Night Driving

Stories of Faith in the Dark Synchroblog

This is part of a synchroblog Addie Zierman put together for her new book which comes out today.

Night-Driving-Synchroblog

It was darkest in my early 20s.

It wasn’t dark because I lost sight of my faith in college or because I had no moral compass. I actually went to church regularly while in school. I also attended a campus Bible study. UT wasn’t a godless place. I was never challenged directly while in college.

Going to church didn’t make me feel better. I often felt something was missing. I wanted to connect with people but being the introvert I am it was difficult. My first year of college I met a ton of people. I forced myself out of my shell and those relationships I developed from the start satisfied my hunger. I went against everything which was in my personality when it came to meeting people. I was outgoing and I met many friends I still have to this day. However, as college went on I got back in my routine of not being outgoing and it wasn’t until my anxiety was raging I realized this was a problem.

When I was at my darkest point I didn’t have anyone around me I could talk to about what I was going through. The loneliness and despair this brought me was terrible. I remember one Sunday morning going to church and wanting so desperately to feel better. I felt like it was a trip to the doctor’s office. I wanted an injection or a prescription to give me relief. I remember the exact pew I sat on that morning but I couldn’t tell you one song we sang or what the pastor spoke about. I sat alone and felt sorry for myself. There was nothing wrong with the church and nothing wrong with the people in it. I had isolated myself. I went to church to get something out of it. I went to feel better about the decisions I made on Friday and Saturday night. Most of the time it did make me feel better. However, when I was at rock bottom and needing help I didn’t have anyone to talk with there. I was alone and afraid. It’s hard to think about this moment much less write about it. I don’t remember all the details well because it is a dark place and I couldn’t see everything when I was in the middle of it. I didn’t anticipate the loneliness being as strong as it was.

The scariest part about being in the darkness of faith is there is not an easy way out. I’m not a very stubborn person but there are times when I can act hard-headed. I don’t like changing my ways. At times when things are the darkest in my faith I realize I need to change but something prevents me. I know a solid relationship with others who I can walk with in faith is what I desperately need but it’s not something which can happen overnight. It needs to be nurtured and cared for over time.

The most comforting part is time keeps moving on. No matter what is going on in my life the minutes, hours, and days continue to roll forward. When anxiety bothers me the most this always encourages me. It can be stressful but when something is heavy on my mind it always brings me peace to know at the end of the day I will lay down my head on a pillow and several hours later the sun will come up and another day will arrive. When your deep in despair and nothing seems to matter this brings hope. It’s not something which brings hope in the middle of your struggle but rather when you look back you see it. It slowly builds upon itself day after day

I forget sometimes my relationship with God is a journey. I want to believe it is constantly going in a steady line upwards but in reality it is all over the place. There are ups and downs. There are times when it’s not in a good place and I’m learning to be thankful for those times because it is in those moments I grow. If you are in one of those moments now reach out to someone and tell them. Chances are they have been there before and can help. I wish I would have reached out to others instead of fighting alone when things were darkest for me.

Maybe Next Winter

Winter is almost over.

photo credit: Dustin Iskandar via creative commons

photo credit: Dustin Iskandar via creative commons

I have the feeling you get after a long run when you can see your stopping point but it’s far enough away you have to keep churning your legs.

The past few winter’s I have told myself I will not let the weather get me down. I start off well but somewhere in January or February while scraping the ice off my windshield I have had enough. I hate the cold and what it does to me. It sucks the optimism from me like a vacuum getting loose change between the seats of a car.

One bright spot is there are certain foods I like more when it is cold outside. Some days we let soup cook in the crock pot all day while we are at work. When I walk in at the end of the day the smell is permeating through the entire house. For a moment I forget the cold and taste the food in my nostrils. I love the warmth chicken tortilla soup provides. I put shredded cheese and Crystal hot sauce on it and the concoction is something Jimmy Buffett should write a song about. The soup warms me up to my core. I don’t crave chicken tortilla soup when it is warm outside.

I feel we all have Seasonal Affective Disorder to some degree. I don’t want to diminish those who have it severely because I know it is a very real thing but all of us struggle with it right?

Seeing a dead tree come to life reminds me things do change. I’m so tired of looking at dead things. I’m ready to see green. There is something wonderful about a tree coming back to life. I don’t sit on my deck and watch the leaves turn or find beauty in it by reflecting. I pass by and don’t notice it for days or weeks. Then suddenly there are green leaves everywhere. It jumps up and catches me by surprise. I’m so thankful warmer weather is here but I know in a few months I will take it for granted. One of my biggest strengths is taking things for granted. I usually hold this back during a job interview.

