What Everyone (And No One) Is Talking About – Guest Writer

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. This week my wife was feeling a stirring in her heart to share some of her own thoughts on issues that we are both passionate about. I’m super proud of her boldness and ability to articulate from an honest, compassionate, heartfelt standpoint on a controversial issue that continues to be such a joked-about, casual, pop-culture reference. Maybe we aren’t the ideal problem-solvers, but perhaps her and I can get the conversation started. Without further delay, I introduce you to my beautiful bride, Allie Meyer, and her writing in the form of a guest-blog post.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what’s a video worth? Video is pictures frame-by-frame that flash by so fast, they appear they’re actually moving. So, does that make a video worth ten thousand words or even a million words? Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth nothing at all. When the things that you’re seeing and watching can cause you to stumble, is it worth it?

There is a topic that has been looming around in my head lately and it’s a topic that simultaneously is both never talked about and always talked about is pornography. It’s a topic that people freely joke about with friends or is alluded to on the radio but yet also is kept in secret and like a skeleton in our closets. I suppose it’s also a topic that rarely gets any air time with parents talking to their children or people reaching out to ask for help when they feel like they’re trapped in it or it’s consuming them.

I grew up in a Christian home, but I also went to a public high school. I of course had the uncomfortable “birds and bees” talk at home and the “how to not get STD’s” talk at school. But a topic that wasn’t ever discussed in either of those was porn and the complications that it can add to your life. The stress it can add to your relationships. The shame, depression, and anxiety it causes to your overall well-being, and not to mention, the isolation it will eventually produce.

Now let me set this straight: I’ve honestly never struggled with any of these things nor have I ever sought out any type of pornographic content. I have however, been subjected to Hollywood’s decision to include some kind of sexual content in every movie. That’s not necessarily porn, but in the end, was it necessary? (This is a whole other post, but a good point nonetheless.) I digress…

So needless to say, porn wasn’t something that ever crossed my mind. It wasn’t until someone close to me opened up about their addiction to it and their struggles that I ever really understood what it was. Here it is – a billion-dollar industry in our world, and I literally had little idea it existed or what it even consisted of. In the moment I played it off as though I knew what they were talking about, but deep down I felt so naïve and like this was a foreign place they were talking about. Unfortunately, it’s something that I’ve gathered more knowledge about and learned why this addiction is so rampant in our world. It’s rampant because it’s so readily accessible by literally anyone. Think about how easy it is to search things on YouTube, or how hashtags have changed the way you browse social media. Teenagers can have unlimited access to content that they shouldn’t with just a click of a button. This causes there to be millions and millions of people out there consumed by lust and this addiction, but likely there are also millions who are naïve like I was.

Why is that?

I think it all goes back to awareness. It never was mentioned growing up. Not at home, school, church, etc. All of my friends could have been struggling with it for that matter and I could have never known. I think that we, as not just Christian people, not just one political party, not as one gender; we just as people need to talk and do something about it. What that something is I don’t know, but we can’t continue to allow people to fall into this trap of lies and loneliness.  How can we as humans rally together to create awareness and support those who are struggling, those who are directly affected by it, and those who haven’t been exposed but can be spared the turmoil and heartache?

I believe that personally my heart is drawn to those who are just bystanders. The people who are spouses of addicts. The people whose relationships are fragile because their partner used to struggle with it. The kids who might learn what porn is from some jokes shared at school and never hear what terrible things that this new addiction could lead to. I feel led to find ways to be a listening ear to those who feel they can’t trust their spouse as well as be an advocate for those who might not know what problems it can cause until they’re in deep.

I often pray for those struggling and ask God why can’t he do something about it. But I feel like God is asking me “What can you do about it?”. So here I sit, not a writer of any sort asking you to help me find ways to bring attention to a topic that has been in the dark for far too long and how to bring it into the light. With the dark being such a lonely place, the only way out is through relationships and Jesus. We ALL have to be vulnerable if we ever want to beat this thing head on. When we bring things into the light others can be praying and guiding you. Let’s unite together to leave those movies worth no words in the darkness, and bring all people into the light.

Vulnerability

How Christmas Influences My Perspective Today

You know that feeling where you simply cannot shake the conviction of the Holy Spirit? I’m convinced of my salvation in Christ Jesus because the Holy Spirit dwells within and draws me toward repentance. I may be stubborn and not repent right away but that often leads to literal, physical sickness for me. Christ within me cannot stand sin, but my flesh loves it. I know what Paul means when he wrote “I know the good I ought to do and yet don’t do it” – something along those lines.

I’ve been thinking about some life situations recently, along with my own sin faults over the last few years of my adult life, and one passage in particular keeps coming to mind.

Romans 3:23 – “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It’s a humbling reality to realize that even as a “good Christian” and someone who has been in good standing most of my life, even I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. I think this is why it can be so dangerous to allow ourselves to develop a moral superiority complex toward others. “Well at least I’m not an alcoholic…” or “at least I’m not as gluttonous and obese as they are,” or “at least I haven’t killed anyone.” I’m not an alcoholic, but I have certainly been drunk and that is sin. I am not morbidly obese but I am overweight and have an impulse control problem. And I haven’t killed anyone but I have had hatred and bitterness in my heart toward others, and Jesus says that hatred in our hearts towards a brother is the same as murder.

That’s some rather heavy stuff. I found myself sulking in that reality, that heaviness and dread of my own folly and lack of righteousness. I found myself humbled and wishing that it were not so.

The good news is that verse 23 of Romans 3 is followed by a comma, actually, not a period as portrayed above. Here is what follows in verse 24 – “And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

I was thinking about things like depression and addiction and these pitfalls that even the best of people fall into sometimes, and it made me think of a world without hope. I saw a post on Facebook the other day about depression and how inescapable it can be “I know I will be fine but I don’t feel fine.” We should not willingly allow ourselves to be led to the slaughter to sin, but if you find yourself there this morning and realize your own capacity to mess up, then that is the first step toward freedom. The next is realizing that no matter how f’d up you may think you are, ALL are justified FREELY by HIS GRACE through the redemption that came by Christ JESUS! (Read that again.)

If that isn’t a reason to celebrate Christmas, then I don’t know what it is!

This morning, I’d like to remind all of us that conviction does not have to lead to shame and guilt. In fact, if our brains are trained to go that way, it’s because we’re listening to the whispers of the devil rather than the still, small voice of Almighty God.

The Father’s voice sounds a lot different. Conviction can lead to repentance, which can immediately lead to full restoration. Think Prodigal Son. Wasted His entire inheritance and the Father still celebrates his return home, throwing a party which requires even further financial sacrifice on his part. We simply cannot outrun or out-sin the love of God. We can always come Home. “Let the children come to me.”

I think about my love for my wife. I do not love her because she loves me. I love her because I choose to and because I’ve made a covenant to do so every day for the rest of my life. But I am also motivated and encouraged to new levels of love as I witness her beauty, spiritual growth, and acts of service and kindness toward me – they are a sort of motivating force behind my love toward her and becoming increasingly less selfish so that we may both benefit.

My prayer for us all would be that conviction would lead to repentance which would lead to full restoration, and that we would be quicker to live a righteous life out of a deep love for God. A love that we have learned from Him, that is encouraged and strengthened by His love for us. And that we would choose Him daily.

If you’re having a hard time doing that, maybe you’re simply not looking for Him in your life anymore. When I find myself having a hard time loving Allie, it’s because I’ve gotten lazy in noticing all she is and all she does and the way she loves. We have to be intentional with what we fix our eyes on. If I fix my eyes on a woman, then I am bound to lust after her and be led away to sin. But if I fix my eyes on Christ, then I am bound to be led toward holiness, a cleansing of my sins and a deeper understanding of who He is and why I’m loved.

From that discovery and outpouring and life with eyes fixed on Christ, I can love others because I’ve learned what Love is from the Creator Himself.

You get the point.

Stop thinking you’re better than…Be quicker to admit your faults…Admit your failures don’t claim them as your identity. Fix your eyes back on Jesus and let Him remind you who you really are. Then live and love out of that reality.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…

BUT…

Christmas happened.

Jesus came. Freedom is ours for the taking.

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A Look Inside (My) Depression

“When was the last time you thought to yourself, you know what – I’m actually pretty good. I kinda like who I am,” asked my well-meaning counselor.

“What would it take for you to love yourself?”

“I don’t know – if I could lose weight, write a book, actively accomplish something that I’ve set out to do, like if I want to wake up early in the morning then to actually get out of bed at 5:30 AM when I’ve set my first alarm. To have finally completed the 12 Steps of my addiction recovery program.”

My counselor then proceeded to show me the places in which I’ve grown over the last year. “Justin, you’ve gone almost a full year without a relapse into your former pornography addiction. You’ve successfully had financial discussions with Allie without getting defensive and allowing it to turn into a fight. From what I can tell – you’re becoming rather successful at work, you’ve built healthier friendships and your relationship with Allie gets sweeter and sweeter.”

“So what is it going to take for you to love yourself?”

“Where would you say you are on your fantasy scale of who you want to be – on a scale of 1-10?”

“I don’t know – a 5, maybe.”

“And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with being a 5 and telling yourself, “you know what if I improve to a 6 or 7 over the next few years, then I’m a champion. I’m overcoming my sinful nature and becoming a stronger man of God,” and maybe by the time you’re 40 you’re an 8, and so on and so forth.

I found myself far more engaged this session than previous ones. Often distracted by wondering if someone from work has texted me or if my wife is doing okay, or whatever other anxiety-ridden thing I might be missing out on – FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), I found myself listening, emotionally there, and nearing tears of gratitude.

“Justin, I think you’re okay. You’re doing a great job. You’re doing some really hard stuff. You can’t take on the whole world all at once. What if you took your goals – let’s say you want to drop 40 lbs and we cut that way down and we say you want to lose 10 lbs in the next 6 months. That’s doable, right? And what if instead of beating yourself up every morning when the scale still reads 2** – you decide to celebrate the victory of going on a walk a couple times a week. Because that’s better than what you’re doing right now, right?”

You get the idea.

You’d think I was in 1st grade. The concepts were so basic, so simple, so “easy.” And yet for the last few months I’ve barely been able to get myself out of bed, get dressed, and accomplish anything. I’m convinced I’ll fail – I won’t reach the fantasy self (230 lbs, New York Times Bestselling Author, freed from shame and living in joy), so why try? I’m gonna snack, so why not have three snacks? I’m gonna get distracted, so why even take the laptop and the book to the coffee-shop with me?

Round and round goes the cyclical cycle of shame. Satan’s henchman whispering in my ear at night all the reasons I’m useless for God’s Kingdom. My neural pathways strangely trained to think the worst possible outcomes will occur in my life.

I could blame it on being introduced to pornography in my young teens. I could blame it on the way that’s affected my relationships and the shame and pain of doing things I regret because of that former addiction. I could blame it on the way loved ones reacted to my being found out – seen for what I was. I could continue to lay in bed and wait for the day of the dead to come knocking at my door, to take me home from the suffering.

Or.

I can wake up with a purpose – the purpose of loving being a 5 and becoming excited about the journey to becoming a 6. I can honestly share my story and my heart with others, knowing that there’s nothing to hide anymore – and as high and mighty as some may pretend to be, they have plenty of their own skeletons. Having always admired the authentic, why try so hard to be the polished?

So that’s why I’m writing today. I’m not so sure this blog even has all that much cohesion and I’m certain it’s not my best work; confident there’s much to be improved. But for someone that’s been sinking in depression for the last several months, simply externally processing and sharing my feelings and heart with my community is a win. Hitting “Publish” is a victory. It’s one small step toward becoming a 6. One step closer to becoming more like Christ, regretful to radiant, sorrowful to serendipitous, grave to grateful.

Let’s dust off the keyboard and see if I’ve still got it.

Until Next Time,

Justin

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Relying On Him

It was one of those weeks where you never really catch up on sleep – and just when you think the drama has come to an end, there’s a new twist and turn. From family drama to challenging professional interactions, arguments over nothing caused by irritability, and life-changing, deep conversations. From a margarita infused laugh fest to sober tears and lots of pain, there was all of it.

I’m not sure why but whenever life enters that spectrum where success suddenly doesn’t seem to matter all that much, interesting things happen. You’re at work – but you’re not really at work. You’re in the car driving, but your thoughts are taken back to your own memories of pain. You make it home safe, but you’re not sure how.

This week a family member made the strong, challenging decision to break off an emotionally abusive relationship and I couldn’t be more proud. But it’s hard to break away from something that we’ve become used to.

In a way, “love” can become as addictive as a drug, the dopamine that had been released during close times together creates a spiritual tie of sorts. It binds us closer, creates that need for closeness; and that’s one of the many reasons it hurts so much to break a relationship off.

The light that is at the other end of the tunnel is worth it though. I remember the time in my life where I was in a relationship where the other individual wasn’t all-in, but I was – it hurt a great deal to end the relationship one fateful May evening. But what I didn’t know is that just a little while later – on an October evening, I’d meet a woman that would love me wholeheartedly, forgive quickly, and encourage and champion growth together. It was no longer the endless, perpetual cycle of stagnancy; I made financial gains, spiritual gains, and relational gains. “He makes all things new.” Even you. And even me.

My heart has been overwhelmed with the pain of others recently. Thinking about all of the addictions that some wrestle with and that I’ve had to overcome personally. Allowing myself to feel the pain my family-member is going through. Spending valuable time on my phone outside talking brothers off the ledge.

It’s times like these that make me wonder – how does anybody do it that doesn’t know Jesus?

I mean, seriously. How?

Several times over the last week, when someone has overstepped their bounds and interfered with my life and I’ve wanted to lash out in anger, I had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

Several times over the last week, when someone was feeling the same pain that I’ve experienced in the past, I had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

Several times over the last year, as a brother in Christ confesses their battle with purity, and I’ve done the hard thing of giving them tough, Gospel inspired love, calling them to repent and then lovingly embracing them – I’ve had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

So when you ask, how does the eldest of five, newly married, constantly busy, “rock-star-legend” (according to my wife) retail salesmen manage to keep it together (most of the time)? The answer is, I am His. My strength is His. I rely on Him.

I know Jesus, and I want you to know Him too. He saved my life, saved my marriage, gave me hope, and rose again – giving every sunrise new mercies.

There’s a new beginning each day. And we get to live with that hope, because of Him.

I’m praying for you, dear friend, as you’ve taken the time to read this – praying that you would know Him too.

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Man Crush Monday

There he was, the dream version of myself in human form sitting to my left. A middle-aged gentleman obviously in early retirement, wealthy to the point of millions most likely but my interest wasn’t necessarily in the money although you could tell he had some from the stories he told. After spending years in law enforcement, he had become a motivational speaker and through his speaking realized he needed to write a book and share his stories with the world. I thought about asking for his phone-number or his business card, or trying to give him the link to my blog but in the moment it felt like I’d be trying too hard so I just listened.

He talked about his favorite things to do in retirement were playing racquetball and joining a few gun clubs. I probably should have said, “I’ll try and keep up with you on the racquetball court,” but despite his age, he’d probably whoop me.

So what’s the point of me sharing this story? I feel I was just encouraged by meeting someone that had done it. It wasn’t as if the money appeared in his bank account overnight and it wasn’t as if he was an immediate success. From what it sounded like, he had made cold calls to various sources in order to self-promote and sell his own books and services. But he put in the work and received the pay off over time.

When asked what book I was wanting to write, I quickly quipped that it’d be awesome to compile a book of my previously written poetry and he suggested adding illustrations to them to make it more consumer friendly which I thought was an excellent idea. Unfortunately, I shied away from sharing that I was currently working on writing a book on addiction recovery and my own faith journey but that’s okay – I just felt revitalized to start writing again. Something he said was, “You just have to do it. Sit down and write and write and write – don’t worry about the editing until you’re nearly done and then go back and spend twice as much time editing it.” It’s always been the starting that is the hardest part. Like getting out of bed and making the bed in the morning. Like choosing to jog. The hardest part isn’t finishing a mile, it’s the first two blocks and trying to get some cold, tired legs to move again.

With writing, it’s eliminating the self doubt and the worrying what others will think, because who cares? They’re either going to read it or they’re not going to. Really, I’m doing it for myself anyways, as part of my own healing process and journey to freedom from addiction to counterfeit affections, freedom from the obsession with other’s opinions, freedom from bending to other’s expectations. It’s about letting others behind the veil, eliminating a second self cloaked in lies of omission to provide safe haven for the second self. Dying to the old and giving birth to the new.

In the end, that’s what life is all about. And it’s always the heart of the matter that matters the most.

So today as you read this, where is your heart? What dreams are you not pursuing and what excuses are keeping you from their pursuit? Gather up those excuses and take them out with the trash tomorrow morning. They don’t belong in your life anymore.

I See Greatness In You

I asked God to speak to me today. In prayer, out loud – I said, “Lord, I want to hear your voice – to feel your presence and to know that you are for me.” And I waited on the Lord; I waited for Him to come. And He didn’t…Not right away, anyways.

But somehow, going through the motions of the day, Allie and I began to open up – sharing deeper and deeper longings and dreams in our hearts and taking the time to intentionally ask questions and seek out more intimate truths. Walking further into the caverns of each other and finding precious rubies in each others hearts.

Vulnerable moments. The kind that make you hesitate before you share. The impulse comes and you begin to speak but doubt clouds your judgment and stills your tongue – wait a couple moments longer and you’ll be silenced – and then again the words come to your lips, you take a leap of faith and let them escape, exposing yourself to the other’s impact.

In that moment, you’ve chosen to be known.

And insecure fear can race into your mind, forcing you to wonder whether or not you should have shared that intimate part of yourself.

And in those moments today, we both found Jesus looking back at us – the other listened, asked questions, and went to the King as their mediator, gently refusing to pass judgment or throw the first stone.

“I see greatness in you.”

“I see greatness in you,” my wife said as we paused and reflected on the wonderful day of sharing that we had experienced together. “It’s the moments you’ve taken in your life to be vulnerable with others and listened to their counsel that have led to your greatness today, and more greatness to come.” (Slightly paraphrasing. But the message was clear, straight from the Lord. Two separate messages. First – a playful, “I heard your prayer and answered it. Didn’t I?” Because He spoke to me, clearly, plainly, and beautifully – just in a different way than I had expected. The second message became clearer the more I meditated on the words my wife had spoken. “I’m proud of you, son.”)

“I’m proud of you, son.”

Unashamed. The Lord, my King and Father, is unashamed of me. He isn’t passing judgement on my weight or lack of income recently due to poor sales or my insecure worrying and constant pleas for others to pray for me, because of my disbelief in the effectiveness of my own prayers. He isn’t saying, “Go read one more chapter of the Bible and then I’ll pour out my love and affection upon you.”

The story of the prodigal son is true. It’s my story and it can be yours true. A ragamuffin, troubled by the thorn in Paul’s side, recovering from addiction to counterfeit affections by God’s grace. Every memory of hurt and torment, every word of abuse, every fragile friendship that experienced abandonment, Jesus has offered to take those from me and to replace them with His love. All I had to do was let Him in. Never once after letting Him in has He cursed me with residency in my past, dooming me to a life of shame. Rather, He’s freed me from my shackles and shown me His powerful mercy and grace. To the point that my beautiful, outstanding, strong, faithful, kind, merciful, Christ-like wife said, “I see greatness in you.”

Words that melted my heart, softened me to His Love. Tonight, I’m Embracing God’s Grace. I’m accepting myself because He accepts me – not as an acquaintance and not even as a distance friend, but as a son – a son that He is proud of.

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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