I asked God to find me

Originally published Feb. 18, 2021 as a Lenten Devotional on oconeestreetumc.org

Deuteronomy 1:31
“There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

Footprints (author undetermined)
An elderly man, who had lived his life and left this world to go and meet his Maker asked the Lord a question.

“As I’m looking down on the paths I’ve trod, I see two sets of footprints on the easy paths.

But down the rocky roads I see only one set of footprints.

“Tell me, Lord, why did you let me go down all those hard paths alone?”

The Lord smiled and simply replied, “Oh, my son, you’ve got that all wrong!

I carried you over those hard paths.”

It had already been a long week, even though we were only two days into it. I had not been connecting with the most important people in my life, and was already overwhelmed with work, family, church and baseball commitments.

I woke up yesterday to find my work calendar was filled with back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings, the earliest of which I was already running late for.

Both my personal and work inbox were littered with requests for action items that needed to be finished immediately.

Somehow, I received more than a dozen texts in the span of six hours between 2-8 a.m.

My youngest children were relentlessly arguing. My dog was incessantly barking. And Carla was gone.

I rushed out of the house and into my car, only to find my eldest child left me a near-empty tank.

And halfway through my 50-mile trek to work, the check engine light popped on.

Every mountainous twist on HWY-441 brought fantasies of driving off the cliff. As someone who has learned to successfully live with clinical depression (through decades of therapy), I knew the path I was headed down was dangerous.

Photo by Matteo Di Iorio on Unsplash

I asked God to find me. 

The next eight hours were a blur. I know I successfully taught a class. I was told I impressed a VIP from the governor’s office in one of my morning meetings. I even received a “thank you” email from the parents of a prospective student to whom I apparently spoke with around noon. I managed to successfully lead a very long and potentially contentious faculty meeting. And in between everything, I somehow finished multiple reports that have been sitting on my invisible “to-do” list for weeks.

It was after 4, and I was eager to drive back to Athens to announce the opening day baseball game for Clarke Central and watch Jaydon get his first opening day start with varsity. I’ve announced several sporting events in my lifetime, but this one was special — I never imagined I would have an opportunity to introduce my child in a game.

First pitch was scheduled for 5:55, so I had plenty of time. Walking to my car, I checked my text messages for the first time since the morning. A message at 10:38 a.m. from coach read, “Game moved to 5 p.m. and will be a doubleheader.”

Surprisingly, this did not impact me like my morning did. I accepted that I would be late. I was sad that I would likely miss his first at-bat, but knew there were several other competent parents who knew how to talk into a microphone and do the job for me.

When I arrived at the Clarke Central baseball field, I rushed into the press box and as luck would have it, the first batter I got to announce was, “right fielder, #8, JAYDON DENNIS.”

It gave me goosebumps. And I watched with great pride as Jaydon beat out a grounder up the middle, stole 2nd and 3rdbase, and eventually scored the first run of the season for the Gladiators, as the team swept Oglethorpe County.

As I reflected on my day, I remembered asking God to find me. God not only found me, but carried me throughout the day, and dropped me off at one of the most memorable moments of my life.

Prayer: God, thank you for finding me. Thank you for carrying me when I was struggling to walk. Thank you for gently setting me down to fully experience the goodness of life.

Kuya Egor was a cool dude

Kuya Egor died last week, one of thousands of victims of coronavirus.

My Kuya Egor was a really cool dude.

Growing up as child in a first-generation American Filipino family, it seemed I was meeting a new family member at every gathering — and there were A LOT of family gatherings throughout the year. When I first met Kuya Egor, who had recently married my Ate Regie, I instantly fell in love with him. It was the late 1980s and much to the dismay of my parents, I was getting into the “heavy metal” music of the era and simultaneously was discovering my passion for radio, and like every Chicago boy was a huge fan of Michael Jordan. Kuya Egor talked to me about music, popular Chicago morning man Jonathan Brandmeier and the Chicago Bulls, and I knew this was one cool dude. He always made a point to check in on me at family gatherings, offering advice and encouraging me to pursue my dreams. I didn’t think much about it then, but now I realize how much that meant to me.

Being a cool dude, it’s not surprising that Kuya Egor made our supersized Christmas gatherings extra fun. I always enjoyed going to the home of Kuya Egor, Ate Regie and my supercool cousin Mikki. As karaoke was booming in the Philippines (to this day, the karaoke capital of the world … at least according to an episode of The Amazing Race), Kuya brought karaoke into the family, etching it into family tradition. When it was my turn, he would always have a Guns N’ Roses or Bon Jovi track that he purchased just for me. Kuya Egor was also very generous with his gifts, and would frequently attach a $2 bill to gifts for kids. A highlight of the adult white elephant gift exchange was finding Kuya’s gift, because we knew there was a good chance of some extra cash hidden in there. And for the kids, he would literally make it rain money into the living room from the upstairs loft in his home.

My favorite memory happened when I was “around 21” and my Kuya Bong was visiting from Switzerland. At Kuya Egor’s house, we met up with Ninong Ver and Manong Jun — and we all drank whisky until the next morning. That was the moment when I crossed the threshold to become one of the “Filipino men” of the family. I don’t remember much about that night, but I swear for the first time I started to understand Tagalog!

Although my interactions with Kuya Egor grew less and less over the years as I moved to Georgia, he always reconnected with me when I went back home. And he was the first member of my extended family to visit us in Georgia, dropping by for a visit en route to taking his family to Disney.

Looking back for photos of Kuya, it’s not surprising that the only ones I can find (besides shots of the whole family) are ones of him interacting with my kids as they were growing up. Jaydon, Jackson and Matthew instantly connected with him, as is evidenced in the photos.

That’s not surprising, because Kuya Egor was a really cool dude.

Anna

I looked at my class roster today, and cried.

There was one less name than there was yesterday. And although I barely knew the student taken off my list of students, it crippled me emotionally.

I love getting to know my students. It’s why I became a teacher. It’s why I choose to teach at a small college. By the end of the semester, I get to know all my students — some more than others, but a little about each person. And they learn a little about me. But I’ll never get that chance with Anna.

I met Anna three times, to be precise: summer orientation, fall orientation and in the first meeting of the freshman experience class I teach. That means I called her name three times, and she responded each time, either by saying “Here,” but more likely by simply raising her hand.

I take that simple process for granted. When I call a student’s name, most will usually be present. There’s always some absences, but I never worry about the missing student. Whether they’re legitimately missing class or just skipping it, they always come back.

But Anna, who’s still on the class roster I printed out at the beginning of the semester, will never come back. Of course, I could print out the new roster with her name removed, but that doesn’t seem right. She didn’t drop the class. She didn’t change majors. She didn’t fail.

She died on her way to class. Tragically killed by another driver who hit her car head-on after crossing the center line on a busy highway.

She’s no longer on my class roster. She’s not on my list of advisees. Her seat will be empty in my classroom. But even though I never got to know Anna, I get this sense that I’ll never forget her.

Devotional: Recognizing God

Originally published on oconeestreetumc.org

March 16, 2018

Psalms 27:4: One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.

IMG_5477

“Wow. That is so cool that you have your own flower blooming just for you,” one of my advanced writing students said as she walked into my office.

“What are you talking about?” I asked

“Out your window. You haven’t seen it?” she said as she pointed out my office window.

“Oh. Wow. Yeah. That is really cool. I love that!” I answered.

Of course, this was the first time I ever recognized that flower, or any flower that blooms outside my window. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I looked out that window. My attention has been laser-focused on the 1,000+ unanswered emails on my computer screen, the stacks of papers and tests to grade sitting on my desk, and countless students coming in and out of my office for writing one-on-ones.

I had to lie to my student. We just spent the last class discussing the importance of taking in scenes and environments when conducting in-person interviews or covering events. Journalists have to be the eyes and ears for their readers, and in some cases the nose, hands and taste buds. It’s important that writers recognize the entire scene around them, always observant, like a detective looking for clues. But here I am, failing to recognize the scene around my own office, where I spend several hours each day.

Carla often tells me I have “tunnel vision.” I’m good at reaching the finish line, but bad at recognizing the environment along the way. Although this tunnel vision can serve me well in some situations — such as meeting deadlines or coming through in the clutch — it does impair my ability to recognize God’s beauty around me.

Our church has been focusing on “listening” this Lent. I’ve realized that if I take the time to listen, my sense of hearing will not be the only sense impacted by this practice. Focusing on listening allows my other senses to come alive. As I write this on the bleachers of a baseball field, I feel God’s presence in the gentle, cool breeze interrupting the still air. I smell God’s creation in the freshly cut grass. And I can see God’s miracles as children run around with pure joy.

God has flowers blooming for me, all around me. But one place they’re not growing is in my tunnel. I need to make more conscious efforts to peek outside my tunnel and take in God’s beauty with all my senses.

Prayer: God, you are all around me. Arouse my senses so I can enjoy your beauty. Amen.