The Blog: On Second Thought

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(Photo source:

“Those who don’t know history- are destined to repeat it”. — Edmund Burke

Let that quote sink in for a moment. While that may not have been written with relationships in mind, it totally applies. Oftentimes, we go into dating relationships year after year continuing to behave in the same ways and repeat the same patterns. Whether it’s rushing into relationships, saying “yes” to the wrong ones, or simply not knowing enough about ourselves- many times, these patterns leave us with a lack of progress, feelings of frustration, and shattered pieces to pick up along the way.

This is why our history is so important. Because if we don’t take the time to look back and learn- our past patterns and relationship history will continue to determine the kind of relationships we will choose to engage in our future.

It’s important to look back and learn from our both our successes and mistakes in relationships. As a professional counselor, I understand full well that for some of us, these patterns of relationships are a combination of ingrained and learned behaviors that aren’t always easy to identify and sometimes need the help of a professional.

But for most of us, with a little bit of looking back combined with a little bit of planning ahead, we can really make some major changes in the area of relationships this coming year by doing just a few things differently:

Own Up to Your Baggage: The biggest game-changer when it comes to our relationships has everything to do with ourselves- because you are the most influential person you will ever know. We’re all human, and we enter relationships with fears, insecurities, flaws and weaknesses. Understanding our unique struggles and taking responsibility for them is the greatest thing you can do for your love-life. As you own up to your baggage, continuing to bring it before the Lord in confession and for healing – you will inevitably impact the health and quality of your relationships in a really positive way. Because the best thing you can do for a relationship is leave as much of the baggage as you can at the door by learning the value of confession, healing, and transformation.

Say No to One-Sided Relationships: Maybe you’ve found yourself stuck in a pattern of give-give-give, all the while receiving little to nothing from the other side. One-sided relationships are draining, because they’re not what God meant for relationships. And behind every one-sided relationship there is a person that is giving too much, but also expecting too little. If you find yourself stuck in one-sided relationships, it’s time to dig deep and ask yourself why. Why is it that you allow this kind of interaction to be a part of your life? Why don’t you believe that you deserve better? What is it that you’re afraid of? At the end of all these questions, the truth is that you have the power and the responsibility to teach people how they can or can’t treat you. This year, resolve to believe for God’s best by saying no to one-sided relationships. 

The truth is that you have the power and the responsibility to teach people how they can or can’t treat you.

Be Willing To Take Risks: One thing I’ve noticed when it comes to life-choices and relationships in particular, is that many of us are so afraid of making the wrong decision, that we don’t make any decisions at all. We remain passive, because we’re driven by fear in so many things: fear of failure, fear of commitment, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of being alone, and on and on and on. For a time in my life, I too was driven by fear- the fear of letting people down. I stayed in a relationship for far too long that I knew wasn’t right, and wasted a lot of precious time along the way. But what if this year, we resolved to live out of hope instead of fear? Hope that says that we aren’t walking this road alone. Hope that believes there is a God who will help us make better choices. Whether it means ending a relationship or starting something new, let’s remember that we do not have to make these difficult decisions on our own.

Learn to Love Here and Now: So often we wait for a relationship to teach us how to love or to pour our love into. While there’s a lot to be learned about love within a relationship, there’s also a lot to be learned about love before a relationship ever comes our way. Seeking to enhance our love-lives starts with learning how to love the people God has put in our lives here and now. As we learn to love our family, friends, coworkers and neighbors with selflessness, forgiveness, grace, and healthy communication- we ultimately learn the art of romantic love as well.  Practice the art of loving by believing that God loves you no matter what you’ve done, and by intentionally loving the people in your life. Your future love-life will benefit, as well.

I’ve learned to stop seeing my life through the lens of the destination, but instead savoring the journey.

Keep Sight of the Big Picture, But Savor Every Step: I’m a very “destination-focused” person. I guess I’m sort of wired that way. I have a tendency to see life as a series of “significant” moments: birthdays, graduations, career, marriage, and children. But the unfortunate part of that mentality is that I’ve missed a lot of really meaningful joys along the way. Through the past few years, I’ve learned to stop seeing my life through the lens of the destination, but instead savoring the journey. Each and every step along the way is more meaningful than I could ever even know because each day is numbered and accounted for. When it comes to relationships, it’s important to look at your love-life in a similar way- not as one momentous box to check off the list, but instead, as a series of really meaningful moments along the way.

God is creating a bigger picture in your life (that may or may not include a relationship at this point in time), that is created by a series of smaller brushstrokes. Each one adds something unique, something special, and something meaningful. Learn to savor the baby steps along the way, because the journey toward love is just as meaningful as the destination.

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 Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

For more on breaking bad relationship patterns, check out our new White Chair Film:

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(Photo source: via

In what’s being called “the best title game in college football history,” the Clemson Tigers defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide last night on a touchdown with one second left in the game. It was one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen and Clemson’s first victory over Alabama since 1905.

For years to come, Clemson fans will be discussing the feats of quarterback Deshaun Watson and diminutive wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who caught the game-winner. Freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts nearly won the game for Alabama before Clemson’s last-minute heroics.

Both coaches say that winning titles is important, but what matters most are the young people they coach.

As great as the players were, the coaches impressed me even more.

Clemson’s head coach was born William Christopher Swinney. His older brother Tripp started calling him “That Boy,” which became “Dabo,” the name by which he has been known his entire life.

His childhood was more than challenging—his father became an alcoholic; his oldest brother was severely injured in a car accident and has battled alcoholism for much of his life. His parents eventually divorced, and he lived with his mother in a series of motels, apartments, and friends’ homes. Swinney was nonetheless an honor roll student and football star in high school.

He enrolled in Alabama in 1988 and eventually won a scholarship on the football team. His mother, who had recovered from debilitating polio (including an iron lung and fourteen months in a knee-to-neck cast), shared an apartment room with him while he was in college. He earned a bachelor’s degree and MBA at Alabama and eventually made his way to Clemson, where he has been head coach since 2008.

Swinney became a Christian at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. He is so public about his faith in Jesus that the Freedom From Religion Foundation threatened to sue him and Clemson, but they could not find a player willing to file a complaint against the coach.

Alabama’s legendary coach Nick Saban is also a strong Christian. He attends Mass before football games and is a regular at his parish church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He and his wife are founders of the foundation Nick’s Kids, which has raised more than $6 million to help children in need. Last year, they built their sixteenth Habitat for Humanity house to honor Alabama’s sixteenth national title in the school’s history.

“Coach, you changed everybody’s life, no matter if you knew it or not.”

Both coaches say that winning titles is important, but what matters most are the young people they coach. One of Saban’s players said of him, “He doesn’t get enough credit for teaching guys how to become men.” When players from Saban’s ten seasons at Alabama gathered last year, one of them spoke for all: “Coach, you changed everybody’s life, no matter if you knew it or not.”

Similarly, Swinney says, “My driving force in this business is to create and build great men.” The most rewarding experiences of coaching, he says, have come when former players tell him he made a positive impact on their lives.

In our scientific age, it’s hard to value intangible souls more than tangible success. But of all God created in the entire universe, human beings are the only creation he made in his own image. Investing in people is clearly your best way to leave your mark on eternity.

According to national champion coach Dabo Swinney, “The value of life is measured in relationships, not results or riches.” Do you agree?

A version of this article originally appeared on the Denison Forum ( and has been used with permission.

(Photo source: Calum MacAuley)

(Photo source: Calum MacAuley via )

I’ve written my goals for the year: to eat healthy and exercise, to pay down my home, and to dig deeper into friendships. But while those are great ambitions, if I left them as just ambitions, or resolutions, chances are I wouldn’t get them done. Most people don’t stick with their new-years resolutions. But it’s not because they lack the resolve. It’s because their goals aren’t embedded in the context of a narrative.

I’ve discovered something better than resolutions. If you’ve read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, you know I’ve reorganized my life into stories rather than goals. I don’t have any problem with goals. I like goals and still set them. But without an overarching plot, goals don’t make sense and are hard to achieve. A story gives a goal a narrative context that forces you to engage and follow through. People who are in great shape and have their finances in order probably don’t set goals to be in good shape or get their finances in order. They probably set goals of running a marathon or paying off their house. In other words, they think in narrative rather than goals. The goals get met in the journey of the story.

A story involves a person that wants something and is willing to overcome conflict to get it.

A story involves a person that wants something and is willing to overcome conflict to get it. If you plan a story this year, instead of just simple goals, your life will be more exciting, more meaningful and more memorable. And you are much more likely to stick to your goals. For instance, rather than saying I want to finish getting into shape this year, I’ve written down that I want to climb Mt. Hood with a couple friends. I have a vision of standing on top of the mountain in May, taking pictures and all that. Now my goal has a narrative context. That’s just a simple story, and I’ve planned some stories that are far more difficult but I only use that as an example. If my goal were to lose twenty pounds, I doubt I’d stick with it. But when you have friends flying up from Texas to summit the mountain with you, you’d better believe you are going to be hitting the stairs. I have to, because it I don’t, my story will be a tragedy. Again, stories give goals context.

So here are a few tips on planning a story for 2017:

1.Want something. 

In a story, the character wants something. Rudy wants to play football at Notre Dame, Harry wants Sally, Frodo wants to destroy the ring and so on. It’s true in every story, or else a story doesn’t make sense. If we don’t want something in our lives, our stories feel boring, long, meaningless and tired. We feel this way because we are sitting in the theater of our mind watching a story that isn’t getting started. Or worse, we are praying and asking God to give us a story while the entire time God is handing us a pen, telling us to write it ourselves. That’s why he gave us a will. So spend some time thinking about what you want with the year. Do you want to pay down the house, get into shape, deepen a relationship? Make your ambition clear and focussed. Choose two or three dominant desires and write them down.

