Unexpected Blessings

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Psalms‬ ‭23:1‭

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A few weeks ago, I was driving to work one morning and I was praying. It was something I had been feeling very convicted about and as a result I was trying to spend more of my “in-between time” talking to God. I wanted to help remind myself of my daily dependence on Him, so I figured that praying while driving was a good place to start. I had been working on it for a few weeks, and was really enjoying my prayer drives to work, but this one time I felt prompted to do something different. I had been spending most of my time praying asking only for daily necessities, like asking for grace and patience which I have to ask for extra on the daily. But this time I felt like God want me to ask for something different.

I felt like He challenged me to pray for Him to bless me. Like, He wanted me to ask for His help in the normal ways that I do, but He also wanted me to ask for more. This surprised me and actually felt kind of weird, since normally I try not to spend my whole prayer life asking for things. Everything I’ve heard on prayer has recommended it not all be about asking God for things, plus I tend to think to build my relationship with God the same way I would another human being. And I would not be comfortable having a relationship with someone where all I ever did when I talked to them was ask for stuff. I mean, honestly. That would get old pretty fast.

But the prompt was clear. He wanted me to ask. So I did. I asked that in some way, He would bless my day. I told him it didn’t have to be big or anything, but that maybe He would do something nice and small for me that day, and that it would help remind me that He was there with me. That I would know it was Him being active in my day. And I left it at that and went on with my day.

Several hours later after my small act of little faith had been long forgotten, I was getting off of work and headed to get my hair cut down the street. I pulled up, went it, and when my stylist was ready I headed for the shampoo bowl. My stylist was about half way through washing my hair when she told me that before I left she had something she wanted to give me. I didn’t give it much thought at the time or ask any questions since we didn’t normally chat too much while I’m in there, but it struck me as odd. As she was cutting my hair she proceeded to tell me that the main product brand that they sell there had just finished doing a major brand overhaul, and that they were in the process of moving out the old product and making room for the new branded stuff. The only issue was that they weren’t allowed to use the old branded stuff on clients in the salon, or sell it to them. So she was giving the old stuff away to people who had hair types that matched the product she had left in the back. I had never heard of anything like this before but I kept listening.

She then proceeded to tell me as she was ringing me up that the only one she had left was perfect for hair like mine, and that she had been looking for the right person to come in to give it to. She then proceeded to walk in the back room and bring out 2 liters of very expensive organic hair product, which she then handed to me for free. I started doing the math as I walked back to my car. It had to be somewhere north of $200 worth of product. Product which I had always loved, but never thought it a wise investment to buy in the past.

By the time I sat down in my car and looked over at my purse that was overflowing with hair products, it suddenly hit me. He blessed my day. He blessed my day in a little way that He knew I would love, but was something that wasn’t a need. I asked Him and He did it. It seems silly, but I couldn’t stop smiling. He was there with me and I could see it then. The way that all the little things in my day had to fall into place for that moment to happen. The way He had planned it to go, and then walked me and my little bit of faith through every step. All so He could bless me and show me He was there. How kind.

It seems like such a little thing, but I know He wanted to show me something about Himself through this. He wanted me to see that I shouldn’t be afraid to ask and then believe that He can and will act with my best interest at heart. He wanted me to know that He was there in the details, and that He knows me to bless me and have me see it as a blessing. He just wanted me to know Him and who He is through something as simple as hair product, and to grow my faith so that next time I ask I’ll be able to ask with an active faith.

So pray when you’re weak, but also pray when you’re strong. Pray for your needs, but also pray for His blessing on your life. He was just waiting to show Himself to me so that I would know He was kind, so ask Him to show you. Blessings come in all shapes and sizes, but all of them are from Him, and I’m grateful that at least that day, He allowed me to see that so clearly.

From Broken to Beautiful: Revelations in the Irish Mountains

“For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.”
2 Corinthians 13:9

Recently I had the privilege of being able to go on a 10 day trip across the United Kingdom with my sister. It’s been something we both have dreamed of doing for many years now, and things finally fell into place in both of our lives in a way that allowed us to make that dream a reality. It was quite the adventure, and we both loved it. God was very kind to us both as He led our trip in many ways that were very evident, but there were 2 things specifically that really meant a lot to me from the trip.

First were the friends we met in Ireland. For those that know me, you’ll know that I’m not always a huge people person. I’m a secluded introvert, and even though I’m a lover of people…I don’t like everyone all the time. And I get bored very easily. So meeting new people, even though I’m always up for it, can be a real gamble if I’m being honest. I take a pretty long time to really connect with people, so brief encounters are usually not my strong suit. So when I learned that I was going to meet up with some of my sisters friends in Ireland, I was both excited and nervous. We would only get to be with them for about 2 days, so I was already feeling a little out of my element, but I really wanted to meet them and see the people my sister had told me so many good things about. So even though I went in feeling like I was already going to fail at life, I was pleasantly surprised.

They were wonderful. All of them. They were all so kind and funny. But what I loved the most about them all was that they were real. In a raw life way, they were honest and I love real and honest people. So surprisingly I was kind of in my glory. And the best part was that they love God. That’s where the blessing was for me. To be able to go to a different country and meet people that you didn’t know before that still love the same God as you in a similar way is an amazingly special and refreshing experience. Our worlds can get so small just living our daily routines that it can be easy to forget about how big God is. That He’s so big that there are other people far away that He’s working in and through their lives just like he is yours, even though none of you know about each other. How amazing. I felt blessed to get to meet all of them and to get to know them for those 2 days as followers of Christ sharing a common goal. God used them to remind me in such small ways that He is bigger than I tend to give Him credit for in my daily life. But the idea that we are all working together all over the world is mind-blowing. And I love it.

Second was a hike our friends took us on in the mountains. Now, for those who know my story, you know I’ve had some health issues I’ve battled for the past 5 years that have made my life a lot more challenging. Things that I used to just do, I now second guess myself a lot instead. I spend a lot of time wondering if when I do say yes to things, if I should have said no. Basically, I still struggle with treating my body like the traitor that I sometimes still feel like it is. And it’s not as bad as it once was, but it’s still hard. So when they said we’re going on a hike I tried not to overthink it too much and happily agreed. I’m not sure how long it took, but I’m pretty sure it took hours. I told myself that I wouldn’t look back while I was climbing until we got to the place we would stop for lunch, which was close to the top. I was enjoying the hike the whole time apart from feeling like the most un-athletic person on the planet. We talked, we laughed, people fell… it was great. All of it. And then we got to the top where we were going to eat lunch before we decided if we wanted to climb some more. So I turn around for the first time during our walk and it struck me how far we had come. How high we had climbed. How much had been accomplished by just taking life one step at a time.

I wanted to let it sink in so I walked a few steps back down to eat my lunch on a rock that was like a seat looking out over the gap we had just climbed through in the mountains. It really stuck me how much that gap felt like my life over the past few years. Every boulder an obstacle that wasn’t easy to get over. Sinkholes where you didn’t expect them. Mud that would make your feet slip. And yet we made it there. It was work, but piece by piece we made it there. I made it there.

I felt like God wanted me to see my life as I was looking out. I felt Him speak to me through that hike. He wanted me to know that no matter how challenging the path, that He would always get me where He wanted me to be, and that He would be with me every step of the way to guide me, just like getting up that mountain. He also wanted me to see not only what He can do, but what He’s already done. The past few years have been rocky, and I feel like I’ve had more failures than victories, but no matter what He still carried me. And I have come a long way from 5 years ago.

I remember a few years back when my sister first told me she was going to Ireland. I remember thinking that I would never be able to do a trip like that again, no matter what. I remember thinking of all of the things I never thought I would be able to do again, and feeling like life wasn’t worth living if that was how it had to be. I remember the discouragement and depression that sunk deep into my soul as I felt the weight of all the things I believed God had taken from me for good. I remember it all, in a way that it all still feels so close to me. I’m not sure some things ever feel far enough away from you, no matter how much time passes, but I do know that God can turn suffering into beauty and pain into joy.

God wanted me to see that mountain as my life, and He wanted to show me that I wasn’t at the bottom anymore. Look how far He had brought me. Look how high He had helped me climb. And look at all the beauty I was able to see from my view at top of the mountain that I couldn’t appreciate from down below. God made the mountain. God made me. He had done it all, and look how beautiful the view was from where He had taken me. Now, there was a tall fence at the top of the mountain that you couldn’t really see over, but there was a gate that you could walk through to get to more mountains. And by God’s grace I’m happy to say that I happily and peacefully walked through that gate ready to climb higher. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but I knew wherever it was that it would be great.

So I left Ireland with gratitude for great new friends, a refreshed spirit, and a new love for mountain metaphors. Reminded of His grace and kindness in my life amidst my shortcomings, I’m blessed beyond what I deserve and reminded that my life is beautiful not because it’s perfect, but because I had mud and sheep’s poop all over me and yet God has brought me to the top of a mountain. And I wouldn’t have it any other way than to serve a God who takes broken and makes it beautiful again.

Love: Why I’m Giving up 15 Seconds

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12

I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I’m in an elevator alone and I hear someone else running towards the elevator, I will slam my fingers repeatedly into the “close door” button and pray that it closes before they get close enough to see my face. I know. I’m terrible. I’ve also been known to duck behind a potted plant or two if I’m out in public and I see someone I know. Why? I’m not sure. I’m sure it has something to do with being unprepared and selfish, but I never really gave it much thought. At least, not until recently.

Recently, I’ve found myself surrounded by things and people confronting my life in different ways on what it truly means to love other people. At first I thought I was doing a decent job at this. But Now I’m not so sure. Once I started realizing all of the places and interactions in my life where I’m not really loving others (such as repeatedly trying to slam the elevator doors in your face), I saw that I’m actually failing big time.

My loving others shouldn’t have anything to do with the situation. No matter the location, or the circumstances of that interaction, I should be not only ready to love, but excited to do so. I should be excited and anticipating loving others actively. This includes all of the situations where you have hurts, wrongs, misunderstandings, and the simple you’re-just-not-my-favorite-person interactions with others. I’ll give you this hint. If you think you’ve moved on, or gotten over something and forgiven someone, than you should have no problem moving your life towards theirs to love them. If you hesitate or are reluctant, than you’re not loving them, and there is a good possibility that you are holding onto something else as more important. You’re saying” I want to love you, but there is *blank* in the way stopping me”…and that is not really loving someone. Real love puts that “thing” aside. Real love has no restraints, hesitations, or stipulations. The love God calls us to, is the kind that comes with no requirements. The kind that loves the very people that have failed you, the hardest of all. And I’m supposed to be ready to do this with the people I know, don’t know, and the people I just think I’ve already got figured out, but don’t really know. I’m failing at this in all of those categories, but for now I’ll just focus in on the people I don’t know.

So I thought about the elevator scenario. Why am I so quick to want to ride the elevator by myself? It’s literally a 15-30 second ride. What’s the big deal? Do I really just not want to have to be pleasant to another human being for 15 seconds? Am I living a life where that is THAT inconvenient for me?

Well first off, if you are living a life where that is your biggest inconvenience, then you need to realize that you’re incredibly blessed. There are children starving in Africa, and I’m here trying to ride my cushy elevator in privacy. When did I become so bougie? And are the other people being it the elevator for 15 seconds really that big of a problem? Am I really just worried that I’ll have to give of myself for 15 seconds? Wow. 15 seconds. I struggled to give up 15 seconds. I’m that selfish.

It’s not that I’m not loving in the big things, but in the little things. It’s not much to ask to have someone be kind in their interactions on such a brief elevator ride. Yet, I’d rather not worry about it. I’m so selfish that instead of seeing an opportunity to love, I saw an inconvenience to my personal preferences. And that’s really all they are. Preferences. If I never got to be alone in an elevator again, I’d live. So maybe it’s time I stopped treating my preferences like needs, and stopped thinking so much about myself and more about others.

Do I think God would like His 15 seconds back? Yes. Those 15 seconds weren’t really mine to begin with. I just convinced myself that they were since they were entrusted to me. And sadly, I’ve wasted so many of them on myself. But Thankfully, I still have more left. So next time, instead of closing the elevator, maybe by His grace, I’ll hold the door instead. Maybe I’ll strike up a conversation in those 15 seconds. Maybe I’ll make a friend. Who knows. Imagine the possibilities of what God could do with those 15 seconds if I gave them back. I think God could change lives if we were willing to give Him our 15 seconds back. It seems silly to hold on to them once I remember they are His, and I can’t help but wonder how many other 15 second chunks of time I’ve walked around with that I need to give back. It’s like borrowing clothes from a friend and then wearing them years later when you go hang out with that same friend. It begs the question: what are you still doing with that when it doesn’t belong to you?

The Bible talks about loving others, but we tend to get caught up in the fact that we’re all so busy. But no matter how busy I am, I’m not too busy to ride the elevator. So while I’m doing what already must be done, I could remember to redeem the time. To love practically and functionally in the little things. To encourage and uplift, even if it’s brief. To be kind and thoughtful, even if I don’t think I’ll ever have the time to develop it into something more afterwards. I can remember to give those 15 seconds to God so He can work in the in-between places of life when no one is expecting it. I should be praying He would be kind enough towards me to use my 15 seconds because to give them up would be greater than to keep them. I pray that He would redeem all of my 15 second windows in my day and that I would not only see them, but be willing to use them for Him, even if it means an uncomfortable ride in the elevator, or a greeting.

The act of living on mission is not just found in reaching the objective, but in the journey to reach that objective. More work can be done in this journey that in the act of actually arriving at your destination, and the journey itself prepares you for your arrival. So I think I’m going to actively give up my 15 seconds as a part of my journey. What God can do with those 15 seconds is greater and more important that what I want to do with them, and I look forward to seeing what He does with them. It has to be better than what I was doing with them.

Daily Battle: How I Fight Back

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:31-39 English Standard Version (ESV)

There are days where I wake up or go to bed simply to reset. The day was too long, too hard, or too empty and so I had to close it out and hope that the next day would be different. Better, somehow. But a reset doesn’t always happen, and I still have a day to get through. So this is how I fight.

I wake up and I can feel it immediately. I don’t have it in me today. “It” being that magical thing inside of you that helps you feel like “you’ve got this”. And mine today, is missing. Why? I don’t know. I try to find it, gathering what pieces of it that are left lying around. There isn’t much, and what I can seem to grab slips through my fingers. I’ve got none of it today.

The rapid fire thoughts start coming even before I’m fully awake. Starting with simple questions, only to find out later down the line that it’s Fear in disguise. Do you really think you can make it today? Maybe you should just stay in bed. Today is going to be hard, are you sure you can handle it? You don’t know what’s waiting for you outside those doors today, and you’re sure you can handle it? Not just it being there, but the unpreparedness of it coming at you? No. I’m not sure. Gosh, this feels hard.

Then, after the questions begin to turn into concerns, the self-doubt bursts through the door like the Kool-Aid man. Why can I not get up and face life like everyone else can? My life’s not that hard, I know it’s not. So the problem must be me. Why can’t I just be strong enough to easily get through a day? Why do I always have to struggle?

Then the statements show up. Self-declared statements that feel like facts. I’m never going to be able to beat this. It’s always going to follow me. This is the rest of my life, and I’m already having a hard time. How can anyone put up with someone like this when it makes me a monster? I am a monster. And I can’t stop. I can’t handle today. I’m not going to make it. I’m not enough to get through this day. And if I keep trying, I’m going to keep failing and this world will crush me. And no one wants to deal with a crushed person.

Geez. I can’t handle today.

So let’s break down today into smaller pieces and see how I do.

Let’s close our eyes and slow down for a minute. Whatever it is that you know needs to be done can wait a minute. Forget about all the people you think you need to be there for. All the things you know you need to do today. Forget about the details of what you need to do at work. If you could take it all out of the equation for just a bit, where would that leave you? That leaves me with nothing. Great. So now I’ve broken my life down to nothing. There would be nothing left. Nothing but God. I almost forget about Him. I keep confusing Him with “it”.

He’s still here. So it’s back to me and Him. I keep forgetting this is exactly where He wants me. Not getting too wrapped up in all the “stuff”. He told me I’m not supposed to be strong enough. “It” was just a lie anyway. I forgot that it’s really kind of Him to break me down until my only prayer can be, “Help. God, just hold my hand”. That way I won’t forget He’s there. That He controls my day. That He knows what’s outside the door, and He is ready to face it boldly, even when I’m not. I forget that my day is His, not mine, and that He has a reason for having me go through today. And that includes this struggle. He is ready for every step of the way, so that I don’t have to be. My interactions with people are for Him, not for others. I work to be faithful, not to impress. I hold His hand because I trust Him and want Him to guide my day, not because it’s the only option. Even though it is the only option. I’m broken. But He knows that, and He said it’s okay.

Geez. I forgot everything. I want to be free again. I want to give Him back my day again. I want Him to have it. I think I could face today if He had today. I don’t want this day to own me. I want to be free again. God take this day back. It was already about you, but I had forgotten, so please take it back and make it about you for me too. Help me to remember. And please, hold my hand while I keep trying. I’m going to need so much help. But I think if you were there, I know I could make it. And even if I fail again, at least I won’t be alone. Help me to remember and see that today is for you. For your plan. It was always your plan.

Ok. Eyes open. It’s time to move. My first step can’t wait forever. I’ll just work on making it to breakfast first. Then to the car. Then until lunch. Then home again. Piece by piece. And somehow I’ll turn around and be amazed at what happened in the “in between” spaces of all those place markers in time. Somehow in the in between spaces, I listened and prayed for a friend. I accomplished a task. I solved a problem. I avoided an accident. All while avoiding a meltdown. But how? I’m not even sure, but I do know one thing: It wasn’t “it”. It was Him.

Why Your Encouragement Isn’t so Encouraging

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Ephesians 4:29 ESV

Sometimes I don’t think people realize what they’re saying. I think they mean well, but sometimes things just come out all wrong. A major part of communication is not just the message that we send, but what is received, and I wonder at times if people realize that the messages they think they are sending aren’t getting received. Life can feel like a giant game of telephone. Let me explain what I mean.

When I talk to people, look on Facebook, read Instagram posts, and Twitter posts, I see a lot of people attempting to be encouraging. This is great, considering I’d really hate to interact with people on all of these platforms and be smacked with pure negativity at every turn. So positivity is good. Great even. But here is the issue. These interactions usually consist of something that happened that day in your life. Perhaps your husband served you by cleaning up after the kids, or maybe just cleaning up after you. Maybe that boyfriend brought you flowers “just because” so you talk about how amazing he is to you and how you don’t deserve him. Or maybe how God blessed you today at work and how you got rewarded for it. Perhaps even a quick shout-out to a sibling who did something particularly thoughtful or sweet. Or just because.

Now none of these things are directly bad. They are positive things, and they are better than hearing how terrible life can be. We all have enough of that reality in our lives already. But that’s just the issue. I know we are supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice, but if we’re being honest, that’s easier said than done for a lot of us. When we see something great happening for someone else we don’t always naturally cheer for them inside. I’d love to say that I do, but I don’t. Not always. Why? Because sometimes life is hard, and not all peaches and roses, and being bombarded with how great things are going for everyone else is the exact opposite of encouraging. It sounds more like bragging being rubbed in my face. I’m glad God’s been kind to you. I’m happy about your job, your family, and your friends. But sometimes your “attempted encouragement” is really the worst thing for my soul.

Life is hard. Harder for some than others, but still everyone has their share of rough spots in life. And trust me, we can see them. So if you want to be encouraging, then I recommend the following tips:

Acknowledge the rough spots in life.

We all know not everyone is perfect. We know it inside, even though some of us like to pretend it’s not true, or at least not let others see the bad parts. But if you want to encourage, hear this. For those who don’t see the rough spots in your life, you will discourage them by seeming unattainable, or at best not relatable. Hardships are a major part of the human experience, so if you take that away or don’t acknowledge it, than you are trying to make yourself seem unhuman. This is a major waste of time considering anyone who spends a decent amount of time with you will quickly see otherwise. And for the people who do see these struggles that you don’t acknowledge, you will look like a joke. They will clearly see that you say one things and live another, and they probably won’t respect you more for it. So acknowledgement is key.

Make sure the positive things you say are linked back to the one who actually made them happen, not you.

For anyone who is confused, that would be God. God is kind to us even when we don’t deserve it and that is worth bringing positive attention to. But too often we make the positive encouragement we share about us. Look what we have. Look what happened to us. Look what we did. Sounds a lot like bragging, right? That’s because it is. Too often what we disguise as encouragement is really bragging about us. We brag on our encounters with that person, experience, or place and link all those great things we are saying back to us. Because that’s what it’s really about. If you are going to encourage, do your best to do it selflessly. If what you are presenting really is about God and how kind He has been in some way, than that is what you should share. Not “look what happened to me” with a simple” God is so good” tacked on the back-end of it. You know. To make it look spiritual and stuff.

Think of the good of others when you chose to share.

If encouragement is truly meant to encourage than context and audience really do matter. Talking about how great of a blessing your new-born baby is and how amazing they are might not be an encouragement to the couple that has been struggling to get pregnant. Hearing about your amazing promotion at work might not be a blessing to the person who can’t find a job. And hearing about all of your amazing traveling adventures might not be a blessing to the person whose health won’t allow for them to ever do such things. I’m not saying never say anything. I’m saying think before you speak or post. Especially if you post. The internet has opened up a window for people to blast thoughts in front of people’s faces repeatedly, and for people to collect your words, taking in the bigger overall picture of what you present. It’s the equivalent to interacting with you face-to-face and writing down every word you say and posting it on a sticky note on the walls for everyone to read over and over again, forever. You’re surrounded not only by what you recently said, but everything you’ve ever said. You can no longer only think in terms of the moment, because those moments are captured. So please choose wisely what you say and post. What you think of as a good thing, in some contexts and audiences, may very well be someone’s largest stumbling block. So please do what is possible to avoid it.

And lastly,

Check your heart.

Maybe the real issue is that you’re not really trying to encourage. I’m giving most people the benefit of the doubt, but if we’re being real, some people just want to brag. If you really just want a platform to make the good things in life about you, then at least don’t attempt to disguise it. We see you and we know what you’re up to, so it’s not worth hiding. We also know that your praise of yourself is misplaced glory to the one who did bless you, and that is sad. As true friends, I would hope we would have the guts to call you out on this topic, and if someone has called you out, then listen. Our hearts are twisted, so it’s not beyond any of us that we could be deceived about our motives.

In short, if you really want to encourage, than make it about God and his glory and showing what he has done without connecting yourself to it as if you deserve whatever kindness He has blessed you with. No one is good, not even one, so trust me, you don’t deserve it. None of us do. But it’s important that we remember that, and not rob Him of the glory he is due as He continues to bless undeserving people like myself. Let’s make encouragement truly encouraging again. And not just a string of humble-bragging.

The Lost Art of Conversation

“It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.”

Yogi Berra

One of the things I’m most passionate about in life are stories. I love stories. It’s why I read, it’s why I watch TV, and it’s one of my favorite parts of conversations. If you’ve got a good story, you’ve got my attention.

Now, I don’t love ALL stories. Some of them are kinda boring to be honest. But the ones that involve people and “real life” I always find interesting. I think that’s why I really like talking to people. Because I believe that everyone has a story, and hearing them tell it is always worth my time. I learn from them, laugh from them, and cry through them. People’s stories are their lives.

I love nothing more than being able to sit down and hear the most recent part of someone’s story when I get the chance, but I must admit that I feel alone in my love for “real life” stories. It’s rare that I encounter people who have a true love for hearing what’s going on with other people. I’ve recently taken a step back and watched how the people around me interact, and I’ve noticed some things. First, that most people seem to be far more interested in telling their own story than hearing someone else’s, and Second, I’ve concluded this is because no one asks each other questions anymore.

To my first observation, I really don’t find too many people who really enjoy listening these days. Which is a true shame because listening can be so much fun. When I go out in public, I’ll walk into a room or event, and see what happens in the conversations that follow. It normally starts with someone asking the courteous “how are you?”, which seems to open up a window of opportunity to then talk about you and your life without much consideration of if it’s relevant, of value, or interesting to the other party. This may sound harsh, but it’s true. I’ve often asked the question to myself if people are talking to share with me, or just to talk about themselves. Sometimes, it’s honestly hard to tell.

Now this could be happening for many reasons. It could be you’re a nervous talker, who just starts going to fill time and space, and then doesn’t realize that you’re still going. This happens to the best of us. It could be that you don’t get out much, and when you finally grace the world with your presence, you’re about to burst with your desire to talk to someone about your life. I see this one a lot with those who have very demanding schedules. But then there are some of us who, simply put, just really like to talk about ourselves. I mean let’s face it: we like ourselves. And we are easy to talk about. We’re with ourselves all the time, so it’s easy. But life wasn’t meant to be easy, and relationships are work. Work, but fruitful. Or at least they can be.

My question is this: why do we seek to be around, or with, other people if we aren’t interested in their story? What’s the point? Are we really that wrapped up in our own little world that we can’t step outside of it for just a while to care about someone else? Do we really think we’re that important? I hope not. And I’m sure we all would quickly say no to that question, but if we really thought about it, our actions may say otherwise.

I recently got the chance to participate in a live panel discussion with a few other people, where we got to share our thoughts and experiences on a particular topic. And even though I hate public speaking and I was nervous out of my mind, I left that time feeling invigorated and alive. Why? Because for the first time in a really long time, I was in a situation where I got to share what I thought about something, and people listened. Of their own free will, they listened. To me. Not because I’m so great or had super amazing things to say, but because they cared about what other people thought in that context. So they came and they listened to us. And they asked questions, then they listened to our answers. And it felt like care, and it was amazing.

This leads to my second point. People just don’t take the time to ask questions. Or they simply don’t know how. I’ve realized more and more that many people simply don’t know how to engage another person in conversation with questions. It’s really sad.

I personally love asking questions. They help me learn and understand things better, especially when it relates to people. I’ve personally found that no two people are exactly alike, so I need to keep asking questions to learn that specific individual. And I ask them because I care and I’d actually like to know their answers. I know we live in a world where many people ask simple questions just to be polite, but I’m not one of those people. I believe that if you ask, you should really want the answer.

I also need to keep asking questions of people because I recognize that people are constantly changing. I know for a fact that there are people in my life who knew me very well years ago, but now don’t know me very well at all. Why? because I’ve changed. And not just the “I’ve grown up” change. I’m literally different. I’ve encountered new experiences and things in life, and I’ve evolved because of it. We all do. So how can you think that if you know someone at one point in time that you will always already know everything you need to know about them? It’s not physically possible. We change until we die. So acting like once you know someone you have nothing more to learn is just crazy talk. So there is really no excuse for not asking people questions.

All of these things are things I’m realizing people are forgetting how to do. We’ve somehow lost the art of conversation in life. I could sit here and blame the media in our lives and social media for corrupting the way people socialize and what used to be normal social cues. I could blame parents for not taking the time to teach their children that asking people “polite” questions should not just be the socially acceptable words that come out of your mouth, but they should be genuine expressions of care. But I’m not. Because the only people I blame is us for not doing better. We all are more than capable of trying to do different if that’s what we really wanted, but we don’t. Christ was a lover of people, and he spent just as much time teaching and sharing with people as he did listening to others and asking provoking questions to others. But we don’t do that because we are selfish, and deep down, when we are out in public it just comes out that we are caring more about ourselves than others. We would rather talk about us, then hear about you. And it’s just that simple. But I want more.

What if we all made a point to intentionally be more conversational? I say conversational because in a conversation it’s meant to go both ways: both talking and listening from both people. What if we went into social situations with the goal of asking questions instead of giving answers? What if we cared more about what was happening in someone else’s life than our own? What if we dared to care like Christ when we talked to people? What would life be life if we brought back the dying art of conversation? Imagine the possibilities. I personally plan to find out, and I hope that others who want to care about people like Christ did, will join me. Join me in the practice to save a dying art.

10 Things I Wish I Could Tell Myself at Age 15

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”

Henri Bergson

In light of summer almost coming to a close again, and back-to-school stuff being everywhere you look, it got me thinking about high school. I normally try not to spend too much time thinking about my high school experience considering there were a fair amount of rough spots for me, but every now and then, I’ll sit back and look at how much things have changed for me and how much I’ve learned since then. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but about 10 years has passed, and in a weird way, it seems like it all happened forever ago.

 

I started thinking about how different my life was then compared to now, and I caught myself wishing that I could go back and tell my younger self a few things that probably would have made my life a lot easier. If I could tell myself then when I know now, these are the top 10 things I would tell my high school self:

 

1. Choose your friends wisely.

In High school, friends are super important to you. Possibly more important to you then they will ever be. You will constantly hear “old people” telling you that you need to be careful with what friends you choose, and you’re going to blow them off every single time. Cuz you’ve got this. Right? Well, you don’t “got this”. They are right. You may think that you can hang out with whoever you want and that you will be strong enough to resist whatever “bad stuff” they might throw your way, but you’re not. No one is. We are all vulnerable to the influences of others, especially since they don’t happen overnight. The people you spend a lot of time around influence you slowly as they grow on you….like a fungus. You do become like the people you are around. We are all influencing others, and being influenced at the same time. We can’t stop that. So make sure that you’re hanging out with people who you want to become more like. Don’t waste your time convincing yourself that it’s not happening. And besides, it’s in the Bible too. So you can stop being full of yourself and admit defeat on this one, along with everyone else in the world.

 

And side note: If you’ve somehow convinced yourself that you’re spending a lot of time with a bad crew because you’re “witnessing” to them…you need to check yourself. Cuz there is a good chance you’re lying to yourself, but I’ll get back to this one later.

 

2. Your parents are not perfect.

Now, depending on what day it is, this will either shock you, scare you, or bring you great relief. Possibly a little of each. So brace yourself. I’ll start by saying this is not intended to bash my parents, or parents in general. My parents are amazing and they are basically my favorite people…but I need you to realize that they are not perfect. They are amazing examples in so many ways, but I need you to realize that they’re not the best example in every way. They have weaknesses. Just like you. They didn’t spend so much time on this earth being friends with God that they now don’t mess-up anymore or struggle. They are more like you in the way that you will wrestle through life than you think, and the sooner you realize this, the better you will be at understanding them and talking to them about life. They are your equals when it comes to being God’s children, so the sooner you learn to walk life beside them and forgive their struggles, the easier things will be. Trust me.

 

3. What you value now, is going to change.

Right now you have this grand priority system on what you want out of life. Love, Money, Dream Job, Kids of your own, and the list goes on. And that’s just for your future. You know what you think right now is most important. You think fitting in and being a part of something is super important. You think not being a loser all the time is important. You think being able to do things alone without any help is important. You think what you want is important. And maybe some of it is. But what I need you to know is that what you think is important will change. More than once, it will change and I’m sure it will keep changing. Don’t lock yourself in with what you think you know right now, being absolute truth. A lot of what you think is fact, is actually opinion and preference…and that’s ok. Just know it for what it is and realize that what you think today may not be what you think tomorrow. And that change is ok. You don’t have to decide some things right now and commit to that view for the rest of your life. Challenge everything, and keep evaluating everything. Coming up with the best possible answer you can for that moment, is not bad, and if you come up with something different later, than you have the right to change. Just be sure you have a reason for whatever you think or do. Don’t be mindless about it, ok?

 

4. Don’t change who you are for anyone.

At some point, if you haven’t already, you will encounter people or situations that will press you to be unlike yourself. This may be directly, or indirectly. I’m talking the range from being intentionally excluded from events and social circles, to needing to look or act a certain way to “blend in”, and everything in between. Where ever you fall in the range, doesn’t matter, because it’s coming. More than once, it’s coming. You’re going to feel insecure, lonely, rejected, excluded, unlovable, strange, different, weird, and a million other things, all because you’re not *fill in unreasonable expectation here*. I’m here to tell you that none of it’s true, and that you’re fine just the way you are, flaws and all. A lot of people don’t know how to deal with what they don’t understand themselves, so you’re going to run into a lot of people who can’t and don’t understand you because you’re not them. But you’re not supposed to be them. You’re supposed to be yourself. Even when being you doesn’t seem like the right thing to do, it is. Not everyone can peak in high school, but trust me, what’s cool now, won’t be later and what you think makes you weird now will probably make you interesting later in life. And since “later in life” is much longer than High school, I’m gonna say you’d rather peak then. So lucky you.

 

5. The Guy you like now, probably isn’t going to work out.

Praise God for this one. I know right now you’re thinking “but that’s not what I want. I want this guy to work out cuz he’s perfect.” Well praise God he knows better than us, right? Your world right now is small, and that’s not a bad thing. But realize that there is much more out her in life for you to encounter and explore than just what’s right in front of you right now. In a small world, that guy probably seems perfect and like the best option, but once your world expands and you grow…not so much. So don’t hold on too tightly to the idea that you’ll love them forever. Or that you’ll even like each other in a few years. If you have all of this changing and growing up to do, than just imagine how much that guy still has to do. Now do some quick math and realize that the equation (current you + current boy = supposed awesomeness) is not the same later in life (future you + future boy = ?). You’re going to be totally different person in a few years and they will too, so the chances of them still being someone you’re interested in, while still possible, is very remote. Which might be a good thing. Again, trust me.

 

6. Your status in the “social scene” is not permanent.

A lot of the pressure of trying to fit in is from feeling like if you mess up how people see you now, then you’ll never recover. You’ll just be a dweeb for the rest of your life and that will be that. People will just decide what they think of you now, and they will never be able to look past that. Well, that may be true for some people, but not most. Most of the time, people grow up and realize that the world around them has grown up too. Again, things change. If you feel like a loser today, it doesn’t make you a loser for the rest of your life. Even though you’re not one to begin with. The people often who find themselves at the bottom later find themselves at the top. So if you’re feeling like the lamest of the lame, or feel like you’re winning at life right now, it doesn’t matter. You’re not locked in. Things could change tomorrow. And if someone tries to lock you in somehow, then that is that person’s issue. Not yours. Some people struggle with change. Just don’t join them on their ride on the struggle bus.

 

7. Don’t take on friends as projects.

This one’s major. All throughout life, you’re going to encounter a lot of people who need help. People that need just a little bit of extra love and attention, or need to work through major life issues. People out there are dealing with serious issues and struggles, and you’re going to want to help. And you should. Just don’t get trapped into the mindset that you can save someone. You’re not a savior of any kind, so please don’t start acting like one. You need to point them to one, not be one. You should love and care for people as much as you can, especially if it’s a friend or family member. As long as you’re not pursuing that person with the hope or belief that you can help fix them. People need friendship from you, not a savior. If you start acting like you are one, you’re doing them a disservice no matter how much good you think you’re doing. And you’ll probably scare them away. People have to deal with things on their own terms in their own time, and continual nudging to deal with things when someone isn’t ready is only going to make them run for the hills. And I’ll give you a tip and tell you that you, are not in the hills.

 

8. Don’t beat yourself up over your mistakes.

I know that from where you’re standing, it can look like everyone else in the world is so perfect and doesn’t struggle or make mistakes, except for you. And sadly there will be more days where you feel like that. But it’s not true. There isn’t a perfect person on this earth, and trust me that even the person you’re comparing yourself to is struggling with something. Everyone is. Remember that the internet is just a highlight reel of people’s great moments, and that everyone always has their best foot forward when they’re out in public. They’re not going to make sure you know that they yell at their family all the time, or that the struggle with anxiety and depression every other day. So stop comparing yourself to everyone else and beating yourself up over the unfair comparisons and your failures. Everyone fails at some point. It’s a part of learning. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t have anything to work toward or do. Failure is part of the human experience. Our understanding of that should bond all of us together, not separate us. But the worst critic you will face will be yourself. So stop feeling like beating yourself up for mistakes is ok because you’ve somehow convinced yourself that you deserve it. Don’t punish yourself. Learn to forgive yourself now and move on. Trust me, you’ll get lots of practice.

 

9. Focus more on learning yourself; less on others.

It’s easy to get caught up in just watching all that’s going on around you with other people and get sucked into their story and comparing yourself to what you see. But don’t waste your time. There are whole sides of yourself that you’ve yet to discover because you haven’t taken the time to think about you and what you want. You have passions, dreams, hobbies, and so much more that you have to discover about yourself. So don’t spend too much time trying so hard to get to know everything about other people, that you forget to spend time really getting to know yourself. It may seem silly now, but that time will be time well spent, and you’ll need it later. And keep learning yourself, because over time, you’re going to change a lot, and like an old friend, you don’t want to forget to keep up with the changes. You have preferences built into who you are, and they are there for a reason. Learn them, and don’t be ashamed of them in all their glorious detail. Plus once you know who you are, it helps other get to know you too. Cuz it’s hard to get to know someone who doesn’t know who they are. So make sure you take some time to figure out who you are apart from everyone else. Think Runaway Bride and how do you like your eggs. If you don’t know, than you need to go find out.

 

10. Being in a relationship is not the only thing your future can hold.

I can say this one over and over again a million times and it still probably would need to be said some more. I’ll start by saying that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be in a relationship. There is also nothing wrong with wanting to grow up, get married, and start your own family. But if that is all you think your life can hold, than you need to rethink that. You are whole by yourself. So don’t go around looking for your “other half” as if you won’t be complete until you find them. You can live an amazing full life without ever being in a romantic relationship. And if it doesn’t happen for you, than that doesn’t mean that you missed out on something. If we don’t get to experience one thing, then we often get to experience something else in its place. So maybe you spent your time and money traveling the world, learning, contributing to a non-profit organization, or something else that you wouldn’t have been able to do if you had significant others in your life. Your path may not look like everyone else around you, but that does not mean you’re on the wrong road. You’re on the right path for you. And to limit your future to a specific thing or situation like that will only cause you to be unhappy if it doesn’t happen. Don’t let your happiness rest on such fickle circumstances. You’ll regret it later if you do.

 

There are more things I could say to myself, but these were some of the top ones that surfaced when I asked the question. I’m sure in the next 10 years, the list will have changed again, but it’s a start.

 

If you have something to say about any of my 10 things, or have a top 10 list of your own, I’d love to hear it. Just drop a comment in the bottom of the post. What would your top 10 be to tell your high school self?