Even though this pains me, I’m going to be really vulnerable and honest here, feel free to skip over this if it bores you, it’s perfectly okay. This doesn’t really have a lot of practical application like most of my posts do. I just need to be honest right now.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my evening watching a web series following a truly phenomenal group of spoken word poets called Striver’s Row as they tour, perform, and share their hearts behind the scenes. Seeing them, their hard work, hardship, and commitment to do whatever it takes to follow their calling is jarring. It’s an earnest slap to the face to watch a bunch of 20-something year old kids like myself pursuing doctoral degrees, writing their asses off, performing their poems around the world, in the White House, for television, at their alma maters as commencement speakers with awards named after them, all because they know that this impact is exactly what they were made for and they are committed to making it, life or death.

Meanwhile, I’ve known since I was a child that I want to change lives, but I grew up lazy, arrogant, foolish, entitled and most of all, terrified.

Terrified of my own gift.
Terrified of all of the work I knew lay before me.
Terrified of standing out.
Terrified of failing.
Terrified that I might not be everything I’ve sorely wanted to believe I am.

I’ve known all my life that I owe a huge debt to the world and I’ve run and run from it over and over and over, and now by some miracle, it dawns on me as I watch these videos:

I can do this.
I am absolutely capable.
All I have to do is work for it. Work hard for it. Really hard.

It’s in me, and I’m finally ready to do what is required of me. I’m not afraid anymore. I see myself better than I ever have, and I’m ready to suffer, to pour myself out because I know that I have a message that people desperately need.

Thank you Josh Bennett. Thank you Striver’s Row. Thank you for showing me what I am worthy and capable of. What God expects of me. What the world needs from me.

A Year in a Day.

As I get older, birthdays take on new meanings. Specific days become less important and the ways they all bind together begins to mean everything. Birthday wishes are great, but I become more and more grateful for each of the people who make them. I find myself more thankful for the gifts I’ve been receiving from each of them all year long and less worried about which ones I get specifically that day.

I know that 24 isn’t that far along in the grand scheme of things, but it looms before me like a skyscraper, reminding me that youth is quickly escaping me, promising that it isn’t something to fear, but that it’s something to embrace, and take pride in. I’m becoming a man. Maybe I already am one. Maybe that skyscraper is not to be gawked at or afraid of, maybe it’s to be conquered. Maybe it’s calling me to charge up the stairs and claim what’s rightfully mine. Maybe I’ve been afraid of the journey, maybe I’ve fallen so in love with the view I have here that I’ve convinced myself that I don’t want to see the one from the top. Maybe I’m afraid my legs will give out halfway there and I’ll lose both views, have you been afraid too? Maybe we’re both still clinging to our peeks at the sun between buildings when we were meant to see 360 skylines, who knows?

Either way, this was just my long way of saying thank you. Thank you for the flood of texts, wall posts, calls, messages, and voicemails, whether it was two words or an essay, or a couple hours of conversation, I appreciate that you even stopped to think of me and wish me the best. Thank you for the gifts, store-bought, hand-made, whether it kept you up late or you threw it together in 2 minutes, it’s worth something to me, thank you for it. Thank you even to those who didn’t stop by to say anything yesterday, I know how life is, no worries, I know you love me and you’ve shown it in so many other ways, thank you for doing that! Thank you for building Michael. Through each of your words, actions, challenges, suggestions, talents, gifts, songs, pieces of art, hard choices, mistakes, and even your simple presence, whether you were seeking to hurt or heal, or if you were completely unaware of your influence on me, you’ve shaped me, and I’m grateful for you.

One last thing though, I wanted to give something back to all of you on my birthday, and being who I am, I wanted it to matter, and being a poet, I only had words to give, so I along with the thank yous I gave earlier, I want to express the two most valuable things I’ve learned and re-learned this year:

1) We are only people, and we each need each other. No man is an island, and no man can pull himself up by his own bootstraps. It’s impossible, quit saying it. I am weak, just like all of you, but because I have all of you, we can be strong. When one of us falls, the others can help him up. Where I am ignorant, there’s someone else who already has the knowledge. When I get tired, someone else has strength to lend me. That’s a gift that I’ve experienced all year long, and I want to share it with you.

2) It seems to me that no matter how loving, mighty, and resourceful a group of people can be, it turns out that they are still ultimately evil and only rise to accomplish much before destroying themselves. That’s why we’re each in need of something bigger than all of us. In our arrogance, we’ve chosen not to seek Him, but He still came for us, for me, and pulled me away from my own self-destructive behavior. He is working quietly to do it in all of us who choose to believe and submit ourselves to it. It’s not about a particular faith, or a set of rules, or a church building, it’s about knowing God. The only way to do that is Jesus, and as I begin to know Him, my heart wants to share it with you, it’s the most valuable thing I have. Believe, surrender, follow. He’ll take care of us.

Thanks so much for reading, I think this video illustrates these two points from this year powerfully, I’d love it if you took another couple of minutes to watch it. Take care!

We’re all born to broken people on their most honest day of living 
and since that first breath… We’ll need grace that we’ve never given 
I’ve been haunted by standard red devils and white ghosts 
and it’s not only when these eyes are closed 
these lies are ropes that I tie down in my stomach, 
but they hold this ship together tossed like leaves in this weather 
and my dreams are sails that I point towards my true north, 
stretched thin over my rib bones, and pray that it gets better 
but it won’t won’t, at least I don’t believe it will… 
so I’ve built a wooden heart inside this iron ship, 
to sail these blood red seas and find your coasts. 
don’t let these waves wash away your hopes 
this war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors 
pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, I still believe in saviors 
but I know that we are all made out of shipwrecks, every single board 
washed and bound like crooked teeth on these rocky shores 
so come on and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief 
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach 
come on and sew us together, tattered rags stained forever 
we only have what we remember 

I am the barely living son of a woman and man who barely made it 
but we’re making it taped together on borrowed crutches and new starts 
we all have the same holes in our hearts… 
everything falls apart at the exact same time 
that it all comes together perfectly for the next step 
but my fear is this prison… that I keep locked below the main deck 
I keep a key under my pillow, it’s quiet and it’s hidden 
and my hopes are weapons that I’m still learning how to use right 
but they’re heavy and I’m awkward…always running out of fight 
so I’ve carved a wooden heart, put it in this sinking ship 
hoping it would help me float for just a few more weeks 
because I am made out of shipwrecks, every twisted beam 
lost and found like you and me scattered out on the sea 
so come on let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief 
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach 
come on and sew us together, just some tattered rags stained forever 
we only have what we remember 

My throat it still tastes like house fire and salt water 
I wear this tide like loose skin, rock me to sea 
if we hold on tight we’ll hold each other together 
and not just be some fools rushing to die in our sleep 
all these machines will rust I promise, but we’ll still be electric 
shocking each other back to life 
Your hand in mine, my fingers in your veins connected 
our bones grown together inside 
our hands entwined, your fingers in my veins braided 
our spines grown stronger in time 
because are church is made out of shipwrecks 
from every hull these rocks have claimed 
but we pick ourselves up, and try and grow better through the change 
so come on yall and let’s wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief 
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach 
come on and sew us together, were just tattered rags stained forever 
we only have what we remember