Google Result 40,900,001

I just googled the word journaling and got 40,900,000 results. Guess another result can’t hurt.

These six journals contain my entries from Dec. ’99 to March ’12

In an effort to keep shrinking my library, I discarded six journals today. Hard to do? Not really, particularly since they are more than a decade old. And as tempting as it is for me to flip through the pages, instead I dwelt on the value of what was on the pages versus the exact words.

If you journal, you know the value. If you don’t journal, well there are 40 million web results to consider its value. As for my experience, here’s why I value journaling.

  1. Spiritual. This one is first for a reason. In those six journals, my guess is 95% of the content was from the discipline of journaling while engaging scripture reading. During that time frame, I mostly used the acronym SOAP, written about in The Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro, to complete my journaling discipline. My engagement with God and the Bible took on new depth through the words penned on those pages. Pretty sure there’s not a price tag I could put on that.
  2. Emotional. A lot happened in those twelve years including working at three different churches in various roles, moving to a new city, completing a four-year masters degree, handing off a successful piano competition, becoming an intentional runner, and many other personal and family experiences. Allowing pen and paper to process the emotions of such events is beneficial to the one journaling and to those in their world. The value that is most surprising is how those emotions surface more quickly and more healthily due to the writing discipline.
  3. Mental. As one who believes our minds should be in constant growth, the discipline of journaling is a tool that aids that growth. When united with spiritual and emotional focuses, my mind is transformed. After twelve years of journaling, I know things I didn’t know before, I know things I didn’t know I needed to know, and I deepened my value of knowing both of those things.

How I journal, how often I journal, and how it impacts me continues to evolve. That’s reason enough to keep journaling.

Five Traits of The Daily Warrior

Warriors. They’ve been on my mind today.

Put aside imagery of soldiers, battlefields, or tanks. Sure, those fit the bill. But I’m thinking about other images.

Before I share more, here’s a question: Who in your daily life belongs in your dictionary as the best model of your definition of a warrior?

One of your parents? Another family member?

Maybe a boss, or even a janitor?

Whoever they are, my guess is the list that follows describes them.

  1. They are loyal when others wouldn’t be.
  2. They would rather not receive recognition.
  3. They not only understand trust, they demand it.
  4. They don’t shy from “hard.”
  5. They masterfully connect timing and discerning.

We recognize someone’s “warriorhood” at various times, sooner with one than another, more obvious in one than another. I’m thinking of two warriors that I had the pleasure to engage today. One of them I’ve known for twelve years; it took me a while to see it. The other one I just met last year; it was pretty clear immediately.

Here are three challenges for you:

First Challenge: whoever your daily warrior is, Tell Them.

If it helps, rip the page out of the dictionary and staple their picture to it. They actually may like that even better.

Second Challenge: Thank God for them.

If it helps, use this blog post as a model and write your own in a journal. God may like that even better.

Third Challenge: Declare your “Warriorhood.”

If it helps, find a spot of dirt or sand. Draw a circle and scribe the word “warrior” inside. Step inside the circle. Ask God to affirm your declaration. You might like that even better.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

The Hard Choice

Graduation season 2022 is over. Lots of celebration for accomplishments years in the making.

In his remarks a few week ago to our recent intern graduates, our executive director acknowledged that they had earned the reward for making the hard choice. The choice to do more. The choice to shift direction. The choice to make a difference. The choice to endure.

As I listened to his remarks, it crossed my mind that it’s easy to celebrate crossing the finish line of a hard choice journey. Typically there are friends and family eager to join the party and drink in the joy. Lots of excitement. Lots of cheer. But those moments do not reflect the majority of the journey after making the choice until lifting the glass.

Probably none of those people were awake at 2AM while you finished that paper. Probably no one brought you coffee and patted you on the back and whispered, “Hang in there.” Only you know the full emotional, physical, mental scope of your entire journey.

Many of life’s journeys tell a similar story. The 45-year marriage. The 52-year career. The all-life parenting.

How many times in that decade-long career did you have to make a hard choice that few, if any, people acknowledged? Which year in your marriage did you make the most important choice that strengthened your relationship? Who knew about it? And I imagine the majority of parenting feels like daily hard choices. Accurate?

In those moments where there’s no one cheering you on, you’re faced with possible doubts. It’s normal to wonder, “Is this worth it? Why does each step get tougher? Does anyone see what I’m putting myself through?” Try not to overreact to these thoughts. They are linked to many things-fatigue, loneliness, uncertainty, fear, growth, to name a few.

Maybe you’re having that doubting moment today. It’s July, the summer after your freshman university year. Anyone cheering you on while you work that summer job? Probably not. Do you give up and say it’s just too hard? Before you answer that, here are two suggestions.

Tell someone that you need some cheering on. Whoever just came to mind that is capable of doing that without hesitation, send them a text or give them a call. Ask and most likely you’ll receive.

After that, find someone that you can cheer on. Seriously, don’t wait for them to ask. Think, look, observe. Whose path did you cross today that looks like they are doubting their hard choice? Send them a text. Give them a call. Whisper a “Hang in There.”

I believe hard choices can be celebrated multiple times, not just after crossing the finish line. If for no other reasons, to make sure the dream is fed, the choice is affirmed, and the joy is realized.

Hang in There!

Photo by Marc Kleen on Unsplash

The Soul Of Shame (book review)

I first mentioned Dr. Curt Thompson’s blog Being Known over a year ago in this post: https://johngregoryjr.com/2021/04/25/storytelling-finding-joy/. After listening to the majority of the episodes and hearing references to his books, I finally got around to reading one. Thanks to hoopla, I just finished The Soul of Shame.

Like the podcast, this book is one to be revisited. Like the podcast, it’s not over your head. Like the podcast, it breathes life into its consumer.

We become what we pay attention to.

Chapter 2, How Shame Targets the Mind

If my highlights are an indicator, apparently my attention got stronger as I moved from chapter to chapter. The first four chapters build the case for the universality of shame’s reach. Then starting with chapter five, Thompson explains shame’s role in the biblical narrative, how it impacts our own narrative, and the remedies that produce redemption.

Honest vulnerability is the key to both healing shame-and its inevitably anticipated hellish outcome of abandonment-and preventing it from taking further root in our relationships and culture…To be human is to be vulnerable…God is vulnerable in the sense that he is open to wounding. Open to pain. Open to rejection. Open to death.

Chapters 5 & 6

Thompson declares that shame pushes us into isolation to keep us from pursuing being human, being vulnerable. To counter shame’s work, Thompson encourages us to understand our cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11-12), pursue nurturing communities, and renew our vocational creativity.

We will not be rid of shame this side of the new heaven and earth; rather, we grow in our awareness of shame in order to scorn it…There is no more significant place for us to counteract shame than in those venues where we spend most of our waking hours. In these places we are called to be agents for creating goodness and beauty, but these are the very places where shame is more than willing to do its most effective work.

Chapters 7 & 8

A word to the church: Thompson believes “the family of God is the crucible in which we learn what real family is about and in which the what and how of education is ideally imprinted into our souls, transforming both our life in our biological families as well as all that we learn about our world and our place in it.” The church gets the opportunity to help people choose between shame and love.

I encourage you, especially if you are in a place of influence and leadership, to read The Soul Of Shame. Shame won’t like you for it. Your soul will.

“Listen, God” (Part 2)

The next day I was still thinking about the previous day’s all-day conversation and referenced it in a conversation with a former coworker.

While we discussed it, God shared a final word. Adding to his direction to get my eyes off myself, he pointed out, “John, you know how you don’t like to hear people talking over each other and are frustrated when you catch yourself doing it? How about you practice that with me, too?”

He had the final word. Graciously, it was a question. And my “Listen, God” posture was altered.

Left me wondering what a “Listen, God” posture sounds/feels/looks like. Not too hard to imagine, really. Probably sounds similar to a Christmas morning temper tantrum from a six-year-old who just finished opening more gifts than they know what to do with. Probably feels similar to the tightness in a hair stylist’s chest whose client berates them because their work doesn’t match the picture from the magazine. Probably looks like the adult child rolling their eyes at their aging parent whose short-term memory loss has them repeating the same question three times in five minutes.

How God manages to keep a “You’re my son in whom I’m well pleased” posture is beyond my comprehension. That posture transforms mine from “Listen and do what I say” to “I’m glad you’re here. What would you like to talk about?”

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

“Listen, God” (Part 1)

One night this week, I woke from a dream and felt like I was mid-conversation with God. Not necessarily thrilled at the timing, I engaged for another hour and a half before going back to sleep.

When my body said, “You’re done sleeping,” our conversation picked back up and kept going throughout the day. I shared this with four different people. And pretty much each one of them asked me what God was saying. At that point, I admitted I was doing most of the talking. My tone was very much, “Listen, God. Here’s the deal. I need some things today. And I’m not going to hold back in telling you what they are.”

I got very specific with what I wanted from him before the day ended. I mean really specific. Guess what…I didn’t get anything I asked for. Instead, I got better things, things I really needed.

As I saw what I was receiving, in God-like fashion, He gave me more than I asked for. And when I gave him a chance to speak, this is what he said: “Get your eyes off yourself, John. Can you see that I heard you? Can you see what I’m giving you?”

He really is a good Father. He receives my tone, demands, and attempts to “ask and receive.” Then he responds with loving correction and gifts that show he’s everything he promises to be.

Photo by Social Income on Unsplash

God Has Competition

Here’s a common question I’ve been asked over the years: “I don’t seem to hear from God like many people say they do. Why?”

There could be several answers to that question, but allow me to answer it with a question: “What other voices in your life is God competing against?”

I believe God desires to speak to us, to communicate with us constantly. When we stop to consider who else desires to speak to us, it’s rather eye-opening, explains how important it is to lend our ear to the voices that matter.

To answer the “what other voices” question, here’s a suggestion. Get out a piece of paper or open a digital notetaking app. Make these three headings at the top: Spiritual, Physical, Digital. Then start listing the voices attempting to speak into your life under each heading.

Be brutally honest. For example, don’t avoid listing all spiritual voices that desire to speak into your life. To deny the existence and working of demonic forces actually shows they are ahead of you. Acknowledging their existence provides a means for God to speak to you as your protector and defender.

As for the physical heading, focus on human relationships. Again, be brutally honest. Include the good and the bad voices that have some level of authority in your life. List them all. This list should be pretty lengthy if you consider them all. By the way, go ahead and list yourself. You probably listen to you more than anyone else.

That third category, digital, may seem weird to consider. Basically, all things visual and audio are speaking into our lives simply by their presence. From TV to movies to apps to music to texts to emails to blogs to videos, list them all.

Finished yet? What’s that list look like? How does that help frame God’s competition?

What I have found in my listening for God is the need to silence his competition.

The fewer voices speaking the better odds He will be heard.

The fewer voices speaking the louder His voice seems.

The fewer voices speaking the easier to attune to the one that matters most.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

This week I participated in a Q&A following a 40-minute story and message on the subject of overcoming addiction. The story shared was of a woman walking away from her Haitian family’s expectations of her continuing the business of voodoo. The message shared by a pastor focused on how God speaks into our life’s storms; his focus was the Gospel story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s attempt to do the same.

In prepping for the Q&A by listening to the pre-recording of the pastor’s message and considering the prepared questions, I revisited a book I read several years ago by Dr. Charles Stone. In his book Brain-Savvy Leaders, Dr. Stone wrote this about change:

When we learn, repeated thoughts about the same subject become mental maps that eventually become habits or deeply engrained beliefs. That’s why reading, studying, and meditating upon scripture is so vital for a Christian. The more we focus on God’s word, the more brain connections we make about this truth, thus reinforcing our values and beliefs. It’s as if the Holy Spirit “rezones” our brains with God’s truth. This change is called self-directed neuroplasticity. The Apostle Paul speaks to this change in Romans 12:2: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is-what is good and pleasing and mature.”

Chapter 4, Meet Your Brain’s Parts

What in the world is neuroplasticity? Dr. Stone describes it as the reconfiguring and rewiring of neurons that happens when we learn or when the brain “assumes functions it normally doesn’t do by taking over the functions from a damaged part of the brain.”

These thoughts were helpful to bring to the conversation when this question was asked: “What posture helps us stand against our feelings, to keep us from sinking in the storm?” Whatever our feelings are telling us about the storm we are facing, some rewiring can bring hope. However far we have sank, some reconfiguring how to think and live can lift us up.

Our brain’s zoning can be impacted greatly by traumatic events and addictive behaviors. The reality that our brain can be rezoned brings light and peace into one’s stormy life. As for postures-you might say self-directed neuroplasticity-to keep us from sinking, consider these:

  • How can you maintain a posture for learning?
  • How can you establish a posture of meditating on scripture?
  • How can you resist the posture of having your back turned away rather than your face turned toward God?

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Understanding Yes

Yesterday gave me the answer to a question. The question had to do with having said yes and wondering how that particular yes was going to work out. Turns out, pretty good…way better than expected.

The older I get the more weight each yes carries. What I’ve noticed this year focusing on flow, saying yes doesn’t always mean everything’s in order. In fact, the best yes results so far have started with very little in order.

Improving on flow and yes seems to only come by experience. It’s a product of better listening, deeper trust, and reduced paralysis from fear. These improvements, our growth, comes from both our wins and our losses.

For example, David started out with some significant yes wins. He didn’t always have everything in order the moment he said yes, like when he said, “I can take down Goliath.” Five stones later, the flow and the yes made sense. Years later, that win was countered by another yes (Bathsheba) that resulted in lifelong losses. The level at which he flowed with God determined the win or loss of his yes.

Abraham is another example. When God first asked him for a yes, Abraham had no idea how it would work out. But he followed and reaped the benefits of not expecting to understand everything ahead of time. The bumps in the road between then and saying yes to sacrificing Isaac certainly had some losses, but Abraham learned from them and improved his flow and yes to an ultimate level of sacrifice (Genesis 22).

Determining the unity of a yes with Holy Spirit flow can be tricky. One key is discerning where the wish to answer yes is coming from-my own desires or his. And often that discernment can look like asking these three questions:

  1. What is God telling me?
  2. What is God not telling me?
  3. What do I want God to tell me?

None of these questions are bad questions. But I’ve found that the only one that really matters is what is God telling me. Without the answer to that question, a yes or no shouldn’t even be given. I’m also finding that my best understanding of yes is pretty simple. If God is asking for a yes, it’s the best answer. His higher ways and thoughts support my yes. My understanding, secondary to his glory, will come when he’s done with my yes.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Be Light

As the Community Care Director for a counseling center, it’s not uncommon to be in conversations about suicide. Yet, no matter how common it may be, it has yet to feel normal.

And the reason why is because it’s not. It’s a sign of hurt and pain. We live in a broken world, which can result in people’s minds taking them down this dark road. And it’s no respecter of minds.

  • The middle-age pastor’s mind that goes home after leading a Sunday service and questions why he should go on.
  • The twelve-year-old middle schooler’s mind that leads her to a parking lot where she chooses to end her pain.
  • The senior citizen’s mind that says, “I’m done fighting this battle with my body.”

As I witnessed again this morning, when a hurting mind is met with love, empathy, and strength, healing is available. It’s not instantaneous; it’s one step at a time. A step, however small it may be, toward the light may be all that mind needs to stop spiraling into darkness.

Be light to those you know or suspect are lonely, hurting, or in pain. That is normal. And it needs to be more common.

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash