Archive for the ‘NBC News’ Category

I really like books; I like owning them, having shelves full of them, and reading them.  I’m currently in the midst of four separate books between various small groups and my own personal reading.  I started reading Frank Peretti at 11 years old and started collecting the Star Wars expanded Universe at 12; 17 years later my Star Wars  novels count is well over 80 and takes up three shelves of one of my bookcases.  I was obsessed with Christian apocalyptic fiction for most of Jr. High and High School thanks to the Left Behind books (but I won’t say anything more about that – except that I never finished the whole series).  When looking at my bookshelves, I never expected for it to hold a book by Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz (which is going to be released as a theatrical film soon)JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, G.P. Taylor, Chuck Colson, and two series on Philosophy and Popular Culture (Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator, Green Lantern, Batman, X-MEN, Battlestar Galactica, 24, LOST) sure, you’d find those, but Donald Miller?  Wasn’t he the guy that the “cool kids” read, those on the 21st Century cutting edge of Christianity?  Yeah, that was way too “Christian Hipster” for me when I actually thought about it, and I honestly would have rather read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books if given the choice (which I own but  haven’t finished).

All that changed one night a few weeks ago.  It was a cold Tuesday night and I’d just finished leading a C.S. Lewis reading group called “The Inklings” (what else would you call it?) when I ran into my friend Andy.  We hadn’t seen one another since the Leadership retreat for National Community Church a few weeks prior, so we got to talking.  Before we knew it we got talking about dreams, destiny, and how it takes intense conflict and perseverance to make a good story (all in “epic superhero/comic book movie” context as well as some of my own life story).  All of the sudden a light goes on inside Andy’s mind and he asks me “Have you ever read Donald Miller?”  I said “no”, and I wasn’t so eager to begin.    Andy began to explain that he understood my hesitation, as he didn’t like Donald Miller either, at first.  It wasn’t until he read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that his perspective began to change (and he has now lead multiple smallgroups though this book).  In fact, my friend believed so much that I should read this book that he bought me a copy and had it sent to my house.  When that happens, you’ve got to give the book a shot because someone you respect sees it as a powerful vessel for wisdom, transformation, and change.  So I began reading.

This being my first experience with this author I didn’t know what to expect.  I had recently seen a trailer for the theatrical release of Blue Like Jazz and it looked very “indie and weird” (redundancy?).  I don’t really like “indie and weird”, except when it crosses over into “epic, super-ish, and full of awesome” like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does (and SO WELL), because I live in the land of epic and I don’t’ like to stray outside those borders.  As I read I began to realize that one of the threads going through this book was the story of how Blue Like Jazz was going to become a movie: a ground floor account of the author’s life though that process and how it all went down (from characters, to conflict, inciting incidents, plot turns and the like).  I began to wonder “Has George Lucas done this?” and I found myself wishing the answer was yes.

Miller uses this book to look at his life as a story, and to ask the overall question of “what makes a good story and am I living one, a story worth living and inviting others to be a part of?”  As I read I realized that these were questions that I was (and am) consistently wrestling with in light of some of my experiences.  It brought to mind the ending of the two part episode of Facing Life Head On that I was featured in last year, when the host of the show, Brad Mates, says that I and my fellow interviewees had made our lives “stories worth telling”.  Does that mean that at the end of every day you have to be able to say that the day that just ended was worth it?  No, it does not, but worthwhile things have sure happened.  Often in our own stories it’s others that see the worth that we can’t as we’re in the midst of it, as I wrote about Kirk and Spock yesterday.

The book talks about how in Star Wars, the viewer can pause the movie at any point and ask the question “what does a certain character want and what do they have to overcome to get it?” and you know the answer.  Luke wants to become a Jedi and join the Rebellion; Leia wants to defeat the Empire; Han Solo want money so he can pay off Jabba the Hutt.  Ben Kenobi wants to teach Luke the ways of the Force.  Reader finds themselves asking, “what do I want and what do I have to overcome to get it?”  (Along that line of thinking I started to read Quitter by Jon Acuff and will blog about it when I finish the book).  I started asking myself, “is mine a story that is one others should be invited to participate in?” once the book raised this question.

