Good Will Hunting

I’m a middle child. I have a brother three and a half years older and a sister six and a half years younger. I haven’t found a characteristic of middle children I don’t fulfill. In my family siblings were pitted against each other. I’d never be as good as my brother. When my sister succeeded it was obviously because she hung around my brother. When she failed it was obviously because she hung out with me. I dont have a great relationship with any of my immediate family members, and in the last few years I’ve adjusted better than I had previously.

My junior year of high school I ran for student body president of my high school. It was a brand new school and there were only 9th, 10th, and 11th graders attending at the time. When it opened it was only freshmen and sophomores. I did not win the election and when my mother heard the news she shared encouragement in her own way, “Well, you’re a loser anyway” she said. This has obviously stuck with me for over two decades. I eventually learned that I wasn’t an overall loser, and losing here and there doesn’t make me a loser, but every once in a while it comes back up.

Yesterday was Super Bowl LIV where the Kansas City Chiefs faced off with the San Francisco 49ers. I’ve been a Niners fan for as long as I can remember, so this game was a big deal. Giving up a ten point lead and all but giving up in the 4th quarter, the Chiefs won and Niner Nation was once again stuck on the losing side of a Super Bowl for the second time in seven years.

During my inpatient stay at Epworth last year, one of the things that surfaced in the different group sessions we shared was that I am a full blown catastrophizer. If you don’t know what that means, it means if I get a paper cut I start making funeral plans. It doesn’t take much for me to go from paper cut to funeral. I can spill milk and jump straight to famine. I can change lanes too slowly and envision a multi car pile up. Sprinkle a bit of conditioning in the spirit of “If you ain’t first, your last” and you have a major facet of my cinematic imagination.

The 49ers obviously lost the Super Bowl because we missed church that morning. Or maybe it was because my wife and I got into a spat earlier that day. Maybe it was because of the thoughts of self-harm I had the day before when financial relief vanished before it had materialized. Or maybe it was because my mother was right…maybe I am a loser. That must be why Oklahoma got obliterated in the CFP semifinal by the eventual champion in LSU.

It’s difficult for my wife to pull me up when I get this low. And I may even go so far as to say it’s annoying to her. We’re surrounded by blessings and provisions and goodness and here I am literally crying after a football game whose outcome I had zero effect on. And she’s right. We have two beautiful children. We have a lovely, safe, and spacious home. We have food in the fridge and in the pantry and we have never been without.

Thirty-one years ago I remember the 49ers winning the Super Bowl. Super Bowl XXIII on January 22, 1989 where the Niners beat the Cincinnati Bengals in Miami, Florida…coincidentally, the same city where Super Bowl LIV was played. I dont remember the other 49er victories, mostly because I blocked out so much of my childhood, but I know they happened. I wanted the 49ers to win because I wanted that feeling again. That feeling of celebrating with my dad as we listened to the game on the radio in the van. I wanted that feeling any fan gets when their team wins the big one. I love hats and I love repping my teams. If I have a hoodie to go with it, even better. And I explored in an earlier blog why I love the Niners so much.

So congratulations, Kansas City (Missouri). Congrats to the Chiefs franchise for closing out a monster season. And thank you, Santa Clara, I mean San Francisco for the 49ers season. It was quite the run this season, especially after the last few, and it was a hell of a ride. But this one isn’t on me. I know it isn’t my fault. And even if it was, it isn’t everything. Just like losing the student body president election wasn’t everything. As much as I love the 49ers, they aren’t everything. As much as I love OU Football, they aren’t everything either.

So I thought a little bit more about it, and I thought about who my favorite team is. And then it hit me. As obvious as it is, it didn’t really click until yesterday. But when it did I wasn’t sad anymore, because I knew that I’m not a loser and even if I do lose here or there, these losses don’t monopolize my identity. My identity is anchored in the fact that I am a child of God. I belong to God’s Kingdom. His team is my favorite team. And all the losses and failures of earlier in my life…they have been forgiven. They were forgiven before I knew they were even forgiven. They were forgiven when I chose to renounce Satan and all his works when I got baptized in 2017. They were forgiven when Jesus died on the cross.

Without Him I am lost. Without Him my life was meandering and purposeless. But now, now that I willingly know Jesus and have an active relationship with Him, my life is different. It’s different as a man, as a father, as a husband, as a friend, neighbor, and brother. And I know my purpose now. And so I write. I write about how I learned. About how I have grown. About how I will grow. I write about what I know and what I don’t I write about the people and places that I encounter because someone, somewhere will learn from it. I write because I am able. I write to share the good news of His love.

