All I could see was your left turn signal. You had it blinking, hoping you could get over into that turn lane, but we were all waiting behind you. The light was green. You weren’t moving. Which means I wasn’t moving, because I was two cars behind you. Didn’t you know I had to get to work by 4:15pm? It was 4:06pm, and you weren’t moving. What if I got to the parking lot by 4:12pm and couldn’t find a spot? The parking lot at work is usually packed on a sunny afternoon around this time. But you sat with your left blinker on, trying to get over to turn left while a huge line of cars, including mine, sat behind you. It’s as if you didn’t realize the parking lot might be full when I got to work. What were you thinking?
I was pretty frustrated with you. Not frustrated… angry. Not angry… furious. I screamed out my window and waved at you. “MOVE! You’ve GOT TO GO!” I half-assumed you wouldn’t hear me, but you did. You heard me loud and clear. You heard my words and you heard my anger… my fury.
Luckily for you, I negotiated a deal with the car in the lane next to me to let me in so that I wouldn’t have to wait behind you any longer. You were being selfish, anyway. Holding up a whole line of cars just so you could attempt to turn left. Didn’t you see the oncoming traffic that would prevent you from turning left, anyway? Your whole plan to turn left might not even come to fruition, anyway. But your plan to make us all late was sure working out alright.
The car in front of me pulled off into the right lane. Now I could see your whole car…
Your right blinker was on, too.
Right and left, they were both blinking simultaneously. You responded to my yelling and angry waving: “DUDE, MY CAR IS BROKEN DOWN!”
In an instant, we switched roles. You were innocent. I was the selfish one. You still weren’t moving, and I was still likely going to be late. But now you were justified in being stuck. Because that’s what you were…stuck.
I blew it, man. I was the merciless jerk that failed to see you were enduring through the horribly embarrassing experience of being broken down in the middle of a busy intersection at rush hour. But didn’t you know I had to be at work by 4:15?
Earlier tonight, I was preparing for my thesis presentation. Tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., I’ll attempt to defend an academic paper I spent a whole semester writing. It’s intimidating. I put in the necessary work and I’m expecting a decent outcome, but I’d be a rich man if I had a dollar for every time the voices in my head told me “What if I screw this up…?”
Around this time of year, a lot of us are asking questions like this. What if I fail this test? What if my professor doesn’t like the topic I chose for my paper? What if I don’t pass?
What if? What if? What if?
In all honesty, these what-ifs do more harm than good. We follow what-ifs into ruts of self-doubt, where they suddenly become “I ams.” Before we know it, “what if I get a bad grade?” turns into “I’m a bad student. I’m not smart. I’m not as qualified as others are.”
If you’re like me, final exams (projects… papers… insert stress-causing school assignment here) turn you into a pressure cooker, feeling like you could explode at any moment. You begin to say things like “There’s literally no way I have enough time to get all these things done.” If you’re a planner like me, you schedule out each hour of your day in order to have some hope that maybe it’ll all get finished.
You cram. You attempt to avoid checking Facebook and Twitter (attempt being the key word in that statement). And if you don’t regurgitate all of the facts correctly when that fateful two-hour time slot arrives, you become a self-deprecator. Or maybe, if you perform above expectations, you turn into a pride machine.
Either one is wrong. Because you are not your final exams.
You’re not an A, you’re not an F. You’re not a pass or a fail. You’re a human being, and your worth doesn’t lie in your performance.
Earlier today, I completely crashed. I was having a very productive day, but suddenly I felt like I lost the ability to do anything. I got tired. I took a break, which became an extended break, which led to me writing this blog rather than making progress on any of the big tasks hanging over my head. And I began to feel guilty about it. I was unproductive. I didn’t take advantage of my time. I could’ve managed better.
Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.
I fell into the rut. “Now what if I don’t get everything done? What if I just squandered good grades on my finals?” The great attack of the what-ifs. The one that I know all too well.
But this time, those “what-ifs” won’t become “I ams.” Because I’m more than a measurement of my performance. Tomorrow, when I go in to defend my thesis, I’ll put forth my best effort. I’ll try really hard. I’ll do all that I can to get an A.
But if I don’t get the grade I’m hoping to get, that doesn’t change who I am. The same is true for you. You are not your final exams.
Do the work. Try hard. But do it all knowing that there’s no A, C or F stamped on your life. I’m willing to bet you’re a lot more interesting than the information on your transcript.
When I was a little kid, I loved reading books. I think I read most of The Hardy Boys series, like any boy should do. I bet there were some days that consisted solely of me peering into the lives of Frank and Joe as they solved yet another mystery (how did they get in so many strange situations?).
Recently, though, I’ve been distracted. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and plenty of other things I love to waste time doing have choked out the power of reading in my life. I read a book by Francis Chan, if you could call it reading. It was more like reading and then forgetting what I read and then reading some more and then forgetting again. I think that took about a year. I couldn’t make it through a book if I tried. And I didn’t really try, anyway.
I went to Michigan over Christmas break. I stayed in a house that held one of the most impressive book collections I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. In front of me was a wealth of stories, knowledge, and inspiration. On one of the bookshelves, I’m pretty sure I saw the complete works of William Shakespeare, which I would never read, but it was cool. There was an entire bookcase filled with what looked like ancient books. The classics. Even as a non-reader, I was impressed. I didn’t know the WiFi password for the house, if it even had WiFi, and I would only be staying there for a few nights. Opening a book and looking inside couldn’t hurt for those few nights, I thought.
