Sunday, February 26, 2012

.together

A friend once said, that I seem to have it together. I thought this was a funny thing to say, given that I'm nowhere near "together", whatever that may mean.

Don't get me wrong, I found it immensely flattering, and was actually pleased in a way that I could seem somewhat grounded. But, if I'm honest with you,
I'm not together. Not remotely. I'm actually in pieces.

I've known love, and lost it. I've known pain that seemed overwhelming. The choices I've made in the past have left lots of debris to be cleaned up, and many shattered dreams to be pieced back together.

I think that brokenness is something to which we all can relate. In different ways, of course, but broken is broken. We know how it feels to have something missing. We know how it feels to have our souls laid bare, and to feel desolation, and desertion.

We know how it is to drink, but to never satisfy a thirst. To eat, but to never find ourselves full. Some long to be loved, but can never find one who can fill the vast void they feel, every time they fall into their dreams.

I've often felt like a puzzle piece, in a box that's not my own. I've felt as though I don't fit, more often than I'd like. Because, in the end, that's truly what we, humans, crave. To fit. To find a place that makes sense.

It took me a long time to find God in this mess. Maybe He was buried under the endless piles of dirty laundry I had acquired. I guess, it's only when you've run out of the clean stuff, and have used that same T-shirt for the last week, that you find Him. Because, after all, we can only use the same stuff for so long before we see the need for it to be cleaned. I should also note that, most of the time, this realization comes long after our peers and family realize this need.

Once I started digging around in my dirty laundry it became painfully apparent that I couldn't clean the stuff without help. Hell, I didn't even know where to begin! God's that organizer you need to sort everything out; the reds, darks, and lights.

He's the one who can see the details of the puzzle, and knows exactly where you fit in the image.

He's the one who can salvage the shards and fragments, and create a new vase, stronger than the first. Only then can I be filled, and only then can I hold blooming life within me.

See, I think the beauty of realizing that God is not only real, but that He's love, is that it brings a broken, "un-together", messed up person, a sense of peace with what's missing within, or without. I lack, yet I know that God cares, and not only cares, but he can do what I alone can't. He can bring healing. He can fix me gradually. Craft me back together.

Even when the shattered life is all I know, I can find new hope rising from brokenness.

I'm anything but together friends, I assure you.

But, what I love most about faith in God, is that this is exactly the type of person He loves.

The adventure begins when you let Him begin to pick up the pieces...

Saturday, February 25, 2012

[Guest] Attracting Good People

Tim or, as he's known here at Perspectives, "my friend the Economist," is a good friend of mine, and a relatively young blogger. But youth in the blogging community doesn't mean lacking in substance or maturity, in the least! Tim has crafted a space filled with enough variety to keep you guessing, yet enough consistency to keep readers coming back.

Each post is better than the last. As soon as I knew that Tim was blogging consistently, there was very little doubt in my mind that I wanted his Perspective. Well, here it is! Enjoy!

For more of Tim's work you can check his blog out here!

The saying goes "You are what you eat." Simple enough, right? And it's surprisingly true. In the end, what you eat will impact the way you feel, and even if you don't realize it, it has an effect on the way you act. It's not just a saying, it's reality. It's not always easy to see, and sometimes you have to change the way you eat to realize the drastic changes it can make. Eating a lot of fast food? A lot of junk food? Don't feel bad, we all do it. But try giving it up, or keeping it to maybe a single trip to McDonald's per week. You'll be amazed at how well you feel.

To me, everything in life is related. Everything impacts everything else. It's important to take a closer look at life every once in a while. It's also amazing how many scary parallels there are. In this case - "You are what you eat" and "you are who you eat."

No, I'm not advocating cannibalism. You are who you eat, simply means you are who you hang around with. The common thinking on this topic is that we're the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For some people that means that they are the average of the family they have. Ever realize that older siblings and younger siblings are very different, but the middle child is kind of a mix of the two? This happens in all kinds of relationships. Whether it's family, friends or coworkers.

Just like poor eating habits can make you feel like crap, bad relationships can do the same thing. It may be tough, but it's important to take an honest look at who you chose to hang around with, and see how they impact your life. Are you the mix of your top 5 friends? How do you feel about your life? Be honest. Are things going well? Do you feel stressed out, or even a little depressed. Unfortunately, while friends can be great support at tough times, they can also drag you down.

Dennis Prager said something a while back along the lines of "good people attract good people." Are your friends good people? It's a tough call, I know, but sometimes letting go of bad relationships can improve your life. Saying goodbye to a friend who may be a good person, but also likes to drink and do drugs is probably for the best. A friend who is constantly involved in drama can pass on that stress to you, and that's not good. If you are feeling like crap, it can be life changing to spend less time with certain people.

In the end, no matter how altruistic you think you are, a toxic relationship is just that - toxic. But there are ways of dealing with toxic people. As Lillian Glass describes in her book, Toxic People, not all relationships need to end. Youcan save a bad friendship. If someone is bothering you, try the "mirror technique". It's basically giving this person a taste of their own medicine. Sometimes people don't know that how they're acting can be upsetting. Let the person know! That may be all it takes to change the way they treat you. Of course, when you "mirror" them, they might just think you agree with them, and continue doing what they're doing.

Another technique is "calm questioning". Is there something that somebody said that really bothers you? Talk to them about it calmly. It might be best to do this when it's just the two of you, but sit them down, and ask them questions about what they said. Maybe you misunderstood them, or maybe they just misspoke. A lack of communication can lead to a lot of problems, and it would be silly to let a simple misunderstanding ruin a relationship.

In the end though, you have to think of yourself first. If you don't feel good around this person, or if they encourage you to do things that you aren't comfortable with, it might be time for the "unplug". If someone is negatively affecting your mood, stress level, or general happiness, it's time to call it quits.

It's hard to do, I know. I've done it myself. After being let down multiple times in a friendship I had to just let it go. I still wish the friend the best. I don't hold grudges, or keep hate in my heart. If I did, then I wouldn't have truly left the relationship.

Letting go not only got a lot of stress out of my life, but it also freed up time to meet new people and renew friendships with people who I hadn't given a fair chance in the first place. There will always be people who leave our lives for one reason or another, so don't neglect to let people go for fear that no one else will come along. New friendships will be made, new girlfriends/boyfriends will come along. But once those new friends do come along, keep an eye out for the kinds of personality traits that you know will upset you. You don't want to wind up in the same situation you just got out of.

Only have one "good" friend? That's fine. Only spend time with them. Soon enough, they will start to rub off on you. You'll start to be the "good" person, and people will be attracted to you. There's a quirky philosophy out there called the "Law of Attraction". Essentially, everything we do or think sends out energy into the universe, and that energy eventually comes back. When it comes back it could be in the form of job opportunities, life changing events, or just simple friendships. The key is to send out only positive energy, because the energy you send out is the same energy you get back.

Like Prager said, "Good people attract good people." It just sometimes takes a little bit of rehab and withdrawal to get things back on track. Eliminate those negative relationships that are forcing you to put out negative energy. Everything comes full circle, whether you believe in God or karma. What kind of energy are you putting out? What kind of people are you attracting into your life?

Recommended reading - "Toxic Relationships" by Lillian Glass, "The Secret" by Rhonda Byrne, and "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.

"My Pleasure"

So, I worked at Chick-Fil-A in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a summer.

That's right. This Yankee boy got a crash course in southern hospitality!

One of the strangest things I learned whilst working down south, was that instead of saying things like "you're welcome" (a pretty standard response to a thank you up here), they say crazy things like..."my pleasure."

Admittedly, it does sound a lot nicer. As my former manager explained to us, yanks, "my pleasure" makes it all about the customer. It makes them feel all special, like we think the sun shines out their asses or something like that.

I have to say, though, my pleasure has stuck with me to this day, as has the entire experience that summer, and I still use it quite frequently at my workplace.

Something I've noticed, however, is that Northern businesses have started to catch on to this phenomenon! The Honda dealership nearest to my apartment has actually started requiring their receptionists to finish client calls with "my pleasure."

Gotta hand it to the "progressive" north for being so behind on customer courtesy! When it comes to hospitality, no one does it like southerners, I'm sorry.

Anyway, the point of this is actually that this dealership can't even do it right! You're supposed to say "my pleasure" after someone has said "thank you," or something to that tune. You can't just use it anytime.

For instance, I called in to talk to one of the service reps about a recent repair I had to do, and the conversation went something like this:

"Joshua?"
"Yes."
"Barb isn't available right now, could you hold for a moment while she finishes with a client?"
"Uh...sure."
"(awkward pause)....my pleasure."
(*Enter lame music they play while you're waiting on the phone)

(Me thinking) "Did she...just say...my pleasure? Weird."

Ten minutes later she comes back on the line.
"Joshua?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"I'll transfer you over to Barb now, OK?"
"OK."
"(another awkward pause)...my pleasure."

OK, now I was annoyed. Not only 'cuz I had to wait ten minutes for the answer to a simple question, but because she did it twice! She said "my pleasure" when she had no reason to say it! I did not say thank you, thus she had no reason to have pleasure because of me.

I almost quit going to the place but, alas, my car is old, and I continue to need repairs done. So I'll just have to grit my teeth, and deal with the Northerner's obtuse use of the phrase.

The finer point, I think, that I'm trying to emphasize to all us Yankees up here is this: Get it right, or just don't use it!

Maybe I'll just have to move back to Myrtle Beach! :p

Greatest Hits

Dear loyal readers,

I am having a bout of one of the seven deadly sins, envy.
Everybody seems to have a "Greatest Hits" or "Classics" or something of that nature when they hit a milestone. I don't. But, instead of sitting on my ass and whining, I'm going to ask you to help me out!

I want to do a yearly "Greatest Hits" showcase, but I need you to help me select them.

If you can, when you find the time, can you pick 3 entries from the 2011 year, that you particularly enjoyed and send them to me? I'll take the ones with the most votes, and thus I will fulfill my envious desires.

Please send votes to: jc57704@gmail.com

Really appreciate the help! :D

Sincerely,
-Josh

Beyond

I can't stand the term "civility."
I should say, I can't stand what our culture has done to the word.

Civility is a word used to describe politeness and courtesy within one's interactions with others. Especially those who may not agree with you.

Now, however, civility is often used as a political tool. The word has lost its meaning to those who use it. Our leaders preach about being civil to one another, then refuse to practice what they preach. It's quite saddening really. One of my biggest frustrations in life is seeing words, concepts, and ideals twisted from what they were intended to be. Civility is a big one.

When it all comes down to it, the idea of civility actually stems from the Golden Rule.
"Treat others the way you want to be treated."

This ethical truth, is a maxim that runs through many different faiths, moral systems, and has even been the basis for entire cultures.

It's a beautiful idea, a way of life that should be striven for. Yet, in typical human fashion, we often try to take this principle and bend it to our liking. We expect others to give to us, without having to give in return.

So when I turn on the T.V. and see different presidents, and leaders, talk about reaching across the aisles, being civil in their discourses then doing the opposite, it frustrates me to no end.

Here is the finer point of this post today...

As a child growing up my parents instilled, within my sisters and me, the understanding that each individual is a human, first. It's this lesson that's proved to be invaluable in my pursuit of trying to live according to the Golden Rule.

Our whole problem in society, and I touched on this a bit in the .identity? post, is that we are too quick to label others. We're too quick to isolate one aspect of an individual, and make that into all they are. If some one's a progressive they must be pro-choice, if some one's conservative they must be greedy and love war. If a guy is straight, all he must care about is sex. If a guy is gay, he must love shopping.

And while each of these things may or may not be true, what happens is that (if we disagree, or are at odds with another person) they can lose their humanity to us, and simply become that label.

When I look at someone who I completely disagree with, on just about every issue of life and how it should be lived, I try to look at them as another human first.

Because when you do that you begin with commonality, not division. You begin in the same place, and can also begin to appreciate the person, even if you disagree on the issues.

You like polka music? Great. I hate polka music, but you're another human being, and I respect that.
If you're gay or straight it doesn't matter to me, because your definition as a person goes far beyond your sexual orientation. You exist to dream, innovate and create, and all of those things can happen with or without a romantic component.

If you're liberal, conservative or even non-political it doesn't matter.
If you're from another culture, it doesn't matter.
If you're from another faith group... It. Doesn't. Matter.

We're first and foremost humans. We share a common thread, and no matter how badly our worldviews may clash, I resolve to treat you with the dignity, I believe, you deserve.

It actually sucks quite a lot when people judge me on, say, my political choices, or my personal beliefs about faith, and refuse to get to know me as a person. I'm more than who I choose to vote for. I'm Josh. I like Guitar Hero, and love music. I like to go camping, and love my family. There's so much of me that another could miss if they just wrote me off because of my ideals for government, and leadership, or the God I place my faith in.

This actually raises one final point, and then I'll conclude today. As a follower of Christ, this idea of the Golden Rule isn't optional. No matter how badly another person may treat you. No matter what labels they try to assign you, you are still called to treat them, as you wish to be treated.

It does no good to talk a talk, but then to refuse to walk. So many people in this culture do it. Our leaders, co-workers, friends even. But not once will that ever justify conforming to this standard.

It isn't out of desire for superiority that one should pursue this, it's out of genuine love. Not expecting anything in return. Because as hard as things may become when you try to live this kind of life, you find yourself sleeping more freely at night. You find a peace in your soul that tells you your actions have been just.

It's a fantastic feeling, meeting people on the human level...

Friday, February 24, 2012

First Guest Spot

I have officially done my first ever guest spot on blogger. :) Woot!

Julie, who recently did a guest post for me (see "Gym-spiration), also asked me to do one for her. Kinda a quid-pro-quo thing. Naturally I obliged, since my spazzy hands just can't get tired of writing...

