Hello Birmingham

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Three years ago I was a recent high school grad with little sense of direction or purpose. I did what it took to feel liked and wanted. I was really good at the whole “mask” thing. I had the heart of a gypsy and knew little about being rooted in one place. The word “stay” wasn’t in my vocabulary.

Soon after graduating high school, I decided to move from Atlanta to Birmingham to pursue ministry. When I started college, those feelings never went away. At the end of every semester I said I was going to leave. Ask my friends, they’ll tell you. Leaving was all I ever knew.

The biggest events in my life happened while living in Birmingham. I lost one of my closest friends. I traveled out of the country for a summer. My Dad’s disease took his life. Lots of friends disappeared when I needed them most. I failed a class. I didn’t get the internship I wanted, I was angry and lost and isolated. Quite frankly, Birmingham turned into the city I watched all my dreams fall apart in. Birmingham was a place of brokenness and pain. Birmingham destroyed me.

Every part of me screamed to run away. Leaving always seemed easier. Not facing the music always seemed easier. I think the biggest wake up call I’ve ever had was when I realized ignoring reality doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring the truth doesn’t make it any less of the truth. Sometimes the truth is scary. In fact, it’s the truth that often breaks people. But maybe the point isn’t to avoid the truth so we don’t get hurt. Maybe the point is to face the lights to prove you showed up. Get some bruises. Get some scars. Get your hands dirty. Our biggest fear shouldn’t be getting scraped up from life, our biggest fear should be living a life that doesn’t exist. Live a life that exists. Know that there will always be people who undermine your success. Not everyone is gonna be your #1 fan. Bullies will come. People will say  mean things. They’ll tell you you’re not good enough or pretty enough or smart enough. The ghosts in your head will whisper lies of doubt. They’ll haunt your every decision. But that’s the thing: they’re lies. You’re not the things the lies tell you on repeat. You’ve done the time. You’ve walked through the valleys. You know what it’s like from the bottom and you’ve fought like hell for the mountain top experiences.

It’s important to celebrate the victories in your life. Both big and small. They happened. You did it. Throw some confetti in the air and say good job. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it, babe.

Don’t let what people do and don’t say tell you if you’re valued or not. You’re valued, okay? You’re good enough. You’re worth loving. You’re absolutely stunning. You’re full of purpose and creativity and spunk. You don’t need to wait for someone else to tell you those things… they’re already true. Believe them with every ounce of your being. Write it on your mirror. Tape it to the ceiling above your bed. Recite it to yourself time and time again.

In the midst of it all, choose to stay. Choose to say yes to what’s uncomfortable. Stop playing the victim song. Turn it off. You’re better than that. Take a victory lap. You don’t have to fake it. In fact, stop faking it. Take off the mask. It’s more brave to be real. You’re not brave for your mask. You’re brave because right in the middle of your mess and chaos and uncertainty you chose to be real. Be real. Decide right now. Make up your mind that you’re gonna be an authentic human. You’re gonna show up for yourself and for other people. You’re gonna give yourself unruly amounts of grace. We all need some grace. Everybody. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, It means you’re strong enough to do something even though there is a chance you might fail. You’re gonna fail from time to time and that’s okay. That’s what makes you human.

Give it all you’ve got, even if that’s only a little bit. Get rid of the impossible expectations you have for yourself. That doesn’t mean stop dreaming. It means to dream but also live the life that’s in front of you. Don’t run away. When the voice in your head says to leave, shut it down. Press in. Seek more. Dig deeper. Grow where you are planted. You don’t have to move across the globe to find purpose. It’s already here. Look yourself in the mirror and say those words: I have purpose. Do it five times. Do it ten. Let every bone in your body feel the weight. No one might tell you that today, so let me: You were created with beauty and purpose. Surround yourself with people who believe that about you. Prove the others wrong.

