Monday, November 16, 2015

A Not So Normal Sunday (unfinished)

As tomorrow marks the two year anniversary of the devastating tornado that took my parents and grandparents homes, the homes of dozens of other families, and the lives of three of our citizens, I decided to post this unfinished blog that I started at the end of that day on November 17, 2013. I never actually published it. I'm not sure why I never came back and finished it. The memories after this point in the story are very raw and still a bit tough to deal with after seeing the devastation. So if you do read this, please know up front that this small manuscript only tracks an hour or so of what happened during and after the tornado. Maybe one day I'll go back and finish up the story. But for right now, I will just let this be. Tonight I am thinking of and praying for all of those that were and who still are being affected by the Brookport Tornado. Please join with me in remembrance.

Today was going to be like any other Sunday. Em and I had the usual, lunch with friends, nap, choir practice, church again, late dinner, sleep. What was supposed to be a normal day became anything but "normal." More like "unforgettable." I'm still trying to take it all in right now, but I felt like I should go ahead and document this tremendously exhausting and emotional day. This is a story of devastation and death, but also of hope and faith.

Em and I had lunch with our friends Garrett, Cassandra, and their daughter Emma. We were at Olive Garden when we got the Tornado Warning for McCracken County on our phones. Even though Garrett and I were wanting to go do a little browsing at Lowe's, Em insisted that we head back to our house until the store passed. On the way home I called my dad's cell phone to see where they were. I knew they had been traveling back home from an out of town funeral and I wanted to make sure they were ok. Mom said they were about an hour away from being home but there were no signs of severe weather.

After we got home we turned on the local news. I was shocked when the meteorologist said that there was a tornado that was passing over my hometown of Brookport, IL which is roughly 10 minutes away from where Em and I live in Paducah. Due to other tornado warnings in the area, I called mom again and told her and dad to pull over somewhere off the interstate to take shelter. I told her that I would call my grandma and check on her. My grandparents live just right down the street from mom and dad's place.

When I called my grandma, I could immediately tell that something was wrong. She was hysterical and said that a window had been blown out during the storm and there was other significant damage. I assured her that I would be right over as soon as the storm had passed. After calling both of my brothers to check on them and their families, Garrett and I changed clothes and headed out through the rain on our way to Brookport.

As we got on the road the storm was still raging. Garrett talked to our pastor on the phone who told us that the Brookport Bridge was closed so we immediately got on the interstate. The sun came out and the rain ceased as we got into Illinois. We were about 3 miles outside of Brookport when my grandma called me on my phone. She asked where I was and I told her I was almost to our house. Then she said "Ryan, your mom and dad's house is gone. It's gone!" I was shocked at the words and couldn't believe what I was hearing. I figured she was still rattled from the situation and maybe a little disoriented. But still, there was a pit in my stomach that only grew larger the closer we got into town.

After making our way through several road blocks, Garrett and I finally parked the car and went out on foot to my parents and grandparents neighborhood. The closer we got, the more I could see that this situation was like something out of a movie. Devastation was everywhere. Tree limbs scattered all over the road. Debris sitting on top of the roof of the First Baptist Church. Gas lines spewing gas. Homes scattered out into the streets. Then I came to the block where I grew up.

My knees became weak and my stomach upset as I walked closer to my mom and dad's home. But the closer I got, the more I could see that grandma was right; the house just wasn't there! Tears began streaming down my face as the realization of what had happened to my parent's house. My house. Garrett and I walked down to grandmas. She was still shaken up but her and grandpa were ok. They had some damage to their roof and water was coming through the ceiling. Garrett who has always been a handyman, said he would look at the leak. I decided to go start looking for anything I could find of mom and dads.

As I walked up to the foundation of the house I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion. I couldn't help it. I began to cry as I walked where my room used to me. I picked up pictures to save, only to see the faces of people I did not recognize. In fact, all of the debris that surrounded my parents property didn't even belong to them...


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Me: The Man That DOESN'T Have it All Together

WARNING: This blog post may alter your opinion of me DRASTICALLY. I have struggled with deciding whether or not to put these thoughts on such an open canvas, but after weeks of prayerful consideration, I have decided that my transparency will bring glory to the Father, which is something that I cannot dispute.

