The Wardrobe

Someone tells you about a wardrobe. Not an ordinary wardrobe, but a wardrobe that has the power to change everything. The power to save the world.

It takes you a long time to find it. You grow tired and weary of searching. Until one day you stumble across an overgrown cottage set deep in a lush river valley. You peel your way through moss and vine and enter through the front door but find it empty; dry leaves scattered across the floor and cobwebs in every corner. You are just about to leave when your eyes are drawn to a string hanging from the ceiling, connected to a small entrance above. You pull down the hatch to the attic and ascend the rickety wooden stairs. 

You find lots of people there. People from all over the world and from all walks of life, all worshipping the wardrobe.  People have drawn maps to it from every direction, and are bickering with one another over the most efficient routes. Stacks of papers with multiple sketches of the wardrobe lay out in front of them; each person’s imitation slightly different. Some say it has three hinges, while others four. Some say it is made of oak, others mahogany. Some have drawn it tall and slender while others have it drawn short and wide. A few people are bowed down in reverence in front of the wardrobe, while others gaze longingly at the object that gives them purpose. 

Off to your left, you see an old man with a long grey beard sitting cross legged on the floor. His clothes are in tatters, his feet extremely dirty. Teetering piles of maps and sketches of the wardrobe lay in droves behind him. A handful of men gather around him as he recounts old legends and histories of the wardrobe. You take a seat in the back of the crowd, and listen for a while. He tells the crowd the story of his journey to the wardrobe long ago, and the many perils he withstood along the way. He shows them some of his most magnificent sketches of the wardrobe, and many who look upon them burst into tears. He lectures them on proper map making techniques so that if and when they leave this place, they might help others to find their way. 

After sitting and listening for a long time, the question that has been eating away at you since you first arrived comes to your lips. 

“Excuse me, good sir, may I ask you something?”

The old man stops and lifts his chin to peer over the crowd in search of the inquisitor. Those nearest you take a few steps back to give you space. He waves you forward and nods encouragingly, awaiting your question. You wipe your palms on your pants and clear your throat.

“Well, it’s just that, I was wondering… has anyone ever entered the wardrobe?”

The old man retreats a few paces with his hand on his chest. His eyebrows rise high upon his forehead for a moment before quickly returning to a deeply furrowed brow.

“Entered the wardrobe?! Of course not my dear boy. That would be far far too dangerous.”

“But all these maps and sketches. Tales of old pilgrimages. People gathered from all over the world. You are telling me that no one has ever looked inside?”

At this question, a hush falls over the entire room. All conversations cease. Everyone seems to freeze where they stand and stare directly at you as if waiting for something. Motes of dust float in slow motion across the sun beams coming in through the windows like stars in a far away galaxy.

You turn and look at the wardrobe. As you slowly approach it, everything else in the room seems to fade away. To you, the wardrobe looks about 8 feet tall and is just wide enough to wrap your arms around. You are no expert, but it looks to be made of a dark colored mango wood.  The two main doors have ornately carved patterns across the front that lead your eye toward a small iron handle and keyhole positioned at the center. You reach for the handle, knowing deep in your gut that it will be unlocked. Sure enough when you pull, the doors open with ease. 

A bright light shines from within, preventing you from seeing exactly what lies beyond the threshold. You pause for a moment, and look around. Hundreds of pairs of eyes bore into you, waiting to see what you will do next. 

But for you the choice is easy. Your heart longs for those places that cannot be observed from afar, but must be experienced within. Places where no map can guide you, and no sketch can be drawn. You feel almost sad for those who will forever worship the wardrobe, but have not the courage to step inside and experience the gift that awaits them. 

You step up onto the wooden frame, eyes straight ahead, and walk eagerly into the light. 

The End.

Posted in Blog Posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Advent Reflection – 2020 – A Year of Darkness

In the beginning, the universe was filled with chaos and darkness. It was empty and void. But among it all, the spirit of God hovered over the deep. Waiting. Waiting to create something new. 

I think we all have done a bit more waiting than usual this year. Waiting for quarantine to end. Waiting for test results. Waiting for court verdicts and election results. Waiting for a phone call or an email. Waiting for an apology, or for forgiveness. Waiting for something good. 

The Advent season is centered around the people of god who were also in waiting, many years ago. Waiting, in particular, for the birth of Jesus.  It had been so long since God had showed up, and the people were losing hope. Darkness seemed to be closing in. But not for much longer.

Wendell Berry once said, profoundly, that “It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born.” And that is good news.

The incarnation of the divine in Jesus Christ serves as a radiant torch for ALL of creation. The light of Jesus shines so brightly that it can never be extinguished, no matter how hard we may try. And what hope we have in a God who knows our darkness! He knows the frail and vulnerable darkness of the womb, he knows the fear-saturated darkness that comes with the tomb, and every darkness in between. 

Often in the advent season, when I think of the implications of Jesus birth, my thoughts drift to the picturesque nativity scene. And though I believe with all my heart that Jesus is the savior of the world, I think I often focus too much on the serenity of the nativity and too little on the scandal of the incarnation.

Because the truth is, the incarnation IS quite scandalous. God who for so long would not even show his face to us, lest we die, made himself “flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (Peterson). He enters this world as a brown-skinned baby boy, born to unwed refugees in a dirty old manger, with the vision to reveal the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

So much hope can be found in the way that Jesus lived and calls us to live as well. Jesus loves people in a way they have never been loved before. He does not shy away from suffering but goes toward it. He spends his time with the people who society has pushed to the margins. Jesus seeks out people who are blind and helps them to see. He makes sick people well and helps the lame to walk again. He makes foreigners feel at home. He makes women feel empowered. He has harsh words for the religious elite who value law and status over grace and forgiveness. He sets the captives free. Jesus cares about wholeness. Jesus longs for Shalom. 

