The Strong Friend

I’m an upbeat guy by most accounts–the strong friend.  I’m a go-to person for friends who want to talk through things or vent or ask for advice.  Like I said, I’m a strong friend, but I also have my struggles.

I have friends that pause during their busy lives to ask me how I’m doing.  And as most of us do, I try to keep it simple:  “I’m okay, you?”  And they reply, “I’m good.”  I was taught that no one really cares how you’re doing, and even if they do, they certainly don’t want to set off a monologue of your woes.  But thank God for those friends who dig deeper, who ask, “Are you sure you’re okay?  Let’s talk.”

And truthfully, 99% of the time I am okay or maybe even fabulous.  The other 1% of the time when I’m not “Okay”, when I’m sideways, when life seems more jungle than joy, when I forget how to float–it’s in those rough waters of my job, my finances, my health, my proximity to the inevitable effects of aging that I seek help from friends, therapists, self-help books, and my angel man.

Since these 1% times are obviously mathematically rare, it appears like unnatural behavior to the people closest to me.  It’s not unnatural or unusual for me to be down–just uncommon.

When is does occur, I always get asked, “Do you think you’re depressed?”  That’s a tough question because when you’re in the middle of a dung heap, it’s difficult to smell anything but shit.

For me, the way I know I’m depressed is a simple mental test.  If nothing matters and all I want to do is stop and lie down in the shit, then I’m depressed.  This standard is different for everyone, but for me, this is how I try to grasp the reality I’m going through.

But if everything matters and all I can think about is each milligram of shit I have to deal with, and worry about how I’m going to get out of this mess, and become overwhelmed and exhausted by my desire to want to fix everything, then that leads to immense stress and sadness.

So for me–and I’m only speaking for me–depression is when nothing matters.  When I have neither the energy nor desire to ask for help.  Luckily, this is rare for me;  my 1%.  But for many people it’s their 99%–even some of your “strong” friends.

Now on the other hand, when everything matters and I just need a respite from the dung heap, and I’m in the down lows, then I know I’m most likely not depressed.  Just very sad.

I don’t enjoy sadness or depression.  I want my friends to keep asking if I’m okay.  I want those closest to me to ask me if I think I’m depressed because sometimes even with a clear head the line between sadness and depression is blurred.  I can be standing in the heap of dung and I don’t know whether to lie down or keep walking. It ain’t all shit or sugar, you know.

This is when that honest, loving friend says, “Let me help you find someone that you can share your beautiful, ugly, normal, extraordinary story with.”  These are friends who don’t just bring light to my darkness, but help me bring my darkness to the light.

Thank you!  I love each and every one of you.

Goodbye, Ms. D

My tribute to the glorious Ms. Dianna Denton. Given on May 19th to a sea of friends, family, and former students.  I love you, sweet lady.


Wow!  Look at us!  Look at you!  Look at this!

This is proof that love creates a sacred gravity.  Its pull is undeniable.  Love is the force that brought us all here.  Or more specifically, Ms. D’s love for us and our love for her drew us together today. She may be the one and only extraordinary thing we all have in common.

My name is Jim Gunnell and as divine fate would have it, Ms. D was my teacher and conspirator of all things good my 9th and 10th grade years.  I was also blessed to be one of many drama students that circled in an orbit around her.  Those were the days.

Ms. D was this fabulous, vivacious, 30-something wonder woman.  She had the fire of Miss Ann Margaret with the softness of Miss Audrey Hepburn and the sassiness of Miss Katharine Hepburn.  I loved her and she loved me.

When I was on stage, Ms. D would do her best to stay calm and coach me.  In all honesty, I was an awful actor.  I had trouble remembering my lines or where I was supposed to stand.  Inevitably I would wind up standing in front of “the star” who would take grave umbrage at my unintentional upstaging and general ignorance regarding blocking and stage direction.

I had very little rhythm back in those days—and even less now.  I couldn’t dance without counting my steps, and I couldn’t count without moving my lips.  Ann Margaret would patiently coach me from the front row.  “Don’t look at your feet, Jim. Don’t look at your feet.”

“Sorry, 2, 3, 4…”, I’d yell back……..while looking at my feet.  It was a short dance I had to perform in Calamity Jane.  I played Francis Fryer—Francis with an “i” pretending to be Frances with an “e”.  I was definitely type cast.  If you haven’t seen Calamity Jane, it’s a pretty simple plot line.  Boy meets girl…meets drag queen.

