Over the past few months I’ve done a lot of thinking about love. Maybe it’s the predisposition I have because of being born on Valentine’s Day, maybe it’s the amount of wedding’s I’ve been to this summer, or maybe it’s the relational roller coaster life had me on over the past few months—who knows.

But I remember sitting at the rehearsal dinner for one of my best friends and his dad got up to give the final words of advice and toast. After thoroughly embarrassing his son he switched gears and really spoke some wise words that you could tell had been learned over his many years of marriage. I don’t remember everything he said but there was one phrase that I held onto that I will never forget:

Love is a choice.

I had heard that statement before somewhere I’m sure. I probably believed it intellectually and understood it conceptually, but I don’t think it ever really landed in my heart the way it did that night. It could’ve been I was more primed to it because of the situations I had walked through in the previous months. It could have been he explained it in a very simple yet powerful way. I don’t think I can really put my finger on why it hit me the way it did, but it did—and it hit me hard.

Because I’m wired as a hopeless romantic it is really easy for me to get attached emotionally and get caught up in all of the overtly romantic gestures—holding hands while walking through a park a dusk, slipping notes where she will be surprised to find it, spontaneous date night decisions, etc. Not that any of these are a bad thing. All of those things are beautiful and are extremely important for any and every stage of a relationship, from dating to marriage, but if that is what your love is based on then it’s built on a lot of trivial and superficial actions.

While that sounds harsh, that’s the reality of life: it’s not always going to be spontaneous date nights and surprise flowers at work. When life happens those “feel good” emotions are the first things to evaporate, and if that’s what your relationship is built on, then your love is going to dry up really quickly and your relationship is going to suffer because of it.

That’s why choosing love is so vitally important. Choosing love goes beyond the butterflies you get when you receive an “I’m-Praying-for-You-this-Morning” text. Choosing to love says…

Regardless of what the budget allows, I’m choosing to pursue you with all I have.
Regardless of what you hold back from me, I’m choosing to fight for you.
Regardless of how far deep in depression you get, I’m choosing to build you up.
Regardless of how alienated you feel with your family, I’m choosing to make this a safe space.
Regardless of how much hurt you cause me, I’m choosing to reconcile and forgive.
Regardless of how much suffering we endure, I’m choosing to keep persevering.
Regardless of how little I can do to fix everything, I’m choosing to care in spite of my shortcomings.
Regardless of how many times I screw up, I’m choosing to humility in my weakness.
Regardless of how many bad days outweigh the good, I’m choosing joy.
Regardless of what parts of you you show me, I’m choosing to believe the best.
Regardless of what life might throw at us, I’m choosing to stand with you the whole time.
Regardless of circumstances we face, I’m choosing you.

That is what choosing love looks like. It’s more than just choosing the emotional high you get when someone else returns the feelings you have—which is great, don’t get me wrong. But love demands a choice. And in the moments where you are getting bashed up one side and down the other with temptation, frustration, negativity, or just plain “I just don’t like this person right now,” you have to make a conscious decision to choose love.

Because, in those moments, it’s not easy, but in those moments, is where you see real love.

I want to choose love.

…and I want someone to choose to love me.

I’ve been reading through Hebrews lately and there was one idea out of all of the chapters that jumped out at me this time around: faith.

While that’s not to hard to see why since there’s a whole chapter and more devoted to the topic, I got a glimpse of a new perspective and understanding this time around.

Hebrews 11 opens with the lines:

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see. (Hebrews 11:1-3, MSG)

The metaphor of vision, seeing, and experiencing really grabbed me this time. I started to think about things we see and don’t see and how that affects our belief—whether in God or in every day circumstances. I turned over and over again in my mind the idea that faith is not just verbalizing belief, it’s more than that but it was hard to really put into words what was stirring.

Until this simple phrase hit me: faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Think about that for a second. Because belief is a conscious, but passive, understanding of something. You can believe in something that is not yet. I can believe that the earth is going to rotate and the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow to start my day. I can believe that I will one day be promoted to a higher position in my company. I can believe that I will marry a beautiful woman and love her all my days on this earth. But the reality is, none of these things are able to be seen at this time. I can believe they are true, but that’s not faith.

Faith is belief put in action.

Faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

Let me be clear: faith is not blind belief. Just because you act does not mean what you believe will come true—especially when it comes to Bible. The “I Can Think It; It Will Happen” mindset has no place in Christianity. Your faith is influenced by your belief. Therefore, what you are being fed (beliefs) will influence your actions (faith).

This is why it is critically important to line up your beliefs with what Scripture teaches, and it is why the author of Hebrews goes on to give examples of what faith looks like in Chapter 11. If you look at all the “By faith…” examples in the chapter, they are followed by action. It is not, “Abraham believed in God and tried to get clarity on what exactly God was trying to say.” It was, “By faith, Abraham did this, that and the other.” Faith caused action not further introspection.

Faith always leads to action otherwise it’s just a belief.

Belief is not bad. In fact, belief is the primary starting point of faith, but the purpose of belief is to lead you to action.

The scary part of faith is that we end up acting on things that haven’t come to pass yet. We don’t know how they will turn out. We don’t know what will happen. The fear of the “not yet” can paralyze our faith. Fortunately, we have a God who “already is.” He knows how everything is going to play out, turn out, and happen in every situation. So our belief in something that is not yet can be confirmed by a God who knows it already is. No longer do we have to fear what could be because we have a God who has already seen it. He stretches our beliefs causing us to act—from passive to action. Because faith proves belief.

So, instead of just believing the sun will come up tomorrow, faith sets an alarm that will wake me up so I can go to the gym and work out so I can see the sun come up. Faith works hard every day at my job to learn everything I can, be the best at what I am doing, and invest in those who work around me to make everyone better because I know that is what it takes to get better. Faith calls girls and asks them out on dates, filters what I allow in my mind, and risks relationships by putting myself out there because people are worth it.

Because faith is believing in what is not yet but acting as though it already is.

We are an over-connected generation. Everything we do is posted somewhere for someone else to see. We have to let everyone know where we ate, what we did, who we went with, and what we saw. Not any of this is inherently bad, but we end up getting addicted to tiny dopamine bursts every time our picture, status, or idea is “liked” on any of our connected platforms.

Because of this, it has created a culture that is keenly aware of what is going on in other people’s life and how we measure up. The old adage of “keeping up with the Jones’s” is no longer fueled by the white picket fence, fancy new car, or the TV of our neighbors next door. It is now fueled by the images that appear on our Instagram feeds, status updates that line our Facebook timeline, tweets that we swipe past constantly on Twitter, and pins that perfectly capture our dreams on a Pinterest board.

We have subconsciously began to compare our lives to the curated lives of those we call “friends.” Which has given rise to us always feeling like have to be part the “next big thing.” We look at all the fun things people do, the latest gadgets people buy, and the newest fashion lines and we don’t want to miss out on any of it.

So we begin to fill our plates with more and more. We sign up for more classes at school, take on more projects at work, max out another credit card, and add a new significant other into the mix. We keep adding until we feel like we have satisfied this hole in our soul.

Until life happens.

Maybe it’s a divorce. Maybe it’s a lost job. Maybe it’s death in the family. Maybe it’s a marriage. Maybe it’s a move. Maybe it’s a baby. Whatever it is, “it” happens. Something that we didn’t account for happens. The random unknown.

It’s during those moments we feel begin to feel the weight of everything we carry—our family, our job, our relationships, our faith, our future—all at once. It all seems overwhelming, because it is. We’ve built our lives like a house of cards and created a balancing act that only needs one unexpected circumstance to blow and cause it all to fall around us. We’ve meticulously crafted our life to turn out the way we envisioned that we forget to leave room for the unexpected.

In the wake of those moments, many of us have a “come-to-Jesus” meeting with ourselves, pull out the pen and paper, and begin to prioritize our lives. We rank what is most important in our lives based on what we think we should devote our time and energy to.

But that rarely solves any of our problems. In fact, it just makes us more keenly aware of how much we have going on that we continually juggle. Assigning an arbitrary ranking based on importance does nothing but focus us more and more that there is a problem we have.

There is too much vying for our attention; we must cut something. We must say “no.”

Unfortunately, “no” is not fun. It holds us accountable. It makes us disciplined. It makes us feel left out. It makes us want so badly.

But, if we want to break out of this toxic pace we have succumb to that sacrifices our emotional, relational, spiritual, and physical health on the altar of social comparison and micromanaged control, then we have to free up room on our plates for the things we cannot see coming. Because if we are constantly getting knocked down by the random unknown then we aren’t thriving; we’re surviving.

And you can only rebuild your house of cards so many times before you realize that surviving was not the way we were meant to live.

Unfortunately, it takes the random unknown to make me aware of that; I just hope I’m not salvaging the wrong “priorities” next time.

I’m not sure I ever went through the “Pirate Phase” as a kid. I was much more caught up in sci-fi of Star Wars and the future of space. However, I have seen all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and recently played one of my favorite video game franchises that centered around the world of pirates. So picking up a book to read on vacation about pirates wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities, but it was definitely wasn’t what you would normally guess I’d be reading while on the beach for a week.

To be honest, I was surprised by The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down. I had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading it, and I had stumbled upon the author, Colin Woodard, via an article he had written online based on a more recent book of his (which is also on my reading list), American Nations.

Woodard went through much painstaking research to track down and compile all the primary sources for this work. He looked through everything from ship log books to newspaper clippings to personal journals and the wildly popular A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. Woodard masterfully weaves together stories from history into a full picture of what was going on in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy (1715-1725). He focuses on a handful of well-known pirates (Sam Bellamy, Benjamin Hornigold, Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, and Charles Vane) and the one man who was initially responsible for disbanding this band of outlaws (Woodes Rogers).

The stories cover everything from pirating adventures up and down the East Coast during the early 1700s to the establishment of Nassau as the headquarters for pirate activity in the Caribbean to the socioeconomic reasons why many men chose to be pirates. I was surprised to learn that many pirates were not outlaws from the beginning but were privateers turned pirates because of peace. Many also defended piracy with political convictions as well. Pirates were complex case studies in how greed and revenge vied for dominance in an ecosystem built on freedom and democracy.

However, this book reads less like a novel and more like a history. It can be difficult to follow in some places based on geographic location or naval descriptions, but overall, it is a captivating read. Hollywood has grossly over-romanticized the idea of pirates today and perpetuated the legends of many of its heroes but not without good reason. The story Woodard tells does show that some of these pirates were larger than life characters during their lifetimes terrorizing merchant and navies alike but does not shy away from the atrocities they committed as well. A well-balanced look at the piracy of the times and eventually how they were brought to their knees.

Overall, The Republic of Pirates was an entertaining beach read especially with my view staring off into the waters of the Atlantic imagining The Queen Anne’s Revenge sailing past on the horizon.

I’ve been a fan of Pixar from the beginning. Toy Story had me hooked and since then I’ve been a raving fan. Their movies have found a special place in my heart, and their team has crafted some of my favorite stories and characters on film. I’ve learned more about their culture and process through articles, documentaries, and books. I’ve read some about John Lasseter and Steve Jobs but never heard too much about the third member of the Pixar triumvirate: Ed Catmull. That was until I was looking through Amazon and creating a wish list and stumbled upon Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration written by Ed Catmull.

Creativity, Inc. reads partly like the autobiography of Ed Catmull and Pixar and partly as a creative business management challenge. Catmull explains that in order to fully understand his job as President at Pixar and Disney Animation you first have to understand a little bit of the background of how Pixar became Pixar. He shares his story, beginning before Pixar, from college to Industrial Light & Magic at Lucasfilm to Steve Jobs acquisition of Pixar and eventual sale to Disney. Through the years Catmull has realized his job has become increasingly simpler: to create a fertile environment for people to do their best work, keep it healthy, and watch for things that undermine it. With this filter, it is very easy to find the practical application for creative business management throughout the book. Catmull does so by seemingly pulling back the curtain at Pixar by sharing practices and rules that help safeguard the culture they value. He explains the emphasis they put on candor in meetings, the value they place on feedback, the importance of everyone feeling they have the authority to improve their projects, and the trust they have in each member on their team. The countless stories he shares of success and failure at Pixar and Disney Animation are the perfect vehicle to deliver fundamental ideological concepts and practical application in an easily digestible way.

I found myself highlighting more passages than normal in this book. Over 190 passages were highlighted by the time I finished, and these weren’t just sentences but whole paragraphs and sections. Catmull dropped so many nuggets and insights that I eagerly shook my head in agreement with. Because, as someone who is a creative but not an artist, I have had an increasing desire to lead creatives one day. To be able to read the thoughts and lessons from someone who has successfully done that for the better part of three decades really inspired me to lead differently when given the opportunity.

I believe Creativity, Inc. should be required reading for anyone in leadership of a creative organization or team. It will challenge the way you lead your team through failure, encourage you to value candor, and allow you permission to take risks. And if nothing else, you get a glimpse inside the mind of one of the world’s most underrated creative geniuses.

Start with Why changed the way I thought about leadership and business. I was bought in from the first time I heard Simon Sinek talk about the concept. Naturally, when I learned he was writing another book I was eager to get my hands on it. I was also privileged to hear him speak from the content of his book at Leadercast this year. His talk only spurred me on to get his book and after the event I picked up a copy of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Other’s Don’t.

The title is inspired by the way the Marines eat their meals. They line up in rank order: from the junior Marines all the way to the most senior officers. The junior Marines eat first and the most senior officers last—when they are in barracks and in the field. Sinek uses this example in his argument that in times of trouble it is (or at least should be) the natural instinct for the leader to sacrifice himself for his team. Unfortunately, the many of the bosses in management today have been educated in a culture that rewards those who look out for themselves rather than others. Sinek argues that the most successful bosses and companies exercise a concept called the Circle of Safety—a place where people feel like the those they work with will protect them regardless of the situation. He suggests that this idea is hardwired within humanity and that the chemical processes in our biological wiring reenforce this concept. However, the past decades have seen CEOs, bosses, and managers only extend the Circle of Safety to immediate employees, managers, or executives. He uses examples like Jack Welch who, when he was CEO at GE, would cut upwards of 25% of the bottom level employees every year to balance the bottom line. No wonder, Sinek argues, people are always on-edge and looking for another job opportunity; it’s because they don’t feel safe and for a good reason!

At the heart of Sinek’s argument is the belief that leaders should be on the lookout for their employees. It goes further than just emotional intelligence although that is a start. In order for people to feel like they are safe it starts with the leaders extending a circle of safety around all of those they lead in good time and bad. Sinek gives inspiring examples of CEOs who choose to save the people over the numbers, groups of employees who band together during pay cuts to help out their fellow employee, and a pilot who gave ground support and saved Marines on the ground that show leaders can put others ahead of themselves and come out on top.

With simplicity and clarity that on Simon Sinek can bring, Leaders Eat Last is a common-sense manifesto that challenges leaders to look out for someone other than their own interest. Because when you the leader eats last, those you lead end up feeling safer and, because they feel safe, they become more loyal to you and their work. When you put people before the numbers, everyone wins.

I recently downloaded Sleeping At Last‘s Yearbook album off Noisetrade. While I had vaguely heard of his music before this was the first album I downloaded and listened through, and, I have to say, I am a fan.

As with any album, I really put a value on the lyrics rather than just the music. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have a catchy melody but as a writer I place a high value on artistically crafted words that communicate emotion and touch the heart. As I was listening to Yearbook, I was struck by many of the words that were being sung. But there was one song in particular that stuck in my head, 101010. The chorus seemed to be on repeat in my head and I found myself humming the words even when I wasn’t listening the song:

’cause grey is not a compromise -
It is the bridge between two sides.
The shores on which our stubborn land
And restless seas collide.
Grey is not just middle ground,
It is a truce that waits to be signed.
I would even argue that, from where we stand,
It most represents the color of God’s eyes.

These words really grabbed ahold of me. I did a little looking and stumbled upon a blog post written by Sleeping At Last about the origin of this song and what some of the meaning behind it. While the story is a beautiful one full of sobering truth and emotion, the beauty of art is that you can find yourself amidst the words in a way the writer could not have foreseen.

I was pondering the words and was drawn to the idea that much of what we believe is focused on a “this or that” a kind of rigid dualistic thinking. There is what I believe is right and what I believe is wrong. There is clear line in the sand that is drawn and, if people can’t see this clear line and don’t side with my perspective, they are obviously wrong. As the song subtly implies, the extremes are clearly defined: black and white.

I understand why we think this way: it’s easy. It’s easy for our brains to comprehend when there are only two choices. It makes things simpler to understand and easier to grasp. The “this or that” mentality makes sense. Sure, there are moments where it’s easy to draw the line, prove your point, or choose a side, but unfortunately life isn’t always that clearly cut or that simple. It’s more complex than that. The extremes of black and white are just that, extremes.

If you’ve ever studied Statistics, you are familiar with the idea of a bell curve. Of all the possible data points the outliers make up the extremes while the majority (+/- 96%) usually fall within two standard deviations of the middle. Your understanding of the outcome may exist in the outliers but your data may prove another conclusion. In those instances, does it make sense to still hold tightly onto your conclusions just because there was some evidence supporting your understanding? Or do the findings support the fact that you might need to take into consideration new data and information that may move what you believe more towards the middle?

Now, move this out of the realm of hypothetical, statistical theory and into real life for a minute.

What if your view on [fill in the blank with your favorite controversial issue] is leaning towards the outliers? Chances are you can identify those on the other end as well and you probably end up engaging in fights with them via your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed more often than not. But, what if we looked at our beliefs through the bell curve analogy and recognized that most of the disagreements are actually taking place on the outliers of these issues? That means the majority of people actually exists somewhere between the extremes—black and white—somewhere in the grey. Would that change the way we interact with people?

Better yet, should that change the way we interact with people?

I love the final two lines of 101010 because I think it is a beautiful picture of how we should look at God when he sees us. He sees all of us as we are: the good and the bad. He sees the incredible things we’ve done that overjoy His heart, and He sees the horrible things we’ve done to break his heart. He doesn’t blanket condemnation because of your choice right now, nor does He blindly offer grace because of what you haven’t done. He loves us wherever we are at on the continuum—black, white, or whatever shade of grey—and wants all of us to be drawn to Him.

What if we did the same? What if we stopped trying to sort people into camps, deconstructing the opposition’s argument, and focusing on the outliers? Because the reality is we are probably not going to change the way the extreme opposition thinks by lobbing logical, theological, or political grenades. What if, instead, we began to look at the world through the eyes of those caught in the middle of these minority wars and those who have to deal with the fallout? If we did, would that change the way we engaged with others? Would it change the way we love others? Would it change the way we see the world? Because, if you think about it, God doesn’t even see the way the world the way we do.

We like things to make sense and be simple—often at the expense of others. However, God does not need that simplicity because He already understands it all. And because His ways are more complex than our ways, I have to wonder if our black and whites are just shades of grey to Him.


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