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.

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Father Helps Olympian Son Cross Finish Line

REDMOND

(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  He had withdrawn from the 1988 Seoul Olympics 10 minutes before his race, due to injury, so after training for another 4 years, 1992 was suppose to be his comeback.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!

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.

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.

Myth: “It is never okay to quit!”

Broken and Anew

As an Asian (Chinese) American, I know this phrase rings true in my life.  Quitting means more than just giving up.  It is one of those verbs that we fear will turn into a noun that defines us in the eyes of other people.

As a verb, the word ‘quit’ is quite useful in our day-to-day life.  Phrases like, “let’s call it quits and go home,” “let’s quit while we’re ahead,” and “let’s quit before someone seriously gets hurt,” are all fine examples of it’s practicality.

So, “to quit,” could even be a positive display of self-control and restraint, but as a noun, the word “quitter” is usually negatively associated with being lazy, weak-willed, fearful, and shame.

Recently, I resigned from my church ministry job of 3 years at a local organization.  In the end, the organization was just not a good fit, and there were many issues that we couldn’t see eye to eye on, so it was probably best that we go our separate ways.  I had hopes of being a catalyst for change in this organization, but when I quit, I realized that nothing really had changed at all!  I felt worthless, like a complete failure.

A few days later, I came across this quote by Henry Cloud that said this:  “When you know you are in the wrong place and you know deep down that it’s not going to work out, the worst thing you can do is to hope.”

That quote really hit a nerve.  I think there were many times in the last 3 years I told myself, “Things will get better,” over and over again, but my instincts (and my body) were telling me something different – I was not sleeping well, tired all the time, constantly worried about losing my job, anhedonic, depressed, overeating, and had a tick in my eye for almost a year.

After hearing that quote, I’ve wondered if I was actually afraid of failing and feeling worthless – too caught up with the shame that “quitting is never okay” – that I started hoping that things would change and get better, when, in reality, I knew in my gut, it wasn’t going to happen.

Now, I’m not saying we should all be cynics and give up on hope.  Hope is the definition of what it means to have faith, and what it means to trust and be courageous in the face of fears and difficulties.  However, I used ‘hope’ in order to avoid my fears, rather than facing them.  To put it bluntly, my hope that things would get better was an illusion; an illusion that helped me control and keep my fears of failing and feelings of worthlessness at bay.  It’s another way to say I was in denial, thinking things were going to improve.

I think it takes courage to face something ending in your life.  It feels vulnerable, because shame and fear can feel like an unexpected shot to the gut, leaving our psyches emotionally asthmatic, immobilizing us because our personal identity and self-worth is at stake.

Of course, this applies not just to quitting or losing a job.  It applies to anything that we’re invested in.   It applies to relationships, and it also applies to any situations where we feel most vulnerable.

In Ecclesiastes, it says this: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up…a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away…”

There is a certain inevitability to what happens with us in life, and no matter how hard I try, I’ve come to realize that I cannot keep vulnerability at bay with a myth that says, “It is never okay to quit.”  No matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid the hard choices and hard situations that make me face what I fear or are ashamed of most.

Despite how messed up things are, I think we were created with the strength and ability to face great adversity.  But, I also believe that we can’t do this alone.  So, since we are fellow sojourners of this journey of life, I’d be interested to know what you think and how you deal with quitting and loss?