Calamity Jane sang a beautiful song titled, “Secret Love”.  It was my favorite song in the musical, and said the very things that were on my mind at that time in my life.  Here’s a snippet of it.

Once I had a secret love
Deep within the heart of me.
All too soon my secret love
Became impatient to be free.
Now I shout it from the highest hills.
Even told the golden daffodils.
At last my heart’s an open door.
And my secret love’s no secret anymore.

But my love was a secret, and looking back on it now, I’m fairly certain that Ms. D knew. When I sang this song in my car at the top of my lungs, I was singing it to the hot exchange student from Germany…his name was Kurt.  Ms. D knew me better than I knew myself.  It was one of her superpowers.

I believe one of Ms. D’s grand purposes in life was to help each of us awaken to the reality of our authentic greatness.  Let me say that one more time.  Ms. D created opportunities that allowed each one of us to wake up and realize the greatness that was within us.  She believed in us that much.  She knew us that well because she saw us, she heard us, and she valued us as priceless.   She helped us discover who we really were and encouraged us to become the best version of that person we could become.

It was September 1979, and I remember driving my car as fast as I could toward college—watching my past get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror.  I was leaving behind a house full of dysfunction, not knowing at what point the chaos would reach a critical mass and become too great for the used brick walls to contain.  My escape enhanced the sweetness of my first year of college.  It was a grand adventure.  I was in theater, choir, and coffeehouse events on campus…thank you, Ms. D.

In 1980, during my first summer home from college, I worked at the Oak Hills Country Club (the OHCC) in DeWitt. Earlier that Spring I had secured a job as lifeguard and swim teacher. I had joined the swim team my first year of college. Having never swum competitively before, I struggled. My stroke was awkward and regardless of how hard I tried, I hit my oncoming teammates in the face every time they swam by. There must have been a team meeting to decide if they would rather be crowded into fewer lanes or be hit in the face every lap. They chose to create a separate lane for beginner swimmers. But they did it in such a nice way that I felt only mildly outcast.

Landing the job at the OHCC was when I first began to respect the power of favoritism. Miss Ann Margaret was the pool manager. “What?” you say. Yes. Fiery Miss Ann Margaret in a bikini.

Throughout the swim season at college, I had become accustomed to the lighter side of swimwear. In September when I showed up for the first swim practice wearing trunks, the faces of the other swimmers resembled that emoticon that has the big round eyes. You know the one? The coach was very understanding of my country boy innocence. I soon got a Speedo that took me months to get used to wearing—for various reasons.

I planned to return to the swim team in the fall, and I was determined that I wouldn’t show up with a farmer’s tan. A farmer’s tan screams ,“Boy, you are country as hell!” If I could swim all year in a Speedo at college, then why couldn’t I swim in a Speedo at the OHCC? Had I been in my right mind, I could have come up with at least ten good reasons—two of which were named Bubba. Did I dare? What would the “members” say? Would they judge me? Would they convene a special meeting of the Board to determine how to approach “the talk” with me?

In my head I heard,

Now, Jim. We understand that you’ve been off at that highfalutin school, but they go about things a little different than we do down here. At the OHCC we pride ourselves on modesty and decorum. We just can’t let you go traipsing around wearing that banana hammock. Do you understand?

I only worried about this briefly because Ms. D had my back.  She was my boss and gave me permission to don the swimwear of my choice.

You might be sitting there asking yourself, “Now why the hell did he tell us that story?”  Well, one…it was pretty funny.  And two…once again Ms. D made me feel seen, heard and valued.  Can you imagine how important that was to me?  Forty years later I am a combination of a lifetime of experiences.  As insignificant as it might appear to an outside observer, Ms. D leaving the choice of swimwear up to me was a lesson in courage for both of us.

Ms. D inspired my journey. Her love and belief in me increased my trajectory.  Her courage to force me from the edge allowed me to discover my amazing ability to fly. She left a glorious trail of joy behind.  And she would want each one of us to reach for others’ hands and create a trail of joy with them…amplifying love as she did for us.

And finally, to you, Ms. D.–

I believe in miracles. I know they sometimes come simply and silently. They don’t always enter with trumpets and fanfare. Sometimes they tiptoe in. Some miracles are common—unpretentious; in brown paper sacks and in stumbles and falls. Sometimes they take the form of a sweet, tenderly tenacious blonde-haired teacher whose favorite color was pink and whose smile lit the darkest corners of so many souls.We wander about this terrestrial blueness without realizing that we stand beneath a heaven that is sending us miracles from a treasure chest entrusted to us at birth.

We see the rain but don’t want to feel it; oftentimes protecting ourselves from the wetness.

Then, without warning, amidst our walk, loss trips us. And we fall face first in the puddles. And we wake up wondering why we missed the rainbows.

But not with you, sweet lady.  You taught us how to soak up the showers like a sponge–and play like children with wild abandon. You put us in the spotlight.

Hearing of your passing tripped me, but I can say that 40 years haven’t weakened the gravity of your love. I had a blast in the rain and under the rainbows and in the light of center stage. I still look at my feet when I dance, but I’m not afraid to dance.

On behalf of the thousands of young souls you shared your light and love with, thank you for our brief but joyous dance. I will see you in a while…and you and I will dance somewhere over the rainbow.

I love you…

[blow a kiss to heaven]

[exit stage right]


Here’s a very short, short story about my mom. In joy.


Born Friday, March 13,1934

Chapter One- Fruitcake
Once upon a time, there was an elderly woman. Her decades-long journey had been punctuated with ill fortune. Her life was like a fruitcake soaked in cheap liquor—few would choose it. But my mother was a woman who championed the underdog.

Chapter Two- Cotton Pickin’ Bad
My mom was one of four daughters born to sharecroppers. She and her sisters worked the farm every day from sun up to sun down. They would pick cotton in the sweltering Alabama heat—row after row. It could be those days in the cotton fields of Alabama that conditioned her thoughts, believing that life without load held an inherent unworthiness.

Chapter Three- The Worst Thing
Fast forward to a sweltering afternoon in July 1966. The Arkansas heat was oppressive and the humidity made the air thick and dripping. My mom didn’t know how to swim, but she went along with the let’s-take-the-kids-to-the-river idea because my father was persuasive and loud. As she sat uncomfortably on the bank in a wooden chair, she never imagined the worst thing that could happen that day. When I look at photos of my two sacred, precious children, I often wonder how my mother survived the loss of her Dana Joy that heavy July afternoon in the muddy waters of the White river.

Chapter Four- A Drought Named Hope
Years trudged by. One and then another and another and another. I imagine mom’s struggle like the all-consuming, for-naught work of treading to stay afloat in quicksand—the harder she fought to push the pain away the deeper she sank.

Raising her children while being married to an alcoholic, called on every drop of strength she could muster. There were many years when all her seeds of hope were planted into us. And mom was left with faith—that which remains after you’ve given all without giving up.

Chapter Five- Grace, Do You Remember Me?
When I came through the door of my sister’s house, mom was sitting on the loveseat watching TV. “Well, what a surprise! I didn’t know you were coming to see me.”, she said. My face must have explained why I was there. “What happened?”, she asked. “Is it your dad?”

Mom was staying with my sister because my father was mixing his medication for bipolar disorder with copious amounts of vodka. The combination had led to hallucinations, and my mom was afraid he might hurt her. But he hurt himself instead. It was a typical August day in 1999 when he sat on the foot of his bed and took his own life. It was a bitter and selfish way to end a tumultuous journey. Maybe it was the voices in his head. Maybe he thought he was doing us a favor. Or maybe he wanted to get on to heaven to see the angel he lost in 1966.

Chapter Six- A One-way Ticket on the Slowest Train
It took some time for mom to stop hiding from grace, but when she did grace brought a gift that she had long deserved. His name was Richard. He doted on her because he saw her for the loving, forgiving, beautiful light that she was. They loved each other so very much and were happy just being together. He taught her that she was worthy of unconditional love—a lesson that had taken a lifetime for her to see and feel and hold.

After Richard passed several years ago, mom was afraid. He was her biggest fan. She leaned on her sisters and found strength in their love. She survived yet another tragedy.

Growing up I saw my mom as a cowardly soul. This observation was based on her codependency and unwillingness to leave my father. In hindsight, it was more courageous for her to stand her ground, raise us like she believed we needed to be raised, and be a catalyst for good and a buffer between us and the bad.

Chapter Seven- Getting Older Isn’t so Bad When Peace is Your Roommate
On March 13 mom will be 84. During the past 8 years we’ve witnessed her body slowly decline—submit to crippling osteoporosis, arthritis, neuropathy, and fibromyalgia. She is in constant pain but seldom complains.

All of her sisters have now passed on—strong women linked by a unique bond of love and sacrifice. I believe they are watching over her now.

About six months ago mom called me. She was living with my sister at the time. She’d been supporting them for three years and decided it was time to look out for herself. So my brother went and got her. She was frail and could barely walk 20 feet even with the assistance of a walker.

Enter an angel named Melinda. Melinda deeply loves my mom so she told mom that she could live with her, but part of the deal was for mom to focus on regaining her strength and independence. It is not an exaggeration to say that Melinda saved my mom’s life.

Melinda guided her with smart decisions about her health, encouraged her to walk so she could become more independent, got her health insurance reinstated after my sister let it lapse, and cooked nutritious meals for her every day. Melinda took her shopping and out to the movies. She reintroduced mom to the world. My mom is alive again. I joked that Melinda was like Annie Sullivan—the miracle worker.

Next month, near mom’s 84th birthday, she will be moving into an apartment at Good Shepherd to live independently. Melinda believed in her and taught mom to believe in herself.

Mom is finally at peace with the loss of her Dana Joy, the turmoil of a difficult marriage, the suicide of my father, the death of her sisters, and the toll arthritis has taken on her body. Her spirit is renewed.

I’m so proud of her for finding her voice, practicing courage, and showing me that no matter how old we are we can be an antenna for joy and peace.

That One Bad Review

I was delighted—thrilled really—that my Facebook post announcing my TEDx talk reached almost 3,500 folks. Many of you shared it, and over 800 people actually watched the TEDx talk.

As I sipped my wine in the paradise of my 110 year-old porch yesterday afternoon, I received a notification that someone had commented on my TEDx post. I’m always eager to read the feedback people leave for me, but this time I read the comment and it felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

I found myself contract a little. Just when I was confident that I had successfully navigated the storm, this loud clap of thunder scared me. Was there truth in her words? Her comment included painful phrases. “You are a coward!” “You are sick.” “You stole your wife’s life.” “You robbed your children.” “You are a despicable person.”

Why is it that these observations from a complete stranger are so sticky? I told myself, “This person doesn’t even know me. She obviously didn’t listen to my talk. I mean because if she had, how could she feel this way?” I immediately took a defensive stance, and attempted to discredit her feedback.

After a few minutes mulling this over, I had an “aha” moment. Her comments were almost identical to the things I had said to myself along my journey to truth. This self-shaming dialogue once led me to a dark hole of a place. Never again. I cannot be shamed! I will not be shamed.

Her angry accusations allowed me an opportunity to reframe that punch in the gut to the real message God is constantly reminding me of: “You are enough. You have always been enough.”

No one knows my story like I know my story. I spent many years in fear. Does that make me a coward? No. I am courageous. I have most likely done some despicable things in my life, but finally living my truth is not one of them. I am filled with love. I gave my amazing wife a beautiful life filled with great joy. I brought an angel of a man into the lives of my children, and they love him wholeheartedly.

So as I often do, I drew a circle of grace around myself. And you know what? I thank this stranger for sharing the thoughts she has about me. It’s one more lesson in this wonderful life I am blessed to live.

The Power of Grace

If you were gay growing up in the 1960s and ’70s on the buckle of the Bible belt, you told no one. Keeping secrets was the key to survival. If you weren’t allowed to dance in public, then for God’s sake, there was no way in hell you could be a homosexual.

My journey out of secrecy was slow and wary. It took me away to a small liberal arts college where I met my wife. The journey gave me a wise son with an old soul, and a strong daughter with a tender heart. Along the way I made friends and enemies. Hiding was just a part of my daily routine.

Finally at 53, there was a courage that stirred my imagination to fathom speaking the words of coming out, but where did that courage originate? Why had I been unable to utter these words until my fifth decade? Why did I decide that living my authentic life was more important than spending the rest of my days in the normalcy of love that my wife and I had?

This TEDx talk affirms the power that courage, grace, love, and peace had in helping me—a married man in his fifties—come out. And how each time I spoke my truth, God leaned in and whispered, “See there, you’re enough just as you are. You’ve always been enough.”

My story represents the narrative of so many men who grew up with the fear of hell and the shame associated with the “sin” of being gay. It also confirms that abundant joy and peace are patiently waiting for all of us as we slay our own personal demons and make our way out of the cave.

I hope you enjoy listening to my story. So it is with great excitement and ten extra pounds from the camera, that I share part of my story. In joy.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

The reality of our current situation is this:  there wasn’t and never will be a perfect candidate for us to put our faith in.  There will never be someone whose record is without decisions we disagree with.  Such is the nature of humans.

Last night the 44th flawed mortal was elected President of the United States of America.  And today as I’m digesting the results of our democracy, I’m asking myself:  What will I do if this mortal who’s seeking immortality steers us in a direction other than love?  What will I do with my distrust if he leads with hate or fear? Will I find my voice if there is a time when I must stand up against racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and demagoguery?  Will I fight to have love heard when others are screaming me down with hate?  Absolutely, I will!  Because I know that my words and deeds could be the snowflake that creates an avalanche of love and healing.  I believe love is that powerful.

As much as fear wants me to believe that “they” are evildoers, I mustn’t allow myself to succumb to categorization and labeling that could result in dehumanization. I know that I’m a piece of this beautifully flawed and sometimes tormented collective called humanity.  Every one of us is.  Like it or not, I am you and you are me, and our souls are connected by an energy that exists in the subatomic particles of our being.  We are ONE.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell the chorus when touched by the better angels of our nature.  Abraham Lincoln

Be still and try to hear the songs of gratitude and grace that are singing beneath the panic and dread. Those hymns of love and peace will eventually make the sounds of fear imperceptible.

Love will win. Love always wins.

A Snapshot of Struggle

As some of you know, I’m heading to California later this month to work on a book proposal.  In preparing for that work, I was reviewing my journals from the past couple years and ran across this entry from November 9, 2014.  It is a snapshot of the struggle I was going through.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I was sitting on the thin side of happiness, yearning to push through.  Spoiler alert:  I pushed through and I am now dancing in the light of a thousand angels.  Much love to you all.

Journal Entry – 11/9/2014
Why is it so scary for me to live my truth—to come out—at 53? Where do I start? Fear is all around me. Fear is like a preposition. It is above, below, around, beneath, beside and within. Fear lurks in the dark places, but fear also shows up in the light of day to distract my thoughts from all things peaceful. Fear is a ruthless pimp that whores my identity.

I’m gay yet fear has me second guessing my sexuality. I think to myself, “I’m gay, but I’m afraid to be gay.” This is ridiculous. “Be yourself.”, I say. “Be authentic. Be true. Be courageous.”

But the echo of fear from across the chasm of my consciousness says, “Shh. You cannot be yourself. Living your authentic truth will hurt so many people. You’re a sweet man. You don’t want to hurt anyone, do you? Shh.” The echo reverberates, and my true story gets muffled by fear. I want my truth to be a torch to light my destiny, but fear sucks the oxygen out of my world and extinguishes the light.


A part of me has gotten accustomed to fear. Fear shows up every day with a persistent barrage of junk food that I know is bad for me, but I eat it anyway. At times when I’m not in the mood to consume the trash talk from fear, I find that I feel guilty. Guilty because how in the world could I be so brazen as to ignore fear and allow myself moments of respite?

It’s taken years for me to truly understand that every human being has the capacity to love without limits. We can be hurt, in pain, sitting in the mouth of fear, yet we can still love with our entire heart. I know that I can share my truth and live my authentic life and that people will have the capacity to love me. My fear is that even though people have the capacity for limitless love, they will choose to retract their love from me.

I am not naïve enough to believe that I can, after thirty years of marriage, come out and live my authentic life and everything will be the same.

As a matter of fact, I’ve reached a point where I don’t want things to be the same. I want relationships to change. I am ready for the lessons that are awaiting me in the transactions—but fear remains.

My struggle is one of spirit, mind, and body. I am a wreck. Some days I feel like my life is an empty tube of toothpaste, and I spend lots of energy trying to squeeze out just enough will to get me through the day. The stress is taking a toll on me. Migraines, hypertension and anxiety are symptoms of my stress. This fear—this struggle—is literally killing me.

Fast Forward to 04-16-2016
Each time I expose my heart I wonder what will enter and what will leave. What I’ve discovered is that by allowing courage to fully open my heart, I’m allowing healing light to enter and pain and fear to be released. The wider I open my heart the more the light can enter. Each time I tell my story with an open heart it liberates me. It’s a sacred transaction between God and me. It’s a beautiful thing.

I hope my story—my truth—will liberate many hearts.

Heart space open

In joy and love,

Love Is Not Always A Verb

There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when I believed that love was an action verb. In my mind, the feeling wasn’t enough. Love had to be an act of kindness or a manifestation of compassion. It might have been Oprah that convinced me of this. I wrote about love as a verb and freely shared my enthusiastic conviction with anyone willing to listen. If I was lucky enough to have more than a couple people to preach to, I became like an evangelist at a tent revival. Standing on my soapbox behind my imaginary pulpit, I didn’t waiver when other opinions were shared. If I’m being totally honest, I might have occasionally fallen into that now annoying evangelical vocal cadence that is part of my southern country boy muscle memory.

When I think back on those days of evangelizing the “get-up-off-your-ass-and-love” ministry, I see it as cliché—a t-shirt slogan maybe—“LOVE IS A VERB”.

Love is a Verb t-Shirt

The more I understand myself and what love looks like to me, the more I see love everywhere. The writings of Marianne Williamson, Rob Bell, Brene Brown, and Mark Nepo (to name a few) awakened me to the necessity of expanding my gaze.

I’m learning to recognize myriad forms of love. I wait to see how love speaks to my OCD when my dark sofa is covered with white dog hair, how love responds to bad breath, or how love treats me when I have a flat tire on a cold, wet drive to work. Imagine if I were only looking for “love: the verb”—think how much love I would miss.

Sometimes love looks like a gangly teenage girl with supermodel potential. Sometimes love appears as your mom telling your math teacher that the reason your math skills are atrocious is because she was never good at math. And sometimes love is the math teacher who leans across the desk toward your mother and in a tone of exasperated frustration informs her that poor math skills are not hereditary.

Sometimes love is a feeling you get when you watch “Steel Magnolias”, “Terms of Endearment”, or “Transparent”. Love sits next to you as you read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Secret Life of Bees, or the Bible.

Love is in the atmosphere between your eyes and the eyes of your child, your friend, or the hospice nurse. Love baths in the warm air between you and your lover as you lie in the pre-dream twilight.

Love is that feeling you had—if you’re old enough to remember—when you saw 19-year old Kerri Strug land on one foot in the 1996 Olympics to score a 9.7 and guarantee a gold medal for the United States.

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Love is the fingerprints on the wildflowers your 6-year old son picked for you because he knows that yellow is your favorite color.

Love is a severed ten-inch braid of auburn hair from an 18-year old boy—a boy who watched chemo steal his grandmother’s long, beautiful hair. Hair that she grew for a lifetime as a personal symbol of dedication to her religious belief.

Love is the heartbeat you hear when you lay your head on you dad’s chest. And love is the gentle stroke of his hand on your hair.

When angels bend near the earth to transport you home, love will be in the hands of your family as they interlock their fingers with yours and give you permission to let go this mortal form.

love is more

Sense all forms of love—see the unseeable love, touch the intangible love, and feel the gravity between each of us that is created by love.

In joy,

My Prayer of Truth

The fall and winter months of this year were filled with punishing days—each hour slowly wading through the thick mire of my life. Each minute trudging toward the next until one by one by one they finally dropped off the horizon and I could sleep. I was broken and beginning to crumble. I was leaking life force, and emitting a tired and shadowy aura. I was melting into the landscape and there was a blurred edge where my shadow ended and the mouth of the dark cave began. I found myself lost. I was disoriented amidst a garden of secrets. Out of my body, I watched myself step into a deep hole of a place.

I sat inside this darkling space, tediously scribbling maps for my soul’s journey. My hunched-over scrawling lacked precision of possibility so my maps, upon hindsight, were labyrinths designed in the dark—like blueprints drawn with watercolors in the rain. I wanted to climb out into the light, but the gravity of fear held me in this place—fear pretended to be the cool earth beneath my feet, tricking me into comfort.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 11.55.35 AM

I was maze-making. Skillfully, designing my own traps with walls made from bricks I had shaped with my own hands. Bricks made from the thick mud of shame. Sturdy walls that created shadows where secrets hid. The bricks were fastened to each other with mortar made from an old family recipe. Ingredients supplied by an alcoholic father, a codependent mother, and their wounded child. The drone of my work became an unconscious and unholy mantra.

I could not see my angels preparing the ballroom for my celebration. I could not hear them practicing the music for my new dance.

My happiness sat on the thin side of fear yearning to push through. My happiness wept. There were many people who heard my whispered sobs, but they were busy singing their part in someone else’s chorus. There were others who heard and saw me crying from this dark pit I had chosen for myself. They slowly nodded a silent affirmation of my situation. A few familiar onlookers peered over the edge of the hole and said, “There, there. Everything will be okay.” But I must tell you, when you’re in a pit of despair, that’s not what you want to hear.

But then there was a pride of people who heard me. They saw me. They summoned a courageous compassion and climbed down into the shadowy place with me. They brought me edible sunshine and fed my soul with their light. They embraced me and lifted me with their compassion. They nourished and healed me. They carried their songs into my cave. They stood by me and guided me and loved me. Their love streamed into my life like holy rays shining through stained glass. Their light pooled on the floor of my cave and revealed a grand cathedral—exposing the fraudulence of my dark place.  They whispered soft words filled with grace. Their kindness and acceptance floated peacefully from a place without a name, and lifted me beyond the pull of fear so that I was just high enough to see the dancing feet of a thousand angels.

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This rare and wondrous group of people leaned in to hear my truth. They somehow knew that I was allowing fear to practice his ventriloquism on me. They had loved me for so long and with such grace that they were able to see my lips moving when fear said things like,

I cannot come out. I will lose everything I love. I cannot lay this hurt at the feet of my wife and children.

They studied the hieroglyphs I had painted on the walls of my cave. They wept joy, and I watched my fear dissolve in the wetness on their faces. They gave me the light I needed to search for my voice in the darkness.

Each time I share my story of emergence with someone new, a powerful force—too strong to resist—pulls us so tightly together that the gift of their grace is forever imprinted on my soul. During each new telling and each embrace, God whispers in my ear, “You are enough. You have always been enough.” I weep each time I hear those words. My tears remind me to lift my face to the sky, to stretch my arms out wide, and to use the brilliant colors of self-love to draw a circle of grace around my humaness.

It was during the fall of 2014 that I began to realize that the journey of my awakening has two legs: the quest for wholeness and the discovery of oneness.

To become whole—fully ripened by wisdom and filled with the sweet nectar of love and grace—I had to allow my life to be the manifestation of my truth. I had to dance in the moon glow of my truth and release the fear and doubt that anchored me in reclining discomfort. I had to love myself unconditionally. I had to accept myself completely.

Courage precedes love and grace and joy.

It requires courage to love unconditionally. It took guts to give myself the grace to be human. Courage incarnates truth, giving it form and voice. Like a flower bends toward the sun, courage surrendered my heart in the direction of my truth. Courage boldly bent my soul toward waves of light that carried wonder and awe on their crests.


As I searched for wholeness, I realized that there was only one real choice: I must boldly live my truth. To do this I had to perform the most difficult task of my life. I had to love myself unconditionally and let go my grip on the certainty of fear, rejection, shame, and guilt. Instead of giving fear permission to pimp my life and my dreams, I grabbed hold of love. And I surrendered the rest. In the new light I could begin to see the flaws in my map making. I bowed to the gifts of surrender. Without question, surrender is the master cartographer of my journey. Even though I know this for a fact, I still find that surrendering is the most courageous act I have ever performed. The weightlessness of total surrender is what allows me to fly. But like flying, surrender creates the sensation of falling at first. But I know that feeling of fear means I’m moving closer to my truth.

So I chose courage, I chose grace, I chose love, and I chose to surrender. These four acts continue to be my muses, guiding me every day toward my divine potential.

About a year ago, I told my life coach—one of my many saviors—that by the end of September, I wanted to be able to authentically stand in front of a group of people and proclaim, “I am an artist, a writer, and a teacher.” Now, several months after my initial work in the chrysalis, along the road to wholeness and oneness, I’ve completed several pieces of art, I’ve written blogs, I’ve conducted workshops, and I’ve worked with some wonderful people helping them discover how to love themselves so they too can boldly live their truth. I have been carried through a passageway into a new classroom, and my expanded soul can never re-enter the space that I graduated from. Life is filling me with new lessons as I continue my upward spiral toward heaven.

Occasionally our souls need to relax in the loving shade created by the touch of a soul mate, the smiles of our children, the laughter of our friends, and the gentle kindness of love-minded souls who have joined us on our passage—our living. I believe that long before any of us were born, our souls conspired in a place without time to ensure we were all together right now, in this moment—each of us reflecting the soulfully prismatic colors of the others.



We are powerful. We are brilliant. Joy is our choice. Joy is our destiny. Joy is one of many miracles that was placed in a trust for us when we were born. With each moment and each breath, we seek to be filled with joy and awe. We yearn to be connected—bound—to something greater, something divine. This connection, this purpose is what we work on all of our lives. Courage and love provide the music to which joy and awe dance. My soul is entangled with yours and thousands of others through courage and love. We are all connected by a sacred gravity.

We are beautiful works of art. We use life’s lessons to polish our surface so that we can reflect the purest light of our angels. My friends consistently introduce enlightenment mirrors that reveal my soul’s reflection in ways I’ve never seen or understood before. We try to balance our lives between the artistry of our personal gifts and the grace and gratitude we have when sharing our gifts brings light into the caves of the ones we love.

Embrace every moment and extract the delicious love that is waiting for you.  Fill yourself with the Divine elixir.  Allow your fullness to shine from your face and drip like sweet nectar from your fingertips.  Let all that you touch be covered in the kindness of your overflowing heart.

This is peace.



Hurt is Like a Shiny Penny (An Interview with Myself): Part 1 of 3

Q:        Jim, you seem to be a good person. You treat people well. You are kind and loving. But even so you still seem to get hurt a lot—and by a lot I mean every single day. Why do you think this keeps happening?

A:         Well, let me tell you why this is the case.  Simply…I live with my heart space wide open. On the surface this probably sounds like a glorious undertaking that smells of lilacs and roses. It evokes the iconic image of Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet on the bow of the Titanic, arms outstretched, wind blowing through their hair, blissfully in love—life is a beautiful thing. But let me tell you, living with my heart space wide open is risky business, not unlike the voyage of the Titanic. Leaving the door to my soul open creates a certain vulnerability to hurt. Even cracking the window to my soul can be an invitation for hurt to breeze in. I literally ask myself every day, “Is it worth the pain? Can I handle the hurt?”. The answer is always yes, of course. The alternative of closing my heart space would mean missing out on all the love, beauty, joy, forgiveness, and grace that the world showers me with every day.

Heart space open

I’ve learned to let all emotions come into my heart—even the ones that are really ugly. They all get an opportunity to teach me something. Sometimes the ugly ones get a makeover, but sometimes I tell them to leave. “I see you. I hear you. Now get the hell outta my house!”

I understand that hurt, and fear, and anger are going to show up at my front door like hungry stray cats. I don’t feed them! I observe them, listen to them whine and mew, but then I let go of my need to adopt them. Yup, I walk away. I don’t have the desire to wrangle an emotional herd of cats.

My advice to anyone wading through a dung heap of emotion is to walk through it with swagger. Keep your heart space wide open. Take it all in, even the hurt and sorrow and pain. The shit will get deep, but then if you keep walking, you’ll reach the shallow side. That’s the nature of dung heaps.

You know what else?  It’s amazing how my angels are willing to get messy with me. I can be in a blinding rainstorm of emotional sewage yelling, “Marco!”, and my angels are screaming back to me, “Polo! Polo!”  They do this to guide me to the shallow side of the dung heap—to the edge of the rainstorm—and to a quiet place. They help me transform my sorrow and pain into joy.  Please understand, I’m not only talking about my heavenly angels, I’m talking about Bradley, and Nancy, and Leslie, and Gay—the angels that are in my life right now. The ones I can hug and hold and kiss on the cheek.

So, why do I keep getting hurt? Because I continue to choose to live with my heart space wide open. I let all these emotions come into my heart—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Occasionally even Hate will sneak in because he ignored the sign in the yard: “NO H8 ALLOWED!”. I quickly kick his ass out, because ain’t nobody got time for dat.

I allow these emotional visitors to wander around inside me for a while, and I listen to them whisper all kinds of things. I listen and learn, and then show them to the door or window or garbage disposal. I know that in my soul’s garden hurt is transformed to joy. It rises up, leaving a chrysalis of lessons behind. I hold onto those lessons because I know that someone in my life will need the wisdom that my emotional visitors are creating.

dare greatly