Sunday, March 30, 2014

Anger - Destructive or Constructive?

As a kid growing up I was taught to deal with my feelings by either talking about them, expressing myself in appropriate fashion understanding that by holding onto everything I would at some point lose it. Now flash forward and we are all adults who haven’t necessarily figured out cooping mechanisms to handle failure, relationships issues or employment mishaps. So what do you do when someone you assume can handle life’s ups and downs seems to be close to meltdown?

I have been around both teens and adults whose ability to handle bad news and also self-inflected consequences makes it tough for them not to take out their anger, frustration and emotions on everyone around them. I know personally that I would rather not open up and spill my guts on the ‘table’, yet, I have discovered that the sooner I talk about it, learn to deal with it and then move on the sooner I will go from being a toxic husband, dad or friend to someone that is healthy.

I was very fortunate to be taught anger management skills from a mom whose husband was gone for months at a time because of military service. Looking back I know that my mom’s hope for me wasn’t to hide my feelings but to learn how to express them and find resolve, forgive if possible and move on. I understand that it is easy to talk about all of this but in the middle of a meltdown at work where it’s not your fault it would be so easy to reach your boiling point and just want to quick.

As I observe many who do have meltdowns I can step back at times and see how I can either be part of their healing process or just add fuel to the fire. I know that at times I could get satisfaction from making someone look like a failure because I would never put myself in their position and unfortunately be quick to tell them this. I’m learning that many adults don’t know how to deal with obstacles so they either avoid them totally or don’t think much before they make a choice that could cripple their personal lives or hurt their career.

So how do I figure out how to deal with personal meltdowns or potential pity parties? I tend to be way too quick to react to circumstances. I want to be in control and not look like it’s ever my fault when something goes south. I had an experience where I had a neighbor come over to complain about something. My past experience would have made me be in the reactive mode and be ready to defend myself. This neighbor, who was totally different, seemed to be apologizing for bothering me. I see my need to choose to respond by getting some space, not talking first but asking someone for help or actually eating my pride and admit that I screwed up.

The sad fact in today’s culture is that too often it becomes acceptable to be loud, obnoxious, rude and foul mouthed. It is too easy for someone’s anger to go from a verbal assault to physical violence. I see too many, both young and old that struggle constantly with figuring out boundaries when it comes to self-expression. Is it ever ok to cut someone off on the freeway because they cut me off? The consequences of not getting my anger under control can be detrimental not just to me but those around me.

I know that too often I’ve seen people who have be told that being angry or mad at circumstances is totally wrong. Yet, when there is an injustice it is necessary to take a stand for what’s right and usually the expression of emotions is justified. I love the advice that James gives in his letter about not letting the sun go down on your anger. He also unfolds the reality that being angry isn’t always wrong but you have to learn how to be constructive instead of destructive when in the middle of an anger outburst. I also appreciate James’ advice to be slow to talk but quicker to listen because typically we can’t deal with circumstances when we are too busy jabbering away.

I will be the first to admit that I have unresolved anger issues at times that do control me and stop me from being the best person at the moment. So I’m learning how to use my temper instead of losing my temper and see the impact it has on those around me that are too use to blowing up regardless of whether it makes any sense at all.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Burn out or take a break?

This last week I had the opportunity to meet with a few close friends that are no different than myself. We all are involved in highly intense types of work or ministry that it is easy at times to want to walk away from everything and throw in the towel. I listened to one friend talk about mid life crisis at 50 and another talk about dealing with people that only know how to complain and stir up strife amongst everyone. I had a difficult talk with someone that put me in a tough situation where I didn’t know what to do to help restrain this individual from making statements that sounded like threats. (Great way to start off a Saturday.)

The bottom line is that our lives must always be more than our work or even our passions in life. I have made a concerted effort over the years to take my Anne on little get a ways. These have now been deemed staycations. Yeah, I love to get a hotel room, regardless of whether it is fancy or a dive place, to just let go of texts, e-mails and social media. It should be easy to put down your smart phone or leave the laptop at home, yet, something inside me tells me that I have to be connected otherwise I won’t be in the midst of the action. I have another friend, who is also a 50 something, who chooses not to use e-mail or social media. I’m not ready to go that far.

I chatted with my one friend at a Starbucks where we looked back at our lives and it seemed that age does at times cause us to be less able to adapt to circumstances that aren’t going to change over night. So the question becomes how do we deal with the emotional and intellectual side of needing time off and away from the fray. Most guys love to be in the middle of the battle and get that adrenalin rush. I admit that my energy level is less then 20-years ago yet, my passion seems to be greater which helps during moments of crisis.  

I talked with another friend about the need to have down time and the ability to create a little oasis amidst the storm. I know that reading and just chilling help immensely when it comes to having a break in the action. The challenge is that we are so wired to stay connected that it is difficult to let go and truly believe that the person in crisis or friend who wants to go out can survive without me. I see the need for men to have real ‘guy’ friends who can hold them accountable and ask some tough questions about staying healthy in a 360 fashion.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Guys Do Cry?

I can remember watching a movie with Tom Hanks being the crotchety baseball manager of an all girls’ team during World War II. His point to his girly team was that they weren’t supposed to ever cry. Sadly enough too many little boys growing up are given the impression that emotions are evil and reveal your weakness. I will be the first to admit that as a young guy playing baseball in Little League up to the Pony League that the inevitable does happen and you end up crouched over in tears. No matter how hard you try to fight it guess what, baseball players do cry.

It has been seven plus years since my mom’s passing and I’m just now getting use to not hearing her little voice around me and now just her example of what to do and how to do it. It is different with my dad’s passing because I had a special relationship with him that many things often through out the day strike me about him. Today as I finished his taxes and realized that I had to go back over his records and send out a death certificate. How final, how sad to think that someone’s life is reduced to a piece of paper or a record that is now stamped deceased. I know in my heart of hearts that there will be a day when I will see him again but that isn’t today and doesn’t help with the whole that has been made in my life.

I know that most guys fight back tears at all costs. God forbid that you have such a thin skin that someone could actually say something or in a work situation be reduced to being emotional. Yet, one of the amazing gifts from God, I believe, is the freedom and ability to be yourself. Yes, crying on occasion, is actually good and therapeutic.  So as I struggle at times with the absence of my parents in my life I know that my eyes will tear up and I will catch myself pulling back and wanting no one to see me or understand what is actually happening on the inside.

It isn’t possible to make up for someone that totally influenced your life from being a little baby to a grown adult. I have so many incredible memories from a great childhood between camping trips, visiting relatives, going to National Parks or the dreaded move, which happened every couple of years. I was fortunate to have a mom and dad who truly loved each other and stayed by each other’s side regardless of the circumstances. My mom weathered my dad’s five years of flying in Vietnam. My dad served my mom for a decade while they fought cancer together.

I have had the privilege of walking with my dad over the last three years as he battled a crippling disease that took away his mind and ability to converse in a normal fashion. I will always remember his incredible smile and quick thank you and I love you every time I would take him out for a ride and get a milkshake and fries. So yes dad I miss you and sometimes struggle with knowing how to handle the part of life that’s tough. Death is part of life and a path to a better existence but the absence of a dad, mom, sibling or best friend is going to bring tears and emotions often.

So I admit as an old guy that it is ok to cry and help other guys be able to express themselves!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Give UP??

I know that it is so easy to give up on someone and label them a failure just because they don’t fit your box. Yesterday I had the privilege of being around a few different groups of people that could have been labeled as ‘misfits’ or failures. It is too easy for those with means or a sense of betterment to assume that they have the answers to the world’s ills.

We had a group from a local high school along with a few parents and teachers help paint two homes of low-income families yesterday. I will remember Valentino because he was so quick to come and ask me why we were painting his neighbor’s house a few weeks ago. I told him that we would also paint his house. I don’t think he believed me. One of the key leaders of the group realized that Valentino didn’t have his water turned on so she made a trip to Wal-Mart and bought a couple of 5 gallon waters.  As we painted his house I realized he still didn’t have his water turned on which makes it a challenge to clean up but we managed.

The group of students who painted Valentino’s house attend a school that is designed for youth that don’t fit in the typical educational system. Some of them have learning challenges or issues with being able to sit and focus. What was truly amazing for me was to see so many of the parents, both moms and dads, actually out there working with their son or daughter. I know that it isn’t easy for anyone in today’s high tech age to focus on anything for more than twenty minutes. Yet, over a couple of hours with some coaching from our key leader, Victor, the house was finished and looked totally amazing.

I know from personal experience that parents have so much invested in their kids that it would be very difficult to ever quit and walk away. Yet, the second part of my day was helping set up for a graduation party for a few gals from our group that have struggled with staying in school and being able to focus so they can graduate. It would be so easy to make excuses about an assortment of things that could stop these gals from attending and finishing. The reality for these three is that they did struggle and almost didn’t make it. Yet, because of a few breathing life into them over the last year they succeeded. Tomorrow won’t necessarily be a ‘slam dunk’ for them but having accomplished this big step it will make the next phase in their lives doable.

We also ended up helping a new friend go visit her parents who she has been estranged with over the last couple years of her life. One of her aunts had died and the funeral was yesterday. It was difficult for this new friend to know whether to go or stay. We encouraged her to at least go out to see everyone for dinner. It took a lot of courage on this person’s part to actually go, knowing that she wasn’t necessarily wanted around. As is typical in tough situations there was a feud that erupted between a couple that saw their little kid run off. My friend attempted to intervene and help.

My day had started at 5am that day and didn’t finish until I picked up our new friend around 10:30 that night. I know that after listening to another teen that was living in a real hell that I saw how sometimes I could be a link to God, peace and comfort to some. I was thankful our new friend went and visited her family regardless of the drama. I struggled with my teen friend who we have helped over the last 7 years and her parents aren’t capable of helping but only hurting her. I was ready to scream because the adults in this situation have acted like kids and not adults who invest in their kids that are turning into adults.

As I reflected on yesterday I will remember one of my college interns who chose to take off most of her Saturday to help with painting but more so to chorale some of our little guys. She was willing to step up and befriend one of our little guys who actually got up on his own and walked to the park where we met as a group. She then took this guy to get more of my little guys. They painted, played, made messes and had lots of fun. If it weren’t for my amazing intern these little guys wouldn’t understand what it means to care about doing your best and actually see the needs of those around them. Yeah, it is easy to give up but it is so much more rewarding to stay as one of my teens would say in the struggle and feel the tension, knowing that God is there even in the cracks when it feels like walking away is the only option.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Best Friend!

I think one of the ultimate gifts in life is having a best friend – life partner. I have been given the best gift from God in my amazing wife – Anne. The test of time is one way to see whether a person truly loves you regardless of what is in front of you or is in life’s rear view mirror. It is tragic that so many marriages end up in court where two lives that were joined together are now nothing more than roommates that have become enemies.

The key ingredient for a life long friendship is a tough one to unfold. It requires both parties to be willing to put aside their personal wants to see the needs of their partner. The challenge is that too often I’m more concerned about getting my way at the expense of my Anne. I believe that once someone discovers the beauty of giving for your partner that it is no longer a sacrifice but a delight. As I seek to please my Anne it is incredible how my needs and wants are met through her loving response.

I will be the first to admit that it is so easy to grow apart as you become busy with career, family, church and friends. I admit that I take advantage of my Anne and assume that she will be there for me even when I don’t deserve it. It requires reflection and honesty to be willing to clean up your mess, listen instead of talk or for us guys to be willing to tune in instead of tuning out. The beauty of a growing relationship is that you learn through real communication that when life is shared together it benefits everyone. I admit that I’m not always open to sharing about my day after dealing with someone’s messy life or feeling weepy because of remembering something about my dad or mom who are now gone. Yet, as I do it I see the benefit of allowing my heart to be open and receive from my Anne.

Yes, it can be rather scary that you get to the point that you can finish each other sentences or really know what makes the other person tick. It takes a lot of effort to keep a healthy relationship going so don’t be afraid of rough times because they will ultimately help you grow together. Thanks to my Anne for being there as I have walked through sad times with my mom’s struggle with cancer for a decade and more recently my dad’s battle with dementia for 8 years. I miss my parents deeply and my Anne helps me at times when I am close to loosing it.