Forget Generation X, Y, or Z – This is Generation DC (DisConnected)

When a senseless tragedy occurs, it’s no simple feat wrapping one’s head around it. Finding proper blame is a high priority. But what can be worse is the lack of compassion we see in the wake of such horrible things.

With innovations like Google, the Internet, and social media dominating free time once allocated for climbing trees or grilling out with a neighbor, has our culture collapsed into complete and utter disconnectedness?

The Minimizing of Sin, the Maximizing of the Autonomous Self

Here’s my most recent article discussing a topic I have been especially challenged by as of late. Not by a belief in God, but by the ramifications for not taking sin seriously.

Best Laid Plans

As June winds down, I find some of my best laid plans have been thrown to the wayside. Namely, my finishing a story within this month (which is only partially true). But hey, here’s why:

I became a father. 

I’ll admit it. I’m like most people who hop on social media, find his newsfeed flooded with baby pictures, and immediately wonder why parents feel compelled to take pictures of their kids every five minutes. Seriously though. Is it necessary to take a photo of your child for sitting on a couch? For staring at the ceiling? Or when he’s standing alone in his underwear for no reason? Well, after a weekend that ended with my first-born son, I can actually start to agree with these people. Seriously.

Having a son – one of your own your flesh and blood – has got to be one of the most amazing experiences in the known universe. My faith teaches me that this is good; that I was designed (like my wife) for populating the world with more like me (and her, of course). And I’ll have to agree, you literally feel a presence like God Himself is right there when a birth is happening. A child – a soul – appears as if out of thin air and fills the room. It’s like spontaneous combustion, only in reverse. Where there was once only two, now there are three – a father, a mother, and a child. You might call that synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I like to think of it as a miracle. Nothing short of one and nothing less, either.

I never knew what it would be like, but in all the months leading up to the birth, I imagined what it might be like. After all, I’ve been force fed different interpretations and versions of childbirth on television for years. Chances are, one of them got the experience right. Right? Well, not exactly. Nothing seems to do the moment justice like being there for yourself.

For example, I once read that there is a difference between traveling to Istanbul and actually being in Istanbul. We may have an idea of what something will be like, what it will feel like, but ultimately, we have no idea until we are there. In the moment. Watching it all go down. And then exhaling once it’s over. If there were ever a case for God – and there are many – then childbirth would be it.

He – God – is rather adept at taking what we imagine and blowing whatever notion we have out of the water. It’s as humbling as it is terrifying when you think about it. Again, nothing short of amazing.

And so, now that I’ve downloaded some of my first thoughts, it’s back to the grindstone. Only now, with less sleep. And more baby. Here’s to July’s #12Months12Books and whatever else life has in store.

 

A Dad-To-Be Perspective

I’m going to be as brief on this as I can be. My wife and I recently discovered that we were going to be parents. And more so, we also discovered that the child was going to be a boy. I’m excited. She’s excited. I could have been happy knowing it’s a girl or a boy – that didn’t matter – but it’s really cool to know what to expect. The drama of delivery day will have its own stresses. But for now, we’re happy with having an idea of what’s to come.

And of course, what we have yet to learn. So yeah, it’s exciting.

But, as I’ve been reflecting on this awesome thing, I’m overcome by something. During our ultrasound (sorry, you’ll just have to imagine the pictures), there was a quick snapshot of our little guy facing the camera. He looked like an alien, but you could clearly see a face there. Then, as if he knew we were watching, a little smile came across his face and my wife, the nurse, and myself all laughed. What a character and he’s not even here yet.

Now, flash forward to the next day. I’m out and about. I run into an older gentleman at a food store – a guy I’d put in the ballpark around 80-85 years old. He’s walking slowly. Old age, perhaps? That’d be a good guess, but I come to see that he’s lugging around a heavy O2 tank. And since he can’t carry it under his own power, the tank is positioned inside of his cart. The tubes are feeding from his jacket up to his nose and I can hear him breathing his every breath.

Knowing this, what comes to mind? What’s your impression of this man? This guy’s a smoker, right? or maybe he’s paying the price for having smoked all these years? The list goes on. I’m sure there are many quick calls we’d make upon seeing this gentleman. But, here’s the thing: as I’m walking past this man, he looks at me and wouldn’t you know it, he smiles. And naturally, I smile back.

Sure, it’s a common courtesy – to smile when you see a a stranger. Be polite; don’t be rude – years of social conditioning may have been feeding into our interaction, but as I walked away from this man, it hit me: at some point – somewhere – maybe 80 years ago, maybe less, this gentleman didn’t have a cumbersome tank of oxygen O2. He didn’t have wrinkled skin, gray hair or weakened joints and muscles. No, there was only an anxious mother; one who was probably wondering what her little guy was up to, and God-willing, a man awaiting the day his son would come into the world. All the hope of a new life was wrapped tightly inside her and steadily being made ready for the world.

Granted, I don’t know all the facts. I don’t know if this man had a runaway dad, an absentee mother, or an abusive upbringing. I don’t know what pain he’s caused in his own life or the ones he’s harmed or suffered under. But, the fact remains: somebody cared enough to bring him into the world. And because of that care – that love that was built before he was birthed – I can’t help but be knocked by the enormity of that. I may not know this gentleman’s entire story, but a long while back, God saw him in the womb and was carefully preparing his arrival. And now, decades later, this once helpless, little baby boy, is an adult. He’s older – yes – and his body has changed over the years, but he’s still capable of smiling. Every person you’ve ever met – or anyone you will ever meet – started out in this very same way.

That sort of knowledge should change the way we see others, shouldn’t it? But, of course, it’s so easy to forget. What’s right in front of our faces often trumps these simple truths, but I’m encouraged to think that if God can see us this way, as children, then we can do the same if we try.

Truly, life is a miracle. And I can’t wait to share in the life of my son’s.

 

Persistence – That Creeping Voice

Before I finish any major project, I try to take a step back and let it simmer a while. This could be for an hour or two, maybe even a few days; any break mentally will do. It’s something I’ve learned to apply over the years; not something I put into practice right away. In fact, I used to be the type that would do whole projects in a single night, waiting till the last moment to make my move. But, that was mostly because I could. I’ve always thrived under pressure and whenever I was in a pinch, my best work would seem to come forth. It was great for a while, but I had no idea I was building some terrible habits within myself.

At first glance, it’s a familiar story: putting off the important stuff, allowing one’s self to get distracted, and then following through when it’s almost too late to wait any longer. Welcome to Procrastination 101: learning to work under deadlines when you should have started weeks ago. It’s an affliction that can be reinforced over many years without even knowing it. But, when life experience meets your own limitations, it might be a signal you need to change something.

For me, it was recognizing that creeping voice. The one that said, “You can get to this later,” but somehow managed to change its tone moments before I was near completion by stating, “You know, this isn’t going to work.” Now, I’m not claiming to have had bouts with multiple personalities, I’m merely trying to point out that common enemy we all face in the midst of something important to us: ourselves.

When the stakes are high and there is much at risk, we don’t find a friend in ourselves very often. We fight to drown out the noise of failure, albeit struggling to do so. As a Christian, I find it easy to blame everything on the devil. “The devil is after me again”; “I know the devil was in that,” but honestly, applying that type of hyper-spiritualism to everything we face is foolish. Every person does have a real counterattack coming against them and it’s not just from the father of lies – it’s coming from inside our own heads.

It doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. Why would your own mind allow negative thoughts to take precedent over positive ones? Especially when it knows (yes, we are self-aware beings) that success means a need for laser focus? Shouldn’t our brain know better? Shouldn’t it know we need a filter for those things to achieve maximum results? Of course it does, but the question is how well you’ve trained your mind to be that filter. Therein lies the difference.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to consider what areas you struggle to have confidence in or struggle to find the proper initiative. It could be work. It could be a relationship. Or, if you’re me, it could be fighting to churn out 3,000+ words a day for that next book; all the while remembering the passion you had when you first started the journey.

So be encouraged; stay persistent, but also stay focused.

 

“The Scientist’s Dilemma”

The Scientist's Dilemma Cover

I’ll be releasing this short story in just a few weeks. It’ll be available for direct to Kindle only – so no paperbacks. It’s not as lengthy as a full scale novel and it’s not the first in a trilogy, but it’s a story that has a significant place in my heart. And that’s as good a reason as any to share it, I figure.

The title alone isn’t meant to be a complicated one. This story is actually about a scientist and it’s actually about a dilemma too; one that just so happens to belong to the scientist (told you it was simple, didn’t I?). That’s the premise of this tale and it’s a premise I believe so many other people – even those without the title of ‘scientist’ – find themselves struggling to answer at one point or another: just what the heck are we all waiting for?

It’s a huge question to tackle; overwhelming to some and perhaps strangely intoxicating to others, yet it’s a question I find simmering under the surface of practically every person I run into. Or have the pleasure to read about. That strange hunger that rises up within and says, “I don’t know if I belong to this world alone. Is there something else?” In my case, it’s a question I’ve pondered on many-a-starry night, which is why I like the cover so much. It represents that curious nature any person possesses and it’s an image that ultimately brought legs to this story. What’s waiting out there to be discovered? Is there anything at all? 

The universe is a big place and has plenty to offer while we’re here, but sometimes looking out is an easy alternative to looking in.

So to quote Shakespeare and wrap this up, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves.”

 

Persistence – Bold Moves

Talking about persistence is one thing and actually being persistent is another. Some people get caught up in the notion that being persistent means holding onto a certain thought or idea. And if they hold tightly to that idea – that thought forever circulating in their minds – then something will eventually happen to make that thought a reality. Obviously, this is not the case. Thoughts require action to become tangible. They (thoughts) need more than inner-mindedness; in other words, they need you to do something other than keep that idea a prisoner in your head.

Growing up, I was always more of a cautious soul. I didn’t like getting in trouble or disobeying my parents or even getting less than an A- on my tests. I’ve never liked the idea of letting people down and that attitude has permeated every facet of my existence for nearly 30 years. The danger in that thinking, however, is a stark and very dangerous desire for absolute perfection. Perfection in work, perfection in relationships, and perfection in every endeavor I take on. It increases expectations; it makes them – the expectations – practically impossible to ever reach and instead of embracing a good risk in life, you become paralyzed; afraid to ruin that perfect record of endless success. It’s maddening, to say the least.

But, I’m not here to appeal to all you other Type A’s out there who can’t stand when another person takes the driver’s seat or to say that it’s “okay” to demand perfection of yourself and others – no, the meaning of this message is to redefine what is considered bold behavior. What does that look like and what does it mean? To the cautious soul – like myself – bold behavior could be seen as intolerable actions. Breaking the law, rebellious acts, challenging an authority, even violence – may be among what many would consider “bold” moves. But, none of those behaviors are boldness in action or boldness in its truest form. It’s actually immaturity or a lack of understanding – not being bold.

I’ve wrestled with the courage to be bold for a good portion of my life so I know how complicated the first steps of acting bold can appear to be. Especially if you’re someone like me. It’s maddening, as I said, but it doesn’t have to be. When I felt the call on my life to pursue this professional writer business, I was racked with “analysis paralysis”; just like I’d always been. And when that familiar feeling arose, I wanted to back off and think it too much to handle. But, the shift happened when I stopped trying to appease that perfect image of who I wanted myself to be in other people’s eyes, and changed that view to who I really was inside – and who God had desired me to be.

A pursuit of perfection isn’t as much about the person as it is about the people around that person’s life. Who are you trying to appease? Who is it you are trying to gain approval from? If it’s not yourself or God, then who is it? There must be someone you’re trying desperately to impress and if that person has a name, then break free from that. It’ll be one of the first bold moves you make as an individual.

As for me, my next bold move will be releasing some of my unpublished short stories. Again, I’ll be attacked with “analysis paralysis,” but I don’t fear it as much as I used to. It’s just another bold step towards the wholeness I’m meant to pursue, not the perfection I thought I deserved.

Courage – under whose authority?

Today’s world has trouble defining courage, but it has just as hard a time defining authority.

Mine was defined at home. When I was growing up, I learned to have a respect / fear of my father. He was the man in charge; the king of the household; the last line of defense at home. Essentially, he was the disciplinarian. His word was law and if I abided by his law, then I could live peacefully under his roof. That sounds fair enough, right? My mother had authority too, but it was a different kind of authority. She was more the hand to hold; the warm embrace; the ear to lend your voice to – she was the lifeline. And if I came to her with an issue that needed comforting, I could live more peacefully under her roof. Once again, sounds like a fair enough arrangement, right? Yes, it does – when things are running like they’re supposed to.

But, what if they’re not? The result looks much different. If my father’s law is skewed and his discipline unjust, then I feel the ramifications. If my mother’s lifeline is damaged or absent, then I feel the ramifications there too. And the consequences look like this: my idea of authority has been crushed. Moreover, my idea of a loving authority has been shattered. For if the people who made me – the ones who watch over me daily – can’t handle their own business, then what right do they have to govern mine?

And this is where it starts. That disillusionment with authority; that break from looking up to people and the conscious/unconscious decision to look elsewhere for guidance. Because let’s be honest, everybody’s parents mess up at some point – there are no “perfect parents” in the world; as good as mine were and are, they still had their bad days. So depending on how “bad” a parent messes up, the more work it’ll be for the child later. The more work it’ll be to fix the now disjointed views of a child who, after years of soaking in the brokenness of a broken home, has fractured more than than their view of parental-child relationships – they’ve fractured the very nature of how the world was meant to operate.

Whoa – back up, right? That sounds like a lot of pressure for a parent. But hey, let’s not forget – it’s a human life we are talking about; not a truck or a vacuum sweeper. These things, when fractured, can be easily replaced. The same cannot be said for a human life.

But, here’s the good news: fractures are mendable things. A fractured bone, for example, doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, a broken bone will do whatever it can to get back to its original state. The only thing it requires is time; time to heal and time to mend. However, if the bone is disturbed too early, then it may become further disjointed and take even more time to heal – a more painful experience than the first.

This becomes even more delicate when dealing with authority. Bad experiences with authority figures can leave a person severely jaded; stricken with little desire to trust authority ever again. And the thought of ever being “ruled” by another is seen as detestable; to be avoided at all costs. So, in order to cope with this, a peer-to-peer kind of authority is established. “You don’t tell me how to live and I won’t tell you either” is the new mantra. And if we abide by these rules, we can all live peacefully under the same roof.

Yet again, this sounds reasonable and fair, doesn’t it? It does and yet, this concept breaks down rather quickly. For if there is no one to lead, no one to establish what is best practice, then the roof ceases to exist. What’s more, one person’s idea of best practice will inevitably collide with someone else’s. And another with another. And another with another and so on. The result being the exact opposite of the original intent; the individual’s desire to be more important than the whole splits everything into pieces, which will leave people feeling isolated rather than unified.

So what to do? Well, it takes courage. Not just courage to lead, but courage not to follow. And the “not to follow” does not mean to reject authority – it merely means to reject the notion of authority being a bad thing and to reject your own perceptions as being the ultimate reality. Children reject authority because they want to have their way all the time. As adults, this concept should be understood as not practical. Or better yet, not fulfilling. But, by today’s standards, embracing this understanding has been forgotten. God’s governing hand is only relative and as long as I can Google an answer, I’m better off. No, Googling answers does not require courage. Neither do blanket comments or fact-dumping. Courage is carving in stone, not writing in sand.

Imagine a home where your stay is just and your stay is kind. It’d be a joyous home, would it not? Not the kind of place you’d want to leave. But, you can’t get to that place without first having a response – to recognize there is more to be courageous about than your own agendas.

Sounds reasonable and fair, does it not?

Desktop Update – September 2014

I’m a little late to the party with this post but I think I deserve some leeway because of what’s been going on in my life. The biggest news being that I got married about a week and a half ago. Very cool and very awesome. My wife and I are slowly starting the process of settling into life together. Moving into an apartment, getting her signed up with my last name, figuring out who gets to shower when – you know, important administrative stuff. Indeed, the road ahead is a new thing for both of us but we are excited about what’s in store.

What’s also exciting is what “post-wedding” life is like. After all the planning, the honeymooning, and the moving in together, there’s no specific blueprint for figuring out your spouse. You just have to live life together. And that can be as daunting or invigorating as you choose it to be. Yesterday I met a woman who was going on her 50th wedding anniversary. Yes, 50. I’ve only been alive for 30 years – not being married – and this woman has lived almost twice as long with another person. When I told her I’d been married not longer than 2 weeks, she immediately jumped in with advice: “It’s hard but it’s worth it.”

Simple and to the point – I like it. I thanked her for the wisdom and went on to write this post.

Which brings me to the next topic – where does that leave the individual? I’ve got a partner for life but there’s also some new things happening for me too. All kinds of changes; changes that have affected this desktop of mine, for example. I recently became the recipient of a brand new computer; a gift from my amazing wife and I’ve begun the process of transferring data from one computer to the other. It’s more painstaking than I would have imagined and reminds me how much we tend to store our lives away on personal computers. Possessing storage applications like Google Drive and Dropbox are great, but when you find you have tons of personal photos, old word documents, and other buried treasures like past resumes and cover letters lying around, it really makes you wonder how much of your life is still sacred; not hiding away on some ancient hard drive.

Cleaning house....

Cleaning house….

The good news is: new computers mean new stuff. So that’s really what I’m up to this week: cleaning house. A somewhat humorous thing if you Google the terminology online. Don’t worry, they’re G-rated.

But more importantly, “cleaning house” now means more than just my own stuff – it means somebody else’s too. Once again, exciting, to say the least.

Did I mention I was excited?

The Worst of Enemies

I wanted to share an epiphany I had this week. One that has to do with the battles we face. Trouble is (ironically), I’ve been fighting my own battle as to find the proper medium to share it. Mostly, because I wanted it to be short and sweet. A quick dose of pick-me-up and then gone. But Twitter only allows 160 characters and Facebook is chock full of random quizzes, shared videos, and daily updates about bad drivers so I didn’t want it to get lost in cyberspace. So back to the blog we go.

My moment of clarity came whilst I was standing on familiar terrain: warring over a crucial decision. And doing so with myself. There’s such a tendency to point fingers in life – to make it appear that we, ourselves, are without fault and the world is against us. In many ways, the world can be cruel, but the more I travel through this thing called ‘life’, I find the greatest enemy isn’t necessarily the Devil or any one person or circumstance: it’s me. If you’re a Type-A, insanely-driven perfectionist, you can relate. If you’re a Type-B, oftentimes procrastinator, you can also relate. And if you’re someone who isn’t sure of either, you too can relate. Basically, I feel like any one person can relate to being one’s own worst enemy.

This conclusion doesn’t sound practical. I feel we’d prefer not to believe we have an evil doppleganger somewhere inside of us. After all, that sounds crazy. However, I’d argue that we do. I’ve experienced it and I’m willing to bet that so many others have too. And he’s bigger and more in control than you think. The reason? He’s all about survival; reaction to situation. Not about living life, not about conquering new heights, and certainly not about victory.

There are several major projects I’m working towards – a novel, a short story compilation, a new website – so at times, I find myself becoming easily overwhelmed. And something inside me says, “Hey, it’s too much. Take a break.” And I do. And then a day, maybe two days later, I resent myself for taking that breather. So I gear up. I get going. And a week later, I’m further along. Then the voice returns and I’m back to being comfortable. Then, almost immediately after, I am defeated again. Ugh.

I’ve tried overcoming this internal enemy many times in my life, but only now – some 30 years later – am I getting a better handle on how to press through his advances. The secrets aren’t necessarily buried in well-written self-help books; no, I’ve found silent time to be the most life-giving. Quieting the mind is of utmost importance. It keeps distractions from becoming the focus and it keeps you from focusing on those distractions. I cringe when I hear people say they’re “so busy” all the time. Are you really? Or are you just really, really distracted? There is a difference. Consider if this applies to your life and take action against that.

As a writer, it’s so incredibly easy to get distracted. A new idea comes along and *ping*, it’s off to the races. But if the idea fizzles out and nothing gets done, then that feels like a failure. Then that voice comes back again. “You’ll never finish”; “Your ideas aren’t that good, try something else” – this is what can go through your head as a writer. More so than I’ve given credit to in the past, but I’m learning how to quiet that noise. How it’s me I’m fighting; not my next publication. A freeing and liberating feeling; one I’m slowly becoming more familiar with.