When it comes to falling in love, fall for someone who chooses all of you. Don’t settle for mediocre love. Fall in love with someone who treasures the parts of you you’re insecure about. Wait for the kind of love that stops you in your tracks. Wait for the one who honors you and leads you with integrity. Wait for the one who opens your car door and doesn’t pull away until they know you’re safe. Wait for the one who is proud to be seen with you. Wait for the one who is honest with you, even if the honesty is dark. Everybody has their darkness. Wait for the one who chooses to fight the darkness with you. Wait for someone who believes in you and celebrates you. Someone who encourages you and pushes you to greater heights. I’m not saying “the perfect person” exists, because no one is perfect. But love exists. It’s out there. I know it. I’ve seen it. Don’t settle for mediocre love, you were never meant to. 

A couple weeks ago a friend told me I needed to throw away my old playbook. They told me I needed to stop running back to what felt safe and comfortable.

Last Saturday I graduated from ministry school. Two and a half years of questions, adventures, and frustration (basically every emotion that has a name, plus some) all leading to this day. Now here I am… choosing to stay in the very place I wanted so desperately to get away from. I’m sitting in the coffee shop I spent most of my days dreading. I’m facing the things I never wanted to face. I’m choosing to trust that God has a plan and is working all things for His glory and my good. I’m finding home here. I’m learning to love. I’m building community. I’m showing up. I’m showing up though I feel like a mess. I’m making up my mind to roll out of bed in the morning and say those words: Hello Birmingham, let’s do this thing. 

2016

 

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2015 carries a lot of weight.

I failed at a lot of things. I lost a lot of things. I learned a lot of things.

It wasn’t the kind of pretty that plays on IMAX screens or sold out shows.

2015 was a year of transition.

The thing about transition is, it marks your life. It doesn’t ask if you are ready for change or care if your heart is broken.Transition is greedy. It swoops in looking for its prey. You never know what you’ll lose, but you always have to be prepared.

My dad died. I didn’t finish ministry school on time. I let my friends down. They let me down. I got a C. I felt the pain of loss. I punched a hole through a wall. I hid. I cried. I screamed. I begged for a way out.

We, as humans, are the sum of every experience we’ve ever had. The moments of impact. Moments that send your world spiraling in a million different directions. Falling in love. Having your heart ripped out. Dancing in the street. Feeling the wind in your hair. Watching your best friend walk away. Watching them come back. Finding purpose.

We’re all on a journey searching for something. Something, that in fact, very few of us have seen with our own eyes. We feel the bends. We hit the rocks. We move along the untouched path towards that thing we so desperately long for.

It’s day 3 of 365.

2016.

It’s here.

In a world that peaks with tragedy, it’s hard to experience good. It nearly impossible to “stay positive”. Our minds become trapped in the pessimism and grimness of life.

Scripture rehearses this cycle time and time again. Ecclesiastes even goes as far to say there are seasons for every feeling associated with the events of life.

“A time for birth and another for death,
A time to plant and another to reap,
A time to kill and another to heal,
A time to destroy and another to construct,
A time to cry and another to laugh,
A time to lament and another to celebrate,
A time to make love and another to abstain,
A time to embrace and another to part,
A time to search and another to count your losses,
A time to hold on and another to let go,
A time to rip out and another to mend,
A time to shut up and another to speak up,
A time to love and another to hate,
A time to wage war and another to make peace.”

The parallels are extreme and honest. We like to hide during the deaths and the planting and the crying and the searching. Then, once it’s “good” again, we come out.

2016 needs a shameless appeal for celebration. It needs a guiltless declare of truth. A powerful movement for laughter and love.

“We need optimism in the face of violence, despair, and anxiety. The other road is a dead end. Despair is a slow death, a lifetime of anger is like a lifetime of hard drinking: it shows in your face and your eyes and your words, even when you think it doesn’t. The only way out is to celebrate. To act, read, protest, protect, picket, learn, advocate for, and fight against. The trick though, is that in the midst of all that accomplishing and organizing, we don’t bulldoze over a world that’s teeming with beauty and hope and redemption all around us. Before the wars are over, the cures are found, the wrongs are righted – Today, humble today, presents itself with all the potential we choose to bring. It’s in our hands now.” (Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines) (If you haven’t read it, go buy it, tonight)

Im not saying the pain isn’t real. I’m not saying the betrayal is a lie. I am saying that we need to punch pessimism in the face and throw too many dance parties. Call for a feast, find some sparklers, and let’s celebrate.

