Tuesday, January 27, 2015

You Don't Have To Have It All Figured Out

What do you call a writer having trouble writing? Frustrated. And that's what I am.

I looked up this morning, realized we're 27 days into the new year and I haven't published a single blog post. Nada. Zilch. I apologize for that.   

It's not that I haven't had ideas, I have a bunch of them. I have a bunch of drafts on Google Docs that I haven't finished. I've written ideas on post-it notes and napkins.   

There is this one post in particular I've been stuck working on for more than a month, a post that I'm hoping is completed in the next week or two. I feel like I can't post anything else until I get this one done, but I'm having trouble with 1) finishing it and 2) actually wanting to publish it.

As I've been writing this thing -- and, really, just living life in general -- I've had to confront some of the parts about myself that I don't necessarily like. I've had to acknowledge that I don't have it all together. I'll share more on some of this when I finish that post. 

I've convinced myself of a few things these past few months that I need to fight against. Things like: "I need to have everything figured out before sharing anything" and "I need to be strong in order to be of any use to anybody."

It's not fun confronting this stuff. It's not fun to admit your own brokenness and weaknesses.

I don't understand everything that I've been learning yet. It hasn't all sunk in. My head gets it, but my heart has been slow to catch up -- that also frustrates me. It's like when your parents tell you something and you know they're right and you nod your head and go "Yes, Mom... Yeah, Dad... I know, I know" but it still hasn't sunk in as real for you.

One example is this pair of verses I've kept circling back to in recent weeks:

“Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” - James 1:2-4

It’s difficult to read that and not shut my Bible closed whenever I’m going through a difficult time in my life.

Really, God? ‘Great joy’? I don’t feel a lot of ‘joy’ right now… This situation stinks. I’m hurt. I’m broken. I’m angry. I’m tired… How am I supposed to find ‘joy’ in this?

I'm still figuring this out. I want it to be real in my life. I know that joy runs deeper than just being happy. Happiness comes and goes. Happiness is based on circumstance. Obviously, I don't think we're expected to smile and say "All is well!" if our house is burning down.

But I know that the joy that comes from the Lord is knowing that these trials, these difficult times, are just temporary. They won't last forever. God is still here and He is still working in my life. It's not in vain.  

But I think to myself How can I post about something that I'm still figuring out? Isn't it kind of hypocritical of me to say something that I still have trouble practicing and applying in my own life?

So, maybe I don't have it all together right now. Maybe I haven't figured it all out -- we never really will though, will we? But I'm still running back to God again and again, still struggling and wrestling with it all.

Maybe I was never meant to be strong on my own so I can see how strong God is. Maybe I fall and I fail so that I can see how faithful Jesus is when I'm not. Maybe God shows me my weaknesses so that He can work in me and so that I can boast not in myself, but in Him and Him alone. 

Maybe all I need to do is keep my eyes on Jesus and keep moving forward toward Him. In the end, that's what it all comes down to. He doesn't want you or me to have it all together or have all the right answers or to be perfect. He doesn't want us to just follow a bunch of rules. He wants us. He wants us to love Him with all our hearts and all our minds and all our strength. 

I'm still learning what that all means and trying to figure out what that looks like, too. Maybe we can figure it out together. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Red Flags, Quicksand And Why Making Your Bed Is Important

The year 2014 now belongs to the history books and we can look forward to flying cars, hover boards and a Chicago Cubs World Series in the very near future (Okay, that last one was a little far-fetched, Robert Zemeckis).

But before we put 2014 behind us for good, here are some of the most popular posts from the blog this past year in case you missed any!

1. 25 Things Married People Would Go Back & Tell Themselves

2. The Problem With Ignoring Red Flags (Written by my good friend Jasmyn Elliot)

3. 5 Important Things To Learn While You’re Single

4. Why You Should Make Your Bed First Thing In The Morning

5. Unplugged: What 7 Days Without Social Media Showed Me

6. The Anatomy of a Good Friend

7. 5 Ways To Wait Well

8. A Better Way To Struggle

9. Stuck In Quicksand

10. 5 Words That Will Get You In Trouble

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

4 Things To Do When 2015 Starts

Brace yourselves: 2015 is here.

Whether 2014 was an awesome year, a year to forget, or somewhere in between, it’s a great time to hit the reset button and start over again.

I love this time of the year for a number of reasons -- it gives me a chance to reflect on some of the amazing things God has done in my life, to turn the page on some of the more painful moments, and to chart a new course for a new year.

Let’s make 2015 the best year yet:

START SOMETHING


I’ve been putting off going to graduate school since I got out of college. But the last year or so, I’ve had an opportunity to continue my education while working full-time. I’ve let that opportunity sit there for too long, and I’ve made it one of my goals to begin pursuing a master’s degree in 2015.

What have you wanted to start for a long time? What’s been holding you back? Starting something new can be challenging and frightening, but it could also become the most exciting and rewarding thing you've ever done.

Maybe you want to get healthy. Get a gym membership and start going a few times a week (and keep going in February!). Maybe you like to write, but you’ve been keeping your material and your ideas to yourself. Start that blog and put yourself out there. Maybe you’ve been going to church on Sundays for a while, but you haven’t made an effort to get more actively involved. Start volunteering, start serving and join a small group.

Whatever it is you’ve been holding off on, just take that first step and get started.

FINISH SOMETHING


Maybe you did start something last year, but a little thing called ‘life’ got in the way and that goal got pushed to the back seat. It happens. But now you have a chance to get yourself back on track.

If you put your plan to get out of debt on hold, start chopping away at it again today. If you planned on losing 30 pounds but only lost 10, get back in the gym.

Just because the year ended and you didn’t hit the mark doesn’t mean you have to give up for good. Now’s the time to pick up where you left off. Don’t let discouragement keep you from crossing the finish line.

GIVE UP SOMETHING

This one’s the tough one. We all have that one thing that keeps us from achieving all that we want to achieve in life. Maybe it’s more than one thing.

As a writer there are a number of things that distract me from getting my work done on a regular basis, television being a major culprit. Not that Netflix is necessarily a terrible thing, but I can easily spend hours upon hours binge watching my favorite shows and lose valuable time that could be used to finish something of my own.

I have to ask myself: Is watching two to three hours of television a day helping me become the man that I want to become?

Whether it’s a bad habit, a negative relationship, or a million little things that add up, we often have to give up something in order to gain something greater. Don’t allow something that brings you down keep you from the best that God has in store for you. Don’t settle. It’s time to take out the knife and cut some stuff out of the picture.

CHANGE SOMETHING


One of my goals for 2015 is to get to a point where I can wake up three hours before the workday begins without a problem, which means I’m going to have to set my alarm an hour earlier each day.

Why? Because early in the morning is the only time I can be ‘selfish’ with my time. It’s the only time during the day when I can truly do what I want to do without distraction. I can write. I can pray. I can go to the gym.

I haven’t been happy with the results I’ve been seeing in a number of areas in my life recently, and if you want to see a change in your results, you have to change something. It could be your routine, your thoughtlife, your diet or your schedule. Maybe it’s all of the above.

If you see something that needs changing in your life, take the initiative. Don’t wait. Don’t put it off.

* * * * * * * 

If you’re reading this, thank you. Last year at this time I hit the “reset button” and made the decision to commit to blogging in a way I hadn’t done so before. The response has been incredible and I am grateful, and humbled, that you’ve joined me on this journey.

I’m excited to see what 2015 brings!  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas Reminders From An Iranian Prison

"He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree." - Roy L. Smith

* * * * * * *

We’re just two days away from Christmas and, if I’m honest, I’m not feeling much of the “Christmas Spirit”. I still haven’t finished gift shopping, I’ve avoided Christmas parties like they were dentist appointments and I’ve felt more like Bill Murray’s character in "Scrooged" than Will Ferrell's Buddy the Elf.

It’s not usually like this. I usually love this time of the year and all that comes with it -- even the mediocre overrated holiday drinks at Starbucks that everyone pretends to like (I’m looking at you, peppermint mochas and gingerbread lattes). 

Since Thanksgiving, my mind has been in 2015 -- as if once January 1 comes around everything will magically be different. I’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to recalibrate my life, obsessed with trying to make plans for 2015, so much so that I feel like my head and my heart skipped over Christmas and right into New Year’s.