In addressing this question, thoughts drift to The FENX (how can it not?)  I think of how that part of the my story touches and relates to so many other parts and is the fulfilment of some aspects (like wishing I were a superhero).  It’s also something that so many have been invited to be part of.  From Carl Sears and his wife Sheila at NBC to Brad Mates at Facing Life Head On; from radio show hosts Aleksander Danilov, Rick Amato, Anthony DiMiggaio, and Armstrong Williams to writers like Kate Tumerello and Roll Call newspaper.  Even two wonderful ladies who work at NASA and have become good friends of mine (one I actually went to high school with).  Not to mention friends in DC that find themselves part of the crazy incidents that happen on a regular basis and become wondrous tales.  It isn’t just my story anymore; they’ve all been invited to be part of it, and in accepting it’s become part of their story too.  One of the pastors at National Community Church once said that “everyone had that friend on college that was the crazy one that stuff happened to all the time; you either wanted to be around them or run from them because of that.”  I am fortunate to have friends that haven’t run away yet.

There’s still much ground to cover any always improvements to be made, and some of them monumental ones, but yes, I think my life to be a story worth living on the whole of it.  Remember that a good story requires intense conflict and perseverance – the road of The Greater Miracle is unpaved and sparsely trod – the Apostle Paul speaks to this in Romans 5:3-5 for a reason, venturing into the realm of suffering where Yoda dared not go.

What sort of story is your life, is it one that people want to be a part of?  Are you inviting people to be part of it?

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Author’s Note:  Penned almost 4 years ago, I still think about this event a lot, considering the controversy that ignited over the events in Florida the lady was referring to, and have really been considering it in the last week.  The Greater Miracle is often the harder road, the road bearing footprints you can see because it’s not paved, but few prints to follow.  When I wrote this the FENX IV wasn’t finished, Carl Sear at NBC hadn’t called yet, I didn’t know pro-life television existed, and I certainly didn’t know who Chris Rush or Zack Arnold were, and wasn’t thinking about articles written in Roll Call.  Almost four years later, some of this path makes more sense than it did in Spring 2008.  How big is God to you?  Is He big enough to NOT do something you want because there is a larger story being written, even in your own life?

Yesterday, before church, an older lady came up to me and asked me a random question: “Do you watch GOD TV?”  Taken aback, I said “no” because I don’t know what that is. (Only after thinking about it did I realize that I think it’s part of the Wendy Alec empire as it were.)  She then started talking about how guests on that TV program/station had been healed of various physical problems and illnesses during a “healing revival” and how I should start watching it.

So, ok, color me a skeptic.  I know that God CAN do such things, and that the Scriptures are filled with Him doing such things in the Old Testament and Jesus in the new (even using the Disciples and Paul).  God is God and the Universe belongs to Him and He can do as He wills. The whole reason this awkward conversation started is because she saw me sitting in the scooter and the synaptic impulse shot across her brain that “something is wrong with this young man and I know God can fix it”.  A noble idea and response to be sure, but is it the right one?

Has anyone ever considered that there is nothing wrong with me? Has anyone ever thought about the fact that I am what I am because the Lord created me to be this way for some purpose unknown to humans but fully known to Him – even though it is revealed to me and to others in small pieces or not at all? I just feel sad for people who see something like this and automatically think something is out of place, when in fact it is not. Sure, I still struggle with this whole situation, the idea of getting older and things getting worse. At times it isn’t fun – like right now when I am home suck because a variety of factors are working together to keep me out of the game for a short time – but it is never as bad as the outside world perceives it to be because my Heavenly Father is here too, grieving and struggling along side, but knowing there is a greater purpose that often I cannot see. (Lest we forget Paul’s example shown to us by the thorn that he was given, but never taken from him though he asked it to be)

What is the greater miracle?

For someone to be healed of a life-long infirmity, the Lord be recognized and praised for it, but soon forgotten by all except the one it happened to – and even then possibly forgotten over time?

Or for someone to go about life striving to accomplish the mission set before them, phase by phase, with a consistent infirmity, a constant reminder of their mortality, that can cause great pain and internal struggle (but also bring them in closer relationship with God than anything else) against impossible odds because the Father planted within that person the seed of perseverance that over time will grow and transform into a massive structure with God engraved all over it, as a symbol and encouragement to many people in many places?

I’ll take door number two, Bob.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

Capitol Hill is not an easy place to plant oneself.  The hours can be arduous and the scenarios frustrating.  It is in this nexus of power and ideology that staffers find themselves.  A lot of time can be spent working hard to sow ideas, meet objectives, fix problems, and fight injustices – with no guarantee that a resolution will come or if/when it does you will be there to see the sowing turn to reaping.  It is in this environment that the long view of events must be taken and the long game played, worrying not about who gets the credit or when the victory comes, but just working to ensure that outcome.

However, there are those rare times when the sowing turns to reaping during your time; today was one such day, and there hasn’t been a day like this for awhile.  In October of 2008, a hospital in my Home Congressional District in Michigan came to my boss and I asking for our help.  This hospital was contesting  that they had erred in a Family Medical residency program that the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Studies (CMS) had helped them get off the ground in 2004 to serve disadvantaged populations in Michigan.  I didn’t know anything about their plight then, but I learned a lot.   In short, if it was determined that this hospital had erred, the residency program would have to shut down and the funding from CMS paid back (and it wasn’t a small amount of money).  Over the next three years various attempts were made politically and legislatively to persuade CMS to admit there was no error on the part of this hospital; all of these attempts failed.  Late last year, the hospital took their case before a special review board hoping for a favorable decision.  In January of this year the review board ruled in their favor.  It’s important to note that the decision of this review board is non-binding, CMS does not have to comply with this decision if they do not wish to and 85%-90% of the time CMS does not.

Two weeks ago, after being involved in securing some congressional support for a letter being sent to the Acting Director of CMS regarding this issue, I worked to set up a call between my office and the Acting Director so that my boss could talk with the director.  Later that day I was told this call could not take place because of a special legal rule that prevented the Director from talking about the situation with this hospital while CMS was in the process of deciding to review the case or not to; if CMS decides to review the case, then the ruling of the review board is discarded.  A ruling on this case was not expected till early March.  At that point our efforts had reached a dead end and all options were exhausted.  I wrote one of the Sr. Execs at the hospital to let them know what was happening and that I felt there was little option left but to pray for a miracle – knowing full well that miracles are possible because I am a living example of that truth. So we began to pray (as did others, I later was told).

Today, all of that changed when I got a voice-mail to return the call of a individual highly placed within CMS.  I knew it had to be important if this individual was giving me a personal cell phone number to reach them.  During the call, I was told that CMS would NOT pursue the review of the hospital’s case, thus allowing the favorable ruling of the review board to stand.  I couldn’t believe what I had heard.  I was so shocked that my next words were “Are you serious, right now?” to which the answer was yes.  I asked a few more questions to make sure I understood things correctly and didn’t mishear or misinterpret something and hung up the phone.  Then I sat there, overwhelmed, and almost cried.  Did I mention that this was the hospital I was born in?  Almost thirty years ago, when things were dark and much seemed lost someone at this hospital stepped in to fight for me when others didn’t think I had a chance.  Almost 30 years later, I got to return the favor.

What problem are you the solution to?

This isn’t the first crazy thing I’ve prayed for and seen answered in spectacular fashion.  Before now, I’ve not really told the tale on the genesis moment for the FENX appearing on NBC Nightly News in September 2010.  It actually began two nights before I met Sheila Sears and her crew from the BBC.  It began one night in secret inside my apartment. During summer ’09 I was leading a small group of Capitol Hill staffers and interns from my church though a curriculum the church designed. One particular week, the subject of the study was prayer. At one point the study asked it’s readers to think and pray about something that they wanted to see God do in their life and sphere of influence, so I answered the first thing that came to mind “Lord, do something totally awesome with the FENX, you gave my Dad the skills to build it now use it to glorify Yourself”. I can’t tell you that I was serious about what I prayed, I just prayed what came. Sometimes we come up with these ideas and pray about them, wondering if it’s something God is really interested in. What I discovered was that God WAS interested in this idea, seriously, and I didn’t see it coming; I met the BBC crew two days later and was talking with the NBC producer a week after that (and readers of this blog know the rest of the tale).

What prayers of others are you the answer to?

Answer these two questions and you can begin to chase your destiny to a degree you never imagined.

“Now to Him who is able to exceedingly more than we can ask or think…” Eph. 3:20

Riding towards eternity,

Aaron

Two days from now I will be sitting at a table with (almost) my entire family eating turkey, enjoying their company, and reflecting on what I’ve been thankful for in 2010. It’s been a tough year in some respects, just like the previous year was. It’s sometimes easy for me to let the things that happen to me which are difficult or downright unjust crowd out everything else. I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons in 2010, lessons which the Master of the Universe sees fit to have me learn, lessons about identity; contentment; perseverance; trust; and owning who you are – embracing one’s destiny and calling no matter where it may lead, knowing it can alter and morph, even if it puts you in places you’d rather not be and you reside there longer than you want, often facing things which seek to damage the core of who you are, to diminish the person you are wired to be.

Passengers hate it when they are flying on a big commercial airplane and the captain comes over the speaker system to inform them the tower on the ground has put them in a holding pattern, forcing all those passengers on board to have to wait longer to reach their destination – and not one of the passengers on the plane has the power to change what is happening to them; the ultimate authority in air traffic gives a directive and it puts a wrench in things – I say this as someone who is flying home to celebrate thanksgiving and I’ll be at the airport a dozen hours from now. This is just on a plane; imagine such a scenario invading the rest of your life and not just your travel plans.

Sometimes I feel like screaming the same thing Anakin Skywalker did about Obi-Wan Kenobi (but in reference to God instead): “He’s holding ME back!” or “I can be a Jedi, Ben, tell him I can be a Jedi, I’m ready”. God just looks at me sometimes and, much like Yoda did to Luke Skywalker, lifts and eyebrow and queries ‘Ready?! Ready are you, what know YOU of ready?’ I’m pretty sure He does this because He’s Sovereign – He is the Master of the Universe after all – He spoke it all into being, neat when you consider the properties of sound and how it travels – there is no fate…but what He allows. Though I am eager, He knows I am not ready for what is next. Considering some of what I’ve been allowed to go through so far in twenty-eight short years and the trials I’ve overcome, this idea is still hard to grapple with and find peace in the midst of; enter The FENX Project.

The FENX Project is many things: an idea, a dream, a vehicle, advancement, an adventure, a shield, an extension of identity, and an incredible expression of love from father to son. Lately, it has become an alter; specifically, an Altar of Remembrance. In the Old Testament, Jehovah instructed the Children of Israel to often construct alters of remembrance so as to recall the provision and safety which He provided them at various times throughout their history. Pastor Mark Batterson of National Community Church (where I happened to attend in Washington, DC) often discusses this in the context of how humanity often remembers the things they should forget and forgets the things they should remember. Most of the time these alters are immobile while the FENX is quite the opposite.

