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. 

Hidden Lessons in Plain Sight

When my children were younger, we would often play hide and seek and their hiding paces often made me smile. The stealth of my three kids ranged from faces buried in pillows while the rest of their bodies were fully visible, hiding under the dinning room table in almost plain sight, or a pair of little feet sticking out from under a bed. Because if they couldn't see me, surely I couldn't see them. But as they grew older, they began to understand more about the art of hiding. Now, they never make a sound, move from spot to spot to keep the game going longer, and even use distractions, like throwing rocks or sticks, to divert my attention. 

Watching my children learn and grow is an incredible adventure, especially when their learning and growing lead to my own. 

So many lessons of life are hidden in plain sight, glaringly obvious if we just experience a slight shift of perspective. My nine-year son offered that to me this past weekend as we celebrated my birthday.

As I was lying in bed trying to chase the cobwebs of sleep away, he came in with all kinds of excitement. Nine years old and he still crawls in bed to snuggle. Lying next to me he turned to his mom.

"Mom, Can I give dad his birthday present?"

"Did you wrap it yet?"

"No, but I will right now!"

He flew out of bed and into the other room where he stuffed something into a gift bag, covering the gift with wads of tissue paper. Within minutes he was back on our bed with a huge grin and radiating the joy that comes with giving.

I sat up, reached into the bag, and tried to discern what the contents were. I was pretty sure there were two t-shirts in there, one bigger than the other. When I looked inside the bag, I saw I was right, two t-shirts sat at the bottom, one black and one gray.

I pulled out the larger of the two, the black one, and held it up. A black t-shirt with the simple outline of a record silkscreened on the front. Next to the record was a hand that looked like it was turning the record as if it was on a turntable. Underneath was one word in white letters.

"Original"

I smiled and told my son how much I loved it because who doesn't love a gift from one of their kids. I then reached back into the bag so I could take a look at the second and smaller shirt. When I help it up, I saw the gray cotton material was adorned with a nearly identical design but with one very important difference. Underneath the same white outline of a record being turned by a hand was a different word.

"Remix"

"Do you get it, dad?" my son asked. "You're the original and I'm the remix!" Needless to say, I lit up with joy at the unnecessary but awesome explanation. It might be the best birthday gift I have received. We immediately put them and wore them all day.

Since then, I have been thinking about those words "Original" and "Remix" and it dawned on me, a hidden lesson in plain sight. My son desires to be like me, but a fresher, newer version of me. 

Now, we've all heard remixes of songs that are every bit as good, if not better than the original, and we've all heard remixes that should never have made it out of the recording studio. A lot of how I treat my kids is going to determine what kind of remix they will be. My words and actions make up the notes and beats of their newer version of me. 

Each parent has influence over what kind of remix their kids will be. Children can be a fresh and fun remix of our good stuff, a thoughtful remix of our ability to gracefully navigate challenges or have hard conversations with those we disagree with but in a loving manner. Or, they can be a foreboding remix of our negativity, our fears, our darkness. No one wants that.

We all need to be mindful of the notes we play and the rhythms of life we live by. Our kids will take what we give them and make a remix. I want it to be one I'll listen to on repeat for the rest of my life. 

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Redefining Limits

Life is fraught with limitations. Every man, woman, and child faces challenges. Sickness, injury, depression, loss of life, financial struggle, etc. These challenges limit our ability to move forward in life, they limit our ability to grow... if we let them.

There are a host of individuals who have shaped how I live my life. My parents taught me how to love, taught me right from wrong, and introduced me to my faith. Friends and mentors have helped shape that faith and my wife has loved me in spite of who I am. Every person I know, every person who is a part of my life possesses strength, wisdom, and resiliency that I look to as a guide for living life. My best friend Justin Skeesuck has made the choice to live a full life, despite the limitations of a progressive neuromuscular disease. His perspective has had a profound effect on many, myself included.

Since embarking on The Camino four years ago, Justin and I have had countless individuals reach out, telling us about the adventures they are on even though they live life with one leg, have a debilitating disease or live life from a wheelchair. And often those stories point to a strength emboldened by the choices of people like Justin. A mentality that declares, “I will not be defined by my limitations!”