Never leave home without it

I didn’t realize it until I got to work. I went to take off my jacket and as I patted my chest pocket for my phone I didn’t feel it. So I felt my pants pocket. No phone. I wanted to text my wife and have her check for my phone. Duh. You can’t text without your phone. Remembering I had a board meeting to attend right after work I knew I couldn’t go all day without my phone. What if my wife needs me? What if the kids have an emergency? We share our van so they wouldn’t be able to go anywhere.

So I drove home. Another 25 minutes in the car and I’m back in my snowy driveway. I open the storm door and unlock the back door to the mudroom. I open the squeaky mudroom door and before I can say anything I hear “Hello?” from inside. “It’s me! It’s me!” I say as I come up the two stairs into the kitchen. My wife is standing next to the couch and my toddler is standing at the baby gate and we’re all staring at each other.

I had forgotten my phone and my lunch and came back to grab it. My toddler told me repeatedly how she was scared and she was hugging the gate. My wife was nearly in tears and retreated to the couch. I soon followed.

Shortly after I had left for work a panic attack had descended upon my wife and she was reduced to a ball on the couch knowing she had to be “on” for the babies all day. I knelt in front of the couch, still in my winter coat, and I began stroking her hair, resting my face on hers and telling her that it’s ok. She isn’t alone. She’s a great mom.

During this time our one year old had weaseled his way between me and the couch and his little five-toothed smile was beaming up at me. I turned towards him to give him a kiss and my face was pushed out of the way by my two year old who was worked her way into the makeshift group hug that was forming on the floor. I told her to give mama “gentle touches” and to tell her it’s ok and then without prompting she says, “You brave? You safe?” This is usually what we ask her when she’s scared. “Are you safe? Are you brave?” And then she followed up with a tender, “Jesus got you.” and she climbed up on the couch to lay on her mama and hug her.

Normally I prefer Carina’s hair down and all over the place but this morning Andrea had thrown it up into a top knot. Seeing her whole face with her hair pulled back made her look older, and here she was, this toddler, offering words of comfort to her parents who are obviously wrapped up in something less than happy. In between hugs she’ll ask, “You sad? You frustrated? You happy now?”

And in this moment, kneeling in front of the couch before my wife who was experiencing the aftershocks of a panic attack, I felt like we were good parents who were raising emotionally aware, empathetic babies. And I felt victorious.

No two panic attacks are the same. They’re like lightning strikes or earthquakes. They’re nearly unpredictable and there’s no telling how long they’ll last or how drained you will feel afterwards. And that’s really rough when you’re in a partnership like marriage. Each time one of us has a panic attack or is swallowed up by the weight of depression, I have to decide if it’s going to affect my attendance at work or not. It had been a problem at previous employers and the more it happens the more I become wary of it. But how do you choose? There’s no scale. There’s no black and white answer.

I can’t remember the last time I forgot my phone somewhere, but I’m glad I did this time. The day may have been drastically different if we didn’t have that family group hug slash comfort session. God works in mysterious ways, and so I continue to trust Him, and #LiveBrave every single day.

Super Bipolar

I was seven years old. It was January 22, 1989 and I was listening to the San Francisco 49ers take on the Cincinatti Bengals on the radio in the back of our van with my dad and my brother.

I don’t remember much but I remember sitting in the back of the van with the back gate open, hanging onto every word of the commentators. The Niners won with the final score of the game and I ran inside where the rest of my family was.

“THE NINERS WON! THE NINERS WON!” I ran down the aisle yelling my seven year old head off. And before I took another step my mom turned from her seat back to me and shushed me with one finger over her mouth. “You’re grandmother is dead. Pay some respect!” And I realized I had ran into the funeral home in the middle of my grandmother’s wake.

I didn’t realize at the time how disrespectful it was. I just knew that the Niners, who was our team growing up, had one, and it was important enough that my dad and brother were listening to the game in the van as well.

And I loved my grandmother. I still do. She’s one of the best things I remember of my childhood, and every time I make it back to the Bay Area, I visit her gravesite in Colma.

Well, tonight ended in another victory for the 49ers, but I knew to stay quiet this time. My wife and I celebrated quietly on the couch as our two babies slept soundly on the other side of the wall to our left. Carina loves watching football with us and before she went to bed I even got one more “Go Niners!” out of her.

The Niners winning the NFC Championship and thus punching their ticket to Super Bowl LIV in Miami was the cap to a long day that started 17 hours earlier, getting ready for a long morning of teaching in children’s ministry and singing with the worship team, followed by fellowship and worship with local high school students in a youth group we volunteer with. As tired as I may be, and as sore I may be from slipping on the ice in my driveway earlier this afternoon, today was a good day.

Saturday was much different.

The morning started relatively well, but by midmorning Andrea had taken off for a three hour meeting and I was at home with the kids. Nico luckily went down for a nap and I didn’t say no when Carina asked to watch a movie. So we snuggled under the blankets on our couch and I put “Cars” on.

Eventually, Nico woke up, Andrea came home, and I thought the quiet Saturday in would go on from there. Andrea wanted to go back out to visit with out of town family that was in town, but I wanted nothing more than to sit at home with our babies and maybe take more naps. Andrea took Nico to lighten my load and I put down Carina for her afternoon nap.

I intended to do laundry and dishes, but what happened was something that happens more weekends than not. I laid down on the couch, curled up, and went to sleep. The lights were off. The curtains were drawn, and I wanted nothing more than to sink into the couch cushions and not be bothered by chores or cleaning or responsibility or a anything. I wanted to disappear.

Not three hours before I was playing Mrs. Potato Head with my kids and crawling around on the floor like any dad probably would be. But now the clouds had rolled in, the darkness had overshadowed the day and I didnt want to be around anyone or anything.

My idea of effort that evening was to make oatmeal for the kids for dinner. I knew it was a cop out and I knew it was boring, but that’s where I was. I knew they still needed to be fed, and that was really the highlight of my Saturday, I got all three meals for the kids ready. Basic needs. I know I’m supposed to do that anyway but when depression and friends ambush you in your own home sometimes all you can do is the bare minimum. I love my kids. And I know they love me too. But my depression doesnt care about that.

My weekends can often feel like another work week with the ups and downs that come with them. Plenty of adventures and smiles and laughs but just as many moments of wanted isolation and quiet and silence. Sometimes that silence is only in my head but it can be the most deafening of them all.

But here I am, on Sunday night, high off a victory with a team I’ve been a fan of since my childhood, and I’m wondering where the weekend went and why I dont feel rested.

It’s times like now that I really appreciate having a desk job with little office traffic. The alone time in the office between phone calls, text messages, and emails is just as rejuvenating as the Sundays of fellowship at church and at youth group.

You didnt ask, but that’s how I’m doing. I said I would be sharing more about the ins and outs of my mental health, and well, here’s another blog post to say:

You aren’t alone.

Some days are hard but better days are coming.

God loves you.

Thankful for…a panic attack

last night when my wife and I went to bed it got worse. my eyes widened, my legs were restless, and I couldn’t stop staring at the ceiling. I had a hard time forming words as my wife asked me different questions and shared calming statements of affirmation. as I writhed and kicked the covers i could feel my heart racing as my breathing got deeper. the paint on the ceiling seemed to be magnified and the ceiling fan looked like it was going a mile a minute (and honestly I dont know if it was even on). the rain sounds playing from my phone were swelling in crescendo and I couldn’t tell if it was triggering or mirroring what I was feeling. after a few minutes of writhing and kicking my wife suggested a stand up and as soon as I did I regretted it. I started spinning in manic circles as I finally came to a stop, once again facing the bed I could feel my legs bouncing and still going out from under me while the tears filled my eyes. I fell to my knees and I reached out to hold her hands as she continued to soothe me with her words. I wiped my face across the sheets, wiping the tears from my eyes, but they were immediately replaced by fresh ones. i sat on my knees for a while longer while I could feel the rush leaving my body. it was as if the tears were expelling the panic attack from my weakened body. I crawled back into bed and as I nuzzled into my wife’s neck and shoulder for soothing snuggles I felt myself quickly drifting off to sleep.

I woke up this morning feeling…good. I got out of bed today quicker than I do most days and had a decent morning getting the babies ready for the day. I carried the energy of this new day into my work day and felt really good for the majority of it aside from some minor stressors and running out of snacks for the day earlier than expected.

I couldn’t tell you how long my panic attack lasted or even what set it off. it could have been a matter of seconds or minutes but it felt like an eternity. my legs were doing one thing and my arms and trunk felt disconnected from them. a third faction was my head and neck which was bustling with racing thoughts while trying to make sense of the chaos that my body was experiencing and causing simulatneously.

as I sit here almost 24 hours later, writing about the most jarring panic attack I’ve had in i dont know how long, I’m dreading going to sleep for fear of a repeat episode. i know that that isn’t how it works (at least in my experience) so I turn to writing. I’ll share my stories because i made it through this one too.

writing about my experiences is one of my favorite things to do because it not only means i can shine a light for others on something others experience to some degree, but it means I made it through it. and that’s the thing. I always make it through. by the grace of God and the will to go on, I keep going. in the words of the late, great Maya Angelou, “still I rise.” #PTSD #BipolarDepression #bipolar

New Year, New Me

October 5th, 2019 it hit me. I am not the provider for my family. I am the leader. It is not up to me to bring provisions, that is the up to Jehovah Jireh, the God Who Provides.

So I work in insurance sales, right? I have been since last April. Nearly nine months later things are finally starting to settle in and I’m getting more confident about what I’m doing. I still ask questions and still learn a lot each week, but now I’d say I’m completely comfortable with holding down the fort by myself.

Anyone who has ever worked in commissioned sales know there’s a high volume of rejection that has to be stomached to make any sort of head way. If I want to reach certain commission thresholds I have to close so many sales. To close a number of sales I have to talk to x number of people. To talk to x number people I need to make z number of phone calls. My agent always tells me, “we can’t control the results but we can definitely control the actions.” I can’t control who is going to close on a sale, but I can decide how many calls I make and how many text messages and emails I send.

Here’s where it clicks for me.

It’s called God’s Plan because it’s His plan, not mine. I am not in control and neither are you. But I can control the actions. I can decide how much time I spend reading in my bible app. I can decide how often I pray and for what I pray about. I can decide if I’m going to love or fight or be indifferent towards my neighbor. I don’t get to choose how much I get paid each month but I do get to decide where that money is going.

Returning the tithe is something that is relatively new to me, but I can honestly say that once we began tithing, blessings began to rain down upon us. I want to go back. I said “returning the tithe” and not just “tithing” because they’re His resources and it’s our responsibility to manage them, and that includes returning the tithe.

It’s one of my goals this year to really surrender to the Lord. I’ve always believed in Him. I’ve felt and heard and seen and experienced His love in numerous ways. But last year I realized I really need to let go. Becoming a husband and a father are two of the greatest blessings my life has been bestowed, but they’ve also been some of the greatest weights I’ve created for myself in my life. I put so much pressure on myself because of things that happened when I was a child. Things that don’t happen anymore. Things that won’t happen anymore. That pressure I’m crushing myself with is doing nothing but self-sabotaging the wonder that is the life that has been gifted to me by an awesome God.

In just a few days it will be exactly one year since I attempted to take my own life. January 5th, 2019 is a date that may never leave my memory. Exactly nine months later, on October 5th, 2019, at Man Camp in Lawton, Michigan it hit me. I am not the provider for my family. I am the leader. It is not up to me to bring provisions, that is the up to Jehovah Jireh, the God Who Provides.

Nine months after my attempt is when things finally clicked. And what’s significant about nine months? It’s the expected gestational period for human pregnancy. (If you didn’t know.) Nine months after I tried to end my life, my life becomes that much clearer. I am reborn in my relationship with Christ and am ready to dive head first into my faith.

So yeah, New Year’s Day offers a lot of new beginnings, but this one of spiritual growth is the one I’m most excited about.

Good Lovin’

I love you but I’m not “in love” with you.

You’ve either used it on someone, been on the receiving end of it, or know someone that has been one of the two or both.

Loving is easy to understand. Dogs and kids are prime examples of this. You can love someone you just met, you can love someone you’ve known for years, you can love a stuffed animal, a sport, a song, a sunset, a smell…loving is easy to do. I love my wife. I love my kids. I love watching OU football. I love classical music. These are all things I know to be true and have no doubt in my mind about them.

But what about being in love with someone. Or something for that matter. Can you be in love with a song? A couch? A ferret?

After nearly four decades of interpersonal relationships, I have an answer and an explanation.

I am most definitely in love with my wife.

A good friend of mine, the Google, defines “love” (courtesy of Oxford Dictionaries) as “an intense feeling of deep affection.”

I love my wife. I care for her. I care about her. I admire her. I respect her. I cherish her. When I say, “I love you” I am saying all of these things and more.

But why do we put so much stock into those three words as opposed to repeating “I’m in love with you,” on a daily basis like we do with “I love you”?

Because to be “in love” with someone requires both the conscious choice to love as well as the conscious choice to…wait for it…receive said love.

When you love someone or something that doesn’t require an opinion or feeling from the other person or thing. That’s why we can love things…places…smells. We can love things that can’t love back. (Which can also refer to people that can’t love back but that’s another story. A sad story, but another story nonetheless.)

When you are in love with someone, you are making the conscious choice to receive the love that that loving being is giving you. Whether that love is coming from a him/he, her/she, they/them, asexual, hermaphrodite or whatever. A man, a woman, a boy, a girl, a Corgi, an eagle, a hippopotamus, or a lion. To be in love with another means one party is loving and the other is receiving. This can happen mutually and is best served in such a way, but is not always so.

I go back to my earlier statement:

I am most definitely in love with my wife.

How do I know this? Let’s start with myself. I love my wife. I do, in fact, have “an intense feeling of deep affection” for her. I know this. She knows this. I tell her and I show her. Likewise, I know she loves me. She tells me and she shows me. She shows me by cooking breakfast for us. She shows me by caring for our babies. She shows me with a quick kiss when I get home from work, or a long hug when I’ve had a particularly long day. She shows me she loves me by watching football with me. Or by giving me the last mozzarella stick. I know that, without a doubt, my wife loves me.

We’ve been together for almost four years, but something clicked this year. I don’t know what happened or what brought it on, but I realized I wasn’t living in the love she was giving me. I wasn’t receiving the love and kindness she has been giving me this whole time. I had acknowledged it. I had regarded it. But I didn’t allow myself to really be…wait for it…IN the love she was so freely giving me. This is no fault of hers. This is my doing. And it is also due to my undoing.

For years I’ve let my past destroy me. Deteriorate me. Erode me. Digest me. Things happened to me that shouldn’t happen to people and I let myself be angry and down about it. But another thing I learned about this year was forgiveness. Especially the part that says forgiveness isn’t for them so much as it is for me. I’ve said many a time I’ve forgiven my [fill in the blank] for whatever they’ve done to me. But this year it actually feels like I have.

And it became easier to love. It became easier to receive love. To see love. To live in love.

Being in love doesn’t have to be a romantic love either. That’s a huge misconception. You can be in love with your family, your kids, your dog, your chinchilla, you name it.

To further this line of thinking, I now get it when people say you can have a relationship with Jesus. Jesus loves me. I can be accepting of that love and receive it with arms wide open and be in love with Jesus. I can love Him back. And He will always love me in a way that only God can.

So be in love. Keep loving. Allow yourself to love and be loved. Tell those you love that you love them. Keep loving those that don’t love you back. Always be open to receiving love, but more importantly, don’t just accept it, live in it.

Sober Loser

Tonight in the Peach Bowl, Oklahoma got throttled by the Heisman-winning QB Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers. 63-28 was the final score. But that wasn’t the roughest part of the evening.

The game was on ESPN and we don’t have cable so my wife and I got a babysitter and decided to make it a date night. We went to a local establishment that some would call a sports bar and others may call a restaurant. Whichever camp you may be a part of, this business had a bar area with multiple TVs to watch the game.

Knowing we’d be there for the better part of three hours, when the bartender asked for our drink order I said, “I’ll start with an iced tea.”

Football. Wings. Beer. It’s a common combination. I knew I wanted wings. I came to watch football. I considered havming a beer.

But I stuck with iced tea.

But sitting at the bar top facing the television also put me face to face with about 15 taps. Not too far over to the left were two fridge sized coolers displaying rows and rows of cooled alcoholic beverages.

By halftime we were down 49-14. It didn’t look good and I wanted to order a drink. I didn’t. I stuck with my iced tea.

A few months ago I decided that I wouldn’t drink if I was mad, down, frustrated, or any type of negative feeling.

Every once in a while, I would have a drink after a long day, after the kids had gone to bed, but even so, I shouldn’t with the meds on so that every once in a while is quite rare.

But I did it. I made it the whole afternoon without a single alcoholic beverage. Their were people all around drinking their drinks and all, but not me! I was happily sipping on my iced tea.

So even though the Sooner Fan in me was disappointed by the dismantling of the team by LSU, I was happy with my decision to stay sober.

But here’s the thing: it was extremely difficult.

It was hard to sit in front of all those taps and not want to order a beer.

It was hard to see all the $1.50 and $2 specials but we worked it out!

Being a recovered alcoholic is a constant project. But the rewards are worth it and so I keep pushing.

Here’s to the victories of 2019 and more in 2020!