And Life is Worth the Living

Back during the week of Thanksgiving I started a blog post about life now and never finished it.  The Monday after Thanksgiving marked two years since my doctor found the lymph nodes in my chest and neck enlarged, which was the start of answers to my health issues that were happening at the time.  That eventually led to a Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnosis and treatment.  I now live because of a few things.  First, the cancer was found in an early stage, which made the treatment effective.  Second, my body reacted well to the chemotherapy and fought well against the cancer cells.  Those first two reasons are medical, but the third and final reason I am alive is the hardest one for me to swallow.  The third reason I am alive is that God wants me to be.  That’s the one that is hard to understand.

I don’t remember the first time I thought about this concept that my life had a purpose, but it was back sometime in Junior High or High School.  In those days, I was just started to comprehend what it meant to be a believer in Christ.  I remember a pastor or youth leader saying that everyone’s life has a purpose.  A specific job for you to do, that only you can do, that God has planned.  That idea really excited me, because growing up I wasn’t the best at anything.  I wasn’t athletic.  I wasn’t the smartest.  I wasn’t the most musically talented.  I honestly couldn’t put my finger on the specific skill that would make me rise above the rest.  I would be sad about this idea that there was always someone better than me at everything I tried to do.  But the message about Christ having a specific purpose for me?  Now that was an amazing thought.  Something that only Bryce could do for Him.  This fact really meant the world to me and I began seeking for that purpose through Christ as I finished high school, completed college, and started my teaching career.

I also recall how my parents used to react to bad news.  If we say had a wreck in a car or a tire blow out, they would simply say to each other, “God must be testing us.”  Then they would go about fixing the issue.  This idea came to full fruition while reading the books by John Eldridge, my favorite Christian author.  He would talk about how we as believers always ask God, “Why is this happening to me?”  Instead he pointed to a different question, “God, what are you teaching me?”  It is a slight change in question, but a completely different mindset.  Instead of prodding and complaining, the second question almost sounds excited about the trial.  What are you teaching me God?  Show me.  I want to know.  When I approached God like this in the face of anguish, the result was far less stress on me and far more room for God to grow in me.

Taking these two approaches in life have helped me immensely throughout the years.  I seek for God to show me the purpose he has for me and when I hit a speed bump or trial during that journey, I seek for Him to show me things, because I know He is at work, always preparing me for the next step.  But there are seasons where I fail to do either of these things. Recently through the month of November and December,  I have hit a slump.  I lost track of my goals and slipped into a bit of a wandering soul mentality.  All the different goals I set for this past year have not come to fruition.  Also, the world feels so much darker than it used to.  Even in this holiday season, the feelings of Christmas and Hope have been lackluster.  Much of this has been interior, you would not know that I was struggling with these feelings if you saw me.  But all that changed this past Saturday.

ReginaldI remember meeting Reginald when I was just a Junior high kid helping out at my church’s inner city ministry.  Reginald was a tall lanky kid like myself.  He had a brother who played basketball and was on our church team.  Reginald attended our ministry, His Heart, for years.  He was different than the other guys that came to the church from our neighborhood.  The biggest difference was that he played the cello.  Me being the naive, suburban kid, I didn’t know that inner city schools even had a strings program.  But Reginald became a quick friend, always kind and willing to help out in any way.  He even brought his cello and played during our services for special music.  I remember when Reginald was diagnosed with Lymphoma.  He fought against the chemo and even had to take off a good bit of school to complete his treatments.  We didn’t see Reginald or his brother often after he was sick, but we celebrated when he defeated the disease.  Then the cancer came back.  He fought again and again.  He was such a great kid, I just knew he would be fine.

I was diagnosed with the same disease in 2013.  Reginald was one of the first to reach out to me and talk about it.  I remember the first time I saw him after I was diagnosed.  He came to the church and we embraced.  Now we have a much different connection than before.  We knew the horrors of cancer, even if it was a type that had a good success rate.  I pronounced my remission in 2014 and again Reginald was one of the first to congratulate me.  He said that one day he would be able to say that too.  Reginald passed away this past Saturday from years of battle against cancer.  He died the day he was supposed to graduate from Belhaven University at the age of 24.  My mom, sister, and I went to his visitation together.  My sister was in youth group with him and we all loved him.

This is the hard part.  Reginald celebrates today completely healed with Christ by him.  It is nice to think about him playing the cello beside an angelic orchestra.  Reginald was a success story.  A kid in the rough inner city of Jackson, who loved classical music and worked so hard to get a college degree.  He did it.  This is the part where I ask the questions.  What was Reginald’s purpose that only he could fulfill for Christ?  What is God trying to teach through this?  Why am I still here?  Why are you still here?  They are tough to answer.

I have to remember a key part of my belief in God when I think on these questions.  That belief is, “If God is good….”  That’s it.  If God is good then what?  Here I have been sad about my life over the past month and God still has me here.  Life is not a depressing walk, but instead a gift.  Life is worth living fully.  You don’t know when it will end for you.  I can’t get lost in the mentality that I have been in over the past month.  Christ has a plan for me, He’s got a plan for you.  I might never understand why my friend Reginald left us, but one day I’ll ask him.  Until then I’ll leave with this hymn, which can’t leave my mind when I think about Reginald.

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

Journey Strong

Advent: A New Hope

“Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.” – Princess Leia

“In the bleak midwinter, a stable-place sufficed.  The Lord Almighty, Jesus Christ.” – In the Bleak Mid-Winter, hymn

Advent – the arrival of a notable person, event, or thing

I don’t think I have ever had such anticipation for a movie in my lifetime.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens cannot come soon enough.  I have recounted in a previous post about how my father introduced me to the world of Star Wars when I was young.  There have been so many times when I have tried to use the “force” to my will and taken a gift wrap tube and used it as a lightsaber.  Yes that still pertains to my life today.

I just watched Star Wars: A New Hope a few nights ago and the movie still enveloped me.  The banter of the droids C3PO and R2D2 still makes me laugh.  The whining of Luke and the brash attitude of both Princess Leia and Han Solo create such a unique blend of human characters that you can’t help but root for them.  Then there is Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, who set such a perfect view of good vs. evil.  The whole package of the story, the characters, the effects, and the settings changed the world of cinema and pop culture.

The holidays have always been a bright spot in my year.  From the time that Halloween dies down to the beginning of the New Year, the whole world around me seems to be alive with energy and life.  This is crazy because it is this very time of the year that all the leaves are almost gone from trees, the sun disappears around five o’clock, and the weather turns cold and wet.  It is also the time of year that colds and sinuses act up and no one really wants to be out of their house.  It is a bleak time, contrary to what we as humans have concocted.

At the beginning of the first theatrical release of Star Wars there it was blazing on the screen: A New Hope.  That word stirs something in us doesn’t it?  Hope.  It is the reminder that not all is lost.  Hope says that even when everything looks dismal and certain to fail, there at that moment you can still hang on to the fact that everything will be better.  It’s not an idea that good things will come, but a fact that good things are coming.

In the days of the prophet Isaiah, God’s people were awaiting the Savior to come.  The one who would save them all.  Isaiah told of a Virgin birth and that someone would come before the Savior to proclaim that He had arrived.  This took roughly 700 years to happen.  I can’t imagine waiting that long for anything.  In the Star Wars saga, the evil Sith and the Galactic Empire destroyed the Jedi, who fought for good.  It took roughly 20 years for Luke and Leia to come into the picture and bring a renewed sense of hope of victory over the Empire.  The point I am trying to make here is that with all hope there is waiting and patience.

The Christmas season has always been Advent for me.  In a liturgical church the Advent wreath consists of 3 purple candles, a pink candle, and a white candle.  The purple candles represent Hope, Love, and Peace.  The pink candle stands for Joy.  Finally, the white candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve is Christ, because that is when he arrives.  Advent means the arrival of a person, event, or thing worth noting.  The Christmas season is a celebration of the arrival of Christ, the Savior.  The one who holds all the Hope of the world.  Yes we can argue dates of when Jesus was truly born, but the Christmas season celebrates the arrival of Hope.  It marks the arrival of Love in human form.  “That is what Christmas is all about”, as Linus would say.

What if I was just as excited about Christ’s return as I was about The Force Awakens?  It puts life into perspective a bit when I think about that question.  If I knew when Christ was coming back, would I have pre-order tickets with all my friends?  Would I wait in line for hours just to be the first to see Him?  Would I know every detail about His character?  Would I have cried at the trailer that previews what it would be like when Christ returns?  Would I purchase exclusive memorabilia of Christ returning on a white horse?  Would I spend hours reading accounts of what it will be like when Christ returns on message boards and news articles?  Would I study side books by authors who spent their life studying the story of Jesus?

The first candle of Advent is the Hope candle.  It is what comes first in the story of Jesus, Hope.  It is Hope in the most bleak of times.  A New Hope for all.

On December 17th, I will be seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens with a large group of friends and the excitement will be overwhelming.  But I cannot discount the true thrill and joy it will be to see my Savior come.  His arrival is the true Hope and I am glad that he created me with a love for this little film franchise that inspires me to have Hope and to enjoy the life that He gave me when He came down in a bleak time to show A New Hope to the world.

Journey Strong and May The Force Be With You