Lost Along The Way

It’s so easy to get lost along the way. I bet that’s why God places so many reminders in Scripture that he has our best plans in mind, that he is watching out for our hearts and lives with all of these “rules and regulations.”

It’s so easy to get discouraged and to give up, to let pain have the final say.

It’s so easy to decide that since you’ve failed a few times that means you are now a failure and will never measure up to anything.

I saw a quote recently that went something like, “The Enemy cannot take your oil (anointing) but if he can convince you it’s not worth anything, then he ends up stealing it’s power.” How many times have you and I been convinced that our gifts are meaningless?

How many times have I had words on my lips or ready for the keyboard and left them unsaid or avoided typing them, fearing they lacked significance?

A world filled with pain…and there is hope – yet, I am afraid to admit that I have it.

Someone asked me this week – “Justin, why are you always so positive?” I was honestly kind of shocked by the question. I thought I’d been kind of a bummer the last few weeks wrestling through the murky, suffocating waters of depression. I thought a moment about my answer and then I said, “I guess, despite all of my shortcomings, I know Jesus and he’s my hope.” The gentlemen said, “I figured that’d be your answer – me too – well, I just want to let you know it makes a huge difference and that your impact is felt here…” and then he walked away.

What a wonder…making an influence even at my weakest. Brings new meaning to the biblical idea that he can make me strong in my weakest areas. He lifts up the humble and humbles the proud. If only we grasped that concept.

You, my friend, are not a failure if you are not on a high in life right now. If you’re not where you want to be, you don’t have to stay there. And admitting that you’re struggling is the first step to recovery in any situation. Simply accepting the status-quo will get you the status-quo. If you want change, you need to be the change – and you need to surround yourself with people that are going that direction and are going to take you there with them.

“Who are your change-agents?” Dr. Henry Cloud asks in “Necessary Endings” (what a great book, by the way). We all have those 2 or 3 people in our lives that challenge us and push us to the next level. Chances are if you’re in a season of stagnancy, you’ve been avoiding the coffee-dates and gym-sessions with them for a little while now. You know they’ll call you to something greater and that means you’ll have to give up the old “comfortable” situation that you don’t want to admit you love.

When someone is in sin and they “can’t seem to get out of it” – it’s really not THAT complicated. They have fallen in love with the sin – the lust, the greed, the anger – it has become their comfort zone – that is where they would prefer to live.

If that’s you, I pray that you’d find those 2-3 people to pull you out of the backwards slide and into the light. There is hope in the daylight. Hunkered down in your own loneliness, isolation, and the darkness of night with your bottle of tequila, browser filled with porn, contact-list full of affairs, pantry filled with Oreo’s, books filled with delusion, and mind addicted to sadness…there is no hope. What a terrible, sad, horrendous place to be.

You will be amazed what that one phone-call has the power to do. You will be amazed what cracking open the dusty Bible on your book-shelf can do for your heart. You will be awestruck and shocked at how integrity and honesty, while it may hurt a little at first, will become your building blocks for success and that even little white lies will start to make you sick to your stomach, because they just aren’t worth it anymore.

Friends, you may have gotten lost along the way, but you do not have to stay there. Where you are today does not determine where you will be tomorrow.

Call the “change-agent” in your life and admit where you are weak, they will make you strong.

Say the prayer that you are afraid to pray and He will answer.

Share your fears and struggles with your wife and she will love you.

Set goals for yourself and celebrate your success, even if you only hit the 50% mark the first time. At least you started growing again.

Jesus told the parable of the shepherd that would leave the 99 sheep to save the 1 that got lost. The prodigal son squandered all of his father’s wealth and was still welcomed with open arms and celebrated for his return to the Kingdom.

How much more will he pursue your heart? How much larger a feast for the lost, hurting heart that discontinues their pity-fest and pursues freedom in Christ’s name?

He’s left the 99 to come find me…I’m confident He will rescue you, too.

Call, and he will answer. Knock, and the door will be opened.

compass

 

Fisher Of Men

I’m not sure what it will take,

To pay for that mistake.

The one I made decades ago,

That swung my heart to and fro.

