Conversation Cafe’s & FOMO

When I was in college there was this group that would meet once a week and just talk. They were called “Conversation Cafe’s” – the idea was to give international students a chance to practice their English and make some American friends. To be frank, I was naive and immature in my viewpoint at the time and I thought they were lame and cheesy. At this point in my life, looking back, I was wrong.

I think that group had the right idea. What better way to be inviting and to love on people. Everyone has a desire to connect and when you walk off that plane and into a new country, it can be quite scary. K-State had a fairly diverse student body and a very welcoming atmosphere and family feel they’ve spent years building, but I’m betting that Conversation Cafe was where a lot of friendships started. Perhaps it was awkward and hard at first to talk to people you (in that moment) think you have very little in common with, aside from your love for coffee and sugar. But after a while, as you took the time to get to know one another, I bet you discovered other similarities – perhaps you shared some fears/insecurities or maybe some personal strengths and dreams, or favorite sports. At the very least, you could probably unite about the excitement of seeing a K-State Football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, or enjoying ice-cream. Because if you don’t like ice-cream, then there truly is something wrong with you.

As Allie and I were sitting on the couch last night watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas (no, you didn’t read that wrong – Christmas starts in October, according to her), we started sharing what was on our hearts and one of the topics that came up was the lack of open and honest communication that exists nowadays. Genuine conversation and handwritten letters have been substituted with random, quirky interjections on social-media platforms and brief check-in texts with friends. One of the guys in my men’s group was talking with me on the phone about the issue of social-media and how it’s kind of poisoned our society and he said, “It should be called anti-social-media – there’s nothing social about it! There can be a room full of people and we will all be looking down at our phones the minute there’s a brief lull in the conversation. When’s the last time we were all just present with one another?” I had found this comment convicting and left my phone upstairs in our bedroom last night which ended up being extremely fruitful as it made me entirely present – taking the time to be emotionally intimate with my wife and to help rearrange some furniture in the living-room.

One of my sisters had shared with my wife and I that whenever she doesn’t receive enough likes on a photo or status update, she deletes it. The other day we tuned into one of her Instagram Live updates where she’s in a room with her friends, sipping on iced-tea and randomly chatting. It broke my heart for her when her two friends in the room were also streaming their own Instagram Live videos – there was no real interaction or conversation or storytelling or much of a point to the interaction – and when one of her friends looks at my sister’s phone, she said “Oh wow – only 8 viewers…” What made me sadder is that my sister didn’t even blink. I don’t even think she recognized the verbal abuse that just occurred because it probably happens all the time. (High-schoolers can be ruthless. I had some friends do some extra crappy things to me as well, but still…)

Our world is attention starved. “Pay attention to me! Like me! Share my stuff! If you retweet this, I’ll do this…” Manipulative, fear-based, and lonely – the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) culture has taken over the youth culture, and unfortunately, it’s penetrated “young” adults hearts like myself as well. When a young girl feels the only way to keep her love-interests attention is to dress slutty and perform acts she would rather not participate in before marriage, it is often because she lacks a genuine connection with someone that’s spoken into her life about her worth. She’s worth more than her cleavage and high-heels. And when a young man spends his days glued to his smartphone, constantly seeking the next high of someone liking him on Tinder and wanting a one-night stand, it is often because there wasn’t a man in his life speaking lovingly into his heart that he is capable, created in God’s image, and called to something greater than what the world has to offer.

When one is tied up in knots with an addiction to pornography or the necessity of a bottle of wine “after a hard day at work” on a several nights a week basis, it’s because they are lacking. Filling emotional, mental, and spiritual voids with substances and experiences outside of their healthy limits because they’ve forgotten. They have forgotten that they’re loved. Or perhaps they haven’t forgotten – perhaps they’ve simply never been genuinely loved or experienced a genuine connection with another human-being. And Allie and I’s hearts break for those people.

One of the things that makes me swoon for Allie is her big, soft heart. An amazing listener and so kind-hearted, it didn’t take long for my family to love her. “You’ve kind of set the standard,” said one of my siblings about the kind of woman a Meyer man should marry. So when she listens to someone tell their story of being cheated on, or experiencing abuse, or their feelings of worthlessness, it breaks her heart and stirs up in her a desire to help. And I think she’s rubbed off on me. When I see men constantly chasing after counterfeit affections to convince themselves they’re a man now, or avoiding responsibility and close relationships for fear of being hurt, my heart breaks for them. Do they not know they’re loved?

