satisfaction.

i’m not sure if i ever read the psalms all the way through, but it’s been fun to do so this year, because little gems stick out. recently, this one caught my eye….

 

when the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul.

-Psalm 94:19

 

it’s just hanging out there, in the middle of the ninety-fourth psalm, not oft-quoted, not famous, not well-known. i mean, i sure as heck hadn’t heard it before.

 

but ever since the day i saw it, it’s been swimming around in my mind. i think that sometimes there are things we say in hopes of them being true…that is, we know them to be true, and are waiting for it to be true. for my part, i feel a whole heck of a lot of things. and in writing blogs in the last few months, that’s more obvious than ever – in a new job and a new relationship and with new roommates, it feels like i never run out of things to respond to. in fact, that’s something i’ve felt myself lamenting in my journals and my conversations – i always have something to react to.

so, the cares of my heart are indeed many.

the cares of my heart include but are not limited to (and in one capacity or another, some good, some bad) – credit card debt, building savings, my job at the bank, my job at the church, my family, my friends, having free time to do things outside like run and hike, having time to spend by myself reading books and journaling, my wonderful girlfriend, and my mentee. i have no shortage of them. i meet the criteria for having my soul consoled and cheered.

i think what i am slowly but surely realizing – and my head is catching up to this faster than my heart is – is the form of those consolations. it is natural and normal to assume that God will cheer and console us by addressing the actual issues we face. i’ll use myself as an example. debt is a concern of mine. not a huge concern, thankfully – but an annoying, irritating, niggling concern – one i’d really like to have off of my plate. it makes saving for the future slower, it makes immediate resources for immediate activities a little short. i think my soul will feel consoled and comforted on the day that i get down to a final zero. i will celebrate, i will go out for dinner, i will have the satisfaction that i have lived a life that i’ve paid for and earned and worked for, and i am very excited for that day.

 

but i am convinced that God doesn’t want me to wait that long to feel at peace.

 

bear with me because this is hard for me to get my head around, and my assumption is that you have something similar to this.

but the Kingdom truth is this: satisfaction in God always, invariably precedes satisfaction in life’s circumstances. it absolutely has to work that way. if Jesus is the Bridegroom and we are the bride, then we have to think of it like this: He is our groom for richer or poorer (as is my circumstance,) in sickness or in health, til death bring us together. in a marriage, you don’t assume your happiness and your joy only comes from whether or not the on-paper of your life is good; you draw your joy and happiness from your spouse, and you use that to get through your circumstances together.

so it is – or so it is meant to be – with God.

churning.

oh, friends – i have so many thoughts to share with you, and no idea how to get them all across to you. so i will take this hour i have and get as many of them to you as i possibly can.

it has been a hot minute – approximately a month and a week – since i last wrote a post. this seems to be a season in which i am not writing much, and i do not know if i have made a post about it or not, because i feel as though i’ve gone to write it a number of times and each time i’ve been interrupted. the stories we pen seem to go in seasons, and if there’s one thing i’m learning, it’s that not everything stays the same forever, some things are seasonal, and some things are annual. what i mean by that is that some chunks of life go as they go and fade out forever. for example – i believe that my time of spending Sunday afternoons watching football with my dad or with my friends from church are over. i haven’t spent an afternoon watching football probably since college. my interests on Sunday afternoons are different, now – i work my job at the church during the school year, and if i’m not working, then i have a girlfriend and a group of friends who enjoy being outdoors and hiking. football would be, for present purposes, seasonal. i also used to organize Sunday evening get-togethers at the local outdoor cafe, where people would socialize, write, and/or read. that’s annual – it happens during a certain time of year every year, but it’s not year-round.

i have a lot of frustration with this concept, to be honest. perhaps my biggest struggle over the last couple of years is the sheer number of things i want to do, and the various factors that compete with it – not least of which being my own mood. i’m a moody doer – something can sound appealing in theory, but when the rubber meets the road, if i’m not up for it, i’m not up for it and i won’t do it. and sometimes the opposite is true, sometimes i’m in the mood for something, and other factors won’t allow for it. perhaps my desire is to (like this morning) take a salubrious bike ride in the early spring sun, but it’s a little cold and my morning is better suited reading and having coffee and processing some thoughts. perhaps my desire is to socialize with people, but it’s a night on which i’m busy or my friends are busy, and it doesn’t pan out. i have this blessed problem in which i like everything i get to do – i enjoy my job at the bank, i enjoy my job at church, i enjoy my friends, i enjoy my girlfriend, i enjoy being outside, i enjoy reading, i enjoy playing video games, i enjoy watching movies, i enjoy cooking and having a clean house, but time seems to work in my head like a zero-sum game: something always has to lose in order for me to win. in other words, i always lose because i’m always skipping out on something. (i know i’ve written about this before.)

the last six or seven months of my life have looked something like this: i feel like i have done more than i’ve ever been doing before – working two nights a week at the church, working anywhere from two to six days a week at the bank, writing content for a group i get to be a part of, going to meetings regarding all of the three (church has retreats and auditions and supervisor calls, the bank has branch dinners, and TND has a monthly Saturday meeting) meeting up with my mentee, spending a few evenings/days a week with my girlfriend, etc – and presently i will stop because regardless of whether i’ve actually published these thoughts before because i have written them so many times either in my blog or in my journal that the ideas begin to feel tired, expired, and more like excuses.

the main reason i bring it up is to comment on how i feel about all of it – i don’t much care for being busy. i don’t much care for feeling like i always have somewhere else to be, something else to do, because i’m a fella who likes to operate in large swaths of time and space. i like to feel like i have a whole chunk of time to concentrate on a task – like writing content or a blog or reading a book – and this is a season of life which hasn’t afforded me many of those. (and, admittedly, i’ve done a splendid job wasting a few of them.)

to be honest, it’s easy for me to feel like i’ve been treading water. i feel like i haven’t been making much progress. i feel sometimes like i work two jobs not so much for the love of both of them but for the necessity of the finances (see: the last post about get-to-have-to, i could use it as a note to self) i feel sometimes like i say yes to things because i don’t want to let people down, not because i genuinely want to do them, and/or i say yes thinking that it’d be a good fit with my skill set and my schedule but it turns out to only work for one, the other, or neither of them. it’s easy for me to feel, in relational terms, like i’m treading water with my current relationship because while – and this is a separate conversation entirely – i am extremely satisfied in it, and it is the most serious relationship i’ve ever been in and ever hope to be in, it is also easy for me to think about all the people i see whose relationships are moving faster, who are meeting parents more quickly and discussing marriage more quickly and buying rings and popping the question more quickly, and in doing so, for me to doubt myself and the validity, valiance, and verity of the progress i am making in my own relationship.

it is easy for me to doubt myself as a twenty-seven year old who is paying off credit card debt instead of making payments on a house or a car, who is eating at home six days and five nights a week instead of taking international trips and adding zeroes to my savings account.

in short, it is easy for me to doubt myself.

here is a thought that i have tripped over, however, for months now (and i just checked to see if i’ve written about this before, and i have, just three posts ago.) :

We judge ourselves for things God doesn’t judge us for.

friends, the Kingdom isn’t a meritocracy, and hallelujah for that. (maybe i need to keep writing it over and over until i get it more regularly.) maybe it’s not just the Kingdom, either – maybe in life in general, we are better served by not comparing ourselves to the people around us, their achievements and accomplishments. perhaps the only person you should compare yourself to is you: are you doing better than you were a week ago? a month ago? a year ago?

i realized this about myself the other day – (and readers, i apologize that my life is so self-focused as to only use myself as a reference point. i am hoping it is a trend that will end soon, as i enjoy writing more outwardly and sharing the stories of others instead of just my own) – this past summer, i was living paycheck-to-paycheck. like, real-deal paycheck-to-paycheck, probably even still-going-further-into-debt-paycheck-to-paycheck. i argued with God on several summer mornings about how and when He’d come through with provision, and He always did and i always lamented that it took getting the paycheck for me to feel at peace. since then, i’ve not exactly felt differently – and probably for good reason which i’ll get to in a second – i’ve still felt like i’m paycheck-to-paycheck. i pay all my bills and i get to eat food and honestly, i still get to do fun things like see movies and enjoy a subscription on Apple music and put gas in my car, and i tend to do that with a checking account balance that hovers around the double digits. but i’ll tell you what else: i have been able to put new oil in my car, been able to change necessary tires and do routine upkeep on it (and i’ve even been able to fix a couple of little cosmetic things which has been a huge blessing) i’ve been able to take a trip with my friends to a fun city and do fun things, i was able to organize a big ole friends outing to see the local baseball team and front the cost with relative comfort, and since the turn of the year, i’ve been doing it all with an IRA that’s only going up, a savings account that’s only going up and a credit card balance that’s only going down. i’m beginning to wonder if that’s actually what you could call paycheck-to-paycheck. i say this definitely not to brag, but to keep myself thankful and grateful that God figures out a way to provide – God sees us – and also to encourage myself that sometimes we’re like ducks…we may be churning our feet under the surface and we may be tired and discouraged, but rest assured that we’re moving forward.

i write about myself a lot lately, friends – largely because i’ve not felt like i have a whole lot to give for others so when i do share it invariably contains an element of self-reference, but i so deeply and desperately hope that you find encouragement in it, that it inspires you to examine your own progress and realize that

 

you’re doing just fine.

get-to/have-to.

there’s a band i listen to from time to time, and their fan base is just a little obsessive. one of the band’s taglines is actually, “yes, this is a cult.” a few years ago, i was watching one of their music videos, and in the middle of the song, it cuts to videos their fans sent in talking about music and how important it is to them – how music saves their life and how they’d be lost without music or how music is the reason they don’t feel alone in life. i’ve never quite understood that obsession with music…but i do have a context in which i love music.

i like listening to music when i’m doing chores or cooking.

i know, i know what you’re thinking – who doesn’t? but really – music has this power to change chores into the most magical time of the day, if i incorporate it into said chores. chores are actually, all of a sudden, something i want to do, something i want to do because i’m not actually even doing chores, i’m listening to music.

i have a new main task.

the chores become the background, they’re no longer all i think about. it’s as though i deceive myself into productivity. cooking a meal, folding laundry, sweeping the floor and scrubbing the toilet are suddenly a set of adventures full of guitar solos, great beats, and high notes and harmonies i try to hit myself. and then next thing i know, my house is also clean.

i don’t have a lot of sympathy for people who don’t like chores. maybe that’s something i need to sort out. or maybe – i tell myself – that’s something they need to sort out. now, i like to think i have a semblance of humility in this blog and don’t pretend to have everything figured out, but i won’t lie: sometimes i don’t understand why people do things they don’t want to do.

