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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Through the Dark

Getting along with people can often be a challenge. Everyone is trying their best to do what they feel is right, yet we still clash. We upset people, people upset us, sometimes there are grudges, families get divided, and so on. My family for one is full of schisms and emotional wounds that don’t seem like will ever heal. And one thing I’ve noticed from this is that everyone involved feels like they have done what is right, but yet the wounds persist. How can this be? How can two people that feel like they are doing the right thing be so divided?

Sometimes life feels like a journey through the dark, where we are fumbling around trying to find our way, bumping into things and people that we can’t see. It’s hard to see in this place, and people get mad at each other for bumping into them. Not only are we walking around in the dark, but we expect everyone else to always be able to see where they are going when we ourselves can’t even see. We are all trying to find our way through the dark as gracefully as possible, but people are always getting hurt, and forgiveness and grace often feels like a scarcity.

We live in a dark world, and it doesn’t seem like we realize that very often. People do things we don’t like because they can’t see clearly, and we get bitter and hold a grudge for it like we can see any better and don’t ever hurt anyone. We hold other people to a higher standard than we hold ourselves. I’ve said and done a lot of things that have hurt people in my arrogance that I regret. And the most frustrating part about this is that I often don’t realize I have acted in arrogance or immaturity till later. I think to myself, “am I that much in the dark that I can’t see my own arrogance before I let it out to the world?” Life will always be filled with remorse and apologies because of how much we seem to be stumbling around, bumping into everything as we try to make it through life. I would think I would be more gracious and forgiving to the people that rub me the wrong way, annoy me, or say things that I feel are ridiculous, but too often I write them off as “stupid people,” which makes me a hypocrite. For I too say ridiculous things and annoy people, for I too am walking around in the dark trying to find my way. No matter how hard we try to feel around and not bump into something or someone, we always seem to do so. When we get to the end, all we can do is say we tried our best. We tried our best not to hurt anyone, and we tried our best to forgive people when they bumped into us. The path through life is a dark one, and we could all use some grace as we tread on through.

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The Difference is in the Little Things

I spent most of my early twenties putting a lot of thought into how I could make a difference in the world. As a young Christian, I wanted so badly to make an impact. So I thought and I dreamed to the point that it gave me anxiety, burned me out, and made life feel like a burden. I went to bible school, did a few church internships, moved to Florida to do full-time ministry, did some public speaking at outreaches, led bible studies at skate parks, and moved around a lot always chasing this dream that I could never seem to grasp. All because I was on a journey to make a difference and an impact in the world. The great irony in all of this though, is that all the times I felt like I made the biggest impact on people, was when I wasn’t trying to do so. The random kid I befriended at the skate park, the guy that I met at the skate shop that just moved to the area that I invited to come skate with us, people that I have met at a coffee shop and just struck up a conversation, or even just inviting people over to my house, has made a difference in people’s lives. The problem I found with all my searching and striving is that I always thought about it in big, glamorous ways. It was like Martin Luther King Jr, Billy Graham, C.S. Lewis level or bust. I put so much pressure on myself to do big things that I saw little to no value in any of the little things. And it left me feeling like my life was a waste and meaningless. It took me a while to realize that all the real value in life came from the things that I wasn’t trying to find them in. And it didn’t come from endless brainstorming and planning on how I could use my talents and gifts to accomplish something great and worthwhile, it just happened from me making myself available to people and being myself. My experience with all of this taught me that the people that need to make a difference so bad, often don’t appreciate themselves, because they always feel like they aren’t doing enough for the world and for God. I eventually came to the realization that it is ok to just be me and to be average without all the glamor that I felt like I was destined to have or needed to have in order to live a meaningful life. I see a lot of young people that follow this same pattern. They feel like being their average self is not enough, they need the following, the glamor, the assurance that they’ve done something significant with their lives, and so on, and it’s a bit of an epidemic. I told myself and others that all my striving, and brainstorming to make something happen for good, was for God and people, but the reality was it was all for myself. I had an insecurity that my life was insignificant, I felt like me being me was not enough. I needed to feel like a bigshot, and I needed the assurance that I had done something worthwhile with my life. My biggest fear seemed to be living an average life, with an average job, making an average or little impact on the world.

There is a paradox here wherein all our striving and trying so hard to do something significant, stifles us from being able to actually make a difference. We are so focused on “big things,” that we ignore the little things, and it is the little things where we are actually the most likely to have an impact on people. We never know what people are going through. The smallest act like inviting someone over to our house, or out to coffee, or to a hike, to play basketball, or to go skateboarding could have the biggest impact on someone’s life. People that enjoy life and love people will always be making a difference, just like adding sugar to something will always make it sweet. If I love and care about the people around me, I will make a difference, there is no other possible outcome. It is not something I need to think about. All the thinking, striving, wondering how I can make a difference, actually inhibits us from doing so. When I am playing my saxophone, if I come to a place in a song where I need to think long and hard about what I am playing, it will cause me to stop playing. But if I can play a song without giving it too much thought, it will come out smooth and beautiful. If I have to put a lot of thought into how to, or if I am making a difference, chances are it is causing me to stop doing so. When we get stuck in our heads, it immobilizes us.

I was talking to someone the other day that told me they really want to have kids one day and make a difference in their lives. When we say things like that, there is an unsaid implication that there is a chance that we will not. If we love people, our kids, and are seeking the betterment of everything and everyone, we will be making a difference. It is not something we need to think or worry about. A tree doesn’t need to think about bearing fruit, it just does it. As long as it has water and sunlight, it will bear fruit. As long as we are giving everything and every one our best and are caring about the well-being of people, there is no other possibility than to make a difference. When we are stressed out and anxious about not doing and being enough, it makes life all about us, which stifles us from loving and caring about people; our water and sunlight for bearing fruit. Being ourselves and being average without all the glamor, spotlight, New York Times Best Sellers Lists, Nobel Peace Prize, huge Instagram followings, and so on is enough to make a difference and to have a meaningful life.

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Reflections on Suffering and Unanswered Prayer

Suffering is a hard thing to endure. It causes us to question and reflect on a lot of things. It can make us feel mad at God, hate God, and even come to believe that He doesn’t exist. When I talk to someone that doesn’t believe in God or is struggling with believing in God, most of the time it is connected to some suffering that either they endured or someone they loved endured, which they prayed to God that He would end, and He didn’t. They feel like God ignored, forgot about, or abandoned them, which makes them ask the question, what is the use in God and in praying to Him? If the only being powerful enough to end my suffering won’t do it, then why believe in Him and why would anybody need Him? To be direct, they asked God for something and He didn’t give them what they wanted, so the conclusion that they come to is… well he must not be real. 

When I was a kid, my mom took my brother and I to the local donut shop and told us kids that we could pick out two donuts. But I had a problem with this proposal… I wanted three. So I fought and demanded three, and my mom kept telling me, “no, you can only have two.” But I kept fighting, and eventually, my mom said to me, “you either get two or you don’t get any.” So I didn’t get any, and I sat in the corner crying and throwing a fit because I could not accept two measly donuts. While I’m throwing a fit, donut-less, my brother is sitting across from me enjoying his two. I could not be grateful, which left me with nothing; he could, and got to enjoy something. Joy cannot live without gratefulness.

I think we can all agree that no mother owes their kids donuts, especially not three. And in the same way, God does not owe us anything. We are not entitled to a pain-free life where all our friends and family live to be 120 years old. God gives us a loving family and friends, and when one dies, instead of being thankful for the time we had with them, we often slam our fists and demand they be given a longer life. We look up to God and shout, “how dare you take them away from me? How could you let this happen?” It sounds a lot like the kid at the donut shop that cannot be grateful for being allowed two donuts but demands three instead. God gave us life, with people we love that make it worth living, and we were not entitled to or owed any of it. Who are we to make these foolish demands, shake our fists at him, and then come to the silly conclusion that He must not be real because He didn’t give us what we wanted?

When we get mad at God because of unanswered prayer or because life didn’t work out the way they wanted it to, we are acting like the kid throwing a fit at the store because their parents said no to buying them the toy or cereal that they wanted. Choosing not to believe in God for the same reasons is like the kid that says he hates his mom because she won’t let him eat ice cream before dinner. Being told ‘no’ never seems to get easy. As adults, we may not cry and throw a fit at the donut shop or department store anymore, but we still have our own kind of tantrums. Now we get mad at God for not making life work out the way we want it to, and if we really want to stick it to him, we’ll say he is not even real. 

Dealing with pain, suffering, and death never gets easy. And I know all this talk about donuts and tantrums makes the matter sound simple and insensitive, but it never is all that simple is it? There are always lots of emotions, tears, and questions. My first experience with the injustice of death and the “How, God, could you let this happen?” I was 16, and one of my good friends died of an unfortunate accident. Frankie Aguirre was his name, and everybody loved Frankie. He was the most articulate, well mannered, “had his stuff together,” of all my friends. He was the only one that was thinking about college and going to Harvard and whatnot when everyone else was just thinking about skateboarding. He was also the only skateboarder I have ever heard of that was on the honor-roll and taking honors classes. My mom and I still talk about him and how sad his death was. My mom, along with all the other parents, loved Frankie. He was one of the few friends I had that could hold a conversation with an adult. Frankie would have gone far in life, and done a lot of good. He was someone that everyone knew was going to be somebody someday, and how sad it is that he was taken so soon. His poor parents had to bury their 17-year-old son, with so much promise and potential, and never got to see what kind of man he would become. His death is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I have ever had, and for a lot of people that knew Him, it is hard not to ask the questions, “God, how could you let this happen? Are you even real? He would have done so much good, Why God?” But I have to remember, God didn’t owe us Frankie’s life, and I need to be grateful for the time I had with him. It is hard not to be mad at God and question why he lets people die so soon and makes parents bury their 17-year-old kids. But life never makes much sense, does it? Trying to make sense of everything in this cold, dark world can make someone go insane. We can choose to either be grateful or angry, and life will go on as it always has regardless.

Death and suffering often feels like an injustice that is occurring to us and the people we care about. We hope and pray that our “just” God will take the pain away and make everything right, but it doesn’t always work out that way. We won’t ever know why God lets these kinds of things happen, and they will never make logical sense. We have to remember to be grateful for what we have been given instead of angry for what feels like has been taken away from us. Life will never be fair, and it will never make sense. Be grateful for those good things that God never owed us, for we never know when they could be gone. 

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Dearest O’ World

Dearest O’ World, with all your issues, injustices, and problems, it can seem like a skill to be crafted to see any beauty in you. People commit their entire lives in an attempt to make the smallest dent in just one of your problems. Trying to make you a better place can often feel like fighting a seven-headed dragon where we cut off one head just for you to grow back two more. The African slave trade gets abolished just to see slavery of a different kind emerge – the sex trafficking industry. Do you ever get any better or do you just take your problems to a different front for us humans to fight them somewhere else? One problem gets solved just to see two more emerge. Since the beginning of time, living here has been one endless struggle of trying to make you better. Some of us do it on a macro level by moving to Cambodia to try and fight the sex trafficking industry head-on, others on a micro-level by buying a homeless man a meal. Nevertheless, the struggle always continues.

I have a love/hate relationship with you O’ world. Out of you comes the beautiful sounds of music and laughter, and out of you comes the horrific cries for help and justice. Some turn to substance in an attempt to make you tolerable, which for many just creates another problem for people to give their lives to helping. Reading and hearing about all your problems can often make many depressed, but thank God for the joys of friendship, sport, music, and others that bring you your beauty. You will always have your problems, and you will always have your joys. Being a human being is constantly living in a balancing act of addressing your problems, and also making the time to forget about them. We remember and we forget, getting too stuck in one end of the spectrum just brings more problems to our problem infested world.

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Going Where We Don’t Want to Go

I have noticed with skateboarding that every time someone is too afraid to try something, the people around them will often appeal to logic, thinking that if we can use our logic to make it sound simple and easy, then maybe they will try it. “All you have to do is hop on it; it’s just like this thing that you did before.” This can sometimes be helpful, but oftentimes the emotion of fear is too much for our simple logic. I have walked away from many spots with a downcast soul because I couldn’t get myself to do something that I knew I could do. It seems simple and easy in my mind, but then I go try to do it, and I find that it is not as simple as it seemed in my head. The only way for me to get myself to do something that scares me is to defy and override my emotions, which logic can help with, but sometimes the emotion is too overwhelming.

This struggle is also a rather common one in our romantic endeavors. For instance, why do people stay in toxic or abusive relationships when logic is screaming at them to get out? Because there is an emotional stronghold in place that leaves them too afraid to break out of it. The appeal to logic, with all its simplicity, often doesn’t do any good. How many times have we seen people go back and back again to a relationship that they know is not good for them? The emotion telling them to stay or go back is too strong for the awareness in their minds that it is not good for them. What is even more fascinating about this phenomenon, is that people will usually bend their logic to align with this feeling in their hearts that they need to be with this person. They convince themselves that it is good and come up with a persuasive logic to go along with the emotion. “It’s not that bad, I can change them, I am comfortable where I am at,” so on and so forth. Instead of being firm in wisdom, they bend their logic to fit their emotional needs. We often form our logic to fit our emotions, instead of using it to guide us in wisdom and overriding them. We often mistake wisdom and logic for the same thing, but wisdom is firm, and logic is finicky and can be manipulated and can sometimes be percieved as wisdom. When Christ is being tempted by Satan in the desert, it is not by wisdom that Satan is tempting him, but by a faulty, manipulative logic that is formed around someone’s emotional desires that appears as wisdom. We do this to ourselves more often than we realize.

In the book “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, Pip the main character is in love with this beautiful woman named Estella who has never been nice to him, and has never given him any reason to believe that he has a chance with her. Logically Pip should be able to see this and move on, but that is not what happens. Pip continues in his vain hope, ever becoming more obsessed with his fantasy that one day he and this girl will end up together, in spite of Estella’s constant mocking him and rude behavior toward him. Logically it makes no sense to be attracted to someone who treats us like that, but romance is not a logical game, but an emotional one that often defies our logic. Pip says in the book, “I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection.” Then again, “There were all sorts of pleasures through which I pursued her – and they were all miseries to me. I never had one hour’s happiness in her society, and yet my mind all round the four-and-twenty hours was harping on the happiness of having her with me unto death.” Pip is having an internal wrestling match with his head and his heart. He knows in his mind that this is a bad idea, but his heart can’t follow his logic, so he continues to pursue her and hold on to hope, ever making himself more miserable in the process. I am sure we have all been there like Pip, where we just couldn’t help falling in love with someone that we know is just making us more miserable the longer we stay on the journey of emotional fascination. Emotions can be a relentless beast that no amount of logic can seem to rescue us from. And the scary thing is, there are many times when I have thought that I was using wisdom and logic to guide me when in reality I was just using it justify letting my heart and emotions run wild. We can use our logic to convince ourselves of almost anything.

What makes Romantic emotions so hard to turn off? It is because there are endorphins and emotional highs that are attached to them. This pretty girl makes you feel some sort of way, so you just have to have her, throwing all wisdom and logic to the wind. Like a drug addict who needs their fix, no matter how much they know that they need to quit and should never have started in the first place. To come to our senses and choose not to act on an attraction to someone that may not be good for us, is to deny good feelings and emotional highs a lot of the time. And who wants to live in a world where we have to deny good feelings and emotional highs? Defying our emotions and listening to wise logic is possible, it just takes a little internal muscle. All the best skateboarders in the world, are not where they are because they never feel fear, they are there because they can override the emotion that is telling them, “don’t do it, it is too scary and you may get hurt.” They have mastered the fear and can be scared of something and do it anyway. The same has to go for our romantic endeavors and whatever emotional stronghold that is in our lives. Be strong enough in our wisdom to override the emotion that is leading us where we don’t want to go.

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Dreams Of “Making It”

Two of the biggest questions that we are always asking ourselves is, “what should I be doing with my life to make money?” Second, “what can I do to make money that I will enjoy?” We all have to do something to make money in order to live, and we don’t want to get stuck with a job we don’t like. Alan Watts, a famous Philosophy professor and writer from the mid 20th Century has a famous lecture on youtube called “What do you desire?” In this lecture he asks the question, “If money were no object, how would you spend your life?” In other words, is it really worth it to spend our lives doing something that we don’t like doing just for the money? What would we spend our lives doing if getting a paycheck wasn’t so important? And whatever that is, do that, and forget about the money and eventually it will come. Watts raises great questions to ask ourselves, and as a skateboarder and a writer, they are thoughts that I resonate with and get inspired by. When someone is really passionate about something the dream is to always find a way to make money doing that someday. Whether it be music, writing, photography, bodybuilding, some entrepreneurial idea, making little crafts and selling them on Etsy, and so on. And the thought of having to get a “real job,” something that is completely unrelated to this passion, because we need to make more money than our passion is bringing in, makes our heart sick and often makes these jobs feel like a burden that we can’t wait to shed. Our goal in life is always to “make it” in whatever it is that gets us excited to get out of bed in the morning.

When we hear things like, “if money were no object, how would you spend your life?” We tend to get all inspired and jump to things like, “well I would make music all day, or write books, or minister to kids, or become an entrepreneur,” which are good things to think about. But in our pursuit of trying to “make it,” we find ourselves unable to make anything happen and have no money, we often bang our head against the wall trying to figure out a way to make it work, which in turn makes money into an object all over again, just in a different way. Instead of getting a job we don’t like doing, we make the thing we hope to make into a job stressful and full of angst, which used to be just pure fun and joy. Which leads me to ask the question, “Have we really picked a better life for ourselves in these pursuits?” If it were so, would I have all this stress and anxiety over writing a best selling book and having a thriving writing career? All this pursuing a life where money is no object sounds all fine and dandy until rent is due, or when we are well into our thirties still as broke as we’ve ever been because we refused to get a good job or find a trade, because that would be “putting too much emphasis on money.” We want to be happy and live a life full of passion and fun, not have a boring job that is all about the money. My wife and I met a guy at a Starbucks in LA a while ago that moved there from South Africa decades ago in order to become a performing artist. He was probably in his fifties or sixties and has been homeless for years, still hanging on to his dream of making it in Hollywood. After meeting this guy, I had to ask myself, is this an admirable way to live? Complete, utter devotion to a dream even if it means we spend our lives on the streets of LA begging for money? When does the pursuit of “making it,” become delusion? When is it time to maybe think about a trade we could learn that can still allow us to spend a little time with our passions? All the glamorizing of turning passion into paychecks, complete with all its cliche’s and sayings like, “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life,” may at times be doing more harm than good. The scariest part about this encounter with this man, is that how I have lived my life I could easily become this guy. All my decisions have always been based on fun and passion. Doing what I love and forgetting about the money, believing that one day the money will come. Never taking the time to learn any kind of trade that could take care of finances. If we never think about money and just live for fun and passion, this homeless man in LA could very easily be the trajectory of our life. There has to be a balance and a middle ground here where we can take care of finances while crafting whatever passion or artistic skill we hope to make an income with someday.

I had a dream once that my sister was telling me, speaking about my nephew (her son), “you know, you live like you have already made it, Jordan is constantly trying to make it as a basketball player or as a skateboarder and he lives with constant anxiety because of it.” In reality this dream would be flipped. I am the one constantly living with the anxiety of trying to make it and Jordan is the content, level-headed 18 year old. I have meditated on this dream for years, and am always asking myself, what would it look like to live as if I have already made it? Do I forget about the money? Do I forget about the passion? Or is it some combination of the two? I have come to the conclusion that it would be finding a way to enjoy life and being content with how life currently is, and not having to live with the constant anxiety of, “if I don’t make it soon, I may become homeless or living with my parents again.” And if that means having a day job and doing my passions on the side when I can find the time, so be it. I don’t have to be a published writer or a professional skateboarder to be happy, because the truth is, even if I had that stuff I will most likely still find ways to not be happy. The real feat of the human condition is that we have become masters of finding ways to not be happy no matter how much success and glory we have attained. If we can’t be happy and content now, what makes us think we will be “then?” Peter McWilliams, a philosophy writer said, “I see nothing wrong with desire… but if you must have it in order to be happy, then you are denying the happiness of the here and now.” The “when I…then I” game is one of perpetual putting off the joy of today until tomorrow, and as the cliche goes, “tomorrow never comes.” If we can’t be happy now, we will never be happy then.

Passions are a good thing, and should be pursued, they give us life and get us excited to get out of bed, but I have noticed an epidemic with a lot of young people (myself included) that we somehow became convinced that the passion pursuit always has to come with a devotion to poverty until we make it? it is either “starving artist” or “successful artist.” There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. We have become convinced that learning some kind of trade or getting a good job is like “selling out” where once we have it, it means we will have to throw out our passions and become boring nine to fivers. But the reality is, if we can pay our bills without stress, it removes the anxiety of trying to make it. We can just enjoy them and not have to worry about making money from them. I may never make it as a writer, but that doesn’t mean I ever have to stop writing. No matter what I do to make money, I can always write. Why should I feel that getting a good job means I have to stop writing? Or that I need to be writing for a living to be happy? Is doing it just because I love it not enough? Somehow we got sold on this nonsense that if we aren’t doing something with our passion that makes us money than we are failing at life, and we need to hold out on getting a good job as long as we can or we will never make it in what we really want to do and therefore never be happy. If we feel like we need to “make it” to be happy than we are in for a rude awakening, for nobody ever truly makes it. When we live in that world we will always lack something that we feel like we need to be happy. As English novelist and chemist C.P. Snow said, “The pursuit of happiness is a most ridiculous phrase: if you pursue happiness you’ll never find it.” If we can’t have joy and contentment in our current situation, then we will never find it in a future one. Pulling our hair out because we just can’t seem to make enough money and make it happen is not a sustainable way to live. There is a balance between living as our grandparents did of doing whatever we have to do to make money and forgetting about our passions, and the millennial of forgetting about what we have to do to make money and just pursuing our passions. The breakdown in our spirits comes when we feel like we have to give ourselves fully to either one or the other. We have to find a way to do both, to have a job that makes decent money without forgoing our passions in life.

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Always Searching

There was a young man who lived in a land where food was scarce and opportunity was limited. Seeking to better his life he travelled to a land he had heard had plenty of food and opportunity. Upon arriving he found a job working in the mines and was able to make plenty of money to buy food. But in this land singing was illegal, anyone caught singing would be fined, and after three times caught singing, you would be thrown into a prison. This man loved singing and couldn’t help himself while picking away in the mines. After being caught and fined twice, he felt that it may be time to find a new place to live. He heard of a land with great wealth, where nobody lacked anything and had the freedom to do whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t hurt anyone or steal anything. So he travelled there as soon as he could and was filled with wonder when he arrived. Gold seemed to grow on trees and jewels could just be picked up off the ground. The only problem here is that nobody ever wanted to talk to Him. He tried to make friends, but everybody just seemed to be going about their business and never had time for Him. He had plenty of food, wealth, and could sing whenever he wanted, but what was the point of living if he couldn’t share it with people. So he found another land to travel too that seemed to promise these things that he had been lacking, but every time he gained something he wanted, he lost something he already had. After going to a few more places he ended up back where he started, with his family in this land where opportunity was scarce, but he could sing and he could be with the people he loved and that loved Him.

Any time we make a change in our lives, we may gain something, but we will also lose something. How often I meet people on these endless searches for a better life, but can never seem to find all that they are looking for. They go somewhere, take this job, get in a new relationship, to gain this one thing, but they didn’t realize it will cost them something they already have that they may have taken for granted. And the cycle never ends, because they can never find their ideal place, ideal job, or ideal significant other with absolutely everything that they want. It’s always a trade off.

Our western world, with all its opportunity, wealth, technology, scientific advancements, dreams of stardom, and so on, make it easy to convince ourselves that we can have it all. Not only that we “can,” but that we deserve it and are entitled to it. In the garden of Eden, back when our world was “perfect,” there was a tree called the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Adam and Eve could eat of any tree in the garden except for this one. An important lesson here that is often overlooked is that even in the garden, the land of perfection, humanity couldn’t have everything that they wanted, there was still this one thing that they could not do and experience. Right from the beginning we were never meant to have it all, but sadly, many of us in our western world with all its prosperity, think that we can. Putting us on an endless journey of seeking a place and standard of living where we can have everything that we want and have all our desires met. This is a holy grail type of mission that will never be accomplished.

We live in a time where we can change our circumstances more than we ever could. We are much more mobile than any other time before us. Which makes the temptation to move and try something else much more alluring. Along with how accessible mobility is, comes with the notion that if we just got to the right place, with the right job, with the right friends, we will have it all and live in complete bliss. Which is just a set up for failure. We see all these people on instagram and other social media platforms that seem to be living this perfect life, and we think to ourselves that we can, and should be able to do the same. But we don’t realize that Instagram is a fabric of our imagination, the life people portray there is almost never steeped in reality and is never the complete picture. We can make our lives look however we want on these platforms. We might as well be comparing ourselves to the lives of Peter Pan and Snow White.

Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is a man who has mastered how to play the game. He understands how to be content in prosperity (I.E. America) and in humble means (I.E. Africa), both have their struggles and blessings. Contentment is a great battle with all this promise of “we can be more and have more.” We all have a desire to progress and improve, and that is a good thing, but without it being paired with contentment and gratitude for what we already have, the never ending search will always go on. Dream and use your imagination of what could be, but never lose your gratitude for what you already have.

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