Provision

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It’s one of those nights. I’m sitting here looking through an old external hard drive that I forgot I had. It’s full of my high school research papers, AIM conversations with old crushes, songs I haven’t heard in years (that I still know all the words to), and pictures I had forgotten were taken with friends I haven’t spoken to in years. Looking through it has definitely given me some laughs, but also a lot of emotion. Being the king of nostalgia, I know how to work myself into a state of missing seasons past – even now I’m turning on the Plain White T’s just to feel more nostalgic than I need to.

Looking back at the past always puts me in a state of reflection – would my younger self be proud of where I am? Is my life anything like I had expected? I feel like I am finally in a season processing a lot of things. I wanted to write these out mostly for myself, but if you find yourself in a similar season I hope this can be an encouragement to you.

The past few years have been extremely tough for me. My social media persona is usually one that is pretty cheery and positive. At this point, I pretty much only post updates about the ministry that I work for (which I’m sure is really annoying for anyone that doesn’t care about it haha) and pictures of the mountains when I get a few days a year to escape to upstate New York. Despite the polished highlight reel of my life, the reality is that the past two years have been incredibly difficult.

This month marks 2 years since I left the church I grew up in and committed to working towards a vision I truly believe God has placed in my heart – to see the most vulnerable people in Baltimore loved, restored, and empowered. I love my city. I love offering what little I can to seeing Baltimore become a place of fresh life and hope for those who are tired and weary.

I have always felt a little unqualified for this work – mostly because I don’t think I fit into everyone’s clean and shiny box of what someone in ministry should look like. I’m a recovering television producer with a heart for people that somehow got thrown by the God of the universe into this crazy sphere that I never planned for and never expected. I’m a little all over the place. I love worship music, but I get down to Missy Elliott. I speak in tongues daily, but I don’t think Jesus is a Republican. I love sitting in coffee shops in the city and watching the hustle and bustle, but I also find myself being refreshed on country roads at sunset. I am obsessed with Harry Potter, but C.S. Lewis speaks life into my soul. I don’t think I fit very well into many people’s boxes, but I know with certainty that I am a beloved son of my Father in heaven.

When we started our ministry I had no idea what a 501c3 was, I had never driven a box truck, I had no idea what it was like to stay with someone as they detox from heroine, I didn’t know the harsh realities of homelessness and human trafficking in Baltimore, I didn’t know anything about the foster care system, I didn’t know how much it hurts to work tirelessly with an addict only to have them run back to their addiction, I didn’t know what it would feel like when the excitement died down and your friends stopped coming around, I didn’t know some people view serving as a competition, I didn’t know other people would take a genuine heart to serve and look at it with cynicism.

Honest moment: Sometimes I miss having a “normal” life. I miss my family living in Maryland. I miss seeing friends on a regular basis. I miss living in Towson and walking up the hill to my grandmother’s house just to say hi. I miss walking into church and greeting people who have known me my whole life. I miss writing stupid Fine Arts dramas and laughing my butt off at every practice. I miss being as involved in people’s lives as I wish I could be. I miss extravagant Christmas productions and carefree summer nights. I miss having weekends free to travel on a whim. I miss making good money. I miss the comfortability.

I want to get across that all of these feelings are valid and real. I don’t want to pass by this because over the last two years I have been knocked down by waves of insecurity, inadequacy, loneliness, depression, and uncertainty. Am I the right one, God? Is this really the plan you had for my life? What about my plans? Is it supposed to be this hard?

I don’t think we ever stop feeling this way. There will always be a very human part of us that battles fears, worry, and shortcomings. However, I have found in my life that when I TRULY trust God with my life, my response time gets better and better. The insecurity that used to knock me down for a month, now knocks me down for a week. The depression lasts for a night instead of a week. Why is that? Because I have seen God come through, and when you see Him come through, you can’t help but trust Him more and more. It is also so important to have people you can talk to and who can speak encouragement to you. It may take a lot of humility, but you have to let people know when you are hurting. To the people who matter, it’s not an inconvenience.

I have also learned that my comfortability is not something God is very interested in – He is more interested in me being faithful to where He’s called me no matter the cost. When I release my desire for comfort and control to Him who has called me and equipped me and positioned me for such a time as this, I have to trust that He will be faithful to do what He says He will do – provide. 

Provision is a funny thing. The American Dream has created a society that is consumed with us working to achieve complete control of our lives. We want to be in a position where we don’t have to worry about where our provision will come from. We want to create comfortability, safety, and peace of mind. I have been down the road of chasing The American Dream, and I found that what I was striving for wasn’t consistent with the life Jesus encouraged me to live in the New Testament. How many of us brush over Matthew 19:21?

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Not me, God! What about my comforts? My family? My job? My salary? My friends? My plans that I worked so hard for? His response – “follow me.”

I have learned over the past two years the true meaning of Jehovah-Jireh – “The Lord WILL Provide.” I have lost a lot of my comforts – I moved, I left my church, I left my job, my laptop died, my car died, friends became distant, relationships ended because of the nature of my work, money is always tight, the list goes on. However, I wouldn’t trade any of those things for what I have now – a complete peace in God’s purpose and plan for me.

So what about when the storms come? What about when relationships don’t pan out the way you had hoped or someone steals the lug nuts off your tire so it flies off while you’re driving or you need a root canal or your friends are all busy or the money for your electric bill is not in the bank account?

Do you worry? Do you doubt your calling? Do you wallow in the pit of depression?

NO. I can say that boldly and with confidence because my God is Jehovah-Jireh – “The Lord WILL Provide.” He has always provided in the past and He will always provide in the future. Nothing will knock me down. Yes, He can provide me with the tangible resources like money and shelter, but even if He does not – I know He will be faithful to provide peace and joy and comfort no matter what the circumstance, and that is what I lean on. That is what gives me strength in my moments of loneliness and confusion. That is what gives me hope in the middle of a world in utter chaos.

So that’s my life. At times, it’s a jumbled up mess of tiredness and humanness and uncomfortableness, but it is a life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. One that is constantly being revived by the Lord who provides for me and knows exactly what I need to make it through every single day!

“A God wise enough to create me and the world I live in is wise enough to watch out for me.” – Philip Yancey

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Racism is Real

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Today, on July 28, 2016, I experienced something that shocked me. Something that many of us will never see, something that some of us see every day.

I work for a non-profit called CityBeat Dream Center. We started in February 2015 and have been working hard to love, restore, and empower the city of Baltimore. One neighborhood we have really invested a lot of time in is Old Dundalk. Today, we had the opportunity to go out into the neighborhood with fresh vegetables from First Fruits Farms in Freeland, MD that we took to families who don’t often have access to fresh produce. Since it was a hot day, we decided to take some cases of water as well as an opportunity to bless people and talk to them. Things were going well. We talked to and prayed for several individuals – we got so many smiles and a lot of genuine appreciation.

As we worked our way around one of the parks, I saw a group of men under a pavilion, sitting in lawn chairs, enjoying their day. We took our coolers of water and introduced ourselves.

“Thank you so much!” they said as they took the waters.

“It’s a hot one!” we said back, smiling.

They asked us where we were from and what we were up to. We explained that we were here to do our part to help the community, and that we were from several different churches. They told us about the local churches that they attend.

And then it happened.

“You know, you could help out by getting rid of the blacks,” the skinny older man said. Shocked, I stared at him blankly.

“Wait, you don’t mean that, do you?” I asked with a confused expression.

But he did. I thought it was a joke, but he wasn’t joking at all. This was hate. His other friend joined in saying,

“The blacks have ruined this neighborhood.”

I sat down on the cooler, trying to position myself for this conversation, a conversation I had heard existed in other places, a conversation I didn’t know would exist here in my back yard.

“They’re all punks…send them back to Africa…Well, there’s a few good older blacks over in Turner Station…none of these niggers have jobs…send them somewhere far away.”

Now usually in ministry, I look past people’s opinions and behavior and instead try to focus on just showing them a gentle love that is smothered in God’s grace. However, this was not the time for gentle love. Channeling my inner Jesus in the temple, a holy indignation rose up inside of my spirit, as I interrupted.

“I’m sorry, but I need to tell you that you’re wrong. You’re so wrong. I work in these streets, I knock on people’s doors, I meet people all the time. There are so many amazing black people in this community. Many have jobs, families, and happy lives. And to be honest there are a whole lot of white people who are buying and selling drugs, causing stirs, and disturbing the peace around here. You can’t define a problem as ‘all the black people.’ You just can’t.”

“Boy, you’ll think back on this one day and think ‘those guys were right.'”

“I assure you, I won’t,” I said.

“You’re calling them ‘the blacks’ as if they aren’t even human.”

“They’re not,” the older man told me.

I stood up, sick to my stomach, and said,

“I just need to say something to you. How dare you. How dare you talk about these beautiful people that God created as if they are less than human.” At this point I am practically shouting.

“God created every single one of us. He put breath into our lungs, and He loves all of us equally.”

“Well, that’s your opinion,” they told me.

At that moment, I turned around and saw two handsome, well-dressed, black teenagers walking past me. Still shaken, I grabbed some water bottles, asked them if they would like some cold water, and smiled as they thanked me. After they walked away, I turned back to the men in the pavilion.

“Just to be clear, those amazing, respectful young men are the people you are spreading hate about.”

“They’re the exception,” the older man said.

Again, one of the men told me,

“Boy, you’ll think back on this one day and think ‘those guys were right.'”

Again I said,

“I promise I won’t.”

Friends, don’t be deceived. Racism is real in 2016. You see, politics/opinions aside, the reason why #blacklivesmatter is a thing is because they haven’t mattered, and even today – they still don’t matter to a number of people. I was shocked and horrified to learn black lives are still thought of as “less than human” or as property that can just be “returned to Africa.” Yes, today in 2016. Yes, today on July 28, 2016. I know I am probably extremely naive, but I think sometimes it’s easy to think “It wouldn’t happen here,  it wouldn’t happen today.” And it is my job as a privileged, white male to stand up with the grace and love of God and speak for justice and equality when other white men speak their hate into the world. Because you see, those men would have never even allowed a black man to have that conversation with them. As much as we disagreed, they made the point to tell me before I walked away,

“Don’t take it personal, it’s not you. It’s just our opinion is all.”

I have a position to speak truth that others may never have, and it’s my responsibility to do it. If I don’t, maybe no one else will. I want to encourage everyone too – it doesn’t just end with a story on a blog. I have meetings set up in the coming weeks with friends in the black community to really talk through positive solutions for my city. I will post updates about any further meetings because I feel like these dialogues absolutely need to be had. Regardless of where you are in the country, there are churches and organizations fighting for unity. Awareness is not action, and I urge you to get on the front lines in fighting for equality. I will continue to fight for the cause of justice because it is a cause that every human (and especially every Christian) should get behind.

My earnest prayer is that one day the #alllivesmatter hashtag will ring true as there is a love and unity that pervades all prejudice. But for now, we look to and hope for the future. That as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'”

Lord, let it be so.

The Journey to My Purpose

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I don’t write nearly as often as I would like, but maybe that’s what builds such an intense burning in my heart to let the words flow when there is something worth writing about. I had to bolt to a coffee shop, get my caramel iced coffee, put my headphones in, and zone out into the world of my own words.

I believe the journey of finding yourself is one of the most important things you can ever write about. The quest for hope, purpose, and passion has led me across the country and across the world over the past quarter of a century. I am happy to say that at 25, I feel like I am finally beginning to feel confident about my purpose in life.

Growing up, I always had dreams bigger than the world I knew. I would sit in my room in Jarrettsville, Maryland and dream of the great big world out there. I wondered what type of person I would grow up to be, what my life would look like, if I would ever have everything I wanted in my lifetime. My mom would take me to the library and I would get as many books as I possibly could. I would lie under my covers until all hours of the night reading books that transported me to other worlds, worlds of adventure and excitement and heroism. My mind has always resonated with the epic stories – heroes who saved the day and conquered evil. These stories shaped me into who I am today.

Middle school brought a whole slew of new feelings into my life. Suddenly the girl screaming my name in kid’s church wasn’t obnoxious, she was actually kind of cute. This was also the era of meeting some of the most amazing guys that I have ever met in my life. David, Luke, and I would stay up all night playing Tony Hawk and Risk and just laughing our heads off. These days will always be some of the most special ones of my life. They became not just friends, but the brothers I had never had.

Middle school is also where I found God. I always knew about Him and I always had been taught about Him, but at that young age I found Him. It wasn’t a boisterous introduction, but a quiet moment at a middle school camp. I was sitting in the back of a room with my eyes closed. I seeked Him and I found Him. I was shocked to find out that He had been there all along, watching over me, smiling down on me, waiting for me to open my eyes and see Him in all of His glory – reigning over my life. Though there have been many distractions over the years, my relationship with God has been the single most influential and monumental part of my life.

In high school, my life revolved around three things – girls, friends, and God (usually in that order to be honest). I loved being involved in church and I loved serving. I felt such a purpose in giving my time back to God since He had, you know, died for me. I had a handful of incredible pastors and leaders in my life during those years who I still treasure today. While there are many crazy things that happened during high school – heartbreak, confusion, and typical high school drama, I choose not to ponder on those things. High school is where I established the type of person I wanted to be. I learned that I love people intensely (sometimes to a fault), I learned that I love helping encourage people through difficult seasons, and ultimately I learned that I was going to make a lot of mistakes in life and that humility speaks volumes.

As high school came to a close, I really began to evaluate in a more serious way what direction I wanted my life to go. I felt torn between Loyola (close to my friends, reputable academics, solid career path) or Evangel (new place, new people, unknown future). Ultimately, I felt God telling me that Evangel was the place to be. I journeyed out to Springfield, Missouri, starting off as a Pre-Law major and then changing to a Theater major, and then an International Studies major. My search for my life calling wasn’t really going how I thought – nothing seemed to be working for me. I often felt like I was good at a lot of things, but not great at anything. This (and the Great Recession) led me back home to Maryland for a year to really find out where I wanted to go next. During this year at home, I had the privilege of serving in youth ministry under one of the most impactful people in my life. Pastor Gavin gave me a purpose in serving and gave me room to grow as a leader and as a creative individual. He gave me opportunity and support and I will never forget that.

As I explored my creativity more, it became clear that I could not have a career where I wasn’t able to be creative. I switched my major from International Studies to Electronic Media and Film and began to find my groove. I wrote and directed my first full-length play and I fell in love with storytelling again – just like I had as a kid escaping into my books. As Pastor Gavin said, “You found your sweet spot.” As the passion to tell stories birthed in me, I had the desire bursting out of me to get back out and see the world. I decided Los Angeles was the place to be and I decided to go to Southeastern University in Florida because they had a program that allowed me to go out to LA and get experience in the TV/Film Industry. With a year full of wonderful memories at home behind me, I packed my bags again and made the trip down to Lakeland, Florida.

Oh, Lakeland. This season of my life was one of my absolute favorites. I have never felt such a peace in my life. The ability to be in a Christ-centered environment and learn about the things that I loved alongside some of the most genuine people I had ever met was so special to me. When I think of Lakeland, I think of all-nighters at the Beacon Starbucks, sunset drives around Lake Hollingsworth, hours spent in Professor DeBorde’s office, the rocks playing classical music, weekend trips to Naples, and meeting some of my absolute favorite people.

Probably the most profoundly meaningful experience of my college career was a documentary that I made with my friends Cameron and Stephanie. We wanted to submit a documentary for a film festival and decided to head to St. Augustine, Florida and Savannah, Georgia and ask people what their thoughts were on love. We set out with a camera in our hands and no expectations. It was during this trip that I got a burning passion in my heart for telling the stories of those without a voice. We met a man named “Long Haired Jerry” who told his story of lost love and how he had been a wanderer his whole life. His story impacted me in a way that I never expected. The film, called “The Meanings of Love,” was received really well at the festival and even led to another documentary being filmed (still unedited!) where we went to New Orleans and asked people what gives them hope. While many of my classmates had a desire to be a part of the industry, I began to feel unsettled in my desires. I began to feel like maybe God was leading me down a different path, but I wasn’t quite sure what that was.

For my final semester of college, I was off to the City of Angels – it felt like a dream come true. First off, the road trip across the country with my friend Stephanie has to be one of the best memories of my life so far. I had never been further west than Texas, and to drive into unknown horizons is a truly magical experience. I felt like one of the heroes in my childhood stories – walking into the unknown and unsure of what’s ahead, but excited for the journey. However, my romanticized view of the experience quickly came to a halt. Los Angeles was a lot different than I expected. There was a lot I loved and I lot that I didn’t. I loved the beach, but I missed my family. I loved my internship at Discovery Channel, but I did not feel like I cared about the industry as much as everyone around me. LA was a season of insecurity, closed doors, and uncertainty. I had gone into it thinking I would probably want to move there after graduation, but I realized I missed home more than ever. I realized I could work hard and achieve everything I had ever dreamed for myself, but if the people I cared about were across the country it just wasn’t worth it. I packed my 2002 VW Jetta, left a lot of old dreams on the West Coast, and made the journey back to Maryland to figure out what was next.

On top of being recently graduated, my parents had just made a big move to West Virginia; however, I knew my heart was to still be in Baltimore. I am eternally grateful to the Robinsons and the Chenoweths for taking me in during this crazy time. With a pep in my step and my resume in hand, I boldly walked into many production companies looking for work. I was ready to try to make my film degree work on the East Coast, throwing my name out to anyone who would hear it. I eventually got a call about a job in New York working on a TV show. Over the next few years, I got a lot of great opportunities – working with TLC, working on several TV shows, working my way up to an Associate Producer. I met lots of great people along the way, but also really felt that the dynamics of the industry were not something I could deal with for the long haul. I became confused, frustrated, and mad (at myself and at God) that I could not find any consistency in my life. Every job I had was a contract and it had an end date. I couldn’t plan for the future. I couldn’t get settled.

At the same time, I was also given new opportunities with my church to be creative. I helped direct a Christmas production and really found a passion in sharing the message of Jesus in new and creative ways. I got involved with youth again and really found joy in helping them find and develop their talents. I got a job with my church for a time and loved having the opportunity to use my creativity and my storytelling for a purpose bigger than myself. I realized my heart and passion was in using my gifts for Jesus – the problem was that I couldn’t turn that into a sustainable source of income. I was torn between my passion and a realistic need to pay the bills. That feeling led to a whole new level of frustration and confusion. God really taught me to see Him in all things during that time. He taught me to be patient and to lean on Him. He stood close to me through all of it and helped me find joy in the midst of confusion.

In August of 2014, I took a trip with my church to the Los Angeles Dream Center. I hadn’t been back to LA in 2 years, and it was crazy to be back with a whole different purpose. Before it had been all about me – me trying to make it, me trying to find myself, me feeling inferior. This time it was all about others. I got to see the effects of a long-lasting, consistent organization that was bringing real change to the city of LA. I spent a night on the streets of Skid Row with a friend from college, Jenna, who had gotten a job at the Dream Center. I marveled as she walked up to some of the biggest and baddest guys on the streets and gave them huge hugs. She boldly walked through those streets and simply showed people the love of Jesus. I will never forget that night. That night stirred in my heart a passion for my hometown of Baltimore. A passion to see people’s lives restored and transformed through Christ.

The last time I came back from LA, I was unsure and uncertain. This time, I had a purpose. I got friends together and we started planning ways to reach our city. We went downtown and talked to people, we prayed with people, we allowed ourselves to ingest the real heartbeat of the city we loved. In the following months, an old friend from middle school, Jared, popped back into my life with a similar desire: to start a Dream Center in Baltimore. We began meeting and praying. We started to take dreams and turn them into realities. After some prayer, I moved in with Jared and we began working hard to get the Dream Center up and running. We officially launched Dream Center Baltimore a year ago (February 2015), and it has been an amazing year of seeing God move in our city. I have never felt so confident in my purpose and my calling. I am able to use my creativity to tell the stories of those without a voice, I am able to be a part of God’s narrative for this moment in eternity, and I am able to be a humble vessel for the work that God is doing throughout Baltimore.

With Dream Center on my heart, I still had one foot in the TV industry because the bills still needed to be paid. Over the past year, I had awesome opportunities to work on several TV shows in Virginia, Maryland, and New York. As much as I was grateful to God for a source of income, none of these experiences could stop the deeply rooted passion building inside of me to serve my city. In August, I felt God speaking to me to make the extremely hard decision to leave the church I had grown up in to go to a church close to where we are now operating the Dream Center. I am so incredibly thankful for my family at TrinityLife and the years of growth, discipleship, and empowerment I found there. That was the church where my dad got saved, where I was taught to be a servant leader, where I made lifelong friendships, and where I first encountered Jesus at a middle school camp. I’m also thankful to the people of Eastern Assembly for welcoming me with open arms. All of this was God stripping away my comfort zones so that I could fully walk into His plan for my life.

As of the beginning of 2016, God placed on my heart that I needed to officially lay down my dreams of being part of the TV industry. I’ll note that this happened at the same time that I finally got a solid, consistent job that I loved in the industry. God called me to walk boldly into the calling He placed in my heart regardless of the personal cost. I had walked into uncertainty before, but this was the first time I actually had full peace in the unknown. So that’s what I did – one month ago. It has been an amazing month of operating in my God-given passions of creativity, as well as being a part of an amazing organization of leaders and volunteers from all over our city. Just within the past few weeks, I found out that I am officially going to be on staff at the Dream Center!

For many on the outside, this is probably not a huge deal. For me and the people who know me well, this is a life-long dream come true. It is the first time since graduating that I have had a job without an end date – a job that I am passionate about and that I love. It’s the culmination of a lifetime of searching and persevering to find my calling. I think it’s important to share our stories, especially our journeys of finding our God-given purposes. I am not claiming to have it all figured out, but I hope I can be an encouragement that God truly is working all things together for the good of those who love Him. The little boy who dreamed of being a part of an epic story of heroes, heroes who would save the day and conquer evil, now gets to walk alongside the greatest hero of all time, Jesus, and be His vessel to show a broken world that He is the only one who can truly conquer evil. So this is is my life so far. I’m excited, I’m at peace, and I can’t wait for the next chapter.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28

 

When The World Was Young

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He dug into the depths of his mind and remembered a time
When love was easy and hate wasn’t a word.
When good always defeated evil,
When friends never lied and loved ones hadn’t died-
When the world was young.

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The world had changed-
While every part of him fought to believe in people and love and good
It was a constant battle and not a calm walk on a trustworthy path.
A path he used to confidently walk down
When the world was young.

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His view tainted by pride and fear and skepticism,
Wondering why evil wins so often,
Why it’s hard to break down the practically impenetrable walls that he had built so cautiously
In order to love again. Like he had
When the world was young.

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He knew the world could not be young again,
Not to him – he couldn’t unknow what he knew.
The battle scars would always be reminders of what had been and what could be no longer-
Scars that were nowhere to be seen
When the world was young.

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But he would not lose hope!
He would still fight to believe the best in people-
To fight for hope and love and good.
Like he had always hoped he would grow up to do
When the world was young.

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The Disease Called Wanderlust

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Community isn’t built in a day.

It isn’t built in the fickle wanderings of my young and adventurous heart-

Passing in fleeting moments from place to place, town to town.

Never stopping to really know, to really grow.

Relationships, mere shells of what they could be-

For growth takes time.

Time in the dirt. Time to be hurt.

Rising together. Rising despite the weather.

The disease called wanderlust is wonderful and crippling.

The deep longing for mountains and wide open spaces.

Busy cities and brand new faces.

 

But for now I’m here.

Creating new adventures despite the consistency of an old framework.

The same places. The same faces.

Fighting through tears. Breaking down fears.

Together.

There’s no shame in a gypsy soul.

Not all those who wander are lost, they say. I say.

But if I truly want community, well,

Community isn’t built in a day.

 

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Down in New Orleans

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Because of yesterday’s post and encouragement I’ve gotten since, here’s just a little bit of free verse poetry I wrote while I was in New Orleans. That city inspired me more than any other place ever has – the people, the music, the history, and mostly the hope. A lot of my time there was spent digging into the still present effects of Hurricane Katrina. Despite so many trials, New Orleans is strong and has more hope than I even knew was possible.

A Lament for New Orleans

A confident woman looks into the audience as her dark lips purse with approval.
Flipping her dreads over her shoulder, she motions to start the audible beating of her heart.
The city’s heart.

Thick hands pluck thick strings.
A pulsing beat like the voodoo that plagues this town – forcing heads to move to the rhythm.

It doesn’t ask permission.

Drum beats wrap around sweet symphonies and bring it all to cohesion.
An old soul quietly projects his mourningful harmonies across keys.
Black and white. White and black.

A wail pierces through the night.
Hairs stand on edge as gold brass screams for the spotlight.
The night resurrects.

She opens her mouth and sings a lament to the city that bore her.
That she trusted and that now asks for her trust in return.

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*I wrote this after a night at Snug Harbor listening to the amazingly talented Charmaine Neville. If you’ve never had the pleasure of hearing her – you should do it now:

The Mississippi

The sun glistens like an ornate mirror on top of the murky, brown water.
The lifeline of a nation.
Years of productivity, forward expansion, and despair sit at the river’s depths.
A cesspool of memories.
The memories will stop when the river stops.
Hope stops when the river stops.

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*This is a picture of me writing this actually – looking out on the Mississippi.

A Lifetime of Memories

Homeless. Hopeless? But he proudly gazes out at the clear blue sky. New Orleans.

Deep nostalgia hits him in his core. A lifetime of memories have gone by. He breathes in the smells of steam and last night’s beer as he rubs his grizzled beard.

His worn eyes look out at the river that saw it all. Love’s first look – and it’s last. Shattered dreams and the perseverance of a city torn apart.

He smiles. The river is indifferent.

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The Ninth Ward

Vacant memories litter the mostly empty streets.
Grandma’s cookbook. Bill’s spare sofa.
Hollow frames loom like a mausoleum of lost dreams.
Piles of concrete – the stability of an unaffected life.
Snatched away. Ripped away. One day.
One day sucked the material worth from a city of mystery.

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So there’s that. This is where I would normally put a self-deprecating comment about how this isn’t actually that good, but I’m try to be better at being confident. I like these little musings and hopefully you will as well!

An Open Letter to Anyone Who Will Listen

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To anyone who will listen:

I have a fear. I’m probably not the only victim, but I may be one of the more vocal ones. I’m afraid of you – yes, if you’re reading this then I’m talking about you. Your perception of me and your opinions of me are more terrifying than you know. The fear of your opinions has paralyzed my creative expression for quite some time. Most recently, it has kept me from wanting to write at all. This fear is not grounded in anything substantial, but rather in the inner workings of my own brain where I convince myself (yes, I know that it is a mental battle more than anything) that my words are not worth reading.

This has come to the forefront because I feel like blogs have become especially prevalent over the past few months – or maybe I’ve just noticed them more. Opinions about every hot topic pervade the internet – Miley, how millennials are the bane of society’s existence, thoughts on love and marriage, Scriptures, etc.  It seems like not a day goes by where I don’t see a viral blog being spread like wildfire. Everyone is a writer. Everyone has an opinion about everything. It’s the highly connected world that we live in, and there are so many awesome advantages to that (I will say though, if I see another article about “30 Thousand Things Every 20-Something Needs to Know/Eat/Read/See/Do” I might throw my computer out of a window). However, these viral blogs have made me more self-conscious about putting my own thoughts out there. I see a constant barrage of opinions (most of them that are frankly just that – opinions, presented as all-encompassing truths) and I find myself wondering about my place as someone who loves to write, but is not an expert by any means – does anyone really care to read what I have to say?

I have always appreciated the power of words. I used to dream of being a famous fiction author – I was inspired as a kid by authors like J.M. Barrie, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L’engle, Judy Blume, and so many others.  I haven’t completely shelved this dream, but it’s hard to consistently write in my consistently inconsistent life. My love of writing definitely stems from my love of reading. I’m compelled by the ability of an author to whisk me away into a new world – every book was a door to a new adventure, and every final chapter was like an emotional breakup. The adventures came to an end, the characters I had grown close to had moved on, and I was left feeling like part of me had died (until the next book of course). This strong love of reading fueled me to want to create my own stories that could move people like I had so often been moved. It’s one of the main reasons that I got into the wonderful world of film making- the longing to create.

Despite this longing, my insecurities have always been my downfall. I have never wanted to label myself as a “writer” because it gives some sort of implication that I know what I’m doing. I’ve never been confident in my writing, I’ve never been sure that my adventures are interesting or that my characters are compelling. And outside of the world of fiction, I am not sure that my opinions on real life topics are worth throwing out there. I’m not a psychologist who can actually speak to why Miley is twerking like there’s no tomorrow. I’m not a middle aged mother who can speak to why girls shouldn’t post provocative selfies, I’m not a college graduate who has everything figured out relationally and professionally who can speak about how to successfully get through your 20’s. I’m a 23 year old. My hobbies are watching Netflix, eating pizza, and looking at Tumblr (I also like kayaking, road trips, and walks on the beach – for all the single ladies out there). I’ve only known careless love (thank you Bob Dylan for understanding my life). I have no idea what my future holds. I’m emotional and strong and focused and confused all at once. I’m a Christian and I don’t fully understand what that means a lot of the time. I’m a sinner and I’m a saint, I’m a dreamer and I’m a realist. I love football and I cry during weddings. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m wrong – a lot. All of this to say, I’m no expert on having life figured out, and I don’t really know that I am in a position to spread my limited knowledge to anyone. Who am I to give insights into life and its workings when I have so much left to learn myself?

When I started my first blog, I made it private. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to make it public because it was “just me and my words.” Somewhere along the line, my best friend came across it and started sharing it with people. There has always been a balance with me of wanting people to see my creative side, but not wanting to shove it in anyone’s face (in case they are critical of it). However, I’ve learned over the past few years, through writing scripts and making films, that it’s okay to make something and be proud of it. Being proud of hard work is not the same thing as arrogance, and it’s easy for me to confuse the two.

My senior capstone, a 20 minute film called “Charlie Boy, ” was the first time I had attempted to tell a story that wasn’t all comedic. It’s a comedy mixed with tragedy – and it has a lot of myself and my feelings invested in it. It was inspired by the deaths of my Uncle Charlie and my Pop Pop, and it was one of the ways I was able to process the grief I was experiencing over both. I spent my last semester at Southeastern writing, planning, location scouting, filming, and editing. I was so focused all semester on just getting it done (I literally finished editing it hours before the film showing) that I didn’t have time to be nervous about what people would think. However, as I was sitting in the room the night of the screening with people starting to pour into the seats, I started freaking out. My film was the last to be shown, so I sat through several amazing works of art that my fellow filmies had been slaving away on. By the time that my film started, I was shaking. My hands were trembling and I’m not going to lie – I peed my pants. During the entire film I was tense – I was looking at the crowd and seeing if they were laughing at the right moments, and I was trying to get in-tune with the energy of the audience. When the film ended, everyone cheered and I was able to breath a sigh of relief. It was over.

Each director had the opportunity to get up and say a few words to the audience, and I started off by telling everyone that I had peed my pants (not one of my best moments). I then shared my inspiration for the film, and had the opportunity to explain the heart behind it. After it was all said and done, several people came up and told me that my story had really touched them – that they could completely relate. It was one of the most rewarding feelings of all time. I realized that it was okay to think that what I had done was awesome and to be really proud of my hard work.

Of course, I’m sure there were people who hated it – who thought that my timing was too slow, my dialogue was too “on-the-nose,” my character arcs were too predictable, and my jokes weren’t funny – and to be honest, some of them were probably right. However, as I always say – haters gunna hate. When you create anything, you’re going to have people who love it and people who hate it. And as much as I have wanted so many time to run fleeing into a safe career where I never have to put my heart on the line, I know that’s not what I’m called to. To be creative is to be vulnerable and to constantly put one’s self out there for anyone and everyone to prod, critique, analyze, and talk about.  It’s so hard to shove aside the fears- of rejection, failure, and other’s opinions – but it was so worth it for me to push past my self-doubts and know that people had actually enjoyed something I had put a lot of time and effort into.

All of this to say – I’m a work in progress. I’m still scared to death of anyone who is still reading this and those who have already peaced out because they couldn’t care less about what I’m saying. And even though you all scare me, I’m going to try daily to not let that fear define me – to stifle my creativity, my words, my opinions, my films, and my stories. Maybe my truth isn’t everyone (or anyone) else’s truth. All I can do is speak for myself – where I am and what I’m learning and the experiences I’m living and the characters I dream up and the adventures I want to tell. What I’ve been blessed with and where I fall immensely short. This takes the pressure off of me – I’m not writing to get any of you reading this to share it with your friends. I’m not writing to be a trendy blogger who goes viral. I’m honestly not writing to get anyone’s approval. I’m writing for myself. If you happen to like it, that’s truly wonderful. If you don’t, there’s a small “X” next to this tab on your browser – and that’s honestly okay too.

I’ll end with a relevant quote superimposed onto a picture of a lion:

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Sincerely,

JWD

Also, here’s the link to my capstone if anyone hasn’t seen it: