Wednesday, April 11, 2018

It’s Time To Go

Leaving Miami has been on my mind for some time now, but it wasn’t until last summer that it became clear that it was time to go.

I had just spent a great weekend with several friends in Orlando (Fact: Any weekend that includes SeaWorld is a great weekend), and as I was exiting the Orlando city limits and following the highway signs pointing me back toward Miami, an interesting thought flashed brightly in the forefront of my mind: I really didn’t want to go back.

I wanted to turn the car around, stay in Orlando and just start over there. As I fought back the urge to go A.W.O.L. and continued driving south, I started to reason with God and with myself on the idea that Orlando was where I should be: The traffic is not as bad... and there’s SeaWorld! I can actually afford SeaWorld annual passes. Some of my closest friends live here now and it’s not too far from home. If I wanted to go home for a weekend, it’s only a four-hour drive away. This makes a lot sense.

Shortly after arriving back in Miami and getting my master’s degree, I applied for several job openings in Orlando… and then one in Nashville.

I’ll let you take a wild guess which one got back to me.

* * * * * * *

And that leads me to some personal news I’d like to share with you all: This weekend, I will be moving to Nashville, TN. Goodbye, Magic City. Hello, Music City!

I’ll be joining the writing team at Ramsey Solutions, which helps millions of people everyday get out of debt, set financial goals and build a legacy. And anyone who knows me knows I’ve been a huge Dave Ramsey fan for years, so this is an exciting opportunity for me! Their work has changed my life for the better, and now I get to create that content myself. It’s a dream come true.

There’s one thing that this whole process has taught me: Our first choice isn’t always the best choice.

Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” We might have one idea, but God usually has a better one in mind. God sees the bigger picture. He sees things we often can’t even see for ourselves. And I am so thankful for that!

We can plan our journey and chart a course for ourselves all we want, but if we want to truly discover where we were meant to be, we have to let God lead the way and correct our course whenever He wants.

* * * * * * *

Whenever I’m facing a big decision or a dilemma, I pray a simple prayer: Lord, close the doors you want to close and open the doors you want to open.

I’ve prayed that prayer a lot over the past few months. It’s a simple prayer, but not always an easy one, because that means consciously putting your first choice on the altar and being open to something else entirely. Praying that prayer means you’re looking for God’s will to be done in your life instead of your own.

There have been doors that I really, really wanted God to open, but they remain stubbornly closed. But then another door creaks open elsewhere. And walking through that door requires a lot more of us.

God often opens doors that will force us out of our own comfort zone. Walking through those doors will require us to trust Him more than ever before.

When God calls us to go, it’s time to go. And if I have questions and doubts and fears? Good! Now is the time to bring all of those to Him. If we want a faith that is strong, we have to let our faith be tested.

This move is going to require a lot more of me than a move to Orlando would have. I don’t really know anybody in Nashville. I’m leaving a job that I love at FIU, a university that has given me so much and has always felt like home. And Nashville is 700 miles further away from home than Orlando is.

I feel like God was saying to me, "If you're going to do this, Joel, you have to go all in. Go the extra 700 miles."

* * * * * * *

Nashville is going to be a huge transition and transitions (change in general, really) have always been a big fear of mine. But transitions, if we let them, can the best thing that could ever happen to us.

My friend Paul Angone in his new book, 101 Questions You Need To Ask In Your Twenties, put it best: “Transitions are not simply a bridge to the next important season of your life. Transitions are the most important seasons of your life.”

Transitions force us to change, to grow, to adapt. They force us to ask the big questions and define the kind of lives we want to live and figure out how to get there. They force us to ask for help, to take stock of the things we too often take for granted in our everyday lives. Transitions make us realize what is truly important to us.

There’s a verse that I clung onto when I moved to San Antonio right after college that I’ll be tapping into again this time around:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” - Joshua 1:9

Where is God calling you to right now? Where is he asking you to be strong and courageous in the face of the unknown? He’s reminding time and again that He is still right here with us, and He will be with us over there, too -- wherever ‘there’ is.

It’s time to go.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Plant In The Parking Garage



Well, that’s strange.

Those were my thoughts when I saw this small, green plant that had sprouted out of a crack in the concrete of a parking garage near where I work recently. It surprised me so much I had to stop and admire the little thing (I’m easily amused, what can I tell you?).

