filling out my skin.

My dad does something that makes me think a lot – sometimes it drives me a little crazy, if I’m honest, but I know he doesn’t mean it – he’ll say stuff like, “I remember when you were younger and ________.”

and you listened to this radio station.
and you would go to this church function.
and you had these friends.
and you watched these movies.
and you would ask me to _____.

The reason it drives me crazy is because in my own head, I attach some sentence of guilt to it – that I’m supposed to be the boy my dad remembers and sometimes I’m nowhere near that. In some instances, I’m very glad I’m far from those memories, but in others, sometimes I feel a certain sense of doubt that I ever should detach from those memories. Should I distance myself from, for example, watching football all afternoon after church when I was a teenager? Should I distance myself from saying silly phrases that my dad remembers? Should I distance myself from certain people that I used to be close to, but I’m not anymore?

My dad doesn’t mean anything by it – he’s just being dad – but I, being a chronic overthinker, let my mind go places with things.

The weirdest sensation about all of it is filling like I have finally begin to fill out my skin, when all the while I was younger, I hadn’t even come close to starting.

By fill out my skin, I mean I’ve started to realize what I find important, what speaks to my heart, what I enjoy doing, etc. So it’s weird when I’m confronted with memories of who I was then, and to see the residue that’s still around, and the stuff I tried to brush under the rug that finds itself coming back up. For example, when I was done with my last play in high school, I told my mom that being an actor was a “poser phase.” That I wanted to distance myself from that time. No good reason why – I think mostly, I was sad that my acting days were over and I was too afraid to pursue it in college, especially when I didn’t know if I was going to college or not yet.

Hell, you could say that in general, I got a really late start on this whole, “what do you want to do with your life?” thing. I recently was chatting with my friend (she’s a veterinarian) and she told me she wanted to do that since she was a second-grader. I was jealous. I’ve never had that one thing I wanted to do. But, now that I’ve been alive for 25 years, I realize there are things I always have done. Like acting – I did that from 6th grade until I graduated from high school, at least a little here and there. Shoot, we even put on little circus shows for our parents in the back yard when I was a kid. I always played music – I started back in 9th grade or so, and I was in a band, and I was on the worship team, and I played at open mics from time to time, and I still dream of singing in a band. I always enjoyed when I worked at starbucks and people would watch me in the flow of making drinks and say, “that’s quite a show!” – the common theme is that I like to entertain. To a certain extent, even this blog is a form of entertainment – I love to produce creative content that people resonate with.

My Instagram is a show. I like to take aesthetically pleasing photos and write something meaningful in the caption.

It’s weird – I’m just now seeing how certain things have always been present: I enjoy writing, creating, informing, entertaining, and thinking. I always do it with a hint of naivete, because I have never quite identified as one of those or another, but it’s true that I have always been involved in them.

So I find myself in a process – a process of truly embracing all aspects of my story and experience: the parts that I have to throw into the proverbial trash with a sigh, accepting that they are valuable in their own way, but not something I need or want anymore; and the parts that I put away in a box, and have gotten out of the box with an excited gasp, realizing how much I miss it and how glad I am to find it again. It’s a bit like moving, actually.

Music. Writing. Poetry. Acting. Showmanship. It’s all part of my creative history, and I’m proud to identify as a singer, writer, poet, actor, and entertainer. And blogger.

25 Years, 7 thoughts, part 7: [LOVE GOD.]

I used to be really turned off by the phrase, “the bride of Christ,” which people would use to describe the church. Maybe turned off isn’t the right way of saying it – I guess maybe just neutral. Naïve. It didn’t spark any sense of wonder, didn’t make me feel beautiful, and I couldn’t get my head past this idea that a bride was a bride just on her wedding day – after that, she’s a wife. But I guess maybe once a bride, always a bride?

If I look at that term in the latter fashion, it makes a lot of sense. One of Your really smart kids once said in a book that his wife had been married to five different men in her life – all of them were him. The implication, of course, is that people change within relationships. Our jobs change us, kids change us, moving changes us, arguing changes us, tragedy changes us, friendships change us, etc…

So lately I’ve been pondering this concept of change happening within a relationship, but You being the one who’s constant. That’s not possible in a human relationship, so it’s kinda weird, and in one sense, it’s so hard to believe that You are constant, but in another, since I’ve seen Your constancy in action in the past little while, I believe it so much more now.
I don’t find myself feeling so condemned when I miss church. Or when I slip up and revert to pornography to feel better, or gossiping about the people and things that annoy me, or when I fail to take care of my neighbor. No, I don’t feel condemnation – I just feel this sense of “you-know-better”ness. It’s as though You gave (and continue to give) me permission to do absolutely anything I want – and if it’s harmful, I’m hurting myself, and eventually, from a perspective of spiritual evolution, I’ll stop. I don’t even feel afraid of too much anymore – I’m not afraid of homeless people like I used to be, I’m not afraid of gay people like I used to be, I’m not scared of bars, I’m not scared of saying cuss words, I’m not afraid of missing church – and I can’t believe that’s because I’ve become callous, or regressed as a person, or given up my values. I don’t think that’s true at all.

Where was I going with all of that? Oh, yeah – You just…give us freedom. You give us unconditional love that is truly unfathomable. I’ve thought that I’ve loved unconditionally, and I’ve thought I’ve been loved unconditionally, but it turns out human love isn’t possibly perfect. So, I find it funny to think I used to listen to songs that said things like, “forever I love You,” or, “I love You endlessly” because really, I mean – at least in our terms – I don’t! And I don’t simply because I can’t! But then again, if our human concept of love doesn’t match the magnitude of Yours, then maybe neither does our human concept of grace. I guess Your version of grace is so far-reaching that it takes our weak little human love and makes it enough to fulfill Your greatest commandment to love You with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Could it be that the object of affection fulfills the affection, not the giver – at least in Your case?

Because I know I don’t love You perfectly. I won’t even claim that. I struggle to even say, “I love God,” because if you subscribe to a philosophy of love in which love implies choice, then I definitely don’t love You quite often – even if I want to. My love and faithfulness to You has proven to be as weak if not weaker than any girlfriend I’ve had, my family, or my friends.

And yet, Your constancy carries me and gives me freedom to fail, and learn from those mistakes. You know how I have this tendency to think that my worth to a girl (romantically) lies in the gestures I can make – the flowers, letters, chocolates, sentimental instagram posts, etc? Well, I think I did that with You. But it looked more like sermons, bible studies, big, long spiritual blogs, children’s church, playing guitar on the worship team – I presumed that that kept me on team Jesus. That You loved me simply because of all of the stuff I did. And I don’t in any way think You didn’t like that I did that, but I remember You had to strip it away.

I remember hearing You say, “you’re expendable, Jeff, and I’m going to show you how expendable you are.”

Sure enough.

It’s been over a year since I last preached a sermon.
Almost a year since I played a guitar on a stage.
Haven’t led a Bible study in a long time.
Or led worship.
Or taught kids about You.
I’ve blogged, sure – but often times, those blogs have been for me, and in an attempt to grasp on to some shred of grace when I needed it.

Because I needed it bad this year.

I needed it bad when I went way too far with a girl who wasn’t my wife.
I needed it bad when I started cursing the church and complaining about it.
I needed it bad that night I was drunk.
I needed it bad when I held a grudge against my old roommate who owed me money.
I needed it bad when I lied to the guy who asked for food and I told him I didn’t have any money.
I needed it bad when I muttered under my breath about my exasperating co-worker.
I needed it bad when I skipped church because I just didn’t feel like it.
I needed it when my ego outweighed my compassion and my empathy (which time, right?)

Gosh, I needed it bad.

But here’s what’s kinda cool: I look at those things and I don’t “regret” them per se – I definitely won’t do some of them again and I strive not to do others – but in the past, I would have hated myself a lot more. I would have lingered on my mistakes uselessly – I definitely wouldn’t learn from them.

But You just love.

And I think I see now how You don’t need me. I think You’ve told me to put down all of my presuppositions of what You look like and act like and everything You want from me and just say, “Come eat at the table. Someone else will set the table, someone else will bake the bread and bring the wine, just come to the table.”

And at the table, I see not a bunch of needy people, but just people. Guests. Your guests. And Your guests may be republican or they may be democrat, they might be gay, they may be alcoholic, they may have had sex outside of marriage, they may use curse words, they may be orphans, they may be bastards, they may be famous, they may be homeless, but they’re Your guests all the same and I find myself complaining a lot less about who You invited since I just get to sit and dine too.

It’s almost as though that’s the best way I can love You – just sit at the table. Because all my other efforts seem futile, either that or I’m just bound to fail in some capacity, so I guess the best way I can love You is to love Your guests, right?

Is that it? Is that the secret? Time and time again, You bring me back to the book of Micah where it says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to live justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (that’s 6:8, for the readers.)

To live justly – to live within my means and to not gorge myself while my neighbor starves.

To love mercy – to forgive and to love forgiveness, to believe in giving second chances.

Walk humbly with your God – know who you are, know what you’re capable of, own and admit your mistakes, repent.

Easy enough, except where it’s not. Just…simpler than I thought.

I guess where I’m going, Lord, is that You’re positively incredible. That while some people think You’re just a construct that exists within the confined of human consciousness, I know that can’t be true. I don’t really trust my own ability to change, to be kinder to others, and kinder to myself. I don’t trust my own ability to die to my ego.

And, I ran away from it all long enough to know that it’s not all in my head. Oh, You know this already, but I spent months when the thought of opening the Bible made me want to vomit because I was either too scared that it’d “read my mail,” or too clueless with where to start. I argued with You for months about what I was and wasn’t allowed to do. I cried my eyes out because I couldn’t hear You, knowing I’d shut the door in Your face. I felt sick and short of breath feeling like I ran my faith into the ground.

But just like You said when You were incarnate…if you knock, the door will be opened (even if I slammed it.)

So I knocked in the form of walking into an old church, and You opened the door and let me in, where You invited me to the table through 50-70 older folks singing the old hymn, “come to the table of grace.”

Come to the table.
leave your sin. leave your preconceived notions of what God wants. leave your biases. leave your guitar and your big fancy bible study and all your books about ministry and all your big programs.

God, I love You. I’m not about to pretend that I do it well, or that I know how to measure that. But I hear You, and I see You in a place and a space where I never thought I would again, and I’m so glad I do. I’m so glad You don’t shut Yourself off from me. I think that loving You looks like honoring Your word, loving Your church, and loving my neighbor. I’ll do my best to do that, and You just tell me when You want more from me.

25 Years, 7 thoughts, part 6: [TELL THE STORY.]

I moved to Lexington, Kentucky 19 months ago. It shouldn’t have been a big deal – I was still close to my family, had a lot to do, had a job, girlfriend, etc.

But, I must admit that for the first year, I hated living in Lexington.

I had a hard time feeling settled, had clashes with one of my roommates, never felt like I found my “spots,” felt busy, felt uncreative, felt stretched. Because, after all, I was stretching my life between Lexington and Richmond and Berea – a feat which I couldn’t uphold for long.
I moved when the University of Kentucky lost in the national championship game; when a breakup was eminent; when work was in transition.
I moved to a city where daily, a homeless person may need something from you, or otherwise you face risk of being scammed. To a city where I had my tips stolen right in front of me by a guy coming in and taking our tips directly from the jar. I had to face my own idea of what compassion really looked like, because I didn’t like “those types of people” for a while.

Lexington felt different, it felt like I was swimming in someone else’s pond.

But then, I started taking walks.

I realized that my apartment is on the cusp of downtown – and the majority of the people I talk to every day live and work just a few blocks away – perhaps I could understand the city more if I’d go out and explore it.

So one day, I armed myself with podcasts, and set out my front door.

See – my theory is pretty simple in its naivety: normally, I pass my surroundings at at least 35 miles per hour. Perhaps if I took it at 4 miles per hour instead, I’d have a different appreciation.

Sure enough, I fell in love with the city real fast that way. I discovered that I love Mill St – from where it starts just off Bolivar all the way to where it ends at Gratz Park, just off of Third Street, about seven blocks away. I realized that the houses on Mill remind me a lot of Berea. I realized that the First Presbyterian Church around Second Street is a joy to behold. I always check the Little Library out in front of it for a new book.
And I love Gratz Park, which sits behind the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, a place which basically embodies the idea that I can know a place nominally but have no idea where it is, what it’s really for, or who works there until I slow down. I spent many an afternoon at Carnegie when I had a friend work there, and I’d bring afternoon coffees and we’d sit and have a chat.

The walk became very sacred, because it meant I had a block of time, it usually meant I was getting out of my head, and it forced me to come to terms with and accept where I lived.

Last night, as I was trying to work on this very entry, I took a break and went for a walk. I was going to beeline straight to Gratz park, but that’s when I realized that for several reasons, I couldn’t do that. First of all, I wasn’t inspired. I took a walk so that I could get into a writing space mentally, and after a few blocks, I realized that I had quite a ways to go. My breaths were short, my mind was everywhere, and I couldn’t even think of how to start this. So I walked.

Usual route.

Past Tolly-ho, the 24-hour diner at Bolivar and Broadway, where I’ve never eaten but everyone calls it “drunk people food.”

