A weekly blog about relationships, belief, and personal growth, written from a position of hope.
I have never met an inspiring person who had an easy life. Think about that. Who is someone you look up to? Were they given everything? Did their achievement and character come without hard work? Sacrifice? Suffering? I would venture to say if someone has the ability to pull at your heartstrings, it’s because they struggled.
I think the animating force behind any group that thrives is the idea that you are not alone. You aren’t the only one going through this. Someone has been there before. Someone is there for you now. It’s why I love our international sales meetings that happen twice a year.
In January and July, people stand on stage and tell their own personal story that led to whatever award they’re celebrating. And guess what every single speech with almost no exception has in common? Getting to that moment of clarity, peace, success...was anything but easy. It required mental fortitude.
All great stories need conflict. Any characters who have moved us deeply had to become and overcome. Epics weren’t written about the entitled, easygoing, lazy, or negative. They were written about those whose vision of what mattered in life was so crystal clear they not only knew what they should do, they knew what they absolutely had to do.
We tell ourselves a lot of stories. We have a constant track running in our heads: self-talk, the inner dialogue, the voices in our head, the messages we tell ourselves. The unintentional, unconscious voice is generally negative.
“I’m not good enough. This isn’t my fault. These circumstances are out of my control. If only I had more money. If only I had more time. If only I had more opportunity. If only I was smarter, stronger, prettier, braver...”
The power of positive thinking is not hocus-pocus magic. There is no “Secret.” It’s not some supernatural ritual to channel the universe. It’s psychology. It’s a testament to the fact that what we think about the most wins. Thoughts shape our behavior and, therefore, our outcomes.
I used to think writing out and telling yourself positive affirmations about the person you’re becoming sounded cheesy and superficial. I thought that until I started noticing the voice that had been speaking under the surface for years without me knowing it. And it wasn’t a positive voice...
I learned my default mode was negative. I also learned that negativity sticks to the brain like Velcro, but positive, grateful thoughts slide right off like Teflon unless an intentional practice of gratitude is implemented. I learned that why you do what you do must come before what you do, or the first time encounter what isn’t enjoyable, you’ll give up.
What stories are not just running under the surface but are running, or dare I say ruining, your life? What are you leaving on the table? What version of yourself are you stealing from those you love? What dreams stay dreams because you tell yourself it’s impossible?
Tell a different story. Tell a better story. Whatever you do, decide to tell your own story. If you don’t, the world and your mind—that’s great at searching for threats in the African bush but not at growing spiritually and emotionally—will tell you one you don’t choose.
I always said my favorite color was blue growing up. It almost felt like betrayal when I admitted recently it’s green now. We aren’t static, though, and we shouldn’t be surprised by or ashamed of change, in things as simple as a favorite color or as complicated as our spirituality and politics.
A few years ago when I started poking at the foundation and pulling at the roots of my assumptions and beliefs, I found my paradigm wasn’t quite as secure as I had always thought. It had to crumble to be rebuilt. Deconstruction always comes before reconstruction.
Are we ever fully aware of what we’ve inherited? What ideologies are so deeply ingrained that we never even think about them as ideologies? What traits were perpetuated so strongly our whole life that we never even view them as unique to our own specific context?
Hell. The Bible. Evolution. Science. Atonement theories. Salvation. Sexuality. Heaven. Supernaturalism. Miracles. Prayer. Faith. Doubt. Doctrines. Politics. Relationships. Grace.
Every person is told a narrative, specific to their time and place, from the time language makes sense in their brain. Depending on how adamant the storytellers are and how extreme the environment, the narrative can become nearly impenetrable. As it shapes and hardens, it creates a shell, a safe place, a container.
Very few ever escape the container, in terms of breaking out or having someone else break in. We see this in polarizing nature of our politics, the idea wars of our religion, racism that still peaks its ugly head up, the list goes on. “Echo chamber” is a popular term for a reason.
It’s not that people don’t sense change happening in them, though. There is an identity cost, a social consequence, to not maintaining what your group approves of. I’m convinced if private convictions made more public appearances, we would all be a little surprised by one another...maybe even encouraged.
My new favorite color is now green. There are also a handful of other things I could tell you that might surprise you, too. That’s not the point, though. The point is change is not only inevitable, it’s imperative. It’s progress. It’s the mechanism by which we’ve evolved to where we are today and will continue to thrive into tomorrow.
I once saw a guy driving down the interstate with a fully assembled trampoline tied to the back of his small truck. I remember the feeling of humor but also condescension as I thought to myself, “What an idiot.” I even confirmed my judgment an hour later when I saw him on the side of the road with the trampoline blown off.
I think we all like to believe we don’t do things as glaringly stupid as trampoline man. Surely the stupidest decisions are being made by someone other than ourselves. I would never try to strap a fully assembled trampoline to my car, unless it was for the purpose of it falling off.
But maybe the really bad decisions we are making are just more subtle. Maybe as we move away from the type of decisions that would make a funny YouTube video, our shortcomings only become harder to pick out. The subtlety of our struggles only grows.
You don’t know what you don’t know. I’m probably equally unaware of my imperfections as trampoline man was of his own misconceptions of how to transport a trampoline. And he probably didn’t realize it until that trampoline had fallen off into the middle of traffic.
Sometimes it takes a significant, road blocking accident to open our eyes to our own stupidity.
The question is—do we show the same grace to the ones whose failures are out in the open, like a dramatic soap opera or burning car crash, as we expect to receive ourselves? Have you had your public failure yet, or are you praying your private ones never surface?
Honesty and humility. God, we need them both. Honesty—to grow and heal with those we’ve chosen to do life with. Humility—to know we are no different than the ones who have screwed up royally in front of everyone else.
Within one hour of arriving at our campsite a bear decided to stop in for a visit. We had heard the stories, knew the likelihood of an encounter, and even saw the “you are now entering bear country” sign at the trailhead. No amount of preparation makes it any less scary when you’re staring a 500-pound bear in the face.
The bear was running towards us, and we didn’t notice until it was forty yards away. When we realized what was happening, our reaction scared the bear away. I think it was more interested in the food we were preparing than mauling us. Even still, the image stayed seared in our mind the whole trip, and falling asleep that night wasn’t the easiest.
Yellowstone was my first endeavor with backcountry camping in bear country. It was unlike anything I’ve done in terms of wilderness. It’s truly a massive and beautiful park, and there were moments, much like I described about being in Ireland, where I had to remind myself this is real.
My phone was useless, other than the camera, for most of the trip. Once I knew the “No Service” indicator wasn’t going away, I switched to airplane mode, and with that all of the constant stimuli of phone calls, text messages, emails, notifications, and social media went silent.
We were fortunate enough to be camping within forty yards or so of a river, but even with that convenience every single ounce of water we drank had to be filtered. Firewood had to be constantly gathered. The next meal always involved bringing bear bags down from the trees. Nothing was as easy as being at home.
I realized throughout most of the day we did two things. We spent time on necessities: food, water, fire. We spent time together as friends. It was that simple. And you know what I realized? Time didn’t fly by. The day never got away from me. In fact, there were multiple times I thought it was 2pm, only to realize it was barely 10:30am.
I don’t think we realize what our busy schedules and technology do to our brains. They’re creating a self-induced, anxiety-laden time warp where we miss the simplest and richest aspects of our existence. I’m grateful I’m not at risk of dying from the common cold like the early settlers, but I also think we’ve acquired a new sickness they weren’t at risk of.
We weren’t built to maintain the pace many of us keep, and you don’t realize how ridiculous the whole system is until you’re outside of it. Maybe I’m just nature-drunk and sound like I read Walden recently, but I truly think my conviction is legitimate here.
The last night we were there we stepped away from the fire into a nearby opening to look at the stars. With zero light pollution, the stars were clearer than ever before. We could see the faint light of the Milky Way and could easily pick out constellations. It was a moment of awe I’ll carry with me always.
I can’t fly across the country to a national park every weekend, but I can turn my phone off and drive one mile to Moss Rock Preserve. Disconnecting, seeking moments of wonder and awe, returning to the simplest parts of life—it’s the antidote to this busy-sickness we’re creating. I know I need it, and I would venture to say you probably do, too.
Love God and love your neighbor—Jesus made it pretty simple. He didn’t make it easy, though. Loving God includes having faith, which is confidence in things hoped for and the assurance of things unseen. And guess who our “neighbor” includes? Our enemies, too.
Simple, not easy. At times they almost seem like impossible things—faith and enemy loving, that is. Believing in the midst of tragedy that God is working for your good can almost feel like a bad joke. Forgiving someone who hasn’t asked nor feels any remorse for their wrongdoing can feel downright counterintuitive, even unjust.
But much of the beautiful, mysterious aspects of life are just that—counterintuitive, irrational, illogical, nonsensical, absurd, unfair, illusive, confusing, backwards...
The phrase “few will find it” we hear Jesus say when referring to the small gate and narrow road makes a lot of sense when you think about the counter-cultural, upside-down path of grace. Receiving what you do not deserve in a post-enlightenment, post-scientific revolution, modern society can sound kind of whack.
But it’s what we need. It’s what I need. It’s the timeless paradox of what’s high is low and what’s low is high, to be first is to be last, death brings life. It creates a serious tension, a tension we are forced to reckon with as we clash with a world that pushes back.
I’m at a phase in life where supernatural ideas are met with much more skepticism, fiction is even harder to read, and loving my “enemy” seems like an impossible endeavor. But I persist, I continue to try to dream, to hope, to believe in impossible things.
The impossible moves us forward, out of our own hangups and failures, out of the darkness, into a light that’s always been beckoning, since the beginning of time.
You haven't missed your calling
From where I sit in this hospital waiting room
Accept the invitation to live
The lighted window
It was worth it
The subtle sounds of a life together
Made for the now-what
When holidays are hard
Sharing in our suffering
To my doubting friend
Ten years down the road
How long, Lord?
A season of doubt