Monday, March 28, 2016


I can’t take another step.

I put my boot carefully into the snow. My broken ice cleats gave my feet little to no extra traction. After the five hour trek up the mountain, I was fatigued, and the pain in my right knee had worsened from a dull throb to a stabbing ache.

My friend John was ahead of me, and now out of sight. His foot prints left deep tracks in the pristine mountaintop snowfall. I stopped to take a breath and evaluate whether I could make it to the bluffs of Mount LeConte. After climbing about 4,000 feet in elevation, then stopping for lunch, my body was staging a revolt against any more physical activity. I drew in a deep breath of the thin crisp mountain air, and with my hands on my haunches, stood motionless. Looking up, I noticed a young couple making their way down the trail towards me. As they approached I posed an exasperated question.

“How much further to the overlook?”

“Oh, you are almost there,” the gentleman said with a smile, “It is so worth it. Don’t stop here.”

I lifted my leg, wincing in pain, and began the arduous process of walking up the hill in the snow with a bum knee.

It was a few months earlier when John had approached me about doing a “big” hike. (I put big in quotations because I know serious hikers who are probably laughing that I consider LeConte such a feat.) John and I are both dads of young children who love to hike when we get a chance, but getting away can be hard to do. So we finally decided to make something happen. We circled a date on the calendar, picked a trail, and began planning our trip.

We both knew we wanted to do Mount LeConte. Mainly because of the reputation it has in the South as being one of the most beautiful spots in the Smokies. But we also wanted a challenge. Mount LeConte is the 3rd highest peak in the Smokey Mountain Range, towering at 6,594 feet above sea level. I am not quite sure what we were expecting, but trekking up a mile-high mountain is not for the faint of heart. Overly ambitious, we were not going to let anything detour us from our adventure.

The morning of our hike we hit the trail just as the sun had peaked over the looming mountains. It was cold, but within minutes we were shedding layers as we warmed up from the climb. After about a mile up the trail I was already having doubts. Patches of snow turned into inches of snow, as we picked up a steady pace. It wasn’t until we passed Rainbow Falls that the scenery really began to change. The trees were coated in a glistening white snow that shimmered against the background of the brilliant blue sky. It was if we had entered a surreal winter wonderland unlike anything I had ever seen. Both John and I would stop often along the way in the middle of the trail in pure amazement of our surroundings.

But blue skies and winter wonderlands eventually took a back seat to the nagging pain of my knee. By the last mile of our ascent I was practically hobbling up the mountain at the pace of an elderly man who went out in the snow to fetch his newspaper. I was hurting, but not letting on as so, because… well, that’s just what guys do.

We eventually made it to the LeConte Lodge, where we stopped to have lunch. The Lodge is a rustic village of small cabins built in the 1920’s, and in the Spring through the Fall is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Smokey Mountains. We had arrived in the dead of winter, so everything was closed. Sitting on the porch of one of the small cabins, we made lunch, and rested our weary bodies. While there we met a few other people who had hiked in on other trails, and talked to the groundskeeper of the lodge. That was how we learned about the overlook. Everybody told us that we had to hike just a little further up the mountain to see this unbelievable view. But, as I said in the beginning, as much as my heart wanted to see the overlook, my body did not want to go a step further.

I watched the happy couple go back down the trail, and looked up the hill through the thick hemlock grove. I had come this far, and knew I had to push on just a little bit further. Despite the pain, I staggered up through the snow towards the bluffs where John was waiting. When I crested the top of the hill, I suddenly forgot the pain in my knee. The view was so breath-taking it was hard to process. We both just stood there in complete silence until one of us would break through with words like “unbelievable” and “amazing.” Yet no words could really explain the immense beauty.

We soaked up the moment for as long as we could, and then began our descent back down the mountain. The pain in my knee returned, but I didn’t mind. I just kept thinking of our amazing (literal) mountaintop experience. The hurt was just as painful as before, but in light of what we had accomplished, now seemed so worth it. As if the every twinge of pain had been redeemed by the knowledge of our achievement. Every ache overshadowed by the beauty of overcoming an unthinkable obstacle. I can say now from experience that pain going up the mountain feels different than the pain that occurs when you’re coming back down, maybe because you’ve learned something along the way.

About an hour outside of Pigeon Forge we had to take a pit stop to fill up the car and use the restroom. I lifted my leg to step out of John’s car and almost fell to the concrete. My body felt as if someone had beaten me with a baseball bat. John just laughed as I stumbled towards the gas station bathroom.

I’ve thought a lot about my trek to the top of Mount LeConte since that day. And it has made me think a lot about my life as well. So much of our culture seems to tell us that life ought to be easy. That it should be comfortable, and you and I should always get what we want without the pain of trying. Yet, I am beginning to see that real life happens in the hurt. Real adventure blossoms from the fertile soils of pain. A life spent avoiding discomfort is a life not fully lived. Looking back, the pain almost always pales in comparison to the beauty.

Of course that is easy to say when talking about the physical pain of a grueling hike. It’s a lot harder to embrace when the hurt hits at a much deeper level; when the stakes are far higher, and the circumstances are more ominous. Yet, some of the most joyful people I know have weathered through the deepest of sorrows. They did not run from the pain when it came knocking. Step by step they drudged through the agony. Some of them are still climbing that mountain. Others have found themselves on the other side.

As I reflect during this Easter season, I find myself hard pressed to look at the life and death of Jesus and come to the conclusion that the ultimate purpose in our own lives would be to avoid pain at all cost. In fact, the more I get to know Jesus of Nazareth, the more I listen to what he had to say, I am fully convinced that pain is a key ingredient to a more fulfilled life. There would be no bright Easter morning without first enduring the darkness of Good Friday.

So if you feel like you can’t take one more step, I encourage you not to stop where you’re at. Lift one leg at a time and press forward with everything that’s in you.

It’s not going to be easy.

It’s not going to be pretty.

Everything within you is going to want to stop.

Just keep pushing.

And when you crest the top of that hill, and finally reach the peak of the mountain, you will look back at where you came from and soak in the beauty surrounding you unlike anything you could ever imagine.

