Vulnerable Much?

Vulnerable, Wounded, and Broken

It seems as though I often get into conversations with people that are very similar to other conversations I have had with other folks recently.  Maybe it is because the people I spend my time with are all going through the same things in their lives (doubtful), or maybe it is because I see some things I my life and as I address these things in my life, I get to talking about it with other people.

One of the conversations that I seem to be having kind of often is about vulnerability, woundedness, and brokenness.

What is vulnerability?  It is being exposed.  Being open to something or someone which could cause me pain.

I just wrote about my sense of confidence and when I reread what I wrote, I saw a theme.  I saw that I did not want people to really see who I am because then they would not respect me… would not accept me.  In essence, I saw that I try to NOT be vulnerable.  I try to ensure that I am NOT open to other people, I do not want to put myself in a position which would allow somebody else to cause me pain of any kind.

I have come to realize over the last few years that this life of hiding who I am in order to protect me has caused me to shut my family out of my life.  My own kids, who love and adore me, have been placed on the outside of my boundaries.  As I got really good at being dependable, confident, and bold, I became good at hiding my fear, lack of confidence, and feelings of uncertainty.  When I started to hide who I was, I thought those who loved me would still be able to know me.  The real me.

I was wrong.

It seems to me now that I am great at building walls, but cannot put a door or a window in a wall to save my life.  Nobody can get to me because I won’t let them, even though I really want them to.  Boy oh boy am I NOT vulnerable!  LOL… who am I kidding.

Even in my “unvulnerability”, I was still being hurt, and the more I hurt, the thicker I made the walls.

I have recently started tearing them down.

As the bricks of my fortress came crashing to the ground, I felt really relieved.  I smelled the fresh air of love from my wife and kids, I saw the blue skies of genuine acceptance from my teammates, I walked free!

It was only a matter of time before I ended up hurt again.  I was faced with a dilemma… everything in me wanted to run and hide.  I was good at it.  I had mastered the art of running and hiding but making it look like I was still leading, still in control, still handling business.  I decided instead to just be hurt.  Which led me to really consider the words Broken and Wounded.

I know they are very similar.  I know that some people will tell me that there really is no difference.  I know that some people will tell me that I have the definitions backwards.

Wounded is what I was, and still am to an extent.  Wounded is not good.  Wounded is bleeding out on a battlefield, riddled with bullet holes.  Wounded is sitting in my house, hiding from life because I am dying and don’t know what to do about it.  Wounded is being hurt by people, hearing what they say, and believing them, right or wrong, internalizing what they have said to me, and choosing to react to life based on the effects of these hurtful things.

Broken is what I am, and what I really want to be.  Broken is a result of living life.  Riding a bicycle and falling, breaking an arm.  Broken is being hurt by what other people say to me and acknowledging that it hurts.  Broken is receiving the pain in me from my own actions towards others and realizing that I have inflicted wounds so deep.  Broken is acknowledging my weakness and my pain, hearing what is said to me, observing the worthless things that I do, but rejecting that any of that makes me who I am and instead, choosing to live out of a deeper sense of identity.  Wounded vs Broken is like this…


I am worthless

because I have a broken arm

and so I cannot complete these tasks

or fulfill these expectations.




I am not worthless

because I have a broken arm,

I am just not capable of performing these tasks right now

    or fulfilling these expectations placed on me at this time.

The thing that I realize about being vulnerable is that it lets me be broken.  Building walls around me keeps me wounded.

Wounded is dying…

Broken is healing…

There is a lot more to say on this topic, but I need to go home and see my kids… I need to leave my fortress…

Are you broken or are you wounded?

Are you vulnerable or are you hiding?

And how have you moved from one to the other?

(If you don’t mind me asking)

Captain Hook and I

I was sitting on my Uncle’s porch in Maryland last weekend reading my Bible and drinking my coffee when my oldest daughter (the introvert) came out to spend some time in the warmth of the rising sun with me.

It was a really precious time.

As I sat there reading and meditating, she started talking about Peter Pan and Captain Hook.  I got to thinking…

I am Captain Hook.

I wanted to be Peter Pan.  Truth be told, I have often put Peter Pan more or less in the position of somebody I would like to be someday.  Free…  Wild…  Adventurous…

It clicked that morning by the pool that I share a lot more in common with Captain Hook than I realized.