So this week, I want to challenge my readers. What can you do to show someone you love them? I read an “open letter” on the NFL protests written by a former Green Beret and he said, “I would love for those two leaders (Kaepernick and Trump) to have that conversation, but more than anything I just want us to love one another again. One great thing about freedom is that you get to choose everyday how you treat your neighbor.” Preach it, Nate Boyer.

I want us to love one another again. I want us to talk without being divisive and stirring up conflict. To have a conversation without talking at each other. I want hard, taboo topics to be discussed and people to be loved even if they do not change, because only the Holy Spirit is in the business of changing hearts.

The best thing that you and I can do this week is to pray for our enemies and those that have gone missing in the Kingdom and to be vulnerable with our hearts, that the Light may come into our relationships and kill the Darkness.

So put the phone down, brew a pot of coffee, and invite your neighbors over – maybe we need to be hosting some Conversation Cafe’s of our own…

conversation cafe

Recycling Regret & A Carpenter’s Touch

A little over 3 weeks ago, I went dark. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still experiencing some withdrawals and that I cannot wait to be back in the loop with what is going on with the world and what my friends are up to. But I can also say that I think I’ve managed to learn a few things and to counteract that initial urge to just tweet away every last thought.

In fact – Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have met their fatal ends with me and Facebook will be utilized with a more limited capacity. They’re far too much of a distraction in a season of immense personal growth. There’s no need to keep up with the Kardashians (figuratively speaking) when I need to learn to keep up with what God wants to do in my life.

The church that Allie and myself have begun planting ourselves in is going through a series called Recycling Regret, and I think it’s been the perfect series for both of our hearts. Whether it be regrets within the context of our relationship, regrets from our individual pasts, or regrets within our immediate relationships with family and friends – there are fragments of our hearts that need Jesus’ healing. There are times when we’re looking at each other, knowing the other needs to be comforted and it’s hard (when you’re married to someone) to realize that you’re not going to be enough to comfort them in that given situation. They’re going to need something more – a close friend is a good start, but even that close friend is not going to be enough sometimes. In God’s perfect design, he’s left a hole in our hearts that only He can fill.

It’s funny though because we’ll spend a solid portion of our lives trying to fill that hole with other things – counterfeit affections that never fully satisfy – or we will overcompensate by attempting to put an individual in the role of God in our lives. Maybe it’s your best-friend from growing up or a significant other you’ve become infatuated with. Maybe it’s your relationship with your parents or your boss at work. Somehow, in an attempt to fill that hole in your heart, you’ve tried to put them in that place – yearning for their approval and affection, entrusting them with your past, present, and future – and then one day, somehow (because they’re human), they fail you. You’re left hurting or abandoned or simply left with needs that are still unmet. And that’s because you’re running to the wrong source.

If you’re thirsty, you have to drink water. You can sit at the bar all night long and pound pints of beer back but at the end of the night, you’re still going to need a glass of water to not be thirsty. In the same way, you can have a dozen friends that you keep ties with and are constantly surrounding yourself with but the only relationship that is going to fully satisfy your heart’s deepest needs is your relationship with God.

I still remember a quote form my college minister that went something like, “The address to God is at the end of your rope.”

It’s always stuck with me.

In your darkest hours. In your loneliness and hurt and pain and suffering. In the times when it feels like you can’t do anything right or like you’ll never amount to anything. In the moments where you’ve given up on yourself. God always seems to be right there, arms open, eyes filled with love, ready to lift you back up and set you on the right course.

C.S. Lewis calls pain God’s megaphone. And I think he’s right. Pain sucks. But it’s there for a reason and there’s a lot to be learned from it. So don’t waste your pain doing things that will only lead to more pain. Take the time to do the work to process through what God is trying to teach you so that you may find life.

And if I can let you in on a little secret – there is no escaping God’s economy of reaping what you sow. You may not have to pay the bill of your sin today but like a credit-card bill that you’ve put off until last minute, eventually it’s going to debit your bank account whether the money is there or not. Sin will find a way to take from you what you thought it would offer; it’ll garnish your wages and reduce your heart to rubble just for fun.

The good news is that God’s in the business of recycling. Of taking something old and broken and making it something new and good and useful. He’s in the business of renovation. Taking the old rooms in your heart and turning them into masterpieces where people can come for refuge and strength.

Jesus was a tradesmen as a young man, trained in the craft of carpentry. I’m lucky to be crafted by His hands; grateful that He’s in the process of sanding me down, buffing me out, and turning me into something good.

The 19th Day

Obscure title for an obscure blog-post. Because I don’t really know what I’m going to end up writing here but I’m gonna post it because I can.

It’s the 19th day without social-media and I’m in full-force withdrawal symptoms right now. How am I supposed to distract myself from all of the hard life decisions that Allie and myself are trying to make at the same time? Without social-media and memes and posting requests for prayer or humorous videos – how does one get by in life?

I suppose I could pick up the phone and call a friend. But I’ve already done that a few times and while it’s good, it takes time and emotional energy and I’m already exhausted from the day at hand. But every good thing takes time and energy, doesn’t it? Every relationship must be invested in and pruned – otherwise it becomes entangled in weeds, is not watered properly, and dies.

Financially, we are trying to reduce/eliminate debt – which is noble and just and good. But at what point is some debt worth it? A reliable car that you actually enjoy driving and don’t have to worry about whether or not it will start in the morning is a huge blessing that I don’t take for granted after having driven my grandpa’s old pickup truck for 10 years prior to owning a modern-day Camry. But being $5,000 upside down isn’t exactly ideal and with Allie’s lease being up soon, it’s hard to justify her finding a Craigslist SUV if I’m driving something nicer. But is that nicer vehicle worth it? Because I’m the kind of guy that gets attached to the car he drives and will drive it until it becomes too expensive to maintain. I’m not the trade my car in every couple years kinda person. So…who knows. Who gets to decide that – Allie, myself, someone else? Nah, we’ve gotta come to an agreement, together. And we will. But when you get married, they don’t exactly hand you an owner’s manual on financial negotiations and fiscal responsibility, just as I’m sure Allie wished she received an owner’s manual on a guy’s need for adventure and spontaneity so she’d be prepared for all the wildcard decisions I make from time-to-time. But our differences are what makes us special and often-times, together we are stronger.

It’s just interesting that you grow up and you learn math and science and reading and writing but it seems I learned very little about fiscal responsibility, negotiating/compromising, relational ethics, and problem-solving/decision-making. All of which are necessary attributes of adulthood.

You’re never really prepared for the time that as a 27 year-old man you’ll call your Dad and say, “So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?” And then he won’t really know the answer either. And somehow, you both land on that you should pray some more. But am I a bad Christian if I say that when I pray some more sometimes it doesn’t seem to make all that much difference? And other times, it seems God decides to provide a solution at the very last possible minute, as if to say, “Gotcha! And you spent all that time worrying!”…with a snicker on his face.

I just don’t get it. Life is so complex. Talking with a friend recently, we were discussing balance – the need to balance time building up your skill-sets and time working to provide income and then time needed to invest in relationships like family, friends and a good marriage – and what about the need to invest in rest, for your own physical self and for your personal relationship with God? (I’ve found that doesn’t seem to ever make it into the American equation for success and I believe it’s the missing link toward inner-peace which is why, while I work in retail sales and my income is based solely on commission, I refuse to go in and work every single day of the week like some of my coworkers. That’s just not the life for me.)

Is it better to reduce debt or to build savings? Is it better to get a house now or to rent until a mortgage payment is more reasonable or in enough years, unnecessary?

If my dream is to one day write several published books, then how can one write them if they have so many questions? It appears I know far less than many. I’m told a humble and contrite spirit, ready to listen to and obey God is the place to begin. But what about those days when you wake up and you’ve tried as hard as you can try but it all seems lost? (That’s not to say there’s no light or hope, but there’s just no certainty or vision.)

I think one of the things I value the most about my marriage with Allie is that every night as I’m laying there wrestling with these thoughts and a dozen others, I can always reach over and hold her. She doesn’t care if I wake her up. And if I’m feeling particularly stressed, she’ll ask me what’s up and I’ll explain and she won’t scold me for my disbelief, she’ll pray with me. She’s always right there. Ready to serve. Willing to love.

