Childlike Faith – Living and Loving Your Life With God's Perspective

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When Your Goals Matter More Than Your Family

work-life-balance-family

“Society treats kids and senior citizens the same,” Rachel remarked to me the other day, and it got me thinking a lot about the truth of that statement on many levels. In the main, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of time, respect, and wholehearted care given to those populations by the mass of individuals who find themselves chronologically between them, even if they are related to them.

Everywhere I look this is evident. And this is why many kids are raised in day care and after school centers, and why many grandpas and grandmas spend the winter of their lives in nursing homes and senior centers.

I am concerned that we will have a lot of regret at the end of our lives when we take a hard look at the choices we made, and the things we neglected.

It has been said that that which is most important to us can be identified by the things on which we spend the most time. From what I can tell, it’s often not family. It’s our selfish desires – our lives, our goals, our hobbies, our comforts, our distractions. And while it’s easy to excuse and rationalize away when we are caught up in work pressures, health issues, household responsibilities, and so much stress and anxiety, I am concerned that we will have a lot of regret at the end of our lives when we take a hard look at the choices we made, and the things we neglected.

I am definitely guilty of this. I don’t check in with my parents as often as I should, and I point to my never-ending list of responsibilities as the reason why. What about you – do you do the same?

I also get annoyed sometimes (although I try to hide it, often unsuccessfully) when my newborn keeps fussing and won’t let me get back to my work or chores or my phone without interruption. Can you relate? Does your kid annoy you sometimes for simply having needs at inconvenient times? What about your significant other?

I do love my parents.

And I do love my kid.

And I do love my wife.

They each want and deserve meaningful love and undivided attention. Heck, we all do. But I struggle to give it to them unless it’s done on my time and my schedule. Unless I am really in the mood.

And even though I would never ignore them or fail to come through for them, the attitude with which I sometimes approach the time and effort I am asked to give them betrays a major heart issue. And specifically, I think it points out that in my mind, my life is way more important than theirs.

I was mentioning to Rachel that from the age of about 20 to perhaps 60, adults (including me) have an aggrandized sense of self-importance. We get so wrapped up in building a successful career, making a name for ourselves, creating a nest egg, having a family, and striving for an idyllic and enviable life that we end up elbowing out anything that slows us down or otherwise seems to undermine our efforts. As if what we are doing with our life matters more than anything else (and what they are doing).

We get so wrapped up in striving for an idyllic and enviable life that we end up elbowing out anything that slows us down or otherwise seems to undermine our efforts.

But the reality is that no one is going to really remember 99.9% of us in 100 years. Even though I truly believe my work is important, and that I’m actually saving lives through my research, training, and service activities, no one is going to remember me. Seriously. Not in 100 years. Not in 2117 or 2118 or 2119 or 2120. Yes, I’ll have made a difference in the lives of others, and that difference absolutely does matter, but I’m not going to be in a US History book, and you probably aren’t either.

No offense.

And so with that in mind, it seems incredibly arrogant and pretentious to keep excusing that fact that I don’t give my absolute best to my parents or my kids or my significant other because my work and life goals are too important. They aren’t, compared to them. And it’s likely yours aren’t either. I don’t know you, but the odds are that you are probably fooling yourself.

I have always wanted to be able to say that regardless of my professional successes or failures, I gave my family the best of me.

The thing is though, I understand the struggle. I do. It’s often easier to give our best to our jobs and obligations instead of our families. That’s true in my life, at least. Why? I think it’s because I have more control over work stuff, and less control over family stuff because their hearts and feelings are involved, and they want my actions and words toward them to involve my heart and feelings. And sometimes that is exhausting, and that means I’m not always in the mood to give them my best. 

In addition, we often don’t see immediate, tangible rewards from pouring into our family, like we do in our work each day and each week.  Familiarity without constant and visible rewards seems to breed contempt, I guess. It’s just tough. But I have always wanted to be able to say that regardless of my professional successes or failures, I gave my family the best of me.  I’m trying to keep that goal first and foremost above all other goals, and let my moment-by-moment decisions each day be guided accordingly.  And I’m trying to deflate my aggrandized sense of self-importance by remembering that my loved ones matter so much more than the things I’ve spent my life pursuing.

When you trust yourself more than God for career success

bbc-interview-video-interruption
By now, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the viral video of a political expert being interviewed via Skype by the BBC, and the comedy that ensues when his two daughters boldly and innocently enter into his home office before being corralled and yanked out of there by their completely embarrassed mom. I saw the video early on Friday morning, and immediately showed Rachel (who loved it because that could happen to us one day!). Then, I retweeted it and tagged Justin because we both do a lot of phone and video interviews with the media and I knew he would be able to relate.

What I wanted to now discuss was some of the thoughts I had after reading a breakdown of the video by Ben Thompson. You should read it too, because it’s a splendid and tremendously entertaining writeup, and also because some of his insights cut me to the quick (and perhaps will do the same to you).

While commenting on why Robert Kelly (the protagonist) tried to do all he could to maintain decorum during the interview even after the host pointed out that his daughter had entered the room, the author states:

What you may not know about these TV spots is that you don’t get paid a dime. Why, then, does the BBC, or CNN, or MSNBC, or all of the other channels have an endless array of experts who are willing to not just call-in from their home office but will also go to the trouble of putting on a suit-and-tie and arrange books just so? BECAUSE YOU’RE ON TV!

Here’s the deal: the male ego is both remarkably fragile and remarkably easy to satiate. Tell said ego he will be featured as an expert in front of a national or global audience and he will do whatever it takes — including 12 years of academia and wearing a suit at home—to ensure it is so.

While I have never put on a full suit to field a Skype call from my home office, I have absolutely put on a dress shirt and tie (while wearing athletic shorts from the waist down) and sat at my desk to video chat with an interviewer. When the requests come in (primarily via email), I am definitely guilty of running around and inconveniencing myself and my family to take the call. Justin is pretty much the same way. We both agree that it will help to get our research and best practices out to those who need it. We also feel that we only have a limited amount of time to build our careers, and this is one of the ways which require some sacrifice – especially if it is a big-name media outlet.

I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it).

What the author’s commentary pointed out to me was that I am largely doing it to feed my ego. I’ve done media interviews on weekend mornings, during the evenings when I should have put my laptop to bed, and sometimes even on vacation (though, thankfully, rarely). And I justify it over and over again – because it will be relatively simple to knock it out (just shave and put on a button-down!), because I know the answers to the questions they are going to ask, and because others will meaningfully benefit from the information I share. But if I’m honest, those are all secondary reasons to the primary motivation: others will see it and hear my name, and I’ll maintain relevance as a sought-after “expert” in the field. And my ego will have been fed.

Ugh. Just typing that out loud feels gross. Slimy. Yucky.

I don’t want that. I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it). I do believe everything good and perfect comes from the Lord, and that I don’t need to exhaust myself in human effort to “make things happen.”  But it is clear that belief has not yet permeated all aspects of my life, as much as I want it to.

And if I am objective about it, the primary reason why I am so keen on doing these interviews (again, to the detriment of my own schedule, peace of mind, and family prioritization) is because of the fear of becoming irrelevant. And it’s weird because I really don’t want fame or notoriety – I just want to be able to provide for myself and my family.