1.  Captain Hook is haunted by an alligator that has swallowed a clock.  It is really neat for me to think about an Alligator and a clock going hand in hand.  Time moves constantly on, the hands of the clock can never be stopped and time will consume everything in its path.  I think a lot about time, not simply as a law of life, but as a character in my story.  I cannot escape the effects of time.  If I am unprepared, selfish, unobservant, etc., time will be upon me and will consume something in my life.  I will have to work very hard to recover what I lost or have to learn how to live without it.  Sounds a lot like a man with a hook in the place of a hand that was swallowed by a tick tocking alligator.  Likewise, if I am prepared and I am living wisely, then I am rewarded by seeing the fruit that comes with time.  Almost like planting a garden and then seeing a happy little alligator carrying a basket of carrots and tomatoes to my house.  Silly… I know…   In the end Hook and I are both running from and fighting with time, in the form of an alligator or not, we both engage in this dance.

2.  Captain Hook is in constant pursuit of Peter Pan.  Peter Pan seems to really symbolize youth and freedom.  Hook has a ship full of pirates to look after and command as well as a mission to accomplish.  He has the gift of age and maturity which has produced the burden of responsibility upon his shoulders.  Yet the single greatest pursuit of his life is this youth, free and wild.  It is interesting to me that Hook runs from time and chases youth.  I do not chase youth per se.  I do not do much of anything to make me look or feel younger.  I am actually very VERY happy to be ageing at the rate that I am and I embrace my age.  I’m happy to be the age that I am and I look forward to getting older, even though I know there are some hard things that come with that.  I cannot help but reminisce about my youth and dream about being young again.  I find myself getting carried away by hobbies sometimes and then discover that, in those moments, I am chasing my youth.  Hiking, hunting, fishing, riding my bicycle, running around with the kids in the yard… these all remind me of being young and I pursue those activities with a vengeance.  My kids are truly lucky!!

3.  Whether you knew this or not, Hook tries to make Wendy his mother as well as the mother of the pirates under his command.  Amazing.  He is looking for some kind of loving, gentle, caring, affirming, emotional connection that he currently does not have in his life.  These things are well symbolized in the idyllic mother.  It is no question that I look for these things too.  My wife has been a true blessing to me.  She has given so many of these things to me and has helped me figure out how to receive these things for myself from Jesus, but it does not change the fact that my heart looks for these things often.

In short…  Captain Hook runs from time and the consequences time brings, chases his youth, and pursues a gentle, affirming love just like me.

I am Captain Hook.

I was Captain Hook.

Though I still feel all of the things I just mentioned, there is one major difference.

Captain Hook is perpetually engaged in a vain pursuit of hopelessness.

I am not.

I feel the pressure of time every time he comes around.  Instead of running from him, I live wisely.  I make the most of every moment because that clock marches on and I will be measured in the end.  Instead of running I engage.  It kind of takes the teeth out of the Alligator and makes him more of a pet than a menacing creature.  I play with my kids, I read my Bible, I cherish my wife, I exercise, I read a lot, I go for walks, I forgive, I give grace to my friends, I ask questions, and I generally want to intimately know others as well as to be known.  I am actively building my life with an eye on time and an eye on the standard to which I will be measured.

I do not chase my youth.  I do not subscribe to the magazines that sell youth and insecurity to men, I do not care at all that my face has hard lines and wrinkles in it or that my gut hangs lower than it used to.  It does not bother me that I am slower than guys I work with who are younger or that I am sore for longer after a hike than I used to be.  I spend no money (and thus no time) on trying to look, sound, smell, or act like I did 10 years ago, or like those who are 10 years younger than I am.  I have found a deep sense of satisfaction and pleasure in maturity.  I find confidence in my thoughts and attitudes which comes from having spent time thinking about life and engaging in life.  I enjoy the confidence that comes from competence which seems to come from a solid investment of time, thinking, and making mistakes.  I look forward to the next 20, 30, or 40 years of learning and growing more competent and confident in who I am.

I know that I am deeply loved and cherished.  I know that I am pursued with a passionate vengeance.  Just because I feel the ache of desire which longs for love and affirmation does not mean that I am not loved or affirmed, it simply means that I want it badly and that I appreciate it immensely when I receive it.  I do not need to go looking for it very often because it is very often brought to me when I am not looking.

I can identify very much with Captain Hook.  I really can.  I guess the truth is I used to be Captain Hook…   wanting to be Peter Pan.

Now I know who I am…   And I am pretty sure that Captain Hook and Peter Pan wish they were more like me!

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Thanks for reading.

The Baker and The Flour

“I cannot complain about the flour… or the early mornings”

That was what she said.  That is what set me free to pursue the things I enjoy and feel led to do.  But did she mean it?  There is no way she did because she had no idea what she was talking about… but she said it all the same.

We were riding through Key West at the time and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I was set to get out of the Navy within the year and I was really torn between going to college, becoming a cop, or trying out for SARC, Special Amphibious Recon Corpsman.  I knew that I should involve my wife in this decision making process.

As we sat riding in the Jeep, we talked about my desires for the future.  I would talk about being a cop and then tell her that I wanted to steer away from that.  My dad was a cop for as long as I can remember.  I remember how it felt to be a kid and have my dad gone so often with the strange hours and rotating schedule of a Police Officer.  I remember watching my mom’s face when she would get the phone call saying daddy would not be coming home because he was standing on the side of the road taking care of a traffic accident.  I remember what it felt like to know that my dad had arrested the brothers and fathers of some of the kids in my class and that I had to watch out for the retaliation against my dad that might be served to him through my broken body.  It was a rough life and I did not want that for my family.

I mostly did not want that for my wife.  My mom spent a lot of time raising us kids by herself.  My dad would ask her how we were and he would tell her what he would like for her to do with us, but my mom was really the active one in raising us.  I did not want my wife to be that “single” parent because I was gone so often.

When I shared these ideas with her, she responded by talking about a baker.  She said,

“You are not the man that you are because of the job that you do, you do the job that you do because of the man that you are.”

That took a long time to sink in.  She continued by explaining that she could not marry a man who enjoys the early morning, serving breakfast, and exercising his creative spirit through baking, and then complain about the early mornings, the smell of pastries, and all the dirty aprons.  If she marries a baker, she has to put up with the baking.

It still took a little while for my identity to be refined and for me to understand what that meant.  As I started thinking through these things, I started to question my motives for choosing my future job.  What it boiled down to was pretty simple.  I wanted a job where I would be required to think under stressful conditions, use my body to bring about the desired results of a task at hand, and to serve people in a manner in which they were not able to serve themselves.  I wanted to protect, defend, and serve.  I wanted to think, strategize, and make things happen.  There does not seem to be many jobs that put such a high emphasis on intelligence, “outside of the box thinking”, and physical prowess and stamina.  That kind of ruled college out.  It also set Recon above getting out to be a cop.

But I was afraid that Jessica did not fully comprehend what she was asking.  In my extensive wisdom, I made her watch Black Hawk Down and then go talk to some of the wives of the instructors at the Army’s dive school on Flemming Key.  She spent a few days in a very somber mood.  When we continued the conversation, she confirmed what she had said before.

I started looking for a bakery.

We lost everything we owned to Hurricane Wilma.  While walking around a grocery store making a list of the food items we lost for the insurance claim I got a call from a friend of mine.  He was a part of 3/8 (Third battalion, Eighth marine regiment, pronounced Three Eight) and they were deploying to Ramadi.  He said the platoon sergeant had requested 2 Corpsmen for the deployment, and that the battalion wanted to support this decision, but had already assigned their other stellar performers to other sections.  He asked if I wanted to go to Ramadi with 3/8 Scout Sniper Platoon.

I hung up the phone and talked to Jessica.  The next day I started the paperwork and within 2 months had all the signatures I needed to move back to Camp Lejeune.

Right after Christmas 2005 I slid into the platoon.

I’ve been baking ever since.

Thanks Sweetie for recognizing what it meant to marry a man like me, embracing the difficulties and making the sacrifices required of you, and for not ever complaining about duty days and deployments.

Define Integrity

I think the standard definition I get for integrity when I ask folks what it means is, “Doing the right thing when nobody is looking.”

While I agree that doing the right thing when nobody is looking is a very good thing, a noble thing, an appropriate thing, a thing that needs to be done more often, I have a hard time standing on that definition.

This may sound bad, but I actually have a hard time with integrity.

I hear the phrase, “Man of integrity” often and I am left wondering what, precisely, is being said of this man.

For all the side conversations and implications that come with my different ideas about integrity, I think it is fair to say that integrity is primarily a qualification of a person and their character based upon their actions.  But even this thought troubles me a little bit.  It means that the label of integrity is granted by an observer to the actions of a particular person.  Who defines what is “right” in a particular moment?  How do we know that the “right” action was “right” enough?  Could there have been a better action?  If the action was just good enough and not the best decision for the given moment, then does that mean that the person’s integrity is weak?

I got to thinking about a phrase I hear often in the Navy… Hull Integrity…

Hull…   Integrity…

What does that mean?

It means that the hull, the skin of the ship, is completely intact, there are no holes or cracks that were not planned in the hull, and that the hull is still strong enough and sound enough to fulfil the specific role for which it was designed.

What if that is the definition of integrity?

What if integrity means to act in manner that is completely congruent with who we are?

Integrity would no longer be a subjective judgement based on the actions of an individual, but an objective affirmation that an individual is in fact what/who they say they are.  A lack of integrity would no longer mean that somebody did something that was not right, but that somebody has acted in a manner that is not in accordance with their identity.

I understand that there are troubles with this definition too.  It means that the observers to the situation must understand the identity and the purpose of the person they are observing.  It means that the person being observed has to understand their identity.

I think that integrity and identity go hand in hand.

If a thief steals, have they violated their integrity?  I say no.  They have not violated their integrity at all, they have merely acted in accordance with the designated purpose which was determined by their identity.  I am not saying that it is okay to steal.

I think if this is the crux of integrity then the solution for “integrity violators” is not behavior reform, but identity and purpose development.

When a person has done something that is out of line with what is expected then we need to evaluate the expectations placed upon them, their identity, and then the action.  If a person has been put into a position which is not appropriate for them, then the organization that put them there has set this person, as well as themselves, up for failure.  If the person is in an appropriate position for them, but acts out of line with what is expected, then they need to be counselled regarding their understanding of who they are and how they fit in then grand scheme of things.  There must still be some kind of repercussion for the wrong which has been done, but the repercussion is not the solution or the correction.

I had a Senior Chief one time who had a leadership style that seemed to drift between psychotic and brutal depending on which way the wind was blowing.  One of his favorite phrases was, “Hold a man accountable for his actions, then get that man the help that he needs.”

I am now very careful about the labels I place on somebody.  If I have a junior sailor who shows up to work late several times in a week, has a uniform that looks like a bag of doorknobs, seems to be trying to shave with a polished rock, I am careful to not call him a dirt-bag.  I might call him lazy, or nasty, or weak, but I don’t call him a dirt-bag, a worthless sailor, a cancer to the team.  I used to, I don’t any more.  If I give him one of these labels and he feels as though he will not ever please me or the Navy at large, then what stops him from developing a defeated, “it is what it is,” kind of attitude about it and then internally resigning to be a dirt-bag?  Nothing stops him from doing that.  If I punish his lateness, his nasty uniform, and his hairy face, then spend my time later talking about what it means to be a servant of the American people, about personal sacrifice and honor, and about who he is as a man and a sailor, then I can hopefully set him on a course to root out the weakness that he brought to the table.

If I punish a thief for being a thief, I should not be surprised when he steals later that week.  I told him he was a thief and he agreed with me.  If instead of punishing a thief for being a thief, I punish a man for stealing and then connect with him as a man, then there is a chance I have helped him build a bridge to move past his current behavior.

Integrity…  Easy for me to understand on the surface.  Difficult for me to understand the full reaches of the topic.

If it is doing the right thing when nobody is looking, then it is a description of compliance to rules which have been placed upon the individual.  If it is acting in line with identity, then it is a purposeful act of affirming the maturity and stature of the individual in their identity.


Identity, Purpose, and Values

I talk about this one a lot.

I have been very fortunate to have been allowed the access and involvement in the lives of people with the purpose of influencing them to greater maturity.  I have spent a lot more time working with guys than I have girls so this may not be completely accurate for the the lady folks out there, but it seems to be quite accurate for the dudes.

So I said to the tool,

“What kind of tool are you?”

“Are you a screw driver, a shovel, or an axe?”

“Easy question,” said the tool, “I’m an axe!”

“Awesome… how do you know?”

“Because I have this handle and my blade is sharp.”

“I enjoy cutting down the weeds and scrub brush in the ditches…”

“I like when my blade is sharp… that is when everything is right in the world.”

No… I have not ever actually wandered into my garage and selected a tool at random and started a conversation, though I have gotten frustrated enough that I have rebuked my tools for not working as I think they should.  This conversation seems to fit the standard pattern that a lot of my conversations with younger (and some not so younger) guys tend to go.  I am essentially asking them, “Who are you?”  The answers I usually get is, “I am this, because I have evaluated the things I enjoy and the things I value, and that has led me to believe that this is who I am.”

This is not a bad thing.  Introspection coupled with some good observation skills and a little bit of counsel or advice can really help a man define precisely who he is.  Although this is not a “bad” evaluation method, I find it to be a bit flawed.  I would rather start with an identity, and then use this kind of evaluation to bring a bit more clarity, detail, or understanding to that identity.

Why do I think there is a flaw?

Because I have lost count of the men who tell me who they are, and yet live defeated, unfulfilled, frustrated lives of simmering anger and a frozen, stifled resignation to accept the status quo.  They rage within because of the frustration, some of them even going to great lengths to straighten out what is crooked, and often there is no deeper fulfilment, no longer lasting joy, no resonating peace within their lives.   If so many of the men whom I have spoken with have defined their identity in the above manner and yet come to this same end result, then there must be a flaw in the equation.

“An axe, you say?”

“You derive great joy and pleasure from cutting the scrub brush and weeds in the ditch, but what about the firewood?”

“Yeah… about firewood… I’m more of a ditch weed kind of axe.”

“You do not cut wood?”

“Nope… I’ve had a bad experience in the past… really hurts.”

“Have you ever considered that maybe you are not an axe?”

“Maybe your starting premise was wrong?”

At this point it gets kind of grimy.  When I look a man in his eyes and start to imply that he has no idea who he is, I feel as though I am potentially releasing a raging bull hopped up on coke and looking for a fight.  I’m always scared when I broach this part of the conversation.

Here’s why…

Our identity seems to be defined for us when we are young.  Whether this is done by people that we love, or people that we have to be with, it is defined for us.  We go through life viewing everything around us, including our own thoughts, values, priorities, actions, desires, etc., through the lens of our identity.  If I tell a man that he does not know who he is, then I am pulling a card, a bottom card, from his house of cards… his whole world might collapse.  Lucky for me, I am not too convincing the first time I start talking about this kind of stuff!

“What if you are not an axe at all… What if you are  shovel”

“Shovels have sharp blades…

       long handles…

          and do pretty well at cutting the weeds…

              and scrub brush in the ditch…

but they really come alive when they get to dig…”

I get to ask questions!!  I love asking questions.  I never know what is about to get uncovered.  I am not trying to cause trouble for these guys, I want to see them free.  So I ask questions that will hopefully get them to start thinking the “why” questions for their life.  I want to introduce doubt into the equation.  Even if who they think they are really is who they are, a little doubt and questioning goes a long way in shoring up their confidence in who they are.  At the worst I get to help them embark upon a seekers journey…  and sometimes I get to help them figure out who they are.

After establishing an identity, I like to talk about purpose.  The trick is that this is where these conversations usually start.  A man will tell me that he feels so frustrated because he is doing everything that he knows to do, is doing good things, things of value, and yet he is frustrated.  He just wants to make his little mark on the world but feels as though for all his work, he is still waiting to work where he feels he fits.  This is a question about purpose, but I cannot encourage a shovel to keep on beating his head into trees in an axe world.  So we go back to identity and figure out we are a shovel.  Most of the men I have had these talks with have a hard time understanding that identity drives purpose.  They seem to instinctively think that purpose drives identity.  “I am good at this, and it is what I do, so it must be who I am.”  Sorry bro… no.

“Is a shovel a shovel because it digs, or does it dig because it is a shovel?”

So after working out identity, purpose kind of starts to fall into place.

After purpose starts to fall into place, values start to fall into place.

If we judge our purpose and then derive our identity from that, then we have determined who we are.  If we are the ones who define our identity, then our values are really quite arbitrary.

So where does identity come from?

I believe it comes from Jesus.  In the book of Ephesians, I read a line that says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father in Heaven, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”  There are a couple other passages which talk about Jesus giving us a new name or knowing our name.  I understand that my name is the label of my identity.

So I spend time reading scripture with the these guys and sitting at the feet of Jesus.  I encourage them to forget about trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and instead give this a shot and try to figure out who they are.

It has not worked %100 of the time, but it has worked a lot more than it has failed.

As a matter of fact, one of the guys I meet regularly with right now started meeting with me because of one of these conversations.  He was adamant that identity does not matter!  Purpose… what is my purpose?  He trusted me and decided to play my little game… and in the last 6 months this dude has figured out 2 things…

1.  A shovel is not a shovel because it digs, it digs because it is a shovel.

2.  He is not a shovel.

So this is what I say…

Identity drives Purpose, Purpose drives Values.  Looking for the source of identity within tends to be inaccurate.  Looking for the source of identity external seems to produce slightly better results.

If you do not know who you are, send me a message.  I would love to help you start looking for the source of your identity.