An important thing I learned from being laughed at

Everyone laughed, and I was the butt of the joke. I hated it. But I realized something about life. 

A group of us sat around a large circular dining table, and a newly married couple started talking about how they met. It was a great story with surprising twists and turns. And then a guy shared about him and his girlfriend and how he wasn’t sure how it was going to work out. So I said something from my story to comfort him. It was revealing and somewhat vulnerable. But I thought it would help him, so I put myself out there. Then he turned it around and made it into a joke about me–and everyone laughed heartily.

It felt like being kids on the playground, except we were in our thirties and forties. It was silly, but real.  

It’s most introverts nightmare—to be outed, and publicly, and I’m an introvert. The embarrassment didn’t show on my face. But it was there, along with disappointment and disdain.

Afterward, as I played the moment over in my head more times than I’d like to admit, I was tempted to stop opening myself up to others. It seemed futile, useless. But truth be told, the utility had nothing to do with my reaction; I just wanted to protect myself. 

And I realized that I shouldn’t let any person stop me from giving of myself, being vulnerable, sharing my story—even the revealing parts—and living as I ought. Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly (affiliate), writes that vulnerability is fundamental to our being.

“Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.”

Brené Brown

We shouldn’t let others stop us from sharing our lives, opening our hearts, living with purpose. The cost is too high: we would lose you.

You have ideas, insights, knowledge, feelings, stories that can impact those around you for good. They are the inner workings you’ve been ruminating on over the years. Share them. Yes, someone may make you the butt of their joke; they may transport you back to middle school. But that doesn’t diminish the great value you can give to the world. Give generously.

Be vulnerable.

The truth you need to know about your pain

Pain. It marks and makes us.

The death of a loved one, the breaking of love, the broken promises, the promising future never realized, the realization that your body won’t stop aching…causes us great grief; but they often act as the compass of life, directing us to our true north.

Who would we be without it? We are marked, like babes at birth.

We yearn for it to disappear, though. How could we not? It’s pain. If we could rid ourselves of it, we would in a moment, a breath. Instead, we lie awake, swallowed in darkness—pining—dreaming of healing, sustained relief, a whole wholeness, love.

It’s there. We can feel it, sensing that relief is near, and sometimes we find it. But some pains are beyond the healing found in this world, now. That adds to our suffering; it’s the pain of pain.

But it’s that ache that grows us, molds us, deepens us, enrich us. It’s our seasoning. By it, our life’s song is more sonorous—richer. It lets us resonate and connect with others, so we can weep when they weep and rejoice when they rejoice. Our pain unites us.

Nevertheless, I believe there is a place where whole wholeness comes, washing over us like the inevitable tide washes the shore. And we will bathe in it like a hot bath in winter, relief, but not temporary—eternal.

For now, we must move forward through the pain, forsaking bitterness, jealousy, hopelessness. Forsake them. Choose to grow. Ask for help. Pray. Seek, and you shall find. And, in the process, you will be surprised.

Our pain is like the pangs of childbirth, throbbing, ornery, agonizing. But it births something, no, someone amazing.

You.


Book Recommendations:
Here are some books that I found very helpful in dealing with and thinking about pain. Now, to be upfront, these are coming from a Christian framework. Nonetheless, they are immensely beneficial.


1) Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis (affiliate): This is a philosophical look into the subject and answers the big questions about pain that we all have.
2) A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis (affiliate): After Lewis’s wife died, he wrote this book. It’s raw and beautiful.


This post is dedicated to Michelle and Matt, college friends who just lost their 19 year old son. My heart breaks.

One of the most powerful things you can do for yourself: Forgive

We all make mistakes, and we forgive others. But often forgiving ourselves is harder. 

But we must. 

Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s that thing you did or continue doing that you can’t release and forgive yourself. Instead, you punish. 

I know all about that. 

Defiance marked my teenage face, as I screamed at her. She stopped speaking. And I started calling my mom unspeakable names, unleashing words like armed missiles. She would flee, and I would seethe. It was ugly; I was ugly. 

In college, I started to follow Jesus and accepted his forgiveness. But I would always say that there was one thing I could not forgive, and that was the way I treated my mom. 

So I held on to my guilt and shame. Unknowingly, I beat myself up, launching armed missiles at myself, perpetuating an old wound. It was ugly; I was ugly. 

Then one day, some guy I knew talked to me. And somehow we got on this subject, and he said something that I would never forget, “If God can forgive you for everything, why can’t you forgive yourself? Are you better than God?” 

I was stunned. 

The truth of his statement and the utter blindness of my behavior and mindset were stunning to me. The understanding washed over me like a wave washes over you on the seashore. 

My burden melted away from me; I was free. 

What I didn’t expect was how much better I was going to feel. The quickness and sharpness of my anger lost its snap and edge. My missiles were disarmed. I felt calmer and was kinder to others, to myself. 

It was work, though. It wasn’t just a one and done kind of thing. I had to continually forgive myself, reminding myself of what my friend told me, remembering that it was foolish to beat myself up over my past failings. 

And slowly over the years, I wasn’t just continually forgiving myself; I forgave myself. 

Forgive yourself. Holding onto your failings, shame, sin doesn’t do anyone good. It certainly does you no good. 

It’s counterintuitive to think that if I forgive myself that I will become a better person. It’s tempting to believe that if I just keep on lashing myself with the past, I’ll get better; but it doesn’t work that way. We don’t get better. We get worse. 

Shame begets shame; unkindness begets unkindness. It’s a cycle–vicious and bloody. 

It takes a radical act to break it.

Forgiveness is the only door through which true healing comes. And that’s exactly what we need to mend our wounds and cease to perpetuate them. We need balm and bandage. We need to forgive ourselves. 

And you will find that you will no longer see yourself as that person who did that terrible thing. You will see yourself as a person who can change. You will no longer be trapped in the cage of the past. You will be released to live anew. 

You will be free. 

What do you think about fear?

Fear is no way to live. It keeps you from doing what you want, what you should do. 

It causes you to freeze when the moment calls for moving forward. You hide when revealing yourself is better.

Safety is not always sound. 

Sure, it protects us from risk, from possibly dying, losing. 

But living in fear doesn’t help us win. Staying alive doesn’t mean you’re living. 

Open your heart, put yourself out there, get in the game, do. 

There is more to fear than just failure, pain, and death. 

It’s not living.

A love poem to the haters

To the haters,

It’s tempting to want to hate you back. But that’s useless. 

It won’t help anything. All it does is perpetuate the hate between us. And that’s foolish. 

Instead, I will say that I love you. I feel for you and with you. I sense your pain. 

Isn’t that what causes the hate within—the pain?

I’ve been there—full of hate and fury—and it’s contagious. You can’t help but spread it to others. It’s all you have to give; it’s what you’ve been given. 

No, I will not hate you back. I will fight myself, my reactions, my need for justice, my hate. It won’t be perfect. In fact, I will be terrible at it. But I will aim to love. 

For I was loved with a divine love even when I hated, rebelled, writhed. 

I tasted a goodness that transcends hate and heals pain, freely offered in the Son of God. 

For he was hated by those who should have loved him, rejected by those who should have embraced him, killed by those who should have worshiped him. 

Love loved me when I hated him. 

How can I not love you? 

Improve your life with this one simple word

“No.” 

It’s hard to say it. It’s true. 

We want to help everyone; we want them to like us; we don’t want them to think badly of us. So we say yes. 

But the truth is that we can’t help anyone very well when we are overwhelmed. And always saying yes is overwhelming. 

And that’s no way to live. We don’t want that. Yes obligates. Yes binds. Yes is busy. 

But no isn’t like that. No frees. No empowers. No opens. 

Saying no gives us the space to say yes to what we are called to do, do what we believe we ought to do, become who we were meant to be. 

Doing this is a decision. You can choose to have a manageable schedule, space to think, time to rest, freedom to be. 

Yes or no.

It’s your choice. 

The most exciting thing about boredom

Being bored is a gift; it’s an opportunity. 

Boredom is space, freedom, capacity. It’s the ability to move around, try new things, learn, and, best of all, create. 

When you’re busy, you are trapped. You have obligations, responsibilities. You have to do such and such for so and so. 

When you’re bored, your time is open. 

The key is to fill it wisely, purposely. 

You can paint a painting, write a book, make new friends, deepen existing ones, meander through a museum, lie in the grass daydreaming, read a novel, learn something new. 

Boredom means possibilities. You get to create your adventure. 

Don’t be afraid of boredom. Find it. Embrace it. Use it. 

It means you’re free.

What is the greatest greatness in life?

In the process of becoming better, it’s easy to think we are greater than we really are. And it’s one of the worst mistakes we can make, touting our strengths and toting our accomplishments. 

But the answer isn’t to think we are lesser than we are. That won’t do; it does no good. 

For we may be great. And we can become even better. And that isn’t accomplished by looking down on ourselves or thinking that we are unworthy or incapable. No. 

So what do we do instead? 

We ought to think others better than ourselves. Hold them up, serve them, care for them, and use our greatness to help them become greater than they imagined. 

Service and love subdues pride. 

And what is interesting is in doing that, you will find that people will tout your strengths and tote your accomplishments for you. 

They will do it out of love. 

And the reward you will reap may or may not be riches, but it will be fullness. You can feel whole, blessed, rich, connected. 

Loving others is the greatest greatness.

Failure is the secret to success

Failure doesn’t have to be the end; it can be a start to something better.  

Failing sucks—no doubt. It’s something we all want to avoid. And after we’ve failed, we may be tempted to quit, stop trying, hide. But that would be a mistake.

For greater success is forged from the ashes of failure. 

He wanted to be CEO of Apple, the company he helped start, but his board didn’t think he was ready. Then Steve Jobs was fired, setting his life in a direction he never anticipated nor planned for, at all. But his firing led him to start NeXT, buying and growing Pixar, getting married, and, finally, Apple bought NeXT which brought Jobs back to his first company and led him to become its CEO. 

That’s not how Jobs scripted his life. But it ended up being better than he planned it, all because he got fired and didn’t give up. 

Failure, for Jobs, was the beginning of something new, something better. He didn’t know it at the time. But he continued to take risks and try to add value to the world. He continued to work. And he accomplished more than he would have if he would have stayed at Apple.  

Jobs’ failure multiplied his successes. Later in his life, Jobs called getting fired the best thing that happened to him. If he stayed at Apple would we have Pixar, Toy Story, and all of the other animated movies that we love? Probably not. 

When we fail, we must remember that failure isn’t the end. It’s painful, yes; it’s embarrassing; it sucks. But if we keep moving forward and pushing ourselves, we can still succeed. But even more so we have a higher chance of multiplying our successes. 

You may not become a CEO of one of the most valuable companies in the world, instrumental in and largest stockholder of the best animation studio in the world, or even an entrepreneur. But failure can still shape a life you never imagined for yourself. 

It happens because failure creates change. Just as it did in Jobs’ life, failing changes your life and work. It shakes things up. Your career, work, trajectory, etc. is forced in directions you never saw coming. But, in that lies opportunities to see things afresh, gain learnings, try new things. And you will be surprised by what you can produce, who you can become.

What changes will, or should, occur for you isn’t for me to say, but there is one thing for sure that will change. And it’s this.  

You. 

You will be different. Failure wounds, and you will have scars. Forgetting what happened is a fool’s errand. The memories won’t leave you. But that can be a good thing. 

You will see the world, others, yourself differently. The pain you experienced will be a part of your story irrevocably. And, after you’ve survived the agony, you will see yourself anew. You can be stronger, better, more capable. 

And as life presents new bumps and bends in your path, you will find navigating them easier. And you will be able to do things you never thought you could do. 

If you don’t allow failure to crush you completely, it can become an experience that helps you soar to heights you never thought you could reach. Because you are changed, better, greater. 

Pushing through failure helps us become the people we are meant to be. It’s an essential part of reaching our potential, the potential we never even knew he had, nor ever could have achieved without the pain of failure. 

C.S. Lewis is one of my literary heroes. He is one of the greatest thinkers and writers ever to marry ink to paper. 

But, he was a loser. 

Well, he wasn’t really, but he did lose. And it did something to him. 

He considered himself a Christian apologist, which is a fancy word for someone who defends his or her faith. Lewis wrote some of the best works that articulate what Christians believe about Jesus and why. 

Then in a public debate, in a club Lewis was president of at Oxford, he and a new female professor debated on one of his positions that he wrote about in one of his books. 

And he lost. 

It’s hard to say what it did to him. Some say that he questioned his ability to be a Christian apologist and had a lot of self-doubt. Others doubt that. Whatever happened to Lewis, we can be sure that it did do something to him and his work. It changed him. Just look at his bibliography. 

He was on a tear, writing a lot of Christian nonfiction. Then, after the debate, he stopped. And he started writing children’s books. 

Chronicles of Narnia to be precise. 

And Narnia became his most successful work in terms of popularity. If Lewis never lost that debate, it’s hard to know if Narnia would have ever existed. Out of the ashes of defeat, Lewis wrote his most beloved work. 

C.S. Lewis didn’t know what his failure would produce at the time. He probably did feel humiliated, embarrassed, or bad, at least. Losing hurts. 

Lewis stopped publishing nonfiction for a long time, but he didn’t stop writing. He was knocked down. But he got up and started anew. And children all over the world were (and continue to be) blessed. 

Failure can kill. It can destroy our drive, our will, our hopes, our loves. But we can’t let it snuff us out. We must move forward. Writers must continue writing, even if they are “just” children’s books; entrepreneurs must continue starting businesses; we all must continue moving forward. 

Remember that failure is a part of the process toward success. It’s an invitation to progress. 

In my life, there have been many times when I just wanted to pack up all of my toys and check out. I wanted to quit. I didn’t just want to stop school, work, relationships; I wanted out of life. 

I do not doubt that you’ve had your fair share of pain. You’ve lost. You’ve felt shame. You’ve felt stupid. And all you want to do is hide and never come back out. 

Failures will change us. And, if we let them, we won’t just become different; we will be better. If we continue to push forward, we progress to not only to becoming better than we were before but better than we could have ever imagined ourselves to be. 

Failure isn’t just falling down.

It’s where we rise up.

Suffering is one of the best ways to find meaning

Suffering defines us, but we get to choose its definition. 

That’s what Victor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning (affiliate link) wanted us to know. 

He told his story of suffering and survival, from a personal perspective but also as a psychiatrist. It was sad, but, more than that, it was profound.

What we suffer isn’t something we like to post on social media. Instead, we hide, ignore, and are ashamed of it. Suffering can be a subject that brings shame, embarrassment, negativity. 

But, for Frankl, it’s an opportunity. Frankl writes that when we suffer, we have one of life’s greatest opportunities to find meaning by how we respond to it. 

Suffering affords us a choice. You aren’t just a victim when you are put under pain. You may not be able to control the pain you are experiencing, but you can control how you will respond to it. You may believe that you can’t help but be bitter, angry, depressed, sad, etc. when the worst of times come. But that’s not true. You get to decide your response. You aren’t just a victim; you are an agent. Your suffering can’t rob you of that. 

Harold Kushner, a rabbi who wrote the Forward in the book, summed up Frankl’s idea of this choice: “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you,” (p32).

This Thursday morning was exciting: We were taking our firstborn to his first day in Kindergarten. The air was crisp and cool and beautiful. We walked and chatted as we wound our way through the narrow streets lined with brick townhouses, trees, and cobblestones. 

Approaching a major intersection, we saw our crosswalk lady, Dulce. She wore her little hat, blue uniform with her fluorescent vest as she said hello to all of the kids by name. It was the first time we had seen her since summer vacation started. 

So we stopped and asked her how her summer was. She told us heart-wrenching news. 

Her son died. 

He was 36 years old, and an “accident” took him in June. She found out when she was sitting in a Starbucks waiting for her next shift. Then she got the call. After she answered, her life changed unalterably. 

“God is with me, ju know. If I no have him, I would you know…not be ok,” she told my wife and me. “God makes me strong, more strong, ju know.” 

I do know. 

When I was eight, cancer took my father. And it wasn’t the funeral that was the hardest. It was every Father’s Day that proceeded when my friends would have a great day with their dad’s, and I watched TV. 

But, over the years of struggle and loneliness, something was happening inside of me. Bitterness did not hold me. That would have killed me.

Instead, by God’s grace, my life transformed. As I grew, my pain forged in me the sense that life is not only fragile; it is also precious: It can be snatched away from us in a breath. And I chose (and continue to choose) to be grateful for every day I get to be alive. I, too, with Dulce, was getting “more strong.”

Frankl chose to transcend the concentration camps. He accomplished that by envisioning himself seeing his wife again after the war was over, caressing her face, holding her hand, laughing with her. It helped him bear the once a day “meal” of watery broth, constant hunger and cold, wearing rags and shoes with holes in the winter, endless work, the dehumanization by the SS, and living under the threat of death and beatings every moment of every day. Frankl also decided to use his knowledge and skills as a physician to serve his fellow humans; he tried to help as many as he could survive with him. He also envisioned himself lecturing about his learnings from Auschwitz, passing on his insights into humanity to the next generations. His meaning was to love his wife, help his fellow humans, and to teach. Through his suffering, he learned his meaning.

“He who has a Why to live can bear almost any How,” Frankl repeats this Nietzsche quote throughout his book. We will all suffer, but not all of us have a Why to live through suffering. Frankl believes that it’s critical to find meaning so that you can endure. When Frankl observed his friends who suffered with him in the camps, he noticed that those who stopped seeing meaning tended to die quickly. They just stopped trying. Meaning can mean the difference between life and death. 

Suffering isn’t just a choice; it’s a chance to change and become a better person. Frankl states, “Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph” (p146). 

Don’t we all want to grow beyond and transcend ourselves? Don’t we want to progress, become better as people, partners, parents, friends, at work, in our communities, at home? Frankl believes that suffering is one of the most significant ways to do that. 

You don’t need to have gone through the Holocaust, lost a child or parent to suffer. 

It happens to us every day, in every experience of shame, inadequacy, failure. You suffer when you lose your job or feel like you aren’t good enough to keep it, or when you are in a marriage that makes you feel like crap or experience isolation.   

No matter what we believe, we all have an opportunity in suffering. Frankl’s account and thoughts are rich, deep, and profound. 

I hope you read his book. 

I hope you suffer well. 

And may you find meaning in your life, and suffering.  

Most of all, I hope you triumph.