Category Archives: Everyday

What have I learned in 15 years of marriage?

It’s unfortunate that celebrating a day like today is seemingly becoming more and more rare. I’ve found that for Theresa and I, there have been some crucial, hard lessons we’ve had to learn as a couple that have helped us get to where we’re at today. There are certain things in a marriage relationship that are unique to the individuals, but I think there are things that are universal, if you ever expect to spend the rest of your life with someone. This is what I’ve learned over 15 years. Let it be said, though, that some of the things I’ve learned continue to be struggles, continue to be worked on, and take constant, proactive effort. This is by no means a “I’ve figured it all out” list.

1. Communication. One of the most vital things we’ve learned is to communicate. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about menial day-to-day catching up, or discussing major decisions and events in our lives. If you do not communicate with your spouse, you do not succeed.

2. Compromise. Give and take has to occur if you’re going to thrive in the closest interpersonal relationship you will have with another human on this earth. And I’m not talking about wives who act like Stepford Wives, or guys who are so spineless they do everything their wife demands without question. Either of those scenarios do NOT lead to a healthy marriage, they lead to resentment. They lead to grumbling, complaining, and eventually, a volcano eruption that stifles #1. Furthermore, expecting either a Stepford Wife, or an unquestioning, always accomodating husband is unrealistic and unhealthy. By doing so, you’re stealing away a little bit of who that person is by the demand you put on them.

3. Patience. Face it, it’s going to take patience to deal with the idiosyncrasies in your spouse after Cupid goes away, the dust settles, the honeymoon ends, and it’s just the two of you. One of the worst things dating couples do in a relationship is to only reveal their best side. Doing so is a disservice to you significant other, and unfair. It shows them nothing of who you are in the good and bad times, it only shows what you want them to see. And if there’s one things we as people are good at, it’s hiding who we really are, and giving others only the perception of who we want them to think we are. When that fades away (and it WILL fade away), you’re going to need patience and grace. God knows Theresa has needed it in spades with me over the years.

4. Understanding. If your relationship is going to work, you’re going to need to try understanding their side, even when you don’t want to. This kinda goes along with communicating well, but in my estimation, relationships that work are such that each person understands and is pliable enough to entertain a perspective that is not their own.

5. Be Selfless. Something I’ve said for years now, is that the primary cause of any any ANY divorce or seperation is selfishness on one, but more often than not, both sides. One person’s selfishness often precipitates it, but at the core, it’s a selfish attitude on the part of both. We live in a selfish society, and selfishness is ingrained in us as part of the “American Dream” (the part few want to acknowledge exists). So it’s no surprise that a selfish attitude pervades in our relationships. Pride is a marriage killer, and it’s rampant. You’re a team, not an island.

6. Faith. I have found, for Theresa and I, that our shared faith in God has been a sustaining force in our marriage being what it is today. Knowing that not everyone shares our set of beliefs, I will say that at the very least, you should be on common ground with your spouse theologically. If you are not, you’re fighting an uphill battle. It will be difficult, especially if/when children come into the picture, to maintain commonality if a shared faith isn’t present. When kids hit the scene, suddenly the questions of “how are we going to raise this child?” come into play. It happened with Theresa and I, but we were on somewhat common ground throughout (even though our upbringings were different), and much of our spiritual journey happened in unison. I know that’s not the case with everyone though.

7. Realistic Expectations Another one that dovetails with a few previously listed. It’s amazing to me how relationships are so strained and broken apart as a result of unrealistic expectations put on the other person. Here’s a newsflash: At least to a certain degree, you KNEW what you were getting into when you got married. If you didn’t, then you’re silly for going in with unrealistic expectations. If you did know, then you have the responsibility to work at it, and MAKE it work. If that means you drop some of what you think the other person should be, or your “perfect” idea of what you want them to be, then drop it. It’s unfair to them, and again, it’s a resentment-builder for you. Don’t set unrealistic expectations. By doing so, you’re just giving yourself less room to be let down, and you’re operating in a little more of the grace you need just as much as the other person.

8. Apologize. If you’re never willing to admit you’re wrong (another selfish trait), you’re never going to have strong relationships with anyone, let alone a spouse. And while both sides need to know how to apologize, this one’s especially for the guys. Guys, have that macho pride thing going that women don’t deal with (at least not in the same ways, or to the same extent). So guys, when you say, “I’m sorry, but…” you’ve already disqualified your apology. Use any counterpoint or perspective to argue that, but I assure you, you’re wrong. I have found, over and over and over and…….that the times I’ve ONLY said, “I’m sorry”, are the times I didn’t have to worry about Theresa’s response or if she would “fess up” to her side of things. Trying to qualify your actions puts up a wall between you and your spouse. When you show that you are sorry, without trying to explain yourself away, your spouse will do the same (or at least should). Think of it as killing them with kindness. There are times I had to say sorry and leave it at that. There are times Theresa did as well. Do yourself a favor: Say you’re sorry. Then SHUT. UP.

I’ve told people for years now, that I know for a fact that my wife and I will never, ever separate, except by death. The response has always been, “Oh man, don’t say that. You never know what might happen.” If I can be frank, the people who most often say that to me are the ones who have failed at a marriage. I know that we won’t, because we both have practiced the things above. I know that we won’t because after 15 years, the last thing I would ever, ever do would be to intentionally hurt her or do something idiotic and selfish to damage our relationship. And I know the same can be said by her. THAT is what marriage is about, and that’s what a self-less, two-way, successful relationship is about. And I know that the truth of that will never, ever change with us.

Marriage is tough, no doubt. Another thing I think anyone who’s made it any length of time can authoritatively say is that if you can make it through the early years, you can make it. I think much of what I’m talking about here is most vital in the early (first 7-8) years of marriage. When we had issues early on (and believe me, we DID have issues) we resolved that we could either split, seek counseling, or sit down, drop the gloves, and put everything out on the table in an attempt to work through our issues, find reconciliation, grow, learn, and move forward together. So we did. We worked hard at it, had arguments, didn’t always agree, but worked through it and were better for it. If you don’t put in the work, you’re not going to get the result. It’s simple, but it’s true. An NBA player doesn’t become so by not practicing, and a marriage isn’t successful without endless, tiring but rewarding effort. Again, not saying this is some end-all, be-all list of how to make it work. But being married means you’re going to become a statistic. It’s just a matter of what kind of statistic you’re going to be.

I’m thankful for my wife. I’m thankful for the trials, the arguments, the rough patches, the fun, the joy, and the happiness she brings. And I’m thankful that she puts up with all the same with me.

Paradox

Today I’ve seen and heard things that anger, sadden, and sicken me about humanity, and things that give me hope. I won’t go into it tonight for the sake of reprisal. What I will say, is that the paradigms come from the opposite sources of what one might expect. I’m choosing hope, because I won’t let despair have the last word.

Joy comes in the morning.

Happy Easter.

Rob Bell’s Confession of Faith

A little postscript to last week’s blog, “The Simplicity of the Gospel”.

Removing the filter

Sometimes when I speak or blog I fear what people are going to think of me. I have this unnatural fear (at least in my estimation) of being misunderstood. I’m afraid sometimes that what I say will be misconstrued, that the full intention of what I’m trying to convey will get lost in a wash of perspective. I’ve always been like this, and I hate it. It’s one of those things that, when someone asks “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?”, comes screaming to the forefront of my mind. I can handle the physical blemishes. I can handle idiosyncracies and the odd things that make me, “me”. But I hate the desire for approval inside me, and the fear of other’s opinions.

I. Hate. It.

I don’t say that for your pity. And as much as it would be appreciated if offered, I’m not really looking for advice on how to better handle it. I’ve always found it mildly irritating when I hear someone say, “Hey, I just tell it like it is”, or “I just speak my mind.” I’ve always contended that anyone who has to point that out to someone are only giving everyone the excuse for why they act like a jackass. In a way, though, I admire that ability. Not the ability to tell everyone that you’re just “keeping it real”, but moreso the ability to do it. I believe there is a difference between taking the filter off, and speaking with the a motive of being contentious and argumentative.

I’ve decided to take off the filter.

I’m sure there are already some who thought I took the filter off. To be fair, that could partially be true. Not sure if that’s a matter of fact or perspective. Either way, it happens.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed over the last few years, it’s that you find out quickly who your friends are or aren’t when disagreement or dissent arises. I’ve noticed that people are your friends, are friendly, and will treat you like part of the “in” crowd when you walk in lock-step with what they think is right or wrong. Once you step outside those boundaries, though, things change. Drastically. Phone calls stop, whispered conversations near you become more prevalent, you start “catching wind” of things, and there is a marked shift in your day-to-day dealings with them. You go from the in-crowd to the outsider, from accepted to marginalized, from friend to leper.

I’ve seen it happend to my family, and I’ve seen it happen to people near and dear to me. And it pisses me off and hurts every. single. time.

So I come to a point of writing about things tonight. Getting words on paper, expressing feelings on recent dealings through my blog. Then the thoughts creep in.

“You’re ranting again. No one wants to hear what you have to say.”
“You’re going to start turning people off with that sort of talk.”
“You shouldn’t be so confrontational.”

I say all this, realizing that it sounds presumptuous to think that anyone even cares about what I have to say in the first place. Maybe talking about the things on my mind would turn people off, but maybe it would crank up some healthy dialogue.

Regardless, I’ve seen the behavior. I’ve grown past the notion that someone following or unfollowing, friending or de-friending me on twitter or facebook means ANYTHING. It doesn’t have so much to do with that, because people are petty, and when you’re petty, you do petty things. When you’re petty, you also see things like de-friending or unfollowing as the end of the world. It’s deeper than that. It has more to do with real-life contact, real-life interaction, and how that works in concert with interaction via social networking.

See, when you know who your friends are, you know that you can say anything to them, and they’re going to love you regardless. You know that even if they don’t see things from the same perspective, they’re not going to judge you based on it. They’re going to take that thing into account, consider it as part of a larger conversation, and maybe even put themselves in your shoes and try to see things from your perspective.

It’s the other ones that really grind my gears. The one’s who view friendship as conditional, then use those conditions to write you off when you disagree with them. The ones who have great things to say when you agree with them. but belittle you when you don’t agree with them.

So when you tell me that I’m a solid Christian dude who knows the Bible, but then warn me not to get into “intellectual discussions” with humanists and agnostics, I see the contradiction in your “advice” (as well as the lousy example you set for being a Christ-follower in the first place).

When you try to antagonize me into a response, and use your warped logic and false superiority to paint me into a corner, then tell me I was “never there for you”, frankly, I want nothing to do with you.

When you tell me you’re “unfollowing me in Twitter, but not in life”, I see you as the shallow person that you are, considering the proximity of our “friendship”.

When you’re cool with me as long as I vote the “right way”, but when I don’t, or when I give a valid point that counters yours, you tell me to not use “talking points”, while your counter-argument consists of……talking points, I’ll take it with a grain of salt.

And when you’re eager to ask me about the Rob Bell “thing”, but weeks later know that I’m experiencing a trial and walk past without saying a word to acknowledge it, I know where your priorities are.

Here’s the thing: I’m not going to get into a theological discussion about the minutia of details that comes with different applications of Scripture, solely dependent on what camp you or I were raised in within Christianity. I’m not going to hyper-analyze Rob Bell to the Nth degree to see whether or not my opinion of if he’s a Christian or not lines up with you (as if either of us even have the right to make that determination). I’m going to live my life by this standard:

I believe in God. I believe I cannot succeed without Him. I believe that nothing I can do could measure up to what He’s done for me. I believe He died on a cross, was resurrected 3 days later, and is reconciling all things to Himself. I’m going to love my neighbor, and speak up for the rights of every person who has been “told to speak only when spoken to….and then are never spoken to.”

If that lines me up more with Bono, Bob Dylan, and Cornel West than it does with whatever standard you’ve set for what a “Christian” should be, then hear me now.

I. don’t. care.

It may sound like I’m jaded. I’m not. I’m just tired of the BS. I’m tired of feeling like I’m crazy, and I refuse to feel that way any longer. I know that I’m not, and I know that not all reading this think that I’m nuts. I may not see things like you do, but I’m willing enough to be wrong, and certainly open to change. I would hope we all are, but I know better.

One of my favorite MLK sayings is this: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I’ve heard alot of silence lately. I just quit caring.

The Day The Music Died

The other day, I flipped on (somewhat reluctantly) the MTV Video Music Awards. For the brief few minutes that I watched it, and for the even more brief time that I saw the “highlights” from the event, I attained some closure on something I’d suspected for years.

“Good” modern popular music is dead.

This might seem like a petty topic to talk about, but for me, it isn’t. As someone who’s both a music lover and a musician for over 20 years, I find music, to this day, fascinating. The fascination comes in multiple, somewhat equal parts. Part of me is still enthralled at how a song can elicit such amazing emotion out of you and reach into your being at a level few other things can. Part of me is amazed at some of what is being put out, both for the good and the bad, by legitimate artists, and those who *call* themselves artists. And part of me finds solace in what I couldn’t understand 10 years ago; that is, how someone could find themselves at the end of discovering new bands, new artists, new songwriters, and instead relegate themselves to the “old days”, and focus instead on the music they grew up on, and on the super-obscure.

That’s pretty much exactly where I’m at right now.

There was a time when popular music meant something. Be it through the songs of dissent as a creative reaction to the politics and war of the 60’s and 70’s, or the anti-establishment (for better or worse) of the 90’s, music in popular culture has always been a voice for those who didn’t know how to speak, and a method by which we could relate to one another, if by no other means than the lyrics of an artist or the angst of a record we waited for months to get.

So you have to understand, when I turned on the VMA’s the other night, I was not only disappointed, but utterly through, by and large, with what culture has deemed as good popular music. I turned on the show to find Usher (this generation’s next Luther Vandross??) singing his latest auto-tuned, poorly choreographed single “OMG”. Not only was it poorly performed, but it was completely void of any real substance, other than an interwebs shortcut. Next to the stage was Katy Perry to present an award. Yes, Katy Perry…you know, the female version of Howard Stern who so vehemently tries to deny her religious upbringing that she uses every platform she has to “shock” her listeners/readers/viewers, and throws down a hit single to the same effect about how she “Kissed a Girl”. Understand me, please; I could care less about her preferences or which way she sways. But I’ve always, ALWAYS thought of music as an avenue to convey something more. So when you use that platform to talk about something in order to shock, I give you little credence. It’s the same reason I enjoy Marilyn Manson musically, but think he’s a hack lyrically. Give me something substantive to chew on, don’t give me your shock-jock garbage that’s meant to say little other than to invoke debate on whether or not you’re a lesbian or a satanist. To open the show (and the only “highlight” I really cared to see) was the return of the mighty Eminem, who opened the show declaring through his new single that he’s “Not afraid/to take a stand”. Wow Marshall, that’s pretty bold….as a 38 yr. old man. How’d you manage the intestinal fortitude to do so under such extreme life circumstances? Oh wait, I saw Nine Mile, I remember…you had to do it via a “rap off”.

When this is the standard, I don’t hold much hope. And if it seems like I’m only knocking the rap/dance/pop template, know that I don’t hold the rock side with much regard either. Why? Nickelback and Creed. A few years ago, alternative music had My Chemical Romance, and Green Day has been a radio staple for years. Sorry fellas, but the only dude I’ll listen to who wears eyeliner is Alice Cooper or The Cure (both of which made amazing music in their respective genres before you hacks came along).

One of the most brilliant things I’ve seen in recent weeks, was a cover of Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl”, performed by William Fitzsimmons, an amazing folk artist. Whether intended or not, he took a song that was meant to shock people because a female sang it, and turned it into a love song sung by a guy, or at the very least a song that sounded more sincere. And that’s why I still hold hope for music at all, even if not in the popular realm. Gone are the days of the Stones, Zepplin, The Who, James Taylor, P-Funk, etc. Yes, I realize many of those are still around, but no one today is coming out with music the way those bands/artists did. Today is nothing more than over-produced, auto-tuned, remixed and re-tooled garbage made not out of a spirit of excellence, but more as a money-making machine, spitting out whatever the masses want (who are infiltrated by what Hollywood and pop culture feed them), and caring little for substance or musical longevity. For those of us who still want something more, we have to dig a little deeper, look a little harder, and eventually, we do find music that resonates with us.

There will always be exceptions, of course. There are bands who, love them or hate them, are still taking a stand on issues, and still releasing “pop” records that touch the listener on a deeper level. U2, Coldplay, Beastie Boys, Matisyahu, and Dave Matthews are all great examples that, even if you’re not down with them stylistically, or even as personalities, they still make music that in some form or another, causes the listener to think. Even Lady Gaga, for all her pop and quirky sensibilities, uses her popularity and platform to broaden knowledge on issues close to her heart.

So I find myself at this place where “popular” music, by and large, does little to appeal to me in any way. The storytellers are few and far between, and the lyrics of substance have mostly become a thing of the past. It’s the same mentality that bore the straight-edge movement begun by Ian MacKaye and the DC scene in the 80’s, and the same mentality that bore the songs of protest of the 60’s and 70’s. And even though it became the voice of a generation and a musical and fashion trend all by itself, it’s the same spirit at the beginning of what became the “grunge” scene in the 90’s, with bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. It’s music that doesn’t need an audience, it just needs to be made. That dichotomy is part of its appeal, though. When music is made solely for the sake of the one making it, something clicks. It’s why bands with the smallest followings have some of the best music you’ve never heard. They care more about expressing something real, be it faith, a political stance, an ideal, than they do about record sales.

I listened recently to an old interview with Henry Rollins, just after he took home his first (and only) Grammy. The interviewer asked him how getting a Grammy changed his life. He responded, “Are you kidding? It’s sitting in my closet upstairs.” He went on to explain that while awards always meant little to him compared to creating something, he also held them with a grain of salt when one looks at the other recipients who’ve also received one over the years. When, as he put it, “Jethro Tull gets a Grammy as a ‘metal’ artist, you learn to care less because of who they’re giving these things out to.”

So those of us who still care about music will continue to search. We search for the William Fitzsimmons’, the Henry Rollins’, the Fugazi’s and Quicksand’s of the world, knowing that more often than not we’re going to run into Creed and Usher. And while it may seem silly, music is still the one thing (and sometimes the only thing) that brings us together in large groups for a common purpose.

Say Anything

A quick look back over my blog shows me one definite thing: I don’t blog much.

It wasn’t until recently though, that I figured out why. It’s not that I don’t feel like taking the time to, and it’s definitely not because of limited access to the internets. It’s something a bit deeper than that. I don’t often blog because, when I say something, I want to “say” something. It’s got to have a point; it’s got to be something real and tangible that the reader can chew on, digest, and spit back up to chew on some more, if necessary.

I think our society has set us up for the opposite. So much of our culture is instant, shallow, and vapid. Pundits and politicians are a great example. They say much, but mean little, and most of what they speak is wrapped up more in sounding good than in having any real substance. Reality tv is another great example. If you’ve never heard someone speak without saying anything, watch any one of the 400 reality shows on today. In either case, media exposes us to people who run their mouth, speaking much but saying little. And it’s frustrating, because it bleeds into society, and into the people around us.

Look at any social networking site, and you’ll likely see the same. Formulaic witty statements, wittled down to 140 characters or less, pervade Twitter and Facebook. When you can update a page inumerable times a day, it causes a disconnect in the deeper things of life. It also serves to drain us of any real substance in our lives, when our days can be summed up in a quick status update. There’s a narcissistic quality to it, that assumes someone….anyone, wants to hear or is interested in every event going on in our lives. I know I’m saying this as one who’s just as guilty. Just like anything else technology driven, social networking venues have their positive and negative elements. While good can come of them, like reconnecting with old friends, keeping in touch with current ones, and keeping people “in the know” on different events and happenings, there’s also the negative, like the disgruntled spouse who runs across that ex from high school, and our uncanny ability to proclaim shallow missives from behind our keyboards. And just like a pundit, politician, or reality star, we say very little, or at the very most point out the obvious.

“If you don’t master your rage, rage will be your master.”

“Doers need to think more. Thinkers need to do more.”

Really? That’s what we’re telling each other in 2010?

It’s frustrating, but it’s prevalent. We’ve reached the point that most of the interaction we have with each other is on this level. If you don’t think that’s the case, pay attention closely, the next time you turn on the tv or have a conversation with someone. What’s REALLY being said?

I don’t want to fall into that same trap. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not swearing off social networking. I try to use my sites as a source of conversation and challenge. I want to talk about the things that people are thinking, but are too afraid to say. I don’t want to be divisive, but want to challenge the reader to dig deeper, think harder, and converse on the things they maybe normally wouldn’t. It’s how we create community, and how we maintain interaction with one another. In 2010, it’s our most popular method of interaction, for sure. So why do we use it to convey such shallow things? I understand that some use these avenues for “fun”, that they keep things light, always joking or humorous, and don’t get into discussions over the internets. I get that, and think that’s cool. If that’s your thing, great, I’m down. But there’s a difference between saying something challenging and thought-provoking, and saying something empty and shallow that’s meant to sound thought-provoking. The veil is thin, and we see the difference.

It’s the same reason I’m personally very careful about who I surround myself with, the types of friends and acquaintences I choose, as well as those I interact with online. While it may sound snobby and elitist, it’s really much more about a mindset. I want to be around, and interact with people who are going to challenge me to be better in every area of life. People who aren’t going to accept the status quo and go through life unfulfilled. Those are the relationships I value the most, because those are the relationships that force me to grow and to stretch beyond who I am today.

So before you speak, take a minute. Think about what you’re saying, and think about what you’re hearing from others. You’ll be surprised at how much is not being said while spoken.

Until next time….

What if Jesus meant all that stuff

Great letter from Shane Claiborne in Esquire magazine. You can read it here.

An excerpt of the book is up

For those of you who’ve been wondering what Signorelli and I have been toiling away at lo these many months down in the cellars of our respective homes, wait no longer. My good friend Scott Bane, who’s blog you can reach on the sidebar of this page, and who is the online editor for a webzine called Next Wave, was kind enough to include a excerpt of the book in the October issue.

CLICK

The book itself is mere days away from going to final print. Once it does, we’ll be sure to let all of you who’ve been patiently waiting know. In the meantime, feast yourself on this, and please leave us your thoughts, here or on the page itself.

Again, BIG thanks go to Scott for his help on this. Enjoy!

Hitting the plateau

Earlier this summer, I took up running/exercising. I started pretty slow, walking at first, then doing some gym cardio, then integrating some jogging in with the walking. I set a goal (along with my wife) to complete a 5k next spring. The reasons for this were two-fold. First, and most obviously, I wanted to lose some weight. I’d already started watching what I was eating, which was bringing with it some decent results, but I hit the point where I was ready to take it to that next level, thus began the cardio. The second reason, though, was just the desire for the typical benefits and advantages to those who exercise regularly. More energy, maintaining a healthier all-around lifestyle, etc., were all part of the bigger motivation.

I have noticed something over the last few weeks, though, something I really, really don’t like.

I hit a plateau.

Anyone who’s at all familiar with any kind of exercise routine knows this stuff happens from time to time. When I first hit the plateau, I was initially devastated. What was I doing wrong? Why am I having such a difficult time? I began overthinking my situation, getting frustrated, and taking time off as a result. HOW that was supposed to help me, I don’t know, but I did nonetheless.

As I went out on my first run after that week off, I remembered all the things I knew from my younger days of running more frequently (and much faster). I remembered the plateaus, hitting “the wall”, and the fact that, when you hit those rough spots, the most important thing you MUST do is keep going. You cannot stop, cannot get discouraged, because if you do, you’ll lose heart and lose the will to keep focused on whatever your goal may be. I think this is probably the point where most people get frustrated and give up. It’s usually the time the New Year’s resolution goes from diehard to “maybe next year”, and where the determined seperate themselves from the well-intentioned.

I do alot of thinking when I run. I often find myself thinking about a variety of things, whether it’s reflecting on the day, thinking about a conversation Theresa and I had, or the general state of all things life. As I ran that day, I thought about the things I had learned before regarding exercise. I also thought about my spiritual life. I thought about some of the ups and downs of the past year. I thought about the accomplishments, like writing a book with one of my best friends, and recording a full-length album with him as well. I thought about my kids growing up, becoming the Godly kids (and boys in transition) that they are becoming and are already. I thought about my wife, our wonderful relationship that I am so blessed to have with her, and the joy we share as a couple on a daily basis.

But I also thought about the struggles; the internal conflict, questions, and issues that I’ve battled in my mind. I thought about the times in the last year where I felt so frustrated that I wanted to throw in the towel in certain areas of my life. The times when I knew the right thing to do, but wanted so badly to do the opposite. Worse still, I thought about the times I did the opposite instead of just thinking about it or battling it in my mind.

As I considered all those things, both good and bad, I found my fallible human side wanting to sit in the negative rather than bask in the positive. I wanted to dwell on the things I had been struggling with for what seemed like an eternity, and allow those negative thoughts to pervade my conscious.

Running down that road, though, I thought about my current situation regarding my exercise routine also. I had hit a plateau, and just my going out for a run that day was my determined way to accomplish just one goal that day: break through. I was running so that I could keep running. I trudged down that road because I knew the alternative of sitting complacent and not moving would eventually be the death of me. Maybe not the death of me today, but eventually, it would kill me.

It was right then, in the middle of that run, that God revealed Himself to me.

Keep going.

When the road is hard, and you don’t know why you’re going through it.

Keep going.

When you feel like you hit the wall, and you don’t want to move another step.

Keep going. Persevere. Push forward.

Don’t.
stop.

It reminded me of something I told someone once: It’s easier to praise on the mountaintop, but it’s more important to praise in the valley.

Whether running on a road or in life, it is impossible to progress by standing still. Staying still only brings with it complacency, apathy, and eventually, regret. It’s not unlike I wrote about a few days ago. Staying still will get you nothing. Moving forward, though, can gain you everything. I don’t mean everything as in the things we possess and all we can materially attain. I mean that you can gain everything in the way one controls who they are, who they become, and how they reach that goal of being all God has for them.

It’s in the times that we hit the wall, question the state of our situation, and get stagnant that the enemy tries to get a foothold into our lives and feed us the things that will get us off course. And that is all he wants for us. He doesn’t have to completely ruin us, we’re good enough at doing that to ourselves. What he does is stray our attention just a little bit; get us focused enough on something else that our vision gets blurred to the goal in front of us. The rest is a product of our own action (or lack thereof).

And so we must do as Paul said in his letter to the Phillippians. “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.” (Phil. 3:14-16) I think it’s also why, near the end of his life, he was able to tell Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8)

Press on.
Persevere.
Fight the good fight.
Keep. the. faith.

What if….

A little over a year ago, I came to a difficult realization. I talk about doing alot of things, but seldom see them through. I had found, up to that point, that I would speak quite a bit about doing a number of different things, but when it came to the actual doing, I seemed to fall short.

I suppose some of this is based in perception, and is a bit subjective. Next month will mark 6 years ago that I competed in my first (and only) bodybuilding contest. For that contest, I trained and dieted for an entire year. I set aside all other facets of life and focused solely on my preparation. Life essentially stopped for that year, as anything short of family or work were an afterthought, and anything undertaken was first and foremost considered within the immediate question of “what effect will this have on November?” But anytime I was asked as to why I was doing the show, my immediate response was always, “because I wanted to set a goal and see it through to its completion.”

It took me some time to get used to “normal” life after November of 2003. Not long after the dust settled from the relentless contest prep and endless dieting, I found myself in something of a rut…..a rut I remained in for the better part of the next 5 years. The rut was this: I woke, I worked, I came home, and I slept. Rinse, and repeat.

Sure, life continued outside of those things. A few nice family vacations, a stint in More In Sorrow of close to 4 years. But even my time in More In Sorrow, for as involved as I have always been in music and for as much time as was devoted to playing shows and the band, amounted to little more than a hobby to me, albeit a passionate one. I loved my time with that band, and still think of it with fond memories. But when that chapter ended for me, it ended.

Back to the grind.

Until last year. Last year, I began to really come to grips with the fact that most of my time was spent in routine. Mind you, from a family perspective, I’m not complaining. My wife and my children are everything to me, and no part of any of this entry is meant to imply anything to the contrary. The ways in which they enrich my life and bring me joy are countless. But I came to a point in life where I really began to question the bigger picture, and whether or not I would just think about things, or talk about things, and never act.

I think as believers, we get too caught up in the routine. All people have gifts and talents that they possess, but especially believers have not only gifts and talents, but a means by which they can make those gifts count for something real and tangible, something with eternal impact. But how many of us don’t utilize those talents, for whatever reason?

For better or worse, and even though it is probably a bit dated now, one of my favorite movies is “Dead Poet’s Society”. Anyone who has seen the movie knows the lesson Robin Williams teaches on the very first day of class to his students.

“Carpe Diem.”

“Sieze the day.”

No day is as important as today is, and no decision is more vital to your being than what you decide to do with that day. How often have we been caught up in our routine that we forget all the potential God has given us? How many times have we shelved our talents because of a lack of foresight or a fear of failure?

One of my best friends wrote a blog here where he quite simply said, “You can’t fail if you don’t try.” And really, that’s the whole thing. That thought this last year has gotten me thinking: Do you sing? Can you write? Do you act? What is stopping you from exploiting that talent? I mean, COMPLETELY exploiting it? Too often we put our talents on the shelf. We set them aside because we don’t think we can be the next Dave Matthews, Tom Clancy, or Tom Hanks. We have lost that sense of doing something with excellence, subjecting our trade to that of the mediocre, or worse still, we’ve forgotten it altogether, and settled instead for a life of waking, working, and waiting to die.

So a year ago, I endeavored to try. I determined that whatever talents God gave me, I was going to use. You can’t fail if you don’t try, but in the failing comes the success. Learning what you didn’t know before. Looking for the opportunities that sit in front of you, and when you don’t see those opportunities, making them.

I see so many people every day who simply live, only waiting to die. They have families, they have jobs, but it’s as if they have no direction or ambition to go after those things they are truly passionate about. For so long, that seemed so normal. Now, it’s definitively abnormal to me. I decided that I refused to be one of those people who ended up asking “what if….” What if I would have done this or that? What if I would have taken advantage of that opportunity? What if I would have decided to move on that desire?

What it came down to for me was simply this: God has not done the things in my life that He has so I can wedge myself into routine and wait to die. This is not the end of my story. Whatever roads He takes me down, and whatever lies ahead, I refuse to believe that anything I do or set my mind to has to be ordinary or routine. God created us for so much more than that. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Everything we do is a praise to the One who made us. Yes, that includes our daily routine, our jobs, raising our kids, but doesn’t it also include all the things you’d love to take a stab at, but are too afraid to undertake? Too often we get caught in our box mentality, where everything we are has to fit comfortably into a certain criteria.

You can’t fail if you don’t try.

The only way you’ll know if you’re a writer is if you try writing a book.
The only way you’ll know if you’re a musician is if you write a song.
The only way you’ll know if you’re an artist is if you paint a picture.
The only way you’ll know if you’re destined for something greater is if you let God use your talents and gifts for His glory, and go for it.

Exploit it, do something you never considered before. Allow yourself the chance to fail so you can succeed. Don’t end up full of regret, asking yourself, “What if……”.