What If Your Summer Camp Mentality Was Year Round?

Every summer, I go to summer camp. And I've been doing this for years. To be honest, things are a little different now that I am an adult in that I don't go as a camper, but as a volunteer or counselor or leader or helper (depending on the camp). Back in the day, though, I loved going to camps every summer - with my church, with 4H, at the local college, for sports, for community plays - they were all amazing. And they still are, it's just that I experience them differently now based on my point of reference. I just got back from camp in the mountains of northwestern North Carolina, where I helped out teaching music to a bunch of great kids between the ages of 13 and 18. And I've been thinking about how much I love going away to serve at camp, and how much the students loving coming to camp. And I've been thinking about how everyone who went is pretty much bummed out when they have to return to their normal lives in the "real world." And then I was wondering, why is life so great at camp, and is it possible to make life in our real world that great? And while I still am not sure of its practicality, here is what I've figured out: 1) Camp is awesome because you're in a new environment. While camp days have their own routine, it is different from what you've done for the previous 51 weeks of the year. Breaking out of one's routine is such a good thing, and so healthy, and - frankly - invigorating because new neural connections are being made (plasticity!), motivating you to seek out do more new things (which is fun and exciting - as life should be!). Plus, cool, novel things can happen at any moment (unpredictability = dopamine!). You could have a great conversation over lunch with someone you've never talked to before. You could excel at a group activity you've never heretofore tried. You could smile at a pretty girl who catches your eye, and she could smile back. All these things seem to happen so much more readily at camp.
You could have a great conversation over lunch with someone you've never talked to before. You could excel at a group activity you've never heretofore tried. You could smile at a pretty girl who catches your eye, and she could smile back.
2) Camp is awesome because you don't have any normal responsibilities or stresses to deal with. Your parents aren't fighting within earshot, you're not worried about making money or having money at the moment, you don't have to make your bed or clean your room or help with chores, you're (hopefully) not dealing with drama from friends back home (if you are, put down your phone!), and you can just be you and do the things you love to do. Normal life isn't like that. Normal life unfortunately involves doing a lot of things that admittedly are good for us, but that we kinda sorta wish we didn't have to do. 3) Camp is awesome because, as a spiritual mentor once told me, geographical change leads to spiritual change. It feels like when you're away, you're much more primed to hear from God (in your heart, or through the words of others), or see Him at work in your life or the lives of those around you. And since normal distractions and responsibilities aren't there, you can be more receptive and open to it. You don't dismiss it as quickly, and move onto the next thing on your to-do list. You don't rationalize it away, because there's something almost magical...almost transcendent...about being away at camp - and there He seems and feels even more real and present than usual. Plus, camp days are full, and you're exhausted most of the time because you're either running around all day with various activities, or soaking up as much time with new friends as possible that sleep gets neglected. But when you're wiped out, you are just more sensitive to His whisperings. To me, it's like at camp, I get a whole lot closer to my heart. Or, put another way, it sort of gets bigger inside of me, it enlarges and I just feel it and its longings and desires and hopes and aches so much more deeply. And we believe the Holy Spirit lives within us, and so this "centering" helps me to be so much more nearer to Him.
To me, it's like at camp, I get a whole lot closer to my heart. Or, put another way, it sort of gets bigger inside of me, it enlarges and I just feel it and its longings and desires and hopes and aches so much more deeply.
4) Camp is awesome because you don't have to prove anything. Well, at least not as much as we feel like we have to prove in our normal lives. At camp, we can just be. We can just exist. We don't need to be beautiful, or perfectly stable, or have it all together. We don't need to excel academically. We don't need to push and grind and try to make things happen. And we don't need to hold our families together. We can just let life happen to us, and trust that everything will be fine around us. We can just believe that camp is going to be good and just live it out. I wish I could live every day of my normal life like that - not trying so hard to always be better, or always demonstrate that I am competent, or always be working towards the future, or always exhausting myself trying to do everything right.
I wish I could live every day of my normal life like that - not trying so hard to always be better, or always demonstrate that I am competent, or always be working towards the future, or always exhausting myself trying to do everything right.
Now that I'm back home, in my normal routine, and camp isn't going to happen again until next summer - what do I do now? It was a mountaintop experience, as it always is each year, but I'm back on flatland and the euphoria has been replaced with a mixture of wistful resignation, contemplative sadness, and a hint of discouragement. But I don't want to live in this place. And I know it is all about the attitude of my heart. I feel incredibly alive at camp - as do the rest of the counselors and helpers, and of course all of the kids. And I want to live fully alive not just at camp, but all the time. It reminds of me John 10:10, when Jesus says that He came to give life, and life to the FULL. I want life to the full, every single day. So I've decided that I'm not going back to my normal routine, and that I'm going to shake it up a bit. While it's easy and familiar and comfortable to do each day what I've always done, I'm trying to be more spontaneous and free instead of meticulously scheduling how I'm going to spend my morning, afternoon, and evening. I'm also going to intentionally try a lot more new things. For example, I haven't blogged in 2+ years, but I'm giving that a whirl again starting with this blog entry. I'm starting new exercises as well to stay in shape. I'm experimenting with new ideas in my work. And I'm going to try to be much more intentional about believing for and seeking out unique moments and connections and experiences. They don't have to be big in the eyes of others, or even worth sharing in an Instagram post - they just have to be different and new. I think that will help me. I'm also going to make more time to do things I want to do simply for the well-being of my soul, even if they don't contribute to the "bottom line" or improve my future. For me, this includes more writing, reading, travel, and handstands. I really want to do more handstands. And I'm going to not worry about things I can't control just like I didn't do at camp. At camp, I trusted Him to do all the things I couldn't do - like take care of my family, and work in the background to provide opportunities that I was hoping for, because I wanted to spend all of my energy focusing on the people I was there to serve and because I believed He wanted me to do just that and not have my mind spinning in a hundred different directions. And He took care of everything. Nothing fell apart. Good things happened in my absence. I need to remember that God held my life in His hands while I was away, and He still holds my life in His hands now that I'm back. I really need to trust Him more, and not think that all of that stuff is solely on my shoulders. Much of it I can't control anyway. I really should know that by now!
I need to remember that God held my life in His hands while I was away, and He still holds my life in His hands now that I'm back.
And finally, it's going to be very hard for me to stop grinding so hard all the time, because I'm just so accomplishment-oriented. But when that is at an unhealthy level, I don't really feel free. And I really want to feel free, like I do at camp. Oh man, it's so freeing to feel FREE. It's like the best feeling ever, it's like, wow, this feels right, this feels like how life is SUPPOSED to be. And so I am going to be super mindful of when I start to get off-kilter (I definitely know when it's happening), and take a gigantic step backwards when necessary. I do not need to prove anything to myself, or anyone else. I really do like what He's making of me, and the way He is constantly shaping my heart. And I am fully secure in His love for me. And those two realizations are all I will ever need. The "summer camp mentality" - that's what I'm going to call it. And I'm going to adopt it all year long. Image source: http://bit.ly/2xjNhy1

