Step One: Having An “Expectant” Heart

In yesterday’s post, “Desires Of The Heart,” I promised to share several of the things I believe all of us can do to maximize our chances of realizing the dreams and desires of our heart.  The first and, arguably, most critical step is being willing (and able) to greet each day with an expectant heart.  Simply put, you have to be open to the possibility that something good will (and may be about to) happen in your life at all times.  Note: This is not an inherent trait, it is an acquired skill that, like most skills, requires practice and commitment.  Let’s take it one step at a time!

The Desires Of Our Heart

All of us have what I like to refer to as “desires of the heart” – those things that are most important to us, that we dream about, that we long for, that we aspire to.  Depending on where we are on the continuum that is our life’s journey, those “desires” may include searching for “Mr. or Mrs. Right,” finding the perfect job, getting accepted at the college of our choice, re-connecting with an old friend or making a new one, repairing or finally allowing ourselves to move on from a broken relationship, forgiving or being forgiven, overcoming addiction, being reminded (or discovering for the first time) that we are loved and that we are worthy of love and/or truly finding peace with and accepting who we are – to name just a few.  Whatever they may be (and they are different for everyone), I believe such desires (and the thoughts and actions they inspire) are essential to a healthy, focused and fulfilling life. They are what keep us moving forward.

Unfortunately, if we aren’t careful, they can also become a source of discontent. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that we tend, consciously or subconsciously, to impose our own “timetables” for the achievement of those goals and/or the realization of our dreams and desires.  We also tend to formulate a vision of what our lives will “look” like and how we will feel when (and if) those dreams/desires become a reality. Invariably, when things don’t happen as soon as we think they should (which often is the case) or when “the package” that arrives doesn’t look and feel precisely the way we thought it would, we become frustrated, angry and, on occasion, bitter. Worse yet, in our quest to “acquire” what we typically have too narrowly defined as “what we want,” we often overlook opportunities to realize other dreams and/or desires that, though not precisely what we originally had in mind, held tremendous promise to change our lives in a positive way.

Believe me, I wish there were a way to guarantee that all of us would realize the desires of our heart and that it would happen for each of us sooner, rather than later.  But, it simply doesn’t work that way.  The truth is there is no way to know when, how or even whether those desires will materialize or if they do what they will look like. There are simply too many variables in the equation – not to mention the “curve balls” that life inevitably tosses our way, usually when we least expect them or were hoping for a “belt high fastball” right down the middle of the plate – to borrow a baseball analogy (or two).  However, I have come to believe that there are certain things we can do to maximize our chances of realizing those dreams and desires and, using the next few days “posts,” I thought I would share at least a few of them with you – all of which were largely inspired by a 1 ½ minute clip in the movie “Facing the Giants.”

The scene involves an encounter between Grant Taylor, the head coach of the fledgling Shilo Eagles football team, and Mr. Bridges, a faith-based administrator who makes it a practice of walking the halls of the high school and silently praying as he passes each student’s locker.  In it, Bridges tells Taylor that he once heard a story about two farmers who desperately wanted and needed rain. Both of them prayed for rain, but only one of them actually went out and prepared his field to receive rain.  “Which one,” Bridges asks Taylor, “do you think trusted God to actually send the rain?” “Well,  the one who prepared his fields to receive it,” Taylor unhesitatingly responds, to which Bridges asks the probing question: “Which one are you?”  “God will send the rain when He’s ready,” Bridges continued, “you need to prepare your field to receive it.”

And so, I believe, it is with our dreams and the desires of our hearts.  Stay tuned.

I Keep Pulling And Pulling, But Those Darn Bootstraps Just Aren’t Working!

I don’t fully understand why we, as a society, tend to view (and treat) those who suffer from emotional and psychological illnesses so much differently than we do those who have purely “physical” injuries and diseases.  

I suppose part of it is grounded in the old adage “seeing is believing” – a uniquely, but no less disturbing, human character trait that likely can trace its roots all the way back to the New Testament story of “Doubting Thomas,” who, despite being assured by his 11 fellow disciples that they had seen “the risen Lord,” was reported to have said: ““Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”  And so it is with us and our divergent views of physical and emotional illness – a broken bone is readily “confirmable” on x-ray, a tumor on a CT scan, but depression, anxiety, addictions, not so much – and, therefore, the former is simply much more “real” to us than the latter. 

If we’re to be honest with each other, part of our skepticism about emotional and psychological ailments also is attributable to ignorance, an inability (or an unwillingness) on our part to distinguish between those who are simply “having a bad day” and those for whom every day, left untreated, is (or has the real potential to be) “bad.”  That ignorance, in turn, causes us to respond to both groups with the same mindset – a misguided belief that “they should just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and move on the way everyone else does,” which, while arguably true for the “bad day” group is (or can be) profoundly hurtful to those who require compassion and help to have even a fighting chance of achieving that desired goal.   

Finally, but no less importantly, I think we tend to view and treat those with emotional and psychological illnesses differently from those who suffer from physical injuries out of fear, fear of the unknown, fear of uncertainty and fear of the sometimes unpredictable nature of such disorders.  Obviously, there is much to fear where many physical ailments are concerned, but at least in the case of most such ailments: their causes are readily identifiable; most run a fairly predictable course; there are concrete steps that help to facilitate the healing process; and, as a general rule, they result in a full (and equally discernable) recovery. There is something about all of those factors that makes it easy for us to feel compassion towards and a compelling desire to care for those who suffer from objectively verifiable physical injuries and ailments.  

Emotional and psychological illnesses, on the other hand, can be far less predictable, their causes can remain a mystery, their treatment is often subject to medical and pharmaceutical trial and error and “recovery” is seldom a clearly identifiable event so much as it is a lifetime  commitment to a healthier state of mind and being built on “choices” made repeatedly every day. Moreover, unlike physical ailments, there are no wounds that require cleaning and/or bandages that need changing, when it comes to such illnesses.  Consequently, when confronted with emotional or psychological ailments, the best (and often all) that even the most caring and concerned of loved ones can do to assist is provide unconditional support, love and patience.  

I know because, once upon a time, I was one of those “uneducated” bootstrap advocates. You can trust me on this one: We all need to be more compassionate towards and understanding of one another, particularly those who are committed to courageously confronting and addressing emotional and psychological issues that are just as “real” and potentially life-threatening as a heart attack. Only by doing so will we break down the barriers and erase the stigmas that enable insurance companies to deny or unreasonably limit coverage for the medications and treatments required to effectively address those illnesses and too often form the basis for sufferers’ reluctance and/or refusal to embrace that same care out of fear that they will be perceived as weak or incompetent. 

“A Foreward By Dr. Michael Berrett”

Anyone who knows me will readily attest to the fact that I am almost never home on a weekday afternoon. The odds of my both being home and turning on the TV to watch an episode of Dr. Phil approximate those of my winning next week’s Powerball jackpot!  Thankfully, however, I was home on the afternoon of Wednesday, August 25, 2010 and I did happen to turn on the TV and it happened to be tuned to what I would later learn was the second in a two-part series entitled “Dying to Be Thin” that Dr. Phil had dedicated to exploring the complex world of eating disorders and the profound impact that they have on sufferers and their loved ones. I say “thankfully” because that “happenstance” turned out to have a profound impact on me – and on my book.

The story of the family in crisis was heart-wrenching, as most involving eating disorders are.  As is often the case, however, the show ended with Dr. Phil offering the family and their beautiful daughter a ray of hope in the form of an all-expense-paid course of treatment at the Center for Change – an internationally acclaimed residential treatment facility for those suffering from eating disorders located in Orem, Utah. In extending the offer, Dr. Phil introduced the family and his audience to Dr. Michael Berrett, the CEO, Executive Director, and Co-founder of the Center, who Dr. Phil described as one of only a small handful of experts in the entire world who truly understand eating disorders.  Fortunately, the family accepted Dr. Phil’s generous and potentially life-saving offer.

I, on the other hand, was eager to learn more about Dr. Berrett and went straight to the computer to begin my research.  What I discovered was that Dr. Berrett had dedicated most of his professional life (more than 28 years at the time) to working with those suffering from eating disorders. I also learned that he has co-authored several books and book chapters, including “Spiritual Approaches in the Treatment of Women with Eating Disorders” and “Spiritual Renewal: A Journey of Faith and Healing”. In addition, Dr. Berrett has co-authored numerous articles in peer-reviewed professional journals and is a highly sought after speaker and clinical trainer, who has presented at innumerable national and international conferences hosted by NEDA, IAEDP, RENFREW, BEDA, IECA, NATSAP, BFI SUMMIT.

As fate would have it, early last year, I had an opportunity to hear Dr. Berrett and his frequent speaking companion, Jenni Schaefer, a best-selling author in her own right, speak at a local high school as part of a week-long series of conferences sponsored by the South Florida Chapter of NEDA.  Suffice it to say, I was deeply moved and inspired by Dr. Berrett’s remarks and, as importantly, by his genuine compassion and spirituality.  A few days later, a mutual friend was kind enough to provide an introduction, via e-mail, and I reached out to Dr. Berrett asking if he would review the “Dear Ashley” manuscript and, if he felt it appropriate, consider offering a few words of support that I could include with the other “early-reader” testimonials.

Never could I have imagined the response I received several weeks later.  Not only did Dr. Berrett have many kind words to say about the book, but he graciously and enthusiastically agreed to provide whatever support I believed would be most helpful in ensuring that its message reached the broadest possible audience, including writing a Foreward. I jumped at the opportunity and, as I suspect writers often do in such situations, proceeded to “hold my breath” as I anxiously anticipated its arrival.  It would be impossible for me to overstate how honored and privileged I feel to be the “beneficiary” of Dr. Berrett’s Foreward.  In fact, I’m so excited that I thought I would share some excerpts from it in today’s post in the hope that it will inspire you to share my enthusiasm for the upcoming release of the book:

Dear Ashley… A Father’s Reflections and Letters to His Daughter on Life, Love, and Hope, is a beautiful, refreshing, and inspiring message. It can be a powerful tool in the work of recovery from the pain and suffering of eating disorder illnesses, for the patient, their families, and professionals. However, it is also a lesson in high-quality, close proximity, and deeply engaged parenting. The lessons taught can be applied well beyond the suffering of eating disorders, and into any loving relationship towards living a life with a positive attitude, courage, integrity, and love.”

“Don’s book [contains] a powerful message that . . . [we as] parents do have the responsibility, and the privilege, to engage in a loving relationship [with our children] which does not include any measure of “holding back”. He teaches that the true power in parenting comes not from hiding real human weakness and various feelings of inadequacy, but by telling the truth about them, and then moving beyond them with the power of love and influence. Don is a pioneer and an example to us all in the mastery of ‘positive self- disclosure,’ where humility, openness, and vulnerability lift and empower.”

“[In his book,] Don takes [his] readers through this three-step process [that, if embraced, will not only touch our lives, but, as importantly] the lives of others], as he writes about many key principles of character which empower recovery including faith, honesty, courage, and perseverance. He teaches us about living life fully, learning to love, and the processes of surrender, recovery, and healing. He teaches us what he has learned through observation and self-honesty, and then he teaches us what he has taught his daughter Ashley, through personal, tender and heartfelt letters.”

“I highly recommend this book, which comes from a brilliant writer, tender-hearted father, and a man of faith and integrity. It will tug at your heart strings and inspire deep self-reflection. It will invite you to stand up and reach a little higher in receiving and giving love and tenderness beyond the obstacles of fear or self-doubt.  Parents, families, patients, professionals, and individuals in general will be greatly rewarded and well-taught by jumping into this easy-to-read and difficult-to-forget-book, which has a spirit of honesty, goodness, and illumination. It is a testament . . . that tender parental love is possible, enduring, and of great worth.”

Some “Advance Reader” Feedback – Wow!

Just received some exciting news from my publisher:  Looks like my book, “Dear Ashley . . .” – A Father’s Reflections and Letters to His Daughter on Life, Love and Hope, will be available for purchase, via the internet, as early as mid-September and should be in bookstores everywhere no later than the first of the year!  With that in mind, I thought I’d take a brief time-out from my “typical” daily posts to share some of the feedback I’ve received from the small handful of “advance readers” who have been kind enough to read and reflect on the book.  I can’t tell you how very humbling it is to know that words shared can evoke this kind of a response:

“As a ‘young-ish’ mom, I always listen when those who’ve ‘been-there-and-done-that’ share their experiences and wisdom.  Dear Ashley does that – and so much more!  The wave of emotions I experienced from start to finish was overwhelming.  One chapter I’m laughing, tears of joy streaming down my face.  The next, I am shedding tears of sadness . . . It is a spectacular book . . . a work of art.”  Allison D.

“From time to time, you get a chance to read a book that provides both important information and heartfelt inspiration.  Dear Ashley is one of those books. It conveys critical thoughts on universal messages of love, commitment and self-awareness in an amazingly personal manner. Anyone who cares about making the most out of their life or the lives for which they are responsible should read this book.” Craig T.

“A moving story . . . about a father’s journey toward self-realization . . . and his unconditional love for his courageous daughter.” Cathy M.

“Don’s lyrical writing style and willingness to be vulnerable provides hope and direction to parents (and young adults) everywhere, no matter what they may be going through.”  Bruce S.

Dear Ashley is profound . . . insightful . . . a true testament to the unconditional love of a father for his daughter.  I only hope that someday my children will know that I love them this much.”  Kelly H.

Dear Ashley” touches deeply on what and who we are, what we believe, how we live and what we wish for ourselves and for our children.  Its pages overflow with sadness and joy, challenge and victory, doubt and faith and fear and love.  It not only is a great read – it’s a keeper.”  Robert T.

“A heartfelt and moving story that offers a unique perspective on several critical life lessons . . . and, above all else, on the importance and power of love.” Elaine P.

Dear Ashley is terribly moving, almost overwhelming in its emotional projection of a father’s desire to protect and help bring healing to his daughter.  As a reader, I’m left wanting to pick both of them up and give them a hug – as long as it would do no harm.” Pete F.

On Humility

One of the most difficult character traits to find in professional sports in general and specifically in a professional athlete is humility.  Maybe it’s because from an early age athletes are bred to believe that humility simply cannot co-exist with the unwavering self-confidence that is required to compete at the highest levels in sport.  However, humility is disproportionately “findable” in professional golf and in the professional golfer.  Having walked thousands of miles of fairways watching some of the best golfers in the country compete over the years, I have a few theories that may help to explain this phenomenon.  First and foremost, the game of golf itself is humbling.  Simply put, no matter how you good you are at it, you either bring humility to the game of golf or it will gladly “supply” it – in spades.  See, e.g., Adam Scott’s finish at the recently concluded 2012 British Open.  Second, professional golf is the only sport where every time you take the field of play you are competing against the absolute best in the game.  By way of comparison, imagine the NL and AL champions playing each other 162 times a season, as opposed to simply in a 7 game World Series or the Packers having to face the Patriots 16 times a season, rather than in a single game Super Bowl.  As a result, golfers appreciate how difficult it is to finish in the top 10 in any given week, let alone to come out on top even once a year, which, almost by definition, demands a certain amount of humility.  Finally, while golf is the most “individual” of all sports (i.e., there is no one to lean on when things go south, nowhere to turn), golfers realize that, at the end of the day success doesn’t come without a significant amount of support from lots of people – family, friends, sponsors and consulting experts. For all these reasons and more, it is not uncommon to see humility manifest itself at the end of what often is an emotionally exhausting 4 day event.  Sometimes a picture is all that’s needed to appreciate it, other times it is evident from the tears that these highly skilled professionals are unabashedly willing to share with those who are fortunate enough to spectate:  

Ben Creshaw Wins the 1995 Masters:
Post round press conference after Bubba Watson’s inaugural win at the 2010 Travelers (6:00 to 10:00 minute marks)
Bubba Watson Inteview After Winning the 2012 Masters
I’ve always thought that golf is alot like life in many respects, these two important ones among them (i.e., both demand or will “supply” humility on the part of those who “play” them and neither is truly an “individual sport” in that both require the support of others in order for the “player” to be successful).  But, every now and then, often when it is least expected, everything comes together and, in the midst of humility, greatness is achieved and dreams are realized.

James Taylor Had It Right: “All You Have To Do Is Call”

I’m generally loathe to “forward” chain e-mails that I, like most, receive by the dozen every week.  However, during a particularly dark period in my life, back in 2009, I received a note that struck a chord with me.  It arrived on the heels of a conversation I had just had with my daughter a few days earlier about what, at the time, appeared to be a paucity of “really good friends” in both of our lives.  During that discussion, I suggested that we likely were both misperceiving things and that, with very little effort, I was quite certain I could put together two pretty impressive lists of “significant others” who, on a moment’s notice, would be there for us.  It’s a worthwhile exercise if you’ve never done it.  In the meantime, consider the probability (suggested by the e-mail I mentioned at the outset) that:

1. There are at least two people in this world who would give up their lives to save yours.

2. There are at least 15 people in this world who love you enough that they would unhesitatingly drop what they are

doing to help you if they knew you were in need and that they could help.

3. Every night, someone thinks about you before they go to sleep.

4. You mean the world to someone.

5. You occupy a special (reserved only for you) place in someone’s heart.

6. Someone who you currently don’t even know exists loves or will love you in the future.

7. When you think everyone in the world has turned their back on you take another, closer, more objective look.

If You Truly Want To Keep “The Doctor Away,” Forget The Apple And Take A Walk

“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” – or so the saying goes. I’m not so sure about that, but I am very sure about Item #4 on my “post-kindergarten” list of ways to guarantee a healthier, happier, less stressed-out “you” – commit to “taking yourself” out on a brisk 5 mile walk every day! How can I be so sure? I’ve been doing it for at least the past 18 months and the results have been nothing short of amazing.

To me, the benefits of walking are many.  It’s afforded me an hour and 15 minutes of quiet time a day – time that I’ve used: to “write” most of my book, a peer-reviewed article for a professional journal and presentations for two upcoming conferences; to gather my thoughts; to reflect (daily) on where I’ve been (and where I’m going); to clear my mind; to pray; to interact with now familiar other walkers (and their pets); or simply to observe and gain insight into the world around me. It’s also provided daily structure, reduced stress, helped me to “exercise” my “self-discipline muscles” and given me a sense of pride that can only come from remaining true to a commitment you’ve made to yourself.

Along the way, I’ve managed to lose 20+ pounds, without any significant modifications in my diet (I still eat bread-products, pasta and french fries like they’re going out of style!?!), shaved 25 points off my cholesterol, reduced my blood pressure to 100/70 and developed a resting heart rate of someone 1/2 my age. Suffice it to say, my doctor is impressed.  Most importantly, like Item Nos. 1-3, doing it costs you almost nothing – and you can do it anywhere, 365 days a year. All you need to begin is a comfortable pair of walking/running shoes (I recommend the Nike Air Pegasus) and a scenic 5 mile course mapped out from your front door. It can’t get much easier than that!

Trust me – you’ll love the difference it will make in virtually every aspect of your life.

A Few Things I Needed To Know About Life That I Actually Learned After Kindergarten

In his 1988 best-seller, author Robert Fulghum cleverly and persuasively suggested that “everything [he] ever really needed to know about life [he] learned in kindergarten.”  With all due respect to Mr. Fulghum, however, there actually are a few things I learned after kindergarten that I believe are indispensible to living a healthy and happy life – some of which I thought I would share over the next several days.
1.  Go to bed before midnight.
Why I think you should consider it:
a.     It ensures that you get a good night’s rest and that you wake up refreshed and ready to tackle a new day.
b.     Trust me, the old adage is true: “Nothing good happens after midnight.”  Don’t believe me?  Take a minute  and pull up “yesterday’s” arrest records in your community on the Internet and I’m certain you’ll discover that a disproportionate number of them (most) occurred after midnight – and don’t be naive enough to think “that could never happen to me” – it can.
c.     98% of the people on the planet are doing it.  They can’t all be wrong!
2.  Turn off your cell phone before you hit the sack.
Why I think you should consider it:
a.     It will help to ensure that you get a good night’s rest.
b.     Take it from someone who, together with the rest of his generation, lived 30 years without the privilege of having a cell phone: Notwithstanding what those who are intent on creating and drawing you into the drama that is their daily lives may think, whatever “it” is can certainly wait until morning. Moreover, even in the rare instance of an “actual emergency,” chances are you’ll be much better equipped to deal with it if you’ve had a good night’s sleep.
c.     98% of the people on the planet are doing it.  They can’t all be wrong!
3.     Wake up with a grateful heart and a grateful thought.
Why I think you should consider it:
a.     All of us can find something or someone we are grateful for. Indeed, if we really applied ourselves, we likely could come up with a pretty impressive list of those people and things.  Pick one of them and make it your first thought of the day.  Verbalize it to yourself:  “Today, I am grateful for ___________.”  And then, commit to living that day with a grateful heart.
b.     If you draw a blank or are intent on believing that your life is just a mess, then be grateful for what is the greatest gift of all: the gift of a new day – and the opportunity it affords to take at least the smallest of steps toward “cleaning up” that mess, whatever that “clean-up” may require.
c.     Okay, so maybe 98% of the people on the planet aren’t doing it!  But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be.
Still skeptical?  Try it for 30 days and if it doesn’t meaningfully improve your energy, your attitude and your life, let me know.