Seek First the Kingdom

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Image source: Wikipedia

I have been consumed lately with a desire to “make something of myself”. You probably feel it too; being able to have a moment of accomplishment in your life to point out to others, and when it grows old, you will seek another.

Perhaps my feelings stem from society’s pressure to form our identity around what degree we majored in and where we obtained said degree, when I don’t have an answer for either at the age of 26. It could also be these weird limbo months before getting married as my nomad heart wanders between feelings of my home of 13 years not being home anymore, and not yet being able to move in with my fiancé. Or, is it the oldest trick in the book being played by the Enemy? Even Satan tried to tempt Jesus with promises of riches and kingdoms (a sense of accomplishment in this world?) if only He would bow down to him.

It’s the fruit that looks good enough to eat, yet how do you not eat it? How do you choose between God and mammon? Can’t you have both?

Today is April 20th, and it marks 18 years since the Columbine shooting. I was nine years old when I watched the students on the news pour out of Columbine High School as they escaped Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. 13 people would not go home that day and one girl’s story would become particularly moving to me in the years that followed the shooting.

Rachel Joy Scott, called the “spark plug of her family” by her father, was the first one killed at Columbine as she ate lunch outside on the school grounds. There has been some controversy over what was said at her death. Her friend Richard Castaldo, who she was eating lunch with that day, originally reported that Rachel was pulled up by her hair and asked, “Do you believe in God”, to which she responded, “You know I do”, and then was shot point blank. But, police records do not confirm this interaction.

Whether you believe she was asked the question or not there is no doubt she was targeted for her profound love for Jesus Christ as was made evident by the home videos created by Eric and Dylan. A love that her own parents didn’t fully realize until after her death when they discovered essays and journals in her bedroom.

It wasn’t just a faith she professed, but one she truly lived, as story after story came forward after her death which confirmed Rachel’s genuine love for people — friends and strangers alike. One of my favorites happened on the side of the road in Colorado. A gentleman was changing his flat tire in the pouring rain, when suddenly a girl, Rachel Scott, appeared over him holding an umbrella. A couple months later he saw the same girl’s smiling face again, only this time she was pictured alongside those killed at Columbine. Later that week he was at the steps of the alter at Rachel’s funeral accepting Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Today, I remember Rachel’s story and I think how silly my desires are. I don’t want them anymore — I want the Kingdom.

I want the Kingdom Rachel sought and shared with everyone who was placed in her path.

I want to seek that same Kingdom where I welcome the outcasts and handicapped to eat with me just like Rachel did.

I want the Kingdom to be now, present in my life each day — not just in heaven. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

To the eyes of the world Rachel didn’t accomplish much (heck, she didn’t even graduate high school) but she sought first the kingdom and because of her the kingdom was brought to earth and lives were changed in the process.

 

Restoring Peace to Social Media

 

restoring peace to social media

I recently read Chip Gaines’ “New Year’s Revelation”, and in it he had a few powerful words that struck me: “Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie”. The statement reminded me of a time not very long ago when I was quite opinionated on social media; getting into arguments and un-following people I didn’t agree with.

But, within the past couple years I have been trying to quiet down across my accounts, and during the process I have become increasingly appalled at the anger which fuels division among coworkers, family, friends, and particularly, strangers. I’m shocked when I read through comments left by an individual who was relaxed (or empowered) behind the protection of a computer screen. Thanks to the evolution of social media, words that (I hope) people would never have considered saying to another’s face are being dropped through a comment box without reserve. What once looked like a shining City on a Hill in the world of technological advances has turned into an angry mob vying for people’s attention and approval- from self-image to political stance.

Social media didn’t start out this way, and it’s not its purpose.

I remember my excitement when I got my Facebook account in high school. I could share my joys, accomplishments and passions with the world. (I only had a handful of “friends” at the time, but it might as well of been my whole world.) Before our news feeds got slammed with distasteful memes and raging emotions, it was a place you could interact with family and friends peacefully, for the most part. Now, the very app which promised us connection is threatening our relationships.

It’s why someone has to remind us of the simple truth, “disagreement is not the same thing as hate”, because our society has indeed confused the two. We have forgotten how to form and argue our point of view with respect and class. Some would immediately point fingers at our politicians and other leaders saying they are terrible examples. But, in reality the dilemma lies with ourselves, and thankfully, so does the answer. “Disagreement is not the same thing as hate”, and the way we help people realize this is by taking a step back, and through self-reflection, examine the manner in which we use our social media accounts. What is our purpose for having an online presence? What do we hope to accomplish through our account? What do we want our impact to be?

When we decide individually to change our tone, we will in turn see the change collectively.

How can we begin to accomplish this? I believe part of the answer lies in pulling controversial topics off of social media platforms. Bring back the debates! Who says they are only reserved for politicians? We need to take the discussion offline and focus on cultivating lively, yet compassionate face to face discussions. This way, your opinion is expressed in the manner you intended and you also see and hear how your opponent is delivering theirs.

If political matters are your passion, leaving derogatory comments on a politician’s page is not going to get you the attention you are looking for. If you are upset over the way things are being managed in your state write a letter, attend a town hall meeting, or meet with your senator or one of his staff members directly. Not finding the public event you want? Consider starting one yourself or joining a group that is working towards strengthening local community involvement.

The next part would be to consider going through a social media revamp. Do some deep soul searching by logging off of all your accounts and staying off for a whole week. It may sound silly to use “soul searching” in regards to social media, but if you think about it it’s probably where you spend a decent portion of your everyday life and through it is how friends (and strangers) perceive you. During this time ask yourself the questions I listed earlier: What is my purpose for having an online presence? What do I hope to accomplish through my account? What do I want my impact to be?

When you log back in at the end of the week commit yourself to another one week challenge. This time everything you post has to be positive. Everything. After these two weeks, I’m pretty sure you will be feeling more satisfied in your new cyber life and you’ll be hesitant to go back to your old ways. In the future if you decide to post something more controversial (kindly of course) people might even be more inclined to read it  because they’ve grown to respect and admire the thoughtful content you’ve been sharing versus having to scroll through your rants every day.

When you commit to fostering a positive environment on your accounts, use the following points to help guide the content you share.

1.) Research. Make sure your article or video is reporting accurate information. Don’t just accept it as truth because it comes from a news source you identify with or have even grown to trust. Any media organization can make mistakes and there is a lot of misinformation out there.

2.) Think positive before you post. Is the subject matter you want to share presented in a positive way and written to inform and not to berate? Is the personal comment you are about to include on the post written kindly and thoughtfully instead of putting down the group of people you disagree with?

3.) Monitor the discussion with kindness. If you see the discussion is turning towards the negative remind people that they are welcome to argue their side but rude comments will be removed.

4.) Ultimately, find content that will increase hope and compassion. To this day I have yet to have someone inform me that they won over an opponent during a heated Facebook discussion. Therefore, limit yourself to the amount of controversial topics you post because people will tune out your feed if it becomes “information overload”. Train yourself to look for content that encourages positive thinking and behavior. Follow leaders on social media who inspire and are committed to promoting the good in the world (and un-follow those who aren’t), it will make you want to follow suit.

Let’s make a decision today to return to thoughtful discussions on our social networking accounts and aiding the restoration of peace to our relationships. It will be hard to deny the power of that momentum.

_______

Gaines, Chip. “Chip’s New Year’s Revelation.” Magnolia Market. The Magnolia Market, 02 Jan. 2017. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.

Thawing

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©Unsplash via Canva.com


It is 8:30 AM on Christmas Day and while the rest of the world is waking up and unwrapping presents, Tony and I are walking among  frost covered fields and bare branches. It brings a quote by Sheldon Vanauken to mind: “Bare branches against the stars”. A phrase he used to define a moment of beauty, and a moment of beauty is indeed what I find myself in. Yes, it’s quite cold and besides the sound of Tony’s shutter on his Nikon, there is just the shrieks of endless flocks of geese overhead. But, if you listen closely there you will hear the faint hum of “growing things”.*

I wish I could wrap moments like this into a box and present them to others on this December morning, but would they understand it? Would they prefer their mobile phones, and Snap Chat, and flat screen TV’s over the faint hum of growing things?

