Why It’s Exhausting to Hide

It’s exhausting to hide who we truly are, because the true self is like a beach ball. It wants to float, and it takes an awful lot of work and energy to keep it pushed beneath the waves…

true self

Photo Credit: PKMousie via Compfight cc

The cold brick dug into my forehead.

Spring 2005. Early morning. I’d walked out the back door of our small, third-floor apartment, and I was leaning my head against the brick wall on the outside landing. I was exhausted and I had all sorts of good excuses for that—a clinical internship, a young and struggling marriage, a sick baby—but the truth was, my false self was slowly killing me.

Or, rather, the work of maintaining my false self was killing me.

Building an image. Preserving a reputation. Appearing confident and competent. Keeping everyone happy with me. Feeling like I was never enough but always looking like I was more than enough. Falling apart but acting like I had it all together.

Utterly draining.

It’s tiring to hide your true self.

Continue Reading »

It’s About Time (To Make Peace in Your Most Important Relationship)

“Know your fight is not within; yours is with your time here.” 

–John Mayer

mindfulness

Why would four generations of formally dressed people gather in a pub on a Thursday afternoon? If you can picture it, you can probably guess.

A funeral.

Two toddlers are alternately laughing about nothing and wailing about French fries. Their mother looks tired and sad. I wonder if it’s because of the person she lost or the little people she still has. Their father wrangles one of the kids while trying to carry on a conversation. A baby boomer eats quietly, while another gives her attention to her phone and the digital distractions it contains. And sitting at the end of the table is a married couple from the greatest generation. They trade the kind of sparse but loving conversation only possible after sixty years of marriage.

I came to the pub to take a break. I invited my wife, but she told me I needed some time alone. Wise woman. Life has been moving fast. Faster than I can handle, I think, and I entered the pub hoping time would slow down a little bit.

Instead, it expanded.

Into four generations.

As I watched them, I realized: time isn’t racing by; time is marching on, at the same slow and steady cadence it has since it exploded into existence. And, as I watched the subtle and sacred exchange of love and relationship amongst four generations, I realized: there is at least one relationship in my life with which I still need to make peace.

My relationship to time.

I’m always fighting with her.

Continue Reading »

How to Feel Joy (With These Five Little Words)

The key to a joyful life often seems mysterious or unattainable. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, it may be as simple as listening and responding to five little words…

purpose

Photo Credit: waferboard via Compfight cc

I’m drying dishes and putting them away when I see it once again.

I open a cabinet door, place a cup on the shelf, and I notice the unopened Star Wars video game nestled next to a stack of cups. I think to myself, “I really should do something with that video game.” I close the cabinet door. And then I stop. The video game was given to my son at his sixth birthday party. We already owned it so, amidst the chaos of the party, I’d decided to toss it in the cupboard and figure out what to do with it later.

My son is now eleven.

For five years I’ve opened the cabinet door, noticed the game every time, and then closed the door again, telling myself I should do something with the game. It’s a silly story when it’s about a video game. But it’s not such a silly story when we do the same thing to our relationships and our passions and our dreams…

Continue Reading »

The Real Scandal Behind the NFL Domestic Violence Controversy

The real scandal is not about football or domestic violence or big business. The real scandal is about what’s happening in our living rooms…

NFL Domestic violence

Photo Credit: Camil Tulcan via Compfight cc

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice gave his wife a right hook before he gave her a wedding band.

He knocked her unconscious and then dragged her halfway out of the elevator they’d been riding. Just far enough to keep the elevator door ajar and the security camera recording. Just far enough so the NFL could witness the totality of the brutality. When they saw it, they suspended him for two games.

Until the video went public.

Then the team cancelled his contract and the league suspended him indefinitely. In the wake of the news, more allegations of domestic violence amongst NFL players are emerging.

But really, none of this is terribly scandalous. Is anyone surprised that a sport rooted in violence toward others cultivates violence at home? Is anyone surprised that a billion dollar business will hide bad press until it can’t hide it anymore? No, the real scandal is in the results of an NBC poll: while 60% of football viewers disapprove of the way the NFL has handled the scandal—and presumably even more disapprove of domestic violence—90% of people will not watch less football as a result.

The real scandal is not about football or domestic violence or big business.

The real scandal is about what’s happening in our living rooms and in our lives.

The real scandal is our tendency to ignore what we value and to live out something else.

Continue Reading »

What Were You Made To Do?

What were you made to do? The answer to that question has the power to alter the arc of history. For good.

art

Photo Credit: balloon tiers via Compfight cc

The alarm sounds at 5am, and my heavy-gritty eyelids creak open. The kids still have two hours of slumber ahead of them, which means I have two hours alone with my thoughts and my keyboard and my craft. The prospect is thrilling.

And terrifying.

Because there’s something else nestled right next to my gleeful anticipation. It doubts and it gnaws. It’s my fear of the blank page. It’s my fear of drying up. It’s my fear of not being enough.

When I sit in front of a blank document, it can feel like my worth is up for grabs. And that kind of fear makes me feel incredibly vulnerable—it’s way easier to feel prolific and invincible. In the past, the fear has driven me back under the covers. Fear and vulnerability like a padlock, trapping my words inside.

But now I know, my vulnerability isn’t the lock on my words—it’s actually the doorway into everything I want to write about.

The Violence of Invincibility

We live in an invulnerable world. Somewhere along the way, we decided vulnerability is weakness, and we’ve banished it from the public square.

Waiters aren’t allowed to confess mistakes for fear of a lawsuit. If a doctor admits doubt, they lose the confidence of everyone they serve. When was the last time a politician admitted they were wrong before they were caught in the act? Pillars of virtue cheat their way to the top rather than embracing limitation and weakness.

We’ve replaced the public square with a winner’s circle.

And our homes aren’t much different—we’ve banished vulnerability from our living rooms and bedrooms and hearts. Marital conflict escalates as spouses litigate their love with cross-examinations and Exhibits A to Z. Our children take their cues, and they compete with each other for worth and value. On playgrounds, tears get stifled and punches get thrown.

Our strength and invincibility are, quite simply, tearing the world apart. In the end, the winner’s circle stands empty, and so do our hearts.

Who will show us the way out of this morass?

The answer might surprise you, because the answer is you.

Continue Reading »

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

Photo Credit: Theen … via Compfight cc

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.

Continue Reading »

BringBackOurGirls (When the Nigerian Girls Feel Like Your Little Girl)

To grieve or not to grieve? That is the question we ask, when we choose our news. Do we put the brakes on our heart, or do we allow our hearts to break?

nigerian girls

I’m procrastinating, so I tap the CNN app on my iPhone and I scroll through the newsfeed. I stop when I see the headline announcing a mass kidnapping of young Nigerian girls by a group of militants. Defenseless girls. Disappeared. Sold. Traded. Trafficked. Brutalized.

I stare at the headline.

My thumb hovers over it.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

I see an article just below it about a bug fix for the iPhone. My thumb twitches downward and hovers over the iPhone article. Meanwhile, I imagine my own little girl ripped from our home:

Her fingertips are just beyond mine as he pulls her out the door. I see her tear-streaked face. She looks at me frantically, expecting the protection I’ve always promised and her terror is mingled with confusion about why I’m not providing it. But they won’t let me go and the last thing I see as they pull her out of sight is the look in the eye of the man who is holding her. It’s a dead look. Whatever light was in him when he came into the world is gone. And now he is in charge of my daughter. In charge of taking her light away, too.

My thumb hovers.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

I feel the tortured days and sleepless nights in the years to follow. I feel the pain of not knowing where she is. I feel the unutterable anguish of wondering if she is being brutalized at this very moment. These Nigerian girls are not my daughter, but, in some way only my soul comprehends, they are my daughter. Each and every one of them.

My thumb descends, and I choose to read about the girls.

A feeling like mourning wells up within me.

Continue Reading »

Marriage is Not a Convenience Store

What do an all-inclusive resort, a mobile device, a phone company, and marriage all have in common? We have come to expect the same thing from all of them: one-stop, all-in-one convenience.

marriage

Last August, my wife and I attended a conference in Honolulu. The hotel had three restaurants, two bars, six gift shops, a convenience store, a business center, two pools, and beach access. You could fly to Hawaii and have a perfect vacation, without ever leaving your hotel.

All-inclusive convenience.

As consumers, we have come to expect this.

An iPhone is a one-stop shop in our pockets: phone, email, text, iPod, maps, news, personal calendar, family calendar, eBook reader(s), weather forecasts, Netflix and YouTube, and the list goes on and on.

All-in-one convenience.

As consumers, we have been trained to feel entitled to this.

In Chicago, AT&T bundles home phone, mobile phone, internet, and cable service. They recently added home security. I wonder when they’ll add babysitting to the bundle. I bet they’re beta testing it right now.

As consumers, we’ve been sold a lucrative lie called convenience, and it has infiltrated every aspect of our lives.

Including marriage.

Continue Reading »

Can We All Agree On One Thing About Beauty?

Tomorrow, my daughter and I will appear on the TODAY Show.

A friend of my son asked my wife, with the kind of skepticism only a fourth-grader can muster, “Why do they want Mr. Flanagan on the show?” My wife responded, somewhat skeptically herself, “I guess they think he has more to say.” The young lady just laughed, rolled her eyes, and returned to her play.

Kids will keep you humble.

beauty

Shyanne Photo Credit: tanya_little via Compfight cc

But I do have a little more to say, because the letter to my daughter wasn’t complete. Near the end of the letter, I wrote about the last question I ask her every night: “Where are you the most beautiful?” And her answer: “On the inside.”

Why do I use the word most?

Because the last question of the night is always preceded by another question: “Are you beautiful on the outside?” And her answer: “Yes.”

Yes, I’m beautiful on the outside and, at the same time, I can affirm I’m most beautiful on the inside.

Can We Agree?

We have to ask both questions of our girls and, frankly, of ourselves. Without both questions, we end up thinking dualistically about beauty, and we end up in unfruitful debates about whether makeup is good or bad, or whether women who wear makeup are really strong or actually insecure. We end up picking sides and fighting it out.

But this is not an either-or debate.

It’s a both-and conversation. And we need to treat it as such, because we need all women together on this one. In fact, if we hope to stand strong against the messages about beauty and worth bombarding us, we need all women and all men together on this one.

Continue Reading »

Do You Matter?

It’s the question on the tongue of every human heart. For millennia, we have tried to prove we matter with success and status and stuff. But what if we finally decided there was nothing left to prove? What if we decided our worth was no longer in doubt? What if we decided “mattering” didn’t matter anymore? Maybe we’d be free to quit the game of proof and get into the game of life…

self-worth and purpose

Photo Credit: yoshiffles via Compfight cc

I’m writing a book.

Every Friday morning at 9am, I sit down to continue working on it, and every time I sit down I’m hit with the same sinking feeling. It comes in the form of a question: What if these words don’t matter? It’s a crippling thought, a dreadful feeling that keeps me looking back at the sentence I’ve just written, questioning, doubting, sinking deeper and deeper into the rhetorical quicksand.

What if my words don’t matter?

A question that disguises another question: What if I don’t matter?

But last Friday, something different happened. As I began to sink into the quagmire, I heard the still, small whisper of grace: Kelly, you don’t write a book because you think it will matter—you write a book in spite of the fact it probably won’t matter.

You do what you love because the desire has been written on your heart, implanted in your soul, and engraved into your DNA. You do it because you aren’t you unless you do it.

Continue Reading »