Joy on a Rainy, Yucky Sunday

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I had an amazing time dining at Chuy’s with some friends old and new. And by that I mean friends that I’ve known for a while and friends I met today. Compared to me, they were all young whippersnappers.

I had my standard taco salad with both chicken and steak. I had my water with both lemon and lime. I figure why should you be an either/or person when you can be a both/and person? Life’s much more fun that way.

Life’s also more fun when you see the sun behind all those grey clouds and joy in the midst of difficulties and hardships. It’s not like the sun went AWOL during all this rain. It’s still there, behind the clouds and waiting to be unveiled at just the right moment.

Joy’s like that. It’s always there. There’s never a moment without a blessing or a place with no joy to be found. You just have to see with eyes of thanksgiving and gratitude to find the blessings and the joy. Even in the darkest of times, you can always find light if you know where to look.

Later on, I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with some more friends. This year, it’s more than a lot of turkey and dressing. It’s about being truly alive and counting all my gifts that I once took for granted. It’s about celebrating the people in my life who are helping me find and love out my miracle.

Truly, life is good, God is great, and I am still blessed.

Who Says You Can’t Go Back?

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It’s been 18 years since I graduated and 8 years since I last stepped foot on the campus, but today I went back to Union University, where I spent four of the best years of my life.

I knew in my mind that things change. I prepared myself for seeing a different Union than the 1995 version that I remember so well. But even then it was still so very surreal.

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Just about every building on campus was new or completely remodeled. Even the layout of the buildings was different. There were no walls around the guys and girls dorms. Maggie would not have been pleased.

It hit me that half the students on campus weren’t even born when I graduated from Union. Well, maybe 1/4. I was never very good at math.

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I found a vey few familiar places. The old library smelled exactly like it did in 1995. Funny how particular smells can trigger memories. For me, nothing stimulates remembering more than a certain combination of scents.

I found my old mailbox slot (and yes, it had mail in it and no, I didn’t open it). The cafeteria still looked the same.

I walked down the same sidewalk where I once had my trusty umbrella inverted by a sudden windy downpour. I could literally see the rain heading toward me as I walked to class. I also remember leaving for an 8 am class on a frigid winter morning with my hair still wet and arriving to class with my hair literally frozen.

None of the people who made Union great were there. New people are there making new lasting memories with new friends. Who knows? 18 years from now, maybe a current student will come back to unfamiliar people and buildings in 2031?

I know I’m not the same person who wanted so desperately for people to like him and to fit in and to belong. I’m not the same person who didn’t like himself very much and couldn’t bear to look at himself in the mirror. I’m definitely not the same guy who thought no girl could ever find him attractive or ever seriously consider a dating relationship with him.

Coming back reminded me of how far I’ve come. Maybe it wasn’t so much the new buildings and people that made my visit surreal. ,
Maybe it was me seeing everything with new eyes. Whoa. That was deep. 😁

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I found God’s peace and healing at Union. I made some amazing friendships with some amazing people. Some I’ve kept up with, some I’m not friends with anymore, but all of them I still am thankful for.

I remember still the feeling I had the first time I set foot on this campus. I knew without a doubt that this is where God wanted me. Today, I look back and I can see just as clearly why that was.

I remain blessed. I am still living my miracle. God is good.

A Beautiful Moment

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I saw one example of Eucharisteo paying off today.  My mother and  were on the way back from picking up my grandmother from her assisted living apartment. We had Hank Williams playing in the car, hoping my grandmother would recognize the old music.

We got to the song “Hey Good Lookin'”, a song pretty much EVERYBODY has heard of at some point in their lives. My mom started singing and, lo and behold, my grandmother chimed in. I don’t know why that moment blessed me so much, but it did.

Out of all the great things that happened today– seeing my niece Lizzie’s joy in opening her birthday presents, being with family, driving home at night with the windows rolled down– that moment topped them all. In fact, I’d say it has hit the charts with a bullet for one of my favorite moments of 2013.

