Category Archives: #Watch

Light in the Dark (#Watch)

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. 😉


Watch 33 (Trail and Wild)

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

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


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.

Farewell Watch #30

“2 year service plan?” The gentleman at Walmart asked disinterestedly. I quickly declined out of habit. As I waited credit card in hand on my one other item to be scanned, I chuckled to myself.

“What good is a two year service plan for a watch I’ll only wear for a year?” I quipped.

Every year on my birthday I purchase a new watch. I started the tradition a few years ago, and it is something I look forward to doing. I started thinking about my approaching birthday months ago, already trying to decide what I wanted to write about. A part of the tradition is putting something in words that I can use to reflect on and remember the past year by. I reread each previous post as I approach a new year of life.

This year has been hard. I have had to acknowledge that I will soon need glasses to allow me to continue to take in-focus photos. My hearing isn’t what it used to be, and my physical endurance is fading as well. I have felt a loss of stamina, which is sorely needed as I finish my 8th 60+ hour work week and start a 9th.

I am still not ready to be married, and I dissapoint those who are anxiously hoping for that day. My social life has changed dramatically since I left the youth center last summer. I find myself in a cycle of sleep, eat, work, sleep that does not seem to have an end. I regularly have to ask someone what day it is. I often find that I just don’t care about what is happening around me.

In November my mother passed away.

It has been a hard year.

I am ready to put this watch away, but it will be a long time before I can forget the year it stood guard over.

I will always remember being in the back of a speeding truck, my watch laying beside the seizing body of a young boy on his way to a Haitian hospital. I’ll remember the quick glances at my watch while I stood in the light of the swiftly rising Haitian sun when my two weeks there was done, hoping someone would come out to see me off, but glad of the escape from a goodbye I didn’t want to say when the truck snuck away with me aboard.

I’ll remember handing my watch to Karalee as she checked the weak pulse of a little Nicaraguan girls frail and failing body. I’ll remember my surprise at being roused from my Nicaraguan bunk at such a late hour by a dear sister who came to say goodbye and thank me for my presence.

I won’t forget the unfeeling but honest hands of the watch telling me I was going to be late to the cemetary.

There are so many seconds of this year that it is hard to imagine will ever be forgotten. In a way, I hope that I never do. It would change who I am now to forget these things.

Many of the events of the past year remind me that I may not have many more. There is no such thing as a 2 year service plan for a life. The only time you can depend on is the time that has already passed. I am so glad to have been given this past year, and I am hopeful that more time will be granted to me.

I have so much that I need to say.

It is in this past year that I finally feel as if I have found my voice, and while there is still breath in these lungs, I intend to use it.