Becoming Tim

“The friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you.” ~Elbert Hubbard

 

In 2000, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam wrote and conveyed one of the most significant social phenomenons of our time. His book, Bowling Alone, demonstrated statistically how over just a few years American society moved increasingly further away from so many of the social constructs on which it was founded.

A simple research illustration in Putnam’s work showed while the number of people who bowled during the last 20 years increased, the number who actually bowled in leagues decreased. They were bowling alone.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 8.57.11 AMCarried further, his data indicated fairly dramatic decreases in group social affiliations that were once important to us – Parent-Teacher Associations, church, political parties, evening dinner parties. Neighborhoods where children once roamed freely and without care evolved to burgs where families don’t know their next-door neighbors, and everyone looks at one another with shocking anxiety when the doorbell rings.

We’ve personally disengaged with society to the point, Putnam diagnosed, where we are less healthy, and less happy.

Simply stated, Putnam’s book addressed the truth that no one really talks to anyone anymore. We self-seclude. I understand it in an acute way.

***

I stayed in a mostly dark bedroom for the better part of two years, and went to even further extremes looking for healing in places where it simply can’t be found. In the wake of a failed 19-year marriage followed shortly by a shuttered business where I’d invested everything I knew, and all that I had, I woke up one day completely lost and blaming myself for everything. In fact, I wasn’t at fault for everything, but that’s what chronic depression tells you. And it tells you to give up.

With Dana, my new wife, her help, and time, I healed painfully slowly, and walked gradually, one step at a time, into the light. Our slow persistence to bring me back, didn’t prevent missteps, or lessons from some of the more extreme directions we took. But I think it was our most extreme undertaking that brought the greatest lesson.

***

When an only son loses his father a new sense of responsibility is born. Whether it’s true or not that he becomes the head of the family is debatable, but inevitably, he feels the call of a new role. My dad’s death early that year woke me to some new realities and forced an incomplete, but new phase of my healing. In fact, I think it paved the way for what I needed to learn most.

The windfall of a small early inheritance my mother graciously shared opened up the new possibility of a financial reset. It could’ve been seed money for a new business startup, an investment in our retirement or any other traditional pursuit within reason. I opted for an extreme idea outside all good reason, but that’s really nothing new.

Throughout my secluded depression I’d get lost in re-living the far-fetched notion I’d had since exchanging childhood notes with a Venezuelan pen pal. South America seemed so distantly different to all I knew about life. Late at night Dana and I watched travel show re-runs about people who dropped everything to expatriate to the unknown challenges of a new life abroad and start fresh with the possibilities only new landscapes can bring.

The short-story version is that we took an exploratory trip to Ecuador, and at the end of 10 days bought a small parcel of land near the beach. Three months later we began construction on a small house, and six months after that we took two plane tickets and five suitcases on an adventure from which we didn’t know if we’d honestly ever return. We had an open-ended ticket to a life of new possibilities.

It was the adventure of a lifetime. Our marriage relationship as friends and partners strengthened beyond everything either of us ever dreamed. We made new friends, watched amazingly spectacular Pacific sunsets from our rooftop every night and were like two kids learning all new things in a Latin culture we now love.

It was a new phase of real healing for my depression, but only the beginning and not the cure-all so many of us think we can find by running away. What I realized several months after our transition was this: Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.

It’s exhaustingly painful to hide behind a mask every day. Thank goodness I’m becoming more like Tim.

***

Certain stories resonate more than others along the Camino, and among Camino family herds. Because of their magnitude, they take on a certain lore. I’d heard Tim’s story weeks before I met him and he was gracious enough to share it with me in detail only a few moments after we met in the iconic Parador Plaza in Leon. It’s the kind of sharing that’s a Camino trademark, and is the anti-thesis of Bowling Alone’s conclusion. The Camino fosters a genuine transparency you find in almost no other environment. I’m not sure why that’s true, but it is.

(Above, my interview with Tim in Leon. Such a good man.)

I knew from conversations with other pilgrims that Tim came to Spain as part of a healing process from the unexpected loss of his wife, but wasn’t completely prepared for the clear picture he painted so quickly about the loss.

A self-described Alaska slug and goof-off who’s always enjoyed lying on the couch watching football, Tim was in good spirits from a 40-kilometer walk the day before (the equivalent of a full marathon) when he stepped on a scale to realize he’d lost 20 pounds. I asked if he minded sharing why he’d come so far.

In the first 30 seconds of our impromptu interview, Tim said he’d come as a tribute to his wife who’d died 18 months earlier. She was a physical therapist and lifeguard out for an afternoon walk when she experienced a seizure, fell to the ground and drown in six inches of water. In an instant, Tim and his family were overcome with the void left by her death. She was his best friend. It didn’t bother Tim one bit to let me, a complete stranger, know how much it hurt.

“She loved long walks. This is kind of for her. She would’ve enjoyed every step,” he said.

The following day Tim placed a few of his wife’s ashes at Cruz Ferro, the place where, for a millenia, pilgrims have left the hurt of their burdens behind.

Our conversation that day was part of an ongoing process I gradually understand more each day.

We don’t have to pretend. No matter how much things hurt, it’s okay to be you. And by being the real you, you might actually help someone else.

My goal is that each day, I become a little more like Tim.

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The Truth About What You Hallow

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(Blogger’s Note: I’ll create a second video journal tomorrow about preparing for pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. It will be published here on the blog, and distributed through my personal Facebook account. If you’re not a follower, and wish to be, just click the button to the right.)

Every good thing, and every failure is traced to that which we adore most. It’s all about what we hallow. And it’s clear what God desires most from us, is not our moralistic behavior or good deeds, but our genuine adoration.

It’s contrary to everything we’ve learned and requires a change in our point of view particularly because behavior and deeds are those things which are seen (even placed on exhibition and measured), and yet, adoration is an unseen characteristic of the heart.

Just before He gives us the model for productive prayer, we read this counsel: He says, don’t be a hypocrite elevating yourself in the public places, but go away privately and close the door. And don’t babble with a long litany of fancy words. “I already know what you need,” he says. Then pray in a manner like this:

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

The very first thing we do, is to hallow. It’s not a word you hear often, maybe because of its precise meaning – to honor, glorify and set aside as holy. The word is so unique in meaning, it survives many biblical translations.

What God wants most is our adoration. I’ll try explaining how I learned this as truth. We all adore something. It’s how we’re wired.

***

In my early years as a Christian hallowing God wasn’t so easy. As I wrestled daily with family responsibilities, never-ending bills and small-town pressure to climb an exhausting social ladder, everything seemed grounded in my abilities as a provider and a doer. As the storm weathered over the years, I nearly killed myself beating those necessities into submission.

Then, it became dangerously fun.

I learned how to make money. One step at a time, I surmounted the social ladder. After thousands of bylines,  attending endless social fundraisers and parties, and even my relatively good and moral standing in the church, people knew my name. I adored it.

Then, on a cool, crisp beautiful October day in 2009 it ended as if everything I set aside as holy was sucked into a black hole, never again to see the light of day. My publishing business closed. I entered a time of depression that was like nothing I’ve ever known before or since. I remember telling Dana I literally couldn’t ‘see’ tomorrow. The blindness went on for at least three years.

The money was gone, the party invitations stopped coming, there were no more bylines.

It lasted until I somehow realized one day that a real, fixed, unshakable truthScreen Shot 2015-10-04 at 6.09.17 AM must exist out there somewhere, and that it was the only thing worth really pursuing.

I can stand on a street corner as a fool working to draw attention to myself all day long, but it’s pointless. It’s what I do in private that matters. The ultimate truth is what I see in the mirror.

If you take anything from this post today, I hope you take this thought:

What you do in secret drives your view of yourself.

That’s worth some meditation. It really is.

Just yesterday, I spent nearly six hours on a 15-mile training hike for a 600-mile pilgrimage across Spain that begins in two weeks. I can tell you from the core of my soul that I spent nearly the entire time, praising and adoring the Creator. I was all alone, just a backpack and a pair of shoes, in a place, where so to speak, the door was closed.

It’s His infinite creativeness, I think, that permits me to do this, and it’s something I’m particularly drawn to on these long walks.

I’m a creative guy. I create things. Mostly words and ideas as they relate to communication. Start throwing around analytical jargon, numbers and a spreadsheet and consider me “checked out.” So when I think about God as the creator/author of all things it’s practically impossible to put my adoration elsewhere. Everything flows from that.

Moreover, when I think about the extremity and highness of His glory in creation, versus the low place where He sent his Son to pay my debts, I find no option but to hallow His name. It’s the highness of His majesty and the depth of His love and grace.

Praise and adoration is what life’s all about, and it frames the context for everything we do.

Vaya con Dios for now.

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The Truth about Walking by Faith

 

Walk by Faith

 

I spent the first 45 years of my life literally drowning.

Driven by a fear of failure, I was drowning in control issues, constantly working hard to manipulate the circumstances and produce favorable outcomes. This was true in both business and family. It was exhausting working so hard, presenting the appearance of having it together when everything was falling apart.

It was one crisp fall day six years ago in the midst of economic circumstances I never saw coming when I realized all the possibilities for manipulation had come to an end. There was no favorable outcome to be had. My publishing business would close, and my perceived identity would be lost. When a control freak obsessed with a successful reputation loses control of it all, things go dark fast.

Incidentally, I knew better than to put my identity in my business, but I did it anyway. That’s a whole ‘nother discussion. But I knew better.

It was, or at least I thought it was, the most tragic circumstance of my life. Depression is an awful thing. Certain personalities handle it even less successfully than others. I wouldn’t wish it on the strongest warrior.

My road to overcoming depression was long and winding. It mostly involved good people like my wife and mom never giving up on me, but there was only so much they could do.  At a certain point the responsibility of crawling out of the mire was mine, and mine alone.

Getting better was a painfully slow process for both me and my family, and it’s really only been in the last couple of years that I’ve felt renewed, refreshed, and re-energized.

Almost all of it had to do with the ongoing process of learning how to walk by faith.

It’s one of those biblical terms that’s so easy to overcomplicate, label as ill-defined, and completely misunderstand. We over analyze so much today.

These are  five steps that helped me understand more about walking by faith.  It’s not exclusive to other things, but these were key:

  1. I had to realize a choice always existed.
  2. I had to understand that not only is it my purpose, moreover, it’s my very nature to glorify God.
  3. I had to shut up and listen.
  4. I had to come to terms with the fact that my life is more about others than it is about me.
  5. I had to learn to lean on God (not my own understanding) for the wherewithal to execute His purpose for me.

About #1: I’m a huge creature of habit. I like certain routines, am comfortable in certain ways of thinking, and yet while open-minded, am very slow to make radical turns in philosophical/moral thought. Maybe it’s more aptly described as just being set in your ways. Or maybe I’m just “hard-headed” as we say in the South.

I had to learn to let God confront me about these things. I had to comprehend that in just about every circumstance there’s a choice between righteousness and sinfulness.  My inclination is to sinfulness. Alas, there is always a choice.

About #2: I had to wrap my mind around the truth that I was created and wired to deify/worship/revere (insert whatever word you wish) something. I’ve revered a lot of things in my life, but ultimately, I’m placed on earth to have a relationship with God. He doesn’t need my love or admiration. He simply desires it. That’s pretty huge.

So when I pray now, it’s not just a laundry list of asking for daily provision or this or that for my family. It’s just giving praise and glory to His magnificence. “Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

About #3: I had to learn how to stop running my mouth and my mind. I’m one of those people who, until you get to really know me, appears quiet, removed and fairly distant. I don’t know why it’s that way, but it is. Within my inner circle, the people with whom I’m most comfortable, I almost never shut up.

There are times when it surely appears God is silent. In fact I think there are unquestionably times when God IS silent. More often, however,  I think, we mistake his silence for our noise and inability to hear.

I once calculated that I’d interviewed more than 15,000 people in my journalism career. That’s a lot of people. Honing the skill of the interview may be the most valuable professional thing I’ve learned in life. You have to listen. It’s the ONLY way you’ll ever know the next question to ask. You have to listen.

About #4: It’s simple really. The most profound thing I read in Rick Warren’s timeless book Purpose Driven Life, is this: We are most ourselves when we’re serving other people. It’s true. Not much else you can say.  If you don’t meditate on anything else today, meditate on that. Here it is again: We are most ourselves when we’re serving other people.

About #5: I like reference points that get me where I’m going. Maybe it’s a blaze on a hiking trail, the North Star giving me reference to another object in the sky, or the GPS lady checking off certain markers along an unknown road trip.  The one, singular thing I desire more than anything else in life today is a growing, developing, never-ending pursuit and understanding of the truth. Here’s my philosophy toward that end:

“So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” ~ Romans 10:17

The truth is, my understanding right there, in that verse above. All of it. Everything.

None of this is easy for me. It’s a work in progress. Always will be. But there’s nothing but time, right?

 

 

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The Seasons of Light

This is Dana, my darlin'

(Blogger‘s Note: In the ongoing series on Light, today’s bonus post is a guest blog from Dana Watkins, who just happens to be my wife, best friend and partner in all that I do. Dana is a missionary with experiences in Greece, Morocco and Mexico. She has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech communication from Arkansas State University. Look for her own personal blog coming soon.)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in Alaska during the extended periods of darkness? I was listening to the news a few mornings ago when I heard a familiar topic being discussed: S.A.D. It took me back many years ago to my basic oral communications class when I was looking for a topic for one of my “informative” speeches. I chose the topic of S.A.D.  If you don’t recognize the acronym, it stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

There is a medically proven type of depression that is caused by lack of sunlight. Over the years, in my studies of God’s Word, I have seen that many times for every biblical principle there is a physical manifestation that we experience. I have had times in my life where I was soaking in the Light of the Word of God, and times where I felt like I was living in Alaska, during the dark period.

Symptoms of S.A.D. include: Increased appetite with weight gain; increased sleep and daytime sleepiness; less energy and ability to concentrate in the afternoon; loss of interest in work or other activities; slow, sluggish lethargic movement; social withdrawal; unhappiness and irritability.

Treatment may include medication, taking walks in the daytime with sunlight if possible, and even a “flourescent light treatment” replicating the closest form of light to natural sunlight.

As you may imagine, LIGHT has been a topic of discussion around our house these days especially. Lately I have found myself challenged with a certain level of  “sadness.”  I could list many reasons that might be contributing, but if I look to the solutions, there is one thing that is 100 proof.  Jesus referred to Himself as the Light, John 12:35…..He also said that even ..I (Dana) am the light to a dying world and to let my light so shine before all men that they may see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14..16)  

I have also recently started a new exercise program and isn’t it interesting that many of us know what to do, but knowing is not enough, we must ACT on that knowledge, by exercising, or reading and studying God’s Word, or letting our light shine.

Jesus said that we should learn from little children. An old Sunday school song comes to mind, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”

I encourage you to soak up HIS light and be a flashlight to others….shine your own light God has placed in you.