Four years ago I sat at lunch with graduates from Morningside in Spartanburg.  It was a tough day because I was about to move my family from serving in the Upstate to Florence.  In fact, just days after I left that graduate luncheon I was living in Florence.  Some of the students in this video are among first students I met.  They were in a transition time too.  They were getting ready to start high school and were a bit uneasy about having a new youth pastor.  But God graciously brought our lives together.  Four years later, we’ve had a ton of great memories together and grown closer to the Lord.  These four years have flown by quickly.  I’m very proud of each of you.  Congratulations! Let everything you do in life be about JESUS.

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Band of Brothers

This past weekend I did something I never thought I would do.  I completed a GORUCK Light event. Last week I wrote about rucking to the top of Table Rock with my family.  I remember saying it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  This weekend’s GORUCK event may have topped it.  Honestly, they were both very challenging in their own ways.  The mountain ruck was difficult on my heart and was a physically exhausting cardio workout.  This GORUCK Light was tough physically on my muscles. We picked up and put down so many heavy things.  We carried soaking wet sandbags that weighed between 40-100 lbs. We carried our team members in a variety of ways to help us simulate medical evacuations and prepare as US soldiers.  At one point I “fireman” carried a woman over my shoulder for well over 200 yards while additionally wearing my ruck.  It was grueling, but I learned a lot about myself and the band of brothers and sisters that defend this country.

The number one rule of a GORUCK event is to never drop the American flag.  These events are put on by US Special Forces to help civilians train and understand what our men and women in the Armed Forces do to train for war.  The flag should be a cherished symbol to all Americans, but it is certainly cherished by those who serve in the military.  As we marched in formation across Myrtle Beach we were very mindful to carry the flag with pride and let the flag lead the way for our team.  At about an hour into the four hour event, the unthinkable happened.  The flag was not secured correctly and it hit the ground.  You could hear the oxygen leaving the area.  The team was stunned and visibly upset.  Our Cadre, JC Jordan was not happy.  He immediatley  ordered us into the ocean.  We would pay dearly for such an infraction.  As we stood in line knee deep in the surf, we all knew that what was about to take place would be painful.  He ordered us to do burpies on his command.  Seriously…burpies.  The thing I hate the most.  Burpies on land are not fun.  Burpies on land wearing 30lb packs are tough.  Burpies with 30lb packs, in knee deep water, with the waves knocking you down are brutal.  We did burpies for what seemed like an hour (but was probably only about 10min).  Every time I jumped up – I was a little slower than the last.  As JC’s cadence continued on, my legs began to give out.  My strength was pretty much gone.  Each time I got up I was slower than the last.  Towards the end of the ordeal the men on my right and left started picking me up out of the water by my arms.  As I slowly picked my head up out of the ocean the last time I began to understand.

I saw my dad’s face.  I saw Andrew Lee’s face, I saw the faces of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy.  I realized in that moment that this was just practice.  This was just a challenge event led by US Special Forces.  This was not real.  Bullets were not flying.  Mortars were not falling around me.  Men were not dying.  But in that moment I got a glimpse of what our US military does to protect that flag and to secure my freedom.

I am grateful.  I’ve always loved my country.  As an Eagle Scout I have always respected the flag and the men and women who died for it. But until Saturday I never was physically pushed to a point where I could see first hand what it feels like to give my all and be pulled along by a band of brothers (and sisters) by my side.

Thank you JC and Jeremy for your service.  Our prayers are with you JC as you head out this week for your final deployment.  Thank you dad for serving 10 years in the Marines and fighting in Vietnam.  Thank you Andrew Lee for choosing the military over college life and setting the example for the next generation.  If you see a man or women in uniform, tell them Thank You.  This band of brothers and sisters deserve our respect and gratitude.

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It’s been a while since my last post.  I started this blog a decade ago as a way to communicate with families in our church (before social media was a thing) and to journal the journey of our family.  Lately I’ve neglected it for other forms of media like Facebook & Instagram.  Yesterday my memory on Facebook was from seven years ago when we built our treehouse in Spartanburg.  In some ways it seems like yesterday, but in other ways it seems like a lifetime ago.  The video reminded me of how I chronicled the entire building process on this blog.

The world seems to have hit fast forward since those days.  From 2006 when this blog was birthed to today seems like the years are flying by.  Rather than sending letters, voicemails and emails we post birthday greeting on walls, send crazy emoticons and Snapchats that disappear seconds later.  As a society we live second by second and then wonder why we can’t remember what happened yesterday.  Yesterday was hundreds of text messages back on our phones and instant message feeds.

How did it get this way?  Why is life in fast forward?  Have we lost the art of conversation, thinking deeply, human relationships and solitude?  Are we so interested in being seen, noticed and loved that we’re more worried about posting about our lives than living our lives?  Do we worry more about a great selfie than experiencing the adventure of our day?

I’m guilty of living this way.

This weekend our family took a day away from the light-speed life of a family of five in ministry to retreat.  We left Florence and headed to the mountains.  We went to ruck the summit of Table Rock.  Rucking isn’t a misprint.  It’s a real word.  It is simply walking with weight on your back.  The word ruck is taken from the old word – rucksack.  A rucksack is a term used for military backpacks that our troops have carried for generations on their backs into battle.  Soldiers have been “rucking” not for excercise, but for survival.  They carry the heavy loads of medical supplies, gear and ammunition to defend our freedom.  It’s a normal day for an American soldier to carry a 40-70lb rucksack for double-digit miles.

In recent years, former military personnel have helped average “joes” in the US learn to train physically by using rucking as a form of exercise.  Rucking is catching on across the country and becoming a great cross training form of fitness.  I got into rucking through a men’s fitness group called F3.  I’ve never been a runner, so I saw rucking as a way to get a great workout through walking/hiking.  Studies show that walking with even 10-15lbs added can burn three times the calories as regular walking.  So, if I could walk off weight…give me that ruck.  About a year ago I purchased my first ruck from GO RUCK.  I’ve been hooked ever since.  But honestly…the walking, the ruck, the weight loss are just gravy.  The best part of rucking is the conversations with friends.  Unless you’re an avid runner, it’s difficult to talk and run.  But rucking helps combine fitness and fellowship.  Taking time to go ruck also helps to disconnect from the world for a few hours.  Rucking is a wonderful way to disconnect from social media, see the world from a new perspective and plug into a conversation with friends.

I’ve enjoyed rucking so much that Ashley and the boys are getting into it now too.  Ashley and I will go rucking a few afternoons a week to unplug from the craziness of life, parenting, and full time ministry.  It’s very therapeutic.  It helps recharge our souls (but does wear out our soles…lol).  Sorry.  That wasn’t even funny.

This weekend as we headed to Table Rock our goal was to complete an 8 mile mountain ruck challenge as part of the Pathfinder Class we’re taking to train.  Since July I’ve probably rucked over 300 miles, but I’ve never rucked to the top of a mountain.  And I have never even hiked up a mountain with my children.  Especially not a 5 year old.  We packed up our lunches, our water, and our weight plates in our rucks.  Ashley and I each carried about 40 lbs on our backs.  We held Luke’s hand and constantly told the boys to be carful as we rounded high mountain corners where the trail was narrow and the chance of falling over the side was high.  We struggled.  I won’t lie.  I had to stop about every 100 yards just to breath.  It was literally like climbing up a wall.  We climbed over 2000 feet in elevation and there were so many times when we felt like turning back.   SO MANY.  I can remember one time I actually said that I wanted Jesus to return at that very moment.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Our teenager was bit disengaged because…he’s a teenager (yet never looked winded).  Our 10 year old was all in and trying hard, but struggling to breath too.  The one we worried about most was our little guy.  Our five year old is a ball of energy and is always running wild.  He’s totally a boy and he’s always into something.  We assumed that he would complain the whole way and test our patience.  To our surprise he never complained and totally loved the hike.  Those little velcro shoes carried him for seven hours and over eight miles.

One of the best conversations I had on Saturday was with one of the boys.  He was struggling to see the goal of finishing the ruck.  Truthfully, so was I.  We were both out of breath and sitting on a rock on the side of the trail.  I told him that this hike was a lot like our lives as a family.  Sometimes life is very hard.  Sometime we don’t think we can go on.  Sometimes we want to give up.  We slip and fall.  But then there are also moments of fun.  Moments when we reach the top and experience the glory of creation and the majesty of God.  This weekend’s trip wasn’t just a ruck for me, it was much more.   Reaching the top of Table Rock and sitting there with the most important four people in my world was  indescribable.  It reminded me of God’s presence, God’s greatness and his provision for my family.

I pray that I remember this day on the mountain for years to come.  I want to remember the moments we spent on the top of the rock when life speeds up, we have our heads down in our devices and find ourselves living again on social media.  I pray that we will look up more often, experience life together more fully and walk humbly as a family in the presence of the One who made us.  The Creator of the mountains (and valleys).  The one who is there with us every step of the journey.

The next time you see our family out walking along the side of the road carrying a ruck on our backs… we aren’t looking for a ride.  But we would love for you to join us.  Let’s GO RUCK.

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