2017 is over, and, like any other year, there are both joys and sorrows to reflect on. I went from hating running to completing a half marathon; I gained a brother in May; I grew closer to some people and drifted from others; I didn’t pray enough; I realized how rapidly time passes and how much I miss my siblings; I didn’t get to see Summer Jackson; I listened to a lot of good music; I didn’t fall in love; I got two semesters closer to completing a Biochemistry degree; I despaired often over the state of the planet and this country; I got an internship in Grand Rapids for next summer; I laughed for most of the past couple weeks with my family; I ended the year and brought in a new one with the two people who love me most.

I am thankful that the year was both good and bad, and despite my relentless craving for predictability and consistency, I remain convinced that the more colorful my marble of experiences, the better, richer, wiser and fresher my life is. I think it’s a little cliché to try to avoid being cliché, and especially when it comes to the New Year, I’m all for the optimism and excitement of resolutions. They help us admit the disappointments lingering in our consciences, allow us to humbly acknowledge the things we didn’t do very well the year prior, and show a common human desire for wholesome self-improvement.

I just finished a little book called The Art Of Living : The Classical Manual On Virtue, Happiness And Effectiveness, a modernized adaptation of the writings of the ancient stoic philosopher Epictetus. The book contains page after page of encouraging nuggets of wisdom, and is partially responsible for my determination to make this year one full of joy, discipline and growth. One quote of his in particular resonates with this time of year and my “pro-New Year’s Resolution” stance: “Clearly define the person you want to be…It’s time to stop being vague. If you wish to be an extraordinary person, if you wish to be wise, then you should explicitly identify the kind of person you aspire to become.”

So without further ado, here is my attempt at a short, doable list for 2018:

1. Play a little.

Last Sunday my parents and I went out for brunch with Tracy and Marny, a great couple from our church. Throughout the meal and conversation, we filled each other in on our lives, and I gave my typical update consisting of classes, studying, books, and goals for the future. They kindly but adamantly told me I need to have more fun, and although I’ve had friends and family telling me the same thing for a while, their words finally convinced me of this. I got home and wrote down quotes from each of them: Marny’s “play a little” and Tracy’s “Go for the B”.

So, this year, I will try harder to play—to create, to keep reading for fun, to go outside often, to dance, and to be with people.

2. Sleep. Give your body what it needs. Take breaks.

This one may speak for itself, but is a necessary reminder for me. Physical health so deeply affects mental, emotional and spiritual health, and especially after last semester, I know I need to take better care of myself. I’ve read and heard countless times how vital sleep is to overall health, so (with the help of my roommates) I will aim for 6-7 hours of sleep per night.

Last week’s Saturday Essay from the Wall Street Journal emphasized the benefits of breaks, saying “One powerful way to recast your daily routine is to take more breaks. Short breaks can help us to maintain focus and reactivate our commitment to a goal. And certain kinds of breaks are better than others…Frequent short breaks are more effective than occasional ones. The ideal break also involves movement.” Throughout this tough semester of studies, I hope to keep in mind the importance of giving my body and mind plenty of time to recharge.

3. “Enjoy Right Now, Today.”

Yes, this is the title of a Tyler, The Creator song. But it’s also the concept I struggle most to hold to in my day-to-day life. I find myself constantly thinking about the next thing or reminiscing on things past, and this worries me. I came across this theme again the other day when reading C.S. Lewis’ The Weight of Glory, where he wrote, “Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

About a year ago, I was walking with one of my favorite friends, Peyton. Out of nowhere, she exclaimed “I am where I am supposed to be!” and it stuck with me. I’m not sure how to practically go about changing my mindset, but I think I’ll start by repeating this simple sentence often to bring myself back to the here and now.

4. Be patient with yourself.

Despite its consistent urging to live a morally impeccable life, The Art of Living actually ended on a realistic and graceful note, saying “Forgive yourself over and over and over again. Then try to do better next time.” It’s an idea that friends, family, pastors, professors, and others throughout my life have been telling me, but seeing it in writing from an ancient stoic, someone who values discipline and excellence more highly than anyone, was deeply meaningful to me. If I can remember to practice this last one, I think all my other goals for this year may actually be attainable.


happy birthday, Dad

Yesterday, when asked what my favorite aspect of nature is, I replied,

without hesitation,

trees. “Why?”, she asked.

Because they’re wise, steadfast, standing out yet not imposing,

confident and quiet; humble.


The oak has seen far more than any of us here

generations of people walking under, trying to do good and be kind,

or maybe not.


The maple, too, had to watch us grow up,

blondies (and a brownie) running out the side door of the Lawlis Road house, eager to toughen up our bare feet.

And gradually, the little feet and hands were bigger,

then less frequent, then no more.

He is probably happy to have climbers again, at least for a little while.


The “perfect” tree has now been hit and weathered.

Things can’t stay symmetrical forever.

Yet I wasn’t sad, nor do I like it any less.

I may even like it more now; the cracks show the sturdy inside.

And there’s a bigger gap for the sun to shine through.


Do I love trees because my dad loves trees,

Or do I love them because I love my dad?

Both, I guess.

All I can say is, he’s all the things I love about trees,

and things I hope I am becoming.

not just a movie

Here is a rather simple statement: people must be willing to change in order to become better. Reluctance to listen and refusal to reconsider opinions is contradictory to the humility Jesus modeled. This is not to say that having a firm conviction is wrong; absolute truth does exist, and it is our obligation to seek it and preserve it. Still, we must carefully reach these convictions before holding them with such tightly-clenched fists. In searching for truth about an issue, we must try to hear from differing perspectives, and to ponder on them all. This may require some deal of bravery, and a good deal of wisdom.

In the past few years, my positions have been formed by many different voices. With some issues, I have listened, read, prayed, and ended up unchanged in my position. With others, I have had my opinions completely flipped upside-down. It is always a humbling thing to admit to being wrong, but it is ultimately rewarding to reach an educated conclusion about what is truth.

I sat down last night with an urge to write, but as usual was struggling to figure out what to write about. I have become significantly less outspoken about political issues in recent months, as I have seen the hostility they can create between myself and loved ones, so my initial intent was not to write about anything controversial. My writing was going nowhere, so I took a break and ended up watching an amazing documentary called Before the Flood. (You can watch the entire thing for free on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEqBduQIx-Q.) After the film, I felt such a sense of urgency that I could not write about anything else.

So many people in the United States do not believe that human activity is affecting the climate, or that the planet is in real danger, despite the undeniable facts. If you are one of them, please know that I do not hate you, nor do I think you are stupid. I believe that fear is powerful and often disguises itself as stubbornness and blindness. Fear must be recognized and addressed, even if it makes us uncomfortable.

God’s desire for us is to be in community, and this requires that we depend on and trust each other. God has given us incredible minds, and God has given us science. Very few people would deny that science is good when it comes to curing cancer or having surgery. Why, then, do some people trust a scientist to save their own lives, but refuse to accept science when it pertains to the health of the rest of Creation (which inevitably includes humankind)?

I suspect nothing I write will convince anyone of what I am now utterly convinced is true, and that is not my goal. My hope is simply to get people to watch Before the Flood, education which anyone on the spectrum of environmentalism can benefit from. Late NASA astronaut and scientist Piers John Sellers is interviewed in the film and states plainly (yet with more optimism than many of the voices in the film), “The facts are crystal clear: the ice is melting, the earth is warming, the sea level is rising. Those are facts. Rather than feeling it’s hopeless, say ‘Okay, this is the problem. Let’s be realistic. Let’s find a way out of it.’ And there are ways out of it…So there’s hope.”

If I needed anymore affirmation that this was something worth writing and posting about, I got it this morning when I opened my little common prayer book. The topic for the month of June just happens to be “Care for Creation”. I was amazed and encouraged as I read what it had to say:

“Sometimes our theology is so concentrated on heaven that it invalidates any concern for the earth. Some images in Scripture have even been misconstrued to perpetuate a disregard for Creation, such as the image that in the last days the world will be consumed by fire. But nearly every other time the ‘consumed by fire’ image is evoked in Scripture, it is a fire that purifies rather than burns up, a fire that frees up life rather than destroys it. No doubt, the way we live is shaped by how we imagine the end of the world—whether we think God’s final plan is for everything to go up in flames or for everything to be brought back to life…At its core, Creation care is about loving our global neighbor, because the poor suffer the most from the degradation of the earth and the struggle for clean water…At the heart of it all is a God who so loved the world and who called everything in it good.”

Please, please watch this documentary. We are privileged to be able to even question the validity of climate change, because we live in a country that can continue to sustain our consumption and standard of living (for now). However, plenty of people are experiencing the reality of these changes in their day-to-day lives, from forest fires in underdeveloped nations like Indonesia to carcinogenic smog in extremely developed countries like China.

Striving for sustainability and fighting against the destruction of the earth is no denial of God’s omnipotence or sovereignty. It is simply an acknowledgement of the responsibility that God has so lovingly given humanity. If a Christian were to say, “God is in control of everything, so I don’t need to bring the message of Jesus Christ to people,” most people would be appalled and tell that person that it is one of our greatest commandments to spread truth and love to others. How, then, are so many people justifying this type of mentality when it comes to the health of the planet, when the same holy book teaches us to be good stewards of the earth, to live responsibly, and to avoid selfish lifestyles?

The environment is not a political issue, and we have to stop looking at it through partisan lenses. This is a matter of human morality (and, sooner or later, mortality). If there’s one thing we can all unite around, it should be this, because we are all inextricably bound to the rest of Creation. Pope Francis released an encyclical letter titled “On Care for Our Common Home” (http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html), in which he speaks at length about the unity and holiness of all things created by God. Here is an excerpt of his closing prayer, which I’ll close with.

“Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature

as we journey towards your infinite light.”


a short poem I wrote in Uganda

what have I to worry about

in this little clay ball

blue and green

in the palm of the One who sees

the ones without shoes

without cool, clear water

without a Big Mac

without a pill to cure the pain

  with companionship

  with love.

what immense things have I to worry about

in this little clay ball

blue and green

in the palm of the One who sees

the ones with more shoes than closet space

with heaps of plastic waste from their over-priced H2O

with hearts that cannot sustain the bodies inflated with grease and fake meat

with enough pills to make the Divine unnecessary

  without companionship

  without love.



I saw a peacock the other day. He was lost and confused and dashing around in some bushes by the side of a small street in residential Cleveland, Tennessee. I had been on a long barefoot walk, enjoying the strange 60 degree weather in January, when I heard rustling to my right. I stood there staring at the creature, and the man sitting on his porch on the other side of the street looked on, confused as to what I was doing. After a few moments, I left the bird and continued walking back toward campus, bemused but unaware of the significance of the sighting.

What I consistently fail to recognize, perhaps because doubtful reasoning usually takes the forefront of my conscious activity, is the supernatural interconnectedness of things which seem coincidental. But when God means to teach me something—when God needs me to focus on some broken thing within me that God intends to heal, God’s gonna use something as random as a peacock to get my attention.

It is what C.S. Lewis, in his classic, Mere Christianity, calls “The Great Sin”, and it “leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Pride just won’t seem to leave me alone. It seems the harder I pry at it, the more relentless pride is in its determination to cling to me. Since the start of my sophomore year back in August, and especially in the past few weeks of second semester, every day presents a greater challenge to my character and requires more spiritual fruit from me. And it has not been a time devoid of improvement; by the grace of God, I have experienced some positive changes inside myself (perhaps a meager increase in generosity, patience and gratitude). But, in Lewis’s words, “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.” No statement has been more relevant to me as of late. So I find myself in this paradox: my wholesome self longs to have the pride dismantled, while my other, selfish self resists with all its might.

Some consolation in my frustrating lack of progress toward humility came to me in Lewis’s words following his initial condemnation of pride: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.” It seems that there are no fewer instances of pride in my day-to-day life, but something that has changed is my ability to recognize it (Am I being prideful right now as I proclaim that I am slowly becoming more humble?). Lately, it has been a very recurring instance, often in the classroom, amongst friends, or in the gym. It’s never fun for me to admit to myself that my thoughts are proud, but a particularly difficult time was the other night, at a racial justice discussion during Martin Luther King week. I was ashamed to realize that, while I so quickly condemn others for insensitivity or blatant racism, I have failed to recognize the fact that I have grown up internalizing certain stereotypes presented by dominant American culture. This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t fight against racism or call others out for it when necessary, but it was a sobering realization for me to discover that it is going to take a good deal of effort to uproot the lies that live in my own heart.

Pride is more harmful to the one who harbors it than to anyone else. I’ve found this to be true for myself as, just today, I’ve come to the most painful revelation of my pride yet. For the past year or so, I have been determined to maintain an appearance of contentment with solitude. Most of the time, I truly am happy and fulfilled in my independence. But today, for some reason, has been melancholy, and has shown me that a part of me is lonely (my prideful side is reluctant to say such a word). I keep myself occupied with things that I enjoy, so the feeling is rare. Still, these days come every so often, and I have to admit the fact that I am facing an intimacy void. I feel emotionally detached from people, which is totally foreign to me; anyone who has known me for longer than a year can attest to the fact that I am typically an open book with no shortage of tears. Somehow, acknowledging my prideful need to avoid loneliness through a façade of joyful singleness is actually freeing, and I am already a little more at peace.

Lewis presents the ultimate level of humility, saying,“The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.” I intend to press on toward such a level of humility, but I have no doubt this journey will be lifelong. That Jesus is far more patient with me than I am with myself is something I am ever grateful for.

In the end, I hope to be the peacock

whose beauty is striking but not flaunted;

Whose pride is replaced with a boldness

which can only be born from humility.


a prayer for fruit

Lord, let me remain in close communion with You, that I may be continually pruned, that I may bear increasingly more good fruit.

Forgive my hatred, and in its place put


Forgive my self-pity, and in its place put


Forgive my anxiety, and in its place put


Forgive my anger, and in its place put


Forgive my hostility, and in its place put


Forgive my iniquity, and in its place put


Forgive my fear, and in its place put


Forgive my harsh thoughts, words, and deeds, and in their place put


Forgive my impulsiveness, and in its place put


Forgive my desire to control, and in its place put


Forgive my greed, and in its place put


Forgive my lust, and in its place put

respect for myself & others.

Forgive my laziness, and in its place put


Forgive my disobedience, and in its place put


Forgive my foolishness.

Give me wisdom.

Forgive my pride.

Give me humility.

Once again, Lord Jesus, forgive my hatred, and in its place put love.


life is not happy

This is an article I wrote for the Odyssey a few months back…figured I’d post it to my personal blog too.


Much of life is about doing what you have to do. To all the advocates of the notion that life is about being happy and having fun, I’m sorry for being a grump. Truthfully, though, I consider myself a happy person. I love being happy, and I love having fun. I just feel the need to address the abundance of cute little pictures edited with the words “Live for the moment” or “Do what makes you happy” that I’ve seen on the internet in recent years.

This summer has been different from any other summer of my life. Summer has always meant freedom, friends, and play. This year, however, I returned from four months studying abroad in Uganda and began working at an Italian market to start paying off the debt I owe my parents, as well as taking online classes to get caught up for the upcoming semester at Lee. Due to a strange sequence of events that would take too long to explain, I spent the summer with my parents in a Washington, D.C., row house. In a nutshell, I spent a long summer working, taking classes and hanging out with my mom and dad in a big city where none of my friends live, and like-minded college kids are scarce.

I realize that this may seem pathetic, but I want to be clear in saying that this summer has been very, very good. Yes, studying anatomy for four hours straight, and making Cream of Wheat (with soy milk) at 2 a.m. throughout all of June may seem depressing and antisocial. For me, however, these past few months have taught me the substantial value that exists in doing ordinary, unexciting, and often not-fun things. I’ve found that peace and joy appear most tangibly during my early-morning bike rides to work, or in delivering an extra dry cappuccino to a customer’s table, or while cooking stir-fry with my mom.

Much of this mentality I now possess is probably owed to my recent experiences in Uganda. Over the course of the semester, I got to live with two different Ugandan families — whom I now call my own. I saw them work hard every single day, without complaining about their lives. One of my two amazing mothers, Martha, forever changed the way I see joy. She was around five months pregnant at the time with a 9-month-old wrapped onto her back, chopping wood for the kitchen stove. All day, every day, Mama Martha worked diligently and with few breaks. It looked like a thankless and tiresome life to me as an outsider. But every night when the day’s work was finished and Mama was gathered in the little kitchen hut with Papa Wilfred and their five children, I saw simple joy and fulfillment beyond anything I had ever experienced. These people, who had little and shared all, were thankful and content.

I’ve been dealt a good hand. I could choose to not care about most of the hard questions and issues. I could choose to not work very hard and would still survive at an at least mediocre standard of living. Truthfully, I have gone through times in which I have decided to do as I pleased, disregarding almost everything and everyone which seemed to oppose my desires. Those were arguably the darkest and most unfulfilling periods of my life; I found that there was no joy in living for my own fleeting pleasure.

There is a lot to this life, and I’m afraid that being happy and having fun only fills a small portion of it. This is not to say that fun is a bad thing. I believe laughter and freedom are real gifts from God. I believe that happiness is a part of life, but that sadness, struggle, and suffering are, too. So much substance lies in the hard work: the honesty, the patience, the discipline, the gratitude, and the (often voluntary) joy that every day brings.

Real life is not happy, it is not fun, and it is definitely not fair. What I’ve found thus far, and will most likely be learning for years to come, is that the mundane jobs, the simple conversations, the aching backs, the pleading prayers, the ugly cries, the uncomfortable confrontations, the doubting moments, the frustrations, the let-downs and all the awkwardness of life — that’s the good stuff.