Here's the spot, hope you enjoy! :) Life Stories- A Fresh Perspective

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reading Corner

Check out the newest recommendations at "The Reading Corner"! Enjoy. :)

[Guest] Gym-spiration

A friend,and yet another blogger extraordinaire, fellow writer Julie entreats her readers to Life Stories!

In this space you'll be immersed in love, musings about life, and how to live it, with a heavy dose of Carpe' Diem that will have you examining your own life, and what you're doing with the precious days you're given.

This space has been an inspiration to me and, today, I'm pleased to be sharing a bit of that inspiration with you! Thanks Julie, for the "Gym-spiration!" Check out other writings by Julie here.

Staring out into the sea of anguished and tired faces has got me thinking, heart racing, and feet attempting to compensate, I start to absentmindedly observe and analyze the individuals around me. All so different of course, but I there is one notable likeness among them- the hurt and the past in their faces.



You know they've been through it, heartbreak at some point- they are hurt and going through their own personal hell or doing everything they can to forget about it- There's the faces they make when they lift the weights that are more than purely physical strain, something moves them to do this, and the pain has transcribed itself on their skin. I start to wonder what their lives are like, what they've been through that causes this. What's worse though, is seeing the faces who you know have never experienced this degree of hurt at all.


The pain that is distinguishable in public situations such as the gym is a uniting factor. Inside, silently cheering these people on to do one more rep or to keep going hard, and in turn, it motivates me to do better.

Scientifically speaking, this would classify as a mutually beneficial relationship.

It's a group situation in which you can see results, feel the benefits, and inspires motivation to continue participating in this activity.



As for those relatively "pain-less" people, I see them as a detriment to progress. Causing no real stirring of thoughts or emotions, it would be a waste of time to get lost in something so inspirational. Like the people lazily lifting the 2lb dumbbells or those who mindlessly meander on the treadmill, these people in my mind, are not sources of strength or inspiration and therefore, must be avoided at all costs as not to slip into their mediocre ways. They are a metaphor for the meaningless distractions and disturbances in our lives.


As Scott Alexander put it, "All good is hard. All evil is easy. Dying, losing, cheating, and mediocrity is easy. Stay away from easy."

The gym is a strange and wonderful place. The analogies and truths it holds as a metaphor for life could not be more influential.



The gym a place where you gain strength from the strong and you disregard the rest. I carry this motto with me through most things, either you go full-in or you might as well not try. After all, what do you have to lose?



It is just one example of a social situation that holds proof that something that makes you uncomfortable or something that has hurt you in the past, can actually help mould you into a better version of yourself.


Monday, February 20, 2012

This one time, at band camp...

So tonight, my co-worker Brittany uttered that infamous line..."This one time, at band camp..."

It was the joke of the decade, about a decade ago.

Perhaps you know, perhaps you don't, but my friends and I were all big band geeks during high school.

Wait.
Back up a second.

In music programs there are generally three main sects of music student. You know how Islam has the Sunni, Shia and Sufis? Well, music programs have band, orchestra, and choir. Ha! Bet you never saw that "compare and contrast" in your old English text books!

Anywho, I'll skip over the orchestra, and choir sects because, frankly, I don't care what happens in Choirville.

The important sect of the music world, the band, is divided into many small factions. Each contributing to the whole in their own distinct way. Each section, I noticed, has a personality to it.

So let's explore the band today, shall we?

First up, the flutes.

The flute section is comprised of high strung, borderline OCD, overachievers. I'm serious. Often times the first chair (aka, the best flute player in the section based on the band director's opinion), is practically a robot with all the things she (sometimes a he, but rarely), is involved with. Flutes tend to be chatty Cathys, and annoy the shit out of all the sections around them. There are a few down-to-earth types, but alas, they're few and far between.

Moving along to...the Clarinets.

Clarinets are much like cheerleaders when ya think about it. Cheerleaders are kind of the dance/ poms team dropouts, much like clarinets are flute rejects. They didn't quite make the cut. Or maybe they just didn't care enough to try.Many clarinet players enjoy the social aspect of band over the musical aspect. They don't take it too seriously, and are often the section of choice when it comes to inter-dating amongst band members.

Saxophones try to be bad-asses. They rarely succeed. Don't get me wrong, they can be pretty jazzy at times, and make me wanna play some Sinatra as I'm trying to convince luck to be a lady at the local casino, but they aren't rock star material. They're just average Joes (and Janes) who tend to enjoy the band experience, but try not to let it show too much...

Low Brass: The low brass section is comprised of Baritones, Tubas, Trombones, and occasionally a Barry Sax player who, apparently, has been shunned from his own community. Low brass really isn't a section though. They're just kind of leftovers. Even more disorganized than the clarinets, the low brass section tends to hold a plethora of personality types, but oftner than not, they can be divided into one of three categories.

1) Really talented, and love band with all their heart, mind and soul.
2) Really love band, but really suck at their instrument
3) Really hate music in general (Mom and Dad made them join band).

The trumpet section is generally...hmmm. Very loud. Not just in playing, but in personality as well. They will often offer opinions where they aren't needed. They can be very boisterous, and not very tactful. Trumpets are glory whores. Plain and simple. They love to be heard, looked at, and admired, (worshiped?) even if every one else thinks they're just a bunch of a-holes.

French Horns: Neither high brass, or low brass, nor even french. If I hadn't looked at a seating chart of the band, I wouldn't have known this section even existed. One can tell they're talking to a french horn player by the vacant dreamy expression that can be found on their faces.

Percussion: Have you ever noticed that percussionists are always tapping on anything their hands are near? This is a section full of un-diagnosed-ADHD-spazzy McGee's. They generally take a band course because it's an easy "A", and they can fulfill the constant need they have to beat on things...even if it's completely out of place in the music.

And finally...

The Colorguard.

Not technically part of the band, as they have no musical talent, but who doesn't love people who can throw rifles, sabres, and shit, and not die? Holla!

[Guest] My Kid Can Beat Up Your Kid

Jake is a former co-worker and blogger extraordinaire. He has a unique sense of humor, finding the amusing in what many would say is mundane, there is a strong biting wit in each successive post he pens. He keeps a private blog brimming with plenty of gut busting laughs. As soon as I had read several of his posts, I knew I wanted Jake to do a guest spot in Perspectives. Well...here it is! This is Jake's take on competitive parenting. Enjoy responsibly!

MY KID CAN BEAT UP YOUR KID


Have you ever seen the SNL skit where Kristen Wiig plays a character named Penelope. She's the annoying girl that tries to one-up everything you say? If you say you enjoy looking at the stars, she'll say she lives in a hotel on the moon. The skit is actually quite hilarious, and I think represents an issue going on in today's world: the need to best your fellow man, especially when it comes to comparing kids.

As the father of 5-yr and 2-yr old daughters, I have been guilty of this issue as well, though I've tried hard not to. Seriously, what is with this innate desire to have your child be superior to other children? Does it make you a better person? A better parent? Nope. In my opinion, it makes you a dick. Plain and simple.

My co-worker, Jamie, is a fantastic gal, and a great mother of 2 young boys. Her and I often chat about parenting because it's a common bond we both share, and because her 2-yr old son (Wyatt) and my 2-yr old daughter (Sam) were born within seven days of each other. Thus, you would expect they would develop at virtually the same pace, right?

WRONG.

All kids are different, and our children are no exception. While Wyatt was walking at about 10 months of age, Sam didn't take steps until 15 months. So, for 5 months, I felt like crap about the fact my daughter's feeble legs wouldn't support her chubby frame. Was this a failure on my part as a parent? No, Sam just didn't see the need to walk.

Lately, Jamie and I have been talking about...well...talking. Our children are vastly different when it comes to speech development. Sam probably has about 300 words in her vocabulary, and has even uttered an occasional 5 word sentence, complete with nouns, verbs, and hell, I think I even caught an adverb in there once. It's actually pretty amazing.

Meanwhile, Wyatt struts around like a cave-toddler, pointing at the fridge and saying "UUUHHHHH" when he wants a popsicle. Jamie, of course, feels that she is failing as a mom, when nothing could be further from the truth. Wyatt just hasn't felt the need to speak at this point. Plus, who are we to judge what's going on in this little boy's head? He could be justifying the Pythagorean Theorem, or writing a sequel to "War and Peace."

Parents have always had a desire to live vicariously through their children. We try to avoid whatever failures we experienced in our own lives. If you always wanted to be a professional athlete, but couldn't for one reason or another, I guarantee you'll push your child to fulfill this path. But is this the child's dream, or is it yours?

I don't think there's ever been a time where a childless couple makes love, finishes, and then the man says to his now impregnated wife, "We just made a child, honey. He or she will be the apple of our eye, and with God as my witness, when our child is 2 years old, he or she will speak in 5-word sentences. I'll accept nothing less!"

You non-parents out there might not be buying what I'm selling, but trust me, there are conversations like these happening RIGHT now between braggart parents.

Mom 1: "What are you doing this weekend, Pam?"

Mom 2: "Well, I'm so proud, actually. My 5-yr old raised $50 from her Kindergarten classmates for the cancer walk this weekend, so we'll be bringing a check and walking a few miles to show our support."

Mom 1: "Oh, didn't you hear? My little Johnny cured cancer yesterday. So, the walk's been cancelled."


Why do we do this, parents? Having children is a club to which we all belong. So what if your kid walked early, talked early, smiled early (probably just gas), giggled early, pooped on the potty at a young age (probably dumb luck), or drew a picture of a stick figure with a green head? As long as your kid reads, writes, walks, talks, and becomes a non-murdering member of society, you've done your job.

Can't we all just get along?

Friday, February 17, 2012

.identity?

We're chameleons.
All of us.

Seeking to find identity in aspects of our lives. Always mimicking, and imitating. Why?

Why do we let certain things define us?

In America, we've lost our identity. Our true identity.

We are first, and foremost, people. How simple, yet incredibly difficult this is to grasp, blows my mind.

See, I've noticed this a lot recently. We, humans, cling to things that we think give us worth. This isn't some new, revolutionary observation. It's been observed time and time again, by people much wiser than myself. But, when you actually let it sink in, it's a pretty heavy thought.

We wear our hip, name-brand clothing, we snatch that new i-Pad off the shelves, we craft an image to present to our friends (cool, dork, artsy, intelligent, etc.)... and we begin to let these things hijack us. We let our lives become about who we're attracted to, or how we vote. We let these things begin to define us, our lives, and the people we were meant to be.

And here's the danger in that; when you are defined by a single aspect of the whole that is your humanity, you aren't able to take criticism. You can't see the other side of the story. You're blinded, in essence, to things beyond that particular facet of life.

How often do we see this?

A child, who finds her identity in the wrong group of peers, can no longer see the well intentioned authority of her parents.

When he finds all his self-worth and affirmation in his significant other, the relationship becomes all he is. Anytime anyone questions even the tiniest flaw, or incompatibility in the relationship, he's immediately on the defensive. Because a questioning the merits of his significant other, is to question his own personal merit. His identity.

People get wrapped up as a follower of a particular celebrity. They're sucked into that person's life; their every move, each new story...until that celebrity has left the limelight. When this happens, people need to adjust their paradigms drastically to accommodate for the loss of identity they feel, when their idol becomes obsolete.

People find their identities in the religious practices they observe. "Religious devotion"? Absolutely. Perhaps you've seen what happens when ideologies are challenged, and when some of the nicest, most devout individuals transform, and become ugly? It isn't pretty.

Because, when your identity is challenged, you'll fight tooth and nail to hold onto what is known, rather than embrace the unknown.

It's the way we're wired. We want to have a mark. We desperately want to be recognized, to stand out.

But, in that desire, we so easily forget that we are marked. We are the handiwork of the most powerful being in the cosmos. We belong to Him. We're created in His image, even if that image is tainted.

It is in that that we can find lasting worth. It is in that, that our beauty as a person shines through in full.


Gay or straight? That isn't your identity.
Republican or Democrat? Doesn't even come close to the person you are.
Man or woman? Now we're getting closer.

You are a human being. A beautiful miracle. A marvelous mystery.

If we could shed the external layers of false identities, and view each person as a marvelous mystery, there's no telling what this world could be.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

[Music] My Heart is Broken- Evanescence


Just a fantastic song. Amy Lee's haunting, soaring soprano, accompanied by a catchy hook, catapults the listener into the highest peaks of emotional devastation. So powerful.

A Tribute to V-Day

I decided to use red text today in honor of V-Day, aren't I festive?

Ah Valentine's Day.

The day when couples all over the world nauseate their single counterparts, by doing super cheesy, over-the-top flamboyant acts.

Big red heartshaped boxes of candy appear everywhere.
Teddy bear adoptions skyrocket.
Dinner and a movie becomes expensive dinner and a chick flick.
PDA abounds. (Ick.)

Yep, gotta love this time of the year.

Have you ever noticed that single people kind of try to "explain away" this holiday?

For example...

For the weeks leading up to it, you'll hear singles say all kinds of things like:

"It isn't even a real holiday."

or...

"I wouldn't want anyone to do anything for me on Valentine's Day, it's sooo ridiculous."

or...

"Jesus is my Valentine!" (A personal favorite of my own)

or...

"It isn't Valentine's Day, it's really Hagen Dazs appreciation day!"

Really? Really? Come on now single people! Lighten up!

You know that you'd be going right along with the multitude of happy couples if you happened to find yourself in a relationship on this Hallmark holiday! You know that even those heart shaped antacids known as "candy hearts" that say 'hug me', code for "vomit when you eat this", would seem exciting and exotic if you were in love on Valentine's Day. I would too.

Why?

Because we humans are fascinated by the idea of love. We go to great lengths to find it. Ever see people in crazy relationships? You wonder why the heck they put up with half the crap they do? That's just "love." Love causes people to scale mountains, travel seas...to share the remote. It's a powerful thing.

So it's quite natural for singles to be jaded and cynical round this time of year. Everyone is sampling a little slice of love for dessert, while we're left to devour gallons of ice cream alone.

Here's the thing though...

Love isn't about candy boxes. It isn't about fancy dates. It's definitely not about warm fuzzy feelings, as crazy as that may seem.

Love is something, even singles can experience.
Because it goes deeper than the superficial labels we use to market it.

Love is what happens when your heart breaks for a friend who's struggling. When you realize that you'd do anything to take their pain away, that's love. Love is what happens when you take that extra time out of your schedule to help a stranger, expecting nothing in return. Love is holding on to a promise, even when everyone else tells you to let it go, because it's easier to break your word than to keep it.

Love is serving another who has never been served.
Love is forgiving someone who doesn't deserve it.
Love is giving what you have, to those who don't.

Love isn't contained within the boundaries of a dating relationship.

And that's my point today.

We have the capacity to love, and the power to choose it today, and every other day of the year.

Valentine's Day may be singles awareness day, but it doesn't mean that those singles are devoid of opportunities to love, and to be loved in return.

It simply means, we may not get a cool teddy bear to prove it. I'm ok with that.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Burdens

I could see it in the rapid shift of her mood. Something wasn't right.

Shoulders slumped, demeanor spiraling down, as dark clouds rolled across her face.

I asked what was wrong. She told me that she had heard, via text, of a health complication with a family member. A family member who meant quite a lot to her.

I could tell that she was putting on a brave face, but the uncertainty, worry and sadness all bled through the calm, nonchalant exterior, as she struggled to hold it together.

I tried so hard to cheer her up. Gave her a hug, tried to tell a joke, but I could tell that my efforts were all in vain.

What is it about sadness that causes us to take up a burden of solitude? Why do we feel the need to carry this weight on our own?

I wished so desperately that I could take my place alongside her in that moment.
I wished that I could share what she was carrying. To let her know that she wasn't alone...

Sometimes I just want to scream, because I'm not able to create peace. Have you ever wished that? What a beautiful thing it'd be, to be able to give peace to another. Only I cant. It's like being in a dream, and you're watching tragic things unfold before your eyes, yet you're powerless to stop them.

I'm not the one who can heal a bleeding heart. It's in those moments that I feel less than significant. I'm reminded of my own inadequacy, and that power alone belongs to one greater than myself.

How I wish I could carry your burden with you my friend, if you'd only let me have the chance I'd do it in a heartbeat. I wouldn't even know where to begin, but I'd try as hard as I know how.

I can't give you peace, but I pray that you find peace in the One who can. I pray that you find refuge in the shelter of Almighty wings...

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Complimentary Opposites

"To be a Christian, is to claim truth wherever you find it." -Rob Bell

I've been thinking about the Yin Yang concept lately.

The idea of complimentary opposites. Many Christians tend to dismiss concepts outside the Bible, as if there's no truth to be found outside of the weekly small group but I, as you know, tend not to take that approach.

There's much truth that exists beyond church, or the bubble of Christian religion, that's intricately linked into reality.

For example, yin yang. People in the west tend to believe that it symbolizes good vs. evil, but this overly simplistic view actually does a disservice to the whole philosophy. I can understand how that concept could pop into mind, after all, one part of the circle is dark and the other is white. What more could we need?

But yin yang is actually quite a different animal. It's the idea that "forces" that would seem to be in contradiction to one another are, in fact, interconnected and interdependent upon each other.

This makes sense to me, and is surprisingly insightful, and complimentary to my life philosophy as a Christian. Now, I realize that yin yang often refers to the natural world, but there are real life applications and truths to be found, in this concept, outside of nature.

For instance, I can be a pretty selfish person, and as much as it kills me to admit it, it's true. Humans tend to love, and prioritize themselves before others (some more so, but we all do it). Christianity teaches that this is our nature and, from my experience thus far on this planet, I would tend to agree.

So, I go to church.

A place that is charged with adhering to the teachings of Jesus, most of which revolve around altruistic ideals. Love your neighbor and enemies, as you love yourself. The first will be last, the last will be first. To lead you must serve....that kind of thing.

'Me' becomes 'we', if you will.

What happens when a selfish person, like me, enters this kind of community is one of two things; either they will be repelled, or convicted. I tend to end up convicted, and not in a bad way. It causes me to reflect upon my own selfishness. It causes me to check myself as I begin a new week, and it makes me want to strive to be a better person.

This is a complimentary opposite.

How about poverty?

Poverty, one of the world's curses, can actually affect people in a positive way. It causes people to take action. It causes those who experience the suffering of others to become more acutely aware of their blessings. It can form bonds between humans that may never have been possible in a wealthy society, where ungratefulness, and pettiness can begin to dominate thought. Instead, it causes humans to join together, in solidarity, against this hardship.

Now, I wish poverty and hunger were non-existent. I really do.

I'm simply acknowledging, as a realist, that the reality of this world is that it isn't Utopian. There's much suffering that needs to be relieved. But, it's because of suffering that people begin to appreciate things like family, friends, food, water, and life even, in a way they previously hadn't.

The contrast of poverty and wealth is a complimentary opposite.

How about relationships?

Want to find "contrary forces"? Look no further than a man and a woman.

True, we have loads of technology designed to match you up with someone who is the perfect mate but, if we're honest, many women don't understand men 75% of the time, and most men don't understand women at all.

The whole idea of marriage is as legitimate a case study in complimentary opposites as there ever will be. Marriages test even the most steadfast at heart, as the differences between the sexes cause conflict, and have to be worked through.

At a glance marriage seems anything but synergistic, causing the casual onlooker to question the wisdom of such unions. Marriages that make it through those processes, however, often end up with both individuals thriving in ways they never would've imagined prior.

It really is incredible to witness.

On a personal note, I find that I could have never experienced the complete joy and fullness of life, and and a loving God, without first being broken into pieces.

It was the lowest of lows, that taught me that there was a high waiting to be discovered.

It was night, that helped me see the morning.

It was death that brought me back to life...

Yin and Yang.

Life isn't accidental. Things do have relationship to each other. Even in the midst of tragedy we find new beauty every day. Things to celebrate, things to create, people to share with, life to be lived. Each heartbreak gives way to newfound love, fresh and new. Each new love more authentic than the last...

I don't think we're alone. In fact, I know we aren't alone. There is one who holds this balance together. Who is crafting a story beyond compare, deftly and masterfully.

He hasn't left us alone, and He will bring things right. But it begins with us, first and foremost. Here and now.

It really is funny the places you can discover, or begin to learn, life's little lessons from. Today it's an eastern Taoist principle that I discover affirming my Christian faith. Tomorrow? Who knows?

But truth is there, waiting to be claimed by any bold enough to pursue it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

[Music] Do You Feel?- The Rocket Summer

My Friend the Blogger

She was one of the first to comment on a post of mine, a phenomenon that was altogether uncommon to me.

You mean, people actually read this???

It was crazy to think about. I mean, yeah I made this a public space, but come on, how many people would actually take the time to read a blog.

But, it's largely due to her unsolicited promotion on her space, that I began to acquire a small following here. It also gave me the confidence to actually begin to share my writings in my own social media contexts.

To this day, her URL alone is one of my top reffering URL's. Wow! I was riding high, but I knew that eventually this fun experience would end...after all, it's the internet, and there are quite a lot more interesting sites to look at than my little space. Right?

But, she kept commenting, long comments....wordy comments. Laena, who has a really cool space that you can visit here, taught me the value of a true online community.

Yeah, there's Facebook and Twitter and all that garbage out there, but those are all comprised of threadbare blurbs, nothing really substantial. It's very face value.

Blogs take time to develop. When you write, you share pieces of your life with anyone who will listen, and when someone does listen... when somone follows, reads, and even takes the time to comment on your ideas about life, they're investing themselves in you.

As we continued to comment back and forth, we eventually found each other on Facebook, and talked on the phone a few times. I realized more and more that she is, quite possibly, one of the coolest people I know!

She has a great sense of humor (very sarcastic, so I find myself right at home when conversing with her), she has a quick, whip-snap wit, she thinks about the deeper things rather than remaining in the safety of shallow life. She also has a passion for teaching which, coincidentally, happens to be her profession.

Education is a virtue, and a blessing, and those who pursue the educator's profession are some incredible people! They do it out of sheer love of knowledge, and a desire to help others become all they can be, and that is so inspiring to me.

I told a friend recently, that I'm incredibly blessed to have the friends that I do. I'm big on conversation. Laena is no exception to this, she's very engaging and can hold a great conversation. She listens, challenges your thoughts when necessary, and is always affirming.

Affirmation is easily her best quality. She's an encourager, and very supportive to her friends and family. Affirmation is often over looked when people talk about great qualities they find in others. I don't know why though.

We live in a world that is desperately in need of kind words, and encouragements everyday. Sometimes, when you're at your lowest of lows, the one thing you cling to is a friend who has given you hope in their words. It's the thing that keeps you stepping forward, when all you desire to do is to retreat.

Laena is constantly encouraging me, and I can't tell you how much of an effect it's had on my personal life. We haven't even met in person! So to all you bloggers out here, who underestimate the power of your writing, and words...don't.

I'm highly looking forward to when I get to meet my friend "The Blogger" in person. I have a feeling we'll get along fabulously.