Find Joy in the Moment

October 1, 2014 |  by  |  God  |  ,  |  No Comments  |  Share

Instead of complaining at his lot, a contented man is thankful that his condition and circumstances are no worse than they are. Instead of greedily desiring something more than the supply of his present need, he rejoices that God still cares for him. Such an one is “content” with such as he has.A. W. Pink

Suspended. On Pause. That’s how I feel sometimes. I’m inside of a snow globe and watching the world move about all around me as I sit still. I sometimes search for drama just to shake things up, to get my world going, but then everything settles around me and once again, I’m in the exact same place.

It’s hard to find joy in the moment when it seems that everyone else around me is moving at lightning speed. I’ve got friends who are my age with teenage children. Some have been divorced and remarried. They are buying houses, getting dogs, dedicating babies, and settling into life with all the boxes checked – and all the while I’m feeling incomplete. Or rather, I used to feel incomplete. The sum of my value is not measured by material possessions or accomplishments. My full value is found in Christ and his love for me. My true friends do not love me any more or less because of the things that I have accomplished or what I have attained, they love me because I love them. They love me for me.

Life in my little globe is simple. It’s cozy in here and one day the glass may shatter and I might be thrust into a new world with lots of challenges and new experiences, but for now, I get to enjoy the myriad of blessings God has given me. I get to share in the lives of my friends and have time for so much living without much responsibility or restraint. That does not mean that I shy away from either of those things, I just instead trust in God to direct my steps and to live in the moment. I find joy in every moment, even in that hard times because I know that what I am going through is exactly what God has planned for me.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5

And with that, I’ll leave you with this great video from OneRepublic that makes you appreciate life, especially if you have your health.

Life Lessons

June 7, 2014 |  by  |  Memoirs  |   |  No Comments  |  Share

The biggest lesson I learned from my dad: if you want something, you have to work hard for it.

I’ve been working since I was twelve. I had a job at a horse ranch in Sanger, TX cleaning out stalls. After that I labeled newspapers and cleaned the house for the guy who owned the local newspaper. I’ve been a bank teller, a special ed school bus driver, a cashier at a gas station, an elementary school janitor, I worked for Boeing building airplane cables and I worked for Target as a stocker. All of this before the age of 20 and many of these jobs were done concurrently. My success was measured not only by the amount of money I made, but also how many hours I could pack into the day. I bragged about waking at 5:00 a.m. and then getting in bed at midnight only to repeat the performance the next day. All of this work paid off and by the time I was 24 I had a job paying 52,500 and I hadn’t even finished college yet.

I continued to work and finally finished college. I served in ministry at church. I did a discipleship program. I kept busy, busy, busy. I ran myself ragged because, once again, this is how we were raised.

Throughout my twenties I made my identity about what I was doing, but I really lacked focus and direction. I made a ton of money and spent it as fast as I made it. I wasn’t taught the value of savings. I got into a lot of debt. I dated girls, I went to church, I went back to college to get an MBA, I got laid off.

By the time I was in my thirties I should have been married and settled down. At least that’s what I thought, but I was single and broke. I was still making great money, but I was living paycheck to paycheck. I never finished my MBA, I only got 12 hours in and it wasn’t even something I wanted to do, I just thought maybe it would make me feel accomplished. It was just one more thing that I was using to define me.

My life wasn’t going according to plan because I never really had one. God blessed me with a buffet of talents and opportunities but I could never just settle in to one role and be happy with it. Feelings of inadequacy plagued me most of my life. I kept asking myself the question, “Am I enough?” I felt that I had to go above and beyond with my friends just to keep them. I paid for meals and cooked dinners and I tried to be funny, but often my motives were misplaced. It was as if I was creating a recipe of the perfect version of me constantly adding a dash of this and a tablespoon of that, but no matter what I tossed in, the dish still fell flat.

I know that part of what I am talking about is just part of growing up, but could some of this be learned at a younger age? Is confidence and value something that can be achieved through the perfect home environment? The right amount of time spent in a loving community, a great school, an amazing church, the right relationship with Christ?

