Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tick, tick, tick...

My heart doesn't beat any more. Ever since my friend and surgeon Dennis replaced my aortic valve with a carbon-fiber mechanical valve, my heart doesn't go 'lub dub' like yours does. No, he didn't turn me into the undead. Now that I think of it...he may have, however, have turned me into a time bomb (I gotta remember to talk to him about that). Why do I say that? Well, instead of beating, my heart now ticks! Just like a wristwatch! It's pretty cool - if the room is quiet enough, you can actually hear my heart ticking like a loud watch. At night when we lay in bed, Camille and I can hear it clearly. Tick, tick, tick. The hilarious thing is that it gets louder when I open my mouth! If I open my mouth and hold it up to your ear, you will hear my heart. Weird, huh? And pretty stinkin' amazing.

The tick is obviously from the new man-made valve doing its job. Out of all the intricate, amazing, specialized parts in my body, my new aortic valve will be the last one to wear out. It's like a Timex - it just keeps on ticking! One day my heart is gonna stop...but it won't be because of that valve. As long as my heart is beating, it will do its job. Day in and day out - until the day I stand before God. Tick, tick, tick. That valve is now officially the most dependable part of my body. I will always hear it working, if I listen. Talk about peace of mind!

As my mind struggles to make sense of the experience that has been the last couple of years of my life...feeling healthy but worrying about health, dreading the inevitable surgery, praying for miracles, uncertainty, fear, faith...I am just starting to grasp what an incredible gift my Creator has given me. Tick, tick, tick...I now have a constant reminder of His love and concern for me. From now on, whenever doubts creep in or the 'fear of man' looms like a shadow in my thoughts, I will hear that tick and know that He is still in control. He has always taken care of me, always seen me all of the way through the hard times and into the joy that awaits on the other side. It's as if He arranged for my mechanical heart valve as a sort of marker - an unavoidable, indisputable sign that He saved my life and that I can keep trusting Him with everything else no matter what.

That sort of begs questions about just what is gonna take place in my future to where I would need such a tangible sign of His love and protection. I guess I could be a little scared thinking about that stuff. But that would defeat the purpose of the tick, tick, tick. I'm convinced that the sign was put there as a reassurance, a reminder that He is at the wheel and that He is a very good driver. And that is good news indeed!

I have a lot of anxiety about this next year. Because I'm a commercial pilot, I am bound by FAA rules. Those rules say that I am 'grounded' after heart surgery and cannot re-apply for my medical certificate until six months after the surgery. Then it is a few month process of tests, medical exam boards and physicals before I will be cleared to fly again. In short, I will be out of work for the rest of the year, maybe more. That's a little scary. Like you, I have a mortgage to worry about and bills to pay. That's not to mention medical co-payments for a major surgery. It's easy to become overwhelmed and feel a bit hopeless. But...tick, tick, tick. Whenever the room quiets, I can hear my heart ticking - and that quiets my anxiety. My Creator didn't bring me this far to leave me to drown in the trivial stuff like money and careers. My heart reminds me of this several times a day.

So, I am looking forward to this next year as one of opportunity. There are several things that Camille and I have always dreamed of trying. I now have the time to try them. I feel God gently pushing us into a new area of our lives. Where we will end up, only He knows. But I am excited! The ticking in my heart tells me that He will be with us every step of the way. If I have learned anything in life so far, it is that while the trip is often bumpy, if we keep letting Him drive, our destination is always worth the journey. So, I'll be happily along for the ride - making sure to quiet my thoughts enough to always hear that tick, tick, tick.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm back with a new heart!

Whew! Well, most of you who follow my blog know the reason why I have been gone for a while. Hopefully, I'm back now. I've just been through the first part of an experience that should provide the material for a whole book, let alone a few blogs. Why do I say 'the first part'? Only because I believe that although the hardest part is over, the real changes and lessons and experience are yet to come in the following months. What the heck am I talking about?

Where to start? How about a quick review. About 3 or 4 years ago, on a routine flight physical to renew my FAA medical certificate, the doctor noticed that I had a heart murmur. Further testing revealed that I had been born with what is called a 'bi-cuspid' aortic valve in my heart. Two of the three flaps in my aortic valve were fused together, leaving me with a two-flapped, leaky valve. Over time, my condition would worsen and, without going into all of the details, eventually the valve would need to be replaced. Well, that time came.

As many of my friends know, none of this came as a surprise to my Creator. Years before I even knew that I had a problem with my heart, He arranged for me to meet and become close friends with a surgeon whose team is the leading surgical team in the U.S. at putting in a new kind of carbon-fiber heart valve known as the On-X valve. They are paving the way on an exciting FDA study that will hopefully result in On-X recipients like myself not having to take the hard-core anti-coagulant drug Coumadin. My surgeon's name is Dr. Dennis Nichols and he is without a doubt my hero.

Let me give you a glimpse into just how perfectly our Creator cares for us. Until very recently, there hasn't been a lot of options for someone who needed a new heart valve. Usually, the valve would be replaced with a valve from a pig or sheep or human cadaver. Being organic and foreign to the recipient's body, these valves would break down rather rapidly and eventually have to be replaced. Ten or twelve years was a long life span for a replacement valve. I'm 38...just think about what I would have to look forward to in the future. The other option as technology has improved has been a mechanical heart valve. These are more durable but blood platelets tend to stick to the surfaces of the metal valve and clotting is a big problem. Hence the heavy drugs such as Coumadin - they thin your blood so that it won't clot as easily. They also leave you susceptible to easy bruising, hemorrhaging and bleeding.

God was taking all of this into consideration before I was even aware of any problems. You see, the On-X valve is made from carbon-fiber. Blood platelets can't stick to it! By the way - it's indestructible! A thousand years after I am dead and buried, someone may dig up my bones and there, sitting right where my heart was, will be my On-X valve - good as new. Do you see where I am going here? It blows me away when I think of how perfect God's plan to fix my heart was. I was just minding my own business, unaware of any heart defects, and through some pretty miraculous circumstances a man named Dennis walked into my life and became my good friend. The exact circumstances are fuel for another blog, but for now I will say that God brought Dennis into my life as He was using some other surgeons to perform a pretty miraculous brain surgery on my sister-in-law, Jamie. Dennis came to be with the family and comfort us on that very hard day and a special, very real friendship was born between he and I.

I didn't know what an On-X valve was, much less that I needed one. Nor did I care, at the time. Dennis didn't know that he would one day saw open my sternum, stop my heart and replace a faulty valve. He just knew that he had met a kindred spirit. Both being Army vets, we share a lot of the same experiences and can understand each other in ways that someone who has never seen combat would never grasp. More than that though, we share a heart for other people, a love for our God and a little insight into what is really important in this life. I often laugh when I picture how our Creator must have been smiling on the day Dennis and I met, knowing what was coming and seeing the wheels of His perfect plan being set into motion. The enemy of our souls thought for sure that I would be out of his hair with an early demise due to a bad heart. My Creator not only had an answer for that old snake, but He was 'hooking me up' with the best possible solution and the best possible person to make it happen. And he was giving both of us a new friend at the same time!

Dennis cried the day that I sat in his office and he listened to my heart murmur for the first time. He hugged me and cried. He told me that he was going to have to give me a new valve. I asked him if he was gonna be OK with doing this surgery. He told me that he couldn't be more honored to do it. It was just that he had never had to face the reality of doing what he was going to have to do to someone he loved. If there were any doubts that I was in the right hands, they were erased as I watched my friend agonize for me and empathize with me. All throughout the long process from that day until now, Dennis has been the rock that I can lean on when things seem overwhelming. He's the busiest person I know, yet he always has time for my calls and always knows just what to say. Whenever I have started to worry, I have thought about the Divine circumstances that brought Dennis and I together and have always pictured that day in Dennis' office. Instantly, my worries have been erased.

Dennis tells me that we had a very meaningful conversation and cried together in the operating room just before my surgery two weeks ago. I don't remember much - the anesthesiologist had already given me a healthy dose of 'happy juice' to calm my nerves. I do remember that when I came to in the ICU, the first faces I saw were my beautiful wife Camille and my beloved friend, Dennis. I remember a sense of relief and of knowing that everything had finally come full-circle. The chapter that God had started years ago when He orchestrated our friendship had come to a conclusion - a new chapter waiting to be written.

I could write volumes about my friend Dennis. Being one of the most well-versed, busiest cardiothoacic surgeons in the country, he still finds time (and space in his heart) to adopt children orphaned by their unwed mothers, in addition to the children that he and his wife already had. He is currently awaiting the clearance of some government red tape to be able to fly to Africa and adopt his seventh and eighth children. He runs marathons and works out voraciously. All of this is sandwiched between a couple of major open-heart surgeries a day, in addition to being on-call for trauma victims. He is the most loving, caring, genuinely nice person I have ever met. There are several rumors circling him that suggest that he's not a human at all, but an angel. I'm tempted to believe them.

I've said it before on this blog, and I'll undoubtedly say it many more times: our Creator can be trusted. Our finite minds rarely see what is best for us. But His mind sees the whole picture - past, present and future. We don't always get the answer that we thought we should have when we ask Him for stuff...but we always get the correct answer. If we can learn just to trust Him to care for us, then our lives can be filled with Dennises. He had the answers to all of your questions and problems and tough situations figured out before you were even born. Just letting go and trusting Him with our lives is the real challenge. But let me tell you from personal experience, it is a challenge worth taking. Open-heart surgery wasn't the first challenge I've faced, and it surely won't be the last. But looking back on all of my trials, I can see His hand guiding my every step and see how His solution was exponentially better than any solution that I could have brought to the table. If you are in the middle of one of those tough situations, try letting go and asking Him to do whatever He thinks is best. I promise you, it may take a while for you to realize it, but you won't be disappointed!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Go Kepler!

What a beautiful image, huh? Our home. Earth. I get the goosebumps every time that I see a picture of Earth from space. From this viewpoint, you can't see any borders, no state lines, not one road sign. You can't see any garbage or pollution and would probably never know that we are doing our best to ruin the balance that our Creator designed into our ecosystem. Everything looks so peaceful. There are no signs of tanks, warships, guns. No rioters or picket lines or protesters. You can't see anyone begging for food, any child rummaging through a garbage dump for a meal, any mothers dying of AIDS. There are no whites or blacks or Hispanics or Americans or Chinese or French or Russians. You only see a pristine blue ball, suspended in space, strikingly beautiful; upon whose shores lie the hopes and dreams of an entire race of intelligent, eternal beings.

I didn't intend to start out this post so...heavy...but trust me, there is a method to my madness. Look at the picture again. All you see is astonishing beauty. No blemishes, no scars, no stains. That, my friends, is how God sees you...if you know His Son. He looks at you from his throne above and sees His Son in all of His beauty. Clean, unblemished...perfect. He can't see that you lost your temper with your kids this morning. He doesn't notice the fact that you cheated a little on your history test. Or flipped someone the bird on the freeway. Or stole from the cash register. Or lied to your boss. Or cheated on your husband. You get the point. Just like we are doing with our planet, we humans tend to make a mess out of our lives. We cheat, lie, steal, murder. We are selfish and arrogant and prideful. Put a microscope to our lives and the picture is gonna be ugly. But not to God. Because of Jesus, He looks at our dirty lives and sees...look at the picture again.
Wow. Pretty cool, huh? Seriously, that is not how I intended to start this post. I just can't look at a picture of our beautiful home without being moved. There's nothing quite like planet Earth, is there? Well...actually there probably is. Billions of 'em, in fact.

What are you talking about, Jeremy? Check it out - in just days now, NASA is going to be launching one of its most exciting missions yet. They will be putting the new Kepler telescope into orbit and Kepler will be the first satellite telescope with the capability to find Earth size and smaller planets outside of our solar system. According to Dr. Alan Boss, there could be billions of Earth-like planets in our Milky Way galaxy alone! He says that a large proportion of the stars in the Universe probably have an Earth-like planet orbiting them and that with a few dozen solar-type stars within about 30 light-years of the sun, there is a good chance that we will find several more 'Earths' just in our own general 'neighborhood'.

I've talked a bit in this blog about our Creator's creativity. One look out into the Universe around us and you are overwhelmed by His artistry. I have always maintained that a Creator who is this creative surely did not make our Earth and then just stop. That would be like me paddling out into the surf, catching just one of the best waves of my life, and saying, "Well, that's enough. I caught my wave, time to go in." Not...gonna...happen. Earth was probably not even close to the first planet He created, and it was certainly not the last! He's been around forever. He's had eternity to come up with new ideas and an entire Universe for a canvas. It boggles the mind to think about what is out there.

The Bible talks about how someday there will be a 'new heavens and new earth'. I think that our grasp on science and astronomy at this point definitely backs this up. It seems as if 'new heavens' and 'new earths' are being created all of the time! I hate to be repetitive with my blogging, but once again we are smacked-upside the head with scientific evidence that the Bible's claims are true. Like I said, thinking about what is 'out there' makes me feel very small. No one knows for sure what God has waiting for us when we leave these mortal bodies, but His Word tells us that we couldn't even begin to comprehend what's next. Am I the only one who's excited? Billions of Earths...just in our galaxy. With billions of galaxies in this huge Universe, that a lot of 'new earths' existing in 'new heavens'. You think that you're gonna sit around on a cloud and play a harp in Heaven? Forget about it! We have an eternal soul. And it's a good thing - it's gonna take all of eternity to experience the grandeur of what our Creator has put out there.
Folks, it's OK to take the Bible literally. Science is telling us that every day. We try to make it so hard. We try to separate the 'spiritual' and the 'literal', when in reality they are one and the same. At every turn, science points us toward God and vice-versa. Sure, believing in an eternal Creator takes a certain leap of faith. But for anyone who is smart enough to pick up a book or do a little research, not believing in Him takes a LOT more faith. I for one am looking forward to seeing images from the new Kepler telescope. Looking at new Earths will only reinforce what I have believed all along. I hope the images are real clear - I wanna scope out some new surf breaks for later on in Eternity!

