”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”.
“Sometimes God allows times of transition to create transformation.” – Lynn Cowell
I can promise you that I do not have an affinity with darkness. I actually consider myself to be a very optimistic person, who consistently attempts to look on the brighter side of life, however after blogging for approximately two years now, I have come to better understand the many hurting people who still exist in the world. An even more closer, the ones that have the courage to share a little of their personal stories on social media with me and the audience I share here on this website.
As I have mentioned in prior posts, life is hard and we can never fully be ready for all that comes with our specific journeys, and I have had the privilege to hear some amazing stories of tragedy, recovery and being somewhere in the middle of both. What remains consistent with each story is the insurmountable feeling of loss, grief, pain and turmoil each person experiences as they go through their season of darkness, yet there has equally been a consistent ray of hope that seems to keep them holding on and seeking to get beyond it.
I am truly blessed to be a part of such a wonderful community of people who “get it”, and I wanted to take the time in this post to acknowledge those that continue to suffer and press through darkness. Suffering has no ethnicity, gender or religious background. It comes to us all, planned and by surprise, day or night, young and old. It does not take in consideration how nice we are or who we may have hurt in the past. It just comes, and often like a rushing wind.
So if you find yourself smack in the middle of a hard place, this post is for you. A few things you should know was you go through:
1. You are not alone, even if you feel like you are. – One of the worst things you can do while facing a tragedy is to go it alone. This is not to say that everyone in your circle should know your intimate secrets, but isolation is the devils playground and when you retreat from your immediate world you lose some of your best resources for good counsel and support. Darkness is just that, a place where we cannot always see our way due to the circumstances we face and the emotions we harbor. So as you are feeling your way through that dark place, do not be afraid to reach out to someone who may know better than you do, been there before and willing to offer support. It can literally change the trajectory of where you are headed.
2. Give yourself license to feel the pain of your situation. – So often we are told to get over it and move on, and we equally know that is much easier vocalized than done. We are each different, with our own set of propensities to recover, see the light and move past our pain. Some bodies heal faster than others and I imagine this logically applies to the emotional part of us as well, so don’t get in a hurry seeking relief, because in that search what you may find will only offer a temporary refuge, not a sustaining peace that you need. Although pain never feels good, it does have a way of stripping us of pride and deflecting blame on others after it has run its course. Once you begin to allow ourselves to feel the pain that you are experiencing it will force you to reconcile more of the core issues that caused it. It is definitely not our initial response while going through the difficulty, but if we can gather the courage to have those hard conversations with ourselves the sooner we begin to address the hard stuff.
3. Don’t beat yourself up over what happened or hold yourself hostage with anger. – Whether it was your fault or not, there has to be a time that you begin to move past that specific place of blame. Once you accepted responsibility, or had the opportunity to speak with the person who offended you, (and said your peace) it is time to move on. Harboring feelings of resentment can only lead to more pain and the short cycling of your own healing and recovery. This becomes critical as you see yourself getting better, but you allow someone or some circumstance to take you backwards. It is important to realize that you cannot undo the past. What is done is done, but the unrealized future still remains ahead of you, and how you choose to respond to it will dictate if you will be ready for it or not, and even influence how it will manifest later your life.
4. Know who your safe friends are (including family). – One of the fastest ways to relapse back to a place of bitterness and unresolved pain is to surround yourself around people who do not support the process of your recovery. Sometimes our friends can become more angry than we were at times. I am all for my “ride or die” folks that want to come to my aid, but it is equally important for them to know when to stand down and accept where I am, whether they agree with me or not. Remember, it is always easier for someone else to remove themselves from your circumstance when they have no real attachment, authentic connection or ultimate responsibility to it, therefore remain with like-minded people. Ones that want to see you grow and become healthier versus being full of unforgiveness and aiming to seek revenge.
5. Take life one day at a time. – I truly empathize with those of you who are going through hard times. It is never easy and often feels like the pain will never go away. I know from my own personal experiences, but it does get easier as we learn the lessons we are supposed to learn and grow from the situation. This is a process that cannot be rushed. It takes time and what we choose to do in that time really counts. My best advice is to take everything one day at a time. It may sound like a trivial piece of advice, but it is really important to get this. Now is not the time to be in a hurry and speed your life away, but purposefully slow it down through surrendering prayer, meaningful mediation and thought-provoking reflection.
Growing through darkness can be a reality that we all experience when life gets hard. It certainly will not come easy and unfortunately many decide to prematurely quit before recognizing the change they desire, but it is possible. I am a living witness. After suffering two divorces, being molested and experiencing other broken relationships, I have had my share of pain that I wish on no human being, but through it all I have grown and learned some lessons that I will carry with me for the remainder of my life. Lessons that cause me to stand when I feel like falling, see hope when life seems hopeless and acknowledge that life could always be worse when it seems at it hardest point. I have grown through my darkest seasons and so can you. Never give up!
“When a deep injury is done to us, we never heal until we forgive.” – Nelson Mandela
We have all said it at some point in our lives to loved ones, close friends and even ourselves when times are tough. “Things will get better with time.” The phrase does sound good and lends itself to even seem comforting when we are hurting, but do things really get better with time? I suppose on the surface, the answer is an absolute yes. Over time it is true we do tend to feel less of the sting pain indiscriminately doles out, whether physical or emotional, but does feeling better really mean we are better? Hmmm… one of those questions to ponder I suppose.
The body is an amazing creation. The fact that when we injure ourselves the body is designed to go into healing mode. Over a course of weeks, months and therapy (depending on the severity of the injury) besides a scar, there is no noticeable evidence of an injury at all. Now we all know that it was not the time that healed that would, but the amazing work occurring on the inside of the body to mend things back together.
The same is true when we are injured emotionally. If someone hurts us in a relationship and we do nothing to understand the core issue(s), we are destined to repeat the circumstance with someone else. For some of us (including present company) this has been an all too common occurrence.
Simply taking a hiatus from dating is not enough to thwart the problem (if dating is your issue) if we do not add the parts that identify the core problem, work through it and apply the learned principles to prevent it from happening with the next guy or gal.
There are so many websites dedicated to discussions on cheaters and liars, and although some have valid points to make, many others simply use the platform to complain and bash the opposite sex, but seldomly look at the work required for prevention or the responsibility they had in the demise of the relationship as well.
It will always be easier to blame another individual, especially when they created the majority of the issue, but what about that small percentage owned by the other person? Does it present a pattern? Have you been here before? Same situation different person? Could you be the common denominator? Again, something too think about.
When we fail to allow ourselves to authentically heal over a period of time, which includes doing the work necessary to become whole how is it possible to think we would make a better decision the next time? How is it that our anger simply becomes directed towards a gender, personality type or ethnicity, versus ourselves? Could it be that we are still carrying baggage from our past that is destined to bring extra weight and turmoil to our next relationship or circumstance? Could it be that time did nothing but give us an illusion that we were better, but in essence we were just numb? And the only way we really know we have not healed is when a circumstance presents itself that reminds us of our brokenness, and we flash on someone or become instantly disengaged. Been there?
In essence, time heals a wound like a bandage heals a cut. It will never be about the time directly, but more importantly what we choose to do in that time. So my prayer is that we choose to recognize the patterns that hinder us, (different face same guy) do the work to change and grow and apply the lessons learned to live a healthier life.
For most of my life I have bought into this relationship between time and healing, but I have always questioned the core idea. I would assume most professionals would agree more than time is required to heal wounds, but somewhere along the way of this commonly used phrase, the translation became lost or diluted with the masses and it simply continues to get passed along like it is a scientific fact. Or perhaps this is simply a part of my perfectionist personality to address it. Either way, I believe it is important that we understand what is implied when we make this statement or any commonly use saying that solicits hope, when it fact it may actually perpetuate the contrary.
To all those finally acknowledging your part in your healing or lack thereof, welcome to the club. There truly is an upside to being down, but we must first recognize the pain and do the right things with it. Numbing it feels great for a short season, but it truly never simply goes away and it will most certainly come back to remind you, “I am still here until you deal with me.”
Neither your age, a new relationship or a geographic relocation will change that fact, because the pain lies within you lying dormant until it is once again disturbed, so yes it requires painstaking, emotionally distressful and committed work, but it is worth the blood, sweat and tears. You are worth it!
“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.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by good people” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
This past week my heart dropped when I heard the news about the shootings in Charleston, S.C. I wasn’t sure how to feel. I sat there in utter disbelief! A part of me cried and another part of me became very angry. I realize that we live in a world full of violence and people who hate just because, but for me this act actually shook a bit of my world. I consider myself a man of faith, hope and one who looks for the good that can come from a negative situation. I mean after all this page is about looking on the bright side, hence The Upside of Down. But this weekend if I’m honest with you, I struggled to get there, I struggled to find peace and I struggled to find the good coming out. As I looked at the pictures of the now deceased – Cynthia Graham Hurd (55), Tywanza Sanders (26), Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), Myra Thompson (59), Ethel Lance (70), Susie Jackson (87), Reverend Daniel Simmons Sr. (74), DePayne Middleton Doctor (49) and Senator Clementa C. Pinckney (41), I feel a numbness and a hardness attempting to consume me. I know I must press through even this, but I confess – THIS IS HARD!
This weekend I stopped at a local restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. As I was eating my food in the parking lot, minding my own business a group of twenty to thirty something year-old caucasian kids walked past my car heading for the restaurant. They paid me no mind, but for the first time I can ever remember in my 46 years on earth, I was afraid for my life for a brief second. It was a daunting feeling and was hard to shake even after the initial pass. I realize this recent shooting was not a first and unfortunately will not be the last, but I believe the reason that I felt fear and resonate with this particular crime so much is because of the location and the people the shooter chose to kill. Not only did he plot to murder African-Americans Christians, but he chose leaders within that community, minding their own business doing God’s work behind the scenes, while living impactful lives. Even those facts are really nothing new for us, but for me it struck a chord. A cord that will for the rest of my life impact how I make decisions, pray, teach my children and become more vigilant as a father and a leader.
I would rather die knowing that I was fulfilling my life’s purpose than knowing I was safe and not doing anything at all.
I’m always sharing with my children that tomorrow is not promised, so we must live our lives with purpose and as if we may never see one another again. This must remain in our minds each time we leave our home, venturing out towards our day. I love the statement that Malcolm Graham made about his sister Cynthia Graham Hurd, “She was a not a victim. She was a Christian. She was a soldier. She was a warrior. She was with her Maker when she took her last breath.” What awesome words to declare about the life of someone you loved, but more importantly about someone who you knew that statement to be true and accurate.
I am re-examining how I live my life. I will bundle up the fear, anger and pain resulting from this tragedy and redirect that energy to fuel my own life’s work. I will refocus and know at any moment it could end, but I will not be afraid of death, I will not even be afraid of life, therefore as I yet have breath flowing through my lungs and a sound mind, I will not shun from any opportunity to do more, go further and to exploit my God-given abilities.
For sometimes it’s not only the fear of death that causes us to stumble, but the fear of living and being recognized for doing something great.
How many times have you avoided speaking your mind, deferred the answer to someone else or simply walked away from an opportunity, knowing good and well that you were capable, worthy and the right person for the job or task? We all have experienced this at some point on in our lives, but as I read and listen to the family members and loved ones of these nine courageous individuals speak about forgiveness, and declare the amazing contributions that each of them added to their lives and the world, I am inspired. I am inspired about what legacies they leave behind and how each of them will continue to touch all of us that allow ourselves to feel and identify with who they were as human beings (not just African-Americans). And realize that even though their lives were violently taken from them, the songs they sang, the people they taught, the lives they affected and the messages that they preached now touch the world. For that I am thankful, because their spirits and what they stood for can never be killed with a bullet, ignorant opinions, or racist actions. That truth will prevail.
The Bible states is James 4:14b,c – For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. Now whether you believe the Bible or not is the question here, but to understand the message is critical. We don’t have much time in retrospect of everything. Life is indeed short and every moment that we have to live, it is crucial that we live with resolve. In these times we cannot afford to waste moments, but we must be about our life’s work. Utilizing and exploiting every gift and talent that we have been blessed with. As I look at the age range of those that died, they represented ones just beginning their life, coming out of college and others near the end their walk. Despite their ages, they each were able to give something significant to their families, communities and now even the world. The world has now seen nine beautiful souls that lived with intention, love for themselves as well as others and their legacies will never be forgotten.
I pray that you never forget that day and never forget the nine that died on Wednesday, June 17, 2015. I pray that as you chose to read this post, you recognize that ALL lives matter. Let’s embrace our children and help them work through this tragedy and like the son (Chris Singleton) of Sharonda Coleman-Singleton stated in his brief news briefing, “Love is always stronger than hate.” Love is truly the strongest force in the world.
“No one can develop freely in this world and find a full life without feeling understood by at least one person” – Dr. Paul Tournier, M.D.
The moment I began this blog I knew a level of my privacy would be gone forever. For many reasons I was just fine with this. I’m not sure if it was the many years of teaching classes and sharing bits and pieces of my life to strangers and friends for years, or going through a few bad relationships that broke me. Maybe its how I am framed. Whatever the reason, here I am sharing my life story to the world with no hesitancy. Some of my friends ask me, “how do you feel after releasing such a personal part of you to everyone?” My answer is simple. I’ve released everything I have written long before I press the send button. It would be too painful to do it any other way. My point is, the journey that I took to get here was hard, agonizing, however essential, like a prerequisite or pre-qualification to share with you on this type of platform. I have nothing to lose by sharing my story to the world. I actually have a sense of peace knowing that my traumatic life experiences, when shared with integrity will impact someone to hope more, hold on a little while longer or keep believing that life is worth living.
It wasn’t always this way. Like many, I had secret parts of me that no one knew about. I was a master at disguising the real me. What I divulged was perfectly orchestrated. No surprises, at least to me. I was in control and very comfortable with it. The sad part about all of this was, I was living a lie (at least to a degree). The real me was hidden and only surfaced when I allowed him to. A “Plan B” was ALWAYS in my line of sight. I would not be hurt, (so I thought) rejected or dismissed by anyone. I knew how to protect myself, like drinking a disinfectant. It’s meant to kill germs, but when applied incorrectly it can destroy everything it touches. This was me. Hurting everyone around me, by keeping the ones I professed to love at a distance. I wouldn’t dare reveal the real me.
Once the brokenness (read my other post to find out what they are) did its work in me and I chose to surrender, my life begin to change. This change didn’t simply occur because I willed it to, but because I was in a new place. A place of reflection, a place of being still and finally coming to the understanding that I was missing something very essential to living a full life. That place was being true to myself. I mean really true. I came across a great book entitled, “Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?”, by John Powell.
It challenged me to look into the mirror of my soul and ask myself several hard questions, like:
- What is at the core of my fear to show my real self?
- What happens when I finally disclose who I am?
- Why did I always seem to have a “Plan B” in place?
Answer to Question 1 – Ultimately I have learned to understand that my biggest fear was the fear of rejection. I honestly had a fear that if the most important people in my life truly knew me, there is no way that they would still accept me, therefore that perpetuated the lie. It’s human nature for most of us to believe that we’ll never be good enough or measure up to societies’ standards and the truth is we may not ever measure up, but what we must learn is we are enough as we are. My faith in God tells me that I am ever-growing, imperfect and to trust the process of my transformation to evolve to the best me over time. It cannot be with a mindset of comparing myself to others or pretending I understand something when I truly do not. We all want to be accepted by others, but we must resist the temptation to project something or someone who we have not yet become. If we only fit into a specific circle because of an illusion that we feel obligated to project, than we continue to lie to ourselves and perpetuate a lifestyle that saps us of all the creative energy essential to living a life of authentic wholeness.
To authentically learn to love thyself is to release the bondage of performing for others in order to be loved and accepted.
When we learn what mask we place on our hearts every time we have an opportunity to be fully present, is the moment that our chains will begin to drop off. For those of us that have perfected this to an art form, it may require much more work, prayer and therapy to have full release, but it is certainly possible. I am a living witness.
Answer to Question 2 – It’s easy to think that our world will fall a part when we finally choose to live a life of integrity when we haven’t for so long. When we’re making decisions to bring the real me to the table for the very first time, our common sense may tell us to consider the cost and take delicate steps. As a man who can over think even the simplest of things, I encourage you to listen to your first mind and take that leap of faith and courage. No need to figure it out completely, write a dissertation on it or share it with ten friends, just step out and frickin do it.
Take baby steps at first.
I remember the first person that I confessed to that I was molested and the first person that knew how broken I really felt after my string of broken relationships. It was absolutely freeing! For us men, we don’t do this. We place a cork on every hurt and disappointment that we have ever experienced, and will profess that it doesn’t matter when we know that it really does. We’ll cope by turning to drugs, illicit affairs, meaningless sex, violence and others acts that are detrimental to ourselves and others. While these coping mechanisms may provide a temporary way of escape, they are also equally effective in keeping a barrier up so we can remain elusive, at bay and removed from the painful reality we’re trying so desperately hard to escape. Sad truth is it doesn’t work. It never works. Disclosing who I really am brings on freedom like nothing else can. It’s the truth we have heard of for so long that truly sets us free.
Answer to Question 3 – I’ve learned over the years that having a “Plan B” in place is quite common in most things we do. We’ve been taught as children that with college and career choices, we needed a “Plan B”. We always need to have something to fall back on just in case our first plan didn’t come through. This practice has carried over to serious relationships, even marriage. I recently saw an article on Facebook where a poll was taken on how many women had a backup “friend” in case their marriages didn’t work out.
A staggering 80% of the women polled, admitted to having someone there if their relationships were ever in trouble.
I imagine this is not just a women’s issue, but more a human issue. We will enter into relationships declaring our whole heart to someone, (I know this because I did it) committing our lives, time and future, essentially all that we are safe to share and know good and well we aren’t ready yet. We know that we have only revealed the best parts of us, even after a few years and we dare to take the relationship to the next level. What pain this will bring you! Ultimately, none of us want to be frauds or live a lie, but many of the pains of our lives have made it very comfortable for us to retreat to the person that seems most accepted in that particular moment. No one quite knows but us when we shift into that other guy or gal mode.
We smile and laugh the same, we still share in interesting exchanges and come across as very engaged, but something deep within us has checked out.
The familiar wall begins to rise and soon we’re projecting a limited version of who we are. “Plan B” is full effect at this time. For me it simply was easier to project this guy then to be explicitly open with the ones closest to me. My “Plan B” was my safety net and I had justified why I allowed it to exist, not realizing that it was suffocating those important relationships and my own personal growth.
Thankfully, as we continue to journey through life we find ourselves with opportunities to grow. These are typically the times when we have suffered a broken heart or some other type of tragedy. When we confess that we hurt, or that someone hurt us we can begin to own that pain and do something positive with it.
The pain is just the indicator, like a warning light on the dashboard of your car.
It’s our opportunity to heal by acknowledging the pain. It’s our opportunity to remove the walls that have effectively kept us watching life, versus doing life. Being afraid to tell someone who you really are is indeed a scary thing, but I have learned its scarier to live a life alone, a life alone with people all around you that are clueless to the real you. It’s time to step off the ledge my friends. Dare to believe that you can.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Louis B. Smedes
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future” – Paul Boese
About two years ago I had the opportunity to attend a seminar at my church on forgiveness. Being raised in church for the most part and a teacher (by calling), I have experienced my share of sermons, books and discussions on the topic. One thing that was significantly different for me this time was, I was the student versus the teacher. I can’t say I approached it like any other seminar that I have attended in times past, because my life had taken a severe turn just about 6-8 months prior. It was a devastating time for me. I had went through my second divorce and hurt someone I have known and loved for many years as well. Although I had forgiven myself and asked the people I hurt for their forgiveness, which I believe they had, I just needed something more to better understand and gain the clarity that I needed to move on with my life.
So there I was, in a two-day seminar trying to understand better what I thought I already knew fairly well, until that time that is. The pastor took an interesting approach for his introduction. He had an apple in his hand with a knife. I’m a visual learner, so this was great for me. He then took the knife and sliced a small section out of the apple. The apple represented our soul/emotions and the knife represented the sins/offenses against us. He demonstrated how we are impacted by the offenses of others and depending on how deep the cut, slice or sections taken out of the apple, the deeper the wound to our soul. It was quite traumatic to see this. He even showed how some offenses can have life long impacts, by slicing the apple in half or cutting a large piece out of it. (Picture that for a moment) He then began to share the role that forgiveness has with our healing.
Now, understanding that we all have our own choice to exercise our faith and beliefs, you have to decide what direction you personally choose to take for recovery, healing and ultimately moving on with your my life. Some may choose a 12-Step Program, counseling or seeking help from a higher power. As a Christian, my personal belief system is trusting God, through Jesus Christ. I’m not here to speak on that, but it’s important for me to state this so you understand my actual process to heal and recover, specifically with forgiveness. So for me this was a three-step process, first starting with confession.
This is the act of stating what you did, essentially owning it and having the courage to tell someone else about it.
If this can be the person that you offended, that will be even more impactful, if not, make certain they’re trustworthy and honest, because this a time for authenticity and truth and nothing short of that, even if it temporarily hurts your feelings.
Next, we must repent.
This is the act of truly acknowledging what and who you did wrong and making the decision to go in a different direction, a direction that brings forth healing to you and the one you offended.
This may require support from a professional, so don’t be ashamed to get the help. During this phase, you must be patient and allow who you offended to voice their pain and how what you did made them feel or impacted their life. This phase is not for the faint of heart, so be prepared to take accusations and criticism from the one you hurt and anyone that loves them. It’s a critical step for the actual healing process to occur, because it’s allowing how you actually hurt them to finally come to the surface without hearing any excuses.
The next step would be to forgive. This could mean you forgiving yourself first.
The act of forgiving is to release someone for how they offended you, and to no longer seek retribution or revenge.
Keep in mind it is their choice to forgive you or not, but it’s imperative that you forgive yourself during this time if you haven’t already.
It is important to clarify that forgiveness will not fix the problem necessarily, heal a physical wound or return money back into your bank account that someone took from you. It doesn’t even guarantee that you will be friends again, (in some cases it may not be wise to be) but what it will do is release you from the bondage of the one that did you wrong. Unforgiveness has a picture. It looks sort of like someone in a straight jacket bound in a cushioned room, with the room representing your place of pain and the straight jacket representing what you haven’t released. Can you picture this person? Bound, tormented with a desperation for freedom, but with no idea on how to achieve it, while the anger continuously fuels the desperation. Who wants to remain in this place? It’s imperative that we release ourselves from the anguish of what others have done to us and what we have done to others by the sheer act of forgiveness. I know that many will say, “You don’t know what they did to me, I cannot ever forgive them!”. I understand this and empathize with the thought, however it is the quickest way to remain bound with poison in your heart.
My personal story of forgiveness is one full of personal anguish, however equally amazing love. I will share only a part of it now, and one day soon the entire story will become a post on this blog. My story, being the act of the very God that I believe in coming to my rescue through a person to restore me and love me unconditionally in my time of tremendous need. A true friend that I have known for years had the courage to come along side me when so many others had abandoned me or simply didn’t want to hear my side. My heart was like that apple (broken and punctured with deep wounds), and so was hers (my friend). You see she was someone who I had equally hurt during this time and I could not believe or understand why she would come to my rescue, believe in me or even choose to be by my side while I was attending this seminar. Just the act of her courageous selflessness brought a type of healing to my soul that I pray I can return to her one day. I tried to understand it, but I couldn’t. I tried (even now) to articulate it, but my words fall way short of the true depth of love exemplified to my soul on that day by one human being. I can only chalk it up as amazing grace. Truly amazing! Next to the love of my mother, I cannot say I have ever felt that type of love from another human being towards me, especially when I deserved it the least. Sigh…
I am so grateful for the example that Christ has left for me to forgive. I am so thankful for the strength of one person that I hurt the most show me what unconditional love really looks like.
Today I am thankful for Monique.
You are truly God’s vessel of honor and I will always be thankful for what you gave me during that time. God chose you to set me free through forgiveness, and you had the courage to actually go through with it. I love you dearly.
Coming full circle, the final step in this cycle of forgiveness is reconciliation, for those that are blessed to experience this, where the broken relationship and heart is restored and made stronger than before, if you can imagine that.
Where is your soul in the area of forgiveness? What apple truly represents the condition of your heart? Are you bound, or do you still hold on to the pain of what someone else has done to hurt you, whether last year or from your childhood? Are you ready to forgive them and be free, finally? I pray that you are.
So if you read my “About Me” page you will recall that I have been divorced twice. Not something I am proud of, but equally not something I am ashamed of any longer either. I cannot say the second marriage was a mistake, but more importantly a decision I made that I was not fully ready for. The signs were clear, but I ignored them, plain and simple. I wish I could go deeper and say that it was something more profound, but it wasn’t. In my spirit I knew better, and like so many of us I ignored the obvious signs. So there I was, at the altar committing my life to someone I loved, before God and witnesses, but equally knew that I should not be getting married. It was a teachable moment in the making. Boy was it! God must have laughed and cried at the same time wondering and knowing what was in stored for his foolish son. On with the story…
She was a good woman (not perfect) that had high hopes for our marriage. I thought I did as well, but in the background lied a real past that was unresolved. That past would come back to teach me one the most significant life-lessons ever. (That specific lesson will be discussed in another post soon) Indeed it was one of the most difficult ones as well. I was broken and distraught that I had hurt so many people during this part of my life journey. It was not until one Sunday evening that I came to grips with the real pain that lied deep within me. A pain of hopelessness, shame and abruptly being alone. I was overwhelmed with the feelings of grief, death and loss. I’ll never forget that night. My children were at their mother’s and I was upstairs prepping for the work week with a heavy heart and it hit me like a ton of bricks, suddenly. I fell to my knees, cried out to God and yelled, “How am I going to make it, I mean really come through this”!? I wish I could tell you it was a simple process that suddenly became easier, but it wasn’t. It actually became harder before it got better. Quite honestly it was my faith in God that brought me through and my decision to confess my part to myself first then to a few trusted friends. From that point my healing slowly began. It was a journey that took me more than a year to fully recover and feel better about myself and my walk in life. Along this journey I took a trip back east to visit one of my best friends. Ironically, I was served with divorce papers that same week, so a trip was just what I needed to process my thoughts. Prior to leaving, I placed everything that represented my marriage in a metal box in my room, figuring I would deal with it when I returned home. During my visit my friend tried his best to cheer me up, after all it was my birthday weekend, to add insult to injury. Honestly, all I wanted was some quiet time in a different atmosphere, and to not see one happy couple while I was there. Unfortunately I was not obliged with this simple request 😉 . We went to a restaurant that turned into a club. I walked around and saw all these happy couples dancing. Ugh, was my first and last reaction! So I sat down, ate my dinner and wanted to leave as soon as possible. Just then, while minding my own business, a lady asked me to dance. Really!?! (No one ever did that to me) I looked at her for what felt liked an hour, contemplating no, but finally saying yes. It was actually painless, but I was ready to leave after that and we did.
It was on my six-hour plane ride home that my breakthrough would come, like an epiphany. I finished a great book I had started back home, entitled Kingdom Man, by Tony Evans. There was one sentence in this book that I will never forget. Evans said, “most men are unable to move on with their lives after suffering emotional damage because we remain tethered to our past”, with the key word being tethered. Even after life has seemingly moved on for us men, something keeps us back, whether bad memories, guilt, people or ourselves. Maybe it’s our innate desire to fix things. I’m not quite sure what it is actually, but it was in that moment that I realized what I needed to do when I returned home. It was as clear as the stars were in the night sky from 30,000 feet in the airplane I was in. I’ll never forget, my plane landed at San Francisco International Airport after midnight. After the normal routine of obtaining my luggage, catching the shuttle to my car and making the forty-five minute trek home, I finally made it there about 2:00am. I can still recall the energy I felt inside for what I was about to do. There in my room lied the metal container of memories that I had mentioned earlier from my now defunct marriage. Before I left I had no idea what I would do with these items, (that truly represented my state of mind and feelings) but now at this time I was clear, confident and certain with a strong sense of peace, courage and hope. I grabbed the metal container, took it outside to my barbecue pit, poured some lighter fluid on it and burned it. (see the photo). I called a dear friend to share my moment and I watched it burned until the flames went out. During that time I felt a release, a sense of letting something go that no longer wanted or needed to be a part of me anymore. That night I made the decision to press the play button with the rest of my life. I left for the East Coast with the pause button pressed, wondering what I was going to do and how I was going to fix my current circumstances. I realized that I could not or need to fix anything. What I needed to do was let go, move on and free myself from a past that could have potentially ruined any future that I had left to live. That was my new beginning. Today I am no longer defined by my past nor tethered to any emotional guilt associated with it. My past now only helps me to make better decisions for my present and my future. My freedom came in the fire, even if it was only symbolic.
What are you still holding on to? What act was so bad that you cannot seem to let go of, or you constantly feel compelled to apologize for? How many, “I am sorry” does it take to feel better? When are things finally over, how do we make amends with ourselves so that we can live freely again? For me it was through the fire, literally and figuratively, owning my part (truly owning it) asking for forgiveness and having a deep remorse for my actions. This along with my faith set me free. The remorse was painful, almost suffocating to my soul, but I pressed through it with much prayer, a great friend or two and the will to be better, versus bitter. Do you realize that you can be better? Are you able to see yourself living a whole life again? The journey is one day or night at a time. “Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. (Psalms 30:5 KJV). As I reflect on this photo that I took that night, I recall the moment my past truly became just that. Something behind me that no longer had the power to wreak havoc on my heart, relationships and most importantly my hope and courage to believe that I actually deserved to love and be loved again. I had finally released my past…
This journey continues for me. I’m interested in hearing about yours. Please leave a comment and share your thoughts on how you have had to release something or someone in your life that represented your new beginning, or send me an email.