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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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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