photo credit http://dailyshotofcoffee.com
A couple of moths ago I had the opportunity to have coffee with a writer whose work I very much admire. We sat in the crowed Starbucks and chatted about being married and having dogs and being insanely jealous of other writers but in the best way.
As we sat and sipped our coffee I began to pick his brain about what life is like for someone who writes for a living. We commiserated over the frustrations of writer's block. (I lamented the blank page, he referred to the blinking of the cursor as mocking laughter.) We laughed about the way we obsess over crafting the perfect paragraph. Then I said to him "Well, all of this is a little more serious for you as a professional writer." He chuckled and looked down at his coffee and replied "If you want to call me a professional writer."
I sat back and thought to myself, it never really goes away does it? This insecurity. This guy has two books out, sold in major bookstores all over the country with a third due next year. He has a contract. He travels and speaks all over the country and he still struggles to think of himself as a professional writer.
I tell you all this story because I haven't updated this blog in almost two months. It's not really writer's block. Not really. I have ideas. I have a notebook I carry with me with pages full of sentences that carry the seed of a full post. I have evernote on my phone and am able to capture the idea as it pops into my head before falls out again and scatters to the ether.
The problem lies more in motivation. The willingness to sit at my computer and mine my soul for gems, to get my hands dirty in the muck. To ignore the distractions and simply create.
To me the hardest sentence to write is the first one.
I always ask myself, who do I think I am? Who am I to broadcast my opinions to everyone. What makes me think anyone would want to read it? Why should anyone read it?
I promise you that I am not throwing a pity party. I'm not looking for encouragement or a pat on the shoulder. I'm simply being vulnerable, for good or for ill.
In my dreams I think of myself as a writer, but working more than hours at a job with over an hour commute each way, I probably don't have much left for me.
Hopefully I'll get it together, start posting on a regular basis. Find my voice, find my audience. Write a full length book. I pray that I do. We'll see.
In his book Drops Like Stars, Rob Bell tells a story...
Love him or hate him, Bell is a creative. A man that has a way with words. Call him a heretic, praise him as a genius...I don't really care...just don't miss the forest for the trees...please.
...In his book Drops Like Stars, Rob Bell tells a story of a ceramics class.
As an experiment in creativity the teacher split the class into two separate groups.
One group was to be graded by quantity of the work they produced.
The other was to be graded by the quality of the work they produced.
When it came to the end of the semester he found that the group tasked with producing quantity had produced the works with the best quality.
While this groups worked and tried and discovered and made mistakes, they learned how to be better at their craft. They failed at things and improved. They tried and got better.
The other group was scared to move in fear of making a mistake. They read books on how to produce quality work. They made theories. They did little else.
The 'quality' group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Sometimes we are afraid to create.
Sometimes we fear to try because it won't be perfect. So we turn on the TV. Stare blankly at our smart phones.
The fact of the matter is it won't be perfect. It won't.
but if I write a book that is only 65% perfect, it will affect more lives than if I theorize about a book that is 100% perfect....but just in my head.
Release what's inside of you. Even if it isn't perfect....just keep swimming....just keep swimming....you'll get better. You'll find your voice...I believe in you.
I really do.
*image credit: http://www.fhu.edu/belltower/post/2012/03/06/Ceramics-Art-Exhibit-Visits-Troy-Plunk-Art-Gallery.aspx
found it on the Pintrest
What set everyday life apart from our adventures?
What puts the extra in the extraordinary days?
This earth we walk is big and beautiful and I want to see it all.
I'm adventurous by nature and want to travel and explore and see new things and create .
But as a responsible adult I find that I can't travel everyday. I can't leave the country every few months or when the mood takes me. I have to work and provide and pay Capital One and make my car payments on time and pay the mortgage.
When we look at the day to day existence of our lives it can weigh us down. It bores us.
Our souls begins to atrophy...they shrivel and die.
Art can revive us, wake our souls from slumber, remind us we are built for more than just to consume, but to create.
I can attest to this. When I sit down to write it actually feels like I'm shaking the dust free from my soul. After I've finished I feel more myself, more who I was created to be.
A higher calling is to see the art in someone else. To look someone in the eye and say there is art in your soul, I dare you to release it. To call the gold out of someone. To help them "wash from their soul the dust of everyday life."
At the end of all things, relationships are the most important things in our lives. We must get to know someone to help them find their creative outlet as we find our own. When I lie on my deathbed I am sure that I will not say "I encouraged others too much, I should not of helped them. I guess I was just too generous." No, my goal is to be the encouragement, that breath of fresh air.
See the art in a human soul. Ignore the dross, point out the gold. A single kind encouraging word can change the course of a life.
I believe this.
I willing to bet you do too.
I haven't updated this blog in awhile because I have been traveling. I traveled for sixteen hours in a car from the suburbs of Chicago to my home state of North Carolina. I went to be with my family to mourn the loss of my grandmother.
This is nothing new. Everyone has lost loved ones. There was no tragedy that took her from us early. She was ready to go. In the days and weeks before she passed she spoke of being ready to go home and getting to see her husband and sisters again. I am happy for her and am in awe of her unshakable faith that she clung to all the way to the end.
We seem to all have this mistaken idea that a quiet life is not worth leading. That no one will champion a name that isn't famous. It is wrong to think that no one will tell stories about a life lived well in relative obscurity.
My grandmother lived a quiet life. She was astonishingly humble. She never looked for praise or notoriety. She didn't seek fame or fortune. She was so quiet and sweet it wasn't until I looked back at her life as a whole that I realized how amazing she was.
She was a teacher, first of English and of music. She passed a love of the written word to me. She was a breast cancer survivor and had a stroke that left her paralyzed on half of her body for most of her life. She was tough, but didn't have to yell to prove it, in fact I only heard her raise her voice in anger once in my thirty one years.
I only found this out after she passed that she wrote letters of encouragement to women with breast cancer. Ensuring them that there is life after cancer. Giving them hope, sharing peace with them. She kept this to herself never looking for accolades.
The love story that unfolded over the course of my grandparents life together is nothing short of awe-inspiring. A love story that was loyal and true. That lasted from the day they met until death stole him from her.
This is the legacy I have. It was passed to me. This humble sweet woman who lived in a small house on a farm in the middle of nowhere, who wasn't rich or famous. This is why I think this quiet life is worth celebrating, worth sharing here and now. In the weeks before she passed, sensing her time was short, she made phone calls to us. She called me and after letting me know that she will always love me, she told me to remember to always love everybody. To choose love. In the life we lead of rushing around, trying to make money and build our own empires...at the end what was important to her
That is the legacy. That is worth celebrating.
photo credit http://scififx.com
We are all time travelers in our own way.
We tell ourselves that we live in the present, that we can only exist in the now. We've convinced ourselves that our only experiences are linear, cause to effect. Past to present. Present to future.
But this is not true. Many of us travel to the past on a daily basis, wallowing in nostalgia, eating the fruits of yesterday. Others completely live in their past. Setting up a camp, laying down at a traumatic moment and existing only there, never moving forward, never experiencing their own present, their own future.
Others look only to the future, speculating, feeling their life can only start in the future and never now. Waiting, waiting, waiting for their real life to begin. Only in the future after I get married, after I have children, after my children are grown, after I move to New York, LA, Chicago, only then can I chase my dream and become the hero to my own story. Never in the moment, missing all that is good about the now. Some wait too long, awaiting some unknown inciting incident and miss their entire life.
There are those I know that lament their years, are ashamed to admit they are in their late twenties, early thirties, forties, fifties. They pretend they are younger, still relevant to our youth worshiping culture. Never embracing the gift that is now. The person they are, the sum of their experiences.
The fact remains that the best time for us is the present. Right now. This is where we belong. The best time for you to start something new is right now, not tomorrow, not yesterday. The best time for the person that you are is this time,this moment.
You learn more everyday. You become the person you were meant to be a little more everyday. If this is true then your best days are always ahead of you, don't rush to meet them, don't drag your feet thinking your best is the past.
Stop the wandering, leave the past, leave the future, plant your feet in the present. Experience this moment. Try something new, set a new goal. Start today. It's the only one you have.
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
**I originally posted this over at my other blog http://thepaperskies.com
on October 14, 2011. This is something that is true. Feel free to add to the discussion in the comments.The famous French existentialist (and yes I find the idea of a famous existentialist to be very hilarious) Jean Paul Sartre is well known for the quote "Hell is other People." I know, I know...people that frequent faith blogs might not be familiar with Sartre or existentialism but that's okay. Give me grace please.
There was a time in my life when I believed this. I felt that "Hell was other people." Other people annoyed me, forced me out of my comfort zone, made me interact with those whose motives and feelings were a mystery to me. Other people might disagree with my own philosophies and beliefs and once upon a time I could not handle that.
Now that I am older and questionably wiser I can see that heaven can be other people, too. Not literally. If you took that literally feel free to be offended. There is no feeling in this world quite like someone looking you in the eyes and saying "I understand you." The feeling that you don't have to fight for acceptance. The feeling that no matter what socially awkward thing you do or say, you are accepted. That is heaven of sorts, and quite possibly one of the closest things we'll find while standing on this earth.
This is why humility is so important. This is why the bible has great phrases like "clothe yourself in humility" and "God opposes the proud but is close to the humble." Because a truly humble person is so far removed from themselves they can so easily immerse themselves in the "other."
For a bit of definition, a humble person is not some depressed person constantly going on and on about how they are nothing special, nothing important. This person is deceived and quite focused on themselves. A truly humble person is very comfortable in their own skin, completely happy to listen and show interest in what someone else has to say rather than just waiting for their turn to speak.
When someone is humble they don't worry about being offended, they don't raise the battle cry when someone disagrees with them. They are ready to fight every single moral battle that crosses them. They love with the same undeserved love that was given them.
It is my prayer that I become this person one day. And I am thankful that there is grace until that day. It is a high calling to see the beauty inside the heart of another. To call out the gold that is there, hiding just below the surface waiting to be found.
How has your life been changed by feeling accepted?
How can you make a difference in someone life by accepting without condition?
An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered"
my first blizzard
I pulled the moving truck into the apartment complex that would be my future home close to ten o'clock that evening. I yawned and shook my head trying to get my eyes to focus, I knew I still had too much to do before I could sleep. I had been up and driving since 3 o'clock the night before. Nineteen hours of driving a moving truck had taken its toll on my exhausted body.
I stepped out of the truck, feeling the snow crunch beneath my feet. I pulled my hood of my jacket over my head, shocked at the cold. It was the dead of February in Chicago and this southern boy had never felt negative temperatures before. I went to unlock the rolling door of the truck to pull out the mattress so we could sleep before moving the rest of the stuff in.
The wind kicked up and I instantly got homesick, thinking back to the state that had been my home for the last twenty five years. "What have I gotten myself into?" I asked aloud, each breath turning into vapor and then rapidly disappearing in the rising wind.
A flag flying for losers, somewhere in the heavens.
Last Saturday I got to go see my favorite band from my teenage years on their reunion tour. Everyone who knows me even a little bit knows that my favorite band is Five Iron Frenzy.I drove into the city, fighting terrible traffic and awful parking and saw that even two hours before the doors were scheduled to open there was a line wrapped nearly around the block.
"Not bad for a band that hasn't toured since 2003." I thought. I had come there alone, but as I stood in line I found this group of strangers to be more talkative than anyone I had met since moving to Chicago. I met a guy that had flown in from Washington DC alone just for the show. I met a guy who had been to every ne of their shows since they had gotten back together. I met more than a few people that were very socially awkward in most situations that seemed one hundred percent at ease in this crowd. As the show started I noticed that the singer could have dropped out at any moment and the crowd would still sing every single word to every single song. In fact many times I difficultly hearing him over the crowd. No one seemed to be nudging each other to say how lame the show was, how they had come ironically. Everyone was sincerely enjoying themselves, accepting each other, being genuine.Five Iron has been known for drawing these crowds. People on the other side of cool, but genuine, real, sincere. Three things that "cool" people would never be as they would immediately lose "cool" status.
So what draws this group together? It's more than just the music.
You find the answer in the lyrics of their song Suckerpunch: "A song sung for underdogs, for all the left out, a flag flying for losers somewhere in the heavens, the God of everlasting comfort believes in me, loved me when I was faithless He still died for me."
The answer is simple. Acceptance. That night it didn't matter if you were cool enough. It didn't matter if you had the right clothes, attitude, piercings, swag. Everyone simply accepted each other, ready to have fun. No judging. Couldn't dance? have fun anyway. It was beautiful.
It was just a show. It was more.
It was beautiful.
When you're a kid all you want is to fit in. Be like everyone else. Have whatever shirt or hat or jeans that make you cool. All you want is to not be the weirdo, the oddball, the one that talks funny, dresses funny, smells funny.
Y'know the kids toy with the shapes that slide into perfect cutouts? Everyone says the misfits are like square pegs trying to slide into round holes. I've always felt like more like a shape that came from a different set. Never really fitting in anywhere.
I come from a very small town, no stoplights, no gas stations, no bowling alleys. In fact the last census put my hometown at a population of 265. I didn't fit in there. I may have the blood of a farmer running through my veins but not the soul of one. I was always restless. Hungry for adventure, Ready for more. I found the thought processes of most of my friends to be confusing. Their biggest goals in life were 1. Find a job 2. Find a wife 3. Buy a house 4. Have some kids. I always found that boring, routine, not what I wanted.
I now live in the suburbs of America's "Second City." A city with a population of 2,707,120. I don't fit in here. My southern roots betray me. When someone bumps into me I say "Excuse me" which is met with angry stares. I try to be polite to people I've just met which is confusing to most, and they wonder why I'm even talking to them. People here are cut off, solitary, alone in a crowd. My friends mostly live fast lives of parties and closed off social circles and cliques that I feel out of place in. I haven't heard of their obscure favorite bands and probably wouldn't like them even if I had.
To a guy like me I find living in "community" to be very difficult. It's foreign to my nature. I've always felt like a burden, like when people do hang out with me it's out of pity and eventually they'll get tired of me, so I tend to disappear from people's lives before they disappear from mine. This opening up to another is tremendously difficult. I don't like it. As the former nerdy kid I'm always waiting for the insult, for someone to turn around and ask "What are you doing here? Who even invited you?" And I'm betting I'm not alone in feeling this way.
Here's the hard part: We were built for community. Human Beings do best in groups. To quote the bible "As iron sharpens iron so does one man sharpen another." We are best with each other. "One can put a thousand to flight, two can put ten thousand to flight." In fact that is why we Christians take communion. To build community with each other. To say to one another we need this sacrifice Christ made for us. We need his body. We need his blood.
How does a misfit live in community with others? How does the outcast open themselves up?
If you have an answer or just desire community. Not judging, no harsh words. Leave your story in the comments, leave a response or just have a conversation. Let's write community for misfits 101.
One of the regrets I have is my seeming inability to take pictures. When a moment occurs my tendency is to soak it up like a sponge, to embrace, to enjoy, to fully live in that moment. When living like this you rarely stop and think, I should take a picture of this. I need to pull myself out of this moment and document it.
As it is, in the past nine years I've lived in ten different houses/apartments. Lived in eight different towns in two states. I've been to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. I've built amazing relationships, lost others. Completely changed my vocation. Went from living in a town of 265 people to the suburbs of one of the major cities in America. When I get nostalgic and want to look at pictures or remember people from all the places I've been, I find I have to rely on my memories, and my memory proves to be an unreliable narrator.
I put events out of order. Over dramatize situations, forget about others. Ignore wounds I've caused, play up wounds I've received.
Our life, this story we're telling is pretty much all get. This tale we're telling. We have to make memories, do things that are worth re-telling.
One of my favorite thing to do is sit around a table with good friends and start telling stories, everyone trying to top the other, it gets ridiculous and we laugh until our stomachs hurt and we get louder and more raucous. Telling our tales spinning yarns all things we've told a hundred times, getting bigger and more ridiculous as we re-tell it.
In his great book Storyline Donald Miller asks if you were able to attend your own funeral what would be most important to you? Would it be how much money you left, or how much television you watched? Or rather would it be relationships, how we effected the world...you never effect while staying safe.
Anyways, I'm back to blogging. I hope to tell true stories, to relate this life to yours as you relate to mine. Maybe post pictures relating to these stories if I can ever remember to take them...