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

A Pre-Vacation Reflection

It felt liberating to write Honesty Hour. If you haven’t had a chance to do so, you should. There’s no need to hide within the confines of your heart any longer. My favorite thing about marriage is the freedom it brings to open myself up to my bride and share my fears, anxieties, longings, and overall heart with her. Sometimes my heart troubles her and other times it brings joy, and still others, it requires her to pray. But allowing her to see into my soul is true intimacy; it’s not the fabricated, romanticized Hollywood love but it’s the real love, the kind of love that would do anything for the betterment of the other. Because the other is more important than yourself.

This weekend we are heading to Table Rock Lake and Branson, MO for a brief vacation and I’m stoked. I suppose you could say I’m burnt-out – Harvey, our beloved, adorable, goofy, and also extremely needy beagle-puppy has worn me down with his whining and the constant attention he needs. I’m ready for a retreat. They said kids are even worse, so I suppose this is good training since I’d love to be a father someday (in the future). Harvey thinks I’ll be a great Dad – he just brought me his hamburger chew-toy (a boy after his father’s heart – love me a good burger) so we could play fetch before we go. I’ve hit the “pinnacle” of success at work and entered a club I didn’t think I’d reach and then right after experienced a decrease in ability to sell – but such is life, I’ll get it back. I think I’m just tired and need some rest so vacation here we come.

I’ve been thinking lately about purpose. What does it mean to have a purpose and where does it come from? What and who are you living for? Most of us work to make a living, but do we live? We wake up, go to work, come home, pay the bills, and then wake up the next day to do it all over again – but for what cause or purpose? Things have seemed…grey, as I’ve found myself in that vortex of logic, lacking a purpose or passion.

The beauty of being married to a woman as beautiful, strong, kind, and compassionate as Allie is that I can share those grey days with her and she listens. Obviously, her preference is charming, joyous, and whimsical Justin but when she gets the discouraged and disarrayed one she loves him just the same. And I prefer the flirty, spontaneous, ready-for-adventure Allie but when she’s anxious about finding a job and discouraged by lies from the devil that few enjoy her company, I love her the same and gently remind her otherwise.

I guess I’m writing today to share that I’m excited about Vacation, I’m filled with gratitude to be married to a woman that loves me so much. I’m thankful for my brothers and sisters and I’m excited that my brother that lives with us is going on this trip with us – it’ll be a sort of housemate bonding road-trip and vacation. I’ve already compiled a Playlist of favorite, upbeat jams. A little Ben Rector and Ed Sheeran, mixed with Lecrae, Usher, NSYNC – you get the picture.

My heart needs the gentle reminder of reasons to be thankful, like the fact that by working hard and pushing myself out of my comfort-zone professionally I’ve probably doubled my income over the last year alone. I’ve got a dog snuggled up to my feet because he can sense that we’re leaving and he’s gonna miss us. When we got married, Allie saved up some money and bought us an espresso-machine because she knew I loved coffee. And on the first night we had to spend apart so she could take care of her Mom recovering from surgery she kindly put together a care package with a card that melted my heart, because she knew I’d have trouble sleeping without her (I’ve shared a room with someone since I was a kid and have never done well sleeping in a room on my own). So I’m grateful. I’m blessed. And I’m excited to allow Jesus to speak his word into my heart as we go on an adventure and find some rest.

Tyler is back from work and jumping in the shower, so I suppose it’s time to go. Keep the prayers coming for safe travels and personal growth.

Table Rock Lake

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.”

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.

Turn The Page

My wife cleaned up her 5th Grade classroom for the last time on Wednesday. We checked her out of the school and brought a few of her teachery things home. But for the most part, we donated them to other teachers or discarded them in the trash. I could sense the mix of emotions in her heart – relief that such a burdensome and taxing year was over and sadness that uncertainty and loss of work-friends lay ahead as time apart separated them gradually (the reality of adulthood friendships).

I looked on, fighting a cold that’s sort of lingered over me all week long and refused to leave just yet. While helping carry boxes to the car and driving us to the store to run a couple more errands before the day came to an end, I found myself leaning into prayer. “Lord, help her – help us. It feels like we’re just here sometimes and perhaps that’s just it and we need to be okay with that. Please help our hearts to be content and place a new vision on hearts and minds, new dreams for the future that lays ahead. Renew our joy in the ordinary and the every day. Be a light unto our feet and a guide on our directionless path.”

I think in life we expect everything to be mapped out, by fate or by God, and it just doesn’t seem to work that way. It’s more like a good book. The author has brought the story to a certain point and now there’s a cliffhanger of uncertainty. It’s a scary moment and you’re not sure what’s going to happen and it’s going to take effort – you’ll have to continue reading and investing time into it, but there is more to the story. It is time to turn the page.

And I believe that’s where our hearts have sat this week – at the end of this chapter and ready to turn the page to the next. For Allie, that may mean investing in her event-planning desires. For me, it may mean taking more time to retreat by myself with good books and invest in small windows of opportunity to write, if even just for myself to increasingly become better at succinctly expressing my heart. Collectively, it would mean business planning or dreaming up a ministry plant of some kind.

Regardless of the outcome, I’m not scared anymore. There’s no point in being restless and laying awake at night, anxious about the day you’ve already given your all to.

Here’s to turning the page.

turning the page

 

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