The boy and the lion

  

I drew this picture last week as I was thinking about the fears we grow up with, and how, in the process of healing and growth, we must once again face the fears we grew up with.  This is a picture of my two year old son, holding a stuffed lion in his arms, while reaching up about to touch a real lion.  It is my prayer that he will be able to face the fears he has in his life — even some fears that will be caused by my imperfect parenting — and face them courageously.

In counseling, one of the things we help clients do is to face their fears. It’s hard to predict when the person is ready to face their deepest fears in the process of counseling, but when it happens, it is the most courageous thing we could ever witness in that person’s life. It is like stepping into the lion’s den and facing the lion they’ve been avoiding all their life.  

We all have these lion-like fears, and often times, these fears began when we were little. When a person faces their fears, it is as if they are going back to place where that fear originated to breathe grace, life, and love back into that part of their story.

Parenting Stories and Reflections: Letting Go of the Wrong Key

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Recently, our little 1 year old son, Jayden, has been obsessed about playing with keys and locks.  Yesterday, he grabbed my keys when we came home from the mall and began cruising around the house, jabbing and sticking my keys into anything that might resemble a door knob or lock.

He found a door and my wife held him up to door knob for him to try his luck with the keys.  However, Jayden had decided to use the wrong key for the lock, and he was crying because the lock did not fit the key.  He looked up at my wife with tears streaming down his face, asking for her to help him with the lock, but at the same time, refused to let go of the keys so that she could show him the right key for that door.  My wife couldn’t have done anything about the lock, if the key did not fit.  It was a conumdrum our little boy was stuck in with no resolution, unless he was willing to give up the keys and let us help him.

It made Winnie and I think about how this situation parallels our life circumstances and God sometimes.  We may be in the crux of a conflict, holding tightly onto a key that we think will solve the situation, when in reality, it is the wrong key to unlock the situation.  However, at the same time, we tearfully ask God to help us without relinquishing our thoughts, ideas, biases, opinions, and overall control of the whole situation.

The funny thing about the situation with my son was that he actually had the right key on that same key ring.  All my wife wanted to do for Jayden was to switch out the key that he was holding.

Father Helps Olympian Son Cross Finish Line

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(Photo from Moonduststudio.com, Getty Images.

Click on above picture to Derek Redmond’s Video on Youtube)

We went to Faith Community Church this morning, and we were really touched by this video that they showed and narrated for Father’s Day. My wife and I were in tears, and our little one-year-old was getting a taste of Daddy’s tears and snot dripping down his head.

British sprinter Derek Redmond was the much anticipated winner for the 400 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.  He had withdrawn from the 1988 Seoul Olympics 10 minutes before his race, due to injury, so after training for another 4 years, 1992 was suppose to be his comeback.  It was heartbreaking seeing Derek fall 250 meters into the 400 meter semi-final race from a snapped hamstring.  However, courageously, Derek get back up and began to limp towards the finish line, hopping on one foot.  The physical pain and anguish were evident on his face as he struggle to the finish line.

It was then his father came running down the stands, jumped over the barrier onto the track, and wrapped his arms around his son to help him run to the finish line.  We see Derek breaking down in tears in the arms of his father as he limps to the finish line, and what hits me even more is how his father was telling the Olympic officials off as they try finish the race together.

I watch this, and not only do I see Derek’s courage, but I also see the tremendous and overwhelming love of a father.  In one of his darkest moments in life, Derek’s father ran down from the stands, wrapped his arms around his son, and limped with him to the finish line.

As a believer, I can’t help but see how this story parallels God’s furious love for us.  In our darkest moments, when we are trying so hard to finish on our own, God the Father is right there, longing to wrap His arms around us, to lean on Him, to cry unto His shoulder, and limp with us as we run this race of life.   God doesn’t care how bad it looks, what other people think, but nobody is going to get in between Him and His Beloved Son and Daughter.

This is how Outrageous God’s Love is for us.  Are we willing to lean into Him?

Happy Father’s Day!

How One African Tribe Reconciles

My friend Joe Whitcomb is speaking at Oneonta (that’s “oh-née-oh-ta) Congregational Church in South Pasadena today on reconciliation, and I love what he texted me this morning:

“Today I am speaking at a church on “Reconciliation: Healing Fractured Relationships in a Disconnected World”

The search for Jesus is about reconciling loss and tragedy to God and us.
As long as we share our stories, as long as our stories reveal our strengths and vulnerabilities to each other, we reinvigorte our understanding and tolerance for the little quirks of personality that in other circumstances would drive us apart. When we live in a family, a community, a country where we know each other’s true stories, we remember our capacity to lean in and love each other into wholeness.

I have read the story of a tribe in southern Africa called the Babemba in which a person doing something wrong, something that destroys this delicate social net, brings all work in the village to a halt. The people gather around the “offender,” and one by one they begin to recite everything he has done right in his life: every good deed, thoughtful behavior, act of social responsibility. These things have to be true about the person, and spoken honestly, but the time-honored consequence of misbehavior is to appreciate that person back into the better part of himself. The person is given the chance to remember who he is and why he is important to the life of the village.

I want to live under such a practice of compassion. When I forget my place, when I lash out with some private wounding in a public way, I want to be remembered back into alignment with my self and my purpose. I want to live with the opportunity for reconciliation. When someone around me is thoughtless or cruel, I want to be given the chance to respond with a ritual that creates the possibility of reconnection. I want to live in a neighborhood where people don’t shoot first, don’t sue first, where people are Storycatchers willing to discover in strangers the mirror of themselves.”

I think this is a way of God’s Grace and Love, in a world where the culture of negative reinforcement has driven and motivated us be good through the fear of punishment. We live up to expectations through our fear of Shame, but how long is that going to last before we are filled with bitterness, anger, low self-esteem, low self-worth, and poor self-image. As believers, we believe that God’s Grace and Love reconciled us unto Himself, reconnecting us back to Him, because we are His Sons and Daughters, His Beloved. God’s Love and Grace is the coruscating light in our dark, shame motivated world.

The question, will the offender accept what the villagers are doing for him as them loving him, or will he seethe with suspicion? Will we embrace the Light , the Truth of God’s Grace and Love, or will we continue to live in the Darkness of Shame and Fear?

Joe will also be speaking next Sunday as well at Oneonta Church in South Pasadena, service starts at 10:30am.

(Photo found on gistonthis.com)

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How to Survive the Social Network with Your Heart Intact?

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I got this shirt from Target a few months back, and I’ve gotten so many comments from people when I wear it.  Most of the comments are from people who totally agree with what the shirt said, and there was even a guy that wanted to buy it for his friend, who he claims is constantly guilty of this.

One of the amazing things about Facebook and all other the social networks is that anyone and everyone can have a platform for their life.  Some people truly use it to connect with others, but some really just want to show off.  Nothing could be more annoying than when you’re trying to have real, authentic connection with people and they start posting pictures and thoughts that are outlandishly self-referential, insensitive, and just blatantly boastful.

Yesterday, my wife showed me a news article on a Christian actor that posted online about how his wife did not feel any pain when she was giving birth to their first child — which is pretty cool if he could have stopped writing right there — however, he credited their painless delivery to the fact that they were Christians who lived blameless and pure lives.

I cringed when Winnie told me about it.  It is quite painful to hear something like that, and he actually got quite an earful from hundreds of people responding to his post.

This is just one example, but sometimes it is not as blatant.  It could be that someone is on vacation and they’re posting realtime pictures of scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef and and you’re sitting in 110 degrees of desert heat.  Or, there’s a friend who likes to post his trophies, new toys, and new purchases every other day.  Or, there’s another friend who takes pictures of an exclusive party or get-together, but then they post it on everyone’s newsfeed, those who aren’t a part of the ‘inner circle.’

These frustrations will always be there, and sometimes I would have to revert back to Henri Nouwen’s words on who I am and my self-worth (see previous post Like or Unliked).  But for now, here are a few practical tips for surviving the social network:

1.  DON’T GET ON FACEBOOK (OR YOU’RE PREFERRED SOCIAL NETWORK) WHEN YOU’RE ANGRY, LONELY, SAD, OR HUNGRY.  Be aware when you’re vulnerable.  Try another social outlet that’s more direct; i.e., grab a friend for coffee, dinner, lunch, or a movie.  Talk on the phone with a buddy.  Do something else, like watch a comedy, walk your dog, go out in nature, do something creative or fun.  The world is out there besides the computer screen.  Seek to feed your heart and self-esteem beyond the social network.

2.  RESTRICT AND LIMIT OTHER PEOPLE’S POST AND ACCESS.  This is a way to self-care that may seem restricting but it could actually be freeing.  Restrict and don’t allow access to everyone.  Imagine yourself as a castle.  Not everyone gets access into the city, and even less people gets access into the inner wall.  And of course, the castle is restricted access to only those you trust.

3.  CREATE YOUR OWN TRIBE.  We all need close and intimate connections with friends and family.  Start creating your own people.  Ask and invite those who have shown trustworthiness into the inner castle of your life.  It may feel awkward and weird, but it’s worth it.  When you restrict access and create your own tribe, you actually give space for yourself by unplugging the negative or the irritating, and plug into what strengthens, inspires, and fills you.

4.  PRACTICE BEING HAPPY FOR OTHERS.  This is hard to do, and I do not suggest doing this by itself, straining yourself emotionally just because it is the right thing to do.  Practicing being happy for others happens in the context of relationship and community, and it is an outflowing of knowing who you are and that you are loved.  Doing this step by itself is pure legalism, but doing this within the context of knowing love is power.

5.  PRACTICE BEING REAL AND AUTHENTIC ON FACEBOOK AND IN REAL LIFE. Keeping it real and authenticitic are the new ways to be humble.  If being pretentious separates people, let’s have the courage to risk in order to bring people closer together.

‘Like’ or Un-liked?

Am I "liked" or "un-liked?"

Am I “liked” or “un-liked?”

Sometimes I think Facebook regresses us to being 5th graders in elementary school again.

Everyone wants to be liked.  Everyone wants to be seen and accepted by others.  This is what we were made for as humans — to connect with one another.  This is why the ‘like’ button on Facebook (or on most social media platforms) is so addicting.  Whether we admit it or not, we feel really good as the number of ‘likes’ increases the minute after we post something online.

Have these thoughts ever crossed your mind:

“I wonder why Dan (*replace with your friend/arch rival/nemesis/somebody you compare yourself to…) didn’t ‘like’ the picture I posted? 

“I wonder why Dan gets more ‘likes’ on his posts.”

Sometimes you just want to set a rule between you and your friends that says:  “I’ll like your posts, if you’ll like mine!”  That way, nobody gets left out, and nobody is wondering if those friends who didn’t ‘like’ your post were inadvertently trying to tell you something in a passive-agressive way.  If you’re one of those people who has a tendency to seek the approval of others, the ‘like’ button could totally drive you into Facebook Depression or Facebook Social Anxiety.

The reason is that whenever we post a picture, a thought, an idea, or something about who we are , there is a temptation to associate our value to the amount of ‘likes’ we get from our friends.  There is a temptation to compare the number ‘likes’ another person gets on their post.  If we were to pursue these thoughts one step further, you might find yourself face-to-face with the real question behind these thoughts.

“I wonder why Dan didn’t ‘like’ the picture I posted?” turns into: “I ‘like’ his stuff all the time.  Am I just invisible or I guess I DON’T matter to him?”

“I wonder why Dan gets more ‘likes’ on his posts?” turns into: “What’s wrong with me?  Am I not good enough?”

I think this is the underlining question behind it all.  It is a question we have been asking even before you turned on your computer this morning.  It is a question we all have been asking even before the invention of a social network.  We’ve decided to enter into this life, trying to find our own answers to our worth, value, and personal meaning.  In my journey, I’ve found that the only person that could answer this question is God.

I came across two Henri Nouwen quotes that really help me see this:

“As long as I keep running about asking: “Do you love me? Do you really love me?” I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with “ifs.” The world says: “Yes, I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much.” There are endless “ifs” hidden in the world’s love. These “ifs” enslave me, since it is impossible to respond adequately to all of them. The world’s love is and always will be conditional. As long as I keep looking for my true self in the world of conditional love, I will remain “hooked” to the world-trying, failing,and trying again. It is a world that fosters addictions because what it offers cannot satisfy the deepest craving of my heart.”

“…The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to be realistic enough to remind yourself of this. Every time you feel hurt, offended, or rejected, you have to dare to say to yourself: ‘These feelings, strong as they may be, are not telling me the truth about myself. The truth, even though I cannot feel it right now, is that I am the chosen child of God, precious in God’s eyes, called the Beloved from all eternity, and held safe in an everlasting belief.

THIS IS GOD’S ‘LIKE’ BUTTON.

Confidence is Walking a Tight Rope

Photo from firstsliveone.wordpress.com

Photo from firstsliveone.wordpress.com

I’ve always been someone who looked at confident people from a distance and wondered how they got to be so confident.  I envied them.  They never seem afraid or are filled with self-doubt.  I thought they were just perfectly confident all the time.  I longed to be like them, and I tried to pull my self-esteem up by its’ bootstraps, trying so hard to eliminate my fears and doubts, but it didn’t work.

Either I wind up feeling depressed because I couldn’t eliminate my fears, or I felt fake trying to suppress my self-doubts, pretending to be somebody I’m not.  Either way, I came to realize that my fears and doubt weren’t going anywhere.

I began to think about this.  Maybe the path to true confidence and better self-esteem (at least for me) is the journey through my fears and self-doubt.  Perhaps the feeling of confidence is not sterile of fears and doubts.  In fact, come to think of it, is confidence really confidence if you don’t feel any fear or doubt?

So, recently, whenever I thought about confidence, the image of walking a tight rope would pop into my head.  When we walk the line, the reality of falling is always there.  The fear of falling is very real and present, but I think confidence is the courage to just take the next step.

Don’t underestimate the tiniest movement, the slightest shift in attitude, or the unnoticeable amounts of trust and faith.

Confidence isn’t a demeanor, but the small choices we are willing to apply our courage to.  It is moving forward — even if it is only an inch.

Never give up!

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Saw this on doghousediaries today. It’s true how we do our best trying to make plans for tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean things will turn out the way we want it.

Courage is showing up, despite the uncertainties and unpredictable nature of life. Our dreams, goals, and passions may cause us to feel uncertain, doubt, and at times, pain. However, whatever is meaningful and worth doing in life will demand such a sacrifice.

For me, it is also my faith. It is trusting in God, who sustains and strengthens me with His presence and love. I am not alone.

Myth: If you’re not _________ enough, people won’t like you…

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I was listening to the song “You Are Enough” by Sleeping At Last on repeat this morning, and by the 5th time it played, Jayden was asleep in my arms and my eyes were filled with tears.  Here are the lyrics:

when we woke up
the world was figured out
beyond the beauty we’ve dreamt about.
this brilliant light is brighter than we’ve known,
without our darkness to prove it so.
still, we can’t help but to examine it,
to add our question marks to periods.
at the foot of our bed, we found an envelope…

“you are enough.”
these little words, somehow they’re changing us.
“you are enough.”
so we let our shadows fall away like dust.

when we grew up,
our shadows grew up too.
but they’re just old ghosts
that we grow attached to.
the tragic flaw is that they hide the truth

that you’re enough.
i promise you’re enough.
i promise you’re enough, i promise you.

“you are enough.”
these little words, somehow they’re changing us.
“you are enough,”
so we let our shadows fall away like dust.
“you are enough.”
these little words, somehow they’re changing us.
let it go, let it go, “you are enough.”
so we let our shadows fall away like dust.

In a world where it is easy to be defined by your talents, looks, abilities, and usefulness to others, Ryan O’ Neal penned these words beautifully.  It’s easy to take what the world thinks and impress that onto your own image of yourself.  From there it is a slippery slope, and the next step is to find our security and self-esteem based on this criteria.  We become commodities in a utilitarian world.

Brene Brown in Daring Greatly talked about this.  We believe that if we are not ______ enough, something bad will just happen to you…

What is your “______ enough?”

If you’re not beautiful enough, if you’re not talented enough, if you’re not smart enough, if you’re not dressed nice enough, if you’re not likable enough, if you’re not useful enough, if you’re not academically superior enough, if you’re not attractive enough, if you’re not muscular enough, if you’re not unique enough, if you’re not skinny enough, if you’re not manly enough, if you’re not strong enough… if you’re not good enough?

What do you do when you find out when you’re not enough?

What we fear will happen varies with each person, but for me, I feared that people will reject and dislike me.  Whatever it is for you, there may be a strong shame element to it if you’re identity and worth is involved.

And that is when we need to hear the message that “You’re enough,” that you’re worth loving, that you’re worth sacrificing for, that you are worth it…from the one who loves you.

Who is that for you?

Check out the song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khPoCXIpLyk

Do you have the courage to redefine yourself?

What warrior poets are made out of.  Photo used with permission by Herman Soesilo.

What warrior poets are made out of. Photo used with permission by Herman Soesilo.

Recently, my mind has been mulling over a negative comment that was said to me.  It came from a boss I knew a while ago, and he said this to me the day I resigned from my position at the non-profit that I was working for.   He said this:

“I’ve seen a lot of people work in ministry, and I have to tell you, from my experience, you do not have what it takes to do this.”

To this day, I can still see his face and the words coming out of his mouth as he said this.  Everything is in slow motion, as if time stood still.

I don’t know if you’ve experienced this before, but for me, I’ve had many wonderful and amazing slow motion moments in my life – like, the first time my wife kissed me on the beach near Balboa Pier, or when we were saying our wedding vows in a little church in Orange County that had sunlight coruscating beautifully through the stain glass windows, or the three seconds of silent awe when I first laid eyes on my newborn son, before he was placed crying and wiggling onto my wife’s chest – and then, of course, there’s this.

It is like stepping in dog crap and never being able to get rid of the smell, and no matter how hard you try, it just won’t go away.  As much as I wanted to forget this, I can’t.

It is amazing how much thought I’ve put into what that boss had said to me.  It has become the silent and deadly antagonist on my life’s journey, and the sly voice of relentless self-condemnation.  It’s widened the surging black hole that sucks all my emotional energy, because I am constantly trying to prove to myself (and to that boss, who isn’t even a part of my life anymore) that I have “what it takes.”

My thought process usually winds up sounding like this, “Why don’t I have what it takes?  I must not have tried hard enough.  Why am I not good enough?  Maybe there’s something wrong with me.  What did I do wrong? I am a mistake.  Why am I so weak?  This is what happens when people find out what a failure and loser I am.  How do I keep people from rejecting me like this?

Round and round I go.  The more I ruminate, the more anxious I get about having to be people–pleasing and picture perfect.  The more anxious I get about having to be perfect, the more depressed I get, because in my heart, I know it is impossible.

However, shame cunningly disguises itself as rational neuroticism, coming out of the woodwork camouflaged as the voice of reason, telling me that the only way I can ever avoid feeling rejected or a loser is to:

  1. Never leave myself exposed.
  2. Never leave a chink in my armor.
  3. Never show any weaknesses.
  4. Never show any vulnerability.
  5. And always live beyond everyone’s expectations.

Shame is a cruel teacher and an unrelenting taskmaster that only motivates through the fear of rejection.  What that boss said to me was very hurtful, and on my bad days, it terribly affects my identity, my self-esteem, and my hope for the future.

The other day, I was listening to Erwin McManus talking about courage on the Mosaic podcast, and he said something that really struck me to the core.  He asked the people listening if they had the courage to redefine themselves, and it made me think through what has been going on for me as I was listening to him.

Am I defined by my greatest traumas and hurts, or do I have the courage to redefine myself by facing what I fear most and entering into the painful process of healing?  Am I defined by my most awkward and embarrassing moments, or do I have the courage to redefine myself by saying, “I tried and I value the risk and courage I took in stepping out?”  Am I defined by what other people say about me, or do I have the courage to redefine myself, by letting go of my desire (my illusion actually) to control what other people think of me, and to embrace God’s Unconditional, Unending, Unceasing, Infinite and Eternal, Always and Forever Love for me?

And here’s the kicker, am I defined by my greatest successes, abilities, and talents, or do I have the courage to redefine myself, holding loosely to the momentary highs of this life, to seek the deeper realities of my identity, my manhood, from the One who had created me and knew me from the very beginning in Joy – not some boss who has only known me for just a couple years.

It’s interesting, because this boss never really worked with me on any of my projects, and never sat down to really get to know who I am, but because I obsess over criticisms like the need to pick at an itchy scab, I’ve allowed a debilitating infection to seep into my soul, never allowing the wound to properly heal.

I grew up singing hymns at church, and this last week, I was listening to the song, “Blessed Assurance,” redone by Steven Curtis Chapman.  I love the last two lines of verse three, where it says:

“…watching and waiting, looking above,

filled with His Goodness, lost in His Love.”

It takes great courage and faith to continually seek the voice of the One who love us, which redefines the very essence of who we are.  For me, it is the sound of God’s voice resonating in all corners of life, which “echoes of mercies” in the presence of trusted, true companions, and “whispers of love” in darkest nights of silent prayer and meditation.