True Thirst

Rarely do I realize how thirsty I am until I start to take a drink of water. It’s interesting – I’ll be just fine and then think to myself, “Maybe I should have a drink of water…” So I go to the fridge, grab the Brita pitcher and pour a glass of water, and before you know it I’m pouring a second because my body is telling me that I need more.

I’m discovering this concept applies to more than my need for the life-sustaining water here on Earth but it also applies to my desperate need for Living Water from God.

Rarely do I realize how thirsty I am for His Word until I convince myself to open up the pages of the Bible and force myself to read a Proverb. Before I know it, I find myself curious about what God has to say about His Church in the New Testament or his second coming in Revelation. Or maybe I’m ready to read battle stories from the Old Testament. Regardless, I discover a need within myself that I was unaware of because I refused to take a drink of Water.

If you’re like me, you prefer to drink things ‘more exciting’ than water. Coffee, soda, beer, juice, maybe even tea (nah, I hate tea) are all far more enjoyable to drink than water, in the moment. However, water is the fuel that my body actually needs. The other beverages are nice but they usually only lead to further thirst later on. Water satisfies. It fuels me and keeps me going.

In the same way, maybe I think that I have a desire for my wife to encourage and compliment me – showing that she admires who I am and believes that I’m being the best me possible. When really, what my heart probably needs most is to draw closer to God and to discover what He’s saying about me in the Word, in prayer, and in my own heart as the Spirit is at work within it.

There’s an urban dictionary language of thirst regarding lust – the desire for something one cannot or should not have. It’s not his to have or take or view or enjoy. But that thirst is there. What’s the thirst really there for, though? Is it for the sake of thirst itself, or is there a deeper need within the heart of man? The desire to be seen and to truly see – to know someone and for them to know you – to be intimate. Much different than the thirst of this world and the lies found within the ‘treasures’ it offers us. “Counterfeit affections” as I’ve come to know them; something that promises one thing but provides another, all the while masquerading as the real thing.

Coffee, tea, soda, and beer are all made with water but they’re not water.

Encouragement and intimacy are all found in the Word and in God, but they’re not the Word or God.

It’d be like desiring the gifts my in-laws provide me with on Christmas but not desiring my in-laws. That’d be shallow and sad and awful. The truth is, I enjoy spending time with them. In the same way, I should enjoy spending time with God. I should just want to be with Him. Not only coming to Him when I finally need to be rescued from myself. Because the truth is, I will always need to be rescued from myself.

This afternoon, I find myself grateful for the work Christ has done within my heart, my marriage, and my life. May it be a beacon of hope for others as we try to figure out this thing called life.

water

Honesty Hour

Think of all the effort you invested in trying to hide something. If you’re like me, you agonized over the details as you did everything you could to cover up your tracks – whether it was something mundane and silly to hide like breaking into the cabinet for some potato chips late at night or a scandalous rendezvous. I can think of returning from college in my early 20’s and sneaking downstairs for a snack and thinking my Mom wouldn’t notice that I’d greased up a cereal bowl with potato chips or taken a sleeve of Ritz crackers up to my bedroom. (I’ve struggled with my weight since college and I didn’t want some other bad habit to be discovered.) I can also remember the “white lies” we’ve all used to cover up our tracks when in our youth we did things we shouldn’t have.

So much emotional, physical, mental, perhaps even spiritual energy exerted to produce a fake self. To prove you’re who you say you are when perhaps your behavior demonstrated exhibits the fact that you may not even personally believe the lie you’re trying to sell others.

Think of all the separate selves you have. The one that goes out partying with your friends, the one that confides in your “person” (spouse, significant other, best-friend), the one that is sexual, the one that is conservative, the one that cares deeply about others, and the one that doesn’t give a f*** what others think. Really, think about it. Everyone has different selves; it’s how we’ve been trained by society to act. “Be on your best behavior,” we heard as kids and then we learned the correct behaviors for varying situations from varying people and adapted to our surroundings, doing whatever it took to feel most accepted – whatever left us the most valued and loved.

Friends, I’d like to tell you there is an alternative to this exhausting way of life. An alternative to constantly hiding, from yourself.

You see – I’ve always tried to sell the lie that I was the perfect Christian. It wasn’t anyone’s specific fault. My parents had made their own mistakes when they were younger and they didn’t want me to have the same problems, so they did everything they could to suppress the “bad” in life – and who could blame them? Wouldn’t any good and decent parent? I love them for all they did to love and protect me. However, as a result of this, I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted to be – I had only ever been what everyone had told me I was. A Christian, a teacher, a poet, and a friend. And I would say that I am these things, and am in the process of gaining clarity and being empowered by the Lord to accomplish even more. But I’m also other things…

“I’m a Christian, recovering from Sexual Addiction,” I say every Saturday morning in a Men’s Group that has saved my marriage (before it even began, praise the Lord). Introduced to pornography in my early teens during an ‘innocent’ game of Truth-Or-Dare – it maintained a hold on my life for more than a decade. It wasted countless hours I could’ve spent reading or writing or investing in relationships that mattered – instead, the addiction taught me to chase the high of arousal and stole my ability to say no to my own selfish desires. Suppressed for a while by meeting the woman that’s now my bride, one day I found myself back in that ‘well’ (oh the lies that Satan sells us) of depravity. Days away from engagement, I found myself backpedaling. My world was rocked. The lie of who I wanted people to believe I was could not stand anymore. It had fallen and the real Justin had to stand up…and be a man. I confessed my addiction to my girlfriend at the time, to her parents, and to a few close friends I asked for prayer. I met one-on-one with her Dad (I was literally shaking in my boots and terrified) and by the grace of God he decided to accept and forgive me, allowing me to become his son-in-law a few months later. My girlfriend agreed to become my fiancé. And I’ve been “sober” for close to a year.

There have been moments where I’ve found myself trying to hide things again…hide the fact that I went back down for potato chips again. Or that – yes – I went for the whiskey when I should have just brewed some decaf-coffee. Or I’ve wanted to continue spending frivolously on drive-thru lattes and tried to cover up my tracks. But the “older” and “wiser” I get, the more I realize hiding the truth only delays its arrival. Truth always shows up to the party and steals the show. And admitting our faults and becoming teachable is the only way we’ll ever grow.

Marriage is the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. Allie has been the face of Jesus in my life. She’s forgiven me and loved me for who I was, who I am, and who I’m becoming. I’ve learned that love isn’t the sexually charged experience that Hollywood portrays, but I’ve found the realness, the intimacy all the more beautiful. The world can have its counterfeit affections – I don’t need to chase them anymore. The Lord has set me free and for my wife alone, my heart bleeds.

Perhaps your struggle is with depression or something else – sex, drugs, money, alcohol, abusive relationships, one-way friendships, maybe you’re addicted to your job (you’ve forgotten what a day off is and you don’t know who you’d be without your current job title). I suppose this post is my extremely longwinded way of telling you to stop pretending you’re something you’re not – and be yourself.

K-State’s Scott Frantz came out as gay yesterday to the entire world. And while I don’t condone homosexuality or support gay marriage, I admire that he was real with the world about who he is. As I tweeted yesterday, “People should be loved for who they are, not who we want them to be.”

Do Not Neglect Your Gift

I mentioned in my prior post regarding the surprise it was that marriage was both complex and beautiful and unexpectedly divine, by God’s design, that I would be sharing what I’m learning from reading the Bible in upcoming posts. So here goes nothing – it’s been a while, so excuse me if I’m rusty or fail to reveal Scripture in the proper context.

Let’s jump right in. 1 Timothy 1:11-15 drops a gender-roles in the church bomb that leaves everyone that reads it uncomfortable. One author wrote that verse 12 singlehandedly puts an end to many conversations between men and women in the church, attempting to comprehend their roles and God’s design for a collective church body. The good news for you is that I know for a fact I’ve inadequately studied it to have formed a solid opinion but my INITIAL OBSERVATIONS are that it was culturally relevant at the time and/or potentially meant for the correction of one heretical woman, not women plural. Also, I know that in my own personal journey with the Lord, God has used women’s perspectives to help alter the course of my life. Allie’s gentleness being a prime example, while experiencing the blessing that the spiritual gifts of encouragement and prophecy that came from others also seems to fit. I believe there is something to be gained from both perspectives – were we not both created in God’s image, fearfully and wonderfully made?

Deciding that since it’s been a while since I’ve been consistently studying the Bible I didn’t want to weigh myself down with trying to incessantly study the crap out of the previous passage or others for now. So that’s my brief synopsis on Chapter 1.

The real passage of Scripture that rocked me this morning and inspired me to write before I head upstairs to shower and get ready to work (got up early and worked out this morning AND got time to read the Bible and write – who am I? Gotta do this more often!) was 1 Timothy 4:12-16.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

“Do not neglect your gift.” It felt as if God was speaking to my heart. How often have I felt the prompt to speak or to write or to encourage and due to lack of trust in God I’ve done nothing? How accustomed I’ve become to ignoring the voice of God that when he’s speaking words in my ear for another they fall in crack in the sidewalk rather than on the fertile soil of that man’s heart. How long has pride delayed growth?

