Contrast

“Some days are just bad days, that’s all.  You have to experience sadness to know happiness, and I remind myself that not every day is going to be a good day, that’s just the way it is.” – Dita Von Tesse

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season;” 2 Timothy 4:2A

What is the best type of sunset?  Is it the ones that happen on a clear evening without a cloud in the sky?  Is it ones that include a beach or mountain?  Is it the ones that occur after a day of storms and the clouds are lingering to catch the red glow of the sun?  Which is it?  Most have their preference.  Mine is the sunset that includes dark clouds hovering around that seem to ignite with red and orange as the sun sinks low.  The contrast between the dark and the light bring a symphony like no other.  My family has this discussion everytime we experience a sunset on Lake Bruin in Louisiana.  We all sit on a small pier that overlooks the water directly facing West into the sunset.  We enjoy each and everyone, but the ones that include clouds are the ones we post on Instagram, Facebook, and the ones we print and hang on our walls.  Why is that? Contrast.

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I fondly remember growing up in the nineties.  I remember always being ready for the next stage of life.  Then when I got to the next stage I dreamed about going back.  Life changes and I began to see that having the exact same events everyday was not a way to live.  Even I got tired of summer and being “off” for three months.  I decided a good mix of boring days and busy days was the way to live.  Plus I don’t think I would even know what a busy day was if not for the boring ones.

Lately this blog has been left in the dust due to a bunch of “busy” days packed together for the last four months.  The Spring months are by far the busiest ones of the year at my office I share with my father.  It has been a whirlwind of events, meetings, and strategy.  Now that the season has changed, I am starting to space out meetings, begin working on other projects, and taking time in the mornings to write, reflect, and prepare.  As I sit at my kitchen table, watching my backyard, drinking a cup of coffee, and listen to acoustic guitar radio on Pandora, I appreciate the busy times and I realize that I have a new appreciation for these quiet times.  This cup of coffee has never tasted so rich.  Contrast.

In Fall 2013, I lost 25 lbs in a month, I developed a cough, and I woke every morning drenched in sweat.  These were the result of having blood cancer, but I didn’t find out until I went for a PET scan.  My general physician found something wrong with my blood first.  See he compared my blood to that of someone without disease.  He sent me to an X-ray machine and saw something that did not look right compared to how things should look.  Then he sent me to get a PET scan.

At my first PET scan I was used to pictures of my insides by then.  The tech placed me in a room and sat me in a comfy chair. I was then asked if I wanted to have Berry or Coffee flavored shake.  Well Coffee sounded awful so I went with Berry.  She walked in to give me what looked like a plastic bottle of milk that you would get at a gas station.

“Drink every bit of this,” she said.

“What does this do?” I asked.

“It makes the cancer glow, so we can see it.  It’s called a Contrast.”

Contrast.  With my cancer cells glowing in my body from my shake, my Oncologist could easily see the fist sized tumor sitting on my heart.  Now the treatment could begin.  Each scan after this showed the tumor smaller and eventually, my scan looked just like someone’s without cancer.

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As a people, we are always comparing things, trying to figure out the “best” way to do things, the “best” way to think, and the “best” way to feel.  We compare and contrast.  Try to find the differences and the similarities.  If everyday was boring or everyday was busy, we wouldn’t appreciate the other.  But I know that without contrast, I wouldn’t know my favorite sunset, the doctor’s wouldn’t have found the cancer in my body, and I sure wouldn’t enjoy this quiet morning cup of coffee as much as I do now.

There is one great truth behind all this.  Though the days change and we experience both prosperous and difficult times, Christ remains the same throughout.  As it is stated in Hebrews

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8

He is the same through every experience.  Always loving, always welcoming, always teaching.  The thing about Christ is that He shows us what a glimpse of Heaven is.  A place where we will truly contrast it to this life.  My favorite picture of Heaven is at the close of the Chronicles of Narnia.  C. S. Lewis writes:

“And as He (Aslan) spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

In 2 Timothy, Paul writes to be prepared in season and out of season.  I think He means in good times and bad.  Christ is the same in all, so why not lean on Him, the constant?  I thank Him for the contrast in life, because He is preparing me for the future where things are better and better, and that’s a Contrast I am looking forward to the most.

Journey Strong

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

The Top 3 Lessons Learned When Your Life is Buffering

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Buffering. Don’t you hate that word?  Where did it even come from?  Do you remember seeing buffering for the first time?  For me it was back with windows media player.  I would download a song and it wouldn’t play for a while, but instead it would just say buffering with a percentage of completion listed next to it.  I hated it, but it became just another part of slow technology.  It took time for the data to transfer to the screen in front of me.  Remember the old AOL dial-up sound effects?  I can hear it now loud and clear.  Why?  Because I can’t tell you how much time I spent just sitting at the desk and listening to it boot up.  Buffering has changed forms over the years, from that percentage sign, to a rotating hourglass, to spinning circles, and finally to the colorful spinning wheel of death (for Mac users).  It comes in many shapes and forms, but it is always the same lesson: patience.  Thinking about all this during my week has led me to a realization.  My life is buffering. Continue reading

Teacher Appreciation Week

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Well if you were anywhere around Facebook last week you saw that it was Teacher Appreciation Week.  There were so many posts about influential teachers from elementary school to high school.  For a job that has such “little” rewards there really are incredible perks.  First of all summer.  Do I have to say anything else?  Summer’s are awesome.  Teachers love them more than students I assure you.  Really all holidays are perks.  Whenever kids are out, you are out.  But with the holidays and all the days off there are big time downfalls.  Any teacher will tell you that being at school is way easier than being out of school for a sick day or a personal day.  It is so hard to describe on a piece of paper given to a sub (that might not be read at all) all the tiny intricacies of my daily routine as a teacher.  There is a certain way I set up my classroom, distribute papers, talk to a certain student in a certain way, look out for cheating, and so many other small, minute things that I could fill a book of instructions for just one day.

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What I want to be when I grow up

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“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and LEAN NOT on your OWN UNDERSTANDING; in all your ways SUBMIT to Him and he will make your paths straight.”   – Proverbs 3:5-6

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One Year Ago: Thanksgiving Continues On

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me.  I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all that live to see such times but that is not for us to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.
                                                                               – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

It was the week of Thanksgiving 2013 when I finally went to get a check up on my health.  Over the few months prior I had dropped 25 lbs and developed a few odd symptoms.  One was that I had a major cough for about a month.  The other was a little more grotesque.  At night I was sweating.  Not like I had a bad dream about falling and woke up sweating, but my back was completely soaked every morning.  Not only that, the sweat smelled terrible.  I felt like I was leaking acid through my pores every night. Continue reading

My Rant on Mississippi State and Why Cancer is Not Ranked in the Top 25

First off two facts:

1. Mississippi State is number 1 in the AP Top 25 Football Poll for the first time in history.
2. September was blood cancer awareness month.
Now my rant:

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Seeing Cancer from 10,000 Feet

Perspective is a topic that I often write about, but this blog post is very unique seeing as my perspective right now is looking out a 767 aircraft at 10,000 feet.  I remember my first flight when I was in the eigth grade and how scared I was.  I was terrified at the beginning for the flight.  Lifting off was such a new feeling and experience.  I was traveling with my National Junior Honor Society classmates to visit Washington D.C.  It was such a memorable trip and I will never forget rising above the clouds and seeing the view of Mississippi falling away below as we rose into the air.  I think back to my senior trip flying to Seattle, Washington and soaring above the Rocky Mountains.  What a unique way to look at the peaks and valleys.  I remember flying to Hong Kong during college and how I could not even look outside because I was stuck inbetween a fellow college traveler and a small asian man, who helped me with my Sudoku puzzle as we flew overnight.  Now I am flying with my wife to California for a trip of a lifetime and it is such a unique perspective because cancer is behind us.

Looking back at the individual tasks of cancer is tough.  It feels like a decade ago that the doctors poked and proded to diagnose me.  I still remember the call about my swollen lymph nodes.  I remember the chemo treatments that dragged on for ages.  I remember the outcry of support from friends and family.  I remember the moments where I just broke down from the overwhelming weight of it all.  I remember from the not so distant past, the daily trip to the cancer clinic for raidation treatments.  I can still feel the pain in my esophagus from the torn tissue of radiation therapy.  However, with all the memories, I can see the hope of the future.

