No Pain, No Gain (Like You Haven’t Heard That Before)

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that one of the connecting points for many lasting friendships in the world is the endurance of pain, together. There I was sharing a margarita with a friend I hadn’t seen in several months and the conversation drifted to the tougher moments in life and how he could relate to x-y-z and I could relate to a-b-c. Perhaps that’s too simplistic a view, but being the sinful humans we are, we’ve all been hurt and we all have hurt, others. It’s our nature to be selfish, inflict pain, and to find ourselves in the crucible of sanctification, given the choice of asking for forgiveness and saying “F*** them, they’re not worth it.” We’ve all been guilty of choosing the latter at some point in life, but it’s never led anywhere fruitful. Bitterness and hatred is only serving yourself the poisoned wine, rather than giving it to your enemy. You’d be better off attempting to kill them with kindness, wouldn’t you?

Anyways – back to my point – in a world of filtered photos, edited texts, and Facebook posts that are a highlight reel of life…we need that one person to share that one painful story of rejection, anger, pain, hatred, betrayal, longing, addiction, abuse, etc. – and that’s all it takes – and then there’s an iconic moment in every redeeming friendship – a “me too – I’ve been there as well.”

I talked with a coworker about depression this week. Opening up about my need for counseling, I found myself given the opportunity to minister to his soul and providing him with helpful options that I’ve utilized for my own personal growth and journey towards freedom from the hatred and loathing of self.

All it took was an opening up, and a “hey, me too man.”

So I guess all of that is to say, you can filter your pictures and keep your Facebook as clean and crisp as you want, but my life is about to get as real as it gets.

I’ve spent enough of my time worrying about reputation, status, money, and what other people think about me, but as long as God says “well done, my good and faithful servant” and my wife is excited to see and kiss me when I get home, then I’ve lived life well. The rest doesn’t matter and it always works out in the end.

It’s amazing how much time we spend chasing peace and perfection, and some of the most peaceful, perfect, love-filled moments are those that are spent being honest and broken, and allowing love and grace to cover over them.

Tim Keller writes of a czar who adopted a son. The adopted son had squandered his wealth and was contemplating suicide due to his recklessness… (sounds like the Prodigal Son in a way)

“Because he couldn’t cover his gambling debts, he began to embezzle from his regiments funds. One night he was sitting in the tent looking at the books and he realized that his embezzlement was about to be discovered. He could hide it no longer from the accountants. He sat drinking heavily and prepared to kill himself. He had the revolver by his side and he took a few more drinks to strengthen his resolve for the suicide. But the drink was too potent and he passed out on the table.

That night the czar was doing what he often did. Disguised as a simple soldier, he was walking through the camp and the ranks, trying to assess the morale of his army, hearing what he could hear. He walked into his foster son’s tent and saw him slumped over the book. He read the book and realized what he had done and what he was about to do.

When the young man awoke hours later, to his surprise the revolver was gone. Then he saw a letter by his hand. To his shock, it was a promissory note, “I, the czar, will pay the full amount from my own personal funds to make up the difference found in this book.” And it was sealed with the czar’s personal seal. The czar had seen the young man’s sin clearly, the full dimensions of what he had done. But he had covered and paid for the sin personally.”

The crazy part is that Jesus does this for you and me, daily. We constantly squander the wealth and the gifts that He’s provided us with. We hurt our wonderful parents with our insensitivity to their wisdom, we hurt our spouse with our stubbornness to their pleas for wiser behavior and moral conduct, we disappoint our elders as they prod us toward holiness, and we discourage our brothers with our apathy – yet Jesus PAID our debt. He said, “I see what you’ve done and I know it fully. The price has been paid. Now come back home.”

I think my life’s calling is to call other’s home. I see what you’ve done – I’ve done some stupid shit too. Now let me pay the price for you, so that you can come back home. You don’t belong in the underworld anymore. Let me provide you with some clean linens and prepare a guest-room for you. You’re an esteemed guest, a high ranking official, and adopted heir to the King – grace and peace and love covers over you.

So friends, come home. Stop running. Stop hiding. Stop chasing success. Stop searching for happiness at the bottom of the bottle or at the sound of any empty pill bottle. Stop clicking through videos and images of women that don’t belong to you (I shouldn’t even look at my wife that way). Stop shopping until you drop. Stop buying friendships with your money. Stop connecting with others through your self-loathing.

Just stop.

You were worth it. You are worth it.

So worth it that he paid your debt in full and covered you in the finest clothes. “What we should say to each other on our wedding day is, ‘As great as you look today, someday you will stand with me before God in such beauty that it will make these clothes look like rags.” (Tim Keller, “The Meaning Of Marriage”)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Thought outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our slight momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

no pain no gain

New Insight In A New Season

I decided recently – again – that I spend far too much time online. By far one of my favorite coping mechanisms is reaching for the smartphone and surfing Facebook to see what others are up to. It helps me feel connected without risking being vulnerable in real-life. Requesting prayer from an online platform is a lot different than speaking face-to-face or over the telephone line about your life’s hardships and opening yourself up to someone else’s feedback and perspective.

It’s easier to crop an image and choose a filter than to deal with people seeing the real, angsty, almost always sweaty this time of year, Justin. One of the guys that I’ve grown up with invited me over to his house for a Guy’s Night this weekend – the fire pit was ablaze, cigars were lit, beer cracked open (or sparkling water in my case that night), and a huge, life-sized Jenga set was played.

Jenga Set

All that fun happening and I found myself wanting to reach for my phone to take a picture so that others would know I’d had a good time that night. (Also, because the Jenga set was awesome and I wanted to remember it.) The point remains, it’s so much easier to be able to document life online than it is to actually live it.

I’ve been encountering a lot of weird, heavy, dark, tough emotions lately and my first reaction is to find some form of coping mechanism (social media apps on the phone, booze, entertainment, etc.). Due to this and some other life-experiences, I’ve placed myself on bit of a fast from social media being so easily accessible on my phone and from alcohol for the next few weeks at least.

Technology is a useful resource but one of the things I despise about Sales is being married to my cell-phone, and reducing the amount of time I spend on it and coping with my stress and emotions in other unhealthy ways at home, is something I’ve chosen to work on.

After all, it was interesting what happened when I resisted the urge and left my phone in my pocket the last few evenings. I connected with total strangers and got to know about their lives, what they do, and the varying ways I can be actively praying for them. And I returned home to my wife, refreshed and ready to re-engage her with a fresh set of relational batteries because I’d taken the time to pour out God’s love on others and receive it from them as well. And last night – sitting across from Allie at Red Lobster enjoying the ultimate trio of salmon, lobster, and shrimp (mmm, seafood!) – we found ourselves connecting on a conversational level like we did when we were first starting to date each other a few years ago.

I think it’s time that we, as a society, begin taking larger steps toward becoming less dependent on hiding behind text-messages and social-media and instead invested the time in face-to-face interactions with those we love, and perhaps, those we don’t currently, but could lead our hearts to love over time.

An interesting tidbit from Tim Keller’s “The Meaning Of Marriage” is that as he pastored a church in Virginia, he took on ministering to a rather difficult couple with lots of problems and no one really seemed to like them. Over the course of a few months, he spent some of his ministry time in their house, inviting them into his office for counseling, and so on. Well – one rare mid-week day off, his wife was asking what he’d like to do that day and he said, “I think I’d like to hang out with the couple we’ve been working with.” His wife was surprised until he realized what had happened. As he’d been faithful in loving them, even though they weren’t all that likeable, he’d actually come to enjoy spending time with them – to love them, as he loved himself. He now genuinely loved his neighbor because he had led his heart in the direction of God’s will.

I found that convicting as I considered the people in my life that I don’t really like all that much or the coworkers that I tend to…avoid. I may make a greater impact for the Kingdom if I were to focus less on who I love and don’t love, and simply chose to love others as myself, as the Lord has directed.

Oh, and another thing – the world seems to spin a little smoother the more we align ourselves with what God has in store for us. Like many of you, I’ve spent plenty of time trying to direct my own footsteps and find my own, individualistic, “unique” way in life. It takes a lot of energy attempting to control all of the people and circumstances in your life. It’s just kind of ironic, humorous, and perplexing to consider that the “freedom” we’ve all been searching for in our youth is actually found in surrendering ourselves to the will of the God of Jacob – the same God that’s been keeping the world spinning on its axis just fine, since long before you and I came into existence.

So – the lesson I’m presently learning in life is quite simple: Love God. Love Others. Less of me, more of Him, so that His Kingdom can come, right here, right now, and we don’t have to wait any longer for His peace to fill our homes and flood our hearts.

