Pain As Purpose – Wave Of Anxiety

There is a wave of anxiety out there.

It’s out there and it keeps increasing. It’s around us and it isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t discriminate. It takes all sorts of people hostage.

I was recently at a Levi the Poet show in a little coffee shop. The show carried an emotional weight to it before I arrived, the artist being Levi the Poet after all whose material is shared from painful depths from his innermost being.

The opening acts, a couple solo singer/guitarists, took the opportunity to share some of their own stories in between songs. They were gut wrenching, tales of broken dreams, betrayals, personal screwups, and…..also about the radical love of Jesus.

A love that seems to completely defy what is in the air around us and in us with the increasing anxiety in our world.

These artists set the intimate stage of sharing deep pains they’ve been through, while in the same sentence at times turning around and talking about how we have a healing God, a God of life, a God who loves regardless of what has happened and what is still going to happen.

Brokenness filled the room. But healing overwhelmed it too and filled the broken gaps. Perhaps this is because space was given to be honest of our collective and individual brokenness.

A coffee shop worker came up between sets and felt compelled to share his testimony. He talked about how his call to become a pastor had come true, him and his wife moved to another state, were a year into what he absolutely knew was his purpose in life and the beginning of a promising career helping build up the youth in Christ’s love.

Then the church fired him after a year. Because they said he didn’t fit.

The opening act talked about the four year relationship he had that came to a terrible end. I’ll spare the details because they were very painful and I don’t recall the story exactly, but to be sure he experienced racism, a miscarriage and more.

Yet, both of these gentlemen expressed how Jesus, in spite of their sorrows, is the lover of their souls. Jesus gives dignity, provides the next day, the next foot forward.

I once read a statement from a Donald Miller book titled Searching For God Knows What. He said:

“Show me a guy who was molested by a minister and still loves Jesus, and I’ll show you a genius. The stuff that guy would have had to think through in order to arrive at an affection for God is nothing short of miraculous.” (p. 199)

I was in the presence of several geniuses at the concert.

People are carrying deep emotional wounds.

Then in addition to all that, there are pressures to keep up with the next overachiever you see in your feed screaming to crush it and work 14 hour days. There are models of perfect execution leaving us all with ‘no excuse’ not to execute as perfect as them in the information age.

I personally believe there is a strong connection to the digital era in all this increased anxiety as well. After reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport I see it all around now. The mechanism or the conduit, it’s a double edged sword to be sure. We are connecting better but we are not communicating better.

On one hand, I was in a room filled with people primarily under the age of 30. As long as there are reports like this one that keep turning out about Millennials experiencing loneliness at higher rates than other generations, despite our increased internet usage which is supposedly devised to make us connect better, anxiety will find a way into our lives as we don’t fulfill interpersonal needs we are wired to thrive off.

On the other hand I was able to go to the show that night because I found out about it on social media. It’s a tool that can benefit for sure.

But it’s about how we use the tool. And I keep seeing this theme of constant connection, a wave of anxiety, and an increased sense of loneliness.

It’s why it was so important to listen into all these geniuses at the concert. Levi in several lines of his poetry alluded to silence, stillness, quietness. Understanding we have to withdraw is the most important thing. It’s a true paradox, because we need each other and we need the community that springs forth from connecting with each other. But we also need to withdraw. Otherwise the anxiety is simply going to get worse.

Witnessing folks in person spilling their guts, many younger than me, was Jesus in action that night. Folks were doing something about what they experienced. They were releasing it out there. And they were doing it with and in the presence of each other.

I am left with the impression that my own anxiety is a result from living a life I’ll have studied and examined, and not done anything about.

The big first step for myself is showing up. Then acting on what I know.

And I know this.

I am not the only one in pain. And it would be selfish of me to keep what I know about dealing with the pain to myself. I must give and I must help. Because I must take care of myself, and as I do so, I have to reach out to others. We need each other and will continue to need each other. Maybe this is how the wave subsides.

Breathe For Us Right Now

You find yourself out of breath. Gasping.

You don’t have any breath to draw.

Is this panic or anxiety? Or something worse?

You can’t write at this moment. You can’t talk. People are asking for things of you and you have answers lodged inside of you you know you are saying but they aren’t coming out, you can’t figure out how to get them out.

If only you could just breathe.


Wim Hof  wanted to replicate the rush of cold he experienced after diving in ice water, which led him to find out how to control his breathing. The man from Amsterdam took a plunge and was addicted to the rush he felt in the cold water, how it made him feel so much more alive.

What Wim Hof eventually figured out through self trial and error was his breathing pattern would change from submersing in cold water daily. He was breathing deeper. This rush of feeling good was concentrating his breathing as a reaction to the cold. He soon would go on to develop breathing methods separate from cold water stimulation to mimic the rush of adrenaline and improvements to his mind’s condition. He replicated the cold therapy through deep breathing patterns.

What Wim has discovered, and is being backed by scientific research, is a method of breathing and mindfulness which actually controls the body’s autonomous system. Wim is altering and controlling his body’s immune system, state of well being, fighting depression, and reducing stress levels. Even making him a better athlete overall.

All by starting with breathing and embracing the cold.

Just breathe.


If all it takes to calm ourselves down and establish a greater level of wellness is to deeply breathe and enter in a mindful presence, then there is a deeper connection I’ve always found myself astounded by.

The Hebrew word ruach can be defined as wind, breath, or spirit. It is exactly the word describing the Spirit of God hovering over the waters of creation. The strong connection in the Hebrew language between the Spirit of God and breath is poetic. God breathing into the nostrils of His creation. Job welcomes the breath of God as that which sustains him.

It sounds more essential than mere poetry. Breath as the life sustaining Spirit of God.

If people like Wim Hof have stumbled upon the strong connection of physical well being and breathing deeply, then there is some notion God is hinting at us.

Just breathe son.

Just breathe daughter.

All that stress and worry and anxiety. Just breathe it in and out.

No really, just breathe in deeply 30 straight times. Hold the last breath in. Then let out.

Then think of your Abba, Papa, good good Father God as He embraces you exactly where you are in life.


Wim Hof’s wife committed suicide in 1995. By then, Wim had already been doing his daily cold therapy and breathing for years.

After his wife’s death, he doubled down on the concept of redemptive purpose. He dealt with the pain and grief he was experiencing by assuring people like his wife don’t have to make the decision they made, but instead, can resort to breathing and cold therapy to find healing.

Wim breathed in deeply. And he wants to help as many as he can to breathe as deeply and as often as they can.

 

A Character That Wants Something, And Doesn’t Know What They Want

A character that wants something…

But what if they don’t know what they want?

I have struggled to answer this question honestly to people in my life. To myself. Which leaves all parties involved frustrated.

Despite going through life planning curriculum, including Storyline and StoryBrand clarifying activities, and long retreats filled with contemplative prayer asking God what makes my heart leap, what has He stirred in me more than in others, what are my desires?

So why don’t I know what I want?

First, a lesson from story itself.


“Hindsight is a priceless jewel, but I’ve never been one for clarity.” – Listener, My Five Year Plan

Donald Miller’s Storyline process was something I latched onto as soon as it came out. I had the book pre-ordered and it landed on my porch in 2012. The anticipation swelled because I was going to finally put to personal usage the most convincing process I’ve ever heard of structuring one’s life: filter our lives through the process of a good story.

In the intro of Storyline, Miller writes “Great stories have one thing in common: they are clear. As such, Storyline is all about gaining mental clarity. If a character doesn’t know what they want, the story gets muddled. The same is true in life. And if the conflict isn’t clearly identified, the story drags, as it does in life.” (p 7)

A story is good, at least from the start, because it lets us know what the protagonist wants. If it is not clear what the protagonist wants, why would anyone stick around for the rest of the story to unfold?

By not being clear about what we want, there is nothing anyone else can really do to help us when a challenge comes. The potential customer, the potential employer, the potential date, they have no idea how to really say yes or commit or dive in to help clarify what it is we want if we actually don’t know what we want.

How does someone not know what they want? How am I still not clearly saying what I want with all the tools and weeks on end invested towards untangling all of this and organize it all in a clear fashion through the power of a good story?

Enter the Enneagram. The missing piece to my puzzle.

Discovering I have an Enneagram Type Nine personality, I have a quality about me that seeks to bring people together, but at the cost of merging with people I desire to bridge divides and make peace with. Able to reconcile conflicts between people or ideas, a type Nine person is usually setting aside what we deeply want in order to be at peace with others.

Ian Morgan Cron in his book The Road Back To You elaborates on the “unevolved” Nine’s issue by stating how they “neglect their soul’s summons to identify, name and assert what they want in life and to go hard after it. In fact, they can merge so deeply with the life program and identity of another that they eventually mistake the other’s feelings, opinions, successes and aspirations for their own.” (p 69).

Cron also states, “But Nines are slothful when it comes to fully paying attention to their own lives, figuring out what they want in life, chasing their dreams, addressing their own needs, developing their own gifts and pursuing their calling.” (p 67) This happens because in order to keep the peace, a Nine pushes what they want down to save embarrassment or to avoid attention being drawn to them.

If this sounds bad enough, not knowing what I want because I have the personality tendency to suppress my wants in order to gain acceptance from others around me, Cron punches me and other Nines in the gut about something a Nine can produce to the detriment of their unsuspecting victim: the “Epic Saga.”

As Cron writes:

“Because they sometimes lack drive and focus, average Nines often become jacks-of-all-trades but masters of none. They are generalists who, because they know a little bit about everything, can find something to talk about with everybody. Conversations with Nines are delightful as long as they don’t switch over to cruise control. You’ll know a Nine has done this when, after asking them how their day went, they launch into a long, drawn-out story containing more details and detours than you ever thought possible.” (p 71, emphasis added).

Yikes.

Now imagine instead of asking a Nine like me how my day went, you ask me what do I want? This could be applied to a number of areas, like career, relationships, hobbies, etc. The unhealthy Nine is going to enter into an epic ramble because they have not clearly defined what they want. Or, in all honesty, are afraid of desiring what they want.

I’ve turned several epic saga’s loose on some people in my life recently. What’s happening on the inside is actually pretty clear to me. I have a ton of connective ideas, truths, bullet point facts, for what was asked of me: what do I want?

Well ok, here are a bunch of facts that are truly connected in some way, and now it is my task to give you a fantastic sounding story weaving all of these things together. Ten minutes later as the dust is settling, what I want is not only not clear to the victim listener, but not clear to me if it ever was to begin with.

Which is why what Donald Miller says about what a customer (or date/employer/mentor, this is very flexible in application) is having to do when they first come across our product/request is the most important and condemning truth for an unhealthy type Nine personality. Our customer is trying to figure out within mere seconds ‘what does this person want?’ Me, as an unhealthy Nine, launches into an epic saga. This isn’t good, this is actually disastrous. As Miller says in his book Building a StoryBrand, “so what do customers do when we blast a bunch of noise at them? They ignore us.” (p 7).

An unevolved Nine doesn’t know what they want on a good day. Hence the epic saga ramble pours out.

What a breakthrough. This is it. The linchpin for me.


Healthy Nines or anyone else who knows what they want need to clarify how they ask for what they want. No one does a good job of how to ask, otherwise there wouldn’t be a need for StoryBrand, seminars, or entire avenues of communicative sciences to study and aid people in figuring out how to clearly state what we want to someone.

Ok. I get it now. Finally.

If people don’t know what I want, they can’t help. If I am not saying it clear enough, like we all struggle with to some degree, they can’t help directly. But at its worst I actually don’t know what I want because of my merging, appeasing Nine personality. So I launch into the ramble with a ton of truths baked into it, yet with no clear up front ask. No clear ‘this is it, this is what I want! Now for all the details.’

Can it be God just wants me to help others with what they struggle with too? That would be so Nine of me! But I think so, and I think it’s finally time to live out the story I worked out, to face the challenges worth overcoming, because of the permission I’m finally granting myself.

The Storyline process gets you to come up with a life theme based off what you see God having done in and through your life up till then. Having come up with this theme back in 2012, I am kinda floored at how accurate it is, and how it does tell me what I want. If only I follow through more with it and subvert the slothful type Nine personality in me, I can enter into a healthy version of myself knowing what I want, because it involves more than just me:

God is encouraging talents and passions in me to be used for relationship with Him and people.

The Rise Of Anxiety Due To Instant Messaging And Digital Connection

In case I am wondering why I am, at one level, personally shook in response to the book Digital Minimalism by computer science professor Cal Newport, and at a second level, shook for society en masse, look no further than this statement from Newport’s investigation into the present crisis on college campuses:

She [the head of a mental health service at a well-known university] told me that everyone seemed to suddenly be suffering from anxiety or anxiety-related disorders. When I asked her what she thought caused the change [from previous cohorts of students born prior to 1995], she answered without hesitation that it probably had something to do with smartphones. The sudden rise in anxiety-related problems coincided with the first incoming classes of students that were raised on smartphones and social media. She noticed that these new students were constantly and frantically processing and sending messages. It seemed clear that the persistent communication was somehow messing with the students’ brain chemistry. (pg 105 of Digital Minimalism) [emphasis added]

This bares repeating: messing with the student’s brain chemistry. Newport highlights studies by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology and expert on the study of generational differences, demonstrating in her work that the ‘iGen’ generation (born after 1995) and Millennials (born between 1981-1995) are displaying the sharpest spike in generational behavioral differences ever recorded. In other words, the way the iGen cohort behaves compared to Millennials is the largest difference in behavior between succeeding generations since psychological observations have been occuring.

I am going to agree with this statement and its revelations until proven otherwise for now, and work from this baseline in writing what follows. Let’s say Newport, Twenge, anonymous school therapist are right in their hypothesis.

What are the smartphones doing to us? To me? 

If I look personally at the first level, I can say given whatever preexisting cognitive conditions I unknowingly have, over usage of texting and instant messaging serve as detrimental tools instead of beneficial. The key being over usage.

Let’s say my ‘shyness’ I’ve always had in life is some form of communicative hindrance. Now, add the medium of constantly typing to people in a manner which allows for backspacing, editing, getting my random thought out there minus my speech impediment (yes, I was in speech therapy most of my young elementary school life), and all of a sudden the hypothesis of an altering brain chemistry in order to process and keep up with frantic, constant inputs from other people, let alone my own participation, is an urgent call to modify my behavior sooner than later.

Of which I have already.

Initially after reading the book, I entered into a state of digital minimalism as prescribed by Newport. This meant not checking instant messaging, not texting unless it was an emergency or to coordinate meeting with someone, and certainly the removal of social media apps or any distracting apps at all from my phone.

I was two weeks into drastically cutting down my messaging to friends. Not a full cut off like Newport recommends, but drastically diminished. 

And I have to say I was clearer thinking. I wasn’t as anxious. In fact there was an anxiousness of some other variety I didn’t even know was present to me until I cut off the constant engagement of messaging and connection.

I have unlocked some portion of my mind where, and this is the kicker, I recall being in undergraduate libraries circa 2005, reading class material and only focusing on the material. Not switching tabs every 10 minutes in my open browsers. Focusing intently on what I need to do. Not checking my analog cell phone for notifications. 

To stress the point being made by Newport and others, my brain chemistry already begun changing for the better in this detox period. There is no question. I was recovering a state of focus I’ve experienced, oddly enough, as a teenager and young college student.

As for the iGen cohort, they’ve only known instant messaging. What’s at stake?

There is an anxiety rising like we have not witnessed en masse. The generation born after 1995 have been bombarded with constant connection and are increasingly anxious over things that people wouldn’t normally have the time for.

The band Fit For A King emphasized this on a recent track. As an interview from Altpress reveals about the song When Everything Means Nothing:

Fit For A King’s Ryan Kirby told AP that he knows people who are depressed because their lives don’t seem to be going as well as some people who share a lot on social media.

“I just wanted people to know that no one is living a perfect life,” Kirby says. “If you are struggling with things like depression and anxiety, it’s normal. It doesn’t make you less than a bunch of other people. A lot of other people go through the same thing.”

As the opening line of the song says:

“One’s and zero’s fill my eyes
Am I supposed to be like everybody else?”

Before And After Digital Minimalism

I just don’t see things the same way anymore.

I gave it over six months now to sink in further, see if I just was going through something, a phase or a strong initial reaction.

But no, I am living firmly in the biggest before and after of my life.

It was a book that did it. Many people have had a similar experience after reading something. It gives the reader no option to continue on in life the same way they were prior to reading it.

Digital Minimalism, by computer science professor Cal Newport, provides this kind of clear demarcation in my life.

I had already caught on prior to reading the book. On the side prior to reading this book, I was already collecting information about the effect the digital world is having on the human psyche. The pastor at the church I attend was also giving a sermon series on the effects social media are having on people when this book was released.

Though Digital Minimalism released in early 2019, my first hard pause regarding this subject happened back in 2016. It was an article published by Andrew Sullivan titled “I Used to Be a Human Being: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.” I recall reading this and sitting back in my first state of shock going ‘wow, how did Sullivan get into my mind?’

As I sat down to read Newport’s book, stoked about the topic and ready to read, he opens the book by……referring to Sullivan’s article.

I’ll forever remember the airport bar I was sitting at when I read those first lines. My heart skipped a beat in excitement.

I was convicted. And I will get to that. I’ll get to it way in depth. In fact, this entire site will see an extended series all about it. I plan on releasing important observations about this book over time.

But first I must expound on how this book shocked me into B.D.M. (before Digital Minimalism) and A.D.M (after Digital Minimalism).


What Newport does in Digital Minimalism is take the hardest holistic jab at the new digital frontier. He holds no punches back, and it is all backed by research.

Remember. He’s a computer scientist. He’s enthusiastically pro-technology.

After reading this book I am convinced I fell deep into the cognitive, psychological trappings of over stimulation and abuse via instant access to the Internet, and very particularly, access to instant messaging (IM) capabilities. The former, social media and the Internet in general, were predictable; the latter, instant messaging, was the most surprising and most deeply convicting in terms of rebuke of either medium.

Stated explicitly, my approach towards addictive technologies and the social trending topics of our time (in combination with my intellectual curiosity) would lead to daily behaviors where I’d have 35 open Internet browser tabs, skimming social media for opinion after opinion, messaging five to six instant messaging chat groups simultaneously, while all of these inputs from multiple sources created an anxiety of unmet answers to strawman questions via trivial Internet feuds no one would even have in-person in the first place.

There were moments I paused while reading Digital Minimalism and for the very first time saw, felt, went back mentally, to pre-Facebook, pre-instant messaging David. Those were the most surreal moments.

Actually, they were scary.

There was the realization that I substituted in-person conversation (which was already hard for me in life) with instant messaging and texting. Mainly instant messaging. And I mean wholesale swapping out.

Consequently, I know I have operated below my God-given potential for a long time. My intellect, a brilliance reinforced several times over in meaningful deep conversations with mentors in my life, has had its oxygen supply significantly cut off. I realize my ability to hyper-focus is actually a gift and the object of that focus is the critical difference.

This book made me see I can’t focus anymore because I was never progressing in meaningful focus, term paper focus, only work-on-what’s-in-front-of-me focus.

More important than the loss of focus is how I’ve lost what little in-person communicative skills I once had. The tie into instant messaging though, I’m telling you, it floored me. Because it made so much sense.


This is merely a new beginning for me as I’ll return to this theme a lot on this blog. I’ll flush out more of what I just eluded to, what Newport laid out, references he cited, and more.

For now, I realize there is no escaping this theme, even in music.

I knew of the songs which were tackling the issue of the digital mess we’ve entered, but these songs started to churn inside me in a new way after reading Digital Minimalism.

Thrice’s Salt and Shadow provides such a glimpse. From their comeback album of 2016 titled To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere, this song highlights how we are connected via our phones but are becoming deteriorated grey shells of ourselves.

We are connected, but not actually communicating the way our brains are wired to.

In an interview with guitarist Teppei Teranishi, on the topic of the album title’s ancient philosophical reference brought into a modern focus:

…with things like the internet and social media – everybody kind of staring at their phones and not being present…at all. So that was kind of the idea that resonated with us – you think about being on Twitter and constantly on your phone…you’re everywhere, but you’re kind of nowhere, you know what I mean?

I do know Teppei. I do.

As Salt and Shadow says:

“On the edge of a knife, it’s like you’re living your life on the stage,
You’re talking through glass, we’re just square photographs on a page,
Oh, we’re never alone but we’re each in our own little cage.”

Reclaiming Your Environment

I tripped a wire the other day when I combined an old bad habit with a new good habit inside the same environment.

I was inside my car listening to a podcast about incrementally creating better habits daily when I simultaneously hit the drive-thru line. Twice. In the same car ride home.

When I’m in my car driving aimlessly (or purposely like a commute) I find a strong association with hitting fast food lines, with the image of Taco Bell bags strewn across the back passenger floor. This is because I had actually gone through so many drive-thru lines in the exact car I am still driving today, despite going through the massive physical change in my life.

It really hit me after I tossed the empty bag of the second order of Taco Bell down: the physical environment inside my car is associated with reckless eating.

Psychologists point out how environment certainly can become associated with past behaviors, good or bad. A strong mental connection is forged in “learned environments.” Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., writes, “when behaviors are repeated, they can be conditioned to a particular place or situation and these learned habits can be hard to break.” 

If I felt like the driver’s seat of the same car I had done all my caloric drive-thru damage in was triggering, it’s because it actually is.

Place really matters.


Enter the podcasts and lawn cutting season.

I was cutting lawns with a friend and listening to podcasts all day long. A new environment and habit began to forge.

Learning from others via the podcasts while I was smelling freshly cut grass helped re-wire my brain more than it already had, having already lost all my weight.

What made me connect the idea of environmental conditioning with podcasts and my driver’s seat was one more final element…..the smell of….pear? Not sure what the tree was in one customer’s backyard. But I loved running over the fruits because the blade of the mower would slice multiple chunks of the fruit strewn across the backyard. An aroma would fill the air around my riding lawn mower and all of a sudden I was in a Bath & Body Works store. But on a riding lawn mower, sweating.

Scent is closely tied to memory. Add to that the incredible impact environmental conditions have on a student’s ability to learn.

I was hard-wiring my brain with the smell of freshly cut grass, moving scenery, beautiful landscapes, while simultaneously becoming a podcast consuming student listening to personal stories from others who overcome challenges in their lives, and share to help others.

I was consuming advice from some of the world’s leading over-achievers. They were talking about their failures, their insecurities, their bold life-hacks, their methods and routines at approaching life daily. Even their under-achievements and shortcomings.

Hardwired into me now is an association between podcast learning (of the more informative variety [Ferriss, Altucher, StoryBrand, etc.]) and lawn cutting.

And the smell of the freshly sliced fruit in the one backyard.

Now to reclaim the car driver seat forever.

Why not commit to only listening to podcasts out loud in the car on a commute? Taking the good habit, shifting it to an environment once the literal vehicle for a bad habit, is the way to repair the damaged environment.

When I am listening to an informative podcast in my car, I have to listen. I am not listening to my inner-dialogue, no matter how crappy I may feel at the time. Or how good. Sometimes it was moments of euphoric reward that led me to a drive-thru line.

By listening to interviews of people who overcame challenges, I can reclaim an environment which conditioned repeated destructive behavior.  Even a podcast about woodworking will work. Anything to draw my attention towards learning while driving a gas powered vehicle of some sort.

I’m gonna have to get a pear car scent now as the final touch. It will reinforce the process of reclamation.

My car is not a tool to get me into a drive-thru. My car is a tool to teach me one more lesson from one more person who overcame a lot in order to help others.

Small Spark

A small spark vs a great forest. A dark, dense forest. A forest providing beauty, and shade from the sun.

But perhaps too much shade.

The forest as a dark, scary, haunting place is a metaphor carried through the centuries inside the human psyche, found in our collective storytelling.

The forest is a tool shading us from the sun. Dimming the power of light. As beautiful as the forest is, crossing from forest edge into a clearing can surprise our eyes as we adjust to the intense light of the approaching meadow, as if someone flipped a switch on.

As much as we are able to see while walking inside the forest, it is the tree canopy screening the full amount of light possible to us. The forest is ‘dark’ to us during peak daytime.

Forests are screening out the most light available to us. The light is there. But we are lost inside the forest which is always providing a diminished version of the light.

Perhaps, the forest needs to be removed if we can’t find our way out.


There is also the metaphor of a seemingly insignificant small spark, be it fire or a passing thought, having an enormous, disproportional affect on it’s surroundings.

One small careless incident, and the whole forest burns down.

One small careless word, and a kingdom crumbles.

One small thoughtful daily act, and darkness itself begins to fade.

When I consider the warning how a small spark can burn a forest down, I find it as a warning of thoughtful discernment. The message isn’t “don’t be careless and screw everything up.” What if the message is “a small spark can take on a great forest.”

We should decide with care which forests to burn down. There are forests preventing us from full access to the Light.

There are forests of oppression, shielding the Light of all we can be if not for unjust systems.

There are forests of depression, shielding the Light that is telling us we are tremendously valued as we are.

There are forests of bitterness, shielding the Light trying to tell us to let go, move on, and walk forward humbly motivated.

There are forests of lies, shielding the Light of Truth by using Light itself in a very diminished, altered state.

A small spark, the smallest amount of hope you could possibly imagine, is enough. It’s always just enough. It will light a new light as it burns the forest down. What is left is more Light. The Light which was diminished. A Light we only saw a burst here and there of through the forest’s thick tree canopy.

We had no idea how bright it was outside the forest.

But liberated from the dark forest we lived in, are we not tasked to carefully burn down forests of lies, oppression, worthlessness, shame, anger, or bitterness we see others are wandering in? Setting a small spark in our forest takes resolve, but it only has to be a small spark.

Burn down the forest of shame, bitterness, hopelessness, all which shields Light.

Too Much Found His Mind

Most of my waking hours I am speechless, and I know some friends of mine won’t understand what I just wrote there. But most of the time I’m not saying much.

Or just saying surface level canned statements. You know:

The weather is bad,

Wow was the traffic a mess today,

How ’bout them Cowboys?

However, much closer to the forefront of my mind are deep analytical, historical, emotional and socio-political ramifications of you asking me “so how’s it going?”

How’s it going?! Well, considering both of us just heard a little about maintaining good personal finances, here are my thoughts on the history of the Christian Monastic Community and the distribution of possessions, successful and failed attempts at communal living, and the complete horror of the pervasiveness of the American Dream within our culture.

That’s what I want to respond to “how’s it going.”

Because I mean let’s just get frank and cut the small talk.


In mewithoutYou’s song Bethlehem, WV there is a line right in the beginning which caught my attention and gave me pause of everything I was probably thinking about at the time:

A stranger’s face appeared—
They say he lost his mind
(Or too much found his mind?)
I hear it all the time

Too much found his mind? 

I immediately resonated and searched the lyrics to see if others caught it. Sure enough, too much found his mind proved too good a line to go unnoticed. It reminds one person of Nietszche’s madman metaphor.  To someone else, a possible reference of John The Baptist.

The metaphor of Nietzche’s Madman is about someone who is deeply perceiving a lot, too much, or perhaps all which needs to be perceived, in contrast to the masses asleep at their own wheels. I sense it is more about the person making connections with all which is finding their mind.

It speaks to a kind of ‘awareness’ of things. Awareness provides the opportunity to make pathways between seemingly unrelated items, a connection process of information more than a lack of perception of said items in isolation.

For example, John The Baptist was witness to the same information as anyone else of his time: socio-political movements, imperial occupations, and sacred scriptural promises of a coming liberating savior who will tidy everything up when the time is right. It’s just while others are giving their attention to individual portions, only a few pieces, or woefully unaware of anything not involving only themselves, John was preaching the way he was preaching because he was putting a few pieces together.

When I am looking to add to a conversation I often find myself wanting to take someone straight to the implications of what we are really talking about. How does this connect to events of the past? In what ways is our discussion more about selfish ambition versus growing yourself and challenging your own thoughts? How did you feel when that happened or this news came to you?


I began sharing a little more here and there to others in the above manner. Instead of maintaining surface level, I’d go where I am residing presently. Speaking directly of the things which I was constantly connecting and what I found worthy of actually sharing.

As if I had forgot or discredited what my grade school teachers would always say of me, a few individuals paused me in recent years because they saw the 10,000 foot view of what I was doing. In the middle of conversation they would say “wait, you’re reading all these books right now and connecting what’s in them?” Or “not everyone is still enough in a moment to capture the thought you’re expressing.”

These were long lost encouragements I had stuffed away or discarded entirely a long time ago. I was hearing them afresh from encouraging people.


Perhaps I was sharing more readily again because two things finally started kicking in.

One was leaning completely into what happens to me within certain environments. So much finds my mind just sitting at a coffee shop, looking out at the sunny day outside, wondering about the old man in the corner of the shop and his long contemplative look. I guess at his hopes and dreams, the life he has lived, and the regrets he has faced head on or is still running from. The next thing I know I have jotted down some lines of poetry without anticipation. Poetry helps condense volumes of things finding my mind into digestible portions. And it comes when I am surprisingly at rest.

The other helpful practice for me is discerning what continually rests on my mind. Daily journal practices of writing anything and everything that comes to mind is an excellent sifting exercise. Once on paper or on computer screen, we see what is taking up unneeded space.

We don’t ask for some of the things which find their way to our minds, but we can do a fantastic job of filtering down what matters most.

Too much on our minds can be made into a blessing.

A Lot Has Changed In The Past (2)Year

Wage War has the song that defines my last two years. It’s going to be my anthem, my marker of these years.

The chorus says it all. But I’ll get there. 

First a walk up to the chorus with a verse punching me in the gut: 

Let’s get this straight
A lot has changed in the last year
Thought I had everything together
But watched it all disappear

It is remarkable what has disappeared from me. Previous to 2 years ago, I thought I was at least on the trajectory of putting it all together. I knew I didn’t have it all together. But I was on the correct path.

Silly me. 

I watched a lot of ‘stuff’ disappear. What’s remaining in the process? I’m finding the Person I always identified as the core behind everything. 

This is where every biblical metaphor of pruning, burning away, and seeing what’s left over applies to my last two years.

Thought I had everything together takes on a unique meaning for me. I didn’t arrogantly believe I had it all together. In fact swaying heavily in the other direction, I was already well on the way of holistic improvements a year, two years, really a few years in the making because of an acknowledgment of not having things together. Improvements made because of the humble identification of desperately needed change.

So when the hits started coming one after another over the past two years, all my personal improvements felt for not.

These personal improvements ironically had no challenging places to test themselves out in (or at least not in the arenas I figured I would apply my personal improvements in).

In other words, if I could establish habitual changes when times were ‘good,’ without realizing it, I was being prepared to keep it up when times became ‘bad.’ 

It’s kinda like the stakes were raised so change wouldn’t be on my terms anymore.

So here I am putting my past two years into perspective, and with everything that is burned up and gone, it is what remains which brings me to my knees.

This chorus. It stuns me:

Now I see, I was broken to be made a better me

There are so many defeats I’ve had to deal with. There are many incredibly significant moments of pruning. What’s astonishing within this reflection is how I have become a better me in the process. This is the best version of myself ever. I have never been ‘clearer.’ 

A career stall actually turned into a time period of incredible learning through massive amounts of reading and writing, all combining to solidify my why.

An empathy I possessed intellectually a decade ago as a believer has now manifested itself personally through intense breaking and healing. Frankly put, as I reflect back on the idealistic 22 year old Jesus follower, having consumed massive volumes of early 2000’s Christian blogosphere material, and beginning their graduate studies with the aim of ‘getting into’ a field based on helping people, I see a person only scratching the surface of servant-hood. 

The ‘better me‘ standing now embraces hardship completely different. I had somehow avoided major pains in my life and figured I could serve others out of a timid, shy, intellectual point of view.

But I was finally broken so that I can look into someone’s eyes and see their pain better. 

I was assuredly empathetic before. But pain? Obstacles? Losing it all? Terror?

I’ve come into contact with pain I’d wish on no one. And yet here I am on the other side of it. I have learned the art and practice of taking the obstacle as a learning tool, as a data point. 

Am I still here? Is it morning? Is it a new day? 

Then be grateful.

Is Jesus still standing with me? He sure is.

Then be faithful.

And now I….

‘Had to learn to let it go and let it be.’ 

This is the clear marking of ‘forward.’ There are things I simply must let go. Even the process of breaking must be let go at some point. 

There are burdens too heavy to carry on my own. They were never meant to be my burdens. 

Now I can start fresh over again changing things I am actually tasked to change. Not things I have no control over. Only the pieces I have been given to put together.

The serenity prayer is on my heart like never before.

Prolonged Gray Season

This is the time of year where we are easily tricked. Nature is disguising which season we are in. Tricks are played as a 45 degree day with rain settles in. Are we in Fall? Winter? Spring?

Tiny piles of snow leave us clues. But so do the leaf piles stacked up against fences.

How easily distracted we were just a season ago determined whether the tree leaves made it into a bag or not. Whether they made it into a consuming backyard fire turning our fall night into a glowing reminder of the warm summer which is slipping behind us.

The earth is laying down its best snares. Gray skies are hovering around still. We are bewildered due to the length of gray we’ve already seen, reminding us clearly we’ve past through Winter depression. Still, it seems like a trap for our senses. Can Spring really be near? Which cloudy fog am I still caught in?

Distinguishing moments are ahead. There are anniversaries. There are joys and hopes of forward progress.

It’s the lingering gray though. It’s not symbolism anymore as much as it is a part of our being, forged deep inside us. It shouldn’t be discarded, because this would mean discarding ourselves. It can’t be coveted either, for it lifts the gray too high.

We wander through a season trying to breakthrough into a glorious Warmth. The present, though, is reminding us there is no time-limit for our drift through such indecipherable seasons.

A truly confusing time it is. Nature continually cloaks.

Audaciously, we continue to hope.

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