Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Freedom to Fail (Revised)

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  Philippians 1:6 (NLT)



As someone who struggles with perfectionism, the thought of failing at anything in life makes my skin crawl.  Failure has always horrified me.  I want to succeed.   I want to win.  I want to be PERFECT.

While growing up, I often thought that being a perfectionist was a positive character trait.  I thought that having this trait meant that you were driven and were not going to allow failure in any area of your life.

There is one little issue, however, in expecting perfection.  We are HUMANS.  Humans are not perfect and WILL Fail.  As my drive for perfection increased, my peace of mind decreased.  Every time I would fail, I would throw up my arms and give up.  My thought was, if this plan led to failure, then obviously the whole plan is worthless. 

This cycle of making a plan, failing, completely changing plans, failing again, and then finally giving up has shown up in nearly every area of my life. A great example of this was dealing with weight loss.  I would come up with a great plan of how I was going to eat healthy and exercise.  I would run this plan through my mind over and over again tweaking every little detail until the plan was perfect.  I would then start the plan, have a small failure during the first couple of days, and then give up in disgust.  At the first failure, I would decide that the plan was doomed and give up on the entire thing.  What I didn't realize was that setbacks (failures) along the way were inevitable and not a reason to scrap the whole plan.  I could accept it for what it was, a setback, learn from it, and continue on with my journey. When I finally learned how to Fail, then I actually found Success. 


As I look back, the flaws in my thinking were obvious.  Who am I to think I can do something perfect?  Do I think I am God?  Nobody ever does anything well, let alone perfect, the first time.  Highly successful people know that failure is part of life and actually use it to gain even more success.  Finding this acceptance of imperfection has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life.

This is how I found The Freedom to Fail :

1) Accept that I am a HUMAN BEING and that all human beings FAIL sometimes.

2)  Realize that Failing is actually one of the most effective ways that God teaches us.

3)  Accept that if I am trying to be PERFECT, then I am trying to play GOD.

4)  Believe that if I have a relationship with Jesus, then I am perfect in GOD'S EYES, despite my 
     failures.

5)  Believe that if I am already perfect in God's eyes, I have the FREEDOM TO FAIL in this life.

Failing is just part of the human experience.  If we never fail, then we never learn.  If we never learn then we never succeed.

What About You?  Do you expect perfection out of yourself?  Would accepting your Freedom to Fail help you relax and try new, challenging or scary things in your life?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

UNCOMMON GRACE


                                                                                                                                                   

“What’s going to happen?” I asked myself as I took one more sip of Mountain Dew, closed my notebook and stood up from the dining room table.  “I’m 25 years old and I’ll only have to go without full coverage for one year.”  I’d finally made my decision.

I’d worked the first six months out of pharmacy school at a job that I really enjoyed.  In December of 2006, however, a new career opportunity crossed my path that I could not turn down.  I’d be able to work in a town only eight miles from where my wife, Missy, and I had grown up.  We’d always wanted to go back there after I graduated from pharmacy school and here was the chance to do just that.  I would receive a large pay raise and would be the manager for a pharmacy that was to open six months later.

This new position came with only one drawback.  For the first year, I would have a cap on my health insurance of $25,000.  For someone much older or who was not healthy, taking a position with only $25,000 in health insurance coverage would have been irresponsible.  For a 25 year old healthy man, however, it was very unlikely that I would need more than that amount.

I accepted the new position and during the next few months I searched and searched for supplemental health insurance that would pick up where my primary insurance plan maxed out.  After talking to five or six insurance agents, I finally gave up.  No insurer was interested in providing the back-up coverage.  Missy and I were still a little nervous, but we had only eight more months to wait until we would have full medical coverage. 

Then, in September 2007, disaster struck. While showering, I noticed a large lump in my scrotum area.  I was a little concerned so I mentioned it to Missy.  She was much more concerned than I was and set up a doctor’s appointment for me the following day. 

In October of 2007, after about four grueling weeks of worry, doctors’ appointments and surgery, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 metastatic testicular cancer.  We were stunned and began to sob together as we arrived home that afternoon.  I would be starting intense chemotherapy the following Monday. 

“At least it is treatable”, Missy said as we dropped down on the couch.  “Remember, the doctor said that there is an 80% chance that your cancer can be cured with chemotherapy.”

“ I know.  That is good news,” I said between shallow breaths full of tears.  “But our insurance,” I continued.  “It will only cover up to $25,000.  Do you know how much chemotherapy costs?  We’re going to blow through that amount in the first few weeks.  Then what are we going to do?  How can this happen to us?”

“Don’t think about the money right now, Aaron,” she whispered, wiping her eyes and getting up from the couch.  “We have enough to worry about right now.  You need to try to get some rest.  God will take care of us,” she said as she walked into the kitchen, her shoulders braced for what was ahead.

I buried my head in a pillow and, sobbing, said a small prayer asking God to see us through the upcoming months.  We had never faced something like this before and we were terrified. 

Missy was a stay-at-home mother to our only child, Devan, who was about eighteen months old at the time.  She’d never left him for more than a few hours at a time.  But during the next nine weeks we developed a new routine.  Four days a week we would leave him with a relative who lived nearby and Missy and I would go to my chemotherapy sessions.  Each session would last between four to six hours.  After one week of intense chemotherapy, I would get two weeks off, other than a few hours on Tuesdays.  Those weeks off were filled with doctor appointments, lab tests and breathing tests to make sure that the chemotherapy was not destroying my lung capacity, which was a possible side effect of one of the drugs.

                 I was exhausted all of the time.  I would drag myself around in sweatpants and T-shirts.  I began to develop hiccups that were painful and constant during my chemotherapy sessions.  I also began to have severe nausea and vomiting that also was relentless.  I had to carry around a bag to vomit in almost everywhere I went.  I had purchased two books to read while I sat through chemotherapy and had also purchased a couple of movies to watch at home.  I was too sick to enjoy either reading or watching.   I lied cross-wise on our bed for hours at a time, trying to sleep to push the nine weeks along.  Although my body was completely drained, my mind was not and I couldn’t slow it down enough to enjoy a good deal of sleep.  On top of how miserable I felt, I constantly worried about money and always wondered how fast our medical bills were piling up and when we were going to go over the $25,000 insurance cap.

In December of 2007, with only two more sessions of chemotherapy remaining, my oncology doctor decided to halt the chemotherapy regimen early.  The drug with the lung concerns was straining my lung capacity and the benefits of continuing treatment were not worth the risk of permanent lung damage.  Although I had to stop treatment early, my cancer did go into remission.

It was, of course, a huge blessing.  But even with the cancer in remission, I did have to face Christmas knowing that the medical bills were going to start pouring in and I had no idea how I was going to pay for them.           

One evening at my parents’ house, my mom told me that one of her friends had approached her and wanted to organize a benefit to help pay for our medical bills.  My pride took over right away and I said that we were not interested.  We would find a way to pay for our bills.  It was our fault anyways.  We should have never taken the chance on the health insurance.

A couple of days later, after many discussions, Missy and I pushed our pride aside and agreed to the benefit.  We had never accepted charity before and did not know how to receive anything graciously, but we were desperate.  We also figured that if this was God’s plan, then we were going to get out of the way and let him do it.

After we agreed to the benefit, planning began with a fury.   A group of twelve to fifteen people began to meet weekly to plan the benefit.  Led by the gracious, energetic woman with the original plan and the Pastor of our Church, the plans came together quickly.  Although we did not know it at the time, the group of planners also regularly prayed that God would prepare our hearts to accept the gifts given to us. 

As we walked into the Ag Pavilion in our county seat town on the morning of Saturday, January 8, 2008, the scene inside was amazing.  Dozens of people, family and friends, were hurrying around the building getting everything set up.  Each of the volunteers wore a brown shirt with a specific Bible verse on it.  The shirts were created specifically for the event and were sold as part of the benefit. The wonderful scent of chili, cinnamon rolls and chicken noodle soup came from the kitchen area as four to five volunteers swiftly set up the buffet lines.  Lined up in a neat row along the west wall were tables holding all of the items to be offered on the Silent Auction.  Along the North edge of the building, just in front of the auction stage and along the east wall of the building were all of the items that had been donated.  There were free dinners, gift certificates to restaurants, gift certificates for services such as excavation, dump truck loads, and even taxidermy.  Additionally, people donated guns, antiques, quilts, and just about anything else one could think of.  Outside the building stood three horses that had been donated, and in a small crate inside huddled a few puppies to be auctioned.                                                                                 

As people began to file into the building a quiet spirit of happiness filled the air.  Dear friends and relatives were smiling, laughing and having a good time.  For many, it turned into an opportunity to connect with acquaintances that they had not seen in a while.  There was a spirit of giving and a spirit of grace that is hard to describe, but was very contagious.  Many were to comment, in the days and weeks following the benefit, that they had really enjoyed their time there.  And many who attend our small church also participated, which brought the church community a little closer together.

After about three hours, including a buzzed haircut for our Pastor (due to a challenge that he made for how much money could be raised), the benefit was over.  The results were unbelievable.  More than 700 people filled the building for the lunch and the auction. $52,000 had been raised.  That $52,000 covered all of our medical expenses in full.  We owed nothing.

Words could not express my gratitude to those who participated and those who volunteered at the benefit.  It had been our decision to take that job without the health insurance that we needed and we felt we deserved to pay the price for that decision.  But our families, friends and neighbors did not see it that way.  They came together for us when we were in trouble.  They gave us grace.  A small farming community in the center of Nebraska drew together for us, their neighbors, when we three neighbors, father, mother and son, needed help.     

Over the last 7 years I’ve struggled with the fact that I cannot give back to those who so freely gave to me.  So many gave so much and most of the gifts were given anonymously. I have no way to thank each one of them individually, let alone pay them back.  The truth is those prayers lifted up during the planning meetings were very important.  It is not easy to be on the receiving end of a great gift.                                                                                  

After contemplating this for the last few years, our lives and attitudes have changed.  We are no longer as focused on having the biggest and the best material things.  We have decided that the only way we can give back is to pass on what was freely given to us.  When others are in need, my family can  be there for them.  We can live lives of purpose and we can serve others when God calls us to do so. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

As the End Draws Near: A Tribute to Roger

As another Christmas Day came to a close, the sun buried itself beneath the horizon and a dark shadow crept across the sky, another darkness crept into my heart.  It's one of those quiet, dull feelings that creep in and fill the inside with a haze.  This Christmas will probably be Missy's Grandpa's last and that covers everything with a blanket of sadness.


None of us are going to make it out of here alive.  I know that.  We all know that, but it still doesn't seem to help dull the pain.  It just doesn't seem right.  Roger has meant so much to so many of us.  Why him? Why now? 


I can still remember it like it was yesterday, a few years ago standing outside on a Spring night with Roger looking at baby chickens.  I had just received a report that my CAT Scan showed a spot, which meant my cancer may had returned.  Roger and I spoke of it briefly.  I don't even remember what was said.  What could be said at that point.  What I can remember though, is that I felt loved, I felt accepted and I felt like I wasn't carrying the burden and the fear myself.  A couple tears streaked down his face, and I knew that no matter what, it was going to be ok, because I wasn't alone.  My cancer hadn't returned as the Scan showed a false result, but little did we know at the time, Roger was going to begin his own battle with cancer soon after.


I don't remember when I first met Roger, but it feels like he's always been in my life.  From what I'm guessing, I felt like I was family from the moment I met him.  It doesn't matter if you're blue, brown, black, or white; if you're Democrat, Republican or Independent;  if you're loud, quiet, short, tall, skinny or fat, tattoos, piercings; it really doesn't matter.  From my experience, if you're breathing and you meet Roger, you're accepted.  Roger has a way of making you feel loved and accepted and making you feel welcome in his home.   7 years ago, when I faced the most challenging time of my life with cancer, anxiety, depression and addiction, nothing meant more to me than to feel loved and accepted.  Just to know that I still had people behind me no matter what.  As others' distrust and judgement was apparent with just one look, my relationship with Roger and Janie never blinked.  I was loved, I was accepted, and I was supported.  Those who know Roger well know what I'm talking about.  If you screwed up, no matter how bad, you were not going to find judgement from Roger.  You would find Love, you would find Acceptance and you would find Support.  Damn, I wish I could learn how to accept and love others like that!!


So, as the end draws near and we spend our last Christmas with Roger, what are we supposed to do with this?  A few months ago, in the presence of friends and family, and with the purchase of a $4.99 plastic pool, Roger professed his trust in Jesus as his Lord and Savior and was baptized in that plastic pool.  It was unconventional, it was a little crazy, but man I loved it.  It was one of the most beautiful things that I've ever witnessed.  2000 years ago today, give or take a few years, this guy Jesus was born and he changed everything.  No longer did we have to be perfect to find God, but now we were loved, we were accepted and we were supported, if we would just lay down our pride and say that we need a Savior.


As the end draws near for Roger, and we get ready to say goodbye, because of the baby boy who was born today, we can face this ending with hope, knowing that this ending is only a new beginning....

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Vision that Inspired Broken: A New Beginning

I can vividly remember it as the worst night of my life and the night that I accepted my brokenness and cried out to God.  As I finally surrendered, and realized I couldn't do it on my own, a silhouette of the following vision began to appear in my mind, first faint with few details, but over the following couple of months, became very detailed and clear.  This vision helped guide me out of the fog and into God's light.  It's effect was so vivid and profound, that it stays with me today as I face new challenges and obstacles on my life's journey. 

To set the stage, anxiety (the birds) crept into my life in my late teens and early 20's and began to grow into  a constant state of anxiety and almost daily panic attacks by the time I started pharmacy school.  Ironically, I found relief in a pill and thought I had my problem solved.  In reality, the pills (the snake) masked the problem and allowed it to grow and fester beneath the surface.   Just a few years later, I found myself with two giant problems to contend with and nowhere to turn.

THE VISION

I was walking down an old dirt road with the sun shining warm on my shoulders and without a care in the world.  Suddenly, without warning, a large, loud, obnoxious ugly black bird flew into my side screaming in my ear and sinking its teeth in my side.  I bent down in pain and looked up astonished as it all happened so fast.  As I was looking around from side to side, another bird flew into my back and bit me in the back.  I quickly flipped around and another one flew in.  Pretty soon, I was knelt down in the fetal position trying to cover my entire body praying that the birds didn't find an opening and that the pain would go away.

Next, I heard a slithering sound coming from my right.  I glanced over to find a giant, colorful snake looking right at me.  At first I was startled by him as well, but then he began to talk in a calm, comforting voice, and slither up over my foot.  As the snake began to wrap it's warm, strong, comforting body around mine, the menacing birds, began to swoop in and then swoop back away trying to stay away from the snake.  The snake continued to wrap it's body around me tight, but comforting.  As it's body contracted,  it made me feel strong as I could now stand up again.  My body was still limp, but it's coils provided me support and gave me comfort.  I looked around and saw birds all around us, but they stayed a few feet away.  The snake would not allow them to swoop in and bite me.  As the snake finally got its entire body wrapped around me, not leaving even an inch of my skin exposed to the outside world, its head slowly turned to mine and looked me straight in the eyes.  It gave me a nice, soft smile.  It then began to get tighter and tighter around my body as its face began to turn stern.  My relaxed body, almost limp from being fully protected by the snake started to squirm as the tight squeeze became uncomfortable.  The more I squirmed the tighter it squeezed.  By this time its face was outright ugly and grotesque-looking and it squeezed tighter and tighter to the point that I could hardly breath.  I looked to the right and left and found no help insight as now the black birds came flying back into me with a vengeance biting 10 times harder than before.  Then, the snake opened its mouth wide and began to move into my neck to bury its teeth in my carotid artery going for the kill.

With desperation and knowing that death was near, I closed my eyes and pointed my head off to the right trying to daydream of better days.  Suddenly, the clouds split open and a huge plank came crashing down landing next to me.  As the dust settled and I looked up the plank, I saw a beautiful glowing light pouring down the plank toward me.  On the side closest to me, the plank came down to the ground, but the other side of the plank was held firmly in the sky with two gigantic hands.  As I looked closer, I saw that the plank actually was two perpendicular planks shaped like a cross.  Each side of the cross sat firmly in a large red crater in the middle of each hand with red blood dripping down to the ground.  Those hands were the hands of Jesus.

Once the light hit me, in an instant, the snake cringed in disbelief, screaming out in agony as the constriction of its body lost all of its power and became nothing more than a garden hose lightly wrapped around my body and the birds flew to the ground burying their own heads in the dirt trying to protect themselves from the light.  Although the light was piercing and destructive to the snake and the birds, it shined brightly on me lighting up the dark world around me and filling me with strength in my muscles and bones and warmth in my veins.  It breathed new life into my lungs.  I took a quick glance around, picked up my belongings and began my journey up the plank.  The snake and the birds continue to follow behind me trying to hide their heads in my shadow.  They get closer if I turn around and walk back down the plank, which I inevitably do from time to time,  but as long as I keep my feet planted firmly and continue walking upward toward the light, they can never touch me again.

CONCLUSION

What are the birds and the snake in your life?  Have you ever had a problem, thought you had a solution, but then the solution became a bigger problem than the original problem?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Just One Small Step Beyond FEAR

One more step and he may fall to his death.  But if he turns back now, the entire mission was for nothing.  What would you do?



In one of the final scenes of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones is standing at the edge of a cliff.  He's near the end of his journey and knows that he needs to keep going, but there's nowhere to go.  He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and takes a step.  As quickly as his balance shifts forward, a step appears and he's on solid ground. In an instant, when he took that step of faith, his path forward became clear.  He continued his journey with that one small step beyond the fear.

In my experience, God often works this way.  We are brought to points in our lives where he says: "Ok, you claim to have faith.  You claim to believe in me.  Now prove it.  Take that step forward even though you don't know where it's leading you.  Trust me.  When you get there, I will be there and show you the next step after that.  Don't be afraid of the future.  I've been there, I'm going there, and I'm already there waiting for you."

I've spent many years of my life plagued by fear.  Fear of the future.  Fear of the unknown.  Every time I would come to a situation that caused me great fear, I would become paralyzed, and shrivel away in defeat.  And each time I backed down to fear, my world got a little smaller and my frustration a little greater.  My fears became a self-consuming spider web as it engulfed entire areas of my life and left me in a constant state of anxiety and panic. 

I've realized since those difficult days that the Good Life happens just one small step beyond fear.  Victory happens just one small step beyond fear.  Love happens just one small step beyond fear.  Freedom happens just one small step beyond fear.  When I come to those cliffs in my life where it seems the next step is more than I can handle and my mind tells me to turn back, I close my eyes and take a small step of faith.  Without exception, when I've taken that next step in faith, beyond the fear, the path becomes clear again. 

So what is the secret to move forward beyond the fear.  It just takes a tiny little seed of faith.  Real faith.  The kind of faith that leads you just one small step beyond fear.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Walking with Devan: An Unexpected Journey

As we hopefully come to the end of one of the most difficult couple of months that we've ever had with Devan, I find myself exhausted, bewildered and struggling to make sense of it all.  I beg God for answers and bury my head in my hands as the answer is the same as it's always been.  KEEP GOING FORWARD. 

When I come to these points in our journey, I regularly revisit a poem that we came across shortly after Devan's diagnosis of autism.  Yes, our journey looks different than many, but it doesn't mean it's not beautiful, exciting and exactly how God planned it to be.  KEEP GOING FORWARD we will and slowly unwrap the magnificent gift that God blessed us with almost 8 years ago.


The poem is called WELCOME TO HOLLAND.  I hope you enjoy it.

Welcome to Holland
by
Emily Perl Kingsley.
 
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Progress Not Perfection: The Destructive Nature of Perfectionism

I know that it may not seem like it, as my weaknesses can be glaringly obvious most of the time, but perfectionism is woven through every thread of my life and can become a destructive force if I'm not careful.

After trying unsuccessfully many times to perfectly follow a diet and exercise plan, I finally accepted my imperfections going in and walked through the challenges to reach my goal of 30 pounds of weight loss in 12 Weeks.  So, once I gave up perfection, I had success.  It seems counter-intuitive but it really works that way.

The Problem

Deep down, I expect myself to be perfect in every area of  my life.  I expect to be the perfect husband, the perfect son, the perfect brother, the perfect father, the perfect supervisor and the perfect employee.  With these perfectionistic aspirations, I refuse to accept myself when I make mistakes and beat myself up continuously when I do make them.  I develop completely unrealistic expectations of myself and wallow in frustration as I can't reach my own expectations.  I become paralyzed in my frustrations and fears of not measuring up.  The ironic thing is, as my frustration increases, my expectations become even greater, and my actual growth and success stops or goes backwards.

I see this perfection glowing in other people's lives and see how it negatively affects them as well.  We all have a gap between who we really are and who we want to be.  As realistic expectations border on unrealistic expectations and our aspirations become perfectionistic, we actually achieve less and this gap between who we are and who we want to be become widens.

The Solution

When we expect perfection from ourselves, we are really playing God.  We are saying that his GRACE is not enough to make up for our weaknesses.  We refuse to accept that we are human and humans make mistakes.  I think there's an underlying pride in many, if not all of us that says we can and should be perfect.

Slowly, but surely, I'm finally accepting that I'm not perfect, but PERFECTLY HUMAN.  Perfectly Human means that I will make mistakes, but can learn and grow from them along the journey.  God's Grace, through Jesus, is enough to make up for my mistakes and through Jesus, I have the right to be wrong sometimes.  Wow, doesn't that take off the pressure a little bit. 

Facing any challenge with this attitude, accepting challenges and mistakes along the way as part of being human, will allow you to face the challenge with calmness, confidence and strength.

What About You?

Does expecting perfection prevent growth and progress in your life sometimes?