When you witness others fail

I’ll admit it. I’ve had times when I enjoyed watching another person fall short. It’s not that I am an evil person; I just feel like people should get what they deserve. And what they deserve, is a swift hand of punishment for their crimes. Crimes against me or someone else, of course. Like justice has been served, right? Who says that this person should have everything that he wants? Why not me? Those are the initial thoughts and feelings I may have, depending on the situation. Sound familiar to you? I’m sure it does.

And I’m also sure that in those fleeting moments, you find two very distinct voices crying out from the inside. The first one says something like this: “Yes, he finally got what was coming to him. Bout time too. Now I can get back to feeling better about myself.” While the other voice says something like this: “Why would you even think that? Imagine what he is going through or if that were you. How might others react if that had been your failure?”

Well, what we have here are two very different responses to a singular event. Let’s take a closer look.

Indeed, a question of character is raised depending on which of these voices you hear first. Moreover, which of these voices is more audible to you is also of concern. Why? Well, think of it this way: what we feed, ultimately grows. And what grows, beckons more attention so it can continue to grow. So if you’re always indulging in voice number one, then you are continuously reinforcing a concept that people get what’s coming to them. And to take this one step further, that you alone are a proper judge as it pertains to proper punishment. Yikes. God complex, anyone? But, if you are feeding voice number two, then your immediate reaction is not so self-serving. And it’s not as cynical either. Heck, it may make life more manageable too. What a thought, eh?

So which sounds more appealing? I’m sure that most people would agree with the second option. It’s a “win-win” for all parties involved, but it’s also that much harder to do. Why? Because inwardly, we can hide our intentions towards others. We can witness someone falter and keep our hidden agendas to ourselves. We aren’t required to parade around with our inner thoughts plastered to our foreheads (what a thought though!) – so we can “fake” it, if you will. There is certainly a fear of being exposed, but that fear is discarded since we know that no one else can see what we see. And what we see are our truest of intentions. Kept for us, and only us.

This appears to be the safest route, but it’s actually the most treacherous. What we keep hidden remains close to our hearts and what remains close to our hearts eventually dictates all other facets of our life. In a way, we slowly destroy relationships with others just because of a little jealousy. If I’m really honest with myself, I can say that I feel that way at times. But wouldn’t it be such a relief to not have those secret agendas? To not be worried about who you gossiped to about who? I, for one, would love to experience that daily if I could. I know people who can’t wait to share the latest news on someone else’s problems. I’m sure you know of some yourself. And they burst like a flooded dam when they’ve got the “goods” on somebody. Why though? What did this other person do to deserve such ill favor from someone? The failure alone is usually harsh enough, isn’t it?

So why not kill that self-righteous monster before it rears its ugly head? Sounds idealistic, right? As in, “it can’t be done.” Sure, of course it sounds daunting, but it’s an idea that everyone would admit to wanting while few will admit to trying. So once again, why not try it? It’s something that warrants our collective attention. Internally, externally, and all the way through.

The subtle things

I’m an uncle. A real one, too. Lucky enough to be an uncle and fortunate enough to have no requirements placed on the position other than the obvious:

a) have a brother or sister that procreates
and
b) permits you with visitation rights.

This weekend I got to play the part of uncle quite a bit. I spent some time with my nieces and nephews, each and every one of them. There are five in total: aged 12 – 3. I’m on the verge of being 29 soon so I’m essentially a “grown up” in their eyes. I come complete with a big person job, a serious relationship, and clothes that I pick out for myself. You know, all the traits necessary to be an adult when viewed through the lens of a small child. And it’s through this particular lens that you’ll see the world in ways that you once forgot. Or have been too busy to really notice.

For instance, I found myself playing a game with two of them that really opened my eyes to something. It all started with the 3-year old, Evan. He inquired that I go “hide behind the couch” a while. So I did. And when I did, he proceeded to jump over the couch, roaring loudly in my direction. I asked him what was going on and he mumbled something about a “dragon”. Luckily, his big sister of about four, Audrey, had overheard the game and came over to translate.

“He’s playing the dragon game with you”, she said.
“Oh? So he’s the dragon is he?” I said.
“Yes. He’s a dragon.”

I looked at little Evan and saw his eyes light up. The connection had been made: Evan clearly enjoyed being a terrifying, yet fun little monster. When he realized that I now understood the game, he wanted Audrey to get in on the action too.

“You, Audrey, go in dare (there),” he said and pointed to the spot behind the couch.
“Ok, Evan,” she said and grabbed a nearby blanket as if it were some form of protection.

“You…you go in dare (there) too,” said Evan and I did as I was told. I squatted behind the couch next to my niece, waiting on the dragon outside. Audrey curled in a ball and snuggled up close to me. The experience brought back some memories. Specifically those where my brothers and I would play a similar game. We’d hide out in various parts of the house and then chase each other down depending upon who was tagged as the “monster”. Since I was the usually the biggest, that designation typically fell on me. But here I was, crouched low with a person one-fourth my size, anxiously anticipating the onslaught of a boy even smaller than her.

Yeah, I was excited. Wouldn’t you be?

Then, Evan attacked. He jumped over the top and pretended to breathe fire and spew flames from his mouth (I discovered that this was fire much later, but for sake of the story, I’ll condense). Audrey shrieked and hid herself under the blanket whilst I pretended to be scared too. Then I responded with a flurry of well-placed tickles to Evan’s armpits and sides, thus sending the beast back to the other side of the couch. Until the next attack, of course.

This went on for a few rounds and I’ll admit that I was having fun. Evan was having the time of his life, Audrey was enjoying the tickle retaliation and I knew I was keeping these kiddos busy while my older brother and his wife took a breather. Then something really interesting happened. When Evan retreated back to the other side of the couch for the fifth or sixth time, Audrey curled up close and asked me a very simple, yet crucial question:

“Who will save me from the dragon?”

In the middle of a game like this, you may think this question to be of little importance. That her inquiry is just a result of the game at play. But be careful not to miss this moment. Luckily, I was prepared.

“I’ll protect you, of course.”

Audrey smiled big and inched closer just as Evan “attacked” once more. I played like I was scared for Evan while doubling as a calm protector for Audrey. I acted aloud with a “Oh no! Audrey, who will stop the dragon?” To which she replied, “The knight! The knight will!”

So I jumped up and wrestled Evan to the ground (softly) to a roar of laughter. Audrey emerged from the cave behind the couch as I let Evan back to his feet. At this point, I thought that the game was over, but it wasn’t. For when Evan stood back up, he asked me another intriguing question.

“I fly?”

Fly, eh? Poor grammar aside, I thought about Evan’s request. Well, he is pretending to be a dragon. Flying around would make sense, would it not? Dragons breathe fire and cause havoc, but they also fly. Fortunately, I felt prepared for this type of situation also.

“Yes, you can. You ready?”

I hoisted little Evan up and proceeded to “fly” him around the living room, dipping and diving, doing the best I could to simulate a soaring dragon. I was pleased to hear sounds similar to “fire-breathing” coming from his mouth as he flew around the room. Unfortunately, Evan’s fire-breathing is just an advanced form of saliva-dumping so the living room was ultimately covered in “fire” by the time we were through. A few trips more and I was spent. Uncle Josh couldn’t muster another go-round; I was done.

After explaining how arms tire from too much use to Evan, I took a seat next to the other elders at the party. Audrey and Evan went back to playing, this time by themselves or with another relative. These kids have nuclear reactors for energy sources, I swear!

I was happy to have kept the kids busy, but honestly, what happened here? What happened during this game?

Here’s something to ponder: what’s the alternative? What if I tell little Audrey that I don’t know who will protect her. And then offer no protection. What if I tell little Evan that he can’t fly and that I am too busy, that I need to do something else? Or that flying is stupid? Well, I won’t be winning any favorite Uncle awards, but that’s not the point. Eventually, the games will stop. Evan and Audrey will grow up; they’ll become adults and they’ll hopefully be playing with their own nieces and nephews. But what will they pass down to those children?

A hopeless and jaded perspective of the world? Or some semblance of mystery and excitement? Only one of those options has a future that’s worth living for.

I don’t need kids of my own to see how people get tired of protecting their youth. Being full-time parents doesn’t seem to be on people’s agendas anymore (and for the record, I think my brothers and their wives are doing a fabulous job – I think I need to make that clear). Why is that? What’s so much more important to parents? Money? Status? Convincing ourselves that God isn’t real so we think we can do everything on our own?

Rather than presenting young boys with the option to be warriors and dragons, they are told to take pills behind closed doors and still the slumbering champion. And rather than presenting young girls with white knights or soft places to land, we tell them to sit in front of a television and watch raunchy TV shows. And that the only way to be noticed is to flaunt your sexuality while at the same time be “credible”. That’s a hypocrisy that has no place in any young girl’s mind. It’s a message that only breeds confusion and distracts them from who they are meant to be.

So are these subtle things? Right now they are. But watch when these children grow up. The things that were once unassuming won’t be unassuming anymore. And what was subtle will become a reality – their reality. That’s what we, as parents and adults, should be paying attention to. That’s what we need to focus in on again. Because that’s what will ultimately matter down the road.

Keys and Love

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I’m taking a break from reporting on my recent publishing venture to speak on another topic close to my heart: love. I suppose it’s safe to say that love is close to everybody’s heart (with evidence of its existence being more visible on some than others). But if you hear anybody talk about love, they usually think of a heart or someone they know personally. An image of something, like a favorite memory, could come to mind as well. Whatever makes you smile, really – be it inside or out – is usually a safe bet to link with the emotion of love.

I’ve heard plenty of talks on this human feeling in my life. My parents told me it was meant to be unconditional (whatever that meant) and that it was a moment of great joy. I immediately pictured Christmas morning when I heard that. That got me excited as a kid, as it did any other child who had the pleasure of experiencing the birth of Jesus in December. A moment is all it was though. Singular and without sustaining power.

Getting older, I began to see love in action – relationships, the Salvation Army, etc. This was beginning to speak to me. What does it mean to truly serve another soul? And is that even a real concept? I wrestled with the notion for a while. The teenage years, especially, were mixed with wondering just what “love” was and stood for. Was it a cheap Disney movie? Or something else entirely? I was hoping it would be the former for some reason.

Making things worse, it was easy to get confused on the topic. For example, a friend of mine in high school came from an especially tough home. His parents were divorced so he lived with his mom during the week and his dad on the weekends. His mother didn’t have a good paying job and his father neglected to help him financially so he had to work from a very young age. But by the time we were 18, he probably had more money than some parents in our neighborhood. Unfortunately, he spent much of his earnings on frivolous things: lots of speakers, stereos, and nice cars – all in an effort to show the world that he was worth more than the hand he was given.

He was highly self-sufficient, walked among several circles, and didn’t take no crap from nobody. He was fun to be around and like so many others, I enjoyed his company too. But his money and political influence weren’t the important parts; no, far from it. You see, my buddy, for all the tough guy imagery and togetherness he put on, he was a sinking ship on the inside. And in the years after high school, he went from place to place, job to job, hoping to reclaim the days where merely putting on a mask was good enough to get by.

The world doesn’t treat people nicely when they wear a false face. Rather than be gentle, the world crushes the mask or it makes the wearer embrace his mask till he becomes a shell. My buddy couldn’t figure this out however and I still mourn for him everyday of my life. Not because he struggles with putting on a mask, but because he can’t find that one thing this post is all about: love. His world on the outside seemed great, but deep within, underneath the layers of self-created barriers and illusionary depictions, he was hollow. Absent. Devoid. Just empty.

Yikes. How did this happen? Blame Mom? Blame Dad?

Had I been more intentional (and more loving, let’s be honest), I would have taken more of an interest in my buddy’s life. I would have stood up for him, invited him over more, but most of all, I would have challenged him more. And when I say challenge, I mean it in the most loving way possible. Challenge him to look inside; challenge him to look at other avenues of life rather than those that are momentarily satisfying; and ultimately challenge him to be a better man. Is that such a hard thing to do? Why yes, it absolutely can be if you’re too scared yourself to know what it is you stand for.

I say these things because of an experience I had this past weekend. Myself and five other colleagues – a mentor and four other young men growing in faith – took a trip to Colorado for a men’s retreat. It wasn’t just a “getaway” though; it was a Christian men’s conference called Ransomed Heart. The author of the popular book, Wild at Heart sponsors a yearly “boot camp” of sorts, where men of all ages can come for a weekend and delve into what it means to be masculine. If you’re thinking this was a lot of “hoo-rah” and burping and farting and talking about sports then you are sorely mistaken. It’s a weekend meant to connect men with something we do a good job of shying away from our whole lives: love and validation. Aside from my five compatriots, there were about 450 other men at this conference in Colorado. Imagine a camp, on the edge of a mountain, high above sea level, overlooking a valley of hills and endless trees and you have a good idea of what it was like. Yes, it was isolating but it was meant to be like that; if God had a backyard big enough for you to get lost in, but still have fun, then this place would be it.

We were told to carry water bottles with us wherever we went. This was due to the fact that one can get dehydrated quickly at such high altitudes. And after walking just a few short yards after getting off the bus, I knew exactly what they were talking about. I was short of breath and desperately in need of a ventilator. This trip was certainly going to test all areas of my manhood – how stubborn I could be, and just how proud I could act without taking a sip of my water bottle. Believe me when I say that I broke down after just a few hours, guzzling h2o down like I’d been stranded at sea. Sad, but true.

But the elements we were presented with was not the most interesting, or the most memorable part, of our trip. For at one of our dinners, serviced in the main hall of the lodge, a young man was brought to our table of six. He was dressed in baggy sweat pants, a black North Face jacket and white sneakers that were too big for his feet. Judging by his facial hair, I guessed him to be around 25-30 years of age. This was about the average age of our troop, minus our fearless leader. Another man stood next to him who then introduced this young buck to us as “Gabriel”. Seeing as how we had an extra seat, this other man (Rick, we’ll say) saw an opportunity to integrate Gabriel with the rest of us.

The group I traveled with consisted of individuals from all walks of life – married, single, engaged, black, white, black mixed with white, and a single leader, Bruce; a man who is just a hair past the half century mark in age. All of us have different works or trades – filmmaking, project management, writing (that’s me, of course), pastoring and even bartending. We were diverse, to say the very least, so the addition of one more equally diverse and compelling soul was no tall order for our table of six.

So when Gabriel joined us, one would think the energy in the room wouldn’t change. Now, if you’ve ever been in a junior high lunch room, then you know how awkward it can be when the “new kid” comes and sits at your table. The most common of reactions is to stick with light conversation. Don’t bring up anything that only the guys in the clique would know and so on. But this wasn’t a junior high lunch table – this was six adult men greeting another adult man at their table. So no problem, right?

Well, we all knew that Gabriel wasn’t like many of the other men at the retreat. His clothing was one tell-tale sign to tip us off, but it was his eyes that carried a very heavy burden with him. Though I had just met this man for the first time, it was not difficult to discern that his young body and mind had been, and seen, some very horrible things in its relatively short time here on Earth. And when it was disclosed that he had spent some prison time somewhere, you can’t help but shudder at what exactly that can mean.

Regardless of what some may think, the news of this revelation certainly shook a few of us at the table, if not just me. It’s a Christian conference, yes, but it’s not a fairy dust with angel wings kind of weekend. These are real people, here among the masses, with real lives and real problems to work through. I’d just like to squash that notion before I go any further. So keeping that in mind, the questions certainly circulated: What had he done? What was he convicted of? And is it safe for him to sit here with us? The judgments and curious eyes moved around the table, but all fears were silenced when our seasoned leader spoke up and simply asked, “How was your trip getting here?” And with that, Gabriel was beginning his initiation.

Gabriel answered, “It was fine” and went about his business. He kept his head low as he spoke, making certain to not break any social boundaries or norms, and he dared not ask anyone to pass something at the table – he just reached his hands out to what was near to him and took what was available. A couple of us asked him a few other questions – where he was from, how he liked the mountains, and what he thought of the food. You know, the really dumb questions that people ask when they’re uncertain how to really get to know somebody new.

But God willing, Bruce, our savvy veteran of the crew, didn’t budge on that front. Call it years of experience, or just plain knowing when to be direct, Bruce asked Gabriel if the group of us could pray for him once the meal was over. Gabriel accepted openly and for the next five minutes, the six of us gathered around Gabriel to pray. Later on, Bruce talked with young Gabriel about his life, where he’d been, and what he’d been through to get where he was.

Many of his responses would shock the naïve of heart and for the sake of keeping Gabriel anonymous in that regard, I won’t go into too much detail. However I will say that it was more than apparent how he’d been dealt a very bad hand for much of his life. An abusive family, abusive relationships, and an abusive lifestyle had left him figuratively and literally scarred – a gash above his left eye was brutal evidence of an untold story that I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear even if he wanted to tell me. But even so, Bruce charged onward – asking questions, investing time, and advising young Gabriel of what steps he needed to take if he were to move forward from the mess he’d been through.

And when that was over, something really intriguing happened. The next day, our group of six gathered for breakfast, much like always, and waited to see who would fill our final seat. Bruce advised that we save it specifically for our new friend, Gabriel, and to our delight, he did not disappoint in showing up. Still sporting the baggy clothes and rough apparel, Gabriel strode in and stood in the back. We waved him down though and brought him back to sit with us.

I was positioned next to Bruce when Gabriel came over to take his seat. He looked tired, much like yesterday, and I’m rather confident that he had slept for about 15 hours straight the day before. Even so, he was visibly weary but seemed more eager to sit with us than yesterday. This was a good sign, but I didn’t know how he’d be after a day of hanging out with us. But my question had to wait for before Gabriel could take a seat, Bruce asked Gabriel to grab a plate from the other table next to him. It had become apparent that we didn’t have enough at ours so we needed one more. It wasn’t a harsh request; just a simple “hey, could you please do me a favor while you’re up?” And to my surprise, Gabriel responded like he had springs in his legs. He turned quickly, picked up the plate and set it on the table. And he did so with a smile. He then sat down next to a few of my other friends, who quickly inquired how he had slept the night before. And conversation ensued from there; warming up, getting more familiar, and not being as closed off.

In that instant, Bruce turned to me, a teary-eyed expression in his face, and said, “Isn’t it amazing how people respond for just a inkling of love and acceptance?”
His comment sank deep within me and stretched itself across my very heart. What Bruce said was absolutely true – we do just about anything to be accepted, to be validated, but most of all, to feel loved. Shortly after breakfast, I was standing next to Bruce once more when he referenced the experience again. He was clearly elated, as were the rest of us, that Gabriel appeared to be in better spirits. When one of the other gentlemen in our group asked Bruce again, he mentioned the quote once more: “we all want to feel loved, even if it seems small.” A thought came to me so I decided to write it down later before I lost it.

If we are all searching for love and validation, then we are all looking for the slightest hint that it’s real so that we may latch onto it. Like a key that is made for a large door, our heart does not always require exuberant displays of affection or immense adoration; we need only a simple act that will open our heart to something much greater.

This experience, I feel, resonates with those words. Sometimes all it takes is a small sign of love, a fraction of selfless caring, to open the doors of one’s heart to a larger universe. In Gabriel’s case, it only required someone to ask, “Hey, how was your drive?” and then go from there. Not belittling him for his past, not disciplining him for wrongs he’s committed or even asking that he reconcile before us if he is to be allowed among us – it was none of these things. Instead, to have an invitation that says, “yes, you are welcome here” is powerful enough to change everything. I believe this gesture, strange as it may sound, means more than people may ever realize. And just as quickly, these same people will dismiss its power just as swiftly as it offers itself. That’s how fast the invite can arrive and then vanish, but its power to affect the heart is immense.

Gabriel was a living example of the invitation at work and his story made me think of my friend, all those years ago, who probably had a similar story now. Why didn’t anyone give him the invitation? Did no one care enough? Was I just too passive a friend to help him when we were younger? A thousand and one questions can leave a person paralyzed with thought but those kinds of questions aren’t important anymore. I saw what Gabriel needed now so dwelling on the past was of no help to him, me, or anybody else sitting at the table that day. The key had been found, the lock was undone and the door was being opened. That’s all that mattered. And that’s all that really matters. Because from then on, there is hope, which is a far better alternative than the alternative itself.

Tornado Warnings, Tornado Watches, Tornado Touch downs, Tornado….

I’m often baffled by weather reports. It’s not that they’re presented in some overly complex or complicated manner, it’s just that I don’t understand what their purpose is sometimes. Specifically, in the case of tornadoes. Why all the hoopla when it comes to tornadoes anyway?

Most anyone can tell when a bad storm is brewing, can’t they? You look into the sky and you visibly see the dark clouds congregating. The air becomes a little colder, the wind blows a little faster, and every animal within a certain radius either scurries into hiding or disappears altogether.

And then there’s us. Human beings. We stare up into the atmosphere, take it all in, and then wonder if it’s really going to storm or not. We look at the person next to us and pretend like we know a thing or two about rain: “Hey, it looks like rain” (and by all accounts, it usually does). And when the rain actually does come, we can reassure ourselves that hey, we’re pretty good at predicting the weather.

That’s the long and short of forecasting storms. Nothing too puzzling about it. But then there’s tornadoes. The brother of the hurricane; sister to the tsunami; and the cousin of the earthquake. You’ve got your extended family like the hailstorm, the blizzard, and the tidalwave, but tornadoes are truly a force which stands alone. Mudslides, flash floods, and volcanic eruptions can be just as few and far between, but nothing grabs the attention of local weathermen (and the casual onlooker) like the tornado.

They’re somewhat alien-like, aren’t they? Like a big tentacle coming out of the sky, just waiting to snatch up us puny Earthlings. It’s all very War-of-the-Worlds type stuff and yet, it’s a common phenomenon that we have to avoid and calculate if we are to stay well clear of the tornado’s wrath.

Which is why we have so many ways to announce their approach. The tornado “warning”, the tornado “watch”, we even have smaller versions of the tornado called “microbursts”, which kind of become tornadoes but aren’t really at all. It’s like we wanted it to be a tornado, but hey, it just didn’t have the whole funnel thing down enough. Move along please.

I’ve often wondered why that is the case. Why we always get in such a tizzy as it pertains to tornadoes. Is it because of the movie Twister? A film which puts Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt as certified “storm chasers” – folks that literally rush after the nearest tornado in hopes of being able to study these anomalies of nature. Think Jaws but without the water and you’ve got a good handle on what Twister tried its hand at accomplishing. Audiences were introduced to Cary Elwes playing a bad guy, “Bob’s road” became a real place, and people were led to believe that tornadoes made sounds like screeching aliens or roaring lions as they tried to “devour” everything in their path. My favorite part in the movie (somewhere near the middle) is when we’re educated on what an F-5 tornado is. For those who aren’t up to speed, the F-5 is a term of measurement on the Fujita scale – a scale which calculates how vicious tornado is by how it destroys or “eats”, as portrayed in the film. And when someone asks what it would be like to witness one, a fellow storm chaser slowly states, “The finger of God”.

Ooo, I just got goosebumps.

Well, Twister isn’t that old of a film and I’m fairly certain that tornadoes have been around longer than Bill Paxton or Helen Hunt, so what’s the deal? I know that many people (myself included) will frequently have dreams where a big tornado, scary and nasty, sucks them up, never to be seen again before waking up in a cold sweat. I, for one, have been chased by bears, wolves, and crazy people with chainsaws in my own dreams (don’t judge) but nothing is quite as terrifying as being sucked into a tornado. Look up what that means in a dream dictionary and it’ll tell you something like this: “you’re in turmoil”, which shouldn’t be much of a shock anyway. But the truth is, there’s a reason why we’d make a big budget film about tornadoes and a reason for why they’d represent tumultuous circumstances in the deep subconscious parts of our minds. And that reason is two-fold: tornadoes present us with an incredible sense of awe and simultaneously, an overwhelmingly unpleasant sense of fear.

In one regard, we are amazed by their power. A single funnel cloud can lift a whole house from the ground and deposit it miles away from where it once stood. And because of its dramatic power, the tornado is something to be afraid of. There’s nothing cutesy or cuddly about a rampaging twister – you either get out of the way or face the consequences of being swept up in its path. But that’s not all. Tornadoes are very specific in where and when they touch down. Unlike a hurricane which covers a huge blanket of space, the tornado leaves a trail that is easily seen from up above. Like the footprints of some giant monster moving about the countryside, tornadoes end up leaving their mark wherever they go. In that way, the tornado seems to be alive somehow; like it’s actively picking and choosing where it decides to run amok. We all know that it’s not possible for the tornado to decide which way it goes, but its unpredictable nature appears to give some illusion of thought process. Even if it’s totally chaotic, we still feel like the tornado was out to get us somehow.

Then there’s the fact that we can’t fight back. We don’t call in the national guard or the army when a tornado is imminent. That’s silly. The tornado will have its day and then it’ll be gone. Like a really bad in-law or a sudden rush of diarrhea (great parallels, right?), the tornado cannot be combated through conventional means. There’s no special weapon to take down a tornado; we can only move aside and wait for the chaos to be over.

I find this all rather fascinating, to be honest. As a kid, I loved storms. My family had 10 acres of land which sat on a hillside overlooking a vast valley. The horizon stretched from one end of the Earth to the other, or as far as you could see. So when a storm rolled in, you could see it coming from miles away. That was pretty cool, as I recall. And I sometimes wondered what it would be like to see a tornado coming in from off in the distance. Trees would sway from the mounting currents of wind, the grass would come up out of the ground, and the furniture on the front porch would move slightly, but none of those of things would have remained if a tornado were to hit unexpectedly.

My family’s house was never hit with a tornado and for that, I am grateful. But I always wanted to see one up close anyway. I’d be mindful of weather reports in our area and if the chance arose to see a touch down, I’d think about running off to go see it. And that’s when it hit me. The other realization as to why the tornado is so awe-inspiring and so deadly frightening at the same time: its proximity.

We can’t get close to hurricanes and be untouched, we can’t sit through a blizzard and enjoy the scenery, and we certainly can’t observe an earthquake in casual fashion. But what we can do is take in the sights and sounds of a roaring funnel cloud that’s within striking distance. That’s the difference-maker. I’d wager to guess that when people hear “tornado watch”, there’s a mixture of emotions taking hold inside. On one end, there’s that normal reaction which says, “Ok, I better stay inside tonight”, but I’ll bet there’s another part of us that says, “I wonder if it’ll get close enough that I see it up close.”

It’s interesting how that works. Most people don’t go running down to the nearest shoreline to see a tidalwave or a hurricane as it approaches (that just ain’t right), but the tornado gives us an opportunity to get up close and personal. To be feared? Yes, absolutely. Don’t go running out to storm chase because of this blog. I”m not saying that, but bear in mind the sheer magnitude of seeing one in close quarters. A truly frigtening experience, and yet altogether stunning at the same time.

Or just as the movie says, like the “finger of God”.

Being “Busy”

I’m thinking of writing a short book on the concept of being “busy”. Its meaning, its over usage in American culture, and its reason for being a thorn in my side for many, many years. It’s not just me either that being overly busy affects. No, everybody I meet has a way of telling me they’re “busy” in one form or another. Can you relate? I’m sure you’re heard them before too:

“Things are just crazy right now.”
“I’m backed up with a lot of stuff.”
“My days are so hectic. I can’t even remember what day it is.”

If you were to unpack each of these sentences, you could deduce the following truths about the person or persons who gave you these statements: that life is out of of control for this person and they cannot foresee a time of rest in sight. Would that be at least semi-accurate? We’ve all felt some measure of chaos in our life – that’s for certain – so to hear this kind of response is not unheard of. In fact, I have probably given the same answers at one point or another.

Taking this idea a step further, when else might you hear these statements? Maybe after asking the person when their schedule is free? Or when they can “hang out” with you and others? Yes, I’m sure you have. If you read between the lines, you can deduce the following as well: this person does not have a good way of saying “yo, I just don’t have time for you right now.”

Ugh. I really get tired of hearing that excuse, personally. It really gets under my skin. And I’m sure it gets under other people’s skin too. Who likes being told that they’re unimportant? Or that they do not warrant the time or the effort from another person? Last I checked, nobody. But each party will smile, nod their heads, and come to some odd agreement that this exchange of pleasantries is quite alright.

Well, that kind of chatter just isn’t “alright” with me. I loathe it. I despise it. Heck, I don’t like hearing it. What’s the problem with just being honest with somebody else? What are we afraid of? Plenty of things, it seems. People are always more afraid than what they let on. And one of our biggest “afraid moments” is the fear of being discovered for a phony. Despite all the ranting about owning a busy life and a hectic schedule, we fear being uncovered as some poser. That our public image as a go-getter or a semi-important figure will be distorted by a few extra minutes put someplace else. So in order to keep that facade up, we hide our true selves beneath the most common (and detremental) of common phrases: “I’m just too busy for that.”

Ugh. I hate typing the phrase as it is!

But even in the midst of being “busy”, we must also be wary of the overcommitter. You know, the one person who claims that he or she can be at an event, at a specific time, but fails to be there nearly every turn of the bend. I’m sure you can think of a few in your own world. These people aren’t necessarily bad or inherently spiteful, they just feel the necessity to always be accommodating. But in doing so, they overcommit and they end up letting down somebody in the process. And when they do let another party down, it can become strikingly evident as to who falls where on their general list of priorities.

For me, I’ve done this quite a few times as well. I overcommit to a project or a gathering and within a short period of time, I realize the error of my ways. Unfortunately, it almost always comes too late in the game. And I’m done in.

But alas, there is hope for the “busy” person and the overcommitter: be honest. It’s just as simple as that. And yet, it’s also that difficult.

I was challenged by a buddy to try and go a week without telling a half-truth or a little white lie. I think I lasted about half a day until I was sunk. I hope that’s not overly shocking to anyone. Try doing that yourself and see how far you get. If you make it more than a day, then I would say congratulations. And if you can make it a whole week, then you’d make an even greater case study on the subject.

But what does this all mean? Are we all liars, cheats, and phonies? Well, not exactly. I’m referring to some very specific circumstances and so, I do not want this to be taken out of context. None of us want to be labeled as liars, cheats or phonies so why not try and be that 100%? Tough gig to run these days, I’ll admit, but think of the benefits. For example, no fear of exposure. In an angst-ridden world, wouldn’t that be a relief? No hiding away parts of ourselves in little black boxes, coveting the very things that make us feel weak or powerless. Instead, we wouldn’t have those boxes – we’d have treasures of other people’s lives. Instead of saying “I’m too busy”, we say, “I’d be interested in giving my time, but please understand that I have priorities too.” I sounded it out and it takes less than 2 extra breaths to work that all in there. That doesn’t sound too hard, now does it?

I’m sure that some folks may read this and say, “Whoa, who slighted you lately to inspire this post?” And that would be a perfectly reasonable question, so here’s my response: myself. For so many years, I’ve told myself that I’m “too busy” to really go after a career in writing. “There are so many things I need to do first”, I’d say. Or “I don’t think it’d be possible with the way my schedule works”. These, among other equally frustrating self-doubts, kept me anchored down, below the surface and without a means to come up for air and breathe. On that same note, I kept overcommitting myself. “I’ll tackle this project first and then I’ll get to what I really want to do” or “That event is just too much, I need at least a month of planning for that until I can get back to my passion.”

You can see how a few words of self-justification can keep a person fixated on the problem without ever having sight of the solution. Eventually, if we are able, we must break free of this mirage and set sail for better harbors. Not safer harbors, like the saying goes – just the sort of harbor that you’re meant to anchor down on. That’s what freeing one’s self of being “busy” looks like. You’ll always have things to keep you busy, but it should never be for so long that you forget what’s truly important or where you’r headed.

For me, that important thing was a pursuit of writing. Ironically, the things which kept me busy, that I thought were life-giving, kept me from being me. It’s an interesting revelation if you can ever get to that place of personal solace. Don’t get me wrong though. I certainly didn’t wake up one morning going “Wow, I see the light” and everything changed in tune, but I did have enough epiphanies to see my own truth: that what blocks our futures (what blocks our vision) are “busy” things. And our justifications for staying busy are merely the politically correct ways we say, “Hey, I’ll get to that later” or when it’s most convenient for me.

So what is yours then? How do you stay busy and moreover, how do you tell others that you are? That’s as good a question as any and could just be enough to write a short book about.

Ok – my Game of Thrones post is here

I’ve been watching this show for a while now. Not reading the books, just viewing it week-to-week. I knowingly skipped out on season 2 because I didn’t want to pay for HBO, but with all the twists and turns awaiting the characters in season 3, I decided to pony up the dough and watch.

At this point, I feel that the series needs no introduction. If you are reading this, then you probably have some interest in George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series already. There’s really no need for me to start summarizing basic plot details or popular characters – you have likely heard about Game of Thrones one way or another.

With that in mind, what’s to say about it? There’s a ton of buzz lately about a recent episode; one where three major characters are killed off (unexpectedly) in what the books call the “Red Wedding”. Now, for any other series, this would be unheard of. Who in their right mind would be so bold as to eliminate some of their most popular leads? Well, Game of Thrones apparently. In one fell swoop, three primary protagonists are slit by the throat, shot with arrows, and stabbed with daggers. All acts committed via the treacherous activity of a character whom you are lead to believe was in the just the entire time. I realize I should be saying something along the lines of SPOILER ALERT!, but that’s moot at this point.

But that’s just it – it’s not a spoiler if you’ve been watching this show long enough. You are inclined to expect the unexpected with Game of Thrones. If the character is likable or even semi-honorable, Game of Thrones’ author, Mr. Martin, will certainly find a way to bludgeon or kill this character within a few short minutes.

And then it’s quickly off to the next poor sap who tries to do what we would call, “the right thing”. It’s not about the strong surviving – it’s about who can betray who the first and not get caught while doing it.

I had been trying to put my finger on this notion for some time now. I was initially intrigued by Martin’s rich use of history and eye for detail. This was very similar to a Tolkien or Lewis fantasy and since I’m a fan of those two guys, I figured I’d give Mr. Martin a try.

As you can probably surmise, that’s where the similarities ended.

Where Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’ Narnia etch elements of hope into their storytelling fabric, Martin’s rips hope out from under nearly every character. Ideas like chivalry and honor are afterthoughts. And you can forget about marrying for love – Martin uses the act of a wedding as the primary force behind uniting peoples together who merely want more power. Or in the extreme case of this past week’s episode – a wedding is used as a decoy to invite people into your home so you can promptly slaughter them.

Now, here’s the good part of this post. I was reading some reactions to this sweeping phenomenon of a show and one that caught my attention related to an interview Martin gave. Within the interview, he went on to say that he dislikes stories where good and evil are blatantly obvious (a la Tolkien and Lewis) and prefers to surprise his audiences (no argument there). By making these statements, Martin has inadvertently set himself up for something. Something that a fan such as myself has an issue with. And that issue is this: how the heck does he (Martin) plan on ending this thing if he loves to cut the legs out (sometimes literally) from every major character? If there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, then won’t the ending be unfulfilling somehow?

I would imagine that most people are following the story because they are interested in Martin’s mastery of narrative. But hey, that narrative has to end eventually, right? Shouldn’t that be a concern? A grandiose tale deserves a grandiose ending, does it not? And even if Martin’s series is full of mixed messages, changing alliances, and broken characters, won’t there be some sort of transcendent ending when it’s all said and done? One would think so, but I’m not so sure. I mean, I have my opinions about how I would end it, but this is someone who is not me. The direction is foreign to me, strange to what I’m familiar with, but ultimately, I’m still interested. It’s new; it’s different, and it’s against the grain of what I’m used to seeing.

How did guys like Stephen King or Edgar Allan Poe become so popular? Well, they introduced something brand spanking new. And that’s what Martin is doing. However, I’m unsure as to just how this guy is going to keep it up. And truthfully, I want an ending that’s more than just a twisted climax. I want resolution. I want completion. I want a semi-hopeful ending. And in the midst of a huge, overarching story, shouldn’t it come to that somehow? Shouldn’t there be some semblance of a “happy ending” for at least one of these characters? I would think so. But then again, Game of Thrones has surprised us before. And since history has a way of repeating itself, I suppose I shouldn’t be too shocked when the ending (no matter what it ends up being) surprises me yet again. Will it be honorable in the least? Well, someone like myself hopes so, but that remains to be seen.

Just Some Updates Here and There

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The picture is not representative of a new book I wrote. And I apologize for the semi-grainy picture quality. It’s actually a copy of The Price of Honor, by John Kandah; a guy who happens to be a friend of mine. The book tells his personal story of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County corruption scandal and how it’s affected him and so many others. I look forward to diving in soon. My list of books to read this summer is quite long so I’m trying to take it one at a time and see how that goes. Key phrase there is “see how that goes”.

I got the book by attending John’s book signing event, which took place just last Friday, the 10th of May. It was cool to see John’s book on display and have complete strangers come by to see just what he had done. All things considered, it appeared to be a very positive experience and I know he hopes to do more in the future.

One of the perks I’ve been experiencing as a writer (that I did not anticipate) is the sharing of other writer’s accomplishments. That’s been very surreal. It helps a person like myself keep moving forward, even when life seems to get in the way of things.

And on that note, I guess it’s time to get back to it. I have my own book signing to organize as well as a 24/7 job to spread the word about this recent release.

If you want, check out John’s work online via most of the major distributors: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Till next time.

A little bit of Mother’s Day perspective

It’s not my norm to write on holidays but Mother’s Day is near and dear to me. My own mother has a birthday precisely one week before Mother’s Day so I’ve always been well-acquainted with the holiday. My family does much of the typical stuff – we get her a card, sing happy birthday, eat cake and then likely enjoy some ice cream thereafter. That’s fun part of Mother’s Day.

Thankfully, my two younger brothers and I are always on top of our game when our mother’s birthday/Mother’s Day comes about. Granted, we’ll still text each other a day or two before and ask just the what the heck to get her this year – which never ends well – but the thought that we should do something nice for our dear mother is always there.

It’s no secret that mothers have a special bond with their children – unique and wholly different from a father’s. They (mothers) know their children about as well as any other person on this Earth ever will. There’s an emotional connection that transcends typical emotional attachment. Considering what these women endure to bring life into the world, there’s a rather large investment to be made with their children. Hours of labor, weeks of preparation, and months carrying a new life – just wow, right?

As a guy, I can’t even begin to comprehend this situation. The mere thought of harboring a living thing inside of me makes me want to vomit. If I knew that I was to burden the existence of human procreation inside of my gut, I’d probably forego the entire process. Don’t sign me up because I don’t want it. And furthermore, don’t expect me to comply for the sake of the world. The messiness involved si not something I’m prepared to stomach.

But I’m a man. That’s the reality. I’m not made for such a task – God gave this glory to another part of his human creation. For that, I am eternally grateful, but I accept this diversity with open arms. I know my place as a protector, not a superior nurturer. I know I’m to be committed once the die is cast and fatherhood knocks upon my door and I understand that my greatest struggle with my own children will be the fine line of disciplinarian/provider and how to balance that (without my kids hating me). For the mother, she will have similar roles to play in that child’s life but hers will be specific and separate from mine. She’ll look to bring support, a gentle hand, and an even smoother touch of grace when her kids mess up – because that’s what she does as a mom, she lets you know you are loved even if you don’t think you are.

As guys, men, or fathers-in-training, we don’t get to have this immediate connection with our children. We watch the pain that the mothers of our children go through and all we can do is sit and watch. Or get hot water. Or get the nurse. Or hold her feet up while she makes that final push in labor. We’re standing by, just waiting to see what’s been cooking in that oven for nine months. And once that baby girl or boy is born, we have the choice to high tail it out of there or stick around to build up this child from the moment he takes his first breath. It’s really as simple and awesome as that (so stick around Dad’s, I promise that the journey is worth it!).

Mothers have a choice too, but the investment has already been made. Their approval has been given the moment their child is born. As men, we look at the child and silently we think of ways this baby may live into our own standards of living. We expect much and hope for the best, much like the mother, but we want our children to surpass us in our own works; to be better than we were and to see and do more than we ever hoped to achieve. Conversely, we’re not as concerned with feelings or emotional stability – we crave a fortress to shelter this child with as they grow and prosper into adulthood.

Ironically, as I grow older, I see that mothers want all of these things too, but as I said before, the approval has been made. You are her pride and joy the instant you take a breath for the first time.

I say these things because of something I witnessed this past weekend. My girlfriend and I were out with friends, enjoying a Friday night at the local Dave and Buster’s. For those that know the place, it can seem like a madhouse full of games, food and tickets. The two of us are still trying to earn the coveted 75,000 coupons so we can get a Playstation 3, but by the time we earn enough coupons, we may have been able to buy the system some three times over (but that’s another story entirely).

What happened on this particular night was something I did not expect. As we were sitting and talking, I saw four young teenagers come walking by our table. They were on their way to play in the game center, probably with the intent to enjoy a full night of games and ticket-winning, but what was special about this quartet was the company they kept: two boys, a girl, and a young boy walking with the assistance of two walkers. His legs were bent in, making a simple walk look difficult, but with the aid of his walkers, he moved at a rather brisk pace. He did a fair job of keeping up with his party, all of whom walked quickly but not too fast for him to stay with them.

I knew that this boy likely had some minor form of muscular dystrophy. I know because I used to work with handicapped children many years ago. As he made his way by our group, I kept a close eye on him. Strolling through the chaos of Dave and Busters is no easy undertaking for any person, but in this particular scenario, the slightest movement from a nearby person wouldn’t be enough time for him to get out the way. His reflexes would never allow it. So I kept a steady vigil until he was out of my sight.

I suppose you could say that I felt like he needed to be protected. This was natural, I guess. It’s gender-biased to say so, but since I’m a male, I seek protection first. Does he need someone to watch over him while he walks? Or no? But when my watch was over, I wondered what his own mother wanted for him. Did she want him protected in the way I was thinking? Or was she merely concerned that he would be playing with his friends on a Friday night? You know, enjoying himself and forgetting the fact that he was physically incapable of being “just like every other kid”. This was a real gut check for me, not just as a guy, but as a human being.

The next day, before I wrote this post, I had the opportunity to sit with an old college friend of mine. He recently felt called to start a non-profit that will work specifically with handicapped individuals, a project he wanted to speak with me on. His passion for the project is very real and I’m happy to have him share his thoughts and feelings on such an endeavor. Moreover, I’m excited to hear that others are willing to stick their necks out and positively impact the greater good. I left our meeting with a renewed sense of relief and my mind returned to the young boy I saw just a night before.

I don’t see coincidences in life – even if I use the word in passing, I’m not a big fan of ‘coincidence talk’. The fact that I saw this young boy, met with a friend on a similar topic, and found myself reflecting about it later was no mere coincidence for me. And thus, this series of events got me thinking, which led to me typing, which led to me making this post and ultimately what all this meant to me as I picked up the phone to say “Happy Mother’s Day” to my own mother. The culmination of events got me realizing how much my mother cared for me and continues to care for me.

To see that young boy racing alongside his friends made me comprehend just how much that boy’s mother must love him, wherever she may be. She brought him into the world, likely with no expectation other than to care for him. She was probably hopeful that he’d be strong, resilient, and true, but no matter what, he was going to be loved. At least that’s what I would hope for the most.

Oftentimes, we can see the love a child has in his life by the relationships he forms with others. Do they have firm foundations? Or are they easily crumbled by the slightest gaffe? This young boy, despite being physically different, had three friends walking along side him, in even stride, without disdain for his ailment. Now, unless these three others were being paid off by some unseen person, I’m inclined to think that they were all friends. The smiles, the excitement and the banter of conversation showed that, but even greater than that was the pace at which the other friends moved with this boy. They didn’t expect him to run faster, to “keep up” because they themselves were able; they merely walked along with him, sharing in the moment and not leaving him behind. That’s showing real love for another person – much like the love of a mother.

As it pertains to my own mother, I have known and felt that type of love. I’ve screwed up many times over and I’ve often made a fool of myself, but through that hardship, my mother has always been there to greet me. She accepts me as only a mother can and for that, I’m more than grateful, I’m blessed by that connection.

So here’s to you, Mom. May it be more than just a day where you receive the latest Hallmark card or dozen red roses (still not sure if my brothers picked those up or not); may it be a day where all your children fully realize the depth of your love for them. And return that love in the best way that they can. Mine just so happens to be a blog.

Thanks, Mom, for all that you continue to do.

Love,
Your son

This was too big a post for Facebook.

I started making a status update, but it got far too long so here I am. Back on WordPress.

In light of everything going on, I’m ecstatic over my book being released on Wednesday. I’m really excited, of course, but I’d be committing a major wrong if I didn’t mention my experience speaking at a public school this week too. I had been asked recently by a friend of mine to come share my story of becoming a writer with several high school classes. He informed me this would be a school in the inner city of Cleveland and that I’d be speaking on “pursuing dreams”. This all started because I had shared with him how as a nine-year old, I was given an assignment to write down 1 goal I had for the year. Where kids were writing down things like, “Don’t tease my brother,” or “I’ll get an A in English” or “I won’t pee the bed”, I wrote something a little different: I said “I want to write a novel.” The teacher pulled me aside and asked if I even knew what a novel was. When I told her it was a big book, like a dictionary, with lots of words and a story inside, she said “yes, that’s what it is.” I then said, “Well, what did you want to talk about?” She looked at me, smiled, and said, “Well, I hope you accomplish your goal.”

I never wrote a novel that year but some 18 years later, I certainly did publish a book. Not with tremendous ease, but I did. But just as easily, my teacher could have crushed my dreams 18 years ago by saying, “That’s impossible; now go write down something more realistic”. But hey, she didn’t. She gave me wood for a fire that was already lit inside. And when I got older, I poured gasoline on that fire until it was so strong that I couldn’t deny it any longer. And because of that experience, though I won’t owe it to that one experience completely, I’ve now written two books as of this past Wednesday – in essence, my dream became a reality. Plain and simple.

Knowing this might be encouraging to hear, my friend asked me if I could share this with some freshman/sophomores he regularly met with. He works for the city so he’s usually in schools trying to raise awareness and provide opportunities for growth or mentoring. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher in some regard so I didn’t mind accepting the invite. It’d be a good idea to share some of what I’d been through, I figured. He then told me I’d be speaking at a school with a 50% graduation rate. And on top of that, the majority of these kids come from “families” (and I use that term loosely) which live at or below the poverty level.

To be honest I had a few hesitations, but God-willing, something inside of me said that I needed to go to this school and talk. And not just “talk” with the kids, but to engage them. As in, challenge their thinking, their attitudes, and where they were in life. Please do not confuse this with a sales pitch – I was not there to sell myself. If I was selling anything, I would think it it’d be hope. And hope was something I came find very little of in this place. Not because of the teachers or the admministration, but because of where these kids were coming from.

Every floor was policed by four to five security guards. Metal detectors were at the front door. Students wore next-to-nothing but this was not entirely because they wanted to, but because that’s probably all they could afford. And yet, they walked everywhere with iPods and expensive shoes to flaunt some sort of financial status; a status that was likely fostered by a tax credit or welfare check their parents/guardians recently received.

This was intimidating at first but I literally had no fear as I stepped into every classroom. I had little expectation for attendance, let alone interest, but I was willing to see what would happen and how my story would be received. Some kids put their heads down on desks and talked out of turn, but that was only at the beginning of the class – for by the time I started asking questions, sharing a story of life and asking them what their lives were about, everything changed. What was it exactly that happened? Well, it was no work of mine – I will not toot my own horn – it was merely about giving time and energy to engage a person about their life. That is all. Several kids came up to me after class wanting to ask more questions about how I decided on a path, how I honed a voice, and just what it meant to be an “author”. That’s great, yes, but the engagement is the victory. The interest, the not-being-afraid to approach someone and speak freely for fear of being chastised; this is the heart of reaching people.

The day culminated with a young girl, probably 15, calling her mom on a teacher’s school phone for a ride home. The words, “Will you be here when I leave?” and “Are you coming to get me or not? Is there anyone there who can?” are questions that I couldn’t help but overhear. Here I am, sitting at a computer, writing this blog post, and my biggest worry is how to write this post without any grammatical errors. But to this young lady, I’m sure the burdens she carries (specifically those related to just finding a ride home) are much greater than mine. And for such a small person, how could it not break a person in two?

Getting to speak at a school full of kids with broken homes, broken families, and broken spirits is so incredibly humbling that a ranty Facebook status or blog just doesn’t do the experience justice. As of now, I’m still miffed as to what platform is best to make such a statement and actually, I may just have to remove this later for the lack of empathy I’m sure others will have towards this post. For unless you experience it firsthand, I’m not sure how you may relate.

However, I want to be clear on something I’ve come to realize: we are more focused on getting everyone affordable insurance, marrying everybody who wants to and wearing colors for charity and yet, there is no action taken towards bettering the American family and its youth. If you are someone reading this and you want to “fight” for some cause, then there is no greater cause than fighting for the support and growth of a young person. That reason alone transcends any political, economic, or religious debate you’ll ever find yourself in. Time, education, role models – half of these kids (not just in the city) have nothing to look UP or FORWARD to. At school, at home, anywhere; they are lost and looking for someone to just BE THERE, but with so much confusion and anger coming from so many places, how on GOD’S GREEN EARTH are they ever going to grow up strong and true? I’m appalled, sickened, and humbled by the experience. If you choose to live your life in an ivory tower, then so be it. No one is going to stop you. But when you look out your window and see the desperate eyes of so many hurt people, I wonder how much energy it takes to turn away and pretend that the issues of those close to you are of no consequence to your life. I will be going back to that school (or others) in the near future and I hope to reengage the students that I spoke with about chasing their dreams and discerning what is harmful to their lives and what is life-giving. That doesn’t require a master’s degree, it doesn’t require me to be some decorated war veteran with a story to tell, and it sure as hell doesn’t require that I sacrifice my own status in going there. It only requires time – and that’s something every person can give.

What Makes People “Fired Up”?!

This is a generic question that warrants all manner of specific answers, but honestly, what does get a person fired up? Why do they get fired up? And heck, why do we even refer to this state as being all fired up?!

Well, I discovered that the phrase alone has origins beyond the scope of a mere Google search. In other words, I couldn’t find where it came from. However, I do know (and feel) what its meaning is: to ignite a response from deep within our core beings. When you think of a fire burning, you picture sparks of orange and yellow rising up from a central location. The fire was lit by something (a hand perhaps) and now that fire is engulfing any object it can in order to stay burning; be it wood, coal, or some other flammable substance. If fire were a living thing, we’d probably put it in the predatory category. In order for the fire to sustain itself, it must devour other things to survive. Not just eat either; devour. Because that’s what a fire does, it removes all evidence of the object it was lit upon. And whatever that object was before, it’s been changed forever from its original state.

So how does this apply to a person?

I like to think of those who get fired up as being people who are passionate about something. This passion could be a cause like, cancer research or volunteer work or even mentoring; matters that are linked directly to the heart of a person. These are core feelings boiling beneath the surface, just waiting to be “lit” into action. Once that fire is alive though, it has two potential paths: devour or multiply. The fire consumes all traces of what was there, spreading out amongst those who are close enough to the flame. Some may remain unaffected, like a hard stone sitting on the ground, but others may have a kindling that’s just waiting to be ignited. Once theirs is burning, they can’t help but feel alive now that the torch has been passed into them. On another part of the spectrum, you may find those who are burned by the flame of another. A person who gets “fired up” has a greater propensity to burn others; leaving a trail full of bitter and angry peers.

This is the great debacle of “getting fired up”. We are told to be passionate with what we do but we are also urged to have direction with our passions; a trait that fire doesn’t necessarily abide by. A wildfire does not stop until it has consumed all possible things in its path, stopping only once it has exhausted every available resource. Conversely, a fire that’s contained can provide warmth to any and all who gather around it. Those looking for light or guidance are led to the fire like a lost traveler in the night. And when they get there, they find others who at one time shared a cold or dark view of the world around them. This is the dual nature of a powerful flame; a purpose that’s designed for expansion, be it external or internal.

Obviously, we see these fires in people. There are those among us who shine brightly, drawing others near so as to give them warmth or protection. But there are those who are like wildfires, devouring everything (and everyone) in their path as they seek to expand their passion upon all those in their immediate vicinity (and beyond). If you ask someone who they’d rather befriend, I’m sure all of us would say the former. We’d prefer to be in the presence of a person who gives without the thought of receiving; someone who presents a warmly glow; someone who is passionate yet contained and directed in their endeavors so as to not burn those who huddle close by.

Ironically though, I feel like we have a hard time discerning between these two types of people.

We are quick to believe a loud mouth or a firm hand because it’s dynamic and obstructs our own views. We are taken with the pressure of others telling who to follow and what to listen to rather than looking inward at our own fire; and how it is yearning to be lit. We like the comfort of being told what to do, but criticize those in power for not understanding our own needs or desires; even if we have never voiced them openly. This is the inward cry of someone caught in a wildfire, I feel. To be powerless and without warmth because his own fire inside was never lit of his own accord; it was trampled on by another whose desires impeded the needs of his own heart. And so, he is now left to wander aimlessly; the fire gone, replaced with a charred space where the kindling used to be.

There are certain things in life that get us angry or upset, but this is not necessarily a sign of passion. If you’re “fired up” about something, then I would perceive this as being enthusiastic. Many online dictionaries describe “fired up” as being “aggravated” or even “aggressive” towards something so there can also be a negative connotation here. This, in my eyes, best describes the balance between a well-tended fire and a fire that is out of control. One type is indicative of passion and love; the other is a representation of spite, remorse, or anger. Is it good to be angry? Sure, but it is also easy to remain that way. Stay wound up too tight your whole life and you may eventually explode. Obviously that anger must get redirected. How does that emotion get channeled into creating light rather than expanding upon a burned landscape?

Well, I don’t have all the answers on that one, but it certainly must start with a look inward, not outward. What we see outwardly can be deceptive, but what’s inside tells us more of who we are and what we’re passionate for. Am I saying to not trust everything you hear? No, not exactly. I’m not big on overthinking or extreme analytics for the pursuit of more knowledge (even if I am the researching type) as this can get in the way of finding real truth. Yes, you should seek accurate information so as to be better informed, but that pursuit can be in itself like a wildfire of your own doings, crushing a straight and purposeful path in favor of one that is muddled with uncertainty. I am, however, in the thinking that if we recognize real warmth, deep to our core, then we know in our bones that a fire is lit there. One that is not meant to overtake us, but is meant for helping to light our own passions and eventually those of others. People crave community, yet the individual desires identity and individuality. Is there a way to receive both?

I get fired up about this topic more so than most other subjects. I find my continuing relationship with God to be a determining factor in my quest to be “on fire” (figuratively speaking). What does God want me to get fired up about? Am I conducting myself more like a light to others? Or am I merely just making my own agenda more important than theirs? I would hope this thought doesn’t make you lose sleep at night, but when you consider the reality of your everyday life, you must recognize the impact you have each and every moment you are breathing.

And that’s worth getting fired up about, is it not?