4PM – Wrestling Through My Authentic Self

It’s almost 4PM and I’ve gotta be honest, despite an incredible week of discipline and life-changing decisions, I haven’t accomplished much today. Some days you wake up and the crippling expectations of perfection you’ve placed on yourself cripple your movements. You don’t want to get up and work toward your goals because, what if you fail? You share the incredible progress you’ve made in your weight-loss journey and set a reachable, but difficult goal and share it with your Facebook friends and then you shrink into bed for an afternoon nap because how you’re afraid you won’t achieve it.

You remember the meeting that you set up with the lead pastor of your megachurch, who kindly took an hour out of his day to set up a meeting with you to share tips on how to become a better writer, shared his own story on how he came to be one, and then you find yourself paralyzed by the fear of not being enough and you barely have the inner strength to get yourself back behind the keyboard again – even though you know it’s exactly where you belong.

You’re the kind of person that walks into a room and the temperature changes. You go into a meeting at work and if you’re on, it’s noticeable – and if you’re down, it’s going to bring the room down. You don’t even have to be assigned the role of leadership, you just naturally are the leader – your words have power, your actions bring results, and your passion – present or not – makes itself felt.

And you set this unrealistic expectation on yourself that you always have to be on, all of the time. If you’re at the family-dinner and you’re feeling a little sullen and not being the life-of-the-party, peace-keeper that everyone knows you’re capable of being then you’ve somehow failed them.

But have you? Is it really your job to be everyone’s Jesus? And do you have to be at 100% every day to compete?

There are Major League Baseball pitchers who’s job is to be ON, bringing the heat, throwing the strikes game-after-game-after-game, and even they are going to have an off day. I think of the late Royals Pitcher Yordano Ventura – throwing gas most of the time and sometimes he was just plain awful, but he was still the young-star and his energy was felt. His presence was made known, at every single game – on the sidelines or in the action, on the mound at Kauffman Stadium.

But what makes guys like Salvador Perez so valuable to the Royals? It’s his authenticity – he is always himself, all of the time. He’s leading the emotional, physical, and mental charge, all of the time – on and off the field. And he’s having fun while he’s doing it!

Brene Brown writes, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”

That got me thinking…

If my blog is about Embracing God’s Grace and believing in His redemptive power to overcome my weaknesses – if His love can cover over a multitude of my sins, and if I think Jesus took my place on the cross…

Then why am I still hiding in bed?

And so I got up, put my clothes back on (as the world outside cheered and thanked me for doing so), and came downstairs to the computer to pound out my choppy thoughts on the day. Chopping writing is better than no writing.

“Practice your craft,” my pastor said.

So it may be just a quarter after 4PM as I’m briefly editing this, but the day isn’t over yet and I didn’t surrender fully to the Enemy. God’s not finished with me yet. And he’s not finished writing your story either. So if you’re having one of those days where you’re stuck hiding in bed, or slinking behind your coworkers and avoiding being seen and known, I’d encourage you to be brave today and trust that His grace is enough.

I encourage you join in the “daily practice of letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embracing who you are.”

You can see the first week of our progress in how attractive my beautiful wife and I are in this photo of us at my buddy Matt’s wedding this Saturday! I’m one heck of a lucky man!

justin and allie

Psalm Study Week 3 (Psalms 15-21)

Sometimes life takes over and you fall behind on your writing. What matters is that I’m trying to become more consistent and disciplined with it – right? Here is “Week 3” and what I learned along the way. I’ll also do what I can to write Week 4 in the next couple days so we can all be caught back up!

  • Psalm 15:1-2 “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain? The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart.
    • The last year or two I’ve been a part of a group of men that hold each other accountable to living holy and blameless lives, protecting their marriages from scandal, and doing the hard work of cleaning their hearts from the inside out. You may have heard it said, the Lord is not concerned with whitewashed tombs but he is concerned with the heart – and that’s what my message (and blog) has always been about. You may have it all together on the outside – that’s wonderful. But when was the last time you opened up your heart and really dug to the root of your weaknesses? Can you really, confidently pray to the Lord and ask Him to examine your heart, for it is blameless?
  • Psalm 16:8-9 “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure.

    (The bullet list formatting wouldn’t work beyond this point in the blog for whatever reason. I’ll have to come back and edit later on, but the show must go on!)

    What I found to be so important in Psalm 16: 8-9 was how David’s focus could not be shaken. But placing his eyes on the Lord, his lot was secure. Because his heart is glad and his tongue sings praise, his body also will rest secure. I could go for some of that rest. Come, Lord – show me what that kind of rest and peace looks like.

    Psalm 17:3 “Though you probe my heart, though you examine me at night and test me, you will find that I have planned no evil; my mouth has not transgressed.”

    Can the same be said of my heart? Can the Lord look into my heart and see that I have planned no evil – that I have not uttered a slander against a brother or a sister? And what about you, dear friend? O that we may experience this sort of holiness!

    Psalm 18:37-39 “I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet. You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me.

    What an excellent battle-cry! What a testament to the confidence we should have in the Lord. Just makes you want to go workout in the gym and prepare yourself for battle against evil. Death has no sting and we’ve got the power of God before us. Earlier in the chapter, David is writing and describing the majestic power of the Lord and how he has rescued him from deep waters. The imagery is beautiful, powerful, and descriptive and I’d encourage you to go back and read it when you have the time. What an awesome God we serve.

    Psalm 19:11 “By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

    “Them” is referring to the instructions of the Lord found in Scripture. I think this is an excellent reminder of our need to be in the Word daily, meditating on it day and night, as it instructs the heart and leads us toward great reward.

    Psalm 20:6 “Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand.

    Who doesn’t like #winning? May the Spirit call you out of deep waters and anoint you and your ministries. May He send His angels to deliver us in times of battle and may our shouts be shouts of victory and not wails of defeat.

    Psalm 21:7 “For the king trusts in the Lordthrough the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken.

    Recording artist Thi’sl writes of Christian men being kings. Royalty in the eyes of God, heirs to the throne. A king that trusts in the King Of Kings will not be shaken. I want to be like that when I grow up!

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Race Against The Battery

I was just meeting with a friend for coffee and talking with him about his pursuit of becoming a better writer. It reminded me of a time when I blogged far more regularly. I would participate in a thing called “Five Minute Friday” – where there would be a topic and you’d have five minutes of writing, without editing or worrying too much about your thoughts – you wrote about the selected topic and shared them with the world.

There’s something fun about not holding back. Scared of not measuring up to what readers may expect, I will frequently discount my voice and shy away from sharing what I have to say. So this morning it’s a race against my MacBook’s battery (because I forgot the charger and probably won’t have any free time to finish writing later). Let’s see what we can do with 12% – I mean, 11%….

Life is kind of a race against the battery – isn’t it? You wake up fully charged most of the time and some days you didn’t sleep that well – you forgot to plug yourself into the bed early enough and wake up at 50% and you’re like, “Welp – today is gonna be fun.” And then even on a normal day, by the time lunch rolls around you’re running near 50% or less, just wondering how you’re going to get through the remaining 8 hours.

As I sit here in Black Dog, that’s kind of how I feel about my life right now. Lots of variables and unknowns in life currently and lots of dreams and things being prayed for, and having pursuits of becoming healthier – exercising more and eating right – but then the subzero temperatures hit and the fridge runs out of fruits and vegetables and you find yourself digging into a greasy burger and beer at Johnny’s after work.

Conserving battery life – time-management, money management, stress management, crisis response are all a part of this wild journey that we call life. And at every turn seems to be a reminder that we need to get better at more than one of these areas. And it’s overwhelming if you let it be.

I frequently look at all the areas I need to improve in and want to curse myself out. “You should have x-amount saved for retirement, and you should have a house, and you should be 50 lbs lighter, and able to lift y-amount of pounds, and your sales should be so much better, and you should be reading the Bible every day, continuing recovery homework, and writing your book – you should be doing all of these things, every day.” It’s as if I’m looking down on myself and lecturing myself into a comatose state. “I guess this is it – I’ve failed. I’ll never make it.”

8% left…

And that’s how I feel. 8% left. Stuck in the same patterns, plugging into the same old, crappy sources for strength.

And then it hits me. God loves us so much that he’s offered us Living Water! And those that have tasted it should thirst no more! And here I am, in a “thirsty” culture that lusts and covets everything – allowing myself to be poisoned to the point of death. And my Lord and Savior is saying, “Here – come and drink! Let the children come to me.” And it’s in those moments where you’re on the floor in tears and feeling helpless and hopeless like a little child that we can truly remember what faith is, what it’s like to realize we need something, someone, some God – because we will NEVER be enough, on our own.

The self-help industry and all of it’s nooks and crannies wants you to believe that you ARE enough and that you WILL get better, and maybe you will get better. But at the end of the day, if your heart doesn’t change, you’re not going to remain changed – because you’ll always be yourself. The only one capable of changing your heart is God. And that seems to be what we all run from the most. Allowing ourselves to feel exposed and vulnerable and ready to listen to the Living God, like a child experiences when they’ve messed up and their parents are rebuking them. But not for the sake of rebuking them and making them feel awful – for the sake of their personal development and growth, that they wouldn’t grow up to become that type of person.

6% left…

What if we remembered we were offered eternal life, living water, a source of strength and substance that doesn’t know limits. Never runs out. Never needs to be recharged. What if our dreams were no longer limited by fear, resources, and other’s opinions? What if our current state didn’t have to determine our future?

What if we cashed in on God’s promises? You have a better plan for my future? Cha-Ching! Show me! You have a hope and I’m fearfully and wonderfully made? Cha-Ching! Show me! Show me, Lord – how I am desirable, beautiful, handsome, and made to do good works.

What if….

Battery is gone. Gotta go for now. Be blessed.

battery

True Thirst

Rarely do I realize how thirsty I am until I start to take a drink of water. It’s interesting – I’ll be just fine and then think to myself, “Maybe I should have a drink of water…” So I go to the fridge, grab the Brita pitcher and pour a glass of water, and before you know it I’m pouring a second because my body is telling me that I need more.

I’m discovering this concept applies to more than my need for the life-sustaining water here on Earth but it also applies to my desperate need for Living Water from God.

Rarely do I realize how thirsty I am for His Word until I convince myself to open up the pages of the Bible and force myself to read a Proverb. Before I know it, I find myself curious about what God has to say about His Church in the New Testament or his second coming in Revelation. Or maybe I’m ready to read battle stories from the Old Testament. Regardless, I discover a need within myself that I was unaware of because I refused to take a drink of Water.

If you’re like me, you prefer to drink things ‘more exciting’ than water. Coffee, soda, beer, juice, maybe even tea (nah, I hate tea) are all far more enjoyable to drink than water, in the moment. However, water is the fuel that my body actually needs. The other beverages are nice but they usually only lead to further thirst later on. Water satisfies. It fuels me and keeps me going.

In the same way, maybe I think that I have a desire for my wife to encourage and compliment me – showing that she admires who I am and believes that I’m being the best me possible. When really, what my heart probably needs most is to draw closer to God and to discover what He’s saying about me in the Word, in prayer, and in my own heart as the Spirit is at work within it.

There’s an urban dictionary language of thirst regarding lust – the desire for something one cannot or should not have. It’s not his to have or take or view or enjoy. But that thirst is there. What’s the thirst really there for, though? Is it for the sake of thirst itself, or is there a deeper need within the heart of man? The desire to be seen and to truly see – to know someone and for them to know you – to be intimate. Much different than the thirst of this world and the lies found within the ‘treasures’ it offers us. “Counterfeit affections” as I’ve come to know them; something that promises one thing but provides another, all the while masquerading as the real thing.

Coffee, tea, soda, and beer are all made with water but they’re not water.

Encouragement and intimacy are all found in the Word and in God, but they’re not the Word or God.

It’d be like desiring the gifts my in-laws provide me with on Christmas but not desiring my in-laws. That’d be shallow and sad and awful. The truth is, I enjoy spending time with them. In the same way, I should enjoy spending time with God. I should just want to be with Him. Not only coming to Him when I finally need to be rescued from myself. Because the truth is, I will always need to be rescued from myself.

This afternoon, I find myself grateful for the work Christ has done within my heart, my marriage, and my life. May it be a beacon of hope for others as we try to figure out this thing called life.

water

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

Tidal Waves

Life tends to come in waves. I imagine a seashore where the tide has just come in and you feel overwhelmed by all of the love and blessings and then all of the sudden the tide goes back out deeper into sea, and the sand in your heart dries out just as quickly as it was soaked with wetness.

That picture has been painted in my head the last night or two and I wanted to take a minute to write it out because I think there’s someone somewhere reading this that can relate – and understands what I’m referring to.

It’s easy to be joyful and filled with a sense of contentment when the tide comes in. Friends visit from out-of-town, a financial blessing is poured out your way, your life-partner and you are on fire with passion for one another – and then just as quickly as life was getting good, it gets hard again. Unexpected bills make their way into your home through the mail, you realize you and your friends may once again be growing apart, and your life-partner and yourself are both wrestling through your own internal emotional and mental wars, unable to be as lovingly supported as you were when the tide was coming in.

I can’t help but think that I’ve begun to miss something in my ‘old age’ and lack of community. That joy that simply refuses to die. The one that once killed found a way to come back to life just three days later.

Something intriguing about the resurrection of Jesus is that He didn’t come back right away. He didn’t die on the cross and then come back the very next day with a proclamation of “Told you, suckers!” He lets His community mourn, He allows them to feel pain – to realize the realness of life and the lack thereof in some situations. I wonder why He did that? Was it to show us that sometimes you just have to suffer? That even after a few days of loneliness and confusion there’s bound to be a clearing of the clouds moment where the sun starts to shine through again?

Every day I learn more and more about my desperate need for a Savior. Without a “Jesus” to hold onto and place my hope and faith in, then I have nothing. Life will always be hard. My weaknesses will always remain weaknesses and my friendships will always fade into the busyness of business-as-usual. But with Jesus, with a believe that someone died on the cross for my sins and has given me that same ability to overcome death and to overcome darkness – with that indescribable power at my praying knee’s discretion – my weaknesses can become strengths, my relationships can be restored, and business can take a chill pill because in the end, the heart is what matters.

My wife said something profound this week as we were laying in bed and sharing our hearts. (I love snuggle time. There’s no safer place than in bed next to each other just pouring out our hearts and crying and laughing and encouraging and praying together. It’s the safest, happiest fortress in all the land, and I love it and I love her.) So I’m laying there talking about how I really want to make a difference in the world but I often don’t believe I’ll ever make a lasting impact – I’ll never actually become a writer or teacher and I’ll never actually leave all this extra weight behind in the dust, and I’ll never end up working Monday-Friday, etc. etc. (I have a tendency to try and take on and conquer the entire world in a day – and as you can imagine that’s impossible.) And here’s what my beautiful wife says to me – “Justin…you don’t have to make a difference in the world, you just have to make a difference in your world.”

Those of you that consider yourselves to be part of “my world” – would you say that I am making a difference? If not, how can I be better utilized as a prayer warrior and brother in Christ fighting beside you?

Friends that are fighting through their post-grad years and mid-to-late twenties – how have you purposefully invested in community while not diminishing time alone with your spouse and the pursuit of your dreams?

I know there’s not one “answer” but I’m ready to listen to a few suggestions.

Walking with you, friends. Let’s remember that progress is progress and if we have not Hope then we have nothing at all. Don’t let anyone steal that from you today.

tidal wave

Thoughts On Boundaries

A few days ago I started reading Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, “Boundaries.” As an external processor, I figured it’d be beneficial to share what I’m learning and thinking about in regards to boundaries in an open blog post. Plus, I’m sure it could spark some good conversations as well so feel free to comment with your thoughts and feelings on the issue.

Growing up in a rigidly conservative home, I was surprised at the “freedom” I found while in school. There was a whole new world of (mostly sinful) possibilities out there and now I had to make the right-or-wrong decisions for myself. My faith could no longer be my parents and my decisions could no longer be made just because they said so. There’s a lot of things that college didn’t teach me, but one thing it teaches everyone is to think for themselves.

Using my own brain and learning by trial-and-many-errors, I’ve discovered there is a REASON there are “rules” and/or boundaries listed in Scripture. As I’ve shared many times before, there is no escaping the Kingdom Economy of reaping what you sow. Sow good and reap good. Sow bad and reap bad. It’s humorous how we are often surprised when we go to harvest the crop of our hearts and find so many weeds – but then when looking back realize we spent no times in the fields pulling those weeds. We didn’t do the hard work to ensure we had a good harvest.

One of the topics discussed thus far in the book is word boundaries. The concept of letting your yes be yes and your no be no – biblical, Christian, and logically sound, it’s perplexing that this seems to be such a difficult concept for us to grasp. We often find ways to displace the responsibility of our decisions onto others – “He told me to do it,” or “If I hadn’t, then I would have lost their friendship.” So we “passively comply, but inwardly resent” – doing something for the sake of “serving someone” but not actually having a desire to serve, or at least not serve in that certain capacity. And all it would have taken is a simple, “No.” Saying “no” would have set the boundary that you were not willing to accept that certain responsibility – it would not make you a bad person, and for emotionally healthy individuals, should not terminate the friendship.

Another concept from the book that I’ve found particularly encouraging is that we can’t always make ourselves responsible for the well-being of others. The book gives the example of a drug-addicted son who, over time, has managed to get kicked out of a number schools. The parents come to see Dr. Cloud and ask him what they should do about their problem-child. “We’ve spent lots of money and do everything we can to get him into a better school but nothing ever changes. Dr. Cloud’s response catches them by surprise. “What if he’s not the problem and you are?” By continually making his problems yours, he’s never had to actually learned from his mistakes – because he’s never had to suffer the consequences. Setting the boundary that his results are his to own frees the parents from the burden of “making their kid succeed” – leaving them free to play the role of friend and counselor, without the heavy baggage of taking on their son’s problem as if it were their own burden to bear.

It’s hard, though. To separate others burdens from your own to and to know when to let others in and when to keep them out – when to say yes and when to say no. When to set boundaries and when to rewrite the provinces and territories of our hearts.

Marriage has placed me in a position to sort of rewrite my boundaries. I get to decide what I do and do not do, whose advice I consider and who’s I disregard, and at the end of the day, who I am is the sum of my decisions and their consequences up to that point. I cannot escape the reality of my own heart, nor can you.

Now for the fun part – what are your thoughts on boundaries? What have you learned by setting certain limits and property-lines in your life and hearts? Any takeaways you care to share? Feel free to do so – I enjoy learning alongside you.

boundaries