Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

So... I had the privilege of speaking during the Christmas program in church on Sunday, and my wife and children sang Silent Night!  :)

For anyone who wanted to be there but was unable to attend (or anyone else who might be interested) you can [click here] to view a PDF of my talk, and here is audio of the girls singing:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Changing The Cover Of The Book

  All souls are precious in the sight of God. All of them, no exceptions. Sometimes I wonder if we mortals are capable of truly understanding such a magnanimous thought.

  When we are completely honest, how often do we genuinely try to see other people as the Lord has asked us to see them? Do we let personal judgments or group affiliations stop us from loving ALL of God's children? We don't have to agree with, or even like the choices another person has made. But when a moment of opportunity is presented to us, are we capable of showing unconditional love? As adults, are we humble enough to be sincere advocates of the golden rule that we teach to our children?

  The answers to these questions are definitely easier said than done, but that should not stop us from sincerely trying. Do we recognize the chance to show compassion when we see it? Are we even looking?

We need to help each other. We need to exercise compassion to one another. We need to give our eyes a break, let our ears take five, and use our heart more.

  At this time of year it is more socially accepted for us to show gratitude for our blessings by caring for the downtrodden. But what about the other ten months of the year? I believe that God will hold us accountable for how much love we showed to our fellow man when it wasn't "easy", not how expertly judicious we were about exactly who, what, when, where, how, and why we should have compassion for one another.

So anyway, I don't have much else to say at the moment... I feel like this video makes the point pretty darn well on it's own.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Oh The Irony...

  So... the wife and kids went to the local grocery store a while back, during a community celebration of some sort, and came home with these cute little United States flags. See if you can spot the reason unfettered American capitalism is not turning out quite as well as some people would have us think.

Coming soon: the red and yellow collector's edition.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I'll Try Again Tomorrow

  When I finally decide to sit down and write these days, I typically start with the goal of writing something I would enjoy reading if someone else had written it. My ultimate goal in writing is to connect with others by being honest about the human condition. I enjoy exploring the things that don't usually get talked about in the everyday rush of life.

  The process of organizing my thoughts enough to communicate them coherently is good exercise, it helps me feel like I am able to view the world a little bit clearer than I did before. And if the reader enjoys taking that journey with me, then that's an added bonus! I like to think that in one way or another, we are all in the same boat: we all feel joy and pain, we all want to be understood. We are all human souls, and that gives us something in common.

  At the close of my last post, I encouraged everyone to "be the best version of yourself". When I funnel a piece of my consciousness through the keyboard, my desire is to give the best version of myself a chance to come out and play, even if only for a brief moment in time. The truth is, I dream of contributing something to the universe that might outlive me. Maybe that is naively ambitious of me, but I don't care. We all have the right to dream. We all have the right to hope that something we do in our lifetime could make a difference in the world; that we might become a part of something bigger.

  There are many ways to participate in the human "race". We can walk, we can run, and sometimes the best we can do is crawl. But at the end of the day, our attitude is what provides the real victory. In my heart, I genuinely want to be brave. I want to be the kind of person who can smile through their pain; the kind of person who chooses to dance in the rain. I believe in the human spirit, and our power to choose to learn from hardship. But I have a confession: I don't feel brave.

  I don't feel like the best version of me today, I feel flawed, and my batteries are drained. I will admit, my heart aches with discouragement at the moment. Sometimes I fear my courage is a carefully constructed house of cards, and all it would take is a little breeze to remind me that I still have a lot of growing to do. But I know that courage is most effective when combined with humility. A vital component of being brave is the ability to admit when you don't feel brave. Discretion is the better part of valor, as they say.

  "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow." - Mary Anne Radmacher

   I love that quote, it reminds me to stop counting my falls and focus on how many times I get back up; it validates the tears that build up in your heart when the harder you try, the harder life gets. In the last two months I have been in and out of the hospital several times due to a grab-bag of medical problems. The first in my recent chain of hospital visits, I was in there for five days. Sometimes the value of simply "surviving to see tomorrow" is not as cliche as it sounds.

  Sometimes it seems that life tries to make us feel like our existence has become small and insignificant, that we are just taking up space. Despite knowing that your family and friends love you, have you ever found yourself wanting to be reminded that you really do matter as a unique individual? I am not talking about feeling valued because someone else needs you, although that is important. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are special, regardless of our external roles and relationships.

  We all stand to benefit from a clear and sustaining sense of individual worth. In the movie "It's A Wonderful Life" that comes on TV every holiday season, Jimmy Stewart's character gets the rare gift of seeing exactly what the world would be like if he had never been born. He gets to see his neighbors, friends, and family living without any of the good that he brought into their lives... and he has a sobering revelation about the difference one person can make.

  As for myself, I know there are people who's lives have intersected with mine in special and irreplaceable ways. In fact, just yesterday I had a wonderful chat with a good friend who was also having an "at the end of my rope" kind of week. We commiserated and helped each other fan the flame of hope. This "you are not alone" type of support is a simple thing that inspires me to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

  Beloved children's author, Theodor "Dr. Seuss" Geisel was truly a unique person. He shared his imagination with the world in a way that reminds us all to never lose our child-like sense of wonder. He wrote:
"Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You."

  This is a simple, timeless piece of wisdom. I may struggle, you may struggle, but that's okay! Acceptance is the heart of authenticity. There is no sense in comparing one person's grief to that of another. Pain is pain, sadness is sadness, and frustration is frustration. If what you are going through is a big deal to you, then it's a big deal to you... and that matters. However big or small a person's worries may seem to someone else, compassion does not have a minimum threshold to meet before we should care for each other and bear one another's burdens. In an increasingly cold and calloused world, a little empathy goes a long way.

  Patience and humility are the tools with which we can learn from the challenges we face. Of course, this is much easier said than done, but I recently came across a poem that offers some advice on the subject:

When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the guy in the glass.

- Dale Wimbrow

  So anyway... I may feel like a total mess today, and tomorrow, and maybe the day after that... but we all have the opportunity to learn to love "the guy in the glass", though a work in progress he/she may be.

  I am honestly encouraging you to hang in there, because I need to be reminded of it myself. The synergy of that exchange helps me a lot, and I hope it can help you too. So hang in there! And if you see someone else who is having a hard time, give them a hug and tell them to hang in there too!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Government Shutdown: What Can We Do?

  October 1st, 2013: The United States federal government has entered another phase of being stuck with the consequences of consistently resorting to stubborn partisan bickering and gamesmanship; instead of intelligent, reasonable, equitable methods of solving problems. And sadly, the repercussions taking effect on our nation this week, are just the tip of the iceberg of what is really wrong.

  I have been thinking about what, if anything, I felt like writing about the source of these problems, and what we might do to change the future... and I think I have been able to condense my thoughts down to 3 simple questions we should all be asking ourselves right now.

  So anyway, here's my take on what we as citizens can do to stem the tide of chaos rolling across America right now. I see people embracing anger and division. I see people fearing that their freedom has been taken away. But there is one freedom that I know for certain can never be taken away: the freedom to CHOOSE how we are going to respond to life, and to other people.

