Loving Others Well

I wrote a letter to a friend in jail today. Never quite thought I’d write that sentence. But I did and it was probably a good and healthy thing for the both of us that I chose to do that with some of my free-time this afternoon.

I remember a time in my life where I wouldn’t have had the strength to do such a thing. To reach out to and love on the ostracized or to understand the world from the perspective of another, but that’s something I’ve yearned to change about myself. It’s easy to judge others from the outside, but it’s much more difficult if we actually get to know those around us. Having conversations with different people at work or church or in any social setting has a stretching affect on the heart. You’ll feel uncomfortable at first but before you know it, you’re caring about someone that you typically wouldn’t.

This gentlemen wasn’t my enemy – but did you know that we’re called to love even our enemies as Christians? That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. If you’re a Facebook Friend of mine you’ve seen me quoting Bob Goff’s “Everybody, Always” fairly frequently over the last month or two. What a phenomenal book about loving our stranger and enemy – if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Goff’s love for his enemies has led to witch-doctors sharing the Gospel to their fellow inmates in prison…with Goff in the audience…and he’s the one that put them there (as an attorney)!

You know what makes an ass out of you and me? When we ASS-u-me things…

All puns aside, we do a huge disservice to ourselves and to others when we assume we know the whole story about other people’s lives. Until you’ve given them a chance to share their perspective and journey and asked them about their heart, where they’ve been and where they’re going, you really have no insight into who they are.

Why do we do that? Judge people before we know the whole story. It’s one of the first things we try to train out of good salespeople. Never assume a customer’s situation…always discover what they want and need, then make a recommendation based on what you’ve learned.

We’ve all heard the stories of someone deciding to ask a young lady if they were pregnant, when really they’d just been enjoying the Fall Weather’s pumpkin-spiced lattes and coffee-cake like I have this afternoon. You don’t know people you haven’t actually had a conversation or shared a meal with.

The moral of the story is we cannot know where people are going if we are unaware of where they’ve come from. And even that won’t tell us the whole story.

If people judged you solely off of your past, would you enjoy seeing the trajectory that they displayed on a white-board for you? Probably not.

Keeping God’s Grace on the table, like a bowl of sugar with a big spoon in it can really help sweeten one’s vision for the future. There’s always hope in Christ. Recovery from addiction, reconciliation for relationships, development of a healthier individual with better habits and weekly rituals; these are all possibilities that we as Christians should be able to pray for, speak over, and believe for another person.

We should be reminding people of the grace and love we see in them. Pinning them with medals of excellence for who they’re becoming.

If God were writing you a letter right now, he wouldn’t tell you who you’ve been, he’d tell you who you are. But he’d have permission to do that because he knew us first.

Our words have power. Created in His image, our words can give life and take it. Do you breathe life into the sails of others ships? Or when you encounter others, do you shipwreck them with a powerful storm of assumptions? Do you encourage them with who they’re becoming or shame them with who they’ve been?

You’ll build strong, deep, faithful, loyal friendships if you take the time to love others well and choose to breathe life into their sails even if their ship isn’t sea-worthy today. You’ll be better off for it, as will they. We’ve all had bad hair-days after all (I just got a haircut that I don’t really love…a little too short for my liking). So it’s probably time we stop thinking we have our life more pulled together than anyone else.

Learning With You,

Justin

letters

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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A Love Letter

Dear [Insert Future Wife’s Name Here],

You are incredibly patient. I already know this. You’re currently waiting on me, to mature, to pursue, to romance, to delight, and to serve you. And I have yet to make my move, because–well, a)I’m scared and b)I don’t quite yet know who you are. But I do know that you are patient. I have so many quirks that make me a not-so-perfect, not-so-cookie-cutter Christian husband, but you’ll patiently wait, forgive, and love me, and for that, I’m already grateful.

You are ridiculously beautiful.  I’m very complimentary by nature and love to encourage others, so you’ve likely already heard me tell others that they’re good-looking, but you. take. the. cake.  I mean, “Girl, you FINE.” And it’s not just about the fact that you’re a 10 on the “hot” scale, but it’s that heart of yours that sets you apart. I want you to feel comfortable wearing a little less makeup (or none at all), throw away those pamphlets for potential cosmetic surgeries, and let me burn every issue of Cosmo and Seventeen magazine that has ever made you feel a little less like a woman. Because, as I said, you are beautiful. Nothing less than that, but certainly so much more. Embrace that reality, or you’re going to get sick of me “lying” to you about it.

Your heart is breathtaking. The depth, compassion, wisdom, and concern for the welfare of others rocks me, every time. The fact that you love…me!!! I mean, really? Me? Are you sure?

My inconsistencies, character-flaws, and sometimes lacking confidence does not seem to send you awry; this brings me to the next thing about you…you have only one Savior, and it’s not me. Your heart delights in the LORD, and I’m so lucky to one day have a better understanding of Him through your testimony, and to be a witness to your prayer-life.

I know you are not perfect, nor sinless. I know you’ll have “bad-hair days” and wake up looking like something out of a horror-film, and that some weeks (perhaps months), your prayer life will be shallow, or that doubts will arise. That’s okay, because you’re human, and I will do all that I can to lead you out of that time of anxiety and desperation; attempting to never lead you to solely to me, but to lead you to the LORD, to experience the comforting power of the Holy Spirit, together.

You make me stronger. The LORD is first and foremost my King, my rock, my fortress, my everything—but you are my resting place here on this earth. Together, we will seek Him. Together, we will endure trials. Together, we will overcome temptations, sickness, financial turmoil, the loss of friends and family, and so much more. Together, we will rejoice, in the birth of our sons (okay, okay, and maybe a daughter or two…haha), in our marriage, in our accomplishments, and in everything the LORD blesses us with.

I am selfish by nature, but increasingly coming to an appreciation of the words “together” and “with”–being in constant fellowship with you will not be easy–but the fruit of the labor we do TOGETHER will be ten-fold what I could ever “accomplish” by myself.

I will mess up, more than once. I’ll probably end up breaking your heart at some point or another. And I will never promise to be flawless, or perfect, but I do promise to love you. I’m already doing everything I can to pray for and prepare for your arrival in my life, daily.

Until We Meet (or my eyes are opened),

Justin

Letter to the Brokenhearted

I know you’re pain-stricken

Tears make your eyes glisten.

Stressing over bills; heartbeat quickens

Mouth’s running miles and you won’t listen.

 

Family and friends leave you empty,

But I’m here for you. Christ sent me!

Every beer you drink dulls the pain,

Nothing can stop the teardrop’s rain.

 

You sit under stars and feel small.

Wish you could buy happiness at the mall.

Can’t admit it, but you’re searchin’

Sobs of sorrow have your chest lurchin’

 

There has to be something greater than the unbearable pain,

It’s stealing your joy and making you go insane.

 

Sorrowfully, I pray you keep gettin’ rocked…

This may leave some people shocked…

 

But someday when you’re open,

I’ll get to tell you about this hope and…

If you believe, then you can REST!

 

His hands will restore YOU!

 

Gloomy days will turn to joyful smiles,

The color of Creation seen for miles!

 

I could go on but for now I’ll pray,

That someday you’ll hear what God has to say…