The truth is I’m a blessed, young man that’s being forced to grow with an expediency like I’ve never experienced before. All comfort-levels broken down, all safety nets cut off, all darkness being exposed to the light, and yet Allie stays with me, Jesus shows His love to me, and peers see potential – they see something, in my eyes, in my actions, in my heart – they see something and they call out what they believe God intends for me and I just find myself spellbound by the unknowns yet amazed that people think I’ll get there. That all my shortcomings can be overcome.

No one’s given up on me yet, so I can’t give up on myself.

19

The Whole 9

It’s 4AM and I can’t sleep. Woke up about an hour ago and tossed and turned long enough to make sure Allie couldn’t sleep either so I decided it was time to come downstairs and hang with Harvey.

I could watch TV but I’m honestly not feeling it right now as I’d rather just think out loud with my fingers – that’s what a blog is for, right? So my gorgeous wife and myself have been doing The Whole 30 for the last 9 days and we ended up caving last night to our desire to go out to eat “some real food” – and of course, I feel miserable. Again and again, I’m learning that dairy is not my friend. I sat down to a quesadilla loaded with cheese and sour cream and then a plateful of chips and dill-dip and as you can imagine I’m feeling bloated and my stomach is throwing fits.

I think the reason we ended up caving was the diet was a little too restrictive for individuals like ourselves, who have never really dieted before, that really just wanted to focus on eating/living healthier than we were and losing a few pounds. There was no denying that it was working but eventually it starts feeling like you’re in a food prison when you tell yourself that you “can’t have this” and “can’t have that.” So for now, we’ve decided to adopt some of the main concepts from the diet like no added sugars and to show ourselves a little grace when it comes to an occasional cheat day and the like. (It’s too bad we didn’t make that decision before we left our Family Reunion where there was baked goods everywhere! ;P)

Of course, the natural affect of quitting a diet comes into place. “I’m a failure. I didn’t make it. Etc. Etc.” But I’m trying to convince myself of the truth that that’s not the case. We’d just never been on something so restrictive before and perhaps we can try it again sometime, but it was a little extreme and a lot of work food-prep wise.

Speaking of extreme – it’s been 10 days since I last logged on to Facebook and checked my notifications. Of which, it appears I have 41. And let me tell you, it’s killing me to not open them up and check/reply to all of them. But we’re currently holding steady on our social-media fast. I’m finding that without my Twitter, I don’t have a reason to be enraged with President Trump every 24 hours and I don’t spend my days worrying about trying to be the funniest online personality.  Although, it’s rough not knowing “what’s going on in the world” with family and friends and society. Reading actual news articles on CNN just isn’t the same as the click-bait articles on Facebook and getting all of my current-events from a 140 character tweet.

Unfortunately, I believe that social-media, in many ways, had become a sort of escape from myself. It was easier to pay attention to everyone else’s life than to focus on my own and seek out further ways to grow as a man, husband, Christian, etc. Killing The White Noise has been helpful in reducing envy and other toxins from my life. It’s feeling good to take aggressive steps in the right direction of owning my own life and finding solutions for everyday problems, like a man.

So that’s the skinny. The Whole 9. Time for me to try and go back to bed.

Killing The White Noise

I’d say that I’ve been thinking a lot lately but the truth is there has been an absence of thinking wholeheartedly. There’s a lot of white noise in my life – some of it is unavoidable due to the kind of work I do. Being in Sales my phone has to be at my side almost 24/7 to respond to customer inquiries and navigate complicated scenarios with coworkers. However, there’s a whole ocean of that white noise that I bring upon myself and it’s called Social Media.

The truth is that I’m pretty awesome with Social Media and someday I may end up being some kind of Social Media Strategist. But for now, it’s not my job and it does very little to add actual value to my everyday life.

What it does now is distract. It keeps me from focusing on things that actually matter. It provides me with an escape in awkward moments when Allie and I aren’t sure what to talk about anymore, it allows me to procrastinate real work that needs to be done, and while overcoming other life crutches it has become yet another thing that I cling to besides God.

Now don’t think that I’m suddenly trying to be holier than thou. That’s not the case. The truth is that it was just recently that I linked arms with my friend Bryce and decided we were going to read a Proverb a day and text our daily application to each other. And while that’s adding an immense amount of value to my life, it had probably been five years since I’d consistently, on a daily basis, been in the Bible.

Really, I think it’s a matter of growing up. Of realizing it’s time to truly put off the old self and allow God to do his work within myself and my wife. So we’re giving up social media for September. Because who knows how many books I could read or how many extra walks or trips to the gym I could fit into my life if I wasn’t staring at my phone on the couch or on the bed reading articles I’m really not that interested in – or obsessing over how to write a witty post that is sure to receive a few likes or trigger a comment war.

I think it’s just a season of action for Allie and I. We’re going to participate in Whole 30 during the month of September as well, which will cut out a lot of sugar, all of dairy and alcohol and allow us to purposefully set out and accomplish a goal that we’ve talked about frequently but taken little action on (and it’s mostly my fault). I think I speak for both of us when I say that we’re tired of just talking about things and ready to make things happen. So we’re reading the Bible and other books, we’re visiting churches and dreaming up ways to get plugged into the community, we’re working hard at our jobs and at home, and we’re doing what we can to show our friends and family that we love them and they matter to us.

Less talk, more walk so to speak.

So there you have it. In true Justin fashion – sharing my life with you regardless of whether you care or not because there just might be something to glean from it.

white noise

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

Mustache Manifesto

It all started a few weeks ago. I began sharing with Allie my impulse to shave my beard – it was bothering me; I wanted a clean face for a little while again. But for whatever reason I just didn’t do it. Then Saturday came.

I had just gotten off work and eaten dinner with my wife and the thought crossed my mind again and I spoke it out loud – “Then, let’s do it!” she said excitedly. “Why keep talking about it? If you want to shave your beard, just do it.”

The matter was resolved. I walked up the stairs and began trimming my beard. If only that were the truth.

Instead, I spent the next hour or two agonizing over whether or not I should do it. What would people think? Would my friends and family accept me? Would she still find me attractive and desirable if I “looked 17 again” as some say when they’re clean-shaven in their 20s? What if coworkers made fun of me and customers found me less trustworthy?

So much identity wrapped up in some hair – the mild brownish-red scruff that I had sported since Jake & Co. had convinced me to grow a beard in college. It was important. It proved as it were that I was a man. It covered up (I thought) my double-chin and mildly handsome face. As I thought about it, it was almost as if I were hiding my true self behind a wall of rebellious manhood.

And I thought about my post-college years (pre-Allie) and the “man” I tried to prove I was. Overzealous rhetoric, aggressively flirtatious, and a ridiculous amount of pseudo-charm that was the Covergirl Makeup associated with an unstable amount of insecurity.

That was it. It was time to do it. To cut away the past. Wipe away the greasy strands and wispy past. To feel clean again – even if just for a brief season. (It’s highly likely the beard will return as soon as the weather cools again. But it’ll be because I want it, not because I need it.)

So it happened. Failing miserably with a razor at first and realizing I’d have to mega-trim the beard before using a razor to clear the rest. “Except for, keep the stash!” said Allie, cheerily – always finding a way to bring an extra dose of joy into the already silliest of occasions. And so I did. Because, why not?

A day later, I’d convinced my brother Tyler that lives with us to do it too. And I’m still working on convincing Jordan to bring his back. But all in good fun and just for the sake of laughs (I mean, how great would a Meyer Bros Mustache Trio be?!?!). Because I’ve already taken life seriously enough for the three of us.

So friends, what are you doing to cover up your heart and the parts of yourself that you don’t want to face? Maybe it’s as simple as shaving the beard and starting over, or maybe it’s a little more complicated than that – some poisonous relationship to flee from, an addiction to leave behind, or an over-reliance on independence to the point of isolation – but whatever it is that is trapping you from being fully the man or woman the Lord is calling out of you – rid yourself of it as quickly as possible.

My identity is in the Lord, as a Christian man, husband, brother, friend, son, and puppy-daddy.  I don’t need anything else to prove who I am.

(Yes….I know….I got a whole blog post out of shaving my beard. Silly? Sure. But it’s also unapologetically who God designed me to be. Now Harvey needs someone to play fetch with, so I better go!)

ron swanson