VICTIMS OR SURVIVORS?

Perception and definition, things we have control of. As you are currently reading this I can assume you are alive and kicking. No matter what has happened or is happening in your life you have survived it. You have made it through. You have a 100% success rate at surviving whatever it is life has thrown at you. It does not mean you do not have some scars and battle wounds, but you made it through.

It may have changed you. It may have changed the way you look at the world, but how that happens is a great deal up to us. It depends a great deal on whether we view ourselves as victims of what happened to us, or survivors. As a victim, you may feel like because of a situation you have went through you will never be able to trust anyone again. As a survivor you may decide you will learn for additional behaviors that could lead to deception. As a victim you may feel broken because of a challenge life has put you through. As a survivor you will feel stronger for making it through. Victims are left with a feeling they will never be happy again. Survivors realize although life may never be the same, there is blessings in everything and new ways to discover joy they may be forced to find.

Again, this is not to say you will not have scars. It is not to say that life will not knock you down every now and again. The difference between a victim and survivor is whether you stay down or get back up. When we are sad, hurt or angry and going through some very dark period it may help to lock ourselves in a room with a mirror and yell into that mirror, “I am a survivor! You cannot beat me!” It may sound silly, but it will certainly change your outlook. Couple this with some inspiring music of your choice and it will get you through whatever it is you are going through. It may take a few times and it will take some faith on your time, but before long you will come out on the other side as a survivor and not a victim!

ARE YOU AN UMBRELLA?

I love this picture. Two innocent children sharing an umbrella in a storm. As an adult we have an opportunity to share an umbrella every day. To take that thought further, we have a chance to be an umbrella. At this point you may be wondering if I know exactly what an umbrella is for or if I even know what an umbrella is. Why would anyone share an umbrella if it wasn’t raining? Even more absurd, how can a human being turn into an umbrella? Fair questions if I were the one reading this post and not the one writing it.

In its simplest terms an umbrella is an instrument for protecting us in a storm. It is the definition not of umbrella that should concern us here, but that of storm. In life there are many storms. Yes, there are thunderstorms when the winds are blowing fierce and the rain can seem unrelenting. It can be scary to be out in it. We may not want to risk driving if we don’t have to. We may want to stay inside our homes where we are safe.

What we may forget is there are many storms we face every day. There are health storms where the thunder of pain is louder than anyone can imagine. There are financial storms where the debt continues to rain down on us no matter how hard we work. There are the painful emotional storms when the winds of struggle and strife blow us off our path. There are many storms my friends. Storms of addiction, storms of loneliness, storms of depression. They say in life you are either on your way into a storm, in the middle of a storm, or coming out of a storm. As Eric Thomas said, “Storms are a part of life, but storms are not life.” All of us face storms each and every day.

As you can imagine, the umbrella for all of these storms can be a little different. It can be an umbrella of compassion for someone who has just been hurt or defeated. It can be the umbrella of encouragement for someone who has lost their way. It can be the umbrella of motivation and inspiration for those lost in a storm of negativity and pessimism. There are some umbrellas like love, friendship and listening that seem to work in every storm.

Just like you can walk with a smile on your face through the most intense storm, so can others. Daily, there are those of us who wake up and put a smile on our faces even when we are in the middle of a storm. Just because someone is smiling does not mean the rain is still not falling. Offer everyone you know an umbrella. When given the chance, be the umbrella they do not have. We are all going through storms and we can all use an umbrella.

BE THAT PERSON

Be that kind of person. What kind of person am I talking about? The one who always has something good to say about someone. The person who always has a smile to share. It may not seem to make a difference, but it does. As I write this I am sitting at a local coffee shop a few blocks from my day job at the United States Postal Service. I am reflecting on the countless times I have been in this exact situation. The service I receive from the person behind the counter can really help, or maybe distract from my writing. To the person helping me behind the counter I might be just another face in a sea of people wanting some kind of beverage and that is understandable. Even if they knew that their service may add a little extra step to a author doing his best to inspire the world to become the best versions of themselves it may or may not make a difference.

The truth is we all have this power. We do not know what the person we run into in the grocery store is up to. It could be a surgeon worried about performing open-heart surgery on an infant the next day. It could be a person struggling with personal loss that could use a bright spot in their lives. It could be a person struggling with depression and thinking about taking their own life. It could even be someone full of rage and thinking about taking the lives of others. The cases do not have to be this extreme and may not be, but we may never know. It could simply be a former bartender and current postal worker looking to better themselves and the world around them.

This is all about the power of a smile, of a simple ‘hello’. In all of us there lies a great power. It is a generally untapped power for the most part. That is the power of kindness. It makes a difference. It may be a big difference, it may just be that added inspiration the person needs. Chances are we will never know the effect that it has. Trust me when I tell you it has an effect on every single person you use it on. They probably will not even know you are using it. The more you practice this random acts of kindness the bigger effect you will have on the world.

I warn you that there is one side-effect you must be aware of. This kindness will come back to you. It may not come from those you have shared it with, but it will and must come back to you. That is a universal law. As you sow, so shall you reap. Before long you will notice those smiles and ‘hellos’ coming your way. You may find yourself with new friends and connections you never would have met. In addition, some people report a second side-effect. That is an increased sense of well-being. Seeing the positive way you affect others can only serve to put a smile on your face.

I would love to hear ways that you use the power of kindness. It would be great for all of us to learn simple ways that we can positively affect the lives of those around us. Share your ideas in the comments below!

THE ONLY WHY

In my upcoming book I speak to the importance of having a strong why to keep you focused and motivated to accomplish your goals. Indeed this is very important and can be the difference between success and failure. If, for example, your motivation for getting in shape is to fit into your favorite pair of jeans or just to look good that will take you only so far. If, however, you are working out because you have had a recent health scare or you cannot bear the thought of leaving your family too soon, you will be a lot more likely to be found on the treadmill.

Today I want to talk about what I believe is one of, if not thee, best motivating factor – love. We are not just discussing the romantic definition. Although, how many stories have we heard of people doing anything for love? We are not just speaking of parental love. That being said, daily we can read of parents putting themselves in harms way just to help their children. Even though we are not just discussing those two examples, they represent a good example of the power of love.

Love can be found everywhere. In the above examples we love how we look in our jeans when we are fit. We love our family so much we are willing to spend countless hours in the gym so we will be with them for years to come. Love is in all of the joyous feelings we have. Love is also in some of the darkest moments we have. When we lose someone the pain we feel is the result of the loss of love. Whether it is a break up or someone’s passing the equation is the same, the greater the love, the greater the sense of loss. Our bodies ability to heal itself is an example of the subconscious mind’s love of life and to keep moving forward.

If love is everywhere and one of the greatest motivators, what does that mean for us? Putting the most powerful force in the universe to work for us can transform our lives immensely. Are you hurting from a break-up or the passing of someone you love? Understand the pain you’re feeling is because you have known a great love. It may have ended in one form, but shall remain in your life and can be revisited through memories and reflection of all the beautiful moments. There are far too many who never experience the gift of great love. It is that love that gives life its flavor. Be grateful for having love as a part of your life. Your pain is a reminder that you were blessed with great love.

Do you have a goal that seems out of reach or that you just cannot seem to be able to persist enough to accomplish? Tie that goal to something that you love deeply (see the above example for getting fit) and you will watch yourself accomplish that goal with greater ease and less stress than you ever imagined possible.

Love is the most powerful force in the universe and can be used in many situations. You can use it to bring joy to someone’s face or peace to their heart. You can use it to drive you to be productive and disciplined. It can heal relationships and ease the pain of loss. Love can accomplish anything as long as it is applied correctly. Feel free to share how you used love in the comments below.

HOW CAN I LIVE WITHOUT YOU?

HOW DO I LIVE WITHOUT YOU? For those of us who have lived an appreciable amount of time this is a question we have asked. Maybe to ourselves, maybe to God, maybe to the universe or maybe to those who have passed away. We are left with words we wish we would have said, or things we wish we would have done with those we have lost. Even more often we see things that remind us of those who have passed on and we wish we could share those things with them.

What do we do with all of these thoughts? What do we do with all of this love? Let me begin by saying there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Whatever helps you get through is what you must do, as long is it does not bring harm to yourself or others. What I am about to share with you is what I feel not only helps me deal with loss, but helps others and honors those I am missing. If it doesn’t work for you that is ok. If you are looking for something to help you, it might be worth giving a try.

Why I am sharing this with you today? Last week I attended the Wisconsin State Fair, one of my favorite places to be. I even was fortunate enough to write several articles about the fair, including one for chow down in Milwaukee in which I mentioned going to the State Fair with my grandfather at least once a year. That sure made me miss that. It started to bring to mind people I have lost and what I always do to honor them.

In addition a few of the days I had parked a few blocks away next to a lady I had known for years in the neighborhood. This wonderful lady had lost her son a few years ago and was really having a tough time coming to terms with it. I cannot imagine the pain a parent would feel losing a child. It is something I wish no parent ever had to feel or go through. On a few occasions she stopped me to share stories about her son and how much she was still missing him. These moments often resulted in tears shared as well. She also shared stories with me from support groups she attended and what others in situations similar to hers were going through. Some of them were so painful I am not even going to share them here.

Needless to say, there are far too many parents going through this pain. With the rise of the opioid crisis, sadly the numbers look to be climbing. What solace can we offer anyone who has experienced a loss? That is the question that kept bouncing around in my head as I was hoping to offer something to this lady that would bring her even a measure of peace. What I told her is simply two things that I find work. Again, I am not sure they will help her, although I hope they do.

First, I mentioned keeping a journal in which she could write to her son. When she was having an especially hard night she could sit down and have a ‘conversation’ with her son. Sure, it is really a one-sided conversation, but it can be quite rewarding. From a practical standpoint it can help us get a better handle on what exactly we are feeling. The act of writing something down can bring a great amount of clarity. Especially it such an emotionally charged situation as death and grief.

It can also be a safe and healthy place to share our feelings. Sharing our feelings of sadness and grief each and every second can leave us wondering if we are being emotionally draining to others. Even if we have to most wonderful people in our lives who are extremely supportive, there are things we may not be comfortable sharing with others that we would want to say to our loved one who has left us.

The other idea I shared with her is an idea I began to put into practice when I lost my Grandmother. It has seen me through several moments of loss. That is doing what the picture above advocates. Taking the love that you have for that person you have lost and spreading it around. How do we manage to do this? Make sure you share what you feel with others. Never let a day go by without bringing light to another’s life.

The best way that I have found to honor others while healing myself is to do my best to replace some of the light the world has lost with their passing. I recall my Grandmother being welcoming and hospitable. So now I do my best to be that way. Whether it is when I DJ shows with Margie or even having people over for dinner, I do my best to get them what they need and be a gracious host. Certainly, you will not be able to do everything the person who has passed away could do. That is part of what makes each person in this world such a special gift. My Grandmother made a great cheesecake. I simply do not share her talent for that.

I humbly offered to this lady there might be a way to share some of the light her son shared while he was alive. She thought and mentioned how at his funeral people in a wrestling chat room he belonged to told her how much he always cheered them up. She said, “Maybe I could join that chat room and cheer up those young men.” I told her that was one great idea and she could always come up with more as time went on.

Nothing will ever replace the loss of a loved one, nor should it. We feel sadness and pain because we loved and loved a great soul. If there are ways we can honor our loved ones and bring a measure of joy and happiness to our souls and the world around us I believe it is worth a shot. Again, I put this forth to you with humble suggestion. There is no right or wrong way to deal with grief, this is merely what works for me and I share it with you in hopes it may help you as well.

If there is another way you use that helps you with the pain and sense of loss you feel, please share it in the comments below. There are a lot of others who are hurting and by coming together we may be able to bring a measure of peace to them. At the very least we can let them know they are not alone.

MY FAVORITE DAY OF THE YEAR!!!

As you are reading this post I will be at the Wisconsin State fair. Today is the first day of the 11 day long festival. It is by far my favorite thing to look forward to all year. In the past I have stressed how important it is to have events to look forward to throughout the year. This is by far the one I look forward to the most. There is also a winter vacation, the bike expo, the first day of spring and many others, but the state fair is the biggest.

If I were someone who sat back and let life happen to them I would enjoy  this festival to the fullest for 11 days straight and them be sad when it is over. To some extent that is what happens, but I advocate and practice getting every last drop of joy out of life you possibly can. How do I apply this to the Wisconsin State Fair and how can you apply it to activities you look forward to in life? Let us take a look and start coming up with a few ideas.

First, as you can see by the photo above, spend the activity you love with the people you love the most. This is a picture of my lovely Margie and I on the sky glider last year. Margie and I have a wonderful relationship and both work hard to keep it that way and improve it all year long. We are always on the way to increase the amazing love we already share with each other. Being with her at one of my favorite places where I am extremely excited and happy provides a great opportunity to create life-long memories that will keep us smiling for a long time. It also increases the love and connection I feel with her. Having happy and joyous memories at my favorite place with my lady just leaves me with a feeling of love and gratitude for who I share my life with. In addition to Margie, I plan to enjoy days at the State Fair with my mom, and many of our friends. Together we will all create happy and joyous memories.

Then there is the planning. There is so much fun in just exploring and seeing what we discover. Making sure there are a few things we know we will enjoy is important as well. To that end we always look at the preview guide that comes out a few weeks ahead of the fair. There we discover bands we may like to see, food we may like to try and many other fun things to look forward to. This year we are even planning on an art walk they have to see many artistic displays featured in the park. There is also a garden walk in which you are shown different displays of greenery and how they are cultivated. Both walks feature a prize upon completion and are completely free.

Pictures. This may sound like a no-brainer, but sometimes those are the easiest to forget. Taking pictures of the fun activities you experience and the great, and sometimes no so great, food we try will give us something to look back on for years to come. This keeps the great memories alive after the event, and sadly sometimes after the people have passed. In the past year with all of the loss Margie and I experienced, videos and pictures have proved to be a invaluable link to the past and those we care about. This has brought to our attention the importance of capturing all the joy as it occurs.

Being present. In contrast to being behind a camera or cell phone to capture the joy that is occurring, there is the act of being present. Noticing the taste of what you are eating, the people you are sharing the moment with, or in my case the smile on the face of the beautiful blonde lady next to you. There is so much beauty to behold in life that we must remain alert to soak it all in.

These are just some of the ways I will enjoy the Wisconsin State Fair this year. Add to that my new career as a food critic and I will have plenty of chances to practice that. I welcome you to share your ideas on how I, and all of our readers can make their special moments even more special in the comments below.

LOVE IS THE REWARD

We have spent the last few posts discussing relationships. How to increase the odds of finding a good one. How important it is to bring the best version of you to the relationship you are in. How important it is to respect yourself while you are respecting your partner. These are all great ideas. They are not always easy to do, but the reward is certainly worth it. What is that reward? It is a relationship that supports and adds joy to your life. Whether that be a great friendship or an intimate relationship.

Even while working hard to craft these skills, life can put us in situations that make maintaining our joyful and loving relationship difficult at best. Although it may not look like it from the outside, Margie and my relationship is no different. From the beginning we dealt with people whose self-serving nature tried their best to pull us apart. Add to that issues of family stress, working in the bar industry where the idea of a healthy relationship and the respect shown to other relationships is extremely low. Makes life challenging at times. Recently, you add the passing of quite a few people close to us, most recently Margie’s mother and my discovery and hospitalization for a genetic heart issue and you can imagine there is almost as much stress as there is love at times.

How do we, and more to the point, how can you deal with the stress of life and keep on loving? Whether it is family, friends or your spouse the answer is the same. The easiest, and to be honest, most enjoyable way to do this is to realize the little things are the big things. This sounds cliché, as many things with love can, but the reason something is said so often is because there is truth in it. How can we turn the little things into the big things? How can we take a cliché and turn it into a part of our lives? Allow me to share with you a few personal examples that may help you.

The way Margie and I accomplish this is first and foremost keeping an attitude of gratitude. When we have challenges in our relationships, or even in our life in general, it can be easy to lose sight of all that we have to be grateful for. If we are so busy with work we do not have time to sit down to a wonderful dinner together, at least we have each other and something to eat. When one of us complains, the other does their best to find something to be grateful for in the situation. It helps that both of us have this desire.

In the middle of  the whirlwind of stress we often face, there is one thing we do more than any couple I know and it makes all the difference. We love. What I mean is in the middle of a karaoke show, or last night while shopping at Best Buy, if one of us feels love for the other we show it. This can be anything from stopping for a quick hug or kiss, or even just focused compliments and words of affection. Last Friday while doing a show I happened to notice just how beautiful Margie looked at that moment and I told her. I held her hand looked in her eyes and said, “I’m sorry I know we are really busy, but I just had to let you know how beautiful you look to me right now.” The words touched Margie who thanked me and leaned over and gave me a kiss. Sadly, the grown woman who was standing next to our DJ area who witnessed this responded in what I can only describe as a immature and cynical way. She said “Eww! Eww!” and made a motion like she was going to get sick. Did I mention the bar atmosphere can often not be the best place for a couple?

In your own relationships, take time to make sure the little things become the big things. Whether it is family, coworkers, friends or the special someone you love, take time to show appreciation and gratitude. When you feel love for that person make sure you pause and take time to express that. It could be a hug, an email, a card or a quick phone call. When you see two people sharing a moment like this try and understand all the stress and challenges they may be facing. Taking time to enjoy each other, even if only for a quick hug or kiss may be the special reward that keeps that relationship working.

WHAT NOW?

When I decided to be a motivational speaker I thought it would be an easy and natural progression. Taking the material in both my book and website and sharing it with people would be simple and enjoyable. What challenges could come from sharing how to live a more positive and rewarding life with others.

I have discovered being able to appreciate the beauty in others and express that beauty in the written words has bestowed upon me one of the most challenging, yet personally rewarding honors I have faced. In the past 12 months I have spoken at 5 funerals. Being asked to speak about the life of someone who everyone in attendance cared so deeply for is both a tremendous honor, and great responsibility. One that I do not take lightly. It has also taught me to learn and think a great deal about how I approach the subject of death. In doing so, I have discovered what will not only help ease the burden of grief we feel when we lose someone we love but will help them live on every day in our lives. I would like to share what I learned with all of you in hopes it may help you or someone you know who may be experiencing the grief of losing someone you love.

On May 8th our family experienced a great loss in the mother of my lovely lady, Margie. Shortly after her mom’s passing, Margie asked if I would like to speak at the funeral. I must confess to having cringed a little. Being that my love and respect for both of those ladies was quite high, it was an honor, but it would be an emotional challenge to deliver. Certainly, when asked to perform such an important honor, it is hard to say no. As I began to think about what I would say, a new challenge presented itself. I was about to compose words about the woman the lady in my life was lucky enough to call her mom. Nothing but the best would do. The words came to me at 3 o’clock one morning. I grabbed my laptop to capture them.

In all my writing I try to give the reader something they can use to reduce the stress, or in this case grief in their life and add some joy or positivity. Fortunately for me, Margie’s mother, Ruthanne, led life that provided most of what I needed to say.

Most eulogies include memories of the person they honor. I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to answer the question that all of us, in some form or fashion, have in our hearts and minds when we lose someone we love – now what? What do we do now that we have lost a great parent, grandparent, spouse or even dear friend? How do we keep them alive both in our hearts and the world around us? How can we help their legacy live on?

I am going to share what works for me in hopes that it may help you. I have found although honoring someone with a memorial or candle-light vigil is thoughtful, the event is over in a day. For me, the best way to keep someone alive in our hearts and in our daily life is to replace some of the light the world has lost with their passing. I would like to explain this further by using the life of Ruthanne as an example. I must add Ruthanne gave more light in her 79 years than most people could do if given 179 years. Her life could best be summed up by recalling her last few days with us here on earth.

When Ruthanne was told her time on earth was ending, she voiced two desires. It wasn’t a fancy car or an exotic vacation. She wanted to go to the casino and karaoke one more time. She wanted to die as she lived, feeling the joy in her life, surrounded by the people she loved. Ruthanne understood that joy and peace are more important than status or wealth.

When it became clear she was not going to leave the hospital we asked her if she would like us to bring her anything. Her answer spoke volumes. She said quite firmly, “I don’t need things. I need people.” Ruthanne understood the material gifts we are given we cannot take with us, but the lives we touch and the memories we create is what will live on long after we are gone. She knew the most valuable gift we can give someone is our time and our love. That is what she wanted from us.

It was not receiving that gift that most concerned Ruthanne. Every person who visited her in the hospital asked her the same question, “How are you doing?” You might think she would lament the conditions that plagued her or the time she had left. Not once did I hear this. Instead, she asked people how they were doing. She did not do this just for conversation, but with the genuine sincerity of someone who truly cares. She asked to see pictures of babies and how their jobs were going. Ruthanne understood how important it is to let someone know they are loved and significant.

If you attended Ruthanne’s funeral or visited her in the hospital you would notice the people she surrounded herself with came from every race, culture and creed. Ruthanne may joke with you about your look some days, but she would never let how someone looked stop her from loving them. Although a Christian, she would not let believing in a different faith stop her from loving you. Ruthanne gave us the gift of acceptance.

Sometimes, those she loved let her down. They may have been in trouble with the law, developed habits or addictions they shouldn’t have, or even hurt her or the ones she loved. I think at some point all of us that knew her failed to live up to our own standard. What did she do when this happened? She loved us anyway. Ruthanne gave us the gift of forgiveness.

With all the gifts mentioned above that she gave us, it is easy to see why at the 79th birthday party Margie threw her over 100 people showed up. If I were to guess almost three times that many either visited or sent well-wishes when she was in the hospital. With that much love and popularity you could not blame Ruthanne if she would boast with the rest of them. When she was told people had to leave her room because more were waiting to visit her she would tell us, “I don’t know why people love me so much. I am just me.” Ruthanne gave us the gift of humility.

Ruthanne gave me those gifts and I must add giving birth to the most beautiful woman I share my life with. Sadly, she will no longer be here to teach me these gifts in person. It falls upon me and those she knew, in her honor and memory, to share these gifts with those lives we touch. Every time I am accepting, forgiving, every time I make someone laugh or remind them how important and loved they are, I will think of and thank Ruthanne for being a living example of these virtues and many more.

When we lose someone we truly love, let us all work together to replace the light the world has lost with their passing. It will not only help ease our grief, it will keep them with us every day we share the gifts that they gave us.

USE YOUR PAIN

This man is Inky Johnson. I highly recommend you look up his story, but I will give you a brief outline here. Inky was born into challenging situations to say the least. A very poor neighborhood, 16 people living in a two bedroom house. He had to sleep on the floor. Once a week he got to sleep in a bed…with 5 others. He was surrounded by family and friends going in and out of prison. Truly a recipe for disaster.

Inky decided to take a different path. At the age of 7, with some help from a coach, he decided he was going to play professional football. He practiced every day. Often running light pole to light pole with no shoes on. Eventually he received a scholarship to the University of Tennessee. With 8 games to go he was told he was going to be a first round pick. Imagine being told finally you will be able to erase generations of hurt, pain and financial suffering for your family. He immediately called his mother and grandmother to inform them they would no longer have to live in poverty.

Two games later while making a tackle that all changed. Inky felt like he had the wind knocked out of him. He woke up in the hospital where he was told he had to be rushed into surgery or he would die. Waking up from  that the doctor said he had some bad news. Considering he was still alive, Inky was confused. The doctor explained he had sustained nerve damage and would no longer be able to play football again. Imagine being that close to helping your family, having worked all your life, never cheated and it is stolen away in one play.

The reality of what he was left to deal with sank in when the doctor informed him “Son, you will never be able to use your arm again. You will never be able to use your hand again.” Inky’s reply?  “No disrespect sir, but I am going to use this arm and hand everyday. I am going to use it to inspire people. I am going to use it to help people not give up.” Today Inky Johnson is a motivational speaker and has several videos on YouTube.

When I heard that I had to fight back tears. Wow. I pray that I would be able to see things that way. Which is ironic, because that is what I am challenging all of us, myself included, to do here today. We have all had pain in our lives. Most of us not to the magnitude of the story above, some even worse. My question to you is this, what are you going to do with that pain? My answer is this, you went through the pain, put it to use for you. Use what you have went through to inspire and push you. Use it to motivate and give hope to others. DO NOT WASTE YOUR PAIN.

Maybe someone broke your heart? Use it to not only motivate you to make your next relationship your best relationship, but to help those who are also heartbroken. You lost your job? Use that as a tool to motivate you to chase a job you would enjoy. Do so while maybe helping at a meal program helping those who are in an even tougher situation. Turn your pain from a liability into an asset.