Life

Blog posts chronicling my continuing adventures. Sometimes I like to write about what’s going on in my life.

Turning 30

It seems appropriate that I’m turning thirty this year. I have to smirk as I write that, as if I had a say in the matter. What I mean is since my last birthday I’ve found myself in the midst of one major life event after another. Since turning 29 a year ago Kathy and I got married, we moved from Florida to Colorado, I started a new full-time job with The Navigators, and somewhere in there I launched my own small business. Going from one decade to the next? Yeah, that seems par for the course right now.

With all those recent changes you would think watching the odometer turn over wouldn’t feel all that momentous. Not so. In fact, I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around this new number. It’s like each January when you have to start writing the new year on everything. It just looks funny at first.

Usually in my annual birthday essay I try to reflect thoughtfully on the big themes of my life from the previous year, but this time I’ve decided to reflect on my twenties as a whole.

Years ago one of the men who discipled me in college told me that your twenties are for figuring out what you’re good at, to see what makes you come alive. I tend to agree. I found my twenties to be a decade characterized by impatient self-discovery. I just wanted answers; I didn’t want the process. But he told me one other thing, something that really stuck. During your twenties, as you’re trying to sort everything out, it’s okay to fail.

No one had ever told me something like that before. It’s okay to fail. Now, he didn’t mean to act recklessly and throw all caution to the wind. He was trying to impress upon me that I didn’t have to get it right the first time. He didn’t want me to live in fear, to choose not to act, waiting for all the planets had aligned and a can’t-miss opportunity. Those situations just don’t come around, not on your first trip out, at least not for most of us.

I took his advice as best I could through my early and mid twenties. Of course, I came to find out that just because it’s okay to fail doesn’t mean it feels okay to fail. By far, the hardest part of my twenties was each time I had to decide it was worth risking heartbreak all over again.

One of the elders at my church in Tallahassee had a particularly strong influence on me during my mid-to-late twenties, a very difficult time in my life. To keep things brief, let’s just say that by then I had grown sick of failing. Having permission to do so had become a moot point. This man read me like a book and cut right through my cynicism. He had a lot of poignant and challenging things to say to me through the years but one stands out in my mind. Over and over he urged me to live my life with curiosity and compassion, to engage with my own heart and the hearts of others. By the same token, he would nearly always pair that advice with Proverbs 4:23, to guard my heart above all else.

I look back now and realize my error. While I strove to find my future I was careless with my heart in the present and, as a result, I became paralyzed by my past failures and disappointments.

I’m happy to tell you that things took a turn for the better as I closed out my twenties. First, I had to become reacquainted with the Gospel. Fear and shame were speaking a lot louder than grace. It was a process to believe—really and truly believe—what I claimed to be true. From there I started paying better attention. This same elder counseled me to be the expert of myself and to stop trying to be the expert of everyone else. In other words, quit reading between the lines and figure out your own heart. I was surprised just how difficult it was to do this in real time.

It just so happened that I was learning these truths about the heart and putting them into practice right about the time I started dating Kathy. Funny how that worked out. God is good.

I listed earlier all the new beginnings that have entered my life in the past year. Each is a tremendous blessing and I’m incredibly thankful. But the start of my thirties brings something else too: new blind spots. I don’t know what I don’t know. I’m a total novice at how to do this next season well. It’s intimidating to say the least. I have to remind myself that I have a faithful God, a supportive wife, and a host of family and friends who want the best for me. Come what may, I already have what matters the most.

This post is part of an ongoing series of birthday essays. Each year since I began blogging I have written a reflective personal essay on April 3.

Facebook Official

Sure, Kathy and I got married on August 31, but the life event wasn’t posted on Facebook until today.

Wax Seals on Wedding Invitations

My fiancee Kathy has had such an amazing vision for our wedding down to the smallest detail. Take for example these wax seals on our wedding invitations. They add a memorable touch of class to this part of our big day.

When she took them to the post office Kathy asked if she could cancel the stamps by hand so the wax seals wouldn’t be wrecked by the letter sorting machines. That was quite a task!

Wax Seals on Wedding Invitations

Here’s one word of warning to those who might like this idea. It turns out it costs an extra $0.20 in postage per invitation when you include a wax seal. I’m not sure if knowing that ahead of time would have changed our minds about adding them, but it did take an unexpected bite out of the margin we’ve tried to leave ourselves in wedding our budget.

Turning 29

Today is my birthday. I am turning 29 years old and, for once, I feel every bit my age. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer ministering on a college campus to students who are several years younger than me. Maybe it’s because earlier today I had to put Icy Hot on my neck to alleviate pain that I presume was caused by all the strenuous sleeping I’ve been doing. Or maybe it’s all in my head. Like I said two years ago my dad has a theory that you feel older on odd number birthdays. Maybe he’s right.

As I reflect on the previous year I can’t help but begin by observing how faithful God has been. Perhaps you recall the passage of scripture I sensed He was laying on my heart when I wrote last year’s birthday essay. It was Luke 13:6-9, which reads as follows.

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Towards the end of 2011 my feelings were telling me to run away, to reboot my life in a new place with new people. I was persuaded by this passage to hang in there, but to make dramatic changes. But here’s the thing. The passage doesn’t say whether the efforts taken by the vinedresser yielded any fruit on the fig tree. Likewise, I couldn’t convince myself that this passage was somehow God winking at me, that everything would fall into place in short order if only I would add this and quit that. It was more a call to humility and obedience than anything else. God was saying, “Will you trust me? Even after everything you’ve just been through, will you trust me?”

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Secretly Meaningful Facebook Statuses

We’ve all done it. You post something really ambiguous on Facebook, something that means nothing at all to the general population. But in reality it’s loaded with meaning for you and perhaps a few others. I did this when I first asked out Kathy a year ago today.

Here’s what I wrote just a couple hours before asking her to be my girlfriend.

Here goes nothing. Wish me something.

And here’s what I wrote the next day.

I'm having one of those days when I feel like my whole body is smiling.

Say what you want about Facebook. It helps capture some pretty cool stories.

 

No Vacancies

Sometimes I wish writing were more mechanical in nature. You show up with an idea, provide yourself with a quiet workspace and some free time, and a little while later you have yourself exactly what you wanted. The words aren’t just coherent. They’re moving, captivating, even beautiful. Perhaps all I mean to say is I wish this difficult thing was actually quite simple.

Maybe you’re a writer and maybe you can pound out words like nobody’s business. I can do that if those words are going into my private journal, a place where I spill my thoughts haphazardly. But when my aim is to share my writing with others it’s a much more arduous task for me. I love that process dearly, but it’s not easy. See, for me it requires more than just a good thought and a conducive workspace. I have to give myself enough space to write, and I’m not talking about a time allotment. I need to give my mind, my heart, and even my soul the space it needs. That’s not something I can conjure up whenever I have a free moment.

I think of it almost like a hotel. If you’ve already rented all the rooms to other people it doesn’t matter how important the next guy to walk into the lobby is. There simply are no vacancies left to be filled.

Many “rooms” have long been spoken for, things like work, church, small group, and time with my roommates. It’s very easy for me fill up space with useless things like worry and anxiety. Sometimes life circumstances work against me too in the form of poor health or something like that. But in recent times I’ve found myself filling those vacancies with new good things: career advancement, travel, new social circles, future plans, and my fumbling yet sincere attempts to win my girlfriend’s heart.

Realistically I’m not sure what I’m looking for. What I’ve observed is something will have to give. To this point the most major casualty has been self-published writing. I hope to turn that around but I know it’ll come at a cost. Someone’s going to have to check out.

Election Day 2012

I Voted

This is the first time I didn’t mail in my presidential ballot ahead of time. Of course, when you vote by mail you don’t get a sticker to wear proudly on your shirt. Walking around sans sticker on election day is unadvisable. In my experience it’s led to being asked countless times whether or not I’ve voted yet. But not this year. This truly is a change I can believe in.

Long Distance

Skype is pretty amazing when you stop and think about it. I’m in Tallahassee. Kathy is in Venice. We can chat face-to-face. We’re all wonderfully spoiled by technology we now think nothing of. I remember when I used to think email was just as incredible. I wonder what future technology will make Skype seem lackluster.

I had a screenshot of my conversation with Kathy up here but she made me take it down. In fairness it wasn’t the most flattering picture in the world.

Turning 28

Today I turn 28. I am waist-deep in my late-twenties. I am growing increasingly aware of the generation gap present when I’m around the college students I work with and minister to. I find myself in more and more conversations that subtly (and not-so-subtly) inquire why I’m not yet married. I’ve had a brooding sense of stagnation, a feeling that only in recent months has begun to lift. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went back and read the birthday essay I wrote last year and was struck by just how optimistic my outlook on the year ahead seemed to be. It was the epitome of looking at the glass half full despite my typical proclivity to the contrary. I chose to focus on what was good in my life. It was an especially difficult choice because at that time I was in the middle of some painful and uncertain circumstances. But even in the midst of those events I can remember thinking to myself, “Well, at least things can’t get any worse.” Of that I was wrong.

I will remember the year between my twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth birthdays as the most difficult and most formative year of my life up to that point. It was a year when I came face to face with my demons, my idols, and my savior, none of whom seemed to want to leave me alone. Throughout 2011 I found myself becoming increasingly distraught with disillusionment, losing any sense of direction and understanding of my life that I’d had prior. I experienced God’s discipline and his faithfulness; I found him to be true to his word in ways I’d previously only read about. He fought for me even when all I could do was wait and hope he would come through.

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What a Difference a Year Makes

Here’s something truly wild about today, at least from where I stand. One year ago to the day my heart experienced some of the worst girl-related hurt it had ever felt.1 At the time I didn’t know how I’d ever get over that.

Oh, if only that me could see me now.

1
I did a terrible job guarding my heart. As a result I didn’t handle the rejection well at all (despite evidence to the contrary). Now you know why I blathered on about pain and subsequently learned so much about idolatry.