More Than Elephants: My Trip Around the Globe (literally) Part One and Two

In April, 2018 I received an email that said the following: “Congratulations! You have been selected to represent the Southeast NYI at Third Wave in Hyderabad, India.” 

Within minutes of reading this I decided that it would probably be best if I didn’t travel to India. I thought of my family with questions like, “What if they need me?” and “What if something goes wrong?”. Not only that but I would have to find a way to pay for the trip. “There is no way that I can afford to spend this much money.” That settled it. My “decision” was riddled with anxiety and fear.

I had interviewed with a few of our Southeast NYI leaders to take part in the trip just a few days before at our annual field event in Nashville, TN. I’ll be honest, I went in feeling unprepared and uneasy, and walked out feeling like I butchered the interview. From my perspective it was awful. Can I be honest again? One of the questions they asked was along the lines of “Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?”. At that time all I could see was being completely removed from ministry. I didn’t want to tell them that I’d been struggling for months fighting the thoughts of failure, and that the only reason I didn’t quit was because I knew God hadn’t released me from the calling. Instead, I told them that I hoped that I would be in the same place in 5 to 10 years, serving our church and district in different capacities, and hopefully doing something to train and lead young youth pastors. Truthfully this was not a lie, rather, it was a deep down desire that I felt would never come to fruition given the current circumstances. They asked me another question about facing adversity in ministry and I spouted out some words about something that was awful. I should’ve told them about the whole, “I want to quit and I don’t think I’ll be in ministry for too much longer” adversity.

In the days and weeks that followed, I had conversations with my wife, my pastor, and my friend who’d traveled to India in college. Every conversation that I had went something like this:

Me: I can’t go to India because of reasons.

Them: You have to go to India because of reasons.

Me: OK, but what about this reason?

Them: You have to go to India and we will get you there. This trip will change your life.

Over the next few months my church family, district leaders, and friends all gave me money to pay for the trip. No kidding, my trip cost was fully funded with two months to spare and I didn’t have to pay a single dollar out of my own pocket. Every single circumstance regarding preparing for this trip told me that they were right: I had to go to India.

Our group from the Trevecca Field partnered with the Olivet and Mount Vernon fields for a pre-pre-trip (you’ll understand later) to Bangkok, Thailand. We met in Chicago on January 2nd and began our journey together. Out of the 17 people on that pre-trip to Thailand, I knew one person personally, met one of them one time, and I only knew of our trip leader prior to my interview. For an introvert like me I knew right away that I was going to be stretched very thin.

It took most of the time in Thailand for me to get acclimated to the people around me, and of course, to the enormity of the fact that I was on the opposite side of the globe. My introversion was forced to shut down and my extroversion was forced to pick up the slack, which was quite difficult at first. It’s funny. Bailey, one of my friends from the trip, later told me, “I did NOT expect you to be this way after the first few days of the trip!”, and even Matt, our trip leader, even told me, “Terry, you are NOT who I thought you were going to be.” I suppose when forced out of my comfort zone I become personable, talkative, and my real personality begins to show up.

It was clear for me to see that my comfort zones kept me from truly being myself.

We landed in Thailand after a 16.5 hour flight, short layover in Taipei, Taiwan, and then another short flight to Bangkok. Also, I don’t remember sleeping. That came back to bite a few days later. Not only that but we literally lost the majority of Thursday. Cue the Psych quote: “That is why time travel is not only possible, but may have already happened.”

Once we got to our hostel we quickly freshened up and hit the ground running. We traveled around Thailand all day long, going to a buddhist temple (or something like that) and attending a Thai cooking class at Siamese Cookery House where we cooked our own four course meal (or seven course meal, I can’t remember anymore). The cooking class was so much fun and our instructor made sure that we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She talked about the iPhone 12 (Thailand is apparently more technologically advanced?) and how the group was full of BFFs (best friends forever). She would prove to be right. Not about the iPhone 12, I’m pretty sure those are fake.

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Then we got back to the hostel and slept for a few glorious hours.

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From left to right, top row: David, Amanda, Terry (me), James, Seth, Jacob, Bailey, Morgan, Mike; bottom row: Matt, Miranda, Ryan, Grace, Morgan, Libby, Kris, Todd

The next day we traveled for four hours to Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. There, we were led by a tour guide hiking up to view seven waterfalls. It was here where, while swimming, I slipped on a rock and fell flat on my back and head. I wish I had it on video because it was probably funny. I felt my head bounce off the rock and immediately I felt pretty shaken. One of my friends said my fall made the same sound of a cell phone falling on the ground (which is a terrible sound. don’t believe me? go drop your phone on pavement). I thought for sure that my head was bleeding and I was about to end up in some Thai hospital and then a flight home. I won’t lie, I probably said a word or two that I shouldn’t repeat here in a public forum. Although it hurt badly in the moment, I walked out of the water with just a slowed mental awareness for the next few hours. Crisis averted.

“Remember that one time at Third Wave where Terry slipped on a rock and got a concussion?”

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We left from Erawan to lunch and then to Saiyok Elephant Park where we bathed elephants. No big deal. You’re probably thinking that we stood at a distance and sprayed the elephants with a water hose. First off, accessing running water is difficult at best and second, you’re wrong. We were in the water with three elephants and scrub brushes. The elephants sprayed water at us with their snouts. Again, no big deal. This was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I’ll tell my children and grandchildren about.

“Remember that one time at Third Wave where we FREAKING BATHED ELEPHANTS?!”

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From there we visited a market where most of us bought matching elephant pants and souvenirs. We also visited the Burma-Thai Railway which was built by POWs in WWII, the Bridge on the River Kwai (note to self: watch the movie), and then we ended the night with a 16 course meal at Soul Food Mahanakorn. We quickly ate small bites of everything and high-tailed it back to the hostel and then to the airport for another night of no sleep and flying. Little known fact: traffic in Thailand is nuts. They weave in and out of traffic and never use their horns. It’s quite beautiful, actually.

The whole trip to Thailand went by so incredibly fast. The 17 of us bonded and got to know each other pretty well during our two days there. Thailand proved to be an invaluable experience for us in the days that followed. Have you ever met someone you connected so well with and thought, “We could probably be best friends”? Me too. You can’t travel across the world and bathe elephants together and not be friends. That is, unless you don’t like elephants and believe they don’t deserve baths. If that’s the case for you, just stop reading and go bathe a Thai elephant with a group of strangers you just met and traveled across the world with. Then go and learn how to cook Thai and tell “Shrimp” I sent you. You’ll thank me.

I mentioned the elephant bathing on my Instagram quite a bit, but it honestly was just one experience in almost two weeks worth of incredible experiences. The trip really was so much more than bathing elephants.

God was already showing me so many things and opening my eyes in many ways in our short two days in Thailand. I wish I could detail every single experience but you probably wouldn’t read it.

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India

We arrived in Kolkata, India and saw the sun for the first time in days, as the majority of where we traveled in Thailand was covered in smog and clouds. A few of us ate KFC and Pizza Hut for breakfast at 5:20 in the morning in the Kolkata airport, which is a great example of how time made no sense to us for the first 5 days. After the layover we finally boarded and landed in Hyderabad, India. Our groups separated into three cars that took us to our destination, the Ashirwad Global Learning Center. While our leaders arrived at Ashirwad in a quick 30 minutes or so, my group (Grace, Seth, and myself) was leg to leg and shoulder to shoulder for an hour and a half. Apparently our driver didn’t realize he was supposed to take the massive freeway that had little traffic. Instead, he took us on the scenic route where we first got to experience the streets of India.

Here I am in the backseat of a small sedan, with two backpacks on my lap and our legs slowly melting to one another. Remember: I barely knew these people before we boarded the plane in Chicago. When you’re crammed into a small sedan in India you have two choices: hate them or become best friends. I chose the latter, even though I am prone to complain and find the negative in everything. Again, something about being out of my comfort zones made me be the person that I really am.

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Seth, Grace, myself, pancakes, legs melting together

Remember that time at Third Wave were our driver took a detour and we were crammed in the back of a small car together for an hour and a half?”

The majority of the Third Wave participants from the USA/Canada Region started to arrive on Sunday in preparation of our Third Wave pre-trip on Monday and Tuesday.

Our USA/Canada pre-trip and Third Wave event would begin the next day.

Part Two:

If you didn’t read part one of this post, please do so! Some of this will feel like a play-by-play but as a sports fan and as a songwriter, sometimes storytelling needs a good play-by-play. I also need to use words to process my emotions especially in regards to something as huge as this event. Get your tissues ready.

(That disclaimer was for me to get my tissues ready. You probably won’t cry. Though, if you do, you may want some tissues.)

We dropped off our luggage in our rooms soon after arriving at Ashirwad. Grace and I ventured out to the “recreation area” which was a large dirt slab with a basketball goal and a volleyball net. There we met two guys from USA/Canada and started kicking around a soccer ball. For the next thirty minutes or so, many others from places like Australia, Asia, and USA/Canada started to join in. Spending the last several days together helped to easily break the ice with others. Our dinner that night was the first of many, many rice dinners that we had that week.

The next day began our USA/Canada pre-trip where we visited Golconda Fort. At Golconda we were able to look out over the city and take in the sights. We walked up at least 25,000 steps, possibly more, no one knows for sure. We learned quite a bit about the fort, but it was more interesting to see how many people were staring at our group.

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We had butterscotch ice cream cones, while Seth had some kind of chocolate bar and missed out on the phenomenal butterscotch ice cream. We stood around in the shade. Pro tip: when you go to a place like India with no clouds and a dry heat, you’ll find that shade is very best thing, second only to ice cream. We were able to just relax for awhile and began again having conversations about future dreams for our ministries. Hopefully those dreams always involve ice cream breaks.

The next day we went to Lumbini Park which was an outdoor amusement park. Spoiler alert: the park was pretty much a ghost town. We took a quick boat tour to a small island on the lake with a large Buddha statue. Afterwards, we had an incredible lunch at a restaurant beside the park. It was here where I first had legit Indian naan. As the wait staff brought out our bowls of naan, I literally shed tears as I’d talked up my excitement for fresh naan from India. We also drank masala coke which tasted like coke mixed with chicken broth, so there’s that.

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Like manna from Heaven

That night was the official beginning of Third Wave. Groups from 61 different countries gathered together for a celebratory banquet and presentation by the Indian Field. It was quite beautiful. As we walked into the banquet we were each presented with a rose and a pin in the shape of India.

On Wednesday, all of the Third Wave participants went to Ramoji Film City and Sahas Adventure Park. Ramoji is the world’s largest film city (filming location). We got to see and experience many film sets, dancing, and even had lunch at Jimmy’s, where we ate pretty spicy pizza. At Sahas Grace, Seth, Matt, Mike and I did three things: ropes course, zip line, and you guessed it, drove ATVs. While I’ve never zip-lined or driven an ATV before, remember, getting out of my comfort zones helped me to be the person I really am, which in many ways, is quite an adventurer.

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Jimmy’s!
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I realized early on that I need to exercise more often!
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Much harder than it looks!
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So what if I’ve never driven an ATV. So what if I was covered in dirt. So what if I had dirt in my lungs.

Thursday began our plenary sessions of the week. We were able to worship freely during our services, singing in our own languages. We were forced to have thought provoking conversations with people from other countries throughout the sessions. We were challenged to “go together”.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

One of the favorites of the week was “tea time” which would be after our first session and not long after lunch. The coffee in India was dope. It had hints of buttery goodness. Cue the Psych quote: “I can’t help it, Shawn, my body craves buttery goodness.”

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The coffee was great but it wasn’t strong enough. Thankfully Grace brought Starbucks Via packs which, although they were almost two years out of date, gave our coffee the strength it needed to get us through the day. After waking up at 2:30am this morning, I could use some of those now!

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two years out of date and still kicking!

We were given three books on the core values of NYI: be (evangelism), do (discipleship), and go (leadership development). We were told to read one chapter and we had the opportunity to sit in small groups to discuss the chapter that we read. I chose leadership development. You may remember from part one that I had a deep down desire to one day train and lead youth pastors. This book, like 100% of the trip, came at the right time. The author of the chapter is from Australia, and talking with him and the group about the chapter was a delight.

One of the nights there was a global talent show, where at least two acts from each region of the world showcased a talent. It was here where I learned that Canadians also have country music and line dancing (Cadillac Ranch) and that we were literally in the midst of a K-Pop star at Third Wave. https://youtu.be/GMmR8d668Rg. This dude is legit!

“D as in David. A as in Artist. V as in Victory. I to the D I’m David David.”

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Mo, Mark, and Jake, from Canada

During the afternoon we would meet with our field (Grace, Seth, myself, Matt, Mike) to ask and answer questions together. We shared hopes, dreams, struggles, and fears together in this group. We were able to learn so much more about one another in these settings.

The whole trip was an incredible experience. I had countless opportunities to talk openly about a lot of the struggles of being in ministry. I was able to hear from friends who’d experienced different struggles because of being women in ministry. We shared hurts and we laughed. We cried and were angry for one another. Being with young leaders for two weeks was not enough. I wish I could spend every week with them.

We ended the week with another celebration, food, and fireworks. There were vendors from India who were set up around Ashirwad. One of those was a henna station. Many of our friends got the tattoos and even one got them on his head! I have no idea how long they’ll last but I’ve already had several comments about the henna on my hands that have led to me sharing about my experience in India.

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Another vendor was creating customized coffee mugs. Many of us from the Thailand trip got matching “magic” mugs, which show a picture when hot liquid is added. The picture is of us in the water with the elephants. I’ve already used it quite a bit. Grace, Seth, and I also decided to get a separate mug with two pictures of our field for Matt and Mike, as a “thank you” for being our trip “dads”. Spoiler alert, all five of us got one because, when in Rome.”

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One of the most interesting things about our stay in India was the shower. Remember how I said accessing running water in Thailand was difficult at best? Here’s the thing: showers and bathrooms are just so different from what we utilize in America. We took bucket showers. I’m sure you understand but if you don’t, here’s how it goes: you fill up a bucket with hot water (in our case it was always lukewarm), take it to a stall, take a smaller pitcher of that water, and pour it on yourself. Then, you wash and rinse. It taught me a lot about how much water we waste daily, for sure.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. We met and heard from several individuals who are ministering in areas of the world where it is dangerous. I wish I could share more than this, but they are all my heroes.

We left Ashirwad around 11:45pm on Sunday night and our flight departed at 2:45am. This would become the longest Monday ever. Remember how Thursday basically disappeared during our flight to Thailand? It was reincarnated in the form of a 36 hour Monday. We flew to Dubai, to Milan, and then to New York.

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One last picture before we board!

I’ll be very raw and honest right here. As our flight was inching closer and closer to New York, part of me wished that it would not end. Granted, it wasn’t the most comfortable just sitting awake watching movies for 10 hours. But, when I left my group at JFK to get to Laguardia Airport on my own, I felt like I was leaving behind people who I’d miss dearly in the days and weeks ahead. That has proved to be very true.

The people that I met on our pre-trip to Thailand are incredible human beings. Because of that trip together, we bonded so quickly and always gravitated back to one another while we were in India. That’s not to say I didn’t make friends with people from other regions and across USA/Canada, because I absolutely did. But again, there’s something about flying together for days on end, traveling across the world, bathing elephants, experiencing a taste of Heaven in our worship, and doing all kinds of things together, that creates friendships and bonds that are hard to break.

Honest moment. My favorite movie for several years was The Waterboy with Adam Sandler. There is a scene in the movie where Bobby Boucher (main character) catches an interception, runs into the other team’s end zone and blows the game for the Mud Dogs.

Guy: Nice job, (bad word). You lost us the game!

Bobby: I’m sorry. Would you please still be my friend?

Guy: No! Get away from me!

Bobby: Okay…

This is one of the saddest moments of the movie. I could share other movie references here but this one sticks out in my mind. Making friends is weird for me and I’ve always hoped it would just happen naturally. The fear of disappointing others and just not being good enough always keeps me from going out on a limb and really trying. So, you can imagine how going into a trip like this added some extra anxiety.

“I don’t know these people. They’re probably not going to like me. I’ll probably have to eat my lunches on the ground, alone.” – Me before the trip, probably

The people that I traveled around the world with are people who, at least for two weeks, seemed to really get me. They allowed me to be myself.

People told me that this trip would change my life. Well, it is hard to articulate the many ways in which that is the case. However, I’ll share five.

  1. I will never look at someone from another country and culture the same way again. Diversity is incredibly beautiful, and within the context of the church we see a true glimpse of the Kingdom. Everyone has a voice. Every person has a seat at the table.
  2. I will never look at America the same way again. America, we have so far to go. We say things like, “speak English or leave” to people from different countries, whereas other countries cater to English speakers and almost everyone speaks multiple languages. There are many things about America that I am ashamed of, especially after spending two weeks across the world. Nonetheless, there is still hope, and there is always room to grow.
  3. I will never look at the church the same way again. Singing together about our God in our own languages is one of the most beautiful experiences I will ever have. Meeting leaders from all across the world and hearing their stories, dreams, and struggles was so life-giving. I realized very early on that we are all experiencing some of the same struggles in ministry. The church global is a beautiful thing. I’m so incredibly thankful that the Church of the Nazarene is one of the few denominations of the Christian Church that truly dedicates itself to the global mission.
  4. I learned very early on that there are a few things that I need constant in my life. First, I need a leader in my life who will walk with me and help me grow through all the days of ministry, not just for a season. In other words, I need a mentor. It was said best by someone other than me, “How am I going to ask someone else to share my crap while they have so much else to deal with?” This is how I’ve felt for a few years, similar to how I’ve felt about friendships. Nonetheless, I cannot walk alone. Truly, I’ve gone very fast alone, but I know that the only way I’ll go far is to not walk alone. Second, I didn’t realize my need for a community of leaders my age until I got to India. Being around church leaders my age was everything. If I could only bottle up the experiences of conversations, stories, encouragements, laughter, and everything else that went into those moments with these people. I need community. I need to be around leaders who are dealing with a lot of the same things that I am as a young leader.
  5. Lastly (actually there are at least 30 more points but I’ll keep it at four). I made friends that will be friends for life if they’ll have me. We will forever be connected together through these shared experiences and will always be able to say “remember that time at Third Wave…” I would get on a plane and travel to you in Nashville or Ohio or Illinois or wherever you are in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity to just sit and have lunch or coffee with you. You were the most life-giving part of the trip. Thank you.

I would like to say that if you gave money to send me on this trip, I hope you understand that you contributed to experiences that I will truly never forget. Your support allowed me to experience the world, the church, different cultures, and so many other things that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to experience without you.

I boarded the plane unsure of what I was about to experience. I came home with an overflowing heart and experiences that I would live over in an instant. I left home unsure of what ministry would look like for me in the future. I came home realizing that I have so many friends who also don’t have all of the answers, and that’s ok.

I don’t have all of the answers, and that’s ok.

Finally, as I said before, this trip was so much more than bathing elephants. I know that I’ll be processing this trip for weeks and months to come. I know that I’ll be reflecting on this trip for the rest of my life. And I know that my friends will show up in sermon illustrations for a long, long time.

To my elephant friends
Grace, Seth, Matt, Mike, Bailey, Morgan, Hannah, Libby, Ryan, Todd, James, Miranda, Amanda, Jacob, Kris, and David: Thank you for helping me shed the introverted comfort zones that seriously cripple me. Thank you for helping me see that those comfort zones are keeping me from being my true self. Thank you for sharing your stories and dreams and hurts with me. Thank you for leading and serving in the areas where you are and encouraging me simply by being you. I cannot wait until we are all together again. Until then, remember that I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

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More Than Elephants: My Trip Around the World (literally) Part Two

If you didn’t read part one of this post, please do so! Some of this will feel like a play-by-play but as a sports fan and as a songwriter, sometimes storytelling needs a good play-by-play. I also need to use words to process my emotions especially in regards to something as huge as this event. Get your tissues ready.

(That disclaimer was for me to get my tissues ready. You probably won’t cry. Though, if you do, you may want some tissues.)

We dropped off our luggage in our rooms soon after arriving at Ashirwad. Grace and I ventured out to the “recreation area” which was a large dirt slab with a basketball goal and a volleyball net. There we met two guys from USA/Canada and started kicking around a soccer ball. For the next thirty minutes or so, many others from places like Australia, Asia, and USA/Canada started to join in. Spending the last several days together helped to easily break the ice with others. Our dinner that night was the first of many, many rice dinners that we had that week.

The next day began our USA/Canada pre-trip where we visited Golconda Fort. At Golconda we were able to look out over the city and take in the sights. We walked up at least 25,000 steps, possibly more, no one knows for sure. We learned quite a bit about the fort, but it was more interesting to see how many people were staring at our group.

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We had butterscotch ice cream cones, while Seth had some kind of chocolate bar and missed out on the phenomenal butterscotch ice cream. We stood around in the shade. Pro tip: when you go to a place like India with no clouds and a dry heat, you’ll find that shade is very best thing, second only to ice cream. We were able to just relax for awhile and began again having conversations about future dreams for our ministries. Hopefully those dreams always involve ice cream breaks.
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The next day we went to Lumbini Park which was an outdoor amusement park. Spoiler alert: the park was pretty much a ghost town. We took a quick boat tour to a small island on the lake with a large Buddha statue. Afterwards, we had an incredible lunch at a restaurant beside the park. It was here where I first had legit Indian naan. As the wait staff brought out our bowls of naan, I literally shed tears as I’d talked up my excitement for fresh naan from India. We also drank masala coke which tasted like coke mixed with chicken broth, so there’s that.

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Like manna from Heaven

That night was the official beginning of Third Wave. Groups from 61 different countries gathered together for a celebratory banquet and presentation by the Indian Field. It was quite beautiful. As we walked into the banquet we were each presented with a rose and a pin in the shape of India.

On Wednesday, all of the Third Wave participants went to Ramoji Film City and Sahas Adventure Park. Ramoji is the world’s largest film city (filming location). We got to see and experience many film sets, dancing, and even had lunch at Jimmy’s, where we ate pretty spicy pizza. At Sahas Grace, Seth, Matt, Mike and I did three things: ropes course, zip line, and you guessed it, drove ATVs. While I’ve never zip-lined or driven an ATV before, remember, getting out of my comfort zones helped me to be the person I really am, which in many ways, is quite an adventurer.

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Jimmy’s!

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I realized early on that I need to exercise more often!

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Much harder than it looks!

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So what if I’ve never driven an ATV. So what if I was covered in dirt. So what if I had dirt in my lungs.

Thursday began our plenary sessions of the week. We were able to worship freely during our services, singing in our own languages. We were forced to have thought provoking conversations with people from other countries throughout the sessions. We were challenged to “go together”.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

One of the favorites of the week was “tea time” which would be after our first session and not long after lunch. The coffee in India was dope. It had hints of buttery goodness. Cue the Psych quote: “I can’t help it, Shawn, my body craves buttery goodness.”

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The coffee was great but it wasn’t strong enough. Thankfully Grace brought Starbucks Via packs which, although they were almost two years out of date, gave our coffee the strength it needed to get us through the day. After waking up at 2:30am this morning, I could use some of those now!

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two years out of date and still kicking!

We were given three books on the core values of NYI: be (evangelism), do (discipleship), and go (leadership development). We were told to read one chapter and we had the opportunity to sit in small groups to discuss the chapter that we read. I chose leadership development. You may remember from part one that I had a deep down desire to one day train and lead youth pastors. This book, like 100% of the trip, came at the right time. The author of the chapter is from Australia, and talking with him and the group about the chapter was a delight.

One of the nights there was a global talent show, where at least two acts from each region of the world showcased a talent. It was here where I learned that Canadians also have country music and line dancing (Cadillac Ranch) and that we were literally in the midst of a K-Pop star at Third Wave. https://youtu.be/GMmR8d668Rg. This dude is legit!

“D as in David. A as in Artist. V as in Victory. I to the D I’m David David.”

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Mo, Mark, and Jake, from Canada

During the afternoon we would meet with our field (Grace, Seth, myself, Matt, Mike) to ask and answer questions together. We shared hopes, dreams, struggles, and fears together in this group. We were able to learn so much more about one another in these settings.

The whole trip was an incredible experience. I had countless opportunities to talk openly about a lot of the struggles of being in ministry. I was able to hear from friends who’d experienced different struggles because of being women in ministry. We shared hurts and we laughed. We cried and were angry for one another. Being with young leaders for two weeks was not enough. I wish I could spend every week with them.

We ended the week with another celebration, food, and fireworks. There were vendors from India who were set up around Ashirwad. One of those was a henna station. Many of our friends got the tattoos and even one got them on his head! I have no idea how long they’ll last but I’ve already had several comments about the henna on my hands that have led to me sharing about my experience in India.

img_3438img_0292

Another vendor was creating customized coffee mugs. Many of us from the Thailand trip got matching “magic” mugs, which show a picture when hot liquid is added. The picture is of us in the water with the elephants. I’ve already used it quite a bit. Grace, Seth, and I also decided to get a separate mug with two pictures of our field for Matt and Mike, as a “thank you” for being our trip “dads”. Spoiler alert, all five of us got one because, when in Rome.”

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One of the most interesting things about our stay in India was the shower. Remember how I said accessing running water in Thailand was difficult at best? Here’s the thing: showers and bathrooms are just so different from what we utilize in America. We took bucket showers. I’m sure you understand but if you don’t, here’s how it goes: you fill up a bucket with hot water (in our case it was always lukewarm), take it to a stall, take a smaller pitcher of that water, and pour it on yourself. Then, you wash and rinse. It taught me a lot about how much water we waste daily, for sure.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. We met and heard from several individuals who are ministering in areas of the world where it is dangerous. I wish I could share more than this, but they are all my heroes.

We left Ashirwad around 11:45pm on Sunday night and our flight departed at 2:45am. This would become the longest Monday ever. Remember how Thursday basically disappeared during our flight to Thailand? It was reincarnated in the form of a 36 hour Monday. We flew to Dubai, to Milan, and then to New York.

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One last picture before we board!

I’ll be very raw and honest right here. As our flight was inching closer and closer to New York, part of me wished that it would not end. Granted, it wasn’t the most comfortable just sitting awake watching movies for 10 hours. But, when I left my group at JFK to get to Laguardia Airport on my own, I felt like I was leaving behind people who I’d miss dearly in the days and weeks ahead. That has proved to be very true.

The people that I met on our pre-trip to Thailand are incredible human beings. Because of that trip together, we bonded so quickly and always gravitated back to one another while we were in India. That’s not to say I didn’t make friends with people from other regions and across USA/Canada, because I absolutely did. But again, there’s something about flying together for days on end, traveling across the world, bathing elephants, experiencing a taste of Heaven in our worship, and doing all kinds of things together, that creates friendships and bonds that are hard to break.

Honest moment. My favorite movie for several years was The Waterboy with Adam Sandler. There is a scene in the movie where Bobby Boucher (main character) catches an interception, runs into the other team’s end zone and blows the game for the Mud Dogs.

Guy: Nice job, (bad word). You lost us the game!

Bobby: I’m sorry. Would you please still be my friend?

Guy: No! Get away from me!

Bobby: Okay…

This is one of the saddest moments of the movie. I could share other movie references here but this one sticks out in my mind. Making friends is weird for me and I’ve always hoped it would just happen naturally. The fear of disappointing others and just not being good enough always keeps me from going out on a limb and really trying. So, you can imagine how going into a trip like this added some extra anxiety.

“I don’t know these people. They’re probably not going to like me. I’ll probably have to eat my lunches on the ground, alone.” – Me before the trip, probably

The people that I traveled around the world with are people who, at least for two weeks, seemed to really get me. They allowed me to be myself.

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People told me that this trip would change my life. Well, it is hard to articulate the many ways in which that is the case. However, I’ll share five.

  1. I will never look at someone from another country and culture the same way again. Diversity is incredibly beautiful, and within the context of the church we see a true glimpse of the Kingdom. Everyone has a voice. Every person has a seat at the table.
  2. I will never look at America the same way again. America, we have so far to go. We say things like, “speak English or leave” to people from different countries, whereas other countries cater to English speakers and almost everyone speaks multiple languages. There are many things about America that I am ashamed of, especially after spending two weeks across the world. Nonetheless, there is still hope, and there is always room to grow.
  3. I will never look at the church the same way again. Singing together about our God in our own languages is one of the most beautiful experiences I will ever have. Meeting leaders from all across the world and hearing their stories, dreams, and struggles was so life-giving. I realized very early on that we are all experiencing some of the same struggles in ministry. The church global is a beautiful thing. I’m so incredibly thankful that the Church of the Nazarene is one of the few denominations of the Christian Church that truly dedicates itself to the global mission.
  4. I learned very early on that there are a few things that I need constant in my life. First, I need a leader in my life who will walk with me and help me grow through all the days of ministry, not just for a season. In other words, I need a mentor. It was said best by someone other than me, “How am I going to ask someone else to share my crap while they have so much else to deal with?” This is how I’ve felt for a few years, similar to how I’ve felt about friendships. Nonetheless, I cannot walk alone. Truly, I’ve gone very fast alone, but I know that the only way I’ll go far is to not walk alone. Second, I didn’t realize my need for a community of leaders my age until I got to India. Being around church leaders my age was everything. If I could only bottle up the experiences of conversations, stories, encouragements, laughter, and everything else that went into those moments with these people. I need community. I need to be around leaders who are dealing with a lot of the same things that I am as a young leader.
  5. Lastly (actually there are at least 30 more points but I’ll keep it at four). I made friends that will be friends for life if they’ll have me. We will forever be connected together through these shared experiences and will always be able to say “remember that time at Third Wave…” I would get on a plane and travel to you in Nashville or Ohio or Illinois or wherever you are in a heartbeat if I had the opportunity to just sit and have lunch or coffee with you. You were the most life-giving part of the trip. Thank you.

I would like to say that if you gave money to send me on this trip, I hope you understand that you contributed to experiences that I will truly never forget. Your support allowed me to experience the world, the church, different cultures, and so many other things that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have been able to experience without you.

I boarded the plane unsure of what I was about to experience. I came home with an overflowing heart and experiences that I would live over in an instant. I left home unsure of what ministry would look like for me in the future. I came home realizing that I have so many friends who also don’t have all of the answers, and that’s ok.

I don’t have all of the answers, and that’s ok.

Finally, as I said before, this trip was so much more than bathing elephants. I know that I’ll be processing this trip for weeks and months to come. I know that I’ll be reflecting on this trip for the rest of my life. And I know that my friends will show up in sermon illustrations for a long, long time.

To my elephant friends
Grace, Seth, Matt, Mike, Bailey, Morgan, Hannah, Libby, Ryan, Todd, James, Miranda, Amanda, Jacob, Kris, and David: Thank you for helping me shed the introverted comfort zones that seriously cripple me. Thank you for helping me see that those comfort zones are keeping me from being my true self. Thank you for sharing your stories and dreams and hurts with me. Thank you for leading and serving in the areas where you are and encouraging me simply by being you. I cannot wait until we are all together again. Until then, remember that I love you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

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More Than Elephants: My Trip Around the Globe (literally) Part One

In April, 2018 I received an email that said the following: “Congratulations! You have been selected to represent the Southeast NYI at Third Wave in Hyderabad, India.” 

Within minutes of reading this I decided that it would probably be best if I didn’t travel to India. I thought of my family with questions like, “What if they need me?” and “What if something goes wrong?”. Not only that but I would have to find a way to pay for the trip. “There is no way that I can afford to spend this much money.” That settled it. My “decision” was riddled with anxiety and fear.

I had interviewed with a few of our Southeast NYI leaders to take part in the trip just a few days before at our annual field event in Nashville, TN. I’ll be honest, I went in feeling unprepared and uneasy, and walked out feeling like I butchered the interview. From my perspective it was awful. Can I be honest again? One of the questions they asked was along the lines of “Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?”. At that time all I could see was being completely removed from ministry. I didn’t want to tell them that I’d been struggling for months fighting the thoughts of failure, and that the only reason I didn’t quit was because I knew God hadn’t released me from the calling. Instead, I told them that I hoped that I would be in the same place in 5 to 10 years, serving our church and district in different capacities, and hopefully doing something to train and lead young youth pastors. Truthfully this was not a lie, rather, it was a deep down desire that I felt would never come to fruition given the current circumstances. They asked me another question about facing adversity in ministry and I spouted out some words about something that was awful. I should’ve told them about the whole, “I want to quit and I don’t think I’ll be in ministry for too much longer” adversity.

In the days and weeks that followed, I had conversations with my wife, my pastor, and my friend who’d traveled to India in college. Every conversation that I had went something like this:

Me: I can’t go to India because of reasons.

Them: You have to go to India because of reasons.

Me: OK, but what about this reason?

Them: You have to go to India and we will get you there. This trip will change your life.

Over the next few months my church family, district leaders, and friends all gave me money to pay for the trip. No kidding, my trip cost was fully funded with two months to spare and I didn’t have to pay a single dollar out of my own pocket. Every single circumstance regarding preparing for this trip told me that they were right: I had to go to India.

Our group from the Trevecca Field partnered with the Olivet and Mount Vernon fields for a pre-pre-trip (you’ll understand later) to Bangkok, Thailand. We met in Chicago on January 2nd and began our journey together. Out of the 17 people on that pre-trip to Thailand, I knew one person personally, met one of them one time, and I only knew of our trip leader prior to my interview. For an introvert like me I knew right away that I was going to be stretched very thin.

It took most of the time in Thailand for me to get acclimated to the people around me, and of course, to the enormity of the fact that I was on the opposite side of the globe. My introversion was forced to shut down and my extroversion was forced to pick up the slack, which was quite difficult at first. It’s funny. Bailey, one of my friends from the trip, later told me, “I did NOT expect you to be this way after the first few days of the trip!”, and even Matt, our trip leader, even told me, “Terry, you are NOT who I thought you were going to be.” I suppose when forced out of my comfort zone I become personable, talkative, and my real personality begins to show up.

It was clear for me to see that my comfort zones kept me from truly being myself.

We landed in Thailand after a 16.5 hour flight, short layover in Taipei, Taiwan, and then another short flight to Bangkok. Also, I don’t remember sleeping. That came back to bite a few days later. Not only that but we literally lost the majority of Thursday. Cue the Psych quote: “That is why time travel is not only possible, but may have already happened.”

Once we got to our hostel we quickly freshened up and hit the ground running. We traveled around Thailand all day long, going to a buddhist temple (or something like that) and attending a Thai cooking class at Siamese Cookery House where we cooked our own four course meal (or seven course meal, I can’t remember anymore). The cooking class was so much fun and our instructor made sure that we thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She talked about the iPhone 12 (Thailand is apparently more technologically advanced?) and how the group was full of BFFs (best friends forever). She would prove to be right. Not about the iPhone 12, I’m pretty sure those are fake.

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Then we got back to the hostel and slept for a few glorious hours.

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From left to right, top row: David, Amanda, Terry (me), James, Seth, Jacob, Bailey, Morgan, Mike; bottom row: Matt, Miranda, Ryan, Grace, Morgan, Libby, Kris, Todd

 

The next day we traveled for four hours to Erawan National Park in Kanchanaburi, Thailand. There, we were led by a tour guide hiking up to view seven waterfalls. It was here where, while swimming, I slipped on a rock and fell flat on my back and head. I wish I had it on video because it was probably funny. I felt my head bounce off the rock and immediately I felt pretty shaken. One of my friends said my fall made the same sound of a cell phone falling on the ground (which is a terrible sound. don’t believe me? go drop your phone on pavement). I thought for sure that my head was bleeding and I was about to end up in some Thai hospital and then a flight home. I won’t lie, I probably said a word or two that I shouldn’t repeat here in a public forum. Although it hurt badly in the moment, I walked out of the water with just a slowed mental awareness for the next few hours. Crisis averted.

“Remember that one time at Third Wave where Terry slipped on a rock and got a concussion?”

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We left from Erawan to lunch and then to Saiyok Elephant Park where we bathed elephants. No big deal. You’re probably thinking that we stood at a distance and sprayed the elephants with a water hose. First off, accessing running water is difficult at best and second, you’re wrong. We were in the water with three elephants and scrub brushes. The elephants sprayed water at us with their snouts. Again, no big deal. This was one of those once in a lifetime experiences that I’ll tell my children and grandchildren about.

“Remember that one time at Third Wave where we FREAKING BATHED ELEPHANTS?!”

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From there we visited a market where most of us bought matching elephant pants and souvenirs. We also visited the Burma-Thai Railway which was built by POWs in WWII, the Bridge on the River Kwai (note to self: watch the movie), and then we ended the night with a 16 course meal at Soul Food Mahanakorn. We quickly ate small bites of everything and high-tailed it back to the hostel and then to the airport for another night of no sleep and flying. Little known fact: traffic in Thailand is nuts. They weave in and out of traffic and never use their horns. It’s quite beautiful, actually.

The whole trip to Thailand went by so incredibly fast. The 17 of us bonded and got to know each other pretty well during our two days there. Thailand proved to be an invaluable experience for us in the days that followed. Have you ever met someone you connected so well with and thought, “We could probably be best friends”? Me too. You can’t travel across the world and bathe elephants together and not be friends. That is, unless you don’t like elephants and believe they don’t deserve baths. If that’s the case for you, just stop reading and go bathe a Thai elephant with a group of strangers you just met and traveled across the world with. Then go and learn how to cook Thai and tell “Shrimp” I sent you. You’ll thank me.

I mentioned the elephant bathing on my Instagram quite a bit, but it honestly was just one experience in almost two weeks worth of incredible experiences. The trip really was so much more than bathing elephants.

God was already showing me so many things and opening my eyes in many ways in our short two days in Thailand. I wish I could detail every single experience but you probably wouldn’t read it.

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India

We arrived in Kolkata, India and saw the sun for the first time in days, as the majority of where we traveled in Thailand was covered in smog and clouds. A few of us ate KFC and Pizza Hut for breakfast at 5:20 in the morning in the Kolkata airport, which is a great example of how time made no sense to us for the first 5 days. After the layover we finally boarded and landed in Hyderabad, India. Our groups separated into three cars that took us to our destination, the Ashirwad Global Learning Center. While our leaders arrived at Ashirwad in a quick 30 minutes or so, my group (Grace, Seth, and myself) was leg to leg and shoulder to shoulder for an hour and a half. Apparently our driver didn’t realize he was supposed to take the massive freeway that had little traffic. Instead, he took us on the scenic route where we first got to experience the streets of India.

Here I am in the backseat of a small sedan, with two backpacks on my lap and our legs slowly melting to one another. Remember: I barely knew these people before we boarded the plane in Chicago. When you’re crammed into a small sedan in India you have two choices: hate them or become best friends. I chose the latter, even though I am prone to complain and find the negative in everything. Again, something about being out of my comfort zones made me be the person that I really am.

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Seth, Grace, myself, pancakes, legs melting together

Remember that time at Third Wave were our driver took a detour and we were crammed in the back of a small car together for an hour and a half?”

The majority of the Third Wave participants from the USA/Canada Region started to arrive on Sunday in preparation of our Third Wave pre-trip on Monday and Tuesday.

Our USA/Canada pre-trip and Third Wave event would begin the next day. I’ll share the rest of this journey tomorrow.

 

 

 

Milestones

Today, my wife and I are sharing in the excitement of some very huge personal and professional milestones.

Today, Kate will complete her dietetic internship! Ok, she has one more week left, but today is her final day of rotations, next week is filled with reviewing and other things. Today is one of the biggest days!!! Also, tonight is my ordination interview. But, more on that another time.

This time last year, we were waiting to find out where Kate would be placed, and actually being pretty frustrated when her school pushed back their reveal date.

“Columbia it is.”

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The last eight months have been CRAZY! Kate won’t tell you much on her own blog, but this is mine and I can.

She’s worked 40 hours every week for the last eight months, and had made a whopping $0.00 dollars.

Y’all, Kate has come home pretty much every single night of her internship, and gleefully cooked us amazing dinners.

She’s gone straight from dinner to working on assignments or studying. Rarely has she had the time to do things just for herself.

She’s balanced her professional and school responsibilities with being an amazing wife.

All with a smile on her face.

Kate, I wanted to tell you today that I am so proud of you. Even if you think that I don’t pay much attention to the things that you’re doing for your career, I definitely have been!

You’re so determined, smart, and humble. You haven’t once complained about anything!

Kate, you are my hero. I love you more and more every day.

I can’t wait to see what the next page of your professional journey has in store!

I’m so thankful that you’ll be by my side in my ordination interview. You’ve been with me every single step of this journey.

You’ve encouraged me when I wanted to give up. You picked me up when I was down (literally and figuratively). You supported me when God’s calling took us through two moves.

Kate, thank you for following God on this journey with me. I love you and am so, so proud of you. You are my hero.

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Spiritually Thirsty

Abiding Love

cropped-lent-title-1-still-4x3Psalm 81; Jeremiah 2:4-13; John 7:14-31, 37-39

It’s the last day of the feast of tabernacles. It was quite the religious week for all who participated. On seven days of the eight-day festival, priests would pour water from the Pool of Siloam on the altar. Yet, Jesus likely sensed an inner dissatisfaction among the crowds who were beginning to return home from the festival. He likely sensed that many were leaving with spiritual needs unmet. The water the priests poured on the altar did nothing for their spiritual thirst. Those who heard Jesus’ message likely did feel spiritually tired and thirsty. But still we can assume that many of them kept walking on their way, still tired, still thirsty.

Revivals, family camps, youth events – they all have spiritual highs. Usually the final services are always the “big ones”. This is where the message finally “hits home” for those still…

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Terry Goes to the City

I rented a car. I flew in a plane four times. I went to the city. These are my thoughts.

Kansas City roads just do not make sense.

Kansas City has great barbecue.

Sprite tastes flat 30,000+ feet above the earth. I drank four small cups of this flattened goodness.

Speaking of flattened drinks, Sprite Zero is garbage worthy.

Chicago – so many lights!! Flying over was intense.

Flying through clouds at night is creepy.

Turbulence is legit scary. Though, it didn’t really scare me, when things got pretty rough, it was scary.

Flying over the clouds in the daytime is beautiful – like you’re flying above snow.

Flying over large bodies of water at night is kind of terrifying, especially when the plane began to turn its side towards the water.

Pilots are incredible human beings. I can’t stress this enough.

There were at least 200 baseball fields in Chicago – go Cubs.

Landing in Chicago was quite rough, furthering my thoughts on bad turbulence.

The Chicago Midway airport was nice and had a lot of Chicago sports items. But, no love for the Bears. Da Bears.

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DA BEARS

I initially thought walking on the moving walkway was pretentious but it’s actually glorious.

The Baltimore airport was a thing of beauty. I could probably live there if needed, à la The Terminal with Tom Hanks. What a great movie.

I’ve now visited four new states thanks to this trip. Maryland, Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois. Sure, two were just airport terminals (Maryland, Illinois), and one (Kansas) was just a Waffle House run. But it counts.

Not all airports are created equal. I’m looking at you, Kansas City International Airport.

I can’t believe I haven’t flown before now. I’m already looking at tickets for my next trip. I’m ready.

I found myself wishing I was on another flight somewhere else. Flying was an incredible experience. When I left on Friday I had never flown before. Now, I’ve flown four times.

Flying is the perfect time to read along with audio books. I almost finished Ahsoka by E.K. Johnston. Great book by the way.

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Renting a car is painless. But don’t let them trick you into buying “their gas”. That was a mistake.

Southwest Airlines is legit. I do have a few complaints, like having to make two connecting flights and taking longer times to get to places than other friends do flying other airlines. But it’s ok. I’ll return.

Portable power banks are game changers and totally allowed on planes.

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Thanks, Charmander!

The pressure of being 30,000 + feet in the air is kind of ridiculous. I thought my nose was going to start bleeding on flight 1, but it didn’t. Just a bunch of other mess. After four flights it was easy to be used to it.

Lots of newfound respect for TSA agents and all airport workers. Security was a breeze. Belt. Shoes. Jacket. Electronics. Liquids. Bins. Check. Reverse. Boom.

Pro tip: don’t say boom in an airport or on a plane. It’s just bad taste. 

Airbucks is the Starbucks of the airports.

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Next time I fly I need a rolling small bag. Carrying a full duffel is like carrying around a baby giraffe around my neck. “Right now I’m thinking about the people who invented words. Did they just look at stuff and say the first thing that came to their mind? And if so, how do you explain duffel bag?”

The stars look no closer when you’re 30,000 + feet in the air.

What on earth would cause a team of pilots to be late for a flight? I just might have found my source material for my book of short stories.

My pilot was late for my final flight to Charlotte. When suddenly, MY PILOT ARRIVED OUT OF NOWHERE WEARING A LARGE AMERICAN FLAG TIE. CAPTAIN AMERICA!!!

Looking down from 30,000 + feet in the sky is humbling. I’ve had so many opportunities that I know many will never get. I don’t take that for granted.

And then I realized I flew above 40,000 feet. That’s nuts.

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Even with 0 service and not being connected to the internet, Google Maps still worked (somewhat)!

Planes shine a light onto the ground below them. This is also nuts.

The earth lets off an awesome glow, but maybe it’s just because of all the lights on the ground.

All this flying totally reinforces my desire to travel to more cities and even countries.

All this travel in such a short time plus looking down from over 40,000 feet makes me realize more intently that this world is filed with people just like you and me.

Airplane coffee is not Airbucks. The more I drank the worse it got. It tasted like two parts cardboard, two parts liquid garbage. I trudged through. Due to upcoming turbulence the flight staff took my remaining coffee. Not sure whether to be happy or disappointed.

Side note: Panera’s everything bagel is now my favorite bagel.

Flying over clouds at night part two: much more majestic and incredible looking.

Honestly being able to see the world from about 7 miles up is humbling. Getting to see things like above the clouds makes me so much in awe of God.

There was a severe lack of the captain saying “cshhhh: this is your captain speaking. cshhhh”.

The actual experience was nothing like the movie Airplane.

Here’s a quick time-lapse video of my descent into the clouds.

It’s so hard to take pictures during the night. And now, here are more pictures of my flight.

The Thing About Moving

I’ve learned a lot about myself in 2016. I learned that you throw a lot of stuff away when you move.

I’ve moved two times in the last four years. I suppose that’s not a terrible average.

On June 1, 2012, I got in my car and drove north to Rock Hill, South Carolina.

I spent the next four years and two months pouring into the lives of many different teenagers, all at different parts of the journey of faith. I made friends, I made mistakes, but most of all, I learned a lot about myself.

The memories, though. Wow did I make some incredible memories that will last a lifetime. My file where I stuff my “joyful memories” in my heart is filled to the brim from my time in Rock Hill.

One of my favorite memories was from our last winter retreat together at the beginning of 2016. I went into that weekend knowing that my future was uncertain due to the recent retirement of our pastor. I was honestly an emotional mess the entire weekend. So much happened that weekend that should have brought me anxiety and sadness, but I decided to turn it into “good” and remember it for the great memories we had that weekend.

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Each teenager that went through our ministry during my time in Rock Hill was special in their own way. I was able to get to know some much more than others, and others not nearly enough. I miss each one in different ways. I miss seeing their happy faces at church. I miss playing 1-4 rounds of ping-pong before and after the services. I miss throwing the football around with others outside of the youth house. I miss the excitement of getting in the driver seat of the church van ready to embark on another trip with our group.

I’ll miss the memories that I made in 2016. I spent the first seven months of 2016 in so much stress and anxiety, but I decided to make the best of it and live out my calling the best way I knew how. That meant taking more opportunities to be “in the moment”.

If I am being honest, I did not want to leave Rock Hill. There was literally nowhere I wanted to go. I was happy in Rock Hill. I loved our church. I loved our home and our really big yard, which Jules loved the most. I loved the friendships that I made and getting to spend time growing them. I loved the city. More than all of that, I truly loved those kids.

I literally prayed that God would keep me in Rock Hill – basically no matter what.

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Thanks, Han.

During one particular service at our yearly Family Camp Meeting, I heard something (that I forgot) that made me realize my prayers had been backwards. I told God to have his way and I’ll get out of the way.

But something happened in the month between realizing that God was calling me away from Rock Hill and actually leaving.

On July 13, 2016 I woke up and started singing. I was walking around the house singing and I was in an incredible mood, which is very rare for me first thing in the morning. But I woke up knowing without a doubt that God answered my 7 month long prayer – that He would lead me where He needed me, even if it meant leading me to a new city. Once I made the call and the initial announcement, I felt this giant weight was lifted from my shoulders.

Once I made the announcement to my kids, I knew that even though I had so much more that I wanted to do, so many more events, so many more messages…even though I had all of those things I still wanted to do, I knew that I had done all that I could do.

I knew it was done. I knew that I had finished what God wanted me to do.

I decided not to dwell on all of the missed opportunities, or the messages that totally flopped, or the times when I should have said “this” instead of “that” to “that” kid. I decided to leave all potential regrets and failures behind me.

There was a specific moment when I really felt that I had been freed from the burden of stress and anxiety and that God was truly in the midst of this move. I was cutting grass at the church one day listening to music, like I did weekly. As much as I hated having to do that, I look back and miss it for the time I was able to just spend riding around listening to music and still doing work! But I was listening to my favorite artist, Ben Rector’s song Brand New. I’d listened to this song at least 5,000 times in the last year so this was nothing new. But there’s a line in the song where Ben writes, “I feel like for the first time in a long time I am not afraid, I feel like a kid, never thought I’d feel like this.” For some reason, singing that line that day evoked such emotion within me that I just started yelling, crying, and laughing for the rest of the song. That day I truly felt that I could let go, that I was no longer going to allow my fear of failure or my fear of rejection stand in the way of me doing what God was calling me to do. I was going to live my life like I was brand new.

In the 35 days between the day I decided to move and actually leaving, I had a lot of hard conversations and a lot of tears. I had to tell people to their face that I was moving away. There was one of those conversations that I was able to have one-on-one with someone who’d become like family to Kate and I. It was absolutely gut-wrenching and it still hurts today. I suppose that’s what happens when you open up your heart and allow yourself to love people.

Once those conversations and announcements were out of the way, I embarked on what I like to call the “Terry Bennett Farewell Tour.” Looking back, I wish I would have just left the day I made my announcement. It would have saved me from more tears and pain. However, If I had done that, I would have missed out on some incredible moments that I wouldn’t want to forget anytime soon.

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On August 17, 2016, my wife and I were in the final stages of moving. This was our last day living in Rock Hill and we still had three car-loads of our belongings that needed to be moved to Columbia. All day was basically spent moving, up until it was time for my final youth service at Rock Hill First.

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I’d rather not share the details of that last service other than to say that I still get emotional thinking about it. It was one last special moment that I was glad to have had with my kids. Afterwards we went over to the fellowship hall and enjoyed some snacks with the rest of the church. They presented me with two very large gifts: a large poster of the Panera Bread Baguette Lady from our local Panera Bread that we spent countless hours at together, and a large poster print of our final winter retreat together, with the frame signed by several of my kids. There were cards, a scrapbook, and some really nice words and hugs shared by many.

After it was over, I went back to my house for the last time, had a Will Smith Fresh Prince finale moment, grabbed Jules and a few belongings, and left.

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On August 17, 2016, I got in my car and headed south, leaving Rock Hill with quite a goodbye.

Since I have been in Columbia I have kept pretty busy. I have rarely had time to even process what has happened over the last five months. In some ways I have actually pushed all of that down and out of sight.

Much like my usual self from the last five years, I did not take enough time after I left to really process life. Life has happened fast, as it always does.

But I needed to get these thoughts out there before too long had passed.

I moved to Columbia because it was truly a calling. God has continually made that clear over the last five months. I have been overjoyed at my experience thus far in Columbia. I have loved every minute of it. I get to work with a great team and I get to minister to an incredible group of kids that have been so anxious for a youth pastor. God has opened up my heart to love the kids West Columbia the way that they need.

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I know God did all of this. I know God called me to Columbia. When I look back on 2016 I know without a doubt that it all worked together for my good and for God’s glory. I choose to believe that God is simply working everything out according to his plan.

My heart has a very special place in it for my Rock Hill family. I will always love them and think about them. Those kids will always be special to me. I will never forget them.

I miss my house quite often. I miss having a peaceful place to rest, a yard to sit around fires on cold nights, and a place where my dog can be a dog. I really miss that.

But what I miss the most will always be the kids. I miss the relationships that I built over the four years I spent there. Soon they’ll grow up and graduate and move on to college and careers. I believe that I did all that I could have done to minister to those kids and make a difference in their lives. I pray that I did.

2016 was a weird year. I can’t go back and change anything, nor would I if I could.

I’m so thankful for 2016. I know there are so many people who feel like it was the worst year ever, and for some it truly was. Even though it took a lot of pain to get there, 2016 was the most shaping year of my life.

I realize now that I needed the move. I needed the change of scenery. I needed that to grow. I’m not as “grown” as I’d like to be. But the great thing about life is you never stop growing and learning.

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The Greatest Thing I’ve Ever Done

“Well, we did it. We’re married!”, were just a few of my thoughts immediately following my wedding ceremony on May 24, 2014.

just moments after our ceremony, heading to the reception
just moments after our ceremony, heading to the reception

In the months (actually years) leading up to the wedding, my wife and I wanted the perfect day. Kate and I dated well over four years before we exchanged our vows. For the majority of those four years, we were in a long-distance relationship; thanks, college! When we were finally engaged and it started to set in that we were really going to be married, my excitement level was at an all-time high.

I won’t lie. I have never been more impatient than in the two years we were engaged. I was always thinking of solutions in which we could get married before the ever elusive May 2014. Every idea was turned down quickly, and rightfully so.

Once the week of our wedding began, it was all that I could do to keep myself from going crazy. There was so much to do and so little time. All that I wanted was to sleep all week and wake up on Saturday. But, as I’ve learned a lot this past year, the days fell off the calendar quicker than I’d anticipated.

who really enjoys rehearsals, anyways?
who really enjoys rehearsals, anyways?

Wedding Day

I’ve said it all year long: my wedding day was absolutely perfect. You dream of a day filled with sunshine, where everyone is happy, no one is late, and everything goes according to plan. From top to bottom, everything was perfect. My in-laws and everyone involved with the wedding did such an incredible job to make sure that it was perfect. I prayed so many prayers just over the weather on my wedding day. As selfish as that could be, God definitely answered my prayers.

The day was a dream come true. The honeymoon was equally amazing, and the most fun that I’ve ever had.

the best day of my life
the best day of my life

The wedding day itself was great, but what about life after the wedding day? What about life after the honeymoon? What happens once the newness wears off?

Well, here we are. We’ve been married for a full year! Am I still excited about being married? Am I still excited about my wife? Yes.

For one reason or another, people get bored easily. So, to combat this, they often find ways to get excited. More often than not, I see people using things to be excited. Maybe it’s a new car, a new house, a new this or that. Sometimes it’s even a new spouse! I think that’s why some couples don’t wait so long to have kids, because they need something new and exciting to drown out the feelings of boredom and monotony.

Those periods of excitement are mountaintops. Everything else is just coming down, hanging out in a valley, or going back up. Over the last year, I’ve realized that life is not the mountaintop; it’s the walking in between. (Thanks Ben Rector!)

Kate reading her vows
Kate reading her vows

I waited so long (relatively speaking, 4 years isn’t that long, but this isn’t your blog, it’s mine) for this one mountaintop experience! It definitely exceeded my expectations and was more than worth the wait! But once we started coming down from the mountaintop, that’s when life really began.

“How’s married life?”

I’ve probably answered this question almost a hundred times this year, and each time without hesitation, my answer has been the same: “It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done.” When I say greatest, I always mean it in every definition of the word. It is equally the most significant and most fun thing that I’ve ever done.

me reading my vows
me reading my vows

Some days are better than others, for sure. Marriage and loving my wife is a daily choice. No, I don’t think that I’m going to wake up one day and realize that I no longer love my wife. But every single day that I do wake up, I have to make the choice to emotionally, spiritually, and physically love my wife.

When we were dating and living miles apart, it was easy to live off of yesterday’s emotion, because we had to. But it got old, fast. It’s the same way with our relationship with God; we can’t live off of Sunday’s sermon, we have to put forth the effort every single day to nurture that relationship.

I’ve learned a lot about myself from being married. I’ve learned a lot about my wife from being married to her, I think that goes without saying. Over the last year, I’ve enjoyed walking through an incredible journey with my best friend. None of these words can truly explain any of my feelings or thoughts, but I thought I’d try.

Every day I choose to love my wife. Every day I choose to walk in between with her. That’s why it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done.

May 12, 2009

I love history. I love it so much that I stayed up late last night just reading about the history of the interstate system. I love that kind of history, but I also love to look back at my own history. I keep a list in my phone of significant dates from the last six years. I like to look back on a specific date when something happened. I can tell you the day that I met my wife, the day I bought my current car, even the day that I “found” my dog, Jules.

For the last seven years, I have been serving in ministry, mostly as a youth pastor. In my conversations with people, and in many sermons, I’ve referenced May 12, 2009 as the day when God spoke loud and clear about my calling. So today, I wanted to share this story again.

During my senior year of high school, I served the student body as FCA President. What it basically meant was that I prepared and shared devotions with the FCA every week during the school year.

As the spring semester of my senior year began, I started feeling this undeniable sense that we (FCA) should do something big. Meeting weekly was great, but what can you really do in 15-20 scattered minutes? So I started researching an event called Fields of Faith. In a nutshell, Fields of Faith was an event that local FCA groups would hold in their football or basketball stadium, where the entire school and community would come together for a student-led service.

I thought this was great, but I was nervous and doubted that it could even happen. After talking it over with my friends and the adults who helped lead FCA, we decided to take a chance on Fields of Faith.

After talking with different leaders about what our Fields of Faith event would look like, I had to take our proposal to our principal. Now, to a 17 year old senior in high school, talking to the principal was one of the most stressful and nerve-racking things that I could’ve done. But thankfully our principal was not a dictator.

So, we met and discussed everything that we wanted to do with this event. I told her that I felt strongly that this was what God wanted us to do. Thankfully, my principal was very kind and supportive of our idea. There were certainly logistic hoops to jump through like, “who’s going to pay for the extra utilities usage?”, or the whole, “this is a Christian event,” sort of thing. I was pretty confident that having Fields of Faith happen at our school was NOT going to happen. Yes. I was still doubtful.

I had to wait awhile while she, the district, and the school discussed this event. I remember the day that I was called to go meet with her. We talked for a few minutes outside of the library, and she told me that the district and the school approved the event! When she told me this I’m sure there were tears in my eyes as I hugged her and thanked her. She was quite impressed that we (17-18 year olds) wanted to do something like this to make a positive impact. Fields of Faith was on.

Over the next few months, my friends and I planned everything out. That’s the boring part, so I won’t discuss that.

We were all just weeks away from graduation, and there was obvious stress starting to settle in, especially with me. In the months between the event being approved and actually happening, life started rapidly changing, and my grades started to plummet.

Of course, the life of a senior in high school is much different from the life of a well-established adult. If anything changes, it’s a huge change in our eyes, and if anything bad happens, it’s the end of the world as we know it. Looking back, I realize that everything that was happening around me was being used against me to try to make me give up. If you would’ve tried to tell me that everything would be better in just a few months, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I didn’t believe anyone who told me that.

There was a point where I was getting to school late and leaving early. I was trying to distance myself from everything that wasn’t going well. I was emotionally shutting down. I had started seeing a therapist to try to talk through my problems and stresses. After our first meeting, she prescribed me an anti-depressant, which didn’t work. In fact, it made things worse.

I guess my body was tired of being physically, mentally, and emotionally tired.

Apparently a few of my teachers knew some of the things that I was going through personally, but they didn’t just tell me to suck it up and get in the books. Instead, these teachers really helped me get through these things personally, while pushing me to pick up the slack in class. These teachers would not give up on me.

Thanks to those teachers, my friends, and my family for really lifting me up during those last few months of school. Without them, I wouldn’t have graduated, and Fields of Faith wouldn’t have happened.

So, along with my friends and adult leaders, we pushed through the next few weeks finalizing Fields of Faith.

May 12, 2009. Members of the faculty, students, and families from the community started to pile into the stadium. Over 100 people were in attendance that night.

The service began with a local youth worship band leading worship, followed by a few testimonies. Amy and Darrell share their testimonies, and then I walked up to the stage to share mine. I blended my testimony with a message about Christ and salvation.

(Side note: the few cameras that were recording video actually stopped recording around this time due to battery death and no more recording room. There is no known video evidence that what happened next actually happened. But, you can trust me!)

To this day, I sincerely cannot remember what I said that night outside of my testimony. Along with the video issues, all of my notes were lost soon after the event. But what happened was nothing short of a miracle.

I walked off the stage and one of the local youth pastors who had been helping me all year, came up to give the prayer of invitation. I remember sitting on the field facing the stage when he began to pray. I closed my eyes and prayed something…and then I started to hear footsteps.

Seven years from the day and I can still hear those footsteps.

Kids of different ages walked all the way to the 50 yard line of the football field to give their lives to Christ. I stood up to see the people coming down and I met each of them with a hug. I knew some of them, others were total strangers. Some of our leaders helped pray them through, and afterwards we shared a big group hug. 20 kids of different ages had a life changing experience that night

That moment in time is permanently etched in my memory. When I heard those footsteps, it was like God was telling me that this was his plan for me all along. Like many high school seniors, I’d struggled with really knowing what it was that I wanted to do with my life. That night, God made it clear that I was going to be a pastor. In fact, that ministry began just over two weeks after that night, when I began serving as a worship leader.

In the years since that night, God has done incredible things in my life. I can’t even begin to speculate on how different things would be had it not been for that event. I may never know the impact this event made on those who were there. I know now that the one of the reasons why God wanted us to do the event was because he wanted me to hear him calling me to ministry.

This is the story of how God took just an average teenager with problems, and did something amazing.

A Conversation With My 14 Year Old Self

 

I recently celebrated my 24th birthday, which makes me as old as “Seinfeld”, which just so happens to be one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Side note, my dad has always reminded me of Kramer. Also, Johnny Carson announced his retirement from the Tonight Show that year. Remember the “quilted, quicker picker-upper”? Bounty began using that slogan that year for their paper towels, which my wife refuses to buy. Trolls were a real thing, Nirvana skyrocketed to superstardom, Dr. Seuss passed away, and the Super Nintendo (the greatest video game console of all time) was released. Oh, and the mullet was still considered a fashion statement.

My birthday also reminds me that I’m still pretty young. I am considerably younger than most people who are in my vocation (youth pastor). But 24 certainly sounds older than 23.

But what really gets me thinking when it comes to my birthday, is realizing the life that I have lived. Because I spend so much time with teenagers on a weekly basis, I’m constantly reminded of my teenage years and how dumb I was. I wasn’t Lloyd Christmas dumb, I was just teenager dumb.

We say it all the time. “If only I knew when I was younger what I know now!” Well, what if? If I knew what I know now, life wouldn’t be the same, that’s for sure. There’s really no way of knowing. But I decided to think about my 14 year old self and all the problems and drama that I was facing in 2005, when I transitioned from middle school to high school.

The things I wish I knew at 14, that I now know at 24: A conversation with my 14 year old self.

So, if my 14 year old self is still alive in some weird parallel universe this is what I’d tell him.

1. The Girl
Three girls highlighted my life at 14, and not one of them am I in contact with today. In fact, I haven’t spoken to either of them in years! But when I was 14, I was convinced that I had found the “girl of my dreams.” Three times during year 14 did I believe I’d found “the one”, and no one could tell me any differently. I finally had a girlfriend that I could go places with, like the movies and the mall. Granted, I needed a chauffeur to get us to those places, but it was still AWESOME! I was up all night instant messaging my girlfriend on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). It was the time of my life. It was also during this time that I sent my first series of text messages, you know, when text messaging was pretty young and it still cost a lot of money to use the texting feature on your phones. I wasn’t allowed to do so, but I did it anyway because I was “in love”…and I was “in love” three times that year.

Ok, ten years have passed and I now know this: Your girlfriend will not last, nor will that one, and the other one will last but will end in burning flames, much like Taylor Swift’s many relationships. “Who’s Taylor Swift?” You’ll figure that out later. Please don’t get caught up in this “love” thing right now. “Why? I do really love her!” No you don’t. And in a few years you’ll begin to understand what love truly means. Right now you’re just super attracted to someone and she’s attracted to you, so you both really, REALLY like each other. That’s all there is to it. When she breaks up with you, take it like a man and move on. Listen to your friends when they tell you advice, but consider your mom’s advice more sacred than your friends’. Trust me, you will make it through this breakup, and that breakup, and the other breakup. In fact, if you just hold on for a few more years, you will meet the true “girl of your dreams,” and it will be more than you could’ve ever imagined. Also, quit writing songs about them!

2. The Band
Music dominated my life from 14 to 16. My friends were talented, I was talented, so it only made sense that we would start a band. Our band was going to do what no band did before! We were going to be big stars someday! Fueled by pepperoni pizza and Vault soda (also, 14 year old me, Vault doesn’t last either), we were determined to prove everyone wrong. Our first song was about a girl, so we were destined to succeed right? Wrong. Just over a year after we started the band, I left due to musical differences and started another band, while the band changed their name a few times and picked up a pretty decent following over the years. But you couldn’t tell me that at 14. Break up? No way. Well, it happened…and it hurt. The second band was in many ways more fun, but it wasn’t the same, and it also didn’t last. I began to put all my musical attention towards my own music, which is where I learned to deal with my pain.

So, ten years have passed and I want to fill you in on some pretty cool details about what you’re going through right now. Your band failed. Twice. So what? Brush it off and use it as motivation to become a better writer and overall musician. Right now, you’re filled to the brim with song ideas. Do me a favor and write all of them down. Trust me, no lyric is dumb unless it goes against everything you believe in. Keep your head up. In just a few short years you’ll be doing things with your music that you’ve dreamed of. And when that happens, take it all in and treasure the moments. Those moments don’t last, as you already know. “Can I still write songs for my girlfriend?” I already told you to stop! Seriously, I would advise you to stay away from doing that, because one day you’ll look in a box and find a CD full of those songs. You’ll listen to it, and you’ll want to punch your teenage self in the face for it. But, if you must, go ahead. Just remember to save the true words for the girl that I told you about before.

3. The Friends
This one hurt the most. Going into high school I felt like I had great friends, and I believed without a doubt that those friends would last forever. We did everything together. Skateboarding. Video games. Movies. Music. You name it. We were always together doing stuff! One by one friends began to fade into the background. For one reason or another, friendships failed. I didn’t understand it at the time, and I don’t understand it today. There were many times when I closed myself off from my friends because of girlfriends, which probably was a major reason for failed friendships. Either way, most of my friendships that I had at 14 aren’t here at 24, but that isn’t a bad thing.

“Ok, before you start, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to tell me that my high school friends won’t be my friends after high school, and that I’ll make new friends etc. etc. etc. I’ve heard it before, and quite frankly, I don’t believe you.”
I know you don’t believe me. I wouldn’t either. But trust me when I say this, you will lose friends. They’re not all going to stay as close as they are right now. But that’s ok! You will make new friends and they will be great! One day you’ll see that very few of those friends are still around. We just went separate paths in life. You’ll still be able to contact some of these friends, and some of them you’ll still be able to call “friends”. I will fill you in on a secret: one will stick with you no matter what happens in the next ten years. I won’t tell you who but you wouldn’t expect it. Change isn’t bad. In fact, drifting away from some of these friends is going to be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to you because of who you’re going to become. “Well, who am I going to become?” I’m glad you asked.

4. God
I’ll be honest. When I was 14 I was going to church with my friends because I thought it would be fun hanging out with them…and there were some really pretty girls at their church. Their youth group was split up into different classes. Because I was younger than them, I lied to the adults so that I could be in the same class as my friends. (P.A. if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!) At 14 I started to take God seriously until the band broke up. After that, I wasn’t in church for awhile. In many ways, I’d forgotten about God. Sure, I still kept my belief in him, but I wasn’t a “Christian”. I was a young teenager focused on girls and music. I had no idea what I was doing.

In the last ten years, nothing on this list becomes more constant in your life than God. I know you don’t see it now, but God is about to do some amazing things in your life. “What could that possibly be?” I can’t even begin to tell you, because if I did, you’d quit everything and run away. One day you’re going to realize that God is the only one who won’t fail you. When that day comes, embrace it with all that you are. Don’t turn your back on God for your friends, for music, or for any girl. Don’t allow anyone to compromise your faith. I know it will be hard, but stick with it. The crowd will fade away. The trends will fade away. But God will not.

“How can I really believe you?” Believe me because I know how badly you were hurting that first day in fifth grade in a new school with no friends. Believe me because I know how hard you worked at being a good kid in school, at home, and with your friends. Believe me because I saw you land the kickflip before any of your friends, and when no one believed you, I felt your pain. Just because I’m 24 doesn’t mean I don’t remember you and the life you’re living.

“So, you’re really the 24 year old me?”
Yes.
“Can I ask you a few more questions then?”
Sure.

“How’s my hair?”
Better than ever!

“Do I have a beard when I’m 24?”
Sadly, no. And please, please, save yourself the embarrassment and do not participate in no-shave November.

“Do I get married to any of my girlfriends from high school?”
Not a chance. But you are going to go through a series of unfortunate events that will ultimately lead to you meeting the girl that you’ll eventually marry.
“…Is she hot?”
You know it!

“Do I ever find out what happened to that frog from Boy Scouts?”
TO THIS DAY, I STILL HAVE NO IDEA WHAT HAPPENED TO THE FROG!

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