A fried challenged me recently on my authenticity. Their challenge was fair. I have had a colorful journey through my life and knowing me, for those who have been close to me, I would imagine has been challenging, confusing, perhaps unsettling and intriguing. It has certainly been a journey for those that have stayed with me. This particular friend has been with me through the best and worst of it.
You may ask, what could have been so unusual about my life journey that is different than any other. I would offer back that my journey has explored most aspects of life that I could find. I have taken the time to explore both my gender and sexuality, even trying the fluidity of how these aspects of life can flex in an individual. I have stressed my physical body to and past the breaking point. I have explored my mental capacities in ways that only the mentally challenged truly are able. And, I have loved and hated in ways that passion may never truly explain. This all may sound cliché or like the workings of a novel but let me share a few highlights before I get to the punch line of this blog post.
Through my college years I struggled with bipolar 1. It took the support of several close friends to get me the medical and professional support that I required before I was able to contain this illness and explore the inner workings of my mind and psyche for a better more controlled life. Through this process I learned many different aspects of who I am and was. Among these facets I learned to love my life as an athlete. I began to push my body to extreme lengths and started to love the sport of running. This began to be a part of my identity; at times going to excess. As this became more comfortable, I experienced an automobile accident that resulted in the ultimate loss of my leg.
These physical transformations in my life led me to explore my personal being. I began to question the who and why of what compiled me. I had been through a very painful marriage in the course of these years and wondered if I had become confused by social norms and where my heart and body aligned. At this point I had spent quite some time writing for the local GLBTQ newspaper and was well integrated into that community. I began to take time exploring this alignment within my own life.
Without dragging you through my own personal journey in grave detail I circle back to the challenge from my friend. The questions became, what is the authentic me? I think the difficult part here is that it is all authentic. What is difficult for some to understand is that I have been authentic to who I am through the entire journey. While some individuals have a fairly straight path and a fairly consistent presentation of themselves from start to finish. Others must wander through brambles and up and down windy hills to find who they are and where they are going.
When I was a kid, I wanted to spend my life outside in the national parks more than anything in the world. My dream was to raise my kids in the wilds of Glacier or Arches, sharing the wilds of our great country with my kids. Today I sit at a computer for eight hours every day and watch zeros and ones fly by hoping to see an anomaly that might indicate an issue that I can solve. I do this for my kids because they are my true dream and my life. It took me a while to figure out that I don’t need to be climbing a mountain or chasing tumble weed through a sand blasted arch to help my glorious children appreciate the wind in the trees. More than that it took me a great journey to appreciate that all I wanted in my life was to help my kids start their own journeys.
So what is the authentic me, A parent, a journeyman, an author, a friend, a painter or life, a thinker, a husband, and anything that life brings me on my journey as it continues. More than anything, I am me.
My daughter has been struggling with how connected, or unconnected, our family is these days. I have been trying to explain to her that as kids grow into their teen years it is normal for them to become their own independent people with their own interests and seeking out their own spaces. Interestingly, her thoughts have been resonating with me and I find that I am learning something from her. I find myself thinking of the commandment “love thy neighbor as you would love thyself.”
As we move through our lives it is true that we all develop our own interests and connections. This is a normal path of life. When does it become normal that we should build in separation from those in our inner circle? I understand that there is a capacity component. But to my daughter’s point, do we have an obligation to maintain a certain level of connectivity to family and loved ones? I reflect upon myself here. I live a couple of short hours from my cousin, yet I have not seen him in years. Nor have I spoken to him. This is one of my great regrets. How is it that in my busy life I am unable to maintain a connection with my own family just a short distance away?
We can grow this concept when we start looking at the model of social media. I am a light user of these tools. I by no stretch of the imagination claim to be a power user. Quite the opposite in that I abhor the idea of putting a lot of my personal information out on the internet for others to see. However, The model of growing connections and building a web of “friends” seems like a brilliant concept. The question I would ask is why are we waiting for the internet for this practice? Why do so few people build these networks in their face-to-face lives? I understand that the personal interactions can be more time consuming, intimidating, and threatening. They also can be much more meaningful, rewarding, and long lasting. It is a lot more difficult to ‘unfriend’ a person you have a personal connection with then it is to on the internet. You can’t do it with the click of a button. Ironically, it is also hard to ask a friend on the internet for a cup of sugar or to give them a plate of cookies when you are done backing.
So, where does this leave us? Yes, people do grow in separate directions. Yes, people do have different interests and need their own space. But I think my daughter has a valid point. Particularly with people such as family and those close to us, we need to invest in these relationships. We need to build those networks of friends in our personal lives. These will fill us with the sustaining things that we need when we are down or lonely. These will give us the people to celebrate with when we are experiencing a win. And they will give us someone to share a cookie with.
I believe that peace is something that is often miss understood. I hear many people throw around the word saying that they wish for world peace, or a wish for peace for all mankind. As I sit here on my porch this morning, enjoying a truly peaceful morning, residual rain dripping from the tree leaves and morning birds singing in the woods, I find myself full of conflict and struggle internally. This raises the questions, “what is peace?”.
I am forced to ask if perhaps peace for one person is different than for another. I know that for me, despite internal struggles, I am more than simply content on this beautiful quiet morning. With the water dripping through the trees from the rain last night, and the birds signing, the muggy, humid air from the passing storm sits like a warm blanket providing comfort as it wraps around you. There is a gentile breeze that helps to free the mind into deeper thought, and this is where I find myself. It is with this gentile breeze that I am finding my peace, right now. I understand that this is not some global cease fire that will stop all wars. I can understand the difference. But perhaps if we all were to take a moment to find what peace meant for our own individual lives, we would be better prepared to support peace in others.
I am a firm believer that if you do not care for yourself you will have nothing to give those around you. I think this principle may apply here as well. How can we ever help others find and achieve peace if we are unable to find it in our own lives. How can we help find a greater peace if we are still seeking peace in ourselves? How can we presume to know what peace means for another if we don’t know what it means internally? Beyond these questions, I also ask who are we as individuals to presume what peace means for another if we do not walk in their steps?
I am a very fortunate individual. I live in the woods in the Northeast corner of the United States. I am a person of privilege. I have more than my challenges, but I am filled with gifts. I work in a major urban city environment. I see every day the struggles and chaos, or so it appears to me, that others live in. I could not imagine what peace would be for those that live in that urban setting. However, I have spoken to a few individuals from the city and they are horrified at the idea of a quiet, dark night without the background cacophony and lights of the city’s hustle and bustle. This dichotomy illustrates how my perception of peace may be very disjointed from another’s
So, as I bring this to a close, I too wish for peace for all mankind. But with that I put a condition. I wish for every person to find their own peace, whatever that may be. For the things that we can control, may we work toward an inner peace. For the things that we cannot, may God bring us peace and serenity.
Summer is here in the Northeast. Not surprisingly, with all of the transitions from school to vacations for the kids, and the shifting responsibilities around the home, I have taken a short hiatus from this blog. However, it has never been far from my mind. In many ways, it has been a special way of my own opportunity realization as I have been capitalizing on the challenges I have been facing in this shifting landscape before me.
This site is more than just an opportunity for me to share a collection of random thoughts with those that choose to read my posts. It is an opportunity for me to help myself and others find new ways to face challenges and with the help of God convert them into new gifts and better approaches to leading our own lives.
The other day I was driving down the road was in one of those moods where I was ranting to the air around me about how the people in my life did not understand how difficult my life was as an amputee. I live in a three-story colonial and I hate how challenging my house is some day. My kids fail to pick up their toys. It can become easy to complain. ( I know their kids, right.) As I was starting this rant to my empty car, my cellphone popped up my daily prayer reminder and a bible verse for meditation. As I was driving, I did not stop to read it but the simple timing was enough for me to realize that God was with me and that I was surrounded by a wonderful family and incredible gifts. It helped me to realize that, while yes there are challenges for a disabled person in my house, there are also many blessings in my life that others with disabilities are lacking. This reminded me to always be open to the word of God.
I have had the opportunity to rent a racing wheelchair and start learning how these amazing contraptions work. I was out doing my workout in this devise the other day. I have to tell you they are much more difficult to use then they look. As I was struggling my way up a very small hill a song called “Keep Smiling” came on over my headphones. It made me laugh as I was just about to start crying. I was working so hard to keep myself from going backward. My arms were in absolute agony. A quick note about these chairs, They have no real breaks and will roll in any direction freely and quite happily. As I listened to this song I was reminded that while I was having to work really hard and I was struggling, I was out doing something fun, special, good for me, and unique. Not many people would ever have the opportunity that I was having at that moment. I had to keep smiling. God was again with me.
It is important that we find these subtle messages and words from our Lord to help us move through the challenges in our life. These will help us to see that they may not be challenges at all but rather fantastic opportunities. So I encourage you as you move through this beautiful summer, keep smiling and seek every opportunity to talk with our Heavenly Father.
I started this blog and site with the idea that opportunities should be found in the challenges we face. Yesterday I realized a personal barrier that often interferes with my own ability to seize opportunities. Some of you may be familiar with the saying, “a bull in a china shop”. I came to realize yesterday that it is important to always take that extra deep breath so that I can avoid being that bull. There are times when it may feel appropriate to storm into a situation, head strong and full of rage or vigor. Often these are the most important times to step back and use tact.
Acting is a fantastic skill that we all should develop. No, I am not starting a totally separate thought process here. But I must believe that some of you, as I am, may question whether there are times when acting with full gusto is not the right thing to do. I would agree to an extent. The beautiful thing about a romance or good drama is that they always go to extremes for their love or their cause; Romeo and Juliet dying for love. However, if we throw ourselves on the stake for every cause we will either run out of stakes or dye too early. If, alternatively, we step back, gather all our feelings, thoughts, facts and ideas before we act, then we can be well prepared to present the image we most want the world to see, with the appropriate amount of gusto behind it. If that means throwing everything you have into your rhetoric, then so be it. However, you also can present a strong front with a soft interior (the M&M effect) that may better prepare you for those unforeseen opportunities that present in every situation.
I do believe that there are opportunities to be capitalized upon in every challenge. Ensuring that we are in the right place and mindset to see and maximize them is truly the challenge. A friend once said to me that if we only expect to hear God when we talk to him then we will never hear his voice. Rather we must walk with an open heart and mind to hear him when he chooses to talk to us. I think this is very true. So often we expect the world to move at the same pace we are traveling. We must be open to receive the world when it is ready. Perhaps nothing makes this point clearer than children.
So, to all those bulls out there, join me as we stop for a bit to enjoy the meadow we are in and let’s look through the window of the china shop before we walk in. Breath deep and gather your thoughts. More than anything be open to love and opportunities.
Timeouts. We tell our children to take them when they are throwing temper tantrums. Why are adults so blind to the idea of taking them as well? I am becoming a firm believer in the idea of timeouts. I prefer to think of them as mental breaks. They are not always reserved for those moments when you are angry or super frustrated. Why not take a mental break when you are tired, or full of positive energy but needing to step into a quiet moment? I talk to many people about commutes and how they like a relaxing 15 to 20-minute commute because it gives them a mental break before shifting into home mode.
I think it is important to build in mental breaks in many different aspects of our lives. These breaks can help to open our minds so that we are better able to both see and capitalize on the opportunities presented to us. For example, a runner in a track meet, going from event to event will fare much better if they build in short breaks between each event than their competitor who has no breaks and comes to the race tired. Likewise, you will fare better in any pursuit you choose to follow with proper mental preparedness.
I am committed to the idea of finding opportunities wherever and whenever you are able. This is much easier to achieve when you are of sharp mind, spirit and body. I watched my son complete his soccer game the other day. He plays very hard during these sporting events and is always mentally and physically tired upon the completion of a game. I encourage him to take a few minutes after to get a drink and some food and to rest before jumping into his next great adventure. This always helps ensure that the afternoon is a positive and enjoyable opportunity for both him and the entire family.
So, the next time you place your child in timeout. Think about taking one for yourself. Perhaps you should take one before you get to that point. This may be the key to finding new opportunities in your life.
I had an opportunity this past week to witness one of the most amazing natural wonders I have ever seen. In essence, it was a swarm of piliated woodpeckers feasting around me in a beautiful sanctuary of woods. The following morning, I arose in hopes of catching the same flock of the dinosaur-like figures rattling out their cacophony of squawks and taps in the woods. To my dismay, there were only but a few.
As I ponder over what brought these marvelous birds together that morning, I realize just how blessed I was to be witness to this miracle. I begin to wonder how often we as people become caught up in the why or the reason behind things and miss the simple beauty and miracles that surround things. We in ourselves are a curious group. We like to understand things. But, at what expense. How often do we miss the awe in search of the analytical? That is not to say there is no beauty in the science but to rather ask, do we always need to search for the meaning.
I am reminded of the movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The pivotal scene where they finally find the tomb with the holy grail and they must choose which cup is the cup of the covenant. They make the cup out to be simple and plain. As if the cup of a carpenter cannot be beautiful. Why I would argue that some of the most beautiful art we have is from the meek rather than the rich simply because they sink their heart and soul into what they have.
I recently had an opportunity to visit the Amish country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. As a true tourist, I must admit I did not have the opportunity to come to understand much about their culture, religion, or the people. However, what I did learn is that they, in their somewhat simpler approach to things, have a way of finding beauty in the most amazing places and ways.
I dwell on this beauty issue a bit because I have three daughters that are all just starting to explore topics such as pierced ears, makeup, clothing, and other items of fashion. As a parent, I struggle as I see them as such gifts and beautiful in their own right. I cringe at the idea of the gobbing their faces up with paint that they do not need. Or, flaunting their body’s in scant clothing that displays things that are suggestive to the wrong person. I understand the interest in adornments. At the same time, I understand the beauty in the work of God and the gifts that we already have.
There is beauty in all of us. Most of all there is beauty in loving ourselves. We must learn to appreciate the simple things in the world around us. We must learn to appreciate the beauty inside of us. If we always seek out the why or the justification, then we may miss the bigger picture or the beauty that is happening around us. Sometimes the biggest gift is to simply sit and appreciate the world we are in and the gifts we have been given.
I was thinking about barriers the other day. I asked myself what may hold different people back from seizing the opportunities presented to them. Surely everyone would want to grab ahold of the blessings laid out before them if only they could see those opportunities. Then I walked into my church and it was as if God had heard my question. In the middle of his sermon, our pastor began to speak of how different people may feel that “church” is not for them. Or how some may feel that they are not worthy of Christ’s blessing. We reviewed several passages from the Bible and discussed the epiphany of Peter where he entered the house of a gentile. I was also guided to Galatians 3:28 where Peter emphatically declares how we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord.
This equality is an interesting challenge for people. We struggle with it at so many levels. It has been a struggle for us throughout history. With royals and surfs, landowners and slaves, men and women, heterosexuals and the LBGTQ community, and perhaps most importantly, individuals and their innermost daemons. It is our internal struggles of inequality where we must first see equality and find love if we are ever to get past this issue. If we as individuals are to embrace Peter’s epiphany with the gentiles and see that we are all equal and grab the opportunities before us then we must all find love inside of ourselves and for ourselves.
My daughter’s school is celebrating LBGTQ awareness this week. She asked me why this community had a day of celebration when other people did not. As she put it, they are just people. I tried to explain to her that unlike other people, they have been discriminated against and as a person who was not a member of that community we should use this day as a reminder to strive for equality in our actions and to remember that we need to both love ourselves and to love those around us. These are difficult concepts for a child to understand. They are often difficult concepts for an adult to understand. But the more we hear, talk and think about these ideas, the more likely they are to become a part of our daily lives.
So, barriers, how does all of this fit in with my thoughts from the other day? I believe that we build these for ourselves. As we see these “inequalities” these discrepancies between ourselves and the world around us, we build barriers. These may be real or fake but often they are self-created. The challenge, or opportunity that we have is to level the playing field, whether for ourselves or for those around us and help to remove those barriers. I understand that this is an old argument. The discussion of equality that has been made for years. But I also believe that there is a point here that a portion of this I saw being etched again into, yet another generation and I see it building in the personal nature of the mindset of people around me. I see it going beyond the systemic cultural inequality that we have developed into personal self-loathing that people develop for themselves. It is this inner struggle that I believe we as individuals must address. This is the struggle that I believe feeds and fosters the larger more systemic issue.
Transitions are an amazing time of life. We all go through them; some small and some big. The trick is in how we manage them. I have a son that has a very hard time with transitions. I often struggle with his challenge in these times as I do not share his dilemma. However, I on the other hand, find extreme stress in routine; which is perhaps ironic. In this capacity I am able to empathize with him in a polar opposite fashion. In this respect we both have a perspective on transitions which allows us to share a unique bond through these periods of change and in this we can support each other.
Perhaps this is the part that makes transitions bearable, support. I reckon that support is the one thing that we all need to get through most challenges in life. This may be the key that we need to convert a challenge into an opportunity. It is with support that we are able to see past the difficulty and into the blessing. Here-in lies the miracle of grace.
I once was asked why I believed in God. The question went on to ask if I had ever spoken to him or had he ever spoken to me. I answered with a resounding yes. Grace and love I believe are the voice of God. These are not the things that we extol from ourselves naturally but rather with the blessing from God. When we extend a hand to help a friend or stop on the side of a road to help a stranger, I see the grace and voice of God speaking in all of us.
I once read a story of a runner who collapsed just feet from the finish line of a marathon. Set to win the race her body failed her and betrayed her of victory. Grace stepped in and brought her to her win as her competition stopped in their tracks and carried her across the finish line making for a three-way tie at the line. It is stories like these where I hear the voice of God loudest.
Last year I was struggling with heart issues, I have for some time now. At that time, I had a cord and a half of wood to relocate from one part of my yard to another. My daughter is eleven and full of vigor. She came to my rescue. With her help that wood became light as a feather. She was more than a cheerleader in this effort. She was a workhorse, moving mounds of wood and keeping a positive attitude throughout. On the last day we worked, we finished as the sun set. The sky erupted in a beautiful bouquet of pinks and oranges. If that was not the voice of God speaking in my life, what possibly could be?
So, to bring this full circle, I do believe that God is with all of us. I believe that he is our ultimate support in times of transition. It is with his support that we can find opportunities in challenges. It is up to us to look, listen, and to be open to hearing his voice in the people, the actions and the world around us. Only then will we be able to receive that support. God is in and with us. Welcome him when life is amazing and when life is hard.
Life should be hard. I don’t mean to imply that we should suffer, but rather that we should not be floating through life sitting on our laurels. We should challenge ourselves We should always be looking for opportunities to grow, to seek new lessons that can open doors and help the world in which we live.
I was talking with my daughter about a show she was watching. She said she liked it because it was so ridiculous. She said that she felt like the person who made the show looked like they did not even try and that was why she liked it. I suggested that she should watch something that challenged her mind and engaged her intelligence. She is a very bright individual.
I carry that conversation into a larger forum and think about many of the YouTube shows that I see kids today watching and realize that children today are captivated by laziness. I also see examples of this in their dancing and so much more. I reflect on the difference between the Floss and the Lindy. Not saying that I can do either, but the difference in complexity is amazing. Again, I say life should be hard. We should not be looking for the easy way out but rather the complexity, the intricacy that engages our hearts to grow and live full lives.
I do not wish to be miss understood. I am not for a second calling today's youth lazy. I have plenty of examples of hard work from my children. But rather, I see them as the canary of society today. The warning that we as individuals must resist laziness. I was offered an opportunity to park my family’s camper at a campground for a season, it occurred to me that this might offer two advantages. First, we would be able to camp more often because it would be easier to go camping. Second, it would be more convenient and could become a more routine activity. With further reflection, I also realized that we would lose a huge portion of what I love about camping, the exploration; the adventure. In one fell swoop, we would lose the opportunity to explore new places. We would also lose the chance to meet people from different places and the adventure of towing the camper; just for the convenience of routine.
As my family looks for campgrounds to visit, we see more of them converting large numbers of sites to seasonal sites. Another canary? These indicators of sedentary living surprise me when I reflect on the pioneering history of our ancestors. What must we do to rekindle the drive for our next westward exploration, for our next search for Mecca, for our next great quest for humanity? I am not talking about the next great google search on the Internet but rather the quest in our souls to find life and invigoration. To find purpose. To seek out opportunities.
I challenge each of us to have a hard life. In the work of life, we should find the challenges that help us to thrive, prosper and grow so that we do not suffer but flourish in the hardship that helps us explore the opportunities that fill our lives with joy and color.