10 Days.

And on the 10th day, Justin realized how selfish he was. Actually, it happened much, much quicker than that. For both of us really. You see – when you take two intelligent, dominant personalities together, you don’t always get butterflies in your stomach and warm, fuzzy feelings. Although we still do, frequently.

The leader of my accountability group at Freedom KC said, “You need to get some callouses on your knees.” Of course, what he meant, is that it was time to pray. And it has been. Time to pray more than I ever have before.

I’ve learned that it’s so easy to get angry, simply because certain things aren’t being done the way that I’m used to them being done. Or because something is inconvenient. For example, I’ve been trying to find some time to myself basically since we got back from the honeymoon. I absolutely love her with my whole heart and I thoroughly enjoy the time we get to spend together, but it’s 1,000% necessary for me to break away and do my own thing from time-to-time and 9 days in (yesterday), that was being threatened as I planned on doing it today. My brother’s car was experiencing issues and I was going to have to be his chauffeur for the first couple hours of the day and then Allie asked if I’d go grocery shopping if she gave me a list. (The easier of the two tasks, obviously.) But I let it noticeably change my mood. I needed to write and do classwork and wanted to read. All beneficial, good, healthy tasks that I’d been unable to invest in much at all. But of course, having food for dinner is as well. Life is a balance and I’m not very good at it yet.

So here I am in Starbucks, selfishly writing. And I’ve found myself faced with this reality of “is it selfish or is it necessary?” I’ve heard it said before that you can’t take care of another person if you can’t take care of yourself and last night as I collapsed on the living room floor after running errands all day long I felt myself reach the end of my reserve tanks. I was spent. Nothing left, I climbed into bed and Allie followed suit. What followed was a loving and warm conversation as we requested forgiveness and were forgiven, spoke kind words over each other, expressed our feelings, and then prayed together. Shortly thereafter, we were both out cold. So I’m here, neglecting husbandly duties for the sake of myself, but for whatever reason I’m confident I’ll be a better husband this evening if I take this time for myself this afternoon.

What my leader said is correct. Allie and I have both never prayed more in our lives. When conflict arises, we call a metaphorical timeout and spend some time praying. It helps us remember that Jesus is Lord of us and we are not. Helps us remove our selfish desires from the equation and objectively decide together what is best for US, as a UNIT.

United, we’ll stand. Divided, we’ll fall. 10 times out of 10.

I believe I used this illustration in my “I Decided” blog the day before the wedding. But it stands true and I’ll bring it up again. Allie and I both have baggage. I’d equate it to carrying our suitcases through the airport. Fulfilling my sorority girl coffee-order stereotype, I’d packed one bag more than her and she’d helped me carry my luggage when my hands were full with other stuff. In the same way, there have been moments where both of us have felt burdened by all of the baggage that we carry in our own hearts and lives. Mostly insecurities. Things about how we look, whether or not we’re measuring up, if we’ll make a good husband or a good wife, or how we’ll manage to keep alive the things that make our hearts passionate, fiery and powerful as individuals, yet build and maintain the essential uniformity that binds us together in union.

We’re both learning that we can’t let the other sink themselves to the bottom of the ocean with the weight of their own expectations.

Which brings me to something else I’m learning. It’s the concept of projection. So let’s say that I’m feeling some relational tension. Allie and I are both sort of ready to spar with one another. You can sort of sense that snarky right-jab coming your way and you get on the defensive, ready to fight back for your dignity, for SPARTA! You get the idea. We know it’s silly. You know it’s silly. In the end, the disagreement was never worth all the hoopla anyways. But there we are, tension building. And I’m really feeling it, right? Because I’m a feeler. And I’m emotional intelligent. And I’m CERTAIN that she’s mad at me because I’m not living up to her perfect, unrealistic expectations for me. But notice there’s one thing missing from the equation…Allie’s actual expectations. What’s happened is my mind has taken my own unrealistic, burdening expectations for myself, and then placed them unfairly onto her. I’ve put words into her mouth that weren’t even there.

We’ve both witnessed this unhealthy phenomena take place. During a conversation in her Dad’s truck on the way to pick up a FREE QUEEN SIZED BED (THANK YOU, JESUS!) we started a healthy discussion about our own unrealistic expectations. And how if we continued to hold onto those unhealthy burdens then we’d continually feel as if we couldn’t breathe, as if we were sinking to the bottom of an ocean. Defensive and unaccepting of the other’s help, they wouldn’t be able to lift us to the surface and we’d allow our relationship to fade into the apathetic oblivion of the ocean floor. Thankfully, we’re choosing every day to not go that route. We always make it back to the surface and swim toward the Heavens.

Whatever it takes. Forever and always. Allie and myself will fight for, serve, protect, and preserve our relationship. “Better together, always forever, ’til death do us part.” I said it then, I’ll say it now, and I’ll live it out for the next 60+ years.

Speaking with her father at the Rehearsal Dinner the evening before the wedding I mentioned how nervous I’d been about my vows and how I’d rewritten them probably three different times. In his matter-of-fact manner he said, “Well just remember it’s not your words that’ll matter – in the the end, it’s your actions that will count.” That being said, I’ve taken the time to write the words and now it’s time to go live it out. I’ve got some stamps to buy, Valentine’s gifts to find, cleaning to contribute to, and work to return to wholeheartedly tomorrow. Pray I do it all well.

Marriage has been and will continue to be the most beautifully hard thing I’ve ever taken part in, but I’m so thankful for the opportunity God has given us within it. An incubator for personal growth and development as a unit, marriage will be a place where we individually have to take ourselves to the cross to die to ourselves daily and to live for the benefit of the other person. But it’s there that we’ll find our fulfillment and joy. It’s there on the living room floor, totally spent and empty of self, that Jesus swoops into the room and speaks through my wife’s gentle words into my heart. It’s those resilient tears. That gentle touch. That powerful laugh and smile. It’s giving in to loving without reserve. No reserves. No retreats. No regrets. We’re all in for each other, and it’s the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced.

Humbled And Grateful,

Justin Meyer

mountains

#TheWedding

Let’s start from the beginning. My best-friend and I have been married for a little over a week now. Today is our 10th day of a covenant relationship that has blessed us and our communities deeply already.

To those of you that came as far as Western Kansas, Nebraska, backwoods Arkansas, and even Florida to spend a few hours on Saturday with us, we want to Thank You. Having all of you there as witnesses to our commitment to one another really blessed the hearts of both of us. It was your presence, personality, and depth with which you invested in your interactions with us that had my bride and I reflecting on how the wedding had “been a dream.” That my bride’s “dream-wedding” occurred and managed to stay mostly within budget leaves me forever thankful to her gracious parents generous investments, my parents support, and everyone that came. (But enough thank you note material, those will be written in due time.)

Allow me to reflect on the day and summon some of those deeper emotions real quick. If that’s not your thing, then feel free to pass on this blog and the next few to come. It’ll be mostly reflection, emotional processing, and a sort of self-awareness tool for me. But if you dig transparency, authenticity, and like to learn from other’s lives, then keep an eye on me over the next few months. I forecast some serious growth.

It’s 5:30PM and my nerves have hit an all-time high. I run to the restroom to take a nervous poop (hey – you’ve been there too) and then make my way downstairs toward the front. As I do, of course I run into people I know. “Ya nervous? How ya feeling?” I barely acknowledge them as I’m 100% inside my own mind at this point and I break free from the crowd and hide myself in a closet next to the stage that controls all the lights. Bryce’s wife had brought McDonald’s Frappe’s for us and I sipped on the sugary, frozen coffee to ensure I had enough blood-sugar to not faint on stage. About as soon as I calmed myself and steeled my nerves, the pastor walks in and prays over me. Then Joseph (my best man) and I take the stage with the pastor. I stand toward the front and look forward. All is silent. The music starts playing and the bridal party starts proceeding forward.

6:05PM – My bride makes her way down the grand staircase. The audience rises. My heart jumps into my throat like an Olympic high-jumper. My heart starts beating fast with adrenaline as everything finally feels real. (Leading up to this moment, I kept speaking of how surreal everything felt. As if it were too good to be true. But now. Now, it was true. It was real. It was happening. There she was. And she was beautiful!)

6:07PM – My bride is toward the front and I meet her father down at the bottom, along with our marrying pastor. The pastor starts saying some things but I’m barely paying attention. I’ve locked eyes with Allie as if we’re seeing each other for the first time. A few tears that refuse to be contained make their way into my eyes and threaten to stream down my cheeks but then I’m back in the spotlight as Robert (Bob) Robitaille, her father, places Allie’s hand into mine and I escort her up on stage with me and the pastor.

I’ll be honest – from that point forward, I barely paid attention to Pastor Tom. Great guy. Great message. It was actually one that in hindsight we will have to get the notes to, as he was talking about getting to build a home together and how much hope, faith, and love we could fill it with if we so choose. He spoke of our ministry being one of reconciliation, which is something I feel God has placed on my heart and burdened it with and something that feels as if it just isn’t going to go anywhere so I might as well make a move with it.

What I do instinctively remember is reading my vows to Allie. I printed them off because I’d tried the whole impromptu words during emotional times thing before (with the proposal) and I’d been nearly mute – speechless in the moment. In fact, as my brother Tyler recalls, the words didn’t actually come until I started praying and dancing with her outside after she said, “Yes!” It hadn’t taken my words to win her over, just the simple action of getting on one knee. That’s all she needed to know my heart was ready. Whoops – I got sidetracked! The proposal was awesome. (Go back and read #TheProposal if you haven’t already.) I promised to always love her and to kiss her good morning and good night. I spoke of hope and of never joking, teasing, or threatening divorce. I threw in a joke about how I’d watch all the Christmas movies she wanted and then I told her that we’d tear down the walls in our hearts that keep us from true intimacy. Most importantly, I promised to always take our burdens to the cross. And friends, I have never prayed more in my life than I have in the first 10 days of our marriage. I need Him. She needs Him. We need Him.

Allie teased that it was hard to follow-up a writer and then proceeded to do so in heart-melting fashion. She roasted me a bit about my sorority girl coffee-order (but we all knew that was coming) and then spoke of how she’d always love me, build me up, and care for me. She has, and she will. I don’t doubt that for a minute.

The pastor wrapped things up and let us kiss each other. A shiny new ring on both of our ring-fingers. Hearts full. Eyes filled with joyful tears. We half-walked, half-sprinted, half-danced (I typically leave the math to her as you can tell) down the aisle and back up the stairs.

The rest of the evening proved to be just as powerful. As friend after friend and family member after family member spoke kindly of both of us as individuals and the hope and power they felt resonated in our marriage. Two conversations I remember in particular was one where a slightly older married couple that I’ve always looked up to mentioned they were super proud of us for including not allowing divorce to be an option in our wedding vows and that we promised not to joke about it. They thought that was a major problem in a lot of relationships. It was empowering to hear those words of affirmation and reassured us that it was a good and necessary move in guarding our words. And the last was a friend and former coworker from my teenage years spoke of how she had been in tears when she told her husband about the hope and Christ-like story of grace and redemption that can be found in our relationship. Which was heartwarming, as it confirmed the prophetic nature of my heart’s desire for us to be a message of reconciliation to others.

The day was so good. And this has already gotten long. So I’ll cut this short and title it, “#TheWedding” or something. There’ll be a post titled “10 Days” to follow, where I chronicle all I’ve learned in just 10 days.

#ManAndWifeMeyersForLife

Sincerely,

The Groom

wedding-day

I Decided

I decided it would be a disservice to my own heart if I didn’t go ahead and write the day before I got married. It’s how I’m wired. It’s how I share with the world. And I firmly believe every story is meant to be told. There’s always something to learn from someone else’s. So here’s mine.

I decided. Life is made up of a series of decisions. Some lead to pain and death and others lead to joy and life. Some seem mundane and others seem exciting. But we’re always making decisions, second-by-second, day-by-day, decision-after-decision. We do not have be the sum of our past mistakes, but who we are today is the sum total of our decisions up to that point in time. I’m in debt because I chose to spend money before I’d acquired or saved it. I’m overweight because I don’t pay enough attention to the caloric intake of my diet or exercise enough. And on the positive spectrum, I’ve got amazing friends because I’ve always invested heavily in those relationships. And I’m about to marry Allie tomorrow because I decided that she was worth the cost of my singleness.

And so I decided to ask her to marry me on October 21st, 2016. After tomorrow, it’ll probably be rated as the second most nerve-wrecking moment of my life. Standing on a stage in front of 200 people and trying to read my vows without crying or cracking a cheesy joke to lighten my inner anxiety while sweating in a tux will quickly take first place. But that moment on October 21st, a little over three months ago, was terrifying. But I’d decided it was worth risking rejection. I’d decided that while singleness and “freedom” had been fun and I’d enjoyed a lot of juvenile liberties, that I was ready to move forward.

Tomorrow, I’ll decide to confirm that reality in my heart. I’ll show up ready to commit the rest of my life to a woman I’ve only known 1 year, 3 months, and so many days. She’s worth it, because Jesus loves me that way – without reserve, without doubt, without ever holding back or retreating. I’ll say, “I do” because I know she’ll do the same. Because I’ve seen her lean into God and into community in my ugliest moments in order to overcome and to forgive. And because she’s awakened my heart to the man I’m meant to be. Because she looks me in the eye in such a way that the part of my heart that constantly seeks others approval is slowing dying, because it can just rest right there, in her gaze. Because I can wholly be myself with her. Quirky jokes, ridiculous humor, high energy, abundant joy, turbulent depression, anxiety, fear, a bleeding heart sometimes, a foggy grey others. She accepts and loves all of me. Not only will she let me walk alongside her with all of my baggage but she helps lighten the load. She picks up one of the bags and says, “Let me have this one. You can’t carry that load by yourself.”

Tomorrow, I’ll decide that no matter what happens from that day forward, I’ll always pursue her heart and always love her. I’ll never give up. In the words of an evangelist from time past, “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.”

I’m all in. I’ve decided.

With Love & Gratefulness,

Justin Meyer

joy

#TheProposal

I did it! The girls on the playground that chased me in grade-school for kisses can hit the train-tracks because this man is getting hitched! I proposed and she said, “Yes!”

Even my writing ability and words cannot do justice the gravity and realness of the love that Allie and I share. It’s tremendous and a propelling force for me that’s pressed me through some difficult self-discovery, growing-up, and helped me increasingly become the right man for her. Her confidence and perseverance in her decision to love me has solidified my affection for her.

After lots of thought (about a years worth to be exact), several emotional prayers, and mega-anxious conversations with her parents – it was time to propose.

Let’s back up to the first time I was going to ask her parents, though. Because that’s a fun and short tale. I hop in my car and tell my parents I’m going to a friend’s house. And before you know it I find myself driving down her parent’s house street, my heart beating through my chest and sweat forming on my brow (which isn’t totally unusual for me – but let’s just say I was suddenly scared to death). I drove quickly by and and collected my thoughts in a nearby parking lot. “Do I want to do this? Am I sure? Do I really love her?” The answers came back with a resounding, “Yes!” But talking to her father and mother wasn’t an easy task. I knew the gravity of the matter. I knew the purity of the heart I was asking for. I knew she was special and beautiful and abundantly perfect beyond my wildest dreams for myself.

Gathering the courage, I drove back up the drive to their house, parked my car, and got out. Nervously I knocked on the front door. No answer! Overwhelmed with mixed emotions and anxious beyond my wildest emotions, I phoned my best-friend since grade-school Joey and told him what I was doing. He managed to calm me down and it was good.

I would eventually go golfing with her Dad and then spend the whole time trying to figure out a way to broach the subject. I found it weird that I was getting along with him and actually having fun and I just didn’t have the balls to ask until we were in the truck on the way back – “So – what do you and Jan think about me, Bob?” “We think you’re pretty good for Allie. All that matters is my daughter’s happiness – take good care of her and we have no problem with you.” “Oh cool – cuz I wanna marry her.” *Awkward silence that probably wasn’t nearly as awkward and long as it felt to me….* “Okay, Justin. Well if that’s what you want – I don’t think Jan or I have an issue with it.” #Boom #PermissionGranted

A whole lot of perseverant love, prayer, and a war against darkness later – and it brings us up to speed with our story of “The Proposal.”

I frequently tell Allie that one of my favorite things in life is when I can make her eyes light up like a Christmas tree. Christmas is her absolute favorite holiday. But it’s not just a holiday for her – it’s a way of life. She likes to celebrate the spirit of Christmas basically all year long. She’s naturally a giver and warmhearted and cheery and finds the love-conquers-all holiday of Christmas to be a source of light in a dark and dreary world and as I’ve dated her, I’ve fallen more and more in love with the holiday too.

So in order to see her eyes light up, we’d need just a little Christmas Miracle.

(Disclaimer: I had abundant resources at my disposal. Her Dad is basically Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation. Her roommate is an art-designer. And her Mom and my brother provided back-up support.)

Coordinating throughout the week – I arranged for my personal “secret elves” to show up at Allie’s duplex right after we left for dinner.

We had reservations at Anton’s KC – a taproom and steakhouse that is absolutely amazing. She loved it. For one night I made her throw out her Dave Ramsey financially-smart mindset (she’s amazing at it and I just have to get better #SuchIsLife – Financial Peace University taught us that there’s always a planner and a free-spit in the relationship…guess which one I am? ;P). But tonight was about romance and courage and beauty and celebrating. Tonight was her night. But tonight, the romantic in me could shine.

So we ordered KC Strip grass-fed steaks and a bottle of delicious red-wine and I spent more on dinner than I have in my whole life. But let me tell you – it was worth it. Because she’s worth it. And the evening was off to a magical start.

img_2828

From there, I told her it was time for Chapter 2.

We started walking in the cool Fall air toward a jazz-club that has been a favorite of ours. The Green Lady Lounge is a must-go for those couples out there that haven’t been. (It’s classier than the name puts off. In other words – we’re not going to a strip-club. It’s a legit music-hall/bar, and great date-night location.)

Sitting down we enjoyed the music and I excused myself to the restroom a time or two too often because I wanted to keep tabs on the progress being made back at her house. The secret elves let me know that things were basically done and ready to go. So sticking to the schedule I announced it was time to leave. I was “feeling tired” and it was time to call it a night.

Allie was a bit sad, thinking the romantic and super fun evening was already coming to an end. I could sense her sadness but didn’t want to draw attention to it because I knew the evening would end up getting better. Being the fiercely in love and kindred spirit she is, she quickly turned up the stereo and made me sing along to some songs on the way back. It’s one of her favorite activities because I never know the words and it cracks her up. (It’s been an amusement of my friends for decades as well. Oh well!)

green-lady-lounge

As we got closer and closer to the house, I kept singing and trying to act natural. Maybe even playing into it a bit too much to keep my cover going. We pulled around the corner and you couldn’t see any lights (I’d told them to keep it off until we parked the car). So I took a deep breath and hoped for the best. Parking the car, I gave her a good, long “Hey – we’ve been dating for a year!” kiss to give the elves inside time to “flip the switch” and when we opened our eyes, a single strand of lights was beckoning against the dark night.

img_2829

“What is this? Why are there lights? Justin, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know. Let’s go check it out.”

She’s stumbling through he grass in her high-heels. Her heart telling her something is up and her brain telling her this is insane, awesome, and perplexing all at once. I’m fumbling in my pocket from the ring. Which pocket should it be in? When should I get down on one knee? What will I say?

We get around the corner and she sees this…

img_2830

“Justin, what’s going on? Why are there all these lights?”

“Come on, babe. Let’s check it out and see what it’s all here for.”

I try to guide her to stand in the heart of lights by the tree, but have to improvise when she freezes and has to pause to take it all in. In a sort of out-of-body experience I realize I’m down on one knee, TOTALLY SPEECHLESS. Justin….speechless. When does that happen? I always have an opinion to share – something to say – I always have words. I look up at her and panic for the right words. But they don’t come. I’m too nervous and she’s too beautiful.

“Allie….I know I’m supposed to have an eloquent speech prepared but I haven’t slept in about a week trying to pull all of this together. But what do you say – will you marry me?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes! Of course! How did this happen? This is the cutest thing ever! How did you even? What? What happened? How did you do this?”

img_2834

Her reaction was the cutest thing ever it’s bringing me to joyful tears as I retell the tale of our beautiful, resilient love. Amazing that such a fairy-tale can be so real.

We stood there for a moment and she gave me the biggest hug I’ve ever received and then we prayed together over the next chapter of our lives.

“Allie, that’s not it. Our family and friends should be arriving momentarily to celebrate with us.” We then spent the evening chatting with our close friends and family. Our parents ended up loving each other (they hadn’t met yet). I tried to recover from sweating nervously and the jitters like mad from heightened emotions, sleep deprivation, and the works and didn’t actually calm down until everyone had left (so I apologize for my weirdness to all of our guests).

But overall, it was one of the most magical evenings in both of our lives.

We had exchanged some gifts. I’d given her a canvas-print collage of photos that she can hang in our future home of some of my favorite memories of us. And she’d given me a jar of “365 Reasons To Smile” (speaking my love-language of words) and a wicked-awesome wooden-paneled watch with leather strap that has the inscription, “365 days down, forever to go! Love, Allie.”

Prophetic to a T, gorgeous. Because you’ll always have me.

#BetterTogether #iPutARingOnIt #MeyerWeddingComingIn2017

engagement-photo

Answered Prayer

“Be the friend you are to me to yourself,” said a long-lost friend from college as we wrapped up our conversation about how God had dramatically changed her life overseas and mentioned that I may have been one of the seeds that brought her to faith.

God’s been doing something weird lately – he’s been answering my prayers. It’s kind of scaring me actually. Like I mentioned in my blog a couple weeks ago, the supernatural confuses and scares us away. But I’m leaning in.

I had been praying for words of encouragement as my tank was running empty and I thought I hadn’t made much of an impact with my life that’s likely already a third of the way over. And then my coworker said something was different; that I had this inner joy about me and my eyes had that fierceness back. I said it was Jesus and that I was in love.

Over the last month or two, I’ve had at least a handful of colleagues or friends ask me why I’m not a pastor. Something along the lines of “it’s not my time yet” was my answer. (Also this guy’s got loans to pay off. But maybe I should be praying about those too?) I said, “But I want to be a New York Times Bestselling author someday,” and they said, “You will be.”

Chills. Absolute chills. I had been feeling abandoned by my inner-circle for a while. (I wasn’t. They’re all super busy chasing their own dreams and making things happen in their marriages and I’m super grateful and proud of them.) But I received texts/letters back and set dates to grab beers. And I’m just like, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you. Thank you, sweet Jesus.”

Allie and I have this journal where we’ve started writing letters back and forth to each other in. And I lost it. It was terrible. Anyways, I’ve been looking for about a week for it around the house, in my car, stopping by my hangout spots like Starbucks and Johnny’s and leaving my number with them in case I left it there on accident. Nothing. It was nowhere. Then I prayed. “Lord, would you help me find that journal? I really don’t want to have to rewrite all of those letters…” was my honest, goofy prayer. I got home, parked my car, looked down to my right and there it was. Tucked right in between my drivers-seat and the middle console of my Camry. It hadn’t been light enough for me to notice it when I looked frantically the night before. But I prayed and he opened my eyes.

I opened it up and read the most recent letter (it had been her turn to write me and I hadn’t even had a chance to read it yet). A smile came over my face and my heart skipped a beat or two. That woman loves me.

God answers prayers. So start praying. I have and it’s awesome. He may leave a few unanswered and you may wrestle with bitterness, but be honest with Him then. “God, I’m immensely frustrated that such-and-such isn’t happening yet, but would you please calm my heart and ease the stormy seas of my thoughts so I can sleep tonight?”

As my friend discovered in France. When you engage with God and allow the Holy Spirit to enter your life, you become that much more aware of the spiritual. Darkness and Light can seem like overwhelming forces. But as my pastor said this last Sunday. “Just remember the devil today is much different than the devil before Christ. Now he’s the A.D. devil. The Already. Defeated. devil. He’s only got as much power as you let him.” Light casts him out. And perfect Love (Jesus) casts out all fear.

Back to the quote that opened up the blog. What my friend was saying is, “You’re enough.” The exact message that Jesus and Allie have been speaking into my heart. But I prayed and asked for outside sources, a gentle answer, a kind word, a story of fruit, a glimpse of light. So God sent coworkers, old friends, dreams, and then he helped me find a journal I thought had been lost forever.

If the God of the Universe has enough time to listen to my achy, anxious, sometimes needy heart – then surely He’s got enough time for yours.

answered prayers

Roses Are Red (And Gifts & Things)

So I was driving mindlessly down the street toward the car-wash. Marvin The Martian, my handsome 2013 Toyota Camry, wasn’t looking so handsome. It was time for a shower. As I hit the gas in my powerful new car down Santa Fe, I remembered that she was in Price Chopper. A mixture of whimsy and a longing to surprise hit my chest as if Cupid, himself, had just set free an arrow that penetrated my tired, asleep heart.

Recounting all the sweet-nothings, countless gestures of kindness, cooked meals, free drinks, and hugs that still the choppy waters of my life – if only for just a moment – I realized aside from writing letters,  I’d yet to DO anything for her.

Excitement crept into my heart as I found Trudy, her 2015 Corolla. She was still there, picking up groceries for dinner that night. Awesome.

Goofily, I jogged into Price Chopper, power-walking like my Mom might down the front aisles. I kept a steady pace and kept my head down, hoping she wouldn’t spot me and the surprise would be ruined.

Arriving at the floral section of the store, I found the last dozen flowers worthy of her beauty. Roses are red, her eyes are green. Chameleons of shade and ever-changing, they’re constantly serene.

Hurrying to the register, I pay for the roses and head out to the car. There was a family parked nearby, probably waiting on their mother to return with groceries. And in true Justin fashion, I awkwardly looked through the drivers-side window to make sure the peace-sign pendant she has hanging from her rear-view mirror was there (how disappointing it would be to brighten the wrong girl’s day!). I’m sure the kids in the car were becoming worried I was a car-jacker.

But to their surprise, I didn’t steal the car. I took a dozen roses and secured them underneath one of her windshield-wiper blades.

“Mission accomplished,” I skipped off to my car like an excited high-schooler that’d just taken the leap of faith necessary to ask a pretty girl to Prom. And then Marv and I headed to the car-wash…

So why is it that I share this story with you? Well, it’s fun to tell. Also, she’s gorgeous. Her name is Allie. And she’s my girlfriend. Hallelujah. But there’s more to it than that.

You see – we all have a gift. My gift is words and encouragement and letters. Hers would would be random acts of kindness, being a source of comfort, and giving all she can to her friends.

I’m a terrible giver. Gifts are not my gift. For years my poor friends have received letters, while I’ve received probably a thousand dollars worth of Starbucks gift-cards (my bachelors-degree thanks you for your caffeinated blessing). More often than not, I’d rather spend that money on a night at the movies or a couple beers at my favorite bar.

But my world is evolving and I decided to stretch myself, and it felt great. I’d highly recommend it. Perhaps you’re an excellent giver. This is true of many of my friends. They are just naturally gifted in not holding onto their riches for their own sake. They’ll pay for you to join them on that trip, or to keep your caffeine-addiction alive one more day.

But maybe they’re naturally introverted and reclusive. They love to give gifts, but they get uncomfortable when it comes to quality time. What if they spent that extra hour of awkward face-to-face time and invested in seeing where the heart-to-heart conversation could lead that evening with the friend they don’t see that often?

Or maybe they’re naturally very affectionate and affirmative. They love people. They’re the “I just love you, man” guy when they’ve had a few too many drinks. And they’re hugging all the bros in the dorm. But they’re terrified their words aren’t good enough to actually impact another’s life? What if they wrote a letter? What if those words lit a fire within their friend’s heart again?

You may not be good at it now, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck there. I’m learning that we are not defined by our failures. I’m bad with money and not incredibly disciplined with my diet and exercise. But these items do not define me and I can overcome them. I’m bad at gifts, but I’m giving better (see what I did there?). Your level of intelligence and skill in a particular area is not forever-decided-upon. If you stretch yourself, you will grow. If you get a little uncomfortable, it’s a sign you’re learning. That’s great.

So roses are red. And her eyes are green.

Let’s use our gifts and acquire some others, if you know what I mean.

(Up next – a better poem than that ^ in the near future.)

12513875_10153950904768993_4108196452777456833_o

Parable of the Prisoner

The Parablethe prisoner

Etched into the barren, stone walls are the words, “I am…”. Two simple words – two words that were once spoken by an Almighty God to describe Himself, as He said, “I am, I am.” But as you sit in the cell, contemplating the words on the wall, you can’t help but assess yourself. “What am I?” – your mind wanders, like one lost in the desert, attempting to make meaning out of the “nothingness” of your existence.

Sitting becomes difficult, as your mind races in a million varying directions, so you begin to pace the small cell – back and forth – until your feet hurt. All the while asking yourself, “What am I?”

Whispers come…

“You are lost…”

“You are worthless…”

The dust beneath your feet becomes wet, and as you look to see if the old pipes in the cell have begun to leak, you realize the wetness is your tears. You believe those whispers.

“You are insignificant…”

“You cannot…”

“No one hears you…”

The dust has become mud now, as your tears cannot stop – they will not stop. You realize that you’re on your knees now, wondering if this is all that you really are. Are those words true? Has it really come to this? Are you truly lost, worthless, insignificant, incapable, and mute? The walls of the cell seem to be closing in on you now, as one final accusation is whispered…

“YOU. ARE. ALONE.”

Although a whisper, the words seem to have a cutting force this time – much deeper and more powerful than the previous blows to your heart. Your vision clouds, and your body seizes, as you collapse – paralyzed by fear. Because you very well believe all that was said – and you are, indeed, alone.

Hours pass, and you attempt to fall asleep. It’s useless, as your mind is taunted by all that was whispered and by the words on the wall that simply say, “I am…”, and find in yourself the desire to answer that question.

Who am I?

What am I?

Who have I become?

Soon, it’s morning, and sunlight shines through the dank cell-window – the light blinding your tired eyes. Footsteps can be heard in the distance. You can finally ask to be released from this torture-chamber. Standing up and brushing yourself off, you prepare to meet your jail-keeper, the one that holds the keys to the prison that you’re in.

The sound of footsteps is much closer now, and anticipation grips your heart, as it beats wildly, ready to plead your case for freedom. At the cell-door now, stands a figure staring back at you. Your heart has stopped, and your feet pace no more.

The individual staring back – the jail-keeper – is you.

The Explanation

If there had been a sign at the entrance of the prison described in the story/parable above, it would have read, “Prison of the Mind”. Unfortunately, many of us are inmates within this prison on a daily-basis. Many of you reading this right now are sitting in that prison, believing yourself to have no power – no freedom to walk out of the cell.

The whisperer – the accuser – was satan. Lurking in the corners of our mind if we allow him to, or simply drifting ideas through the wind of the changing seasons of life, he likes to silently destroy us. If he can keep us silent, then he wins. And if we believe ourselves to be worthless and mute, then we remain silent.

Do not remain silent.

Do not sit imprisoned, listening to lies.

When Jesus conquered death, He conquered sin. The accuser has no power other than that which you give him. When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and bestowed upon the believers there the gifts of the spirit, He gave you and I the power to overcome the evil one – not just power to be defensive, but to go on the offensive as well.

You are NOT powerless. You are NOT alone.

You ARE heirs. You ARE filled with the Spirit (His power to overcome). Most importantly, YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. You are, however, constantly pursued, looked after, loved, cherished, and lead toward redemption.

What are you waiting for? Take the keys. Open the door. Walk out of prison. Walk into the light. Strike your heel upon the serpent – the accuser – the evil one. Fight. Live. Breathe. Love.

YOU. ARE. FREE.