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it.

“The sun will rise and we will try again.”

2016 is your chance. Stop the lies. Stop the fear. Stop the negative.

It doesn’t have to be “new year, new me” – it’s new year, same me. Only this time, you let people in. Only this time, truth prevails. Only this time, fear doesn’t have a say.

I’m going all in. I hope you will too.

Here’s to the possibilities.

Elephant in the Room

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4 Months ago, I walked in Barnes and Noble to buy the very anticipated “If You Feel Too Much” written by Jamie Tworkowski. A friend had recommended (more than once) that I read it. Without much hesitation, I begin to read. Little did I know the change that was coming.

Page 30. It begins like this: “There are some things we can’t change, there are some things we can. This is about the idea that, if were not careful, the days turn into years and our rooms fill up with elephants.”

The chapter revolved around Fathers. Long story short, Jamie felt a disconnect with his father. The disconnect was a 10,000 pound elephant standing in their midst. Every time they would end up together, the elephant showed up blocking them from fully embracing and loving each other.

Suddenly I realized the elephant in the room with my own father.

Rewind 5 years. 2010. Freshman year of high school. If life weren’t hard enough, this was the same year my dad was diagnosed with ALS. I remember the night like it was yesterday. I sat in my tiny bedroom against the dresser i’d become very familiar with. My wrists knew the pain of a razor. My thighs felt the cut of a blade. Depression became a friend I didn’t care to have. It crept in and the darkness took over. A knock on my door led me to the living room where a crowd was gathered to hear the news. My mom was there. My brother and step-sister. My youth pastor. Some doctor lady. My dad sat on the couch and looked down as she said, “Bob has a disease known as ALS”. The room fell apart. Tears. Screeches. Pain. I didn’t move.

I asked to be excused and sat back against that dresser. The weeks following were hard. The years harder. We watched as his body began to unbuild itself. I watched as each piece of him failed. First his hands. Then his legs. Then ability to eat. Then his speech. I’ll spare you the details. It wasn’t glamorous. It was tragic. heart-wrenching. devastating.

As my dad’s health got worse, my fear got worse. The truth is: I became afraid of my own dad. I was afraid I would hurt him. I was afraid I would mess something up.

This is when the elephant walked in.

Communication between us dwindled. We stuck to emails and texts. Rare visits on weekends and avoidance of one another. His tried harder to be close to me, and I pushed away more. This went on for 4 years.

The elephant took over our relationship.

I wanted to apologize. I wanted so badly to say something that would fix it. I wanted to run and give my dad a hug and tell him I love him a million times. I wanted to ask for forgiveness. I wanted to fight back against the fear.

I couldn’t.

At least that’s what I thought.

May 27, 2015. I read these words: “Love is a thousand things, but at the center is a choice. It’s a choice to love people.”

I came to the reality of a choice. I had a choice to say something. I had a choice to do something about the elephant.

“Elephants show up where they don’t belong and they try to stay forever and they ask us not to say a word.”

In the closing paragraph, Jamie explains how it’s okay to ask the elephant to leave. It might take some time and it’s certainly a process,  but if we chose to tell them to go, they will.

My dad died 2 months ago. The months preceding his death I fought for that elephant to leave. I spent my days working to make sure he knew how much I cared.

I sat in his room. Counting the breaths. For every 60 second of the world moving on, my dad breathed 4 of them. Those 4 breathes were hope. They were signs of life. I knew it would only be a couple hours and those numbers would dwindle down to 0. But I sat and watched. I waited.

People came from all over to say their goodbyes. Each one walking in for only a few moments and leaving. I watched each person break down. I watch as the reality of it all sunk in.

On the last night of my dad’s life we gathered around his bed. My brother sat by my side. His girlfriend was there. My mom was there. My dads sister. My grandma and my dad’s wife. My step sister and her boyfriend.

One by one everyone dispersed and for the first time in months I sat alone with my dad. I held his hand and cried. I told him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. I said the words I hadn’t.

He passed the next morning.

The last two months have been the hardest I’ve known. I’ve had moments where I completely lose it. I’ve sat on the floor of my shower and cried for hours. I’ve driven 1,000+ miles searching for answers.

I write this to say one thing: don’t let the elephant stay.

You never know when the last day is gonna come. Tell the elephant to leave. Fight back. Say the words you haven’t. Do the hard stuff.

I wish I would have started fighting back sooner. I let fear tell me I was drowning.

You’re not drowning.

Fear is a liar.

My dad said it best, “Seek more, Run less”

There’s hope. Stop running.

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I believe my dad is the greatest man to ever live. He was the strongest, most honest, caring, and loving human being I’ve ever known. He faced opposition every single day, yet still held his head up high. He saw beauty everywhere and chose to embrace every part of life. He loved others well and believed the best in people.

Thank you Dad for being my best friend. Thank you for learning me and being patient with me. Thank you for loving me at both my worst and my best. Thank you for pushing me to try harder. You always brought out the best in me. Thank you for being my #1 fan. There is so much I could say of your character. You were a role model for so many. I wish I could tell you I love you one more time. I miss you. You’re my hero, Dad. ALS didn’t win. ALS will never win. You gained Heaven. You’re body is healed and glorified. The victory is in Jesus.

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I also need to say a special thank you to the people who have believed in me over these last months and been there through this season. First and foremost, I thank Jesus for His faithfulness and grace in all of this. I’m thankful death doesn’t have the last word and, as believers, we have the promise of Heaven. Second, I want to thank Haley Houle who has stood by my side every day leading up to my dad’s passing to now. You’re a treasure, Hales. I don’t know where I’d be without you. A few more people including: Jenna Bednarsky who has fought for me these last few months. Kat Sullivan and Zoie Rigsby who have held my hand as I’ve faced my last semester of college. The pastors and leaders at Church of the Highlands. My CTI family. My brother Jared and his girlfriend Kami. Xtreme Life Student Ministry. There are so many more, this is only a few. A million thank you’s to each of you and even the ones I didn’t mention. Thank you to Jamie Tworkowski for the words in “If You Feel Too Much”. Without this book, I don’t think I would have fought back.

We Dance

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“I’m so forgetful, but You always remind me … You’re the only one who brings me peace.”

We serve a God who is so intentional. We serve a God who weaves Himself in the most intricate of details, a God who makes Himself evident in every situation … if only we are willing to look.

I got a letter I wrote myself six months ago today. Six months ago I was in the bush somewhere in East Africa; my concerns were few and my heart was full. I had no idea what was happening back in America. I hadn’t talked to my friends or family in months. I was genuinely alone with God. His voice was so clear; it was as though I was sitting at His feet listening to Him speak over me.

The words I found in that letter today are a testament of God’s faithfulness.

The letter reads:

Dear Jordan,

What a beautiful reality God became to you last summer … Your Father romancing you and dancing with you, round and round, reminding you of the song He wrote for you; the song He sings over you. I don’t know what season you’re walking in right now … whether you’re in a season of intense joy or overwhelming mourning … but I do know that wherever you are, Christ is offering His hand asking you to dance, yet again. The offer is always there, you just have to be willing to accept it. Jesus is standing directly before us giving us an invitation to participate in life with Him. A couple things happen when we choose to accept His offer … obstacles that look absolutely impossible, aren’t. Impediments that you believe disqualify you, don’t. When you show up to participate with Jesus in life, you must realize you are now moving and breathing with the very one who created you in the first place. He is leaning across asking how you are and invites you to get better together with Him. You’re in this life for only a short time, it’s like a mist. Accept the invitation; He is sending it to you in every sunrise, in every sound of a bird tweeting, in the smell of coffee brewing. Take His hand. He adores you. Dance with Him. Listen for His still small voice coming through the wind. Lean in. He is right there.

These words captivated me. How sweet is our Lord, Jesus Christ. While I was in Africa, God knew the chaos happening back in America. God spoke these words to me before I even knew why. God knew, He knew I would come home only to find out one of my dearest friends was dead. He knew I would come home and have to watch my dad’s illness continue to take away his every capability. He knew the pain that was coming. He knew the mourning standing before me. HE KNEW IT ALL.

This changes everything. The consistency of God changes everything. His faithfulness … it changes everything.

Stop for a second and look around you. Take in a deep breath. Close your eyes. For me, it’s the last six months I need to reflect on. For you, it may be different. Look how far God has brought you. Look at the things He has done for you simply because He is madly in love with you.

Let us not be so quick to forget the goodness of God. Let us not be so quick to forget the peace He speaks over us. Instead, let our cry be to dwell in His house for all our days. May we take Him by the hand and be romanced by Him. May we stop and remember … treasure His presence.

“You steady me, slow and sweet, we sway, You take the lead and I will follow. I’m finally ready now to close my eyes and just believe that You won’t lead me where You don’t go. When my faith gets tired and my hope seems lost, You spin me round and round and remind me of that song, the one You wrote for me, and we dance.” (Bethel Music, We Dance)

Welcome Home

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On December 28, 2014 I came home. On December 28, 2014 I stopped covering myself in the garden and started letting God mend my broken heart. On December 28, 2014 I crawled out of the trenches and walked into the light. On December 28, 2014 My Father embraced me in all my filth and called me new, On December 28, 2014 something strange happened… the darkness fell away.

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2014 has been a year of much hurt. I battled the loss of one of my very best friends who was killed in a car accident while I was in Africa. I have watched my Dad’s terminal illness get worse and worse as the days pass. A mentor and youth minister of mine was taken by cancer. And eventually my heart became so wounded that I could no longer move. I stopped playing music. I stopped writing. I honestly stopped believing. I stopped dreaming. There was no hope.

Let me tell you, the journey home has not been easy. It’s taken me 5 months to built up the courage to come back to Jesus. I left the wilderness I found myself in and ran back towards the only place I knew I was safe.

God didn’t wait for me to get home and start working to gain His love, He saw me from a long way off and came running to pull me in to His arms. His Love waited for me to come back. God knew that more than I am guilty, I am sick. I’ve been wounded. I am broken.

I have discovered something quite striking about God: He never gives us trees… He gives us seeds. He gives us some, waits for us to settle that land, then gives us more. He is not holding things from us, He is holding things for us.

Life is a bit of time, and a lot of relationship. We must abide in Him. We must not have a holy visitation, but a holy habitation. Settle in. Many say that time heals all wounds, but that isn’t true. If a wound is left unattended for to long, it will fester and become much worse. God heals all wounds. Yes, it is a process, and yes, it will take time, but time alone can do nothing.

Think about this: If you plant a seed and take it out of the dirt every 15 minutes, nothing is ever going to happen; there will be no growth. But, If you plant a seed and wait, it will grow. God is never frantic. He is always peace. He is always patient.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)

The answer to most all questions in this life is: RUN TO JESUS. “There has never been the slightest doubt in My mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish” (Phil 1:6). Settle in. 

Walking into 2014 I had no hope. All I had was suffering. Little did I know what my suffering was producing. “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). Hope has been restored once again

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I would like this post to be dedicated to the beautiful and loving Lucy Boettcher. Lucy taught me what It looks like to be brave. She is dancing in the presence of her Savior right this minute. I miss you, Luce. Thank you for believing in me.

I also want to honor the people that have stood by me and loved me through this journey. The story isn’t over yet. A seed has just been planted and now we get to wait and watch what God does as He begins the process of healing in my heart.