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Stressed Out? Free Course: 11 Proven Ways to Calm Down

Stressed out? We’ve all been there. In this stress managemetn crash course, I’m going to show you the 6 proven ways to calm down, but first, do you know the 3 biggest mistakes you can make when stressed out? Watch thie video below to learn more.

One day a couple of years ago, I was barely holding it together. I’d been stressed out for two days. Medical concerns, marriage struggles, and financial woes left me drowning underneath an ocean of shame and guilt.

I had tossed and turned the night before, checking the clock at 11:45, 12:15, and every half-hour that followed. To add insult to injury, after drinking coffee for fifteen years, my doctor said it was making my anxiety worse. At my last visit, my blood pressure was higher than it had ever been in my life. As a result, I had been off coffee for a month. I was anything but happy about it. The frustration and uncertainty piled up, and on a particularly overwhelming day at work, it all came toppling down.

I wanted to see my wife. I considered calling my Mom. I wanted to text a couple of different friends. But I was ashamed. When I am having a hard day, my inner-critic loves to tell me how crazy and weak I am. That I’m a burden, unworthy of love.

Stress never fights fair.

Have you ever been there?

Chances are, you have.

As of 2017, 18% of adults reported feeling stressed “often,” including nights and weekends. (Here’s a list of The 10 Most Stressed Out States in the U.S.)

If that’s you, what are you going to do about it?

Stress is normal. Let me say that again: stress is normal.

You are normal!

Whew. Take a deep breath (no really, take a deep breath). You’re not alone.

For me, everything changed when I realized that stress is just a messenger (like all emotions). The key is to dig into the stress a bit and find out what’s going on, just beneath the surface.

Are you stressed out? I’d love to help.

Sign up today (click right here) for my FREE e-course: 11 Proven Ways to Calm Down.

It’s simple, practical, and the results could improve your physical & mental health, strengthen your relationships, and give you the ability to slow down and catch your breath.

Sign up today. IT’S FREE! Just click here.

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When You Feel Ashamed, Remember this 1 Thing

I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

I’ve lost jobs and friends. I’ve hurt people and broken promises. I’ve lied and cheated. I don’t live with regret at the forefront of my mind, but there are a few things I would absolutely go back and change, given the opportunity or keys to a time machine.

What about you?

Years ago, my friend Sue had a 1950 Plymouth, 3-on-the-column. It was army green with mohair seats. I’d give just about anything to hop in that car for a Sunday afternoon ride with Sue. One problem? Her car wouldn’t go in reverse. The gear didn’t work. Wherever Sue went, she had to make sure to find a space where she could pull forward. Other parking spaces might have been closer or more convenient, but even if my friend had to walk farther or go across the street, putting that car in reverse was not an option.

Can you imagine? How frustrating!

Recovery is a lot like the car that wouldn’t go in reverse. It can’t. It absolutely cannot go back. Healing means always moving forward.

Even after doing all the hard work these past six years, shame sometimes still has a debilitating effect on me. Yes, I’ve been through intense counseling and coaching. I’ve done my best to right my wrongs. I’ve allowed healing to do deep and transformative work in my soul and relationships. I am not the same guy I was five or ten years ago, not by a long shot. But sometimes I still feel ashamed. 

There are moments when my past comes calling, demanding payment for the sins of yesterday. My inner-critic rears his ugly head and throws all of that fear, shame, and guilt in my face. When that happens, I typically shut down. I close everyone out and become reticent. I feel like everyone can read my mind or see right through me, and that is the last thing I want. In those moments of unhealth, I look in the rear-view mirror of my life, and everything seems closer and darker, like it’s chasing me down.

The truth is, shame isn’t intimidated by my beliefs about God. Fear doesn’t give a damn how about how much inner-work I’ve done to become the man of substance I strive to be today. Guilt sings an all-day solo, always slightly off-key. And the only thing that can silence the cries of fear, shame, and guilt is talking to myself with truth and love.

When I slow down and think about it, I have done a lot of hard work to become the human being I am today. I haven’t “arrived,” not by a long shot. But I remember the toxic person I used to be, and I know that I’ve made progress.

So I speak my shame aloud.

I combat my fear with the voice of inner-Love.

And I tell that overwhelming sense of guilt to go to hell.

I am not evil, even if I have done things that make me feel ashamed.

If you’ve royally screwed up in days gone by; if you have past indiscretions that would humiliate you if brought to light; if you have moved beyond the misdeeds of yesterday, but they haven’t moved beyond you, just know that I hear you. And I’m sorry. But don’t fool yourself: we’ve all got skeletons in the closet, and sometimes they stubbornly claw at the closet door, just itching to get out and parade themselves down Main Street, ass naked, airing our dirty laundry to anyone who will listen.

If you’ve blown it before, you are not alone. All you can do is change your life, apologize, heal, and move forward. 

Remember, this car doesn’t go in reverse. Being able to only move forward is sometimes inconvenient and uncomfortable. It means you have to continually keep an eye on your surroundings. You must always have an exit strategy. You are not able to park in just any old place.

Keep moving forward.

Sometimes telling the truth isn’t easy or comfortable. Healing comes with a whole lot of pain. But don’t stop. The first step in recovering your life is recognizing that you are drowning. The second step is admitting it to someone else and asking for help. But all the while, you must keep moving forward. No turning back. No turning back.

When you feel ashamed, remember this 1 thing: this car won’t go in reverse. 


Pre-order the e-book of Catching Your Breath for only $2.99 until 10/22!

*The critics have spoken. Read Zachary Houle’s editorial review of Catching Your Breath. Just click here.

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Have You Forgotten Your Why?

“The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.”

— Brene’ Brown

Between calls at my day job, I would take 10-minute stretch breaks, walking the perimeter of the pond behind our office complex. It’s a small slice of solace amid the busyness of a sometimes frantic work day. I’d been feeling the simmering for a while, but much like the frog you’ve probably heard about in fables and other examples, I was being cooked alive and hardly noticed it. The temperature rose ever-so-slightly until my insides were boiling.

I wanted to call it “writer’s block,” but it was deeper than just my creative well running dry. I was out of motivation in general. I no longer enjoyed my day job, I felt as if I’d written all there was for me to say, and even my marriage just felt routine. The scariest thing for a naturally enthusiastic guy like me was to pick up my phone during my walk around the pond and admit to my friend Sarah, “I feel like I’m living on autopilot.”

This wasn’t a brand-new revelation for me or even a shock to Sarah, but it’s the first time I remember saying it audibly. I was frustrated, bored, and scared – a toxic cocktail for a creative helper like me. In typical fashion, Sarah listened intently, paused quietly for a bit, and eventually, gently said, “Steve, I think you’ve forgotten your why.”

There are few people in my life who so skillfully balance truth and grace. Sarah Robinson is one of them. As kind as she has always been to me, I remember passing by a dogwood tree that had just bloomed. It was late March in Alabama, and while the dogwood tree was whispering the possibility that newness can come again, I felt washed up and exasperated. Not with Sarah – but with myself – with life in general.

“What does that even mean?” I asked, stretching that last word into four syllables, my voice rising three octaves, like any child who missed a nap. With candor and compassion, my writing buddy and dear friend responded, “What makes you smile? What gets you excited? Where do you feel the most purpose?”

I sat down at a picnic table near the water’s edge, and the coolness of the metal against my pant leg jolted me back to reality “Give me some time to think about this,” I said, nearly in tears. My soul was so parched, I think tears might have been impossible that day.

Rediscovering Purpose

I thanked Sarah as I hung up the phone and returned to work in a fog. I wondered what this ever-insightful friend of mine had just done to me. “What makes you smile?” The questions echoed through my mind the rest of the afternoon and throughout the weekend. “What gets you excited?” I couldn’t seem to shake the annoying but powerful way my friend had listened past my exhaustion, frustration, boredom, and fear, and heard something more profound, beneath the chatter.

“Where do you feel the most purpose?” In some variation, my answers to each of these questions all revolved around people: loving them, serving them, creating a community (both in-person and online), where the underdog feels welcome and leading only when necessary.

For added clarity, it was equally as crucial for me to list the things that made me smile but didn’t give me purpose. Things like website stats and podcast analytics or social media metrics provide someone like me with a temporary boost of validation. The increase in views and downloads let me know that my message is resonating with my tribe, but any time I switch the priority from people to numbers, I’ve left my purpose at the door.

Sarah’s question began to make even more sense after a talk with my mentor, Sue. She leaned across her desk toward me, her body language saying, “don’t miss this!” Sue asked, “When you take your final breath, and life as you now understand it is over, what will you be thinking about?”

Each time I reminisce about that question, the same word resonates in my depths: belonging. I hope that when my eyes blink closed for the final time, it won’t be stats or metrics I’m wondering about. I pray it won’t be stocks and bonds or savings accounts. I hope I won’t be thinking about accolades or pats-on-the-back, but instead, about belonging.

Belonging

Did my time, energy, and focus create space for myself and others to belong? Did my words, thoughts, and actions permit me to be human? Did I learn to be honest with myself, even when it was uncomfortable? Did I reach inside myself to find my home? Did I push aside politics and religion and all the ways we distance ourselves from one another, believing the illusion that we are separate? Did I make more room at the table for broken-hearts and friends in need of a warm cup of tea and a gentle reminder of their inherent enoughness? Did I lean into belonging and invite others along for the journey?

What excites me? What makes me smile? Where is my purpose found? In belonging to myself and others who purposefully choose loving-kindness over all else, as a natural extension of the loving-kindness we show ourselves every day.

What’s your why? Answer that, and I’ll bet your sense of feeling overwhelmed continuously will begin to decrease in a big way. When somebody finds the courage to be vulnerable, a fantastic thing happens – they want more. 

The freedom is awkward at first, but I’m still free. There’s nothing quite like the taste of empowering honesty, which encompasses courage, reliability, and truth. Freedom begets freedom.

If you’re ready to create the most honest version of yourself, you’ve got to own your story. I know the world is telling you to keep your shirt on, but you’ll never find freedom until you strip everything off and let yourself be seen. It’s why I’ve dedicated an entire chapter to getting “nekkid” in my upcoming book. The power of owning your story will change your life. The best thing we can do is live honestly with ourselves and give others the space to do the same.

Remembering your why is the first step in living your most courageous and authentic life. Being gut-level honest is hard work. Digging down deep to re-discover who you are underneath the labels and expectations and busyness is no small feat. But it’s worth it so that you no longer live in a constant state of…stuck.

Just like those dogwood blooms, newness can come again. You can start over. You can rediscover yourself. You can reconnect with the truth of your being, empowering you to not only tell your truth but live it.

What’s your why? Email me or leave a comment below today.

*The critics have spoken. Read Zachary Houle’s editorial review of Catching Your Breath. Just click here.

 

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45 Pieces of the Best Marriage Advice Ever

Lindsey and I have been married more than a decade. The first seven years or so were full of more downs than ups, more bad than good, more sickness than health. During those dark and fearful days, we both considered quitting more times than we’d like to admit.

These days, we’ve become best friends. But there was a whole lot of living in between the hard times and these much better days. So please don’t read this like there was some cosmic snapping of the fingers and suddenly our marriage was a Nicholas Sparks’ novel.  No way. Not a chance.

No magic potion will promise you a pain-free marriage or a perfect life. But here’s 45 things marriage lessons we’ve learned in the past decade. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

  1. Love is a give and give, not a give and take. Try to out-serve each other.

  2. Screw the social norms. If she likes to be outside, let her mow the lawn! If he’s creative, let him help decorate the house! Your marriage is unique – celebrate that!

  3. Form a unified front. Whether you are dealing with friends, family, or your children, be united. Talk to your partner first! Make a game plan and have each other’s backs.

  4. Own your issues but don’t feel like you have to own theirs. It isn’t our job to “fix” the other.

  5. Honest and direct communication should be at the top of every list for a successful relationship of any kind. Say what you need. And say what you don’t need. No one is a freakin’ mind reader. A badass marriage starts with robust communication.

  6. Balance the serious with the fun. Life is too short, and marriage is hard work. Do what you can to live it up!

  7. Be vulnerable. If you use humor as a defense mechanism, stop. Speak your truth. If you want to stop feeling overwhelmed with marriage, sometimes you’ve got to let it all hang out.

  8. Be trustworthy. Trust is the cornerstone of any good relationship. You can’t have love without trust. That means that if your partner tells you something personal or hard, it goes to the grave with you. Ride or die.

  9. Forgive quickly. Keep the small things the small things. I’ll never forget the ridiculous fight we once had over the exhaust fan in the master bathroom our first year of marriage. Decide what matters, and work it out.

  10. Take some time apart. A good marriage knows not to smother each other. Let him have a guy’s night. Or leave the kids with him and go enjoy a glass of wine with the ladies. A little absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

  11. Know which family you belong to. Your spouse and/or your kids are your family now. You can honor your parents and respect your in-laws without letting their opinions control your relationship.

  12. Don’t neglect date night. I know life is busy and babysitters are expensive, but don’t neglect time away with one another! Whether you go out, or order pizza and stay in, be intentional about your time together.

  13. Even if you love your person, sometimes they are going to piss you off. In times like that, the best thing you can do is calm down before you blow up. This will allow you to respond instead of reacting.

  14. Stop running. Sometimes the best thing is to take time to “cool down,” but it is never okay to have something that serves as your “escape” from your family. If you feel the need for a constant “escape,” you need to ask yourself what you’re running from.

  15. You are not his mother. Find a man who loves the way you think and look, who enjoys your company, and – most of all – who respects you as an equal. If a man is looking for someone to wait on him hand-and-foot like his Mama did, keep moving, sister.

  16. Take care of yourself. Caring for your spouse and children doesn’t mean you neglect yourself. Don’t ignore your soul. Life is busy, marriage and children are demanding, and if you don’t speak up for yourself, no one else will! Say what you need and don’t be afraid to confess what you want. Mamas are not machines!

  17. You are the only people who live inside your specific marriage. No one else lives in your house, knows what your spouse is like behind closed doors, and no one is going to stick this thing out but you. You are the one doing the hard work to make things last, so ignore the critics.

  18. Choose your battles. Socks on the floor don’t matter.

  19. But she ain’t your Mama. Put your own dishes in the sink.

  20. When things fall apart (because they will), hug her tight and silently count to thirty. You’ll be surprised just how much that can fix.

  21. It’s your marriage. If it’s excellent, it’s because you put in the work. If it sucks, you better put in more work. Only the two of you can make your marriage healthy. So push away distractions, shut out negative opinions, and do what it takes to make it last.

  22. Guys: flowers for no particular reason are always a good idea.

  23. Don’t just hope for the best. Do something. Don’t avoid the hard conversations so long that resentment takes root. Address problems as soon as they come up.

  24. Listen more than you speak.

  25. When life is stressful, look for opportunities to laugh together.

  26. Girls: Don’t throw away his favorite t-shirt without asking first. No matter how many holes it has.

  27. Intimacy is about more than sex.

  28. Guys: notice the details. The new earrings, the shoes, the fact that she put clean sheets on the bed. And don’t just notice it, say something.

  29. Compliment each other regularly. Let your words bring life to one another.

  30. Girls: Don’t expect him to intuitively recognize a problem. It probably won’t happen. If something is up, tell him!

  31. Forgive until you actually mean it.

  32. Guys: If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie. Girls, if he doesn’t, do it for him. This is not a hill worth dying on.

  33. Sort out the chores between you. In our house, if she cooks, he cleans.

  34. Fight fair. Stick to the present issue and do everything you can to resolve it. Don’t pick at old scabs.

  35. Don’t be afraid to reach out when you’re in over your head. The thought of marriage counseling really freaks people out. Most folks do not like the idea of airing their dirty laundry to a complete stranger. I get it, but there’s no shame in seeking professional help when you just can’t fix it.

  36. You will not always “win” the argument, and that’s okay. The point isn’t “winning or losing” in the confines of marriage; the goal is mutual understanding and respect of one another’s views. We’ve got to start viewing our spouses as partners instead of opponents. It’s not about being right, it’s about understanding each other.

  37. Don’t kick them when they’re down. We all go through seasons and have tough times. If you are choosing this relationship for a lifetime, then choose your battles and your timing wisely.

  38. Stop trying to fix your spouse. I am not my wife’s therapist, and she isn’t mine. While we play a primary role in each other’s support systems, we are not professional helpers.

  39. There is conventional wisdom that says not to go to bed angry. I disagree. Sometimes you go to bed with a hurt heart, with the full intention of waking up and talking about it once things settle down.

  40. Cry together.

  41. Know your limits. I don’t believe “When you have done all you can do, stand” is always the best advice. To the one suffering in silence, this kind of advice can feel like a death sentence. I have seen firsthand that separation or divorce can be the next right step, and can breathe peace into a family. Sometimes the best way to love and honor everyone involved is to leave.

  42. Take time for yourself. Marriage is stressful, no matter what. Sometimes it’s impossible to leave your responsibilities. In that case, find moments of quiet to enjoy something simple – a cup of tea, a few pages of a book – even within your routine. Give yourself space to breathe. It matters.

  43. Be honest. When something frustrates you, speak up. There’s nothing worse than an old sore that’s been left to fester. If something hurts your feelings, say so. Nobody wants to have to dig to find out why you’re pouting. Just follow this simple rule: tell the truth in love. It’s always the right choice.

  44. You must set clear boundaries with outsiders (yes, this includes friends and family). Your marriage–both its joys and dysfunction–is nobody’s business but your own.

  45. No more comparisons. Nobody has the perfect marriage. Let go of what you think it is supposed to be, and live in the relationship you actually have. Stop trying to have your friend’s marriage or mimic your parent’s relationship. Nobody has the magical romance they portray on Facebook, so shut that noise off.

Interested in relationship coaching? Click here.


Listen to this week’s podcast episode: Divorce is an option, but is it the best?


PRE-ORDER CATCHING YOUR BREATH

Exciting news, friends! My upcoming book, Catching Your Breath: The Sacred Journey from Chaos to Calm, is now available for pre-order on Amazon for the discounted price of only $7.99! To pre-order your copy, go to catchingyourbreath.com.

As a bonus – when you email me a picture/screenshot of your receipt, I’ll send you the Catching Your Breath Digital Swag Pack! This includes:

  • The Catching Your Breath Manifesto (printable PDF)

  • Early access to the first 2 chapters of Catching Your Breath

  • 2 bonus chapters:

    • When Your Marriage is Overwhelming

    • Leaning into Fear

  • mp3 download of “Weak Sometimes” by Devin Balram

ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY AT CATCHINGYOURBREATH.COM!

I am Steve Austin.

Whether you’re looking for a coach you can trust or a lifeline because your soul has been wounded, you’re safe here.

As you check out my site, my goal is to encourage you to do things like: silence your inner critic, cultivate a lifestyle of self-care, and recover from whatever has wounded you. Fear, shame, and guilt have permeated our culture for far too long. It’s time to be embraced by Divine love, exactly as you are.

Welcome home.

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How to Not Get Hit by a Train

When I was a kid, we learned lots of lessons in threes. For example, if there’s a fire, what do you do? Stop, drop, and roll. Good job. Most sermons in the little Southern Baptist church where we spent most Sunday mornings until I was about nine-years-old also came with three lessons. I guess it’s easier to remember three than say, 95 Theses

One of the most memorable three-point lessons from childhood is what to do when you approach a railroad crossing. Do you remember the rule? Stop, look, and listen. If you don’t want to get hit by a train, these three habits are vital.

Search Youtube, and you’ll quickly find videos of hurried and/or distracted drivers who chose not to stop, look, and listen. The results are disastrous and sometimes fatal. Trains come at us with an enormous amount of momentum, and if we aren’t paying attention, terrible things can happen.

During my formative years, I recognized just how powerful trains are. When I was a young boy, my great-grandfather would load me up in his old Datsun pickup, and drive me down to the train track that ran along Yellowleaf Creek. Papaw would pull the truck off the road and onto the gravel access road, next to the tracks. He would park near the tiny signal house, place one finger in the air, and with a childlike sparkle in his eyes, raise one finger, as he whispered, “now you wait right here.”

No matter how many times I’d seen the trick, I was always amazed by the way the train could flatten a perfectly good penny. Papaw would place the shiny copper coin on the track, while the train was still a good ways off, and after the choo-choo rolled over it, the penny would be pressed paper thin.

What a great memory.

While the penny was fascinating to little Stevie, the truth is that it was nearly crushed beneath the weight of the locomotive; it’s shape, forever altered by the relentless smashing of the engine, coal cars, and caboose. And if you don’t stop, look, and listen, a train will treat you the same way.

Trains are no respecter of persons.

You can learn a lot by the train and penny. When is the last time you stopped, looked, and listened? It can save you from a great deal of trouble. Whether your soul feels clogged, anxiety is squeezing your brain, depression’s black dog is hounding you day and night, or you’re just not sure you can handle the stress much longer, please let me encourage you to stop, look, and listen.

Stop.

Stop hustling for your worthiness. Stop performing for the approval fix. Stop trying to live up to the unrealistic expectations of others. Stop trying to keep the world spinning. In the words of my friend Sue, “The merry-go-round has a motor. You don’t have to push it.” Stop focusing on the what of your life, and begin to discover who you are, beneath the noise.

Look.

Look around. What do you see? Piles of responsibility and resentment? Loads of busyness? Lines of demanding people and chores, five miles long? When is the last time you shifted your focus and looked for the beauty in everyday life? When did you last notice the deep blue of your wife’s eyes or the way your husband’s beard is beginning to grey? When did you stop long enough to appreciate your son’s homework, or watch your daughter twirl in the backyard like a ballerina? Look around – what are you grateful for?

Listen.

Listen to the voice beneath the chatter. Stop talking long enough to appreciate the gift of silence. Feeling stuck? Listen to the answers inside your soul, longing to show you a better way. My friend, Ed Bacon, refers to stillness as the level below quiet, down in the deepest seas of your soul, where the waves can no longer distort or distract. Get quiet and listen to the voice of God – the voice of Love and Belonging and Peace – in the midst of a life that seems to never slow down, no matter how desperate we are to find a little solitude.

Stop striving.
Look for goodness.
Listen to the truth of your being.

Life is either a gift or a long series of holding your breath until the next disaster strikes. I’m choosing to slow down, keep my eyes peeled, and my heart open to the blessing of each ordinary day, believing that I was made for more than just the next train wreck.

If your life feels like a train wreck, please check out my story and Kickstarter campaign at kickstartmybook.com – my upcoming book, Catching Your Breath: The Sacred Journey from Chaos to Calm, could be exactly what you’ve been waiting for. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, believing that no one cares or understands, wondering if things will always be this way. Good news – it doesn’t have to be this way. Pre-order the e-book or paperback at kickstartmybook.com today.

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The Day Always Starts at Night

I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.

— Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

“Don’t you find it amazing, that the day always starts at night?” She said it a bit tongue-in-cheek, like the folks who laugh at the fact that we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway. This time, however, it caught me off guard, and the depth of this statement nearly took my breath away.

The day always starts at night.

And it’s not just the day, all sorts of things begin in the dark. Giant oak trees start as just an acorn, veiled underground until new life bursts forth. Babies also begin in the darkness of the womb. Born of another tiny seed, they grow and develop in their mother’s tummy for nine long months before they ever see the light of day. I think Anne Lamott says it best, “Hope begins in the dark.”

As I read through the Bible, I find story after story of Hope that appears in the midst of the darkness. Whether it’s the woman who was caught in adultery, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lion’s den, or the man born blind, Light shows up when each of these characters reaches the end of their rope – the end of their hope.

Look at the woman caught in adultery, and the man born blind: one represents the way a person was made, while the other represents someone who made poor choices. The man’s physical blindness isn’t the focus; it could have been mental illness, chronic pain, an addictive personality, or something else. The adultery could have been cheating or abuse or child abandonment or any other “sin” you choose to fill in the blank. The point is that one was born this way, while the other wandered into the darkness of their own accord.

In each story, Light showed up.

Need another example? Look at my favorite story, the Prodigal Son. One son stays and follows all the rules. The other sticks his middle finger in his father’s face, takes the money and runs. Same family. Same father. And in the end, both children are embraced by the very same Love.

In moments of personal despair, the Bible mostly either confuses me or pisses me off. Sometimes, even during my years as a pastor, the only parts that made sense to me were the Psalms. I’m certainly no Bible scholar, but I think King David understood what it was like to live in all sorts of chaos. Look at this one, brief example:

I’m up against it, with no exit—
bereft, left alone.
I cry out, God, call out:
‘You’re my last chance, my only hope for life!’
Oh listen, please listen;
I’ve never been this low.

— Psalm 142:4-5

David was a royal screw up, but I believe he had genuine faith. Chapter by chapter, the rapist, and murderous King vacillates from hope to fear, doubt to certainty, anger to sadness, chaos to calm.

David’s journey is no different from our own. For me, Light showed up in the darkness of an ICU hospital room after I tried to die. Like the man born blind, I was born with a mental illness, making it hard for me to see the light of day. And like the woman caught in adultery, I made all sorts of bad decisions before my suicide attempt. But Hope is stubborn and showed up in the midst of my misery, whispering, “I’m not finished with you yet.”

What makes night within us, may leave stars.

— Victor Hugo

Each one of us, no matter our religion, is on a trip from darkness to light. Some make the journey in record time. Others stumble around in the shadows a bit longer than they must. But we’re all learning as we go. Each of us is figuring out how to stop shrinking back and start leaning into our own inner-strength. No more hiding our light; it is time to start shining brightly! Look at what Marianne Williamson says:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

— A Return to Love

In another section of her brilliant book, Williamson warns the reader that self-discovery is painful, but finding the courage to wake up and step into the Light of the present moment is transformative. No more living in the unconscious delusions of darkness, secrets, and the lies we tell ourselves.

Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.

— Edna St. Vincent Millay

The universal journey from night to day has nothing to do with the external world. It’s not about the sun or the moon or the rotation of the earth or morality or manmade laws or religious expectations or cultural norms. It’s not about your mom or dad, your pastor or grandma, your tribe, your fraternity, or your political affiliations. It is all about you. Freedom comes when you allow God to turn your darkness into Light. Said another way, it’s about learning to see your darkness as Light. I think this is what Rumi means by, “What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”

The journey toward wholeness hinges on the amount of courage you’re able to muster as you traverse the Valley of the Shadows. What you have previously perceived as darkness may surprise you with the amount of Light it holds for this present day.  The Light has been there all along.

If your day feels as dark as night, know that you’re not alone. Even the best of days begin in darkness. And if it’s pitch black right now, and you can’t even see your hand in front of your face, keep holding on. The Light will show up soon enough. It’s just on the other side of the horizon.

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How to Deal with Toxic People without Becoming Poisoned

How do you deal with toxic people without becoming poisoned in the process?

This is a question many people are asking today. Our culture seems more divided than ever before. Whether it’s mainstream American culture, politics, public education, parenting models, or even inside the church, we’ve perfected the art of screaming.

We have made every issue our “hill to die on,” and we take every opportunity to rage against those who don’t support our views. We seem angry. High school students, grandmas, or pastors – it doesn’t matter your age or station in life, everyone looks pissed off. But I think it’s deeper than that. After all, anger is a secondary emotion. I’ve coached enough people to know that the truth that simmers beneath the outrage is this: we’re scared. 

Our culture of anger stems from the religion and politics of fear. Pastors, politicians, and news pundits tell us that we should be deathly afraid of anything and anyone we don’t understand. If you raise your children different than mine, you’re the problem. If your skin is a different color, your prayers don’t sound like mine, or you don’t vote like me, you’re not just different – you’re the enemy. If we don’t understand something or someone, rather than seeking to learn, we yell, “you’re wrong” as we turn and walk away.

We’re yelling so loudly, that we couldn’t possibly hear the person across from us. Not across from the political aisle, the church aisle, or the chasm we’ve dug to keep “us” and “them” clearly defined. What we should be doing is taking the time to close our mouths, look our neighbor in the eyes, and listen. More than anything, people just want to be heard.

The art of screaming is ruining us with its polarization; it is stealing our peace, imploding our sense of community, and destroying the power of dialogue. You’ve heard it said, “You catch more flies with honey than you catch with vinegar.” The way my mother said it was, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I’m not sure that either of these sentiments is entirely accurate. I think we can (and should) speak truth to power, but we make more headway by talking about what we are for, rather than railing against the evil of the other side.

The world doesn’t need one more divisive person or group.

What we desperately need are bridge-builders. Who will move toward the center? Who will step away from the bully pulpit of the left or the right, and come to the middle, outstretch their hand, and welcome the “other” to a conversation? “They” aren’t listening to our yelling any more than “we” are paying attention to their arguments. I wonder what would happen if we closed our mouths for a few moments and opened our minds and hearts? If we ever want “them” to listen to “us,” we’ve got to stop screaming about just how terrible and toxic they are and show them, through kind words and clear actions why we have found a better way.

I fully believe that you reap what you sew. Toxicity begets toxicity and kindness begets kindness. If you want happiness from this world, you’ve got to emit happiness. If you’re ever going to be heard, you’ve got to start listening. If you’d like some respect, start respecting the humanity of the person in front of you, even if you disagree with their position on the issue. You cannot change or control another person. All you can do is live your life with dignity, treat others the way you want to be treated, and make your message as powerful and full of love as you possibly can. What you put into the Universe, you will get back.

How to put this blog into action:

  1. Make a list.
    1. What do you believe about God?
    2. What do you believe about humanity?
    3. What do you believe about those who disagree with you?
    4. What do you believe about God’s involvement in the lives of your enemies?
    5. What are you for?

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