Past the HVAC installation headquarters. Onto Mill and past the first set of townhouses, where I always dream of living. But then, I decide to turn right, down Cedar St. Snap a photo of a beautiful lamp-post hidden behind a few branches. Take Upper past the hair salon and barber shop where my brother got me a steam shave for Christmas. Past the tattoo shop where I’ve gotten three tattoos and I’m getting one more today (more on that later,) past chipotle where I’ve eaten 100 times. Past the bike shop where I bought a lock when I first moved here and borrowed a bike for a time. Then, back onto Mill via Maxwell and continue on down the line. Past Sabio, where a friend works. Fall in love with the trees wrapped in Christmas lights. Ehh, what the hell, take a right down Vine and we’ll cross main by the library, because this walk still isn’t long enough. And I want to see more trees. Walk past Sunrise Bakery, where the shop gets their bread for sandwiches. Past the old Skullers sign, which reminds me of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg from The Great Gatsby – a favorite novel of mine.
Back down Mill. Past Goodfella’s, where my friend Bo and I ate before I even moved up here. Past the art center, where my friend Meredith and I did the gallery hop. Past the gorgeous church (is there a book in the little library today?) then we stop in the park. Reminisce about the play that the kids put on at Camp Carnegie. Remember reading Dracula on a bench by the fountain. Remember laying down on the bench, looking at the sky, and stargazing on a warm summer night, when I heard God’s voice for the first time in what felt like forever. Tonight, that tree is stripped of its leaves and the wind isn’t blowing it around, but it’s still there. Then back down Mill and hook a right onto main, around to Triangle Park, where I have so many memories I can’t even start. All the while, my creativity still stifled.

“What does this all have to do with story?”

Everything.

I spit in the direction of the fountain, which they turned on again for a little while longer before it gets too cold – and it falls into the cracks and is washed away, an inconsequential little mass of saliva. And that’s when I realize.

I love the walk because now, it stirs up memories. And memories are signs of a story that exists to be told. How each landmark makes me think of something: the gift, the treat to myself, the meal with a friend, the fight, the breakup, the time my roommate came into the living room effectively naked, the summer, the spring, the dream, the book, the play, the graduation, the basketball game, the morning cup of coffee, the journal session, the panic, the comfort, the tension, the release. The laughs, the tears, the frustrations, the shortness of breath, the confusion, the clarity, the sentiment, the resentment.

I love the walk because it tells me I’ve written a story. And I’ve only just begun.

I have three tattoos on my arms, and I’m getting part one of the fourth later on today. Whenever I see someone with tattoos, I instantly feel a sense of camaraderie – we’re both brave and stupid enough to go through pain to get a really cool image or phrase on our bodies. I’ve found that I love [most] people with tattoos for a number of reasons, including

1. They have a story
2. They’re willing to tell that story
3. They’ll literally go through pain to tell the story
4. Even if it’s not their story, they’re thoughtful enough to have an image or a phrase that means something to them.

I know there are exceptions, but by and large, I find this to be true.

And this is the grand reality I find myself living in: we are all in a story. Across time, space, and all of human history, there’s a story being written, and it’s going to include you whether you like it or not. So will you own it? Will you embrace it? Will you confront the joys, pains, highs, and lows of your own story? Will you own the choices you’ve made, some of them accomplishments, others mistakes (which, I suppose, is a form of accomplishment,) and own them accordingly?

This is perhaps the greatest lesson of my life in the last few years. Be present. Be mindful of the story. Be mindful of other people on a different journey, but within the same confines of time and space. Tell it. Tell it. hold high your mistakes, lest you repeat them, and lest you fail to realize they’re mistakes. And be proud of your accomplishments, but hold them with an open hand, lest you define yourself and your story by them. Hold the story high.

As for me, I’ll tell you my story. I have no qualms with being open. I’ll tell you about the summer camp, the embarrassing crushes in high school, the addictions, the night I got way too drunk(not related,) the seminar that led to a career dead-end, the ambition, the laziness, the breakup, the summer, the fall, the time I embarrassed myself in front of my boss (although you’ll have to specify which time,) the time when a tweet led to me being asked to move along from my job, leaving the church (although you, dear reader, probably know that already.)

What about you?

Tell the story. Tell YOUR story. Even if you have to start by telling it to yourself. It’s grand. It’s glorious. And it matters. Don’t ever think it doesn’t.

25 years, 7 thoughts, part 5: [PERSPECTIVE.]

I hate silver linings.

I’m just going to be really honest. I hate when people start a sentence with, “well, at least…” I immediately shut down. No, at least nothing. Stop that. [this is actually similar to how I started an entry back in September, its called ‘grasping heaven’ if you’d like to read it.]

I’m a big fan of when people let things suck or let them be really good. If you had a bad day, have a bad day. Own it, and own how you feel about it. I’m a big fan of letting people have space to feel what they’re feeling. If you miss your significant other when they leave town, then miss them! Try to keep yourself occupied, but by all means, miss them!

So, needless to say, I sorta hate it when bad things happen and people try to pull people out of it by saying, “at least you can _____” or “well now you’re ____” or “maybe you can ____.” In my humble opinion, sometimes the best form of counseling is to shut up and listen.

And yet, I’ve found it to be true that:


if we’re too mindful of the past, we’re doomed to live in it

if we aren’t mindful of the past, we’re doomed to repeat it

if we aren’t mindful of the future, we’ll never plan for it

if we are too mindful of the future, we’ll never be present.

There’s some balance (there always is, isn’t there?) in being future-minded and learning from the past, all the while being present. And I, by no means, have found that proper balance. I still find myself beating myself up and mourning things like past breakups; I find myself inadequately learned from the mistakes I’ve made in the past; I fear and doubt because I haven’t planned for the future the way that other people I know have; and I shout myself down when I find myself dreaming too much. Surely there’s a way to process pain without regret and to process plans without unrealistic expectations.

Perhaps the most efficient way to look at it is this:

Learn from and forgive mistakes, failures and pain

Live presently, in the corner and space of the big story that’s being written, and dream enough to have an idea of what you’d like on the next page.

And then, let’s go write it. [but more on that tomorrow.]

25 years, 7 thoughts, part 4: [FRIENDSHIP.]

I was originally slated to write this entry on the topic of stewardship, but I didn’t find my creative juices to be flowing, and decided therefore to write about something else that’s on the forefront of my mind: friendship.

I am quite a sentimental person – so when something like a birthday rolls around, I am inclined to be even moreso than usual. So lately, I’ve been thinking about the people I call my best friends and what tends to make them my best friends.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a slightly histrionic streak – I have a tendency to get pretty emotional about insignificant things, I get mad, upset, frustrated, or worried and in about 95% of cases, I am not at all justified. This causes me to lash out at my friends from time to time and get really emotional with the people who mean the most to me (it’s a terribly irony, really.) I have a bit of a fear of being left behind or given up on by my closest friends.

Here’s a basic formula for the success of a friendship: if kindness, patience, and grace runs out right at the point of insecurity and fear, that friendship is doomed for failure. If the friendship leaves no space for a little worry, a little doubt, and a little fear, then there is no use in having it be a close friendship. All of my best friends have seen me be extremely emotional, whether that’s towards them or just with them around; and I have seen my best friends be extremely emotional. We get frustrated with each other. We disagree and miscommunicate.

But I also have the best conversations with my best friends – about God, about music, art, politics, work, community, friendship, food, what have you – it’s a two-sided coin. And, I think, it’s those good conversations that let us go through the bad ones. It is over the course of those conversations when I realize the true heart and intention of my friend, and I realize that they’re too good of a person to ever give up on or to walk away from the friendship.

Because, I conclude, a person is greater than the sum of their bad moments (easy for me to say…) and should be treated as such. The best friends are the friends that will value the friendship and the individual over their own ego, and act in complete and utter honesty and transparency. If you’re frustrated, there’s space to be frustrated. If you’re ponderous, there’s space to be ponderous. Disagreeing, there’s room to disagree. Etc. Because friendships are more valuable than egos, and that should be lived out.

25 years, 7 thoughts, part 3: [KINDNESS.]

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
[Mark 12:30-31]

This past year, it finally clicked in my head who my neighbor is. After 24 years of living and 9 years of being a Christian, I finally understood what Jesus meant.

I never really encountered homeless people until I started living in Lexington. Now, they’re everywhere. They’re at the park across the street from where I work, they’re in Jimmy Johns around the corner, they’re rummaging the trash cans on the street where I live, they’re walking from the shelter on one side of town all the way to the shopping center on the opposite side of town.

And until recently, I had all the same schema about homeless people: they’re demanding, annoying, act entitled, out to get you, they’re going to beg you until they get what they want…

And some of them are, but some of them aren’t. Most of them aren’t. There’s the guy (never slowed him down to ask his name) who walks past the coffee shop every morning at 7:15 AM, bag in hand, head up, never stopping to ask for anything. He moves fast and with purpose – so much so that until a few months ago, I had no idea he was homeless. There’s Donna and Jeff who come in and talk to us at the shop and look for a pay-it-forward but don’t complain if there’s not one there, and happily get water if nothing else. There’s the fellow in my area who looks through trash cans for a little food, and when you pass him, he doesn’t ask for anything from you – and I’m still hoping to stop him one day and have a hot meal ready that I can share with him.