I picked a book that I’d be able to get something out of without having to finish it. I found a book called Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey. Each chapter was about a different person who greatly influenced Philip’s life, and more specifically, his walk with God. I read the chapter about Martin Luther King Jr., who I thought I knew everything about. It was not so. Some of the MLK quotes included by Yancey truly shook me. I was inspired. I’ve always been fascinated by Martin Luther King Jr., but this time I was fascinated at something else, too – why did I ever give up on reading?
It was an epiphany. Surrounded by thousands of books in a quiet room, I realized I needed to start reading again. Reading could be the escape that I admittedly search for sometimes by scrolling through Twitter, as shameful as that sounds. The new year was about to start, but I didn’t want this to be a New Year’s Resolution that I gave up on after a week and a half, like every other New Year’s Resolution that ends in dissolution.
I wrote down a goal: one book per month in 2015. Not terribly difficult, but if you do the math, that’s 12 books throughout the year. That’s 12 times as many books as I would usually read in a year’s time, so I figured it a good goal. This goal was actually inspired by my friend Jenn, who set the same goal in 2014 and succeeded. Jenn looks like Kristen Wiig, but she doesn’t think so. She’s wrong, because she definitely looks like Kristen Wiig.
Back to those miracles I mentioned. When I got home from Michigan, I looked on the bookshelf downstairs and pulled out a few books that looked interesting. I found my first book for 2015, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. It sounded vaguely familiar, and I knew who Donald Miller was, but I didn’t know what to expect. Hopefully I would follow through with my goal. I opened the book and started reading. That was the first miracle.
Today, January 12th, I finished Blue Like Jazz. That was the second miracle. Maybe I will even exceed my goal. Maybe I will read two books this month. Miracles do happen.
I decided to blog about my reading adventure for the sake of accountability and because Kristen Wiig told me she wishes she would have done the same thing in order to remember what she learned from her year of reading. When I finish each book, I’ll share what I learned and why you should or shouldn’t read the book. It turns out, Blue Like Jazz was a good place to start, because Donald Miller taught me a lot.
Here are some things I learned from Blue Like Jazz:
I am a lot like Donald Miller in some ways.
I am nothing like Donald Miller in other ways.
Donald Miller is a very unique writer.
As Christians, we should be apologizing to people we’ve failed to love.
There is something profound about friendships that rest on the basis of appreciation of differences.
I suck at loving people.
Jesus can truly set us free. He can set us free from closed-mindedness and give us the ability to love everyone as if they were our best friend.
When Jesus said “love your neighbor as yourself,” he meant it.
It’s ok to be weird. And to tell people about how weird you are.
Sometimes, I should live a little.
I am addicted to myself.
I realize that last one is a bit heavy, but that’s one of the main ways I could relate to Donald as he told his story. He thought the world revolved around him. Until he truly experienced the unconditional love of Jesus playing out in his life in a beautiful manner, he was subconsciously but harmfully addicted to himself. He prayed that God would rip this self-addiction from his grasp. God did, and Donald was free. Free of himself. Free to live, free to love. Free to experience Jesus. Free to experience Christianity as “blue like jazz.”
“The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. It is a music birthed out of freedom. And that is the closest thing I know to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom. Everybody sings their song the way they feel it, everybody closes their eyes and lifts up their hands.” (Blue Like Jazz, p. 239)
I realized that I’m trapped in the same addiction of myself. That’s a pretty heavy revelation for my first book of the year. If the rest of the 2015 plays out like this, I’ll be in trouble. It’ll be a good kind of trouble, though, because I’ll be a better person for it. As I read Blue Like Jazz, I heard God telling me to let go of all of my pride and prejudice (pun halfway intended). There’s no room for self-addiction if I want to follow Jesus and truly love people. I need to let go of myself and understand that the fullness of my worth is found in Jesus. I can love myself fully by receiving the love Jesus has for me. Lose my life, and I’ll find it. I think somebody important said that once.
Donald Miller certainly isn’t one of those authors caught up in theological debate or concerned with “the (insert number) things that will help you with doing ________ in your life.” He tells his story and hopes and prays that people will learn from it. It’s possible that I learned more from his writing than I could ever learn from some Bible scholar who’s smarter than both Donald and I put together. Donald really knows how to be transparent and honest. I like that. I also feel like I have taken on a variation of his writing style throughout the course of this blog post. I guess he really impacted me.
Blue Like Jazz revealed a self-addiction that I didn’t really know I had. It was a hopeful revelation, though, because that’s what Jesus does. He gives us hope despite our attempts to choke it out.
I’m excited for the 11 or more books I’m going to read throughout the rest of this year. Please keep me accountable. I hope you enjoy the thoughts I will share along the way. Oh, and read Blue Like Jazz. It will take you from Portland to the Grand Canyon to the innermost caverns of your heart and mind. I am recommending that you read this book, which is something I usually can’t do, because I haven’t read the book in the first place. Supposedly there is a movie about this book. I think I will watch it now. Kristen Wiig says I can be one of those people that makes snarky comments about the movie because I read the book first and the movie left out so many important parts. Wait, I read the book first?