Over the past few days, I’ve had an idea that is just bouncing around in my head that I’ve not been able to fully grab hold of. One of those deals where you hear something in a few places that just strikes a chord. The idea: that as individuals, we should be defined by what we’re for, not by what we’re against. Yours truly has spent year upon year developing a firm contrarian stance against about everything that I don’t do. Because surely, if Ryan Hervey doesn’t do it, it can’t be good, right? And maybe that’s why I’ve struggled to wrap my mind fully around this concept: it’s too close to the heart for me. With this blog as my witness, I’ve worked over the past year or so to focus on stewarding a culture of honor in all my dealings. For too long, I was able to cut down with enormous efficiency, which ultimately was my personal brand of self-destruction; I still have a long way to go, but it looks promising. Being good at relationships doesn’t allow for one to attack the views of another — it leads the other person to put up walls and it destroys opportunities for intimacy. This is an area where I’m constantly tempted to give in to the “I’m against this” attitude. Look around you and see the effects of this attitude on our governments, our communities, our relationships. It’s devastating.
Today, I’ll attend the funeral of a family friend. He and his wife have been close friends of my grandparents for nearly 30 years; I’ve known him since I was 6. Raised by a single mother in the projects on the northside of Chicago, he had a heart unlike any man I’ve ever known. A former tight end at Wake Forest, he was a large man. And a man who hugged. Always. Even the last time I saw him, the long arms and big body of his hug just swallowed me — my 225 lbs could just disappear in him. As I look back upon Duane’s life, I’m fairly sure that I didn’t agree with him on some areas of politics and theology. Yet, I can’t say definitively that it’s the case. Why? Because it wasn’t about the “issues” for him. The only I thing I know for certain is that he stood for Love. Not society’s definition of love, but real Love. He was always patient and kind. Never envious, boastful, or proud. I never saw him dishonor another, never witnessed an occasion where he sought out what was best for him. He was not easily angered — in fact, he smiled and laughed constantly. He didn’t keep score in relationships. His love was ever hopeful and ever persevering. I never remember being in his presence when joy and peace weren’t radiating from him. His dreams for me were always bigger than my dreams for myself — he only saw my failures because they kept me from reaching my potential. He always saw that potential. It wasn’t a façade; his marriage and the people his three children grew up to be are the fruits of a life spent loving the right way. As were his wishes, his funeral will take place at First Baptist Church in Johnston, a church that seats 500. I predict that there will be at least 200 who don’t have seats; I’ll be shocked if there is anywhere near enough room to support the amount of people who will attend — the only thing keeping those numbers down are how many of those folks have already died or physically unable to attend. He was a man who changed lives. His obituary: http://bit.ly/f6BUZI. Duane burnt the name of C.S. Lewis into my head and one particular phrase that he’d use with parents when he dedicated their child: “the greatest gift you’ll gift you’ll ever give this child is to Love each other.” I was extremely blessed to know Duane Gibson and feel the love of his gentle heart.
The man who grew up with no father in a neighborhood filled with hopelessness and dishonor knew the value of man who loved you unceasingly and left indelible fingerprints of hope, joy and honor on your life. Thank you, Father, for giving us Duane Gibson.
Yesterday, I posted a status that simply stated that Angie and I had scheduled tattoo appointments. Not surprisingly, I immediately received feedback from the guys gagging about the post. I’m cool with that; I feel no need to conform to our society’s definitions of masculinity. That post actually represented what I enjoy most about Facebook – people just throwing their honest thoughts out there. But there is depth to this story; it’s not just another pain-based date that I enjoy planning.
On February 14, Angie and I will recognize the 10 year anniversary of us getting engaged. Normally an occasion like that is something I realize about a week after it has passed. This year, however, things are a little different.
On February 14 in 2001, Angie and I celebrated our engagement by getting our first tattoos. And to show how deep and committed our love for each other was, Angie got an angel and I got a rhino – oh yes, that’s right. To celebrate our moment of commitment to two people becoming one, we both got images that represented our own names! I tell you the truth, we couldn’t have chosen better tattoos to represent how the next nine years would go. But the beauty of this symbolism didn’t end there. Angie’s angel was reaching out to touch a butterfly…which has no value to her whatsoever. It’s also just above her right glute, out of her sight. Which really is symbolic of who she used to be: a woman with an identity that she couldn’t see and when she did see it, it was a lie based on her chasing something that wasn’t important to her but she felt it should be. As for mine, it’s only the outline of a rhino – completely empty inside. I always wanted to get it filled but could never decide on what to put inside the rhino that was permanent. Funny enough, like Jacob’s permanent reminder, it’s on my hip as a reminder of my wrestling match between myself and God. February 14, 2001, we put permanent ink on our body to memorialize a nearly perfect representation of who we were in that moment. Of course, we also put those tattoos where they were completely hidden…a representation of how confident we really were with those identities.
