Destiny Doesn’t Need Your Permission. It Only Needs Your Trust.

The call to adventure is like an itch that must be scratched.  The foot that needs to tap.  The stillness that must move.

One day you’re going about your routine;  you’re cooking dinner, sitting at your desk, walking on the treadmill, or driving home, and the call moves through you like a gust of wind.  You may not recognize the call at first.  You may shrug it off as a fleeting thought—a daydream.   But this wind of your spirit cannot be ignored.  It is inescapable and, at first, may feel like a tingly fear in your heart space.  This is quite normal because fear shows up in our heart space to get our attention.  Fear says, “Get ready.  Something remarkable is about to happen.”

The call to live your most divine life will break through the silence of your comfortable world.  Your call may come in the form of a child, a stranger, or a feeling of fulfillment from an unexpected encounter with the messenger of a recent life lesson.  Your call to adventure is the feeling that lifts you, pulls you, maybe even drags you to a brightly lit vantage point.  From this place somewhere between hope and heaven your call to adventure sits with you, screams in your ear, and prods you to move and dance and sing.  Your heart knows the melody and all the lyrics, but your mind is still processing.  Listen closely because your call to adventure will awaken you by clanging the heart gong of your soul.

You may ignore it at first.  Actually, you might ignore it—refuse it—for years.  And then one day you won’t be able to resist any longer.  Even though you’re afraid of the answer, you ask, “Is that what I’ve come here to do with my life?  Is that what connects me to a greater divine purpose?”

destiny doesn't need your permission.

You will be terrified.  Fear and ego will tell you to choose comfort.  But your gift will demand that you choose courage.

Imagine this:  You’re a single man, but you’ve always wanted to be a father.  Your call whispered this to your soul before your were born.  But for years you’ve resisted the call.  Fear and self-doubt strangled your heart.  When the call first struck the gong of your spirit, it was muffled—almost imperceptible.  Years passed.  Joy from this unfulfilled dream was bound and gagged by fear.  A treasure chest of miracles was waiting to be opened—dusty from the ashes of a burning desire.  The key to unlock the bounty of your glory had been sewn into your soul lifetimes ago.  You knew the key was there, but you chose comfort over courage and ignored the call—unable to see that the only reason you were on earth was to love and be loved unconditionally.

Then one day something shifted in your heart and mind.  It was at that moment that your quest began.  As every quest does, it began with a tectonic shift of your heart that exposed the seismic question that would no longer be ignored:  What have I come here to do with my life?  No longer paralyzed by denial, you snuggled up to the fear that had once strangled your heart and asked, “What are you here to teach me, my friend?”

snuggle with fear

Maybe your call to adventure is to teach, or preach, or write, or rock babies, or to bring love to those feeling unworthy of love.  Your call to adventure plays in the same key and to the same melody as your truth.  The two are inseparable.  The call shouts, “Awaken to the reality of your worthiness and paint a circle of grace around your authentic self, using the colors of love and self-acceptance.”  This circle of grace is the launching pad for a life that propels you directly toward the Divine.

Now, before you rush off, sit in the quiet storm of your journey and answer these three questions—each with one or two words.

1.  Why am I here?
2.  What do I seek?
3.  How far will I go?

Write these questions and your answers down on a piece of paper.  Then stick this paper in a place where you’ll see it every day.  Your tendency may be to keep your answers private, but to experience powerfully redemptive living you need to sing your truth from the mountaintop of self-acceptance.

In joy.

“Don’t ask what the world needs.  Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  Howard Thurman

Dream boldlydare greatly

All of My Life

Nancy and Tommy pulled into the parking lot at the same time as my wife, Melinda, and I did. Tommy stepped out of their Honda CRV wearing an awesome pair of cowboy boots, and Nancy looked amazing as always. I’m not sure how she does it, but she dresses with an I-don’t-care flare that makes people want to be her. She is a beautiful work of art.

Melinda and I joined Nancy and Tommy and walked into the gallery space at Henderson State University. The walls were covered with art that transcended the mortality of this world. I was mesmerized by each piece of work, and powerless to the transformation that took place inside of me as I studied the dance of the colors. Teal, chartreuse, violet, reds, and oranges joined together to send a message of love, peace, and healing. There was a song—a vibration—in each piece of work that resonated with a place deep inside of me. I would describe the feeling of transformation like this:

I sat inside a dark, quiet cave until the light flew in carrying its songs, and the darkling space was lit with joyous music. The holy beams streamed into the space to reveal a grand cathedral. It was a glistening eternity that lacked shadows. I was so rapt in the brilliance that I found myself longing for even more light. Then I looked upon myself and realized that I was light.

Nancy’s work has always had that affect on me. The walls of the gallery were filled with Nancy’s creations. If joy and awe are like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the room was dancing to the tune of “wow”.  The show was appropriately titled “More Life Lessons”.

Learning That Bald is Really Beautiful

Learning That Bald is Really Beautiful

As Nancy weaved her way through the crowd.  She was personally giving everyone a gift of hope. You could see her magic transform each person she touched. It was as if they had been in their own cave, similar to mine. Maybe their darkness was deeper than I could know. Many of the people in the room wandered from painting to painting—each piece awakening them little by little until they were filled and had to share their overflowing amazement and gratitude with Nancy—and Tommy.