The next verse speaks of giving ourselves wholly to our people, so that everyone may see our progress. This makes me think of the isolation state we place ourselves in when we know we’re not where we are supposed to be in life. So we hide and pretend that everything is okay and when friends call and come knocking, it’s easier to pretend we’re not home or we are too busy than to confront the current reality of our hearts. But if we were to simply stay in community and be willing to share even our burdens and flaws – putting it all into the light – how much more powerful would God’s grace become in our lives?

So this Wednesday, friends, I encourage you – Do Not Neglect Your Gift.

Give God, your spouse, and the Church all that you have, so that they may see your progress and so that you all may be saved.

gift

Late Night Thoughts: Advance

I heard it said once that writers “have to write.” It’s a burden within their souls. As if something tugs and pulls and exhausts until something gives way and one is jolted into action. I feel like that tonight.

Allie went to bed a couple hours ago and I finished watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine – what a fun, goofy, comical show about detectives. Andy Sandberg found his golden role. I’m a major fan as it’s quickly climbed into the ranks of some of my favorites like The Office and Parks & Rec.

When Allie went to bed, she said, “Don’t stay up until 2am this time and then hate yourself because you spend the day off in bed until 10am and then half the day is over.” And while she’s right – I will hate myself tomorrow for being awake this late. Here I am. Awake and writing, and relishing in the moments to myself with Harvey asleep and unable to interrupt my train of thought with his demands for attention.

Why is it so difficult to kill off the old flesh and give way to the new, disciplined one? Why can I not always be the perfect husband, able and willing to go to bed early for the sake of being upstairs with her rather than down here by myself? Why must we toil at work in vein somedays? Why must we constantly pray for direction while continuing to feel directionless?

More importantly, why did no one ever tell me that marriage would be the most complexly beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced? While simultaneously requiring the most heart. I always thought myself to be a hearty, swoon-worthy gentleman but there are days where I can’t believe Allie loves me. I’m hot and sweaty from work, exhausted from pulling a 10 or 12 hour shift, my charm and humor spent on customers during the day, and all that’s left of my candor is the leftover scraps of my personality.

And there she is, stoked to see me, ready to cook dinner.

I didn’t know it’d be the simple things. Like her cooking dinner or the fact that when we both cry and break down after a day of holding in our emotions, all the burdens suddenly give way to fresh love and remembrance that we’re only human and are by golly going to need the grace of God and Jesus along the way. While the promise of a “sexy” life after marriage flaunted its way through my youth and had me obsessed with the idea of one day being in union with a woman – it’s the friendship that’s brought the most benefits.

Her ability to laugh at my jokes and to make the jokester laugh even when he’s seemingly all out of jokes. The way she’s not afraid to dig herself into the trenches with me, only to help pull me out. Flirtatiously reminding me that negative self-talk is no way to talk to myself at all – because I’m handsome and strong and capable. One thing is certain – I’m smart, because I married her.

And so tonight, I had to write. I had to write to share that sometimes I can’t sleep and I feel weird for having to stay up and watch a show or two in order to sleep. I had to write because I was compelled to do so. And I had to write because it somehow felt necessary to share with those of you that may be newly married or about to be married and I just want to say that sometimes it’s not going to be all rose-fields and fun and games. Sometimes, it’s going to take a lot of work and sometimes you’ll be so worn out that while you know you’re in love and you have 1,000% confidence in the other person, somehow you’ll still feel numb. Chalk it up to fatigue, but it is what it is – you’re just not feeling it today. And that’s okay. Because love is a choice and the value of your relationship will shine through when it matters most.

The trust is built when you make that same choice again and again, without hesitation. “I’m choosing you over me.” Words help, but actions solidify.

So never give up. Never, ever give up. There’s no retreating here. You must advance.

I’ve found myself in the Word again lately and reading Ruth, as well as 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy so prepare for some future posts as to what I’m learning. Perhaps I’ll take a slight break from the marriage material for a spell. But really – guys and girls – marriage is awesome. I recommend it. Put the bachelor life to rest as soon as God calls you.

The Fear Of Starting

I’m 27 and so far in life I’ve rarely gotten past just starting. What do I mean?  That I’ve started a book but haven’t made it past Chapter 2 and have sort of given up on the idea. I mean that I’ve initiated a weight loss challenge within my family, gone at it hard for a few days and then sidelined myself with the excuse of “busy” and “tired” and “discouraged.” And now my wife and I are considering starting up a business of our own and I can already feel the fear and anxiety creeping in.

At what point do we tell fear it has no place here? No place in my heart or mind or ideas or my home. That it doesn’t belong. It’s not allowed to take over my creativity and passion or subdue my talents with the lure of addictions that are simply a coping mechanism for its presence or ensnare me in apathy, a pretending that one doesn’t care when really they “don’t care” because they care too much (about what others will think). How does one tell fear that you will now harness it and use it as fuel? If I fear financial destruction, then I will write up a plan. If I fear heart conditions, then I will exercise regularly and eat less brownies (although the ones we whipped up this week were DELICIOUS). If I fear vulnerability, then I will find others that are being vulnerable and we will encourage one another in our authenticity.

Faith over fear, so to speak. If God created us and made us in His image, then are we not designed to be creators ourselves? If I’ve always been socially adaptable and energized by crowds of like-minded individuals and unafraid of those who challenge me with differing ideas, then what do I have to fear? What can someone’s objection or challenge do but strengthen my resolve or help me find a better solution?

Why do we settle? Will I be able to forgive myself if I decline us the opportunity to do something together and different and exciting simply because we had little faith? What can I do to increase my faith but to pray and try and discuss? All of which, if even they lead to failure, will only lead to more discipline and success in other areas.

Too often we allow ourselves to believe that if we cannot run a mile now, then we never will and we might as well not try. I’ve tried that mentality and it’s gotten me nowhere.

It’s time to shake things up, rattle some cages, and do the hard work of continuing the projects I’ve started. I may not finish, but why give up before you’ve even started? And why not test yourself to see if you can run even further than you thought? Why not increase the weight and see if you’ve actually got what it takes to lift it?

We just might surprise ourselves.

(Share your stories of overcoming the fear of failure and how you’ve bettering yourselves, as writers, entrepreneurs, wives/husbands and so on. How do you continue to fuel the fire for growth and throw off the old self of self-doubt, apathy, and killing ideas before they’ve even had a chance to take shape?)

fear

Tidal Waves

Life tends to come in waves. I imagine a seashore where the tide has just come in and you feel overwhelmed by all of the love and blessings and then all of the sudden the tide goes back out deeper into sea, and the sand in your heart dries out just as quickly as it was soaked with wetness.

That picture has been painted in my head the last night or two and I wanted to take a minute to write it out because I think there’s someone somewhere reading this that can relate – and understands what I’m referring to.

It’s easy to be joyful and filled with a sense of contentment when the tide comes in. Friends visit from out-of-town, a financial blessing is poured out your way, your life-partner and you are on fire with passion for one another – and then just as quickly as life was getting good, it gets hard again. Unexpected bills make their way into your home through the mail, you realize you and your friends may once again be growing apart, and your life-partner and yourself are both wrestling through your own internal emotional and mental wars, unable to be as lovingly supported as you were when the tide was coming in.

I can’t help but think that I’ve begun to miss something in my ‘old age’ and lack of community. That joy that simply refuses to die. The one that once killed found a way to come back to life just three days later.

Something intriguing about the resurrection of Jesus is that He didn’t come back right away. He didn’t die on the cross and then come back the very next day with a proclamation of “Told you, suckers!” He lets His community mourn, He allows them to feel pain – to realize the realness of life and the lack thereof in some situations. I wonder why He did that? Was it to show us that sometimes you just have to suffer? That even after a few days of loneliness and confusion there’s bound to be a clearing of the clouds moment where the sun starts to shine through again?

Every day I learn more and more about my desperate need for a Savior. Without a “Jesus” to hold onto and place my hope and faith in, then I have nothing. Life will always be hard. My weaknesses will always remain weaknesses and my friendships will always fade into the busyness of business-as-usual. But with Jesus, with a believe that someone died on the cross for my sins and has given me that same ability to overcome death and to overcome darkness – with that indescribable power at my praying knee’s discretion – my weaknesses can become strengths, my relationships can be restored, and business can take a chill pill because in the end, the heart is what matters.

My wife said something profound this week as we were laying in bed and sharing our hearts. (I love snuggle time. There’s no safer place than in bed next to each other just pouring out our hearts and crying and laughing and encouraging and praying together. It’s the safest, happiest fortress in all the land, and I love it and I love her.) So I’m laying there talking about how I really want to make a difference in the world but I often don’t believe I’ll ever make a lasting impact – I’ll never actually become a writer or teacher and I’ll never actually leave all this extra weight behind in the dust, and I’ll never end up working Monday-Friday, etc. etc. (I have a tendency to try and take on and conquer the entire world in a day – and as you can imagine that’s impossible.) And here’s what my beautiful wife says to me – “Justin…you don’t have to make a difference in the world, you just have to make a difference in your world.”

Those of you that consider yourselves to be part of “my world” – would you say that I am making a difference? If not, how can I be better utilized as a prayer warrior and brother in Christ fighting beside you?

Friends that are fighting through their post-grad years and mid-to-late twenties – how have you purposefully invested in community while not diminishing time alone with your spouse and the pursuit of your dreams?

I know there’s not one “answer” but I’m ready to listen to a few suggestions.

Walking with you, friends. Let’s remember that progress is progress and if we have not Hope then we have nothing at all. Don’t let anyone steal that from you today.

tidal wave

Idle Time And The Power Of Others

Idle time is a weakness of mine. Recognizing and taking responsibility for my weaknesses is something that I’ve been pushing to the forefront of my mind – because if I do nothing about them, then I am doing little to better myself. You can attempt to run away from your problems but they’re your problems and they’ll just follow you wherever you go.

As I contemplated going out and spending unnecessary money on breakfast this morning, I realized I really ought to take the extra time I had to make myself some breakfast and utilize the resources God and my wife have already blessed me with. So I chopped up some berries, sprinkled a little sugar on some Corn Flakes, and turned something boring into something delicious.

Recognizing that despite it being my day coveted day off (I hate going in when I’m not scheduled, because…rest), I realized that I’ve done poorly this week and it’d be silly to not go in for an hour or two to handle a customer that would like an appraisal and to shop for a potential replacement. And instead of laying in bed until the last possible minute, I’m a few cups of coffee deep, have taken Harvey (our new beagle puppy) on a walk, and am writing – even though I’m certain this is nowhere near my best work – before going in to take care of my customer.

The truth is that I’ve been scared away from writing for a season. Some aspects of my heart are unready to be seen and others are still not sure of themselves. The interesting thing about insecurity is that it permeates every aspect of everything. As a 27-year old I’m beginning to realize the tremendous importance of knowing who you are and learning to love that person (something I have a lot of difficulty with). If God can forgive me for where I’ve been and bless where I am going, then what gives me the right to think I cannot forgive myself, or that I should not work toward that blessing further down the road?

Insecurity has a way of sneaking its way into the marriage bed as well. I don’t mean this in a weird way, but if we let it, Allie and I can allow insecurity to create its own invisible wall of separation between us even as we lay snuggled up side-by-side.

Interesting enough, while I’ve spent years obsessing over the exterior aspects of myself (while significantly heavier than I was as a teenager, age and a beard has done me some favors in that department – or so I’ve been told) – I never really invested in truly staring my heart down and figuring it out. Marriage sort of forces you to do that, because you’re confronted with the reality of your heart every single day. I can see the concern in my wife’s eyes when anxiety grips my hearts and turns my lively blue eyes to dead, grey ones. I can see the impact that simple words spoken in a harsh tone can have. I also witness the incredible power a little joy, joking, and yes – dancing, can have on her heart. Quickly lifting her out of the daily funk and transporting her back to the lively, real, incredible romance that we share. Our friendship is what makes the dream work. Allie is my very best friend.

“The Power Of The Other” by Dr. Henry Cloud is a book devoted to just that concept – the idea that others have an incredible impact on you whether you want to admit it or not. “The undeniable reality is that how well you do in life and in business depends not only on what you do and how you do it, your skills and competencies, but also on who is doing it with you or to you.” I’m just under 20 pages into the book and I’m already hooked and I can already think back to how true this is. To back in college when I’d stay up ungodly late to finish a project and the only reason I could keep going is because Jake was there with me, cheering me on and saying that we could do it. To the early morning prayer gatherings with friends in my church that I didn’t really want to get out of bed for, but when they came knocking on my door and I saw that they were up, then I would go (most of the time – sometimes I’d just pretend I wasn’t there…). The point being when you have others in your corner going after a common goal and pushing you past your standard limits and beliefs in yourself, then you’re far more likely to succeed and to surpass what you believe to be your ‘best’.

I look forward to reading the rest of the book and to finding ways to surround myself with people pursuing to be their best selves in life and to spending less time with toxic people that drain energy and tear down confidence by being consumed entirely in themselves.

Kadena supports the Okinawa Marathon