“It’s All About The Bounce”

bounce

Those of you who read my blog with any regularity (c’mon, admit it, I know there are at least two of you!) likely would find it hard to believe that, not so long ago, I was a dyed-in-the-wool introvert who found the idea of sharing my innermost thoughts and longings with my closest of friends, let alone on social media TERRIFYING. But, it’s true, which is why it wasn’t at all surprising to me that, several years ago – moments before I was to speak to a standing room only audience at the launch of my book, “Dear Ashley . . .” – A Father’s Letters and Reflections to His Daughter on Life, Love and Hope (https://tinyurl.com/y63wrj3f) – I found myself sweating profusely in the men’s room of Books & Books (Coral Gables). What WAS surprising was HOW INCREDIBLY SMALL that men’s room is (think broom closet) and the runaway sense of awkwardness and embarrassment I felt in having to share it (and my personal crisis) with a man nearly twice my age. To make matters worse, as I shimmied along the wall trying to avoid physical contact on the way to the stall, he actually started to speak.

“Hey, aren’t you the guy who’s speaking tonight,” he said far too enthusiastically, having no doubt seen my likeness displayed in the window next to John Grisham’s latest release. “I am,” I responded, hoping against hope that would be the end of our conversation. “What’s the book and the talk about?” he inquired. “It’s about being a dad,” I said (almost in a whisper), “about my wishing I’d done better, and about our daughter, who nearly lost her life to an insidious and wildly misunderstood disease. And the talk? It’s about what I believe are the keys to realizing the desires of your heart.” He paused, as he dried his hands, breezed past everything else I’d said (almost as if I’d missed the point entirely), and asked simply, “How’s she doing now – your daughter?” “Much better, thanks,” I said, suddenly glad for the droplets of sweat that were masking my tears. He smiled, turning towards the door, “Well, it’s like my grandma always said: ‘It’s not about the goin’ down. We all gonna do that.  It’s about the bounce!’ Good luck.” And with that, he was gone …

The 35 minutes between “Before I begin, I’d like you to take the pad and pencil in front of you and jot down 5 Desires of Your Heart” and “Thank you for coming tonight” is mostly a blur to me now – a vague sea of “This Is Your Life” faces, frayed nerves, frenetic heartbeats, fear of failure, and futile efforts to avoid eye contact with my daughter lest the flood gates open. But, I’ll never forget what happened as those in attendance collected their things and headed for the exit. A colleague and friend I’d known for nearly 20 years approached with hand extended and a sheen of tears in his eyes. “Thank you”, he managed as I reached to take his hand and he pressed a small folded square of paper in mine.  He quickly turned and walked away and, as he did, I opened the gift he’d left behind to find 5 gut-wrenchingly personal “Desires” on one side and this note on the other: “Your willingness to share your heart has given me the courage to share these shame-filled pieces of mine for the first time. I know I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, but now, thanks to you, I can do it with hope.”

The weeks, months, and years since that pivotal moment in my life have only served to reinforce the power and magnetism of vulnerability, as one heart – ravaged by abuse, addiction, eating disorders, neglect, shame, guilt, loneliness, misplaced trust, etc. – after another have found their way to my actual or virtual doorstep. None has come asking to be fixed – a task well beyond my paygrade. They come instead to be seen, to be heard, to share the broken and shameful pieces of themselves without fear of judgment, to be reminded that they’re not alone, that we all fall down, that there’s someone in the world who cares, that they are no less worthy, that there’s a reason to hold on, to fight on, and for assurances that the sun will come up (and shine on them) tomorrow. My gift in return? I get the privilege to be that voice for a moment and along the way to share “Grandma’s” wisdom: It doesn’t matter why or how far you’ve fallen or what it looks (or looked) like when you hit the bottom. At one time or another (in one form or another) we’ve all been (or will be) there. It’s all about the bounce!

https://tinyurl.com/y5wxov94

An Invitation To Redemption

The Prodigal Son 1888 by John Macallan Swan 1847-1910

“Maybe redemption has stories to tell. Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell.” Dare You to Move (Switchfoot)

I can assure you

when, despite decades of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, you delusionally remain chained to the belief (conviction) that yours is the right way – the only way – that you have it all figured out;

when your best intentions and tireless efforts to micro-manage your and others lives – because, after all, you know better – leaves you (and them) mired in the very chaos, uncertainty and pain you sought to avoid;

when the unrelenting voices of perfectionism, loneliness, and depression are on the verge of convincing your battered and weary soul that there’s no way out of their death grip;

when the love of a lifetime is perilously, perhaps even understandably close to deciding that a lifetime should be measured in years – not breaths;

when the darkness becomes so impenetrable – the heart walls so high and well-armored – that even the brightest of lights and the strongest of loves can’t find their way in;

the last thing on your mind is the possibility of redemption, let alone that it will happen when you’re standing at an ATM machine on the corner of Douglas Road and Giralda Avenue – filled with anger and fear after the latest in a series of sleepless nights – and all hope seems lost.

I suppose the same likely was true (in a myriad of different ways) for the adulterous woman groveling in the dirt before an angry mob – stones in hand – intent on ending her life; the crucified thief convinced that all that awaited his lifetime of missteps was the finality of death; the prodigal son longing to fill his belly with the husks he fed to the pigs; the paralyzed man as he was being lowered through the thatched roof of a stranger’s home by faithful friends; Peter, in the courtyard when the rooster finally stopped crowing; the ten lepers; the underprepared host of the wedding feast; David, after serially violating the Ten Commandments in the span of 72 hours; Gomer, Hosea’s adulterous wife, after returning to her roots; Ruth; the woman at the well; Rahab the prostitute; Saul of Tarsus on the Road to Damascus; to name just a few of the more notable Biblical examples – not to mention any number of more modern day characters – some of whom no doubt are our workmates, roommates, classmates, housemates, friends, and churchmates.

And yet, if our collective experiences are fairly representative that’s precisely when the invitation to redemption arrives – when we least expect and most desperately need it … like a soft breeze on a stiflingly hot summer day; the thirst quenching refreshment of a cool, clear mountain stream in the middle of an exhausting climb; the smile of an old friend when you feel alone, if not abandoned; a sunrise you weren’t at all sure you’d ever see again; the arrival of a beautiful bouquet of roses sent in spite of a hurt you carelessly inflicted; the gentle, inviting rhythm of the waves lapping the sand on the first day of a long overdue vacation; the eye of a hurricane; a hand extended in peace or forgiveness after decades of discord and separation; an impeccably timed word of encouragement, affirmation, or empathy; a safe harbor; a warm lasting embrace; whispered reassurances that love is unconditional when we were certain disillusionment, disappointment and rejection would be the order of the day – a sight, sound, or smell that reminds us of childhood (or home), when both seem hopelessly far away.

What awaits your acceptance of that invitation?  I suppose that part is different for everyone, but for me it was an immediate and overwhelming sense of calm and peace in the midst of what only moments before were the depths of despair; a sense that reconciliation, which just a breath before seemed impossible, was possible; a vision of a previously indiscernible path to take in pursuing it and a clarity of purpose for the journey; a breaking through and tearing down of walls; a fundamental, no-turning-back change of heart and perspective; a profound sense of forgiveness (of self and others); freedom from a lifetime of bondage to stress and anxiety; an acute self-awareness of mistakes and missteps made over a lifetime and an almost simultaneous release of the guilt and shame they carried with them; an outpouring of gratitude and a compelling desire to share it all – even though, in the moment and for days, weeks and months to follow I could scarcely comprehend or adequately explain any of it. But, I know this with certainty: I’m eternally grateful the invitation arrived – and that I opened it!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zI7HMGFAQBg

*Image Credit: The Prodigal Son by John Macallan Swan