Straddling The Line

Being out in the open about depression (or any other mental illness, for that matter) is not always an easy experience. There are all kinds of risks that come with sharing an affliction publicly, from public and private misconceptions to outward bias to destruction of relationships. Writing a blog also produces its share of hazards, most of which are associated with who reads it, what they think about it, and what level of influence they play in the writer’s life.

Put the two together. Then just take a step back and watch all the loads of fun unfold before you.

Aside from a couple of instances, I haven’t had too many run-ins concerning things I’ve written about here. Because of my dysthymic, pessimistic, and generally melancholy state of mind, however, I usually chalk that up to the fact that people who know me are much freer with their compliments than their criticisms, and I figure there are at least a couple of folks out there who really don’t like what I do here at all. One of the people I had an issue with before is effectively out of my life now, so I suppose that’s one less person I have to worry about offending. Woot.

Because I’m sort of obsessive about how many people read my posts every day, I try to keep track of which ones are doing better than others. There are a few sure-fire topics that always bring more readers in. Parenting is one. Anything about children always gets lots of views. Memoriams about people who have passed away always do well, too. Most of the time, though, topics with a pleasant vibe do not do nearly as well as the ones that take on a darker tone.

Even in people who do not suffer from any type of depression or mood disorder, there ss-140404-Kurt-Cobain-tease.blocks_desktop_medium_is a certain allure to the darker side of things. Think of the biggest songs and movies of all time. There is usually some element of death or heartache or longing in them. Many of those who produce art are among the most unhappy people on earth. Who did my generation celebrate as its martyr? Kurt Cobain. ‘Nuff said.

With that in mind, it is a real struggle for me sometimes to not just go fully off the rails and spill every deep, dark thing I’m thinking about onto the page. “I don’t know, dude; you’re not real cheery anyway.” That may be so, but, believe it or not, I hold a lot of stuff back. I don’t throw every depressive thought out there for just anyone to hear and judge. I could very easily, and there are many days that I would like to. I would love to delve into the depths I’ve seen the last two weeks, for instance, but I restrain myself.

Why? I guess there are a couple of different reasons. For one thing, I’m scared of how people will react. There are honestly times I am afraid someone will try to commit me. I don’t think what I’m thinking is that bad, but to someone who has never dealt with depression, what’s in my head may seem like a cause for major concern (and maybe it is.). Mostly, though, I’m just not sure how writing about my darkest hours is going to benefit someone else. Maybe if I can frame it in some way someone can identify with, I’ll go there, but negativity simply for the sake of negativity just seems wrong to me.

A thousand different thoughts are swirling around my head right now, and there are so many things I want to be point-blank honest about. I don’t want to give readers another “Here Are 5 Steps to Overcoming Depression!” article because I don’t know what those five steps are. If I did, I wouldn’t be writing posts like this, I can tell you that. I want to be real, but I don’t want to be so real that this becomes a wallowing party or, even worse, an excuse for someone to do something really bad to themselves.

At the moment, I feel incredibly free and incredibly restrained at the same time. For anyone who has ever bared their soul online, I certainly don’t mean to condemn you. Your pain is real, and you expressed it the only way you knew how. I hope it was therapeutic for you. Maybe I’ll let you deeper into my world with an email or a private message sometime. In the meantime, I’m going to keep straddling that line, hoping to not fall too far in one direction or the other.

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And You’re Living For…?

The Dreamworks Animation movie The Croods has become one of my children’s favorites. We must have watched it at least three times now, and it’s grown on me a little more each time I’ve seen it. I’m not sure why I resisted it in the first place. Maybe it’s because I’m not big on caveman stuff. Or maybe I’m just not a big Emma Stone fan. Whatever the case may be, it had to win me over … and it did.

I’m struck a little more each time I watch this movie by how much I identify with the grugrole of the father, Grug. (Just a side note: Nicolas Cage totally knocks this voice-over out of the park. It’s a shame it took an animated caveman movie to remind me what a great actor this guy can be.) Here is a guy just trying to do the right thing, even though he doesn’t even really understand why he’s doing it. He just knows he’s supposed to keep the family alive, and that’s all he concentrates on. He’s so absorbed in performing that task, his own family even begins to tune him out. He winds up feeling like a failure, all because he did what he thought he was supposed to be doing.

There is a very poignant line spoken in the movie by Grug’s daughter, Eep (voiced by Stone), that so resonates with me every time I hear it: “That wasn’t living! That was just … not dying!” A counselor once told me it seemed as if instead of living life, life was just dragging me along. That’s what happens to me a lot. I don’t live; I just … not die.

As human beings, we seem to be hard-wired with a desire to stay alive. We cling to life under even the harshest of circumstances, even when there seems to be little promise waiting on the other side if we do. Those contemplating suicide are put under watch just to ensure they do not end their lives, meaning that even though they may have given up on holding on, the desire for them to live is so strong in someone else extreme measures will be taken by others to preserve a life that is not even their own.

Life is precious. We’re told that, over and over again. But no one ever says not dying is precious. Because it’s not.

See, holding onto to life is not quite enough. It’s like white-knuckling a ride on a roller coaster; you might make it to the end, but you didn’t have any fun getting there. You didn’t feel the freedom of letting out a primal scream or throwing your hands in the air and feeling the release of letting go. I believe there are so many of us stuck in this place. We keep doing things because we’re supposed to be doing them, but we really don’t take much enjoyment from them. They don’t leave us fulfilled, and they don’t increase our joy. They are billed as “living,” but they feel more like death.

In The Croods, the Crood family meet a young man named Guy (voiced by Ryan Guy-the-croods-34964097-480-379Reynolds). Guy is the opposite of Grug. He takes chances. He’s inventive. He’s not afraid. Most of all, though, he is hopeful. “Don’t hide. Live. Follow the sun. You’ll make it to tomorrow.” There was a tomorrow for Guy that held more promise than today. When we’re just punching clocks and meeting requirements and unsure of what in the world we’re doing, tomorrow looks like death. You don’t follow the sun because it’s not there.

I would very much like to live and not just not die. Like Grug, though, I have spent a long time banging my head against the wall, simply trying to do the things I thought were most important. Maybe it’s time I came out the cave. Maybe it’s time I followed the sun.

Maybe I should go looking for tomorrow.

My Apologies (What Can I Do?)

I normally don’t post anything here over the weekend. I just decided early on that I needed some time to unplug and rest up before Monday morning rolled around again. Sometimes, though, things happen over the weekend that simply can’t be ignored. I experienced something like that Saturday, so I feel as if I need to get this out before the emotion of it fades from memory.

To the kid in the Old Navy store Saturday… I apologize.OldNavy_t670

You couldn’t have been more than 13. I doubt you were even that old. I’m always a terrible estimator of age, so forgive me if you are significantly older or younger than that. The point is, you didn’t look very old to me. You were also receiving a verbal dressing down from your mother (I suppose she was your mother?) as I passed you in the aisle, so I tried not to make any kind of eye contact. I moved past quickly, but I couldn’t help but hear those awful, awful words she said to you…

“If you don’t quit acting like that, you won’t get ****.”

That may not have been precisely what she said. I do distinctly remember the word “****” being used, though. I have a daughter who just turned 13 and another who is about to be 11. I have two sons. In a flash, I thought of all of them. I think I may have even broken stride a little bit. “Someone should do something,” I thought to myself. I’m not sure what your reaction was. I don’t remember you saying anything. You weren’t yelling or pitching a fit or anything, though. And, presumably, a woman who gave birth to you just used the “s” word on you right in the middle of a crowded clothing store.

I’ve never really understood the complex relationship between parents and children and profanity. My dad could curse a blue streak in a heartbeat. In fact, after he had his first stroke, profanity became sort of a comfort, as those words were the ones he said most clearly. He never cursed at me, though, at least not that I remember. I don’t recall my mother ever cursing at me either. They definitely got mad at me, no doubt about that, but those words were never thrown into my face. And, even as an adult, I never wanted to curse in front of them. It just wasn’t right.

wpid-0617_ov_baseball_tom_hanks_no_crying_in_baseballSome children and adults – especially males – respond to tough talk and tough love. They develop fearsome admiration for the drill sergeant who whips them into shape through whatever means necessary, even if it means totally breaking them down into quivering heaps before beginning to rebuild them again. There are a great many of us, though, who do not respond to that version of “love” at all. We bruise easily. We wind up recounting the painful moments of our lives to someone on the other side of a notepad eventually, not because we’re weak necessarily, but rather because we just weren’t equipped for what life threw at us.

