Redacting the Noise

I love music. I really do. My own natural talents may not lend themselves to the performance of such (or at least not in a form that is pleasing to the ear), but that does not prevent me from appreciating it or enjoying it. In fact, there isn’t much that speaks to me as deeply and personally as a great song can. It can touch me and influence me in a way that the mere words, by themselves, can not. Often one does not need the words at all to feel the impact of the music. Some of my favorite songs, in fact, have no vocal component. The music itself does the communicating. [Example: Heart of Courage by Two Steps From Hell]

On the other hand, it’s also possible to zone out completely when listening to music. Sometimes I find myself driving down the road with the radio on, and a song will finish and I can’t for the life of me remember which song it was. Other times I’ll have heard a song twenty, thirty, or even fifty times on the radio before I realize what the artist is talking about – not because I couldn’t understand the words, but because I never took the time to really listen. I was just Adding to the Noise, as Switchfoot so aptly puts it. I was drowning out the silence so that I wouldn’t have to listen to it.

But after really hearing such a song, I can’t go back to drowning it out, because I know what is being communicated. Sometimes all it takes are the introductory chords to get me thinking about the upcoming subject matter. Having understood and applied a song to my life, I find that it continues to communicate to me each time that I hear it.

And that’s part of the reason why I’ve taken to starting this music series. Taking a moment to analyze the lyrics of music won’t make the same impact that the music itself could, but maybe by stopping to think about what is being said we’ll remove some of the background noise and grow a bit more.

And that’s it for the intro. Stay tuned for actual lyrical analysis posts in the future.

Spring Cleaning

“We’re having company this weekend. I need you to have your room clean by then.”

More terrifying words have not been spoken. Children and teenagers everywhere cower in fear at their utterance. Grown men become mere shadows of themselves as they struggle to come up with excuses. The very fabric of the universe begins to unravel as its natural disorder is threatened.

Some would comment that I am blowing this out of proportions. To them, I would say, you’re right. Cleaning your room is not the end of the world. But it can occasionally be so daunting that it feels like it. Especially if you are an all-or-nothing perfectionist like me.

When I clean my room, it usually takes me an entire day (or two) to finish. A successful cleaning means that everything is in its place and has its place, and if I don’t have a place for something or the place I have for it isn’t perfect, then the room isn’t really clean. In other words, I can’t just clean. I have to Spring Clean. Thus most attempts at cleaning my room usually end up looking something like this:

messy room

This is not what my room looks like most of the time. No, this is a result of cleaning. In order to find the perfect place for everything, I have to first take everything out and sort through it, then throw away what I don’t need anymore and reorganize what I want to keep. All of my new stuff needs to be integrated into the new system, and only then can I begin to put my room back together.

Life is a lot like a room. Starting out, everything is mostly in order. You like where you are at, what you are doing, and where you are going. Things are good. Over time small issues come up, but you don’t really know what to do with them, so you stuff them in a drawer and forget about them. Pretty soon you realize that your life is a mess, and you know you need to do something about it. But you don’t have the time to change or evaluate your priorities, so you pretend everything is normal and continue on with your life.

Then you find out that company is coming over. Some event or future event wakes you up and motivates you to take action. You begin the process of reevaluating and fixing your life, but things get worse, not better.

Or at least it appears that way. But when you think about it, my room was always this messy. The papers, postcards, and other items weren’t all over the floor, but they were tossed in a drawer with no rhyme or reason guiding them. It was only when I started pulling them out and trying to sort through them that I realized how chaotic I had let things become. Until I am willing to put the time and effort into my room to make it how I want it, I am blind to how bad it has gotten.

The point is not to put off growth just because it reveals our inadequacies. If you choose to develop yourself, your old baggage will rear its ugly head. You can decide that it isn’t worth it and stuff everything back in the drawers and hide them away, or you can decide to press through, rid yourself of the bad habits and behaviors that have sneaked in and improve the character you want to keep.

The ideal would be to continually keep my room organized. When I get new stuff, if I spent a few minutes figuring out where I wanted to keep it and did a little bit of reorganizing, I’d spare myself the day long spring cleaning sessions. But even then, some things are bound to slip through the cracks. I’m too scatterbrained sometimes to keep everything perfect all the time. Every once and a while even the best of us need to do a little spring cleaning.

Egg Rolls and Routines

Last night on my way home I stopped at the grocery store and picked up a box of Egg Rolls for dinner. When I got home I popped them in the microwave in my room then kicked up my feet and watched a movie to unwind before bed. When the movie was over, I took my dishes upstairs, stopped by the bathroom to get ready for bed, then came back to my room…to the overwhelming smell of Egg Rolls. The smell had permeated into every inch of my room. It was so strong I couldn’t smell anything else.

Fast forward about five minutes, and I’m nearly ready for bed. I’m out of my clothes and into my PJs, I’ve checked Facebook and my email, and I’ve killed the main light and have just the lamp by my bed on. As I climbed into bed and set the alarm for this morning, the thought occurred to me: I can’t smell the Egg Rolls anymore.

The smell was still there, but my body had adjusted to it and incorporated it into the collection of other smells that filled the room. And as I thought back, I realized that during the movie it was the same way. In fact, the only time I consciously remember smelling the Egg Rolls before I left the room was while I was eating them.

Isn’t that odd? I can sit down and watch an entire movie surrounded by the “overwhelming smell of Egg Rolls” and not notice it at all. But leave the room for a minute or two and return, and my eyes are almost watering from the strength of the smell.

And we’re not even talking about a bad smell. I love Egg Rolls, and they smell pretty good too. And yet I can so quickly adjust to their smell that even after consciously attempting to smell it, I can’t. It becomes part of my environment and joins the white noise of smells.

Life is like the smell of Egg Rolls. Our daily routines incorporate everything that happens to us into one giant collection, and we stop being aware of it all. The good and bad things in our life simply fade from view, and we just accept how things are. We stop noticing all the little things our friends and family do for us. We stop being aware of and appreciating the qualities that drew us to them in the first place. And we accept our lot in life, even if we are miserable, and lose sight of the dreams, goals, and desires that once drove us.

It’s not until we are taken out of our current environment that we begin to notice the difference. As the saying goes, you never know what you have until it’s gone. And likewise, you never realize what’s missing in your life until you see it manifest in the life of someone else. Sometimes you don’t even know what you are passionate about until you’ve found it.

The thing is, we do have a choice here. Our minds are much more flexible than our noses. We can make a conscious choice to recall our dreams, appreciate our friends, or admit our shortcomings. We can choose to break our routines, expose ourselves to different ways of thinking, or take ourselves out of our comfort zone.

In the end, we have the choice to change. We can break our routines. We can smell our Egg Rolls.

Weddings and Growing Up

Growing up, attending weddings was one of my favorite things to do. I LOVED weddings. The ceremony, the happy couple, the vows, the exchanging of rings, the first kiss, the cutting of the cake, the toast, the punch; it all filled me with hope, joy, and excitement as I shared in the couple’s celebration of their new life together. It was equal parts enjoying their happiness and imagining my own special day. It was awesome.

Lately, though, weddings have taken on more of a serious tone for me. I still enjoy them, and I’m still happy for the couple and excited for their future together. But now I’m also challenged by their devotion and humbled by the responsibility they are taking on. Weddings are now life checks. They force me to think about my goals and dreams and face the facts on what I have and have not been doing to prepare for and achieve them. They remove the blinders I hide behind and give me the perspective to see where I’m at and what I need to do better.

They also do a pretty good job of scaring me to death.

Paul writes in I Corinthians 13:11 about the transition we take from childhood to adulthood. When we are children, we act like children. When we become adults, we “set aside childish ways.”

Now his point is that just as children set aside behaviors as they grow up, so the Church would set aside behaviors that were perfectly appropriate at the time as it matured and was perfected. But there’s another lesson here, if a fairly obvious one: children grow up and become adults. Even if they don’t want to.

I am twenty-eight years old. I have to shave every morning. I have the beginnings of a receding hairline that will in all likelihood result in the same affliction as my grandfather. My knees have bothered me for the past several years. My dietary habits have started catching up with me, and I have to watch what I eat if I want to feel healthy when I wake up in the morning. By all the stereotypical classifications, I’m there. I’m an adult.

But as I was reminded today at the wedding of two of my friends and have been reminded in the past many times before, adulthood isn’t just skin deep. Maturity is more than the summation of one’s age. Sometimes even adults are afraid to grow up.

Weddings reawaken the dreams I had as a child and remind me of the responsibilities that will go along with them. I’m forced to face questions I’d rather not answer and put myself in the shoes of the man up on stage promising forever to his bride. And every time, I’m excited…and terrified.

Because, when it all comes down to it, the burning question of the hour is always the same: what if I don’t have what it takes?

What if I haven’t learned enough? What if I don’t know what to do? What if I don’t have all the answers? What if I’m not enough? All of these questions and doubts can be summed up in the first question. And the answer to all of them is a resounding negative. I don’t and will never have the know-how, wisdom, understanding, and strength to perfectly lead and offer everything to a bride. The day will never come where I will be able to move forward without risk. Nothing worth achieving in life is without it. And I think learning and understanding that is what it truly means to grow up.


And just for those of you that are curious, no, this is not my way of telling everyone (or anyone) that I am moving forward with a relationship I have been putting off for a while. There actually is no such relationship, nor is there even a girl on the radar at the moment. I am and will continue to be single for the foreseeable future. What this is is a challenge to everyone (myself included) to not give up on your dreams just because there is a risk of failure. While planning is necessary and helpful, it also isn’t the end. Be it a job, a ministry, a conversation, or even a girl, at some point you have to stop planning and take the leap of faith.

What NOT To Do In College

[This is a copy of my Facebook note, reposted here.]

Now that I have “officially” graduated with a Bachelor’s degree (more on that later), I thought I would take some time to share my advice to current college students on what not to do.

1. Pick a major and stick to it!
– If you’re not sure what you want to do, it’s okay to get your Gen-Eds out of the way in your first two years. But after that, pick something, and stick to it. Don’t (for example) invest three and a half years into one major (Computer Science, for example), then change majors one year from graduation. Nor should you then continue to change your major every single semester after that (a total of thirteen times). Pick something you like and do it. You probably won’t end up using it anyway.

2. Don’t drop classes. Get help.
– Everyone is stumped at some point. If you’re not doing well, seek out help. Most schools have free tutoring available. Alternatively, make friends of your smart classmates and seek help from them. If you know a class isn’t going to work out, drop soon – in the first two to three weeks. You will get complete or partial refunds for dropping early. Don’t wait till the end of the semester and waste your money (by, for example, paying for and then dropping 49 credit hours).

3. Don’t give up. Recoup and refocus.
– Burn outs happen. More often than not, however, burn outs are a result of too much school and not enough fun. Take a day or a weekend vacation from school and go do something fun. Refill your fun meter, then dive back in and refocus. If that doesn’t work, call a friend and vent. A lot of life’s problems go away when you talk about them. However recouping looks for you, do it, then refocus yourself. Just don’t (for example) get half-way through a semester, burn out, and quit…and then rinse and repeat. Don’t end up failing 21 credit hours over your collegiate career simply because you gave up.

4. Don’t bank on future earnings.
– Future employment is not a guarantee. I know it’s tempting to take out more student loans than you need (sweet – free money!) to fund the many expenses in life, but don’t do it. Student loans are to fund your education, not your entertainment. Don’t assume your future job will let you pay it off. Don’t (for example) borrow $15k in unsubsidized student loans and then spend it all in one year. Don’t borrow a dime more than you need to pay for books, tuition, and fees of the current academic year. And if at all possible, stick to government subsidized student loans (or heck, if you can afford to – none at all!). Subsidized loans will kill you with interest once you get out of school. Unsubsidized loans will kill you with interest once you get out and while you are in school.

5. Don’t let past mistakes get you down.
– Past mistakes are not a barometer of future success. Just because you’ve done poorly in the past doesn’t mean you will do poorly in the future. There is always opportunity for a fresh start. Today’s a new day. These are all popular cliches, but that doesn’t discount their truth. If you’ve messed up, deal with it, pick yourself up, and move forward. Don’t (for example) buy into the lie that since you’ve failed the last two, three, four semesters that a failure is who you are and it’s about time you accept it. That is not true. You can do it. Accept that, refocus, and move forward.

And there you have it. My (expert) advice to college students everywhere. As a college grad for the past two years, a college student for seven, and with a Bachelor’s Degree in hand since yesterday (since I just payed WSU for my last class), I have the credentials to offer advice. Now if only I could find a job…

For fun – a rundown of my collegiate career:

Cowley County Community College
* Terms: Fa02, Sp03, Fa03, Sp04
* Total Earned Credits: 67
* Total Credits Payed For: 68
* Total Credits Transferred: 61
* GPA: 4.0
* Degree: Associate of Science (Computer Science)

Butler Community College
* Terms: Su03
* Total Earned Credits: 5
* Total Credits Payed For: 5
* Total Credits Transferred: 5
* GPA: 4.0

Kansas State University
* Terms: Fa04, Sp05, Su05, Fa05, Sp06
* Total Earned Credits: 51
* Total Credits Payed For: 58
* Total Credits Transferred: 47
* GPA: 2.98

Wichita State University
* Terms: Su06, Fa06, Sp07, Fa07, Sp08, Fa08, Sp09, Su09
* Total Credits Earned: 33
* Total Credits Payed For: 93
* GPA: 2.413
* GPA After First Year: 0.875
* Semesters on Academic Probation: 4
* Times Dismissed: 1
* Degree: Bachelor of General Studies (Mathematics)

* Term: Fa02 to Su09
* Total Credits Earned: 146
* Total Credits Payed For: 224
* GPA: 3.148

* Subsidized Loans: $20,000
* Unsubsidized Loans: $30,000
— Interest Added In School: $12,000
* Total Estimated Payback (over 10 years): $75,000

All for this: