Are You Strong or Tough?

When you think of someone who’s strong, who do you picture?

Got it? Now ask yourself, what makes them strong? Why do you think that? This was from a conversation I had with my wife on a date.

The thought was someone was stronger than her. Except, the person she was comparing herself to wasn’t stronger than her. In all honesty, she’s actually stronger than I am.

She told me that they had lived a hard life. She began making a list of bad things that had happened to them. It sounded a lot like my own life. I told her that she was still the stronger one.

Enduring trials and life’s hardships do make you tough. I’m not denying that, however, that’s not what makes you strong. There is a difference.

Strength comes from not only enduring the harshness of life, but to come out of it a better person. If you remain the same, become bitter, or never try to climb out of it, then you’ll never get any stronger.

The world will crush you. Death is inevitable. There isn’t anything admirable about being angry, bitter, and self-serving.

That’s easy to do.

If you can be hit hard, get up, and still give joy and hope as you move forward; that’s strength.  When life steps on you, and you still want to help others, that’s strength. When you have no reason to get up, to learn, and move forward in a positive direction despite your past, that’s harder to do.

That’s why it takes strength.



Hidden Strength; Growing Through Suffering

I would think there is not a person alive that doesn’t have a memory they would like to get rid of. For me, I’d love to be able to look at pictures of my godson. I cannot even look at his baby pictures without having flashbacks, but occasionally I wonder if it is my version of Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’. What good are these bad things in our heads?

  • They test our metal.

The strength of our character endures beatings and tempering like a sword being crafted in a blacksmith’s shop. James 1: 2-4 says that the testing builds perseverance that builds maturity. In Romans 8: 18, Paul writes that our present suffering cannot compare to the glory that is coming. Verse 37 goes further with Paul saying ‘we’re more than conquerors in Christ’.

Do you know anyone who has not been hit by reality? Untested, we don’t know what they are made of—aluminum that wilts in the heat or titanium that flexes under pressure. Those tested have the inner resources and experience to lift up the hurting. They can identify with the struggles and provide more than platitudes.

  • They bring rebirth.

Spoiler alert, my current book project centers on redemption and rebirth. It took me realizing I was helpless before I would cry up to God. He answered and it was months later that I realized how. I watched as things began to fall into place where it shouldn’t have been that easy.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Who needs God when everything is going our way? Few can hear the whispers, or respond to the nudges; however, when it all goes downhill and we realize we don’t have the answers, we can hear again. Our comfort weakens us. It causes us to lose perspective.

  • They help us grow.

A prevalent ‘gospel’ out there is the prosperity gospel. It teaches that God wants us to be happy. The problem is happiness is based on circumstances. Joy is a fruit of the spirit, not happiness.

It also teaches God wants you to be wealthy, just plant a seed and money appears. It is a very commercialized message that is far from the truth. Jesus taught about storing up treasures in Heaven, not here. That isn’t to say poverty equals holiness either, that is the idea that material things are unspiritual. God created the material world, and he wants us to enjoy material things but not owned by them.

What Jesus wants from his followers is in Matthew 28: 19-20. Tell the world about him and teach them his ways. Our funds are just another tool to help make it happen. Our time is as important too.

Like taking the training wheels off your kid’s bike, sometimes God takes parts of our lives away so we can grow. Jesus said as much after the Last Supper in John 15. I have had two things removed in my life. My Saturday afternoon martial arts class and a business I was a part of.

I gained an opportunity to help the poor and homeless instead of the class. I gained a position at work where I can be a servant-leader to over a dozen people instead of occasionally ministering to one or two. Romans 8: 28 says that ‘God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.’

  • They keep us humble, allowing God to work through us.

Can you do something if someone is in your way? It is the same with God. He’s willing to let us do it on our own. It’ll carry us as far as our strength and talents can take us. Paul was a Pharisee who learned from one of the great rabbi’s in Judaism. On his own, he came far and it led him towards self-righteousness.

In 2nd Corinthians 12: 6-10, he admitted he had a “thorn in the flesh”. We never learn what it was exactly, though it seems to be painful enough that he begged for it be taken away. The answer he received was ‘No’. God did give him an explanation though in verse 9; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It was there to keep him from becoming conceited.

I have the same problem as Paul. It’s easy for me to become arrogant. When that happens, I start to operate on my own strength. It makes things like being friendly to strangers or patience with people that annoy me harder. When I get out of the way, I just ride the wave of His strength and it becomes easier.

Would you go back and stop your own trials?

How have they benefited you?  

Human Kintsugi; You’re Not Broken Forever

Whenever we break a coffee cup, it generally ends up in the garbage, unless it is just the handle that breaks off. That gets super-glued back on. Broken things are unusable, right? In Japan, there is a process of fixing broken pottery that has been raised into an art form. It is called kintsugi. They fix it by filling the broken places with a gold lacquer, in a sense embracing the brokenness.Tea_bowl_fixed_in_the_Kintsugi_method

Earnest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong in the broken places.” Except even strong, broken people have a hard time holding the pieces together. Eventually Hemingway committed suicide. No matter the level of inner strength, it’s finite. He did accomplish writing timeless books even with his limited vocabulary.

I had to face my own brokenness the first two weeks of July, starting with the holiday weekend. Neighborhood kids blew up some fireworks next door and it startled me. I made a mental note to find a way to drown out the noise in case they trigger a flashback. A picture on TimeHop had already triggered one earlier; I did not want another one. Later there was a big bang, except I wasn’t in our little house; I was taken back to the bathroom two years earlier listening to screams. I teared up as I dug out my earbuds, cranked up my music, and later putting on muffs because I could still hear the fireworks in the background.

A week later, we were back at the old place, cleaning out a shed and getting the last of our things. It was the longest I had been there in months, and I usually do all I can to avoid anything that reminds me of the accident. Five hours into it and I’m tense, anxious, the atmosphere felt heavy; it reminded me of the days immediately after. Then the flashback, I freaked out and left, racing home where I sat for two hours calming myself down. This is a problem bigger than me…

I made an appointment with my doctor to verify what I suspected, post-traumatic stress disorder. I looked into it about a year and a half ago and thought I had avoided it. ‘It didn’t break me, just almost broke me’, I had told myself. The doctor said short of a psychologist or psychiatrist doing a DSM-IV to empirically confirm it, it looks like I do have PTSD. I’ve been in psychotherapy, counseling, grief counseling, and learned how the Stoics sucked it up and moved on, yet I still have the cracks and hold myself together.

Except in kintsugi, the pottery is not fixing itself. There is an artisan who is taking the broken and making it beautiful. Nick Vujicic was born without any limbs yet he is an evangelist and motivational speaker. The former lead singer of Flyleaf, Lacey Sturm, planned to commit suicide one day when her grandmother took her to church—not knowing her intent—where she met a guy. One of my friends is in Celebrate Recovery; he is being led to be a public speaker and apologist, because he met a guy. This guy is an artisan; his work is seen in many broken people.

In 2nd Corinthians 4: 5-18 Paul tells what is going on:

“For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe, and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.  All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Yeah, we’re all broken in one way or another, our weakness is apparent, and through that weakness God can work. We can identify with other people in the same spot, give advice that comes from experience, and more importantly listen to them with understanding. We can build a bridge and walk with them to introduce them to the reason for the hope that we have, Jesus Christ.

My Purpose?

GriefShare ended last month, the lessons at time paralleling my experiences during introspective moments that I’ve shared on here. Two of the things that stuck out to me were the terms ‘new normal’ and ‘moving forward’ as opposed to moving on. When someone dies, it leaves a hole in our lives; our adapting to the loss is what sets the new normal as we grieve. We move forward from that, acknowledging what we lost and continuing our lives. It is not moving on as if they never lived; I could not forget even if I had wanted to.

What is my new normal, I wondered. During the last video, I made a list:

  • Encouraging others because others encouraged me when I needed it. I used to be reclusive, however, lately if someone is in my circle, I try to show them someone cares. They do not have to be close friends, but friends, acquaintances, the next generation, showing support, listening, and taking time for those that others may overlook.
  • Helping others, generally through one of the ministries, people that appear in my life, or projects that spring up.
  • Occasionally counseling others.

Summing it up, the new normal focuses on others now. What does moving forward look like overall? There is a quote in the workbook:

“If you don’t know your purpose, this is a great opportunity to discover it.” Sabrina D. Black

That resonated with me in light of my introspection as of late. When something happens, or people interact, it causes a ripple that we respond to negatively, neutrally, or positively. Circumstances help shape us by the experience, and we respond to it by internalizing it into the unique way we are designed. Our purpose we find within our design. Circumstances and consequences give us the experience to adapt it, showing us that we are capable. I will elaborate in light of the last post.

A Reformer + Peacemaker = Idealist who loves to learn. Due to the personality of the Reformer type, he has to justify his ideal and choices. He studies deeper than reasonable because of his learning drive and desire to be right and good. Done right and it produces someone who tries to walk his talk. Tempered with the Peacemaker wing/influence helps build bridges.

He is not actively pursuing, but interacting within the circles, he travels because he is also introverted. However, new people keep popping up at just the right time without his looking for them. Taking this design and adding the spiritual gift of service and he’s able to push his boundaries a little, helping behind the scenes. This puts him into contact with other people and relationships are built.

Cap SpeechMy purpose? Well I still fill the gaps, just on a deeper level than I realized. A multi-level gap filler who can give a hand, steward a cleaning team, answer questions, and give advice. Part of the legacy my godson unknowingly left is teaching me there is more to life than myself. He gave me a greater appreciation of life and the experiences of it being what is important. The others we lost, friends and family, taught me sympathy because I know what it is like to hurt. The trauma taught me my limits, the darker side of life, which gave me a greater appreciation of life. Tempered with humility, the realization that in spite of all that has happened throughout my life here, others have it worse.

My purpose…is to help to the best of my ability.

I’m Not My Past

When we lose someone, it hurts, but generally, the happy memories outweigh the bad. The ache subsides as a new normal is established, with the fond memories occasionally arising. I wish I had the luxury of fond memories. With the completion of the first half of my book, Ronin’s Journey that documents the journey of grief along with the steps I took to try to heal, coupled with the Grief Share program, it stays in the forefront of my mind. At least I get to talk to others about it every Saturday evening.

It does not take much for my mind to go to dark places, like the comment made ‘taking things a day at a time’, and I remember at least four unexpected deaths. A joke at work about fireworks as earplugs sparks memories I do not wish to revisit. I cannot watch a video, or look at a picture of my godson; the memories that brings are not happy ones. Instead, I see horror, and when we returned to our former home where he died, it had been renovated; as I walked through, the heavy atmosphere was still present. I did not see what it looked like that Good Friday; I was taken back to that hot July day. It always happens there, the memory of a yard full of cops and emergency personnel.

I have been ripped apart before, in between, and since by guilt and hatred. Hurting people have a tendency to hurt other people, some lash out occasionally, some just want to maliciously share the pain they feel. Inner wounds that were healing, having the scabs picked off, and the pain renewed; or made to feel guilty about doing good for others or trying to heal. That in tandem with time at my personal Hell on Earth, I fell into a depressive spiral. I felt like the tax collector from Luke 18, “He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

Watching the testimonies at the Good Friday service did not faze me. The dinner date with my wife was not pleasant as she tried to make me feel better. The next day at the church’s bridge event while working the food drive booth, knowing it was going to feed thousands of kids, I sat wondering why I was even alive. I reached out to a friend at Grief Share for her thoughts. She said I have to protect myself, my avoidance of the place was not wrong, and I am reminded that people grieve differently. If something sends you into a spiral every time, stay away, do not repeat it. Do not go around those who send you to the bad places in your head. If they truly cared, they would understand and not hurt you again.

After the Easter service, I felt a little better, working through it on the First Samuel 12:24 blog here, but the ache remained. I went through my study Bible looking for guidance and comfort. Psalm 34:22 and Psalm 71: 19-24 were the comfort that I found. Matthew 11: 28-30 reminded me that I am not in it alone. Colossians 1: 21-23 reminded me that I am reconciled, without blemish, and free from accusation. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 reminded me of what love actually is. The Apostle Paul is a good example of someone who made a 180 degree turn, in Philippians 3: 13-14, he wrote that he was forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. He acknowledged his guilt in 1 Timothy 1: 12-17, and moved past it to be very effective in his ministry.

If someone cannot let go of our past, sometimes we have to leave them there until they are ready to rejoin the present. My Lessons from Mark post reminded me of that, where I went through Mark 6 in the Message Bible paraphrase. Two songs come to mind, What I’ve Overcome by Fireflight, and I Won’t Go Back by William McDowell; got to hang on that.

Ronin’s Journey: What Do You Value Most?

Having decided a moral code to live by, you then have to decide what you value. What do you hold up above all else in life in yourself and appreciate when others exhibit the same?

A few of mine were principles earlier in my life but are actually outgrowths of my principles in action. I value tangible and intangible and all of them take work. First on the list is…

Inner Strength, the strength within to carry on in the face of negativity, the quiet warrior unmoving in a ferocious wind. This leads to…

Integrity. Exhibited by not selling out all you stand for when the price is right. Once lost it is hard to regain and a black mark on your soul remains. These two came from my self-respect and are highly prized by me when others or I can walk through life’s fires with their souls intact.

Responsibility is valued; to me it shows people you are taking ownership of your life. Of course, this draws from the personal responsibility and accountability principles.

Loyalty, the hallmark of a good relationship. I make every effort to be there for them and appreciate the same. A loyal person is not an enabler, they care enough to tell you when you are messing up, and because of their track record with you, and a person should take heed. Honesty, a rare thing it seems, so rare it should be valued when you find it. Spawned from the Honesty Always principle.

Courage, the ability to face your fears. I have many, of which most fall into the fear of the unknown, one day I’ll be as courageous as a man fighting a lost cause and never wavering. Think Tiananmen Square. This is something I am actively cultivating. Honor, thrown around as much as the word respect. How do you gain honor, is it by the recognition of other people? It is simpler than trying all that, it all comes down to this question: Are you living according to your own principles? If so, then you have honor, this is the highest level to me. This comes all the way from my self-realization.

Determination, the inability to quit, not blind but intelligent determination. It is a value I was brought up on and hold in the highest regard.

Intelligence, I love it, it is in my nature and a beautiful thing. It’s one of the very few things that can hold my attention, which is why it’s so prized.

Proactive, intelligence and goal setting in action, both of my primal driving urges at work. When I see this in action, it is almost as gorgeous as a sunrise.

Work Ethic, a value I was raised on, my dad taught me that if I wanted something I have to work for it, it is one of his greatest lessons to me. It is making things happen, not passively waiting. This is a value weaved throughout the pyramid. I just have to appreciate someone with a good work ethic.

These eleven values are intangible, cultivated from within. The last two come from within and without. Taught, but made your own. I speak of Fitness and Martial Skills. Fitness for a healthy, balanced life that can be better enjoyed; you do not have to be a body builder or into Pilates. Just find something you enjoy, make sure it works and use it along with watching your diet. I value this in others and myself so I try to set a good example. Fitness teaches you about yourself, your (current) limitations and capabilities, and is self-defense against illness. Same with martial skills, and by martial skills I mean hand-to-hand, weapons, mindset, awareness, know thy enemy and know thyself.

These are valued because they protect the very life we strive to live and enjoy. The other benefits of martial skills is the ability to read people, the awareness to take in the little things, the grand scheme of it all and to control yourself at all times.

This is what I hold up, and try to live up to as my standards. What do you value and does it jive with your principles?

Educational Comics

As most of my friends know, I have a deep fondness for the Batman. And here’s why:

He’s a normal man who trained himself to perfection. If he can’t outfight you, he’ll outsmart you. He thinks moves ahead and his plans have plans. He’s strong as he can get, fast as he can get and as powerful as he can get.

And so can you. The point is I think everyone should strive to be their honest idea of perfection. It just takes the proper application of willpower and planning. And that’s what makes Batman…Batman.

Which Are You?

The world has an infection that lies within their minds. I believe most people have an inferiority complex. Here’s why, they judge themselves based on others standards, do not trust their own decisions, and follow whatever group they find themselves in. Is this you?

How do you measure your self-worth, appearance, intelligence, etc?
Internally, by your own standards, by what makes you comfortable, not to impress? Or by what pop-culture, peer pressure, society dictates?

When making decisions, day-to-day, or big ones, do you listen to the loudest voice, the majority, or whatever your beliefs lay out? Or do you use your reasoning, looking at all sides, weighing the pros and cons, even asking someone who’s “been there, done that” successfully for advice?

When meeting people for the very first time, are you completely yourself, confident in your own skin, curious to meet new people but if nothing comes from it, that’s fine too? Or do you laugh at jokes that aren’t funny to you, agree with everything and try to fit in?

How you answer these questions will tell you where you stand with your true self. Is it a lie, a mask, going with the flow? Or is your action, words, what you see, is what you get? Or do you even know who you are?

The words you have read, or will read in this book, will show you how to not be arrogant, but comfortably confident, not a know-it-all but wise enough to know that you’re still learning, to not fit in for the sake of someone liking you, but to be yourself, and drawing people in with your honest self-assessment of yourself. We offer these lessons to you, from a point of experience, insecure, and unsure where we stood in the world, to the self-reliant, confident, and knowing where we stand with OURSELVES individually. It is up to you, to sift through the words, taking what fits, leaving what doesn’t. Thinking, questioning and questioning again, the conclusions you draw.

Page 207, Howls From The Wolfpack