Lovers, Not Thinkers

When we place the entirety of our value on how well we can store and recite information from our minds, we miss out entirely on who we are. We miss out on how we are actually constructed. There is an entire part of ourselves found within our hearts we, and others, end up discrediting because of the lack of interaction with our own inner-heart.

We are lovers. As in, we are beings worthy of love.

My natural tendency is to construct logical arguments based on volumes of facts and ideas I have circulating in my mind. What’s great about the culture I grew up in is how it applauds and rewards thinking. School reinforces my value as a thinker for 25 years, because I can remember facts for a test and can construct a term paper by creatively combining ideas I lodged in my brain over the course of a semester.

I’m a thinker, and I’ve been rewarded as a thinker. Even in church.

Within the confines of Western society’s tendency to favor memorization and regurgitation over experiential and relational, the church is rewarding thinkers as well. The mediums we engage in clearly favor an earnest note taker like me who records volumes of sermon notes from the lecturer who stands on the pulpits speaking to the class. My N.T. Wright and C.S. Lewis books sit highlighted on my shelves. My blogroll continually feeds me daily on things currently happening in church culture.

But if instead I am primarily constructed as a lover, if I am worthy of love, where do I experience this? In very personal one-on-one times with God? In a prayer closet tucked away inside my home? At an awkward social-media-length distance from friends?

Silent Planet is quickly rising to the level of my favorite band. Ironically, they are named after a C.S. Lewis book. And the lead singer Garrett Russell is no ordinary metal-head screaming lyricist. Garrett is a deep thinker who is extremely well read and profoundly poetic.

In the following interview, Garrett starts off by describing why he refers to his fans as lovers:

We call our fans lovers because we believe that human beings are not so much primarily thinkers as we’ve been taught to believe in Western society . . . but instead that we are not thinking beings but relational beings and that our true identity is found in our relationships that we have.

Garrett is speaking profound wisdom. We are not thinkers only. There of course is tremendous value in being good at thinking. There is true worthiness of learning as much as we can with the abilities we have been given.

But at some point…at some point we can’t just hang our hats on what we think we know. We have to place everything on the line with Who we know.

If we know Jesus within the context of relationship then the dynamics begin shifting. We realize our volumes of books can only go so far. We realize our notes can only be studied over so many times. We even realize our bibles can only be underlined to the point of breaking through the pages.

As primarily relational beings we need to be willing to get real with ourselves and with each other. As images of God, either broken or restored, we have to be willing to plumb the depths of our relational selves. It is how we will connect with each other. It is how we will heal with each other. It is how God created someone right next to you, in community with you, to show you how they overcame a terrible situation you thought only you went through.

How beautiful it is Silent Planet calls their fans lovers. It allows me to take that little step more towards realizing I am loved.

It helps redefine my true self as primarily someone to be loved rather than someone to be thought about. It gives me permission to enter further into relational community with others knowing my words will only go so far. My thoughts can only carry our relationship to a point. But it will be seeing us all as lovers, all broken and scared images of God, which will strip away mere thoughts.

This Is Not A Before And After Picture. This Is A Journey Worth Taking.

There was a reason for the photo I took on January 7th, 2016. But maybe there were two reasons, and the other reason would begin showing itself later as the calling collided with action.

I asked my roommate at the time to take the picture in 2016 because I was updating my LinkedIn profile and wanted something more professional looking. I never took pictures of myself back then.

I thought the 2016 photo and several others I took that evening looked great. And they did. They were some of the better intentional photos I took of myself in recent times back then. I had a fresh haircut earlier that evening. I had a nice pull over on. I was forcing a smile.

Not at all during that night did I consider this a before picture. It wasn’t just a poorly lit attempt at a more professional looking picture of myself. It would in fact take on the role of a before picture.

In the weeks following I began shedding my first few pounds as I was hitting the gym every day during the week. It was a lot of weight lost at first actually. That may have been all I needed for momentum, because I was addicted at that point. I was finally putting in the work in gaining energy. It’s all I wanted to do as a goal really. Workout, get the workout high with the oxygen flowing and the heart pumping. I certainly was putting in work to back up what I knew needed to happen for a long time.

