Mustache Manifesto

It all started a few weeks ago. I began sharing with Allie my impulse to shave my beard – it was bothering me; I wanted a clean face for a little while again. But for whatever reason I just didn’t do it. Then Saturday came.

I had just gotten off work and eaten dinner with my wife and the thought crossed my mind again and I spoke it out loud – “Then, let’s do it!” she said excitedly. “Why keep talking about it? If you want to shave your beard, just do it.”

The matter was resolved. I walked up the stairs and began trimming my beard. If only that were the truth.

Instead, I spent the next hour or two agonizing over whether or not I should do it. What would people think? Would my friends and family accept me? Would she still find me attractive and desirable if I “looked 17 again” as some say when they’re clean-shaven in their 20s? What if coworkers made fun of me and customers found me less trustworthy?

So much identity wrapped up in some hair – the mild brownish-red scruff that I had sported since Jake & Co. had convinced me to grow a beard in college. It was important. It proved as it were that I was a man. It covered up (I thought) my double-chin and mildly handsome face. As I thought about it, it was almost as if I were hiding my true self behind a wall of rebellious manhood.

And I thought about my post-college years (pre-Allie) and the “man” I tried to prove I was. Overzealous rhetoric, aggressively flirtatious, and a ridiculous amount of pseudo-charm that was the Covergirl Makeup associated with an unstable amount of insecurity.

That was it. It was time to do it. To cut away the past. Wipe away the greasy strands and wispy past. To feel clean again – even if just for a brief season. (It’s highly likely the beard will return as soon as the weather cools again. But it’ll be because I want it, not because I need it.)

So it happened. Failing miserably with a razor at first and realizing I’d have to mega-trim the beard before using a razor to clear the rest. “Except for, keep the stash!” said Allie, cheerily – always finding a way to bring an extra dose of joy into the already silliest of occasions. And so I did. Because, why not?

A day later, I’d convinced my brother Tyler that lives with us to do it too. And I’m still working on convincing Jordan to bring his back. But all in good fun and just for the sake of laughs (I mean, how great would a Meyer Bros Mustache Trio be?!?!). Because I’ve already taken life seriously enough for the three of us.

So friends, what are you doing to cover up your heart and the parts of yourself that you don’t want to face? Maybe it’s as simple as shaving the beard and starting over, or maybe it’s a little more complicated than that – some poisonous relationship to flee from, an addiction to leave behind, or an over-reliance on independence to the point of isolation – but whatever it is that is trapping you from being fully the man or woman the Lord is calling out of you – rid yourself of it as quickly as possible.

My identity is in the Lord, as a Christian man, husband, brother, friend, son, and puppy-daddy.  I don’t need anything else to prove who I am.

(Yes….I know….I got a whole blog post out of shaving my beard. Silly? Sure. But it’s also unapologetically who God designed me to be. Now Harvey needs someone to play fetch with, so I better go!)

ron swanson

Welcome Home

If only it were so simple,
Jump right in, avoid the ripples?
Right to the center and upward,
But first, splintered and haggard.

Rain drops leave impressions,
Wash away impurities,
But first it’s muddy, then it’s clean.

Rivers wind through canyons,
Mortars launch from canons,
All explosive, reckless abandon.

And O sweet passion.
Unpredictable, but a predicament.
Alien, this compassion,
Acts for another’s benefit.

So we trip on the cobblestones.
We’re weak and hope no one knows.

But He does.

And you thought rain-drops caused the canyons!

Yet the tears of His compassion fill the oceans.
But we doubt.
Would He really love me out in the open?
You sure – all my insecurities and coping?

My life is an earthquake,
Every worry, every mistake.
Is there such a savior for my sake?
How much can His heart take?

All of it. All of you, and all of me.
Calling us – even me! – family.

Royalty.

Yes, King. Yes, Lord. Yes, Daddy.

Let the rain come!

Palms up – accept the blessing.
Do away with clenched fists and all this wrestling.

The thing about Love is, it never stops pursuing.

Resilient, hopeful, Light.
Shine bright in this world’s dark night.

Your heart’s aglow – it’s where He’s making His home.

Feel the warmth.

Welcome Home,
You’re not alone.

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Unfiltered

I don’t know about you, but I care a lot what others think of me. Anyone else get dressed in the morning and sometimes end up going through two or three outfits before finding ‘the right one’? Good – glad I’m not the only one.

Recently, I was considering if that may be effecting other areas of my life as well. Perhaps my writing, as I haven’t written anything new in a while. The bottom line – I simply do not want to be a failure – whether that means writing something not worth reading, ending up never published, or expressing thought-patterns that do not line up perfectly with how I was raised, educated, the societal-norm.

The problem with being the person everyone else wants you to be, is that you end up losing yourself in the mix of things. So here I am – discovering myself – expressing thoughts and not really editing them (because let’s be honest, this is a BLOG, not an academic journal).

There’s something flavorful about being unfiltered. In fact, one of my favorite beers is Boulevard Brewing Company’s “Unfiltered Wheat” – more commonly referred to as “Boulevard Wheat”. I like my beer unfiltered and some people like the French Press style coffee that is basically unfiltered. And I think I like people more, that are unfiltered.

Alright, I think you get that the post is titled “Unfiltered”, I’ll give the word a rest.

In the rat-race of pleasing others and meeting their expectations, we drown ourselves in the agony of defeat. But we didn’t really have a chance to win, when we make it one man against the world.

What does a guy in his mid-twenties do when he’s trying to discover himself? Well, he starts dating.

Over the last few months, I’ve been on a handful or so dates. It’s interesting how this uncertainty of self comes into play. I now understand much more clearly how/why people end up adjusting their personalities/characteristics while dating. In order to become appealing to so-and-so, I recognize what appeals to them and try to become that. The problem is, I’m not really the rebel or bad-boy, but I’m also not the perfect, never-does-anything-wrong standard of the opposite.

In the spirit of being unfiltered – yes, I’ve tried online dating. And yes, I know what Tinder is. I have so many thoughts when it comes to online dating, but I’ll save most of them for a future post when I have more time. The gist of my position is that it’s difficult to learn enough about someone in order to make a rational decision based upon the 1-to-2 dates that usually allows for. Knowing someone in-person – at work, church, within your circle of friends, appears to be a much more natural way of understanding how others behave in various situations and discovering who they really are. The appealing side to the online dating culture is that you can be whoever you want to be (that day) and your date isn’t going to know the difference. Also, it circumvents all of the – what I feel to be – unnecessary red-tape that comes when dating within the church (once again, probably another post in the future. But I’m young, inexperienced, and just learning as I go, so don’t weigh my ‘insight’ too heavily).

Of all the things I’ve personally been learning and struggling through recently, one thing prevails above everything – life does not appear to be as cookie-cutter as I once thought. I’m overwhelmed with humility and compassion for others when I recognize how many mistakes I, myself, have made as well. As a young Christian, I grew up trying to be perfect, always doing everything right – following all the rules – and holding myself above everyone. It made me a ‘leader’, but you can’t really lead anyone when you’re looking down on them. You lead from the front-lines, in the trenches with everyone else.

You’re not always going to fit within the lines of everyone else’s expectations. Sometimes, you won’t even meet your own (usually unrealistic) expectations. Forgiveness and grace has always been much easier for me to give others, as opposed to giving it to myself. Learning to accept my own faults and diligently work towards growth has been hard. It turns out you can’t lose 30 lbs over night. But beating myself up everyday I look in the mirror doesn’t fix the problem. It’s adjusting my lifestyle and gradually becoming more disciplined with what I eat/drink and how active I am. I’m not going to become a manager in the workforce overnight – I have to do my part, work hard in my current position as a contract-employee, and earn my way up.

We all want to live life full-speed ahead. I know I do. I want to reach the finish-line, look back and say, “That was awesome!” But in order to be safe and healthy, we have to slow down for the speed-bumps (obstacles) along the road of life. But you can do it. I can do it.

Be real. Be you. Live unfiltered.

Above all things, remain hopeful. Do not allow the worries of the world, the stresses of the day, and the internal battles, to snuff out your light.

Shame’s Exile

You know the feeling – your eyes cannot look up to meet those of your accuser. Suddenly, you’re not quite sure if it’s possible to feel more sick to your stomach than you presently do. And it’s not because you ate Taco Bell’s “fourthmeal”. Your eyes stare blankly at the ground and your shoulders slump because you’re experiencing the weight of shame.

Have you ever “shamed” anyone? Have you ever been told that you should “be ashamed of yourself”? If your answer is “yes” to both of those questions, then you’re probably human. So that’s good – at least you’re not an alien!

Perhaps you’ve been a parent who has discovered a darker, more sinful side of one of your children and you’ve told them they should “be ashamed of themselves”. Maybe you’re a church-member and you’ve shunned other churches from your social-life because their ideals don’t line up perfectly with yours. And maybe you’re the one that’s been shamed – you’ve taken “the walk of shame” home after a frat-party gone wrong, or someone’s discovered your substance-abuse and made you feel like a failure for it. Because you smoked weed a time or two, you’re no longer useful to the world.

Well, I’m here to tell you that shame is a liar and one of satan’s greatest threats to the Kingdom of God. Because if he can cripple the Children of God with shame, then he can steal their Hope by making them believe in a false identity. With the church crippled by their shame, how can they possible fight for the restoration of other souls?

As long as you’re still breathing, there is still hope. Jesus has not closed Himself off from you – He came to save the world, not to condemn (or shame) it (John 3:17).

You should NOT be ashamed.

If you read the Bible cover-to-cover, you will see that the sexually-immoral, substance-abusers (narcotics, alcohol, etc.), murderers, and distinctly evil people came to fall at Jesus’ feet. And each time they did – what did He do? Did He send them away and exile them? No – He began the process of healing them, and welcomed them Home.

When was the last time you saw a troubled-individual on the side of the road (drug-addict, homeless person, a man/woman that decided not to keep their child) and felt compassion for them, rather than disgust? I regretfully admit that compassion is not always the easiest of heart-states for me to enter into. Often, a vengeful resentment toward the way they’ve hurt others enters my heart first. Yet, as I read Scripture, I see hundred of years of compassion before God ever takes wrathful steps toward justice.

God doesn’t invoke shame’s exile upon us, so why would we do so to our hurting brothers and sisters? Learn from Jesus – take the nails (of other’s strife) and love despite – love unconditionally.

Shame has a way of isolating. It sends broken people away. Would a doctor turn away a sick patient? (I hope not!) Shame isolates and quietly poisons the human heart. Before long, the accuser’s “you’re worthless” becomes the individual’s identity – “I am worthless”.

“You are” becomes “I am…” And “I am” statements have a great deal of power. With words, God created the universe. Simply by speaking, He breathed life. Throughout Scripture, you see the LORD changing individuals’ identities for the better. Saul became Paul, Abram became Abraham, widows became loved, orphans became children, impoverished became rich in Spirit, and the downtrodden discovered joy.

You are not useless. You are not a failure. You are not yet beyond saving.

Enter in God’s embrace and believe that you are His child. He will not abandon or shame you, as you earthly parents may have at one point or another. He will not leave, nor forsake you. He will give you good gifts and bless you with them as your heart matures and you can handle it. Like a loving Husband, He knows His Bride (the church – you and me) better than anyone else – when we can handle more responsibility and power and when we cannot.

Shame has no place in our hearts. It’s time to exile shame, rather than allowing it to exile us.

If His mercies are new each morning, then dwelling on the sinful you of yesterday doesn’t quite make sense if today’s you is cloaked in Him.

Want to change the world? Do so one heart at a time – by loving others the way Christ has graciously loved us, time and time again. Forgiveness and an active, unashamed, love are our greatest weapons in the spiritual-war on shame.

Jesus has welcomed me Home, and now I’m welcoming you.

It’s time to welcome the others.

Shame

I’m A Man: Achievement Unlocked

Wednesdays are my favorite days because they’re my day off in the middle of the week. What does that mean? It means that I get to spend the day doing whatever the heck I want to do – which always involves coffee, reading, and (in today’s case) writing.

As I’ve read more and more books, I’ve discovered that there is a common theme among authors – a common theme. Wait – does that last sentence make sense? Yes, it does. The common theme among authors is that they often have a common theme in their writings. For me, as the blog’s title may suggest, that has often been grace. But more and more so, I believe my heart has been stirred in areas of the Holy Spirit and upon the topic of masculinity.

A few days ago, I came across a paper that I wrote in college, titled “Christian Culture and Masculinity”, in which I analyzed many cultural themes and researched how social-media defines the gender role of a man. The question always comes down to, “What makes me a man?” In other words, “At which point will I be ‘man’ enough?” Being wholly accepted, delighted in, and respected are desires that strike the depths of every man’s soul.

While I was waiting on my coffee this morning, I struck up a conversation with the barista. Somehow, she ended up asking me if I had any kids. “No kids here,” I assured her. But does her thinking I look old enough to be a father make me a man?

I’ve often wrestled with this question – when does a man feel as if he has “arrived”? I have a college-degree, work a full-time job, apparently look old enough to have kids, and have worked up to at least some muscle tone from the last year of working out at a gym. Does that make me a man? It doesn’t seem to make things all that much different to be honest. I still feel like me. Would I feel like more of a man if I could update my Facebook with “In A Relationship with…[Insert Pretty Girl’s Name Here]”? Maybe for a few days, but in the end, I’d still just be me.

Is just me enough? Are you enough?

The problem with the word “just” (and why it is in italics), is that it assumes the role of insignificance. It’s like when say something along the lines of, “Wish I could do more, but I’ll just pray for you.” Prayer is not insignificant though, and neither are you and I.

If you’re in the gaming world at all, then you know that many of the games now have “Achievements” – so when you get a “Double Kill” – then you get a message that says, “Achievement Unlocked” with whatever perk comes along with it. I think we often view life in this way. “If I could just accomplish/conquer this one thing on status-ladder, then I would be fulfilled…”

Aren’t you tired of climbing?

Aspiration is one thing, but obsession with whether or not you’ve “made it” in the world, or falling into agonizing depression because you believe yourself to be “lesser” are quite another. And it will never be enough. Trust me – accomplish one thing and you’re already hungry to accomplish the next thing – often not even taking the time to be grateful for the first ‘success’.

You’re the only you there is in the world. There is no other Justin Meyer, aka “Flame”, out there, and even if there is, God has created me for a purpose and blessed me with many gifts to reach others in a way that no one else can.

The same is true of you, brothers. You are, indeed, necessary. You can, if you choose to be, enlist yourselves in the band of brothers that can confidently rest in full assurance that they are MEN. And not only men, but MEN OF GOD, if they will only live for His Kingdom.

So I’ve made a personal promise to myself (that I would love for you to hold me to), that I will no longer waste my time worrying about whether or not I am a man. Because I am. Rather, I will simply be a man – I will diligently pursue and rest in all the LORD has to offer. “No reserves. No retreats. No regrets.” There’s no turning back now.

I’m a man.

Are you?

Man

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue of masculinity. What do you think MAKES someone a man? How does one become “man enough”? What are some roadblocks to you (or others) believing they are truly a man that has the ability to make an impact?

LOST: Five Minute Friday Edition

Every Friday, a group of bloggers take five minutes out of their day to blog about a predetermined topic. The idea is that they don’t worry too much about being wordy, or perfect, but they just let loose and do some good, solid writing for five minutes and see what comes of it. So, today, I’m joining the party. In these short, five minutes before my shift, I’m going to write about today’s topic: LOST.

It’s easy to feel lost in the world we live in. As a twentysomething, I feel the pressure to become something – to do something that really matters – to make an impact. And yet, I often just feel at a loss. Where am I in the big chasm that is our world? How can I stand between the darkness and the light and bridge the gap – how can I actively reflect the nature of Christ to others? The weight of it all can be despairing and can often lead to my darker days.

When we allow the weight of the world to fall onto our own shoulders, it leaves us exhausted and ready to quit. But I think that’s a good place for us to get to. “God’s address is at the end of our rope,” my pastor at K-State once taught us. And I think it’s very true. It’s when we come to the end of ourselves – when we reach our breaking point – that God can actually do something with our lives.

I’ve always thought that I was there – that I had fully lost myself in the LORD and surrendered everything. But over the last year, I’ve recognized that within my heart, I’ve held on very tightly to a few things, becoming lost in myself, rather than the LORD.

My prayer, today, is that we would choose to lay aside everything that hinders us, and allow ourselves to become captivated by his love – to be “lost” in His presence. There is no safer, nor warmer, nor lovelier place for our hearts to dwell, so why let them wither in the cold shadows of darkness any longer? I pray that we become lost in Him.

Five minutes is up. Hopefully this strikes some chords with you, readers.

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