Dear Little One, Release Your Shame (A Letter from a Father to a Child)

shame

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Dear Little One,

You have not been perfect. Far from it.

Do you remember the time you crept downstairs while everyone was sleeping and snuck the Kool-Aid from the refrigerator? Do you remember how, when you got caught, you lied and said you didn’t do it? You’ve punished yourself for that transgression for long enough. You are forgiven. Release your shame.

You are not the poor decisions you sometimes make.

Do you remember the time you accidentally brought home someone else’s homework, feared getting into trouble for making a mistake, and stuffed the homework beneath our house, where you thought no one would find it? You’ve lived in fear long enough. Release your shame.

You are not the things you do when you are most afraid.

Do you remember the bullies on the playground? You were trying to figure out how to become a man, and with every bruise, you doubted more and more if you could become one. The bruises on your skin became bruises on your heart. Your skin has healed—it is time now for your heart to heal, too. Release your shame.

You are not defined by the bruises you’ve picked up along the way.

Do you remember when you became the bully? Do you remember how you teased that poor, sad, lonely kid on the playground? You’ve wounded people. This is true. But the shame you’ve felt about it is a wound that festers, infecting you and everyone around you. Release your shame.

You are not the desperate things you’ve done in order to belong.

Do you remember all the subtle ways you’ve arrogantly looked down upon your peers? I get it. You think you’re fighting for a spot in a very tiny winner’s circle. You’ve fallen into the same trap as the rest of us. You are forgiven. Release your arrogance, which is really just another guise for your shame.

You are not the games you’ve played and won, or lost.  

Little One, I pray you will release your shame, because the truth is, you are me. Though I’ve written many letters to my own children, this is a letter to you, the child I once was, the little one who still exists somewhere within me. In fact, I think all those letters to my kids have also been a letter to you—the scared, ashamed, confused, and desperate little kid I was and, in some ways, still am.

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The Grace of Failure (Or, How to Avoid a Midlife Crisis)

midlife crisis

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Forty years ago today—on December 14, 1976—I was born.

Since then, nothing has worked out as planned.

And that, is a saving grace.

You see, if I had become what I planned to be on my fifth birthday, I’d be a firefighter right now. As a boy, I was enthralled by the heroism of it. But now, I have a bad back and I hate thrill-seeking and I go out of my way to avoid third degree burns.

Courage comes in many forms. Sometimes, we plan for one kind of courage, but we end up having to find forms of bravery more consistent with who we are.

By my tenth birthday, the Chicago Bears were reigning Super Bowl champions, and I planned to be a running back at Soldier Field, like Walter Payton. But I’m slow, relatively small, not very strong, and I don’t like people bumping into me. For me, bruises rank right up there with third degree burns.

Sometimes, it’s important to accept that our idealistic plans will be altered by our very realistic limitations.

If I’d become what I planned to be when I was fifteen, I’d be a trial lawyer right now, just like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, hammering away at Jack Nicholson. The problem is, I don’t like conflict or courtrooms, and I’m not sure what I think about Tom Cruise anymore.

It’s easy to plan a Hollywood life, but it takes some growing up and a lot of self-acceptance to gladly choose a life that is a little more ordinary.

A decade ago, I planned to build a life in the bustling Chicago suburbs. The problem was, by the time I was thirty, I’d forgotten the little one inside of me who loves quiet and slowness and forested paths and towns where everyone waves to each other.

Often, when we’re young, we plan to grow up into something big and flashy, but sometimes growing up is really about growing young again, reclaiming who we’ve always been, and living the way we’re wired.

By the time I was thirty-five, I planned to write a little blog for a handful of therapy clients interested in working directly with me. It seemed arrogant to hope for anything more.

Sometimes our plans are too big. But just as often our shame makes our plans too small, admonishing us for dreaming big, calling it conceit. Yet, our plans get to be exactly as big as our love for our self, our people, and our world.

Now, here I am. The big 4-0.

Now, I’ve got new plans. Bigger plans. I’ve got a new book coming out in March, a second new book I’m going to give away for free to those who pre-order the first book, and I’ve got all sorts of hopes and plans for all of it.

Yes, I still make plans. We have to. Plans propel us forward.

Yet today, on my fortieth birthday, I find myself hoping none of my plans work out.

It would have been a disaster—particularly for people in burning buildings and the Chicago Bears—if I had become who I wanted to be when I was five and ten years old. Likewise, when I’m fifty, I don’t want to be who I planned to be at forty. A true self is a constantly emerging self.

A good life is an always evolving life.

Growing up isn’t about getting what we want; it’s about giving in to the best parts of who we are. Slowly. Over time. As we begin to glimpse them, cease to reject them, welcome them, embrace them, live them. Growing up is about learning how to listen to the voice of grace, which is whispering within each of us, all the time, nudging us in a particular direction for today.

That, I think, is the challenge of turning forty. This birthday makes you want to look backward or forward. However, the question it begs of you is, can you stay focused and look deeper into the now? Can you live today as authentically as possible, so your days will eventually take you somewhere you ultimately want to be?

A couple of weeks ago, my oldest son looked into the now, as we crossed a bridge in our hometown, far outside the bustling Chicago suburbs. Someone we didn’t know had just waved to us in passing, the sun had just set, and, with more than a little awe in his thirteen-year-old voice, he observed, “Twilight over the river here is beautiful.”

I’m not sure how many years I have left. But I have only one plan I’m planning on keeping: I’m going to keep looking at now, I’m going to keep listening for the voice of grace, and I’m going to keep trusting that, if we do this, the twilight over our lives can be beautiful, too.

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Pre-Order LOVEABLE Now! You are enough. You are not alone. And you matter. These are the three fundamental truths of your existence. The problem is there is a voice inside each of us relentlessly calling them into question. And yet the answer to that voice can be found within each of us, as well. Click here to find out more about my new book—Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life.

The Parable of the Mass Shooting That Didn’t Happen

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

He watches the people lined up outside the club. People? More like swine. Robotic pigs, programmed to get into lines, to work and to sweat all day and then, at night, to rub their sweaty bodies together on a dance floor.

The gun sits on the car seat beside him.

But it’s not just a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

No one has ever kept their promises to him.

mass shootings

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His parents always told him they were interested in him, but when he tried to talk to them, he could see the faraway-glassy look in their eyes. And they told him they’d love him no matter what. But he overheard what they condemned in everyone else. Would they really love him if they knew the things he really thought, the things he really did, and the things he really wanted to do? He thought not.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

His girlfriend had promised him forever. In return, he’d promised her everything. Then, after all that promising, she’d had the nerve to tell him her feelings had “changed.” That she no longer loved him. That it was over. One more promise broken.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The politicians promised prosperity. They said there was a formula to things: honest work, blood, sweat, tears, a house, a marriage, kids, and retirement accounts were supposed to add up to the American dream. But his father had worked like a slave for the company, and then the company abandoned him for cheap, overseas labor. The banks had robbed people blind on bad mortgages, and now his parents’ house was worth nothing. His parents weren’t dreaming; they were scraping by.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

The church promised him peace. They’d told him if he went every Sunday, gave his energy to their programs, his money to their building, and his heart to their Jesus, then he could be assured of eternity. But his problem wasn’t fear of the afterlife; his problem was despair about this life. He’d hoped the church would open the trap door, showing him the way to a deeper, more meaningful level of this life. Instead, they’d just kept making empty promises about the next one.

The gun isn’t a weapon; it’s a promise that will finally be kept.

So, as it sits on the car seat beside him, he wonders, why am I hesitating?

Why am I sitting instead of shooting?

Yet, he knows the answer. The man.

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The Secret to Becoming Who You’ve Always Wanted to Be

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I once knew an artist who told me about a sculpture he wanted to carve out of wood. He said he had a vision for it in his mind’s eye. Then a week passed. And then two. And then three. I assumed he was procrastinating.

When I asked him about it, he smiled and said, “Kelly, I can’t create what I want to create in just any block of wood. Every piece of wood has different grains and different textures. If you carve against the grain—try to force it into something it is not—you will crack the wood and ruin the sculpture. The shape of any creation is already in the wood. I just help it to become the shape that it already is.”

It’s true of wood, and it’s true of people.

You already are what you are becoming.

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BREAKING NEWS: This Just Happened and the World May Never Be the Same

love

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(UnTangled News)—The global community was rocked yesterday by a divorce that may alter the course of humanity and the future of the planet. UnTangled News can confirm some basic facts:

For millennia, Love had been married to Power, clinging to Power and riding on his coattails, relying on Power to transform people and the world. Love was afraid to exist on her own in the world—afraid of what people would do to her and say about her.

But yesterday, something changed. In hearts and homes and villages and cities and nations, Love finally gave up on the relationship. Love just up and walked out on Power, ending their partnership for good.

One close friend of the couple, who goes by the name of Inertia, was quoted as saying, “They were always at odds with each other. They kept each other in check. While they were together, you got the sense nothing would ever change. And I kind of liked that. Now that Love is free of Power, I’m afraid she’s going to change everything.”

Reports from Around the Globe

Reports pouring in from around the globe suggest Inertia’s worst fears may be coming true—now that Love and Power are divorced, Love has been free to sacrifice and to lose and to be vulnerable and to invite and to release and to honor:

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Dear ISIS (A Letter Between Human Beings)

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Dear ISIS,

I know I’m supposed to hate you. I know I’m supposed to be angry. I know I’m supposed to want revenge. I know I’m supposed to demand justice at any cost. I’m supposed to raise my middle finger, tell you I’m not afraid, hunt you down, and blow you up. I know I’m supposed to think you’re the bad guys and we’re the good guys. I know I’m supposed to think you’re evil.

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This Is How Christmas (and Life) Should Be More like Halloween

I used to think Christmas was the holiday during which we love best. But after trick-or-treating last weekend, I’m pretty sure the grace of Halloween puts Christmas to shame…

grace

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“Daddy, will other kids get more candy because their costumes are scarier?”

We are minutes away from taking to the streets for the annual Halloween ritual. My daughter is standing in front of me, dressed in white from head to toe, holding above her a transparent umbrella with homemade eyes taped to it and purple and pink streamers hanging from it. She’s a jellyfish with shimmering tentacles.

And she’s not one bit scary.

But I don’t have to think twice before smiling and answering. “No, Sweetie, with trick-or-treating, all you have to do is show up, and everybody who shows up gets exactly the same amount of candy. No matter how big or how little, no matter how young or how old, and no matter how scary or not scary you are.”

She smiles and skips away, tentacles flowing behind her.

I smile, too, because I’ve always liked Halloween, but all of a sudden I like it a lot more. Especially when I imagine my daughter six weeks from now, in kindergarten, learning a very different holiday lesson about what she has to do to receive good things. Most of us know the lines by heart:

“You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. Santa Clause is coming to town.”

Yikes.

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The Secret About Healing Nobody Wants to Hear (But Everybody Needs to Hear)

Last Wednesday, when my weekly blog post went live, I panicked. I’ve published over two-hundred posts, and I never fail to get a little squeamish. But this was different. I was suddenly certain every reader would unsubscribe. This is why…

therapy

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I’ve had similar feelings before. When I write something I think might be a little controversial, I wonder how many people will be angry and alienated and click the unsubscribe link. And some weeks, the writing doesn’t come easily and the post feels a little clunky and I wonder how many people will decide my prose isn’t worth the time.

But this time, the writing had flowed smoothly and was, I thought, pretty decent. And it wasn’t controversial at all. In fact, I’d written about the topic before. Several times. And the posts had always been pretty well received. So, what was I suddenly feeling so insecure about?

I’d written about the topic before.

For a week, my shame came to me in a new form: a question—when are folks going to get sick of me struggling with, and writing about, the same old stuff? I imagined thousands of people at home, thinking, “Kelly’s struggling with his ego and achievement issues again and, once again, finding a mindful way back to his soul. Been there, done that.”

I was afraid I’d worn out my welcome.

Fortunately, I know I’m not the only one whose fear takes this shape.

Because I’ve seen it in almost every soul in my therapy office.

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Home Is Where the Grace Is

grace

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It’s a Saturday evening and my oldest son and I are working the dinner shift at a homeless shelter. We’re staffing the beverage table with friends, enjoying the challenge of keeping up with the demand for drinks, working hard, and laughing even harder. And then I see him.

Or, rather, I see the back of him.

I see the back of a young boy—about my son’s age—already walking away from the table. While we were trading jokes and jabs, he had quietly approached us, picked up a soda, and is now returning to his seat in the crowd. I watch him rejoin his family—two parents and two younger siblings. I’d been at the shelter for ninety minutes, and I hadn’t even noticed them. While serving them, I hadn’t seen them.

There’s more than one way to be homeless, isn’t there?

Being houseless is one thing; being unseen and lonely is another thing altogether.

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A Letter of Thanks to You

gratitude

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Dear You,

Yes, you.

Thank you, Faithful Friend. Thank you for the grace you give—the grace that reminds us we’re okay, good enough, even lovely. Thank you for being a space where we know we don’t have to do anything or impress anyone to be worthy of love and belonging. For being the embrace that doesn’t go away. For being the family we choose.

This world is a better place because of you.

Thank you, Exhausted Parent. Thank you for being bone tired because you care enough to pay attention. Thank you for remembering—no matter what the kids try to tell you—eye contact matters more to them than any iPad ever will. Thank you for looking them in the eyes, when all you want to do is close yours. Thank you for loving them enough to give them all of you, and then loving them enough to let them go.

This world is a better place because of you.

Thank you, Rebellious Spouses. Thank you for rebelling against the consumer disease. For refusing to treat your marriage as one more commodity in a world of purchased things. For refusing to make it a transactional place where you get what you you’ve always wanted and, instead, insisting it is a sacred place where two people learn to give what has always been needed.

This world is a better place because of you.

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