A few questions ran through my head as I crouched down to get a closer look at it, but most of them boiled down to a simple one: How?

Most of us can identify the type of environment where a plant can usually thrive. We would say some plot of dirt with good soil, access to water and ample sunlight would be ideal. A parking garage wouldn’t make my top 10 of ideal environments for a plant. And yet, there it was.

We should always be striving to grow, but there are times when you’ve probably felt like your growth has been stunted for one reason or another. I know I have. Maybe you’re stuck in a less than an ideal set of circumstances or a self-defeating mindset.

Yet, this little plant in a parking garage made it work. It didn't need much; just a crack in the concrete. It found a way to grow in a place it had no business growing in. So why can’t we?

There are certain things we simply can’t control and it’s nearly impossible to grow if we’re always fixated on them. It’s also impossible to grow if we wait for our circumstances to magically get better.

I've realized that I fall into the trap of waiting for 'perfect circumstances' way too often. If things aren't perfect at home/at my job/at church, my default is to choose a passive approach to growth instead of an active one if I'm not careful. Well, maybe if I wait a few weeks or months, things will get better, I'll think to myself. But waiting for the ideal rarely makes it real. And it certainly won't lead to growth.

If you're in a season where you feel stuck or overwhelmed by circumstances, look for the cracks in the concrete. Sure, it might not be ideal, but it's still an opportunity for growth.

You can grow in whatever job you have now. You can grow no matter what your relationship status is. You can grow in whatever city or town you find yourself in. It might not be easy, but it is possible. We don't need perfect circumstances to experience growth -- we just need a crack in the concrete.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fight For The Words

One of my favorite movie speeches of all time is Al Pacino’s from Any Given Sunday.

It’s the one where Pacino – who plays a pro football coach beaten down by life – is talking to his turmoil-ridden team before a big playoff game toward the end of the film.

The lines from that speech that standout are the ones about inches. About how life is a game of inches and how important those inches are. How those inches are difference between winning and losing (living and dying). How those inches are all around us all the time and how we need to fight, scratch and claw for those inches.

“If I am going to have any life anymore, it is because I am still willing to fight, and die, for that inch,” Pacino says. “Because that is what living is: it's the six inches in front of your face.”

It’s one of those speeches that make you want to run through a brick wall like an amped up version of the Kool-Aid Man with five Red Bulls running through his system.

Inches. In journalism writing, usually that’s how stories are measured. You get assigned a story and your editor tells you have six or eight or 20 inches to fill. But the inches have been getting harder for me to fill in recent months.

Little bit of a confession here: I haven’t felt the urge to write on a personal level in a long while. It’s weird as a writer to admit that. Does an eagle ever lose its desire to soar in the sky? Does a fish ever not want to swim? I would imagine not. That’s kind of what they are designed to do. They fly. They swim. For a long time, I felt like I was born to write. So, why am I not writing like I used to? Where did the words go?

Whenever I've tried to write for this space in the last few months, I’ll start writing and then the words just taper off, either because my train of thought seems to go nowhere or my heart just isn’t in it. It’s frustrating. It's like turning the key into the ignition of a car and being greeted with nothing. That’s what this feels like: It feels like I’m running on a dead battery. And you can’t run on a dead battery.

It feels strange. And it goes beyond just wanting to write. I want to want to write. I want to wake up first thing in the morning and have the words just flow through my fingertips, through the keyboard and onto the screen. That’s not happening. But the truth is, that rarely happens. If it does happen, awesome. But if I'm waiting until I feel like that to start writing… well, that’s how I’ve ended up where I am.

You have to fight for the words. You have to fight for the inches. Fight and struggle and scratch and claw until the words come out. And they might not be pretty words, but that’s okay. You can work with ugly, not-so-well-written words. But you can’t work with no words. You can always work with something, but you can’t work with nothing.

So this is my "something." This is me grabbing the jumper cables and trying to recharge that dead battery. This is me trying to fight for the inches around me, because those inches are still there. The words are still there. They always have been, and they always will be. I just have to find them -- and then work harder to seize them. And that takes work. It was never supposed to be easy, I'm realizing now. It's supposed to be hard.

Pacino ended the “Inches” speech with a question: “Now, whattaya gonna do?”

As long as we have breath in our lungs, we’ll have the choice whether or not to fight for those inches or not. Those inches can represent anything in your life that helps you move the ball down the field -- the words you write, the sales you make, the paintings you draw, the miles you run, the songs you sing, the time spent with God. What are those inches for you?  

Lord, help me to keep fighting for those inches, even when I don’t feel like it. Especially when I don’t feel like it.

If it's the last thing I do, I'm gonna fight for these words and the ones to come. I’m gonna fight for the words. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Little Things

From the United Airlines fiasco to the Spirit Airlines brawl, it hasn't been a good month for U.S. airliners or air travel in general.

But it wasn't all bad. There was one particularly positive air travel story that recently captured my attention. 

Last month, Mohamed Sanu, a six-year NFL veteran and wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, was traveling and went through his usual flight routine. He studied his team’s playbook (in April, four months before the season starts). He ordered healthy meals, snacks and drinks. He was kind to the people around him. 

This was all standard operating procedure for Sanu.

“I was just being myself, doing what I normally do on planes – either I’m going to take a nap or look at my plays,” Sanu told TMZ Sports.

Little did he know, there was a family sitting behind him that recognized the receiver and observed his behavior throughout the flight. After landing, they left him the following note:

Hi! 
You don’t know us but we wanted to thank you. Our son sat behind you on this flight and watched you. He saw you studying your plays, watched you make healthy choices with you snacks, food and drink. He watched how polite you were to everyone. He is only 10 but just made an elite hockey team and we are on our way to training in CT. You are an inspiration to children and for that you should be proud! 
Thank you and best of luck! 
The family that sat behind you :)

The letter caught Sanu off guard in the best possible way.

“That put a big smile on my face,” Sanu said. “It’s not everyday that somebody just recognizes you being you.”

You never know. You never know who is watching you. It could be your friends, your family, your coworkers, your bosses or your neighbors. It could be a stranger sitting behind you on a bus you take everyday or a classmate sitting next to you that you barely talk to.

They are listening to the words you’re speaking. They read what you post on Facebook. They see the choices, even the seemingly inconsequential ones, you make everyday. They see how you treat people – how you treat your teachers, your colleagues, and the people who can’t do anything for you.

It’s the little things that often make the biggest impact. It’s the small choices, the ones we often think are the most mundane, that leave the biggest impression on the people around us.

Never underestimate the little things.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Viola Davis, Butterscotch Lattes and the Impostor Syndrome

So imagine I’ve invited you to a Starbucks to catch up and and we find a table next to the window where we can sit and chat for a few minutes. There’s a 95 percent chance I order a butterscotch latte and I’m rambling about how much I love butterscotch lattes and how Starbucks is dumb for only offering it seasonally.
Seriously, since when is butterscotch seasonal? As I’m telling you about my plan to force Starbucks to make the smoked butterscotch latte a permanent fixture on their menu, I realize that your eyes are starting to glaze over.
So I take one last sip of my latte and decide to switch gears. After all, there’s a reason I wanted to talk with you.

THE RANDOM GUY IN MY HEAD

Not long ago I was working on another blog post and as I was writing it, I couldn’t shake this feeling.
The post, which I’m hoping to publish at some point, is basically based around the premise that you don’t have to be an expert in order to be an example. Problem was, I’m not feeling like much of an example myself. Words like fake, fraud and impostor began to pop into the forefront with every word typed.   


That last word struck me. Impostor. It’s such a strong word. I looked it up and it means “someone that assumes false identity or title for the purpose of deception.” I got this image in my head of some guy in a crowd from an old black-and-white movie pointing at the camera -- at me -- and yelling “You, sir, are an impostor!” Worst yet, for a while, I believed him.

When it came down to the heart of it, I felt unworthy of the words I was writing.

Thanks, Random Guy In My Head.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO...

I didn’t watch the Oscars this year. I usually don’t; I’m not a big fan of all these awards ceremonies. Besides, the only film nominated for Best Motion Picture that I watched was Hidden Figures (amazing movie, by the way) and following the festivities on Twitter is more entertaining and informative than the Oscars themselves.
While everyone was in shock over the “Moonlight/La La Land” fiasco (you can go in peace now, Steve Harvey), another Oscar-related headline on my news feed caught my eye: Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis says she struggles with 'impostor syndrome'.
Huh. I’m not too familiar with Viola Davis or her work (I know her best from the movie Disturbia and the 1,023,632 commercials I’ve seen promoting the hit show How To Get Away With Murder), but the headline captured my attention. How could an Oscar Award-winning actress, someone who has had such a successful career, feel like an impostor? I saved the link and told myself I’ll get to it later.

BEING FOUND OUT

After having that mental crisis as I was writing that post I was talking about earlier, I went back to read that article and learned that the “impostor syndrome” means feeling a “sense of phoniness despite evidence of high achievement.” A recent study showed that around 70 percent of people will experience this syndrome at least once during their lifetimes.

While it was initially believed that women were the ones who mostly suffered from this syndrome, it's apparent now that men do, too -- we just tend to hide it better. In fact, people from all kinds of backgrounds experience this feeling. No one is immune.

“I still feel like I’m going to wake up and everybody’s going to see me for the hack I am,” Davis said after the Oscars. "I still feel like when I walk on the set, I'm starting from scratch, until I realize, 'OK, I do know what I'm doing, I'm human.’”

That fear of being “found out” is probably one of the most suffocating feelings we could ever experience. We’re social beings. Deep down, we long for connection with and the acceptance of those around us. We want to love and be loved for who we are.

But we’re afraid that if they get too close, because we think if they see us for who we really are underneath the surface, that they will reject us and see us as we see ourselves: as impostors undeserving of success, of love, of acceptance.

And on a spiritual level, we fear the same with God. I know I do. We doubt ourselves like Moses did and ask “Who am I” to lead or to be used by God? We point to our weaknesses like Gideon, who said that he was part of the weakest clan in the tribe and the least in his own family. You got the wrong guy, Gideon probably thought.

I’m sure they felt like impostors, too. But God called them to do something great anyway. Maybe not even in spite of Moses’s and Gideon’s weaknesses and shortcomings and doubts and their views of themselves, but perhaps because of them. That seems to be God’s standard operating procedure: to take the very thing that we think is a weakness and repurpose it for His glory.

God wanted to use them -- and did use them -- to accomplish great things. And he wanted to do so as they were. I know He wants to do the same for you and me, regardless of how we view ourselves. I'll take His word over my own every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Maybe we can cut ourselves a little slack now and then. Maybe we can celebrate who God made us to be and what He has helped us accomplish up until now. Maybe we can rest in the fact that He’s not finished with us yet. Don’t tear yourself down when God is trying to build you up.

"I know I'm not the best but I'm proud of myself," Davis said. "This is the first year I've allowed myself just a little bit, to see that, to realize that, self-deprecation is not the answer to humility.”

WRITING TO MYSELF

Before I write another word on another post, I want to make one thing clear if it wasn’t clear already: When I’m writing something to you, I’m always writing it to myself, too.

I’m challenging myself to put into practice the lessons and insights God is speaking into my life, even when I don’t fully grasp them myself. Along the way, the enemy will try and twist those challenges into accusations. He’ll try to convince me that I’m not good enough, smart enough, disciplined enough, fill-in-the-blank enough. He’ll try to convince me that I am an impostor.

But in the face of the impostor syndrome, we can rest in the fact that God knows us, each and every one of us, more than anyone else can -- more than we know ourselves -- and He still loves us. He still accepts us, wants to know us, wants to help us grow and wants us to know who He is. He says that I am enough. He says that you are enough.

When we forget that, we can go right back to God's word. Read Psalm 139. He knows everything about you, from your inner-most thoughts and fears to what you’re going to say before you even say it. Nothing about our lives is hidden from Him, and yet His thoughts about us are precious and when we wake up in the morning, He is still there with us.

I don’t have it all together. I don’t have all the answers. If I said I did, then that would make me an impostor of the worst kind. I’m just trying to grow and learn and follow Jesus the best way I can. I don’t always feel like it and I’ll fail and stumble along the way. But that’s part of the journey and the process.

That doesn’t make you or me an impostor; that makes us real, broken people in need of a perfect and good God. Like Viola said: “I’m human.”