A weekly blog about relationships, belief, and personal growth, written from a position of hope.
I noticed the guy in the lane next to me was yelling at the car behind him while we were stopped at the red light. I looked in their direction to see what was going on when the guy noticed me looking. He then proceeded to shout at me too. Intrigued, I rolled my window down. Surely this shirtless fellow had something important to say.
“I’m a redneck! I’m from Alabama!” He proudly shouted. I didn’t know whether to laugh or not. He had that “I would hit somebody over an Alabama football game” look in his eye, and I wasn’t sure if this was a joke or if this self-proclaimed redneck was actually looking for a scuffle. The light changed, and our exchange ended as the truck sped off, crossing three lanes of traffic and turning down a road I wasn’t traveling.
There’s something to be said about what someone calls themselves, or people who feel the need to announce something about themselves. I’m always a little wary of any title or description someone self-assigns. I saw a bumper stick once that said “HUMBLE.” Really? Doesn’t that kinda contradict the whole idea?
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” This quote gets me every time, because one of my fears is being disingenuous. For someone to read my blog then experience my life and see incongruity would be utter failure in my mind.
I heard Derek Webb describe the word “Christian” once as we use it in popular culture. He said if it’s used to describe anything other than a person then it’s a marketing term. Words like “Christian” that imply some sort of value always make me skeptical of the one using them.
I guess what I’m getting at, is the older I get the more I want to be shown than told. Who you are is going to speak louder than what you say, anyway. And be careful, especially if someone’s description of themselves could be a manipulation of your trust. At the very least, it might just be an announcement of their insecurity or pain.
So from this humble, Christian, Bama fan—Roll Tide, y’all!
I woke up really early yesterday, made coffee, and walked to the end of the pier. As I stared at the stillness of the lake I took in the tranquility that’s nearly impossible to find anywhere but nature. My phone rested next to me, its service spotty enough for me to remain uninterested.
I’m actually glad there is no service or WiFi for backup there. It’s forced detox from the never-ending stimuli of a smartphone. They’re definitely convenient, and I can’t imagine working or communicating without one, but this is a sanctuary from the endless notifications, messages, calls, and information.
I heard something move behind me and looked to see a tiny turtle joining me to welcome the day. A heron swooped in and perched on the pier opposite of me. The breeze blew, and I had yet to feel the heat that’s sure to come later in the day. The morning still had enough chill to periodically bring bumps to the back of my arm.
I tried to let my mind go blank, to not think about anything specific, to simply be present. I was reminded how incredibly hard that actually is. Most days require my mind to be like a web browser with 36 tabs open.
To sit and just be aware, without an inner dialogue, with no self-talk, no scripts, no worries, no quiet insecurities, nothing to be anxious about, not wanting, nothing—it’s really challenging.
It is absolutely necessary, though. It’s like starting a diet or a workout routine and not realizing how terrible you actually felt before you did it. In the same fashion, finding true quiet is not easy to start or sustain but reaps huge benefits once the discipline sets in.
I have nothing monumental, existential, or world shattering to offer this week, other than a brief testimony and encouragement to get outside and get off your phone. I actually feel great today, and that wouldn’t be so had I not hit the reset button. Now, back to those 36 tabs I had open...
Those who go first sometimes leave a map for others to follow. Like markers along the road, we come across the path others have forged. As fellow travelers, we do our part to keep the road clear and offer any insight or direction for those coming after.
In our personal Iives we leave identity markers. The things that shaped up, the spaces we created and occupied for a time—they become rest stops for others on the same journey.
I was listening to an interview with Audrey Assad, and she put into words what I’ve always felt about the aim of my own life, particularly in writing the blog:
“I see myself as someone who is building rooms for people to sit in in different spots on their journey, and every time I go through something I build a room around it, and then I walk forward and build another one, and people who come after me can use those spaces.”
The worst place to find yourself is not a different place than you were before but a lonelier place. As we grow and change we often find ourselves emotionally or spiritually homeless. I love Audrey’s picture of rooms to occupy as you move forward.
I think of cabins built by early settlers and left for the next pioneers to occupy as they ventured further into the unknown. I imagine days, weeks, months of hiking in the wilderness, family and belongings in tow, wondering what refuge your seeking will find.
I think the metaphor of creating and leaving space for others might be one of the most meaningful objectives we can set for ourselves in life. What better way to love your neighbor than to house them when they’re homeless? Keep building rooms, my friends. We will all need a place to stay at some point or another.
How do you handle problems, cope with stress and difficult circumstances, or process grief? We are different in how we approach these things, and I realized I start by describing. In an almost postmortem fashion, I begin breaking it apart.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and I heard a phrase recently that turned a light on in one dark room of my heart. The phrase was, “describing to defend.”
I immediately stopped the interview, sat with the realization, and rewinded to catch it again. I learned I can explain why it happened, unearth the roots of the cause, trace back all contributing factors, and it hurts less—for a while, at least.
If I can understand where someone is coming from, why they are the way they are, the pain they cause seems less impactful. My natural curiosity, my desire to learn, my craving to understand others—they’re all useful traits.
However, they can delay the real work that needs to be done. It can stunt the necessary healing. Being able to categorize and explain doesn’t do away with anything, it just makes the stored trauma more organized.
There are good principles I’ve tried to include as I shape my paradigm of the world that I believe might have contributed to my misapplication:
They’re fantastic principles, but they can’t allow you to deny the grief work when pain enters your life. You still have to say, “That really hurt!” We don’t become immune or invincible by understanding the other. If anything, we may train ourselves to temporarily be numb as we await our own falling apart.
And outside of ourselves, if we become am impartial observer to what’s happening, we just might diminish our ability to truly empathize with the pain of others.
I caught myself recently trying to rationalize, explain, and answer someone who was struggling. I felt like I understood their situation, therefore, they needed my “knowledge.” They just needed me to listen.
Learn, share, repeat. It’s a process I’m committed to, and I appreciate you continuing to read along with the journey. I don’t express it enough, but I am tremendously grateful for all who have kept up with the blog over the years.
As a reminder, many of you have reached out via email, and I encourage those of you who haven’t to send some feedback my way. Did anything resonate with you? Are you learning something right now? Do you agree or disagree? Whatever it might be, this is your space.
Peace and blessings!
Some of the castles we toured in Ireland were decorated with furniture twice the age of our country. Crazy, right? The bed in one of the chambers we walked through was over 500 years old.
We are like the Mark Zuckerberg of countries. We hit it big early. We’ve accomplished a lot in a short period of time, but we are obviously still learning. To much of the world we are adolescents, and I think it’s partly why so many assume Americans are arrogant in a sense.
I remember a beach trip my friends and our families took years ago. We were kicked out of the go-kart track for ramming each other. What else could you expect from teenage boys?
One of the dads, angry at the go-kart attendant who was talking back to him said, “Son! I’ve got shoes older than you!” That shut down his youthful arrogance quickly. We still tell the story more than a decade later.
One of the most remarkable sites I saw on our trip was the Cliffs of Moher. They are said to have been formed 320 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period. It’s hard to even fathom that amount of time given the blip our individual existence is.
A 500 year-old bed, a thousand year-old country, all seem like infants to those cliffs. Maybe we are all children, relatively speaking, making mistakes, trying to get along, attempting to figure out the world, getting kicked out of go-kart tracks.
Here today and gone tomorrow, we try to learn from those who have gone before and make a worthy contribution when it’s our turn. We try to move the ball forward before the unstoppable hand of time moves past us and we become a part of the history a tourist reads about hundreds of years from now.
You haven't missed your calling
From where I sit in this hospital waiting room
Accept the invitation to live
The lighted window
It was worth it
The subtle sounds of a life together
Made for the now-what
When holidays are hard
Sharing in our suffering
To my doubting friend
Ten years down the road
How long, Lord?
A season of doubt