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.

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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.

Saying goodbye is never easy, but it’s always inevitable.

You graduate from high school and the majority of the people sitting around you will never speak to you again as you pursue the next step in accomplishing your dreams. You spend four years (or more) at college building relationships quickly only to see many of them move on once you’re handed a diploma. The ones you hang onto are the ones you consistently make a conscious effort to keep up with, otherwise friends just seem to fade away as the years go on. Then you start connecting with a new group of people: those entering the working world for the first time and beginning their careers—the young professionals. You start building friendships based on common experiences, similarities of lifestyles, and dreams of the future. But this stage also sees people moving on from it albeit at different points in time. People move across time or the country for new job opportunities, end up going back to school, or get married. And, before you know it, you’re looking starting the process again. It seems like a cycle that just keeps repeating itself over and over again throughout any stage of life—having babies, parenting children, getting promotions, raising grandchildren, reaching retirement, etc.

Make the investment. Enjoy the time you have. Move on.

Make the investment. Enjoy the time you have. Move on.

For someone who is introverted yet highly relational, this is an exhausting process for me. This is one reason I believe making new friends is such a difficult task for me. I have a hard time letting go of people because I’ve given so much of my time, my energy, and myself to the people I care about that it makes it difficult to move on. Although I don’t always show it well, I care deeply about the friendships I’ve made and the relationships I’ve built. Letting them go means letting part of myself go too.

You might have read that I’ve had a lot of really close friends get married recently, and I think this is where most of this “fear of moving on” is started. These guys I’ve been friends with anywhere from 3-15 years are walking into a season of life that I can no longer be part of because life changes when you’re a newlywed. You focus more time on growing your marriage and crafting a life the two of you will live together—and rightly so! Gone are the bachelor days where you can go to dinner spontaneously after work, make plans for weekend get aways just for the guys, or commiserate and console each other about the latest relationship problems. Who wants to spend time with a bunch of single people who are dealing with different issues and hurdles than a young married couple? I’m not saying it can’t be done, but when you move onto a different season of life it’s hard to stay connected to those who aren’t there yet.

So when someone moves on to a new season of life there are a mix of joy and pain. I’m ecstatic for the new adventures that lay ahead but I’m sad to see what we had change. I know change is the only thing you can bet on in life, but that doesn’t make it any easier. I think there’s something in all of us that wants things to stay the same and never change, and I think there is a fear attached to moving on that wants us to stay there. We don’t want to lose what we had because it’s familiar. We don’t want to lose the way things were because we were comfortable. We don’t want to lose the people because we shared memories.

We’re afraid of the future because we’re afraid it will change the past. We’re afraid of letting people go because we’re afraid they won’t come back around. We’re afraid of moving because we’re afraid it will diminish what we experienced. I don’t know about you, but that’s what goes through my mind.

Maybe I’m just afraid that I won’t find what they’ve found.

Maybe I’m just afraid that I can’t follow where they’re going right now.

Maybe I’m just afraid of being left behind.

Maybe I’m just afraid of moving on without them.

Or maybe it’s just all of that wrapped up together into one complex emotional knot in my stomach that I just have to learn to deal with in my own way. Because the reality is change isn’t going to stop. We all have to learn how to deal with it in our own way because, whether we like it or not, the cycle will continue to repeat over and over again.

That doesn’t mean I’m throwing all my relationships to the wind because everyone is bound to move on. I’m just hoping the next time the cycle begins I’ll be more prepared and willing to accept the moving on.

I have been a fan of Mark Driscoll for years now. While there are times I do not always like or appreciate his approach, there are other times where his pointed words are prophetic in my life and the Holy Spirit has used them to spur me on to a deeper love and understanding of him. Over the years I have heard his tone shift and distinctly remember a sermon in which he stated he wants to move from an angry prophet voice to a caring fatherly voice. This review is not a defense of Driscoll or his past, but A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity Have a Funeral or a Future? could potentially be the turning point for his future.

Driscoll begins by tracing the path to how Christianity got to where it is today in America and how the decline has left Christians disoriented and confused and set up for a knockout punch is we are not willing and able to engage with culture in a different way than before. He then explores the tribalism of Christianity that has splintered people into so many groups and subgroups. Based on how you answer some of the major theological issues can subdivide and divide group from group—going to show that one of the biggest dangers for the future of Christianity is not necessarily outside pressure by internal conflict. Because of this he goes on to suggest ways that differing groups can still disagree on open-handed issues but work together to advance the Gospel. Integral in the spread of the Gospel, Driscoll contends, is the Holy Spirit. But, in order for Christians to be united in the Holy Spirit we must first be united about who the Holy Spirit is. And when the Spirit is present repentance follows, not just admitting we we wrong but true heartfelt change. It’s in these moments that we begin to look different than culture. He closes by looking at seven different areas Christians can focus on in and where they are at to begin a resurgence—all of which are practical steps to begin but are not meant to silver bullets.

With candor and humor Driscoll is known for in his communication, he sets for a very plain case that Christianity in the West as we know it is at a crossroads. For too long we have operated with the mentality that we are the majority when, in fact, we are the minority. If we continue to operate under that assumption then Christianity will cease to have the influence at large we believe it has today. This does not mean it is the end of Christianity in America by any means; Driscoll is trying to wave the flag and alert as many people as possible to the future before it is too late.

You might not like what Mark Driscoll says, how he says it or to whom he says it, but one thing is for sure, you cannot ignore the issues he is bringing to light. Christianity is losing its perceived hold in the America of today and unless a new generation of Christians is humbled to repent, resolved to engage, and determined to redeem then we are looking at the rise of a post-Christian America sooner rather than later.

I had the honor and privilege of being a groomsman in three weddings of my best friends over the past six weeks. For an introvert like me, it has taken a lot of emotional fortitude to run the wedding marathon over the past couple months, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The opportunity to stand beside three of the closest friends I’ve had across so many seasons of my life is an honor I will always cherish deeply.

But as someone who is naturally bent to analyze situations and people, I found myself more than once looking at each wedding asking the question, “What am I taking away from this?” For most people, this is the last thing on their mind. They’re there to celebrate, party, dance, and have fun (more on that in a minute), which is absolutely the point of a wedding. But, for some reason still unbeknownst to me, God wired me in a way that always takes a step back to look at the big picture and ask “What can I learn from this?” And as I reflected over these past couple months I learned so much from each couple from planning bachelor parties to rehearsal directions to photographer shot lists to proper wedding attire. But the more I thought about each event the more very specific things came to mind that left lasting impressions about their beautiful days.

1. Celebrate, Enjoy, and Dance (Alex and Lindsay Allison)

A wedding is supposed to be a joyful celebration of two people choosing to love each other for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the perfect day the Bride has dreamed of for years and years and years might not always turn out the way she dreamt it would. There are so many variables that take months of planning, and even when the day arrives there are things you can’t predict or control. Whether it be the weather, family feuds, or unexpected hiccups in the ceremony, there are a lot of things that have to happen for it all the be deemed a “success.” But, the reality is, once the formality of the ceremony is done, the “I Do”‘s are said, and the processional has ended, you better bet there will be celebrating going on. All the months of work have paid off and now it’s time to let loose and have fun… and maybe even dance.

Alex and Lindsay personified celebrate, enjoy, and dance, and it’s beautiful because it just fits their personalities so perfectly. You wouldn’t expect anything less from two individuals who have never met a stranger in their entire life. Their night was less about them and more about the party. That meant phenomenal food, a fantastic outdoor atmosphere, and a crowded dance floor. Even if you’re not one for dancing, there’s something about dragging people on to a dance floor to make a fool of themselves that just puts a smile on everyone’s face. And to see the Bride and Groom laughing and smiling as they were surrounded by people enjoying the evening was a picturesque moment of inviting others into a moment to share.

Thank you, Alex and Lindsay, for inviting me to celebrate, enjoy… and dance.

2. Jesus-Filled, not God-Centered (Kyle and Lindsay Wilson)

I have to begin with a disclaimer: all of the weddings I attended were very intentionally focused on Jesus. Each one had very specific yet unique elements that pointed to both the Bride and Groom’s faith and how important it is in their marriage moving forward. However, I knew Kyle and Lindsay the best (as a couple) and have personally seen how each put Jesus first in everything. Of course, when you do that on your own, it naturally spills out into your relationship. But one thing I saw differently in Kyle and Lindsay was that God was not the center of their relationship. Jesus filled their relationship. The difference is focus. When something is the center everything else revolves around it; when it’s filled everything can’t help but touch it. The reality is our relationship with Jesus is not supposed to be the center in which everything in our life spins around on an axis. It is supposed to be the substance that touches each and every area of our life so that no matter who you interact with some little bit of Jesus rubs off on them.

Kyle and Lindsay are a perfect example of how keeping a Jesus-filled relationship blossoms into a Jesus-filled marriage that touches everyone they come in contact with no matter the situation. If you ever have the pleasure of meeting them, you would see this. The way they both care about each other, the people they surround themselves with, and the way they love others so well is such a beautiful picture of what it looks like to have Jesus touch every area of your life.

Thank you, Kyle and Lindsay, for displaying a Jesus-filled relationship so well to me.

3. Honor Those Who Helped You Get There (Ryan and Morgan O’Dell)

A wedding is a culmination of sorts. You spend years of your life trying to figure out how to do relationships. From those awkward middle school crushes to the confusing college relationships, there are people who have walked alongside you during the good times and the bad. They have sat on the couch and ate tubs of ice cream, and they have congratulated you on working up the courage to ask her out. Others have listened for hours on the phone talk about the same subjects over and over again; while others have given tough love and advice that is sometime too hard to hear. Regardless, there are people who have walked alongside who have seen us grow, mature, make mistakes, get hurt, get back up, and move on. Without them, we end up staggering around wounded, hurt, and dejected. But when we cross the threshold and look towards the future with the person who compliments us, it is a shame not to look back and appreciate the people who invested in and loved us to that point.

Ryan and Morgan honored their friends and family so well. Both chose their siblings Maid of Honor and Best Man. The people who have known them the longest stood in a place of honor the whole day. They also chose friends that had been influential in their lives from across seasons. Some were friends from high school and others friends from college. Some had known them for over a decade, others less than four years. But, regardless of the amount of time, the honor they showed to their wedding party spoke louder than words because they chose people who made an impact on their life to stand with them in one of the most important moments in theirs.

Thank you, Ryan and Morgan, for honoring me and allowing me the privilege to stand with you.

I know there are a hundred more things I learned from each wedding, but these three things stuck out because they seemed to encapsulate each couple’s relationship and give a trajectory for their marriage to come. They were the three things I was inspired by and challenged to live up to as I continue my journey towards marriage.

So that one day, my wedding would somehow be as big of a celebration as Alex and Lindsay’s, my marriage as Jesus-filled as Kyle and Lindsay’s, and my platform used to honor those that helped get me there as much as Ryan and Morgan.

If I can follow the lead set by my friends who have gone before me and I do half as well as them, I think I’ll be doing alright.

To be completely transparent, I have never felt more insecure than I feel in this season of life: that awkward 20-somethings-single-guy-just-out-of-college-but-living-at-home-with-a-full-time-job stage. I’m not sure everyone goes through that stage, but it can definitely feel lonely more often than not. And, in a world that is increasingly more and more connected by social media, those insecurities seem to compound exponentially.

Having just come off being in three weddings in six weeks, maybe it makes me more sensitive to this stage, but any glimpse on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter reveals another high school or college friend getting engaged or tying the knot. The progression of significant others turning into fiancees turning into newlyweds turning into parents seems to be happening at a rapid pace.

And if I’m being honest: it stings.

Don’t get me wrong, I am elated for my friends who I have had the honor and privilege of standing up and supporting these last few weeks; I wouldn’t trade any of those opportunities for the world. Each wedding has been a beautiful picture of the love and grace Jesus has shown in their lives, mine, and so many others. It has been a joy to stand alongside some of my closest friends as a groomsman and celebrate their new adventure beginning.

But there is a longing that stirs in each and every one of those moments. A longing for something you don’t have. It’s not jealousy. It’s not envy. It’s a deep-seated desire to have what they have: someone to love, hold, cherish, and adore. A connection that is unexplainable no matter how many different ways you try to explain it. A friendship that knows no bounds no matter how far you continue to mine away. A trust that says “No matter what happens moving forward, I’m not leaving.” A respect that values the other person above and beyond your own needs, wants, or desires. A love that is more than just emotion but a conscious choice.

And I haven’t found that yet.

But I don’t want your pity. I don’t want your witty sayings. I don’t want the pep-talk. I’ve had enough of those things in my life that I can show pity to myself, comeback with best one-liners, and psych myself up to get out of a funk.

I just want to speak. I just want to release. I just want to give a voice to these feelings that are swirling somewhere deep in my soul. Not for you to feel sorry for me, but maybe for you to say “Yeah, I get that. Me too.” Because I’ve learned over the short time I’ve been alive that in order to begin the healing process you have to let go. For some like me, that means writing out words to give others the opportunity to read. It’s the beginning stages of coming to terms with your feelings and emotions. It’s the only way you can heal and move on.

Because maybe, just maybe, there is someone else out there who is feeling the same things but struggling to put words it. And if some strangely poetic way, my voice can give you a voice, then it starts both of us down a road of restoration.

And until those insecurities find a safe place, that longing will continue.

Which isn’t a bad thing.

It just means I’m a work in progress.

As a freelance designer I look at the end of the month with a love/hate relationship.

Love because I get to send out invoices in order to get paid.

Hate because I have to send out invoices in order to get paid.

The nature of my work and agreements I have with my clients allows me to do all invoicing at one time, so the end of the month can be daunting when you are counting up hours, figuring out the cost of projects, and sending out emails to clients. It’s a lot of work to do at the end of every month and I try to avoid it as long as possible most months. It’s necessary, but that doesn’t make it fun.

What is fun, I have found, is tracking my finances. I’ve kept a spreadsheet for 4 years of all my earnings broken up by month and client. So at any point I can glance and see how much I’ve made at any given point from any given client. It allows me to look at trends (i.e. I made more money during the summer while I was in school because I had more hours I could work) and forecast projections for next year. For not being a “numbers guy,” I actually find these numbers extremely fascinating and get lost in them every month.

The more I look at them over time, the more I see a bigger trend: generosity.

Before you take that as a humble brag, I want to explain what I mean.

I see all my finances as an act of stewardship. Yes, I work hard for my money; yes, I like to spend it on things I love to do. But, in the end, it’s not mine. I view it as a gift from God. He didn’t have to give me the skills to work with the clients I work with, but He did. He didn’t have to equip me with the ability to create and design, but He did. He doesn’t have to reward me with paying clients who are a joy to work with, but He does.

What I do and what I have been given are unbelievably unequal. I have been blessed with more than I deserve—it’s called grace. The most simple definition of grace is getting what you don’t deserve.

And I’ve learned the only response to grace is generosity.

Someone who has been given so much does not clench their fists and hold on tightly for fear of losing it. No, they hold it loosely with a grateful disposition, humbled to be given the opportunity to steward the resources they have been entrusted. Then, they look for opportunities to do the same to others because the precedent has been before them to give.

So when I look at my finances on my spreadsheet every month, I try not to look at it as “This is how much I’ve earned this month” but rather “This is how much I’ve been given this month.” It shifts your perspective from a selfish consumer to a grateful giver. It is a subtle reminder that you have been given the greatest gift of grace that can never be out-given.

It is a reminder to give because you have been graciously given.