No Matter What, You Are Beautiful and Beloved

Whatever lies we’ve swallowed and no matter how loud the voice of shame hollers in our heads, there is another voice whispering, waiting patiently and hoping to be heard. It’s the brilliant, counter-intuitive, scandalous voice of grace, whispering its truth at the edges of our being: No matter what, you are beautiful and beloved.

grace

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I walk into my son’s elementary school fundraiser dressed in a wig, bathrobe, and women’s boots.

A best costume contest has been advertised, so earlier in the day, I walked into a Goodwill store as a suburban dad and walked out as a rock star circa 1985. But now, as I skitter across the icy parking lot in four-inch heals with my chest hair showing, I realize something: with the exception of the few friends who came with me, no one else has chosen to compete.

The crowd of people slip-sliding from the parking lot to the entrance is all ball gowns and khakis and sport coats.

And, somewhere in the shadows of my mind, my shame-whisper begins it’s murmuring:

Everyone else knows what they’re doing and you don’t.

You look silly. Ridiculous.

You’re a joke. 

The One Illusion We Cannot Afford To Believe In

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

—Thich Nhat Hanh

community

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I’m on the fifth floor of a hotel in Pennsylvania, waiting for an elevator to the lobby. It’s July 4th—Independence Day in America. Early morning, and I’m leaving the hotel to find a cheaper breakfast. As I wait, I become aware of piped-in music overhead. I hear lyrics that remind me of my wife: “Fortune teller said I’d be free, and that’s the day you came to me.”

I instantly reach for my phone, Google the lyrics, and the song title is the top result. I click out of Google, tap my Spotify app, search for the song, and the song playing above my head is now coming out of my phone.

I enjoy the dopamine rush of immediate gratification and I marvel at the convenience of technology. But mostly, I revel in my apparent self-sufficiency. Twenty years ago, I would’ve required the help of a number of people to identify the song, find a music store, and purchase the CD.

In 2014, I interact with no one.

In 2014, I can completely ignore how interdependent all of us are…

Why Sometimes Hope is Hopeless and Hopelessness is Our Best Hope

Hope can be a beautiful thing, but it can also be the worst of things. Because sometimes our numbered days are spent hoping and waiting, instead of acting and living…

hope

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Last March, as the long, bitter Chicago winter wore on, my wife and I started hoping for something different. We began searching for houses in Nashville. Every morning, we’d check our weather app for the temperature in Nashville, and every night we’d scan our email for new home listings.  By the time we fell asleep, we’d be dreaming of an acre of wooded land in the temperate winters and rolling hills of Tennessee.

Summer has arrived in Chicago. We don’t look at the Nashville home listings anymore.

Hope is a wonderful thing when it feels like the wind at our backs, carrying us toward the good things we seek. But, if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes—maybe even most of the time—we hope so we don’t have to change anything at all.

Why I Don’t Believe in Grace Anymore

I used to say I believed in grace. I don’t say that anymore. Now I say I have known grace, and what I know is this: grace believes in me

grace

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It’s 9pm, and I walk in the door still carrying the burdens of a day at my office. The kids are already in bed, eyelids heavy but holding out for a “goodnight” from Daddy. My wife is tired but smiling and happy to see me.

And I don’t want any of it.

I stomp around, tearing open mail, griping about food that isn’t in the fridge, acting like a serious jerk. And in some secret place inside of me, I know it. Somehow, this only makes it worse. I wait for the reprisal from my wife. The well-earned reprisal. The angry, “I don’t deserve this!”

But it isn’t forthcoming. Instead, she kisses me on the cheek, says she loves me, and goes to bed with the same smile on her face. I stand by myself in the kitchen, but I have two companions. My bad mood. And my wife’s grace.

How Self-Acceptance Might Just Save the World

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years.” 

—Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 

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When I was in middle school, I was forbidden to see the new Batman movie starring Michael Keaton. I understand why:

He was complicated.

He was a superhero, but he was depicted as dark and disturbed and a little unhinged. Instead of wearing his trademark gray, he cloaked himself in black. Instead of telling jokes, he was somber and depressed. He did good things, but he did them for the wrong reasons. He was a complicated, tortured soul, working out his redemption in the best way he knew how.

He was a good guy, but he had bad parts.

In a word, he was human.

Now, almost twenty-five years later, our cinematic superheroes are increasingly complicated. They are good guys with bad parts. We’ve become quite comfortable with the complexity of our fictional characters.

Yet, we continue to resist, and fail to embrace, this complexity in our lives and in our hearts

How to Accept the Things That Drive Us Crazy in a Marriage

We spend most of our marriages trying to change our lovers. Ironically, the most important change we can make is to accept more of the good but crazy-making things about each other…

marriage

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In the spring of 1999, a film called Jerry Maguire left a permanent mark on pop culture, with three little phrases:

“Show me the money.”

“You had me at Hello.”

And, “You complete me.”

By the autumn of ’99, it had become my favorite movie, probably because I was broke and single. I wanted someone to show me the money. And I wanted someone to complete me. I met my wife that autumn. She was broke, too, but there was no question she completed me. Which is to say, she was the opposite of me in endless ways.

She gladly jumped out of planes; I deliberated about jumping out of the bathtub.

She loved to run; I loved to run to the couch.

She had one tattoo and plans for more; I avoided pain at all costs.

She was energized by a crowd; a party left me with an introvert hangover for days.

She was a feminist; I had once heard of feminism.

I panicked if I misplaced my car keys; she shrugged her shoulders when she misplaced her car.

You get the idea—she was a free spirit and my spirit had routines. She was the opposite of me in endless ways and, consequently, she was fascinating to me in endless ways. She drew me out of my shell, propelled me into a bigger world, and made me look at the stars instead of the ground.

The problem is, in most relationships, we begin by looking for someone to complete us, and we end up wishing we had someone who was identical to us.

The Hidden Message in “Maleficent” (and How It Can Heal All of Us)

Maleficent is a movie about wounds and the strange, hopeless ways we try to heal our wounds with power. But it is also a movie about the beautiful, hopeful way we can actually heal our wounds…

Maleficent

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[Note: If you haven't seen Maleficent yet, Spoiler Alert!]

As I walked out of Maleficent with my family, I asked my kids what the movie was about. My son looked at me and said, “It was about how Maleficent was made whole again.”

In the end, Maleficent is a story about how we are all made whole again.

Of course a kid could see it.

After all, it was the child in the story—Princess Aurora, the unwounded one—who reminded Maleficent who she was beneath all the layers of wounds and power and vengeance. In the end, the Sleeping Beauty in the story was not Princess Aurora; the Sleeping Beauty was the loving and lovely child hibernating in the depths of a wounded, villainous heart.

We are made whole again when we are reminded—usually by the innocents among us—of who we really are beneath all our layers of wounds and power…

When the sleeping beauty inside of Maleficent awakens, she gives kisses and reverses curses and crushes thrones and takes down the wall of thorns bordering her homeland and removes her crown for good. In the final scene of the movie, Maleficent’s former throne is in the background and it sits conspicuously empty.

Because when love shows up, thrones gather dust and power gathers rust.

This is an excerpt of a guest post I wrote for Disney’s Babble.com. To read the rest of this meditation on wounds, the ways we try to heal our wounds with power, and the way we can actually heal our wounds, click here to read the rest of the post

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Next Post: How to Accept the Things That Drive Us Crazy in a Marriage

Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

A Father’s Letter to Young Men (About How to Treat a Woman)

Dear Young Men,

Our confusion about women starts early:

how to treat women

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Last spring, a new family moved into our neighborhood. They have a school-aged daughter, and on moving day she was playing alone in her new yard. Meanwhile, a group of six boys played in our yard. When I suggested they go invite her to play, one of the boys cried out, “We don’t know how to treat girls!” The rest of the boys nodded vociferously in agreement.

Our confusion about women starts early.

We’re told they are fundamentally different than us. Women have emotions, but men have muscles. Women nurture, but men protect. Women like to talk, but men like to act. Women want love, but men want respect. Men are from Mars and women are from Venus.  We’ve been trained to believe they are alien.

We’ve even been trained to believe they play differently on a spring afternoon.

Our confusion about women starts early.

On a spring afternoon, as the boys nodded violently, I told them I knew the secret about how to treat girls. I waved them in close. They smiled conspiratorially. Then I whispered, “You start by treating them like a person.” They quit smiling. They asked the girl to play and, in minutes, they were all jumping on the trampoline. Same energy, same laughter, same joy. People being people together.

Young Men, we can stop treating women like women and start treating them like humans.

Why Nobody is Interested in the Secret to Self-Confidence

Hint: It’s not because it’s complicated or confusing or impossible. Nobody is interested in the secret to self-confidence because it’s boring

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My son swears we abandoned him at a store when he was three.

At first, the details of the story were fuzzy. Maybe we just left him stranded in the video game aisle for an hour. Maybe we forgot him completely and finally remembered him when we got to the parking lot. Maybe we got all the way home and then had to come back for him.

(Before you call child services, let me assure you: no matter how many times I’ve wanted to leave my children crying in the toy aisle, I’ve never actually done so.)

Yet, over the years, as he has repeated the story, he has settled into a version that feels right and real and true for him. He honestly believes we left him at the store. Nothing we say or do can convince him otherwise.

Because when we repeat words and stories enough, they gather power. The stories we repeatedly tell ourselves become our selves. Which is why the key to self-loathing and self-confidence is one and the same: repetition. Boring, I know. But devastatingly powerful…

A Father’s Letter to Young Women (About Getting Naked)

To Young Women Everywhere, 

Several months ago, I wrote these words in a letter to my daughter: “The world wants you to take your clothes off. Please keep them on. But take your gloves off. Pull no punches. Say what is in your heart. Be vulnerable. Embrace risk. Love a world that barely knows what it means to love itself. Do so nakedly. Openly. With abandon.”

They were the most controversial words in a letter that eventually went viral.  

naked

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Many of you objected to the idea of keeping your clothes on. You lamented purity myths and said being naked is a valid expression of who you are. Young Women, you should express yourselves. You should be unsilenced. You should find your voice.

But your skin is not the final expression of who you are; your skin is the fickle container for who you are.

Millions of people have skin like yours—theirs will wrinkle and fade just like your own—but no one has a heart like yours. Each and every one of you is the home to an entirely unique soul. Your rare wonder and beauty are not expressed in your bare skin; they’re expressed in your bared soul.

Last year, I saw P!nk in concert. The show was a dazzling display of bodies and skin. It was easy to think of it as daring self-expression. Until a few days later, when someone sent me a video of P!nk stopping a concert mid-song to comfort a crying child in the audience. She made thousands of people wait, while she talked to the toddler and sent a stuffed animal and some food into the crowd for the distraught little one.

Now, that is daring self-expression.