But if I truly want to recalibrate my life, if I really want God to move in my life and fix my mess and heal my wounds, I can’t skip Christmas. I can’t miss what God did and what He is still doing through that Christmas night over 2,000 years ago.

A LETTER FROM PRISON 

For the third straight Christmas, Pastor Saeed Abedini will not be spending Christmas with his family. Abedini, who has been unjustly imprisoned in Iran since 2012, wrote a heartbreaking Christmas letter from the prison cell where he is currently being held.

Thousands of miles away from his family and living in deplorable conditions, he writes about how hard it is to sleep because of the bitter cold, how his fellow prisoners don’t like him for converting to Christianity from Islam and being a pastor, how he has faced threats and hostile behavior from guards for his faith and how he is completely without his family.

It’s hard to read, and yet what he writes afterwards struck me:

“These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? Why did God choose to be born in a manger in a stable, which is very cold, filthy and unsanitary with an unpleasant smell?”


Nothing illustrates Jesus as Immanuel, which means “God is with us”, greater than this. The fact that Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and the savior of the world, who could have entered the world in any way, chose to come like this. 

God is with us in our mess and brokenness. He is with us when we feel like we are on our own. He is with us when times are good and when they aren’t. God is with us always, and His presence is the ultimate gift. 

He reached down in order to heal our broken lives, to bring us comfort and peace and joy, show us mercy and grace, and shower us with an everlasting love and compassion that knows no end. That is very good news, and that is what Christmas is all about. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Spilled Milk Taught Me About Shame

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus." - Romans 8:1

* * * * * * *

You know the expression “There’s no use crying over spilled milk”? Well, the eight-year-old version of me never got the memo.

It was around that time in my life when a glass of perfectly good 2% milk tragically spilled all over the dark blue carpet in my room -- and I panicked.

I knew that if my folks found out what I had done, there would be dire consequences. Maybe a timeout or -- worse -- no television, which meant no Rugrats or Hey Arnold! for me. (My parents probably wouldn’t have resorted to those measures for such a minor offense, but I was 8. What did I know?)

So I went into cover-up mode. I had to hide all the evidence. No one could know about this. Ever.

It’s a pretty random and distant memory, but I still remember it vividly. I think one of the reasons I responded so rashly wasn’t just fear, but also shame. I was ashamed of the mistake I had made, and I think it was one of the first instances I can remember feeling that way. And definitely not the last.

IT'S COVERED 

Shame is as painful as it is powerful. It makes us feel guilty. It fills us with regret. It makes us look for the nearest rock to duck under. It makes us feel like worthless failures, and not good for anything. And in doing so, it drives us into isolation.

Shame will try to tie our past to our present by convincing you and me that our mistakes are not forgivable. Shame will try to tell you that one person’s rejection of you means you are a failure and not good enough.

It was shame that drove Adam and Eve to hide from God after they disobeyed Him in the Garden of Eden. It was shame that drove Peter to withdraw and weep bitterly after denying Jesus three times right before He was crucified.

But even after their mess-ups, God covered up Adam and Eve when they realized their nakedness. Jesus redeemed Peter and he went on to become one of the major players of the early Church. And God still offers that today -- He will cover your shame, too.

CONFRONTING SHAME

I don’t know what it is you’re holding on to. Maybe it’s a mistake you made years ago or the hurtful words of a loved one that still echo in your head or a crushing failure that left you embarrassed. Whatever it is, the longer we hold on to it, the longer we’ll be stuck in a cycle of shame.

Shame keeps us chained to the past while God offers freedom in the present and hope for the future.

When we bring all of our shame, all of our sin, all of our regrets, all of our guilt to God, He will toss them into depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and they will be as far from us as the east is to the west (Psalm 103:12). And because of that, if you are a Christ follower, there is no more condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). It’s done, it’s over, it’s forgiven and forgotten.

Still, even when shame shows up today, I’ll do what the 8-year-old version of me did -- I’ll try and hide it. I’ll try and run from it. I’ll try to avoid dealing with it. Sometimes, I’ll even believe what it says about me.

At some point, we all have to decide to confront shame when it shows up in our lives. We have to bring it to God and replace shame with His truth. Then, and only then, can we move forward towards whatever He has planned for us.