I have been playing with cards since I was actually a kid. I’ve been learning this for a really long time. You know while learning how to become a magician I have developed a skepticism. That’s really where my story starts.
Having become a magician, you understand that there is some kind of scheme or something going on behind the scenes that is ultimately fake or false. The idea of a god seems really silly, it seems really, really silly. It’s like the Wizard of Oz. It’s like the wizard behind the curtain making things happen.
However, one day in college, I was asked to go to church to check it out, so I did. Something happened to me that morning that I couldn’t quite fit into my worldview. It was the way the version of the story that was shared. I began to ask myself the God question. Maybe there is something more to this?
If I was going to believe in this god, if I was going to believe in the Bible, I needed him to make it so real to me.
If I was going to believe in this god, if I was going to believe in the Bible, if I was going to acknowledge who the Bible ultimately points to, which is Jesus. If I was going to acknowledge all these things, I asked God to make this real to me. I needed him to make it so real to me. I needed him to take me back behind the curtain. Sometimes when you pray prayers you don’t fully want them to be answered. Mine was getting ready to be answered.
Here I was, I was 29 years old. I had been married for five years, with a three-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy. I had this really intense pain that started happening in my leg. I was popping ten Advil at a time, trying to make it go away. We decided that it would probably be best for me to go to the ER.
They began to run a bunch of tests on me. The doctor walked in and told me that my white blood count was real high. They wanted to do some more tests. Then another doctor walked in and on his name badge it said TX Oncology, a cancer doctor. He said, “Mr. Munroe, you have leukemia. We have to do something about this right now.” This doctor basically told me I had two months and that I was going to die if we didn’t do anything. They got me down to MD Anderson Cancer Center and they began to run just a battery of tests on me. CAT scans, catheter into my chest, sticking huge needles into my spine; it’s a complete whirlwind.
No matter how hard we hit it, it was going to keep coming back.
The first doctor on call that was going to oversee all of my treatment came in and said, “Mr. Munroe, I’ve got some bad news for you.” And at that point I am going, you mean like worse than cancer bad news? He said the kind of leukemia I had was more rare than what they initially thought. Even if we fought the cancer and got me into remission – this thing was going to come back. No matter how hard we hit it, it was going to keep coming back. There was something they wanted to do, something that could assist in making me completely well and healed.
They wanted to do a procedure called a bone marrow transplant. What they wanted to do was to get me into remission by treating me with chemotherapy. But then find somebody somewhere in the world, whose DNA matched mine so distinctly that doctors would literally take their immune system out of their body and put it into mine. And hope that my body would recognize it enough as its own and it would essentially start growing new white blood cells from an entirely new person. That is like real magic.
So they went and they tested my biological sister, and my own biological sister wasn’t a close enough match. Which was a huge blow to the situation. So then they went into this database that the national bone marrow donor program keeps and they told me that of the 7 million-person database, I had 16 possible matches. Out of those 16 possible matches, they found one perfect match. It was a 19 year old female. We found one perfect match.
We were elated and so excited that there was someone out there who was not only a match but, after being contacted, was willing to give their blood and was brave enough to give me what I needed to live.
They used this terminology like, you will be born a new person, you will be given a new birthday. You will be like a baby inside a mothers womb all over again.
So they began the process and began the chemotherapy. Those first ten days literally destroyed me. As we went through the process, they used this terminology like, you will be born a new person, when we transplant this and put this new blood inside of you, you will be given a new birthday. You will be like a baby inside a mothers womb all over again. I had heard that terminology before in Scripture, [the Bible], so I was thinking that this was kind of weird.
I am literally dying a death, and then they brought that bag of blood into the room, the whole time, this whole process just waiting to get this new blood on the inside of me and they stuck it into my IV. The new blood began to run into my body. The doctors and nurses, everybody involved were hoping my body would accept this new blood. And it did. My body accepted this new blood and it slowly began to build a new immune system and I am completely cancer free today. I am 100% cancer free.
It’s no longer I who lives, but someone else who lives inside of me. When they look at my blood now, when they investigate it, they don’t see a 30-year-old male; they see a 19 year old female. I literally have XX chromosomes living on the inside of me. It was a substitution of blood on my behalf so that I could live again; and so that the deception of my body would die. That to me is really difficult to ignore when I asked God to reveal himself to me. That is very difficult to ignore.
I believe that all of us have a spiritual cancer that’s eating us away on the inside. We are dying and we are begging for somebody to intervene and step in on our behalf.
I believe that all of us have a spiritual cancer that’s eating us away on the inside. When we really take a look at it, we are dying and we are begging for somebody to intervene and step in on our behalf. There is not a question in my mind that the only answer for the human condition is Jesus. My life with Jesus has completely changed as a result of my darkest hour. I am actually thankful for the process I went through. As a skeptic and a magician, I fully believe. I fully believe in not only who God is, but also what He did for me. There is no question in my mind.
I had this friend, Nate. I knew him from school. We had some classes together, a lot of mutual friends. We hung out. He wasn’t wedding party material or anything, but we were friends. We had plenty of late night study sessions, coffee runs, and visits to the local movie theater.
We shared a taste in movies, which basically involves anything with superheroes, swords, and alien civilizations. Sword-wielding aliens with superpowers, why hasn’t someone made that movie? Wait, that’s Star Wars. Anyways, this friend and I saw a good bit of each other. But it was after watching one of these movies with Nate that I came to a terrifying realization about my friend.
See, I had this other friend named Nate. We’ll call him Other Nate. As luck would have it, Other Nate seemed to know everyone I knew. I’m not sure how we hadn’t connected before now. We met when I visited this one church. Other Nate and I weren’t close but we were friends, if only of the occasional friendly conversation type.
So, its late at night. Original Nate and I are driving back from the latest Marvel flick and he mentions that church I had visited. But he doesn’t just mention it, he starts talking like he goes there. It wasn’t a huge place. If he went there, I would have seen him. And that’s when it struck me. I had seen him. I had seen him every time I went there. I don’t have two friends named Nate. I only have one friend. Nate and Other Nate are the same person. And somehow, I never realized it.
I only have one friend. And somehow, I never realized it.
I’ve never done drugs, but in that moment, I started wondering if someone had slipped me some. This isn’t the kind of mistake people make. For years, I truly believed I had two friends named Nate. That moment sent me on a dizzying journey that eventually led to the discovery that I have a defect. My brain isn’t normal. I lack the mental ability to identify people by their face. It’s an actual thing, face blindness, they call it.
I’ve shared my story about my lonely childhood, always feeling without a friend. It turns out there’s a reason I so often feel surrounded by strangers, because, in my world, every face is strange. I find people using context clues, speech patterns, or hairstyle, but faces all say, “unknown”. I met a friend for coffee this morning and he had to warn me that he’d grown a mustache. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to find him.
I found my curse comes with a great gift.
Loneliness is a battle I fight. Something about being different. Something about joining conversations late, because I’m not yet sure who I’m talking to. While I envy those who always know which name goes with which face, I have found my curse comes with a great gift. I’m uniquely gifted at making friends out of strangers, because no one sees more strangers than me.
I’m often tempted to view all this as a deficiency, something that holds me back. But really, this “deficiency” has motivated me to view everyone as someone who might be my friend. And in doing this, I have made a lot of new friends, even if I’m not so good at finding them again. That quote tells me there is a God and he has a plan for my life. Some days I’m not a fan of the plan, but I know, ultimately, I’ve got a friend looking out for me.
I thought I’d be grey and have a big beard. This was before the hipster movement made mutton chops socially acceptable. I saw myself as this aging sage with something important to say. I didn’t have a topic, experience, training, or any actual plan to make this happen. I just thought one day inspiration would strike while I sipped a macchiato at some sidewalk café and out would pop a book and my hairy face would be on the back cover.
I joined the I Am Second team. I was just an intern writing some discussion guides for our films and then social media stuff. Twitter was barely a thing. I remember joining Twitter because I was supposed to know something about social media. Someone had described it to me but it didn’t make any sense to me. Flip phones were still cool. And the idea of famous people sending my flip phone messages via Twitter sounded nuts.
I had to know what he was saying and why so many people wanted to hear it.
My first follow was Ashton Kutcher. Go ahead and judge me. But he was the first to reach 1 million followers, famously beating out CNN. Since when did Ashton Kutcher have a bigger voice than CNN? I had to know what he was saying and why so many people wanted to hear it. For the next month, Ashton Kutcher and I become good friends.
His messages came in daily and at all hours. One night he went on some Twitter rant, before that was even a term, and he messaged me probably 15 times right as I was trying to go to bed. Okay, so he wasn’t really messaging me, per say. But I got his messages nonetheless. Ashton told me what he was eating, how he was feeling, where he’d been that day. He’d tell me about the things he loves, introduce me to his friends, organizations he supports. I started to have some weird connection with Ashton Kutcher. I’d see something and think, I wonder what Ashton would say about this?
I knew him because every day, multiple times a day, he’d tell me a little piece of his story, a little bit of him.
I’d never met him. Never talked to him. Never tweeted back to him. But I knew him. I knew him because every day, multiple times a day, he’d tell me a little piece of his story, a little bit of him. He never preached at me. Never told me what I should think. He just told me his story 140 characters at a time.
It’s funny but I still have these warm memories of that twitter rant. For half an hour, my phone buzzes with another message and then another. And each time I jump out of my bed to read what Ashton had to say to me. And he wasn’t even talking to me! But there I was, along with 999,999+ other followers jumping out of our beds to read his messages. Surely Ashton knew he was destroying the sleep of a million people.
It became my mission to tell stories…stories of hope.
Somewhere along the way, I found the answer to my question. What did Ashton have to say that CNN couldn’t keep up with? His story. That’s it. Nothing beyond his raw, personal, authentic self on display for the world to see. And that shaped my time with I Am Second. It became my mission to tell stories, great stories, stories of hope.
I’ve dedicated myself to this mission in all the many writing roles I’ve had with I Am Second. Whether through an email blast, social media post, blog entry, or through the unexpected chance to author the I Am Second books, I’m here to tell the real stories of broken people who found hope. And I didn’t even have to grow out the beard to make it happen.
Now I know I’m a pretty biased one to ask, but we’ve got some awesome stories. Here’s a few of my favorites:
Growing up, my friends used to tease me for my “crushes of the week.” I was a typical middle school girl who enjoyed socializing and healthy attention from boys. But as I got older, letting someone into my heart was too risky. I might get hurt again. And I had no desire to go there. Sometime around high school, I cut off my heart completely from any risk associated with love.
Love was a confusing thing to me then, and if I’m honest, it’s still a bit of a mystery to me even now. Love from my father felt unsafe. Love from other family figures was conditional, and love from my mother was about to be absent. I saw myself as the only common denominator and felt utterly incapable of being loved.
I saw myself as the only common denominator and felt utterly incapable of being loved.
As I got older, it became increasingly hard for me in the Christian community to remain happily single, and pressure mounted on every side for me to date. Still, I wanted nothing to do with opening myself up to any type of love. News headlines, divorce in the church, friends having affairs—there was plenty of brokenness around me to confirm my fears. And if my own family couldn’t love me as a child growing up, then why would I have any reason to think a man would stick around for me if they saw me as my true self? So it is when our hearts are trained not to lament. We begin to see ourselves as the protectors and keepers of our hearts instead of leaving that responsibility to God in faith.
And then he entered.
Handsome in every way, but his looks were truly secondary to the way he esteemed others above himself. Jonathan was different from all the rest. He pursued me slowly, in a way that felt safe to me, and I enjoyed getting to know him. As we began spending more time together, I felt sure he was “the one.” We clicked. It didn’t take a lot of effort. My positive feelings were greater than my fears. For the first time, letting someone know me was fun.
Surely this man was the one for me.
I was fresh out of college, and people around us started to take notice. Each of us would receive phone calls from pastors, leaders, and mutual friends encouraging our relationship. It was like other people were seeing the “rightness” of it too. Surely this man was the one for me. I began praying for him day and night, and I even saw some of the things I prayed for come to pass. The leading to pray for him was so strong that I felt God wanted me to get a journal and write down my prayers. It had taken me years to write in a journal again—surely God wouldn’t bring a man into my life who was not “the one”! And surely God wouldn’t have me journal the mushy-gushy feelings if it were all for naught. Hadn’t I been through enough pain?
Jonathan and I sought God and wise counsel from others. We both prayed that God’s will would be done. But as life happened and we took jobs in different locations, we did not come to the same conclusion about one another. How could this be? I had prayed; I had sought God; I even had prophetic words spoken to me about him. I had heard from God.
Or so I thought.
But the relationship fell apart. Jonathan asked why I couldn’t open up to him. He asked why I rarely made time to see him face-to-face. He asked if work was always going to be my number one priority.
What did he mean? Hadn’t I let him know me more than any other man? I had prayed about us so much and thought God was telling me he was “the one.” Was I really still so guarded? Even worse than that, was I still so undesirable?
My thoughts went into a tailspin, and doubts flooded my heart and mind.
When the relationship ended, I was unbearably confused. My thoughts went into a tailspin, and doubts flooded my heart and mind. I didn’t understand it then, and I’m not quite sure I understand it now, but my if/then statements about God were wrong.
“If I follow God, then He will bring the right man for me.”
This may sound like a shallow and superficial statement, but they didn’t feel that way as I labored hours, days, weeks, and even years praying about this relationship. I felt I had wasted years praying for the wrong thing and for the wrong person. I questioned my ability to hear God correctly. This was devastating to my faith.
Do you have any wrong if/then statements about God? Have you ever put your heart on the line, only to fail to get the outcome you thought God promised you? Maybe it was a romantic relationship, or maybe it was an adoption that fell through. Maybe it was a divorce you never planned for or a death you were not ready for or a dream that was denied.
Faking fine keeps us stuck in the vicious cycle of the wrong if/then statements we were holding on to to begin with.
Faking fine keeps us stuck in the vicious cycle of the wrong if/then statements we were holding on to to begin with. God wants to help our hearts get unshackled from these chains.
This article was adapted from the new book “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece. Used by permission of Zondervan. This blog post is the third installation of a series. Read part two.
To hear Esther’s inspiring story, check out her new White Chair Film:
When hard realities hit, it can often feel easier to minimize the pain. It doesn’t make it go away, of course, but we often tell ourselves that if we pretend the pain isn’t there, it might just fade away.
The truth is, most of us function so regularly this way that we don’t question it. We minimize brokenness because nobody likes weakness, right? We don’t want to bother anyone with our struggles. Or we compare our brokenness to that of others by telling ourselves our experiences “weren’t that bad.” Sometimes we even joke about our difficulties, subconsciously telling ourselves that if we can just turn our pain into a punch line, we might have a fighting chance.
We minimize brokenness because nobody likes weakness, right?
Our coping mechanisms seem useful in the moment, but relying on them today stunts our growth in the long run.
I minimized my own brokenness for a long time.
At the very start of my journey into lament, one of my professors called what I experienced “childhood abuse.” I was in my early twenties, and while I would have said I had a broken past, I would have never considered myself an abused child. She told me very directly: you were physically and emotionally abused.
This not only caught me off guard but also offended me. I felt she was being dramatic. I had done some volunteering in the inner city and saw kids who were physically abused far worse than I ever was. Surely their category of abuse was more significant than mine. Surely they would need to lament, but not me. Mine wasn’t that bad.
I thought about my friends who I thought carried much worse emotional baggage than I did. My parents had rejected and abandoned me, yes, but wasn’t I rescued from what it could have been? What about people who never got out? These comparisons only led me to dismiss my pain, which in turn convinced me I didn’t have “appropriate” pain to lament.
It was not until this professor asked me if one of my “little sisters”— the daughters of a family that took me in when it wasn’t safe to be at home—had experienced the physical and emotional abuse, would I be minimizing theirs too? Would I respond with the words “at least you weren’t sexually abused”? After all, these are words I told myself on a regular basis.
“Absolutely not!” I exclaimed to my professor in my justice-loving voice. “Of course I would never ignore the abuse of a loved one.”
She asked me why it was okay that I minimized mine.
Sometimes we hear so many others-focused sermons in church that we lose the ability to know how to biblically care for ourselves. Lament requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us—the truth of what we have lost or of what will never be. We don’t minimize our pasts, and lamenting does not mean we are dramatizing it. We are going to have to stop comparing our pain to others and learn instead to take our pain directly to God, or we simply won’t get anywhere.
Lament requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us—the truth of what we have lost or of what will never be.
My abuse required a lament. Abandonment requires a lament. Divorce, mental illness, health issues, bankruptcy, loss, disappointment— they all require lament. “It’s not really a big deal” are words we will never hear out of the mouth of God. That phrase only tells me we hold ourselves to higher expectations of ourselves in grief than God Himself does. That phrase only tells me we have not yet lamented, thus failing to get to know God in the midst of pain and eventually to let Him take away our pain.
As we progress in our relationship with God, He opens our eyes to see that while some of our coping mechanisms may have worked for a season, continuing to live out of them can prohibit us from fully knowing and experiencing Him. And if we think this doesn’t affect every relationship we are in—both personally and professionally—we have been deceived. As we suppress our ability to feel and lament, we compromise our ability to enjoy intimacy in relationships.
Do you keep people at a distance when you’re in pain?
Do you operate out of anxiety?
Do you bargain with God in your prayers?
Do you harbor resentment toward those who have hurt you? How about your desire to control?
So many of us repeat and recycle ineffective or destructive ways of operating in the world because we have stifled our laments.
So many of us repeat and recycle ineffective or destructive ways of operating in the world because we have stifled our laments. And not only are we destined to repeat unhealthy patterns, but many of us minimize the pain of others or even make jokes about others or ourselves to divert our attention from the wounding process. This is a coping mechanism that cannot lead to a place of healing.
This article was adapted from the new book “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece. Used by permission of Zondervan. This blog post is the second installation of a series. Read part one.
To hear Esther’s inspiring story, check out her new White Chair Film:
“I have this map here, Esther, for you to see what part of Russia belongs to you. You are entitled to this land, Esther. Your ancestors fought long and hard for this land. Don’t you let anyone steal this away from you!”
It was crazy talk. We weren’t even Russian.
I started shaking. I was not prepared to see my father after such a long absence. And I was not prepared to see him so utterly different, so unstable. What had happened to him? Why wasn’t he taking care of himself? Why wouldn’t he take care of us? I fulfilled my legal obligation of “visiting” my father, but as soon as I was cleared to leave I felt myself breaking. I rushed toward the door and fell to my knees, crawling and scrambling to get out—anywhere but there. My body could not process so much pain.
Even so, I did not cry.
* * *
I was known at school as the cheerleader, the eternal optimist, the glass-half-full girl. But I was not happy anymore.
Over the next several years, my father was in and out of jail, but every time he was released, he would try to find us. The pain was making me feel delusional. What was truth? What was reality? Was his sickness something I could catch?
Restraining orders were in place, but they meant nothing to him. But so it is with mental illness in a family. It is unpredictable, sometimes unsafe, and most of the time downright frustrating and sad.
Even so, sometimes I fantasized about who my father was. It was all my adolescent brain could do to make sense of my life. I would think back to my earliest years, before everything started falling apart, and remember nice things he had done. He seemed like a family man. He seemed like a hardworking businessman. And it was devastating to see how the familiar can change overnight. Stuffing our laments makes us live in denial. I exaggerated the good times and tried to forget the bad, and in doing so, I found life much more manageable. Living with a false reality sometimes makes life easier to live. But even though I wanted a father, and would even settle for a crazy one, the pain was unspeakable when his presence became harmful.
One of the main reasons I avoided grieving it all was that I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, including God’s.
One of the main reasons I avoided grieving it all was that I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time, including God’s. I didn’t want to waste my time either. Deep down, I wondered what the point was of feeling my painful feelings. Was there any benefit? For me, faking fine was the best way to deal. I was doing the best I could, which was coping with the circumstances as they came. While this may seem to work in the moment, on a long-term level, coping is a cheap substitute for healing.
We all live with our own formulas and prescriptions for dealing with grief, loss, and disappointment. We all do the best we can, but this does not mean our ways are healthy. The problem is, our coping mechanisms are too often based on the goal of stuffing our emotions and pulling it together and appearing strong, when the pathway to healing is honest lament. It’s a shortcut and a quick fix that rarely deliver the long-term results we’re looking for.
I’ve learned the hard way that powering through is the fast track to hitting rock bottom.
I’ve learned the hard way that powering through is the fast track to hitting rock bottom. That’s the thing about our coping mechanisms— they are always well-intentioned, but ultimately they do not get us where we want to go. The good and beautiful news we’ll unpack in this book is that there is a way to walk in healing and freedom, and we find this way in lament. But first we have to clear the deck of the coping mechanisms we’ve been using to short-circuit our healing process, which ultimately lead nowhere.
This article was adapted from the new book “No More Faking Fine” by Esther Fleece. Used by permission of Zondervan. This blog post is the first installation of a series
To hear Esther’s inspiring story, check out her new White Chair Film:
It seems sort of surreal in a way. It surely makes one think about the past, especially if you’re prone to being a little melancholy like me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m OK. I’m better than OK, actually. We’ve been divorced for 9 years, and some of the pain that I had assumed for so long would never go away, is gone. The saying, “Time heals all wounds” has some truth to it, as does the saying, “Time wounds all heels”. When you look up the word “heel” in the dictionary, the very last definition is “a contemptible person : a person who is self-centered or untrustworthy.” Yes, time does wound those people, and I should know. I was one of them.
Personally, I believe there is nothing more painful, with the possible exception of losing a child, than being cheated on. It was excruciatingly painful for my spouse, who was cheated on, though it was also painful for me. My pain may have been delayed, but when it arrived, it felt like a wall of bricks were falling continuously on the top of my head.
There were times when I wished that would actually happen, or at least that something would happen that would put me out of my misery. Ironically, when I started the affair and stepped outside of my marriage, I was trying to escape pain.
I’ve known for a long time that one of the default modes that I go into in a lot of difficult situations is either to escape from something, or escape into something. That’s certainly what I was doing when I entered the affair. I was actually doing both: escaping from the pain of betrayal of one of my closest friends, and escaping into something new – excitement, no matter how sordid it was, and living a second, hidden life, which is deceitfully exciting… at first.
But let me warn you: This particular kind of escape is like escaping from a net that’s wrapped tightly around you, only to discover that you’ve fallen into a much bigger net that you can seemingly never get out of. From the pan into the fire.
This particular kind of escape is like escaping from a net that’s wrapped tightly around you, only to discover that you’ve fallen into a much bigger net that you can seemingly never get out of.
There’s another phrase you’ve also probably heard: “Hurt people hurt people”. I was hurting deeply at the time, so I stepped over the invisible boundary of infidelity. Hurt people are also, unfortunately, very short-sighted. Picture throwing a rock into the middle of a still mountain lake, and watching the ripples go out farther than you could ever have been able to fathom. Not a single cubic inch of the lake surface isn’t affected. Everyone you know is touched by it.
You may wonder what my wife had done that caused me to step outside of my marriage in the first place. The answer is nothing. Oh, sure, we had the normal quarrels and struggles that any marriage has, but nothing out of the ordinary. The reason I did what I did was to escape from the pain that other people had caused me. I felt betrayed, and not just by anyone, but by one of my dearest friends, who happened to be the pastor of the church where I was the worship leader.
We had worked together for years, and were as close as any two biological brothers could ever be, and then had a major falling out. This man was one of the best friends I had ever had in my life, and now it seemed our relationship was going up in a cloud of smoke. I felt like he turned his back on me, and consequently, I became mad at the guy that we both worked for: God.
I became mad at the guy that we both worked for: God.
I quit my job at the church and found a similar job in another state. I uprooted my family and left everything that I knew behind, hoping that the change would renew my spirit and eradicate the growing anger that I was feeling. It did neither.
I needed to stay still during that time and let God do some work on my heart, but anger is a very powerful emotion, and it repeatedly got in my way of me doing what was most important. I needed to forgive my friend. Instead, I allowed bitterness to grow quickly and steadily like a blackberry vine in the summertime.
It eventually became overwhelming. I felt so incredibly justified in my anger, and when things weren’t resolving as I thought they should I became even more angry with God.
I was on a severe downward spiral that nobody knew about but me. Not even my wife knew the whole thing. I’m sure she was seeing some changes in me, but I was keeping most of the really dark stuff bottled up inside.
I was keeping most of the really dark stuff bottled up inside.
I quit my job at the church that I used to love and to which I wanted to return, and I didn’t feel like I had a person in my life who I could really talk to about any of this. I was dead. Empty. Broken. Angry. Lost.
At the end of it all, I lost everything. I honestly felt like I had lost my very soul. The jarring reality of losing most of the physical stuff that’s comfortable and familiar (and gives your life a certain measure of stability) was bad enough. But losing the presence of your family – your wife and kids at the same time – was harder than anything I’ve ever experienced.
If there is one single thing that I could tell every man and woman on the planet that I’ve learned in my life, it’s this: Don’t do it.
Don’t step outside the boundaries of your marriage. It will scar you. You can eventually heal, but it will always hurt a little bit, even years later. The pain in the beginning is so intense, it would be cruel to wish it on your worst enemy.
Now that I’ve made it clear what not to do, let me leave you with what I would do if I could go back and do it all over again.
I would do the hard work of getting healthy in my mind and spirit.
I would talk to people who were close to me, and not assume they couldn’t help me.
I would seek spiritual guidance from a pastor and mental guidance from a professional counselor.
I would double down on the original commitment that I made to my wife many years before.
I thought all of that was going to be too hard. Too much work. But I really don’t believe there is another solution. “Pay me now or pay me later” is another phrase you’re probably familiar with. It’s usually more costly to wait until later, because by then the damage is already done.
Pay the price now. While you can.
For another story on someone who struggled with infidelity, watch our new White Chair Film:
Josh Turner performing songs from his upcoming album, Deep South. (Photo source: Stan Fletcher)
Music speaks to the soul like few other things do. The older I get, I think this becomes more and more true. Each year adds a year’s worth of experience to our life resume’, and each year we’re likely to relate with more songs. For example, I’ve heard a lot of songs on the topic of divorce, but until I went through my own painful divorce nine years ago, I’m not sure I was even paying attention to them. I definitely do now.
I listen to all kinds of music, but if I really want to hear a story, I tend to go either towards country or gospel. Both of those forms came from the same roots (along with the blues), and all three of those genres are built on the idea that things might be bad now, but they’re going to get better. They tell a story. These songs have lifted me out of a lot of pits, and sometimes they’ve provided me a place to process some very deep feelings.
These songs have lifted me out of a lot of pits, and sometimes they’ve provided me a place to process some very deep feelings.
I remember really falling in love with country music in the 90’s. Up until then I had pretty much been listening to rock music exclusively. Lots of new artists were coming out then, and some really great music was being recorded. Many of those songs became classics. Randy Travis had many hits during that time and he was always consistently great. “I’m Gonna’ Love You Forever” was a monster smash hit, and I loved the sentiment of it. It was a song of proclamation and dedication from a husband to a wife, and it really spoke to me then as a married man, and haunted me later. After Randy disappeared off the charts, I felt like I sort of disappeared too.
I saw Randy the other night. He was at Josh Turner’s album release party, an event to which I was fortunate enough to get an invitation. An awful lot of water has gone under the bridge for Randy and me both. I’ve gone through a painful divorce, and an equally arduous rebuilding process, and Randy has struggled through problems with alcohol, as well as a debilitating stroke. So much has changed for both of us since the first time I heard his voice on the radio.
Before Josh played songs from his new album, he gave a special shout-out to Randy, saying how important Randy’s music, his style, and his career in general had been to his own music. Josh’s obvious admiration and appreciation for Randy was very evident. He basically said that without Randy Travis breaking ground for him, there wouldn’t be the artist called Josh Turner that we know today. I had heard Josh talk about Randy before, but never in person. Seeing the look on Randy’s face was priceless. It was bittersweet for me, as I’m sure it was for the two of them.
The thing that was apparent to me is that the torch had been passed from one to the other. . .
The thing that was apparent to me is that the torch had been passed from one to the other, graciously given and graciously received. And I’m sure there will be a time in Josh’s future when he will pass the torch to another young artist, someone who is unknown now, working on their chops even as I type this in some corner of the world.
Then, it hit me. Realizing that we’re here for a short time, and that we have an obligation to pass things on and pay them forward is a big part of what living second is all about. Our lives here on earth belong to each other. The way we live, the stories we tell, and the music we make will have an impact in people’s lives for generations to come. We have the decision to live a story that will inspire someone else to live second, putting God and others first. Living second is about humbly passing on the torch.
Living second is about humbly passing on the torch.
I think Randy has known this for quite some time, and from the look on Josh’s face and the things that he had to say, I think he knows it too.
Josh Turner will be releasing his new album, Deep South, on March 10.
A few times each year, it happens. I go into a funk. What I’m talking about is that first, initial feeling of depression. I’ve been depressed before, maybe ten years ago and then again about twenty years ago. It’s a terrible feeling, of course. Essentially, the feeling is that life is meaningless and there’s no reason to contribute anything.
I’ve learned from experience the funk, for me, only lasts a few days but it’s ugly when it happens. I’m not talking about depression, now, I’m talking about those dark days that occasionally come for a visit.
I’m talking about those dark days that occasionally come for a visit.
Of course, my normal brain would never get tripped by the thought that life is meaningless. I know it isn’t. My faith attributes great meaning to every moment, and so it’s strange that the same truth can sometimes miss me that most often seems obvious. Of course the work we do matters. And all that we say and do matter, too. If one thing matters, everything matters. The problem is, though, my brain isn’t working right.
Most of the depression we experience isn’t rational. It’s just that our brains are too tired to think accurately about life.
The brain is complicated, and when it’s tired or not functioning at its best, we begin to believe things, feel things, subscribe to ideas that make no sense. But they can take you down all the same.
But I’ve come a long way. The existential funk doesn’t threaten me as much as it used to. For starters, they are few and far between, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to predict them.
Here’s what I mean: I go into this funk, almost mechanically, after a long trip in which I’ve spoken more than once and lost at least one night of sleep. If this happens, I can count on being in a funk for at least three days after returning home.
So here’s what I do during the funk:
1. I get some rest. I literally sleep as much as possible. The real problem isn’t that nothing in life matters, the real problem is my brain, which is a muscle, is fatigued and not functioning very well.
2. I don’t work. I give myself at least one, if not two days in which I don’t work. That’s a tough one for me because I get great joy out of my work. But when the brain needs rest, the brain needs rest.
3. I tell myself the things I’m thinking about the nature of life simply aren’t true, no matter how true they feel. Certainly there are existential dilemmas in life, but the issue isn’t life itself, the issue is control. I want to know everything and yet God has not given me all the information. I just have to trust Him, and I have to trust that the work I do somehow matters to Him in the way it mattered to God that Adam named the animals. Futility in life, then, is a lie. I may not know why it’s a lie, but I know it is.
Certainly there are existential dilemmas in life, but the issue isn’t life itself, the issue is control
4. I start working again. About three days in, I can come back to life a little bit. It’s hard at first, but about two or three hours into the work, those old feelings of life being futile fade away and I get lost, once again, in the puzzle that is my work, my marriage and my community.
Of course, not everybody’s brain comes back to life so easily.
Some people need more than just sleep. My aching sympathies go out to you if you’re reading this and these solutions seem too simple. I’m so sorry. I know there’s help in other areas and I hope and pray you’re seeking that help. Lies are powerful and deceptive.
For the rest of us, sometimes the best thing to do is hunker down and weather the storm until it passes. I hope this gives you something to think about as the feelings of futility mount up. May they wash over you and somehow feed the crops, producing humility, faith, trust and an iron discipline to press on when the sun is shining.
This blog post originally appeared on Storyline and was republished with permission.
He sneaks into the room and slithers into conversations.He’s always hanging around when I’m watching television, and he absolutely loves social media. He tries to convince me to spend too much money on pointless things and he’s always telling me what success looks like.There’s not a day that goes by that he isn’t lying to me, constantly trying to make me feel insecure and inadequate.
I hate him.
You probably know him pretty well, too. His name is Comparison. I bet you don’t like him just as much I don’t.
The older I become, the more I recognize him. I know his ways. I can spot him from a mile away. I can easily see past his persuasive messaging telling me that I need to look like her or talk like that guy. I know by now that Comparison’s definition of success is one big farce.
If I’m being honest, though, there are still days when Comparison totally wins, even though I know he’s a complete sham. It’s hard, I will say, when he’s literally waiting for me around every corner. He’s in the check out line at the grocery store, and he gets louder and louder with every swipe of my thumb scrolling through my Instagram feed. Y’all, he even shows up at church.
If I’m being honest, though, there are still days when Comparison totally wins, even though I know he’s a complete sham.
Here’s how our annoying conversations usually go:
Me: How is her skin so perfect?
Comparison: That’s what you need to be prettier and happier. Better skin. Go buy more expensive skin care products.
Me: Wait. He’s travelling the world?
Comparison: That’s what your life is missing right now. You need to start saving time and money for this and only this.
Me: She has her own company at 26?!
Comparison: Yup. You’re falling behind. You need to devote your life to getting rich and famous if you ever want to leave a mark on this world.
Comparison: Caitlin, listen to me. If you work your butt off for these things, you will be satisfied. You will be complete.
We know these are lies. We know that money doesn’t promise satisfaction. We know that the happiness on social media can be fabricated and filtered. We know that fame won’t solve all of our problems.
How many times have we heard stories of the richest people in the world committing horrible crimes, are deeply unhappy, or are disconnected from reality? And we’re all too familiar with the Hollywood beauty and fame that often ends with broken marriages, addictions, or even suicide.
We’re wasting our lives away on things that don’t ultimately matter.
And yet, I don’t really see the knowledge of this changing the way we live. We still buy into Comparison’s lies. We still invest every ounce of our being into fitting in with the rest of the world, hoping that we’ll luck out. Meanwhile, we’re wasting our lives away on things that don’t ultimately matter.
“Okay, I know that whole fame, riches, and glory thing didn’t work out for the last guy, but maybe it will for me. Maybe, at the end of my life, those things will actually fill this pit that’s growing, gaping, and festering inside of me.”
In that moment, right when you think that prettier skin, more money, a record label, or more public recognition will make you feel whole, Comparison wins. And why is this so bad?
Because while we’re investing our time, money, soul, emotions, and brain capacity into these things that Comparison led us to, the things that actually matter in our lives begin to suffer. We begin focusing on ourselves. We become paralyzed in the mirror. Our number one priority in life is, well, ourselves.
We become paralyzed in the mirror. Our number one priority in life is, well, ourselves.
As long as we keep ourselves at the front of the line, hoping that our spiritual life, our family and community will fall in line behind us, they will actually just fall off completely.
I’ve learned this about Comparison. He will consume my thoughts with myself. When I’m stuck in the habit of comparing myself to others in order to “improve” and to fill the hole in my heart, selfishness takes root. I become king.
Like I said, I battle with Comparison daily. However, I’ve found that there’s one surefire way to fight back and win. When I remember that I am not king, and when I decide to focus on loving others versus indulging on thoughts of myself, Comparison loses his grip on my heart. When I lay down my desires and look in the bible to see what the ultimate King wants for me, Comparison doesn’t stand a chance.
I’m warning you: Putting God and others first and living second does not fit in with the rat race. Comparison will tell you that you’re wasting your time and falling behind. But remember that there is more to this life waiting for us at the end of the road, and as Francis Chan said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” – Francis Chan
Meet your neighbors. Love your family. Give to those in need. Get to know what God wants for you. Don’t let Comparison tell you what success looks like. He just wants you to look like the rest of the world, but you were made for something much greater.
Caitlin Jordan is the managing editor for I Am Second. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram (@caitlinr_jordan).
For another story on how the world’s definition of success did not satisfy, watch our new White Chair Film: