The little boy puffed his chest out and drew up to his full 49 inches in stature. Today was the day. Nothing would stop him from conquering The Beast. He considered the idea of climbing this 30-foot wall before, but passed on it. He kept promising himself he would do it someday. At last, someday had arrived.
He strapped into his safety harness and tugged on the attached emergency line to test its strength. Before he began, I warned him not to look up or down as he climbed, but to stare straight ahead at the next hand hold on his path of progress. He nodded his head, slapped me a high-five, and fixed his icy blue eyes on the coarse, abstractly-shaped wall. With no hesitation, he began his attack.
He shot up that wall so fast I couldn’t get a good photograph of him. Notch after notch, handle after handle he climbed, never pausing to consider how high in the air he was or what it would take to get down. He was about a foot from the very top when I made a serious mistake. I began cheering for him, which caused him to break eye contact with the wall. As he swung his head around to look at me, his eyes dipped straight to the ground as though an irresistible magnet were pulling them down. The moment he saw how high he was, he panicked.
“Come on, Zach, you’re almost there!” I shouted. “You can do it, buddy!”
From 25 feet beneath the soles of his shoes, I could see his thin body tense and begin to tremble. He had two handholds clutched in a white-knuckle grip, and one slipped as his palms filled with sweat. He cried out to me in a shrill panic that turned my blood cold. I knew he was safe in his harness, but he didn’t know that and he began to cry.
“Let go and slide down, Zach!” I encouraged. “Nothing will happen to you, son. Your harness will keep you safe!”
He began to cry louder. He was completely frozen with fear and unable to move. I knew he wasn’t coming down with me standing there telling him to. I had to take action.
I was wearing flip-flops that day, but I knew I had to get up there somehow to bring him down. I kicked them off, strapped to a second safety harness, and began climbing that wall barefooted. I ignored the pain in my feet and scampered up that wall as fast as my limbs would carry me. My child was in trouble. All I cared about in that moment was getting to him.
I pulled up next to him on the wall and when he saw my face, he began crying harder. I tried to soothe him and reason with him, but he was too far into his own head to hear me from where I was. I began shimmying sideways to draw closer to him.
“Son, I cannot take you down this thing myself,” I said. “You have to let go and slide down.”
“I can’t!” he wailed through his loud sobs. “I can’t let go! It’ll hurt me if I do!”
I realized in that moment that he was holding on to that wall because he believed he had no other option. He was afraid of letting go because he thought it would be the end of him.
I put my arm around him, leaned in to his ear, and whispered, “My son, I would never do anything to hurt you. You are safe with me here and the equipment I gave you for this experience. Please trust me and just let go. I promise you with all that I am that you will not die. This experience will only make you stronger.”
His crying subsided at these words. He fixed his eyes on mine, relaxed his body, and pushed off the wall. My beloved son trusted my words and let go. He slid harmlessly to the ground, unsnapped his harness and stepped out, and threw his arms around me.
“Thank you for trusting me,” I said.
“Thank you for being there to protect me, Daddy.”
Sometimes, letting go is all you can do.
Frank Vaughn is a regional Emmy Award- and AP Media Editors Award-winning writer and columnist who loves to describe his view of the world from the cheap seats. A 22-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Frank has traveled the world and experienced many different cultures. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Ark. and the Defense Information School at Fort George G. Meade, Md., where he received training in journalism and public relations.
It was 28-3 midway through the third quarter of Super Bowl LI and the Falcons were feelin’ fine. For some reason, 28 points must have felt like enough to prevent Tom Brady from cashing in his fifth Super Bowl ring and making history. It wasn’t.
The Patriots, long accused of taking shortcuts and skirting rules on the way to success, had something that night that no one — myself included — thought they had. After looking flat and confused for 3½ quarters, they suddenly came alive and caught the Falcons flatfooted. Twenty-five points and the game’s first-ever overtime period later, the Patriots not only had a record fifth Super Bowl title for one quarterback and one coach, they also owned the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. How — why — did this happen?
Put simply, they refused to give up. They refused to roll over and accept the odds that were stacked against them. I read on a very well-reputed sports website that at 20 different points in the game, the Falcons had a 99 percent chance of winning. If my math is correct that means the Patriots had a 1 percent chance of turning that game around and rewriting history.
Sometimes, if you refuse to give up, you may only have a 1 percent chance of succeeding. That alone is enough to make most people give up before they even try. Let me hit you with another statistic though. If you do give up, you now have a 0 percent chance of succeeding. There is no guarantee of success in anything, but the best way to guarantee failure is to not even try. It is easier to put something down than to pick it up — gravity, you know — but sometimes it’s better to hold on to something rather than give up on it.
The Patriots also had the tools to win that game from the start. Whether it was a halftime speech that fired them up or in-game situations that gave them hope, they remembered that they were good enough to do it and they got to work.
There is an old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” They couldn’t score 25 points on one play, so they focused on getting a first down. Then another. Then a touchdown. Their defense focused on one tackle at a time, one play at a time, and the end result was Atlanta scoring no more points that night. As each play unfolded and New England slowly began to arise, the odds began moving in the right direction.
Is your house completely wrecked to the point it seems impossible to clean? Start with something small. Wash a dish. Do a load of laundry. Pick something up and put it where it belongs. Make even the smallest effort to get started and watch the successes add up — however slowly — over time. It may seem impossible, but once you start and you see even the slightest progress, the odds begin to slowly move in the right direction in your mind.
Maybe you are in a difficult relationship that seems impossible to fix. If it is safe to be in it and you know you love that person, then start with something small. Do something nice for them that they were not expecting. Talk to a minister — either together or alone. Go to one counseling session. Apologize if you know you were wrong. Do something to stop the cycle of hurt and disappointment and see if it creates any hope. If it does, then do another. A series of small successes over a period of time can eventually add up to a huge miracle.
Just remember this: 1 percent is something. As long as there is something, you have work to do. Giving up when there is work to be done is the easiest thing anyone can ever do, but it always leads to regret.
If you truly want to turn things around and enjoy the feeling of fulfillment and success, then do the work. Don’t let seemingly impossible odds talk you out of it. Don’t let fear of failure talk you out of it. Just do it. If you do fail, then figure out what you can learn from it, and use that to fight again the next time. Just don’t fail because you didn’t try.
We might as well talk about forgiveness today. Why? Glad you asked! If there is one thing I have learned in 41 years, it is that we all have a duffel bag of life issues that we like to drag around. We’re born, and from that point forward we just start adding stuff to it. Pain, bitterness, distrust, jealousy, anxiety and fear all fester and bloat in that bag until it is so heavy that it is all that defines our struggle as we try to move through life.
Yes, people hurt us. This is because they are people and, for some reason, we are all prone to do that and have that done to us. Humanity does not come with an organic ability to not do that, unfortunately. We are not necessarily born with righteousness, compassion, empathy, sympathy, and altruism preprogrammed into our hearts and minds. These are learned characteristics and developing and using them are a choice we all have to make.
For many of us, pain and bitterness are well-earned. Being hurt, in many cases, is not a choice—it is just something that is done to us and we are left to figure out how to process it and what to do about it. What if I told you, though, that there is a way to overcome what the world does to us…what people do to us, and still be an inspiration to others?
It starts with a shift in worldview. I know firsthand how easy it is to become completely wrapped up in my pain, and when I do my worldview gets so narrow that essentially all I can see is myself. I don’t see that others are hurting worse. I don’t see the need in others around me. I tend to lose focus of the things I am responsible for and I start dropping balls that people depend on me to carry. As a father, husband, and professional, I cannot afford to do that. Oh, sure. I can feel sorry for myself for a little while, but what I cannot afford to do is marinate in that pain to the point that the only scent coming off of me is what has happened to me. I have found that I heal faster when I focus more on the needs of others. That doesn’t mean that I ignore my problems. It simply means that I refuse to be defined by them.
It is also important to have perspective on the person or people that have caused me pain. Did they do so intentionally? If so, is it because of some issue in their life that I can help them with? Or maybe they are just hurtful people and will never realize—or care—what they have done. Does harboring bitterness and resentment toward them make me feel better, or does it simply prolong the agony of what I am feeling? The reality is that even if you are angry or bitter toward someone who has legitimately hurt you, chances are they will never realize it, or if they do, they won’t care. I once heard a wise quote about this: “Clinging to bitterness toward someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Think about that.
It does take time to process pain that is caused by other people. I have found that confiding in a trustworthy friend is helpful. I have even sought counseling from people who are trained at that sort of thing in cases where I knew that simply chatting about my issues was not going to help in the long term. Healing does not come overnight, but it does come if one can commit to the process. Nothing helps healing, though, like good old fashioned forgiveness.
I looked up “forgiveness” in my favorite dictionary (the Internet) and this is the definition I found: “Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense and lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”
Intentional and voluntary. How do you forgive someone? According to that definition, you have to actually decide to. It doesn’t say that the offender asks for it; it says you have to be intentional about giving it. However, that comes after the hard part, which is the next thing in that definition: changing feelings and attitude regarding the offense. Once that is accomplished and the decision is made, you haven’t just set the offender free; you have set yourself free from the burden of what was done and you have released yourself from a lifetime of dragging that thing around in your duffel bag.
Truly forgiving someone is quite possibly the hardest thing we will ever do—especially if the offense was life-changing and destructive. I have had to do my fair share of pain processing over the course of my life, but until now I have not ever truly forgiven anyone. I am ready to do that now, because I realize this: I have hurt people too and if I ever hope to be forgiven, I must be willing to do the same.
I served in various churches as a youth minister for a number of years before surrendering to full-time ministry in the military. I learned many lessons through that journey — probably more than I ever taught to the scores of teenagers who passed through my doors. Of all the lessons I learned, though, one of the most vital was eating.
I cut my teeth in youth ministry at a smallish church in my hometown. We had around 15 kids in the youth group when I arrived, but they were committed and came to church with their families. Because the church was so family-connected, they held monthly potluck meals after Sunday service. It wasn’t a ministry gimmick, either. These people really loved and desired each other’s company and this seemed like the best way to facilitate that. Also, the food was good. Just … SO good.
Because I was a staff minister there, I took the attitude that all of the members should eat first. I would alternate between working in the kitchen — whether preparing food or washing dishes — and helping to serve the food. When everyone was seated, I worked the room, greeting people, making sure they had everything they needed, sharing a joke or a smile. You know … ministry.
These potluck lunches would last for at least a couple of hours, as people would eat, laugh, socialize and just generally enjoy the experience together. The pastor would share a brief word of encouragement to make it an official church gathering, and the kids would play outside while the grownups sipped coffee with their desserts. Once the program wrapped up and all the food was eaten, the cleanup phase began.
Our church was in a tiny Quonset hut on the modest church property. The church broke ground on a new worship center adjacent to the hut shortly after I got there, but a year later the ground was still broken and no nails had been driven. Since it was one of only three structures our church owned back then—the other two being a parsonage that sat empty and an office space up the road — we had to both worship there and hold the potluck socials. We turned the worship center into a fellowship hall, ate an expansive meal, then turned it back into a worship center for the evening service before going home for a couple of hours to sleep off the meats, veggies and desserts.
One Sunday, after a very well-stocked potluck meal that took hours to set up, feast on and recover from, I stumbled in the front door of my house, which sat around the corner from the church. I fell into my recliner, looked up at the ceiling, and immediately heard a strange noise. This low rumble started inconspicuously, but very quickly grew to a loud roar in my ears. It wasn’t thunder outside — it was my stomach.
My wife walked in the room from somewhere in the back of the house and saw the look on my face and asked what was wrong. I sat up, cleared my throat and asked her what we had in the refrigerator to eat.
“You have to be kidding me,” she said. “Dude. We just came from the biggest potluck I have ever seen in my life. How is it even possible that you’re hungry right now?!”
I realized something that day that has impacted me ever since. I was so busy taking care of everyone’s needs and making sure everyone was enjoying themselves and each other that I just plain forgot to eat. At a potluck lunch. A very large potluck lunch, at that.
I learned that day that we can spend every ounce of energy we have taking care of other people, whether it be family, friends, co-workers, strangers, or whatever, but we must invest in ourselves too if we want to be effective.
I encourage you to think about what it is that gives you the drive to be successful in your life. Think about what gives you peace. Think about the things you can do for yourself that will give you the energy and the internal ability to impact the world around you. Do those things.
It is important to invest in those around us — feed them, if you will. Just remember that you must feed yourself as well.
“Your love is yours to give, not mine to demand.”—Anonymous
Human relationships are a tricky — and sometimes dangerous — thing. What we know about them at any point is the result of a journey that started with the earliest relationships of our lives: the ones with our parents.
We all have a life story about growing up in our families: some of us with one parent, some with two, some with more than two. Some grew up with none of the parents that were responsible for their very existence, but we all have had relationships of some sort to this point in our lives.
For me, it has become so easy to develop expectations in relationships after a 41-year résumé of dealing with others in various capacities. The question, though, is whether expectation is fair to the other person and, if so, to what extent? I suppose the answer for me lies in those earliest examples in my life.
I didn’t have a mother for the first nearly eight years of my life. The one I was assigned to at birth exited stage-left very early and our family was reduced to me and my dad. Being an only child in a single-parent household where I was definitely not the only thing my father had to worry about was admittedly a lonely experience. I didn’t know this until later, but not having a female perspective and motherly guidance in the difficulties of the first eight years of my life left a gaping hole in my emotional development that has plagued me ever since.
In later years, I came to realize that I developed expectations in relationships that were designed to fill that hole left by a parent who wasn’t there. I passed on those expectations to unsuspecting visitors who dared orbit around my soul. I was not aware of it at the time, but I now know that that was a hole that could not be filled by anyone else.
Demanding constant attention, companionship, presence and communication took their toll on many people in my life. Friendships were lost, other relationships became total-loss collisions, and even some family sought distance when I was at my worst. Something had to change.
I was at my lowest in 1999 when I finally realized that I did not possess the ability to heal myself. A friend who still loved me not-so-gently suggested I seek counseling for some lingering scar tissue that crippled my soul. I resisted at first, but I came to realize that he was the last remaining ally I had at that point in my life and that my biggest fear of being completely isolated was about to come true if I didn’t do something radical.
The quote above came out of a process of realizing that no one on this earth can make any of us whole. The demands we place on other people to fill the emptiness left in our lives by others do not translate to fulfilling relationships.
In the motion picture “Jerry Maguire,” Tom Cruise famously said to Renee Zellwegger, “You complete me!” This apparently came after a process of realizing that he really did need her in order to feel like he was a worthy human being. This concept makes for a great Hollywood moment, but I submit that it is preposterous and unsustainable in real life.
Think of it like a math problem: relationships are not addition; they are multiplication — 1×1=1, right? But, 0.5×0.5=0.25. When you multiply fractions the resulting answer is actually smaller than the individual parts. In relationships, anyone who shows up as a fraction of an emotionally whole human being and expects someone else to make them whole will only discover that this is impossible.
Quite simply, one-half of a human being, whether they encounter another fractional one or a whole person, can still never be whole. A truly successful relationship must be the product of two whole, stable, adjusted people coming together, not to complete each other, but to complement each other.
I won’t lie; being a whole person just might take a whole lot of work. A ton of soul searching. Baring your soul to a trustworthy person whose role in your life is to help you heal, repent, whatever it takes for you to make it to that place. Just remember, though, that the actual work of healing and becoming whole is yours and yours alone no matter who may be there to support and advise you.
If you are not whole and you are expecting someone else to be what you need, please realize that is likely never going to happen — especially if they are not whole either. Seek the help you need, do the work, and remember: the love and acceptance of others is theirs to give, not yours to demand.