Take Care

Living life with a stutter, there are certain things that people like me just have to get used to. Once I begin stuttering in a conversation, usually with people I am talking to for the first time, it is not uncommon for people to laugh because they think I am playing some kind of weird joke, Or make some comment like, “you alright?” like I am choking on my lunch or something. Many times in my life, I have to shake my head after a conversation and think to myself, “gosh, the things I have to deal with.”

The other day at work though, I had an experience I have never had before. I manage a coffee shop in a suburb of Sacramento, and a customer that had been sitting in the lobby for a while came up to the counter to ask me a question, and I started stuttering so bad that I couldn’t answer the question. Working in customer service with a stutter isn’t much of an issue most of the time, but in this moment it was. My coworker seeing me struggle for a while, finally comes to my aid and answers the question and continues the conversation with this guy while I slip away with my head down feeling embarrassed and ashamed. That part of the experience is normal, I am used to feeling those things after a rough bout with my stutter. The part that isn’t normal though, is later he comes back up to the counter, gets some things to-go, and hands me a note that says, “I apologize, didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Take care.” The thing about this is, I am used to making myself feel bad because of my stutter, but I am not used to making someone else feel bad because of it. As I am standing there, taking in what just happened, it occurred to me that we can all agree that it is sad that some people are born with speech impediments and have to have hard experiences with people because of it. But I think the even bigger tragedy here is, is that here is a man who feels responsible for the struggle I found myself in, something I was born with that I have had to deal with my entire life. All he did was ask me a question, nothing malicious, and he feels like he did some wrongdoing that he has to atone for. This is sad to me, sadder than me being asked a question that I can’t answer because I can’t get the word out. Growing up with this condition, I have gotten used to seeing the worst in people, as anyone can imagine, I got made fun of a lot as a kid. Something I am not used to though, is seeing something so empathetic. It made me feel bad for feeling embarrassed and ashamed for stuttering. Like maybe I should get outside of myself a little bit and not feel so bad or be so hard on myself when speaking gets rough.

What makes this story ironic, is just the day before, I went to Lassen National Park and had the opposite experience. I went through the front gate, paid my 30 dollars to get into the park, and when I got to the trailhead that I wanted to do, there was too much snow. So I decided to just leave the park and do another one I found just outside of it. When I got to the gate, I approached the ranger that checked me in and asked if I could just pay the difference to get the Lassen Annual pass, which he said, “sure, just drive back around to the front of the gate and we’ll take care of it.” We handle the transaction, and just as he is about to hand me my pass, he pauses and says, “well… there is another option.” Which he goes on to say, “for people that have any kind of handicap or disability, they can get a FREE pass to EVERY national park for their ENTIRE LIFE, and all they have to do is sign this form that says this disclaimer above applies to them, no questions asked.” First I’m thinking, “What?! is this really happening,” and second, “he must have heard me stuttering in the course of our conversation and felt that this qualifies.” So I sign the form, get the pass, and as I begin to drive away I almost start to cry. It was like all the being laughed at and being made fun of, feeling embarrassed and ashamed, became worth it. It was the first time that I was thankful for having a speech impediment, and felt like something good came to me because of it.

And to backtrack to the previous story, the following day when this customer asked me a question that I couldn’t answer, and found myself feeling embarrassed and ashamed as per usual, I thought to myself, “well at least I got my free National Park Pass for my entire life.” Like it gave me this feeling that all those experiences that I have had to endure throughout my life were not in vain. It took away some of the sting that often gets under my skin. I have heard people say a lot in my life that, “all things work together for good; nobody suffers in vain, etc etc.” Things that are supposed to make us feel better about ourselves and our situations when bad things happen, which often feel like meaningless words that I can’t really know if they are true. I hope things work out for my good, but until I actually see it, how can I really know? It was inspiring to me to see all those sayings actually be true, and have a tangible experience that I can look back on and point to and say, “see, all things do work together for good, and people really don’t suffer in vain.”

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I recently went backpacking in Humboldt County, sleeping on the beach in some of the most beautiful and remote places along the Northern California coast. Lots of tall rock, lush green cliffs along the beaches that are incredible. One problem I had though on this trip, was that the nights got really cold and windy. My tent would shake violently and make it hard for me to sleep, and I spent a good part of the night paranoid that some of my stuff would get blown away. Many times after a big gust of wind, I would get worried and check outside my tent to make sure my stuff was still there. I sleep in a bivvy tent, which is like a cocoon that only fits a body, so I can’t put all my stuff inside with me. The first night wasn’t too bad, the wind kept me up a little bit, but I was still able to sleep. The second night though was horrendous. The wind blew so hard there were times it felt like it picked me up a little bit; and my tent would flap so loud and aggressively that it was impossible for me to fall asleep, and of course there was the panic from time to time that my stuff was going to blow away. After laying there for 2-3 hours, hoping it would eventually die down, I decided to get up in the middle of the night, pick up all my sleeping gear, and try to find an area that was protected by trees or something that would shield me from the wind. I came to a place that was at a slight incline, so I had to fight sliding off my sleeping pad through the night, but it was surrounded by plenty of trees to protect me from the wind, and I was finally able to get some sleep. One downside to this though, is that being surrounded by trees gave rise to a new fear that the wind would cause a branch or a tree to fall on me while I was laying there. Every time a big gust came and I heard the trees creak or sway, I would think, “please God don’t let a branch fall on me.” To top it all off, I had forgotten my jacket on this trip, so the mornings were a little rough as well. I dreaded getting out of my tent in the morning to deal with the cold winds.

In this area of California, as soon as you get off the beach, it is a lush redwood forest. I spent my last day hiking back to the campground where my car was parked, which was in the middle of the redwoods, and the best part about spending the night in the redwoods, is that there is zero wind. It was such a relief knowing that I wasn’t going to have to spend the night fighting with the wind. As I was approaching the campground, and getting myself mentally prepared for staying the night here, I thought to myself, “well its not the most scenic place I’ve slept on this trip, but it’s peace.” And it occurred to me in that moment that isn’t that also true about home? It’s not the most exciting, scenic, beautiful place we can be in the world, but it’s peace, and that is something I can appreciate.

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Where Does My Worth Come From

Where does our sense of worth come from?

For me, which can’t be healthy, has often come from the things I create. For a large part of my life it was making skateboard videos, now it is landscape photography, writing blogs, and playing the saxophone. When I was a sponsored skateboarder, I worked harder at producing content than probably any other rider, because for me, it wasn’t just about making videos, it was about proving the worth of my existence. With every video I created, I was earning my value and gaining my stamp of approval that I am worth being in this world. I do the same thing now with getting out in nature and taking landscape photos. Unfortunately for me, if the things I create aren’t well received, then I feel like I have failed at life, my life has no significance, and there is no point to my existence. My sense of worth hangs by a thread.

Where else does one find their worth? From their family? Most the time I feel like I don’t really have one. From God? Maybe it does, but more often than not, Drawing our worth from God feels like lofty words that have no practical meaning. I find myself in this Black Forest often, and all I can ever seem to do is describe my surroundings, I can never really find the way out.

Does awareness help? Whatever content I just put out into the world didn’t get the love and appreciation that I thought it would, here comes the self-worth crash. Being able to see it for what it is, observing it, and letting it pass, is that all I need to get through? Is it just a passing storm that we have to wait out? Life is full of these various types of storms isn’t it? Knowing what we are dealing with and being aware of what is happening is helpful. Otherwise we are doomed to think that a little rain falling from the sky is the end of the world.

How does one find their worth? If it isn’t coming from family, and I can’t rely on my hobbies, and for the days where God feels too “out there,” what can I do? I think the only lasting, sure thing is my community. I have to remember that there are people in the world that look forward to seeing me, and miss me when I am gone. My job functions smoothly and my boss has a lot less stress because I am there. I guess it all comes down to seeing the truth about our self isn’t it? To think our life doesn’t matter and is insignificant wouldn’t be true. There are enough people out there lying to us everyday, we don’t need to lie to ourselves on top of all that. Our community, our friendships, our workplace, like having us around. Don’t sell everyone short by thinking they don’t.

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Storms… They Pass

I recently spent a couple days backpacking in the mountains, and something that’s always in the back of my mind every time I decide to do this is, “what if I get stormed on?” This particular time, it’s getting late in the day, I am almost to the spot that I want to set up camp at, and I can see storm clouds are starting to roll in. It starts to drizzle a little bit before I get to where I’m hoping to camp and I start to get nervous. By the time I get to my spot, the clouds are thick. I start to weigh my options of what I should do. Should I just start walking back to my car? I am probably about 7 miles away. Can I wait this out? I had just read the day before how John Muir would often go outside during storms because he felt more safe outside in the rain rather than being under a roof, and he enjoyed the effect storms had on the trees. So with the inspiration of John Muir, I decided to just wait it out. So I put my jacket on, made sure all the zippers on my backpack were zipped tight, put my pack under a small pine tree, hoping the pine branches would give it a little extra shelter, and I waited. The winds picked up, and I can feel the storm is about to start. The rain begins to fall, and I am thinking, “ok, here it goes.” It lasts for about 15 or 20 minutes, the rain stops, the winds calm, the clouds start to dissipate, I begin to see the sky, and it’s over. The funny part about all this is, at its worst, it was nothing more than a heavy sprinkle. After all that fear and anxiety, I think to myself, “wow, that was it? I can’t believe I almost started walking back to my car for a drizzle.”

It occurred to me in that moment how often we do this in life. We get ourselves all worked up over some dreadful thing we think is coming. We start feeling like, “buckle up everybody, it’s about to get really bad.” Then it comes, it passes, and at its worst, it was nothing more than a drizzle. All our fears and anxieties almost never pan out the way we see them going in our heads do they?

The thing about storms is… they pass. And more often than not, they’re not as bad as we think they are going to be.

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That Old Familiar Tune

Grief often feels like a broken record. The same song plays over and over again, and it’s not just any song. It’s a song that evokes feelings and past hurts that I thought I buried and had moved past, but I have to rehash and deal with these every time it plays, and nothing is ever resolved. The thing about grief is that there is nothing we can do about it than to just bare it. The only remedy seems to be to get outside and get my mind off of it. No matter how many times that I have told myself that I have gotten over it, forgiven, moved on, it always seems to come back and I have to deal with it all over again. When someone has caused us pain in life, we don’t just forgive them one time and then we’re done with it. We have to spend our whole life forgiving them. For there is always that part of us that wants to be angry, that part that wants to slam our fists on the table and yell, “how could you!” But I am a person of peace and self control, or so I tell myself, so I am going to let it run its little course. Take a walk outside, drown my sorrow in sunshine and remind myself that I am going to be ok and am not going to be given to my anger. It may go away for a time, but it always comes back. I am never done with it. That broken record always starts playing that old familiar tune again. Most of our issues, wounds, hurts, are never resolved in this world are they? It’s just a matter of how we cope with it.

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It Will Be Ok

There is something about being in the mountains that brings some kind of clarity. On July 4th, just a couple weeks ago, I had to work in the morning till about 2 or 3, and all day at the coffee shop where I work I am hearing about all the gatherings with family and friends that people are doing later. I didn’t think I would be as bothered by this as I was, but all day at work, I ask people what they are doing, and they ask me back and I tell them, I don’t think I am doing anything. By the time I got off, I was feeling like I had nobody, like I was all alone in the world. I get home, and my neighbors are having a barbecue with some family in our shared backyard, and I am so down in the dumps by this point that I can’t bear hearing people being together. I had to get away from my house and I had this sense that I just needed to get to the mountains. So I went to this spot along the north fork American river that I haven’t been to, and as I am hiking up the river I find a real beautiful part where the water is really clear and deep and looks incredible. I swim for a while with my goggles and I can’t believe how beautiful it is underwater. All of the sudden I am overjoyed and am as content and satisfied as I can be. As I begin the walk back to my car, I get this sense, which was probably God, say, “You see, what are you complaining about? You like this better anyway.” And I began to weep a little bit. What do I have to complain about? It was like I was beckoned by God to come to the mountains and see the truth about myself.