Now that I’m older I’m still learning about who I am. I have had a mentor for the past three years that has become a captain on the unguided ship that was my life. I feel like I’m just now starting to be the own captain of my ship. Through all of this struggle, through this learning process, I have gained wisdom that only comes from experience. And experience is an interesting thing. It provides clarity, the type of clarity that an ex-addict has after going through the process of recovery. When you see a fellow addict you can immediately see through all of the excuses and the self-delusion because you have already come through all of it. It’s like a mountain that has already been climbed, sometimes repeatedly, sometimes a thousand times, sometimes more. Experience can sometimes be a cruel teacher, relentless in her process pushing you to perfection. “Again!” you hear her shout each time you fail. “Again!” “Again!” “Again” – the ruler slams on the table, the voice is shrill and each time you pick yourself back up you are learning valuable lessons. There is much to be learned from pain and failure, those lessons are patience and perseverance and the value that comes from earning something the hard way.

And this is where I get to the final point of why I started writing this post in the first place. I am not a father, but sometimes I find myself in leadership roles over young men. It is when I am in these roles that I want to cram my years of experience into their lives. I think most of us men that have the opportunity to lead others understand the character building qualities that come from hard work, some more than others. But for me, hard work has been the most consistent theme in my life. There is no time for coasting and therefore I cannot tolerate coasting in others. Furthermore, I get annoyed at easy success because I am afraid that quick success will bread arrogance, pride, and hubris, where repeated failure forces you to be humble and makes you rely less on yourself and more on others and God.

But what I’ve learned in the past year and a half is that you cannot expect people to know what you know from experience. They will have their own set of experiences that will guide their life and while you can do your best to guide them along the way, in the end, they get to learn at their own pace. As fathers, coaches, mentors, big brothers, we get to lead and support and when our “sons” fail, we get to pick them up, dust them off and say, “Again.”

I love my dad and he taught me a great deal, but one of the things I learned from him was that in times of failure he was not someone I could go to for support and encouragement. Eventually I stopped telling him about my problems because he would say, “Welcome to the real world!” As if I was living in some alternate universe with unicorns and fairies. I had been living in the real world since the age of 12. When I wasn’t working at my actual job or doing schoolwork there always seemed to be a plethora of projects around our house that needed to be done. Instead of playing video games or watching TV, I was often outside moving piles of bricks or crossties. My father meant well and I now understand what he was saying. Part of him was happy that I was going through hardship because he had to go through it too. It’s like its just part of becoming a man, and it is, but there are enough hard lessons in life and so when we have the opportunity as fathers and men to respond to failure, we can seize that opportunity to soften the blow – not pile more on top of it.

So now I’m 38 and I’m still learning. How my father raised me wasn’t perfect, but it has made me who I am and I have learned to take the good from our relationship and let go of the bad. Life has been rocky, but the bumps and bruises along the way have toughened me and thickened my skin. What hasn’t killed me has indeed made me stronger. And lastly, I have learned what true success is, it is finding joy and contentment in what you have in the current moment. It is not measured by money in the bank or material possessions, but in deep relationships with friends and family and an understanding the importance of who God is and how is should be the ultimate captain of our lives.

Better Not Pout

December 27, 2013 |  by  |  God, Relationships  |  , ,  |  No Comments  |  Share

I’d been slaving away in the kitchen for hours. The holidays had been weighing on me heavily and to top it all off, my mother had been in the hospital for five days with cellulitis on her face. Finally, Christmas day had arrived and I had three events to attend. I was looking forward to all three, especially having my family cram into my medium-sized apartment for dinner.

Everyone arrived at my house promptly at 5:30 and I was still in the throes of preparing dinner: Pioneer Woman Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes with Grated Gruyere, and Bacon Wrapped Asparagus. As soon as my nephew walked in he asked, “Where are my presents Uncle Eddo?” I’d been so busy I hadn’t even had time to wrap them. I quickly asked my mom, who is a wizard when it comes to wrapping, to wrap the gifts in my room while I continued to cook. Dinner was almost ready and my mom came out with the wrapped presents. We decided to pause for a moment and unwrap the gifts. It was a quick exchange since we only buy for the kids under 18 in our family. Aiden unwrapped his gift and exclaimed with delight, “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!” He was so delighted with his gift which was a toy that allowed you to melt crayons into different shapes. After he calmed down he asked me, “Can I open it and play with it?” His mom immediately cut in and said, “You can open it, but we can’t melt the crayons here at Uncle Eddo’s house.” I confirmed this response and expected my nephew to just accept this decision with delight, instead he started to pout. At first I thought it would just be a mini pout session, but I was wrong.

I continued to cook and I noticed that my nephew was laying on the ground by the front door with his toy on his face. This was Pout Phase 1 which included a little bit of moaning. His mom asked him what was wrong and he said he wanted to play with his toy. She told him “No, you have to wait.” As soon as his mom walked away he looked at me and repeatedly said, “Please, Please, Please, Please” to the point of annoyance, this was Pout Phase 2. I told him no and I sort of wished I hadn’t gotten him a gift at all. How could he be such a brat when he had so much? His birthday is the day before mine, December 16, and he turned eight. We had a big part for him at Chuck E. Cheese’s. His grandparents got him an iPhone 5s and he got so many toys that most kids, even rich ones, would have burned with envy.

When we finally got around to eating dinner my nephew wouldn’t eat. This was Pout Phase 3. Finally, his hunger gave in and my mom got him a plate of mashed potatoes, but he wanted to sit on the couch to eat. We don’t eat on the furniture in my house so I told him if he wanted to eat he had to join us at the table. After dinner my nephew continued to pout by laying on the couch – Pout Phase 4. My mom tried to console him, but he wasn’t having any of it.

Two days prior to Christmas day I got to watch my nephew while my sister was at work and I bought him a Jenga game that he wanted. We played and had the best time. I couldn’t believe this was the same kid. How could he be so ungrateful?

When everyone left and the house was quiet I received a word of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. How many times have I been given a gift by God, but he asked me to wait to use it? How many times have I thrown a tantrum when God didn’t give me what I wanted when I wanted it?

I talked to my mom the next day and she said, “Well, he was upset because his sister got to open her toy and play with it right away…” Kapow! I felt another punch of shame and guilt once again because I do the exact same thing. I compare myself to others and say, “Well, look at them, they have ________.” For me this usually comes in the form of a wife. I’d love to be married and at 38 I can’t help but feel a little impatient that I’m having to save myself for marriage while others who are much younger than me are getting married left and right. I want what I want, when I want it. I think it is unfair even though I’ve been given SO MUCH. I pout often when I don’t get my way and in my frustration I rebel. Why is it that submitting to God’s will and his best for us is so hard?

After I burned hotly with shame for my behavior I prayed to God for forgiveness and mercy. In just one instance of bad behavior I wanted to retract my gift to my nephew, but how many times have I acted the same way toward God? Furthermore, my nephew’s pouting did not make me want to give him his gifts faster, but just the opposite, it made me not want to give him any gifts at all. Ouch. I’m surprised God even has anything to do with me. I’d put me on a permanent timeout.

2013 has been a year of painful lessons. I’m thankful God disciplines those he loves, but I’m hopefully learning from my mistakes because my backside is feeling awfully raw and chafed these days!

Hopefully you had a Merry Christmas and during this season God taught you something while you were spending time with your family.

See As God Sees

November 17, 2013 |  by  |  Culture, God  |  ,  |  No Comments  |  Share

“I asked that God would help me to see that man as He sees him if I pass him again. ” – Sara Barnes, China Missionary

This was a line that caught my attention in a recent journal entry from Sara. While walking down the street she passed a man whose face was badly burned, so badly burned that it was painful to look at. She hurried past him and later felt crushed that she had not done more.

How often have we all done the same thing? In an effort to move past something uncomfortable, we rush past, push it aside, repress it. It’s a normal HUMAN reaction. It is not natural for us to be unselfish. As Christians we are constantly being molded into the image of Christ. We are given trials and opportunities to shed little pieces of our humanity and to become something altogether supernatural. Granted, we will never become anything more than human while we are constrained by our flesh, but while we are here on earth, we get the opportunity to show Christ to others through our actions.

I, like Sara, want to do my best to pause when I have the opportunity to be Christ someone and I want to see that person, no matter how ugly, the way Christ sees them – as his beautiful creation. Let me see them through grace and love, the love that can only come from something that is not human. Love that can only come from God.

Thanks Sara for sharing your story, it touched me and I am sure it will change others too.

Here is a little more of Sara’s story:

As we were leaving the subway station, we passed a man that I remember from when Senator  and I lived in that neighborhood 7 years ago.  His face is so badly burned that it’s hard for me to describe it to you.  Hard to describe firstly because most of it is burned beyond recognition, but secondly because it is just so hard to look him that I can’t recall a complete picture of him mentally.  And today, my maternal hyper-protective instincts kicked in and I hurried the kids past, hoping they wouldn’t notice him.

I’m not sure if I thought I was protecting the kids from an image that might be too much for their young minds or protecting him from what their possible reactions would be, but after we were out of the station, one thing was clear.  Whether I had been with the kids or alone, the urge to hurry past and look away would have been just as strong.

And then I remembered the bottle cap mural, and the song, and my heart felt crushed.  I wondered if I were alone if I could sit down face to face and have what little conversation my current language skills will allow me too. (There is no danger or risk involved, these beggars sit in broad daylight amongst crowds of wealthy foreigners.)  I know that 7 years ago I didn’t.  But I’ve learned a lot about our God in those 7 years, I know better than ever that God doesn’t see as I see.  I asked that God would help me to see that man as He sees him if I pass him again.

Our current language level prohibits us from having in depth, spontaneous conversations the way we’d like to, but I am fully capable of offering someone a snack and a smile.  I even know how to ask them if they believe in Jesus and if they say no, I know how to tell them that whether or not you believe, there certainly is a God who loves you.

But in order to do any of that, we must be willing to resist the urge to hurry past.  Pray that we would have courage and boldness for such moments.  In all reality, the guests at the Renewal Center are typically quite easy to love.  They are clean and well dressed and happy to be there.  But there are still many in our midst just as desperately in need of hope, even if they have no interest in our showers.

How to ask for free stuff or discounts

September 16, 2013 |  by  |  I'm Just Sayin, Relationships  |  , ,  |  1 Comment  |  Share

As a business owner I am often hit up for free services. I run a DJ business as well as a graphic and web design business. In my business I DJ weddings mostly, but also the occasional barbecue or school dance, as well as a corporate event or karaoke party. In my graphic and web business I do brochures, business cards, fliers, customized stationery and much more. Because of the broad range of services that I provide I normally get asked at least once a week to do something for free or at a discount. What is important to note is that both of these businesses are ran entirely by one person – me. I run both websites for each business, handle the invoices and the marketing, and all of the other tasks that come along with running a business. So when someone asks me to provide services at a discount or for free I have to consider it carefully.

Often I feel obligated to help out friends, family members or even my existing clientele and I don’t know how to communicate to them how asking for free services impacts my business. Imagine if you were working your regular 40 hour per week job and your boss said, “Hey Bob, do you mind working at a discounted hourly rate this week?” Or even better, “Hey Bob, can you work this week for free?” Now if you are salary you may do that to some extent, but that is something you agreed to when you took the salaried position. As a self-employed individual working for free comes at a higher price.

So how do you ask for free stuff or discounts without hurting a relationship? My suggestion is to be very clear and up front. Let the person you are requesting services or free stuff from that you are on a tight budget and you are willing to pay for services rendered. If possible, say something like, “Hey, Jenni and I are getting married, but, we only have $500 to cover all of the food, what do you normally charge to feed $300 people.” This is a nice way of asking for a price quote, but also letting the person know that you realize their services are valuable.

If you don’t have money, then maybe you can offer to help them in trade. If they provide you with a discount then you can help promote their business through social media or doing some type of work for them.

If you are a non-profit organization and you ask for services, then be sure to let the people in the community who is supporting you by placing their company logo on your website or on the brochure and materials that are part of the event.

In my business I don’t mind helping out individuals who are truly in need, but I don’t appreciate people expecting a “hook up” just because they know me, or, they know someone who knows me. I once gave free hosting to a friend who paid me to do her website. Later I received a call from an acquaintance of hers and she said, “Hey, I hear you do free hosting!” Nope. I don’t.

Also, when you get a free or discounted service, don’t tell other people about it. I DJ’d a wedding for a friend for a very low rate because I knew that they were tight on funds. A few months later I get a call from a lady and when I quoted her my standard rate she said, “Well, you did so and so’s wedding for X number of dollars!” I appreciated the referral from my friend, but I had to let her know that my normal rate was substantially higher than what I had charged her and I thought she was aware of that.

Lastly, when you do get something for free and a people normally tip for that service, then you should still give a tip if the service you received was excellent. If you get a gift card for a free massage you are still expected to tip the masseuse.

There are a number of kind and giving business owners out there. I love to be able to pay it forward and help out when I can, but I don’t like to be used or taken advantage of either. Make sure that you say thanks and give proper credit to anyone that helps you out in life, not just in your business dealings.