Today I opened my email, and received a message from Liz, a longtime reader of this blog. Just 7 days prior to this post, her life, and the life of her son changed in an instant. Her wish was to tell this story to many, and it’s my honor to allow her story to be told today.
Bob and Matt,
Your blog has blessed my life a lot. I would be honored if you would publish this on your blog. Yes, this is my true story. Thank you, Liz.
Yesterday I said goodbye to my son, Adam. He wasn’t going off to college or the service. March 3, 2011, my 17 year old died of a drug overdose.
Let me tell you about my son. He was brilliant with a genius IQ. He was funny and loved to make people laugh. In fact, you may have seen him walking through WalMart wearing his bright pink bathrobe and pink fuzzy hat. He wore it just to make you smile and brighten your day. He loved doing that. He had the type of charisma that filled a room when he walked in. He was bold. He wasn’t afraid to be unconventional to get his message across.
He had a vision and a plan for his future. He was going to college to become a counselor to help troubled teens. He was going to make investments so that he could live on his investments and help the teens for free. He told everyone that the most important thing was a relationship with Jesus – that it wasn’t about the religion thing but about being “down with Jesus” – making Him your best friend. When our pastor shared this at the funeral, we overheard his friends say, “So that’s what he was talking about. We get it now.”
How, you ask, did a young man with a heart like his end up dead in a drug house in the middle of the night?
Adam, obviously, had a dark side too. He had a difficult childhood and struggled with his identity. I spent five years fighting for him. It was a difficult battle – one which I mostly fought alone. You have no idea how hard it is to find a Christian man willing to see beyond the multi-colored hair and black clothing with chains on it. Most of my Christian friends looked down on him and avoided him. Through God’s grace, Adam got into enough trouble that the state finally sent him to a residential facility for almost two years. It was there Adam reconnected with the God of his childhood and found his calling. He graduated from high school a year early and enrolled in our local college. Six months after getting home, he died.
Why did this happen? How could this happen? When he came home, people were distant. The only group that was willing to get in the trenches with him and welcome him with open arms was his druggie friends. They were the only ones that reached out to him – that called him – that showed their intent through their actions. I really don’t think anybody else understood the shame he still carried. I really don’t think anybody else knew that part of him still believed he was dirty and didn’t deserve love. They didn’t understand that he needed people to hold his arms up and not let go. Sure, people told him to call them when he’d run into them on the street but very few took the initiative to invest in him and call him.
I do not blame the “Church” per se. I just want people to be aware that we, as the earthly representatives of Jesus, need to be willing to get our hands dirty. We need to be like Jesus and eat with sinners and tax collectors – in today’s culture that would be Goths and death metal fans.
We do not have a crisis with our children but rather a lack of role models. One third of our daughters will be raped by age 18. This means one third of our sons are rapists by age 18. I hear people say we’re in the end times and that’s why our culture is depraved. I say baloney. WE are our culture. We are focusing on retreats and dinner parties and pretty Christmas concerts to entertain ourselves with while our children are dying around us. WE are part of the depravity.
I hear people say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” I say baloney. How can you do that when a sinner’s identity is their sin? They don’t know the difference and they think you hate them. Love the sinner and let Jesus clean up the sin. Our job is to take the sinner’s hand and put it in the hand of Jesus. That’s all. When we see a child abusing their body, we need to see the torment behind the self-abuse. We need to believe in them. We need to believe in their calling. We need to love them and show them who Jesus is.
The next time you see a young man dressed in black, please look past the exterior. Please realize that he is just like my son – desperate for love but too afraid to ask. He needs you to love him. Don’t worry about saying the right thing. Just love him. He may fight you at first. Don’t quit. Just love him.
All it takes for evil to prevail is for good to stand by in silence.
Please, we encourage comments, but we also encourage you to not allow this story to just stay here. Who will you tell it to? If you have the means, please feel free to share Adam’s story with others.
The question after lunch went like this, “Why do you think they’re so invested in this thing?”
I initially responded, “I have no idea”.
Then…all of a sudden…I said, “Wait, I know EXACTLY why. Because their identity is so wrapped up in this that if it ever failed or if they left, they would lose part of themselves.”
It was so powerful that I couldn’t even believe I said it – I just didn’t understand this before that moment. It’s all about IDENTITY.
I’ve heard Jim Robbins and John Lynch write/speak about this. I’ve read other authors that touched on this, but not directly.
The reason we defend something so fiercely, the reason we hold on to something to strongly, and the reason we spiral into a depression when it’s no longer there – is that we attach our personal identity to a THING or a PERSON.
Here’s the danger – THINGS by nature cannot last forever. PEOPLE are certainly mortal, and they have the propensity to let us down because they are not perfect. So when we attach our identity to a PERSON or a THING, we are on a collision course that ends up in a fireball.
Here’s how I know this…because I do this.
- I am a business owner and an entrepreneur. When my business is good, I am happy. When my business is not good, I’m not. To go deeper, when my business tanked in 2009, it sent me to the hospital eventually with panic attacks. I haven’t hit a home run, let alone an extra base hit in like 3 years. I have this voice in my head, that won’t go away. It tells me I’m a failure in business. I had my shot. I blew it. Success is for someone else. This paralyzes me sometimes. What’s the truth?
- I was a member of a church for 40 years, and a leader there for 20. When I resigned from leadership, I was lost. When I left the church, it was traumatic. Even though Arlene and I clearly heard God call us to do this, the little doubts from others that we are quitting or just bitter hurt me and instead of thanking God for doing something great in our life, I obsess over the handful of doubters – not the people that cheer us on. Can’t I just trust God in this? I’m missing the blessing because I’m focusing on the negative?
Here’s some more…
- I was a coach for 24 years. When I stopped coaching for a season, I felt lost.
- I am a pleaser. If I sense, or know that a person doesn’t like me for some reason, it’s powerful enough to derail my other friendships because I will obsess about the one person that doesn’t like me.
- I am a provider. When I could no longer provided income for my family, when I had to lay off staff, it caused me to go into a mild depression. Hell, it still bothers me that I had to lay off people that did good work and I loved deeply. Sometimes it totally takes a productive day away from me.
- I need to know I’m right. So I enjoy when people agree with me and validate my thoughts and beliefs. There’s safety in numbers, right? If 10 people agree with me, but 1 disagrees, I’m toast. I will obsess over the 1 person.
- Silly, but I am a White Sox fan, and believe it or not, some days my mood is based on the fact the Sox won or lost. Is this normal behavior?
- I am a father. When I have a bad day as a father, and I let my kids down, it bothers me. I then begin to believe I am not a good father at all.
- I am a husband. There are days when I really screw up as a partner and I let Arlene down. It makes me think I am a bad husband.
There’s more, but I think you get the point. Attaching my identity to someone, or something has no positive value to me.
Many of the things I am believing are lies – maybe it’s my enemy, but mostly it’s my own mind.
Yes….this is a battle over my mind. Not my heart. That battle is over. My heart is good. It’s my mind that needs to be renewed. Until I start to live out of who God says I am, I can never really live well. Until I stop obsessing over what other people think about me, I can never really love all people well. Until I begin to separate my identity from my outcomes, I will be paralyzed.
It’s all about identity. Once I understand this in myself, and in others, I can start living a more peaceful life.
When people defend their truth, when they defend their institution, when they question me – it’s not personal. They’re defending their identity. Can I be strong enough to live out of who God says I am? Can I go one step further and see people as God sees them – looking past their behaviors and words and into what’s really happening?
What have you discovered about your identity? Have you experienced trauma yourself in regards to ‘losing your identity’ when you no longer had that thing or person in your life?
I’d love for you to share your thoughts and pass on to friends too.
Did you miss it?
One of a thousand blog posts telling you, inspiring you, challenging you to make 2011 the best year ever?
Did you miss ours?
We didn’t post one.
Many blogs I frequent use the new year as a way to inspire and challenge their readers to new heights. To set goals and press ahead toward the thing they desire most.
This is all good, and for some, a well-deserved and needed kick in the shorts, but….
I’m going to let you in on a secret. I had no goals in 2010. My 2009 was a lot of highs and lows, and my hopes going into 2010 were pretty much to hope to stay alive and not screw anything else up. Well, 28 days into the new year I laid off my entire staff and 2 months later watched our household turn over as my wife went back to work full time and I became the primary caregiver for my kids. So much for an up-and-coming CEO with visions for a 9 figure company, huh?
It became a year of just accepting fate and dealing with whatever life brought. My mind was defeated and my hopes for the future were pretty much shot.
Day by day I processed this phenomenon that was happening to me and questioning what went wrong and why. I thought I successfully got “fixed” in 2009, so I totally did not understand what was happening to me in 2010.
So did I accomplish anything last year?
On paper, you could argue I regressed, but if you look beyond what people normally evaluate, I accomplished a great deal.
First and foremost, I fell in love with my wife and daughters all over again. I discovered a sincere joy in being able to do things for my family that 99% of dads will never get to do. How many dads get to spend every morning and afternoon with their kids? How many dads get to solve hair issues and hunt for matching clothes at 7am? How many dads get to drive carpool and shuttle kids to activities and get to know their kid’s friends?
How many husbands have a talented wife that is so extremely valued by her employer they put her on the company’s “top ten list”? How many husbands could boast that their marriage was made STRONGER during a time when the husband could no longer bring home the bacon and pay the bills? How many couples discover the amazing reality that a wife and mother are not defined by the tidy-ness and smooth operation of the household and that a husband and father are not defined solely by the money he brings in the pay for the mortgage and grocery bills?
I discovered a deep, satisfying JOY in my “new role” and my wife experienced a joy in her new role. It wasn’t fun or joyful at first for either of us, and I admit I sincerely hated it, but through grace and reflection, we really sincerely developed a love, peace, and joy we never had in our family – even when we’re still challenged in these roles.
How about me? Well, for the first time in my life, I stopped being self-righteous and exhibiting false humility. I began to fall in love with myself and for the first time in my life, believed with 100% certainty in the goodness of my heart. I starting living out of who God says I am, not by who others say I am. I’ve tuned out the voices that tell me I’m a failure, those calling me a bad business man, and all the other false accusations. I no longer seek to please or appease others to make them like me or try not offend them. I’m living out of who God says I am, and I am trying to relate to others in the same way.
I discovered that for those that love me the most, including my Father in heaven, that I’m not valued for what I do but for who I am. Knowing this truth frees you from all kinds of shame and guilt. I no longer have to please others or please God by doing things. I no longer have to appease and perform to gain love and acceptance from them, and I no longer demand this of others. Everything I do now flows out of love and my heart, not out of expectations, rules, or obligations.
My discoveries about Grace and Love and the nature of God were frequent topics of my writings in 2010, and the greatest joy of all was that I discovered all God really wants with me is a relationship, and that everything flows out of love, not obligation. The years of guilt and shame that religious thinking brought to me were erased and for the first time in my life, I discovered true freedom. And the best part is, my wife found it too. So we get to start a new journey together and can share it with our kids while they are still young.
Business-wise? We discovered who were are. We discovered who we were not. We have made hundreds of mistakes and made all kinds of bad choices over the years in regards to business. Many of those choices and actions manifested themselves in the business results and we suffered the consequences financially. However, failure is only devastating if you believe it’s an end rather than a start. You see, failure is a necessary part of growth. There’s no way around it. I cannot find a single successful person that doesn’t have a sting of failures, professionally, personally, or financially in their history. These people are successful because they embraced the failures, learned from them, and intentionally put aside the shame and guilt of these past failures and pressed forward into the future.
This year, I am focused, the company is focused. We know who we are, and we’ve got one specific thing we’re focusing in on for us and our clients. This focus and clarity only came about through a tremendous trial period and it’s been worth every second. The future is bright.
So that’s my 2010. A year (on paper) where nothing much happened actually turned out to be the most transformational and exceptional year of my life.
So now as we’re 6 days into 2011, I have a lot of hope. I know 2011 is going to introduce new challengs and new opportunities. Many have not embraced the adversity and processes they’ve gone through in the past few years and will not be able to press ahead in this new season, but I am confident in myself that all these events over the past few years for me have been a proving ground to allow me to see dreams fulfilled this year and into the future.
Let me leave you with this…..
On New Year’s Day, I watched Oprah interview JK Rowling. I know many Christians dismiss Oprah and they dismiss Harry Potter and JK Rowling. My religious mind did for many years as well. That’s a topic for another day. All I can say is I’ve been spellbound by this interview and am really digging the God-breathed message she delivered to Harvard graduates in 2008. JK’s story is one of restoration and a discovery of who God said she was. Her story, and her books are dripping with God. You can’t miss it unless you want to.
Please read this speech. The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination – JK Rowling at Harvard 2008
If you have time, check out the articles and snippets on Oprah’s web site:
The Brilliant Mind Behind Harry Potter and OPRAH AND HARRY POTTER PHENOM BILLIONAIRE J.K. ROWLING
My wish for you in 2011 is simple – to start living out of who God says you are. I bless you with the Love, Peace, and Joy that is promised for all God’s children TODAY through the amazing redemptive work of Christ.