See, one day, I learned the lesson of “love your neighbor” on the most practical level…I was coming out of Chipotle where I had just gorged myself on a fantastic burrito, and there were these two gentlemen sitting outside on the step who asked if I had a little money so they could eat.

A number of thoughts went through my head about who they were, how legitimate they were, if they were gonna use the money for food or for drugs, but then I heard a voice – the Holy Spirit, I opine – saying, “that’s not your job. be kind. you just ate – there’s enough in your pockets for your neighbor to eat, too.”

How could I lie? The money I’d just spent on a burrito was not the last bit of money I had to my name – so yes, my neighbor could eat.

It all boiled down to this, for me: how do I deserve to eat because I have money, but my neighbor doesn’t deserve to eat because he doesn’t? Is money inherently linked to worthiness? Is worthiness based on opportunity? No.

Human beings need to eat. If I have the means to feed another human being who needs it, and I choose not to, I’m not doing my job as a human being.

And with that, the concept of loving my neighbor has become a lot more simple. It has a lot less to do with gospel-sharing (at least in word) and any sort of ideological initiative, and a lot more to do with doing what I can to make sure people are eating, drinking, and getting the help they need (ie. the gospel in deed.) Kindness looks like a hamburger, or a Gatorade on a hot summer day, or like a hot chocolate on a cold winter’s night. It looks like a hat, or a pair of gloves, or a coat, or a glass of water. Kindness should be accompanied with no panache or glamour or fanfare, but with a smile and a quiet resilience to willingly set right a very small corner of the world which injustice has distorted.

That is one ‘extreme,’ of sorts – the other side of the coin is simply: how do I love my neighbor who doesn’t have those kinds of needs? How do I love my co-working neighbor, my boss neighbor, my server neighbor, my church-going neighbor, my atheist neighbor, etc. and quite simply, it boils down to this (and I hope I can make this sensibly profound) – treat them like human beings. Do what you can to remove any arbitrary markers created by our own schema and human consciousness and celebrate human beings accordingly. Be as excited to see the guy who buses tables for a living as you are to see the mayor of your city – they’re both hard-working human beings. Be as willing to share a drink with someone whose worldview differs from your own as you are to share one with your like-minded cohort. Your neighbor is quite often unlike you.

This is the sort of kindness, I believe, that the world needs. In our pacy world, I think we’d do well to revisit what it is to share a meal, share a drink, have a conversation, etc. Do what seems right, do what seems good, and remember this:

If I give all I have to the poor…but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is not self-seeking…love does not boast.
[1 Corinthians 13, fragmented for my own purposes and for emphasis.]

25 years, 7 thoughts, part 2: [DO WHAT YOU LOVE.]

A fateful night in June this year, a little light flickered on in a little corner of my heart that hasn’t been illuminated in years. I walked into the Singletary Center for the Arts to watch It’s a Grand Night for Singing. I couldn’t last for more than a few seconds at any given time during the show without smiling, and it occurred to me how absurd music really is – it’s a pattern and series of vibrations that people organize into an arrangement and it awakens emotions that are positively inexplicable. I can’t put a finger on exactly how I feel when I listen to music – sometimes it’s a good feeling, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes I dance, sometimes I weep. Sometimes I think hard, sometimes I just feel. Sometimes I’m not even in the mood for music, other times I can’t go for a second without it.

I love music.

But the music was only half of what made that night special – I also was reminded of what it’s like to be an actor (and, it sorta made my own personality make sense.) In the most genuine way, it’s really fun to be someone else. When I was in 6th grade, I was Winthrop from The Music Man. In 10th (I think…) I was Prospero in Shakespeare’s the Tempest. In 12th grade, I was the Wolf and Cinderella’s Prince in Sondheim’s Into the Woods (a career high, I must admit.) It’s fun to learn your lines. It’s fun to try everything a different way in the privacy of your own home or during rehearsal.

“Inflect that word a little differently.”

“Step this way instead of that way.”

“Do you think it’d be a good idea if we switched parts of our costumes for effect?”

It’s so much fun. And I forgot how fun it was until recently. And it explains why I have this tendency to notice things about people that they don’t even notice. It explains how I end up singing like Matty (or trying) when I listen to The 1975. Or how I got to the point where I imitate my boss’s laugh incessantly. Or how I pointed out to my friend Meredith that she “mmmmm”s a lot.
Little quirks. Those are the things actors notice.

I love acting.

I could wax lyrical about a bunch of things I like doing – blogging, reading, singing, taking walks, playing soccer, etc.

The point is, every soul – at least I believe – has a passion. Some sort of raison d’etre. Something that makes it pop up, perk up, and get alive. Something that fuels it, that passes the time, but doesn’t kill the time – it fills the time.

Finding that is vital. And it’s important to acknowledge that just because you find it, it doesn’t mean that all of life becomes easy or that you even carry that high on to your other endeavors – that’s unrealistic. It’s also important not to shun or despise other things in life because they’re not as special as your “thing,” whatever it is. If you’re a chef or a server for a living, don’t hate your job because you’re not at home reading. If you’re a professional writer, don’t detest it because you’re not out running or hiking. Let everything play off of each other. Take the highs and the lows – the good with the bad. It’s okay for everything to not be perfect and special and high. It’s just realistic that way. It makes the highs higher and the lows more palatable.

Find what you love and do it – to whatever degree you find it necessary – and do it as long as you want and as much as you want, enjoy and soak up this life so long as you aren’t harming yourself or others in the process.

25 years, 7 thoughts, part 1: [BEAUTY.]

Hello, dear friends!
Yesterday morning, I was in my apartment and was suddenly flooded with a number of thoughts about life – about the things I enjoy, about the purpose I serve, about what ways I can be a receiver of life, and what ways I can be a giver of it. I jotted down 7 thoughts, and decided to do a blog series on them leading up to my 25th birthday.

In a lot of ways, I’m terribly self-critical, so I undoubtedly had to fight thoughts such as, “have you seriously not learned this by now?” And in a sense, I have – I grasp it mentally. In other senses, I haven’t. There’s a constant battle between my inner thinker and my inner feeler – I am very much both – and I can let logic inform some of my actions, but often times I let emotion inform them. In some ways, my emotions even inform my logic, so it’s all one hot mess of logic and emotion and thought and information.

So I’ve decided – for the sake of my own process and the accountability of others – to share these publically.

Here’s the first of seven thoughts, and I will hopefully write one every day leading up to next Wednesday.

Find what is beautiful, celebrate it.

You could replace the word “beautiful” with the word “excellent,” either way. But essentially, this breaks down into two things.

1. The pursuit of beauty. Be on the look out for it at all times – because it is everywhere. It is in the cup of coffee you brew in the morning. It is in the labor of the numerous journalists who compiled the newspaper you grab on your doorstep. It is in the reliability of your car that gets you to work. It’s in the combination and coordination of music that floods your ears during the commute. It’s in the architecture of the building, the leaves on the trees, the bright colors of the green go-light, and the stillness and the slowness of the red stop-light. It’s in the play you go to in the evening, the steak you eat for dinner, the shot of bourbon you drink after, the warmth of your bed at night. It’s everywhere. So, as Rachel Held Evans kindly reminded me in her latest book, pay attention.

2. The celebration of beauty. If the first component is an inward reminder, the second is an outward expression. Compliment beauty. I don’t just mean people and their looks – although that is a kind thing to do (if you do it right and don’t step on too many toes in the process) – I mean compliment the process. Tip your cap (or maybe just tip) to the barista who made the coffee (I say this as a coffee consumer, not as a coffee laborer.) Say a silent “thank you” for the excellent glass of wine. Say a prayer and tell God how great the sky looks. Applaud the actor, the musician. When someone does good work – acknowledge it. Feedback is the fuel of the human creative consciousness.

So keep your head up and your eyes open – find what you love to see (more on that in the next entry) and find what you don’t love to see…be on the constant lookout for beauty in life. Music, art, nature, poetry, literature, work, films, plays, exercise, writing, planning, photography, dance, whatever that is for you – find the beautiful things in life, and celebrate them.

the grace of discipleship.

Americans hate participation trophies.

There’s all sorts of rhetoric about how the culture (for lack of a better term) of participation is detrimental to our children and their future – how if you’re taught that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you’re bound to lose later because you fail to give your best effort, or maybe your best just isn’t that good, and you’re in for a world of disappointment when you get into a job where your performance does indeed call for excellence and you don’t just get credit for trying.

I think there’s a commercial somewhere in which a dad takes his son’s participation trophy, scratches out the word “participant” and replaces it with “champion.” Kinda warm, right?

There’s an episode of one of my favorite television shows in which a husband coaches a kids basketball team and swears he’ll never accept the participation trophy – he just wants to win. In the end, he ends up taking the trophy because his wife gives it to him and it means a lot, and he becomes less concerned with winning, etc.

On some level, there is a resistance in our human consciousness to the idea of participation being enough. And I have a lot of that resistance. I wouldn’t wear my softball shirt from 2012 if it said “Co-ed Softball Participants” instead of “Co-ed Softball Champions.