I’m not sure which camp you fall into, although I could easily see you filing that moment Saturday somewhere no one would see it for a very long time. I wanted to say something. I wanted to try to defend you somehow. What good could those words have done for you? Even if they harmed you, though, what could I or anyone else have done for you in that moment? People who deliver public beratings of that nature are not usually people who can be reasoned with. Any communication would have probably would have just resulted in another fight, this one more vicious than the first.

Still, I feel like I let you down somehow.

You didn’t deserve that.

I apologize.

Nobody’s Perfect (So Don’t Act Like You Are)

For those of you wondering where I have been for the past few days, let me offer up a brief summation…

First off, my laptop died (or, at least, it started letting me know it had plans of dying very, very soon), and my Wednesday evening was spent having dinner with a friend who had agreed to look at it for me. On Thursday, I had an interview with two professors from the graduate program I’ve been trying to get into … and you can now strike the word “trying” from that last sentence, because I found out Friday I’M IN! I’ll write more about that another day. And then last night, I blew off writing anything to eat tacos and watch a movie. I know, what dedication to the craft…

The last post I wrote had to do with Bruce Jenner, and my blog received a rather large spike in viewership as a result. To be honest, though, I wasn’t particularly comfortable writing it, because it felt as if I was attempting to cash in on the Topic of the Day. It did have a connection, though, to mental behaviors and psychology and even depression, so I put my hesitations aside and plowed on.

For the past several days, I’ve been pondering another very public situation – the downfall of Joshua Duggar. I’ll try duggarto summarize briefly: Josh Duggar is the oldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, the parents of the Duggar clan featured on the (currently suspended) TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting. He was formerly the director of FRC Action, the non-profit political action and lobbying arm of the Family Research Council. He resigned from the position May 21, after reports became public that he had molested five girls (including some of his sisters) when he was 14 and 15 years old.

Because of his status as a Christian family advocate and the fact that is the son of parents who have chosen to bring 19 children into the world, Josh Duggar quickly became an easy target for anyone with a bone to pick against religion, conservatism, large families, and basically anything else the more liberal pockets of society seem to be opposed to these days. Even before any of this information came to light, however, people were referring to the Duggar family as “freaks” because of the way they chose to live. For Joshua Duggar’s failures to be pushed into the publicly eye so vehemently was simply like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Let’s put it plainly: What Josh Duggar did was wrong. Even if he was the victim of teenage hormones run amuck, a man or boy simply cannot ever do what he did. At the same time, his family (most notably, his molested sisters) seems to have forgiven him, and no further incidents beyond those teen years have been discovered. He is 27 years old now and has a wife and children of his own. No charges were filed, and all the parties affected seem to want to move on.

Why are we staying on this then?

The more I think about the answer to that question, the more I come closer to the following conclusion: I’m not so sure people are half as mad about what Josh Duggar did as the fact that he and his family had worked very hard to lead us to believe nothing is or ever was wrong with them. The Duggars have written books and spoken at conferences and appeared on television, and never once did they mention this skeleton in their closet. Josh Duggar thumped plenty of podiums with FRC Action, always displaying a righteous indignation against evil in the world. You may have thought the Duggars were weird, but you also probably couldn’t find much to call them out on. They made fairly sure of that.

As a self-deprecating kind of person, I gave up a long time ago trying to present myself as anything other than flawed. Even the best of us have made mistakes, though. I would think at some point while the Duggars were earning all that money on their television show and books that they might have mentioned this unfortunate chapter in their lives. Not a word, though. That, I believe, is where the outrage lies. If you’re sitting on a secret, don’t push yourself out in public in front of everyone and tell them how good you are. At least own it at some point.

Strangely, I dislike the Duggars now because of the good things they tried to present, instead of the bad thing they tried to hide. Does everyone need to shout their deepest, darkest secrets from the rooftops? No. What they can do, though, is not proclaim their righteousness from every street corner either. There are none of us who are perfect, and we do the world a great disservice when we try to convince everyone that we are. The damage will come eventually, sooner or later. Promoting goodness is a positive thing; claiming to have the market cornered on it is not.

God And Suicide

“The man who kills a man kills a man
The man who kills himself kills all men.
As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.” – G. K. Chesterton

I am not Catholic, but I formed a very firm belief growing up: If a Christian (or anyone else, for that matter) commits suicide, they will go to Hell. That was just the rule; God didn’t like suicide, so if you took your own life, you were going to spend your eternity in endless torment. Period. End of story.

Today, I’m not so sure anymore.

———-

I’m not sure if this is due to my depression or personality or selfishness or just outright sinful nature, but my relationship with God always seems to be in a state of perpetual flux. I grew up largely afraid of Him, knowing that if I didn’t “get saved,” I would be doomed to eternal damnation. Despite singing “Jesus Loves Me” a billion times or attending every vacation Bible school in the county every year or seeing those painted pictures of the meek and mild Jesus, I was convinced God was not someone I wanted to cross. I suppose I was right, in a way. The fear of the Lord, after all, is the beginning of wisdom.

From there I moved on to firmly believing God was real and that Jesus was His one and only son. Once I realized what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross of Calvary meant for me, I developed a sincere appreciation for what he had done. That appreciation gradually morphed into a genuine affection, which was then assaulted by years of well-meaning Christians manipulating, bullying, and using me. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. I came to believe God didn’t really like me very much and merely tolerated my existence because He had to. It was a miserable place to be.

In recent years, I’ve come to understand grace better. I don’t constantly worry about my every sin sending me to hell anymore. I don’t think God hates me anymore. I’m even developing something of a compassion for those struggling with sin, which my early version of faith simply had no tolerance for. At the same time, though, Christianity sometimes feels more like a set of rules I am destined to never keep fully, even though that is the point of grace in the first place: We will never be good enough on our own. That is why Christ’s sacrifice was required. Still, the notion of constantly failing sometimes weighs on me. I mean, can’t I get it right just once…?

———-

Still, despite some of my struggles and misgivings about my faith, the notion of a graceful Father and Son has taken hold of me as of late. I’m beginning to believe His grace extends far beyond where I initially thought it did. Sometimes I think I might be becoming a little too comfortable with the concept of grace. I mean, this is still a God who does not let everyone into Heaven, no matter how good they’ve been. He demands allegiance, but He asks for it in love. It is a strange combination, and it is not one I claim to understand fully.

Circling back to the topic of suicide, one of the more common arguments I hear for those who commit it going to Hell is that it breaks the sixth of the Ten Commandments – Thou shalt not murder. The logic here is that if someone kills themself, they have in effect committed murder against their own person. Therefore, instead of saying “He killed himself,” you could say “He murdered himself.”

This argument doesn’t really hold water, though. If breaking the sixth commandment will cast you into Hell, what about the ones about lying or stealing? People covet stuff all the time. Is that an automatic ticket to Hades? Apparently not, as many people who covet things are still recognized as being Christians. In fact, murderers were put to great uses in the Bible, most notably in the case of Saul/Paul.

I suppose, then, that perhaps it is the person killing themselves’ relationship with Christ that is the key part of this equation. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible to know. Attempting to figure out if someone is “truly” a believer is like trying to figure out what a dog is thinking at any particular moment of the day. You may have an idea, but you really don’t know. Only that person and God know. Someone might say the evidence here is in the fruit, where a person chose to check out rather than have faith in things getting better. Suicide is the ultimate lack of faith, they might say.

I think they’re wrong.

———

Here is where my problem with the “Everyone who commits suicide goes to Hell” theory lies: I’m not so sure a loving God, who is compassionate and kind and just, would look upon a person who has been abused or molested or is chemically imbalanced or has never been able to grasp happiness of any kind in this world and condemn them to the pits of Hell forever if they reached a moment where they just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to end their own life.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t think God smiles upon the practice of suicide. In fact, in every instance in the Bible I can think of where one of his representatives in this world wanted their life to end, He very directly provides them a reason to keep on living. I believe He does have a purpose beyond the pain, and I believe He desperately wants everyone to embrace life and not throw in the towel. To ever call God an advocate of taking one’s own life would be madness.

As we all know, though, God’s intentions and our actions do not always coincide with each other. Even though He wants His children to succeed, they fail. In fact, they fail spectacularly sometimes. This must grieve Him, as it would any father. If one of my children were ever to commit suicide, though, would I stop loving them? Would I hope for their punishment because of what they did?

What kind of father would I be?

———-

In the end, even after all of my rambling, there is no definitive answer to the question I have posed here. None of us can be completely sure of where the soul of someone who commits suicide finds its final resting place. Whereas the Quran very specifically forbids suicide, the Bible is strangely vague about the subject. In fact, the Bible is vague on a great many things, as if God wanted us to figure things out on our own rather than be mindless robots in His service.

Perhaps vagueness is the point on an issue such as this, though. Perhaps the hint of doubt, uncertainty, and fear of what might happen if we went through with the act was purposefully left there by God to keep us from going all the way. I mean, what is scarier than Hell? We have to know that whatever torment we are facing here would be magnified a hundredfold in Hell. The lake of fire becomes a safety valve in this instance. What’s going on now may be bad, but it couldn’t be as bad as that.

For the moment, I am choosing to believe that the person who succumbs to the temptation of suicide does not automatically go to Hell. The more I come to know people who have wrestled with the concept of it and have been touched by it themselves, the more I realize life is harder for some than for others. Some constitutions are sterner, some shoulders broader, some wills more unbreakable. God bless the strong people. The weak people need you. need you.

———-

The great Christian apologist C. S. Lewis has inspired me more times than I can count over the course of my life. This man observed intense grief and wrote about it eloquently in his book “A Grief Observed.” I’d like to conclude with a quote from that work:

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth of falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”

 

By Definition

We all want so badly to be right. We just know that what we’re thinking must be superior to the opposing point of view, and we believe if we just yell loud enough that we can convince them of the error of the their ways. It is just so obvious that our answer is the correct one.

I had never heard of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) International before today. According to the organization’s website, CCHR International is “a non-profit, non-political, non-religious mental health watchdog. Its mission is to eradicate abuses committed under the guise of mental health and enact patient and consumer protections.” Sounds noble enough. CCHR International is also committed to “working alongside many medical professionals including doctors, scientists, nurses, and those few psychiatrists who have taken a stance against the biological/drug model of ‘disease’ that is continually promoted by the psychiatric/ pharmaceutical industry as a way to sell drugs.” Perhaps a little strongly worded, but, again, a fairly noble endeavor.

I found out about CCHR International through a video posted on a friend’s Facebook page today. In the video, a series of teens and children are seen wearing tee shirts with the name of various mental disorders (bipolar disorder, personality disorder, social anxiety disorder, etc., etc.) on the front of them. Those stickers are removed as the video progresses to reveal words such as “leader,” “inventor,” “artist,” and “revolutionary.” The video concludes with the words “Stop psychiatric labeling of kids” being flashed across the screen.

In general, I approve of the message the group is sending. Plenty of children who have been labelled with behavioral disorders were acting merely as, well, children would act. And certainly many behaviorisms which could be perceived as negative can actually work in a person’s favor. Many times, efforts to eradicate those behaviors serve more to strip the child of their natural personality and may even leave them more confused about who they are and what their gifts are.

There is a part of me, though, that believes this is not the entire picture. Sure, some kids (and even adults) can push through the haze of a mental illness or behavioral disorder to discover an even greater resolve and a dedicated lifestyle of concentration and effort. Abraham Lincoln, for example, was reported to have major bouts of depression, but was also one of the greatest presidents in the history of the United States. Some kids, though, cannot climb these mountains on their own. Whether it be counseling or medicine or a different style of learning, they need a hand to get to the top.

I think back to some of my more difficult years in school. Could I have benefited from some extra help? It’s difficult to say now, but I don’t believe it would have hurt. I remember a time in the first (or maybe second grade) when I would inexplicably burst into tears every day in the cafeteria. To this day, I still don’t know what was going on there, other than remembering feeling really scared. Perhaps I could have used some counseling. Times were very different back then, though. “Depression” was a not a word I grew up familiar with.

Accompanying the video on the CCHR International Facebook page was the following statement: “Childhood is not a mental disorder.” That is very true. Severe depression is a mental disorder, though, and it can scar children well into their adult years. Medicine people versus non-medicine people just doesn’t cut it. Each child has to be evaluated on an individual basis, and then what is best for them has to be decided. In our effort to declare a winner in the argument, let’s not forget that each person is an individual and that blanket statements will keep the conflict going on forever.

Super Weird, Part II

Oh, America, America. What has happened to you?

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I mean, it’s been this way for years and years now. The ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, even during this young century: Everyone is looking for love. Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to give love to someone else. Everyone just wants everyone to love each other. Love, love, love.

It’s always the funniest commercials that usually make the headlines the morning after the Super Bowl is played, and those are usually the ones which leave people talking the longest. Every year has its share of serious spots as well. Oddly enough, some of the most touching commercials in recent years have been advertisements for beer, although other companies struck a more gentle tone this year as well.

1422463197_budweiser-lost-dog-zoomMacDonald’s is encouraging people to pay for their food at the restaurant “with love.” A computer tech spilling a bottle of Coca-Cola inspired all kinds of thoughtful acts in an ad for the soda company. Numerous commercials touted the noble attributes of family and fatherhood. And then, of course, there was that adorable little Budweiser puppy dog being rescued from a pack of wolves by a herd of thundering Clydesdales. Even the horses were showing love.

There’s nothing wrong with love. It’s great. It’s fantastic. Close-knit families, kind human beings, even affectionate animals are all wonderful things.

They’re just not enough. They’ve never been enough. And they’re not ever going to be enough.

That was my pervading thought as I watched all these messages of love flash across the television screen in front of me. We live in a love-starved world. It’s a vacuum we are all desperately trying to fill. My question would be, though, if we have been promoting love for all this time, in so many creative and different and uplifting ways, why is it not taking hold? Why do we all still seem to be so lacking in it, and why do we still feel the need to promote it, as if our message is going to resound differently than the million that came before it?

We are running from God. We are running from the only love that can save us. We’ve been running from Him forever, decade after decade after decade, thinking we can replace His place in our hearts with just enough of this or just enough of that. It’s folly.

I am certainly not going to disparage anyone from promoting peace and love, especially considering the heinous acts human beings perpetrate on each other on a daily basis. Love needs to be shouted from the rooftops every chance we get, even during the Super Bowl. It’s an incomplete message, though, and it’s going to keep missing the mark until we understand that in order to love fully we have to turn to the one who loved us first.

I applaud every company which used its advertising dollars for this year’s Super Bowl to promote positive, encourage messages aimed at making this world a better place to live in. They can’t make us love God, though. We’re the only ones that can do that. He’s still waiting. Why are we?

My Basketball Diary (Go Get It)

NCAA Basketball:  MAR 11  Cal Poly at Long Beach StateIt seems as if a large majority of my life these days is revolving around basketball. My two oldest daughters are playing for a local private Christian school and practicing three nights a week (unless one of those nights is a game night, in which case they are, obviously, playing a game), and my oldest son just started playing his first season of Upward Basketball, which consists of one night of practice a week and one game every Saturday. These two factors combined mean our family could potentially be involved in some type of basketball-related activity five days a week, every week.

The irony of this is that, at one point in my life, basketball nearly destroyed me. The elementary school and little league years were enjoyable enough, but pretty much from the seventh grade on it was a near torturous experience every year. Just so I don’t have to recount the whole saga again, just go read this earlier post. I was (and still am) severely apprehensive about letting my children play any type of sports, mainly from the fear they will have an experience similar to mine.

I feel so foolish for still flashing back to those days and letting them having any type of hold over me, but all this basketball lately has caused me to dredge them up again. This time, though, instead of feeling silly for recalling them, I’ve begun to see that they really do still have a hold on me. This isn’t some tale of an old guy lamenting his lack of glory days as a jock, though. This is the story of how perceptions formed as a teenager or adolescent can follow someone into their adult life and cause them all kinds of problems along the way.

My oldest daughter, in my opinion, has the potential to be a very good basketball player. She has a good skill set, a rapidly developing shot, decent speed, and enough size to get by. The only thing I’ve seen that is holding her back right now is she is not aggressive enough. Some people might even say she’s not mean enough. She doesn’t look for her own shot. She prefers to pass off to the older, more experienced players. She shies away from physical contact, which limits her on defense and rebounding. I feel as if she is right on the cusp of becoming someone who could get more minutes on the floor, if she only assert herself a little more.

I am absolutely terrified to tell her this, though.

Why would a father be afraid to dispense some potentially helpful advice like this on to his child? Because that is the same thing he was told when he played – over and over and over again. I cannot recall how many times I was told I did not want “it” bad enough. “It” could mean a number of different things back then. “It” could mean more playing time. “It” could mean a rebound or a loose ball. “It” could mean simply that my attitude didn’t seem up to par that day. “It” basically became everything I couldn’t – or, in the eyes of my coaches, wouldn’t – accomplish.

Now, I am not going to lie and say I have never missed out an opportunity because I didn’t try hard enough. preview_minEveryone has had to learn that life lesson at one point or another. What I heard from all those admonishments from coaches, however, eventually translated into this for me: You do not have it in you to accomplish what you want. I never realized until recently how I took this line and ran with it. I’ve backed away from opportunities for years, always thinking the reason I missed out was because I just didn’t want “it” bad enough. In reality, though, I was simply going along with what I was told; I didn’t have it in me to succeed. I wasn’t aggressive enough or talented enough to achieve anything.

As a result, I’ve lived a life of “almost” successes. I’ve been pretty good at a lot of things, but never great at any of them, mainly because I never believed I could be anything above average. Most days, I still feel that way. How, then, can I look at one of my kids and tell them, “You’re pretty talented, but you just need to try harder”? Sometimes that’s necessary, but not when they are giving something all they’ve got, like my daughter is doing with basketball right now. She needs to have a chance to figure this out on her own, not be endlessly told how she’s “just not getting it.” Because if you’re told that long enough, you start believing it.

Do I “get it” today? I don’t know. Most days, I don’t feel as if I’m trying hard enough, that the majority of my failures come from a basic flaw in my personality that can’t be overcome. I don’t believe I have what it takes to succeed. I have let a decades-old opinion of me dominate a large majority of my life. Can I break that pattern now?

Depends on how bad I want it, I guess.

Christmas Is For Losers

I have a difficult time letting my children watch Peanuts cartoons. “What?” you might be asking. “What kind of problem could you possible have Snoopy and the gang?” Well, it’s quite simple, really: The other kids treat Charlie Brown like crap most of the time, and I don’t really want my kids thinking it’s okay to talk to other people that way.

charlie brownThere was this one time, though, when all the other kids came together and were actually nice to Charlie Brown. It happened one Christmas. You know the one. Charlie Brown was in charge of buying a tree for the school’s Christmas program, and he came back with a glorified twig. After a stern lecture from Linus, the gang decides to give Charlie Brown’s tree a makeover, and Christmas cheer is felt by all.

That seems to be the theme for most Christmas stories: Somebody gets heckled or cheated or messed around with, but by the end of the story everything comes together for them (See: Bob Cratchit.) In real life, though, the downtrodden don’t always get the breaks in the end. For someone suffering from depression, it’s very easy to look around a room and think everyone has it more together than you do. Better jobs, better relationships, better social skills, etc., etc. It can make a person want to find the nearest hole and hide in it.

If you’re thinking that just because your Christmas is rushed and hectic and not going according to plan, however, it should be pointed out that the “first Christmas” wasn’t exactly the most organized event either. Think about it for a minute. A baby was born in a stable. People are taking off to other countries because of dreams. Everyone is crowding into town for a census. There’s chaos happening everywhere.

And then there are the people. You have a carpenter who just found out his fiance is pregnant, and the only explanation he has is “It’s God’s son.” You have a young bride-to-be who would have been dumped, save for another dream intervention by an angel of the Lord. The first group of people called upon to visit the Christ child was not teachers or scribes, but sheep-herders called in from the fields. Really, couldn’t God have picked a little better cast for this?

Depressed people have a tendency to think of Christmas as a time when everyone has it better than them. They have difficulty going to parties or attending family gatherings or even facing the holiday because they feel sort of ashamed of where they are in life. They should be happy. It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” right? When they don’t feel joy during a season which is specifically set up to provide it, they get a double-dose of guilt.

In reality, though, Christmas is practically tailor-made for the losers in life. Jesus, the whole reasonjesus understands for the holiday, was born in a stinky barn. Then he ended his life on a cruel Roman cross. He understands what it’s like to be on the low end of the totem pole. He understands what it’s like to be an outcast. He knows anxiety because he sweated drops of blood. The whole reason he came down, and the whole reason we have a Christmas today, is because Jesus went looking for the losers – the depressed, the anxious, the lonely, the afraid, and the addicted.

Some people may have more finely-decorated homes, flashier presents, and better-looking families, but everyone has Jesus on Christmas Day. Even Charlie Brown.

The Cosby Conundrum

What happens when America’s Favorite Dad has to deal with allegations of drugging and sexually assaulting numerous women on several different occasions?

Tune in to Must-See TV this week to find out!

bill cosbyOkay, that may be the most inappropriate introduction to any post I’ve ever written on this blog, but, good grief, how else can a person keep from shedding tears over the current Bill Cosby situation except with humor, ill-advised as it may be? The man who helped sell Coca-Cola and Jell-O Pudding Pops may have been carrying around briefcases full of drugs and forcing himself on various females over the span of several years. This is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Even though nothing has been formally proven against Mr. Cosby, the number of women speaking out with stories of alleged abuse at his hands seems to be growing daily. Assuming any of these allegations are true, he will have some explaining to do in the future. He will be (and already has been, to a certain extent) branded a bad man.

My problem at the moment, however, is not that I am grappling with the concept of a guilty Bill Cosby being a bad man. My conundrum is that he may have been both good and bad.

Before anyone picks up a stone to hurl at me, I am not writing this post in an attempt to be a Bill Cosby apologist. Personally, I don’t know if the man is guilty or not, so I certainly don’t want to debate his culpability for the things he may or may not have done. I’m thinking more about his legacy. Was Bill Cosby a good or a bad human being?

I wrote here not long ago about a cognitive distortion call polarized thinking, sometimes also known as “black-and-white thinking.” Basically, this distortion means there is no middle ground; things are either good or they are bad. This is a distortion I have massive problems with. When it’s said the public has short memories concerning past sins of public figures, my opinion was not included in “the public.” I remember everything.

So here I am today, left with the perplexing nature of one Mr. William H. Cosby, Jr. To be sure, these are very serious allegations against Mr. Cosby. They have already cost him a new television project with NBC and have resulted in old episodes of The Cosby Show being yanked from syndication. In the places Cosby is still scheduled to appear, he faces threats of protests. He may have even been a rapist.

Cosby has also been a lot other things as well, things which can be proven. He has donated millions of dollars to charities, universities, and other causes. He entertained and attempted to educate children with programs such as Fat AlbertThe Electric Company, and Picture Pages. Probably most famously, he encouraged African-Americans to reach for the stars with his portrayal of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show, one of the most famous and influential sitcoms of all time.

Certainly none of these feats excuses a man from sexually assaulting a woman. What they do show, lukehowever, is that Cosby has, as the famous line from Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi states, “some good in him.” Consider this quote Cosby gave during an interview with The Christian Post in December 2011:

If you have no faith, you’ve lost your battle. You can’t let things just happen. If you know right from wrong, and you know proof that certain things are true and people are telling you information to guide you and it’s good solid information, then you should have it.

Who is this man, then? My brain is having trouble deciphering all this. There is only one conclusion I can arrive at.

Bill Cosby is a human being.

Human beings do bad things, and many times they have to face severe punishments for their actions. What they do, though, does not necessarily make them rotten to their cores. Human beings fall and fail all the time, some on a grander scale than others. If we could control our actions, keep ourselves under perfect control at all times, we never would have needed Jesus Christ to intervene on our behalf. Good men do bad things. Bad men do good things. It is a difficult thing to grasp.

If nothing else, the current Cosby situation has reminded me that while judgement in the courts may be ironclad, judgement between people often is not. For a polarized thinker like myself, the urge is there to run between the two extremes. The real Billy Cosby, though, like most of us, probably lives somewhere in between.