The Great Unknown Fog of Life

 

BigHump-AT

Last week I went backpacking for three days on the Appalachian Trail. In this picture, we’re headed up Big Hump in the Roan Highlands of NC & TN. In front are my friends Tryon and John, and we’re with five other guys. Six of us had never been on this section of trail before! Seeing impenetrable fog like this always makes me think of how little we really see of what’s ahead in life.

When you’re hiking, or just moving through life, it’s always reassuring to know where you’re going, to feel like you’re in control. “You are not in control” is one of the mantras we’ve been teaching the Camp Rockmont Catalyst group this summer. What they don’t know yet is it’s much easier to repeat a mantra than practice it!

I had to do some practicing of my own these past few weeks. Morgan and I are moving around Nashville and had been frantically looking for a new place to live before our contract is up on the current one. Mash it together with the knowledge I’m going back to Rockmont on July 19th, and I’ve been interviewing for a couple of jobs, and life was hectic.

Honestly, most of the time it felt like I was moving down the trail with nothing but fog in front of me. I couldn’t see more than the next day, the next ten feet, or the next interview. So much was unknown, and so much out of my control. All I could keep do was keep going and keep praying.

I believe a lot of life is like this too. Sometimes we get our beautiful vistas, clear paths, and refreshing swimming holes. But most of the time it’s tough to see past the tangle of leaves or surrounding fog. But it doesn’t mean the path is necessarily different, it simply means we have to trust in a power bigger than us, and the guidance of those around. The fog is a great part of life, and makes the clear vistas more beautiful every time.

Today we found a great little duplex between Green Hills and Lipscomb, and couldn’t be happier. After surveying Craigslist and PadMapper for the better part of three weeks, I simply happened to ride by this place on my bike. The landlord never listed it online, and I just can’t help but think it was there for me to ride past. In a fast-paced Nashville rental market, it stayed up for two days, and two people came by to look at the place while we were there! In the end, we wrote the checks and move in August 1st.

Though it’s hard to remember when you’re in the fog, know the trail is still under your feet and God is your guide, with countless Angels helping you along the way. In the fog we can re-discover our need for him. Keep walking.

Entrepreneurship: It’s All My Dad’s Fault

As we grow older, looking back on the people and events that shaped our lives become a little easier. Connecting the dots and pulling together the narrative is clearer, and we can see how if this had not happened, then that would not have happened, and we wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Mt_Mitchell_Summit

Laura, Mark, Dad, and I at the top of Mt Mitchell in NC.

I had a great childhood, and looking back it probably wasn’t the easiest, and my parents struggled in ways I may never realize. We lived in small houses, ate simple meals, took vacations to other family homes, didn’t eat out much, and my dad worked a lot. He didn’t work so much I ever recall thinking “Dad’s always working”, but he did have to hustle in order to provide. Much of the time he was a pastor he also actively worked as a CPA, and has done taxes for many of the same people for 20+ years.

My favorite side job of his was the season he refilled gum ball machines in the mall, and would take my brother Neil and I with him. We’d arrive at the mall around 6:00 AM, fighting for parking with the mall walkers (it was a small city with a significant elderly population). It was fun to help Dad work, even just dumping gum balls in to a big clear bowl. If enough people had bought gum balls, we’d go to Denny’s and get the grand slam special.

Today, as I actively hustle around a few jobs and a couple dreams, I can look back and connect the dots, thanks to Dad. One of the biggest lessons (and there are many) my Dad modeled for me was how to be an entrepreneur, even though I didn’t have words for it until much later in life. Because of him, I never really knew a life or a practice where you shouldn’t try and do the things you cared about, even if it meant doing some other things you don’t care as much about for a while. Being good at multiple things certainly helps, and my Dad was. A master’s degrees and a professional certification will help, and I still don’t that many people who have mastered the divine and passed the CPA exam. Balancing both sides of the brain isn’t easy.

Dad had a great willingness to try new things and shake up a group for the right reasons. I remember his sermon series on the movie Gladiator, which was scandalous (from a church view) for multiple reasons. One, Christianity and sermons didn’t really mix well with pop culture yet, and certainly not with an R-rated movie. He also brought an acoustic guitar in to a conservative (and elderly) baptist church in the mid-90’s, which I thought was a revolution. He also had one of the first Macintosh computers, and in 1996 we had a grand time setting up the internet together. Though eventually those AOL, Compuserve, and Netscape discs would become cheap ways to place disc golf around the neighborhood (man did you have to play the slice).

Of all the situations, actions, and decisions which have come to shape my story, and the role Dad has played, one other act (and many subsequent acts) stood out.

He gave me my first Seth Godin book.

The book was Free Prize Inside, and we talked about how the ideas could change businesses and work. He also gave me Tribes, Poke the Box, A Whole New Mind, and several others since then. We’ve already shared a love a for books and talking about them, and one of the great gifts of the Baptist practice is a dedication and love for stories. But these books were different. We read Seth, John Maxwell, Daniel Pink, and many other names I can’t think of right now.

Thanks to Dad, I began to think differently about work, calling, practice, and connection. He gave me these books just as I was finishing college, and little did I know they would kick-start the next evolution of my education, one that was self-driven and peer-reviewed, and will last the rest of my life. They planted ideas in my mind, without those books I wouldn’t have all these crazy ideas of being an entrepreneur, being ok in the struggle, crafting art, and changing my little corner of the world.

So for everyone wondering who was at the root of all this work, startup hustle, multiple jobs, creating something different, and thinking outside the box…

It’s all my Dad’s fault (and I love him for it). Happy Father’s Day.

PS – I could write a whole Dad series on the ways he has impacted my faith, marriage, athletics, and so many other things. Focusing on entrepreneurship and work ethic was simply an aspect I don’t think I’ve ever shared much with him about, or honestly if he’s ever thought about. When you think about this willingness to humbly share and mentor in so many different ways, it’s really what lies at the root of being a Father. A willingness to love for a lifetime. 

The Heavens Have Already Opened

I can be caught up wishing I was a part of certain group. For the past few days, I’ve wistfully looked at pictures and updates from Bob Goff’s Lodge Retreat, filled with natural beauty and stories from people I admire. Bob was there, of course, and so was Don, John, Ryan, Carlos, Shauna, Propaganda, Jen, plus many others. Part of me wants to be there too, and not just for the community, mountains, waterfalls, and great music.

photo via Carlos Whittaker

I want to feel like I belong. To be famous, influential, and see lots of my posts and pictures liked and retweeted. Typing it seems silly, but the truth of feelings in the moment remain the same. The desire grows from something deeper than social media interactions, and it’s a need to be encouraged, affirmed, loved, and a part of something bigger than ourselves. Carlos Whittaker, who was at the Lodge, had this to say after leaving.

I just spent 3 days with 140 successful people who I had no idea what they did.

Why?

Because nobody talked about work.

Nobody talked about what they did.

Nobody talked about followers.

Nobody talked about marketing plans.

Everybody talked about their heart.

Everybody talked about their families.

Everybody talked about their faith.

And we just did stuff together.

You see, sometimes the only thing keeping us from experiencing heaven on earth

Is us gazing at earth and only glancing at heaven

When heaven is right in front of us…

I want this (not necessarily at the Lodge), but I realize even for these remarkable people, a weekend at the Lodge is just a small piece of their own lives.

When I’m working a retail job and trying to crank out 500 words each day, life feels so ordinary. I understand it’s a part of the process, a challenge to overcome. This is the pivot point of our stories, where we can throw in towel or keep practicing, playing the long game and outlasting the competition. At the root of my emotions lies the frustrating little devil of unworthiness.

Until you get invited to the Lodge, you’re not smart enough, creative enough, a real writer or speaker. 

Gut punch.

We all have a lodge we’re waiting to gain entrance to. We want to join the club and be admired, to feel like we’ve made it. The mental thought process goes like this:

Now that I’m in the Lodge and on the right Twitter lists, life will be different. The heavens will open up, the angels will sing, and we’ll be able to get down to the real work of changing people’s lives.

But what if the heavens have already opened up?

Whenever I catch my mind wandering to silly places and unrealistic expectations, I like to play a little mind game. What is the difference between my unrealistic expectations and reality?

In the midst of the beautifully ordinary day I contemplated all of this, I deconstructed my unrealistic expectations. Here they are.

Upon arriving at the Lodge, everyone gives me a hug and says how much they enjoy my book (which of course has been written by now) and podcast. I’m handed a cup of strong coffee, and walk out on the deck, surveying the water, mountains, and beauty of creation. It’s at this moment the heavens open up and the angels celebrate, while God looks on and says “Way to go Matt, you did it!

Oh the foolish man I am. I sit bolt upright and smile, slightly ashamed, at my fully formed daydream. I can almost feel myself being physically shaken by my savior, urging me to snap out of it. Because here’s the wonderful truth for me, you, and all of us.

The Heavens have already opened for me.

In Mark 1:9-11, Jesus goes down to the river to be baptized. At this point, his ministry hasn’t begun. Jesus is a 30 year old carpenter, probably still living at home, who had one flash of youthful brilliance debating the priests and elders. John the Baptist was the rockstar, drawing the big crowds and headlines. Along with the rest of the people in Judea and Jerusalem, Jesus had trekked out to be transformed by the water. When he was raised out of the Jordan river, this happened;

Immediately Jesus saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Because of this, I am also chosen, a beloved son, delight of my Father, enough.

Remember, this happened before the miracles, healings, or a single teaching. God didn’t wait until the cross to love Jesus, and he’s not waiting to call me beloved until I publish a book, am invited to Bob Goff’s house, or hired by Donald Miller.

This simple, indisputable, easily forgotten fact is the basis of my entire book. Currently titled Enough, Already - I explore the ways we find and seek the definition, meaning and purpose for our lives. The ways we fill life with possessions, power, and people we think give us our definition and tell us we’re enough. But ultimately, all the things we seek have already been given to us by God. The heavens have already been torn open. You are loved, chosen, and enough, already, in God.

What will you do now?

A little more of the backstory of this post can be found on my daily practice blog, 500words

Step Into The Impossible

As many of you know, my most recent stint at Rockmont came to close this summer, and I was able to give the closing talk for our campers and staff. Watch it below, and scroll to the bottom to read a little bit more about the topic and see my sketchnotes.

The Situation

I gave this talk while a lot of inner turmoil was going on. We moved just five days after delivering the talk, and Rockmont is simply a special place full of wonderful people. For me, there’s nowhere like it in the world. Morgan and I were moving to a new city, a new place, new people, new jobs, new everything.

There’s a lot to be excited about with change and the opportunities which arise, but still a stressful time. For me, I was transitioning away from work and a mission which I was very passionate about. I didn’t even know what I was going to do next, other than the three R’s; running, reading, and writing :)

The Inspiration

The text which inspired the talk was from Matthew 14:22-33. The story is Jesus walking on water, and Peter attempts to walk out and join him. Now, I was focused on Peter. Jesus walking on water is understandable, he’s God after all. But Peter? Just a guy. Peter walking on water is impossible. Right?

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

I related it to a story from my first summer at camp, when I was too afraid to do the zipline. I couldn’t take the step from what was comfortable in to the unknown. I was stuck.

As many of us do, Peter became afraid, doubted this miracle could last, and began to sink. I consider how often I sink into doubt, wondering if everything is going to work out. I think we all do. The good news for me, and everyone, is what happened next.

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I knew many people who were listening and struggling with some of the same things I was. Doubt and worry over the next step, where they were going to live, how to pay for school, rent, and food. We all needed to get out of the boat and trust that God would care for us. In Luke 12:22-24, Jesus reassures us.

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!

I also took heart in the words to Joshua, who had currently stepped in the leadership role left by Moses, who was kind of a big deal…

Be strong and courageous… for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Rockmont had made me very comfortable, and I loved being there. But I had felt a tug on my heart last May, and I was trying to avoid it. I wanted to stay comfortable. Going to new places, smaller spaces, and different work felt impossible at times.

Well, I’m out of my comfort zone now, going from 500 acres to 500 square feet, learning how to get over myself and do work that matters when it’s not easy and built in to your job.

I’m stepping out of the boat, and into the impossible

(The Sketchnotes)

The past several months I’ve renewed my commitment to sketching, especially in my note-taking. I’ll be posting more here in the future, but here are my notes from the talk. They’re less artistic than most have been lately, and I think it’s because I was writing out specific phrases I wanted to be able to repeat. If you want to see more of my sketchnotes, check them out on Flickr.

Sketchnotes

One of the many things I am doing now is speaking to church, youth, school, and parent groups. If you like this talk and want to have me speak to a group you’re a part of, let me know! You can contact me through email or Twitter. You can also check out my speaker page. Thanks!

Do Our Gifts Reflect Our Priorities?

I love receiving gifts, and I love giving gifts. Finding a perfect gift, something you know will be used with purpose and fill a person’s need, is a wonderful feeling. The anticipation of the gift being unwrapped, the look on your loved one’s face as they share their delight, the general good will of a special time of year, this is one of the parts that makes Christmas so wonderful.

photo credit – stevendepolo, creative commons

I have to admit I’ve felt a bit conflicted this Christmas when gifts are mentioned. There are gifts piled under the tree, but they wait only for my wife and me. We have a home full of things, and are ready to receive more. A little something here, bit more of that, or in a different color. I love it, I enjoy it, and it worries me at times.

Jackson Browne sings,

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us

Last week, there were a couple of robberies in my neighborhood, causing a little panic amongst us. We rarely lock our doors when we leave, now we’re doing it every single time. I don’t want to lose my fine possessions, even as they pile up. One of the themes from this year has been that I have enough, and the Rebel Jesus is enough.

But I don’t act like it. I ask for more, I give more to family who also have enough. I’ve thrown parties for people I know, trust, and like, and like me. I’ve stayed pretty comfortable. Yesterday I walked past a homeless man who I have met and spoken to before, but didn’t this time. I felt too dressed up, too rich, and too ignorant of Jesus’ charge to serve. I couldn’t get past myself to talk to him. I couldn’t give him a gift of any sort, including my time and attention.

When we buy gifts, what is the result we hope for? Happiness? To incite guilt? To grow closer? To get the person off our back? To out-do him/her? Even in the midst of the recession, our holiday buying continues to shoot up. On Cyber Monday, Americans spent 1.465 BILLION dollars, and spending is up 16% for the season (source). The American Research Group reports that gift-buying should average $854 per shopper, up 32% from last year, and the highest since 2007. Do we merely give because it’s expected, or because we want to?

When I give a gift, I try and think of 4 qualifications. Does the gift help the recipient …

  • DO something?
  • LEARN something?
  • CREATE something?
  • GIVE more time to friends and family?

As more money is spent on giving things to each other, I hope to give more of my self. Time with friends, time with family, time to the poor, time to God. I believe sometimes we give physical gifts because we don’t want to give the gift our time and attention. It’s easier to wrap up something shiny and present it as our love. Then we go back to watching TV and perusing our smartphones. I hope the gifts we give instigate something big. Getting outside, learning to cook, playing music, spending time together, and more. Physical games are great because we have to do them together! 

I struggle with these issues too, every single day, and I barely do enough about it. I haven’t changed that much, I try and buy people off, and I continue to accumulate. My priorities are still out of order.

But I’m seeing the light, it’s seeping through the cracks in my life. God isn’t done with me yet, and thank goodness.

I’ll allow Jackson to take it from here …

Now pardon me if I have seemed
To take the tone of judgement
For I’ve no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In a life of hardship and of earthly toil
There’s a need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus

Motivated by Love

John 14:15 says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Okay- now what? Should I learn every law in the Bible, write them down, paste it up on my wall and make sure I do my best to follow them every day?

Sometimes the focus will become lack of obedience, leading to a negative outcome.

-You may look at that list and think well I didn’t do this, this, this or that today and be left in a state of guilt and despair.

-Next, you may think well I can do better and push yourself into obedience out of obligation. You may wind up having an obligation to obey the law based on some notion that your obedience will justify blessings. Obedience to justify the blessings of God doesn’t seem like it would be pleasing to Him.

The way I see it- the cross has already justified my blessing.

Ultimately- God’s desire is to pour out his blessing on you, and the desire is based on nothing you do but out of unwavering love for you. We are only able to live in the fullness of God’s blessing by embracing a journey of recognizing His love for us. You might look at it as a journey of full-on acceptance of grace.

Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “the plain truth is that my love for God (and hence, my obedience) will grow as I cultivate my comprehension of his vast love for me. If we neglect this key by focusing too narrowly on ourselves, our success or failure, then we’ll become mired down in guilt or pride, neither of which will stimulate loving obedience.”

It’s not that I think I can do whatever I want because I am already covered by grace. This is true to some extent- I am covered; my past, present and future sins were bought at the price of the cross. But if I were to do whatever I wanted and essentially live in sin that would cheapen the cross. My recognition of God’s love for me brings me into the greatest love story of all time, therefore motivating me to obey. I am not out to obey because of fear, guilt, or a mindset that my obedience will somehow bless me. Of course, I will continue to struggle- because my love is imperfect.

My love is weak and wavering

I am only capable of a dim understanding of the love displayed by Jesus on the cross. I am still vulnerable to Satan’s lies and I will be until the day I die. It is only at the moment of entrance into the heavenly presence of God that we are perfected for all time. But God, who goes beyond all of that- all of my mistakes and persona’s, God who knows my innermost thoughts looks at me with perfection and calls me His beloved. “He patiently and gently draws us back into His loving arms and reassures us of His overwhelming compassion, mercy, and grace.” –Fitzpatrick.

When I recognize the depth of my depravity and realize my complete inability to do anything on my own; I don’t feel guilt or failure anymore. But I am able to look at my Savior with such awe because he chose someone like me to be broken, to be a little lost for a while but then be rescued. He redeemed me. The blessings in my life leave me in awe of the obedience of Christ on the cross and motivate me to pursue God out of love.

“If we intently focus on how we’ve been loved, irrevocably, eternally, freely, and without merit, if we contemplate how our obedience (or lack of it) doesn’t faze his love one whit, then we’ll find within our hearts a growing desire to obey. Why? Because love like that changes people.” –Fitzpatrick

Thank you for reading, Laura Ragland

If you’d like to continue the conversation post in the comments or tweet me here, you can also find me on my site Confessions of an everyday, ordinary sinner.

Find Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Comforts from the Cross on Amazon.

Off the Grid

Hey Everyone,

I’ll be away from my blog from April 25-30, attending a Men’s retreat in Arizona. In my absence, my sister Laura will be guest posting, so be on the lookout for that! Laura is a talented young writer, majoring in English and Creative Writing. I know you will enjoy her essay.

As for me, I’m looking forwar to a few days unplugged. It will be nice to dwell in the desert canyons, living simply and focusing on the little things that matter. I do believe I will come away with good writing, whether or not it’s worth sharing is still to be seen. Maybe another handwritten post?

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys their weekend. Look for ways to bless others and help, whether in your face-to-face interactions, or online. You have knowledge and love to share, don’t miss it!

Easter Sunday

Growing up in a Christian home, I have always greeted Easter morning with anticipation. I remember sunrise service, followed by pancake breakfast, then regular service. Say what you want about Baptists, but they appreciate the value of a shared meal, and they can cook! Easter is a time when people feel compelled to attend church, that your bi-annual card will be punched, see you at Christmas, no guilt.

I wish people would realize there’s no guilt, God would have you think about him whenever you please, he is more than Sunday morning, more than Easter and Christmas. Jesus is risen today! And in our own lives, he offers us the freedom and opportunity to arise and change. Today is a reminder that our lives are not our own, and things will not go back to normal, God willing.

Today I simply feel very blessed. It is a lovely day in North Carolina, spring is in high bloom, the dogwoods shining forth in their brilliant white. Pear trees are losing their flowers, casting white petals on the ground like a warm snowfall. The sun travels across the sky, offering shadows and light on the landscape, reminding me of the shadow and light in my life.

There was Easter lunch with family, fresh and delicious. The tea is sweet, praise God, and after the meal we sit overlooking the mountains, continuing to sip and talk. The conversation turns to theology, which is not uncommon. We talk about the sacrifice of God, the power we give earthly constructs, even the good ones like family and church! Everything on earth has the ability to disappoint, and we must accept that. There is only one person who did not disappoint, and even that was in question for a few days! Thomas was not the only one who has doubted Jesus. In the end, the question for all of us is where do we find our identity, our strength?

In the South, we give a lot of power to our close family. In America, we cling to our patriotism, even making it part of our “religion”. God bless America, of course, but we are reminded every Easter that God blesses everyone, and causes the sun to shine on the good and the evil. But since our world is full of brokenness, and even our best intentions will fall short. God has fully loved and forgiven us, and because of that love we are compelled to live for him. We don’t have to be caught up in trying to prove ourselves and please others, because we will disappoint them as easily as they disappoint us. And that is ok. 

The day has carried on, I rested in my hammock, will go on a run with my dog, and catch the back nine of the Masters. As the sun sets I’ll walk back home and beat the cold that blows in with the growing darkness. We need not fear the dark, today we are reminded that the light of the world has overcome.

Happy Easter!

What To Do Next Time You’re Wronged

Creative Commons via Dustin and Jenae

We’ve all been wronged, sometimes by people close to us, people we work with, and by strangers. What is our initial response? Surprise, hurt, thoughts (or actions) of vengeance. I know I do. How about instead, we take these 5 steps:

  1. Forgive them
  2. Take them out to dinner
  3. Apologize for your wrongs
  4. Consider ways you’ve neglected them
  5. Ask how you can help

Consider September 11th. Instead of war (which I was in favor of at the time, hooray patriotism), what if George W. Bush had personally flown over to the Middle East and tried to have dinner with Osama. He then proceeded to apologize, on behalf of the American people, for turning a blind eye to the suffering and conflict in their countries, and offer aid. Then the American people volunteered in droves to fly over and provide assistance to the Afghani, Iraqi, and Irani people (they shall beat their swords in to plowshares… nation shall not lift up swords against nation… neither shall they learn war anymore – Isaiah 2:3-5). They would give food, help with farming, provide training and education, medical care, and all the while saying, “I’m sorry it took me so long to do this”.

How would that have changed the past 10 years? If we continue to answer violence with more violence, there is no end in sight. Martin Luther King, Jr saw this in the 60s, and organized a non-violent movement, saying “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that”. Ghandi did the same in India, gaining independence from Britain where years of revolts had not. At the beginning there was Jesus, speaking radical, life-altering words.

  • Forgive them not just 7 times, but 70 times 7! (Matthew 18:21-22)
  • If someone wrongs you, turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39)
  • If someone asks for your shirt, do this and give them your jacket as well (Matthew 5:40-42)
  • Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:43-45)

I am not saying that doing any of this condones injustice or violence, quite the opposite. We should actively seek to end them! But not through more guns, bombs, and soldiers. We should fight through love, sacrifice, and courage. To stand up to the oppressor and fight with weapons they know nothing about takes courage that only God can provide. Could we die? Perhaps, but soldiers die every day (God rest them), gun in hand. Matthew 7:1-2 says that judgement is not ours, but belongs to God. When we go to war, even in “God’s name”, we are attempting to secure a peace that we do not believe God can or has already secured for us.

How does this change all of the conflicts, wars, and tension in relationships? What does this mean for Kony? I’m still learning about the situation that has helped form the man that is wreaking havoc in his country, and cannot speak knowledgeably about it. But is military action the answer? I can’t find anything in the Gospels that says violence begets violence. The enduring message is love, love, love.

This is not simply a essay on war, because there are pressing issues in our own homes, communities, and work places. What if you did this next time you were in conflict with another person?  When someone cheats you, insults you, harms you, what if you took the radical step of forgiveness? Not only that, but turned the other cheek, or bought them lunch? That is the really crazy part! Sure forgiveness, fine. But to actively seek them out and improve the relationship? Often our response is to cling to our hurt, and allow that to seep its way in to our soul.

Christians do this, even after verbally forgiving a person, will neglect them and not be a part of relationship healing. We will not let go of our hurt, because it gives us a reason to ignore them. By the way, I am not any better at this than anyone else. I hold grudges, I ignore people, I was for the war in the Middle East, and seek my own comfort first.

But this is not what we’re called to do. We are called to love, forgive, and seek wholeness each day. It is not through our own actions that this is accomplished, but by our openness to having God work in and through us. I woke up this morning with this topic on my mind. I don’t take credit for the essay, God placed it on my heart. I’m stopping here because I feel like everything he wanted me to say has been said, and I don’t need to dress it up anymore with my own words, SEO search terms, or minimum word counts. God’s going to do what God’s going to do. I am a cup that has been filled, and poured out.

What do you think about all of this? Sounds crazy, right? It is. But so is the rest of the Gospel. Let’s talk about it.

We Are All Being Used

Today, you will be used. It may be in ways that are productive and healthy, or ways that are destructive to ourselves and others. We are used by family, friends, co-workers, people on the street, and over the internet. This is not entirely good or bad news, it is how the world works!

We are used in relationships to help affirm, love, and challenge each other. We can also be used as a crutch, or use others as a dominating and controlling presence that feeds off a spouse, children, or friends. We are being used at our jobs, to create revenue, and hopefully to enrich the lives of customers.

God uses people too. The bible is full of stories about how people were used to glorify him. I think that most people feel that God only uses good people, those who have it all together or don’t have any major blemishes in their past. For the past several decades, the loudest voices in Christianity have perpetuated a story that says you have to be good enough, you can’t make mistakes, and God only wants you at your best. If you’re not, we’ll still take you, but we don’t want to talk about it.

People who have been turned off by Christians feel that God can’t use them, and this is simply not the case. The are many people in the bible who had a checkered past, and even made gigantic mistakes as followers of God! We are all broken, and I’m sorry that the current view of Christianity is the belief that we have it all together (or feel we do). No, we don’t, and we continue to live broken lives. We just believe we have found the answer that is bigger than ourselves.

Returning to the bible characters who were messed up. It has always struck me as amazing to read about the kind of screw-ups that God used. I mean, if he was running ads for people in the classifieds, the righteous people of the age would not have applied. Well, that got me to thinking, “What would that look like?”

Here is a series of ads that may have been run by God.

The Conversion of Saul - Acts 9

Peter denies Jesus - Luke 22:54-62

David & Bathsheba - 2 Samuel 11

The Calling of Moses - Exodus 2-4

As you can see, God is waiting to use us for his glory, which in turn will make our own lives more fulfilling and rich. I think that God uses our brokenness and mistakes to allow his light to shine brighter through us. When we have filled up our lives with our own stuff and good deeds, when we are handling everything, “Thanks God, but I’ve got this life thing under control”, he will go find someone else. He doesn’t need much, he is God after all.

Whether you are a Christian or not, how do you feel you are being used? A more reflective question is, how do you use others? It is not simply a question of faith, but of how we interact with people on a daily basis. I would love to hear what you think! Especially if you are not a Christian, or have a different faith, what does the sacred text say about what kind of people God(s) uses?

Have a great day being used.

I Don’t Need You, and We All Need Each Other

I don’t need for you to read this, I’m fine thanks.

I don’t need to see my stats climb throughout the day.

I don’t need for the link to be re-tweeted.

At least that’s my hope.

To be honest, often this is not me. As much as I want to write for myself and because I feel as if I need to write, not simply to be read, but it’s not always the case. There is another reason though, for me to not need any of these external affirmations. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus paid for everything on the cross. It is finished! is the banner under which to live. That means I do not have to waste so much time and energy trying to be measure up, to be good looking, to be clever, to have a popular blog. I am free to live without those restraints, to care for others, pursue my passions, and not be shackled to worldly expectations.

Do I always live this way? No, rarely in fact. I want to be liked, for people to think I’m funny, to be popular, and on and on. I stress out if I’m not picked, or if a relationship is in conflict (likely in conflict because I want to be right). Friday, a group of men gathered to bless a friend who is getting married. While the others spoke, I barely listened to their wisdom as I formulated my own words. I thought of what would serve him well, but also how I could sound smart and spiritual. It’s ridiculous for me to feel this way!

It is finished, we are saved, it’s past-tense. Already done. To even say “I’m working on it” is unnecessary, because God doesn’t need that out of me. Stop trying so hard to measure up! You’re good, your life is taken care of, don’t try to be good enough any more and follow Jesus. Pursue your what is in your heart, help others, and don’t let people’s opinions, good or bad, define who you are.

But We Still Need Each Other

We cannot deny though that human beings are social animals, and we all crave that personal touch. I am most fully myself in the company of people I know and love. Everything above was not meant to say that we don’t need family or friends. They are essential. We are made for community, large or small, where we can help one another, keep each other accountable, rebuke and affirm, living together throughout all of life’s joys and sorrows.

The difference is that while we are meant to live together, we should not rely on anyone as our primary source of comfort and purpose. Our identity comes from God alone, in who he calls me to be. Everything else; husband, son, brother, camp director, writer, runner, they are secondary at best.

So mainly I hope this blog and my writings speak to you and help in your daily life. The topics are varied because I’m finding a voice. I’m writing because I enjoy telling stories and sharing my life. I look forward to the time I’m blessed with. If God wills it, I’ll continue to live and do this or that (James 4:15).

But I’m done trying to measure up.

Note: A large part of this post was inspired by a sermon by Pastor Tullian Tchividjian, of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The sermon in a part of his “Gospel of Works” series, part 8. You can find it on the iTunes podcenter if you’re interested.  

22 People Who Are Better Than Me (in a good way!)

Today I got down to thinking about what I really want to write about, and more specifically, where I would want the process to take me. I would love to be able to travel, wrote about nature, the outdoors, make short films, coach football, help those in need, go on mission trips, and work with kids. That’s all (sarcastic/hopeful tone).

Then I considered what I’ve been writing about, and my content didn’t match my hope that well. Since I’m starting out as a writer, I do believe it’s best to keep writing, and focus your voice and content as you get better. At least that’s what I’m going for right now. I have been writing a lot about writing and the creative process, and honestly it’s been easy to use that as a topic because it’s a daily part of my life. I’m basically re-packaging my own struggles and sharing them with you. Hopefully though, it helps in a small way.

One of the main challenges I face is the realization that there are so many people and services out right now who are doing what I want to do, and doing it really, really well. I’m becoming less intimidated by them, because I know that I can do great work as well. The challenge is taking the chance and putting forth the years of work necessary to get to where they are now. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are social platforms or the permission to impact people in a busy world. I don’t know how to write great code, use sophisticated SEO tactics, or create beautiful designs. I tell stories.

Presently though, here are a list of people and sites that I read daily, or will read, watch, or listen to anything they release. I haven’t included any company sites or blogs, they’re in a different category than these 22 run by an individual or small team. They certainly have a voice in the work that I produce, and I hope you enjoy them as well!

Outdoors

Adventure Journal - Steve Casmiro (former editor of Cycling magazine and top-notch photographer) has built the premier site for all things outdoor. News, advocacy, links, photography, gear, food, they have it all. This is the main outdoor site I visit daily, the content is rich and worthwhile. I would visit simply to drool over the Weekend Cabin (which you should as well). It was also just named Outside Magazine’s #1 Outdoor site.

Check out these posts to get started:

Cold Splinters - Jeff Thrope has made the outdoors feel all 1970′s again, and I love it. The site in itself is beautifully designed and vintage, the photography syncs perfectly with the site with vintage filters, and he writes very well. Cold Splinters is where I can feel like an outdoors hipster. It’s a general outdoor site, but the Trail Mix posts are very enjoyable, along with any of the well-written posts about doing work with your hands.

Check out these posts to get started:

Semi-Rad - I really enjoy Brendan Leonard’s blog, because he is a regular guy trying to live the dream. Also, he shows up and delivers to his tribe, consistency is king! My favorite part of his blog is the About Me.

Check out these posts to get started:

Dirtbag Diaries - This is really more of a podcast, and maybe the best outdoor life podcast going today. The stories take center stage, tales of adventure and brokenness that mirror our own lives. The Diaries popularity is also helped by the music that Fitz puts together for each episode, then make available in the notes.

Check out these posts to get started:

The Gear Junkie - Stephen Regenold has put together one of the best outdoor gear review sites, and my personal favorite. If you’re like me and want to low-down on every piece of outdoor gear you purchase, the Gear Junkie is a great place to look. He’s also active on twitter, and has responded directly to a few of my gear inquiries.

Check out these posts to get started:

Sports

Smart Football - Chris Brown is a lawyer turned football analyst, and his acumen for breaking down plays, techniques, and game plans is undeniable. If I’m following twitter during a game, Smart Football is definitely on the list. I’m also convinced that a smart person with average football knowledge could turn themselves in to a decent high school football coach simply by reading Smart Football.

Check out these posts to get started:

Only Gators - I graduated from Florida, and Adam Silverstein runs the best insider blog on the interwebs right now. I’ll check in with OG on a regular basis to see what’s been happening, and daily during football season. No links to read, if you’re a Gator fan just go ahead and start following.

Dr. Saturday – This is a stretch, since Dr Saturday is the Yahoo Sports College Football blog, thus not independent. But it is the most consistent, well-written source of news and updates in college football. The previous head guy, Matt Hinton, has recently left the building, replaced by the new head lady, Graham Watson. Looking forward to the new season.

Writing, Creativity, and Business

Jeff Goins - I’ve written about Jeff a few times, mainly here. He’s actually probably getting tired of it. Jeff consistently turns out great content and advice for writers, no matter what stage of the craft you’re in. Begin reading and you won’t be disappointed.

Check out these posts to get started:

Michael Hyatt - Michael is the Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, but on his blog he focuses on the topic of Intentional Leadership. He writes about other topics, but that is the main focus. I really appreciate the honesty Michael communicates with, and his willingness to share knowledge gleaned from many years in the writing business.

Check out these posts to get started:

Seth Godin - Seth is the first author I read who challenged me to think about how I worked. I am continually inspired by his work, and at the root of my amazement is his consistency! In 2009 he wrote his 3,000 daily post in a row, affirming his commitment to spreading ideas and new ways of thinking. He’s also a master at taking an idea or thought that is on the tip of your tongue, and giving it life. Check him out.

Check out these posts to get started:

Daniel Pink - Dan’s site is extremely interesting, and I’ve mentioned some of his work before. The Pomodoro technique came from Dan’s site, and his book A Whole New Mind was very important for me, especially just after graduating college. You can find a wealth of analytical information, presented in a fascinating manner, along with many other topics. One of my favorite running features is emotionally intelligent signage. Give him a look.

Check out these posts to get started:

Garr Reynolds - I read Garr’s book Presentation Zen 4 years ago, and it made me think differently about the way I speak in front of people, communicate information, and design everything. You wouldn’t think of the design and layout of power point presentations as art, but then you haven’t seen Garr’s slide decks. It changed everything for me in those areas. The design aspect spilled over in to other areas of life as well, to websites, my office, home, and really everything.

Check out these posts to get started:

Corbett Barr - Corbett runs ThinkTraffic.com, arguably the best site for bloggers looking to generate more traffic and income. It’s the only site of its kind that is currently in my rss reader, because it’s so detailed and extensive. Corbett has experience with several other successful blogs and websites, which you can find out more about by visiting his personal site.

Check out these posts to get started (on ThinkTraffic):

Christian Spirituality

Donald Miller - Donald is the author of several books, most notably Blue Like Jazz. Another important book in my life, it challenged me in my Christian faith and caused me to think about what my faith really meant to me. He is very human-story focused right now, his latest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years covering the subject of the creative process, and being able to tell one’s story. All of this is done against the backdrop of what God has done for us and the life he’s called us to live.

Check out these posts to get started:

Richard Rohr - I almost didn’t put Fr. Rohr here, he can be so controversial. But he has also pointed me down the path of worrying about myself less (and one day not at all), helping the poor & needy, not seeking fame, and being able to embrace both my strengths and weaknesses. He’s also been significant in his writing on male development and rites of passage in the modern world, a topic that is very important in my work with young men.

Check out these posts to get started:

Ryan Taylor - Man, I really like Ryan. Never met the guy, but no worries. Ryan is the Director of Access Denver, plays basketball, and writes a solid blog. He is another leader who is challenging others to look around and see the suffering in our neighborhoods, and be the hands of God in creating change. I’ve written about him a bit more here.

Check out these posts to get started:

General Interest & Fun

The Art of Manliness - Yes, they have fun posts like How to Make a Survival ShotgunThey have informative posts like How to Carve a TurkeyThey also assemble great lists like 100 Must-Read Books: The Man’s Essential Library. But what really made me a full-fledged believer in the AoM was Brett & Sarah McKay’s research and writing about male development and being a man. Not an ultra-masculine no-nonsense man, or a soft, passive man. A Man; forged out of the experience of those before him, ready to do hard things, think of others’ before self, stand up for what’s right, and be a contributor to his community. Love it.

To get started, click on the articles above.

The Oatmeal - My interest in goofy internet comics really peaked during college, and since then I don’t go searching for such hilarity often. The Oatmeal though, really came to me. I saw the Dear Sriracha comic at Sunny Pointe Cafe, and liked it so much that I hunted down the site. Matt Inman does a wonderful job fusing humor, common sense, plain-as-day irony, and grammar checks in to his brand. Go over there and have a laugh. *FYI, not all comics are squeaky-clean, though the ones I linked are fine. 

Check out these posts to get started:

Zen Habits - Leo Babauta has curated one of the most popular blogs on the internet, and one of the most interesting. I’ve only been reading it for a couple weeks myself, but I’m blown away, definitely one that I can read for an hour and not realize it. Highly recommended.

Instead of linking a few articles, Leo has made it easy for us by creating a Start Here page.

The Minimalists - My friend Bryce told me about this site, as I was telling him about my feelings towards having fewer possessions. “You need to read what these guys are writing” he told me. So I did, and stayed up most of the night reading through their entire 21 Day Journey in to Minimalism page. It lit a fire under me, gave some substance to the conversations my wife and I had been having. Within a week, I had given away boxes of clothes, packed up extra household and kitchen products, and put the TV in the attic. I haven’t missed any of those things, because I am more than my possessions.

Check out these posts to get started:

Tim Ferriss - I have a love/hate relationship with Tim Ferriss’ writing and self-promotion. Mainly, I think he comes off as self-promoting and arrogant. I also think he is quite interesting and has many good things to say about creative ways to live and work. I can respect that. I mainly respect the effort and practice that he puts in to his craft of writing, and his personal blog. The blog is a smorgasbord of topics, enjoy picking through them.

Check out these posts to get started:

Wow, that took much longer than I had planned. When I said “today” at the beginning of the post, it was Monday. I’m publishing on Friday. I went through many temptations to cut the list, not include Get Started links, and leave out the descriptions. In other words, obey the path of least resistance. I’m glad I didn’t, and hope you agree.

Finally, this is simply my list, and it won’t be the last. People are doing incredible, creative work, and I would love to hear about the writers, bloggers, and creatives that inspire you. Leave your suggestions in the comments!