The Blog: On Second Thought

Remi Adeleke #rethinkyourheroes

When I was a kid, my mom would take my brother and I to the movies. It was somewhat of a pastime for us to detach from our life and turn to this new world through film for two hours. This movie by the name of Bad Boys came out, which was directed by Michael Bay. That was the first movie I remember seeing where there were two heroes who looked like me and they weren’t playing thugs or gangsters or drug dealers but instead they were playing heroes who were essentially running, gunning and saving the day.

A year later Michael Bay’s second film The Rock came out, and that was the first time I was exposed to Navy SEALs. I was just blown away by this portrayal of men who were coming out of the water going into this place to go sacrifice themselves to save others. That really resignation with me and I thought if I was to ever turn my life around, that’s what I would do.

Ever since I was young I always wanted to control things. When I would want something I would literally, if I had to, I would run through walls to get it. I’ve always felt like I’ve needed to be the one to make things happen in my life. And it’s hard for me to trust people or to trust something outside of me.


When my father died, I took in any and everything that I felt would satisfy that paternal void, that would teach me how to be a man.


Through culture, music, I was constantly bombarded with this message that said, “You’re a young African American male, you need to be a hustler, or you need to be a thug, or you need to be a player.” Because I didn’t have a positive male role model to tell me otherwise to say “No. This is not what a man is. This is what a man is.”

I started out stealing from my mom that progressed to running scams and that progressed to selling drugs. When my father died, I took in any and everything that I felt would satisfy that paternal void, that would teach me how to be a man. One day I was laying in bed and this voice, whatever it was, it was a voice to me but it just kept on pressing upon me that I needed to join the military. I needed to get out of New York and joining the military is what I needed to do.

It’s not many jobs out there where you can get paid to you know, jump out of planes and go after bad guys, protect those who couldn’t protect themselves. Essentially be that guy who stood in the face of bullies and said not on my watch.

My acting coach, he trained Stella Adler. Stella Adler was a proponent for actors getting out of their environment and traveling the world, seeing different cultures, tasting different foods, experiencing love, experiencing pain, experiencing all these experiences that life has to offer, and then taking those experiences and cataloging them so that actor is able to pull from those experiences to bring the character to life.


I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my entire life. I literally began to cry out to Jesus. “Help me, Jesus. Help me.”


Going to cold weather survival training in Alaska, and while I would walk through this wilderness I really had time to reflect upon myself in the silence because it was completely silent out there. I’d began to think about how I treated my mom and how I treated people I claimed I loved. I would think about things that I did in the past and I still yearned for that paternal presence.

I couldn’t really sleep and then I began to have suicidal thoughts. I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my entire life. I didn’t know anything about the Bible but by a simple ounce of faith I literally began to cry out to Jesus.

“Help me, Jesus. Help me.”

Then I began to surround myself around Christians who didn’t just read the Bible but they actually lived the Bible and I began to pray and all I wanted to do was be with him and do for him and forsake that life I used to live and live this new life with him. My whole life was dramatically changed. I just like I felt God telling me you need to join the military, I felt God pressing upon me the importance of it’s time for you to get out of the military, it’s time for you to move on, I have something else for you.

I didn’t know how I was going to pay the bills. I was expecting to have all these opportunities for speaking engagements because I got into speaking and that didn’t happen. The phones didn’t ring. I began to get really nervous because I knew that I had only about six months of savings. I have a wife and she’s pregnant with our first son. We’re just barely scraping through, like we’re living paycheck to paycheck.


It just didn’t work out the way I expected it, and when it didn’t work out I got so frustrated. I got mad at God. It was silence. It was silence.


I had financial problems and then to compound the financial problems we had significant marriage problems. And the marriage problems were so bad we both contemplated getting a divorce. It just didn’t work out the way I expected it, and when it didn’t work out I got so frustrated. There was a point where I got mad at God. Did I hear you wrong? Was I supposed to get out of the military? Was I supposed to make that decision? It was silence. It was silence.

Around that time, I received a phone call from a lady who I worked with years prior, she cast me in a TV show by the name of The Last Ship back in 2013 for a day of filming.

She said, Well, I’ve been trying to find you for this movie that starts filming tomorrow.”

I was like, “Ok what move is that?”

She said, “Well, its Transformers.”

I started out as a day player, two weeks later I was called back for three more weeks of filming. I started to get lines from the director, which was unusual for me because I was like Wow I’m just a background extra.

He said to me, “Hey, the director wants to upgrade you to a principal role, are you available to film for the rest of production?”

And I said, “Absolutely.”


I know that his plan is better than any plan that I could ever have, even though his plan may not make sense to me.


The director happened to be Michael Bay. The same one who inspired me to be a SEAL. You know when you look at my story going from the Bronx, to the military, then to special operations out of that in a marriage, being a husband and being a father and then, now having a career in acting in the film industry. There’s one word I could sum it up with: God.

And so he’s been with me throughout my entire life. He’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. And he’s used it all to bring me to where I’m at today. I don’t want to force things anymore. I just want to allow God to do whatever it is that he wants to do in my life.

If he wants to take me out of this acting career next week then so be it. If he wants me to get back into the military, so be it. If he wants me to go into ministry full-time, so be it. If he wants me to take up a job, I don’t know, as a pilot or whatever, so be it. Because I know that his plan is better than any plan that I could ever have and even though his plan may not make sense to me. Within his plans is everything that I need and everything that not just good for me but good for my family as well.

(Photo source: Dollar Photo Club)

recent survey says we all have on average 155 friends on Facebook but would only turn to four of them for help. Maybe we don’t all “like” each other as much as we thought. I love social media. I really do. But it has it’s limitations. And to see those limitations sometimes we just need to stop, take a step back, and go grab a coffee with a friend.

So here it is. I’m proposing we take a break from social media. Not completely. Just that we create some spaces in our schedule that’s dedicated to some offline face to face interactions. And I’m completely aware of the irony of saying we should take a break from social media on social media. I even hope that tons of people like and comment and share this post today on #socialmediaday and then shuts their phone off and goes out with a friend.

 

Most of us have been there. We step away for a day or so (or let’s be real, an hour) but wonder if our perceived fans might wonder where we went. They must know I’m good in [enter phase in life] with [enter friend, spouse, pet].

Or, there’s the dreaded F.O.M.O. (fear of missing out) that creeps up with a middle-school type anxiety we thought was long gone. Or maybe you’re just a stalker that likes to check out what others are doing, without ever actually posting or commenting on anything. Regardless, most of us know we are dependent on having technology at our fingertips.

Let me tell you something: That’s not good. The truth is social media dependence affects our brains, productivity, relationships, and even life span on this earth (I’m being serious, click on the links and see.)

But for some reason, we keep going back to it like a drug. It tastes so good that our body and mind begins to crave that instant gratification and easy entertainment. So maybe you’ve said, for the 100th time, that it’s time to take a break. Maybe you’re aware of the negative effects it’s having. But you need a little extra motivation. Here are some real benefits of living beyond the virtual world and re-introducing that old term known as “real life.”

1. Real Connections

Think back on some of the greatest moments in your life. Did they involve real people and real events? As much as technology can try to imitate great moments, it is still a poor comparison to sitting down with someone or a group of people and really connecting, learning from each other, and truly laughing out loud.

We were created to be in community with one another, and when we do this, we fill a real need that can’t be supplemented.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25


Think back on some of the greatest moments in your life. Did they involve real people and real events?


2)   Contentment

Keeping up with the Joneses takes on an entirely new meaning when we add a social media highlight reel to the mix. You know what I’m talking about. It’s how whatever it is that you feel you are lacking is exactly the thing that keeps popping up on your Facebook, Twitter, and Insta feeds. Or it’s showing up in everyone’s stories on Snapchat, taunting you and dragging you into that dreaded comparison game.

You can avoid it by backing away from the social crack. Comparison can be toxic to our relationships and health. Remember that if you already struggle with comparison, it will only be exasperated on social media, so don’t keep feeding the monster. Rather, understand that everyone is fighting his or her own battle and there is an ultimate purpose behind it all. Taking a break from the virtual world and adding real connections will help you see that  all people are broken and struggle with something.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. Proverbs 14:30

3)   Not Missing out – for real

The irony is that in the fear of missing out we are actually missing out! On real life.

When we are stuck on our devices, we stop taking in our surroundings, exploring, being creative and making eye contact with loved ones.

We try to capture every moment, so much so that we are missing the moment itself.

may be wrong here, but I’m pretty sure that on our deathbeds we won’t wish we’d posted one more update or sent one last tweet. Check yourself, and don’t miss out on what really matters.

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall”. 1 Peter 1:24

4)   Getting raw and helping people

In a world where filters abound, editing is the norm and angles are carefully calculated, seeing something that does not seem so “made-up” is rather refreshing. When we admit our failures and struggles, not only do we bravely go against the grain, but we also give others confidence to do the same. A sigh of relief, if you will, that we don’t have to have it all together and that, frankly, it shouldn’t be the expectation. When you get real, it stands out from the clutter. People listen. People receive hope.

It’s a real-life #nofilter.

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

2 Corinthians 11:30


Look up. Look around. And then realize how disconnected we look when we’re sitting three feet across from one another and might as well be 3,000 miles away.


5)   Be a real star

I’ve taken a quick inventory of the people that have made the biggest difference in my life. They are not the people with the biggest or coolest social media accounts, but those that cared and loved me the most. People that cared more about others than keeping up with a personal brand. Those that cared about the message they were delivering with their actions, more than just their words. The quiet ones. The ones set out to make an eternal impact.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3  

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all things in social media are bad. It gives everyone an opportunity to have a voice, whereas before only a select few could occupy the elite media space. But what do you think makes more of a difference in someone’s life: A 10-second Snapchat, or a 10-hour day spent learning, living, and listening?

Maybe you aren’t quite ready for a full social media detox. But think about taking small steps. Commit to going to dinner with a friend or your family and not checking your phone once. Look up. Look around. And then realize how disconnected we look when we’re sitting three feet across from one another and might as well be 3,000 miles away.

I think you’ll like what you find.

 

Marleny Wood coordinates the social media side of I Am Second but is currently off her phone with her son.

Seidl in the middle of the market in Jerusalem. (Source: Jonathon M. Seidl)

We talk a lot about being real, raw, and relatable around the I Am Second office. I’m about to be more real and raw than I planned on being when I first started working here.

As I sit here writing this, I’m a little tired. Not because It’s 3:15 in the afternoon, but because I took my medication at lunch. My medication makes me tired. That’s why I usually try to take it at night. And that’s part of the reason there are days I go to bed at 7:30 p.m. (I say “part” of the reason because the truth is I also have an 8-month-old daughter that likes to get up anywhere from 4:30—5:30 a.m.)

See, I have a secret that I’ve kept from a lot of people. I’ve told close friends and family. But I still have a fear about coworkers, bosses, and others knowing. I think the big reason is I don’t want anyone to ever use the excuse, “Oh, that’s just the ____ talking,” or, “Oh, you’re acting that way/feel that way because of the ______ .”

But something has been happening lately. Karis Rogerson has been taking space on this blog to be vulnerable about her struggles. She’s incredible. She’s inspiring. She’s challenged us to talk about our problems so that they can’t control us. And I thought it time to follow her lead. Likewise, the newest member of the I Am Second team, Caitlin McCoy, vowed to get really vulnerable with you. I respect that. A lot. And what better way to hold her to that than to put myself out there, too?

So want to know what medication I take? It’s called Fluoxetine. You probably know it as its name-brand equivalent: Prozac. It’s a popular anti-depressant. I don’t struggle with depression. (In fact, a lot of people say I’m one of the most joyful person they’ve met.) But Fluoxetine can also be used to treat some other things. Those “other things” include anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I have been diagnosed with anxiety and OCD.

You have no idea what’s going on inside me right now admitting that to the world. To my bosses. To everyone I work with, have worked with, and will work with.


You have no idea what’s going on inside me right now admitting that to the world. To my bosses. To everyone I work with, have worked with, and will work with.


This isn’t the ho-hum OCD that we all joke about (which, by the way, doesn’t offend me). But it isn’t the type that forces me to wash my hands an excessive amount of times. Mine is a mild form (that’s what my doctor says, at least), but even that has been life-altering. The stories I’m about to tell you aren’t exaggerations. They are my reality.

  • Before getting help, I would regularly re-read emails (especially ones I sent) upwards of 50 times, convinced there was an error I was missing, or a tone I was communicating that I didn’t pick up on the first 49 times.
  • There were times I would lay in bed at night, convinced I didn’t lock my truck. I recently forgot to take my medication for a few days. I woke up at 3 a.m. with the locked-not-locked scenario in my head. I got up, stumbled through the house, opened my garage door, and was greeted (no lie) by a black cat with a still-wiggling mouse in its mouth. My truck was, of course, locked.
  • Sometimes, when cleaning the house with my wife, I would get really annoyed if she wasn’t doing it in a certain order. “The floor before the dishes? Why?!” Seriously. She would ask, “What’s wrong? Why do you seem so upset?” It caused strife in our marriage.
  • I couldn’t let things go. My wife once scrapped her car bumper and I obsessed over it for a week. I mean, like, couldn’t stop thinking about it. “How much is this going to cost? Why does this happen whenever we get nice things? Why couldn’t she see the other car? What’s this going to do to the trade-in value?” The questions haunted me. That may be hard to understand if you don’t have OCD, but people who share the struggle know exactly what I’m talking about.
  • Last month (again, after being off medication for a few days), I was driving to the store. At the intersection, I heard something underneath my truck. The non-OCD person would think, “Oh, I just ran over a piece of trash.” Me? I drove to the store and couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I had ran over a pedestrian. Not only did I retrace my route, but I went back around the block and checked again (literally three minutes later) to make sure. I was looking for blood, for sirens, for people taking pictures. I still thought I had missed something when I got home.

There’s one story that finally made me get help. About two years ago, my wife and I were living in a loft in downtown Dallas. The bottom floor included a hipster coffee shop that we frequented. I like Sweet & Low in my coffee, not real sugar. The coffee shop had some, but not on a regular basis. It was more of a Splenda place. Gross.

On this day, my wife took care of getting the coffee while I ran to the bathroom. I told her I wanted Sweet & Low in it. When I returned, I took a sip of the coffee. It was Splenda.

I can’t describe what happened in my brain. I didn’t get enraged and lose it. But a rush of anger, disappointment, and “Why couldn’t you do this one simple thing?” flooded over me. I didn’t want to feel that way. I remember even telling myself, “This is not a big deal!” But it was.

My wife told me to get over myself. That just made it worse, and started a bad cycle. Our day was ruined. Seriously. For the rest of the day I couldn’t get over her putting the wrong sweetener in my coffee and then telling me to get over it.

It was awful.

The next morning, I finally told her I needed to get help. I knew this wasn’t normal. I called my sister who I knew had struggled with OCD and had seen a psychiatrist. I explained what was going on. She chuckled.

“Oh, Jonny, you definitely have it. Don’t you know it runs in the family?” No, I didn’t. She proceeded to rattle off all the names. It was an epiphany moment — so much made sense now! I hung up and scheduled a doctor’s appointment.


In philosophy, it’s understood that naming something gives you power over it. This is me naming my struggle. This is me proclaiming, to all of you, that I’ve named it.


***

My doctor tells me a little OCD is a good thing. It really can motivate you. It can make you detail-oriented. That’s true. I tend to be thorough. I go above-and-beyond. I don’t like leaving tasks unfinished. I really push for clarity and don’t like leaving things unsaid. Those kinds of things.

But there’s an ugly side. If I’m wronged, it haunts me. If I fail, it haunts me. If I think too much about something haunting me, that haunts me.

Those are the days it “wins.”

But guess what: Since I’ve started being more open about it, since I’ve forgiven the church denomination I grew up in for classifying it as a “lack of faith” problem, and since I’ve been letting people into my battle who constantly remind of what is really true and what really matters, the disease is losing its power. There are more days where win.

In philosophy, it’s understood that naming something gives you power over it. We see it as far back as Genesis. I think that’s part of what this whole post is about. This is me naming my struggle. This is me proclaiming, to all of you, that I’ve named it.

I’m Jon and I have anxiety and OCD. It’s not the other way around.

____

Katy Perry’s new album “Witness”

Say what you will about Katy Perry, but I love her honesty. The title track for her latest album, Witness, is a soliloquy of doubt and loneliness. I won’t name names, but these dark themes fail to surface on the “positive and encouraging” genre of radio stations that are out there. And it’s why you’ll find me listening to some of the less “encouraging” musical artists on occasion.

See, great music, great lyrics puts sound and words to feelings. Sometimes, I doubt. I have fear and anxiety. I wonder if I’m alone in the world, if anybody cares. And I crave music that can put words to those parts of my soul. Words like Katy Perry’s:


If I lost it all today, would you stay?
Could my love be enough to stimulate?
If s*^t hit the fan, grenades got thrown
Would you still show, oh?
Could you go down with me to the mat?
Could we get back up and eventually laugh?
Roll eyes at highs, cheers in the lows, and stay in the flow.


There is a song in the Bible by the Sons of Korah called Psalm 88 that’s a pure cry into the darkness. It says things like:


You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.


And other lines like:


From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.


 

And if that wasn’t dim enough, the song ends with this:


You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.


You read this song and you keep waiting for God to show up, for the ending to turn happy, but it never does. The song ends with a God that didn’t show up. It ends in darkness and loneliness. But that’s why I love it so much.

I’m a believer. I know that in the end God is going to be there for me. I know that. But when I can’t pay my bills, a friend betrays me, or I lose a child, I don’t feel like he’s going to show up. I feel alone. I feel that “darkness is my closest friend.” And for some reason, knowing that someone, anyone, has also felt this despair makes it all a little less despairing. In some strange way, I find the dark and lonely songs by Katy Perry and the Sons of Korah oddly encouraging, precisely because they offer no encouragement.

Now, some of you are already crafting an angry comment about why I shouldn’t write about Katy Perry. So, I’ll just end with this: she’s looking for a connection, someone to get her through whatever she is going through, maybe you can be a witness instead. Besides, who doesn’t need a witness?

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

(Photo source: https://www.facebook.com/JustinBieber/)

I am a Belieber.

I’ll just say that upfront.

I don’t have the T-shirt. I’ve never seen him in concert. But I’m a fan of Justin Bieber. I remember watching the YouTube videos that launched his crazy rise to fame. It wasn’t some marketing firm or record company rep that got his music out there. It was him on a crummy camera blasting us away with his vocals. Thankfully, the production quality of his music has improved with time.

Now, I say all this, not to endorse everything he’s ever done, said, or sang about. Let’s be honest. I wouldn’t endorse everything I’ve ever done, said, or, well, attempted to sing. I say this because love him or hate him, he’s got some truth we all need to hear. And some of these truths we don’t hear nearly as often or as loudly as we should. Here are a few of those truths:

 

1. “God is in the midst of the evil”.

On May 22 of this year, a suicide bomber killed 23 adults and children and injured another 119 following an Ariana Grande concert. So, Justin Bieber and others joined up for “One Love Manchester,” a benefit concert for those injured or killed. Justin got on stage and said this:


“God is good in the midst of the darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil. God is in the midst. No matter what’s happening in the world, God is in the midst. And he loves you and he’s here for you.”


I recently shared about the suicide of my absolute best friend from childhood. I remember just searching and struggling for answers. And the only answer I ever really found came from a line in a song written by a man named David in the Bible. He wrote, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me.”

I haven’t really told this story much in public, but, more recently, my wife and I had a still born child. And there is absolutely nothing you can say to comfort that or to wipe away that pain. You just have to be in the sadness and know that God is sitting next you. That’s it.

 

2. “What a better way to fight evil…with good.”

At that same concert, Justin challenged us to fight evil with good. He said,


“Love always wins in the end. What a better way to fight evil…with good.”


That doesn’t seem like anything big or shocking on the surface, but think about it for a second. Some group of people just set off a bomb, killing and maiming innocent men, women, and children. Children! And Justin Bieber challenges us to fight this gruesome and terrible violence with goodness and love. That’s bold.

Jesus taught that when someone hits us in the face, we should turn our head and let them hit the other side. That’s insane, that’s bold. But that’s Jesus. And according to Jesus, love is our weapon. I don’t hear this near enough in my circles.

 

3. “We have the greatest healer of all and his name is Jesus Christ.”

I’m not even going to give you commentary here. Just read what he said in an interview with Complex magazine:

“If you believe it, he died for our sins… What Jesus did when he came to the cross was basically say, ‘You don’t have to feel any of that stuff.’ We could take out all of our insecurities, we could take away all of the hurt, all the pain, all the fear, all the trauma. That doesn’t need to be there. So all this healing that your’re trying to do, it’s unnecessary. We have the greatest healer of all and his name is Jesus Christ. And he really heals. This is it. It’s time that we all share our voice… I’m at a point where I’m not going to hold this in.”

 

4. “None of us can handle this world, dude! It’s eating us alive.”

Pick up the Bible and read any story out of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and you’ll find a theme. There was one group of people that just really got to Jesus. Seriously, you can tie Jesus down and whip him to within an inch of his life and then string him up on a cross to die and he’ll say, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” But this group of people ticked him off so bad that he got out a whip, flipped tables, yelling “Get them out of here!”

And what is this group, you may ask? Religious people. Hmm. If you are a church going person, beware.

Too often, what I hear is there is this magic list of bad things that you need to avoid, usually all the sexual stuff, drugs and alcohol, and maybe a few others. Do these things and you are out. And of course Christians like to shout out how good they are at avoiding this list. But this list is the same list religious people had in the time of Jesus. And it didn’t work for them. And in walks Justin Bieber:


“If we can understand that we’re all imperfect, let’s come to God and come for his help. You’re not weak by doing that. I think that’s a common misconception of Christians, that you’re being weak because you can’t handle it. None of us can handle this world, dude! It’s eating us alive.”


 

So there it is. I’m a Belieber. I’m not asking you to convert. I just want you to hear him out. He’s speaking some truth here. We need a little less pride in ourselves, a little more pride in Jesus, and we need to stop running from sadness and grief and just know that God is in the midst of the evil.

 

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

 

 

More on Justin Bieber

You need to read what Justin Bieber just said about Christianity–because he’s right- I never thought I’d say this: Justin Bieber understands Christianity better than a lot of people I know. And there’s a lot about Justin Bieber’s Christianity that I want.

Justin Bieber nails it regarding God and faith…again- I mess up; I disappoint people; I’ll always disappoint people; but God still loves me and that love is unconditional.

 

More from Doug Bender

13 Reasons Why NOT: an Open Letter to My Friend Who Committed Suicide- I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you.

Friend or Foe: My Brain Can’t Tell the Difference- 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.

Nashville Predators- Mike Fisher

I’d get the question: “Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

And it was: “An NHL hockey player”.

That’s all I wanted to do. I remember just the anticipation, I loved to compete.I  loved the speed of it. I loved to score. I grew up in Peterborough, Ontario. Peterborough was a hockey town, so it was filled with hockey rinks. I tried balancing that with school and church and family. 

Hockey is stats-related, performance-based sport. I think that carried over as a kid into just trying to be a good kid. At six years old, I was about to go to school and I asked my mom if I could ask the Lord into my heart. I still remember where I’m on my knees and prayed with my mom.  


I make it to the NHL. I’m making a great salary. I made my childhood dream. Everything was great on the exterior, but in the interior, not good at all.


I left home at seventeen. I was drafted into the Ontario Hockey League, so I went away at seventeen and left family and friends, and the security of home and church. I was playing with 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 year-olds and I struggled. I was trying too much to fit in. I was focusing for so long on what I can’t do. I can’t swear, can’t drink, can’t have sex. I can’t do all these things. And meanwhile, inside, I’m not focusing on that relationship with God. Hockey took over.

At nineteen, I make it to the NHL. I’m making a great salary. That’s it. I made it. I made my childhood dream and everything was great on the exterior, but in the interior, not good at all. I remember signing my first contract. I was nineteen years old. It’s kind of a little bit unbelievable. That’s every kid’s dream, to sign a contract, and I remember going out that night to a bar, gettin’ drunk, making a bad decision, and waking up the next morning and feeling like the worst piece of crap that I could ever felt like.

There was a lot of inside feelings of a lot of different things. I was letting people down. I was letting God down. I was trying to hide, trying to pretend like everything was great. Still go to church, but maybe be hung-over. Not really into it, but just putting up a facade. When I did a Bible study with my cousin, who I was living with at the time, at the age of about 22, I get to a scripture, Luke 9: 23-25, and it says:


“If you want to be a follower of me, you have to put aside your own selfish desires, shoulder your cross daily and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it, but if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. What do you benefit if you gain the whole world, but lose your own soul in the process?”


I remember that scripture just hitting me, that was for me. I’d reached my dreams. I had money and everything. I thought I was cool and it just wasn’t working. I knew where the answer was, but I hadn’t been looking for it in the right places. Through a process of just praying and getting in the Word with my cousin my life was changed. For the first time, I remember thinking: “Man, this is really real.”

It wasn’t because of my parents. It wasn’t because I was supposed to be in church. It became real to me. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly God changed me on the inside. I started to not worry about the dollars, but just focus on just pursuing him. And slowly, God started to just bring up stuff. I started to confess things in my life that I wasn’t proud of. God just kind of released that. It wasn’t religion anymore, it was a real relationship and it was awesome.

Game day, I start to get goose bumps, thankful to be able to do what I love to do. I fail, definitely. I’m on the back end of my career. I’m a guy that’s kind of not very patient at times, and I’m a slow healer. But I finally figured out that it wasn’t just about performing. It was about just accepting his love in spite of our failures and our mistakes. That love of the Father is unconditional, and that’s a pretty good feeling to know how much he loves me.

My name is Mike Fisher, and I Am Second. 

Mike Fisher is a recipient of the NHL Foundation Player Award, recognizing commitment, perseverance, and teamwork on and off the ice. He has played in the NHL since 1999 with the Ottawa Senators and then in 2011 with the Nashville Predators. In 2016, he was named captain and is currently playing for the Stanley Cup against the Pittsburgh Penguins.


More Feature Stories

Chris Plekenpol: God must have taken a vacation because there’s no way He can be present in a situation like this. That was Chris’s rationale after being deployed to Iraq where no day, hour or minute was certain.

Josh Turner: God inspired me to write “Long Black Train.” I wrote this song, by myself, in my apartment, and it came to me in a vision. It’s a vision of this long, black, beautiful, shiny train, and people are standing out to the sides of the track, watching this train go by, just craving to get on it.

(Photo source: pexels.com)

I can still see the sales rack in my mind. I can hear the hangers clanking as I fingered through the T-shirts. I can even tell you exactly where in the store I stood staring at the bright yellow and blue “3 for $18.99” sales sign.

All my clothes came via my older brother, thrift shops, or family friends. Well, except the clothes my mom made herself. So, maybe I wasn’t the most stylish kid on the block. Obviously, this sales rack meant some desperately needed style in my life. No more handmade clothes and no more hand-me-downs. This was a shot at the real thing. My homeschool co-op was going to think me the hottest kid at the science fair. Yes, I was homeschooled and my mom made my clothes. I know. I know.


This was a shot at the real thing. My homeschool co-op was going to think me the hottest kid at the science fair.


Never mind, that it was a discount retail store where I stood staring at the rack. Mom told me I could pick from that rack any three T-shirts. Three! Can you imagine that. I’d never had three new shirts ever. I could only pick from that one rack, but who cares. They were new and not made by mom. I love you, mom!

Twenty years later, I can still feel the emotional rise and joy of the moment. I touched and examined every one of those shirts. I was there for at least an hour engulfed in decision making. Looney Tunes were cool then. Well, at least I thought they were, but we’ve already discussed my level of style at the time. I got one Tasmanian Devil shirt with some sassy saying, a Daffy Duck shirt, and a Looney Tunes compilation shirt. And I wore those things for years, and I do mean years. Of all my early childhood, those shirts rank top four possessions along with a Styrofoam plane, Mario Brothers, and a Mickey Mouse that read books to me.

I’m now married, have kids, a good job. And I don’t shop at that store anymore. A class thing, I guess. Somehow, it feels below me. I’m embarrassed to even say that. I erased this paragraph like five times trying to decide if I’d even tell you this. But there it is. I think I’m too good to shop at that discount retailer.

What happened? Those shirts brought me years of joy and pride but now I’ve got a brand name shirt on. And the thing is, I’m no happier than I was twenty years ago wearing those Looney Tunes T-shirts.


The problem isn’t that I don’t have a nicer shirt, because I got that. The problem is I think that nicer shirt will make me happy.


There is a name for this. It’s called materialism. Sometimes it’s called the love of money, greed, or discontentment. Whatever we call it, I’ve got it. I find myself leaning on money and stuff for happiness. I haven’t learned to beat it yet. I’d like to be perfectly content with any financial situation. That’d be just plain contentment. I’m not. I find myself at a place I call happy discontentment. I don’t spend crazy or have a house full of stuff I don’t use, but I do carry with me this itch for more. I don’t need more, but something in me wants more. I’m happy with my life, but carry with me this discontented itch. So, I find myself at happy discontentment.

No matter how many shirts I buy or how much money I spend on those shirts, I’ve never been happier than when I got three terribly 90’s Looney Tunes T-shirts. The problem isn’t that I don’t have a nicer shirt, because I got that. The problem is I think that nicer shirt will make me happy.

 

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer, small groups coach, and author of I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives. and Live Second: 365 Ways to Make Jesus First.

 

 

More from Doug Bender

13 Reasons Why NOT: an Open Letter to My Friend Who Committed Suicide- I was the last person you ever called and I missed it. I’m still not sure how it happened. But you took your life before I could call you back. I remember calling the next day. Your mom answered and said they couldn’t find you.

Friend or Foe: My Brain Can’t Tell the Difference- 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.

How Ashton Kutcher Saved Me from Growing a Beard- 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.

Nashville Predators- Mike Fisher

I have never followed professional hockey in my life. I grew up in the Panhandle of Texas, and I’m not sure that there was even a single hockey rink in those hundreds of square miles. No one talked about hockey when I was a kid. Baseball was even kind of an afterthought. Football was, and is, king. Basketball just got us through the winter.  

Though certain sports, hockey included, aren’t part of my DNA, I’ve learned to watch and enjoy them over the years, especially when the team is doing well, which is the case for this year’s Nashville Predators.  

Sometimes I’m more drawn to the players themselves than I am the game that they play. That’s one of the things that makes sports so compelling – knowing the individual stories of the athletes. Watching them overcome adversity, whether in their childhood years or after they achieved some level of success.  

Mike Fisher, captain of the Nashville Predators, is one of those people.  And right now, he and the Predators are going after the biggest prize in all of professional hockey – the Stanley Cup.

So, the big question is: what does it mean to be second when you’re pursuing the position of Number 1? Can you still be second to God and others when the goal is to be the very best in your chosen field of endeavor? I want to do the best I can be in my job. I want to be the best father I can be. Deep down, I want to be first. First, while being second.  Seems like an oxymoron, right?  Well, not really.


Living second doesn’t mean that we don’t give our best. It doesn’t mean we’re a doormat for others. It doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be better than we were before and reach for the stars.


We have all desired to be number one at something. Whether it was finishing a race as a child or your place in line when the new iPhone came out. First feels good! First is first for crying out loud!  What did Ricky Bobby say? “If you ain’t first you’re last!” And the general consensus is that the late Dale Earnhardt is responsible for letting us all know that second is the first loser.

Well, you can actually live second and finish first. That is what Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators is trying to do right now. They won some very tough games in the playoffs, and now they’re right in the middle of pursuing the biggest prize in professional hockey – the Stanley Cup.  Knowing what we know about Mike, I am confident that he is giving 100%.

Living second doesn’t mean that we don’t give our best.  It doesn’t mean we’re a doormat for others.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t strive to be better than we were before and reach for the stars.  

But it does acknowledge that the people in our lives are ours to serve and love and support.  And that God wants each of us to put our pride and ambitions aside if those things are damaging to others. Living second is a win/win. It puts a balance in our lives that can’t be achieved through the constant pursuit of ‘self’.

As the Predators continue to win in their pursuit to be the best in the world, I think it’s safe to say that their Captain understands that winning in life, through living second, is the sweetest victory of all.  

And that’s the main reason I’m watching. Mike Fisher brought me to hockey.  I was a fan of his story and his character before I knew anything about his sport. If you haven’t heard his story check it out here. I know enough about him to know that he understands that there are more important things in life than winning. How we treat people while we’re on this earth, and the legacy that we leave behind in the small things transcends any victory that we might achieve in our professions.

So, when the remaining games in this Stanley Cup final are on television, you know where I’ll be – cheering on the Preds, knowing that whether they win or lose the most important things have already been won. This small town boy from the flat, arid lands of Texas, where a hockey rink is less common than a UFO sighting, is a fan for life.   

 

Stan Fletcher’s day job is showing people around Lieper’s Fork Distillery as a tour guide.  He writes music, plays the guitar, and performs weekly at various spots around Nashville.  He has been involved in various aspects of I Am Second since the beginning of 2016.  Stan was a pastor in Seattle and Scottsdale for 13 years.

(Photo source: pexels.com)

In the Friends” episode, The One That Could Have Been, Fat Monica is sitting at her kitchen table with Chandler, upset that her boyfriend ran out on their date because of work. In her frustration, she blurts out, “Chandler, I’m going to die a virgin!” As if such a fate was actually worse than death.

Monica’s disappointment and embarrassment about being a 30-year-old virgin reflects how our society views those who are sexually abstinent in adulthood whether by choice or lack of opportunity.

I can’t speak for society, but I can speak for myself. I laughed at that scene, not because I thought it was funny, but because I identified with Monica. In fact, I exclaimed, “Me too!”

Now, sex in and of itself would be a horrible reason to get married. So let me be clear, that is not the only reason I would like to be married one day.

I know marriage is more than sex, and that marriage is beautiful and hard and all that. I know it doesn’t complete me. I know marriage will not make me happier. I get it.

But sometimes I fall prey to the belief that in our society, it would be easier to be married and Christian than single and Christian.

If I were a married Christian lady, nobody would think twice about me staying faithful to my husband. If I did sleep around, the world would actually look down on me.

Case in point: In that same “Friends” episode, Rachel has the opportunity to cheat on her husband with Joey Tribbiani, the Soap Opera star, but she doesn’t. She feels overwhelmed with guilt for even entertaining the idea because cheating on her husband would make her a horrible person.

However, as a single Christian lady, I still believe the only man I should sleep with is my husband. God just hasn’t revealed the identity of that lucky man yet. The world thinks I’m crazy for wanting to be faithful to a man who may very well not even exist.

I’ll be 29 this year, and I can count on one hand the amount of dates I’ve been on in my life. I’ve never been on a date with a man where I’ve enjoyed myself and wanted to continue the relationship. They’ve all been awkward, and then I had to do the whole “I don’t really like you that way. Let’s pretend like we’re going to stay friends, but I’m actually going to avoid you like the plague from here on out because I feel guilty for possibly hurting your feelings” thing.

Let me share with you a list of some situations I’d rather not go through again:

  • Being told by a guy I like he’s not that interested in me
  • Telling a guy I’m not that interested in him
  • Kidney stones

So after one painfully awkward date, I told God I would prefer not to be asked out at all than to be asked out by a man whom I’d have to reject.

God is faithful, and I have not been asked out since August 2012.

I’m telling you this because I need you to know I’m not some super holy person who has resisted so much temptation in an effort to stay faithful to my future husband; I’ve had no opportunity to be unfaithful. (At least not physically… emotionally unfaithful? Well that’s a story for another day.)

I’m just a girl who somedays feels like the biggest loser in the world and who sometimes believes no man will ever find her beautiful or love her. A girl who struggles with loneliness and feeling unwanted.

But those are my feelings; they are not my reality.

My reality is a Father who has beautifully protected me from the pain and destruction of sexual sin thus far in my life, but whose affection is not contingent upon my perfection. I am loved.

My reality is a Savior who loved me at my worst and who continues to recklessly pursue my heart. I am wanted.

My reality is a Great Comforter who guides and guards me as I navigate the trials and joys of this world. I am never alone.

Feelings often take awhile to catch up to God’s truth. They also forget easily. I have to remind my heart daily of the truth, so my feelings can be rooted in God’s Word and not fear.

My fear of being single forever and dying a virgin finds its root in the fear of being an outsider and misunderstood and ridiculed. Ironically enough, God’s Word promises exactly those things for those who follow Jesus.

We were never meant to “fit in” in this world; we were meant to change it. And in our weakness and struggles, God shines brightest.

“…I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ might rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV

I’m not implying that the single life is all calamity and hardship. For the most part, I’ve greatly enjoyed my twenties and God has taken me on many adventures that would not have been possible if I was married. Marriage would have provided its own set of hardships.

But singleness does provide a unique opportunity to live counter culturally and proclaim that God’s way is better–even if in my weakness, I still feel a tinge of embarrassment when asked about my abstinence.

Will living a chaste life while single change the world? Maybe not.

But living in obedience to God in every area of my life–big and small–certainly will.

I may very well die a virgin, but please, God, don’t let me die without changing the world.

This originally appeared on Sarah Stinson’s blog, with my whole heart. Republished with permission. 

Brian Birdwell- 9/11 Pentagon Attack Survivor

The moment when you are 15-20 yards from an 80 ton jet coming through the building at 530 mph with 3,000 gallons of jet fuel, and you live to tell about it– not because the United States army made me the toughest guy in that building, but because the toughest man that ever walked this earth 2000 years ago and sits at the right side of the father had something else in mind.

The morning of September 11, I stepped out and went to the men’s restroom, and took care of my business. I was about 7 or 8 steps out when flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at the intersection of the fourth quarter in the E ring at about a 45-degree angle.  I was thrown around, tossed around like a rag doll inside. I was set ablaze, breathing in black putrid smoke, inhaling aerosolized jet fuel, with the temperature of that air somewhere between 300-350 degrees.

You could see flesh hanging off my arms, my eyes are already beginning to swell closed, and I had no hair. The front of my shirt is still intact, my access badge and my nametag are melted, but still hanging covered in the black soot and scorched blood.  My arms are skinned alive, my pants are gone, I only have my leather belt and a portion of my pants that are in the immediate area of the belt. The flames were consuming me and I expected to pass away.

It’s really the definition of terrorism because it combines two things: One, receipt of a life threatening injury, I mean, set on fire the way I was; but combined with the blackness, the darkness and inability to navigate. Just moments before I was in a hallway that I was exceedingly familiar with, I knew exactly which way I was going. Then in that next moment on the impact of the aircraft I am being set on fire, sustaining a life threatening injury with no way to escape, and no way to know which way is to safety or to danger. That darkness and that blackness is what really captures your heart in the panic. When you meet those two circumstances, those moments seem to last an eternity.

I did what we in the military are never trained to do, which is surrender. I came to that realization that I was no longer struggling to survive, but I had stepped over that line from that desire and zest for living which we were created with to that acceptance of my death and recognizing that this is how the Lord was going to call me home. I screamed out in a loud voice, “Jesus, I am coming to see you.” Yet that didn’t come, and I lay there thinking all right Lord let’s get on with this thing. But the Lord had other purposes.

I used the wall that I had been blown up against to get up; and as I was staggering down the hallway four men, Bill McKennan, Roy Wallis, John Davies and Chuck Knoblauch come out of the B ring door area and Roy can see me, he sees me coming out of the smoke and staggering in the hallway. And in their haste to pick me up, Bill, Roy, Chuck and John each grab a limb and give that exertion to get up but I didn’t come with them.  It’s similar to that paraffin or hot wax you stick your hands in and after the wax cools it will just peel right off, and that’s what happened when Bill, Roy, Chuck and John each grabbed a limb and go to pick me up, they pulled chunks of flesh off of me and that’s my first insight into the pain thresholds that are ahead of me as a critical burn survivor.

I began screaming at them to leave me alone, and in my heart and mind am telling them to leave me there to die.  They don’t do that. Chuck actually rolls me over onto the left hand side and essentially the four of them shake hands with each other, grasping each other’s hands and wrists with my body weight resting on their arms acting as a litter to carry me through; I am yelling at them to put me down and leave me alone. I am yelling at Bill because I recognized Bill but Bill doesn’t recognize me. I am trembling violently and uncontrollably. In all my years of triage, the process is to take care of those that are most injured first, the most critical, and Dr. Baxter treats me first, and that tells me how serious injured I am.

We get to Georgetown University Hospital. On the other side of the Potomac River across the Key Bridge – there’s a lot of intensity, a lot of voice commands, a lot of directives; clearly a lot of gravity. Normally in an emergency room situation it’s airway, breathing, circulation; once those three things have been stabilized you’re evacuated to specialized care. But more importantly, when flight 77 makes impact with the Pentagon, as the third aircraft that crashed that day, inside the White House Situation Room Vice President Cheney turns to Secretary Moneta, Secretary of Transportation, and says, “Shut down all air space in the Unites States.”  that includes all medivac helicopters.  

Dr. Williams will not just do his best to stabilize me, but he began the escharotomy, the incisions, and the very ghastly things that have to be done for someone who has been so seriously and critically burned. The finality and permanency of life that I thought I was facing inside the Pentagon– I am now in an emergency room realizing that whatever I do here may be my final acts.  

 So, I told Dr. Williams I wanted to take my wedding ring off, because normally jewelry has to be cut off the burn survivor, whether it’s a ring, bracelet or necklace if that’s the part of the body burned because as swelling of the body occurs but the jewelry doesn’t swell, it becomes a tourniquet. Judith Rogers, one of the nurses in Georgetown that had answered the “all hands on deck” call to the Emergency Room, reaches for the ring as my body is cooled like that steak you take off the grill, and as Judith takes that tug and de-gloves the flesh, there’s exposed bone after she pulls it off, there is blood streaming out of the base of my hand and only the Lord can hear me scream in my mind. I am concentrating on the dignity and the finality of the death that I know I am dying; and saying goodbye to my wife and my son, and the symbolism of that wedding ring.

Mel will eventually arrive at Georgetown. Knowing that she was there was critical to me, more than anything else she was living up to the wedding vows that she had taken 14 years earlier. I am proud of her. I asked for the hospital chaplin, Chaplin Cerillo, to say that final prayer, and it’s just a prayer that says, “Okay Lord, You are in charge here. If you guide Dr William’s hand and the team here at the Georgetown Emergency Room and I survive here, we will salute that flag and move out with that mission; but if you’ve brought me here and your decision is to bring me into eternity silently and quietly under the care and compassion of my fellow Americans, we will salute that flag too.” It was with the strength, not of a soldier, but of my faith in Christ that I could look at Dr. Williams when that prayer was over with and very laboriously tell him lets get on with it,  resting in the comfort of the commander and chief of life.

General Peak very wisely asked Mel, “Has Matthew been up here to see his father?” and she said, “No, not yet.” He said, “You need to get Matthew up here because your husband is dying and your son needs to say goodbye before that happens.”

Matt would make that visit and in 20 plus years of military service, the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do was to say goodbye to my son. I remember watching Matt come in and he came into the right hand side, as I was wrapped like a mummy, with a tube in every orifice in my body. I can’t speak because of the tracheotomy and the feeding tubes and other things; but I can see him walk in and just mouth “I love you dad,” and I could sit there and mouth back to him how much I loved him; and because of that opportunity I had to say goodbye to my son, in that moment I was having my “it is finished moment”.

As hard as that was to physically and emotionally say goodbye to my son, I think about how difficult it must have been for God the Father to say goodbye to his Son for three days, his Son having known the perfection of heaven. In my death, I would be separated from my son, but joined to my heavenly father, whereas Christ’s death separated him from the perfection of heaven and the relationship he had with the Father.

Time will allow me to forgive. In fact, I can’t say that’s happened. I couldn’t look you in the eye and say, “Yeah I have forgiven and moved on,” but I can tell you that Mel and I accentuate the positive of not only having our lives to remain together and watch Matthew grow up, but also having grand kids somewhere in the future and continue to live in this great nation. We don’t think about the difficulty that five particular terrorists put us through, and concentrating on the negative of the terrorists’ actions; but we concentrate on the grace of the Lord’s actions.

You know, I got a purple heart for stepping out of a men’s restroom; and many of our men and women in uniform today earn their purple heart today by stepping out of this great nation into foreign danger zones. Christ earned his purple heart by stepping out of the perfection of heaven. And that’s exactly why the term “I am Second and He is first” is so appropriate.

My name is Brian Birdwell and I am Second.

 


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How I found myself after I lost my mother to addiction- This past May, I lost my mom to alcoholism and addiction. In truth, I had lost her before that—long before that. But the shock of it was no less jarring.

 

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Chris Plekenpol: God must have taken a vacation because there’s no way He can be present in a situation like this. That was Chris’s rationale after being deployed to Iraq where no day, hour or minute was certain.

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Sujo John: When terrorists hijacked planes and rammed them into the World Trade Center towers on 9/11/2001, his life story was altered. As the walls of the towers came crashing down around him, his wife’s whereabouts unknown, and thousands dying around him, Sujo could only rely upon God’s plan for his life. A plan which became real amidst the death and debris of Ground Zero.