Success

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Five years ago, my wife Donna and I invested our entire nest egg into buying an old farm in Brutus, MI. We refurbished the old barn, and created a young adult ministry, because there wasn’t one in the area. It turned out almost exactly like we pictured it, but then when it was still in its infancy, Emmet County shut us down. It was actually quite ugly, and they threatened to condemn the property if we even had a bible study in the farmhouse.

“The Barn” in its heyday…

So now, rather than the vibrant ministry we hoped to launch, Donna and I have a mountain of debt, a second property to pay taxes on, and a really nice barn we’re not allowed to use. It’s really easy to feel angry, foolish, and defeated.

But.

The young adults who were part of the fledgling ministry did not get shut down. They continued to meet in other locations. They kept meeting for worship music, bible studies, and fellowship. In fact, the core group of people still meet to this day, years after the actual barn was shut down. They still call their group “The Barn”, even though many of the current group members were not around when the actual barn was involved.

Over the past 5 years, 4 couples who met or got their start at the barn have gotten married. One of them is my eldest daughter, the singer in the video clip above. Her and her husband are expecting their first child, and our first grandchild, in September. The group of young adults that got started at our short-lived ministry continues to grow and flourish, even though my wife and I are no longer a part of it at all. Our barn sits empty, but I’m not sure I can consider it a failure.

Our goal when we started The Barn was to create a community of young adults who could grow together, and lean on each other as they transitioned to adulthood. We always intended for the group to take over once it was established. We wanted… exactly what happened. It just wasn’t exactly the way we expected it to happen.

Donna and I can always make more money. We can have a bit less extravagant retirement, which can start a few years later than we intended. Because when we decided to invest everything we had into the lives of the young adults we cared for, our intent was to change their lives, not create a business. And their lives are not only changed, but continue to change new lives who only know “The Barn” as a weird name that references some place they used to meet.

The Barn is both the biggest failure, and largest success we’ve had the pleasure to be involved in. It didn’t turn out like we planned, and yet it also ended up much better than we ever hoped.

Success, it seems, comes in many flavors.

Mental Illness Month

I think May is mental illness month. It might be October though, because Google tells me both things. It doesn’t really matter though, because honestly it’s not something that only happens once a year. I mean “Christmas Month” makes sense, or “Pre Spring Break Tanning Bed Month” — but Mental Illness isn’t seasonal. Well, unless it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is seasonal by definition. Even that isn’t just one month long though, so leave me alone about it!

In case you haven’t already realized it, I suffer from mental illness. Some of it might be a result of my accident, but for the most part it’s just the way my brain was built. I rarely talk about my mental illness, because it’s horribly embarrassing. Plus, I generally try not to think about it, especially since overthinking is sorta one of the symptoms. Nonetheless, I’m feeling OK today, and thought it would be a good idea to use the whole “Month” thing as an excuse.

I always try to do my best, and in the case of mental illnesses, I’m a bit of an overachiever. I have the “Trifecta of Crazy”, or more specifically, I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, and Depression. Before you line up to get my autograph, it’s important to realize that the three disorders are very closely related, and are sorta like symptoms of the same issue. (I know, the issue is called “crazy”, har har har) I’ll explain them in order of their crippling effect…

OCD – This is the one that is hardest to believe is real. For me, I mean. Because really, it feels insane WHILE I’m doing it. My particular manifestation of OCD is that I have to do things evenly. If I turn the volume up on the remote, I need to also turn it down. If I step on a sidewalk crack with my right foot, I have to step on one with my left. If that weren’t enough, I then have to step on one with my left again, followed by stepping on one with my right. Because it has to be “even” (I stepped on one with my right foot first last time, now I have to step on one with my left foot first). I know it’s crazy. Boy do I know it’s crazy. That doesn’t stop me from slapping my own butt cheek, however, if my wife nonchalantly slapped one cheek without slapping the other. When it gets out of control, this particular mental illness is very frustrating, as you can imagine. Not just for me, but for people trying to watch television when I have to pass the channel I was switching to so I can press the “down” channel button since I’ve been pressing the “up” button. Thankfully, this one is managed fairly well with medication. It’s absurd, I know. Still, it’s very, very real. If you have symptoms of OCD, and you’re embarrassed to get help — SEE A DOCTOR. Yes, it embarrassed the crap out of me to tell a sane, rational doctor that I had to slap my own unbalanced butt cheek — but he prescribed medicine (a small dose even), and it works. It was worth it.

Anxiety – This is the one I still attribute to the car accident. After my accident, I had such horrible anxiety (and Agoraphobia, a common bedfellow of anxiety) I almost couldn’t function. I wasn’t afraid of anything in particular, except for maybe that I was going crazy. I really only have issues with anxiety when I’m in a crowded room for too long, or if I’m particularly mentally exhausted. If you see me at a party looking particularly nutso, it’s safe to assume my brain is overwhelmed, and I’m currently certain the world is about to end. Or explode. Or I’m going to explode. Or everyone is out to get me. Or that I’m part of an intricate television show where everyone watches me and knows all my secrets. (I don’t even have good secrets, so I suspect the show will get canceled after the first season, especially if it’s on FOX) The good news is that medicine helps here too. I’m told that counseling really helps too, but thanks to insurance issues after my accident, I never spoke to a counselor. I should probably do that now, but it’s not like I have this mental illness thing all figured out. It’s still embarrassing, and what if the counselor uncovers some secret past of mine, and finds out I’m really a serial killer. Or spy. Or Libertarian. But really. If you have anxiety, see someone. At least your doctor. Drugs aren’t always the answer, but they’re almost always *part* of the answer.

Depression – I don’t very often suffer from depression. Part of that is because my OCD/Anxiety medication also treats depression. (Remember I said they’re all related?) I’m actually very thankful that this is the one I struggle with the least, because it’s the most scary. When I get depressed, I get really, really depressed. And when you’re really, really depressed, you don’t want to get help. You don’t want to do anything. You don’t want to BE. I’m going to be very transparent here, even though it scares the crap out of me. When I’m in a valley of depression, I’m pretty sure I only hang on because of the people I care about. The depression would have me believe that everyone would be better off without me. Because dealing with a depressed person is HARD. It’s painful for me to see how much it hurts my family when I’m depressed. And it feels like it’s all my fault, because, well, it’s ME! I keep going because of the truth that I’ve told myself over and over when I’m *not* depressed; depression lies.

Depression lies.

It gets its own paragraph because it’s so simple, but so, so important. Dealing with a clinically depressed person *is* really difficult for those around them. Heck, dealing with a grumpy person is difficult. But that’s NOTHING compared to dealing with the loss of someone you love. I don’t know this first hand, thankfully, but I know others who do. I know that when my wife struggles with her own form of mental illness (it’s not my story to tell, so don’t ask), it’s very difficult to be the loved one. But never, ever ever ever is dealing with someone’s struggles worse than dealing with the loss of them.

There is medicine that helps with depression. It’s not magic, and it’s can even lose its effectiveness after a while. If you have issues with depression, please talk to your doctor. You should probably seek counseling too, but at the very least, talk to your doctor about it. There is help available, and it’s NOT a sign of weakness to ask for help. Holy crap it’s the opposite. It’s SO HARD to ask for help, that doing so is a victory in and of itself.

So that’s my schtick on mental illness. I have it, in spades. It affects my life on a day to day basis too, in more ways than just the TV remote thing. I’ll try to post some more this month about it, because I’d rather embarrass myself a bit than to have someone think it’s shameful to have issues. If you get nothing else from this post, just remember, depression lies. It really, really does.

On Vacations and Social Media

Vacation CountdownMy family is blessed, and starting next Friday, we’ll be taking a trip to Florida. This is our second family vacation, which makes it less unique than last year (our first ever family vacation), but no less exciting. It’s forced me to think quite a bit about vacation and social media, however.

I imagine that we’ll be taking lots of photos, and sharing them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other social media outlet is currently the rage. What bothers me a bit is that “vacation” isn’t something everyone gets to do. My eldest daughter will be 18 next month, and for the first 17 years of her life, she never got to take a family vacation. Most of that lifetime existed outside of social media. How would she have felt to see others enjoying Disney, Universal, palm trees and beaches year after year while her Spring Breaks meant merely sleeping in a little bit and then doing spring cleaning around the house?

Yes, I know it’s a first world problem. But I’m curious what everyone thinks about sharing vacation excitement on social media, understanding how it might make friends and family who can’t afford (or don’t have time) to go. I realized today that my Facebook avatar (is it even called an avatar anymore? Profile pic maybe?) is me under a palm tree last year during vacation. Has that been a year-long brag?

Anyway, it’s something I’m battling. Should we try to keep the vacation posts to a minimum? Does that make it seem like we’re ashamed of our vacation? (we’re not) Do palm tree and Mickey Mouse photos upset those folks stuck home on Spring Break cleaning frozen dog poop out of their lawns? I don’t have an answer. Just thinking out loud.

Dropping Chocolate

This evening, Donna and I were driving home from dinner out with friends. It was snowing pretty hard, and we were at the intersection of a wide, busy road. Donna warned me of car coming from her side, and then after it passed I gunned the gas pedal to get out on the road quickly. (My new truck is the first 4 wheel drive vehicle I’ve ever owned, so I was admittedly playing a bit)

As I’m turning left across the 4 lanes very quickly, Donna says in a frustrated tone, “Oh man, you made me drop chocolate!”

There was an awkward silence.

I responded, “You mean, like, you pooped?”

I assumed my rapid turn scared her, and she was creatively claiming I scared the crap out of her. I didn’t really think she pooped herself, but I’d never heard someone say they “dropped chocolate” before. It turns out I was very wrong.

“What?!?! No. I was eating a piece of delicious dark chocolate, and you took off so fast I dropped it!”

If you listen close, you can probably still hear me laughing. 🙂