I’m happy winter is almost finished but I’m not thrilled with the way I handled it. Once again I allowed myself to be manipulated by the season.

This post from Addie Zierman about a recent car accident she experienced this winter reminded me others struggle with this same thing.

The whole accident is essentially a microcosm of the book I’ve just written: You are knocked out of control by some winter; you find yourself crashing into the artificial lights that you’ve erected to keep yourself out the dark.”

That’s what winter is isn’t it? Maybe next winter I will remember it’s only weather. And it’s the cold weather which allows me to enjoy the taste of chicken tortilla soup.

305 Days

There are three hundred and five days left of 2016.

photo credit: Hey Paul Studios via creative commons

photo credit: Hey Paul Studios via creative commons

Next week I will eat better.

Next week I will finish that book.

Next week I will do whatever it is I have been pushing off for weeks.

These are several things I have been telling myself throughout 2016. I procrastinate about procrastinating. I am good at handling certain things but others I will put off as long as possible. I’m trying to find a balance between handling everything and being at peace with a lack of perfection. I’m never going to watch every movie I want, read every book which interests me, or visit everywhere.

It’s not the most optimistic way of viewing things but it is realistic and it brings peace. Attempting to do everything you want to do brings frustration. Deciding what you want to do and making it happen is satisfying. I find a lot of the stress in my life is brought on by worrying about what I am not doing.

There are certain things which I am never going to want to do. Scheduling a doctor’s appointment is not something I want to handle but I find the quicker I do things like this the better.

I’m a stickler for a budget. I make sure it is set before every month begins and put every dollar in its place the Dave Ramsey way. However, there are always unexpected expenses which happen. An emergency room visit, water line exploding in the front yard, and a million other things can and seemingly do go wrong. When it happens I don’t throw away the budget and spend like crazy. I don’t wait for next month to roll around and decide I will do better then. I prepare for these things by having money set aside for the problems. For some reason I don’t treat other situations the same way. I’m learning to adapt my goals and things I want to achieve to this model. I’m creating margin in my life to complete the things which are most important.

Chasing perfection is something which is consuming me recently. I am learning there will never be a perfect house, perfect day, or perfect candidate. I was encouraged by this post from Allison Fallon last week about the damage this way of thinking can bring.

I hope you hit all of your goals for 2016 but don’t let your satisfaction with life depend on it. There will always be a never ending to-do list and something you want to improve. If you wait for happiness to come when you are done with everything you need to do it won’t happen.

A year from now you won’t remember your to-do list but you will remember the people who matter most in your life. You will remember the time spent with them and the memories you made. Make sure to focus on what matters most for the next 305 days.

Don’t Fit the Mold

In 8th grade I took a class called Technology Education. You could choose different rotations in the class designed to give you an idea of what you would like to do for a career. You could learn about radio and TV, nuclear engineering, but my favorite option was to create a CO2 dragster.

photo credit: Frédérique Voisin-Demery via creative commons

photo credit: Frédérique Voisin-Demery via creative commons

The object during this rotation was to was to create a fast car. I learned about aerodynamics and got really into it. At the end of the class everyone who designed a car would race it in a single elimination tournament. We designed a blueprint and then the teacher would create the car for us. The back of the car had a small hole for a C02 cartridge to propel the car. I was so excited because I knew the car I had designed was going to beat everyone else’s in class. When I turned my draft in the teacher grabbed my blueprint and immediately handed it back to me. He claimed this car did not adhere to the standards he had created. I didn’t recall this rule he had claimed I violated and I also didn’t see how it mattered at all. I was mad and had to make any changes by the end of class so I wasn’t able to make good adjustments. I had to make a generic car to fit the mold. I got smoked in the first race. When I think about it now it makes me mad. I’m not blaming the teacher because I don’t think he had malicious intent, but I do think he could have allowed more creativity.

Something I have realized in life is it isn’t the people who fit into a predetermined mold who make a difference. Those who really make a difference are the ones who throw away the cookie cutters and create something nobody else has thought of before. Life isn’t about seeing how good you can make something someone else already made. It’s about innovating a new way to do something.

There are a million good ways to do something nobody has tried yet. Why waste your time messing around with something someone else has already done?

I look at the way others I admire write and I want my writing to look similar. Instead of trying to emulate someone else I need to focus on creating my own style. In whatever it is you are passionate about, choose your own style. Don’t fit it into the cookie cutter others are choosing. Create outside of it.

Once in a Lifetime Experience

I had an amazing cup of coffee at The Well Saturday. It was an Ethiopian blend with cranberry tartness and a hint of brown sugar. The barista put a ton of effort into making it and I could taste the flavors in every sip.

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I will never have a cup of coffee there again which will taste exactly the way it did Saturday. I may have better experiences and I may have worse. I’m learning to understand this fully in every aspect of my life. I love good coffee but at the end of the day it’s black liquid which means nothing – except for the experience. You remember the taste of the best steak you have ever had and your mouth waters when recalling it. I remember the friends I have shared amazing meals with and want to recreate these events again.

These aren’t repeatable events. We can go with the same group of people and order the same food but it’s different. We have all been to a restaurant for a second time we enjoyed initially and felt disappointment. We build up the meal in our minds and expect it to happen again. I am leaning into each moment for what it is. It might be exceptional it might be meh. Instead of anticipating something amazing I’m learning to let it happen. It’s not about pressing down expectations but rather about letting moments come at you unexpectedly.

We want everything to be exceptional. We want every live TV event, movie, and album (I’m looking at you Kanye) to be memorable. They are not. Memorable events aren’t repeatable. It’s frustrating but it is also what makes the events memorable. I have been on a french press coffee kick recently and each time I make it the taste is different. Some are better than others but instead of trying to repeat a great flavor I’m enjoying each one because it’s different.

We can look back on a date or when we saw our favorite movie for the first time and we long for it again. Those moments are great because of all the bad ones which proceeded and followed them.

We are great at looking back and picking and choosing our favorite Christmas, birthday, or year in college. We rarely have a positive view of the present. I’m learning to enjoy the present and look back on once in a lifetime events fondly instead of trying to recreate them.

A Winter Coat

It was 14 degrees Monday morning in Nashville. Before heading outside to warm up my car I put on my big winter coat which I had not worn since last year. As I finished getting ready to go to work I was talking with Morgan and remembered when I got this coat.

It was a winter day three years ago and I was looking for an excuse to hangout with her. I convinced her to meet me at the Mall at Green Hills to help me pick out a coat. I did need one and needed some help picking it out, but I really wanted to hangout with her. I thought about the day I bought it and I remembered every single aspect of what occurred. I remember the feeling I got when I got off the escalator and saw her. I remember where we went and ate later in the day. All of it. I’m not sentimental about the coat. It’s the moment I remember and treasure more than anything. A few years later life is so different yet in many ways similar.

We joked about how different things would be now if I needed a jacket. She would go alone because I’m about as bad as a 4 year old in a department store. I get bored after about five minutes and want to to go the food court. I have been this way for as long as I can remember. The only reason I wanted to go to the mall when I was younger was so I could go to FYE and look at $20 CD’s.

We finished watching Master of None on Netflix last week. I think Aziz Ansari is hilarious and loved the show. However, the cynical and worldly view on marriage he has is quite wrong. From seeing the storyline which played out and reading his book I understand the point he’s making. The passion you feel for someone, no matter how strong it might be, will fade. I don’t think it fades rather it becomes different. When I think about the day Morgan and I were shopping for a coat, I don’t wish things were like they were then. I don’t long for the newness which comes with a fresh relationship. There is something to be said for knowing someone on a deeper level. When people say, “they love someone more and more every day” I always thought it was silly and pre-meditated. I completely understand it now. We haven’t even celebrated our 2nd anniversary yet but I get it.

The problem many millennials have is they want to find complete satisfaction in someone else. We have a distorted view of what a soulmate should provide. We expect a relationship to fulfill every piece which is missing. It will never happen. The sudden rush you get when a new relationship begins falsely fulfills you. Over time things level out and if you are looking for the person to give you something they can’t, you will be disappointed.

Michael Easley says, “don’t let the world teach you theology.” It’s easy to let this happen if you are not careful. It’s easy to let the world teach you everything if you allow it to happen. I enjoy watching series like Master of None but I’m careful not to take any lessons from it. It’s easy to let yourself slip into distorted thinking if you aren’t careful. You don’t have to have a doctorate or be brilliant to decide this. You can lean on your personal experiences. You can lean on an experience like going shopping for a coat.

Mere Christmas

I’m not feeling the Christmas season.

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

photo credit: John Morgan via creative commons

Perhaps it’s the warmer weather we have had in Nashville (which I love). Maybe it’s because I have been busy. I have not been able to figure it out completely, but I don’t feel merry this Christmas. I have a playlist with Christmas music on it and I held off listening to it most of this month. With no new podcasts to listen to and not wanting to hear the garbage on sports talk radio I decided to play it driving home from work the other night. It didn’t do anything for me.

I’m reading Mere Christianity right now. My dad gave this book to me when I was a sophomore in high school. I remember attempting to read it on a beach trip and losing interest after the first few pages. I liked what C.S. Lewis was saying but had trouble absorbing it.

As I turn through the pages now it is still hard to absorb at times. There are chapters I read when I feel I’m right there with him. Our brains are on the same wavelength decades apart. Then there are other times when I read it and pages take days to read. I read a few paragraphs and it’s a foreign language. This lingers on and I will go a few days without picking the book up. Eventually I go back and crack it open. I sit down and clear my head and read page after page and it means something. I keep coming back to the book because I know I will enjoy the finished product.

I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay.” – C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity

As I have been going through this ebb and flow the past few weeks it reminded me of how I felt about Christmas this year. Even though I’m not in the mood to celebrate this Christmas season I need to choose to be in the mood. I need to embrace it even though all I want to do is lower my head and push through until January or until it is warm again.

I want to listen to the lyrics of “O Holy Night” and feel something, but it’s probably not going to happen unless I stop and listen to the song. In this advent season I’m trying to focus on the waiting.

However, I’m not waiting on me to get used to Christmas. It’s almost here and I’m going to remember Christmas 2015 for all the insane blessings which have come my way this year. The year has gotten better with each passing month. I don’t want to see it end. I’m going to celebrate it even if my car has a flat tire and even if I wake up not feeling well. You only get a certain number of Christmases and they are all merry if you allow them to be.

My nature is to rush and it feels unnatural to wait. It’s uncomfortable but you learn to embrace it. I’m attempting to understand the moments in life where waiting seems the worst possible outcome but where it is all we can do. I’m leaning into it. There is only a week left. I’m going to make it count.

Looking Up

Something is either breaking with your car, your home, or your body.

photo credit: Tomas Sobek via creative commons

photo credit: Tomas Sobek via creative commons

There is never a moment when you catch up. I jump from one problem to the next and it’s never ending. This used to bother me but I have come to accept it. There isn’t another choice. You can live in fear of the next problem or you can handle situations as they come.

Most of life is spent in the valley. Valley is the perfect word to describe bad times in life. When we are looking up at high elevation. It’s the looking up which bothers me more than where I’m at. I love to play the comparison game. I look at what someone else has and want them to get knocked down to my level. It doesn’t make sense because I’m not in need right now. I’m extremely blessed and I’m scared to death I’m going to screw it up. In late 2013 and early 2014 there was a three to four month stretch which absolutely crushed me. I was unhappy at work and I was fearful about what the future held. Morgan and I were engaged during this time and it bothers me I wasn’t able to enjoy it because I let anxiety and stress rob me. Things got better, but those days have never left me. Each one of them feels like it was yesterday.

I know others are like me and have gone through the same situation. Perhaps it has gone from a situation to the status quo. I don’t want people to continue down the path because it’s dark and it’s unhealthy and it’s not anyway to live. A valley should be something we pass through. It is something which is a means to get to where we want to go, but often we decide to live permanently there. No matter how much we dislike it we feel safe and feel as though we belong there and it’s what we deserve. This is what bothered me so much. When my anxiety was the worst I felt as though I deserved it. I didn’t think it was punishment for mistakes rather it was a consequence. I expected perfection from myself even though I knew it wasn’t feasible. I set the bar way too high for myself. It’s great to push yourself to achieve big goals but it’s not great to expect to live mistake free. I set the bar for myself to live mistake free and I was miserable. It poisoned my thought process. I didn’t want to make a mistake and it was the driving force behind all decisions I made.

So what do you do in order to fix this? For me it took time. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I wanted to live a certain way and suddenly everything changed. It took me believing in myself. I decided I didn’t want to be someone who went through life scared. Life will knock you down sometimes. You don’t get a chance to think about what’s happening you get cold-cocked. You must prepare for it.

Even when things are going well you can still feel certain stress and anxiety. It’s an internal issue not an external issue.

I have worked on the foundation of my life. My core values help the valley become a place I pass through not a place I stay.

These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain pured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.” Matthew 7: 24-25 (The Message)

A valley is a temporary point in life. It’s not somewhere which is meant to dwell permanently. However, getting up a mountain is hard. It’s difficult and it takes a lot of courage to drive yourself up to the peak. The view from the peak is much better than hurting your neck looking from below like you are sitting on the first row at a movie theater. You have to decide what way you want to live. Do you want to live life looking up wondering what could have been or do you want to do something? Start ascending today. The longer you wait the harder it is to take the first step.

What Do You Do When Things are Going Well?

I have never climbed a mountain.

photo credit: Paxson Woelber via creative commons

photo credit: Paxson Woelber via creative commons

I have seen people post pictures with a number written on it standing on top of a peak. It looks awesome. It looks like something I would like to do. With the exception of the announcement you are having a child I don’t believe there is another achievement where you announce to the world this way. I’m not hating at all, but it is funny to imagine someone purchasing a new car and writing down how many miles are on it and how much they paid for it and posting it on social media.

I believe it is important to recognize when we are at the top of the mountain. There have been times in my life where I didn’t enjoy the moment. I let anxiety take over and rob me of the joy a good moment will bring. I’m not talking about being in a good mood. It’s great when your football team wins and when you see a great movie but it’s not life altering. I’m referencing major positive life events. I have learned to embrace the moment because I have missed it in the past.

In the social media driven era there is sole attention paid to what you are doing right now. Nobody cares where you are going. We don’t put any thought into where you will be in five years we only care about where you are right now. If you are on top of the mountain good for you. If you are not than most people do not care.

My big worry when things are going well is trying not to mess up. I remember talking with a good friend of mine a few years ago and I asked, “I wonder when I will look back on a year and not be embarrassed by the amount of mistakes I made?” It was a rare moment for me to open up and to my surprise he completely agreed with me. I have realized this is something we all struggle with to some degree. In time I have gotten better at dealing with mistakes and most of the issues I dealt with had to do with maturity and growing up, but one key item I have learned is mistakes don’t stop. It’s not fine to make terrible decisions over and over again but we are going to mess up and we shouldn’t expect perfection from ourselves. I get used to this way of thinking. I get used to believing I am perfect. I think I’m smart enough to not make a mistake. This way of thinking will set you up for failure and rob you of the joy good moments in life bring.

A huge realization which has come to me in the last few years is a minor mistake doesn’t knock you off the mountain. If you don’t handle the mistake well it will absolutely push you off the edge. Life is about making mistakes and learning from them. At work I pride myself in not making the same mistake twice. I don’t always learn the first time. However, striving to learn from my mistakes not just verbally but mentally helps in a tremendous way.

The world is not begging for perfect people. The world begs for genuine people to talk about their shortcomings. Who would ever want to read a story about someone who had every break go their way and led a successful life? It would be the worst story of all time. We love to see people overcome the odds. We love to hear about someone who grew up in a bad neighborhood with no money be the first pick in a draft. We love the story of Mark Cuban sleeping on the floor of an apartment in his 20s and now being a multi-millionaire throwing around money on Shark Tank. We love the end result of these stories but we gloss over what makes them interesting.

My encouragement to you is this: Enjoy major life moments and don’t live attempting not to make a mistake.

Searching for Something

I normally don’t have trouble sleeping at night.

photo credit: Got Credit via creative commons

photo credit: Got Credit via creative commons

I will wake up during the night realize it’s not time to get up and go right back to sleep. Last Sunday night/Monday morning was different. I woke up at 1 AM and made the inevitable mistake of looking at my phone. Twenty minutes later after boring myself with pointless internet material I realized I wasn’t going to be able to fall right back asleep. As I rolled over I clinched my left hand and realized my wedding ring was gone. I immediately began feeling around trying to find it. It fits well and I couldn’t figure out how it could have fallen off but I knew I went to bed with it on. I never take it off and right before bed I took my contacts out and I washed my hands so I would have noticed it missing then. I still decided to get up and look around. I walked to the bathroom and didn’t see it there. Walked to my office and didn’t see it there. I started panicking. You know the feeling you get when you have lost something. You think there is a mistake. This isn’t actually happening. A knot forms in your stomach and your brow starts to sweat. I had to wake up Morgan to find it and my first statement to her when waking her up was that, “I lost my engagement ring.” This made literally no sense but she knew what I meant. Luckily I found the ring about 30 minutes after I started looking for it. It had gotten tossed around in the sheets somehow while I was asleep. As I tried to lay back down to go to sleep it was even harder than before my internet binge so my mind took off in a million different directions.

It’s amazing how the feeling of losing something makes you feel completely out of control. The illusion of control disappears. I hate the unknown. I hate when all you can do is wait for something to happen. I am learning it’s life. Life happens while we are waiting. The torture known as waiting is what makes us human. As David Brooks wrote recently, “We are the only animals who are naturally unfinished. We have to bring ourselves to fulfillment.”

Sometimes I find myself searching for a quick answer. Searching for a thought to write about or a city to visit. Other times it seems I don’t have to search for anything. It’s like my whole life was mapped out and I drive on a navigated path. Big moments have a way of appearing when you least expect them. Like an old friend who you run into unexpectedly. That’s life. I’m searching for those moments by leaning into the waiting which is a constant in life. Don’t hide from these moments. Find enjoyment in the search.

It’s amazing the clarity you have at 2 AM when you have found what you were searching to find.