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Life’s dark journey

Life’s dark journey

Imagine yourself in a dark tunnel, so narrow you can barely turn around. There are no turns, no deviation in altitude – just a long, straight, pitch-black tunnel that you have to travel. When you scream out, your voice bounces back joining the cacophony of voices echoing in your head. You see no way out, no way in, no relief in sight.

Now, picture this subtle nuance of your dark journey – you can see the smiles of those on the outside. You can hear the laughter, witness the successes and jubilation. All those things you long for are right there – just on the outside of your personal hell. Try as you might, you can’t reach out and join the celebrations, but you can experience them all from the outside looking in. Stop and think what a life like this must be like.

I am not a counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist. I am just another face on this big planet of our’s who was shaken by the recent tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. While I may have never met either of them or have any idea what they were going through, the subject of suicide is one for which I have strong feelings. For you see, I imagine these two amazing people were traveling down their own dark tunnel. And as is normally the case, I have heard words to describe Spade and Bourdain which I simply think are unfair. While you may disagree with me, and I am sure many will, I am going to share some things I believe to be true.

First, I often hear people use the word selfish to describe those who take their own lives. I would ask you to think just the opposite. Many of the people who I have known – personally or by reputation – who commit suicide are the most selfless people I know. It seems they are constantly doing things for those around them to make them happy or to assist in making life easier. As has been said before, I think this is because people contemplating suicide know how miserable life can be, so they do everything the can to make others happy so they never know the misery of traveling life’s dark tunnel. Selfish? No, these people are many times selfless to the point that they exhaust all hope that their life will ever be better. So stop and think about those around you who seem to spend their lives trying to make others smile and laugh – maybe they need someone to help them do those things.

Second, you will hear that people who commit suicide are chicken or cowardice. Those words anger me no end. Put yourself in their shoes. Stop and think what it must be like slogging through that dark tunnel never feeling the joy and happiness of those around them. Imagine what it must be like to drag yourself out of bed every morning just hoping beyond hope that one little thing goes right. I believe it takes an immense amount of courage and strength to go through life like this. And imagine the immense amount of courage it must take to end your own life. It’s one thing to ponder ending your life; but a completely different thing to actually go through with it.

Third is the thought that suicide is a sin for which there is no forgiveness. I will never be one to sit and believe I know the Lord’s mind and plan for anyone’s life. I barely know what is going on in my life, so why would I have the gall to judge someone’s actions. I prefer to think that God approaches each and every life individually. Just because a person was rich and famous doesn’t mean they were happy. Their tunnel could have been long, lonely and horrible and the only person who can know that is God. I believe He will judge these people knowing all the facts – something none of us can do.

For many people, contemplating suicide is all they do. They think about it, pondering what life would be like if they weren’t in it. Some will even go as far as to plan how they would go. But these people still have a sliver – albeit small – of hope. It’s that slight hope of things getting better that keeps them shuffling down the dark tunnel. The thought that the one person they want to acknowledge them might just smile or talk to them. The hope that all the hard work they do will be recognized and they might be appreciated for their efforts. So that slim chance of something good coming keeps them going.

However, there comes a time when depressed and hurting people reach the end of the tunnel. There is no door to let them out. There is no hand reaching out to help. It’s at this point that people lose all hope. Those people who they desperately tried to impress, love, help, influence paid them no mind. All that work they did in desperate need of getting some affirmation simply led to more and more work with no one really appreciating it. All their efforts were for naught. Life for people at this point is like a candle that slowly has burned itself out, and the only thing they know is bringing it to a sad and tragic end.

For a lucky few, their hope perseveres and someone reaches out and helps them get the help they desperately need. These people escape the tunnel and are able to see their slim hope begin to flourish. But the truth is the tunnel never completely disappears. Even for those who never reach the tragic end of suicide, they still remember the journey. They can still be haunted by their past – the dark feelings of failure, emptiness, pain and heartache. Each day is a new journey in hopes of never returning to the tunnel.

The one thing I know to be true is you never really know what a person is going through. You can never know the depth of pain, heartache and anguish a person is suffering. For you see, many of us try to hide those ugly things. You don’t want people to see you as “weak” or “cowardice.” While the real hope is that at least one person sees through the veil of fake happiness and reaches out to help.

Is suicide the answer? I think what we need to ask ourselves is – what is the real question? If you were traveling down your own dark tunnel with no help and merely the slightest sliver of hope would you know anything else? Suicide is an ever-growing reality in our society – one for which I don’t have the answers. The tunnel is dark and long, but we need to find a way to help those who desperately need it before their tunnel comes to a sad and tragic end.

 

Keep living life

Keep living life

One thing is certain about life – it never stops. It can come at you fast with moments of joy being eclipsed by times of intense sorrow. One day you can be on the mountaintop and the next in the darkest valley. It won’t matter how well you eat, how much rest you get or how much money you have in the bank – life will throw things at you for which you won’t be ready.

Unfortunately, when times are rough, there will not always be someone there to help. In fact, there may even be those who don’t care about your plight. In most cases, your employer cares little about your child’s illness or your financial difficulties. They only care that you make your shift on time. Your co-workers probably are more concerned about you doing your work so they don’t have to. Even the closest of friends may not be able to help because they may be going through their own personal hell.

So what can you do? When it appears life’s storm is too much to survive, what then? Much like a person adrift at sea, you have to keep fighting. If the person lost in the ocean doesn’t battle for survival, there is a very good chance he or she will die unless someone is lucky enough to find them. When we feel life has given us more than we can handle, we need to keep on keeping on. We have to wake up each morning, get out of bed and keep fighting. We have to take care of ourselves when no one else can.

It’s far too easy when times are tough to pack up your tent and surrender. It seems the best course of action when we are down is to curl up in the fetal position and hide. But here’s the thing, even when you do that life doesn’t stop. It is going to keep coming at you in waves – some good, some bad. No matter how much you try to avoid life you can’t. You can’t sit around waiting for the good times and not expect there to be bad. You have to keep living life no matter the circumstances.

So if today things in life are not as you would like, look in the mirror and tell yourself these two simple words – keep fighting! Keep living life no matter the situation. Strive to be a better person today than you were yesterday. Yes, seek help from those who can help you. Yes, pray to the one who is always there to assist in our times of need and times of joy. But never give up on yourself. Never give up fighting. Never give up living life. You only go around once, so keep fighting to make it the best life you can.

What patience?

What patience?

The old saying is patience is a virtue. I prefer to think of patience as a test that I flunk each and every day. Not a day goes by where something or someone doesn’t cause me to lose my patience. And then I am constantly reminded that is one more “test” I have failed. I mean, come on – minute rice takes 45 seconds too long to make. I shave my head because I don’t have the patience to comb my hair. Seriously!

I have no idea why I am patience deficient. I guess I have been for as long as I can remember, but I am not patient enough to think about it for long. Traffic. Lines at the grocery store. Poor Wi-Fi connection. People who would rather talk than work. On and on I can list the things that try my patience. In fact, I could probably spend countless days making a list if I was just patient enough to sit and do it.

I am not even patient enough to enjoy a good meal. I eat so fast one would think that I had never seen food before. And don’t even ask me to sit in your lobby waiting for an hour to eat so I can be done in less than 10 minutes – not going to happen. That kind of commitment to a meal takes patience, and I ain’t got it.

And don’t even get me started with being patient with those who call themselves leaders. Whether it’s in the workplace or the government, I have zero time for those who can talk the talk but can’t walk the walk. Talk about a serious patience explosion. I have no time for those windbags at all. My patience wears extra thin with those who can’t do anything more than talk a big game.

OK, yes, I know I need to be more patient. Yes, I must be more patient with those around me who can’t live up to my unrealistic expectations. But please don’t ask me to pray for patience. The one thing I have learned through the years is that is a bad idea. If I pray for patience, I am going to face even more tests of my nonexistent patience. And that really tries my patience. And, no, I am not going to make it my New Year’s resolution.

I think I need to wrap this up now because I am not patient enough to keep trying to tell you about how I don’t have any patience. Hopefully you had enough patience to make it through this. As for me, I guess I will have to hope one day I find the time to be patient enough to look for patience. Come on light turn green already!!

No one to blame

No one to blame

I am no longer dreaming of a white Christmas. No, we have not been hit by a massive snowstorm causing all the bread and milk to disappear in the South. Instead, I turned my kitchen white this morning because I am an idiot. You see, if you go to shake up the coffee creamer and don’t check to make sure the lid is on tight, well …

As is the case I am sure with many of us, when we do something stupid we look for someone to blame. Unfortunately, I didn’t have to look long to find the responsible party. I could blame someone else in my house for not closing the lid, but I was the one who just checked to make sure the seal had been removed. I could blame the company for making a terrible lid, but that line of thinking would be faulty. I only had myself to blame for the sticky mess that now had my black sweatshirt spotted white and smelling of cinnamon roll.

The unfortunate white out reminded me of a critical life lesson – we all look for someone to blame when life doesn’t go as planned. Certainly there are times when things are not of our doing. The person running the red light who hits our car is not our fault. The company going bankrupt causing people to lose their jobs is not their fault (entirely). The storm that damages your house again is not your fault. And we could sit around playing the blame game and pointing fingers, but would it do any good?

You see, finding someone to blame doesn’t change the situation. Sure, I wouldn’t feel like the complete moron I am if I could blame someone else for my creamer conundrum. But that wouldn’t change the fact that creamer was everywhere and needed cleaned up. All that would happen if I had someone else to blame is I would be angry and sticky – what would that solve?

There will always be unfortunate circumstances in life – and some will be completely our own doing. Wasting time trying to find someone to blame would simply be counterproductive. Passing blame and complaining about what someone did – or didn’t – do is merely a waste of time. What we need to do is pick up the pieces and move on. Just as I had to clean up the mess I made in my kitchen, we need to sweep up the messes life makes from time to time and keep living life.

As Christmas approaches, are you sitting around blaming someone for the troubles in your life? Have you taken a moment to look in the mirror and see if you are really to blame? Forgive whoever needs forgiven and quit wasting time playing the blame game. Life is not going to stop while you point fingers, so clean up the mess and move on. You will find life is more enjoyable and productive if you do.

Why not?

Why not?

I have hesitated to put into words the feelings I am about to share. I am about to wade into the deep end of the pool, and I know by the time I finish some of you may be ready to hold my head under until the bubbles stop. That’s OK; this is a topic that is dividing not only our country but the world. But I am going to share anyway, and I hope you take these words with the spirit intended and not as me trying to stir the pot.

Before I go any further, I am not here to start an argument about the weapon chosen to take human lives in Texas. Devin Kelley could just as easily have stolen a semi and drove it into the Sutherland Springs church killing scores of people. He could have mixed pounds of fertilizer with other chemicals and blown up the building. He could have used a large knife to kill innocent people. But he chose a gun as his weapon. And it was just that – a weapon. So this is not about the weapon but the event.

Now, attacks on innocent lives are happening with regularity around the world and many times the first question people ask is why. Now, not to be crude or uncaring, but I think the question that comes to me first is why not. I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon or some doom-and-gloomer, but to me it is a miracle more things like this don’t happen. And, again, it has nothing to do with the weapon these people choose.

Here is my thought on this – people are quick to label these mass murderers or terrorists as having mental issues. Well, of course they do! You have to be a little off to willingly take countless innocent lives. I would like to think no sane person wakes up in the morning thinking acts like this are acceptable. These individuals have issues that need to be addressed, and unfortunately, they often are not.

As a society, we are failing those who need us most. Maybe it’s because we are scared to confront someone who we know needs help. Maybe we don’t know where to turn to get them help. Or maybe we just don’t want to get involved. No matter the excuse, we are failing people who need help, and too often lately these people spiral out of control and others pay the price. We need to change the way we see mental illness and do more to help those in need.

When a friend or loved one has a physical issue, we encourage him or her to seek medical help. When they are unable to do so for themselves, we call the appropriate medical authorities. Why are we not as willing to do so for those who are suffering from mental issues? When did we become so concerned about political correctness as to turn our backs on someone in desperate need?

In a world marked by hatred and division, is it any wonder that these situations happen? People who already are suffering are being bombarded with hatred and violence every time they watch the news or pick up a paper. In a fragile condition mentally already, they are moved by these images and accounts thinking that might just solve their problem. Often these individuals have lost the ability to think clearly because of whatever demons they are battling, and without help, may make deadly decisions.

I am not so naive as to think that better mental health care will solve all the world’s problems. There always will be radicals driven to violence by their beliefs or the ideology they choose to follow. But I do believe that if we can help those who desperately need it we might just be able to stop one or two of these individuals. And don’t you think the people of Texas would be much better off today if someone had helped Mr. Kelley get the help he obviously needed.

Folks, you are not being intrusive or meddlesome by trying to help someone with mental illness. You are showing them the ultimate act of love and caring by encouraging them to seek help – or in extreme cases, calling someone in authority to force them to get help. We can no longer ignore the plight of the mentally ill. We do so at our own risk, and to the risk of countless innocent people. It’s time to stop asking why these things happen and do what we can to prevent them from happening. Why not help? Why not be part of the solution? Why not?

If I only had a brain…

If I only had a brain…

As I sit here and listen to music that takes me back to a simpler time, I am asking myself – if I could go back to those days, what would I do differently? Laugh more? Love deeper? Live life more fully? What would I change if I was able to go back and do so?

While I would certainly do all of those things I have mentioned, there is one thing I am convinced I would do if I could turn back time – I would think more. Now lest you think am an idiot – and believe me, I am sure there are many people who think I am just that – it wasn’t like I didn’t think at all. I do see myself more like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz than the other characters, but I do have a brain. Trouble is I just didn’t use it enough.

Like many young people, I relied on what others were telling me rather than thinking for myself. While I do believe we need to seek out wise counsel, I’m not sure I was always hearing from wise people. What others said sounded good and many times it was easier for me to roll with what they thought than to think for myself. You see, thinking is hard work. You actually have to stop having fun and concentrate. Unfortunately for me, that was not always high on my to-do list.

Now, I don’t have anyone to blame for the poor decisions I have made in life other than myself. It was my choice to not think (or not think enough) about the choices I was making. It was my laziness that caused me to simply rely on other’s advice or follow the first thing that came to mind. I chose to dance around and sing, “If I only had a brain.” Again, like many of us, I’m not stupid – I just didn’t think about what would happen if I made certain decisions.

So, what now? All that not thinking has gotten me to where I am today – what should I do now? Simple – think more. Be more careful with my choices. Take the time necessary to analyze the major decisions of life rather than jump at the first thought. Seek “wise” counsel from people I know I can trust and who have proven themselves worthy of that trust over the years. I have to use my head for more than a hat rack if things are to change.

For some people things like laughing, loving, living carefree come easy. But thinking can be a real challenge. It’s not that they aren’t smart. It’s just they often can’t slow down from living life and take time to ponder what it is they are to do. And so, for me, I believe today I will think about thinking. Then and only then can I use the brain the good Lord gave me for more than remembering song lyrics from a day gone by.

 

I got nothing

I got nothing

“Not sure how one is supposed to keep going when it is one disappointment after the next.”

I read those words yesterday and it was a like gut punch that left me gasping for air. A dear friend expressing the despair of their heart as life seems to be overwhelming them. I replied simply, “I will pray for you.” That was all I said, and honestly, that was all I could say.

Now, I didn’t type those words because it is the “Christian thing to do.” Yes, we should pray for one another when able. But my simple answer meant much more than that. You see, I am not the brightest bulb in the lamp. In fact, at times I wonder if my lamp even has a bulb. One thing I do know, however, is I can’t offer you something I don’t have myself. For the words my friend uttered I have no answer.

I will not offer a pithy saying or solution when I myself don’t have one. I also am wondering how one can keep going when it feels like life’s storm is overwhelming you. When you are in the darkness all you see is dark. When you are lost in the wilderness all you see are trees. When storms rage around you there is no sun peaking through the clouds. It is just pain, despair, heartache, disappointment. No pithy saying, cute gif or pat answer is going to make things any different.

We must be careful offering advice to one who is being battered by life’s storms. We can never know how much pain and suffering those around us are going through. I know for a fact there are people around me who are going through and have gone through far more difficult times than which I am suffering. Who am I to offer some simplistic answer to help them through their difficulties? But I can pray to one who knows all and sees all.

Prayer is not the last thing we should do; it is the first thing we should do. Prayer is not a last resort; it often is our only resort. And when you are the one going through trying times it can be difficult, dare I say impossible, to pray. The darkness envelopes you until you are left paralyzed, unable to do anything. At these times, it is critical that there are those who are praying for you. Believe me, I know. It doesn’t need to be an hour-long diatribe for another; it can simply be one or two sentences uttered to a God who knows and cares.

So, when my heart broke for my friend, my brain immediately told me I got nothing for you. How can I help when my life seems to be falling apart? But after a moment of reflection I realized – I can pray. People are praying for me and I certainly can pray for a dear friend. So I did. I still have nothing as far as answers or advice, but I do know someone who can help. And I know He has everything.

Give or take

Give or take

For the sake of this post, I am going to be very simplistic. Actually, if your IQ is as low as mine, all of life is lived based on the KISS method – Keep It Simple, Stupid! Thus, I am about to “KISS” you with this post. And away we go.

The world is made up of two groups of people – givers and takers. Chances are you can see this clearly in the people around you, but you may have trouble determining which you are unless you are brutally honest with yourself. And the simple fact is this – givers always give and takers always take. Sure, there are times when people cross over a little – I mean we all eat different kinds of doughnuts from time to time, right? But, generally speaking, people are one or the other.

Takers are those who never get enough. Their paycheck is never enough. Their time off is never enough. What people do for them is never enough. They are going to constantly demand more and more from the people and the world around them. While in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with wanting more out of life, unfortunately takers many times have no consideration for the feelings of those around them. They just want more and don’t care who they take it from.

Now, givers will pour themselves out and do anything for anybody. They will continue to give even when they have nothing left to give. While it is admirable to be a giver, you can’t give if you have nothing to give. And givers will often empty themselves and still try to give which can leave them depressed because they can’t do what they are wired to do which is give.

True takers and givers will find life to often be frustrating. There is never enough to take – I mean that’s the way I feel every time I go to a pizza buffet (ha, ha). Enough really is never enough for some folks. And there is never enough to give. You will think if you just give a little more you will get the promotion or people will like you more. Take, take, take! Give, give, give! If you live life with no balance like this, life will be like sitting on a seesaw with nobody on the other end. You ain’t going nowhere.

So takers need to learn to give, and givers need to learn to take a little. As takers give to others, they will learn to better appreciate what they have and maybe not be so inconsiderate of other’s feelings. As givers take, they will be replenished so they can continue to give. Life needs to be about give AND take not give OR take. There needs to be a balance if we are to coexist in this world.

So, if you are taker, lighten up a little bit and give to someone today. You might find out it isn’t so bad to give of yourself. And, givers, take a little from someone when they offer. Now, don’t go demanding from another person – that’s what takers do – but accept something when offered. Find the necessary balance between giving and taking so you can be a better person. If we all do this, we might just find that life is a bit more enjoyable.

 

I’m afraid …

I’m afraid …

Start a sentence with “I’m afraid …” and the ending of that sentence can be almost anything. Heights, water, enclosed spaces, public speaking – on and on the answers can come. It seems there are almost as many things in life to be afraid of as there are grains of sand on the shore.

In today’s world, there seems to be even more of which to be afraid. Nearly every day something in the newspaper or television news paralyzes us with fear. Where can we go to be safe? Will it happen to me? Is my family safe from all the horrible things in the world? Fear seems to cover us like a weighted blanket that no amount of effort can cast off. It weighs many people down to the point that they stop living life.

As I look at the fears that cripple many of us there seems to be one (really two but putting them together) that has many of us locked firmly in its grasp – the fear of rejection and failure. So many bad things have happened to us that we simply are too afraid to keep trying. We have failed so many times we wonder why bother to keep trying because we are only going to fail again. Our efforts will not be good enough and we will be rejected. This fear is real and it grips many of us.

So, what we can we do? How can we set out on a new day when we are scared to leave the “safety” of our own bed? Is there a way to break free from the fear of failure? These are not easy questions. I can be trite and say you just have to get up and put one foot in front of the other. While there is truth in this statement, it is simplistic. Yes, we need to live life and keep trying. We have to realize that not everything we do is going to be successful. We must come to grips with the truth that some will reject us. But these truths don’t make the fear disappear.

However, in spite of the fear, we do indeed have to keep living. We can’t let the possibility of fear and rejection keep us locked up in our own world. Think of all the amazing things and people you will miss if you don’t try. Certainly putting yourself out there means you will be exposing yourself to fear and rejection, but you also will be giving yourself a chance to succeed and meet amazing people. You must risk greatly to succeed greatly.

Took a few minutes today to look through your Facebook feed or watch some YouTube videos of the amazing talents some people have. Some of them are mere children who have incredible gifts. Now, don’t let this overwhelm you. Instead, think of what these people had to risk. Someone may not like their talent and will ridicule their video. They might have failed in front of a live audience when they performed. Maybe they failed in the past but kept trying. In the face of fear and rejection, they pressed on. And they found success.

Start today by saying, “I’m afraid …” and then name your fear. Then, confront that fear. Begin to take steps to conquer your fear. Share that fear with a loved one or a trusted friend and ask them to help you. Take one step toward overcoming your fear. Yes, you might fail and take a step back. But keep trying – each step forward is one step closer to conquering your fear. And remember this, all of us are afraid of something. But, maybe just maybe, as we all step out together and help each other we can put some of those fears behind us.

Maybe that’s childish

Maybe that’s childish

As I have gotten older, I find that many of us “adults” often wish we were more like a child. Our aspirations to be an adult now seem misplaced. We longingly look back to the days of our youth and think if only we could go back. And the reasons for wanting to recapture those days gone by are endless.

First, we wish we had the body of a child. And, no, this is not just because our midsection now keeps us from looking down and seeing our toes. Stop and think about it – children can play outside for hours, slow down for a drink of water and a cookie, and play for several more hours without the hint of being tired. I can’t even tie my shoes without pulling a muscle. Just the simple act of getting out of bed tires me to the point of needing a good two-hour snooze. Oh to have the never-ending energy and flexibility of a child.

Second, we would love to go back to those carefree days of childhood to recess and snack time. Sure, as a youngster, we found school to be difficult at times and boring most times. But come on – it pales in comparison to the life of an adult. I mean try asking your boss to give you an hour each day to play a little dodgeball or to go outside and run around. My guess is you will get a far different response then when your teachers were begging you as a child to go outside and burn off some energy.

And let’s not even get into the stress of working for a living. Yes, I do admit that homework at times was a bit taxing and vexing, but that was nothing a game of touch football in the yard didn’t cure. Now it’s 60-hour work weeks, never-ending projects and hoping there will be more money than month. I will take a red plastic ball to the face any day over that.

Lastly, there are times we wish we had the mind of a child. Not simply because we have gotten older and are “losing our minds” (losing our memory is a more accurate description). Children have a far different view of life and the world. This probably is because they haven’t become jaded or sarcastic like many of us have. (Also, they have no idea who the Kardashians are which certainly is a good thing.) Honestly, they just live life seeking out one new adventure after another without a care in the world. As adults, many of us are trying to avoid one nightmare after another with far too many cares.

But here’s what I miss the most – the sense of humor of a child. Come on, little people laugh at anything. I mean someone falls down and they laugh. Wait – so do I. Bodily noises of any kind cause a child to break out into hysterics. Come to think of it – I do that too. The corniest jokes elicit uncontrollable laughter. Hmm, come to think of it I tell and laugh at those jokes as well.

Maybe there still is a little child left in me. Nah, I think it’s more accurate to say that I am still childish. And in some ways, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.