There is a Lumineers song that I can’t get enough of right now that goes, “where we are, I don’t know where we are, but it will be ok.” Those words do something to me for some reason and I get a little emotional every time I hear them. whenever I am in the mountains, I get this feeling of, no matter what happens to me, no matter what state my life is in, no matter how many friends I have, no matter what my family is like or what growing up was like… I will be ok. No complaining, no “woe is me,” no short end of the stick, no one to be angry with, no “why couldn’t things have been different….” Just all smiles. For everything will be ok.

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Irony in the Wilderness

I think all of us wrestle with feeling like we have a lack of people around us. Whether that be family, friends, community, etc. Most of us, if not all struggle with feeling alone in the world without a solid supporting cast.

I recently did a solo backpacking trip in the Tahoe forest, and as the day is winding down, I have my camp all set up, and I am sitting alone with my thoughts, journaling and reading a book. It occurs to me then that I am holding a book my wife got me, writing with a pen my friend Jon Wagner got me, and having an overall experience that I couldn’t have done without my friend Mark Johnson showing me how to do. Suddenly I realize that how could I ever say I have nobody? It is quite ironic that it is when I am alone in the wilderness that I have the most clarity with what great people I have around me. Life is funny like that sometimes.

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Look What We Overcame

Life has a way of never going the way we thought it would. We thought we would be married with kids, own a home, have a good career, be living out some dream job or dream life. Only to be divorced, single parent, never married, still renting and living with roommates, still grinding at a job we thought we would have moved on from by now, so on and so forth. It’s easy to feel like we were cheated in life or got the short end of the stick when we think about how we saw our life going and how it is now. We are told all our lives that we can be anyone we want to be and do anything we want to do, just to find out that this has not been the case. Life doesn’t just happen and go the way we want it to. It’s more complicated than that, isn’t it? This rude awakening can be frustrating, make us angry, and can cause us to shake our fists at the heavens and say, “why is life not working out the way I want it to.” Do we really have a reason to be angry though? Is it not a possibility that we are better off for life going the way it did? Does it have to be a bad thing when life goes a different way and maybe got a little hard? Maybe instead of getting what we wanted, we got what we needed.

In my coming of age, I thought I was either going to be a professional skateboarder, have some kind of Christian ministry profession, for I have a bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies. I thought I would become a professional writer, later in life I tried to become a pilot, and none of those things ever worked out. I have had my moments of feeling sorry for myself. Feeling frustrated and upset that I could never get what I wanted or be what I wanted. I would say things to myself like, “I guess life just doesn’t work out for me.” Like I was dealt a bad hand in life and was just doomed forever because of it.

I have worked in a coffee shop or a coffee roastery for seven years now, and when I first got into this industry, I was hopeful that maybe one day I would move up in some way or find a job somewhere that could be some kind of a career. Not until recently could I say it finally did. I have had many moments of doubting and questioning if I was making a bad decision for sticking with coffee for as long as I have, but something that has kept me in it for so long in spite of all my doubting, is that it is very social. I am able to interact and get to know a lot of people through it, and it is something that I am always afraid of losing when the thought comes up of, “maybe it is time to look into other lines of work so I can make more money.” Growing up as a kid with a stutter that was terrified of meeting new people, it has been a great job for my own personal growth that I may not have ever gained if any of those other professions ever worked out.

I got my first job when I was seventeen at a Japanese restaurant as a busser and a dishwasher. I worked there for two years and my manager tried to get me to move up to be a server many times, but I always said no. I was too afraid of approaching strangers, stuttering a bunch, and embarrassing myself. Growing up I was laughed at and made fun of a lot and it made me into a bit of a simp that was terrified of people I didn’t know and trust. It’s amazing how far I have come since that seventeen year old kid that was terrified of interacting with people I didn’t know. I manage a coffee shop now and I have to interact with new people constantly. Not only have I learned that I can do it, but I discovered that I actually love it and can’t imagine working a job without it. How did that turn around so much? How did I go from being terrified of meeting new people to loving it and not being able to imagine life without it? Had I become a pilot or a writer I never would have seen this tremendous turn around in my confidence and become someone that actually loves people and loves to serve them. As a teenager, I thought I would end up working somewhere that didn’t involve a whole lot of talking. For how could I, with a stutter, ever do something that involved talking to people I didn’t know? My career path has allowed me to overcome my fears. I expected something else, but I got something that stretched and grew me into someone I never thought I could be. Our path through life often feels dark with no idea where it is going, but there are moments of light along the way where we can look back and think, “ah… some things finally make sense.” The kid with a stutter too afraid to serve tables who became a manager of a coffee shop is quite the Cinderella Story. I overcame the odds to get where I am today, and that is a much better story than anything I could ever come up with on my own.

Growing up I had moments where I felt like I was cheated out of a normal home life. My parents got divorced when I was young and my dad moved away. Sometimes I would get jealous or envious of my friends that had their dads around and their families together, but as I got older I realized that I don’t have any reason to feel this way. Homelife wasn’t the ideal or traditional way of how parents dream of raising their kids, but it had its own beauty. Some of my friends that have recently become single parents seem to get really discouraged, and I can see why. There seems to be this feeling of, “because I couldn’t keep my marriage together, I have messed up my kids forever and doomed them to a single parent family.” Like kids that grow up in single parent homes are subpar to the ones that don’t. I once thought that I needed to have kids of my own in order to redeem my childhood and to give my kids the upbringing that I once wish I had, but I have come to realize that this is bogus. Just because something isn’t the ideal doesn’t mean it’s terrible. I grew up in an untraditional way, sometimes it was hard, but it was also good. Instead of mom having dinner ready when dad got home, where we all sat around and ate together every night, my mom cooked when she could, sometimes we would eat together, and when she had to work or something and couldn’t cook, we would find food in the freezer or eat leftovers. My brother and I always had our friends around and we never had to ask if they could stay the night. My mom had to work full time, and there was a time when she worked nights, and I think she felt better if she knew, or at least suspected, that we were at the house instead of running amuck around town. So she did whatever she could to encourage us to hang out at home; always allowed us to have our friends over and kept the house stocked with food. My mom spent a lot of money at Costco during those days trying to feed us all and she hardly ever complained about it. I grew up with a lot of freedom, my friends would come over and we would go skate around the town until two or three in the morning. All of this gave me a lot of good memories and I wasn’t cheated out of anything because I didn’t have all the family traditions and routines. I learned the value of friendship through this. My friends often felt like all I had, and my sense of family came from them. I spent a lot of holidays skateboarding with my friends instead of having all our family around. And it wasn’t something I felt sad about or felt like I was missing out on anything, for I always looked forward to skateboarding on holidays because we never got kicked out anywhere and it was always a great time. There were quite a few of us that didn’t have any family around and grew up with single parents, and when the holidays came around, since there wasn’t any family stuff going on, we spent them together. We weren’t missing out on family traditions, we were just creating our own that looked a little different.

For my friends that did have their dads around, they would often take me in and make me feel like one of their own. They would try to teach me things that kids normally learn from their dad’s, like how to change a tire, and would often refer to me as one of their kids. Growing up with a single parent that had to work full time with no family around to help pick up the slack, it’s probably impossible to not feel like a lost orphan at times, and those kinds of things helped alleviate some of that and did something to my soul. Nothing about my childhood needs to be redeemed, and I don’t need to be mad or upset with anyone or anything for not getting the traditional family. The family that I was able to have was wonderful. I have always had great people around, and I saw men who saw this lost boy with a mom that couldn’t do it all and was trying the best she could, take me in, and help me feel not so lost anymore. It is hard for me not to think about this and not cry. The untraditional family is beautiful in its own way. It may not be the ideal, but it is not anything to feel remorse over. We all grow and adapt to our circumstances, and as the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has made everything beautiful in its time.” It’s not always easy and it may not be the norm or how everyone envisions or dreams of family life being like, but there is always beauty in it. Pressure produces diamonds, and if the cards we were dealt doesn’t give us all our dreams and maybe makes life a little more difficult than we imagined, we can still make something beautiful out of it.

I was not cheated in life because I grew up with a stutter, didn’t get the career that I thought I wanted, or was raised by a single parent. I was shaped by it and grew from it. All the best coffees in the world grow at a high elevation where the air is thin and it is hard for them to breathe. They are put under stress to stay alive, and as a result, produce the best quality. We too often think of ourselves as victims because we were given an unfavorable circumstance, which is not true. Ed Mylett, a famous motivational speaker always says, “nothing happens to you, but for you.” In other words, I am not a victim of all those unfavorable things that happened to me. I overcame them and learned from them. They happened “for me” to make me into a better human. Single parents, kids of single parents, people that have been divorced, kids born with speech impediments or some disability, people that are struggling to figure life out and make something work, and all the things that make life unfavorable, have not been cheated in life. These are opportunities to grow and to wait and see what beauty comes of them. When life gets hard or goes a different way than we envisioned, we don’t need to feel sorry for ourselves and shake our fists at the heavens. Look how it shaped us and the perspective it gave us. Eventually, we will be able to reflect on our lives and think, look what we overcame, look how we grew from the cards we were dealt. We will all be given opportunities to overcome obstacles. Embrace it when it comes, for it will make something beautiful, and we will be thankful for it in the end.

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Letting Go of Purpose

There are a lot of people in the world that think a lot about purpose. There was a survey once that asked millennials what their biggest fear was, and the majority answer was living a life without purpose. We want to know why we are put here on this earth, and we want to live our life feeling like we spent it doing exactly what we were meant to do. Sometimes that is a hobby, sometimes a job, or could be some kind of ministry or volunteer work. For me, it was skateboarding. Skateboarding was once the center of my life, I thought I connected with God and people the most through it, and I felt like God put me on this earth to skateboard. I took it so seriously that I wouldn’t let myself do a lot of things. I didn’t want anything getting in the way of what I felt like I was meant to do. Skateboarding was my purpose in life, my calling, my destiny, my reason for living. Until one day… I couldn’t do it anymore.

There was a time in my early twenties when I was living in Florida working with an action sports ministry that I will never forget. They were thinking about starting a wakeboarding ministry at a cable park and wanted to take us there to check it out. Which, If you’re not familiar, a cable park is when they have the handle that pulls you around the lake connected to cables instead of a boat. I told the ministry director that I was not going to wakeboard, I only skate, and when we went to the cable park, I just sat on the shore while everyone wakeboarded. They kept trying to get me to get out there, but I wouldn’t do it. I was too committed to skateboarding. This happened another time with surfing. We were on a trip and everyone wanted to surf. They wanted me to surf with them, and I refused, so I just sat on the shore and waited for them to finish. I was put on this earth to skate, and that was all I was going to do. I look back on that time now and think, “how ridiculous, I probably would have had a lot of fun wakeboarding and surfing.” In my mind, I wasn’t going to waste my time and energy doing anything else. My commitment to skateboarding was almost like a religious fervor, “thou shall not have any other thing before skateboarding.” I lived this way because I felt like I had to, like I was destined to do awesome things with skateboarding and if I did anything else I was cheating myself out of destiny and changing the trajectory of my life. I was determined to change the world through my cool, hip persona as a dreadlocked, Christian skateboarder that wrote blogs about faith. I needed to protect this at all costs or else I might lose it. I needed to skate, film, write, post videos and blogs, and there was no other way I could live in the world. I lived a very strict, religious kind of life that didn’t allow for a lot of freedom. When I finally let it die, I would finally find my freedom.

I became so burned out in always having to make sure I was skating, filming, posting, writing my skate blogs, and upholding my image; I began to lose all joy I had in skateboarding. I felt like someone who stayed in a bad, toxic relationship for a long time because they felt like they had to and it was the right thing to do, and when they finally broke it off, couldn’t believe how free and liberating it was. I could finally do all kinds of things that my religious fervor to skateboarding wouldn’t allow me to do. I could play the saxophone, join a softball league, start paddleboarding, diving, hiking, etc. There are so many things that I denied myself for a long time because I “had to” skateboard, and it was all I would allow myself to do. It was my purpose, my calling, my destiny, my image. But I wasn’t living in freedom that way, that was bondage. I chose to live in bondage because I felt like God was calling me to be so, which is quite the mind-bender for me. I willingly put myself in a box because I was so convinced great, awesome things would come of it.

It’s funny to me how often we attach calling and purpose to anything we like doing. If we like doing something, it must be our calling or purpose in the world. Skateboarding, playing an instrument, graphic design, film, photography, so on and so forth. We can’t just do something because it is enjoyable, it has to be coupled with why we are here on this earth. I used to feel like skateboarding was my purpose, but now that I am not really doing it that much, did my purpose change? Do I still have a purpose? Is my purpose now playing the saxophone or playing softball? When we really dissect this philosophy it starts to sound a bit ridiculous. I really enjoy playing the saxophone, but I am not going to stamp calling and purpose on it. It’s fun, I enjoy it, I feel God when I play, but I don’t have to make it about that. Whether or not it is a part of my purpose in life, it doesn’t make me play any more or any less, or change any outcome that comes of it. It doesn’t really matter in the end what my purpose or calling is, because it doesn’t change or affect how I live and what I do in the slightest. I am always going to do things that I find enjoyable, and I am always going to find people to connect with in whatever I decide to do. I don’t need to put myself in any box and tell myself that I was put here on this earth to do this one thing and make sure I put more focus on that than I do with anything else. I can connect and have an impact with lots of different people through lots of different things, I don’t need to hold one above all others.

I used to think that I connect with God and people the most through skateboarding, which made me feel like I couldn’t do the same with other things. I couldn’t really do it with my job, or at the grocery store, or playing sports, because none of that was as effective as what I could do with skateboarding. I put myself and God in a box, telling myself that I could only feel God and connect with people in my little box that only had room for skateboarding. Now that I have ditched the box I feel God more than ever. He is everywhere and in everything. At the grocery store, at my little coffee shop job, on the softball field, at the river, so on and so forth. My purpose is just to love God and love people, which is so broad it doesn’t deserve a thought. I live my purpose every minute of every day in everything I do without trying and without a thought about it. I don’t need to deny myself things that could be fun because those don’t fit in the box. Everything I do will have opportunities to connect with people, there is no hobby or job that is above another because God hasn’t called me to that one. God doesn’t call us to hobbies or jobs, he calls us to love Him and people, which can happen in anything. In the end, it doesn’t matter what my purpose or calling is, for whatever hobby or job I do or find enjoyable, I will feel God and connect with people, which is all I am expected to do with my time here on this earth. This commitment we get to some perceived calling will often bring a lot of drudgery and misery to our lives. I wish I knew now back in my early twenties that God doesn’t desire me to live in drudgery and misery in order to fulfill some calling I have convinced myself of. If my “calling” feels like a burden then that’s a good sign that I am doing something wrong. God will move in our lives in whatever we do and in whatever we find enjoyable. There is no need to pin down one thing and put ourselves in a box. Let go of what we think our purpose is and we will truly find God and ourselves.

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We Did Our Best

It’s hard not to live without some regret in this world. We tell ourselves often, “if I could do it all over again, I would have done it a lot differently.” Parents and children deal with this a lot. Parents have regrets from how they raised their kids, and kids have woes from how their parents raised them. I have been one of those kids. I’m sure raising kids isn’t easy, and it is probably hard not to wrestle with the thought of, “did I mess up my kids.” It is common to be hard on ourselves and on our parents, but something I think is important to keep in mind is, we are all doing the best we can; maybe our best isn’t always that good, but it is still our best, and we can’t do any better than that. So how can we be bitter, resentful, or filled with regret?

If everyone in the world played basketball, not very many people would be able to play like Lebron James, or even be able to play the game very well at all. If someone is playing the best they can, and they keep turning the ball over and shooting airballs, can I have grace for them and not be angry at their performance? After all, they are just doing the best they can. If that is true, then why do we so often look at our parents in such a negative light for all the things they did wrong when they can only do their best. Granted, it may not have always been very good, but it was still their best.

My upbringing wasn’t the most ideal. My parents got divorced when I was six, and my dad, as well as my older sister, moved far away when I was eight. I didn’t grow up around any family, so all I had was my mom and my brother. And like most kids who grow up with a single mom, my brother and I had to raise ourselves a little bit. Mom had to work to make sure we had food and somewhere to live, which means my brother and I had to take care of ourselves sometimes. There were moments in my teens where I felt abandoned and alone in the world, which made me feel angry and resentful and I felt like I had a right to be. But to get past those things I had to come to terms with that my parents did the best they could with the resources they were given. They weren’t able to give my brother and I the most ideal upbringing, but they did their best, and I can be thankful for that.

