Hard Realizations - The Challenge of Differing Perspectives

This past weekend, my son and I went up to the local ski resort to enjoy some time on the slopes. I used to snowboard, but three knee surgeries and no cartilage in my right knee mean I watch and coach from below. On the drive up we listened to music and talked about his week at school. The fourth grade is filled with great stories, goofy things he and his friends do and experiments or science projects that far exceed my expectations for a fourth-grade classroom. This kid loves school, is a bit of a thinker and, like all three of my kids, teaches me a lot.

When we arrived, the sky was bright blue, the air a warm 37 degrees, and the ski hill was busy. For four hours, Josh rode the lift and worked to perfect his turns. It was his fifth time up.

We enjoyed our lunch, sat by the fire, talked with friends, and packed up to head down the hill. That's when it hit me.

Do you ever have those days where you're just rucking along, enjoying the simplicity of the day and something comes out of the blue and strikes you? It hits you so hard, you have to take a moment to understand what has just happened.

We were headed down the hill listening to more music, and a few lines from a song struck me.

I'm tired
Of tending to this fire
I've used up all I've collected
I have singed my hands
It's glowing
Embers barely showing
Proof of life in the shadows
Dancing on my plans

I asked my son, “What do you think the writer is saying here? What is he talking about?”

Josh thought for a moment and then answered, “I think he is saying ‘sometimes you’re just done. When life gets hard, it hard to keep going.’”

I don’t know why I asked the next question; it just came out. “Have you ever felt this way?”

The back seat was quiet for a few seconds and then, “Yeah.”

Josh is ten.

“When?” I asked.

“When I was little, and I would get in trouble with you or mom for something, sometimes I wondered if you still loved me. When I felt like that, I wanted to disappear.”

“Even though we always told you there was nothing you could do to change our love for you?” I responded.

“Yeah, because when I was little, I didn’t know it yet.”

My heart broke for a moment. I asked, “How about now that you’re older?”

“No, now I know you love me no matter what.”

I have put a lot of thought into digesting that conversation. A three or four-year-old heart and mind processes things much differently than that of a ten-year-old. But juxtapose my son’s four-year-old heart and mind against my then 37-year-old ones and things suddenly get very eye-opening.

Perspective matters. Thinking back to the times I have had to discipline my kids, I know I approached the situations with my life experiences, my understanding of love, my perspective of forgiveness, responsibility, and accountability. My son only had four years of that, and the difference in those two perspectives is stark. And because I hadn’t recognized this, I had given my boy a moment of doubt.

It turns out the same rules apply to others our same age, or people older than us. Individuals with far more life experience than a four-year-old may have a greater understanding of the things we encounter, but this understanding will differ from our own. No one, not a single person, will have the same perspective as I do. It is essential that I remember this, Whether I am having to discipline my child, have a hard conversation with my wife, or am dealing with the difficulties that come with working with people; I must remember that no one sees things the same as I do.

As parents, spouses, and friends, I can’t help but wonder how many broken hearts and wounded souls could be avoided if we all would seek to understand someone else’s perspective before we react; before we speak.

Making The Same Mistakes With Increasing Confidence

Several years ago, when I worked in healthcare, I was responsible for the Spine Service Line at a hospital in Idaho. My role had me working with many different disciplines; nursing staff, physicians, physical therapists, the operating room, etc. At that time, we were pursuing a lot of changes because we were experiencing so much growth. As a result, we were trying to implement new practices as we examined the latest in research as it applied to patient care, and we needed the buy-in of physicians to make the necessary changes a reality.

Most of the people I worked with understood the need to create new approaches to patient care and medicine. But a few had the mentality of, “We have always done it this way, why should we change?” These individuals refused to read the research, had no interest in what experts in their fields had to say, and buried their heads in the sand.

After a particularly frustrating meeting, one co-worker said, “The most dangerous thing a person can do is make the same mistakes with increasing confidence.” Those words got my attention. Refusing to change in the face of new information, hosts of data, and ample research is indeed a scary thing. And this isn’t a detriment to just healthcare. Every single business or organization is damaged by people who make the same mistakes with increasing confidence. And every relationship impacted by such a mentality suffers.

But the question we need to ask is why? Why do people do this? Is it fear? Is it insecurity? Is it pure stubbornness? Or, is it willful ignorance? I would argue it is all of the above. And I would also argue that no one is immune. We all have beliefs and ideas that we hold dear; things we don’t want to let go, preconceived notions that we live and die by. While my former co-worker was addressing issues in a hospital, his words bring me back to two specific topics — politics and religion.

There are no two areas where I see more fear, insecurity, stubbornness, and willful ignorance. As a result, we make the same mistakes, over and over, while thinking we are “true to our convictions” and “standing strong.” Don’t get me wrong, I am all for convictions and strong beliefs but conviction out of habit is simply stupidity and standing strong because of beliefs I have been spoon fed is borderline crazy.

With a volatile political landscape fueled by a plethora of “believers” spewing words of hate, bigotry, and misogyny, we need to start looking for ways to learn from our mistakes as opposed to repeating them.

I rarely get political or dig into issues of faith, but it is time for us to stop making the same mistakes with increasing confidence. We must make decisions based on accurate information, not habit. Which means we might have to go looking for it as opposed to believing what Fox News or CNN tells us. We must establish beliefs based on understanding as opposed to regurgitating those of others. Which means we might need to crack open a book and learn something for ourselves. We must establish a new norm, approaching people with love and grace and not be disappointed when they don’t respond in likeness.

Because hate and ignorance aren’t working, they never have. These are mistakes we have been making for far too many generations. It’s time for something new, and it starts with each of us, regardless of which side of the fence we are on with any given issue. It begins by acknowledging the mistakes we have made and learning from them.

Take a moment today and look at the mistakes you've made and own them. Dig into them and try to understand why you did what you did. But most importantly, admit you were wrong. Go to those affected by your mistakes and apologize.

This is the only place where the change we so desperately need can begin.

No Matter Who You Are, You Are Significant

We live in a broken world. Every time we turn on the television or peruse news feeds, pain, suffering, and negativity lead the headlines. Not a week goes by where we don’t hear about riots, mass murders, starvation, or abuse; our world is filled with so many people in so much need. If you’re like us, this often feels overwhelming. With so much hurt at every turn, it’s easy to feel defeated – to feel as if nothing we say or do makes a difference.

Then we hear a story of a man or woman who has started a nonprofit equipping people in third world countries with food, water, homes, and educational resources or a team of individuals raising millions to combat homelessness through shelters, counseling services, and job placement programs. Our hearts swell with hope because someone out there is actually making a difference. But while we are encouraged that people are fighting against the darkness, there is a lingering feeling that what we do still doesn’t matter, because we aren’t feeding starving children or building homes for the homeless. This lie can subtlety work its way into our hearts and minds, and if we aren’t careful, the lie becomes truth because we stop doing the things that matter – because for some reason we believe we aren’t enough.

If we want the world to heal, for hope to rise, we must understand that no matter how large of a platform a celebrity has or how world-changing an organization is, a person’s legacy isn’t built on grand acts. It is the culmination of all the little things we do that makes our lives worth living, this is how we fulfill our purpose. The legacy we pass on to future generations is who we are, how we live our lives in the day-to-day: the way we treat a waitress, the times we acknowledge service men and women for their contribution, the moments we look a grocery clerk in the eyes and ask her name. These little things in everyday situations carry weight, they’re significant — because no act of love goes unnoticed and no act of compassion is futile. There are a million moments in each of our lives where we have the opportunity to bring joy or pain, light or darkness, heaven or hell to others through the words we say and how we say them; through the things we do and how we do them. Each one of us has significance, because each one of us has the power to bring love and compassion to the lives of each person we meet. 

Yes, the world needs nonprofits that build freshwater wells in villages in Africa or equip underserved communities with medical resources, but living a life in a way where we actively seek opportunities to love in simple yet profound ways, is as, if not more important. Every day is filled with opportunities to positively impact our friends, families, significant others, children, and strangers — because every single act leaves a mark on the lives of those around us, good or bad. Every decision, every word leaves an imprint on others, but we often fail to notice these imprints because we don’t appreciate the influence we have on our world.

Who we are on a day-to-day basis is the greatest testament to what we believe. The way we treat others, and the intentions behind our actions undoubtedly leave impressions on those we encounter.

Every one of us has remarkable power and influence. Understanding this is the first step in making this world a better place.

True Isolation - A Darkness Few Understand

Most people don’t know that I spent a number of years working in mental health. More specifically, I worked at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. The four years I was employed there opened my eyes to new kinds of pain and suffering; types of torment I didn’t know existed.

One patient in particular had a major impact on me. Her life was normal just a few weeks prior to my meeting her for the first time. The decline I witnessed in a bright and vibrant young woman was painful for everyone to watch. Toward the end of my time working with this particular patient, she said something to me that I have never been able to shake, “Patrick, do you know what it’s like to be completely alone? You might be here in front of me, but in my head it just me, and all the versions of me that scare me.” As we dug a little deeper, she explained how the world inside her brain was where she spent all of her time even though she wanted to be somewhere else and how the sense of isolation she felt was crippling.

I went home that night and wrote some of her words down and they inspired a piece of poetry. Last week, as I dug through my files on my computer, I came across that poem:

Here I lie underneath this white sky
Where the sun never sets and never will rise
With all these people why do I feel so alone?

 I hear the voices, but can’t see the faces
Remember the where, but can’t find the places
I just some need someone to lead me back home.

 I have fallen
And now I am broken
And all these words that I’ve spoken
Mean so much to me but nobody cares.
I am my family
I am my friends
This isolation is a terrible means to a tragic end.

 The darkness in this room made of pure white
Is blacker than an eve with no moon light
And louder than the voices that sound from these walls.

 Surrounded by people who are paid to listen
My mind perceives their weak intentions
I just need someone to wipe my tears as they fall. 

I have fallen
And now I am broken
And all these words that I’ve spoken
Mean so much to me but nobody cares.
I am my family
I am my friends
This isolation is a terrible means to a tragic end

I have fallen
And now I lie here all broken
A shell of a man who once had a place in this world 

But the world has failed me
And now has compelled me
To create this place where I exist on my own,

I exist all alone

This is a stark reminder that we are all surrounded by people who are hurting and broken and often we don’t even know it. Their pain can be from a struggle with mental illness, trauma, death, loss of a job, addictions, and the list goes on.

I wish I had taken more time with this young woman. I couldn’t have changed her outcome, but maybe, if only for a moment, I could have made sure she didn’t feel alone.

We can’t fix people’s problems or take on their pain and trauma, but all of us have the capacity to step into others stories, to listen, to love, and to make sure they know they aren’t alone.

Hide and Seek - A Short Story

Writing has always been therapeutic for me. Normally, I write about the things that are on my mind, social justice, address questions of faith, or atypical thoughts on leadership.

But I also enjoy writing fiction and poetry. Short stories are my favorite because of the challenge that exists in getting readers invested in just a few pages. But sharing my short stories scares me because of the vulnerability that exists in allowing others experience something I have created. I have a hard time letting people I know read some of my work, let alone strangers.

This is the first time I have publicly shared one of my works of fiction. I hope you enjoy it, but a warning — this is not your typical short story. These words tell of the incredible and crippling power of love and loss.

Hide and Seek

Rays of light kiss the ground as they filter through leaves and branches from above. The only sounds I can hear are the breaths I take and the chatter of the trees gently scraping against the house. It is warm where I am squatting, the sun on my back. I am listening for you.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

I can feel my hands pressed against my face. They're wet. Why are they wet? My fingers rest gently against the skin above my eyebrows, the sides of my thumbs against my cheeks. My hands are tremble against my face. Why are they shaking?

I keep my eyes closed. You always know if I cheat.

“Four”

“Five”

“Six”

The wind creates friction between the leaves of the trees. They whisper distant secrets as you hide. Do they know something I don”t?

“Seven”

“Eight”

“Nine”

There are so many places you can go; so many places you can keep out of sight — I map them out in my mind. The garden shed offers dark shadows, the bushes along the porch provide many pockets of shelter hidden from view, the trees are full of foliage, the field across the street gives you so many more opportunities to hide from me. These games can last for hours.

“Ten”

“Eleven”

“Twelve”

I remember when you were three. You would hide under the kitchen table in plain sight, but you would bury your head in the carpet. Your giggles brought me so much joy, your whole face would smile when I found you. As you grew older, pillows piled high were your best attempt at camouflage. I would come upstairs and find every cushion from the furniture stacked on top of you.

When you were five, you had mastered the art of concealment, but your lack of patience always gave you away.

Your seven now and your so good at staying out of sight that sometimes I have to give up. Oh, how you love that!

“Thirteen”

“Fourteen”

“Fifteen”

The cool of the breeze counters the warmth of the sun on my neck. I can smell the fresh cut grass below my feet as I squat next to the corner of the house. The heat radiating from the peeling gray paint against my t-shirt. You have probably taken off your shoes so you can run silently through the grass like a ghost.

“Sixteen”

“Seventeen”

“Eighteen”

Time is almost up. You better have found a good place to hide. I can't wait to see the joy on your face when I have to call out, “I give up!”

“Nineteen”

“Twenty”

“Ready or not, here I come!”

I slowly stand up, excited for the hunt. The shed is close. With each step, the gravel of the path crunches beneath my feet. You'll know I’m coming. I reach for the handle, turn it gently, and yank the open the door. Quickly, I step inside. The light coming in from the window creates dark shadows in the corners, but they don't contain you. There's nothing here but shovels and rakes, but the dirt on the floor is disturbed, so you must have been here. Where are you?

The bushes along the front porch leave just enough space for you to crouch out of site. Spiders have never bothered you. One by one I check the gaps — the likelihood of finding you increasing with each space that lies empty. Cobwebs and last years leaves are all I find.

I work my way around the house, scanning the trees. The depth of green is mesmerizing. The light of the sun flickers through the leaves and dances like falling glitter. You do love to climb, but you're not up there. I continue to the back of the house. The backyard offers little shelter.

You aren't under the trampoline or in the garden. Where could you be? Have you bent the rules and gone inside?

Up the back steps, the old boards creak beneath my feet. The back door is ajar. You never leave doors open. Why do I feel uneasy? I start in the kitchen. The pantry is empty. The dining room table hides nothing.

Down the hall to the office, sometimes you hide under my desk or in the closet. You aren't here.

Why do I feel panicked that I can’t find you? There are so many places you could be. My heart is beating faster now, why do I feel this fear?

I step into my room. Under the bed, the closet, behind the chairs. Nothing. Where are you? I can’t breathe, but this is just a game.

Into your room. I reach up with my hand to push the door open and see my fingernails for the first time. They're broken, and flesh of my knuckles is torn is torn. What did I do?

I step inside the walls of your bedroom. What happened here? Your bed is tipped over against the wall. The carpet is torn up from the floor; boards are bare and broken. There are holes in the walls. Are you hiding in there? I reach in and pull drywall and insulation to the floor, adding to the debris scattered around my feet. Nothing but darkness and emptiness answer my calls.

“This isn't funny!” I call out. “I’m done playing.”

I just need to hear your voice, to know that you are alright.

I run upstairs. Each room is similar to yours. In complete disarray, haphazardly torn apart. Who was here and what were they looking for? You were just with me, we just started playing hide and seek. There has been no time for someone to break in, to do all this damage.

You're not safe. How can you be?

I am screaming your name. Calling out for any response, but no answer. Back downstairs. I am sprinting down the hall and out the front door, looking everywhere and yelling so loud it hurts.

Where could you be? Who has taken you?

The field and the woods beyond — that's where you are. You're just hiding.

I’m running toward the fence that borders the grounds. I can feel the soft grass change to the hard dirt of the country road under my feet. Leaping over the old wooden fence, I land on unkempt grass. I am running so hard that I don't notice the stones until something catches my eye.

I see your name on one of the stones and stop.

I stare at it as I walk closer, the engraving coming into focus. My hand reaches out, and I trace the cold letters with my fingertips — your name. The numbers are familiar, but they don't make sense. You're not gone. Tears fill my eyes and begin to dampen my cheeks. No, this can’t be right! You're just hiding. It says so right here, just below the years.

“I love you daddy. Count to twenty and come find me.”

I stagger across the dirt road back to our home. I can’t breathe. My legs are shaking. Slowly I squat against the corner of the weathered house and place my head in my hands as the tears stream from my eyes.

Rays of light kiss the ground as they filter through leaves and branches from above. The only sounds I can hear are the breaths I take and the chatter of the trees gently scraping against the house. It is warm where I am squatting, the sun on my back. I am listening for you.

“One”

“Two”

“Three”

I can feel my hands pressed against my face. They're wet.

© - Patrick Gray, Words Are Stories

What Do You Believe? - The Answer Is In Your Actions

Who we are on a day-to-day basis is the greatest testament to what we believe. Our daily actions demonstrate so much about our personalities, the nature of our heart, the condition of our soul.

I can point back to many people who have helped shape who I am through their understanding of this fundamental truth. And just as many people have given me a reason to doubt their intentions, their word, and their character because of their failure to understand that who they are on a day-to-day basis is the greatest testament to what they believe.

Our world is filled with strife, pain, chaos, and confusion. And every day I witness people who claim to love others demonstrate the opposite with their social media posts, snide comments, holier than though banter, and general entitled behavior in the name of freedom or religion. And when this happens, I have to pause, take a breath, and remind myself of what is true.

One of my favorite songwriters is Jon Foreman. A man with an incredible gift, he has a way of saying a whole lot in very few words. In the song Is This The World You Want, the bridge is a beautiful and poignant piece of poetry and a powerful reminder of what makes us who we are: 

What you say is your religion
How you say it's your religion
Who you love is your religion
How you love is your religion
All your science, your religion
All your hatred, your religion
All your wars are your religion
Every breath is your religion

Each day, our lives are filled with a multitude of decisions and many of them paint a picture of who we are and what we believe, regardless of how we claim to live our lives. If you call yourself a Christian but use hate-filled rhetoric or talk about any group of people in a demeaning way, others are getting the real picture of who you are. If you claim to be an advocate for life and social justice and yet are wishing pain and misery on those who think differently than you, you’re falling short.

This week and in the weeks to come, measure every conversation, every social media post, every comment on someone's thread with this question, “Does what I am saying or doing line up with who I claim to be?”

Maybe a better approach would be to ask yourself, “If who I am was measured by this one behavior, this one statement, or this one moment, is it how I would want to be known?”

If the answers no, choose a different path.

Come Together - The Power of Common Ground

My son and I share a love of music, and though my tastes are different than his, we both respect the interests of the other. Over the past few years, he has introduced me to a some music he can’t seem to listen to enough.

A ten-year-old drummer, he gravitates toward bands with some drive to their music and challenging beats. Namely, Twenty-One Pilots. So when they decided to come to town, I had to take him.

I have had a lot of concert experiences that have left me reeling in the musicality and showmanship of the bands. While this show was no exception, what has me still thinking about the concert is the people.

We had arrived early to try to find decent parking. The lot was filled with beat-up pickup trucks and luxury cars and everything in between. We had to park on the farthest side of the lot because half the crowd had arrived before us. Walking through the parking lot, Josh told me how excited he was as he skipped, jumped, turned all while singing to himself. I smiled as I scanned the parking lot and noticing the bumper stickers. Some said Trump, others Obama or Bernie. We saw Coexist, Jesus Loves You, Darwin Fish stickers, and many more. The variety of people that attended the show was vast.

We found our way to the line of fans and waited to get to our seats. Surrounded by thousands of people, we saw children around my son’s age (ten years), men and women in their seventies and every age in between. In the sea of bodies, there were war veteran hats and Harley Davidson bandannas.

As the doors opened, we worked our way to the entrance, walked through the metal detectors, and climbed the stairs to the Mezzanine. Finally, we found our seats in the arena and waited for the show to start.

From the opening song, thousands of voices lifted as one, singing every word, moving to every beat. The energy was palpable and for two hours, a group of individuals from all walks of life, from different belief systems, and various political parties set any differences aside and became one community around their love for this band’s music. More than once, I scanned the crowd and took in the joy and excitement on so many faces. Not once did the energy let up and for those few hours, 10,000 people focused on the one thing they all had in common and reveled in it.

Amidst the loud music and screams from adoring fans, there was peace; something that seems to be in short supply these days. That night was a powerful reminder of who we are capable of being when we choose unity instead of division, love instead of hate.

My son sang every song at the top of his lungs and played every beat with his imaginary sticks.

As we drove home, he said to me, “I can’t believe everyone was singing. It was so cool to be with that many people singing the same song.”

I said, “Yeah bud, it was.” But as his eyes became heavy and he drifted to sleep in the back seat, all I could think about was what it would be like if we set aside our differences, focused on what we have in common, and chose to sing the same song. It wouldn't mean we all held the same beliefs or supported the same causes, but it would show that we all valued one another and that would be a wonderful place to start.

The Wisdom of Youth

I grew up in Ontario, OR; a small town that sits on the west side of the Snake River on the Oregon/Idaho border. Located in an area that has dry, hot summers and cold winters, Ontario is home to about 12,000 and is part of one of the poorest counties in the state. My hometown has seen some tough times; when the economy tanks, Ontario gets hit hard. When it booms, not much seems to change. The story isn’t much different for the surrounding communities. But the towns continue to persevere.

Normally, I return to Ontario to visit family for birthdays or holidays, but recently I spent some time there for a very different reason. My best friend, Justin Skeesuck, and I were asked to speak at a leadership summit for high school students; something that didn’t happen in my day.

Intrigued, we agreed to participate in the event, not really sure what to expect. What we experienced was incredible. More than eight hundred young men and women from all over the valley (some traveled more than an hour) gathered at the local community college to play games, celebrate community and relationships, and learn about leadership.

While Justin and I were the ones doing the “teaching”, I think we learned more than anyone else.

The energy of these students from communities far and wide was palpable. Each one seemed excited to be there, to be alive, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. We watched the event unfold with laughter, screams of joy, and all kinds of shenanigans. When it came time for us to speak, the gym was full of attentive future leaders.

We finished speaking to a much more enthusiastic applause than expected from eight hundred high school students and moved to a table where we met more than a hundred of the attendees. As the many beautiful faces came through the line, we were asked questions about leading well, about how to motivate others, questions delving into self-worth, and comments about what each person took away from the talk we had just given.

The most impactful thing though wasn’t any single question or comment, it wasn’t the joy and energy that filled the room; it was something that simmered just under the surface of so many personalities. The part of this incredible evening that struck me the most was the zest for life each young man and woman seemed to possess. There was a vigor, a strength in each face that filled me with joy and a little bit of shame. Joy because in the face of that kind of young, vibrant power, I was filled with hope for our future. Shame because somewhere along the way I, like so many others I know, have lost the “I can change the world” attitude.

These future change makers reminded me of something incredibly important. To sum it up best I want to use the words of one young man I met that night:

Whether one or a thousand follow us, the most important thing we can do is lead well. Numbers don’t matter.

I am thankful for the reminder that we all have the power to change the world one person, one relationship, one moment at a time.

Exercising Demons

We all have demons. If you don’t think you do, you’re lying to yourself.

We all have character flaws that get the best of us, insecurities that rise to the surface at the most inopportune moments, memories or secrets that haunt us, or horrible life experiences that have shaped us.

I have plenty of these — self-doubt, obsession with perfection, fear of not being enough, addictions that rear their ugly heads more than I care to admit. Sometimes it’s a struggle to keep them at bay, and when the conscious part of my mind has them under control, my subconscious has a way of stirring the pot. Daydreams trip me up or my nights get peppered with dreams that turn into messes of reality and my biggest fears bound so tightly together I can’t tell which is which. My wife often says something like, “It must be rough inside that head of yours.” Sometimes it is.

I know this sounds like I’m a complete disaster most of the time. I’m really not, until I am… and this can happen at a moments notice. All that being said, I feel like I’m a relatively healthy individual. However, my mental health isn’t something that comes easily or naturally to me, and I’m convinced it’s that way for everyone. Those that seem to have it all together are either good at hiding the crazy or have been working hard at taking care of themselves for a long time.

No doubt, some readers read the title of this post and thought, “come on man, learn how to spell.” or “get your homonyms straight.” I didn’t misspell anything, I believe in putting my demons to work. It’s how I stay sane.

Regular physical exertion helps my mind stay clear. I use pent up negative energy, frustration, or anger to give me a little extra oomph. Oh, how I love the cathartic nature of exercise. And while I believe everyone should participate in some form of regular physical fitness because of both the psychological and physical benefits, it’s not the most important thing I do in wrestling with the devils that hang out on my shoulder.

Every day, I do some form of writing. On Mondays, I set aside a couple of hours to write, and the rest of the week, I take a few moments each day to write a few thoughts about whatever craziness happens to be hanging out with me for the day. Sometimes I write in a journal, others on my computer, and still others, on my phone. But I write, and in doing so, I see my demons in a new light, from a new perspective.

I have found that some of the writing I am most proud of focuses on the hard things in life, the pain I face, or the tough stuff that makes me who I am. When I write about something I’m dealing with, I face it. There is no running and hiding from my thoughts and feelings. My demons go to work for me. I figure if they aren’t going anywhere, why not make something of them.

Now, I haven’t always written daily, but since I started, I’m a lot happier. This is because I am spending my time focused on the things I struggle with and how to be a better person despite those struggles rather than wasting my time on what I think other peoples struggles are and telling them how they should deal with theirs.

I believe that if we spent more time exercising our demons and less time pointing out everyone else’s, many of us would be a lot happier.

The Fear That Drives Us

Last week, I shared my thoughts on the destructive power our hate has, and how it defines who we are. As I ran the post by a friend, he asked, “This is great, but have you thought about addressing where those seeds of hate begin?” A challenging question, to say the least, but a worthwhile one. Why do such deep lines of division exist? Yes, there is history, culture, misguided traditions, and twisted religious ideologies that one could point to, but these aren’t the source of hate, they’re merely outcomes of the same problem.

Some of the strongest contempt-filled conversation exist around politics and religion, and not necessarily in that order. It’s disconcerting, to say the least, that dialogue surrounding religion has led to some of the vilest remarks I’ve heard spoken about another person and some of the evilest posts on social media.

So many religions profess forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love and yet are known by the hate they give. And so much of this hate points to one thing — fear.

We will come back to religion in a moment, but first, let’s unmask fear. What it is it, and in it’s most basic form, what feeds it?

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion that is caused by the belief that something or someone is dangerous, or unsafe. Simply put, we feel fear when we don’t feel safe.

So what feeds fear? — The answer is the lack of, or perceived lack of safety.

Let me be clear; fear is a valuable emotion in the face of real dangers like unpredictable and rash politicians, and religious leaders who say one thing while living another. These type of people are unsafe, and fear is appropriate. But when someone states a belief, poses a challenging question about one party or another, or takes a stance on social issues that differ from ours; these are not dangerous things, hateful rhetoric is not an appropriate response in spite of it being the norm.

So many hateful things are spoken and done because of irrational fear.

If anything we say marginalizes an individual or a group of people, it’s hateful and is rooted in fear. If anything we say paints an entire group of people with the same negative brush, it’s hateful and fear-filled, whether or not we are willing to admit it. Anything we do with the intent of making others feel small is vile and driven by our fears of those people, their beliefs, their culture.

When we start to look at our behaviors through this lens, it turns out we have a lot of fear-driven behavior. So what are we afraid of? Do we fear being wrong, so we avoid a constructive conversation about differing politics, and blast those who see the world through a different lens? Do we fear being associated with “those people” so we avoid the challenging dialogue and deflect with hateful rhetoric? Do we fear that others challenging our own beliefs might minimize the value of those beliefs? If that’s our fear, it doesn’t say much about our confidence in our beliefs.

Regardless of our political affiliations or religious ideology, it’s safe to say the vast majority of us seek beliefs that uphold our perception of what is best for the world and what is best for those we love; our children, our families, our friends, the people we hold dear. But when we defend those beliefs in a way that makes others less than us in any way; when we elevate ourselves above others, we are the problem, our fear is the problem, our beliefs are the problem. When we believe we are better than others, fear reigns; and when fear reigns, horrible things happen.

The Crusades were fueled by the fear of other religions, using violence to spread a supposed message of hope. Nazism and the Holocaust were the results of fear propaganda surrounding an entire race of people. Slavery was justified through fear, and the burning of churches and mosques has happened for centuries because people fear beliefs that differ from their own. These are big things, but let’s make it more personal, let’s look at our everyday behaviors. How do we treat our neighbors who are “republican” or “democrat?” What do we say to someone who is gay vs. someone who is straight? How do we engage in conversation with someone who is Christian vs. atheist? If you treat any of these groups as less than, stop and listen to this — every kind of bigotry has it’s deepest roots in fear and using our beliefs to justify any form of bigotry does nothing but further prove this point. There is only one way to combat this fear that seems so pervasive — Love. Love must drive our decisions; it must drive our conversations, only then does anything we proclaim begin to have value. Love must drive our beliefs. Not just some of them, all of them.

Ask yourself, “What conversations am I afraid to have? And why am I afraid. What beliefs do I hold that I fear losing or compromising if I listen to someone else’s perspective?” If there are any, get rid of them.

Because anything that’s grounded in this kind of fear isn’t worth defending, and certainly isn’t worth believing.

Our Hate Defines Us

Last week, I stood in line at a store and overheard a man say, “All those libs need to be strung up, they are ruining America.” I don’t know the context of the comment, but I do know he wasn’t joking. Red-faced with an angry tone, he was looking for someone to challenge him.

I just shook my head in disbelief, but his words have stayed with me. I have thought a lot about that man’s comments and the word of many others I have read and heard over the past few months. They raise a lot of questions for me, but here’s what I know; liberals aren’t ruining America, and neither are conservatives. People who find themselves in the middle on any given issue aren’t the problem either. The real demons are hate-filled rhetoric and gross generalizations. Maybe it is better to say hate-filled, willful ignorance.

I have had my moments regarding topics I feel passionate about. I have spoken out of turn, painted others with generalizations and preconceived notions, and I have allowed emotion to drive my decisions and conversations as opposed to rational thinking and logic. If you’re honest with yourself, you probably have too. We all have had those situations where hate and ignorance are in the driver’s seat. And this mode of operation seems to be becoming the norm.

It feels like every time I turn on the news, or scroll feeds on social media about current events, America has lost its way. Vehement diatribes spew from politicians, facebooks comment from the right and the left are filled with threats and vile words, and it’s all because of ignorance and hate. People on both sides are refusing to ask questions or see things from another perspective. This isn’t standing by your convictions, it’s ignorance. Willful, hate-filled ignorance.

A wise friend once told me, “If your mind is so made up that you won’t even hear someone else’s perspective… you’re wrong. Even if you are right, you’re still wrong.”

I couldn’t agree more. I have friends who are conservative and others who are liberal. I have friends who are gay and others who are straight. I have friends who are atheists and others who are Christian. Needless to say, I don’t see eye to eye with everyone, but I can sit down with any one of them and have a conversation about religion, politics, abortion, the death penalty, immigration, etc. and know they won’t judge me for my differences and I welcome their challenging questions.

The moment I choose to no longer listen, to no longer take in the ideas and beliefs around someone else’s perspective and mull them over, I’m wrong, regardless of the issue. Why? Because I have taken the first step toward willful ignorance. I have chosen to not hear what else is out there. Listening to someone else’s thoughts and opinions will do one of two things: they will further solidify what I believe or give me a reason to rethink my position. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree on any issue, we can choose to approach the conversation from a position of love and a desire to understand. It’s time for us to stop letting hate define us; to stop letting fear drive us. This reminds me of a post from several years ago:

With so much division across the world, it is time for us to come together.

There is no agent of change more powerful than love in the face of hate. The lines that divide us are many, and when we step up to those lines in hate, they grow wider and deeper until they become chasms seemingly impossible to cross. But when we step up to those lines in love, we can step across them and embrace our brothers and sisters on the other side. This doesn't mean we’re right and they're wrong, it means we can begin to understand that we are different, it means we can begin to understand their fears, just as they can begin to understand ours. Together, we can begin to understand how our fears have created such lines of division. And by understanding each other’s fears, we can learn how to love one another better.

To our conservative friends, we love you. To our liberal friends, we love you. To our Democratic friends, we love you. To our Republican friends, we love you. To our gay friends, we love you. To our straight friends, we love you. To our Christian friends, we love you. To our atheist friends, we love you. To our Muslim friends, we love you. To our refugee friends, we love you. To all of you who feel divided and broken, we love you. Regardless of your race, religion, sexual preference, or nationality, we love you. You all are welcome in our homes and at our tables.

In these times of division, the lines drawn in the sand are being widened by hate, fear, and bigotry on both sides of the issues. It is a time for heroes to step up and stand strong for love, to stand strong for compassion, to stand strong and know that we can love one another but not agree with one another, we can love one another but not believe the same things as one another. To all of our friends, we challenge you to choose love today and in the days to come so this world will have some sense of hope as we move forward.

From Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck of I’ll Push You

This is every bit as applicable now as it was in 2016.

Every day we can engage in conversations around the issues that are important to us. We can engage in dialogue and try to understand other’s perspectives?

Or

We can paint others with generalizations and preconceived notions, refusing to hear what else is out there. We can choose willful, hate-filled ignorance and continue to let our hate define us.

"Shut Up and Listen" - Often The Best Advice

I spent a number of years in an administrative role at an area hospital. My position was one with a lot of responsibility, and with that came hard conversations with senior leadership, physicians, service line directors, nurses, and ancillary staff.

My boss, Ed Castledine, was a source of wisdom for me in many tense scenarios and while I learned many lessons from him, four words he shared with me more than four years ago still echo in my brain. I recall prepping, with Ed, for a big meeting with a lot of decision makers. Tensions were high as a number of people were going to be affected by the outcome of the meeting. Ed paused our conversation as we prepared for different scenarios and said, “I learned a long time ago that often the best thing we can do in situations like these is shut up and listen.

We went on discussing how our culture is plagued with people who listen to respond as opposed to those who listen to understand, and how we both were guilty of this.

Just a few days ago, I was sharing with a friend about some challenges. Before I had finished two sentences, he was offering me advice, telling me how I should navigate things.

“Did you hear what I just said?” I asked.

“Yeah. You said …” As he explained to me what he thought I had said, I told him he got about 50% of it right. The conversation continued and after several attempts to explain what was going on, and several interruptions of advice that were remarkably unhelpful, I gave up.

But the whole time, Ed’s words were ringing in my head, “Shut up and listen.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people respond to their children without actually listening to the words being said, or arguments between spouses flair because advice is offered prematurely (or offered when not asked for). Each is a case of listening to respond as opposed to listening to understand. The outcome always leads to frustration and resentment, and rightfully so. When we don’t listen to someone, when we don’t take the time to hear all their words, we tell them they aren’t important. When we think we have their story and problems figured, we reek of arrogance and entitlement.

I have been guilty of this many times, and not once has it led to what I would call a desired outcome.

Listening to understand is an art, it takes patience, it requires us to shut out distractions, it means we have to be fully present in the words and emotions being offered as opposed to being engaged in our thoughts or internal monologue.

So I have started a new practice. Anytime I am in a conversation with someone, I try to not say anything until either they ask for a response, or there is a pause in the conversation, and I ask, “Can I offer a few thoughts?”

Now let me be clear, I said “started”, which means this is pretty new, and I said “practice” which means I am trying. But by no means is this the norm… yet.

However, I do know that anytime we offer up advice without listening, it’s crappy advice. Without fail.

So I challenge you as I challenge myself, the next time someone is sharing with you, shut up and listen. Don’t respond till they ask you to, or until you have asked if you can offer some thoughts.

Two things will happen:

One, they will respect and appreciate the time you have given them, and two, you might find you actually have something valuable to offer.

Discovering A Real Superpower

My business partner, and best friend, and I recently spoke at a conference here in Idaho. The gathering was made up of nonprofit leaders from around the state coming together to share knowledge and information about how to be better at what they do.

Like so many conferences, this one had a theme: The Super-powered Sector. There is no denying that effective nonprofits seem to possess superpowers, but what struck me about the theme had to do with a conversation we had with one of the attendees.

After we spoke, we spent time at a booth meeting people and signing books during the breaks between each of the day’s sessions. A gentleman, named Brek, came up to us during one of the quieter times and we struck up a conversation about what we do, the content of the conference, his work, and the weather. Eventually, though, our words got redirected to a discussion of faith, pain, and the struggles of life.

We learned that we had a mutual friend with Brek named Kenny. Our new acquaintance told us all about their friendship, their shared interests, and similar life experiences. Then he said something that got my attention. “Though we look nothing alike, If Kenny and I each held up a placard with our histories on them, you wouldn’t be able to tell us apart.”

Brek paused for a moment and then continued, “In fact, if we all help up placards with our stories written out we would find we have a lot more in common than we think.”

These words brought something to the forefront of my mind that I have been chewing on for a while now. I know so many people, myself included, who carry struggles, pain or addictions, fears and failures, that we hold close. We keep them quiet because we don’t want anyone to know because no one will understand. But if we all wore placards, I would be willing to bet the things we believe isolate us could be the very things that unite us.

My wife and I meet weekly with a group of couples. We offer strength, encouragement, and support to one another. A few months back, we did an exercise where we all wrote down on small pieces of paper one or two things we struggle with most.

We placed the pieces of paper in a bowl and then wrote all the responses on a whiteboard.

The words we all stared at were weighty and sobering.

Fear of not being enough, self-doubt, lust, insecurity, fear of being alone, depression, fear of failure, and many more.

What was so powerful was that everyone was surprised and yet relieved to know they weren’t the only one dealing with something. In fact, every person was dealing with or had dealt with, all but a few of the responses. In a moment, the things we all saw as the most difficult for us suddenly became things that united us.

Standing with Brek, my mind went back to The Super-powered Sector theme of the day, and I couldn’t help but think the most significant “superpower” we can possess is having the strength to speak out what we fear, acknowledging our weaknesses. Because by doing so, we learn we aren’t alone, and that someone else has been there before.

What are you holding onto that is weighing you down, what fears, failures, or secrets hold you back because you are the only one dealing with these things? Share them with someone close. You might be surprised at how such things bring us together.

Because the things we let isolate us should be the very things that unite us.

Grass Clippings and Good Times

This past weekend, my wife, Donna, and I were in Walla Walla, WA with some good friends. While work brought us there, we found a little bit of time for rest, tasted some fine wine, and enjoyed some fantastic dinners. Our three children were at home with Grandma enjoying being spoiled.

Any time I get a weekend away from home, I relish the time spent with the love of my life. Every minute of this weekend was amazing. On the drive up I read a book to her while she drove, we found new-to-us wineries and restaurants each day, and we laughed more than most as we enjoyed each other's company and the time with our friends. But the real magic happened when we returned. 

Before I tell you about it, you need to know we are fans of football. Hailing from the Seattle area, my wife is a Seahawks fan, so that means my three kids and I are as well. There is a connection that occurs as we sit together and enjoy a game as a family. However, this particular Sunday meant I was going to be mowing the lawn and catching up on some chores that had built up in my absence.

As we pulled into our driveway, I commented, "Did someone mow the lawn?"

Donna scanned the front yard and said, "I think so."

I stepped out of the passenger seat and peaked around the side of our garage and noticed the backyard looked like it had also been cut. Perplexed, we headed for the door.

When we entered the house, we dropped our bags by the door and distributed hugs to our two younger kids who had clearly missed us. But when I wrapped my arms around my thirteen-year-old daughter, she said, "Did you see what I did for you daddy? I mowed the lawn and even edged it for you. I wanted to make sure we could hang out and watch the game." The light in her eyes was amazing. 

This might be the first present that has brought a tear to my eye. What an incredible gift, unsolicited help simply fueled by the desire to be with me. What a humbling thought, my daughter had spent 3 hours of her Saturday edging and mowing our yard so we could snuggle on the couch the following day and rest in each other's presence. 

While we are football fans and enjoy watching a game, this was about so much more. This was about connecting. My daughter made time together possible because she was thinking about it and willing to work to make it happen.

Her selflessness got me thinking about the things that I can and should make happen with my wife, my kids, my friends; and what do I need to do to make them a reality? Good relationships aren't magic; they don't just appear. They take work and intentionality, requiring us to pursue time with one another much the way my daughter sought time with me.

So ask yourself who you want to spend time with this week.

What are you willing to do to make it happen?
 

 

Dr. Who and Politics

The other day, I was watching a tv show in an attempt to unplug. I wanted to turn off my mind and was having success until I heard one of the characters utter words filled with so much wisdom it killed the mood. What was meant to be an hour of mindlessness suddenly became a homework assignment because now I couldn't help but unpack the words of some jerk of a fictional character who had just called all of humanity onto the carpet.

I was watching an episode of Dr. Who and honestly wasn't paying much attention until I heard the words:

"You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts; they alter the facts to fit their views, which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering."

As I replayed those words in my mind, two things happened simultaneously: one, I began to list all the people this applied to; two, I realized that I was on that list. Because at the end of the day, we all have altered the facts to fit our views at some point in time. Whether it be in regards to faith, science, religion, relationships, or politics; no one is immune to this trap.

When we feel passionate about something, it is easy to select only the information that supports our view or opinion instead of looking at things objectively. We see this all too frequently in politics; leaders quote texts out of context, use partial stats that bolster their views, and run ad campaigns that possess subtle twists of the truth. And as a result, we do the same thing.

We live in a culture where we spend so much time pursuing being right; we often wind up being wrong.

For example, I was recently in a conversation with a friend who was harping on the state of Idaho because it is ranked 36th in the category of average household income. He was taking the stance that Idaho is a terrible place to live. I asked him if he realized that while Idaho is one of the lower ranking states in regards to income, it is very desirable for many because of the low cost of living (Idaho weighs in at 4th for low cost of living)? Suddenly his perspective shifted because he had a more accurate picture.

A lot can happen when we get more information than just the stuff that supports our views. A mentor of mine exercises an interesting practice. He looks at what articles, research, and stats people who oppose his views are quoting. As a result, a global perspective is achieved and his understanding of the issues is more comprehensive. Sometimes he stands by the beliefs he began with, but other times, the facts change everything, and he winds up on a different side of a topic than where he started.

Years ago, a heard a man say, "If you ever find yourself in a room where everyone agrees with you, find another room. And if you ever find yourself in a room where nobody agrees with you, shut up and listen." 

So I frequently ask myself, "Am I in a room where everyone agrees with me?"

If so, I find another room because there is a good chance the facts have been altered to fit the collective view.

Other times I ask myself, "Am I in a room where nobody agrees with me?"

If so, I try to shut up and listen because there is a good chance I can learn a thing or two.

Snakes and Sermons

As a child I loved camping. 

We were a family of six, but my mom didn't share the joy, so she often stayed home. Usually, it was my dad, and various mixtures of my older brother and sister, my younger brother, and myself. 

I can remember loading up our sleeping bags, tent, firewood, food, and camp stove into the car. Excited for the adventure, we would sleep little the night before and once sleep did find us, it was cut short by being shaken to consciousness. My dad had an obsession with early starts so, before the sun was awake, we would be heading to a campsite along a mountain stream. 

My dad loved fishing… me, not so much, but I wanted to love it because he did. So my siblings and I always took our poles in hopes of catching something. A fish on the line was rarely in my future, which meant I frequently lost interest and found other means by which to occupy my time.

At times, large ant hills provided great entertainment as my younger brother and I would dismantle all their hard work with a long stick. Probing into their inner chambers, we would watch them frantically scurry to identify the threat and eventually rebuild. We were fine tormenting them but kept our distance to avoid the risk of being bitten.

On other days, we would find a tree that would double as a target for stones we had collected along the trails. We would hurl them at a designated spot on the trunk, or at a conspicuous limb sticking out oddly. The contest would then begin. No real score kept, but we both knew the tally in our heads.

Mountainside hide-and-go-seek was another staple pastime. Scampering across streams, diving behind trees or shrubs, always on the move to avoid being caught, these games would last for hours.

But on one particular camping trip, I found myself wandering around the trails alone. I don't recall what was going through my head at that moment, probably some scenario of survival. A downed pilot behind enemy lines desperate to find his way home, or an outlaw avoiding capture for crimes he did not commit. Either way, I had a massive gun in my possession, I am pretty sure it was made of pine or fir.

My daydream of adventure and perceived invincibility was cut short as I saw it lying in the path just a few feet from my shoes and froze in fear. But it just laid there with no regard for my presence. No undulation of muscles, no twitch of the head, no flick of its massive tail, or tasting of the air with its tongue. Its menacing eyes just looked away from me. I had never seen a snake remain so calm in the presence of a human. 

Slowly the fear began to subside, my imagination became a little less pervasive, and I started to see the danger for what it was. 

Just skin. Remarkably intact, but only a shell of what the snake used to be. 

As an adult, I have a deep appreciation for this experience.

As relationships unfold and people begin to "shed skin," it becomes easy to focus on what they were, the faults of their past, the sins of their fathers. Judgment is handed out for things they have no control over, or for decisions made in another life.

The fear of what was destroys the chance to appreciate what is.

Every decision we make is the product of our past experiences, past decisions, past relationships whether good or bad. When we refuse to open up and acknowledge that who we are is based upon who we were, we begin to experience a suffocating force, a fear of what others might think, a fear of the hurt we might cause. As a result, we retreat from intimacy, minimize the experiences of others, and doubt who we are and what we can become.

This refusal to embrace the truth of our lives will eventually destroy every relationship we have unless we give people a reason to see us differently, unless we chose to see others differently.

I remember a sermon from when I was a teenager. 

I take that back; I don't remember the sermon at all… I remember one line:

"who you were doesn't matter, who you are matters."

While I appreciate the point he was trying to make, this pastor could not have been more wrong.

Who we were does matter. Our life experiences are the DNA for our emotions, our ability to navigate relationships. They create the pathways of thought and emotion in our minds and souls that guide us in every interaction. 

Who we were matters, and it is what we do with it that defines us. When we embrace our history and trust others by inviting them into our stories, our hurt, and our sadness; we also invite them into our hopes, dreams, and together we share in our joys. 

When we hang on to the skin that hides the brokenness and pain that we have experienced, it slowly begins to poison our view of what we can become. When we do the same to others out of fear, we stifle opportunities for personal growth, the growth of relationships, and every time we refuse to face the reality of the history that has made us who we are or has made others who they are; we destroy an opportunity for rebirth, for discovering new potential, for healing.

 

When Strength Becomes Weakness

Businesses and organizations employ a number of strength assessments such as strength finders, the DiSC assessment, Work Place Big 5, and many others to determine the areas where employees thrive, the traits that individuals naturally possess, the strengths that allow those individuals to succeed. Churches use them to identify giftings so the congregation can better understand how they can serve the church and others.

I have taken many of these types of assessments and I always find value in the results. Putting names to certain natural talents and understanding the impact of those talents can be immensely helpful, especially in positions of leadership. But we live in a society that often places too much emphasis on "playing to your strengths" and those areas where we are so gifted can become the very things that destroy our opportunities for growth and success. There is a subtle arrogance that lurks in all of us, and if we don't keep it in check, that arrogance becomes the foundation for blind spots related to our strengths. In essence, our greatest strengths become our most devastating weaknesses.

“Strength in weakness” sounds counter-intuitive, especially in our culture. A culture that often praises beauty, money, clothes, gadgets, and status. A culture where those with assets, possessions, superior strength, and superior minds are seen as the strong, and the strong will survive, right? Not necessarily.

Faith in one’s self often leads to one’s demise. When we begin to think we have it all together, when our strengths fill us with the perception that “we” are all we need, those strengths become the very reason we find ourselves outmatched, we find ourselves falling, we find ourselves broken, we find ourselves alone.

The reliance on our strengths often leads to situations where we don't think we need help, we don't see the value others perceptions or opinions may have, or we get so far gone within our strengths that they begin to affect our personal lives.

I have taken Strength Finders several times and each time empathy is my number one. Empathy refers to having insight into another's emotional state without sharing it. When I was working in healthcare administration, this was incredibly helpful as I navigated tough conversations with physicians or families. But when I lean too far into empathy, I begin to take on the stress or pain of others. If I'm not careful, I begin to project those feelings into my own relationships with my wife or kids.

A good friend of mine is incredibly gifted in the area of administration and is a remarkable communicator. He runs a tight ship at his business. Everyone knows their expectations, communication is clear and concise, deadlines are met. But he sometimes takes the same administrative approach at home. He plays to his strengths and runs the home like he would his business. Opportunities for real honest conversations are often lost when he doesn't separate his approach to work from his approach to his marriage or parenting.

I've seen pastors gifted with so much woo, it's impossible not to like them and yet they press so deeply into relationships that they fail to run the business of the church and be effective administrators because their vision is clouded. 

The overuse or over-reliance on any strengths will always lead to a weakness but because the area is seen as a strength, we are often unaware of the ill effects. 

Confidence can lead to arrogance

Being a visionary can lead to dreaming with no execution 

If you’re gifted with words, you can talk too much

If you’re organizationally gifted, you can be inflexible

Intense focus on detail can lead to rigidity

A strong drive for results can lead to steamrolling others

Directness can lead to insensitivity

Inquisitiveness can lead to being over critical

A strong sense of independence and drive can make you a poor team player

Patience can lead to complacency

Cooperative nature can lead to conflict avoidance

Many families suffer because of an intense work ethic, where mothers and fathers find themselves spending more time and energy in their jobs than they invest in their marriages or parenting. Often this is because it is easier to "play to your strengths" at work than in your personal life.

Ask yourself, "what are my strengths?" and then look for the downside to your gifts. If you can't find one, keep looking, there is always a downside. If you still can't find it, it's time for a gut check about that arrogance I mentioned earlier. When we see how our strengths, when left unchecked, can lead to negative effects, we're moving in the right direction. 

Small But Mighty - A Part of Something Bigger

Nature has a way of making me feel small and insignificant. Mountains often leave me in awe at the raw power necessary to create them, rivers that cut their way through earth and stone possess a force I sometimes envy, and tall redwoods with the memory of hundreds of seasons etched into their rings leave my neck and my mind aching as I look up seeking their tops that seem to touch the sky.

But nothing has made me feel as small as the mountains that populate the landscape of Glacier National Park... the only gifts of nature I have seen that rival the Swiss Alps. 

I recently explored some of Glacier National Park with my wife and kids, and while I had been told of the majesty hidden within this wilderness, I had no understanding of what I would see... what I would experience.

On one particular day, we drove up the Going To The Sun Road. As we wound our way up the 4 thousand feet of elevation gain through switchback after switchback to Logan Pass, I couldn't stop giggling. An almost nervous laugh escaped my lips at every twist and turn of the road. Gazing up at the peaks and down thousands of feet to the valley below, I experienced a smallness that took my breath away. Yes, the beauty was breathtaking but so was the feeling of insignificance. The amount of power needed to create these massive masterpieces is impossible to comprehend.

For a few moments, I found myself thinking about how little one person can do compared to the power of nature... the force that created our world. After we exited our vehicle and began working our way toward one of the trailheads, I had a feeling of powerlessness running through my mind and body. I couldn't shake it as we began to walk down a dirt path.

Then I saw trash and debris scattered across the trail just a few feet in front of me. My heart broke for a moment. One individual's power to affect change in the world is so limited, but a group of careless individuals, selfish people who place their own needs and desires above others, can be a powerfully negative force, leaving damage in their wake.

Then, in an instant, my perspective shifted as a young woman reached down and picked up the trash that held my attention. As she placed the debris in her pack, I noticed she had collected a lot more than what littered the trail in front of me. Others were doing the same thing.

As individuals, we might have little power compared to the peaks of the Continental Divide. But when the actions of one person influence another to do the same, the power of those actions are amplified 2 times, 4 times, or a thousand times. 

There is no denying that we are all small in comparison to the grandeur of nature, but we can be a mighty agent of change when we gather together around a purpose beyond ourselves. 

As we continued our hike, a line from a song by Amber Run kept ringing through my head, "I don't want to be the center of anything, just a part of something bigger."

Today I write all this to pose a question, are you desiring to be the center, or are you pursuing something bigger?

The Colors of Influence

Our words and actions have remarkable power. With them, we can create or destroy. Every day we bring beauty or pain to the world around us through who we choose to be. Unfortunately, we (myself included) often underestimate this power and fail to steward our words and actions the way we should. Sometimes it helps me to look at our impact on the world through a fresh lens.

One of my children recently used this analogy:

"We are like a box of crayons. The words we use will color the world around us."

Our children are often the source of incredible life lessons... if we take the time to understand the implications of their words.

"The words we use will color the world around us." This got me thinking... what if instead of a box of crayons, our words and actions where a collection of paint colors.

What if we approached life like it was a massive book filled with tens of thousands of pages, each day a canvas with black lines delineating the events of the day, the things we can't control? And what if our words and actions determined the colors that filled the empty spaces of each canvas?

My canvases are often filled with bright blues and greens, oranges and yellows, colors made with soft and steady strokes, patient and deliberate, seeking to bring beauty to the world around me. These are the days where I take the time to listen to those around me, seeking to understand what they are saying rather than listening simply to respond with what I think they should do, think, feel, or believe. These are the days where my children know how much I love them and are encouraged to think for themselves. These are the days where my wife knows I would do anything for her and that nothing will ever change that. These are the days where the people I work with know they can trust my intentions and my friends know I have their backs.

But then there are the days where my pages are filled with angry reds, dark grays, and varying shades of black. Haphazard strokes accentuate the hard part of the day, jagged lines shatter the possibility for anything beautiful to be painted. These are the days where I listen to respond, where I listen just enough to know someone disagrees with me, where I glean just enough to solidify an argument or perspective that I think you should have and I am more than ready to shove it down your throat. These are the days where the darkness inside me rises to the surface. These are the days where my children avoid me because who wants to be around that. These are the days where my wife is given reason to question my motives. And these are the days where the people I work with wonder if they can trust me and my friends look for somewhere else to be.

We all have these types of days, the good and the bad. And most days are a combination of happy, joyful, sincere, loving, grace-filled, and forgiving colors mixed in with angry, bitter, selfish, entitled, cruel, or arrogant ones. But the outcome of every day's canvas is determined by the colors and brush strokes we choose with our words and actions. Often, our paintings influence the outcome of other's paintings. What we choose to say, what we choose to do, who we choose to be will influence the outcome of other's days. 

Our words and actions have the remarkable power to bring beauty or pain to our children, spouses or partners, friends, neighbors, employees, and coworkers.

Our words and actions color the world around us. Choose your colors wisely. 

Sadness - An Unwanted Companion

I'm not a huge fan of Mondays. No matter how good of a weekend I've had, I'm always a little bummed that I'm back at work. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, but transitioning from days spent playing with the kids and hanging out with my wife are significantly more enjoyable than work. 

Even though I never fail to shake the Mondays, they still show up every seven days. 

As vacations come to a close, I always feel a similar sense of sadness at the thought of carefree late nights and laughter around campfires fading away as we head back to reality. The same thing tends to happen around the holidays. Hours spent with family are replaced with the normal daily routine. I probably sound like a pessimist about now, but I am certain I'm more of a realist, just embracing what is but not necessarily making it worse than it is.

There are a number of other sources for some humdrum and mildly sad moments in everyone's life. They hit us and we move forward despite not feeling like we are on our emotional A-game. But there is something else out there that lurks with unexplained timing. Precipitating events are hard to nail down because they always seem to change. Unexplained sadness has always been a part of my life. Sometimes I just wake up that way, sometimes it comes on as a slow build over the course of a day or even a week. And, once in a while, it hits me like a ton of bricks; like I'm sitting on a calm, quiet beach enjoying a sunrise and the waves rise without warning, knocking me clean on my ass.

Regardless of the type of onset, it comes and sometimes, it stays. So many people I know experience the same thing; some not as frequently as I do, others feel the sadness much more often. The point is, I know I'm not alone in this. My wife thinks I struggle with lowgrade depression, and I can't say she is wrong. There is a part of me that enjoys the sadness; the more I feel it, the more I'm drawn to it. At times I find comfort in the discomfort... these moments scare me because I tend to focus on the bad things in my life, my mind goes to dark places. Most of the time, I have enough self-awareness to know these same moments are incredibly unhealthy. Too many people I know have traveled much further down this road than I and it has never ended well. Not once.

While I still can't point to a specific recipe of events or triggers that bring on my times of sadness, I have started to recognize them as opportunities to learn and grow. Sadness isn't something I seek out or even want when my mind is clear, but if it's going to show up and spend a few nights on my couch and force me to entertain it, I'm going to find a way to make the most of it.

I've started making a mental checklist of the things I'm grateful for. I do this almost daily. Sometimes I just sit and make the list in my mind, almost like a mantra:

Food, clean water, a roof over my head, electricity, kids who love me, a wife who loves me in spite of me, a family, good friends, a car that starts, a job, hot coffee, a warm shower, blue sky, air in my lungs, a soft warm bed, and the list could go on for at least 10 more lines.

Treating this as a habit has diminished the power my sadness has over me because no matter how big it may seem, and no matter how dark my mind might get, the list of good always outweighs the bad; even when the bad seems pretty big like death, a friend's divorce, financial crisis, bodily injury, sick kids, etc. 

I would love to be rid of my unwanted companion, but it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. The one thing I do appreciate about the sadness I often feel is that I don't know that I ever would have focused on the good things in my life the way I have if I hadn't felt the need to counter the depressive thoughts that are a part of who I am.

I guess this a realist’s attempt at a glass half full.

Today, take a moment to focus on the good things in your life.