If we don’t want something in our lives, our stories feel boring, long, meaningless and tired.

2. Envision a climactic scene.

Screenwriters often begin their story with the end in mind. They know their entire movie is heading toward that scene where Frodo throws the ring into the fire. And they write the movie to get him there. My climactic scene will be (God willing) standing on top of Mt. Hood. So I automatically know the hundreds of scenes that are going to lead up to that climax. I know there will have to be scenes hiking in the gorge, riding my bike, eating well, spending time at high altitude, accumulating gear and so forth. If you’re goals are relational (I highly recommend half your goals be relational, because relational stories are the most fulfilling) you might envision you and your wife renewing your vows, or you and your son refurbishing a car together. Once you have that climactic scene in mind, you’ll know the scenes it takes to get there. Also, write this stuff down. Even if you just throw it away, write down what that climactic scene looks like, smells like and feels like. It will get in your brain and like a good protagonist in a great movie, you’ll wake every day knowing what you are supposed to do with your time.

Once you have that climactic scene in mind, you’ll know the scenes it takes to get there.

3. Create an Inciting Incident.

Characters don’t want to change. That’s why so many new-years resolutions fail. We write down that we want to lose twenty pounds and end up gaining ten. It happens every year. What we are overlooking is a principle that every good screenwriter knows: Characters don’t change without being forced to change. An inciting incident is the event in a movie that causes upheaval in the protagonist life. The protagonist, then, naturally seeks to return to stability. And in order to do that, he HAS to solve his new problem. In Taken, Liam Neeson’s daughter is kidnapped and he MUST find her. In The Grapes of Wrath, the dust bowl forces the Joad family west. Characters must be pressured to change, or they won’t. And a narrative context can help. For instance, with my wrapping up my fitness goals (I’ve now lost well over 100 pounds, but have definitely taken the year off to just have fun, so it’s time to get back on it) I decided to climb Mt. Hood. But that isn’t enough. An inciting incident has to force me to climb Mt. Hood, so I contacted my friend Brandon Bargo in Austin and for the last couple months we’ve been talking about what it will take. We will also, hopefully, be climbing St. Helens and Adams that same month, so I’m going to have to be in really great shape. If I don’t, there’s a social consequence. I will let my buddy down, and I’ll also look like an idiot in front of all of you guys. So bringing a friend into the mix, and going public with my ambition serves as an inciting incident. Other inciting incidents might be signing up with friends for a marathon, joining a kick-boxing class, inviting friends to dinner every Sunday, writing an I’m Sorry letter to an old friend, buying an engagement ring, writing a check to a ministry, whatever…just something that forces you to move.

That should get you started, at least. Want something, imagine a climactic scene and create an inciting incident. And do it this week. Don’t wait. I created mine in November so I could get an early start.

Living a good story is a lot of fun, but it can also be difficult and boring.

I don’t know very many writers who love the actual act of writing. We will do anything to avoid work. But because we have to pay our bills, at some point every day a good writer sits down to do his/her work. And it’s no different when you’re living a good story. I doubt I am going to want to run stairs every day, but the truth is I have to. And I’m not going to want to eat right, either. But I have to. I’m not trying to make the whole thing sound grim. Living a good story is a lot of fun, but it can also be difficult and boring. But when it’s done, when you’ve renewed your vows or climbed a mountain, you’ll look back on one of the most rich and fulfilling years of your life, filled with scenes of difficulty and conflict, of beauty and sacrifice. The year will feel twice as long, because anything that isn’t a story is quickly forgotten by the brain, and your entire year will have been a story.

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

For more on attaching story and purpose to your goals in life, check out Josh Turners White Chair Film:


Jackson Hole, Wyoming (Photo source: Caitlin Jordan)

They say rain symbolizes change in movies. Well, I think snow does the trick for me.

I remember scrolling through Facebook statuses at the beginning of 2016 and rolling my eyes at all the lofty and hopeful new year resolutions.

Been there, done that, doesn’t work.

Why set some dreamy goal that will simply remind you why you’re stuck? Who wants to create high expectations only to have them laugh in your face every time you look in the mirror?

You really thought this year would be different? Ha.

Is this you this year?

 I totally get it. Letting yourself down can really suck. So, instead of writing a few goals for yourself, or letting others know what you’d like to work toward in 2017, you avoid it altogether. #NewYearSameMe

Instead of writing a few goals for yourself, or letting others know what you’d like to work toward in 2017, you avoid it altogether.

I’ve been there multiple times. I’ll occasionally get a bright idea about a hobby I want to pursue, or even the book I want to write, and excitedly share it with my husband Ryan or a friend. Then, months later I feel silly and a little embarrassed that I hadn’t taken a single step toward my goal.

Maybe it’s best I keep those things to myself, you know, to save face.

In fact, I almost decided not to set any goals this year for that very reason. The few weeks leading up to the holidays were hectic and I was walking in a bit of a haze. I was just going through the motions and I really wasn’t in the “dream big” mood.

Luckily, Ryan had planned a trip to the mountains for us months before, so we left Texas two days after Christmas for a short vacation to Wyoming. Thank goodness.

Somewhere in between the mountains covered in white, laughing and running down vacant streets in -4 degree weather, and being the only ones on the dance floor in a crowded room, the kid woke up in my heart.

The kid woke up in my heart.

The kid that believes she can do anything she puts her mind to. The kid that isn’t jaded due to failed endeavors. The kid that wants to change lives.

So, instead of keeping my big dreams to myself, I shared them with Ryan. I’ve also shared them with a few friends. And you know what? It felt really good to dream again.

One caveat: I’m hesitant to tell you that “feeling like a kid again” encouraged me to dream. I know a few of you will immediately dismiss this idea because “you’re now a mature adult with serious responsibilities” and “childish dreams lead to nowhere.”

But think about it, what is the one thing you didn’t have as a kid that allowed you to learn how to jump off the diving board or how to ride a bike? Fear.

See, I think that’s why we have stopped setting goals for ourselves. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of being a failure. We’re afraid of letting others down. We’re afraid that we may not be able to prove someone wrong. Fear has kept us in our nice, little comfort zones. And where does that lead us?

Donald Miller said, “Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

“Fear is a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.”

Look, I’m not asking you to come up with a solution to change the world. Heck, you don’t even have to change your diet. But surely there’s a hobby you’ve always wanted to try, or an organization you’ve wanted to volunteer with, or maybe it’s a habit you’ve always wanted to quit. Perhaps this is the year you finally lay down the pain you’ve been carrying and find out who God really is.

Don’t let the fear of your past failures keep you from dreaming again. Don’t settle for #NewYearSameMe.

They say rain symbolizes change in movies. Well, I think snow does the trick for me. What will wake up the kid inside of you? Maybe you should go do that. Ditch the fear.

Cheers to change in 2017. What are your goals?

Caitlin Jordan is the digital content writer and editor for I Am Second. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@caitlinr_jordan).

Me and my siblings at Christmas this year. (Source: Jonathon M. Seidl)

Me and my siblings at Christmas this year. (Source: Jonathon M. Seidl)

It was a year ago that I had an encounter with a homeless woman that changed my perspective on giving. I witnessed her doing something for a fellow vagabond that made me envious of her: She gave with zero expectation of anything in return — and after, the recipient even rejected her overture. She didn’t get angry or depressed. Instead, she smiled.

To be honest, I had forgotten about her as the months passed and the days got warmer. But exactly a year to the day after I wrote about her, something incredible happened: She showed up in my family’s living room as we were celebrating Christmas.

Let me explain.

My oldest sister started crying.

A few weeks ago, my sister asked me if I was interested in doing any gifts for our family’s Christmas. I said no.

See, my wife, daughter, and I live 16 hours and 1,000 miles away. Every other year we trek from Dallas to Wisconsin for Christmas, and trying to do gifts and travel with a toddler just wasn’t something I thought we could do. So we all decided to forgo any type of presents and just be with each other.

That was until my little brother Josh, who at 22 isn’t so little anymore, changed everything.

As we were sitting around the living room after Christmas dinner and my mom was giving the younger grandkids some small gifts and my siblings some envelopes, Josh started passing out cards of his own. Every sibling — and there’s four of us — their spouses, and my parents got a gift card. Every one.

We were floored.

“Josh, we said no gifts!”

“I know, but I still wanted to get everyone something.” He left it at that.

My oldest sister started crying.

What happened next is something I’ll never forget. My 10-year-old nephew, Noah, slipped upstairs. When he emerged a few minutes later, he had one of his prized possessions: a large, laminated Aaron Rodgers poster. He skipped over to me and presented it.

“I wanted to give you this as a present, Jonny,” he said, using the name that only my family and wife are allowed to use. He then proceeded to present others with “gifts,” which were really items he already had but treasured.

My oldest sister started crying again.

The beauty of what happened with my family over Christmas was that it all happened so naturally, so beautifully.

But the giving didn’t stop there. A little while later, there was a mixup with one of the gifts that was supposed to be for Noah and we couldn’t find it. Out of nowhere, my niece, Lilly, slipped my other sister Jenny $20 out of the envelope she had just gotten from grandma.

“Don’t worry, auntie, I got you,” she said quietly.

It continued. Two days later, my oldest sister pulled me aside and gave me a present. The next day, my brother took my family out to lunch and paid. Following their lead, I decided to buy breakfast for a friend and my sister.It felt like some sort of 50s Christmas classic.

That’s when I remembered what I had written last year:

So when you give this Christmas season, don’t give with an expectation that the person receiving has to act a certain way, or that they have to meet a certain threshold of thankfulness. Don’t give because you’re looking to get something out of it. Give out of joy. Give because it’s the right thing to do. Give to honor the ultimate gift that the season is named after.

That’s what the homeless woman taught me.

Those words were published December 23, 2015. Our family Christmas happened on December 23, 2016. Exactly a year to the day that I told the world about the homeless woman, it’s as if she was right there with us. We gave just like she did. We gave just like the giver who sent the first Christmas gift. We gave because we love, and not even with the command to “pay it forward.” No strings attached. The beauty of what happened with my family over Christmas was that it all happened so naturally, so beautifully.

I’m still in awe.

And while I hope the homeless woman shows up again next year, my bigger hope is that this time it doesn’t take a year.

27Dec, 2016
(Photo source: Ian Schneider via

(Photo source: Ian Schneider via

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


The ball drops and fireworks. Resolutions are made.
People scream and people kiss and is it possible to change?
Is it really truly possible to leave the past behind?

Welcome to Midnight.

Another year comes to a close. Another year begins.
With a moment in between.
Why the fuss?
Why the fame and fireworks?
Is it more than hype? More than something else to sell us?
Is there something to this holiday? Something true inside it?
Because isn’t there something inside us that aches for change…
Dreams it to be possible…
To let go.
To hold on.
To leave it behind.
To start again.
To be new.
Is it possible?

If you’re reading this, if there’s air in your lungs, then you’re alive today tonight right now.
And who can know how long we have here…
And is it a gift? Was it ever a gift? Did that ever feel true or could that one day feel true?
Are there things to fight to live for?
Moments and people. Weddings and children and all your different dreams.
Is your life more than just your own?
And are there broken things you were made to fight to fix?
Broken families, broken friends… Injustice.
Will you move for things that matter?

Wouldn’t it be nice if change took just a moment?
Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy?
Midnight and we’re new. Midnight and the past erased. Midnight and we’re free.

It seems to come slow. It seems to be a surgery.
Forgiveness. Healing. Sobriety. Letting go. Starting over.
It seems to happen slowly over time.
One day at a time, the choice made new each morning.
Will you fight?
Will you fight to be healthy?
Will you fight to be free?
Will you fight for your story?
Will you fight to get the help you need?

Change takes more than a moment, but maybe there’s also something to this celebration of a moment, something to the way it speaks to us, something to the way we fear it, and dream it to be true. Maybe it’s the most honest moment of the year.

It’s possible to change.

Welcome to Midnight.

Here’s to the possibilities.

Peace to You.

(Photo source: via

(Photo source: via

“Caitlin, I’m not okay,” Caroline forced the words out over the phone through tears and exhaustion, “I need to get help.”

I cried with her as I stumbled through a few semi-encouraging sentences. I’ve never had a close friend go to rehab.

Over the last year and a half, I have been learning what it looks like to be a friend to someone who is recovering from addiction. What began as me committing to being the superhero friend that saves the day and wins “Best Friend of the Year” has actually turned out much differently than I would have ever imagined.

I slowly started realizing that I was wrong to think I was going to be her save-the-day friend. As time went on and my understanding of recovery deepened, it became clear that I was learning far more from her than I could ever offer in return.

It became clear that I was learning far more from her than I could ever offer in return.

She would walk me through the ridiculously intense temptations she faced every day, the new friendships she was forming at AA with complete strangers who were totally different from her, and her commitment to attending 90 meetings in 90 days.

She may not know that she was actually teaching me something in our long-distance phone conversations. But now that I’m reflecting back over the year, I’m extremely grateful for what she has shared with me. I’m now equipped with life lessons about self-control, about commitment, about independence and dependency on others. I learned about transparency, and trusting your friends with your darkest secrets.

Though, there is one thing that Caroline shared with me two weeks ago that really stands out, and with Christmas around the corner, I do not think her timing was a coincidence.

We were about to attend a wedding rehearsal dinner with all of our closest friends from college, and there was going to be alcohol there.

Before we headed to the restaurant, Caroline had panic written all over her face and asked if she could follow me to the bathroom. Once we were in there, she pulled out her phone and began to read out loud.

Something happened to me when she finished reading. It’s hard to explain, but it’s as if a pile of bricks hit me and a light turned on in my head all at once.

Here’s a bit of what she read:

“Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others, so never hesitate to go anywhere if you can be helpful.” … “Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough.”

Her sponsor suggested that she read these passages from a book she received in an AA meeting before entering into social settings. Caroline explained that she now has to ask herself, “What’s my purpose for going to this event? How can I be of service?” In recovery, going to events where there’s alcohol is not a time to throw a pity party, but to soberly seek out conversation, to be present the entire night, and to support her friends. This is actually an act of service to those she loves. While she may have lost years in self-consuming thoughts during the depths of her addiction, she can now offer herself as a sober, listening ear. A safe place. A refuge.

This is actually an act of service to those she loves. 

Why did I want to share this with you before Christmas, you ask? Over the next week, most of you will be attending holiday parties with your family, your friends, and maybe people that don’t fall into either of those categories. Can I ask you to do something?

Will you read that passage to yourself before you grudgingly wrap your Christmas presents or groan about the conversation you’re stuck in with your annoying aunt? See, I believe that what Caroline shared with me isn’t intended only for recovering alcoholics.

If we have committed to “living second,” then helping others is the foundation of our lives. And this lifestyle extends beyond volunteering at the soup kitchen and giving to the poor. Yes, that’s extremely important, but it also includes how we interact with our friends and family. It means listening to others for their benefit, not for our own. That’s the life we’ve signed up for. We are to be of maximum service to others always.

It means listening to others for their benefit, not for our own. That’s the life we’ve signed up for.

I understand that this isn’t always easy to do. So, if you do find yourself struggling to selflessly serve those around you this Christmas, take a moment to reflect on why you are celebrating Christmas in the first place.

God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world to live among men, to be tempted just like we are tempted, and to live a life of total and complete service to God and to you and me. Absolutely none of His time on earth was spent living for selfish reasons. He lived to be of maximum helpfulness to others. And because of his selfless life, we are now able to truly live. And that’s the same life I’ve signed up for, I’ve committed to living as He lived. And that’s why I love Christmas.

Thank you, Caroline, for teaching me this invaluable lesson through your recovery. This year, I hope to celebrate Christmas by putting all those around me first, far before myself, in any and all circumstances. Will you join me?

Caitlin Jordan is the digital content writer and editor for I Am Second. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@caitlinr_jordan).

Read Caroline’s story of addiction here.

21Dec, 2016
(Photo source: I Am Second)

(Photo source: I Am Second)

Thursday, June 14th, 2007

Leicester, England. Club Urban Beauty. Clipse performed. In the front row was this girl who was absolutely radiant and stood out from the entire audience. Her skin was like porcelain, long dark hair, and long dark eyelashes with bright, baby-blue eyes. She wore a white, loose-fitting dress with a black belt at the waist. She didn’t walk; she floated like a character in a Spike Lee Joint.

I was on stage, but the spotlight was on her. After our performance, I went backstage to dry off, and then proceed to the VIP area where I bumped into her.

“Hello,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“It’s Carrissa,” she said in a thick English accent, “but don’t try to ‘chat me up.’ I don’t trust men and you can have any of these ladies here you want.”

“I just asked your name,” I said, “I don’t want any of these chicks, I’m not at all thirsty. And like you, I don’t trust women. Besides that I’m married.” But after a few more sips of Brandy, we exchanged emails.

A year later. Carrissa came to visit me for my birthday in Finland. Once the show was over, we did an after party. After a night of drinking and partying we headed back to my room. Drunk, and in the middle of getting to “know” Carrissa, she turned over and right on the small of her back there was a tattoo in remembrance of her sister, Leila, who had passed on from cancer. On the left of the tattoo was Leila’s birthday, and to the right of the tattoo was the date she died: Aug. 18th, my birthday. Instantly, I sobered up. It wasn’t just what I saw but it was how I saw it; with the moonlight piercing through the blinds perfectly framing “8/18.” It presented itself just like a dame in a Bogart black and white with the lighting solely fixated on her eyes and with the rest of her face in silhouette, adding mystique.

It wouldn’t be the last time something I did haunted me.

It wouldn’t be the last time something I did haunted me.

About three weeks later, Clipse had a performance in Herndon, VA. On the way there I called over to my boy: “C.J.,what happened to that girl that was supposed to come with you to the show?”

“Ah man, forget that B*&@H I told her to stay home!” C replied.

“Why?” I asked. “Long story,” C said. “How you mess that up?” I asked.

“Tell you later,” he said.

When we reached Herndon, we checked into our rooms. After I got situated I walked to C’s room. He was ironing his shirt for the night, but once he saw me he blurted out: “Oh! This is what I had to tell you earlier. That girl that I was gonna bring to the show said she was at a party and the cousin of some girl you messed with said you gave her AIDS and she’s dying right now. She also said she has a brother that is going to put a hit out on you. Then I said to her: ‘Then why he [Gene] ain’t dyin’ or sick?’

“‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘I’m just telling you what the girl told me.’ I didn’t wanna say that in the car around everybody, but forget that hoe,” C said, “I hate when the haters start rumors and s#!+.”

“Call her right now,” I said, “and put it on speakerphone.” I had to hear it for myself. He did, and I heard her say, “You didn’t tell him, did you?”

“I told you I wouldn’t say nothin’, just tell me again,” C said. Suddenly, though, she couldn’t remember exactly what was said or exactly who said what,except for the fact that the cousin of the girl I was supposed to have infected had a baby.

I frantically tried to make sense of it all.

“If this were true, this rumor would have spread like wildfire, especially seeing how I’m Malice of the Clipse,” I blurted out. “The streets would have quickly propelled this info!”

Nevertheless, I couldn’t just simply deny a rumor of this magnitude. Just so happens that I did “know” a girl in the biblical sense by the name of Chelle who fit the description. She had a cousin who had a baby and a brother who was a knuckle head. Now, Chelle was cool and I’ve always known her to be healthy and happy.There were some uncanny parallels between Chelle and I: She was born in New York like me; her birthday was in August (a Leo like me); she sucks her thumb (a habit I’ve never been able to fully break); she lost her grandmother who was on dialysis like mine; and by the luck of the draw her nickname was Mookie, just like me, spelled the same way and everything. She was a good girl, believed in Christ, constantly read her Bible, only listened to gospel music, and hardly watched TV.

“Her ONLY vice was that she dated a married man,” I said to myself sarcastically.

With all that swirling in my mind, I still found a way to go on to do the Herndon show. I returned home late the next morning to dogs barking, an immaculate house, towel and wash rag laid out. I took my bath and got comfortable. But right before dinner I received an email. It was from Chelle’s brother asking for my address.

“Gene, I wanna send you my demo and I want you to give me your honest opinion,” he said.

Oh Hell No! I thought. The rumor was true! This dude doesn’t even know me like that to ask anything of me! I had given his sister AIDS and he was coming to kill me.

I called Chelle. Ring, ring, ring, but no answer. I call again. Ring, ring. Still no answer. I called anonymously, and she picked right up.

“Didn’t you see me calling you?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said, “I was gonna call you back. I’m just trying to get my life together!”

“What does that mean?” I asked curiously, looking for any hints or signs of ailment. She didn’t let on to any sickness but I did notice her disposition towards me was as if I got on her nerves, which was a total deviation from the norm. Something was on this girl’s mind and I was determined to keep her on the phone until either she admitted a problem or her mood lightened up.

After an hour of prying, she turned back into the jovial, good-spirited Chelle I used to know. Before we get off the phone she asked, “Did my brother email you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“He wanted your phone number but I wouldn’t give it to him,” she said. “Pay him no mind and don’t talk to him.” The little relief I had received from her now-pleasant demeanor was ruined by her “don’t talk to him” statement. To me, it was a warning: I was right back to where I had started from. My investigative prying was in vain.

Later that night I was in my bathroom “Googling” on my Blackberry, which I often do. I looked up symptoms of HIV: “Sometimes within two to six weeks after exposure to the virus you may experience fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, headache and rash.”

I began to worry.

Was it really the ceiling fan that brought on these flu-like symptoms that night? Or was it “The Monkey?”

This is adapted from the book, “Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind, and Naked” by Gene “No Malice” Thornton. The full book can be purchased on Amazon. To see how the story ends, you can watch “The End of Malice” the full-length documentary about Thornton’s life, on Netflix. You can also purchase the film as well as the discussion series, click here.

(Photo source:

(Photo source:

Several years ago, while I was getting my bachelor’s degree at a (not-cheap) private liberal arts university of my choice, I learned that my mom’s monthly paychecks were being deposited directly into an account I didn’t know about.

The account was set up specifically to pay my tuition, and nothing else.

I remember feeling a little taken aback when I found out, for a moment unworthy of the gift, and for another moment shocked that it would be given so quietly. No fanfare. No parade. No “look-at-what-a-good-mom-I-am” search for acknowledgement. Just my mom, showing up diligently to her job everyday, so I could go to college.

“This is what moms do for their kids.”

That’s what I remember her saying when I asked her about it, while she stood in the kitchen chopping vegetables.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about what an extravagant act it was, and yet how invisible. I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I can tell you with certainty that I’ve never done anything that selfless for anyone, and when I do anything selfless at all, I usually I want the credit.

When I do anything selfless at all, I usually I want the credit.

I have to admit: I’m terrified of being invisible.

In some moments I find myself tiptoeing around people, trying to protect feelings and relationships, never willing to be too loud or take up too much space. At other moments, probably when I get tired of being so quiet all the time, I feel like I’m slamming around in my life just to get someone to notice.

And to be perfectly honest, I’ve always wanted my story to be kind of loud too, to go down in the history books. I’ve dreaded the thought of being too quiet, wanting instead to be worth noticing, to make a splash.

But as I think about this story about my mom, and as I think about at least a dozen other quietly generous and beautifully simple and seemingly-invisible stories I’ve witnessed over the years, I can’t help but realize that a quiet story is not a bad story.

In fact, it might be the best story of all.

What happens in secret in our life is really the most important work we do, anyway. 

What happens in secret in our life is really the most important work we do, anyway. We don’t usually think of it like that. We think of those “in-the-spotlight” moments as being the most important. And while maybe they are the most glamorous

The most challenging, most complicated, most terrifying work we do in our lives happens when nobody is watching. It’s all terribly unimpressive and quiet. And yet this is the work that takes real courage and strength.

  • Forgiving ourselves and others
  • Growing in faith and grace
  • Centering ourselves and staying present
  • Redirecting our negative thoughts

This is all the hard, behind-the-scenes work.

I’m starting to keep my eyes open for people who are living silent but beautiful stories.

Some of them are connected to my own, others are not. But all of them are connected to the broader story, the story we’re all writing together. All of them are valuable. I’m starting to celebrate them in a way I couldn’t have before.

And the weirdest things happens as I celebrate the quiet stories of others.

I’m not scared of being invisible anymore.

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

(Photo source: Brook Cagle via

(Photo source: Brook Cagle via

Confession: I’m afraid. I don’t know how to get my life started again. I’ve put it on hold for some months now, it seems. I’ve been drifting, like a piece of a ship broken in the midst of a storm, just following the whims of the ocean and seeing where it takes me.

Can I make another confession? I’m a Christian that hasn’t been to church in a month; I haven’t prayed in eons; I haven’t even cracked the spine of my Bible. I’ve wallowed. I’ve survived by working, sleeping and watching TV or reading books.

Back at the beginning of October, I ran out of antidepressants and wasn’t able to get an appointment to see my doctor for a refill immediately. And for a few days I was fine, so I convinced myself I didn’t need meds. Then I wasn’t fine at all, and I couldn’t bring myself to care about trying to be better.

I sunk into despair, giving way to my depression, allowing suicidal thoughts to take root and grow in my mind. I picked out a few things to focus on — my stalling academic career and my lack of a love life — and I let those two failures completely overwhelm me. I focused on them constantly, ruminating on them in the dark and in the light and in the hours in-between.

I sunk into despair, giving way to my depression, allowing suicidal thoughts to take root and grow in my mind.

I let them fuel me even deeper into sorrow. I focused on one boy whom I’d loved and who had chosen someone else, and I let the hurt of that “rejection” fester in my heart. I was mad at him, mad at me, mad at God. And I wanted to die. I knew I would never be anything more than a tragic heartbreak story.

Somehow (read: through friends who talked me off the edge) I survived that phase, and what came next was a little over a month of numbness.

It’s almost like, when I was faced with the suicidal thoughts and the depths of despair, I just tucked my tail between my legs and tried to make myself invisible.

I stopped creating, stopped dreaming, stopped trying. I just…survived.

Around this time last year, I was hospitalized and released and I wrote a blog post about how I wasn’t just going to “survive” depression, I was going to thrive through it. I haven’t done such a great job of that.

I’m so scared to start again. I’m scared of what happens when I dig myself out of my hole, when I let myself hope for something. Even this…even these paragraphs that I’ve written, it’s like just the act of typing these words is unleashing something in me, unstopping a tide that’s going to wash over me. It feels good to write again, so good, even as terrifying as it is.

It’s like just the act of typing these words is unleashing something in me, unstopping a tide that’s going to wash over me.

Maybe that’s how it starts. Maybe I restart my life by going back to the beginning, going back to what I love.

Maybe I read my Bible, go back to church, hang out with friends, and I write.

Because as terrifying as life is, as comforting as numbness can be, it’s not going to bring me any joy, and it’s not going to serve a purpose.

But neither is death.

I’ve got to live. Life is hard, guys. So friggin hard. There is so much ugliness in the world — disease, natural disaster, poverty, cruel men taking advantage of people. There’s mental illness and physical illness and illness of the heart.

But there’s beauty, too.

But there’s beauty, too. There’s beauty in the elegance of a mountain peak straining to reach the heavens, in the way the sun’s rays stretch across the sky at sunset, trying to give us a few more seconds of light. There’s beauty in the curve of someone’s mouth as they laugh and the way our hearts beat just a little more erratically when we’re happy and the way we can take what we’re given and create something unbelievable.

So I’m gonna live for that. I’m gonna live so I can experience the beauty, so I can try to add to the beauty, so I can grow closer to God and my friends and maybe, maybe someday I’ll be in love with someone who will love me back. He’ll hold me close, run his fingers through my hair and kiss me and it’ll be just like it is in the books, except better.

But I’m gonna live so that even if that doesn’t happen, even if my whole life is just me and God, I can die and know that I lived a full life.

I said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not just another tragic heartbreak story, and I’m not just another broken girl. I feel like my mind is beaten and battered and bent but that’s not the end of me. I’m lonely and sad and unrequited love sucks, it really sucks, but it’s not the end of me. It can’t be.

Karis is a grad student at NYU in New York City. Her writing has appeared online with Seventeen as well as Good Housekeeping. She blogs at To stay informed about all her writing, sign up here.