A few weeks ago, our tattoos came up. Angie hasn’t been tattoo’ed since; I’ve added a lot of ink to an arm with much left to add. But the completion of that arm is still some time away, while we struck by the opportunity to do things differently than we did 10 years ago. So, this February we’re making a different statement. We’ll be getting the same basic tattoo, although there will be some differences in size and color interpretation and location. Mine will modify that old rhino while Angie’s will be significantly larger and in a new location.
Our new tattoos will say a lot about who we have grown into over the last 10 years. These tattoos are our way of placing a stone on sacred ground and giving it a name. If that means I’m less “manly” for getting a tattoo with my wife that commemorates the best things in our lives, I’m cool with that.
One of the great revelatory periods in my life occurred in the late 90s and early aughts. I progressed through 8 undergraduate majors before setting with history and political science with a view towards law school; I found myself in a phase where I almost exclusively listened to country music (I’m still dealing with the shame associated with this); I learned how many bottles of Bud Light I could consume at one sitting (I suspect this is somewhat related to the country music); I met and married my wife; and I taught private swimming lessons in the comfort of my parents’ backyard.
When it comes to great summer jobs, there’s little better than waking up, throwing on some trunks, walking 15 yards to the pool and spending 6 hours, 4 days a week teaching kids to swim. I learned so many things in that job that have really served me well.
1. Shaved heads are SO easy to live with. Spending 5 minutes with the clippers, 3x per week is my kind of maintenance. Exposed scalp is also quite easy to care for: sunscreen in the summer and no chance of stocking cap mussed hair in the winter.
2. Being analytical doesn’t mean you have to be critical. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to understand this, but it’s true. Had I been critical of those kids, they’d have never learned anything. Yet somehow, I refused to apply this principle to the other areas of my life. I have no way of knowing how many relationships my critical heart destroyed. I imagine that those of you who have known me for more than a decade are nodding their heads so violently at this point that they risk brain injury.
3. Your intentions change the way you challenge others. I love to challenge people. I love to ask people to exceed their comfort levels. Unfortunately, my heart has often been self-focused during these times – I wanted to show someone that they wouldn’t be willing to do what I was willing to do. Yet, in the pool, I found that I challenged kids all day for their benefit. Obviously, I’d be a douche of the highest rank if I enjoyed teasing kids that I wasn’t afraid of the deep end while they were. No, in the pool I was not threatened, and the result was that I could just focus on developing the kids entrusted to me rather than being self-aware. I could challenge them where they needed challenging rather than where I wanted to challenge them to show my perceived superiority.
4. I had my first experiences with true joy. There’s nothing quite like helping a child recognize their fear and giving them the tools and the confidence to overcome that fear. We are slaves to our fears when we help another overcome a fear, we’ve introduced them to freedom. So when the 5 year old that started a session hiding behind their mom’s leg, deathly afraid of the pool, shows up 2 weeks later running at mach 12 towards the pool, ready to jump in to the deep end fully clothed…it elevates one’s heart to know you’ve been a part of that liberation.
Over the last year, with the help of some very wise fellows, I’ve been able to see how much fear dominated my life. So many of my actions were designed to prove myself worthy; so many of my destructive actions were designed to prevent the world from recognizing that I wasn’t worthy – that I wasn’t good enough. I took criticism to heart and believed the lie that I wasn’t good enough – then engaged in a life of actions taken to deceive the world into thinking I was good enough. I became a slave to trying to control perception, yet my self-perception was so skewed that I couldn’t see the actual effect of my attempts at control. Fear and love are mortal enemies. Where one exists, the other cannot. In desperation, and without realizing it at the time, I traded my old paradigm of fear for a new paradigm of love.
The movement in my life lately has been a focused attempt to create an honor of culture and respect with whomever I come in contact with. I’ve expressed it before that every individual is designed in God’s image, and that alone is worthy of my honor to their life. Our desire to love and be loved is a lasting imprint He’s left on us. But lately, I’ve been very focused on making sure that I make it known to people that I see their worthiness, let them know that they’re good enough. It’s not that I’m trying to make up for the destruction I caused before, but it’s because I know that destruction was caused by me focusing on my unworthiness, which led me to see the same in my fellows. Now, I see the abundance of love that God and my brothers and sisters have showered me with, and I’m compelled by my heart to do the same. I want my whole life to reflect how that time was in the pool with those kids. I want to be a part of setting people free from their fears, from the lies that enslave them. I still have much to learn, of course, but there is joy in sharing in another’s freedom.
Right when I felt that I had this all ready to blog about today (and I know the blogs have been few and far between – my work load has spiked substantially), I got an email notification this morning that Greg had a new post at his Realtime Recovery blog (If you don’t receive email notification of blog entries, now’s the time. Start with mine). It’s been on my mind all morning, and I think I know why. It’s extraordinarily easy for me to create relationships of honor and respect with the people that I’ve known for the shortest amount of time. But for those relationships that are rooted deeply in the old paradigm of my life, the temptation is powerful to return to my old ways. To return to a “fight or flight” pattern of behavior. The structure of those old relationships was built on the foundation of me being a fearful horse’s ass. And for many of those relationships, people still look and react to me that way. Those behaviors act like triggers and the lies start swirling (“show ‘em you’re good enough” and “don’t take that from them, look at their life!”). It’s in that time that I remind myself that the old man is dead and a new creation stands in his stead. Discerning the truth in that place is fundamental to me being able to reveal myself fully and to be in a place where I can honor a person who has been made in the same image that I’ve been made in. It’s in that place where I get to abide in my freedom – when I see someone as God sees them: His child. Until I get back to that perspective, there’s a lot of confusion and uncertainty — a struggle.
If you want to find flaws in someone, you will. We all have them. And if you want to find mine — and you’d have to be blind to miss them — ask me, I’ll tell you. It’s not that I don’t recognize flaws in others, but it’s that they aren’t my focus. I don’t define people by their struggles, nor do I define myself by mine. So my challenge to each of you is this: recognize in each person those traits that are worthy of your respect. And if you can’t recognize those traits, respect that individual anyway. It will absolutely change the dynamics of your relationship. Love not only gives the loved an opportunity for liberation, it gives the lover an opportunity to be liberated.
The thing I saw then, but didn’t understand until now, is that helping someone be liberated from fear is incredible. But watching someone you care about live in that freedom is even better. So what are you contributing to the lives of your family and friends? Fear or love?
I don’t think I’ll ever remember my first day of law school when one my professors said that “lawyers don’t have original thoughts.” I didn’t fully understand that concept at the time, although I certainly see it now. Of course, it’s that very concept that drove me out of private practice just a couple of years into it (and billable hours). Thankfully, I get to be creative for a living these days. Much more enjoyable.
Anyway, that little intro paragraph was to introduce the fact that my post today is completely unoriginal. I’m borrowing a concept from a post on BeDeviant.com entitled, “My Three Words for 2011.” In truly lawyerly vein, he took the concept from someone else, as well. So I’m not even original in my idea to take someone else’s idea.
The idea is that you come up with three words that you think will define your 2011. If you need more detail on HOW to do that, follow the link to read what Justin has to say. Otherwise, you can continue on and I’ll give you my three words:
EMPOWER. BRIDGE. INVIGORATE.
No doubt, I’ll revisit these words as the year goes along and explain how they’re showing up in my life, and the lives of those I touch. I want to see amazing things happen for the people in my life. I want to share in your joys and triumphs; I’m selfish like that. But I also want to share in your sadness and defeat when they occur. Unwelcome as they are, they set the stage for future joys and triumphs. Really, I just hate seeing people’s live destroyed by fear. Fear of what others think, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of being vulnerable. Fear ruins lives, steals joy and strips confidence. Fear of people finding out “who I really am” nearly destroyed me. As such, I’m declaring full blown war on fear in 2011.
What three words will define you in 2011?
I’ve seen some disturbing things in my life. I remember being in the backseat of the car as a child on Christmas, where a car had gone off the interstate and flipped a few times. Somehow, I was watching when Earnhardt crashed and died (which means I wasn’t at my house or I wouldn’t have seen it). I’ve seen the “Faces of Death” movies — which are more disturbing for their cheesiness than anything else. I remember watching the original (crack loving) LT mangle Joe Theismann. My mom watched Regis and Kathy Lee when I was growing up, which was enormously troubling at multiple levels. Lots of things that are permanently burnt into your consciousness. But nothing could have prepared me for this video. Nothing.
Maybe I only speak for myself, but I have many memories that have been permanently altered. I’ll never watch Top Gun with the same reverence again. Ever.