We're Here

Our flight through the night brought us right into Paris yesterday morning (Monday). Going through security and meeting up with the rest of our team was smoother and faster than we could have ever imagined. Then, three trams and several flights of stairs later, we found our flat. None of us had slept in over 24 hours. My thoughts, personally, were set on toilet, washing, food, sleep. You know, the necessities.

We came into the flat (two levels) and all spread out to explore. Me and "Harv" (the backpack) were set in the living for the time being while we got our bearings of the layout. But I wasn't left there for long! From upstairs, Luke and Tom let out a cheer and Tom came running back down. "You gotta see this," he said as he scooped me out of the backpack and we began our ascent of the narrow spiral staircase. Side note - we passed a life-size Spider-Man statue on the way up. When we reached the top, he carried me into the master bedroom, where everyone huddled around the window in complete wonder. And suddenly, everything else, all our temporal needs and discomforts, faded away.

I sat on the floor for the next hour with my friends, staring out upon Montmartre, with Sacre-Coeur on the reachable horizon. Rain pattered on the sill, traffic and voices lapped like waves over the city. Time stood still as we let it all sink in and thanked the Lord for every bit. We're here. 

Joyful Commitment

Today, we fly out of Atlanta and make our way to Paris. Last night, we stayed at a hotel in Atlanta and invited a family over to visit that we had connected with online. They reached out a few months ago, asking about the backpack, as they have a son who would benefit from a similar setup. He is number two of four biological sons, and they have a foster boy too. Mom and Dad are church planters, high energy and passionate about family and community. Needless to say, we hit it off right away. So, we got pizza and swapped stories about growing up with disabilities and traveling. Oh, and we talked about Mine Craft too! That was fun! Before they left, the father and son gave our pack a test run and it was amazing to see the son light up as his dad stood tall. 

Over these past few months, it's been neat to see my life and story inspiring others. And I hope that's the case now too, but as this unbelievable family loaded into their van and drove off, I was overwhelmed with how much they inspired me. They're love and joyful commitment to one another - that's the stuff that changes the world. It's our message, the point of this adventure and we're intentional about conveying it, but to this family it's a natural outpouring. It's every day life and they are having a ball with it. That's the heart I long to have, and the kind of hearts I'm so thankful to be surrounded by. 


A special post from one of our carriers, Mr. Philip Keller.

Saint Christopher is so revered within the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, that, like any beloved person, the stories of his life have grown to legendary proportions.  Thankfully, as with any Saint, it is not only the historical veracity of his life, but rather his story that communicates truth.  His icon bears a striking resemblance to We Carry Kevan’s logo, and his message informs our trip. What a worthy patron! About 200 years after the life of Christ, during Decius’ reign in Rome, Christopher made a living using his great strength to carry people across a river on his shoulders. Saint Babylas of Antioch had advised Christopher that “he could best serve Christ by doing well the task for which he was best suited,” so in his search for Christ, Christopher used his physical strength to serve others. One day, as he ferried a small child, the weight inexplicably became greater with every step. Christopher feared that he and the child would drown in the raging river. When he finally made it across, the child informed Chris that the weight he bore was the sins of the world. At this point, Christopher recognized the child whom he had carried as Christ. By his service to others, Christopher had taken on Christ. It was literally Christ whom he served. Saint Matthew also taught this, writing from Jesus’s perspective: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

This river incident, and his later torture and martyrdom, demonstrates that by Saint Christopher found Christ by giving himself up.  It is from this that we get the name “Christ-opher” or “Christ-bearer.” Saint Christopher, pray to God for us!

Remembering Saints

A quick note on saints. We will explore these men more in depth later, but I have been reflecting lately on the lives of Saints Julian and Christopher. Both are considered the Patron Saints of travelers, and they share similar stories, or at least occupations. That is to say, they both were charged with the order of carrying travelers across a river. Julian did so with a boat while Christopher actually carried folks on his back. But here's what has been on my mind -- that they are Patron Saints for travel, not because they travelled, but because they made travel possible for others. 
I am humbled by the brothers who carry me, who make my journeys and my general life possible. It's incredible to me, and it's an undeniable, unapologetic picture of Christ. And this beautiful sacrifice impresses me to do the same. Maybe not in the same way, exactly, but to build others up and give of myself however I must to make their lives better, to carry them into adventure and make their dreams come true, to show them they are loved beyond their wildest imaginations. Because that's what it's all about. 

Let us be remembered, not for the opportunities we seize, but for the opportunities we make possible for others.

