Knowing Autumn

Crimson red and fiery gold,

Breezy gusts of air so cold.
Firewood crackles in the night, 
The sunrise a radiant delight. 
It swoops in and breaks through the fog,
Awakens the creatures, even the frog.
Birds stir and sing their song,
Knowing Autumn won’t last long. 
The time has come pumpkin and spices, 
Pies and lattes and other vices. 
And in this season in all it’s glory, 
We began to write our story. 
Green eyes met blue,
I became us when I met you. 
Four years of love, four years of laughter.
I don’t wish for before and I never want after. 
My love for Fall reminds me of us;
Color, fire, passion and spice;
Longing for your lips to kiss tonight. 
My favorite season and I’ll never want another,
Knowing Autumn is such a wonder. 

Loving Others Well

I wrote a letter to a friend in jail today. Never quite thought I’d write that sentence. But I did and it was probably a good and healthy thing for the both of us that I chose to do that with some of my free-time this afternoon.

I remember a time in my life where I wouldn’t have had the strength to do such a thing. To reach out to and love on the ostracized or to understand the world from the perspective of another, but that’s something I’ve yearned to change about myself. It’s easy to judge others from the outside, but it’s much more difficult if we actually get to know those around us. Having conversations with different people at work or church or in any social setting has a stretching affect on the heart. You’ll feel uncomfortable at first but before you know it, you’re caring about someone that you typically wouldn’t.

This gentlemen wasn’t my enemy – but did you know that we’re called to love even our enemies as Christians? That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. If you’re a Facebook Friend of mine you’ve seen me quoting Bob Goff’s “Everybody, Always” fairly frequently over the last month or two. What a phenomenal book about loving our stranger and enemy – if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Goff’s love for his enemies has led to witch-doctors sharing the Gospel to their fellow inmates in prison…with Goff in the audience…and he’s the one that put them there (as an attorney)!

You know what makes an ass out of you and me? When we ASS-u-me things…

All puns aside, we do a huge disservice to ourselves and to others when we assume we know the whole story about other people’s lives. Until you’ve given them a chance to share their perspective and journey and asked them about their heart, where they’ve been and where they’re going, you really have no insight into who they are.

Why do we do that? Judge people before we know the whole story. It’s one of the first things we try to train out of good salespeople. Never assume a customer’s situation…always discover what they want and need, then make a recommendation based on what you’ve learned.

We’ve all heard the stories of someone deciding to ask a young lady if they were pregnant, when really they’d just been enjoying the Fall Weather’s pumpkin-spiced lattes and coffee-cake like I have this afternoon. You don’t know people you haven’t actually had a conversation or shared a meal with.

The moral of the story is we cannot know where people are going if we are unaware of where they’ve come from. And even that won’t tell us the whole story.

If people judged you solely off of your past, would you enjoy seeing the trajectory that they displayed on a white-board for you? Probably not.

Keeping God’s Grace on the table, like a bowl of sugar with a big spoon in it can really help sweeten one’s vision for the future. There’s always hope in Christ. Recovery from addiction, reconciliation for relationships, development of a healthier individual with better habits and weekly rituals; these are all possibilities that we as Christians should be able to pray for, speak over, and believe for another person.

We should be reminding people of the grace and love we see in them. Pinning them with medals of excellence for who they’re becoming.

If God were writing you a letter right now, he wouldn’t tell you who you’ve been, he’d tell you who you are. But he’d have permission to do that because he knew us first.

Our words have power. Created in His image, our words can give life and take it. Do you breathe life into the sails of others ships? Or when you encounter others, do you shipwreck them with a powerful storm of assumptions? Do you encourage them with who they’re becoming or shame them with who they’ve been?

You’ll build strong, deep, faithful, loyal friendships if you take the time to love others well and choose to breathe life into their sails even if their ship isn’t sea-worthy today. You’ll be better off for it, as will they. We’ve all had bad hair-days after all (I just got a haircut that I don’t really love…a little too short for my liking). So it’s probably time we stop thinking we have our life more pulled together than anyone else.

Learning With You,

Justin

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Beginning, Middle, End.

My wife says I’m an introspective person. I think she’s right – I spend a lot of time looking into myself and wondering what’s there.

Introspection has its purposes. It’s good to know what you’re made of, where you’ve come from, and where you’d like to go. But at some point, you have to stop looking in the rear-view mirror and start living. The Justin of yesteryear is certainly not the Justin of today and even if he comes back and visits for a day or two every now and then, it’s not the end of the world. Living in a shame-pit of self-hate for poor decisions made just isn’t the right head-space to live your life out of.

My counselor and I have been working through some of this lately. At some point the motivation for life-change can no longer be the fear of doing something wrong or the shame of who you’ve been, but rather the desire to better oneself and become something even better. No one thinks Patrick Mahomes is crazy for wanting to win the Super Bowl this year – we all think that’s a great idea. Build on the success of last year to become better this year.

I think we all make things too complicated – or maybe it’s just me – but I’m betting I’m not the only one. We care too much about what others may think, or what church we go to (or associate ourselves with), or how many people liked our photo. We wonder if what we’re doing is really making a difference or if we are enough for our friends and families. Wasting away all of the energy we have worrying, rather than living. (Obviously, some of this can be related to mental-health as I’m working through in my own life. However, some of it is thought-patterns and neural pathways that have convinced us this is our truth.)

Most of my life I have lived with this idea that I needed to be something. The “goal” of becoming a published author or speaker or a ministry of my own one day. Or perhaps that I needed to be the very best salesman. Maybe I needed to own my own coffee-shop, built it into a successful empire of franchises and retire in the mountains somewhere.

But what if where I’m at is where I need to be? And what if the way we walk through the valley is more important than the mountain-top? I’m confident that one day I’ll “arrive” and discover what I’m made of, what God has called me to, and what I ought to build a legacy around. But the end of the story is only as good as the beginning and middle allow for it to be – there isn’t a climax without the build-up and thickening of the plot and some challenges along the way. Bill Gate’s success wouldn’t be as exciting without knowing Microsoft really started in someone’s garage before it exploded into Silicon Valley.

My favorite books to read are the ones written by storytellers. Bob Goff’s “Everybody Always: Becoming Love In A World Full Of Setbacks & Difficult People” is a follow-up to his incredibly popular “Love Does” and I find myself enthralled by the stories within. What makes Goff so unique is that he just loves people. They don’t have to love him back or do something right or text him back within 5 minutes of him texting them. When asked what church he goes to, his answer is “our church” – because when you’re becoming more like Jesus and loving people the way he did you don’t need all the labels, name-tags, and license-plate brackets and bumper-stickers. After all, people won’t remember that you wore matching t-shirts and participated in a Missions Trip for a week. But they will remember that you visited them in the hospital, wrote them in jail, paid for their coffee when they couldn’t afford it, and answered the phone when it was inconvenient at the time.

Love doesn’t sit on the bench or wait for the right play-call. Love jumps into action now without “praying about it” first.

I want to live more of my life in this way. I want to love people like I’m made of it. “Every time we go to church and point fingers at each other, we betray Jesus with another kiss. At “our” church, we go there to meet Him, not critique each other.”

“Talk behind each other’s backs constantly. Just talk about the right stuff. Talk about Jesus. Talk about grace. Talk about love and acceptance. People don’t grow where they are informed; they grow where they’re loved and accepted. Talk about who people are becoming and who you see them turning into.” (Bob Goff, Everybody Always)

My goal this week is to worry about the future less and be present more. Loving the person right in front of me is more important than worrying about how people will talk about me at my funeral in 80 years.

If all I’m ever living for is the future, then I’ll probably never get there.

But I bet if I live for today, tomorrow will probably still come. If it’s God’s will for me to get there, then I’m sure He’ll find a way. I don’t have to know the end of my story to keep writing the beginning and living, loving, and being in the middle…

beginning middle end

 

Decisions, Decisions (2 Years Sober)

There comes a time in everyone’s lives where they have to make a decision. To pursue a promotion, to marry the girl, to hit the gym more, to find a new church, to invest more in family, to drink less, or maybe even…to stop looking at porn. Some decisions are easier than others, but nevertheless it is the man that has the courage to make the decision and see it through that is brave. Not the one that excuses himself from trying on the basis of habit, indifference, and lack of thought-out trajectory. For every man will be held accountable for the lives they have lived, even if they have not really lived at all.

Brave isn’t exactly an adjective that my friends would have used to describe me growing up. It’s probably not one many would use to describe me now, but perhaps that is because they don’t know my whole story. I’d argue I’m far braver than I’ve ever been (even though I still let out a yelp when I see a spider crossing the bedroom floor in our apartment while I’m stretching). Thanks to Brene Brown’s “The Gifts Of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly”, Doug Weis’ “Steps To Freedom”, Steven Furtick’s “Unqualified”, Mark Batterson’s “Chase The Lion” and a community of men at my church committed to pursuing purity and excellence in all they do, I have found myself more vulnerable, known, and loved than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I admit when I’m scared. I call my wife when I’ve messed up. I openly cry on the phone with other men and seek the Lord in prayer for their redemption and for mine. I scheduled a meeting with a pastor I respect about pursuing a dream and found myself humbled. Is it a dream or is it a whim – is it the pure love for the process or the glamour of the end-result?

“Embrace the process,” they said as I entered a 12-Step program in the late Fall of 2016 to wage war against a battle that had ravaged my soul for probably as many years. 12 steps for the 12+ years that I’d allowed my heart, mind, soul, and body to be pillaged by the enemy. Allowing him to plant seeds of doubt and insecurity all throughout. I was worthless, a monster, mean, unlovable, ugly, needy – that’s what satan told me I was anyways. And I believed him. I believed him far more than I believed I was worth loving.

I hated the process. The process was hard. The flashbacks were painful. The spiritual warfare was uncomfortable and terrifying. I wanted freedom and the enemy didn’t want me to have it. He’d convince me to tell half-truths; that social-media like Snapchat and Instagram wasn’t “that bad” – that some stories were better left untold. The process taught me that all of this was untrue. Not only untrue but that it made things all the more painful. But it was also, just part of the process.

Addiction is such a painful thing. I have so much empathy for anyone else that’s ever struggled with a sex addiction, drug addiction, alcoholism, or whatever it is that you may struggle with. Mommy issues. Daddy issues. Insecurity issues. Money problems. Power struggles. These all sound like generalizations and lazy attempts to relate, but I just have so much love for anyone that struggles with anything.

Did I mention that I hated the process? I wanted to be free from the addiction – to stop searching for content that created the high I was looking for. I wanted to stop hiding behind humor and the escapism of other things. Looking back on my struggles, I see where I struggled the most was ownership and the lie that I was always a victim. “I’m impulsive and a creature of habit” I told myself, so somehow that made it “okay” if I slipped up every now and then.

I remember two “turning-points” throughout my experience with addiction-recovery. One came when I had to confess my social-media relapse to my wife. I’d been following accounts I should’t have been for reasons that I knew were wrong. Owning this mistake and recognizing that some restrictions (like deleting Instagram/Snapchat) were healthy for my development. I no longer look at them as a punishment for wrongs done but more like wearing my seat-belt every day when I’m driving – it’s just safer that way. The other turning point was the completion of Steps 4 (Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves) and Step 5 (Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human-being the exact nature of our wrongs). Up to that point in my life I don’t think I’d ever been more honest with myself. It is so easy to see the mistakes other people make and ridicule them but it is far harder to hold yourself to a similar standard. Even more difficult when you allow yourself to remember the wrongs you’ve committed and instead of hiding them away or numbing the pain with a drink or a movie, you write them down on paper to ask God for forgiveness and to share them with someone else. The man I chose to share my Step 5 with quickly become a member of my inner-circle. I trust him, I love him, I respect him; that level of vulnerability and strength gave birth to a friendship I’m very thankful for.

It was around the point that the friendship blossomed and that I admitted to myself and to Jesus just how much I needed Jesus to change my heart and my life that everything changed. I told my wife everything – even the “not-that-bad” social-media stuff. I deleted the accounts (or started wearing my seat-belt every day, so to speak). And I decided to walk in integrity and truth the rest of the days of my life. I’m honest to a fault. So honest it hurts; but I’m my whole self, all the time, and I’m no longer hiding my heart behind a screen. No longer suffocating under the weight of “being found out”- no longer living in the constant, continuous fear of satan’s whisper.

I am known and loved. I am faithful and supported. I am uniquely gifted and outrageously normal in the same breath. I am humbled and observant. Ready and cautious.

I am also just days away from 2 years of sobriety, by God’s immense power and grace.

I am more alive than I ever was; freer than I ever thought I was while “living in freedom” to the whims of the flesh.

I am truly free. All because I decided; to do something, to go somewhere, to talk to the friend, to ask for help.

We will all face the day where we need to make a decision. Will you have the courage? Will you be brave enough to make it? I’m praying it’ll be a little easier for you, because I was brave enough to tell you I had to do it too.

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Lost Along The Way

It’s so easy to get lost along the way. I bet that’s why God places so many reminders in Scripture that he has our best plans in mind, that he is watching out for our hearts and lives with all of these “rules and regulations.”

It’s so easy to get discouraged and to give up, to let pain have the final say.

It’s so easy to decide that since you’ve failed a few times that means you are now a failure and will never measure up to anything.

I saw a quote recently that went something like, “The Enemy cannot take your oil (anointing) but if he can convince you it’s not worth anything, then he ends up stealing it’s power.” How many times have you and I been convinced that our gifts are meaningless?

How many times have I had words on my lips or ready for the keyboard and left them unsaid or avoided typing them, fearing they lacked significance?

A world filled with pain…and there is hope – yet, I am afraid to admit that I have it.

Someone asked me this week – “Justin, why are you always so positive?” I was honestly kind of shocked by the question. I thought I’d been kind of a bummer the last few weeks wrestling through the murky, suffocating waters of depression. I thought a moment about my answer and then I said, “I guess, despite all of my shortcomings, I know Jesus and he’s my hope.” The gentlemen said, “I figured that’d be your answer – me too – well, I just want to let you know it makes a huge difference and that your impact is felt here…” and then he walked away.

What a wonder…making an influence even at my weakest. Brings new meaning to the biblical idea that he can make me strong in my weakest areas. He lifts up the humble and humbles the proud. If only we grasped that concept.

You, my friend, are not a failure if you are not on a high in life right now. If you’re not where you want to be, you don’t have to stay there. And admitting that you’re struggling is the first step to recovery in any situation. Simply accepting the status-quo will get you the status-quo. If you want change, you need to be the change – and you need to surround yourself with people that are going that direction and are going to take you there with them.

“Who are your change-agents?” Dr. Henry Cloud asks in “Necessary Endings” (what a great book, by the way). We all have those 2 or 3 people in our lives that challenge us and push us to the next level. Chances are if you’re in a season of stagnancy, you’ve been avoiding the coffee-dates and gym-sessions with them for a little while now. You know they’ll call you to something greater and that means you’ll have to give up the old “comfortable” situation that you don’t want to admit you love.

When someone is in sin and they “can’t seem to get out of it” – it’s really not THAT complicated. They have fallen in love with the sin – the lust, the greed, the anger – it has become their comfort zone – that is where they would prefer to live.

If that’s you, I pray that you’d find those 2-3 people to pull you out of the backwards slide and into the light. There is hope in the daylight. Hunkered down in your own loneliness, isolation, and the darkness of night with your bottle of tequila, browser filled with porn, contact-list full of affairs, pantry filled with Oreo’s, books filled with delusion, and mind addicted to sadness…there is no hope. What a terrible, sad, horrendous place to be.

You will be amazed what that one phone-call has the power to do. You will be amazed what cracking open the dusty Bible on your book-shelf can do for your heart. You will be awestruck and shocked at how integrity and honesty, while it may hurt a little at first, will become your building blocks for success and that even little white lies will start to make you sick to your stomach, because they just aren’t worth it anymore.

Friends, you may have gotten lost along the way, but you do not have to stay there. Where you are today does not determine where you will be tomorrow.

Call the “change-agent” in your life and admit where you are weak, they will make you strong.

Say the prayer that you are afraid to pray and He will answer.

Share your fears and struggles with your wife and she will love you.

Set goals for yourself and celebrate your success, even if you only hit the 50% mark the first time. At least you started growing again.

Jesus told the parable of the shepherd that would leave the 99 sheep to save the 1 that got lost. The prodigal son squandered all of his father’s wealth and was still welcomed with open arms and celebrated for his return to the Kingdom.

How much more will he pursue your heart? How much larger a feast for the lost, hurting heart that discontinues their pity-fest and pursues freedom in Christ’s name?

He’s left the 99 to come find me…I’m confident He will rescue you, too.

Call, and he will answer. Knock, and the door will be opened.

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Labels, Pretzels, And Feelings.

Labeling things always seems so dangerous to me. I’m sure you can relate. Do I really want to label my issue with such-and-such an addiction? Do I really want to label this relationship abusive? Or the ones that I struggle with presently would be…do I really want to admit that I’m 50 lbs overweight and living in depression?

I suppose admitting you have a problem or placing a label on something can be freeing as well. For me, deciding Allie was the one I was willing to give my life for and to has reaped the benefits of freedom and love that I could have never fathomed before. The label of faithful commitment called marriage has been well worth the cost.

However, for many of you, in the present-world of dating, everyone has so many options. Swipe right, swipe left – go on a few “dates” and watch a little “Netflix” – okay, now I’m bored – let’s swipe some more. Placing a label on things seems…dangerous…to some. Placing a label on things may cause someone to avoid making a decision altogether (perhaps that is why some people date 5+ years or end up in 3+ year engagements). Committing to another now takes all the other options off the table and that risks making a bad decision.

I don’t know about you, but I hate failing.

Failure is one of those things that drives me crazy. If I put myself in an unfamiliar scenario and say “I’m going to lose x-number of pounds by y-date,” or “I’d like to make z amount of money by 2025,” then I feel paralyzed. Admitting that I have a goal or getting it out into the light is one of the most proven methods for success. Let others know where you’d like to go and surround yourself with an energetic team of others that are already going that direction – be okay with leaving the stragglers behind, because that’s not where you want to be anymore, yourself.

If that’s the method for success, then why is it so difficult?

To place the label on oneself as writer would probably mean that one should write something…right? Hence this silly blog airing out my internal spider-web of feelings.

And feelings…aren’t they just so complicated? I really, truly wonder how anyone makes it through life without therapy/counseling and some kind of stress-release outlet (for me, it’s coffee and reading or disc-golf on my days off). If it weren’t for my own weekly counseling and “me-time” outings, I’d be a pretzel of feelings. I pray for those of you that have yet to have the courage to admit that you need help.

It’s insane that we all thought at the age of 18 that we knew so much and would be conquerors of the world. To have some of that confidence back would be amazing, but perhaps tempered with the wisdom of years of realizing just how much anyone always has left to learn. Remain humble and you will be lifted up, in due time.

One simply has to be themselves to get anywhere in life. You are unique and different and important and you add value to the world around you.

As my counselor put it – “you don’t really have to change or be any different for anyone other than yourself, if you want to.”

Another friend put it growing up, “you will always do whatever it is that you want to do.” It may have been his way of spurring me on toward a more obedient faith during times of abundant apathy and cynicism, but that truth remains.

You will do what you want to do.

What is that, exactly?

I’m still trying to find the answer, for myself. I think I grew up in such a way that I wanted to be perfect and pleasing for others. Focusing my energy on ensuring I was setting the right example – or rather, obsessing over the times I obviously had not set the correct one. Being the oldest of 5 siblings places you in that sort of dynamic by birthright. It’s no one’s “fault” really, more so just where you end up.

Wasting all this energy on wondering what others want of me has proven unsuccessful. So I now find myself beginning to ask the question of, “what do I want for me?”

Sounds selfish. But it’s not. The times that others have been the most blessed and enthused by my presence are the times that I’ve loved myself.

What are your thoughts? How have you personally come to peace with who you are and decided what you wanted for yourself? How can I pray for and encourage your own life-journey?

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Grace Over Grave

The world will crush your bones,

Dry up your spirit.

It will promise pleasure, but you’re still thirsty.

I’ve got the truth – but you won’t hear it.

Too busy getting stuff done,

That you forgot about the Son.

But hey, me too, so I guess it’s fine.

We can just say “hey, your sin is more than mine.”

Compare our righteousness to others,

“Ha! If you only knew my brothers…” we say.

Brush the judgment day off our shoulders,

Feel abandoned this side of heaven,

Go out looking for attention, getting “bolder.”

Only to learn that this world’s colder.

So we numb the pain with something fake,

If it feels like love, then it must be it,

Besides, the loneliness of this world is too much to take,

So even if I settle, so be it.

And that’s the lie that you believe,

A lie so well-spoken by deception,

That it seems to bring about relief,

But don’t be surprised, then, at pain’s reception.

Because it will arrive.

And choke what you thought was thriving,

Then you’ll look back for hope,

And realizing it’s not there, as your relationship with it is what you were depriving.

Living in “liberty” but a captive,

Free from “the law” but shackled to regrets.

Hope came to set you free.

Hope has a name.

Hope hasn’t given up on you or me.

Hope has no desire to leave you in shame.

So the next fool’s gold that catches your heart’s attention,

Do as my wife (the teacher) would and send it to detention.

And work on your retention of love over hate,

Grace over Grave.

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