These Phantom Nights

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Friends,

It took me longer than I would have liked, but here we are. These Phantom Nights. My first debut short story published through Amazon and available for the Kindle for $0.99. It’s a story written for those who have loved and lost, and for those who are still losing. Check it out if you’re into that heartbreak, failed relationship stuff.

Thank you all for your support and faithfulness to my blog for all these years, even as my posts have become thinner and more sporadic. I hope to be launching a new website soon, so keep an eye out for that!

Cheers,

MY

Wake Up, Singles

As the title suggests, this post is about how to endure against the tilt-a-whirl of the Christian dating scene. It was inspired by a recent conversation with a friend, who voiced her frustrations stemming from her latest encounter with the opposite sex. Our discussion made me realize that her story and this topic is not an anomaly. In fact, it’s quite common in the Christian circle. So, I’m writing this partially to appease her.

But I’m also writing this because I haven’t been good at this romance thing either. This post is, in a weird way, a pep talk to myself to risk and to dare more in the dating realm. So, take from these words what you can. After all, I’m no expert on the subject, and I speak mainly from my own experience.

(There, that’s my full disclosure.)

Frankly, Christians need to be more open towards getting to know the opposite sex. I think guys shouldn’t be afraid to ask girls out to coffee if they want to know them better, and girls should be more willing to accept dates–even if his hair is shaggy or he acts a little awkward sometimes.

I say this knowing full well that I’ve been guilty of not practicing what I’ve preached. After a couple failed relationships and several false starts, I was hesitant to dive deep into the dating pool. In my experiences, it seemed as though girls weren’t willing to explore it further or I lost interest and ended up hurting them. Nothing in-between, nothing steady. I thought I was no good at it. I almost kissed dating goodbye.

What ended up happening was that I started armchair dating. If finding a mate is like looking to buy a house, then I was effectively camping outside different properties wondering, “What’s behind the door?” I was trying to figure out if I wanted to buy a house without looking inside. I was imagining who she was or how she should be without really exploring or learning about her in person. I began to sit back and wait until I thought I had come across someone who had that perfect combination of beauty, personality, humor, spirituality, intelligence, vision, direction, motivation and passion (I’ll admit, my standards are a bit high). In my mind, she would come as a package, ready and open for someone like me to possess and there’d be no working at it. And she’d also see what an amazing catch I was (if truth hurts, there’s always delusion). So I waited, and waited. As you can imagine, no one came around.

A couple of my friends had to wake me up. They showed me that I was subtly maneuvering to control all my variables, that I was trying to make clean and orderly a process that is inherently messy. I had to come to understand and accept that there are inherent risks involved in dating. I was putting myself out there to possibly get hurt or disappointed. But so are those who agreed to date me. I cannot do their job for them–to guard their heart if they aren’t willing to protect it themselves–nor could I guarantee myself a painless, rejection-free process. But this is what it means to date in the real. The only other option was to remain in the realm of safe, imagined hypotheticals. To quote C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.”

So readers, here’s the application. I encourage you to be more open to knowing the opposite sex. This isn’t about lowering your standards (although some of you might need to do that), it’s about lowering your barrier of entry. Sometimes we set the bar so high that no real person would ever reach it. I’m not saying you should settle. Don’t settle. But just recognize that a lot of what you’re looking for in another person cannot be found in one interaction or on a first date. You need to allow yourself room for things to develop. Be patient.

Also, I should add that the process isn’t as important as the person. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for dates or you’re looking to be arranged. Whatever you do, just be intentional and treat others with respect. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll both know, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

But don’t live in the clouds. This is not where spouses are found, nor where the deep roots of relational knowing are developed. Be willing to attend the open house. Knock. Get inside. See for yourself.

Best wishes to you in your journey of risk and vulnerability, and God willing, love.

A Tale of Two Romances

THE DIFFERENCES couldn’t have been more pronounced. The night before, I had watched Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of Romeo + Juliet (you know, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes). It started off kinda weird, what with its fusion of modern day culture and original Shakespearean dialogue, but I grew to enjoy this dichotomy as it progressed. Sometimes you forget how beautiful the language is until you hear it recited to you; before I knew it I was quietly rehearsing those very lines as though I were the star-crossed lover. I went to bed thinking how crazy it is to love someone with such intensity that it would cause you to scheme a plot to fake death–and when that fails, to go as far as to induce death–all in the name of love. Mind you, this is one of the most celebrated (albeit tragic) love stories of all time.

The morning after, I came across another piece about love. It was a short video entitled The Story of Ian & Larissa. For nine minutes, I watched and listened as a lovely young lady told her story about tragedy and triumph. Her boyfriend at the time had suffered a traumatic injury that left him incapacitated. But she committed to him, and they eventually got married. “I think what helped us in making this commitment to each other, at least for me, is knowing that Ian wouldn’t have left me if the roles were reversed,” said Larissa. “And that we love each other and we know God will be faithful to our marriage.” It was one of the most beautiful testimonies I’ve ever heard.

Romeo + Juliet. Ian & Larissa. Both of them were bold declarations of love. Yet each one said something entirely different about what it looks like and what it truly means. One speaks of a romance ignited by coquettish gesturing and physical attraction, the other of a selfless commitment to give, serve and choose to love for “better or worse.” We often dream of our own Juliets–or ladies, your Romeos–but what I think we really want deep down inside is an Ian & Larissa story. I’m sure they have their share of hardships and struggles–those common to all relationships as well as those unique to their own–and there might even be days of doubt. But theirs is a romance built on certain truths that will help them weather the storms when they come, in and out of seasons, whether they are feeling the butterflies or not.

I am a neophyte when it comes to this kind of love. I live in a society that tells me it’s about finding someone that fulfills my greatest desires and needs. It tells me that beauty only lies skin deep, that I need to take as much as I can get and only give to her as much as she is willing to give to me. An exchange of goods, bartering type of system, if you will. This is a love no deeper than mere economics.

My subtle belief in this approach towards relationships requires correction. It’s something that invites God’s rebuke in my life, quiet but firm. So God gives me stories like these to awaken a greater part of me. It is a challenge to rise above the dregs of our soul-numbing consumerist mentality. It is a call to await the strokes of grace that will paint this next phase of my life, whenever that will be.

In the mean time, I am to make the most of my singleness. To love, serve, give, sacrifice and put others above myself. Funny how those terms are applied in marriage as well. If I want to be a good husband, guess I better start now.

it’s not me…

it’s you.

it’s the fact that you will never be pretty enough. even if you are a model. because i will always find someone with a nicer smile or better skin or more defined cheekbones.

or smart enough. there she is with more knowledge, more understanding, more student loans. she can take the conversation to new depths while your feet are still planted on the shore.

and i like the way this other girl tosses her hair and does her makeup and laughs at my jokes. you don’t always laugh at my jokes. by the way, she happens to bake better snicker doodles, too. (the trick is to add more butter.)

i will come across someone who’s more patient, more kind, more understanding. who knows, maybe we would even have better chemistry. and babies.

all these other girls get me. they get me. why can’t you?

because it’s not like i ever get awkward or lose my train of thought or fumble around for clever lines. i never lose my temper or get out of line or think inappropriate things whether you are or aren’t in the room.

i don’t try to mask my insecurities with nice clothes or smart remarks. i never worry about my money or how i’m going to provide for a family or where i’ll end up in three years. i always obey the bible perfectly and follow through on my every word and never talk bad about others.

no, it’s not me, really. i’m perfect. isn’t it obvious?

Winning Half the Babble

It was the three of us that night. It was grown men slumming it on the couch, randomly browsing through Facebook, acting like jokers. We were enjoying ourselves when, seemingly out of nowhere, we found ourselves in the middle of a heated discussion. Words were being exchanged but something wasn’t getting across.

I felt like a dead mic. As though I were saying all the right things but the amp had blown up. Static. It was frustrating. No matter what I had to say or how appropriate I thought it was, he wasn’t hearing it.

Then finally he broke. “I already know all this, man. I’m just trying to explain how I’m feeling but ya’ll won’t listen. You’re just trying to tell me what’s right. Sometimes, it’s not about being right or wrong. It’s just knowing that there’s someone who sides with you.”

The funny thing is he felt the same way I did.

It’s a tricky thing–that thing they call communication. We know it’s the key to any solid relationship. It sounds basic. Yet, it’s one of the hardest things on earth to master. I know this because I’ve been in situations in which there was a lapse of communication. I know this because as a speaker and writer I still find myself constantly misunderstood. And there wouldn’t be so many books written on this topic and this entry wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t.

We can talk about all the various psychological, biological and other factors involved here. How most men are wired or trained to fix a problem or share facts and figures (“report talk”), whereas women look to talk for the sake of intimacy and building relationship (“rapport talk”). Or how men talk to establish status while women talk to express feelings. Blah blah blah…

Perhaps some of that might explain why we weren’t totally getting him. He was cutting loose on his innards while we just wanted facts and resolution to the matter.

But…

What I think it boils down to is this. Being quick to listen, slow to speak. It’s about learning to understand people’s perspective, sympathize with their story, and reassure them that you “get them” before you get in your two cents.

It might be difficult for some of us because we live in a society that has taught us to look for quick fixes, assume the worst about others, and make our voices heard. We are the iGeneration that has become all about self and consumption and words like “easy” and “instantaneous.” (Perhaps this is why DFW’s commencement speech resonates so much with us in our present time.)

But I had to ask myself: How many of my past friendships and relationships have been lost on this failure to communicate? To really listen to their fears, needs and struggles? To side with them, regardless of whether they were wrong or right?

As I sat there for the remainder of the evening, I tried to listen. I had to die to my need to speak. I had to lay aside my subconscious want to claim independence or wisdom by saying the “right things.” He needed open ears more than sharp counsel.

After all, he knew the battle that he was fighting. He didn’t need me to tell him who the enemy was or how to put on his flak jacket. At the end of the day, he just needed to know that there was a brother who was with him in the trenches.

“I’m with you, bro.”

Sometimes, that’s all it takes for a man to gear up and fight another day.

Love the Broken Record

Clementine: Joel, I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive, but I’m just a f-cked up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.
Joel: I remember that speech really well.
Clementine: I had you pegged, didn’t I?
Joel: You had the whole human race pegged.
Clementine: Probably.
Joel: I still thought you were going to save me. Even after that.

I write about the ideals of love often in my blog. You read through enough of my entries and perhaps you get to thinking that I believe love is perfect. That love goes without struggle. That love is the answer.

Well, I am here to make some things clear.

I understand that this sort of love is not reality. I realize that for many of us, our idea of love has been soured and tainted from previous experiences. For some of us, it is as much about letting go of our past as it is about looking to lay hold of our future. We cannot imagine what a good love story is because we’ve only experienced tragedy in our vain attempts.

What pierces us so much, a movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–in particular, this exchange between Joel and Clementine–is that it captures the grounding reality of love. It is the reminder that romance is every bit as bitter as it is sweet. It knows by touch that all roses come with sharp, painful thorns. It warns us about being cautious even as we look for that one in six billion.

Love hurts. I don’t think there is any other way to put it.

For those of us who’ve been through this sort of hell, we know this. We’ve been vulnerable before. We’ve entrusted our hearts to another, only to have it dashed and broken into a thousand little pieces. We’ve been lied to, mistreated, and abandoned without reason. When we experience heartbreak, there is that part of us that shuts up, that refrains from allowing ourselves to ever be susceptible again. Instead, we resort to the very dregs of cynicism, a jaded perception that love isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and isn’t worth our time or effort.

I had a long conversation with a good friend who shared some of her cynicism. She is a couple years into her recovery after a long relationship that ended in heartbreak. She says she’s ready for marriage, but not necessarily for a relationship. She wants something that is perhaps convenient, steady, comfortable. How exhausting it is to have to, in a sense, start all over. And what if that fails again? There are no guarantees in love. I get it, I’ve been through it before.

The paradox of love could not be captured more powerfully than in the movie’s exchange. Clementine reminds him that she is not an ideal. She is not the perfect answer for a man. Joel knows this. Yet, in a way he cannot help but long for her, an ineffable something within that hopes beyond all reason that she can cure him.

What many of us fail to understand is that love is not complete. What I mean by that is, love from another human being can never truly fulfill us. It won’t make us happy because people are imperfect. It is impossible to demand from an imperfect person something that will make you perfectly happy. Simple logic. Love, in this sense, will always be lacking.

Love also demands sacrifice, patience, devotion and self-denial. Those are hard words. Take those words individually and I bet you think more of discipline than love. But I would dare to argue that love is every bit as much science and math as it is free-verse poetry.

Yet, love rocks. Love makes you feel things, do things, say things that don’t always make sense. Joel hoped she could save him because that’s what love makes you do.

All this to say: love is neither for the cynics nor the idealists. Love is for those who want to learn what it means to risk, hurt, and die to self for something greater. It is a weapon that can bring mass destruction; it is also the fuel that could drive one to greater heights of understanding and appreciation.

There just needs to be a balance. There is a rightful place onstage for love, but it does not sit on the pedestal. It is not God. It is hard, it can hurt, but it hopes. And it is certainly something worth fighting for.

Living the Love Story

I read a recent post by Don Miller that talked about love and what it meant for both men and women to be the right people and look for the right things. If you haven’t read it yet, please close this blog and go there instead. Really, it’s a good read.

That entry is what actually inspired this post.

Because it got me to thinking about all the wonderful ladies I’ve met recently and all throughout my life and how society has got me into this twisted idea of what love is, when the truth is finally staring me in the face and telling me otherwise.

Love is…?

Sure, it can be summed up in a famous Bible passage or expressed in a Shakespearean sonnet. But I look at some of those around me and see how they are living their love stories and I begin to understand a little more what it all means. When I go to weddings and see the fresh kindling of emotion. Sure, it involves that. Then I look at my parents and see how love endures. How deep their care and patience is with each other. That is love evolved.

Then I think bout my good friend “Devin” and how he was living his love story. He was single for 28 years. (Twenty-eight years…the Internet, cellular phones, Starbucks and Justin Bieber have all been invented since that time!) Boy meets girl at a church. After a few brief conversations and encounters, he decides he would like to pursue her. So he writes her a letter, declaring his intentions right out in the open. Heart on the table. Hand-written. Probably sealed with a kiss. She says yes. Then on their first date, he tells her, “I am going to be as upfront and honest with you throughout this thing because I don’t want you to think you are dating somebody you are not. I am going to give you every reason to dump me.” Wait, he just did what? Is that irrational confidence? Balls over brains? The most logical man couldn’t explain it. But it’s been four months, and they are going stronger than ever.

Now tell me that’s not a freaking man.

I mean, when I heard that, I was like thanks for raising the bar for every other mortal man in the world. Do I have to bust out my quill pen, and write a French novel in calligraphy for her? Do I just tell her “Hey I’m just going to DO ME, fart around and pick my butt, because I’m going to give you every reason to dump me…?” Say what? Something tells me that she would actually dump me. Like a truck.

But really. What it comes down to is this. A man who said to himself that if she is worth it, if she is the one I should be with, then I am going to let God build it. I’m not going to try to spit any game. Not trying to put my best foot forward. As flawed and imperfect as I am, I’m just going to do my best to lead her and love her. And she’ll know how much I care because it will be real and genuine.

Young bucks out there need to listen up–this is what a real man does. He’s not trying to take advantage of her. He’s not putting in only so that she will put out. No. A real man points her to something and someone bigger than himself. He has her best interests in mind.

A real man would lay down his very life for his woman.

So that’s what I’m praying for myself. God, may You build it. Whoever she is, wherever she is, let it be that we are both running so hard after the kingdom that what binds us together won’t be a mere physical or metaphysical grasping of love, but that it will actually be a romance forged in the depths of the spirit. A love written on our hearts, inscribed in our souls. A love that says I love in spite of, regardless, even though…

That’s the love story I want to be written. But on my own I can’t write it. I’m smart enough to let God take the pen on this one.

And it’ll be one heck of a love story, too.