The beginning of this year started off very promising.I had high expectations and lofty goals. I knew that the challenges that I would face at my job would be tough to face. Every business has to be aware and inspired during these troubling economic times. Speaking of inspiring, I had felt the Lord speak to me at the end of 2011 and tell me that 2012 would be the most exciting year of my ministry ever! Yeah, that was something I was looking forward to! Even my home life seemed to be heading towards an all-time high. Em and I had grown closer and closer every year and mix that up with a little 3 year old girl that seems to be getting smarter and smarter everyday and you've got a reason to look forward to 2012. But the challenges that I would face would be unlike anything that I have ever faced before. These challenges would confront me and stretch me in ways that I never conceived and they would take me to a place that I never knew could exist in my own mind.

It all started the day before New Years Eve. I worked all day long with a severe pain on the right side of my upper back area. At times the pain became so bad that I became nauseated. People at work said that it might be my gall-bladder.  I went to the doctor. He thought that I was basically having muscle spasms in my back. He recommended a heating pad and a prescription for muscle relaxers. But over the next few days the pain got worse and worse and neither the heating pad nor the prescription would phase the pain. I finally broke down on a Friday night and told Emily to drive me to the hospital. Surprisingly we didn't wait long and I saw a doctor promptly. The doctor thought that I was actually passing a kidney stone and sent me down for X-Rays and a MRI. Later the doc said that the results were negative for me passing a stone but that I did have 3 kidney stones that were basically hanging out in my kidneys. But they were not the cause of the pain. He, like my physician thought that I was having muscle spasms in my back. They gave me a shot of morphine and a prescription for Lortabs and sent me on my way. What would transpire over the next 3 months would be a life and mind-altering experience that would change my views on so many different things.For the sake of not boring you with to many details, I will shorten the story...just a little.

I began having weird reactions to the prescriptions that I was taking. My body was not functioning in all aspects like it should. My mind became jaded, confused, worried, and paralyzed. As one symptom would progress, I would notice others and begin to obsess over them. Before I knew it, I was spending hours online researching symptoms and connecting them with chronic illnesses. It was like something out of a crazy House episode! WebMD was constantly on my iPhone and all I did was wonder what the next symptom would be. I didn't just obsess over symptoms, I thought that every odd feeling that I felt in my body was somehow connected to some life-threatening illness. I drove Emily crazy. I told her that I thought that I had cancer, Lou Gehrig Disease, never disorders, liver disease, tumors in my brain, kidney failure, and a plethora of other illnesses and diseases. Everyday was something new. She would scream at me and tell me that I was fine and I would scream back that I wasn't fine and that I was dying. I never slept. I laid in bed throughout the night entertaining the thoughts of my demise and wondering what was going on inside my body and if it could be cured. I began having pains in my stomach. I quit eating. I would go all day long only eating a banana and a few saltines. I would go to work and do my job but come home and begin obsessing again. My days off were horrible. All I would do is sit and think about what was killing me inside.

Eventually I went back to the doctor. I had lost 14 pounds in less than 3 weeks. The pains in my stomach were from ulcers- a product from my worrying and lack of food in my stomach. The doctor asked me if I was depressed. I still remember saying, "I don't think I'm depressed....but all I do is sit and think that I'm dying.....I don't know why..." The doctor told me that he thought that I was battling a bad mix of depression and anxiety. He said that he wanted to start me on Zoloft, an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug. I was immediately against it. I had always quietly thought to myself that the people of God should have no need for anti-depressants if the joy of the Lord was truly "our strength." He encouraged me to give it a shot just as a boost to my psyche but not as a long-term fix. I still had my reservations. I went ahead and filled the prescription but let the pill bottle stay unopened in the medicine cabinet for four days. My breaking point came one night when I was again obsessing over a symptom and telling Emily that I thought I was dying. She broke down and cried like I had never seen her cry before. She told me that my paranoia was hurting her and Rylee as much as it was me and if I loved them then I would do whatever it took to get myself back to normal.

That's when I knew I HAD to change. I had prayed for weeks that God would heal me of whatever ailment that may have plagued my body. Now I prayed that he would use a drug to help heal my mind and give me peace.  I decided to take the anti-depressant. I felt guilty for taking it, like I was somehow less of a man of God. I only told a few people and begged for their understanding, which they of course offered without hesitation and with support. As I began to tell only a few trusted people that I was taking an anti-depressant, I found that I wasn't the only Christian that was taking a prescription for anxiety and depression. In fact, I found that several people that I looked up to and respected as men and women of God had either taken a similar drug at one time or were currently taking one. These revelations were inspiring! I wasn't alone in my fight to control my mind. This encouraged me and after many, many, many prayers, much time in God's Word, and 3 months of Zoloft, I finally decided that my mind was stable enough to quit taking the drug altogether. My brain is not always free of worry, but I have developed a quick defense mechanism in my mind that swiftly moves all fear-causing-crud out of my thoughts. Praise be to God!

I have shared this very personal story for two reasons. For one, if you are a child of God that is struggling with the decision to either trust God or accept what man can offer to help, then I encourage you to do both. God has given us brilliant minds on this earth that have the ability to heal in ways that were not possible even 30 years ago. Our technology is advanced and our doctors are well-educated. But we cannot give man the glory. That belongs to God. Believe that God can use your doctor and his or her treatment for your problem to give you a testimony of how much your Savior cares for you. If you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, would you just refuse to do anything medically to be cured? No chemo? No radiation? No healthy diet and exercise? Maybe you would, but many of us would take the treatment and do the things necessary to prolong our life. But remember that God is behind the scenes at all times. All glory given to him and not man. Give man the pat on the back but give God the praise!

Finally, I told this story so that you could see a real picture of me. I have people all the time that tell me that they follow me on Facebook and that they are inspired by some of things that I say and do. Of course I think that is ridiculous but I am flattered. But as my story shows, I am not a strong man. I am a broken man in DESPERATE need of a Savior. Christ living in me gives me strength, power, wisdom, and discernment. I don't have those traits on my own. So it is my prayer that you NEVER see Ryan Summers as a man that "has it all together." You would be fooled if you do. But since I have Jesus living in me, I have relevancy.

Be relevant. Live for Jesus.

"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;"
2 Corinthians 10:5    

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Lessons in Latin, Not the Pig Kind

"Repetitio est matre studiorum"
I can still remember seeing Mr. Rhodes write those words on the board on the first day of Art class. This is Latin for "repetition is the mother of education." There is no deep philosophical message behind this phrase. It means what it looks like it means. The best way to educate is through consistency and repetition. Mr. Rhodes himself did not become the artist that he was (and still is) without hours of working in an art studio to perfect his craft. Think about a guy like LeBron James. Even though James has been blessed with amazing athletic ability, it would be all for nothing if he hadn't spent most of his lifetime shooting hoops in a gymnasium. "The Chosen One" chose from a young age to dedicate himself to becoming the best basketball player on the planet and he got there through hard work...repetition.

You're probably wondering where I am going with this. Here lately I have thought quite often about that simple lesson that Mr. Rhodes taught me. Most of the time when thinking about the phrase, the word "repetition" is what sticks out to me the most. But I have found myself thinking more about the word "education" than anything else. The fact that Em has been teaching first grade full-time for the last month probably has a lot to do with my educational pondering. It's also hard to miss how my nearly 4 year old daughter seems to learn something new everyday. She has learned how to count to ten and can now recite all seven days of the week (maybe not in order but hey, I'd like to leave Monday's out if I could also).

Rylee's education is as important to us as I'm sure it is to most parents. Em and I talk about saving money for Rylee to go to college. We enrolled her in a 3 year old pre-school this year so that she could get an early feel for a classroom setting and hopefully develop social skills to help break her shyness. Em has a plethora of degrees and the education of our daughter is one of her main passions in life. Even though I've only got one and a half semesters at Shawnee Community College under my belt, I still understand that parental involvement in education is the key to success.

I believe that this is true in all types of education. Unfortunately, I think that we consider more the scholastic element to education and think little of the spiritual education of our children. Think about the message of our society: "go to school, get a diploma, go to college, get a degree, start a career, make lots of money, big house, nice car, happy ever after." We emphasize a message that says that as long as you have the knowledge of the scholastic world, then you will be set for life and everything will just fall into place.

I feel that our pursuit of earthly knowledge has led to our deficiency in spiritual wisdom. Christian students know Math formulas but they cannot recite the 10 Commandments. Christian students can memorize the ABC's, the Preamble, the Gettysburg Address, and lines from Romeo and Juliet but they cannot memorize and recite life-giving verses from God's Word.

So who are we to blame for the inept spiritual education of kids today? Clergy and Sunday School Teachers? I don't think so as long as they are teaching truth and not personal opinions. Government? Part of the blame can go to them especially since it has been government that has removed the 10 Commandments and prayer from our school systems. What about school teachers? Little blame can go to them being that they are required to teach a certain curriculum even though the curriculum itself may be non-factual (ie Darwin's THEORY of Evolution). But just like my wife, there are several teachers that I know in our school systems who still find ways to impart spiritual truths into their weekly curriculum. These teachers are to be applauded.

I believe that PARENTS are the motivators and enablers of education in a child's life and therefore I believe that it is Christian parents who must take the responsibility for the promoting or lack thereof in spiritual education. I've never understood why parents make their kids stay home from church so that homework can be finished. A child spends about 8 hours a day at school. A church service will last anywhere form one to two hours at the most which means that they have an additional 14-15 hours in the day to get their homework completed. I'm not sure how much homework kids have these days but that seems like plenty of time to get assignments finished.What if you made sure that your child had spent some time in devotion and prayer everyday in the same way that you monitor their school work? Family Bible study, what a crazy thought! :)

 I've known kids who have gotten into major trouble with mom and dad just because they brought home a B on their report card. Seriously? Encouraging a child to always give their best is one thing, but showing them that their best is not good enough for your approval is something totally different. NEWSFLASH: maybe your child isn't as smart as you think they are. Maybe they actually struggle with subjects that you excelled in. Maybe they really do have a hard time understanding what the teacher is trying to teach. But we don't want excuses right?!? We want good grades so that you can go to college and get a degree because then you will be happy....or will you?

I'm not here to tell you not to go to college. I wish I had finished my degree and I do intend to one day. But the point that I want to make to parents is that your child's scholastic education will only take them so far in life and it will not guarantee them happiness and joy. I know some really smart people with big educations and  they are actually really unhappy people with big time problems. The message that I'm wanting to convey is that it is our job as parents to teach our children spiritual truths first and foremost. I'm not talking just learning Bible stories. I'm talking about teaching spiritual disciplines like Bible study, prayer time, tithing, giving, worship, and church attendance and involvement. Don't just leave it up to your Senior Pastor, Youth Pastor or Sunday School teacher to teach them. In reality, your child only spends about 4.5-6 hours a week at church, and that's if they are at church for all three services during the week. You make the difference mom and dad. It's up to you.

It is my goal to see my daughter do in life what I have not done, and graduating from college is one of those things. But I would find it hard to disapprove of her if she decided to be a missionary or worship leader instead of a doctor or lawyer. But if she wants to be a doctor that serves God and is able to take care of her old dad one day, then that is ok also! What is important is that I teach her to be who God has made her to be in this life, and not what I, or anyone in this world wants her to be. Because ultimately, she was created by God and only He knows for what purpose she is here. So remember this mom and dad, "repetition is the mother of education." Educate in the ways of God first, and then repeat.

How much better it is to get skillful and godly Wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. Proverbs 16:16

For this world's wisdom is foolishness (absurdity and stupidity) with God, for it is written, He lays hold of the wise in their [own] craftiness. 1 Corinthians 3:19

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. James 3:17


Monday, October 10, 2011

The Value of a Dollar

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.- 1 Timothy 6:10
I can't be silent any longer. This has just been eating away at me for sometime and I've had enough. I don't want to get political because I think we have enough "politicians" in the blogging and social media world already. But I feel that it is my job as citizen of a great community and nation, and as a minister of the Gospel to just go ahead and speak out on the politically in-correct. So here it goes...

In case you haven't heard, our country is in the middle of an economic recession. It's bad. It's not as bad as it could be, but this is the worst economic condition that this generation has ever seen. The current unemployment rate in America jumps up and down from anywhere from 9% to even a little over 10%. The current unemployment rate of my home state of Kentucky is anywhere from 9.5% to as much as 11%. The housing market is in disarray. Now's the time to buy if you can get a good loan. Now is NOT the time to sell being that you will probably not get anywhere near the value of your home let alone what you were hoping to sell for. This economic hurricane has trickled all the way down to our local communities. Yesterday I paid $3.19 for a gallon of gas. I was so excited! But then I came back to reality and realized that I'm still getting ripped off and I'm still hashing out anywhere from eight to twelve percent of my paycheck just to fill my gas tank. Small businesses are closing because they cannot compete with the low prices of the mega-stores. "Mom and Pop" restaurants are having to close their doors after only six months in business because they quickly see that running a small business in this economy has become a tough feat to accomplish.  The power of the American dollar is quickly becoming a joke in the world's financial institutions. Financially speaking, times are tough.

Basically Americans are unable to live the lifestyle that they were able to live ten years ago. And you know what this does to Americans??? It makes us mad! We want to be able to go and purchase whatever we want and whenever we want because the Declaration of Independence has given us the "right to the pursuit of happiness." And let's be honest, most Americans are happy when the checking account is full. We think that more money ultimately make us happier. lists "money" as the number two leading cause of divorce in America, second only to "communication." Money problems make us angry! I've seen more people become irate over an expired coupon that was not accepted at our restaurant even though it was only going to save them 97 cents. That's right 97 cents. As in, less than a dollar. But hey, in today's economy, every cent does matter.

But I also think that hard economic times have made us delusional. I question many decisions that our local, state, and federal government leaders have made in order to "encourage economic growth." The leaders of one local community are seeking to offer more liquor licenses so that the city can generate more revenue. But at what cost? How many more drunks do we need walking our streets at night or even getting behind the wheel of a car. At least it's helping us make more money right? What about the decision by many local communities to begin selling alcohol on Sundays? What use to be considered a sacred day by our communities has now become just another day to have fun. People use to go to church on Sundays to find peace. Now all they have to do is seek temporary relief at the local tavern. But hey, it's generating more money right?

How about the decision by one local community to open a strip club. Now men and even women can blow off some steam while gawking and lusting over young women like they are a piece of meat. As long as their spending money right? Don't forget our state lotteries! Did you know that Illinois and Kentucky (my two home states which both have legalized state lotteries) have the tenth and thirteenth worst unemployment rates in the nation? Guess what number one is.....go ahead take a guess......ok I'll tell you....Nevada! Now I haven't been to Nevada but I here that there are plenty of casinos there. Maybe they don't have enough casinos in Nevada to help the state out of the financial mess that it's in. They should go ahead and open more casinos. Like, they should have an ENTIRE CITY FULL OF CASINOS. Hmmmm... That would help them for sure. At least they would have more money right???

NO! Enough of these policies that are meant to "generate revenue." The only things that these policies are generating is the debilitation and ultimately moral breakdown of our communities and our nation. Let me ask you this: How many families have been saved from break-up because of the local bar? How many families have been helped by the local strip club? How many families have been financially rescued by the lottery? COMMUNITIES CANNOT BE BUILT UPON THE VICES OF MEN! If this is the case, then it is the vices of men that ultimately become the life-force of the that community. That's what happened in Sodom, Gomorrah, Athens, and Rome. Morality had taken a back seat to the lusts, desires, and economic expectations of the cities. In his recent book titled Storm Warning, Billy Graham says that "American's god; wealth and abundance have become the measure of Americas success." I believe that this statement is hauntingly true.

I won't deny that something has to be done to save our communities from financial collapse. But I think that we must do so in the ways that made this nation the super-power that it was. Ingenuity, excellence, and effort should become the pillars of our economic strategy. But more importantly, something MUST be done to save our communities from moral bankruptcy. It's like my man JC asked "What does it profit a man to gain the world, and yet lose his own soul?" So what's the value of your dollar?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Marriage Garden

July 31st will mark Emily and I's seven-year anniversary. It's hard to believe how quickly the years have gone by. We have shared moments of triumph, joy, and bliss and we have also shared moments of stress, frustration, and fear. We have been on the highest mountain with one another and fallen into the deepest pit. Through it all we've been together, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.

Em and I are no marriage experts...that's for sure. We've got a long way to go in the realm of selflessness and compromise. But I have learned, and I tell young engaged couples all the time, that if you are going to have a successful marriage, you must go into it with the understanding that MARRIAGE IS WORK! I think that couples must embrace the fact that marriage is something that must be nurtured and protected and these things require daily attention.

 Marriage is like a garden. You must carefully consider what the seed needs in order for it to grow to its fullest potential. But if you abandon your garden and fail to give it the means to grow, then it will surely die. Nurture by thinking as your mate does and trying to understand why they have the needs that they do. If your wife is a talker, then let her tell you about her day when you come home from work. Ignoring her and acting as if you don't care is not nurturing. If your husband desires recognition then be sure to let him know that you recognize what he does for your life and how he improves it. Don't ignore him. To ignore the needs of your spouse is to contaminate the garden You must WORK to nurture your marriage.  Another way to do this is to realize that marriage is not a 50/50 relationship. It is a 100% GIVE relationship. This totally contradicts today's "all about me" society. We have become such a selfish culture. Everything that we do is set to benefit me, myself, and I. But a marriage cannot be this way.  We must have the mindset that "I will do whatever it takes to build up my spouse rather than to bring them down." It's so easy for us to air out the "dirty laundry" and spit off all the weaknesses of your mate...but what good does that ever do?.

Marriage, like a garden, must also must be protected. Sneaky foxes and birds wait patiently for the right moment to sneak in and steal from your garden. We live in a sensual society where the words "divorce"  "swinger" and "affair" mean nothing to us anymore. We have become numb to them because our society, as a whole, has embraced lifestyles that are poisonous to a healthy marriage. Women sit and talk with other married women about how their husbands are emotionally detached and they feed on one another's negativity. Men refer to their wives as "the old ball and chain" and publicly disrespect their wives. The gravity of these situations weighs us down until ultimately we find ourselves looking for someone or something to fill the void in our hearts.(Enter the sweet-talking and sensitive co-worker or flame from the past.) You know where I'm going with this. Before you know it, you find yourself GIVING to another relationship. It's a vicious cycle that happens time and time again. We only have so much of ourselves to give. If we are giving it to someone or something else then we cannot adequately GIVE to our spouse what our marriage needs to survive. All of this can be avoided if we are willing to defend our marriage. Stay away from friends who joyfully take part in bashing their own spouse and who are quick to dissect your marriage. Stay away from smooth-talkers and especially those of the opposite sex who seem to be so interested in your personal feelings. Billy Graham and his team have been successful with never having any type of scandal that destroyed their ministry as it has to so many other successful evangelists. One of the reasons is because Billy Graham and his team made a pact with one another that they would never be left alone in the same room as someone of the opposite sex. That's defending a marriage!

I hear so many people who have struggling marriages use the phrase "well I'm just not happy." When did we start basing a successful marriage on an emotion?  What if someone told you that their marriage was successful because "no one makes me as melancholy like they do."? Sounds kind of stupid doesn't it? Happiness is an emotion. Sadness is an emotion. But emotions come and go. How can we define our marriage, or the state of our marriage by something as changing as an emotion? One of my favorite songs is "The Weight" by Thrice. The chorus says "Come what may, I won't abandon or leave you behind. Because love is a loyalty sworn not a burning for a moment." Marriage is a covenant relationship with one another and with God. It's not a cool thing when you break a promise to someone, especially God!

Finally, I don't have all of this marriage stuff figured out. Quite frankly, neither does Dr. Phil! But I believe that God's Word clearly shows us that marriage is a covenant relationship. God created Eve for Adam so that together, they could enhance each other's lives. Notice that God didn't make Eve and a whole bunch of other women for Adam to choose from once all the others got boring or annoying. Covenant relationship  is sacred and we must treat it that way. So when choosing a spouse ask yourself, "Could I dig a garden with this person?" If not, move on. If so, then start digging...there's a whole lot of WORK to be done!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Finding the Identity of a Super-Hero

Everyone has a list of heroes for their life. I'm talking about the ones who you have looked up to and who had a profound impact on your life. These people are the ones that you most wanted to be like. These are the ones who have made you who you are.

As a little boy growing up in northern Illinois I can easily say that the hero of my childhood was most definitely Michael Jordan. The first basketball game that I can remember watching was of Jordan and the Bulls in the 1991 Finals against Magic Johnson and the Lakers. I remember watching with my dad and my little brother as MJ won his first NBA championship. We all know that this was just the first of six championships for Jordan and the Bulls...and I watched, and can easily account for where I was when each title was won.

Michael Jordan has become the symbol of winning. Though his arrogance and ego have recently been considered suspect at best, no one can deny that MJ is considered to be the epitome of success. I wanted to be that way. Even to this day, Jordan posters are stuck to the wall in my office in homage to the one that they call the GOAT (Greatest Of All-Time). I believe that much of my competitive nature and my desire to be "number one" at EVERYTHING has come from my admiration for Michael Jordan. Even though he was my all-time favorite player, my basketball game looked more like Tracy Jordan than Michael Jordan. Even though his character does not promote Christian behavior or virtue, Michael Jordan has been a hero of mine ever since I was a child.

As I grew into my teens years, music began to take on more of a role in my life. I began singing solos in church and teaching myself to play the piano and guitar. Music seemed to come naturally for me. I typically sang the songs that I heard my mom and dad sing, which was mainly southern gospel songs. But around 1994, the world of my music was blown-up when my pastors son gave me a cassette tape of a group called DC Talk. I had never heard anything like it before in my life. These guys mixed rap, rock, and Jesus...OMG! I sat in my room for hours on end, rewinding that tape over and over until it eventually completely wore out. At the core of DC Talk was the guy that did most of the rapping and a little singing. He was considered the founding member of the group and was the main writer and producer of the band's music. He was a LEADER! I loved leaders!!!

Toby McKeehan or tobyMac as he is now known, can easily be considered one of my heroes.  He was and still is an innovator and a man that is considered to be one of the cornerstones of modern day Christian music. He co-wrote the song "Jesus Freak" which is widely considered to be on of the most influential and popular songs in the history of Christian music.He made Christian music cool. Not to mention, he dressed cool, talked cool, and made serving God look like a party as apposed to a burden. I got to see tobyMac live in concert last Spring and it was one of the most exciting nights of my life. TobyMac is a hero.

When I reached adulthood and became involved in ministry, I immediately was drawn to the ministry and life of Billy Graham. Here was a man that came from a dairy farm in North Carolina and went on to preach the Gospel of Christ to more people than anyone in history. His stance for basic Christian principles and the transparency of his organization (The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) are characteristics that are rarely seen in modern day Christianity. I have more books on his life than anyone. He truly has been an inspiring figure to many including me. He is a hero.

As much as these men have accomplished and as much of an impact as they have had on me, none of them can compare to the final person that I would define as one of my heroes. This hero of heroes is the only one on this list that I actually see on a frequent basis. In fact I see this person everyday. I have seen this hero accomplish great things but has never been one to brag on them self. With this hero, the work is never done and their drive to keep going with no excuses is an example to everyone, including me. Who is this amazing Super-Hero you ask???.......none other than Emily Louise Rust wife!

Let me first say that I'm not trying to score brownie points here. In fact, she is certainly qualified to be given the title of Super-Hero. She is a full-time mother, which is no easy task. She gives and teaches our daughter with grace, patience and love. She is a full-time wife, which is no easy task especially considering who she is married to. Emily makes me a better man. A better father. A better servant. A better Christian. She improves and enhances everything about me. She is my number one fan, supporter, encourager, confidant, and friend. Obviously it's easy for me to think so highly of her because of all that she does for me, but time does not allow for me to continue on. Full-time mom, wife, housekeeper, youth pastor and teacher. Now she has just added another title to her already impressive Super-Hero resume, "Retired Student."

Maybe that is how we know what a hero really is. Because a real hero never has to give away their identity, everyone can already see it. And if my wife isn't a hero, then you can just say that my game looks like Michael Jordan's!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Real "friends" of Facebook

I have personally seen the power of friendship this weekend. Real friendship. I'm not counting the number of "friends" that I have on facebook (640). In all honesty, about 90% of my fb "friends" are actually more along the lines of acquaintances that I rarely see or hear from. It's not that this 90% are people that I don't care for, in fact, I more than likely have cared for them at some point and in some way throughout my life. But the windows of time have a way of shutting some people out of your life. Every once in a while the window may open back up and they come back in only to leave again soon.
About 7% of my fb "friends" are people that I actually interact with on a weekly basis. I see these people either at work, church, or at some point during my weekly and daily routines. These people know me a little better than the 90%. These people see my emotions, hear me speak, and no doubt, watch how I live. Mainly they see what is on the outside or what I allow them to see. They see who I want them to see but not necessarily the real me. Many of the 7% will one day go on to become part of the 90% as the windows of life begin to open for new people to come into my life and close as some leave.

Then there's the final 3% of my facebook "friends." Many of these people do not see me on a weekly or daily basis. Some I  haven't seen for months. But what separates these people from the other 97% is that these people truly know who I am. They don't just see the outside features, but they know what it is that makes me tick. Despite who I may try to show them who I want them to see, they cannot be fooled. They know when I am hurting and when I fake a smile to pretend that everything is ok. They clearly see when I am biting my tongue to keep from letting someone know how I really feel about them. They see when I am fighting back tears. The 3% are truly my FRIENDS.

As I said earlier, I felt the power of real friendship this weekend. Friday was a rough day to say the least. Em and I were hurt by someone that we had cared for and nurtured. We thought that we had done everything we could for this person to help them but apparently this person said that we had treated them "shady." It broke our hearts into a million pieces. I was angry, bitter, and sad. I was not only upset with this person for making such a ridiculous, outrageous, and untrue statement, but I was also mad at God! I knew that He was the one who had gotten me into the "situation" that I was in and now that it had all fallen apart, I chose to do take the usual human approach of blaming Him after everything had gone wrong. I didn't want to pray. I didn't want to study. I didn't want to hear anything from Him or about Him. I was in a serious funk!

God and I began to get back on better terms when I saw how He was sending people my way to heal my broken heart. Later Friday night, we went out with some FRIENDS to have a nice dinner. I wasn't in much of a mood for talking and laughing but I soon found it to be easy around people that I cared for, and more importantly, people that cared about me. We never told them our situation and they never asked. They knew something was wrong and still tried to make our evening as pleasant as possible. Real FRIENDS.

Throughout the evening I received random text messages of encouragement from more FRIENDS. God was reminding me that His power can be extended through the people that He places in our lives. I even got a phone call from a FRIEND later that night. I hadn't talked to him in quite a while but he felt that he should give me a call and check in with me. It was again, exactly what I needed, when I needed it. As my heart began to heal and the night ended I went to bed only praying a prayer to God that said "thank you."

My day on Saturday was a little bit easier. The shock had gone away and I was coming back into a more stable emotional and spiritual state. I went down to the church to do some work and after I had been there for a few hours I got a call from Emily. One of our FRIENDS was having a bad day and Em wanted us to be there for her as others had been there for us on the previous night. I immediately agreed with her that this was an opportunity from God to now help someone else.

So friendship is not just writing on someones "wall" or clicking the "like" button every time you agree with something said. Friendship is a gift from God for us. He can't always hold us when we hurt or make us laugh when we our down, but He can and He does send people our way to do those things for us when needed. So I guess, when you really think about it, God is our BEST FRIEND!