Writing for Eyeballs, Writing for Love


I check my site stats daily, just wanting to see how many people have been checking the site out. I check what posts do well, what’s speaking to people, search terms, and referral links. Over the past week, I’ve noticed a trend. The most searched for keywords that people are finding my blog from are: Ryan Gosling, Crazy Stupid Love clothes, Ryan Gosling style.

Ugh. It goes back to this post. ONE POST. There are 3 lessons from this.

One, you should keep writing and hitting publish, especially early on in your writing. You’ll get better as the process continues. So write about topics you’re interested in, write as well as you can, without getting terrified that your writing isn’t catchy or challenging enough. Because…

Two, you can never predict what is going to be popular and speak to people. The post in question, Road Warrior – Tips When Packing for Business Travel, took me under an hour, and I didn’t care that much about it. I thought it was a worthwhile topic, and I had knowledge to impart, so there we go. Now the post on Haiti, Minimalism, Fight Club, and being Homeless, it was my baby. I spent 4 hours and over 2000 words on it.

Site stats on those posts?

  • Travel Clothes – 20 views, 50% via tag and search terms
  • Haiti – 45 views, 2% via tag and search search terms

Yes, Haiti had more page views, but the majority of my traffic comes from direct links via email or facebook. Tag and search terms are usually the new/unique visitors. Earlier this week I posted a list of 5 no equipment exercises you could do, and that has generated a lot of search and tag related traffic. This shows again that people are searching for ways to be fit and look good, and no surprise there.

Three, should you even care about what is going to be popular? Yes and no. It’s nice to see stats increase to have people following your blog and visiting. It’s good to write content that people are looking for and interested in. Which drives traffic, which can drive revenue.

But ultimately, I say no, don’t write for popularity, write for your passion and creativity. If you are continually seeking out the latest popular search terms and tags, and trying to craft your essays around that, you will burn out. Because the fire isn’t inside you, and your writing will be hollow. People don’t want to read hollow writing.

So go tell your story and share the things you are passionate about. This is the best writing you can do, and what will ultimately resonate with people. If you got in to this game for the money and the fame, go try something else. I care about telling people how life is in Haiti, the streets of WNC, tips for being healthy, and ways I feel God calling me to live. I’ll post on other matters as well, like travel, exercise, nutrition, and sports, but that’s not my forte, and other people do it so much better. What gets the stats, I’m caring less and less. I simply want to share what is going on, and hope that it can impact others.

Ultimately, I believe that is what the world needs from me. What do you think it needs from you?

Advertisements

There is Enough



Plenty for me, 27 t-shirts, 8 pairs of casual shorts, 6 pairs of athletic shorts, 2 pairs of jeans, 4 pairs of dress pants, 5 jackets (rain, cold, snow), 22 dress shirts, 6 pairs of shoes.

Plenty of underwear and socks. Food in the pantry, and in the fridge. Car in the drive, books on the shelf.

Running water, money in the bank.

This is the abridged version.

A man on the corner, everything in backpack.

A woman and child, their belongings in a grocery cart.

A child with no shoes.

“Food insecurity” is the new term for “no dinner tonight”.

A windbreaker in the snow storm

while a warm coat sits in my closet.

You see it’s my backup coat.

There is enough, and it is in my house

Gathering dust.

While people are down the road

Gathering hope.

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.

FREE STUFF

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?

Film: Lespwa pou Haiti (Hope for Haiti)


I already posted a couple times on my thoughts post-Haiti (read here and here), and they will continue to come. The past couple of days though I have been working on a little film that puts together many of the pictures and some videos from the trip. Enjoy, be challenged, sickened, or ashamed. Whatever strikes your heart, there’s plenty of emotion to go around

Still Thinking of Haiti – Lespwa Part 2


As I begin, a feeling of tangible fatigue is setting in. I haven’t been feeling well, and benadryl combined with chamomile tea is doing the trick. But I wanted to get this down, especially on Christmas.

Christmas is a day of rejoicing, of remembering and celebrating that Jesus has come down to Earth and taken a very personal interest in our fate. Today, I thought of Haiti (as I have most days since I returned), and remembered Church last Sunday. The people there were full of hope, and worshipped in a way that made you feel the longing they have for Jesus. Whether he returns, or they die to this world and rise to him, they cannot wait. They groan and sing with anticipation, knowing that they do not have much, and life can be hard, but the promise of Jesus is worth everything. Since I’ve been back, I already feel the pull back towards an Americanized way of living, to consume and purchase, to need more and better things. I felt very blessed with the gifts I received this Christmas, my family was very generous, but I continually remembered how little the people in Haiti have, what gifts they might be exchanging, if any. I have been fighting the feelings of guilt, for having so much and be relatively wealthy. The Lord has blessed me, I have a good lot in life and likely will for the remainder of that life. So, it’s a not a feeling of guilt I should have, but of responsibility to be the hands and feet of God to others. The jarring implications that we are all created and loved equally by God cannot be ignored. For he loved us so much, that he sent his only Son, born in a manger, to teenage parents, raised as a carpenter, and anointed in the desert by a hippie; to save us.

Merry Christmas.

Lespwa Pou Haiti (Hope for Haiti) – Part 1


Yesterday, Morgan and I returned from our trip to Haiti. Our home base was out of Mission of Hope, a great NGO that is doing important work there. I highly recommend checking them out if you are considering a trip to Haiti. It will take me some time to organize all my thoughts and feelings about the trip, it was very powerful. People ask if it was fun, awesome, great, etc; and it was certainly all of those things, but not in the way I normally think about those adjectives. It was also heart-breaking, sad, hopeful, disgusting, believable, supernatural, challenging, and evil. Spiritually, it’s an entirely different world. Part of my thoughts going in is how we would be viewed as Christians in a poverty-stricken country. How would I feel if a bunch of people in nice clothes (because even our “don’t care if I ruin these” clothes are nicer than theirs) got off a bus and started trying to tell me that I needed this “Jesus” and things would be better? I don’t know, it’s always struck me as a paradox. Mission of Hope is a spartan place to stay by my normal standards, but we have plenty of food, water, a bed, and working sanitation. Just those essentials are upper class in Haiti!

What I found is that many of the Haitians I spoke with are happy to see us, appreciate the help and economic stimulus that Americans provide. The children loved us, and we really enjoyed being with them. We played with children every chance we got, soccer, basketball, slaps, singing, and dancing. Adults in Haiti are usually too busy trying to survive day-to-day to play much. So the kids like to be carried (pote) and played with. I was also struck by the full reliance on God (Bondye) that the believers have. They are desperate for him, and Church is an experience which is tough to find in America. When you have very little, you are more open to Bondye, there is nothing else crowding him out. The hope of eternal life in Heaven is a sweetness they long for, and the love of Bondye is daily revealed. Israel, one of our translators, told me, “Without God, I am nothing, I can do nothing without him.” He said it with an earnestness and conviction that is difficult for me to replicate, because I try and do so much without God, building up my little castles and feelings of worth. Bondye put me in many situations where I was challenged and uncomfortable, and showed me more his face during those times.

I will definitely be posting more in the days ahead, along with some of the pictures from the trip. God Bless!

Haiti


Please pray for the people in Haiti, they have just been devastated by this quake. Any help that we can give is much needed, they are experiencing shock and grief like many of us have never known. Any donation we can give will be money well used. I hope everyone can find some room to give, we are all so blessed here in America. Here are some recommended sites to give, all of which I have given to in the past, or are extremely well-reputable and try to keep costs as low as possible so that aid can get to those who need it.

Lespwa Worldwide – Founded by fellow students, including one I went to UF with

Red Cross

Mercy Corps

Doctors without Borders

Heifer