Read and React

We assign meaning.

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?

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Reframe.

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.

Watch Your Narrative

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.

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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.

You are more and your story can start today.

Are We Allowed to Believe?

My car battery died today.

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.

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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.

Image from USA Today

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.

All of creation demands a response.

But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.” 

Luke 19: 40

The stones are crying out.

What if everything so far has led to 2020?

And now the time is yours.

My Biggest Challenge Right Now as a Dad

Originally published on Medium.com.

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.

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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.

Life with Weighted Moments

Every second has meaning.

Every waking moment.

Every breath.

Every scroll through the smartphone.

What if every distraction was a lost investment, every argument a lost chance at connection? What if every frustration cost more than we know?

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Recently, author and speaker Tony Robbins posted on his social media channels an article that referenced this concept. What if we chose to recognize the power and opportunity in every moment? How would that change our viewpoint on life?

How would it change our personality?

Living With Weighted Moments

How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it.

Paulo Coelho

Your story isn’t written in the big moments.

When you are a kid through young adult, your life is shaped by big moments. Everything feels like a movie. Drama, sadness, heartbreak. Wounds feel like they will never heal.

They will.

Now I remember different things. I remember the pattern my dad used to mow the grass. I remember playing Super Nintendo. I remember lunch at my grandparents eating turkey sandwiches and drinking iced tea.

I remember football games in the yard.

We can reshape our past through emotion, evaluation, and memory. We can assign meaning to events, the meaning we pick, and equip ourselves for moving forward.

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”

Richard Branson

The challenge is to not let weighted moments wear you down.

Opportunity stands on the knife edge from worry, potential from pressure, what could be from what’s the worst that could happen.

The choice is consistent and constant.

Journal. Pray. Reflect. Meditate. Work to recognize and shift your habits.

We all deal with our traumas in different ways.

Look forward to the gifts life offers. Make the most of the minutes. Choose to see opportunity and grasp it. Understand your story is not finished and you are called to bigger things.

Choose to not miss the small moments.

See what happens.

Your Why is Your Cure

“I wonder what it will take for you to stop tolerating just existing and really start living.” -Pastor Erwin McManus

I heard that quote, from one of my favorite writers and speakers, on his podcast. McManus pastors Mosaic church in Los Angeles. The quote was from the second week of lock down. It gave me chills when I heard it.

So, what will it take?

I’m guilty of settling for just existing. In that case, the symptoms match the sickness. Settle for your surroundings and that is what you will get. Name a part of life and, most likely, you’ve allowed it to happen.

We tolerate for the sake of comfort and convenience.

We tolerate for the sake of others.

We tolerate for the sake of a pandemic.

It is time to get excited again, to look forward and step forward, to imagine and grasp what could be. It is time to find your Why.

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Two Qualities of a Genuine Why

1-Your Why will be Painful.

I have a hard time letting myself get excited. Cynicism can be found in so many of us as we go through life and get burned. Wounds take the form of doubt. We chastise ourselves for getting excited, for looking forward to something. We beat back our happiness for the trade to realism when, if we were being honest, it is just as much of a front to be miserable all the time.

Authenticity is finding meaning in your waking moments and finding the courage to chase it down.

2-Your Why will Carry You

Momentum is a daily thing. Every step counts no matter how small. Your cause must be greater than your current situation and deeper than your current discontent.

In the quiet moments, you’ll find your thoughts drifting back to your Why. Your dreams will make their way into your waking.

Your Why will make daily life tolerable on the journey towards it.

Take a moment in the hours left today and think about the future, think about purpose, push away the doubts and see what emerges. Silence the critics, clear your head, and get in touch with the child that started your dreams. It may be the first time you’ve done this in decades, but I promise you the voice is still there and waiting to respond.

Reach deep to that essence inside and you’ll find your cure waiting to be unleashed.

Two Questions to Transform Adversity

Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.

Napoleon Hill

We often personalize our problems. We claim them and make them our identity.

I am __________ fill in the blank.  Broke, stressed, heartbroken, hungry, betrayed, angry, etc. There is an important dividing line we must pull from modern psychology before diving deep into reaction.

There is the problem.–There is our reaction to it.

The thing, whatever it is, can be isolated.  We control our reaction and this post will look at that part of the equation.

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Two Questions to Transform Adversity

1-Who is this happening for?

Life has purpose. The shocks, the downturns, the unexpected changes all have meaning. Some of the richest people in the world grew wealth in the midst of the Great Depression by knowing how to handle fear and instability.

Step back, take a second and try to find the meaning. Try to go as deep as you can to understand what can be helped, who can learn from this, and how can it be moved to an asset.

The harder the situation the more resolve developed. The deeper the pain, the clearer the mirror when you look back on it.

2-How can this benefit someone else?

Ryan Holiday, in his excellent book The Obstacle is the Way, mentions this as a prime skill to handle problems. People need to hear your story. They need to know where you are coming from. They may be going through the same thing.

You may help someone see they are not alone.

The idea could be the first shard of hope they find in life.

Adversity breeds resilience if we take the time to frame it correctly. Don’t get mired in the pain and struggle. Shift your mindset to helping others and unlock the potential of the situation.

You’ll find community, hope, love and acceptance.  You’ll see others, and yourself, as better and the weight of the pain will shift.

It may take years to leave, but ask Martin Luther King Jr. Jail cells can’t hold the spirit. Letters can move through bars.

Freedom is a state of mind and its spark can be seen in the midst of the darkest midnight.

 

A Letter to Heaven

Two years ago, you went home.  On a dark and cold winter night we drove to the hospital with you and, when we left the next morning, you were gone.  Your mom was a little more than twenty weeks pregnant.  You’d made it half way.

Then you were called home.

I cried when I found out you were coming, not out of joy.  I was scared, to be honest, to meet you.  We never found out your gender but something tells me you were meant to be my little girl.

Your brothers grow each and every day.  Carter is so active and he has a huge heart.  Aiden is so smart. He loves to sit and relax, play his video games and watch his shows. They would have loved you. They still do.

I like to read.  You never found that out, but I’ll tell you because it’s important to me.  I read something yesterday that asked “how would you live if you had 6 months left?”

I thought about this question.

And my mind went to you. You had six months.  So what if I could live inspired, grab that time, know and remember every second of swirling emotion. What if I could see you as an inspiration?

What if I could live these days to make you proud of me.

The world is hard.  It is loud and noisy.  People get distracted.  I like to think the chaos was too much for you and God called you back to heaven because your heart was too pure for this.

Because we struggle.  We suffer. We hurt.  Your mom and I, our hearts were broken when we lost you.  Your brothers, they were so excited to meet you one day.

We’re not perfect, but we were your family.  We are your family.

You will always be in our hearts.

Until the day I see you again, my little girl.

~Your dad

 

Rebuild

One of my favorite current podcasts is “The Only Way is Through” from Under Armour. UA is active in the world of sports and athletic training.  This podcast shows some depth at the creative minds behind the company.  It is a series of profiles of athletes, coaches, and their families as they deal with adversity and prepare for competition.

The last episode was a profile of Notre Dame Women’s Basketball coach Muffet McGraw.  Mired in the first losing season in decades, McGraw is attempting to get back to the basics and draw success out of a challenged group of players.

The theme of these, as stated in the title, is how to handle adversity.  Adversity often arrives in a formula in life.  It starts, we follow to a breaking point, then must discover how to rebuild.

abstract architecture background brick
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In my experience, rebuilding takes three things.

Faith that God works for good.  That struggle is not without purpose. That the rise comes after the fall.  I’m still fighting a three decade battle with cynicism.  And the choice to be optimistic has led to more struggles.  Yet, it is all part of the process. Contrast is important for humility.  Recognition breeds appreciation. Interruptions are opportunities.  We must shift our viewpoint.

Hope in new life. We are never too far gone, too old, in too deep, or too far away. We are never out of the orbit of God.  We are never past our chances to redeem ourselves. It will be hard. It will take effort.  It will be filled with discomfort but, in the end, it is worth it.  We must learn to love the fight and never stop.

Love the process. If we are not struggling, we are not growing.  If we don’t mess up, we are not trying hard enough.  If we don’t push ourselves past our limits we will miss our potential. There is joy in the process.  Destruction breeds creation. Bonds can be rebuilt better than before.

This afternoon Aiden determined to nail down shoes with laces. It was a time of laughter and tears, ups and downs, frustration and disappointment for him. He wanted to see how I did it, then how Val did it, and finally how Carter did it.  In the end, after time, he figured it out.

At some point, it will be a job, a car, a house, a wife and kids.  At some point it will be losing a job, a car accident, selling a house, and dealing with family emergencies. The sooner we learn how to rebuild, the more equipped we will be.

For the Day Ones are not easy.  We can only prepare and equip ourselves and, when the day comes, take the first step back.

 

The Next Drink Will Not Be Different

Ben Affleck

Whenever I’d be involved in a conversation about celebrity look a likes, I’d always name Affleck. I’d enjoyed his movies and the various characters he’d attempted to fill over the years.  Recently, the NY Times did a great profile on the actor on the heels of his divorce with Jennifer Garner after thirteen years of marriage and three children.

A few of his quotes made me stop and think, not just for honesty sake but for the weight he’d put in them:

“People with compulsive behavior, and I am one, have this kind of basic discomfort all the time that they’re trying to make go away,” he said a couple of Sundays ago during a two-hour interview at a beach side spot in Los Angeles. “You’re trying to make yourself feel better with eating or drinking or sex or gambling or shopping or whatever. But that ends up making your life worse. Then you do more of it to make that discomfort go away. Then the real pain starts. It becomes a vicious cycle you can’t break. That’s at least what happened to me.”

and

“The older I’ve gotten, the more I recognize that my dad did the best he could,” Affleck said. “There’s a lot of alcoholism and mental illness in my family. The legacy of that is quite powerful and sometimes hard to shake.” Affleck’s younger brother, Casey, 44, has spoken about his own alcoholism and sobriety. Their paternal grandmother took her own life in a motel when she was 46. An uncle killed himself with a shotgun. An aunt was a heroin addict.

“It took me a long time to fundamentally, deeply, without a hint of doubt, admit to myself that I am an alcoholic,” Ben Affleck said. “The next drink will not be different.”

23affleck1-superJumbo

Pic from the Times profile. 

Let’s dig in.

My generation is known as The Divorce Generation.  We were the first to eclipse the statistic that 50% of the marriages of our parents would end in divorce, myself included.  So what does that do? It generates what Affleck mentions in his quote, something his children will face now.

It creates that consistent discontent driving compulsions.  Pain nags, the feeling palpable. It is a burning, just under the skin, that something is coming.  A feeling the car is approaching a horizon that is actually a cliff, that the raft is approaching the waterfall in the distance and we hear the rapids. It creates unbalance and the urge to fill the space.

I turn mine into a reward mechanism. Let’s buy lunch, go to the movies, pick up a new book, let’s sit and decompress and not think for a while. Let’s spend because we deserve it.

We all find solace in something, in realization.  Val and I lean on faith, we’ve started trying to get physically, financially, and spiritually well with a purpose. Now, we’re not perfect by any means, and the old habits die hard behind ignorance. The trick is in the realization.  As Affleck says,

The next drink will not be different.

Fill in the blank with your coping mechanism of choice. Compulsions are driven on novelty. There’s a chance we are missing something.  The dopamine hit could be better, stronger.  The limit could go just a little bit deeper, because God, what a rush that was.  And in that rush, for a moment, we didn’t feel.

When we sit down, sit back and understand the next drink will not be different, the next impulse isn’t new, the next vice is the same prison as before, when we look in the mirror and acknowledge it, then the real work can be done.

I look in the eyes of my boys and know they’ll need their own strategies. Affleck and Garner may both be millionaires, but pain is real. Their children will face it down one day.  And money isn’t solution if we follow Affleck’s logic.

As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastics, we are eager to chase the wind.

The goal is truth. The goal is love. The goal is life and being present because it stops you from constantly leaning forward out of the moment and trying to find the next thing. Because the next thing won’t be different.

Aiden and I were watching Youtube this morning and he said, in the middle of the video, “smash that Like button, dad,” and I laughed.  That’s the moment. Grab those like gold because time passes.  Know that you are doing okay and things will get better.

Butterfly wings don’t always start hurricanes.

Sometimes they just catch sunlight.