When You Want To Live a Great Story

Alright.  What did I learn from the Storyline conference, if I consider how I've been living my life thus far, and how I want to make sure it is a great story?  Well, the first thing I realized is that even though I am always asking God to come through for me with this or with that, and definitely sometimes getting bummed and frustrated with various things, I have so much to be thankful for.  The conflict I face isn't actually that awful if I take a step back from it and look at it objectively and unemotionally.  It does feel awful at times, but it truly isn't that tragic or devastating.  I really want to be more content; I really want to better learn the secret of being content in every situation (Phillippians 4:12).  I am making progress.  I have a long way to go. Secondly, in terms of my story, I am incredibly thankful to absolutely love what I do professionally (which is also a passion to me), to have significant influence in the lives of a handful of people around me, become grounded and invested in a church and local community where I believe I am affecting lives, to be very close to my parents who remain together and to my sister who I adore like none other, to pour into communities in India and Africa that I care about, and to do the things that make my heart come alive and keep me close to God.  And I feel like I've overcome a number of tremendous and painful obstacles, and that when the credits roll on my life, if everyone finally saw all of the facts and all of my heart, they would be definitely inspired and moved. That said, I guess what I wonder if there is something even bigger I can get swept up in.  Some massive, world-changing dream that truly will not be achieved in my lifetime but that I can spend my life doing.  I've done missions locally, nationally, and internationally, and for extended periods of time.  Each trip has meant so much to me.  But maybe there is some sort of a consistent, single-hearted, focused endeavor that I will be called and compelled to do.  Maybe it will be introduced to me by a friend.  Maybe it will be a passion in the heart of my wife, when that happens, and that will be one of the things we get to do together for the rest of our lives.  Maybe God will just give me something in a dream sometime soon.  I have no idea.  I am here, surrendered, and open to anything!!!
If a person’s life feels meaningless, it’s likely because they live in an existential vaccuum where their basic needs are met but they’ve yet to identify a noble cause to ignite their passions. ~ Donald Miller
Third, I continue to feel like I am meant to help others live great stories, specifically through encouragement manifested in intangible and tangible ways.  I feel like this is one of my gifts, and I feel like I am blessed to be a blessing (as they say).  I have been trying to do that more and more.  I want to pour myself out in doing this when God clearly puts someone in my life for that reason.  And He definitely makes it clear, so that's awesome.  And I want to do it for the rest of my life.  We believe that Love is the most powerful thing there is, and I know that I am uniquely created to demonstrate that love through symbolic and substantive encouragement.  Maybe this is a massive, world-changing dream - but one that occurs a person at a time.  I don't know.  Anyway, if you need help in this area, let's get together for coffee and talk it out!!!
You have never have less time on this earth as you do right now. ~ Louie Giglio
Finally, I am gripped by how quickly life flies by.  I was listening to a message by Louie Giglio yesterday, and he stated, "You have never have less time on this earth as you do right now."  This doesn't make me freak out or lose sleep or rush ahead of God's timing (although admittedly sometimes I really want to).  But it does imbue the attitudes I adopt and choices I make with a sense of urgency.  Again, we want our lives to matter.  And I don't want to waste these years on drama, or screwing around, or distracting myself with good but not great things, or being caught up in stuff that is meaningless, and purposeless, and temporarily gratifying - but ultimately so very unfulfilling.  I want to live from my heart, and I want to make an impact.  And I know I will.  So, yeah, that's where I'm at, and I would so love to hear your thoughts! Image source: https://flic.kr/p/9S7pPp

When You’re Sick of Doing Things Out of Obligation

I was thinking recently about the reasons why I do what I do.  I mean, my daily, weekly, monthly activities.  A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself to stop doing things out of obligation.  Because I saw too many people around me who were not very happy at all, and seemingly caught up in certain actions and practices and behaviors that they didn't really want to be doing, if they were true to their heart.  But, for whatever reason, the social or cultural pressure was too much, and they bowed to it and capitulated.  And I found it such a shame.
A few years ago, I made a commitment to myself to stop doing things out of obligation.
Because when you stop living from your heart, you kind of stop living.  And I knew I didn't want that.  I also knew I would have to fight to maintain this commitment to myself, because the pressures get very strong at times.  I just figured that if I stayed incredibly close to the Lord and kept remembering that I am accountable to Him and His will for my life, and not to anyone else, that I would be fine.  It wouldn't be easy, but it would be possible. In the church (I am generalizing here, and not talking about a specific one), I have noticed a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle pressure on congregants to do certain things.  And if individuals do not largely march in step, they are ostracized a bit.  Or made to feel bad.  This isn't a conscious scheme on the part of the church, designed to produce compliance by shaming and guilt, but it is definitely there.  This is currently happening to one of my closest friends.  And it breaks my heart.  In this case at least, it seems that she was valued for what she brought to the proverbial table, and when she decided to stop doing things out of obligation in order to follow her heart, love and full acceptance was taken away.  In its place, she was basically elbowed out and cut off.
She was valued for what she brought to the proverbial table, and when she decided to stop doing things out of obligation in order to follow her heart, love and full acceptance was taken away.
I know the church is imperfect, and run by imperfect human beings, but this pattern continues to occur.  Those who use social and spiritual pressure to bring about conformance to their desires and demands just don't seem to see what they are doing.  I am not sure if they use the Bible to rationalize it away, and are comfortable exploiting the sacrificial bent of others because of certain verses which talk about continually dying to self.  Or, maybe they do it because at some point along the way, they stopped following their heart, and got used to doing things out of obligation, and now figure that this is just how it is. All of this is awful.  All of this sucks the very life out of people.  And leaves them disillusioned, and burnt out, and skeptical to trust other spiritual leaders.  And again, these events are not rare occurrences.  From accounts I've witnessed and anecdotal evidence I've gathered, it happens way too often. People should do what they want to do (as prompted by God).  People should be okay saying "no," and the people to whom the "no" is said should be completely and unconditionally okay with it.  If you need to induce people through veiled coercive attitudes and words to get them to do something, you are in the wrong.  If you think that everything will fall apart, or the job won't get done, unless you do such things, you lack faith in a God who always provides and who will not let you down with whatever you are trying to accomplish.  And are probably relying on human effort a bit too much (yours and others).  And maybe, just maybe, if He doesn't provide people who can cheerfully and willingly do(with their heart fully engaged) what you need to be done, you should consider whether it is what He wants.  Seriously.
People should be okay saying "no," and the people to whom the "no" is said should be completely and unconditionally okay with it.
Sometimes we get so convinced that what we want to make happen is what God wants to make happen.  And then, we end up hurting others.  And if we keep refusing to self-reflect and question the plan (especially if it has been institutionalized), we are fools.  And fools suffer harm (Proverbs 13:20) and die for lack of judgment (Proverbs 10:21).  And while I care about fools and don't want them to be foolish, I care more about those left wounded in the wake of their folly.  Furthermore, this compromises our individual and collective witness to those who are not (yet) into God.  They see the fallout among their Christian friends, and they think to themselves - wow, that really sucks, and I definitely don't want any part of that.
Sometimes we get so convinced that what we want to make happen is what God wants to make happen.  And then, we end up hurting others.
This is why I hate doing things out of obligation.  And why it is so important to live from your heart.  If you are staying close to God, He will clearly tell you when to do things - even very hard things that require a lot of sacrifice).  He will speak to your heart, and imbue it with what you need to take on the task and do it with joy and excellence.  This is especially true for those individuals who love to feel needed by others, and who love to come through for others.  Such personality characteristics are rife for the abuse of others - which is all the more reason why we need to get our preeminent leading from Him and Him alone. Image source: http://jameshowden.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Marionette.jpg

When You’re Always Caring What Others Think

I've been thinking a lot recently how people have dreams, and they even feel those dreams are from God...and they let other people know about their dreams, and have full faith for them, and wait for them, but it just doesn't happen. Well, it at least hasn't happened yet. And it makes me think about David, and how in his poems and writings, he asks God repeatedly to not let him be put to shame. Isn't it interesting...of all of the themes related to David, one of the most prevalent ones has to do with him not being "put to shame." I feel that as Christians we are told to not let other people's opinions of us, or thoughts of us, matter to us. We are to derive our identity solely from Christ, and be relatively immune to the criticisms or frowns or whispers of others. We are told that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about us, and we just shouldn't care. But if I am real with myself, it does matter to me. I do care what people think about me. And if you were real with yourself, I think you'd probably say the same thing.
It does matter to me. I do care what people think about me. And if you were real with yourself, I think you'd probably say the same thing.
I mean, we all want to belong to something - some sort or group, or family, or collective where everyone is connected with each other over some commonality or shared interest. We don't live in isolation...we live with others, and go to school with others, and work with others, and we definitely desire the favorable opinion of others. I mean, really, we all want others to like us. Some care a ton about this, some care a little less, but we all care. On some level, we all need to be affirmed and validated by others. And we definitely don't want to be rejected by them. Rejection can happen in a variety of ways. We know this. We don't want to be shunned or dismissed outright, and we also don't want to be embarrassed, or humiliated, or shamed by others. Not only does it make us feel awful, it tends to confirm in our mind the doubts and fears and insecurities and flaws that we already struggle with (and don't need to be reminded of). And the questions we wrestle with on a daily basis about what we should say and not say, about what we should do and not do.
Rejection makes us feel awful, it tends to confirm in our mind the doubts and fears and insecurities and flaws that we already struggle with (and don't need to be reminded of).
I feel like I am a dreamer, and I listen to my heart, and go after the things that I believe He places on my heart. But as I do, I definitely don't want to be shamed. I don't want other people to look at me and my life and think, wow, he lived from his heart but it just didn't work out for him. What are some specific things that we've heard or heard about, that have the power to put us to shame? Things I've personally heard include: He blew it a long time ago. He doesn't realize that life is only going to get harder. Things don't just work out like that. He should have been more private. He should have been more public and open. He should have done this when he did that. I asked a friend what she has heard that has the power to put her to shame, and she shared the following: Who does she think she is? She’s just trying to be like <insert person here>. With the decision she made, she deserves to struggle. She should have been there more. Maybe what she thinks was her best, really wasn’t? She’s not supposed to do this, she’s supposed to do that. She needs to come back to reality. She’s just trying to fit in. She can’t <insert any dream here> because her life is not right. She has ulterior motives. She’s misguided. She’s a rebel. It is really hard to hear these things, or know they are being said. Really, really hard. And this is where I need God to step in. I need something outside of myself and my efforts to take over and have my back when I know that I have been doing my best and trying to listen to my heart and trying to follow His lead and make good choices. I need that. Desperately. I feel like we all do. It can't just be up to us. It's scary stepping out in faith in big ways. That's why so few truly do it. Those who don't are held back because of the fear of failure, and because they just don't want to look bad in the eyes of others. Because others' perceptions do matter. They just do. Thinking about physical perceptions, if everyone was blind and no one could see each other and how they look - their face, and body, and attire - would we care so much about looking good? Heck, I would just walk around naked (at least here in Florida), because no one would care and no one would judge me or critique me or size me up in any way. Well, as Donald Miller has suggested, we would probably then start building a social hierarchy based on attractiveness of voice, or eloquence of speech, or something like that. But maybe, with physical perceptions out of the picture, I would just be me, and that would hopefully be enough. And you would just be you, and that would hopefully be enough.
David, one of the godliest guys ever, struggled with this. He didn't want to be shamed. The perceptions of others mattered to him, and you know what, it was okay.
It is encouraging to me to realize that I am not alone in wrestling with these feelings, this tension. David, one of the godliest guys ever, struggled with this. He didn't want to be shamed. The perceptions of others mattered to him, and you know what, it was okay. God didn't tell him to be more godly, and get his act together. God didn't tell him to stop caring about everyone else, and to work harder on getting his identity from Him alone. This helps me incredibly. I am so hard on myself all the time - maybe you are too - and so I just want to know that my loving Father understands, and doesn't want me to be put to shame either. When David talks about God not letting him be "put to shame" - I feel like he means shame coming from an outside source (rather than from personal conviction and reproach). Obviously, we can feel shame from an internal source - perhaps our conscience, or spirit - and we can feel shame from external sources. I feel like when it comes to my wrong choices and stupid selfish mistakes, internal shame is much greater than external shame. Other people can forgive me a lot easier than I can forgive myself. When it comes to dreaming big, though, and going after those dreams, I feel like I can be easier on myself - because I know it takes years of effort and persistence and patience and God's timing, but other people tend to be quick to comment, or whisper, or criticize, or even pronounce judgment - and make me feel shamed. And I don't want that. I think about doing the right thing, and not taking shortcuts, and how people have questioned me (and honestly, I have questioned myself sometimes) about the value of it all...but it has always, always been worth it in the end. David asks God to not let him be shamed: Psalm 25:2 I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. Psalm 25:20 Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. Psalm 119:80 May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees, that I may not be put to shame. Psalm 31:1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. And God repeatedly says that those who trust in Him will not be shamed: Isaiah 61:7 Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. Psalm 22:5 To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. Romans 10:11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” Joel 2:26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. I need God to be my defender. I need to believe that the dreams I am striving for and working towards, and the life I am leading in order to improve the likelihood of those dreams becoming reality, matters to Him. And that even though people may whisper, people may talk, people may point and question and be skeptical about it, and even if those things do affect me and make me feel bad, it won't matter in the end. God will be God, and will come through, and not let me be put to shame.
I need God to be my defender. I need to believe that the dreams I am striving for and working towards, and the life I am leading in order to improve the likelihood of those dreams becoming reality, matters to Him.
It seems almost childlike to want to have such a simplistic view of His economy, and how He works. Our natural tendency is to make everything so much more complicated. But I just want to think and believe more simply about this sort of stuff. Because even though it is hard, it feels right. And because I know it pleases Him. Image source: http://bit.ly/2gdHSof  

Believing for the Best and Preparing for the Worst

I've been thinking how well-intentioned people, in reference to having a particular outlook toward an event, or experience, or even life in general, say "Expect the best, but prepare for the worst."  Expect the best.  Okay.  But prepare for the worst.  Um.  Okay. I've decided I hate that line.  It sounds good, it sounds conciliatory and maybe even soothing.  But it's so neutral, it's so...antiseptic.  It's so weak, honestly.  At least in my opinion. And maybe it's just me. I do want to expect the best.  I feel like I'm wired to do so.  I feel like that's how I'm called to live (Romans 8:28, Hebrews 13:6, Psalm 27:13). And I understand about preparing for the worst, in principle.  I get it.  You don't want to be ill-prepared for something to go wrong.  For example, on a road trip you hope that you don't run over a nail, but you still have a spare tire in your trunk or attached to your vehicle just in case.  You wouldn't leave that spare tire in your garage - you'd take it with you so that you had it if you needed it, so you could continue your road trip.  So maybe this statement can be used for tangible, material examples like that, but I personally cannot use or embrace it for everything else.  What I want, like, in the big picture.  Things I dream about.  Goals I want to accomplish.  Differences I want to make.  You know, the stuff that actually matters.  The stuff with significance. I just feel that when I am believing for something huge, when I am hoping for and needing God to come through - I need to do it full-bore. I just feel that when I am believing for something huge, when I am hoping for and needing God to come through - I need to do it full-bore.  Honestly, some things in life are so hard to believe for - whether it is your parents not screaming at each other every night and their marriage improving drastically, or your brother getting on the right path instead of destroying his life with bad decisions, or your grandma being healed of a terminal disease.  Or anything else in any area of your life that you specifically have yearned for and been patient for. But it just hasn't happened yet. But let's say you do believe.  In your heart of hearts.  You believe even when you don't see anything pointing to it happening.  You believe even if what you do see points in the opposite direction.  You just have full, pure, simple, childlike faith.  Well, with that, can you really "prepare for the worst" at the same time?  Again, in your heart?  I feel like when it comes to what is written on our heart, the things that matter to us most deeply, you can't be in-between.  We are meant to believe unconditionally, even though it sets us up for immense pain.  God loved us unconditionally and even recklessly, even though it set Him up for immense pain.  But we ascribe nobility and honor to love like that.  Because it is worth it, because He didn't count the cost.  And maybe for these major things we are believing for, we shouldn't either.
"Preparing for the worst" to me means building a safety net, just in case the bottom falls out.  But I feel with the major things in life, you can't have a safety net, because it undermines the trueness and fullness of belief.
"Preparing for the worst" to me means building a safety net, just in case the bottom falls out.  But I feel with the major things in life, you can't have a safety net, because it undermines the trueness and fullness of belief.  It strips the potency from it.  And it adds a condition to what should be unconditional.  We are not fully dependent on God coming through.  We've decided to play it safe and allow for a Plan B just in case. I don't really seeing Plan Bs working out all over the place for people either.  I mean, can you really *love* your wife if your Plan B leads you to hold a little back in terms of affection just in case she ignores or dismisses or doesn't appreciate your particular display of love at that particular moment?  Doesn't that cheapen it for her?  Honestly, doesn't it make you a little cowardly?  Can you really build a disruptive business from the ground up, if your Plan B keeps you from going "all in" and investing the blood, sweat, and tears to make it succeed?  Can you really make a lasting positive impact in the lives of other people around this world by giving most of yourself, but not all of yourself? Those who have changed the world gave their all, believed for the best, and did not prepare for the worst just to be on the safe side.  Jesus.  Martin Luther King, Jr.  Abraham Lincoln.  Mother Teresa.  Joan of Arc.  Marie Curie.  They knew there were no guarantees, but they were bold to live fully from their heart.  I respect that and admire that so much.  Honestly, it commands respect and admiration. And it inspires me and others to do the same.  Our security cannot be in our Plan B, or ourselves.  It has to be in Him, at least for it to end up being epic.  And I want epic.  I just do.
We know why we prepare for the worst.  It's because we are tired of crashing to the ground.  It's because we can't allow ourselves to get hurt badly again.  Or at all.
We know why we prepare for the worst.  It's because we are tired of crashing to the ground.  It's because we can't allow ourselves to get hurt badly again.  Or at all.  It's because we cannot relinquish full control to Him and need to hold onto just a little, tiny piece.  It's because it is so awfully difficult to place our *entire* lives and future into His hands.  I could say that I've done it, but I know I haven't.  Not fully, and not permanently.  I keep taking parts of it back, out of His hands.  And, of course, muck things up.  It's what we do best, sometimes, right? :) For the big picture things on my heart, I don't want to believe for the best *and* prepare for the worst.  I just want to believe for the best.  Not both.  Because it doesn't feel right.  In fact, it feels cheap, it feels compromising and ambivalent and passionless and without conviction.  I can't live like that.  And I don't think we are meant to. Please understand I am not advocating a lack of wisdom.  I'm just trying to live - and encourage others as they are so led - to believe more fully, compromise less, and leave the rest up to the God who knows us, wants the absolute best for us, and loves us more than we will ever, ever be able to understand. Image source: http://bit.ly/2wPvD7t

Living on the Edge

I've been thinking a lot about the edge recently. And living on it. I know that sounds vague. So I'll try to explain. I've been going to yoga relatively regularly for the last few months. The goal has been to really try to increase my flexibility and balance. My hamstrings, for instance, are always tight because I've been running around on fields for decades and I guess I don't really stretch religiously afterward. And balance, of course, is a key to success in many of the board sports I like. Plus, I don't want to topple over when someone jumps on me. I want to be solid like an tree. And, they say you can't hurt steel. So I often talk about wanting to be a steel tree. And I think yoga will help towards that end. It is making a difference. It is super hard. The 1.5 hour sessions pretty much destroy me. But I love the challenge - it just really suits my personality to endeavor through the struggle to get better flexibility and to get better balance. My instructor talks about getting to "the edge" in certain poses or stances, and she basically is referring to that point where it starts to become difficult and painful (the good kind of pain when you are working out). And for sure, you want to quit, you want to cheat, you want to ease the discomfort - and you are faced with a choice right there at that moment. You can relent - which is okay, for sure, because we have to be good to our bodies and know when we are completely spent and need to back off a bit - or you can push through the edge, which will bring more strength, and flexibility, and balance. Succinctly put, if you really want to get to the next level, you can't shy away from the edge. Rather, you have to embrace it ("embrace the suck!" as my friend Dan always says). The edge is where things are physically challenging. Or emotionally challenging. Or relationally challenging. Or even spiritually challenging. Our desire for taking it easy and avoiding pain leads us to not spend a lot of time on the edge - which makes sense, because we are not masochists. But we also know from living enough life that growth happens on the edge. It may not be super fun or pleasant, but we know it tends to lead to results. My friend Jenny always reminds me of that.
Our desire for taking it easy and avoiding pain leads us to not spend a lot of time on the edge - which makes sense, because we are not masochists. But we also know from living enough life that growth happens on the edge.
Many of us want some sort of change in our lives right now. A good change. Particularly with the turning of the calendar, we may have a new hope in the core of our being that 2013 is going to be a good year, a better year. And yes, hopefully it will be. But I think that we will have to do our part to contribute to the change we want to see. Nothing crazy, but just in line with the notion that growth and good things happen when we live on the edge. People talk about "the box" a lot. Thinking outside the box, etc. You know it, you've heard it. I'm actually so tired of that phrase, and perhaps you are as well. But conceptually, it makes sense when we think about living on the edge. *Inside* the box is within your comfort zone. Where you are not pushed to do anything different at all. You are just existing, and continuing to do things the way you always have. We know this typically doesn't lead to growth, and sadly, it doesn't even seem to lead to maintaining the status quo either. Invariably, inside the box, things just seem to deteriorate over time. Usually subtly, but then more obviously. And you look around, and you are like, what the HECK has happened to my life and dreams?!?!?!
The way I see it is that we should be okay with the unique way in which God has wired us. And not try to force change by doing something that is completely against who we are at our essence.
So I don't want to always be inside the box. But with that said, I am actually not a fan of living life *outside* the box. I feel this sometimes gets us into trouble. The way I see it is that we should be okay with the unique way in which God has wired us. And not try to force change by doing something that is completely against who we are at our essence. For example, maybe you really want to meet a guy right now. And it's not happening at school, at work, at the grocery store, anywhere. But you really, really would like it to happen. And so there is always the option of going to a bar. I don't have a problem with you doing that if you want, but let's just say you never ever wanted to meet a guy at a bar. It just wasn't "you" - something "you" would do. If that's the case, I just don't think you should do it as a way of "living outside the box" because it is contrary to something you've felt very strongly about up until now. That's all. I just don't think things end well when we are not true to our heart. Maybe it helps for a little while, but I just don't think it will in the long term. When I step insanely far out there, just to "make something happen," it usually backfires or at least doesn't turn out as well as I would have hoped. And then I end up kicking myself because I knew I didn't have a peace about it in the first place, because it just wasn't me. It just wasn't me not because I was scared or nervous to do it, but because it just wasn't me. I hope that makes sense.
When I step insanely far out there, just to "make something happen," it usually backfires or at least doesn't turn out as well as I would have hoped. And then I end up kicking myself because I knew I didn't have a peace about it in the first place, because it just wasn't me.
So, anyways, what is left? At least, when it comes to the box.... Well, boxes have edges! I really like the edge. It's out of our comfort zone, and requires something of us that is not naturally easy. But it's not too remote to our God-given constitution, where it seems completely beyond ourselves to do - where it's like, we're just doing it because we desperately need something new to happen in our lives because we are sick and tired of how things currently are. I was talking to my friend Lindsay the other day, and she was saying how she really wanted this cute guy at the YMCA where she works to come and talk to her. And we were just chatting about whether she would feel okay going up to just chat with him, randomly. And it made me think about the edge. Keeping to herself and being afraid of what he will think or if he will get weirded out doesn't lead to any change or improvement or good thing at all. And she definitely doesn't feel led to venture completely outside the box and go up to him and be incredibly forward and ask him to coffee, or for his number. I mean, she could, and there isn't anything fundamentally wrong with that - but it just isn't who she is, and isn't how she is wired, and I want her (and she wants) to stay true to her heart. So, could she live on the edge in this case? And just be the one to initiate a quick, casual, starter conversation? Yes, it makes her nervous. Yes, it challenges her to do something she wouldn't normally do. But, like I mentioned when I was talking about yoga, it will help her get better. It will grow her confidence - regardless of how he reacts - because she *did* it. She pushed through the fear and didn't let the thoughts or opinions or reactions of someone else keep her from being her - in the truest sense. She will now know through experience that she can tackle something that is uncomfortable, and these events will build upon each other over time to honestly make her better, and better, and better. To tackle life, and to succeed in it. So I'm going to keep trying to live on the edge, in yoga, and in the other areas of my life. And Lindsay is going to do the same. And so is my friend Dan, and my friend Jenny. What about you? Is there an edge that you've been avoiding, but realize the importance of spending more time there - even though it's going to be a little rough? Maybe a lot rough? Deep down, if you're thinking that it is probabably worth it, I hope you make the decision to go there. I think we both know it matters.  

The Beauty of Being Vulnerable in Relationships

Ive been thinking a lot about one of C.S. Lewis's most famous and most profound quotes: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ~ *The Four Loves* Deep down, I know that in order for a romantic relationship to really work, both individuals have to be incredibly and constantly vulnerable. And it's definitely scary sometimes. Which makes it not easy. But, as we've all learned, the things that are worth doing and worth keeping are never easy. Amazing is not easy. And I definitely want amazing, in all areas of my life.
Deep down, I know that in order for a romantic relationship to really work, both individuals have to be incredibly and constantly vulnerable.
It's really quite fascinating to witness the reciprocal interplay of vulnerability between a guy and a girl. Let's just say at the beginning of a relationship, that it is ideal (traditionally) for the man to initiate and the woman to respond. For instance, he goes up to her, and renders himself vulnerable by complimenting her, or trying to start a conversation with her. In his perfect world, she reciprocates by smiling, engaging with him, continuing the dialogue, and possibly rendering herself a bit vulnerable by complimenting him, or touching his arm, or holding his gaze for more than a few seconds. And then maybe he is feeling pretty good about his chances to get her number, or taking her to coffee, and so he puts himself out there, and asks. And perhaps she says yes. All along though, she could hesitate. Deflect his attention. Pretend to be busy. Say she has to go. Reject him outright. But, everything seems to work when both are vulnerable, and take risks (and, of course, there is chemistry!). But nothing works if someone pulls back, or puts up a wall, or freaks out, or runs away.
Everything seems to work when both are vulnerable, and take risks (and, of course, there is chemistry!). But nothing works if someone pulls back, or puts up a wall, or freaks out, or runs away.
And then I think about daily communications between a boy and girl in a relationship. Texting, email, or in person. And how it works best when each is vulnerable with the other on a regular basis. If I say something super romantic and sweet and vulnerable to her, and she doesn't say something in kind, there is the strong potential for my feelings to get hurt. And for me to pull back. And to put up a wall. Basically, I really needed to hear it back from her, and she just didn't give me what I needed. And so now I need to protect myself and try to keep her from hurting me in the future, because I kind of held my heart out there, and offered it to her, but she didn't treat it delicately and lovingly. Rather, she was flippant with it, she was casual and maybe even a bit callous with it. And it was painful. But now let's say that maybe the next day, or in two days, or next week, she does say something super romantic and sweet and vulnerable - putting *herself* out there...and because of my recent hurt feelings, I just choose to not reciprocate. Maybe I am afraid, because of what happened last time. Maybe this time I want to teach her a "lesson" so she knows how it feels. Whatever the reason (and neither are good and healthy!), I won't tell her what she wants to hear, what she is hoping to hear in return. And, of course, this will lead her to put up a wall, and to protect her own heart from being hurt by me (and perhaps others) in the future. All of it is this such a delicate dance, with me stepping forward, and hoping she steps forward towards me as well...and me stepping back if she doesn't...and then perhaps I'll try again in the future, and hope she returns the sentiment, but if she doesn't, the wall I build will be a little higher. Again, to prevent me from being hurt as bad (or hurt at all) the next time around. And she does the same if I don't reciprocate.
Sometimes our desire to compliment and express our love isn't purely an unconditional gift for the other person. Rather, it is because we want to and need to hear it back.
It's interesting how we all need to be reassured, sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot. Sometimes our desire to compliment and express our love isn't purely an unconditional gift for the other person. Rather, it is because we want to and need to hear it back. Sometimes I feel like I can step outside myself, and watch the battle unfolding in front of my eyes: with one side being my doubts and fears and insecurities, and the other side being the kind, loving things I want to believe about myself - and need to hear from others to strengthen that belief. If we keep letting the quantity and quality of love we receive dictate the quantity and quality of love we give, we remain a pawn at the mercy of circumstance. Which can often lead to our lives devolving into a complete mess. An absolute, complete disaster of a mess, possibly sabotaging and destroying some of the really good things we have going for us. And we also have to remember that we've set up various walls from past relationships, and past wounds and current dysfunctions - and that they often still remain in front of us if we haven't truly dealt with them. We know we want to be completely free to live and to love with reckless abandon, but we realize over time that somehow and in some way, we just can't. At least not fully. And it's just really, really rough because it makes us feel stuck and it keeps us from God's best, the best that is out there for us.
If we keep letting the quantity and quality of love we receive dictate the quantity and quality of love we give, we remain a pawn at the mercy of circumstance.
And maybe we realize that our current friendships and relationships can help us to get closer and closer to that freedom, but on the flip side, we see how they can also pull us farther and farther away from it. We give others that power by simply entering into friendships and relationships. They benefit us greatly and in so many ways, but they are not without tremendous risk - and that is what C.S. Lewis is trying to convey. I guess this brings me to my main point, which is that I want to be the best boyfriend/significant other/fiancée/husband/lover ever. And I feel that in order for me to be that person, I need to develop the habit of being fully vulnerable in how I live and how I love. Because this draws it out of others, and it encourages others to break through their walls and try to be the same way. And to push past their fears of being rejected or dismissed or ignored or otherwise hurt. This is what leads to authenticity in friendships and relationships, and the best that is out there for us. Friendships and relationships simply cannot be amazing unless each person in them is genuine and open and candid and real. Really real. And so even when I don't feel like it, I know I need to keep pressing in, and keep expressing love. I need to be able to say, "I miss you" if I am feeling it in my heart, even if she isn't able to say it back at that very moment. I need to be bold in talking about the things "we" want to do in the future instead of what "I" want to do in the future, even though saying "we" is scary because "we" is never guaranteed. I need to be courageous in saying over and over again that I believe in us, now and long-term, no matter what, even when stupid fears sometimes creep in and cause me to struggle. I need to share what is on my heart without holding back, and without hesitating or hedging. And every single time I am brave, it becomes a little easier to become brave the next time. Because I'm building into a habit, I'm building into how I always want to be. How I always need to be.
Best case scenario, when she wants to withdraw and set up walls, my persistent and constant love will keep her from doing so, and draw her out. And she'll do the same for me when I want to withdraw and put up walls.
Best case scenario, when she wants to withdraw and set up walls, my persistent and constant love will keep her from doing so, and draw her out. And she'll do the same for me when I want to withdraw and put up walls. And together, we'll continue to work through things, and walls from the past will slowly but surely start to come down as well. Until honestly, there are no more left standing, and there is complete freedom to fully love, and fully be loved. And this will make all the difference in the world, and usher us into the absolute best that we can be for ourselves individually, and for each other. Image source: http://bit.ly/2vxGP4p

Testing our Strength

I have this friend, Wil, who I have known since he was eight.  He will be turning sixteen in January.  I hang out with him and his siblings (they are so much fun, and such great kids!), and his parents mentor me in a variety of ways that help me through life.  It's been really neat to see Wil grow up.  I remember being able to toss him in the air so easily in the pool.  And I remember constantly playing this game we called "KIOSSSSSSSSK!" because that's such a fun thing to yell out when you are about to pretend karate chop or kick someone while jumping and spinning and running around the house (and throwing couch pillows at each other like ninja stars).  I should mention here that Wil's parents were a very good sport and way too gracious for letting us play as long as we did, because it was loud, and violent, but also ridiculously enjoyable game for boys growing up (I guess I'm still growing up!). Wil was tough and athletic and brave even at age eight, but also still a kid and therefore vulnerable in certain ways.  I remember throwing a pillow from across the room right into his face, and making him cry.  I of course felt awful, but it helped me to remember that wow, he's eight, and he can be hurt and wounded and broken to the point of tears.  And the next time we played, I went a little easier on him.  But he didn't play any less hard.  At all.  In fact, being reduced to tears the previous time somehow made him a little braver.  And yes, it was a cautious bravery...he had realized what could happen and the pain that could result...but he wasn't going to let it immobilize him, or otherwise keep him from playing KIOSSSSSSSSK! and having incredible amounts of fun just because of the fear of something bad or undesirable happening.  He probably didn't consciously process all of this, but it was quite observable to me. Fast forward almost eight years.  We were hanging out during Thanksgiving weekend.  And playing football out in the yard.  And it was touch football, with a bunch of other boys because we didn't want anyone to get injured as we weren't wearing pads.  But Wil has grown into a young man at this point.  And touch football - without any real contact, without any bumps and dives and collisions - just doesn't cut it anymore. It is just kind of lame to him.  So, he would push off a little at the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped (perfectly legal), he would use his arms and his body to get better position when attempting to catch a ball (again, perfectly legal), and he would let me or whoever else was guarding him feel the weight of who he was, who he is.  And honestly, I got a little annoyed.  I remember kind of snapping at him after a particularly rough play (I was a bit upset!), saying "Dude I am seriously going to LEVEL you."  And I partially meant it.  And he smiled, and replied, "Alright!" And then we played basketball.  Wil has made his high school's basketball team, and we've been shooting hoops together with his awesome brother Davis for years.  But here again, lots of physical contact, and demonstrations of strength and power and presence were visible in full force.  Wil would lower his shoulder just a bit (perfectly legal, he didn't charge into me) when driving the lane towards the hoop.  And he would use his lower body position and arms to box out and make room to get a rebound.  And he went up HARD for blocks, and shots, and would do anything he needed to do to help his team win.  He didn't care about whether he was possibly being careless.  He didn't care about potentially getting hurt by playing too intensely or recklessly.  He didn't hold back.  He just let it all out, with no hesitation or regrets. And all of this was absolutely wonderful.  I freaking LOVED seeing it and experiencing it, and it made me so happy.  Wil has firmly entered the phase in his developmental trajectory where it is all about him testing his strength.  Seeing what he is capable of.  And tangibly believing and understanding he is capable of absolutely anything.  John Eldredge (one of my favorite authors) writes about how when he came home from work, his three young sons would lie in wait to pounce on him and tackle him, to rise up against and push against their dad and his strength and what he represented.  And personally challenge the current order of things, where the father was bigger and stronger and dominant over the sons.  And those sons were recognizing their own potential, realizing that they were growing into their own, and seeing that they too "have what it takes."  And how beautiful of a thing it truly is, because we all need to do this at some point, at many points.
How else do we come to fully discover and understand that our behaviors and choices and actions all have significance, and implications, and affect ourselves but also affect others...in good ways that might positively impact the world but also in bad ways which can cause unimaginable pain?
Perhaps the best examples occur when we are navigating the difficult years of adolescence, and trying to figure out exactly who we are, and what we are capable of.  Here, we tend to rebel against authority, and rules, and institutions, and the structure around us, and the reality set before us.  And it is a good thing, in part.  It helps us to really come into our own skin, to recognize our own power, and ability, and  - for the first time - really, truly own it.  How else do we come to fully discover and understand that our behaviors and choices and actions all have significance, and implications, and affect ourselves but also affect others...in good ways that might positively impact the world but also in bad ways which can cause unimaginable pain?  This has to happen; parents just hope it happens in a reasonably healthy manner.  With Wil, it definitely is.  And what I have seen in him is such an encouragement to me in terms of how I want to live, and how I want to keep living. I feel so strongly that we need to test our strength not just while teenagers, but all the time.  And not just physical strength - it may have nothing to do with you being fierce on a sports field.  Perhaps for you, it's more related to emotional strength, or spiritual strength.  We must test our strength, continually over the course of our lives, and not in possibly destructive ways, but in ways that somehow can make us better.  Perhaps by making us braver, and less concerned about the opinions of others, and less hesitant, and more operating from our heart's desires - regardless of the outcome.  I posted a status update about this recently - how maybe we could love others more freely without being so afraid of rejection all the time.  Maybe we could put our reputations on the line more often instead of being paralyzed by our concern that the bottom is going to fall out and we need to hold ever so tightly to what we've gained, or gathered, or earned.
Maybe we could put our reputations on the line more often instead of being paralyzed by our concern that the bottom is going to fall out and we need to hold ever so tightly to what we've gained, or gathered, or earned.
Maybe we could just take more risks in general, in order to remind us that we are truly capable of doing anything.  I mean, it could be as simple as jumping into a freezing cold pool.  Or meaningfully complimenting the overworked cashier at the grocery store.  Or working to improve our punctuality for others, every time, no matter the inconvenience and cost to us.  Or actually sticking to a commitment to eat healthier no matter what, or spend more quality time with our significant other no matter what, or grow in self-control by not complaining and gossiping no matter what. Or maybe we could think about others and what benefits them so much more...instead of constantly thinking about ourselves, and what benefits us.  Yeah it's hard.  Sometimes miserably hard.  And yeah, sometimes you won't feel like doing it - perhaps most of the time.  But it matters.  And you know that.  Deep down, perhaps way deep down, something is telling you that you really should do it.  Because deep down, perhaps way deep down, you know how you want to be, you know how you dreamed you would be, and you know that it will help you make progress.  It will make things better, internally and eventually externally.
We need to tangibly and continually demonstrate to ourselves that we have strength, and resolve, and determination, and a weight to us that we can feel and that others can feel.
Doing all of these things DOES make us better.  And stronger.  It just does.  We need to grow in that direction, and we need to tangibly and continually demonstrate to ourselves that we have strength, and resolve, and determination, and a weight to us that we can feel and that others can feel.  We don't just want to take up space, and we don't want to just slowly waste away.  If we are alive, let us be fully alive.  Otherwise, what is the point?  Think about what God might be telling you right now, in terms of what you could do to come back to your truest self, to start moving again in the direction of "better" and "stronger."  It could be one small but difficult thing.  Maybe do it today, as your first step.  And maybe tomorrow, or next week even, you can take a second step.  And let me know if I can help in any way.  Seriously. Image source: