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

Fighting For The Right To Exist

“We’re all just fighting for the right to exist,” said Joseph as we sipped on coffee at Black Dog yesterday. My eyes sort of lit up at the reality of that statement and we proceeded to share how we were both learning what it meant to be content, fulfilled, and how to find a sense of self-worth.

“Everyone’s chasing a million dollars, or being the next big thing,” (paraphrased) we said next. And as my wife and I are discovering, that’s not necessarily what we want. Money would be nice – don’t get me wrong – to not have to worry about potential medical bills would be awesome, but what we’re searching for here is something bigger than what money can buy.

Money can buy you a lot of things. Expensive cars, big houses, a significant other that is potentially way out of your league, fine wine and 5-star dining/hospitality. But it can’t buy a sense of accomplishment or worth.

And who decides what makes you valuable anyways? Is it the individual that writes you a check bi-weekly for the work you’ve accomplished? Is it your parent’s standard of what your ideal is supposed to look like? Is it your own interpretation of what a perfect spouse is that you’ve unfairly projected onto your spouse and assumed they desired of you? (Guilty as charged.)

For me, I attempt to find worth in all kinds of things. The more friends I’ve connected with, the more fulfilled I’ll feel because then it feels like I’m making a difference or an impact on other’s lives. And according to my very kind friends, I am, and I’m grateful for that. But at the end of the day, that source of fulfillment is going to leave me as dry as a bottomless cup of coffee will. Eventually, you can’t stop peeing, the coffee tastes stale, and your body aches for water instead.

Perhaps that’s where we’re making things just a hair too complicated. At the end of the day, it’s that cold glass of water that leaves us feeling refreshed. It’s not the $10 bag of Roasterie coffee or the $40 bottle of bourbon; it’s not seeing the new movie or finishing that season of Parks & Rec; it’s a glass of water that our body needs and a walk around the block that clears our head.

The spiritual ties there are obvious, so I won’t waste my word-count trying to convince you of the benefits of Living Water and time to think clearly.

But aside from water and food, we all want to know and to be known. The times we feel closest to someone is when they open up to us and then we can open up to them. It takes two to tango and they both have to be willing to be vulnerable. But that’s how those excellent friendships last. I have to be willing to ‘undress’ myself in such a way that my imperfections can be clearly seen, noted, and dealt with – and yet, I’m still loved. And in return, I’ve gotta take that friend, brother, or my wife and see all of their vulnerability not as a chance to tear them down but as an opportunity to build them up. To speak life into their aching bones. To speak truthfully and honestly about the darkness evidently weighing heavily on their hearts and to lead them toward light and hope.

I think it’s true. “We’re all fighting for the right to exist.” But I wish it wasn’t. I wish we’d give ourselves a break from that pointless charade and war.

“I got the promotion! Now, do you love me?”

“I lost 20 lbs! Now, do you love me?”

“I starting writing more regularly! Now, do you love me?”

What if we confidently existed, comforted by the knowledge that we are loved? What if today I don’t strive and clean and seek perfection and I just sit here drinking my 3rd cup of Roasterie coffee (about to switch to water :P) and share these thoughts with you? What if afterwards I just lay on the coach and meditate on how it’s okay to just be me?

And so that’s exactly what I’m going to do this morning. I’m going to define my own worth by deciding anxiety has no place in my mind. I’m Taking Every Thought Captive (see last week’s post) and owning my own story. I’m not going to trouble myself with an unrealistic standard of perfection that I will certainly not meet today – especially while fighting a sore-throat, laryngitis, and congestion brought on by allergies and weather-changes. Today, I’m going to rest. Read books. Take a nap. And chill with Bryce.

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An Idea Guy

I’ve always been an idea guy. “I’ve got an idea,” is something I’ve never been afraid to say. And I always live life with an “it never hurts to ask” philosophy which has led to a lot of free stuff and good business partnerships at work. But I’ve noticed a shift in my mental perspective lately as I’ve considered my “ideas.” It’s alright to have great ideas, but why is it that a lot of my ideas just remain ideas?

Since the age of about 15 years old when I first started writing and occasionally being given the opportunity to teach Sunday School I’ve had this “idea” that I might be called into ministry someday – or at the very least that my gift with written words might take me somewhere. Our ideas are powerful. And when we share them with others, they become driving forces for positive change, most of the time.

I’ve gotten weak and scared with my ideas, though. I don’t like to share them with anybody anymore because what if I’m wrong – or what if I’m right? What if people find me out and discover that I’m not all that I was cracked up to be? So I take a wild heart – one that was never meant to be caged and I lock it away in the recesses of safety; somewhere deep within myself so that I’m not in danger of failing. The problem with this logic is that you’ll never finish a race you don’t have the guts to start running in the first place.

It’s just like when you have an idea to lose weight or an idea to cut back on unhealthy habits. It’s a great idea, but if you keep it to yourself and don’t put a plan in action the idea is weak. It’s not going to get you anywhere.

Actions are powerful. Plans are healthy. My flesh hates that. My sinful nature is passive, stagnant, and does not particularly enjoy putting forth great amounts of effort.

But what I’ve discovered is that if you start small, it adds up quick. A little kindness goes a long way. Even if you don’t change your diet, hitting the weight bench a few times a week leaves me more confident and sculpted. Allowing myself to be expressive, even when it’s not edited or “good” is powerful. Sharing my feelings with my soon-to-be-bride leads to deeper intimacy, a kind of closeness that leaves her feeling safe and me feeling loved just as I am, even if I want to be better.

So let’s stop being afraid to share our ideas. Let’s bring our hearts and energy together and pursue something. Let’s lean on the collective wisdom and strength of others occasionally. You are not perfect and neither is anyone else. We are all stronger together.

So yes – I’m an idea guy. But I want to become one of resolve and actions, too.

What about you?

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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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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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Weary Heart

The mess when hearts collide,

Pain and loss, come with the joyful side.

Flirting with insecurity,

Praying for assurance – see?

Want control and outcomes guaranteed,

But all you can do is water and plant the seeds.

Watching as this flower blooms,

Beauty out of dust – no gloom.

But weeds can come and clouds bring doom.

Yet I’ll seek a sunny forecast with you.

Weary hearts inside our chests,

Bleary eyes find rest.

It’s the beginning of the rest,

Praying we pass the test.

  

5 Things College Didn’t Teach Me

When someone asks me about my college-education, I like to give them the full, fancy, and lengthy description – it goes something like, “Oh, I earned a bachelors-degree in Communication Studies with an emphasis in Relational Communication and a minor in Leadership.” No big deal, or anything, right? I mean, that’s a pretty awesome mouthful of accredited credentials.

I love what I studied and what I learned from the few programs that I really gave myself to. I love the friends I made and the way college allowed me to grow from awkward, high-school boy to an extroverted man that could easily walk up and talk to anyone he wants to (on a good day). Strangely enough, I even learned to love some really tough professors – I appreciated the fact that they saw potential in me and refused to settle for my less-than-very-best efforts.

But here’s the thing…College didn’t teach me some things.

So here I am – a year and a month later – ready to share some nuggets about life with you. So pull up a lawn-chair, grab a cold drink (if you’re a hot coffee person in these Kansas summers – I don’t “get” you), and muster up all of the attention-span you have – a hard thing to do in the Smartphone-Era – and let me share 5 Things College Didn’t Teach Me.

  1. Your friendships and their dynamics will change – keeping them alive is in your hands. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I have some of the best-friends the world has to offer. The guys that are closest to me I’ve known the majority of my life, so they literally know the very best that I have to offer and the very worst, and somehow, they still love me. But post-college, our friendships have changed. Joey no longer lives two blocks from my house. Jake and I will never again have the opportunity to terrorize Hale Library with our caffeine-induced dance-parties while we are “studying”. And Bryce and I rarely have the opportunity to have 2 AM conversations about theology, followed shortly thereafter by my obnoxious laughter as I enter “Slap-Happy-Mode” around 3 AM. In order to maintain our brotherhood-like relationships, we have all had to purposefully set time in our schedules to meet semi-regularly. We still love each other – we still have some of the closest friendships I’ve ever been a part of, or witnessed – they just work a little differently now. And that’s okay. Good things are worth investing in. Sometimes, you have to put your pride aside and be the initiator. You can’t always wait for someone to call you – call them.
  2. Your definition of success better change, or you’re going to feel like a failure. Somehow, in my dream-world, I figured I’d have come up with some big ideas, written a book or two, landed on the New York Time’s best-seller list, married a hot babe, and moved out of my parent’s house by now. But I haven’t. My dream-jobs related to ministry, writing, and communication-coaching, etc. are wonderful, but thinking I’ll be a renowned success overnight is unrealistic. Sure, you have a college-degree, but so does the rest of the world. You have to be okay with working hard as a “low-level” employee, before you can have the big desk. The humble are raised up. Diligence and apathy are equally noted – despite the lack of “recognition” you feel now, it doesn’t mean that somewhere down the road, doors won’t be opened for the diligent, or closed on the lazy. God seems to enjoy surprising the faithful with wonderful, unexpected gifts. So keep your hand to the plow and stop feeling sorry for yourself.
  3. Your parents will always be your parents – get along with them. I’m strong-willed and wasn’t the easiest to raise. Yes, I was a Mama’s Boy and rarely did anything crazy to lose their trust as a youngster. But as I entered college and even as I graduated and returned home, I somehow thought that I could do life without them. First of all, that’s extremely prideful of me and very hurtful to them. Secondly, they love me a lot and I’ve really come to realize that. And finally, life is just a lot better when you get along with them. Respect their wishes and they’ll learn to respect that sometimes your wishes and views are a little different. They likely spent at least two decades of their life raising you, so it’s fair for them to hope that somehow you can still be “friends”. I’m gradually learning to be less defensive when my Mom asks me questions, because often, she is just genuinely curious. And I’m trying to keep my eyes from “glazing over” when my Dad speaks into my life, because it turns out, he’s pretty wise after all.
  4. You have to wake up early, if you want to accomplish anything. I did NOT do this in college. The only time I was awake before 9 AM was if I had pulled an all-nighter, or if we had an exam in my 8:30 AM class (exaggerating a little, but it was true once or twice). But I could get away with it then. You just can’t stay up until whenever you’ve finished the next season of Friday Night Lights and wake up whenever you want in the real-world. There are things to be done, relationships to invest in, and life to be lived. Spend some time in the Word, eat breakfast, make a coffee-run, and show up to work early. Your best work is never going to be rushed. I wrote a 5-page paper in AN HOUR once and still managed a B, and I spent 17 consecutive hours working on my senior-thesis and earned a B. But the truth is, I’m an A+ writer. There was never an excuse for me to get anything less than an A. I don’t procrastinate anymore. Mom wants to the lawn mowed – done. Customers need a call back – boom, I call them back. The boss needs me to come in early – I’ll be there earlier than early. Let’s get things done, people. Making excuses to stay in bed just leads to making excuses to put off other things later in the day.
  5. Your brothers and sisters are amazing gifts – do not take them for granted. Since elementary school when I first met Joey and we invited Jake into the “Triple J” brotherhood, I have always naturally gravitated more toward my friends than my siblings. But let me tell you something. Since moving back home, I’ve realized just how precious and valuable my relationships with my brothers and sisters are. Yes, they’re crazy. Jordan can be stubborn, Tyler can ask enough questions to make you think he’s a detective, Caitlin might kill you if you use her blue, popcorn bowl, and Brianna can be an angel one minute and not-such-an-angel the next. But I’ve had the blessing of spending more time with them lately – especially Tyler and Caitlin – and it’s been the best thing ever. They love me more than I’d ever previously recognized and trust me and my words of advice more than probably anyone else. It is such an honor to be their oldest brother. No matter your family situation (everyone has conflict in their families – it’s a fact of life), do not shut-out or take your siblings for granted. Image