4/4/2020 – Coronavirus Thoughts & Blue Moon

I don’t know if you can relate to this or not, but I have a very hard time being myself. I’m always worried about what other people are thinking about me, whether or not I’m a “disappointment” to them. Dave Hollis set me straight today in The Power of Positive Summit when he said that he hates to burst our bubble but people aren’t thinking about you, they’re thinking about themselves.

I wonder if anyone else needs to come to this realization to bet set free from the expectations of others. I just cracked open a Blue Moon because it sounded good. Sure, it’s 3:42 PM on a Saturday afternoon and sure, I’d typically be at work right now. But there’s a pandemic and everyone’s coping in their own way, trying their best to survive and to find their mental-health “zen” so to speak. A new normal in an age that will most definitely not be normal. The truth is the last couple weeks I’ve barely found the strength to get out of bed, let alone write a blog post or apply for temporary work or summon up the courage to return to my sales job. But I woke up this morning, ate a healthy breakfast, read a few chapters of the Bible, spent quality time with my wife, and walked the dog briefly – and that’s enough. I don’t have to be any idealized version of myself because that’s all crap anyways. “I can be any me that I want to be today,” a friend of mine told me this week.

The truth is, I’m not perfect. Like you, I’ve eaten my fair share of quarantine snacks and became enthralled with the viral Facebook Group “Quarantine Beer Chugs” (while I’ve recently left the group to fill my mind with more life-giving content…it did provide a slice of escapism and entertainment for a few days in the midst of inner chaos…perhaps the appeal was the chaos; that people were just giving in to it). My wife and I have become obsessed with some whole-wheat banana muffins with pecans in them and we’ve eaten one probably every day to the point that I’m sure my swimsuit selfie in a few months will bring a whole new definition to muffin-top. But you know what? I don’t care.

I stepped on the scale earlier this week and with the realization that I could die at any given day (this has always been true, but all the more real in a season of panic and chaos surrounding the coronavirus) and suddenly the numbers glaring back at me didn’t seem to matter all that much. “Here lies Justin, 6’3”, 260 lbs.” Because in the end, that’s what matters….not! What will matter is the many laughs, intentional Bible Studies, and thought-provoking, heart-changing conversations that have occurred with friends and family as we have wrestled through this chapter in our lives, together.

I’ve even caught myself questioning my own salvation. Would a man that believes in the power of Jesus Christ to rise from the grave and overcome sin be so terrified of a virus that can suck the life out of a person in a matter of weeks, if not days? While at this point in time, I won’t provide some long-winded, well-thought-out version of the answer, I think I came to the conclusion that yes, it was okay. Jesus sweated blood when he knew his time was imminent. And even he asked the Lord to take this cup from Him.

I believe Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died a sinner’s death, and rose again to pay the ultimate price for our sins so that I could have eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. O death, where is your sting? (In this season, that almost seems like a dare to type those words…but really, where is death’s sting if Jesus paid the price and rescued us?)

I don’t know about you, but I’m in debt. Lots of it. And to think that Jesus has paid off all my sin’s debt just baffles my mind. I’m still waiting for Navient to just pay off all my student-loan debt. For now, I’ll take President Trump’s coronavirus relief package of forbearance to defer those payments for later, when I’m making money again.

I am so thankful for my friends, family, and my faith in this season. If it weren’t for Jesus and my truly becoming “a new creation” I would have bounded right back into addiction. I wouldn’t have wrestled and fought and cried and struggled. I would have given in to the darkness and given up. But I haven’t done any of those things, and that is enough. Because God is enough, and every day I get to make the decision of whether or not I will trust in Him.

You can make that same decision too – will you trust him or not? I’ll tell you what – the days that I choose the former go much smoother than the days I choose the latter.

My heart breaks for those that are going through all of this without a Savior they can turn to and to the ones that only choose to surrender their life to Him once in a Blue Moon. Like a good father, he waits on us to call for him while walking towards the door to our hearts and never away from it.

2019-coronavirus blue-moon-24oz-can

A Moment Of Inspiration

“I’m going to write a book,” one of my friends said. “Oh yeah – why?” I asked. “Writing is one of my biggest opportunities, so I figured, why not write a book?” The individual I speak of is someone who puts his mind to something and goes after it without over-analyzing everything. Sure – it can have its setbacks and disadvantages but I admire the tenacity and the faith in oneself to get the job done, learn well from mistakes, and develop into a more holistic individual over time.

I found myself inspired by the courage and thought that it was worth sharing with the world. Because my initial impulse was, “Well then, I guess I could too!”

I struggle with sharing moments of inspiration or declaring that I will do something because then I know there is a chance that I may not. I may not make it to the gym; I may not write the book; I may not read the twenty books I’d like to read in 2020. It’s true, I may not. But then…I also might.

To paraphrase one of my favorite authors Bob Goff, “Quit waiting around for a plan (vision, purpose, details sent down from a stork from the Lord as to how to do the very best thing with your life) and start loving everybody, always.” (Everybody, Always is a ridiculously well-written, thoughtful and thought-provoking book by the way, and I strongly recommend adding it to this year’s reading list.) What is it about us that deems we must have everything mapped out by the time we are 25? Enough money in the bank to retire by 35? And what makes us believe we can do all of these things without a big, powerful, incredible God?

We refuse to rest, sleep, and eat healthy, balanced meals with our families for the sake of hustling hard to earn a good living to not really live at all. As Jefferson Bethke writes in “To Hell With The Hustle” – #TeamNoSleep is not for me. Cultivating a life that has a steady, purposeful rhythm that dances to the beat of rest and sabbath is not something easily acquired. And yet it’s from that spirit of steady, slow, patient, relationship that Jesus walks. I’m betting it’s at that pace that we will hear his voice as well.

And if Jesus always walks, then what makes us think that we have to run everywhere and do everything and accomplish it all before we go to bed tonight? “If I leave that one thing unfinished today, then that’s the end of my success. I didn’t follow-through with my goals today, so I guess I will never accomplish them.” What a twisted sort of thing to prophecy over oneself. Yet our words do truly display our hearts, don’t they? O the doubt, the cynicism, skepticism, and inner battling that must occur in the heart to make progress.

How can God accomplish His great resurrecting work within our hearts if we cannot sit still long enough for him to operate? Just as quickly as we’ve been “put under” (think anesthesiologist) by the spirit of worship in Church, we return to the cauldron of entertainment in the living-room or the many tasks to be accomplished at home. Rarely allowing the time necessary for the truth to sink deep; for the silence to shake us up a bit. To hear the voice of God again.

Hiding behind the curtain of evening’s out, movies, video-games, workaholic natures, and perfectionism, we evade the Lord’s call. To go out and love everybody, always. Everybody…including ourselves. Whom we could love all the more if we believed in the power of Christ long enough to admit that we have dreams, goals, aspirations, and inspirations.

Today, I’m inspired. Tomorrow, I may not be. And that doesn’t make me any less human. In fact, I’ll be stronger, better, faster for wrestling and resting with those moments of inspiration than if I had just let them pass by in a wave of apathy and I guess I’ll catch-on to that lesson next time.

So if you’re taking the time to read this today, you have time to love someone. That’s the plan. Go and do it. Be encouraging. Shine a light. Give them a hug. And be inspired.

And then chase after your dreams, goals, and aspirations. Don’t be afraid of them. God placed the fire in your heart for a reason. The world needs the light and warmth within.

Treasure

When will my head stop ringing,

The whispers stop stinging?

Painful onslaught of self-doubt;

Is my net-worth in my network?

Is my value in my values?

Chase the dollars, make the money;

You’ll find happiness again when it’s sunny.

Winters cold breath extinguished the fire;

Maybe it was Satan again being a liar?

Either way – I’m dormant;

What’s my purpose and my mission?

Somewhere in the chaos I lost my vision.

This heart is still itching;

Pen ready, heart heavy.

I’ve gotta run from it or through it,

More effort or I’m gonna lose it.

And yet that doesn’t seem like the answer,

Isn’t “trying to be better” how we got here?

Never satisfied with being, always becoming.

Yet Jesus always walked, and my minds always running.

Lord, meet me in this quiet place.

Still the waters, show your face.

I find comfort in Psalms;

In David’s up-down rhythm.

I’m not alone and you’re still on the throne.

Hear my cries and heal my mind,

Open my eyes where I’m blind.

This day I give to you, my King.

I may not feel like it, but I’ll still sing.

Great is your faithfulness,

Your love endures forever!

I’ll hold onto you, my anchor, my treasure.

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

letters

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.

Sign_Recovery_next_exit