Motivated by Love

John 14:15 says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Okay- now what? Should I learn every law in the Bible, write them down, paste it up on my wall and make sure I do my best to follow them every day?

  • Sometimes the focus will become lack of obedience, leading to a negative outcome.

-You may look at that list and think well I didn’t do this, this, this or that today and be left in a state of guilt and despair.

-Next, you may think well I can do better and push yourself into obedience out of obligation. You may wind up having an obligation to obey the law based on some notion that your obedience will justify blessings. Obedience to justify the blessings of God doesn’t seem like it would be pleasing to Him.

  • The way I see it- the cross has already justified my blessing.

Ultimately- God’s desire is to pour out his blessing on you, and the desire is based on nothing you do but out of unwavering love for you. We are only able to live in the fullness of God’s blessing by embracing a journey of recognizing His love for us. You might look at it as a journey of full-on acceptance of grace.

Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “the plain truth is that my love for God (and hence, my obedience) will grow as I cultivate my comprehension of his vast love for me. If we neglect this key by focusing too narrowly on ourselves, our success or failure, then we’ll become mired down in guilt or pride, neither of which will stimulate loving obedience.”

It’s not that I think I can do whatever I want because I am already covered by grace. This is true to some extent- I am covered; my past, present and future sins were bought at the price of the cross. But if I were to do whatever I wanted and essentially live in sin that would cheapen the cross. My recognition of God’s love for me brings me into the greatest love story of all time, therefore motivating me to obey. I am not out to obey because of fear, guilt, or a mindset that my obedience will somehow bless me. Of course, I will continue to struggle- because my love is imperfect.

  • My love is weak and wavering

I am only capable of a dim understanding of the love displayed by Jesus on the cross. I am still vulnerable to Satan’s lies and I will be until the day I die. It is only at the moment of entrance into the heavenly presence of God that we are perfected for all time. But God, who goes beyond all of that- all of my mistakes and persona’s, God who knows my innermost thoughts looks at me with perfection and calls me His beloved. “He patiently and gently draws us back into His loving arms and reassures us of His overwhelming compassion, mercy, and grace.” –Fitzpatrick.

When I recognize the depth of my depravity and realize my complete inability to do anything on my own; I don’t feel guilt or failure anymore. But I am able to look at my Savior with such awe because he chose someone like me to be broken, to be a little lost for a while but then be rescued. He redeemed me. The blessings in my life leave me in awe of the obedience of Christ on the cross and motivate me to pursue God out of love.

“If we intently focus on how we’ve been loved, irrevocably, eternally, freely, and without merit, if we contemplate how our obedience (or lack of it) doesn’t faze his love one whit, then we’ll find within our hearts a growing desire to obey. Why? Because love like that changes people.” –Fitzpatrick

Thank you for reading, Laura Ragland

If you’d like to continue the conversation post in the comments or tweet me here, you can also find me on my site Confessions of an everyday, ordinary sinner.

Find Elyse Fitzpatrick’s book Comforts from the Cross on Amazon.

How Kiva Connects Us to 3rd World Entrepreneurs


I normally would not send post again so closely to the morning, but Kiva is offering a limited number of free $25 loans that you can get started with. If there are any available I highly recommend it!

Kiva is a wonderful organization that provides micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. They have facilitated over 210 million loans with a repayment rate of 98.91% (source). Comparatively, student loan repayment in 2009 was roughly 55% (source).

Unlike many charities, you can select the individual or business that you would like to assist, and then receive updates on their progress, and how your loan is being repaid. When it has been paid in full, you may withdraw, or loan it out another borrower.

Click to apply for a FREE starter loan today and begin making a difference.

How a Kiva loan works:


Kiva Founder Jessica Jackley talks about poverty, money, and love at TED.

What Should Kids Learn These Days? My Reading for the Week

I hope everyone had a good weekend, Western North Carolina was blessed with an incredible weekend of blue skies and mild temps! On to this week’s readings…

Creative Commons via Moriza (flickr)

9 Essential Skills Kids Should Learn

I work with kids, and so I’m constantly looking around for good reading on child development and education. For all the “experts” in the field, Leo (of Zen Habits) has identified 9 skills that kids need to be able to draw from throughout their lives. The notion that we educate kids in the same way we did 50 years ago is losing traction, we are training them for the past. We can’t predict the future, and it changes rapidly. So what should be the essence of what they learn? Click to read Leo’s recommendations.

How to Speed Read like Teddy Roosevelt & Scientific Speed Reading (separate articles)

I’m always reading, but can become discouraged with how my list increases by the week. The picture of the 15 books of Christmas? I haven’t finished a single one. I used to be very snobby about speed reading, thinking I wouldn’t get anything out of the book if I sped through. I going to try and change that. Many of the books I have I don’t necessarily need to read analytically, especially some of the business books. Now there is information that is helpful in them, but there they are, resting on my shelf. I’m going to give it a shot. Do any of you speed read? What are your thoughts?

A Coaching Philosophy

Vern Gambetta is one of my favorite sport trainers and coaches working today. He really knows how to breakdown a movement in to small steps that can be improved upon, gradually improving the athlete as a whole. Also, despite being a “guru” and speaking at events around the world, he also takes time to be the strength coach for a girl’s volleyball team in Venice, FL (they’re pretty good). His posts on working with athletes and coaching styles are very thought-provoking, which you can see after the jump.

Seth Godin’s 1st Reading List of 2012

It’s Seth, ’nuff said

Speed Freak

Swiss climber Ueli Steck has ascended some of the classic alpine routes in the world in record time. It’s a fascinating read on his training, drive, and trappings of new fame he has found himself in.

Using Great Storytelling to Grow Your Business

A short read that covers 2 ways to craft your story in to a memorable one. Techniques used: LOTS and the Story Spine.

Visual Panoramic of the Sistine Chapel

Indescribably beautiful

Thanks for checking in this morning, I have a post in the hopper that will be up tomorrow. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you’ve been reading, and how it’s inspired you!

22 People Who Are Better Than Me (in a good way!)

Today I got down to thinking about what I really want to write about, and more specifically, where I would want the process to take me. I would love to be able to travel, wrote about nature, the outdoors, make short films, coach football, help those in need, go on mission trips, and work with kids. That’s all (sarcastic/hopeful tone).

Then I considered what I’ve been writing about, and my content didn’t match my hope that well. Since I’m starting out as a writer, I do believe it’s best to keep writing, and focus your voice and content as you get better. At least that’s what I’m going for right now. I have been writing a lot about writing and the creative process, and honestly it’s been easy to use that as a topic because it’s a daily part of my life. I’m basically re-packaging my own struggles and sharing them with you. Hopefully though, it helps in a small way.

One of the main challenges I face is the realization that there are so many people and services out right now who are doing what I want to do, and doing it really, really well. I’m becoming less intimidated by them, because I know that I can do great work as well. The challenge is taking the chance and putting forth the years of work necessary to get to where they are now. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are social platforms or the permission to impact people in a busy world. I don’t know how to write great code, use sophisticated SEO tactics, or create beautiful designs. I tell stories.

Presently though, here are a list of people and sites that I read daily, or will read, watch, or listen to anything they release. I haven’t included any company sites or blogs, they’re in a different category than these 22 run by an individual or small team. They certainly have a voice in the work that I produce, and I hope you enjoy them as well!


Adventure Journal – Steve Casmiro (former editor of Cycling magazine and top-notch photographer) has built the premier site for all things outdoor. News, advocacy, links, photography, gear, food, they have it all. This is the main outdoor site I visit daily, the content is rich and worthwhile. I would visit simply to drool over the Weekend Cabin (which you should as well). It was also just named Outside Magazine’s #1 Outdoor site.

Check out these posts to get started:

Cold Splinters – Jeff Thrope has made the outdoors feel all 1970’s again, and I love it. The site in itself is beautifully designed and vintage, the photography syncs perfectly with the site with vintage filters, and he writes very well. Cold Splinters is where I can feel like an outdoors hipster. It’s a general outdoor site, but the Trail Mix posts are very enjoyable, along with any of the well-written posts about doing work with your hands.

Check out these posts to get started:

Semi-Rad – I really enjoy Brendan Leonard’s blog, because he is a regular guy trying to live the dream. Also, he shows up and delivers to his tribe, consistency is king! My favorite part of his blog is the About Me.

Check out these posts to get started:

Dirtbag Diaries – This is really more of a podcast, and maybe the best outdoor life podcast going today. The stories take center stage, tales of adventure and brokenness that mirror our own lives. The Diaries popularity is also helped by the music that Fitz puts together for each episode, then make available in the notes.

Check out these posts to get started:

The Gear Junkie – Stephen Regenold has put together one of the best outdoor gear review sites, and my personal favorite. If you’re like me and want to low-down on every piece of outdoor gear you purchase, the Gear Junkie is a great place to look. He’s also active on twitter, and has responded directly to a few of my gear inquiries.

Check out these posts to get started:


Smart Football – Chris Brown is a lawyer turned football analyst, and his acumen for breaking down plays, techniques, and game plans is undeniable. If I’m following twitter during a game, Smart Football is definitely on the list. I’m also convinced that a smart person with average football knowledge could turn themselves in to a decent high school football coach simply by reading Smart Football.

Check out these posts to get started:

Only Gators – I graduated from Florida, and Adam Silverstein runs the best insider blog on the interwebs right now. I’ll check in with OG on a regular basis to see what’s been happening, and daily during football season. No links to read, if you’re a Gator fan just go ahead and start following.

Dr. Saturday – This is a stretch, since Dr Saturday is the Yahoo Sports College Football blog, thus not independent. But it is the most consistent, well-written source of news and updates in college football. The previous head guy, Matt Hinton, has recently left the building, replaced by the new head lady, Graham Watson. Looking forward to the new season.

Writing, Creativity, and Business

Jeff Goins – I’ve written about Jeff a few times, mainly here. He’s actually probably getting tired of it. Jeff consistently turns out great content and advice for writers, no matter what stage of the craft you’re in. Begin reading and you won’t be disappointed.

Check out these posts to get started:

Michael Hyatt – Michael is the Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, but on his blog he focuses on the topic of Intentional Leadership. He writes about other topics, but that is the main focus. I really appreciate the honesty Michael communicates with, and his willingness to share knowledge gleaned from many years in the writing business.

Check out these posts to get started:

Seth Godin – Seth is the first author I read who challenged me to think about how I worked. I am continually inspired by his work, and at the root of my amazement is his consistency! In 2009 he wrote his 3,000 daily post in a row, affirming his commitment to spreading ideas and new ways of thinking. He’s also a master at taking an idea or thought that is on the tip of your tongue, and giving it life. Check him out.

Check out these posts to get started:

Daniel Pink – Dan’s site is extremely interesting, and I’ve mentioned some of his work before. The Pomodoro technique came from Dan’s site, and his book A Whole New Mind was very important for me, especially just after graduating college. You can find a wealth of analytical information, presented in a fascinating manner, along with many other topics. One of my favorite running features is emotionally intelligent signage. Give him a look.

Check out these posts to get started:

Garr Reynolds – I read Garr’s book Presentation Zen 4 years ago, and it made me think differently about the way I speak in front of people, communicate information, and design everything. You wouldn’t think of the design and layout of power point presentations as art, but then you haven’t seen Garr’s slide decks. It changed everything for me in those areas. The design aspect spilled over in to other areas of life as well, to websites, my office, home, and really everything.

Check out these posts to get started:

Corbett Barr – Corbett runs, arguably the best site for bloggers looking to generate more traffic and income. It’s the only site of its kind that is currently in my rss reader, because it’s so detailed and extensive. Corbett has experience with several other successful blogs and websites, which you can find out more about by visiting his personal site.

Check out these posts to get started (on ThinkTraffic):

Christian Spirituality

Donald Miller – Donald is the author of several books, most notably Blue Like Jazz. Another important book in my life, it challenged me in my Christian faith and caused me to think about what my faith really meant to me. He is very human-story focused right now, his latest book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years covering the subject of the creative process, and being able to tell one’s story. All of this is done against the backdrop of what God has done for us and the life he’s called us to live.

Check out these posts to get started:

Richard Rohr – I almost didn’t put Fr. Rohr here, he can be so controversial. But he has also pointed me down the path of worrying about myself less (and one day not at all), helping the poor & needy, not seeking fame, and being able to embrace both my strengths and weaknesses. He’s also been significant in his writing on male development and rites of passage in the modern world, a topic that is very important in my work with young men.

Check out these posts to get started:

Ryan Taylor – Man, I really like Ryan. Never met the guy, but no worries. Ryan is the Director of Access Denver, plays basketball, and writes a solid blog. He is another leader who is challenging others to look around and see the suffering in our neighborhoods, and be the hands of God in creating change. I’ve written about him a bit more here.

Check out these posts to get started:

General Interest & Fun

The Art of Manliness – Yes, they have fun posts like How to Make a Survival ShotgunThey have informative posts like How to Carve a TurkeyThey also assemble great lists like 100 Must-Read Books: The Man’s Essential Library. But what really made me a full-fledged believer in the AoM was Brett & Sarah McKay’s research and writing about male development and being a man. Not an ultra-masculine no-nonsense man, or a soft, passive man. A Man; forged out of the experience of those before him, ready to do hard things, think of others’ before self, stand up for what’s right, and be a contributor to his community. Love it.

To get started, click on the articles above.

The Oatmeal – My interest in goofy internet comics really peaked during college, and since then I don’t go searching for such hilarity often. The Oatmeal though, really came to me. I saw the Dear Sriracha comic at Sunny Pointe Cafe, and liked it so much that I hunted down the site. Matt Inman does a wonderful job fusing humor, common sense, plain-as-day irony, and grammar checks in to his brand. Go over there and have a laugh. *FYI, not all comics are squeaky-clean, though the ones I linked are fine. 

Check out these posts to get started:

Zen Habits – Leo Babauta has curated one of the most popular blogs on the internet, and one of the most interesting. I’ve only been reading it for a couple weeks myself, but I’m blown away, definitely one that I can read for an hour and not realize it. Highly recommended.

Instead of linking a few articles, Leo has made it easy for us by creating a Start Here page.

The Minimalists – My friend Bryce told me about this site, as I was telling him about my feelings towards having fewer possessions. “You need to read what these guys are writing” he told me. So I did, and stayed up most of the night reading through their entire 21 Day Journey in to Minimalism page. It lit a fire under me, gave some substance to the conversations my wife and I had been having. Within a week, I had given away boxes of clothes, packed up extra household and kitchen products, and put the TV in the attic. I haven’t missed any of those things, because I am more than my possessions.

Check out these posts to get started:

Tim Ferriss – I have a love/hate relationship with Tim Ferriss’ writing and self-promotion. Mainly, I think he comes off as self-promoting and arrogant. I also think he is quite interesting and has many good things to say about creative ways to live and work. I can respect that. I mainly respect the effort and practice that he puts in to his craft of writing, and his personal blog. The blog is a smorgasbord of topics, enjoy picking through them.

Check out these posts to get started:

Wow, that took much longer than I had planned. When I said “today” at the beginning of the post, it was Monday. I’m publishing on Friday. I went through many temptations to cut the list, not include Get Started links, and leave out the descriptions. In other words, obey the path of least resistance. I’m glad I didn’t, and hope you agree.

Finally, this is simply my list, and it won’t be the last. People are doing incredible, creative work, and I would love to hear about the writers, bloggers, and creatives that inspire you. Leave your suggestions in the comments!

9 Techniques for Better Public Speaking

“A study was done where they asked people what their biggest fear was. The number 1 response was public speaking. Number 2 was death! Number 2?! That means if you were at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!” – Jerry Seinfeld

In my work, I regularly speak in front of a crowd of people. They range from a small group of 8, to 500 or more. I speak between 35-50 times a year. I’ve been speaking at this pace for the past 3 years, and really enjoy it. I’ve also helped others with their speaking presence and craft, as they work to communicate their ideas passionately and effectively. I recently helped out a co-worker who was submitting a TEDx talk, and we worked for a couple hours on the write-up and execution of a 2 minute video. Honing your speech or video definitely takes time, but the discipline is worth it.

Here are 9 techniques I use when going over a presentation or speech:

1.  Know your topic, and have a memory system

There is no substitute for knowing your topic. If you try and wing the speech, a knowledgable audience will see through you. You can be an average speaker and still make a good speech if you are well-versed in the topic, so study up! Technique 1a is to use a type of memory technique to keep you flowing in the talk. Use note cards, a memory palace, or a monitor that faces you. Whatever helps you feel comfortable. As you continue, I think you will need them less.

2.  Use a quote, story, or statistic early in the speech

I used a quote at the beginning of this post. When I’m speaking about Rockmont, I give my personal story of my first summer, and how it has impacted me. Speakers regularly use statistics (the more shocking, the better) to grab audience attention from the start. The reason is that using this technique will help you establish common ground with your audience. The quote inspires or makes us laugh, a story should be relatable (remembering your first away-from-home experience), and statistics can do any number of things. But your early hook should be relatable and intriguing.

3.  Use a speaker’s worksheet

I have attached a worksheet that you are free to download and use for your speaking purposes. Click to download. It is best used for review, either watching video of your own speech, or for a live reviewer. My sheet is pretty simple because I didn’t want to clutter it up. Make any adjustments you feel are necessary for your own speaking. The sheet helps me keep track of any poor communication habits I’m forming, and to focus in the essence of the speech.

4.  Minimize/eliminate filled pauses and weak words

This is a review technique that is important, and requires someone to work with you. When you have practiced and rehearsed, grab your peer reviewer and hand him/her the worksheet. Your speaking will be helped by having even an audience of 1, and their note-taking will help you as well. The best scenario is to have a practice audience you can speak to, and a reviewer off to the side taking notes.

5.  Speak with passion

If you care, the audience will be more likely to buy in and care. We’ve all heard dispassionate, droning speeches and lectures, and it’s plain to see that the speaker doesn’t care about the topic, so why should we? Love it, and allow your audiene to see your passion.

6.  Practice, practice, practice

Once again, no substitute for this. Once you have done the research and know your topic, begin practicing your speech. Your voice will sound shaky and you may have many filled pauses, weak words, and glances at your shoes, but it is better to do this during practice sessions, and not at the event.

7.  Look your audience in the eye

Engage your audience through eye contact, doing this lets them feel that they matter, and you care about relaying your topic. A quick look to the side or the back is fine, but don’t do it often. People are going to wonder what’s so interesting about the stage you keep looking at. Your reviewer will be able to help with this as well, and the worksheet has a box for tracking.

8.  Video yourself

Ask a friend or co-worker to film your practice sessions and live talks. Two reasons for this: A, it will give you an opportunity to critique yourself before the live event. Sports teams have been watching film of their performance for years, so they can see what needs to be improved. B, filming live events will allow you to post your live talks on your site, adding credibility to the fact you can speak in public.

9.  Speak on a regular basis

If your first talk doesn’t go well, do not despair, many do not! If you knock it out of the park, good for you! In either scenario, keep showing up and speaking again, continuing to hone your voice and craft. Practice, review, practice, review, speak. Find opportunities to speak at Toastmasters, Pecha Kucha, Trade Shows, and Conferences. If you’re still in school, you will be greatly admired for having the courage to speak in front of your class. But keeping showing up and doing the work, and people will certainly respect that.

In Review:

Seth Godin has said, “The ideas that spread, win”. Social media and web 2.0 have enabled you to be a part of the conversation, to be an influence, and spread ideas. Public speaking is a great way to communicate face-to-face about ideas and issues you are passionate about. Put in the work and make your time count.

There is my list, what are your thoughts, and can you help add to it?

P.S.  If you would like help with your speech, or have any additional questions, please let me know!

Visual Example of Generating Blog Topics

Before you is a visual example of a 30 minute process on generating subjects, themes, topics, and intentions for your blog. A big thanks to Jeff Goins for putting these lessons together (if you didn’t get on his Intentional Blogging program, bummer).

What matters to you and why are you sharing it through an online presence? There are many things for me, as you see in the subject field. This process helped me narrow the subject down to actionable steps and topics, generating a flurry of ideas for posts. I hope that seeing how I went about it helps you guys do the same. If you would like the original photo file, just let me know in the comments, but you should just be able to right click and ‘save as’. Enjoy!

Blogging Lesson #1 - Focus

Anything is Possible

When did we lose our collective sense of the possible? Really, anything can happen at any time. I didn’t think September 11, 2001 was different from any other day, walking to class as a senior in High School. Or the day in 10th grade when I was introduced to my future wife (5 years in May). How about the day I was suddenly the Head Coach of a girl’s lacrosse team, after 2 weeks of coaching experience?

Anything is possible. It’s a statement that can carry a lot of fear, but also a lot of power. When anything is possible, you can do things, initiate projects, make stuff matter. As you consider giving that homeless person a few minutes of your time, and some food, or someone you don’t know a ride, you could also miss a car wreck in the amount of time it takes you to pull over. I’m not trying to make you think about checks and balances and filling up your ledger with good deeds, but feeling a security in the fact that anything can happen.

In your work, community, church, family, the people who are making a difference are the ones who are ok with doing things and being present with others. It doesn’t always work out, no one is perfect. But wouldn’t you rather be working/playing/living with someone who is willing to do something, anything, to make a positive difference. I think we are more comfortable with them failing in the act of doing than those who never try to make a difference at all.

How Haiti, Fight Club, Being Homeless, & Minimalism Tie Together

It has been a challenging month. Since December 12, God has used me in ways that I didn’t think he would. I have been in more uncomfortable situations more than I can remember, and with people I have never associated with. I’ve slept on bunk beds, the ground, tables, and not at all. I’ve shared meals, stories, and laughs with the homeless, poor, widows, orphans, and drug addicts. I’ve seen more of the gospel revealed to me in ways that only God can show in our brokenness. I’ve also written more than ever, save for high school.

Let’s Start with Haiti

I’ve already written about my experience in Haiti here, here, and made a video. I keep coming back to it. The simplicity of life, worship, community, and struggle is strangely intoxicating. Today is the 2 year “anniversary” of the Earthquake that wrecked an already struggling country. If you need a reminder, read this straight-from-Haiti account from my friend Jeremy Schurke. People who I haven’t seen since I returned ask about it, and I still haven’t come up with great talking points.

There is struggle, faith, hope, and love. There is voodoo, crime, and pain. There are fantastic drivers. I had never been out of the country, and certainly not a 3rd world country. I took a lot in, didn’t talk as much as I normally do, and listened. I tried to speak creole. I played soccer with a milk jug and basketball with a basketball (c’mon people, don’t be silly). I talked to Haitians about their faith and God. I realized how much we have butchered the English language, as a Haitian friend studied the book, How to Speak English Like an American.
A heart of gold? What does that even mean?

I made new friends, woke up early, watched the stars at night, and wrote consistently. Mission of Hope and Lespwa are doing amazing work in Haiti, I encourage anyone to support them. What is staying with me is how God made it possible for us to go, and then made me very uncomfortable when I was there. The poverty, trash, hunger, and disease was overwhelming. But then so was Church, the way people smiled, and spoke to us. I felt guilt over having so much, the simple blessings of food, shelter, clothes, and warmth. The Haitian people didn’t have much, but they had their faith.

Israel – “Without God in my life, I am nothing. This is the same for you, no?”

Me – “Yes, of course. God is everything.”

Except he’s not, I instantly realized. He’s a part, and sometimes not even at the top. This shamed me more than my house full of possessions. Because I often live like God is a simply a part of my life.

“Hope I can fit you in today Creator! There’s work, my wife, dog, cleaning the house,exercising, writing, checking my social network, words with friends, reading, checking in with friends, reading about Tebow (you must like that though), reading about the Gators new OC (hope he can make the transition to the SEC, did you see Bama’s D!? Of course you did), and playing the guitar. If I play worship songs does that count as scripture and prayer?”

So that was even more about Haiti. God wrecked my pre-conceived notions, ideas, and thoughts. Just like he said he would.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30

I’ll be learning from that experience for the rest of my life. In the words of Ahhh-nold

Welcome to Fight Club

This is a great movie (and book), if you can get past the cursing (lots of it), rampant sex and nudity, and general unacceptable social behavior. The message really does have a lot to teach us and bring to light. What I want to hit on is that we are a consumer economy, which is not a surprise to anyone. We are bombarded with messages of not being pretty enough, rich enough, stylish enough, popular enough, and how to go about changing that. Americans spent $52.4 BILLION dollars on Black Friday alone (via CNNmoney). We have been sold on this obsession that we can never have enough, and in the context of that stuff, it’s true. We try and fill our emptiness with things, instead of God, love, and relationships.

You’re not your job…
You’re not how much money you have in the bank…
You’re not the car you drive…
You’re not the contents of your wallet…
You’re not your khakis…

- Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt)

I believe we really think those things at times! We place our identity in all these things instead of in God, which is the only way that we can fill that emptiness and become whole! At the beginning of the movie, Edward Norton’s character wonders which dining set defines him as a person.

This isn’t a critique of a single group of people or lifestyles, it is a mindset that affects many of us to varying degrees.

The things you own, end up owning you.

On to Minimalism

I have plenty of clothes. How many shirts can you wear at once? Well, not including this guy, probably just 2 (including an undershirt). 1 pair of pants at a time, boxers, socks, and shoes. I’m not a guy that enjoys going out and buying new clothes, but I can be picky. I had the mindset that since I didn’t buy much, I deserved to have high-quality on what I did buy! But still, I bought, accumulated, and became kinda snobby. My wife, wise as she is, said I needed to go through it and give some stuff away. I had probably 30 T shirts, lots of dress shirts, and could rationalize most everything. This was given to me… I have to look nice for this… When I go backpacking I need the best gear. Don’t even get me started on my borderline addiction to outdoor gear, that’s another post entirely. I completely intended to follow her advice and pare the collection down, but had neglected it. What if I need this? I want to give this specifically to someone… I could probably sell this.

At my weekly man coffee session, my friend Bryce told me about a blog he had been reading on Minimalism. We had talked about Fight Club, and he thought I would like this site, The Minimalists. He was right. I tore through their “essays” and got the kick in the pants my wife was trying to apply (if only I took her advice earlier). I thought of how I overpacked for Haiti, and only wore half of what I brought. After 2 days I looked at my 5 shirts (one for each day) and thought about the lunacy of deciding which shirt would look best on me. And it was no more insane to do so back home, where people may even notice I only wear a handful of clothes or don’t have anything new. So while she was gone for a few days, I filled up 3 boxes worth of clothes that I hadn’t worn in months, or didn’t like as much, and committed to only 3 drawers and 3 shelves. I have 4 pair of underwear (Ex Officio, you know it). All my non-dress clothes can fit there, I always wear what I like, there are no “winter clothes” boxes, and I do less laundry. I packed up all the dining plates, cups, and mugs that we don’t use, forcing us to wash what we use. We’ve pretty much done away with the dishwasher. We’re selling our multiple coffee and end tables, are trying to sell the TV, and gave away a couch. Life feels less cluttered. If I was to go back and live the college life again, I would be a minimalist. Cheaper, easier to organize, pack, and clean! A little word of wisdom for all my college age friends and co-workers.

The stuff that I didn’t give to Goodwill, the homeless shelter, or sell, I wanted to give to friends and family. So I took pictures of everything and put it on Facebook and Google+. The response was fantastic. Several things were claimed, all by people who needed them and would use them more than me. My favorite interaction was from a friend I’ve never met face to face, but Jessica and her husband Raja are two of the bravest people I’ve ever interacted with (though they wouldn’t say that). They spend most of their money on others’ needs, and so for me to be able to give them jeans, a sweater, and black shirt was very humbling for me. It is mere pennies to what they have given others and to God. Read more about their incredible story and their adopted son, Adam. 

My Facebook peeps have had plenty of time to pick through it, so here is what I still have. If you would like something, just comment on it and it’s yours. I may ask that you pay the shipping, if you can swing it.


If you want to read more on minimalism, I recommend Ev Bogue and Joshua Beckeramong others.

Being Homeless

God has also presented my with the opportunity to serve the homeless here in Black Mountain. When the temperature is below 40 degrees, First Baptist Church of Black Mountain opens it doors to the homeless. They probably average 6/night, and are fed, have access to the bathroom, a shower, and bed. Going the first time was a kick in the gut. I saw people there who I had passed on the road several times, too busy or too scared to help. Now here we were, having dinner together, playing Spades, and watching a movie. They were kind and polite, thanking me and Shawn for giving our time. Once again, I was humbled by the kindness of others, and felt a bit like a fake. I was glad to help, they were changing me just as much as I was helping them. But of course I went home to a warm house and loving family. None of the guests had a warm home, and few had loving families. One man, Robert, told me that he had been homeless and traveling the country for over 20 years. Some were drug addicts, and honestly spoke about using, hitting bottom, and trying to recover. “One day at a time” was the mantra. They knew their shadows intimately well, and were trying to learn from them. When I wrote about the shadow side and humility, I thought about them. They were not trying to build themselves up or hide their struggles, because to name it was the only way to begin to recover. They also had no need for additional clothes or things, for them minimalism was a way of life. Don’t need what you can’t carry!

It was during an overnight watch that I read The Minimalists 21 Day Journey, and finally had some concrete examples and steps to take. It was humbling to need that kick, that I couldn’t do it on my own or on my wife’s previously stated advice. I have been able to journal and read while there, and get to know my watch partner. The most recent guy, Mel, was 71 and had lived quite a life. Simply in the course of talking, he dispensed wisdom on work, marriage, the importance of possessions, and more.

I used to get excited about going to Haiti, New Orleans, or other places that needed my help. It is ironic that the poor end up helping and teaching me as much as I try and help them. But part of the allure of mission work was the distance, I could help and give fully without thought of embarrassment or shame, because I would never see them again. I was still protecting myself. I have realized though that we are needed to minister and help right in our communities, and that this is as important, if not more so, than going overseas. If the people that we pass on the street can not count on us to support them and be God’s hands and feet, then we have failed our neighbors. And Jesus has some radical things to say about being neighbors. We can not be afraid or protect our egos. Let God handle our safety and our lives, he’s up for the task.

Adding Everything Up

I don’t need all this stuff. God has enabled me to help others. There is unbelievable poverty 710 miles from Miami. There are homeless and poor in your town. We can break the cycle of poverty and hunger. It is fulfilling to give things away and see them appreciated and used by others. You are not your job. You are not the contents of your wallet. There is hope. You are unique, loved, and created by God.

So, what’s been happening in your life?

Start from the bottom, or the top?

When I move on a project, a test, athletic event, most anything, I expect to do well and finish near the top. I’m not the best at things anymore, and it’s been a while since I’ve had the best time, highest score, etc. But I believe that I will do well, work hard, and I usually finish up there. If I expect a 98 on a test and get a 90, it’s lower than I expected but still good, maybe a little disappointing. When I ran the Black Mountain Marathon, I hoped for top 30 overall, finished 43rd. Solid.

My wife is different. She starts from the bottom. She doesn’t think she will do well, studies her ass off, trains hard, and always exceeds her expectations… because they’re low. This won’t be a success, I’m going to get a C, I hope I don’t finish last… so that when she gets a 90, does well, and finishes top 3 in her age group, it’s a wild success.

I would say she is a cautious optimist, and I am a confident optimist. I think we frustrate each other sometimes, my confidence and general enthusiasm balanced with her ability to see where the cracks are and account for them. We work well together. Side note: My wife is an incredible woman, not some depressing, un-achieving bore. I will get in trouble if she reads this.

Where do you start from? I don’t think either one is wrong, and people have different approaches. Organizations need both kinds of thinkers to succeed. Would enjoy hearing your thoughts.

The Regressive American’s Manifesto

What if a politician or public figure gave a speech like this?

The Regressive American’s Manifesto

My fellow Americans. I always wanted to say that. Truth is most of the time when a person stands behind a lectern and says that classic opening line, we’re not always telling the truth. We’re all here, in America, mostly citizens, but we don’t know each other very well. What you know about me you read in the paper, online, or from hear from other people. We don’t know each other like we used to, in a deep relational way. I could tell you the life story of Tim Tebow, but can I tell you the life story of the person who lives next door… can you? Truth is we’ve lost our sense of community, of living together, helping each other, watching the kids, bartering goods and services, and building tree houses. Or maybe, Americans are doing those things more than ever, and I’m just out of touch, and need to get off the stand. I hope so.

I’m here to tell you today that I don’t have all the answers, can’t heal all the hurts of the country, and couldn’t come close to getting it done in 4 or even 8 years. But, I do have some ideas, and you’ll join me in making our ideas and dreams work, we can all do it together. It’s crazy for anyone to think they he or she has all the answers, but I bet we have at least 1 or 2 of them! I used to be discouraged about trying to change the world, I mean, the world is an awful big place, with billions of people, how can I change it for the better? I was thinking big thoughts, and now, I’m thinking about things on a smaller scale. Because what if we all committed time and effort to making just a couple things better? The way we talk with strangers, or volunteer at the soup kitchen? Could we slowly make each section of the world better? I believe we could.

There is a lot of talk lately about being progressive. Progressive politics, churches, economics, education, and more. Always advancing, trying to better the system, churn out more. As for me, I’m trying to be more regressive. I’m not talking about only white males being allowed to vote, fire and brimstone, and women not working in the boardroom. I’m talking about not always trading up, about contentment, living simply, and staying behind. I love the American work ethic, the can-do spirit that can take a group of British rebels and build a country, a civil war nurse to found the American Red Cross, and a handful of college dropouts to revolutionize computing. Many of us are very blessed, in ways so simple they escape us. Do we have a roof over our heads, clean water, food, and clothing? Right there, we have all that is necessary for life. The majority of the world lives on pennies a day, and minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Now, our brothers and sisters who cannot claim those basic necessities, what can we do to help them? Can we give more of what we have, even old clothes? Make a loaf of PB&Js and pass them out in the streets? Instead of always giving 10% to a charity you can’t see the result of, why not spend that money on all the coats you can buy at Goodwill, then distribute them on a cold night? You see, there’s a dark side of “getting ahead”, and that’s leaving others behind. Our forefathers worked hard, the strength of their backs and the sharpness of their minds providing for the needs of their family and that of the community. For thousands of years, the people worked hard every day together, and shared the bounty. Teepees were not bigger or smaller based on your crop or kills, and everyone prospered. The challenge for us, my friends, is to merge our progressive knowledge in technology, science, medicine, and other disciplines, with the regressive values of community, shared prosperity, and mutual concern.

I can’t promise you that the economy will get better, that things will go back to the way they were, and we’ll all be on our merry way. Truth be told, I don’t want things to go back to the way they were, because I don’t believe we can fight the lure of excess. I want to know if I can be ok with less. Can we look at the chinese art of wabi sabi as an example? Wabi Sabi looks for the beauty in the imperfect, the used, and the things that have served us. The old car that has driven you across the country, that you proposed in, and drove your wife to the hospital in, can it be fixed up and driven more? The sweater that you played pickup football in, but now has holes in the elbows, can it be patched? In Wabi Sabi, we appreciate an item serving its purpose, in a life well-lived, and in the march of time. Where can we make do with less? I know I don’t need 20 t-shirts, I nearly had an entire dresser devoted to t-shirts! I’ll be ok without them, I had to realize that my things, they don’t own me, and I don’t serve them. What are the things that you hold dear, the things you serve. What owns us? Can we live in smaller houses, create more space for nature, and reduce the impact we have on the planet? I believe we can. For years, we have been driven by a desire to get ahead, to have more, to be better, and improve our lifestyle. Not all of these are bad, and I strongly believe that deep down, we know what is good. At my core, I want to do what is good, and I’m on a daily crash course of discovering what that is. No, I still don’t have all the answers, and never will. I need to be checked and challenged regularly, so I don’t get full of myself. Honest friends are the greatest gift we can receive.

I have my ideas, and each day, will strive to do what’s best for this world, this country, and its people. But it can’t be all about me. The power to change the world lies in your hands. I need your help, and we all need each other.

Thank you, and God Bless

Written by Matt Ragland –