waiting for Sunday.

Each week, it’s something a little different that does it. Sometimes, it’s dealing with a difficult person or two; sometimes it’s a few too many late nights and early mornings; sometimes it’s working too much; other times it’s being too bored and not working enough; sometimes it’s traveling; some times it’s big plans that make it hard to come back down to earth.

 

Regardless, there comes a point every week when I start to count down to Sunday. Now, don’t think too highly of me – I only wish that this were some deep, deep love for going to church that was purely for the pleasure of it and not for necessity. But indeed, as things stand, I look forward to Sunday because I need it – badly.

 

This week it was a long Wednesday followed by a somewhat uneventful Thursday and a far-too-philosophical Friday morning when I woke to go shopping on Black Friday and began to ponder how materialistic of a person I am. Then it was waking up on Saturday morning after a restless sleep because my throat was sore, my nose was congested, and all I wanted to do all night was spit into a cup and get it all out.

 

These things take my eye off the ball. I wish it weren’t true – I wish that my resolve were stronger, I wish that my mind was clearer in my purpose and I wish I didn’t second-guess myself. I wish I didn’t get tired, I wish I could focus more when I only have a half an hour in the morning to have quiet time instead of having the whole morning. I wish that I woke up every day with a song in my heart, that song sung at the same decibel level and with the same amount of conviction as the day before.

 

I wish every day was Sunday.

 

I love Sunday because Sunday is a gathering of God’s people to go see Him, worship Him, and hear from Him. When done right, church can be pretty accurately compared to a sporting event (or else this is just my experience at sporting events) – where it’s not necessarily about who you’re with (important) or how many times you’ve been there or how used to the event you are – you’re there to see the team play, and that’s the most important thing. We go to church to be with God – and that has to be our top reason.

And the God we serve is not a God who is too concerned with pointing out our mistakes from the past week – no, God is interested in establishing us. God is interested in helping us wrestle our flesh – square inch by square inch – into submission to Him; not because God is an obsessive egomaniac who needs everyone on His team, but because He designed the world to work a certain way and He designed people to behave a certain way and the way He designed it is the optimum way of living. a life in God’s kingdom is a life of deepest joy, satisfaction, honesty, trust, peace, love, truth, and so much else. God’s kingdom leaves us room for work, for play, for entertainment, for pleasure, for intellectualism, for inquiry and for rest.

It is for these reasons that I believe God makes us aware of our deepest inadequacies and weaknesses – it’s not because He wants us to feel bad about them or He wants to pound our heads with our own failures, but instead He wants to bring them to light. The sooner you and I recognize the things that distract us from seeing Him, from hearing His voice, and from obeying Him, the sooner we can present them to God and ask for His help and grace as the week goes on to move past them, to move through them, and to ultimately get to the true Reward – God Himself.

#26.

forgive me, readers – my hands are shaking and my mind is kind of racing because I just capped off my 25th year in style by paying off a nagging credit card in its entirety.

I’m actually sitting in the same Starbucks where I once was on a date with a wonderful girl, with whom a relationship proved to be unsustainable, and I’ve got failure and success on my mind.

We didn’t split up in this shop, but when I think of that date, the sting of failure presses a little further than normal.

But hitting “submit” on that final payment will be memorable for a while to come.

Failure. Success.

It may not come as a surprise to any readers that I recently had the worst year of my life (age 24) and 25 was a big, big rebound year. 25 started off at the lowest point I’ve ever been at – fresh from a breakup, in a financial quagmire, isolated and not surrounded by godly friends in the least, in an apartment I hated, in a job I felt overwhelmed by, with a dog living at my parents house that I got whimsically and had been found incapable of taking care of, uncommitted to a church, alone.

And 25 was entirely uphill. 25 couldn’t have gotten any worse (because I couldn’t have gotten any dumber) and it proved to be a memorable, memorable year.

 

There was the part where I started blogging seriously enough to pay for my own domain.

There was the part where I got out of that gosh-danged apartment.

There was the part where I got my dog back.

There was the part where I got the chance to go to Honduras.

There was the part where I met and got involved with a bunch of new friends my age and in my boat.

There was the part where we hired on a bunch of new people at the shop and they’ve become of my best friends.

There was the part where my boss gracefully let me step down from my administrative position with a view to spend more time writing, (eventually) traveling, maybe being in a play, and spending time investing myself in a local church.

There was the part where I became interested and mentally/financially invested in our political process at the federal and state levels.

There was the part where I sent off for papers to apply to run for State Representative (still waiting on them.)

There was the part where I got to go to the first service at my old church’s new building (back home in Berea.)

There was the part where they invited me to play music and the band literally got back together for the first time in two years.

There was the part where my friends generously picked me up a Chelsea kit with my freaking name on the back while they were in London.

There was the part where I got to drive up to Port Huron, visit my dear friend Travis, and sail a little bit on Lake Huron. I still feel small when I think about that.

There was the time my friends Britt and Hayley got married out in beautiful Lancaster, Kentucky and it was the most joyful wedding I’ve ever seen in my life (and there was the time they came to Kentucky a few months later after moving to Texas and we got to visit again.)

There was the time I started writing a book (if you want to know how that’s going, it’s got the words “chapter 1” written at the top of a page – that’s it for now.)

There was the time when I read all 18 books I was planning to this year.

There was the time I spontaneously whipped and nae-naed with one of my friends in the lobby of the shop.

Oh, and there was Leap Day.

There were the countless tacos and burritos I made myself at home, and

THERE WAS CHIPTOPIA (33 burritos at chipotle in 90 days, to earn free catering for 20)

There were a few musical and pizza nights with Jessie Grace, my adopted little sister.

There was the 5k I ran with my pal and co-worker Evan.

There was the time we got to see my dear friend Lee (D) off with a big celebration of his year in Lexington.

There was the time that Lee (D,) Sean, Kara, Jeff, Alice, Allison and I played Bananagrams in Sean’s dining room.

There was the time I met Senator Rand Paul.

There was the time I met Congressman Andy Barr.

There was the time that Joey, Selena, and I ate ice cream outside on the tables at Kroger because the line at Graeter’s was entirely too long.

There was the hike that TJ (adopted little brother) and I took back in September and connected for the first time in a while, and my heart felt renewed.

There was the time that Lee (B) and I started thinking on Tuesday about getting waffles on friday night and pairing it with a beer at West Sixth and we did exactly that and it was everything we’d anticipated and more.

There was the time I’ve learned almost the entire first half of Hamilton.

There was the time I got to vote and say who I wanted the next POTUS to be.

There was the time Madelyn, Stephanie, Zach, and I saw THE FREAKING 1975 and it was everything I’ve wanted in my life.

There was the time I paid off my credit card.

There was the day when I realized that nothing in my life at the moment could be much better – that my job is swell, my friends are amazing, my family is supportive, my church is fantastic, and my life is so, so (please forgive the cliche) blessed.

 

I think if I’ve taken anything away from this year, it’s this: love big. Love more than you think you can. Make memories but make sure you’re doing it with people, because we have nothing if we don’t have each other. Compliment too heavily, use too many superlatives, get too excited about what’s happening in someone else’s life. Document the highlights of your year on instagram if that’ll help you remember, or make a note in your phone and write down every bit of good news you hear. Compliment someone’s jacket. Tell them they’re the best cook/waiter/barista/architect/banker/realtor/lawyer/manager/cashier you know. Be genuine AND be way too positive for comfort. Make everyone who runs into you feel like a million bucks. Don’t waste an interaction with someone.

On our birthdays, we live in a little bubble of happiness and joy and belovedness, and it feels sometimes like it’s only gonna last for a little while, but by God (and I mean by God) we can make other people live in that bubble if we:

  1. choose to live every day with an outward perspective – instead of focusing on our own struggles, we can choose to ask people questions about what’s happening in their life and how we can alleviate that struggle
  2. choose to realize every day that we have everything we need to live a godly life – that the affirmation and significance that we so desperately crave are already given to us by Jesus.

 

I’m wondering if this next one might just be the best year of my life.

casting anxieties (pt ii) – leaving anxieties.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about anxiety. I struggle with it a lot – some of it is physical anxiety that I’ve figured out is linked to a positively inordinate amount of caffeine intake; but some of it is very real, potent anxiety. I worry about paying off my credit cards, I worry about when I’ll ever get to take another fun trip, I worry about working too much, I worry about spending too much money, I worry about meeting a girl (or not doing so,) I worry about whether or not I’ll end up in ministry again, I worry about whether I’ll ever be transformed into the man of God I want to be and I know that God wants me to be.

Isn’t it funny how we’re addicted to anxiety? There’s this human mechanism that we’re all obsessed with – that even if a situation is way out of control, being conscious of it, we opine, is a good thing. And, in a lot of cases, that’s true. If you’re aware that you’re addicted to alcohol, the first step to recovery, they say, is to know you have a problem. If you spend too much money, it’s good to keep that in mind, because at least it stings a little when you spend a little more, and you become aware.

I’d like to take this thought two directions, at risk of compromising coherence and clarity.

First, I must begin with an acknowledgement of my addiction to anxiety. You know why I like anxiety? Because anxiety saves face for me. That is, anxiety is my way of making sure that the world (and God, ultimately) know(s) that I don’t have it all together. It’s my way of making sure expectations stay low. If I worry about it, I think, then nobody else has to worry about it. At least, like with other addictions, it’s good to know I’m addicted to anxiety – because I have to know it before I can do anything about it.

Second and more importantly, however, there’s a theological response to worry, and it’s one that I have failed to acknowledge, and I’m hoping that maybe you can take heart in.

Everyone knows Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV) – it’s one of those verses you learn early on in your Christian life, and the depth of truth and significance can often go overlooked and understated. Consider it –

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…

And consider 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT,) the basis for the original post –

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 

Giving them away and casting them aside seems so easy – often times, it seems like a simple prayer in which we name all of our fears, worries, anxieties, and pray that God take them for us. Sometimes it’s that simple. Sometimes I can pray myself into a good mood, when I truly consider the goodness of God and how much He really loves us.

But here’s what I’m finding to be difficult – not picking them back up.

The Bible doesn’t allude to anything about taking those anxieties back on. When Jesus promises us (the weary and heavy-laden) rest, He doesn’t say, “yeah, put your bags down for a while, and I’ll give you rest, and then pick ’em back up and get on your way.” Hebrews doesn’t say, “take a break, set weights aside for a little while until you can handle them again, then you can carry them again.”

No, there’s something that God’s trying to get at – anxiety (in its truest form) has no place in the life of the believer. Anxiety is a stronghold, a pattern of thinking, and it, like many other things, provides a false promise of a reward. After all, what even is there to be gained from anxiety? What good does it do us to worry? Jesus addressed that when he instructed His followers not to worry about what they eat or drink or what they’ll wear, because worry doesn’t add a single inch to our height (see: Matthew 6.) Worry doesn’t put food on the table, worry doesn’t pay the bills, worry doesn’t make friends, worry doesn’t make good company, worry doesn’t satisfy the deepest longings in our hearts.

 

God does not want you to carry anxiety.

Let me repeat.

God does not want you to carry anxiety.

God does not want you to carry anxiety.

(now I’m repeating for my own sake.)

God does not want you to carry anxiety.

 

It’s not helpful, it’s not useful, it’s not good. And the promise of God is that it can be done away with – it can be cast aside, it can, whether intellectually (we’d call it cognitive-behavioral therapy) or spiritually (we’d call it deliverance) be done away with – and may it be so.

 

May we learn the freedom of not worrying – may we learn the freedom of committing a future to the Lord as He wills it, may we learn to cast our mountains into the sea.

an open letter to the American people. (2016 edition.)

To: The American People.

From: Jeff Poling, Jr

We just got done with the longest job interview process EVER. Man, isn’t it good to have all that over with? Er…maybe not.

Y’all are flipping the heck out in both directions – the ladies on my feed are all pretty uncomfortable with Mr. Trump’s victory; and the closet Trump supporters are kinda upset they’re being called racists and bigots and that they’re assumed to not care about Muslims, LGBTQ, Hispanics, etc. I get it – I get it in both directions, honestly.

It’s a tough time. I talked to a bunch of people this morning – some of them gave exasperated sighs, some of them gave cynical shrugs of the shoulder, some of them said nothing, some of them laughed, some of them cried. Our country hurts like crazy right now – and I hate seeing that.

Nobody wins presidential elections anymore. Nobody wins because everybody’s all-or-nothing: if Hillary had won, the conservatives would have flipped out; and when Trump won, the liberals literally shed tears. It’s perfectly understandable why – in fact, I think it’s probably good that we feel how upsetting it is to lose. But (and I realize the bad timing of this message) if we never coalesce behind a president, how can we ever unify? I’m not saying that Trump is an inspiring figure (he hardly inspires me) but I do think that if we continue our partisan whining when we don’t win, we’ll never get ahead. Our country is deeply divided, and every time we bury our head further and further in the sand when we lose, we only make it worse.

I’m not suggesting we suddenly look at Trump as a knight in shining armor – he isn’t – I’m asking you to take a bit of a nuanced look at him. Do me a favor, do yourself a favor, and do our governmental setup a favor – pay attention to what he does. Pay attention to what he’s promised to do. Pay attention to what he’s able to get done, pay attention to the legislation he fights with congress about, pay attention to the speeches he makes, pay attention to what his policies do to the average American. This is gonna sound crazy, but – if he does something that helps our country, let’s celebrate that. If his lowering of taxes results in job growth and debt reduction, let’s applaud it. That means it works.

We have to stop looking at policy wins and losses as party wins and losses, and more as American wins and losses. And sometimes it’s a wash. I think ObamaCare, for instance, was great for some people who were unable to get medical coverage. I know people who benefitted from it. But I also know that there are people whose rates went up because of it, employers who lost a lot of money because of it, and jobs that were lost by it. It’s not all good, it’s not all bad. The GOP thinks its time for something new. Maybe it is – we’re gonna have to see what happens.

One of the best things we can do to destroy partisanship is to pay attention and stay informed of what’s happening. Use resources – there are podcasts out there, newspapers, congressional voting records, etc.

Listen, we have an obligation as voters. We are obligated to hold our leaders accountable, and it’s a chance we get every few years. If they don’t do a good job, if what they’re doing isn’t helpful, if they didn’t make good on their promises, we can vote them out. Do you realize that the government is designed to work for you? That means that when you wake up on January 21 or whenever Trump is sworn in, you are Donald Trump’s boss. Maybe that doesn’t feel like it means much, maybe you still feel threatened, maybe you still feel like the deck is stacked against you – but it’s thinking like that which perpetuates itself and creates a vicious cycle of misrepresentation in the government.

We need a movement of voter efficacy – where we recognize the power we have to elect, to support, to rebuke, and to replace our leaders. The government is designed to be for the people and by the people. It still works that way. You know, in 240 years as a country, we’ve never elected a dictator. We’ve never had an autocrat. In 240 years as a country, states have had the power to conduct elections as they see fit within a certain set of limitations. And, you know – if Trump did do something like try to assume some sort of absolute power, we have a congress and a Supreme Court to check and balance him. We’re gonna be just fine.

I understand the worry that everyone feels – I feel some of it too. But remember that if we respond to fear with fear, we give it power over us. If we respond to bitterness and negative sentiment with bitterness and negative sentiment, we further the fight. So – it’s hard to say outright that you should be entirely patient and gracious with president-elect Trump (after all, he’s a controversial character with pleeeeeeenty of clouds hanging over him) but I’m saying that if we predispose ourselves to hating him and his administration, we will encourage the same frustration that led to a Trump.

Start here: have conversations. Read the news. Talk about what’s happening with your friends. Bring them up to speed, and have them bring you up to speed. Celebrate the accomplishments of republicans and democrats in your city, your state legislature, the U.S. Congress, and then maybe, maybe, we’ll be able to separate political parties from judgements on moral quality and intellectual ability.

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

an open letter to the president-elect. (2016 edition.)

To: Donald J. Trump (with an understanding you’ll likely never see this)

From: Jeff Poling, Jr

Dear President-Elect Trump,

There are many places from which I could start, so I’ll just have to choose one – I didn’t vote for you yesterday. I watched you insult your way to the nomination, leaving politicians I liked and admired behind, usually with a catchy new name (Low-energy Jeb, Lyin’ Ted, ‘Lil Marco, and democrats I liked too, like Goofy Elizabeth Warren.) I didn’t like you through this whole process. I was frustrated by (but in a weird way, admired) how you could not answer questions and get away with it, you somehow overcame all of the mire that surrounded your campaign and got enough people to go out and vote for you. But I recognize that winning the presidency isn’t as easy or as cheap as some people make it sound – some are saying you just riled up all of the racists, xenophobes, homophobes, nationalists and brought them out to vote, but I know our country is better than that. There aren’t enough terrible people out there to win a general election. I know some good people who voted for you – family members, friends, people I go to church with – so I know you got more than the scum of the earth to propel you into the presidency.

For that, I congratulate you. Running for president is a hard task, of that I’m sure. The late nights, early mornings, briefings, the sheer amount of information you take in – I respect it. I can’t help but respect it. I didn’t vote for you yesterday because I couldn’t – because I couldn’t live with the taste in my mouth of a man who misrepresented the Conservatism (or at least the name thereof) I grew up practicing.

I awoke to Facebook posts from people I know who were/are genuinely concerned about what this election says about America. I know people who are worried for their lives, for their rights, for their friends, loved ones, etc. I know people who are afraid we may just become a laughable, corrupt government that’s only worse than it’s ever been. I, for one, worried about what you may do to our nation’s standing in the world, and worried about how our relationships with our allies would pan out.

But here we are, you’re the president-elect, and I hope you know the task you have on your hands. You managed to understand (at least on the surface) the challenges that working white men and women faced and the fears they had – and those helped you win. Now, I really, truly hope that you understand the fears and concerns of Hispanic Americans, black Americans, LGBTQ Americans, Muslim Americans, women, veterans, children in school, rich, poor, etc. and I hope that you present a vision to make their lives better, with liberty and justice for all.

For the sake of all other Americans, I hope that your plans and policies work. I hope they make America even better than it already is. I hope that unemployment goes down under your administration. I hope that people get good-paying jobs with good-paying wages and don’t have to pay loads of tax. I hope our national debt doesn’t increase under you. I hope that people who are poor and/or have pre-existing conditions are able to find affordable health care, should you be successful in repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. I hope that our country stays safe. I hope that mass shootings go down. I hope murder rates go down. I hope education gets better and better. I hope the economy thrives. I hope ISIS is destroyed and the Middle East becomes stable with the help of the United States. I hope people are able to immigrate peacefully and find a future in the United States – because we represent a beacon of hope to many people in many nations in a way that you or i – as naturally born citizens – may never understand.

I hope you can somehow bring people together. Our country hurts right now – I gave hugs to several people this morning, one of whom was on the verge of crying, because they were so disappointed that you won. I don’t fault you for winning – you played to win. I just hope that you understand that. I hope you understand that people doubt your ability. I hope you prove all of us wrong. I hope history looks back on a Donald Trump presidency and sees a fruitful time in our nation – and know that, as the musical says, history does have its eyes on you.

The world is watching. The people are watching. And the way our government works, we’re your boss – not the other way around. We are represented by you – but you are one man, we are many. Your future is up to us – whether we request an impeachment, or simply don’t vote for you again in 2020 – you’re in our hands.

Because of that, I’m not freaking out. Sure, if you asked me before the election, I’d say I didn’t want you in the Oval Office because I think you’re prone to getting pissed off, you have thin skin, and you could fly off the handle at any moment. I still think that. But I know that if I’m wrong, we’re all better off, and if I’m right, then we could just not give you another term.

People are upset and angry, and you’d do well to let them feel that. Now’s not the time to talk a lot, now’s not the time to make a bunch of wordy promises and say, “believe me.” Now’s the time to work. Now’s the time to prove yourself. It’s time to prove you’ve got what it takes to fix the issues facing our country. You’ve got a few months before you take office, so prepare yourself, calm yourself down, take a breath, have a drink, and get to work.

rebuilding.

There is no going back to the good old days.

 

I’ve found this to be true as I’ve longed for them.

 

We cannot simply rewind ourselves back to the way things were a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago, twenty, forty, etc.

 

We can’t go back to before we made those big mistakes – slept with the wrong person, married the wrong person (or a person with whom it didn’t work out,) gained those thousands of dollars in credit card debt, got involved with that crowd, had all those drinks,  said those wrong words – we can’t take them back.

 

But there’s hope.

 

God is a builder.

 

God goes into areas of destruction, of devastation, of decimation – and He rebuilds. He restores. He razes the strongholds of sin, bondage, and death in our lives and He builds something new, something greater.

 

God gives beauty in place of ashes (Isaiah 61:3.)

God restores the years of devastation and waste (see: Joel 2:25.)

 

God is really, really, really into restoring and rebuilding lives. While He can’t/doesn’t take away our mistakes and the consequences thereof, He changes our direction. He gives us a new name.

 

Consider Romans 5:19-21, which tells us that while one man (adam) disobeyed and made countless into sinners after him, one Man (Jesus) was obedient and made countless righteous after Him. Where sin increases, grace abounds all the more – that is, no matter how much we screw up, there is always grace upon grace upon grace (see: John 1.)  and as sin reigns in death, grace reigns in righteousness leading to eternal life.

 

Thanks be to God.