I'm not guaranteeing  you will no longer hurt.

But you just might find a purpose in the pain.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


I don’t consider myself a quitter. 

In fact, if anything, I think I hold onto things way longer than I should. Like a toddler with a hamster, my intentions always start out well, but by the time I finally let go, the damage is already done. 

Yet I have found myself this last year or so in a unique position. 

I had to quit some things. 

After returning home from Korea with our son, Wesley, we were advised to cut back on our busy schedules, and spend ample amounts of time at home for the attachment process to take place. This meant temporarily quitting some commitments, and concentrating on our family. This is going to sound terrible, but it was not an easy transition. It’s not that we were neglecting our kids, it was more like we had adapted them to our hectic lifestyle. We were modern day nomads. Only instead of camels and deserts, it was SUVs, Target, church, school, and everything else. When you are always use to running, it takes a while for your feet to stop moving and actually sit still. We went from having something almost every day of the week to… nothing. And I really mean nothing.

Suddenly we were home almost every night of the week. We had time to eat together at the table, play games, and get stuff done around the house. It was also during this phase I found the time to write. I began putting my thoughts and stories on a blog. It was strange at first, but the more we were home, the more we realized we had been so busy being busy that there were some things right under our noses that needed tending. 

It was during this long stretch of nothing, an old friend of mine paid me an unwanted visit. His name is guilt, and we have had a complicated relationship ever since I was a child.

Yep, guilt crept into my soul and reminded me of all the important things I was no longer doing. He stirred up memories of all the stuff I had accomplished when I was much busier and pursuing much more “noble” things. But I just wasn’t buying it this time. Usually guilt could stop me from just about anything, but my newfound life with margins was something I was not willing to hand over. I liked the pace we found. I liked being able to read with my children before bed each night, instead of rushing in doing homework, and throwing on pajamas while brushing teeth because it was already past bedtime. I liked being able to go on dates with my wife each week. I liked having time to read and write down my thoughts. Life just felt healthier outside of the raging current of being busy.

One of my favorite authors (and people), Bob Goff, quits something every Thursday. That sounds crazy, right? But Bob deliberately quits something in his life once a week to make sure he always has margin. Without margin in our lives, it is hard to have time for all the things we say we value. Without margin it is difficult to be balanced, and nearly impossible to grow. Bob put it this way, “We can’t be new creations if everything stays the same. It’s Thursday. Quit something.”

It may be something big like a job or an unhealthy relationship.

Or it might be something smaller, like social media or binge watching Netflix for days on end.

It doesn’t matter what it is. 

Just quit. 

Quit it and see what happens. 

Give your life margin. You will be amazed at how much time is actually in the day, when you put down your phone, stop thinking about the hundreds of things that have to be done tomorrow, and give your time to the precious few things right in front of you today.

That reminds me of the time I ran into a truck driver in the bathroom at work about ten years ago. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but we had a short conversation that I have never forgotten.

We were both washing our hands at the sink when he asked why I was still at work. (It was later in the evening.)

“Well,” I answered, “I can always use the extra money.”

He was quiet for a moment.

“You married?” he asked.

I nodded my head.

“Any kids?” 

“Yes, I have a two-year-old daughter.”

“Forget the money. You need to clock out and go home,” he said as he dried his hands.

I kind of laughed.

“I’m not kidding,” he spoke with a stern look on his face, “You’ll work the rest of your life, but your little girl won’t be two forever.”

The words hit me like a sucker punch in the gut.

The man threw his paper towel in the garbage can, and began to walk out of the restroom.

“My deepest regret is that I was so busy working, trying to give my kids all the things that I never had, that I sacrificed my time with them. Now their grown, and don’t have much to do with me… and guess what? I’m still working.”

I stood there drying my hands in silence.

“I’m serious. Go clock out. You won’t regret it.”

He turned and walked out the door.

Moments later, I clocked out and went home.

If you are like me, quitting isn’t easy, and it carries with it all kinds of complications. By no means am I saying that we should all quit everything, but I do believe we could all benefit from quitting something. Do not let guilt bully you into staying in place you know you need to leave. Do not let pride keep you from dropping that prestigious position that eats up a massive chunk of your week. No paycheck is worth time lost with those we love, and no commitment is worth sacrificing our family and friends on the altar of achievement. 

It’s been over a year since we had to call it quits on some things and stay at home. And only recently have we started picking up new commitments. But we haven’t done so without a lot of discernment. 

It’s good to be involved, and there’s nothing wrong with giving your time to other things, just as long as your life continues to have margin for the truly important things. And if you find yourself like me, overworked, strung out, and stressed… well, I just tell you what I was told…

Go clock out. You won’t regret it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Brandon and the Roaches' Den

“Dad, watch out for the cigarette burns!” Sawyer exclaimed with a giggle.

I looked down at my feet at the underside of a yellowish-white bed comforter that was spread out on the floor of the nastiest motel I have ever voluntarily stayed. It was 3:30 in the morning. We had been driving through the night. It was raining. And we were stuck sleeping in the only hotel in the state of Virginia that had a room. I looked at the burns in the comforter and tried to laugh it off.

“Oh well,” I said in defeat.

The rain was coming down steadily outside, as I shook my head in an exhausted frustration. I dropped my wet backpack onto the grimy green carpet. The room smelled of must and mold; as if there hadn’t been a guest in years. I walked into the bathroom to brush my teeth and try to put behind me the eventful night on the road. As I splashed warm water on my face, I reminded myself that it was only one night, and that I should be thankful for a place to lay my head. That was when I heard the scream.

“Brandon… there is a bug crawling up the wall!” my wife yelled from the bed.

I took in a deep breath, dried my face, and went into the room to address the issue. There, just above an old wooden-framed picture (that looked as if was stolen from my Grandma’s house) was a sizable cockroach. He quickly darted behind the picture.

“I think I startled him,” I said, trying to make light of the situation, “He’s probably lived here alone in this room for thirty years.”

No one else found my joke very funny.