I guess I love that moment because I was able to slow down to catch that fleeting moment and savor it. I didn’t miss it like I’ve missed so many others because I was too busy looking back in regret or looking ahead with anxiety. I was squarely in that moment and seeing God at work right then and there.

My grandmother is 89 and her memory’s not what it used to be. I know she won’t live forever, as much as the 10-year old part of me thinks otherwise. I know no one I love lives forever. At some point, I will have to say goodbye to everything and everyone I love this side of heaven. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t relish in every moment I’m given. It doesn’t mean that I can’t build memories of moments that will carry me through the grief back to the joy.

I love my friends, whether they’re in my life for 15 minutes, 6 months, 2 years, or a lifetime. I know better than to assume every friend will always be my friend and will always be around. I also know that each person, whether family or friend, has left footprints in my heart and residue of their spirit in my soul, so that I am forever changed, more like Jesus, because of knowing them.

My prayer isn’t that people will look back and remember me as a really swell guy, but that they will look on the times they spent with me and reflect on how much closer to Jesus they are now because of my small part in their lives.

That’s all.

Friends, Frothy Monkey, and Franklin

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A lady I work with remarked that the only good cats were dead ones. Obviously, she’s not a fan of cats. Lord, forgive them for they know not what they’re missin’.

I had another great night in downtown Franklin. I had a spectacular roast beef and provolone sandwich at my very favorite place to eat on Earth, which as you should know by now is McCreary’s Irish Pub. Seeing as I chose to eat at the optimal senior citizen dining time of 4:30 pm, I got prime seating on the patio on a picturesque Autumn afternoon.

Later, I ran into one of my favorite friends who always makes my heart happy when I see her and never fails to encourage me and make me smile. She and her dad were headed over to Sweet CeCe’s for some fro-yo (that is frozen yogurt for the novices out there). I recommended the pumpkin pie flavor, which is exceedingly delightful.

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I had a sweet potato pie latte at Frothy Monkey and sat on the patio while I sipped my little cup of heaven and reveled in just how very blessed I am. If I counted all my blessings, I’d easily surpass the 1,500 I came up with in my Things I Love series. I’d lose count before I ran out of blessings.

I got treated to an organ concert at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Well, it was more like the organ dude practicing and me showing up at the right time. I prayed a bit, sat still and silent for a bit, and just tried to be in the moment. A girl sat directly across from me, deep in prayer. I still don’t know who she was or what burdens she carried, but I did my best to intercede for her and agree with her in prayer for whatever she was asking from God. It felt like genuine New Testament Church.

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I had ol’ Hank Williams (Sr., not Jr.) providing the soundtrack to my ride home. With the windows down and the volume cranked up. It was magical.

Now I’m sitting here typing this on my iPad while my cat reposes in my lap. To many people’s great and lasting disappointment, she’s not dead. Only very sleepy. Probably dreaming of tuna again.

 

An Evening Prayer on the Last Day of August

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“O God, I thank You for this day of life
for eyes to see the sky
for ears to hear the birds
for feet to walk amidst the trees
for hands to pick the flowers from the earth
for a sense of smell to breathe in the sweet
perfumes of nature
for a mind to think about and appreciate
the magic of everyday miracles
for a spirit to swell in joy at Your mighty presence
everywhere” (Marian Wright Edelman)

Thank you, God, that you woke me up this morning and gave me good health and a body capable of enjoying your creation in all of its splendors.

Thank you for another day or grace and forgiveness and peace and joy.

Thank you that You don’t treat me a I deserve or according to my manifold sins and weaknesses, for I could never then hope to even catch a glimpse of Your face.

But now I see it everywhere.

In the last blooms of the last flowers before the autumn chill sets in.

In the laughter of old friends gathered together.

In the gentle breeze that blows where and when it wills.

In Van Morrison singing about Tupelo Honey in the airwaves above my head.

In the pink remains of yet another artful sunset.

In my own contented and peaceful heart.

Thank you for being here with me and being everything I need in this moment.

“Dear Lord,
be good to me…
The sea is so wide
and my boat is so small.” (Irish Fisherman’s Prayer)

“Lord, I don’t ask for a faith
that would move yonder mountain.
I can take enough dynamite and move
it if it needs movin’. I pray, Lord,
for enough faith to move me” (Norman Allen).

Things I Love 50: The Last Farewell

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“Joy in looking and comprehending is nature’s most beautiful gift” (Albert Einstein).

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself” (Tecumseh).

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness” (John Keats).

“Count blessings and discover Who can be counted on” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

This is the last one. But as C.S. Lewis wrote in The Last Battle, the the end of history was not the end; history itself is but the title page and preface, and after that begins the real story which goes on for ever and where each chapter is better than the previous one. That’s how it is with joy. There really is no end to joy and its gifts for those with thankful hearts and wide-open eyes.

1,551) The good tired feeling after mowing the lawn.

1,552) Hugs from my grandmother.

1,553) Great music from Coldplay and Radiohead.

1,554) Freshly clipped toe nails.

1,555) How perfectly cold water quenches my thirst.

1,556) The Living Water than never runs dry and never leaves me thirsty ever.

1,557) People who “get” me.

1,558) The freedom that comes with forgiveness.

1,559) Finding out that being broke doesn’t mean the end of life as I know it.

1,560) My friend Wendy who is just a facebook message away at all times.

1,561) That post-shower feeling.

1,562) “God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him. We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom, courageous in seastorm and earthquake, Before the rush and roar of oceans, the tremors that shift mountains. Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us” (Psalm 46:1,MSG).

1,563) Jesus’ promise of rest to those who are weary and exhausted.

1,564) God making me and loving me just the way I am.

1,565) Catfish and hush puppies, all fried.

1,566) Relaxing in a jacuzzi.

1,567) Liking me for me and being good with being a nice guy.

1,568) Knowing when to hold ’em, knowing when to fold ’em (like Kenny Rogers sang).

1,569) My very sleepy yet very comforting feline therapist yet again at her job.

1,570) iCloud automatically transferring pictures from my iPhone to my iPad and my iLaptop (just kidding, it’s a Sony Vaio).

1.571) How much better typing out one of these lists makes me feel.

1,572) My dad’s goofy but totally lovable dog, Molly.

1,573) My goofy and random sense of humor.

1,574) My impressive t-shirt collection.

1,575) People who wait until they are married before living together (which is so rare these days).

1,576) Planning up a Delilah playlist of cheesy love songs on my iPhone.

1,577) The safe recovery of that 16-year old girl Hannah who had been kidnapped.

1,578) All news stories that have happy endings.

1,579) Friendly neighbors.

1,580) Credence Clearwater Revival.

1,581) The photo frame option on my iPad that turns it into . . .wait for it. . . one of those electronic photo frames.

1,582) Stepping out of a muggy summer day into air conditioning.

1,583) People who not only speak their faith but live it out.

1,584)  The car KITT from the old TV show Knight Rider.

1,585) Seeing pictures of healthy newborns from friends and family on Facebook.

1,586) Taking a spoonful of local honey that’s supposedly good for my allergies but so good to me.

1,587) That girl’s smile in the picture that I used for one of my blogs. I’ll probably never see her again but I won’t ever forget that smile.

1,588) John Mayer’s lyrics.

1,589) Checking out the newest smart-phones in the stores (even though I’m perfectly content with my iPhone 5).

1,590) Looking forward to my next coffee and conversation outing.

1,591) Knowing all my family and friends are safe and sound for the night.

1,592) Real and authentic conversations about life and faith.

1,593) Having all my needs supplied out of God’s glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

1,594) Perfect love casting out fear.

1,595) That Jesus isn’t safe, but He’s good.

1,596) One day going overseas on a mission trip.

1,597) Having no regrets about following Jesus.

1,598) “For to me life is Christ, and death is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

1,599) Having many local coffee spots to check out in the next few months.

1,600) Every second I’ve spend writing these lists over the last couple of months.

I hope these lists have inspired you to start list of your own where you name those things you’re thankful for that you love. Not necessarily the monumental or earth-shaking things, but even the tiniest of things that make you smile or make your day a little brighter. It has been so much fun writing these and I thank you for reading them. God bless.

Things I Love 46: A Terrible Mystery

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“What a terrible mystery
How I searched for the key
To unlock your guarded heart
And set your love free
What a beautiful dream
I tried more than anything
To unlock your heart
And set your love free
A terrible mystery” (The Choir)

“How do I wake up to joy and grace and beauty and all that is the fullest life when I must stay numb to losses and crushed dreams and all that empties me out?” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are)

“Joy and pain, they are but two arteries of the one heart that pumps through all those who don’t numb themselves to really living” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

I keep returning to this well of thanksgiving because it is there that I find life. I don’t mean blood pumping through my veins, breathing in and out kind of life. I mean the kind of life that consists of more than just existing, but being fully enveloped in and aware of God in each moment. The life that sees the rainbow through the rain clouds, the sun behind the dark night, and the joy behind the thousand daily heartbreaks and little dream-deaths we face each day. Joy is being truly awake and alive to the good in everything, even the worst of circumstances, knowing that the Father will work out all these things for the best possible good.

1,431) Muggy days that make the coming crisp days of autumn all the more welcome.

1,432) Reepicheep, the bravest of all the talking mice in Narnia.

1,433) Seeing my job as a priestly function of offering my work as a thanksgiving offering to God.

1,434) Having a job to go to, even if it was at 6:30 this morning.

1,435)  That I still love driving my ’95 Jeep Cherokee even after 10 years.

1,436) Taking notes at Kairos tonight on my iPad2.

1,437) Having the best family (which includes blood relatives, and friends both on Facebook and in the real world).

1,438) Adam Wheatley and Courtney Cole leading the amazing worship tonight at Kairos.

1,439) My friend Paige who has faithfully led the greeter team and been one of my most supportive friends when I really needed it.

1,440) Signing up again to volunteer for Belmont move-in day for incoming freshmen.

1,441) Finally converted after much kicking and screaming (mostly in the metaphorical sense) to being an Apple guy. All I need now is a MacBook Pro.

1,442) Seeing one of my Romanian friends at Kairos tonight.

1,443) Resuming my lunch walks (even if this one was interrupted on account of rain).

1,444) Wifi when it is working right.

1,445) The movie Notting Hill, even if it’s a chick-flick. It’s a very well-made, well-written chick-flick.

1,446) Not even being the least bit tempted to break my more than 15-month break from carbonated beverages today.

1,447) My scars.

1,448) Singing “All that she wants is to go to Kairos” tonight to the tune of the Ace of Base song, “All That She Wants.”

1,449) When I let God be my defender and justifier.

1,450) Random acts of recycling.

1,451) Tagging these blogs creatively so more people can read them.

1,452) Being around something completely annoying and hearing the character Janice from the TV show friends in her nasal Bronx accent saying in my head, “OH MY GOD!”

1,453) Having such entertaining voices in my head.

1,454) Being reminded that surrender to Jesus is the truest freedom I’ve ever known.

1,455) Knowing that God is more faithful and eager to hear my prayers and answer them than I am to pray them most of the time.

1,456) The calming effect of hearing the rainfall outside.

1,457) Thinking of how very far my driving skills have come since my very first time behind the wheel, terrified out of my mind and driving down one of the busiest streets in Memphis.

1,458) Choosing joy over a bitter and complaining spirit.

1,459) My friend Emily, who also serves in Kairos faithfully each week and who has a true Proverbs 31 kind of beauty.

1,460) The thought of going to bed soon after a long day that started at 5:30 this morning.

Things I Love 35: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Get Back on the Internet . . .

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“That which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“God is good and I am always loved” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“The whole of the life — even the hard — is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up”  (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

Yeah, just when you thought I was done with this series, I resuscitate it and bring it back from the world wide graveyard. I’m not even close to being finished with all these thousand and more gifts I’ve received in my lifetime. It’s probably closer to 10,000. Actually, if I were completely honest, there’d be no way to count the blessings in my life for no human number goes that high. So I’ll do my best, starting at #1,036.

1,036) Yet more good coffee and conversation with another friend at Frothy Monkey (after a bit of confusion as to which Frothy Monkey).

1,037) When I stop comparing myself to others and instead compare myself to where I used to be.

1,038) Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.

1,039) Seeing my Romanian friend and sister-in-Christ happily married.

1,040) Rubbing my bare feet against carpet.

1,041) Not getting elbowed in the head or having my bare feet stepped on during volleyball games.

1,042) That possibly the best days and moments of my life are still yet to come.

1,043) Not getting counted off anymore for split infinitives.

1,044) Friends who actually make time to keep up with me and encourage me regularly.

1,045) All the old episodes of Are You Being Served?

1,046) Memories of watching TV as a kid with my uncle in the old camper on our property in Christiana.

1,047) That I’m not named after an airline.

1,048) Anticipating yet another Jonny Lang album coming out in September.

1,049) My gigantic over-the-ears headphones that I use to listen to music late at night sometimes.

1,050) Making up words when I don’t know the actual lyrics to a song.

1,051) Finding out what the actual lyrics are to a song I’ve been singing wrong all this time.

1,052) Just about any movie or TV show featuring Judi Dench.

1,053) Catching up with Union University classmates.

1,054) Ditto for Briarcrest classmates.

1,055) That God loves the crazy people as much as the “sane” ones.

1,056) The short spontaneous conversation I had with the girl named Rebecca who was reading that Mark Batterson book.

1,057) Every one of the 300+ pictures I took at the Set Free VBS this year.

1,058) Seeing those kids being prayed over and loved on and shown Jesus.

1,059) Every time the Kingdom of God takes back a person or a place from the kingdom of darkness.

1,060) Mastering the art of making pimento cheese.

1,061) Saying the words “pimento cheese.”

1,062) Classic devotionals by people like Oswald Chambers and Charles Spurgeon.

1,063) Bowling a game over 100.

1,064) Silence. Sometimes.

1,065) That even my fidelity to God is a gift from God (thanks to Thomas Merton for that one.

1,066) Friends who know the song in my heart and can sing it back to me when I’ve forgotten the words.

1,067) Any old Frank Capra movie.

1,068) Not being in a hurry all the time.

1,069) Knowing that I have an Advocate and Defender who pleads for me before the Throne of God.

1,070) Not nearly being close to finished with these lists.

Things I Love 33: The Very Last One . . . Or Is It?

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“Christian hands never clasp
and He doesn’t give gifts for gain
because a gift can never stop being a gift –
it is always meant to be given” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“The whole of the life — even the hard — is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Hopefully, by the end of this you will have seen a picture of gratitude and thanksgiving and how joy in the smallest things can radically alter your perspective and change your life. Truly, eucharisteo (thanksgiving with joy) precedes the miracle. So, I pick up where I left off at #971.

971) Homemade chili with shredded cheese and crumbled crackers on top.

972) Batman movie marathons.

973) Jesus never calls the equipped but equips the called.

974) My sister Leigh’s cat Gracie, who was the sweetest and best cat I’ve ever known. RIP, my little friend.

975) Fage Greek yogurt.

976) Switching to Verizon.

977) God’s perfect timing.

978) 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound.

979) The brilliance of The Screwtape Letters.

980) “If you build it, they will come.”

981) Whenever a bad guy in the movies gets what’s coming to him.

982) Whenever Jesus changes the bad guy into a good guy (because basically without Jesus and grace we’re all bad guys deep down).

983) Whenever I matter enough to someone for them to make time for me.

984) Having seen every single episode of the X-Files (and both movies).

985) Casual Fridays at work.

986) Blessing and serving Jesus by serving the least of these.

987) Snow on Christmas Eve.

988) That my value doesn’t decrease because of someone’s inability to see it (again “borrowed from a Facebook post).

989) The Home Alone movies (well, the first two anyway).

990) The level ground at the foot of the Cross.

991) That real heroes don’t wear costumes.

992) The mute button for those annoying TV commercials.

993) The way Lucy the Wonder Kitty purrs when she eats.

994) That while people may argue theology and semantics, no one can argue with a transformed life.

995) The way Jack Cardiff, famous cinematographer, interplayed light and shadow.

996) That God’s not done with me yet.

997) The slow steady rhythms of a Sunday afternoon.

998) Finally being brave enough to take risks and step boldly out in faith.

999) The little children’s book J.R.R. Tolkien wrote called Roverandom about a little toy dog.

1000) That I’ve decided that 1,000 really isn’t enough and there will be more coming soon to a blog near you.

Things I Love 32: Everything Will Be Fine in the End

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“The prayers we weave into the matching of socks, the stirring of oatmeal, the reading of stories, they survive fire” (Ann Voskamp).

“I don’t really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done-yesterday” (Ann Voskamp).

The way I figure it, I have only two of these left. Then again, I was never good at math. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be a rebel and add one extra just for the fun of it. Why stop at 1,000? Why stop at all? Gratitude means you never stop counting your blessings that you become aware of as you number them one by one. So that said, I start again at #936.

936) Making my triumphant return to swing dancing tonight at Centennial Park.

937) How anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment can relate to the movie Office Space.

938) The Greek on the GO! Strawberry Granola Bites. You can’t have just one. Or at least I can’t.

939) Whenever my family gets together.

940) That I’m losing my mind and as long as I don’t lose the part that tells me when to pee, I’ll be just fine.

941) Reading The Horse and His Boy again for probably the 15th year in a row.

942) Having “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” as my new text and email alert on my iPhone.

943) Mild summer days with low humidity.

944) Having my only expectations be that God will keep all His promises to me.

945) The Dream of someone.

946) Using Inappropriately Captalized Letters At Random.

947) Having access to the Throne of Grace 24 hours 7 days a week.

948) Sometimes my only mode of transportation is a leap of faith (borrowed from a Facebook post).

949) That I don’t have to fire cannons to call attention to my shining; all I have to do is shine (from D. L. Moody).

950) Borrowing quotes and ideas from people on Facebook.

951) Being able to highlight verses in my YouVersion Bible app on my iPhone.

952) Having all my Christmas music on my laptop in case I ever feel the need for Christmas in July (or August).

953) Office chairs that swivel and spin.

954) Saturdays when it’s not raining.

955) Ditto for Sundays.

956) Not having been hit by any cars in the last 6 months.

957) Being alone and praying in Baskin Chapel at Brentwood Baptist Church.

958) Every time someone accepts my friend request on Facebook.

959) The way when I’m in a serious moment of silence and my stomach suddenly decides to do a spot-on impression of a whale’s mating call (borrowed this one from Pinterest).

960) That the walk of faith is not about seeing the whole journey but taking the next step.

961) That my hope isn’t in a President but a King.

962) Knowing the Kingdom of God is now and not yet.

963) Nerds candy.

964) Big League Chew bubble gum.

965) Meeting an Asian person who hates all Asian food (and thus busting another stereotype).

966) Asian food of just about any kind.

967) All George MacDonald’s fantasy stories.

968) How much I can relate to John Cusack’s characters in just about every one of his movies.

969) Living in the moment and finding God there.

970) My friend at Ultimate Frisbee who looks like Amanda Seyfried and who always makes me smile.