The FENX Project has sovereignty written all over it. From the circumstances surrounding its inception (and yes my actions did firmly implant the idea in my father’s mind) to seeing it on National TV this year. Just the story of how it came to be on TV – which I’ve recounted on this blog in the past – is a total orchestration by the Master of the Universe, no question. Something like being featured on the blog for The ForceCast (the Star Wars podcast) is indeed beyond what I can ask or imagine – which is the realm the Master of the Universe often orchestrates from – although I can imagine quite a bit (to use Han Solo’s words).

Yet, in the midst of all of this, driving around in a living alter, I struggle. Control is such a difficult thing to relinquish, to be reliant upon Another when you were raised to be independent and to reach for the stars. Yet, this is what is asked of me at present to wait till the timing is right to see more of the FENX on TV and in print – to take the story of the FENX and my adventure to other places and talk of what the Master of the Universe has done; to move on in life to a place of sure footing, of solid ground; this is my hope for 2011, though I do not see it…yet. Presently, all I see is the past as I drive my mobile altar through the fog of uncertainty and into the future – focusing on the Undiscovered Country ahead of me.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

Although it has been a month since I’ve written in this space it has been a very interesting and adventurous month for The FENX Project. Almost a month ago exactly NBC Nightly News went live with the piece produced by Carl Sears. Since then some very interesting things have happened:

1. Cedarville University has thankfully taken it upon themselves to promote the story in conjunction with a story on me earlier this year.

2. Other opportunities to tell the story of the FENX Project on radio and TV have arisen and right now I’m waiting to see if these opportunities come to fruition

3. I received an e-mail recently from a gentlemen whom I had met on a plane headed to Michigan for Easter this year (and wrote about here) telling me he got to see the FENX piece by NBC and showed it to all his family and friends – making sure they knew he met me on a plane.

4. Finally, one of the greatest FENX related stories yet. It’s no secret that I am a Star Wars Fanboy; some consider me a rolling Star Wars Encyclopedia. Even as I am typing this I’m watching an episode from the new season of the amazing Star Wars: Clone Wars TV show. In the third season opener of this show, which aired a week and a half ago, a new charcter was introduced – a deformed and handicapped clone named Ninety-Nine; a character I identify with. So when my best friend and fellow Fanboy Todd Pugh suggested that I e-mail the minds behind The ForceCast (the premiere podcast concerning ALL thing Star Wars and something I listen to regularly now) I took Todd up on his idea. In doing so I included the story about the FENX and the video from NBC News. The outcome of this is something I’d never have expected – A Star Wars Fan Overcomes the Odds!

Through all these instances I continue to learn that the Master of the Universe does in fact do things beyond what I can ask or imagine, and as a rouge smuggler once said “I can imagine quite a bit

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

Last Friday I received an unexpected but welcome e-mail from Carl Sears, the NBC Nightly News producer who has worked tirelessly to create the NBC story on The FENX Project started in 2004 by my Dad and I. (I wish all folks in the news business were as great as Carl has been.) In the body of the e-mail Carl informed me that the story had gone live on the Internet that morning and that it had been sent to all the local affiliates around the nation. To say I was surprised was an understatement – it had been over a year since the process of creating this news piece started and no one was sure if it would ever air (the hope was always there but the reality of the news business and the need to maintain continuity within a broadcast can make it tough). Since then, the last few days have been a flurry of activity on Facebook and Twitter, responding to comments from people and tracking the different sites and outlets that have hosted the video. It’s a great thing that the world gets to see the FENX and how awesome it is, not to mention getting to “meet” the hero of the story – my Dad. One of the surprising things has been the reaction and support from family and friends around around the country who have shared it with others. At the very beginning of this journey I was keenly aware of the fact that I did not know how the story would end, and I still don’t but as always, the adventure continues to roll on. Back when I was interviewed by Cedarviile University about the FENX, I said that I knew God’s fingerprints had been all over this project from the beginning; it’s still true and we eagerly await what will happen next.

The FENX Project on NBC News

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron