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.

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How a Superhero Cape Helps Me Be Awesome

Rachel made me a cape!  A full-sized, heavy, satiny, superhero cape!  I am totally shocked and bowled over by how freaking awesome it is!  This is the best gift I have ever received in my entire life! I’ve honestly always wanted a cape, ever since I saw the original Superman with Christopher Reeve.  We both had black hair, and wore glasses, and were a bit nerdy.  Clark Kent obviously had a unique gift and calling on his life, and in my innocence I wondered if maybe I did too.  I remember using a safety pin to hold together the short end corners of the biggest bath towel I could find to wear around my neck.  And then I would run through the house with my cape fluttering behind me, and jump off couches and beds and chairs and anything else I could find.  In my mind, being a superhero involved a lot of jumping, perhaps as practice to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
My cape made me feel strong, powerful, courageous, and noble.  It made me feel like I was more than meets the eye, that I had a secret and special quality about me that no one else had.
My cape made me feel strong, powerful, courageous, and noble.  It made me feel like I was more than meets the eye, that I had a secret and special quality about me that no one else had.  And that it would help me to be the best version of myself, to battle evil and save lives and just naturally do great and awesome things to make the lives of others better and safer and happier.  I think everyone wants this, and not just while growing up.  We want to have something extraordinary about us to share, something that we can unveil to the world to fulfill a grand purpose. I haven’t worn a towel like a cape since before adolescence.  But I have always delighted in what it signifies.  And since I’ve known Rachel, I’ve joked offhandedly about how I would love a cape because it represents what I am all about.  Childlike faith.  Truth and justice for all.  Awe and wonder.  Intrepid valor.  Romance.  Living from one’s heart above all else, for the greater good. childlike faith castle She surprised me with it for our second wedding anniversary when she came to visit me in Ireland this summer.  I got out of the shower, and there it was laying on the bed for me.  I was completely dumbfounded and speechless when I first saw it, and didn’t know what it was, but then it hit me. I was like, “You got me a cape?  You got me a cape?!!  You got me a CAPE!!!!” And she was like, “I made you a cape!”  Even remembering the moment as I write this out makes me marvel anew at her act of love towards me. You have to see it in person.  I’ll even let you try it on if you want.  I didn’t want a cape with the Superman logo, something you could buy in a costume shop.  I wanted my very own, something that no one else had.  And no one else has this cape in the entire world!  I love that it’s red, with a gold stallion as the insignia (its meaning is personal).  I love that the inside of it is black.  I love that it has weight and class to it, as the material is just exquisite and really makes me think that all of the best capes out there – Superman’s, Batman’s, Dracula’s – were made just like this one.  And when I wear it, I don’t feel derpy or ridiculous.  Instead, I feel joy – simply and purely.
I want to remain curious, and wide-eyed, and risk-taking – and expect that things will work out in the end.  I want to feel mysterious, and dashing, and capable of tremendous feats.
While we were vacationing around Ireland, my favorite thing to do was to find the ruins of a castle, put on my cape, and go climbing around on it.  You might think that it took me back to being a kid again, but in my mind it was a wonderful reminder that I haven’t stopped being a kid – at least in the most desirable ways.  I want to remain curious, and wide-eyed, and risk-taking – and expect that things will work out in the end.  I want to feel mysterious, and dashing, and capable of tremendous feats.  This is how I always want to see myself, how always I want to be. As I think about it, my cape is important to me for two major reasons. First, it represents a rite of passage.  In adolescence, we have bar and bat mitzvahs in the Jewish tradition, confirmation in the Catholic faith, Quinceanera in Spanish cultures, Seijin Shiki in Japanese customs.  Many times, some symbol or token is given to formally mark the transition from child to adult, and their calling forth into greater responsibility, maturity, and strength.  I’ve heard of examples where the token was a replica broad sword from Lord of the Rings, or a necklace of great significance and meaning. superhero cape faith It may seem like an unnecessary formality, but it is a very special thing to commemorate a major life change in a tangible way that conveys encouragement, support, and nobility.  It also then serves as a clear, unquestionable marker and signpost to remind a person from where he has come, and where he is going.  I find that individuals need to know when a transition has happened, or else they flounder and flail while seemingly suspended between two stages. And they never really make the “jump” – leaving the past in the past and fully embracing the present and future. My cape encourages me to stiff-arm complacency, press through fear, and fight the good fight just like Superman or Batman or any other caped crusader would. I’m about to be a father for the first time.  This is a humongous deal.  My cape serves as a token of remembrance that spurs me on to be a hero to my forthcoming child, and to my wife.  It also reminds me to view the world as my playground, where anything can happen and everything is possible (I still believe that).  It encourages me to stiff-arm complacency, press through fear, and fight the good fight just like Superman or Batman or any other caped crusader would.  It helps me to rise up, and be the best I can be. Second, in 2 Kings there is a great story of when the older prophet Elijah passes on his mantle (or robe, or cloak) to his younger sidekick Elisha.  A mantle is very similar to a cape, and represented a covering from God that conferred authority and responsibility to one chosen to do great things.  When I see my cape – and honestly even when I think about it – it serves a tremendous purpose.  I am reminded that He has set me apart, to be a light in dark places, to know the words that sustain the weary, to offer hope, to reflect how to live life to the fullest, and most importantly to point others to His son Jesus through all that I do. childlike faith ireland There’s so much in this world that destroys our innocence, and that breaks our will and even our heart.  There’s so much that pushes us in the direction of bitterness, cynicism, passivity, and resignation. We find ourselves in a downright war for emotional health and stability as adults just trying to make it, and the battles we must fight every day render us weary. I think we’d all face these struggles with more fortitude and hope if we could approach them with the mindset we had before our childhood was rocked. Or stolen. And often, we need something to get us there, to jolt us out of our self-defeating thoughts and attitudes. My cape does that. It serves as the reminder I need to regain the perspective I always want to have in life. It helps me to remember my identity, my calling, and all that I am meant for - and meant to be.

When Nothing You Do Is Working

I  am in a deep, dark valley. I know that sounds really dramatic, but that is my reality. The current season of my life has been marked by incredible futility. Pretty much everything I am trying to do right now is met with failure. As an example, I’ve been wanting to find a mentor – praying about it, reaching out to people, seeking out connections, making sure it’s not contrived or forced – and nothing is working out. I have been trying to do the things I love – reading, fitness, guitar – but I’m so uninspired and when I try to do those things it feels empty, useless, and pointless. I’ve been tackling some home improvement projects and there always seems to be some problem I can’t sort out. And when I reach out for help, help doesn’t come. Even the date nights and sweet things I attempt for Rachel are falling way short (for example, the food was not good at all, or the gift I got didn’t really work out)). Plus, I can’t seem to get physically well from sinus infections no matter what I try, I can’t seem to protect my extended family from preventable hardships, and I can’t seem to get traction on any attempts to make new friends.  I’m so tired of constantly striking out. The current season of my life has been marked by incredible futility. Pretty much everything I am trying to do right now is met with failure. I’ve been here before. Multiple times. If I look back on the trajectory of my life, there are regular cycles of a couple good years followed by a couple of bad years. And I also remember that my past has been marked by intense periods of failure and futility. One embarrassing example comes to mind: between my first love and my last love, I remember trying so much to connect with a girl (seriously, any girl that I thought had potential), and every effort was a flop. A complete fail. I even wrote out of a list of all of the girls, and all of my attempts (I’m going to be incredibly vulnerable here and tell you that it was over 20 girls – hey, at least I was doing my part!). It was just comical – not because of the way I approached them (I was cool and normal and not creepy about it at all, I promise) – but because it was so very clear that God was thwarting me. I knew He was behind this. Because logically and statistically – one of those attempts should have worked out. For at least a little. For at least a minute, or an hour. For at least one quick coffee date, or even an extended conversation. journal-pen But they didn’t. Not a single one. Not even a little bit, not even an iota of possible interest. Why? Because I am absolutely repulsive to the opposite sex, and have zero redeeming qualities? Nope, that is not it. Because God is on the throne, and He loves me, and He had a different plan. A perfect plan, where He wanted to take care of things and where it wasn’t all up to me. In retrospect, I am super thankful not one of those attempts or advances worked out because it protected my heart, mind, and emotions before Rachel came around. However, it was absolutely brutal to live in such a state of perpetual disappointment while trying to make something happen with the best and purest of intentions. During that time, I just shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and resigned myself to the fact that nothing I could do would bring about any change unless He was behind it. And only after He decided to move, and after His plan came to fruition, was I able to see why I was mired in futility for so long. SO LONG. It was absolutely brutal to live in such a state of perpetual disappointment while trying to make something happen with the best and purest of intentions. And now, it’s happening again. I’m attempting anything and everything with the best and purest of intentions, inevitably failing, and returning with a sigh to that familiar place of painful resignation because nothing makes sense right now. Logically and statistically, something I attempt should work out. At least one thing! As you might imagine, I’m trying to reconcile all of this just so I can figure out what to do (or not to do). In my devotional this morning I read over Ephesians 4, where it talks about futility. To paraphrase, it basically says that I can’t live life as many others do – in the futility of their minds, who are darkened in their understanding and alienated from God’s way of doing things simply because of ignorance and also due to hardness in their heart. That feels pretty spot on. One of my favorite pastors and speakers (Tony Evans) once said that if we are living life to the fullest, we should regularly experience spiritual realities (His power, presence, peace, guidance, wisdom, and joy) in our life. Even though I have in the past, I am not right now. In fact, He feels very far from me, even though He doesn’t move away (ever) – I do. I do feel caught up in the futility of my mind. As I am not single anymore, building and taking care of a family has become my priority, and everything about that takes up a lot of space in my brain. I guess it’s a good thing because I do want to feel the weight of such a noble responsibility, but it is also a bad thing because I constantly catch myself leaning on my own smarts and wit and ambitions and ideas and abilities and efforts. Not His. And I don’t want that. sisyphus street sign Everything in this world tells you to lean on yourself to make things happen. But I know me. I’m not God - not even close. I can’t and don’t want to live under the pressure that everything is up to me. That’s why I’m so thankful God is God, and He is in charge – not me. There’s this great verse in 1 Corinthians 3 which says “for the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God.” And that "He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness."  Most days, if I were to be totally objective, I really do think I am wise and clever in what I tackle and try to knock out for the good of my life. But I recognize that it’s not totally guided by Him, but instead by what the world is telling me I should do. Honestly, I do feel trapped in the snare of my own cleverness. But it’s my own fault, not His. The very next verse says "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise; he knows they are worthless."  It’s like He’s just waiting for me to STOP. “Just STOP already!” I hear Him say to my heart. But I can’t stop, it seems. I am a hot mess right now. Everything in this world tells you to lean on yourself to make things happen. But I know me. I’m not God - not even close. I can’t and don’t want to live under the pressure that everything is up to me. As I keep trying, and failing, I can sense that my heart is getting hardened. I can really feel it. I’m starting to think things, and say things under my breath and out loud that betray this sad reality. And it’s awful. I don’t want to be like this, I don’t want to move in this direction even slightly. It’s just like the verse from Ephesians 4 says:  the futility of my mind’s thoughts is increasingly darkening my understanding (about Him and the way life works when led by Him). And it’s causing me to be alienated from God, my one and only true source. This is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to me. I need a way out. Badly. Nothing I am doing is working, and I am convinced He is thwarting me for my own good. I hate how I currently feel, but I’m glad He doesn’t want me drifting away, and clearly is fighting for my heart. Because He loves me. I’m fighting for my heart too. Image sources: http://bit.ly/2lxcUrS http://bit.ly/2laOtQs http://bit.ly/2laUTif

How Faith Helps You Climb Mountains and Get Home Safe

Rachel adores The Sound of Music. Personally, I knew all of the songs from as far back as I can remember (I am pretty sure my parents had me watch it when I was seven), but I really didn’t remember the storyline. I mean, I remembered a nun, a bunch of cute kids, some Nazis, and a LOT of singing. But that’s really it. Well, on our recent trip backpacking across Europe, we spent a few days visiting Austria – where the movie was set and largely filmed – and I decided I needed to take the time to watch it with full attention. I have to tell you, after finally watching it as a grown-up, I was blown away. I absolutely loved it! I mean, you probably love it too.  It’s a masterpiece in every way, with stunning landscapes and cinematography, and a soundtrack you can sing for the rest of your life. Even more, though, I think I loved it so much because I was drawn to Julie Andrews as Maria. She portrayed a person with an approach to life that is just so winsome, so infectious. She is cute and fun and playful, with her doe-eyed earnestness contrasted by just the right amount of mischievousness. Plus, she sings like an angel, gets along with everyone, and loves adventure. Finally, in my mind she demonstrates so much childlike faith in how she approached the world and interacted with others. In so many ways, she epitomizes that term. Watch the movie again with this concept in mind, and you’ll totally see what I mean. I have always felt like there is something powerful to this notion of childlike faith – something weighty, something transformative. And I’ve thought about it – and tried to live it out - every single day, for decades. Because I’ve needed to have faith every single day, for all of these years, many of them fraught with difficulties and challenges made me fearful, made me want to give up. I don’t know how I would have made it this far without it. Most of the time, I am successful in approaching life with childlike faith, because I’ve always said that I want my life to be a grand experiment - where I intentionally believe that things are going to go my way - not because of positive thinking, but because of the promises in God’s Word.  His Word is my anchor - the truth I can stand on -  and that billions have stood on for millennia. I’m not going to lie, though - some days are rough, and I lose focus and energy, and forget His promises, and regress to doubts and anxiety about my present and my future. Things aren’t ever perfect, but I really thought that one day, they would be. I really believed that one day, my relationships and work and health and confidence would all just line up perfectly and be amazing, and stay that way. But over time I’ve come to the realization that that just never happens. It’s not going to. And if it did, we wouldn’t really need childlike faith, or God for that matter. We’d just be incredibly amped up about how fantastic life always was, and have a grand old time living it up. What I’ve learned is that we need to choose childlike faith every day, when it’s easy and when it’s hard. untersburg-austria The Untersburg Mountain – with its infamous lopsided peak - towers proudly over the city of Salzburg and surrounding areas, and is the mountain which Maria loves and frolicks upon at the beginning of The Sound of Music while singing “The Hills Are Alive.”  It is an epic scene indelibly etched in our minds’ eye as well in as our hearts, and – I found out - it is an epic hike to the summit. And while in Austria, we knew we had to do it, because really, how awesome would it be to climb to the top of Maria’s mountain!?!? So awesome. While we were eager to tackle it, we were both a bit worn out from the previous hikes of our trip. And by the time we got about halfway to the top of the Untersburg, we were pretty thrashed. We were exposed on the rock and had no shade from the beating sun, we were out of water, and we had already finished our lunch and most of our snacks. We actually thought about turning around and heading back down the trail.  But we had one singular hope that kept us going – there was a popular cable car ascent to the top, and we figured that if we could just summit, we could ride it down instead of descending by foot.  And so we pressed on. austrian-alps-dopplersteig-hike-sound-of-music Eventually, we found a supply of water coming out of a pipe in the mountain that we had read was safe to drink. It was cool, and refreshing, and tasted better than any water I had known before. And so I filled up our bottles and also my body, and we soldiered on. From this point, it was pretty treacherous all the way to the top, as we had to climb a steep set of wet and slippery rocks next to a sheer drop into the valley below. Mountaineers before us had installed a braided metal cord into the rocks so we had something to grasp as we maneuvered upwards, and while that helped on one side, there was nothing but a long fall to certain death on the other side. salzburg-austria-untersburg-hike Rachel begged me to hold the cord with two hands, just to be safe.  I could tell that she was really scared, and that it was taking all the courage she could muster to not look down and not look back.  Along the hike, we saw numerous memorials mounted into the cliff face, honoring the spot where other climbers had fallen and lost their lives.  We soberly recognized it could happen to us as well, and so we went very slowly, held onto the metal cord, and offered encouragement to each other until we both successfully reached the top of the trail. It was such a great feeling to finally arrive there.  We were safe and on solid ground, and we had made it!  However, we realized immediately that there was a second trail we now needed to take uphill for another 45 minutes to actually get to the cable car station.  I know that doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but we were wiped out.  It struck me that life is like this sometimes – you think you’ve arrived and then it’s like surprise, just kidding, ­you still have a long ways to go! top-of-dopplersteig-hike We wanted to rage in that moment, but it wouldn’t have done any good.  And we were still in a time crunch – we had to get up to the cable car before its ascent/descent schedule had ended for the day.  So we couldn’t even sit down and rest.  We had to put our head down, and keep moving, telling ourselves that we had gotten this far and just needed to go a little further before we could relax on the cable car ride down to the valley below. When we got to the station, though, we were in for another surprise. We found out that the cable car we had seen going up and down the mountain was actually for a group of about 30 workers who were doing construction. The foreman who greeted us stated in no uncertain terms that it was closed to all visitors and tourists. And that if we just turned around and started down the trail, we’d be at the bottom in a couple of hours.  Crap. Thanks, man. rachel-untersburg-mountain-nervous I remember feeling my heart drop into my stomach. In my head, I thought, if it was a do or die situation, I could get both of us down this mountain. But I knew that I was pretty worn out, and Rachel was starting to feel sick.  And so I decided to ask the foreman if there was any way that we could ride down with him and the rest of his team at the end of their day. He replied that he personally couldn’t allow it, but that he would call his boss down below in the valley and ask him to make an exception. And then he asked us to have a seat on a bench outside the station, and give him a few minutes. When Rachel and I looked at each other at that moment, I could see disappointment and concern in her eyes. I am sure I betrayed the same, but I also immediately remembered those words: childlike faith. I wanted to believe that this was going to work out for us. Because God loves us. Because He is the author of all good things. Because He delights in us, and He supplies our every need. And so I was going to believe. I consciously made that choice in that moment. And both of us just sat on that bench, quietly praying and believing that God would make a way. This mindset has become a part of me, and isn’t something that I arrive at after a battle between idealism and realism in my mind. It used to be like that, but it got easier when I kept seeing that there was no better option for me than to trust Him, no matter the situation. Yes, sometimes things don’t work out the way I want or expect them to. But they do work out according to the plans of a loving Creator who knows more than I do about what’s best for my life. And that’s good enough for me. untersburg-cable-car-austria After about five minutes, the foreman returned. And he smiled at us. His boss had said that we could go down with the workers in the cable car. Relief and gratefulness washed over us like a flood. And shortly thereafter, we found ourselves packed like sardines into a cable car with 30 other construction workers who all looked at us oddly and laughed and joked among themselves in German. I don’t even care if they were making fun of us, and if they thought of us as stupid American tourists who foolishly would have been stuck on the top of the Alps if it weren’t for them. My heart and intentions were in the right place. We hiked to the top, didn’t know about the cable car closure despite our research, and God lent us a hand so we wouldn’t be miserable, get injured, or hate life on the hike down. I love that about Him. He understood our situation, saw our hearts, and rescued us. Thanks, God! Childlike faith is a simple concept, but one that all of us unnecessarily complicate. Perhaps this is because life, as we live it, naturally becomes increasingly complicated. But maybe we consciously can fight against that trend by choosing to believe for the best, regardless of how things look or what our emotions are saying to us. Maybe we’ll be disappointed, but maybe – just maybe - we won’t. Regardless of the outcome, the choice deepens our relationship with Him, helps us experience peace instead of chaos, allows us to pointedly reject fear and worry, and keeps our heart open and hopeful instead of closed-off and hopeless. And the best thing about it is that the choice is, and always will be, available for everyone. Image source: http://www.sound-of-music.com/fileadmin/_processed_/csm_slide1_64ff140afc.jpg http://images.summitpost.org/original/791109.JPG

When You Struggle With Never Being Good Enough

One of the very generous gifts Sameer and I received for our marriage last year was a week-long trip to St. Thomas.  Sameer had to continue work remotely so it turned into a kind of solo retreat for me most of the time. As a new bride, I thought it would tear my heart into pieces to be on my own sometimes, but it turned into a time of deep healing instead – a time desperately needed. Our wonderful friend Sara, who is living in St. Thomas while attending grad school, took us around the island showing us the sights during our visit. While we were driving up and down the hilly and curvy roads that crisscross the island, she told us that the locals are afraid of the water.  She said that each generation has taught the next generation to fear the ocean. I found this so shocking, and so counter-intuitive.  It seemed so sad, especially as I had just gotten SCUBA-certified and had – for the very first time – seen the breathtaking splendor of God’s creation in deep water.  It was also bewildering because people all over the world come to the US Virgin Islands just for the water! Yes, the ocean can be dangerous at times, but it is stunningly beautiful and majestic – how could anyone be so consumed by fear that they miss some of the most beautiful experiences in life?
Through Sara’s observation, I knew that God was speaking, not about the locals, but about me.  The details were different, but the issue was the same.  Just like the locals, I lived in fear.
Through Sara’s observation, I knew that God was speaking, not about the locals, but about me.  The details were different, but the issue was the same.  Just like the locals, I lived in fear. When I was young, I sang all of the time. One of the most formative experiences I had while singing happened on my way to Wednesday night bible school when I was about six years old. My grandfather took some of my siblings and me there every week to learn about the Bible while he met with the elders of the church. This particular Wednesday, we were driving along and I began singing something I had learned that morning on my Mozart’s music “Leap Frog” game. The song was Mozart’s Queen of the Night aria from “The Magic Flute.” Apparently, Grandad wasn’t expecting his small grand-daughter to sing one of the most difficult arias ever written in the back seat of his car. I remember the moment so clearly because he was obviously delighted. And more than just delighted - he was exulting in my singing.  He was flabbergasted and completely overwhelmed by it! I had never seen him react to anything that way.  And knowing that I was bringing him joy with my voice, I decided in my heart that day that this is what I was meant to do: I was meant to bring people into a beautiful experience through my singing.
Stress and competition filled my thoughts instead of the bliss I had experienced as a young child.  Plus, added to the mix were peer rivalry, jealousy, rumors, pride, and the need for approval and affirmation.
Fast forward a few years, and the beauty had faded.  Stress and competition filled my thoughts instead of the bliss I had experienced as a young child.  Plus, added to the mix were peer rivalry, jealousy, rumors, pride, and the need for approval and affirmation. At this point, I had forgotten why I began walking this road, as well as the real purpose for my gift, for my life. The day after I heard Sara’s story, I began reading a book by Stasi Eldridge called “Captivating.” In it, she comments on the core desires that every woman seems to have, and discusses how most of us have neglected our hearts while surviving life’s wounding blows.  One of the first stories in “Captivating” is about a little girl, the daughter of a friend of the author. When her mom brought her to work, she would go from office to office singing and twirling, fully expecting to delight her audience, and be delighted in. She didn’t think she may have been distracting them from their business, or out of place in a work environment. She wasn’t worried about bothering or annoying anyone. She was just being her joyful, musical self, and loved sharing that gift with the world. When I read that story, it took me back to that car ride with my grandad, singing unashamedly and letting my gift shine before others. Then I took a long journey through my past, reliving the painful experiences that taught my heart to hold back my true self, and to care so much about what other people thought of me. I realized that I had been living my life in fear.
I took a long journey through my past, reliving the painful experiences that taught my heart to hold back my true self, and to care so much about what other people thought of me. I realized that I had been living my life in fear.
At times, I truly felt that the only reason my friends and even my family liked me was because of what I could do for them. This has led to the disease of perfectionism. Sometimes we joke about that term, and even use it as a reasonable justification for why we do things the way we do.  But that hides its malignant source, and never forces us to consider the insidious toll it takes on one’s heart.  I was never perfect, but I would put my whole heart into doing things with the assumption that I needed to be. The primary reason wasn’t because I strived for excellence and wanted to honor God (even though that’s what I kept telling myself), but because I believed if I didn’t do things well, I would be found lacking, rejected, and cast aside. Through multiple moments of rejection, pain, and unhealthy thinking in my life, I had become dependent upon the good opinion of others. If I am not keenly aware of God’s unconditional love and acceptance of me, criticism crushes my spirit. If I am asked to do even a small thing differently, my heart curls up into a tight little protective ball, to guard against the rejection I think is inevitable. This isn’t just about singing. It encompasses all the things that I find myself doing throughout the day.  The lie I fight every day is, “You will never be good enough.” The fear I have been living in is, “if I don’t perform well today, no one will love me or care about me.” There's even a medical term for it: atelophobia. But even as I write this, it is so sad that I believed this lie even for a moment. How could I live in fear about something that is so untrue?
The lie I fight every day is, “You will never be good enough.” The fear I have been living in is, “if I don’t perform well today, no one will love me or care about me.”
I thought again about the story of the locals in St. Thomas. They have been taught, most likely through real experiences that crushed them, to fear the water. I sat on the balcony of our hotel room, overlooking the sparkling blue waves lapping in the bay, and feeling the heavy weight of my fear that was also learned through real experiences that crushed me.  And then I asked God for help. For hope. For something.  And in those quiet moments, He responded. He let me feel His deep affection for me. I didn’t need the approval of others. I have the approval of the One who matters. The One who loves me with a fierce and undivided love. A love that is not fickle and dependent on my actions and behavior. And He has given me a beautiful life. One to explore and enjoy without being hindered and held back by fear.
I have the approval of the One who matters. The One who loves me with a fierce and undivided love. A love that is not fickle and dependent on my actions and behavior.
My hope is that one day you and I will fully and continually operate in the wide-eyed innocence and trust that my six-year-old self displayed when singing for my grandad.   I want to always sing and live joyfully, exuberantly, shamelessly, with abandon. I know that people may criticize and reject me; nevertheless, I will continue to delight my Father in heaven and be the apple of his eye (Psa 17:8). And all the while, I am committed to inviting and welcoming others to join me in a new way of believing, where we can all feel the depths of His great love – a perfect love that casts out all fear.

When Fear Keeps You From Miraculous Moments

Living only a few miles from the ocean in Southeast Florida, I have the opportunity to enjoy it all the time.  I appreciate it for many of the same qualities that others do: its power, vastness, rhythmic regularity, blueness, and beauty.  What I love most, though, is taking it in at night.  The crowds are gone, it’s peaceful, and the darkness all around me adds an element of mystery and excitement that makes me feel fully alive inside.  I feel this way when I am on shore, but especially so when I venture into the ocean water.  It is here that God lifts a veil and gives me a glimpse of something that is readily available to so many, but enjoyed by so few: Bioluminescence! I met Rachel in June of 2013 when we were both serving at a youth camp in North Carolina, and in July, she came with some family and friends down from Virginia to visit me.  Of course, I had to take her to the beach at night because it’s one of my favorite things to do.  And thankfully, unbelievably, God decided to gift us with one of the most romantic evenings ever. The ocean was warm and incredibly still – like a sheet of glass.  I’ve honestly never experienced such tranquility out there.  It was like God stopped time, and the tides, and the world from spinning, just for us, just for a boy and a girl who He had remarkably brought together for a moment, for a miracle, and perhaps maybe for a lifetime. And I just carried her in the water with her arms wrapped around my neck, and we just twirled and spun around, and around, and around.  I was completely and hopelessly spellbound by all that she was. Rachel was impossibly beautiful that night. She just shined, and shined, and I just shook my head and couldn’t stop smiling as I held her against me. That would have been enough, but God likes to outdo Himself sometimes with how He chooses to bless us.  Far away to the Southeast were some ominous storm clouds, and soon enough the dark skies way, way out in that direction began to flash brightly with lightning.  This added yet another layer of awe and wonder to our night together, and we were both flipping out that we were here and no one else was around, and we were witnessing something beyond magical. But there was still more to experience, more to enthrall our imaginations and hearts.  While we were playing and thrashing and laughing in the Atlantic, we started to notice little flecks in the water light up and fade out.  And we realized that we were stirring them up!  They were phosphorescent phytoplankton, and they were absolutely everywhere, little sparkles so bright and enthusiastic, perhaps gushing their approval at the love story they were witnessing unfold. I remember thinking to myself in that moment: I could stay here forever.  You simply cannot manufacture experiences like these. It has to be God. Only He can go above and beyond like this, delighting in us as we were delighting in His presence and His creation. So many cool things have happened to me while at the beach at night.  I’ve seen 500-pound mama loggerhead turtles come up out of the water and lay their eggs under the light of the moon.  We’ve been swimming when little baby turtles – hatched only a few minutes before on shore – crawl back into the water and bump up against our bodies while we swam around.  Just a couple of weeks ago, we saw a gigantic nurse shark.  And apart from all of these glimpses of sea life, I just feel so close to God when out there in the water.  I wish everyone could feel that. But most individuals don’t go out and enjoy the ocean at night. This is perfectly understandable.  It’s super fun during the day, and arguably a lot safer.  I mean, you can see everything in and around the water, there are lifeguards and people everywhere, and if anything bad possibly happens – you can call out for help. The ocean at night is, without a doubt, full of unknowns.  You can’t see where you’re stepping, you don’t know what’s in the water around you, and you don’t know what is headed your way.  You feel almost helpless.  You don’t seem to have any control. But after thinking about it, to me it seems that the ocean at night and the ocean during the day are – for the most part - equally safe.  Or equally dangerous – however you want to view it.  You could step on a sea creature like a crab or a man-of-war pretty easily in the light or in the dark.  You could cut yourself on a sharp rock or broken shell regardless of whether the sun or moon is out.  And – yes, I’ll go there – you could be bitten by a shark during of the middle of the day or the middle of the night. The difference is that during the day, we have more of an illusion of control.  We like control.  Heck, I love control.  But at night, it all feels so very unknown and, by consequence, a little scary.  Maybe even a lot scary. I’m not going to lie to you – every time I go into the ocean at night, I do wonder a bit about what might be lurking in the shoreline waters, just waiting to strike me at the legs.  And I’ve often role-played defending myself from a shark by (you guessed it) punching it in the face.  But, I tell myself not to let fear hold me back from an amazing experience, and I say a quick but earnest prayer for strength and courage, and I dive on in. And I am always the better for it. One of the most popular songs in Christian circles right now (and I think in the last decade) is Oceans by Hillsong United.  Pretty much everyone at my church loves this song, and feel like God speaks to them through it.  And this same sentiment has been expressed by so many others across the nation, and even across the world.  Here are some of the lyrics from the first and second verses – which you may already know by heart: You call me out upon the waters The great unknown where feet may fail And there I find You in the mystery In oceans deep My faith will stand Your grace abounds in deepest waters Your sovereign hand Will be my guide Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me You've never failed and You won't start now Not to sound dramatic, but this is what I have to believe.  This is how I want to keep living, this is how I must keep living.  This, to me, is childlike faith.  I don’t want to miss out on experiencing Him, experiencing all He has for me, because I’m afraid of the dark, the deep, the unknown.  Every time I have let go of the need to control, and stepped out and away from the safety and comfort I could tell was holding me back, He has rewarded me and shown me His favor.  Every time I have pushed through fear, my faith has been taken to the next level, and I’ve been able to accomplish what I never thought possible.
Every time I have let go of the need to control, and stepped out and away from the safety and comfort I could tell was holding me back, He has rewarded me and shown me His favor.
But every time I have played it safe and stayed on the shore, I have missed out.  Everyone wants to experience that which is epic, and transcendent, and legendary.  Everyone wants (and needs) transformative pivot points and breakthroughs as they write the story of their lives.  But the odds are that if you’re hoping and searching for bioluminescent-filled moments in your life, you’re going to have to get into the water, and go a bit deep.  And you’re going to have to do it not when it’s easy and comfortable – during the day, but when it’s hard and unnerving and scary – during the night. God is calling us into the deep.  He wants to dazzle us, and that’s where the magic happens.  But He also wants us to show Him we really, really want it – and are willing to swim out a bit to get it. What is the “bioluminescence” in your life that you want to see and experience, but know that fear has kept you from taking the necessary steps towards it?

How to Get Over the Girl

So there was this one time where I really liked a particular girl.  It was way back in 2005.  She was all wrong for me, but I still wanted it to work, and gave it my all because I thought it just might.  I would be sweet and endearing and thoughtful.  I would demonstrate in meaningful ways how much I cared about her and her family.  I would put in the effort to keep in touch on a regular basis.  But something wasn’t right…and I would think to myself, man, it shouldn’t be this hard.  But I didn’t have a reference point against which to measure what a great relationship looks like.  And “on paper,” it seemed like we would be great together.  To be honest, I think it was one of those situations where the timing was wrong.  In the past, she had seemingly liked me, but I wasn’t feeling it.  And now, I really liked her, and she wasn’t feeling it.  But I couldn’t let it go, and detach.  It felt like it was taking over my entire life, and it was eating me up inside.  Constant questions filled my mind: “What is wrong with her?”  “Why won’t she reciprocate?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Why isn’t this working?” And my mind and my world WOULD NOT STOP SPINNING. Have you ever felt this way?  It’s so awful.  When you’re caught up in it – whether it involves a girl, or a boy, or a friendship, or something at school, or at work, or even with a parent – you’re just a complete mess.  You have zero perspective, you can’t see the forest for the trees, and it’s like you’re in a deep, dark hole that you’ve unwittingly dug for yourself.  But you have no idea how it even happened.  It just did.  You’re just stuck – and the hole is seriously getting deeper. Eventually, you may get to a point where you are completely unstable, and it starts to affect the other areas of your life.  And those who care about you are so confused, and begging you to get a grip because that one thing – in my case, a girl – can’t possibly have such power and control and influence over you.  And you know that’s correct, but it doesn’t change the fact that right now, you are in a total fog.  And every day is getting increasingly worse.  And you feel completely helpless.  I’ve been there.  It sucks so much. What do you do in these situations?  Well, there is no easy answer.  And in those moments, it’s hard to even hear suggested answers, let alone implement them - despite the good intentions with which they are offered.  But I personally have to believe that there are things we can do, and I can at least share what has worked for me in the hopes that it can help someone.  You know I am all about childlike faith, and in my childlike faith I am convinced that God doesn’t want us to get stuck in these places, and actually wants us to prevent them from even happening, as much as possible.  But I also want to be gracious towards everyone and remember that life is broken and people are broken, and issues of mental health, chemical imbalances, and unbelievably painful pasts complicate the situation tremendously.  So, I share this with hesitation but in love. Regain Control of Your Mind First, I remind myself that because Christ lives inside of me and given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit, I can take every thought captive and make it obedient to how He would want me to think.  I truly believe that.  We are not supposed to just swallow all of the ideas created by our untrustworthy and random emotions, and assume they are the truth – the truth about who we are, what we’re worth, and what our future looks like.  But so many people do.  We can agree that our emotions are all over the place, and yet we allow those emotions to guide how we feel, and most of what we say and do.  As if they have the final say on how our lives turn out. They do not. I can’t take every thought captive in my own strength.  I’ve tried.  Perhaps you’ve tried as well.  It may work for a short while, but not long-term.  And it’s fallible, because I am fallible.  The cool thing is that it is not solely up to us, and that He is ready and willing to help.  I know it’s hard for a lot of people to think that we have actual, real spiritual support when we live in a world and culture that exalts science and disparage spirituality (which I find funny, because science hasn’t – and can’t – prove absolutely everything).  But the fact of the matter is that if you are a believer, He is there to help you. Set Yourself Up For Small Victories But, I can’t do it arbitrarily or randomly.  I actually have to be more intentional than that to get out of the hole I’m in.  And so I once again remind myself that His Spirit is within me, enabling me to do all things, and I to go on “mini-streaks” in my mind.  So when it comes to this girl who I could not let go of and get over, I would try not to think about her for ten minutes straight.  If she entered my thinking, I would remember His words, and outright reject the thought of her and figuratively cut her out of my thought life. I knew it had to be a clean break.  I couldn’t allow her to have a foothold – or even a toehold – in my mind, given how emotionally wrapped up and messed up I was at that point.  And I didn’t need to be reminded of her in any capacity, and she had to be deleted from my phone and blocked on social media.  Nothing against her, of course – I just needed to do what I needed to do to regain stability and health.  That’s most important anyway, and so I couldn’t hesitate to take drastic measures if my actual well-being was the goal.  If I got to ten minutes of not thinking about her, I would feel really thankful and proud of myself.  And then I would try to get to thirty minutes.  And then an hour. It wasn’t easy.  It took me a solid week to keep her out of my thoughts for an hour.  But I was making progress.  And after many weeks, I got to an entire day.  And then I knew that it was happening.  He was helping me conquer this.  And I was getting back on track. Use Your Faith to Defend Against Attacks It wasn’t easy or automatic.  Thoughts of her did creep back in sometimes.  But when they did, what also helped me was reminding myself to take up the shield of faith.  And yes, that is metaphorical, but it actually activated my mind and heart to lift up and set in place a figurative “force field” of sorts – something to stop and deflect and extinguish all of the fiery arrows (negative thoughts) that are volleyed against me.  I don’t care where they come from – from my own self-doubt and fear, from societal pressures and expectations of what I or my life should look like, from Satan – it doesn’t matter.  God wants us to remember the agency He has given us to overcome. To be honest, some days the negative thoughts keep coming.  They are relentless, and they are vicious.  But I am not a helpless victim.  You would agree that no one and no thing has the right to physically abuse you, and you would do absolutely everything in your power to keep it from happening.  However, we are sometimes willing participants in our own emotional abuse.  And we don’t do a single thing to stop it, let alone everything in our power.  We just take it.  But He’s told us what we should do, and He has promised us to help us along the way.  We just have to do our part and implement His instructions, instead of looking everywhere else for advice and solutions. Build an Altar of Remembrance Finally, I am a big fan of altars of remembrance.  This is when I create a defined moment in the history of my life where I give something over to God in a profound, hallowed, and ceremonial way.  This has been modeled by so many heroes of the faith, and to me their lives are worth emulating in this manner.  So, in 2005, I flew out to Colorado, and my best friend Dan and I decided to climb the 14,110 feet of Pikes Peak in Manitou Springs.  Because I wasn’t acclimated to the altitude, it was a pretty miserable six-hour slog to the top for me.  But I had to get to the summit, and I wasn’t going to quit no matter what.  Along the way, I thought about the girl, and my life, and attempted to view the situation from God’s perspective.  I thought about His love for me, and His epic plans for my future, and how I knew without a doubt that He didn’t want me struggling so much like this.  Over a girl.  And frankly, over anything.  And I knew I wanted to be completely done with it, and surrender it over to Him, fully letting go and fully letting God provide me the right relationship He had for me at the right time. And so when we got to the top, I remember catching a snowflake on my tongue (it had just started snowing right up there at the top – even though it was the middle of August) and then corralled Dan and our other friends together over on the side, off the beaten path, and away from other hikers.  And I reached into my backpack and took out a pen and some scrap paper.  And I told them that I had been struggling with something that was weighing heavily on my heart, and that I needed closure.  And I told them I was going to write it on a bit of paper and then bury it at the top of Pikes Peak.  And leave it here, forever, and be done with it. And Dan spoke up and said that he’d love to do the same thing, and one by one so did our other friends.  And so I tore small pieces off of my scrap paper and handed them out, and everyone wrote down at least one thing (and perhaps more) that they were dealing with, and that was holding them back and messing them up.  And we all folded up our pieces of paper (mine, of course, had the girl’s name on it) and created a hole into which they could be deposited.  And after covering them up with a lot of rocks, we all stood over the spot in a circle and prayed.  We prayed that God would honor our heart’s desire to pursue emotional health by deliberately burying what was plaguing us, what was worrying us, what was causing us to not trust Him.  And there, we let them go. When I got back to Florida and the girl randomly popped into my mind, I told myself that I had left her and the hope of the relationship at the top of Pikes Peak.  That was my altar of remembrance, where God and I ended one chapter, and started another.  And that helped me so much.  I have altars of remembrance in certain places across America, definitely in Florida, and even in other countries (when I’ve gone on missions trips).  And they represent other areas in my life too – not just involving girls. And taking every thought captive and employing my shield of faith has gotten markedly easier as I’ve put these strategies into regular and constant practice.  It takes a long while, but you do reach a tipping point, and I can’t emphasize how much it is worth it. When I start to head in a bad direction because of something in my life, this is exactly what I do.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  It isn’t magic, and it doesn’t perfectly solve every problem.  But it truly can make a drastic difference.  When you are starting to flounder and fail, maybe you can try these techniques.  Just try to do so as early as possible, because the longer you let it go, the harder it is to escape the deep, dark hole you’re in.  But no matter where you find yourself, do not give up.  There is always, always hope. There is always a way out.

When You Are Scared of Sudden Disaster

When I look back upon my life, I realize that the most unproductive thing I can do is to fear the future. And yet, I have done it. I mean, we all have done it. We just want life turn out a certain way, and we pour ourselves out to make that happen, and don't want our blood, sweat, and tears to be wasted. And so we spend even more of our time and energy tossing things over and over in our heads. But the reality is that certain things are ultimately out of our control.
We just want life turn out a certain way, and we pour ourselves out to make that happen, and don't want our blood, sweat, and tears to be wasted.
We can't control if we will land our dream job, and if we do - we can't control how our boss treats us, or our co-workers treat us, or whether it will fulfill us as much as we thought it would. We often can't control what happens to our physiological health. Even with exercise and a great diet, things can take a turn for the worse because of a genetic predisposition, a freak injury, or even simply due to the natural aging process we all face. We can't control the choices our girlfriend or boyfriend or spouse or even children will make in the future. We can love them, advise them, shepherd them, teach them, encourage them, remind them, and even plead with them, but they will invariably do what they want to do - even if their actions harm themselves or others. We can't even control what is done with our money and property down the road. We could be incredibly hard-working, wise, and investment-savvy, but we could lose it all in a moment with a bad deal or random disaster. Or, it could be stolen or frittered away by those who come after us. The older I get, the more I realize that control is so elusive. Actually, it's more than elusive - it's an illusion. You live enough years, and you totally understand this. And if you don't, yet, you will. It's one of the hardest lessons we all have to eventually learn.
The older I get, the more I realize that control is so elusive. Actually, it's more than elusive - it's an illusion.
With that said, though, those of you who know me know that I am an eternal optimist. You know pessimists by their belief that "if anything can go wrong, it will."  Well, I deeply and truly believe that "if anything can go right, it will." Seriously. And I know it's one thing to say that you are an optimist, but another thing to actually walk the walk. I really try to walk it out. And it isn't swagger, or arrogance, or confidence in myself. Really, it isn't. I do believe in myself and my abilities, but I also know that with so much out of my control, it can't solely be up to me. It just can't. And frankly, I don't want it to be. And so my confidence has to be in something outside of myself. And decades ago, I found it in God. The cool thing is, He has never let me down. Sure, I've been disappointed, and hurt, and even broken by life and the circumstances that have come my way, but in the big picture, He has worked all of those things out for my good, for my benefit, for my intrinsic or extrinsic gain. Being into God - and having a personal, living, vibrant relationship with His son Jesus - has shown me over the years that His Word is true. All that I've learned from it and put into action has been of great value in my life. It's provided me with emotional stability, guidance for romantic relationships, wisdom related to work, lessons for living, ways to conquer doubt, reasons for hope, reminders on the brevity of life, peace in the midst of stormy situations, and so much more. And one of the things that has been helping me recently has been God's ability - through His Word - to allay any fears that sneak their way into my thoughts and emotions about what the future holds. And it's been really powerful.
My main fear is that at some point, the bottom will fall out. The other shoe will drop. The wind will shift and the house of cards will all come tumbling down. That's what I worry about.
My main fear is that at some point, when I am not expecting it...the bottom will fall out. The other shoe will drop. The wind will shift and the house of cards will all come tumbling down. That's what I worry about. Not always, but definitely sometimes. And when I talk to others, they often echo the same sentiments. They're concerned that despite their best intentions, efforts, and even prayers, disaster will strike. Suddenly. With their job, their health, their relationships, their family, or their money. At some time or another. And so we fret. And sometimes freak out. And scramble to secure ourselves against sudden disaster. But it's exhausting. And we're running themselves ragged. And even when we do all the things we think of doing, we still feel unsettled. Like there is more that should be done, that can be done. And our lives are filled with anxious thoughts and worried days and sleepless nights. And there is no peace to be found. There are two verses that I have built my life upon that help me in these moments. And I remember them, and I remind myself of them in my head whenever I start to fret and freak out.

Proverbs 3:25-26

Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.

Psalm 112:7-8

They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

I fully, completely believe those words - most of the time. And on days that I struggle, I meditate on them, and repeat them to myself, and fight to get them embedded into my heart. They help me to let go. They help me to trust. Just like so much else in the Bible, they aren't just words on a page, but promises to me. Because God doesn't want me always spinning, always on edge, just waiting for something to go wrong. He wants me to surrender, and expect for things to go right, and - more importantly - for things to keep going right. The title of this blog is Childlike Faith because I really believe that it is the answer to so many of our difficult questions. When we were a kid, we believed and trusted and were convinced that life was going to be good to us, that God was going to be good to us. But then hardships and letdowns and so much pain came along, and we lost that innocent, wide-eyed, soft-hearted approach to it all. And He asks us to go back to that mindset. It's super hard - especially when you haven't done it a lot - but it does get easier the more you make it your objective, no matter what. I keep doing it, and it's become who I am - and people know it and I know it and God knows it and I am so thankful. And again, it helps so much.
It doesn't matter what anyone thinks or says or does. It doesn't matter what the future holds. He's got me. And He is good.
I refuse to believe that sudden disaster is going to strike my job situation or body or wife or future kids or savings or anything like that. And I refuse to spend my life worrying about and fearing any bad news that might come my way. Instead, I want to remember that truth of those verses: that He is right next to me, He keeps my feet from any traps or trapdoors, and my heart is steadfast because my life is perfectly secure in His hands. It doesn't matter what anyone thinks or says or does. It doesn't matter what the future holds. He's got me. And He is good. I don't want to be pessimistic, or cynical, or suspicious of His goodness towards me - now or in the future. I just want to trust. I just want to relinquish my desire for control to Him. And I just want to enjoy the peace He willingly provides, if we will let go of what we're holding onto and take it instead. Image source: http://bit.ly/2xyR6P4

When You Feel Like An Imposter

I have been thinking recently about the Imposter Syndrome. You know, the fear I sometimes feel that I will be found out. That it will be revealed that I don't have what it takes. That people will discover that I'm a fraud. A poser. A complete phony.
"All I can see is everything I’m doing wrong that is a sham and a fraud." ~ Don Cheadle
Research shows that many people struggle with these feelings of self-doubt. Hopefully, we shrug them off and not let them actually paralyze us - and most of the time we are able to press through to do what we need to do. But every time - at least for me - they creep in and rear their ugly head and make their presence known...to the point where I have to intentionally fight them off. In my head I am like, “what the heck, get off of me, that's a lie and I refuse to believe it and this is a totally normal feeling and I am not an idiot and I do know what I am doing and I just need to remember the truth about myself.” But it's super hard sometimes. What is interesting is that I don't ever think that I am an imposter when it comes to my faith, or my fitness, or the relationships I have with others. I'm acutely aware of the gap between where I am and where I want to be in those areas of life, but for the most part I don't feel like I'm ever faking it. I falter and flounder and fail sometimes, but I'm not faking it. I'm doing them as well as I can, and I'm good with that.
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” ~ Maya Angelou
Like the quotes I’ve pasted throughout this blog entry, for me it is mostly tied into my profession. I'm trying to figure out why. Maybe it's because when it comes to my occupation, others are depending on me. It's like, they need me to come through for them and be amazing for them, because they only view me through the lens what I do for work, what I do for a living. To them, I am what I do. That’s it. They don't know my heart, they don't know my foibles, they don't know the ups and downs of my life. They just know that I am a:  teacher researcher speaker writer advisor mentor role model And they expect me to dominate in all of those areas. They expect me to be on point, like a boss, and kill it every single time. And I don't think these expectations are only in my head. I mean, my students sit in my class, and anticipate that I am going to blow their mind with a vintage "Sameer" brand of knowledge delivery every time we meet. And this is heightened by the fact that they've read reviews online, and talked to other students who have previously taken my classes. And part of me is like, "man, I am exhausted, I wish I could just suck for once, and for it to be okay."
“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” ~ Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization
It’s the same with when I have had a job interview in the past. I can make myself seem so extraordinary in my resume and in my cover letter, and discuss all these proficiencies which I have (or have had? or think I have? or should have by now?). And yes, they are factually true; I'm not lying in my application materials. But it still feels like I will be found out. It still feels like the tendency is always there for someone to ask me a question and for me to blow it. For my lack of a correct answer to "out" me as someone who isn't all that he makes himself out to be or, rather, all that they thought and hoped I was. When that happens, it definitely hurts. Like a sucker punch to the gut. Actually, it feels catastrophic. Like the world is going to end. Like I just want the earth to split behind me, and for its mantle to rise up like a tidal wave of broken rock and mud and debris and just swallow me whole, from head to toe. Like a geological atomic wedgie. Because the humiliation just seems too much to bear. The bottom line is, I simply cannot remember everything that I've learned in the past. And I can't recall it from the recesses of my brain as fast as it's sometimes expected. And I sometimes just don't say the right thing, or even know what the right thing is to say. And I just don't want to have to feel all the time that everything in life is a test, set up to constantly make me prove myself or my education or training or intellect or abilities.
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.” ~ Kate Winslet
At job interviews and when I'm teaching or presenting on a topic, my mentor professor Christina once taught me that it's totally okay to say "I don't know" or "I'll find out for you and get back to you on that." The worst thing to do is for me to make up an answer, because I might dig myself into a deeper hole and will probably be found out in time. So I've been trying to do that. And sometimes I mess up on grading an assignment, or have the wrong answer choices for a test question that annoys my entire class, or forget to get back to someone in a timely manner, or accidentally miss a conference call or meeting. I just flat-out screw up. And it feels like everyone is like, "what the pez is wrong with this guy!!!" and "dang, can't he do anything right???" and "wow, I wonder how many times he's blown it before...." But I just want and need everyone to know that I am doing my best. I would totally wear that t-shirt: “I’m doing my best.” And then people would know. But maybe it should go without saying, for you, and for me. Just because I don't do everything perfectly doesn't mean that I am an imposter. Plus, I am way harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be. Really. And I bet that’s the case for you as well. Maybe you feel this way often. I think it's so natural, and some of it gets easier as we get older (because our perspective changes as to whose opinions matter) and some of it gets harder (because we think that by now we wouldn't screw up as much!). And I think that honestly, we all just need more space and more grace to be human in these fallible ways. That's really it. I mean, that’s all I am asking for. How can we fight off this feeling that we’re an imposter? Here’s what I’ve been thinking. And no, I don’t do these things all the time, but I really do want to. Because in my head, I know it will help a ton. I just need to make it a lifestyle…. First off, don’t give other people (whose feelings vacillate and whose moods are temperamental) the power to invalidate you. I think it starts here. For me, it helps to remind myself that my worth and value does not come from the opinion of others, no matter what. For me, it comes from the opinion of a never-changing and forever-loving God. It’s easy to forget that, but that is one truth I have built my life on, and it has mattered so much. Remember the truth about yourself, and who you are deep down. Second, be gracious to yourself. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Sure, some of those mistakes occur on bigger platforms and in higher-visibility situations than others, but they happen to all of us. And you don’t want to hang out with, or work for, or give your best to, individuals who expect impossibly high standards from you. Then you’ll just be walking on eggshells whenever you’re around them, and that’s an awful way to live. Seek out friends and colleagues who understand and live out compassion, and give your best to them instead. Third, be gracious to others. To be honest, I’m way better at this than the first two, probably because I desperately want others to do the same for me. With my words, and body language, and laid-back attitude, and constant reassurances and warmth, I always try to counter the pressures that others feel to be perfect, to act perfect, to seem perfect. I try to provide them with a safe place - not to be "on" and not to "perform," but just to be. They don’t deserve it because they’ve earned it, they deserve it because life is hard for all of us. And then at least I am doing my part to contribute to a more kindhearted humanity. My hope is that they will be changed forever, and that they will continue to pay it forward. And I bet most do. Hopefully, I’ll keep doing my part, and they’ll keep doing their part, and we’ll get better at going easier on ourselves. And this should lead to so much more freedom in our lives, and more freedom will increase the likelihood that we can be at our best. Whenever I’ve felt free from the pointed and weighty expectations of others, that’s when I am able to completely rock whatever it is I was supposed to do. In those moments, the imposter syndrome has no bearing on me at all – it feels irrelevant. I just want that to be the case all the time, for all of us. Please let me know in the comments if you've ever struggled with the Imposter Syndrome, in what ways it affects you, and how you face it.  I would honestly like to hear from others on this topic! (Image source: http://www.bbb.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Man-with-Mask.jpg)

When You Catch Someone Messing Up

A while ago, I stopped by CVS after playing ultimate frisbee at school to pick up some mouthwash and some toiletries. It was just time to run some errands, no big deal. But as I was walking through the aisles by the pharmacy, I saw this guy - who looked to be around 23 or so - grab what seemed to be some over-the-counter medication and put it under his shirt, under his waistband in the back. And I walked by him and in my head I was like, WHOA. And then I thought to myself, maybe I go should let a CVS employee know? And then I looked around, and was like, where are the cameras????? But then I said to myself, wait, let's go talk to him! Be brave, Sameer. You got this. And so I walked up and started talking to him. And I said, "Hey, can I just buy that for you?" And he looked at me in complete shock...and said..."Um...No, it's okay. I will put it back. I don't need it that bad. I'm sorry." Me: "Are you sure? I really don't mind buying it for you. You can pay it forward sometime." Him: "No, it's okay. I'll put it back. I'm really sorry." Me: "Don't you need it? Won't you need it in the future?" Him: "No, it's fine. I don't really need it.” And he apologized again. Me: "It's okay...I know how life can get. I've been there. Thanks." And then he went and put it back, and apologized to me one more time. And then he left. And I just stood there in the aisle, wondering what just happened. All I remember thinking was that I really wanted him to keep his dignity. The fact that he apologized so much showed me that he was remorseful and just felt a lot of shame about it. And I just wanted to try to show him love. I should have asked him his name. I should have asked if he wanted to hang out. I got so sad afterwards. I just was like, God, nothing else matters except him...and I just want him to have hope. I just want him to have joy. Please take care of him and bless him and help him. My heart just ached for him and his situation. And maybe it's not a big deal, maybe it was just like an impulse thing...but to me it seemed bigger than that. It seemed symptomatic of a bigger problem, I don't know if it was related to meth production or an addiction, or what. I was just like, God, I can't stand seeing people like this. Struggling. Please help him. If And I thought to myself that if I see him again, I will ask him to hang out. It was just a jarring experience and I am glad that it affected me because I want people's sadnesses to affect me. I just want to care more. I bring this up because I’ve been reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. As you may know, the book is about the powerful effects of shame in our life, and how to overcome them. Dr. Brown discusses how we overwhelmingly need love, connection, and belonging – because we are relational human beings - and how our fear of being rejected causes us to stiff-arm or run away from showing our vulnerabilities. In order to find freedom from the prison that shame keeps us locked in, we are to own our vulnerabilities, embrace self-compassion, and reach out to empathetic others. What is more, we are to choose to live an engaged life where we step out of the shadows, and embrace the risks and emotional exposure that come our way in every interaction. The goal in all of this is wholehearted living: “engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging” (p10). I would venture to say that the vast, vast majority of us don’t feel this way on a regular basis. And that is so awful to consider. We struggle mightily with self-worth and self-blame, and it completely undermines our ability to live life to the full. I have felt that feeling more than I would like to admit, but I have a tough time recognizing when I am being too hard on myself. When I see others mired in shame, though, I recognize clearly that they don’t deserve to be riding themselves into the ground. You’re probably the same way. We both know on an acutely visceral level when we have failed or fallen short to some standard. And it almost automatically affects our perceptions of our intrinsic value and worth. At that point, we’re already down on ourselves, and the last thing we need is for others to pile on top of that.
All of us struggle with shame on some level, and all of our stories are complicated and occur against a backdrop that seriously no one else can fully see or understand.
On a regular basis, life has shown me in very gripping and convicting ways that “there but for the grace of God, go I.” It would be easy for anyone to judge this person I met in CVS, but whatever he was dealing with was no worse or ugly or shameful or jacked up than anything I deal with, or have dealt with. Or anything you deal with, or have dealt with. All of us struggle with shame on some level, and all of our stories are complicated and occur against a backdrop that seriously no one else can fully see or understand. And that backdrop sometimes induces us to make wrong choices and consequently feel shame, which Dr. Brown vividly defines as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” That guy needed connection. I tried to connect with him and convey to him that I didn’t judge him for what he was doing. I just wanted to be there for him. I just wanted to pay for the product he was trying to steal if he couldn’t afford it. I just wanted to come through. I wanted him to know that there were others out there who would demonstrate love and care and kindness to him no matter what he did. I know that might sound way too magnanimous, but that was the truth and I believe that is what he needed at that moment. And I think that is what we all need. Desperately, sometimes. You know what you feel shame about in your own life, and you know how it affects you and keeps you hedged in. It paralyzes you on some occasions, and suffocates you in other encounters. Same with me. If shame in our lives is a universal truth, and we all can agree that it is destructive, does it not demand that compassion should be universal as well? I mean, it seems so intuitive. But we just don’t see it displayed as often as it’s needed. And we definitely don’t feel it as often as we’d hope.
You know what you feel shame about in your own life, and you know how it affects you and keeps you hedged in. It paralyzes you on some occasions, and suffocates you in other encounters. Same with me.
I can’t control how other people act, and whether they are moved in the same way I am. But I’ve just been thinking this week that I really need to always do my part. And so whenever I feel the tendency rising up within me to criticize, ostracize, or otherwise judge someone else for ANY REASON, I just want to immediately remember how badly I need others to NOT do that to me. Ever. Because they don’t have a clue about what I’ve been through, or what I’m dealing with, or what my story is. Just like I don’t know theirs. Or yours. Compassion should be my first response, always. In every situation. It’s hard, and it’s not always natural, and I definitely mess up sometimes. But I pray He keeps sensitizing me to this truth so that I really get it, deep down in my heart. Because I know it’s right.