Performing or Being?

You walk into a gathering of strangers and you are outside the comfort of your own skin: naked and emotionally exposed. You stand there thinking, “I need to talk to someone…just standing here is embarrassing.” Or maybe, “Dear heavens above…please, everyone just ignore me” and then you randomly and repetitively swipe your phone to pose as occupied. In either case, you know what happens next because it always happens—some insensitive bloke invades you. On a lucky day, it’s your barber or cosmetician—they’re the best because they already know all your silent soul-borne flaws; but, that’s not today. Today, it’s the extravert across the hall who is out to prove himself. He steps into your space, leans in for the kill and asks the question you’ve successfully avoided to this point.

Your mind locks up, then spins; your adrenaline rushes; you look for the closest escape route, but the self-consumed beast is standing between you and it—there is no way out. 

You’re forced to converse! You reach into the depths of your psyche and pull out a simple, “Fine.” That’s all you can squeeze out before the next round of discomfort kicks in. “Come on!” you tell yourself… "You’re an adult. Say something. Carry on a conversation.”  At this point, you’re forced with a decision: perform or be.

Every one gets to make this decision: perform or be. Am I going to perform so that the conversation becomes somethinganything but awkward? Or, am I going to “be” and embrace the awkwardness of “being” and realize that not every interaction has to be animated? Will I result to excessive laughter? A higher pitched voice and lots of vocal dynamics? Do I begin to stare off into middle distance to make the person uncomfortable? Do I begin sneezing so I can excuse myself? Or do I say, “Fine” and let the discomfort work itself out?

Why should you feel compelled to be a good fit for everyone you meet? What’s wrong with taking the social cue on an awkward conversation and letting it fail? Everyone deserves honor: we can usually honor any reasonable person with respectful conversation; but, not every new interaction should yield a life-long friend. It’s unrealistic. No individual can have everyone as his or her friend, despite the in-your-face flaunts of social media.

Analyze yourself and remember: performance is our default response for not “being.”  We perform to protect ourselves.  We adopt a lifestyle, a personality, a type of humor to see if it helps us fit socially, then we either resolve back to who we are or our performance becomes us. When we are secure in who we are, performance is elective. When we don’t know who we are, performance is prescriptive. 

You Are Worth More Than That!

A young girl is told by her dad that she looks fat in her clothing: her dad, functioning out of his inability to communicate. A young boy is told by his teacher that he’s not applying himself: the teacher speaking out of her inability to understand how the boy learns and frustrated that he’s not with the rest of the class.

Think back. You had one or more experiences like this; likely they were defining experiences and may even hurt now as you remember. These memories are damnable, destructive and debilitating; and, today I want you to see them for what they are.

If I were horrible at money management, would you form your investments on my advice? If my marriage were a wreck, would you formulate your marriage on my opinions? Why, then, would you allow yourself to be defined by comments others have spoken out of their inabilities? The phrase “you’re stupid” was likely told you by someone who was competitive and needed to feel better about his or her self. The phrase “you damned sissy” was probably told you by someone who felt they were failing as a role model and needed to feel better about their lack. The words “you’re fat” were likely spoken by someone who felt insecure and who needed to emotionally push you beneath them.

Why would we ever allow ourselves to be defined by words that others speak out of their inability, lack and personal failures? The answer? “Because we want to be pursued.” Because of this, we will take nearly any attention we can get when we are young, and sometimes even when we are older. The heart of a young girl is impressionable and the heart of a young boy malleable. As children, we formed our personalities on attention given—often times, drinking poison and damaging our souls for a lifetime. But as adults, we can stop this. We don’t have to believe the shallow self-serving thoughts of others. We don’t have to live according to the scripts we adopted as children.

What sewage did you swallow as a child? Ask Jesus to show you. Verbally renounce the agreement you made with the lies others deposited in your life. Pray: “Jesus, come into my life. I ask you to step into my memories, into my experiences, and crossing all time and space…destroy those debilitating experiences. I renounce my agreement with the lies…I now see that the attention given me was destructive, and I've held it close. Change my thoughts and my life: I no longer want sewage to define me.” Maybe you don't believe Jesus is real or that He will respond: then you have nothing to lose, do you?  Jesus will show up and that prayer will change your destiny.

The scripts we learn as children are not ones we are forced to keep. When we learn they are poisonous, we can vomit them up and by the transcendent power of Jesus the Son of God, by our inviting Him into those times, we can be delivered from the lies with which once we agreed. Invite Him in.

“He who has the Son has life….” – 1 John 5:12

Are You Sitting on your Wag

I have a Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier named Peanut Butter: we call her Peefee for short. Over the last nine years, she’s become more human than dog. We talk to her and believe she understands our language, we assume she can speak to us, we even convince ourselves that “she just wants to be with us” when we’re sitting around, despite the steak on our plates. After all, Peefee would never be so shallow as to spend time around us because of what we can give her—she’s way too sensitive for that. She’s often the first one to greet me when I walk in the door; always brimming with exuberance and excitement. Irrespective of any doubts I may have about her actions or emotions any other time, I know for a fact she is excited to see me at the door.

I think the fact she can express honest emotion at one point only makes the times she reacts out of selfishness that much more difficult to discern. After all, if she can greet me with happiness and excitement at the door, couldn’t that mean she really only wants to be with me, even when I’m eating steak? I end up using my own need as a filter for my perceptions of her intent.

Yesterday, Peefee was super excited…her tail was wagging ferociously; but, because she was sitting, you couldn’t see it—all you could see was her bottom jiggling back and forth: no tail; all jiggle.

How much are we like my dog? When we’re around other people, do we give them enough to believe we’re being genuine, even though our motives are not? Have we invested just enough in other people that they invite us into their confidence because they choose to believe the best of us—or because we’re always genuine? Or perhaps we are the ones that have real exuberant joy, but no one sees it because we’re sitting on our wag? I believe we all need a class in Peefeeology.

Thanks to my wife Mary for this post idea and for every day we’ve been together…you my dear are my treasure.

We All Need Hope

I’ve dealt with debilitating migraine-type headaches for years. Any time I would lift more than ten pounds…it was inevitable. I couldn’t even carry groceries from my car to the house. Two or three times each week you could find me laying on the floor of my bedroom with heat packs on my eyes, neck and upper back. When I wasn’t there, I was in the shower with the power-massage setting of the shower head shooting water squarely between my eyes: something about the pounding of the water short-circuited my brain and while there…I felt no pain. 

I would go to the shower then back to the floor; to the shower; back to the floor…12-18 hours later, I’d feel alive again. After years of this, I was growing hopeless. Would I ever be without pain?

One day, I prayed in desperation: “Lord Jesus…I need some kind of breakthrough…Please!” The best way to explain what happened next was that I experienced a download: in an instant I had an understanding that I hadn’t before. I was doing the wrong thing. I needed to lift…MORE! This happened 15 seconds before I noticed a fitness club to my left. I immediately turned my vehicle into the parking lot, walked in the front door, and hired a trainer. That was the point my life of pain changed!

Hope is a gift. I asked for it and received it. I didn’t produce it—Jesus kindly intersected my desperation and gave me the gift of hope. He helped me see the solution that was not obvious—that was actually against my understanding and experience. Hope is found at the intersection of Exasperation and Revelation: it’s when the inobvious becomes obvious at the point of our absolute lack. Jesus brought me hope; He will bring hope to you.

Disrespect: Your Teacher

Imagine…you are sitting near someone you have known for years: you can choose whether it is family or friend. Think of a specific person. Do you have them in your thoughts? Imagine a conversation with that person where they become very disrespectful. They squint their eyes; the skin over their nose crinkles; they purse their lips; the tension in their jaws increases; and, all of this happens just before they open their mouth and the tone of their voice changes. Maybe they interrupt you in mid-sentence. Maybe they continue to talk over the top of you as you try to speak. Maybe they lean toward you as they are speaking. Can you think of a time this happened?

Disrespect can be a skillful teacher if allowed. Rather than defending yourself, consider going against your knee-jerk reaction. We want to be heard. We want to be recognized. We want to be needed. We want to be understood. We want to be pursued. WE do. WE. “We” also means they--the person to whom you are listening. Jesus, the Son of God, taught humankind that it is better to give than to receive(1). That means it is better to give respect than to receive it. This likely means sacrifice. It likely means surrendering, at least temporarily, on being in power. It likely means honoring someone who may be dishonoring you. The disrespect you are experiencing is a sign: it is the other person screaming at you the following words, “I AM NOT IN CONTROL, I AM IN FEAR, I AM THREATENED: WILL YOU SHUT UP AND FIND OUT WHY?! DO YOU CARE ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND THIS CORE PART OF WHO I AM?!

Rather than responding to another’s disrespect by entering into an argument, why not allow disrespect to instruct you. See disrespect as a teacher who can help you understand a deep and volatile part inside of someone else.

(1) To read more about giving respect in context, click the following two links:

Leadership by Potato

My grandfather grew potatoes. The process looks like this: take a potato; let it sprout in multiple places: the little sprouts are called eyes. Cut the potato it into 7 or 8 pieces so that each chunk of potato has an eye on it; plant the chunk of potato in the ground; water and care for the potato and pretty soon it shoots above ground with no visible signs of any real growth, other than a useless leafy surface plant. Underground, the eye uses the attached chunk of potato for food and starts growing; then it sprouts roots and begins pulling nutrients from its surroundings. For grandpa, later in the year that he would take his pitchfork, gently dig around the potatoes and harvest them. The huge edible potatoes were under ground, hidden from sight. Then, after harvest, the process starts all over again.

We need to lead by potato. Let’s take our leadership, split it into 7 or 8 chunks and then discriminatingly plant these leadership chunks in various individuals that are good soil. We need to make certain that the chunk of leadership has our eye—our vision, purpose, direction, worldview—and we need to be sure we give that eye enough of ourselves to nourish it until it can grow roots of its own to begin feeding itself within its own surroundings.

After it is planted, we need to keep up with that chunk of leadership: we need to water it and pull the weed away that would starve it. We need to remember that for a season, our leadership grows deep in individuals in ways we cannot see—under the soil: for a season, all we may see is the less-than-glorious green, leafy part. And, finally, when it’s time, we need to gently dig around our new leaders, loosen them from their surroundings and get them to market where they can nourish individuals or become seed for other new leaders.

The DNA of every potato is the same: start as the eye of another potato; live off the deposit of its predecessor; grow value under the surface as it is watered and tended; shoot up with visible parts that are nice but not the food; grow larger useful subterranean parts that are edible and reproducible; and ultimately be enjoyed by others, become seed for new potatoes or perhaps some of both.

Can you agree when I say: “I want to lead by potato!”

(1) Beside this dude's amazing beard, you can learn about potatoes here:

Emotions as Tools: Feel Your Interactions

Friday night 10:19PM, my mother is in the emergency room: she feels like she can’t breath; she’s not getting oxygen. Six years of cancer treatments led her to this day. Her body is giving up. My sister and I try to comfort her; all I can do is just stand there. She’s in pain. The nurse gives her a shot of morphine to help. That was it. The shot relaxed her enough, she quit fighting to breath and in five minutes she died. The shot only sped the inevitable. Her body had already quit. The doctors wanted to try and keep her alive, and I was the one that said, “Let her go. She’s done.” I went home and cried like I have never cried before. Crying so deeply that I couldn’t breathe. I sat in the shower for two hours and couldn’t stop. Only twice in my life have I experienced crying at that depth.

Change scenes. It’s 2PM on a Saturday. Beautiful music is playing. Double doors swing wide open across the room from where I’m standing. I’d prepared for years just to experience this day and for months getting the final stages of planning in place. As the music crescendos, I look to the other side of the room and there, dazzlingly beautiful, is my soon-to-be wife. I watch her walking down the aisle and I begin to cry. I can do nothing but just stand there. What an indescribable beauty my wife displayed on our wedding day…absolutely stunning. With tears coming down my face, I took her hand and 24 years later, I have only grown in my love for her. I have a beautiful bride to this day.

I share both of these experiences because these are sources of empathy. When I know someone who is going through difficulty, how do I cry with them in their distress? I cannot feel what they feel. I cannot begin to fully grasp their hurt, but I can return to my own. I can use my memory to carry me back to a time of anguish and recall how I felt. I can’t feel the overwhelming joy of another person, but I can return to an experience where I was beyond myself in overwhelming happiness and re-live that moment to remember how to share the joy of another. 

Empathy is relational and decisive. To be skillful, we must do at least two steps: be fully present with another and use our past experiences to help us feel. This is a skill, which means it takes practice. Don’t wait to find your most joyful high and most anguishing low: think of them in advance; store them away in your mental catalog. Then, when you need them, you’ll have them ready to use on demand. Enter the world of another by revisiting your own.