Merry-go-round of emotions since,

The kind of pain that makes you wince.

It promised much and provided little,

Satan asked if he should play his fiddle.

Mocking the death of my feelings,

Taunting me with memories when,

I made active choices to sin.

“But do you remember when…”

“If your wife knew that, then…”

“Your love is fake, your story is a lie.”

Round and round, despair takes my breath.

This must be what it feels like – death.

All of this because I wanted to see,

That which wasn’t meant for me.

Images on a screen, women that weren’t mine.

Innocence taken before its time.

Side effects that can still be felt,

Worse than a bruise, worse than a welt.

Scar tissue that runs so deep,

It’ll hit me like a train and cause me to weep.

And there’s the enemy, back with his fiddle,

Ready to challenge me with another riddle.

“If you loved Jesus, then how could you?…”

“If you were Christian, then wouldn’t you?…”

“How will you pay for all of this?”

It’s true – I’m indebted.

Credit-line with God maxed out to the brim,

And it’s not just my heart that carries the pain,

Marriage causes Beauty to carry my shame.

The burdens too heavy to carry on my own,

Pick up the phone and call one another,

Thank the Lord Jesus for my brothers.

And if I could give you one piece of advice,

It’d be that the forbidden-fruit isn’t worth it.

It’s amazing how crafty and contorted,

Our versions of “truth” can become.

“It’s not that bad to look,”

“I’m just reading a book.”

“But it’s a good movie,”

“And it’s a great show.”

“We’re just talking.”

“It’s not really stalking.”

Oh I fear for the day the Judge returns,

Takes out the gavel as his heart burns,

With just anger and proclaims,

“Away from me, for you never knew me.”

Don’t stay there, my friend.

Walk into the light, and own up to when,

You made some choices that aligned you with sin.

Talk to someone, talk to me,

Ask them how you, too, can be free.

It’s not a joke, it’s not a comedy.

Interfile men because they’re wasting their seed,

Women’s hearts crushed, pleading with God that their men would be freed.

Family’s ripped apart because of sleazy affairs,

Men so emasculated that they have the courage of a young boy,

Because shame has tied a noose around their neck and stolen their joy.

That doesn’t have to be your story – it’s not mine anymore.

Christ, let us out of our heart’s prison,

Pay for our debts, for you’ve already risen.

Raise us up and fill our cup,

Renew our joy and our gifts,

Speak into my heart and give me your voice,

The courage to tell men they have a choice.

The strength to stand when others won’t,

And I suppose I’ll end on this note…

I can’t wait to see,

That which he’s meant for me.

The dreams and visions and ministry,

A fisher of men in a raging sea.

fishers of men

New Insight In A New Season

I decided recently – again – that I spend far too much time online. By far one of my favorite coping mechanisms is reaching for the smartphone and surfing Facebook to see what others are up to. It helps me feel connected without risking being vulnerable in real-life. Requesting prayer from an online platform is a lot different than speaking face-to-face or over the telephone line about your life’s hardships and opening yourself up to someone else’s feedback and perspective.

It’s easier to crop an image and choose a filter than to deal with people seeing the real, angsty, almost always sweaty this time of year, Justin. One of the guys that I’ve grown up with invited me over to his house for a Guy’s Night this weekend – the fire pit was ablaze, cigars were lit, beer cracked open (or sparkling water in my case that night), and a huge, life-sized Jenga set was played.

Jenga Set

All that fun happening and I found myself wanting to reach for my phone to take a picture so that others would know I’d had a good time that night. (Also, because the Jenga set was awesome and I wanted to remember it.) The point remains, it’s so much easier to be able to document life online than it is to actually live it.

I’ve been encountering a lot of weird, heavy, dark, tough emotions lately and my first reaction is to find some form of coping mechanism (social media apps on the phone, booze, entertainment, etc.). Due to this and some other life-experiences, I’ve placed myself on bit of a fast from social media being so easily accessible on my phone and from alcohol for the next few weeks at least.

Technology is a useful resource but one of the things I despise about Sales is being married to my cell-phone, and reducing the amount of time I spend on it and coping with my stress and emotions in other unhealthy ways at home, is something I’ve chosen to work on.