But I find that ironic, given how many times I fail in other avenues. I’m glad I still get credit for trying at my job – even though I’m definitely not as excellent as I should be: I don’t give the best service, I don’t adequately control costs, I’m not thorough like I should be, I cut corners here and there, I don’t respond professionally or on-time to every email…but I’m still on board. And people are still, to some degree, happy with me. There’s not pressure on me and my job, which is great.

I’m glad I still get to be my parents’ son, even though I’m sure I’m a lousy one – I hardly come visit, I don’t really call or keep them in the loop on some things, I forget to pay for the dog food my dog (which they’re keeping for me) eats…but I’m still their son.

I’m glad I still get to be a tenant at my apartment even though I frequently pay rent a few days late.

I’m glad I still get to be an American even though I regularly break laws (mostly speeding, probably,) I don’t take half of my civic responsibilities seriously, and I’m critical of politicians and the political system.

There’s an irony about it, isn’t there?

There’s an irony about being imperfect. Because as human beings, we instinctively want to do things very well (at least, some of us, if not most of us) but there’s always someone better than us. There is no best. I swear, there isn’t. At work, my boss is a better purchaser and inventory manager than I am. But he learned from someone, who learned from someone, who learned from someone. As a writer, there are hundreds of blogs out there more worthy of your time and attention than mine is. There are Instagrammers who take better photos and take the whole project more seriously than I do. There are better songwriters than I. Better preachers. Better Christians. Better atheists. Better people.

The culmination of this thought process (which is by no means a destination or conclusion) is found in Jesus’ words to His disciples in Luke22:28. Contextually, Jesus says this right after the famous passage about the Lord’s Supper – how the bread is His body and the wine is His blood and it all represents a new covenant. Then, the disciples start bickering because Jesus said one of them would betray Him. And they start talking about who’s going to be the greatest, and Jesus stops them, talks to them about servant leadership, and then says this, which made me almost laugh out loud.

“You are those who have stayed with Me in My trials…”

Wait, really? These little disciples, who made a habit out of bickering about who would be the greatest (it didn’t only happen in the room with the Lord’s supper, it happened a number of times in the gospels;) who rejected children only to have Jesus rebuke them (the disciples) and explain how really, only children understood the kingdom of God; who asked if they should call fire down upon people; who didn’t believe that Jesus could make a meal out of five loaves and two fish (to be fair, I wouldn’t believe that either;) and numerous other things – Jesus said they stayed with Him through His trials? I don’t even think the disciples understood Jesus’ heart half of the time.

But wait, there’s more. These disciples, the ones Jesus said stayed with Him in His trials, were all about to split.

They’d fall asleep in the garden while He prayed. You stayed with Me in My trials.

They’d run away there while Jesus was arrested (well, except for Peter.) You stayed with Me in My trials.

Peter would deny Him three times. You stayed with Me in My trials.

They’d walk with Him on the road to Emmaus, after He was resurrected, and wouldn’t even recognize Him until He said just the right thing. You stayed with Me in My trials.

That doesn’t sound like faithfulness to me. That doesn’t sound like strength to me. That doesn’t sound like dignity or longsuffering or perseverance to me.

Here’s what makes a little more sense – what if Jesus wasn’t talking about the disciples’ faithfulness, but His own? Let’s flip the script a little bit and air some of my own dirty laundry while I’m at it. First, I’ll be the disciples, then I’ll use my own voice.

I fell asleep in the garden while You prayed, but You stayed with me, even in Your trials.

I ran away while the Romans arrested You, but You stayed with me, even in Your trials.

I denied You three times, but You stayed with me, even in Your trials.

I didn’t recognize you on the way to Emmaus, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I questioned everything about this faith, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I broke your design for sex and got in bed with someone who wasn’t my wife, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I looked away while my neighbor starved, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I stored up for myself treasures on earth, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I cursed my friends and co-workers and failed to treat them with kindness, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I made fun of and mocked Your church, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I value my ego above the well-being and encouragement of others, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

I, daily, fail You, and my friends, and my family in innumerable ways, but You stayed with me in Your trials.

It’s the only explanation that makes any sense – at least to me – there’s no way that the disciples were that faithful to Jesus, and the evidence is there to prove that. There’s no way I’ve been that faithful to Jesus now, nor would I have been if I were around then. But it is possible (and logical, and true) that Jesus somehow carried us with Him in His trials, so we truly were with Him, just not the way we may realize, not the way we may think. We were with Him because He chose for us to be – and that’s the beauty of the whole thing.