Skip to content

Archive for

finish strong

Exhausted and gasping for air with my hands at my hips and my legs wobbling beneath my thin frame, I hear my father scream from across the field, “finish strong!”  Seconds later I begin fighting the battle in my mind.  My body is screaming at me to surrender.  I can’t possibly go another 50 yards.  But his words are actively seeking one last desperate attempt to keep me in motion.  They reach down further within me and touch a part of me that is more powerful than my mind, than fear, than “quit”.  They find my heart.  And my head rises.  I straighten my back and my shoulders.  Wiping the sweat from my eyes, I take a deep breath.  And I repeat those words back to myself.  I look to my right, and then to my left.  I see my teammates, and they too are shaken.  In this moment, there is great opportunity.  Set an example.  Dig deeper, push harder…run this last sprint for pride.  Run it to win…not just today, but for every day that follows.

Through my relationship with my father and athletics, I’ve learned many valuable lessons over the years that I will undoubtedly carry with me for the rest of my life.  Perhaps none was better than to “finish strong”.  I remember those evenings at football practice as a youth, and the cool, early summer nights when we’d flip on the porch light to create enough visibility to throw the last 25 pitches.  Those nights are what have made sports so special to me.  It wasn’t the game that was going to define me…it was the heart that it took to play with resolve, and a purpose.  It was finding the strength not to quit when you were tired.  It was discovering resiliency and focus in the face of adversity.  Heart separates the men from the boys and it affords you the opportunity to be stronger in the 4th quarter than you were when you first took the field.  It carries a weak mind and a failing body.  Heart inspires people.

There is no better way to display heart than by leaving it on the field and to, in the words of my father, “finish strong”.  Let’s take a minute to dissect these words of encouragement and look into the meaning of them a bit.  First let’s examine “finish”.  Finish means “to arrive at or attain the end of”.  In the case of that last 50 yard sprint, finishing meant closing the door on yet another day of practice.  But used in a broader context, the word carries far more weight.  It means “don’t quit”. Finish implies that you’ve started something and that you need to see it through to the end.  It means allowing for nothing to discourage or impede your efforts.  Finish does not apply only in calm waters.  To finish we are expected to encounter struggle…we’re expected to hang our head momentarily as we gasp for air.  We’re expected to doubt our mind and body’s ability to carry us to the end.  And then, we’re meant to call on our heart.  The heart won’t let us down…it will see us through.  We will finish this race and will find a desire to run again soon.

Now let’s take a look at the word “strong”.  Everyone has a different definition of what this means to them personally.  Strong can be used to describe physical prowess or sound health.  It can characterize a force of will or a great ability/achievement.  But there are two definitions of strong that I relate these motivational words to the most.  The first is “not easily defeated” and the second is “having force of conviction or feeling; uncompromising”.  To me, strong cannot be simply a state of physical health or ability.  Strong is far more complex than that.  In fact, I believe that it’s truly in our weakest moments that we uncover our greatest strength.  It suggests seeking desperately to find a means to fight when every ounce of our being is asking us to resign…to just throw in the towel.  Strong is relentless.  It means doing things with a purpose, with guts, even in times of despair.  Strong doesn’t necessarily imply being the best, or winning…instead, it means finding personal satisfaction with the effort put forth.  Strength is in all of us, we just need to dig deep to find it.

So how was it that my father intended to reach me with those words?  He didn’t use them to simply inspire the last sprint of that evening’s practice.  No, I know that man well and I understand today that there was far more to it than that.  He meant it on far deeper level.  He was preparing me for the cutthroat world that stood before me during that time of innocence as a child.  Because life was going to be more than just a sprint, it was going to entail a long race of endurance with twists, turns, and obstacles eagerly waiting to disrupt my run and impede my finish.  My father was speaking to the core of my being.  He was reaching for my heart and encouraging me to stand tall, broaden my shoulders, face the adversity, and keep moving forward with conviction.  He was telling me to finish the fight.  To run the course that God had laid out for me, to find my greatest strength in my darkest moments, and to end the race with more passion and heart than I had started it.  He was asking me to do everything with a purpose.  He was inviting me to live.

So I dove in head first without hesitation or fear of what I might encounter along my journey.  And my race has been one that has required incredible resolve.  There were times when the terrain appeared completely downhill and my pace advanced so effortlessly that progress felt inevitable.  But then there were also moments of intense adversity, unforeseen difficulty and hardship.  Many days the climb seemed never ending.  My pace would slow to a crawl, and I’d find myself hanging my head in despair.  And then I’d hear that voice in my head saying “finish strong” and I’d be reminded of the way that I overcame adversity that evening with my toes on the goal line, getting ready for that last sprint of the evening’s practice.  And I’d reach deep inside of my heart and find the strength to keep moving forward.  This is where you separate the men from the boys.  Finish the race set out for you.  Don’t quit.  Find your passion and your purpose.  Live.

I can’t even begin to describe to you just how many times I’ve used those words to motivate myself and persevere through the most challenging moments in my life.  And today, the words “finish strong” carry more weight than ever.  Because I’ve lived 29 years, and I think I finally have a full understanding of how to best apply them to my future.  I want to live life with passion and with heart.  I want to embrace my greatest strengths which arrived in moments where I found myself at my weakest physically and mentally, yet somehow found the courage to keep moving forward.  I want to use those strengths and my resilient heart to inspire others.  I want to grow stronger with age and experience, and leave this world a better place than I entered it.  And I want to finish this race that is life with conviction and purpose.  I want to endure and overcome.  It’s time to “finish strong”.

in a dark room alone

One absolute certainty that I’ve learned in my 29 years is that life is going to come at you hard, and that you’re going to get knocked down.  Chances are that you’ve already discovered this for yourself at one time or another.  Adversity will hit you square between the eyes.  You’ll be left feeling stunned and searching for answers, too shaken to reason how you will piece yourself back together.  Your mind and body will respond naturally as they’ve been trained – fight or flee?  After quickly analyzing the severity of the situation, you will make the decision to do what you feel is best in that moment.  Perhaps you will find the strength inside to hold your ground and sort through what’s in front of you.  But what if you can’t?  What if you’ve found the adversity that you are facing to be so debilitating that it’s driven you to your breaking point?  Your only reasonable thought is to run.  Escape the situation until you can regain your composure.  Take refuge somewhere secure and safe.  Where is it that you go when things fall apart?

Everyone’s answer to this question is likely to be somewhat unique. But no matter how it’s individually defined, “home” is likely to be a popular response.  There is something about heading back to that place of innocence that holds us in tact during our most troubled times.  Perhaps it’s the familiarity of the surroundings, our parents, a sibling, or even an aging pet that we consider our dearest friend.  But I believe that it’s more than that.  When we go “home”, we find comfort there because it’s a place where our trust is absolutely unwavering.  We believe wholeheartedly in its power.  In most cases, it’s become our ultimate symbol of sustainability.  In all likelihood, things were never perfect at “home”.  But it still remains our rock of solidarity.  Through the fondest and even most painful experiences, it has persevered.  Quite possibly, it’s the place that held our hand as we took our first step and also the cushion that softened the blow during our first collapse.  We’ve witnessed its strength.  At “home”, we’ve seen ourselves grow, and we’ve felt ourselves heal.  Inside those walls we’ve let go of that hand with trust.  We’ve learned to stand and walk on our own.  And we’ve picked ourselves back up and fought again without hesitancy, knowing that if we fell again that there would be someone waiting to break our fall.

In January of 2003 when I abandoned my life in California stricken with intense anxiety and panic, I found my comfort by returning “home”.  During that period of my life, my move back to Pennsylvania provided me with a lot of strength.  I had myself convinced by the following summer that it had nearly healed me altogether, but as I would find out in the years that followed, “home” had only cushioned the blow.  “Home” helped me to survive that troubling time and it supported me mercifully as I found the strength to walk again, but it didn’t solve the underlying problem.  Even as I reunited with independence and moved forward with my life, there was something very limiting holding me back beneath the surface.

Blame is an extremely powerful emotion.  Sadly, it’s how most of us choose to deal with ourselves when life seems to deal us a bad hand.  We look outside instead of directing our focus inward.  It’s our nature to want to find answers that justify our hurt and our anger.  It can’t be us…something else is causing the problem.  For me, during that time of my life it was California that was the problem.  I lived in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, and I had previously fallen completely in love with it.  But once my anxiety presented itself, I started turning what I felt inside outward against my surroundings.  I cursed sunny days and prayed for rain.  I resented the warm weather and the lack of seasons.  Who cared about the beach anyway?  And what was with all of these people?  This place was too far from my roots…it was too far from “home” and I felt isolated.  California became my scapegoat.

The scapegoat was one of the essential elements that would hold me back with my healing for the next 9 years of my life.  I was just perpetuating an awful cycle of failure and blame, and I was headed nowhere beyond right back to my starting point.  Because I’ve learned that until you look inside of yourself and make peace with what you find, you can never truly move forward.  Sure, you may be able to keep yourself afloat by shifting blame over and over again.  You may even be able to sustain your entire life making that practice habitual.  But that’s not going to lead you to greener pastures.  If you are constantly practicing blame, then gratitude has eluded you, and you can’t truly be happy.  Resentful, yes…happy, no.  The answers are within you, but how do you uncover them?

When I began writing my blog this past summer, I found myself in the midst of the most painful time of my life, and I was left completely vulnerable.  I really had no idea what I was doing, but God had powerfully made himself known to me and had directed me with a bit of inspiration to take full responsibility for myself, and I felt compelled to listen.  And so began the process of self-realization, forgiveness, and healing.  I would like to stress the importance of the word “began”.  Because even though I was continually gaining more clarity, this was just setting the wheels in motion for a more dramatic transformation that was eventually going to take place.  This was the starting line.

Most of you who have followed my blog from the beginning are probably under the impression that things turned around for me quickly as I unveiled my story.  This wasn’t the case, however.  In fact, reliving those memories and coming to grips with my involvement in the negative twists and turns of my life was a horribly painful thing for me.  But it’s what had to be done.  Often I would find myself sitting at the computer, eyes filled with tears and anxiety causing my hands to tremble uncontrollably as I documented the events of my past.  And I’d just tell myself “this chapter will be closed soon” with the hope that I would feel tremendous relief in only a couple of hours when I completed the entry.  Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case; usually I was only left with more anxiety.  I would often feel short of breath for the rest of the night, as if someone was standing directly on top of my chest and on my throat.  I would shake and panic, and would routinely find myself running for herbal supplements to calm myself.  Nocturnal panic attacks would continue to wake me throughout the night and make sleep a terrifying experience.  Sounds like a horrific way to live, and it was, believe me.  But this was also a beautiful time.  This is where the magic began to happen.

When things fell apart, there was a big part of me that wanted to flee my situation…to run back “home” and heal.  I was living alone and had very little face to face interaction with anyone throughout my day because I was working from a remote office.  I had my family about 30 minutes away, but I really only saw them once every week or two, and often only for a few minutes at a time.  So the empty, lonesome walls surrounding me…they’re what I had.  And I was a grown man, and I didn’t want to forfeit my life.  I was not going to abandon my independence and my career.  I had to make myself comfortable with the situation, because even if I left momentarily, I knew that ultimately I would need to return to it to continue on.  And I was learning that a quick fix wasn’t the answer any longer for me.  I had to get to the heart of the problem.  Myself.  And I could only find those answers in one place…a dark room alone.

In the weeks and even months that followed, I did a lot of trial and error testing on solutions for my issues.  What I didn’t understand at the time was that despite my best efforts to heal from within, I was still frequently making desperate attempts to seek answers outside of myself.  For instance, I began experimenting with different natural supplements to alleviate my anxiety and panic.  One supplement in particular, I took for several months at extremely high doses.  It helped to alleviate some of the effects of my disorder, but it complicated other parts of my life.  It slowed my thinking and made me feel more tired and depressed, and even seemed to “dull” the responses of my nervous system.  In addition, I followed a website that predicted mood behavior based upon the phases of the moon, and it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy for me.  I experimented with Melatonin supplementation, which led to disastrous results only weeks later.  And I studied self-help material religiously for quite some time; this was probably one of the few positive things that I offered myself.

There were nights that my efforts seemed to benefit me, and I’d think to myself “wow, this has to be it, this is the answer.”  And then morning would arrive, and I’d wake feeling worse than I had in weeks.  It was such a deflating experience.  I was running out of tricks to tame this beast.  I was losing hope.  That dark room that I found myself alone in each night was scaring me to death.  I was fearful of myself and of my mind because it was racing out of control in search of new solutions.  I couldn’t turn it off.  I’d put on my headphones with a self-help audiobook and do my best to try to relax and drift off to sleep.  Or I’d turn on the TV to keep myself company and serve as a temporary distraction until my eyes would grow heavy.  Those nights were tough.  I dreaded them.

Around Thanksgiving, I found what I would now consider to be my real rock bottom.  The week before the holiday I had been feeling as though I was coming down with something physically, perhaps a recurring sinus infection presenting itself once again that had been plaguing me since May.  I spent Sunday the 20th working for about 15 hours straight in Excel spreadsheets and in our estimating software doing my best to meet a Monday morning pricing deadline for an international prospect.  I stayed up until about 3 AM, and submitted the quotes just minutes before they were due in the United Kingdom.  I was exhausted, and I knew very well what the stress of that day was doing to me.  I heard a voice in my head at about 10 PM say “just stop, it’s not worth it, submit what you have complete and get some rest”.  But I couldn’t quit.  I was hitting a wall, but I somehow convinced myself to push through it, and remarkably, I did.  Two days later, it grounded me.

My anxiety had once again become a complete mess, and now I was also sick physically.  My natural response remained what it always had been, to seek a solution.  So I ran to Rite Aid for a couple of homeopathic cures to aid my sinus infection, and in turn, only made it worse.  I was in terrible shape.  I missed Thanksgiving with my family, and I spent the day in bed with really only fruit to eat because my fridge was empty and there was no place nearby open.  It was miserable.  I never felt more alone.  I sat and cried as I watched the football games.  What had my life come to?

A day or two passed, and I remained feeling much the same as I had on Thanksgiving Day.  Depression was now settling in around me.  But something had to be done.  Or this could be it for me.  And then magically, the answers that I had been so desperately seeking in that dark room alone suddenly came to me.  I felt the power of it as it rushed into my soul.  It lifted me to my feet.  I went to my office, grabbed my laptop, opened up a new Word document and typed the words “Let Go, Trust, Believe, Faith”.  I printed it out and taped it to my refrigerator.  Then I took a picture of it and made it the desktop image on my phone.  Immediately I began to feel some new life in my aching bones.

It was at that very moment that everything became so incredibly clear to me.  I had been practicing my faith actively every day.  I was doing my daily devotions, reading scripture, practicing prayer, asking for forgiveness, and doing my best to take responsibility for myself and be a better person moving forward.  But in that dark room alone, I wasn’t fully trusting in God’s ability and willingness to heal me in His time.  I was continually attempting to construct my own solutions, and it was pulling me away from my faith.  Fear was winning the battle.  It was time to “let go” and trust wholeheartedly that God would restore me in time.  I had nothing else to lose; I had exhausted every other option.  I dropped to my knees and asked God to show his mercy on me and told him that I would make every effort to trust His plan moving forward.  And I could feel the weight being lifted from my shoulders.

I made the decision that day to stop looking outside of myself and my faith for answers.  I slowly worked my way off the heavy dosage of the supplement that I had been taking regularly and by January 1st, I cut it out of my life altogether.  In addition, I haven’t utilized any other calming supplements in about a month and a half.  My mind is beginning to feel sharper, and I’m gaining confidence in myself every day.  I’m not free of anxiety and panic, but I’m handling it differently, and it’s working.  When I become overwhelmed, I talk to God and he eases my mind because I trust Him.  If panic strikes in the middle of the night while I am sleeping, I allow my heart to race and I pray.  Minutes later, I am back fast asleep.  And those attacks rarely even choose present themselves anymore.

In that dark room alone, I now fear nothing at all.  In fact, I enjoy my time there.  I use it to be in solitude with my thoughts, because since my mind has calmed, I’ve been able to embrace them again.  I often will put on some music and just think.  I’ll seek inspiration for a new blog, or just contemplate my life and my dreams.  My unwavering trust is now in my “home” with the Lord…the place where I will continue to seek refuge when adversity strikes in my life.  I’ve witnessed His power, and I believe in His ability to heal a broken mind, body, and spirit.  I know that He will never abandon me, so no matter where I am, I am never without a “home”.  Thanks to Him, I now see a future beyond these days.  Thanks to the peace and comfort provided by answers found in a dark room alone…with God.

the airport

I’m not sure if there is any place on the face of the planet that holds the power to arouse a more diverse range of emotions than the airport. Over the years, I’ve seen the best and worst of life gazing out of those broad terminal windows. There is something very magical about this place. It’s the epicenter of emotional hellos and goodbyes. It’s the birthplace of escapes from our day to day reality. It’s an exciting new place, and it’s also the comfort of home. Each and every day the airport becomes a temporary resting place for a unique group of people. Look to your right and you’ll catch a glance at a young family full of life that’s spent years socking away every penny to afford their children the vacation of a lifetime. Look to your left and you’ll see a wet behind the ears and anxious salesman living on a Ramen noodle budget, hoping to close his first deal so that he can get out of his father’s loaner suit and into one of his own. As you line to board the plane, you’ll notice a clean shaven man of 18 years dressed in fatigues heading off to serve our great nation, and you’ll nod in appreciation and allow him on ahead of you. You’ll see eyes filled with tears, you’ll hear “I love you” on someone’s last phone call, and you’ll feel the magnitude of all that’s happening around you, and it’ll give a gentle tug to your heart.

My first distinct memories of the airport probably go back to when I was around 9 or 10 years old and my sister was a student at the University of Notre Dame. She would fly home for breaks and we would head off to Lehigh Valley or Harrisburg to await her arrival. This was always a very intriguing experience for me as kid. We’d often have dinner at the restaurant in the airport and then would head over to the monitors to check on the timing of her flight. I’d gaze up at the big board with wide eyes. The world always felt completely limitless in the airport. It was exciting. “I wonder who is on that flight from Chicago? What do they do for a living that allows them to travel? Where do they live?”

During that time, we were still able to wait at the gate for the passengers to arrive. So my Mom and Dad and I would head over and sit by the windows and make our best efforts to guess which flicker in the distant sky was carrying my sister. And then her plane would taxi in, and the fun would begin. Usually we would make our best effort to embarrass her and sometimes we’d even hide. “Welcome home” to the usual cast of characters!

Those were great memories, and they most definitely encouraged my interest in travel. Because those trips to the airport left me feeling inspired. They taught me to dream and to want more. Perhaps that’s part of what led me to a desire to leave my hometown and explore southern California at 18. I felt alive when I was on a plane because literally, the sky was the limit. You could walk into an airport without a plan, buy a ticket, and head off to somewhere new with endless possibilities. You could leave the past behind and within a few hours step off the plane with a brand new start in front of you. No one at your destination would have preconceived notions of who you could and couldn’t be, because no one knew you. It was innocence. It was the same feeling that I had as a kid staring at the monitor of arrivals and departures. Life felt boundless and plentiful. Nothing to lose and everything to gain. It was like carrying a winning lottery ticket, and you just needed to have the guts to go cash it in.

When anxiety and panic disorder began severely disrupting my life in the summer of 2002, my view of the airport became a bit jaded. I was introduced to all of the dark emotions that could accompany this seemingly magical place. I remember it like it was yesterday. My best friend from back home had been out visiting me for a week and it was during his stay that I encountered my first bout with severe anxiety and panic. I had no idea what was happening to me. I truly became a different person overnight. Just 24 hours earlier, I had been a confident, independent, and secure young man, and now I was finding myself feeling as helpless as a lost child. When I pulled into LAX to bid my buddy farewell, my body shook with fear. I walked him inside the terminal, and as I headed back to my car, I found myself to be a complete wreck. That very moment was the birth of an entirely new and painful way of living for me. The airport was transitioning into a symbol of destruction and I’d soon learn that it would become a lightning rod for painful experiences in my life.

Flights home during my times of struggle in California were very difficult on me. Fear would confront me every time that I boarded the plane. I would feel confined, trapped, and completely panicked. There was nothing pleasant about the experience. It was five or six hours of hell. But the thought of my family waiting at baggage claim in Philadelphia would carry me through it. Coming back however, was a different story. Not only did I need to confront all of those feelings previously mentioned, but now there was only loneliness and isolation awaiting my return. There was no family at the gate. I was alone in California, and I was scared to death that I would completely fall apart there. Thank the Lord for my girlfriend at the time for holding me together for as long as she could. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until one of those return trips became too much for me to bear. It was Thanksgiving of 2002 when I abandoned a drive to the airport, had my father turn the car around, and soon after made the decision to move back to Pennsylvania to regain my strength.

It was not until the winter of 2007 that I felt comfortable challenging my fear of that return trip. I had planned a vacation with my fiancé at the time to warm and sunny southern California. I needed to make peace with my past, and I wanted to show her around the places that I had once adored. I remember that flight very well. Sweaty palms, racing heart, nausea; I had no idea how my body would react when I stepped off the plane. But as we passed through the gate and into the terminal at LAX, I felt completely alive. It was familiar and welcoming. I was back, and it was still home.

Unfortunately, not all of my experiences with my fiancé at the airport were quite as uplifting and positive. For it was in Philadelphia, just steps outside of security that I said goodbye to her forever, less than six months after that incredibly redeeming trip to California. It was there that I held her hand for the last time…it’s where we last kissed, hugged, and shared an “I love you.” And today when I pass through that terminal, I often remember that moment, and it sends a shiver up my spine.

Since that time, I’ve spent a lot of my days traveling. I’ve had the opportunity to see a great bit of the country, and I have enjoyed most of my experiences visiting places old and new. But during the past year of my life in particular, flights here and there once again became a real stumbling block for me. Amazingly, nearly every experience that I had in the airport during that time led to a dramatic turn of events in my life.

Almost exactly one year ago, I traveled to Lincoln, NE to meet up with a customer from California for a press check. On the flight out to Lincoln, I began feeling some pretty intense anxiety. This was a bit uncharacteristic for me. It had been years since I really had any difficulties flying. But in an instant, panic was knocking at the door. It was only hours later that evening when I found myself back at the hotel in an argument on the phone with my girlfriend of nearly a year in a half. That night that I discovered that she had been lying to me when I left town. And less than one month later, we broke up.

This past May on a week-long visit to both northern and southern California for business, I found myself convinced that my positive experiences on the road were going to allow me to leave my anxiety in the rearview. I felt alive during that trip, and I overcame all kinds of fear. But when I arrived at LAX on Saturday morning for my return flight to PA, I could sense something dramatic happening. And upon our descent into Philadelphia, everything fell apart. Light turned to darkness. I found myself on the freeway to destruction. That drive home was a precursor for the deep abyss eagerly awaiting me…rock bottom.

Throughout the summer, things went from bad to worse. But as I took responsibility for my past I became far more self-aware and I found myself gaining some clarity and understanding. I was slowly working my way back onto the right track, but God wasn’t nearly finished refining me. I had left a real mess in His hands. This was going to take time, patience, and trust.

At the end of September, I hopped back on a plane to California. I met my boss out in San Jose and we ran a couple of client meetings nearby, and then by mid-week we headed south to San Diego for a dinner. That night in the Gaslamp, an otherwise very positive week went haywire. Anxiety struck me with tremendous intensity. I struggled to swallow at dinner, and had to excuse myself several times from the table. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was a complete disaster inside. The next morning we caught a cab to the airport and headed to the gates for our separate departures. My boss boarded about a half hour ahead of me, and I was very thankful for that. Because I could barely hold in for another minute the severe anguish that I was burrowing inside. I was about to crack. The room began to feel like it was spinning. My throat closed up. I couldn’t breathe and I felt faint. With nowhere to turn, I called my Dad and he calmed me down with some words of encouragement. I had been ready to abandon ship, but ultimately I made the decision to trust in God, and I got on the plane and headed home. It was one of the longest days of my life. But I made it. Just a few weeks later however, I hit a wall physically. The chronic nature of my intense anxiety had beaten me to my knees. This is the time in my life when I really found God.

Today I hold in my hands a free airline ticket that I’ve earned with frequent flyer miles from all of the business and personal travel that I’ve done over the past couple of years. I’ve been holding onto it for about eight months, and in another four, it will expire. My fear has broken and exhausted me. I’ve learned to only survive in my comfort zone, and the thought of stepping outside of it often scares me to death. Because too many times I’ve seen the dark side of the place that I once considered the birthplace of dreams and limitless possibilities. I haven’t forgotten those positive memories. I just wish that I could somehow discover that innocence in my life again and find the strength to believe that the sky truly is the limit.

I’m holding a winning lottery ticket. I can go anywhere that I want and be whoever I want to be. The problem is that I don’t quite have the guts to cash it in. I pray that someday soon I will…and I hope that you will in your life too. Because when you do, it is then that you will truly fly.

why I will never give up on love

Love.  We all desire for it in our lives.  It presents itself to us beautifully in a multitude of ways, as unique and diverse in fashion as we are created as individuals.  Perhaps it’s felt through a relationship with a best friend or even a pet.  Maybe it’s through a sports team or an idol that we’ve embraced as our own.  Or it could be through our faith and our relationship with God or our family.  But to most of us, love is most ideally thought of as the romance and the companionship of our soul mate.  It’s the truth that we feel as we gaze into our partner’s eyes, and the comfort that makes all of our worries disappear instantly.  It’s the gentle touch of a hand that provides security and lifts us to our feet when we fall.  It’s bigger than money or earthly things.  It’s two imperfect beings uniting as one to form a bond that is, in each others’ eyes, absolute perfection.  Love is God’s gift to us.

Unfortunately, love doesn’t always come easy.  Lots of sacrifices are made on its behalf, and our heartfelt investment does not come with an insurance policy.  It sure would be nice if it did, wouldn’t it? “OK, and sign on the line here stating that IF things should fall apart and your heart be broken you will have the opportunity to rewind time, avoid that pitfall, and start brand new with a partner of equal or greater value that will be provided to you.”  That sounds like a plan that we could all make affordable, right?

But love doesn’t work that way.  Because love mirrors faith, and faith requires trust in a power that is greater than us.  If you attempted to carry an insurance policy with you into a relationship, you would never find love.  No, you’re going to need to let go.  Love requires vulnerability.  You may not want to hear that, because if you’re like the majority of us, chances are that you’ve been burned once or twice before when you’ve allowed your heart to open up.  Perhaps your experience has left you guarded or downright terrified of ever giving love an opportunity in your life again.  Fear is a powerful thing; I know that far better than most.  It can be absolutely paralyzing, and one bad experience with a shattered heart can leave us determined to forfeit and abandon all new opportunities to embrace happiness and life’s greatest gift.

I’m a man that’s dealt actively with anxiety and panic disorder along with OCD for the past 10 years of my life.  I’ve experienced nearly every fear imaginable.  If there was a disease spoken about publicly, chances are that at some point in my life, I’ve convinced myself that I’ve had it.  I’ve been afraid to drive my car, walk to the mailbox, and even drag myself out of bed certain days with apprehension of the shakiness that I might feel in my body as I get up to walk.  I’ve abandoned outings with my friends as well as family get-togethers…I’ve even spent Thanksgiving alone as a result of fear.  I’ve found myself hopeless and on my knees with tears in my eyes praying to God to have mercy on me, time after time.  And I’ve faced bouts with agoraphobia stemming from truly a fear of, well, myself.  In my lowest points, I lost trust in my ability to function normally in the world I knew.  I became fearful that I would just break down one day and lose it all together.  I envisioned the worst, and I kept myself completely guarded from nearly everything around me.  I wanted to curl up in a ball and disengage from life.

But even with crippling fears presenting themselves to me at different points in my life, the one thing that I never gave up on was love.  Hard to imagine that even being possible considering some of the striking blows and heartache that I faced in my past, but it’s most certainly the truth.  Sure, I would hurt for awhile, but I never found myself discouraged or fearful of opening up my heart again.  Perhaps (along with my faith) my willing acceptance of that vulnerability has served as a buoy in my life.

If you believe in love and trust in God, you always have hope.  Because love can warm your heart.  It can pour into a failing body and breathe new air into its lungs.  Love can provide life to aching bones.  It can have an immediate impact on your mind and your overall well being.  You can experiment with every medicine a doctor can prescribe or even try your own natural remedies, but nothing will serve as a more powerful elixir than love.  And it can be taken at any dosage…a little spoonful of love might do the trick for some, but others may desire a heavier, more regular regimen.  There is no such thing as too much.  A heart full of love promotes a body graced with health and a life filled with prosperity.

I’ve never personally been able to get enough of it in my life.  You could hook me up to an IV of the “love elixir” and I’d probably still find myself desperately wanting more.  I’m sure that there are quite a few people who know me that would say that I’m crazy for that.  “After all that you’ve been through with relationships and heartache, why?”  The simple answer is, because I believe.  I believe in its power.  I know how a small spark can ignite a fire within that has the ability to illuminate the world.  I’ve felt firsthand how it can heal a wounded heart, an anxious mind, and a failing body.  And so love, or the idea of love, keeps me alive.  And I can’t wait until the day that it presents itself in my life again.

I know that it will arrive soon, and I will welcome it with open arms.  I will not fear but instead I will embrace.  Because on that day, I will know beyond a doubt that I have advanced to the peak of my recovery and transformation.  For the gift that I will receive will come from no other than the man upstairs as a celebration of all that’s taken place during the past year of my life.  And I will know that I have arrived.  Love will be my happy ending.

the attitude of gratitude

Have you ever heard of a gratitude list? This is a very simple but amazingly powerful exercise that has really helped me to facilitate a dramatic transformation in my life. Grab a pencil and paper and write up a list of all the things big and small that you have to be thankful in your life. If you’re feeling down, start with something basic, like having clean water to drink. Are you aware of just how much of a luxury that is? Unsafe water and lack of sanitation accounts for 80% of all illnesses worldwide! We are truly blessed to live in a country where we have unlimited access to life’s greatest resource.

Take your time and compose your list, and when you awake in the morning and retire to bed in the evening read it aloud back to yourself. Do this for a few weeks, and I promise you, your days will begin to look and feel brighter and brighter. When we give thanks for what we already have, we open the door for more goodness to flow into our lives.

Here is my list, perhaps this will help to get you started:

1. Faith and God’s support and forgiveness – the Lord Jesus Christ

2. My family’s unwavering commitment to my well being

3. My income and self sufficiency

4. A handful of true friends

5. My overall physical health – ability to be active

6. The seasons

7. Football as a hobby and a passion

8. The support network created by my blog

9. Second chances

10. Honest, genuine, kindhearted people who make my days brighter

11. My ability to openly communicate my feelings

12. Always being able to go home

13. UNC – Chapel Hill

14. Opportunities to persevere and grow

15. A clean and inviting living space

16. Life’s basic necessities: food to eat, clean water to drink and bathe, clothes to wear

17. Communication networks for staying in touch

18. Working from home and the flexibility it affords me

19. Phillies baseball

20. My great car

21. The lessons I’ve learned living life

22. Restful sleep

23. My education from a top five public university

24. Loyal friends and partners in business

25. A strong team of co-workers who support my efforts

26. Sunshine

27. Crisp fall air and the calming effect it has on me

28. My sharp mind and my ability to think analytically

29. Smiles and positive affirmation

30. Success stories – inspirational documentaries – The Secret

31. The outdoors and getting away – Camp

32. Holiday get-togethers

33. Being able to present myself attractively to women

34. Calm Clinic and other outlets/resources for battling anxiety

35. My grandmother’s continued strong physical health

36. Heroes – Josh Hamilton, Eric LeGrand, Tim Tebow

37. California – rising, falling, and rising to stand tall again

38. My resilient counterpart and most loyal friend, my cat Dixie

39. Comedy – movies that make me laugh

40. People who invest their time and resources in helping others, animals included

41. Feeling needed, being relied upon

42. The beach and the sounds of the ocean

43. Writing to save myself and in turn provide support to others

44. Pep talks – locker room speeches

45. PRAYER – the Bible

46. Unlocking renewed strength by disabling adversity

47. Dreams – hope

48. My eyes and the visual memories of places that I’ve been

49. Job security – strong sales numbers

50. My big, strong heart

51. A “Y” that is far greater than “x”

52. Miracles

man on a mission

It was Friday, October 14th, 2011, one day before my 29th birthday. My family and I were headed down Route 17 South towards Warrenton, VA on our way to Chapel Hill, NC to spend another football weekend with my beloved Tar Heels. For days leading up to our departure, I was experiencing mounting anxiety about the trip. I did my best to ignore it, but my obsessive mind would not allow me to fully deny the apprehension taking over my body. This was not going to be an easy or enjoyable ride.

A few hours into the drive, my panic began to overwhelm me. I was feeling like I needed to escape. The car was confining and its frame felt as though it was closing in on me. I felt my chest begin to tighten, and minutes later a lump emerged in my throat. My mind began to race and I started to feel short of breath. As much as I had always loved those trips to Carolina, I was now wishing that I was back home where I felt comfortable and safe.

As my anxiety grew more and more intense a steady rain that had been falling had now turned into a torrential downpour. I’m not quite sure how my father was even able navigate the road, it was beginning to look like a complete washout. This was not helping ease my tension at all. I needed to take my eyes off the road and focus my mind elsewhere. So I pulled out my iPad and began reading a gratitude list that I had written to remind myself of all the amazing things that I had to be thankful for in my life. And then, feeling inspired, I decided to write a mission statement.

I began typing and without pause I continued to compose my statement until the emotion left me. As my random thoughts turned to convictions, I felt overwhelmed; my fears were transformed to tears and finally as I finished I felt a remarkable calm take over me. When I lifted my head and looked out the front window, I noticed that the rain had completely stopped and the clouds were beginning to part. Moments later, the sunlight began to make its way through. It was an extremely divine feeling experience.

My statement is very personal, but I share it with you to remind you that even in your darkest moments you can draw inspiration and strength from within. Rely on your faith, and you can weather any storm. Perhaps this will inspire you to construct your own mission statement for 2012. By sharing this with you I hope to continue to keep myself on track with my convictions as well.

Here is what I compiled that afternoon…

Mission Statement (10/14)

Stage 3: The terror barrier = BREAKTHROUGH to Stage 4 – Freedom! Escape the comfort zone and NEVER look back! Challenge your X conditioning with Y stimulants. Flip the switch. Train your mind to think differently. Unlock your potential. Break free. Bust open the lock! Use the experience and lessons learned to promote a healthier future for yourself and to inspire others. Give hope. Provide support to others. Free them of the demons that hold them hostage. Teach the power of faith and positive thinking. Lead by example, write it, speak it, and LIVE it, every day. “You can change your reality by altering your thinking”. No one can make you think or believe anything that is not of your choosing – you hold the power. Your thoughts and feelings determine what you perceive as your reality – they hold the key to your future. So by taking an active role in your life’s creation you give yourself the opportunity to create a life of abundance, full of the riches that you desire. Life is meant to abundant. The universe has no concept of what is small versus what is significant…those are man’s determinations – you can attract anything that you want to your life, “big” or “small”. You just need to believe wholeheartedly that it can and will be yours, maintaining an unwavering faith. Create a powerful next 30 years – earn that ticket to eternal life that you’ve always desired. Lift up the weak, the downtrodden and the forgotten who have nowhere left to turn. Live life through Christ. Set an example. Ensure that by your efforts you leave the world a better place than it was when you entered it. Find beauty in simple things. Look for the good in people. Smile at everyone. Talk to strangers. Turn negatives to positives habitually. Allow others in on that power. Ascend to the top by focusing in your mind on the magnificent view that awaits and by looking no further with your eyes than the next step in front of you. And when you get there, slow down, take the time to soak it all in, and enjoy it. And fill your mind and your heart with gratitude for the blessings received along the journey to get there. Because not everyone is fortunate enough to have this beautiful experience… to learn that there is far more to life than we had ever imagined. To unlock the secret and the power of faith. Remember how lucky you are. You are one of 5%. Tell your story. Say something! Make the most of the gift that you’ve been given by sharing with others. Continue to thank the Lord and feel blessed. Become a more active member in your community as you now are in your own life’s creation. Embrace opportunity. Realize that there are NO limits. Don’t over think, just take action and trust in the goodness of your heart. You once were lost, but now you are FOUND. Every action you take from here forward has purpose and meaning…it’s who you are, who you’ve become…so trust your gut and start creating. Paint the picture of the life you’ve always envisioned.