots of puns), deep spiritual conversations, non-spiritual conversations, prayers, and simply his presence helped me through one of the darkest times of my life.

In the midst of all of this, I was also diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease that year. This provided a constant struggle with stomach pain until I eventually discovered what I could and could not eat. Having Gregg’s friendship helped me through this as well. We became even closer as we both helped prepare Missions Emphasis Week together, with the following year being under his joint leadership with a few others as co-directors. Missions Emphasis Week was an awesome event, organized by an awesome group of students (under the BSM leadership), where we invited amazing missionaries across the state and the world to give students opportunities to share the Gospel locally, nationally, and internationally, thus helping fulfill God’s Great Commission to share His love to the ends of the Earth. Throughout planning and enjoying MEW, Gregg and I were able to witness each other’s passions in serving God by serving others.

All of these experiences helped show me someone I could count on, more than most, to encourage me in life’s many ups and downs. I mentioned some of the things I loved most about Greggory in my best man speech. One thing I have always loved were his passion for telling great puns.

Perhaps it’s because I too like puns that this became one of my favorite quirky qualities in Greggory. We constantly had pun battles (with him almost always winning), especially when he made deviled eggs for some reason. His egg-cellent puns always cracked me up, especially on Fry-days. He never walked on eggshells to get to the best puns, and because we were both Baptists, he just had to always quote Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my YOLK upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my YOLK is (over)easy and my burden is light.”

Even after he just got married and we were taking wedding photos before the reception, Gregg made yet another pun. “I thought there was something else I needed to do today, but I can’t put my finger on it,” Gregg said as he twisted his new wedding ring around his finger.

So just for Gregg, I shared a wedding pun during my best man speech that I found off of the Internet.

So Gregg. Did you hear about the two cell phones that got married? Their reception was terrific! (Ba dum tss)

And then I moved on to the more emotional part of my speech. It was indeed an emotional night. Even the cake was in tiers.

After promising that that was the last of the puns I told the crowd that I knew Greggory and Amberlee’s relationship, a relationship between two amazing vocalists, would last. After all, they are always in one a chord.

There are many amazing experiences with Greggory that I have had over the years, and are too numerous to count. I could probably write a doctoral dissertation about all of our adventures. But for the sake of this blog post, I am going to fast forward a bit from Sophomore year to our first Senior year (yes first Senior year).

Throughout our college career, Greggory and I would joke to each other about our singleness every time one of our friends started a relationship, got engaged, or got married. For Greggory, that would soon change in the middle of Fall 2016. I remember when Gregg came bouncing into our apartment to share some exciting news with me. He had been hanging out with this young lady named Amberlee, and he was going to ask her if she wanted to start a relationship with him. I was so excited for him and told him to let me know how it worked out.

Later that evening, I was sitting in my room in our apartment (Junior and Senior years, we lived in the nicest apartments where we had our own bedrooms) when I heard the main door open, along with this clink-clink-clink noise. I knew it was the clinking of Gregg’s metal thermos that was always strapped to his backpack. I opened my bedroom door, slid in my wheely-chair, and asked, “So…?” With his use of hand movements and sheer jubilation, Greggory told me that they decided to start dating. I was so excited for him. My best friend was now in a relationship!

Not long after this (a few days or weeks; I’m not entirely sure), I met Amberlee after one of her concerts. Both she and Gregg were Music majors and were in many vocal performances at UMHB. Upon meeting Amberlee, I could tell that she too was full of energy and a passion for Christ. “I’ve heard a lot of great things about you,” was the first thing Amberlee ever said to me. I quickly came to the conclusion that this very “smiley” person would become a close friend of mine, which only made sense given that Gregg was also a very “smiley” person.

Over the past several years, I have developed a great friendship with both Gregg and Amberlee. We have shared both excitements and challenges in life. We have laughed with each other, and we have encouraged and prayed for one another. I am so thankful that Greggory found his soulmate in Amberlee. Not only are they happy with each other, but through my amazing friendship with Greggory, Amberlee has also become a very dear friend of mine.

I cannot begin to describe just how much these two amazing people mean to me. One more memory I will share is a memory I have of one of Amberlee’s performances she did with some of her colleagues in UMHB’s Music Department. The last song they sang was one of my favorites I originally heard from David Phelps. And sorry, David Phelps, but their rendition was even better. The song was, You’ll Never Walk Alone. Throughout the performance of the song, each member of the group sang a solo part of it before they all sang the ending together. The words go like this…

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of a storm
There’s a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

I can’t remember exactly, but I think I may have shed a tear or two when that song was sung. This song has always been a great reminder to me that no matter what challenges we face in life, we never walk alone. Christ Jesus walks with us every step of the way, and he has also given us other people in our life who walk with us as well. Two of the closest people in my life who have walked with me in the good times in life, as well as the many storms, have been Greggory and Amberlee.

Their wedding and reception was nothing short of absolute beauty as it exemplified the love they share for God and for each other. It is my prayer and my hope that they find a lifetime of happiness with each other, and that they always remember a simple truth that has stuck with me throughout my life’s journey. That simple truth is that you’ll never walk alone!


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David Phelps. You’ll Never Walk Alone. By Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers, 1945. Google Play Lyrics. Web. 08 Oct. 2018.

New International Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 08 Oct. 2018. (modified with egg puns)


You’ll Never Walk Alone by David Phelps

Then sings my soul!

About one week has passed since Dad and I returned home from the Grand Canyon. After an entire week of reflection, I am still amazed, still in awe by God’s beautiful creation, and am eternally grateful that God allowed Dad and me to take this journey together. Not only was the Grand Canyon spectacular and absolutely amazing itself, words and pictures alone cannot fully grasp the grandeur of it all, but probably the most breathtaking aspect of it was that God has brought Dad and me through so much and has allowed us to witness His creation together.

As we drove to the Grand Canyon National Park for the first time two weeks ago today, excitement increased as we got closer and closer to the Park entrance. Every 5-10 minutes, the inner-kid in my Dad was revealed as he asked me to look at our GPS and tell him how much longer until we reached the Canyon. 50 minutes, 45 minutes, 40 minutes, and so forth. Both of us were brimming with excitement.

When we finally reached the entrance, we became more and more anxious upon seeing parking lot after parking lot full to capacity. We even saw part of the canyon off in a distance as we were trying to find a parking place. Once we did, we got lost trying to find a trail leading us to the rim of the Canyon. Then finally, we made it. We were there. After so many trials in our lives, God finally brought us to one of His most beautiful masterpieces. Needless to say, I was in complete awe.

It has certainly been a long, rocky road that Dad and I have traversed to reach this point to where we could enjoy the amazing vastness of the Canyon. It doesn’t seem all that long ago when I sat in a small cubicle at Scott & White as I watched poison drip ever so slowly into my Dad’s tired body as he battled his second round with colon cancer. It wasn’t that long ago that I sat terrified as heroic nurses, to whom I will forever be grateful, responded to a violent reaction Dad had with his chemo treatment.

Going back even further, I remembered my own struggles with Crohn’s Disease. I still remember my sudden hospitalization and surgery in 2012, just one week before I was set to give the invocation at my high school graduation. I remember being in so much pain, yet Dad was there, waiting on me hand and foot as he constantly encouraged me while I feared missing my own high school graduation. Although I missed my baccalaureate service, Senior Awards, and Senior Trip, by the grace of an amazing Heavenly Father, I got out just one day before graduation practice. I still got to give the opening prayer.

While my battle with Crohn’s Disease continues to this very day, my faith has grown stronger as I have been encouraged by my family, my hometown, and by all the new friends I have made at UMHB. My faith grew even more, by leaps and bounds, as did my relationship with Dad, when he was diagnosed with cancer right before my sophomore year of college.

So many emotions filled my heart with agony and pain. There were nights when I cried myself to sleep. Somehow I wanted to be able to take Dad’s pain away. I wanted for at least one day to endure Dad’s pain so he wouldn’t have to. Yet I know like any father would, my Dad wouldn’t let me, and even though he was battling cancer and chemo treatments, he still had a smile, he still had those corny and sometimes morbid jokes, just to let me know that everything would work out according to God’s plan and that God was using my Dad for His glory in ways that only God could understand.

And so my faith in the Lord grew. Challenge after challenge, my Dad has never given up, even when he had plenty of reasons to do so. The Lord gave him strength, and Dad’s faith in God’s sovereignty in turn gave me the encouragement and strength I needed to face my own challenges. Christmas Eve 2013, Dad beat cancer. The following Spring Break, he finished chemo. In May 2014, he finally walked to receive his degree at UMHB. In the Fall of that year, he beat another painful illness. A year later, he battled cancer once again, only to be declared cancer-free in late-March of this year. And after multiple exams, he has finally met the necessary requirements to be a full-time Special Education teacher starting in just one week. It seems like every single time, God has been telling Dad and me that “Hey. Just wait. I’m not finished with you yet.”

Truly, God wasn’t finished with either one of us. Visiting the Grand Canyon became the very rich, yummy icing on the cake that was everything God helped us overcome. It’s like God was saying, “See. I told you so.”

And so, as I sat on the rocks overlooking the Canyon that first day, I wept. I wept tears of joy. I wept because God not only allowed us to overcome so many challenges together, but He also allowed us to do so in order that we might have the opportunity to enjoy what truly is a GRAND Canyon. When I sat there looking at the amazing depth and vastness of God’s creation, I sang to myself, in a quiet voice…

 
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, 
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made; 
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, 
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

(Chorus)
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, 
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, 
How great Thou art, How great Thou art! 

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander, 
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing; 
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in; 
That on a Cross, my burdens gladly bearing, 
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, 
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration, 
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

(Chorus)
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, 
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee, 
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

I sat there at the rim, absolutely amazed, and as I looked at the never-ending depths of the Canyon, I couldn’t help but rejoice in how far God has brought us. Easy lives without trials were never promised to us, but if we trust God with our lives, there will be moments like these in which we can enjoy just how marvelous and powerful He is. It’s a reminder to me that He has a purpose for each of our lives.

Words in of itself cannot describe just how awesome the Grand Canyon is. Pictures can never help one grasp the vastness of the Canyon. And that’s part of the beauty of it all. How Great God truly is. When I consider all the worlds Thy hands have made. When I hear the rolling thunder, as there was thunder the second day of our visit. When through the woods and forest glades I wander as I walk along the pine trees alongside the trails leading to the rim of the Canyon. As I hear the birds sing sweet melodies and look down from mountain grandeur. When I feel the breeze and see the mighty Colorado River look so small from the top of the Canyon. When I take in all of this marvelous beauty, how can my soul not sing for joy!?

And as I looked at the wonder that is our Heavenly Father, I was constantly reminded by God that while He created all of the awesomeness that is the Grand Canyon, He sent His Son to die and conquer death for me, because I was His greatest creation. After the first two days, it was hard for me to imagine how much sweeter this vacation would turn out to be. Then on the third day, God was like, “Hey. Look what I can do!” The third morning of our time at the Grand Canyon, Dad and I left our hotel (which was about an hour away from the Park) at about 3:45 AM to see the sun rise over the Canyon, and it was well worth it!

If you ever travel to the Canyon yourself, seeing the sunrise is an absolute necessity. As we waited for the sun to emerge over the Canyon, Dad and I could hear people speaking in German, French, and Chinese, among other languages. Throughout our trip, we also heard Spanish, Dutch, Hindi, Middle Eastern languages, and so many others. The diversity of the thousands of people at the Canyon was also a great reminder of how awesome God is. It was a reminder that the magnificence of God’s creation can bring together people from across the world to enjoy His masterpieces. That too, represented the beauty of God.

There are so many other experiences I hope to share with others about our journey together. I love that the Grand Canyon is now a part of Dad’s and my testimony. The Grand Canyon is now part of my life’s story. It’s now a part of Dad’s life story.

This reminds me of one of my favorite verses in the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV) says, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

When we share our life’s story, we share both the Gospel of Christ as well as how He has made an impact in our lives. The Grand Canyon is a part of both Dad’s and my life’s story. And it truly is Grand!

♪♪Then sings my soul, My Saviour God to thee, How great Thou art, HOW GREAT THOU ART!!!♪♪


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Boberg, Carl. “How Great Thou Art.” Trans. Stuart K. Hine. Hollywood, CA. Manna Music, Inc. 1955.

New International Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 1 Aug. 2016.


How Great Thou Art by the Digital Age

Great Is Thy Faithfulness/How Big Is God/How Great Thou Art (Medley) by Anthony Burger

The news I DID want to hear: His cancer is shrinking!

So many emotions these past couple of weeks, where could I possibly begin? Earlier in August, I blogged with the title, “The news I never wanted to hear: His cancer is back…” This time I will start with the wonderful news my family received last week… Dad’s cancer is shrinking! Tears, smiles, peace, joy, jubilation were among the many words to describe what I was feeling when my Dad gave me this simple message: “PET scans show improvement. God is Good!” Immediately, I called him to ask him exactly what this meant. His doctors told him that the cancer was shrinking!

It seems that for these past few years, my family has been on a roller coaster of emotions with so many things happening. Wonderful news, horrible news; both have come off and on as we strive to keep focused on God and the plan He has for the each of us. As Believers in Christ know, life was never promised to be easy. Sometimes, we will receive news that gives us so much joy, and sometimes news will give us sorrow. I don’t always understand why things happen, but I trust that God is in complete control and that He is and always will be sovereign over everything.

So what do we do when the news we receive is not at all what we wanted to hear? What do we do when the news brings sadness, pain, and frustration? I am not going to act like I have the answers, because I don’t. What I can say is this, “The Lord goes before us and He will never leave us. Trust that He is in control. Trust that He is sovereign.”

In my life, I have faced many trials and disappointments. It seems that every time I do, my family will remind me that God has great and amazing things in store for me. Even when I am not home with my family, my Dad, my Nana, and my BigDaddy will encourage me over the phone and remind me of God’s goodness.

My family has been my ultimate source of inspiration throughout my young life. My Dad has faced more than I could ever imagine, yet he still, even with intensive chemotherapy treatments, finds ways to make me laugh, finds ways to tease me and pull practical jokes, and finds ways to lift me up and reassure me that God is sovereign. When my BigDaddy had heart surgery, and even more responsibilities were placed on Nana’s shoulders, they still never seemed to lose their faith that God would make a way, and that God would provide the answers we needed. The kids too have faced so many challenges, yet they have chosen to trust God with all their hearts.

And what should we do if we receive wonderful news? Praise Him! But also praise Him when the news is not so great. Praise Him in the calm. Praise Him in the storm. For the God that is with us when times are great is the very same God that is with us when times are tough.

In case you don’t know by now, I love adding songs that speak to me in my blogs. Over these past few years I have received good news such as Dad beating cancer the first time, getting his degree, myself getting another “A” on my transcript, Dad’s cancer shrinking, BigDaddy’s heart surgery going well, Shayla and Isaac professing their faith through baptism, the list goes on. But I have also received news I didn’t want: when Dad first got cancer, when it returned, when I faced disappointment or didn’t get that ministry position I wanted, that list could continue as well.

In all of these situations, I have occasionally been reminded by one of my favorite Gaither songs, “God On The Mountain.” There have been plenty of times when I would look it up on YouTube and listen to these words:

Life is easy, when you’re up on the mountain
And you’ve got peace of mind, like you’ve never known
But things change, when you’re down in the valley
Don’t lose faith, for your never alone

For the God on the mountain, is still God in the valley
When things go wrong, he’ll make them right
And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times
The God of the day, is still God in the night

We talk of faith way up on the mountain
But talk comes easy, when life’s at its best
Now it’s down in the valleys, trials and temptations
That’s where your faith is really put to the test

For the God on the mountain, is still God in the valley,
When things go wrong, he’ll make them right
And the God of the good times, is still God in the bad times
The God of the day, is still God in the night
The God of the day, is still God in the night

How wonderful is it to know that that same God that gives us happiness and joy in the good times is also the same God that grants us peace in the bad times and reassures us that His presence never leaves us? May my heart never cease to praise Him! Sometimes life is easy, and in those moments, when I am up on that mountain, I will praise Him. When I am down in the valley of sorrow and despair, I will praise Him. When the news is good, I will praise Him. When the news is not at all what I wanted to hear, I will praise Him for I am never alone!

Psalm 34 (NIV) proclaims this:

I will extol the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
    let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
    let us exalt his name together.

Every chance that I get, I will strive to praise His name! No matter what comes my way, good or bad, God is worthy of my praise! Because that same God that I sing joyous praise to when life does go my way is the very same God that I will call out and praise when life doesn’t go my way.

I am beyond thankful that God gave me this news that brought a smile to my face: Dad’s cancer is shrinking! I thanked God and praised His name for this wonderful news. I also praised Him before when Dad’s cancer returned the second time and praised Him in other situations that have left me sad or frustrated. In every circumstance, one thing remains the same, God’s love never fails! He is the same today and tomorrow as He was yesterday.

So praise God in every situation! For the God of the day IS STILL God in the night!

 

Lynda Randle. God On The Mountain. By Tracy Dartt, 1975. MetroLyrics. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

New International Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

 

God On the Mountain by Lynda Randle

How Can I Keep From Singing by Chris Tomlin