The Most Wonderfully Painful Time of the Year

Several years ago, when my son Quinn was in kindergarten, he opened a present on Christmas morning, and he was not happy with what he saw. He set it aside, looked up at me, and declared, “We’re gonna need a receipt for that one.”

suffering

Photo Credit: kuchina (Bigstock)

I made a mental note to start working on gratitude with him as soon as the wrapping paper was all picked up. Yet, at the same time, I heard in his words the ordinary wish of the masses of humanity: we are given this gift called life and, oftentimes, as we unwrap it, there are parts of it we would like to return.

Usually, we want a receipt for the painful parts.

For instance, several months ago, I dropped Quinn off for his first day of fifth grade. The long line of cars was moving slowly, so I had time to watch him walk onto the playground. He stood there, alone, nervously rubbing the straps of his backpack, scanning the crowd for just one friendly face. He turned in circles and searched in vain. My stomach clenched. As a psychologist, I know kids need moments like this to build resilience—to learn they can survive it—but the father in me was about to pull over and get out anyway. Then, the line sped up and I was forced to move on, leaving my son lonely and looking. I knew he’d eventually find his friends—moments of loneliness always precede moments of belonging, that’s just the way it is—but eventually wasn’t good enough for me.

I wanted to skip over the painful part…

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Week 51: How All This Passion, Pain, and Courage Add Up to Joy [Loveable 052]

“Fear about the future becomes bravery in the present becomes joy in hindsight. Joy is knowing you can be scared and still ride through life. Joy is being terrified and trusting you’ll survive it. Joy is believing in yourself enough to believe you are brave.”

Joy and happiness are not the same thing. In fact, they may be opposites, and the difference between them could make all the difference in your life. In Episode 52 of The Loveable Podcast, we focus on how practicing your passions may not add up to happiness but will almost certainly add up to joy. Because happiness is about things going your way, whereas joy is about trusting you can handle life, no matter how things go…

loveable podcast episode 52

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Both positive and negative feedback can disrupt the practicing of our passions, because they inflate or wound our ego, rooting us there, rather than in our souls, where all authenticity and creativity originate.
  • Perfectionism is a highly evolved defense against criticism.
  • We fear vulnerability will mean we get wounded; usually, it means we get joyful,
  • Bravery is going one step farther than you think you can.
  • Courage isn’t going forward without trepidation; courage is going forward with determination, even when we are terrified.
  • You don’t need to become brave, you need to realize you have already been brave.
  • Vulnerability and bravery are practiced every day in ordinary life.
  • To encourage our kids to be brave, don’t teach them about bravery, help them remember times they’ve already been brave.
  • Sometimes fear is a boundary we need to push through; other times fear is telling us we need to set a boundary in our life.
  • We stay afraid instead of brave because we never attend to what happened to the things we feared, we just move on to fearing the next thing. Pay attention. You’re brave.

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The Best Reason to Do Scary Things

facing your fears

Photo Credit: Matthew Carroll (Bigstock)

I used to hide on the floor of the car.

When I was seven, and our family crossed the vast Mississippi river on the big bridges around St. Louis, I’d become so terrified that I would huddle on the floor of the car until we had reached the other side. Long bridges over water terrify me. I had recurring nightmares about them as a child. I have no idea where this fear came from; it has been with me for as long as I can remember. I don’t have any other fears like it.

And I don’t need them; this one is stubborn enough.

A quarter of a century after I huddled on the floor of an old Buick over the wide Mississippi, I drove my young family from Illinois to Maryland, where my wife’s family lived at the time. My bridge fears were mostly forgotten. Suddenly, however, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was looming ahead of us, arching into the sky like an Evil Knievel stunt for the ordinary motorist, and I had my first panic attack. I drove us across the bridge that day, but it happened again on our way home. And then it happened again and again and again.

Every time we traveled to Maryland.

Several years after that first panic attack, I was telling my therapist about it, and his reaction was the grace I needed at the time, as a recovering perfectionist. “Kelly,” he said, “maybe you don’t need to be the best at everything. Why don’t you let your wife drive the bridge?” So, for the last few years, every time we cross the Bay Bridge, we pull over at the last gas station before the bridge, my wife and I switch seats, and my kids tease me as we cross the bay.

Which is fine—after all, at some point, every kid needs to learn their old man is human.

So, the plan had worked perfectly over the years.

Until last month.

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Week 50: The Courage to Fail [Loveable 051]

“Courage is ignoring the jeers and feeling the fears. Courage is returning to the edge of our comfort zone and choosing the place where our fear dwells, because we are worthy of another chance at life. Regardless of what the critics say.”

People who experience success aren’t better at being successful; they are better at failing. They don’t misinterpret failures as a sign that they should be doing something else. They don’t listen to the people who tell them their failures define them. They get back up and try again, believing their passion is truer than their setbacks. In other words, success doesn’t always feel great; more often than not, it feels like failure that didn’t stop us.

In Episode 51 of The Loveable Podcast, we will turn your definitions of success and courage upside down, and cultivate the courage to fail by listening to the right people.

loveable podcast episode 51

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • A job is not a passion. A job is a place to practice your passion, or a place you are leaving for a new place where you can practice your passion more consistently.
  • Everyone is making it up as they go. Don’t worry about needing to know the outcome before you get started. The outcome unfolds as you act bravely.
  • The mindset necessary for beginning to practice our passions: “Learn to be a rookie and love it.”
  • Fear makes you quiet; defy it by telling someone you trust about it.
  • Stubborn is another word for courageous.
  • You don’t have to be over your fear to practice your passion; you have to be sick of it.
  • Whenever we pursue a passion that is an authentic expression of our true self, we will also experience misfortune, disappointment, and pain. Hardship is not necessarily a sign you should stop.
  • We are defined not by the criticism we receive but by the courage we live.
  • Failures don’t have to be conclusions; they can be course corrections.
  • Impostor syndrome would evaporate if we could all admit we’re learning and making mistakes as we go.
  • Practice say nothing at all. Defending oneself and justifying oneself are just distractions from the work of pursuing our passions.

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Let’s Be Grateful for What We Cannot See

gratitude

Photo Credit: kaban (Bigstock)

This blog space was birthed out of gratitude.

In 2011, I was in the midst of a reckoning with my anger, fear, and shame. I was drowning in a deep, deep sense of scarcity: my fear of never having enough and never being enough. Somewhere in the midst of that reckoning, that drowning, a friend handed out a bunch of free copies of a book about gratitude. In a world full of supposed life preservers, I decided to reach for it, in the hope it would keep me afloat.

It did.

For several months, I engaged in the daily practice of gratitude, writing down everything that I noticed around me and within me for which I was grateful. The dancing of sunlight through treetops on the dining room table. The sound of my kids’ laughter in the other room. The taste of a single raisin. The still-quiet place of peace at the center of my soul. By the end of 2011, I wasn’t just staying afloat.

I was beginning to glimpse the shoreline.

Suddenly, I knew goodness was abundant, both around me and within me. I resonated with the words of David Steindl-Rast, who wrote, “We can’t be grateful for everything, but we can be grateful in every moment.”

Even when we are in pain, goodness and abundance continue to exist. It’s possible to feel the sorrow while seeing the beauty. Such double-sight can sustain you in the hardest of times, and it can inspire you in the best of times.

By the beginning of 2012 I knew that, regardless of how badly people might react to my writing, goodness and beauty and abundance would still exist within me and around me. So, gratitude in me gave rise to courage in me gave rise to writing in me. And on January 6, 2012, I published my first blog post. I’ve been practicing gratitude ever since, but an email I recently received from a reader has inspired me to change my gratitude practice.

Now, instead of being grateful for what I can see, I focus on being grateful for what I cannot see, as well.

She told me she’d been reading my blog since the beginning and had never reached out before, but she was grateful for the words I’d shared over the years, and she wanted to let me know. I told her I was grateful for her. Though I’d never known she existed—and though I haven’t been able put a face or a name to the vast majority of my readers over the last seven years—I’ve been grateful for every single reader since that January day in 2012, including the ones I’ve never heard from.

Thank you.

If Seth Godin is right and art isn’t art until it has been shared, you’ve made it possible for me to make art. You’ve given my words a place to belong. At times, when I thought the sanity I was finally experiencing might just be crazy, your enduring presence has assured me that I’m not going nuts. You’ve made the cold, dark, frustrating mornings at the keyboard worth every moment of it. You’ve given publishers a reason to believe in me. You’ve given me, by virtue of your very existence and faithfulness, hope for humanity. Because of you, that hope will never go away.

Gratitude for that which we cannot see may be the most enduring gratitude of all.

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Week 49: What to Do When Our Feelings Are Lying to Us [Loveable 050]

“Life is a gift in terrifying disguise, and we are here to open it, until we find the still-quiet place in the center of it, where fear no longer decides.”

In Episode 50 of The Loveable Podcast, we talk about fear. It is an important emotion. It causes us to buckle our seatbelts, run out of burning buildings, and grab our pepper spray when we hear footsteps behind us in a dark parking lot. But in the modern world, our fear has gone rogue. We now get afraid not just about life-threatening situations, but also about life-changing situations. We are afraid not just of dangers, but of opportunities. It’s time to quit letting fear make our decisions for us…

loveable podcast episode 50

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Practicing our passion is not a leap, it’s a step-by-step process, with each step preparing us for the next one.
  • To add just a little beauty to the world is reason enough to practice your passion.
  • Our passion only requires an audience of one, and sometimes, for a little while, that audience might even be ourselves.
  • If you pay attention to the world instead of the news, you discover that reality is more inspiring than it is terrifying.
  • Our fear may not go away, but it should be a passenger in our lives, not the driver.
  • Welcome your fear, listen to it, become familiar with it, then discern whether or not you will continue to listen to it.
  • If you practice your passion in order to be successful, you will accidentally feed your shame.
  • Sometimes fear isn’t telling you to avoid something; it’s telling you that doing it is going to feel vulnerable, but you should do it anyway.
  • The voice of your self-encouragement tries to convince you there is no reason to be afraid; the voice of grace tells you that there are good reasons to be afraid but you will be able to handle it.
  • Sometimes, fear is telling a half-truth. Be slow. Discern. Listen to the true half. Then quit listening.
  • Sometimes you will let fear decide. That’s okay. Learn from it. Choose differently next time.
  • If you have strong faith you might have more fear, because you will live boldly and bravely in ways that challenge you anew.

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Week 48: The Good Life vs. the Redemptive Life [Loveable 049]

The so-called good life is a hollow promise. It’s empty of the things we desire most, like passion, purpose, and peace. It bores us. Makes us restless. We crave something else. We ultimately crave a redemptive life.

In Episode 49 of The Loveable Podcast, we shift our focus slightly to something that will clarify not what our passion is, but the direction we want to go with it. That something is our pain. This week’s episode revolves around a hard but simple formula: passion + pain = purpose. In other words, when we practice our passion in the service of redeeming our pain, a sense of purpose is almost guaranteed…

loveable podcast episode 49

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • People don’t hold us back from following our passions; we allow them to hold us back. Instead, we need to set a boundary on their influence upon us.
  • Getting healthy usually means developing a healthy sense of inner authority. When this inner authority comes into conflict with our authority figures, we must enter an intentional process of discernment.
  • “Sometimes passion needs something to contain it, focus it, and to turn it in a direction that is good, holy, and meaningful. And sometimes that something is our pain.” –Loveable
  • “Sometimes, redeeming our pain is about coming to value it so much, we let it lead us.” –Loveable
  • “Where are our most vibrant passion meets our most visceral pain, we discover a sense of purpose.” –Loveable
  • A sense of purpose arises within us when we face the pain of our story and realize the transformation of it will be the direction of our life.
  • Transient happiness is a hallmark of the good life; enduring joy is a hallmark of the redemptive life.
  • As we practice our passions, we gradually discover the pain they are intended to redeem.
  • Build a life you love rather than living one you tolerate.
  • When we embrace our pain, we release our suffering, which is for the most part simply resistance to our pain.
  • The redemptive life makes us an active participate in redeeming our pain, rather than a passive participant in receiving our pain.
  • You can’t force the redemption of your pain, you can only be faithful to it.

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This Is How to Find Your Place in the Family of Things

death and resurrection

Photo Credit: Michael Schroeder (Bigstock)

This year, the maples all turned purple.

They usually die all at once in an explosion of blood red and burning orange. This year, though, it looks as if they all got together—had a tree-meeting of sorts—and agreed to die differently. Purple, at first, instead of red. Starting at the crown, and then pausing for a couple of weeks, before turning fully red. Slower than ever. Better than ever? I’m not sure about that.

But definitely different.

I have a friend who says that death and resurrection is the pattern of everything. It’s not just trees in their ancient, seasonal rhythm. Whole forests burn and whole ecosystems are resurrected from the charred remains. Our skin cells shed to dust and are replaced by new tissue. Every night, our consciousness dies in sleep and is resurrected by wakefulness. Every twenty-four hours, the day dies at sunset and is resurrected at sunrise. Everywhere you look, everything finds itself somewhere in this cycle of death and resurrection. And this year, the maples reminded me: the death and resurrection is different every time.

This autumn, for instance, I died differently than I’ve ever died before. Three times.

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Week 47: What a Life of Vulnerability Really Looks Like [Loveable 048]

“We are healed when we reveal our mess to another and put our real self on the line. When we connect in our brokenness—not in spite of it—we discover what makes us messy is also what makes us beautiful. And we give everyone around us permission to be broken and beautiful, too…A world torn apart by invincibility can only be healed by vulnerability and weakness.” 

In Episode 48 of The Loveable Podcast, we are focused on the biggest barrier to practicing your passions. It is not lack of clarity about what they are. It is not lack of resources for pursuing them. It is something much more basic, much more common, and much more formidable. It is fear. This week we talk about vulnerability, courage, and what it means to be truly successful in the practicing of your passions…

loveable podcast episode 48

Here are just a few of the takeaways from this week’s episode:

  • Be humble enough to let your life unfold, be attentive enough to learn from it as it does, and be courageous enough to choose a direction, even if there is no guarantee you will head in that direction forever.
  • Our passion at first may take the form of jealousy about someone else who is practicing their passion.
  • If you can’t connect with a passion, that’s okay. Take the time to reconnect with your true self and your worthiness, and eventually your passions will surface.
  • When tragedy strikes, we have two options: get anxious and hold on even tighter to what will eventually end, or accept the impermanence of things and replace anxiety with a healthy urgency about living and loving well.
  • When we quit investing our time and energy in our invulnerability—our protection and pretending and perfecting and performing—we can become the artists we already are.
  • Courage is not a character trait; it’s a direction.
  • Success isn’t trying and winning; success is simply trying, regardless of how afraid you are.
  • Creation isn’t finished. We are co-creators. Our passions are the brush. The world is our easel.
  • The people we belong to love us enough to shelter us from unfair criticism, and enough to give us constructive criticism.
  • When we lack courage to be vulnerable and to practice our passions, we don’t need a group of people to cheerlead us, we only need one person we can trust to en-courage us.

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Let’s Stop Dismissing Our Young People (Our Decency May Depend Upon It)

My son recently pointed out how much I break the law. At first, I resisted what he had to say. Eventually, I surrendered to it. And, in doing so, I realized how much young people have to teach us about how far we adults have strayed from the decent, dignified lives we once aspired to, and once tried to inspire them to…

wisdom of children

Photo Credit: Borakovskyy (Bigstock)

I’m driving a lot slower these days.

A month ago, my oldest son Aidan got his driver’s permit. He’s taking Driver’s Ed and he has read The Rules of the Road and he’s learning how to do this whole driving thing by the book. He’s learning about why speed limits exist, and where you should stop at a stop sign, and how to stay precisely in your lane when making a turn. Which means he’s a total pain in the butt when I’m driving.

Because I break the rules all the time.

He points out regularly that I don’t keep my hands at 10 and 2—in fact, I rarely have two hands on the wheel. I pay way too much attention to my phone. If I stop completely at a stop sign at all, it’s at least two yards ahead of it. I treat the speed limit like a speed suggestion. I treat yellow lights like commands to speed up rather than slow down. I treat my blinker like its optional.

I don’t drive according to The Rules of the Road; I drive as if I rule the road.

So, he’s been teaching me how to drive properly again and, I’ll be honest, at first, I dismissed him. At first, I appealed to my driving record—one ticket in twenty-five years and low insurance premiums. Then, I appealed to comparison—other people break the rules worse than I do and at least I don’t look at social media while I’m driving. Finally, I appealed to my age and experience and authority—“You know, Son, The Rules of the Road are one thing but the reality of the road is something else altogether.”

Fortunately, he won’t let me get away with that kind of defensive, dismissive, condescending, authoritarian, patriarchal nonsense.

So, in the end, I agreed it would be best for me to drive according to the actual rules of the road. And yesterday, while I was driving to the grocery story, I was thinking (now that I’m going the speed limit, I have a lot more time to think while driving) about how much better my driving is now that I have surrendered to what he is re-teaching me about the proper ways to drive. And it made me wonder:

How much better would my life be if I let him re-teach me about the proper ways to live?

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