The Years of Jon

I have this tendency every, every year, I declare that this year is going to be my year. This is going to be the year it all falls into place, I will find the right girl, I will get an awesome that pays well, in short all my dreams will come true and I will be happy. The problem is that life doesn’t work that way, and I end every year saying next year will be better.

And there is truth in that statement, next year is always better. The thing is, what makes the next year better are lessons I learned the previous year. 2014 has been a huge year of risk and learning, there have been triumphs, heartbreaks, and huge surprises. I feel, sitting here on the last day of 2014, that I have a deeper knowledge of myself than I have ever had.

I came the closest I have ever come to being in a real relationship, even though it did end badly, I took a risk that a few years ago I never would have taken. A friendship died due hurt feelings and betrayal, and instead of dealing with it the way I would of in the past (strangling this person with their own intestines), I just walked away in peace rather than trading verbal and emotional blows. I climbed mountains and forded chest high streams. I saw stars shine over ancient temples and saw the sun rise on the Great Wall. I got over fears and saw old wounds heal. I learned to stop giving a damn what people think of me. And I found my life’s calling (teaching and writing).

I don’t think that any one year will be our year, I think like a good bourbon, the years can only make us better if we let them. Every year we learn more about ourselves, about the world, and about life. If we expect everything to fall into place all at once, we will be sadly disappointed, life doesn’t work like that (only fairy tale and romantic comedies work that way). The problem is we can let the disappointment make us bitter and that will sour our progress the next year, we will end up in a rut and be stuck there until we choose to move on. I once heard someone say that: “you can get bitter or you can get better”. It my hope that I always choose to get better. I hope I think of every year as my year, because no matter what happens I can only get better, if I choose to.

Was 2014 everything I hoped for? No. Was 2014, in some ways, better than I could have hoped for? Yes. Will 2015 be even better? Hell yes.

Here’s 2014, thanks for healing, knowledge, and great stories. And to 2015, welcome and may it bring us all greater peace, knowledge, adventure, and discovery. God Bless. And have a happy New Year.

The Thrill of Hope

“The thrill of hope,

a weary world rejoices,

for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Last night, I went to the Christmas Eve service at BICF (Beijing International Christian Fellowship), the church that I attend here in Beijing. Last night, we sang “O Holy Night”, the song that contains the words written above. And for the first time, I understood the meaning of those words, not in a I know the literal meaning of those words kind of way, but in I know what it means because I’ve been there kind of way.

A Weary World Rejoices

I have been feeling pretty worn out lately, I have been dealing with a lot of change and the loss of a friendship. And in the midst of this I start to second guess myself and some of the decisions I made. Sometimes it feels like I am flying and sometimes it feels like I just smacked into the side of a cliff, I often wonder if I am in the right place or I am still doing what God wants.

The Thrill of Hope

Before I went to church last night, I had spent the day at work teaching part of the 880 students I teach every week. During this time, God showed me why I am in Beijing and the impact I have on hundreds of people every day, and what I can better engage in life in my city.

For Yonder Breaks a New and Glorious Morn

Every day is new, and it doesn’t matter what mistakes I made yesterday, all that matters is that I move forward and keep leaning on the grace and mercy of God. In a city like Beijing, that’s really all you can ever do.

Fear and Creativity

I don’t necessarily write about current events, I mainly like to think I write about life. I try not to give opinions on heated subjects because I don’t want to add to the noise. I don’t intend to change that now, but I read a tweet from Steve Carrell “Sad day for creative expression. #feareatsthesoul”. He was referencing the fact that Sony pulled the movie The Interview from its Christmas release date due to fears of digital attacks. And true to form, I will not comment on the good or bad of the decision, I will say that I am disappointed, because I like James Franco and Seth Rogen and think this would have been a funny movie.

I think that Carrell’s hashtag, #feareatsthesoul, is incredibly poignant and true. I have loved writing most of my life, but it hasn’t been until recently that I started writing on a regular basis or allowing people to read what I write, let alone publishing it on a publicly accessible medium. Until three years ago I wasn’t even calling myself a writer, I would just tell people I liked to write.

I have told people before that fear is my default operating system, and it’s true. I have learned to be afraid of a lot a lot of things. When you grow up with an abusive dad, you learn to walk on eggshells and not stand out. When you’re the only fat kid with glasses in the first grade you learn not to do anything that might make you a target. When your freshman English professor completely destroys the short story you spent all semester working on, you learn to stop hoping for anything better and you give up.

It is true that fear eats the soul, it kills that deep thing inside of you that makes you, you. If you let it, fear will push you into the shadows and feed off your misery as you slowly and silently die deep down.

I am a firm believer in destiny, not the you were supposed to have cornflakes for breakfast as it was foretold, everything is already decided for you destiny. I believe that there is something or some things we were put on this earth to do, and only we can do them. Fear kills our destiny. Fear makes the world a poorer place because we are without a million masterpieces that could have and should have been. Fear eats creativity for breakfast, if you hold on to fear, you can never create well.

The beautiful thing is that the human soul is nothing if not resilient. You can come back from fear. After my professor ripped me a new one, I stopped writing fiction and anything any one would read, but I still wrote, but only now it was just journaling. Fear can never truly stop us, it can only bleed us. Our creativity has to come out somewhere; our gifts can’t die, they only be redirected into less effective mediums. You see it every day, would-be painters doing marketing, would-be writers teaching English, would-be human rights crusaders doing criminal law (and by that I mean defending scumbags). Two things can happen when you are in this position, you can keep on keeping and trudge slowly onward toward death, or you can stop, take inventory of your soul and what makes you come alive, and then do that.

The first step to breaking out of this fear rut sounds deceptively easy, but can be very hard and painful, it is to step out, be vulnerable, and rush headlong at the very thing that scares you. Fear cannot stand in the face of courage. There is a however a caveat to this step, sometimes you will be in the middle of your headlong rush and you look around and realize that you are doing what of always wanted, and some part of you will freak out and try to pull back. I liken this to the Biblical story of Peter, found in Matthew 14:22-36. Basically, the disciples all in a boat and it’s late at night, Jesus comes walking across the water. At first the disciples freak and think a ghost is chasing them, and Jesus says, “Chill out I’m not a ghost”. Then Jesus tells Peter to get out of the boat and walk toward him. Peter’s like, “sweet”, he jumps out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus. When he gets about half way to Jesus, he noticing the waves and hears the wind, he realizes he’s walking and water, and starts to sink. Jesus rescues Peter and says “Your of little faith, why did you doubt?

This story to me raises two very good points about this struggle against fear. One is that we can’t doubt the giftings, passions, and abilities that we have; we just have to jump out of the boat and keep walking. Two, we can’t do it alone. Now I am not the type of person who likes to beat people over the head with the Bible, but I believe that my own toward creativity and self-realization has happened only because of who God is and my relationship with him. On my own I would still be stuck in a corner with cowered in fear, slowly bleeding out.

Here’s to the future, and to not letting fear run our lives.

A Word of Thanks

I originally came up with the concept of writing this last Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, but it didn’t come together until now. No matter when it comes, I believe that gratitude is maybe one of humanities most important expressions, and unfortunately one we neglect all too often. So let me get this ball rolling with a list of things I am thankful for and why.

The goodness and grace of God in my life: I know this might seem cliché or overly religious. Two things I try to avoid being, but I totally believe in God and I believe that we all have a destiny to live out. I think too often we get bogged down on what we’ve done that hinders our moving toward that destiny, we forget that God is loving and forgiving. So today, and I hope every day, I want to live in mindful gratitude of that grace.

My family: There are very few parents who wholeheartedly support their child’s plans to run away to a foreign country and become a writer and brewer, but my mom is one of them. Not only does she support my decision to live in China, but she is often also the one who reminds me that this is what I have always wanted and to stay the course. My brother and sister are equally awesome and supportive, and I couldn’t do what I do without them.

My friends: I am lucky enough to have been blessed with a large group of people, both in China and America, who love me and care about me. They have largely been the reason that I have continued writing and living overseas. Without their love and support I couldn’t make it through the numerous tough days and insurmountable writer’s block that come with the life I’ve chosen. I once heard a speaker say “that you should surround yourself with people that you are so sure will bless you, that it doesn’t matter if they hurt you”, this is very true of my friends and I have been greatly blessed.

My Fans: As hard as it is for me to believe, there are actually people out there who read what I write, and I have never met most of them. I am so thankful that there people taking the time to read what I slave and obsess over. Thank- you.

My job: I don’t always like it, but I’m thankful to have a job in a time when many people don’t have one. I am also thankful to have a job that allows me in some small way to try to make the world a better place ( in case you’re wondering I do have a real job, I’m a teacher).

My House: Yes it’s a smelly, rundown, shoddily constructed and horribly modified Chinese apartment, but I have a roof over my head and I live in one of the more fashionable parts of Beijing at a dirt cheap price.

Now we have come to the segment of this post where Jon gives thanks for the little things.

Bourbon: There’s nothing like ending a productive day with a glass of bourbon, a well packed pipe, and a good book. Where would I be without this sweet nectar called bourbon.

A burgeoning burger culture in Beijing: When I first moved to China, I was living in a city with very little western culture and the only place you could get a hamburger was MacDonald’s, which for a beef-eating, God-fearing Nebraska boy like me was a travesty. To make matters worse the Chinese have the horrifying habit of calling anything between two pieces of bread a hamburger, which means you’re more likely to get a chicken or hotdog sandwich rather than a proper burger. Thank God that Beijing has over 50 different burger joints, so that when I get that craving for fire kissed beef and exotic topping I have many options to fill it.

Pipe Tobacco: I really enjoy a fine pipe tobacco; a good one can really give me a lot of joy.

Craft beer and the Beijing craft revolution: I like good beer. I like drinking it, I like thinking about it, I like making it, I like talking about it, I like reading about it, but mainly I like drinking it. Thankfully for me there isn’t only an awesome tradition of making beer in the U.S., but there is now also a similar culture taking hold here in Beijing.

The written word: Not only do have the amazing creative outlet of writing, but I also get to enjoy reading.