Being a single mom can’t be easy and my mom worked hard at it. She always made sure we had everything we needed, even though we would have been considered poor. For there was a time when the three of us lived in a studio apartment, sleeping in the same bed, but I never felt poor, and I never felt like I went without. I was always in sports, my mom always found a way to get me to all my practices and games, and when I started skating she always made sure I had a skateboard. She also got herself through nursing school while raising two kids by herself, which is quite the feat. The other day I was playing tennis with my friend, and this mom with her three kids showed up and started playing on the court next to us. She was in medical scrubs and looked like she had just gotten off of work. This mom reminded me of my own and I almost shed a tear. Probably a single mom, trying her best to not only take care of her kids financially but also trying to have some fun time with them. My mom used to do the same kinds of things for us. My mom would get off of work, and even though she had every right to kick her feet up and relax after a long day at the hospital, would grab all the racquets and take us to the tennis courts still in her scrubs. My mom did her best to do it all and she worked hard at being a mom, and no matter what hurt she may have caused, I can be thankful for all she did. For her best was often really good

My dad for whatever reason felt like he had to get back to his hometown where his family was, and from that point on we had to battle the distance, and that is ok. And even though he wasn’t around too much, I do have some fond memories of him. I played a lot of little league baseball as a kid, and I usually always pitched, and I remember practicing with my dad, and he would always get in the catcher position and start making funny faces and make me laugh. And when we were little my dad used to take us dirt bike riding, and he would always have us sit in front of him, and I remember always telling him to do a wheelie, and when I would get scared he would always say, “just lean back into my chest.” My dad gave his best, and even though he felt like he had to leave, which left him with regret, and my brother and I with some hurt, he still gave us his best. I know he is hard on himself for making that decision and for not being able to be around more, but he did what he could, and we have to live with that and try to make the most of it. He had his moments where his best was really good just like everybody else, and he had his moments where it wasn’t. We can choose to either remember and be thankful for the good things or be remorseful and bitter for the bad things. I would rather choose the former.

As kids, we spend a lot of time thinking about all the things our parents did wrong, and not enough time thinking about all the things they did right. Almost everyone has stuff they can complain about in regards to their upbringing and how their parents raised them. There probably isn’t a human out there that didn’t grow up with nothing to complain about. But no matter what mistakes my parents have made, I always have the choice to be a good son. I’ve put off calling and going to see my parents. I’ve come home drunk as a teenager, and thrown house parties when mom left town. At one of those house parties one of my brother’s friends threw up pink vomit all over the living room carpet, and my brother and I couldn’t get the stain out before my mom got home. One time my mom picked up my friend Ryan and I from a bonfire that we both got really drunk at and Ryan puked all over the backseat of the car. Being a family is hard, and I have also been the one that has made bad decisions that have pained my parents. My best as a son hasn’t always been stellar either, and I have had my moments of being hard on myself and asking the question, “Have I been a good son to my parents?”

My dad recently came really close to dying, and whenever death looms over a loved one, there is always the question of, was I good to this person? Have I been a good son to my father? Did I reach out and make the effort enough in our relationship? No matter how much I call him and go see him, there will always be this feeling of, “I could have done more.” I need to have grace for myself and remember that I did the best I could. Maybe my best wasn’t always very good, maybe I didn’t reach out enough, but I still did my best. Moving forward I can always do better, but beating myself up for not being better is pointless. I can only give my best, and I don’t think our best ever feels like it is good enough.

Our best is all we have to offer this world. Hopefully, we are always improving and getting better, but at the end of the day, we can’t do any better than our best. Sometimes our best may not be very good, and hopefully, there is grace for those times, and sometimes our best is awesome and wonderful. Being hard on ourselves for not doing better, or being resentful or bitter towards someone else for not being better is never going to get us anywhere. We all need grace, and we all need to remember that we are all just doing the best we can. Sometimes the cards we are dealt in life aren’t the most ideal, but we can always choose to make the most of them and love all the people that God has put in our lives regardless of how good they were to us. Even when we feel like they don’t deserve it. I haven’t always been a good son, and my parents haven’t always been good parents, but we have always done our best, and I can be thankful for that.

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