When I worked in the emergency room, it happened every few nights. The waiting room was full, the treatment rooms full with at least two or three intoxicated patients in the back. Parents would be holding injured children. Hours ticked past and you felt the tension.
Soon, a person would snap and start yelling at us and we’d have to get security involved. They’d calm until the next one yelled.
Eight hours of work in a toxic environment is enough to ware down even the strongest of souls. It doesn’t always take the dramatic form of an emergency room. It can be a classroom, an office, a factory floor or retail store.
It can be the dinner table.
Toxic environments impact every person inside their borders. The tension is real. Loved ones hurt each other with words and actions. Coworkers gossip. Creativity is stifled and hope vanishes. There is no ownership, no teamwork, and no personal or corporate incentive.
You show up, put in time, and leave
There are ways to escape.
Find Your Passion– Make your work line up with your passion. This is easier said than done in the current economic environment but, the advent of social media and technology has leveled the playing field. You can learn a new skill through research and free resources found online. You can set up a website and start finding customers through various free platforms. Think of what you’d do if you could pick anything and chart out the path to make it happen. The biggest risk is not taking a shot at all.
Find Your Community– Toxic environments destroy community. They isolate and capture, creating conflict and discord. The only bonding occurs over negative talk and stories as criticism becomes the accepted language. Finding a genuine community helps you break free. Some of those nights in the emergency room, I was blessed to work with others who followed Jesus and we made a point to make each other laugh and keep things light. At home, start small with a walk around the block, date night, or doing homework at the kitchen table. Build bonds and know you are not alone. Walking the path together always makes things easier.
Find Your Creativity– Break old routines by making something new. Creation breeds passion and community. Look at your current situation and make a list of what could change. How could you be a part of it? What new ideas could you bring to the table? We are all called to create. Listen to your calling.
Find Your Faith– I believe we are meant for something more. We are here to break through toxic environments. We are to be light in the darkness and salt of the earth. I believe we were born with purpose and passion.
You may read this tonight and feel the tug of truth. You may look in the mirror and know your soul is incomplete. Work tomorrow seems like jail and not freedom. The person sleeping next to you is distant. The kids are wild. You just had a fight with that parent that can’t seem to understand.
You are tired.
Make a list. Check the points above and find your freedom. It is possible and it can happen.
I’m making the journey and we can do it together.
Don’t be afraid.
The statement is repeated numerous times in the Bible. We are told, despite our natural instinct, not to fear. Fear, to me, was never paralyzing. It is more a cold, blank sensation.
When Aiden was born, I stood in the delivery room and watched the nurses clean him off (a scheduled c-section). They hooked him to an oxygen monitor and I watched as his numbers started at 96 and gradually fell to 80. In this span of minutes, a NICU doctor was called in and they decided to give him a bed in the NICU.
He stayed almost a week before the fluid was clear from his lungs and stomach.
I’ll never forget watching those numbers fall and the glances the nurses exchanged with each other as he struggled to breathe. The fear in my heart implanted the images in my soul.
Fear can be a catalyst. When you stand at the Red Sea watching it part, you have two choices. You can stay in danger or walk forward, facing the perceived greater danger, and see what happens. The unknown, even between walls of water, can unleash greatness on the other side.
Fear can be a dream. I remember having nightmares growing up. One night a pair of cats were fighting outside my window. The growls, scratches, and screams were surreal and seemed to be getting closer and closer. The darkness itself can bring condemnation and anxiety. For some, dark nights carried the promise of no heat or electricity, hunger, or an abusive spouse or parent. In dreams, remember you will wake up. The sun will split the night and rise in the morning.
Fear can be control. This is the most dangerous. You are called. Maybe it is a mission trip. Maybe a friend whose marriage is failing, maybe a family member mired in addiction. Maybe it is the business you are meant to start, the product that will change the world, the idea that can make a difference. God puts this on your heart and you look in the mirror.
The small voice tells you that you can’t do it. Not you. Not now.
What if you fail? Think of the laughter, the condemnation, the wasted time, money, and effort.
What if it all falls apart?
This fear is vanquished through community. Find friends and colleagues making the same journey. Look for resources in person and in the digital universe. Find hope in a mentor who has been there already. Find power in the permission to let yourself chase your dream.
Break the control of fear. The failure of not trying is always greater than giving it a shot. Step in the ring. You’ll be surprised at what can happen when fear is beaten down and destroyed. Even if you need to do it every day, it is worth the fight.
I’ve mentioned Donald Miller’s Storyline blog on here more than once and for good reason as I almost always get some selection of inspirational material. If you haven’t followed them yet, I recommend it.
This past week, there was a post about changing the narrative you are living. The writer told a story about a friend’s mother and this woman’s visit to her friend’s house. The friend complained that, when her mother was over, she “turned into a twelve-year-old again.” The writer continued to talk about growing up as an outsider and how she needed to overcome that to succeed in her creative efforts.
The post was up on Saturday and it has bounced around in my head since then.
How many of us are living old stories?
I feel like this past year has been a journey to break the hold of old stories on my life. I was not what you’d call an outsider as I had friends from different social groups. I was not, though, the popular kid. I didn’t jump at opportunities to show off. I wasn’t a sports star or an actor with the drama club.
Oral presentations scared me until I took a public speaking class in high school.
These stories carried over into my early 30’s and I feel the fight rising. It is only a conflict because the old stories still exist. Because the old part of my soul still stands on the sidelines content to be okay.
The time to be okay is over.
Change is possible if we allow ourselves to do it. How many of us avoid the difficult conversation about Jesus at the water cooler because we were rejected in the past? Because someone made fun of us for being different? How many let those with stronger wills influence our lives and the lives of our children? How many refuse to stand because we’ve been knocked down too much that it is just easier to stay there?
Do we avoid risk because we fear failure or success? Breaking apart or breaking the bonds that hold us down?
I pray this week is one of change for you. That you step out of your comfort zone and throw away the old stories impacting your life. Starting writing new ones and see what happens.
Ever feel like you’ve missed the party?
As writers, we get this more often than we’d like to admit. We kick around a novel idea in our heads until the next big hit sounds too close for comfort. Our friends nail their first big publication when we’re still chasing ours. A family member lands a promotion.
We send out thirty submissions and, even with an acceptance, wonder about the twenty-nine others that rejected us. We look in the mirror and question if we’re doing the right thing. Life seems to flow past in rapids as we stand in the midst of the stream watching the reflection of the sun on the water.
The impact can range from annoying to paralyzing, yet there is a way out.
I met with a friend of mine this week, Brian Kelly, one of the minds working to make Reading a better place. He spoke about bringing people together to the table to have conversations that may be awkward. He said how everyone deserves a voice, even if they aren’t comfortable in the environment. Put the businessmen on the streets and let those on the streets spend some time in the boardrooms.
Let those supporting the gentrification of cities (get the poor out) meet with advocates for the homeless and start the dialogue.
It is an important lesson to carry over.
Every voice matters. Your voice matters.
When it seems like all the others are at the table already, there is a space for you. When it seems like the power and influence lies with everyone else, it is even more a reason to tell your story. When the weight of the past presses down and threatens you, put the words together and release them to the world.
Forget about timing.
There’s a saying in writing that, the moment you write for the current market, you’ll miss it. The moment you edit yourself in fear of outside opinions, scrap the paragraph and start again.
It also applies in life.
Believe in yourself. Believe in your story. Believe in your worth and know that you matter.
Forget about “timing” and focus on moving, doing, serving, loving, and giving. You be amazed at the results.
This afternoon I had to go and pick up a refill of Val’s medicine at the local Target pharmacy. I left work and drove over with thirty minutes to spare before I needed to get Carter from after school childcare. The pharmacy, as per the usual practice, did not have the refill ready so I ambled around the store to kill time.
I stopped at the magazines and, in the current Men’s Health edition, they surveyed a large segment of women and found that they were bored in their marriages. The writer offered a number of suggestions to spice up the situation, but the underlying issue remains.
How many of us are bored with our marriages, our jobs, our lives, or our walks with God?
We are beings hard-wired to chase satisfaction. Addicts find it many different ways, from money to fitness and drugs. We demand value and will sacrifice whatever it takes. Talk to the bully or the one throwing themselves at others for acceptance. We want to be wanted and in control.
At the same time, we want to consume. Our drive to gratification demands one more minute on the phone, one more text message, one more status update or photo upload. And don’t wait because, in the minute you put your phone down, you could miss a friend’s baby picture or workout status and clean meal of the morning.
Maybe we’re missing the point.
Bored is focused inwards.
Passion is focused on them.
Passion is about what we give to a situation, whether a job, family, marriage, or faith walk. Want to light up your days? Think about what you can do for someone else. Tip the scales the other direction. Sacrifice your time for a greater goal.
Donate. Create. Shape your contribution and release it into the world.
So tonight, if you are living in a stagnant situation, there is time for change. There is time to step out of your comfort zone. Time to give, to enter a new situation and make it better.
Anyone can sit back and consume.
The time for waiting is over. Take a small step and do something for a friend or family member or, even better, someone you don’t know. See what happens.
A life of epic faith, love, family, and passion is possible. It takes one day of change at a time. Let tomorrow be your Day One and see what happens.
I parked my car outside of work this morning with about five minutes to spare. I opened the car windows to let in a breeze and checked the headlines for the day on my phone. Movement, just on the other side of the hood, caught my eye.
I had parked across from a shrub, about knee-high, and trimmed in the shape of a U. It was a bright green and, just in the midst of the branches, flashed a streak of yellow. As I watched, it flashed again and the movement took shape.
A smear of black sat above the yellow wings and body. Deep inside this shrub, a bird had settled in the morning sun.
This was no forest, no sanctuary. This was no mountain or stream running close by.
This was a parking lot.
The bird could have flown to a much nicer environment. An elementary school sits just past the parking lot surrounded by trees. In a minute, it could have found an entire group of trees, real trees, and set up shop. It could have lived a fairly solid bird life.
But it was nestled in this shrub, in this parking lot, not seeing the horizon beyond the branches.
This is one of those weeks, one of times of spiritual surgery. You feel like you are on the operating table and someone forgot the anesthesia. Doors close while others open. Prayers are answered as quick as needs arise. Through it all, God offers assurance.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
Faith is the search. The fight. The effort to keep moving even if you can’t see the end. It is one more word, one last phone call, one hug that helps a person fight their depression one more night. It is picking up when you don’t have the energy to move and pushing through.
For our walls can be climbed. Our cage can be opened. Our future is planned and known. Our dreams are a guide. Great things are coming. I don’t mean some corny prosperity gospel thing.
I mean victories. Creation. Love. Peace. Movement. Building bridges. Helping someone know and understand that they matter, that their fight is important to you.
For are known by the fight, not the end result. We are called to radical love that destroys the precepts of this world. Jesus told us to Go. Follow. Pray. Sacrifice. Make Disciples.
The day to rest is the day we find ourselves called home once again.
The day to move is now.
The past few weeks we’ve found ourselves in the midst of deep conversation about the intersection between faith and society. Voices call for more and less. Political factions take sides. Lines are being drawn.
There seems to be a race to the bottom, to be the most offended by people of faith. Personally, it has reminded me of the response of Jesus when asked about the greatest commandment. He replies to love God and love your neighbor, hardly the musings of a political leader.
For we know Jesus did not come for any earthly power. More than once the crowds and leaders of the day tried to bait him with questions and conflicts. Every time he made his way around it, destroying the conventions, structures, forces and “common sense.”
Eternity was at hand.
So what if we’ve gotten it wrong? What if the church stands at an important intersection, at the crossroads of potential? What if it is primed for a shift, for a new way of community, service, prayer and worship?
In a post last week, I added a song by Isla Vista Worship. Watching more of their stuff on Youtube, I found this video:
The narrative in the clip makes a statement that struck a chord with me. It says that worship music should be done with skill and artistry, that is should shape the sound of secular music.
Think about that. We’ve reacted for so long. What if it was time for Christian writers and artists to shape the narrative? To reflect the love of Jesus into society with such power and impact that it changes things, that it removes the debate.
It is time for change, for real and actual change. It is time to build fresh and living faith, to show real moves of the Spirit, to reach into communities and fight for those in need.
Are you ready?
We all have stories.
There is a voice inside straining to get out. We find ways to do it in a variety of forms. Artists create written and concrete expressions. Teachers engage and light up their classrooms. Business leaders create the next great product and change society. In 2015, there are still new things waiting to be found.
So why do we hold on to the old ways?
I remember going through English class in elementary school, Lit class in college, and graduate writing courses. You start with rules, expand your horizons, and finally realize that the great ones break the norms whenever possible.
It creates an interesting dynamic.
Writers tend to eat their own. We play lethal comparison games. We brag. We look at younger writers and tell them to do it our way or else find yourself working the menial jobs while half-novels sit crowding up your hard drive.
Amazon allows anyone to publish a book, in digital or hardcover forms, for free. Do some searching on Amazon and writing and you’ll find a litany of protests from established authors: Don’t do it, they say. Go our route. Play the roulette game of submitting to agents and maybe you’ll get lucky.
Just don’t cut into our profits.
It is time to set our work free.
Consider this your permission. Forget the old way. There are numerous resources for self and indie publishing. You can do the work to build your audience. You can publish. You can get royalty rates much higher than anything a commercial publishing house could provide.
You can write, publish, and get paid for it.
As I sit here tonight, I wonder. How many best sellers are sitting on computers right now? How many novels have made the rejection rounds to end up in the physical or digital recycle bin?
As Pressfield asks in The War of Art:
Which is the bigger fear, that we may fail or that, one day, we will succeed beyond our wildest dreams?
As a reminder, you can get my e-book: Your First Step for FREE at the following link:
Check it out and share with anyone needing some hope in their life.