“Lonely is not being alone, it’s the feeling that no one cares.” – Unknown
No matter what facet of life I am in, whether working at my job as an employee, raising my children as a father, being a husband to my wife or simply living as a citizen in society, I fully understand that I am a part of a greater collective. And in that collective I run across people who are at various stages in their emotional state. Some may be harboring anger from a recent or past incident while others find themselves saddened by their current state of affairs. Regardless of the state, I know at any given time we all have been that person and will continue to be as we live from day-to-day.
However, there is a stark difference when we find ourselves in these aforementioned conditions and add loneliness to it. And I am not speaking of the act of simply being alone, but the state of feeling alone, even within a large group.
Imagine if you can that one in five Americans suffers from persistent loneliness, well according to an article written in the Huffington Post (March 21, 2015) this is exactly the case. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/21/science-loneliness_n_6864066.html
It is that condition where we feel disconnected to our greater surroundings and possibly continue to withdraw from our social networks. The implications can be quite detrimental specifically to our mental and physical health, and seeing how vast this number is, just in the United States alone, we either have been that person or ran across someone (almost daily) who is currently suffering from loneliness.
Like so many of us, we have equally become experts at masking, or what I refer to as the art of disguising ourselves. You know that place where we only display what we want others to see, nothing more, nothing less? This becomes a place of safety, and even if it is only an illusion it makes the sufferer feel better, at least for the necessary moment.
So what can we do to help offset the many negative implications of loneliness, short of medical science and therapy? I believe a lot and it won’t cost us a thing, except for our time and perhaps becoming a little more attuned to the people who make up our communities.
Think about how rushed we are in life on a daily basis. To the point where we hardly recognize those around us. We say our hello’s and share niceties about our weekends and our kid’s soccer game, but rarely do we actually “see” people, or better yet “hear” them.
This does not have to be a prying session of your colleague’s or neighbor’s intimate life details, but more practically a conversation that conveys mutual respect, genuine concern and a display of giving a damn about someone else. Unfortunately a rarity in our current society.
I firmly believe that we are either building bridges towards this or blowing them up on a daily basis. It is so easy to cut someone off, shun them or keep them in the shadows of our lives deliberately, and since this applies equally to our professional and personal lives, the opportunities to make a real difference are grand. It must first become our choice and then a decision to act on it.
Can we save the world? The optimistic me says yes we can, one person at a time, however in order to rescue people from themselves, the ones that understand grace, walk in gratitude and live by a faith larger than themselves must first step up and touch someone else with words and actions that matter and equally resonate with that other person.
This is where our personal time comes into play. The time required to think of someone besides ourselves, the time required to be thoughtful or considerate, just because it might cause someone else to feel better and the time required to thoughtfully listen and respond with care and empathy.
I realize it will take much to change our world, and the way things are headed it may seem like this type of post is worthless, but I am committed to doing my part and that is providing a forum for those that dare to care enough and desire to do something about it.
Let us not forget those that are lonely and despondent. Let’s remember they live next door to us, share the roads with us, work next to us, live with us or perhaps they-are-us.
“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” – Unknown
I’m not much of a gardener, but I appreciate the multiple colors that flowers can bring to a dull landscape or front yard. Regardless of the arrangement, type of flowers planted or the blend of colors, it is always a sight to see them in full bloom. I suppose it is why so many of us head to our local nurseries every spring to plant flowers that bring life, color and beauty to our otherwise simple yards.
Today I found myself thinking about the blooming of flowers and its close correlation to our lives unfolding in different seasons. As we the gardeners plant our choice of flowers in the dirt, we have expectations that we will see the manifestations of our work at some point in the near future. We will do the work of watering and making sure our flowers have the proper nutrients to grow in their environment, all so we can experience the magic of the colorful blooms of our perfected arrangement.
Like a flower, we often have untapped beauty waiting to be experienced and seen by the those that can appreciate its wonder, amazement and vitality. But what if that flower fails to bloom? We immediately recognize that something is not right and we go into the “fix it” mode, because one, we paid for a flower that is supposed to bloom, and two it falls short of the anticipated array we envisioned from the lawn and garden books we studied.
So how does all this tie in to us? Well if I asked you if you were blooming, what would your answer be? Are you allowing the beauty that lives in you to shine through, or are you hiding it, due to shame, lack of confidence or have you become more comfortable with conveying another version of yourself that has become more your norm and quite honestly, more acceptable to family and friends? As doctor Phil says, “How is that working out for you?
As I have grown in my own journey, I have come to understand that living anything less than my authentic self compares to making a choice to deliberately wear shoes that are one size too small. I will be always uncomfortable, uneasy, irritable, lacking confidence, doubting my decisions, feeling awkward, and ultimately in some sort of pain that seems to linger on. I get it, been there and have lived the life of someone other than myself for many years, and for a diverse set of reasons, but no matter how good it seemed to look or feel on the outside, ultimately I was making the choice to die inside. A slow death that squelched every part of my self-respect and esteem.
There I was smiling on the outside, and crying on the inside. And I knew the reasons, but lacked the courage to do anything about it, until one day I faced my fears after a harsh breakup.
I learned that brokenness is not necessarily a bad thing. Although it feels terrible, it was the process of putting things back together where I learned some of those pieces were no longer relevant in my life or never belonged in the first place. Other parts I discovered were closed off and dormant with a purpose. A purpose that relegated me to silence, doubt and living comfortably in the shadows of life.
So my decision to open those dormant parts were akin to a flower blooming for the first time. My life has never been the same and I continue to press towards higher heights and deeper depths.
How about you? What are you holding back? What are you shielding? Are you letting your flower bloom? The world is awaiting its beauty and aroma.
“The struggle is a part of the story” – Unknown
Sometimes I ask…
Who knows you, past the simple perfections that you portray to the world daily? Who knows the angst you fell asleep with last night, that still remains with you this morning? Who knows you past the superficial smile you greet the world with everyday, yet inside you are longing to be held, understood and accepted? Who knows what you truly feel about the world, when the music stops and the friends head home? Who knows that you cry when you are alone, for reasons that you cannot even articulate yet?
Sometimes I wonder…
Does anyone really care about I feel, like really care? Why is it so hard to engage people about real life stuff? Perhaps I know deep down, they really don’t care enough to do anything even if they did know. Would my life be different, if I had decided to take that right versus the left that I now question? Is happiness overrated, or am I pursuing the wrong dreams? Is my heart really in this thing, or am I fooling myself as well? Is all the effort and late night talks really worth it, or am I simply wasting my time? Is it only me that thinks this way? Is this just me doing that over thinking again, or am I really scared where my life is right now?
I have learned that if your are not taking the time to occasionally take an inventory of your own life and all of its complexities, you will eventually hit a wall, become overwhelmed or lose sight of what you are doing and why you initially began. Whether you are fully engulfed in a career pursuit, just beginning with a college dream, or pursing love with that signficant other, we must ask ourselves questions that provoke thought, challenge our borders and cause us to pause and think deeply about what we are doing and where we are headed.
Sometimes it’s not enough to reflect in a silo, although it may be safer and feel better, but occasionally we need to deliberately place ourselves in an unsafe zone and allow discomfort to happen. This is the place where you allow that close friend, spouse or counselor to have their way with you, so to speak. Give them license to dispense some raw truth into your heart and mind, and be prepared to listen and accept it, even if you ultimately decide to go a different direction.
This is more than simply seeking advice. At its core, it is becoming fully transparent and fully vulnerable. A scary concept for most of us, however imperative for growth, transformation and the ability to authentically connect and holistically love. If you could imagine that one can only love and connect as deep as they are willing to be vulnerable, what would that look like in your life? If that were the measuring stick for your current relationships and life pursuits, how deep or shallow would they be? And more importantly, how satisfied are you currently with them in that state?
Life is amazing and equally difficult, complex and downright hard at times. We struggle everyday, like a broken car on the side of the road. We can all stand a helping hand at some given point, but in order for that hand to enter our lives, we must make it known that we have a need. It’s not to say we should wear a sign that signifies our needs, but someone must know us as well as our struggles in order to get through them. Who is that one for you? That one that you have allowed into that deep place. You know, that place you rarely go yourself?
At the end of here day, I want to love hard, work hard and play hard. Not just to say that I did, but to know that I lived my life in such a way that transcended my ego, my fears, my traditions and embraced my faith, my heart and my hope to be loved and understood in a meaningful way, not just past my struggles, best because of them.
I want to say this…
You know my struggles, therefore you know me, because I chose you. Not because you were safe, quite the contrary actually. You scared the living daylight out of me, but I knew I wanted you to know me, feel me and deeply connect with me. So you didn’t start by asking me a list of questions, you simply shared your own intimate life and made it okay for me to share my own. Thank you for saying yes and being more than my friend, but a light into my preferred future.
Sometimes I ask and sometimes I wonder, but I am grateful for you because the questions ultimately reveal their own answers as I live, love and remain hopeful. You know my struggle…
“Your mind will always believe everything you tell it. Feed it faith. Feed it truth. Feed it with love.” – Unknown
Today is Father’s Day and if you manage to find yourself celebrating this American tradition, you along with millions of others will take the time to honor the men in your lives that are called fathers. Whether biological, distant relatives, or simply great role models. Honestly, I try not to get too caught up with these type of man-made holidays, especially for my children, because as a kid it added so much unnecessary pressure on me to spend time on a purchase, versus spending the time honoring the one(s) that impacted my life in a meaningful way. So I choose to celebrate the day reflecting on those that made a difference in my life and pay less attention on what I can do for them.
Regardless of my personal stance with the “day”, I cannot help but to take a moment and reflect on what it means to me to be a father. With the insurmountable statistics that negate the positive influences that black fathers like me have in the world, today it is important to acknowledge those that still struggle, yet are trying to do the right thing.
I read something today that sparked a thought, and that was the many invisible accusers we have as men and fathers. Many of us have not done the right thing along our journey as men, (and some never will) but some of us bloom later in life and finally figure it out, and want to do what is right. And even though we are not always sure what “doing right” looks like, our hearts are pure and ripe for wholesome interactions with those we call family, especially for our children. One thing we must consider, is good intentions do not necessarily equate to a good outcome, so patience, good counsel and consistency is important during this time.
What we also need to recognize are the many voices in our heads that speak doubt, fear and promote insecurity. These are such big deals for us, even if we choose to not admit it. Our worst enemy lives inside our heads and reminds us of our past failures, poor decisions and inability to simply get it right, however for those of us that choose to not live in the past, we are seeking new revelations, new beginnings and pressing towards a new future that is not defined by who we were, once upon a time.
Contrary to popular belief, old things do and can pass away, but unfortunately many (included you and me) will not ever see the manifestations of what it looks like to live a different life if we fail to own this for ourselves. I mean like really different! Where authenticity has become a part of your new DNA and you will swear to your own hurt even if it means doing what is honorable and right.
The invisible accuser will always attempt to live in our heads. Accept that as a way of life. We have gave him much ammunition to tempt us, deceive us and get us off track, but once we connect with who we truly are we become a threat to those voices. It is in that place where are intentions need to align with are actions.
This in not the time to faint, but stand strong on the convictions of your spirit and soul. Walk in humility (strength in control) and live a life of integrity. This will pay dividends towards your future and current relationships.
I will never be perfect, but I am here. Living a life that will ultimately encourage a positive legacy despite my past, and what others have to say about who I was. My proof is in the current relationships I foster daily, for they speak volumes to who I am (versus who I use to be) like nothing ever will.
Everyday (thanks to my newness in Christ and choice to grow) I am getting better everyday and I defy the invisible accuser. I am more than my past as you are. Happy Father’s Day!
“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!
“You are always one decision away from a totally different life.” – Unknown
A number of years ago a wise friend told me that life is like a song and a dance. Initially I was not sure what he meant, but he explained that in the first stages of our lives we our learning new concepts, formulating ideas and more than likely we are being influenced by the confines of our household structure, families dynamics and the immediate communities that we reside in. There is no judgement, it simply is what it is, good, bad or indifferent. Here lies the song being played.
The next phase as we grow into maturity and begin to make personal choices for our lives, whether relationally, socially or professionally is the dance, and many times without even being conscious of it we make decisions based on the (figurative) music we have heard for our entire lives. It is as if we are trying to stay on beat to what we know, understand and are reasonably comfortable with. Many times we will even defend our position, even when it is possibly the worst thing for us, but this is the power of the song we have heard.
To further illustrate my point, think of a friend or family member that you have attempted to help in the past. No matter how much you have tried, nothing seems to work or get through to them, or he/she just seems stubborn to change, listen or learn from the countless poor choices they have made. As much as you may want to say, “Are you just stupid?”, you know better than that (hopefully) and realize that it would be completely counterproductive to rectifying anything positively or effectively.
However, once we begin to understand more about “why they are” versus “what they are”, we place ourselves in a position to not only become more of an empathetic friend, but also one that can give sound advice or counsel that will resonate with them as well.
Now if we could only harness the courage to take this a step further and discover this truth about ourselves. It would not only allow us to better understand why we do what we do, but possibly get the support we need prior to falling into another self-perpetuated trap.
So have you taken the time to think about the song(s) that have been playing in your own life? Have you considered why you find yourself in certain predicaments that prove to be detrimental to your overall growth and well-being? Is there a theme or pattern to it? I know for me it was, and on the surface it seemed obvious to most people what my issues were, but little did they know there was more to my story.
Just like with you, there is more to your story, because you are not the sum of your failures, or even your successes I might add. You are beautifully human that lives a life with curves and bends that turn at times unpredictably, and it is in these moments where we can discover what song we are dancing to. Is the song helping me, does it give life or is it tearing me down to a place I have been trying to escape from? Only you know the answers to these questions and ones like it.
So ultimately we have some decisions to make as we embark on a new year. Will we continue to allow the triggers unbeknownst to us, continue to dictate our emotions? Will we allow family members and those close to us, continue to have control over our thoughts and actions? Will we allow familiar circumstances continue to drive us into depression, sadness or frustration?
As we have often heard that insanity is doing the same things while expecting a different outcome, let us not fall into those situations that bring us grief and despair, but let us begin to seek new ways to heal from our pain, recover from our broken hearts and respond to our haters. Ways that do not necessarily ask for permission from those we typically seek it from, ways that empower others to have authority when they should not, and ways that sympathetically apologize for decisions we believe in or feel good about.
If you can imagine a song playing that everyone is dancing to and suddenly the record scratches, stops and the DJ puts on another song. Only today you are the DJ and you have changed the music. We must do the same with our lives. Change the music and dance to a new beat. It may seem uncomfortable at first and take a little time to adapt to the new beat, but you will catch the rhythm eventually.
The real message is we must take authority over our own lives. We cannot allow the past (the old song) to define our future. We must begin to recognize that there is more to us than what we see now, our voice matters and life is too short to live under the shadows of anyone, event if we respect them. Become your man or woman. Change the music and dance a new dance for the rest of your life.
Keep Pressing and Happy New Year!!
“Don’t you dare shrink yourself for someone else’s comfort – Don’t become small for people who refuse to grow.” – Unknown
Life never ceases to surprise me. One day it seems I have things all in order and in the next moment I am being thrown for a loop. Even though my routine is somewhat predictable, like going to soccer games, preparing weekly dinners, helping my children with homework, and being the protector and provider for my family, we all know nothing really is predictable about any of it.
What I have learned over the years is to acclimate my life in such a way that allows me to adjust to the things I cannot control and work on the things that I can. For some of you this may be an easy task, but for those (like me) that fall into that special category of being overly structured, it is not so simple. You see, one slight change of plans that disrupts the anticipated flow could cause chaos to erupt, at least in our brains.
So over the years I have adopted some new tools in my routine to help me acclimate to my constantly changing life and schedule to sudden changes and adjustments that come unannounced. Since the alternative was for me to be stressed, angry and not really a nice person to be around I realized that I had no other option.
The fairly new term that is used in corporate America better known as Work-Life-Balance is what I could equate my adjustment to. There really is not anything new about it except the business worlds adoption of it and coming to terms that it needs to exist in order for there to be harmony, a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment in the workplace, which all equates to better productivity.
So what about the “life” part of this formula? The part where we need to make conscientious decisions about how we spend our time and who we decide to spend it with, because if we are not actively engaged in making ourselves better, the balance part really never happens. It simply becomes a nice sounding term that will rarely have an impact on us in a meaningful way.
In my opinion one of the most challenging components to fully embracing this idea is how we feel about ourselves. Case in point, I was talking with a few people last week about their daily routines and how stressed they were feeling with the needs of their children, being overly worked and always feeling mentally and emotionally drained. I could immediately relate, but instead of having a pity-party with these single-parents, I offered a few words of encouragement by asking them about commitment and how it relates to them specifically in their personal lives. I asked them, “When was the last time they committed something to themselves?”
For someone like myself who has devoted my life to my children and their well-being, and equally being a giver to those in my world, very seldom would I consider myself first, especially committing something to myself. It was easier and more common to commit myself to something or someone else. So even though the phrase may sound similar, they truly are polar opposites. One is designed for you while the other is for something or someone other than you.
The whole concept can cause one to stumble and resist that there is even a need to act on such a thing. After all, this is the way life has always been and rocking the boat is not something that I am accustomed to doing. Are these and statements like these phrases you would find yourself using if your were placed in this predicament? Do not feel bad, because you are not alone.
Just think about it for a minute. How many goals have you set for yourself over the course of your life? Some you have reached, others you have not. Was the goal designed to make you happy or feel fulfilled? I suppose it was initially, but once you accomplished it, what happens next? Of course, set a new goal. Even that seems like work that leads to something I will always be chasing until I am not. Then what? Do not get me wrong, setting goals are a critical part of life, but when they are not placed in the proper perspective they too can lead us down a path of disappointment.
The disappointment of not completing the ultimate objective, like not losing all the weight that you initially aimed for, not being married at the age you desired to be, not landing the job you set out to have or simply the disappointment of the life you now live today.
Things certainly do not work out the way we had them planned and we may find ourselves becoming disillusioned, but have you committed to yourself the small and simple things that our essential to a peaceful life along the way? Things like walks in the park, quiet time, listening to inspirational music, exercising just to maintain good health, spending time with people who see the best in you more often than not and taking the time to jot down what you do well today.
Rarely do we find the time to do such things because they seem futile, possibly even a waste of time or we are just too damn busy. I get it and have been there, but no longer will everyone else matter before me. There, I said it! Sure, I will always be one to help others, give my time, love and resources sacrificially where necessary, but not at the sake of being empty and with nothing inside after the giving is done.
How about you? Will you commit to yourself first? Even Jesus went away from His disciples to pray alone and get recharged and prepared for His ultimate sacrifice. At the end of the day we cannot be everything, everywhere and for everyone. When we try we break down and lose a sense of our direction and purpose. Then we become good for no one.
So why don’t you give it a try today. Make yourself a priority for a change without an excuse or apology. Schedule in some time for you. Get that massage you have been longing to get. Become unavailable for an hour per week. Turn off that phone and recharge you versus a gadget. Life will be there and intact when you return, but you will be different, better even, and ready to give your best when it is time again.
“Freedom isn’t going through life unscathed, It’s choosing to not let what has hurt you bind you.” – Leo Christopher
To finally come to an understanding that I will never stop growing has brought a sense a of peace, calm and self-acceptance to my life. When I consider who I use to be, (not that I was such a bad guy) I recall a younger version of myself that was guilt-ridden, anxious, worrisome, unfulfilled, hero-driven, (a need to rescue others) and having a huge lack of confidence. Honestly I could add more to this list, and perhaps if you know me you would as well, however I know that I have come a long way and I am grateful for the growth, genuine love and hope I have for myself.
As a Christian, so much of my life has been centered around helping others and focusing on how to love people more effectively with God’s grace, not that I had mastered the love walk or anything, but as much as this is an essential component to our Christian walk, so many times we tend to neglect that portion of the “Golden Rule” that speaks about loving ourselves. I mean how can we really love anyone effectively, genuinely and honestly if we have not first learned how to love ourselves first? And one way to determine the level of love we have for ourselves is the depth of love we have in our personal relationships.
For instance, it took me many years to come to a revelation that my chain of broken relationships was more about me than the women I dated or pursued. The old (and selfish me) would easily deduce that it had to be something broken in them, versus me and in some cases they were equally broken, but it was still a more accurate reflection of me than them, and even though deep down in my quiet moments I intellectual knew this, I would still never allow it to truly resonate with the parts of me that mattered the most. Therefore it was easily tossed away and on I went fighting within myself and hurting people.
So what has to happen to finally come to a place where we recognize these dark things about ourselves? Because we are each uniquely different and have obviously inherited our own set of proclivities and issues, the sky is the limit on what it takes to finally get to “that place” of genuinely wanting more for ourselves. Whether we call it our “aha moment”, “our wake up call”, or we finally hit rock bottom, something has to happen to get us there. Most of us simply are not wired to come to that place on our own recognizance. I wish it were different, but sadly it is not. Unfortunately (depending how you look at it) for me it was hitting that rock bottom place that finally woke me up, and although I am humbly grateful for that moment, I would rather not relive it again.
So as much as I recognize that I am a new creation in Christ (according to II Corinthians 5:17), I equally understand there are more layers yet to be identified, revealed and acknowledged. And I realize that a relationship is one of the instruments that God uses to challenge me while on this journey called life.
Just today I had a conversation with my wife that revealed I still have many areas I still need to grow in. It was not an accusatory type of conversation, but it prompted me to share a few things that perfectly identified an attitude or type of protection I still carry from my childhood after being molested. The best way I can describe what I discovered is using the word layers. Just when I thought I had something mastered, another thing pops up to show me there is still room to grow.
This particular thing happened to be about how I display emotion and empathy while simultaneously protecting myself when feeling threatened. It’s kind of a weird thing, but when someone is abused, (especially as a child) we develop defense mechanisms to protect ourselves when we have no control on what is happening to us. Since we cannot prevent this terrible thing from occurring, we find a way to distract our brain or shut down the parts that feel the pain. Although this became a way for me to survive as a kid, it also became a way of life for me as an adult, which has significantly impacted how I connect, defend and love.
During my childhood I had no idea this form of protecting myself would gravitate to becoming a full-grown “thing” in my adult life. It is like I either had all good and bad feelings together or I had none. As a child, none was preferred, but as an adult my feelings and ability to share them is obviously essential to experiencing a “normal and functional relationship”. So from time to time, this hidden place gets tested. Initially I become defensive and agitated, but I then recognize “this place”, from “that place”. Today I am safe and no one is attempting to harm or hurt me, like in the past, therefore I deliberately remove the blocks that allow me to retreat and hide.
I acknowledge that these layers are inhibitors to my overall growth and my ability to maintain a healthy relationship, and although the layers may always exist in my life, I am learning how to work through them with more effective prayer, applied wisdom and life changing grace. I am working towards a future that is not defined by my past and a relationship that is not haunted by layers of deceit, abuse and lies. I am living above the layers that attempt to bind me.
“Sometimes when I say, I’m okay”, I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight, and say, ” I know you’re not” – Unknown
I’m not quite sure if it is the crap I have been through, it’s simply a part of my make up or I am just a sucker for the down trodden. Whatever it is I have always had this propensity to find and help hurting people. Now I don’t consider it a weakness, nor a strength necessarily, but it is me at my core and for years I have often wondered why I was blessed (or cursed, depending how you look at it) with this ability and outlook on life, because as much as it is a wonderful disposition, gift or characteristic to have, it also comes with its own set of potential problems. Like when should I turn it off or tone it down to give others the opportunity to work through their own set of issues? When people fail to hold true to this, we will inevitably become known as enablers or crutches. So to prevent the entire notion of being my brother’s keeper becoming something negative and discourteous it became imperative that I learn a few things, otherwise premature burnout was certainly in my future. Actually I cannot honestly say that I did not finally reach the point of burnout at some point, because I did. I just chose not to stay there.
Making this decision is what placed me on my journey to live a more healthy lifestyle when it comes to assisting others. Here are a few things that I learned along the way.
- Establish healthy boundaries, so people are crystal clear where your support begins and ends – I am always saying, “What does that look like?” People need to know where your limits are and what your assistance or support will include, when it will it stop and based on what conditions it will become null and void. For years I was afraid to have this attitude because I wanted to be everyone’s superhero, go to guy and best friend. How exhausting and debilitating this became to sustain! Until I was able to have this often challenging conversation with those whom I was trying to help, I remained on the hook with them. There was seemingly no end to the help I was attempting to give, simply because I was afraid to say “no” or provide the conditions that I expected. This can be especially troubling with family and close friends, because we never want to let them down, after all, they are family right? Wrong, family can be the worst perpetrators of this, simply because they have the type of access that others do not. And they also have an uncanny way to make us feel guilty over things we should not. So we have to lay out the rules from the outset. For instance, years ago I had a family member live with me. I was compassionate, displayed empathy, understood their needs, and was willing to help. But I also had a tough conversations about terms and expectations. It was clear between us both how long the stay would be and also how it could prematurely end. My display of compassion and empathy was not to be mistaken for a lapse of good judgement, and I had a responsibility to tell them prior to moving in.
- Follow through with your established agreements – Sometimes the hardest things to do are the things that you said you would, especially when it does not feel pleasant, however if you followed rule number one, it will prove to be a much simpler task. When you laid a foundation at the beginning, following through on aforementioned discussions should not become emotional or personal. I know this is easier said than done (depending on who we are dealing with), but it should be a straight forward conversation at this point. It really comes to: “When you do that, I will do this” kind of a conversation. It doesn’t have to be a punitive discussion, simply a follow through on previously established agreements. So keep the lines clear and don’t allow it to become cluttered with confusion.
- Get comfortable with saying the word no – Fortunately it is not our responsibility to save the world. Perhaps we will help many throughout the course of our lives, but we cannot save them all nor should we try. That said, we need to fully understand our limitations, and at least be honest with ourselves about them. Even if our heart is genuinely crying out to provide support, we just may not be able to at that time. Whether emotionally or financially. That is not the end of the world, because you are not their source and people tend to find others ways when we cannot genuinely be there in the ways they are seeking. Using the word “no” does not have to be the killjoy it can be known as in this type of situation. It can actually become the motivating factor for setting a new course. Kind of like that saying, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Perhaps you are being used to close a necessary door, so another one will be sought and eventually opened.
I will admit that even with these learned lessons, I still struggle at times with not supporting people who want it, but do not necessarily need it. I suppose it is just my heart, and I accept that as one of my personal traits. It makes me who I am, like no one else. It also allows me to really see people for who they truly are and why they often struggle. I pray that in my journey I will continue to cross paths with those that genuinely need support, and that I am able to help them in a meaningful way. Even if it is just to see them and acknowledge their suffering or hardships, because although the world has over 6 billion people in it and we live in over crowded cities, it can still be a very lonely place.
So take note of my three rules, but never stop seeing people when they are down.
“To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift” – Steve Prefontaine
Me and my Mother -2015
Life is funny. How we start is not necessarily a guarantee on how we will finish. What we thought was true ten years ago may be different now for us today. How we define success changes and some of the people in our lives are no longer present, by the choices that we have made and by some of the circumstances we have faced. We make statements about what we know now and how our lives would be different if we had only made better choices when we were young and dumb. They say hindsight is 20-20, and hopefully we continue to learn as we get older. Hopefully the choices that we make today as mature adults look differently from our past decisions. And as we grow, hopefully we do not measure our lives by how educated we are or not, if we own a home or not or the amount of money we have in our bank accounts. Although these things are important and we should strive to live better lives than our forefathers and mothers, we need to remain mindful of what is truly important in life.
Since being back on Facebook for about one year now, I’m encouraged by the many voices of my childhood friends that seem to get it. Men and women alike that I grew up with recognize the value of it, my colleagues and business partners even see the value of it, but more importantly I see it. And that is the idea of giving our best love to our families, friends and even some strangers when required.
The one person that comes to mind more than anyone else that has sacrificially loved me beyond measure is, that’s right, my mother. When I look back at what she accomplished I see an amazing woman who has committed herself to being the best mom that any woman could ever be. Although there may not be a long list of titles behind her name, a house on the hill or other pedigrees we rightfully pursue, my mother gave me something that not only prepared me to obtain those superficial things, she gave me something inherently more valuable. She willingly gave me her best love.
Like so many of us that reflect on the goodness that has been bestowed upon our lives, usually our mothers are not far off from these sentiments. I was raised with three sisters and each of us are successful in our own right, but one thing that stands out for me, is we care for one another deeply and consider each other friends still. I attribute this desire to remain close to my siblings to the way my mother loved us as children. We obviously have our differences as adults, but I can say we genuinely love and care about one another. My mother was definitely the glue to our family connection and bond, which remains true to this day.
So why is this even worthy of mentioning and what is the significance of giving our best love? In my lowly opinion it pertains to everything that has been and will be ingrained in us. For those that have experienced the death of someone close, understanding this is easier. At the end of the day, nothing else really matters, but how we loved.
Giving our best love will cure the ails of the world in one swipe.
As I give my best love several amazing things are occurring simultaneously that look like this:
1. The life I exemplify will be worthy of following – I do not mean that you will lead a life of perfection, but when you make the choice to love first, you’re actually placing someone else’s needs before yours. For many this concept is counterintuitive, but when we’re motivated by love or selflessness we look to see how we can please others first. And when you have made this choice prior to any specific circumstance, bias and conditions are easily removed from the equation. This person may not always get things right, but they are consistently present. They are concerned, emotionally committed and they show up on time for real life events, planned or unplanned. They are the ones that leave indelible marks on hearts and minds forever.
2. I have an opinion, but I am not quick to accuse – This person waits to hear the entire story before giving their two-cents when asked. This requires discipline, because the temptation to speak prior to knowing all the facts is usually very enticing, but equally detrimental to at least to one of the persons involved. However once the dust settles the truth typically reveals itself, and because this individual is aware of this fact, their patience is essential and a key ingredient to sharing impactful wisdom versus making premature accusations. In a time of need this person is a welcomed sight because they truly want to help versus gossip, and they typically care about the outcome for all those involved.
3. I have a strong core, but a gentle spirit – There is nothing like meekness. It can often be mistaken for weakness, but by definition, it is strength under control. This person may have the ability to crush someone’s dream by divulging sensitive information that could embarrass or bring harm, yet they choose to exercise self-control during this time. They have profound wisdom and are usually more aware than what people give them credit for. They simply choose to walk in consideration of others, yet with firmness. This person will empathize with you, but never waver from his/her convictions. Their strength and gentleness combined become very calming during chaotic situations. They are excellent listeners and when they speak, an audience is usually there eagerly listening.
4. The truth will be spoken in love – Although the unadulterated truth can often hurt, it equally can release one from bondage or potentially dangerous situations. There is nothing like hearing it like it really is! Although we may get upset with this person, we come to appreciate them for their courage and ability to set us straight. The great thing about this person’s characteristics is they are not out to get us or see us fail, they simply want us to stop hitting our heads on the same walls. They force us to deal with ourselves versus allowing us to habitually take the easy route of blaming others. Without these courageous individuals in our lives we would be doomed to learn everything the hard way. They truly are a ray of light in the midst of a cloudy circumstance.
5. I accept you as you are – There’s nothing like acceptance. As we are all a masterpiece in progress, during the journey of getting to our finished product, we tend to look a hot-mess at times (present company included). And during this season, a friend that simply loves and accepts you as you are is critically important. Although many will proclaim to accept you when you are at your lowest, the proof is when you are there and recognize who is there with you. There you will find your true friends. These friends are not initially interested in facts, or the circumstances during an episode, they simply want to be there for you. They are consistent, steadfast and comforting. We could all stand to benefit from having at least one person like this in our lives. They are quick to lend a hand when we’re down and usually know us deeply like no one else does. We are freely vulnerable with them as our true selves are revealed and in progress of becoming more.
So as I stated in the beginning, “life is funny”. However sometimes it can be downright hard as well. And as we are being proven during difficulties, let us remember what we are made of and that we are precious creations made in God’s image through love. The best love we have is always in us, peeping out from the inside. We just need to realize that it is inside of us and someone nearby could stand to receive some of it from you. Whether it is these five points I have made or ones you can add to them, look to your point of reference to recall not only what it looked like, but more importantly how it made you feel when you needed it the most. For me it was my mother’s love. I say give that. That is the best love.