The Blog: On Second Thought

New York Times #1 Bestselling Author Eric Metaxas

There’s no such thing as blind faith. The whole idea of blind faith is a misunderstanding of faith. Faith can only be faith in what is real. This ridiculous idea, which is so popular in our culture, that if you want to believe you got to check your brain at the door, that’s absurd. I mean, it’s totally wrong.

Some of the greatest minds I’ve ever met, people that are just extraordinary, brilliant, thoughtful, emotionally intelligent, emotionally mature people, are people of faith in Jesus. And, I think the tragedy of our culture and the culture that I grew up is that you don’t really see evidence of that.

My dad came from Greece in 1955, my mom came from Germany in 1954. They met in an English class in New York City, in Manhattan. We went to the Greek church and it was a wonderful community. It was a warm community, but it was mainly a community built around the idea of being Greek. That’s where the Greeks hung out, in the church. It was an ethnic community, but it was not really very much a community of faith.

My identity was getting good grades, being the smart kid and so I just assumed that I should go to some good school. That was not part of the culture that I grew up in. I went to a public school in Danbury, Connecticut. Nobody’s talking about wanting to go to these Ivy League schools. Of course, you don’t know what you’re getting into.


I have no clue and I’m so open minded. I had no idea what I believed or who I was. It got tough. It was very unpleasant.


But, I remember going to college and really thinking I don’t know what I believe. I have no clue and I’m so open minded that in an environment like Yale, particularly, it’s a very secular environment. You know, by the time I graduated I was really, absolutely at sea, I had no idea what I believed or who I was. It got tough. It was very unpleasant.

I was 24, moved back in with my folks, and my European immigrant parents were not thinking, “Oh, Eric must be a poet, a writer, he’s finding himself.” Their attitude is “You should find yourself a job.” The only thing I could do to make a buck was I got a job as a proof reader at Union Carbide. It was an awful, awful time, to work at a corporate environment as somebody who thinks himself a humorous and a poet and it was just horrible.

In the middle of this agony, I met a guy. He was a graphic designer at Union Carbide, a little bit older than I was. He had a wife and a kid and he befriended me. We’d just hang out and talk. He clearly was serious about his Christian faith. For a long time, that made me uncomfortable, because I’d been trained at Yale. We avoid people like this, these are weird people.

I remember this guy saying to me, “Eric, you should pray that God will reveal himself to you.” And I remember thinking that makes absolutely no sense, because if I don’t even know if God’s there, how am I going to pray to him? I don’t even if he exists.


I was blown away by the intellectual concept that you’re praying to this God that you think can heal people. So, it’s not just some vague energy force. You believe there is this God who cares.


But, if you are in enough pain you’ll do stupid stuff. So, I’d be jogging and, in my pain, I would just pray to God, “I need a sign. I’m just trapped. I’m trapped in my own mind, in my own way of seeing the world, there’s just no way out.”

Then my uncle Takis, he had a stroke. I remember this friend of mine, Ed Tuttle, the graphic designer, said to me that some of the folks at his church were praying for my uncle and I’ll never forget that I was blown away by the kindness of this.

I said, “Wow, that’s kind of amazing, that you don’t even know my uncle and you and people in your church are praying for my uncle.”

And I also was blown away by the intellectual concept that you’re praying to this God that you think can heal people. So, it’s not just some vague energy force. You believe there is this God who cares. I was moved. I wasn’t persuaded that this is real, but I was just moved by the concept of it.

And then one day that week, he asked me, “Would you like to pray for your uncle?”

And I said “Yeah.”

Up until then I was like, “No, I don’t want to pray, or do anything weird, go to church, or do Bible study.” But my uncle’s sick, let’s go pray.

And so he takes me to this bleak, fluorescent lit conference room at Union Carbide, just awful, and we go in there and close the door and he prays. I close my eyes, I had never done this before, ever. Now, imagine, I grew up in a church. I was an altar boy. Nobody prays, actually prays, like that.


God was speaking to me with what I call a secret vocabulary of my heart. This dream would have meant nothing to anyone else. It would have been just bizarre…. It’s like this paragraph just dropped into my head. God has just one-upped me.


My uncle passed away but I remember at the funeral, the priest asked me if I would read the Psalms. It was just kind of this thing, I thought, yeah, I want to do that. Like something was engaged basically for the first time.

And right around this time, I had a dream, around my 25th birthday, so 25 years ago. I had a dream and that dream changed everything. It was like a life changing, mind blowing dream. In the dream, I’m standing on Lake Candlewood in Danbury, Connecticut. It’s winter. I’m standing on the ice. I’m ice fishing with my buddy John and his dad.

It’s one of those glorious winter days where the sun is bright, the sky is incredibly blue, there’s white snow and ice. We’re standing there and I look down into the hole were we were fishing and there is a fish sticking its snout out of the hole. Now, if you ice fish, you may know that that never happens.

I reach down and I pick it up. I hold it up. And, in the dream, the light from the sun was so bright, and it shone on the side of this fish in a way that it made it look not bronze, but actually golden, like it was made of gold. Then, suddenly, in the dream I realize that, no, it’s not looking gold, it’s not just appearing to be gold, it’s actually golden. I’m holding up a living golden fish.


“Eric, you wanted to touch water, you wanted to touch inert water, this collective unconscious, this Eastern idea of this God force, but I have something else for you. I have my Son, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior.”


The way I look at the dream, in retrospect, is that God was speaking to me with what I call a secret vocabulary of my heart. This dream would have meant nothing to anyone else. It would have been just bizarre. In my twenties, after college, I finally came up with what I thought was a suitable answer to the meaning of the universe. I came up with this idea that, okay, it’s kind of a literary image, you have a frozen lake. The ice on the lake represents the conscious mind. And, the water beneath the ice represents the unconscious mind, with a collective unconscious and so that’s Carl Jung’s idea of God, this kind of Eastern God force. And so the goal of life and of all religions is basically the same, it’s to drill through the ice, the conscious mind, to reach the collective unconscious.

This was this kind of idea that I had come up with. So when I had the dream, obviously, it has unbelievable resonance. I’m holding this fish and I realize in the dream, it’s like this paragraph just dropped into my head…boom, boom…like I know. God has just one-upped me with my own simple system. In the dream, I’m aware, looking at this golden fish, like it’s out of a fairy tale, that God has just said to me, without a word, “Eric, you wanted to touch water, you wanted to touch inert water, this collective unconscious, this Eastern idea of this God force, but I have something else for you. I have my Son, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, your Savior.”

This was huge. In fact, I remember specifically, and this has meaning here, that when we would see the fish on the back of a car, the chrome fish, when they started popping up, in the 70’s, my father got really excited about telling me that this is a Greek word, that the Greek word for fish is Ichthys. And that’s an acronym Iēsous Christos, Theou Yios, Sōtēr, (Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior). That’s where the Christians came up with the fish symbol.

So, in the dream I instantly knew all this came together and just blew my mind. You know, it was transcendent. I went to work the next day, and I told my friend, Ed Tuttle, that I had this dream and he says: “What do you think that means?” And I said “Well, it means I’ve accepted Jesus.”


People have said, “Faith is a leap into the dark.” Let’s switch the cliches: “Faith is leap into the light.” If it’s not true, I don’t want to believe it. If it’s just kind of helping me, a little bit, but it’s not ultimately true, then what are you believing in?


And I never, never would have said those words. I would cringe to say those words, in fact, I would have cringed if anybody else would say those words. I cringed when people said stuff like that. But I mean, what can I tell you? It was absolutely mind blowing.

People have said, “Faith is a leap into the dark.” Let’s switch the cliches: “Faith is leap into the light.” If it’s not true, I don’t want to believe it. If it’s just kind of helping me, a little bit, but it’s not ultimately true, then what are you believing in?

I remember the guy who I was talking to, my graphic designer friend Ed Tuttle, shared with me a scripture before I had become a Christian. And it was that famous scripture from Jeremiah, where God says: “I know the plans I have for you. Plans not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

There is no doubt in retrospect that God is real. And I wish I’d known that a lot sooner. To think that I can grow up in a church and go to one of the finest universities and never encounter any credible witness of this kind of faith, that says a lot about the culture we live in. God didn’t just create us. He invented the idea of us and he invented every single one of us. He knows us so intimately, so you cannot ever really know who you are apart from him. To know that my life is not a mistake, to know that my life is not meaningless, to really know, that’s freedom. That’s real freedom.

My name is Eric Metaxas, and I Am Second.

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Ryan Ries: If God’s real, I’m going to find him– You want to know words that would describe my life? I would just say fun, crazy, and out of control, wild ‘n out. Shooting heroine. A lot of girls, had a sex addiction.

 

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Moriah Peters

Despite facing rejection from “American idol” judges in 2010, former contestant Moriah Peters hasn’t stopped releasing music since publically sharing her faith — and her choice to save her first kiss for marriage — to millions of television viewers. Peters’ courageous faith and talent garnered the attention of a Jesus follower with connections to the Nashville music industry, and the doors just haven’t stopped opening for her.

With two solo albums under her belt and a starring role in the new movie, “Because of Grácia,” Peters is now releasing singles with her new band, TRALA. She recently caught up with I Am Second via video chat, opening up about her music career, her marriage, and the message she wants to convey to America right now.*

 

IAS: Your first two albums, “I Choose Jesus,” and “Brave,” were solo. Why start a band now?

MP: After I finished touring for “Brave,” I was looking for serious direction. I took a trip to Israel and visited Mount Moriah, my namesake. I sat on top of that mountain and I just knew I was going to have a revelation that day. I prayed, God, what am I supposed to do next? Because I’m done with music.

IAS: You were done with music?

MP: I was tired of carrying my own brand and feeling alone — like I had done it all myself. I had a great label, management, and band. But at the end of the day, the CD and the banners had my name on it. There is something exhausting about constantly promoting yourself. When I was on top of that mountain, the very specific word [from God] I heard was, No you’re not done with music, this is just the beginning of another project that’s going to involve your bandmates. It’s going to be from a global perspective, and there aren’t going to be any limits or boundaries. I thought OK, if that’s what I’m supposed to do, than I’m going to do that.

IAS: So how’s writing music with TRALA [Peters and her former backup bandmates, Jesi Jones and Julie Melucci] for the first time going?

MP: It’s been refreshing and so fun. We wrote songs without any vision or concept of what we were supposed to do. We had no genre in mind, no limitations — we just wrote from our hearts.

IAS: Your first single, “Holy Collision,” charted alongside Depeche Mode in the alternative genre. What prompted you to not just release songs within the Christian genre?

MP: We let the music determine where we would go. When we looked at this body of work it fit into the alternative genre. What’s come out of it is magic, and I think what we’re trying to communicate through our songs is important.

IAS: What message is TRALA trying to communicate?

MP: We’re a group of musicians who lean on the truth of what we’re singing about and the skill of how it’s being played. We’re passionate about the message of our new single, “Creature Machine,” which is about the modern state of communication and technology. Our third single is about camaraderie and women coming together versus competing.

IAS: You’re in a new movie, “Because of Grácia,” released in September. In the trailer, you play a high school student who stands up for her faith in a public way that causes a stir, much like you did on “American Idol.” Did your own story inspire you to take the role?

MP: That was a huge part of it. The director, Tom Simes, came across my “I Am Second” film and asked me to audition. I was backstage on a tour on an iPhone and didn’t think anything would come of it. But I accepted the role because I want to convey the message that persecution is a privilege, which is exactly what it is.

IAS: That is a controversial statement, considering how divided our country is right now on so many issues.

MP: Not everybody has the opportunity to be in an environment where they are the minority. When you live in a world where you’re constantly part of the majority, I think you miss out on a lot of lessons to be learned — on every level — whether it’s belief systems or the culture of where you live. I’ve learned more about my Hispanic culture and the sacrifice of my ancestors since moving to Nashville than I ever did growing up in Los Angeles.

IAS: How?

MP: I was the majority in Los Angeles. Everybody spoke Spanish and there were great tacos on every corner. Then I moved to Nashville and I was like, “Where are all my brown people at?” [laughs] I ran into some weird situations since then, feeling the racial tension of what we’re facing today as a country. Because I experienced that, I am more appreciative of where I’ve come from, and what my parents and grandparents have done for me.

IAS: Switching gears. It was inspiring to see you wait for marriage for that first kiss. These days, how are you keeping your marriage strong as you and your husband [pop performer Joel Smallbone] continue to stay busy with new projects?

MP: The challenging part about our marriage is the distance. When we each have a show on the same day it’s difficult. But it’s all we’ve ever known, so we cherish the moments we have together. It makes it difficult to take each other for granted.

IAS: Any final thoughts?

MP: When I look at what TRALA is doing — the songs we’re releasing, the girls I get to work alongside — none of this was supposed to happen. None of this was a part of my plan; I quit on that mountain. All of this feels like an added blessing. It gives you more gratitude for what you have.

In November, TRALA will release its third single and perform with Winter Jam, Christian music’s largest annual tour. TRALA’s first full album is slated for release early 2018. You can check out Moriah Peter’s new band and their music at www.tralamusic.com

*Interview edited for clarity and brevity

 

 

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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Photo by Mahkeo on Unsplash

My wife and I celebrated our nine year anniversary last week. Undoubtedly, the best years of our marriage have been the most recent ones. But, you may not suspect the reason why.

It’s not because we were just joined by our firstborn, Ember. Nor is it because we’ve resolved all of our disagreements and harmonized all of our differences. And, it’s certainly not because we’ve settled into comfort; in fact, quite the opposite, we recently quit our jobs, sold everything, and moved to Hawaii.

The reason is, well, each of us fell in love with someone else.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we still love one other, very much. Arguably, more than ever. But, that’s a direct result of the other person each of us fell in love with: ourselves.


One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I am hurt. Specifically, in the season that I met Erin, I was hurting, deeply, about a lot.


Erin, that’s my wife, and I, met and married in our early twenties. While I know that our affections and desire to commit were sincere, I also know, now more than ever, that we were young. Ignorant to the realities we would face in the years to come and what we would discover, with one another, and about ourselves.

One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I am hurt. Specifically, in the season that I met Erin, I was hurting, deeply, about a lot.

I was hurt by my broken home; hurt that I had been kicked out of my Mom’s house (deserved), then my Dad’s (debatable), hurt that those explosions were expressions of relationships that were stunted and severed. Hurt that I had been neglected and all but forgotten. I was hurt by countless choices I had made, choices that I thought would help and heal my hurts, but only made them worse. And I was hurting from the elongated absence of my brother, Scott. He was my best friend and my functional father, but he was also an addict; worsening in his addiction, so he’d been gone for years.

But all of that hurt was a drop in an ocean of devastation when Scott died of an overdose.


I was just so conditioned to being hurt that I became numb. Consciously and unconsciously, I worked to not feel. That was my coping mechanism.


Just a month before his death I had confessed my love to Erin. Like a Catholic priest, she received my confession in silence and responded by sending me away.

She just wasn’t there and felt it would be best for us to let it breathe. So, it breathed as she went away to work at a summer camp. A month into that summer break, an emergency phone call summoned her to our unexpected reunion.

Hours after Scott died, I called Erin. We had only known one another for a year at that point, but I called because I knew she cared. I knew she would listen and help, be there for me, and feel. After all, we had spent the better part of that year getting to know one another, primarily on the phone. Separated by some 400 miles, with social media in it’s infancy, our foundation was built on late night calls, Gmail chats, and endless 160 character texts. We were firmly in the friend zone and that buffer helped us build a relationship that has yielded quite a harvest over the years. Although, at that point, the harvest was looking like slim pickings. Still, I called.

Through that conversation, summer silence was ceased. And for more than a decade, in and out of season, Erin has continued to care, listen, help, be there, and feel. And she’s teaching me to do the same; specifically, to feel. See, in hindsight, I wasn’t aware of all of my hurts. I was just so conditioned to being hurt that I became numb. Consciously and unconsciously, I worked to not feel. That was my coping mechanism. Sadly, Scott’s (coping mechanism) was lethal, but I know his pain and I carry it still. I carried it into my marriage and burdened Erin with it’s weight, until it almost buried us.

Nearing divorce, we found ourselves in couples counseling. Couples counseling led to individual counseling and years of both have lead to my second love: myself.

In any relationship that is healthy and life-giving, truth and love are united. Love never relinquishes itself to lies and truth never yields itself as a weapon. Truth, on the lips of love, is aloe to burn, a beautiful balm to brokenness, a soothing salve on the sting of selfishness and self-sabotage. Love speaks the truth, to it’s beloved, to allow the beloved to begin to love himself, or herself, as love does. For, not until we love ourselves can we love anyone. After all, that is the appeal being made through the old sage words: “love your neighbor as yourself.


But loving myself also includes not allowing myself, and my relationships, to remain restrained by my hurts. Loving myself means mourning and grieving, yes, but also moving and growing.


Loving myself, in this season, includes an intentional effort to excavate experiences, unearth emotions, and feel feelings that I’ve long suppressed. To mourn for a much younger Sean, a boy whose childhood was stolen, whose innocence was robbed, whose security was sacrificed. To face the fears of feeling. Feeling love, trust, and respect for someone. Feeling vulnerable and open to them. Realizing that I’m afraid to feel all of that because people fail, and disappoint, and when I’ve opened myself to them, and they inevitably do, it hurts.

But, loving myself also includes not allowing myself, and my relationships, to remain restrained by my hurts. Loving myself means mourning and grieving, yes, but also moving and growing.

Erin and I have been moving and growing for more than nine years now. I can’t fathom who I would be without her. Erin is my first love and the entirety of my existence has been redefined by her and because of her. I wonder who I’ll be when I celebrate my nine year anniversary with my second love; myself.

 

 

 

Sean Little’s love for language was conceived by early 90’s rap and cultivated by hip-hop culture. In the traditions of both, narrative is the nucleus of his writing. Sean recently sold everything to leave his life in Indiana and moved to Hawaii with his wife and daughter. Sean has toured nationally/internationally as a rapper and speaker, pastored in a local church, and is a featured Second in an I Am Second white chair film.

 

 

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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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