Lost Along The Way

It’s so easy to get lost along the way. I bet that’s why God places so many reminders in Scripture that he has our best plans in mind, that he is watching out for our hearts and lives with all of these “rules and regulations.”

It’s so easy to get discouraged and to give up, to let pain have the final say.

It’s so easy to decide that since you’ve failed a few times that means you are now a failure and will never measure up to anything.

I saw a quote recently that went something like, “The Enemy cannot take your oil (anointing) but if he can convince you it’s not worth anything, then he ends up stealing it’s power.” How many times have you and I been convinced that our gifts are meaningless?

How many times have I had words on my lips or ready for the keyboard and left them unsaid or avoided typing them, fearing they lacked significance?

A world filled with pain…and there is hope – yet, I am afraid to admit that I have it.

Someone asked me this week – “Justin, why are you always so positive?” I was honestly kind of shocked by the question. I thought I’d been kind of a bummer the last few weeks wrestling through the murky, suffocating waters of depression. I thought a moment about my answer and then I said, “I guess, despite all of my shortcomings, I know Jesus and he’s my hope.” The gentlemen said, “I figured that’d be your answer – me too – well, I just want to let you know it makes a huge difference and that your impact is felt here…” and then he walked away.

What a wonder…making an influence even at my weakest. Brings new meaning to the biblical idea that he can make me strong in my weakest areas. He lifts up the humble and humbles the proud. If only we grasped that concept.

You, my friend, are not a failure if you are not on a high in life right now. If you’re not where you want to be, you don’t have to stay there. And admitting that you’re struggling is the first step to recovery in any situation. Simply accepting the status-quo will get you the status-quo. If you want change, you need to be the change – and you need to surround yourself with people that are going that direction and are going to take you there with them.

“Who are your change-agents?” Dr. Henry Cloud asks in “Necessary Endings” (what a great book, by the way). We all have those 2 or 3 people in our lives that challenge us and push us to the next level. Chances are if you’re in a season of stagnancy, you’ve been avoiding the coffee-dates and gym-sessions with them for a little while now. You know they’ll call you to something greater and that means you’ll have to give up the old “comfortable” situation that you don’t want to admit you love.

When someone is in sin and they “can’t seem to get out of it” – it’s really not THAT complicated. They have fallen in love with the sin – the lust, the greed, the anger – it has become their comfort zone – that is where they would prefer to live.

If that’s you, I pray that you’d find those 2-3 people to pull you out of the backwards slide and into the light. There is hope in the daylight. Hunkered down in your own loneliness, isolation, and the darkness of night with your bottle of tequila, browser filled with porn, contact-list full of affairs, pantry filled with Oreo’s, books filled with delusion, and mind addicted to sadness…there is no hope. What a terrible, sad, horrendous place to be.

You will be amazed what that one phone-call has the power to do. You will be amazed what cracking open the dusty Bible on your book-shelf can do for your heart. You will be awestruck and shocked at how integrity and honesty, while it may hurt a little at first, will become your building blocks for success and that even little white lies will start to make you sick to your stomach, because they just aren’t worth it anymore.

Friends, you may have gotten lost along the way, but you do not have to stay there. Where you are today does not determine where you will be tomorrow.

Call the “change-agent” in your life and admit where you are weak, they will make you strong.

Say the prayer that you are afraid to pray and He will answer.

Share your fears and struggles with your wife and she will love you.

Set goals for yourself and celebrate your success, even if you only hit the 50% mark the first time. At least you started growing again.

Jesus told the parable of the shepherd that would leave the 99 sheep to save the 1 that got lost. The prodigal son squandered all of his father’s wealth and was still welcomed with open arms and celebrated for his return to the Kingdom.

How much more will he pursue your heart? How much larger a feast for the lost, hurting heart that discontinues their pity-fest and pursues freedom in Christ’s name?

He’s left the 99 to come find me…I’m confident He will rescue you, too.

Call, and he will answer. Knock, and the door will be opened.

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Labels, Pretzels, And Feelings.

Labeling things always seems so dangerous to me. I’m sure you can relate. Do I really want to label my issue with such-and-such an addiction? Do I really want to label this relationship abusive? Or the ones that I struggle with presently would be…do I really want to admit that I’m 50 lbs overweight and living in depression?

I suppose admitting you have a problem or placing a label on something can be freeing as well. For me, deciding Allie was the one I was willing to give my life for and to has reaped the benefits of freedom and love that I could have never fathomed before. The label of faithful commitment called marriage has been well worth the cost.

However, for many of you, in the present-world of dating, everyone has so many options. Swipe right, swipe left – go on a few “dates” and watch a little “Netflix” – okay, now I’m bored – let’s swipe some more. Placing a label on things seems…dangerous…to some. Placing a label on things may cause someone to avoid making a decision altogether (perhaps that is why some people date 5+ years or end up in 3+ year engagements). Committing to another now takes all the other options off the table and that risks making a bad decision.

I don’t know about you, but I hate failing.

Failure is one of those things that drives me crazy. If I put myself in an unfamiliar scenario and say “I’m going to lose x-number of pounds by y-date,” or “I’d like to make z amount of money by 2025,” then I feel paralyzed. Admitting that I have a goal or getting it out into the light is one of the most proven methods for success. Let others know where you’d like to go and surround yourself with an energetic team of others that are already going that direction – be okay with leaving the stragglers behind, because that’s not where you want to be anymore, yourself.

If that’s the method for success, then why is it so difficult?

To place the label on oneself as writer would probably mean that one should write something…right? Hence this silly blog airing out my internal spider-web of feelings.

And feelings…aren’t they just so complicated? I really, truly wonder how anyone makes it through life without therapy/counseling and some kind of stress-release outlet (for me, it’s coffee and reading or disc-golf on my days off). If it weren’t for my own weekly counseling and “me-time” outings, I’d be a pretzel of feelings. I pray for those of you that have yet to have the courage to admit that you need help.

It’s insane that we all thought at the age of 18 that we knew so much and would be conquerors of the world. To have some of that confidence back would be amazing, but perhaps tempered with the wisdom of years of realizing just how much anyone always has left to learn. Remain humble and you will be lifted up, in due time.

One simply has to be themselves to get anywhere in life. You are unique and different and important and you add value to the world around you.

As my counselor put it – “you don’t really have to change or be any different for anyone other than yourself, if you want to.”

Another friend put it growing up, “you will always do whatever it is that you want to do.” It may have been his way of spurring me on toward a more obedient faith during times of abundant apathy and cynicism, but that truth remains.

You will do what you want to do.

What is that, exactly?

I’m still trying to find the answer, for myself. I think I grew up in such a way that I wanted to be perfect and pleasing for others. Focusing my energy on ensuring I was setting the right example – or rather, obsessing over the times I obviously had not set the correct one. Being the oldest of 5 siblings places you in that sort of dynamic by birthright. It’s no one’s “fault” really, more so just where you end up.

Wasting all this energy on wondering what others want of me has proven unsuccessful. So I now find myself beginning to ask the question of, “what do I want for me?”

Sounds selfish. But it’s not. The times that others have been the most blessed and enthused by my presence are the times that I’ve loved myself.

What are your thoughts? How have you personally come to peace with who you are and decided what you wanted for yourself? How can I pray for and encourage your own life-journey?

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Fair Warning

Fair Warning – I’m trying to write this while sitting in Thou Mayest which is across from Grinders in the Crossroads District of Kansas City. Why is that important? Because the band that’s performing tonight is warming up and it’s loud. Therefore, I might seem a little foggy. That would be why. But we’re writing weekly! It’s exciting! I’ve enjoyed this new discipline in my life and the outlet it’s provided for my thought-processes and I hope that you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Thanks for following along. Let’s get to it.

Life is loud, isn’t it? Lots of noise and a whole lot of confusion. Lots of pretty girls and handsome guys, plenty of music to choose from, and a Grand Canyon of confusion when it comes to life purpose. Where is it all heading? Where are we going? What’s the point?

If you’re anything like me, these questions have a sort of rapid-fire effect. You lay there in bed at night and start to ask yourself basic questions…”I wonder where this job is taking me,” or “where is this relationship headed?” or “Have I actually made any progress toward my goals for this year yet?”

The primary problem is that I like to control things. I want to have a plan and to be in control of life – not necessarily a bad plan – but when you spiral into crippling anxiety and worry every time something doesn’t go your way or you hit a bump in the road, something’s wrong with your outlook on life.

You see – I think I can save myself one day, and the next day I’m ready to wave the white-flag and say that overcoming obstacles isn’t even worth the energy, because I can’t do it on my own anyways. Surrendering to life isn’t the objective and it’s the wrong idea, but surrendering to prayer may not be such a bad plan.

For a while now, I’ve held God at arms-length. It’s easier to pull a Heisman and keep him out of certain aspects of my life. And if I don’t read my Bible or pray, then I don’t have to be confronted as often by the Holy Spirit. It serves the purpose of allowing my pride to swell and grow unfettered. But pride comes before the fall. And I’m being pruned. He won’t allow the branches that lack fruit to remain intact.

Paul E. Miller is a humble and brilliant man. I’ve never met him. But my friend Jake suggested that I read the book that last time I saw him, so I am. Jake’s the kind of guy you trust, even if you don’t see him much. He’s just got this wisdom and charisma and he’s going places. And Paul seems like the kind of trustworthy uncle or grandfather that you could take any of life’s problems to and he’d want to sit down and pray with you. He wrote a book called “A Praying Life” and I’ve been reading it.

I’d say the main theme of the book is to pray. Obviously. But really – it’s quite simple – just pray. I think we all have a little ADD when it comes to prayer…”Hey God, it’s me again…I did something else stupid…by the way, what’s the deal with so-and-so lately?…Why haven’t you given me that extra income yet?…Squirrel!…Oh…Uhmmm…amen.” But it’ll amaze you. Once you start, you don’t want to go back. Soon, the times when you’d be cussing under your breath in a frustrating situation, you’ll find yourself saying, “Lord, help me.” I miss that sort of natural prayer-life.

When I was younger I left a voice-mail on my friend Joey’s phone. It was probably something nominal, like letting him know I could spend the night after I finished my spelling words or something. (His parents were like assistant-coaches in my life. As often as I went over there on the weekends, I think of them as a 2nd set of parents. So grateful for that family.) Anyways, back to the voicemail. I leave the message and at the end I find myself saying, “In Jesus name I pray, Amen.” Click. I hang-up. Mortified, I realize I just ended a voice-mail like it was a prayer. I’m sure Joseph saved that message for a couple months after for his own amusement, but it was proof that prayer came natural in my teenage days. And I’m ready to go back.

I tweeted earlier this week that I thought life should come with a warning-label. “WARNING: This is gonna be freaking hard.” If you take the easy way out, you’ll have to do it again anyways. A house built on sand doesn’t stand. You’ve got to put the work into a solid foundation.

So for me prayer is saying, “Hey Jesus, this whole life thing is pretty tough. Want to walk through it with me?” His answer is always, “Yes.”

So stop worrying and get those things off your chest. Let Him take care of the rest.

hard work ahead yellow warning road sign, tough job be ambitious
hard work ahead yellow warning road sign, tough job be ambitious even if you have a difficult challenging task with impact to finish. ambition to meet the challenge icon.

Winter

I hate Winter. It’s dark outside all of the time and it’s the easiest season of the year for me to become depressed in. Technically, I believe it’s still Fall out, but it’s dark when I go to work – and dark when I go home – so I consider it Winter. And I hate Winter.

Winter is cold, bleak, dangerous, rigid, and dark. Sometimes I think it has that exact affect on my heart – engaging a torrent of emotional angst and anxiety that closes in on me like the darkness outside tonight.

But it’s okay – I fight for joy. And I’m a lucky man, dating a pretty girl, that really values me beyond belief. In fact, I’m presently writing this on her MacBook Pro because my laptop has long since seen the grave and she was gracious enough to let me borrow this for a little while.

Something weird happens when you hit your mid-twenties. You grow increasingly restless with accepting the status-quo – the norm – what everyone else is doing and what everyone else wants for you. Your heart begins to ache for meaningful work and a meaningful life, filled with meaningful relationships that have a lasting impact.

You discover that if life is entirely about the rise and grind of a 9-5 job, then is it really worth living? Probably not. So you yearn to make an impact, to find your niche, to reach the heights the dreamer within you believed you capable of at the age of 18 (but then you let fear and anxiety rule your heart, rather than prayer and planning).

It’s a weird season of learning your parents were right, the young-adults you admired as a teenagers were just as scared as you are now, and there is no glory without struggle. No good man that has not wrestled with his inner demons first. The struggle yields perseverance; and perseverance develops character; and character calls out the Great in everyone.

Basically, we’re all human and make lots of messy mistakes. The men and women that we admire were not any less messy per se – they’ve simply learned how to overcome their struggles – how to not get psyched out by the competition – and how to always keep their eyes on the prize. In the end, it’s often their weaknesses that have become strengths, that make them more relatable and a more effective witness – God ends up using even our thorns to make the rose-garden of his Kingdom beautiful.

There are consequences for your actions and for your inaction. Whether you speak or remain silent – whether you fight or remain passive – whether you exercise or remain dormant – whether you indulge or go without; all of these things have a string of consequences. We are the sum of our yesterdays. There’s grace. There’s overcoming power. There’s freedom. There’s strength. There’s endurance. But you absolutely have to take responsibility for, and accept and love, the man (or woman) staring back at you in the mirror.

You have to forgive yourself and find yourself worth loving.

I’ve lived much of the last few years with clenched fists. I’ve hated the anxious, scared, tired, frustrated, unhealthy, unfit, victim of a man that I’ve been. I’ve stormed out of rooms and cussed in my car and cried shaking sobs of depletion, sinking to the floor in my bedroom.

But I’ve forgiven myself; I’ve decided I’m worth loving.

I’m worth fighting for.

And I will fight. I can and will live again. I’ll set out and accomplish my goals. I’ll become something, because I am something. Chosen and loved before I was even worth being chosen and loved – and far after I’d dismissed revelation for ‘discovery’.

Winter can be as dark and cold and crappy as it wishes. Because I’m a man on a mission to see the light, feel the warmth, and to cling to the joy around me.

I’m grateful for your tender love as you’ve taken the time to read this. Reach out to me if you need someone, because I promise you’re not the only one sometimes silently wrestling in the dark.

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