How to Deal With Shame

Like a dog who has the demeanor of a being who did something wrong I sometimes walk around with disappointment permeating through every action I take.

photo credit Georgia Pauwels via creative commons

photo credit Georgie Pauwels via creative commons

I know there are times I wished I could brush away shame like so many seem to be able to do. I have made plenty of mistakes and poor decisions, but I also beat myself up more than I should. I allow myself to believe I can go through life without making these mistakes and without having regrets.

Growing up involves mistakes. Mistakes are messy. Looking back it’s easy to reject and suppress the feelings but mistakes are as important as achievements. When I look back on my mistakes it brings me an immense amount of grief. When you are in your late teenage years and early 20s it’s a time where mistakes happen at such a quick pace you can’t even learn from them. You can only live through them. I look back at the time in college and sometimes I look at my fraternity life and I blame the fraternity for mistakes I made. Millennials are great at blaming everyone else for mistakes and unfortunately at times I find myself slipping into this habit.

Donald Miller writes about intimacy and shame in his book, Scary Close. Good writing makes you feel less alone. This line in his book made me feel something other than loneliness as it relates to shame: “When we don’t believe we are good or lovable, we isolate.” I could list a thousand examples where isolation due to shame has played out in my life. The isolation has led to so much anxiety and stress because I felt I wasn’t good enough to do anything. I couldn’t push myself through difficult times because I was unable to share what I was going through with anyone. I was content to battle through on my own which is akin to getting into a bar brawl by yourself. The result is the same but it is much easier to hide internal wounds.

I never felt pressure to be someone who wasn’t me. But I did feel a temptation to impress people. I felt a temptation to show people I was mistake free. There was part of me which wanted to be acknowledged for making good decisions.

There is an unspoken belief out there we shouldn’t be ashamed of anything. Sometimes we are told we don’t need to be embarrassed by our actions and we are to live with no regrets. I don’t believe we should live with this mindset. Sometimes we go to the other end of the spectrum and don’t forgive ourselves. I do believe you need to stop beating yourself up. The world is full of people who have wasted their potential because they are unable to move on from past transgressions. Don’t become another one. Don’t allow shame to rob you of your future. Deal with your mistakes and move on.

    “The wise shall inherit glory, But shame shall be the legacy of fools.”
    Proverbs 3:35

Searching for Ten-Year-Old Me

I recently finished John Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill. Near the end of the novel a certain part of the story stuck with me.

photo credit: Michael Bentley via creative commons

photo credit: Michael Bentley via creative commons

As the protagonist, Jake Brigance, was stressed out about an upcoming trial he went to his childhood home. His parents were gone so he was by himself walking around the house. Grisham detailed all the aspects of the house and the yard which had an impact on him. As Brigance looked around he thought about playing football in the yard and riding his bike. It took me back and I started visualizing the home I grew up in.

I remember the large pine tree in the front yard and I remember playing football out front. I remember the stairs where my sister fell and cut her forehead. I rode my dirt bike all over every square inch of it and also hit golf balls from every area. Like all crystal clear memories they are sometimes relevant and often times completely insignificant.

There is something special about the home you grew up in. Thinking about it takes you back to a time and place where your imagination was everything. You didn’t spend time thinking about what you could or couldn’t do you did. I miss that. I miss the unknown. There is something about growing up which makes you feel like you have seen and experienced everything. I haven’t. Nobody has but the more you live the more tempting it is to stop living. I’m tired of that feeling. Tired of not getting where I want to go and doing what I want to do.

Cynicism leads to nowhere. I don’t think about anything in those years growing up except for all of the things I did. I have stopped doing things. I occasionally go to a trendy restaurant or do something social but it’s not the same. I don’t try different things. I don’t live life the way it was meant to be lived. I live it the safe way. I don’t chase after things I desire. I wait for them to come to me. They never come. No matter how long I wait it doesn’t come. It would be perfect if we could have the imagination of a child combined with the ability of an adult. Few can reach it.

