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

Labels, Pretzels, And Feelings.

Labeling things always seems so dangerous to me. I’m sure you can relate. Do I really want to label my issue with such-and-such an addiction? Do I really want to label this relationship abusive? Or the ones that I struggle with presently would be…do I really want to admit that I’m 50 lbs overweight and living in depression?

I suppose admitting you have a problem or placing a label on something can be freeing as well. For me, deciding Allie was the one I was willing to give my life for and to has reaped the benefits of freedom and love that I could have never fathomed before. The label of faithful commitment called marriage has been well worth the cost.

However, for many of you, in the present-world of dating, everyone has so many options. Swipe right, swipe left – go on a few “dates” and watch a little “Netflix” – okay, now I’m bored – let’s swipe some more. Placing a label on things seems…dangerous…to some. Placing a label on things may cause someone to avoid making a decision altogether (perhaps that is why some people date 5+ years or end up in 3+ year engagements). Committing to another now takes all the other options off the table and that risks making a bad decision.

I don’t know about you, but I hate failing.

Failure is one of those things that drives me crazy. If I put myself in an unfamiliar scenario and say “I’m going to lose x-number of pounds by y-date,” or “I’d like to make z amount of money by 2025,” then I feel paralyzed. Admitting that I have a goal or getting it out into the light is one of the most proven methods for success. Let others know where you’d like to go and surround yourself with an energetic team of others that are already going that direction – be okay with leaving the stragglers behind, because that’s not where you want to be anymore, yourself.

If that’s the method for success, then why is it so difficult?

To place the label on oneself as writer would probably mean that one should write something…right? Hence this silly blog airing out my internal spider-web of feelings.

And feelings…aren’t they just so complicated? I really, truly wonder how anyone makes it through life without therapy/counseling and some kind of stress-release outlet (for me, it’s coffee and reading or disc-golf on my days off). If it weren’t for my own weekly counseling and “me-time” outings, I’d be a pretzel of feelings. I pray for those of you that have yet to have the courage to admit that you need help.

It’s insane that we all thought at the age of 18 that we knew so much and would be conquerors of the world. To have some of that confidence back would be amazing, but perhaps tempered with the wisdom of years of realizing just how much anyone always has left to learn. Remain humble and you will be lifted up, in due time.

One simply has to be themselves to get anywhere in life. You are unique and different and important and you add value to the world around you.

As my counselor put it – “you don’t really have to change or be any different for anyone other than yourself, if you want to.”

Another friend put it growing up, “you will always do whatever it is that you want to do.” It may have been his way of spurring me on toward a more obedient faith during times of abundant apathy and cynicism, but that truth remains.

You will do what you want to do.

What is that, exactly?

I’m still trying to find the answer, for myself. I think I grew up in such a way that I wanted to be perfect and pleasing for others. Focusing my energy on ensuring I was setting the right example – or rather, obsessing over the times I obviously had not set the correct one. Being the oldest of 5 siblings places you in that sort of dynamic by birthright. It’s no one’s “fault” really, more so just where you end up.

Wasting all this energy on wondering what others want of me has proven unsuccessful. So I now find myself beginning to ask the question of, “what do I want for me?”

Sounds selfish. But it’s not. The times that others have been the most blessed and enthused by my presence are the times that I’ve loved myself.

What are your thoughts? How have you personally come to peace with who you are and decided what you wanted for yourself? How can I pray for and encourage your own life-journey?

pretzel

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

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

The Fear Of Starting

I’m 27 and so far in life I’ve rarely gotten past just starting. What do I mean?  That I’ve started a book but haven’t made it past Chapter 2 and have sort of given up on the idea. I mean that I’ve initiated a weight loss challenge within my family, gone at it hard for a few days and then sidelined myself with the excuse of “busy” and “tired” and “discouraged.” And now my wife and I are considering starting up a business of our own and I can already feel the fear and anxiety creeping in.

At what point do we tell fear it has no place here? No place in my heart or mind or ideas or my home. That it doesn’t belong. It’s not allowed to take over my creativity and passion or subdue my talents with the lure of addictions that are simply a coping mechanism for its presence or ensnare me in apathy, a pretending that one doesn’t care when really they “don’t care” because they care too much (about what others will think). How does one tell fear that you will now harness it and use it as fuel? If I fear financial destruction, then I will write up a plan. If I fear heart conditions, then I will exercise regularly and eat less brownies (although the ones we whipped up this week were DELICIOUS). If I fear vulnerability, then I will find others that are being vulnerable and we will encourage one another in our authenticity.

Faith over fear, so to speak. If God created us and made us in His image, then are we not designed to be creators ourselves? If I’ve always been socially adaptable and energized by crowds of like-minded individuals and unafraid of those who challenge me with differing ideas, then what do I have to fear? What can someone’s objection or challenge do but strengthen my resolve or help me find a better solution?

Why do we settle? Will I be able to forgive myself if I decline us the opportunity to do something together and different and exciting simply because we had little faith? What can I do to increase my faith but to pray and try and discuss? All of which, if even they lead to failure, will only lead to more discipline and success in other areas.

Too often we allow ourselves to believe that if we cannot run a mile now, then we never will and we might as well not try. I’ve tried that mentality and it’s gotten me nowhere.

It’s time to shake things up, rattle some cages, and do the hard work of continuing the projects I’ve started. I may not finish, but why give up before you’ve even started? And why not test yourself to see if you can run even further than you thought? Why not increase the weight and see if you’ve actually got what it takes to lift it?

We just might surprise ourselves.

(Share your stories of overcoming the fear of failure and how you’ve bettering yourselves, as writers, entrepreneurs, wives/husbands and so on. How do you continue to fuel the fire for growth and throw off the old self of self-doubt, apathy, and killing ideas before they’ve even had a chance to take shape?)

fear

Ramblings on Manhood

The title says it all – I am going to “think out loud” and piece together what I have been learning over the last month. None of this is edited and primed for a book, but that is the beauty of a blog. Disclaimer stated, allow me to forge forward.

Let’s talk.

There is an absence of realness within the realm of men. Big ideas and vision come forth and words of wisdom are spoken, but little action is taken, and even fewer relationships built around truth. It is easier for guys to gather and watch football games and to avoid getting into one another’s lives. Trust me, I can watch a Chief’s game with the best of them, and when the NFL season comes around again, I’ll find a way to be in Arrowhead at least once this coming year. However, there simply has to be more to man-to-man relationships than beer, food, and sports. And I do appreciate all of those things.

What are the roadblocks that keep men from connecting?

I’ll lead by example. Here are some of the things that keep me from true fellowship (at times):

I am fearful. While transparent most of the time, it is difficult to get to a deeper level with others at times. If you know all of me – all of my insecurities, sin hiccups, and desires/dreams, then you may think I’m crazy. There are few that I would like to trust with all of that. Not to mention, it is much easier to remain commander-in-chief of myself – to be the only one that knows all of my secrets.

I think men operate this way, a lot. In order to save-face, we avoid showing our face. Yes, you see us at church, and sure, we showed up to the Men’s Retreat, but we slip out the back-door right afterward and awkwardly avoid putting our phone-number on the list of contacts, because that would mean that someone might get to know who we actually are – and there’s a chance they may not like that. In other words – On the altar of reputation, we sacrifice relationship – putting discipleship to death.

This should not be. We need each other. There need to be those people in our lives that know our crap, so they can get down in the trenches with us, clean us up, and get a group together to lift us up out of the pit with prayer. 

Which brings me to my next discovery. We have unwittingly bred a generation of passive men. In the spirit of not hurting anyone, or ruffling anyone’s feathers, we’ve emasculated manly strength, and invited authentic manhood into silent exile. However, in the spirit of truth and redeeming the lifeblood of The Church, it is time to call the men back out – to heal, restore, and utilize their strength. You cannot (or at least shouldn’t) tame a lion, but you can appreciate its strength. A champion horse is only champion when it’s gone thru the hard work of training to win the race.

We need strong men in the church – not ones that will manipulate and coerce, but ones that are willing to boldly speak truth into the lives of others, take the time necessary to sacrificially love and disciple others, and use their resources/strength to serve. This is no small task. It requires training. It will take time, prayer, study, relationships, and lots and lots of practice. Because, let’s face it – this is something that does not come naturally.

I believe this requires a great deal of love.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.” (C.S. Lewis)

Being vulnerable is hard. It leaves you open and available, and leaves the possibility of being hurt wide-open. It’s much easier to stay hidden – for no one to know us. Isolation is safer (in our eyes), because at least no one can stab us in the back. The problem with this theory is that satan loves the isolated – they make extremely easy targets for depression, doubt, fear, and others dark clouds that ultimately lead to one’s faith being snuffed. Therefore, isolation is not safer, wiser, or best – it is in fact the absolute worst idea ever. Do NOT become isolated. The walls you build to “protect” yourself do just the opposite – they hurt you, sometimes leading to spiritual suicide.

Friends, we must love. We must embrace vulnerability and find ourselves stronger in the LORD for it. If we submit to the LORD and find our identity secured in Him, then serving and following others will no longer be considered a loss of ourselves, but rather, an act of worship – offering our bodies as living sacrifices for a Holy God.

Men younger than you (spiritually or physically) need your leadership, but you must also lay aside your pride and seek out someone older as a mentor – someone to whom you will allow some spiritual-authority in your life. A leader that is not also being led should not be trusted – for his pride will be his downfall, and his lack of accountability a snake waiting to strike his heel.

I am not an expert. I am still a young man seeking out a mentor of my own – getting plugged in and looking for faithful younger men to lead. I’m still learning. But these are some of the thoughts the Lord has placed on my heart, and I wanted to share them.