courage

Courage.


I first watched this video because it was linked to a post by my friend Kelly.  I resonated with it not so much for the music or for the video, but for the lyrics.

Brave.

Don’t run.

Stop holding your tongue.

Let your words be anything but empty.

Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live.

Maybe one of these days you can let the light in.

Show me how big your brave is.

One of my greatest causes in life is to give other people courage.  People are afraid of all kinds of things—afraid of their past, afraid of the future, afraid of dying, afraid of being alone, afraid of what others think of them, afraid of failing…  it seems like so much of what we do is driven by fear.

And yet “perfect love casts out fear,” and the thing God says to us more than any other is, “Do not be afraid.”

I wonder if we are afraid because we don’t feel like we are loved.  Because if you feel like someone loves you, like they will stay no matter what, like they are on your side forever, then all of a sudden it doesn’t matter as much how many times you fail, or that you aren’t as smart or pretty or whatever as someone else is.

But that never should have been the standard to begin with.

You see, part of the reason I want my life to be about inviting people to courage is because I believe with everything I am and have that the whisper of greatness was spoken into every single person who has ever walked this earth; that before the beginning of time one who knew your name before anyone ever uttered it set a light in you that was meant to shine forever.

Too many of us have forgotten that.  Too many of us think that courage is dancing in a town square or jumping out of an airplane or zip lining.

No, courage is living your life the way it was meant to be lived.  Courage is hearing that whisper and doing what it says.  Courage is a lifetime, not one time, which is why for some among us, courage is as simple as getting up this morning.  For some, courage is living today because what they really want more than anything is to die.  For some, courage is a first or second or third day without the drug or the drink or the person or the job or the life they had imagined.  For some, courage is just making it through today.

But courage is also fighting the battles with and for others while we fight our own.  It is taking the time to listen or help or encourage.  It is realizing that if we are courageous in this moment, then it is not just for ourselves.

Courage looks a little different from everyone.

Courage looks a little different for everyone.

But it always leads to a life of significance.

Mine looks like this: someone reading this will write me a note; it might be right away, it might be months from now, but it will start with something like, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I didn’t know who else to reach out to…” and I will say, “It took a lot of courage for you to reach out like that, and I will help you in whatever way I can…”

So if you are that person, know that my courage is waiting for your courage whenever it is ready.

And whether you are that person or not, I’d like to know what your courage looks like.  I’d like to know what you’d do if you were not afraid.  I’d like to hear your story of what happens when you exercise courage, and I’d like to see you be that way again and again and again.

Inspiration, Leadership

Our “Dos” and “Don’ts” Define Us


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I almost quit.

 

10 steps out the door for my first workout toward a goal I have set for myself this summer (complete a duathlon), I was freezing. 38 degrees with 20-25 mph winds, and I was about to go running.

 

A few days before, I’d laid out my workouts for every day until the end of August. I’m not a natural planner, but I had a plan. I finished that work, and decided mentally my mantra for this endeavor: “I don’t miss workouts.”

 

So there I was. Just after 5 AM. Outside. In the dark. Listening to the wind whip about me. And I was tempted to quit—change the workout or make it up later. And then my mantra spoke up: “I don’t miss workouts.”

 

10 minutes into the workout it was still cold, still windy, still dark, and my face was already numb.

 

But no one else was up.

 

No one else was around.

 

But I was running; thinking about my goal; thinking about August and doing something I had never done before. I was filled with the adrenaline that comes from doing something difficult, something other people won’t do to accomplish something other people won’t experience.

 

Not because they can’t, but because they need a “do” or “don’t” to help them.

 

Our “dos” and “don’ts” define us; they set our limits; they stretch our aspirations and enable our accomplishments.

 

What “do” or “don’t” are you trying on for size? What difference is it making?

 

I don’t miss workouts.

 

I do duathlons.

 

Comment. Make it public. Do.

 

 

Inspiration, Leadership

You CAN Predict the Future. Will that Change Your Present?


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What if I told you that it is possible to see the future, even predict it?

If you could see the future, would it change your present?

You can see the future, but perhaps not in the way you think. Some of you will be tempted to stop after what I am about to say, but press in. Stay with it, because this is something that can make your life truly meaningful, truly remarkable:

The future is hardship.