But the ‘work’ to change happened a long time prior to this early 2016 picture. That’s kinda why it’s not really a before picture to me in some ways. It is an in the middle of picture.

The ‘work’ prior to what was about to unfold physically was ‘work’ instilling a sense of value, a sense of purpose, a sense of beloved-ness back into me. It was a small community of men going through life together, becoming vulnerable with each other, and coming alongside each other where my predicament was given a space to be voiced out loud, as funny as it sounded out loud to me.

In this group of guys they steadfastly, with immense compassion, allowed me to not only voice how I was aware I had gained a ton of weight (because its physical anyway, we can all see), but begin for the first time figuring out why. But more important than the why, more important and vital than the forensic analysis of figuring out and tracing and decoding the faults, shame, and lack of personal disciple was the compassionate message voiced out loud every time we would meet.

You are greatly loved by Jesus.

Of course I knew that growing up Christian. Of course that was a matter of fact. But little did I know how much I needed to hear it from friends out loud. Not just read it or ponder it or even hear it verbally from someone standing on a stage. I had no idea how much I needed to hear from people who I call friends say out loud in the same room to me ‘Father, Papa, Abba, Daddy, He loves you. He really does.’

The strength in this consistent message is profound when it comes from those you call friends. It is nothing to read about anymore. It isn’t a sermon to study notes from. It isn’t a study bible highlighted over and over. It was verbally communicated across a room from friends getting real with each other. And profoundly, getting real with their rescuing God, Who, lovingly wants us to know our value with our hearts and not just our heads.

That was the ‘work’ setting itself up for what follows. What follows is only a physical manifestation as well, like how you could see I was out of shape from the outside previously. The physicality changes dramatically and that’s what we get to see and celebrate in our culture and that’s it. Or so I thought.

I didn’t get back to where I was physically once before. I blew past it. The shirt I am wearing on the right in the January 2018 picture today, two years to the exact day from the before picture, is a shirt I bought ten years ago. And it sort of barely fit back then. It’s thermal wear, but it didn’t matter, it was going to be worn underneath anyways. Today though, it fits like a glove.

I also didn’t get back to where I was ten years ago mentally. I feel like I am 20 years younger actually. My mind is sharper than it’s ever been. It’s kinda scary how mentally focused I am now a days. Like good scary.

There is much ‘work’ still to be done. That is what life is for in the here and now. I don’t want to kid anyone in thinking everything is fine right now as I type this out. I don’t want to say hey, workout and that leads to healing. That was my story. It is my story. But even that is only a sliver of my story and merely a physical manifestation of my story.

But I know the following now more than ever. As Viktor Frankl maintains in his book Man’s Search For Meaning, there is profound meaning inside the suffering of life. There is redemption available from the suffering. And there is the opportunity to help guide others because of the sufferings we face.

Jesus offers a Love so strong it will go to the most amazing lengths and depths and heights to reach where you are.

I never knew it was going to be a before picture. That wasn’t it’s reason. Maybe it will serve many other symbolic ‘befores’ in my life.

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I Do Though

Wait.

You don’t feel this moment like I do?

You don’t see the colors inside your brain when the music is playing?

You don’t hear patterns of colors as they hit your retina and cling to your memory?

Your body doesn’t become warm when certain sentences dance in cadence?

You don’t wander through ancient paths looking for your ghost?

You don’t concentrate all your focus on never being the person you once were?

You haven’t read through stories of past lives looking for your own future?

You don’t understand why I don’t understand the point of this meeting?

Your chest doesn’t swell when gray blankets the sky matching your senses?

Oh. You don’t.

I do though.

Maybe I’ll permit myself to love the grace given to me.

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Confidence

As I surface from depths I never anticipated, I couldn’t help but notice I finally came-to somewhere I was never before.

Your expectations for me are expectations I never placed on myself, and never could I if I ever tried.

A world breaks in filled with nonsense to everyone not me but I can relate to this alien-rationale.

Anxiety mounts to perform in ways that will break me even as I finally breath the freshest of air and taste the most nourishing fruit.

As I justify my existence by the words others speak but don’t themselves practice, I suddenly realize no one knows what is coming out of their mouths.

I lean in further to the foreign land’s ways as I wash ashore now, not to be welcomed in the way I thought but instead further burdened.

The only sense I can make of it all is we are always never listening to others and we are always ever speaking to ourselves.

My only wish I have left is to speak as confidently about myself as others wishfully do for themselves.

The alien-rationale softly grips me tighter: Love your neighbor as yourself. As yourself. As yourself.

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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.

Mastering Fear: We Need Each Other

One of the most helpful books I have read in a while is Mastering Fear by Robert Maurer and Michelle Gifford. Here I share two major observations.

The first is how the authors establish very quickly an important corrective argument to conventional wisdom: fear is good. It’s not bad. Fear, as it turns out, is truly a life saving mechanism. Our survival counts on it. You can see it in the natural world, and for humans, we are no different. Fear triggers our survival mode and gets our senses on high alert.

When working with the idea that fear is good, I connected it to my Christian worldview and stumbled upon an incredible re-focusing on a somewhat perplexing concept. The scripture commands “do not fear” so frequently that you begin to figure out this is a very important piece of advice. People throughout the biblical narrative are constantly told not to fear.

But here in Maurer’s work, we discover fear is actually a good thing for us so long as we do not apply fear to the wrong objects or over inflate the situation at hand. Is this conflicting information?

This is incredibly intriguing because the scripture does in fact offer us something to fear. It’s a Person. Fear the Lord. Fear God. We come to find God is asking us to not fear our situation, our accusers, our circumstances…but to fear only God.

To me it was always strange and off putting that we are to fear God. What does this phrase mean in a deeper sense?

In light of Maurer’s work in Mastering Fear, an explosive reality kicked in for me. I am to fear God literally for my benefit. Not out of an unhealthy fear. But the type described in the book as the mechanism which heightens our senses, directs our focus on the object which we must pay attention to.

Fear is good for us so long as we direct our fears on the only thing we should fear. Because as the brain kicks in with hyper focus we will spend time trying to figure out the object of our fear with closer attention.


The second major observation is what the author’s offer as the healthy solution to utilizing fear. Since fear is good, we must use it correctly and place it on what only matters. But how we cope with undesirable fear is striking. The authors suggest the only healthy response for humans found through several studies and research is the following: we must reach out and support each other.

Built into us is the natural response to reach out to other humans when we are afraid. This is observable in children especially, but not long after or during childhood we begin to toughen up or begin to lose trust in people. And so we resort to not asking challenging questions or reaching out to other people when we find ourselves scared of terrible circumstances or events in our lives. Or even simple situations we may personally become fearful over that others do not find terrifying at all.

If we can only muster the courage to reach out and express what it is we are fearful of to other people we will find not just step by step solutions to our fears. The act in and of itself, reaching out and asking for help, is what calms our fears.IMG_20130724_192434 - Edited

I find this incredible in light of what God’s answer is yet again for us. Christian community is foundational to the faith. The Trinity itself, as perplexing as it is to comprehend, offers something intrinsic to our nature. The Trinity has been in eternal community on it’s own. The essence of God is community.

So it is no wonder when we are created in His image, we are created as individuals who need Him and need others. Christian community is called throughout scripture to love one another, help those in need, to confess our sins to one another so we may be healed, etc. Much of the New Testament is instructing the Christian to become more unified with each other. To be able to share everything with each other.

We must share our fears with each other. It is literally how we are wired. And it is the only answer to calming our fears.

We hardly even need a step by step answer to get us out of our situation. See Job and his friends for that one. We simply need to be with each other silently for days if it takes. But we need to be able to come to each other with our fears and be both receptive enough to listen to each other’s fears and also willing enough ourselves to let our guards down.

I sense there is need for a ton of support out there based on what so many people are afraid of today. We are afraid of so much, when instead, we need to recognize how good fear is if we direct it towards the only Person worth our intense focus. We need to reach out to others when we are afraid because we are designed to cope with each other.


The authors of Mastering Fear tie handling fear in a healthy manner to the laws of success. They state, “successful people recognize their need for support and consistently see reaching out to others as a strength rather than a weakness.” (P. 51) The authors’ desire was to figure out elements of successful people and found their approach to fear being a key factor.

I make this final note because it means when we are viewing a person who has made it in our field or conquered a major obstacle in life we do a great disservice to ourselves believing they just toughed it out or set out on their own and made their course corrections all by themselves. Not at all. They became fearful just like anyone else but found the humble courage to ask others for advice, to express their fears and to move forward by doing so. We truly are wired to help each other.

Papers Shouting Nothing

I know you’ll wake up inside your mind
In order to discover the visions were true
And never had places to set themselves into
The dusted covered up screaming face
Of lost passions justified by pursuits
Entangled in the next best thing
The way things are not suppose to be
But in the ways other’s desires burn intently,

Forgive my lack of self care
It was never a duration of time I wanted
While sifting through debris piles
Justified by covering up a true person,
As I provide you papers which are built
Inside a system of discarding without learning,
As I want you to not want any of this,
I maintain these words are desperately crafted.


There is no way anything can speak volumes
About an entire life, my life, your life
Those who we never care for or choose to see
If there was never a rounding to the closest soul,
I’ll check the math again and skip over mistakes
I maintain in order to never see stark pasts
Inside multiple light sources shouting down
Shallow intimacy with a person no one knows

Why provide documentation stating
Zero passions built on top of decaying foundations
With lyrical rhythmic bullet points filling space
To get you faster to no where I would ever go,
Approaching the slumbering forgetful mind
Not paying attention to everyone Abba keeps putting
On beaten down walking paths I can’t find on a map
But which tread painful impressions at sacred destinations.

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Freedom From Fitting In

The freedom is found far from fitting in,
It’s relief cannot be measured,
There is no price to put on it,
A valuation most pay a life or two for.

A realization floods over every fiber,
It’s mark leaving scar tissue of the most beautiful kind,
Imprinting not freedom from others,
But binding to each passing soul.

Breathing slowly recaptures everything,
There is no avoidance of hard work,
A commitment to freedom summons
Heartfelt joy for the hardest possible task:

Looking into each others eyes,
And looking into your own.

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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.

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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.

The Pain Of Doing What You Love

I love the do what you love mantra. Gurus pounding their fists on tables saying do what you love right this moment so you can establish it as the thing you keep doing, the thing you do more of.

But what if there are painful reminders attached to what you love? Deep wounds which leave you completely paralyzed? Do you do more of something you love which has hurt you tremendously?

I think we have to do more of what we love even if we are hurt in the process. But not the exact same type of more.

If your passion or love died off at some point because the baggage of failing at it attached itself to your identity, stop this very moment confusing that failure with your identity. It’s not who you are at all. You just didn’t get it the first, second, or seventeenth time around. But if it is something you love tremendously then it is all the more reason to keep going further and see what you can do differently the next time around. Not to pack up and quit all together.

We shouldn’t place ourselves in the same scenarios or with the same people which resulted in the wounds either. It is really tough if the wounding came from people close to us, or people in general for that matter. It sucks because now we begin to attach the longevity and livelihood of our passions to people who are not us. They are not us. You are you.

And if the people are close to you then it presents a bit of a challenge moving forward for sure, but it must be forward movement. If the people are not close to you anymore, then allow this distance to be the ultimate signal that your object of love, the thing you love to do so much, doesn’t have to be attributed with them anymore.

The mind sucks at this because it thinks we are going to carry these people and those failings with us forever. But if they wounded our passion and they are not in our lives anymore, start a new forward momentum. They are not in our lives anymore. If they are people who are in our lives still, we have to be incredibly intentional by sitting down and taking the time to create boundaries between the amazing things we want to do and the people who have hurt those things. It has to be a therapeutic separation. Otherwise we will carry around a blurred future vision of what we love to do mixed with the pain inflicted by others.

We have to envision a future where, by the work we put in today, we inch closer to the incredible pursuits we have plastered to our hearts. The very things we love to do. The plaster, after all, is holding our damaged hearts together.