(before i proceed, allow me to point out some hypocrisy: a few posts ago, i wrote about how i spend time doing things i don’t really want to do. do what you like with that.)

complaining is among my least favorite things in the world. again, hypocrite here, but seriously – it’s hard for me to sympathize with people who don’t like their job, who don’t like the town they live in, who don’t like something they feel like they have to wear (see: women with high heels) – people who have a chance and a choice to choose joy and refuse to. now, don’t get me wrong, i recognize that situations are delicate and it’s not always as easy as quitting your job or moving your life. but in those instances, i’m an advocate for choosing a little joy. hate your job? okay. why did you get into it in the first place? what drew you there? even if it was the paycheck – then let that drive you if nothing else will. are you good at any or all of it? then shoot – let yourself enjoy how good you are at it. is it in customer service? then think of the people. is it a skill? then think of the process. hate your city? then why are you there? or, again – what is something you like about it? what’s keeping you there? what joy is there to scrape off the bones? i guarantee you there is a modicum there to be found.

but this especially confounds me with the people of God. around this time of year, i am always reminded of something that someone once wrote, and i cannot for the life of me recall who (though surely a simple google search would suffice?) – that we are Easter people living in a Good Friday world. That is, we are people who know the rest of the story – that Jesus resurrected and He sits at the Father’s right hand and intercedes for us, that death isn’t our inheritance, etc and yet we live in this world in which there is pain, suffering, death, disease, frustration, etc. our challenge – our calling – is to live out the reality that we know, not just the one that we see. in the same way – on a micro level – i would submit that we are a get-to people in a have-to world. that we have to do certain things – we have to pay the bills, we have to work, we have to take care of our houses and our cars and our relationships, and that it is difficult at times, but we are called to find the joy in the process.

Consider what the Bible says about Jesus – that He endured the cross for the joy set before Him. i recognize that this is different from what i was saying earlier about chores and music – i do not believe that Jesus smiled as the nails made their way through His wrists – but i recognize that Jesus had a higher motivation for the things that He did, that He didn’t even have to do, but willingly chose for us. He does not lord this great salvation and sacrifice over us, but offers it freely and rejoices when we choose it.

i wonder what kind of people that should transform us into.

cares.

oh, how sweet the sound – i know it saved, but is it changing a wretch like me? 

and oh, my God, how sweet is the sound – i once was blind but now i just look away

 

Jesus, You wrote us through Peter that we can (and should, and i reckon – in reading the text – are commanded to) cast all of our cares on You because You care for us. i think that, as i become older, i learn that there are more things to care about than i ever expected. i care about my schedule and the various commitments i’ve made; i care about whether or not i’m letting people down; i care about relaxing; i care about learning; i care about working; i care about spending time with my friends; i care about being able to use my gifts in ministry; i care about my family; i care about my financial situation; i care about my car; i care about my house; i care how much sleep i get; i care how much free time i get. i care about a lot – and sometimes i can’t tell if that’s just my personality or just the season of life i i am in. 

God, i care about a lot of things. 

i don’t understand what it looks like sometimes to trust You more. i feel like i’m in this constant battle for control – and i always lose but i keep fighting it, because i don’t know how to quit. i don’t know how to not care. i don’t know how to let go of this stuff most of the time. i don’t know how to go-go-go and keep my heart full of energy and compassion when i see the things i’m missing out on, when my schedule seems to throw me to and fro. i don’t know how to rest hard and disengage from the rest of the world when there’s always something to react to. whether it’s a news story or an event in my personal life, or an event in a close friend’s life, or an obligation — this habit of constantly responding is tiring me. 

and, Father – i know that these things are cyclical. i know that for every period of a month and a half when i am uncontrollably busy, i have a few months where it all calms down. i find myself frustrated with that cycle and its inherent imbalance. i find myself frustrated with how my fickle, imperfect, human, emotional heart responds to all the crazy. i find myself frustrated that – even after over a decade of following You – i still turn to old habits and ways of dealing with stress, instead of doing that thing you told me to do – cast it on You

so, Lord – i don’t know what it’ll look like for me to do that, to trust You that much, but i sure as sand want to. i want to give it all over to You – on one hand, because i see the mess that i make when i take matters into my own hands (i tend to get angry, selfish, frustrated and just create a disaster) but on the other hand, i want to give it to You because i trust in the beauty You’ll create out of it – the good that You’ll accomplish in me, through me, and to me.

help me trust. whatever that takes. however much dying that requires. 

pressure.

there are, it seems (as there always seem to be) two types of people in the world: people who apologize for everything and people who apologize for nothing, and/or seem unaware that there’s anything to apologize for. the difference is that the latter group don’t realize their lack of humility until it smacks them in the face, and the former, well – the former feel like everything slaps them in the face.

all joking aside, it does seem like some folks in the world let everything bother them, while some let nothing bother them. i think both approaches are problematic, but i can only write about my experience in the former category.

this post is brought to you by a gauntlet schedule. i would love to tell you that it hasn’t phased me, that it hasn’t put a lot of strain on my body, my mind, my spirit, my relationships, etc – but it has. i’d love to tell you that in my busy brain, one thought doesn’t lead to another, but it always does – and it boils and builds and culminates in a day like today, when i am forced to take a few personal hours from work, come home, and write, because writing has always been the best way for me to process.

here’s the truth: almost every day in the year 2018, my schedule has been made for me, to some extent or another. i went on a family cruise in January, came home and have worked almost every single day since then. when i wasn’t working, i’ve had something to go to – a meeting, volunteering to help someone move, keeping up with other commitments i’ve signed up for – and i haven’t had a lot of time to relax a whole lot. i’ve barely read a book, i’ve barely written a blog. Bob Goff talks about quitting something every Thursday, and i see why now: if you start committing to a lot of things, your schedule will fill up, and it will fill up quicker than you would like it to, and you won’t have time to do the things you really like to do.

then, things start feeling like obligations. the joy gets sucked out of it (at least, if you’re not vigilant) as it becomes something you have to do and not something you like to do. and then you start spinning your wheels, just keeping up with the things you’ve committed to, and then you get to this point, where i admittedly find myself today:

why am i doing what i’m doing if it’s not getting me anywhere? 

i’ve asked myself this because, if you didn’t already know this about me, i’ve had quite a year — i quit my job of three and a half years back in June of 2017, and my life has started down another course. and lately, i’ve felt myself wondering if i know what that course really is. in the last two days especially, i’ve felt at a bit of a crossroads — thankfully, i’m down to two jobs, but when i begin to think about the future (which is a thing i do a lot) i begin to wonder which one will become a career. one is a feasible career, a standard, steady 9-5 type job in customer service, it pays well, and i know it’d take care of me in terms of benefits, compensation, etc. it’d be stressful some days but i’d be helping people and that’d be super. the other is a less feasible but more appealing career. my other job is at a church, and i’ve always wanted to work at a church. i feel called to be in ministry, but have always wondered if i’d be able to do that as a method of paying the bills. to me, that’d be the most incredible thing: to be able to do what i love and what i care deeply about, and for it to be a way for God to provide for my needs.

but that path is the one that feels like it has more road blocks.

it feels like a puzzle right now. it feels full of questions: when? will it be at this church, or at another one? what area of ministry can i get a job in? do i start attending the church and ingratiate myself, or just get hired on cold? where will this be geographically? would i be good enough? would the schedule be appealing? am i doing things now to prepare myself for it? 

this roadblock makes me feel one thing above all else:

pressure.

i’ll tell you what kind of pressure: it’s the you’re-twenty-seven-and-you-don’t-have-a-full-time-job-or-clear-career-path? kind of pressure. it’s the i can’t believe you don’t have health insurance kind of pressure. the how dumb were you to crawl into credit card debt? pressure. the how ready are you for marriage? kind of pressure.

it makes me look at my life and question myself a lot, it makes me doubt myself a lot. it makes me think all the way back to high school at times and ask myself if i should have looked more seriously at colleges instead of taking a gap year. it makes me wonder if i lingered too long at the wrong job. makes me wonder if i’m lingering at the wrong job now. makes me ask how i use my time. tries to make me regret old relationships more than i already do. tries to make me regret in general.

tries to make me lament the story i’m living, and dread the story i’ll live in the future.

it is oh, so easy to compare, especially at age 27, the course of your life. especially when you come in close proximity with someone. (i’ve told my girlfriend i was going to cite her, so thankfully i’m allowed to use this to help make my point.) so, my girlfriend is all kinds of wonderful – she’s smart, wise, clever, kind, big-hearted. her life has followed a fairly logical pattern in that she is doing what she went to school for. she has a full-time job which provides benefits, good pay, a stable position, and a reliable schedule. (oh, and she’s a teacher, so she gets summers off.) i won’t lie to you, friends – it requires a lot of vigilance on my part to shut off thoughts of comparison. actually – i don’t really shut them off, but i don’t let them deter me like they did in the past. a few years ago, i dated a girl who was about the age i am now, and it really tore me to shreds on a daily basis that she worked full-time for a plastics company and i worked part time for a coffee shop. i put myself down a whole lot for that, and find traces of that thinking still seeping into my thoughtlife today.

thankfully for me, Ayla isn’t petty or shallow. thankfully for me, she’s got a big heart and is more concerned with my character than my checkbook. thankfully for me, she loves me a lot like God loves me, which has led me onto this realization:

we very often judge ourselves for things that God isn’t judging us for.

By that, i don’t just mean that we crucify ourselves for things Jesus was crucified for (which we do) but i am referring to how we view ourselves and others in terms of how put-together our lives are (or aren’t.)

it’s a lot like God tells Samuel when Samuel is looking for Israel’s king: man looks at what’s on the outside, but I look at what’s inside. 

reader, i hope that whoever you are and wherever you are, you can use that as salve on your heart when you need it. i hope that, if you’re like me and you feel a little disassembled, you feel full of questions and devoid of direction, you’re able to remember that God doesn’t care if your car is the newest model, or if your bank account has one or two or three or more zeroes, or what neighborhood you live in. (if you’re not like me, i apologize, because i do not feel currently equipped to describe how you may need to use that scriptural salve. i only hope that you do.)

let us not project onto God our own standards for success. let us instead adapt our definition to His: bearing fruit is what matters. being transformed into the image of Jesus is what matters. loving people is what matters.

seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (provisions like food, clothing, shelter) will be added to you.

stretch.

this post is brought to you by (and on) the morning of what was supposed to be a day off – my first true, bona fide day off in weeks – but within two hours of waking up turned into a half work day with an errand or two to run before going in to work.

i’ll be the first to admit, i’m the worst at plans changing last minute. it always seems to hit me like a ton of bricks and my head can process it but my heart – that is, my emotional response – takes a while to follow. logic tells me that this is the chance for a few extra hours at work. that its a few extra bucks to go towards a trip my friends and i have been planning. that it’s a chance to be a team player and get more experience with my job. that it’s only a few hours and i still get the rest of my day to relax. logic continues with the truth that i finally got my registration renewed this morning, and that i still have an hour and a half before i have to go into work.

but my heart, oh, my heart – it is still pulsating like it got punched, because i was looking forward to relaxing, to not getting out of my PJs for a bit, to another cup of coffee, to camping out at a library for a couple of hours. silly, right?

i’ve always been like that with my time – or at least, i have been for a while. i think i’ve blogged about it a few times. changes in plans are hard for me because i never know when i’ll be able to get to what i had been looking forward to. my girlfriend and i have had this come up — i may have been looking forward to whatever we had planned (even if it was routine and simple and something we do often) and then when an alternate set of plans comes up (say, we get invited to something) then i am prone to feeling disappointed that whatever it was i was looking forward to isn’t happening – even if our new plans are good.

it harkens me back to this old idea of living open-handed…of not trying to control all of my circumstances, not making everything go my own way, but being able to roll with the punches and go with the flow. that’s a hard thing to do…especially when we live in a society in which so many things have to fit just right. i can’t tell if it’s a result of getting older, or if it’s cultural from living in another town to the one i lived in when i was growing up — but when i was younger, it seemed like if you couldn’t make plans on one night, you could bet that within two days, you’d have another available time. whether that’s coffee in the morning with a friend or going to see a movie or grabbing supper with someone – you’d be able to coordinate before long. but lately, it seems like everything has to be threaded like a needle into a schedule (i know i have written about this before.)

anyway – i’ve been circling in my head to determine what exactly this has to do with anything and while i hate to admit it, i think this is the part where i just reflect openly. i don’t necessarily have a point to make with this post. (dear reader: at some point in every post, i fight with myself as to whether or not the post exists to make a point, or to be an accessible thing to people, a well from which folks can drink if they need to, if it helps. i suppose this one is the latter.)

my life has been really interesting in the last 9-12 months. it was around this time last year when i felt this deep, deep desire to shake everything up – maybe like a game of boggle: some of the same words may exist, a lot of the same letters would surely show up, just maybe in a different spot or with different letters around them. at first i was considering moving out of state, even out of country. but the thing is, i like where i lived. i just needed a change in routine.

so, i quit my job. i went to Haiti for a week, i came back and was unemployed for a couple of months and spent a lot of time doing a podcast, reading books, riding my bike, writing, watching a ton of movies (and learning a new appreciation for the medium which remains to this day,) listening to podcasts, dogsitting, house-sitting, helping do landscaping, hanging out at the arboretum, playing tennis with a wonderful i now get to date, etc.

in the summer, i breathed. a lot. my life was so, so good. every day was an adventure. i felt free. when i talked to people, i felt a verve and a vigor for life – i was always asking people what was exciting about their life, and telling them what was exciting about mine. i did Good News Tuesday posts to really good effect, and lots of people told me they liked them. my therapist calls this my “summer of respite.” she’s right. it was perfect. i realize now that it was a unique opportunity that not a lot of people get, and i treasure it.

then i started working again. i took not one, but three positions – a cashier at a grocery store, a teller at a bank, and a worship leader for student ministries (i get paid to sing and play guitar and hang out with students. that’s ridiculous and amazing.) my life got pretty busy, and i won’t lie – my life got kind of…

 

bland.

i hate using that word, but it’s kind of true. my summer was like an exotic meal with all kinds of flavors, and with every bite, i noticed something different. my life in the fall became meat-and-potatoes – functional and tasty, but not all that…you know…exciting. i mean, i had plenty to do – within a month, i had two conferences/retreats i played at, i had training for one of my new jobs, and i was playing worship music every Wednesday and most Sundays. i started dating my girlfriend and time with her is absolutely superb.

and my life became routine…mostly, the routine i had hoped for.

but like a lot of things, it turns out that once i got it, it wasn’t exactly what i’d wanted it to be…it didn’t feel how i wanted it to feel. it’s taken me a long time and a couple sessions with my therapist to accept that — to accept that my life won’t be like it was in the summer again.

my life got busy.

three jobs – which isn’t the hardest thing in the world but also isn’t easy – a girlfriend, a mentee, a social group, a few hobbies that are impossible to multi-task (i’m thinking running, reading, writing, and movie-watching here) and before you know it, time just got sucked up, and i felt myself going with it.

i actually did begin to feel a little less like myself.

friends, family, readership – i was so stretched, have been so stretched, still feel a little stretched. it is not easy to fit everything in. to fit everyone in. there are people i go weeks without seeing, and it kills me just a little bit. it’s still not easy.

but, i can tell that things are coming around. Bob Goff tells us to quit something every Thursday. why Thursday? i can’t remember. can’t even remember the context of the quote. it’s just something my friends (who read Bob Goff) and i throw around to each other from time to time, rejoicing when we find something to quit.

so i rejoiced when i stepped down from one of my Sunday morning commitments, so that i could attend church like a normal person for a while and since i usually serve on Sunday nights for students.

i rejoiced when i quit one of my three jobs – the grocery store at which i worked the hardest and felt least supported and easily got paid the least (and liked the least, to be honest.) i rejoiced because now i am available to cover a shift here and there at the bank if needed, and if not needed, then i have a little more time to breathe, to meet folks for coffee, to write and read and enjoy time at home. i rejoice because i may have a day here and there when i’m not running somewhere every two hours.

i’ve rejoiced this weekend, when on Friday and Sunday nights, i got to be in someone’s house with a lot of people that i love a lot in them. i rejoiced last weekend when i got to play music for 682 middle schoolers and help create an atmosphere in which they could encounter God, just like i benefitted from when i was their age.

i’m rejoicing today because, even though i have to work for a couple hours, i still have the option of camping at Panera, biting into a cinnamon roll, and filling that cup of coffee over and over again, and camping out at my house to enjoy a movie.

i’m rejoicing because God always seems to provide, and while quitting a job was a bit of a financial risk, it provides a much-needed emotional release and respite, and allows me to focus more on the jobs that i enjoy the most, and give me a chance to see which one is more likely to be a career.

 

God is good. all of the time. even when He stretches us, like runners, to where it hurts a little but gets us ready to run the race.

ending.

January has come and gone, and this is the only entry i’m getting in this month.

worries me, but only a little.

i haven’t written very much over the last couple of months, and the worry in that for me is that i’m just being a busybody, that i’m just running from one thing to the next and not spending any time doing any good thinking. i haven’t sat at a coffee shop in a while. haven’t hashed out any good thoughts.

i don’t like the whole busybody thing…i’ve been giving a lot of thought to how darn quickly time can fill up, and how easy it is to fill it with…nothing at all. it’s not even like the summer when i was at least watching a lot of movies, reading a lot of books, and hanging out with a lot of people.

but i’m rooting for it to just be seasonal. this month has been vacation and retreat and small groups, and the last few months have been holidays and all kinds of crazy.

i recently quit one of my jobs, so i’m down to being a two-job man (perhaps i’ll write about this more in an entry soon?) and i’m hoping to see that bring about some ease and free up some time. hallelujah.

push. pull. yes. no.

friends, i come before you today to tell you, among many other things, that i believe i have – albeit unintentionally – egregiously misinterpreted one of Jesus’ statements in the gospels.

Jesus tells His followers that whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for Jesus’ sake will find it. (see: Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24.)

it’s one of my favorite verses – i even put it on my facebook bio, piously defining myself by the pursuit of losing my life daily.

after some self-examination, i think i’ve found that i may look at it entirely the wrong way. i think i make too much of a command out of it, instead of a promise. i also think that i – again, unknowingly – read it more as, “you must first become positively miserable and be stretched in every direction to find your life in Christ.”

wrong.

let me give you some context.

at the turn of this year, it seemed like something God was trying to do in my life was to drag me out of my comfort zone, but more specifically, to get me to use my time differently – to more intentionally use my time for others, instead of protecting my personal time. i had a job that was a little demanding in the sense that i could wake up at 6AM to a work text, and then i’d immediately go to work and put out fires, leaving me desperate for some relaxing time at home when i finished up. it kind of made sense that i’d protect my personal time – because i was terrible at balancing work and life. so, i rarely had people over, i rarely poured into friendships, i rarely went out and socialized – i was really focused on keeping hold of my time. i’d give it up when i was ready.

then, one day, i think a switch flipped, and as tends to happen with human beings, i swung to the other side of the spectrum. i felt like i had to say yes to everything and everyone – and i felt bad if i didn’t. i started mentoring a young man, i started making more friends and felt the need to spend time pouring into those friendships. so then i started marking up my calendar with appointments and evening activities, 6am coffee chats and 7pm meals, movie nights, date nights, parties and other social happenings, not to mention three jobs (which don’t even add up to a whole lot of hours, but seems overwhelming when looking at a planner.)

then i started looking at friendship as an obligation. i began looking at mentoring as an obligation. these things i wrote in my calendar were beginning to run my life, even though they began out of a genuine place of goodwill. my life was – well, to be honest, has been – filling up with “have to”s and not “get to”s. i obsessively made a list in the front of my 2018 planner of all of the things i need to get to on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, sitting there in black ink, my little idol. my idol of living a satisfactory, approvable life. my way of insuring that, if anyone doubted that i had priorities, they could look no further. “i write your name down in my planner, you are important to me.” my way of insuring that everyone knew i was living by that phrase – i’m seeking to lose my life, to give up my time, to invest in people.

but, if i can be honest with you (too late!) it’s not made me happy. and what’s worse – i haven’t even really been spending time with a ton of people! for a little while, i’d been meeting with a few guys on a multi-week basis, but that’s sputtered out over the holidays. and that’s kind of the point, actually – because in the back of my head, there’s this voice that says, “this is what you should be doing. you’re not ‘living intentionally.'” i don’t know about you, dear reader, but i live my life by a lot of (too many) shoulds and ought-tos. here are a few of mine:

“i should go to that social function.”

“i ought to make sure i make time for _____ this week.”

“i should visit my parents soon.”

“i should be better with money.”

“i ought to read my bible more.”

“i should do better at remembering who to pray for.”

over and over, time after time, day after day. these voices go back and forth, accusing and condemning and tilling the soil of guilt, uprooting the flowers of grace that are trying to bloom.

you know what just occurred to me upon thinking about that promise from Jesus?

 

who tries to lose something? i mean, seriously. apart from thinking to put a $20 bill in your jacket at the end of winter so you find it next fall, nobody sets up to lose their keys, their wallet, their cell phone, their starbucks gift card, their social security card. no, you try to find it, but you don’t have to try to lose.

i wonder if maybe we start to lose our lives when we pursue things that bring us deep joy. i don’t mean to sound hedonistic — but maybe if we focused more on letting the gospel run its course in our hearts, then we’d discover that, without even realizing, we’d lost our life for Jesus’ sake.

and maybe that means getting rid of some distractions. maybe that means discovering what’s acting as a misnomer for joy. you can laugh at me if you want, but – i’ve found that for me, that’s stuff like playing video games. i start and don’t want to be interrupted. i’ve actually experienced this time and again over the course of my life…sometimes it’s the things i intentionally seek to make me happy or provide respite from a stressful day – video games, movies, time in solitude, etc – that make me more miserable. it’s kind of like buying flowers for your girlfriend  because you’ve been a jerk and now you’re trying and manufacture a good feeling – it doesn’t work if you don’t come at it with a good heart.

i’m not really sure how to land the plane today. my therapist and i talked about this the other day – how life seems dictated by the shoulds and the ought tos and how that’s just a recipe for misery. we often come to resent what we ought to do. we resent the things that push us and pull us and stretch us in directions we don’t want to go (or aren’t ready to go.)

it reminds me of what the Bible says about letting your yes be yes and your no be no. (now, please, exercise discretion here, because sometimes obedience isn’t fun) don’t you think it’s better to say yes to things you actually want to say yes to? don’t you think it’s better to say no to things you don’t actually want to do? to be clear – i believe this criteria is best understood under the premise that the gospel transforms our want-tos – nevertheless, doesn’t that sound like a better life? a life not lived out of obligation and/or fear of what people think if you do/don’t do something? isn’t a friendship best built out of a genuine desire to know a person, instead of meeting a quota for friends?

may we be a people so transformed by the gospel that we say yes to the right things and no to the right things, all in the right heart. God, let us not be pushed and pulled by our calendars, but let us enter each relationship and activity with a full heart and a spirit motivated and animated by Yours. 

 

value.

have you ever found yourself doing a little dance with God about something? i think of it like the “potty dance” – that little series of uncomfortable movements you do to try and make yourself not think about how badly you have to go to the bathroom, to distract your body from its primary urge in that moment.

let me tell you what this post is gonna be: this post, like a lot of others, is gonna be me being honest with you about some stuff. stuff i’m not sure if it’s better to talk about in private with a few trusted friends, or to just put it out there. (though, i am learning a degree of discretion, which is perhaps why i don’t write everything on this blog anymore…) leading up to this post, i’ve tried to write a few things in the last few weeks, but they all seem to amount to this summary: life is hard, there are elements of being alive that just suck, and i’m trying to figure out how to cope with that. i decided, instead of blogging all of those out, to go see a therapist, which i start soon.

but this feels like something to be shared, i reckon. i want to share it mostly because i know how lonely of a place Afraid is. that is, i know how lonely it is when you’re scared, especially when you’re not sure if anyone else would talk about it. so i’m not trying to imply that i’m worse off than you or better than you for talking about it, or anything like that, just aiming to shine a bit of a light in what can be a lonely place.

that “stuff” i mentioned a paragraph ago, i’m gonna name it: today i’m gonna talk about money. lately i’ve felt a little frustrated with the scope of what men talk about when they talk about struggles, because it seems pretty limited — it seems like most guys talk about their issues with porn and lust, or they may talk about how much they’re working and how tired they are. maybe that perception is wrong – maybe i just feel a little caged – but i can tell you here and now that my own thoughtlife comes under much heavier attack from artillery such as “you are irresponsible, unexciting, and self-centered because of how you use what little money you have” than it does from lighter ammunition like, “you’re a creep.” here it is: money is a much bigger struggle for me than pornography is.

in my own experience (and i do wish to stress that it is my experience, because i would hate to make a sweeping generalization on the impact of sin on different people) the roots of pornography and lust do not burrow as deeply into the ground of my heart as do the roots of greed, envy, and comparison. that is, i find that the gospel still has to chip away at the latter roots than it does the former.

i suppose i should address why i brought up the potty dance at the beginning of this entry (at risk of randomly using the word “potty” without reason) — this morning, i dubbed a term i’m calling the “paycheck squirm.” i’m referring to the mental gymnastics i do in the days leading up to a paycheck to convince myself it’s all going to be all right. for instance, one of my strategies is to not do a whole lot with my friends. one reason being because my self-esteem is at a low and i just do not feel fully up to it; another reason being that i can feel easily caught in a catch-22: if my friends suggest going out for a meal, or talk about something we should do together, a group activity that may cost a few extra bucks, then i feel trapped and conflicted — my preference is to do things with my friends, but i also like to do things i can afford. and, of course, that is no fun to admit: “hi friends, who i love dearly and would LOVE to sit around and watch a movie or play games with, i am not going to go do this thing with you, simply because it costs money.” (and, of course, thankfully, my friends are not the type who only ever want to do things that cost money. i think the number one reason i’m glad i’ve given up drinking is because it adds up so quickly, and i no longer feel that to be social, i have to spend $5-$10 every single time i go out.)

i’d like to revisit the first reason i listed above: my self-esteem is at a low. i think, if i’m really honest, that it’s all too easy for me to buy into a worldly perspective on money instead of a gospel perspective. that is, the worldly perspective says that money makes you powerful, money makes you flexible, money makes you interesting. so if that is your perspective on money, it stands to reason that your self-worth will ebb and flow with the balance of your bank account.

it’s that gospel perspective that still needs to sink in: that your (my) value isn’t directly linked to the amount of money you have. that you can be interesting, you can be fun, you can be generous, even when you don’t have a lot of money.

Paul talked about this in Philippians, and i believe that it’s his words – although i have seen, heard, and considered them time and time again, and am only now coming to circumstantially understand them – that give me the most pause, and the most hope and encouragement. He says, in 4:12, that he has learned to be content in all circumstances, how to be abased, and how to abound. i think it’s funny that he uses the word abased, because that’s a pretty nasty word. it’s kinda up there in harsh descriptions, kinda like when Isaiah says that our righteousness is like a filthy menstrual rag, or like when Paul considers everything he’s lost to gain Christ as dung. abased doesn’t just mean poor, it means brought low; it means being dragged through the mud a little bit. makes me wonder if Paul maybe had similar thoughts to what i’ve had. maybe he felt the pressure and the pain of not having a lot of give, when it seemed like someone’s needs could best be addressed through financial means. maybe he, like me, wasn’t always the best at receiving. (maybe he was, i don’t know.) point is, to be abased is not just to be grounded, it’s actually a little worse than that.

i’m encouraged by two specific parts of what Paul says here: first, the implication is that he has been both. that is, provision can be cyclical. at times, you can live with a lot, and at other times, you can live with a little. God, it seems, lets us go in seasons. second, the implication is that contentment can be learned. that you can learn to be okay in both seasons – that you, like Tim Keller encourages us to do, can not let success get to your head, and not let failure go to your heart.

there’s a lot i haven’t said. a lot of emotions felt in the moments when i have to turn things down, when i have to say no, or when i’ve let someone treat me to supper because it’s not smart for me to pay for it. but i’m sharing with you today just in case you can say, “hey, me too.” or if it needs said to you, when you’re in your moments of feeling like you don’t have a lot to offer the world, or to offer yourself, or to offer people you love, then i’ll say it to you: me too.

if that’s you, then my hope is twofold: one, i hope you (and i) can learn to steady our hearts while our resources ebb and flow; and two (and within number one,) i hope you (and i) can learn the value of the non-monetary things we have to offer: our time, our attention, our wisdom, our compassion, etc.

 

dry. (a pointless update.)

dear friends, readers, listeners.

i don’t think it’s half as hard to admit this kind of stuff now as it may have been in the past, but — i’ve felt real dry lately.

you know that feeling?

i guess by dry i mean worn out (when nothing’s really that hard) a little deflated, a little uninspired, a little off the pace. whatever “it” is, you’re just not feeling “it.”

my blog domain expired around my birthday, and i thought about renewing it then, but i haven’t even necessarily had anything to write about.

so, today i’m doing the best thing i know: writing about how there’s nothing to write about.

no, but really, i’ve come to this realization: i misuse my time. you might even say abuse it. in the past few weeks, i have been so unbelievably lazy — i’ve read maybe twenty pages of a book, haven’t written a lick, haven’t really spent a ton of time with other people.

what have i been doing? well, i’ve been running a lot (which is good for my body, specifically my breathing,) i’ve been watching a few movies (which is kinda nice, because i have this big, long list of films i’m trying to see) aaaaaand i’ve been playing obscene amounts of FIFA. like, OBSCENE. i won’t lie — it’s one of those things that borders on worrisome for me, because it’s such an easy go-to.

oh, and i’ve got the ball rolling to start seeing a counselor. i’ve always heard it’s probably good to see one whether you “need” it or not – and i’m realizing that it would very likely do me a lot of good. main reason being that there’s a whole heck of a lot that’s different in my life than was the case 365 days ago…

Dec. 10, 2016: had a dog.

Dec 10, 2017: rehomed the dog in December.

Dec 10, 2016: worked at A Cup of Common Wealth

Dec 10, 2017: work at Chase bank, Lucky’s Market, and Southland Christian Church.

Dec 10, 2016: had few close friends to hang out with consistently.

Dec 10, 2017: have a group of 3-5 guys i try to meet with regularly, and a mentee with whom i agreed to spend an hour every week.

Dec 10, 2016: single.

Dec 10, 2017: in a relationship.

Dec 10, 2016: lived in one house

Dec 10, 2017: live in another (can’t really give addresses, because internet.)

So – my life is good. Really, i’m very happy. but a lot has changed, and i feel like i’ve blogged about this a hundred times, and my phrase had always been something to the effect of, “more has changed in the last year (or two, or three, or four, or five, or now six) than did in the first 21.) and that’s still true. and i guess it’s tough when you’re the type who likes consistency, but i reckon that’s not really what your mid-to-late twenties are for, is it?