“Just kill whatever it is. I do not want to see it or think about it,” Patience ordered.

I replied, “It’s just a little…” 

“Do not tell me what it is. Just kill it, and let’s not talk about it.”

I laughed to myself as I squished the bug against the wall with my wet shoe. Flushing the remains down the toilet, I too tried to not think of all the things that were lurking in the shadows of this seedy motel. My skin crawled as I reentered the room and found my place on the floor next to my two boys. I forgot to mention that the room had only one king size bed, and there were 6 of us. You do the math. Somebody’s sleeping on the floor. Those somebodies would be us boys. Patience, my daughter JulieAnna, and our dear friend Nichole claimed the bed. So to the stained and cigarette burnt comforter I went, trying my best to remind myself to sleep with my mouth closed.

As we cut the lights out, everybody just laughed together at the situation. But after the chuckles ended my mind raced with thoughts of roaches and Dateline Specials where the host examines hotel rooms with a black light. I was spiraling fast, and my body was itching just at the thought of it all. At least the quarter of an inch carpet on the concrete made for a comfortable place to find rest. 

The longer I laid there on the floor, the angrier I became. I was mad at the travel website that double-booked our other room, and left us with no options. I was mad at myself for deciding on a whim to leave a night early from vacation, drive halfway home, and just "find a hotel on the way." I was mad that a motel so nasty could even be in business. (Seriously, if you were going by the star rating for hotels this one was a black hole.) I was even mad at the citizens of Virginia. Never in a million years would I have thought that from Baltimore to Bristol there would not be an available hotel room. Come to find out, some big college football games, a Comic-Con Convention, and the peak of tourist season for fall festivals left us completely out of luck. I was so mad at it all I couldn’t sleep. 

I forced my eyes closed, and tried to calm myself down. In my head I prayed that God would let us all somehow sleep through and survive the night and that none of us would contract any major diseases from our stay in such a dump. I prayed that the Lord would send angels on our behalf to fight off the throngs of cockroaches and bed bugs that waited to destroy us. It was almost like the Old Testament story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Except that we weren’t necessarily thrown into our motel room by force, and cockroaches are not hardly as deadly as lions, and technically our lives were never in any real danger. Actually, it was really nothing like that story; beside the fact that both Daniel and I lived to see the light of the next morning. To be honest, I just liked the sound of Brandon and the Roaches’ Den. 

Have you ever noticed how no one ever says, “Remember that vacation that went perfectly?” 

No, they usually tell you about that time they got locked out of their hotel room or that one trip where mom lost her top in the ocean. It seems that the stories we gravitate to the most are usually the ones born from frustration and failure. The most nightmarish vacation you ever had somehow becomes one of the funniest tales you love to share. Just let that coworker mention the word "Florida" and you will jump into the conversation chomping at the bit to tell the --now hilarious-- account of the time you were sun burnt and food poisoned in Panama City. It's amazing how some of our so-called bad luck manages to produce the most memorable stories that get told every Thanksgiving when your uncle is in town.

Thinking back on stories from my own family, most of them involve mishaps, mistakes, or downright unfortunate events. Some of my favorites include: The story of my Dad and his brothers jumping off their roof with an umbrella while playing Mary Poppins. Or what my Mom refers to as “The Camping Trip from You-Know-Where” when our tire blew out on the way, it rained so hard we ended up sleeping in the back of a station wagon, and I almost drowned in the rapids of the river. There’s also the time our middle son Sawyer somehow projectile pooped out of his diaper and all over a Wal-Mart floor. And then, one of my favorites was when my Uncle found a long hair in his McDonald’s hamburger… after he had already half way eaten it. All of these things at the time were not pleasant in the least. My Dad ended up in major trouble. I nearly drowned. We had to akwardly explain to a Wal-Mart employee that there was feces all over aisle 8. And my Uncle, well, let’s just say he had a physical reaction to the infamous hair he halfway consumed. Yet, every time I hear anyone tell these stories it is always accompanied by smiles and laughter. Time seems to make even hairs in your hamburger more funny than disturbing. (Though it still disturbs my uncle!)

We spent a week camping in beautiful Maryland in the fall. We visited Washington DC, New York City, Baltimore, and Annapolis. But do you want to guess the first story I told every person after getting home? Yep, it was the story of how the state of Virginia had no hotels and I slept in the floor of a roach-infested ran-down motel. And every time I told it, the reaction was the same… laughter. And usually the person I was telling would then tell me about a time they had a similar experience.

The reason I bring this all up is because a lot of us find ourselves in regrettable situations. I am not talking about truly tragic occasions, but all the little things that seem to go wrong. I guess what I am learning is that the most memorable adventures are the ones you never plan for; the adventures where everything falls apart and nothing seems to work out like you hoped for. It’s hard to see it while you’re in it, but if you could fast forward a year, you might actually be laughing about the very situation you are in right now. I know it stinks, and you’d prefer for things to go your way, but learn to embrace your circumstances, no matter how aggravating they might be, and try to make the most of them. 

If you’re having a bad day. If you locked yourself out your car in the rain and were late to work. If you butt dialed a friend and they heard you passionately singing your heart out to Justin Bieber on the radio. No matter how embarrassing, frustrating, or stupid the situation may be, you can take comfort in knowing that somehow time turns most of these moments into comedy. 

There’s no need to lie on the floor of the hotel so angry you cannot sleep. 

Accept it. Deal with it. Go ahead and laugh about it. 

Because you know you are probably going to be laughing about it when you tell your coworkers what happened the next day at work. Or when you call up your best friend to give them all the details. Or when you make your uncle laugh so hard he shoots sweet tea out of his nose this year at Thanksgiving.

Isn't that the beautiful thing about life? That even some of our worst moments can, in time, be redeemed.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Scary Things

The view from the edge of the rock was daunting.

“Whoa!” Sawyer exclaimed.

I could see the fear in my son’s eyes, as his seven-year-old brain processed the sight.

We were the first to arrive to ledge of the mountainside. Sawyer was frozen as he saw the large cable disappearing down the rocky slope. This was the cable we would be using to help in our descent down the mountain. One of the many funny things about my son is his lack of filter. Whatever he’s thinking is usually immediately verbalized. This can be a good and bad quality. In this case, Sawyer’s response to this intimidating hike we were about to go on was interesting.

“Why do people do this?!” he asked.

"What do mean?” I responded.

“Why do people do scary things like this?”

I paused as I thought about his question.

“Well, it depends. Some people do scary things because they think it is fun. Some people do scary things because they have to. Then there are people who do scary things for a reason.”

“So… why are we doing this?” Sawyer asked in an urgent tone.

“Because it will be fun, and it will be an adventure.”

Sawyer was silent. 

He was not buying my adventure hype.

“Listen, it’s good to do scary things sometimes,” I explained, “You just have to measure the amount of risk you are taking, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.”

“What do you mean?” 

“You know how I told you we were going to swim to the falls once we get to the bottom?”


“Well, you have to ask yourself if swimming to the falls is worth going down this cable.”

Sawyer was reluctant, but as the others from the group began to join us at the edge, he seemed to warm up to the idea. There were more than a few kids with us, and so he must have found some strength in numbers.

Some of our crew heading down the cable trail

This past February I got the wonderful opportunity to hear author Bob Goff speak at a benefit dinner here in town. If you have ever read Bob’s book Love Does you know that Bob is crazy. Seriously, I am not sure that the man is normal. But he lives in such a way that makes me not want to be normal either. 

In his speech he told a story of the time he went to Somalia (I believe) to get a school started. The country was plagued by violence and war, and Bob flew in anyways. After he exited his plane and got into an old beat up truck, Bob and the men transporting him with assault rifles in tow were met on the road by a car that opened fire on them. Bullets were peppering their car as Bob dove into the floor board and yelled, “Yikes!” A term his kids still tease him for saying. They made it out of the situation unscathed, but it left an obvious impression on Bob, who realized something quite profound. He shared with us that night that he believed that real life begins on the “edge of yikes.” 

This thought resonated with me, because there have been a few moments in my life that I can relate. No, there were never any bullets hitting my car or high speed chases, but there were these times of stepping out just beyond the edge of my own control. Times where I walked down a path where I did not know where it would lead me. Times I jumped into a situation I had no means to get out of. And I can say indefinitely that each time my adrenaline began to pulse, my fear began to rise, and I felt more alive than ever before. 

I am not talking about recklessness. I am not condoning skirting responsibilities and throwing all caution into the wind. I am talking about doing something scary because you calculated the risk, but you know the outcome will be worth it. You may not know exactly where you are going, or how you’re going to get there, but you know it is something you should do. 

Author and speaker, John Acuff, explained it like this:

“Many of the adventures you will go on will not make sense to other people because the outcome is unknown. But journeys where the outcome is already known are not adventures, they’re errands. And you were created to do more than run errands.”

I understand Sawyer’s fear, because I am a fearful person myself. I am an errand-runner by nature, and the furthest person you’ll ever meet from being a risk-taker. But the older I get, the more I find the value in taking a risk. I have come to understand that most things worth doing are going to make you risk something. So, if you are living comfortably in all aspects of your life, you are more than likely not living at all. Life, at it’s fullest, pushes us to grow beyond the confines of our daily grind; beyond the mediocrity of a life filled with flipping channels and scrolling Facebook. The adventure begins the moment you decide you are going to do something scary.

My parents are in love with Honduras. Ever since I was a boy my Dad and Mom would spend a week of their summer doing mission work with The Good Samaritian Baptist Mission down in Central America. Over time my wife has visited, as well as myself, and other family members. My Dad even was able to raise enough money for my Mom’s fiftieth birthday to build a feeding kitchen in El Perico, Honduras! It has been amazing to see my parents’ putting action to their beliefs, as they  have helped sponsor children, feed them, clothe them, as well as reach them with the Gospel.

Recently my dad has begun to raise money and awareness for the radio station that the mission owns and operates. He and Mom spend almost every Sunday at a different church advocating for the people of Honduras. This naturally bleeds over into every part of Dad’s life, including work. Lately, he has been trying to recruit engineers and electricians from work to go with him on his next trip to Honduras to help repair and install radio towers. One of the guys told me the other day he was all for going to help until he heard that Honduras has the highest homicide rate of any country in the world.

“I just don’t know if I am up for putting myself in harm’s way,” he said.

“Oh, it’s not that bad,” I reassured him, “I’ve been there and had no problem.”

“Yeah… I still just don’t know.”

“It’s for a good cause,” I reminded him.

But what I really wanted to say was, “I guess you need to calculate the risk and ask yourself if it will be worth it for what you are doing.”

If you are truly passionate about something, your actions will prove it. If you really want something worth having you will take the risk. It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to look over the edge and take a step back to think about it. Just do not let fear stop you from accomplishing something great. Because that is was fear does best. It robs us of our opportunities. It rips away the adventure from our lives. It deceives us into believing that life is best lived on the sidelines instead of in the game. Fear will always tell you that the risk is not worth it. 

So you and I have a choice: We can lie down at the ledge and succumb to those fears. We can be errand-runners. Or we can take a step of faith. We can push past the fear and take the chance. We can choose to do something scary.

Sawyer made it to the bottom of the cable trail without a problem. He informed me that it wasn’t nearly as scary as it looked from the top. I told him that was usually the case. Then I made good on my promise.

The mountain water was ice cold, and I decided to finally just take the plunge. I came up from the water with an exhilarant breath that burned in my chest. We found a couple of logs that had washed up on the shore, and pushed them into the deep water. And so my daughter, JulieAnna, her friend, Ali, Sawyer, and I all wrapped our arms around the logs and paddled upstream to reach the falls.

The sun was setting behind the mountain just over the Caney Creek Falls. As we neared the pounding water, a mist rose in the air, and the water became choppy and dark. Ali and Sawyer were scared. I told them to brace their selves because we were heading under the falls. There was much screaming and I was watching to make sure everybody had a grip on the log. The water pounded on top of our heads, as we pushed through to the other side. Just past the falling water was a ledge big enough to stand on. We jumped off the log and stood with our arms in the air; screaming in victory. We had made it!

A sense of accomplishment and excitement rose with the mist. I could see it all over Sawyer, who was jumping and screaming in jubilation.

I leaned over and yelled over the roar of the falls, “So, was it worth it?!”

“Oh yeah!” he screamed back.

I put my arms around my children and soaked in the beautiful moment. 

“Sawyer,” I yelled.

“What?” he shouted back.

“This is why you do scary things!”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

6 Things Adoption Taught Me About Life

One year ago today we met our son Wesley for the first time.

I’ll never forget when that large wooden door opened. My heart was about to beat out of my chest in a fusion of nervousness and excitement. Even on the two-block walk to the adoption agency’s home office, my wife and I were quiet. Occasionally one of us would break out in an exasperated, “I cannot believe we get to meet him.” 

By the time we made it to the beautiful glass building and up the elevator, Patience was doing her best not to cry, and my adrenalin was pumping so hard I could have lifted a car. That’s when we arrived at the wooden door. There was a moment of pause, as we both tried our best to keep composed.

We were there early. Honestly, we couldn’t sit in our room any longer. We had to get there as soon as we could without looking strange, like people camped outside of Best Buy on Black Friday. But it had taken us nearly two years to get to this day, and after that kind of waiting you could bet we would not be late. 

Breathing in deeply, I reached for the handle, looking at Patience with wide eyes. Before I could reach the knob, the door flew open. We both were caught off guard as we peered into the large conference room. Children were inside the room, scrambling around, and playing with toys.

“There he is!” Patience cried.

A little Korean boy with thick glasses stumbled past the door.

“It’s him,” I struggled to find my voice, “It’s Wesley… he’s… he’s already here!”

I looked over at Patience, who already had streams running down her cheeks, and gently put my arm around her as we stepped into the door. The moment was so surreal that it still feels more like a dream. There he was. Our son. Wesley. Running and playing. We heard his voice for the first time as he talked to himself while lining up the cars he had collected from the toy bin.

“He’s so beautiful,” Patience said through tears.

I was speechless.

Nothing can prepare you for that moment. 

The moment the little person you’ve only seen in pictures climbs up into your lap. 

The moment the son you’ve been praying for leans in to give you a kiss. 

The moment you hold him in your arms and hear him giggle for the first time. 

Moments like these do not come often, but when they do, they are etched into your heart forever.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe a year has passed. And what a year it has been for our family. We had no idea what we were stepping into when we first opened our hearts to adoption. In the two years we waited on our little Wesley we would have never dreamt where this amazing/scary/agonizing journey would lead us. Adoption is both beautiful and brutal. And we learned many life lessons through it all. 

As I have been reminiscent, I thought I would share six of the many things adoption has taught us about life. 

The Best Things in Life are Worth Waiting For

The adoption process is by far the biggest lesson in patience I have ever experienced. Just imagine being in line at the DMV… for 2 years. That’s kind of what it feels like. Except with adoption the stakes are so much higher. You have invested your heart and soul into a child that you are pursuing to be your own, and it often feels like the bottom is about to fall out beneath you. 

I can remember several nights holding my wife as she sobbed such painful tears. If there was any chance of a hiccup or a hurdle, it seemed like we hit it. Dates continued to be pushed back. Months turned into a year, and a year turned into almost two. At one point the entire process was brought to a screeching halt, and we didn’t know for sure what the outcome was going to be. We would often be waiting for the next email. The next baby step forward. It was, at times, agonizing, but we pushed forward. 

I remember the moment when I received the email from our adoption agency that we would be traveling to Korea for our court date and to meet our son. I had just sat down at a picnic table outside our offices at work when my phone beeped with an incoming email. I nearly fell off the bench and into the pea gravel. My head was swimming with excitement as I dialed up my wife, praying I would get to break the news. I spent the rest of the day calling family and friends and telling them all about it.

I’ve heard it said that the feeling of relief would mean nothing without the pain that proceeds its. I believe the same could be said for waiting. All of the setbacks and all of the worries could not compare to the elation that came from the moment we met our little boy. As hard as it was, the wait only intensified the joy of our answered prayer. 

I can tell you this much… every time I tuck Wesley into his bed at night, we say our prayers, and he gives me a big slobbery kiss… I would wait ten more years if that’s what it took to make him my son.

Real Life Begins Outside Your Own Means

I drug my feet for a long time about adopting. There were a lot of reasons for the hesitation, but it all boiled down to one major fear in my mind… money. The financial aspect seemed like an impassable mountain. 

I grew up in church, where there is the whole “Ask and you shall receive” mind set. If I was being truthful though, I would have to confess, I truly believed there was no prayer big enough to make our adoption a reality… that was until things started happening. 

We found a picture of a little blind Korean boy named Wesley online one evening on Holt’s Waiting Child list. That was the turning point. We inexplicably felt an immediate draw. We had never considered a child with special needs, but this beautiful little boy stole our hearts. The following day Patience called Holt. We had already been told by a couple of other adoption agencies that we did not make enough money to adopt a child. For the first time the money did not matter to me. All we cared about was the little boy named Wesley that was on a list of children that nobody else wanted. To our surprise Holt told us that our finances would not be a problem. We had jumped the first hurdle!

Door after door began to open. We moved forward in the process of making Wesley our son despite being told most searching parents do not get matched with the first child they find. Against all odds, we were matched. In the face of all our fears and doubts we slowly inched closer to Wesley.

It was an insanely awesome and scary place to be. We were in way over our heads, and even further beyond our own means; yet things continued to work out. I realized my fear was rooted in my severe lack of faith. Faith is easy in theory. It’s easy to read about and easy to recite. It’s terrifying to live out. But when your heart aligns with God’s heart and you take that crazy step out into the unknown, you will find a life much greater than anything you could have mustered up for yourself.

You Can’t Do It Alone

We were a nervous wreck about our home study. If you do not know what a home study is, it’s kind of like an FBI investigation of your house, your kids, your dog, and no stone is left unturned. We have an older home in need of plenty of help, and, at the time, we were freaking out because we wanted it to be perfect. 

That’s when a group of family and friends showed up at our door one Saturday to work. We repaired a spot in the roof, several did yard work and landscaping, and then there was a crew painting and another crew cleaning. Our old house never looked better, and the home study went perfectly.

And that’s just the beginning of the help we received. We had friends throw a benefit concert for us. Our church let us have a Fall Festival to raise proceeds for the adoption. And then there were the hundreds of people that bought a puzzle piece for ten bucks. (The puzzle was from Korea and has the names of all the donors on the back, and hangs in Wesley’s room today!) Patience handmade loads of infinity scarves to sell for the holidays, and once again friends and family helped peddle them on the street corners. We sold over $5,000 worth of scarves! That could have never happen without the helping hands of so many. There were even some dear friends who remodeled (more built from the ground up!) our master bathroom that had not been in working condition for years. Every step of the way, there were loved ones ready to help in some fashion. 

In a lot of ways I am a loner by nature, but the older I get the more I realize that real life was meant to be shared. You can only get so far on your own, but sooner or later you are going to need somebody. Cultivate a community around you. Do life together. You were created for relationship no matter how much of an introvert you may be.

We will probably spend the rest of our lives trying to repay all the kindness that was showered upon us during those two years, and I’m looking forward to doing so. 

Expect the Unexpected

“You’re going to be surprised,” Kevin said, “It’s not going to happen the way you expect or with the people you expect.”

No truer words have ever been spoken.

We had asked Kevin and his wife Gina for advice, and they in turn invited over for dinner and conversation. This was in the beginning stages of the adoption and we had an arsenal of questions. Kevin and Gina were the only people we knew at the time who had adopted internationally.

After dinner, we moved into the living room as we began to explain some fundraising ideas. That’s when Kevin told us to expect the unexpected. 

Months later I was driving down the road when I received a phone call from Patience. She was crying so hard that my heart sunk into my chest. I was certain something terrible had happened. It was just the opposite.

“You know Susan?” she asked.

“Susan?” I thought out loud.

“Susan, who I work for.”

“Oh, yeah,” I confirmed, “I mean, I know of her.”

“She is paying off the adoption.”

I nearly drove into the median.


“Susan called and is sending us a $10,000 check,” Patience voice cracked through the tears, “That’s enough to pay off what we owe the adoption agency.

Never in a million years would I have called that. 

I pulled over the car and sobbed at the news. 

Life is like that. It never happens like you would have thought it would. There are ups and downs. There are losses and victories. And despite all of our plans, God often has plans of His own. There are so many more stories that unfolded during our adoption that neither of us would have ever seen coming. I’m still learning to embrace the unknown, because I’ve found most miracles occur when you least expect them.

It’s Going to be A Lot Harder Than You Thought It Would Be

Despite the mountaintop experience, I have to admit, much of the adoption was drudged out in the trenches. There were mounds of paperwork. There were multiple trips to Immigration in Atlanta. There were fees and costs at every turn. Not to mention the emotional rollercoaster of being stuck on the other side of the world from a child we so desperately wanted to bring home.

As I said before there were many tears and many restless nights. Patience was so afraid to give Wesley all of her heart during the process because there was the chance it would all fall through. We stepped cautiously every day. It seemed we were always waiting for the next approval. We clung to every weekly update we would receive and try to decipher want they meant like there was some secret code imbedded in the words.

There is one phrase I kept hearing through it all: “Adoption is not for the faint of heart.”

And it’s true.

It is a long, often agonizing, journey. 

I remember the story of author Donald Miller’s hike to Machu Picchu. There was an easy trail that would be less than a day’s hike to the ancient city, but the guide informed Don and his group that they would be taking the four day journey on the Incan Trail. The same trail the Incans would make visitors take to get to Machu Picchu. When someone in the group asked the question, “Why would the Incans make people take the long route?” The guide answered, “Because the emperor knew the more painful the journey to Machu Picchu, the more the traveler would appreciate the city, once he got there."

That is a beautiful picture of adoption, and life, for that matter

It’s going to be a hard journey, but…

It’s Better Than Anything You Could Have Planned

One year ago today we met our Wesley. I quickly tried to gain his trust by helping him find more cars for the collection he was hoarding on the floor next to his foster mother. Then there was this special moment were Wesley looked up at me through his magnified glasses and reached out for my hand. He led me to the toy bin where we rummaged for more toy cars. That lead to him sitting in my lap, which lead to slinging him around and tickling him like a crazy person. 

It was such an incredible and unforgettable experience. It was the mountaintop moment at the end of our two-yearlong trek through the seemingly treacherous peaks of adoption. But looking back, it was worth every step. 

I hope to never forget the lessons we learned on our adoption journey.

I hope time doesn’t dull the miracles we witnessed firsthand.

But most of all, I hope I can look back on my life, and say the same thing…

It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth every step.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Make a Big Deal

I crept quietly, and put my ear to our boys’ bedroom door. The room was still. I tiptoed towards the bunk bed to make sure the coast was clear. Sawyer was sound asleep. It was time to get to work.

I made my way to my bedroom closet where we had hidden seven Mylar balloons, ribbon, and a plastic grocery bag full of small goodies. Quietly, I brought in the balloons one at a time and tied them to the edge of Sawyer’s bed. Just inches from my slumbering son, I was careful not to make a wrong move. The only problem was the little guy stirring in the bed directly below Sawyer. Yes, Wesley was wide awake in the bottom bunk, and was listening to my every move. 

Wesley sat up in his bed.

“What you doin’ Daddy?” he whispered.

Wesley is legally blind with his glasses on, so without them he can barely make out large shapes, especially in the dark. But that doesn’t seem to slow him down much. His hearing is unbelievably sharp, and the sound of the balloons was an unfamiliar one. He turned his head and squinted his eyes, trying his best to figure out what his crazy dad was doing in the dark.

I leaned down and whispered, “Shhh… Daddy has balloons for Sawyer’s birthday.”

“Balloons for Sawyer’s birthday,” he repeated in a hushed tone.

He laid his head back onto his pillow with a big smile. Each time I would bring in another balloon Wesley would ask, “Nother balloon for Sawyer’s birthday, Daddy?”

Despite the curiosity of the toddler below him, Sawyer remained deep in dreams, as I surrounded him with the balloons, and attached a ribbon to the head board of his bed. I unraveled the ribbon and snaked it around his room and down the hallway.

You may be wondering what I was doing weaving a ribbon through our house and surrounding my son in balloons while he was sleeping. Well, to be honest, it’s just another crazy tradition that I have developed over time. Several years back I was brainstorming a fun way I could show my daughter, JulieAnna, that she was special, and that her parents were crazy about her for her birthday. An idea struck me. What if she woke up to balloons surrounding her bed, and a small present on her nightstand on the morning of her actual birthday? Then I thought it would be cool to do one balloon for every year she’s been alive. And just like that a tradition was born. 

About two years ago I made an upgrade to our birthday balloon tradition after reading an idea in book titled Moment Maker by Carlos Whitaker. Carlos also had created a birthday custom, except his involved a really long ribbon. His idea was simply wonderful: Tie a ribbon to his child’s bedpost the night before their birthday, run that ribbon all over the house, hang notes and little prizes along the way, and place one small present at the very end. When his child woke up on their birthday, they would have to follow the ribbon, which would lead them to the notes and prizes, and ultimately their gift at the very end.

I really loved Carlos’ idea, so I decided to merge it with my own. So now, for each birthday, we place the balloons around the bed and run the ribbon through the house with the present at the end. We have found it is a simple and inexpensive way to show your child that they are loved and make them feel special on their birthday.

It may not seem like much, but through the eyes of a child, some balloons and a ribbon are a big deal. And that’s the point really. I think it’s good to make a big deal for the people you love. That’s the reason we celebrate birthdays in the first place. As a way of saying, you are worth celebrating. You are important, and needed, and loved. When we make a big deal of the ones we love, it is not to feed their ego, but to affirm their worth. 

I want my kids to wake up on their birthdays, rub the sleep out of their eyes, see the balloons floating above their head, and know that they are special. I want them to follow the ribbon and read the notes of all the reasons their parents love them. And though I know at their young ages they are more concerned with the present at the end of the ribbon, I hope it’s the words and thoughts that they remember the most. 

As I began to run the ribbon down the hallway, JulieAnna, came to her bedroom door. 

“Is Sawyer already asleep?” she asked with a big grin.

“He sure is,” I replied.

“He is going to be so excited.”

“You think so?” I asked.

“I remember the first time I woke up and saw the balloons all above me. I was like, what is going on?” JulieAnna said with a giggle, “ But then I saw the birthday card and present on my night stand and I figured it out.”

“So do you think you’re too old for it now?” I asked with a sly smile.

“No way!” She snapped, “Every year since that first time I will wake up in the middle of the night just to see if the balloons are there yet.”

I grinned as I taped the ribbon to the wall next to her door.

“So what do you think when you roll over in the middle of the night and see those balloons?” I asked out of curiosity.

JulieAnna thought for a moment.

“It makes me happy, and I know that you love me.”

I gently kissed her on her forehead and she hopped back into her bed.

“It also makes me excited to think what’s at the other end of that string,” she admitted.

I laughed as I continued to run the ribbon. 

As I ran the ribbon through the kitchen, over the light, and into the living room, I thought a lot about what JulieAnna had told me. I began to recall myself as a little boy, and what I remember from my own birthdays. There are a few presents I’ll never forget. There are a couple of birthday themes that were memorable as well (such as Ninja Turtles). But what I remember the most is the acts of love. The memories created by my parents that showed me I was worth celebrating. My Dad and Mom always made my birthdays memorable with games and fun activities, and of course I remember the people; the family and friends who loved me. It is those seeds of love that grow long after the sun sets on your childhood. 

In the day in age of Pinterest birthday parties that are more elaborate than some weddings, I wonder if we are so concerned with all the stuff that makes the party that we forget the important part: the very person we are celebrating. You do not have to have a lot of money in your wallet to make a lasting impression on your child, spouse, friend, or whomever you might be celebrating. Sometimes just giving them your time can be enough. But if you really want someone to know you care, go out of your way to show them. 

The next morning my phone rang at work. 

“Good morning, Daddy,” Sawyer’s voice cracked.

“Good morning, buddy,” I replied.

“Dad, I love you,” 

“I love you too… more than you’ll ever know.”

“I know how much you love me.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, ‘cause you show me.”

A few dollar store balloons, a little ribbon, and a small gift really can go a long way.

Just in case you were curious about what was at the end of the ribbon... a toy for one of Sawyer's video games.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Yurts and Giant Hamburgers

I’ve said it before… I am terrible at keeping surprises.

So, two weeks ago, when Patience and I decided to book a night away for the family, I had to practically be muzzled to avoid telling the kids our plans. Thankfully my wife is much better at restraining her excitement, so we were able to pull off a total surprise getaway one week later.

We reserved one night away at Cloudland Canyon State Park, just over the state line in Georgia. The original idea was to camp, but there were no available sites, due to it being Independence Day weekend. While scrolling through the accommodations page online, I stumbled upon an available yurt rental. If you have no idea what a yurt is, just imagine a tent and a cabin fall in love and have a baby… that baby would be a yurt. These cylindrical canvas huts are the closest you will ever get to camping without actually camping. Patience and I had stayed in a yurt years ago, and really enjoyed it, so we were certain the kids would have a blast.

This is the yurt we stayed in.

As it turned out, camping would have been a wash, literally, because of all the rain that was coming down the day we were to leave on our surprise trip. I sat at work that morning fidgeting and watching the clock, like a kid on the last day of school, until I couldn’t take it any longer. I asked my boss if I could take a half-day and snuck home to surprise everyone, including Patience. The rain was dumping down on my windshield by the buckets full, but I only saw blue skies. Finally… we were going to tell the kids our secret.

This is a side note, but is worth sharing:

If you decide to take a half day off of work and do not tell your spouse, please be diligent in how you make your grand entrance. I quietly pulled my car around to the side of the house, crept up on the front porch, and knocked loudly on the door. I was expecting the kids to come running to see who was there, so I hid out of sight against the wall as to jump out and surprise them. Oddly enough, no child came to the door. So I knocked again; this time much harder. No response, except for the dog going crazy on the other side. I decided to slip into the front hallway. Once inside I heard feet shuffling up the stairs. When I round the corner I was met with an exasperated yelp and a hit on the shoulder. Apparently Patience had seen a person lurking beside the door through the peephole, and was frantically trying figure out what to do about the trespasser when I began to open up the door. 

“I honestly about had a heart attack!” she said through clenched teeth.

She held her chest and let out a long exhale.

Breaking and entering your own house unannounced… bad idea.

Lesson learned.

Anyways, after her heart rate returned to normal, Patience was happy to see me, and so were the kids. They played downstairs as we packed the back of the SUV ever so slyly. Once all the bedding, food, clothes, and toys were in the car, we announced to the children we were going to run some errands.

“Why would you take a half day off work to run errands with us?” my perceptive 10 year old asked with curiosity.

“Because I love you,” I responded with a grin.

She wasn’t buying it.

We ran to the car in the pouring rain and strapped our seat belts.

“Why is there blankets and pillows in the back?” JulieAnna asked.

“Because we are dropping them off at Goodwill while were out,” I answered off the cuff.

I could see her suspicious glare peering back in the rear view mirror.

“We’re going camping aren’t we?”

“In the pouring rain?” I asked, “I don’t think so.”

JulieAnna hesitated as she tried to piece together the clues, “You two are up to something.”

We just smiled and told them we were going to a store we had never been to before that was a little further away than normal.

The car returned to quiet as we drove through the rain down I-24. Both boys began to nod off, but JulieAnna was alert and watching out the window for answers. 

“What’s the name of this store?” she asked.

I paused to think. “Cloudland Canyon,” I replied. 

“I knew it!” she exclaimed as she sat up in her seat, “Cloudland Canyon is a campground!”

“We are not camping…I promise.”

I looked at Patience with a smirk. I was dying to spill the beans. She shook her head in disapproval, so I kept my mouth shut.

Minutes later we pulled into the Cloudland Canyon General Store where we would check into our yurt. At this point Sawyer was beginning to question.

“We drove all the way for this? What does this place have that the other stores don’t?” he asked.

“You’ll see,” I answered, as Patience and JulieAnna ran into the little brown cabin.

Moments later the two returned and JulieAnna was in hot pursuit of finding answers. 

“I know you guys are up to something.”

“I guess you’ll have to find out,” Patience responded.

After a few miles through the woods, we pulled in front of the yurt.

“We’re here,” I said, “This is where we’re staying tonight!”

The kids all began to scream and JulieAnna began her I told you so’s. After Sawyer finally stopped jumping in his seat he posed a legitimate question.

“What is it?”

We laughed and explained what a yurt was. Then we all ran out and into our home away from home for the night. The kids were bouncing off the canvas walls, as we unloaded a tote full of snacks, a cooler full of sugary drinks, and a bag full of board games. I soaked up the moment of glee, and for a minute felt like a kid again myself.

We had a few more surprises up our sleeves. 

The rain cleared out later that evening which allowed us to go to the nature center and walk around the overlook. 

The kids played on the playground and swung on the swings. For dinner we had called in an order a day in advanced at a little Mom and Pop’s restaurant called Randy’s in Trenton. The reason for the notice was because we ordered their infamous 48 oz cheeseburger. This monstrosity is served on an extra large pizza plate, and was enough to feed our family of five and still have leftovers! Sawyer made it clear that this was his favorite surprise of the day.

After staying up way past our bedtime, playing games and eating junk food, we all settled into our beds. Though Patience and I slept terrible because of the severe storms throughout the night, I found myself waking up the next morning at peace and deeply grateful for the special time together with my wife and children.

Lying in the bed, looking up at the rain pelting the skylight of the yurt, I began to think about God. I have heard my entire life people refer to God as a Heavenly Father, but I guess it wasn’t until I became a father myself that my perspective changed about him and how much he loves us.

Lately, it seems, my life has been on shaky ground. Ever since we brought home our son from Korea, seven months ago, so much has changed. Uncertainty has crept into my soul, and I have often found myself feeling quite lost and looking for answers. In a lot of ways I have felt like my daughter in the back of the car, questioning the driver on whether he knows where he’s going. I’ve tried to be optimistic. I’ve watched the road for all the clues, but there has been little sign of direction. To sum it up… things have been quiet and I have been frustratingly curious.

But as I lay on the futon in the yurt listening to the Georgia rain fall in the early hours of the morning, my heart overflowed with the realization of God’s love for me. I couldn’t help but imagine him as a father with a big surprise up his sleeve, just pacing the floor in excitement to let me know what it is. Maybe that's why I've been waiting. Because the best surprises are the ones worth waiting for; the ones you never see coming.

I’ve since decided to sit back in my seat and trust that God not only knows what he’s doing, but that he has something bigger for me than I could ever conjure up for myself. I'm not talking about a prosperity gospel, and I am sure not assuming God is going to send Publisher's Clearing House to my front door. I am referring to an anticipation that comes from trusting your Dad has your best interest in mind, and has the resources to give you a life you never expected: an adventure with Him.

Maybe things have been quiet for you too. Maybe you’ve been questioning the direction your life is heading. I invite you to hold out hope that God is doing something spectacular behind the scenes. That’s not to say that life is always sunshine and blue skies. No, most of the time life feels like one long road trip in the rain, seemingly leading to nowhere. But God is a good father, and when you least expect it, he is going to  surprise you with his love. It might not be a yurt or a giant hamburger, but I bet it will be pretty awesome.

Some other pictures of our time at Cloudland Canyon.

The friendliest opossum we've ever met

Jumping from the benches

Family Shot at the Overlook