Choose Growth. Choose Freedom.

The other day I was reflecting on the journey my life has taken in relation to my work. I remember feeling disorientated many times, as I shifted from one job to the next, never feeling stable. But as I consider the last few years of these shifts, I’m pleased to observe that all of these shifts served some function towards my growth as a person. This might sound a bit cheesy or cliche. And sure, it is! But let’s take a quick glance and what I’m taking about and you’ll see the beauty behind this cheesy observation.

My first construction job was a summer job at the age of 16. My dad had an electrician friend who needed a helper. And so for three months I followed my Dad’s friend around like a puppy, carrying tools, following orders, and being as helpful as I could. I didn’t feel any inclination at the time towards becoming an electrician, but I sensed the pleasure of doing something that effected other people (such as installing lights or a new outlet).

In my late teens I dabbled in construction, flying to Maryland occasionally to work with my brother’s company for a few weeks at a time. I learned how to board drywall, install insulation, and – well – push a broom. Back in Newfoundland, where I’m from, I painted houses for a few months with an older friend of mine. My friend was unpleasant as a foreman, and I didn’t like painting very much anyhow.

My experience helping out my dad’s electrician friend led me to pursue an apprenticeship as an electrician in Maryland when I was 20. After six months, the apprenticeship fell through and I moved to Alberta, Canada. In Alberta I went from job to job, never sticking around longer than a few weeks. I felt very disorganized and unstable.

One evening as I was delivering pizza, I delivered a couple meatlovers to the door of a man who would – a year later – be my boss. I worked for his company for two years and in the process learned how to frame a house, build a roof, and build and level trailers. My friend taught me the value of hard, aggressive work over long hours in awfully hot (or cold, or muddy) conditions.

After a couple years of working with my friend’s company, I changed directions and began to learn psychology. As I began pursuing a degree, the weight of bills pressured me to become creative with my finances. I started teaching guitar lessons and got a part-time job at a local high school. I took my skills as a musician and applied them to classes of 3 students at a time. During this season, I learned that not only could I coach and teach others, but that I also LOVED doing it!

However, this season did come to an end and a year later my wife and I found ourselves living in another city – struggling, again, to make ends meet. I was working a shit job at a lube shop, and we were barely making rent.

Then a friend of mine connected me to an older gentleman who would become one of the most influential mentors in my life. This mentor and friend took me under his wing and throughout the course of a few years taught me indispensable lessons. He taught me how to run a business, he taught me the skills of a finishing carpenter, and he gave me opportunities to prove (to myself – in fact) my skills as a tradesman. He taught me how to work smart. He taught me my value as a thinker. And most importantly he continues to this day to remind me that I’m NOT a carpenter: I am a husband, father, friend, coach, mentor, writer, pastor, public speaker, and counsellor and that these things describe the direction my life is headed.

Through the ebb and flow of life, I’ve developed a skill set and have made good decisions that has led me to land a wonderful position of foreman within a multimillion dollar project. But remember, I am not a carpenter. And so in this exciting season, I can tell you that I am only in the beginnings of building my base: my inventory of resources, finances, skills, experience and mentors that will support me as I climb the wall and arrive at peak performance as a writer, coach, and counsellor.

And so, as I mentioned in the beginning of this article, all of life’s circumstances have contributed towards my growth as a person. As cheesy as it sounds, this truth is evident and reliable. Trust it. I want to leave you with this encouragement . . .

Don’t be discouraged by loss or change. Allow yourself to grow and learn from those people and opportunities around you. Know that you are constantly faced with a choice:

Will I allow this circumstance to educate me towards growth and freedom? Or will I allow this situation to educate me towards resentment and despair?

Choose growth. Choose freedom.

Deep Oceans of the Infinite

A friend of mine poked fun at me several months ago.  We were sitting in the living room of my freshly painted apartment, discussing some ethereal concept or another, when my friend remarked, “Josh, you probably don’t even like covers on your books.”  He was referring to my distain for labels.

And I get it!  I understand why and how labels are useful.  They help use organize the world around us into neat and tidy categories.  They assist us in communicating our point without wasting time in unnecessary detail.  And besides, ambiguity can be a unsettling force to reckon with.  A label helps us make quick decisions.  Once you lose the label, you have to deal with a complex subject or person.

But perhaps this would be my point . . .

If we want to add value to a person, we have to validate the person’s infiniteness.  We must acknowledge that this individual has something of eternity inside of her heart.  As infinite beings, we have infinite good, infinite potential and infinite worthiness to be loved.  And besides this, we are complicated and diverse!  We are whole, yet we are wholly complex and mysterious.  We are all deep waters of moving parts.

When we attach a label to an infinite being, we run the risk of constraining the infinite.  We’re not allowing him to be anything except what we say he is.

This label is the lens, the tint, the expectation we attach to the infinite being.  This expectation does three things:  it distorts what we see, it negatively influences how the labeled person might act, and it limits expression.

Like pouring water into a red-tinted glass jar, all we can see inside the jar is something that is red and only red.  If the water has a green tint, and you pour it into the red-tinted jar, we don’t see green or red liquid, but something brown instead.

We treat others’ expectations of us rather oddly.  Sometimes, if we tell a child he’s bad, he’s quite likely to want to fulfill those expectations of being bad.  We humanoids gravitate towards what we know, and so if we’re told we’re bad and then we act bad, there’s nothing ambiguous or frightening happening.  We’re simply being what we are – or what we’re told we are.

A glass jar has a fixed volume.  Once it has been filled to the brim, anything additional we pour in will only spill out and be wasted.  And so under a label, what we see is only a portion of the whole, and this portion is a severe limitation of the individual’s true self.  Can we truly contain the infinite?  No.  Our labels limit expression, each and every time.

Now, everything we’ve discussed makes sense and can help us make better decisions on how we should treat others as infinite beings.  However, this is not to say that labels have no value.  What I aspire towards is this:  to acknowledge the label, but then see past it.  Or perhaps – at best – pour the water back into the ocean and dive in.

Some Thoughts to Consider…

Mortar and Brick

Relationships are built with mortar and brick.  The bricks are made up of decisions and their consequences.  The mortar represents acknowledging the decisions and their consequences.  If you deny the decisions within your relationship (get defensive, don’t take responsibility), the bricks won’t stick.  If you ignore or avoid the consequences (pretend everything is cool), the bricks will remain loose and eventually collapse when the storms come.

Social Contracts

This might sound a bit callous, but the fact is most relationships are based on two people asking the subconscious question: “what’s in it for me?”  This question doesn’t make the relationship any less loving or genuine, it just highlights the reality that we often engage one another because there’s something in it for us.  Even in altruistic relationships, we benefit from the satisfaction that comes with altruism.  We might as well acknowledge the ‘selfishness’ of relationships and understand that this so-called selfishness is OK!!

A mature relationship goes one step further and – while acknowledging the first question (“what’s in it for me?”) – asks the second question: “what’s in it for you?”

A healthy relationship requires two people who are aware of and working towards fulfillment of one another’s wants.  Note:  While needs are important, wants are just as important.  We’re often told that we shouldn’t confuse ‘wants’ and ‘needs’, but I will point out that our essential ‘need’ is to have our ‘want(s)’ acknowledged and validated.

“I want,” is a very good starter when engaging in conflict.  Cut the bull: stop complaining and talking about what you don’t want.  Instead, tell your partner what it is you do want.  Stop insulting your partner and getting defensive.  Rather than acting like a child, just say, “I want _____,” and – very importantly – “I feel _____.”  That’s for you.  That’s so you can have a voice and be heard.  And if you want your relationships to blossom into maturity, you can follow up by asking, “Now, what is it that you want?  What do you need from me?  How are you feeling?”  From there, validate what he or she says (even if it seems vain), and then work towards an agreement that will meet both people’s wants and needs.

That’s all for now.  Please visit my other blog @ http://www.thenakedblog.co for a new post coming up soon!!

 

The Rescuer becomes Persecutor

Part 1

In 2003, I graduated high school and then immediately moved to Maryland where my brother ran a construction company as part owner.  I worked for my brother that summer to save up money for YWAM (Youth With a Mission).  The tuition for YWAM was about $6000.  My brother very generously paid for my YWAM in exchange for a summer of my unskilled labor.

YWAM is an organization that teaches youth how to be missionaries.  After my time in Maryland with my brother, I traveled to Medicine Hat, Alberta, to participate in one of their programs.  My program included a 3 month lecture phase and a 2 month humanitarian trip to the Philippines.

When I returned to Canada from the Philippines, this marked the end of the program.  All of my friends went home to their families.  My parents were in Honduras and were unavailable to help their son.  I had no money, no job, and no vehicle.  I was more-or-less stranded in Medicine Hat.

I made a desperate phone call to my Auntie Lori, who lived in Saskatchewan, and by the next day my cousin had driven 10 hours to come pick me up.  I moved to Saskatchewan and lived with my Auntie, Uncle, and cousins for about four months.

Part 2

My auntie is kind, but stern.  She is in her mid forties, had raised two children, and enjoys a quiet life on the farm.  She works from home and is a leader in her church community.  Like me, she is a reader and has many books in her home.  Many years ago, she was the one who had introduced me to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings when I was in grade 5.  From that point on, I’ve been an avid and courageous reader, reading far above my assumed skill level.  I have her to thank for that.

During my stay in Saskatchewan, my auntie has taught me how to drive and has helped me get my driver’s license.  She even taught me how to put together a resume and helped me aquire a job at a local produce depot.  I worked at the depot for about 5 months until I had raised enough money for a plane ticket home to Newfoundland.  During this time, my cousin lent me his truck so that I could drive back and forth to work.  He told me not to worry about gas, so long as I filled the tank every once in a while – which I did.  It was explained to me that the priority was to help me get home to Newfoundland, and that rent/bill payments/etc. were not necessary.

My last day in Saskatchewan is a sad day.  Uncle Greg is warming up the vehicle, getting ready to drive me to the airport this morning.  My auntie has gone to town, and so I don’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to her.  I pack my bags and notice a book I had not yet finished reading: it was a book on prayer.  My auntie loves this book and has several copies (I have no idea why).  Because she has several copies and that fact I haven’t finished the book, I decide that taking the book with me to Newfoundland is no big deal.  I will finish reading the book in Newfoundland, then mail it back to Auntie.  I don’t ask Auntie for permission, I naively assume it will be alright.

On my way out the door, I see a small sticky note on the kitchen table to my right.  It reads:

“Josh, you owe us gas money.  Please pay $200 immediately.”

I search my memory for any conversation that would indicate I owe this money.  At the beginning of my stay, six months before, my auntie made it very clear that they wanted to help me save money and that I wouldn’t have to worry about paying gas money.  I now feel like this ‘help’ came with a price tag.  I don’t mind paying the money, I just wish I had of gotten a bigger heads up – I am literally walking out the door to catch a plane.  I don’t have $200 to give, and I have already spent all my money on a plane ticket.  I feel bad.  I feel like I’m going to be seen as a bad, ungrateful person, for not leaving the $200 on the table for Auntie.

I also feel a little confused and angry.  I think it’s sneaky for Auntie to go to town and leave a note behind.  Why not talk to me in person?  And why leave a note at the very last minute?  This harsh last-minute note feels surprising coming from my auntie – up until now she has been very sweet and caring, and now it feels like she is angry with me.

The drive to the airport is nice.  Uncle and I have never talk much, but during our trip to the airport I could tell that he’s trying to be friendly, asking questions and wishing me luck on my journey.  I thank him repeatedly for letting me stay in his home.

I board the plane and fly to Toronto, where I plan to spend the night with my other auntie and uncle.  They have two kids, both of whom I have always had a good relationship with, and the whole family is jocular and kind.  Uncle Stan especially has a gregarious disposition.  I talk with them for an hour and make myself comfortable downstairs, preparing for a night’s rest before having to catch a plane in the morning.  But before I settle down for some shut-eye, the phone rings upstairs.  It’s Auntie Lori.

For a few minutes both my Auntie Cheryl and my Uncle Stan speak with Lori over the phone upstairs.  After the phone call, Uncle Stan makes his way downstairs to speak with me.  Auntie Cheryl is right behind him.  As soon as I see Uncle Stan’s face I get a sick feeling in my gut.

“I guess your auntie Lori is pretty upset about some kind of book and some money you owe her?” Stan said it like a question, as though he were still unsure if he understood it right.  Auntie Lori is married to Stan’s brother, Greg, and I pick up from Stan’s tone that his conversation with Lori was exasperating.  Stan and Cheryl have apologetic looks on their faces.  Stan is holding the cordless phone, “She wants to talk to you.”

Uncle Stan hands me the phone, and I say, “Hello?”

“You little thief” – I’ll forever remember the first words out of her mouth.

“How dare you” – I remember these words as well.  They are instantly burned into my memory.

“You think you can just come here, use up all our gas, and not pay for it?  I specifically asked you to leave us $200, and you just ignore it.  You little brat.  And what the hell are you doing stealing my book?  I was nice enough to lend it to you, and you go off and steal it from me.  Is that the thanks I get?  You listen here, young man.  You’re going to leave that book with your aunt and uncle, and they’re going to mail it back to me, not you.  Nice try, buddy.  Goodbye.” – Click.

Auntie Lori didn’t pause for a moment to let me respond.  I tried to interrupt several times to say I was sorry.  And I am.  I really am.  I’m sorry for taking the book without asking first.  I’m sorry for not realizing she wanted $200 for gas money.  I’m sorry for not contacting her to tell her I didn’t have the money for her yet.  But more than all of this, I’m sorry that I had even trusted her in the first place.  I feel hurt and betrayed.  I feel like she has turned on me.  I feel like I have made a mistake, but a mistake that was honest.  I don’t feel like I was being malicious, and yet this is how I was being treated over the phone.

I put the phone down.  I pull the book from my carry-on bag and hold it in my hands for a minute.  Auntie comes down the stairs and I pass the phone and the book to her.  She smiles kindly, with eyes that say, “I’m sorry, Josh.”  She sees the pain in my face and the surprised tears in my eyes.

“You should get some rest.  You have a big day of traveling tomorrow,” she says.

“Ok,” I reply.

“You know, Josh, Lori’s just upset, but she won’t stay mad at you.  Everything will be fine.  You’ll see.”

Lori and I don’t speak another word to each other until six years later in 2010.

Authenticity: Part 3 of 3

In last week’s post, we talked about our whispered stories, those stories that are handled with care and told in the company of safe people.    Once we’ve told our stories and learned from them, our stories grow, evolve, and become like a fortified city, one that can stand against scrutiny and indifference.  Here is a highlight from the previous post:

“Your listeners are not just here to listen.  They are here to offer you encouragement, empathy, questions, interpretations, and sometimes a hug.  All of these things are done with gentleness, kindness, and nonjudgment, and they all function as resources to build your Rome.”

At the end of last week’s discussion, a couple questions were raised:  What does it matter if I tell my story to unsafe people or not?  If they’re unsafe, then what business is it of theirs what my story is?

This week, we are going to answer these important questions.

The Storytelling Cycle

Before we begin, I want us to have a quick glance at the cycle below:  It outlines the process we undergo as storytellers.  We discussed points 1 and 2 in my previous posts.  Today, we’ll be discussing points 3, 4 and 5.

1.  We share our whispered story to safe people.

2.  We gain insight and confidence in the importance of our story.

3.  We expand our audience to include unsafe people.

4.  We become that safe person for the frightened persecutor.  We make ourselves available for his or her whispered story.

5.  The frightened persecutor begins step 1.

If this doesn’t make sense yet, that’s fine!  I’ll present these points again at the end of this article and by then I think we’ll have a better grasp of it.

Your Story

Here’s what most of us will say:

“I have a story.”

What most of us won’t say:

“I’m willing to tell you my story.”

What most of us feel we can’t say:

“My story matters.”

The truth is:  Your story has the power to greatly impact others.  It doesn’t matter how silly, senseless, or embarrassing you think your story is.

The Unsafe Listener

The common denominator amongst unsafe listeners is this: they are frightened.  They’re scared to acknowledge the deviousness of your story.  Why?  Because if they acknowledge YOUR devious details, then they’ll have to acknowledge theirs.

What I mean by ‘deviousness’ is that your story contains details that are NOT the ideal.  The ideal is to be, at all times, perfect and awesome and loving and strong.  Always.  With everything and everyone.  For example, when you tell your friend that you – for a moment – felt hatred towards your own children last week, red flags go off and your buddy is thinking, Whoa there!  You’re not supposed to think that!  The raw emotion of hate is deviant in and of itself.  The notion of hating your own children is far removed from the ideal (the ideal being, “Love your children always” – you know, be perfect!).

Disarming the Unsafe Listener

We know our stories are sacred.  We know that we can gain ‘strength of story’ when we share our lives with those safe people who acknowledge our stories, thoughts and feelings.  And we know that there exist unsafe folks who are not ready to truly engage with both our story and their own.  If these folks are unable or unwilling to engage, than why the heck would we be interested in sharing our story with them?!

We share our stories because our stories carry the power to disarm the frightened persecutor.  Our stories are honest, and honesty has the power to penetrate people’s defences.

Honesty not only tells the truth but also validates the truth.  Honesty says: here are my feelings, and my feelings matter enough to speak them.

When you are honest with your persecutors, you are inviting them to be honest also.  When you acknowledge your pain, you invite your listeners to acknowledge their pain.  When you tell someone exactly how you feel, you invite them into a conversation about feelings.  When you share a dark moment from your past, you invite that person into a conversation about dark moments.  Do we see the opportunity here?  The very thing that makes them unsafe is the very reason WHY we need to share our story: to give the invitation.  Sometimes people need permission (an invitation) to be real.

Let’s wrap this argument around with our persecutor in mind.  Our journey towards authenticity looks like this:

1.  We share our whispered story to safe people.

2.  We gain insight and confidence in the importance of our story.

3.  We expand our audience to include unsafe people.

4.  We become that safe person for the frightened persecutor.  We make ourselves available for his or her whispered story.

5.  The frightened persecutor begins step 1.

Isn’t that awesome?!  You’d better believe it is!

I know I’ve been using the terms ‘story’ and ‘authenticity’ as if they were interchangeable.  The reason why I do this is because I believe they are intimately related.  In order for us to be truly authentic, we must know our story, acknowledge how our story has helped shape our beliefs, behaviours and feelings, and we must be able to communicate our story.

I’m going to attempt to write a user-friendly summary of this series.  PLEASE leave a comment below so that I can be aware of how my material is coming across.  I love my readers.  Thank you for following my posts.  I can only hope to bless you as much as you’ve blessed me.

Authenticity: Part 2 of 3

In my last post, we discussed transparency – telling others the truth about ourselves.  Here are a couple highlights:

“Authenticity has nothing to do with some kind of forced transparency and everything to do with intimacy in the company of safe people.”

“I believe authenticity is only possible within the context of safe relationships, relationships that place personhood over principle, mercy over judgement, and empathy over opinion.”

“Light doesn’t expose sin . . . Light is the truth that illuminates how we are loved, lovely, and loveable.

This week we are going to discuss our whispered story.

A whispered story is a story, dream, or conviction that (presently) lacks the strength to handle criticism (whether positive or negative), judgment, or indifference.

This is a rather complicated definition, but we’ll unpack it at the end of this post.

When we first begin to tell others our story, the telling and the listening are often done quietly and with much care.

“Let us whisper”

Every time I watch the 2000 film Gladiator, I am struck with emotion during one of the opening scenes.  Maximus, a virtuous warrior, is beckoned by Marcus Aurelius, the aging leader of Rome.  As they speak, the fragile emperor, Marcus Aurelius, shares,

“There was once a dream that was Rome.  You could only whisper it.  Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish . . .  it was so fragile.  And I fear that it will not survive the winter.  Maximus, let us whisper now, together you and I.  You have a son?”

Read the above quote, then read it one more time.

“Maximus, let us whisper now, together you and I.  You have a son?”

Marcus Aurelius begins with the whispered dream of Rome, and he ends with the whispered story of Maximus.

Your whispered story is the story whispered in quiet and safe company.  The company that dare not repeat your story to others, dare not give correction to your story, and dare not ignore your story.

We – my readers and I – have had our story told to others without our consent.

We have told our story and then been hastily corrected, leaving us feeling empty and unloved.

We have had our stories ignored by loved ones.  We feel the indifference, and we hear the thought, “Your story, your pain, your heart . . . does not matter.”

Laughing at the Lunatic

Imagine if, at the time of Rome’s reign and rule, someone were to say, “Rome doesn’t exist.  Rome has no meaning.  I’m going to ignore Rome.”

We would say this person is crazy.  What a lunatic!!  Does he not see that Rome is now a fortified city with armies all across the known world.  He cannot simply ignore it!

When you first begin telling your story, it is but only a whisper.

As your story continues to be told, and told, and told . . . it gradually becomes this fortified city with walls and people and towers and armies and YOU – the hero of your story!  

How would Maximus respond to the lunatic described above?  He would laugh!!

He wouldn’t feel insecure (“Oh my goodness, what if this man is right?  What if Rome is just a silly idea?”).

He wouldn’t feel hurt (“You know, I’ve worked really hard and beheaded a lot of enemies for this career – I can’t just stop what I’m doing”)

Maximus would laugh at the lunatic and continue on with his mission.  I promise you that as you continue to tell your story, you will gain the kind of confidence seen in Maximus, the warrior of Rome.

Let’s continue and examine the dynamic of storytelling.

The Dynamic of Storytelling (and of Authenticity)

Your story starts with a whisper.

And a whisper it must remain – for now.

As you whisper your story to safe people (described in our last post), you gain a warrior’s confidence.

The confidence comes from telling your story to safe people and letting them give back to you resources to build your story.

. . .  Wait, what?!

I’ll explain!

Your listeners are not just here to listen.  They are here to offer you encouragement, empathy, questions, interpretations, and sometimes a hug.  All of these things are done with gentleness, kindness, and nonjudgment, and they all function as resources to build your Rome.

Tell your story, build your Rome.

Will the story change?  Yes, in two ways.

First, you will gain new insights to your own story, insights that help you in discovering your passion, your purpose, and your true self.  You find out where the bad habits come from, where the wounds began, and where the infinitely good and lovely warrior is underneath all the clutter.

Second, your story will inevitably go ahead of you and take on new forms and shapes.  Did Rome really begin with a quarrel between two brothers, Romulus and Remus?  At this point, it doesn’t matter, because the myth of the founding of Rome tells a bigger story packed with an almost endless amount of wisdom.  (Imagine if YOUR story were one day taught in a University course?)  It’s ok if your story goes ahead of you and blesses future generations, that’s how stories work – if they’re told.

A Fortified City

Let’s revisit our earlier definition of whispered story.

A whispered story is a story, dream, or conviction that (presently) lacks the strength to handle criticism (whether positive or negative), judgment, or indifference.

It presently lacks the strength to handle negativity.  Only presently though.  As you build your Rome, you will be able to tell your story to less safe people.  You will be able to be fully authentic to all people without really being affected by judgments, labels, or indifference.

Some of us might be asking, “Why bother at all?  What does it matter if I tell my story to unsafe people or not?  If they’re unsafe, then what business is it of theirs what my story is?”

These are great questions, and we’re going to explore them in our NEXT post, coming soon.  Have a great week!

Authenticity – Part 1 of 3

I define authenticity as such: having two or more close friends, and having no secrets, no shame and no fear within these relationships.

Authenticity has nothing to do with some kind of forced transparency and everything to do with intimacy in the company of safe people.  Narrative intimacy, not sexual.

I have heard it said throughout my young adult life that the key to healthy relationships is “transparency” – revealing all there is to know about you.  And so I have attempted in the past to force transparency, even if I didn’t feel safe doing so.

But what if your friend or partner isn’t safe?

What if there’s been so much shame put on you over a lifetime that transparency feels outright dangerous?

Are we to still be transparent and just take the blows, because it’s the right thing to do?

I believe authenticity is only possible within the context of safe relationships, relationships that place personhood over principle, mercy over judgement, and empathy over opinion.

Let’s use an example.  Sally has a history of cutting herself.  It’s been 6 months since she’s last held a razor, but now she’s back at it again.  If her friends are unsafe, then we can’t expect Sally to feel compelled to say anything to them.  Why?  Because when Sally tells her unsafe friends that she’s been cutting again, the response will sound like this, “Sigh.  Sally, why are you doing this to yourself?  Like, you have so much to be thankful for.  You have so much going for you, and yet you’re hurting yourself!  For what?  For fun?  Are you trying to get attention?  It’s so wrong and gross”

Sally is not validated in this situation.  Her heart isn’t being handled with care.  Her story is not seen as sacred.  Her thoughts and emotions are not even taken into consideration.

Now let’s introduce some safe people into the conversation.

“Shit, Sally.  That sucks.  I’m really sorry.”

“I love you.  I’m with you.  What do you need from me right now?”

“Thank you so much for telling me.  I have no idea what to do or say, but I’m so glad you shared this with me.”

“It must have been so hard for you to share this with me.  Thank you.  I think you’re amazing.”

There is a difference between being transparent with unsafe and safe people.

The Truth about Judgment

But wait!!!!  Aren’t we supposed to make Sally understand how unhealthy the cutting habit is?  Don’t we have a responsibility to correct bad behaviour and show her the light?

Sure, I suppose.  But doesn’t Sally already know how unhealthy cutting is?  I mean, she’s the one who is carrying around the associated shame.  What is a lecture going to do for Sally besides pile on more shame?  The light is that she is loved, she is loved, she is loved.

Loved.

Loved.

Loved.

LOVED!

Unconditionally.

That is the light we offer into the darkness.  Light doesn’t expose sin.  Did you know that?  Light is the truth that illuminates how we are loved, lovely, and loveable.

Stay tuned for Authenticity: Part 2 of 3!

When Poppy Died

Nan’s house has a beautiful old red wooden deck.  I’m sitting on the deck with my brother’s black ghetto blaster, which I bequeathed after he left home for New York.  I’m about 13 years old.  At this point, I’m fully enveloped into both music and video games.

What’s great about visiting my grandparents is that my poppy has a Nintendo Entertainment System AND he has this one particular cartridge that holds over 200 games!!  Needless to say, when I visit my grandparents I spend much of my time plopped in front of the Nintendo.

This summer I’ve made a surprise visit to my nan and poppy’s.  This is my first time coming out alone – no parents or siblings.  So far, I’m having a wonderful time.  Just this morning I found an old cassette tape of Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers.  The album is called Flatout, and there’s a song on the album named “Saltwater Joys” that moves me every time I hear it.  I press the “stop” button on the ghetto blaster, pick it up, and head inside.

The rest of the evening goes rather smoothly and predictable.  We eat, my nan bustles around the kitchen – cleaning, and my poppy disappears for a couple hours in the garage.  I watch an old boxing VHS on the TV.  I don’t recognize the fighters, but I’m hoping to see a real knockout.

As I lay in bed upstairs in my Aunt’s old room (it has pinkish wallpaper and two posters – one of New Kids on the Block, the other of a kitten with sunglasses and the caption, “You’ve got to fight for your right to party.”).  I’m contemplating whether or not to join my poppy tomorrow morning.

Every morning, Poppy and I hop on his 4×4 ATV with all of our fishing gear, and we drive up the highway (at incredible speed) to the river.  The river, I believe, runs into a lake…  the lake, however, is right next to the Atlantic Ocean and so I cannot accurately recall where the river runs to.  All I can say for sure is that the river is rich with salmon.

Since my arrival, Poppy and I have gone fly-fishing every morning, bright and early.  We stand on the edge of the river in our rubber boots and with our fly-fishing rods, and we “flick” the spinner out to the river, and awkwardly yank on the fishing line until something bites.  In my case, the only thing that “bites” is my technique.  Poppy’s skills are flawless, forged over decades of practice.  Poppy loved to fish for salmon.

I’ve decided not to join my poppy tomorrow morning.  I can spend an entire morning playing Nintendo if I wake up early enough.  And so I set my alarm for 6:00 AM, turn off the bedroom light, climb back into bed, and close my eyes to sleep.  A few minutes later, the light turns back on.  My poppy has the door open and is peaking in.  “Are you coming with me tomorrow, Young Feller?”

I say something back to him.  I cannot recall what.  I only recall Nanny and Poppy bursting into laughter in their room across the hallway a few minutes later.  I’m told a few days later that they were laughing at what I had said to poppy.  Apparently, I can be quite a snarky “young feller”.

The next morning, I sneak downstairs – quiet, so Nan doesn’t wake.  She would never scold me; I just didn’t want to wake her unnecessarily.

I enter the kitchen, and take a cursory glance around for cereal.  I can’t find my cereal, and so I head for the pantry door.  Before opening the door, out of the corner of my eye I see my cereal resting on top of the white microwave in the far corner of the kitchen.  I head back to the corner and retrieve my cereal.  A few minutes later, my belly is full and I get to work – time to begin my Nintendo-playing marathon!  By this time, there’s still no sign of Poppy, and so I figure he left even earlier than usual.

—–

It’s been a couple of hours now since I began my Nintendo marathon.  It’s about 8:30 AM, and my Nan has already awoken and made her way downstairs.  She says good morning, and asks where Poppy is.  I tell her that I haven’t seen him yet this morning, and so she heads for the kitchen.  I’m enthralled with my game, holding the grey rectangular game controller with clammy hands and holding a steady gaze on the TV screen.  I barely acknowledge my nan.

Only a minute later, I hear my nan leave the kitchen and scanter down the hallway towards the living room where I am sat playing my game.  Just outside the living room, there is a small round wooden table about two feet high with just enough room on it for the telephone.  Beneath the beige telephone is a yellow phonebook, with its frayed pages hanging over the edges of the old, dark wooden table.

Outside, in the hallway, Nan picks up the phone and pushes a few buttons.  A moment later, I hear the words,

“He’s dead.  He’s dead!

Yes, I checked him.  He’s dead.

His face is purple, and his pants are wet.  He’s dead.”

Nan sounds panicked.  She hangs up the phone, and I hear her making her way slowly up the stairs.

I feel my entire body freeze.  The TV fades from my perception, and the room spins like a hamster’s running wheel, around and around above and beneath me.  My hands loosen their grip and the controller seems to float on my fingertips.  My heartbeat doesn’t so much accelerate as it simply increases in volume in my head.

THUMP THUMP.

A few seconds later, I realize I HAVE to check and see if what I heard was real.  Maybe I misunderstood.  As Nan reaches the top of the stairwell, I inch towards the living room door and wait for Nan to disappear completely from eyesight.  My legs are rubbery and won’t hold my weight very well as I stagger down the hallway.  Taking a deep breath, and holding it, I take a step into the kitchen.

As I enter the kitchen and glance towards the pantry, I realize that I really DIDN’T want to know if this was real or not.  I see a purple face of an old wrinkled man laying face-up from the floor.  I feel dizzy, and manage to find my way to the rocking chair.  The rocking chair is positioned right next to the pantry door, facing away from it.  As I sit, I feel my poppy’s presence on the other side of the wall behind me.  I can smell something ripe and strange, but cannot discern what it is.

—–

I don’t know how many hours pass with me sitting here.

I know it takes at least four hours to drive here from St. John’s, and – well – my parents are here now, so I suppose Ive been here for at least that long.

I rock the rocking chair with barely a motion from my tip toes.  They rest on the floor and push ever so gently to keep the chair in motion, to keep me in motion.  I cannot afford to sit still, not for one second.  My mind is swimming through an ocean of questions.  The most vivid question being asked of me is:

Do I raise him from the dead?  Do I wake him?

I can’t get this thought out of my mind.  I’m here, alive.  And Poppy is behind me, falling deeper and deeper into sleep.  I’m afraid he’s sleeping too deep now, too deep into darkness that my light won’t reach him.  I continue to push my tip toes into the floor.  I know there’s a lot of people here now, but I can’t see or hear any of them.  I can only hear the question.

In what feels like a moment later, Poppy is gone, all my relatives are here, and I can smell cooked salmon.

Poppy had caught the largest salmon in his life this morning.

They’re telling me Poppy had gutted and cleaned his catch before making his way – in excitement – back outside to go catch another one.  They’re telling me Poppy had a heart attack in the pantry, fell, and knocked his head on a table before hitting the ground.

They’re telling me it wasn’t my fault.

I know it’s not my fault, but I can’t help but feel bad.  I chose to be selfish this morning.  Rather than spend time with my poppy, I had chosen to play Nintendo.

I didn’t play Nintendo anymore that summer.

Burning Bridges, Dark Spots, and Our Love Nature

Love_Light_Synthesis

The Smoking Bridges

Our western culture is not set up for success, at least not when it comes to relationships.

Our marriages fail.

Our kids become estranged from their parents, and vice versa.

Our friends stab us in the back.

Our employers fire us when we’re no longer as useful as the new young hipster from college.

Our bridges burn, and the flames cast light on our solitary selves, living alone in homes, jobs, and schools full of desperately hurt people.

The Dark Spots

We learn from an early age that you can’t trust others with your dark spots.

You can’t trust others with your feelings.

You can’t trust others with your mistakes.

You can’t trust others with your dark thoughts.

You can’t trust others with your fear.

You must never, ever be vulnerable.

Why We Love

So why bother?  Why even try to build relationships?

Here’s why:

You were designed to be loved greatly and to love greatly.

It is your nature.  It is your instinct.  It is a law that dwells in your inner self, stubborn and unyielding.

It is there, inside you.  It is not dead, but in quiet slumber.

As it sleeps, your love-nature is experiencing a nightmare – a frightening dream of being rejected, of being humiliated, of being inadequate.

The truth is: you are loved.  You are good.  You are enough.

But like Narnia, we must enter the nightmare, bring our safest friends, and learn our lessons.  We have much to learn, and much to conquer, and everything we must conquer is WITHIN our selves, not without.

You are not broken; You are whole.  You have what it takes.

So Now What?

Now go!  Your inner self is waiting, the nightmare ready, for you to shatter the illusion and burst that bubble of self-doubt.  But you can only do this when you invite safe people into the darkness with you – into your mistakes, into your fears, into your pain, and into your passion.

Go.  Find a friend who is a good listener, and who has never EVER made you feel:

bad

guilty

ashamed

little.

Ask this friend to come over for tea/coffee/beer/maple-syrup, and prepare yourself to tell him or her a story.  This story is your story, and it’s about you, and it’s about your darkness.

Tell your story.  Let your friend come into that story, and then wait to see what happens:

You will come out from this encounter with an almost shocking sense of confidence

that you matter,

and that your story matters and is worth listening to.

Go.  Call that friend.  Make a plan.  Tell the tale.  It’s important that you do!

Because it’s in your very nature to tell story.  That dark world I described above, with the failed marriages and back-stabbing friends – that is not our nature, it is our unnature.  Our stories create the empathy that’s required to nurture our marriages and relationships.  Without empathy – without sharing our stories – we are in danger of remaining hurt people who are scared to death of intimacy.  My friends, I believe with all my heart that we can rebuild bridges with our stories and one day enter a new era in which everyone in our communities are validated, accepted, and cherished as sons and daughters of love.

A Map & Compass. Getting Unlost (delostified!).

compass-antique-map

Have You?

Have you ever woken up and not known where you are?

Have you ever forgotten your lines while performing a school play?

Have you ever been anxious or intimidated in front of others?

These are scary moments, and I would describe each of these scenarios as being lost.

To Be Lost Pt. 1

To be lost is to not know where you are in relation to everything you know.

For example, let’s say you take an afternoon to soul-search in the forest somewhere.  When you’re out in the woods, you can relax, take in the smells and sounds, and think about your future.

But if you become lost, immediately your mind orientates towards figuring out where you are, and how to get out.  Although the smells and sounds may be tranquil and aesthetically pleasing, you still want to get out of that place as soon as possible and back to familiarity.  Being lost is a miserable experience where we can’t seem to get anything productive done!  Why?  Because our energy is only consumed with getting un-lost.

To Be Lost Pt. 2

If you’ve ever slept over at a friend’s place, you might have experienced waking up in the middle of the night thinking you’re at home, only to be startled to find your room has morphed into a chaotic dungeon of dread.  The unfamiliar is scary!

If you’ve ever forgotten your lines during a school play, you might recall the alarming sense that you must either remember the line or run away!  Maybe I shouldn’t be here!

If you’ve ever felt belittled or ostracized in front of others whether at work or at school, you might remember feeling like you’re an alien from another planet.  Nobody wants to know me!

My suggestion is that perhaps you are feeling lost.

Getting Un-Lost

But being lost is a funny thing.

Because the very moment you orientate yourself (meaning, you know exactly where you are in relation to what you know), all the anxiety and fear dissipates.  All of the panic from being lost disappears into nothingness and you feel a wave of safety, hope, and relief.

And so lostness is an illusion.  It’s only real until you know the truth.  Like darkness (it being simply the absence of light), lostness means being in the absence of orientation.

And so you realize, “Hey!  I’m at John’s house.  Everything is ok.”

Or the line hits you and you blurt out, “Ahoy!  Yer loaded to the gunwales, me matey!!”

For the last scenario – the one of feeling anxious around others – we would be wise to assume that it is not so simple as ‘remembering your line’.  The same assumption goes for feeling discontent with your career, feeling dissatisfied with your relationships, or even feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.

In these instances, realizing where you are in your story isn’t so much ‘remembering’ as it is a matter of careful thought and action.  You don’t necessarily ‘remember’ who you are or where you are, but rather you seek these things out.  You reflect on your past and the major players and events that helped place you where you are now.  Once you have some working knowledge of your story, you can take action to co-author your story and move towards self-actualization (that’s a fancy way of saying:

Once you’ve figured out that you are MORE than your parent’s child, MORE than your body image, and MORE than your socioeconomic status, you then have the awareness to take action!  You can take hold of a map and compass, and begin the trek towards whatever it is that is your passion.)

A Map & Compass

Once you learn who and what you are in relation to what’s around you, you are no longer lost.  You are safe, you are secure, you are once again a free agent.

Sometimes action looks like a hike out of the woods.

Sometimes action looks like a hike deeper into the woods.

It’s your choice, but you won’t have that choice until you learn where you are on the map.

Write your story.  Tell your story to safe people.  And then, listen.