A New Year’s Toast

a new door

I would be lying if I were to say that 2015 has not been, by far, the most painful and challenging year for me. I would be lying if I said I do not have high hopes that this next year would somehow go a little easier on me. I would also be lying if I said that it has not been one of the most strengthening and growing years of my life.

I do not like to lie, so I will say this:

 

Cheers to the challenges that make us grow;

Pains that lead to healing;

Sorrow which turns to joy;

Struggle which inspires change;

Doubt which deepens faith;

Loss which makes room for love;

Weaknesses that make us stronger;

Brokenness which cultivates hope;

Death which awakens new life;

To everything and everyone who helps me to know what it means to live wholeheartedly and dare greatly, I salute you.

To another year of learning and growing;

To closed doors and new doors;

To another year of experiencing grace and seeing God-sightings

in the strangest of places;

To wonder;

To the unexpected;

To hope and to love.

 

When the Dust Settles

I am not entirely sure where this expression comes from specifically, but I find myself saying it more and more often in recent days:

“Wait for the dust to settle.”

It seems that things are less dramatic and catastrophic when we allow time for the dust to settle from a tragic life storm. A life storm could be the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a loved one, or perhaps not even a loss, but a sudden unexpected turn of events. To many, life storms can be devastating and difficult to recover from.

I have recently come out of a major life storm. One I had hoped would never end the way it did. While there is much I am still learning and healing that is undergoing, I have come to appreciate the process of letting the dust settle and walk through the remains and assess the damage of what was. Hope has been my anchor through this entire process. Being still and waiting has been difficult for me as someone who just wants to fix things and move forward. The dust is still settling and my hope remains. New adventures and love awaits.

dust storm

When the dust is still flying, it is easy to to make rash decisions. When the dust is still flying, things are confusing and dark. When the dust is flying, abstract thoughts are swarming and loneliness overwhelms. When the dust is flying it is difficult to find anything solid to grab onto. When the dust is flying, our version of reality is distorted. When the dust is still flying, it is difficult to see the light of a hopeful outcome. When the dust is flying, fear abounds and there is no telling which way is up or down. It is when the dust is flying is where blaming, shaming, and emotions are at their peak.

When the dust settles, so does our reality and we can process decisions with better clarity. When the dust settles, we begin to see we are not alone. When the dust settles, we can begin to assess the damage and see what needs to be cleaned up or changed. When the dust settles, we can see formations of both painful and fond memories which lie under the thick layer of dust. When the dust has settled, we can begin to sweep away the dirt, and learn as much as we can from the wreckage. Sometimes we uncover layers and see red flags and warning signs which have contributed to the force of the storm. Life storms often do not just happen over night.

tornado aftermath

As I have been working through the painful wreckage of my own life storm, I find myself being reminded that the dust has not always been flying. There was a time when hopes and dreams were in full force and nothing could stand in the way. Loving memories lie alongside those that have caused great pain and grief.

I have some friends who are walking through their own life storm. It pains me to watch the devastation, heartbreak, and wreckage. However, I cannot help but have hope that this storm can be used to uncover and bring to light hidden areas that have been neglected for years. I am optimistic that, for many, storms can be used to bring better clarity and healing. My council for my friends is to not make any sudden and permanent decisions while the dust is still in the air. I am confident that the combination of grace, love, acceptance, and forgiveness can restore any broken relationship. I am also painfully aware that it takes work and some are unwilling or incapable of such work. Not every outcome has to be the same.

Sometimes it is when the dust settles that we discover more about ourselves, our purpose and rediscover our passions. Sometimes, after assessing the damage and learning as much as we can, we realize what is salvageable and what is not. Sometimes walking away from the wreckage offers more healing than trying to rebuild.

Friends, as devastating as your current situation is, the dust will settle. Please wait before making any permanent decisions and causing further damage. The sun will eventually shine on you and the rain will come and remove some of the remaining dirt and heal the wounds. Healing is on its way. Hope will be your anchor. Love will find you. These things are easier to see and accept, not with a clinched fist, but an open hand, heart and mind. Grace to you as you walk through your storm. You have a friend and you are not alone. Even when the dust is still flying, if you reach out, you may discover a hand to guide and support you through the healing.

 

“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;

he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

(Ps. 34:18)

 

 

 

 

A Mile In Their Shoes

holey-shoesI feel extremely fortunate to have never been a refugee or immigrant. Neither have I ever had to rely on government welfare or disability.

I am increasingly amazed, however, at the amount and intensity of opinions of others who also have never had to experience such hardship. Such opinions include making the process harder and taking away assistance altogether. (This kind of ignorance gives me all sorts of warm and fuzzy feels.)

While I have never experienced such circumstances first hand, I have witnessed a family, whom I consider close friends and who were once housemates while they walked through the immigration process only to be abused by the system. Many of the hoops they were given to jump through seemed impossible. I have also benefited from walking with individuals in our community who receive disability and other forms of government assistance. I can, with sincere confidence, tell you it is not as easy of a process to get “free handouts” or certain freedoms and access to resources as many may think.

I will agree with you that our system is broken and there is certainly room for improvement. There will always be room for improvement in any system which is governed by imperfect humans. I believe we all can agree on that.

For those who think it is too easy of a process to receive handouts or become an immigrant or refugee in our country, I welcome you to walk a mile in their shoes. Only then would I be happy to hear and have more respect for your opinions. At the very least, perhaps we can befriend and walk alongside someone in such circumstances before casting polarized judgment. I certainly do not have all the answers, but before simply regurgitating uninformed rhetoric, creating more barriers and insisting the system needs to change, perhaps it would be beneficial to familiarize oneself to the actual process by getting to know someone who is most directly impacted by such decisions.

Opinions are cheap, but true empathy just makes more sense and gives us more of an informed perspective. If we want our opinions to have a greater impact, we need to strengthen our empathetic capacity.

What’s IN Your Cup?

coffee cupI never thought I would engage in ridiculous polarized controversial public debates. But as I was pouring my coffee this morning I was reminded that it is not as much what is on the outside of my cup or what it looks like. It is what is on the inside that matters most to me. To be honest, there are some days I care less about which mug I grab. I just want my frigging coffee.

The circus of humanity lived out on social media continues to remind me of one of my core beliefs: It is not what is on the outside that matters. What is on the inside is of far greater importance.
Blue cup, Red cup

Punk-rock, Prep

Jesus Tee, Rainbow Flag

Dragon Tattoo, Eye-brow Piercing

Pinto Wagon, Beamer

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays

Man-Bun, Mohawk

Stain-Glassed Windows, Gaudy Steeples

Weak or strong, mankind is always more caught up on outward appearances and it can get exhausting.

If your cup is full of love and kindness. This is what matters.

The spirit of Christmas is not to celebrate when love came down in fury toting a gun, wearing a God’s Gym tee creating public outrage towards what color your coffee cup is.

The spirit of this holiday is to celebrate when love came down in the most humble of circumstances to bring about a subversive revolution of grace and set people free from oppression. This revolution was walked out in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. While I am flawed because I am human, I hope to strive to walk these characteristics out on my own journey.

I want my cup to overflow with these things, and, yes, coffee too. Lots of coffee.

One Phrase I Wish We Could All Stop Saying

“You just need to …let it go.” 

dandelionMaybe you, like me, have used this phrase with minor events such as, traffic, parking spaces, referee calls, grudges, etc. “C’mon, Jonathan! Breathe in, breathe out. Just let it go.” In these scenarios, this might be okay to toss out the “let it go” locution. To develop the resiliency required to let small things go is certainly a healthy achievement.  But how many times do we try to rush to this statement as a resolution for some more big-ticket events? Some things require more time and hard work to let go, and it is okay.

I was doing dishes in my messy kitchen while recovering from strep throat and an ear infection earlier last. I was feeling a mix of emotions as I was slightly refreshed being back on my feet, overwhelmed by the pile of dishes, and heavily medicated on antibiotics. While financial pressures and critical decisions were weighing in on me, so was hope, which, thankfully, never rests. I began thinking about particular incidents in my life involving heartbreak and loss. Soon I heard those three “magic” words. It did not have the feeling of a positive or warm sense, but more of a cold, rigid mockery of my situation. This incident propelled me into thinking about all the times we try bringing comfort to people by passively saying these words with no real thought.

“Just, let it go!”

Do I think we should not just let things go? By no means. If anything, I am stating the opposite. Life is full of letting things go. Letting things go is a powerful part of life. It is a necessary and essential part of being human. It is so important to the heart and soul of every person, which is why I believe it is too good to be dismissed passively with three pathetic words such as these. Some life events can’t be dismissed by such words, especially when it is inappropriate timing, or the speaker only knows a portion of what the receiver is going through. Letting go is essential, but timing and process are everything.

Letting go is a process. While “letting go and letting God” is a commonly used catchphrase in our culture, it is important to recognize the human condition and understand that if letting things go was so easy, we might miss out on the learning and growth that takes place in the process. Even God is all about the process and not as much into quick fixes. How many years were the Hebrew people in exile?

Some things require more time for grieving and sorting thoughts out. Grief and loss does not look the same for everyone. A broken relationship. The loss of a loved one. A traumatizing childhood memory. A loss of a dream. The loss of a home or job. These events certainly require the process of letting go. But it would be insensitive, not only to the feelings of the one walking through it, but also to the process to passively say out loud or to ourselves, “just, let it go.”

My sister and brother-in-law recently moved from Pasadena, California to Portland Oregon. The housing market they moved to is making it difficult to find a house they can make a home. The home they sold and left behind they had lived in for more than twelve years and each of their three children have only known that house as their home. It has been a few months since the move, and they are still grieving. They did not anticipate the process being so difficult. It would really be easy for me or anyone else looking from the outside to write off their emotions by thinking or saying “just let it go!” But it is not that easy. I am grieving the loss of a ten year marriage. If someone came to me and said I needed to just let it go and move on without an ounce of sensitivity, I might imagine punching them in the throat, to be completely honest.

Letting go is not easy. If we could, we would.  I work in mental health and offer skills building for young adults who are lagging skills and need help working through difficult challenges in their life. If I told every survivor of PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc., to “just let it go”, I would be out of a job. I recently learned that people do well if they can. If they cannot, it is not necessarily because they are lazy or just do not care. Do we not realize that if letting go was so easy, more people would have already done it? Some trauma inducing experiences take a lifetime to work through and letting go looks different for you than it does for me. Our society could learn to be more empathetic and gracious with ourselves.

Letting go is a process. Letting go can be painful. Letting go takes work. Letting go is really, really hard.

life is a balanceWhy stop saying it? Because it is not empathetic. It is more of a knee jerk reaction than a thoughtful response. It is more like something that just falls carelessly out of our mouths in a stressful situation. Much like a cuss word. Only with a little less thought and perhaps less empathy. We humans have developed short term, non-reconciling phrases like these for moments when the air is thick with awkward tension or sorrow and someone feels the need to say something smart, when it actually sounds stupid and careless. There is certainly a time and a place for when it may be appropriate. But, perhaps, only when we save it for those times when the words hold more power and meaning.

This is a difficult concept for one to consider who appreciates resolution, and the tidy feeling of having all of their thoughts and emotions in order. We have become poor at giving ourselves grace and time to process difficult decisions and painful life experiences.

One of the best things I have heard about empathy comes from author, Brene Brown:

Brene Brown on Empathy

My five year old dropped his cake pop earlier today, after a long exhausting day. No doubt, strong emotion followed. As his father, I had a choice: to act on instinct and say, “Ahh, c’mon! just let it go!”; or, “Hey buddy! It will be okay! I know that really sucks!” While picking him up in my arms. Which do you think will be most effective? The third option, I should mention, is what actually happened which included me picking the dropped morsel off the gravel, blowing the dust off and popping it back in his mouth. We both laughed. Which scenario creates a safe place for him to vent in the future when it is not a cake pop, but something more important? What about his first heartbreak? His first terrible grade? His first time not being invited to the party? What kind of father would I be if I hid behind the facade of “tough guy” by rehearsing, “Just let it go!”? Do I really think I could ever expect him to open up to me in the future if I shut him down in the process of expressing his emotions right now?

When you are at the edge of a cliff and you are hanging on for dear life, hoping that whatever “it” is does not slip from your tight grip, the last thing you want a passer by to say is, “just let it go.”

I believe the process of letting go includes:

The moment one realizes they cannot hang on much longer.

The actual slipping and ripping from a death grip.

The devastation of the loss.

The healing that follows.

Each time frame looks different based upon the person and the circumstances. While there is a certain freedom that can come by letting things go and holding on is no longer an option, we must not allow such dismissive words to ruin the experience. Words are cheap if not accompanied with empathy.

Letting Go May Not Be The Answer. Some things are worth fighting for. I have heard it said that if we are at the end of our rope, we should tie a know and hang on for dear life. I fear the entire concept of letting things go has become such a catchphrase that folks will rush too quickly into letting things go without hanging on and giving it a solid try. Could this possibly be contributing to the vast disconnect in our society? I wonder if one cause of more and more attachment and commitment problems stem from people letting go too soon. As a society, we don’t like to camp out too long in a feeling of the awkward unknown. We want quick results and if things are not going the way we plan, we prefer to “cut bait” before things get too complicated.

If we want to practice empathy, can we please withhold the use of these three rather insulting words from the person who is processing the pending death of a belief, a relationship, a loved one, etc. If anything, we should get on our stomachs to reach over the edge and help hang on to whatever it is they are not quite ready to let go of. When the time is right, we can be there when whatever  it is is tragically torn from their grasp. We can console them when they come to the decision to let go on their own. We can embrace them when they process the loss and walk with them as they move forward. We can help bandage the wounds when what feels like flesh is torn from their grip.

But please, for the love of everything, let us stop saying “let it go”  so haphazardly. We are more than that.  Life and relationships are more than that. Let us not be the people walking by spouting nonsense. Let us be the people declaring hope to the situation and being there when life is torn or nothing else is left to do but to let go. Letting go is certainly therapeutic when the timing is right, but very devastating. We all could benefit from being more gracious and kind to ourselves and one another.

While I work though my present loss, I am so grateful for family and friends who allow me to process my grief. Even if much of what I say is repetitive nonsense. I know that letting go of what was and what I thought would be is something I will need to work through and I appreciate others who believe the same. Simply saying, “Good riddance!”, does nothing for my personal growth. I am grateful for the grace and space offered by those who practice true love and empathy. I have confidence in the process and I know when the time is right, letting go can be one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences. Perhaps the more difficult the process the more rewarding the outcome.letting go

A Lesson From Curious George

There we were. My five year old son cuddling with me on my lap. My anxiety increased as we watched an unaware and dangerously curious monkey make a mess out of everything he touched. There were moments I identified with the man in the yellow hat as he followed George throughout the city attempting to put out little fires of chaos, only to find himself in another predicament. If it were not for Jack Johnson playing in the background and the fact I was being cuddled by my little love bug of a son, I may have needed to pop a Prozac to finish watching the movie.

balloonsI could feel my blood pressure increase when the man in the yellow hat was floating through the New York City skyline tied to a ginormous cluster of balloons and creatively using a kite to guide him towards rescuing his new little furry friend. I glanced around our little one bedroom apartment wondering how I would fill the empty walls of our little abode with warm decor which could help my son feel even more at home when he is with me. I assessed the mess from a week of being ill and living out of suitcases. I processed this year of grief and loss and pondered new challenges before me. I rehearsed the last couple of days when I have been following my son around in circles saying phrases like, “I just need you to chill” as his excitement and energy increased with the rapid approach of Halloween festivities. I am tired. I am worn down. Overwhelmed.

My thoughts came back to my son and feeling the warmth of his embrace as he watched George and Ted build a stronger bond. The animator captured the man’s expression perfectly when his eyes shift from the surrounding chaos to his little friend. You can almost feel his anxiety towards his circumstances and his calming love for his friend which gives him hope to keep trying. It was at this moment when Jack Johnson‘s eloquent lyrics popped on the foreground of the scene, “Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be”

My lungs let out a sigh of relief as my eyes shifted from the chaos around me to my son and thinking, Maybe THIS is how it’s supposed to be.

I guess life would not be life without surprises and challenges. A roller coast would not be nearly as fun without a few twists and turns and moments of hanging upside down. A story is not much of a story without dilemma.

changeandchaosAs I sit for a moment and assess my life and consider how chaos and unforeseen events have so drastically shifted the coarse of my existence, hopes, dreams and desires, I realize that I have been living under a cloud of negative self-talk. I took a week of vacation in hopes to clear my mind and, perhaps, receive some sort of revelation for this next season of my life. I became even more discouraged as I felt a feeling of coming away with nothing in terms of personal revelation other than a deeper feeling of emptiness and repetitive thoughts sounding something like, “This isn’t how it was supposed to be.” How many of us have said this at one time or another?

I guess my “A-ha” moment came when I was holding my son, looking at my chaotic surroundings and reflecting on my rather unsettling life circumstances.

That moment when things do not workout the way we had planned or hoped is the crux of every notable story. Perhaps the adventure is all about finding the glimpses of inspiration and hope in the most unpredictable of places.

I could choose to continue dwelling on what I thought was and worrying about what will be, or I could continue finding hope in even the most difficult of circumstances. This is life. I can choose to live in it or in fear of it. I can continue wallowing in the idea of what I thought it was supposed to be or have faith in the mystery of what is unfolding.  I am not suggesting we should sit back and passively let things happen, but maybe to not be so surprised or overwhelmed when things do happen which are outside the boundaries of our plan and comfort.

May we learn to take the chaos with the peace; the pain with the joy; the loss with the gain. May we still enjoy the adventure without losing our curiosity and sense of wonder and amazement. When life leaves us feeling lost and alone, may we discover who we are.

Life has a silly way of teaching us important lessons. Today, I tip my hat to my son, to Curious George, and the man in the yellow hat.

Facing our Fears

face_your_fearThis morning was one of the most difficult and rewarding parenting moments, thus far. Ezra didn’t want to go to school. I thought we had problem solved the struggle together and he was doing okay. Everything appeared good as we awaited the start of school while standing in line. Until he saw the boy who was saying mean things to him yesterday. Which triggered a full blown meltdown. It took everything in me not to have a meltdown myself. He clinged to me like a koala bear sobbing. He just wanted to go home and didn’t want to stay and work things out. Everything in me wanted to take him home so that he wouldn’t have to face his fears and struggle. I just wanted to run him home, take a sick day and cuddle with him and eat our comfort foods. That would’ve been much easier.

Life is not so easy, is it? Sometimes it would be much easier to stay home in the mornings and not face the difficulties and challenges of this world.

I remember when I was my son’s age, there was a little bully in my class. I remember the feeling of not wanting to ever face him. I felt so little, humiliated and afraid. It was my dad who helped me face my fears while comforting me along the way. I’m so glad he did. I’m so blessed to have a parent who modeled the ability to be vulnerable and talk openly about the hard things. I can’t imagine living without the freedom to share my struggles. I’m also glad I did the most difficult thing this morning by leaving my son at school after comforting and reassuring him that things would workout.

Sometimes we have to face our biggest struggles and not walk away when life gets tough. Thanks, dad, for instilling and equipping me with the ability to face difficulties, to do my best to make things work, and be resilient when things don’t workout how I hoped. I hope my son can learn from these experiences as well.