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I am your father

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings.” – Tolkein The Hobbit

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” – Proverbs 3:11-12
“Train a child in the way he shall go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
“No….I am your father.” – The Empire Strikes Back

When I was born way back in 1986 many things in pop culture had already taken a foothold.  One was The Lord of the Rings trilogy and another was the Star Wars trilogy.  I knew nothing about these things in 1986 mainly because well I was an infant.  I used to love a good story read to me.  And I will always remember the night that dad either got tired of reading the same old stories or decided I was ready for something more and he brought in an old beat up looking book with yellow pages.  He said, “I read this book when I was young and I think you will like it a lot.”  It started like this:
“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
At that moment I was completely lost in the world of Middle-Earth.  And I would continue to be for the next few months as my father read me this story.  I remember the spiders, Gollum, Beorn, the Trolls, and of course The Battle of Five Armies.  Also the death of two of my favorite characters was the first time a book truly made me cry.  It was around that same time that my father told me about Star Wars.  I remember watching the first movie at our old apartment that we lived in while my parents current house was being built.  Again I was opened to a whole new world of adventure and good vs. evil.  I could feel myself using the Force to move things and I WAS Luke Skywalker and lets me honest, every kid took a stick/light saber and made the noises while we fought enemy Stormtroopers.  The very next night we watched The Empire Strikes Back and the ending was the biggest shock of my life.  I don’t think I have ever freaked out at a movie more than when those famous words were spoken.  We hesitated for a few months before watching Return of the Jedi, solely because my dad told me you saw Darth Vader’s face at the end and I was really not ready for that.  I had nightmares about it.  But these were the days of VHS recordings and our whole trilogy of Star Wars movies were recorded from HBO.  So when we actually did watch Return of the Jedi the recording cut out before I saw Darth’s face.  It took quite a few more years before I did and yeah it wasn’t so bad.
Why do I tell these stories?  Well most everywhere on the interwebs on Sunday there will be Father’s Day posts.  People will change their profile pictures to them and their dads, they will post great stories like the ones I tried to tell well above, and most of all people will eat Sunday lunch or dinner with their dads and then give him a giftcard, tool, or some other item of the manly persuasion.  I can’t be with my dad this year on Father’s Day because I will be at camp with our youth group, out in the middle of nowhere Mississippi, enjoying the fun and festivities that come with summer camp.  
The first thing that I must say about my dad out front is that he is nowhere near perfect.  That might always be the toughest lesson for a kid to learn growing up is that their dad is just like themselves….human.  But thats where I have to stop and say my dad is far from a failure.  He is a hard worker and has always provided for us way beyond the essentials of life.  Because of my dad’s finance savy mind, we were able to take long family trips together every summer and we never missed out on something at school, church, or community because of money.  My dad showed me how to love my family and heritage.  He taught me how throw a baseball, how to drive a lawnmower and weedeater, 
 how to grill the perfect burger, how to play poker, how to swing a golf club, and thats really only getting started.  He also helped to teach me how to give your time at a church, how to use your connections to help others in need, how to lose and win gracefully and with the highest sportsmanship (this is referring to our love of Mississippi State NOT card games, where my dad is an avid cheater:), how to appreciate the smallest of things in life, and how to use your talents for others.  
But one of the greatest gifts that my dad gave me was not in the above list, in fact, it is something that not many sons can say their dad did for them.  My dad showed me that cancer could be beaten.  15 years before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma Stage 2B, my father was diagnosed with the same disease, same stage.  Because of the advancements of research and medicine my dad’s struggle was a lot worse 15 years ago than my struggle this year.  But the point is that when I was diagnosed, I was not afraid of cancer, because I knew it could be beaten.  Also I had faith that God would deliver me from it and if not, I would praise Him anyway.  My dad brought me up to give back and that is why he is running a half-marathon in my honor in January.  And because my dad knows me he is running the Walt Disney World Half-marathon.  So because I want to give back too we are both running as are our famillies.  We run to give back to the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and help the next generation of cancer patients realize that dragons can be beaten.
So thanks dad, for teaching me how to love Bluegrass, a furry footed hobbit, Jedi, Bulldogs, family, God, and a good grilled burger.  And thanks dad for beating cancer and for loving me, while I did the same.  Happy Father’s Day.
Journey Strong