As I sit in my living room, fifteen years removed from the day that changed America, and our world, forever, I find my memories flying back to that day. It’s hard for me to believe that I was only 19 years old. So young, and like many of us, so very naive. I drove my beat up little Pontiac Sunbird to work that morning, in Elm Grove, as I had done so many mornings before. Starting work in a kitchen at 8AM, we didn’t hear much about what was going on. The servers would start showing up around 10, at which time I’d head out to the bar to grab something to drink, say hello, maybe stop to watch The Price is Right with them for a few minutes. When I saw CNN on the TV above the bar, I knew something wasn’t right. We watched the news being relayed of a plane that had been flown into the World Trade Center. When we saw the second plane hit, we knew the truth. America was under attack.

What struck me in the hours and days that followed was how the country came together. For a time, we weren’t black or white, Democrat or Republican, or any other label that divides us. We were just, Americans. People of a common country, united by a common grief, turning to each other to find comfort, to make sense of it all, and looking out, not for ourselves, but for what we could do for each other. For a time that seems all too short, all that mattered was unity.

Earlier this year, I visited the memorials at the Pentagon and Shanksville. All this time later, the wounds still felt fresh. Standing in the places where history was made. People who went to work, as they had so many times before, who, just like me, had no idea that this day would be so different than so many before. In a field in Pennsylvania, the reality struck me, that 33 passengers boarded that flight as strangers, but died as heroes. Together, with the crew, they came together and willingly sacrificed their lives.

Fifteen years later, it boggles my mind how far removed we are from that day, not just by time, but by distance. We argue over whose lives matter. Our major party nominees are two of the most polarizing figures in political history. Tales of unrest fill the news. Instead of the unity that we saw fifteen years ago, our country has fallen further, and farther, apart.

I’m not a smart man, and I’m not saying I have the answers to the problems that we face. People are hurt, they’re scared, and they’re searching for answers. People feel marginalized, that their voices aren’t being heard, or even listened to, that they don’t matter. This is a complex problem, and it’s going to require a complex solution. But, it’s also going to require some of what we saw fifteen years ago; unity. A return to the principle that we’re all Americans. In spite of our problems, and the challenges we face, what makes our country great is that we don’t run from problems. We solve them. We come together, give everyone a seat at the table, and figure out what needs to happen for us to move forward.

Fifteen years ago, our country and our world changed forever. Tonight, my prayer is that we work on coming together, getting back to the unity we found so long ago, and use it to move forward, and create lasting change, for good.

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‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me…’

This is a portion of Scripture that many of us are familiar with. Those who have been in the church since they were young may have had to memorize some or all of Psalm 23 at some point in their lives. But how many of us have really thought about the connotations of the valley, much less walking through it? We think of valleys as dark places, deep and mysterious, and sometimes even dangerous. But valleys are also very fertile places. A lot of things grow in valleys. Trees. Plants. Flowers. When you’re on top of the mountain, you can see for miles, but you can’t see details. The leaves on the trees. The birds that perch in the branches. The flowers that bloom, the petals that open. Time in the valley might be a time of difficulty, but it can also be a time of discovery; a time to find beauty in brokenness.

The other part of this verse that I find interesting is the choice of words. ‘I walk through.’ Not ‘I walk into’ or ‘I stay in’ or ‘I live in,’ but ‘I walk through.’ The valley isn’t a place for us to remain. We walk THROUGH the valley. It’s a temporary place, not a final destination. Just as time on the mountain isn’t forever, time in the valley will, sooner or later, come to an end. Next time you find yourself in a valley, remember, it’s only temporary. Take some time to look around, learn, discover, and, dare I say, enjoy your time there.

In the first of what I hope will be a new series here at Ten Years Young, I’m pleased to present an interview with Dan Herod, Youth Alive director for the Wisconsin & Northern Michigan district of the Assemblies of God. I’d like to thank Dan for taking time out of his schedule to share with me and all of you who are reading.

Tell us who you are, and a little bit about yourself.

My name is Dan Herod and I am the Youth Alive Director for Wisconsin and Northern Michigan. For over twelve years I have dedicated my life to helping students discover the Gospel personally and share it liberally; five of those years have been dedicated to Youth Alive. I am happily married to my amazing wife of 13 years, Marlena, and we have three great kids. When I am not directing Youth Alive you will find me with my family, exercising, serving on my local volunteer fire department, and doing the things that bring me life.

What motivates you?
Seeing God do big things and doing life with others.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

Joe and Laurie Gordon. They are missionaries who embody the discipleship ethos that I want to see more of in my life.

What is the biggest challenge you face?

Getting out of my own way and keeping God in my way.

What is the toughest lesson you’ve learned?

Life is not fair, so it is actually unfair to myself to expect life to be fair. Instead of worshipping at the altar of my limited understanding, I choose to make a daily effort to trust God with all of my heart. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Looking back over your education and career, if you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you change or do differently?

I wouldn’t change a thing. I am grateful for God’s faithfulness in every decision I have ever made. Even if I missed His specific will in a decision, He remains faithful to accomplish His plan through me.

What do you find most rewarding about your ministry?

Seeing lives changed. No one does that better than God. It is fuel for my fire.

How do you maintain work/life balance?

Balance is a myth. Typically, when people say they want balance in their life, they really want to be more comfortable. I have learned that my comfort level in life and my effectiveness in life are not the same thing. There are times when they are diametrically opposed to one another! Instead of striving for balance, I endeavor to be faithful in every season. Some seasons require more of my time and other seasons allow me to rest more. My goal is to remain healthy in every area of my life, and have a good time along the way.

Is there anything you’ve done in your ministry career that you’ll never do again?

It is far too easy to compare my “blooper reel” to the seemingly perfect “highlight reels” of other ministry leaders. I am done worrying about how I stack up against others. I now focus on being faithful in every area of my life and trust God to assess my efforts accurately.

For the last question, I want to open it up to you to say whatever you’d like to say to the readers.

Keep it simple. Love God with every part of who you are, and hold nothing back. Love others the way you want them to love you. If you do these two things, you are going to be all right.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about calling, direction, and purpose, and specifically wrestling with the question of what I’m doing with my own life, and what God is calling me to do, for about a year. I’ve gone through a process of praying about it, and asking God to speak. This past weekend, He did.

I was at the Wisconsin/Northern Michigan Youth Convention this past weekend, which is always one of the highlights of my year. Sunday morning, during our last service of the weekend, I felt God speak to me. He didn’t give me the whole path that I’ll be walking (lest I make a mess of things), but He did tell me that while there’s nothing wrong with the work I’m doing now, it’s not where I’m meant to stay. It’s not much, but it’s the word I was waiting and seeking for.

I shared this with the youth pastor I serve under (who is also a close friend, who’s been walking with me through this process), and to be honest, that was a scary thing to do. Now it’s not just something the Lord told me; now, I’ve put it into words, shared it with someone else, and in the process, made it real. It’s still in the beginning stages, but I can’t ignore it anymore, or write it off.

When you have an idea, a dream, or a calling, telling someone else about it is difficult and scary, but also necessary. Now, it’s not just an idea or a dream. Now, it’s got legs to stand on. Now, someone else can hold you accountable, pray for you, encourage you, and, when you need it, they can give you a push.

Whatever it is God is doing in your life, don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with someone.

As  you’ve likely heard by now, Josh Duggar of ’19 Kids and Counting’ fame and formerly of the Family Research Council has confessed to having an affair and an addiction to pornography, in light of the data dump following the hack of Ashley Madison, the ‘dating service’ for married people looking to have an affair. Please excuse me while I get over the fact that I just typed that on my blog.

I’m not here to pass judgment on Josh Duggar or anyone else; frankly, it’s not my place. What I do want to talk about is something of a response to a thoughtful and well-written article by Jenny Rapson over at For Every Mom. In that post, she states that Josh’s pornography addiction and adultery are every mom’s problem. While I don’t disagree with that sentiment, I don’t think she went far enough. It’s not just every mom’s problem, it’s everyONE’s problem. Moms and dads, yes, but pastors too, at all levels, not just youth. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed by parents, family, friends, leaders, pastors, youth leaders, teachers, and anyone who has a position of influence in the lives of our young people.

We need to talk to our young people about sex. What it is, what it isn’t, where it’s appropriate, the boundaries that exist for the protection of everyone involved. We need to talk to them about pornography, and we need to be frank, honest, and open about it. The danger that it is. The addiction that it can become. That it rewires the brain, distorts perceptions, creates unrealistic expectations, exploits women, and carries consequences that are likely beyond what we even know or understand.

We need to be proactive about protecting our children and our young people. We need to understand that in this day and age, they don’t have to go looking for porn; it will find them. If you have kids, of any age, go download either a filtering or a tracking program. X3Watch has a great free tracker, and for a monthly or yearly subscription you can add features like blocking and allowing specific sites, and blocking pornographic content. Covenant Eyes is another solid option.

We need to be honest, with ourselves and each other, about our struggles. We need to stop sweeping the problem under the rug, and start dealing with it, frankly and head-on. If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone. Talk to someone you trust, download one of the programs I talked about above, and start working toward healing. You’re not in this alone. You can win this fight.

We can win this fight, but it’s going to take EVERYONE working toward the same goal. We’ve ignored the problem for far too long, and that strategy hasn’t worked. It’s time to get real, and it’s time to fight back.

Just got done going over my notes from Jeanne’s talk tonight, ‘I Will Not Go Out Free.’ Hoping to share these with everyone soon, but I need to go over and fill in some more holes in my notes, and I think that’s going to require going over the video of the sermon. I’ll be working diligently on that as soon as I get home! Hope you all enjoyed the opening night and are looking forward to tomorrow as much as I am!

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I’ll be attending the National Youth Leader’s Conference in Dallas next week. The event is put on by youth ministry rockstar Jeanne Mayo, who brings in a variety of dynamic speakers and workshop hosts to create a truly inspiring and educational time for youth ministers of all stripes. I’ll be taking notes during the general sessions as well as the super sessions and breakouts that I’ll be attending, and will likely put those notes here to share with anyone who may want them. I’ll also be live-tweeting (or at least attempting to live-tweet; we’ll see how well I can keep up and what kind of wifi is available at the conference) the general sessions; those tweets will appear either under the Twitter account tied to this blog (@TenYearsYoung) or to my personal account (@MrMadChef). [UPDATE: the host church (Bent Tree Bible Fellowship) won’t be offering WiFi, and I’m not currently able to tether my laptop to my smartphone] Also, the official hashtag for the conference is #NYLC15 which I’ll be using in all tweets related to the conference. If you’re going to be there, please let me know, I’d love to connect! Here’s to seeing you in Dallas this time next week!