How Our Compromises Cost Us

I have to travel sometimes for work, and pretty much every time I stay in a hotel, I am fascinated by my hotel room’s minibar. Why, you ask? Well, first off, I typically have just gotten off a multiple-hour airplane leg, and I’m desperate and absolutely starving. Second, I really don’t want to try to find a decent restaurant around me, because I’m exhausted from airports and lines and people everywhere. You know air travel these days, it’s often madness. Third, the minibar contains food and drinks that are pleasurable to consume. They taste good. They are flat-out yummy. Many a person has indulged in the contents of a hotel room minibar. There is absolutely no shame in that. However, I’ve come to understand that it’s not the greatest idea. Why, you ask? Well, first off, it’s freaking expensive. Seven dollars for a bar of chocolate? Come on, now! Five dollars for a snack bag of Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies? Okay, some of you know I love Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies, but only around five small cookies come in that size of a bag, and so no thank you. Second, even if I indulge, I’m going to get a stomachache, because my body needs real food. Snacks aren’t going to satisfy you when you’re starving. They never satisfy fully anyway, which is why they are called snacks – defined as “small amounts of food eaten between meals.” I need a meal. Third, even if they did satisfy, I would regret it. That stuff just isn’t good for you. It’s not like they have carrot sticks and roasted red-pepper hummus in the minibar, or a green goodness smoothie. I’ve never even seen a Greek yogurt or a coconut water in a minibar. Ever. Maybe you have. Maybe you stay at different places than I do. From my experience, there’s just never any healthy food waiting for you in a hotel room. Okay, wait, maybe you’ll find some almonds. But I already had enough almonds on my flight. I just want actual sustenance! This week, my latest emotional and intellectual negotiation with my hotel room’s minibar got me thinking about my choices in life. And how the easiest and most convenient are usually never the best choices to make. And yes, I’ll agree, it’s so very easy to rationalize partaking in some deliciousness from the minibar because, after all, you’re super hungry and wiped out and deserve it. Just like it’s easy to rationalize away so many other things I should be doing, but just really don’t want to. I think this is increasingly true the older we get. We have a little more money in our pockets for various indulgences. We don’t have to wait as long to obtain something we desire, like we did when we were much younger. We have much more freedom and distractions and responsibilities and reasons to choose what is immediately gratifying and comfortable, instead of the harder, better-for-the-long-term choice. Plus, we have much less time in our days, and so why not? Man, if we really want something, like, really want it, we can figure out a way to reconcile it even if we know it’s not God’s best for us. I’ve done it so many times. SO MANY. Gah. When you think about your life, what is your minibar metaphor? In what area are you making compromising choices, and finding some way to justify it? Does it have to do with what you consume – with your stomach or your eyes or your mind? What about with the attitude you choose at work, or even at home with your spouse? What about a major, meaningful life goal that you set a while ago (or even around New Year’s!), but have left along the wayside while you chose less important tasks to busy yourself with? For me recently, it’s about the quality of quality time I have with God. When my heart is in the right place, I get so much out of hanging out with Him and sharing my life and thoughts with Him and listening for Him to speak to me through His Word and through others. It’s like life is a grand adventure, and He’s got my back, and I don’t stress about anything, and I know I’m unconditionally loved and can live out that love towards others all the time with so much hope and excitement every day. When my heart is in the wrong place, and I’m disconnected from the fullness of life He provides, spending time with God feels like work. And my mentality changes from being pure and selfless and desiring a relationship to simply wanting a transaction. In those moments, I (not-so-secretly) expect tangible results in return for me spending time with Him. But He’s not about to allow me to use Him like that. God will not be exploited or taken advantage of, and deserves the best of my time and energy instead of my leftovers. But still, it’s easy to compromise the quality of the time I spend with Him because I could be doing so many other things that lead to visible results. And in my narrow, immature perspective, sometimes I feel like all that matters are relatively quick, visible results. And in those moments, because I’m desperate and tired and can rationalize to myself that I deserve it, I will choose what’s easy and comfortable and immediately gratifying. Even if it’s going to cost me a lot, in the short term and in the long term. I will choose the minibar instead of something that’s actually good and healthy for me. And I will regret it. It starts with a single right choice. Make it today. And then build on it, and do it again tomorrow. Don’t let more of these years slip by as you don’t do what you know you should do, and what you know will really, truly benefit you. We’ve already lost a lot of time as it is with our justifications and excuses. And guess what: the coolest thing happens when we stop compromising, because our God is a God of redemption and restoration, and can make all things new. A single right choice. Do it. It’s worth it.   Image sources:

When You’re Alone Again on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day. Or Singles Awareness Day. Your choice. A lot of people dread it as we inch towards the middle of February. Many of those individuals believing for a new relationship had really high hopes when January began that they would meet someone over the first six weeks of the year, and not be alone for Valentine’s Day. And perhaps nothing has happened yet. And it just doesn’t seem like anything will happen anytime soon. You just spent the Christmas holidays alone only a few weeks ago, and feelings of sadness and hopelessness can powerfully return and start to take over. And meanwhile, you’re still trying to fight the good fight of faith with your inner dialogue: Don’t worry, it’s going to happen soon. God knows my heart, and how much I long to meet someone. He’s (she’s) just around the corner. They’re going to be worth waiting for. It just has to happen once. The next one could be THE ONE. I just need to delight myself in the Lord, and He is going to give me the desires of my heart. I just need to believe that I have received it, and it will be mine! He knows it’s not good for man to be alone, and so it’s going to happen at some point. It has happened for pretty much everyone else, why not me?! I totally get it. I’ve been there. For years. For decades. It’s not that you hate to see all of these new dating relationships and marriages all around you. You just want to be part of it. You just want your chance. I’ve learned – and perhaps you’re learning – that nothing we do can force God’s hand. Nothing. We might think we can – with fervent prayer, self-sacrifice, Christian service, or any other of a number of things we try. It’s all about His timing, and His perfect plan. Most of the time – unfortunately – it’s not in line with our timing, and our perfect plan. And the sooner we are able to truly let go, the better. But it’s so hard to let go. Because it’s like, why is nothing happening!? Surely, there is something I can do to move this along…. But our efforts typically don’t work out, or don’t work out well. You probably know that from experience. At least I do. And the thing is, we do want His best. Relationships are hard enough with the best person for you, let alone someone who you settled for. In the depths of our being, we totally realize this. If you are single and this is going to be yet another Valentine’s Day you spend alone, I just want to try to encourage you a little because I really do get it. Most of what I remember from my teens and my twenties is staring at my ceiling fan while trying to fall asleep at night, pining so hard for certain girls who were in my life at different seasons, and praying for some type of interest or reciprocation from any of them. Nothing ever happened. Not a single thing worked out with any girl. And now in retrospect I see that none of those girls were who He had for me. First, it’s okay to struggle with your unfilled desire to be in a relationship. It’s okay to be sad about it. God knows what hurts our hearts, and it hurts His heart too. He cares so much for us and our emotional well-being. He does. Just continue to be real with Him. Real, and raw, and honest. This will deepen your walk with Him as you allow Him to enter into your pain and just be there with you, carrying you through it. Second, what helped me was just trying to intentionally and repeatedly set the desire down before Him, over and over again. Of course, I would pick it up again and obsessively dwell on it and wish so badly for it and pray so hard for it, but I then I remembered that to really demonstrate my trust in Him, I had to lay it back down again in front of Him. He knows our needs even before we ask Him. This was a constant cycle, but it did consciously remind me that He is Lord over my entire life, which includes the romantic relationship that I’ve always wanted and always hoped for. And honestly, He is the only one who has actual control over when it happens, and who it happens with. Third, it’s worth spending the time you have during your season of singleness to prepare. This is perhaps this is the hardest because you have to do it while often sad and often lonely. But I believed in my heart of hearts that it was going to happen one day. Eventually, I would meet someone. And she would be so amazing. And I would have someone to spend Valentine’s Day with. And the wait would be worth it. And so I just wanted to be ready. Yes, every year for what seemed like forever it was another Christmas, and birthday, and Valentine’s Day where I felt that gnawing, painful ache in the pit of my stomach that surfaces when you realize you are alone romantically. And so I tried to push that down and sought to busy myself in preparation by working on my character and my career and my fitness and my heart. You know, all the things I do have control over. I’ve written extensively about what to do while waiting, and I cannot emphasize how much it has mattered. If you struggle with drumming up the motivation to prepare, ask God for help. I don’t know if you’ll meet someone next month, or next year, or in five years, but when it happens, I want you to be ready so you can avoid the major problems that burn relationships and marriages down to the ground. Fourth, try to keep believing. You might say, “It may never happen. There’s no guarantee I won’t remain single for the rest of my life.” You’re right. I can’t promise that it will happen. But I feel that we can – and should – have hope for the things that we want, the things that are on our hearts (which often are placed there by Him). I don’t think we should repress or kill our desires simply to avoid the potential of pain or hope deferred. I feel like that’s cowardly, and unhealthy, and faithless. I know that most of us are familiar with Jeremiah 29:11, and I just love God’s words in the Message translation: “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” The future you hope for. That is so good. And I know it’s easy to get skeptical and cynical and apprehensively wonder, “What exactly does He mean by that?” but I don’t think you should read it with adultlike realism. I think you should read it with childlike faith. My wish for you is if you’ve always wanted someone, that God has someone for you – to love and be loved by, to build a life with. But even if it doesn’t happen by this Valentine’s Day – or even the next one – I hope that you’ll keep being real with Him, keep surrendering your desires to Him, keep preparing your heart and your character and your life for it to happen, and keep believing in His goodness and provision when the time is right. Image sources:

When Bad Things Happen In Your Life

I was thinking yesterday about the occurrence of crappy things in our lives. Like, how sometimes it feels so random and arbitrary when they come along. Everything is going along pretty swimmingly, your heart and relationships and walk with God feel like it’s in a good place, and then BAM! Something awful happens. And it throws you for a loop not just because it was unexpected, but also because it just felt like you were back on track with life, and things were moving in the right direction.

And now you’re derailed again.

When I was a teen and this happened, I would get so bent out of shape. And I would actually use it to reinforce the worldview I held about life being irretrievably broken and painfully miserable, and how I shouldn’t get my hopes too high because the bottom would fall out if I just waited long enough.

But even though this helped me to come to terms with the question of “why bad things happen to good people” this was a very unhealthy mentality. It caused me to be down on God, down on myself, and down on pretty much everything. Life isn’t always sunshine and unicorns, but it’s also not always daggers and banana peels. I really needed to find a better perspective.

Everything is going along pretty swimmingly, your heart and relationships and walk with God feel like it’s in a good place, and then BAM! Something awful happens.

About a decade ago, God showed me something really cool, which has helped me to be much more thankful – on a daily basis – about the things in my life. It made so much sense to me, and I honestly think about it every day because, to be honest, I never have a day where absolutely every little thing goes perfectly. And so it allows me to more readily shrug off the crappy things that happen, and reminds me that on the whole, in the big picture, life is actually good.

Really good.

And so is God.

And I need to give both a lot more credit.

You may recall the story of Job, and how things were pretty dang awesome in his life before all of a sudden everything fell apart. And I mean everything. He lost his family, his property, and his health all in one day. Just POOF, disaster struck and it was all gone. Right after he contracted a very painful skin disease, and in the wake of all of these devastating losses, Job’s well-meaning wife wanted to just give up. She didn’t really know how else to reconcile all that had happened, and she didn’t feel like there was anything left to live for, or even hope for. Job was still trying to hold it together and believe that things could and would get better one day even in the midst of such calamity and heartbreak, but his wife was just done, and said to him, ““Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

I’ve cried out to Him, I’ve given Him the silent treatment, I’ve yelled at Him, and I’ve asked him so many “WHY???!!!” questions in fits of rage and sadness and hopelessness.

I have wanted to do that some days. I know that sounds melodramatic, but some days have been really, really bad, and there honestly didn’t just feel like there was any reason to keep believing, and to keep holding onto God. I’ve cried out to Him, I’ve given Him the silent treatment, I’ve yelled at Him, and I’ve asked him so many “WHY???!!!” questions in fits of rage and sadness and hopelessness. Perhaps you can relate.

But Job’s response to His wife has been burned indelibly in my mind, and when crappy things happen it helps me to have a balanced, mature perspective about them. He said, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Whoa. The question cuts deep and reveals the childishness and truculence of our heart: Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?

I don’t want trouble.

I want pretty much everything to go my way.

bad things happen

I mean, I’m always doing all of these difficult things, and sucking it up, and gutting it out, and life is just so hard and I’m doing my best and that should matter.

Shouldn’t that matter?!

<deep breath>

But I know that’s such an immature view. Even though we might not be stomping our feet and crying and whining and overtly throwing a tantrum, we are still prone to act like a petulant child in our relationship with God. But He is in charge, not us. And He knows what He is doing when He allows bad things in our life, just as He knows what He is doing when He allows good things in our life. It’s not random. It’s not arbitrary.

He knows what He is doing when He allows bad things in our life, just as He knows what He is doing when He allows good things in our life. It’s not random.

We know that everything that happens to us passes through God’s fingers, and we also know that His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. It’s perfectly arrogant for me to say that I know what is best for me.

I don’t.

I really just do not.

Heck, the track record of some of my choices clearly illustrates that. I’ve given my life over to Him, and I just need to fully trust what He allows and disallows in my life, knowing that ultimately it’s for my good.

Not only is it immature, but it is unreasonable to pitch a fit when bad things happen because we must remember that our lives here aren’t supposed to be perfect. We live in a messed up world, and we are all messed up people, and like Job said, we are foolish if we can’t understand that life will beat us up sometimes. We’re going to win some, and we’re going to lose some.

We live in a messed up world, and we are all messed up people, and we are foolish if we can’t understand that life will beat us up sometimes.

That has to be okay, because that is normal, and that is everyone’s story. No one is perfectly protected from hardship, and no one has a pain-free life.

No one.

Shall I accept good and not trouble? No, I shall accept both. Gladly. Because He knows what He’s doing, always and forever. Because He loves me and has the best for me. Because it’s not random or arbitrary, despite how it seems.

There is a reason, and even if I never understand it, it is for my good.

Image sources:

When You Don’t Pray Anymore

Shepherds. I’ve been thinking about them a lot recently, mostly because of a verse that stood out to me:

The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the Lord; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered.

When I read that, I was like, whoa, God, you’re really calling them out. What exactly do You want them to ask You about? I mean, what they are doing isn’t rocket science. I’m not saying their work is super easy, but it doesn’t seem very complex:
  • You don’t need to get a degree to learn how to be a shepherd.
  • You don’t need to go through an apprenticeship or any sort of extensive training.
  • You probably don’t have to read books or study for a standardized exam or watch some instructive YouTube videos to do a decent job. 
I mean, honestly, you’re just watching over a bunch of animals, letting those animals be animals and you learn as you go – how to get their attention, corral them, fend off predators, keep them alive, and keep them together. That’s really your one task: keep them alive, and keep them together. But according to this verse, God expects shepherds to inquire of Him. What might those questions sound like? Well, I actually can only come up with one single inquiry: “Where should we go, God?” That’s it. I’ve got nothing else. Everything else seems so very self-evident. So very, like, “duh!” I mean, are you supposed to ask God “What should I feed them?” when all you have is grass all around you? Are you supposed to ask God “What time should I get up in the morning?” when you have to get up when the animals get up? But all Scripture is God-breathed, and He put that indictment against these shepherds in His Word for a reason. And He points out very clearly that they are senseless because they didn’t inquire of Him, and as such will not prosper and that their flocks will be scattered.
God is basically saying that you’re going to fail on both accounts because you failed to reach out to Him for wisdom, guidance, direction, and connection.
I mentioned you have two tasks as a shepherd: to keep the animals alive, and to keep them together. God is basically saying that you’re going to fail on both accounts because you failed to reach out to Him for wisdom, guidance, direction, and connection. And even though I could only think of one question to ask God if I were a shepherd, I am sure there are plenty more. And that’s the thing – when you know God as your only source and only help and only hope – and you have absolutely nothing else to depend on, not even yourself - there is plenty to inquire of Him. Plenty. From my perspective, my life is a lot more complex than a shepherd’s. It feels like I have a billion more responsibilities and stressors and obligations and pressures. But these verses served as a mirror to me, and what reflected back was disappointing and even a little shameful. But I’m glad for the correction. I need to inquire of the Lord a lot more than I do. Otherwise, I just flat out will not prosper. And my flock will be scattered. What could that possibly look like if I fail to regularly reach out to Him, consult with Him, connect with Him? Well, things could go sideways in my relationship to my wife or my kids. That which I am currently stewarding – what’s in my bank account, my car, my home, my investments, my work projects – could be taken from me and given to others. Those under me – who I am meant to mentor and inspire and encourage – might no longer look to me in that capacity or role. I could honestly lose everything. Everything important to me could fall away. He holds us and our lives together. He definitely holds me together; I would be such a hot mess without Him and the peace, confidence, strength, and unconditional love He provides. I think God, as our Heavenly Father, just wants to be involved. He just wants to do life with us, and inquiring of Him about any and everything – whether it seems mundane or self-evident or really important – makes that happen. It brings Him to our remembrance constantly, and He deserves that. I mean, He holds us and our lives together. He definitely holds me together; I would be such a hot mess without Him and the peace, confidence, strength, and unconditional love He provides. And I want to do life with Him. I really, really, really do. I just get busy, or self-reliant, or too comfortable in my own strength and choices and decisions and plans, for my own today and tomorrow and next month and next year. By default, it becomes all about me more and more and more. And that’s sad, and regrettable. Because truly, I want it to be about Him more and more and more. That is my heart. That is my desire. I know – and have experienced time and time again – that when He is involved, everything works out so much better. He blesses me immensely with regard to what I say and do so much when I’ve prayed about it, sought His insight, and relied on His perspective (instead of my own, or the world’s perspective). And though I know this full well, I still get lazy, or prideful, or complacent, or just too comfortable – not remembering when things are good how badly I need Him in my life. But I always want to remember how badly I need Him in my life. Because that keeps us close to each other. And that keeps me dependent, humble, unassuming, patient, grateful, and kind. Plus, the complexities of my life are so much more manageable when He’s right there with me to help shoulder the load and love me through it, every single step of the way. Image sources:

Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions are normal, healthy, logical, and helpful. They springboard and incentivize us towards positive change. I understand why we make them, and why I made them for a good portion of my life. But when I consider the driving motivation for me personally with these January commitments to myself, it clearly reminds me why I stopped. Resolutions are typically prompted by a feeling of discontent. At the end of December, something feels unsettled, unresolved, and lingering. Like “more” could have been done, or should have been done. This largely manifests in two ways:
  • More in the professional sense (better job, higher income, growth of business, more property, more investments)
  • More in the personal sense (wiser spending habits, being a better person, more time with family and friends, getting organized, enjoying life to the fullest, higher levels of health and fitness)
I am a fan of all of these. A huge fan. I want you to do them. But I just want you to remember that next year – while you’re doing all of these things, after you’ve done all of these things – you will still struggle with discontent. Even after accomplishing the really noble ones. Really. You will. Maybe you already know this, but it took me a long while to really get it. Year after year, I kept thinking that if I just got better and better and better in all areas of my life – through more commitments to myself, more tweaks to my system of doing things, more goals and triumphs, more esteem and approval from my employer and peer group, more good times with family and friends – the discontent would go away. Forever. Never to return. And I’d be finally fully satisfied because I was now Sameer v2.0, or 3.0, or 10.0. And so I made some New Year’s Resolutions, where I:
  • gave up soda
  • worked out more
  • earned my degrees
  • published papers
  • got promoted
  • bought a home
  • gained more followers on social media
  • went on more adventures
  • finally set up a 401K
  • watched more TED talks
  • read more books
  • learned more life hacks
  • spent more time with family
  • began guitar lessons
  • volunteered in the community
  • drank more water
But the discontent remained. I could tell myself that it was gone - that I was living out my days in the best possible of ways, pursuing excellence and accomplishment and fitness and adventure and success - but it would slowly show up again. I could forcefully shut the door on my discontentment, and barricade it out with a litany of goals and achievements and rationalizations and arguments, but it would still creep in under the sill and find its way back into my life like a mold. And so I have gotten back to basics over the last handful of years – not perfectly, but in large measure. I’ve gotten back to a committed pursuit of God, and the priority of daily intimacy with Him. This is my number one mission, no matter what. Now to be honest, it doesn’t happen every single day. But He knows that it is my heart’s desire, and that I am doing my best. And that is what matters to Him. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” ~ John 4:14 To followers of Christ, this makes sense, and you realize that this is the answer. You’ve experienced Him being your everything, and all that you need and want, and how glorious and truly satisfying it is. But it’s so easy to lose it, to have lost it. Especially with so many daily and hourly pressures and pushes and pulls, along with cultural and societal messages that indirectly and directly cause us to lose focus. To those who have never walked with Christ, I know this sounds weird and churchy and completely out of touch with the way the world works, and with all that you know (and all you’ve been told) about doing life. I totally get that. But if you struggle with some level of discontentment every year, and you continue to assume that the answer has to be “more” (fitness, money, degrees, popularity, relationships, you name it), I just want to suggest that it will likely leave you right where you started when it comes to fulfillment, and when it comes to peace. From my experience, what you truly want and need will ultimately remain elusive. Maybe from your experience as well, as you look back over the last handful of years. "If we have not quiet in our minds, outward comfort will do no more for us than a glass slipper on a gouty foot." ~ John Bunyan But perhaps you’re thinking, “WAIT - this time could be different. This new year – if I can just make certain things happen – everything will finally work out, and be awesome, and I’ll have arrived.” You’re welcome to try. I hope it works out for you this time. Or the following year. Or the year after that. It just never did for me, and for basically everyone else I know with a few decades behind them. What I have found is that His love and presence and closeness is better than life. Better by leaps and bounds. And it doesn’t leave me missing something, or searching for more to resolve the tension between where I am and where I think I need to be. And here is the kicker, and what I think is so amazing as it relates to the end-goal of New Year’s Resolutions: an intimate, abiding relationship with God inspires and directs and guides me to pursue the personal and professional goals that I want and that He wants for me. And when both of us are fully on board, it’s so much better because I know He’s in them, and they're the best He has for me, and that He will help make them happen. It’s not just me, all alone – year after year – deciding to chase after this, that, and the other to keep a gnawing but pervasive sense of dissatisfaction at bay. And I’m not left to just spin and sputter in futility. He’s helping set the goals, orchestrate the action plans, and always there along the way to bless, encourage, and support me. “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.” ~ St. Augustine Don’t make resolutions in another well-meaning attempt to resolve the discontent you currently feel. You’ll soon enough find something else you think you need to have, or do, or become. Instead, inquire of God – not blindly, but thoughtfully, considerately, and genuinely. Take a chance on Him being real, active, unconditionally loving, and wanting to be meaningfully involved in your life. And, if He shows Himself strong (as I know He will), resolve to pursue Him and His heart above all else. The personal and professional success will take care of itself along the way, but will pale in comparison to what you find truly matters, and truly fulfills. Give this a go in the new year. You have nothing to lose, and absolutely everything to gain. Image source:

When You No Longer Have Time For Simple Pleasures

Recently someone told me during a conversation about the seasons of life that “the days are long but the years are short.” I’m sure that quote has been around forever, but it struck me as if those words were uttered for the very first time, and I’ve been thinking about it over the last week. Life does seem to speed up when we get older. And even though as an adult we may get better with planning and multitasking and being efficient in our work to save time, I’m noticing that the vast majority of adults I know go ahead and fill the time that they “saved” with more work. That seems a bit crazy to me. However, I’ll be honest and say that I have felt the same pull. Why is this? Perhaps it just naturally happens over time for a number of reasons: 1) we work much more than we play during our lives, and so work may actually be a more comfortable way to spend our time 2) we feel guilty about pleasure, as if we will be negatively judged by others as irresponsible and self-indulgent and spoiled 3) we can always find more work to do – to earn more money, to prepare for old age, to take care of the house, to swoop in to help others, and 4) the years have slowly sapped our ability to really and deeply enjoy many things. I’d like to really try to unpack #4. When I was a kid, what simple pleasures did I love?
  • Archie comics
  • Baseball cards
  • My BB gun
  • Calvin and Hobbes
  • Chess
  • Music (so much!)
  • Books (so many!)
  • Juggling
  • Unicycling
I looked to each of these with unbridled anticipation and enthusiasm. I lost myself in each, and was able to forget my cares and obligations. And they challenged me, and excited me, and made me feel alive in a world that still felt so fresh and so full of promise. But I don’t seem to have time for any of these simple pleasures any more. What I do have time for is moments of quiet desperation, full of all sorts of frantic questions: What is wrong with my life? Why can’t I find what I’m looking for? And what in the world I am even doing? What is wrong with my life? Why can’t I find what I’m looking for? And what in the world I am even doing? Tell me you can relate. Tell me you have similar moments of desperation. Perhaps not every day, but definitely sometimes, right? Clearly, we have a problem. Picking up any of those simple pleasures again and allowing myself to unconditionally enjoy them would be so great for my heart. So why have they been pushed outside the lanes of my life as I become more deeply entrenched in adulthood with every passing year? Why have they become so neglected when considering how good they made my heart feel back then? As an adult, it’s easy to rationalize why we do what we do. I mean, adults don’t have time for the things that children have time for. That was then, and this is now, and frivolous fun or timepass doesn’t seem productive or wise when considering all we have on our plate. As an adult, the tyranny of the urgent seems to dictate how we spend our time, and as work gets busier and family gets busier we shrug our shoulders and assume that this is everyone’s fate. That this is how we must spend the rest of our years, eking out an existence so much more emotionally austere than the one we envisioned for our future when we were young. As an adult, the tyranny of the urgent seems to dictate how we spend our time, and as work gets busier and family gets busier we shrug our shoulders and assume that this is everyone’s fate. And even while steeling our face like flint to this jarring reality, many of us do reach out to God, and ask Him to be our joy, and to do something – anything – to make us feel like we used to feel back then. But perhaps we would do well to remember that He’s the one who created those simple pleasures we enjoyed so much as children, and He’s the one who made our hearts connect with them. He delights in us as we find delight in Him and His creation, since He richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Plus, we’re supposed to take care of – and care for – our heart above all else, which I believe includes the good things our heart once loved. We would do well to remember that He’s the one who created those simple pleasures we enjoyed so much as children, and He’s the one who made our hearts connect with them. I am well aware of the fact that life gets harder as we get older, and that could be the biggest reason why we forego simple pleasures. Frankly, many days it feels like we’re just trying to survive. But isn’t it arguable that because life gets harder and because we’re just trying to survive, we need to pursue and prioritize them more than ever? I believe we must unbury them from our past and immerse ourselves in them anew, for our own good. For our own well-being. Maybe not all of them, as perhaps that is “too much, too soon.” But maybe we can just start with one. And really allow ourselves to enjoy it deeply and fully – without thinking about all of the other things we have on our plate to do today. Maybe it’ll rekindle in us something we thought was lost forever. And maybe it will makes us feel alive again in a world that still actually is so fresh and so full of promise. I went unicycling today, and threw all of my other cares to the wind. It was really fun. And my heart felt alive once again. juggling-unicycling-4 Image source:

When Fear Keeps Us From Trying

My little girl Maya just turned three months old. And we've had a lot of fun together even during these early days of life as I try to make her smile in every conceivable way. And as I teach her how to be human, she’s teaching me how to trust God. One of our favorite things to do is to have her stand on my stomach while I’m lying on my back. Since she’s still just a baby, I have to hold her up by placing my hands on her sides. And in this position, she holds out her arms to steady herself, and tries to take a step forward or backward, and bounces a bit up and down as she strengthens her leg muscles by pushing down on me. Sometimes I lean her right or left or backwards or forwards, just to see how she’ll react.  Sometimes I switch between bouncing her on her feet and bouncing her on her bottom. Sometimes I hold her up towards the sky like Rafiki proudly lifts up and displays Baby Simba for the entire kingdom to see. And sometimes I pick her up off my stomach and pretend she’s an airplane flying in this or that direction – until she opens her mouth and unloads some drool bubble cargo right onto my face (at which point I yell “GROSS!” and freak out more than a little).  Everything about parenting at this stage (the sleep-deprived nights, the constant interruptions, the mountains of poopy diapers, and the perpetual mental fogginess) becomes worthwhile when she smiles or laughs or coos at me in these moments. It’s the best. No one has let her fall yet – not me, not her mom, not anyone, not even God.  And as such, she’s been protected from the pain that you and I know all too well from the vicissitudes of life. What has struck me, though, is how Maya has absolutely zero fear right now.  None, as far as I can tell.  When she stands (with my help) on my stomach, she knows I am going to hold her and not let her fall.  She doesn’t even know what “falling” is. No one has let her fall yet – not me, not her mom, not anyone, not even God.  And as such, she’s been protected from the pain that you and I know all too well from the vicissitudes of life. I am steady, strong, constant, and focused with my grip on my baby, and there is no way that I am going to drop her.  No way. And this frees her to enjoy the moment. This frees her from worry (which clearly is a learned behavior), and emboldens her to try to take a step or two. Or even a jump.  The bottom line is that she knows she is safe - perfectly and wonderfully safe in my arms.  She does not know the opposite. But we do. We’ve all been hurt countless times by others, and perhaps even a time or two by God (at least from our limited perspective and viewpoint), or by what God seems to have allowed into our lives. We’ve even hurt ourselves along the way with decisions we’ve made, and cumulatively all of this makes us feel decidedly unsafe as we live out our days. Indeed, many of our attitudes (our bent towards being critical, or jealous, or sarcastic) and our choices (from what we feel led to purchase, to how we present ourselves in social situations or on social media, to whether we approach a cute girl or try a new job or start anew in a different city) are tainted by fear. Spend some time psychoanalyzing your decisions as you make them this week, and you’ll be surprised how fear of the bottom falling out or fear of what other people think or fear of failure or fear of missing out affect what you do (or don’t do). It’s shocking and it’s crazy. But this is our reality. We’ve all been hurt countless times by others, and perhaps even a time or two by God (at least from our limited perspective and viewpoint), or by what God seems to have allowed into our lives. I know we cannot wipe our memory banks clean and approach every new situation like we were a baby again – with no reference points, with no experience of failing or falling. Not only is that impossible, it’s not wise – because we’ve learned so much from the pain and it has served a meaningful purpose. But seeing how Maya trusts me not to let her fall as she’s trying new things honestly inspires me to want to trust God more, and operate more fully with the mindset that He won’t drop me as I’m trying new things. Nothing ventured is nothing gained, and so I should never let fear hold me back especially because I know He is holding me tight - regardless of whether I succeed or fail. I mean, the Bible is so clear about this and yet I feel it is a promise we frequently just plain forget: For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” Even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. It’s interesting that God doesn’t need both hands to hold me.  Apparently, just one – His right hand – will do! To me, that conveys how it’s so easy for Him, it’s no bother or trifle in the least. These verses to me are like: “Sameer, Chill! I got you bro!” Can you picture yourself in His one hand? I can picture myself. It seems super spacious. I’m in like a little valley or crevice or indentation in His palm. I feel really safe.  It feels like no matter what, everything will be okay. I want to live and try and do things there. And there is where I am.  There is where I – and you – always are, and always will be. We just need to remember it. And take a step, or two. Or even a jump.   ------ Image source:

When Your Goals Matter More Than Your 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’re Waiting for Your Miracle

On Tuesday , we were due to have our first baby. People say that with your first child, it’ll probably come late and so don’t get your hopes up for an early or even on-time delivery.  But you all know me – I definitely expected ours to not make us wait. She’s been so active every single day for a couple of months now, and it made me believe she was hankering to come on out and start exploring the world. Approaching that day, I was definitely getting antsy. I was like, come on Baby, we want to meet you! We want to hold you! We want to squeeze you! But apparently Rachel’s womb is incredibly hospitable, and there have been no real signs that the process of labor is beginning.  And now, it's five days later. And part of me is thinking that this is never going to happen. But it will.  I mean, it has to.  Baby has to come out. Rachel and I are in between the promise and the fulfillment.  But it’s like we’re stuck, or paralyzed, or just caught in suspension. And it’s a feeling I (and probably you) know all too well from other pivotal experiences. Hoping for a girl or a boy to show interest in you. Longing for graduation when you’re barely a sophomore. Desperate to be an adult so you can do things your way. Waiting for retirement and the easy life. Since Tuesday, I don’t even expect it to happen. In fact, I try not to even think about it. What’s the use?  I don’t want to be let down. When it happens, it happens, and until then we’re supposed to just live our life. But I do have moments where I’m like, how are we supposed to just live our life? I mean, this is such a humongous deal! Like, one of the biggest things ever! But I do have moments where I’m like, how are we supposed to just live our life? I mean, this is such a humongous deal! Like, one of the biggest things ever! You can imagine (but you probably shouldn’t) that we’ve tried pretty much all of the suggestions that people have given us about naturally inducing labor.  Spicy foods.  Massages.  Lots of walking.  Sex.  Swimming.  Bouncing on a Pilates ball.  Eating pineapple.  Doing squats.  It’s not working.  Nothing is working. And that’s familiar too.  Believing that something is going to happen, but seeing that God is taking His sweet time, and trying to force the issue. Haven’t we all been there and done that? I can’t just chill and go focus on something else.  I need to try to manipulate the situation so things happen on my own timeline. <sigh> All of this reminds me of one of the constant themes of my life: nothing happens for weeks and months and years and then BAM! God shows up. This happened with my schooling.  With my career.  With publishing articles.  With love.  Long seasons of waiting, and then suddenly, surprisingly, something amazing happened.  But this is what God does, it seems.  I have written about this verse before, but Isaiah 47:3 makes this clear: “I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.” God knows what’s up even in the middle of the silence, the stillness, the why-is-nothing-happening moments. He has a plan, and it’s for our good. Actually, it’s for our best.  It’s not like He’s sitting on His Hands.  The truth is just the opposite: He’s been at work all along – laying the groundwork, orchestrating the details, and fine-tuning the outcome.  Because we can’t see any of that, we start to believe that no tangible progress is being made. And then get frustrated.  And impatient. And annoyed.  And sad. God knows what’s up even in the middle of the silence, the stillness, the why-is-nothing-happening moments. He has a plan, and it’s for our good. And then we try to take matters into our own hands, which doesn’t work out (or at least doesn’t work out as well as we thought it would). That’s fitting, because we should have just waited on Him. This last month has been tough, tougher than I thought it would be.  And we still haven’t even experienced what labor will be like.  But as for waiting for Baby to make a move, I’m done thinking about it.  Obviously, I am ready and stoked for it to happen, but I am not going to struggle with figuring God’s timeline, and I’m definitely done trying to speed up the process. Another lesson in letting go.  You’d think I’d have mastered the skill by now, given how many times He’s tried to teach me.  But no, not yet.  He is gracious and patient with me, and I am constantly learning to be gracious and patient with Him.  There is a reason why Baby hasn’t come yet, and I don’t get to know. I get to trust. And I get to practice having childlike faith in a perfectly loving God. Image source:

When You’re Trying to Protect Yourself from Pain

Driving on the backroads of Ireland is very stressful and downright scary sometimes. This is no exaggeration. Americans like me are already at a bit of a disadvantage because the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, and the Irish drive on the left side of the road. Secondly, Irish roads are notoriously curvy and hilly – and the signs say you can go a lot faster than I think is actually possible. Maybe the locals can do it, but when I saw a curve up ahead with a sign indicating 100km/h, I pretty much had to slow down to 50km/h just to not wreck my car. I’m not kidding. It’s not just me – ask other visitors and they will tell you the same (I overheard other tourists discussing this crazy reality). Aside from these factors, many country roads are single-lane flanked by walls made of some type of foliage (shrubbery, bushes, or trees) or some type of stonework (properties fenced in by piles of rock) you could easily reach out and touch. The close proximity of these walls to the road also means there is very little shoulder to pull off onto. So, you’re in an unfamiliar country in an unfamiliar car on extremely curvy, hilly roads where you can’t see what’s around the bend or over the hill, and there is very little margin for error because veering slightly off road leads to a collision, which will probably lead to another collision because other vehicles might not see you before they are right on top of you. wild-Atlantic-way-cliff-road-100km In case you are wondering, when a car is coming your way on a single lane road, both drivers quickly survey their surroundings to determine the next step. If the other person seems to have a tiny bit more shoulder room than you, they flash their lights to bid you forward, try to pull off as far left as they possibly can, and wait for you to pass by (with your side mirrors almost clipping each other) before reoccupying the road again. You would do the same if you are able to pull off the road a bit. As they say in the United Kingdom, it is really dodgy. It took five strangers from multiple vehicles to see that we were in trouble, stop, come over, and then physically rock and lift our car out of the ditch and back onto the road. One time, Rachel and I were on one of these roads, and I thought I had about 18 inches of grassy sod onto which I could pull over and let an oncoming vehicle pass. Unfortunately, the sod was actually a ditch with really tall grass growing inside of it – and we got stuck. It took five strangers from multiple vehicles to see that we were in trouble, stop, come over, and then physically rock and lift our car out of the ditch and back onto the road (note to tourists of Ireland: rent a small coupe and not a big SUV – you will thank me later!). I share all of this with you because these single lane country roads in Ireland were nerve-wracking for me, and especially for Rachel. With me behind the wheel, I felt much more in control since I could steer and I could brake, but in the passenger seat I’m sure she felt helpless and had her life flash before her eyes more than a few times. I kept telling her to relax, and that there was no use in both of us being super anxious and wound up about not crashing. But if I were in her position, I am sure I would have felt the same way. And for a good portion of our drive around the southern and western coast of the Emerald Isle, Rachel was on understandably on edge as we navigated these narrow roads. ireland-road-car-narrow I could see her brace for impact every time we got too close to a wall of stone or shrubbery on our left, or a car passing on our right. Her body would shift into a protective position and she would close her eyes tightly, and then inhale sharply and quickly. There were lots of gasps. Lots. And in my mind (and sometimes out loud) I would be like, “Love!!!!!!!” “Relax!” “I got this!” “Don’t worry!” And she would exhale and untense her body for a moment, and all would be well, but soon enough she would reflexively return to the same posture and perspective, gasping and quietly freaking out. Old habits die hard, it seems. Eventually, though, Rachel had a breakthrough. It started to become exhausting to keep tensing up and then relaxing her body and nerves, with her blood pressure rising and falling. And as she began to process her thoughts out loud in conversation with me, she by herself came to the conclusion that nothing she could do would affect whether we crashed or didn’t crash. She was just working herself up for no good reason. I was behind the wheel, she had entrusted her safety to me, and had to have faith that I would take care of her, and that I had her best interests at heart. This is because I love her – more than she will ever know. She just had to sit back and try to enjoy the ride. And so it is with life. These days, I’m learning anew the mysterious lesson that doesn’t ever seem to fully and permanently sink in: that we’re not in control. Our first baby is going to be born in a couple of weeks, and it’s pretty much all I think about. I’m wondering if I have prayed enough for her – for her health, for the labor, for the delivery, and for Rachel. I’m wondering if I should have been singing songs to Baby or reading books to Baby over the course of these months. I’m wondering if I should have put headphones on Rachel’s belly and piped some classical music into the womb because of the proposed “Mozart Effect.” All I want is a healthy, bouncing baby girl who develops and grows perfectly, and I just feel completely helpless in guaranteeing that happens. Completely helpless. There are no guarantees. I get that. And I am actively willing myself to just let go, on a daily basis. Really. I mean, nothing I do at this point will affect the health of our baby. But sometimes, my emotions just rage, and things feel so unsafe because I have no control over the outcome. In these moments, I have to keep returning to the truth and not let the encroaching tidal wave of emotions overtake me. The truth is solid ground - where I have sure footing, and not shifting sand -  which represents my all-over-the-place feelings and keeps me unstable, fearful, and basically a hot mess. We cannot live our lives bracing for impact: half expecting the bottom to fall out, the other shoe to drop, for life to go sideways. The truth is that God is in firm control. The truth is that we are as safe as we can ever be if we entrust our lives and our future to Him, because He is perfectly good, and loving, and has our best interests at heart. We cannot live our lives bracing for impact: half expecting the bottom to fall out, the other shoe to drop, for life to go sideways. But even if it does, He’s still with us. He’s present. He’s behind the wheel. And He will remain actively involved, no matter what. This is because He loves us, more than we will ever know. There is safety in that. We just need to sit back and try to enjoy the ride. Image sources: