Memories and Onions

A few days ago, my mom gave me a large stack of papers.  She had been cleaning out some closets in the house and came across a variety things from my past.  Things like report cards, notes, artwork, stories and other stuff like that.  I brought it home and spent some time soaking in my past and reviewing who I was and who I am now.  It was a pretty revealing time for me.

Something that I’ve realized as I grow older is that my memory sucks.  I remember some random, weird details about my past, but there are a lot of blank and fuzzy spaces left to be explored.  I tend to focus on the here and now, forgetting that I was once a little boy who was learning about life, navigating heartbreak, absorbing harassment from bullies and attempting to avoid the pain of my parent’s divorce.  I forget that the concrete pad and basketball hoop in my driveway acted as a safe counselor, providing a consistent outlet to release my emotions and imagine a successful future.  I forget about the great times spent with friends, the loving sacrifices of my single mom and my enthusiastic, always-cheering dad at basketball games.  I need to be intentional about remembering stuff like this because these experiences have added to the story of who I am.

To put it simply, I’m like an onion.  Onions are a common metaphor used for illustrating the complexity of our personalities and rightly so!  As you look at an onion, you basically just see the outer skin and it’s round shape.  Once you peel back the skin and slice it in half, you notice the many layers hidden inside.  Piece by piece, you can peel that vegetable down, eventually revealing it’s core.  My memory works like that.  I operate as a whole onion most of the time, forgetting that I have layers and depth and experiences that have molded me into the “onion” that I am!  It’s beautiful really.

Sure, not all of the layers hold awesome memories…in fact, some of them are quite depressing.  I found crappy report cards with “needs improvement” plastered all over them and “I’ll be sure to tell Ryan not to pick on Paul anymore” notes from school administrators…I also found drawings and cards negatively written by a sad, angry boy…..me.

There were many positive things too, like encouraging letters from my mom and redeeming “Paul is making great improvements” notes from teachers and other things that represented my growth and ability to change.  Man, God sure had His wide, heavy, protective, loving hands on my life.  He still does.  I’m Grateful for that.

We all have a story friends.  We all have fond memories mixed with not-so-fond memories.  We all are human, imperfectly stumbling our way through life, doing our best.  Let’s not be so hard on ourselves, on our past lives, on our times of “falling short.”

There’s something to be said for facing our own selves head on.  To frame the picture of our lives and proudly display it for all to see.  We are each a unique painting, colors creatively, chaotically, yet purposefully splatted on a canvas.  We’re not meant to be hidden or subdued or ashamedly slid under the bed….we’re meant to shine, mixing our colors with those around us.  I need to work on this more.

You see, I believe many of the memories that I’ve forgotten have been intentionally buried deep to avoid pain, not lost forever…maybe they’re resting on God’s lap…or sitting in a jar on His nightstand and He’s sitting there with a big fatherly smile, handing them back to me as He knows I can handle them….as He knows others can handle them….yeah, I’ll go with that.

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

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How My Haircut Changed My Life

confidence-activities-superman1-optGrowing up, I was really insecure.  When I say insecure, I mean insecure….like really scared about what other people thought….actually I was just really scared of people in general.  People knew I wasn’t confident and they used it against me in the form of bullying.  It sucked.

Eventually, the bullying went away around my junior high years as I got bigger and stronger.  Unfortunately, the lack of confidence held on like potent garlic breath…..I just couldn’t shake it…..until one simple, yet profound thing happened around the age of 16.

I GOT MY NEW HAIRCUT!!!

You see, I had a bowl cut.  It was pretty long up top, shaved on the sides and I had a butt crack part right down the center.  Me and my bowl cut had a relationship for many years….but it had to end.

So one fateful, yet victorious day, I went to Great Clips and got a “George Clooney Caesar Cut” as they called it.  You know, a “normal” haircut.  Shorter, tight, faded and dead sexy.  Oh yes.

This was a big step for me and believe it or not, this haircut changed my life.  Sounds dramatic, but it’s true.  I was suddenly “normal” and I felt confident.  I began making new friends, walking around the school halls with my chest puffed with teenage pride!  I had hit my stride.

Although this was great news for my confidence and social life, I look back and become a little sad.

It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t have been more comfortable with myself before this new change.  I always tried so hard to fit in, to blend with the crowd, to be just like everybody else.  Being different seemed too risky…..it got me nowhere when I was younger…it just led to me getting picked on all the time.  So I clung to my new caesar-cut-life-raft as it saved me from the grips of individuality.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with gaining confidence.  We’ve all had pivotal times in our lives where we’ve changed for the better.  It’s just that, for me, I know where my heart was before I began to grow.  I remember being nauseous as I looked at myself in the mirror.  I remember feeling scared of someone else throwing gum in my hair or knocking me into the sticker bushes.  I remember wearing cover-up on my zits because I was too ashamed to just be a teenager with acne.  I remember a lot of the shallow worries that I struggled with growing up.  Sometimes, it seems like a waste of a lot of years.  Really though, it’s just another part of my story….one that I’m grateful for.

Although the back-story is a little negative, God completely used my confidence as a tool to mold me.  As I grew up, I developed my faith in Jesus.  I entered college where I grew in so many ways and made so many more great friends.  I entered the workforce and learned how to face the daily grind.  I met the woman of my dreams and have been blessed with 2 beautiful sons.  He has guided and provided.

God has a beautiful way of taking even the lowest of times and creating beauty from them.  We’re all who we are today because of where we’ve been.  For me, God used my haircut as lighter fluid to get me heading in the direction that He desired for me.  The cool part is that He didn’t let me forget where I came from and the obstacles that I faced before life started coming together.  Awesome.

So, BE YOU and rediscover your own “haircut moment.”  When you do, don’t forget the journey that guided you there.  God has a funny way of turning the simplest of things into the most profound, earth-shattering revelations.  I pray that you would find your own quirky revelation.  One that’s unique to YOUR story!

God Bless,

Paul

 

 

 

My Talk With The Gas Station Guy

imageHave you ever had one of those unexpected conversations that leave you breathless?  Maybe touched?  Maybe sad?

I’ve had a few of them and the most recent occurred about a couple of weeks ago.

I was at the gas station, filling up before work that day.  The attendant was a familiar face and we have often chatted about guy stuff like trucks and wheels and other pass-the-time stuff.  Nothing too deep.

He seemed as though he was getting thinner over the last couple of years…..my judgment led me to think it was probably drugs or something….OH HOW EASY IT IS TO JUDGE PEOPLE THAT WE DON’T EVEN KNOW!

Come to find out, he’s been battling some form of kidney disease and it’s led to him losing like 150 lbs. in the last year or two.  He explained that it just kind of happened, that a lot of blood has been drawn and that they’re still trying to figure things out.  He said it would kill him eventually.  To twist my heart even more, he added that he’s ready to die, to go home to heaven.  When I asked “why,” he mentioned that his 2 year old daughter died in his arms about 30 years ago….she was involved in a horrible car accident.  He missed her very much and he wanted to hold his daughter again.  Man, what do you say to someone……there’s really nothing magical to offer during those moments.  The only things that I could provide were 2 listening ears and prayers to a God who is bigger than even this traumatic, horrible story.

I left the gas station with a heavy heart for this guy, for his daughter and for his family…..

God sometimes uses other’s tragedies to speak to us, doesn’t He?!   Like a wake-up call, we’re suddenly jolted from our own selfish worry-filled lives and our perspective tightens and focuses on very real, important things…..such as life, death, health, family, priorities, faith, etc.  In this case, I was reminded that our human bodies are so stinking fragile!  My friend’s condition could happen to any of us.  We’re not invincible and that’s humbling.

Another important lesson pushed it’s way to the surface….being emotionally present and available for other people is SO imperative to being a human being!  Even if that desperate, hurting person is a stranger or acquaintance or somebody of “lower status.”  It doesn’t matter.  God has called us to be loving, to place other’s needs before our own.  To listen.

Being present and available doesn’t mean that we need all the answers or solutions.  We just need to truly sympathize, that’s it!  We need to let our hearts break for others, even if it’s uncomfortable.  God takes care of the rest.  He has a way of radiating love through us…..we just need to be there.  To be open.

There are folks hurting all around us.  It’s easy to miss God’s open doors to be  an encouragement or a shoulder to cry on.  Please join me in seeking those moments and opportunities….to being open to them.  I’m slowly discovering that this is what being alive is truly about.

God Bless,

Paul

 

Why Our Stories Matter

magic open book of fantasy stories

I’m 35 years old and I’ve often wondered, “how in the world have I survived this long?”  Really, it’s a small miracle.

From my clumsy years as a child, to multiple crashes in cars and on bikes, to numerous jumps off bridges and cliffs, to many nights of partying and being stupid, to many crappy decisions…..God has held me in His hands for some reason.  Don’t ask me why….but He has.

Maybe God’s up to something in my life….maybe He has a plan for me…..maybe my story matters!

Over the years, I have made a horrible habit of minimizing myself…..I have placed the label of “normal” and “insignificant” and “ordinary” smack dab on my forehead.  I have assumed that my journey is as insignificant as a small feather, drifting in the ocean.

THIS MINDSET IS SELF-DEFEATING, TOXIC AND SOOOOOO WRONG!

The truth is, our stories hold power.  Every single experience has crafted you and me into the beautiful creations that we are!  These experiences, whether good or bad, can add encouragement and wisdom and flavor to the lives around us…..they might even alter somebody’s path completely!

In a big, big world, it can be tempting to forget that we were created by a big, big God who has big, big plans for each of us.

Slowly and deliberately, I’m discovering that I AM significant.  That even MY story matters.  The process has been pretty messy though and that’s ok!  I wouldn’t be Paul without gathering a few cool scars along the way.

Truly, I’ve had to adjust my perspective a lot.  I’m learning to look at the past, present and future through eternal eyes, trusting that God knows what He’s doing…..it’s really the only thing that makes sense to me…but man, it’s really hard to do sometimes.

Here’s the thing…Jesus loves you and He loves me.  He wants to fill each and every one of us with His joy and peace and perspective.  He wants to mold us, bend us and break us so that he can USE us for His awesome purposes.  That’s why we’re here!

You and I grow so differently which is why we each hold such beautiful, unique stories.

Maybe, just maybe, your story has a purpose.  The rough experiences and decisions from your past have no hold on your future……they only add to the depth of who you are…..if you are open.

Please, please, please, don’t hide who you are or mask where you’ve been.  Let your light shine!  Right now, this very second, you are breathing because of the grace of God.  He’s not finished with you yet.

God Bless,

Paul