Frank (The Tennis Choronicles Part 1)

I was 10 years old when I first saw it for the first time. I’d seen it before, but not the way it’s meant to be seen. This time, I saw it. Flipping channels from The Weather Channel to ESPN, the satellite picture went clear. Marcos Baghdatis vs. Marat Safin. The back and forth, the freedom, the solitude, the equipment. I had been watching the weather channel, praying for a snow day in the 4th grade, when I had gotten bored from commercials. The snow day didn’t happen but who cares. I’d found something I had to try. There was no way I wouldn’t fall in love. I just knew it. But what next? 

“Dad!” I yelled after the conclusion of the match. 

“Can you take me to that wall at Pepplepocket Park?” He thought for a minute. Was he not going to take me? 

“I’ll tell you what..I’ll take you Saturday.”

Saturday? Saturday! I couldn’t wait and scavenged the garage for equipment in preparation for the weekend. I was dreaming. I picked up a 23’ Andre Agassi Junior racket. I shut my eyes and I was in Australia for the Open. The crowd screaming and Marat Safin across the net. The lights caused a surge of adrenaline to my young mind and soul. I was a warrior. But where was Bagdhatis..I guess I took his place in this dream. It was my dream after all.

Saturday came and I was in love. Tennis was the first thing I ever loved. And boy, was it sweet. The next steps came. Lessons, tournaments, more dreams. I was on a clear path to truly becoming something that I had felt since I accidentally flipped channels to the 2008 Australian Open. A tennis player. But like any person in the beginning stages of a relationship I had no idea of what was to come. Nobody told me the things to watch for, what to avoid, what to focus on. I had a vision of life where tennis was the center. And the ball was in my court. My falling in love that night in 2008, led to the story of a boy who experienced some of the best times of his life, but also the worst. I had good coaches and bad ones. I had the best time of my life at some tournaments and I felt the loneliest I ever felt at some. The worst coaches got me to believe that tennis was everything. They taught me to believe that results were everything. There were lonely nights outside of the tennis center in my car, there were nights when I had a friend by my side in that car and we dreamt of something more. My best friend Corrie and I, have been through hell and back again in this sport. We’ve gone through love, loss, loneliness, joy, fear, and pain. He was often the guy who I’d take long drives with to College Park and come back late at night. We reflected a lot as we had a lot of the same coaches. I want the next few blogs to be about these experiences I had. They truly shaped me.

I went through my first coaches rapidly. I couldn’t get enough of the game. I even damaged our garage in my childhood home by imagining I was Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open. It is still a sore subject today. My first coach was John Witkowski who taught me to love the game. But not love it for the results…he taught me that it was fun! That phase quickly passed and I desired to have more than just fun. I wanted to win. Maybe I could get a college scholarship?

That’s when I met coach Frank. 

I went for a tryout with Frank to get into his academy. He was a black man with dreadlocks and an accent. “Where are you from?” I asked him nervously. “The best country in the world! Ghana. And one day, I’m gonna win the lottery and go back!” I chuckled. I didn’t really believe him. Over the years, I developed a relationship with Frank and he was the first man I looked up to who loved God. Frank came up as a junior in Ghana and walked five miles to get to the courts, and five miles back. He played barefoot on the hot pavement as a kid. Tennis was his only chance to get out of his home country. There is a story of him playing in Wimbledon and getting sponsored by Wilson. The company wanted to sign him and all he had to do was put “Wilson” stencil on his racket. Frank refused. He told us how his positive outlook had gotten him there and how he had always put a smiley face stencil on his racket. And as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I have fond memories of long practice sessions with Frank, him blasting Bob Marley from his boombox. The sunset in the distance and my soul merging with the court and my racket.

