Walking on Fire and the Prison of Fear

Fear. What does that word make you think of? This morning, when I first set out to write this post I was thinking of the fear of being inadequate for a new job.

Then, my world turned on a dime when I found out a loved one was hurt. Suddenly the anxious thoughts concerning the incredible opportunity that is my new job, became so small, and this dear one’s health encompassed my world.

Joke as we do about “first world problems”, it is all too true that many of us get caught up in fearful thought patterns over minor issues. We allow these little things to rob us of our joy and peace. Even our relationships can be compromised as we our so focused on our own little problems that we don’t give our best to those around us.

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Fear has had a major presence in my life. As a young child I had horrific nightmares on a regular basis. I can still remember a couple of the particularly nasty recurring dreams. As I grew up, the nightmares mercifully ceased, but I began to put a heavy emphasis on what others thought of me, enslaving myself to the opinions of others.

Because no matter the shape or the cause, fear is a prison.

It holds us captive, keeping us in a dark, tense state. But the uncomfortable truth is that most of the time we put ourselves in that prison. We partner with the fear because it gives us a sense of certainty, or attention from others, or an excuse not to do something intimidating.  But we have the power to break out.

Rather than staying in the dark hole, stroking ‘our precious’ ring  fear, we can choose peace. It is amazing to me how many times in the Bible either God or the angels say, “Do not fear.” Do you realize it’s a command? You are actually disobeying God when you choose fear.

Seems harsh, huh? Until you think about the fact that fear sucks! I mean, really, living in fear is lousy. Once again, it seems like maybe God has our best interest at heart.

Sometimes our fear is small and easily put aside in order to do what seems impossible. Other times that fear seems insurmountable. For the big fears, my very best recommendation is build a relationship with your Creator, that you can carry the conviction that He has good plans for you. (see Jeremiah 29:11)

If that doesn’t work for you, imagine how good life would be on the other side of your fear. Really let yourself daydream about it. See it, taste it, bask in the feelings of freedom.

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Now picture the worst possible outcome of your life if you continue living in this fear. What will life be like for you in 10 years? What will you have missed out on? Do you have an ulcer?

Really let the pain and disappointment of that life to sink it. Allow yourself to et to the point where everything within you wants to choose the abundant life. Now that you’re properly motivated yell, “Heck no!” to the fear and choose the life that you really want.

Last year, I wrote a blog on a different site about letting go of fear and choosing to walk in freedom. Its been a journey, and some days I respond to tough situations really well and other days I realize that my whole body is tense because I didn’t let something minor go.

Last week, I walked across 12 feet of hot coals. I have never broken a bone or required stitches, but I HAVE suffered third degree burns, so this was a real fear for me. I kept telling myself, “If Peter can walk on water, then I can walk on fire.” I followed the instructions I was given and successfully walked across with no burns.

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It was a win. But today is a new day and the problems my loved one faces are very real. So the question is, “Will I choose fear TODAY, or will I choose peace and trust?” Choose this day who you will serve, and for your own sake don’t make a friend of fear!

Living Intentionally

I set out to write a post recently, however, as I was feeling contemplative and even a little morose, the result was not fitting for this blog. (Seriously, I was going to insert Richard II’s speech about the deaths of kings and the hollow crown. It might have something to do with watching a great deal of Shakespeare lately.)

ANYWAY, I decided that I needed a more positive outlook. So, I worked out, made myself a cup of tea and I’m feeling much better, thank you.

I was recently reminded of my desire to be awesome. And of the world’s desire for me to be more awesome. (Thank you Kid President.) Therefore I decided that if I’m truly going to be more awesome, I’d better set some goals. How else will I know if I’m on the right track?

When I was in the 7th grade, my teacher made us set 50 goals. At the time that number seemed outrageous. Truthfully, I made some of them up, not caring if I accomplished them or not. But the point is, those goals helped me to strive towards doing things with my life that I always thought would be cool. And some of them I have checked off.

Here are a few goals accomplished from my 12 year old list (and the photographical evidence to prove it!) :

Photographed the Eiffel Tower

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I went skydiving

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I went on an African safari

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…and a few others.

However, I have NOT yet

become fluent in Spanish, German, and French :)

Complete a marathon (really, 12 year old me?)

 written a book

Do you remember that movie The Kid? Basically, Bruce Willis’ character meets his younger self at a pivotal moment in both their lives. When the kid learns that as a grown up he is unmarried, hasn’t become a pilot and doesn’t have a dog he cries with despair, “So basically I grow up to be a loser!”

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Moral of the story? Set goals–and DO them!

So here we go. I challenge you to write down 50 goals for yourself. Call it a bucket list if it helps. Then, if you’re really feeling serious about doing these things set a deadline. If that feels like too much pressure, then set about to accomplish at least one new goal each year. If you run out of ideas look to the projects you’ve posted on Pintrest or the books on your wish list at Amazon.

You know that I wouldn’t ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, so I typed up a list of 50 goals myself. Here are just a few:

Learn to cook from an Italian mama

Go to at least two live performances each year

Learn to make an awesome soufflé (Ever since I tasted a leek and goat cheese souffle that my brother ordered in London, it’s been my dream!)

Work for Stephen Moffatt (The genius writer who writes Dr. Who and Sherlock.)

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How Back to the Future May Have Changed Mine

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a movie on the lawn of a friend’s house. We had so much fun eating tacos and watching Back to the Future. Do you remember that film? Honestly, what I had remembered was Michael J. Fox shredding Johnny B. Goode on the electric guitar.

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 What I didn’t remember was that his character, Marty McFly, wanted to give up music at the beginning of the film because one person had criticized him. I could sympathize.

I have always been sensitive to the criticism of others. Growing up as both a people pleaser and a creatively-minded person, I found myself creating things that I would never show to other people for fear of what they might say. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so I would often use the excuse that my work wasn’t “ready” to be seen yet. Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

Working in a creative field requires a great deal of confidence, vulnerability, and perseverance.

One of the major lessons I’ve been learning in this season of life is perseverance. The same night of the movie, I was talking to a friend about a dream I’ve been pursuing and I found myself saying, “I want to do this but it’s going to be really hard. I’ll probably have to focus my whole life on it for a few years if its going to happen. I just want a little assurance that it’s what I’m suppossed to do.”

 It was a very truthful and vulnerable statement, and I found myself dissecting it for a few days after I said it. It got me asking myself, “Am I afraid to do hard things?” Or am I being wise and seeking to make an informed decision? Maybe a little bit of both. Maybe I’m afraid that I’ll do the hard things only to be rejected in the end.

 But I want to be made of sterner stuff. I want to be a person of perseverance. I think of world changers who persevered, and William Wilberforce immediately springs to mind.

Wilberforce had a dream to see slavery ended and he was foolish enough to think it could be done. He is quoted as saying, “We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible…So we will do them anyway.”

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William Wilberforce

This man lobbied for abolition  for 18 years before the slave trade was abolished.

However, his work wasn’t done there. He continued to tirelessly work for the freedom of those already in slavery and only saw these dreams come to pass shortly before his death–26 years after the slave trade was abolished. Now that’s perseverance!

Conviction and hope seem to be the keys to perseverance. I suppose that’s what I was saying to my friend. I have enough hope and vision for what could be, but I’m seeking the conviction that will keep me strong when things are hard.

I don’t have the answers yet. The Apostle Paul said to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Well, I can’t quite seem to make out the trail. But until I do, I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other–keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus. At this point that is what perseverance means to me.

The Power of Words

Words are powerful.

I think that is what always attracted me to writing. I loved (and still love) the idea of being able to influence and entertain people through the written word.

As a  child I could not get enough of stories. I would read voraciously. The thought of having a library in my own house, like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, seemed like the ultimate perk of becoming an adult. (Well, that and staying up as late as you want.)

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In fact, when I was a kid the barcode on my library card got worn from so much use, which meant that it had difficulty scanning. However, this wasn’t a problem because I had my library card number memorized. I know.

But all of those stories, all of those words…I just couldn’t get enough. The books whispered to me, promising mystery and adventure within their pages.

I always thought, probably because of those stories, that my epic adventure would involve lots of traveling, maybe swordplay, or even magic. I knew that I was a great warrior, I just hadn’t seen battle yet.

As an adult it’s taken me a long time to learn that I am a warrior, right now. Fighting battles everyday. My weapons just look a little different than I used to think they would. Instead of a sword or a bow and arrow, I wield a pen and a laptop.

I have finally learned that words are a weapon that can be used for good or ill. Proverbs tells us that, “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.”

Or put another way, the Doctor (of Dr. Who) exclaimed in battle:

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This realization has given me pause. I use words so carelessly sometimes without stopping to consider that they could do irreparable harm to someone else.

Or my words could encourage someone!

My friend Mae is so good at this. She is always calling people, letting them know she was thinking about them. She is constantly affirming others, telling them the good things she has noticed about them. So often these words of encouragement come at a time when that person really needed it.

She has a gift for calling out the precious gold in people. And you should see people’s faces light up when she tells them just how great they are. I believe it makes a powerful difference for people to feel that someone has really seen them and noticed the best things about them.

It reminds me of this quote, which I have always taken as a personal challenge.

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Today I want to give you permission to be who you were meant to be. Maybe no one has ever done that before. But trust me, you were born to be great. And the more you allow yourself to be that awesome person that you know you could be, you grant others the same freedom.

When I was a child, I thought I would grow up to be beautiful, strong, artistic, kind, and generous. I’m pretty sure I thought there would be lots of dancing and reading and baking involved. Now that I’m grown up, I still think that that is the person I want to be.

So I think I will be.

How about you? Who do you want to be? Who does your best friend want to be? How about your mother? Or your boss? Or the person who makes your coffee?

Maybe you could help that person become who it is they want to be by using your powerful words. Speak life.

Losing, for the Win

Hi everyone! If you noticed that I did not post a new blog last week, it was because I was distracted by Comic-Con descending on my city. I would be sorry for my absence, except that I got to see/listen to a couple of my celebrity heroes!

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I had the privilege of seeing Zachary Levi, who I wrote about it the post Nerds (and you) Who Are Changing the World, and was able to attend a couple of his Conversations for a Cause. I have yet to see a final number posted on how much money Nerd HQ raised for Operation Smile this past week, but I suspect that it nears the $200,000 mark!

I also got to sit in on a panel with another man I admire, the lovely Tom Hiddleston. Although he plays a villain in the Marvel universe (Loki), he is a real life hero who works to help women and children in developing nations through UNICEF.

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I was not disappointed. I think that if you have the opportunity to interact with people you have admired from a distance there is often the fear that they might not be so admirable in real life. But these guys certainly seem to be the real deal.

 Which brings me to my point–– Who are your heroes? Do you have any, or even know any? What is it that makes them a hero to you? No, seriously, take a second and think about it.

 Just a couple of months ago I was living in Namibia, Africa. (Shout out to my friends there!) While on my way home from seeing Iron Man 3 with a few friends, a discussion about heroes arose.

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Namibian sunset     photo cred: Michael Jeter

 During that conversation, I was struck by the truth that there are a few main characteristics that define a hero––things that make them who they are.

 Heroes are defined by the battles they fight and by the sacrifices they make.

 Think about it, whether your hero is Mother Theresa, or Captain America, or your mom for that matter, you admire them for these things.

 Maybe your hero battles poverty and apathy, and fights for the rights of the poor.  Or maybe they battle tyranny, and seek justice for the oppressed. Or maybe they battle depression and champion hope. So much can be ascertained about an individual’s character by knowing what battles they choose to fight. 

 The realization gave me pause. I thought, “What do I fight for? What am I willing to sacrifice for?” If we only have one life to live on this earth, I want to make it count. And yet so often I find myself caught up in the day-to-day hustle, feeling like I don’t have the time or energy to think about the “big” things in life.

Zachary Levi challenged fellow nerds at his panel to “live bigger.” I think most of us want to live ‘big’ or, at least ‘meaningful,’ lives. But it takes risk doesn’t it?

There is the risk that if you care about something, or love someone, you might end up hurt. The risk is very real. Caring is painful, but essential.

In the panel I attended for Tom Hiddleston, he profoundly stated this truth:

“You’ll never win unless you also stand to lose…Don’t be afraid of your passion.”

image credit: Elizabeth Fox (sitting next to me at the panel)

image credit: Elizabeth Fox (sitting next to me at the panel)

 It was an exhortation that I needed to hear. I am a passionate person, no doubt about it, but it is a marriage of passion and focus that create lasting change.

My challenge now is to find that focus–that thing or things that I am willing to fight for–and then passionately go after those things, knowing that I have everything to lose.

What are you willing to lose, that you might truly live?

 

The Adventure of Living Your Dreams

What is your biggest dream? The one that haunts your daily life, whispering with it’s beckoning voice, “What if you could?”

Take just a minute and think about it. I’ll wait.

To live that dream would be an awfully big adventure, right?

We all love adventure stories, don’t we? I always tend to have a big, stupid smile on my face whenever a protagonist first starts his or her journey. I imagine that character is filled with hope and expectation of the great adventures that lay ahead of them.

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Take The Hobbit for example. Bilbo thinks he’s living happily enough and doesn’t want any adventures, thank you very much. Then he gets a taste of it. The unexpected and unknown show up at his door, and at first he cannot wait for this messy business to be over. Until it is. When all of the loud, disrupting talk of far off lands, and danger, and treasure is gone, his house is quiet and empty again.

But now the silence is deafening because Bilbo realizes all that his life could be, and all that it currently is not. So he sets off eagerly into the unknown.

Everytime a character takes this step I inwardly cheer for them! “Hurrah! You will no longer live a boring life, but instead you will live out your passion and purpose! How wonderful!”

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Today I have a different response. Today I want to sadly shake my head at that character and say, “You poor, naive sap. You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.”

Oh, sorry. That does seem a bit brutal, doesn’t it? Well, you see, I’ve been thinking of myself as that character lately. I went off on an adventure for the past year and I got a taste for it. When I returned, life as I knew it seemed too quiet and empty for me. So I decided, “I’m going to follow my dream, my passion! I’m going to write epic, life-changing stories and make awesome movies like I always wanted!”

I thought, “Yeah, this is a little scary, but I’m going to do it!” Like Bilbo, I went runing out the door. Now I’m at the part of the story where I’m soaked through from rain, tired of riding all day, and I just want to be home by the fire.

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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up. I’m not even in the middle of some ugly battle with a troll or orc or anything like it. I imagine it would be easier if the battle was so clearly defined. Truth is, I’m just uncomfortable and overwhelmed. And feeling a bit lost.

There is so much to learn starting this new career, and some days I hardly know where to begin. I find I am writing very little, reading everything I can, and at the end of the day I feel no closer to my goals than at the start.

It’s on these days, when I having difficulty seeing the forest through the trees, that I am especially thankful for the adventure stories. They remind me that for the soul who is willing to courageously move forward, greater things lie ahead. 

Despite my occasional discouragement, I press on with the hope that I will someday succeed in impacting others with my words. That, like Bilbo, I can encourage the next generation to take up the adventure, surpass me, and truly change the world.

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How about you? Are you pursuing your dreams? Are you taking the path that leads to awesome, as Kid President would say? If not, maybe get a pep talk. Watch the best one ever on the link below. If you are on that journey, you are my hero!

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Nerds (and you) Who Are Changing the World

Nerd Alert: I was a big fan of the show Chuck when it was on the air.

Non-nerds stay with me, this is relevant, I promise.

It was a campy spy comedy that ran for 5 seasons on NBC solely because of its incredibly supportive fan base. It was a story that could appeal to the underdog in all of us–how one underachieving, good-hearted guy could get the chance to save the world, get the girl and fulfill his potential. Fun, right? But what does that have to do with heroes?

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Well, meet Chuck’s alter-ego, Zachary Levi. Real life nerd, actor and philanthropist.

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After achieving moderate fame, Levi decided he wanted to give back, and so began the search for a worthy cause that he could support. Levi found the children’s charity Operation Smile and began using his platform to help underprivileged kids around the world. Cool, right?

Then he took it a step further and combined his passion for all things nerdy and his passion to change the world. In 2010, Levi started an annual event called Nerd HQ, which runs along side San Diego Comic Con. (Still there? Good.) As both a fundraiser and highly anticipated event, Nerd HQ raised $140,000 for Operation Smile last year alone!

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Well, as a fan, and a nerd myself, I was following this progress with interest. That’s how I came across a speech Zachary Levi gave to fellow Operation Smile supporters. 

In this speech, Levi read a Franciscan benediction that had me re-evaluting my life.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done; To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor. 

Amen. 

Wow. Living a life like that would be heroic, indeed. So how does this apply to you? I suggest we take the benediction as inspiration and use Zachary Levi as a template.

What are your passions? What is your niche? What is your sphere of influence?

Levi gave the nerd community something they didn’t even know they wanted, and in return they gave towards a cause that was close to his heart AND changed the world. 

If you had the opportunity, how would you change the world? Free the 27 million people that are living in slavery today? Lobby to see farmers protected from agribusiness conglomerates and our food better protected? Fill in the blank with whatever change you want to see.

Now my challenge to all you heroes out there:

Pick ONE thing that you long to see changed. Now make a list of three small steps you could take to start to see that change.

Maybe its finding a charity that already exists that you could support. (“Where your treasure lies, there is your heart.”) Maybe its writing a letter. Maybe its telling friends about this passion, so that others can catch the flame. Whatever it is, move towards that goal.

Go ahead, be so foolish as to think that you can change the world. Because we can.

The link to Levi’s whole speech if you want to see it. http://youtu.be/V4vi0GGwmso

Heroic Love and Heartbreak

Two days ago I woke up to find out that two of my friends in Sheffield, England had been killed by a drunk driver. Stephen, 26, was an associate pastor at a church I had the privilege to volunteer at for 6 months. We used to joke around at the office. Sometimes I would get to help lead worship with him. His girlfriend, Mandy, 21, was exuberant, always smiling. The kind of girl it is impossible not to love. They were a couple of the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet.

This picture was taken the night they died.

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I found out as I was getting ready for church.

I felt blessed at the timing, as I was able to stand in worship, surrounded by friends, as I wept for my loss, and that of Stephen and Mandy’s family and friends. I wept for what might have been.

The past two days I have been mourning.

I would force myself to get up and do something, but would always make my way back to bed. I couldn’t seem to stop crying. I was exhausted and ill from grieving.

But this morning, something was different. I woke up with inexplicable joy. I truly believe it is God’s grace. I don’t miss Stephen and Mandy any less. But I am full of peace that they are truly in a better place. As the song goes, “No more sorrow, no more pain.”

This blog is meant to be about heroes. About inspiration. Well, over these past few days my hero has been a man named Ben Andrassy.

Honestly, when I heard the news, I was immediately concerned for all of Steve and Mandy’s family and friends, but especially for Ben. You see, Ben was Stephen’s best friend and Mandy’s brother-in-law. He lost a great deal on Saturday night.

But what he didn’t lose was his faith. Over and over again, Ben has been encouraging others these past couple of days. Reminding them that God is still good. That God still  has good plans for our lives. Reminding us to choose forgiveness, rather than bitterness. (The drunk driver was not injured.) Reminding us that God is close to the brokenhearted. Imploring us to seek Jesus through the pain.

Choosing love in the midst of the greatest grief has got to be one of the most heroic things a person can do.

That is why today, Ben is my hero. I follow your example, Ben. I don’t know if you know the impact you have, but I honor the way you lead, wherever you are. Thank you.

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Tally ho!

     When I was eleven years old, my big brother was graduating high school, getting ready to go off to college, and he received a year book entitled, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” You know, from the Dr. Seuss book.

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    And I remember feeling that pang of longing, which now still pops up every time I see pictures of a beautiful place I’ve never been, or hear a friend tell a story of an adventure they’ve had. Do you know the one I mean?

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   Well, I finally did grow up and I have had adventures and seen far off lands. In fact, I’ve just returned home after spending six months in England and another two in Namibia. And it was incredible. But now I am home and that ache, that longing, is back. You know why I think that is?

 Because we were made to do great things.

   I have loved heroes for as long as I can remember. I think everyone does. Even villains are their own heroes. My favorite movies as a kid included Indiana Jones,  The Three Musketeers, the Jackie Chan films. (Female protagonists in adventure films were few and far between.)

I believe we all ache to be a part of something great, something important. But in the day to day distractions of life, we push that ache somewhere out of the way, until suddenly, those embers of desire that have been smoldering deep inside you, burst into flame again, yelling “DO SOMETHING AWESOME!”

   In one of my favorite shows, Dr. Who, our hero addresses the notion of an unimportant person with an incredulous: “Blimey! That’s amazing! You know that in 900 years of time and space I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before.” That’s the truth of it.

 You are important! Did you know?

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     So, I’ve decided that the world has enough mediocrity, I don’t need to add to it. Therefore, I’m going to do my best to live heroically, and I invite you to do the same. I don’t mean that I’m devoting my life to feeding refugees in Somalia, (although those who do certainly are heroes!). I mean that I am going to try to live my life without regret. Serve others. Cultivate relationships. Create beautiful things. Be thankful. Do my part to change the world around me. 

   We see enough of injustice, enough of ugly, hateful things. I’m going to celebrate heroes, and hopefully inspire others to live more extraordinary lives. Want to join me on this brave new adventure?