After all, it was interesting what happened when I resisted the urge and left my phone in my pocket the last few evenings. I connected with total strangers and got to know about their lives, what they do, and the varying ways I can be actively praying for them. And I returned home to my wife, refreshed and ready to re-engage her with a fresh set of relational batteries because I’d taken the time to pour out God’s love on others and receive it from them as well. And last night – sitting across from Allie at Red Lobster enjoying the ultimate trio of salmon, lobster, and shrimp (mmm, seafood!) – we found ourselves connecting on a conversational level like we did when we were first starting to date each other a few years ago.

I think it’s time that we, as a society, begin taking larger steps toward becoming less dependent on hiding behind text-messages and social-media and instead invested the time in face-to-face interactions with those we love, and perhaps, those we don’t currently, but could lead our hearts to love over time.

An interesting tidbit from Tim Keller’s “The Meaning Of Marriage” is that as he pastored a church in Virginia, he took on ministering to a rather difficult couple with lots of problems and no one really seemed to like them. Over the course of a few months, he spent some of his ministry time in their house, inviting them into his office for counseling, and so on. Well – one rare mid-week day off, his wife was asking what he’d like to do that day and he said, “I think I’d like to hang out with the couple we’ve been working with.” His wife was surprised until he realized what had happened. As he’d been faithful in loving them, even though they weren’t all that likeable, he’d actually come to enjoy spending time with them – to love them, as he loved himself. He now genuinely loved his neighbor because he had led his heart in the direction of God’s will.

I found that convicting as I considered the people in my life that I don’t really like all that much or the coworkers that I tend to…avoid. I may make a greater impact for the Kingdom if I were to focus less on who I love and don’t love, and simply chose to love others as myself, as the Lord has directed.

Oh, and another thing – the world seems to spin a little smoother the more we align ourselves with what God has in store for us. Like many of you, I’ve spent plenty of time trying to direct my own footsteps and find my own, individualistic, “unique” way in life. It takes a lot of energy attempting to control all of the people and circumstances in your life. It’s just kind of ironic, humorous, and perplexing to consider that the “freedom” we’ve all been searching for in our youth is actually found in surrendering ourselves to the will of the God of Jacob – the same God that’s been keeping the world spinning on its axis just fine, since long before you and I came into existence.

So – the lesson I’m presently learning in life is quite simple: Love God. Love Others. Less of me, more of Him, so that His Kingdom can come, right here, right now, and we don’t have to wait any longer for His peace to fill our homes and flood our hearts.

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.

tunnel

Start Loving Others

The most common thread in the advice I’ve received on writing is to start. Don’t get so caught up in mapping out your thought-process and attempting to steer things the direction you want to go. Just do it.

I think there’s a lot of truth there and I’ve seen it play out in many areas of my life. Love someone? Just tell them and then prove it by showing them they’re the most important person in your world. Ready to lose weight? Then put down the bread and get out of bed, sleepyhead (had to throw a cheesy rhyme in there somewhere).

Meeting with a childhood friend of mine was encouraging this morning. There are some friendships that you have in life that just never die. Perhaps they fall asleep for a long hibernation but once back together your hearts can pick up right where you left off and this guy is that kind of friend. Some people have the gift of making whoever they’re with in the moment feel like the most important person in the world; I think it’s because he’s allowed his heart to become like Christ and he genuinely loves everyone.

That’s something to aspire to – isn’t it? Loving everyone. That’s so, so hard. Think of the difficult coworker that just rubs you the wrong way – you really do not even want to try to establish a relationship with this individual but perhaps that’s sheer laziness on your part. After all, everyone’s deepest desire to be known – to be connected. All their pushing and shoving and stiff-arming is likely fueled by a distrust of others because of others that have hurt them. What difference a little genuine love could make in their life.

I think of the times I was hurting inside the most. In these life-chapters I had frequently bullied friends and family into a corner and told (not asked) them to stay out of my life. Isolation is the companion of the fool that goes his own way, because community requires accountability. It was in these isolated, depressed, anger filled moments that some of my best friends in life took the time to draw me out – to get me to share my feelings and make myself vulnerable again. Only then, in the light, could I be healed.

