The old screen door slams behind me and the boards under my feet creak as I walk to the old wicker couch, whose basket weave also makes a sound as the weight of my body sinks into the red cushions. My cozy gray fleece jacket is all I need; the morning is pleasant enough to return to the porch. Beaming strongly into the yard, the orange-colored sun silhouettes a giant buck and his Christmas tree of antlers as he slowly grazes the smorgasbord of natural treats in my yard. The distant mountain is a light purple gray against the bright yellow-white sky.
Last week, I disappeared. I’m sorry I was not there for you. But I had a good reason. I am the father of teenagers, after all.
Advice comes as needed, as I alluded to recently in Butterflies and Angels. One friend, Dr. Dave, swooped into my life last week, as if knowing I’d need his advice soon. I had been talking about a stressful week at work when he told me that our natural tendency when we’re going through stress or crisis is to sleep less, drop our routines, eat poorly, and not take good care of ourselves. Entrepreneurs like myself tend to put in longer hours to solve a crisis. His advice: Take care of yourself. This is when you need sleep, nutrition, and exercise more than ever because your immune system is being attacked by stress, and it needs to be strong. Plus, if you’re not rested, not eating well, and not exercising, you’re not thinking clearly.
His advice came just in time to deal with another issue that was significant enough that I decided to drop everything I could in order to be there for my family. Though I try to give to others as much as possible, last week I had nothing more to give. I hope you’ll forgive me for not showing up in your mailbox. I don’t do it often. But I needed to preserve my energy, my resources, and my time. And I needed more time at the gym, working harder to make sure that the much-needed husband and father was showing up.
I’ve also been reminded that when emotions run high, we tend to grab at the first answer we come up with. My friend and mentor, author Keith Cunningham, taught me to never resort to the first answers, but to take time to think and come up with 100 answers — and never use any of the first 20, which are typically reactive. That, too, was helpful.
And times like these make our friendships that much more important because friends can offer non-emotional suggestions, solutions, and experience at a time when clarity isn’t present. Thank God for great friendships. To have someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone to offer perspective, ideas, and encouragement is so helpful. And when the world around you appears to be crashing down, they help point out that it’s not as bad as you think it might be. They help you see that the other side of it is right around the corner. Light always comes after the darkness.
Our other default thought in tough moments is often, “Why me? Why would God do this to me?” Thankfully I did not have that reaction this time, but I get it a lot. I think the answer is, “Why not me? What am I to learn? How am I to be made stronger?”
As I think about parenting, I think about the importance of pain. Keeping pain away from our children is not doing our kids any favors. Though I hate to watch my kids go through pain, sometimes seemingly unbearable pain, I know I made it through it. My parents protected me from some of it, but helped me get through much of the rest. It’s a reminder that blue steel is the strongest steel, because it has been forged, many times, through the hottest fires.
Why Be Angry?
I’m not sure where the idea started that we should be mad at God when our lives don’t go the way we want them to go. I think that, being a loving dad, I’m helping my kids when I allow them to go through pain and suffering. I’m there to step in if it’s life-threatening, I’m there to turn to for advice, but they will be stronger if I don’t rescue them. I think it’s showing incredible love to watch your kid go through a horrible thing — and let them go through it. It’s not easy. It’s painful to watch. I also don’t think it’s loving to solve every problem for them so their expectation is that life will be perfect. Pain happens to be part of perfection. Perhaps this sounds harsh to some, but the best thing we can do for our kids is help them be stronger, help them look at pain as part of life, and give them coping skills. That way when they face difficult times, like the ones we’re going through, they have perspective, knowing that it’s part of the process.
I’ve cried a lot of tears through my life. I’ve lost a lot of loves and it devastated me at the time. I’ve lost friendships. I’ve lost jobs, businesses, partnerships, and I’ve been on the edge of bankruptcy. I’ve had tough things happen, lost loved ones, and remember moments where I didn’t think I could get through the pain. Yet today, it hurts less, and I’m more prepared, more experienced, know it’s part of a process, and I know there is a bright light on the other side of the dark moment. Perspective is a wonderful gift.
I don’t know your pain, but I know you have it. We all carry things with us that we’ve never fully been able to get over. And we should not get over them … it’s that pain that molds us into who we are, makes us better, makes us stronger, though it does not seem like it at the time. But don’t be mad at the world, or the universe, or God. Be happy that you’ll grow from everything that happens. That no matter how horrible something is, even death, there is growth and value, and light at the end of it all. Embrace what you cannot change. Change what you can. Make the best of a bad situation. Somehow, just thinking this gets us through.
Look back on your pain. Chances are you’ll find lessons, growth, and outcomes that were benefits. Things you never would have otherwise known. Just like when we feel we’re not accomplishing enough, we benefit from looking back to see how far we’ve actually come. Looking back on pain helps us see growth and strength we would not have had.
Having experienced the major loss of my mom this year, that horrific pain brought important lessons, growth, and even special moments that would not have occurred without it. I embrace what we went through.
Pain is growth, lessons, and forging strength. Handle it with dignity and the peace of knowing that though it seems dark, there is light around the corner.
PS: In the midst of my pain, taking an escape moment, I decided to go Christmas shopping. It was very hard to get into the spirit with something looming over me. Yet there are people I love whom I want to give something special, not out of obligation, but because I want to honor them with a gift to show appreciation. It’s easy to fall into a Grinch attitude that you hate Christmas shopping and the pressure that comes with it. Instead, give of yourself, of your heart. Make something with your own hands if you can, at least as one gift. And think about the person and what really lights up their eyes — what do they get excited about? It’s not about the volume of gifts, it’s about showing you know them and are tuned in to them.
Other than her love, and our three amazing children, the greatest gift my wife ever gave me was an art lesson. It was great because she sensed that I needed to be creative, and she was right. That lesson 25 years ago resulted in a new career filled with painting, art, and creating a lot of things to help artists and collectors scratch their itch. Maybe an art lesson isn’t the gift for your special person, but if there is interest, I’ve listed some of the things we do that would make great gifts. I’ll explain each. But I don’t want Sunday Coffee to be a commercial environment, so please stop reading here if you have no interest.