I have a small challenge for you. When you’re done reading this, you’re going to close your eyes, right where you are, and you’re going to listen to what’s happening around you. It might be loud, it might be quiet, but either way it’s where you are right now.
Do you hear people? Cars? Birds? The wind? Clicking keyboards? Your own breathing? Stop thinking about what you’re doing and just be here.
This might seem silly, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that we tend to rush and rush and rush and rushrushrushrushrush. We blast music, flip on the TV, talk talk talk until we’ve lost track of the world around us.
A few years ago I made a rule for myself: I had to walk around campus without earbuds in, just to see what I’d been missing. I found that listening to my campus bustle made me feel more connected to it. It wasn’t just me doing ‘Task A’ or getting to ‘Point B’. It was me as part of everyone, living right now, together.
This is a bit silly, but I’ve grown to love hearing the world around me.
David said, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it,” but we can’t do that unless we are in the Lord’s day. I don’t know about you, but I often struggle to be present if I don’t conciously take time to slow down. So that’s my challenge. Be present for a moment.
Now, close your eyes. Listen. What do you hear?
9 May 2013 / 1 note
I’m trying to write and it feels a bit like pulling teeth. I’m rusty. How does that happen? I’ve been writing since grade school. It’s my love, my gift, how do I let life get busy enough that I’m out of practice?
But that’s how it goes. Life happens and things go by the wayside. I rationalize at first, “Hey it’s just a busy season. I’ll get back to it.” But then it’s six months later and I haven’t written a single thing over 140 characters. Now I’m trying to write some idea that should come easy and it’s fighting me every step of the way.
The truth is, all of us leave things behind as we grow. It may be a hobby, a craft, a friend, a memory, a dream or a freedom. It may be ripped away painfully or drift off almost unnoticed until one day you think back and wonder, “What the hell happened?”
This is often seen as a bad thing, like losing pieces of who we are. We fight it. We take pictures to remember every moment. We promise ourselves we’ll get back into our hobby when the kids are a little older. We assure a friend we’ll get coffee when life settles.
Who are we kidding?
Life goes on and things shed off. There’s no fighting that and we know it. All the promises and regrets in the world won’t suddenly make more time for the things we used to love or wanted to do.
It’s a sad realization, but I’ve grown to appreciate the freedom of not clinging to a different life. It can be so exciting to finally let an old dream go and look forward to the next one. To put the camera down and just enjoy the moment. To stop pretending like I’ll grab coffee with my old friend and focus my time on new friends I never expected to make.
We can’t do everything. Life is compromise. The key is picking the things that are actually part of who you want to be. I’m writing again because I’m a writer and its exactly who I want to be. I’m not trying to play the guitar anymore because I’m not a musician, never will be a musician and that’s fine. I’d rather put time toward the hobbies/people/dreams that make me who I am and who I am becoming, not who I thought I wanted to be.
6 May 2013 / 1 note
Jonathan Moynihan has always been one of the hippest, most down to Earth people I’ve known. In high school I looked up to him as the kind of Christian dude I wanted to be and now he’s exactly the kind of friend, husband and working man that I want to be. He’s made mistakes, learned from them and is honest about how he doesn’t always have life figured out. I doubt there will be a time when Jonathan Moynihan is not someone I hold as a role model for my life. Which is why I was floored when he said something very similar to me.
About me: I work in advertising sitting at a computer all day. On Friday nights I’d rather read Batman comics than go out. I get excited over things like mono-spaced fonts and a new album from nerdy indie bands.
Yet Jmo thinks what I do is awesome. Whenever I spend time with him he makes me feel so cool. He compliments me on my taste in music and design, about my writing and my attitude. Me! Jmo compliments me! The lame kid who reads about galaxies and yells at people for touching his computer screen. (Seriously, you can point at my screen without putting your fingers on my screen. I will hit you.)
This humble brag does have a point. What I’ve been realizing through my friendship with Mr. Moynihan is that we’re all way more interesting that we think we are and people care way more about our stories than we think they do. I see myself as boring, but the truth is I have a pretty cool job. I’m good at things other people aren’t. I have ideas and opinions to contribute. And so do you.
In fact, I think you’re fascinating. I think you have unique talents, fun hobbies, and a great story. You and I might not mesh personally, but there are people out there who think you’re the “bomb-dot-com”, or whatever the kids say these days.
So go to bed tonight remembering that you’re the coolest you there is and people want to know who you really are.
26 Jan 2013 / 3 notes
I can say, without hyperbole, that Tinariwen is one of my favorite bands. They’re part of a nomadic people called the Touareg who have lived in Saharan desert for a *long time*, moving as they pleased. When modern society grew up around them, they had trouble adapting to governments and boarders and taxes. This got to the point of civil war between the Touareg people and the government of Mali. The Touareg got crushed, ending up in exile around Africa. And this is where Tinariwen was born, in an Algerian refuge camps.
Leader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib built his first guitar out of a tin can, a stick and bicycle brake wire. He had no formal guitar training and came up with his tunings based on feel. He met other Touareg with a passion for music and they started to play. And play they did. Tinariwen’s music is *alive* in a way that I don’t know how to place. It’s full of longing, frustration and companionship that stems from decades of obsession and violence. Desert blues that inspire and celebrate that life is never something to take for granted. It became the music of an exiled people in desperate need of identity.
The best thing about Tinariwen is, incredible story or no, they still *rock*. The song here, “Imidwan Winakalin”, locks into a groove that is at once tight and loose, open like the desert sky, yet driving like the desert wind. Listen to it. Feel it. Dance to it. You may not like it, but you have to admit that there isn’t a single song on the radio right now that feels this alive.
18 Jan 2013 / 1 note
I went to Ecuador on a medical missions trip in November, and The Lord taught me a lot of things through the people we met and and the things we did. Today I want to talk about what the Lord taught me in the jungle, on the trails.
We visited four different villages during the trip. At each village we set up a mobile clinic complete with pharmacy, nurses, doctors and one very dedicated dentist. We drove into the first village and then hiked to the next three, through the jungle, with 20-30lbs of gear and medicine each. It was wild. This was no tourist hike, we were deep.
The first hike was about four hours long and kicked my ass. I joined this team knowing it would be physically demanding, but the first hike was a trial by fire. A good portion of that hike was straight up a hill. A steep hill. A steep, muddy hill that wanted us dead.
But we lived!
Don, the missionary leading our trip, said our second hike would be equally tough, but we were now well prepared for it. Don also said the next trail had never been hiked by a North American team before us, including himself. That’s right, he’d never done this hike before.
So, Wednesday morning, as we set out on our second hike, we were feeling wary but ready. It was supposed to take five hours to hike from the village of Kakataro to the village of Tapibara. Five long hours, but that’s part of the adventure, right?
The Second Hike
The first few hours weren’t too hard. We broke for lunch, laughed, ate MRE’s and then set out again to tackle the last two hours to Tapibara. We were told the rest of the hike was relatively flat, however the first 1000 yards after our lunch spot were straight up a hill. This should have been a sign to us that things weren’t as they seemed.
As we progressed into the jungle, our total hiking reached four hours and then five and then six. The trail was getting tougher, with hills, mud, rivers and logs. We were all starting to wonder, “Where is this village?”
Sidebar - Wao Time
Something you need to know about our guides is that they don’t understand time like we do. The Waodani don’t carry watches or follow a calendar. The villagers estimate how long the hike would take, but we didn’t know for sure until we hiked them. This didn’t always turn out well. By the end of the trip, it became a running (and not always funny) joke whether a predicted timeframe was in Wao time or Gringo time. Anyway…
The Second Hike Continues
At hour six, one hour past our ETA, we asked our guide, Gaba, how much further until the village. He said five hours. “Gaba, you’re going to have to go ahead and repeat that. Did you say there are five hours left?” To our relief, Don quickly dismissed that as an example of how the Waodani can’t estimate time, it was probably closer to 30 minutes. We started hiking again.
Hour six became hour seven.
Hour seven became hour eight.
We were in big trouble.
Sidebar - The Jungle
It’s a bit hard to describe hiking in the jungle. I told a teammate that my sliding scale of what is considered “the middle of nowhere” has drastically changed since that hike. Imagine hiking down a trail that is only a trail in the most vague sense. There are solid walls of green stretching over your head on either side. You could hike for days in any direction and see nothing but more jungle. It somehow manages to be alive and feral, yet eerily still at the same time.
Everything in the jungle is trying to kill you. Imagine descending a hill so steep you have to lean back to keep from falling forward. It’s covered in mud so you have to walk sideways to keep from slipping. Of course, you slip anyway and grab a tree to keep from going down the hill. Only after you grab the tree do you remember it could be covered with barbs that will break off in your hand and cause infection (we’re days from a hospital). Luckily the tree is safe… but the biting ants all over it are not and they’re now crawling down your arm. You let go to frantically brush the ants off which causes you to slide down the hill into the person in front of you. Do this for 10 hours in 100% humidity.
We waded through streams, crossed slimy log bridges, climbed hills, dodged poisonous snakes and got eaten by bugs. We were drenched, muddy and sore. This is what it was like in the jungle. A far cry from hiking through Patapsco Park, the Wednesday hike was the most physically demanding and dangerous thing I’ve ever done.
The Second Hike Concludes
By the end of the hike, it was getting dark and we were exhausted. I could barely think straight. During the last few hours, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other.
As we trudged on, our group started to spread out along the trail. Don stopped us and said that we needed to stay tight or the stragglers were in danger of getting picked off by jaguars. That’s right, he told us we might get eaten and he wasn’t kidding. We’d seen the paw prints. Big paw prints.
A few hours before hand, some of the villagers went ahead of our group because they move a lot faster without gringos trailing after them. I have a very distinct memory of stumbling along the trail, so delirious that I probably looked drunk, when the villagers that went ahead came back down the trail the other way. They had made it to the Tapibara, dropped their own gear and then come back to carry our packs for us. It was like seeing The Lord himself come down the trail surrounded by a flock of Cherubim.
Ten hours after leaving Kakataro, we stumbled into Tapibara delirious and exhausted. I collapsed into the grass and stripped my boots off my wrecked feet. Ben, our dentist, was collapsed by a hut calling for water like a wounded soldier. A few of us plunged ourselves into the Dayuno river and just soaked, piranhas be damned.
That hike had pushed me well beyond anything I was physically fit to do. I should have passed out or broken a leg. I should have gotten eaten or maimed or hopelessly lost. The weird part was, aside from being exhausted and sore, by the next day I felt pretty good. It made no sense. At least, it made no sense until I turned to scripture.
What The Lord Taught Me In The Jungle
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul recounts the Lord saying to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That was exactly how the hike went. The weaker I got, the more desperate I was, the more His power was the only thing keeping me going. I never had a burst of Superman-like strength, I only ever had enough strength to go one more step. God had work for us to do in that jungle, and the hike was a reminder that it is by his power alone that we were doing it.
That’s how it is every day. Paul says in Ephesians that God has prepared good works for us to do. We don’t do these works on our own volition, but because God made us to do them. It’s by God’s power and permission alone that we do anything for His Kingdom, big or small. Some amazing things happened in Ecuador because God gave us the money, time, desire and strength to get down there and be ready when it was time.
So would I do it again? Oh yes. It was an incredible experience being so lost in God’s creation, well past the threshold of what I could handle on my own. It reminds me of what James says in 1:2-3 — “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.” No matter what trials I go through, I will always be able to look back and remember when the Lord got me out of the jungle.
7 Jan 2013 / 3 notes
New Year’s resolutions are around the corner and guess what? I’m going to fail at them. I may stick with the resolutions for a few weeks, even a few months, but eventually I’ll taper off. It may be a cliche, the failed New Year’s resolution, but I’m hopelessly guilty. Every year I think, “If I just resolve a little harder, the habit will stick.” Nope.
I’m always going to fail because if I was actually resolved to do these things, I wouldn’t need a calendar to tell me when to start. If I was resolved to work out every day, I would already be working out. I’m not working out, so there must be a reason why.
Instead of just coming up with resolutions to fail at, I’m going to ask myself, “Why are you not already doing this?” Well, I don’t already work out because I don’t like working out. Trying to force myself to do it always ends in failure because I don’t like working out.
But I do like to kayak. And rock climb. And hike.
Instead of forcing myself to run on a treadmill and do sit-ups and hate my life, I should carve out more time to be outside. I will be more motivated to stick with it, in a way I’m not motivated to do more gym-style activities.
Some of you have the self-discipline to just do things. Most of us normal people don’t, we know it. We need to hack the system. So when you’re making resolutions this year, ask yourself, “Why am I not already doing this and what can I change to make myself more likely to do it?”
31 Dec 2012 / 6 notes
Frank Chimero in Shape of Design
29 Dec 2012 / 1 note
If you only make your art when you feel “inspired” to make your art, you’ll never get truly good at your art. Yup!
The game changer is when you realize that art is just the output of a more basic craft. The novel, the painting, the photograph; these are the art.
But this art is made by writing, painting and photography. These are crafts that required skills. You have to hone a craft, practice it, improve it.
If I force myself to take my camera and go shooting, I may get crap photos, but I’ll also get better at photography.
The better I get at my craft, the more likely it is that the artistic output will get better too.
18 Dec 2012 / 1 note
On Friday I’m leaving for a medical trip to Ecuador. We’ll be hiking 10 hours, with about 30lbs of gear and medicine each, into the Amazon jungle to set up clinics for the local Waodani tribe. We’ll sleep in hammocks, eat the local fare and sweat substantially. There is no electricity, no cell service, no running water. I will bring two pairs of clothes for the entire week and whether I get a chance to wash them will depend on how bad the piranhas are in the area. It will be a honest-to-god, Heart-of-Darkness-style adventure.
The amazing thing is the change to live the gospel. As a middle-class North American, I have no concept of what it means to be dependent on others for almost anything. But when we’re in the jungle, I will be dependent on the tribe for everything. By myself, I would survive about 14 minutes in the Amazon basin before being eaten by a panther. Next week will be a taste of how the early church lived. How many churches around the globe still live. And how I need to live every day, dependent on God. I’m not a huge fan of dependency and God knows it, so he’s graciously serving me some humble pie.
The other amazing thing is I will get to become part of the Waodani’s world for a week. We’re not galavanting down there on our White-Man Horse to save the heathen tribe. We’ve been invited, graciously, by the tribe, to live with them. It’s going to be a great reminder that there are people in the world (a lot of them) who get along fine (better, even?) without an iPhone and a data connection.
I would like very much if you could pray next week for me, the team and the people we’re visiting. We’re stoked to get out there and serve and be served, but we’re going to mess it up without your prayer. Seriously, we’re going to royally screw the pooch without your prayer. This has to be all God and none of us, or things will get ugly. Pride cometh before the fall, and all that.
Alright! I’m excited and anxious and ready to get out there. I’m ready to see the jungle, the animals, the people. I’m ready to feel totally lost and feral. I’m dragging an impractically heavy camera lens to take pictures of everything.
In the mean time though, I should probably feed the giraffe.
14 Nov 2012 / 2 notes
This is what I’m looking at right now. It’s nothing super special, just the parking lot of my office. Yet the trees are colorful and the clouds are lazing by and the breeze is blowing and it’s finally feeling like fall.
I’ve had a stressful few month preparing for Ecuador and taking on more responsibility at my job. Sometimes I’ve handled it ok but most of the time I haven’t. I’m dumb because the creator of the universe is waiting for me to ask for his help and I have, as usual, been trying to handle it myself. I’m just… so dumb.
I’m standing here over the parking lot reading Zechariah 2 where God says the he will bless Israel with such prosperity that they won’t be able to fit inside the city walls. That’s ok because he says in verse 5, “I will be a wall of fire around [Jerusalem], and I will be the glory within it.” God will always take care of his people. We just have to get over ourselves and let him.
I can’t type anymore because my fingers are getting cold, so I’m going to eat lunch. Take a moment today, go outside and tell God you’re OK with him being your wall of fire and your glory. He’s waiting.
2 Nov 2012 / 2 notes