This is the Difference Between Growing Old and Growing Up

childhood

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We’re scrambling out the door for school.

It’s the first day back after the winter break and my third-grade son Quinn is lamenting what awaits him. “Ms. Palmer says we’re going to have to write everything in cursive this semester. I don’t want to do that!”

I look at him and say, “Well, buddy, you love art, and writing in cursive is like turning your handwriting into art. So just try to make your writing beautiful.” He looks at me as if I’m crazy and says, “Your handwriting isn’t beautiful.”

Which is when my seventh-grade son Aidan breezes through the room and nonchalantly offers this on his way past: “That’s because he’s an adult, Quinn; he traded beauty for functionality a long time ago.”

Ouch.

For most of the world, the age of majority—the age at which adulthood legal begins and childhood legally ends—is eighteen. But oftentimes childhood ends way earlier than that. Because the dividing line between childhood and adulthood isn’t a legal distinction.

The dividing line between childhood and adulthood is an unfortunate trade.

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Dear Daughter, You Don’t Need to Act Like a Man to Become a Strong Woman

Dear Little One,

Last week, we arrived at the theater early and, before a movie about beauty and beasts, we saw a preview for a movie about men and machines. We came for a story about love and we got a preview about war. I’m okay with that—it’s the world we live in and I’m used to it.

What I’m not okay with is the young girl we saw in the preview.

feminism

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She looked directly into the camera, covered in sweat and dirt, and she said, “Some kids used to tease me…they’d say, ‘You run like a girl, you throw like a girl, you fight like a girl.’ Fight like a girl? Yeah, I fight like a girl. Don’t you?” Then, for the rest of the preview, she exuberantly participated in the blowing up and destruction of everything.

I felt like that little girl had punched me in the gut, too.

Because I looked over at you—seven-years-old, eyes wide behind 3-D glasses, already wondering what it means to be a girl—watching the not-so-subtle message that to be a strong girl, you have to fight like the most violent of men.

Little One, as your father, I want you to know, this was not a message about how to become a strong woman; it was a message about how to become an extinct woman. This was the message of a war-riddled and violence-obsessed hyper-masculine culture, hell-bent on victory, knowing that the only way to have victory over your womanhood is to erase it.

After all, what is the most effective way to eliminate the other? It’s to make them exactly like you.

Don’t fall for it.  

We have enough ego-driven, angry, aggressive, and violent men on this planet. We don’t need you to become one too, just so you can prove to those very same men that you are a “strong girl.”

No, Little One, the way to become a strong girl is to resist your assimilation into the worst elements of masculinity. The way to be a strong girl is to grow into the best and strongest parts of your femininity.

To be a strong woman, you don’t have to push others down; you simply refuse to be pushed around yourself.

To be a strong woman, you don’t have to relish aggression; you simply resist it.

To be a strong woman, you don’t have to use violence; you just need to use your voice, steadfastly, resolutely, and unceasingly.

But most importantly, you don’t become a strong woman by acting like a man; you become a strong woman by acting like yourself. 

At the center of you is your soul, your heart, your truest self. It is the least tangible part of you, yet the most indestructible part of you. It is the least violent part of you, yet the part of you from which you will fight most resiliently.

You don’t have to be like a man, you only have to be like you.

You won’t become your truest, strongest you by struggling violently against others. You will become your truest, strongest you by struggling to love the world in the very specific, very unique, perhaps ordinary, but always beautiful way that only you can love it.

Little One, if we all loved the world with that kind of beauty, the beasts wouldn’t stand a chance.

Peace to you,

Daddy

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Loveable is available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

The Reason We Avoid the Space Between

emotions

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I’m thirty-eight minutes into a forty-minute workout on the stationary bike, when the program switches to “cool down” mode and the resistance in the pedals fades away. Immediately, without thought or premeditation, I swing my leg over the bike to get off.

But I stop mid-dismount, suddenly aware of what I’m doing.

As I regain my balance, barely avoiding humankind’s first ever face-plant from a stationary bike, I wonder to myself, how long have I been skipping the cool down phase of my workouts?

More importantly, how long have I been skipping the cool down phases in my life?

It’s been eight days since the launch of my first book, and already I’m planning my next two blog posts and at least two brand new projects. I have not allowed myself a cool down phase. I have not allowed any space between what was and what will be.

Sometimes, we treat the finish line of one race like the starting line of the next.

For the next few days, I pay attention, and the truth is, though I have a lot going on, there is plenty of space between in my life. It is everywhere, intertwined through all things. The space between happens at the fuel pump and at the red light, in the line at the supermarket and in the line at the drive-thru. On long straight stretches of interstate and winding country roads. And when the kids are sent to their rooms so I can have a moment of silence.

Indeed, the space between is present in the space of a single breath.

But like the cool down phase on the bike, I skip it. Or more accurately, I fill it up. We all do. These days, we fill up the still, quiet spaces between the hard work of being alive with gigabytes. Data and Wi-Fi. Streaming and tweeting. News and noise. Instead of delving into the space between, we dive into our devices.

We do this for a reason.

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The One Place We Forget to Look for Our True Self

My new book Loveable is available wherever books are sold! If you order it before this Friday, March 24, at 11pmCT, you will receive a FREE BONUS—The Year of Listening, Loving, and Living—a second full-length book I’ve written as a practical companion to Loveable. You can click here to find out more about how to get both! 

Today’s blog post is an excerpt from the companion book…

worthiness

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The library books are overdue.

In our house, that’s no small concern. My kids are obsessed with books. When the monthly book order forms come home from school, they pour over them and circle the books they want, as if pouring over a toy catalogue and constructing a list for Santa. The book order forms are like Christmas, and the library is like Halloween, where a stranger who acts kind and seems really interested in them distributes free and seemingly infinite delights.

We go trick-or-booking frequently.

When we do, the kids want to gorge themselves. So, like Halloween candy, we’ve set a limit to the number of books they can consume—they are each allowed to check out ten books per visit. Yet, with three kids, that’s still a lot of books and a lot of dimes each day they’re overdue. So, realizing they’re overdue, I ask my wife where I can find them. She says she thinks they’re already in her car. I make a mental note to check the minivan before she leaves.

But I forget.

Now, the kids are home from school, they want to get their next library fix, and I want to minimize the damage to my wallet. We pile into my car, drive to my wife’s office, and dig through the debris field that is our minivan. Amidst the carnage I find a shoe that had gone missing, a desiccated apple core, and a weird purple puddle that was probably a crayon before the summer heat melted it into molten color.

But the books are nowhere to be found.

So we return her keys, clamber back into my car and head home, preparing to search the house with a fine-toothed comb. However, we don’t need the comb, because as soon as I open the door, I see the books immediately. Actually, I don’t see the books; I see the bag—a repurposed grocery bag that has seen better days—in which all of the books have been collected. They’ve been sitting there in the entryway all day. I’d walked past them countless times, probably even looking directly at them, but never actually seeing them. Having been told the treasures I was looking for were somewhere else, I’d failed to see what was right in front of me.

Our worthiness is like those library books.

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Life Isn’t About Proving Yourself (It’s About Being Yourself)

purpose

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They were so nervous they could barely pronounce their own names.

Last month, my oldest son Aidan participated in his first Scholastic Bowl match. His younger siblings and I arrived, not really knowing what to expect. In hindsight, though, I should have known. After all, I was thirteen once.

I remember.

I remember what it was like to feel like my worth was up for grabs every time I opened my mouth, to feel like the outcome of every endeavor would either prove my worth or reveal my lack thereof. In other words, I remember what it was like to feel shame. The truth is, somedays, I still feel it. We all do.

Because we’ve still got a scared kid inside of us somewhere.

As rookie Scholastic Bowl spectators, we wound up in the wrong room with two teams from other schools, but we watched anyway. At the beginning of the match, the captain of each team had to rise, introduce himself, and introduce his four teammates. Both captains, upon standing, turned bright red, spoke with quavering voices, spat out the names as clearly as possible through all the adrenaline, and sat down as if someone had kicked their legs out from under them.

When you don’t know that your worth is infinite, eternal, and precisely equal to everyone else’s, any moment of life can feel exquisitely dangerous.

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What No One Ever Told You About How to Live a Loveable Life

life

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Several weeks ago, at Artisan Clinical Associates, the sliding door that separates the waiting room from the therapy rooms fell apart. Literally. By the time we gave up on fixing it, the white door was covered in black, greasy handprints, and it hung open and askew at an awkward angle. Defeated, I printed out a sign.

Out of Order.

It looked a little tacky but, to tell you the truth, I think the sign was just right for a therapy office. Not because our clients are out of order, as in broken and broken down. But because our clients—and our therapists and all human beings for that matter—try to live life out of order, as in out of sequence.

What I mean is, our lives revolve around the search for three core human experiences: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. And we seek them for good reason, because when we don’t experience our worthiness we feel ashamed, when we don’t experience belonging we feel lonely, and when we fail to experience a purpose we feel meaningless. The problem is, at some point, most of us begin to seek these experiences of worthiness, belonging, and purpose out of order.

Worthiness, belonging, and purpose can only be truly experienced in that order.

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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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Why Dreaming Small Is Way Better Than Dreaming Big (A Child’s Wisdom)

dreams

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I made my daughter’s dreams come true.

On an ordinary Thursday afternoon, Caitlin and I went to the drug store with her older brother Quinn to pick up a prescription. We had to wait for it and, surprisingly, the waiting wasn’t a total disaster. The kids went to the toy aisle and no one ended up in tears about plastic nonsense I refused to buy them. Then, we went to the candy aisle, and they endured my lecture about diabetes with preternatural patience.

I was so pleased, I bought them each a roll of Mentos.

As I drove home, prescription in hand, they opened the candy in the back seat. Caitlin gently unwrapped hers—first pulling out one Mento, then a second—before breathlessly saying to her brother, “Look, Quinn. The first one was yellow, and the second one is yellow too. It’s my dream come true.”

Conventional wisdom says that kids dream big and adults dream smaller and smaller until they quit dreaming altogether. But what if the opposite is true? What if, when we are young, we actually dream quite small, but as we grow up, our dreams get bigger and more grandiose and more unrealistic? What if that’s why we big people eventually give up on our dreams?

And what if we all started dreaming like a child once again?

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The One Thing We All Need (But Hate to Ask For)

help

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I was drowning.

For a couple of months last autumn, on Wednesday afternoons, my three kids had a meeting for the school newspaper, musical rehearsal, swim lessons, dance class, art class, and basketball practice. And my wife was working. While I like to pretend that I can do everything, sometimes all it takes is a Wednesday afternoon to remind you that you are not, actually, God.

So, on a Wednesday afternoon, I asked for help.

I asked one of our new friends in town—whose kids also attend some of the same activities as our kids—if he could take our daughters to dance class together. An hour later, we were both picking up kids at art class when I offered to get the girls from dance. He declined. For some reason, it made me feel anxious, so I asked again. He looked back at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “No thanks, I want you in my debt.”

I want you in my debt.

Poet and author David Whyte writes,

Help is strangely, something we want to do without, as if the very idea disturbs and blurs the boundaries of our individual endeavors, as if we cannot face how much we need in order to go on.

To need help is to be human. To embrace our need for help is to embrace our worthiness—to know that while we are not strong enough to be without needs, we are still good enough when we are in need.

But to ask for help?

To ask for help is to be vulnerable—to hand our fragile sense of worthiness to someone else and entrust them with it. To ask for help is to test the foundation of our belonging—to trust that our people will keep us around, not only when we are helpful to them, but also when we are helpless before them.

To ask for help is to be indebted to others for the life we are trying to live.

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The Simple Trick to Finding True Belonging This Year

belonging

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On New Year’s Eve, my Facebook feed was transformed.

For an hour or two, politics went away and people focused on what is, underneath it all, most important to all of us. Suddenly, at midnight, my feed was filled with images of family and friends gathered together, releasing one year and welcoming a new one—people marking the passage of time by remembering what is most valuable to each of us: belonging.

We all just want a place to belong.

Life is almost that simple. We all just want a place we can call home—a place of belonging where a few people know who we truly are and cherish us because of that rather than in spite of that. We all want to love and be loved and, in doing so, to become more fully human. After all, in the words of Frederick Buechner, “You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own, but you cannot become human on your own.”

We all just want a place to belong.

Of course, what we want is simple, but getting what we want doesn’t seem simple at all. Relationships are fraught with conflict and tension and disappointment and disillusionment. What’s the trick to finding at least one safe place to truly belong?

It’s the trick of the coffee mug and the gym shoes.

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