So as I find myself reflecting here at the end of a year that often felt empty, and void, a year in which darkness could be found around every corner, I am asking myself this question: What if, right now, the spirit of God is once again hovering in the deep, looking down on our chaos and turmoil, waiting to create something new?

Grace and Peace.


Genesis 1:1-3
John 1
John 1 – The Message (Eugene Peterson)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were sitting on the outdoor patio of a delicious new food spot within walking distance of our apartment (shout-out to Craft Urban of Geneva and their gluten-free cheese curds) when we started to brainstorm all of the best restaurants we’ve experienced in our brief eight years of marriage. You know a place is good when you can remember not only exactly what you ate and how it tasted, but can even recall small details about the ambiance and specific conversations you had with your server. We came up with some serious gems, and the goal of this post is to share those with you but also to hear some of YOUR favorite restaurants around the globe so we can add them to the running list on the note in my phone. Warning: some of these descriptions may cause your mouth to water. Do not read while hungry.

  1. St. Jacques French Cuisine (Raleigh, NC) – This diamond in the rough tucked away in a nondescript strip mall delivered the best tasting food I have ever put in my mouth. We indulged in escargot three ways, french onion soup, a cornucopia of freshly baked breads, roasted duck, and Beef Bourguignon. As I perused the menu Lauren glanced over at me and asked “Daniel… are you crying?” Yes, yes I was. I dream of the day I can go back to St. Jacques.

2. Mais Arepas (New Orleans, LA) – This Columbian restaurant within walking distance of the National WWII museum is one of two New Orleans’ restaurants to make my top ten list. The flavor combination of citrus pulled pork, sweet plantains, pickled red onion, and cotija cheese blends perfectly with the Guasacaca dipping sauce and mouth watering elotes.

3. Cafe Rumist (Istanbul, Turkey) – This quaint cafe nestled between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul is what stories are made of. The tortellini was so good that I went back the next night and ordered it again. We made friends with the owner and drank our weight in apple tea, on the house. Of all the treasures in Istanbul, this restaurant might be the one I remember most.

4. Brasa Rotisserie (Minneapolis, Minnesota) – The flavor combinations at Brasa are almost unmatched, especially at such an affordable price. This all gluten-free menu features a variety of creole dry rub roasted chicken and a medley of sauces that you will want to take home by the bottle. Garlic-citrus mojo. Cilantro lime ginger mayo. YUM.

5. Blue Oak BBQ (New Orleans) – Best. Chicken. Sandwich. On the planet. I first tasted it at the NOLA Fried Chicken Festival in August, and my taste buds were never the same. What a joy it was to learn that I lived within walking distance of this barbecue joint in Mid-City. My wallet took some hits, but I have no regrets. This sandwich was my last meal before we left New Orleans for good.

6. Chicago’s Pizza (Chicago, IL) – Chicago deep dish pizza is world famous. The cheese, the fresh ingredients, and crust. Most locals will say their favorite spot is either Giordano’s, or Lou Malnati’s, or Gino’s East… but they aren’t lucky enough to live with a celiac. The hands down BEST gluten free deep dish pizza in the entire city belongs to Chicago’s Pizza in the Lakeview neighborhood. Read the link I provided about how they crafted the perfect gluten free crust. Lauren and I will hop on the Metra and head into the city for this pizza at least four times a year, and it never disappoints.

7. Babylon (Raleigh, NC) – The instant you walk through the stone entryway lined with palm trees and imported foliage at this Moroccan inspired restaurant you feel as if you have been transported to another world. Lauren and I chatted with strangers while enjoying a drink in the courtyard as we nibbled on hummus and fresh pita. Our lamb chop entree was elegant. The entire experience felt like it was out of a movie.

8. Monell’s at the Manor (Nashville, TN) – My Nashville friends and family will probably kill me for only having one Nashville restaurant on my top ten, but alas, it is what it is. Don’t let this take away from the magnificence of the family style all you can eat southern cooking bombshell that is Monell’s. I am a huge fan of the “meat & three” style eateries and Monell’s includes all of the southern flavors and classic dishes you could want, with no limits.

9. Rooster’s Wood-Fired Kitchen (Charlotte, NC) – This is the oddball of my list. I have eaten at every other restaurant on my list multiple times, but have eaten at Rooster’s only once. But once was enough for Lauren and I to taste the best cheese plate we have ever had. I have never had a carmelized aged gouda as decadent, and doubt I ever will. We sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen which gave us unique insight into the preparation of our food, and we have talked about this place for years.

10. Glen Prairie (Chicago, IL) – This farm to table Midwest style restaurant creates amazing flavors and dishes on their entirely gluten free menu. I eat something different every time and am always satisfied. My favorites have been the pork belly risotto, the Amish chicken, and the homemade meatloaf. The price point is right up our alley and is one more reason why Glen Prairie is one of our local staples.

Posted on by danieljsmith1990 | 8 Comments

 “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”   (Weekend Thoughts 8/27/20)

There is no way I can say all that I need to say about what I am about to say in one short blog post…but I am going to give it my best shot. 

Our country has a racism problem. This truth is unassailable; it cannot be defended or argued against. This problem existed when our nation started to form over four hundred years ago, and it still exists today. 

Soon after traversing the Atlantic ocean in the early 1600s, many of our predecessors took part in a collective massacre of the “savage” natives who called this place home, stealing most of their land. We built our nation in the 1700s on the backs of African slaves, under the mantra of “all men are created equal.” After slavery was abolished in 1865 we legally mandated racial segregation via Jim Crow laws that did not allow Black and white people to eat in the same restaurants, use the same bathrooms, or get paid the same salaries. Post civil rights we redlined neighborhoods to keep Black families from owning property, created new and egregious prison sentencing for minor offenses, and denied countless Black people financial assistance or healthcare all because of the color of their skin. 

Now we find ourselves in 2020, and it has become increasingly clear that there are police officers (and police departments) who treat Black people’s lives as less than. Let me rephrase that – they have BEEN treating Black people’s lives as less than for a long time, but now some of these tragedies are getting videotaped for all of us to see. 

The most recent of these videos include the death of George Floyd and the paralyzation of Jacob Blake. Not that we should have to, but upon actually watching both videos it is very clear that the police officer(s) actions are inexcusable. No amount of added context can change that, and the police officers in both cases deserve serious consequences. 

This should NOT be a polarizing issue, but a unifying one. The very soul of our nation is at stake. But for some reason, the idea of police reform and speaking up for the undervalued lives of Black people has become very divisive. 

As a matter of fact, I want to run through a list of a few statements that I have seen or heard recently in the context of racism and police brutality in our country that I do not understand. 

  1. “If you don’t resist arrest, then you won’t get killed!” 

For starters, this sentence is void of compassion or empathy and makes it look like we don’t care that someone died or was seriously injured. Are we insinuating that Jacob Blake deserved to be shot seven times in the back in front of his children? Was that police officer so under-trained that he felt his only option was to empty his clip? No, it is clear that different decisions should have been made. This can be true for both parties, but we also have to hold people in the position of power to a much higher rate of accountability. No person deserves the death penalty for resisting arrest. And the even more unfortunate truth is… white people who resist arrest are not receiving the same treatment. The double standard here needs to be acknowledged and addressed. 

  2. “Defunding the police is a terrible idea.”

There is a big difference between “defunding” the police and “abolishing” the police, but sometimes even the phrase “defunding” can make us feel uncomfortable. What if we shift the conversation to something we should all be able to agree on – police REFORM. This reform might look like an increase in training for our officers or mandatory body cams, so they are better prepared for situations they may encounter on the job. This reform might look like reallocation of funds toward other community services (i.e. schools, recreation centers, hospitals, mental health clinics, etc) in hopes to increase the health of our cities and neighborhoods. Whatever it looks like, let’s try and shift the conversation toward “police reform,” because I think that is an idea that we can all get behind. 

  3. “Why don’t these Black athletes/celebrities that are kneeling and/or speaking up about systemic racism start speaking up about all the Black on Black violence that is happening in our cities?”

Great question – and I think this one has a clear answer. They are and have been, for a long time. The thing is… it’s a very nuanced and complex problem that cannot be fixed overnight. As someone who follows professional sports very closely, I know for a fact that many of our athletes are pouring their resources back into American cities in hopes that they can create a lasting change for the next generation. I promise you that many of them are willing to “put their money where their mouth is” and spend far more time in service to their communities than we are. And all of that aside, no one should have to come to their defense for using their platform to speak out against something that directly impacts many of them, or try to dictate how they respond to racial injustice. 

  4. “The BLM movement is full of Marxist ideology and anti-biblical sentiments.”

A person can fully believe in the notion that “Black lives matter” and not affiliate or endorse the group that operates under the same name. But, if we actually read the “What We Believe” statement of the BLM movement (which you can find here) we might find that we agree with many of their sentiments. We might also find that we do NOT agree with many of their sentiments, and that is ok, too. The problem is when we let ourselves become distracted from the primary issue at hand by fixating on certain ideological differences. In the end, my hope is that we can all agree on the overarching idea that the lives of our Black brothers and sisters do indeed, matter.  As for the anti-Marxist sentiment, I think we should all be wary to disregard the cries of the oppressed who find hope in a system (Socialism) that is designed to share resources. It is easy to come to the defense of capitalism when you find yourself on the side of the metaphorical “winning team”. 


Never before in my life have I felt like I am a part of history more than I have these past six months. The events and circumstances we find ourselves in will be discussed long after we are dead. My hope is that these snapshots in history happening all around us serve as small windows into the hidden reality that lurks just under the surface and permeates every nook and cranny of our nation. May these specific photographs lead us to recognize the much larger photo album of our nation – an album full of systemic injustices that need to change. 

I know that one simple blog post is not enough of a response, I get it. But I want to do my part. And to other white people reading this, we ALL need to do our part to live in anti-racist ways to help dismantle the systems of oppression and abuse of power. It is not just a problem for people of color to solve. Director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law, Savala Trepczynski, had this to say on the issue:

“Until a critical mass of white people begin and continue the work of anti-racism with their own lives, then uprisings and protests will function more as expressions of Black and brown pain than as inflection points in the culture. After all, black and brown people have been resisting, uprising, and protesting in this country for centuries. If that were enough, it would have worked already. The missing link is white people doing deep, honest, and ongoing inventories (and clean-up) of their own relationship to white supremacy.”

The time is NOW for us to do exactly what Ms. Trepczynski is calling us to do – dig deep, repent, self-reflect, and advocate against racist systems and the deeper issue of white supremacy that still is a part of our nation today. 



Other resources:

Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd are only the most recent names of Black people who have been murdered by officers who are sworn to protect them. I encourage you to follow the link below to read more of the names and stories of countless others who have lost their lives to police violence.

Full article from Director of the Center for Social Justice at UC Berkeley School of Law, Savala Trepczynski.


Posted in Blog Posts | 1 Comment

The Prologue from my Novel…

Hey everyone – it was a busy first week back teaching so instead of a normal Saturday blog post this week I wanted to just leave you with the first two pages of my novel that I finished last year. I am in the editing and refining phase, but it was an incredible feeling to finally finish that first draft. If you have any interest in reading more or supporting me on my journey to get published, feel free to message me or email me at Have a great weekend, and hope you enjoy!





Prologue – The Cave

            The light in the mouth of the cave faded while an old man moved about and cast dark shadows on the walls as he gathered small sticks to start a fire. His wispy, white hair and veiny, slender limbs alluded to a man of many years, but his hands had the dexterity and skill of a warrior in his prime. He had done this chore so often that he could do it in the dark. In a matter of minutes, a fresh fire crackled and popped to life and shed light on his surroundings. Tall smooth walls of stone encompassed the old man’s makeshift living space. Ancient runes and hieroglyphics speckled the otherwise plain limestone–pictures that consisted of animals, trees, and constellations. A hammock was strung from the ceiling, elevated away from any wanderer that may attempt to find shelter in this cave. This precaution was irrelevant, for the beasts and creatures of the nearby hills did their best to avoid this valley. They feared what lurked in the shadows. A mysterious aura that prevented even the birds from singing.

The old man hobbled toward a small freshwater stream that flowed within the cave and selected one of the copper kettles strung on a wire overhead to position on a mesh grate over the flames. He reached into the sackcloth on his back and slid out a fat brown rabbit covered in blood from a gash in its neck. Using a knife he wore on a leather belt around his waist, he hastily skinned and gutted the animal and dropped the meat into the now sizzling pot. Rabbit stew was his favorite, and he looked forward to the savory treat. But suddenly, the old man went still. He had heard a noise, a soft humming sound. A sound he had heard before but seemed to be from another life.

It can’t be–it’s too soon,” the man thought. He scurried across the cavern and sifted through scattered newspapers on the floor in search of a date.

1877, 1912, 1942 … it seems just yesterday I read these. Time eludes me. There is only one way to be sure.”

The old man grabbed a torch and wove his way deeper within the cave as he squeezed through tight places and dodged stalagmites with ease. The humming grew louder. Beads of sweat formed on the old man’s forehead and neck as he turned the corner near the sound’s source. He reached to his right and removed a large heavy stone from the jagged walls and set it on the ground by his feet.  The stone was slick with the cave’s perspiration and chilled by the constant darkness. He took a moment to mount his torch on the wall before he reached inside the carved out chunk of the cave and pulled out a dark, wooden chest. The chest was ancient and worn, with ornate carvings on all sides and a small keyhole near the center. The humming caused the box to vibrate in the man’s hands. Knowing what must be done, he reached towards his throat. His fingers grasped a metal chain around his neck, and he pulled from beneath his shirt a small bronze key. His heart pounded within his chest, but his hand remained steady. He slid the key into the lock… and turned.

“It is time,” he said under his breath as the lid opened and – with a flash – the entire cave flooded with light.




Posted in Blog Posts | Leave a comment

Weekend Thoughts (8/15/20)   When Shooting for the Stars Falls Flat…

starry night sky

      I was told so many times as a young person that I needed to ‘Shoot for the Stars!” and that “Anything is possible!”. My mom and dad used to tell me all the time that I could do “anything I set my mind to”. I was encouraged to set the loftiest of goals, and even if I didn’t hit that mark, I will probably achieve something great. Well, I am here to argue that oftentimes unrealistic goal-setting can actually do serious damage to our psyche and have the opposite effect that we hope for. Bear with me as I flesh this out a bit more. 

      I have coached boys basketball at the high school level for the past 8 years, and have had countless conversations with my players in which one or more will tell me that their life plan is to make it to the NBA. They are going to get drafted, sign that million-dollar paycheck, and their family will be set for life. Meanwhile, they are 5’ 7” and averaging about 6 points a game at the JV level. The gap between the unrealistic goal and this kid’s reality is massive. What often happens then, is that I witness my players’ burnout, get jaded, and lose their love and passion for the game as they start to realize how far away they are from where they want to end up. 

      Setting unrealistic goals prevents us from growth because we get paralyzed by the gap from where we are now, to where we want to be. We can even internalize these goals so much that if we don’t reach them we begin to feel shame, failure, and disappointment. For example, how many people have set the goal for themselves to ‘be the best parent in the world’. What does this even mean? And if we make one mistake along the way, are we a failure? Parents putting that much pressure on themselves to be perfect creates unhealthy relational dynamics within a family. Parents might spoil their kids to make them happier, or parents might not discuss hard topics with their kids because they are afraid to be vulnerable. Setting the goal of being the ‘world’s best parent’ is a dangerous one.  

      So what can we do about it? Well first, we need to stop setting specific achievements as a success, and instead, redefine success as growth. We need to start setting small tangible goals that give us practical steps to take so that we can actually move in the direction we are trying to go. Imagining and brainstorming a future you want for yourself is not in itself wrong or the issue… the issue is making THAT your goal. Goals need to be grounded in our current reality and help to inch us in the right direction. 

      For example – as many of you know I started writing a novel about 8 years ago. I had dreams of it being published and rising up the charts. But rather than set a near-impossible goal to become a New York Times Bestseller, what I did was set goals to write 1000 words a day, attend 2 writing workshops a year, read five of the best books on writing I could find, watch my favorite author’s MasterClass, and many more. See the difference? 

      What if instead of setting a goal of being the best parent in the world (how would one even measure or define this ludicrous title), we make it a point to have lunch once a month with a couple whose parenting style I really admire and ask questions and learn from them. What if we start a book club and read some of the highest-rated books on parenting? What if we agree to go to therapy regularly to ensure we are emotionally healthy? And last but not least, how can we make sure to spend as much quality time with our child as possible? 

      What if instead of setting a goal to become an NBA basketball player (especially when both your parents are under 6 feet tall) you set the goal of shooting 500 shots a day over the summer, attending two or more basketball skills clinics a year, read a set number books and articles on player development, and create a weekly routine for the weight room? 

Are we seeing the differences in approach? 

      This is a skill I am still learning. I start back in the high school math classroom next Wednesday for my 8th year of teaching, and it is guaranteed to be difficult. So much unknown. I had to talk myself off the ledge the other day as I planned my lessons and realized just how challenging it will be to pull off. Maybe this isn’t the year that I shoot for the Teacher of the Year award. Instead, I need to give myself grace. I need to set small, manageable, realistic goals. I need to collaborate with my peers and not isolate myself when things get hard. I need to be vulnerable with my students and prioritize love and care over content and test scores. And what do you know, after a little bit of reframing, I found myself at peace and chomping at the bit to be back in the classroom this fall. Let’s roll. 

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” — Tony Robbins

“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” — Stephen Covey

“Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.” — Theodore Roosevelt



Posted in Blog Posts | 3 Comments

30 Things I’ve Learned by age 30 (Weekend Thoughts 8/8/2020)

After turning thirty this week, I spent a bit of extra time in reflection and getting stuck in my feels. Turning the corner into a new decade carries a bit more weight than your usual birthday. I thought it would be fun to put together a list of thirty things that I have found to be true up to this point in my life. I know there are other lists like this one out there, but I purposefully avoided reading them and all thoughts on this list are my own.

  1. The more fears you have, the more opportunities for courage. Being brave doesn’t mean that you are never afraid. Bravery is accepting the fear, but not letting prevent you from doing the right thing.
  2. Moving away from home was one of the best things for my marriage. It forced us to cling to one another. We created so many memories that were shared only between us. We didn’t have friends or family we could just run off to for comfort when we were sad. We had to lean into difficult conversations. We grew up quick.
  3. I’ve never once regret spending time outside. The beauty of nature breathes life back into my body. Sunshine restores my soul. Trees whisper the secrets of the universe.
  4. Books are fuel for the mind and soul. Through fiction, I have gone on countless adventures and met people I never would have met through the magic that are books. Reading non-fiction to learn from the greatest minds of the ages is one of my highest privileges.
  5. Surround yourself with people who encourage, energize, and unite. Avoid people who complain, criticize, and divide. My quality of life has drastically improved once I discovered this, and has also helped me become a better friend and citizen.
  6. A person’s Emotional Quotient (EQ) is just as valuable (maybe even more so) than their Intelligence Quotient (IQ). We need to exchange our “fixed mindsets” for “growth mindsets”, as well as focus more on helping our young people learn just as much about their emotions and well-being as we do mathematics and history.
  7. What we put into our bodies has a drastic effect on our well being. Eating healthier and staying away from fast food and soda has been a game-changer for me recently. The more we learn about our brains and body chemistry, the more obvious it is that we need to change our diets. Now if I can just start drinking more water!
  8. Everyone should go to therapy. I know I might be biased because I am married to a psychologist, but still firmly believe this is true, especially in the Western world where we are so often taught to ignore our mental health and “tough things out”.
  9. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s one of the key ingredients of a fulfilling life. Asking great questions (and truly listening to the answers) is the best way to build relationships and make connections. Asking the right questions is also the first step to becoming an expert problem solver. In my opinion, Jesus is an exemplar model of what a great question-asker looks like.
  10. Always cook extra food that you can save for easy leftovers. Using leftovers for lunch prep should be a go-to move for every family. It’s a game-changer.
  11. Much of your adult life is spent cleaning. No commentary needed here.
  12. Traveling the world and experiencing new cultures is a key component to a more holistic understanding of humanity. I look back on all my trips overseas as some of the most influential and worldview shaping experiences of my entire life. Calling another country home for a summer is something I recommend to everyone.
  13. So much of our time, money, and effort is spent RESPONDING to major world problems rather than PREVENTING them. We pump money into systems that are only acting as bandaids on our nation’s biggest wounds. Our healthcare system spends money treating illness but not on how to prevent them. Our criminal justice system is designed to punish those who break the law instead of focusing on bringing justice to the communities that produce the most crime. We need to shift our priorities from making a profit, to making a difference.
  14. The things your brain tells you are good decisions at age twenty are viewed much differently ten years later. So grateful for all the people who poured into me when I was younger and very thankful I made it out of my early twenties in one piece.
  15. So many people in the professional world are just faking it ’til they make it. It hit me recently that so many of the doctors, teachers, business owners, police officers, and lawyers are all people that I went to high school with. They are just normal people, trying to navigate their way through the world just like I am.
  16. Happiness is more about being content with where you are, rather than trying to “arrive” to someplace better. This one has been difficult for me as a three on the Enneagram, but the more I marinate on this truth the lighter I begin to feel. We can all stand to be more present.
  17. Call your loved ones more often. Another tip – save voicemails from grandparents and those you love so that you can listen to them on a day you need some extra encouragement.
  18. Everything does NOT happen for a reason. Some things in life are random and happen for no reason at all. Not everything is part of “a greater plan”. Accidents are often just that… accidents.
  19. Truth is almost always found in the middle of the road. Polarization has become the new normal these days, but I find that the truth often lies somewhere in the middle.
  20. The phrase “life’s not fair” just doesn’t do justice to how much of life is, truly, not fair. For more on this point, see my blog post from July 25, 2020.
  21. No matter how hard you try, no matter how many showers you take, you ARE going to smell like smoke for days after a bonfire. Had a bonfire a week or so ago and still get whiffs of smoke when I put on the hoodie I wore that night.
  22. Always brush your teeth softer than you think you should, and floss regularly. Small circular brushes with very light pressure. Let’s fight plaque AND save our gums while we are at it.
  23. True love is completely freeing. It allows you to be exactly who you are at any moment – no inhibitions or embarrassment. It is silly and goofy. It makes the most ordinary moments feel extraordinary. My wife showed me the way on this one and teaches me more and more about love every day.
  24. If we spend all of our lives fighting tooth and nail to reach the promised land, we will continue to miss all of the blessings and God moments that happen in the wilderness. Life is full of highs and lows, but the majority of our time is spent somewhere in between. Don’t miss seeing a burning bush, or a pile of manna, because you are consumed with “making it” somewhere.
  25. Teaching is hard. I sometimes tell people that teaching is like creating and giving presentations five times a day, five days a week, to an adolescent audience who doesn’t really want to be there, but whose future depends on retaining the information you give them. And to make matters worse, the difficulty and amount of resources varies greatly from state to state, town to town, school to school.
  26. The greatest things in life are those that could never be done alone. Human beings are created to be relational and in community. We belong on teams and can reach heights with others that we could never reach alone.
  27. It is very difficult, and requires much intentionality, to care about important things that don’t directly affect you. Empathy is hard. Pride and selfishness are always lurking in the shadows, even when we can’t see them. So much pain out there, and avoiding or ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.
  28. Pineapple DOES belong on pizza. Double pepperoni and pineapple pizza has become my go-to from Papa Johns. Give it a try.
  29. The hardest moments in life are often the catalysts for growth and transformation. I say this not to minimize anyone’s pain and suffering, but to acknowledge that some of the hardest moments in my own life have been the ones that changed my worldview, caused me to seek help and healing from others, or shaped and formed my character in transformational ways.
  30. And last but not least…I’ve learned quite a bit about myself, and I think those lessons have been the hardest to come by. Learning about yourself takes hard work, vulnerability, bravery, and humility. It takes people you can trust to journey with you. May we all commit to learning more about our own souls and giving ourselves grace every step of the way.



Posted in Blog Posts | 1 Comment

Weekend Thoughts 8/1/2020 – The Secret Recipe for a Civil Political Discourse in 2020

arbol chili pepper

My family and I are serious foodies, and MOST of us love spicy food. Sometimes this gets us into trouble – for example – my Dad and I just boiled some arbol chiles (see picture above) for our tacos al pastor recipe and the steam was so potent that we had to go sit outside on the porch to relieve our coughing fit. After washing my hands three times I am still afraid to take my contacts out!

Political conversations in 2020 can also turn dangerously spicy in an instant. Sometimes the only way to avoid being burned is to leave the room as fast as possible. Sometimes emotions flare hot enough that relationships can be irreparably damaged. With the amount of division in our political climate and in our national media, most days the idea of civil political discourse seems like a fantasy. But guess what… it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Over the last year or so – my parents, my wife, and I have had a breakthrough. We can now talk about the most precarious and nuanced cultural and political issues of our time and still love each other after it’s all over. Better yet, we actually find it refreshing and energizing to engage in such meaningful topics and to learn from one another! The blood pressure and volume levels rarely rise too far above normal, and we actually feel more connected after it’s over.

My hope for this blog is to provide you with ingredients that can help you and your loved ones have healthier conversations during this controversial political season. As you read them, please comment on other things you have found helpful or ways that you disagree with what works for us.

  1. Love. We must care deeply for those who we are speaking with and have compassion toward them.
  2. Mutual Respect. We must give every person the dignity and value they deserve, and this takes extra intentionality across generations. Too many young people disregard the opinions of older generations and vice versa. We young people need to realize that our elders grew up in a different age have their own unique experiences, and we can learn from their stories. And likewise, older people need to realize that the ability for young people to see things in a new light and challenge the “old guard” is often how society moves forward throughout the course of history.
  3. Open Minded. Listen first, talk second. Have the mindset of a “learner” and not a “teacher”. This is a crucial point when specific issues are being discussed (i.e. racism, sexism, immigration, etc) and one of the parties has more knowledge or personal lived experience. For example, on the topic of racial injustice in America, more white people need to listen to minority voices. On topics of sexism, men need to listen more to women. We can all improve in this area.
  4. Limit your expectations. Don’t go into a conversation with a “goal” or an “endgame” of what you hope you can “convince” the other party of before the conversation ends, or you will get defensive or feel pressured or disappointed if the flow of conversation does not go the way you intended.
  5. Equity of talk time. If one party dominates the time of discussion then it has shifted from a conversation to a lecture. A good way to avoid doing this is to focus on asking more questions and listening to other’s responses. 
  6. Limit interruptions and counter-arguments. Let those you disagree with get their points across, and then don’t feel obligated to respond with all the ways you disagree with right away. Many of us are verbal processors, and if you try to “out argue” or “shut down” what someone says right after they are vulnerable with you and share their opinion, the conversation will no longer feel safe. 
  7. Humility. You won’t have much luck in these types of conversations if you think you have all of the answers. It quickly becomes clear (no matter what side of an issue you are on) when you think you are the lone messenger of truth on a certain topic. People will tune you out. Plus, when we bring our pride to the table during tough conversations we can end up getting our feelings hurt too easily as well. 
  8. Avoid difficult conversations over social media. It just creates a bad look for everyone involved. 

Good luck and wear a mask! 🙂


Posted in Blog Posts | 2 Comments

 Weekend Thoughts – 7/25/20


There is such disparity between good and bad luck in this world. So many things about our lives are left to chance and are out of our control. Were you born in a hospital in a wealthy country, or born in a ‘slum’ in a developing one? Were you born with a healthy body and mind, or were you born with an incurable illness or deformity? Were you able to grow and develop in a loving and safe home, or did you encounter trauma and abuse before you were even old enough to realize what you were experiencing? 

I think all of us would agree that there are thousands of ways our lives are influenced outside of our control. If you were able to step back and view the world’s metaphorical “ladder of success” from afar, you would see people beginning their lives all across the spectrum. For example, if you were born as a healthy white male in the United States in a stable home in the suburbs, where do you think you would begin on the metaphorical ‘ladder of success’? What about if you were a black female, born with diabetes, into a single-parent home in the inner city? I think we can agree on the chasm of disparity between the two. If we can’t agree on that, then I’m not sure what to tell you. 

We have serious issues of inequality in our nation that have been around for so long that the arguments from both sides have become stale. We need people to gain new perspectives on these injustices and reimagine their solutions to paint a new picture that fits the ever-changing reality around us. All great social movements start with someone teaching people to see things differently – Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, MLK. These heroes of the past all envisioned futures that did not yet exist, but that NEEDED to exist for humanity to grow and to thrive. 

I have immense hope for our nation, I really do. But here’s the thing – I can only see growth and change happening if we can learn how to redistribute the wealth amassed by the few so that it can reach and enrich the lives of the suffering. And before you start yelling “Marxist!” just hold your horses. 

It seems that for many people who call America home, freedom has become the highest achievable moral good. Freedom is valued over compassion, or as Jesus would say, love. And the truth of the matter is, freedom in our nation is not all it’s cracked up to be for so many of the people who call America home. What do the voices of our poor, our minorities, or even our younger generations say about this so called “freedom”? In many ways it feels like ‘liberty’ has become code for “freedom for those with wealth and power to be left alone”. It seems that when we say “freedom for all”, what we mean is “freedom for those who can afford it”. 

We need to reimagine solutions to many problems that are perpetuated by unjust systems. Our policies need to evolve as we take in more information and our technology and quality of life improve. We don’t do medicine the same way we did fifty years ago, we don’t do education the same way we did fifty years ago, so why are we so afraid to restructure and reimagine our policies from fifty years ago? We live in such a different world, a world with so much money and privilege, that shouldn’t we want to cancel the worst forms of inequality and disparity and raise up the floor for all? This new age of technology should allow us to release the anxiety that comes with a mindset of scarcity, and develop policies that operate in a paradigm of abundance, but so far it has not. I mean… as more millionaires and billionaires exist than ever before, we are starting to run out excuses to answer the cries of the poor. Let’s reimagine together. 


p.s. As a soon to be thirty-year-old white male (born to a loving family in the suburbs), I realize that my understanding of freedom and injustice is still evolving. But I also believe that some things don’t require that much analysis to know that they are wrong.

(Sources: artwork at the top is a Banksy, and some of this conversation was inspired by the Sam Harris Podcast interview with Scott Galloway) 



Posted in Blog Posts | 1 Comment

Weekend Thoughts 7/18/20


I told myself yesterday that I wanted to start writing more, so that’s just what I’m going to do. I don’t have an agenda for these “Weekend Thoughts” other than vulnerability, curiosity, reflection, and hopefully… growth. 


We live in a world where taking time to *pause* and *think* seems like an ancient relic that belongs in a museum. We hear stories about emotionally healthy people who routinely take time to think/reflect/meditate and we say to ourselves ‘those people are awesome, good for them’ but avoid it completely in our own lives. We will find anything to occupy our time before, god forbid, we slow down and entertain our own inner voice. 

We also live in a world where empathy is a lost art. We have a hard time thinking outside of ourselves and understanding different perspectives. We are NOT good listeners. We feel threatened by people who do not agree with us. We have somehow convinced ourselves that we have all the answers. We sow division wherever we go. 

What if our lack of empathy stems from the fact that we don’t know how to deal with our own emotions? And how could we deal with our own emotions when we never leave ourselves any space to process? When we let disappointment and frustration go unchecked, they turn to resentment. When we let sadness pool up inside, it turns to depression. When we let fear run rampant, it manifests as anger. With so much chaos and turmoil within us, are we really surprised at all the chaos and turmoil that surrounds us? 

In order for healing to happen in our world, we all need to be brave enough to wrestle with our own chaos and turmoil inside. We need to identify our fears and name them. We need to dig up any old resentments and seek forgiveness. We need to lean into our sadness and ask for help. We need to humble ourselves and admit that we don’t have all the answers and that we are all still a work in progress. Let’s commit to looking inward more often, and to be kind to ourselves when we do. 


Posted in Blog Posts | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Top 8 Books I Read This Year

A few of my friends and I created reading goals for 2019 on the popular website We used our goals to track what we read, share recommendations, and challenge and encourage one another to keep reading all year long! I finished with 52 books read this year – an average of one book per week. If you know me very well, you know that there are few things I love more in the world than books. If you are reading this post then maybe you can relate. Hopefully my list can help you find some good reading material for 2020, and I would love it if you could return the favor in the comments to help me build MY list for the upcoming year! 

name of the wind

Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss): My favorite book I read all year. The first of a trilogy, this fantasy novel swept me away from page one. I enjoyed every minute I spent with Kvothe at the University and exploring the magical world of Temerant. I check Rothfuss’s website weekly in anticipation of the release date of the third and final book. Highly recommend for any adult who enjoys fantasy. 

the nightingale

The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah): The Nightingale drops you right in the middle of France during Nazi occupation at the beginnings of World War II. The story follows two sisters; one sister trying to win the war and save the world, the other doing whatever it takes to keep her family alive. This novel was a rollercoaster on my emotions –  the first book to make me cry since Dobby died in the Harry Potter finale. Highly recommend for fans of historical WWII fiction.


Beartown (Fredrick Backman): If you had told me that one of my favorite books of the year would be about a podunk town up north and its youth hockey team I would have told you you’re crazy, but this book is a work of art. You quickly get sucked into the drama of Beartown and fall in love with a few characters, and hate a few others. Benji might be one of my favorite literary characters of all time. Please give this book a chance.  

Ninth house

Ninth House (Leigh Bardugo): Bardugo does it again. My favorite YA fantasy author crushes it in her adult novel debut with exquisite worldbuilding and well timed intrigue. The story follows the dark arts of the secret societies of Yale University, and one girl’s attempt to solve a murder while avoiding her own. Full of magic and mystery, you might want to read this book with the lights on. 


Reframation (Alan Hirsch and Mark Nelson): No book changed my worldview more in 2019 than this one. Reframation is a call to people of faith, primarily Christians, to “reframe” and “reenchant” our perception of God. It’s a call to trade in our cynicism and formulaic gospel for one full of mystery, imagination, and paradox. This book articulates my hopes for the Church moving forward. I think I underlined and highlighted more in this book than in any other.

learning to walk in the dark

Learning to Walk in the Dark (Barbara Brown Taylor): This book explores the premise of darkness, and in only a way Barbara Brown Taylor can, shows us how to find spirituality in times when we might not have all the answers. “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light,” she says. This book challenges people of faith to not run from dark times, but embrace them, because as Scripture shows us – God is there. This is the shortest book on my top 8 list, and could be read in a weekend. 

the sun does shine

The Sun Does Shine (Anthony Ray Hinton): Read this book with my book club crew, and boy was I glad I had a few friends who could experience the same amazement I felt while reading Anthony Ray Hinton’s story of living for 40 years as an innocent man on death row. This story is not a political one, but rather is a story of tragedy, perseverance, faith, hope, love, struggle, redemption, and forgiveness. Everyone should read this book.

liturgy of the ordinary

Liturgy of the Ordinary (Tish Warren Harrison): This book is hard to describe in a few sentences, and it’s tagline “sacred practices in everyday life” just doesn’t do it justice. It is a spiritual memoir of sorts, full of wisdom, that opens new doors (and old doors) that we can walk through to encounter God more often and more authentically. The most “mundane” practices can often be the ones that lead us down the path of holiness and connection with God. A great devotional type read to highlight and refer back to. 

Honorable Mentions:

  • Scythe (Neal Shusterman)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)
  • Educated (Tara Westover)
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora (Scott Lynch)


Posted in Blog Posts | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

What I’ve been reading lately! (WIBRL) July 2018 Edition


I always have a book nearby. Tucked in my backpack, in the passenger seat of my car, crammed in my back pocket. I LOVE to read. It’s how I relax, it’s how I have fun, it’s the primary way I learn. Books have become the primary way my wife and I decorate our house (much to her chagrin).  I am just a sucker for a great story. (Especially a good trilogy! FYI I am always open to good recommendations.)

I have been wanting to start up up a monthly blog post that recaps what I’ve been reading lately, so this will be the first of many! It will include a brief reflection on each piece, as well as give each book a grade on a scale of 1 to 10! I’m hoping it will be informative AND entertaining.


  1. Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes Book #3) by Sabaa Tahir
  2. Heart of Iron (Heart of Iron Book #1) by Ashley Poston
  3. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans


reaper at gates cover

Reaper at the Gates (An Ember in the Ashes Book #3) by Sabaa Tahir

Genre: YA fiction

If you are a fan of YA fiction and haven’t already devoured the first three books in the Ember in the Ashes series then you need to rethink what you are doing with your life. Tahir’s first two installments were masterpieces, but book three launched this series into my upper echelon of YA fantasy. This ruthless tale is full of secret powers, betrayal, narrow escapes, meddling ghosts, unbreakable steel, rebellion, and heartbreak. Plus, men and women alike will fall in love with the bombshell that is Laia of Serra.

WIBRL rating: 9/10 – read ASAP before the movie comes out!

Time elapsed from first page to final page: 4 days


heart of iron book cover

Heart of Iron (Heart of Iron Book #1) by Ashley Poston

Genre: YA fiction

Grabbed this book at the bookstore because the cover design and teaser on the inside flap sounded intriguing. When I got home, I found that I had already bought this book a few weeks before for the same exact reason. I took that as a sign from God, and chose this book to be my vacation read and boy am I happy that I did. I read a ton of YA fiction but this book felt so UNIQUE! It had a bit of a star wars meets Divergent feel, with a 21st century flavor. In hindsight, I probably should have been able to make some predictions as to what was going to happen, but during the moment and flow of reading I was just putty in the author’s hands. The character “D09” steals the show!

WIBRL rating: 8/10 – you will NOT be disappointed!

Time elapsed from first page to final page: 7 days


inspired rachel held evans book cover

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans

Genre: Creative Non-Fiction

This is a book that needed to be written. It comes from a woman who grew up in a conservative Christian home and conservative Christian church in rural Tennessee, and it’s a book about the Bible. It addresses many of the questions and controversies that arise for so many of us who love the Bible, but at the same time are willing to acknowledge its flaws, intricacies, and damage it has caused so many people across the globe. And what does she discover? The Bible still holds up to scrutiny. RHE shows us that even when we doubt, wrestle, and play devil’s advocate with some of the Bible’s most controversial or contradictory stories and events, truth still emerges. And oftentimes, the truth that you find is more beautiful then what you leave behind.

WIBRL rating: 8/10 – a must read for Christians or people at odds with Scripture

Time elapsed from first page to final page: 7 days


If you have read any of these books, let me know what YOU thought in the comments below! Also, if you have any book recommendations I am all ears!



Posted in Blog Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment