We tell messy stories. We do. I know that. Most of the storytelling coming from faith backgrounds obsess with the happy ending. The prince always gets the girl. The villain always gets his due. But I Am Second tells messy stories. They don’t all end clean. All of them, even the ones that do end happy, have just a ton of mess and a ton of pain.
I’ve written for I Am Second since two months after it launched. And much of the written content that’s flowed through I Am Second has come across my desk at some point. And people have asked me, “Why are your stories so dark? Why do you spend so much time talking about the painful parts of life?”
I’ll tell you why we tell messy stories. It’s because life is messy. People are messy. The world is a mess. To tell a story, any story, about real people apart from this mess is just inauthentic. It’s fake.
Bono, from U2 fame, gave an interview with David Taylor a while back that struck a chord with me:
As I look through the Scriptures, I just see a bunch of the dodgiest people ever collected in one place. Murderers, adulterers, ego-maniacs. I mean they sound like most of my friends. They sound like me. I mean, David’s treatment of Bathsheba’s husband, it’s mind blowing. He had such darkness in him. He murders [her husband], gets him sent to the front line to take advantage of [his wife].
Bono references one of the Bible’s biggest heroes, King David. But you can’t tell David’s story without telling how he had an affair with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband. And this is one of the good guys!
We know God doesn’t have favorites, but if he has, you think it might be David. You think how? It’s revealed through the psalms of David: honesty. They are marked by honesty.
David’s honesty has long inspired Bono. Through David’s many psalms and poems preserved in the Bible’s Book of Psalms, you see a rawness and vulnerability too rarely heard.
I want to argue the case for artists who might be listening in to our conversation and are not giving expression to what’s really going on in their life because they feel it will give the wrong impression. We don’t have to please God in any other way than to be brutally honest. It’s the root, not just to a relationship with God, but it’s the root to a great song. In fact, it’s the only place you can find a great song, only place you can find any work of art of merit.
He listed out many of the darker, more painful, and raw themes found in the Book of Psalms.
I would really like this conversation to unlock some artists. I think they’re trapped artists. I’d like them to be untrapped. Getting it out in the open is very very important. I’m just starting to realize that the only real problem that God can’t deal with is the problem you don’t know you have or that you’re lying to cover up.
One of the hidden treasures on our site is the story of David McKenna. I remember when we brought him in to share his story, he was just so open about his struggles. He actually emailed us the next day telling us that he wasn’t sure if we’d want to really feature his story. He told us he was still in the middle of it all. He was still fighting his addiction. The battle wasn’t yet won for him.
David Mckenna was trying to protect our reputation. He feared that when he messed up again, as he knew he likely would, we would look bad for having featured his story. But that’s just it. We are all a mess. That’s the human story. That’s the story we are trying to tell. That’s my story. That’s your story. That’s all our stories. We want to tell that beautifully broken human story.
There’s great hope in the broken story. Hope is faith in the unseen. It’s realizing the mess we are and trusting, hoping that God is the type to still love us despite the mess. The stories we share, even the stories I’ve told about myself (see below) are meant to share that hope, demonstrate it through all the broken lives that God cared to put back together.
But as always, I think David said it best in one of his psalms:
Into the hovels of the poor,
Into the dark streets where the homeless groan, God speaks:
“I’ve had enough; I’m on my way
To heal the ache in the heart of the wretched.”
Friend or Foe: My Brain Can’t Tell the Difference-That moment sent me on a dizzying journey that eventually led to the discovery that I have a defect. My brain isn’t normal. I lack the mental ability to identify people by their face. It’s an actual thing, face blindness, they call it.
Willis Johnson founder and owner of Copart and Takl with his wife Joyce Johnson.
We recently launched Second Helping, an I Am Second initiative with the help of Takl, that brings practical household help to veterans, single parent families, seniors, and those experiencing financial difficulty. But I was curious about the backstory of Second Helping. How did something like this come to be?
It turns out, that the man behind Takl, the impetus for Second Helping, is as fascinating and surprising as the company he started. Takl has figured out how to find someone to mow your lawn within the hour. My wife hasn’t even figured out how to get me to do it that fast. Willis Johnson has a full head of peppered hair, with none of the pomp you’d expect of someone who started from scratch the leading company in his industry. But bored with retirement, he launched an app that’s mobilized an army of handymen to fix almost anything around your house.
So I got him on the phone to hear his story, starting with how he married his wife, Joyce.
“About ten days after our first date, I went over to her house. It was real early in the morning. She had those big round curlers in her hair. I had a ring in the glove compartment. I brought her to the car and asked her to marry me. And she said, “Yes.”
“We got married and bought a house. But I decided I didn’t need to get a job, my dad always worked for himself. I learned from him. I could work for myself. So, we sold our house and moved into a junkyard. I started my own wrecking yard and I grew it from there.”
Within the first minute of our interview, I discover a man willing to take risks. You don’t ask your girl to marry you ten days into the relationship or sell your house and move into a junkyard without some seriously big, uh…well, let’s say he’s a bold man.
“Our company ended up having a number of locations and I decided to go public with the company. From there, I started acquiring or building a new yard every six weeks for the next eighteen years. Copart is now the largest salvage auction company in the world, today.”
Willis Johnson started Copart from a single location in Sacramento, California. Today, Copart has 190 locations in 12 countries and sells a car, on average, every three seconds, making Copart the largest salvage auction company in the world.
“I retired seven years ago, but I’m still chairman of the board of Copart. But, I got bored not being involved in business. I happened to be in New York City for a dedication involving an Orange County Chopper I repaired for the Statue of Liberty. I had not been traveling for a while, because I had been retired. Instead of getting in a cab, we got into an Uber.
“Prior to Uber, coming into New York City, you had to get in a cab. You wait in line. You could hardly get one. They were dirty. It was kind of neat just getting into this nice black SUV from Uber. I thought whoever dreamed that up was a genius. I kept jumping in the front seat giving my drivers the third degree asking how this works. What a cool thing, that you can run your own business without an accounts payable, accounts receivable, you work for yourself.”
I guess that’s why I don’t run a billion dollar, multinational corporation. The last time I got in an Uber, I took a nap. I flew into JFK airport in New York and needed to get to New Jersey. I hopped into an Uber, gave my driver the address, and promptly dozed off until about Manhattan. Never did I think that this could be a life changing experience or a ride that could launch my next career.
When Willis returned to his home in Nashville, another piece of the start-up puzzle fell into place.
“Well, I met with my friend Greg and he wanted to build a company for handymen. I said good for him. But I didn’t want to start up a business. Remember, I was retired. I went online looking and found that just about every town in America has a handyman. We combined this idea of a business for handymen and overlaid that with the on-demand concept.
“We thought, let’s think about a gig economy business that just does small jobs, handyman type stuff. We ran with that concept and started Takl. Most of the jobs are around $100. These are small jobs, ones that don’t require a permit or anything. Usually, providers show up within the hour to do whatever project you need.”
I have to admit, before I met with Willis Johnson, I had the picture of a middle aged Silicon Valley type guy, some fake glasses, and a V-neck. Instead, I met a man who grew up on a dairy farm, spent his life in junkyards, and only recently came out of retirement to start a company based on an app.
I had some practical questions about Takl. Like, how do you know what price to set for cleaning out the gutters?Or how do you estimate the time for trimming the hedges and painting a wall? Well, because he’s done all that himself. Long before he ever joined NASDAQ, he worked for his dad in one of his many hands-on type businesses or tore apart cars in one of his junkyards. Even more recently, he told me the story about fixing up an Orange County Chopper. Takl isn’t just some idea he had, it’s part of the life he’s lived.
A large part of his life has always been about giving back however he is able.
“So, we are doing all this when I Am Second, comes to me with an idea. People can use Takl to get just about anything done around the house. What if I Am Second helps people who couldn’t afford to pay for these jobs? They wanted to help people in the community using Takl. That lead to the creation of Second Helping.
“Now, after doing a job with Takl, when you checkout you can make a donation. That money will help a single mother who can’t work, an elderly couple or a veteran. People can donate money and that pays for a job at someone’s house. Individuals, churches, organizations can go through Second Helping to help people in their community.
“I’m a firm believer in giving the maximum. Some people can’t afford to give money, but they can give their Saturday. They can become a provider with Takl. And the money they earn can go to Second Helping. A lot of people can give money or time. God wants that. I hope to see people help their neighborhood, all over the country, through Second Helping.”
Takl is an app that helps with small jobs around the house. Second Helping uses that platform to assist people who need the help but struggle to pay the light bill. I’ve been with I Am Second since before Twitter. I’ve had the chance to be a part of a ton of awesome events, initiatives and projects. But Second Helping is in a whole different category.
I just want you to think about it for a second. You’re working two jobs struggling to pay the bills or you’re a single mom just trying to keep life together, and you just can’t get the lawn mowed. It’s a simple thing. It’s really not that big of deal. But you just can’t get it done. You need someone to help you out for an hour to mow your lawn. Where are you going to find that someone? Now, you can find that someone through Second Helping. If you’re the type that wants to give some help, you can either come mow the lawn yourself or pay the guy who will. That is a revolutionary concept, the kind of thing that can change the world.
You want in? Here’s how you can get involved:
GIVE- your donation will provide veterans, single parent families, seniors, and those experiencing financial difficulty with needed household projects, free of charge. Click here to give.
APPLY- if you are a veteran, single parent, senior, or are experiencing financial difficulty and need help with a chore around the house, apply here.
Ingrid is a cancer survivor. And if you’ve ever known a survivor, you know the fight it takes to make it through. She’s battled through chemo, reconstructive surgeries, infections, and long stays in the hospital. And for those of us on the outside, you don’t realize what this does to the rest of life. Sometimes, just the simple stuff, like keeping up with your house, hanging the pictures, or, in Ingrid’s case, fixing the porch become nearly impossible to achieve. But someone she never met donated to hire a local handyman to come fix up her porch.
Read her letter to the organization that helped coordinate it all:
When cancer put her in the hospital, Second Helping took care of Ingrid’s porch repair needs.
“As you may recall from my application, I had an illness that has set me back a bit. Thankfully, the stage 2 breast cancer (diagnosed Nov 2013) was treated and I am cancer free! The ensuing chemo, reconstructive surgeries along with complications with infections, reactions to anesthesia and overall stress from the whole thing has caused me to need a lot of recovery time.
“I moved away from Atlanta after I finished chemo and what I thought was my final surgery for the reconstruction in May 2015. And I bought this small home near Tampa to live near my boyfriend and because I love FL weather. Unfortunately, the treatment and surgeries caused more complications than I had anticipated which caused more hospital stays etc. So it’s recently that I’m beginning to feel better and hope to get more improvements done around my home.
“I am truly grateful for all the grace I encountered through all the illness and I continue to constantly see from God. He heard my prayer to make my home nicer and He chose your organization to help! I told Him you guys are awesome and He agreed! God Bless!”
And in case you are wondering, the answer is YES. You can do this, too. There are tons of people out there that could just really use a little help. They need someone to mow their lawn, paint a wall, or fix their porch. It may not seem like much to you, but to the Ingrids of the world, its everything.
It’ll take you two minutes, tops. Click here to give and you can help provide the needed household projects that veterans, single parents, senior, and people experiencing financial difficulty so desperately need.
Second Helpingprovides needed household projects, free of charge, for approved recipients through our collaboration withTakl. Get involved in bringing the practical help that people need.
Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian. Image shared from www.facebook.com/reallamarodom/.
Most of us saw the headline, even if we pretend that we don’t keep up with the Kardashians. Lamar Odom, with claims to two NBA championships and a much-publicized marriage and divorce with Khloe Kardashian, just penned a public confession. He tells of the wild path that led to him lying in a hospital bed for four days in a coma and his regrets along the way.
(Read it yourself here, but be warned, it’s not PG)
Maybe it’s the whole reality TV craze, but it’s become common practice for the famous to spill everything out into the public. Every time I watch one of these shows, I always say to myself, “Don’t they know people are watching?” And how do they expect to get away with those snarky side camera comments about so-and-so, when surely so-and-so will be watching this episode in a month along with the rest of us.
But it’s just this type of let-the-world-see-my-mess attitude that I find so intriguing. What compels a person to let the world watch as they tear up their marriage or verbally stab their friends? What makes a person want to strip the peel off their life, so we can all tweet out our judgements?
There’s a quote from the letter of 1 John in the Bible, written by one of Jesus’ closest followers. It says:
“If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. On the other hand, if we admit our sins…God won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God.” -1 John 1:8-10
Unlike every other religious book on earth, the Bible is full of messed up heroes. All the great names cheated on their wives, murdered, lied, doubted, failed in big ways. John here summarizes the main theme of the book, that we’re messed up and in need of forgiveness.
Lamar Odom recalls in his letter something his grandmother used to say, “What’s done in the dark, will come out in the light.”
And this letter was his admission to that truth.
“If it’s not in the public light, it’s in God’s light.”
“I think of all the sneaky s%#t I tried to get away with,” he says. “All the times I did wrong. All the stuff I tried to hide. If it’s not in the public light, it’s in God’s light.”
I think somewhere deep inside of us, we all know this to be truth: we are messed up and in need of forgiveness. Reality TV is like pro-wrestling, we all know it’s staged, but it’s a staged truth. It still reveals something real, something deep about ourselves, the things we really want, really care about. And one of those things: that despite our mistakes, we want love and forgiveness.
Props to you, Lamar Odom, for admitting your wrongs. I’ll be praying you find God’s path for your life and the love and forgiveness your seeking.
I can’t believe you’d go there-So why do we show up at unexpected places, places like Warped Tour. It’s simple. Jesus didn’t come for good people. He came for people who knew they weren’t. He came for broken people.
Lynsi Snyder, Owner and President of In-N-Out Burger
I’m currently the president at In-N-Out Burger, which was a little mom and pop burger stand that started in 1948 and grew to be pretty big.
It’s been a part of my life since I was born, being close with different people that work there. You know, it really got introduced into my life when my dad died. Both my parents were very loving. I remember being pretty cheerful little girl that was a little bit spoiled because my siblings were 12 and 16 years older than me.
My dad was really funny. He was a little bit eccentric. He loved to make people laugh, loved to laugh himself. He used to explain songs to me. We had this connection with music. We loved music. He spoke to me like I was an adult when I was 4 years old. He had this wisdom and discernment that I was going to be exposed to so many different things in life; that I was going to need that straightforwardness and that honesty.
And that’s when I really started longing for that attention and that love because my dad was the greatest source for that.
Probably around age five or six we were going to visit my dad in the hospital. And, I thought it was just the hospital he was staying at, but it turned out to be a rehab. My mom explained it that he was just sick. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized he had a drug addiction, from different surgeries he’d had and a lot of pain he’d had in his past. Pain that he didn’t know what to do with.
It was really hard for me to see him fail and be weak because I knew how bad he wanted to be a good husband and a good father. It was a matter of time before the drugs and another woman, and then that was pretty much it. They got divorced when I was twelve.
And that’s when I really started longing for that attention and that love because my dad was the greatest source for that. One day, I was on my way to school and he’d called in the morning. I talked to him and I was rushing him off the phone because I had my hands full and that was the last time I talked to him. My world shattered.
After my dad died there was no way I was going to be alone. He’s gone, so I had even greater reason to fill the void. I got married at 18. I had graduated a few months before that. It wasn’t right. I knew that. That small still voice had told me don’t do this. And I did it. And I paid the price with a divorce.
Another divorce. Another affair. I couldn’t feel like a bigger failure at that point. I just couldn’t recover who I was.
And jumped right into the arms of someone else. At that point, I realized I’m pretty much the outcast in the family. Now, I’m divorced and I figured I might as well just embrace this. Started smoking pot, drinking, which were things I really wanted to stay away from after watching my dad. I realized that I’m going to follow the footsteps of my father and I’m going to meet an early death if I do not get right with God and follow him, because the enemy just wanted to wipe me out.
I could let go of the pot and the alcohol, but letting go of the guy was different, because being alone…I just didn’t want to be alone. I just was praying and asking God to give me the strength to do what was right. I knew that I couldn’t go back home that night and sleep with my boyfriend. I had to tell him, ‘Hey this isn’t happening. If you are going to do those things, don’t do them around me.”
He ended up getting saved, so I then I’m like “Okay, now we can get married.” It was the fast track. We got married in November. Was it really the right thing? I can’t say because I have two precious children from that marriage, but 6 years later, another divorce, another affair.
I couldn’t feel like a bigger failure at that point. I just couldn’t recover who I was. I was so alone. Didn’t last long. I ended up in another relationship. We ended up having a child together. We got married. And I married him because I didn’t want to be alone. He married me because of money. I was cheated on off and on for three and a half years.
The first time I found out he cheated on me I was like, “Well I deserve it. I’m paying for it.” He cheated on my while I was pregnant. Disrespected, never had I been talked to like he talked to me. Treated like trash. It was the worst time of my life.
God took me to a place that I’ve never been before and he showed me that in that time where I felt more alone than ever, more of a piece of trash than ever, more of a failure, that he was there. And he was ready to love me.
You can see how someone who just wants that love and appreciation was just getting further and further from what she wanted. Started believing the lies that I deserved that, that God’s punishing me. The things that can be said can cut you very deeply and can change who you believe you think you are.
I just continued to put up with it. No way could I get divorced again. I mean how old am I and I’ve been divorced a handful of times, really? It was terrible. It really pushed me. God took me to a place that I’ve never been before and he showed me that in that time where I felt more alone than ever, more of a piece of trash than ever, more of a failure, that he was there. And he was ready to love me and fill that void.
And he’d been there all along wanting that, but he needed me to let go of that tangible person. It was my dad first, then it was the next guy, the next guy. I was never willing to just let go to see that God had something better.
I was forced to this time because this was someone who was just throwing me to the curb. I was divorced again. And I knew it was time to just take time away. That time alone was some of my greatest memories with God. It was an alone that was okay because I wasn’t completely alone because I had the Jesus that walked on water, healed the sick. I had that Jesus filling that void, touching my heart, pouring into who I’m called to be and who he sees me as, rather than who I’d believed I was because of the things I’d done.
I really value the love and good times I had with my dad but even that can’t compare to the love that God has for me. It likes you’re a little kid riding a bike for the first time and your dad is proud cheering you on because he helped you ride that bike. And God got me back up after all of these failures and he can lift me up and see me go forward and I know that he can be glorified.
And riding a bike and a proud dad and the Creator of the niverse being able to use you is like… wow.
Just one more thing won’t hurt, I think to myself, adding to my online shopping cart. It’s a tiny lie, because right now, every surface of my house is covered. My kitchen island is a showcase of unopened mail, a highchair tray covered in half-eaten toast, and toddler clothes that I don’t even have time to cut the tags off of. The funny thing is today is National Simplicity Day, but in all honesty? I want more.
It wasn’t always this way, at least for me and my husband. We took pride in keeping things simple while he was in graduate school. Our financial circumstances kept us from owning much at all. Secondhand furniture? Wearing clothes from nine years ago that still fit? Rice and beans every night? Check, check, and check.
But then we had a baby. Now I can’t take a step without tripping on her stuff. I bought all of this stuff for my daughter, so that makes it OK, right?
In my gut, I know I’m going about this all wrong. I wrongly believe nothing will ever be enough for my daughter
I buy toys that claim to make my daughter smarter, clothes that will garner compliments, enroll her in group classes in hopes that she will make more friends and excel more quickly than the other children. I want the nicest SUV that will keep her the safest and for her to attend the school that will give her an edge in life. I want all the things.
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.
Becoming a parent triggered this in me, and now it’s a constant battle for me to be OK with a simple life.
Materialism is subtle and sneaky because it masquerades as good intentions. Wanting to belong is OK. Wanting great things and opportunities for our children is OK. But when what drives our spending is comparison, fear of being left behind, or even worse, addiction, we’ve crossed over to the dark side. It’s not about stuff anymore. It’s about God, and not believing what he has given us is enough. Or that he is enough.
Materialism is subtle and sneaky because it masquerades as good intentions.
But practically speaking, how does one live simply with children? I don’t know. I’m a first time parent, and like the rest of us, I’m winging it. But I do know this: Every day I have the freedom to choose. Do I choose to keep my eyes on what works for my own family or allow them to stray and long for what isn’t mine? Do I choose to enjoy spending time with my daughter or do I wring my hands because I can’t afford to throw her the swankiest birthday party on the block?
When I’m “jonesing” for more stuff the most, I try to stop and breathe. Does my daughter have what she needs to thrive? Yes. Is she happy? Yes. What more is there?
In honor of celebrating National Simplicity Day, will you join me in being thankful for what you have already? Let’s enjoy being alive today, the friends we do have, the work we have, heck, even the mess on the counter tops. For just one day, let’s slow down and believe that what God has given is good. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll have eyes to see that the stuff itself isn’t what we want more of after all.
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.
Every year we show up at Warped Tour, a massive summer concert tour with the biggest and newest names in music. We have a booth and we ask people to tell us their stories. We get stories like this:
People ask us why we go to these kinds of events. This is why. It’s these stories. We go to hear people’s beautifully broken, human stories. We want to engage people with their story, listen to them. We do this because we care. And we do this because we too have a story to tell.
Hope happens when you believe in a different story, a different telling of your purpose and place in life. We believe we tell that different story, the story of hope. It’s one that plays out through the dozens of raw, diverse, human stories represented on our website. But we don’t get to tell this story of hope unless we care enough to listen to another’s story first.
One of my all-time favorite stories in the Bible is the one about Matthew. This guy was despised by the religious establishment, hated and judged. He was after all a traitor to his country and his God. He took a job working for an enemy nation to collect taxes for them from his own friends, family, and neighbors who’d been conquered by this enemy nation.
But one day Jesus came to his town and walked right up to where he was collecting taxes and invited Matthew to follow him. He didn’t call him names, judge him, shout out all the terrible things he’d done, or even demand that he confess his wrongs and return all the money he took. No. He just gave him an invitation to follow him. Jesus then shows up for dinner at Matthew’s house and the religious leaders in town have the predictable reaction of judgment.
“Why does he eat with such sinners?” they ask. It was one thing to talk to Matthew, but a whole different thing to go and hang out with the guy at his house.
But Jesus turns the tables on his critics and says, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I’m not here for good people, I’m here for sinners.”
Pause just for a second and think about what Jesus just said. The only people who get to see the doctor are those who know they are sick.
There’s so many times when I go to bed at night wondering why I said whatever I did to my wife, why I yelled at my daughter, why I wasn’t kinder to my neighbor. It’s frustrating that I seem incapable of being the man I want to be. But it’s stories like this that remind me of the hope that Jesus came to give. A hope for messed up people like me.
So why do we show up at unexpected places, places like Warped Tour. It’s simple. Jesus didn’t come for good people. He came for people who knew they weren’t. He came for broken people. And that’s why we go to these places.
We don’t go because we think we are better. We go because we know we are not. We’re not there on some humanitarian mission to help the poor souls at rock concerts. We go because we’re all poor souls in need of help. We go because this is where we keep finding people looking for hope. And we want to have that conversation.
When I was a kid, my mom would take my brother and I to the movies. It was somewhat of a pastime for us to detach from our life and turn to this new world through film for two hours. This movie by the name of Bad Boys came out, which was directed by Michael Bay. That was the first movie I remember seeing where there were two heroes who looked like me and they weren’t playing thugs or gangsters or drug dealers but instead they were playing heroes who were essentially running, gunning and saving the day.
A year later Michael Bay’s second film The Rock came out, and that was the first time I was exposed to Navy SEALs. I was just blown away by this portrayal of men who were coming out of the water going into this place to go sacrifice themselves to save others. That really resignation with me and I thought if I was to ever turn my life around, that’s what I would do.
Ever since I was young I always wanted to control things. When I would want something I would literally, if I had to, I would run through walls to get it. I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to be the one to make things happen in my life. And it’s hard for me to trust people or to trust something outside of me.
When my father died, I took in any and everything that I felt would satisfy that paternal void, that would teach me how to be a man.
Through culture, music, I was constantly bombarded with this message that said, “You’re a young African American male, you need to be a hustler, or you need to be a thug, or you need to be a player.” Because I didn’t have a positive male role model to tell me otherwise to say “No. This is not what a man is. This is what a man is.”
I started out stealing from my mom that progressed to running scams and that progressed to selling drugs. When my father died, I took in any and everything that I felt would satisfy that paternal void, that would teach me how to be a man. One day I was laying in bed and this voice, whatever it was, it was a voice to me but it just kept on pressing upon me that I needed to join the military. I needed to get out of New York and joining the military is what I needed to do.
It’s not many jobs out there where you can get paid to you know, jump out of planes and go after bad guys, protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Essentially be that guy who stood in the face of bullies and said not on my watch.
My acting coach, he trained Stella Adler. Stella Adler was a proponent for actors getting out of their environment and traveling the world, seeing different cultures, tasting different foods, experiencing love, experiencing pain, experiencing all these experiences that life has to offer, and then taking those experiences and cataloging them so that actor is able to pull from those experiences to bring the character to life.
I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my entire life. I literally began to cry out to Jesus. “Help me, Jesus. Help me.”
Going to cold weather survival training in Alaska, and while I would walk through this wilderness I really had time to reflect upon myself in the silence because it was completely silent out there. I’d began to think about how I treated my mom and how I treated people I claimed I loved. I would think about things that I did in the past and I still yearned for that paternal presence.
I couldn’t really sleep and then I began to have suicidal thoughts. I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my entire life. I didn’t know anything about the Bible but by a simple ounce of faith I literally began to cry out to Jesus.
“Help me, Jesus. Help me.”
Then I began to surround myself around Christians who didn’t just read the Bible but they actually lived the Bible and I began to pray and all I wanted to do was be with him and do for him and forsake that life I used to live and live this new life with him. My whole life was dramatically changed. I just like I felt God telling me you need to join the military, I felt God pressing upon me the importance of it’s time for you to get out of the military, it’s time for you to move on, I have something else for you.
I didn’t know how I was going to pay the bills. I was expecting to have all these opportunities for speaking engagements because I got into speaking and that didn’t happen. The phones didn’t ring. I began to get really nervous because I knew that I had only about six months of savings. I have a wife and she’s pregnant with our first son. We’re just barely scraping through, like we’re living paycheck to paycheck.
It just didn’t work out the way I expected it, and when it didn’t work out I got so frustrated. I got mad at God. It was silence. It was silence.
I had financial problems and then to compound the financial problems we had significant marriage problems. And the marriage problems were so bad we both contemplated getting a divorce. It just didn’t work out the way I expected it, and when it didn’t work out I got so frustrated. There was a point where I got mad at God. Did I hear you wrong? Was I supposed to get out of the military? Was I supposed to make that decision? It was silence. It was silence.
Around that time, I received a phone call from a lady who I worked with years prior, she cast me in a TV show by the name of The Last Ship back in 2013 for a day of filming.
She said, Well, I’ve been trying to find you for this movie that starts filming tomorrow.”
I was like, “Ok what move is that?”
She said, “Well, its Transformers.”
I started out as a day player, two weeks later I was called back for three more weeks of filming. I started to get lines from the director, which was unusual for me because I was like Wow I’m just a background extra.
He said to me, “Hey, the director wants to upgrade you to a principal role, are you available to film for the rest of production?”
And I said, “Absolutely.”
I know that his plan is better than any plan that I could ever have, even though his plan may not make sense to me.
The director happened to be Michael Bay. The same one who inspired me to be a SEAL. You know when you look at my story going from the Bronx, to the military, then to special operations out of that in a marriage, being a husband and being a father and then, now having a career in acting in the film industry. There’s one word I could sum it up with: God.
And so he’s been with me throughout my entire life. He’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. And he’s used it all to bring me to where I’m at today. I don’t want to force things anymore. I just want to allow God to do whatever it is that he wants to do in my life.
If he wants to take me out of this acting career next week then so be it. If he wants me to get back into the military, so be it. If he wants me to go into ministry full-time, so be it. If he wants me to take up a job, I don’t know, as a pilot or whatever, so be it. Because I know that his plan is better than any plan that I could ever have and even though his plan may not make sense to me. Within his plans is everything that I need and everything that not just good for me but good for my family as well.
A recent survey says we all have on average 155 friends on Facebook but would only turn to four of them for help. Maybe we don’t all “like” each other as much as we thought. I love social media. I really do. But it has it’s limitations. And to see those limitations sometimes we just need to stop, take a step back, and go grab a coffee with a friend.
So here it is. I’m proposing we take a break from social media. Not completely. Just that we create some spaces in our schedule that’s dedicated to some offline face to face interactions. And I’m completely aware of the irony of saying we should take a break from social media on social media. I even hope that tons of people like and comment and share this post today on #socialmediaday and then shuts their phone off and goes out with a friend.
Most of us have been there. We step away for a day or so (or let’s be real, an hour) but wonder if our perceived fans might wonder where we went. They must know I’m good in [enter phase in life] with [enter friend, spouse, pet].
Or, there’s the dreaded F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out) that creeps up with a middle-school type anxiety we thought was long gone. Or maybe you’re just a stalker that likes to check out what others are doing, without ever actually posting or commenting on anything. Regardless, most of us know we are dependent on having technology at our fingertips.
But for some reason, we keep going back to it like a drug. It tastes so good that our body and mind begins to crave that instant gratification and easy entertainment. So maybe you’ve said, for the 100th time, that it’s time to take a break. Maybe you’re aware of the negative effects it’s having. But you need a little extra motivation. Here are some real benefits of living beyond the virtual world and re-introducing that old term known as “real life.”
1. Real Connections
Think back on some of the greatest moments in your life. Did they involve real people and real events? As much as technology can try to imitate great moments, it is still a poor comparison to sitting down with someone or a group of people and really connecting, learning from each other, and truly laughing out loud.
We were created to be in community with one another, and when we do this, we fill a real need that can’t be supplemented.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
Think back on some of the greatest moments in your life. Did they involve real people and real events?
Keeping up with the Joneses takes on an entirely new meaning when we add a social media highlight reel to the mix. You know what I’m talking about. It’s how whatever it is that you feel you are lacking is exactly the thing that keeps popping up on your Facebook, Twitter, and Insta feeds. Or it’s showing up in everyone’s stories on Snapchat, taunting you and dragging you into that dreaded comparison game.
You can avoid it by backing away from the social crack. Comparison can be toxic to our relationships and health. Remember that if you already struggle with comparison, it will only be exasperated on social media, so don’t keep feeding the monster. Rather, understand that everyone is fighting his or her own battle and there is an ultimate purpose behind it all. Taking a break from the virtual world and adding real connections will help you see that all people are broken and struggle with something.
A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30
3)Not Missing out – for real
The irony is that in the fear of missing out we are actually missing out! On real life.
When we are stuck on our devices, we stop taking in our surroundings, exploring, being creative and making eye contact with loved ones.
We try to capture every moment, so much so that we are missing the moment itself.
I may be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that on our deathbeds we won’t wish we’d posted one more update or sent one last tweet. Check yourself, and don’t miss out on what really matters.
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall”. 1 Peter 1:24
4)Getting raw and helping people
In a world where filters abound, editing is the norm and angles are carefully calculated, seeing something that does not seem so “made-up” is rather refreshing. When we admit our failures and struggles, not only do we bravely go against the grain, but we also give others confidence to do the same. A sigh of relief, if you will, that we don’t have to have it all together and that, frankly, it shouldn’t be the expectation. When you get real, it stands out from the clutter. People listen. People receive hope.
It’s a real-life #nofilter.
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
2 Corinthians 11:30
Look up. Look around. And then realize how disconnected we look when we’re sitting three feet across from one another and might as well be 3,000 miles away.
5)Be a real star
I’ve taken a quick inventory of the people that have made the biggest difference in my life. They are not the people with the biggest or coolest social media accounts, but those that cared and loved me the most. People that cared more about others than keeping up with a personal brand. Those that cared about the message they were delivering with their actions, more than just their words. The quiet ones. The ones set out to make an eternal impact.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all things in social media are bad. It gives everyone an opportunity to have a voice, whereas before only a select few could occupy the elite media space. But what do you think makes more of a difference in someone’s life: A 10-second Snapchat, or a 10-hour day spent learning, living, and listening?
Maybe you aren’t quite ready for a full social media detox. But think about taking small steps. Commit to going to dinner with a friend or your family and not checking your phone once. Look up. Look around. And then realize how disconnected we look when we’re sitting three feet across from one another and might as well be 3,000 miles away.
I think you’ll like what you find.
Marleny Wood coordinates the social media side of I Am Second but is currently off her phone with her son.
Seidl in the middle of the market in Jerusalem. (Source: Jonathon M. Seidl)
We talk a lot about being real, raw, and relatable around the I Am Second office. I’m about to be more real and raw than I planned on being when I first started working here.
As I sit here writing this, I’m a little tired. Not because It’s 3:15 in the afternoon, but because I took my medication at lunch. My medication makes me tired. That’s why I usually try to take it at night. And that’s part of the reason there are days I go to bed at 7:30 p.m. (I say “part” of the reason because the truth is I also have an 8-month-old daughter that likes to get up anywhere from 4:30—5:30 a.m.)
See, I have a secret that I’ve kept from a lot of people. I’ve told close friends and family. But I still have a fear about coworkers, bosses, and others knowing. I think the big reason is I don’t want anyone to ever use the excuse, “Oh, that’s just the ____ talking,” or, “Oh, you’re acting that way/feel that way because of the ______ .”
But something has been happening lately. Karis Rogerson has been taking space on this blog to be vulnerable about her struggles. She’s incredible. She’s inspiring. She’s challenged us to talk about our problems so that they can’t control us. And I thought it time to follow her lead. Likewise, the newest member of the I Am Second team, Caitlin McCoy, vowed to get really vulnerable with you. I respect that. A lot. And what better way to hold her to that than to put myself out there, too?
So want to know what medication I take? It’s called Fluoxetine. You probably know it as its name-brand equivalent: Prozac. It’s a popular anti-depressant. I don’t struggle with depression. (In fact, a lot of people say I’m one of the most joyful person they’ve met.) But Fluoxetine can also be used to treat some other things. Those “other things” include anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I have been diagnosed with anxiety and OCD.
You have no idea what’s going on inside me right now admitting that to the world. To my bosses. To everyone I work with, have worked with, and will work with.
You have no idea what’s going on inside me right now admitting that to the world. To my bosses. To everyone I work with, have worked with, and will work with.
This isn’t the ho-hum OCD that we all joke about (which, by the way, doesn’t offend me). But it isn’t the type that forces me to wash my hands an excessive amount of times. Mine is a mild form (that’s what my doctor says, at least), but even that has been life-altering. The stories I’m about to tell you aren’t exaggerations. They are my reality.
Before getting help, I would regularly re-read emails (especially ones I sent) upwards of 50 times, convinced there was an error I was missing, or a tone I was communicating that I didn’t pick up on the first 49 times.
There were times I would lay in bed at night, convinced I didn’t lock my truck. I recently forgot to take my medication for a few days. I woke up at 3 a.m. with the locked-not-locked scenario in my head. I got up, stumbled through the house, opened my garage door, and was greeted (no lie) by a black cat with a still-wiggling mouse in its mouth. My truck was, of course, locked.
Sometimes, when cleaning the house with my wife, I would get really annoyed if she wasn’t doing it in a certain order. “The floor before the dishes? Why?!” Seriously. She would ask, “What’s wrong? Why do you seem so upset?” It caused strife in our marriage.
I couldn’t let things go. My wife once scrapped her car bumper and I obsessed over it for a week. I mean, like, couldn’t stop thinking about it. “How much is this going to cost? Why does this happen whenever we get nice things? Why couldn’t she see the other car? What’s this going to do to the trade-in value?” The questions haunted me. That may be hard to understand if you don’t have OCD, but people who share the struggle know exactly what I’m talking about.
Last month (again, after being off medication for a few days), I was driving to the store. At the intersection, I heard something underneath my truck. The non-OCD person would think, “Oh, I just ran over a piece of trash.” Me? I drove to the store and couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I had ran over a pedestrian. Not only did I retrace my route, but I went back around the block and checked again (literally three minutes later) to make sure. I was looking for blood, for sirens, for people taking pictures. I still thought I had missed something when I got home.
There’s one story that finally made me get help. About two years ago, my wife and I were living in a loft in downtown Dallas. The bottom floor included a hipster coffee shop that we frequented. I like Sweet & Low in my coffee, not real sugar. The coffee shop had some, but not on a regular basis. It was more of a Splenda place. Gross.
On this day, my wife took care of getting the coffee while I ran to the bathroom. I told her I wanted Sweet & Low in it. When I returned, I took a sip of the coffee. It was Splenda.
I can’t describe what happened in my brain. I didn’t get enraged and lose it. But a rush of anger, disappointment, and “Why couldn’t you do this one simple thing?” flooded over me. I didn’t want to feel that way. I remember even telling myself, “This is not a big deal!” But it was.
My wife told me to get over myself. That just made it worse, and started a bad cycle. Our day was ruined. Seriously. For the rest of the day I couldn’t get over her putting the wrong sweetener in my coffee and then telling me to get over it.
It was awful.
The next morning, I finally told her I needed to get help. I knew this wasn’t normal. I called my sister who I knew had struggled with OCD and had seen a psychiatrist. I explained what was going on. She chuckled.
“Oh, Jonny, you definitely have it. Don’t you know it runs in the family?” No, I didn’t. She proceeded to rattle off all the names. It was an epiphany moment — so much made sense now! I hung up and scheduled a doctor’s appointment.
In philosophy, it’s understood that naming something gives you power over it. This is me naming my struggle. This is me proclaiming, to all of you, that I’ve named it.
My doctor tells me a little OCD is a good thing. It really can motivate you. It can make you detail-oriented. That’s true. I tend to be thorough. I go above-and-beyond. I don’t like leaving tasks unfinished. I really push for clarity and don’t like leaving things unsaid. Those kinds of things.
But there’s an ugly side. If I’m wronged, it haunts me. If I fail, it haunts me. If I think too much about something haunting me, that haunts me.
Those are the days it “wins.”
But guess what: Since I’ve started being more open about it, since I’ve forgiven the church denomination I grew up in for classifying it as a “lack of faith” problem, and since I’ve been letting people into my battle who constantly remind of what is really true and what really matters, the disease is losing its power. There are more days where I win.
In philosophy, it’s understood that naming something gives you power over it. We see it as far back as Genesis. I think that’s part of what this whole post is about. This is me naming my struggle. This is me proclaiming, to all of you, that I’ve named it.
I’m Jon and I have anxiety and OCD. It’s not the other way around.