I learned so much from Frank and never really got to show him how much he meant to me. I left his academy to move on to what I thought would be an opportunity to train with better players. Eventually, Frank got tired of waiting to win the lottery and took his fate into his own hands. When I was 13, Frank moved back to Ghana to be a missionary. I went to his going away party and saw him for the first time in a year. He was shocked to see me and embraced me with a hug. “I never thought I would see you again!” he said. Maybe I had made an impact on him too? I cried for hours that night. And when I didn’t think I could cry anymore…a new wave hit. He was the first man who had shown me what it meant to truly live from a higher place. I tear up as I write this because Frank was that moving to me. He told me not to care what others thought. He gave me a binder of pictures of people in his home country without basic things and whenever I complained, we went over it. Bob Marley was his anthem and the mantra was one love. Frank loved tennis. But what really mattered was he loved me. I love Frank.

I recently googled the name “Frank Ofori” and found that he has just returned to tennis after 7 years. It made me smile. I know that there is a kid in Ghana right now, hitting with Frank as the sun goes down. Bob Marley on the radio and smiley face stencil on the racket. Whoever that kid was before, doesn’t matter. Whoever he is…Frank loves him. He loves everybody…just like his mentor.


The Upside Down

By: Jake Johnson

I used to go to the local Barnes & Noble quite often, each time being to do school work, but after about ten minutes in the Starbucks cafe I never failed to find myself thumbing through a book by Steinbeck or Hemingway. I’d go about an hour or two before work, meaning around 1 O’clock. The bookstore is normally filled with who you’d suspect to be there after lunch — stay at home moms having a book club, dental hygienists buying some time after their lunch break at Pita, and high school kids playing hookie and making out in the fantasy section. But there was one man who at first didn’t fit the scene, until, of course, I saw him nearly every time I went. He was a regular.

His name was Matt.

He shuffled into the building around 1:30 nearly every day, like clockwork. I never even had to look up from my computer or from my book to know it was him. If the sound of his nylon windbreaker didn’t give him away, the barista did. With a smile on her face, she had a large, iced water with his name on it as soon as he reached the counter. Those who were not regulars always muted their voices for the few seconds it took for him to walk past them, but those of us who knew him would give a slight nod or wave and go back to sipping our subpar coffees and reading our paperbacks. Starbucks is known for allowing those who are homeless into their building, but it is somewhat unusual in Newnan, Georgia. Unless, of course, the homeless man is Matt.

After about two or three times of seeing him, we started to talk. Mainly about quantum physics and string theory (both of which I know nothing about), but I was glad we could talk. For a man living on the streets, he was educated. I guess that’s why he chose Barnes & Noble — he knew he could get a free water and access to to an entire book section dedicated to nerds who love science. But he knew psychology, too, which I was thankful for. A conversation is always interesting when both people are analyzing the other for possible mental disorders. Unfortunately, we never got too close, and I eventually stopped seeing him at Barnes & Noble. But then one day I saw him again.

It was a week or so before Christmas. I was driving by Barnes & Noble, looking for a place to park so I could go read some Thoreau with an iced coffee. And to my right, a smile grew on my face as I saw Matt walking out the store, wearing a fresh bathrobe with a pair of flip flops and aviators. A cigarette sat perched in his lips, which he promptly removed and flicked to the curb. He seemed like a new man — clearly showing off his bathrobe and aviators as his strutted along the sidewalk, doing a spin like he’s Michael Jackson. It all paired well with the song “Upside Down” by Jack Johnson I had playing through my Aux, of which reminded me of another homeless man, 2000 years ago, who did indeed turn the world upside down. And this Man, who died for his enemies, says that it is guys like Matt who are the greatest in His Kingdom.

I have not seen Matt since, and although I know from previous conversations that he is not a Christian, I pray that he may one day realize the love that his Creator has for him. What I do know about Matt is that he suffers from a rare and incurable illness, one that causes him to have large knots and bumps on his body. I wish that I could allow that sickness to do its worst to me — to take it all on myself and allow it to defeat me, so that he may no longer live in pain. And although I cannot, I know that, in one way or another, that is what happened on that Roman cross, albeit not just with sickness but with all Evil, Sin, and Death. As N.T. Wright says as a paraphrase to Albert Schweitzer, “Jesus […] was like a man convinced the wheel of history was going to turn in the opposite direction. He waited for this to happen, but it didn’t. Then he threw himself upon the wheel, and it crushed him — but it did indeed start to turn in the other direction” (Wright, Simply Good News). The world truly has been turned upside down, and God offers forgiveness to all, inviting all of us to join the party. Including guys like Matt. Especially guys like Matt.

Bearing Names

Wild bears do the twist to communicate through smelly footprints ...

By: Jake Johnson

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain…” — Exodus 20:7

I don’t remember too much from Sunday School, but from what I do remember from those years of flannel graphs and talking vegetables is that I shouldn’t kill, steal, cheat on my wife, or…cuss. Now, I know that sin is sin regardless, but like, c’mon guys. Is that what this verse really means? To be clear, I am not condoning foul language (especially language that defiles the name of God); afterall, the Bible clearly says that our words hold the power of life and death, can corrupt the whole body, and should be used to encourage and help others (Proverbs 18:21; James 3:6; Ephesians 4:29). I am just saying that there must be more going on in this verse. A lot more. As in, a Biblical theme that is present all the way from Genesis to Revelation.

There’s that peculiar saying in Genesis that human beings are created in the image of God, blessed with the task of being fruitful, multiplying, and creating more and more Goodness throughout the world. It’s a beautiful truth, and one that I try to remind myself whenever I am being annoyed or irritated by someone. They, just like me, are made in the image of the One true God, the creator of mountains and wine and dogs and mangoes. But being made in his image implies that we should look like him, and in case you haven’t realized it yet, this world does not look like a world in which we all reflect the image of God. If it did, well, it would look a heck of a lot like Genesis 2. But ever since Genesis 3, we as image bearers of God have often times instead bore the image of the animals we were called to subdue, as is evident in things like domestic violence, war, systemic racism and injustice, and the Holocaust. As Viktor Frankl says in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “We have come to know Man as he really is. Afterall, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

So what does it mean to bear God’s image? Or, as most English translations put it, to “not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7)? Maybe a quick look at a conversation Jesus had about taxes would help us understand. April 15th is right around the corner, so it seems appropriate.

In Luke 20, Jesus is approached by a spy sent by some religious leaders to try to get Jesus to say something that could get him arrested (Luke 20:20). When asked if Jews should pay taxes, Jesus “flips the coin” so to speak and asks whose face is on a Roman coin. And just like my boy Lincoln is on the penny, Caesar is on the denarius. In a fashion I imagine similar to supa hot fire, Jesus stuns the crowd with “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” (v.25). The coin bears the image of Caesar, much like how we bear the image of God. The story changes pretty quick to a discussion about the Resurrection, but Paul picks up on this “bearing the name” language in Ephesians 5 when he says to “imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Just a few verses before, Paul urges us to “not bring sorrow to God’s holy Spirit by the way [we] live” (Ephesians 4:30). It seems to me, then, that defiling the name of the Lord has much more to do with the rightness of our hearts and entire being than just in what we say. To fully imitate God means to love him and love others, directing our hearts to Life himself and being restored and reconciled back to the way we were meant to be. Of course it brings sorrow to God’s name when we fail to do this — as the Giver of all that is Good and True and Beautiful, he knows that our distortion and corruption of his design causes destruction in our own lives and others, even enough to cause a schism in a once-perfect world, bringing death and darkness into a world that was once full of Light and Life. And even more, our failure to bear his name causes us to reflect a distorted image of Himself into the world. Looking at the long and brutal history of the Church, it is no wonder why Gandhi said, “I like you Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Although not a Christian himself, he valued the teachings of Jesus and recognized how different Jesus is not just from Christians, but from all who have ever lived. This is because Jesus is the only One who bears God’s name perfectly, revealing to us the heart and very nature of God. As Paul writes in Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:13,  Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” and “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being […].” If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus. He is the only one who has never taken the name of the Lord in vain, for he Himself is the Lord, and his crucifixion is like a flag being staked on a hill, declaring the inauguration of God’s Kingdom. But his kingdom came and will one day be consummated not by brute force and violence, but by self-sacrificial love and the death of all that is not Life. It seems like a paradox, but on the cross Jesus not only bore the Image of God but also bore our own sins and burdens, the very sins and burdens in our lives that once held us captive to the Kingdom of Darkness. As Tim Mackie says, “Jesus became the human we were made to be, and through him we can become the humans we were made to be.” He declared himself king over his broken creation, reconciling the world back to himself and reversing the curse of entropy and death. Something beautiful happens when we begin to truly believe this, not the least being imitating more and more the Image we were made in.

In 2 Kings 17:15, the Israelites “rejected [God’s] decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and they despised all his warnings. They worshiped worthless idols, so they became worthless themselves. They followed the example of the nations around them, disobeying the LORD’s command not to imitate them.” We become like what we worship, and those who rest in the Goodness of the Lord and worship him reflect a more accurate image of him into the world. And hopefully, by bearing his image, we may help reveal to others the heart of God, so that they may discover for themselves the love of the One whose image they are made in.

*originally posted by Jake Johnson*

Stars in the Night Sky

As the world goes to a place it is all too familiar with, I stand with many questions. As a person born in 1997, I have not been conscious for the trenches our world has gone through in recent years. But now, as rocks from grenade fire fly overhead, it seems like our way of life is being threatened. But still, the mission remains the same. We are called not to live in fear but to live from the finished work of Christ.

For some reason, I have recently been awakened to the beauty of the stars in the sky above us. As I look to them in their brilliance, I am witnessing a miracle. A ball of fire, perfectly round, suspended in the sky, 5.88 trillion miles away from my perception. The same perception that processes the events of a worldwide pandemic, personal negative emotions, death, famine…but also love, joy, generosity, and peace. Our reality is not so different from the stars I watch from below. When a star dies you would think it would be horrible. It takes eons for a star to cool down once it dies. But in the darkness is when a star produces the most light. Before a star departs from the galaxy, it goes through a supernova. It produces enough light to shine as bright as an entire galaxy of stars.


We aren’t so different. God chooses to use pain to allow the light to explode within us. Maybe it’s time for a supernova in our spirits. An awakening of who we are in Christ. So as we take things day by day in the midst of worldwide pandemic, we can feel the cold, wet darkness upon us. However, it only takes the faintest of lights to lead us out of the darkest of caves. If we would be brave enough to follow, I believe that Jesus is waiting for us to grab his hand and take our fear. Rumor has it, He holds a pretty powerful flashlight. So remember the words of God, “So do not fear, for I am with you; so do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

A Kingdom of Kids

By: Jake Johnson

I sit on my porch, sipping a coffee at 2 in the afternoon with my journal and a pen in hand with no words on the page. It’s been weeks since I’ve undone the elastic band around the journal, or even thought about it for that matter. What was once a daily rhythm has become a chore, just like the pile of dishes sitting on the counter. My sip of coffee is interrupted by the humidity and pollen of Georgia, which are then interrupted by a blow of one of the four winds and the sight of a brown thrasher who is late for his lunch. My pessimism is met with a smile, and I am reminded of the Lord’s words that I am far more valuable than a bird. I look up from my coffee, and see the kids down the street playing in a sprinkler. A tear joins my smile, and I remember who Jesus says the Kingdom is for, and pray that I may one day be young enough to play in a sprinkler again.

Perhaps these moments are part of what Jesus means when he told the pharisees that “the Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Perhaps, when Jesus said these words, he glanced over to the kids playing in the sprinkler.

I miss the summers of innocence. I miss the days when I could admire the beauty of a woman and not lust after her. I miss the days of nerf wars and popsicles, above-ground pools and bike rides. I miss the joy of child-like faith, when Jesus was my best friend and I gave and received love without fear. As Dan Allender puts it, “innocence is the ability to be in awe.” When the beauty of a woman, the color of the sunset, and the blow of the breeze no longer awaken awe within your heart, you have lost your innocence. God knows I have lost mine. I miss intimately knowing what Jesus meant when he said “the Kingdom of God is among you.” I miss Eden — afterall, it’s etched onto all of our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Or have we forgotten that Eden was once our home?

Somehow, this deep yearning within me to taste and feel the joy of the Lord and the Kingdom of God has been translated over the years as “a place in the clouds you go to when you die,” and it is no wonder countless people lose heart.

If it’s all about going off into the clouds somewhere, then it all seems quite boring. What about sex and romance, nature and adventure, friendship and food? What about hope, longing, joy, and restoration? What about life? What about front-yard sprinklers?

My sage, John Eldredge, once said, “I daresay we’ve heard a bit about original sin, but not nearly enough about original glory, which comes before sin and is deeper to our nature. We were crowned with glory and honor. Why does a woman long to be beautiful? Why does a man hope to be found brave? Because we remember, if only faintly, that we were once more than we are now.” John has a way of speaking to the heart with his poetic prose, and as I think about this quote in relation to the kids and the sprinkler, I believe that the kids were acting out of that original glory — the one that is deeper and truer to our nature than our sin and rebellion. They were playing out of innocence.

What I felt today on my porch was nothing short of a sudden beating in my heart for restoration, for the glory of the Lord to be restored in me. Recently, my head has become full of knowledge and my heart full of stones — but every now and again I am able to push through the religious fog of Churchianity and the cynicism of a secular world and have eyes to see and ears to hear. I just didn’t think the Kingdom would advance through a front-yard sprinkler.

But is this not the offer of Jesus? To restore us? To invite us to become citizens of the Kingdom, and then go out and co-labor alongside him, bringing God’s reign to the rest of the world? Jesus said that he came to heal the broken-hearted, and in case you haven’t realized it yet, we’re all broken-hearted. If we miss this, we miss everything. The saddest mistake of all is to miss Jesus for who he is — and to miss his mission. And so we fill our time with our drug of choice, whether it be alcohol or exercise or even church, to avoid the pain and ache of our hearts. To miss him for who he is and settle for the world as it is is to put to death the aching for eternity within us, that thumping and beating within our hearts for our true lives of intimacy and adventure, of abundant Goodness and joy. To once again quote my sage, “we abandon the most important journey of our lives when we abandon desire. We leave our hearts by the side of the road and head off in the direction of fitting in, getting by, being productive, what have you. Whatever we might gain – money, position, the approval of others, or just the absence of the discontent self – it’s not worth it.” There is a reason why video games and Netflix won’t satisfy, and why pornography and one-night stands always leave one feeling empty. There is a reason why the world is filled with many men with dead hearts and large 401ks, and why the stache of cheap romance novels never fills the void in the heart of the stay-at-home mom. It is because we were made for so much more than an alternative of what God has declared as good. Of course the video games won’t satisfy — we were made to swim the Caribbean and climb the Rockies. And the pornography, hook-ups, and cheap romance novels? We were made for a love that is as strong as death, not a lust that will suck the life out of you like a pack of Marlboros.

I miss the dreams we had as kids. When I was 12, all my friends and I wanted to change the world. At 20, often my greatest desire is for a drink. Or 12. But who wouldn’t want to down a couple of six-packs every week if the promise of Jesus is for a pew with our name on it up in the clouds?

Maybe the reason why so many of us have a hard time believing that Jesus came to restore is because it requires too much faith to believe. I mean to really believe it, down to the core of who we are. Down to our nephesh— our soul. Which, for those who like Hebrew, always refers to someone’s entire being. The very essence of an individual. We’ve been hurt too much, bruised and battered by the enemy and by a world that so often looks like hell. And we’ve contributed to this bruising and battering, choosing Death over Life time and time again and then picking up the shovel time and time again in search of healing. But we reap what we sow, and our constant search of healing in the painful and hurtful things of this world wound us even more. As God told Cain, our khata (sin) is crouching at our door, waiting to destroy us (Genesis 4:7). And so, we lose heart. We accept the world as it is, offering a cynical laugh at all those bright-eyed kids who actually think they can make a difference. We find battle in Fortnite, adventure in Netflix, and romance in screen-clicks. And for awhile, it may seem like we are winning. Afterall, in this world, the guy who wins is the one with the dead heart and a pocket full of Bens. But it is a good reminder to know that it is white, middle-class men who have one of the highest rates of suicide and depression in the United States. As Eldredge says, to lose heart is to lose everything.

Simon Weil said that the two things that pierce the human heart are beauty and affliction. I think we are all familiar with affliction, but I am probably not the only one who more often than not refuses to allow beauty to pierce my heart. But if I am to believe that Jesus was right in saying that the Kingdom is among us, that he has overcome this world, and that it will one day be fully renewed, then I must open my eyes to the beauty all around me that is prophesying the return of Eden. The innocent laugh of a child, the song of a bird, the patch of grass poking through a concrete slab — all of these are signposts pointing to the renewal of all things, beckoning us to once again believe in fairy tales and worship the One who death bows to. Maybe the reason why Jesus said for us to be like children is not because they are ignorant of the pain of this world, but because they allow the beauty and wonder of this world to pierce their hearts more than the pain. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it was in a Garden where hell rebelled against heaven, and it was in another Garden where heaven rebelled against hell. Christianity, then, is the ongoing rebellion on the side of heaven against hell, co-laboring with Christ to advance the work and power of the Kingdom of God. And in case you haven’t noticed it, most kids rebel against the cynicism and pessimism of this world. We would do well to be like them.

I truly believe that within every heart is a desire for eternity. I believe, despite how much a heart has become stone, that deep within every man, woman, and child is an overwhelming desire for restoration. They may not know what to call it, but they do know, regardless of how small or faint it may be, that there is an itch within them for something more. As a counseling student, I have talked to too many people for this not to be the case. And the beauty of the Gospel is that this longing for restoration is exactly what Jesus is calling us to. It is to redeem the glory of Genesis 1 and 2, leading us back to become the humans we were made to be and to live the lives we were made to live. He became sin and defeated it, disarming and shaming the spiritual authorities and powers that have held us captive (2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:15). He has inaugurated his Kingdom, and by doing so has turned the world upside down, beginning a process of restoring and reconciling the entire cosmos back to what it was meant to be. We’ve come along way from Eden, and it’s gonna take more than a cake walk to get us back. Maybe a good place to start is by dusting off the sprinkler.

I miss the summers of innocence, and I pray that you do, too. Your move, Chief.

Posted by Jake Johnson

Matters of the Heart

Some say love is a feeling. Some say it’s a choice. I’m not sure how others have experienced it, but for me it has been both. Preceded by choice, love can be a feeling. But I think it starts with a choice.

That choice can be hard. It can be daunting. To give yourself fully to another person, to tell a person how you feel and know that it could go south is one of the riskiest things in the world. Sometimes it works out, sometimes you are doomed from the start, and sometimes it doesn’t start at all. I’ve seen two types of people when it comes to love. People who have loved before and feel that nothing will ever match what they had before. And people who have never been fully available to love and so they bounce around from relationship to relationship.

Neither is how it was meant to be…I’m not sure it will ever be fully what it was meant to be.

I think the day we are able to sustain love towards another person is the day we realize that it will never be perfect. The only person who ever showed perfect love was murdered by those around him. And betrayed by one who was closest to him. If human’s did that to Jesus, how can we expect another person to be perfect. There isn’t a chance.

The Bible describes love. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” – 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

If you look at the definition of love, it is the formula to dealing with imperfect people. Instead of looking for perfection in people, why don’t we accept them. That does not mean to encourage destruction in others, but it does mean to not leave their side. Our view of love is always being shaped and molded by our surroundings. The gateway to healing a jaded view of love is to actually find a LOVING person who will help you through the healing process. A person who can deal with imperfection.

Something that I am learning is that LOVE INSPIRES MORE LOVE. If you have loved before and been hurt, I believe that you were made to love again. Like a fire before the creation of a forest. To end is to start again.

Why are Some Haircuts Noticed?

About once a month, I’ll go to Great Clips and get my haircut. They have this down to a science over there. They even have what I usually get in their system. But why does no one usually notice…and then why does everyone notice all at once? If it is the same haircut that I normally get, then it is weird that I can get 3 haircuts like that and no one says anything. Then on the 4th haircut people say, “Did you get a haircut?” Maybe the lady just nicked my sideburns a little…but maybe it was just about time people noticed?

I can’t explain why this is but it happens to me. And this is the way that I’ve noticed life goes. We go along, minding our business for a long time, sewing our seeds until one day…we reap the rewards. The great philosophers, businessmen, pastors, politicians, and intellectuals are proof. Why did Steve Jobs create Apple…was it because he was so special? Yes, he was no doubt a man with great ambition and drive. But he went many years as just Steve Jobs, that guy that many faintly remembered from high school. It wasn’t until the culmination of many things that lined up for him that he became a person of greatness. Just like a haircut. First, Steve worked at Atari and met the first guy he’d ever met who started his own business. This inspired him. Just like a 5 guard on the sides. Second, he met Steve Wozniak who was a computer engineering genius who needed someone with business sense. Just like a trim on the top. And just like that, his life would never be the same.

Phil Knight, founder of Nike, has the same kind of story. He was 24 and had graduated college. He pondered what his definition of success would be? Money, house, car, wife and kids? Maybe. But maybe it was more. Phil wondered if he could change the world. But all he could think about was a college presentation on how the shoe market was missing it’s opportunity in the Japanese manufacturing economy. Then it came to Phil! A world trip! That’s what he needed in order to figure out what he wanted to do. Phil spent 6 months in Hawaii with a friend. Until that friend got a girlfriend and Phil was out of money because he was a salesman who was terrible at selling. He thought about going home…but something inside him told him to keep going. Next stop, Japan, he thought! And so he went…and why not check out some shoe manufacturers while he was at it? So he did, like sitting in the lobby of his destiny, he made a connection with a Japanese manufacturer. And over the next 25 years, he would change the world.

Billy Joel and The Beatles had the same story. Billy Joel attempted suicide before he made it big and The Beatles were rejected many times before the world was ready for them. J.K. Rowling was on welfare before Harry Potter and Conor McGregor was a plumber. Most people don’t reach that level of fame or worldly success but I believe each person has a plan for their life. It’s a crazy thought to think that the best days are ahead. But it’s a necessary one. And with that thinking, when a day comes where chance presents itself, we will have the courage to open the door.


In the Time of Your Life

In my life, so often I feel as though we are connected in more ways that we will ever know. Every once in a while, a light shines on this figurative web and we are able to see the wires that pull us close to those around us. I was reminded of this very recently by this story…

In 1994, Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando were set to do a movie together called “Don Juan Demarco.” Johnny Depp had looked up to Marlon Brando for his whole life. You see, both of these men were men forged by the fire of a trying childhood and found refuge by taking on the image of strong men on screen. The first time these two men talked on the phone, they spoke for three hours. Life, love, family, craft, and passion were topics covered in that time. It turned out that these two men were kindred spirits. Men who might have passed by each other on the street and never recognized their similarities. 

