Category Archives: Watch

Watch 35 (2019-2020)

Each year on my birthday, I retire the watch that I have worn during the previous year, and I write a bit about the year to help myself, and perhaps those who come after me remember some of what it was like. Usually I look forward to this process, but this past year has been filled with some difficult moments and I find myself dreading the process of reflection that is required of me.

Last year when I wrote to you on my birthday, Samantha and I had made the decision to invest in starting our own business. This meant taking out a loan and I spent a week in Tennessee in September to get a Thermography certification. I drove our recently repaired car down to Nashville over the course of a few days, and spent my time out of class in a tent at the campsite that was all we could afford. I did well on my test, and was excited to begin putting my energy into something that would be mine, instead of building the empires of others. I was ready for a change, and this seemed like the path forward to new horizons and growth.

I remember the months of October, November, and December being some of the busiest of my life, as I worked to finish significant projects at my day job. The company I worked for had grown, and we had a lot on our plate that fall. I did my best to ensure that I was finishing my work well, as I was hoping to expand into the new business without leaving a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. These three months turned my day job to a day and night job as I often woke up at 5 am to continue work that we had halted at 11 pm the previous night. I had very little time to do much with our new business.

The final project for the year ran right up to the edge of Christmas, and our annual company Christmas party. It was a memorable night after a very unpleasant week of work. Unfortunately not all memories are good.

I had arrived late to our office on the way back from our project 4 hours south, and didn’t have time to go home and change. Instead I made the choice to grab the drones and other equipment I had stored in the warehouse over the week, and bring them home so I could start working on the business during our short Christmas break. This was a fateful decision as that night at the Christmas party all of the equipment was stolen from my truck.

Cameras, drones, and my computer were all gone in a moment. Our business plan was destroyed. The final total of stolen equipment was over $40,000 and I had not made time in my too busy schedule to insure it. Years and years of my best photography and other work was gone, safely stored in the hard drives of the computer that was now no longer mine.

It is a struggle to see the purpose and the meaning of this theft even now in August, 8 months later.

January is a blur of mourning for me. Mourning for the loss of my dream, for the loss of the hope that I had placed in the new business. I thought it was going to be my path to independence, to being my own boss. Instead, I found that I had saddled our family with a significant debt with nothing to show for it. We will be paying that loan over the course of 5 years. $600 a month with no way to offset the cost. The burden has been heavy.

February came, and with it came growing concerns of a new virus that was spreading in Asia and had come to the United States. At this point in our history, the United States was already very divided, and this issue was yet another wedge driving states, cities, and even families apart.

In March, we began to lock down to slow the spread of the virus. This meant that many people were unable to work, collecting unemployment while their “non-essential” businesses waited for the all-clear to begin working again. I was classed as an “essential” worker through a loose connection to IT and electrical work and continued to work through the entirety of the pandemic.

I miss the clear roads of those early weeks of lock down, but it was difficult to find places to eat, especially when our work vehicles were often too large to fit in the drive thru’s that were the only restaurants open for a while.

The pandemic also affected our church, and we found that we had to being streaming our services on the internet, our church services limited to 10 people or less in the sanctuary at a time. I was blessed to be a part of the video team, and as we continued streaming and producing services on video, I was offered a position as the lead broadcast producer at our church. I am proud that even though our church facility was effectively closed to the congregation, we were able to serve them through video and online services. As facilities began to open up, we continued our video services, and I believe our church has actually grown through the pandemic. Many churches did not, and many churches have not yet reopened their doors.

Samantha and I finally became insured this summer, and we are looking forward to starting our family. We have been working toward this moment for a long time. It is one of the few things I am looking forward to in this coming year, but also fills me with anxiousness for the unknown that will come with it.

It’s hard to know what the next year might hold for Samantha and I, this past year has not been the one we were expecting or hoping for. I am emotionally and physically drained and I know it has been difficult for Samantha as well. If the Lord is willing, we will write again next year as I retire another watch. I do not think that I will miss this one very much.

Light in the Dark-Watch 34 (2018-2019)

Low Transition Take-Off.

My most popular photo of the year. This photo ended up being liked by more than 30,000 people when shared by a few aviation pages.  It was pretty exciting for me when it took off.  I later got to have a print autographed by the pilot.  A super cool experience all around.

As a dream ended, I woke up, looking at my watch with hopes for good news and a few more hours of sleep.  A few moments later I wiped a bit more of the fog of sleep from my eyes and tried again to see what time it was.  A third attempt at reading my watch yielded no better result, and I had to instead reach over to my phone to discover the time.  3:35 a.m. August 24th, 2019 is the data I retrieved from my phone.  My 35th birthday had come and with it, the light of my watch had gone.

It seems too perfect for a coincidence, that the watch I had worn for a year stopped shining it’s little light on precisely the day that I meant for it to be retired.  Each year on my birthday, I retire the watch I’ve worn through the past year, and this year was to be no different.  I’ve retired eight watches now and I wear the ninth, each a representation of one year in my life.   I’ve had a few watches break bands that needed to be replaced, and one watch actually lost the little piece that allowed me to set the time, but I have never before had a watch fail on the exact day of it’s retirement.  It’s left me feeling a bit lost as I prepare for the year ahead.

In 2019, Sam and I survived the “Polar Vortex”. It brought windchills down to -45. It also brought about the opportunity to capture some intricate frost tracery across our front window.

The past year has been an intense year.  I celebrated with my wife our first full year of marriage.  I think I’m still really learning what it means that I am no longer just me, but this new creation of Sam and Josh together.  No longer complete by myself, but instead broadened and expanded by the woman who has decided to stand beside me for the rest of our lives.  I’m sure in 5 years I’ll look back at this moment and realize that I had no idea what I was talking about here, and that the small changes that have happened so far will pale in comparison to half a decade of life with Samantha.

I’ve gotten physically older, and seem to have fallen down a bit of a valley that I’ve been trying to scramble back out of.  In June I began waking up with stiff arms, and it progressed to the point that for a few days I couldn’t lift my arms above my elbows without significant pain.  There were days I stayed home from work because I needed help to put a shirt on.  This has mostly gone away now, but even still these pains come and go unpredictably, and unexpectedly.

My wife and I took a trip to Holland for our first anniversary! Holland Michigan.

Beyond my personal life, there have been a lot of moments that have brought painful stretching.  In September last year I began launching a new business, one focused on a passion of mine, aerial imagery.  As the year progressed Sam and I discussed together many times the next steps for the business, we filed as an LLC, and then after seeking funding, we’ve made a large investment in what I hope will result in an explosion of growth for the business, but also Sam and I as we wrestle together with the realities of profit and loss.  We received funding in August just before my birthday, and quickly discovered that what we thought would be the hardest part of growth (acquiring funding) was actually one of the easiest parts.

Immediately after funding came in, my car broke down 200 miles from home, and Sam and I spent a lot of emotional energy and used a bunch of unplanned for money to get it home and repaired.  Work for me has been a chaotic merry-go-round that repeats over and over the difficult parts, just revisiting the same struggles for months on end, with no real power to resolve the issues for my self.  We’ve been busier at my day job this year than we have ever been before, and trying to balance that with new endeavors has been tasking and at times heartbreaking.

  There is a light in the dark that lights the path in front of us.  A beautiful sand dune on the coast of Lake Michigan.  Sam and I visited for our anniversary in May.

So when I woke up at 3:35 the morning of my birthday to find that the light of my watch had gone out, it felt like a slap in the face.  I felt like the light had gone out inside of me, and that my watch was yelling the truth out loud, even though I was unwilling to admit it to myself.  I was confronted with the realization that I wasn’t in a good place, and that for all my effort I hadn’t gotten where I was going yet.  My light had gone out.  I had nothing left to give, but I had to wake up that morning and I had to keep going, because there was no provision or plan for stopping.  The light inside of me was so dim that I couldn’t force myself to sit down and write the one post I have to write every year.  I was exhausted and felt empty.  My light has so nearly gone out.

For the past month, I’ve repeated to myself “The light has gone out.” in moments of reflection.  I’ve been trying so hard to understand the message sent to me through the timing of my watch and put it’s lesson to work in my life.

Finally.  I think I begin to understand.

Everything is in God’s hands.  Even the simple little lighting circuits of a $45 watch.  Everything is seen and guided.   The light didn’t go out for any reason other than that I needed to be reminded that I am loved and cared for.  The light went out so I would remember to ask God what was going on.  Not only that, but the light went out exactly when it was supposed to.  There has been a lot of death in the community around me, a lifelong shepherd in my life went home this year, and at least 2 people who were students of mine at the youth center have passed from this earth unexpectedly.  Their lights did go out, and it was shocking and it certainly hurts, but the timing was exactly as it was intended to be.  It’s frightening to know that nothing is guaranteed, but at the same time it’s exactly as it should be.

So Lord willing, Sam and I will spend many happy years together.

So Lord willing, I will fly here and there and make money in my new business venture.

So because the Lord is willing, my light will shine for precisely as long as he has ordained.

Thank you Jesus for the time I have been given here on this earth.  Thank you for the past year.  I’ll take precisely the time you’ve given me.  Help me to be prepared for your reckoning.

If the Lord so wills, I will write to you again next year my friends.  If I fail to write, know that it is not a failure, but rather, the fulfillment of a precise and exact plan.  Celebrate with me on that day.

Sam and I watching the sunset over Lake Michigan.

I’ve decided to start adding a head shot to all of these birthday posts. Mostly so some day my kids and grand kids can laugh at me. 😉

Trail and Wild-Watch 33 (2017-2018)

Hathaway Preserve at Ross Run

I’ve been hiking more this year than I have in previous years, partially due to my new wife and I exploring places we have both loved seperately for the first time together, and partially due to being out of town for work so much.  When I have a few hours before or after work with nowhere else to go, I have been seeking the woods and the trail.  Together and apart, Sam and I have wandered through canyons, strode through valleys, scrambled up ridges, and splashed through creek beds while we traveled along the path set out for us.  We have explored together those wild places that human hands have left to their own devices, places where nature is the lead designer.

When I think about the wild places I have been through this year, I think of the time that has passed.  Every year on my birthday, I replace my suddenly worn and weary watch with one that is fresh and new.  I have been doing this for a while now, and this will be the 8th watch I have worn in as many years.  It is a reset of sorts, a tool for self evaluation.  As I carry this tradition forward, my time will eventually run out, and I hope to have a fine collection of watches to display at my funeral.  Each watch will have it’s own story, and in that story pieced together from year sized slices, I hope that a remnant of the person I was while I walked the earth remains behind, eager to walk beside anyone willing to travel the road I traveled in life.  Today, it strikes me that one year sized slice will be unwritten, but I guess there isn’t much to be done about that.

A path we walked in Brazil this year.

The wild places around us do not grow up overnight.  Time passes to fully form them.  Glaciers carve out paths through rock and soil, while streams continue the work when the glaciers have melted.  A tree creates year sized slices of it’s own, each ring representing a year of growth.  The carpet of fallen leaves melts into the forest floor, only to be covered by a freshly fallen carpet of color the next year.   A tree outlives the squirrel that scampers over it’s branches, whilst the doe and fawn feed at it’s feet for a time.  The wild places around us do not grow up overnight.

My life has been full of wild places, and full of places that have been tamed.  Do not make the mistake of thinking that I despise a place that has been tamed.  I enjoy the comforts of home, I enjoy the structures we live and work in.  The rain knocking on the window beside me is better kept out than allowed to enter, in this moment.  Structure and tameness are important parts of our lives, and this past year has found me developing these structures in my life to new levels.   In the same way that wildness does not finish its work overnight, neither have these structures sprung up fully formed in the darkness of one moment.

Photo by Mackenzie Bates of Waverly Lane Photography

This past year has brought a lot of new construction into my life.  I am now a married man, a man who has so happily consented to building together a life with this one woman my heart has chosen.  This structure will define the rest of my life forever.  I finished a year of living in my car at the end of December.  (An experiment of sorts that one day I may write more about.)  I entered my third year of freedom from the bite of the snake.  I have stepped into new roles at work, expanding my responsibilities into new places.  I have made a serious commitment to eliminating the debt of consumerism and one-upmanship from my finances.  These structures, these tame places, have not sprung up in one night, they have been the work of years, and some of these structures will take the work of a lifetime to complete.  I will seek to continue the taming of my heart in the year that follows, each tick of this new watch a milestone on the path I walk.  I will pursue the completion of structures placed not on sand, but on the solid rock of Christ who ultimately leads me from point to point.  I will blaze a new trail in the year that comes, creating a tame place in the wildness on both sides that I may travel upon.

My favorite panorama of the year. Taken near Lake Lemon in Monroe County Indiana

I will not always build these trails correctly the first time.  Each trail will endure constant renovation and rebirth.  It will be a struggle to complete the vision set in front of me.  The struggle will require the clearing of thorns from the path in front of me.  The leveling of ground that lies unevenly at my feet will break my back as I move shovel after shovel of dirt to a new and different place.  Taming certain areas will be hard work in this new year of life, as it was hard work in the year that has just past.  The trail I build will be the legacy of my life.

My wife playing in the clear water of a creek.

The wild places in us do not grow up over night.  They must be protected and given a chance to grow.  As much as I speak of creating a trail in my life, I want even more to cultivate certain areas of wildness in me.  I must set borders on those areas, but if allowed to grow in the proper place and time, the wild in me will birth a beauty that no human mind can plan.  The wild and the trail live together in harmony.  They form each other.  Without the trail, the beauty of the wild would not be seen, would not be experienced.  Without the wild, the trail has no where to explore, no new thing to see.

As I step into this new year, I look forward to developing the trail in front of me.  As I build, I will seek out the beauty in the wild that grows within me.

A waterfall in Salmonie State Park near Wabash Indiana.


Watch 32 (2016-2017)

I wonder what it was like.

33 years ago I was born into the world I live in now.  I passed from the darkness into the light, and saw for the first time that there was more to my life than darkness and indistinct voices.

I wonder what it was like.

I was obviously present at the event in question, but I guess I wasn’t paying too much attention, since I don’t remember any of it.  I guess if my birth was typical at all, I entered the world I now know, and after some coercion, took my first breath.  At various points after my first breath, I was washed and bundled, weighed and observed, and handed to my mother and father so they could meet me face to face for the first time.  I suppose that was an incredible moment for them, one filled with weight and quite possibly terror, but also filled with a deep care that they had probably never before experienced.   I irrevocably changed their lives forever, and things would never be the same for them.

I’m not sure at what point in the process this may have happened, but at some point someone took note of the time, and wrote it down so it could be on my birth certificate.  They jotted down a series of numbers that didn’t mean much to many people, but to my parents, those numbers represented the beginning of a brand new experience, as they walked into the unknown lands of parenthood, together.   For me, it represents the beginning of my journey in this world.

Just a few simple numbers mark the beginning, and one day those same simple numbers will mark the end.

I wear a new watch tonight, as I always do on my birthday, having retired the previous years watch.  I note the numbers, realizing with each passing second that I have just a bit less time here in this world.  I filled my year in the best ways I could, deciding that I didn’t want to focus on what I didn’t have, but rather make the most of what I did.  I’ve covered a lot of ground in the last year, and I am going to take a moment to reflect on it, to remember what life was like when I was 32.

It has been a crazy year.

During one hectic and incredible week, I bought a school bus at auction, flew to D.C. to pick it up, and more importantly went on my first date with the woman I hope to someday soon call my wife.  I had met her in June, at a CD release event, and I had done my best to catch her eye that night at a group dinner.  I’ll leave the full story for another day, but I left dinner that night convinced that she wasn’t interested, and that she wasn’t going to be.  4 months and one birthday later, we met at a stone quarry to admire the view.  I eventually invited her out for coffee, and I have grown to not only love her, but understand more fully what love is as our relationship has continued.  I’ve never done anything to deserve this love, but I am so glad that I have finally found what I was searching for.  In December I asked her to be my girlfriend, and now I am waiting anxiously to ask her another very important question.

I’ve found in her a helper, a helper in times of trouble, which have been in some abundance this year.  I’ve wrestled with a lot of my demons this year, exposing them to the light so that others can see the victory God has brought, so they can find hope for themselves.  I’ve found myself tossed about, as relationships to people and organizations I expected to always be there, have been broken.   Slow times at work have made interesting financial arrangements necessary, and while things are looking up financially, I’m still catching up at times.

In June, I had the privilege of visiting my friends Joel and Deborah in their new home, a small country in Sub-Saharan Africa.  I wrestled with separation in ways I never have, and experienced a life I knew nothing about.  I was humbled by the kindness of a man who drove us around the beautiful countryside, who refused desperately needed money so that he could serve his brothers in Christ.  That man was hurt the next day in a motorcycle accident, and left unable to work for several weeks, but in his poverty and brokenness, he invited us into his home for a humble meal outside under a darkening sky.  I worshiped with brothers and sisters who I may never meet again in this world, and I found acceptance and grace in all of our interactions.

I witnessed the marvels of a full solar eclipse, and I was awe-struck.  I was surprised on my birthday by my girlfriend, and my good friend who drove 3 hours to see me and celebrate with me.   I love them both.

You see, I’m happy to continue living this life here, happy to watch the moments tick by on my new watch, because I now see so many good possibilities for my time here.  I couldn’t see any of those moments from where I was a year ago.  So now, I will do my best to enjoy each moment I have left, hoping to make as big of an impact as I can.  But in all of this hoping for the future, I return again to the moment I was born.

On that day 33 years ago, I didn’t know what the world I was entering held for me.  I only knew that I was leaving behind everything I had known from before.  When my time runs out, I certainly don’t know exactly what awaits me, but I know that on that day I will see in full, that which I know only see in part.  I’ll be born again, born into another world, where I’ll meet the faithful motorcycle driver, and I’ll speak to him, and invite him in for dinner.  I’ll be in a place that makes my current home seem like darkness, as I step into the light.

I wonder what it will be like.

Be sure to check out the other people on the journey with me at, or on our Facebook page.  There are some awesome people participating this year, and they all have something important to say.  

Watch 31 (2015-2016)


Every year on my birthday, I retire the watch I’ve worn for the past year.  I started the tradition several years ago as I contemplated the path that I thought lay ahead of me.  I wanted a way to look back in time and see who I was in the past, to see who I am now as a result of that past.  I put on my 6th watch this evening.

Each watch is a testament of sorts, an anchor to that year of my life, a physical link to a time that is past.  Perhaps one day I’ll have children, perhaps even grandchildren, and my hope is that they will allow me to tell them a story about each watch.  I hope the stories will illuminate parts of my life, like the glowing back light illuminates the thin hands marking time as they tirelessly march in never varying circles.  The moments I reveal to those who would listen will be the memorable ones, the accomplishments, the relationships formed and broken, the moments that shaped who I would become.  Imagine the joy of showing an eager listener the timepiece I wore when they were born, perhaps they will hearken to the reverence of time itself invested in watches worn in times of mourning.  I hope the stories will reveal me.  That I will be known.
2016-08-24 22.18.39


When I am asked about this year, I am afraid that I will be quick to pass over it.  I’ve done little of note this year.  Perhaps the most important thing I have done this year is to help record a CD with some of my friends.  I won’t be able to point to trips I have taken, funds I have raised or buildings I have built.  I have little to show this year for adventure and feats of daring.  I have worked many hours, I have slept as much as I could get away with, and I have lived a plain life.  I’ve watched as the legacy I thought I had been building had holes punched in it, as it crashed down around me and lay in ruins at my feet.  I could only stand idly by while 15 years of my life and work was pulled out from under me.   I struggled to fulfill the most basic obligations of society.

What will there be to say about this past year?

I do not know that path ahead, but when someday I am asked about this year, I hope I have the courage to share those things that were done in me instead of by me.  For the first time in 15 years I have found freedom from habits that have held me in tight bondage.  I was given the courage to finish a self destructive relationship.  I found enough courage to ask for more responsibility.  I sought a place to use gifts that I was afraid were too weak to be used, and I spent time developing those gifts.  I’ve worked towards paying off obligations, and as each is paid, I find myself closer to my next adventure.   I’ve re-learned to invest in people, because if I will ever have a legacy that can survive the destruction of a sledgehammer, it must be a legacy built in peoples hearts.   This year has been a year of learning, a year of preparation.

Time is a treasure that we hope to fill our treasure(d) chests with.  Each tick of the second hand like a heartbeat keeping us alive, but drawing us ever closer to the end.  Each beat, is one less to be completed.  Do not doubt that each beat, each second, can have value.  Even if what you are walking through isn’t exciting, it can be life changing.   I know that someday in the future, when I tell the story of this year, it will be foreshadowing the things to come in my next.  For now I see only in part, but one day it will be revealed in its fullness.