So today, I challenge you and I challenge me, to start loving others. It’ll likely be one of the more emotionally taxing things you do today but it will also probably be the most rewarding. And who knows – it could build a relationship between you and the other that could pay off dividends in the future. Because chances are, you aren’t the easiest person to love either.

start loving others

Good Mornings

Today is a Good Morning. It started with waking up at 5:00AM to make sure I could meet with a friend of mine at 6:30AM for breakfast and coffee – two of my favorite things – one on one time with a bro and delicious, bottomless mugs of Ethiopian blend coffee.

I don’t know why I don’t do this more often – wake up and get after it. Force myself out of bed for the benefit of the rest of the world, as well as myself. By waking up I took the time to invest on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level with another person and I’ve jump-started the rest of my day. I’m awake, alert, and ready to go long before I have to be clocked in at work and ready to go.

There’s a reason why you feel better on the mornings that you just get out of bed versus the days you snooze the alarm over and over again.

Today is also a Good Morning because it’s Good Friday. Today, we remember the day that Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane in the early hours of morning due to the anxiety of knowing what was to come that evening. Betrayal. Pain. Death.

And yet, we have the luxury of knowing that Sunday brings freedom from death because Christ escaped the grave and overcame death so that we don’t have to. By His blood, our sins are paid for, our righteousness has been bought at a price and all who have faith and repent can be saved. Incredible.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that our Savior, Himself, had to experience betrayal of a friend. The betrayal of a loved one or friends can sting and cut you down, the pain seeming to linger for a heart’s eternity. But there is hope – there is a Sunday for that. By experiencing the true love of Christ and His forgiveness over our own sin and darkness, we can be granted the strength and opportunity to forgive and release others of their transgressions to us.

I think the greatest example I’ve witnessed of this is my beautiful wife and the times I’ve hurt her with the words I’ve said or the actions I’ve taken. But something has always set her apart from anyone else I’ve given my heart in the past, she has always been capable of forgiveness. She’s always been filled with the Spirit, capable of a love deeper, more passionate, and more loyal than any I’d experienced before. It was because of this that my heart was drawn back to Jesus back in 2015 and because of this that I made her my bride in 2017. And it’s because of God’s redeeming work in my heart and in my life that I’m capable of loving her with that same kind of love in 2018 and beyond.

Perhaps you’ve been following along in our Psalms Study and you’ve seen the weekly tidbits of wisdom gathered from the Scriptures and I’ll do what I can to continue that at my writing leisure. But I felt today was the perfect opportunity to remind everyone that they can have a Good Morning too. The love of Jesus is available to you – you just have to make yourself available to it. And that’s the hardest part, isn’t it? (Because what if…he doesn’t come through this time, he doesn’t answer your first prayer, he forgets what you’ve been through…)

It’s worth the unknown, because He’s never left me hanging. In my moments of need, I’ve allowed myself to become anxious and worried time and again and it’s never added a minute to my life just as promised in Scripture – but somehow, someway, He always comes through for me. Let Him do the same for you.

Let this morning be the first of many Good Mornings.

good morning coffee

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.

vulnerability

Conversation Cafe’s & FOMO

When I was in college there was this group that would meet once a week and just talk. They were called “Conversation Cafe’s” – the idea was to give international students a chance to practice their English and make some American friends. To be frank, I was naive and immature in my viewpoint at the time and I thought they were lame and cheesy. At this point in my life, looking back, I was wrong.

I think that group had the right idea. What better way to be inviting and to love on people. Everyone has a desire to connect and when you walk off that plane and into a new country, it can be quite scary. K-State had a fairly diverse student body and a very welcoming atmosphere and family feel they’ve spent years building, but I’m betting that Conversation Cafe was where a lot of friendships started. Perhaps it was awkward and hard at first to talk to people you (in that moment) think you have very little in common with, aside from your love for coffee and sugar. But after a while, as you took the time to get to know one another, I bet you discovered other similarities – perhaps you shared some fears/insecurities or maybe some personal strengths and dreams, or favorite sports. At the very least, you could probably unite about the excitement of seeing a K-State Football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, or enjoying ice-cream. Because if you don’t like ice-cream, then there truly is something wrong with you.

