Dare or Truth

“Dare or Truth?”

“Um, I think you mean ‘Truth or Dare’ Asher, and how do you know that game?”

“School.  Truth or dare?  I dare you to go to McDonalds on the way home and get me a milkshake”

“It doesn’t work like that.  I get to pick, and I pick truth.  Ha!”

“Will you go to McDonalds on the way home and get me a milkshake?”


As the game went on I thought back to the times I played as a kid – always selecting “Truth” as the lesser of two evils and hoping the question wouldn’t be too intrusive.  Eventually, there comes a point when disclosure is no longer fun and comfortable and the game comes to an end.

Truth: Sometimes I cry while watching movies with Kristan and will try to  play it off as a yawn.

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Whew!  That feels good to get off my chest!

I’ve been married to Kristan for almost 13 years and I still don’t want her to know that Sweet Home Alabama makes me tear up every time.

In the beginning Adam and Eve were naked & perfectly happy.  Then the fall and suddenly man and woman hid themselves from one another.  Vulnerability was replaced by shame. Comfort with being fully exposed to another person would never come naturally again.  Now it takes work.  Work that most people will never put in, because vulnerability is hard.  No one wants to feel naked.

Truth: When I was 11 years old I dove into a pool and my swim trunks came all the way off.  I was completely naked in front of all my friends.  Scarred me for life.  To this day I wear two swimsuits just in case.  

I think vulnerability is the most important part of a healthy friendship.  To know and be known is foundational for love to be real, to be truly accepted for who you are, and to be able to really challenge one another to become better people.

The problem with vulnerability is that it always hurts.  It hurts your pride.  It strips you of every facade.  It leaves you with a nagging urgency to hide and flee from the intimacy of being fully exposed.

Truth: I have an amazing family and some really great friends, and I still struggle with feeling really lonely sometimes.  

For a long time I was afraid of going to the dentist.  The longer I waited the more difficult it was to finally sit down in that chair.  After years of avoiding it I eventually chose what was right even though it scared me to death.

And it hurt.  I paid for my mistakes.  In the beginning the poking and drilling and scraping (not to mention when they take a mold – that’s the worst) made it feel like my mouth was getting worse instead of better.  Then my visits started going more smoothly.  Now, I haven’t had a cavity in years and, though I don’t look forward to the dentist, it’s not a scary experience.  I see it for what it is: A necessary component to health.

Vulnerability in friendships is a lot like that.  It’s easy to hide and keep people out, but the longer that goes on the harder it will ever be to open up and let people see what’s going on inside of you.  The problem is, in our culture, we have actually deluded ourselves to thinking that it’s somehow ok to not let others into our lives.

It’s not good for man to be alone.

You and I need one another.  I’m not going to lie, it can hurt.  Most of the time any hurt you sustain from vulnerability is a necessary hurt – a hurt to make you better.  And we want that.  We need that.  The only way to get it is to allow yourself to be known and trust that you just took a step towards true Biblical community.

 

 

 


Fanny Packs & Making Friends Can Save Your Life

In elementary school my best friend was a guy named Jason.  All I remember of our friendship is that we both liked baseball, girls really liked Jason, and one time he made fun of my fanny pack.

A few years later I met my new best friend, Michael, also through baseball.  What began as convenience (he lived right around the corner from me) grew into a lifelong friendship.  I’d say he was more like a brother, but I tried to date too many of his female relatives to be comfortable using a family metaphor.  I was at Mike’s house just about every day.  To be honest they probably grew tired of me, but I never knew it.  We snuck into movies, watched every Rockets game, at all the Mexican food, and I was even invited to join his family on vacations.

When I was young all my friendships were primarily centered around shared interests: sports, movies and watching TV and…um…well, that’s about it I guess.

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Something is different in adulthood.  Shared interests are important, but they are more of a spice than a key ingredient.  You don’t make friends around shared interests.  You share your interests with your friends.  I’d say, you share yourself with your friends.

I have been thinking a lot about friendships recently.  It is an area in life where it is so easy to fall out of balance.  We live in a world where there is the very real phenomenon of “Crowded Loneliness” – the ability to be surrounded by people but still feel very alone.  Over the past several years more people than I can remember have confessed to me feeling like they aren’t close to anyone.

It is not good for man to be alone.

Relationships are as much a need for health as diet and exercise.  People with close friendships live longer and experience a greater feeling of contentment and joy in their lives.

I asked on social media what people look for in friendships.  Unsurprisingly we want, “Loyalty, love, trustworthiness, honesty, acceptance, laughter, & thoughtfulness”.  It’s no surprise that the people who manage to find individuals who fit that description describe their lives as more full of joy!

Sadly, it’s also no surprise that the average American has less than 2 friends

How can we want something so good that we know will bring so much happiness to our lives, yet fail to obtain it?

It’s because you don’t fall butt-backwards into friendships like that when you are an adult.  In elementary school Jason sat next to me in my kindergarden class.  Mike was the only kid on my baseball team that was as bad as I was.  When you are a kid you look up and you have friends.

When you are an adult you have to make it happen.  Building friendships defined by those characteristics above don’t occur by accident.  It’s something you have to cultivate.

And I think we have forgotten how…

 

 

 


Breaking the 2nd Rule

When I was a kid I loved the Tom Hanks movie, Big, where the12 year old Josh Baskin was transformed into a full grown adult by the power of the (terrifying) carnival fortune teller, “Zoltar Speaks”.  It was easy to put myself in that situation and dream of how I’d be as an adult – everything would be fun, there would be no such thing as discipline, and kids would love me as the “greatest adult in the world”

I’ll be honest here, I didn’t hate 13 going on 30 either.  I mean, it was no Big, but that “Thriller” dance scene was pretty great.

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Anyway, the point is, when you are a kid you know exactly the kind of parent you are going to be.  For the most part, you grow up and realize there is a reason that your parents treated you the way they did.  As the the comedian Sinbad said, “They weren’t always that way.  You made them like that”.  My dreams of growing up and allowing my kids to have all the candy they want, making school optional, and encouraging all disputes to be settled with a Thunderdome battle in the back yard all fell away…admittedly mostly because of Kristan.

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But a few things remained.  We have a couple of rules that made it through the filter of adulthood.  Two come to mind right away (one that everyone loves and one that everyone hates).

Rule 1: Never say “No” to a book.  If the boys want a book we buy them a book.  Reading is important to us and cultivating a love for it is a family value.

That’s the easy one.  The other one gets us looks like we are absolutely insane.  Really, people look at me like somehow 12 year old me is living inside my 36 year old body making all the decisions.

The rule: Always believe my kids.  Always.  If they tell me something I’m going to operate under the belief they are telling the truth…even if I know they are lying.

I’ve been told this is stupid, naive, and irresponsible.  Perhaps it’s irresponsible, but it’s not naive or stupid.  I get that Nolan and Asher will lie to me, and it’s possible they use the knowledge of this rule (I’ve told them I’ll always believe them) to take advantage of me.  In the end I would prefer my children grow up knowing that their parents trust them entirely.  We talk about lying and why it’s wrong – we just tell the boys that we expect the truth from them so much that we choose to believe they won’t lie to us.  We want them to have the responsibility of truth.

Anyway, yesterday I broke the rule!

Nolan jumped off the back of his bunk bed which he often does (between the bed and the wall) and landed on the pillows beside the bottom bunk.  He hasn’t done this a lot recently since he broke his leg and this time he found himself stuck.  Unfortunately, he has joked about being stuck before and it didn’t occur to me that he really couldn’t get out.

It was time for prayer, and we were tired, so eventually I said (in perfected Dad voice), “Nolan, stop playing and get out.  You’re not stuck”.

And then I saw the tears start to well up in his eyes.

“I am stuck” he said meekly

He wasn’t upset b/c he was stuck.  He was upset b/c this was the first time (that I can remember) that I didn’t believe him.

So we pulled him out, apologized for not believing him…

and re-told the story of “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf”.

 


Asher’s Party

“Look dad!  It’s a party!”

Asher came running into the room, tightly gripping a single green balloon.  Both the boy and his prize looked primed to burst.  Asher is contagious in everything he feels.  When he smiles you can’t help but join in.  His eyes, his teeth, that little scar on his cheek from the time he wrecked his bike all invite you in to the joy he is experiencing.

He loves everything.

After jumping off the couch a few times as though the balloon would carry him up to the ceiling Asher inexplicably rolled around on the floor for a minute before yelling “DINNERTIME!” as ran out the door.  I watched his single green balloon float up and bounce around for a few seconds before it came to a rest.  Just like that the party was over.

The balloon was never the party.  It wasn’t the joy.  Nothing about it was contagious.  It was Asher that made it happen.

 

When I write blogs I very rarely know where they are going to end up.  It’s pretty much stream of consciousness writing.  Most of the time I don’t even edit (which results in some pretty bad grammatical errors from time to time).  Anyway, I’m sitting here thinking that I can take this story and apply it to materialism or church culture; or materialism in church culture.

I’m not going to do that though.  I think that Asher deserves a blog that’s just about him, his balloon and his joy and nothing else.


Running for Life Change (part 2)

Yesterday, on the very day that 2016 Mike outran 2014 Mike, I failed.  I walked.  It was at the same place that it has happened many times before: that stupid hill coming back from the pool.  It’s not that steep of a hill, but it’s long.  Yesterday it got the better of me.

It’s strange.  I have run that hill successfully countless times.  Usually it’s the last leg of my 5+ mile runs.  I ALWAYS finish it on the big runs.  Once it was the 9th mile on a 10 mile run.  For the record, my 9th mile was the 3rd fastest mile of that night.  I know I can do it! Yesterday, at about 2.25 miles in, I caved in and failed.  As bummed out as I was for the 45 seconds I strolled up that hill I found some encouragement…

An off night does not mean you’re off track.

3 years ago I ran exactly 0 miles.  2 years ago I didn’t even try to run that hill.  It was beyond me and I knew it.  Today, I succeed more than I fail.  Tomorrow will be even better than today.

Failure can really mess a person up.  It’s extremely easy to take a moment of failure and apply it to our identity.  There have definitely been times I’ve walked up that hill thinking I’m still the same guy that ran 3/4 of a mile in 16 minutes 2 years ago.

Yesterday I mentioned how far I feel I have come with being competitive.  I don’t want to go into a rage when Asher traps me in Mousetrap or Kristan runs more miles than me in a month (I’m currently up by 13 in March!).  I’d be lying, however, if I pretended to be perfect.  There have been some neighborhood basketball games where I caught myself getting a little frustrated with how things are going.  A couple of months ago we were playing Phase 10 with friends and I had to text them an apologize for losing my cool.  In my defense, the phase where you have to get 7 in a row can get really old when you watch everyone else lay down 4 wild cards round after round and all you have are 6 “2’s” in your hand.

Yea, when it comes to being competitive, I have my hills.  Sometimes I fail and have to walk.  As time goes on, more and more I’m running hard to the top.

Failing doesn’t make a person a failure.  Failing makes a person a follower.  

My goal in life is to follow Jesus and become more like Him.  That’s a pretty lofty goal.  If I’m not failing, I have a pretty high view of myself or low view of Him.

 

 


Running for Life Change (Part 1)

89.2 miles.

That’s how many I’ve run so far in 2016!  That’s my first milestone.  Back in 2014 I set a goal of 100 miles.  Unfortunately I fell short and finished at 88.  88 miles in 12 months.  7.3 miles a month.  Ugh.  For comparison I’m currently averaging about 34 miles a month.

And I have faced both norovirus and the flu in 2016.  In your face 2014 Mike!

No.  2014 Mike was the man!  He and his 7.3 miles a month may not have meant much to the “real” runners out there, but I wouldn’t be where I’m at now had he not gotten off his butt and hit the road.  That first year I didn’t get a single bit of recognition from anyone (besides Kristan).  No one cared.  No one noticed.  That’s no one’s fault.

The beginning of change is not all that noteworthy.

I kept at it.  Some months have been better than others.  I increased my miles by 110 in 2015.  I stopped joking about “only running when being chased” and owned my desire to really be committed to this thing.

Then today, something big happened.  A neighbor, who doesn’t really know me all that well, saw me as I was leaving my house.  She called out from her porch right as I was ending my pre-run warm up, “You really run a lot!”.  To her, a person who doesn’t know my lazy past, I’m a runner.

I wasn’t even feeling it today.  It was cold and I was full from eating half a cheese ball leftover from the baby shower that went down in my house.  Alas, I knew I had to run (you know, because of the cheese ball) so off I went.  That neighbor gave me some big motivation as I took off!

3 years.  It was really nice to have someone notice.

That’s the tough thing about changing your life.  A lot of the time all the hard work you are putting in is completely unnoticeable to everyone else.  Sure, if I shave my head people are going to catch on, but that is exactly my point – Unless it’s drastic and immediate it flies under the radar of everyone else.  Ask someone who has lost a tremendous amount of weight, most people don’t start noticing until after they have dropped the equivalent of a 3 year old.  Do you know how much work they put in before someone even finally asked them, “Have you lost a little weight?”  This actually happened at church last week.  I noticed that a guy was looking a “little” slimmer.  When I asked about it he said, “Yea, I’ve lost 50 pounds”.  FIFTY POUNDS!  He was killing it for months and I had no idea!

That’s the physical stuff.  It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that any internal change is going to go completely unnoticed to all but your very closest friends.

Years ago I was so competitive that I would get frustrated if Kristan and I were both driving somewhere and she beat me there.  Seriously.  I wouldn’t tell her it frustrated me because I didn’t want her to know she married a crazy person, but yea.  When it came to basketball or Halo it was worse.  Monopoly…I almost lost friendships over Monopoly.

But God did a good thing in me.  I was made aware of the need for change and I committed myself to it.  Some things I just don’t do because I know I may not handle it well, but that’s wisdom I didn’t once have.  Then there are some things that I’m able to navigate relatively without issue.

I’m not perfect, but 2016 Mike compared to 2006 Mike is like seeing a person who dropped 100 pounds.  I’m a different man when it comes to competition.  Unfortunately, because of the nature of that kind of change, no one sees it like I see it.  No one will ever stop me in the middle of a game and say, “Mike, I have noticed how different of a person you have become…you should be proud of yourself”

That makes change REALLY hard.  When it comes to following God and becoming more Christ-like, the reality is most of the change we will ever experience will be slow.  Our lives are different as a result of time and discipline.  We won’t get the “Atta boy” for most of what God does in us.

But you’ll see it.  The benefits that matter, you’ll receive.

After all, it’s nice that my neighbor noticed my commitment to running, but I realized my motivation a long time ago: Kristan.  Nolan.  Asher.  Me.  Honoring God’s gift of life.  That’s what matters.  I don’t care about being noticed.  I care about being around.  I care about changing my life so that I exemplify health and commitment to those who are in my care.

The “Before and After” picture of your spiritual life may be a radical transformation and go completely unnoticed.  Our embrace of change in our lives, however, isn’t for recognition.  It’s a race we run to finish well, not for praise, but for God’s glory and our spiritual health.

This may be your first year of really trying to make something happen.  It might suck.  You’ll look back on the immaturity of 2016 and think, “Wow, I was so far from God when I got started”.  That’s not the story you’ll tell.  You’ll speak of 2016 as the first chapter of the story that led to something amazing in your life: Change.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  Time and discipline change your life, not decision.  The decision to change matters, but what you do next is what will ultimately define you.

 

 


Grocery Stores

I don’t particularly like my grocery store.  It’s a sad, kind of dirty place with no-so-helpful workers.  Whatever.  It’s cheap and close and that’s about all that matters.  After all, it’s just a grocery store.

Then I went and ruined it.  The other day I went into a Harris Teeter for the first time in a while.  Wow!  The aisles are wider, they have trays of meats and cheeses to sample, and I’m pretty sure they were playing Pharrell Williams song, “Happy” on repeat over the speakers.  Then I went to pay and EVERYTHING was so much more expensive!  Strangely, I didn’t mind.  It was worth it to shop in a place that worked so hard to be special.  I didn’t feel like it was “just a grocery store”.  It was obvious they put a lot of thought into making my experience something great.

It’s really easy for churches to settle and take it easy on customer service.  After all, the people are there for a sermon, some music, and maybe some coffee.  Everything else is superfluous.

But not really.

No one shows up to church thinking, “I REALLY hope they have an awesome duo in the parking lot!” or “I don’t know about you, but I’m going in to check out their awesome powerpoint workers!”.  Likewise, once people leave they don’t give a second thought about the men and women to take out their trash and clean the place up for next week.

I’ve seen that building before it gets cleaned.  Trust me…it may be a “little thing”, but it’s a little thing that makes a HUGE difference.  Especially when you add all those little things up.

The food at Harris Teeter is the same stuff I get from the place that’s near my house.  They feel different however, not because of the product, but because of the packaging.  We have great music and sermons at Awestruck.  I’d put them up against any church in the city.  The thing is, if our cleaners don’t pick up the trash from last week, if our our parking lot team ignores folks walking in, if our powerpoint guy is putting up slides with lyrics to Taylor Swift’s “Style” when we are in the middle of “How can it be” then it undermines the quality of everything else.

Convenience is a powerful thing.  After all, I don’t shop regularly at the Teeter b/c it’s just a little too far out of my way.  But I am more and more aware of what I’m missing, and I don’t like it.  Eventually I may even make a change.

When it comes to church, how much sooner will folks move on from what is convenient if there is something special happening just a little bit farther away.

I’m always encouraged when I remember that we have some folks driving to church that live 20, 30, even 40 minutes away.  They pass by dozens of churches on their way to Awestruck.  Why?  The sermon…the music?  Yea, that’s part of it.  The people?  Certainly!  But I think that there is even more to it than that.  I’ve heard a million times, “There is just something special about this church”.


Heaven and Church

“Can you go to Heaven if you are a Christian who doesn’t participate in church?”

That question was asked during the sermon yesterday at Awestruck Church.  Most people (rightly) responded by saying “Yes!”.  Our salvation/eternal destination isn’t determined on my connection to the local body of believers.  That’s true.

Still…Something still bugged me about how easy of an answer it was for everyone.

It was as though there is a belief that, because Heaven isn’t dependent on our love of the church, the two are completely unrelated.

That I don’t believe.

Heaven is, no doubt, a wonderful place.  It’s good to look forward to being there someday, but we aren’t there yet.  In between our salvation and our eternal destination is Church.  It’s common in our culture to treat our local church as a place that is for “me” and about “me”, and that’s a really broken attitude.  The Church is not ours.  It’s His.  It exists for God’s glory and purpose.  We didn’t create it nor does it exist for our pleasure.

I think most Christians can get their minds around that.

What might be a little bit harder is re-reading all of the above paragraph and replacing the word “Church” with “Heaven”.  Heaven is no more for our pleasure than the local church. Heaven is going to be wonderful, but I don’t think it’s going to feel natural.  It can’t.  Too many of us live our lives independent and selfish.  Those will be the first things to be stripped away in the end.  It will be tough.  The good news is we have church as a practice run!  If we can figure out how to live in community now we will be all the better prepared for what’s to come.  If we can’t, well, I guess we still get to go…but the question has to be asked: Do we want to?

If we don’t love the church, a place that exists for us to connect with God and other believers; why do we think we would love Heaven?

 

 

 


7:55

7:55

That’s the record.  On September 5, 2015 I ran a mile faster than I had since high school.  It was a great feeling…

Mostly.

The thing about setting a record is that it suddenly puts everything you’ve done and will do in perspective.  Prior to September 5, 2015 I had run some 190 miles on my NikeRun app.  Some of those miles were run as I was “getting back into shape” or as I was dealing with minor injuries.  The rest, however, were miles run by a younger Mike.  At 35 years old I shouldn’t be setting new records.  Every time the voice on my app announced a time higher than 7:55 he was announcing my wasted potential.

It’s even worse on this end of it.

Some 65 miles since I set that record and none of them have come close to 7:55.  Every run a failure to live up to what I can accomplish.

My best is not behind me.  I completely believe that someday, hopefully soon, I’m going to crush that 7:55 and turn that record into just another mile.  Maybe I’ll even get myself under 7 minutes.

And then the whole thing will start again.


I love…

One of my favorite things is dropping eaves in Panera.  I’ve listened in to lots of conversations that aren’t for me, and I know it makes me a terrible person, but the tables are too close and sometimes I get bored.

Anyway, a while back there was a table of 3 guys in their mid-50’s (confession: I’m TERRIBLE at estimating ages so lets say they were between 14-74) sitting next to me.  Sadly they were normal and uninteresting.  They talked about sports, tv shows, and their families.  The fact that they were all married with children is very relevant to what happened next…

They got up to leave and one of them had to go to the restroom so he said his goodbye’s at the table.  That’s when it happened.  He said it…

“I love you guys”

And the other two guys said it back.  One of them even threw his name in it to make it even more personal.

I’ve heard men kind of throw that phrase around, but never like this.  It was so heartfelt and sincere.  It wasn’t a throwaway statement like “see ya” or “take it easy”.  I’m not going to lie.  It made me cringe.

Not because they did anything wrong.  No.  It made me cringe, and honestly even now just feels weird to me, because I had never told a friend that I loved them (one exception for a friend who was going through a very serious thing).  I know it is the most cliche thing in the world, but saying “I love you” just isn’t easy for me.  Sure, it’s natural with Kristan and the boys.  Actually, Nolan and Asher will tell you that I say it too much to them.  With friends, however, it just isn’t something I’ve ever said.  I do love my friends.  It’s just the talking about it.

About a month ago a friend of mine texted me just to say they were praying for me and that they loved me.  This friend knew I had something kind of heavy on my mind and was just reaching out…because they cared and that’s what friends do.  I remember how much that text made me feel better.  I’m not sure if that person reads my blogs, but if so – Thank you!

Women are generally pretty good about expressing themselves.  Guys, less so.  Every now and then we write a sappy facebook post or something.  Funny enough, extremely public expressions of emotion are way easier than one on one.  Weird.  So, here are the reasons I came up with for why I’m going to try to be a little better about telling friends that I love them (relax – I’m not going to be getting all sappy…I’ll just get marginally better)

  1. Having friends that you love and that love you is not as common as you think – I’ve quoted the statistic before that the average American has less than 2 friends (and 25% of people have no one they consider a close friend).  Those kinds of friends are rare.
  2. It’s really easy for people to not know they are loved – Sadly there is a lie that a lot of people believe: the lie that they are alone…even if they aren’t.
  3. It feels pretty good to tell someone you love them – It’s a reminder for you to say the words to someone else.  Loving others is about as great of a feeling as being loved by others.
  4. It makes the day a whole lot better for someone – It’s hard to have a bad day when someone unexpected tells you that they love you.  It’s a phrase that, unfortunately, loses it’s power from the people who say it the most.  I KNOW Kristan and the boys love me, and if they stopped loving me I’d be devastated, but it’s hard not to take it for granted.  I hear it so much from them.

 

So, prepare yourselves.  2016 is the year of LOVE!

Seriously though, this is the touchy-feeliest blog I’ve ever written.  I don’t like it.