Joy in the Journey

This week, one of my favorite people is coming to Fort Wayne. About a year ago, I emailed Andrew Peterson to get advice on how to make We Carry Kevan happen (long before we were calling it We Carry Kevan). His response was ridiculous -- he was elated by the idea of the trip and offered to do anything he could to help. So when we had lunch a few months ago, he asked what he could do and I couldn't help myself. A benefit show? I am thrilled to have him involved, and not just as a great musician but as a friend and mentor. 
In light of his visit, I thought of regaling you with various memories I have with Andrew's music, his books, and himself. But I realize that would be a biography of my past 15 years, and this is a blog, not a novel. So let's just look at the broad strokes, shall we?
I remember when my youth pastor first gave me Andrew's CD in 9th or 10th grade. I took it home and listened to it in my parents' den, staring at the black and white album cover. In one of the songs, he said, "I realize that falling down ain't graceful, but I know that falling's full of grace," and that was a comfort to my sin fraught heart. In another, he confessed, "I've got oceans down inside of me," and man, could I relate! But here is the thing with Andrew that is dear to me -- plenty of folks will confess their brokenness, but that line of his goes on. "I can feel the billows roll with a mercy that comes thundering over the waters of my soul." 
You see, my insides are a hurricane, loud and violent. And in his music and books, over the years, Andrew has come alongside me and spoken clearly into that chaos. He's reminded me again and again of what's true -- that God is good and His love endures forever; that everything will be made right in the end; and that "the joy in the journey is enough to make a grown man cry." And it's been wonderful to have this experience with him as a friend in more recent years. I have been blessed with some amazing men of God in my life who've given me wisdom, comfort, and guidance, so I don't want to place Andrew on a pedestal (he'd hate that). But we all need beacons in our storms of life, and I am thankful and honored to count him among mine. 

If Andrew Peterson is a new name to you, check out his music and novels at The Rabbit Room.

A Day In The Park

Over the weekend, our team reconvened in Fort Wayne for a day in the park. Mock II of the backpack was ready for testing, so Tom, Philip, and Ben fit me into the seat and tighten the straps around me. And we weren't alone. A news reported joined us, along with his trust camera man, and our own photographer tagged along as well. 
Tom took me onto his back first, with the other two on either side for spotting. We walked through my neighborhood, ducking under tree branches. My neighbor stopped to chat, not about our exploits but to ask about my neglected lawn. We all stood there, waiting for him to notice - I wasn't in my chair, I was in a backpack, etc. But nothing. Just my lawn. 
From there, we went along the river and eventually reached the "Old Fort." This portion of the journey, I was carried by Philip, then Ben. By the Fort, there were festivities in swing. Hot dogs, cookies, horses, swordplay demonstrations. We watched for a while and interacted with some of the merry-makers, and again, no great astonishment at our setup. 
Finally, we ended up in the park for a picnic with friends and then a brief visit to the coffee shop. We had a wonderful time hanging out with our friends, telling stories and making one another laugh. Someone made PB&J's and the reporter joined our conversations like he was just part of the posse -- because he was. What a cool guy!
After all this, we wrapped up the day with music on my front porch. The sun was setting, the air was cooling, Tom played guitar and I was on harmonica. Everyone sang, which is how it should be. 
And as the week has rolled on, I've found myself reflecting on our interactions with people. Strangers and friends alike. My whole life, I have lived in such a way that people see me before they see my wheelchair. I have a personality and a mindset that demands this. But I have been nervous about the backpack. It's new to me, it's new to the world, it's new to... itself! So would I get lost in it? Would people see me or just the spectacle? It has been a relief, and even an encouragement, to see the social ease of our new endeavor. It's like I'm still in my chair, that is to say, it's still like I'm not in anything at all. It's just me. And here is a huge key to that - my friends. When I'm in my chair, my friends are key to my normality, and even more so with the backpack. After all, they actually are my "wheelchair" in the case of the latter. So, their perception and attitude toward the situation is paramount to our success. 

All this to say, it's not about me and I can definitely not do it on my own. I am so grateful for these amazing men joining me on this adventure, and for the various other friends (old and brand new) who are coming alongside us for support. We can't do this without you.

In The Round

Last week, I had the joy of visiting Nashville. It's one of my favorite cities to visit, and I do so every few months. Whether it's for a week or just 24 hours, I'll take any chance that comes my way to go. Why? Same reason as anywhere else. It's the people. The places and the people in them. The food and the people you eat it with. The music, the people who play it and the people who listen. There's a spirit of creativity, just bursting at the seams and filling the air there, and people breathe it in; a spirit that's not fun and easy, and in fact, it's really uncomfortable. It writhes and scratches, it doesn't fit into its own skin and it dreams of the day when the sky splits open, all is made right, and it can finally be free again. In the mean time, it wrestles with the writers, artists, and musicians of Nashville and life is cultivated -- purpose is found -- in that wrestling. And all of that is beautiful. 
My most recent trip took me to Brentwood, in particular, for a benefit show. Some dear friends from the Rabbit Room (http://rabbitroom.com) community used their gifts of music, writing, and entertaining to bring attention and raise funds for our cause. They realized that We Carry Kevan is more than just a couple of guys going on a trip. It is a message and movement to encourage others, and they wanted to be a part of it. 
The concert was on Tuesday, so I rolled into town Monday night, over the mountains, into East Nashville, and right up to the front door of Smoker's Abbey. I was introduced to the Abbey a few years ago and, though I don't smoke, it has become my "home away from home" and the patrons are amazing people. So, the Abbey and, yes, BBQ sandwiches were my first order of business upon entering town. My friend Tyler, who traveled with me, and I stayed with a wonderful family not far from there. To give you an idea of this family, on our way there, we got a call from the son Logan. "I just fell off my longboard and broke my wrist, so I'm going to the hospital. But just let yourselves in when you get here." We arrived 10 minutes later to find Logan standing in the driveway with a smile on his face and a swollen arm in his hand. He had decided to wait for us to make sure we got in alright before going to the ER. Who does that?!
Tuesday was spent eating fish tacos and walking around Centennial Park with my old friend Bethany. Before we knew it, dinner time was upon us and the benefit show was fast approaching. Pete, head of Rabbit Room and one of my favorite people in the world, invited us to have dinner with his family. So, there's a check off the box of more food and great conversation! 
Then it was off to the show! And who was the line-up? In the round, we had Wes King, Buddy Greene, Ron Block, and my good friend Eric Peters. For those who don't know what a round is, imagine all your favorite musicians sitting around a campfire, sharing stories and playing songs together like a jam session. Now, take away the campfire (in this case, anyway) and replace it with microphones. Ron sings a song about when his mom died, and that reminds Wes of a song he wrote also about loss, etc. The round goes on.

Halfway through the show, Pete introduced me and we talked about the trip. I was thrilled at the positive response, from both the audience and the musicians. What a great encouragement to be in the room that night! Ah, the stuff of life -- to use our gifts to build up one another! And after the show, I talked to everyone I could until the clock struck late and the venue owners had to send us off. Tyler and I climbed back into the van and set out down the highway. We'd get home at sunup, and after such a grand 24 hours (26, really), that was just fine by us. 

Monasticism and Survival

It was in the fifth century, and a boy in his late teens sat alone in a cold, Ireland cell. He'd been kidnapped from his English home six years prior by pirates. I wonder if he knew at all, sitting there, that the Lord would use him to change everything. Wherever his thoughts wandered, one day they were interrupted by a bodiless voice. The voice told him it was time to leave, to go home and be free again. So, young Patrick escaped. He went home, recovered, committed his life to the work of God, and then the voice spoke again. Go back, it said, spread the gospel throughout the Irish lands. 
Thus, Ireland was introduced to Christ. And some accepted it, but many did not. Families were split, friends became enemies, social and mortal martyrdom took place. There was one believer, Finian, who left his home and dedicated his life to God and prayer. He and his brothers laid claim to an island off the west coast, Skellig Michael, and there they built a humble monastery of beehive huts. The island was tremendous; a sharp rise of six-hundred rocky feet that cut the wind in half and enraged the elements around it. Nothing grew there with ease, and fresh water was hard to come by. The men learned to catch fish and fowl, and these became their staple fare. Two things drew them to this place: its discomfort and its proximity to the mainland. The discomfort, a commonality among monks, pressed them into desiring God and depending on him entirely. And from Skellig, on a clear day, one could see the mainland of Ireland. For men who were chased out of their beloved county and still committed their lives to praying for it, this was ideal. 
And it was with this conviction that Finian and his heirs held the island as keepers for centuries. They defended it from pirates and vikings, and braved the harsh conditions for the sake of their God and their country. Men died in establishing it and they died protecting it over the generations. 

We live now in a strange time, when this sacred piece of land is seen as a national park, preserved but flocked by tourists. And now Disney has made its mark there as well, using the location as an epicenter for the new Star Wars franchise. What was once a place of solitude and survival is now one of the hottest spots in the world, and a common ground for historians and pop culture nuts to come together in awe. I cannot change the time I am in, as much as I would love to have seen it then. But no matter the era, my heart longs to stand at the top of that island, to feel the chill of a wind cut in half, and ask the God of Abraham, Isaac, Patrick, and Finian to meet me there.