Sunday, February 15, 2009


For today's blog, I decided to do something that I've been wanting to do for a long time. I'm posting a short story. Posting a short story is not the thing that I've been wanting to do for a long time, but writing this particular story is. This post will be a little longer than usual, but the subject matter is very, very close to my heart and I think you will find that it was worth your time. Besides the story of Jesus dying for my sins, this story is my absolute all-time favorite story and I've been wanting to put it into my own words for some time now. I identify more closely with the main character in this story than with any other person in any literary tale, true or fiction. I think you will too. So, here's my version of a pretty famous story. I hope it speaks to you as much as it does to me.

Mary sat alone at the foot of her bed; bedroom door locked, and stared at the alabaster jar on the dresser in front of her. On the other side of the door, the house was filled with the sounds and smells of holiday meal preparations and good friends enjoying a day off. It was Mary’s favorite holiday and normally she would have been in the middle of the cheerful scene, helping her sister cook and trying to keep the men from sneaking bits of the meal before all was finished. But today was a bit different. Today, Mary was melancholy. Today was bittersweet. Was she the only one who noticed?

Out in the living room, the person she loved more than anyone in the world was enjoying the warmth of the food and friendship. Usually, it was Mary who was right next to him, trying to coax another story from him or just enjoying the peace that came from his presence. Now, lost in thought, she just stared at that jar, as if trying to decide the fate of the world.

So much had happened since she met him. He had literally saved her life. Mary had never had a real father. Her brother had done the best that he could after their father had died when Mary was just a child. He was an angel, but he could never replace her father. It was all her mother could do to raise Mary and her brother and sister on her own without the support and income of her husband. It wasn’t her fault that Mary had made the mistakes that she had. At a young age, Mary had discovered that men desired her company. She had been an ‘early bloomer’ and her looks had been the talk of the town. Truth be told, she didn’t exactly dislike the attention.

Mary was seventeen when her mother died. Now it was just she and her siblings, and times were hard. Mary quickly found that men were willing to pay to be with her. At first, she told herself that it was necessity. She certainly was no harlot. If the family was having a tough month, what harm would come from giving a gentleman an enjoyable evening in return for being able to eat for the rest of the month? As long as it was never a regular occurrence and providing her brother never found out about it, it was just the way things would have to be for now. Someday it would be different.

Someday it was different, indeed. Sometimes you make a decision that spirals your life out of control before you even know what is happening. Mary could never pinpoint the exact time when even she had to admit that she was indeed a harlot. Even when her brother had found out about her extra income, she still had maintained that she was only trying to help the family. Ashamed and embarrassed, her siblings had never disowned her, but it had been clear that as long as she chose to sell herself, she was not welcome in their house. Mary had no other means of making a living at that point, so in the end she was all alone…ironic since by lieu of her profession there were few nights when she was without another’s company.

It was only a matter of time before the inevitable would happen. In Mary’s culture, adultery was taken very seriously. It was an offense punishable by death. As long as Mary’s clients could remain discreet, she was never in any real danger. But just one careless word to a jealous wife or crossed co-worker could spell ruin for her. It wasn’t exactly a small town, but people talked. One day, someone talked a bit too much.

The local authorities had literally pulled Mary out of her ‘lover’s’ bed…with him in it. There was no denying her guilt. They had taken her straight to the temple courts to face the religious leaders who would decide her fate. She had a pretty good idea what that fate would be. The sun was hot, the air heavy and Mary felt very exposed, wearing only the sheet that she had managed to pull off of the bed as they dragged her out of the house. Later, she would remember thinking how tragic it was that she would die naked and shamed.

As the authorities rough-handedly turned her over to the religious leaders, she sensed something that she had not felt in a very long time. She felt love; real, true love. Looking up, she laid eyes on him for the first time. In his eyes she knew that she was looking into the very source of true love itself. She only had a second to bask in that wonderful presence before the blow that knocked her to the ground struck the side of her cheek. With stars swimming through her vision, she was thrown onto the dirt in the middle of a circle of her accusers.

“Teacher,” she heard one of them say, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. Our law tells us to stone such a woman to death! What do you say, teacher?”

Here it was. The end. Mary’s life would be crushed out in a painful hail rocks, bruising limbs and tearing flesh. She closed her eyes and waited for the first blow to come.

As the seconds ticked by, Mary became more and more aware of the silence. She heard no one bending down and grabbing the large stones that had been brought in to make an example of her. No one was shouting orders or even saying a prayer for her soul. All she heard was a soft scratching sound. Finally, no longer being able to stand the tension, she opened her eyes and looked up.

She saw that everyone’s eyes were on him. The teacher. It was as if they were waiting for his permission to proceed. Instead of answering them, he had bent down and was writing in the dirt with his finger! How strange. Now even Mary was genuinely perplexed.

Again, the leaders asked him what he would do with this adulterous woman. Now he stood up and returned their gaze. Again, the love in those eyes seemed to wash over Mary and for a moment she forgot that the fate of her life was being decided in front of her. Looking intently back at the religious leaders and lawyers gathered in front of him, finally the teacher spoke.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” was all he said. He then quietly stooped down and began again to write in the dirt with his finger.

This was unheard-of! Mary wondered if the leaders would throw the teacher into the middle of the courtyard with her and stone the both of them together! Instead, as Mary looked around in confusion, a wonderful thing started to happen. Some of the older leaders started to hang their heads. Was that shame that she noticed in their expressions? As the younger men looked around for a cue from their elders, the older ones started to walk away, saying nothing! As the reality of the teacher’s lesson started to sink in, eventually even the younger, more eager leaders dropped the rocks that were already in their hands and began to walk off. Finally, Mary was left all alone with the teacher and a few of his followers.

The teacher stood up and walked over to Mary. He kneeled down and with gentle hands helped her to her feet. Wiping away a tear from her eye, he asked her, “Woman, where did everyone go? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” whispered Mary.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” declared the teacher. “Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

From that day on, Mary had indeed left her former life behind and became a follower of the teacher, the man who had saved her life and had shown her love when she had done nothing to deserve it. There was something about this teacher. It was as if everything good and right in the Universe started with him. His love and compassion for not only Mary, but for everyone with whom he came into contact was more genuine and real than the hair on Mary’s head. She had never met anyone like him. There simply wasn’t anyone like him. She knew that she could never express her gratitude or love for him with words.

And so she now sat, staring at an alabaster jar on her dresser. A special jar. Inside that jar was the only expensive material possession that Mary had ever owned. It was the culmination of years of hope and prayers from her mother. The jar contained perfume. Not just any perfume. This potion was precious, brought in caravans from the Orient and one of the most expensive luxuries of Mary’s time. The perfume in that alabaster jar cost the equivalent of an average year’s wages. Mary’s mother had managed to scrape enough savings aside in the seventeen years that she had been with Mary to buy enough perfume to fill the jar…for a special reason. That jar was Mary’s wedding dowry.

The teacher had saved her life and had taught her that God wasn’t concerned about her past. It was her future that God cared about and now that she was His child, that future would be bright. The alabaster jar represented all of her hopes and dreams of finding a husband and having a family. But how could any of that even be possible without the gift of new life that the teacher had given her? She had tried so hard in the past few years to express her gratitude to him, but words never seemed to do her thoughts justice.

Lately, the teacher had been telling his followers some disturbing things. Everyone knew that the religious leaders didn’t like him very much, but what he had been telling her was starting to scare her. The teacher said that he would be going to the capital city soon, and that the rulers there were going to kill him. How he knew this, she couldn’t guess, but he had never been wrong about this sort of thing yet. The things she had seen him do for others…you would have to be stupid or asleep not to take what he said seriously. The thing was; the teacher had also told them that he would come back to life three days after they killed him. Mary wasn’t sure if he had been speaking figuratively or literally, but there was a sense of urgency to his words.

Staring at the jar, Mary knew what she had to do. She had to show the teacher with her actions what she knew her words could never express. Besides, if he really was going to die, he would understand the dual symbolism of what she was about to do.

Mary stood up and took the alabaster jar from the top of the dresser. She walked to the door, took a breath, and opened it. She knew that her sister would be in the kitchen and decided to go straight to the living room where the teacher was sitting in case Martha would try to talk her out of this. As she walked into the room, the teacher looked up and his eyes met hers. In that one glance, Mary knew that the teacher understood what she was about to do.

Slowly, Mary threaded her way through her friends in the living room. For the most part, no one noticed what she was carrying. With her heart pounding in her chest she came to stand before where the teacher was sitting. He looked at her and Mary knew right then that she had made the correct decision. The love and understanding in his eyes washed away all of her doubt. Carefully, she took the lid off of the jar.

By now, most of her other friends in the house had noticed Mary and what she was carrying. Little by little, conversations stopped and attentions began to focus on her. She didn’t care. She was content in the knowledge that she would finally be able to express her true thanks to her beloved teacher.

He just looked at her, smiled and nodded. As the sweet aroma of the perfume began to overpower the hearty smell coming from the kitchen, Mary began to pour the perfume on the teacher’s head. The cleansing potion trickled down his brow, and tears began to flow from Mary’s eyes. Overcome with emotions of love and thankfulness, Mary’s knees grew weak and she found herself kneeling at the teacher’s feet. Pouring out the rest of the bottle’s precious contents on the teacher’s road-weary feet, Mary then bathed those feet with her tears, now flowing in torrents.

The room was silent except for the sounds of Mary’s sobs of “Thank you” and of the gentle kisses that she was placing on the teacher’s feet.

God had given Mary a beautiful head of hair. Mary now used that hair to wipe the tears from the teacher’s feet and dry the perfume. So lost in her devotion and thanks to her beloved teacher, Mary sat on her knees with her head on his feet as time seemed to come to a stop. Eventually, she was aware of a gentle hand on her cheek. Looking up for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, her eyes again met his. The look in those eyes told her that he had understood everything that her words were never able to convey. She knew that her dowry had just been used for something vastly more important than her wedding. In that instant, she knew that her teacher would indeed die for her and that he would live again, even if she didn’t know how. She knew that in some way, she had just become a part of the most important event that would ever take place.

Later, some would accuse Mary of being frivolous and try to reprimand the teacher for letting her ‘waste’ such a valuable treasure in such a way. The teacher shrugged their criticism off with a few simple words. He told them that Mary was preparing him for his burial, even if she didn’t know it. He told those who said that at least the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor that it is indeed important to look after the poor, but that he himself would not always be with them, as would the poor. Mary had made the correct choice, and they would all understand that soon enough. Moreover, he made it clear that Mary’s act of devotion had touched him so deeply that wherever the teacher’s story is told throughout the rest of history, what Mary did for him will also be told, in memory of her.

This is why I am writing down these words. The teacher is Jesus. Mary’s story is real. We can all identify with her. All of us were filthy, lost sinners deserving of the death penalty. Just as He did with Mary, Jesus chose not to convict us for our sins. Instead, he took the punishment for us. He died, and just like he promised – he rose from the dead three days later, having paid for all of our mistakes in full. If that doesn’t make you want to kneel at his feet and bathe them in your tears, you probably need to check for a pulse. Thank you, Mary Magdalene, for giving us an example of the proper response to Christ’s love. And thank you most of all, Jesus, for taking my burdens for me and paying a price that I could never pay. I can’t wait to thank you in person.

Note: This story was taken from passages from the Bible in John chapter 8, Mark chapter 14 and Matthew chapter 26. There is some arguement as to whether or not the Mary from Bethany and Mary Magdalene were indeed the same person. Most likely they were, but even if Mary the former prostitute and the Mary at the party were two different people, the point of the story remains the same. Mary, whether they were one and the same or two different Marys, had been forgiven of her sins by Jesus and loved him more deeply than words could ever express. She chose to express her love in a way that cost her a lot. She is one of my biggest heros.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My Bionic Heart

Wow. Life gets busy. I swear that I'm trying to make this blog a priority, but it seems that life just keeps getting in the way. This time it was pretty serious, though. A lot of you who read this blog are probably already aware that I have a pretty major event looming over my head. Well, it now has a date. April 14th. The day that I get cracked open like a dungeness crab.

For those of you who are wondering what the heck I am talking about, don't worry, I haven't been captured by cannibals and I'm not harboring an alien in my chest. I was, however, born with a defect in the aortic valve in my heart. Your heart valves have three 'flaps', my aortic valve only has two. It opens and closes sort of like a fish's mouth. In the process, it leaks a lot of blood and causes a pretty major heart murmur. Although I am in excellent shape and am suffering absolutely no ill effects from my condition (yet), the left ventricle in my heart is having to work harder to pump out that excess blood, causing it to grow bigger. Right now it is right 'on the edge' of how big the doctors want it to get. If it grows any more, my heart could become sick.

So, on April 14th, I will undergo open-heart surgery to replace my aortic valve. I am part of a really cool FDA trial where they will be putting in a new carbon-fiber valve to replace my defective one. My surgeon is one of my very close friends (he was my buddy before I even knew that I had a heart problem) and he and his partners are the most experienced docs in the world at installing this new technology. Word on the street is that the carbon-fiber valve will increase my horsepower by about 200 and drop my time in the quarter-mile by almost a whole second. I'm hoping for a 0-60 time that rivals a Ferrari 430, although I'd settle for the Audi S6 time.

All humor aside, I am about to have about the most invasive surgery imaginable and I honestly can't help but be a little freaked out. For those of you who are still wondering...yes they do have to saw open my ribcage, take out my heart and replace the valve. Unfortunately, there is no way to 'scope' this one. Looks like I'll be out of the water for a bit. Sure, I'm a little nervous. But more than anything, I'm actually excited. Those of you who know me know the truly miraculous circumstances that brought my doctor, Dennis Nichols and myself together as friends. God's hand was undeniably present in forming our friendship and His healing for my heart started years ago when we met. In my case, my doctor's hands are literally God's hands. Because of this, I know that I will be just fine. Sure, I worry about the pain and the recovery and the loss of almost a year's wages (I am a commercial pilot and because of FAA regulations, I will be out of work for a LONG time). But I know that God is in control and will help me through all of that stuff as well. I am excited to see just what God is going to do in myself and Camille's lives in this next year.

My brother, Chad also writes a blog. His latest post forced me to think about some real truths in life and in the process once again validated the faith that I have in God, even when things are hard and God seems distant. He mentioned that he is more in love with his family and with God than ever before, but that he is also going through the hardest time of his life right now. Many who don't believe in God would point to this as evidence that God is not there or that He cannot be trusted. However, having walked closely with God for most of my life, I know that the opposite is true.

First off, God never promised us that this life would be easy. It is a very bumpy road at best, but He has promised that He will be there for us through every rut and washout. He won't necessarily flatten the road for us, but he will always help us navigate through the rough parts, if we ask Him to. Second, it truly is in the hard times when we have to rely on His strength that we learn our best lessons, grow closer to Him, and become better human beings in general. Let me illustrate.

Several years ago, I went through the hardest time of my life. To make a long story short, I lost my baby daughter, my former wife dove deeper into depression and alcoholism and my marriage eventually ended in divorce. At the end, I was literally crushed. I had lost everything. Even my house. I had a beat-up pickup truck, a computer and a couple of surfboards...that's about it. Sure, I had prayed and prayed for God to heal my marriage and 'fix' my situation. But God had other plans. Although I sort of knew all along on the inside that I was about to lose it all, I also felt God's presence and knew that He was going to be there to walk me through it. And walk with me He did! I remember being right in the middle of the 'hard stuff' and waking up in the morning and being happy. Truly happy. For no reason whatsoever. Sometimes I wanted to laugh, even though there was no reason to. I was just happy and content.

Not long after that, as I continued to soak up the healing that only His presence can bring, I was introduced to the woman of my dreams, my beautiful wife Camille. Within a couple if years, God had brought me from the pit of despair to the top of the world. There are so many more details in this story that I don't have time to share right here that would blow your mind, but for now just know that I truly believe that God allowed me to walk through an unimaginably tragic and hard situation for some very specific reasons. One reason was so that I could experience His presence in a way that I never would have had I not needed to lean on Him so much. One big reason, I believe, was so that he could bring Camille and I together. He also spared my wonderful daughter, Hannah a lifetime's worth of hurt. But there's one more reason why I know that we can continue to trust God even when our world seems to be falling apart.

I believe that something happens in the 'unseen' spiritual realm when we let God bring victory in our lives through hard situations. God saw the 'big picture' in my circumstance and He knew that I would be happier in the end if He answered my prayers in a way that was a bit different than the way I wanted Him to at the time. He also, I believe, knew that I would trust Him and because of that He allowed me to experience the kind of hardship that I did so that I could have victory over that particular situation...victory that could be used later on in life.

Let me explain. Today I am at total peace with my life, happier than I have ever been and totally in love with my best friend and partner, Camille. I experienced His healing and His victory over my broken heart. I have a friend, however, who is right in the middle of what I experienced several years ago. The details of his situation are a bit different than mine, of course, but the broken heart and the loss and hurt are exactly the same. Like I did, he is also trying to hold his marriage together with a partner who is unwilling to keep trying. Because of what I experienced, I am truly able to tell him that I know how he feels...and I am valid. I also believe that because I let God have victory in my situation, my prayers for my friend's situation carry a power that they would not have before. Even the enemy of our souls knows that he was defeated in my life when it comes to broken marriage and heartbreak. The weapons that I bring to this fight are infinitely more powerful than the weapons I would have had available to me had I not allowed God to triumph over my former situation. I can pray with confidence for others in this area and know that my prayers pack a real punch!

My friend Travis has a similar story. His mother-in-law died of cancer. Throughout the process, Travis refused to 'give in' to the cancer and chose to believe that it was God's will to heal her - even until the day of her death. While it was indescribably painful for him to watch as God chose to take her to be with Him, today Travis is seeing the results of his faith and his prayers against cancer. He prays with a lot of cancer patients. And they almost always get healed. No kidding. Travis' faith and refusal to let cancer 'win' in his life has given him a special victory over cancer in the unseen realm. Travis prays, God listens. And heals. All because God let him walk through a huge rut in his road caused by cancer.

Can I still trust God even though I am facing another really hard situation? I think that it is pretty obvious that I can. Sure, I am praying and trusting that God will just fix my faulty valve before the surgery even happens. But whatever the outcome, I know from experience that this will be one more arena in life where Jeremy's prayers will pack an extra punch. Who knows? Maybe someday I will pray for someones heart and it will be healed on the spot...not due to my faith or holiness (Just ask Camille how 'holy' I am!), but due to what God has allowed me to go through and defeat.

Life is hard. Faith in God is not a 'fix-all' that will keep life from being hard. Faith in God is the glue that holds life together when it gets hard. I can tell you from experience that life is infinitely better after walking through the 'hard stuff' and being able to look back and see how God was there for you all along. It brings a vitality and a power to life that can't be obtained any other way. If you're hurting, keep trusting Him. If you haven't made that leap of faith to trust Him, I promise you that it is worth it. The argument that a good God shouldn't let bad things happen is a cop-out. It is that good God who helps us make sense of a sinful, screwed-up world. A sinful world that is our fault, not His. Because He is good and trustworthy, He helps us through hardships that are a result of our fallen state and then gives us a power to live life to its fullest afterward. Trust me, you can trust Him.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Surfing Lessons #6

OK, so it's time to get off of my butt and start blogging again. This blog thing is sort of like going to the gym...if you take a break, it's hard to get motivated to start again! Also, being the surf addict that I am, it's hard to get anything done when the surf is good. And good it was today!

For fear of my life (literally), I'm not going to give out too much information about the point break where we surf, other than to say that it is world-class. It rivals almost any wave anywhere, and there are some world-class surfers that call our town home because of it. To keep the crowds down, there are also some world-class psychos who police the lineup and the parking lot to make sure that no one who they don't know will even attempt to surf their wave. Localism is an issue the world over in surfing, but here it is taken to a whole new level. It took me a few years of verbal abuse (luckily I am a pretty big dude with a very easy-going personality, so the abuse never turned physical, as it has for some) to reach the point where I am accepted out there. Persistence pays off! Everyone knows that Camille is my wife, so she's accepted too!

Some would ask why we even bother to become 'accepted' at such a hard-core surf break when there are several other breaks in the area, some even at the same parking lot, where good surf can be found. The truth is that we do surf a lot of those other spots often as well. I guess the answer is really quite simple. If your imaginary rich uncle drove a brand new Ferrari down your driveway, tossed you the keys and the title and told you that the insurance was paid up indefinitely, I suppose you could continue to drive your 1989 Ford Fiesta. But why? You own a freekin' Ferrari! I guess you could get a bowl of oatmeal instead of the eggs benedict at the all-you-can-eat brunch buffet, but again - why? Our point break is world-class. When it is 'working', just one wave out there is better than ten waves anywhere else. It is truly worth all of the 'dues' that come with being able to enjoy it. Every time I surf the point, I come away ultra stoked.

There's another reason why I never gave up in my quest to be able to surf our point break 'un-hassled'. There have been days in the past when I literally wanted to kill some of the locals who dish up the smack out there. More often than not, my hostility has been brought on by what they are doing to someone else, not myself. Somewhere along the way, though (I can't really point to exactly where) REALITY smacked me upside the head. As messed-up, drugged-up, mean, nasty, heartless and sometimes just plain evil as some of those guys are...they are children of God. That makes them my brothers. As that reality started to grow within me, I found my hostility towards them melting away, replaced by a God-given love and burden for them. Not surprisingly, it wasn't long after this that I started making friends with some of the most 'hard-core' of them.

Today, I am on friendly terms with all of the 'heavies' and can honestly say that I love them with the love of Christ. If for no other reason than that, it has been worth the hassling and abuse that it cost me to be able to surf in peace out at the point. The stories of some of these dude's lives would bring a tear to even the most jaded among us. We're talking abuse, broken families, serious drug use and addiction, suicides, overdoses, spiritual oppression, criminal activity and just plain loneliness and hopelessness. Some surfers around here would say that they get what they deserve. Well, as God started to show me how much He loves these broken people, I became thankful that He doesn't give me what I deserve. Instead of hating them, I started praying for them. Let me tell you, if you haven't tried it - it's pretty darn hard to dislike someone for whom you are praying!

One day last summer, one of them intentionally overdosed on heroin and killed himself. He left a note and a very hurting family. His older brother is one of the best surfers in the area and one of the 'heavies' out at the point. He also lived on my street. Over the course of the year I had become pretty friendly with him. The day of his brother's memorial service, he came over to my house and did something that I would never expect from such a 'tough guy'. With tears in his eyes, he told me that he was going to be gone for a while, told me that I was a great guy and gave me a big hug. That may not seem like much, but in an environment where the smallest sign of weakness will be pounced-upon, his words and actions spoke volumes. And right then I knew that my prayers were starting to 'get through' and that God may just have placed me here for 'such a time as this'.

Yes, I love to surf our point. But more and more, I am learning to love some of the more 'unsavory characters' who surf our point. Often times, the stoke that I get from the waves out there lasts for days. However, the stoke that I have gotten from experiences like the one with my hurting neighbor never goes away. To be able to be God's arms or hands or voice to someone who is needing to feel His love gives you a better feeling than any wave can. I truly believe that God has plans for some of the surfers in our town and that He has allowed me to become friends with some of them to help accomplish His purposes.

I guess that if there is a reason for my sharing all of this with you, it would be to encourage you to pray for those who 'persecute' you. It is so much easier to get mad at them and hate them. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty glad that Jesus didn't get mad at the people who persecuted Him. He showed us the ultimate example of God's love. Instead of hating them, he died for them. I'm fairly sure that I'm not going to be dying for anyone any time soon, but I'm not Jesus. He died so we don't have to. What I can do is try to show His love to as many others as possible in hopes that they too will meet Him. I hope that you too can experience the stoke that comes from pointing a fellow child of God toward Him, no matter how much you may just want to kick their butt!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Oh, did I mention I like to write?

Hey all! Some of you know that I have been working on a couple of novels. Purely fiction. Mostly for my own amusement. I have decided to start a new blog and post the first chapter from my book Theristes on that blog. It's sort of an attempt to get some feedback from my friends and motivate me to finish the novel! I won't give anything away here, and I am only posting the first chapter for now. The next couple of chapters go in depth into explaining just who my main character is, but I think you'll figure it out by just the first chapter. It's meant to be exciting and a bit scary. I'd love to get your opinions, so feel free to read it and tell me what you think!

Here's the link to my other blog - 'Theristes'.



Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow-plows and God's Great Love

Well, I'm back. The holidays were as busy for me as I am sure that they were for you. Add a nice little snowboarding vacation to the mix and it means that Jeremy has neglected his blog for a couple of weeks. Well, hopefully that all ends now!

I am always amazed by how much God loves Camille and I. This life was never going to be a 'bed of roses', but having Him in it sure makes things go a lot more smoothly! He is continually giving us things that we don't deserve. Here's an example. The best friend that I ever had during my days in the Army was Jason Moore. I got out of the Army two weeks before September 11th, 2001 (another example of God's undeserved grace in my life). In the seven-and-a-half years since that fateful day, Jason has spent most of his time in Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot, away from his beautiful family. A lot has happened in both of our lives since 2001, but we have managed to stay in touch and our friendship is still very strong. He will always be like a brother to me and his beautiful wife Christina and his three awesome boys will always be family.

Christina's best friend Jacy has an uncle who owns a beautiful house right on the slopes in Telluride, Colorado. If you don't know anything about Telluride, let me just tell you that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Its high altitude, vast terrain and sparse crowds make it one of the best places to snowboard and ski in North America. Its remote location and limited accessibility make it a playground for the rich and famous. We could never, in our wildest dreams, afford to stay in a house like Jacy's uncle's in Telluride. But remember God's undeserved grace? Well, Jacy's uncle knows how badly she and her husband Tony have been wanting to go on a snowboard vacation with Jason and Christina. He told her that when Jason came back from Iraq for the last time and had some time off, that they could have the house (which rents for $15,000 a week) for a week, free of charge! It's a huge house. When Jason and Christina found out that they had the place for a week in January, they called me to see if Camille and I would come stay with them! For Camille and I, that's pretty much the stuff dreams are made of! God's grace...

To make a long story short, it was the best snowboarding trip of our lives! Awesome slopes and great friends equal good times! You would think that God had outdone Himself for us on this one, but in the middle of all these blessings, He decided to say 'I love you' yet again. Many of those closest to me know that I have struggled with nightmares and anxious dreams of rejection for years. The rejection dreams started shortly after my first marriage ended because of alcohol abuse and unfaithfulness...possibly an over-share, but sometimes the truth, as they say, hurts. I personally believe that the enemy of my soul is angry that God helped me to find my true soul-mate in Camille and that I am indescribably happy now. He tries to haunt my unconscious life with dreams that Camille will hurt me the way my former wife did. A while back, this 'dream torture' sort of came to a head when I discussed my dreams with my brother (who also has a history of terrible nightmares) and he told me that the only way he had found to end his nightmares was to have his wife Jamie pray that he would have a peaceful sleep each night when they went to bed. Now, Camille prays the same thing for me every night and the bad dreams have stopped!

Well, in the middle of one of the best weeks of our lives, God decided to show us again how much He loves us and how perfectly 'right for each other' we are. I awoke one morning with a start. For some reason, the company that maintains the roads in Telluride and Mountain Village decided to get an early start with the snow-plow that morning. As the plow came down our driveway, I went from sound asleep to 'Why is someone running their fingers down the chalkboard?' - instantly! While the rude awakening was annoying, it was also a relief. Camille had prayed, as usual, before we fell asleep that my dreams would be peaceful. Yet for just a few seconds before I was so rudely awoken, I had been starting to have one of those 'anxiety dreams' again. I was a bit puzzled and disappointed that God had 'struck out' on that one. Still feeling the rush of negative emotions attached to a bad dream, I looked over at Camille, who had also been jarred from her sleep by the giant noisemaker. But unlike me, Camille was laughing! Still stinging from the feelings of rejection and disappointment brought on by the short dream, I wondered how a snow-plow could possibly be so funny, especially before the sun was even up!

Camille looked at me with a smile on her face and announced, "I just had the funniest dream! I dreamt that you cloned yourself...there were two of you running around!" She looked me right in the eye, gave me a big hug and said, "But the funny thing is...I liked it! I love being with you, and having two of you, I got to be with you all of the time...even when you were at work!"

Whoah. In one instant every negative emotion and insecurity I was feeling was washed away by the knowledge that my wife is the most wonderful and trustworthy person on the planet! And that she loves me as much as I love her! I knew right then that not only am I the most fortunate man alive, but that God was trying to tell me something. You can call our simultaneous dreams a coincidence if you want. You can say that the snow-plow stirring us from our sleep at exactly that instant was random, if that's how you feel. But I know better. I know the God whom I serve. I know that His love for us is deeper than we could ever imagine. I knew right then that Camille's prayer the night before had been heard. For reasons that will probably always be His own, God had chosen to go a step further in answering those prayers that night. He wanted to say 'I love you' with an exclamation mark. I think that He wanted to address my feelings of rejection right at the roots. To show me in a way that words never could just how unfounded those feelings, conscious or not, are when it comes to Camille. Once and for all, He showed me how wrong my enemy is when he tries to make me feel insecure.

My friends, this is how much our Creator loves us. He loves us enough to 'scheme' ways to show us His love even when we are sleeping! There is not one instant in our lives when His great love is not reaching out to us. I am as guilty as you are of forgetting much of the time that He is right there beside us, wanting to help us and be a part of our lives, no matter how mundane they may be. I can't even wrap my mind around that - the Creator of the entire Universe loves Jeremy so much that he orchestrates elaborate dreams for he and his wife just to drive home the point that they are perfectly safe in each other's love. He's so eager to love us that He couldn't even wait until the alarm clock went off!

Man, I love Him back.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Little Ones

Family. I realize that not everyone is stoked about their family, so if you are having a tough time with yours, you'll have to excuse me for a second. I really love mine. I realize how fortunate I am to be able to say that...how so many others wish that they felt the same way. I don't take it for granted.

As I write this, my beautiful little niece Maci is drawing me a picture and explaining to me that 'alphabet letters' are on there, but you just can't see 'em. Her cousins Zach and Levi are knocking on the sliding-glass door, covered in mud, needing help shedding their soaking-wet clothes so they won't turn the kitchen into a water feature when they come inside. This post will probably take all day to write - but I couldn't care less! The place is chaos, but these little mini-nuclear reactors are my family, and being with them is the happiest place on earth.

My side of the family decided that there wasn't enough insanity in the month of December, so we had to extend it into January for a 'belated' Christmas celebration. This is about the forty-seventh holiday-related event that we've attended this season...but thankfully this one is taking place at someone else's house! My brother actually has the perfect house for it. Room for everyone and enough space to test out the new bicycles, tricycles, wagons, etc. that were found under the tree this Christmas. At least once an hour someone is falling off a wagon or hitting a wall head-first, adding to the general state of emergency. Little Gwen, my sister's youngest is usually directing the traffic and Max, my brother's youngest is blowing them all off for Baby Einstein.

Having no kids myself, you would think that all of this would wear me out...but the truth is that I am probably the biggest kid of them all. I soak in the chaos and do my best to add to it! Not only do I relish having two or three of my favorite little people on the planet climbing on me at once, but I truly find a sick pleasure in getting them fired up and handing them back to my siblings. Unfortunately, the effect is sort of nullified by the fact that my brother and sister are as crazy as everyone else around here and find the whole maelstrom of miniature humanity as humorous as I do.

We live in interesting times, to say the least. Our nation...our world...seems to converging on a crossroads and the uncertainty of what is next is weighing heavily in the air everywhere you go. I've noticed the pressure getting to a lot of my friends. Tempers are flaring up quicker and frustrations are being expressed more openly. As I sit here surrounded by the little lives that will be affected by the decisions made by our generation, I am reminded of just how critical it is that we remain clear-headed...of just how much they need us right now. Whether we realize it or not, we are shaping the world of their future. There is a lot of doom-saying going on right now, some of it worth a second though and some of it just plain idiotic. But we owe it to these little ones to press in and try to make sense of a crazy world. We need to try our hardest to set them up for success.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I truly believe in our Creator. That means that I truly believe that nothing is impossible when He is involved. I believe that He is not finished with our country or our world quite yet...as some are implying. I believe that to Him, the left and the right, the liberal and the conservative, the red and the blue...all of it...to Him it's all just jargon. He cares about people. He doesn't love you any more or less if you believe in Him or if you don't. He really doesn't give a rip about our politics, our opinions, our social experiments. He created the cosmos and then transformed Himself into a helpless baby human, lived a life amongst us and died for us, all for one reason. He loves us. Every single one of us. He loves my niece Maci as much as He loves the inmate on death row as much as he loves the monk in the Buddhist monastery in Tibet as much as He loves me. And that kind of love is not ready to throw in the towel.

The interesting thing about our Creator is that while He has infinite power and could sweep in an 'fix' everything in an instant, He doesn't. He chooses to use us...people. We are His hands, His feet, His voice. He is not going to 'change the world' unless we are willing to get on board and help with the dirty work. If you are feeling a bit lazy and thinking of letting someone else pull your weight in all of this, just look around you. Look at your family. Even if you are from a broken, hurting family, there is bound to be at least one little one who is innocent of being involved in any of the hurts life has dealt to you. At least one Zach or Levi or Maci or Gwenneth or Max who is counting on you to leave them with a future that is bright. I truly believe that we can address the problems of our generation. I also believe that we cannot do it without the help of our Creator. So, this is a message of hope and a message of warning. All is not lost...for the sake of our little ones, all cannot be lost. But if we think for a second that we can 'make everything better' without the help of the One who put it all here in the first place, we are fools. Fortunately, He loves our children even more than we do and wants to help. All we have to do is ask. And then act.

P.S. - I will probably come back often to this theme. I realize that I have eluded to issues in general and have only scratched the surface of what I see happening in our world and of possible solutions to some of the problems. I purposely do not want to get political in my blogging. So, from time to time, as my heart leads me, I will probably just address social issues in general and how they relate to what our Creator wants to do in our lives.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I'm Still Here...I Swear!

Whew! The holidays can get busy! Unfortunately, so does my job around this time. The weather is crazy and commerce never stops - so consequently, Jeremy never sleeps! At least this is how it has seemed lately.

Anyway, I don't know if anyone actually reads this stuff in the first place...but if you do, I assure you that I will get back to my old blogging self shortly! Right now, I have to help Camille get ready for yet another party at our house. This one is for all of the employees at her work who will be out of work for a couple of months while they shut the hotel down for a big remodel project.

I hope your Christmas and New Years were great and I pray that 2009 will bring great stuff! I'm really looking forward to writing some new posts, so stay tuned. In the meantime, take a look at a few pictures that really are worth more than a thousand words when it comes to explaining why I truly believe that everything we see didn't 'just happen'. God Bless!

P.S. - These images are copyrighted. If you have any questions, ask me!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Grand Design

Happy New Year! I'd thought I'd start out 2009 with a little nod to our Creator. First of all, look at the picture to the right. Amazing, huh? Our Universe is indescribably beautiful. This particular image is of a galaxy named M81. It is 12 million light years away from earth and is 22,000 light years wide. On a clear night, it is visible with binoculars if you look toward the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear). It is one if the brightest galaxies that can be seen from the earth. M81 is a spiral galaxy not unlike our Milky Way. One interesting factoid about M81 is that it is officially known as a 'Grand Design' spiral galaxy. There is a lot of nerd talk that goes into explaining what makes a galaxy a Grand Design galaxy, but essentially, it has to do with the remarkably symmetrical spiral pattern. The interesting thing, to me, is the fact that scientists chose the name Grand Design to describe these spectacular galaxies. One look at this natural wonder and there is no doubt that it did not come into being by accident. I've talked about this before, but a growing number of scientists on the forefront of astronomy and astrophysics are now openly professing their conviction that our universe was created...by a Creator. The raw science simply points to this fact. Hence, the name Grand Design. Grand indeed! And most definitely designed.

I was reading something quite interesting this morning. First of all, let me say that I'm not really sure how life existed before the invention of the iPhone. I can now roll over in bed in that half-asleep stupor, wipe the gunk from my eyes, grab my iPhone and viola - all of cyberspace is at my fingertips! I can check the surf report and get a live weather update for the beach by my house without ever even completely waking up. If there's no surf, I can check to see what my flight schedule for the night will be, roll over and go back to sleep! Yeah...just what I needed...more inspiration to sleep late. Maybe I need to go back and re-read my post about my neighbor The Lumberjack...

Anyway, today is incredibly stormy, the surf is Death (with a capital 'D'), and the gym is closed for New Year's. So when I rolled over and grabbed my portable link to the civilized world, there was really no good reason not to just lay there, relax and nerd out. Besides, Camille was still asleep and she's just too cute to wake up when she's all cuddled-up next to me. So, I opened a news reader app on the iPhone and checked some of the blogs I follow. One of my favorites is the Universe Today website's RSS feed. This morning, there was an interesting article about how scientists are changing their opinion about just where in the universe our solar system sits. Although to the layman it may sound medieval, there are some pretty sound reasons why until recently they honestly thought we might be at or near the center of the Universe. Because of some new information regarding 'dark matter' and a bunch of stuff that you probably don't care much about, astronomers are becoming convinced that our position in the Universe at large is actually not all that special. We seem to be in an rather ordinary 'corner' of the cosmos.

As is the case with a lot of blogs, the real interesting stuff on the Universe Today's blog is often found in the comments section. Get a bunch of science nerds together and throw in a subject that even the people at the cutting edge of astrophysics haven't really figured out yet, and the daggers start flying! The discussion sort of gravitated toward the expansion of the Universe and the Big Bang. As everyone tried to out-nerd each other with their witty displays of astronomy knowledge, someone made a statement for which no one else had an argument against. Several readers were arguing that there could be no 'center' of the Universe because it is always expanding and that at the time of the Big Bang, all matter, time...everything...was in exactly the same spot, just infinitesimally small. Then another reader made a comment that gave me the goose bumps. He reminded the other readers that the Big Bang was truly a Creation event in every sense. All arguments about where matter and time were at the time of the Big Bang are pointless. Matter and time didn't exist before the Big Bang...the Creation event. The Universe was created in an instant out of nothing.

Wait a minute. Did I just read that on a scientific blog? The Universe was created out of nothing? In an instant? And not one brilliant Darwinist astronomy geek is willing to argue that point? Man, where have I read that same thing about Creation before? I know I've heard that somewhere...

Genesis 1:1-3, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light."

Oh yeah...that's where I've read that before! God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing. He simply spoke and bang (or maybe I should say 'Big Bang') - the Universe came into existence. All of the doctorates and laureates and Nobel prizes in the world will still bring us back to this simple truth. Our Creator made all that we see. It issued forth from Himself. There was nothing...then suddenly there was everything.

And so, as we turn our gaze to the beautiful Grand Design Spiral Galaxy M81, I can't help but think of another blog I read recently. This time, the topic of the discussion was not how, but why. Why does all of this big, breathtaking Universe exist? The author of that blog concluded that God is the ultimate Artist working with the ultimate medium on the vastest canvas. Looking at the photos that the Hubble telescope and others are sending us, he argued that our Creator is using the cosmos to express His unfathomable creativity on a grand scale. The Universe is the product of the ultimate creative mind. The mind of God. He made it because He could. He just wants to express Himself. Thankfully for us, His heart is as big as His mind. His love equals His creativity. And so, while we fear His size and His power, we can trust in His mercy...His grace...His love.

And someday, I'll get to see M81 as He sees it. I'll get to experience what awesome treasures may be waiting to be discovered on the billions of worlds inside that Grand Design galaxy. So will you, if you know Him. A new year has arrived. Let's start it by acknowledging the One who created time in the first place. Happy New Year and God Bless you all, my friends!