my other blog

While I’m attempting to figure out the technological piece of moving my older blog posts to wordpress, I’ll simply share the link for now: jbhankins.blogspot.com

As you will see, I can go months without writing and then go on short binges of vulnerability including stories of what I’m learning in hopes it might encourage others on their journey.

If you have any ideas on the technological piece, that would be most excellent as I tend to make something, that should be simple, terribly complicated.

Advertisements

sips of nostalgia

courtesy of Paul at freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of Paul at freedigitalphotos.net

Have you ever had a taste or smell trigger nostalgic memories? This morning I had a sip of Kenyan coffee from my friend’s coffee shop, Gathering Grounds. This single sip swarmed my tastebuds and prompted memories of when I was a child and would sneak coffee flavored Nips candy from my father’s stash. Rarely have I had coffee create such a warm nostalgic experience for me. This childhood memory may have been an unknown catalyst to plant the desire to go into the coffee business several years ago. It’s been a few years now since I’ve been emersed in coffee culture, but there are so many fond memories surrounding a simple cup of coffee which have helped me bare the burdens of life. It seems, lately, there have been several occurrences which have triggered memories of my childhood. When life seemed less difficult, more simple and less complicated. As a father, I hope I can help cultivate good memories which might someday serve as a positive flashback for my son when he gets older and is impacted by the reality of life, pain, loss and struggle. Thank you, God, for coffee, father’s, sons and memories.

paddling forward

paddleboardToday I got to see a kid go from not wanting to touch the water to paddle boarding all by himself! Seeing confidence in the eyes of a child who’s already faced so many challenges in his young life is incredible!

This, among other great memories, made for a great day and helps outweigh the negative “stuff” that’s trying to bring me down.

Keep paddling forward. If you stop and watch the wind and the waves, you might fall in.

finding the light on a broken road

courtesy of tungdang @ freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of tungdang @ freedigitalphotos.net

I received an encouraging email today from a friend who’s son went through a similar  situation, as I am currently facing, ten years ago. I don’t know all of the details and this isn’t the time or place to divulge ours, but I felt a brief sense of relief that comes from hearing or being reminded of someone who has walked through similar tragedy and made it out alive. Wounded, but alive.

I live in a small community. Big enough where one could go years without seeing the same person and small enough where one could run into the same person multiple times a day. I guess it depends on the circles and area of town one finds themselves in. I remember a day last year when I continued running into couples who I know have walked through a divorce and have come out alive, healed and fulfilled on the other end of the valley. When receiving this email, the following thought welled up in my soul and I had to write it down before the busyness of the day consumed it.

It seems, no matter how dreadfully painful the process, there is comfort and healing in knowing there are others who have walked down this same lonely road.

There is no making of sense in the details. One could drive themselves crazy asking “Why?”, or trying to problem solve while asking themselves, “What if..?” Or more shaming self-talk, like, “I should’ve…”. It’s a whirlwind of emotion mixed with numbness.

Tonight I prepare to attend a mandatory class for parents who have children are in the process of divorcing. I believe it’s called, “Children in the Middle.” Talk about feelings of extreme shame and vulnerability. In my line of work, we try to help the whole person, to reconcile relationships and keep families together. And mine is falling apart. There isn’t enough reason or logic to mask how absolutely shitty it feels. It’s a small town. How can I expect to help someone out or through their difficult circumstances when I can’t seem to do anything to fix my own?

And then a soft voice reminds me that there is comfort and healing for those who are in the company of some who have walked this same dark and lonely road. Is there a good reason my marriage is failing? Absolutely not. With a lot of work, could it have been salvaged? Maybe. But there is also strength in knowing that someday, and maybe even as soon as today, I will be able to be a source of comfort and healing for someone who will walk through a similar painful process. That hope, for now, is all I have to hang onto when it comes to trying to refrain from driving myself a little crazy by attempting to make sense of any of it.

To my friend who sent me the encouraging email today. You may never know the impact your words had on me. You were a useful tool in the hands of a powerful God. For those who are walking through a current struggle of a loss of a loved one or relationship, you need to know that there is comfort and healing in knowing that there are others who have walked down this same lonely road. And you, too, will be able to shine a little light on the path when another finds themselves on a broken road.

“Daddy, Can You See Me?”

Yesterday I had a near death experience.

I was on I-80 East returning home from spending July 4th in the Bay area. I was coasting in the middle lane of the freeway when the mini-van to my left began merging into my lane, right where I was. No amount of horn honking from me or others fazed the driver as he continued moving through lanes of traffic cutting multiple cars off to get to his exit. I am surprised there wasn’t a multiple vehicle crash. Road rage engulfed me as I thought about pulling up next to the guy and flipping him off or screaming profanities. I managed to keep it to myself, like I usually will try and do. But I’m no better person for thinking about it.

After my heart rate had calmed back to normal and I no longer had murderous thoughts, I had a moment where my conscience caught up to me. I literally heard the words, “Jonathan, he didn’t see you.” These words repeated over and over in my mind for miles. He may not have been a professional quality driver, none of us really are. And it wasn’t that he was intending to be a road hog or driving bully. He simply didn’t see me, and it could’ve cost my life and his. Not being seen could’ve been incredibly tragic.

I began thinking about how much damage could’ve been done simply by not being seen. I was promptly reminded of a conversation with a marriage counselor my wife and I were meeting with last year. She spoke to us about the importance of seeing each other in a marriage relationship. Sometimes relationships are lost simply because we stop seeing each other.

courtesy of stockimages @ free digital photos.net

courtesy of stockimages @ free digital photos.net

The other day, my five year old son was doing something to get my attention. He kept saying, “Daddy, watch this!” followed by, “Daddy, did you see me?” At one point I said, “Yes Ezra, I saw you.” To which he  replied, “No, daddy, you were looking at your phone.” Ouch. I never wanted to be that guy. I know what it feels like to not be seen. I have been hurt in conversations with friends or coworkers where I feel my ideas fall on deaf ears. I have been hurt by trying to spend “quality” time with my wife when I had to compete for her attention with her i-phone. When my son called me on my bluff, something inside of me broke. I was no different. Times where I may have been hurt or felt unseen were not as big of a deal compared to what I had just communicated to my son. Whatever I was reading was somehow more important to me in that moment than a real life relationship-building experience with my son, and I missed it.

While driving down the freeway, I continued to ponder how great of value it is to be seen. This concept overwhelmed me emotionally as I contemplated the potential impact of what had just happened along with my own personal life experiences and times where I haven’t seen or felt seen. I had to find the nearest exit to regain my composure. Picture a grown-ass man ugly crying. It wasn’t pretty.

How much life have I missed by not seeing the people right in front of me? How much of myself have I lost or given up by simply trying so hard to be seen?

For generations, people have invested in fashionable clothing, makeup and expensive perfumes to be seen. It’s no wonder the social media movement has become so increasingly huge. The other day I was talking with friends about drones. Someone mentioned that they are coming up with “selfie” drones which can follow you and record videos of you wherever you go. Are you kidding me? I often times find myself disgusted by the increase of a narcissistic society. It’s always been there, but I believe it’s becoming increasingly worse. At the core of this movement, however, is the innocent longing in all of us to simply be seen.

Being seen is perhaps the first step towards being acknowledged, loved and accepted. To be acknowledged that you exist is a priceless feeling.

I work with adolescents who have developed problematic behaviors and require extra support and attention. Whether it be anger management, social interaction, or basic coping skills, I have the opportunity to walk with young people through their struggles and find solutions. I can’t help but think how much we all could benefit from having a personal skills builder. What I’ve gathered from most of the kids I work with is that they, too, just want to know they matter. They, to, just want to be seen and heard. Some have resorted to negative attention seeking because it’s better than being ignored by their parents. We walk by strangers everyday who long to be seen by someone. When you are seen, it triggers feelings someone else acknowledges you exist, and you are important.

I think being seen is more valuable to most people than being heard, while being heard is also of great value. It’s ironic how the very tools we’ve used to be seen in social media, are the very things that are interfering and distracting us from seeing those directly in front of us. We’ve become more concerned by how many people like and comment on a photo or comment than how this interferes with the relationships closest to us. I believe it’s killing us as a society.

A friend on social media posted an open apology the other day for posting so many negative quotes on facebook lately. She promised to only post positive sayings from now on. She struggles openly with depression and feeling alone. I sent her a personal message basically saying, “I don’t think it’s entirely bad that [she] posts negative things, because [she’s] just trying to be honest and vulnerable. This makes some people uncomfortable and they might stop liking what you say or unfollow your newsfeed altogether because vulnerability is scary.” There are also those who do care to know and just don’t know how to respond. I recommended a couple books by Brene Brown and let her know that I just felt she needed to know that she is seen and she is loved.

Sometimes, being seen is all we really need at the moment.

Image courtesy of tungphoto @ freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of tungphoto @ freedigitalphotos.net

Who are the people in your life today who need to know you see them and are thankful they exist? Maybe it would be worth putting the phone down for a couple of days and see who or what you haven’t seen in a while. Or if social media is the best way for you to stay connected, perhaps you could send a thoughtful message that you are thinking about someone instead of simply liking their photos. My hope for each of us and the future generation is that we wouldn’t become so incredibly lost in ourselves that we stop seeing each other altogether.

A Divine Appointment at Lake Ewauna

Image courtesy of Toa55 @ freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of Toa55 @ freedigitalphotos.net

This afternoon became nothing like I had planned. After work, I decided I should hop on the paddleboard for some fresh air, clear my mind, perhaps build a six-pack. (Nah, who am I kidding?) Things were going splendidly when I found myself in the middle of the lake. I thought I was pretty awesome as I was gliding over the water without a care in the world. That is, until I realized the wind that had helped me get so far out beyond the shore would be to my disadvantage getting back to shore. I was lost in the moment and common sense was not catching up to me.

Although I never once fell in the cloudy green, algae infested waters, the wind and waves were determined to be my downfall. I was stuck. What seemed like hours of paddling towards the docks was more like 30-40 minutes, only to find I wasn’t making very much progress. At this point, all of the worse case scenarios are running through my mind. I could die. I could give up and be rescued, but how embarrassing would that be?

Praying and cussing ensued simultaneously. Let’s be honest. After attempting to paddle to the shore to the right and the one in front of me, the water and wind guided my board to the left. Into the tulle’s I drifted. Of course I had to paddle making it look like I knew what I was doing. There was a small inlet where I was able to recover from the wind and take control of my craft. On the other side of the tulle’s there was a trail. I attempted walking barefoot with my board while the wind pushed me and the board back. More cussing than praying at this point. “God! Why can’t anything go right in my life?!”, I yelled. “Why does everything have to be so difficult?!” I was having a full-fledged whiny-ass pity party. I was beginning to doubt the old saying that everything happens for a reason. I even remember asking God, “What could possibly be the meaning of this situation?!”

I managed to find a place to stash my board while I walked, barefoot through thorns and gravel back to the docks. Nearly half a mile. My over analyzing kicked in when I thought I might be maimed by a badger or other wild critter. Cussing and yelling continued, but mostly on the inside, of course. I still have to maintain some sort of dignity.

Eventually I got back to my vehicle by the docks. I remember walking by a man with a prosthetic leg and his dog along the way, all the while feeling real sorry for myself. I was blinded to my surroundings by my own circumstances.

I got to the car and found a way to get within close proximity to where I stashed my board. There were railroad tracks, an underpass and a locked gate to the road I needed to access to get to where my board was. I knew the sun wasn’t going to stay in the sky much longer. I crawled through the gate to locate my board and figure out how to get it through the locked gate before dark. The details of locating my board and getting home safely to my apartment are irrelevant to the rest of the story. Yes, I located my board and made it home safe. Yes, I was a whiny-ass between the lake and trail and perhaps have some repentance to seek.

courtesy of twobee @ freedigitalphotos.net

courtesy of twobee @ freedigitalphotos.net

Where the story really begins, I think, is when I met a homeless guy and his dog on the railroad tracks while I was walking back to my car. This is the same man with one leg I had passed earlier while i was inwardly complaining about my life.

He shared his story. I shared mine. We were each at a crossroads, though we came from different worlds, but not as different as you would think. Even as I write this, the radio plays the lyrics, “Life is not the mountaintops, it’s the walking in between.” I think that’s where we each were at. He was contemplating ending his life and I was whining about mine and my pending divorce. Neither of us thought we would end up in the present circumstances we found ourselves in. He once had hopes of being a drug and alcohol counselor. But he, like many of us, was stuck waiting for his shit to come together before he could even consider helping someone else out. This is not how it’s supposed to be. Sometimes we are able to help others out while we are experiencing our own personal struggles and state of brokenness. This is what vulnerability looks like. We often need to struggle together.

Somehow we think we need to get all of our own shit together before we are “worthy” of helping someone else. We use the phrase getting “healthy” like it’s so easy. You could be in a state of looking really healthy and being fine on the outside, when you are torn apart on the inside.

Sitting on the tracks we conversed, stirring up hope and encouragement into each other’s lives for over an hour. I was able to draw from my experiences in mental health to help him access ongoing services and possible housing. He opened his heart to a stranger and I was compelled to do the same. He let me into his campsite and showed me a small glimpse of his world. We both knew it wasn’t an accident that we met the way we did. Whether or not I see this person again, or he sees me. We both know it was one of those meetings that wasn’t by accident. In a sense, we both walked away feeling we had just assisted in saving another’s life for one more day. I think this is what hope looks like. Stranded and feeling there’s no way out. Frustrated and cussing along the way. Someone interrupts your life with a whole different set of shattered circumstances. You feel very small and yet very big at the same time. It’s honestly very hard to explain.

This is life, when we choose to live it. It really sucks at times. Some times harder than others. When we think we are at the end of what we can handle, hope shows up in a way unimaginable. I think this is what hope and grace look like more and more. It is not calculated or well planned by us humans. It is not something we can coordinate with our vast resources. It just happens. Sometimes saying “Hi” is the gateway to conversations that can change someone else’s life and radically impact yours at the same time.

It was getting dark and I still needed to find my board, secure it to my car and head home. I left his campsite somehow knowing we would meet again and perhaps be in different circumstances, or maybe we wouldn’t, but we each knew the significance of the meeting.

I have a friend who no longer believes that God works in mysterious ways because he no longer believes in God. He believes everything has an explanation. I have been on the road to doubt on many occasions and am still left wrestling with life circumstances which cause me to doubt God’s presence and intervention in the midst of heartache and loss. I’m thankful that there is room enough in faith to doubt. Just before this meeting, I was literally praying that God would show me that things can and really do happen for a reason. I was literally asking what is the meaning of all of this? When I met a guy on the railroad tracks contemplating his own life. He had already had five failed attempts at suicide. For another moment in time, another day, perhaps, I have reason to believe that some things really do happen for a reason.