If there is one lesson I would love to teach everyone I come in contact with it is this:
I know, you have heard that phrase a million times. So often it has lost all its meaning.
You think “Of course I’m going to be myself! Who else would I be?”
But, you know, that simple phrase carries so much more than the literal meaning. It means not hiding your true feelings, wants, desires, thoughts, and beliefs. It means not changing your image, pretending to be something else, liking something, loving something, doing something, being something.
The pressure to conform is one of the most powerful forces in nature. If you go along with the crowd you will be protected. This is true for everyone and everything on Earth. A pack of gazelles run through the African plains together because there is power in numbers when an hungry cheetah comes calling. And a pack of teenage girls hang together because it keeps one of them from being singled out for things both good and bad. A student sits at the lunch table alone and others wonder that is wrong with him or her. They must smell, or have issues, or people hate them, etc. The flow of speculations run wild and nothing has actually been done or said. But clearly, something is wrong! Nobody thinks that maybe this solo student just wants to eat their lunch in quiet and watch the world around them.
Of course, this pack mentality carries over into the adult world as well. Humans find power in numbers. Nobody wants to be alone because it leaves them vulnerable. Ever walk into a Pub and you are the only one there? Even if you weren’t planning on socializing that night, it is freaking weird! Why is nobody else there? Are they all off doing something else? Was there some huge event going on and you weren’t invited? What will people think if they walk into the Pub and they see you sitting alone at the bar? It is safer just to leave and find some people.
Imagine going to a major sporting event and you are the only one there! The chances of that ever happening are non-existent, but imagine it. Even if it is a World Cup match or the Super Bowl and you have the best seat in the house, wouldn’t it be incredibly scary to be in that huge stadium all by yourself? Now imagine the same event with a packed house and you are the only one rooting for the other team. Like being a Red Sox fan in Yankee Stadium, or hypothetically, a Mets fan in Busch Stadium the home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Take it from me, it’s not easy. Often the easiest route becomes giving up on your loyalty to your team and doing what ever it takes to fit in. Or, heaven forbid, get beer poured over your head. Going with the pack keeps you under the radar and, although it prevents you from any kind of personal success, keeps you safe and secure.
I tend to be a bit of an extroverted introvert. If you have ever spent quality time with me you know that I can be loud, silly, funny, and controversial. (Ok.. maybe not that controversial.. I’m just trying to create a daring image of myself to make you think I go outside the lines) Case in point. I am a character actor. I see the need for a type of character in a room and I try to fill it. I can be the political hot head, the George Carlin “What happened to the world?” guy. The Jerry Seinfeld “Have you ever noticed?” guy. I do voices. A lot of voices! Old man, Young kid, New York Jew, Hillbilly, Harvey Fierstein, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon, Gollum, Judd Geizer: The Chupacabra Whisperer, etc. Whatever voice I think will get a few people to laugh, or at least myself. But none of them are me. I’m an Irish kid in his early 30’s who has watched a lot of TV and movies. And these characters are a cloak to hide the real me. I like peace and quiet. Just me, my thoughts, and the voices in my head (all nice, no worries). I am shy and always have been. I don’t make a lot of small talk and rarely speak without being spoken to. People freak me out! Ok, maybe not “Freak me out” but I fit right into radio because I could speak to millions (statistics pending) without actually speaking to anyone. I could play a character and not worry about any immediate judgement. Even when I am performing to a group of people, I turn off my eyes and just speak into the distance. The moral of the story is, if I let my true character out into public everyone would wonder about that weird kid sitting alone in the corner. And that, my friends, is something I would like to avoid.
I began writing this article on April 20th. Or as some people know it 4/20: International Cannabis Day. The day to go smoke a lot of Marijuana because some Twitter post told you to. I did some market research that day in Wal-Mart and Subway and I couldn’t help notice that people were walking and talking just a bit slower and more subs were being ordered than on the day the US Navy spends their tax dollars. It was clear that enough people in this country were participating, but when I asked a few people (Online, I’d never talk to strangers in real life) about why 4/20 is the day to smoke Pot, nobody could actually give me an answer. I wont take the time to explain the reason here because, quite frankly, I find it almost as comical as the celebration, but look it up online if you are interested. My point is, tens of thousands of Americans chose to get baked on April 20th because they wanted to fit in (and other reasons, I’m sure). If it were really about enjoying smoking Marijuana, then wouldn’t they just do it anyway? Why did so many people choose the day when they knew thousands of other people would be doing it too? Pack mentality and fitting in. Safety in numbers.
I have written my views on why we feel the need to fit in and the importance of staying with a group. Now, what can be done about it? I’m not saying finding people with similar interests isn’t a positive activity. It is a fantastic idea! That is, unless the group you are trying to fit into is not the group where you belong.
I was a jock at heart, I just lacked a lot of the physical ability to be one on the outside. I played Football (poorly), Hockey (poorly), and Baseball (extremely poorly). I was Captain of the Cross Country team and was quite a good runner, but because of my physical limitations due to my Ankylosing Spondylitis, I was never as good as I could have been. But, that was okay because I still enjoyed doing the best I could do. The person I was not was the party animal. I would go to loud obnoxious parties in college and I would put on a good face, but I hated it! I never ever felt comfortable in a mass of people and loud music. The corner table at the Pub with my friends and a glass of Guinness or Stone IPA was more my comfort zone. Eventually I became true to myself and if going to a loud party was the only way I could socialize, then I just didn’t socialize that night. It wasn’t worth the discomfort.
I would encourage anyone who reads this to evaluate where they truly feel at home. If you are quiet, then don’t pretend to be loud. If you are a reader, then don’t pretend to be a Reality TV fan. If you are gay, then don’t pretend to be straight. If you want to be in the musical then audition for the musical. Don’t worry about what other people might say. Be the person you want to be! If you want to test your limits, then by all means test away. If you like it, great! If not, you will have a comfortable place and identity to call home.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. I don’t even pretend to. I don’t even think having a PhD in Psychology means you have all the answers. Is this blog post a cover-up of who I really am? Probably. But, maybe not. I’m just trying on the costume of someone who writes these kinds of things. Maybe I want people to read this and think I am intelligent and insightful. It’s human nature to hide your true self. I don’t think anyone can go a whole day without tweaking a personality trait or interest a bit to impress someone, or at least fit in. But, I think it’s worth a try.
“Pretending to be someone else is exhausting” – Anonymous (Or, maybe I made up this quote to make people think I’m the kinda guy that likes quotes)
Many Bible readers know the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector climbing a tree to get a better view of Jesus.
If not, here it is:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:5-10)
Everyone always focuses on the last part of this story. Zacchaeus, the sinner, seeing the error of his ways and giving back to those he had sinned. The people murmuring behind Jesus’ back about staying with a sinner. And a man giving up his sinful life to follow Jesus.
But, in this post, I want to focus on the first part where Zach climbs a tree to see Jesus.
How many of you would climb a tree for Jesus? Many of us, including myself, would barely leave our front porch to see Jesus. Let alone climb a tree. Lets face it, many of us are not as young as we used to be. The thought of climbing makes me hurt all over. But here is this guy that so wants to see Him that he scurries up a tree like a squirrel. We need to start having that kind of squirrel like drive where we would go anywhere and do anything for our Lord and Savior. Forgoing how strange or uncomfortable it may be.
(And, for the record, if Jesus in the flesh really was walking down the street I would charge through that crowd like a linebacker. But you get the point)
This is a post that I should have made 7 years ago. I don’t know why I didn’t but listen up because I have a tale to tell.
For starters I have nothing against Hong Kong and I in no way want them to sink into the ocean. You will understand the title as you read.
My wife and I moved back to Vietnam ten days after we were wed. We really didn’t see any reason to put it off. We wanted to be there and any time spent in the states was just keeping us away from our mission working with street kids in Ho Chi Minh City. We already had a nice apartment on the top floor of the street kid run coffee shop we worked at. It wasn’t large but it worked for what we needed.
Both my wife and I are huge animal lovers. We have really never gone a moment without having a pet. And most of the time we have had multiple. So, it is very understandable that very shortly after we moved back to Vietnam we got a pet cat. We named her Catastrophy (yes, I know it is misspelled) and she was a mess. Broken tail, burned ear, tar in her fur and very malnourished. We felt the name fit like a well fitting glove. The second kitty came a week or two later, in a plastic bag.
The staff at the coffee shop saw our love for animals so when Phoung went to the market for the daily supplies, she bought a sweet cat being sold as food in the meat market. She paid the equivalent of 12 cents, put her in a plastic bag and delivered her to our door singing the Vietnamese Cat Song. This one was a lot calmer than Catastrophy so we gave her the Vietnamese name Ngu Dep, which means Sleeping Beauty, but we have been told that you would never call a cat “Dep” and it isn’t really a proper translation.
So passes a few more months of living and serving in Vietnam and snuggling with our cats.
Then came time for our Exodus, which is where our story begins.
As you might imagine, we wanted to bring our feline friends back to the States. We knew that leaving them in Vietnam would not only be heartbreaking but greatly increased their chances of ending back up on the dinner menu. It wasn’t a choice, it was necessity.
We had not booked our flight back home yet. We didn’t really know when our service would be over, so we left the return trip open. The first thing we did was called up United and asked them to make us a return path that would allow us to bring our cats with us. The woman in the Chicago office told us that flying Vietnam to Hong Kong to Chicago to St. Louis was a guaranteed cat friendly flight plan. So we booked it.
The next step was making sure our cats would be allowed to fly on the plane. We got them up to date on their shots, cleaned them up, secured them their kitty passports (yes.. kitty passports) and purchased a large cat carrier. Everything was set and we were ready to leave in two weeks.
One week later is when it all fell apart.
We received a call from the United office in Hong Kong. A man in broken English informed us that he just received word that we would be bringing Vietnamese cats through Hong Kong. This is the point where we learned that Hong Kong is a disease free utopia of cleanliness, and they do not allow foreign animals on their soil. We were leaving in a week and a little frustrated and this is when the wife and I went on the offensive. “What do you mean?” “You told us we could!” “They won’t be on your soil'”
We called the Chicago office back and plead our case that they were the ones that told us Hong Kong was acceptable. We ended up talking to the same woman and at this point she denied ever telling us this. We also learned that we weren’t even switching planes in Hong Kong, but still our cats could not enter. We went from frustrated, to mad, to homicidal. Our new mission became convincing Hong Kong to let the cats come through.
Calls were made to every United office we could find. We went to travel agents, we went to the airport, we called the American Consulate. We also drove ourselves mad, tore out our hair, got sunburns from all the motorbike riding we did, and I have to imagine were not that fun to be around. But we were determined to fight the laws of Hong Kong and make them change their ways. We were so broken at this point that we just fell to our knees and screamed out to God. “Please! Let us take our cats!” I was crying out so loud I think I might have blacked out. I had never prayed with so much desperation before. We really had no idea what was going to happen.
Finally we had a breakthrough. One day before we were supposed to depart I went wild on the man from Hong Kong with broken English. And we finally got them to agree to sign the order to allow the cats passage. Victory!
Our flight left Ho Chi Minh City at 6AM. We said our goodbyes the night before and slept soundly with our kittens.
Early in the morning our friend, co-worker and brother in Christ, An, let us out and we hopped in a taxi towards the airport. Catastrophy cried the whole time and greatly annoyed the driver, but we arrived at the airport and were ready to finally go home.
It was what I heard on a security guard’s walkie that clued me that our struggles were not over. I don’t understand much Vietnamese, but I know I picked up the word “Con Meo”, cat. Word of our arrival had been sent and they were waiting for us. Despite the line at the ticket counter, we were ushered to a closed station. “You no can fly with cats.. Mr. Chung say from Hong Kong.. you no can fly with cats”. We explained that Mr. Chung the day before had told us that we could. Then the woman at the counter handed us a fax from Mr. Chung that read “Under no circumstances should you let the Finley’s board their flight with their cats.” Ugggg.. that liar. I was too worn out and defeated to really say or do anything. We plead a bit, but we really didn’t know what we could do. They wanted us to let our cats out in the parking lot and board our plane, but clearly, that was not going to happen.
This was when a Korean woman working at the neighboring Asiana Airlines counter stepped in. She told us that South Korea had no regulations against Vietnamese animals and we might be able to change our flight path with them to get home with our cats. The workers at the United counter, set in their ways, tried to convince us to just give up on the cats and get on the plane, but we saw a small Korean ray of hope and we were willing to give it a chance.
The Asiana rep told us that the office wouldn’t be open until 3:00 that afternoon and we should just wait for their call to find out if we could change our flight plan. That was a long wait from 5AM to 3PM. We broke back into our apartment and just fell asleep. We would wake up from time to time to pray that Korea would allow us to come though, but we knew it was now in God’s hands.
Finally at 3PM, we received our call from Asiana telling us that they had worked out a flight plan for us to go from Vietnam to Seoul to San Francisco to Chicago to Saint Louis. We also learned that all Asian animals coming into the United States have to go through San Francisco. Way to know your rules and regulations United Airlines! And the best part was, not only were our cats checked through all the way to Saint Louis, but Asiana was not going to charge us the animal fee. They were to be treated as simple checked luggage, which was a lot less at the time.
So, later that night after a few more goodbyes we arrived at the airport, checked our cats, and were allowed to board the plane with no trouble. However, I was not able to fully relax until I saw our cat carrier get loaded onto the plane and our wheels were up. The rest of our 36 hours of traveling were quite delightful. The agents in Korea even took food to the baggage workers so they could feed our cats. And when we passed through customs in San Francisco all they did was made sure our cats were not bombs and even welcomed them to the United States as they stamped their Kitty Passports. We were close enough to home, and I was finally able to relax. Although I was a little put off by the price I now had to pay for coffee.
My wife and I were in a hard spot. And really there was nothing we could do. We tried pushing and pulling and clawing and fighting and it really got us nowhere. God had another plan for us. One that we could not see or even imagine. We were so focused on beating Hong Kong that we might have missed all the signs telling us to try South Korea. Our exit strategy had already been written and all we needed to do was follow. God put that wonderful Korean woman in earshot and gave her the heart to want to help us. He works in wonderful ways and as long as we are following his wonderful plan, our lives should be just as wonderful. Just open your heart and let him take control.
I want to close with something that one of our American teammates told us after watching our struggles and success. Our cats are like us and we are like God. We were working our butts off to save our cats and give them a better life and they probably had no clue. They just followed us and went for the ride. They put their faith in us to keep them from the dinner table and in the end everything for them worked out. And by being fat, happy and loving was how they thanked us for what we did.
God wants the perfect life for all of you. It might not always seem perfect. But have faith because some day it will. And nobody, not even Hong Kong, can stop Him from making it so.
The hottest new trend in America right now is being busy. People walking down the street saying “Look how busy I am!”. Calling friends just to say that you can’t talk because you are too busy. I’m not joking, I have witnessed this. I was at a Starbucks one time and heard the guy behind me calling everyone he knows and starting each conversation with “Sorry, can’t talk long, I’m really busy today” I, for one, was very impressed by this man.
Today I am sitting in work with a sign on my back which reads “If I am not already doing it, It will not be done today” I am just too busy today. I have my list of tasks that need to get done today and there is no way I can possibly add anything else. I am actually typing this blog post one or two sentences at a time as I load the “House of Hair” radio show into our system for the weekend. I get a minute between segments while they are saving and I choose to fill that time with writing.
I wrote about this before in my post “The Case for the American Siesta” but as a culture we always need to be doing something. We are so afraid of down time. I imagine for many of us, if we aren’t doing something we feel like slacker losers. I know I do. I can’t just watch TV. Unless it is an action movie where the plot can change in a second, very rarely do I ever just sit and watch. I get out my iPad and I write, or check e-mail or play “Simpsons: Tapped Out” (I love that game) Like the goat looking over the fence, I always have this feeling that there is something good to find out there and I must be always searching for it.
But don’t we know living like this is killing us? If you are always working, thinking, searching and talking you are not resting. And if I wasn’t so busy, I would take the time to find some facts and figures that show that doctors report we are losing more sleep and are becoming more mentally unstable and depressed. Facts or not, I imagine nobody would really dispute me on this. We live in the age of ease where everything is done for us, yet we are more stressed out than before. Ironic, don’t you think?
My message for you all today is this weekend, take some time to relax, be quiet, think and totally unplug. Sit outside and watch the birds and rabbits. Listen to the wind and the rain. Pray a little, but mostly listen and experience God. Because if we are constantly talking, thinking and filling our time, how will we be able to hear Him and the world around us?
It is a six letter word but it should qualify as one of those four letter words. I hate it! It makes me cringe like when I hear one of those words. But, sadly, my life is full of it. A life long list of should haves and should have not’s. Things I wish I could go back and try again and things that I wish I could undo. Some things I had control over and some things were accidents.
Yesterday I did something that rocked me to my core and totally ruined my day. I don’t want to say what I did. It is too horrific to mention. But it was a total accident and one that I will work hard to never repeat. Now, I know it was an accident and in the long run it will probably not rock the Earth off it’s axis, but I am still full of regret over it and the thought will probably haunt my dreams for a little while longer.
But what can I do about it now? Short of having a Delorean or the time traveling powers of “Heroes” Hiro Nakamuro, there is nothing I can do to fix it. Or fix any of the other accidents, mistakes and awkward moments of my life. They are in the past, lost and gone forever. But I know I am not alone in not being able to forget. And in some cases it absolutely eats me alive.
But we must remember that God does not want us to live with regret. Philippians 3:13-15 says:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
God knows that we can not focus on His Kingdom if we are constantly bogged down in the past. You know who wants us to regret? The Enemy. He has a plan to keep us worried and tied up with our sins and mistakes. If all we do is think about that we begin to look down on ourselves and start to doubt our worth. Don’t doubt your worth, because God has amazing plans for you and He needs you on top of your game.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
The second reminder is that if something happened, it is by God’s will. It might not make sense why God allowed something regretful to happen, but as I always say, it is not our job to understand. He made it happen for a reason and it is our job to grow from it.
Be joyful followers of Christ. Our Lord and Savior has a plan for us and is always giving us these teachable moments. Keep your eyes focused on the Lord and never regret about the past.
I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, please let me know if you do, but I sometimes compare my Christian faith to the movie Groundhog’s Day. The movie in which Bill Murray, playing weather man Phil Connors, is forced to live February 2nd over and over again until he learns the true meaning of Groundhog’s Day. Or something like that, we don’t really know why Phil is doomed to repeat the same day over and over again. I read an article that revealed that a gypsy cursed him because he is kinda a jerk, but that never made the movie.
Throughout the move we see Phil go through different stages of dealing with this curse. At first he rejects it, then he abuses it by robbing an armored car, then he really rejects it by committing suicide over and over. Phil finally starts getting the point in the later days and starts trying to improve himself and using his new skills to help people. Phil has figured out that he will continue repeating until he has righted his wrongs. Unfortunately for Phil one or two good deeds are not enough to lift the curse and it probably takes him weeks of being good before he finally wakes up on February 3rd.
So I tell you that story to tell you this one.
Phil really has no idea why he is repeating Groundhog’s Day and he really has no idea what he needs to do to move on to the next day. He just does what he thinks might work and hopes for the best.
Isn’t that how so many Christians live their lives? God gave us a list of do and do not’s, and we do our best to stick to them. Sure, we may stumble from time to time, but we say we are sorry and we try to do better the next time. And for many of us, we feel that we are stuck repeating one crappy day after another. Jesus promised us a life to the fullest. All we have to do is look to him when we make our choices and things will turn out great.
Sometimes, however, no matter how many things we do and choices we make, that full life seems to escape us. We start thinking we are doing everything wrong. Maybe we need to stay away from bad movies, maybe we need to not laugh at that dirty joke, Maybe we need to give more at Church and maybe we aren’t praying right.
The last example is my personal favorite. I start thinking that my prayers are weak and God doesn’t know how serious I am. So I yell out, I rant and rave, I stretch out my time and give up my Saturdays. If that doesn’t work I start thinking my prayers are too self centered. He doesn’t want it to be all about me, so I add in other people and world peace. We all do crazy stuff like this because we think that is what He wants, but truthfully we are clueless.
And that is the fact, we will NEVER fully understand God’s mind and most of all his time. He has a plan and he has a schedule, and there is nothing we can do that is going to force his hand. No matter how much we offer, how hard we pray, and what we promise to do, if it is not in his plans it will not happen.
So instead of driving ourselves crazy over how we can unlock that Godly treasure chest we need to sit down and pray for peace and understanding and then completely let go and actually be peaceful.
As long as you set your eyes on the Lord, He will show you what you need to see. And when you have your mission, you can finally move on to February 3rd.