I was speaking with a group of men last night and we talked about the ability to be someone different from the person we are currently. I told them; “What you do today determines who you will be tomorrow.” If you want to be the man and the dad you need to be you must first know what you need to change and then begin making the choices that will lead you to your goal.
I went on to explain that everything we do presently, what we watch, listen to, speak about, participate in, everything! makes us into the person we will be in the future. Our present choices shape our destiny. “It’s when we see that now, this moment, is all we have and need to transform, that we finally have the wisdom to become what we need to be.”
As I talked to the men the truth of what was being said also resonated with me and my spirit. The truth, when revealed, is powerful enough to impact both audience and speaker.
The Other End –
One of the key tenets of our incarcerated father and fathers with addictions class is the understanding that every choice we make has consequences. There may be huge, dramatic outcomes or little and benign results but there are repercussions to every decision. Most of the men in the classes understand they’ve made some big, bad choices to be locked up but in the class, we are discovering that often the momentous poor choice was preceded by smaller ones.
We conversed about this last night as we do each week, “What you do today determines who you’ll be tomorrow.” What they think about, talk to one another about, listen to, read, watch, everything has a deciding factor in the person they are becoming.
“Self-awareness, is the discipline of truly knowing who you are; the good, the bad, and the in-between. Until you are honest with yourself about the person you are you’ll never discover how to become the man, the father, you’re supposed to be.”
A wise teacher once told his followers; “When you pick up one end of the stick, you also pick up the other.” A good lesson for us all to learn and remember.
Lay Me Down to Rest…
Wednesday night, before my lecture to an Incarcerated Father class, I was speaking with one of the men and learned that a few days prior someone had died in the jail. He was an unknown older black gentleman who had been brought in late Sunday. The story was that he had laid down, complained a little about his chest hurting, rolled over and in the next hour breathed his last. For those who witnessed the event, it was both haunting and a fantastic tale to relay to others. Though morbid, being incarcerated can be terribly boring, it was an unexpected dramatic experience in the malaise that is life behind bars.
As the excited chatter ceased regarding the spectacle, I looked at the man telling me the story and said; “What a sad thing, to die in jail. Alone with no one knowing you or loving you.” I am not sure why I made such a blunt statement except it was a lesson I couldn’t pass up. Many of the men I work with have been in jail several times and if they do not change their ways could very well die behind bars, surrounded by those who are not their family and friends.
I tell the men every class; “Choice is destiny. WHAT you do today determines WHO you’ll be tomorrow.” and we all have a limited number of tomorrows.
Much of the work I do with men is helping them see their life; “as it is” not how they think it is, where they are, not where they think they’re located. Many times we think that to improve our lives we just leave the past behind, imagine what we want and go in the direction of our dreams. However, until we know who we are, what we are, we cannot change our life’s trajectory.
Imagine having a map of New York and wanting to visit the Statue of Liberty. You find the world-famous landmark and begin to plan how long it will take and what resources you’ll need to complete your journey. However, if you don’t know where you are you have no starting point, no place of reference. You can’t take the first step towards the future until you discover where you’re standing presently. There are two different type of planning are required if you’re already in New York or if you’re coming from Chicago.
Self-awareness and intense discernment are required for us to forge a new path for our lives. Who, what and where we’ve been determines the genesis point, the starting place that will take us where we need to go.
This morning my Daily Office Reading had two sections dealing with focus. One was from the Old Testament, one from the New;
“When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.” 4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. 5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.” 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on. 7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. 10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” 11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. 13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.” Book of Second Kings, Chapter 2
“Then the disciples gathered around Jesus and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 1
As I reflected upon these texts I thought about what we keep our eyes trained on also determines what slips by us as we watch other things. Knowing where not to look is just as important as knowing on what and where to keep our focus. Elisha was waiting, anticipating, looking for something predicted and present to happen. The disciples were staring at what once was and had now passed. To keep ourselves facing forward, living in trust that our purpose and passion are before us, never behind, we make sure what we’re looking for is worth seeing.
Yesterday, on my way back to Columbia, TN from Bedford county, I passed a cable laying company and noticed a large empty wooden spool. I pulled into the business’ parking lot, walked in and asked if they would sell, or even better, give it to me. The owner was willing to part with it at no cost and helped me load it into the back of my truck. There were already some other building materials in the bed so we positioned it on top and I tied it down. However, because of the other materials the tailgate was lowered and the spool couldn’t be turned sideways. I am fairly confident in making a knot that’ll stay secure but I kept a close eye on the big wooden spool all the way home. There were two fears; one that it would roll out the back and into another vehicle, two that it would roll forward and break out my back window. Slowly navigating the back hills to my home I held my breath on every incline and decline, turn and stop. Finally, I pulled into the driveway and exhaled! “Whew!” I gathered my work things from the crew cab and started to go inside. I walked around the truck and to my surprise and amusement I spied the chrome metal toolbox that’s attached to the bed of the truck just below the back window. I’ve owned my vehicle for almost a year and a half and have used this toolbox many times but today completely forgot it was there. The back window was never in danger of being broken because this forgotten protector would’ve stopped it from getting that close.
My worry was that my knot, my ability, my attempt to keep myself and others from pain and loss wasn’t enough. I was so concerned and focused on this obstacle of potential destruction I never considered there was something else stronger, sturdier, in place to keep me from harm. Looking through my rear-view mirror I only saw the spool, never the toolbox.
It was a needed reminder that our focus determines our state of mind, emotions and overall well being. When our vision is obscured because of forgetfulness or refusal to look at other things our minds, bodies and spirits are tied in knots, our energy strapped, living itself becomes a labor. However, when we remember our protector, even though unseen, is keeping us safe we are able to let go and trust even in the most anxious and stress filled circumstances.