Tommy swelled with joy to see Nancy living in the unbounded glory of her heartspace. Every ounce of Tommy showed up that day. Every particle of his being was present. He wore his nicest cowboy boots, a handsome shirt, and a fancy belt with a Texas longhorn buckle. He beamed and swelled with joy for Nancy and for everyone that her light touched. This evident joy went beyond happiness in the moment. His joy was much deeper than that. Tommy’s joy was the enduring, profound joy that comes from real love. As Tommy reflected this light onto Nancy, I could see her fill with gratitude and grace. Fred and Ginger. Joy and awe.

Opening Windows So Spirit Can Fly

Opening Windows So Spirit Can Fly

After about thirty minutes, the crowd was hushed and Nancy spoke. From a well of kindness, Nancy shared her wholehearted gratitude for the outpouring of love from her friends and colleagues. She spoke of her journey with breast cancer. She reflected on life as her teacher. She spoke of courage and hope and love. She spoke of the place inside of her where the genesis of her creations resides. Her grace-filled words floated around the room. Their fragrance lingered in the air to gently remind us of the strength of love.

When she finished speaking, Nancy asked the group if they had any questions about the work she had done or the process she had worked through. Someone in the back of the gallery asked, “How long have you been working on this series?”. Without pause, Nancy replied, “All of my life. Honestly. I have been working on this all of my life. This work is an amalgamation of my life’s experiences, not just the experiences I’ve had over the past couple years.”

Those words have resonated with me ever since. “I have been working on this all of my life.” I look at myself—the person I am, the love I cultivate, the pain I go through, the joy I experience—and I think, “I have been working on this all of my life.” I, like Tommy, swell with joy, not in a prideful way but in a grateful way.

Learning to Welcome the Open Door

Learning to Welcome the Open Door

I have been blessed by angels who carried their songs into my cave. I have been lit and warmed by the light of my angels who stood by me and guided me and loved me regardless of my choices. I have jumped off of cliffs and flown, knowing I would not fall because my angels believed in me and my journey even more than I believed in it myself.

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. I believe it is impossible to be too courageous or too loving.

I have been working on me all of my life, and you have been working on you all of your life. 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. 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.

To Nancy and Tommy, courage and love, joy and awe.

In Joy

In Joy

My Ordinary World

A long time agoin a galaxy far, far

In 1980, during my first summer home from college, I worked at the Arkansas Rice Research and Extension Center. The Research Center sat squarely in the Grand Prairie amidst thousands of acres of rice and soybeans. Stuttgart, the nearest town, had the distinction of being the “Rice and Duck Capital of the World”. Personally, I would include “Mosquito Capital of the World” as well, but that level of truth would butt heads with the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce.

The Grand Prairie is a flat expanse, boasting thousands of acres of dirt. This topography is perfect for growing rice, which requires millions of gallons of water. The water sits about eight inches deep in the rice fields. It stagnates between the levees, becoming a breeding ground for the largest mosquitoes I’ve ever seen. They are the size of hummingbirds with talons like an eagle and a proboscis the size of a 7-gauge needle. Acres of stagnant water are like Disney World for these mosquito birds. I can still hear the humming of their wings at night as they flew around my head while I was trying to sleep.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.42.46 PMDuring the summer the air was thick with dust, and the humidity was so high that, given the time of day, it was as if I was breathing mud. For July, August, and most of September the sun broiled every bit of exposed skin I had. Later in life, when I discovered what a convection oven was, I had a flashback to those days on the farm.

My job at the Research and Extension Center was loathsome. Three of us would sit on makeshift perches on the front of a tractor, riding back and forth across a field, spraying an array of toxic chemicals on plots of soybeans. The herbicides would inevitably coat our faces and make their way into our noses. I came home every afternoon smelling of experimental post-emergent herbicides. I wonder now what our boss at the Center referred to us as. We didn’t have a title, so I imagine we were “those boys on the front of the tractor”. Knowing what I do today, it might have been more appropriate to refer to us as “those poor unwitting boys on the front of the tractor taking a shower in carcinogens”.

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Breathing chemicals for ten hours a day and continuing to taste them during supper was the universe telling me to “Run! Run for your life!” But until Fall and a return to college, I was stuck wearing my badge of courage in the form of a Riceland Foods® cap—slaying weeds with a wand that spewed poisons. Other than work, rarely did I have an opportunity to leave our property.

My family owned 500 acres, many of which were wooded, so on the weekends my escape came in three forms. The first of my preoccupations was staying inside and pretending to read. This was especially nice during the summer months. If I was inside watching television, my parents would insist that I go outside and find something to do. But as long as I was reading (or pretending to read as it were), my parents didn’t disturb me. I think they left me alone because they were so pleased that they had a child who enjoyed reading as much as I pretended to. Another way I spent my free time was aimlessly trekking around our property acting as if I enjoyed hunting. As I recall I never killed anything. I just walked around the woods with a gun. Why did I carry a gun? Because my father would have thought it ridiculous for a grown man to walk around the woods for pleasure—unarmed. My favorite escape was sitting under a tree on the bank of our pond fishing. Although I had to be slathered in insect repellant, the solitude brought me great peace.

Regardless of what I was doing, leaving was something that was always on my mind.

Since the nearest theater was an hour away in Pine Bluff, getting to see a movie on the big screen was a rare treat. But that summer I made the journey to see Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. To say I’m a big fan of this movie is a colossal understatement. I think it’s one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen—maybe one of the most powerful films ever made. I had been waiting almost three years to see it, since the release of A New Hope, the first Star Wars movie.

Luke Skywalker, the central protagonist of the Star Wars films, desires more than anything to become a Jedi Knight.  Jedi Knights serve and use a mystical power called the Force to help and protect those in need.  In a twist of fate, while Luke is cleaning one of his droids, he triggers a hologram of Princess Leia.  The hologram was a plea for help, meant to be seen by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi.  In desperation Leia begs, “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi.  You’re my only hope.” Luke was so enamored by Leia, that her plea for help becomes his call to adventure.

In my favorite movie scene of all time, Luke has crash-landed his X-wing fighter in a murky swamp on the planet Dagobah. Luke is recklessly determined to find Master Yoda, a Jedi Master who can train him in the ways of the Jedi Knights. Luke’s weakness is his inability to see beyond his own cravings. He desperately needs Yoda to train him so he can fight for the Rebel Alliance and destroy the evil Galactic Empire before Emperor Palpatine completely extinguishes the Jedi Order.

The scene unfolds like this:

In a bluish swamp with fog lurking just above the ground, Luke is upside-down; standing on his hands with Yoda perched on his feet. His face is showing enormous strain. Opposite Luke and Yoda are two rocks the size of bowling balls. Luke stares at the rocks and concentrates. One of the rocks lifts from the ground and floats up to rest on the other.

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Yoda says (in a voice that sounds vaguely like Grover from Sesame Street if Grover was a 2-pack-a-day smoker), “Use the Force. Feel it.” Luke concentrates on trying to lift the top rock. It rises a few feet, but, distracted by his droid R2’s frantic beeping, Luke loses his balance and collapses. Yoda jumps clear.

Luke rushes to the edge of the swamp. His X-wing fighter has sunk into the murky waters of the swamp, and only the tip of its nose is showing above the water’s surface. Feeling hopeless, Luke’s voice is filled with disappointment and frustration. “We’ll never get it out now.”

Yoda stamps his foot in irritation and says, “So certain are you. Always with you what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?”

“Master, moving stones around is one thing. This is totally different.”

“No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.”

“Alright, I’ll give it a try.”

“No! Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

This section of dialogue is so powerful. I heard it oh so many years ago, but didn’t internalize it until much later in my life.

You must unlearnwhat you have learned.

Luke closes his eyes and concentrates on willing his ship out of the swamp. Slowly, the X-wing’s nose begins to rise above the water. It hovers for a moment and then sinks back, disappearing once again.

Looking exhausted, Luke says, “I can’t. It’s too big.”

With furrowed brow, Yoda says, “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do  you? Hmm? Mmm. As well you should not. For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings we are…not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you. Here, between you…me…the tree…the rock…everywhere! Yes, even between the land and the ship!”

“You want the impossible.”

Quietly Yoda turns toward the X-wing fighter. With his eyes closed and his head bowed, he raises his arm and points his gnarled hand at the ship. The X-wing slowly emerges from the swamp and glides majestically, surely, toward the shore. With his own theme song reaching a crescendo in the background, Yoda stands on the root of a tree and guides the fighter carefully down toward the shore.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.29.39 PM

“No way.” Luke stares in astonishment as the fighter settles down onto the shore. He walks around the ship and reaches in disbelief to touch it. Bewildered, he approaches Yoda.

Luke: “I…I don’t believe it.”

Yoda: “That is why you fail.”

This message from Yoda resonated with me in the darkness of the theater. Thirty years of watching this scene over and over again has burned an afterimage onto my consciousness. Years later it edges its way to the front of my mind to shine light on how I approach many decisions. What would I do if I believed I couldn’t fail? If I had only been wise enough at 19 to understand the deep meaning of Yoda’s advice: “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

As a teen and young man, I walked around our farm and wished I had a Yoda in my life. I thought to myself, “How do I get to Dagobah from here?” In the years since watching Luke’s story unfold, I’ve realized that the journey (not the destination) is the goal. I don’t have to be somewhere else to find what I need. All I need is around me every day. I have figured out that there are many Yodas in my life, and I am lucky that I can be Yoda for others too.

We are all on a quest to find our truest selves amidst the voices in our heads. We are all in search of wise mentors like Yoda—people who teach us to look up and around and to be amazed by what we see. And people who encourage us to reflect and search inwardly for ways to make our light brighter so we can light the paths of others. Each of us is a hero on a journey. There is something greater calling us. We are divine inspirations waiting to be born. We learn and unlearn and learn again. We fall apart and come together. We fail and try again. We wonder and imagine. We find sacred lessons in our darkness and in the joyous light of our living.

You must unlearnwhat you have learned.(1)

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie clip I’ve written about, you can watch it here: http://youtu.be/c1TlAma0JFM

Soul Interaction

Do you work for a company that is addicted to meetings? Are there meetings to form committees to have more meetings? How many meetings do you attend where there’s a follow-up meeting scheduled? Are there meetings where you inevitably wind up with one or two action items that require another four or five meetings?

I’ve come to accept that meetings are a part of my job. A large portion of my salary is paid for time that I spend in meetings. Realizing this a while back, I decided to take the form of a “spiritual catalyst” in the meetings I attend. This means I sit in the room with the clear intention of not only understanding the message, but also understanding the messenger. I look for signs that might indicate that someone is operating from a position of fear or scarcity. I watch for Ego to show up, and he always does. I ask questions from a place of vulnerability, and I ask in such a way that people feel safe enough to be vulnerable and honest with their answer. I’m not conspicuous about this. I don’t use the words vulnerability, fear, or ego. As a matter of fact, folks don’t immediately understand why I’m asking particular questions or making certain remarks.

I’m writing this blog to share with you how you can make the most out of any meeting, and how you can become a spiritual catalyst. My guidance consists of four basic tips:

Untitled design

Listen—lean in with your heart
Try to get your head around this:  Words are things.

Imagine that the words you use and the words others use are objects. Now imagine that you are sitting in a meeting—maybe it’s a weekly staff meeting or another familiar meeting. It might even be around the dinner table tonight. Visualize the faces of the people that are the usual suspects at this meeting. Choose one of those people and think about something that person might say. If you are having trouble thinking of something, just use one of these phrases: “I don’t agree with your position.” “Well, that’s not a bad idea.” “I think I can get behind that proposal.” Now imagine that as the person you are thinking about is saying that phrase, you are leaning in with your heart and spiritually positioning yourself to catch each of those words. You must also listen with your eyes. Does the person look frustrated or peaceful? Does the person make a fist and hit the table? Does the person cross his arms and sink back into his chair? Actively catch every clue you can possibly catch—the tone, the words, the body language, and the volume. Imagine your heart space is your catcher’s mitt. Allow your heart and then your mind to do their job. Don’t assume the intent of the message. Catch the words. Hold the phrases. Feel the emotion of the message, but stay away from judgment.

Stay centered—breathe
Breathe. Yes, it’s that simple sometimes. Just breathe. When you find yourself wandering off center (e.g., getting irritated or anxious), breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth—long, deep breaths. It’s okay. No one will notice you centering yourself. Imagine that you are breathing in and out through your heart space. With every breath, you are expanding your heart space until your heart space fills the room. Close your eyes for a few seconds if you need to. Get comfortable sitting there in the seat of peace. Observe the words (objects) from a place of love and peace. If you feel that you need to respond to a comment, that’s okay. Respond from a place of peace and calm. There’s no need to preface your words with, “Might I say something from a place of peace and calm?”. Just say your words. If you followed the plan laid out in the previous paragraph, your words will be based on empirical and intuitive information from the people in the room. Reside in the expanded space of your heart. Your energy will be calming. Stay centered—breathe.

 Shower everyone in your life

Learn to recognize love and fear
I agree with Marianne Williamson who says there are two emotions: love and fear. People behave from these two emotional states. Anxiety, hate, rage, bitterness, etc. all come from a place of fear. When you are leaning into a conversation and the emotional data you are collecting resounds of negativity, ask yourself, “What is he afraid of?”. In a work environment, harsh words, obsessive-compulsive behavior, trying to make yourself mistake-proof, saying “yes” to everything may all be linked to fear; the fear of losing your job; the fear of not getting a big bonus; the fear of people not liking you; the fear your boss or other executives may not be impressed by your work; the fear that you will not be likeable if you speak your truth. You can’t control the behavior of others, but you can control your reaction to their behavior. You must reinvent your paradigm of fear. Fear in response to fear looks a lot like ego, which we will visit in the next paragraph. After you practice the “What-is-he-afraid-of game”, you’ll be able to use your words to shower everyone in the room with distilled grace. You’ll be able to go beyond an empathetic understanding to a compassionate response. Your words don’t have to be elaborate. A simple, “I understand what you’re getting at.” or “I hear what you’re saying.” or “Trust me, I feel your pain.” can go a long way. Believe it or not, these words can lift a person from a dark scary place to a vantage point where they feel safe. Simple words can lift people in amazing ways—yes, even around a conference room table at the most conservative company in the world. Trust, security, compassion, happiness, feelings of abundance—these all come from a place of love. Everyone wants to get there and stay there, but sometimes they get caught up in the frenzy of a meeting and forget this. You have been given a corner of the universe to transform. What if the next meeting you’re in is a part of your acre? Tenderly and lovingly work your acre.

 Shower everyone in your life (1)

Don’t succumb to ego
Ego is that voice inside your head that says, “You have to win this argument. You have to be the smartest person in the room. Keep score. Ignore your heart. Remember, it’s about things and stuff. The person with the most stuff wins.” Ego eggs you on when you’re in a heated debate. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate a healthy dialogue that’s steeped in mutual respect. I love a conversation that moves everyone toward a shared positive outcome. I appreciate watching two people walk the narrow ridge of dialogue and use their words to light each other’s path.

But ego is not there to respect or light paths. Ego is there to win. Ego is a collector of trophies. The trophy can be a salary, a bonus, a car allowance, a promotion or any number of other “things”. Ego has difficulty breathing in an expanded heart space. The tide of love dilutes ego and carries ego out to the fringes. But if you contract your heart space in fear, anger, or bitterness, you provide an unoccupied area within your soul. Ego, like water, will rush in to fill the emptiness. You know why? It’s because we don’t like to feel empty. Therefore, it’s important to keep your heart space expanded with love.

Look for the signs of ego creeping in. Listen to your inner voice and the words leaving your lips. And listen with your heart to the words of others. There’s no need to call a colleague out for letting his ego show. You simply observe it as a sign of some underlying fear. Stay centered. Breathe. Use trustful language. When you find your own ego stepping in, merely ask yourself what fear has beckoned your ego forth. Whatever the fear, huddle up next to it and ask it, “What are you here to teach me?”

please understand this(1)

If these four tips are too much for you to tackle all at once, just choose one to practice at your next meeting or during your next conversation. I believe that if you adopt a position of love, listen with your heart, stay centered, and don’t succumb to ego, you can literally change the world one meeting at a time.

In joy.

Beyond the Scar

I remember as a kid how much I wanted to have a scar. The other boys who had scars had stories to go along with them. Scars tell people something. Scars ask people to wonder. Some scar stories are better than others, but there always seems to be a bit of intrigue associated with scars.

“The Story Beyond the Scar” might actually be an interesting documentary to film. The interviewer could trek from town to town and call all scars to the town hall for a taping of their backstories.  Some stories would have to be culled.  You know the ones:  “This is where I had my gall bladder removed.”  “This is where I cut my hand slicing meat.”  The most intriguing stories would survive.  “This is where my body was burned when I ran back into our house to grab my baby sister from her crib and get her out of the flames.”  “This is where I cut my leg when I was seven years old using a machete improperly.”  “This is all I have to prove I was bitten by a reef shark.”

I doubt my story would make the cut, but it has a deep truth for me.  When I was a junior in college, I had a bump on the back of my head. The ominous lump was getting larger. My mom was worried, so we went to see the doctor. It was diagnosed as a sebaceous cyst—that sounds just as disgusting today as it did 32 years ago. It wasn’t life threatening, but the doctor said it would continue to get larger, and he recommended that it be removed.

Melinda (my girlfriend then, my wife now) and I met my mom at the clinic for the outpatient procedure. The nurse shaved the area on the back of my head where the cyst was growing. She numbed it with a few shots of lidocaine. Then the doctor came in and injected some anesthetic and epinephrine to minimize the bleeding. After a couple minutes, the doctor began his work.

I have a very low pain threshold, as I think all humans should and most men do. The procedure hurt like hell. The cyst was deeper than the doctor thought so the surgery took longer than expected. The incision was larger than expected—about three inches running lengthwise down the back of my head.

Since the scar from the incision was going to be hidden under a full head of 21-year old hair, the doctor stitched me up in a rather Frankensteinish way. Fortunately, my male pattern baldness has not arrived to the back of my head—yet. But each time I get my hair cut, I remind my stylist to keep my hair long enough in the back so my Frankenstein scar doesn’t show.

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I’m now 53 years old. My hair is white. For years I would say, “At least it’s just turning gray and not turning loose.” I haven’t been able to use that line in years because my hair has been turning loose for a long time.

On September 13, 2014, I arrived in Eleuthera, Bahamas for a 2-week vision quest. It was a deeply spiritual journey. I decided before I left home that part of dedicating myself to the journey would be to shave my head. A part of me had wanted to shave my head for years, but I never did because of the scar and what people would think and say.

In a moment that felt very 21st century monk-like, I took out the electric clippers I’d brought, set the guard on the clippers to #2, and trimmed my white locks (I use the term “locks” loosely). I rinsed off and looked at myself. I looked in the mirror and said, “This is just a very short haircut. No one dedicating himself as part of a life-changing spiritual journey would just trim his hair.” The intention was to shave it…bald.

So I tried again. I set the guard on the clippers to #1 and went at it. I rinsed, looked at myself in the mirror and said, “This is ridiculous! Just shave your head already.” And that’s when I found myself lathering my head, fully committed to “the shave”. It took me almost as long to shave my head as it would to bake a cake or run five miles. This isn’t because my head has an enormous surface area. It was because I had no idea what I was doing. I had no pattern or routine for “the shave”. The razor wandered around my scalp like children playing Marco Polo. Good grief.

Second attempt. Third attempt. Fourth attempt. Finally, after the fifth round of “the shave-athon” I got a smooth scalp. I was intentionally bald now. I looked in the mirror and felt great. I didn’t scare myself at all. I had committed to “the shave”. After five go-rounds, I had achieved baldness.

This was an incredibly empowering moment for me as I checked myself out in the mirror. There are at least two reasons behind this empowerment.

  1. I have been balding for years. I did not receive good hair genes. Genetics are out of my control, but beating my genes to the grand finale of bald was in my control.
  2. Since the age of 21, I’ve had the be-sure-the-scar-doesn’t-show conversation with whomever is cutting my hair. But on this day, in the bathroom of a house on Eleuthera as part of my journey, I decided to reveal my scar. The scar with a story—a sebaceous cyst story.

I didn’t realize at the time the true power of the sacred symbolism. My story is more than revealing a scar on my head in a tiring shave-athon. The metaphor in this dedication of myself to the journey is deep, but common to everyone.  Have you ever shared a scar story?  Have you ever listened to another person’s scar story?  Would you have the courage to show up at the town hall and share your scar story? Would you have the courage to listen to another person’s story behind her scar?

What if we were as open to sharing the stories of our emotional scars as we are to talking about the physical scars we received as children or clumsy adults? What if we were able to connect with people through our scar stories? “This is where my heart was broken when my daughter passed.” “This is where my soul was scorched by the pain of divorce.” “This is where I was torn apart when my father committed suicide.”

Whether your scar is from the loss of a child or best friend, losing your job, or fighting addiction, it is a scar story worth telling. It is part of your truth.

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Sharing your scar story might be the connection that someone needs to see the possibility of redemption and grace. Listening to someone else’s scar story might be the most empowering thing you have done in a long time.  We are ministers of love through our personal truth.

We are spiritual beings inhabiting a physical body. We never know who among us is falling apart. There is always a story behind our spiritual scars, but there is also an enduring story beyond the scars.  We are all wounded. We are all scarred.  We are children of heaven and gardeners of light, we are here to love one another and to love and accept ourselves completely—scars and all.

We must accept that we are miracle workers and allow the healing power of love to flow into us and from us.

I write these blogs to show you my scars: my truth behind and beyond the scars. The question is: How do you get beyond the scar? The answer is always: love. Without question, love heals.

In joy-

Jim

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We Are Songbirds

No one’s purpose is mediocre.  The job you have or the relationship you’re in may be mediocre, but your purpose is the oxygen for your life force.  Examine these questions from the vantage point of a soulfully entangled universe.  Ask yourself:

What makes my spirit sing?

What needs to begin happening today to find my song, my pitch, my true purpose?

Imagine your purpose as connected, not only to the Divine, but to the chorus of other souls that can provide harmony to your song.  What kind of people do you seek out and surround yourself with?  These people are your choir, your tribe.  If these people are unable to provide crescendo to your song, start from scratch and create a new tribe;  build a new chorus.  Person by person, note by note, people will join you in your song because they need your note and you need theirs.

Begin today.  Begin this very minute.

Close your eyes.  Inhale slowly through your nose and exhale through your mouth.  Slowly.  Three deep breaths.  Now say,

I will live my purpose out loud.  I will sing my truest song.  God, hear my song.  Send everything and everyone I need to elevate my song to heights of the Divine.

Now every day, without fail, when you rise from your bed, plant your feet firmly…shoulders back…heart exposed…and say, “I will bring my divine shine into every place I am today.”

The light from your purpose will attract the songbirds you need.  That’s heavenly.  That’s divine.

In joy.

So, I Had a Talk With My Father

Dana Joy was six years old when she drowned in the muddy waters of the White River. Dana was a beautiful little thing with her blonde hair, blue eyes, and backlit smile. I imagine she was every father’s dream—an angel on loan from heaven. When Dana Joy was tragically torn from his life, part of my father’s soul was ripped away too. My father was always raw and hurting after his angel died. The burning wound to his soul never healed.

God had blessed my parents with four beautiful children. The three of us left behind never got a whole father and were mostly parented by a damaged mother. I tell you this only for perspective, not for pity or judgment or any other bless-his-heart kind of emotion.

My father liked alcohol—beer in public and vodka in secrecy. As a matter of fact, my dad—Walter—was in a cast from ankle to hip the day my sister drowned. Walter had driven off of a bridge after performing a show in a nearby town with his sister, Estelle. The two of them were a very popular duo and traveled a rural circuit singing together—hymns mostly. I’ve listened to old recordings, and their voices—their harmonies—were perfect. It sounded as if there must have been some genetic sequence for song that they shared. My Aunt Estelle gave dad the nickname, Buddy. She’s the only one that called him that.

It’s been almost 50 years since Dana Joy drowned and my dad lost a piece of himself.

During a visit to see my mother a few weeks ago, she took my hand and patted it. She said, “I’m old and I don’t think I’ll be around much longer.” In the past five years, mom has lost two sisters. Her health is in decline, and arthritis has ravaged her joints. Her fingers are gnarled and distorted, of little use really. As she held my hand in hers, it was a blinding reminder that she most likely won’t be around much longer, and certainly not forever, as I had believed when I was a child.

My mom questioned me, “Is there anything you want to ask me? I never got to ask my mother some things that I wanted to. She died so suddenly. Is there anything you want to ask me now?” I felt obligated to reassure my mother that she wasn’t going anytime soon, but most of me didn’t believe that.

After a few seconds she said, “You can ask me anything you want.” And I did. It was painful listening to her recount the day of Dana Joy’s death, and why she stayed with my father—a man addicted to alcohol and loud verbal torments. It broke my heart to listen to her describing her biggest regrets. And it infuriated me to hear how she thought it was her duty to take care of the manchild that was my father.

I listened to my mom answer the tough questions, and watched her face as it changed with each season she described. From dark winters of the soul to heated summers and brief respites of Spring. Like her deformed fingers, her soul was bent and broken—too weak to hold these stories inside any longer.

In those moments of reflection, my mom found the courage to give herself permission to be vulnerable. She knows I still judge my father and his decision not to love us. She had things she needed to say, and I had questions I needed to ask.  We heart talked.  We never fell into an abyss of fear. We repaired each other just a little—more than a new coat of paint, but less than a complete overhaul. It was very healing for us. Thanks mom. I love you.

Since that day with my mom, I’ve garnered the courage to ask my dad some tough questions. It’s been a long time since we’ve spoken—15 years to be exact. I sat alone in a quiet place with him. Just the two of us–probably more if you count our angels. What do you ask a man who abandoned you twice in one lifetime?

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The first questions I asked were: “Why did you marry mom? Did you love her?”

Walter: “Well, of course I loved her. That’s a stupid question.”

Me: “Why is that a stupid question?  I didn’t see a lot of love.”

Walter: “Son, I couldn’t live without your mother. She was the better angel that suffered my soul. I treated her like shit sometimes. Maybe I was jealous that she knew how to keep on loving after Dana drowned. Your mom deserved better than me. Hell, you kids deserved better than me.”

Me: “So you married her because you loved her.”

Walter: “Well, I married her because she was beautiful. Virginia was beautiful. Dana had your mom’s smile. I needed to be healed and your mom needed to try and heal me. Yes, we loved each other.”

Me: “Then why did you drink so much? Why were you so mean to all of us? Why did every word that came from your mouth sound like the bark of an angry dog?”

Walter: “Is that what I sounded like? I’m sorry.”

Me: “Why did you choose to be a drunk?”

Walter: “I don’t think I chose to be a drunk. I think a drunk chose to be me.”

Me: “I don’t understand.”

Walter: “Looking back on it, I never wanted to be a drunk. I never had a conscious need to yell or cuss or be mean to you kids. There was a drunk inside of me that wanted those things. I never did.”

Me: “That sounds like a cop out!”

Walter: “Well, then, how about this? I was never a whole person. I was broken as long as I can remember. I think somewhere deep down I didn’t want anyone else to feel whole if I couldn’t. If you weren’t broken, I was going to transfer my ruin to you in some way. You would have less value if you were damaged.”

—PAUSE—

“Hearing myself say that sounds so mean. I was a foul and manipulative drunk.”

Me: “Why did you think there was a need to devalue me? Why did ‘drunk you’ not want me to be whole?”

Walter: “I thought none of you kids could replace or ever compare to Dana. As you grew, I saw that each of you were bright lights, sometimes too bright. I couldn’t let your light outshine Dana’s, not after it was my fault that she died. I couldn’t let you kids shine as bright as her. I thought I owed that to her.”

Me:  “You know that’s fucked up, right?”

Walter: “I do now.”

Me: “Do you understand the ripple effects that ‘drunk you’ had on me?”

Walter: “I was the sunburn and the hangover. I thought the most long-lived lessons were formed in pain. Now I know how stupid that was. I realized too late that I was the woulda, coulda, shoulda father.”

Me: “I was afraid of ‘drunk you’. I crept gently around you because your loudness scared me. I had to cleave you from my life because I was tired—tired of the drunk, tired of the anger, tired of the struggle, and exhausted from the energy it took from me to shine my light around you.

I’m sad you missed being here with your beautiful grandchildren. They are amazing young adults now. They are my light. I’m sad that you didn’t get to see Melinda and I being great parents and loving our children with our whole hearts. But I also know that our souls (yours and mine) chose our paths before either of us were born. We are both givers and receivers of light. There were lessons for both of us.

But it’s still very difficult for me to find the grace to forgive you.

Walter: “Jim, you’ve spent your whole life forgiving me, and you’ve spent the past 15 years trying to forget the awfulness of my departure. Stop it! Let it go! Fear and regret have no place in your life.

Your mom will be surprised to see me—the new, improved me. I’m okay now. I know so much more now. I watch you everyday, and I know the man you’ve become. I’m very proud of you and everything you are and are yet to become. Dana and I can see your light all the way up here in heaven. Move forward. Dream boldly! You like that? I stole it from you. Yes, dream boldly boy.

There are words that the drunk me or the sober me could never say to you.”

Me: “What are they? Can you say them now?”

Dad: “I love you son.”

Me: “I love you too, dad.”

Shine

Over the past four months, I have been delivering short spiritual lessons to the leadership at my company. I call them Leadership Learning Bursts. I had several things on my mind to deliver to the group this morning. I thought about vulnerability, confusion, even loss. But none of those things felt right for today. The message has to “come to me”, and so I decided to surrender to whatever chose to appear in my head.

A feeling came over me on the drive into work that said, “Sit on a stool and answer a question.” That sounded reasonable to me, but what question would I speak to? Well, I have a friend, Ty, who is one of my direct connections to the divine. I asked him if there was one thing he thought I connected with spiritually that I could share with a group of leaders this morning. He said, “generosity”. Thanks, Ty. I love you.

This short message contains some of my thoughts on generosity and grace. I hope you have a chance to watch it. It’s not professionally recorded, just a shaky iPhone that obviously has added 10 pounds to me.

Once upon a time there was a meeting of minds.
The sun and the moon made a deal with the sky.
One would take the morning and the other the night.
Together they would blanket the world with light.
But the moon had a shadow.
He felt like a liar.
The sun was the only one who carried the fire.
The sun saw this. She kept on glowing.
Bound to the moon, never saying you owe me.
She said, “I’ll shine on you.   I’ll shine on you. I will shine on you. I will shine….shine…on you.”
Lyrics by Jason Mraz

So these are my thoughts on generosity and grace.
I believe I have been paid for by the amazing generosity of many people before me. Not only my parents and grandparents, but people I didn’t even know—people who clearly understood that much of the light shining from them was actually the reflection of the light of grace from the angels that had paid for them.

The amazing grace of all those angels and the earthly angels in my life now, is what gets me through each day. I believe it is my turn to pay forward that grace to anyone I can. I consider that I am drawing a circle of generosity around everyone I can shine on—a spotlight of grace, if you will.

I hope we can all consider ways to generously reflect the light of our angels. For me, personally, I feel by reflecting their light that I honor all the generations of angels who paid for me through their grace and generosity.

My angels sing: “We will shine on you. We will shine on you. We will shine on you.”

I feel their song pull me up just high enough to see their dance. And then I think how lucky and blessed I am. And how life-giving it is to the divine in me to be able to give—to be able to shine on you.

 

Floating Works Better If You’re Face Up

A few years back, I was infatuated with the idea of songwriting.  I figured, “Hey, I play the piano.  I can sing.  I can rhyme, and I can write.  And there’s an added bonus:  I’m really good at creating ridiculous names for country songs.”  So I purchased a fancy keyboard and took to songwriting—ballads mostly.

One day early in the process, I let myself wane into a melancholy mood.  I thought Gloomyville must be the place where all great country songs are born.  While me and my two horses hung out in this one-horse town, I decided to write a song about the impacts of losing someone you love.  Suddenly.  Unexpectedly.

Let me set the stage…
It was July, 1966.  The Arkansas heat was like Satan gone mad, so my family drove to our cabin on the White river where we could hide from the sun’s stare.  There were several of us kids—cousins, friends, siblings—swimming just off a sandbar.  Swimming in the river was commonplace.  There’s always an element of danger when you play in a river, but no one in our neck-of-the-woods considered it any more perilous than, let’s say, riding in the back of a truck.  It was the 1960s, years before seatbelts and gun control and speed limits and low-fat diets.

My parents were sitting on the riverbank with some friends watching us play in the water.  My dad had a beer in his hand and a cast on his leg from ankle to hip.  His condition was a consequence of driving off of a bridge in his pickup truck while drunk.  My mom was eight months pregnant and didn’t know how to swim, but she went along with the let’s-take-the-kids-to-the-river plan because my dad was persuasive and loud.  And she knew my dad might need someone to rescue him from his inevitable drunken stupor.  She never imagined the worst thing that could happen that day.  Now, the only thing she can imagine is the worst thing that can happen.

Here’s a couple verses about my memory of that moment of loss from almost 50 years ago.  I was only five at the time—too young to recall the details of the day.  But I imagine what it must have been like for my parents.

In the river she played
on that hot July day,
as he sat on the bank looking on.
Muddy waters meant to harm her
as the current dragged her under.
I don’t know if it’s right or it’s wrong.

Well the years floated by
on a river of why’s.
His little Joy was forever gone.
He worsened the pain with vodka and blame.
I don’t know if it’s right or it’s wrong.

After my six-year old sister, Dana Joy, drowned that sweltering summer afternoon, my dad took to drinking more and more, and my mom took to loving me and my siblings in a way that didn’t always feel like love.  At times, my mom’s love felt overprotective, indulgent, and controlling.

Every summer my mom obsessed with providing us with swim lessons.  Of course.  That makes sense, right?  We each received private lessons from some local teenager whose only qualifications were that she had seen people swim in the summer Olympics and she could dive fearlessly and gracefully from the high board.  The daily lesson at the pool was:  hold your breath, put your face in the water, blow bubbles.  “Now see how much fun that is?”, she would say in an upward rising pitch.  I was six years old with water issues, but I was compliant and blew bubbles.  After a while, it wasn’t so bad, and I was like, “Yeah—gulp cough sputter—that’s really fun.”

After bubble blowing, the lessons moved to floating.  I was a skinny kid and was uptight even at six.  Floating was a very scary thing.  Floating felt like a night terror.  Floating battled with my trust issues and won most of the time.  I really hated floating.  If I had known that floating was the next important thing to learn after blowing bubbles, I would have never blown bubbles.  I would have kicked and screamed and cried.  I was already on the dramatic side so this would have been easy.  But no. What did I do?  I blew really good bubbles which meant I now got to learn how to float. Every atom of me shook.  This was full-on 11-on-the-dial shivering.

“Okay, Jim.  Just relax.  I’ve got you”, my know-it-all instructor would say while supporting me with one hand. She would pull her hand away slowly, and I would sink—cough, sputter, cry, shiver.
“You moved your hand!”, I would scream.
“Don’t move your hand!  Promise you won’t move your hand?”, I would plead.
“Okay, Jim.  Yes, I promise I won’t move my hand.  Just relax.”

Swimmy McSwimster was a liar and I was a pleaser.  So every time she said she wouldn’t move her hand, I believed her.  She always moved her hand and I always sank.  Floating sucked. Looking back on this now, I see how my inability to relax and float was foreshadowing.

I’m a great swimmer now.  I swam in college.  As an adult I love water, and floating is something I can do without fear.  But I’m still uptight and I still have trouble with the metaphorical “float”.  I frequently say to myself, “When you become exhausted from swimming upstream, surrender to the ‘float’.  It gives the river great joy to carry you.  Let me say it again…it gives the river great joy to carry you.”

I know on all levels that the river gets great joy from carrying me.  I’m allowing this to happen more and more in my life because it also gives me great joy to let the river carry me.  I stretch out my arms like wings, tilt my head toward the heavens, and float—no shivering, no coughing, eh, maybe a little crying.  So what’s changed?  The difference is that my swimming swim teacher of yore always took her hand from underneath me, even when she promised she wouldn’t.  The angels in my life now are different.  They patiently teach me how to be an Olympic floater.  They never take away their hands from beneath me.  They support me.  I trust them.  Their love and my courage give me float.

Today, through all my failures, lessons, brokenness and joy, I mostly surrender and allow the sweet light of my angels to shine on me, through me, and from me.  I ask my angels to lift me from the river—to rescue me.  I relax into their love.  I do the best I can with what I know.  Every day my soul finds at least one more courageous idea, one more loving thought, one more blessing to lift and carry me.

My enormous hope for you is that you will have the courage to surrender, spread your wings, tilt your head toward the heavens, and let the river carry you.  Floating works much better if you’re face up, chin back, and basking in the glory.

Outrageous love to you all!