After their first conversation, they decided to get dinner together at Brando’s house in Los Angeles. While there, Depp began to recite his life’s philosophy, the preface to “In the Time of Your Life” by William Saroyan. Midway through this monologue, which Johnny Depp had memorized by heart, Marlon Brando stopped him. Brando finished the preface, word for word. Johnny Depp was amazed by this and told Brando that he had ripped out this preface from a book and carried it in his wallet for the last ten years. Brando told him to hold on for a moment and ran upstairs. Coming back down the stairs, Marlon Brando pulled out a very similar page ripped out of a book that displayed the same mantra. He had kept it on his night stand since he was young. They had lived their life, day after day, to the same philosophy and modeled their days in a similar order.

The preface reads…

“In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. Be the inferior of no man, or of any men be superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.” – William Saroyan

This preface has become a mantra in my own life and I too have joined the men by putting this quote in my wallet. I believe that it holds much of the truth that God has given us in a single paragraph. The story of Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando reminds me of the preface itself as it says that, “Every man is a variation of yourself.” I truly believe that and we are doing a disservice to others by withholding our ideas from them. There is no room for shame in our time and the greatest joy is to shine a light on the connection we all share.


Back then I was in the 1st grade. Time wasn’t accurate, the world was safe, and I had no concern. I’d watch “Recess” and “Tarzan” on Disney Channel and went outside to shoot hoops, skate, or jump on the trampoline. It’s crazy to think that this is the same world.

I used to turn upside down and wonder what I’d look like when I was older. Now, we’re here. All the moments that I realized would pass, have. And they will continue to pass. I will look back at this in May and wonder where the time went. I’ll look back at this in 5 years and wonder where the time went. And again, I’ll look back in 50 years, wondering what happened.

Do you remember how when you were younger
The  summers all lasted forever?
Days  disappeared
Into months, into years
Hold that feeling forever

But you can’t focus on that stuff, it’s just an observation. I am constantly having thoughts of the past matched with new opportunity. I am not my body. Deep within I am the soul of Max Yelken and I am an eternal co-heir with Jesus Christ. Someday soon, the best I have experienced will be no comparison.

I pray I can dwell in your house with you God. I pray that I can bring some fellow pilgrims with me to share the view God.


You can tell a lot about a person by what happened on their birthdays. Each year, the tides turn. We wake up on our birthday mornings and are surrounded by people who care about us. If I had a written summary of 5 of a person’s birthdays, I could create a pretty good narrative of that person’s life. Did they answer their call and become who they were supposed to be? Did they live where their feet were? Were relationships important to them or did they mistakenly neglect the most important thing about life? 

Today I turn 22 years old. I have a whole life ahead of me at this point and I am about to set out on a journey. A few nights ago, a friend of mine called me and said that he wanted to call me before I died. Confused, I asked him exactly what he meant. He told me, “Max, most 21 or 22 year olds die at that age until they are 65. By the time they wake up and realize their mistake, it is almost too late. Make sure to stay alive.” This hit me hard. Despite what we are often told, we have some say in how our lives go. If my health is good, I will have around 24,000 more days on Earth, but this is certainly not guaranteed. Nothing is guaranteed. I have to make the decision each morning to stay alive mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. 

A few months ago, I created a mission statement that is taped on my mirror. It reads…

“I want to live a God centered life focused on spirituality, life-long learning, my physical well-being, and my relationships with others and the world.”

This birthday, I am surrounded by people that care about me. But will this always be the case? I think that my life will answer this question. Each morning I will fill out the test and decide yes or no. If I consistently ignore how I want to live my life, I will end up in a place I never intended to go. My prayer is that each morning I am obedient to God and choose to be happy.

“And remember, your best days are just ahead.” – Luke Ayers