Faith

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.

Faith, Leadership

Why Frustration is a Reminder of Progress and Blessing


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I’ve been frustrated lately.

My children, particularly my son, have been having some measure of difficulty with completing ordinary household duties like taking out trash and vacuuming.  Like many who will be reading this, I am not a big fan of repeating myself, yet I find myself doing it often of late.

All of this is normal, of course, as I do not know of any 10-12 year olds who do everything they are asked to do the moment they are asked to do it, and complete their every task without error as well as an adult would do it.

As I reflected on this further, though, I realized that my wife and I are, in part, the cause of their nonchalance.  You see, my children have things that neither my wife nor I had when we were their age.  Sure, times have changed, technology has increased, but that is not what I am talking about.  What I’m talking about is the fact that my wife and I both grew up in single parent homes.  My kids take things like having meals cooked for them and having laundry done for them for granted because they have two parents, because they do not have to pitch in to household causes in the same way that my wife and I did.  My wife does not work outside the home.  She works harder than any of the rest of us, but she does not work outside the home.  Our family eats dinner together pretty much every night of the week.  In our families of origin, however, this was not the case.  It wasn’t their fault, but neither of our hard working and industrious mothers could provide the kind of environment to us that our children enjoy.  That, in part, is their legacy (a key, but often overlooked, concept of leadership) to their grandchildren, but, as I reflected, it is also exactly what I wanted for my kids.

So yes, they don’t have the same kind of habits my wife and I had when we were young.  They don’t have the same responsibilities, the same sense of ownership.

But our kids get to be kids, and that is our legacy to them.

It isn’t that they have no expectations placed upon them, nor that they have relaxed standards for the responsibilities they do have, but my frustration is of my own making.  It represents progress.  It represents blessing.

It represents legacy.

Faith

I Expect to Die


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I have too much death in my life of late.  Remembrances as anniversaries pass, acquaintances and friends passing away in the prime of their youth, spouses and young children left to grieve and make sense of things that will never fully make sense…  it is arduous.  This life is arduous.

My friend Kelly says that pain is the great equalizer, the one thing with the power to bring us all together.  I agree with that.  I have always thought, and always tried to practice, moving toward pain, not away from it.  That habit has made for some uncomfortable times, some uncomfortable years—my first two years of college were spent emotionally underwater as I tried to move toward my story, toward the pain of my father’s suicide—those times have hardened me, but they have also softened me to the pain of others (one of my favorite concepts is Ezekiel’s heart of stone and heart of flesh).

In short, I would not wish it on anyone, and yet I would wish it on everyone.

We run from our pain, we medicate it, we ignore it, we hide it, we distract ourselves from it…  but it never goes away, because my friend Kelly is right—pain is universal.

And so, surrounded by all this death, I think about my own life, and, yes, your life too.  I think about what I want my life to be like, what I want people to say about me.  This isn’t about being morbid or fatalistic; it is about moving toward pain, and living a life without walls and all the other bullshit we parade out so we don’t have to be real in front of other people.  Yes, it’s hard, and most of us are scared, and even those who aren’t have good reasons to be.  But this isn’t a drill.  This is life, the only one you have.

Have you ever thought about what you want people to say at your funeral?

The more I think about it, the more I realize that I want people to say, “He expected this.”

He expected this.

Almost no one expects to die on her last day.  Almost no one gets in the car before their fatal accident thinking they have an hour to live.  People who expect to die write books, and we all read them and think about how courageous they were (see “The Last Lecture” etc.).

But what I want to know is why I am not like that?  Why are we not like that?  Why do we marvel at it in others and not model it ourselves?

No.  I’ve had enough of that.  I want to live like I expect to die, and I want to do it in such a way that everyone else says, “That guy is crazy.  He acts like he’s going to die tomorrow.”

But it is more than that.  I want to live like I expect everyone else is going to die tomorrow, too.  I want to say the things that will encourage; I want to demonstrate love both for those closest to me as well as those I do not even know; I want to give time, empathy, money, strength to as many people as I can; I want to heal people.

Most of all, though, I want to give people courage.  I want to love them enough that they aren’t afraid anymore.  Enough that they will remember it when they are afraid again.

So if I make your acquaintance, or I reach out to you for no reason, it is because I love you.  It is because I want you to be courageous.

And it is because I expect both of us to die.

Faith, Leadership

Why Honor Is Greater Than Forgiveness


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I originally wrote this in 2011 as a note on Facebook.  Today would have been my dad’s 65th birthday, so I thought it appropriate to revisit it today.

 

I just don’t care enough…

What other people think of me.  I’m going to be the one who speaks out loud, who says too much, who pushes “send,” who gets people thinking, who gets people talking, who invites people to touch their lives by touching mine.  I’m not excited about putting this out there for public consumption, but I’m going to do it anyway, because that is what I do.  I refuse to live with the notion that even one person could benefit from something I think or say, and I failed to say it.  So whether this is for you or someone else…

My dad’s birthday was last week.  As of this year, he has passed more birthdays posthumously than he did living.  He committed suicide when I was 5.  It was an ignominious act for which I struggled to forgive him for much of my life.  It yoked my then 24 year old mom and 2 younger sisters with a tremendous weight, part of which I bore though it was not mine.

But over many years, as I have thought about forgiveness, I come to a full realization that forgiveness, though difficult, is, well, comparatively easy.  What is difficult is honor.  Forgiveness inspires us, but honor amazes us.

Many of you know the hymn “Amazing Grace”—Amazing is the right word.  Here’s why: It’s comparatively easy for God to forgive—He’s in the right; He’s holding all the cards.  But He goes beyond that.  He honors us, gives us grace, prepares a place for us.  It’s crazy, really.

But you know this more intimately than that.  Even if you don’t believe in God, you know this.  You’ve been wronged.  You’ve felt pain inflicted deliberately by another.  You’ve felt hurt by someone who, because they did not intend, would not acknowledge.  You know what it is like to have someone who hurt you not be sorry for what they have done.

And you know what it feels like not to be sorry for what you have done, too.

It’s hard to forgive when any of those things happen, isn’t it?  Crazy hard.

But honor.  Think about it.  Honor for someone who isn’t sorry, who doesn’t think they did anything wrong, who protests their innocence or ignorance, who remains unwilling to acknowledge the mere possibility…  honoring that person goes beyond forgiveness.  It’s harder.  You don’t see it very much, but you remember it when you do.  Because it’s extreme.

Because it’s God-like.  It gives us a glimpse—dim, yes, but a glimpse—of what that honor bestowed on us will look like, what we are capable of because of the Spirit that dwells within us.

But then we feel guilty.

Because we fail to practice this.  We don’t live up to it.  We “can’t,” not with that person, at least.

But we can.  It just isn’t fully up to us.  Wasn’t, isn’t, meant to be up to us.  I can’t honor on my own.  I want to hold a grudge, to be pissed off, to lament and pout and cry and wish I had all the things that growing up with a good dad would have afforded me.  I want to put my fist through a wall and turn it all to anger (oh, and I used to…) so I don’t have to feel the grief and pain of memory and forgiveness and honor.  So just for the record—I didn’t do it.  I couldn’t have.   Not possible.

The truth is, honor surprised me as I was writing the words that follow.  I intended to forgive (again), but I couldn’t.  Because it wasn’t enough somehow.  I’ve been doing that for years.  I had to honor.  In my novice way, incomplete and still somehow holding all the cards, I must, we must, honor.

So here’s the poem I wrote my dad.  I’d love to hear from you if something in it is for you.

 

It comes when I expect it

And when I least expect it

It has marked me now

The loss

I know its touch

I hear its voice

It settles with me

Ignored at times for some distraction

Though not forgotten

For far too bright the light that shines

 

Making plain my shadow

A reminder to my heart

Of how I would have loved you

How I would have basked in the light of your prime

What I would have given

To have your life

A shield for mine

To see your steps from just behind

To see a way

To know a time

 

How you would have beamed with pride

At the toils and trophies of my life

And how I would have loved your smile

Yearned for it with all my might

I would have been your prince

I would have seen you king

My children

The glory of your line

So many apples for your eyes

 

And were our lives not filled

With happier times

And if golden memory failed to shine

Eclipsed by a reality of something less fine

Still you would be enough for me

I think so

Though

I do not know

I did not know

I will not know

 

And maybe you were prescient

And maybe I naïve

(How I wanted to believe)

I have forgiven myself only moments

And lonely moments conceive

The reign of an ill-fitted crown

Bequeathed before discovered means

Worn askew

But I have straightened it for you

In spite of everything, it honors you

 

I honor you