Tag Archives: sadness

Fueling Positivity

A couple of days ago, I was asked what fuels my positivity. The thing is, I don’t consider myself a consistently positive person. I’m a man of faith. And as much as a man of faith can be, I’m a realist. And I get irked by any number of things on a daily basis. So if you’re reading this as some sort of expert testimonial… stop. I am not that guy. I do know a few wildly positive people and thinkers, and between their daily lives and me at my best, I think I can answer that question fairly well. But for clarity, in my spirit and true for my life, positivity is fought for. It is not natural. Ok, onto the meat…

What Fuels Positivity?

What are you feeding on? The idea of fuel is that it nourishes a thing. Good fuel is a combustible element to an already existing flame. So before I discuss what fuel is, and how it can be used to fuel daily positivity, lets talk about what fuel is not.

Fuel is Not Flame

That is, in all honesty, the whole point. Fuel catalyzes the flame. Fuel can power the fire, but it is not the fire. And it is also not the spark. I could go on a long tangent about what sparks the flame, and the flame itself. But this would go on forever. So here’s a quick delineation of those terms.

Whatever gets you going or motivated, that is your spark. It can be a little thing, used daily to launch you into whatever you do. It can also be a mountaintop moment that set the course for your big life choices (marriage, profession, passions, philanthropy, etc.). And in my life, those big sparks have come from outside of myself. I didn’t initiate the big events, and in many cases, didn’t realize their true value until long after they occurred. However, the smaller sparks, those daily moments that get me going – I own the majority of those. I wake up trying to create that spark. And the effective sparks in my life are a wide variety of consistent thoughts, fun events, momentary hopes, and excitements over a number of things.

But the fire is a whole other thing. Simon Sinek might call this your “Why? I think of it as the things that personally inspire and motivate us. What are those big plumblines that penetrate into our guts? And again, there are a lot of right answers. Off the top of my head, here are a bunch: family, sense of duty, happiness, patriotism, and truth. But here’s a word of caution about the flames inside of us — sometimes our flames are kind of ugly: fear, hatred, self-preservation, and elitism come to mind.

Defining Your Flame

Not a Webster’s definition. You can google that.

What keeps you moving? What propels you in the direction of your most basic desires? Do you know? Have you even evaluated those basic desires? Let’s define your flame with a quick thought experiment:

When someone around you experiences something, what is your response? Because that immediate reaction to someone else’s experiences is a solid indicator of both your influences and your fire. If you complain or promote a negative, you’re likely miserable, and your fire might be ugly. If you immediately move to top their story/experience, you’re probably really self-centered and nothing lights your fire like… yourself. If you engage and express a proper response (laughter at a joke, empathy to a hardship, encouragement to a challenge, advice to a request for help, etc.), then you’re likely others-minded and you probably have a solid social circle. This isn’t a blog about friends and how to make them, but here’s a quick tip… genuinely care about other people. They love that stuff!

If you are able to take an honest look at how you respond to others, you likely got a solid indication of the composition of your internal fire. If you don’t like it, change it. If you dig it, engage it! Feed it. And take advantage of the knowledge you now possess about yourself. Fuel the best parts of your fire.

If Positivity Be the Flame…

Three key elements to fueling positivity:

  1. Fight Negativity – nothing hurts a positive like a negative. Right? Ground-breaking. And we can’t control all the negatives around us, but we can control some. Negative people… don’t need em. Negative environments… avoid them. Negative thoughts… fight them. And again, I am no expert here, but I don’t follow people online or in life that are consumed by negatives and expressing ‘anti-‘ views all the time. I’ve also all but stopped watching the news. It gets to me, and while blaming the news for being negative is very fashionable, it’s pointless. So I just don’t allow myself to feed on that stuff. And then thoughts… the best advice I’ve ever given on thought-life is this: The removal of a negative is not a positive. Just because you ‘unfriended’ a bunch of people and turned off some combination of CNN/FOX/MSNBC, doesn’t mean life becomes all roses. You need…
  2. Wide-Open, Insatiable Gratitude – buckets filled to the brim of things that make you smile, feel fulfilled, extend purpose, make you feel good vibes, get a good cry going, or remind you of all the things you love. I am intensely grateful for my wife and my parents. So I call on them for no reason. I send them messages. I say thank you for no clear reason. I tell them I love them when I can’t think of anything else to say. I tell them that I love them when I know exactly what I want to say. And I think about them when I’m doing something I love, something I don’t love, something at work or just hanging out with my sons. And what’s so great about gratitude is that you can spread it around without ever losing an ounce of it. Gratitude multiplies. For instance, my sister and I have always been close, but we have not always been great for each other. But right now, as she rocks out being a mom and a wife and a person dedicated to helping people professionally and personally, she’s become significantly more positive to and for me. She may have been on this path for years, but I just figured it out over a year ago. And once I did, she started getting more phone calls. I started asking her advice more. We updated each other more on life, and we said ‘I love you’ more. And we don’t do those things because we love each other more… I just have more gratitude for her today. And I want my life immersed in reasons to be grateful. You should too.
  3. Seek Goodness – I don’t mean that we should all be on some philosophical journey to inner-peace. I’m too busy for peace. And oftentimes, the burn of my inner fire doesn’t let me rest. I don’t want peace all the time. I want passion. And my passions are birthed from my fire. So if you’re in business, and growth lights your fire, fight for that with every inch of your being. If you’re a teacher, and seeing a child awaken to some kind of knowledge is your jam, pour your life into those chances to sit front-row for that awakening moment. And it goes on and on…. Know you! Know what lights your fire, and feed it with the same. Tirelessly hustle to accomplish the good you know, to find more good around every turn, and to breathe that goodness into others.

That’s it. Fight the Negative. Set Your Mind to Gratitude. Hustle to the Positive.

Share

Quick add-on here at the end. Share the fire. People share a negative without a thought. It’s a weird compulsion to point out awful. I’m sure we all have the compulsion. But there has to be more to positive than trying to filter out the negative. Again, the removal of a negative is not a positive. So take every ounce of positive you have and share it. Teach. Tell. Try.

And feed on the positivity of others. People are awesome… well, a lot of them are. I don’t really see the others too much anymore.

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“The ‘N’ Word” – Unwanted Parenting Moments

Parenting is a trip. It’s normally, at least in my experience, a fascinating experiment set that tests the depths of my affection and impatience, somehow simultaneously. And I have been tested this week, as a parent for sure, but also as a people-loving man.

The ‘N’ Word

My oldest is nine. He’s tender-hearted, compassionate, and deeply engaged in family and friendship. I love him, but not just because he’s mine… he’s just awesome. And recently, a friend at school told him about a movie he watched and a weird word he’d heard.

My son heard the ‘N’ word that day.

First, and important that I state it up front, the little boy that my son learned it from didn’t have a definition for the word, and seemingly didn’t understand the context it was used in. So basically, an innocent kid told another innocent kid an awful, awful thing. And their teacher and school principle did an exceptional job walking both boys through the awfulness of some words.

Second, it breaks my heart that a word that has historically dehumanized humans, extended prejudice, supported racism, and proved to be a conduit for hatred and evil now rings around in my child’s head. Yes, it was going to happen ‘one day’. And yes, it’s normal for him to hear bad words. But profanity is one thing [full disclosure – I love Jesus, but I cuss a little], as those words can have a lot of contexts: offense, insult, humor, emotion, emphasis, etc. But the ‘N’ word only has one context outside of black American culture. And the other contexts within black American culture don’t really make sense to me, which is fine. See, I’m not black, so an explanation isn’t needed. As a white guy, that word has a single context, and all of its meanings are atrocious.

So, what do I do with that?

Intentional, Clueless Parenting

I beat him. The end.

Just kidding… we talked. And any worry he had about the discipline associated with doing bad things evaporated when his dad cried. Yeah, I cried. I really hate that word. And I really love that boy. I will never be ok that anyone knows that word, but especially my sweet children.

So then came the daunting task of explaining centuries of hate and racism, marked by initial enslavement, war, defining people with dark skin as 3/5 of a person, hate groups, sanctioned violence, into today and how it has persisted with horrible words (among many other things) like the one he had just learned.

I still don’t know what to tell him. We talked, but I don’t feel like I crushed the discussion. But if you’re reading this and you think your brown-skinned child is a friend of his, trust that I tried my hardest to raise the brilliance and beauty of your son or daughter to the light, while casting racism and prejudice into the darkness it belongs to.

Excluding v. Including

The problem with defining something like an insult, is that you attach the group(s) associated with the insult to the insult… and that’s just stupid. In order to tell my kid why that word hurts my hurt and deeply offends people that we love, I have to explain the association.

If there’s a better way to explain it, I don’t know it. But man, I wish I did.

We have such a bad habit, humanity, of excluding people. We are against so many things, and our language so often reflects who we exclude. And oftentimes, we are so proud of our uniquenesses that we create strange factions of belonging. All the while, we are creating large groups of the excluded.

I bring that up because I am now faced with the reality that my son just created two awful groups: people who use the ‘N’ word, and people that could be labeled by the ‘N’ word. And I don’t want him to have either group in his head. I want my son… my family… all of us, really, to speak life into a group that hates and to speak life into a group that’s hated. But not because we can tell the difference.

