Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Walk to Remember

In October 1995, more than 20 years ago, I journeyed on the Walk to Emmaus, a Christian retreat that is power-packed with 72 hours of food, fun, reflection, food, “true stories”, skits, glue, food, laughter, crying, food, and great friends. Did I mention the food?

This post isn’t about the Walk. Well, not really. It’s about me. No, seriously! It’s about me. More so, about who I used to be before I learned I had ADHD. And no, this isn't a post about ADHD, either. But I know that because I have ADHD, I was/am vulnerable to what I'm about to tell you. And I’m really surprised I am able to expose this part of my soul to you…

All through my early years and into my teens, I hated who I was. I had zero respect for myself, and I could find almost no redeeming qualities. All I knew was—I was a big nobody, and no one truly cared about me, save my parents, who were supposed to care. I had no confidence in myself, and I had no expectations that I would ever amount to anything. I felt like an ugly person who was not likable. And I also felt like the friends I had only let me hang out with them because of pity. In my head and heart, I was rejected. So, I ignored the pain and accepted it as my “normal”, and lived my miserable life. In order to cope with the pain, I became very plastic and surface level. I hid behind my religion, and behind my fa├žade, and refused to come out from behind my fortress.

Thinking about it all these years later, I don’t know why I was so hard on myself. I have never been able to find a genesis of my self-loathing. All I know is that I had absolutely no self-esteem, and I carried it with me into my adult years. Like a first-year acting student, I walked through life trying to say all the right things, and not bump into the furniture. I hid my true feelings in my sarcastic sense of humor, and prayed that no one would try to discover the real me. Because if they did, they would reject me, and it would be too painful. Sadly, this was what I carried into my marriage, and my dear wife suffered for many years from my plastic, surface level relationship.

Why am I telling you this? I’m not entirely sure, but there must be a reason. It took me decades to appreciate who I was, and decades for me to fall in love with myself. It wasn’t an “ah ha!” moment. It was a long, slow process for me to recover from my feelings of rejection and self-hatred. And the beginning of my healing occurred at Camp Butman, on the Walk to Emmaus.

One of the really cool parts of the Walk involves letters. Friends and family are asked to send a
personal note letting the individual on the Walk know how much they appreciate them.

Recently, we moved from Texas to New Mexico, and my wife has been going through old boxes and trying to get everything unpacked. She opened one very old box and discovered my stash of Emmaus letters and handed them to me, asking if I wanted to keep them. Curious about them, I placed them on my desk and planned to glance at them when I got a chance. They sat there for several days. In truth, I was ignoring them. They brought back memories of how much I hated myself when I was much younger.

I very clearly remember the day I sat down with my letters. They gave us about an hour to read them. And they warned us that we might shed a tear or two. I was not prepared for what happened to me. I looked at my stack of letters and notes, and counted more than 30 of them. I carefully opened one and read it. It was from someone I didn’t even know, but someone who knew who I was. They mentioned how they admired my sense of humor, and my casual demeanor, and my smile, and always thought I’d be fun to hang out with.

My hands began to tremble, and my heart faltered. I set that letter aside, because it must be a joke. No one wanted to hang out with me. They never did, and never would. I was a nobody. I read the next letter. It said pretty much the same thing. My breaths were cut short, and my mind was on fire. Then I read one from a friend, who I’d known my whole life, and he expressed his appreciation for me and said he always valued me as a person, and kindly thought of me as a son. That did it…the crack in the dam broke, and my mind and emotions were out of control. I began to weep. Not simply wet-eyed tears, but full-blown lamentation, all of my brokenness pouring out of me. I managed to open another letter and saw the same thing. Some kind soul sent me a note that they always enjoyed being around me, and they hoped I was having a great day. And then I completely lost it.

Our group leader was watching me, and he was very concerned. He softly approached me, “hey, are you okay?” But, I couldn’t respond. I was crying with such vitality that I couldn’t even nod. I simply buried my head into his shoulder and let the poison in my soul flush out. For more than an hour I sat and cried, and the group even went to lunch and left me sitting there (at my insistence). I simply couldn’t function. I was truly broken, and I couldn’t get control. Never before had I experienced so much love and appreciation, and when it came to me, I was simply overwhelmed. I had no idea that people liked me. And I had no idea why.

It took me weeks to read through all of my letters. Not because there were so many, but because I didn’t have the strength to continually pour myself out like that. Eventually, I read through them all, and placed them in a paper bag, and put them in a box. They have been untouched until today.

It was quite a memory for me to read through the letters. Sadly, many of the people who wrote them are no longer with us. Some of the letters were funny. Joe Kelley wrote one, in which he claimed he was driving down the road in a moving van and had to cut it short. He sent a couple of letters, in fact. Most were very short. But all of them were written with love. Heck, some of them are not signed, and I have no idea who they are. Some of them are from people I’ve never met. And they changed my life. That was the day my healing began. It was a very long road for me, too.

Today, I can say—I really like who I am, and I don’t mind looking at myself in the mirror and seeing that middle-aged man looking back at me. I’m at peace with who I am, and I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished. As Indiana Jones once said, “It ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.”

So, if you were one of those who sent a letter to me at the Walk to Emmaus, I want to thank you. You had a hand in my healing, and I’m truly grateful.

So, let me make some use of this vulnerability. Take time to let someone know that you appreciate them, and you like them. Such actions can really change a person, and it might make all the difference to them. Let people know you care. Because it truly matters.

And because I mentioned ADHD, I will mention this: All these years later, I know I was suffering the effects of ADHD, and these types of doubts and anxieties are common with ADHDers. But, I didn't know that back in the old days. Now it makes sense to me. For more information about ADHD you can follow my Facebook hashtag: #ADHDOverheard.

De Colores!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Oy...I Missed the Rapture. Again.

Over a very long September weekend in 1988, I anxiously awaited the highly probable return of Christ, based on 88 very solid reasons He would return. The Christian evangelical community waited with eager anticipation as Edgar C. Whisenant's predicted dates (somewhere along the weekend of September 11-13) drew close. We were so convinced Christ would return that TBN even began to interrupt regular broadcasting to provide special instructions on preparing for the rapture. 

On September 11, we all awoke and waited. Several people I knew quit their jobs. Many gave their pets away to people who would not be joining them (at least until 7 years later). One man sold his business for dirt cheap and gave the money away to charities. We went to sleep slightly disappointed, but knew we still had the 12th and 13th, so no big deal. 

When the 12th came, people were calling home to say goodbye to their families (who would likely join them 7 years later). I admit, it was hard to sleep on the night of the 12th. But, we awoke to the 13th with great vigor! Today was the day! 

And that was 29 years ago. 

And those of us who didn't reject our faith learned a very valuable lesson. "No man knows the time." Eventually, I researched the topic of the rapture on my own and discovered that, although incredibly popular, it was not even sound theology. 

So, what happened to the self-acclaimed prophet, Whisenant? He revised his prediction, realizing he made a small, but critical error, and made a second prediction in '89, and then '93, and then '94, and so forth until people finally quit following him when his '97 prediction went belly up. Since then, myriads of predictions have occurred. 

Remeber Y2K? 
Remeber the Mayan calendar debacle? 
Remeber this last weekend. 

And my heart really hurts for those who pinned so much hope on the prediction from the stars, the "birth", and the eclipses. I would say to you, please don't become disillusioned. And believe me when I say, "I've been there." It's really hard to go back to work when you made such an effort to cry out to people to repent, for the time is nigh. As hard as it was, brush it off, learn from the mistake, and drive on. Refocus living your life on a day to day basis with Christ, and trust that HE knows what's really going on.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Thirteen Reasons You Should Read This

“Are you okay?”

How often do you hear those words? Have you ever heard someone say, “No. You know what? I’m not okay.” Our standard response when someone asks, regardless of whether or not it’s true, is, “I’m okay.”

Jay Asher wrote a book. It was later turned into a Netflix series, Thirteen Reasons Why. I just finished watching the story, and I have to say I’m unsettled. I’ve heard so many people talk about both the show and the book, and they usually say things like, “I refuse to watch it because it glamorizes suicide,” or, “I refuse to watch another teenage drama that glorifies high school crap.” And then I hear people talk about it who watched it all the way to the very last scene, and they usually have a different take on it. For me, my reaction was nausea, and—no, that was my reaction. Nausea. I literally felt sick at my stomach.

Why? Because I watched this very uncomfortable show and managed to fight the tempting urge to dismiss it and gritted my teeth long enough to get through it. It’s a story about a teenage girl who experienced bullying at school, the subsequent embarrassment and feelings of isolation, and eventually despair. Her pain spiked when she was assaulted by a fellow classmate, but finalized when the people she turned to for help didn’t hear what she was trying to tell them. She came from an ordinary home, with ordinary parents who loved her and supported her. Sure, they had their life struggles, but their daughter was a priority for them. Hannah made good decisions about boys and drugs. She didn’t sleep around. Only once did I notice her consuming alcohol, and that was in response to the pain of not fitting in and the desire to do so. She didn’t sneak around and get into trouble. She was a good kid. But, once she became the target of some boys at school (and their girlfriends), she fell into despair and ended her life.

Sure, there are elements in the TV show that are overly dramatized and likely exaggerated, but I think this story accurately reflects what our teens face in school. Every day. Without end. Within the social structure of an average school, you will find just about every type of kid represented in this story. The “cool kids” are desperate to remain cool, so they have their own form of bullying. The nerds are relentlessly harassed, both physically and emotionally. And everything in between. Girls face judgement from girls. Boys face judgment from boys. And they all judge each other. There are few, if any, safe places where teens can go for help or safety.

Recently, I attended a service for a fifteen-year-old boy who shot himself in the head after watching Thirteen Reasons Why. I seriously doubt the show caused him to commit suicide. No, pain caused him to commit suicide. In his life, whatever pain he was experiencing was so overwhelming that he felt he had no other options. When someone is depressed, his or her brain becomes unhealthy, and doesn’t process serotonin properly, which alters how a person reacts to crisis and pain. It’s as if that person has tunnel vision. No! It’s more like that person is looking through a straw. They can only see one solution, and they truly believe they are making the only choice possible. Killing themselves will end the pain. And everyone will be better off without them.

I know. I know! This doesn’t make sense to you, whose brain is processing serotonin properly. But to many people in pain, suicide is like a bell that rings with perfect clarity.

Let me make this a little more personal. I have a fourteen year old at home. You think I haven’t had this on my mind all week? I’ve had little else. I don’t know the circumstances in the other boy’s life which caused him to see suicide as his only option. And I wish I did. He sent a text message to his sister saying goodbye in the last seconds before his killed himself. She found him at home just a few minutes later. They don’t know why. They never saw it coming.

Hannah was a smart, fun, and pretty girl who smiled and laughed, and rarely allowed her pain to show. In fact, no one saw it coming. NO ONE! Only after Hannah revealed her reasons, the thirteen reasons, did the pieces come together. And in hindsight, it was painfully obvious. But only if you have all the pieces laid out before you. Each smaller piece didn’t tell enough of the story to see what was happening in her head.

Parents, your children are watching this show. I don’t mean to alarm you but—wait! Yes, I do mean to alarm you. WAKE UP! Your kids are watching this show. And we all know that the young are incredible at recording information, and the absolute worst at interpreting it. They very well may watch this show and relate to the pain Hannah was experiencing, and feel somewhat empowered by her courage to kill herself. Because they are looking through a straw and can’t see the big picture.
Okay, you’ve heard me. Now what? Well, I recommend you watch the show. All the episodes. Watch them by yourself first. And then invite your teen to watch it with you. And then talk to them about it. Have the suicide talk. You can do this!

Don’t accept the “I’m fine,” robot response. Hannah mentions how she stormed out of the school counselor’s office and paused just out of sight, praying that he would come after her, but he didn’t. And with that final element of disappointment, she followed through with slitting her wrists.
Seriously. You can do this. You can talk to your kids about suicide. They won’t enjoy it. Neither will you. But you might be surprised by what you talk about once you get the ball rolling.

One final thought about Thirteen Reasons Why, the Netflix series: I was praying the show would end, and the entire staff would come back on and do an anti-suicide talk, and recommend seeking help, but it didn’t happen. The show ended and went straight to the credits. This is a hard fail, Netflix. And it’s unacceptable.