In May when Morgan and I were in Jamaica we took a sketchy ride to a non-government sanctioned waterfall. Our “tour guide” was probably stoned and we jumped off waterfalls and cliffs. We crawled through caves and swam in naturally cool springs. I will never forget doing those things. It wasn’t safe. It was uncharacteristic for both of us. It was fun. It reminded me I’m not too old to make memories. It’s never too late to change. It’s never too late to do something completely out of character. Remind yourself of the fearless behavior you had when growing up. It’s still you. Do things which scare you to death. It’s the only way to live.

Instant Peace

How stopping my pursuit of peace helped me find it

We can get almost everything we want in an instant.

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If you want to listen to your favorite band it takes a few minutes to find everything they have ever recorded. If you want to learn how to play guitar you can watch countless tutorials on YouTube.

I wish we could all experience instantaneous peace from stress and anxiety. I wished for that for so long. I spent many nights staring at the ceiling hoping I would wake up in the morning and stare at the same ceiling and everything would be different. That did far more to prevent me from being at peace than it did to help me.

I desired to be in a place like the final scene in The Shawshank Redemption. I imagined a perfect beach with a blue sea and most of all freedom. It didn’t happen. I’m glad it didn’t happen now. I remember praying for it to happen but it never did. What did happen was a slow realization of God’s peace. It wasn’t a quick fix. It takes time to think different. It takes time to not freak out when something bad happens. Once I stopped looking for instant peace I found it.

I have struggled with anxiety for a long time. It is always something which I constantly felt but rarely talked about. I always thought it was me. I realized one day God was bigger than my anxiety. It wasn’t the fact I had not heard this before. It wasn’t the fact people had not told me this before. People would always tell me I needed to stop worry about the things I was worrying about. I knew this but couldn’t help it. Once I stopped seeing my problems as things I could have avoided things slowly became better and my problems became smaller.

I realized God loved me through these trials. He wanted me in these trials. He also cared about me and that is why my life isn’t perfect. When someone loves you they don’t coddle you and tell you everything you do is right when you are wrong. When someone loves you they speak truth to you. They tell you when you are doing something wrong. The only way to grow is to learn through mistakes and learn through trials. I had been searching for perfection in my own life thinking it would result in peace. Once I stopped trying to be perfect peace found me.

The humidity has almost faded for the year in Nashville. I want the warm weather. I want everyday to be on a Caribbean beach but I know sometimes there are storms and sometimes it is dry and cold. Seasons come and go and there is nothing we can do to slow it down or speed it up. When it’s cold and when I’m struggling with anxiety I remember God’s grace and the life God has called me to live. When it’s warm and when I feel good I remember the same things. I have as much of a chance of being perfect as I do of controlling the weather.

Stop trying to find a quick fix. Stop trying to be perfect. When you do peace will find you.

Anxiety and Airport Food

Sitting in Sam Snead’s Tavern at the Jacksonville Airport my stomach was in a knot.

photo credit: David McKelvey via creative commons

photo credit: David McKelvey via creative commons

I planned on stopping to eat lunch before turning my rental car in at the airport. I pulled in somewhere but my anxiety which had been bothering me all day started bothering me again and I didn’t want to stop anywhere I just wanted to get to the airport. When you struggle with anxiety normal fears are heightened. When driving a rental car I constantly look and worry about hitting someone or someone hitting me. This is a feeling I deal with when I’m driving my own car but it’s increased when I drive a rental car. I felt temporary relief once I turned in the car, but my mind quickly shifted to worrying about something else. Anxiety can rob you of your happiness. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. We all struggle with things and for me this is number one.

As I sat at my table at the airport restaurant about to eat overpriced mediocre food I thought about how great things are for me right now. I don’t have a reason to be stressed or to be anxious about anything yet I allow myself to be. As I was thinking about this I noticed a man who appeared to be in his early 50s waiting a table near me. Something in that moment gripped me and broke my heart. Nobody wants to be a waiter at his age. What could anyone possibly say to make him feel better about his job? I just hated it. It pains me to see people who I know are unhappy. Maybe he isn’t unhappy but I doubt it. How could you be happy when your career is a waiter at an airport restaurant?

I’m not sure why this bothered me so much but I think it probably had something to do with the fact that I was swimming in my own pool of anxiety and not wanting to get out. There is so much darkness in the world it can sometimes be impossible to see the light. Sometimes my heart is so full I feel as though it might explode. Wedding receptions or hanging out with a group of friends you haven’t seen in a while bring an overflowing amount of joy. Laughter is as abundant as the drinks and you can’t stop smiling. Then there are other times where the ugliness and brokenness of this world can cause me to dislike everything.

Everyone can’t work their dream job. Nobody likes to say this because it is depressing, but it has been on my mind a lot lately. It’s what hit me when I saw him waiting tables. I wished for his sake he would have made other choices in life. Couldn’t there have been something which happened to him which woke him up before he ended up here? I don’t mean to bash people who work in jobs which aren’t glamorous. I have immense respect for them. Anyone who swallows their pride in order to make a living deserves credit. At the same time it’s fair to say they could have done better. I know the world isn’t a charity and I don’t want it to be that way, but it hurts to see someone not living out their potential.

After I left the restaurant I walked to a bookstore which I often do at airports. I think about what it will be like to stand there and look at one of those books with my name on it one day. Some days it seems a long way off and other times it feels close.

I’m not sure why but seeing him waiting tables made me so motivated to achieve my dreams. As another birthday came and went last week I was reminded how fast life goes by. I just turned 18 and now I’m 28. I know 38 and 48 will be here in the blink of an eye and if I’m not intentional with my goals they won’t happen.

Right here I should put some corny saying about chasing your dreams but that isn’t really me. All I want to say is whatever bothers you and whatever is most difficult for you to do is something you need to attack head on and not avoid. Your goals don’t come about like birthday’s. Be intentional about what you want to do. Find motivation from everyday life.

Why Do We Fear Mistakes?

We are scared of everything. We are as scared of gluten as we are of ISIS. We are turning into people who are afraid to make mistakes.

photo credit: Leo Hidalgo via creative commons

photo credit: Leo Hidalgo via creative commons

You can’t order coffee without receiving it in a cup with writing all over it informing you it’s hot. We can’t order food without being informed of all of the allergies which someone could have a reaction to if they ate the food. Have you ever learned anything from doing something the right way? Have you learned anything about yourself when things went your way and everything worked out exactly the way you had hoped? There are certain situations in which that may have happened, but most of the time we learn by doing something wrong. We learn by making mistakes. The only way to get better is to make sure you are putting yourself out there and taking a risk. We are incredible at pointing out others downfalls. We are energized by it. We are sharks swimming toward blood ready to latch on to the wounded and defenseless.

We watch documentaries and swear we won’t eat out ever again. Then we get hungry and go to Wendy’s. We swear next month we will get back in shape. We look into gyms to join and diets to start but we end up putting it off again and again. Meanwhile we get on Twitter or Facebook and like and favorite snarky comments and laugh at people who have made mistakes so we don’t have to focus on the failures of our own life. It may sound raw and cruel but if you look at the reality of your life you will probably see some truth in it. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I will eat a bowl of ice cream while making fun of someone for being overweight and unhealthy.

The reaction to Cecil the Lion’s death was what started my realization of this. Obviously a wrong was done. It was a tragic event. Try to put that out of your mind and just think about the reaction. Reading about it you would assume the dentist from Minnesota was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Someone posted a sign on his office stating, “rot in hell.” His life is over. His family has had their life ruined. The people he employed lost their job. If you think about it you have probably done something which could have resulted in as much scrutiny as he has received. You likely didn’t get caught and you likely justify it by saying others have done worse or done the same thing. We all could be in the same situation he’s in. Is that a world we want to live in? I’m not sure it matters because I think it is our reality and I don’t see it changing.

I believe this causes a bigger issue. We want to avoid mistakes at all costs so we live as safely as possible. We don’t take risks in our career, we don’t pursue passions, we don’t do anything to rock the boat because we know if we do nothing risky at all, we will not face criticism. We can sit back and rely on cynicism to numb our pain.

The reason we fear mistakes is because we constantly live in fear of being the one who everyone is laughing at. We stand on the sidelines and watch as the chastisement of others is put on full display and sometimes we participate in it.

Do something that matters. Don’t let fear or the potential embarrassment of failure hold you back.

4 Newlywed Questions You Should Not Ask

I have been married for just over a year and have been asked many questions about marriage within that timespan.

photo credit: Catherine via creative commons

photo credit: Catherine via creative commons

People want to be nice and try to say something courteous but most often when they ask about Morgan, or about marriage in general, it’s incredibly awkward. Here are the top four questions not to ask newlyweds.

1) When are you having kids?

By a landslide this is the question I am asked most often. What are they expecting to hear? If I said, “we are trying to daily” I can only imagine the look on their face. If I say, “never” they look disgusted and confused. If you are wanting to ask someone this, don’t do it. This is a subject the couple has talked about often and those are the only two people who need to discuss when they are planning to have kids. You don’t need to ask them because they aren’t going to give you an honest answer anyway.

2) Anything relating to finances

If I had a dollar for every time someone gave me unsolicited financial advice I wouldn’t need any advice because I would be in the same tax bracket as Taylor Swift. People make all kinds of mistakes financially and I know a great deal of the time the only reason they are doing it is because they truly want to help, however it’s patronizing. For some unknown reason people take the fact that two people are now married to mean they are asking the world, “should we get a Roth IRA?”.

3) Where is your spouse?

This is a bizarre question I get asked often. Apparently when you are married you become conjoined twins. Believe it or not Morgan and I actually do things separately sometimes. No, it’s not because we hate each other, it’s because we love each other. I know many other friends who have experienced this as well. I don’t drag Morgan to the driving range just like she doesn’t drag me to Pure Barre. I will go watch a sporting event with a friend, she will go to dinner with friends. We don’t have to suffocate each other. If she is lost you will probably see something about it on Facebook.

4) How’s Married Life?

There is one answer to this question and that is some variation of the word, “good.” If you don’t say something short and positive it gets uncomfortable quickly. I’m not sure what kind of detailed information people are looking for when they ask this. I have thought about replying, “Things are looking better. We are on our 4th therapist and I think we are finally identifying the root cause of our problems.” Or maybe, “Well it was a huge mistake to get married but I’m trying to make the best of it. Do you have a spare bedroom or a couch I can crash on?” You don’t have to ask how married life is. It’s going great and if it weren’t going great they wouldn’t say otherwise.

If you are reading this and have asked me one of these questions before don’t think I’m offended. This is simply meant as a funny post about how newlyweds are constantly answering the same questions. Feel free to ask me anything but if it is one of the questions above be ready for a snarky comeback.

The Soundtrack of Your Life

Music allows us to travel back in time. It can take you to a place you remember fondly or a place you recall with great pain.

photo credit: Steven Pisano via creative commons

photo credit: Steven Pisano via creative commons

It takes you back to driving with your friends on a spring break trip. It reminds you of a time of sadness when you played the song over and over again because it made you feel a little better if only temporarily. Sometimes these songs are not even good but for some reason you feel connected with them. They entered your brain and brought pleasure midst the pain.

Our life is similar to a song. The verses, chorus, and bridge of a song can mirror seasons. Sometimes we like a song because it sounds good. We can sing some of they lyrics but have no clue what the meaning is. Other songs draw us in because we like the lyrics. They were written for us like a gripping novel.

I have no musical talent. I actually might have negative talent. I sang in a children’s choir at church when I was young and I have sang karaoke at more honky tonks in Nashville than I care to admit. However, I love music.

Like anyone who creates anything, those who make music wonder. Will it be good? Will it resonate with people? Am I wasting my time? These are thoughts we all ponder with our careers and our life in general. Is what I’m doing worth it? Am I making a difference? Am I making a better life for me and my family?

75% of the time when I write, I wonder if it’s good. I wonder if I am wasting my time. I think about what else I can be doing with my time. However, the other 25% of the time it all makes sense. The words come crashing down like rain in a summer thunderstorm. I can’t keep the words in. I have to find my laptop, a notebook, or even my phone to get the thoughts out.

I like to write because I know what it feels like to read something great. When the words come off the page and everything around you fades into nothingness. You feel the author speaking to you directly and feel as if he or she wrote it just for you. The more I write the more I wonder if others have experienced similar struggles. Have they wondered about the same things I wonder about? Have they had the same doubts? It would be tragic if they didn’t overcome those thoughts and had never written anything.

So I keep writing in the morning when nobody is watching. I keep reading books which aren’t as enjoyable as others but which provide me with the knowledge and skills I will need to make it. I know one day someone will read a book I have yet to write and it will change them. I know it won’t be me who does it but it will be God who uses me to do something amazing.

As John Lennon says in “Beautiful Boy”, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Make plans to be busy. You are going to be busy even if you don’t plan for it, so make sure you’re busy with the right things. There is a lot of work to do in order to accomplish what you want to accomplish. You will be busy. But that is where life happens. It is where your dreams and reality meet in a crescendo that would make Beethoven jealous. What kind of music do you want the soundtrack of your life to be?

An Insatiable Desire for Perfection

Have you ever beaten yourself up for making a mistake? Have you ever regretted how you handled a situation? Have you ever gotten angry with someone over something insignificant?

photo credit: MeeshBomb via Creative Commons

photo credit: MeeshBomb via Creative Commons

If you are honest with yourself, you have probably done all of these. We are imperfect people who strive to be perfect even though we have no chance of getting there. However, we get angry with ourselves (and more destructively others) when perfection is not reached.

I recently watched the movie, The One I Love. In the movie Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are in a floundering relationship they are attempting to repair. Their therapist recommends spending a few days at a cabin. He sets it up and informs them it has worked well for his other clients. (Spoiler alert) When they arrive at their home for the weekend, they discover in the guest house on the property there are people staying there who look exactly like them. Not only do the look exactly like each other but they talk and act identical. Even better, and more problematic, they are the perfect versions of the person. Every imperfection is gone. As the story goes on they each want to spend more and more time with the perfect version of themselves in the guest house as opposed to the real version they came with. It’s an interesting dynamic because we all expect our partners to be perfect. We know we can’t be perfect, and they can’t be either, but we desire it anyway.

You love someone in spite of their shortcomings. You love them because there is an inexplicable feeling you get when you’re around them. It feels right. It feels like this is where you’re supposed to be. You don’t fully understand it which is partially what makes it great. We want them to be there for us to do anything and everything. We want them to love us all day every day, even if we mess up. We want them never to be angry with us even if it is warranted. We expect from others what we ourselves could never be.

I struggle to deal with problems and choose to avoid them far too often. I can’t fix anything in our home which breaks. If I don’t sleep well at night I am in a bad mood. If I don’t drink coffee first thing in the morning I am a terrible person. I like spending a great deal of time alone which can be challenging at times when you’re married. I could go on and on. Morgan knows all of these things and she loves me anyway. She doesn’t like these but she accepts me. When someone loves you in spite of your faults you will do anything for them.

There is an intimacy we have with our spouses and close friends because they know our faults. They know we have messed up. Not only do they know we have, they have specific examples they could recall. They accept us anyway. We have the same experiences with them. We know their faults and accept them as well. True intimacy is about accepting another person’s imperfections.

This isn’t hard to understand. It is incredibly hard to follow through on. People you love will disappoint you. You will disappoint people you love.

Instead of searching for perfection, which you will never find, saturate yourself with the acceptance others give by loving you even though you are far from perfect.

Travel Anywhere and Everywhere

As we boarded our United Airlines flight on an Embraer 135 from DC back to Nashville I was reading through Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet.

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The Embraer 135 is a small jet and we were crammed in our seats like a group of college kids going on spring break in a Honda Civic. It was uncomfortable to do anything but sit with your arms crossed and look straight ahead. However, my mood changed when I began reading the chapter titled, Sea Dreaming. In this chapter she writes about traveling. Obviously it hit home with me. I was trying to compartmentalize unforgettable experiences along with the amazing time of relaxation we had in Jamaica. As I was doing that while sitting in my seat appearing to wear a straight jacket, only able to move my arms like a Tyrannosaurus rex, I read this:

That’s why travel is so important, among other reasons: to get far enough away from our everyday lives to see those lives with new clarity. When you’re literally on the other side of the world, when you’re under the silent sea, watching a bright, silent world of fish and coral, when you’re staring up at a sky so bright and dense with stars it makes you gasp, it’s in those moments that you begin to see the fullness of your life, the possibility that still prevails, that always prevails.”

As I read it the words lifted off the page and I felt like she was speaking directly to me. I read the chapter over and over again and underlined a different sentence each time I read.

She continued to say,

You certainly don’t have to be on the other side of the world, but you do have to get out of those same four walls you’re always staring at. Drive to the city, or to the country, or to a lake whose shores are totally unfamiliar to you. Listen for the new rhythms and sounds, and watch your life refract and shift against a new backdrop. You’ll see things you didn’t know were there, and recognize selves long hidden.”

I have thought about this again and again since I have been back. I believe she is 100% correct. There is something about being in unfamiliar areas and situations which causes a shift. It causes you to calibrate your life and focus in on what matters.

I want to add many more stamps to my passport. I want to be well traveled. I want the experiences but I also want to remind myself who I am. I want to go somewhere exotic and eat something weird. I want to surprise myself. You don’t have to travel to the far parts of the world to do that. You can. But you can also go somewhere new three miles down the road. The more you experience the more you understand. There are so many parts of God’s creation I haven’t seen.

I want to travel anywhere and everywhere.

Where Are You Spending Your Time?

One morning on our trip to Jamaica last week we went and swam in the ocean before doing anything else.

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It was right before seven when we jumped in the cold but comforting ocean. There was nobody else in the water for as far as we could see. We both swam with the joy of two nine-year old’s who recently got out of school for the summer. We swam with the freedom a week with no responsibility offers. The water that early in the morning looked like a sheet of glass with only a few wrinkles. As I looked out to the horizon I understood why we once thought the world was flat. The seemingly endless water was perfectly level until it gently met the sky. Everything in the moment was perfect. After getting out, we made a quick trip to breakfast and after chowing down on eggs and fried bammy I was back at the beach. I started reading, but as I did my mind drifted from the pages in my hand and I thought about the people who stayed by the pool all day at our resort.

The pool is cool. There is a swim up bar and a lot of people and activities. However, the natural body of water which was so clear and perfect was right next to them and many of them didn’t even think about getting into it or even looking at it. They were content with a pool which many people have in their backyard. It reminded me of someone who loves television and pays for high definition but only watches TV in standard definition.

As my thoughts continued to jump off these observations I was reminded of this C.S. Lewis quote I read once which suddenly had new meaning:

It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

As the days went on and I would walk by people who sat at the pool all day I would want to grab them and ask them if they knew what they were missing. There was an abundance of beauty and perfection right near them but they were content watching a fake waterfall flow into a tiny man made hole. There wasn’t a long distance between the pool and the ocean but there was a significant chasm between the two.

I wonder how often God has looked at the possessions and unfulfilled desires I constantly drift to and longed for me to look at what is right in front of me. What is offered is so much better then what I tend to pursue. It’s offered to all of us. It’s free and it is right next to us.

Don’t be content to play with a mud pie in a slum when the pure blue Caribbean Sea is calling your name.