Start Loving Others

The most common thread in the advice I’ve received on writing is to start. Don’t get so caught up in mapping out your thought-process and attempting to steer things the direction you want to go. Just do it.

I think there’s a lot of truth there and I’ve seen it play out in many areas of my life. Love someone? Just tell them and then prove it by showing them they’re the most important person in your world. Ready to lose weight? Then put down the bread and get out of bed, sleepyhead (had to throw a cheesy rhyme in there somewhere).

Meeting with a childhood friend of mine was encouraging this morning. There are some friendships that you have in life that just never die. Perhaps they fall asleep for a long hibernation but once back together your hearts can pick up right where you left off and this guy is that kind of friend. Some people have the gift of making whoever they’re with in the moment feel like the most important person in the world; I think it’s because he’s allowed his heart to become like Christ and he genuinely loves everyone.

That’s something to aspire to – isn’t it? Loving everyone. That’s so, so hard. Think of the difficult coworker that just rubs you the wrong way – you really do not even want to try to establish a relationship with this individual but perhaps that’s sheer laziness on your part. After all, everyone’s deepest desire to be known – to be connected. All their pushing and shoving and stiff-arming is likely fueled by a distrust of others because of others that have hurt them. What difference a little genuine love could make in their life.

I think of the times I was hurting inside the most. In these life-chapters I had frequently bullied friends and family into a corner and told (not asked) them to stay out of my life. Isolation is the companion of the fool that goes his own way, because community requires accountability. It was in these isolated, depressed, anger filled moments that some of my best friends in life took the time to draw me out – to get me to share my feelings and make myself vulnerable again. Only then, in the light, could I be healed.

So today, I challenge you and I challenge me, to start loving others. It’ll likely be one of the more emotionally taxing things you do today but it will also probably be the most rewarding. And who knows – it could build a relationship between you and the other that could pay off dividends in the future. Because chances are, you aren’t the easiest person to love either.

start loving others

Dear Friend

Dear Friend,

I love writing letters. They’re my absolute favorite form of writing – the easiest method for me to portray my heart for another. So I’m going to write you a letter, today.

Marriage is awesomely hard and beautiful. I highly recommend it. To avoid marriage for the sake of maintaining the “juvenile liberties” I mentioned in my “I Decided” blog the day before our wedding is, well, juvenile. If you’re ready to man/woman up, then buckle up and commit yourself. “But don’t expect it to be easy.” I heard it a million times in pre-marital counseling, bars and coffee-shops, at work, and just about anywhere else I would find myself out. “Marriage is going to be way harder than you think.”

“Thanks…” I’d think to myself, wishing for one time in my life that someone would hand me an empty hearted, positive platitude of “it’ll be perfect.”

I’m learning that ‘perfect’ is fake and that Allie and I are beautifully broken, but wholly redeemed, renewed, and renovated by Jesus. Now THAT sounds like one of those platitudes. An empty Christian cliche when speaking of relationships. But I’m absolutely serious. It’s when her and I are both edgy, spent, and ready to fight or retreat from one another that Jesus makes every bit of difference. We look at each other, apologize for the hurtful thing we said or did, ask for forgiveness, and then take it to Jesus. Or maybe we don’t even know what exactly is wrong at the moment, but we pray about it and the Holy Spirit starts to counsel us. “Hey Justin…remember when you made that judgmental remark about her makeup…that’s why she’s sad.”

You’ll never find a better mirror for your selfishness than living in communion with another. You’ll also never have a better chance to be more giving, selfless, and kind. My wife is awesome – I’d say she’s on the giving, selfless, and kind side of the spectrum about 90% of the time, and that’s not exaggerating. I admire her for her servant-heartedness and her tender and gentle care for my heart and soul when I’ve often done little to deserve such pure, innocent, genuine, earnest love. It’s beautiful and screams of Jesus work in her heart and life. Her life proclaims His name; her actions and hard work, her evangelism.

And that’s worth it all – ya know? That’s why I recommend getting married if you’re willing to give up your individual “freedom” – because it’s within the “confines” of marriage that I’m gradually learning so much about true freedom. To lay there naked and feel loved, attractive, and securely know that she’s not going anywhere is Cloud 9 awesome. To pull back the veil and let her further into my heart, while also initially scary and difficult, is always so rewarding as she always finds a way to love and accept me exactly where I’m at. And then, by the natural Law Of Reciprocity within relationships, I get to know more of her.

Do we cry? Heck yes! Do we disagree? For sure, especially when one of us is in our selfish-mode and not thinking about what’s best for the collective.

But friends, when we are in community with Jesus and with each other and everything is firing on all cylinders and we are more concerned about the wellbeing of the other than of ourselves, that’s when the fireworks start. That’s intimacy like you’ve never experienced before. Far better, hotter, more pure and beautiful than anything you’ve ever found within the sphere of dating and “friends.” I’m so, so glad that I Decided to marry her.

Marriage gives you a lot. It gives you love, someone that always has your back, a partner-in-crime/partner-on-mission; in my case, it gives me amazing, home-cooked dinners and pre-cooked breakfast burritos and a newfound ability to make homemade lattes because my wife is a beautiful (part-time/seasonal) barista (was always a ‘fantasy’ of mine – to marry a barista – and I did…God is too good to be true sometimes). What fun we have!

Marriage also takes a lot. One of those being your time. Part of the purpose of writing this “Dear Friend” letter is to share my gratefulness for marriage and to be a cheerleader for others to dive into the growth-vehicle that is commitment. The other aspect is to apologize for my inability to be as fully-vested in friendships as I was prior to saying, “I do.” As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I can’t always reply to text-messages within 5 seconds like I used to. And I can’t make as many phone-calls as I used to friends that live in different places. That’s because, working in sales, I’m tied to my phone for the 9-10 hours a day I’m at work anyways. So I’m pretty tired of it by the time I get home. Also, because Allie deserves as much of my heart and attention-span as I can offer. And, having moved into a place with Allie only 10-15 minutes away from work makes it difficult to call a friend I haven’t connected with in a while and then shoo them away 10 minutes later when I’ve reached home and my pretty wife is waiting inside to kiss me. I love you guys and all, but man-to-man, those kisses take a higher priority a majority of the time. ;P

So friends, if you’re married, kiss your spouse and tell them why you love them. Think back to why you married each other and renew your commitment to increased intimacy. Love them because they need it. You’re not always going to want to, but it’s then that Christ shines through you – when you choose to love them anyways.

And if you’re not married, get honest with yourself. What is it that you’re afraid of? The lie I always told myself is that I wasn’t ready. Well duh, no one is ever “ready.” If I had waited until I was “ready” and perfectly pruned and refined, Allie would still be waiting at the altar. Perhaps it’s because your heart is tied up in the lie that you’ve got more freedom outside of commitment. I promise you that I’m learning every day how untrue that lie was and how much freer and safer and more content and loved I feel within the covenant of marriage. Get honest with a brother in Christ and share your heart with them, pull the weeds of your insecurities and your sin problems, and then pursue a woman worth loving and committing yourself to. And then get in the fight for bringing His Kingdom to Earth together.

My letters get long sometimes. Thanks for reading (and for loving me) anyways.

Your Friend,
Justin Meyer

dear friend letter

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.)

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Permission To Be

Permission is a weird word. Anyone else remember having to get those permission-slips from school to go on the field trip at school? “Is it gonna cost me anything?” was usually the fair response of the parent as they signed it and sent you off with $30 to do x, y, z – because that’s the way the world works.

When we’re younger, we have to ask permission to go over to a friend’s house – or to watch certain movies. While we’re dating, we may ask permission for the first kiss. And so on.

However, it seems that as we get older, we become more and more scared to ask permission. It’s harder now.

I’m not sure why.

But what would happen if we gave each other permission?

Not the kind of aforementioned permission for anything in particular, but how about the simple permission to be ourselves? How about the permission to simply be?

There comes a moment in a deep friendship of any kind, where you’re finally able to just be with that person. And those are the best kinds of relationships. When you can sit in the silence, doing nothing, with no stress over entertaining the other.

Joseph and myself have been friends for a lifetime. It’s been close to 20 years of friendship. Today after grabbing coffee with him, he said “I love how ‘oursevles’ we can be with each other.” And it’s true. That’s the best aspect of our friendship.

But what if we gave everyone in our lives the permission to BE?

What would the world look like? What would our day-to-day relationships look like? What if we stopped trying to be the Funny Guy, or the Organized Lady, or the Righteous Randy – and we were just simply honest, real, tangible human-beings with one another?

What if we loved? What if we danced? What if we were simply there?

You have my permission – to be.

Forever and Always,

Flame.

permission slip