I know, it’s not a pleasant thought. Stay there, though. Linger long enough to see past hardship merely as something to avoid. Consider that every relationship you have ever had was strengthened through it. Remember that every time you have grown more mature or able somehow, hardship forged you. Understand that the most effective you have ever been was likely in helping another through hardship of one kind or another, perhaps even one you had experienced yourself.

And considering, remembering, understanding that, how does it inform your present?

Too many move from here to “carpe diem.” While “seize the day” has its merits, it is fundamentally flawed. When we make our lives about making the most of today, we position ourselves “in spite of” or “against” the inevitable.

And often, we do it alone.

Friends, the future for every one of us is hardship, and that is why we cannot merely make the most of our days.

We must see into the future, and make the most of the days of others.

We must change our present not just for ourselves, but for everyone we can.

For the older among us: if you had known in middle or high school that the person across the room would attempt suicide at some point in his life, would it have changed your present? If you knew the young lady in your class would become a teen mom, or the kid you saw every day but whose name you didn’t know would be diagnosed with cancer in his 30s, would that have changed your present?

And for the younger among us, if I could tell you right now that one of the people you eat lunch with would be a widow 10 years from now, or that next year one of his parents would pass away, would that change the present?

Would it change what we talk about? What questions we ask? How we greet people? What we post on social media?

We are too often concerned about what divides us into our categories, and not enough concerned about what categories unite us. Difficult though it is to experience, uncomfortable though it is to share, hardship unites us.

What would it look like if hardship united us, rather than isolated us?

You can predict the future. Will that change your present?

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On Suicide (after Robin Williams’ passing)


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I wrote this originally as a facebook status yesterday, and the response was rather overwhelming–probably more people interacted with it than any other post I’ve ever written, so I thought to share it here also, in the hope that some part of my experience will be helpful to others.

 

 

Most people who commit suicide do not want to die. They want to be whole. They want to cure what ails them. If they are addicts, they cannot forgive themselves for one more lapse, knowing that however long and hard fought their sobriety, there will likely be another, and sooner or later the will to start over erodes. Surrounded by those they love, given assurances, they remain tortured, feeling like they have disappointed and failed so many times that this grace, this love, could not possibly be true, and if true, surely not lasting. And so they turn to what they can control, convincing themselves that the world and all those people would somehow be better without them. And they are always wrong.

 

Still others are depressed or struggling somehow with mental health. They try to figure it out with meds, they get counseling, they endure the well meaning but terribly misguided comments of friends and family who explain that everything is going to be alright, or, worse, that they can somehow snap out of it if they would just think more positively about life. And slowly they are drawn into the abyss of loneliness and hopelessness, until one day they have the courage to make it stop, and they feel, for once, like they can choose. And though it is always the wrong choice, let us not judge, for most of us have been spared this fight and do not understand it. Rather, let us love without expectation and without condescension, which might be the only hope for any of us.

 

Leadership

Want to Join a Social Media Revolution?


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I’ve been waiting to write this post for almost a year.

In April 2013, I had the privilege of speaking at TEDx Marinette.  The “idea worth sharing” I introduced that evening was “Lead Like They’re Dying,” which sought to change our leadership frame of reference.  Many of you who have followed this blog have seen and shared that video–if you are among them, thank you.  (And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, click here to watch it.)

As part of that event, I also enjoyed the opportunity to address a group of students from local area schools.  In that session, I introduced the concept of #30forothers.  In short, I invited those students to join me in starting a social media revolution, and I’d like to invite you to join us also.

The concept is simple, and anyone can participate.  30forothers is a commitment to use social media for 30 days a year as a means to edify, uplift, and extol others.  You can view the 30forothers TEDx video below, or check it out HERE.  Use #30forothers on Facebook and Twitter; like the 30forothers Facebook page, and follow @30forothers on Twitter to see the encouraging tweets of others.

The intent is to highlight character, effort, and ability, or thank, admire, and appreciate people. More than anything else I have ever written or done, I hope this helps people.  I hope it helps you help people.  So many people need encouragement, a reason to hope, the feeling that someone believes in them.  We all have the power to provide that, and a means to that end is literally right at our fingertips.

One of my favorite quotations is attributed to Philo of Alexandria: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

Let’s remember that.

I hope you’ll join us.  I hope you’ll make someone else’s day today.  I hope you’ll share this concept with everyone you know.

Let’s start a social media revolution!

Faith, Leadership

This is true of you…


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You are awesome. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Capable of amazing things.

I want you to know.

This is true of you whether or not you felt like it when you woke up this morning.

This is true of you whether or not anyone else has ever said so.

This is true of you whether you are married or single, big or skinny, old or young, gay or straight, black, white, or anything in between.

This is true of you whether you have hundreds of friends or not very many.

This is true of you when you hate yourself, and when you love yourself. It’s true when you fail, and it’s true when you triumph. It’s true when you can’t see a way forward, when you are scared, and when you want to quit.

Don’t quit.

Because you are wonderful.

I want you to know.

You might also like: Why You Mustn’t Give Up

Faith

When I Am Weak…


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“And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I have never known the truth of those verses in my own life until today.  Today—as I returned to grief on the 8th anniversary of my grandfather’s passing, on the heels of the Super Bowl and sex trafficking, Coca-Cola commercial controversies, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s struggle with heroin reminding me of my dad—I didn’t have it together.

I’m a person who has it together.  I’m self-disciplined, successful by most standards, faithfully married, dad to two great kids, in control.

I don’t need God.  Not like I’ve seen people need him, anyway.  People who know their limits and have felt the failure of having reached them.  People who, by their own doing or someone else’s, have seen their lives spin out of control or take a direction they never intended.  I didn’t have much of a head start in life, probably got started late in fact, but most appearances wouldn’t indicate it these days.  Call it grace, favor, hard work, blessing, whatever you want, but the curse didn’t reach me.

And that has always been my problem.  I have always been my problem—because I don’t worry about things, I don’t feel like there is anything I can’t handle.  I’m not really afraid of anything.

But I do get tired.  And I move toward pain and grief and not away from it.  At first, many years ago, I did it to try to understand, and then to try to take it on or confront it somehow.  Neither worked.  Now I move toward it to heal, and out of that healing, heal others.

I fought back tears all day today.  On the phone with clients, coaching clients ironically, it was literally all I could do to keep talking and listening and asking questions.  And in the 5 or 10 minutes I had between a few calls, I wiped away the tears that wouldn’t wait any longer.

Today I didn’t have it together at all.  Today I wasn’t in control.  Sure, I could have, and probably did, fool the people I talked to all day on the phone, but I was weak.  Tired.  I wanted to go to bed and wake up to a different day.  I wanted to disappear, as much as I ever have in my life, I just wanted not to feel the way I was feeling any more.  I didn’t want to eat; I didn’t want to help my kids with their homework after 11 hours at work; I didn’t want to carry the laundry downstairs for my wife; I wanted to be selfish and withdraw from everything, just for a little while.

And as I reflect on it now, the whole of this day, I am struck by the notion that millions of people wake up this way every day, and go to bed hoping, praying, that when they awake tomorrow it will be different somehow.  Yet for all their will, prayer, desperation, or support, all of their tomorrows become todays, and all of their todays become yesterdays.  All the same.  And they lose hope, turning back to the addiction or medication or withdrawal from the world, or whatever they do.

And I don’t blame them.

Because today I wanted to join them.  Today I would have done just about anything to feel better, to be able to function as I normally do, to push grief to the back recesses of my mind and be at my best.  Just about anything.

But I have too much history for that.  I have learned from the mistakes of others, and do not repeat willfully what I can avoid by example.  So I did what I needed to do.  I ate. I helped my kids with their homework after a long day at work.  I carried the laundry downstairs for my wife.  But there is no way I have done these things well, or in my own strength.  If you have read anything I have written for the past 3 days and received anything from it at all, then you have the Spirit to thank.

Because for once in my life, I am weak.

And I am not at all ashamed to say so.  In fact, I’m writing this to boast about it.  I’m writing this to be thankful for it.

Because someday one of you reading this will think to reach out to me, and you will hesitate because of something you have seen me do, or some attribute or accomplishment I have…  but then you will remember this, and you will find the courage to call or text or push send.

And we will both be glad you did.

Because we will be weak together.

And together is always better than alone.

Faith

The Problem of Pain (and what to do about it)


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Among the many questions with which we must wrestle in this life, two of the biggest are, “How do I respond to my pain?” and “How do I respond to the pain of others?”

Our responses determine our view of just about everything else: whether or not we believe in God, what we think of him if we do, how we interact with our families, even the extent to which we are satisfied or happy with our lives.  It is a cruel truth that responding to pain in an unhealthy way, any unhealthy way, will actually make that pain worse, or create a new kind of pain.

This is why so many people just avoid pain altogether—their own and that of others.  Ironically, they have a kind of wisdom: that if so many of the potential options are ill-fated, then it is perhaps better to choose to do nothing.  Of course, this crumbles under examination, because it fails to address the initial pain.

For that is the common denominator of the human condition: that all of us, regardless of station or gift or persuasion, will experience pain.

Too many times, we ask the wrong question.  When we experience pain, we ask “Why?” in an effort to understand the reason or purpose behind what we are facing.  But the question we should be asking is “What?”  What must I do, or not do, in this situation, with this pain, with these people?  That, I contend, is the place where peace and healing reside.

So what do we do with our own pain?  Some of us turn it into something else, and instead of grieving, for example, we become angry, or self-critical, or hurtful to ourselves or others.  Some of us take it on and become overwhelmed by it, leading to depression or despair.  Some of us self-medicate, looking for anything, everything, that will give us some kind of relief from having to feel or think about that which ails us.

The ash heap is uncomfortable.  It is no wonder we avoid it, sometimes at all costs.

But what should we do?  What can we do?

I will not speak for others, but the defining moments in my own life and my own pain have come, without exception, from moving toward my pain instead of away from it.  For years I turned it into anger, and used it to fuel achievement and striving.  I had a counselor tell me that anger is not a pure emotion—that it always masks something else—once I realized this truth, and that converting my pain to anger did not bring awareness, peace, or healing, I was free to get into the real work of journeying through my pain.

That did not make it easier.

But it did make it possible.

Many years of moving toward pain later, I have neither insight nor authority to share beyond what I borrow from James: that pain develops perseverance, and perseverance leads to maturity.

This in itself is enough, but I think we can be forgiven for seeing it as a bit of a letdown.  All that for maturity?  Surely another way exists.

It is not just our own maturity, though.  What do we do with our own pain is only one question.  We must also come to what we do with the pain of others if our lives are to find expression and fulfillment.  And it is in this that our pain’s true worth exists (Yes, pain has worth—inestimable worth—again from James, to the point of joy).

We cannot heal ourselves.  Rather, what we do with our own pain is to endure, to gain patience, to assume a posture and recognize our place.  But having done that, the gift of pain is that we can heal others.

“Carry one another’s burdens…”  “Weep with those who weep; mourn with those who mourn…”  These actions heal.  Miraculously and inexplicably, the presence of peace exists with those who have moved toward their pain, not to overcome it as one climbs a mountain, but to know it and recognize it, and fear it no longer, neither in themselves nor others.

Moving toward our pain enables us to move toward others who are in pain.  Like the first responders we admire for going into danger when the rest of us are running away from it, our own pain, addressed, gives us courage to move toward pain wherever it exists.

I am such a person, but I hate doing this.

I like being strong, certain, determined.  I don’t like crying; I don’t like feeling helpless or lacking control.  Pain, whether it is mine or anyone else’s, wrecks all of that.

This week, people I love have been in pain physically, relationally, even organizationally.  As I move toward that pain, the scars of my own pain, and the mistakes I made with it, rush to the surface.  I want to convert it all to anger and confront.

Until peace has its say.  And peace always asks the Dr. Phil question: “How is that working for you?”  And then peace invites me to sit a while.  After those moments, my pain becomes my power, because it enables me to move toward the ones I love in peace, with no agenda other than to bring the presence of peace.  I have insights; I have questions, but those can come in their time.

For now, peace.

For the response to the questions, “How do I respond to my pain?” and “How do I respond to the pain of others?” must only and ever be that which brings peace, that which brings healing.  We cannot heal ourselves, and so we must persevere, but we can heal others, and so we must move toward them.  Carry burdens.  Mourn.  Weep.

I hate this, but until the day when perfect peace comes, I choose to be a healer.

Faith

Why You Mustn’t Give Up


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We are defined.

All of us.  We are shaped, molded, angled, built, crafted…

Intended.

All of us.  We carry the talents, gifts of birth, reflections of a perfect Image…  We are awesome, capable, creative, giving, loving beings…  As we are defined, as we are intended, we are perfect.

Perfect.

But we are also re-defined.

All of us.  We are broken, bent, stretched, spent, undone…

Ruined.

For while we are formed and imprinted with the indelible Image, nearly everything that happens after that seeks its ruin.  All of us have experienced this: our dads beat the hell out of us; our moms told us we were worthless or an accident; we were sexually abused; we woke up depressed this morning in spite of our very best (and medicine’s very best) efforts not to be; our loved ones died; our friends broke our trust; we failed by our own standards or someone else’s…

Over time, we lost faith in the Image, and then in ourselves.  We lost confidence that we were among those who bore it.  We lost hope.

Because we thought we were alone.

Over time, we came to believe that we deserved this.

But we did not.

You did not.

Not then, not now, not ever.

For defined does not change its mind so easily.  Intended does not acquiesce to such persuasions.  And it does not suffer threats to its beloved well.

Friend, You are that beloved.  Then, now, and for always, it is you.  With all your baggage in tow, with all the wounds that never seem to heal, with the messes done to you and the messes you have made, with whatever you woke up with this morning and the day before and probably tomorrow, it is you.

And this is why you mustn’t give up.

It is why you mustn’t believe, not now and not ever, that you are alone.

It is why you mustn’t believe, not now and not ever, that you deserve this.

It is why you mustn’t believe, not now and not ever, that you are hopeless.

You are defined.  You are intended.  Whether you have ever seen a glimpse of it in your life or not, you are wonderful, courageous, beautiful, able—a crowning jewel among all that exists.

You deserve to know that even if you have never seen a glimpse of it in your life, the world and someone in it waits with grand anticipation for something only you can provide.

You deserve to know that you deserve the thanks, admiration, and praise that come from resiliency, and giving your gifts to the rest of us.

You deserve to know that every day you wake up feeling like you did this morning and say, “I’ll do this anyway,” hope is winning.

You deserve to know that even if you never hear it, someone is watching, gaining inspiration from your example.

You deserve to know that we are proud of you whether your life sings or barely gets by.

You deserve to know that we are waiting for your song, and that we know its words because it is our song too.  You are not alone.

Defined.

Intended.

Believe.

And when you don’t, ask.  We’ll tell you.

He’ll tell you.

Beloved.

Leadership

Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life


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“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Opportunity, reaching a milestone, kicking a habit, expanding your horizons…  You have unique gifts, talents that few others possess, experiences only you can learn from…  You are the only you in all the world.

So what’s stopping you?  What is the barrier between you and your goals?  What ideal self is “out there” somewhere, but for your decision to pursue it?

What if you looked back on this day one year from now and said, “That was the first day.  That was the day I decided, and now here I am.”

Why do we wait for special days—anniversaries, birthdays, New Year’s Day—to make the decisions we ought to make, to pursue the goals we ought to have reached a long time ago, but for some failing, have yet to achieve?

What’s stopping us from making today the first day of the rest of our lives?

I think we all have our different reasons, but the one we share is deceptively simple, because we don’t think about it enough:

For many of us, today is not the first day of the rest of our lives because that isn’t enough.

 

Whether or not we actively realize it, reaching our goals or kicking our bad habits or establishing new lifestyles simply isn’t enough, because most of us can do those things all by ourselves.

We can make today “the first day of the rest of our lives” all by ourselves.

And, in this instance, that is not a good thing.

Sure, it is a positive when we attain a milestone or make a positive change, but it is better when we bring others along through accountability, inspiration, or example.

 

As leaders, our line of thinking should be, “Today is the first day of the rest of someone’s life.  How can I come alongside their process?”  Or, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  Who can I bring with me so that it is the first day of the rest of their lives also?”

The difference between individual success and leadership is simple: involving others.

 

So what is stopping you?

 

Leadership

The End of the ‘Open Door Policy’


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“I have an open door policy.”

Managers and leaders use this phrase to convey that they are available for their people, willing to help them.

This, however, is a lazy saying.  In essence, it means, “If you come to me, I’m willing to take time out of my busy schedule to accommodate you.”  It makes an offer, but no more.  It communicates that the initiative rests with the employee.

How many managers and leaders say things like this, but fail to demonstrate it with their actions?  Even if they are available and well intended, this phrase is still passive.

And this is why we should retire it.

Instead of an open door policy, managers and leaders must cultivate a culture of conversation.  They need to live out a rhythm of intentional interactions with their people, asking good questions, and offering to help in specific ways that clear obstacles or provide advocacy.  In this way, their availability and willingness to help is demonstrated, not simply offered.

It is the difference between policy and culture.  As leaders, we should never prefer policy when it is possible to shape culture.

Don’t have an open door policy; have a culture of conversation.

 

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Phrases We Should Retire