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Sometimes

Sometimes the words to say build up inside you to the point you feel like you’re going to burst. Sometimes you find yourself throwing them out into the silence like hail from a storm. Sometimes you find yourself whispering, sometimes shouting, but always trying to guide them from your heart to their place of rest, be it God’s ears or the ears of a loved one.

Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes you have so much to say but words seem to jump a fly away from you when you reach out to grab them. Sometimes you know exactly what you want to say but your lips are frozen and your lungs are paralyzed. Sometimes your words never get past the tip of your tongue.

Sometimes the story you think you are living isn’t the one you truly are. Sometimes what was thought to be fairytale turns out to be a farce. Sometimes you are the butt of the joke. Sometimes happily ever after looks drastically different than you ever thought it would. Sometimes you cling to the belief that tomorrow will be better.

But even in those times, it’s ok. I guess they say that life is in the journey, not the destination, and the truth is you aren’t always going to win the day. And even if the story is a farce, even if the chapters aren’t going the way you think they should, they still go. Eventually the words flow again, lips loosen, scales fall. And it’s your story. It’s the one written for you and by you. It’s yours to tell. Inspiration will find you as she may as long as you keep your heart open.

The rain doesn’t change the sun. No matter how dark and how tumultuous the storm, the sun will break through. Call it foolish hope, call it unyielding optimism, call it faith, call it what you will.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Change, Ruminations

 

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Foolishness

dumspirosperoThis wasn’t the post I was going to write. I had another partly done, maybe mostly done, but instead this is what drips from my fingers. It’s funny to me how quickly things can change, always has been. It amazes me how things can turn on a dime, like one of those wind up cars that runs into a wall and immediately bounces in another direction. And I apologize if it seems whiny or self-pitying. That’s not my intention. I have always tried to show all sides of me as best I can here in my little corner of the blogosphere, and this is with what I’m currently wrestling.

I wrote a few weeks ago about belief and wonder. I have always had that naiveté, that hopeless and maybe foolish optimism about life. I don’t really know why that is. I haven’t had the hardest of lives but haven’t had the easiest either. I had a father who was brazenly and unabashedly cynical and pessimistic. Somehow despite anything that has happened I have maintained my belief that good will out, that in the end the things in which you believe will carry the day. I have often wondered if that has been a blessing or a curse, but the truth is it is probably something of both.

I remember a conversation not too long ago. At one point I responded with one of my favorite quotes from Epictetus in the Enchiridion. He said, “be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” There is, of course, more to the passage, and it’s worth a read if you haven’t, but I always been fine with the idea of looking like a fool if it meant improvement.

I have been questioning my perspective lately, though. I fight and fight to hold on to my faith, my belief that things can and will turn out better, that tomorrow will be better than today, but sometimes my strength flags. I know this is not unique to me. I know everyone loses faith at times, and I’m not saying I’ve gone that far. I think the problem is that I keep fighting, even to the last ounce of my strength and beyond. It is then, when I feel that I am fighting alone and beyond where others would, that I wonder if I should stop, if I should just accept that my optimism and hope is naïve and foolish.

But here’s the thing about hope, or at least my hope; it’s not easily forsaken. I am unfortunately (or fortunately) stubborn as all get out, and I don’t give up. My optimism, while not unshakeable, has thus far been unquenchable. Another favorite quote of mine is “dum spiro, spero.” “While I breathe, I hope.” I am still breathing, so I still hope. I still believe. I won’t give up. My strength may flag but it will never fail. I still maintain that optimism even if at times that hope seems so small and the storm seems so big. And I am content to be thought foolish for doing so.

I hope, wherever you are, be it at the bottom of the well, climbing up the sides, or standing in the sun, that you maintain that faith, that hope, that belief. That’s where I am right now. Holding on to my hope, faith, optimism. It seems tough at times, and I suppose it is, but it’s who I am. I won’t stop. I can’t.

I guess Journey would be an applicable outro here . . . don’t stop believing.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in Ruminations

 

All the Good

Do all the good you can.

By all the means you can.

In all the ways you can.

In all the places you can.

At all the times you can.

To all the people you can.

As long as ever you can.

~John Wesley

On MLK day, I wrote about seeking justice and the organizations who are a part of the fight for those who have been systematically crushed under many of the systems in our world. These organizations lead the charge of this battle. They fight cancer, provide medical assistance, fight human trafficking, and fight for human rights. They do all this and more.

But there is another group of organizations about which I have come to know and to love. If the UCFs, Doctors without Borders, the Amnestys, and the like lead the cavalry’s charge, these organizations surely guard the van, ranging out into new territories to find new ways to engage with a world that is broken and to inspire and connect with those of us who are desperate to heed John Wesley’s call. I don’t know what to call these groups other than maybe venture philanthropists (although I know that term falls somewhat short). I guess in the end I’d simply say they are men and women fighting to make a difference in their communities, in their cities, and in their world. Would that we all did the same.

I want to briefly highlight three organizations of which I have recently been made aware through twitter and through friends. While one is a little more established, two are still in their nascent stages. And all three share the potential to revolutionize the world.

The most established of the three has to be The Jubilee Project. It was only last night that Love Languages was shared with me and it left me weeping. Now, The Jubilee Project’s stated mission is to “make videos for a good cause.” Their vision “is to produce entertaining content that will empower, enable, and inspire others to do good as well.” They have produced dozens of videos to combat everything from autism to human trafficking to leukemia, and I can say without hesitation that they create more heartfelt stories in under 10 minutes than most companies can with 2 hours. I was bawling throughout the viewings. The poignancy with which they address these subjects simply cannot be overstated. Below is Love Languages. I would also highly recommend Picture Perfect (the one at which I probably cried hardest).

Plate ShareThe second organization of which I have recently become aware is called Plate Share. What amazes me most about this organization is the ease with which everyone can make a difference. The concept is so frighteningly simple that I can’t imagine how it couldn’t work. Their mission statement is simply “Give change. Make Change.” The idea is that, when you buy groceries or eat out, you round up to the nearest dollar and that change (up to $.99) goes to feed the hungry. See, simple, easy, and a way to create real change real quick. The idea is that it’s not only accessible but realistic for everyone regardless their circumstance to make change.

lastgaplogoThe final organization is a Dallas local called Last Gap. The way they are tackling the problem of homelessness is by far one of the most unique ways of which I’ve heard. Basically what happens is you buy a set of cards from them with a phone number (after the basic cost of the cards all excess funds go charities). The idea is when someone who is homeless asks for money, you give them the card instead. Ideally that person receiving the card then calls the number and is connected with any number of charities that can be utilized to help them get back on their feet.

There are, of course, many other great organizations of all sizes and stripes. Highlighting these three is not to denigrate the work done by all the people who are out their changing the world. But I wanted to share three groups who are trying to approach the problems we face from a different angle and with fresh eyes. And as they have inspired me, I hope that they also inspire you.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Change, Ruminations, The World

 

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Belief and Wonder – Or Why I Love the Fantastic

teddybearI have another confession to make, one that isn’t probably all that secret (and most certainly isn’t secret to those who know me best): I love to read. I love reading to the point I will stay up all night just to keep reading (all the while telling myself “I’ll stop at the end of the chapter.”). I will read pretty much anything I can, as evidenced by bookshelves containing everything from The Chronicles of Narnia to A Short History of Nearly Everything to Journey to the West to My Teacher is an Alien. However, if there is one genre toward which I have always gravitated, it would have to be the fantastic. Some of the earliest books I can remember reading were the Lord of the Rings, the Arthurian legends, and The Wheel of Time.

I have always been enthralled by a good story (and, let’s be honest, pretty much any story), but the stories of fantastic beings, good versus evil, and doing right because it was right always captured me in a way other stories never did. The stories were my refuge during times that threatened to crush me under their weight. They were the places in which I could run freely when circumstance fettered my legs.

I have never claimed to be more than what I am, a man who is probably still many parts a boy (and I can sense the multitudes of people vigorously nodding in agreement) so I still love those stories. I love the idea that maybe, if I turn my head fast enough, I could see a fairy dart behind a tree or if I were quiet enough I could hear the trees talking to one another. Add that to my rather vivid imagination and you can probably figure the stories I come up with when hiking, camping, or even just driving through wooded areas, storms, or country roads.

I make no apologies for still having that part of me that believes in the fantastic. I came across a quote recently that I love. “Childhood is the world of miracle or of magic: it is as if creation rose luminously out of the night, all new and fresh and astonishing. Childhood is over the moment things are no longer astonishing.” (Eugene Ionesco). I think back to the games and beliefs of childhood. The time when a stick was a sword and every corner held adventure. I remember the anticipation of Christmas morning, knowing that Santa came and left wondrous gifts. I remember the belief that a stuffed animal was a protector and best friend guarding against the dangers of the night.

Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t grow up and “put away childish things” and find a faith and belief in the bigger things in life, but I think Madeleine L’Engle said it best:

I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still a part of me, and will always be. This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages . . . the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide. Far too many people misunderstand what ‘putting away childish things’ means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I’m with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grownup, then I don’t even want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and ‘be’ fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.

It saddens me that we lose that childlike belief, faith, joy, ability to be astonished. And I say this coming from a place where I didn’t get much in the way of a childhood so I understand that trials and tribulations that can rob us of our innocence. And I guess to some degree life by nature will take that innocence from us regardless. But I think there’s a level on which we choose our fate in choosing to let our perspective change. We stop believing in the numinous, the miraculous. We focus on the mundane instead and ignore the magnificent (and what makes magnificent isn’t size – a joyful, heartfelt laugh of love can be as magnificent and miraculous as water to wine). We lose or choose to forget that part of us that believed in good triumphing over evil, in the ability of things to be better. And, I think, in doing so, we stop living and resign ourselves to simply surviving.

Maybe I’ve ranged a little far afield in this post but I see, in myself, a direct connection from my love for the fantastic to my belief that, despite any circumstance, miracles and magic can still exist. I hope I never lose my ability to be astonished by life. I hope I never forget what it was like to soak up the words of the books of my youth and have my imagination ignited. I hope I never forget what it was like to ride my bike through a field and see the ogres chasing me, unable to catch me. I hope that you don’t either. Whether you are astonished every day or don’t remember the last time you were, I hope you retain that childlike spirit, that sense of astonishment, that wonder so strong that it wells up within you and spills from your lips in cascades of laughter.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Ruminations

 

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Injustice Anywhere

On Wednesday, I wrote about the power and necessity of forgiveness. I wrote that one of the challenges in forgiving is allowing that forgiveness to overcome our desire for justice, the desire to take the eye we feel we deserve. I got to thinking about justice as a driving principle, and was reminded of one of my favorite MLK, Jr. quotes:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Letters from Birmingham Jail, 1963

I have written about MLK, Jr. day before. It is one of my favorite days. I think it’s fitting that we consider our roles as individuals and as a community in regards to how we seek and bring about justice in the world. Of course, this is such a complex topic that a lifetime couldn’t fully discuss, so there are limitations to what I can fully develop in a few words. So please bear with me and comment (respectfully please) to keep the conversation going.

I think there is a difference in the justice of which I speak today versus the justice that intersects with and challenges our ability to forgive. I don’t believe this is the justice of the gun. It’s not the justice of the bully. Not the justice of “might makes right.” This justice is the justice of the shield, it’s the justice of the man standing in the gap, it’s the justice of the advocate. It’s rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, pleading for the widow. It’s the justice of the hand outstretched to help the fallen stand.

The desire for justice, to help those who’ve been thrown under the wheels of society and to give voice to those who can’t speak for themselves, has been a driving force in my life. It’s what took me overseas for a significant portion of the 2000s. It’s what compelled me to go to law school. I believe I am at my best when I am seeking justice and trying to support and help those who need it in whatever arena and that I am at my worst when I am focused solely on me. Of course, I think there is a balance to be found, but I can look at the times in my life where I have struggled the most and it’s largely been because I’ve become so wrapped up in my own problems that I ignore what’s happening around me and where I can help.

I think that this is true for the country as well. I think we are at our best when we are helping those who need help and not focused solely on ourselves. We (and I certainly include myself in this) get lost in scandal and gossip and lose sight of real tragedy. We spend hours debating who knew what and when in the latest shocking story and ignore the tragedies that are going on all around the world. As I said, there is a balance to be found, but when we become so isolated and focused solely on ourselves (and allow ourselves to become part of fear mongering that keeps us focused on only ourselves) that we ignore governments killing without pity to the tune of 60,000+ dead (and there are many other examples from which to choose), there is a problem.

So what’s the response? I know individually my calling is, in the words of John Wesley, to “do all the good I can by all the means I can at all the times I can to all the people I can as long as ever I can.” I am to stand for those who can’t themselves. As a community/country, reasonable minds differ, and I don’t know that I have a firm answer. But what I do know is if enough of us are heeding the call individually, I think the bigger picture starts to clear. Maybe at times it takes larger organizations to step in (i.e. Doctors Without Borders, International Justice Mission, Amnesty International) or possibly even the government (and I can feel some people cringing even as I type that), but it starts with us each trying to give voice to those who can’t speak.

There’s not much concrete in that answer, I know. But, in the end, I know that the biggest threat to injustice anywhere are those who seek justice everywhere. It’s hard. I don’t do it perfectly. And I am only one, but I am still one. And what I cannot do will not stop me from doing what I can.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2013 in The World

 

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Gouged Eyes, Pounds of Flesh . . . or Forgiveness?*

*Written as one who needs to forgive and needs forgiveness on a daily basis, not as an apologist or anything other than that man.

Yesterday’s post generated more response than probably anything else I’ve written for this humble little corner of the internet. In it I mentioned the need for forgiveness as a general principle upon which a few comments were centered. I wanted to pull at that thread a little bit today, as both a specific response to Lance Armstrong’s admissions and as a general response to situations in our lives.

I will say at the outset, I don’t feel any particular anger towards Lance Armstrong. I don’t feel personally affronted by his actions. I recognize that there are those who took the allegations very personally on both sides and that his actions during both his cycling career and post cycling denials affected some very directly. Perhaps their anger is justified. For me, I feel sadness, disappointment. I love a good story, and what better story is there than a man of humble origin overcoming not only the adversity of his background but also fighting what is probably the hardest battle to fight, against his own malfunctioning body, and overcoming to accomplish feats the likes of which most can only dream. To find that those accomplishments (and here I refer solely to the cycling) were the byproduct of artificial enhancement is certainly saddening. But as I didn’t feel anger towards Clemens, Bonds, Sosa, McGwire (all of whom played a sport that I absolutely love), so do I find no anger toward Lance. Perhaps it is because I don’t feel the indignation or rage that I see floating on the waves that I can advocate for forgiveness not simply for Lance but as a general principle (or maybe it opens me to the criticism of “if it affected you personally you wouldn’t speak so glibly about forgiving).

I think the challenge of forgiveness, especially in the public arena or for public figures, is that it is the place where our yearning for forgiveness (and I think we all have as an innate characteristic this need as people who aren’t perfect) meets our desire for justice. We want our pound of flesh, our eye in recompense for the eye that was taken (and we know what Ghandi said about that). We feel betrayed, hoodwinked by someone/thing we desperately hoped was the story we thought it was. We want justice and, in some sense, to feel the offending party has worked off their debt to us. And while certainly denial doesn’t help, I’m not sure that immediate admission would change the equation. I’m not sure that admission wouldn’t change the equation, but as I said yesterday, there seems to be a large subset of our culture that is obsessed with the fall and admission or no, those who fall will be eviscerated (and perhaps this growing obsession is one of the reasons, not the only or primary but one of, those who fall, deny).

And here’s the thing we all understand about forgiveness; it has to be asked for as well as given. I can internally forgive those who wrong me, either on a personal or corporate level, I can even tell them they have my forgiveness, but unless they are willing to receive it by admitting the wrong and acknowledging the hurt, forgiveness is incomplete. I have done what I could, and in doing so have let go of the chains that bound my heart and soul, but the offender will still be bound on whatever level by his, her, or their denial and refusal. And forgiveness is the first step toward rehabilitation, redemption, and healing.

On the personal level, my greatest concern this is symptomatic of our ability to rage and hold grudges without 1) allowing for people to admit their mistakes and 2) allowing ourselves to forgive. And I wonder, if we can’t forgive those whose actions are so far removed from our lives, how well we can forgive those whose actions are personal? Of course it is harder to forgive the closer the hurt, and as the difficulty in forgiving grows, so does the effect withholding that forgiveness has on us. It is certainly one thing for people to carry their denial to the grave against whatever evidence to the contrary, think of estranged family members or friends with whom you haven’t spoken in years, but not forgiving those who come to you and ask, the father who begs the son and seeks a relationship, wraps that chain around the heart and slowly suffocates it.

Back to the bigger picture. Lance has admitted the mistakes for which people thought he was guilty for the better part of a decade. For some those mistakes directly affected their lives. Will he suffer consequences for them? Absolutely. Does forgiving him condone those actions? Of course not. Does he need my or your forgiveness and will he be affected by it? Not likely (although as a community, I think it does).

In the end my desire for my pound of flesh ends up coming out of my side, the eye I want in recompense leaves only me blind. Carrying the grudge burdens only my soul. So the plea isn’t simply to forgive Lance Armstrong. I choose to because he has admitted his mistakes. My plea is to consider the place of forgiveness and the consequences on your heart, health, and home in denying it.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2013 in Cancer, Ruminations

 

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Live Long, Livestrong

Well, it happened. Finally happened in many people’s opinion. Lance Armstrong apparently admitted to doping during his cycling career to Oprah yesterday (to be played Thursday night I believe). Almost immediately Twitter and Facebook exploded with “I told you so’s,” “Gotcha’s,” and many other epithets directed toward this once revered athlete and, as a corollary, Livestrong, the foundation he started.

It is this second avenue of hostility that I would like to address, but a couple words must be said as to the first. With this admission, years of speculation are laid to rest. He has admitted to at least some of the allegations leveled against him and for which he was stripped of his Tour de France titles. Cheating, creating an unfair advantage through external means, is wrong. It is indefensible regardless of the breadth and depth of the involvement in such enhancements throughout the sport. It’s the old “just because they are doing it . . .” argument. For cheating and participating in an ongoing, systematic degradation of a sport, he should and has been censured. And it is right that he come clean in regard to any true allegations. I believe in the power of redemption and rehabilitation, but to take those steps you must first admit the mistakes you’ve made. (And I would caution you, reader, about the danger of holding grudges in general and not allowing for forgiveness and change toward anyone, especially someone whose life affects you in probably a very ancillary sort of way – forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning an activity, but it sure does make the difference between a fettered and unfettered soul)

I do find it interesting how we love the fall as much as we love the rise. We love the story of those who overcome adversity. We love seeing success. And rightfully we feel betrayed by those whose success was artificially enhanced. Think of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, really any of the steroid era baseball players. But we seem to also have become a culture obsessed with the fall of those in the spotlight. We love the scandal. We salivate at the chance to attack those who buckle under the pressure of elite competition, the spot light of fame, and the stress of celebrity (and I think there’s a post to be written about the strain that idolization puts on the soul and the unbearable burden under which humans, beings not meant to be idolized, will almost always be crushed). Now that they buckle doesn’t excuse the actions, but it’s an interesting place in our society that scandals hold.

But here’s the ultimate question. Does Lance’s failure in one area negate his success and contributions in other areas? I am, of course, talking about Livstrong. CNN has a iReport on whether you still wear your Livestrong bracelet and I have seen more tweets and debates linking Lance’s cycling activities with Livestrong, and the question I keep coming back to is why? He cheated in cycling. Ok. But the untold thousands of people helped by Livestrong, some of whom I know, have no connection with that. I would argue the connection between Livestrong and Lance’s cycling is tenuous at best. There is an argument to be made that he gained his notoriety through cycling which gave him the platform on which he built Livestrong. I would ask then, if that is true, does that change the good that has been done? Does that outweigh the fight against cancer that Livestrong has championed for years?

It is undeniable that Lance fought a very serious battle with cancer and through providence, will power, some measure of chance, or whatever you want to call it, he won that battle . Because of his fight, not because of his cycling, he wanted to give others as many weapons as he could in their own battles.

Livestrong’s purpose is to improve the lives of those with cancer and create partnerships that will continue the fight to eradicate cancer forever. There are many noble purposes, and this is certainly one. Can you honestly look someone in the eye and say that one man’s mistakes negate the need of those with cancer for champions? Yes there are many champions out there, but there are never enough. Supporting Livestrong is not condoning Lance’s actions in his cycling career. (Neither is giving him a chance to redeem himself and own up to his mistakes, but that’s another issue)

So I will wear my yellow bracelet without shame. I will support the cause of fighting cancer and an organization without which this world would be worse off. I will give Lance credit for starting an organization that has helped more people than I can imagine and that will continue to help until the final battle is won. I will LIVESTRONG.

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2013 in Cancer, Ruminations