But if I’m irrelevant professionally, I feel like all opportunities (and provision) will completely dry up.

And no one will care.

And life will fall apart.

That is ridiculous. That clearly demonstrates a lack of faith in the Lord as my source and my provider.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Matthew 6:28

To me, it doesn’t matter whether the political expert was working during normal business hours, or inconveniencing himself and his family by fielding the interview just because of his ego. What matters is that I personally found a teachable moment in the video, and see its application to how I am currently living. And how I want to live as a man with childlike faith.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place. We just need to pay attention, and then apply those insights to our lives. If I am caught up in busyness, and just keep going through the motions without heeding what He is trying to teach me through my everyday observations and experiences, it will be such a shame.

I don’t want to fear missing out on ego-building opportunities. I want to fear missing out on faith-building opportunities. Because as my faith grows, so does my relationship with Him – from which flows the fullness of life I want and need above all else.

Image source: http://bit.ly/2lQL374

Does God Share Secrets With You?

To start the new year off right, I’m reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts and it’s teaching me a lot about counting my blessings on a daily basis, and how that directly produces joy in life. I will probably blog about the book when I am done because I’m finding it life-changing, but for now I want to write about something else that the book prompted within me.

Ann is an unbelievably good writer. In my opinion, she stands way far apart from the vast majority of writers I’ve read. How so?  Well, for starters, she doesn’t interpret everything around her through her natural, myopic, micro-level perspective.  Rather, she takes it all in through a faith-infused and Christ-centric worldview. She sees God palpably at work in her experiences – both the mundane and the magical – and her words so vividly describe the details of her life while as the same time providing her viewpoint of those details through God’s eyes. Second, she seems privy to so much more than the rest of us. It’s like, God lifts the veil for her, and reveals to her special, unique insights that largely escape you and me (which reminds me of The Matrix).  She sees with spiritual eyes, and is given discernment and wisdom that simply does not come from her own mind. And she is gifted (by Him) with the ability to see connections, relationships, symbolism, and metaphorical parallels that are really incredible and otherworldly. And what she notices (and writes about) is what makes her so special, and what feeds back into her spiritual life, which of course shapes and improves her unique and incomparable perspective even more.

It’s like, God lifts the veil for her, and reveals to her special, unique insights that largely escape you and me.

I want that. I want that so badly.

This is the reason why Ann is such a good writer, and why she is set apart. And what I have been thinking is that this ability – this gift – is rooted in her cultivation of a deep, verdant relationship with her Lord. Over years, over decades. Through tons and tons of time spent with Him, doing life with Him. And I should point out here that she doesn’t live in a convent or abbey, outside of the hustle and bustle of life as you and I know it. She is married with six kids and works with her husband on a huge farm. She’s constantly busy. And I can relate to that. But she pulls it off, she stays linked up to Him, rooted in Him. And she maintains and protects and refines her perspective, holding off and fighting off anything that might compromise it or ruin it. And that gives me hope.

I want to change people’s lives with my words, with the words He gives me to share. And with this new year upon me, I wonder – okay, might this be the year? Is this when something epic finally happens with this blog, with my writing? But now I am thinking – or, rather, being reminded – that there are no shortcuts and that I do not want to rush this. I want it to blossom from a seed, a deposit from Him and from Him alone. I don’t want it to be out of my own limited intellect and ideas. I know me, and my thoughts are not as high as His thoughts, nor my ways anywhere close to His ways. I’m not brilliant, but He is. And I want what I share to be brilliant, special, set apart, unique. I want them to be transcendent in scope, instead of worldly and narrow-reaching and largely ineffectual. Honestly, I know that if it comes from only me and my human brain and incomplete perspective, it will be pretty anemic in its effect, influence, and reach – at least compared to what God can do if it’s from Him instead.

If it comes from only me and my human brain and incomplete perspective, it will be pretty anemic in its effect, influence, and reach – at least compared to what God can do.

It is so clear to me that the best writers about faith and life are the ones who have walked the long, hard journey alongside their Leader, Forgiver, and Friend. And that remains their priority above all else, well above their writing goals or ministry efforts. Most of the time, I live that out, but sometimes I lose my way and focus more on the goal, the product, the fruit that I want my labors to bear. Right now, He is lovingly reminding me that it will come if my relationship with Him is the goal, above all else. What is more, He is showing me that such a relationship – and all He reveals to me because of it – will produce the joy, the satisfaction, the life to the full that I want, that I need, that I know is out there for me, and that I have known so well before.

I guess the bottom line, for this New Year – and frankly for the rest of my life – is that I want Him to deem me worthy of sharing with me the secret things.

The things of which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived (1 Cor 2:9).

The profound and hidden things (Daniel 2:22).

The great and mighty things, which I do not know (Jeremiah 33:3).

I really do understand it will only come through the relationship I am cultivating with Him. This is my heart’s desire. Way more than me writing about it, and inspiring others that way – although I will want to do that. Most of all, I just want to be close to Him, stay close to Him, and see and notice and interpret things His way, the right way. A new way, a fresh way, a non-derivative and eye-opening and hopeful and extraordinary way. Like Ann Voskamp does.

I hope this doesn’t sound too ethereal, too supernatural, too impractical for those who are reading this. I’ve done practical, and it is always restrictive and colorless, and doesn’t get me anywhere. I know God is real, that His promises are true, and that His ideas are the best ideas. And I know I can experience Him powerfully and profoundly in my life. Actually, it’s completely available to anyone who is interested!

I like to say that I want to live my life as a grand experiment of faith. The crazy thing is that I have never been let down in living this way. Ever. This is just one more experiment, and I am confident He will not fail to prove me right as long as I strive to keep my heart, my devotion, and my relationship with Him in the right place. One day of this new year at a time.

Image source: bit.ly/1IUp0Tc

When You’re Always Looking for More

Well, it’s the end of 2015. And I’m doing some reflecting, of course. Maybe I should wait until New Year’s Eve, but I’m on Christmas break, and so my mind is in an introspective mood. Here’s my main question: am I happy with how this year has gone? For the most part, yes. I mean, I think that all of us feel a bit of restlessness and perhaps even resignation at the end of each year, simply because we go into it with the highest of hopes in January. And even if it was really amazing, it still (at least for me) leaves something to be desired. As if whatever happened is not enough. It makes me think of a number of things that C. S. Lewis has said:

“I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience.” – The Weight of Glory

I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” – Mere Christianity

I am always looking for more. I think we all are.

As you probably know, I make a Goals poster at the beginning of each year to keep me inspired and to provide me with meaning and help me to feel fulfilled when December rolls around. They’re kind of like my New Year’s resolutions, but more specific, and related to overall personal and professional growth. Here’s my 2015 poster – and you can see that I wanted to faithfully work out, swim, play guitar, blog, travel, publicly speak, and invest in my bride. I pretty much did all of those things. But if I can be honest, I’m like, “meh.” It’s really nice to be disciplined and focused and productive and achieve goals, and these are good things. But they don’t fully satisfy me. They just don’t.

“Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object […] If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.” – The Weight of Glory

Yeah. I feel that. I spend every year trying to accomplish things –awesome things, for sure. But I have these deep desires in me, and they simply are not fulfilled even as I build my career, focus on fitness, work on having a great marriage, or travel. I also know that we are commended to find enjoyment in our work, and in the things we do. And I do, I really do. But it’s still not enough. It just isn’t. Something is missing.

And so I am looking back upon my year, and identifying moments that made me feel different in a good way, in a great way. Different from my normal workaday life. Different in a way that I would want to remain there in that place, if I could.

I am looking back upon my year, and identifying moments that made me feel different in a good way, in a great way.

I think of summer camp in Banner Elk, North Carolina. I felt so close to God there, and like I was living out of the abundance of my heart, like I was living out of the best parts of me as I invested in the teens that came simply through being a friend to them, intentionally and meaningfully.

I think of the nighttime or pre-dawn walks I take by myself around the lake in my neighborhood. I feel so close to God there. It’s peaceful, I’m not in a rush, and there is no pressure to do anything but to talk to Him and listen to Him.

I think of the one-on-one conversations I’ve had with people I care about, about the hard stuff going on in their lives. Just trying to love them by listening to them and encouraging them. Just trying to feel their pain and steal some of it away, always with my presence and sometimes with my words. It’s simple and outside of the spotlight. But I know I was made to do it, and I know in those moments I’m linked up to God as He uses the gifts He’s given me.

I think of the times when I am laying in bed clutching a spare pillow tight against my chest, and quietness surrounds me, and I can just lay there, and pray for loved ones, or the heavier things in my own life. And nothing else is required except for me to be still, and rest, and feel safe and protected by Him, and be reminded that He is ever-loving and He knows what He’s doing and everything – in time – will be alright.

Those are my favorite times of 2015. Those are what satisfied me the most and, if I look back across the years, have satisfied me the most along the way. Not perfectly, but as well as is possible in this life, from what I can tell.

And I realize that my Goals Poster from this year – and basically my entire life, now that I think about it – is all about me doing. Accomplishing. Achieving. Improving. And my favorite moments of this year – and basically my entire life, now that I think about it – are all about me being.

And yet every year I swallow the lie that reaching the goals I set out for myself will help me satisfy my deepest desires. That they will console the “inconsolable secret” that Lewis writes about. But I should know by now that they don’t. And they can’t. Because my desires are too deep – and rightfully so. The most epic personal and professional achievements are just not deep enough.

Every year I swallow the lie that reaching the goals I set out for myself will help me satisfy my deepest desires.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good thing to have New Year’s goals and resolutions. I think we should keep making them because God is honored and they keep us moving forward. But I know I need to just be more, instead of do more. And trust that He will use me immensely, and will provide me with the fulfillment I’m searching for. I know it’s there. I just have to do it.

Look back upon your 2015 and let me know if your experience was similar to mine. And consider putting more time and energy not into the goals and resolutions you make for 2016, but into what brings out the very best in you, and allows you to live out the reasons why you were created, and keeps you intimately linked up with the only One who can ever truly console that inconsolable secret we all have.

How to Find your Calling

In my last blog entry, I asked “What is your Calling?” and covered a number of related issues. I first discussed that a ‘calling’ is the secret of who you are meant to be, instead of something that you simply do (for a living, etc.). I also shared that I believe a vocation and a calling are different for most people, and that the former won’t ultimately fulfill you, but the latter can – and does, if you can devote yourself to it and pursue it for all it’s worth. Finally, I mentioned that a calling is typically an expression that manifests into action. Ideally, it implicates your heart, helps you feel closer to God, provides a solid measure of transcendent joy and satisfaction (even when it gets rough, and even when you fail sometimes), and something you feel burdened (in a good way) to live it out.

Now, I want to share some thoughts on my calling – and how you can discover yours.

“If you are what you are meant to be, you will set the whole world on fire.” ~ St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, Dominican Mystic (1347-1380)

I believe that. I believe our calling has that kind of potential. And I think we choose a vocation, but a calling chooses us. And it likely has chosen us a long time ago, but perhaps we’ve never really given it the room, freedom, and encouragement to grow.

I’d believe my calling is writing. It completely engages my heart. It definitely helps me feel closer to God. It brings me a measure of joy that I can only describe as transcendent. And I feel absolutely compelled to share what I’m learning. One of my life verses is Isaiah 50:4, which says “The Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” I have meditated on that verse for as long as I can remember, and prayed about this for decades. And life has just worked out in a way where I can see His hand on this area of my life, through positive and negative reinforcement, through opportunities, through years in the crucible where He refined me and my abilities. It is who I am, it is what I want to be, it is what I cannot help but do. Nothing else compares. And I kind of expect God to use it to set the world on fire.

I think we choose a vocation, but a calling chooses us. And it likely has chosen us a long time ago, but perhaps we’ve never really given it the room, freedom, and encouragement to grow.

How are you supposed to find your calling? Great question. I think it involves trying a bunch of different things over the weeks and months and years. Breaking out of routine. Considering new potentials you may have. If an opportunity or experience seems to resonate with you in a unique way, go for it. And then assess it very carefully. Some of these questions might help:

Is your heart engaged in the activity, and do you feel like it comes alive when you do it? If it doesn’t stand out to you, it’s probably not your calling.

Is it deepening your relationship with God? Is it fueling your desire to do great things for Him, sourced in the gifts He has given you?

Does it lift your spirits in a way that few other activities do? Does it provide a measure of contentment, reassurance, and peace that you are on the right track, doing the right thing, and plugged in to something that matters?

Does it feel like the world would miss out if you didn’t do it? Not to feed your self-importance, but does it feel weighty, important, and like something you feel compelled to do with your life?

Does it feel like play? Am I able to lose myself for a few moments or hours like I did when I was a kid? To be sure, sometimes it’s going to be hard and some days, to be honest, you’re not going to feel like it. Other days, you’re going to be inspired but have to deal with other related tasks that are draining. For example, I love to write, but I hate to do anything related to marketing my writing. I’d just rather keep writing, but both are important if a person wants his/her voice to be heard. The point here is that overall, in the big picture, you need to enjoy it and find yourself getting swept up in it.

Am I listening to others? This one comes with a caveat, because in listening to ‘others,’ I mean the ‘others’ in my life who know me, love me, and are cheering for me. Their input is important because my calling isn’t just intended to be lived out for one person (me), but for the people around me. I mean, God made us for Him and he made us for others. And so other people will always be a part of our calling.

Is my calling an idol? My calling should never become a wall I put up to isolate, or a platform to stand on to look down on others. It should never be used in a selfish, egotistical way, but should be used humbly, lightly, and generously. If I find myself bristling with annoyance at someone getting in the way of me and my calling, I need to check my heart and wonder if it’s become an idol.

