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2013: starting with hope

Posted Jan 01 2013 4:27am

Some old ideas for a new year.  The best to you and yours



On misunderstanding hope

We misunderstand hope a lot and that misunderstanding causes more than its share of pain and suffering.

We tend to see hope as having to do with what we would like to see happen.  Our hopes are tied up with our wishes and preferences.  “I hope that it stops raining.”  “I hope I get a good job.”  “I hope that my wife likes the gift.” “I hope the hard times get over soon.”  “I hope this is a good day.”  I know for me, particularly when I am in a hard time in my life, my hopes seldom go past what I wish would happen to bring me relief.

Life is hard and for many people that is all it seems to be.  The single biggest hope is for relief.  But life is not about my wishes.  Even though I frequently forget I know it is not about me.  The outcome of basing my hopes on my wishes or personal preferences is to lose hope in hope.  The things we wish for have a way of never seeming to come through.  At least for me it seems that way.  If our wishes must be fulfilled for hope to be confirmed then we are likely to be left with cynicism and resentment as our only consistent companions.

In the Bible hope is tied to truth.  And it is availible to anyone who has faith in the truth.  Hope is the statement that “this is true, so this is what you can count on to happen.”  Hope is for us, but it is not about us.

On a different level when we found out that Linda was bipolar our hope was based on the truth we found in the notion of recovery.  We thought there is a truth which brings good news.  And with that we have found the optimism to face many difficult times.

I do believe in the truth of God. I believe that what he has for me is so much more important than anything that is about me.  I frequently still make myself miserable wondering why the things I wish were true  don’t seem to happen like I wish they would.  But I think that is part of what it means to be human.  To often when things are hard and we feel miserable and we are looking for the source of the poison in our life we look everywhere else but in the mirror.  I know I do.

Truth gives substance to hope.  On whatever level you are looking I hope you find the truth that gives substance to your hope.

On what the dogs taught

One of the most famous experiments in psychology was done many years ago on dogs.  Now many years later it still effects how we think about ourselves.

The experiment was really simple.  They put a dog on an electrified pad and gave him an electric shock.  When he jumped a small fence onto another pad the shock stopped.  Not suprisingly the dogs learned to jump quickly.  Then they changed the rules.  They put the dog down on the same pad.  This time they waited until he jumped and then shocked the pad that before had been safe.  Took a bit longer but the dog stopped jumping.  But the important part of the experiment was the last part.

They changed the rules again.  Sometimes they shocked them for staying.  Sometimes they shocked them for jumping.  The important thing was that it didnt matter what the dog did.  Pain came randomly.  It couldnt be controlled or predicted.  It didnt matter what they did.

The dogs were more human than anyone recognized.  They laid down and quit.  They wet themselves.  Even when they took them out of the experimental situation they quit.  And some I think even stopped eating and died.  They died because of what they learned about life.

This experiment was the genesis of the theory of learned helplessness, and led to  many ideas about depression and the importance of optimism in human life.  It has profoundly effected many ideas about what cause depression and what can be done to help.

We are incredibly tough and resilent characters.  I have known people who dealt with incredible pain and suffering in ways that seem almost beyond understanding.  The key is to find a pattern to the pain, an order.  We can find the strength to do almost anything as long as there is the smallest something that we can do to make a difference.

I am reminded of  a two friends who didnt make it.  One was not quite 17 when he died.  He had demons of his own, but was caught between a mother and father who both thought he was the ammunition in their battles.  It was too much and he simply gave.  He slashed both wrists, took a bottle of pills, and hung himself.

Another died from psychiatry.  She had problems, real problems for a long time.  She was given the pills to become better, but never found a person to hang onto.  Finally they were giving her meds to cure her other meds and nobody really knew what was causing anything anymore and she quit.  She gave.  She took a bottle of pills.  It took 4 days for her organ systems to shut down.

I wish the dogs could have talked to each other.  I wish we would never stop.  Sometimes it is in the stories we tell  and that we hear that we find the order to our pain.  It is finding out how others have lived that we grasp a way for us to make it.  The biggest lie of mental illness is that we are all alone, that our words must always fall on silent ground and our tears fall unseen amidst people who never know we are there.

Share your story today.  I wish the dogs could have talked.  Reach out to someone today.

Faith and fear

Someone once told me that hope was faith waiting on tomorrow.  But what happens when you cant wait?

It’s a problem for most people I know including me.  Desperation grows and you start to wonder if you are going to make it.  You get scared and it becomes so important you feel better.  It feels like you are suffocating and hope seems like a cruel delusion they try to sell people to keep them quiet.