The Three Core Concepts of NOT Being a Ridiculous Human Being (TM)

[These questions can (and should) be applied to individuals and groups.]

 1)  Am I ignorant?

  I mean this in the academic sense. The dictionary definition of ignorance is:
ig·no·rant [ig-ner-uhnt] adjective
1. lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned: an ignorant man.
2. lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact: ignorant of quantum physics.
3. uninformed; unaware.
4. due to or showing lack of knowledge or training: an ignorant statement.
  This means that if we don't actually know what we are talking about, we must first be aware that we don't know much about the subject, and then put some real effort into finding out more about it. Determining our level of ignorance in relation to a given topic is not necessarily a question of our intentions, or an insult to our capacity for intelligent thought. Ignorance is the state of being uninformed. Whether or not we choose to remain in that state is another question, better defined as apathy. Apathetic ignorance (individual or collective) can become a genuinely scary thing. For example:

EXHIBIT (A) -- Here is one example of the type of ignorance I am talking about:

  If your own prejudice and/or laziness prevents you from putting a minimal amount of effort into educating yourself on the facts of an issue that you claim is of vital importance to you...

Perhaps that is the real problem.

2)  Do I have my facts straight?

  This means that when we finally do get off our behind, and decide to learn about the subject we are engaged in, we need to be willing to face all the facts of the matter. This willingness needs to carry us beyond the narrow or biased bits of information that don't disturb our comfort zone. Having a casual discussion with a friend, or reading the first opinion piece you get your hands on, generally doesn't qualify as getting educated on the matter.

  Unfortunately, the dialog surrounding complex problems tends to become polarized pretty quickly. Developing a well-rounded understanding of a situation (especially the causal factors) when the topic at hand is overwhelming in scope, is typically more work than most of us are interested in doing.

  Make sure you are getting your information from a credible source. Or even better: multiple credible sources. The information people tend to pass around via social media in particular, usually sides with one extreme or the other, makes one or more arbitrary generalizations, and grossly oversimplifies the issue at hand. These trends should be a clear signal that objective thought is not being employed. We need to resist the urge to let ourselves get excited by such sensationalism, and calmly take ownership of our own search for enlightenment.

The dictionary definition of research is:
re·search [ri-surch, ree-surch] noun
1. diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications, etc.: recent research in medicine.
2. a particular instance or piece of research.
verb (used without object)
3. to make researches; investigate carefully.
verb (used with object)
4. to make an extensive investigation into: to research a matter thoroughly.
  If we lack the motivation to research something we feel strongly about, or a topic we feel socially compelled to develop an opinion on, we may need to sit down and take honest inventory of what our current values and priorities really are. Not what we would like them to be, but what they really are at this point in time.

  Once we have obtained more reliable information, we then need to be open to the possibility of letting our discoveries change our opinions. If the prospect of new information actually altering our opinions makes us uncomfortable, I would say that is a good indicator that we have fallen out of the habit of learning. (See question #1.)

  I am a big fan of simple, verifiable pieces of data that are generally self-evident, or can be documented reliably via the scientific method. For example: the time of death on a death certificate is a relatively finite piece of information, it is hard to skew the manner in which that data was obtained, or the ensuing interpretation of it. Of course, information that needs little or no interpretation is a rare and valuable commodity, but certainly worth keeping an eye out for. Statistics, on the other hand, are notoriously corruptible; easily skewed by early data contamination in the gathering phase, poorly designed methods of recording the data that promote misinterpretation, and the most common problem: selective referencing with little or no context, often accompanied by arbitrary interpretation that breeds bias. Statistics referenced solely to give teeth to one side of an argument, rather than to educate on a variety of factors, tend to be the worst offenders.

  However, statistics used judiciously, with clear contextual ties to the subject matter, can be a reasonable way to illustrate a claim. The key is to avoid the trap of using statistics as a crutch in order to justify the idea being presented. If you can't make a convincing point without the statistics, you probably shouldn't be using them at all. Instead, I suggest an increased focus on obtaining a more robust personal grasp of the subject.

EXHIBIT (B) -- Here is a good example of supporting your message with data, while presenting a strong persuasive argument that stands on it's own.

3)  Am I being a hypocrite?

  After advocating healthy skepticism where statistics are concerned, I am going to go ahead and make one up. (Yes, my sense of humor feeds on irony.) It is easy to engage in a self-centered rant filled with 50% emotion, 25% thoughtless rhetoric, 20% childish belligerence, and 5% (or less) verifiable fact. Conversely, having an open minded, respectful dialog can facilitate challenging our views/opinions in a way that stretches our paradigm. That's a good thing! Healthy intellectual debate creates opportunities to explore new vistas, foster tolerance, and build the habit of thinking objectively.

  NOTE: Being stubbornly argumentative is not the same as useful debate. Regurgitating what you heard or read somewhere, just to "win" an argument with a stranger, doesn't count as intelligent debate! Equally important: refusing to accept input from sources that don't pander to your current opinion on the subject, does not count as sound intellectual discussion either. In general, we should do what we teach our children to do, and follow the golden rule: if you want your opinions to be respected, then a great place to start is to respect the opinions of others.

The dictionary definition of hypocrisy, is:
hy·poc·ri·sy [hi-pok-ruh-see] noun, plural hy·poc·ri·sies.
1. a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess.
2. a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.
3. an act or instance of hypocrisy.
  Being respectful and tolerant does not mean you have to agree with everyone. You can tell someone that you think their statement is not accurate, but pay careful attention not to indulge in making personal assumptions about the other party, and do your best to avoid using a condescending tone!
"As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy."  - Christopher Dawson
  It is wisdom to realize that we should look past the sphere of our own existence, and strive to understand the thoughts and needs of others. In today's "modern" (not to be confused with civilized) social climate, behavior that demonstrates a clear understanding of why we should always strive to exercise compassion, is harder to find than Waldo- if he wasn't wearing that conspicuous red and white striped outfit.

  If we ever find ourselves struggling (or consciously refusing) to genuinely consider the shared reality of the entire human race, not just the part of the world where we live- we need to think about how self absorbed we have become. If we can only manage to feel sympathy for those we see eye-to-eye with, it is time for some serious reflection. (See question #2.)

  An important thought to ponder when tempted to mete out judgment and derision, is this:
If I disagree with the stance another person is taking on a given issue, it is up to me to remember that they might feel the way they do because of something they have experienced. How would I view this topic if my spouse, or my children, or I were on the other side of this issue? How would I be inclined to approach solving this problem, in all honesty, if I had to walk in their shoes?

EXHIBIT (C) -- To call on better words than my own:
"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." - John 13:34

  He didn't say "Love one another, unless you disagree on politics." or "Love on another, unless someone else is treating you poorly." or "Love one another, unless you don't feel like it." God is not a Republican, God is not a Democrat. He is not even an American! We need to get over our foolish pride, and quit being so blasphemous as to justify our poor treatment of each other as "patriotism" or "righteousness". The eternal importance of having an attitude of kindness and humility hopefully makes sense to most people, but sadly, it is increasingly absent from too many interactions between "mature" adults in the world today. Remember:

  Ultimately, if a sincere exercise in sympathy doesn't conjure up some patience and tolerance in our hearts, sufficient to be kind to those we disagree with-- then perhaps we have not humbly faced and understood the true significance of the experiences, and relationships, in our own life.

  Perhaps we need to spend some time working on removing the two-by-four from our eye, before making a fuss about the splinter in someone else's. (Luke 6:42) Anger, fear, prejudice, and blame do not get us any closer to finding real, reasonable solutions to a problem. God gave us the instruction to love one another as a commandment. And it is our individual, personal responsibility do that.

Come on y'all...

Don't panic.
Don't turn against each other.

Be kind.
Be compassionate.

Be the best version of yourself!

Thanks, Congress!

This is an actual screen-shot of the page I got, while trying to research something this morning. I added the blue type because it needed to be there.  ;)

The Federal Government considers education a "non-essential" service... That explains a lot.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Art Of Misdirection

  I recently watched a rather entertaining TED talk entitled: The Art of Misdirection.  The talk is presented by a professional illusionist named Apollo Robbins, who specializes in picking pockets. He spoke about the power of being able to cause another person to focus their attention wherever you want. After an impressive demonstration using a volunteer from the audience, he closed by saying:
"Attention is a powerful thing, like I said- it shapes your reality. So, I guess I'd like to pose that question to you: if you could control somebody's attention, what would you do with it?"

  Today's post is a follow up to my initial impression of the 21 hour filibuster-esque speech delivered by Senator Ted Cruz earlier this week. As it turns out, Thursday's publicity stunt amounted to little more than verbal sleight of hand. How so? Well, that's what I want to write about today. Once Senator Cruz had our attention, what exactly was he doing with it?

  Well for starters, he wound up voting FOR the motion he had just demonstrated against. What happened to standing up for what you believe in Mr. Cruz? Why don't you put your money where your long-winded mouth is? The Washington Post reported the response of a prominent fellow Republican:
“I resoundingly reject that allegation,” the Arizona Republican said after reading Cruz’s words aloud. “To allege that there are people today who are like those who, prior to World War II, didn’t stand up and oppose the atrocities that were taking place in Europe, because I have an open and honest disagreement with the process . . . is an inappropriate place for debate on the floor of the United States Senate.”

McCain said Cruz’s words belittled those who served in the war, including his father and grandfather. He then used the rest of his brief speech to defend his record in opposition to Obamacare, which shouldn’t have been necessary: Nobody fought harder against the health-care reforms.

...In the end, Cruz joined the 99 other senators in voting to proceed with the debate on the legislation Cruz seeks to block. He said he would take his stand on the next vote, but that probably won’t go much better for him — in no small part because of colleagues’ disdain for him, which McCain gave voice to after the freshman senator finished his bladderbuster.

McCain ridiculed the “extended oratory” and then recounted his own opposition to the legislation. 'We fought as hard as we could in a fair and honest manner and we lost,' he said."

  Amazing, a senior member of his own party admits that voting and losing that vote over 40 times amounts to losing fair and square. Go figure. Besides, Cruz's speech didn't even count on record as an actual filibuster. It was quite literally just an extremely long, at times strange, side show. The knee-jerk reaction would be to make fun of that technicality, but I think it's more interesting to ask why he would do such a thing in the first place. Why perform such an exhausting charade if you (and your colleagues) know your efforts are not actually going to block anything, and you are planning on turning right around and voting the other direction anyway?

  Fellow Republicans have criticized the stunt as self-promoting, but what is the real endgame here? In addition to building a healthy martyr complex, I worry that taking advantage of the indignant apathy of the average voter may be the real objective behind this week's oratory olympics. In my experience, most people are willing to discuss politics, as long as they don't have to think about it too much. To be fair, trying to make sense of national or even global politics is an easy way to make your head hurt in a hurry. But indignation and apathy are an odd pair, a combination that highlights some interesting aspects of human nature.

  Indignation makes us feel like we are actively involved in an issue, it placates our natural fear of helplessness, it feels like action. Apathy saves us the trouble of actually taking action, it saves us from the uncomfortable experience of challenging our own perspective in order to make a truly informed decision- it is much easier to take up one stance, and stay there. It's seems increasingly rare for people to invest the time and effort to research the valid points made on both sides of an issue. Most people will just read the headlines, form a biased opinion, and never fully realize the extent to which they are being manipulated by the very leaders they are cheering for.

  In order to come up with substantial, real world solutions to complex societal problems, we must perpetually challenge our own views. We cannot remain static, we must make a conscious effort to continue learning, and be willing to let that knowledge expand our vision. The logistics of caring for a nation of over 300 million diverse human beings are undoubtedly complex. As long as we are content being held back (indefinitely) by our differences, we will not progress as a group. And in modern civilization, we need to progress as a group, now more than ever. The world is shrinking, and the core mechanics of human survival are changing. Without the group, there is no food on the grocery store shelves- and I don't know about you, but I don't own a farm. Without the group, we have no jobs, no economy. Without the group, everything falls apart. We must develop kindness, and patience. We must learn to get along, or history will repeat itself.

  It is not hard to let a power hungry organization like a political party (any political party), tell you what to think. It is hard to have an objective approach to problem solving, to consistently seek the most fair and equitable solution for everyone concerned, and to do it with determination and humility. It is not hard to polarize a situation, and then throw a tantrum when you don't get what you want. It is hard to be truly tolerant, open minded, and selfless.

  Observe what happens around you, among your family, friends, and coworkers-- listen to people  talk about society's problems, and notice what they say and do when it comes time to point fingers. It has become part of our culture to treat the office of President of the United States as little more than a high profile scapegoat, for everything that goes wrong during his term. We've definitely had presidents who have done things worthy of reproach, of that there is no doubt. But strangely, no matter how dysfunctional the legislative branch becomes, I find it fascinating that the relative degree of accountability they face, in relation to the magnitude of their failures, is so severely lacking. Consequently, the House and Senate remain essentially free to opportunistically exacerbate our problems, and bear little or no personal consequences. For example: putting an additional 800,000 Americans out of work, while simultaneously calling for economic reform and recovery, would definitely qualify as the type of hypocrisy I am talking about.

  Ultimately, we are the ones who give our representatives the freedom to fail us and keep their jobs. We choose to ignore the complexity of the checks and balances that the constitution of this nation put in place all those years ago. Instead, the order of the day is:
1. Blame the opposition for all governmental failure, regardless of scope, causal factors, or length of history.

2. Make sure to get yourself and your buddies (re)elected, no matter what it takes.

3. Rinse and repeat.

  In today's world of no term limits for legislators, and lobbyists signing the real paychecks on capitol hill... the system is pretty thoroughly broken. One way to change this problem would be for the house and senate to vote themselves out of a job by instituting term limits. Call me crazy, but I'm not holding my breath on that one. If you want to remain in public office, just give your voter base a "worthy target" for their indignation, and you don't need tedious things like facts. Control people's attention, and you don't need to be accountable for your own incompetence. You don't need logic or reason if your constituents are kept busy with mindless partisan bickering. You don't need to heed the majority vote in a democratic system when you can vote on the same bill 41 separate times. You don't even need to do any real work when you show up to work. All you have to do, is live to play the game another day.

  So anyway, the next time a controversial topic comes up, political or otherwise, just remember-- it's the people who are actually solving problems, and doing real good in the world, who go largely unnoticed. Loud does not equal right. Showmanship does not equal sincerity. Bold does not equal brave.

  Why don't the good doers and problem solvers get the kind of attention that comes from holding your pee and reading twitter for 21 hours straight? Probably because they are busy doing good, instead of talking about it.  ;)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Did He Really Just Say That?

So... that just happened.

  Did Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex), with a straight face, and almost-convincingly-simulated emotion, actually just compare the advent of a healthcare exchange program in America, imperfect as it may be, to the threat presented by Hitler's WW2 era Nazi Germany, therefore equating the moral fortitude of those who support the Affordable Care act, to Nazi sympathizers? Wait, what?!

I don't know whether to laugh, or stare at my television in befuddled awe, or just throw up right here on my living room carpet. o_O

  Am I the only one who finds it deeply embarrassing that this obviously overreaching analogy was uttered by one of our elected leaders, in our nation's capitol, on internationally available satellite television...


  Yes, I understand why Senator Cruz was calling on moderate Republicans to "vote their conscience", and I am (like his colleagues) also aware that he is considering running for POTUS in the next election, making a stunt like this look like early campaigning. But what if someone hears his language and adopts the same attitude without really understanding what they are blaspheming? What if someone overseas is left with the impression that this really is how flippant we are regarding the tragedies their people endured just 73 years ago. My own father served in the United States Navy on an aircraft carrier during WW2 for goodness sake, it wasn't actually that long ago in the grand scheme of things. At bare minimum, we should be more careful about "crying wolf" and diminishing the value of such statements. Check out what even a fellow Republican had to say about this nonsense:

  You know you have gone out on a limb when a senior member of your own party chastises you for being an embarrassment. And what must our neighbors to the north think we are implying about them, if we publicly renounce even partially socialized medicine to be as evil an omen as the rise of The Third Reich? (And oh by the way, Cruz was born in Canada.) What about our friends in Great Britain? And we wonder why the rest of the world generally regards us as a nation full of crude, uneducated, self-absorbed imbeciles... /smh

  Shockingly, most people don't seem to even be aware that the PPACA (Patient Protection and Afforable Care Act, aka Affordable Care Act, aka "Obamacare") was already signed into law, all the way back on March 23rd, 2010. Then on June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the PPACA's individual mandate in the case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. It is already law ratified by all three branches of the government! Choosing to ignore this fact, the Tea Party reps have called for a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act 41 times, and lost 41 times. These people have a serious problem accepting the democratic system many of them are intent on spreading to the rest of the world.

  I don't care which state Cruz "represents", or which political party he is a member of; from a purely academic standpoint-- did the same person who was the winner of the 1992 National Debating Championship, and the1992 North American Debating Championship, really just base the thesis of his 21 hour anti-Obamacare speech on a hyperbolic comparison so grossly disrespectful to the actual atrocities committed by the Nazis, that you could virtually hear him lose the vote of the entire Jewish community, in one incomprehensible moment??

  So... this just in: according to the Senator from Texas, "Americans are suffering from Obamacare". He went on to claim that the Affordable Care Act, (which is set to launch on October 1st of this year) is solely responsible for the entire U.S. economic decline of the 21st century, and the impending genocide of some lucky ethnic group(s) right here in America! It's not clear yet, exactly how the United States government is going to carry out murdering 7.3 million innocent men, women, and children in the coming months- but I am sure the details of this event will be forthcoming.

I am sorry, but this is just too much stupid for one person to ridicule.
Mr. Stewart, help me out please:

The Daily Show - Wednesday, September 25th

  There is only one possible explanation for this insult to the intelligence of the American public-- Senator Cruz and his colleagues must be working with Guiness World Records in pursuit of Earth's most elaborate prank. That, or he plans on running for President, which is basically the same thing. Considering the string of mind-numbingly ignorant and offensive things GOP reps/candidates have said in recent memory, this must be one part of a much bigger joke.

  Maybe if our legislators continue de-funding our public educational system as well, the rising generation won't even know what happened back in the 1940's. Then people like Ted Cruz can make impressive sounding comparisons like this without anyone actually understanding what he is talking about.

  All sarcasm, disgust, and mental vomiting aside... this is a depressing commentary on how simple-minded our nation's leaders must think we are if they really expect us to swallow this kind of nonsense. Or something else equally disappointing is going on, I don't know what.

  Who knows, maybe we are that dumb. We are the geniuses who keep electing these dysfunctional clowns to "lead" us, and then we scapegoat a single member of the executive branch for the inability of the legislative branch to do anything even remotely productive. Heck, I am even from the state of Texas originally- which potentially gives me an added reason to be appalled by this preposterous example of party-line puppetry.

* Sigh. *

So anyway... I have to go take some ibuprofen now. American political rhetoric is so asinine anymore, it makes my face hurt.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Meaningful Life

  I could not agree more with the sentiment communicated by this graphic, in fact this is EASILY the #1 thing about American culture that has never made any real sense to me. Ever.

  Being a "stay at home" dad myself for the last couple years, for reasons I cannot control, I can vouch for how easily one is made to feel like a reject, a non-functioning part of "the system". Simply because you are not (currently) a well oiled cog: willing and able to be an indentured part of the machine every day of your life; just because you and your loved ones need food, clothing, and shelter simply to be able to exist.

  In 21st century America, happiness, individuality, and family time proportionate to their importance in your life, are luxuries reserved for when you are old and retired and you have already spent the best years of your relatively short existence "paying the bills". American capitalism is backwards, broken, and utterly sucks. Yeah, I said it. Our priorities as a society are leading us straight to Miseryville, population: you.

  As a member of the working lower/middle class, recently labeled "the 99%", do you feel like you are living "the American dream" every day when you drive to work? Do you feel like unfettered capitalism is working for YOU? If you can answer yes, then congratulations: you are (by far) the exception, not the rule.

  For the vast majority of us who feel obligated, or even oppressed into following the beaten path, I say: be an individual! Don't let social pressure squeeze the humanity out of you like water out of a wet rag. Take an HONEST look at the culture you are surrounded by, and if it doesn't actually match your priorities, the priorities that live deep down in the center of your heart... exercise the power to CHOOSE what your life will be, and do it.

  Be different. Be yourself. Be happy. THAT is the most meaningful legacy we can give our children, not a manilla folder full of pay stubs! Long after we are no longer around to support our loved ones financially, they will carry on living life, using the unique things about us for inspiration, the things that no 401k can buy.

  Earn a living, support yourself and your family, these are a must in order to survive-- but PAY ATTENTION to the choices you are actually making along the way, and be careful not to sell your SOUL in the process. No faceless corporate machine, well-meaning community, or fleeting sum of money has the right to claim your spirit: the flame that gives you the passion for whatever it is you are truly passionate about.

  For now, breathing the fresh air outside right after a summer rain is still free. The smell of a baby's hair right after a bath is still free. The smiles and giggles of your children when you make that funny face that they love, is still free. Time spent cuddling on the couch with your sweetheart is still free. Don't let the LIFE in your life pass you by.  ;-)

- Chuck

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Brief Friendship

Huge housefly buzzing around my head. I hate flies.

I place a bounty on it's head.

The kids chase it around for a couple minutes, with the 3 year old protesting that it "found" her and they are "friends" now.

Fly buzzes around my head again. I get up, kill the fly in one shot, and feel happier.

The 3 year old is now weeping: "YOU KILLED MY FRIEND!! Waaaaaaah..." and stomps off to her room, inconsolable.
#smh #lol

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sleep Through The Pain

Exercise in authenticity... Q&A:

Q) Why is my sleep schedule so messed up sometimes?
A) Here's the short version...

Illness & Injury = Chronic Pain,
Chronic Pain = Insomnia,
Insomnia = Loneliness/Boredom,
Loneliness/Boredom = Over-thinking,
Over-thinking = Anxiety,
Anxiety = Frustration,
Frustration = Burnout,
Burnout = Sadness,
Sadness = Exhaustion,
Exhaustion = Sleep through the pain.

By the time that process runs it's course and you finally do pass out, you already know you are messed up. You know you have already failed at being a "normal" person tomorrow.

So yes, I am aware that I sleep at strange hours sometimes. I am generally there when it happens. No, it is not my preferred mode of living. And yes, there are complicated reasons, which most people are probably not very interested in, which involve a lot more than simply "going to bed".

And my dear wife (bless her awesome heart) sees me through all of it, and I am very grateful to not be alone in my journey.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


I have a love/hate relationship with the question: "How are you doing?"

  The implied sentiment behind that question is an important part of life though. So I am going to make an effort today to explain why I love it, and why I struggle with it. But here's the catch: expressing my thoughts on the subject in a way that has any hope of making sense to anyone else, is going to require a degree of "authenticity" which I generally find fairly nerve-wracking. I dread the idea of opening up about what I am really going through, and then wondering if someone thinks I am being pathetic or whiny. I like being real with people, but I hate being vulnerable... in other words: I am human. Tah-dah!

  For the last few years in particular, I have found the question "How are you doing?" to be extremely difficult to answer. Why? A few years ago I turned thirty, and the manufacturer's warranty on my body expired. (Does anyone out there know the customer service number we are supposed to call for that?)

  So as a graduation present for surviving my twenties, I have been gifted with a steadily growing number of chronic health problems in my thirties. It's no fun being permanently sick, and it's a surefire way to wreak havoc on your professional life. I turned thirty-one and things did not get any better. My wife and I watched helplessly as a decade of blood, sweat, and tears we had both invested into my career came crashing down. All because my body had a meeting with itself (which I was not invited to), and decided that it was no longer interested in performing superfluous tasks like walking, seeing, remembering things, sleeping, digesting food, or using my hands. Clearly, such demands are preposterous indeed.

At the time, I remember thinking:
  "Alright body, come on now... I need you to work right for forty hours a week, and then you can malfunction all you want the rest of the time! ...Okay, I know, I know-- it's actually more like fifty to sixty hours a week... but that's just until this big deadline at work passes! ...Okay, fine- there will always be deadlines, so maybe that's not going to work. But hey, there is always the weekend! ...Hmm, except for the kids' soccer games, and taking the wife out for date night, and chipping away at the 'honey do' list around the house, and wrangling the baby for a while so Mommy can get away for some 'sanity time', and church meetings on Sunday, and trying to be a good friend to my neighbors, and hanging out with my other friends once in a while, and... *sigh* ...I think I'm in serious trouble here."

  Life was becoming even more of an unforgiving, uphill battle than "normal", and I wasn't sure what, if anything, I could do about it.

  Ever since then, my health has continued on a steady downward slope, which none of my doctors can quite figure out, at least not entirely. After an endless string of specialists, tests, scans, pills, more tests, and even more pills... some of my issues have been diagnosed, but the overall mystery as to why this whole bodily implosion is happening to me, or why years later it won't stop happening, remains a frustrating question mark. Sometimes I honestly feel like someone in one of those documentary specials where they follow a person for like eight years as they go from specialist to specialist before someone finally figures out what is wrong with them.

  A few years ago, health issues would interfere with my life maybe one or two days a week- at most. There were exceptions of course, usually brought on by me doing something remarkably stupid. Like going dirt-biking with my wife's gigantic brothers, all of whom must have found it hilarious watching me try not to die while hurtling down a canyon path littered with boulders, on a motor bike I could scarcely control. Yes folks, pride can get you damn near killed, and yes- I am that stupid sometimes. [sheepish grin]

  But it's not so funny anymore. I just turned thirty-five, and my life has changed so much that it is now the overwhelming inverse of what it was a couple years ago. It no longer requires recklessness on my part to be down-and-out for a solid week or two, or even three. Lately I am lucky if I have one or two days a week where I am relatively 'functional'. Every week... always.

  An existence where you cannot realistically commit to anything much more than a few hours ahead of time, because you have no way of knowing if you will be physically able to keep that commitment, is hard to cope with on multiple levels. And I'm not going to lie- at this point, the practical everyday frustrations that come with facing (seemingly) permanent pain and illness are far beyond "getting old".

  It's really depressing when you can't control what you are going to do today, no matter how smart, determined, or well intentioned you are. Managing your attitude when so much of your life is filled with pain and frustration, is a full time job. And by full time, I mean 24/7, 365 days a year... no holidays, not even for birthdays or anniversaries. Then there is the never ending physical battle with the chronic pain itself. Bracing against the constant pain is honestly so exhausting that sometimes I seriously have nothing left in me by lunch time. Sometimes I don't even feel like I have the energy to chew my food. You may chuckle at that, but unfortunately I'm not kidding.

  There are countless secondary challenges people experience because of long term illness and/or chronic pain, and the sad part is many of them are invisible and therefore do not get recognized for the dream-crushing hardships that they are.

  Now keep in mind, when I use the term 'functional' these days, I use it loosely. Compared to what is generally expected of worker bees in our capitalist American society, my current personal definition of 'functional' can't possibly keep up. I have discovered the hard way, that our culture in the United States has no real, working, mainstream place for people who can't be a reliable cog in the corporate machine for forty to fifty hours a week. Oh sure, there are special programs here and there, but that's exactly what they are: special. They are not the norm, not by a long shot. And since we are ALL mortal, and ALL susceptible to illness and injury, I find the fact that the core of our civilization still casts aside those with disabilities, absolutely infuriating. I could write a whole article about that by itself, but I have a lot I want to get to here, so I'll move on.

  These days I am grateful if once a week I feel healthy enough to go to the grocery store and pick up a few things. Not browsing around for an hour, mind you- I'm talking about fifteen to twenty minutes and then my body begins a full scale mutiny. On a particularly good day, I feel awesome if I can succeed at doing some light housework without winding up so spent afterward that I am completely useless for the next week.

  Most days, when someone asks me how I am doing, the truth is such a long, complicated, and boring answer, that it's much, MUCH easier to lie and say: "I'm alright." But here's the ironic part: despite my own awkwardness when asked such a common, and yet surprisingly frustrating, question- I have to admit that I would much rather have people ask if I'm okay, than to feel like nobody notices me or cares.

  And I'm not always guarded about what I am feeling, I have my moments where I open up. Like writing this article! And those moments feel really, really good. Feeling like someone is listening, and maybe, just maybe they might even understand some of what you are going through- is like standing outside in a cool spring breeze, right after a rain storm, and taking a big breath until your lungs are full... Ahhhh.

  Simply asking someone how their day went, can give you a window into their life. That may sound a bit dramatic, but let's be honest: how nice is it when you've had a hard day, and someone takes the time to let you talk about it, and maybe offers some encouragement, or a simple hug? The 'little things' really do mean a lot.

  But here is the challenge: typical human behavior is for us to take the little things for granted. Therefore, "How are you doing?" can become a rhetorical question. We may not have time for the real answer, not right now anyway. So it winds up being a formality, a meaningless greeting. We ask in passing, with little or no intention of actually having a conversation. I have been guilty of this myself at times! We may mean well, but we allow ourselves to be satisfied with a superficial answer.
 Person #1: "Hey, how are you doing?"
 Person #2: "Oh hey- I'm pretty good. You?"
 Person #1: "I'm good, thanks."
[Both force a smile, then quickly break eye contact and walk away.]

And that is about as far as we often get with people. Sound familiar?

  There is nothing wrong with simply being friendly. Friendly is better than oblivious, and there is plenty of obliviousness in the world. But it takes more than scripted greetings to be able to say we know someone. Of course, sometimes we really don't have time to stop and talk, but there are plenty of instances where we could and yet we don't... that is what I am talking about.

  And what about when someone takes the time to talk to us, and we don't feel like reciprocating? I recently read an awesome article in the New York Times by Tim Kreider, about the significance of being truly okay with letting others get to know us. He writes:  
"THE operative fallacy here is that we believe that unconditional love means not seeing anything negative about someone, when it really means pretty much the opposite: loving someone despite their infuriating flaws and essential absurdity."
That is so fantastic, and SO true!!!

  It's amazing what we can learn about someone just by spending a few more minutes talking with them than we normally would have. And guess what? That other person is simultaneously learning more about us as we demonstrate what our priorities are, and what kind of person we are on the inside- beyond our outward appearance. We are getting to know them, and we are letting them get to know us! Little by little, those bits of "extra" time spent with someone can really add up, until you wake up one day and have something that resembles a real friendship. And don't forget, real relationships deal with the negative experiences too, not just the superficial "I'm doing fine." WE CAN make a real difference and be a positive influence in someone's world, by being conscious of the quality of our interactions.

  A good antidote to all things superficial, is a healthy dose of authenticity. Whether we are the one answering the questions, or the one doing the asking, we can and should strive to be more authentic. In fact, my motivation to write this article came from a conscious decision to push myself to practice more authenticity! I won't pretend that it doesn't scare me to 'put myself out there' like this, to write in such a transparent fashion. But having life change so significantly, against my will, has (not surprisingly) taught me to appreciate living in the now.

  The definition of authenticity is:
1. of undisputed origin or authorship; genuine

2. accurate in representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable

So what can we really do to be more authentic? Let's take a closer look.

1) Be Genuine!

  Being genuine, being accurate in representation of the facts; these are all ways of saying: be real. In the book The Velveteen Rabbit, Margorie Williams penned a beautifully profound, yet simple description of what it means to be real:
'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.

'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'

'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.'

Wow... I need to believe this. I really do. We all do.

There are more complex interpretations of what the pursuit of authenticity entails philosophically, but I believe the Skin Horse knew what he was talking about. Unconditional love is at the core of being genuine. When you are Real you don't mind being hurt, because you understand that a genuine life is one that values the comfortable and the uncomfortable as equally meaningful and important. Of course, this is not to say we should be masochists, but being at peace, being comfortable in our own skin, and being receptive to the humanity of others; are all part of being healthy, both mentally and physically.

2) Be Trustworthy!

  Consider the following questions. Do we let ourselves think of a person as ugly because they appear "shabby"? Have we thought about the difference? Are we "people who understand"? Can we be trusted with the genuine reality of others? Can others trust US to be genuine? Being trustworthy means we are reliable. On a daily basis, I rely on people I can trust to be Real with me. So I should ask myself if other people can reliably trust me to be Real with them.

  Authenticity obligates me to answer the question "How are you doing?" honestly! (Which I am admittedly really bad at, lol.) Now, this doesn't mean we have to spill our guts all the time and cross over into being super annoying, but we can find ways of letting people know who we really are and what we are really experiencing. The goal is to faithfully represent our Real self, and most importantly: learn to be okay with that transparency.

Another quote from Mr. Kreiger's New York Times article:
  "Years ago a friend of mine had a dream about a strange invention; a staircase you could descend deep underground, in which you heard recordings of all the things anyone had ever said about you, both good and bad. The catch was, you had to pass through all the worst things people had said before you could get to the highest compliments at the very bottom. There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known."

  We need to be brave in order to experience love. But if something hurts, it's okay to say it hurts. We don't have to pretend. We can be brave AND honest at the same time! It requires great courage to be honest in the face of adversity. The most heroic and trustworthy people I have ever known personally, have all had something in common: they are sincere about what life feels like to them. That sincerity makes their courage, kindness, and dedication all the more inspiring. I treasure these types of relationships more than I can possibly describe.

  Like the wise old Skin Horse, we can do our level best to always be truthful. Not unkind, not rude, but truthful. There is a difference. We can rejoice in the natural beauty of living with an honest heart. Those who understand this beauty will naturally appreciate each other, I have seen the truth of this for myself.

  One example of natural authenticity is an amazing young woman named Carly Fleischmann. She has non-verbal autism, meaning that among other things, she cannot talk. Most of her life, everyone including the medical community, assumed "the lights are on, but there's nobody home". Even her loving parents would talk about her, right in front of her, as if she didn't understand what they were saying. Then one day Carly sat in front of a computer, and began typing with one finger, one letter at a time. Carly started writing coherent and even eloquent messages, proving that she had been "trapped inside a body I can't control", and she had indeed been listening the whole time.

  Now Carly has her own Facebook page and Twitter account, a YouTube channel, and has co-written a book with her father. Most recently, she created and appeared in a short film called Carly's Cafe, which won the silver medal at the Cannes film festival in France last week. The movie was filmed in the first-person perspective of Carly herself, and is meant to give us a peek into what it is like to be her for a few minutes. When I first watched the film, I was stunned with a sense of gratitude that someone was attempting to show the world how different one person's experiences can be from another, even though they are sitting in the same room.

  I challenge you to observe the communication coming from this incredible girl. Watch her Facebook page, keeping in mind the magnitude of what she is accomplishing with each and every word she types. She is an inspiration to me, a hero. Carly has feelings, and experiences frustration just like you and I. Yet she displays the courage to be known, despite the fact that she is "different", despite her trials and obstacles. She is authentic. She is Real.

3) Be Reliable!

  A reliable person is one who takes personal responsibility for their own choices. But this does not mean that all our choices are going to turn out how we want them to. Dr. Kent M. Keith wrote a poem, famously a favorite of Mother Teresa, called The Paradoxical Commandments. It reminds us of our individual power to choose:
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

  I would like to point out that being reliable doesn't mean you will magically be there for someone 100% of the times that they need you, it means you will be there 100% of the times that you *can* be there. Again- if we can help someone, and we don't, that is where we need to examine our priorities. We should care, and we should strive for improvement, but we also need to keep our expectations realistic so we have a shot at achieving our goals. You and God are the only ones who truly know what your 100% looks like. It's a matter of being honest with yourself, and though that may sound uncomfortable, it can actually wind up being the most healthy, positive thing you have ever done.

  Finally, here's an important question: are we graceful receivers when WE are in need of help? I personally have a lot of work to do on this one. I am a very independent spirit, and I often have a hard time accepting help, particularly when I feel like I "should" be able to do that thing for myself. People who can help us, and want to help us, need to be able to trust us to receive the help that they give. It might sound strange, but it's true. I have needed a lot of help over the last few years, and so I've had to learn about being truly grateful for that help, and not resentful.

  We all have the need to learn and grow, who are we to judge from one person to another whose spiritual needs are the most important? Perhaps the growth a loved-one would gain from helping us, is priceless in the eyes of God. We can be a humble servant who gracefully and reliably accepts the opportunity to let others who desire to serve... serve.

So anyway...

  We must choose to cultivate a heart that loves and is loved fully, a heart that trusts and is trustworthy. We can be someone who takes the time to know others, and embraces being known. As we honor authenticity in others, and exercise the courage to be our authentic self, we develop mutual respect with those around us, and build relationships of trust; not perfect relationships, but valuable relationships that are Real.

  If I am having a hard day, and someone asks me how I am doing, these days I just might tell them I am having a hard day. And if that's not what the other person was expecting, then the quality of that particular human interaction just got upgraded... free of charge! ;)

  To love one another simply for being human souls, simply because it is the right thing to do, regardless of our individual perceptions... is a sign of true authenticity being practiced.

  As we fill our souls with the healing power of serenity, focusing on what we CAN do, our authenticity grows, and it's natural to want to share that positive energy with others. We really can develop a kinder, less assuming attitude. Life has shown me a different way of looking at things over the last few years, and if I can do it- so can you! When we are focused on being genuine and trustworthy, it becomes easier to be kind and generous toward others. We will naturally exude what we fill our heart with. It is only when we are motivated by pride, judgment, or envy that we will struggle to see why we should respect (and ultimately love) another human being.

  So perhaps you are wondering at this point: "Hey Chuck, why are you so interested in this whole authenticity thing in the first place?" Well thanks for asking, I'll tell you! ;)

  During the last five years of my life I have been gifted with the chance to completely reshape my view of what it means to live happily. And I do mean gifted. I've had to redefine my concept of success. I have had the opportunity to learn difficult, elusive lessons that would have taken much, much longer to understand otherwise. Had I not been thrust into the humbling gauntlet that my personal existence has become, and experienced everything that comes with it, I would have remained under the illusion that focusing on being "strong enough" to endure suffering was just as good as having real peace in my heart. Spoiler alert: it's not. There are plenty of things in this world that nobody is strong enough to defeat.

  My childhood best friend lost his mother to cancer, and she was one of the kindest, most reliable people I have ever known. Does that mean she simply wasn't "strong enough"? No!

  Life is unbelievably hard, and there is nothing wrong with praying for the strength to survive. But if you are praying for the strength to handle something difficult, and you feel like it's not working... may I offer a humble suggestion? Try praying for peace... real peace.

  What do I mean by "real" peace? The peace to be okay, come what may. The kind of peace that is not tied to anything that can be destroyed by anything other than our own free will. Take a moment and think about that. Ask yourself: is my sense of peace tied to anything temporal? I believe we have a natural human tendency to take something desirable but intangible, like peace- and attach it to something tangible that is easier for us to conceptualize and focus on. It makes sense, really. But when we attach a spiritual principle like peace to a lesser concept, or to something physical, we are bound to be disappointed... it's just a matter of time.

Authenticity cultivates peace, and peace is better than trying to be strong enough to handle mortality. That is why I am so interested in authenticity-- because I value peace.

  I have learned more in a few years of not being able to control certain aspects of my life, than I ever did when I had the ability to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It turns out that the serenity prayer is not just an old cliche after all. Thanks to my challenges, I learn something new every day about how to be a more authentic me. Even if today's lesson is something small and simple, it still matters, and I still want to learn it.

  I frequently fall flat on my face trying to apply the things I have learned. (Sometimes literally!) But that's okay. One step at a time, I am a little better off than before. Sometimes it's  actually one "crawl-on-the-floor-because-it-hurts-too-much-to-stand" at a time... but I digress.

  The simple act of living in my body makes every day a battle. Even the "good days" are challenging in their own way. Imagine having just a few days a month to be present in the lives of everyone you love, or get anything on your to do list done... and you can't over do it, or you might wind up losing some of your precious "good days" and be even worse off than before. It's more complicated than it seems.

  It's not glamorous living this way, and to be perfectly honest I really don't like hurting all the time. I don't like dropping my cereal bowl full of milk on the kitchen floor just because my hands decide, for a split second, to stop doing what I am telling them to do. I don't like winding up writhing on the floor just because I sneezed.

  When I've been "toughing it out" for so long that I can't go any further without some help, I do have some medicine I can take to make life less hellish. But sometimes the contrast between the pain and the relief is so drastic-- I suddenly realize I had actually forgotten what it's like for my body to feel good... and I can't help but cry. My wife has learned to recognize these moments before I do, because I will suddenly smile, heave a sigh of relief, and then burst into tears... with a smile on my face. (lol)

  Maybe that's why Carly Fleischmann is such an inspiration to me, she reminds me of how brave someone can be, against all odds, especially when it seems like no one else understands what you are going through, or that the very fabric of your humanity is being torn at.

"Once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

  How weird would it be if my friends and family had no idea what my life is actually like, or how I actually feel about it? My life would be a hollow charade. And for what? So people will like a version of me that doesn't really exist? I don't want that. I want to love and be loved, which means I must embrace being known by others.

  Being authentic brings with it great opportunity. The opportunity for others to better appreciate your victories, because of the context provided by your honesty. I love sharing the cool new things I am learning from life! Some of these lessons come at a heavy price, but they are meaningful, and important, and worth it. There are many, many reasons to be your Real self. You might even wind up helping someone else by sharing your experiences.

  I realize however, that it's not practical to be completely open all the time. I still catch myself saying I'm "okay" when I'm really not. Then I try to make myself feel more honest by dwelling on the fact that I didn't say I was doing "good", I only said I was "okay"...even though the whole thing was misleading from the start. (I need to stop doing that.)

  Once in a while I can't hide what I'm going through, even if I wanted to. My body takes control, and it's game over. But even then, I try to smile anyway. Most of the time it's a Real smile too, because I have a Real need to be happy. I need the positive energy I get from smiling, or having a pleasant conversation with someone. Laughter in particular really lifts my spirits. I have a goofy sense of humor, and it turns out- the ability to laugh at life, and to laugh at myself... saves me. I get a lot of joy from focusing on the simple good in life, especially at times when it seems like there isn't much to get joy from.

  When I choose to find something to be grateful for, I always feel better about myself, and about the kind of energy I am passing on to those around me. We have a responsibility as fellow human souls to do what we can to uplift each other, and be good to each other. Gratitude is a powerful tool which invites peace to enter our hearts, and soothe our minds. Being grateful for what makes us uniquely special is the foundation of authenticity!

If my attitude matched my circumstances, no one would ever want to be around me..

  Instead, I work on having my attitude be fueled by my gratitude. There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for, we only need to choose to see it. And if you can't see anything to be grateful for, that's okay-- choose to start building a habit of looking for things to be grateful for. You will find what you are looking for.

  Authenticity can be tricky, but it is a beautiful way to be mortal, live in a world full of joys and pains, learn the things we are meant to learn in this life, and be truly happy.

PS:  I know this was long for a blog post, thanks for reading. :)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Passion For Purpose

  I was a decent distance runner in my youth. (Geez that makes me sound old, haha.) My personal best mile time was four minutes and fifty-eight seconds, not too shabby! I remember the refreshing sense of freedom that came from being able to take off and go for a five mile "drive" using nothing but my own legs, and a good pair of running shoes. Running was a valuable outlet in my life, with countless positive side effects. Ultimately however, I ran in the summer to stay in shape for my true love in the winter: basketball.

  I was the starting point guard on my high school basketball team my junior and senior years. Junior year we were undefeated in the regular season, and senior year we only lost one game, and by a margin of two points. We nearly went two consecutive years without tasting defeat, a level of success pretty much unheard of in the world of basketball. Suffice it to say, we weren't just lucky- it took hard work and dedication to do what we did.

  I was a tireless student of the game. I put in countless hours of extra practice on my own, raising my free-throw percentage to 80%, polishing my three-point average to 66%, working on my ball handling, and refining my defense. I studied every piece of film I could get my hands on, and got to know each of my teammates strengths and play styles. I patterned my game after the all-time NBA assists and steals leader: John Stockton. I even wore the number 12 on my jersey. Basketball was my first great, truly passionate pursuit in life.

  Then at age twenty-one, six months away from pursuing the next level of my basketball career- I was in a freak accident, injuring my spine, and discovering in the process that I have degenerative disc disease.

  When I first got hurt, I could barely walk, wound up falling quite often, and was in a great deal of pain 24/7. Common household features like stairs were completely out of the question. After all the MRI's, specialists, prayers, and months of hard work in physical therapy- I regained the ability to walk normally, and stairs were no longer an insurmountable obstacle. But my life-long dream of playing college hoops was gone, evaporated in a single moment of misfortune. My passion was now something that made my heart ache, instead of being a renewable source of joy like it was before. I lost a treasured part of my identity.

  In the years since then, disease has claimed more discs in my neck and back, making life increasingly complicated. Along the way, some people have asked me why I don't watch every basketball game on TV like I used to, or why I don't even bother making a bracket for March Madness along with half the nation. The short answer? Simply put: it hurts. It's like being reminded of a dearly departed loved one, who was lost in an untimely accident. The human brain grieves over losing part of our identity the same way it mourns the loss of a friend or family member.

  To the inner workings of the soul, a deep personal loss is a deep personal loss. It took me years to understand this for myself. I can't watch basketball on television without having all the thought patterns and instincts I spent years drilling into my mind and body, all come rushing back. I can't help but want to be out there on the court playing, instead of always just watching. It's especially bad if the team I am watching is struggling- all I want to do is lace up my Nike's and get to work strategically righting the ship, like a good point guard would. But I can't. So instead I have to watch the guy on TV make bad choices and hurt his team, over and over for an hour, while I devolve into an insufferable "armchair quarterback". It may sound silly, but I have tried- and that is almost always what happens.

  So anyway, it has been a while- I'm thirty-four now, and I have slowly realized a few things along the way. For example: I have tried to boil down the individual elements contained in the passion I had for basketball, to find out what parts of it I could salvage and continue to benefit from. There are many little bits and pieces I have been able to extract, but the main one I want to mention here is purpose.

  Being able to pour your heart, mind, body, and soul so completely into something, regardless of what that something is, gives you a thirst-quenching sense of purpose. Ultimately, a profound sense of purpose is the key ingredient that I missed when that piece of my identity was shelved. Emotionally, purpose is the element that was the hardest to do without. Mentally I could distract myself with other outlets. Physically, I had very significant pain-based incentives driving me to learn to let go of the active athletic lifestyle I once had. But emotionally, there was always a problem, there were no shortcuts. A haunting lack of purpose can do a lot of damage, and it can do it silently, invisibly, like a slow internal bleed.

  Which brings me to the present, and the reason I am telling you this story today...

  Yesterday, thousands of the world's best distance runners gathered to participate in one of the most iconic events in the history of organized running: the Boston Marathon. Four hours into the race, a time when many of the runners were finishing their 26 mile jog, two deadly explosions went off, right at the finish line. A pair of bombs designed to hurl shrapnel in every direction, at leg level, sent racers and spectators alike screaming and running for safety... except for those who could no longer walk.

  These are people whose passion is running! Many of them are career runners, they do it for a living! To lose the functionality of a limb, or lose a limb completely, is a horrible thing for any person to endure- but these people are losing even more than that. Theirs will be the kind of loss which stings long after the physical wounds have healed. Sudden, overwhelming change... and the inevitable question: "What am I going to do now?"

  May God bless those who were caught in harm's way this week, and their loved ones, with the consolation and courage they need, to be able to handle the new, very different life they will be facing for many years to come.

And may God bless the rest of us to remember that not all losses can be seen or measured.

EDIT: One week after this writing, I came across an excellent AP news article written by Emilio Morenatti, offering empathy to the Boston Marathon victims based on his own experience losing a leg to a roadside bomb. Mr. Morenatti does a wonderful job sharing his personal insight regarding the mental/emotional challenges brought on by physical trauma.