Sunday, December 7, 2014
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
The Value Of A Smile
Being someone who thrives on communication as an outlet, this boy's situation really tugged at my heart. I cannot imagine being stuck inside your own head for every minute of every day of your entire life...
There are so many people in the world who simply need to be cared for by those who can help. May we all think about others more often, make the choice to feel compassion, and then take action to help make someone's life better than it was when we came into it!
Saturday, November 22, 2014
A Constant State Of Creation
Keep in mind I don't use the term "inner peace" flippantly or superficially, it is something precious and vital which I have a deep love and respect for, it is something that saves me time and time again. The reason I talk about enduring peace so much is because in my own journey I have personally reached points where nothing physical could make things right, nothing external could comfort me, nothing outside the spiritual plane was enough to quiet my fears.
The world in general, the people we come in contact with, our circumstances, and even our own bodies... are all variables. To have the kind of comfort which sustains us through thick and thin it makes sense that we must anchor our spirits to something constant, something we can rely on no matter what the weather looks like outside.
I think the reason we might struggle with hanging onto a feeling of peace in our lives is simply because we get distracted and use our power of choice to entertain some other type of energy. And when we radiate a spirit of peace around us and share that positive energy with others, it won't stay with them unless they make room for it in their own hearts and choose for themselves to keep creating more peace inside themselves on an ongoing basis.
The one that struck a chord the most with me right now is "it is okay to say you've had enough". It is so easy for me to get caught in the trap of always feeling like I need to be tough, like the answer to my trials is to just put my head down and push until I get through it or until I can do "enough" for those around me.
I think one of the wisest things we can do is stop pressuring ourselves, let ourselves feel, and then after self-validating, refocus on what we can do instead of all the things we wish we could do. It's okay to feel tired, it's okay to feel bruised, it's okay to admit we are bleeding when life has wounded us and it's not just a scratch. Then it's important to believe, to have hope, to find things to be grateful for, and remember to laugh and smile every chance we get. There is an important difference between validating our hurts, and dwelling on them.
God does not expect us to lie and pretend we like the painful things in our lives, but he has made clear what he does expect of us:
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 22:36)
We need to learn to love God in a way that teaches us how to view life with an eternal perspective. And with that broader perspective, we can learn to love ourselves the way He loves us. Then once we have learned what it feels like to self-validate our trials and love ourselves through our own ups and downs, we enable ourselves to practice a deeper, stronger level of compassion with others.
There is a place for mortal strength, it is good to physically do the best we can in our daily lives. But true courage comes from our spiritual center, not the temporal body. The body without the spirit is nothing. Some people with the strongest spirits have some of the least functional bodies. I believe each of us can learn something by thinking about how that applies to us.
Remember: all of us are constantly creating the flow of internal energy we call home, and we believe what we tell ourselves. Only when we pay attention to the state of our own soul can we truly make the world around us better place. By cultivating a positive spiritual space for our own spirit to dwell, we are building something beautiful that we can share with others.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Don't Call It A Comeback
I appreciate those who are talented at what they do, even if most people don't respect their given method of expression. For example: rap. Say what you will about a white boy from Houston loving hip-hop music, but I do. I admit it's pretty funny, and you probably won't come up with any jokes I haven't made about myself already. My enjoyment of rap and hip-hop began during my teenage years as a basketball fanatic. Basketball culture and hip-hop culture are very much intertwined, so I quickly grew to enjoy the combination of a buzzer-beater and a good beat.
There is an old-school rapper-turned-actor (and self proclaimed ladies' man) named James Smith, who went by the stage name "LL Cool J". Among the early hits by Mr. "Cool James" is the song Mama Said Knock You Out. What does this have to do with anything? For comedic purposes, humor me for a few seconds and read the first part of this song as a soundtrack to the moment I am about to describe. I promise I am going somewhere with this, and hopefully you will get a little chuckle out of it:
Don't call it a comeback!
I've been here for years,
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear,
Makin the tears rain down like a MON-soon.
Listen to the bass go boom!
Over the competition, I'm towerin.
When I drop these lyrics that'll make you call the cops.
Don't you dare stare, you betta move.
Don't ever compare
Me to the rest that'll all get sliced and diced.
Competition's payin the price!
I'm gonna knock you out (HUUUH!!!)
Mama said knock you out (HUUUH!!!)
So anyway, when I woke up yesterday morning my neck, arms, and legs were filled with pain and weakness in a way I haven't experienced for quite a while. When I attempted to get up and my legs did not respond by supporting my weight properly, I was honestly a bit scared as I flopped back down onto the bed. It was then that I heard a villainous voice shout out from somewhere inside my body, challenging me to an epic battle of mind over matter: "Don't call it a comeback!! I've been here for YEARS." And right then, I knew it was going to be a rough week.
For the last nine months or so, I have been blessed with a period of relatively improved health compared to the previous year. Granted, it's not very hard to improve upon constantly being in and out of the hospital, but I am very grateful for the blessings of peace and relief whenever and wherever they come.
This is mortal life and opposition is a law, a constant which cannot be avoided. And in the last few days, time has apparently caught up with me. Some of my physical difficulties have made a bit of a comeback and functionality has ground to a halt. As before, it remains important to embrace the opportunity to not let fear take control, to be patient, to face my dragons once again, and to keep seeking the kind of peace that goes beyond Earthly pain-- whether physical or emotional, because one tends to follow the other.
It's important not to let our hope for relief depend on the wrong thing. If the only way we feel we are being blessed is when hardship subsides and stays gone, we are bound to have a long frustrating ride in this lifetime. My physical trials went into a recession of sorts this year-- but it turns out that was primarily to make room for the mental stress of my wife and I buying our first home. Buying a home is something we have always wanted and something we are tremendously happy about, but is a big project and frayed our nerves almost to the max on several occasions.
Swapping one type of stress for another may seem like a cruel joke, but I assure you it's not. It is a blessing for which I cannot express enough gratitude because I don't know if I would have been able to handle both at once. God knows exactly which lessons we need to learn while we are here on Earth, and he knows exactly what it will take to put us in a position to accomplish those things. Long before we get to a given turning point in life, God knows what we need to be focused on in order to make the right decisions. But it is entirely up to us whether our hearts and minds are open and ready to receive that guidance. We must be watching, paying attention, ready to see the blessings around us for what they are.
Life has still been challenging this year, I have not been pain free by any means-- lots of things still hurt and my daily adventures still require caution and conservative planning in order to avoid winding up back in the hospital. The fact that my trials never completely went away is no surprise though. After all, as the song says- "[they have] been here for years".
Accepting my challenges does not mean I don't have hope of seeing better days-- I do. But I have faith that God will lead me to where I NEED to go. Here's a thought that goes against the grain of our natural instincts: exercising faith does not involve expecting an easy journey. I am here on Earth to learn, and that is what I expect to do... even if it hurts to do so.
So it's one day at a time folks! We are put here to walk the path before us and we cannot trade lives with anyone else... and there is a very good reason for that. God does not hurt his children on purpose just to teach us. We are dropped into the circumstances of our mortality, and then as a loving parent our Heavenly Father is interested in helping us make the best of our situation, whatever it is.
My wife's job is doing in-home therapy with autistic children. I have enjoyed soaking up the stories she comes home with each day about experiences which might not seem extraordinary to the casual observer, but offer many profound lessons to those interested in seeing beyond the obvious. The amazing people my wife works with have provided many priceless reminders of the commandment to be non-judgmental and compassionate toward others, and the need to practice humility and grace in my own life.
Arguably the biggest discovery of the the 21st century thus far concerning autism (and disabilities in general) came organically from one of my personal heroes whom I have mentioned once before: a non-verbal autistic girl named Carly Fleischmann. Carly and her family blessed the world with the revelation that there is a thinking, feeling person trapped inside a vehicle they just can't control. So through my wife our whole family is emotionally and spiritually invested in the journey of learning about what these amazing people do day in and day out to heroically work through their circumstances... come what may.
So here we are, each of us on our own unique path. There are precious few things we can actually control, and today is the only time that exists. We are given one day at a time to live, one moment at a time to choose to make a difference in our sphere of influence. That is why in the long run steady incremental progress will always out-perform big blustery bursts of success.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again because it bears repeating-- it's up to us to choose to let go of what we cannot control, and focus on what we can control: our own attitude. Easier said than done, but a key to happiness nonetheless. Learning to compartmentalize our attitude from our circumstances is the great secret to enduring peace.
God does not expect us to lie and pretend that we like pain, or frustration, or sadness. Hardship is hardship, pain is pain, and no amount of "toughness" is magically going to change the fact that trials are not fun-- but we don't have to let it break our spirit. What God does ask of us is to CHOOSE to live life with an attitude of humility and unconditional love. We would all do well to keep in mind that every day of life is beautiful in it's own way, and there is always something to be grateful for.
Don't think so? Just ask Alice Sommer:
Alice was subjected to many nightmarish things by her Nazi captors, but gamma radiation sufficient to grant Hulk-like super powers was not one of them. What does that mean for you and I? It means that she has done what she has done with her life as a regular mortal of flesh and blood ...just like us. We can therefore believe that we have the power deep within us to become the master of our own spirit.
Are there physical and mental limitations which can impair (or completely subvert) a person's ability to choose what their mind and body are going to do for them? Absolutely. I personally know the feeling of facing overwhelming odds with one hand tied behind your back. Apart from the other challenges in my life which I have spoken of at times on this blog, I also live with a mood disorder. I have had to learn to live with the fact that a part of my brain is permanently broken, and despite my best efforts this is going to complicate my life whether I like it or not. I empathize with the torture of not having the degree of control over your experiences that you would like to have. I know the anguish of wiping too many tears from your eyes because your plate is full and you wind up having to pick yourself up over and over from what feels like total failure.
But life isn't about fitting a mold of what other people consider the benchmark of success. Life is about doing the best YOU can with what YOU have been given. We need to try to view ourselves as our Heavenly Father views us: precious children who are learning to pick ourselves back up after every fall and continue growing in our own special ways. We need to stop judging others based on our own subjective perspective, and stop judging ourselves based on someone else's view.
Why do I bother publicly sharing my thoughts and feelings about so many of the seemingly unremarkable steps in my journey? Why spend so much time speaking about the good days and the not-so-good days? Because suffering can isolate us, it can make us feel alone. Connecting with each other and supporting each other is an antidote to being suffocated by our trials.
So here I am sitting in my chair, writing... to you! I am sitting because I can't do much else today, and I am writing because it is a great outlet to counteract the boredom which comes from having to sit here all day. It's an interesting cycle to say the least, and I am happy to seize the opportunity to squeeze some positive energy out of it. I am grateful for the blessing of a perspective which prompts me to recognize and act on the opportunity to find the silver lining of a frustrating situation.
One way I cope is by laughing and smiling over the simple joys in life as often as I can. And guess what? I believe you can make it through whatever is challenging you today. We can do this whole mortal life thing! It is up to each of us to decide what kind of energy we are going to harbor inside ourselves, and the energy we pass on to those around us. I cannot stress enough how important that decision is.
On some level we are all in the same boat, and life is a journey best shared and explored as one big human family. If you read my blog more than once, you may as well just get used to hearing me say that, because it is going to be a theme for as long as I am writing about life on Earth. Plus it feels really, really good to look the dragons in our lives right in the eye, and roar back with confidence:
Sunday, September 7, 2014
A Rude Awakening
Wednesday night: 4 hours.
Thursday night: 3 hours.
Friday night: 1 hour.
Yeah, you read that right. Yesterday I was running all day on 1 hour of sleep.
So anyway, last night I was finally able to go to sleep at a decent time and I got 8 consecutive hours of rest! YAY!!!
And how did I feel when I woke up this morning? Well, I had a vivid dream where I was gruesomely killed by a large piece of heavy machinery, which I could not stop from crushing me no matter how hard I tried to move out of it's way. My death in the dream is what woke me up.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
As of This Moment
All four of my children have soccer games this morning, ALL of them within a 2 hour time window. Each game takes place at a different location across town, and two of the kids have team pictures before their games. For medical reasons I am not able to drive currently so I can't help with the taxiing. Needless to say, all that makes for a pretty crazy morning, even on a good day.
So anyway, this is one of those days where I already feel like I am going to disappoint someone... whether it's one of our kids, for not being there to coach them and cheer them on... or their beautiful mother, for not being able to do more to help stave off insanity. (I love you sweetie, you are awesome!) But ultimately I am disappointed with myself for letting myself feel like I will be disappointing someone today. ;-P
So as of this moment, I have a new goal: make it to one of today's events. Even if the only event that I make it to is "today" itself. Gratitude is the power to see success from wherever we are. That means choosing to see the positive elements of the here and now, not just clinging to the idea of future success.
Goals are important, it's important to have a vision to hold on to regardless of what is going on around us. But even if I don't make it to any of the official events of this "morning-O-craziness", the willingness to adjust and readjust expectations as life throws things at us can already be seen as a win, despite what we may have previously believed success is supposed to look like.
Learning to be grateful for every little victory is its own victory. Making a habit of exercising the will to keep taking one day at a time (or sometimes one hour at a time) is worthy of celebration. We have more positive power and potential for good inside us than we realize. So no matter what happens today, I will take a deep breath of the fresh air that comes along with the rain, and do my best to remember that choosing to smile even when life is overwhelming already constitutes a perspective worth smiling about! :-)
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Change For The Better
Monday, August 18, 2014
Friday, June 13, 2014
Peace Is A Choice!
The reason I am making a quick post today is to share a thought that put a smile on my face, and I hope it might do the same for you. I follow a wonderful non-denominational Facebook group called Goodness Matters that is a daily source of uplifting posts. I saw a great quote on there today that I decided to make into a wallpaper. (Click on the picture to see the full size version.)
When we make the conscious choice to have an attitude which prioritizes a sense of peace that is *not* tied to our circumstances-- it can grow in us and become the center of how we view life each day. Taking control of our own perspective is a seriously magical form of empowering ourselves. Keep in mind that I am not talking about something idealistic which pretends to like the hard things in life. Bad things happen to good people, we don't have to pretend that we aren't hurt by our trials, we don't have to like it when something is really awful.
We can totally not like what we are going through, and still exercise our power of choice to put our general *attitude* in a separate compartment from our frustrations and pains. This gives us a way to simultaneously be sad about some things and grateful for others. I think it is fair to describe something as magical when it transforms the world around you from a place that controls your ability to feel serenity, into a place that still challenges you but is no longer in charge of your ability to feel gratitude for the things that you really are grateful for.
Another great thing about a consistent commitment to carrying around our own internal supply of peace is that it provides even more joy when we share that comfort with others! It is a natural human reflex to want to share something we are really happy about. By sharing my joy in a way that helps someone else feel better, it reenforces my gratitude for the discovery of compartmentalized peace!
For a long time I couldn't see that peace really is a choice. Let's be honest, when life is hard it's totally human and normal to get buried emotionally and get in a rut of thinking things just suck and that's that. A choice to separate our attitude from our circumstances may sound like something for people who are naturally gifted with strong faith or annoyingly positive attitudes. So what I am actually trying to explain here is that compartmentalizing our sense of peace is actually the most realistic way of having peace in this crazy world.
If we are hoping and waiting for life to stop doing things which so rudely throw off our zen, we are naturally going to have a hard time ever feeling peace-- because life is always going to throw rocks in our path, that's just the way mortality is.
For example: I have been battling some life-changing medical problems for the last 6 years and I just turned 36 a couple weeks ago, but if you were to look at my medical records, on paper you would probably guess my age to be double that. I have therefore given myself standing permission to do my best old man voice and shout at kids to get off my lawn whenever I feel like it for my own entertainment.
Twenty-something me still had a lot more growing up to do than I would care to admit and I actually hope that when I reach my forties I feel the same way when I look back on my thirties, because that should be a pretty good indicator that I have continued learning and growing. That is not to say I expect to be eternally unsatisfied, just that I always want to be grateful for the ability to learn.
Ever since being thrown into an existence of being pretty much forced to take life one day at a time the last few years, I have finally begun absorbing the following epiphany: If I allowed my attitude to match my circumstances, NO ONE would ever want to be around me... ever. If you have been blessed to not have to endure chronic pain or live with someone who has I am sincerely happy for you; but let me tell you, there is something about constantly being in pain every single day for months or years that continuously keeps your irritation level higher than it should be and makes it overwhelmingly easy to be the grumpiest of grumpy pants.
Trust me, I know this type of pep talk is super easy to be skeptical about-- I am very pragmatic by personality so a certain amount of skepticism is automatic for me until I can see a vision of how to begin solving a problem. The truth remains though that it only takes a moment to decide we are serious about trying something new, and it definitely also takes work and transition time to make a new perspective stick. But I am here to 100% promise you that it is so completely worthwhile that it will blow your mind when it finally clicks in the middle of a horrible day that you really are in control of your own perspective. All I can say is just commit to giving the goal whatever you can give each day, even if all you can do is resolve to try again tomorrow. Wake up tomorrow and try again and don't expect it to go perfect... give it time and just do your best to keep an open mind and heart to the little victories you will have while you are walking the new mental/emotional path you have chosen for yourself.
So anyway, we are all in the same boat and I feel for you. Even if I don't know you and you don't know me-- I feel for you because we are both human and we both feel joy and pain for our own unique reasons. Everyone has their own story, their own dreams, and their own scars. I respect that your path is naturally unique and I haven't walked in your shoes. I do know however that just as we share human vulnerabilities, we all bleed when we are poked... we also all instinctively know how to smile, we all just want to be happy, and that means there are principles in this world that we can all apply to our respective lives and gain something from. And that is worth sharing with each other, even if at the moment all we can do is hope to have hope someday.
Look inside yourself and accept that yes there are a great many things we cannot control, so why not focus on the things we CAN control... like choosing to have our own "gratitude party" inside, that the rest of the craziness in the world is not invited to. Sometimes the best thing in life is just sitting outside and letting the sunshine warm you... and sometimes the fact that we have our own internal body temperature saves our life.
Saturday, March 22, 2014
Having a strange feeling today like I'm stuck in an awkward dream that I can't quite control.
Too many important things need to be done, and my individual existence is just not keeping up at the moment.
Wanting to do so many good things... hoping... trusting that everything will work out the way it is supposed to, but knowing I can't leave it all up to fate.
There are many good people around me, they help me every day and I am very grateful. I make a conscious choice that I want to learn everything I can from the life I am experiencing. I want to be a good person. I need to be a better husband. I desire to be a fantastic father.
I want to reach out, to help, and encourage. I want to live with no regrets, to share the truly important parts of the journey with loved ones and friends. I think about the world, and I worry for the stranger who is cast aside, under appreciated, and misunderstood.
I see the world trying, the human race stumbling over itself. All the arguing over solutions to problems, when animosity IS the problem.
I struggle, but I accept that it is MY struggle. I know the path that I walk- it is familiar and fascinating. Patience is a vision of what is really valuable.
Progress has been made, it is priceless and fragile.
I want to wake up...
...and stop floating.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
While navigating this mortal journey, I have gained a healthy respect for the task of simultaneously dealing with everything life is capable of throwing at a person. Along the way, my own experiences have taught me that it's important to...
Learn to live with overwhelming pain that wont go away no matter what you do.
Be strong. Be brave. Commit yourself to patiently enduring the hand you are dealt.
Stay focused. Try not to let the fear of pain dominate you.
Be responsible, don't make things worse than they have to be.
Handle being more exhausted than you previously thought possible, without being grumpy.
Continuously attacked by an invisible enemy, try not to focus on feeling beat up and broken.
Remain resilient. Try not to curl up in fetal position and cry when it hurts just being alive.
Resist becoming jaded and bitter because of how hardship has affected your life.
Don't let your problems define you. Love yourself and make the most of your situation.
Let your trials teach you empathy for the suffering of others. Do your best to be sincerely compassionate and kind, despite your pain.
Don't let the constant irritation from your physical and emotional trials affect your attitude.
Be able to focus on what is in front of you. Don't shut down or get lost in your struggles.
Don't indulge thoughts centered in self pity or bitterness.
Make a conscious choice to learn from your journey each day.
Take one day at a time, and stay positive. Remember there is always something to be grateful for.
Don't beat your head against a wall, be willing to redefine your concept of success!
Let go of your pride. Humble yourself and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Be considerate of those around you, remember they get tired too.
Be patient, everyone has their own battles they are fighting.
So anyway- if you identify with any of the above, I humbly offer you my sympathy and encouragement. In addition to being kind to others, don't forget to be kind to yourself!
As for me, this list is very much a work in progress. I look forward to learning anything I can each day, because let's face it: life can be really complicated sometimes.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Me: "Gah, my body hurts."
Body: "We played football Friday night."
Me: "No we didn't."
Body: "Yes we did. You got tackled. That's why it hurts all over."
Me: "We went to the symphony, there is no tackling at the symphony. It was a lot of walking for me, that's all. I had to go up three flights of stairs after walking two city blocks because we parked in the wrong lot."
Body: "So it was a football symphony? Cause you got tackled... hard."
Me: "There were zero tackles!"
Body: "Did you say lots of tackles? Cause it was lots."
Body: "Lots. That's why your back is all messed up."
Me: "So what, the woodwind section didn't like the color of my tie so one of them whacked me in the back with a flute?"
Body: "Don't be silly, it was an oboe. A flute wouldn't do that much damage. Oboes are heavier."
Me: "This is ridiculous. You're ridiculous."
Body: "Yeah well you're stuck with me. You shouldn't have done all that weightlifting."
Me: "Oh is that why my arms are sore? Because of all the musical bench presses in the middle of the concert hall?"
Me: "Okay smart guy, then why does my neck hurt? I was just sitting there listening to music."
Body: "Because of all the punching."
Me: "So my neck hurts because I was getting punched in the back of the head during Tchaikovsky's violin concerto?"
Body: "Yeah. You should take better care of yourself. Letting people punch you repeatedly is bound to be a bad experience."
Me: "Thanks for the tip."
Body: "You are welcome. And here's another one: don't do so many one-armed pull ups."
Me: "My arms are sore from clapping. Seriously... clapping."
Body: "Why would you clap after getting tackled so hard you can barely walk? Who claps when that happens to them?"
Me: "It's YOUR fault I can barely walk today, you aren't doing your job!"
Body: "My job would be a lot easier if you didn't work part time as a Hollywood stuntman."
Thursday, February 13, 2014
- You consciously tell yourself everything is going to be okay.
- You start thinking about the steps to take care of the source(s) of the stress.
- You try to relax and think happy, zen-like thoughts.
- Maybe you do something to distract yourself for a while so you don't worry as much.
And then your body says:
"Yeah um... screw YOU buddy, you can't fool me! I know what's going on, and I'm gonna let you know I'm not happy about it."
Ohh well. Some things you just can't control-- no matter how many books you've read, or downward dogs you've performed. Sometimes all we can do is take a deep breath, and try again tomorrow!
I have grown to be really glad it's that way.
Friday, February 7, 2014
America the Beautiful
During the big game last Sunday, a commercial for CocaCola aired, featuring a multilingual rendition of the song America the Beautiful:
Seeing the smiling faces of these our brothers and sisters in the human family and hearing their voices raised in a song of patriotic gratitude, brought a tear to my eye... for more than one reason.
The primary reason this music touched me is because it is a fitting tribute to the cultural diversity of our great nation. America is an amazing place, full of amazing people who have come here in search of freedom, safety, and happiness. This video reminds me of the ideal represented by the Statue of Liberty. There is an historic plaque at the base of the statue, which bears the following inscription:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,This quote comes from the sonnet, New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus; which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits. Take a moment to appreciate the true meaning of each phrase of this eloquent prose-- it is our nation's heritage; a legacy that must be preserved; a philosophy worthy of having a statue erected in it's honor.
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Joseph Pulitzer (of the Pulitzer Prize) believed in the Statue of Liberty project so much, he opened up the editorial pages of his newspaper, "The World" to support fund raising efforts.
The second reason seeing this Super Bowl ad brought a tear to my eye is because I knew immediately that some people would reject the heart-warming sentiment of it's message, purely because those in the commercial were singing in their native language, some wearing the traditional garb of their culture.
Sadly, it didn't take long for my prediction to come true. One sample of what could be found spreading across social media like a wildfire the next day:
Is it just me, or is it incredibly ironic that one of those guys has a last name so ethnic, I honestly can't pronounce it? These individuals make me wonder how many people recall that everyone in the United States who is not of native American decent, comes from immigrant roots at some point. So it turns out that maybe their attitude is not so much narcissism, as it is self-loathing. Weird.
And remember the Statue of Liberty I was just talking about? It was a gift from France. Perhaps the most iconic representation of American idealism (other than the flag, and the constitution itself) was made in France by French speaking Frenchmen. When sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, and engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (designer of the Eiffel Tower) were over here helping us put Lady Liberty together, guess what they were doing? Speaking French on American soil... GASP!
I lived on the east coast for a while, and one of my favorite things about living there was how you could randomly come across entire neighborhoods full of Italians, or Greeks, or Jamaicans; it was awesome. The variety of people, cultures, and cuisine was really fun to be around. I had a great time getting to know so many cool people while I was there.
Ignorance of America's immigrant heritage is one thing, hateful intolerance is another. Ignorance can be remedied with education. Intolerance is much more difficult to correct... especially if it has become culturally entrenched. In addition to those racist tweets, the caption at the top of the graphic is an unfair assumption. Despite the recent history of some Republican politicians publicly issuing some rather cringe-worthy statements, the individual who put this graphic together could have done so without making further judgements about who those twitter users are, beyond the obvious bigotry present in their messages.
The more I hear the popular political narratives people are constantly repeating, and the more I observe the way we treat each other on a day to day basis in our society... the more I think we need to be careful about how far we take our ideological debates. My heart sinks at the thought of how cruel some people still are to anyone who doesn't look like them, or sound like them. I find it genuinely frustrating to see unmitigated racism on display right here in the land of "The American Dream".
On July 4th, 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence proclaimed:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
So anyway, we need to pay careful attention to the messages we spread. Once you release an idea into the wild, you can no longer control the effect it has. We live in the information age, it would be easy to take for granted the tremendous power of communication that present day technology affords us.
We each have the power to choose what kind of karma we are going to put out there into the universe. We can choose to look for the beauty in life, instead of finding reasons to indulge selfishness, judgement, and discrimination. We can choose to live by the golden rule.
The world is a wondrous place, full of wonderful human beings; it would be a shame to look right past the smiling faces who truly make America the beautiful place that it is.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Heavy Heart, But It's Okay
Even if nobody were to read this, I am grateful that I have a way of letting things out when my heart and mind are too full. I need some breathing room, and writing is one way for me to free up some valuable space; especially considering that there is a never ending flow of inbound data.
I am an avid observer, it's just the way I am wired. I continually notice complex details all around me, often without even meaning to. I constantly watch the way people interact. I silently dissect the way the world works, even when no one knows I am "recording". I subconsciously make mental notes of everything I experience, everything I feel, and everything I see others feel.
I care about the unfortunate and painful things that people endure, in a way that typically leaves me stuck pondering the challenges we face "out there" in everyday life. My hope is to pay attention to the careless things we say, or the unfair judgments we make. I feel a deep empathy for the times when people smile even though they are struggling on the inside.
I think about what I see, more than I probably should. My memory is predominately photographic, allowing me to recall a snapshot of a past experience and review it in depth. This made school especially easy for me growing up, but as an adult it means I often get stuck trying to solve the world's problems as I play them back in my head. For better or worse, pondering the ups and downs of the human race in a "big picture" sort of way is part of my everyday life. This propensity to viewing the world as a series of vivid images, intricately connected to vibrant visions of what could be, very easily becomes quite overwhelming.
Consequently, I am also painfully aware of my own faults and mistakes. I know I have made my fair share of contributions to the debt of regrettable karma in the world. But despite that humbling fact, I sometimes reach a point where I have seen too much of judgment, too much of people being unkind to each other, too much of selfishness and impatience, too much of injustice and inequality, too much of cynicism and condescension.
My heart aches with the simple observation that compassion is an increasingly rare commodity in the world. I passionately believe in the idea that we need only to make a conscious choice to be more compassionate, in order to begin making a difference in the life of the people we come in contact with. We really can make a difference in the world, one person at a time; I know this firsthand because of the special people who have touched my life in unforgettable ways.
Think of a time when another person brightened your day, whether they realized it or not... and it meant more to you at the time than they might ever know- you have the same power to make the world a better place for someone. We have more power to lift each other up than we realize. And the most important place to start making a difference, the most profound place to focus our energy is right in front of us when we look in the mirror. We should be kinder to ourselves as well.
Everyone has a story-- everyone has battles they are fighting, and many of them are not visible. Whether for my own trials or those of others, I sometimes feel child-like tears welling up inside with nowhere to go. Childhood has an innocence about it that has not yet learned to be afraid of being ourselves. Children tend to be openly honest in expressing whatever they are feeling.
I usually feel too self conscious to really let my wounds show, even around people who care about me and have repeatedly encouraged me to do so. Admittedly, it feels embarrassing to speak "out loud" about needing a good cry once in a while.
In many cultures, it is generally more socially acceptable for women to show their emotions. But male or female, people tend to be reluctant to share our truly vulnerable moments with each other; sometimes even with people we are close to. I spend a lot of time and effort doing my best to be strong and keep a positive energy about me, and that's a good thing when done in a healthy way.
These days I make it a point to keep reminding myself: "You only live once! Keep doing everything you can to embrace the journey, and learn something from every experience." It reminds me of a classic line from the movie Braveheart, when William Wallace says: "Every man dies, not every man really lives."
Today I have a heavy heart, and that is okay. Today is a day to let myself feel, so I can keep up the good work of being strong; I know it is part of living this life, of embracing the journey. I am determined to keep learning, to continually strive to be better at facing the adventure head on-- with all of it's uncomfortable complexity, and surprisingly beautiful simplicity.
So anyway, I think I feel a little better now. And if you identify with anything I just shared, then I hope you feel a little better too! :)
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Content To Move Ahead
Admittedly, my body has some extra challenges that have made me feel old before my time. But even on a good day, I can tell that my priorities have changed over the years. I have a growing appreciation for the lessons that life offers us each day. I would never want to give up the changes in perspective that have made me the person I am now, and I look forward with hopeful anticipation to continue growing into the person I have the potential to become.
I am reminded of a poem written by a wise old man named Boyd K. Packer, a poem that took him three decades to write:
I had a thought the other night,
A thought profound and deep.
It came when I was too worn down,
Too tired to go to sleep.
I’d had a very busy day
And pondered on my fate.
The thought was this:
When I was young, I wasn’t 68!
I could walk without a limp;
I had no shoulder pain.
I could read a line through twice
And quote it back again.
I could work for endless hours
And hardly stop to breathe.
And things that now I cannot do
I mastered then with ease.
If I could now turn back the years,
If that were mine to choose,
I would not barter age for youth,
I’d have too much to lose.
I am quite content to move ahead,
To yield my youth, however grand.
The thing I’d lose if I went back
Is what I understand.
Ten years have flown to who knows where
And with them much of pain.
A metal hip erased my limp;
I walk quite straight again.
Another plate holds neck bones fast—
A wonderful creation!
It backed my polio away;
I’ve joined the stiff-necked generation.
The signs of aging can be seen.
Those things will not get better.
The only thing that grows in strength
With me is my forgetter.
You ask, “Do I remember you?”
Of course, you’re much the same.
Now don’t go getting all upset
If I can’t recall your name.
I would agree I’ve learned some things
I did not want to know,
But age has brought those precious truths
That make the spirit grow.
Of all the blessings that have come,
The best thing in my life
Is the companionship and comfort
I get from my dear wife.
Our children all have married well,
With families of their own,
With children and grandchildren,
How soon they all have grown.
I have not changed my mind one bit
About regaining youth.
We’re meant to age, for with it
Comes a knowledge of the truth.
You ask, “What will the future bring?
Just what will be my fate?”
I’ll go along and not complain.
Ask when I’m 88!
And now you see I’m 88.
The years have flown so fast.
I walked, I limped, I held a cane,
And now I ride at last.
I take a nap now and again,
But priesthood power remains.
For all the physical things I lack
There are great spiritual gains.
I have traveled the world a million miles
And another million too.
And with the help of satellites,
My journeys are not through.
I now can say with all certainty
That I know and love the Lord.
I can testify with them of old
As I preach His holy word.
I know what He felt in Gethsemane
Is too much to comprehend.
I know He did it all for us;
We have no greater Friend.
I know that He will come anew
With power and in glory.
I know I will see Him once again
At the end of my life’s story.
I’ll kneel before His wounded feet;
I’ll feel His Spirit glow.
My whispering, quivering voice will say,
“My Lord, my God, I know.”
Ultimately, I feel this way too. I like 35 year old me a whole lot more than 25 year old me. And while I sorely miss playing basketball, and running, and skiing-- I would rather have the perspective that I have now, than have those other things and still think the way I thought when I was younger.
So anyway, I know I still have a lot of aging left to do... I just hope that I too can maintain an attitude of learning, gratitude, and faith along the way.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Little Rays Of Hope
Before my health became the crazy adventure that it is now, I took most of my pain-free days for granted... but not anymore. For the past few years I have lived every day in hopeful anticipation of the precious moments of peace and relief. I am so grateful for the support system I have now: proper medication, good doctors, a loving family, dear friends, and kind neighbors. But ironically, sometimes the moments of greatest relief are also the moments of greatest emotional torture.
Allow me to explain...
Sometimes I find myself laying on the couch in too much pain to move, waiting for my meds to kick in. Then as the feeling of relief finally washes over me, something wonderful and sad happens:
of peace and comfort that I am blessed with.
suddenly bring reminded what it feels like to be pain free.
And once in a while, a glimmer of hope breaks through the clouds...
Yesterday the National MS Society published an interview with Dr. Ben Barres, Professor and Chair of Neurobiology at Stanford University's School of Medicine. Dr. Barres and his team are doing some amazing research in the area of nervous system repair:
"My lab is focused on understanding the role of glial cells in the brain. There are two different types of glial cells: oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. Many of you may have learned that oligodendrocytes cover the nerve fibers with myelin, which is damaged by MS. But the astrocytes, in particular, are a very mysterious class of brain cell. Making up about 40% of cells in the brain, they’re large cells that each ensheath (or cover) thousands of synapses (points of contact through which a signal is transferred from one neuron to the next)."
"The questions we’re asking in my lab are: What do the astrocytes do normally? And what do they do in diseases like MS? This has been one of the longstanding mysteries in neurobiology. Up until this point, we haven’t known what nearly half of our cells in our brain do. We know that neurons form the neural circuits, but what is the role of astrocytes in this process?"
"When I started working on this 20 years ago, everyone thought astrocytes were just passive support cells that were cleaning up after the neurons. What we know now is that not only are astrocytes controlling synapse formation, but they also control the strength of synapses once they’re formed and the elimination of synapses. And we think that by better understanding astrocytes, we’re going to learn much more about how synapses work and how to rebuild synapses after injury."
So instead of existing treatments which attempt to slow the demyelination process and/or suppress your immune system (scary), this new approach would have the body actually heal itself of the damage caused by neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis. A breakthrough like that could give millions of people their life back... it could resurrect broken dreams.
"In neurodegenerative diseases, including MS, newer studies have shown that in addition to white matter damage (demyelination) there is also grey matter damage, neuron cell bodies and synapses are actually degenerating as well. Initially the brain has the ability to rebuild myelin, and also lost synapses, but as the disease progresses the pace at which synapses degenerate may outpace the brain’s ability to repair lost synapses. At a certain point, some individuals move into the neurodegenerative phase, also known as secondary-progressive MS."
"At this phase, axons degenerate – in part because they’re losing their myelin. But scientists are now realizing that synapses are also being lost at this time. And quite possibly these two processes are connected. If this is the case, we need medications that will not only rebuild myelin, but also prevent the loss of synapses or stimulate reformation of synapses. Therapies that block synapse loss may also block axon loss and help to promote remyelination. Our hope is that rebuilding synapses will rebuild the circuit and allow normal function of that circuit."
We are SO blessed to live in a time when science is advancing by leaps and bounds. In many ways, mankind has made more progress in the last two hundred years than the previous two thousand. There is so much we still don't know, but that's okay because when we begin realizing how much we don't know-- that is when we are more likely to start asking the right questions.
So anyway- I am excited for research like this to find new options for those who suffer through never-ending, unseen battles. And even if those answers don't happen in my lifetime, I hope the rest of the human race will be able to benefit from the work of these unsung heroes of science and medicine; brilliant minds who dedicate their life to finding answers for all of us.
And those answers are worth the wait, because every ray of light matters... especially when you are fighting a foe that never takes a day off.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Don't Take Away My Netflix!
Feel like being forced to upgrade your internet service to a more expensive option just so you can continue watching Netflix or Hulu? Me neither. FCC regulations regarding "net neutrality" are what have protected us from that type of corporate exploitation for several years now... until today.
CNN Money reports:
A federal appeals court has struck down Federal Communications Commission rules that prohibit Internet service providers (ISPs) from restricting access to legal Web content.
The ruling is the latest development in the long-running battle over net neutrality -- the principle that all sites on the Internet be equally accessible. Net neutrality advocates want to preserve the Web's status quo, in which providers such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable can't auction off priority traffic rights to one site over another, or impose tolls for high-bandwidth sites such as video streamers Netflix and Hulu.
The FCC adopted the regulations at issue in 2010, imposing so-called "Open Internet" rules that barred ISPs from blocking or "unreasonably discriminating" against Web content.
Those regulations were challenged in 2011 by Verizon, which claimed the move overstepped the commission's legal authority.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Verizon's favor Tuesday. The court said that because the FCC had previously placed broadband Internet service in a separate regulatory category from phone service, it lacked the legal justification to impose the Open Internet rules.
So it turns out that according to the opinion issued by U.S. federal court today-- by giving internet service it's own classification and distinguishing it from standard utilities like telephone service, the FCC also created a distinction between internet law and existing pro-consumer regulations governing the telecom industry.
If this ruling is allowed to stand as-is without any additional action to protect consumer interests, a segregated internet experience with a tiered premium pricing structure (similar to cable TV service) is where the web is headed. This could be really bad news for consumers.
Under this new version of the world wide web, cell carriers like AT&T could arbitrarily block you from visiting Sprint or T-mobile's website on your smart phone or tablet. If your local ISP decides that YouTube viewing eats up too much of their bandwidth, they could simply serve up a proprietary "no YouTube" version of the internet. If you use Microsoft as your ISP, they will now be able to block all things Google or Yahoo, and force you to use Bing as your search engine and Outlook as your email provider.
There is still potential for a pro-consumer solution though. CNN Money further writes:
The ruling did affirm the FCC's authority in principle to regulate broadband Internet service, leaving open the possibility for the commission to rewrite its rules within a new legal framework.
FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler said in a statement Tuesday that the commission "will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression."
So if the FCC reclassifies broadband internet as a "Title II" utility like land-line telephone service, they might then be able to leverage the existing legal framework of that classification, perhaps allowing them to enforce existing anti-discrimination regulations. Hopefully, for the sake of consumers everywhere the FCC will rise to the task of protecting freedom of information, products, and services; and do so in a timely manner.
To learn more about how you can support "net neutrality" and stand up for freedom of information, visit Save The Internet and Demand Progress to sign their petitions urging the FCC to take action!
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
The Truth About Trials
I just read a blog post by Kayla Lemmon titled: "God will give you more than you can handle: I guarantee it.", and I whole-heartedly second her message. In fact, I don't mind if you completely abandon me at this point and just go read her post, it's that good.
Sometimes someone tells the beautiful, honest, inspiring, tear-inducing truth about the profound nature of the human experience in such a way that I immediately have no greater desire than to pass it on by shouting it from the mountain tops...
Granted, I am an imperfect, flawed messenger-- one who may or may not be the most likely candidate to be given the privilege of broadcasting anything "from the mountain tops". But I am someone who believes in the opportunity to learn from everything we experience; and in that, we are all in the same boat.
After reading Ms. Lemmon's candid words of wisdom, I am sitting here thinking about how much life really is all about perspective.
Take a moment and think about that. The more we accept that principle, the more we understand that there is no such thing as a wasted experience, or a pointless hardship-- as long as we choose to find something valuable to glean from it. There is no trial that does not contain within it the power to lift our perspective to a higher plane; all that is required is a willing heart.
Our perspective is our own to care for, to curate; like a museum full of priceless works of art whose true value is seldom known to the casual observer. From time to time, we have the opportunity to observe the work of those who choose to painstakingly sculpt something beautiful out of the rough rocks that mortal life has handed them. I am so grateful for the kind souls who offer up the beauty of their own personal experiences to any of us who choose to actively seek a broader perspective.
Those who have survived impossibly hellish experiences, tend to have a common thread in their explanation of how they managed such a feat. They frequently attribute their hope and strength to a concept that can be boiled down to one fundamental principle: the power of our individual will to choose.
Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom, wrote in her beloved book "The Hiding Place":
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
We have the power to choose whether to open our heart to the lessons that life is so excruciatingly capable of teaching us. We have the power to choose what we are grateful for. We have the power to decide that we value and respect our experiences, even the ones that leave us flat on our back... especially the ones that leave us feeling beaten and broken.
Today I am calling out to everyone who is searching for answers. I am humbly offering encouragement to the minds that are desperate for peace. I am reaching out to the bodies that are wracked with indescribable exhaustion, and sometimes overwhelming pain.
So anyway, go read that blog article! It is with reverent enthusiasm I wish to add my voice to the thoughts shared there; and I sincerely hope anyone who needs some peace today, anyone who needs a little boost (or a big one), can find something personally meaningful there too.
Thursday, January 2, 2014
A Truly Happy New Year
"So much in life depends on our attitude. The way we choose to see things and respond to others makes all the difference. To do the best we can and then to choose to be happy about our circumstances, whatever they may be, can bring peace and contentment.
... We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails. For maximum happiness, peace, and contentment, may we choose a positive attitude."
Thomas S. Monson - "Living The Abundant Life", Ensign Magazine, January 2012