I know many people who are basically just afraid of themselves.  In places, that they try to hide, even from themselves they believe that they are diminished in some way.  The message of shame that they are told seems to color everything they do or say.  They just dont believe they are going to make it.  They have too much experience that tells them so.

A guy told me once: “My definition of success.  Simple.  Get from the beginning of the day to the end without catastrophe…..And those successful days  I dont even enjoy like I should.  I’m too worried.  Its not that there is no good news.  I just have a hard time believing it when I hear it.”

When you struggle hard with mental health issues eventually you just wear out.  I really think exhaustion is part of it.  It is for most of the people I know.  You get tired of “working on treatment.”  You just want it to work without you.

So what do you do?

  • Know that it is normal to feel that way.  Everybody feels like things are slipping away when they are not in control.  And it is so hard to know we are not in control.  Its why the serenity prayer is a prayer.  We need help.
  • Look at mistakes and hard times as an opportunity to learn and get ready for next time.  Even to stumble you must be up and walking.
  • Surround yourself with good people.  Especially with people who know what it is like to be scared.  Treasure the people in your life that know that fear need not be terminal.
  • Know that good things come in their own time.  That is one of the things that makes them good.  Some things are worth waiting for.
  • Know that a small step is still a step.
  • Know that you are never the box someone tries to put you in.
  • Know that because someone thinks you are so doesnt make it so.  There is always choices and chances.
  • If you feel like you are always falling down the hill that also means there are hills you can climb.  You must fall from somewhere.
  • Life is not about you.  That is hard to remember when things are going lousy.  It doesnt seem like there is anything else for it to be about.
  • When you look in the mirror and all you see is you look again.  You have a bad angle.
  • Feelings do change.  Rather or  not you think they will or not.
  • Do what you can, but know what you cant.
  • And remember if you aint there yet at least you are closer.

Fear is a hard thing for me.  I get worn out on things being hard.  A friend told me something good once.  He said, “Be grateful for your fear, because it means there are things in life worth caring about and you do.  Dont give up your passions.  Being safe is not worth it if there is nothing worth doing or no one worth caring about.

Fear tries to tell you that there is only one room in the house and you need to make sure everyone else is locked out.  Dont believe it.

Hope is real and tomorrow is worth waiting for however slow you feel like it comes.

A culture of recovery

We seldom see more than we expect to see.  More and more people talk about a recovery model.  The consensus that the medical model is limited and so often part of the problem is growing stronger and stronger.  Yet how does this impact what is real?  We dont just need a recovery model.  Those who become involved in the mental health system need to experience a culture of recovery.  The need to experience a way of seeing things, a way of doing things that affirms their worth as people and treats the idea of flourishing in life as real and possible.  The message sadly that many get from their exposure to the mental health is not this.  They learn they are damaged, deficient and that being realistic means accepting that defiency.  They learn that a lifetime of psychotropic medication is something to be expected and that the people who “care” for them have little or no reluctance to engage in the most coercive of practices for “their own good.”

What are some of the assumptions that a recovery based system makes?

  1. Individuals matter.  No degree of impairment or difficulty make them matter less.
  2. If an individual is important what is important to that individual is important: his thoughts, feelings, goals, aspirations, and interests.  No degree of impairment makes those things matter least.
  3. If an individual matters then recovery is not about what others develop for him, but about what he chooses for himself.
  4. The primary thing that is recovered is the ability to make informed decisions about life based on the tools acquired, the knowledge gained, the success experienced, and the continuing care and support of others.
  5. Mental health professionals are often essential for recovery, but their appropriate role is as a consultant or coach and not direct supervisor.
  6. Recovery assumes that hope is a real thing.  Life can and should be a movement towards better things.  The steps may be slow and require much in the way of patience, but no matter how slow or small they are they are real and should be valued and treasured.
  7. Recovery assumes that mental illness does not cause you to lose anything essential to being a human being.  Mental illness may block you.  It may disrupt you.  It may damage you.  It may detour you.  It does not diminish what it means for you to be a human being.
  8. Recovery assumes personal responsibility.  It is not something done to you.  It is not something you are given as much as it is something you get.
  9. Recovery assumes that you can develop and maintain relationships with other people.  That you can love and are worthy of being loved.
  10. Recovery assumes that you can support and help others, that often, the greatest help you get is in the help you give.
  11. Recovery assumes that mental illness does not make a happy life a delusional concept.
  12. Recovery assumes that mental illness (or whatever term you choose to substitute there) is real and the pain and desperation it brings to human life is real and that everyone is entailed to the help they need to regain the life they deserve to have a chance to live.
  13. Recovery assumes that people are biological, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual beings and recovery to be real and meaningful may have to address each of these dimensions.
  14. Recovery assumes commitment.  It is not a given, a right or an entitlement.  While very possible it assumes the commitment of those seeking it and their determination to do whatever it takes to achieve it.
  15. Recovery assumes that all of us are more than the names we are called or the labels placed upon us and to reduce us to these names or labels is inherently unfair, wrong and misses the reality of who we are.
  16. Recovery assumes that since it is an individual thing and each of us has our own burdens that recovery will vary with each person in speed, distance, and kind.
  17. Recovery assumes that while some burdens can be surmounted, others must be lived with and that recovery helps us to learn the difference and develop the skills to do each.

Spread the word.  The emperor has no clothes.  It is time for us to develop a system which helps people address the distress in their life without denying the possibilities of life that are there for all human beings

Cecil Cook

You meet very few incredible people in this life.  My good and great friend Cecil Cook was such a person.

They called this afternoon.  He died in a plane crash yesterday.  He was the only one aboard a small plane.  They dont know what happened, dont know when they will.  They said he was literally minutes away from a safe place to land.

Today has been numbness and tears, both without warning, in moments forever, like a terrifying dance. I try to tell myself that he is in a better place and how lucky I was to know him, when so many didnt have the honor, but I feel ripped and torn and life a little less in some important way I dont understand.

Cecil was a good person in a way that goodness really means something.  Kindness was for him not an affectation like it is for some people.  It was not a burden to be endured.  It was not what he tried to be or what he had to be.  It is simply what he was.  It was breath and light and sun.  It made no sense to think of him in any other way.  And with him you knew that kindness was really strength and you found yourself hoping that someone might tell you you were at least a little like Cecil.  He had the unique ability to tell people no matter what their pain, what the circumstances of their life were, that the door to their life was still open.

Cecil was the chaplain at Ft. Sanders in Knoxville.  For 16 years it has been his hospital.  Today I stood in the chaplains space, in the offices, the hallways, and chapel and watched as person after person came to say goodbye or just to come and look and see if it was true.  Some wanted to talk.  Some just stood quietly and cried.  From cafeteria worker to nurse to doctor to administrator they all came.  Their words were simple, “….he was my friend….”  We talked. After a while we just stood.  Then we left.  We had no where to go.  We just didnt know what to do.

But while his death was tragic and the days ahead will seem slow and immobile this is not about his death.  For you see the living of Cecil Cook was the real miracle.  It was the real story. And that is really what I want to share.

We met Cecil about 10 years ago.  My dad was in the hospital dying from cancer.  My wife and I had traveled with 2 of our kids 250 miles to be there.  The kids were 10 and 12 and waiting in the waiting room was no what they can do.  So they got on the elevators and starting riding.  I guess they saw the hospital that day.  I went looking for them, but never came close.  Finally they came in with a smile on their face telling me that we had to meet this guy they had met.  In their rush of words I got he was the chaplain but really didnt understand much else.

I never found out how Cecil knew to rescue them, but somehow he found out and did.  He had told them the story of the prodigal son, but somehow in his version every word started with F.  There were farthings, and fitlings, and friends and fathers and a whole lot of other things that I dont remember.  Cecil recited it for us that day also.  Every word did start with F.  I never found out where he found that story either.  Linda and I walked away that day that day better.  In the short time we knew him we already had a sense that pain was not forever.

We became friends.  And what a friend he was.  He was a confidant, he was a support, he was a teacher.  He helped us to know in his giving that our giving mattered.

Cecil had started the Stephen Minister program at FT. Sanders and in time Linda became a Stephen Minister.  He taught the power of the broken reaching out to the broken.  He believed in the value of ordinary human beings and when he would tell stories of those he ministered to you knew he felt as blessed by them and anything he did for them.  If love is measured by what you give, then Cecil had riches beyond riches.

He loved poetry and he loved words.  It seemed like he had every poem in the world memorized and when the occasion called for it he always seemed to know what verse to recite.  I saw him cry when talking about the pain of others and the illnesses he encountered on a daily basis.  But he could listen and he could care and everyone who met him knew they were cared for.  And they knew that although pain was real and inescapable some times that loneliness was not.  And in Cecil’s heart I think they knew the  reality of the God he served.

After years of tagging along with Linda and being an unofficial Stephen Minister I decided to finally take the training and become official.  Our class, Cecil’s last, has just started.  The training will continue and I hope to graduate.  But I will sorely miss him not being there to congratulate me.  He so much shared joy you didnt feel like it was a hard thing to find and right now I wish I knew where to look.

Cecil I think is in a better place and Heaven is a brighter and even cheerier place this night.  I really wish you could have known him.  He was a friend, a colleague, a model, a teacher and I dont know how many other things.  Somehow I always had the feeling he could help regardless of how bad things were.  God is a God of miracles or how else could there be a Cecil.  It was an honor to know Cecil, but you know, I really think he felt like it was an honor to know me.

I dont know how to end.  I dont know if I want to.  The night ahead and days to follow already seem long.  I saw Cecil do a funeral once.  He  turned to the audience and said, “Lets talk about her living…”  It seemed like such a good way to say goodbye.  Good bye Cecil.  I dont know where we would be without you.  You have touched so many in so many ways and I hope when you look down you see in our living a small token of how much you have meant to all of us.

On a place to begin

When Linda and I first started this site our goal was to make sure that the message of hope was clear. We believe hope works.

Many posts have dealt with hard subjects and specific posts have not always been encouraging. Part of that reflects our struggle. We are very ordinary people and have found out that life is hard and hope sometimes seems illusive. It can be hard to find, harder to hang onto. As I said in an earlier post life is a battle between what pulls you down and what lifts you up and sometimes what pulls you down is louder, pushier, and more intimadating than that what lifts you up. But yet, we have found that hope is real and worth the seeding and watering and harvest.

Hope is not always a big thing. Sometimes it is found in the smaller moments of life and gone before we really have a chance to touch it and hold it and treasure it. Hope and gratitude are so closely tied together and being thankful is such an issue for everyone. If we dont appreciate what we have though how can we ever truly be hopeful for what is to come?

I think many times it does start in the smaller things and then picks up momentum like a landslide of little rocks moving everything in their path and you realize what a miracle this life really is. When we first started Linda and I wrote something we called the “hopepage”, which was our effort to begin to catalogue the little things that were really big. That list is reprinted below. I hope you will take a look and maybe add some things of your own. I hope you will give some feedback. I look forward to hearing from you. Remember in sharing your hopes someone else may find the key to theirs.

Remember feelings change. It isn’t always going to feel this bad.

Practice laughing. It gets easier the more your practice.

Learn enough so you can look ahead. It is safer to get on the road when you can see the trucks coming.

Treasure people and they will be a treasure.

Don’t get so wrapped up in what is urgent that you forget what is important.

Don’t take so many things personal.

Think about how you think. Make yourself make sense.


It ain’t about you. It ain’t about me. If it is it ain’t about much.

Live for a reason and you will have a reason to live.

The sky is not falling.

If you take care of yourself there will be more of you to take care of other things.

First things first– but make sure you do the first thing.


Wake up

Plan on fun each day.

Care for other people. The more you give the more you have.

Be thankful for what you got. Most folks don’t know what they got.

Remember life is about more than how you feel.

A great tasting life is not always a good life. Bad taste does not always mean things are horrible.

Sometimes the best can come out of the baddest times.

Practice being what you want to become.

Do whatever you need to to make good things more likely to happen.

Whenever you feel so bad you think you are going to die just wait. You probably won’t.

Feeling bad is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Feeling good is not the best thing.

Take care of yourself. Before you can have a good life you must be able to have a good day.

Hope is like a rockslide. Start the little things moving and the big things are swept along with them.

It is a whole lot easier to be hopeful when you are not lonely.

It is a whole lot easier to be hopeful when you are not angry all the time.

When you get used to being hopeful about some things it is a lot easier to be hopeful about other things.

Its okay if things don’t work out. They often don’t. But there is next time.

Know what is worth worrying about. Know what is not.

Don’t forget when it is time to eat.

Just because some things are too good to be true it does not mean that good things are not true.

Take your medication

Be partners with your doctor

Be glad for other people

Remember if you died every time you thought things were so bad you were going to you would have more lives than a cat.

Look for opportunities to sing

Make yourself do what is good for you even when it doesn’t feel so good.

Anticipate good things. Sometimes the smell is as good as the taste.

Run or walk. Get some exercise.

You will convince yourself to do what your friends are doing. Pick them wisely.

Find things worth belonging to that are worth belonging to.


God bless each of you.

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