The Blog: On Second Thought

quit

(Photo source: Sander Smeekes via Unsplash.com)

It’s been one of those months where I’ve wanted to throw my hands up and quit. Have you been there? Big stuff is brewing in your life, hard stuff. It’s heavy and all over you, and all you want is out.

For me, work and writing have been the hard stuff.

Writing is usually hard, but it feels particularly hard right now, and I’ve wanted to quit. Because this is what I do when things feel hard. I want to quit them, and then I decide I need to quit everything else too. Work…people…America. It’s a quick spiral.

Tell me you’ve been there.

Tell me I am not crazy in my occasional bouts of quitting-it-all.

I recently started reading Annie Downs’ new book Looking for Lovely. In it, she talks about her struggles with being a quitter:

“I’ve never been good at looking past my current pain or suffering and trusting that it will pay off in the future. I think the road has always seemed too long. So when a situation feels painful or scary or hard, I want out.”

Me too, Annie, me too.

I hate feeling uncomfortable.

So my default is to try to escape what’s making me uncomfortable. Over the past two years, though, God has been gently teaching me what it looks like to “sit in the tension.”

Instead of running away, consider staying where you are.

Keep moving forward. Try not to freak out, and trust.

I was sharing some of my tension and desire to quit with a friend the other day. She said something very simple that I really needed to hear: “The moment you start feeling like you’re going to quit, don’t.”


Back away from the quitting ledge and keep walking, however slowly, however slumped over.


Just don’t. Back away from the quitting ledge and keep walking, however slowly, however slumped over.

Just keep going.

If what you’re doing is really worth it, it will be worth going after. I realize that some stuff isn’t worth struggling to the finish line for. There are things I look back on in my life that I quit (like club volleyball in high school for example) that I don’t regret quitting.

They weren’t for me and, therefore, were actually keeping me from being me.

But there are other things I think back on and know, if I had stuck it out a little longer, it could have been something good for me.

Writing is one of those things.

I just know, deep down inside of me I know, I’m supposed to keep giving it what I can even though what I have to give right now is not much.


Not quitting doesn’t mean plowing full speed ahead. It just means choosing to take one more step.


I guess that’s the good thing about not quitting though.

Not quitting doesn’t mean plowing full speed ahead. It just means choosing to take one more step. When I think of it this way, it’s much less daunting.

So in this slow, unsteady and insecure season I have decided to do what my friend suggested and not quit. You’ll see me beside the road. I’ll be the one walking a little slowly, my shoulders might be a little slumped over, but I’ll be going in the right direction.

And trust me, that’s better than running in the wrong one.

This blog post originally appeared on Storyline and was republished with permission.

Botts recovering after living through an IED attack in Iraq. (Photo Source: John Botts)

Botts recovering after living through an IED attack in Iraq. (Photo Source: John Botts)

I was born a fighter. Having come out of the womb at 31 weeks, my first year of life was a struggle. Little did I know how that mentality would bring me to one of my darkest places, but also help bring me out of it.

9/11 changed my world. I enlisted in the Army in 2002 as a Military Police officer and was deployed to Iraq in early 2003 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. Once I entered the environment of war, I realized I loved every minute of it. I was addicted to the adrenaline that war provided and I simply couldn’t get enough.

It’s hard to explain my thirst for war. It was all-consuming. I got married in 2004 and tried to give my wife the attention she deserved, but I couldn’t because that would take away from my addiction for war. In mid 2005, though, all that started to change

About three months into a new assignment, I received word that a good friend of mine had been killed in action by an IED. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. It was that moment that I realized I was just as vulnerable. I could die at any moment.

It wrecked me

I believed with every inch of my being that I would die in that god-forsaken place. War was no longer a game to me and I realized I wanted to return to my wife.

Then came September 7, 2006.

It was a normal night, which sounds like a cliche but it is true in every sense of the phrase. The convoy I was traveling in was patrolling in Sadr City, west of Baghdad. At 10:30 p.m., everything changed.

I.

E.

D.


I remember the flash from the explosion, but I don’t remember the concussion from it. I felt like I was floating outside my body.


I remember the flash from the explosion, but I don’t remember the concussion from it. I felt like I was floating outside my body. When I came to, I realized the door of my vehicle had been blown open so I went to step outside. My right leg gave way. I had a fractured tibia. I fell to the ground instantly and remember looking up at the vehicle.

That’s when I saw my left leg hanging out of the doorway. It wasn’t attached to my body.

I could not physically get my remaining limbs to function. I knew that I had to apply a tourniquet to what was left of my left leg, but my hands were numb. I felt like my entire body was completely paralyzed.

My squad got me to the closest medical center and I was then flown to the air base in Balad, Iraq, to receive medical attention. I eventually lost consciousness and remember waking up in Germany. From there, it was another trip to Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. All within 72 hours of being injured. My life had officially changed forever. And I was not even close to being prepared for it.

***

The recovery process was a nightmare.

I stayed at Walter Reed for about 45 days before being flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. I arrived full of anger. I didn’t want to work with the physical therapists and doctors that were trying to help put me back together. I lost count of how many surgeries I underwent. I was angry that God had allowed me to live and thought about how much easier it would have been had I just died in Iraq.

I couldn’t for the life of me learn how to walk on a prosthetic leg. I had a terrible gate and my remaining leg was still healing from the broken tibia. I was angry every minute of every day. I constantly defied my physical therapist and turned to alcohol to relieve both my physical and mental pain. While my wife was so much stronger than I for so long, she eventually succumbed to the alcohol, too. We were living recklessly and had no fear of consequences. I was medically retired from the Army in 2009 and by 2011 our lives had spiraled out of control. If an IED had started me down this path, another group of letters was keeping me there.

P.

T.

S.

D.

Drinking and painkillers became my every-day concoction. I dropped out of school and would rarely leave my house. By January 2012 I hit my low point.

The image is vivid in my mind. I was sitting in my closet with a loaded Glock .40 pistol. I put the barrel in my mouth, tasting the dark metal. I was willing myself to pull the trigger.

“Just do it,” I told myself in my mind.

But for some reason I physically couldn’t. I was so angry with myself. Ironically, I felt that my inability to pull the trigger was the cowardly act. I was hopeless. I felt I had nothing to live for. Why couldn’t I just end it?

It was at that moment I realized I had to change.


The image is vivid in my mind. I was sitting in my closet with a loaded Glock .40 pistol. I put the barrel in my mouth, tasting the dark metal. I was willing myself to pull the trigger.


***

The next day my wife and I toyed with the idea of going back to church. The following Sunday, we did it. We had been there before, but not in a while. I remember walking through the doors and seeing people who welcomed us back as though we had never left. The associate pastor really showed us an unusual amount of love.

“How could he love me this much given the amount of baggage that I carried in with me?” I thought.

Through that love and acceptance, I realized that my life of torment, anxiety, and aggression was lacking a purpose. It was lacking peace. It was lacking the one thing that it needed most: Jesus Christ. I instantly recommitted myself to living second and I remember being overtaken with a sense of peace that was absolutely amazing. I fought to become a different man. A better man. From that point, PTSD became something that no longer owned me.

***

PTSD is absolutely real. War is hell. And I’ve found the more I talk about it, the easier it gets. That’s not to say my journey searching for purpose has not been easy. It still isn’t easy. I still have times when my depression takes control of my thoughts and I look back on my life and think what could have been. But I now have a sense of peace because I know that I am not walking this journey alone.

I have told this story countless times to countless people and I don’t know whether or not people listen to it, but I know it gives me a comfort to continue to talk about my struggles. I hope you do the same.

Botts with his wife, Jennifer, and their twin girls. (Photo source: John Botts)

Botts with his wife, Jennifer, and their twin girls. (Photo source: John Botts)


Botts is an Army veteran with a Bachelor’s degree in social work. His family is relocating to Texas where he plans on working with wounded veterans.

For more on PTSD, watch Chad Robichaux’s gripping film below: 

Eldredge and his sons. (Photo source: "A Story Worth Living" screenshot)

Eldredge and his sons. (Photo source: “A Story Worth Living” screenshot)

Have you ever wondered why we all gravitate towards stories? Think about it for a second. When you’re hanging out with friends, when you’re getting together with family, when you’re telling jokes, you tend to tell and hear a lot of stories.

Story is one of the most ancient forms of communication. Before there was the written word, there were spoken tales passed down from generation to generation. Before books, there were drawings painted on cave walls.

We talk a lot about story around here. We feature them. We write about them. We film them. We live them.

But why? What is it about stories that just, well, works? I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.

Enter John Eldredge and a new film called, “A Story Worth Living.”

“Story is the way we figure things out. It’s how we all make sense of things. Story is how we all make sense of our lives,” Eldredge says in the film.

You may recognize the name. Eldredge is the bestselling author of the insanely popular book, “Wild at Heart,” which examines true masculinity and a man’s yearning for adventure. “A Story Worth Living,” his latest project, takes those ideas, injects them with steroids, combines it with danger and breathtaking cinematography, and mixes in a unique element: a story about story, told against the backdrop of a thrilling motorcycle trip.

The film, which will be available in theaters nationwide as part of a one-night Fathom event on Thursday, follows Eldredge and his three boys — Sam, Blaine, and Luke — as well as friends Dan Allender and Jon Dale as they trek through the backcountry of Colorado for a week on dual-sport motorcycles. When they stop, the conversations turn from riding to real life.

The result is something epic and inspiring yet contemplative and thought-provoking. It’s like combining a bridge jump with the deepest, longest campfire chat you’ve ever experienced.

Take, for example, a statement that made me pause the film and think.

“The real question isn’t why is there so much suffering in the world. The real question is why is there so much beauty,” Eldredge says at one point.

Read that again.

That’s not something we hear a lot. We hate pain. We loathe suffering. And knowing it exists wrecks us inside. And it leads to doubt. Doubt about good, and especially about anyone who claims there is someone who is the ultimate author of all that is good.

But Eldredge has a different take.

“If the problem of pain is the greatest threat to belief, the problem of beauty is the greatest threat to unbelief,” Eldredge told I Am Second in a video interview from Colorado Springs, Colorado, with Sam, Blaine, and Jon Dale by his side.

“How can you hang on to your skepticism in the face of such overwhelming beauty? That’s actually the burden. The burden is on you to explain that away.”

That’s why “A Story Worth Living” isn’t just a motorcycle movie.

“The story is not about motorcycles,” Eldredge said. It’s about finding your story by going on an adventure, whatever that looks like.

“What is the adventure for you?” he asked. “What’s the dream? What’s the passion? What’s going to take you outside your normal life? It’s as simple as that. Adventure is what takes you outside your normal life.”

“Normal” really has no place in the film. The group experiences everything from broken ribs to a standoff with a bull. But here’s where it’s different: It’s not an adventure just to take an adventure. It’s an adventure to find something deeper.

“People making adventure their profession has confused what adventure really is,” Blaine told I Am Second, a reference to adrenaline-junky videos that have become the standard by which everything is measured. “[Those videos] become the entirety of the story, instead of just events in the context of a larger story.”

In other words, adventure-seeking has become the end, instead of a means to an end.

And don’t think that just taking a vacation constitutes an adventure.

“Vacations shouldn’t scare the bejeesus out of you,” Eldredge explained. “Vacations are supposed to be palm trees. Adventures are things that ask a lot of you. And you come through exhausted and better for it.”

“Adventures get better when things go wrong,” Dale added. “On vacation, if things go wrong, it ruins your vacation.”

***

There’s something all of our stories at I Am Second have in common. They point to something deeper. Something better. There’s brokenness, but there’s restoration. And no matter how many times I’ve watched some of them, they still speak to me.

There’s a moment in “A Story Worth Living” that explains why.

“I think that the reason we love these [stories like “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars”] so much is that they are all .. speaking to one thing,” Eldredge says while sitting in the middle of sand dune. “At the end of all of them, [there’s] some incredible restoration.”

“That’s the gospel, that’s the story that God is telling,” he adds “We are in story. And there’s only one story. And the world just keeps retelling the same story in myth, and fairy tale, and poem, and legend. … But what we’re actually describing here is, there is a larger story. And we have a part in it.”

And that’s the beauty of the film. It’s genuine. It’s real. It isn’t a bait-and-switch. Yes, it’s an epic motorcycle film with incredible footage that takes you on a wild ride. But just as much, it’s a film about finding something deeper and greater than yourself.

“We weren’t trying to get people in, and get to 45 minutes, and say, ‘Surprise!’” Sam told I Am Second. “What we’re doing in the film is trying to tell a good story. We know that people connect with narrative.”

That idea of narrative and story is crucial to understanding ourselves and others. And something really neat happens when we start telling our own story — we become more known.  And to be fully known is something we’re all striving for.

I think, in the end, that’s why we love stories and gravitate toward them. We want to know others and to be known by them.

As Eldredge says, it’s “how we all make sense of our lives.”

And that in itself makes a lot of sense.

Jonathon M. Seidl is the editor-in-chief of I Am Second


To find where you can see “A Story Worth Living” visit the Fathom events page.

(Photo source: Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Unsplash.com)

When two people enter into a relationship with each other, something starts to happen.  Things begin to change, shift, and transform.  In a way, you start “rubbing off on each other”, and rightly so, because healthy relationships are always built on the concept of give and take.  A little of you, in exchange for a little of them.

There was an article going around about how Facebook can know if you’re going to break up, before you do!  The metric they used to figure this out is called dispersion, and it essentially measures the amount of friends you don’t have in common.  The study came to the basic conclusion that the more social connections you have, the better your odds at staying together.

Going along with that concept, one thing I’ve observed about the happiest couples that I know is that they live a life of sharing. Shared hobbies, shared beliefs, shared interests.  Shared family, shared friends, shared lives.  In fact, I’ve often heard from people that it seems like the longer you are married, the more you truly start acting alike (and some even say- looking alike!).  There is something really special about the concept of oneness.


The sign of life in a relationship is the beautiful exchange that happens when two people choose to each put the other above themselves.  


But as beautiful as this concept is, “oneness” doesn’t just happen.  In fact, I have found that in the reality of marriage, everything in us wants to preserve the self as long as we possibly can.  It’s hard to let go of our rights, wants, and needs in exchange for the other’s.

The sign of life in a relationship is the beautiful exchange that happens when two people choose to each put the other above themselves.  Choosing to join one another in this thing called life.  Choosing to share with one another though they may have chosen other things standing alone.  Choosing to give, and even more challenging at times, to allow themselves to receive.

In one of my favorite books, A Severe Mercy, Sheldon describes the oneness that was experienced by him and his wife as a direct result of that which they shared. They described their sharing as the strands that tied them together, and held them close.

‘What is it that draws two people into closeness and love? Of course there’s the mystery of physical attraction, but beyond that it’s the things they share. We both love strawberries and ships and collies and poems and all beauty, and all those things bind us together. Those sharings just happened to be; but what we must do now is share everything. Everything!

If one of us likes anything, there must be something to like in it – and the other one must find it. Every single thing that either of us likes. That way we shall create a thousand strands, great and small, that will link us together. Then we shall be so close that it would be impossible – unthinkable – for either of us to suppose that we could ever recreate such closeness with anyone else. And our trust in each other will not only be based on love and loyalty but on the fact of a thousand sharings – a thousand strands twisted into something unbreakable.’

As important as it is to share the tangible, there is something even more meaningful.  This is the sharing that comes when two hearts, and two spirits connect as one.  The sharing of faith, grace and forgiveness.  The sharing of hopes and dreams. And most importantly, the sharing of knowledge and affection toward a God who holds all of those strings together – in this beautiful thing we call love.


Consider the importance of a shared life, and marry someone with whom you can share every aspect of your mind, body,  spirit, and soul.


I’m challenged to write this post, because I have heard from so many men and women who are getting really weary in waiting for love.  With each passing day, the waiting gets harder.  And sometimes, it’s easy to believe the lies that say that this is as good as it gets, and to settle for less than best.  If you’re heart is truly in love with Jesus, then “spirituality and good deeds” are not enough when it comes to finding someone to share your life with.  Because the greatest bond that you could ever share with someone is a shared experience of your relationship with Jesus.  The presence of Jesus in a relationship is the strand that truly holds all things together, but more so, it’s the source that enables you to love unconditionally.

Consider the importance of a shared life, and marry someone with whom you can share every aspect of your mind, body,  spirit, and soul. Because the greatest thing two people can share with one another, is Jesus.

This blog post originally appeared on True Love Dates and was republished with permission. 

Debra Fileta is a licensed professional counselor, speaker, and author of the book True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life. You may also recognize her voice from over 150 articles at Relevant Magazine or Crosswalk.com. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

(Photo source: Baim Hanif via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Baim Hanif via Unsplash.com)

One of the greatest challenges I encountered post college was the suddenness of having to make seemingly “life-altering” choices for myself—unique choices that nobody was going to make for me.

They were choices that didn’t come on a 4-year plan or with guaranteed happiness, choices without gold stars and applause, choices that might give you more than you ever imagined or might cost you everything.

Unfortunately, these choices don’t have a manual.


Even when you avoid making a choice, you are making a choice. Probably a bad one.


You can seek and receive advice, read up and listen in, pray for guidance—and all these things surely help. But your choices are uniquely yours. And spoiler alert: even when you avoid making a choice, you are making a choice. Probably a bad one.

So in order to really develop our true identities and giftings, we have to learn to face the unknown and make choices that don’t fit inside the formulas and “right-or-wrong” mentality we’re taught to cling to as children. This learning process ends up looking like the rest of our adult lives.

Just think about how you grew up.

To be fair, I don’t know your schooling background. I have a friend whose kid is in a private school in Portland where they do awesome things like meditate and collect gems for a “kindness castle” and a bunch of other magical stuff.

Not my experience. I grew up state-funded-get-on-the-bus-kid public schooled. And I liked it that way, for the most part.

But I wasn’t taught much about the benefits of risks, while I was taught a lot about safety. I was rarely encouraged to find my own solutions but expected to devote countless hours memorizing context-based formulas so I would “perform” well. I went through most of my high school years signing up and showing up for things that I thought would secure my future.

Good things come to those who wait.

That’s what I thought. Perform well and wait for good things, a good college, a good job, a good community, a good man to choose you. But the closer I got to the real world, the more I realized this was not always the case. And how quickly this way of thinking would lead me down a path of restlessness rather than discovering my unique identity and leveraging my gifts.


I saw a man who created the community he desired.


I could either sit around waiting for merited opportunities and relationships, or I could cultivate them. And when I looked to Jesus for guidance, I saw a man who made choices. I saw a man that confidently and creatively pursued his passions. I saw a man who created the community he desired. I saw a man who entrusted every decision to God and changed the world because of it.

So these days I believe something different.

Good things come to those who choose.

You can’t ever throw a touchdown pass if you’re only focused on the defensive backs. If you try something while trusting God, you may not get exactly what you wanted but you’ll still get more of Him.

And when I think about it, that’s all I really want. I’m finding I would rather live a life pursuing what I love with God rather than wondering when or if things will happen for me. The latter gets me nowhere, while the former allows me to experience a journey of purpose, beauty and grace.

Let’s be choice-makers and put more of our “what ifs” to the test.

This blog post originally appeared on Storyline and was republished with permission. 

(Photo source: Pexels)

(Photo source: Pexels)

For most of my life, I have lived under the impression that my actions will follow my heart—that the things I treasured most would be reflected by my investments. As the saying goes, “You can tell what’s important to someone by looking at their calendar and checkbook.”

While I think there is some truth in that statement, over the past few years of pursuing minimalism, I have begun to notice that the inverse is probably even more true.


I find that my heart appears naturally drawn to the places where I have invested most.


It is not necessarily that my actions follow the desires of my heart. Instead, I find that my heart appears naturally drawn to the places where I have invested most.

It is a subtle distinction, but an important one.

Jesus said it like this, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Notice in his phrasing, it is our heart that follows our treasure.

This principle was profoundly etched in my mind the day my family and I went grocery shopping and left the store to find a fresh, large, white scrape across the passenger side of our maroon minivan.

The minivan was far from new. Yet, there was an immediate pit that emerged in my stomach over the wrong that had been committed. The driver kindly left us with no insurance or contact information, just a large noticeable scrape down the side of our vehicle. The distress was strengthened by the fact that I knew too well I was too cheap to ever get it repaired. The unsightly scratch would likely remain over the course of the van’s life.

My wife and I drove away in silence.

I began to reflect on the scratch and more importantly, how the incident had impacted me internally.

I found it interesting to consider the fact that if this same scrape had been left on my bicycle, I would not have been nearly as upset. And I couldn’t help but wonder why that was the case. Why did the action cut so deep into my stomach and heart? Why was a white scrape on my minivan causing such a heart-level response?


Our hearts always follow our greatest investments. 


I realized I was so upset about this scrape because our vehicle was such a large investment. I had invested considerable money into buying it and time and energy caring for it. I wouldn’t mind if my son’s skateboard got a new scratch because… well, I didn’t have nearly as much treasure invested into it. But my vehicle was a huge investment (probably our second biggest) and because of that, my heart naturally gravitated toward it.

Where our treasures are, there our hearts will be also.

Our hearts always follow our greatest investments.

Whether it be our car, our house, our career, or our investment portfolio. We literally tie our hearts to certain things by the sheer amount of investment we put into them.

Unfortunately, too many of us are tying our hearts to the wrong things.

We are devoting our lives and tying our hearts to material possessions that will never last or bring us true joy. We shop for bigger houses, faster cars, trendier clothes and cooler technology. Subsequently, we invest so much of our time and energy into caring for them. But lasting fulfillment can never be tied to things that are temporal by nature.

Instead, we ought to invest our money, time, and lives into things that are truly important. Invest into your family, your friends, spiritual pursuits, or the causes that you believe in. As you do, you’ll notice your heart naturally begins to be drawn to them more and more.

The allure of materialism is hard to break.

As long as we live on earth surrounded by material possessions, keeping them in proper perspective is going to be a struggle. But we can begin to break its fascination in our lives by reminding ourselves that we are investing more than our dollars into them. We are tying our very hearts to them as well.

Invest your treasure into the things that matter most. Your heart will soon follow.

This post originally appeared on Storyline and was republished with permission. 

(Photo source: Redd Angelo via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Redd Angelo via Unsplash.com)

For those who have stayed:

Thank you. 

I will be the first to admit that I am not easy to spend time with.

And after seven years of keeping it a secret, I will also be the first one to admit that my anxiety disorder is even more difficult to spend time with.

Living with an anxiety disorder is like experiencing that moment of panic when you miss a step walking down the stairs. Continuously. Every day. 

It’s exhausting and frustrating for me, and I imagine it is equally as frustrating for you.

I become irritable at the drop of a hat. I do everything in my power to keep it to myself, but it’s exhausting being hyperaware in every social situation; it’s exhausting ruminating over everything I’ve said or done or will say or will do. I may snap at you. Please know that it isn’t your fault.

I’m controlling. It sucks having incredibly limited control of my mind and the physical manifestations of my anxiety. To compensate, I crave whatever control I can get. Staying on schedule and having a routine is important because it provides me with something that I can count on. I can handle change; it just takes me a bit longer to adjust. Please be OK with this. 


Please know this is because I trust you to help me tackle a task that seems too daunting to do on my own. 


I may present as clingy or dependent to some of you, requesting your constant presence while going to the grocery store or the post office. Please know this is because I trust you to help me tackle a task that seems too daunting to do on my own. 

I make excessive comments about my insecurities – anyone who knows me knows how often I comment about my hair – in a nonchalant way. This is yet another coping mechanism. I express what I believe other people to be thinking about me in an effort to eliminate the (nonexistent) elephant in the room. Please understand that I am not doing it to seek attention.

I decline invitations. It’s not because I don’t want to spend time with you; I just fear the unknowns of the situation. Please know that 95 percent of the time, I really would like to say yes!

I apologize too often, convinced that even the simplest inconveniences are my fault. Please don’t get annoyed.

I’m indecisive to the extreme. The fear of making the wrong decision means that the odds of ever getting a straightforward answer from me are likely zero. Please, if making me choose, at least limit it to two choices.


Please be patient with me.


I’m severely crippled in the communication department. Despite carefully planning and rehearsing in my head exactly what I want to say, my thoughts generally flutter all over the place. I stutter and say a garble of words that make no sense. I’m often unintentionally absent in conversation because I’m simultaneously working hard to be aware of every detail happening around me. Please be patient with me.

I believe that everyone who puts up with me secretly hates me or finds me annoying. Please don’t take offense. 

My “I don’t want to” often is disguising an “I want to, but the situation makes me incredibly uncomfortable, so I don’t think I can.” Please feel free to try and gently push me out of my comfort zone.

I rarely answer phone calls … and I definitely don’t return phone calls. Please accept my “you called?” texts.

I have the tendency to push people away. I often passive aggressively vocalize and push my frustrations with limitations onto those around me who are living a ‘normal’ life. It’s merely an expression of jealousy of the freedom you have. It has nothing to do with you. It is a poor coping mechanism that I unfortunately use to conceal what I consider to be a personal weakness. Please don’t take it personally. 


You actually do care about me. Why else would you have stuck around?


But you…

You hang out with me anyway.

You don’t snap back at me.

You let me sit in “my” spot in the car.

You join me for trips to the grocery store, even when you don’t need anything. 

You jokingly roll your eyes as I comment for the 432nd time about how “long” my hair is getting.

You continue to invite me to everything.

You assure me that it wasn’t a big deal.

You still listen to what I have to say. 

You eventually tell me to pick a number between 0 and 10. That I can do!

You actually do care about me. Why else would you have stuck around?

You are aiding in my growth and giving me a leg up on my anxiety disorder. By making “you can do it” comments and accompanying me to places, you provide me with the support I need.

You respond back with a multi-text message that could have been explained in a 3-minute phone call.

You have stayed. 

Thank you for being a friend, 

Erin

This post originally appeared on To Write Love on Her Arms and was republished with permission. 

lake

(Photo source: John Mark Arnold via Unsplash.com)

I am a zebra and my stripes are stained red, I used to say, back when my arms and shoulders were littered with red lines from my scissor or my razor.

Today, I am still a zebra, but my stripes are faded and just a hint of a shade darker than my skin.

They are on my shoulders, and they litter my left arm.

They are scars, the visual representation of the emotional trauma I’ve been through.

I don’t try to hide them. In fact, I do my best to highlight them. I plan to get a tattoo overlaid on top of them, with the words “He is Here” and “Joshua 1:9.” That, more than anything else, will draw attention to the lines on my body.

The thing about these scars is that they’re not an accident. They’re not like the scar on my knee from when I broke my nose, or the scar on my forehead from when a rock fell on my face. Those scars are there because of a fluke, something that happened against anyone’s will.

These scars are there because I wanted them to be.

Four and a half years ago, I was a freshman in college. I had a bad day, and I came back to my dorm room, sobbing. I lay on my floor in agony for a few minutes before decided that I was finally going to do it.

I was going to cut.

I grabbed my scissors and started drawing lines on my skin. And I did it again, and again, and again, for years, up until this past January, in fact.

I’ve been to hospitals and counselors and doctors and group therapies and pharmacies and every other imaginable place to try and figure out a way to curb my addiction to cutting.

And yet, I always came back to it in the end. This past October, I went to the hospital for a week. I had cut the day before and was feeling suicidal, and when I left the hospital feeling so much better, I swore I would never cut again.


For the first time ever, I didn’t like what I had done, and I wished I hadn’t.


But I did. I cut once more. Because, like an alcoholic or a drug addict, I just couldn’t say good-bye to my self-medication. I still wanted to cut, wanted it badly. Every time I read an article about someone who cut, or saw it mentioned in a book or on TV, it woke something up inside of me. It awoke my own desire.

Something changed that last time, though. After I did it, I stared at myself and felt regret. For the first time ever, I didn’t like what I had done, and I wished I hadn’t.

I still have the mark from that last time I cut, and when I look at it, I wish I could erase it. I wish there was some way to make it go away, to go back in time and undo the cutting. That’s never happened before. I’ve never regretted the actions I’ve taken to help me deal with my depression.

But this time I did. And that, I think, is going to make all the difference.

This time, when I look at the scar, I feel sorrow. I feel sadness. Not the soul-crushing sadness that depression brings, but the soft kind that comes when you realize you can’t take back your action and there’s no use beating yourself up over it anymore.


They’re a good reminder of what I’ve been through and what I’ve survived.


That’s what I’m going to try to avoid doing. Beat myself up — literally and figuratively. I’m not going to shout angry things in my head, and I’m not going to take up arms against myself anymore. Because I no longer want it. I no longer need it.

My scars will most likely stay with me forever. And I’m not mad about that. They’re a good reminder of what I’ve been through and what I’ve survived.

I just know I’m not going to add anything else to the collection I’ve already got going on.

 This article originally appeared on Her View From Home and was republished with permission. 
Finish Line

I Am Second staff celebrates with Kina after the Orange Country run (Photo source: I Am Second)

“I tried to kill myself by driving my car into the back of a petroleum truck. I was pretty disappointed when I woke up staring at a hospital ceiling. I failed.”

Those are Kina’s words.

Five years ago, she didn’t want to live. She thought all of her pain would go away if she could just end it all. After a long night of drinking on April 26, 2011, she decided to commit suicide the following day.

“I purposefully hit the double tanker (truck) in hopes of dying,” she added.

The next thing Kina remembers is waking up in a hospital — two months later. She tried to stand up, and immediately fell to the ground, the aftereffects of the crash. She may have survived, but not without physical disabilities. The scars, though, weren’t limited to outward ones. She also had internal injuries, including traumatic brain damage.

At 22 years old, she couldn’t walk, her speech was impaired, and her memory was weak.

So began a long journey. A journey that would eventually lead to an intersection with I Am Second.


“I’ve wanted life for the last five days. That’s the longest I’ve wanted to live in a very long time.”


With a lot of treatment, physical therapy, and support from her friends and family, Kina started searching for hope after the accident. While she had been fighting suicidal thoughts since high school, her disabilities actually encouraged her to find a reason to live.

“I’ve always struggled with depression, but I now find strength in being disabled. It motivates me to do something great with my life,” Kina told I Am Second.

After watching a Lecrae music video online a few years ago, she clicked on his I Am Second film, not knowing that she would find exactly what she had been looking for. She watched one film after another, completely submersed in their stories of brokenness, pain, and hope.

One film led to another. And another. And another.

“Everyone always told me that I should put myself first, but that never seemed right to me. It just made me sadder. When I watched the films, it hit me! ‘Yes, I am second! God is first! That’s what matters!’” Kina said in an interview from her place in Southern California.

While Kina found something to hold onto that day, the battle continued. “I would still have very low days. Days where I didn’t want to live. Not because of my disabilities, but because these thoughts have always followed me around.”

Then, one day, Kina received an I Am Second email announcing the run that would be taking place on April 30 in Orange County, just one hour away from where she lived in Long Beach, California.

Kina likes to prove people wrong. If someone tells her she can’t do something, she will find a way to get it done. Despite her traumatic brain injury and being very weak on her right side, she wanted to prove to herself and to others that she could participate in 5Ks. She decided she had to make it to the run.

Extreme motivation kicked in. She called I Am Second to ensure there would be a safe place she could store her bag of nutritional needs. She isn’t able to drive, so she arranged for a rideshare service to pick her up from her home at 4 a.m. Afraid she would miss her early morning ride, she got dressed the night before and slept by the front door, determined to make it to the event. She even cracked the door open so she would hear the car.

Nothing was going to stop her.

Thankfully, Kina arrived just in time. Cindy Palmer, the run director for I Am Second, spotted Kina as she walked up to the course. Cindy connected Kina with DJ Bosler, GameLife director with e3 Partners, and encouraged them to run together. Though, when she started running, she immediately became frustrated.

KinaDJ

DJ supports Kina during the 5K (Photo source: I Am Second)

See, on some days, Kina can run without help. Unfortunately, this was not one of those days. Her body was struggling, and she kept falling. However, DJ stayed with her, holding her up and supporting her every step of the way.

“DJ is amazing! If it wasn’t for him… I don’t know what I would have done,” Kina said with tears.

kinafinish

Josh Doyle, Kina, and DJ across the finish line together (Photo source: I Am Second)

As DJ and Kina approached the end of the run, participants and staff cheered her across the finish line. She was awarded the Most Valuable Runner and was given a few I Am Second posters. But her journey was not over for the day.

DJ decided to stick with Kina after the run, feeling like she may need a little more encouragement. While Kina loved what I Am Second stood for, she was still struggling with feelings of insignificance and had yet to make a commitment to truly live second.

“She teared up and said sometimes her life is so hard she still wants to die,” DJ said when writing about the encounter afterwards.

As DJ continued asking Kina questions about her relationship with God, a push notification came in on her phone. She had recently downloaded an app that would send her encouraging reminders early in the morning to keep her motivated to live.

However, this notification came in a little later than usual, and it read, “Do something with God today. You’re not supposed to live life alone.”

Kina knew in an instant that she needed to fully commit to living second right then and there. She did.

Keena-1

DJ encourages Kina after the run (Photo source: I Am Second)

Five days later, as she spoke on the phone with I Am Second, she sat staring at the poster she was given at the run that is now hanging in her bedroom.

“Five days,” she said, breaking into tears, “I want life. I’ve wanted life for the last five days. That’s the longest I’ve wanted to live in a very long time. And it’s because every day I wake up and read those words ‘I Am Second’ and I now know what that really means. I have a true reason to live.”

“This is a miracle.”


Kina has been a true inspiration for the I Am Second staff this week, and we hope that her story serves to inspire many others. Thank you, Kina, for allowing us to share your story, for choosing to live second, and for choosing life.

If you’re struggling with thoughts of self-harm, there is hope. You can call 1-800-273-TALK to chat with someone about it. For a list of other resources, visit the website of To Write Love on Her Arms here.

(Photo source: Tim Gouw via Unsplash.com)

(Photo source: Tim Gouw via Unsplash.com)

What now?” is the question that plagues us in our 20s like chickenpox. The more we scratch, the worse it itches.

The overwhelming vagueness of “what am I doing with my life?” crushing us like the bully who sat on our head in 3rd grade.

Our twenties can feel like being smothered in questions, but if we don’t ask the RIGHT questions then we’ll forever remain stuck.

After years of struggle, studying, searching, and being un-glamorously squashed over and over again, here’s what I believe are THE 11 QUESTIONS every twenty-something needs to ask to be successful.

1. Do the people I’m surrounded by bring me life?

Are your friends taking steps forward or are they still playing beer-pong in the basement? Do you leave hanging out with friends feeling anxious or alive? Are your friends anvils tied around your ankles or jet-packs helping you fly? Your life will resemble the lives of your closest friends — does that fact excite you or freak you out?

2. Who inspires me the most?

Think about the one person you most want to emulate? Who is it? Now what is it about their story or character that draws you to them? Write down the words that come to mind. The person you want to be like the most tells you a lot about who you hope to become.

3. What are my favorite stories?

What are your top three movies? Is there a common thread that runs through each story? If you want to see what matters most to you, look at the stories that resonate the closest.

The common thread that runs through my favorite movies– the underdog who perseveres through pain, thrives from their authentic self, and succeeds at something sane people would never attempt. Your core values are laying on the surface of your favorite stories.

4. Would I want to live with me?

Before you start thinking about living with someone else, do you even want to live with yourself? Have you opened up your closet doors and faced your monsters? Too many people go into relationships hoping that it will fix all their problems, when it actually has the magical ability to show you how many problems you really have. Like a third-rate magician, marriage puts big things behind a curtain, but does nothing to make it disappear. If you don’t like living with yourself, is it fair to ask someone else to do the same?

5. Do I love from my insecurities or do I love from my strengths?

What’s the difference? Loving from your insecurities demands from others. Loving from your strengths gives to them. Loving out of your insecurities does not want to see people succeed more than yourself. Loving from your strengths hears of other’ s success and is the first to celebrate with them. Loving from insecurities daily demands “what are you going to do for me?” Loving from your strengths asks others, “what can I do for you?” Too many people love from their insecurities, and that’s not love.

6. Where am I ripe with talent and where do I quickly deflate?

We all have talent. And we all have loads of non-talent we keep trying to transform into talent. Write down a few things you’re talented at and a few things you’re not. Then focus on the things you’re good at. Stop trying to chip away at that solid cement block when you have a soft block of cheese just waiting to be devoured.

7. What are my favorite hobbies/things I do for fun, and is there something there I can leverage into a career or product?

I heard John Saddington speak, a seriel entrepenur who’s probably best known for creating Standard Theme for WordPress, and he urged us to examine our hobbies. You’ve spent more time doing something than most people have in the world, how can you leverage that experience into something that could make you money? For John Saddington, he loved online computer games, so he started a online dating service for gamers. He knew the gaming world and he knew websites, put those two together and he had an over-night success.

For me, it’s telling stories. So I started writing them down.

8. What’s the main thing that’s holding me back?

Is it an addiction? Anxiety attacks? Depression. An obsession with pinning pictures of rock-hard abs on Pinterest while drinking? What is the main thing that is keeping you from moving forward and who can help you cut the chain?

9. What are my negotiables and non-negotiables?

What are you willing to give up and what are you going to cling tight to? Are you willing to move anywhere, but you’ll never take a job that expects more than 40 hours a week? Is job flexibility a non-negotiable or is it job-stability? Write a list of non-negotiables and negotiables, and then do your best to stick to that list.

10. What breaks my heart?

What injustice makes you angrier than a parrot being poked with a stick? And what’s something you can do about it right now? Knowing what breaks your heart can clarify what makes you feel whole.

11. At 29 years and 364 days, if I accomplished just one thing, what do I want it to be?

If you only had the choice to accomplish just one thing in your 20’s, what would it be? How do you take one step toward that today? Our twenties can feel like trying to walk with shoes covered in fast-dry cement, so how do we keep moving forward? Is it a phone call to ask for an informational interview? Is it asking a crush out on a date? Is it making an appointment with a counselor? What’s one small thing you can do today, so that you can go even further tomorrow?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below: How would you answer one of these questions above?


 

Paul Angone is the author of All Groan Up: Searching For Self, Faith, and a Freaking Job!101 Secrets For Your Twenties, and creator of AllGroanUp.com, a community for those asking “what now?” Follow him on Twitter @PaulAngone. 

This blog originally appeared on AllGroanUp.com and was republished with permission.