The brittle blades of green crunch beneath my riding boots as we walk toward the woods. The sun pierces through the atmosphere strong and bright; gold against the morning blue. The sphere blinds and thaws the world around us; penetrating the chilled bark as steam rises off the trees. The sign of life pulsating beneath the layers.

The last time I woke up in Pennsylvania on Christmas morning was fifteen years ago. I left because of a man and I have returned because of a man. Back then my priorities were much different; I was one of those tearing through paper until God removed the layers of bark to reveal a deeper life. The bark has grown back over the years and yet His warmth penetrates, reminding me that I too am thawing.

 

*a term also used by Sheldon Vanauken 🙂

Coming to the Well – The Wax and Wane of the Spiritual Life

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Throughout the past few months the story of the woman at the well in John 4 has been tugging at me; and so last night I finally took the time to look it up and read it. I’m pretty familiar with the story, and even before I glanced over the passage, the image of Christ conversing with this woman was comforting.

The woman at the well is a Samaritan and in those times Jews did not interact with Samaritans. The Jewish people even went out of their way to avoid passing through Samaria when they were traveling. So, when Jesus’ disciples found him speaking with the woman their reaction was, “Uh, what are you doing?”. In addition, the woman has had five husbands and the man she is currently living with is not her husband. Jesus relates His knowledge of her life to her, and she responds, “I see you are a prophet”.

The reason I am drawn to this passage is because I am the woman at the well. No, I haven’t had five husbands, but I’ve found myself standing by the well on several occasions with my brokenness made bare in the reflection of the water. Like her, I have knowledge of my faith, but when it comes to practicing it… eh, pretty often I fall short. So, I come to the well again and again to receive this “living water” that I have allowed myself to run dry of.

It’s the same experience that St. John Paul the Great spoke about in his short poem “Song of the Brightness of Water”, which he penned before he was Pope.

From this depth-I came only to draw water
in a jug-so long ago, this brightness
still clings to my eyes-the perception I found,
and so much empty space, my own
reflected in the well.

Yet it is good. I can never take all of you
into me. Stay then as a mirror in the well.
Leaves and flowers remain, and each astonished gaze
brings them down
to my eyes transfixed more by light
Than by sorrow.

-St. Pope John Paul II, 1950

I’m sure we all can relate to it’s profound imagery:

We are outside the well (yet again, because we’ve been here before) staring down at the water. Looking in, we can see our “depth”, how far we are from Christ and all that He is calling us to be; His perfect plan for our lives. It’s the brightness of this experience (a revelation) that clings to our eyes each time we peer into the well. And when our soul is thirsting, it’s the memory of that brightness which we found in the well that births a renewed hope within us.

I don’t know if this is precisely St. John Paul’s meaning behind the poem, but it’s what I took away from it.

Another thing to note is how Jesus spoke to the woman. He didn’t belittle her for her sins, but He did make her aware that He knew them. He knows my sins too and this also is a comfort to me.

Just like the woman has returned to the well because her jug has run dry, we too return to the well of “living water” because our spiritual resources have  been depleted. And this is what He has to say to us…

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4: 21-24

We “can’t take all of [Him] into” us as St. John Paul II said, but what are the little gems he wants us to pluck from the water and polish? The little virtues that we have exchanged for sin which is preventing us from worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth? He doesn’t want empty sacrifices like those of the pharisees. He wants hearts on fire with love for Him, and in order to achieve that we need to remove the little barriers. Christ said in Luke 16:10, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.”

In closing, I’m reminded of a quote by Nelson Mandela: “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying”

May God show us the little sins that He wishes to wash away from our souls so that He can fill our hearts with the fire of His Holy Spirit to make us His modern day saints.

 

Song of the Brightness of Water// St. John Paul II: Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/catholic/2005/04/poet-and-man-of-god.aspx#ZbQlQX5OCcD3PXB0.99)

On “Firefly” – A Lost Poem

My love for poetry was rekindled recently and I have my two high school American Literature classes to thank for it. When I was their age I was memorizing “The Lady of Shallot” for fun, and occasionally trying my luck at penning a few poems of my own. Though, I was often discouraged and would rip out the pages, deciding to leave poetry to the real Tennyson’s and Dickinson’s of my time.

But, in the midst of discussions on metaphors and slant rhymes, I recounted to them my one claim to fame in the realm of poetry (which isn’t really a claim to fame at all).

In sixth grade I drafted a poem titled “Firefly” for a contest my  librarian had the entire class participate in. I still remember where I was when inspiration struck and how the black ink flowed effortlessly onto my yellow note pad. I was insanely proud of my little poem. I typed it out in a Word document and handed it in to my teacher.

From what I can remember, the winners would be featured in a chapbook that would be distributed throughout the county. The librarian held up the previous year’s booklet when informing us of the contest and it became a personal goal to have my work published in there.

Fast forward a couple months and I’m in a new state and a new house, when lo and behold a letter arrives in the mail from the poetry contest. Little “Firefly” had been selected! ( I cannot remember whether it was actually chosen to be in the chapbook or if it just made it past the first round, but that is besides the point). I was reading the letter over my mother’s shoulder when she chuckled and said.

“Jessie, no, it’s silly”. And, she folded the papers up to throw out.

I attempted to object, “But, but…”

Nope. The end.”Firefly” would not be spread to the masses.

“You could have been a New York Times best selling writer by now Miss. Ferraro!”, one student exclaimed when I finished the story.

“Now, now don’t get too a head of yourself.” (… You get an A+)

“Do you remember it?”, another said.

In fact I do. So, here is my poem for your amusement as well, dear reader. ( Try not to weep too hard, it tends to have that effect on people.)

Firefly I caught tonight,

lead me through the quiet night.

With a glow so big,

a glow so bright,

that makes me want to hold you tight.

In the palm of my hand you are so helpless and small

and that is why I must let you go.

So firefly, fly away home.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Moms keep you humble.

Do you enjoy poetry? Share your favorites ( or your own ) in the comments!

 

Guest Blog Post: Restoring the Culture

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Today is a guest post by my cousin, Jackie Zucco, who is fundraising for a year of missionary work with The Culture Project .

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Hi! My name is Jacqueline Zucco. I am a recent graduate of Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Since graduating I have been offered an amazing opportunity to become a missionary with a group called The Culture Project International. The Culture Project is an initiative of young people set out to restore culture through the experience of virtue. We proclaim the dignity of the human person and the richness of living sexual integrity, inviting our culture to become fully alive.  We speak to young people on topics such as chastity, abortion, pornography, sex trafficking, and many other areas that affect our world today. We strive to bring the truth of love and life back into this culture.

Being a young person in this world has definitely affected me in many different ways. This world likes to tell us what we have to look like, do, or how we have to act in order to be beautiful, important, or worthy of love. This hit me hard throughout my life and I want more than ever to combat these ideas, helping young people to know and understand their worth and dignity.  As Saint John Paul II says, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.” I can’t wait to be given the opportunity to help spread this love and truth with The Culture Project.

The Culture Project got its start in 2014 and has since grown in great lengths.  Within the 2015-2016 year there were three teams spread out through the United States. One team was stationed in Los Angeles, another in Philadelphia, and the last being a travel team that moved its way through the mid east. All together the teams spoke at over 223 parishes, schools, and groups. They gave over 806 presentations to around 32260 students, having the chance to engage in over 42700 different personal encounters.  This coming year there will be a team in Los Angeles and Toledo Ohio with the base office being in Philadelphia. The dioceses within these areas have responded greatly to having The Culture Project present, giving great reviews and encouragement to the mission, being more than willing to having The Culture Project back again.

With this upcoming year at hand, I am so blessed to be able to join this incredible group of missionaries. Christ asks us to be His hands and His feet in this world, but not alone. I am in need of the help of my brothers and sister in Christ, to feed those hungry for truth and love. In order to do this year I need to build up a support team to join me on this journey. Within this I need to raise approximately $2,500 in monthly gifts or $30,000 for the year. I am reaching out and asking for your help. I would love to have you as a mission partner on my team, whether through donations or prayer. There are two ways you can invest in my mission and be a part of my team .You can either go online to our website at www.restoreculture.com (list “Jacqueline Zucco” under “purpose”)or you can mail in your gift to, P.O Box 86, Wynnewood PA 19096, with my name upon the memo line. If you would like to sit down with me and learn more about the mission before deciding please feel free to contact me. I love talking about it! My email is jzucco@restoreculture.com. Thank you for your time, attention, and consideration. Please know you are in my prayers.

“I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, to swim against the tide; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes that….you are incapable of true love.”    – Pope Francis

God Bless!

Jacqueline Zucco

Sometimes Life is a Walk in The Park

 

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I learned a few interesting facts on Saturday. Such as according to the announcer on WSTW, the commute from Wilmington down to Dewey Beach was four hours.

“Forget that!” exclaimed my fiance, and forget that we did. In fact, it never even crossed our minds to begin with. We were on our way to Bellevue State Park.

While others were stuck in that stop and go traffic and cramped car seats, we walked alone among the tall light pink flowers which released their wispy seeds into the air. “Milkweed”, said my fiance. He pinched one of the fluffy clumps and pulled it from the flower, letting it float away in the breeze.

We stopped again a few minutes later under a Beech Tree. “You can tell it’s a Beech by listening to the leaves. They sound like paper when the wind blows through the branches.” He reached up and pulled one of the leaves off. It was in fact stiff like a piece of paper and I snagged it from him before he let it fall to the ground.

“A memento”, I said with a smile.

He continued to point out other random nature facts as we weaved through the woods and back out into open fields.

“This is a Sassafras Tree. It’s where root beer comes from. Well, the root of it. Hence root beer!”

and…

“Look at this Poison Ivy. It can grow big enough to wrap around trees and sprout berries.”

By the end of our walk we were both starving, so we closed our afternoon excursion at Chelsea Tavern in Wilmington for lunch. While munching on our pizzas, we sat outside with a lovely view of the Grand Opera House directly across the street. We also split a glorious bottle of Dogfish Head Noble Rot ( well worth the $32). YUM! And, the best part? We didn’t have to wait four hours to enjoy it all!

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Market Street Majesty @smallwondergram ( Small Wonderings Blog)

 

 

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Now I know why they call it #happyhour <3 <3 <3 @smallwondergram ( Small Wonderings Blog)

 

 

 

 

 

Saint Ignatius Teaches Us How To Find “Little Blessings”

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Yesterday, after coming off of a week of treating everything and everyone in my life with a definite lack of patience, I came across St. Ignatius’ Examination of Conscience (also called “examen”).

Ok, God I get the hint.

But, as you’ll see from the first part of the examen below, it’s actually the blessings which St. Ignatius says are the most important to remember from our day. The following is taken from “33 Days to Morning Glory” by Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC.

The examination of conscience should be made sometime toward the end of the day. Most people make it before going to bed. It’s basically a mental review of the previous 16 hours or so of consciousness- thus, some people prefer to call the examination of conscience an examination of consciousness.

To make the examen, first, we should put ourselves in the presence of God. In other words, we should begin with the attitude that the examen is a time of prayer, not just a mental exercise. Devoutly making the Sign of the Cross may be enough to do this.

Next, we just have to remember one word: baker, B-A-K-E-R, baker. Actually, we also have to remember what each letter of this word stands for. Let’s start with “B”.

B stands for “blessings”. According to St. Ignatius, this is the most important of the five points. Here we simply review our day, survey the many blessings God has given us throughout it, and then praise and thank him for these blessings. For instance, maybe we had a great conversation with someone at lunch. During the examen, we might want to reflect on that gift and praise and thank God for it. Of course, we don’t have to go through every single blessing of the day. That would take way too much time. The key is to let one’s heart roam about and settle on the particular peaks of joy and blessing of the day, what Ignatius calls “consolation”. One more thing: We shouldn’t forget to thank God for the crosses of the day, which are also blessings.

If we get into the habit of praising and thanking God like this every day during our examen, then we’ll begin to better recognize the blessings of our day as they happen, and thus, we’ll develop a continual attitude of gratitude. In other words, our praise and thanks won’t begin to flow simply when we make our examen- it’ll flow all day long. Furthermore, as God sees our efforts to recognize and thank him for his many gifts, he’ll send us more and more.

A stands for “Ask.” Although we already placed ourselves in the presence of God when we began the examen, here we need to ask for a special grace from the Holy Spirit, the grace to recognize our sins. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, we’ll remain blind to our sinfulness. Thus, when we get to this second point, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us recognize our sinfulness, which brings us to the next point.

K stands for “Kill.” Why “kill”? Because it was our sins that killed and crucified Jesus. During this third point, we look at our sinfulness (weaknesses and attachments, too) So, again, we gaze across the conscious hours of our day. This time, however, we look not for peaks but valleys, what Ignatius calls “desolation.” In other words, we pay attention to those times during our day when our hearts dropped. Why might they have dropped? Maybe because of someone else’s sin. Maybe someone said something unkind to us. Fine. Did we forgive them? If so, good. If not, well, the examen is a good time to deal with it.

Now, let’s keep looking. Here’s another time our hearts dropped. It was this afternoon at work, standing by the water cooler. Hmmm. Why did our hearts drop then? Ah, yes (thanks, Holy Spirit), that’s when we stuck Bob with a verbal barb. Let’s see, anything else? Yes, there’s another heart dropper: We didn’t accept the traffic jam on our way home as a small sharing in the Cross. We should have been more peaceful about it and offered it up as a prayer for others.

Okay, so after remembering all those heart-dropping moments, we may feel pretty down. Such a feeling may make us want to run away from Jesus. Let’s not. When the weight of our sinfulness drags us down, that’s the best time to go to Jesus, sinfulness and all- which brings us to the next point.

E stands for “Embrace.” This is to allow Jesus to embrace us, sinners that we are, with the rays of his merciful love. While praying over this point, it may be helpful to think of the Image of Divine Mercy. I like to imagine the rays of this image embracing me with forgiveness. I also like to remember Jesus’ words that it rests his Heart to forgive and that when I go to him with my sinfulness, I give him the joy of being my Savior. I believe that at this point of the examen, we greatly console Jesus when we simply let him embrace us with his merciful love – and of course, we, too, are consoled. I recommend spending some time lingering on this point ( in the embrace) before moving on to the next.

R stands for “Resolution.” During this last point of the examen, we take what we’ve learned from the previous points and look ahead to the next day, ready to make resolutions. For instance, having recognized during “K” that we stuck Bob with a verbal barb at the office today, we might resolve that tomorrow morning we’ll make it up to him by going to his cubicle, slapping him on the back, and congratulating him on how his football team did earlier this evening. Also, having remembered that we were impatient during the traffic jam today, we can resolve to bite our tongues if the sea of brake lights appears again tomorrow. Finally, because during “B” we realized that God was speaking to us during our lunchtime conversation with Sally, giving light on a certain, we can resolve to act on that light by looking up the online article she recommended. ( I think we get the idea.)

 

 

 

#dailyspark: I mean… who doesn’t want to be on Team TobyMac?

Back in high school (ah, the good old days) I saw TobyMac in concert at a Christian music festival. I waited through two opening acts so I could jam out in the front row… and I was not disappointed. While I was l listening to one of his newer song’s last week (“Lights Shine Bright feat. Hollyn“) it brought me right back to that night: “music for the people to illuminate soul”.

 

 

And, uh.. TobyMac, if you’re hiring let me know. I do music videos