What if we just spoke the language of belonging to everyone? What if the measure of our speech was quantified by the number of people that felt like they belonged to our groups, and we belonged to theirs too? Even if it’s not true!! What if Christians/Muslims spoke so lovingly to all people, that everyone just loved Christians/Muslims in spite of the differences that we know we have? What if the poor/wealthy in our nation were so welcoming that the wealthy/poor just liked being around them? What if, instead of untrue monikers like ‘colorblindness’, we all wanted to know everyone else’s cultures? What if differences were lauded? What if we loved… just loved… all the time. Love.

Reality Bites

I know, I know, I know… I sound ridiculous.

But this morning, I got a phone call I didn’t want. A mentor in my life died just last night. [To CJ’s family and friends… thank you for sharing him with me for the last decade.] And I am running out of mentors. I am running out of leaders who can speak into my life and guide me as I balance the disappointments of reality with the joys of… reality. And while that is a bit scary, to feel like I am down a rudder while the flow of life is not slowing down, I am grateful.

I’m grateful that the mentors and friends and family in my life have pointed me to a place I didn’t know I was prepared for.

My son heard the ‘N’ word this week, and I got to be the voice of love, inclusion, and faith to one of my favorite people.

Not a bad way to have a tough day.

Go love people. All the people.

– Brad

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As You Were: Remain IN GOD

I get so restless lately. And for me, maybe not everyone, but certainly for me, restlessness is akin to faithlessness or hopelessness. So my devotion this morning kicked me right in the stomach. 

“So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” I Corinthians 7:24

Paul is speaking to the church at a dizzying clip here. Sandwiched in between some fundamental principles on marriage and deeply challenging thoughts on singleness, Paul throws in our calling. It’s honestly a little confusing, because the illustration Paul uses for calling is NOT marriage. He uses enslavement and being bound to serving someone else. It’s not a pretty illustration at all, especially when commitments to marriage or singleness are such a seemingly easy segue to our calling in Christ. But no… slavery. 

But I do think that there is a subtle truth to be grasped for here: Sometimes that calling to Christ is not a pretty calling to paradise. We can be called to things or people or seasons of life that do not encourage. Or we can be called to Christ, but not out of the weird darkness we were facing the day before. 

I have been there. Following my last brain surgery in 2014, the cloud over my head and heart felt more real than anything else at the time. I was still called to be a pastor. Still a husband to a great wife. And within a few months of surgery, our son was going to be a big brother, so the call to fatherhood was obvious. But the cloud was all I saw. It was all I felt. If you’ve never experienced that, I don’t think I can explain it any better. There were lives being lived all around me, but I woke up every day to meet a cloud that would stay all day and keep me up all night. Sometimes I would panic, thinking I was done ever being productive again. Sometimes I would be so deeply sad that I felt unlovable and worthless… things I knew weren’t true. But that cloud was everywhere.

If you’ve ever been there or your are there right now, here’s the best advice I have: Keep getting up. Louie Giglio has a great book called The Comeback. Read it. And, as he instructs, find a song to sing in the darkness because if we can sing in the darkness, we can worship God anywhere.

But Why Slavery?

I like to think that if I was born in the 1800’s, I’d have been the white guy fighting against slavery in America. I’d like to think that I would see the evil for what it was and fight it. I’d be holding my Bible close, and doing whatever was appropriate to advance individual freedom and national emancipation. That’s what I like to think.

Because slavery is heinous. So when Paul tells a bondservant to remain in that place and to “not be concerned about it.” [I Cor. 7:21] I lose my lunch a little. Why would they stay in that place?? Why would God want that for them? What’s the point of remaining in an awful place?

Oh. Sometimes, you can’t get out. 

2014 was a painful year in my life. We bought a good house, had a beautiful son, started a new business using a talent I didn’t know I had, and ended up back in a familiar and encouraging place by year’s end… but there was that cloud. And I would love to tell you that God lifted it all at once or there was some grand miraculous thing that happened or that there was a turning point to the darkness, but that’s not true. It required a long, hard walk in an obedience that I often despised. It took a lot of people praying for me, even when I wasn’t praying very much myself. It took a good church. It took family. My wife was a rock. And all I could do was fall back to the basic things that I loved when I became a Christian. I read books I hadn’t opened in years, and I read them slower than I’d ever read in my adult life. But I read. Bonhoeffer and Sproul and Piper. And I sang old songs. I remember coming to Christ not long after hearing Jesus, Lover of My Soul, and I sang it to myself quite a few times during that darkness. And I talked to people when I could find the strength. No plan, just confessing my hurt and hopelessness. 

So Today, I’m Restless

Some people are called to hard things for their entire lives, but I don’t believe those places are intended to define us. The depression of 2014 does not define me. The comeback doesn’t either, but there was a comeback. I’m simply defined as a Christ follower. In the darkness, in the comeback, in the sadness, in the joy, at the pulpit, or in private… Jesus. Jesus and loving people. 

In my last blog, I talked about throwing darts and trying to maintain the hope of my calling in Christ to preach and teach and love people. And I’m still throwing darts. And I’m admittedly restless. I love being a pastor and I miss it. 

But in this place, there’s a memory of 2014 and that darkness. Keep calling on Christ. Read. Pray. Speak the truth of my heart to trusted people. Sing my song to God. Love my family. Above all else, remain IN God.

Maybe a lesson to learn from Paul’s writing here is that if we are married and happy, remain in God, if we are married and unhappy, remain in God. If we are single, remain in God. If we’ve lost the person we were walking through life with in marriage, remain in God. And yes, even if we are enslaved, to men or to darkness, remain in God. Because anyone can remain in God when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, but can we lift our hands when the clouds begin to form?

Here’s a good reminder from Psalm 3:3-4…

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.”

Lift your head. Sing your song. Talk to someone you trust. Remain in God. 

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Good Grief: Making a Choice

I wrote a blog last week. Over 3,300 people have viewed it. And I wrote it because I was sad, hopeful, & inspired I suppose. Tripp had died the prior week, I had been called in by his sweet wife & awesome parents to officiate a funeral that I was not remotely prepared for, & I had spent every day back home in N Carolina with someone who was suddenly fatherless, husbandless, or sonless. And that blog exploded. 

For perspective, I hadn’t written anything in over a year. And when I was writing, it would be impressive for one entry to get 200 views. And that was more than enough for me. It was an exercise in fun & public journaling, & not much more. But then Tripp died, & my name was in his obituary, & it seems like a lot more people were watching. A lot of them still are. And to all of you, thank you. Tripp’s influence will forever loom large in my life. 

So I wrote a blog on a Tuesday morning flight. And then late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, Tripp’s mom died. She had been battling a rare & terminal illness that had certainly taken its toll, but she was still sweet & caring, up to the very last second. And grief came rushing back. I could not stop thinking about Tripp’s dad & sisters. And then his wife. It’s a process…

Grieving Healthy

As I write, I’m outside of an Sicilian bakery in Tacoma, Washington. I’m literally on the coastline of the Puget Sound. It’s a breathtaking picture. And the bakery is crazy good. So many awesome things that I can’t pronounce, but none of them healthy. So I make a choice; eat healthy or not. 

The cannoli was incredible… Don’t judge me. At least I walked here.

And similarly, I have found myself parked right at the door of grieving. And my options for consumption are unending. I can grieve however I want. I can numb the grief by ignoring it & pretending I’m fine, or I can find some thing or person that gives me a false & temporary feeling that just masks grief. Or I can eat healthy… but if you’re like me, there’s a dark secret about healthy living. It kinda sucks. 

Choosing

Allow me to sermonize for a moment. In the book of Joshua, God brought his people through some incredible difficulties & challenges. Often, those challenges were met by the raw emotions of people who knew God, had seen His work, & been blessed by his provision. But in the midst of their crises, some felt hopeless. Usually, it was a lot of people. And they were desperate for answers or revelation or solutions. And in a moment of profound wisdom, Joshua asks them to choose this day whom you will serve (ref. Joshua 24:15). Because, like the bakery beside me, in grief we have a choice.

I spoke with Tripp’s dad today. We talk/text daily. And today is his wife’s birthday. Yes, four days after she passed away, their family was faced with funeral visitation on her birthday. Horrible.

But they made a choice. Someone had the idea to give mom some balloons. So they gathered a bunch of the family together & sent some balloons heavenward. And while it is a small gesture, it’s a healing one. It forces them to smile through sadness. It doesn’t ‘grief-proof’ their day, but it makes the daily process better. And when the story was relayed to me, it was a happy story. And there is nothing better then happiness when you’re sad. I’m so glad that they chose good grief. Because tomorrow will have its troubles, & they will need more reasons to look heavenward. More chances to place some happiness in their sadness will be needed. So if you’re in Durham & you know any of them, send a text & tell them you love ’em. That stuff is gold!

As Joshua was finishing his challenge to Israel, he turned it personal. And that’s how I should end this blog too. It would be arrogant & foolish to pretend that I didn’t think of Tripp the moment I woke up today. And I was immediately sad. And I’ve had a rough dream or two. And when my oldest son, Parker asks me about Tripp or if I’m sad, I admit my grief & occasionally get a little lost in it. But I have a choice in my grief & sadness. And there are two things that Tripp’s family has shown me this week: choose happiness & look heavenward. So I’m going to try & do that more often. 

I hope you find a balloon today, & send your heart to Jesus. 

Brad
“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ‭‭Joshua‬ ‭24:15‬ ‭ESV‬‬

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