Exposure=Strength

Holding things in does not exercise your strength. Exposing your needs is true exercise because it breaks your pride and makes way for reconstruction. We always build better with more materials. Every time we break down, open up, and rebuild, we are perpetually adding to our knowledge. Chances only stop when we stop allowing ourselves to have them.

Exercising Love

Exercise has a deeper definition than just the physical exertion piece. Webster also defines exercise as “something performed or practiced in order to develop, improve, or display a specific capability or skill.” Do you ever look at “love” like an exercise? Something you have to practice to strengthen? Do you see it as a skill? A skill obviously benefits others because they gain from your knowledge, but you gain intrinsically from your skills as well. Speaking of skills, if you are career-driven then you should know that empathy, emotional intelligence, and personal connection are several of the projected top-10 skills to have by 2020 by the World Economic Forum. In a world of uncertainty, these are considered indispensable skillsthat will carry you through any change. In short, these things are not going away no matter how many robots are built. Nothing can truly replace human connection.

Back to exercising and how this connects. Love is far deeper than just an image of Hollywood romance. It is the deepest expression of interest, acceptance, and support of others. This is shown in more ways than just romance. A great way to practice this skill of love is by not simply selecting those that are easy to love, but working through the critical thinking and submission of self required to love the more challenging people. Our spouses are often different from us and present this very opportunity. We often grow in different directions than even our own parents in some ways. Whoever you are, you are sure to have a relationship opportunity like this. You just have to see it as an opportunity rather than a pain. We all walk toward opportunities, but we all walk away from perceived pain.

My challenge to you today is to find your opportunity to love the tough one(s), and then take it. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable in it. No exercise that truly benefits you comes without work or discomfort in yourself.

The Foundation of Self-Love

Throughout the whole month of December you have seen me post with “Me-Cember” in the title. The purpose of every post this month was to restore faith, hope, and love back in yourself. Jan-you-ary posts will begin on 1/1/18 focusing on restoring your faith, hope, and love in others. Before we move on to the new month and new year, I want to share how self-love even begins.

A big part of my story is that I overcame addiction. As I have gotten more and more years away from my recovery, I do not focus on my story being “addiction” anymore. My story is that I didn’t feel like I was loved or accepted as who I was inside and now I do. I felt I had to hide parts of who I was and became lost over time. I battled anxiety even through middle school and I felt misunderstood and sometimes even laughed at for it. In high school I was actually a sweet, sensitive (but still cool) dude, but it didn’t seem like my peers at that time were on board with sensitivity. I didn’t want to have sex with every girl, or watch fights, or yell expletives on the bus the whole ride, but I did because I thought that’s what I had to do. I was after acceptance from others but not really from myself. The drugs and drinking were simply tools I used to numb myself down. I remember thinking that if I did or said something that wasn’t perfect I had a backup plan: “well, I was high.” My entire idea of myself was based on how others viewed me and my foundation was not my own. I’d be willing to guess a huge number of “addicts” have the same root cause. I had no foundation of self-love, and therefore no reason to take care of myself. I had no incentive to accept I would have been better off lonely for a while. When you get here, you have to demolish what was built and start completely over. So that’s what I did.

What does a foundation of self-love look like? Why is it necessary? The foundation is where you begin. When it comes to self-love, I am not talking about conceit. I am talking about understanding that you have value, that you care for yourself, that you are happy to be alive because you are interested in the world. Unless you believe you have worth and that you have a place in the world as who you are and have something to seek, you will immediately start building wrong because your foundation is weak.

The foundation of self-love starts with believing you are valuable. Ephesians 2:4-5 says:

“But God was so rich in mercy and loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when Christ was raised.”

So this gives us the belief that no matter what we have done wrong, no matter what others do not like about us, we are loved. This is our foundation. It has to be. No other foundation is fit for building on other than the thought that you are valued and you are loved, just as you are.

“What if I’m not a Christian?” Whether you believe in the characters (the people of a story) of “God” and “Jesus” becomes irrelevant in this question, at least for a moment. Can you believe in the character (meaning the inner morale) of someone sacrificing something for another person? We see this all around us. People give up their shoes for the homeless man. People give up their seat on the bus for the disabled person. People give their money to the needy when they may need it themselves. This happens because people see the value in another person. It wouldn’t happen if we were not first loved. Jesus confirms this in Matthew 10:8 when He says “freely you have received, so now freely you give.” Those characters (people of a story) above are the originators of character (the inner morale). You wouldn’t see people give to others if they had not been given to themselves first. Whether you believe in the characters of the story or not, the belief that you are loved still has to be in place.

Are you willing to be lonely to restart your life? It is an investment. You won’t invest in yourself if you don’t believe you can produce a desirable outcome. You are worth love. I believe that because God, the Father, believes that. What are you going to do with it?

Allow Yourself Rest

Yesterday my wife, teary-eyed, wanted to talk. She let me know how tired she was and that she felt bad for even wanting to have alone time. She even said that when she gets alone time, she guiltily thinks about what she is missing with me and our two boys. We have a 9 month old and a 5 year old that love being wild and rough with daddy (but not as much as I love it).

As we talked further I reminded her that we all want the rested version of mommy. This tired, “on E” version is snappy, short, and stressful. The rested version is patient, kind, and spends good quality time with everyone. What she really needs is more sleep, but our 9 month old baby is relentless through the night right now and it doesn’t make sense for her to take a nap after I get off work at 5 in the evening. So rest and recharging will have to do.

Rest is biblical. The Sabbath, the disciples resting with Jesus, and so on, we hear about rest all throughout the Bible. Maybe resting for you is more sleep and you should take advantage of that when you have the time. Maybe resting for you is just some time to yourself. Don’t feel guilty for taking it if you are using it with the right intention and in the right balance. If you never help around the house or are avoiding people in your family because there are problems between you, then that is a problem. Avoiding things is not the same thing as rest. You won’t be able to truly rest if you don’t properly handle what you need to handle. What makes rest feel good is when you are not intentionally being lazy or forgoing any duty. It’s one thing to decide you will do the dishes after you rest, but a completely different thing to have not spent a minute with your family or help when it is needed but still take a rest.

Do you have any trouble resting? Maybe it goes back to thinking you have to earn your grace. Maybe that’s why you can’t let yourself sit down until the entire house is clean and everything for tomorrow is finished. But we live under grace now, and rest is necessary to be graceful to others and ourselves.

Choosing Freedom

I saw a post earlier on social media that asked God for forgiveness because of their sins and proclaimed they would go on sinning. It had a really dark feel to it. It was hopeless. Like they would never be able to do anything other than sin and ask forgiveness. It is the equivalent of being a in a pot with a lid on it. You’re stuck in that pot and the only time those around you can feel who you are and experience what God taught you is that brief moment you ask Him for forgiveness and the lid comes off. People can start to sense who you are but then if you go on without fighting the sin, the lid just goes right back on. You are never going far if your lid comes off for just a moment. So why keep putting it on?God has the power to forgive us because of our faith in who He is and what He is. We believe He rewards us for wanting to change and that is why it feels refreshing in our spirit to confess things in spirit to Him or to those around us. This is true. This is how forgiveness works. We believe it is healing, and it is. This takes our lid off, so we should not constantly put that lid back on. God is a producer, a creator, a distributor. He desires fruit. His sowing of forgiveness into you creates fruit so that you can sow into another. He doesn’t take your lid off for a moment simply to waft who you are in the air for no reason. There is a deeper purpose for His forgiveness, one that you are part of it.When you choose to fight sin, you get further from it and closer to God. The entire 6th chapter of Romans talks about how the power of sin was broken. Verse 16 tells us that we have a choice. We can choose to be a slave to sin, which limits us to personal gain only, or we can choose to obey God, which is being productive and fruitful in the world. This also lines up with Jesus teaching in Matthew 6:24 that says you cannot serve two things at once. You are free now. Romans 6:14 says “sin is no longer your master because you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” When we taste this freedom you naturally find yourself sharing with others, making a difference in the world. So why are you limiting yourself to sin? Is it because you feel like whatever you have done permanently separates you from serving any meaningful purpose? Is it because you believe “good” just isn’t for you? It is because you believe you were born into disadvantage? That may be true for you, but it also true for millions of people who need to hear your lessons and see you carrying on in life. Allow yourself to experience the forgiveness. Soak in it, take from it, but then give out of it. You can’t do that unless you keep that lid off.

The Simple Skill to Win Your Battle With Anxiety

The Problem

It is widely understood now that anxiety and depression are common antagonists across the world. Millions suffer every day and the worst part is that most don’t understand it. They don’t know what they’re feeling; they’re just scared. Since they don’t know what they’re feeling, they certainly don’t know how to correct it. Then they accept a very disappointing negative belief that they are strange/weird/crazy. That then leads to low confidence and therefore low creativity, which leads to a really poor quality of life. This giant so many of us wrestle every single day robs millions of wonderful people of a good life.

If you aren’t sure what anxiety feels like, check out this recent viral video on it. The video does great to share what it feels like and maybe makes it relatable, but doesn’t offer any skills to get better. My goal is to share a skill.

My Anxiety Story

I have lived with anxiety since I was about 8 years old and I never really lived a great life until about 4 years ago when I got my hands on the greatest anxiety book I ever read: Joshua Fletcher’s Anxiety: Panicking About Panic. This is not a sales pitch, so don’t worry. I do have to tell you though this book is so simple that it is extremely powerful. I remember when someone recommended I read it I was angry. “Do you know how many books I’ve read? How many things I’ve tried!?” Well, I was wrong. It breaks down the symptoms of anxiety to make you feel relatable. It then explains in simple terms what is happening in your body to cause the feelings of fear and heightened, well, everything. Simply understanding what is happening in the body takes the power away from anxiety.

*If you cannot afford to buy this book, please let me know. I will find a way to get it to you. It is that powerful.

My anxiety was the result of a negative thinking habit that I never resolved as I grew up. It started with being sort of picked at in school for being the quiet kid so I was sort of scared of school and social settings. As if school isn’t scary enough already for a kid. I would literally throw up in my mouth almost every morning thinking about having to go to school. I remember days when I felt brave I would dance around our table with my sweet sister and say, “I’m not gonna cry tomorrow!” Yeah, fighting tears back now thinking how far I’ve come. I never communicated that to anyone, not even my parents, nor did I confront kids I felt were picking on me the right way. This social anxiety then snowballed as I got older leading to thoughts that i just wasn’t acceptable as a person. I thought in order to be liked, I needed an accountability person who could take the blame if I did/acted/said something that wasn’t crowd pleasing. That accountability person was drugs and alcohol. Oh you didn’t like that? Well I was high, so it wasn’t really me. I used it to study people. What did they like? What did they not like? How can I be this perfect, lovable person? Cue addiction and depression.  I was sick, but not just because of who I was as a person.

The root is I never caught the anxious behaviors until I had already developed horrible habits. It became harder every day to get back to even because I was so deep into things i hadn’t shared. It’s easy to see why anxiety and addiction/depression go hand in hand.

What Is Looping Anxiety?

I spent an alarming percentage of my days in “panic mode” as most people are familiar with. The more specific term for “panic mode” is looping anxiety. This is when you fluctuate between high anxiety and panic because you are so busy and scared mentally that you try to answer every little thought our question that creeps in.

Fletcher describes the cause for Looping Anxiety as this:

“Imagine your anxiety being channeled through an electrical plug. The electrical plug has a fuse which represents your body’s coping mechanisms (positive rationalization). 

The more stress and worrying thoughts that you pile on yourself, then the stronger the power the plug’s fuse has to deal with. The stress and worry slowly builds up until your body simply can’t take anymore. The fuse blows, the circuit shuts down and you’re left in a confused mess trying to work out what exactly just happened. You can’t operate like you used to anymore because there is nothing to control all of this surging ‘power’.”

So, basically, our brain has a capacity and when we overload it, Looping Anxiety is the result. People can get “stuck” here for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. I have spent weeks at a time in this panicked state of confusion and stress.

The Simple Skill to Stop Looping Anxiety

The truth is, we have a capacity. Just like how you limit how much TV you watch, how many questions you can tolerate after a presentation, or how much food you eat, you have to draw the line somewhere. You have to do the same with your thoughts and worries.

As someone who struggles with anxiety, I completely understand that almost obsessive thought that we must answer every thought. If we don’t, we might get anxious! (Subtle joke there.) Do this instead and I truly believe your life will start becoming yours again. I said simple, remember.

Instead of answering every thought, replace your negative thought with this thought:

“That’s a negative thought, I’m not giving that my attention.”

This will have to be a new habit so give it a chance. Just like the anxious mess you got yourself into by worrying habits, you will need to work hard at first to replace that bad habit with a better one. Soon, you won’t need to say it or think it at all.

Fletcher calls this the Anxiety Umbrella and it looks like this:


The idea behind this simple thought replacement is that by not allowing yourself to feed those negative thoughts that produce fear and release adrenaline and cortisol, your body will return to its normal, balanced state faster. Instead of answering every symptom or thought, just think: “that’s just anxiety. It will pass.” Eventually, this becomes a habit and your daily anxiety becomes an every other day thing, that becomes a once a week thing, that finally reduces to a normal level of anxiety that can even be protective.

Let’s recap. How to conquer anxiety:

  1. Talk. Communicate. Share with someone you trust and who will listen, understand, and validate. Yes your parents should do this, but understand they may not know how. Reach out to someone else. I will drop everything I have going to let you share because I know it will help you get better.
  2. Identify and Replace your negative thought with this thought: “That’s a negative thought. I’m not giving that my attention.”
  3. Use the Anxiety umbrella.

I know this is scary. You are faced with this thing alone? No pills? No drugs or alcohol to help with this? It’s all up to you? Well, yes, but see you’re already going negative again. Yes, it’s on you but look at like this: you are all you need for it. You have all you need to know about it. You CAN do this and you can start right now. It’s on you because you have the power to change your life for the better. You are so bold to take this on because it is a very intentional choice to say, “I love myself. I’m worth something. I am worth a better life. I love myself enough.” Love yourself again! Live again.

I leave you with this wonderful, life-saving scripture from Philippians 4:8 that reminds us to think about things that are good, not things that are scary.

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Heroes

When I think of a hero I immediately think about Batman, or Thor, or some other caped crusader. What I want though is to rewire my brain to see the average person as a hero. It is likely around 90% more likely that I will encounter an average person before I will Christian Bale in the bat suit. So shouldn’t we reposition what a hero means to us so we aren’t let down? What is a hero? Webster says:


I believe noble qualities include these traits:

  • Openness
  • Honesty
  • Humanity (not holier than thou)
  • Responsibility

When I meet someone that exercises these traits I just find them so intriguing. The cool thing? They stand out like a water fountain in the desert. They are super easy to find no matter where you are and they might even be easier to find in the rougher places.

When I think of those traits I ask myself why they are heroes. What about those traits makes them powerful to me? It’s because of influence. These are traits I can take up myself and implement in my own life. They are alive! They produce emotions and connections. They are influential:


Anyone can be influential. Anyone can be a hero. Your good deeds done without the clanging cymbals are so powerful for the people that see. People doing the right thing just because it’s the right thing. No rewards, all intrinsic. It’s powerful. Doesn’t the parent who cares for their sick child and does their best to resume a normal life for them just pull at your heart strings? Doesn’t it make us all go hug our well kids real tight? Things like that are so contagious-and so simple. A person that steps up or stays out when others drift off and run create a platform for themselves to connect and empower other people.

As a 90’s kid I am (obviously) a Foo Fighters fan. In their song “My Hero,” Dave Grohl wrote:

“There goes my hero, he’s ordinary.

Don’t the best of them bleed it out

While the rest of them peter out.”

Take a moment to reminisce in this beautiful and nostalgic memory here:

As a fellow friend, dad, son, and husband, I want to encourage everyone that you can be a hero to any one of these incredibly important life roles. Imagine yourself inspiring a dad or a husband. Can you feel the weight of their importance now?

Friends: you can choose not talk about others..I promise, people will notice. The right people will follow you.

Dads: the way you connect with your kids in their learning and teaching them rather than pawning that job off to mom is much louder than you think. Your commitment to your kids translates into their behavior at school and then later in their own homes. You are influencing your kids, your kids friends, your kids wife or husband-all because of your commitment and responsibility.

Husbands: your faithfulness to your wife has the power to influence that divorce statistic we all wish we could do something about (please pick up on this cue. Hint: it starts with you.)

Couples: your openness and honesty about things you encountered or overcame in your marriage may just change the minds of that couple dancing the line of divorce.

These are the real life super hero roles-the ones that pull people together and create faith, hope, and love. The feel-good stories in the world are about the average person being rewarded because they did the right thing. They waited patiently, they worked hard, they stuck with it. You don’t have to be wealthy, you don’t have to have gadgets, you don’t have to have a special platform..you just need what you have, where you are.

James 1:12.