”No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it” – Albert Einstein
Nothing beats a failure like a good-ole-fashioned try right? Wrong. For some of us, this route has been a pain-staking journey that has led us on paths we would rather not remember. As relieving as the inability to not recall our past may sound, we should equally understand we simply cannot forget. Not because we don’t want to, but because we cannot. The intertwining weave of brokenness, pain, hurt, anger, emptiness and even spouts of joy has found its way deep into the pockets of our souls, which won’t allow us to simply erase what was.
This does not necessarily have to equate to a present life of misery, unforgiveness and shame, but it certainly can and has been the story for many, including present company for many years. For many years I was that guy who allowed the past to dictate the future. As much as I tried, I was unable to break the negative cycles that seemed to torment my every move and relationship. I was doing the right things, so I thought.
I went to counseling, prayed to God and spoke to trusted friends, however one important part was missing. That missing piece was my inability to get past myself.
Often times when we blow it in life, we tend to label ourselves as the biggest losers on the face of the earth. This frame of mind can become impenetrable even towards God, the wisest of words and sound counsel. A hardened heart cannot hear.
So there we are, living our lives as if nothing has gone awry. We smile when we’re suppose to, talk about the kids as if they have no problems and as for our relationships – well they couldn’t be better we say. In most cases the ones we are sharing these so-called truths with, reciprocates the effort with the greatest of ease. Sound familiar?
Although we may repeat moments like this effortlessly over and over again, one thing holds true, whether we want to admit it or not. Once we have shared and walked away, something inside of us tends to feel more alone than before we spoken. The reality of our empty words consumes the moment and we become saddened with the idea of being the only one who feels this way, even though we are not alone.
Change never come easy, especially when that change means the life that we know today may never be the same again. Our desire to hold on to what we know often overshadows the ugly reality that we live in and usually feels more comfortable than the gaping hole and dissatisfaction that we are currently living in.
What if it could be different? What if there were a way to stop living behind the veil of perfection and just be you? The you that cry’s when he/she is sad, the you who admits imperfection at the perfect time, the you who stands against injustice, even when it’s unpopular in your community and the you who dares to become vulnerable in the most inauspicious moments. Is it even possible, or is this just a fairytale idea?
Life is not just a about what you make it and who you share it with, but more importantly how you share it. The things we choose to give away from within are the things that will resonate with others and give them life, and in turn give life to us. The type of life that reaches to the depths of our being and speaks in that small still voice saying I hear you, I see you and you matter.
Yes, change is hard work, however it is essential and a part of our own humanness, but somewhere along the journey of life, of becoming better people, we have lost our deep longing to simply be who we are. A people who were created to dwell together and make this world better, more sustainable, safe and a stable place for the next generations that come after us. Tall buildings and technology will inevitably always be a part of this equation, but those things alone will never replace the human element that exist in each of us. The desire to be authentically known and accepted by another. The soul that is saying, “I am here”.
“If you find it necessary to judge me by my past, don’t be surprised when I find it necessary to put you there.” – Unknown
How many times have you said, “I am sorry”, for the same thing more than a few times? You know the feeling, you feel terrible and there seems to not be enough of anything in the world to alleviate the pressure or make it go away, even for a little while. So on you go in life, feeling bad and guilty about past transgressions that once invaded every space of your life, and even though time does not necessarily heal all wounds, you know deep down that it is time to live your life with honor and self-respect.
The type of self-respect that does not disavow the victim(s) or ignores the responsibility you may have as the perpetrator, but the type of self-respect that recognizes once you have served your pennants to society or made amends for your trespasses, it is time to move on with the rest of your life.
Yes, it is simpler spoken than acted upon, but can nonetheless become a life changing moment for the accused. A moment of liberation that can transcend time and become your lifetime mantra for peace, harmony and felicity.
No one is perfect and I am certainly far from it, but I have been through enough drama in my life to realize that at some point we must simply get over it and move on. Again, not to discredit those that we hurt, but to recognize the responsibility we equally have to ourselves to live whole and full lives.
Perhaps there will always be ones in your life that believe you do not deserve to live a full life because of what you have done, but how long will it take for those persons to have a change of heart? Maybe a year from now, perhaps ten years or maybe never. So are you supposed to wait until they are good with you until you begin to live again?
The answer to move on may seem obvious, but many of us remain trapped and haunted by a past that seems to stay attached to our present conditions. Conditions that are continuously affected by yesterday, and a mind that has not learned how to be free.
So as someone who has directly lived this type of life, what can one do to finally break free from the past and begin to live, truly live? Below are a few suggestions a friend once shared with me that I still hold true to today.
1. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present. – Simply stated.
2. What others think of you is none of your business. – Stop trying to please other people and wonder what they are thinking of you. You most likely will never be enough in their eyes, so move on.
3. Don’t compare your life to others and don’t judge them. You have no idea what their journey is about, just like they don’t know your’s. – Quit being your own worst enemy.
4. Stop thinking too much, it’s alright not to know the answers. They will come to you when you least expect it. – When we over think we have a tendency to cycle into a tailspin of doubt and depression, because we seem to always find and focus on the imperfections versus the beauty we hold.
5. No one is in charge of your happiness, except you, so start living your life like that is true. – Begin owning your own life.
6. Smile. You don’t own all the problems in the world. – Give yourself a break. Punishing ourselves will not solve the problems either.
7. Remember that man/woman who gave up? Neither does anyone else. – Never quit, someone is counting on you to make it, so they can hear your story or prevailing.
Take a little time to ponder these points and begin to apply them daily where they fit. I believe you will experience the difference versus doing nothing at all. In addition, remember that none of us are perfect. Some fail miserably many times before they finally arrive at place of maturity, and although there may be a trail of broken hearts in your wake, I pray that you seek/sought counsel and authentically see the poor decisions for what they are and learn from them.
Feeling guilty will never take the pain away, only enhance your own, so make your future bright by allowing your personal pain instigate a new path. A path that declares it will not be recognized for who you were, but who you are becoming. A new creation that is not defined by your past and lives unashamedly.
“Some people are so broken, they get mad at you for being whole” – Unknown
How many things can you look back on in your life and get angry or sad? You know, the missed opportunities and poor decisions that took you way off the mark, or perhaps it was indecisiveness or procrastination that seemingly held you hostage from your ideal paths and goals.
To be more specific, how about a relationship that went sour after years of your time, investment and commitment, only to see your life partner walk away. Or perhaps you were the one to leave the relationship to try to salvage any dignity that remained in you, after realizing you had been betrayed by the one who claimed to love you with all their heart and soul. Or like the old cliché, you grew a part and found yourself more empty being together than you did alone.
There is no question that we can all fill in the blanks with a laundry list of disappointments that have filled our lives over the years. Perhaps some were avoidable, while others required a bit more maturity that you simply did not have at your disposal at the time. So you made your choices with what you knew and understood, and whether wrong, right or indifferent those decisions currently shape the world you live in today.
Seeing that I can relate to all the above and more, I have learned it is what we do during calamity that defines us, and how we respond cannot be mistaken and is seldom debatable. This defining moment reaches to the fabric of our being and is a great opportunity to expose our true hearts, intentions and motivations. Very rarely is it a feel good session for the one being exposed, even if only to one’s self.
So what do you find ourselves doing after the dust has settled, your separate lives have went on, and the emotional distress of the moment has long faded away? Have you become bitter, distrustful and suspicious of all those that merely represent the one(s) who hurt you, or are you learning to grow, embrace truth and live a new and better life?
I wish it were as simple as typing these words down, but unfortunately it is much more difficult and complex than that. And in many instances it requires support from outside sources, uncomfortable transparency and a decision to live a different kind of life. One that allows time for introspection, reflection, meditation, submission, prayer and self-analysis. All things that cause us to slow down, to allow us at some point to go fast, however with much more wisdom, empathy and integrity.
It is indeed the journey of life, for those that choose to go down that path. A journey that will not only enrich our own lives, but the lives we touch as well. The hardships of our past can become lessons we share with others that choose to listen. Our growth will teach us to no longer exude energy on what we cannot change, or the people who remain angry and point fingers at us. Our focus is only on what lies before us. Our past pains will remind us of what can potentially happen, however our new identity sees past the negative images and helps us to navigate towards what is better and full of life.
So if you are still looking back on your life and becoming disheartened when you do, don’t you think it is time to embrace a new way? Life is truly too short to remain mad, hurt and perpetually disappointed, however it is never too late to make a new declaration. A declaration that opens the door to peace, hope and joy.
“Although our version of the story usually feels better and is easier to tell, a lie will always hurt the one you love more in the end.” – Henry Nutt, III
We have been hearing it for most of our lives. Phrases like, “don’t tell lies, you are only as good as your word and your word is your bond,” etc., but as we know, people lie to one another all the time and without flinching.
Of course we are aware that it is not okay, but it somehow feels convenient and like the right thing to do, at least in the moment. After all, we don’t want to hurt anyone, and in our minds somehow we believe the truth will hurt too much. I have been there done that, and have paid the ultimate consequence in a relationship. The death of it without reconciliation. So I have learned a few things about the path of destruction that is created by lying.
In its simplest form, lying is choosing to be dishonest and attempting to evade the truth due to fear or some consequence that may bring discomfort or displeasure to the one telling the lie or someone else. In a more complex and evasive form, lying is a mask, a covering or distortion of the creed we claim to live by. It misrepresents the liar and deceives the one being lied to. It removes our ability to make a choice, resolve, consult or deal with the liar first-hand with raw truth. And ultimately uninterrupted, it will promote the demise of any healthy relationship like a cancer to the physical body.
During my season of engaging in this destructive behavior, I honestly felt as if it wasn’t that bad. I was trying to (so-call) protect the one I claimed to love. You know, spare her from being hurt. And I know that was stupid! As crazy as that even sounds to me today, that lie was the truth I lived by once upon a time until I was forced to deal with my own actions, alone.
It was a painful time, but equally helpful for my spiritual and emotional growth. I peeled back the layers of my history, including my childhood. Nothing was off-limits. Every girlfriend, marriage, friendship and past relationship I examined. I went to counseling to try an understand how and why I became this man who could lie so easily.
The one thing I found more profound than anything else was in order for me to lie to anyone, man woman, boy or girl, I first had to lie to myself. That was a deafening realization, but it helped me come to terms with my own brokenness and inability to recognize the detrimental convictions that were destroying my once virtuous integrity.
So ultimately there is a breakdown and a decision being made with lying. The breakdown, being the reasonings or rationale we come to, to forfeit the truth over and over. The decision, being the choice to accept deception as an option, because at its core, it is indeed always a choice.
For me it was all things coming to a head. My lies finally catching up with me and having no one to blame, with no excuse for my behavior, but it was my relationship with God, my ability to feel the pain I created and finally, to have a deep remorse without the luxury of closure from a marriage that went astray from my own doing that led me to repentance and healing.
What I have learned is lying is not a shortcut, nor should it ever be an option in any type of relationship, even when you are attempting to spare someone’s feelings. As much as one may feel they are doing someone a favor by lying, they are actually doing them a disservice. An act that has multi-faceted implications, like the breaking of trust, which in many cases takes years to rebuild if even possible.
Lying at its core is a selfish act. It fails to consider another person’s emotions or well-being, and at the end of the day it will always do more harm than good. So when given the option, if lying is still a choice on the table, that speaks volumes to your character or lack thereof, a lack of respect for others and more importantly an indication that a big part of your life is being guided by fear, an unhealthy need to be accepted and a lack of courage.
Let’s begin to honor others by first honoring ourselves. Tell the truth at all costs, swear to your own hurt and face the consequences that come with that decision. Your loved ones may be hurt or become angry with you and still decide to walk away, but at least you will have the (self) respect of knowing you chose to speak truth to power. And that cannot be held against you, for the truth always stands the test of time.
“Dear you, make peace with the mirror and watch your reflection change.” – Unknown
The Bible says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” I whole-heartedly agree with this scripture, but as I have counseled and spoken with people over the years, I have come to understand that many people do not truly or accurately love themselves at all. Therefore, this scripture in some cases may pose a slight problem or create major conflicts in their lives and in the lives of others.
Obviously (or at least in my opinion) that is not to say we start cutting that portion of the Bible out, however if we find ourselves in positions of influence, it is imperative that as we teach and encourage others to love in this way, we make sure they are first properly loving themselves.
Many of us have had semi-normal childhoods. We had one or two parents (or grandparents) that gave their best to our well-being, met most of our emotional and physical needs and overall we had a functional lifestyle. That said, there are also many that did not receive a functional life as children. Quite the opposite actually.
Dysfunction can come in many forms, but ultimately it is defined as, when the majority of essential needs go unmet most of the time. Imagine growing up in a home where this was the norm. Without some type of intervention along the way, this is a recipe for a warped view of love.
Even as adults, when our essential needs go unmet we become irritable, disconnected and weary. Imagine that lifestyle as an impressionable child. What happens to their ability to love and interpret love in a respectable and healthy way? It falls to the wayside quickly is what happens.
Now I realize that this does not apply to everyone. There are always anomalies, and special cases, but for those that it does apply to we must be cognizant not to flippantly throw scriptures at them and send them on their way, and then wonder why they continue to hit the same walls of brokenness.
Brokenness specifically in the form of making poor decisions in the area of relationships. We all know them, or perhaps it is you who I am speaking of. The he/she “bad guy” continues to enter your life with a different face and wreaks havoc in your world, for weeks, months or years at a time. Your love radar seems to be broken. Your best friends try to tell you, but you just cannot seem to connect the missing dots, and repeatedly think you found the “one” that is different.
For certain, a vicious cycle for those that have endured this way of living, but what if we could begin to understand why we go down this path and then choose to make better choices for ourselves? Is it even possible? Has too much time passed? Do we give up and simply accept, this was meant to be my story?
I cannot begin to address the level of complexity that exist with how one arrives at this place, therefore there is equally not one simple solution to prescribe a cure or remedy. What I do know and believe is love is the strongest force on the earth.
It (love) will cause one to travel across the globe to be with that one person. It (love) will give a mother supernatural strength to rescue her helpless child. It (love) will cause a father to place himself in-harms-way to provide for his children. For Christians it (love) is what caused Jesus to die on the cross. For most in the world it (love) is what encourages us to do the right thing by our fellow-man, even if only for a season or a moment.
So what about learning to love yourself first? What about getting a better or new definition of what love is supposed to look like for you, instead of accepting what you have received all these years? I like this version of what the Bible has to say about love. Why not take a look and see how it compares to how you love yourself today.
Perhaps it will cause you to finally see the brokenness and pain you have allowed to enter your heart and mind. Perhaps it will encourage you to chart a new path for yourself. A path filled with the hope and belief that you are worthy of something better. Perhaps it will encourage you to begin a new discovery of true love. Perhaps you will realize that today is the perfect day to make that discovery.
“When you are willing to feel it, you can begin to heal from it.” – Unknown
I grew up during a time when the neighborhood kids played hard everyday and usually always until dusk or when the street lights came on. Being a young boy there were plenty of bumps and bruises to go around. On several occasions I found myself being rushed to emergency to close up a gash or cut with stitches. As many times that I fell on my head growing up, it was a blessing that I did not suffer any permanent brain damage.
One of my many exploits involved playing on an older abandoned car. Somehow I fell off the car and right into the corner of brick head first. I remember placing my hands over the open wound and walking to the front door to tell my mother. As soon as I got to the door I removed my then blood-filled hands away from my head and immediately began to scream along with my sisters. By my reaction you would have thought I was going to die, but several hours later, with about six to eight stitches, some ice cream and a few balloons I was all back to normal somewhat.
The human body is an amazing creation. The ability it has to heal itself is truly a wonder and an amazing testimony to God’s grace and mercy. A little ointment, some medicine or a few band aids and we are all good.
Unfortunately this proven cure-all does not apply to emotional or psychological wounds. Often these types of wounds are easier to mask therefore they go untreated for years or even decades if ever even identified. We can numb the pain we feel inside with substances designed to calm us, inebriate, or completely remove us from the realities of our pain. As much as this choice does nothing to help us get better, we must admit it certainly helps us to feel good in the moment, but at some point these potentially detrimental choices can begin to erode any goodness that remains in our lives.
Whether that goodness comes in the form of a great career, a healthy relationship or our respected positions in society, ultimately our inability or unwillingness to address the wounds can have lifelong impacts that not only affect us, but potentially generations of our families, friends and communities.
Although I am not one to judge anyone for where they are in life, I have learned through my own personal experience that one of the greatest enemies to healing is pride. No one could ever deny a physical wound or resist surrendering to the obvious treatment they need to recover, but an emotional wound can be hidden as I mentioned earlier for years. Unfortunately at some point the only person hiding from the wound is the one suffering from it.
The by-product of the wounds manifest themselves is very specific ways and usually have patterns that become obvious, and although no one may have diagnosed us or is qualified to do so, people eventually become aware there is something just not right.
Some of those wounds manifest themselves as angry uncontrollable outburst, over eating, abstaining from food, physical or emotional abuse toward others, isolation from society, an inability to maintain a healthy relationship and so many other things that simply get in the way of living a prosperous and healthy life.
No one sets out to purposely live this way, but it happens everyday to millions of people. We live with scars that have never been healed therefore walk through our lives living on egg shells. The slightest things can set us off or send us on a tail spin of despair.
The illusion of a scar is the wound has thoroughly healed. Sometimes this is not the case at all, because underneath the layer of protective skin could be an infection that is spreading throughout our body, and until we uncover it and treat the infection in our physical bodies we will never heal and ultimately die. The same is true with emotional or psychological scars. If we fail to treat the deep-rooted issues that we suffer from, the pain will spread throughout our lives and destroy every part of it.
For years I tried to make other people happy at the expense of my own joy, and for years it seemed to work, but at some point I became weary, resentful and angry. During that time I was not sure if I was angry with those I endlessly sacrificed for, or if the anger was with myself. After some introspection (but unfortunately not enough) I came to the conclusion that I was angry with what others did to me. I mean after all, “it was their fault because they were all selfish people who simply took advantage of a nice guy”, I use to think .
How wrong I was! My decision to give tirelessly was no one’ s fault but my own, and what I needed to recognize was why I chose to live my life in this way. Who was I actually trying to please or gain approval from? There lied the keys to the core of my issue. My desire to please others resulted from a childhood issue with my own father. For years I sought for his approval and in my own mind I never received it, so I went on a mission to make anyone that I could happy. The problem is it never seemed to fill the holes in my heart. No matter how much I gave, I was still that much more empty.
The wound grew deeper and my effort to gain comfort grew with it, until I had no more to give. That is until I arrived at a place where I became empty, numb and isolated. It was a part of the dynamic that led to my multiple divorces and ability to abruptly shut down. I went from one extreme to the other and for a time I felt justified and as if I was finally doing the right thing for myself. After all it was time for me. “I did enough for everyone else”, I thought, but the pain and emptiness was still there.
One thing pain does for certain whether emotional or physical is it brings a wake up call. It will force you to your knees in surrender or have you running to the doctors in seek of some sort of relief. I was there, seeking relief, not a temporary fix, but something authentic and sustaining. No longer did that cure lie in simply making others feel good, but it lied in my own decisions and ability to be okay with them as they were, no matter how others felt about them or if they chose to agree with me or not.
Fast forward several years and I see a man who has a scar, but underneath I am truly healed. The scar will always remind me of where I was and what I am capable of, therefore acts symbolically of my transformation of becoming whole.
No longer do I live a life that seeks to solely please people. I place myself in that formula now and realize, “I am important and worthy enough to be first and I do not have to apologize or feel bad about it anymore.” The hole in my heart regarding this issue has been filled as a result to becoming whole, living my truth and healing from my wounds.
I am enough and so are you, so let’s begin to conduct ourselves as if we whole heartedly believe it.
“I know more than I say, think more than I speak and know more than you realize, so don’t underestimate me.”
So the other day I was traveling from Vegas back to the Bay Area. I called for an Uber like normal and waited the few minutes it typically takes for the driver to arrive. Upon his arrival, the driver pulled up and I waited for him (it was a man) to open the trunk of his car. He did not get out of his vehicle and I asked if the trunk was opened. He acknowledged that it was open, and immediately I coped an attitude with him for what I thought was poor customer service. As I entered the vehicle, I thought about my brief yet fairly consistent experiences with Uber drivers. They have all (including female drivers) gotten out of their vehicle, pop the trunk and assisted me with my luggage, whether I require the help or not, but not this guy.
I have come to appreciate and expect this type of service, so my bad attitude stemmed from the lack of that normal experience. As we began our trek to the airport I thought to myself, “You are getting 1 star Mr. Uber driver”, but once I was inside the car for a few minutes my attitude began to quell and I asked my driver (whom I will call John to protect his privacy) common questions amongst strangers or better yet Uber and rider.
After a few moments in the car with John I quickly learned that he had been an Uber driver for only three weeks, served in the military in 1944 and quickly asked me to guess his age. I was thinking seventy-ish, but I was off by twenty years. So this guy (John) was a ninety year old man driving Uber as a supplement to his social security. He certainly did not look his age. He was quite alert, witty and even worked as an illegal gambling runner in his recent past prior to Uber.
After a few moments of talking to John I quickly realized he did not get out of the car to retrieve my luggage because he was too old to pick it up, and probably thought, “You’re a man, get it yourself.” I could not be mad at that quite honestly, but my first thoughts were, “how rude.” By the time I arrived at the airport we were chatting it up about life events and as I was getting out of his car to retrieve my luggage, John reached out with his fist and gave me the pound and said have a nice day. I smiled and wished him the same sentiments.
I learned an interesting lesson last week from meeting John. Not only is it wrong to prejudge people, (which we are all aware of) but it can actually become a hinderance to our ability to acquire knowledge, gain useful insight about people and how their stories connect the dots to the overall human experience.
So I get that everyone has their biases and they can stem from something as simple as ignorance to a complex learned behavior over time. The unfortunate thing is many of us will die with these biases and never really get to know the person or people for who they truly are. I find this very troubling especially in this day and age where division has become so prevalent in almost every aspect of our lives.
My purpose with this post is not to speak on racism necessarily, but more so the human experience. And although my human experience has been tied to many forms of racism, I still have a greater purpose with writing today.
A few weeks back I had the privilege to sit in a conference with “Emotional Intelligence” being the topic of discussion. As the facilitator dived deep into the subject matter, he also broached on the topic of Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace. Being the only black man in the class I decided to take a risk and touch on the whole race topic, but from a different angle.
I talked about how easy and comfortable it is for us all to remain in our safe zones, with our same set of friends and communities than it is to branch out into new territory, and although there are many that choose this route due to hatred, there are still many more (in my opinion) that are simply not comfortable with change or connecting with the ideas and people who do not fit in their definition of normal. Unfortunately even with the best intentions, the lack of movement towards breaking this cycle results in the same conclusions we see so prevalent today. A people divided and many without true knowledge of the cause or the why.
Like every other human being I have my own set of biases. In most cases they lie dormant for years or decades until a particular scenario arises that thrust it right to the surface of my circumstance. It is in those moments that I have a choice to make. Will I allow my uneasiness and ignorance shut me out of any opportunity to learn a new thing, or will I allow my heart and mind to open and hear or experience something different, something new?
It may seem that I am oversimplifying this, because if it were that easy the world would already be a better place right? Well change is never easy and for whatever reason the path of least resistance tends to fall in line with what is not always good for us. This is true in relationships, diets, learning, etc. Just a fact that real change requires real work and if we decide to remain in our safe zones (which always feels better), we equally become a part of that thing which hinders authentic connection within our communities and critical diversity within our places of work.
And although I may never see John ever again in my life, I will certainly meet many more like him. My experience with him shed some light and made me aware of my own prejudices, but thankfully I chose not to stay in that place. I reached out and experienced something positive that I will carry and pass like a baton in a track meet.
If you are reading this, the baton is now in your hands. What will you do with it? Will you allow your fear or discomfort to paralyze you or will you reach out to your fellow-man or woman and connect with the human experience? We really are not that different, however what does make us different is what makes us beautiful and worthy of sharing our own story. We just need to recognize that and listen, like I did on my Uber ride.
For you John ***** (Five Stars) and a pound. Thanks for the lesson!
So I grew up with three sisters. One older and two younger. For most of my life I had people telling me, “You must be spoiled”, and for years I never understood what they meant. Then as I got older, I began to understand that living in a house full of women with one boy meant I must have been catered to more often than not, and additionally got my way most of the time. Well I can say with certainty that my father did not allow that to occur during my formative and pre-teen years.
Not only was I assigned specific chores like taking out the garbage, yard work and washing cars, but I was also responsible for washing dishes and cooking. Of course I seldom thought it was fair, but such is life, and eventually I came to realize the benefits of thoroughly knowing both scopes of household duties.
As a brother (older to the majority of my sisters), I took on specific responsibilities and obligations that only we young men do, like looking after them, protecting them and making sure they were generally good in life.
Coming from a divorced home, this philosophy became more pronounced if you can imagine. Not only did I self-appoint myself as the man of the house at fourteen, but I now felt a stronger obligation to fulfill the roles I once thought were somewhat optional, but without hesitation I owned and accepted them with honor, at least for a season. A very long season albeit.
Fast-forward a few decades and I recall a phone call I had with one of my younger sisters over the phone. It was during a rough time in my life. I was going through a tough time in my first marriage. No one knew about my struggles and she called me for martial advice. “Really”, I thought to myself. So as I listened to her and shared what I thought to be encouraging words, I also asked her, “What if I wanted to do what you are thinking about?” As I look back, her answer was pivotal and tremendously significant regarding what I am attempting to share today with you.
With every piece of sincerity and love she had for her older brother, she answered calmly with, “Henry you can’t do that because….you just can’t.” I still remember where I was driving during that conversation, like it was yesterday. It left an indelible print on my heart and mind and ultimately became the theme song I played over and over in my life for years to come.
I deduced from that conversation, along with the baggage I had already inherited as an older brother and then man of the house, that it was my duty and responsibility to take care of people, especially the ones I claimed to love. And at all cost.
So for years I lived this life of caring for my world and the people in it. I actually became quite good at it. There was just one problem, one major issue that lingered in the background like a bad taste in my mouth. I neglected one important person. Yes myself. I forgot about loving numero Uno. Can you relate?
So after years of self-inflicted torture and this, what I believed to be inherent calling to save the world one person at a time belief, while simultaneously denouncing my own needs, I finally came to my senses. Well actually I cannot even call it that because I would have still been on that same road if it were not for my own brokenness.
Yes, it was my own brokenness that caused me to see the light or better yet recognize I was worthy of loving myself before anyone else in the whole wide world. This was/is not simply a second nature task for someone with my background and longing to help everyone. Placing myself first was completely a foreign place. It was uncomfortable, strange and actually felt like I was doing something wrong. “Is this was people do?”, I thought to myself. I suppose it was and I realized it was time for me to experience it as a normal part of my life as well.
So how does one come to practice this way of life, loving yourself first? Well after many days and nights of prayer, counsel and self-help books that declared I mattered, I finally came to this one conclusion.
Never again apologize or make an excuse for being a priority in my own life.
In short, I believe the current term now is “do you”. For some this can become an excuse to be selfish which I will admit is a huge societal problem, but for those of you on a real mission to become more than what you are today, it can be a place of real struggle and the propensity to retract is ever-present.
Obviously if it were that easy to arrive at this freeing place, we would have all been there yesterday (to put it figuratively) but it is not. For years we have driven ourselves into the ground and labeled it as duty. For years we have taken a front seat to causes we did not agree or believe in, in the name of honor. For years we have taken a back seat to what we do actually believe in, all in the name of sacrifice. For years and most of our lives we have neglected ourselves and only given to others, all in the name of “love”. Was that really love or something else we can label as noble? Hmm…
Only you can truly answer the questions that plague your heart and mind and leave you awake at night staring at the ceiling. Only you can determine when enough is enough. Only you and God can understand when you finally arrive at your breaking point where you finally realize that not only do you matter, but you are worthy of love, not only from God and others, but also from yourself. If the golden rule in life is to treat others as you desire to be treated, how can we afford to share that with people who have not first learned the art of loving themselves? The answer is we cannot. We will only give our community more complexes, therefore perpetuating the issue. So learn to love yourself better today than you did yesterday. True love never fails.
“Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same” – Unknown
It is so interesting to me how life unfolds. The twist and turns we make. The planned and unplanned events that occur. Things we never saw ourselves doing or becoming, that we are now actively engaged in, in addition to radical changes we have had to make along this journey we call life. So many things are different and yet the same still in may ways, at least for me. As I reflect on the here and now, I also take the time to consider the holes and gaps that still remain. You know, the unaccomplished goals, the unresolved stuff and the many things still yet to do, but one thing is for sure now that was not true for me several years back, is I have learned how to make peace with my life. Like really acknowledge where I am and genuinely accept it, even if I am not satisfied with the current status. This has not been an easy task, especially for one who has claimed the title of perfectionist. But thank God I have learned, well let’s say I am learning to press through now, one-day-at-a-time.
Just tonight I was having a conversation with my wife about our acceptance of current circumstances. We may not always like where we are at any specific stage in our lives, but the sooner we can embrace our reality, the sooner we can begin to make the necessary plans to actually change our circumstances and/or prepare for where we find ourselves. In other words acceptance does not have to equate to giving up, it may simply mean that you finally understand where you are in respect to a condition or situation. Almost like coming out the clouds and seeing what things really look like for once.
This coming into reality phase can be daunting, especially when there are so many vices designed to numb us of our real challenges. Without knowing, we can become victim to those vices, like overeating and drinking, drug addiction, sex, unhealthy relationships, and overworking, just to name a few of the common ones. Years can rapidly go by unnoticed once we have discovered that our heads have been buried in the sand. So however painful it may be, owning our truth expeditiously is critical for making peace with our lives and with others.
I wish that every story had a happy ending, but they do not.
The truth can certainly hurt, but a lie can hurt like an open wound that never heals and often times the lies that hurt the most are the ones we tell ourselves.
For years I would tell myself things were okay. “Just suck it up, be strong and pray more”. These were my common responses to myself. They worked for a good while, but my head was in the clouds, therefore I was totally out of touch with reality.
Unintentionally, I seldomly dealt with my real issues. I mean like really. They were almost mystical, like a fairy tale, but they were lurking behind the scenes of my life waiting to explode. When that explosion finally occurred, I was at a loss, because I thought I had it all together. I did not and it was a rude awakening for me, but at least it was an awakening. A start to a journey that led me to where I now first, accept myself for who I am and accept my current realities, yet with a solid hope and the fervor to make things better if they need to be. I choose to see my life clearly and honestly. I have removed all delusions and vices that dilute the truth, no matter how comfortable it may feel to remain in the dark. I know the dark is full illusions that distort my good judgement and will inevitably lead me astray.
So again I must reiterate that my choice to genuinely accept my life as it is, is not to accept failure, place myself on the losing team or to give up. Quite honestly, it is to the contrary. I will now take the cards that are handed to me, scan them over and come up with a way to improve my hand. Simply put, I will take my lemons and make lemonade. Although this process could take years to see real change manifest, I am now fully committed to that way of living. There is no other option in my opinion.
Ultimately, as I live my life as a Believer, I realize that bad things happen to good people and many things that occur are far out of my control, and some things I certainly bring upon myself. In each of these scenarios, I know that God is in control and I can surrender with that understanding in mind. Not in a mystical or magical way, but with a hope that says, “I have done all I can, I see where I am, I have made peace with where I am, and now I release it so God can do His work.”
I have made peace with my life. How about you? I cannot undo the past or correct everything I have done wrong, but I can own it and do the right thing(s) moving forward. I can accept that I am not perfect, therefore quickly seek forgiveness when I offend someone. If they choose to not forgive me, I can still move on. I will live in authentic reality, accepting things as they are so that I can prove if that reality should remain in my future. I will no longer hide my head in clouds. I will remain cognizant of my surroundings and make decisions that may seem initially uncomfortable, but I am okay with this and realize these are the things that make for peace.
“Forgive who hurt you in the past. But never forget the lessons they taught you” – Unknown
Sunday afternoon I was in a class like I am most Sundays teaching a class at church. As I was speaking with my students we stumbled on the subject of pain and it’s implications on our lives. As we discussed some recent tragedies that have occurred in our community and church family, one of my students begin to share her personal experience with people she has dealt with that work in the area of grief support. She mentioned a significant percentage of people who attempt to commit suicide really do not want to die, but many have become so overwhelmed with pain and grief that any alternative seems futile. She even mentioned a number of people calling 911 after jumping off bridges or buildings to say they have changed their minds. How tragic is that?! Now although I have no real facts to support this statement, I believe it does carry a portion of some truth, because I know that many people throughout the world are hurting.
As I listened to my student share this startling information I couldn’t help but think of how pain affects all of our lives. Just as we are created uniquely, we also handle distress and issues very differently. It is not a question of who is right or who is wrong, but more importantly the perspective we have while enduring potentially life changing circumstances, like divorce, death, unemployment, poverty, sickness, depression, etc. And with each of these issues there are many available vices to attach ourselves to that numb the noise of the pain, at least temporarily, but at some point we will face the reality of our lives, whether we are prepared to handle it or not. And unfortunately with those vices comes additional complications like addiction, crime and poor judgment, but while listening to her share, something struck me. People just want to be rid of the pain they feel, and they (we) will choose the path of least resistance to obtain any form of peace, whether pseudo peace or real.
Here lies the fork in the road for most of us, because the path of least resistance will inevitably lead to our dismay. Depending on how we were raised, the creeds of our life, our belief system and mental and emotional health, is directly tied to how we will respond to life tragedy. Many assume it becomes more about how strong or weak we are, but it is so much more than that. If that were the case, getting stronger is all that we would need, but simply being strong is not always enough. Or perhaps it is we need to redefine what being strong looks like during a crisis.
So there I was, at one of my lowest points in my life. I simply wanted to stay in bed and sleep in my “closed-blinds” room. I replayed the incident in my head over and over like it was a broken record. How did I allow this to happen to me, to my family? What will I do next? How did I get here? Is this really happening to me? Can I ever come out of this? These and many more questions like this plagued my mind continuously, until one day I finally broke. I guess you could call my breaking point, literally.
Although the phrase “breaking point” has a negative connotation, it was in that moment that I discovered the true strength I needed to press on in life. I had many options on how to recover and rebuild, but being broken is what actually brought me the peace I needed to carry on. The actual strength I so desperately needed came in my ability to surrender, confess and take responsibility, no matter how embarrassing or shameful it seemed. My choice to repent to God, take counsel and listen to trusted friends and family made all the difference in the world.
In the moment, this decision may have come across as weakness, but actually it was quite the contrary. I firmly believe that real strength is not about brawn, machismo, denial or avoidance, but an ability to surrender one’s heart and mind to something greater than themselves. Now I don’t know what that greater “thing” is for you, but for me it is my belief in Jesus Christ. This is my starting point, and the rest unfolds as is it should. And although there is no cookie-cutter result for how we heal, become whole or start over, this is how my pain began to dissipate.
Emotional pain has to be the worst type of pain to experience and although I wish it on no one, it is still prevalent throughout the world. Some handle it well, while many others slip deeper into darkness or become victims to even worse circumstances. The desire for relief is a form of survival that is real to us all, but our options for that relief are often more detrimental (when we’re in an unhealthy state) than the initial pain we faced. When it surfaces, pain often feels like an enemy to our soul, and we will do almost anything to make it go away. What we must understand and learn about ourselves is our propensities to make things worse by any means necessary. Easier said than done for sure, but as much as pain hurts it is also a great teacher. I never want to experience it at my own expense, so I make the choice to learn the lessons that I must learn. Yes, they are hard to swallow and often take longer than I could have ever imagined to come full circle, but at the end of the day or night, when I have peace, the world is a better place and I will fight to keep it that way.