Tag Archives: relationships

In Praise of Inadequate Writers

I have to think of a story of a time I was a failure,” I said to my family at dinner after reciting the perfunctory prayer and filling our plates with Saturday night pizza.

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“I can’t think of anything,” I added, laughing. It was clearly not for any lack of material. “Can you think of a time you failed?”

Sheri thought about it. “I got an F in Old Testament in college. Or maybe it was a D. It felt like an F.”

“Oh, me too!” I said. “Old Testament was crazy hard.”

“I once got a B,” 12-year-old Ellie said. “I think it was in science. Mrs. Sutton’s class in fifth grade. I totally deserved it but I was devastated.”

“Really?” I asked. I hadn’t realized she’d taken it so hard.

“I only ever got A’s, until that,” she explained.

Though we live together day after day, I forget how little we really know about each other. Do I fail to ask enough and truly listen?

And then, an idea came about embracing my inadequacy. It seemed it could revolutionize the way I live and approach my work day to day….

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nIf I were to open the floodgates and start sharing all the times and ways I’ve failed to live up to what I could be, the selfless me who often takes a back seat, I’d have plenty of interesting stories to share. All the places I’ve failed, and it would set an example for sharing.

We all love inadequacy stories. And we have so many of them!

If we’d just accept them, wouldn’t we connect more? Isn’t that what relating is—the place you can relate your stories of your fully-lacking self to relate to someone else?

It’s a big question, and it takes me a few days to consider the implications and whether I can do it authentically or if it would feel too forced. These relational experiments are strange but they feel good, right, purposeful.

And basically, I already know I can’t help wanting to be better than I am. So maybe this is a way I can at least get some good mileage out of my failures.

IMG_0616We all sense the importance of this, the vulnerability Brene Brown and others talk about—so why aren’t we more honest about our shortcomings? Why don’t we shed our inhibitions and share what we’re bad at, where we struggle and even our discomfort over appearing inept?

Of course, we know why. Because of judgment. We’ve been hurt and wounded so often, and some folks relentlessly. That shaming has formed us to a large extent and many others, and it’s not good enough to say “just get over it” and move on. Some people are more resilient by nature and determined to press on, while others take the embarrassment in and dwell on it, forcing us to care what others think before considering our own freedom. It’s a pernicious, ubiquitous bully, and it’s made us all in some way hide our feelings and true personalities.

We all have a few truly horrific stories of pain and suffering we’ve endured.

And we’re tired of feeling bad all the time.

IMG_0763To really let that all go and embrace our inadequacy we’d have to know we wouldn’t be shamed again. Our stories of failure may be our greatest opportunity to connect with each other, but to share them, we’d have to forget what we’ve been shown over and over, to somehow believe it’s not completely foolish to be vulnerable.

And that can sound downright impossible.

I was Ellie’s age when I realized my accusers were as afraid or more so than I was. Not of me, of course, but of others, of failing to win the attention, approval and acceptance their attention-starved brains craved. I couldn’t have articulated it like that, but I knew all people are insecure and the ones who tear others down are the most insecure of all.

And what I know now is, failure isn’t what we think it is. The world doesn’t end. In fact, when you fail and embrace it, it can get far better. Failure connects us. And real connection is what everyone wants anyway. Some people just get told they have to protect their proud image and never question the logic of it.

We forget this, but what’s worse, we’ve become trapped by the lie that upholding appearances is the way to feel good and successful in our consumer-driven, happiness-worshiping culture. The supposed “free,” guiltless, nutrition-less, connection-substitutes we consume today—from amusements to shopping centers, to media and theaters, to video games and prepackaged foods, to cheap-thrill hobbies and wish-fulfillment fantasies—the endless parade of addictive modern fripperies has made us forget how dependent and inadequate we are.
Everything is formulated with just the right amount of addictive happy-juice to hook us and keep us coming back for more, and we’ve forgotten what healthy functioning is, what connectedness means, that we aren’t the center of our universe and we don’t deserve to never struggle.

IMG_5322Embracing failure can ironically become our new “guilty pleasure.”

We long for freedom, to escape the demands of our lives and bury ourselves in the soft creamy center of the incredible sweet things around us. But what if our wish-fulfillment fantasy that led to lasting good feelings was just beyond the challenge of appearing like a failure? If we insist too strongly that we don’t ever want to feel bad, we’ll never find out that embracing our inadequacy and failure can actually bring the freedom and joy we’re longing for (as the hugely-popular new Pixar film “Inside Out” recently made clear).

Every experience of failure is a connection story waiting to be shared.

No we don’t have to be achievers or successful or hold these perfect images together. We just have to give up that substitute happiness and our addiction to the numbing, feel-good drug, face the truth, and see that we’re all vulnerable. And we’re all failures. And that’s a very good thing.

We all have endless connection stories to share. And sharing them can be how we succeed.

Are you struggling with someone who needs this reminder this week? Maybe your best way to remind yourself is to share with them a “connection story.”

And when you try, remember that you never fail without gaining yet another way to succeed.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Are You Elmer’s, Epoxy or Paste?

Another 5-minute Friday exercise from Lisa-Jo: get it here

Go.

Not all glues are created equal. The beauty of Elmer’s glue is that it creates a strong, semi-flexible bond.

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I rarely use it anymore and I hardly remember what I used it for all those years it sat in my desk next to the pencils and erasers and crayons.

But what comes to mind now is that love is like the glue that binds everyone and everything, the invisible binder that connects all things. And some people like epoxy while others like paste.

From a Christian-based business website, I read: “‘Love’ is a very important addition to our philosophy. Having a positive attitude and sharing that attitude with others…”

Now I’m of the “melancholy” persuasion on the personality scale and I initially have a hard time accepting this definition of the bonding agent “love.” It’s far more than having and sharing a positive attitude. In fact, because this superficial definition seems so prevalent, I’ve lived a long time trying to let go of my idea of stronger love and whether I should change myself to appreciate paste like those who can connect to almost anyone through positivity, i.e. a “sanguine” personality.

Why is it so difficult to give up my idea of epoxy for those who are excited about paste? Why does their desire for many bonds seem so less desirable than stronger connection with few?

Does everything have to be deep?

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Here’s where I think it comes down: do I think the little things in life matter?

Some people might think I’m naturally deep, but I’m not. I just enjoy seeking meaning and making soulful connections. And I haven’t enjoyed making many connections primarily because it’s difficult.

Can I connect over the little things in life? Can I enjoy life with people and accept and be influenced by them? I don’t need a deeper bond with everyone, do I? I’ll still have it with many people, but the question is, could I enjoy more people if I was okay connecting on a superficial level?

Could this make my “glue” more flexible? Even something as simple as sharing the same air with someone could be profound. It’s miraculous to share that and enjoy life with others around me. Everything else is icing, isn’t it?

Exchanging my epoxy with something more flexible, a more “positive” mindset, could make me happier and more loving, able to bond over what really matters in life: relationships.

Is your glue flexible enough?

Stop.

How We Love Our Kids

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“Parents, reading this book is the best gift you could give your children and yourself. While it gives practical and insightful ways to understand and parent your children, it is not about a technique. It is about understanding your heart and soul as a parent, and learning how to give that to your children. Milan and Kay do so by helping us examine the dynamics of our own upbringing so that we can make the changes in our relationship styles that create rewarding and healthy relationships with our kids. Read this book and see how much sense it makes!”

– Larry Hamilton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

 

When I found out Milan and Kay had written this book for kids, I was a young parent. I can honestly say it has influenced my parenting and Sheri’s and my relationship as parents more than any other book, and working with them on it was one of the highlights of my editing career.

Every time I have a frustration or fear about my kids, about being a dad, or just want to remember what’s most important, I pull out this book. It’s exactly as Larry said in this review: it’s not about technique. It’s about giving your kids your heart and soul–learning to do that, hard and simple as that is.

Buy this book. Live it. And give it to your kids someday to help them with their kids.

If you’ve been wondering what’s missing, it really can be an incredible, beautiful journey. I’m so grateful to Milan and Kay for their influence in our lives.

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The Passing Day

“My days are like a lengthening shadow, and I wither away like grass.” 

 – Psalm 102:11

 

I’m just back from discussing the future focus of our church with about 2 dozen aged Presbyterians this weekend.

IMG_6284 Isn’t it amazing how we’re all strangers, even to ourselves? And yet we all have an important job to do….

I agreed to take part because for the last 3 years, we’ve been embraced and encouraged by this traditional community, and after 50 years, they want to reinvent to keep their church alive.

A consulting firm was hired to identify the demographics and characteristics of our neighborhood and membership, and we came together to discuss how we’ll seek to fulfill this call to love and serve the neighbors around us.

Somewhere in discussion, it struck me how we all want to live out the fullest possible expression of our connection, however possible, wherever and whenever we can. This group of people believes we’re all alike in the most important, fundamental ways. And I feel the fire to invest in those connections, the passion that’s always above all for those of us who’ve been changed by Love.

And church can happen anywhere, and it’s not about a place, but a feeling, and it’s why I write, and it’s why I edit books, always striving to make that connection and honor it, respect it, build it stronger and more solid in the unbreakable love of God. It’s why we talk of a body, and this is the way I’ve chosen, and I need the reminders to be praying at all times. And though it’s difficult, more and more every day, I feel the truth coming from my writing, that done prayerfully, writing is prayer. And done prayerfully, work is prayer, and all of life is held within that central relationship.

IMG_6290There’s time for everything. God will feel close and he’ll feel far. But with this focus on what matters, it won’t matter how I feel much, or what I’m specifically praying for, or what’s beyond my help or my reach. Committed to this relationship, all focus is turned to God’s greatest interest in my every passing moment, expressed through this greatest desire, this highest purpose. No fear or failure is possible there because the relationship is secure, come what may.

There is no challenge, no frustration that can thwart this central connection, for here I peer through the screen of separation and see the unmistakable fusion, molecules to spirit, in unbreakable union and inevitably resolving into eternity. Any struggle I may face is not without purpose, and pain, though inevitable, is not unimportant. It is leading to deeper unity with this guiding Love.

And if you feel that, you are part of this community, this body. Inside that embrace, there is a pain that can’t be felt, that never even grazes the shielded, life-radiating heart. All hatred and anger and destruction and evil can mean nothing against this sovereign design for me and all of us who would seek it, the Sovereign One structuring time itself to reveal all that Love has sacrificed to one day pull evil up by the roots and leave no trace.

The eternal song will go on. Let whomever has not yet heard it try to silence it. There is no silencing it.

Pay it no mind, embrace them and envelope them in this Love, and commit to your true business. For as it goes forward, Love goes forward and it will be their constant torment until they surrender. Love will swallow the opposition and transform it and all the time they wasted. So for now, have compassion and visit them, care for them. And in the time you have left, you will see God move and you will know His truth that sets us free from all fear.

Every day is a new grace. And while there is light in the passing day, we must learn to embrace this day for what it truly is–a holy chance to know deeper unity. And if we will carry on, undistracted and undiminished in our commitment to this Love, we can take the few frightened souls around us into our great heart to share the experience of this joy with as many as want it.

For all that’s required is that undying longing….

The Stories That Come to Know You: Hunting with Dad

It isn't solely my truth to hand you, of course, but I believe a story is built of the same dynamic force as relationship. In relating, it expresses and exchanges the same basic electric magnetism, the attractive-repellant force between any two things.  

A boy learns about this force at an early age, though he'll never fully understand it, even if he felt it warm as daylight as a nine-year-old… 

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My father wakes me so early I’m not sure I’ve slept, though I must have since I don’t remember him getting up.
 
“Time to go,” he says and I hope he isn’t serious. It’s dark. Where is he? “Your shoes are here.” I sit up listening to his boots walking away toward the truck to prepare the rifles.
 
My arm’s wet from the condensation inside the warm tent. Are we going to eat first? I won’t ask, not because I’m not hungry but because I don’t want to give away that I’m only trying to delay.
 
Do I know why we’re here, what this really is, this weekend I’ll become a man? He’s surely noticed how my once-bold mimicry has gone subterranean, how time’s shrinking.
 
Strange, these things you come to know in the stories that come to know you. These well-worn weapons polished to amber….
 
The glow and crackle of barely-light, perfumed with coffee and pine and damp earth. The cheap thrill of watering any tree you like but working quickly to avoid blood-suckers. You learn to think ahead, to already be where the deer will show up when they’re hungry.
 
Sometimes hunters don’t tell you the why of things because they know the most important lessons are never spoken. They must be apprehended through observation.
 
You want mature ones with antlers that have grown many points with each winter survived. You walk against the wind so they won’t smell you coming. You look for cloven prints and droppings though you don’t actually taste the dark pellets he pretends to chew, a mock native, a deer whisperer. He coaxes my reluctant smile, maybe noticed it growing more reluctant as the darkness waned sometime during our quiet steps through the undergrowth.
 
Even with his gaze on the dark space between the distant trees he’s undistracted, sensing. On another day not far off I will encourage this same heightened awareness while exploring with my own kids.
 
You’re looking for a depression down a ridge that affords an ample view. You follow the position of the sun so it won’t be in your eyes once it comes up through the canopy lining the sloping horizon of the ridgeline.
 
You find your protected spot and you begin to wait. And silent hours pass.
 
Expectancy is a wonder. You can wait so long you forget your legs and the tingling. You may even drift off only to realize in sudden shock that everything has changed. Or it hasn’t yet but it could. Because everything and always is buzzing with it.
 
But the longer that passes the less likely it seems anything will happen, even right up to the moment in the story that will be recounted often over the years, each time becoming somehow both rounder and more solid.
 
A foursome of deer, slow, watchful, not 100 yards off, parades into the clearing from the thicket. And a big buck leads them, carrying in on his large twin forks what suddenly flickers to my awareness as the shiny weapon rises quick, fluid, and I straighten my thin arm and plead a whisper.
 
“Don’t shoot him, Dad!”
 
He doesn’t flinch. Doesn’t look at me. The deer continue their halting steps.
 
He doesn’t argue. Just lowers the gun.
 
Greater love has no man than this, that he should lay down his gun for his son. 

I’m so disparate, so wholly other, I should repel, but my father, compassion unfailing, his mercies are new every morning. The unlikely moment of all our effort has come and passed by and may never come again and I've mangled it. I'm Fern crying over Wilbur the pig; I'm the ridiculous old woman in The Fox and the Hound.

I've become the wrong character in the stories–and he's surely sorry he's let me read them now. And I know what's in the Happy Meals.

But for that force he felt, a power held but not grasped, in appreciation of something else, something otherwise unrelated, I may not have learned this lesson until much later–the reverence due for that fragile charge between two things.

Life brings endless opportunities to trade relationships. The test of a true hunter is in how well he listens.

Let scientists discover why relationships build intelligence and compassion. Let others sing “It’s love that makes the world go around.” I have seen this fearsome force and it is wholly mystery, pure and clear.
 
I know the power in a story. And I will work to write it on hearts all my life.
 
It’s easily forgotten, carrying your familiar stories with you every day, but it's an affective spark that could breathe new life into existence.

Because not everyone hears it, but we all sense it's there, the question–what is this attraction to what so repels? 

Is the answer in the question, there in that spark of recognition?

Is this why a story is always ultimately about hope?

Wait expectantly, dear hunter. Find your stories, these captured sparks arcing through all his created wonders.