When Saying Yes Is Your Guiding Principle (My Great Year Off)

In between obtaining my bachelors degree and my masters degree, starting in the fall of 2007, I took a ‘year off.’ I graduated in four years and was only 21 and realized there was no rush just to keep going to school.

What followed was a year I didn’t exactly map out on my own but a time where I had one guiding principle:

Say yes to things you normally don’t say yes to.

Now of course, not things I should obviously say no to for the sake of self preservation, or against societal morality.

Instead, I am talking about things I was scared of doing, or used the lame excuse of “I’m busy with school,” or whatever other excuse I would use back then. Truly it was personality reasons down deep as I was timid about sticking my neck out.

Right away, my first curveball. In September our church gets a new youth pastor.

Me and him hit it off immediately. We are reading the same theologians. We have the same dry humor. We have the same sense of self deprivation. We both are sports nerds. We both are nerds.

And because of this bond that forms on month one of my year off, my cynicism for most things in the organized church starts to diminish.

My own personal hang ups about youth group growing up are greatly challenged when the youth pastor keeps asking me to volunteer. Actually I don’t think I have to be asked, I just simply start showing up on Wednesday nights to youth group (something I didn’t do when I was in the age range!) just to hang out since I have time on my hands and how much of a bond I was forming with the youth pastor.

Next thing you know I have a guitar in my hand helping lead worship at youth group…

…Next thing you know I am leading a small group bible study of college and career age folk, people my age or older, because our church didn’t have anything extra curricular for this age group. We start meeting in parks and our youth pastor and his wife’s apartment, forming bonds that never existed outside of church, bonds that didn’t exactly exist in church.

All because I said yes to filling a void I knew needed filled, even though I was pulling the classic ‘not me Lord, I am no preacher/leader/talker/etc.’ Classic. Because I said yes to something I told myself I wasn’t, our group of less than 20 twenty-somethings grew closer together spiritually and friendship wise.

Another thing I said yes to: I played guitar for the AA style recovery group at our church Monday evenings.

At those meetings is where I realized, perhaps, deeper and more profound church occurred. No slight to the rest of our church or any church. But people would get up and talk about their hurts, hang-ups, addictions, and all together sins. In front of other people! What a wild idea.Jesus Saves sign at Denver Rescue Mission

But in that setting was a trusting intimacy knowing everyone had each other’s back. As I was part of the worship band that kinda hung out in the corner as the main meeting would end and the small groups would break off, I often wondered why I didn’t go into the small groups. I was challenged to wonder why the whole church didn’t participate because the truth is we all could break down into this setting.

And I realized all the more by saying yes to helping other’s worship on a Monday night in a converted garage, they were helping instill in me a taste of what vulnerability really looks like, what coming together and confessing sins to one another means, and what healing and helping each other can do in each other’s lives.

And there was the cross country road-trip to San Diego from Detroit.

Well, as cross country as you can get by starting in Detroit (sorry east coast!).

Me and two friends packed a Pontiac Sunfire to the brim and set off for San Diego in February. A great time to go when you live in Michigan. Not only had I not taken a road-trip like that before, I had never been west of the Mississippi.

By saying yes to a road-trip I’d otherwise say no to because of ‘studies’ or ‘homework’ or other lame but important things, I got to experience travel and logistics and conflict resolution (tons of that with three guys in a Sunfire!).Welcome to Californication

All while seeing America the slow way. No fly over and jump to the heavenly beaches of San Diego. First we had to see Des Moines and Tulsa and Indianapolis in all their winter glory.

By saying yes to this trip my friend prodded me to go on (who was in college himself and simply took a week off), I saw the country instead of seeing pictures online of the country in the undergrad library.

And things I could have never planned for myself were molded into my heart at an incredibly impressionable time in my life.

Stepping up and serving a church body not out of fear but out of love to get people together.

Witnessing vulnerability first hand, which set the early stages for me becoming vulnerable myself in safe community later on.

Bonding with friends and problems solving their way across the open roads of America.

I said yes to not being afraid. And my dreams finally enlarge themselves.

Embracing Weaknesses/Unrefined Strengths

When I was in elementary school I had to go to speech therapy because I couldn’t talk correctly.

In elementary school I had to wear prescription shoes to cure myself from walking tiptoe. They basically looked like dress shoes. Imagine wearing dress shoes but prescription dress shoes in elementary school. Go ahead, imagine.

I was told I was lazy by several teachers because I couldn’t focus at all, but I got good grades (and that is a tip to where this article is heading).

20171001_093324I say all these things slightly against the advice of Ramit Sethi’s pointed article on the trappings of vulnerability culture. I first heard this in detail on the James Altucher Show when Ramit said he’s tired of people being vulnerable ahead of being excellent at something, basically spilling their guts on the Internet without having tasted the sort of success which gives credibility to their exposed vulnerabilities. I totally agree.

When I began overcoming my conflicts by coming to grips with the incredible God given value I have in me, I started to see shortcomings as superpowers society was beating out of me. Only recently have I seen them as assets, value God gave me. Challenges to refine, not discard.

By not becoming vulnerable, or let’s call it honest self awareness, I enter too many situations where I’m trying to fit into a world that doesn’t really know what to do with a Misfit like me. By putting on a mask and trying to fit in I just make things worse for myself because then I think there’s something wrong with me when things are not working out. They’re not working out because I haven’t dared enough to be more myself and double down at getting better at perceived weaknesses. The weaknesses are actually strengths in disguise.

It’s refreshing to know there are James Altucher’s out there who yes, after success, can write about their most intimate shortcomings, their most intimate flaws.

It’s great to hear from Richard Branson that he’s dyslexic. It’s ten times more refreshing to read how he overcame it in spite of it being there, embracing it is a part of him, and figuring out how it actually is a superpower of his.

They are encouraging because they are the aspirational leader. What I find most encouraging about their stories is weakness came before excellence. They began harnessing their shortcomings prior to excelling. They didn’t enter into the comfort of success and then faced shortcomings. Misfit nature came when they were born. Their misfit nature was given to them. Their weaknesses were gifts, but they had no idea what to do with these gifts initially. Neither did I.


Having not become a Branson, Altucher, or Sethi yet myself, should this post even exist? Yes it should. Because I believe I need to reach out to my fellow metal head misfits so we can move along in confidence with our true gifts.

Over the past three years, in close community, I’ve gone through the process of slowly waking up to who I really am. This process sparked the awareness I needed to begin losing the weight I gained. The weight gain and lack of self-care was a mask I put on without realizing it because I was miserable ignoring my weaknesses (unrefined superpowers) while attempting to bolster societal strengths which I don’t posses.

If I don’t shed my weight by first focusing on what is really going on inside of me, then I don’t release any of these words to the world.

And this doesn’t happen.

20171001_172542

A friend recently told me my weight loss encouraged him, realizing he too can lose weight. Then he went about doing it. I didn’t have to say much at all to him before, I just joyfully shared how I had to work on my inner value, and gave a couple food and exercise tips here and there (maybe a lot of tips with my hyperactive mind).


First I know I am a walking talking speech impediment, then I practice over and over the art of clarity in communication, knowing my sporadic mind is actually a gift when I refine it, not discard it.

First I know I walk on my tiptoes as a kid, then I realize come time for sports in high school I can run as fast as the more athletic kids because I run on the balls of my feet, something the coaches have to constantly teach the other kids.

First I am told I am lazy by teachers, then I realize it’s because I have this racing mind thinking of a billion things at once and I need to simply harness this power and focus intensely on a few things I really care about. Like getting into shape.

First I know I am loved as I am, then I have the freedom to change.

We’re supposed to be misfits. And together we’re suppose to excel. We’re meant to succeed together as ourselves by sharing our shortcomings so we can lead to the excellence in front of us.

Remember The Actual Lesson

It’s an all too familiar story. In fact I’ll shorten the setup.

  • College undergrad is walking around aimlessly on campus.
  • Doesn’t know what they will major in, which of course, determines the rest of their entire lives.
  • Wanders into the department doors of a subject matter they’ve never heard of but by title alone sounds very intriguing.

There I was, standing in the Urban Studies department office, no more than a glorified windowless closet in the main campus’s equivalent of a high school building. Urban studies. Hmmm, I wonder what this is. I mean, I picked up the pamphlet a couple times, and I knew I loved tall buildings, main streets, and walkability before I knew walkability was a word.20171009_102936

The undergrad director at the time was in his office and gladly welcomed my unannounced visit. After stating what could be the most repeatable line any college professor hears, “hi, my name is ____, and I have no idea what I am majoring in,” this professor launches. I mean, he must have either been caffeinated or just waiting for this moment. I’m certain there’s no way I was the first to do this to him. But what followed gave me the sense he was just muddling through his day until I showed up.

A few things were said about urban studies. Maybe a couple. I think you’re obligated to at least address a person’s direct question at first to be polite.

Then he started to make his transition. It flowed rather naturally. Although, as I would discover later on after taking a course with him, he had indeed been preparing.

His message to me, paraphrased:

Do you want to change the world? Do you want to make an impact? People like Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi changed the world by finding something bigger than themselves and throwing their all into it. Something they couldn’t direct on their own, but something they certainly could bring hope to others by their actions. Do you want to do something lasting which changes the lives in your own life?

I don’t think we actually came back to urban studies after that. He may have handed me the brochure.

All I knew while he was talking was this: I need to take any course I can with this guy. If this is how he is when I just waltz into his office, I can only imagine what a class is like.

Not long after I signed up for the co-major of urban studies. A co-major meaning it didn’t have enough core classes to be a full major, so I still needed to pick a major.

Which he then suggested something audacious. Pick something I really like. What a strange concept. So I picked history because I love, love, love history. I also loved seeing the faces people would make after I told them I was in college and they asked “what is your major?” My answer made their starting smile which read ‘good for you kid, being responsible and stuff by going to college’ turn to shear terror of ‘God bless your soul and future career.’

I figured I would go on and obtain a masters in urban planning (which I would). But here is what I neglected.

Somewhere along the way I allowed his message to be hijacked by all the usual trappings. His message to me that day was not ‘sign up to urban studies.’ His message was ‘change the world you live in, help people in your life, and grow into the person you really need to become.’

It wasn’t go get your masters in urban planning.

It was go do what you like and help others while you’re at it.

The Greatest Paradox Yet

I was not the best version of myself at all. There was still a lot to work on personally. And yet, there I was, living what I can only see now as a dream state. Part, but not all of, my dream even. Places I wanted to be, surrounded by the kindest people. In environments conducive towards igniting imagination and taking on great challenges.

It was other people’s dream states in fact. I was living other people’s dreams and taking it for granted. Because maybe I am right, maybe I was doing nothing I was meant to do which was leading me to destructive behaviors, which was killing me.

I was the worst version of myself.
Yet I was wanted and sought after.
How paradoxical.

Because now I am the best version of myself. I am the healthiest I have ever been. I am the closest to God’s heart I’ve ever been. I am more focused with incredibly productive daily rituals which allow me to be at my peak to take on all the projects in my life.

I’ve allowed my creative self to breathe life again. Fear is stripping itself not away but in lower quantities. Action steps are in place when I am confronted with fear. And I know now when my heart glows while doing something, TO DO MORE OF IT. Pretty simple but often neglected life-hack. But it is all coming together as I shed the roughest edges of myself. Putting on passions I’ve always had but just needed focused and refined.

I am the best version of myself.
Yet I am not wanted and overlooked.
How paradoxical.


Wait. But what if there was always only one Person who wanted me.

In Jesus, there is no paradox because no matter if I am out of place, no matter if I am not myself, no matter if the world wants me or no one wants me, Jesus wants exactly me. Exactly who I am.

Ode To September

Things change for me in September. Always have.

I even changed from not being born to existing all of a sudden.

And there have been several rebirths of mine in other Septembers. Killed off. Born again. Killed off. Born again.

And in birth, I find there is more pain than in the death. There is always pain.

But afterwords, there is life. There is always life.

20170922_221002-EFFECTS.jpg

Change Anyway

One day, an emo girl goes to school wearing a complex layering of autumn clothes she purchased at Urban Outfitters because she likes the way the outfit looks. For one day she has traded in her black band shirt, black skinny jeans, black backpack, and black finger nail polish for orange, red and brown. And layers. Lots of layers.

But she faces ridicule. Peers have no idea who she is trying to be. She shouldn’t wear the outfit according to the hipster kids and the emo kids. They’re all letting her know it.

And she knew this was going to be the reaction from everyone. So she never wears it.

Actually never buys it. She just plays the above scene in her head in the fitting room and leaves.


This scenario is me within every corner of life. If I feel I want to change something, I end up not changing because of the fear of drawing attention. I can’t get past the initial hour of being noticed. Or minute.20161015_130458

Every now and then, miraculously, I get through something new for a month. But that’s only a month. Is this really me?

But once the shock value of a month has worn off with every single person in my life I encounter, a funny thing occurs. They stop noticing. They will start to see me for who I am plus this change.

Outer changes like clothes or a new haircut are the most striking changes and have the greatest initial reaction.

But what if we want to go to the gym more often? This fear is rooted in something that makes no sense at all.

Can’t do something different because I can’t draw attention to doing something new.

Can’t face the hazing that will come from people who just know I won’t follow through and keep going to the gym.

I kid you not, those fears would flood my mind when it came to working out. You know, to do an activity designed to literally change me for the better.


We fear quitting to smoke because we forgot what it’s like not smoking. We fear changing careers because we are known only for what we have worked on up till now. We fear making ourselves better because then we have to explain how we got better.

Those are the lamest forms of fear. The absolute lamest.

You have to value yourself enough in order to make the changes you know you have to make. And yeah, people are going to notice. But as long as you know you are becoming more yourself, keep on changing.

Stop fearing becoming the better version of yourself you know you’ve wanted to become.

Wow. What an absolutely lame form of fear.

Misfit Mission

As I was laying out the concept of this blog I asked myself the following questions: Who am I writing to? Who am I talking to in this vast digital ocean? Whose heart am I really trying to stir with this central message of purpose and love and self worth?

A couple weeks ago I had an aha moment.

I realized I needed to talk with the person I am very familiar with. Someone like me. The person who needed this message of value the most:

The metal-head, the goth, the emo kid, the scene kid, the speech therapy kid, the misunderstood, the mistreated, the reject, the unloved, the ignored, the beaten down, the emotionless, the awkward, the pimple faced kid, the made fun of in church youth group kid.

This space is really for anyone and everyone. But I am hopefully reaching you. The Misfit.

The Misfit? I was going with outcast and baggy pants person from the 90’s.  Who are the Misfits? I mean really, I wasn’t using that term just a week ago.


But then my friend starts bumping this rap group I’ve never heard of called Social Club Misfits. Their mantra jolts me because they are basically talking about how much they are geeks, weird, boring, rejects, misunderstood, etc etc. Stuff rappers shouldn’t be saying out loud. And they are comfortable with this identity.

This short sermon song  pops up. I’m tearing up a bit hearing it. He’s talking to me. I’ve never heard the embracing of being a Misfit as he defines it with such confidence. With such assurance of self.

A Misfit is one who’s uncomfortable with his or her surroundings. Oh yeah, that’s me. Raises my hand slowly out of discomfort.

and is seen to be disturbingly different than others. Always have. And if you’ve experienced this too, you can rest assured you are not different. You’ve got me at least. And all of us Misfits.

And as Misfits one of our greatest discomforts is inconsistency amongst our peers. The dare is to be comfortably, consistently yourself. Be authentic. Be who you are. Wear socks with sandals if that’s your thing. You’re a Misfit.

There is a humble confidence, if I can use that phrasing, throughout this definition of a Misfit. They have put to words and music what my aha moment was trying to grasp at.

Trying, because I was only just beginning to become (finally) as confident as they are about being Misfits. It’s kinda amazing it all happens within a couple weeks of each other.

Social Club Misfits could not clarify any better in my mind what is pressed deeply into my identity and calling:

We are Misfits here if we are taking on Christ daily. And we are further Misfit (rejects, goody-two-shoes, freaks, geeks) if we are the kid who got picked last, the only non-swearing kid at bible camp, the person painting your nails black, the parent who is in prison, or the constantly laughed at.

But. Chin up.

You are loved. You just are.

 

 

Convenient Abandonment

I knew exactly what to do when my band came to an unexpected end while I was halfway through my undergraduate degree:

Triple down on getting a degree so you can start a career, so you can join the middle to upper-middle class the rest of your life, so you can do the responsible thing since you are already this far along.

No doubt back then. No more should I or shouldn’t I. It became clear as the view through the 28th floor office tower windows I could now picture myself looking through.20150313_181342

I wish it were as straightforward as that. But it wasn’t.

There are opposite forces at play in every interaction we have.

It’s very true when you apply this to inaction. Wise people constantly point out that lurking inside of inaction is, oddly enough, action. At the least a choice.

No action at all, playing it safe, actually leads to an opposite force’s favorite opportunity of all. The opportunity to seduce us into surrender through the distraction of a noble pursuit.

The moment we lay our guard down or simply stop acting we are not merely at rest. Resting is action and a signal to the opposite force to fill the vacuum with something else others will approve of.

And this opposite force at play strikes with great joy. You can hear the joy in it’s tone:

You want to give up on what you’ve always wanted because of a minor hiccup? That would be sad. Oh, but here, look over here! I found a noble distraction for you. Get a degree (which you would get regardless of anything you do on the side), but certainly don’t spend energy on a band again.

Twelve years later and I saw a 28th floor view once. I also have a clear, up front view of someone who swapped out their deeply ingrained identity for convenient pursuits.

We must pay attention to what makes our hearts leap and do more of it. We must value who we are at all times in order to do what we are. Otherwise, convenient fall back pursuits will fill in the void if we choose to abandon ourselves.

Build Who We’ve Become

Do not rebuild my life in the exact same way it was before. It’s time for me to rebuild based on who I am growing into.

Author Maria Goff essentially summed up the main lesson from the past year of my life lovelivesherein her book Love Lives Here.  In the excerpt below, she is referring to her family’s long-time cabin burning down to the ground.  Everything inside of it was now gone, every item which contained countless memories.  There was an instant temptation to rebuild the cabin exactly how it was before.  As if the memories, the lessons, the warmth of friendships birthed and grown in the cabin could be rebuilt physically as well.  However, with wisdom as the guide, Maria clarifies:

We’ll build something that will serve who we’ve become, not just repeat who we were.  The biggest mistake we could all make in our lives [emphasis added] is to rebuild things we’ve outgrown or to live in constant fear that we might lose what we have all over again.  It won’t be the fires that destroy our lives and our faith.  It will be obsessing over not getting burned again that will.

Ouch.  This drilled way down into me.  I think dental work from the 1800’s would be less painful to endure than this quote.

Maria’s focus on two aspects of this strike me.  The first is the temptation to rebuild things we’ve outgrown.  It is hard to admit to defeat in an area in life.  But it may be harder to pivot in an area of life because we have grown up since we first set out on the mission.

It could have been years ago when we decided on X, but the conditions we were in when the decision was made are no longer present.  I could hold onto the romanticized version of the way I hoped it all would turn out when I started out on a venture.  Or I could let the cold-water-splash-in-the-face take more of an effect than just sending shivers down my spine.  The conditions are no where near the way they were before.  There’s no good use utilizing old blueprints drawn up back then to start the process all over again now.

Her second emphasis is on the fear of building again at all.  More poignant for me, this weighs heavy as I can carry the metaphor of not being burned again, or at all, to extremely fearful bounds.  Something of great value was lost to Maria and her family.  Yet, there was a resilience in building something new and different based on who they have become.

Not only will the cabin be new, but it will be built.  I can paralyze myself just thinking of getting back up and trying again.  But why try the exact same thing again?  We all need to try again but in step with her first point, it will be different this time.

In a sense it will be different anyway, even if we want to start the same task or goal over the exact same way.  We’ll have the experience of the failure with us.  It will be a different time in our lives.  We’ll maybe even be physically somewhere else.  Regardless, if we start with new or old blueprints we must be willing to risk fire getting to our final product again.

Weren’t all the memories created in the first cabin worth it all anyway?  That’s why we build again.  But it’s also why we build based on who we are now.