Filling Up Halfway

A couple days ago I stopped at a gas station to refill my tank when I saw the yellow light on my dashboard turn on. I pulled up to the pump and waited for the screen to hit $15 before removing the nozzle. The tank usually fills up with about $30, but I’ve been planning on paying off the balance on my credit card so I can pay for gas with it and get those precious cash back rewards. This has actually already happened twice, in a row. So, with better planning I could have filled up the first time and gotten my rewards.

Oh, well. That’s really not that important.

This may be a silly illustration (it definitely is), but it captures quite well how my mood has been. How my spiritual life has stagnated. How my soul consistently runs on half a tank. And it’s been a while. Too long, really.

Last night, as soon as I got home and put my backpack on the floor, I sat down on the couch and turned on the Xbox to play some FIFA. I was tired, but more than that, I felt empty. When my roommate walked in and said, “You look dead,” I couldn’t help but half-smile and assent. That had been my mood for most of the week. Just going through the motions, trying to find something but not knowing exactly what. My tank running on fumes for a couple days, I needed to find something, but really, I didn’t even want to try at that point.

Every week the story repeats to some extent. I get to Friday night intellectually and emotionally exhausted. Part of me looking forward to reading spiritual/religious books, doing some personal writing, playing clarinet, somehow getting closer to God; the other part staying in bed stressing out about how to best recharge during the remaining Sabbath hours and being so paralyzed that usually not much recharging happens.

To be fair, I do fill up some of my tank. Setting aside and forgetting about any and all schoolwork for the Sabbath is tremendously liberating. It’s the time I can best disconnect from the need of doing—although I can easily end up substituting for other kinds of doing. When the sun sets on Saturday and Sabbath is over, I find myself ready for the week only to find out a couple days later my tank was only half full.

See, Sabbath is a huge blessing, but I just can’t seem to figure out how to recharge. Am I even supposed to figure it out? How much effort should I put in before it all becomes about how well I can perform and then it’s no different from how everything else around me works?

I feel lost in my spiritual practice—if I can even say I have such a thing right now. I often leave church feeling emptier, more upset and frustrated. And I’m just not sure what I need.

This helps. Writing about it. Sharing what’s going on, even if it all comes out as mumble jumble. I will keep looking, trying, searching, and staying still. It’s not about religionand it’s not about correct Sabbath-keeping, although rituals (spiritual practices) can certainly help. I want to better understand how to be present and aware of my place in and connection with a deeper reality.

Sabbath ended not long ago. I hope next time I stop at the gas station, I can fill up the tank all the way.

Like an old Sabbath

A few weeks back, I was invited to do special music for the church I’ve been attending since I arrived in Houston. Given that I really had not other performance opportunities in sight, I accepted.

I haven’t played much, and I have honestly felt the void. On Monday, I had an excellent practice session. It was productive and fun—one of those you don’t get all the time. Then on Wednesday, while preparing the piece for Sabbath, I hated my guts because my altissimo register just plain sucked (that’s what practicing is more like on a daily basis).

So even though I generally don’t play music outside of the classical genre, I looked forward to performing once more, to feeling those nerves and the adrenaline, to enjoy being shaken by the beauty of music.

My faith has been faltering; my spirit has struggled with finding purpose, my self-esteem with the ever-challenging demands and expectations of a PhD program. But today, playing for the worship service at the West Houston Seventh-day Adventist Church, I felt fulfilled. Making music, participating in worship, if only for a moment, I was home.

The Sabbath closes and I thank God for a much-needed reminder of who He is even as I am overwhelmed with, not doubt, but questions. And I am grateful for another chance to make and share music. I needed it.

#023 – Michael Paradise

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Before leaving Lincoln, Neb., for good, I sat down with Michael Paradise in his office at the College View Seventh-day Adventist Church where he serves as the young adult pastor. I was curious to know what it is like to work with young adults and what made him want that job—it may have something to do with having a pretty wife.

After a fun chat, I left so he could continue eating pizza and playing worship songs on the guitar, which is basically his job description—according to him, not his employer.

#017 – Tyler Morrison

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Today on the show we have Tyler Morrison, a talented Christian singer-(now)songwriter. On September 4, he’ll be releasing his debut album “Surrender.” Tyler is here to share all about how his music ministry has evolved and where it may go.

To receive a free download of “He Leadeth Me” visit tylermorrisonmusic.com and subscribe.

This week’s book and film recommendations (check them out!):

Dave Eggers’s “What Is the What” (recommended by Pablo Colindres)

People Places Things (recommended by Slade)

If you liked this episode, share and subscribe on Facebook, iTunes, and Twitter!

Love trumps my pessimism. Thank God!

This post was first published on April 4, 2015.


There is so many things I dislike about the Adventist “culture.” Growing up in Mexicali and now having lived almost three years in Lincoln, Nebraska, I have experienced two different sides of Adventism. I gotta say both annoy me.

At the same time, both have things that I like. But I can go on and on about the things I dislike and how I wish we could be better and do more. I strongly believe God has granted us potential to do great things in His name, but we don’t. I become sarcastic and snooty. I get angry and cynical. I feel hopeless and overwhelmed.

This same anger has led me to focus on other things, like getting those things that are wrong right. It’s important work, it’s true. However, while I believe in and talk about God’s love as the answer, I feel like I show less and less of it.

God’s love can change us. His love can change what’s wrong. He can make it right. He can transform our laziness into hard work. He can transform our conformity (should I say mediocrity?) into excellence, our proneness to follow the world (or at least imitate so much of it) into leadership, our stagnant congregations into innovative communities.

If God’s love can do that, maybe I can get my recommended dosis and let that love do its work. God’s love can change our lives, it can change our communities, and it can change our church.

A church that fits me

While going through some old posts from an older blog of mine, I found a quote from C. S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters.” Every time I read this passage I think about what the point of church is. Is it important to find a church that fits you? Is it about something else? I’m really not sure of the answer, although sometimes it might seem obvious. Lewis poses some thought-provoking ideas.

In “The Screwtape Letters,” a demon and senior tempter named Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter. The uncle provides advice to Wormwood, who has been assigned a man. His task is to prevent this man from following God. The “Enemy” referred to in the letters is God.

My dear Wormwood,

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy want him to be a pupil.

Your affectionate uncle,
SCREWTAPE