The other day, Justin and I were talking about how each person has a responsibility to those around them. We all have the opportunity to profoundly affect each relationship we are a part of, for better or worse. Who we are is contagious! We need to make sure we’re worth catching!

When people like Justin willingly embrace the difficult life they have been given and choose to focus on what they can do as opposed to what they can’t, when they embrace what they do have as opposed to what is missing and welcome the helping hands of others; they become a catalyst for a new way of thinking. Who they are is a gift to others as they bring a new perspective to all they encounter. A perspective that paints a vivid picture of the beauty experienced within humility and vulnerability. A perspective that drives home this message: there is just as much beauty in receiving as there is in giving. A perspective providing others with the strength to face each challenge of life… if my best friend, who can’t use his arms and legs, can find joy in life, surely I can do the same.

Every day we have the opportunity to bring heaven or hell to earth through whom we choose to be. When individuals embrace life, regardless of their limitations or struggles, when they love and let others love them, when they let others carry their burdens, heaven intersects with earth. We get a glimpse of what community should be. In those moments, real love can flourish.

Live A Life Worth Repeating

Balance… the incredibly difficult art of maintaining a healthy ratio of the many facets of our lives. Too much of anything becomes unhealthy, like a poison. Too little and the nutrients we need to survive are suddenly in such short supply we are like fruit dying on the vine.

Parenting, exercise, work, rest, relationships, hobbies, etc.; there are many things in life that take our time and energy. If you’re like me, you have the habit of being “all in” until you’re not, because you can’t, because “all in” with all things means everything gets very little and it makes for the unhealthiest of lives.

We must maintain balance and I have found the most important motivating factor for me is my children.

I have three kids… girl, boy, girl; ages 13, 9, and 8. While I’m only about halfway through my parenting career, my children have taught me a lot of lessons. Mostly through the lessons I’m trying to teach them. The most important is living a life worth repeating.

What am I doing in my life that is worth repeating?

Do I want my children to obsess about food, exercise, and body image? No! Maybe I shouldn’t either. Do I want my children to work 80 hours a week, placing work relationships in a position of importance above their partner or kids? No! Then neither should I.

Do I want my kids to curl up with a book and read to their future children, or take them on walks to explore nature? Yes! Then maybe I should do the same. Do I want my kids to take time for their future partners and invest in their friendships so they don’t find themselves living life alone? Of course! Perhaps I should lead by example.

Children who embrace life with a spirit of adventure often have adults in their lives who have done the same. Children, who live a life of fear, never taking risks or trying something new, desperately need someone to model a different way of living.

Whether you’re a mother, a father, aunt, uncle, or friend; there are young ones in your life who are influenced by the decisions you make. Like it or not, it’s true! We all have a responsibility to live a life worth repeating, we just don’t always take that responsibility seriously.

But the more we see our life patterns, our daily decisions, our relationships as a compass by which the children in our lives will navigate theirs, the easier it becomes to maintain balance. Embrace fitness the way you want your children to, eat foods you want your children to eat, treat others the way you want your children to treat others, rest and play the way you want your children to rest and play.

Want to maintain balance? Ask yourself, “Is the way I am approaching _____________ the way I would want a child to?” If the answer is yes, you’re on your way to a balanced life. If the answer is no, it’s time to make some changes.

Live a life worth repeating! Because who you are is infectious; make sure you’re worth catching!

 

Failure: Friend or Foe

A friend once told me, “Failure is a great strengthening tool!” Yes! Yes it is. But to truly appreciate how strength exists within our failures,  I have found it helpful to understand what failure means.

At its origin, failure simply means a “nonoccurrence”. One of the most popular definitions of failure is simply, “the lack of success”. This means failure is defined by one’s definition of success, and nothing in this definition of failure implies there isn’t value in experiencing failure. But how often does our society pressure young men and women into thinking being on top of the food chain is the only thing that matters? Be the best husband, the best wife, the best worker, the best son, the best daughter, the best athlete, the best student, and the list goes on. Worse yet, many swing so far the other direction that the idea of “success” is completely destroyed. Participation trophies for everyone! It’s pretty hard to learn from failure if you are robbed of experiencing the beauty that exists in not reaching a goal, or when success is the only thing that matters. The perfect balance exists somewhere in the middle.

Every single time we fail, we are gifted with an opportunity to learn something. Sometimes we learn that we didn’t work as hard as someone else, or that there is knowledge we didn’t possess. Other times we discover we aren’t as good at something as we thought we were or a dream is bigger than what we can accomplish on our own.

So what do we do with failure? This is one of a few true measures of who we are as individuals. Do we simply accept failure and just give up? Do we pretend it didn’t happen and seek the token appreciation trophy? Or do we recognize failure as an opportunity? An opportunity to learn from our mistakes or weakness and work harder, recognize we didn’t know as much as we thought we did and study harder, see that someone deserved to win more than we did and train harder, or recognize we can’t do it on our own and invite others into our story and pursue a dream together?

When we look at our failures as opportunities to learn and grow. The fear of failure is slowly replaced with a sense of excitement. As opposed to thinking, “I failed!” we begin to think, “Okay, what can I learn from this, how can I do things differently next time?”

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." --Thomas Edison

When we choose to learn from our mistakes, choose to learn from our failures, we grow stronger, become smarter, and we evolve into individuals with depth, people with a collection of experiences others can learn from. We become individuals who have something of value to offer the world, something far more valuable than “success at all costs” or a collection of participation trophies.

Don’t be afraid of failures, fear the moments you cease to learn from them.

Make Something New

Children can be so very surprising. They come into the world as globs of muscle, flesh, slobber, and tears. They are utterly dependent upon their parents for everything, and yet they open our eyes to a new world. Everything is brand new, and as they take in color and light, as their hands stroke a kitten’s fur or their face nuzzles into the snuggles of a puppy, it’s as if we are experiencing those things for the first time alongside them. The awe in their eyes as they reach out to touch a blade of grass or hear notes from a piano for the first time strikes a sense of wonder in us.

We often live vicariously through our children’s experiences and are sometimes reminded of our own firsts.

When my son or one of my two daughters gets a new Lego set for a birthday or Christmas gift, we immediately put it together, following the instructions so we can replicate what we see on the box. But the real fun comes later. On lazy Saturdays, we dump out a bin filled with different Lego pieces, a hodgepodge of shapes and colors from who knows how many different sets. And we just build, connecting pieces in sequence and order as thoughts and ideas come to our minds. A spaceship here, a fort there, an all-terrain rover that can handle carpet, hardwood, and the vertical climb up the side of a couch.

There is no limit to what we can build… no rules to adhere to. We just create… using the pieces available to make something new.

Whenever I sit on the floor and build alongside my children, I am reminded of when I used to spend hours doing the same thing as a kid. One of my first memories of Legos is a warm summer day where my siblings and I spread out a blanket on the grass in our front yard and dumped out our own bin of miscellaneous pieces. I must have been four or five. There we sat, using whatever pieces were available to make something new.

With each passing year, I spent less and less time building with Legos and turned my creativity toward writing stories or poems. A different medium, but still I created. But as I became an adult, I created less and less.

Anytime I hear the word “creativity”, I immediately think of paintings, drawings, music, or literature. And it’s easy to limit creativity to categories such as these. But the word comes from the Latin term creō, which simply means to create or make. Not creating a painting, illustrating a drawing, composing music, or writing a book… just create or make. The vast majority of individuals don’t find themselves in careers where they create art, write books, or compose music, but everyone is capable of so much creativity. However, most of us lose sight of it as we grow older and, as a result, miss out on a lot of the beauty that exists around us… until we see the world through the eyes of our children and sometimes through the eyes of a friend who never lost his creativity.

Justin and I have been best friends our entire lives. Born in the same hospital with just over 36 hours between us, we don’t have memories where we aren’t apart of each other’s world. What we do have is a lifetime of building forts, playing with Legos, and riding bikes. We have stories of camping trips, dates gone wrong, run-ins with wild animals, and photos of being best man in each other’s wedding.

We also have shared adventures all over the world despite Justin now living life from a wheelchair.

While I wrote stories and poems in my early teens, Justin drew and painted. His need to create was insatiable as pieces of art poured from him. When he was diagnosed with a progressive neuromuscular disease during our junior year of high school, he developed a severe limp in his left leg and required a brace to walk, but he still created beautiful pieces. When the disease jumped to his right leg and walking became a chore, he continued to pursue a degree in art and design. When he met his wife, he was using his creativity to build a career in graphic design that would support his soon to be family. In 2006, when Justin had to give up walking altogether and began using a manual wheelchair, he was building a solid career as a freelance designer. And when he lost the use of his hands in 2010, he used his creativity to face the struggles of his disease.

I watched Justin relearn how to tie his shoes, brush his teeth, and button a shirt at least six times. Now he needs someone else to do it for him. I watched as my friend relearned how to hold a cup or cut his food. Now his wife, his kids, or I have to feed him. But, even though Justin has lost so much use of his body, he still can use his computer to design using voice automated software, a few functioning fingers and a whole lot of grit. He even did the watercolor to the illustrations of a children’s book I wrote.

Watching my friend journey down a path I wouldn’t wish on anyone has opened my eyes to the endless potential we all have to create. Justin hasn’t just applied creativity to his career in design; he has used it to navigate the many challenges of his disease. Where many people would give up, Justin takes the pieces he has and makes something new. He applies creativity to every aspect of life; from traveling internationally to getting in and out of peoples homes that aren’t necessarily accessible; he sees what is available and creates new ways to get on and off planes or in and out of buildings. Life has forced him to either create new ways to live or wallow in his struggles and pain. He chooses the former. As a result, I find myself reconnecting with my own creativity.

This mentality embraces the fact that all things made, all experiences had, all relationships possessed are created and therefore are filled with creative possibilities. They are filled with endless opportunities to take the pieces we have been given and make something new.

My hope as a father is that I will never stop looking for ways to create with my children. Whether it is with Legos, music, art, building bike ramps, exploring science experiments, discussing social issues, debating religion, or navigating hard relationships, I want them to know they can always take the pieces they have and make something new.

Broken and Beautiful

We live in a world where conflict is often celebrated, forgiveness comes with conditions, and love has lost its meaning for many. What can we do to counter the impact our culture has on future generations?

As parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers and mentors, we each have remarkable power and influence over the future of the children in our lives. Their understanding of how to resolve conflict, how to forgive, and how to love depends on how we resolve conflict, how we forgive, and how we love. Most important of these is how we love. Because love forgives without condition and never celebrates conflict.

Our society is filled with messages that scream, “be like him” or “dress like her.” Through news and politics that propagate fear and dissension, differences have become focal points for conflict and pain rather than something to embrace. But stepping into conversations about differences with love and grace is one of the most important and formative things we can do for the children we love. So where do we start?

We begin by acknowledging that we are all different and that our differences should be celebrated, they should be embraced. We begin by acknowledging that we are all broken in our own way and that in our brokenness there is so much beauty. Beauty in overcoming challenges together, beauty in others doing for us what we can’t do on our own, beauty in lifting others up knowing that they will one day do the same for someone else.

In Matthew 25 as Jesus tells the parable of the goats and the sheep, there are many lessons but perhaps the most important is one that should influence how we lead our children.

Feed the hungry…

Give drink to the thirsty…

Invite the stranger in…

Clothe the naked…

Care for the sick…

Visit the imprisoned…

Because we are all hungry and thirsty in some way, we will all be a stranger at some point in time, we will all be stripped naked by life’s circumstances and experience sickness, and we are all prisoners to something. Fear, weakness, addictions, a diagnosis… we are all broken in our different ways but when we come together to carry each other, we are beautiful. The image God created us in–His own–shines brightly when we love as He loves.

The greatest beauty we can ever experience, the greatest beauty we will ever witness is only known through our brokenness.

What do we do to counter the impact our culture has on future generations? We embrace our differences through love and teach our children that we are all broken and beautiful.

Fire- It's Good For The Soul

Hiking is something I’ve always enjoyed. The fresh scent of pine trees, the stark contrast of a million shades of green against a backdrop of bright blue, and diverse landscapes all entice me to keep moving, putting one foot in front of the other just to discover what lies around the next bend.

I don’t know how many paths I’ve walked down, but I can tell you not one of them is the same. Each trail offers a newness, a freshness that is soothing to the soul. New streams, new rock formations, new meadows surrounded by tall pine trees reaching to the sky.

This past weekend I went hiking with my wife, my 3 kids, and some good friends. We found ourselves on a trail where last year’s fires had left their mark. But not in the way most people think. When people hear a forest has been burned by fire, they often picture a landscape of dirt, rock, and charcoal; little to nothing left behind in the wake of intense flames. While this does happen, the majority of forest fires burn in a much different way. They take the path of least resistance cleaning out the dead and unhealthy parts of the forest. This was the case of our trail. Stands of trees, bordered by patches of black, could be seen everywhere I looked. Paths of ash snaked their way between healthy trees, meadows, and along fast-moving streams.

A mixture of healthy and dead.

But that’s not accurate; it was more a mixture of old and new. Old life burned away so that new life could spring forth. The healthiest of the trees left to continue growing, and foundations for forest life left intact: a source of water, nutrient-filled soil, and the sunlight that brings forth all life.

I stood on the trail and looked down on a stream that meandered in between thriving pine trees and charred stumps and couldn’t help but think about the implications. The area where I stood has faced a number of forest fires with the most recent being less than 2 years ago, and yet it is thriving. New shoots of soon to be towering pines have already started populating the burned areas. Tiny trees made possible because of the fire.

Some pine cones don’t open unless under intense heat. The seeds for new trees remain locked away inside the cone until a fire comes along to release them. The hard seasons of our lives are a lot like forest fires, and our growth, our ability to continue to thrive is trapped inside us like the seeds of those pine cones.

I’ve had many struggles in my life… we all have, and sometimes the seasons of life filled with the intense flames are the very thing we need to destroy the growth that isn’t doing us a whole lot of good. The strong and grounded ideas and philosophies remain like the towering pines, but the stuff that is holding us back from growing into something new is burned away. It can be painful, it can be scary, it can be so very dark and sometimes lonely… but it is only in these periods of fire that our seeds for new growth can be unlocked.

Sometimes the hard parts of life are like the forest fires that leave nothing in their wake, leaving little to pick up and rebuild with. But the majority are opportunities for us to learn, grow, let the unhealthy parts of our lives die, and find life in the new things we discover about ourselves.

I’m writing today as a bit of self-reflection. There are some lessons I am still in the midst of learning and others are yet to come, but I can look back on every trial my life has encountered and say, “That fire was good for my soul.”

 

 

Life vs. The Camino - Life Metaphors

A few years ago, my best friend and I took on the ancient pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago. Justin and I successfully completed the 500-mile journey with Justin in his manual wheelchair. Since returning, we have traveled around the country, speaking at different events and meeting a myriad of people. Hearing about our crazy journey leads many people to ask questions. One of the most common is, “What did you learn about life.” The short answer… a lot!

During our time on the Camino, we often heard the phrase “The Camino is a metaphor for life.” Quite frankly, we heard it so much it became annoying, almost cliché. We also heard how the Camino is broken into three stages, the physical, the mental, and the spiritual. As cliché as “a metaphor for life” sounds and as simple as breaking down the Camino into three stages seems, both are very true. And when we really look deep into our experiences on the Camino through these two lenses, we appreciate our lives so much more.

Our 35-day wheelchair journey through Spain definitely had some ups and downs, both literally and figuratively. Day one presented the climb over the Pyrenees Mountains, and no we didn’t take the paved bike route. We went over the top, making the trek to Roncesvalles over the course of thirteen plus hours. The seventeen-mile day was challenging, to say the least. The arduous task of moving forward, despite a 250-pound fully loaded wheelchair, over rocky dirt trails exhausted both mind and body. 

Two more mountain passes and hundreds of miles of paths kept the physical ups and downs coming. But nothing prepared us for the emotional and mental obstacles the Camino offered. Most specifically the Meseta, 150 miles of undulating hills and wheat fields as far as you can see. The unvarying landscape is beautiful, but the unchanging surroundings eventually forced us inward. Being alone in your mind can be a scary place, you come face to face with the things you don’t like in yourself, but you also begin to recognize what you want to become. Time with your thoughts can be a beautiful thing, no matter how dark they may be. You get to know who you really are, have the opportunity to recognize the things that need to change, and begin to appreciate many of the things you have taken for granted. 

As the varying obstacles continued to litter our path, one truth kept playing out over and over. Each one, be it physical, mental, or emotional was effectively overcome because of those around us, because of community. No matter what we faced, we were successful because of the love of others. Be it through encouraging words, prayer, or physical help; we overcame so many odds because others stepped in to do what we could not. This was nothing short of spiritual. 

The word “Camino” means road or path. A road to walk down in an effort to get from one point to another, a road to travel from who we are to who we are meant to be. That’s life. Ups and downs, emotional and physical challenges, happy moments mixed with sad ones. Life is rarely easy. Often unexpected things are thrown across our paths. Sometimes they are physical, others mental, and others still, spiritual. Most of them, like raising children, pursuing a career, facing a disease with an unknown outcome, or chasing a dream are a combination of all three. Physical. Mental. Spiritual. Each one offers the opportunity to learn and grow… each one easier to face with others at our side.

Every day we traveled across Spain and each day since our return has shaped our appreciation for how the Camino truly is a metaphor for life and how the physical, mental, and spiritual challenges we face provide a special kind of beauty when we choose to not face them alone.

 

Community - The Only Way To Live

For the past several weeks I have explored how vulnerability, honesty, accountability, and intentionality help create deep and meaningful relationships. While having one such relationship built on these elements is incredible, building a community of friends through the same concepts is where an even greater beauty lies. 

Any deep and meaningful friendship provides each individual with remarkable love and support. But there is a danger in having only one such relationship. Whether it’s a spouse, a significant other, or a friend; one of the worst things we can do to a relationship is expect the other person to meet all our needs or convince ourselves we can meet all of theirs. The old adage “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” definitely applies to relationships. In fact, one of the greatest gifts we can give to those we hold dear is to help cultivate strong bonds with multiple individuals. This creates a healthy community where many intimate relationships can flourish. 

Each person in our lives possesses wisdom, experiences, and perspectives that differ from our own. They each have strengths and weaknesses that vary, which means they have different things to offer relationships. And this means there are times one individual brings something to the table that another can’t offer, a friend often has something a spouse can’t offer, and a spouse has something that no friend can provide. But no one person can offer everything, all the time. 

I know people who believe their husband or wife is able to meet every need. To expect this is remarkably naive and incredibly unfair! 

This sets our spouse or our friends up for guaranteed failure.

Everything...

All the time...

An impossible standard for any human to meet.

Every Monday night, my wife and I meet with a group of couples on our patio. We laugh, break bread, enjoy wine, share life’s joys, and partner in life’s struggles. Each relationship on the patio is the result of varying degrees of vulnerability, honesty, accountability, and intentionality. This community, our community, our friends we live life with, is the lifeblood of so much of what we do. These men and women support us, they love us, they pray for us, the carry our burdens for us, they are there whenever we need them.

Together, our joys are multiplied and our pains are divided. 

Joys multiplied... 

Pains divided...

There is no other way to live!

It’s through these types of relationships that we experience love, it's through these relationships that we experience provision. Through these relationships, we find joy and strength. We face the obstacles of life with an army of individuals we know has our back.

It's not easy... we have to work hard for it. We have to open up and let others into our darkness, trust them with all of who we are. We have to engage in honest dialogue, be okay with others holding us accountable, and pursue one another. But it's worth it!

We were never meant to live in solitude. We were created to live in community with one another so we could know love and wouldn’t have to navigate the struggles of life on our own. Any relationship grounded in vulnerability, honesty, accountability, and intentionality is beautiful; but when a group of people living life together, embraces the same principles, each individual is capable of so much more.

More strength…

More faith…

More love.

 

To Live Life Well Is To Live With Intention

Building healthy relationships takes work! There is no easy to follow recipe. No magic sauce. If deep meaningful relationships were easy, we would see a lot more of them. But we don’t because we live in a world where we believe things should come easy, so when things get hard our society often looks for the easy way out.

The word relationship simply refers to how two or more things are connected. When two people work together, they have a relationship in the context of work. When two kids live next door, they have a relationship in the context of being neighbors. And when two people share similar interests, goals, and outlooks on life, and spend time together, they have a relationship or friendship based on those interests they share. Often relationships, both romantic and plutonic, begin because of these common interests, but this will only carry a relationship so far.

The more we can do to create connections with one another, the stronger the bonds we possess. Whether in a marriage or friendship, we have threads of connection because of our shared interests, our shared experiences, and our shared memories. But if we aren’t careful, the busyness of life can distract us. And when we become distracted, the frequency and depth of our shared experiences lessen, our shared memories become distant, and the threads that hold us together become strained, sometimes frayed, and if we aren’t careful, they break. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Intentionality refers to acts being deliberate or purposeful. Deliberately spending time together and purposefully placing the need of others above your own takes work and focus, but the pay off is incredible. When a relationship is grounded in honesty, vulnerability, and accountability; intentionality is a little easier to pursue. My friend, Justin, and I have a friendship in which we share similar tastes in music, similar political views, and the same stupid sense of humor. But what makes our relationship as deep and as strong as it is are the memories we have intentionally made, the adventures we have intentionally pursued, the time we have intentionally spent. Being deliberate and purposeful is why our friendship has survived and thrived as long as it has.

I try to approach my marriage the same way. My wife and I may have similar interests and enjoy some of the same adventures in life, but unless I intentionally pursue time, space, and experiences with her, our relationship will become stale.

The vulnerability, honesty, and accountability we have cultivated over many years of marriage make intentionally spending time together easier and our shared interests have made a basic connection possible, but those connections are just threads. Each memory we have made because we make the other a priority, each adventure and shared experience we take on because we intentionally pursue one another, weave together with those basic threads of connection, creating ropes that tie us together. The more we live intentionally with one another, the thicker those ropes become. And when the busyness of life does come along, there is little, if anything, that can cause those ropes to become strained or frayed.

This means we have to pick up the phone and make a call, go to coffee, plan a trip and take that trip, show up ready for conversation. This means we need to enjoy a night out, an afternoon on the back patio, or a walk through the neighborhood. And we must do it week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out.

This mean we must deliberately and purposefully pursue one another.

If we want healthy relationships, then we must intentionally pursue the very thing that makes relationships healthy. 

We must intentionally live life together.

Accountability - A Terrifying Marriage of Honesty and Vulnerability

Over the past couple of weeks, I have shared my thoughts on vulnerability and honesty; two necessary ingredients to any successful relationship. But when we bring the two to the center of our relationships, the synergy creates the opportunity for something terrifying and beautiful to happen. Accountability. 

We never arrive! No matter how hard we work, no matter how much we study, no matter how hard we train, there is always a better version of ourselves out there waiting for us.

We never arrive! And the second we think we have, we’ve failed! A better version of us becomes more distant and if we continue to swallow the lie that we have arrived, that better version will elude us forever.

When honesty and vulnerability are pursued in a relationship, they allow something beautiful to thrive. Something that keeps each of us from thinking we've arrived, something that lets us discover the better version of ourselves waiting beyond each new experience. The better version our friends deserve, the better version our spouse deserves, the better version our children deserve. That something beautiful is accountability.

But let’s face it, embracing accountability is scary. Embracing accountability means we have to face that we might be fallible, it means we might be wrong, it means we might not have things figured out, it means we might not be perfect. Let’s get this out there right now! All of us are fallible, all of us are wrong at times, none of us have things figured out all the time, and none of us are perfect! But to make matters more terrifying, being accountable means letting others know all about the dark, yucky stuff… the dirt. It means letting others see the deepest struggles we face and being okay with them calling us out on the behaviors that make us less than we can be; the behaviors keeping us from attaining a better version of ourselves. Accountability is taking vulnerability to a whole new level.

There are many reason’s people live on the surface level, never really sharing all they are; never being vulnerable and honest, let alone accountable. And if we are “honest” with ourselves, we all have been there at some point. Walking through life wearing masks, hoping no one sees through them. Pretending we have arrived but knowing deep down we are slaves to identities built on lies, omissions of truth and secrets. Who wants to live like that?

Accountability can be completely and utterly freeing. Pursuing relationships with honesty and vulnerability bring the human connections we possess to appoint where others know all of us. When we give those same people, the people who love us in spite of us, permission to hold us accountable for our thoughts and actions; our addictions and secrets have less power. Rather than being slaves to our weaknesses, we begin to break free from them. This doesn’t mean we never fail or never fall back into old habits, but it does mean we have people who will pick us up and recalibrate our compasses so we can get back on course, so we can get back on the path to a better version of who we are. Rather than being concerned with whether or not someone can see behind the masks we wear, our focus begins to shift toward who we can become.

Vulnerability – You Need It More Than You Know!

A few years ago, we were wrapping up the day at a dinner party. With my glass of wine in my left hand, I raised Justin’s to his lips with my right. One doesn’t normally drink wine through a straw, but since Justin can’t use his hands, it’s the safest way to avoid red stains on his clothes. We had delivered a keynote earlier in the day and were now enjoying conversation with fellow speakers, sponsors, and conference attendees.

A tall, broad-shouldered man in a gray suit approached us. His salt and peppered hair combed back, his eyes narrow behind his round glasses. We recognized him from earlier when he had delivered an eloquent, thoughtful talk on community health.

He sized us up and then blurted out, “When I first saw you guys, I knew you were full of shit!”

Taken aback, Justin and I just looked at him. The air was suddenly tainted with a cloud of awkwardness. Both of us were thinking, "Is this guy for real?"

Then he smiled and said, “I’m glad to know I was wrong!” The gentleman then asked how two men could have such a deep, raw and intimate connection. “I want what you guys have, I just don’t know how to do it.”

Smiling, I responded, “I can’t speak for Justin, but I know what our lifelong relationship has required of me. Complete honesty about my fears and failures, full disclosure of my temptations, and a willingness to lay down the burdens I carry so he can pick them up for me. Complete vulnerability.”

The gentleman’s narrow eyes were replaced with wide saucers. “The thought of being that open with another person, let alone another man is terrifying!”

This interaction sums up how so many feel about vulnerability. Being vulnerable is often associated with weakness and fear seems to be many a person’s first reaction when challenged to be vulnerable. But there is beauty on the other side of vulnerability.

Every Monday night, we gather with a group of friends. These are people we live life with. Not too long ago, as we sat with these friends, we discussed what being vulnerable looks like. Their insights were profound. One of them stated, “Only when someone knows all of me can they truly love me.”

Only when someone knows all of me can they truly love me.

Being vulnerable is a terrifying prospect, but these words are so true. And this idea is the foundation of any close relationship. In fact, this is the cornerstone of how Justin and I operate. There isn’t a thing about me he doesn’t know. He is aware of all my fears, just as I am aware of all his failures. A healthy friendship isn’t much different than a healthy marriage. No secrets, and for better or for worse.

When we trust others with all of who we are, we are giving them the opportunity to love all of who we are. Sharing just the good stuff, just the things we are proud of, the things that don’t scare us, makes for pretty shallow relationships. But when Justin, our friends, and my wife choose to love me in spite of who I am... that's real love. It's the closest thing to unconditional love we will experience with our fellow man. But this isn't an easy thing to embrace.

Vulnerability...

Is it scary? Yes!

Is it hard? Of course!

And it is made even more difficult because to show others our weaknesses is counter culture. For some, it is even counter-intuitive. But vulnerability is the foundation for everything important in relationships. This fear that often prevents us opening ourselves up to others often manifests because we fear rejection, we fear not being worthy. The trepidation is made even more powerful when we have histories of trauma or abuse. Circumstances and life experiences often give us reason to not trust others. But any healthy relationship is grounded in love and acceptance, loving each other regardless of how worthy or unworthy we might be.

A magic happens when we lay everything on the table. When people choose to accept us for who we are, in spite of who we are, we have the foundation to build something beautiful. We have the foundation of complete trust.

I would rather know I can trust someone, than wonder if I can.