The Blog: On Second Thought

The truth will set you free

Lying to yourself and others is never a static exercise. You can’t lie and just let it sit there. You have to file it away in your memory and keep track of all those who might be touched by it.  If you have to substantiate the lie, you have to remember exactly what you said.  And you have to get increasingly good at it if you want to keep all of your stories straight and not get caught. I’ve always admired people who could just go through life completely telling the truth all the time – people who didn’t flinch when it came time to share something that might cast them in a bad light. I’m sure now that that is the best way to live.

It’s completely exhausting to keep lying all the time. And sometimes, you find yourself lying when it’s not even necessary. It just becomes so much a part of who you are and how you do things that it becomes your default mode for operating in the world.

I usually lied because I was trying to keep someone else from experiencing pain. This started in high school. I was doing things (smoking, drinking, etc) every weekend that I didn’t want my parents to know about. Instead of causing them the pain that the truth would bring, I would just lie. It seemed much more painless at the time, but just like anything else in life, there is a price to be paid. If I don’t pay it on the front end, it always comes back to me later from another direction – one that I didn’t anticipate – and I always know in that moment that the facade is coming down. It’s always just a matter of time. There are few feelings that are worse than being caught in a lie.


“Mistakes are always forgivable if you have the courage to admit them.” -Bruce Lee


You can store away any number of lies for a very long time, but eventually the walls start to crumble on your storage unit. The hinges start to rust a little on the doors. The lies are getting ready to come falling down in an avalanche like a bunch of junk in an overstuffed closet. When that moment finally comes, there is an odd sense of relief combined with all kinds of negative emotions. You’ll ask yourself why you lied. You’ll ask yourself why you didn’t come clean much, much sooner.

I remember walking into the house late at night when I was in high school.  I had usually been smoking cigarettes all night long in my car.  It didn’t really occur to me that I smelled like a giant cigarette.  It was obvious that I had been smoking.  It was also obvious that my mom knew that I had been smoking, and because of the history of disease in our family from smoking, she would have much preferred that I wasn’t doing it.  But when she would ask me if I had been smoking, even though it was obvious, I would lie.  I would say that I had been with some other kids who were smoking, or something else that would absolve me from responsibility.  It felt like I was getting away with something, even though I wasn’t.


“Being honest may not get you a lot of friends, but it’ll always get you the right ones.” -John Lennon


Because lies are like weights. You think that you’re dropping them off as you lie – leaving them on your path like a lifeless brick or broken tree branch. You think they’ll just lay there where you put them, but they don’t. They hop up on your shoulders before you even take a step, while you think you’re walking away clean. Each one is not that heavy on it’s own, but they begin to add up and the weight gets heavier and heavier.

When I’m attempting to avoid pain by telling a lie, I’m always surprised by how much worse the situation becomes on the back side. Sometimes it feels like it’s too late the tell the truth, when logic should tell me that it gets nothing but later and later the longer I wait. The truth does indeed hurt sometimes, but it’s never hurt me anywhere near as deeply as lies do.

There is one possible exception to this, and I heard it from none other that Billy Graham, the famous evangelist.  I was reading something he said regarding infidelity in the newspaper years ago.  He said that if there is something in your past that you lied about – say, an affair – but you have totally cleaned up your act, and the truth would bring nothing but pain, then you get to carry that one to your grave. So, we’re really not off the hook. We get to carry it around with us.

And it’s not like a cute little puppy. It’s ugly. It stinks. And it lives with us forever. It’s better to save ourselves some pain and tell the truth from the beginning. Better yet, I’m learning to not engage in behaviors that I feel compelled to lie about later. That ugly, stinky pet is not something that I want to live with.


“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” -Johnny Cash


Lying is a habit just like many other things that we do day in and day out. It can be stopped through practice, just as it was started through practice. I’ve lived with a clear conscience and I’ve lived under a web of lies. A clear conscience feels like sitting on a nice outdoor patio enjoying a cold beverage on a beautiful day. A conscience full of lies feels like living in a cramped, stuffy attic full of cobwebs. We get to choose here. We’re the only ones keeping ourselves from living on the patio.

Ironically, if you’re not willing to come clean, you’ll attempt to unburden yourself by telling even more lies to cover up the ones you already told. This is foolish, and part of you knows it, but you would rather take your chances by adding another lie, hoping that someday there will be a way to get out from under all this weight without hurting yourself or someone else. And that, my friend, is the biggest lie of all, and you’re telling it to yourself. Lies don’t resolve that way. They don’t just disappear into thin air. And they don’t shrink or die with time. They’re alive the minute you breathe life into them and they keep on growing until you kill them with the truth.

 

Stan Fletcher’s day job is showing people around Lieper’s Fork Distillery as a tour guide.  He writes music, plays the guitar, and performs weekly at various spots around Nashville.  He has been involved in various aspects of I Am Second since the beginning of 2016.  Stan was a pastor in Seattle and Scottsdale for 13 years.

Read More from Stan Fletcher

My wife got married today– Ironically, when I started the affair and stepped outside of my marriage, I was trying to escape pain.

I witnessed country stars Josh Turner and Randy Travis do something I’ll never forget- Music speaks to the soul like few other things do.  The older I get, I think this becomes more and more true.  Each year adds a year’s worth of experience to our life resume’, and each year we’re likely to relate with more songs.

How Mike Fisher made a hockey fan out of a Texas country boy– I have never followed professional hockey in my life. I grew up in the Panhandle of Texas, and I’m not sure that there was even a single hockey rink in those hundreds of square miles.

 

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1. You are the only one who thinks you have weird elbows

Yup. You read that right. I had issues with my elbows. I used to wear oversize t-shirts to ensure that no one caught glimpse of my knobby elbows. I avoided shorts for the same reason. I’d suck in my bottom lip so people wouldn’t notice how fat it was. I huddled along the edges of rooms to hide my backside. My hands never knew where to go. And whenever I walked, I knew everyone secretly snickered at my funny stride. Turns out, the only people who ever really think these things of others are those who think even worse about themselves. Knowing how insecure we all are, somehow, gives me security in knowing that I’m not so bad and neither are you. Maybe I could have said that to people a bit more back then.

 

 

2. Even the cool kids need a friend

I was lonely. Deeply and severely. I just wanted a friend. I remember even buying a book one time entitled, “How to Make Friends.” There’s my nerdy side coming out. I’ve since learned that everyone is lonely. Everyone wants a friend. Our coping mechanisms look different, but we’re all lonely. The shy kid (me) coped by withdrawal, the popular kid by overconfidence or people pleasing. But we all did what we did with the sole hope that someone would like us for it. But the best way to make a friend is to be a friend because we’re all looking for one. Knowing this about the people I meet has turned everyone into a potential new friend. And that’s a lesson, I wish I knew a lot sooner in life.

 

3. You’ll miss your family

Someone once told me that when we are young, our parents know everything. Then, in our teenage years they seem to forget it all. But somewhere around our mid-twenties they remember it all again, and we are amazed at all our parents did for us. That’s how it seems looking back. But I now live a thousand miles from much of my family and there’s no going back to when we’d play football in the back yard or make cheesy popcorn for movie night. I just wished I’d appreciated my family more before we all moved away and learned the hard way that our parents weren’t so bad after all.

 

4. Grades are good, people are better

I never got straight A’s, but I tried. I worried about grades, tests, and college applications. But success, in all its forms, has always overpromised and underdelivered. I wrote a national bestselling book once, and I had a lot of old classmates call up to congratulate me. They asked me to come speak at their schools, make a video for their organizations, or post something on behalf of their causes. I made it to the top, I’m a bestselling author. But I’m no happier. I found some cheap friendships along the way, made some money, but, in the end, none of it really mattered. It’s not what makes me happy. Knowing I’m loved is all I need to be happy. Knowing that God loves me, my wife loves me, my friends and family love me, this is what gives meaning to life. Grades, career, and money never earned me any love.

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.


More from Doug Bender

Why your life motto can’t just be a wristband It’s a thing, nowadays, to wear your cause on your wrist. It’s a way to define yourself, to differentiate, and express yourself. It’s a way to shout to the world your life motto. But I want to push you to go beyond inspiration and interest.

13 Reasons Why NOT: an Open Letter to My Friend Who Committed Suicide- I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you.

The Sad Reason I Only Wear Brand Name T-Shirts– I find myself leaning on money and stuff for happiness. I haven’t learned to beat it yet. I’d like to be perfectly content with any financial situation. I’m not.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

 

The fluorescent lights on the ceiling wobbled in my vision as I pointed my foot in front of me.

“Spot!” my ballet teacher shouted over the music. I took a deep breath and focused on a picture on the opposite wall, keeping my eyes fixed as I spun across the room.  

At the end of class, I was gathering my bag when my teacher put her hand on my back.

“You look great,” she said. “Have you lost weight? Keep it up.”

I nodded, still woozy from a stomach bug that killed my appetite for days. I lost weight because I was sick, not because I was trying to. I wondered, did I used to be fat? Unsure of how to respond, I just smiled and politely accepted the compliment.


The pressure to control my diet in unhealthy ways was everywhere — from my teacher, from comparing myself to the dancers next to me, and from the floor to ceiling mirrors reflecting my spandex-clad silhouette back at me everyday.


When you’re an adolescent ballet dancer standing on her toes, weight matters. Leaping and spinning is just easier when you are lighter. The pressure to control my diet in unhealthy ways was everywhere — from my teacher, from comparing myself to the dancers next to me, and from the floor to ceiling mirrors reflecting my spandex-clad silhouette back at me everyday. Soon, I became preoccupied with my appearance.

Hearing my ballet teacher’s approval that day stuck with me. I wanted to look good and “keep it up.” I started to drink coffee and eat lollipops when I should have been eating meals. I controlled what I ate, but emotionally I was out of control. I had a bad attitude with my parents and struggled to pay attention in school. Eventually my parents took me out of dance classes altogether. I was disappointed, but over time I began eating healthy again.

In college I missed dancing and signed up for a class  — my first in years. It was a type of dance called “Modern,” and the emphasis was on movement in space and emotional expression, rather than modeling my body perfectly after the teacher.


It was the first time I felt free while I was dancing, like I could do what I loved and still honor God. It didn’t matter anymore how curvy my body was.


Growing up I wore ballet shoes that left my feet covered in blisters and skimpy clothes that showed off my body for high school dance shows. In this class, the students and I danced barefoot to bongos. The teacher actually reprimanded us for watching ourselves in the mirror!

It was the first time I felt free while I was dancing, like I could do what I loved and still honor God. It didn’t matter anymore how curvy my body was.

Now, I don’t want to throw ballet under the bus, because ballet taught me discipline and grace. But what I do want to throw under the bus is the notion that the approval of a woman’s appearance by others determines her worth.

The mistakes I made as a young dancer — comparing myself to others, determining my value based on my appearance, hating my God-given body — are things I think we all struggle with as women. They are temptations that we have an obligation to resist if we want to “Live Second.” We can’t love others if we are threatened by them or are preoccupied by self pity. And we definitely can’t love God when we reject the bodies we are born with.

As women, we need to remember that girls are watching and listening. When our body image is our priority, it models that for them. When we only praise girls for their physical appearance, it sends the message that looks matter most.

God looks at us and sees so much more than our appearance. In the Bible it says, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Essentially, what matters to God is our motives, how we are really doing, and how we are treating others. Dancing wasn’t the issue for me, but how I was doing it was. Shifting the focus away from my body, away from the mirror, away from myself, set me free.

 

Whitney Thompson is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas. She has written for several publications including Advocate magazine, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal, and Upper Room’s Teen Devozine.

 


 

More from Whitney

Kesha shouts redemption over resentment

Kesha’s emotional anthem, “Praying,” goes deeper with the theme of letting go of resentment. She hopes well for somebody who has hurt her, and it’s a reminder that forgiving those who have hurt us sets us free from hate that can hold us back.

 

I’m an undercover materialist  

In my gut, I know I’m going about this all wrong. I know because I wrestle with discontent on a regular basis. I wrongly believe nothing will ever be enough for my daughter. My double standard of clearance rack for me and on-trend designer dresses for my daughter tells the true story: I am an undercover materialist.

 


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Ben King: Professional Cyclist and Tour de France Rider

Everything in this sport is extremely calculated.  We measure our energy expenditure with a power meter that tells us how many calories we burn, what kind of intensity the workout was.  That’s all relayed back to a coach who can analyze the micro and macro cycles of your training.  I’ll burn five or six thousand extra calories in a day, that means eating eight thousand calories.

But there’s a lot of other factors that are harder to measure, which makes this sport so hard.  It’s just constant ups and downs. Whether it’s snowing or raining and cold, I still have to go out and do five, six hour rides. Suffering becomes a lifestyle and you have to embrace it.

I can remember certain races looking for a place to crash because that race was that hard.  The only thing harder than crashing would have been quitting.  We’re just getting sprayed in the face with cow manure that’s fallen out of trucks on these little tiny roads.  Other riders elbowing you off the road, and yet there was just nothing but a ditch and barbed wire in the ditch.  There wasn’t even a soft place to crash. It’s just grueling, the sport.


The things that you’re trying to control end up controlling you. That really starts to wear you down and break you.


I started reading as much as I could about training and what the pros were doing.  What kind of volume they were doing, what kind of intensity, and what kind of diet.  I kept coming across references to weight and this idea of power to weight. I was watching the guys on the Tour de France and seeing how skinny they were, reading articles online, and magazines about how they worked hard over the winter to lose weight. They just looked like skeletons. In street clothes, they look horrible, but that’s just the sport.

As we started getting closer to cycling season, I would wake up, set an alarm for six in the morning, and ride the bike. I was taking a weight lifting elective credit at school. So I’d ride in the morning, lift weights in the middle of the day, go to track practice, then, go home. I’d cram in my homework, go to swim practice, and just die in my bed every night. I couldn’t train harder. I felt like if I wasn’t taking advantage of every minute of free time in my day, that I wasn’t doing my best.

One night, I came home and I started to write an essay at the kitchen counter. There was a big loaf of french bread on the counter with olive oil and vinegar.  As I wrote for this paper, I started just ripping chunks of bread off the loaf and dipping them in oil, and putting them in my mouth.


I was disgusted with myself and felt like I’d lost self control, even though that’s what my body needed. I was trying to deny it in an effort to take control over my weight and my performance.


It was probably only a couple of minutes, my hand just stopped at an empty plate. I just ate that whole thing. I looked at the bag, two thousand calories of bread I just ate.  Then I went and sat down at dinner and had two giant plates of pasta for dinner and chicken. I was disgusted with myself and felt like I’d lost self control, even though I know that’s what my body needed. I was trying to deny it what it needed in an effort to take control over my weight and my performance.

On the way back from swim practice that night, there was snow on the ground. I was coming back down the old gravel road that leads to my parent’s house. I was just broken. I was totally exhausted. I pulled over on the road and opened the door. I sat on the hood of my car and looked off into the woods.  I tried to pray, but there was just this white noise in my brain. I made myself throw up. I’d been disgusted with myself for overeating. This was a twisted way for me to regain control.

I knew it was unhealthy. I didn’t want anyone to know. I knew how much pride my mom took in just making sure that we were eating healthy and eating enough. I knew how it would hurt her. I was ashamed, but the next time I felt like I’d over eaten, I’d done it before. I could take back control and undo what I had done.


Professional cyclist and Tour de France rider, Ben King, beat his body into submission. Four-a-day trainings, top level races, and a diet mastered to the cellular level. But there was a price to pay for winning multiple national championships and gaining a prestigious spot on the Dimension Data professional cycling team. For Ben, the price was his emotional and spiritual health. He found himself spitting blood into the sink, the byproduct of an eating disorder that’d spun out of control. Obsessed with climbing the ranks in the cycling world, he sacrificed all to master his body. Control was all he wanted, but it was the one thing he’d lost.

Watch Ben King tell his story of pain, control, and the simple truth that saved him.

Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson

I can remember every detail about Beijing: the smell, the lights, the crowd. I remember Nastia Liukin go up and compete and give a beautiful routine. I remember looking at her score and it was one point higher than the highest score I had conjured up in my mind. It was impossible for me to get a gold medal. I remember my heart just sinking. The entire world is being told.

Do I even go out and compete? Do I just throw it? I remember thinking, well, if you can’t win the gold medal at least prove to the world that you deserved it. I started my routine and gave the best routine in my entire life. I’ve never felt lighter in my life. I felt on top of the world. I remember seeing 50,000 people on their feet giving me a standing ovation.

I told everybody it was the biggest honor of my life, but, really, it crushed my heart. I remember being given the silver medal on the podium. The person who did it gave me a hug and told me, “I’m sorry.”

It was really strange for me, because I was being given the silver medal at the Olympic Games and being told, “I’m sorry.” It was validation in my heart that I had failed. I got two more silvers after that and then finally got the gold. But, then, once I got the gold, it didn’t matter. I felt like the damage was done.

I would go to school everyday and every single person would ask me about gymnastics. Or watching me on TV or reading an interview. Every news article in the entire world said that I would come home with four Olympic gold medals.

I’d given 200% that day in competition and laid it all out on the floor. I feel like I failed the world. I felt like since the world saw me as nothing else. So if I failed as a gymnast, than I failed as a human being. I was sixteen years old living in a fish bowl. Every single person and their mother was applauding and congratulating me and also critiquing me because I was on the world stage. It was now about what I wore and how I looked.


Shawn went on to become the youngest contestant in the history of Dancing with the Stars.


I was growing up in the limelight. I was sixteen years old and a muscular gymnast and I was not even 4′ 8″. I was dancing next to girls who were supermodels. And I remember, at sixteen and seventeen, from Dancing with the Stars, reading all these blogs and newspaper articles and headlines, people criticized my weight, my appearance, my personality, and my character.

It affected me, immensely. It drove me to try and change everything about myself. Trying to act like someone and look like someone you will never be, it is exhausting and draining. Feeling like the world doesn’t accept you for who you are hurts your heart.

I felt like all of that compiled into one big moment. It was this 2012 comeback and I had all these sponsors. It was six months before the actual Olympic trials. I was hitting my all-time low. I was spending over forty hours per week training. I was constantly trying to lose weight but it wasn’t happening. My parents wanted me to go see a doctor because they thought I was clinically depressed. I remember I was losing hair, wasn’t able to sleep, wasn’t eating properly. I was struggling with not being 16 any longer.

So for months, I just pushed myself in practice. I said if this is what will make the sponsors happy, my parents happy, my coach happy, and my team, the USA national team, happy, if this is what is right for everybody, then this is what’s right for me. I can just push through it. Everyday I came home from practice just bawling and bawling and just not having peace.

I remember walking into practice one day and getting up on the beam and standing at the edge of the beam, I  looked down and to get ready to start flipping. It’s one of those moments that’s really hard to explain and I feel like a lot people understand. But, in that one moment, I feel like God was telling me, “You’ve been so distraught over this decision. And you’ve been putting yourself through all of this and your family through all of this. You’ve been afraid of disappointing a lot of people and have not been yourself. But, it’s okay follow your heart and put it behind you.”


Shawn chose to retire from competitive gymnastics on June 3rd, 2012.


In that instant, I felt the entire world lift off my shoulders. In that one instant, I knew that it was going to be all okay. I was giving my heart and soul and getting to a place that I was not proud of all for that gold medal again, that I distinctly remember in 2008 not being the greatest thing in the world. And, I think its validation that there’s always more. God is the answer to everything.

Jesus sacrificed his life on the cross so that when I stood up there and was given that gold medal; yes, its’ a monumental and amazing experience and wonderful thing, but it’s not the end all be all. Yes, I can work my whole life to become a CEO of a company or to make a certain amount of money or to win 12 more Olympic gold medals, but its not my purpose in life. He will always be my greatest reward and my proudest reward.

My name is Shawn Johnson and I Am Second.

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Courtesy of the San Angelo Standard-Times

Years ago, a friend of mine had on her I Am Second wristband. She went to the airport. I can’t remember where she was going. She got her boarding pass, checked in her bags, and proceeded to the security lines. She got up to where you pile all your stuff on the conveyor belt to run through the scanners. And a TSA agent happened to glance at her wrist.

“Don’t let anyone tell you you’re second, girl!” she said. “You’re first. Don’t be put down like that.”

At first, my friend didn’t understand what the agent was even talking about. Usually, the TSA folks are about excited to be doing their jobs as we are to be standing in their lines. Interactions are mostly limited to them ditching the half empty water bottle you forgot in your backpack. But this lady was so shocked that someone would proudly claim second place, that she stepped away from her screen and spoke up. She feared for the emotional well being of my friend.

But, that’s when my friend got to explain what the wristband really meant. It’s a thing, nowadays, to wear your cause on your wrist. It’s a way to define yourself, to differentiate, and express yourself. It’s a way to shout to the world your life motto. And for my friend, that motto was simple:

“I Am Second.”

God above all and others before herself. She is Second. Not first or third, fourth or seventeenth. It’s a statement of both humility that life is not all about ourselves and our own self interests. But, also of pride and purpose, that we aren’t some insignificant peon for the universe to expend.

And, if you’re reading this post now, you understand what I’m saying. You’ve been inspired, or at least intrigued, by this philosophy of life to wind up here, reading the stories of people who make it their aim to live Second.

But I want to push you to go beyond inspiration and interest. I want to challenge you to live Second. If you’ve ever worn an I Am Second wristband or T-shirt, if you’ve ever volunteered at an event, shared a video, or claimed to be Second, then I’m talking to you.

You’ve seen it in your social media feed and on the news. Right now, an entire city is under water. The people of Houston, TX, even as we speak, are watching as their homes, livelihoods, and cherished possessions wash away in the deluge of hurricane Harvey and its tropical storm remnants.

We recently launched a simple and practical way for you to live out the motto stamped onto your wristband or tattooed on your forearm. Second Helping brings practical household help to veterans, single parent families, seniors, and those experiencing financial difficulty. It’s a simple, effective, and real way to put your money where your mouth is.

We’d like to send in armies of handymen to help piece together the lives of those affected by this storm. But that will only happen if you step up. Whether you’ve got $5 or $5,000, you can bring the real help people need. Right now, people there are fighting for survival. But soon it will be time to rebuild. And when that time comes, we want to be ready.

Stop reading the news and start making some. Step up and give. You have an opportunity to fix what’s wrong with the world. And you can do it, one small household project at a time. So give, live Second, and change a life.

Click here to step up and give or text HelpingHouston to 555888.

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

 

 

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Everyone has a story.

This summer we went across America with Warped Tour to hear people’s stories. Some were dark, others giddy and humorous, and, some, made us cry. At the end of each day, we’d gather up and share what we heard. These are the beautiful, broken, human stories we came to hear, each told in the words of our volunteers themselves.

     After a bright and early start to the day, our tent slowly filled. One girl stood out among the rest with her edgy hair style, studded vest, and extreme interest in who we were. We started talking while her phone charged and she introduced herself. She dove into her story of how she is a singer, and desires to be on stage to use the gift God gave her but she is constantly verbally and emotionally abused by her band mates. She also talked about how she is crushed by fear most of the time. Her passion and heart simply shone through her words when she was speaking about the deep desire to overcome those fears. We wrapped up the moment with heavy prayer, which ended in tears. 

 

 

I really had a great conversation with three girls that came to sit in the shade. One girl instantly started getting upset while talking about churches that have hated her for being homosexual. I got the chance to tell her that although humans are humans God loves her no matter what, that Jesus loves her, and is chasing after her heart. With all three girls I really got to show the side of real love and talk about that, instead of focusing on what they can and can’t do or what other Christians think of them. I truly believed they all walked away with a different view on God. They all accepted a Bible and I told them to seek the truth themselves.

 

 

Last year, I spoke to two girls. One had just had her wisdom teeth pulled the day before and the other was struggling with suicidal thoughts. They came in again today and I recognized their faces, instantly. The girl that had been suicidal asked me if I remembered her. She told me that last year I told her she had to promise me I would see her this year, that she couldn’t be suicidal because we would see each other next year. Well she told me that the moment the gates opened for Warped Tour and she got in she had to run straight to our tent and tell me that she kept that promise.

 

 

I sat down with one guy and it turns out we have very similar backgrounds. We both came from a broken family, dealing with a depressed, dysfunctional mom, etc. One conversation lead to another and before I knew it, I realized I had been talking with him for over an hour and a half. Our conversations consisted of various topics that revolve around faith and God. He does not follow Jesus, but he wasn’t completely closed off to the idea. I shared my faith and how I began following Jesus.

The thing that struck him the most is that even though I do believe in Jesus, I am in desperate need of God’s love and mercy, every single day. I was brutal and honest about my hurt, pain, and hardships and how the only thing that keeps me going is God’s grace. He then told me something that was super unexpected, but so uplifting, “Next time you feel low, or inadequate about something, you should know that everything you just told me changed my perspective on following Jesus. Thank you for that.”

 

 

This one young woman came with a group of friends but kept coming back throughout the day. At one point, she asked me if I could help her make a dream come true. I said that I’d try my best and she asked if she could use the megaphone. I told her I could indeed make her dream come true. She grinned and grabbed that megaphone and continued to tell everyone that walked by our tent how beautiful they were and that they were worth it. It was so sweet and encouraging. I never thought to do and just speak life into those walking by even if they don’t stop in the tent. 

 

 

I met with a girl, today. She walked into the tent and started charging her phone and she grabbed one of the Bibles off the table and sat down. I came up to her and asked to sit with her and visit. I asked her why she grabbed the Bible and she told me she thinks it’s time she gave it a shot, that she needs it. I found out she had been raised Catholic and was forced into a lot of religion as a kid and walked away from it when she was a teen. But, now, she is sitting in our tent. We talked about her thoughts on God and I got to share the good news of Jesus in a new way to her. I shared my story and why I am where I am in life because of God. She said she just really wanted to read it and see if anything changes her.

 

 

My friend came to the tent and he was in a great deal of turmoil. Throughout the course of the day, he would come and go, but he came back with five minutes to close. I told him he was coming to our bus with us so that we could pray over him. At the beginning of this tour, we had prayed that our home would be a sanctuary for everyone on this tour. And when he got on the bandwagon, he immediately felt safe and opened up about every struggle he was facing. It led to a beautiful moment of relief, healing, and love for him.

 

 

One girl, in particular, is someone who I have been building a relationship with over the past four years on tour. Just the other day, she had opened up about having multiple surgeries as a child and how she was meant to be in a wheelchair. I asked her to share her story with another person in our tent. When she did, she did not share what I thought she was going to. She actually broke down and began crying. And she shared something that happened to her in her past that she had never had the courage to tell anyone. She shared what had happened to her as a 15-year-old and we were able to speak life, healing, and encouragement over her through Jesus. We ended up praying with her, and, at the end of the prayer, she shouted out the name of Jesus.  

 

 

I got to speak with a young man who had recently lost his grandmother and another family member. These were his first experiences with death. He said he believed in a higher power but didn’t know who or what it was. For a young man, he was very bright and open, but extremely broken from the experience of his loved one’s deaths. It opened a large conversation about God’s love and the afterlife. He ended up accepting a Bible from me and said he really wanted to read it and find out for himself.

 

What’s your story? Maybe you’ve found what you’re looking. Maybe, you’re still on the path or not sure which path to even take. Wherever you are, your journey is a story worth telling. Comment below and share your story. You’ll be surprised at how many people are on the path with you.

 

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Blake Mankin raises money to build wells

Blake Mankin started Hope for Africa at his school. The club raised more than $6,000 by selling buttons during homecoming. The money paid for two wells in Southern Sudan that now provide more than 10,000 people with daily access to clean water.

Homecoming comes once a year and there’s this competition where whoever has the biggest mum gets announced at the pep rally.  It just turned into this big status thing where people are trying to out-buy each other and I thought what if my high school could do something with this excessive tradition to give people in Sudan clean water.   

I was born to two incredible parents who have loved me very well.  I have a father who makes a decent amount of money. So, I guess I have had the childhood growing up like the world has probably said is a perfect childhood, the perfect way to grow up.

I step off a plane coming from a city where most of the Moms drive Lexus’ and most of the kids get new cars on their sixteenth birthday. And I step out of the plane and I see that most people are walking. We drive through the village and I see a girl bathing in the middle of the street because she doesn’t have anywhere else to take a bath. And it smells bad and there’s houses that are built out of trash.

I looked at that and said, “How can God allow such pain and such hurt and such anguish on these people.” Then I started to look at my life and the life of my community. I was asking the question: how could God allow us to be so distracted? What if we changed the question to: how could God let us to be so affluent?

Yes. It’s horrible that we see this poverty but we realize that Jesus was using the poor to have to rely completely and totally and whole-heartedly on Jesus. Jesus is contentment and everything that I have is only temporary happiness.

Ever since I was born, I mean right out of the womb, my Mom and my Dad have been reading me Bible stories and they have been praying with me and they have been so great that as I’ve grown up they’ve backed up and said, “You know you have to make this faith your own”.  

I’m sitting with a friend at lunch and we were looking around at just the mums and the garters.  We could totally use this tradition for something WAY, WAY cool.  And we were like what if we had somebody just donate the money they would have used to buy like a mum or garter and they bought like a button that just said, “I sent my mum to Africa” or something.  What if our white, middle-class high school could do something with this excessive tradition to give people in Sudan clean water?

I don’t think it matters whether you have a lot of money or not a lot of money, every human being somewhere deep in their soul is looking for something more than what they see. What Jesus is to me is that ultimate thirst quencher, I mean, there is no other way to put it except that Jesus is the ultimate contentment for me.  And that was what I was trying to be portrayed through this project.  

My name is Blake Mankin and I am Second.

 

Photo source: eskimo_jo

For Kesha — the pop star famous for chart topping dance songs such as “Timber” (and infamous for her party lifestyle) — the past few years have been no walk in the park. Involved in a lengthy court battle with her former producer, Dr. Luke, Kesha alleged that she suffered sexual and emotional abuse that led to her struggles with depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder.

So the fact that Kesha just released, “Rainbow,” her first album in four years, is kind of a big deal. After her experience with her former producer, Kesha should be disenchanted with the music industry altogether. But the artist is back, and believe it or not, many of her new songs have positive messages that we should pay attention to.

With its themes of hope, recovery, and forgiveness, “Rainbow” appears to reveal a complete 180 from Kesha’s former days of swilling booze and “getting her drunk text on” (as she declared in her hits, “Tik Tok” and “Take it off”).

Considering her tumultuous past one wonders: Has Kesha found Jesus?

The short answer is: not yet. In a recent piece the star wrote for Lenny Letter, Kesha shares more about her album and spirituality, stating that to her “God is nature and space and energy and the universe.”

I don’t think Kesha’s spirituality means followers of Jesus should just write Kesha off completely, however. Here are three truths that her album helps us remember:


In “Learn to let go” Kesha touches on the truth that we are broken and need redemption.


“Been a prisoner of the past
Had a bitterness when I looked back
Was telling everyone it’s not that bad
’Til all my [expletive] hit the fan
I know I’m always like
Telling everybody you don’t gotta be a victim
Life ain’t always fair, but hell is living in resentment
Choose redemption
Your happy ending’s up to you”


We all need forgiveness.


Kesha’s emotional anthem, “Praying,” goes deeper with the theme of letting go of resentment. She hopes well for somebody who has hurt her, and it’s a reminder that forgiving those who have hurt us sets us free from hate that can hold us back.

“I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’
I’m proud of who I am
No more monsters, I can breathe again
And you said that I was done
Well, you were wrong and now the best is yet to come”


In Kesha’s title track, “Rainbow,” the artist opens up about trusting that there is hope in the midst of the dark times.


“I’d forgot how to daydream
So consumed with the wrong things
But in the dark, I realized this life is short
And deep down, I’m still a child
Playful eyes, wide and wild
I can’t lose hope, what’s left of my heart’s still made of gold
And I know that I’m still [expletive] up
But aren’t we all, my love?
Darling, our scars make us who we are, are
So when the winds are howling strong
And you think you can’t go on, hold tight, sweetheart”

Looking ahead, I’m excited to hear more music from Kesha’s journey of recovery. And I’m reminded of the power that exists in sharing your life in a way that draws fellow survivors together, reminding us all that we aren’t struggling alone. So what’s your journey of recovery? Where are you in dealing with the pain of your past? Comment below to share your story.

 

 

 

Whitney Thompson is a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer based in Dallas, Texas. She has written for several publications including Advocate magazine, Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal, and Upper Room’s Teen Devozine.


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You need to read what Justin Bieber just said about Christianity–because he’s right- I never thought I’d say this: Justin Bieber understands Christianity better than a lot of people I know. And there’s a lot about Justin Bieber’s Christianity that I want.

Ryan Ries founder of The Whosoevers

You want to know words that would describe my life? I would just say fun, crazy, and out of control, wild ‘n out, partying, skateboarding. Went to all different countries, surfing, snowboarding. Tonga, Fiji, met with the king of Fiji. Worked with a lot of different bands, slept with girls, got introduced to cocaine. Started shooting heroine. A lot of girls, had a sex addiction. Used them like pieces of meat. I was losing friends that where dying. Putting Ecstasy, heroine, and coke in syringes and shooting it while smoking crack.

Let me start over.

High school’s when it all started. One of my friends introduced me to the rave scene in 1990. To go to a rave, you’d have to call a number at 12 o’clock at night, then they gave you directions to a map point. So you’d drive out to the middle of somewhere in LA. You show up on the corner of the street. You pay $5 to $20, depending on the thing, then they give you a little piece of paper, like a fortune cookie, with the directions to the place, which led you to Compton.

You’d show up in Compton or Watts, in the ghetto of ghettos, like neighborhoods where you could get killed. You pull up, you park your car, you go up to this back industrial alley, to this place. You walk up, you got a wall of music, like 60 speakers, one whole wall. The loudest electronic music, nitrous tanks, pop acid, or Ecstasy or candy flip and you start hallucinating. Going nuts with the loud speakers and nitrous balloons. It’s just a wild ride at that point.

I had a couple of friends that actually went mentally insane. A couple of guys are schizo. One guy jumped off a cliff on LSD and killed himself. Another guy jumped in front of a train. I’m lucky I’m alive. 


I started shooting heroine. A lot of girls, had a sex addiction. Used them like pieces of meat. I was losing friends that were dying. Putting Ecstasy, heroine, and coke in syringes and shooting it while smoking crack.


I grew up in Los Angeles, in Southern California. I would skateboard like a normal kid and surf. And when I was in the 1st grade, I remember finding a big duffel bag of porn magazines in the back of my school. When I got to 4th grade, I saw a video and I kind of started understanding what was going on in those pictures. It just warped things in my mind.

When I got to high school, I got introduced to cocaine. It was more experimental at that time. But, then, after high school, it started getting more of a habit, where it just turned into a routine, where that’s just what I did. That’s just what I did, I just partied. When I started my new job, that’s when everything took off. We were working with a lot of big-named people, so a lot of opportunities opened for Playboy mansion parties, the vivid porn star girls would host our parties.

During the summer we’d go to Europe for a month and a half. We’d film videos, shoot for magazines, travel with musicians and go on tours with them. And, then, we’d do video premieres with our skate videos. I’d wake up, go to work, go skate, go get wasted. Wake up, go skate, go work, go skate, get wasted. But I had the nice house. I had the motorcycles. I’ve literally done laps around the world like three to four times. And, a lot of girls and the drugs, nothing gets me off anymore. I was empty, just nothing made me happy.

Then I did a tour through Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama City. I just did cocaine the whole time. One of our team riders found me in my bed with cocaine all over my face and all over the counter. They couldn’t wake me up. They thought I overdosed. All I know is I woke up the next morning and they said: “Dude, we thought you were dead last night.”


Prove that you’re real to me, because I see religion around me. I see my parents, and these Christians, and I don’t relate to them.


And at that point, I just realized I got to change my life. I went to my hotel room and I was by myself for the first time, and sober for the first time in at least a month and a half. I was at Panama City, at the Sheraton Hotel. I just remember going, “Jesus, if you are real, I need you to prove that you are real to me.”

I just remembered this prayer my Dad would say. He’d just say, “Jesus, forgive me for my sins, come into my life, and fill me with your Holy Spirit.”

I said that prayer. I said, “Prove that you’re real to me, because I see religion around me. I see my parents, and these Christians, and I don’t relate to them.”

And I remember going, “Ok. What can I do now? I need to read the Bible, right?”

And started looking through the drawers. There has to be a Bible in the hotel room, they have Bibles all over the world, I’d always see them. I open it, there’s a blue Bible there. It’s a Gideon Bible. I pulled it out and I just started reading it.

I was waiting for this supernatural experience, you know? I’ve taken a lot of drugs. I’ve seen a lot of stuff and I thought that God was going to show up in his heavenly glory, with angels and what not, but that didn’t happen.

So I got the Bible. I stole it from the hotel. I put it in my backpack, got on the plane, and I was surrounded by all the skate team. They were looking at me and they must have been tripping, because they’re like, “This guy lives his life like a pirate.”

And I remember just looking at them and saying: “You know what? If God’s real, I’m going to find him, because he’s in this book. This is God’s Word.”


You know what? If God’s real, I’m going to find him. because he’s in this book. This is God’s Word.


So I just read that Bible, that Gideon Bible, for six hours straight all the way to LAX. And I remember, I landed and I just had peace in my life for the first time in my life. I just felt peace. The next morning, I wake up and I hear this song singing through my head. I remember just getting up out of my bed, and opening my eyes and I just heard this song singing, “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in him.” 

And it kept repeating over and over, just like this little song. I’m tripping out at this point. I got to call my Dad. My Dad’s a Christian. He can tell me what this means.

I called him up, and I go, “Hey, Dad. Dude, I gave my life to the Lord in Panama City. I’m coming off drugs. I have a heroine addiction, smoking crack and using a lot of cocaine, and drinking a lot. But, I gave my life to Jesus in the hotel room, but, the problem is, I woke up this morning and I heard this song singing through my head. ‘This is the day the Lord has made.'”

And he said, “Ryan, that’s the Holy Spirit. God is calling you, and he has a plan for your life.”

At that point, I knew that God was real. I just started following him. Reading, praying, going to church. I just decided, I’m not going to sleep with girls, because I know it’s in the Bible that I shouldn’t be sleeping with girls. I’m not using drugs. I’m going to church, but I’m watching porn because I’m like, “No one knows about that, that’s a secret deal.”

But, as I’m going to church, God’s working in my life. He’s transforming my mind and my heart. I also came to this verse in Matthew and it talks about how Jesus said to the disciples, “If you want to be my followers, you have to turn from your selfish ways, pick up your cross and follow me.”


My porn problem and the things I want to do, I’ve got to grab that and throw it on the cross, crucify it, and kill it. My flesh has to die on that cross. I’ve got to follow Jesus.


My porn problem and the things I want to do, I’ve got to grab that and throw it on the cross, crucify it, and kill it. Just the way Jesus hung on the cross with his flesh and died for our sins. My flesh has to die on that cross. I’ve got to follow Jesus. So, I stopped watching porn and I started getting these thoughts of watching porn, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, that’s working in my life, I’m praying to God and I’m yelling to God like, “God, help me! Help me! I don’t want to watch porn, Lord! I want to follow you! I don’t want to say something and do something else! I want to be like you! I want to be like the disciples!”

And I just started following Jesus, and then an opportunity comes up that I go to Israel. I want to go to the Holy Land. I want to go see where Jesus walked. I’m going through the Bible. 

So I called Sonny Sandoval, the lead singer from P.O.D., and said, “Hey, dog, I’m a Christian now, I’m going to Israel, and do you want to roll out?” A couple of days later we ended up in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed to the Father. 

Pancho Juarez, a pastor, gave the story. He said, “You guys, you go make peace with Jesus. Go get rid of whatever you’ve got to get rid of, and leave all that baggage here at the Garden.”

I remember going out there to the garden and I just prayed, “God, I don’t know what you are going to do with me. I don’t even know what you can do with me, or who am I. I don’t even know how I can serve you. But, if you want me to follow you and you want to use me, and you want me to share my story then have someone contact me, outside of my immediate circle, to have me share my story. And if you call me out, then I’ll go and I’ll share my story. And I will not go back to my old job and I will follow you wherever that takes me.”

And I said that prayer, and I happened to get a phone call the next day. And it was this guy, Derek Neider, at Calvary Chapel, Las Vegas. And he said: “Hey, man, I would love for you to come out and share your story at my church. I heard you got saved.”

“Yeah, I’ll come, I’ll come.”

But after I hang up the phone, I was just like, “I was just joking, Jesus! That was a joke. I didn’t know it was going to happen.


After sharing his testimony, Ryan co-funded the Whosoevers. Using music, skateboarding and street art, this organization allows Ryan to openly talk about facing substance and sex addictions.


It’s been five and a half years since I watched porn. But, I’ll be honest, like over the last four years it’s been brutal. I come home and I’m single man, I get those thoughts like, “Go turn on your computer. Go hit that button. Go to Safari. Go for it.”

But, when I start hearing that stuff, the Holy Spirit is like, “No, don’t do that”.

I actually walked into a liquor store the other day and I saw these porn magazines. I looked over and immediately I looked away. And I was like, “Dude, I can’t believe I just looked away”. Because Jesus says that, if you become a new creation in Christ, God renews your mind.

You want to know words that would describe my life? I would say I’m not perfect. I don’t have everything figured out. I’m completely rough around the edges. But, I know that Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life, and I’m going to follow him in whatever he does in my life.

My name is Ryan Ries and I Am Second.