Decisions, Decisions (2 Years Sober)

There comes a time in everyone’s lives where they have to make a decision. To pursue a promotion, to marry the girl, to hit the gym more, to find a new church, to invest more in family, to drink less, or maybe even…to stop looking at porn. Some decisions are easier than others, but nevertheless it is the man that has the courage to make the decision and see it through that is brave. Not the one that excuses himself from trying on the basis of habit, indifference, and lack of thought-out trajectory. For every man will be held accountable for the lives they have lived, even if they have not really lived at all.

Brave isn’t exactly an adjective that my friends would have used to describe me growing up. It’s probably not one many would use to describe me now, but perhaps that is because they don’t know my whole story. I’d argue I’m far braver than I’ve ever been (even though I still let out a yelp when I see a spider crossing the bedroom floor in our apartment while I’m stretching). Thanks to Brene Brown’s “The Gifts Of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly”, Doug Weis’ “Steps To Freedom”, Steven Furtick’s “Unqualified”, Mark Batterson’s “Chase The Lion” and a community of men at my church committed to pursuing purity and excellence in all they do, I have found myself more vulnerable, known, and loved than I’ve ever been in my entire life. I admit when I’m scared. I call my wife when I’ve messed up. I openly cry on the phone with other men and seek the Lord in prayer for their redemption and for mine. I scheduled a meeting with a pastor I respect about pursuing a dream and found myself humbled. Is it a dream or is it a whim – is it the pure love for the process or the glamour of the end-result?

“Embrace the process,” they said as I entered a 12-Step program in the late Fall of 2016 to wage war against a battle that had ravaged my soul for probably as many years. 12 steps for the 12+ years that I’d allowed my heart, mind, soul, and body to be pillaged by the enemy. Allowing him to plant seeds of doubt and insecurity all throughout. I was worthless, a monster, mean, unlovable, ugly, needy – that’s what satan told me I was anyways. And I believed him. I believed him far more than I believed I was worth loving.

I hated the process. The process was hard. The flashbacks were painful. The spiritual warfare was uncomfortable and terrifying. I wanted freedom and the enemy didn’t want me to have it. He’d convince me to tell half-truths; that social-media like Snapchat and Instagram wasn’t “that bad” – that some stories were better left untold. The process taught me that all of this was untrue. Not only untrue but that it made things all the more painful. But it was also, just part of the process.

Addiction is such a painful thing. I have so much empathy for anyone else that’s ever struggled with a sex addiction, drug addiction, alcoholism, or whatever it is that you may struggle with. Mommy issues. Daddy issues. Insecurity issues. Money problems. Power struggles. These all sound like generalizations and lazy attempts to relate, but I just have so much love for anyone that struggles with anything.

Did I mention that I hated the process? I wanted to be free from the addiction – to stop searching for content that created the high I was looking for. I wanted to stop hiding behind humor and the escapism of other things. Looking back on my struggles, I see where I struggled the most was ownership and the lie that I was always a victim. “I’m impulsive and a creature of habit” I told myself, so somehow that made it “okay” if I slipped up every now and then.

I remember two “turning-points” throughout my experience with addiction-recovery. One came when I had to confess my social-media relapse to my wife. I’d been following accounts I should’t have been for reasons that I knew were wrong. Owning this mistake and recognizing that some restrictions (like deleting Instagram/Snapchat) were healthy for my development. I no longer look at them as a punishment for wrongs done but more like wearing my seat-belt every day when I’m driving – it’s just safer that way. The other turning point was the completion of Steps 4 (Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves) and Step 5 (Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human-being the exact nature of our wrongs). Up to that point in my life I don’t think I’d ever been more honest with myself. It is so easy to see the mistakes other people make and ridicule them but it is far harder to hold yourself to a similar standard. Even more difficult when you allow yourself to remember the wrongs you’ve committed and instead of hiding them away or numbing the pain with a drink or a movie, you write them down on paper to ask God for forgiveness and to share them with someone else. The man I chose to share my Step 5 with quickly become a member of my inner-circle. I trust him, I love him, I respect him; that level of vulnerability and strength gave birth to a friendship I’m very thankful for.

It was around the point that the friendship blossomed and that I admitted to myself and to Jesus just how much I needed Jesus to change my heart and my life that everything changed. I told my wife everything – even the “not-that-bad” social-media stuff. I deleted the accounts (or started wearing my seat-belt every day, so to speak). And I decided to walk in integrity and truth the rest of the days of my life. I’m honest to a fault. So honest it hurts; but I’m my whole self, all the time, and I’m no longer hiding my heart behind a screen. No longer suffocating under the weight of “being found out”- no longer living in the constant, continuous fear of satan’s whisper.

I am known and loved. I am faithful and supported. I am uniquely gifted and outrageously normal in the same breath. I am humbled and observant. Ready and cautious.

I am also just days away from 2 years of sobriety, by God’s immense power and grace.

I am more alive than I ever was; freer than I ever thought I was while “living in freedom” to the whims of the flesh.

I am truly free. All because I decided; to do something, to go somewhere, to talk to the friend, to ask for help.

We will all face the day where we need to make a decision. Will you have the courage? Will you be brave enough to make it? I’m praying it’ll be a little easier for you, because I was brave enough to tell you I had to do it too.

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Relying On Him

It was one of those weeks where you never really catch up on sleep – and just when you think the drama has come to an end, there’s a new twist and turn. From family drama to challenging professional interactions, arguments over nothing caused by irritability, and life-changing, deep conversations. From a margarita infused laugh fest to sober tears and lots of pain, there was all of it.

I’m not sure why but whenever life enters that spectrum where success suddenly doesn’t seem to matter all that much, interesting things happen. You’re at work – but you’re not really at work. You’re in the car driving, but your thoughts are taken back to your own memories of pain. You make it home safe, but you’re not sure how.

This week a family member made the strong, challenging decision to break off an emotionally abusive relationship and I couldn’t be more proud. But it’s hard to break away from something that we’ve become used to.

In a way, “love” can become as addictive as a drug, the dopamine that had been released during close times together creates a spiritual tie of sorts. It binds us closer, creates that need for closeness; and that’s one of the many reasons it hurts so much to break a relationship off.

The light that is at the other end of the tunnel is worth it though. I remember the time in my life where I was in a relationship where the other individual wasn’t all-in, but I was – it hurt a great deal to end the relationship one fateful May evening. But what I didn’t know is that just a little while later – on an October evening, I’d meet a woman that would love me wholeheartedly, forgive quickly, and encourage and champion growth together. It was no longer the endless, perpetual cycle of stagnancy; I made financial gains, spiritual gains, and relational gains. “He makes all things new.” Even you. And even me.

My heart has been overwhelmed with the pain of others recently. Thinking about all of the addictions that some wrestle with and that I’ve had to overcome personally. Allowing myself to feel the pain my family-member is going through. Spending valuable time on my phone outside talking brothers off the ledge.

It’s times like these that make me wonder – how does anybody do it that doesn’t know Jesus?

I mean, seriously. How?

Several times over the last week, when someone has overstepped their bounds and interfered with my life and I’ve wanted to lash out in anger, I had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

Several times over the last week, when someone was feeling the same pain that I’ve experienced in the past, I had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

Several times over the last year, as a brother in Christ confesses their battle with purity, and I’ve done the hard thing of giving them tough, Gospel inspired love, calling them to repent and then lovingly embracing them – I’ve had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

So when you ask, how does the eldest of five, newly married, constantly busy, “rock-star-legend” (according to my wife) retail salesmen manage to keep it together (most of the time)? The answer is, I am His. My strength is His. I rely on Him.

I know Jesus, and I want you to know Him too. He saved my life, saved my marriage, gave me hope, and rose again – giving every sunrise new mercies.

There’s a new beginning each day. And we get to live with that hope, because of Him.

I’m praying for you, dear friend, as you’ve taken the time to read this – praying that you would know Him too.

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Man Crush Monday

There he was, the dream version of myself in human form sitting to my left. A middle-aged gentleman obviously in early retirement, wealthy to the point of millions most likely but my interest wasn’t necessarily in the money although you could tell he had some from the stories he told. After spending years in law enforcement, he had become a motivational speaker and through his speaking realized he needed to write a book and share his stories with the world. I thought about asking for his phone-number or his business card, or trying to give him the link to my blog but in the moment it felt like I’d be trying too hard so I just listened.

He talked about his favorite things to do in retirement were playing racquetball and joining a few gun clubs. I probably should have said, “I’ll try and keep up with you on the racquetball court,” but despite his age, he’d probably whoop me.

So what’s the point of me sharing this story? I feel I was just encouraged by meeting someone that had done it. It wasn’t as if the money appeared in his bank account overnight and it wasn’t as if he was an immediate success. From what it sounded like, he had made cold calls to various sources in order to self-promote and sell his own books and services. But he put in the work and received the pay off over time.

When asked what book I was wanting to write, I quickly quipped that it’d be awesome to compile a book of my previously written poetry and he suggested adding illustrations to them to make it more consumer friendly which I thought was an excellent idea. Unfortunately, I shied away from sharing that I was currently working on writing a book on addiction recovery and my own faith journey but that’s okay – I just felt revitalized to start writing again. Something he said was, “You just have to do it. Sit down and write and write and write – don’t worry about the editing until you’re nearly done and then go back and spend twice as much time editing it.” It’s always been the starting that is the hardest part. Like getting out of bed and making the bed in the morning. Like choosing to jog. The hardest part isn’t finishing a mile, it’s the first two blocks and trying to get some cold, tired legs to move again.

With writing, it’s eliminating the self doubt and the worrying what others will think, because who cares? They’re either going to read it or they’re not going to. Really, I’m doing it for myself anyways, as part of my own healing process and journey to freedom from addiction to counterfeit affections, freedom from the obsession with other’s opinions, freedom from bending to other’s expectations. It’s about letting others behind the veil, eliminating a second self cloaked in lies of omission to provide safe haven for the second self. Dying to the old and giving birth to the new.

In the end, that’s what life is all about. And it’s always the heart of the matter that matters the most.

So today as you read this, where is your heart? What dreams are you not pursuing and what excuses are keeping you from their pursuit? Gather up those excuses and take them out with the trash tomorrow morning. They don’t belong in your life anymore.

Living The Dream

I remember it as if it were yesterday,
Awkwardly attempting to connect,
Humor covering up the desire for respect.
Fear was met by boldness – objection.
Objecting to the norm of selfish intent,
Beauty flipped the script,
Gentleness overcame insinuations.

The Spirit within was awakened,
The Good had slept – dormant for years.
Focused on what’d been taken.
Freedom from the youthful days; childish replays.

And I suppose, even my foes,
Were growing weary of this prose.

Sappy pity it were that my choices had
Led to where I was,
And have led to where I am.

Yet, something changed that day…

That green eyes met blue.
Golden locks of hair – oh the way I look at you.

Prettiest heart I’d ever seen,
And I didn’t even know it all,
Until the Fall.

The past came to haunt me,
Evil’s accomplice, anxiety and shame, began taunting,
Lies of worthlessness and not being of measure,
The trickiest trickster began to hurt her.

Ominous clouds hung over the fairytale,
While mistrust hinted at the kingdom’s fall.

Then before my eyes – Jesus came to life.
Prayer led the way,
Forgiveness saved the day and made her braver,
Brothers cut off the chains and let to Freedom.
God restored our kingdom.

The prodigal son returned,
The Father reinstating his name to Prince;
He then pursued the princess and made her Queen.

And now I’ve seen the unseen,
I’ve held the Queen at night,
Eyes blurred with fright,
Felt the trembling in her bones.

At first I tried to fix it,
But learned I had to quit it.
Because all that she needed,
Was me, and I was there.
“I’m not going anywhere.”
Ever.
Our hearts are tethered.

Because I’ve decided.
And I did,
A man, not a kid.

Decided that you’re worth it.
Worth whatever it takes, whatever’s at stake.
Death to pride and death to shame,
Jesus gave me a new name,
Ignite the Flame.

Humility, the fuel we need.
Quality time, the faithful steed.

And thinking back to ‘glory days’,
What a phrase,
Just a phase.

I’d rather sing Christmas carols in May,
Keep your heart laughing,
Help you with the shopping,
Hold you until you know it’s fine,
Trust’s sleep, so divine.

And so there I laid, thinking of you,
The one that changed it all,
Endured the Fall and prayed through Winter,
Walked with me into Spring,
Now we can hear Summer sing.

Babe, it would seem,
I’m already living the dream.

With Love,
A Poem For My Love.

wedding-day

Intimidated

I’m sitting here and finding myself intimidated by writing my vows. Crazy to think that a hundred words – the word-limit that Allie and I have set will ‘define’ the love we have for each other. How can one tell a story so beautiful in just 100 words? How can I promise and pray enough good will of heart over our marriage?

She’s scared that I’ll “outdo” her, since I’m “a writer.” I doubt it. All it takes is a few kind words and that smile of hers to make me melt like ice-cream on a hot summer day. Consider me soft-serve already as I consider how anxious I’ll be that day just to finally say, “I do” and party with some of my closest friends and family.

The day is fast approaching. But Allie and I have not lost sight of the fact that this is simply a day. An evening of epic proportions, of course. One that we will remember for a lifetime. But also one that will pass by in the blink of an eye. Our marriage will not be defined by 100 words, or one evening of dancing, drinking, and laughing with friends.

It’ll be defined by the way we love each other day in and day out. How I’ll clean the bathrooms and how she’ll surprise me with coffee at work. How we’ll be fighting and know when to call a time-out and just kiss and promise one another that we love the other and are going to press through.

“I’ll always be there for you,” would sum up the state of my heart and my continuous promise to the woman that’s captured my heart.

I’m sure this state of “lovey-dovey” winsomeness will not always be about and we’ve faced our share of rough-and-tough “disagreements” (that’s what people call ‘fights’ to make themselves feel better about it). But I’m also positive that love does not have to be as dark as some have promised us it will be.

We’ve noticed a selfishness within both of our hearts and a need for humility. I hate being wrong, but I’m learning to hate being right just as much – there is no prize for the winner of an argument. There is only one wrestling with their own pride and one left feeling as if their heart was not valued.

I’ve found myself perplexed at the power of prayer. A few deep breaths, a hug, and then taking a few moments to pray over one another has a way of bringing us back – as if we were on a sports team in a huddle, receiving a pep talk from the Coach. Only our Coach is God.

And so I’m intimidated. Intimidated of how much bigger our love is than myself. Already catching visions and dreams of what God could potentially use our relationship for, the healing power it could bring, the Spirit that dwells within, the wounds to be healed, the walls to be torn down, the cities to travel to, and the stories to tell. Our story is so much bigger than myself. And I’m a pretty big guy. But I feel small.

If David can conquer Goliath, in Christ. Then WE can conquer life, in Christ.

So marriage and love will never be summed up in a matter of words. Their currency will always be measured in actions – the only true measure of a heart.

I’ve never encountered a more kind and beautiful heart than hers. It brings warm, joyous tears, as I consider how much Light she brings into the darkness. Pair that with a heart as wild and fierce as mine and you have an unstoppable force, unwilling to be broken, persevering to the very end with one goal in mind: Share the love of Christ.

Intimidated no more am I by a mere string of words etched out on notebook paper. Intimidated more so by all the work that is to be done and that I am not enough. But praise be to God that he sent me a Helper! And that His Spirit’s desire is to set us both free.

It’s come to my attention that some have found a sort of compelling nature about our relationship – a sense of hope, perhaps. We’re just a couple learning more about love each day. What you’ve found compelling about us is that every day we’re learning to surrender more and more of our hearts, and more and more aspects of our relationship to Christ.

The old Sunday school answer rings true here. “Jesus” is our answer. He can be yours, too.

intimidated

Heart-To-Heart

If your reputation is more important to you than integrity and personal-growth, then Jesus is not truly LORD of your life – that’s idolatry. Your rough-edges do not make you less of a saint, but simply mean you’ve been at war – once darkness is brought into light, it vanquishes, losing its power. It’s when we surrender to Jesus in the trenches that the tides turn in the war. He sends in airstrikes – legions of angels to protect you, and Jesus, Himself, petitions for your well-being. That’s incredible!

Have you ever read John 17? Right before Jesus is to be crucified He spends a large portion of His time praying for you and me! Seriously, go read it right now.

Do you know just how loved you are?

That makes all of the difference, doesn’t it?

If we know that someone truly loves us, then we are that much more motivated to love them. In fact, in our human-nature, we like to keep-score and ensure that we are receiving equal-returns on our love-investments. If I pay for your dinner this time, then next time it is the societal expectation that you’d make the offer. However, that is not the message Jesus sends to us. God loved you and I before we were ever born – hard to repay love that you were not even cognitively aware of.

You are loved. Really – you are so loved.

Identity found in the LORD trumps all other identity sources. When you recognize your kinship within the Kingdom of God and invest yourself in a church-family, it changes everything.

Once secure in our identity with the LORD – knowing that He truly desires to work all things out for our GOOD, then and ONLY then, can we begin to take steps toward recovery. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from – what relationship woes you’ve had, or what counterfeit affections you’ve clung to – there is healing that can be found. The first step is BELIEVING that Jesus TRULY LOVES YOU. If you can bring yourself to believe that, then the opinions of others matter much less, and it’s much easier to work through the crap. Because that is what sin is – crap – filthy muck that we’ve convinced ourselves is better than what God originally had in store for us. Now that we realize we were wrong, we can take the next step toward recovery.

The next step to recovery is honesty. “Honesty is the best policy” is a core-value that my parents raised me with. No matter the wrongdoing, I was ALWAYS in better-shape if I told the truth the first time around. The best counselors in the world are your friends and brothers and sisters in Christ that you can be genuinely honest with – the ones that you can go into vent-mode with – maybe even break out the “ugly cry” – you never let those friends go. However, there is a concept within the field of communication known as the Law of Reciprocation that has to do with self-disclosure. It’s a two-way-street basically – we need both sides to be open and vulnerable in this, or it is psychologically very difficult to go much deeper. It also takes time. On a relational level, we are like onions (Social Penetration Theory) – there are many layers to pull back and it takes patience to get to the core of who someone is. But it’s worth it. I’d much rather know the real you. The glossy outside-shell of an m&m is cool and all, but it’s all about the chocolate inside.

When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart with someone? You see – our society has become very much about resume-polishing. “If I appear okay and say I’m okay, then I must be okay, okay?” – is the vibe I receive from society and I am quite disgruntled with it. “Okay” is not an acceptable state and “I’m fine” is probably the most told lie in modern-day history. In other words, it is apparently far better to have polished photos of ourselves smiling on Instagram than to honestly deal with our identity issues with someone that will listen to us complain and then help us take it to the cross, where Jesus can remind us of our true value.

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Being fake is not an option – a follower of Christ can no more be fake, as an NFL player cannot wear his jersey. If you’re on the team, then you must go through the hard work of dying to yourself and taking up the cross of Christ, first and foremost, over your own personal agenda of “looking good”. That being said, are not the very best counselors those that have previously worked through the same issues that we are presently struggling with? If I am an alcoholic, who is going to understand me the most? Someone that has previously been an alcoholic, right? If I am incarcerated, who will understand my predicament better than a fellow inmate? If I am broken, would not a previously broken person that has learned how the healing power of Jesus can glue the pieces together and make all things new be the very best person for me to speak with and learn from?

Your willingness to surrender to Jesus does not go unrewarded – it not only leads to restored wholeness in the LORD, but also makes you a much more effective ministry-partner.

Friends, “okay” is no longer okay, and we must love each other too much to simply step-aside and watch each other walk toward destruction. satan loves apathy. Due-diligence he disgusts, as it means he may actually have to throw some stumbling-blocks your way. But that’s where the church comes in! When we bring others around us – and we have those people praying diligently for our restored joy and healing – big things happen. The “impossible” becomes reality – addicts become counselors, prisoners become justice-seekers, and the lost find their way Home.

EndIt

 

Last but certainly not least, be praying with me for the 27 Million that remain in slavery worldwide. Shine a light on slavery. Are you in it to end it? #EndItMovement

In The Fight With You,

Justin

Numbness

What is this numbness that pummels us?
The darkness so voluptuous, it’s crumpled us.
We’ve pressed it into the closet,
But know it’s there, if we’re honest.

All covered-up like them Covergirls,
Blemishes hidden with some other pearls.
Glossy and bright, but still rocks.
It’ll return to dust, check your clocks.

Do you see the foolery?
Sin has made a tool of me.

So now I need more,
Then I want less.
What a chore,
I’m restless.
Heart torn,
What a mess.

Life or death, death of life?
Strife or breath, how to decide?

We can play dress-up,
Make-believe and pretend,
Or admit we’re messed-up,
Find relief and mend.

Christ, come quick,
We’re sick.
Praying for recovery,
Praise His grace, it covers thee.