You Have Great Power

You are not powerless; you have a choice.

You can choose to avoid the news, build a routine, exercise, connect with a friend, read a great book—hope.

It’s not easy in this time, I get it.

Shifting your mind from focusing on the negative to healthier activities is your decision.

Decide to feed your mind stories that lift the spirit, move your body even if it’s just for a few minutes, take a walk outside, meditate, pray, get to sleep at a better hour, call someone and ask them how they’re doing, and turn off your notifications for the news.

Whatever you do, make decisions to further your health and, where you can, the health of others.

You have far more power than you may realize.

You are powerful enough to change the way you think and feel.

Lots of love,

John


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Good Grieving

It’s good to grieve. We should.

Because, you know, the new normal is too new and it shouldn’t be normal, and in general things just suck right now.

I won’t visit my mom to avoid any chances of getting her sick. But I visited a friend while standing over six feet away from him and thought that it was “intimate.” Every day I’m wondering if I got this virus and dreading that I might give it to my wife and kids. This “normal” sucks.

But I haven’t lost anyone I know. So there’s that. It’s a blessing, really. Also I haven’t gotten sick.

But there’s a strange guilt or feeling of unworthiness or sadness because I’m healthy. And it’s odd, and twisted, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Now we live in a world where those who aren’t sick feel guilty for feeling well. That’s sickening.

Then there’s the other side where those who do get the virus are shamed. They are seen as other, lesser, leper. Not only are they physically ostracized, they are emotionally as well. Loneliness kills like a killer virus. And those who fall ill shouldn’t be ill-treated.

This pandemic is sick. And it’s making us sicker than we want to be. And we’re getting desperate, even our governing officials are, too.

Just because the government is trying to open the economy doesn’t mean customers will just stroll into restaurant and grab a burger. Too many people are still afraid. And it will take more time than we think before we all feel safe again. This is not the time for desperation. We need discernment during a fight: Winning doesn’t mean we’ve won. Reaching a peak in a crisis doesn’t mean it’s peaked. When we can smell victory is when we must be most vigilant against defeat. By letting our guard down now is when we are most vulnerable to stray punch that can knock us out. This war isn’t over. We are not yet safe from this enemy.

Speaking of safety, just the idea of not worrying every time I touch some random piece of plastic or a shopping cart or whatever outside of my house or domain that I haven’t wiped down with a sanitizing wipe multiple times will feel like heaven. I mean liberty from the stress of wondering if there are invisible little bugs, on some random surface someone accidentally sneezed on, trying to kill me and stop my lungs from working would be AMAZING!

But that world is gone and it’s a longtime before we get it back.

So I grieve. I grieve for the world, for those who’ve lost loved ones, those who are still fighting for their lives and those who are on the frontlines fighting to keep others alive, for the loss of hugs and handshakes and restaurants and meeting strangers and flying in planes and touching things without wondering, “What if…?”

There is much to grieve. Let’s do it together.

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When being imperfect can be your greatest asset

Even if you are incredibly flawed, you can still succeed and even reach great heights. You just need to be one thing: Dogged. Look at Vincent Van Gogh.

For much of his life he felt like a failure, and you might be feeling like you can’t do anything right, let alone anything good. But you can. You just haven’t found what you’re good at–that thing you should do. Your parents tell you to do this or that career. So you do it. You see your friends succeeding in that or this thing. So you do it. But none of them work for you. You fail or feel unsatisfied. And you feel defeated, unworthy, washed up. But you’re not. Don’t give up. Keep looking, like Van Gogh. You can find that thing you should do. Keep digging like a starving dog digs for a bone in a yard.  

For, persistence pays–sometimes, literally. Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings are some of the most valued pieces ever. They go for astronomical prices. He was a genius, and his work is breathtaking. But for most of his life, even after he started painting, he was filled with pain, isolation, and scorn. He was flawed, deeply.

Van Gogh failed at almost every career path he attempted. Art dealer, teacher, clerk, pastor, and missionary. All but one ended in utter failure. One of the main reasons he failed was that he had deep-seated issues. He was mentally ill, he was painfully introverted, and he had some hygiene issues, like he wouldn’t bathe for long stretches, sometimes for weeks upon weeks. And he was argumentative and combative. It was like he couldn’t help but disagree with others. It’s not hard to see why most of the friends he had left him. Saying that he was imperfect would be an understatement. 

Before I go any further, I must say that I’m not celebrating mental illness, nor am I belittling it. Van Gogh was seriously ill and needed professional help. That’s goes without argument. He was broken, but beautiful. And the purpose in this piece is to look at his journey and see what what we can learn from it. And what I see is a man who fought.

He was persistent. Yes, he fell into deep spells of depression and felt suicidal at times, especially after failing. And he would lash out at others and dive into a pool of self-pity and wallow in it. Yet, all the while, he was working to find that thing he was supposed to do. Then he found drawing. And that went to painting. And that led to painting with oils, which is the medium through which we know his masterpieces that we see hanging on the wide white walls of lofty museums. Oil painting to him was an aha moment, an epiphany. For him, the universe went from dissonance to harmony. But, when he was using them, creating his famous work, those closest to him didn’t see genius, they thought it foolish and were appalled at how different and strange it was. Nonetheless, he continued to paint. 

I am indeed a person who struggles with many things, but to focus on one that I share with the great Mr. Van Gogh is this– combativeness. I am combative. I’ve always been that way. I seem to have some kind of disease that’s incurable. I can’t help but fight. Whenever I think someone is wrong, I’m compelled to speak and tell them how wrong I think they are. I do have friends, but many of them will attest that it’s not easy being my friend. “He’s an acquired taste,” they may say. I say that I’m flawed. 

Maybe you are, too. You may not be the nicest person; you may even be incredibly broken. You may have terrible hygiene, awful smelling breath, dress poorly, be uncouth, uncool, mentally ill, terribly unpopular, incapable of fitting in, holding a conversation, or starting one. But that doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish something great, incredible, world-changing, even. 

Every time I go to the Modern Museum of Art in New York City, I’m always compelled to visit Starry Night, arguable Van Gogh’s most famous piece. Sure, all of the tourists crowd around it, like piranhas around meat, taking pictures and leaning in, contorting their heads and bodies to get that perfect selfie, but I still go. I can’t stop myself. It’s too beautiful to miss when you’re in such proximity. It’s magnetic. It pulls you in by the luscious spirals of night, the spritely stars, golden crescent moon, sleepy little town, and the silent church that seems to anchor the whole piece. It’s magnificent.

But it was borne from deep pain–guttural and soul-wrenching. If it weren’t for that, Van Gogh may not have been able to transport such feeling into his work. And his isolation and introversion allowed him to focus and concentrate in ways that others could not. His “weaknesses” were the very things that helped him create such otherworldly art. 

Deeply flawed people are often those who are profoundly wounded. If you are one of those people, you know the anguish. Every day you live in it, suffering. If so, you need to know that it’s often you who create incredible work–the art, writings, poetry, songs, paintings. Out of the womb of pain gives birth to glorious creations. 

And, not only that, the pangs that you’ve lived with have helped you become persistent. You’ve had to learn how to deal with that ache every time you take a step, breath, or just lie there. Or you constantly feel like you don’t fit and have had to learn how to deal with your flaws or the way others treat you, fighting daily. That fight–that doggedness–helps you continue, and it can fuel your work, your life. Your pain can teach you persistence and transform your deficit into an asset.

Even that incurable disease I have for confrontation is the very thing that seems to help me confront my fears, when I feel like a failure. That combativeness helps me combat the daily struggles that I have and the temptations I face when I want to doubt myself or shrink from doing the hard things in life and work to succeed. My flaw becomes a strength.

You may be flawed, too, but those deficits also make you unique and can transform into assets, and they can even propel you onto a path toward greatness. In your despair, don’t feel defeated. Persist. Continue inching forward. And I believe you can find your oil paint, your aha moment, your epiphany. And you, too, can hear the beautiful music of the universe harmonize. 

But no matter what, fight on.


Get Van Gogh’s full story here (affiliate link). It’s an incredibly well-written biography of one of the world’s greatest artists; it inspired this post.

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. 

Surviving one of the most difficult times in my life: my bout with depression

When I was younger, I didn’t think I could ever fall into depression. Not that I wasn’t susceptible to it but that it just would happen to me. But, I was naive.

I was working at a church in Queens, New York, learning how to start churches. I was young and full of hope.

My life was a beautiful dream. I was living in the city I loved, working in the career I felt called to and I was making new friends. My future looked bright.

Then, I got fired.

Continue reading “Surviving one of the most difficult times in my life: my bout with depression”