You might have to try twenty things before you discover your calling. You might stumble upon it the first time. And it will probably not be associated with fireworks, fanfare, and perhaps even much fun some (many?) times. I can think of many legends of the faith and legends of our modern era, and it’s clear that their calling involved a lot of grinding, hard work, and sacrifice. And there were definitely disappointments, and even failures along the way (and even in the end). But it was still their calling. We should just remember that even when it gets really rough, and even when it doesn’t seem to be making a difference, it still is absolutely what you were called to do.

I can think of many legends of the faith and legends of our modern era, and it’s clear that their calling involved a lot of grinding, hard work, and sacrifice. And there were definitely disappointments, and even failures along the way (and even in the end). But it was still their calling.

At the end of my life I am going to be endlessly grateful for the opportunities that came my way and the things I was able to accomplish. But I feel that if I only kept doing my vocation (and even if I succeed at it beyond my wildest imaginations), it will feel in part like a hollow victory. It will fall short on some level – it just will. And so I just want to keep nourishing the seed He planted in me. I just want to keep focused on living out my calling – doing what I know to do, and leaving the rest up to Him.

Image source: http://bit.ly/1PUy0JH

What is your Calling?

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about contentment, and specifically how it relates to my calling. When I use the term “calling” I mean the secret of who you are meant to ‘be,’ and I am not referring to one’s “vocation,” which is the truth of what you can best ‘do.’ We’ll talk more about that below. But for now, I mean what Mark Twain was referring to when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

I feel like a calling is an expression that naturally manifests into action. Which means that it is less science, and more art. It is less brain, and more heart. It is less manufactured, and more organic. I hope that makes sense; I am not sure how else to put it. It is something that is birthed inside of you, from early in your life. And when it is expressed, it is the very best of you blossoming, coming forth, in all of your personal glory.

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. ~ Mark Twain

I’m pretty positive that unless I am fulfilling my calling, I am going to constantly wrestle with a crappy complicated feelings of discontentment that feel like frustration, angst, uneasiness, sadness, nihilism, and listlessness. I know that sounds intense, but I think you know what I mean. Depending on the context, some of these emotions rear up their ugly heads more so than the others. You get it.

I’ve spent my life chasing dreams, and accomplishing many of them. But to be honest, something is missing. Not fully, but definitely partially.

I know that Jesus said that if I try to hang on to my life, I will lose it. But if I give up my life for his sake, I will save it. I see that. I’ve been on this planet long enough to realize that ultimately I am not in control of anything, really. And I’ve learned that I don’t want to spend my life obsessed with building my own kingdom and being preoccupied with self-preservation only to have everything I’ve saved and stored and worked for taken for me in a blink of an eye (regardless of whether I die naturally or unnaturally, that is my fate. I always think about what happened to the rich man who just kept building bigger and bigger barns to store his increasing wealth: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Luke 12:20).

I want to live a great story. And I really do feel like I “give up my life” for His sake – in terms of pouring it out by investing in, and loving on others. I mean, that’s what He did. That’s what actually matters – helping others through their lives…and offering some hope by reflecting His love and pointing them (indirectly and directly) to Him. And I mean it when I say that it really does fulfill me. But in this incomplete way.

Your calling is like a seed that has been planted, and then is watered and fertilized through experiences and revelations and struggles and successes and heartbreak and solitude, and then eventually bursts forth from the topsoil of your life into something that nourishes others.

And that’s okay, I think. Because I am convinced that each of us has a unique calling – a divine destiny – which we are absolutely meant to be, and work towards, and realize. I’m trying to figure out how to explain it, and I keep getting this word picture. It’s something that starts on the inside of you, like a seed that has been planted, and then is watered and fertilized through experiences and revelations and struggles and successes and heartbreak and solitude, and then eventually bursts forth from the topsoil of your life into something that nourishes others. I know that this seed, and its growth process – it’s a big deal. And it’s supposed to compel me to do my part so that it comes into fruition. And I’m supposed to not let anything stifle it – like weeds, or disease, or malnourishment. And I know that when things do get in the way (as they tend to!), I must remember that it was planted specially in me by a sovereign, perfectly-loving God, and that singular fact should propel me forward.

I’ve been mentoring my friend Francklen for like three and a half years now. I love this kid. He’s super intense, and bent towards being melancholy – just like me. He feels things really deeply – the highs are top-of-the-world high, and the lows are paralyzingly low. I get that. I can relate. Well, Francklen is trying to discover his calling – perhaps like most of us. And part of me wants to share with him feel-good quotes like the one we’ve all probably heard from Frederick Buechner: “Vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” But then I refrain from doing so, because I think a vocation and a calling are often (but not always) different. Instead, I want him to figure out a form of expression that “does it” for him:

that engages his heart;

that helps him draw near to God;

that brings him a transcendent joy; and

that he continually feels burdened (in a good way) to act.

Those four things: engage, draw near, enjoy, and act. In that order. He’s trying. He might end up being a civil engineer for his vocation, but a spoken word poet for his calling. I have no idea. Currently, he doesn’t either. And that’s okay, because he will realize it in time, and come to discover that it was in him all along.

A lot of my friends currently at FAU (or those who have recently graduated) are so fired up about their current trajectory to grad school or med school or law school or to be hired into a terrific job right out of college. And I can tell they already derive so much of their identity out of that future role or position or occupation. And I am excited for them – I was the same way back then. But I wish I could convey to them over coffee that their vocation isn’t going to fully satisfy them. Even if they win a Pulitzer or Nobel, even if they create the next killer app that revolutionizes life as we know it, even if they singlehandedly cure cancer. It is not enough. And they’ll need more, and want more. And they will realize that whether it’s in five years or fifty years. And realizing it later than sooner will definitely be more painful. I guess I just want them to be intentional about figuring out what they were made for, and being open to the possibility of it not being related to their academic and professional pursuits.

I think we get in trouble when we try to force a vocation and a calling to be the same thing, or otherwise overlap in some way.

Also, I think we get in trouble when we try to force a vocation and a calling to be the same thing, or otherwise overlap in some way. It can be, and I know some people for whom it is. But it’s rare. For instance, my friend Jenny is a life coach and I know without a doubt that God took her on a special journey so that she could learn how to infuse real hope and light into the lives of those who are stumbling in the dark. She is meant to do this, and God clearly uses her to rescue many lives. She helps her paid clientele, and she helps those who do not become paid clients simply because she must. She can’t not. I am thankful that for her vocation and calling dovetail pretty perfectly.

That said, such a convergence between the two is not likely for most. If that is what we are desperately shooting for, we’re just going to flounder about for years. And years. Because we’re trying to find perfection in what to “do” with our lives. We’re trying to identify the “end-all, be-all” so we can take it and run with it. As he is in his sophomore year in college and trying to select the best possible major, Francklen is having such a hard time because the choice seems so weighty, and the implications so severe and enduring. I love that he wants to make the right choice, but at the end of his life he will realize that the major he selected and the career he chose did not define him, nor did it fulfill him. We want it to. We think it will, when we are starting out, and when we are in the middle of it. But it doesn’t. Instead, his calling will. I want all my friends to understand that.

In my next entry, I’ll talk about how I believe you’re supposed to find your calling. Stay tuned….

Image source: http://bit.ly/1P1rFMf

Life Lessons I’ve Learned from Ultimate Frisbee

I love ultimate Frisbee. So much. If I could play every day of the week, I would. I just find it so fulfilling and fun because it’s competitive, exciting, and a workout – and it requires digging deep and pushing oneself to run and jump faster, harder, and higher than those around you. For those of you who have never played, allow me to provide some background before I tell you what ultimate Frisbee has been teaching me about life.

Perhaps the best way to describe the sport is that it is like soccer, except that you can’t dribble (that is, you can’t possess the Frisbee and make your way up or down the field). You have to catch it, immediately come to a stop, and then throw it to a teammate before the person defending you counts to 10 seconds). And the way you score is like football, except with only passing plays. That is, the Frisbee gets moved down the field – teammate to teammate – until someone catches it in the end zone and gets both of their feet down in bounds before falling or running out of it.

There are certain things about the sport which fill me with so much joy while playing. I like trying to juke my defender to try to get open to receive a pass from my teammate. I like when the Frisbee is in the air and those on offense and defense both sky high to try to grab it and come down with it. And most of all, I love going for all the glory. This is where I am quite far away from my team’s end zone, but my teammates are running down the field and calling for a long pass, and I just reach back and chuck the disc with all my might in their direction. And hopefully, hopefully, one of them catches it for a goal, and the crowd goes wild and my friends go absolutely bananas hugging and hive-fiving each other, and even the other team marvels in astonishment and gives us props for making such a sensational and perhaps even miraculous play.

I choose to live wisely and in fiscally responsible ways, but want to go on adventures and epic trips now – when my body is able to do all the things that I want it to.

The feeling of throwing such a pass and scoring that point is pretty epic, but what is even better is when I am on the receiving end. I seriously cannot think of anything better in all of my years of playing sports or doing anything outdoorsy. I just look over to one of my teammates who can throw well, make eye-contact and give them a confident nod and smile so they know I am about to go deep, and then I just take off. And hopefully, I have a couple steps on my defender, and I’m running as hard as I possibly can, and the Frisbee is launched on a perfect parabola that cuts through the air like a ninja star, and hangs up on the breeze long enough for me to reach out at the best possible moment to snag it and come down with it in bounds for a goal. Sometimes I have to jump really high for it. Sometimes I have to launch myself horizontally and dive for it. And sometimes I have to turn on my afterburners and give every last ounce of energy and strength to stretch towards it and rip it out of the air. I just don’t know how to truly convey to you how tremendous it is when it happens – to be a part of something which at that time and in that context feels so rewarding, redemptive, and downright magical. Nothing comes close to that feeling. It is absolutely glorious.

There is a problem, though. And that problem is that…I want it all the time. I want the long throws. I want the glory points. I want the legendary pass plays every single time my team gets on offense. But this is not a good thing. Why? Well, for a number of reasons. First off, scoring goals like these is a high reward but a high risk. Perfect passes down the length of the field do not happen the majority of the time. Plus, other elements must perfectly coalesce simultaneously – the receivers need to know what side of the end zone to run to, they need to have at least a few steps on their defenders to create space in which to make the catch, they need to “read” the disc and the direction in which it is turning in flight, and they have to actually make what is usually a challenging catch with one or both hands.

I want the long throws. I want the glory points. I want the legendary pass plays every single time my team gets on offense. But this is not a good thing.

In addition, we are playing against a defense. They can specifically guard against deep passes by having one or more team members play “safety” to provide more coverage near or in the end zone. They know we like to go long and try to make these epic passes and scores, and they will obviously adapt their strategy to make it more difficult of us. With all of this in mind, you would think that I would be deterred from trying to go for the glory plays…. But I have some stubbornness in me, and I just don’t get deterred. And you’re probably thinking that the lesson here is that it is still worth it, to go for it, because it is how you become legendary. But to be honest, it is not.

Given the circumstances I have described, if I keep going long as a thrower or a receiver and keep prioritizing that as the best way to score points, I am sandbagging my team. I am putting them at an extreme disadvantage, and setting them up for failure. What I have found in ultimate Frisbee is that yes, the glory plays are spectacular and pretty much the best thing ever…but they are very rare. And they are not how a team wins games. They may lead to a point here or there – and maybe even a few during a match. But the majority of scores are made when the team methodically moves up the field with short passes.

Our default is “go long,” but I have to keep vocally reminding myself and my teammates that the short game works best. It’s not very exciting or sexy, and it requires a lot more running around as you try to get open to catch a pass in a short radius around the teammate with the disc, and it involves every one of your players catching pass after pass after pass as you move down the field. But it actually works better more consistently. And, more often than not, it leads to victories. And I would definitely rather win entire games on a regular basis than catch epic scores on an irregular basis and lose the matches we play.

So, back to my life. How is this even applicable? Well, I am realizing that I need to stop scheming and pining for the long passes and the glory scores when it comes to my goals and dreams. I mean, I want to accomplish the things I set out to achieve in a quick-strike and explosively awesome manner, but that pretty much doesn’t really happen. For me, or for anyone. No matter how much we want it to. Major goals and major dreams require major effort – effort that is calculated, planned out, involving multiple people who can help you, and set out over an extended period of time.

There are no quick strike successes when it comes to the things I really want: to be an amazing husband, to maintain my physical fitness, to keep my childlike faith, to maintain a sensitive heart, to be a writer that impacts the world with my words, and to stay close to God. We all want to go viral and have immediate, massive success – but those occurrences are like strikes of lighting. We can’t bank on them and have to have another plan. A plan that demonstrates stick-to-ituiveness, sweat equity, and time. Lots and lots of time. What’s also cool is that it’s a biblical principle. For example, in Proverbs 21:5 (TLB), it says that “Steady plodding brings prosperity” while “hasty speculation brings poverty.” The RSV translation puts it this way: “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but every one who is hasty comes only to want.” That sounds about right – both in terms of logic, and in terms of my own experiences.

We all want to go viral and have immediate, massive success – but those occurrences are like strikes of lighting. We can’t bank on them and have to have another plan. A plan that demonstrates stick-to-ituiveness, sweat equity, and time.

I can identify things in my life that remind me that I keep throwing the proverbial Frisbee way down the field, and no one is catching it. And they point out that I really need to stop going for the glory, and stick to short passes and steady progress. I can’t take my wife on an idyllic romantic getaway and then expect to coast for a while with how I demonstrate love to her when we return to normal life. I can’t work out in the gym like a beast for a week, or even for a month, and expect to stay fit for the next year. I can’t write a really great blog entry and just hope it gets discovered by a major publishing house who invites me to write a book for them. And I can’t expect opportunities to change the world when I haven’t demonstrated that I am regularly changing the lives of those immediately around me.

I didn’t get my degree or build up our research center with a quick strike. I didn’t build my character, or learn how to speak or write eloquently, or become decent at guitar in that way either. I didn’t become a true friend to others, or learn compassion, humility, or patience that way. Nothing that has really meant something, and truly been worth it, has come quickly or easily. Oh, how I wanted it to. And oh, how I have prayed to just wake up one morning with some fantastical ability or accomplishment. I know that shows some pretty awesome childlike faith, but it hasn’t (yet) happened. And it typically won’t.

I need a bunch of teammates not just in Frisbee but in life – a solid group of people to continually cheer me on and support me in symbolic and tangible ways.

I do know that I need to rely more on others. Not just like, my best friend, or a couple people I’ve known all of my life. I guess I kind of want a band of merry men (and women), like Robin Hood! The bottom line is that I need a bunch of teammates not just in Frisbee but in life – a solid group of people to continually cheer me on and support me in symbolic and tangible ways. I know I have come through for so many others over the years, but it’s hard to let others come through for me. But for the short pass strategy to work, I need them just as much as they need me. And if I seek that out and make it a constant in my life, all of us can help one another to make our dreams into reality. This may remind you of that verse from Ecclesiastes which lays it out pretty bluntly: “It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!” (4:9-10, MSG). Man, I have struggled so many times trying to do epic things on my own. And it has been so rough. I need a support system. Deperately. And pretty much all the time.

The good thing is that when I search the depths of my heart, I know that I am trying. And I really do feel like I am putting in the effort each day – even though I long for a quick and epic score every once in a while. I mean, they do happen. And I’ve snagged a few (thanks, God!). But I just have to stick with the short passes, and be content with the small gains, and keep looking to and relying on my teammates. And eventually – like many times before – I find myself in the end zone with the disc in my hand. And I once again realize that victories devoid of the flash and the fanfare are still, upon reflection, really sweet.

How the Shortness of Life Can Motivate You

None of us like to think about our impending mortality. But I think about it all the time. And for me, it’s a good thing. It helps me. It serves as my decision filter on a daily basis. And so I thought it would be worth exploring the value of this notion, because the years keep going by and our mortality is just—relevant. It’s something we can benefit from keeping in our pocket and pulling it out periodically to look at, and learn from.

First off, I want to clear up some things. By reminding myself that one day, I too will die, is not my version of YOLO. To me, “you only live once” is a sort of hedonistic anthem used to justify immediate gratification and pleasure-seeking, or simply recklessness. When I remind myself that I am not going to live for forever, and that I’m not even guaranteed tomorrow, it’s a clarion call to make the most of every single day. Like many of you, I am constantly inundated with responsibilities and demands. And they pull me in every direction. And meanwhile I have my own dreams and goals that I want to prioritize and pursue to keep investing in my own heart and future. It’s easy to feel completely lost in the fog of choices swirling around you. And so I need a way to cut through that fog, and find my way again. So I pull my mortality out of my pocket and face it head on. And here are some things it reminds me:

Make today great, not tomorrow. Of course I want to make sure that my family is not struggling when my wife and I are senior citizens because I know that medical expenses will mount up, and kids are super expensive to raise, and emergency situations do happen. But I just don’t believe in the stereotypical notions of “retirement” that so many pursue. I don’t want to kill myself for forty years just so that I can have a nest egg of hundreds of thousands in the bank just because that’s what everyone else tries to do. I also don’t want to die with a lot of money that just gets passed on down to the next generation because 1) I want them to learn how to work hard and sacrifice and 2) it flat out seems like a bad idea to be a “slave” to “the man” or “machine” just to get to an age where you can’t even really enjoy it. So, I choose to live wisely and in fiscally responsible ways, but want to go on adventures and epic trips now – when my body is able to do all the things that I want it to. I tell myself “we’re all going to die soon,” and I go. And I have never regretted it.

I choose to live wisely and in fiscally responsible ways, but want to go on adventures and epic trips now – when my body is able to do all the things that I want it to.

Love recklessly. I feel like many people I know don’t make (or haven’t made) the time to let their closest loved ones know they are deeply loved. Like in a way where you know if something tragic happened, you said what you wanted to say and have no regrets. I don’t want to live that way. Like John Eldredge taught me years ago in his book Wild at Heart, I want to love others with reckless abandon without needing them to show me love first. And I don’t want to keep procrastinating out of laziness or because I am focusing on other things that really won’t matter at the end of my life.

Early in the fall of 2006, one of my close friends was killed in a motorcycle accident. All of a sudden everything came into focus for me about the brevity of life and the importance of loving family and friends fully and deeply, and making sure everything you want to say is said. And earlier that year, I had heard on a broadcast Family Life Today the idea of writing “tribute letters” to my parents, and that really struck a chord with me. These letters would be my way of honoring them for the legacy they have left in me, and for all that they have done to raise me right. Every child who grows into adulthood knows the pain of watching their own parents get older, and I knew that there was so much I wanted to say to them, and that I needed to do so before it was too late.

Like John Eldredge taught me years ago in his book Wild at Heart, I want to love others with reckless abandon without needing them to show me love first.

So I honestly prayed for months that God would prepare my heart and would speak through me and give me the words to say. And then in early November I sat down one day and just started to write one for my mom, and then one for my dad. I made a few slight revisions here and there over the next few days, but it was remarkable how pretty perfect and complete they were in their very first draft. And that gave me confidence that it was a God thing. I had them typeset, matted, and framed, and decided to give them on Christmas morning. I first asked for their forgiveness for dishonoring them in certain ways while growing up, and asked them if they knew how much I love them. And then I read the letters out loud.

There were a lot of tears, and it was really difficult to even get through the readings, but it was probably the most powerful and memorable moment we’ve ever had in our home. And now they are hanging up on a wall at my folks’ house, and I am so thankful that I took the time so that they would really, really know how much they mean to me. Because “we’re all going to die soon.” And I needed them to know the depths of my love for them.

Pursue my passions. One of the saddest things I see around me is so many people who are clearly not happy in their career. And so many of those people simply don’t take time to pause, step outside themselves, and try something new. Perhaps it’s because this feels incredibly scary and risky, or because it forces painful and exhausting self-reflection. Maybe they are in a phase where so much is competing for their energy and attention that the parts of their soul that are crying out for help can’t really be heard. And so they just stay the course, and endure it, and live their lives in survival mode. And for sure, the weekends help them recover a bit from their super difficult weeks, and their annual vacation time helps them recover a bit from their super difficult years. But you can still tell that it is taking a devastating toll on their emotional, psychological, and even physiological well-being. And then one day they wake up and realize they have spent the vast majority of their life doing something that sucked all of the joy out of them, and left a shell of who they once were.

One day they wake up and realize they have spent the vast majority of their life doing something that sucked all of the joy out of them, and left a shell of who they once were.

In 2014 my sister realized that her work environment was slowly killing her, and wrestled for months with many hard questions. And I listened a lot, and tried to offer encouragement and advice when the moment was right. She could stay the course as so many others do. In fact, doing so was quite safe, and the routine – though unpleasant – was comfortable. Plus, she was really good at her work. For my sister, life would have kept on going had she chosen to stick with it. And it would be a good life, a noble life, a life of value and meaningful contributions and even a measure of fulfillment. But, what if there was something better in store for her? What if she had a different calling, or purpose, mission, or destiny? Wasn’t it worth finding out? Wasn’t it worth taking the time to explore what could be, and entertain options and even dreams that were now real possibilities again? When we are growing up and thinking about what we wanted to become, we’re filled with so much awe and excitement. But then we often lose it. What if it could be rediscovered, and what if now was the moment to make that happen?

In our conversations together, I specifically remember reminding my sister that “we’re all going to die soon.” And while I don’t believe she hinged her decision on that, I do feel that it cemented her already-existent desire to not have regrets, and to live her life to the absolute fullest (John 10:10) – no matter what. And so she took a leave of absence for a year and went to leadership trainings, spent quality time with loved ones, pursued dance and fitness and other things that bring her joy, went on adventures, and evaluated multiple new and exciting career opportunities. It has been so good for her, and I wish so many others would figure out a way to do the same.

When we are growing up and thinking about what we wanted to become, we’re filled with so much awe and excitement. But then we often lose it.

Life is so ridiculously short. And it’s going so fast. Pastor James MacDonald says it moves even quicker when you start to have more years in the rearview mirror than you do in front of you. Perhaps if we were intentionally considering this truth more often, we would live out our days with so much less regret, and with so much more confidence. I want to enjoy my life in the here and now, and I want to not take loved ones for granted, and I want to spend myself in life-affirming and not life-sucking ways. I also don’t want to hold grudges, burn bridges, be sad all the time, or try to fit into a mold that isn’t me. When you think about the current trajectory of your life, I bet you know what you don’t want to do. I know what is worth it, and that’s what I am going to try to make happen. And I hope you choose to do the same. You are always carrying your mortality around with you, regardless of whether you are well acquainted with it. Pull it out and stare at it from time to time. And allow it to help guide you along.

Image source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/content/dam/news/photos/000/848/84883.ngsversion.1422287057410.adapt.768.1.jpg

My Goals Poster for 2015

If you’ve known me for a while, you know that each year I try to put together a collage of sorts with images from the Web – which I call my Goals Poster.  It’s just a visual depiction of the major things I want to do in my life that year, and it helps me to boldly put my hopes and dreams and ambitions “out there” instead of just keeping them in my head.  And if I ever find myself floundering, or wasting my days or weeks, I can come back to it for clarity and direction.  And I thought maybe some people might care to see it and hear why certain images were included.  And I know it’s the middle of September, and I probably should have shared this in January, but I was on a long blogging hiatus.  And now that I’m back, I figure that it’s as good a time as any!  So, let’s get to it….

After praying about it, I felt like God wanted me to name 2015 as “The Year of New Beginnings.”  I know it’s sounds a bit cliché, but I was definitely entering a new season of my life this year since I was getting married in the summer.  And then I prayed about a verse that I could keep in the forefront of my mind throughout the year – a verse that I wanted to build my life upon.  And I was thinking that I really wanted to be in the Word so much more, since it has the daily wisdom that I desperately need.  And I was also thinking a lot about healing, and health, and physical restoration, and God’s blessings in those areas.  And I stumbled upon this verse from Proverbs 4:20-22:

My son, pay attention to what I say;
turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body.

And I was like – YES.  That is it.  That is perfection.  And that is what I want.  So I set it in place as the centerpiece scripture for my year.

Okay, so moving clockwise from the top left, let’s go over the pictures I selected.  First, the hands clasped in formal attire signify my wedding – which was unbelievably wonderful and could not have gone better (thank you God!).  Next, my family and I continue to care deeply about the clean water problem in India, and work to build wells there every year.  We have to keep doing that.  Their lives are as important as our own.  Third, I want to enjoy citrus fruits with my wife more often!  Just kidding.  Well, not really, but that photo is just there to remind me what a cutie she is, and how much I love her big blue eyes, and that I want to prioritize quality time with her this year – and not neglect her in the slightest (hopefully ever).  The guitar reminds me to keep up my practicing so I can keep getting better, and the keyboard/notepad/blog image is there to inspire me to keep writing.  I hoped to keep speaking at TEDx, and did again this year – so that was a goal accomplished and pretty awesome (even though writing and preparing a talk take tens and tens of hours!).

It’s just a visual depiction of the major things I want to do in my life that year, and it helps me to boldly put my hopes and dreams and ambitions “out there” instead of just keeping them in my head. 

The bottom right is a picture of the cliffs of Ireland – where Rachel and I initially wanted to honeymoon.  That did not work out this year, but I aim to take her as soon as I possibly can.  Continuing clockwise around the collage, the gallon jug is there to motivate me to drink more water than normal.  I would love to tell you I am pounding 64 ounces every day, but I can’t say that.  I wish I was.  Some days, yes.  Most days, no.  I’ve gotten there probably around 40% for the year – and I am going to just try hard for the remainder of 2015 to do it more regularly.  It’s hard.  Water is pretty boring.  You get it.  But I know it’s good for me.  Okay – the penultimate picture represents my desire to swim more to improve my cardiovascular health.  However, I flat out have not done it this year.  I had all of these good intentions to do it, and before marriage we went to the lap pool a handful of times, and it was almost becoming a habit, but then we just stopped prioritizing it.  And now the weather is about to get cooler.  That’s just how it goes.  I failed in making that goal happen, but it’s okay, and I can always try again next year.  Finally, I really wanted to lift more for strength gains.  And I have stayed faithful with fitness, and going to the gym, and working out, but I’m not seeing more mass on me.  And I’m not throwing up heavier weights with more ease.  And that’s okay too.  Maybe I need to mix up my routine more, or maybe I need to push myself harder.  It is important to me, and I aim to figure it out one of these days.

That’s it.  That what I set my mind to do back in early January of this year.  I’ll create one for 2016 in a few months and share it with you all then.  If you end up making one for yourself, I would really love to see it and cheer you on as you work towards making your own dreams happen.  Keep me updated!!!

Any Guy Can Get Any Girl

As I’ve mentioned a few years ago on this blog, beautiful girls are everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And growing up during my adolescence as a warm-blooded heterosexual male, I really liked looking at them. And I wanted to become their friend. And I wanted to become their boyfriend. And wanted to marry them and make babies with them and live happily ever after with them. Well, not “them” – just one of them. Any one of them. They were all so wonderfully amazing, with their pretty eyes and their smooth skin and their curves in all the right places. You know what I’m talking about. Guys, remember your teenage years. Remember being mesmerized early on, when your eyes were first opened to them. You get it.

Plus, the men in movies and on the sports fields and on television – my heroes, if you will (superficial, I know, but I still looked up to them as an adolescent) – all had beautiful girls in their lives. A beautiful girl makes you want to run faster than a speeding bullet. She makes you want sink the winning bucket or score the winning touchdown. She makes you want to lasso the moon for her. Like there is a direct link from doing something epic to winning her heart and getting to hold her close while slow dancing, getting to cuddle with her on a couch while watching a movie, getting to build a life with her all the while thinking that you’re the luckiest guy alive.

At this point, you might be wondering, how did it go for me – as a teenager…was I a ladies man? Did I have success with any beautiful girls back then? Did I go on a lot of dates, and woo a lot of hotties, and break a lot of hearts? Well, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know me in real life, and so you also probably know that the answer is a resounding no. It was awful. I didn’t know anything about girls, or relationships, or what to do. At all.

I remember all of my crushes. In third grade, Shelly. In fourth grade, Leah. In fifth grade, Mrs. Stanley (oh man, she was a looker. And she taught English really well). In sixth and seventh grade, Melissa. In eighth and ninth grade, Summer. In tenth and eleventh grade, Rachel. In twelfth grade, Lucy.

But I barely talked to any of them. I didn’t know how. Because they all felt completely out of my league. On a whole different level. I didn’t know what actually mattered at that age. And I didn’t know what actually matters long-term. And in retrospect, my ineptitude was actually a blessing, because it saved me from 1) being heartbroken a million times and 2) leaving a trail of broken hearts in my wake.

All of those beautiful girls were (obviously) pursued by all of the beautiful guys. The popular guys. The guys on the sports teams, the guys who exuded so much confidence and strength. The guys who were charismatic and incredibly charming, and made them laugh, and looked great with their shirt off. And that wasn’t me. But that’s what I thought it took. To land a girl. To be in a relationship. To make progress towards ‘happily ever after.’ And so I would try. In very feeble, awkward, contrived, and unnatural ways, I would try.

With Summer, in eighth and ninth grade, I knew she liked Nine Inch Nails, and so I started to listen to them. And adopt more of a dark, depressed, and mysterious air about me. I basically became emo. But that didn’t get her interested in me romantically. With Rachel, in tenth and eleventh grade, I could tell that she loved it when I made her laugh, and so I would seriously spend all sorts of time learning jokes and riddles and humorous anecdotes and puns so that I could share them with her (in an off-the-cuff manner) during Spanish class each day. Unfortunately, that didn’t work and I stayed stuck in the friend zone. Even though I had started to work out at this point, and even though I was starting to get ripped and pretty vascular. I really thought that would do it, but it didn’t. What the pez. I thought girls would swoon over bulging veins. Nope. Apparently it takes more than that.

Anyway, with Lucy in twelfth grade, I wrote her not one, not two, but THREE poems over the course of the school year, and had a very popular kid at my lunch table deliver them to her (because of course I couldn’t do it personally, I was incredibly self-conscious and shy). And while I did talk to her a couple of times, I never mustered up the courage to actually convey to her that her sapphire eyes seriously left me breathless, let alone ask her for her phone number or to hang out sometime. Now that I think about it, I would have probably done it in the wrong order. Dangit. (Be cool, Sameer, BE COOL. You’re not supposed to freak them out by coming on too strong too early.) Oh, the lessons I needed to learn….

I also should point out that I didn’t really think of girls as normal human beings. Now, I didn’t objectify them and want to possess them, but I definitely pedestalized them.

I also should point out that I didn’t really think of girls as normal human beings. Now, I didn’t objectify them and want to possess them, but I definitely pedestalized them. To me, they were the tour de force of God’s handiwork, His most magnificent masterpiece. It never really occurred to me that they struggle in many of the same ways that I struggled, and that most everyone else struggles. With doubts, fears, bouts of loneliness, insecurities, needs for validation and affirmation, parental problems, money problems, and so much more. They just seemed perfect to me, and I wanted to be associated with that perfection, and delight and revel in that perfection. It was really that simple and that uncomplicated for me.

As I got older, though, my eyes slowly opened. And I started to see that while many girls were (naturally) drawn to beautiful guys, that wasn’t the most important thing necessary to win their hearts and – most importantly – to make the relationship last. Physical attractiveness, a sense of humor, and an abundance of charisma and charm was nice, but it was gravy. It was sprinkles. The cherry on top. And I started to learn that all the things my pastor and the other fatherly figures in my life were telling me were actually (and incredibly) true: what matters is not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside. For so long that seemed so cliché, and hollowly comforting – but as time went on and as everyone gets older and has to live out adulthood – it’s actually everything. It’s like the biggest truth ever. And so this made me think that wow, Sameer, you have a shot. You’re not destined to be alone forever, and God could actually give you your heart’s desire (a girl I was attracted to!!!! And, of course, who was really awesome).

My first glimpse of the reality of this was when I realized that God had made me a good listener. Because as I started to feel more comfortable around members of the opposite sex (you know, look them in the eye, sit next to them on a couch, give them hugs when I saw them), they would want to talk to me. I repeat: girls wanted to talk to me. A lot! And I would just listen, and give them the best of my attention. And they would really appreciate it, and keep coming back. And yes, I would remain encamped in the friend zone, and never ever demonstrate interest (for fear of creeping them out, which is rooted in a fear of rejection). But this would be good for me. It would be a very instructive revelation during this growing season of my life.

Time continued to march forward, and with me not being in any relationships and not really knowing what I was doing to even try to make one happen, God had lots (LOTS!) of time to work on my character. He broke my heart a million times so that I could feel the pain of others readily, viscerally, incessantly (and often too much, at times). He whittled down my sharp edges, and replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). He pounded me in the crucible and thwarted the plans I made in my own strength and own efforts, so I could learn that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1). He taught me how to give grace to myself and to others who were trying but also failing. He made me dependent on Him for my validation, and confidence, and hope. And He gave me childlike faith, and restored my ability to see the world with awe and wonder (which, incidentally, I believe He can do for anyone, at any time of their life). And apparently, all of this made me attractive to the opposite sex. Seriously. I’m not making this up. Yes, it surprises me too. But then I landed the most beautiful woman I know to be my wife forever, and so I’m pretty sure it is true.

But then I landed the most beautiful woman I know to be my wife forever, and so I’m pretty sure it is true.

I feel that when a woman reaches adulthood on a both a “head” and “heart” level, and when the “teenage dream” relationship ideal of which Katy Perry so eloquently sings has unfortunately fallen short, they realize they would much rather have a man of substance rather than style. Style is a good thing – six pack abs, witty banter, hilarious cuteness, and all of that – but you can’t build a life and a marriage and a family on that. You can’t anchor deep into that, and hold fast through the storms that invariably will come your way. And I’ve learned that the converse is also true: I can’t be all about pretty eyes, and smooth skin, and curves, because I need a helpmate and a true partner for life so much more (desperately more!) than I need arm candy.

Style is a good thing – six pack abs, witty banter, hilarious cuteness, and all of that – but you can’t build a life and a marriage and a family on that. You can’t anchor deep into that, and hold fast through the storms that invariably will come your way.

And so for all of these reasons, I believe that any guy can get any girl. There is no such thing as “out of your league.” You just need to work on being solid, and learning the many lessons He wants to teach you during this season of singleness and preparation. You just need to major in substance, and minor in style – rather than the other way around. Then, you will actually become God’s best, positioned to receive God’s best. I know it’s easy to say and to commend to others, but miserably difficult to walk out. I am currently trying to convey this to a couple of the teen guys I am mentoring, and I feel like they get it on a “head” level…but it’s so hard to wait and trust and prepare. Especially when nothing is happening, for years and years and years. It’s like, this is not working, why do I even bother…. And I’ve been there for what seemed like decades, so I completely get it. It sucks. But it’s all part of it. They know my journey, and they know how it worked out for me in the end. And how my life shouts out the truth of His promise that those who wait on the Lord will not be disappointed (Isaiah 49:31).

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