What is something for someone may not be the same for someone else. Struggle is an emotionally-charged word.
I help with my son’s tournament baseball team. We’ve had a busy summer as baseball at his level is still happening across the country. We are about thirty games into our season. I’ve had the chance to observe a few hundred youth players.
An ace pitcher for one team is not the same for the next. Your best hitter may barely make an elite team somewhere else. Your fastest runner may not keep pace with a different group.
The value is in where your pieces fit together.
We assign meaning and value.
We are in the midst of a generational year. Things are changing and some will never change back. Families are feeling the pressure. As school approaches for some, and others have returned already, the pressure only increases.
Fear is heavy and pervasive. How do we move forward?
Students learning virtually are stepping into a job world that will demand those exact skills. We are forced to examine what value truly is. Where do we contribute. How can we give and help those around us.
How can we see problems as opportunities?
What if there is no such thing as a problem, only a situation that demands a response?
There is always a response. Not moving forward is a choice as much as picking your path and going.
Dread is addicting. Cynicism is romanticized. Anger is supported with enthusiasm in the guise of action.
The infection is not the virus.
The infection is what it has exposed about our world, our medical system, our politics and our country.
Reframe one step at a time. Read and React. One day, one plan. One move to handle one situation.
What’s coming will not be easy. What’s coming is also great opportunity. The choice is yours.
A friend of mine was a professional boxer. He’s held titles and appeared on HBO‘s boxing programs. Our boys have grown up playing baseball together.
The other day, in casual conversation, I asked him if his son ever asked about learning to fight.
No, he told me, he hates it.
I’m in the midst of reading Ben Hardy’s Personality Isn’t Permanent. In it he discusses how we process the past. The past, he writes, can be changed by how we access memories. Studies have shown the more memories are accessed the more they change. The past is malleable.
The past can be used to our advantage. The past can be shaped and constructed.
The present is an interaction between our past and future selves. If your future self could sit down with your past, what would they have to talk about? Hardy poses this question in his book and it hits hard.
I’ve had my share of pain in the past. It has taught me things though, it has laid down markers in the path that has become my life. It has taught me the meaning of love, the reality of faith, the value of fatherhood and the treasure of time.
It has taught me that running will not solve a problem, that fear is meant to be engaged with and understood. It has laid a valuable foundation. Your pain, your frustration and troubles have done the same.
For we have a choice.
A family member is critically ill right now. He’s a genuine person with a big heart and he’s immensely skilled in his profession. He’s fighting his battles right now, a conflict his future self is desperately trying to win.
This week I decided on a break from reading the news. I still find myself scrolling through the headlines, but I won’t click into anything. It took a day or two, but weight started to lift. My narrative was getting overwhelmed with dark and intense articles, the kind of things put in front of our faces on a daily basis.
Watch your input. Watch what you tell yourself. Watch what you tell your children.
Your input equals your output.
Your past does not have to equal your future.
Your future, though, needs room to breathe and grow. That can only be obtained through processing the pain, worry, and fear.
You can be different. You can be totally different.
You can be the first.
Be willing to do the work and take a break from the noise. Process the past. Look to the future. Win your battles one moment at a time.
You are not your labels, your past, your pandemic.
Standing in front of the mirror way too late, drying your hair because the morning is too crazy getting kids ready for camp. And work is long. And it is mid summer hot, the humid blanket of a Pennsylvania July.
I watch you and I think about all the times I’ve watched you get ready. I think about our first Valentine’s Day, handing you a necklace I’d saved up for from Zales, feeling that crazy pounding in my chest that only comes with doing something right.
I think about the you I’d met when she was seventeen. I can see her now, see her eyes and her feline smile. I think about old cars and part time jobs, going to the movies because Saturdays weren’t anything. Walking around the mall and window shopping for stuff for our first house.
I think about the moment I knew I’d propose and the moment you’d said yes. I think about our wedding and our honeymoon in Mexico, laying on a bed on the beach as blue waters rolled in the distance.
I think about the times you’d told me we would be having a child, about all the work you’d done carrying the boys, about how you’d changed and the glimmer of hope in your eyes because this was something you were born to do.
I think about the family members we’d lost over the years. I think about the miscarriage and the feeling of heartbreak. I think about holding you and sinking in that sorrow, standing in the cemetery listening to the remembrance service and wondering why us.
I think about our dreams, the ones we’ve done and the ones we’ve yet to do.
You ask me to talk more. Sometimes my voice fails. So I go to words.
In a few days it will be your birthday. I may not have cool things to give you, but I can build with words and here’s my shot.
You are the strongest person I know. You have the biggest heart. You’ve taken our traumas and I’ve watched them paint your soul and, every morning, I see you get up and do it again.
You are an amazing mother and a stunningly beautiful woman. You still freeze my heart every day the first time our eyes meet.
Our boys look up to you, they look like you. The moments when you laugh with them I see the imprint of your soul on theirs, I see your eyes in their eyes and your heart in their hearts and it makes me proud because you are so much easier with love and compassion than I am.
You’ve taken a kid you met when he was sixteen and taught me what it meant to grow up, to open up and be a husband. You’ve taught me about being a father. I’m blessed by your patience, honored by your love and survive through your sense of humor.
You hold this family together. You hold this house together. You hold our souls together. I know, in the years to come, when the boys have their own families they will talk about these days. They’ll tell stories about playing in the back yard and riding their bikes to the playground. They’ll talk about watching America’s Funniest Videos on Sunday nights.
They’ll talk about mom calming their fears, helping them feel better, giving the best hugs and packing the best lunches in the morning.
They’ll talk about camping, about holidays, summers and winters. They’ll talk about the little place they grew up in. They’ll hold their wives up to you, so get ready.
Things haven’t been perfect. But, you know what? We weren’t meant for perfect. We were meant to be fighters, to survive in the moments we didn’t think we’d make it through. We were meant to hold hands on the couch at night. We were meant to be able to speak to each other in silence.
Because, next to you, is the only spot I’m truly at peace.
And I can’t tell you how much that means. Someday, I’ll find the words.
You are an amazing wife, an awesome mom, and you are my hero.
“What would happen if your future self came to you and told you that everything you want to see happen was going to happen? Would you believe them?”
I read in the car before work every morning, usually a book geared towards self improvement or study. The quote above, from Hardy’s book Personality Isn’t Permanent, stuck with me for the past few hours.
If you, from 2025, showed up at your house and said that every dream you have will happen, would you believe it? What if the end result relied on your faith?
Would I believe it?
What if the largest challenge in your life isn’t that mountain you are facing right now, what if it is the faith to take the first step? What if it is the faith to believe enough to take that step and get your feet in motion?
We all have different stories and experiences that impact our self image. We grow up thinking we deserve what we want, or we don’t. We grow up thinking we are worth it or worthless. Support and trauma shape identity.
We are living in a time where forces demand we hand over the keys of our lives and go along for the ride. Control is a dream. And when you are not in control, then the act of faith itself isn’t worth the effort because the let down is always just over the horizon.
Or is it?
If you are anything like me, the question is a huge challenge. You’ve found yourself in a place you may not enjoy, working days that are unfulfilling. You phone it in. You get home and consume, letting the time slip away because the mental and emotional effort of the day literally took it all and there’s just a shell of yourself left for the very people most important in your life.
We were not meant to live in offices.
We were not meant to give in to the onslaught of technology and the relentless call to keep up. Our kids’ names are not YouTube, Facebook, or Messenger.
I’m not just preaching to you, I’m preaching to me.
If the answer is no, you wouldn’t trust your future self, then the next question is why?
Because faith acts on evidence. Evidence that your brain is triggered to pull up in every discussion of future. Oh no, it says, not now and not here. You’ve been hurt, you’ve struggled, you’ve had prayers not get answered. Your dreams haven’t happened. You are still clocking in and out, still drifting through one day to the next, setting your alarm for the morning, and going to sleep.
Like in The Matrix, we can be batteries for the machine.
Or we can take over.
We can find freedom. We can look forward without the voices from the past screaming.
I don’t know about you, but some days my faith is a matchstick. It is a candle flame in a dark room. The circle of light is barely enough to catch anything beyond its radius.
The question is simple. The question is daily. The question can and will shape your future.
If the you from the future showed up to dinner tonight and told you all your dreams will happen, how would you react? How would you act moving forward?
How would you wake up tomorrow? How would your vision change? How would your dreams change? Would you be challenged and inspired to dream bigger?
Life is not easy. Get to know your future self. Spend some time in their head-space and learn to act towards it. Move forward, not backward, and see where momentum takes you.
One of my favorite writers, Ben Hardy, has examined this concept extensively.
Time is a distance. It is not how long you are going, but how far you move as a person. Are you the same person you were yesterday? Are you moving towards a future that will pull you years down your timeline?
As a family, we’ve been reminded of this recently on a few different fronts.
Our boys have trouble helping out around the house. Our oldest apologized the other day for something he always neglects to do. I told him, here’s a tip for later in life; apologize too often for the same thing and you will not be considered sincere or genuine. You’ll be a liar.
How far have you moved from your past?
Have you considered what you value and what is worth chasing?
“A person choosing to spend large portions time in an unsatisfying job in order to make ends meet is on a fast track to his deathbed. Time will move increasingly faster as a result of his slow pace—the relativity of time. The minuscule moments of freedom spent doing what he desires will seem to disappear far too quickly; and before he knows it, he’s back at the grindstone. While at work, he may as well not be living as his time spent is detested. When the goal is merely to “get through” the day as quickly as possible, life will pass full of regrets. Time becomes the great taskmaster when it should be the liberator. His time is endured rather than enjoyed. He is often late and constantly missing the moments that matter most—caught in the vacuum of time-acceleration toward death without any perceived way of slowing it down.”
Authenticity is scary. What if we are rejected? When you’ve experienced rejection in the past, it is way easier to imagine for the future.
When you look at the weight of bad choices, all the things that could provide freedom seem unreachable. Good News is something for a social media feed. It is because we long for the grand “Good News” and not something that applies directly to us.
I had a sales job for two weeks after college. They taught the Keep Up With the Jones’s technique. Tell your customer that everyone around them is doing it and they might miss out.
We take our Good News with the same intent. Does it fit with our friends and family? Is it something that we can text and get a positive response? How about a few Facebook likes?
Or is it authentic?
What drives you?
What fills your time? What do you value? What is valuableto you?
Make no mistake, they are two different things.
This is a challenge I am working on right now and, reading through some resources I’m realizing some things that excite me, an authentic self I’ve buried under just getting by.
I’m realizing how much time I’ve traveled, how much I’ve lost, and what is left to accomplish.
Time, the distance, can be as we make it.
Be bold. Create. Follow your path even when you are the only one on it. Love deeply. Love well. Engage.
The thing is, I knew it was coming. The car isn’t old, just a 2016, but it was taking two tries to get it started. We’d looked up the make and model online and found that battery issues were common.
Still, I kept driving. I hoped the spot it died in would not be too inconvenient. Leaving a surgeon’s office on a visit, it finally refused to start.
Val picked me up and, a few hours later, AAA sent out a service guy and he replaced the battery. The procedure was simple enough. It could only happen after death, though. And it could only happen with a cost.
I grew up with a system of belief. It took a few decades of life to knock that down and rebuild it into something more genuine, a faith more connected to the reality of struggle and suffering.
These past few weeks we’ve seen the country torn apart. All sides of the issue are still fighting. We’ve dug in, more divided than before. Our labels carry so much weight. Our political leanings drive nails of darkness into our identity.
One cannot be seen as simply one thing. Conservatives become fascists. Liberals become socialists. Support the police, support movements for social change. Support the misrepresented and underrepresented.
Do these things and you will be hated.
So, why believe?
Why pick a side?
Why stand up for anything when it will cost you friendships, relationships, maybe even employment?
If there is anything to believe in, it is this:
Believe in change.
Believe in grace.
Believe in large holiday dinners again, the smell of cooking ham and potato filling, deserts and coffee.
Believe in the human spirit.
Look in the eyes of our children and believe that love can be taught, tolerance can be learned, courage can be embraced and the foundation laid deep in their hearts because, one day, they’ll run the world.
Believe in freedom. Believe that struggles will pass, that poverty and sickness can be overcome. Believe that your story is not over.
Believe that the sun will rise on endless dark nights. Believe that raging fires can be walked through, that heat is only temporary.
Believe that generations of hate can be overcome. Believe that systems can change, that nothing is forever and new ideas can heal old wounds.
Someone may not have told you this is a long time, but:
You can dream.
It may not feel right, but you can dream. You can look forward to a different future.
You can hope.
You can live with a renewed strength.
2020 so far, has been a year of dealing with our illnesses. From the physical side to societal pains. Exposure of deep wounds, of those struggling and left in the wake of rampant self-centered drive. As much as companies are racing for treatments and vaccines, as much as a slow roll of political change is sounding, we must be willing to continue the work. Not just on ourselves and our families, but our jobs and our community.
She stayed up late last night looking at a list of names.
This list is more than one hundred people. She looks down the list as her cell phone alerts sound. Facebook, text messages, questions. She puts the phone down and goes back to the list.
Her list is not just names. It brings up faces in her mind.
Children she met as babies and cut the first time they were ready and not afraid to sit in her chair. Men and women, old and young. She takes a breath and she thinks about her list.
She thinks about her year. She thinks about what she knows and she wonders.
How is your wife dealing with her illness? How is your elderly father? How is your child dealing with home schooling?
She thinks about the client she invited to Thanksgiving, the lady who has no family, the one she hasn’t heard from in months and she worries.
She knows about your problems. She knows about your new job, about the child you are sending to college in the fall and she wonders how they will do because she’s cut their hair since they were in elementary school and she’s planning a small graduation gift for you to give to them.
Something to show she cares.
She knows about your friends. She knows about your fights. She knows about your sex life or lack there of. She knows about your worries and she listens.
Her chair is a confessional, a psychology session, a bar stool. Your words never leave the salon and she will always keep it that way.
Her phone sounds again. She looks at the message.
When are you opening?
She closes her eyes.
The pandemic has taken months of time. Time is valuable. Days can be twelve hours, standing for most of it, morning to night. Appointments, cuts, colors, perms.
You need her to stay late? Sure. Your color didn’t turn out and you need it fixed? Let’s do it.
She works without breaks. She gives you her time. She gets home after midnight again and kisses her kids goodnight as they sleep in their beds. She changes in the dark, listening to her husband shift under the covers. She warms up dinner from a container. She sits at the kitchen table shaking her hands to wake up her wrists.
Her fork feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. Her right arm held a blow dryer for hours today, elevated, an extended single arm pull up that would hinder any grown man.
And she pours a glass of iced tea. And she eats as night passes outside.
Her phone alerts again. A comment on the salon’s Facebook page. People are angry. She scrolls through replies. She scrolls through her main page. She scans new status updates.
So happy to get my hair done finally.
Got my hair cut. Had to drive to do it, but it was worth it!
Two names on her list. She grabs the paper and makes changes.
The salon meeting happens over Zoom. PPE is purchased. Stations will be spaced out. Protect yourselves. Protect your clients. No one in the waiting room. They will enter from the parking lot, get cut, and leave.
No paying with cash.
And there’s the catch. The commission will be less, sure, but it will pick up eventually she believes. No cash though, that hurts. Credit card tips get taxed.
Cash is a tank of gas on the way home. Lunch money for school. A cup of coffee.
Color is complicated. Color is chemicals. Color is heat and she’ll be wearing extra layers, so she’ll be sweating. So she’ll need to drink. Drinking means taking time. Time she doesn’t have with a crowded parking lot waiting to get serviced.
So she doesn’t drink.
Oh, and by the way, no blow-drying hair.
The final touch. The masterpiece. The way a client can see their beautiful new color in action.
Not anymore. No, they will go home and do it themselves and, if it doesn’t look good enough they will call that night to get it fixed.
And they will go back on the list.
“Mommy, I’ll miss you.”
She hugs her son. She’s spent months with them. She’s planned days and activities. She’s been a teacher and cook, mother and manager. She’d had weekends for once, months of weekends!
She’s gotten used to weekends.
Saturdays now will be different.
Saturdays will be her Mondays. Driving to the salon as the sun comes up some mornings, no traffic, window down and radio playing.
Nerves kicking in.
Her phone sounds again. It pulls her attention from a picture on the wall from when she was younger, fifteen years before. The first time she’d stepped in to a salon.
The moment she knew this would be her calling.
“It’s all I know,” she told her husband.
So they would wait until they could open.
One final weekend. One final week.
Looking at the list 1,000 more times.
She looks in the mirror. She tries on her work clothes and loops the mask over her ears. She wonders how this will work. She takes the mask off.
She finds her equipment. She cleans it.
She loads her car and she looks at the quiet house.
It’s time to go to work.
Matt Shaner has been married to a hair stylist for fifteen years. This is his tribute to his hero and to all stylists out there getting back into it. Stay strong. You will make it through.
My son is eleven years old and he has anxiety. Not just worries or concerns. His triggers can be large or small. Change plans and you’ll create an emotional response. Take something away, discipline, ask for him to do something he doesn’t want to do and all this can lead to emotions that take time to calm.
He told me yesterday that sleep makes him nervous.
Yesterday was not easy.
Fears come from pressure, real or imagined. Pressure comes from adversity. We have two options when faced with adversity; fight or flight.
Make yourself better. Now. In the moment. Get tougher to rise with the occasion.
I read about this stuff and, almost forty years into life, I get it. The message is not complicated. Every day I page through my worn copy of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way.
My son has started to look at it. He’s interested.
The larger concepts are not easy to cross over.
When you are facing middle school. You are facing a summer that will not look like the last few. When you haven’t seen your friends in months. When the last day you entered a school was to drop off your stuff from home and you went as fast as possible to get the mask off quick enough to not have anyone see or make fun of you.
These changes in his personality have been coming for a few years.
In 2018, my wife and I experienced a miscarriage. He did not take it well. He was excited for a sibling and the loss hurt him, and all of us, deeply.
I’ve come to understand that loss offers us a choice. We can stay in it or use it to move forward stronger.
In his eleven years, we’ve dealt with other things large and small.
Nothing like this pandemic. Nothing like trying to explain why he has to distance and why he has to wear a mask in a store and may have to wear one eight hours a day in the fall, in a new school.
Nothing like this time of civil unrest, explaining to him that physical appearance means something in this world no matter how much we’d like to think otherwise, explaining that his job as a young man and eventual adult is to love everyone and work purposefully to stop hate whenever he sees it.
The biggest challenge I’m facing as a dad right now is this:
Standing in the center of this storm with two sons reaching for my hands looking for encouragement that the winds and waves will subside.
Looking to be steadied.
When the lesson is that adversity will never go away.
That forces moving against us call for us to rise up. That fear may be tempting you to run away but, in the end, running towards the source of the fear is the only option.
That’s the challenge.
Looking in their faces and saying no, the storms won’t stop. The waves will keep coming.
You two, my boys, will rise up and grow stronger.
Your sails will one day catch the wind and you will take off away from mom and I on your own journeys.
Until then we’ll be here. In good times and bad. When you laugh and when you are scared. When you fear. When the shadows seem too long.
We’ll be here to call you forward, to catch you when you stumble, and set you on your path once more.
We were riding in the car, afternoon sun beating down.
“Do you know what’s happening?” I asked. My oldest son looked out the window. “Like with the riots and everything?”
We were on our way to a pitching lesson. For more than a year, we’ve met with a former MLB pitcher. He loves his time there.
“Here’s something you need to know,” I said, “If you go out with your friends, you will run into situations where you are treated differently.” I listed three or four names of kids his age but different ethnicity. “If you all decide you are headed to a baseball game, for example, and walk into a gas station to get food, you will get treated differently.”
“Your job,” I told him, “is to stand up when you see this, when you see anyone being bullied, and try to stop it.” He swallowed. “It won’t be easy, but you have to.”
“If God is talking to you about it, he wants you to talk about it.”
The obstacle is the way, as Ryan Holiday has written in one of my favorite books. Conflict is our radar. Stress is our tracking arrow.
What if God calls us into it to face it.
Society lacking coherent healthcare resources. 150 years of institutionalized racism. That internal system that tells us to resist the different, circle the wagons, and hold on to the life preserver because we may need it even if the boat is just fine.
The boat is not fine.
No matter where you stand.
We’ve turned away too often, looked away too long, and were willing to stand silent due to a variety of pressures.
Make no mistake. We are being called into it. God is talking to you right now. God is talking to me right now. God is talking to the world right now.
So could things be different?
Is reform more than a politically weighted buzz word? Can anything exist outside politics?
-An education that equips students for modern and relevant skills applicable Day One after graduation.
-A college system that is no longer a set of handcuffs for debt often costing more than a first house.
-Increased mental health services and screenings. -Availability to community resources that provide food and shelter, personal care items and personal connections.
-Police and prison reform. Reeducation. Equipping offenders for change not chains.
-Voices and seats at the table for everyone.
As a man of faith, one of the more interesting parts of the Bible to me is that Jesus is often mentioned having meals with followers. The meals had points to them, from instruction to physical demonstrations of grace.
Often Jesus gathered with “sinners.” He sat with outcasts.
Imagine, the ones on the fringes, the hated, the despised, the victims, those who struggled against the Roman empire occupying Jerusalem at the time. The ones unseen. The ones society had enough of.
Jesus spent his time there. He taught, laughed, joked, shared a meal and served.