As Allie and I were sitting on the couch last night watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas (no, you didn’t read that wrong – Christmas starts in October, according to her), we started sharing what was on our hearts and one of the topics that came up was the lack of open and honest communication that exists nowadays. Genuine conversation and handwritten letters have been substituted with random, quirky interjections on social-media platforms and brief check-in texts with friends. One of the guys in my men’s group was talking with me on the phone about the issue of social-media and how it’s kind of poisoned our society and he said, “It should be called anti-social-media – there’s nothing social about it! There can be a room full of people and we will all be looking down at our phones the minute there’s a brief lull in the conversation. When’s the last time we were all just present with one another?” I had found this comment convicting and left my phone upstairs in our bedroom last night which ended up being extremely fruitful as it made me entirely present – taking the time to be emotionally intimate with my wife and to help rearrange some furniture in the living-room.

One of my sisters had shared with my wife and I that whenever she doesn’t receive enough likes on a photo or status update, she deletes it. The other day we tuned into one of her Instagram Live updates where she’s in a room with her friends, sipping on iced-tea and randomly chatting. It broke my heart for her when her two friends in the room were also streaming their own Instagram Live videos – there was no real interaction or conversation or storytelling or much of a point to the interaction – and when one of her friends looks at my sister’s phone, she said “Oh wow – only 8 viewers…” What made me sadder is that my sister didn’t even blink. I don’t even think she recognized the verbal abuse that just occurred because it probably happens all the time. (High-schoolers can be ruthless. I had some friends do some extra crappy things to me as well, but still…)

Our world is attention starved. “Pay attention to me! Like me! Share my stuff! If you retweet this, I’ll do this…” Manipulative, fear-based, and lonely – the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) culture has taken over the youth culture, and unfortunately, it’s penetrated “young” adults hearts like myself as well. When a young girl feels the only way to keep her love-interests attention is to dress slutty and perform acts she would rather not participate in before marriage, it is often because she lacks a genuine connection with someone that’s spoken into her life about her worth. She’s worth more than her cleavage and high-heels. And when a young man spends his days glued to his smartphone, constantly seeking the next high of someone liking him on Tinder and wanting a one-night stand, it is often because there wasn’t a man in his life speaking lovingly into his heart that he is capable, created in God’s image, and called to something greater than what the world has to offer.

When one is tied up in knots with an addiction to pornography or the necessity of a bottle of wine “after a hard day at work” on a several nights a week basis, it’s because they are lacking. Filling emotional, mental, and spiritual voids with substances and experiences outside of their healthy limits because they’ve forgotten. They have forgotten that they’re loved. Or perhaps they haven’t forgotten – perhaps they’ve simply never been genuinely loved or experienced a genuine connection with another human-being. And Allie and I’s hearts break for those people.

One of the things that makes me swoon for Allie is her big, soft heart. An amazing listener and so kind-hearted, it didn’t take long for my family to love her. “You’ve kind of set the standard,” said one of my siblings about the kind of woman a Meyer man should marry. So when she listens to someone tell their story of being cheated on, or experiencing abuse, or their feelings of worthlessness, it breaks her heart and stirs up in her a desire to help. And I think she’s rubbed off on me. When I see men constantly chasing after counterfeit affections to convince themselves they’re a man now, or avoiding responsibility and close relationships for fear of being hurt, my heart breaks for them. Do they not know they’re loved?

So this week, I want to challenge my readers. What can you do to show someone you love them? I read an “open letter” on the NFL protests written by a former Green Beret and he said, “I would love for those two leaders (Kaepernick and Trump) to have that conversation, but more than anything I just want us to love one another again. One great thing about freedom is that you get to choose everyday how you treat your neighbor.” Preach it, Nate Boyer.

I want us to love one another again. I want us to talk without being divisive and stirring up conflict. To have a conversation without talking at each other. I want hard, taboo topics to be discussed and people to be loved even if they do not change, because only the Holy Spirit is in the business of changing hearts.

The best thing that you and I can do this week is to pray for our enemies and those that have gone missing in the Kingdom and to be vulnerable with our hearts, that the Light may come into our relationships and kill the Darkness.

So put the phone down, brew a pot of coffee, and invite your neighbors over – maybe we need to be hosting some Conversation Cafe’s of our own…

conversation cafe

Recycling Regret & A Carpenter’s Touch

A little over 3 weeks ago, I went dark. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still experiencing some withdrawals and that I cannot wait to be back in the loop with what is going on with the world and what my friends are up to. But I can also say that I think I’ve managed to learn a few things and to counteract that initial urge to just tweet away every last thought.

In fact – Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have met their fatal ends with me and Facebook will be utilized with a more limited capacity. They’re far too much of a distraction in a season of immense personal growth. There’s no need to keep up with the Kardashians (figuratively speaking) when I need to learn to keep up with what God wants to do in my life.

The church that Allie and myself have begun planting ourselves in is going through a series called Recycling Regret, and I think it’s been the perfect series for both of our hearts. Whether it be regrets within the context of our relationship, regrets from our individual pasts, or regrets within our immediate relationships with family and friends – there are fragments of our hearts that need Jesus’ healing. There are times when we’re looking at each other, knowing the other needs to be comforted and it’s hard (when you’re married to someone) to realize that you’re not going to be enough to comfort them in that given situation. They’re going to need something more – a close friend is a good start, but even that close friend is not going to be enough sometimes. In God’s perfect design, he’s left a hole in our hearts that only He can fill.

It’s funny though because we’ll spend a solid portion of our lives trying to fill that hole with other things – counterfeit affections that never fully satisfy – or we will overcompensate by attempting to put an individual in the role of God in our lives. Maybe it’s your best-friend from growing up or a significant other you’ve become infatuated with. Maybe it’s your relationship with your parents or your boss at work. Somehow, in an attempt to fill that hole in your heart, you’ve tried to put them in that place – yearning for their approval and affection, entrusting them with your past, present, and future – and then one day, somehow (because they’re human), they fail you. You’re left hurting or abandoned or simply left with needs that are still unmet. And that’s because you’re running to the wrong source.

If you’re thirsty, you have to drink water. You can sit at the bar all night long and pound pints of beer back but at the end of the night, you’re still going to need a glass of water to not be thirsty. In the same way, you can have a dozen friends that you keep ties with and are constantly surrounding yourself with but the only relationship that is going to fully satisfy your heart’s deepest needs is your relationship with God.

I still remember a quote form my college minister that went something like, “The address to God is at the end of your rope.”

It’s always stuck with me.

In your darkest hours. In your loneliness and hurt and pain and suffering. In the times when it feels like you can’t do anything right or like you’ll never amount to anything. In the moments where you’ve given up on yourself. God always seems to be right there, arms open, eyes filled with love, ready to lift you back up and set you on the right course.

C.S. Lewis calls pain God’s megaphone. And I think he’s right. Pain sucks. But it’s there for a reason and there’s a lot to be learned from it. So don’t waste your pain doing things that will only lead to more pain. Take the time to do the work to process through what God is trying to teach you so that you may find life.

And if I can let you in on a little secret – there is no escaping God’s economy of reaping what you sow. You may not have to pay the bill of your sin today but like a credit-card bill that you’ve put off until last minute, eventually it’s going to debit your bank account whether the money is there or not. Sin will find a way to take from you what you thought it would offer; it’ll garnish your wages and reduce your heart to rubble just for fun.

The good news is that God’s in the business of recycling. Of taking something old and broken and making it something new and good and useful. He’s in the business of renovation. Taking the old rooms in your heart and turning them into masterpieces where people can come for refuge and strength.

Jesus was a tradesmen as a young man, trained in the craft of carpentry. I’m lucky to be crafted by His hands; grateful that He’s in the process of sanding me down, buffing me out, and turning me into something good.

The 19th Day

Obscure title for an obscure blog-post. Because I don’t really know what I’m going to end up writing here but I’m gonna post it because I can.

It’s the 19th day without social-media and I’m in full-force withdrawal symptoms right now. How am I supposed to distract myself from all of the hard life decisions that Allie and myself are trying to make at the same time? Without social-media and memes and posting requests for prayer or humorous videos – how does one get by in life?

I suppose I could pick up the phone and call a friend. But I’ve already done that a few times and while it’s good, it takes time and emotional energy and I’m already exhausted from the day at hand. But every good thing takes time and energy, doesn’t it? Every relationship must be invested in and pruned – otherwise it becomes entangled in weeds, is not watered properly, and dies.

Financially, we are trying to reduce/eliminate debt – which is noble and just and good. But at what point is some debt worth it? A reliable car that you actually enjoy driving and don’t have to worry about whether or not it will start in the morning is a huge blessing that I don’t take for granted after having driven my grandpa’s old pickup truck for 10 years prior to owning a modern-day Camry. But being $5,000 upside down isn’t exactly ideal and with Allie’s lease being up soon, it’s hard to justify her finding a Craigslist SUV if I’m driving something nicer. But is that nicer vehicle worth it? Because I’m the kind of guy that gets attached to the car he drives and will drive it until it becomes too expensive to maintain. I’m not the trade my car in every couple years kinda person. So…who knows. Who gets to decide that – Allie, myself, someone else? Nah, we’ve gotta come to an agreement, together. And we will. But when you get married, they don’t exactly hand you an owner’s manual on financial negotiations and fiscal responsibility, just as I’m sure Allie wished she received an owner’s manual on a guy’s need for adventure and spontaneity so she’d be prepared for all the wildcard decisions I make from time-to-time. But our differences are what makes us special and often-times, together we are stronger.

It’s just interesting that you grow up and you learn math and science and reading and writing but it seems I learned very little about fiscal responsibility, negotiating/compromising, relational ethics, and problem-solving/decision-making. All of which are necessary attributes of adulthood.

You’re never really prepared for the time that as a 27 year-old man you’ll call your Dad and say, “So what do you do when you don’t know what to do?” And then he won’t really know the answer either. And somehow, you both land on that you should pray some more. But am I a bad Christian if I say that when I pray some more sometimes it doesn’t seem to make all that much difference? And other times, it seems God decides to provide a solution at the very last possible minute, as if to say, “Gotcha! And you spent all that time worrying!”…with a snicker on his face.

I just don’t get it. Life is so complex. Talking with a friend recently, we were discussing balance – the need to balance time building up your skill-sets and time working to provide income and then time needed to invest in relationships like family, friends and a good marriage – and what about the need to invest in rest, for your own physical self and for your personal relationship with God? (I’ve found that doesn’t seem to ever make it into the American equation for success and I believe it’s the missing link toward inner-peace which is why, while I work in retail sales and my income is based solely on commission, I refuse to go in and work every single day of the week like some of my coworkers. That’s just not the life for me.)

Is it better to reduce debt or to build savings? Is it better to get a house now or to rent until a mortgage payment is more reasonable or in enough years, unnecessary?

If my dream is to one day write several published books, then how can one write them if they have so many questions? It appears I know far less than many. I’m told a humble and contrite spirit, ready to listen to and obey God is the place to begin. But what about those days when you wake up and you’ve tried as hard as you can try but it all seems lost? (That’s not to say there’s no light or hope, but there’s just no certainty or vision.)

I think one of the things I value the most about my marriage with Allie is that every night as I’m laying there wrestling with these thoughts and a dozen others, I can always reach over and hold her. She doesn’t care if I wake her up. And if I’m feeling particularly stressed, she’ll ask me what’s up and I’ll explain and she won’t scold me for my disbelief, she’ll pray with me. She’s always right there. Ready to serve. Willing to love.

The truth is I’m a blessed, young man that’s being forced to grow with an expediency like I’ve never experienced before. All comfort-levels broken down, all safety nets cut off, all darkness being exposed to the light, and yet Allie stays with me, Jesus shows His love to me, and peers see potential – they see something, in my eyes, in my actions, in my heart – they see something and they call out what they believe God intends for me and I just find myself spellbound by the unknowns yet amazed that people think I’ll get there. That all my shortcomings can be overcome.

No one’s given up on me yet, so I can’t give up on myself.

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